Leading with empathy: Your superpower in a crisis


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Leading with empathy

Work and the nature of the workplace will never be the same. In the face of adapting to the adversity presented by COVID-19, we are changing the way we work, live and interact with one another. This may be a hard line in history, which we’ll think of in terms of “before” and “after.”

What does this mean for leaders today? Psychological safety is important in the establishment of effective workplaces, and one I find applicable to the new workplaces that we are building now. Creating a psychologically safe workplace simply means employees are able to show and employ their complete selves at work without fear of negative consequences. At the core of psychological safety is empathy. Empathetic leaders are in tune with the unique situations in their team’s work and personal lives, and the global pandemic has erased the hard line between the two.

Sadly, most leaders and managers have never been trained to demonstrate, let alone embrace, this critical leadership trait. However, in today’s uncertain and stressful environment, it’s more important than ever to tap into your empathy and compassion in order to survive and thrive in this crisis with your team intact.

Author and speaker Lisa Earle McLeod recently called empathy “an absolute superpower” in a crisis. She noted that this time is a defining moment, where people (your employees, future employees and your customers) will remember how leaders behaved. And they will remember it for years to come.

Empathy, McLeod says, is demonstrating to your team, “I see you, and I stand with you.”

Empathy is not a PR strategy or something you can “put on” inauthentically, however. It requires tapping into the authentic desire to understand another’s experience, which is at the heart of inclusion culture. The key to genuine empathy is to EVOLVE.

EVOLVE describes the qualities and actions needed to demonstrate what empathy looks like in your daily interactions.

E -       Explore. Explore your hidden and unconscious biases. This directly links to something we’re all saying more frequently now: “We’ve never done it like that before.” We are all living in unprecedented times, and must be open to new ways of doing things that support our people and teams.

V -       Value the Person. And do it genuinely! Ask a simple question to open every meeting, “How are you doing today?” People are hurting. They may have sick parents or friends or for many, they are home-schooling for the first time. Give everyone a chance to answer and be heard.

O -       Open-Minded. Stay open-minded to what your team is saying. Choose not to dismiss different points of view because they’re not what you’re used to hearing. Use a strategy like Flip it to Test It to shine a light on the unrecognized ways you think about the way work is done, how we interact with different groups of people, and how we break old paradigms.

L  -       Listen. Listen not just to the words but also to the feelings and emotions behind the words. Managing our teams virtually challenges managers to dig deeper to create engagement with all our associates.

V -       Validate. Restate what you believe you’ve heard. You may be off-base, so don’t assume. Say, “If I hear you correctly…”  followed by “Is that right?” If it is, you can proceed.

E -       Engage. Engagement is the “I stand with you” part of the equation. You are asking permission to move forward.

One final thought: You don’t need to have all of the answers. Don’t assume that you’ll need to provide solutions or remove every obstacle for your team. Some people will just need an opportunity to vent so they can get it off their chests and move on. And by listening -- genuinely listening -- you are providing comfort and demonstrating leadership. 

EVOLVE provides a framework for authentically showing empathetic leadership at work. As the poet Maya Angelou wisely said, “At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” When we emerge from this crisis, make sure people remember that you made them feel valued as the critical pieces in your company’s success that they are.

Blog Author Bio

Jeffery Tobias Halter is the President of YWomen, a strategic consulting company focused on engaging men in women’s leadership advancement. Founder of the Father of Daughter Initiative, creator of the Gender Conversation QuickStarters Newsletter and the Male Advocacy Profile, Jeffery is former Director of Diversity Strategy for The Coca-Cola Company and is the author of two books, WHY WOMEN, The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men and Selling to Men, Selling to Women.

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