Especially in times of crisis, managers must show sensitivity. But empathy is often misunderstood, which can do more harm than good. What is empathetic leadership based on?
Managers with high emotional intelligence are more successful than colleagues who rather excel through professional brilliance. The psychologist Daniel Goleman has been working intensively on this topic for many years. He describes empathy as one of the most important dimensions of emotionally intelligent leadership. Among other things, this ability is important for retaining talent.
Empathetic behavior means perceiving the motives, feelings and needs of another person and reacting in a way that he or she feels understood, appreciated and supported. The basis for this is a good relationship. In private life, familiarity usually builds up by itself; between employees and supervisors this happens less frequently. Managers need to reach out to team members; this is especially true in hierarchical companies.
If a manager fails to get in touch with the employees, information may not flow to the top. Employees may hide operational or interpersonal issues, and this can impair team performance significantly.
How can supervisors make things better? Basically, there is only an individual answer to this question – depending on your personality, not every solution fits. The following examples cannot replace coaching. However, they show that empathic leadership is based on long-term relationships, from which you can benefit during a crisis. A team’s social capital is created in everyday life, for example with the following behaviors:
Sometimes empathic leadership is strongly misunderstood. It is not about showing “as much emotion as possible”, “as much closeness as possible”, and certainly not about ingratiation. During a crisis, for example, leaders do no one a favor when they display their frustrations and fears. Of course, it is not easy to stay disciplined in exceptional situations.
Currently, many teams work together in virtual environments, which reduces the opportunities for empathy. In web conferences, it’s hard to perceive body language signals that intuitively reveal how others are doing. When we work at home, we also lack the group dynamics which we benefit from at the workplace. What can help?
After all, empathy does not mean that managers read minds, but that they are connected to their teams. The decisive factor is how supervisors shape these relationships in everyday life. They must be aware of how much influence they have on the mental well-being of employees. This results in a standard that sound simple but is difficult to meet in practice. In the book “The Office is no Place for a Cattle Ranger” the author puts it as follows: “Always leave people feeling better after an interaction with you than they were feeling before.”
Aryeh Brickner: The Office is no Place for a Cattle Ranger – How to Practice Empathetic and Mindful Management
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