When you picture an effective leader, what comes to mind?

A deep understanding of their industry, self-awareness, decision-making skills, integrity, transparency, and being empathetic are some of the things that come to my mind. Leaders with a high degree of emotional intelligence earn the trust of and inspire their team to reach their full potential.

One important aspect of emotional intelligence is empathy. It’s the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand how they might feel in a certain situation. As leaders, the more we’re able to relate to others, the better we can appreciate what motivates or upsets them, and in turn, better help them feel understood and inspired.

So how can you incorporate empathy into your leadership style?

1. Slow down

We’re all busy. It’s easy to let the desire to conquer your to-do list dominate your day. However, when you deliberately take a step back, take the time to assess situations, and bring intention to workplace situations, you set a positive tone.

I’m a strong believer in the need to slow down in order to speed up innovation and success. Being fully present in conversations allows you to make genuine connections and better understand someone’s point of view.

I remember reading Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” back when I was just starting my career, and one of his suggestions that resonated with me was the following (cut and paste from Wikipedia):

2. Seek first to understand, then to be understood

Use empathetic listening to genuinely understand a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to be influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, and positive problem-solving.

In today’s increasingly fast-paced world, it’s tempting to want to do all the talking and very little listening. But truly listening to someone can often speak a lot louder and have far more impact than talking ever can.

3. Open lines of communication

Effective communication eliminates obstacles and encourages stronger relationships at work. In order to better recognize and hear your team’s views, they need to be comfortable sharing their thoughts with you.

To keep the lines of communication open, share as much as you can, as often as you can, with your employees. Be honest and vulnerable. Be transparent. If you are transparent with people, they will, in turn, be transparent with you. Listen without judgment and with compassion. Listen for the meaning behind their words and take notice of their body language, which often says a lot more than what they are saying.

Be mindful of your body language and tone, too. Studies show that effective communication is 7% the words we say and 93% tone and body language.

4. Stay committed

To stay on track with your leadership goals, create actionable goals and set aside time each week to reflect on and evaluate your efforts. Leadership isn’t something we’re necessarily born with, it’s something we have to practice and create habits around. It’s something we have to constantly aspire to be better at. Observe the effective leaders around you, reflect on what makes them a great leader and model their behavior. And great leaders don’t necessarily need to be business leaders, they can come from all walks of life, including the family and friends around you. For example, I have many favorite leaders from the business world, but I still remember the leadership lessons my Grandad taught me, not in words but in the way he lived his life. There are lessons in leadership all around us.

Focusing on empathy in your leadership style will lead to improved relationships with your team and a more productive workplace.

Have you had a leader that embodies these traits? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below. 👇

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