Recently, one of our team members missed a critical deadline for an important project. Surprisingly, he got an ear from his manager. We learned that both his wife and daughter had a Kovid, and he looked after them at home.
Such examples of lack of empathy exist in today’s office. Stressful work environment, harsh communication and tenure of employees often lead to a transactional attitude towards co-workers. Yet, especially in this time of epidemic, when people are living with grief, loss and lockdown, and many are living in fear, empathy is a critical leadership skill.
Empathy leadership means the ability to lead while understanding the contexts, experiences and needs of others and being aware of their thoughts and feelings. It is the ability to live and experience someone else’s story as our own. The story in our minds is often different from the story that plays in the minds of others. Sympathetic leaders understand this. In the example above, a empathy manager cannot gain sympathy for a team member. It takes pains to remember how she felt in a similar context and how it affects her work performance.
It’s so easy. We immediately expect others to put on our shoes, but we find it hard to do so ourselves. Nasreddin Hodja, a 13th century Sufi philosopher, illustrates this with the following story. A farmer angrily steps into his neighbor’s farm, demanding compensation for damage to his crop as a result of a neighbor’s ox running loose. If such compensation is vehemently denied by the neighbor, the farmer should take good care of his crop and fence his farm adequately. Surprisingly, the farmer immediately agrees with this claim, but to the frustration of the neighbors, he says that what actually happened was the reverse — it was the farmer who put the bull on the neighbors’ crop!
Hard to practice, the benefits of sympathetic leadership are undeniable, especially in the current circumstances. Research, as well as narrative evidence, indicate a significant positive impact of a culture of empathy on employee courage, productivity, tenure, and loyalty; And also on the mental health of employees. It has also been proven to be useful in resolving grid locks and stallmates, as well as unlocking significant shareholder value. We often see the world for how we are, not how it is. From an empathetic point of view we can assume that the world is a cruel and lonely place. If anything has shown us in recent times, we know this is not true. Opening your heart and mind to other people’s stories will make you feel less lonely and increase your motivation to make real connections. People are often told not to leave bad jobs but bad managers and co-workers; Might be for the best leaders.
So, how can one become an empathetic leader? Fortunately, empathy is a learning skill, yet it takes effort and patience to build it. The ability to empathize can be developed by listening, harming ourselves, calculating our needs and being open to expanding our own frame of reference. Listening is different from hearing. When we hear, we also hear the feelings, feelings and thoughts we experience when we listen. Here is a simple example to distinguish hearing from hearing: When someone walks into your office room and seems upset, ask yourself if everything is okay and it / he / she responds; However, you may not be convinced by this response, as it may seem somewhat inconsistent with your own observation. This ability to observe is a crucial part of distinguishing hearing from hearing.
During the All India Lockdown last year, many hospitals faced a crisis as their footprint dropped to less than 3% of their normal levels. For many, the overheads needed to keep the company going were banned. In addition, doctors feared Kovid. In one particular case that we know of, the hospital founder and her leadership team of doctors listened to their concerns and fears and gained sympathy. She assured the hospital of support for them and their families and encouraged doctors to go towards counseling for support by sharing her own risks. She also talked about how she takes therapeutic help for mental health as a leader.
Empathy is undoubtedly an important leadership ability that should be included in performance reviews. One option is to do a qualitative analysis of the leaders ’ability to promote, motivate and nurture their teams. Scaffolding management processes with the goal of encouraging, motivating and increasing team efficiency productivity. The same example of a hospital can be mentioned here. Despite the turmoil, the hospital continues to thrive. Over the past year, its staff has worked as a team to create additional programs to increase revenue, keep attrition levels very low and close the year with a healthy balance sheet. Focusing on empathy is a win-win for all stakeholders.
Organizationally, empathy should be a mainstream narrative that should be not only a measurable feature of leadership, but also an integral part of organizational culture. The difference it makes is significant.
Kapil Vishwanathan and Anna Chandy respectively, Kriya University Executive Committee Chairman and Social Psychologist