Why Leadership Needs Empathy and How to Develop It

14 July 2020
For many companies, the decision to return people to their offices is dictated by the drop in productivity of "homeworkers". The leaders of such companies are convinced that only personal control and personal observation is effective. "Manual control" is again becoming a popular style of leadership.

What set of qualities does a leader need today, when many financial indicators are paralyzed by the epidemic, people are afraid to return to work, and the very concept of office space inevitably becomes archaic? How to deal with this chaos?

According to a Korn Ferry study, just under a third of companies will return full-time. Another third of companies have changed the operating model of the business: these changes will take more than one month. Keeping a business afloat and gaining a certain market share (fortunately, there are now opportunities for this) requires directiveness and toughness on the part of managers. Decisiveness and speed in making key decisions is very important.

If earlier we talked about the distribution of responsibility and delegation, then in the post-like world we bring these qualities to the altar of speed and efficiency. The CEO must be prepared for the fact that many decisions will become unpopular due to their ambiguity, for example: staff reduction and optimization, adjustment of motivational mechanisms, the abolition of entire lines of business and an urgent re-profiling of employees in order to keep the business.

Interestingly, such a centralized model and a certain amount of authoritarianism in management are much more familiar to Russian leaders than Western top managers.

The history of great construction projects from the stories of parents and textbooks still lives in their memory. But now he is adding an important new group of tasks for the leader - the need to maintain the resourceful state of his team and himself. Work on your stability, find leaks through which your own energy leaves, understand the emotional state of the team, take into account the stress of employees. And if toughness and authoritarianism are required to solve business problems, then empathy plays a key role.

A classic and somewhat effective tool for increasing productivity is team pressure. Under external pressure, the internal motivation of the employee turns on: "I can pull myself together and complete the task, do more than usual, help my company, despite the coronavirus." But there is a certain point of no return, the peak of this pressure, after passing which productivity begins to fall and burnout sets in. And it is the leader's hyperempathy that makes it possible to feel the approach of this peak in every team member.

A big obstacle on this path can be the stereotype ingrained in the minds of many top managers that empathy is nothing more than a manifestation of weakness. Thanks to centralization, authoritarian management style and rigidity, many leaders in our country have achieved success and accept this leadership model as dominant and proven. Of course, against this background, hyperempathy does not seem to be an ingredient that will make a significant contribution to the overall recipe for effectiveness. On the same shelf, there is a stereotype that money is the main motivation in Russia. This is partly the truth of life, driven by many socio-economic factors.

But after money, the second and third places in the list of main motivators are occupied by the culture of relationships within the team and interaction with the leader. According to Hays Global Job Motivation and Satisfaction Report, 31% of employees believe that leadership does nothing to help them cope with stress at work. At the same time, 87% of specialists work overtime and only 12% of them receive compensation for this.

With the help of a system based only on financial motivation, you will never receive from a person the desire and readiness for an extra step, you will not see his readiness for daily additional investments. This willingness to work in the red zone, to work to the limit of his capabilities, depends on his relationship with management and with the rest of the team.

Lacking empathy, managers remain deaf to what is happening outside of their home office: they do not delve into what is of concern to the team, and they continue to live according to the values ​​of a culture of achievement and focus on results. Cultivating empathy is more difficult than instilling an authoritarian leadership style. It's more like evolution, but you can embark on this path of development right now. Here are some simple yet very effective steps:

Step 1. Give up the practice of conducting large-scale research and measuring employee satisfaction once a year. Collect real-time feedback. Make this story easy and easy to administer - there are already a number of apps and online systems on the market.

Step 2. Get in touch more often - talk to employees! Identify formal and informal channels. In formal - for example, email - you can maintain an impersonal business style, but in informal, for example, in team chats, start communicating in your language, try gifs, stickers, talk about your emotions or what worries you besides closest working project. Open up so people start opening up to you.

Step 3. Be curious and observe other people: their actions, language (verbal and non-verbal). Take great films or theatrical performances to help - what motivates the heroes? Why did the conflict arise? How do the words and actions of some characters affect others, and how does this change the plot? Make observation your daily ritual, and you yourself will not notice how it grows into a habit. This will be the key to understanding actions, decisions and motivation.

Excessive management empathy or skin penetration is a quick vaccine to help businesses recover from a pandemic and grow.