March 27, 2020

Leading with Empathy

Josh Gentine

If we listen to the infectious disease experts and medical professionals being interviewed in the news, the takeaway is that we still don’t have a clear understanding of the full impact of COVID-19. Witnessing what is happening around us leads to thinking about things in a way we may not have thought before: Should I touch the UPS package I just received? Who touched this gas pump before me? How do I support my partner and family while still doing my job (If I even have one in a week)? As a business leader, you might also be thinking: how will we maintain product distribution? How will I make payroll? How long can we continue without layoffs?

Your brightest, most competent managers are cycling through concerns in their heads as well. This worry can lead to productivity paralysis and lack of focus. And yet, to effectively steer your organization through the impact of COVID-19, you will need your entire team contributing their talent and creativity. Which leads to another question: how do we lead in this unprecedented time?

The answer: Right now, more than ever, is the time to lead with empathy.

We are all in this together.

It falls on the shoulders of leaders to ensure that employees feel a sense of belonging within their organization. It is essential to make sure they feel they are being heard and are valued – not just as employees, but as people. While empathy comes naturally to some more than others, it is a skill that can be developed.

The most important part of empathy is truly listening. A leader that takes the time to listen and understand their employees can help support people in ways they might not have been able to foresee themselves.

As we pivoted to virtual work recently, it became even more important (and challenging) to listen. In person, we would be able to observe body language, see facial expressions, and hear tone more clearly. In the digital world, there can be a barrier between others and us. Zoom and other video conference call services can help bridge that communication gap when working remotely.

Check in with your employees and trust them. Trusting your teams strengthens relationships, improves collaboration, enhances morale, and ultimately, leads to greater success.

We can get through this together.

Considering what is happening around us, it is tempting to try and solve every problem all at once right now, however, if you set a priority to check in with your staff—hearing them and meeting them where they are—together you all can move forward effectively as a team.

As we practice social distancing, I think we’ve all learned how important it is to connect with other people. Most importantly, empathy isn’t just vital for business success—it helps us make a positive impact on the world. We can get through this together.

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