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Empathy among corporate
managers is in short supply, according to a survey of more than 600 employees by talent
mobility consulting firm Lee Hecht Harrison. The survey found that 58% of
managers fail to show the right level of understanding toward their employees.
isn’t a weakness, but fundamental to good management,” said Kristen Leverone, Senior Vice
President for Lee Hecht Harrison’s Global Talent Development Practice. “It means being able to understand and
relate to others’ feelings. After all, if a supervisor or manager can’t tune
into the feelings of employees, it’s going to be very difficult to motivate or
engage them. The survey seems to have struck a chord, and the findings should
raise concerns for management.”
What is empathy? It’s an
understanding of someone else’s world, and showing the person that you understand.
Empathy is not agreement –
and it’s not sympathy (“oh, you poor
thing”) – it’s simply understanding something from the other’s person’s
So how can you be a more
empathetic leader? Here are 5 ways:
Get to know your employees.
How well do you really know your employees? Try this
test: take out a piece of paper, and for each employee, see if you can name
their spouse or significant other, names of their kids, where they live, where
they went to college, and where their parents live.
If you came up with a lot of
blanks, I’d recommend spending a little more time in your one-on-ones asking
and sharing before you jump right into status reports. It’s how relationships and
trust are built, and demonstrates that you are interested and care.
You are having regular one-one-ones with each of your employees aren’t
you? If you’re not, it’s kinda hard to
be empathetic if you don’t have a clue what your employees are doing.
Show interest in your employee’s day-to-day work.
A lot of managers like to
think of themselves as big picture managers, with little interest in knowing
the gory details of every aspect of their employee’s jobs. While no employee
wants to be micro-managed, employees do appreciate it when their managers show
an interest and appreciation for what they do. Who knows, you might even learn
Listen – and respond with empathy.
Responding with empathy means
letting your employee know you heard and understood both what they said, as
well as how they feel. It’s harder than it sounds, and will take some practice,
but people will appreciate even the clumsiest of efforts.
Example: “So Jane, let me see if I understand – you’ve been frustrated at the
lack of support that you are getting from IT? Is that is?”
Listening not only shows
people you care, and that you “get it”, it also often allows people to solve
their own problems, just from being able to talk it out with someone.
Lend a hand.
Lending a hand, removing
roadblocks, providing support and/or resources – that’s what managers are
supposed to do, right? When someone is having a problem, they are stuck, or
just can’t figure it out on their own;
“Figure it out, that’s what you’re paid to
do” isn’t very empathetic. You may not come right and say that, but you may
be coming across that way.
I had the opportunity to
listen to a CEO talk about his company culture at a presentation lately. He
took a lot of pride in making sure he knew every employee’s name (about 300
employees), and liked to wander around chatting with each of them, asking about
their jobs, their families, etc…
During one of these chats,
one of his plant managers let him know that his son had been recently arrested
– he made a stupid mistake. Needless to say, this was weighing heavily on the
manager’s mind. The CEO asked him if he had an attorney – and he didn’t. That
day, the CEO found an attorney for him and paid
for it. Turns out the CEO had a similar experience with his own son.
While this may be an extreme
example of empathy and lending a hand, can you imagine the impact that gesture
had on that plant manager’s commitment to his company and his motivation?