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Remember “Spiderman:” 3 Ways to be a More Empathetic Leader

Remember “Spiderman:” 3 Ways to be a More Empathetic Leader
Posted on Friday, October 27, 2017 by Rae Shanahan
171026_BlogPostImage-01-01.jpgThis week, we hosted a panel of experts to discuss how empathy can transform workplace culture. 


The conversation was full of valuable insights that prompted me to revisit my own thoughts about empathy.

A compelling point that came up in the discussion is the role leaders must play in fostering an empathetic workplace. Adam Waytz, an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management noted that to grow an organic, authentic, and sustainable culture of empathy, it’s critical for C-suite executives and managers to lead by example.

He’s definitely on to something: 90 percent of employees surveyed in Businessolver’s 2017 Workplace Empathy Monitor believe that empathy should be modeled at the top of an organization. Yet, our data also show CEOs find it difficult to demonstrate empathy in their daily lives. Their struggles haven’t gone unnoticed: Not only did CEOs in general rate second to last in demonstrating empathy, a majority of employees and HR pros say they could do a better job than their own organization’s CEO.

As Adam pointed out, the more power an individual has, the less empathetic they are. However, he also rightly said (and correctly quoted Spiderman lore), “With great power comes great responsibility.” With that, leaders can use these three tips to inspire greater empathy in themselves and – by extension – their organizations.

Stop worrying about being a pushover

When it comes to demonstrating empathy in the workplace, leaders often are their own worst enemy.  Our research shows most think it will negatively affect how employees perceive them: 34 percent of CEOs believe being empathetic will make them a pushover. Even more staggering, 68 percent fear they’ll be respected less.

But that fear doesn’t reflect reality. The Workplace Empathy Monitor finds the majority of employees agree that CEOs have the most important role to play when it comes to empathy in the workplace, which indicates that being empathetic can only improve leaders’ position with employees.

Start listening to employees

The Workplace Empathy Monitor found that listening is one of the top ways to demonstrate empathy. The reality is that too often colleagues don’t take the time to really listen to each other and understand the challenges their peers experience.

For leaders, it can be innate to walk into a room and assume the starring role. But putting employees in the driver seat and listening to their ideas and input is crucial to showing empathy.

Further, training employees in managerial roles on how to effectively listen to employees and acknowledge that they’re feedback is being heard can go a long way in fostering empathy company-wide.

Start putting yourself in their shoes

It’s important to understand what employees want and need, and to think holistically about the resources you can offer to support their lives.

It’s also critical to do your homework. Take time to engage your employees for feedback on what it is they want and need.  Often, leadership can be out of touch with what employees really want.  For example, our research shows that flexible work hours are what employees want most, yet only 38 percent of employees claim to receive this from their employers.

If you put yourself in your employees’ shoes and take time to get their feedback, you’ll be on track to develop thoughtful and meaningful offerings that meet the needs of your workforce.