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Leading with Empathy – 4 Ways to Begin Today

Written by Debbie Aarons

Senior Human Resource and Leadership Consultant
Vertical Bridge HR 

We are living in a world where labour is in short supply, we are becoming more divided than united, our mental health is taking a toll, and we are wondering what normal even means. As a leader, looking to the future, you may be wondering how best to respond to these challenges. What leadership skills do you need to focus on?

“The job of a leader is not being in charge – it’s about taking care of people in our charge”

Simon Sinek

In these turbulent times, it is not surprising that research indicates that empathy is the most important skill for leaders today. Developing empathy enables leaders to be better equipped to take care of people in their charge.

Photo by Alexander Suhorucov from Pexels

Empathy allows leaders to connect and take a genuine interest in others and understand their perspective.

Developing empathy takes practice. It is not a behaviour that comes naturally to some of us but by adopting four simple practices you can become an empathetic leader:

Listen to Understand

Most of us listen to respond – it is our natural pattern of speech. However, listening to understand requires you to focus on the other person and truly listen to not only what they are saying but also what they are feeling and experiencing.

Practice offering a listening ear and a caring presence.

Be Compassionate

Compassion goes beyond empathy. It is more action focused as you show that you are here to help. Practicing compassion can help us to be more empathetic and have a greater understanding of others.

Practice asking “How can I help?” or “What do you need?”

Practice Perspective-Taking

We can never truly put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, but we can acknowledge their perspective. Perspective-taking requires us to suspend our own frame of reference so that we can start to see the world through someone else’s eyes. It means that we have to be aware of our own beliefs and recognize that we have unconscious biases. Do not assume that you know how someone else is feeling or thinking, check your assumptions and be curious.

Practice saying “Tell me more…”

Be Vulnerable

A vulnerable leader does not feel compelled to be the first to answer or come up with an idea. Listening to others and asking for their ideas and input helps to build trust and show that you value your team.

As a leader be kind to yourself, show yourself some compassion and accept help from others.

Invest the time to consciously practice these behaviours; recognize your successes and acknowledge when things have not gone so well. In time, these practices will become be part of who you are as a leader.

In world where talent is in short supply your ability to demonstrate empathy will set you up as a leader in demand, where people want to be in your charge, and will help you to create a workplace where everyone feels that they belong.

About the Author

Debbie is a creative and energetic human resources and organizational development professional with a Masters in Human Resource Management and over twenty years’ experience gained in the UK and Canada. Debbie is committed to establishing leadership for organizations to maximize their talent and potential.

Debbie has worked with organizations in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. Taking a collaborative approach to consulting, she has partnered with leaders to design and implement innovative programs and practices that bring out the best in their employees. Debbie is an engaging and effective facilitator and communicator and a certified emotional intelligence coach.

Whether designing performance management systems or facilitating employee development programs, developing leadership development workshops or implementing succession planning practices, Debbie demonstrates an unique ability to respond to the specific needs of each organization and situation to enhance the employee experience and help create great places to work.

Prior to moving to Vancouver in 2000, Debbie worked in London, UK. She now lives in Steveston, BC with her husband and two children. Debbie is passionate about contributing to the local community through volunteer work and community building activities. She has served as director and president of not-for-profit societies and seeks opportunities to bridge her deep human resource expertise with her desire to make a difference in the communities in which we live and work.

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