The new meaning of the CEO: leader of empathy


Empathy can seem like a non-technical skill, a skill best served by HR professionals. But in reality, empathy is a critical leadership skill and more needed than ever.

One reason for this: The ongoing pandemic has left many workers exhausted. This comes at a time when job opportunities are skyrocketing. Many industries are facing a labor shortage and it will be more difficult for employers to find talent in the future. A new study from Manpower Group found that “69% of employers worldwide report having difficulty filling positions due to lack of qualified talent.”

What can help retain employees? Empathy.

There have been discussions about whether empathy in a leader is

“Nice to have” or a strategic imperative. It turns out it’s the latter. New research from Catalyst shows “a clear path between empathy from senior leaders and managers to improve employee innovation and engagement at work.” Empathetic leaders not only have more innovative and productive teams, but are also more likely to keep good employees. Thirty-three percent of women of color with less empathetic senior leaders said they were considering leaving their organization, compared to 18% with very empathetic senior leaders.

Likewise, a Business Solver survey noted that 90 percent of Gen Z employees are more likely to stay with an empathetic employer, while “only one in four employees think empathy in their organization is enough.”

How to show empathy as a leader? Here are four key methods.

1. Be inclusive.

For starters, make sure everyone feels included, especially in remote or hybrid work situations. One way to make sure home team members feel included is to have them join a video conference or audio conference all the time. During the pandemic, Hive employees in San Francisco remained logged in through a Google Hangout open on their desktops. For many, these open rooms have helped maintain the positive feeling of having office mates around.

Another key activity that drives inclusion is making sure you over-communicate company updates. This makes sure that everyone feels connected to the business knowing what is going on. Town halls, like those held weekly by many Silicon Valley companies, are a particularly useful way to communicate company goals and updates. Workers can participate from anywhere in the world. If you’re hoping locals will make the effort to be there in person, consider providing popular snacks, a reliable way to increase footfall.

2. Be flexible.

Allow as much flexibility as possible in your workplace. While not all professions can allow people to work from home – and not everyone wants to – many people who experienced location flexibility during Covid are hoping to keep this option, at least on a part-time basis. Allowing people to work from home when possible is a good way to empathize; it shows that you understand that employees have different commuting preferences and that you are willing to adapt to different personality types.

Many companies are doing their utmost in this direction. Australian company Canva now says employees only need to come to the office eight days a year. For initiatives like this to work, companies must provide access to technology that enables collaboration and skills building at a distance.

3.Model and encourage civility.

The pandemic has increased rudeness at work, as a recent study from Portland State University shows. “The biggest triggers for rudeness are things that have been greatly exacerbated by the pandemic,” says study author Lauren Park. These things include burnout, emotional burnout, high workload, and job insecurity. Giving in to the desire to let loose has a ripple effect. As the study authors found, “rudeness is contagious.”

How can you encourage a culture of civility? The means may seem obvious, but they are important: take the time to make sure that the emails you send cannot be interpreted as abrupt or rude; mitigate video call interruptions; monitor meetings to ensure last speakers are not cut off; encourage managers to avoid sending so many emails to the point of feeling intimidated; don’t cancel Zoom sessions at the last minute and do your best not to crack.

4.Recognize the human factor.

Recognizing that your employees are human beings with a life outside of work is a key part of empathy. During the pandemic-related shutdown, executives and workers around the world had to deal with the human factor, such as when a delivery man arrived in the middle of a meeting prompting a barking from an employee’s dog, or when a child’s teacher programmed a home cooking at- project that required adult supervision during the work day.

Really noticing that teams are made up of real people, with real human needs, also helps you see how the unique perspectives of employees can benefit the team. It’s important that managers are curious about employee lives, at least to an extent that helps them connect and understand their experiences, and notice potential contributions.

Responding to the needs of others before they ask for it is another effective way to recognize the human factor and generate loyalty. A Singapore-based communications manager at a large US multinational corporation recently told me, “My new manager offered to make a 11pm call earlier for me, even though I’m the only person in APAC. and that other people will have to get up early. . I love this new manager and I will never leave her.

Focusing on empathy will help you connect with and retain your employees. Start practicing these four habits today.


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