Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy is also a necessary survival skill for leaders.
(Photo by Bryan Bope)
My mentor Danny Twardowski, currently the Superintendent of Waller Independent School District in Texas, would often tell me the following whenever I was wrestling over a complex decision or how to respond to a difficult issue:
As a principal, remember you have the power to help people or to hurt people.
Leaders have the authority to help people or hurt people. Every day a leader can either remove obstacles or create them for their employees. No well-meaning leader intentionally piles up obstacles but what about unintentionally? How does a leader understand the impact of the decisions they make on their staff? How do they understand the challenges and aspirations of those they lead? This deep level of understanding is impossible without empathy.
Empathy is a social/emotional skill that can be nurtured and refined by the leader through doing the following:
- Actively listening
- Asking,” How are things going?”
- Regularly engaging employees (active visibility)
- Keeping abreast of important life events that happen to the staff (Weddings, Births, Funerals)
- Genuinely caring for the well-being of their employees
Every employee is fighting some kind of a personal battle that may have nothing to do with their career. Problems at home, health concerns, financial stress, or some other issue. Leaders that convey awareness of these problems are able to build necessary strong professional relationships with their staff. Leaders that have these strong professional relationships with their staff are more likely to gain belief and buy-in for their initiatives and ideas.
Empathy is essential for leaders.
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