February 6, 2022

Authentic Relationships Through Leadership Empathy

Leaders can create authentic relationships with deeper connections, more effective communication, and more positive outcomes when they develop empathy skills. Many studies have shown that empathy is inborn. However, it is also a learned behavior that we can further develop.
The Power of Empathy

Last week, we briefly reviewed the need for environmentalism in manufacturing.  We continue to explore commitments that I see as essential to the practice of humanist manufacturing.  A commitment to empathy is the topic for this week.

"Empathy has no script.  There is no right way or wrong way to do it.  It's simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of 'You're not alone.'" - Brené Brown
The Traits of Empathetic Leaders

In an everchanging and challenging world, the essential leadership skill of empathy has growing importance.  Empathy means we understand what someone else is experiencing and feel compassion for the individual's situation.  A genuinely empathetic leader will:

1. Express understanding.

2. Engage in active listening skills.

3. Ask the right questions for deeper understanding.

4. Find time to know employees on a personal level.

5. Foster an environment of inclusivity.

6. Conduct regular check-ins with team members to gauge and truly understand what they are experiencing.

7. Avoid being judgmental.

8. Exhibit a receptive attitude.

Leaders who further develop and apply empathy skills will create a more robust human connection with their workforce.

A Deeper Understanding of Empathy

When we misbehave or exhibit anti-social behavior, self-aware leaders will see when they trigger pain in others.  First, however, to avoid confusion about what if is, we should understand the science seen in the following:

1. Sympathy and empathy are different. Sympathy allows us to identify with the individuals' circumstances.  Instead, empathy requires a connection where we feel the person's experience.

2. Intuition or gut reaction lacks the mimicry that occurs at an unconscious level with empathy.  If we are empathetic, we will frown when the person we interact with frowns.  Neuroscience research has found that our brain will register the pain the individual experiences.

3. Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans show that mirroring and mimicry occur in our brains when we connect with the other person’s suffering.

4. While empathy is inborn, our capacity can be grown when in environments that support the further development of this behavior.

5. Our level of emotional intelligence varies from person to person, where some individuals have a more extraordinary ability to feel for others.

6. Our success in showing empathy has a connection to the willingness or ability of the individual to share the experience.

Our ability to take on another person's experience is a cognitive function.  Therefore, we need to modulate and regulate our emotions to benefit those we interact with using empathy.  The excellent news is that we enhance our leadership capacity to better help those in our care. Those practicing empathy say, “I hurt with you” and “What can I do to help?”

Image Credit: Nathan Lemon on Unsplash
Positive Relationship to Job Performance

A study of 6,731 managers in 38 countries investigated the impact of empathy on job performance.  Using a 360-degree feedback assessment, they found:

1. Employees who rated their bosses as empathetic were seen as high performers by their bosses.

2. Bosses of subordinates practicing empathy in leadership assessed them as better performers.

I suspect that most of us can understand that establishing authentic relationships with those in our care, exhibiting compassion and connection, will lead to better business performance.  However, it is not for the faint of heart, like most leadership skills.  A key is that it is something done for all and genuinely authentic.

Unlocking Innovation with Empathy

I did a Google search on empathy in manufacturing and found that only a few articles had brief content on the subject.  I do not share this to condemn the industry as I know empathetic leaders working in manufacturing.  One thing I found of interest is an article on the opportunity to unlock innovation through empathy.  A summary of insight from three CEOs of well-known companies was:

1. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella – Nadella finds that practicing empathy leads to more successful innovation in product development by understanding customers' real needs that are otherwise unarticulated or unmet.

2. Warby Parker CEO Neil Blumenthal – "Innovation doesn't happen in isolation" was learned by Blumenthal in his experience with residents of a village in Bangladesh to ask the right questions from an empathetic perspective.  When asking who had trouble seeing, not one person raised their hand.  When instead asking who had difficulty threading a needle, all hands went up.

3. KIND Founder and CEO Daniel Lubetzky – As Lubetzky has evolved his thinking over four business startups, the power of empathy has strengthened.  He sees empathy and kindness as a "distinct competitive advantage" for innovative organizations.

As our society becomes more interconnected and as tolerance for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace increases, the art of empathetic leadership will be integral in meeting the needs of all company stakeholders.

Key Takeaway  

Leaders can create authentic relationships with deeper connections, more effective communication, and more positive outcomes when they develop empathy skills.  Many studies have shown that empathy is inborn.  However, it is also a learned behavior that we can further develop.  Therefore, a continuing theme as humanist manufacturing practitioners is to recognize a need for change.   Once we are aware, we can then put in the work to become more empathetic.  

First Step

Leaders who want to assess their empathy quickly can use the Empathy Self Checklist.  The list has five items rated 1-5 for each one—the total possible score of 25 points.  They also suggest choosing the top two to strengthen and the lowest two we desire to improve.

My Gratitude

I am grateful for the empath examples that have graced the earth with gifts that have benefited many in extraordinary ways.  These individuals include Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mother Teresa, and Oprah Winfrey.  Imagine a world with a significant number of those with that level of empathy for others.  An additional recommendation was Dolly Parton – she partly funded the development of the Moderna COVID vaccine, and her Imagination Library has donated over 100 million books to children around the world.  She says she’d like to reach a billion books in her lifetime.

Sneak Peek

Next week's blog will integrate humanist principles into leaders' roles, shifting to understanding the importance of the humanist commitment to ethical development.

To learn more about our work or read more blog posts, visit emmanuelstrategicsustainability.com.

Cover Image Credit: Jopwell from Pexels

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