In our current global climate, it is important more than ever to lead with empathy. The term “empathy” is described as having the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. "Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling (https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/empathy/definition). "
In coaching management teams and executives in particular, some commonalities I have come to find is the lack of empathy when dealing with people issues or issues in general. We live in such a busy world, and too often when someone shares a vulnerability, emotions, or something sensitive, our gut reaction is to reply with, " I get where you are coming from" or "I understand how you feel". So how can leaders improve their Empathy Potential AKA Empathy IQ? Here are some easy to follow and highly effective tips in no particular order:
1. Actually, Listen
Having a high Empathy IQ, allows us to actually guide what we say and do next after we are gifted with information that someone has shared with us. It requires us to be mindful in that moment, take a second to re-shift our thinking, and possibly making an action that may be different than what was initially intended. It is in the act of listening, that we stop our minds from thinking about ourselves and what we are going to say next. By listening, we can then add value to the vulnerability that your employees (or whoever) have openly shared with you. The fact that your employee has shared something with you that is personal or may make you feel uncomfortable, is a great accomplishment! Pat yourself on the back, you are halfway there. In listening, don't be afraid to show some vulnerability as well and respond according to the new information you now have in hand. Don't be in a rush to respond either, sometimes just listening and being there is enough. However, knowing the difference is just as important.
2. Cultivate a Culture of Curiosity & Exploration
Leaders that tend to be more inclusive of their teams' opinions (Ex: Servant, Charismatic, or Laissez-Faire Leaders) genuinely take into account what others think before a decision is made and empowers their employees to take action. Other leadership types (Ex: Authoritarian, Transactional, or Bureaucratic Leaders) may need to build an inclusive framework by allowing everyone to share their thoughts and ideas prior to taking action in order to increase said Empathy IQ. This practice allows for curiosity and open collaboration of team members to explore new ideas and innovative ideas to solutions an organization is facing. And hey, it helps organically with creating a DIVERSE team where all ideas are welcomed and appreciated. When a leader initiates responses that allow for others to open up and share more, out of the leader's curiosity to understand their employee's minds, intentions and not their own bias or understanding, then we are all on the right track.
3. Inspire Change & Take Action
Empathy is a mass phenomenon that brings about fundamental social change in the workplace and ignites internal cultures and values. We all have our own assumptions about others that do not allow us to truly accept them as unique individual entities. We all have at some point or another labeled a group of people, judged others based on what we have heard, and have been a component of bullying to a certain degree. Allowing wrong actions around us to happen, without stopping injustices or things that are just pure "wrong" is a type of bullying or internal systemic problem that has not been squashed or addressed by the higher ups. The ability to show empathy and make changes at the leadership level, is essential to not just talking the "talk" but walking the "walk". It is uplifting and empowering when leaders inspire positive change and take appropriate action. However, leaders need to be approachable, mindful, empathetic to others feelings, journey, and experiences. This ultimately leads us to understand that we have more in common than not. And that my friend, is what I call the internal culture and values that make up the identity of an organization. The peanut butter to the beautifully crafted peanut better and jelly sandwich.
4. Start at Home!
I cannot stress this last point enough. Ever since becoming a mom, I realized how much of a social responsibility I have to ensure my boys are raised with a high Empathy IQ. With so much information thrown at us, fake media, injustices and unfairness, our children are the beacon of hope we need to nourisher and grow for generations to follow. Too often parents do not actively stop their children when they exhibit wrong behavior and instill empathy and how to simply become a good human being to others. Parents are divided by social classes and only associate with parents similar to them, instead of being diverse and letting others into their circle to increase their level of awareness. We need to start being better parents. It is in our actions, and what we do NOW to raise up children that are wholesome, self-aware and empathetic to everyone.
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