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  • Writer's pictureRachel Treece

Building Empathy in Leadership.

Being an effective leader is challenging, especially when you’re responsible for a team of people with varying skill sets and levels of experience. People have different levels of empathy—the ability to understand and regard another person’s thoughts, feelings, or experiences. It’s not something that can be learned or developed; it’s innate. So, if your team has a general lack of empathy, as many leader-fled teams do, it probably doesn’t come naturally to any single person.

Any successful empathetic leader understands the importance of his teammates and knows how to bring out their best while still respectfully challenging them to grow personally and professionally. And yes, all of this sounds obvious — but it bears repeating because so few leaders think about this stuff before diving in headfirst! Here are a few ways that you can build empathy in leadership.

Get to know every member of your team and get to know them well.

As a leader, you set the standards for your team, so make sure you understand what’s truly important to the success of your team. You may have some general idea, but you won’t know for certain until you ask the people you’ve entrusted to lead alongside you. Once you’ve clarified your team’s values and priorities, make sure you’re living up to those standards as a leader. What are your team members looking for in their leader? What do they want to see in you? What do they need from you to feel respected, valued, and appreciated? What do they want to learn from you? And what do they want to avoid in their leader? If you don’t already have a process for getting to know each member of your team, put one in place as soon as possible. Figure out ways to get to know each person on your team as an individual.

Always prioritise check-ins.

A check-in meeting is an opportunity to get granular with each member of your team. Use this meeting to get insight into the person’s goals, aspirations, and challenges. You need to use this meeting to gain insight into the person’s thoughts, feelings, desires, and frustrations. Get to know the person at the most intimate level possible, and use your check-in meetings as a way to reinforce your genuine interest in the person. And, as you get to know each person better, use your check-in meetings as a way to give feedback. Don’t wait until the end of the year to give feedback to each member of your team. Don’t wait for the annual performance review meeting to give the person honest feedback about their strengths and areas for improvement. Instead, use your check-in meetings as an opportunity to give feedback as you get to know each person better. If you want to be an effective empathetic leader, you need to make time for one-on-one meetings with each member of your team. Every single person on your team deserves your undivided attention, regardless of how busy you are or how many other people are on your plate.

Pushing yourself as well as team members out of comfort zones.

While you get to know your team members better, you’ll likely learn what each person is interested in and where they’re trying to grow as an individual. You may want to encourage team members to take online courses, read books, or take part in other forms of self-development. As a leader, you have the power to make this happen, but you also have the responsibility to hold each person accountable to agreed-upon standards of behaviour. You have to hold everyone to a high standard of excellence, regardless of how they want to grow as an individual.

Encourage growth and development always.

As a leader, you need to be willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone regularly. You need to be willing to be uncomfortable to challenge yourself as a leader. If you’re not being challenged and you’re not being pushed out of your comfort zone, then you’re being lazy as a leader. If you’re not being pushed out of your comfort zone, there will never be any room for growth. While leaders need to encourage growth and development, leaders that implement a growth mindset have the ability to grow their teams into solution seekers.


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