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Why we need more empathy in our leadership

It’s interesting how different leadership types can lead to drastic differences in responses from not only employees, but people in general. My previous bosses have all been pretty good, thankfully, but the times I felt that I wanted to do my best in my job, was when I wanted to return the mutual respect that I was shown by them.

As businesses, the approach is changing and evolving, and culture is at the forefront. I was watching a TED Talk (can’t for the life of me find it, will update this post with a link when I do) and it had a company leader ask their team what it would take for them to be truly happy within their role. The majority response, minor things – flexibility mainly.

People work better when they feel heard and appreciated

Seems pretty simple yeah? Though you’d be so surprised at how many people take the ‘my way or the highway’ approach – especially in those leadership positions. And, a small note, just because you’re in a leadership position, doesn’t mean you’re a good leader. Only those around you can determine that.

So, what is a good leader? In my honest opinion, someone who leads by example. Champions those around them, practices what they preach, encourages, inspires, motivates, and the biggest one? They listen. They set the bar high, and not only want those around them to do better for their own agenda, but to help their team grow and learn.

Think back to who your favourite teachers were at school, I bet you any money that they had some commonalities. I can remember a solid handful and all of them shared the same traits:

  • they respected me as a person
  • were never condescending
  • wrapped up constructive criticism in a love sandwich (positive, feedback, another positive)
  • asked for my opinion and contribution

We need to drop the drill sergeant attitudes and remember, we’re all human

Don’t confuse this with strong and weak leadership here. A good leader will have people naturally follow them because they believe in them. It also doesn’t mean everyone has to like you, but people can still respect you. For me personally, I think a lot of people, especially ‘managers’ would feel the need to dictate and condescend others in order to maintain rank. This doesn’t help, all it does it create friction and resentment.

Having a little compassion and understanding for the team can do wonders. Recently in Idaho, a teacher disarmed an 11-12 year old shooter with compassion and a hug (read more here). NOW, I’m not saying to go and start hugging people, especially if they’re armed, but it does show that she read the situation well and she was able to diffuse it with communication and understanding. I’m fully aware that this also wouldn’t work for every case, but the important thing to take away from this is that we at least try to understand.

I can tell you that after my son had his liver transplant that I was in a bubble. To be honest, I didn’t really care too much about what was going on around me, and when some people (unknowingly) contacted me about something trivial, it really pissed me off. I found myself quite short, and my character had changed from outgoing and bubbly, to quiet and reserved. This wasn’t permanent, it was because I was dealing with something quite traumatic, peak Covid I might add. Knowing this, I put our Studio Manager Sam in charge of all correspondence to be the filter. In saying that, I also made all of our clients fully aware of the situation that was happening, and I was met with an outpouring of love, compassion, and support. Though if I didn’t say anything, what would they have thought of me?

The point to that is that not everyone will discuss private matters, so we can’t all assume that life is peachy, or at least going smoothly for everyone. Let’s second guess the way we approach things and maybe ask our people if they’re OK if something is off, or better yet, schedule regular check-ins to make sure there is a place and time for them to feel comfortable in talking.

Treat people the way you wish to be treated

It’s a no-brainer friends, though if you look back at not only work scenarios, but life in general, you’ll know that if someone met you with an attitude and defensiveness, you’re likely to match that. In fact, I remember calling the ATO last year about something and the woman on the other end of the line was so belittling that I instantaneously went on the defense and met her assholism (like that?) right back. I made sure to say “I’m going to stop you right there and let you know that I came into this call in a really good mood, and because of the way you’ve spoken to me just now, unnecessarily I might add, you’ve pissed me off. So, if you’re met with a bad attitude, you can blame yourself for that one”. It was interesting how she instantly switched things up, almost as if she hadn’t even noticed herself being like that. Though I wanted to make her aware, because like everyone, we can have shit days, and sometimes, we need to be called out on it. I raise my own hand to being guilty of that.

People always remember how you make/made them feel

Ever had someone stand up for you when you were being spoken down to or attacked in a meeting? What about if someone was just being an asshat and someone called them out for it? It’s interesting how much respect you then have for the person who stood up for you. Well, use that as fuel for good leadership.

  • A great leader isn’t there to tear people down in order to get a leg up – they’re about bringing the whole team up to their standard.
  • A great leader isn’t someone who belittles their staff for not knowing how to do something or not understanding – they support and nurture them to grow.
  • A great leader doesn’t make excuses – they own it and take responsibility.
  • A great leader doesn’t have to know it all – they continue to learn, understand and evolve.

A great leader encourages, inspires and builds morale. They build thriving internal cultures and create a place where people feel they can be heard and do their best.

I always like to live by the statement – you are how you treat the lowest ranked employee of the company.

As business owners or management, it’s our responsibility, in these positions, to encourage and motivate our teams. We need to listen, learn, adapt and show compassion. It’s always the simplest things that make the biggest impact. Showing greater understanding, especially with difficult people, can aim to break down walls and build great communication channels. Trying to see things from different perspectives can also provide insight into how and why people act in certain ways and can arm you with the right tools to diffuse a situation. The goal should be to rise with an army, not to become the lone soldier. There is a big difference between managers and leaders.

After all, in the words of John Maxwell – Leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.

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