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Safeguarding well-being: 6 tips on empathetic leadership header

Safeguarding well-being: 6 tips on empathetic leadership

The pandemic has thrown a spotlight on mental, as well as physical health.  But for an organization’s leaders, the health and well-being of its staff should be paramount regardless of whether there’s a general health crisis.  


Making a difference

Leadership is fundamentally about making a difference.  And the biggest difference you as a leader or manager can make is to ensure the well-being of those you manage.  Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also makes business sense.  A lack of well-being impacts a person’s ability to do their job and affects those around them and, by extension, creates problems for the organization.  

Foregrounding empathy

Leadership is often characterized as driving initiatives, taking charge, and acting decisively.  Less attention is paid to the other side: the people you’re leading.  Empathetic leadership changes the dynamic.  It’s responsive rather than directive.  It’s about opening yourself up and being receptive to others.  It requires time, patience, and emotional intelligence, but the rewards it brings to employees, leaders, and organizations can be as dramatic as any other style of leadership.  Even more so, it’s hard to better a workplace that nurtures and cares for the well-being of its people.


What makes an empathetic leader?


  • Practicing active listening: Asking someone how they’re feeling is an everyday greeting.  But how often do we expect a real response?  Empathetic leadership means getting a genuine answer.  The first step is to listen – actively.  This means paying attention to what the person is saying.  Be present and don’t be distracted by other things on your mind.  Show the person that you are really listening by your body language and verbal responses.  Provide feedback by asking questions and summarizing or paraphrasing the person’s comments.  Take time to reflect on what has been said.  Make sure you respond in an honest, candid way treating the person as you would expect to be treated if it were you.  Once you’ve actively listened, you’re in a better position to act.


  • Opening yourself up: To show empathy you need to be open to different perspectives.  This means suspending judgment and not letting your own opinions hold sway.  You might not like what the other person is saying but you should try to understand where they’re coming from.  Remember what they’re saying is really important to them and requires that you respect it.  If you value what a person says you may learn from them.  Understanding their perspective will ultimately allow you to manage them better.


  • Showing compassion: Try to relate to the person and the situation they find themselves in.  Put yourself in their shoes and imagine what response you’d expect if the roles were reversed.  Recognize the person’s anxiety and vulnerability about opening up and revealing their feelings.  This will help you raise your awareness of the person’s needs and feelings and enable you to respond with compassion because you get it.  Compassion and empathy lead to a more inclusive environment where everyone feels at home.


  • Recognizing the signs: Develop your emotional intelligence.  Like a muscle, it becomes stronger with repeated use.  Emotional intelligence gives you greater awareness and helps you recognize signs of distress.  Make use too of analytics tools to monitor people’s performance.  If the signs and the data suggest a dip in someone’s well-being, intervene with compassion and empathy to understand and fix the issue.  Make it your policy to regularly check in with people and ask them that all important question, how are you doing?


  • Being kind to yourself: Leaders and managers have to mind their own well-being.  Empathetic leadership can take its toll on leaders.  Having the concerns of others on your shoulders is a heavy burden.  Be sure that you have someone you can open up to and a release mechanism.  The culture of support and problem sharing goes right to the top.  Empathetic leadership requires not only intelligence and strength, but compassion for oneself too.


  • Creating a culture of empathy: Empathetic leadership can be taught and learned.  Make it a fundamental part of leadership training and planning.  Ensure that all managers and team leads are trained in their key skills.  The pandemic has caused widescale distress, but well-being will remain an issue long after it’s gone.  Aim to create a workplace culture that prioritizes employee mental health and well-being and allows people to share their concerns and problems.  Make it a place where looking out for and supporting colleagues’ health is the norm.  


Empathetic leadership and a culture of empathy help safeguard employees’ health and well-being and prevent burnout.  They also result in positive outcomes for the organization: including, more innovation, increased staff retention, greater employee engagement, and better work-life balance.


To find out more on how you can help your organization move forward to the post-pandemic era, get in touch now.

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