January 31, 2019

Empathetic Leadership

Loren Brockhouse

Loren Brockhouse
SVP Strategy /Businessolver

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So, you were just promoted from an individual contributor to a manager. You are now the boss. You have a million ideas on what you want to do and not do. You are going to be an even greater manager than you were an individual contributor.

New leaders tend to fall into two buckets:

  1. I am going to create my list of what I did and have everyone do that. I will call it my manifesto or non-negotiables. You can imagine how some of the team members react. They still think they are more qualified than you AND now you want them to change and work your way. This approach is what I term “Results-oriented leadership”. My focus is on results and I know my way produces results. People are here to work and work we will!
  3. I am going to focus on relationships. I am going to ensure everyone on my team likes me. I am going to create the best working environment. People will love coming to work. There will be no drama and I will have the best Gallup scores in the entire company! I call this approach “People-oriented leadership”. This feels good. I don’t have to give negative feedback and I don’t have to hold them accountable, I just need to be their friend.

Both “Leaders” will soon realize that their utopian leadership style and dream team aren’t working. Both approaches have flaws. Results over people will lead to turnover and poor results. People over results will turn into many friends and the leader being terminated or moved back into an individual contributor role. So, what is a new manager to do? Great question. Rather than look at this as an “OR” dilemma, let’s approach with “AND”.

An effective leader must possess and display the necessary empathy to fill both roles (Results Oriented and People Oriented). Earlier in my career, when my focus was ONLY on me, I leaned too far towards results leadership. It worked sometimes with some people. However, it created some very strained relationships. Many people chose a different work-life balance for themselves than what I wanted them to choose. You can imagine the conversations we had. I questioned their commitment and their ability to do the job. As a result, neither of us were happy or productive. As I gained experience, leveraged mentors, and studied leadership (and watched the movie “Gladiator” – Win the Crowd), I began to appreciate that a balance between results and people was most enjoyable, and produced the best results.

Thus, leaders must lead with empathy and focus on both people AND results. This will require the leader to listen and understand the challenges a team member is facing. Once the leader understands where a member’s competency is on a task, they can provide the proper amount of direction and support. Likewise, when a team member is underperforming, an empathetic leader will provide the necessary feedback. This will be delivered in a kind way. The feedback will be clear and concise and focused on the task, not the individual. Once given, let the member reflect, this is where growth happens. Then follow up to ensure growth has happened. Be short in feedback and long in reflection.

Empathetic leaders care about People AND Results. Empathetic leaders balance people and results and flex based on their team and company’s needs. As a result, they create great followership and teams that are ready for what’s next!

Empathy is a muscle. Develop and strengthen that muscle and you will be (and be seen as) a great leader. Win the crowd!

Comments? You can contact me directly via my AdvisoryCloud profile.

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