Effective leadership is more than just a role; it is a heart endeavor. It starts with attuning inward and connecting with the purpose of the system. Along this journey, leaders can cultivate humility, compassion, and, most importantly, empathy. This gift of heart involves the inherent struggles of suspending one’s temptation and recognizing the struggle in others, acknowledging people’s yearning for belonging, and the finite capacity to hold others during times of trepidation.
In this blog, empathy topic expert – Lisa Ike-Alvarez – explores the power of empathy as a leadership skill and its impact on engagement, psychological safety, and problem-solving.
Watch Lisa’s webinar to learn more about empathetic leadership
The Practice of Leadership Empathy within the Workplace
Empathy as a gift to effective leadership
Using this gift requires emotive skill and fortitude. Specifically, with empathy, leaders are prompted to confront one’s pain, suffering, joy, and connection with others through what they know about the process of life.
From personal experience, this practice is hard. I sometimes resist the sensation of feeling too deeply due to a fear of uncomfortable pains I have yet to mend. However, resisting my intimate connection will only short-circuit my bond with others and evoke silos—the antithesis of community, collaboration, and collective intelligence.
Benefits of empathy in your workplace
Leading with empathy creates a safe haven for your employees to be fully exploratory in their experience, making room for new learning and growth to emerge. Such a move requires you to see the value of your employees as fellow travelers on this life journey and that you care enough to help them reach their desired destination.
Incorporating empathy in your workplace can bring about the following elements:
1. Leaders become more equipped to initiate engagement and influence their teams.
Exercising empathy leadership skills allows you to connect to the inner experience of your people. You witness the “why” behind their behaviors and thought processes— unveiling their intentions and a sense of purpose. Although their values may not mimic your own, you can learn more about your ability to influence them.
Empathy helps leaders better understand employees’ needs and drives, thus giving them a foot up to achieve more effective actions.
- “What do my employees think?”
- “What do my employees feel?”
- “What have I heard my employees say?”
The ability to answer these questions as a leader will help distinguish how employees process the work environment and culture while also showing how the leader’s views may be similar or different. Leaders can then use this data to discover how they can join their people and care about how they relate to their work. This practice influences the nature of how the leader engages with members of their team. They can support the needs and desires of their team and tune into specific aspects of their experience to help drive the mission home.
2. Establishes a psychologically safe environment
Child psychologist, Bruce D. Perry, exclaims that advanced brain regions (i.e., the cortex used for abstract thought and planning) become threatened when under duress. A leader who rejects or is critical of the authentic experience of employees will help create a highly-tense environment where employees rely on their primitive brain region or fight/flight/freeze responses to perform their work. This defensive engagement can reduce sophisticated thought—the reasoning needed for critical analysis, creativity, and strategy.
Alternatively, a leader who is willing to lean into the perspective of their people and affirm their emotive responses will help co-create a trusting, collaborative, and emotionally safe environment for the maximum learning the potential of employees.
3. Creates ample space for problem-solving
When empathy is present, leaders create alignment with their teams and act in parallel to achieve objectives. It is essential to note that problem-solving requires more than understanding. It requires flexibility, and to be flexible requires empathetic awareness. For instance, a detached leader who feels and displays no emotions cannot make sound judgments and socially appropriate decisions, all of which we associate with rational thought. The leader’s ability to “read” people and affective signals unveils the true problem. Without access to emotions, leaders limit their decision-making capacities as they don’t have the instincts or intuition to identify the needs of their people.
An empathic environment is created by the emotional sensitivity of leaders—leaders’ willingness to become attuned to extending support and care to their teams. Leaders who suppress the emotions of their teams create a single, homogenized workplace that relies on ego projections and efficiency to drive their organization. This practice reaps machine workers void of passion and motivation. In our present-day work, it is not enough to just manage. A leader’s position is of utmost power, and they are responsible for serving others. Their job is to help their people grow, awaken and come alive.
Enhancing the empathy leadership skill
Leadership driven by empathy is a powerful force: emotional sensitivity and the willingness to extend support and care to teams create an empathic environment. Suppressing emotions leads to a homogenized workplace that stifles passion and motivation. In the modern work landscape, leaders must transcend mere management. Their responsibility is to serve others, help them grow, awaken their potential, and ignite their passion. By embracing empathy as a leadership skill, leaders can foster engagement, establish psychological safety, and create space for collaborative problem-solving, ultimately driving their organizations and teams to new heights.
Don’t miss this opportunity to cultivate empathetic leadership and create a workplace that embraces individuality, connection, creativity, and growth.
Join us for an enlightening webinar on strategies to develop empathy as leaders and within the workplace.
About the Author
Lisa Ike-Alvarez is an educator, life coach, and group facilitator with ten years of training, counseling, and consulting experience. She is recognized for her unique approach to problem-solving and facilitating authentic and purposeful dialogue. She is a champion of and for the voices of the marginalized and possesses refined skills in helping individuals seek purpose from their daily regime.
As an intuitive leader, Lisa Is committed to helping individuals live and work with intention and challenge the self that prohibits appropriate risk-taking and completion of duty. She appreciates the shared journey of learning, exploring, and transforming with her clients.
Lisa holds a BA in psychology, MA in counseling psychology, and PsyD in organizational development. Her academic acquisitions and professional advancements illustrate her strive for people excellence and desire for lasting learning and change.