Leading with Empathy Is Now More Important than Ever

A lot has changed in the last few months. Within a short span of time, we went from a tight labor market and a growing economy, to a world where hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, and the most elegantly laid out business plans are essentially frozen in time. COVID-19 so much of our day-to-day lives, and just about everyone is affected.

One thing that hasn’t changed? To weather the storm, organizational leaders need to guide their teams with empathy, now more than ever.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the experiences and feelings of other people. To walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Empathy is one component of emotional intelligence, or EI, which encompasses people’s emotional awareness of themselves and others, as well as the ability to harness and manage those emotions. It serves as a construct for understanding and measuring interpersonal skills, and it is increasingly valued as a quality that strong leaders should have.

Why is empathy so important today?

If this is the first time you’ve considered leading with empathy, you may be a little behind. But it’s especially important in times like these, because so much has changed for your team. Some of your employees may be:

  • Working from home for the very first time
  • Caring for a sick family member
  • Managing childcare (and homeschooling) at home
  • Dealing with personal health issues
  • Dealing with financial hardship

All of these personal issues are amplified during this crisis, and unsurprisingly, they can affect your team’s ability to be productive, healthy, and happy.

Whether your organization is trying to support your newly remote workforce, or providing some assurance during these turbulent times, a little bit of empathy goes a long way.

Empathy in action

It’s one thing to feel for and empathize with your team. It’s another thing to turn that into outward action that propels the team forward. Here are a couple of ways to translate those empathetic feelings into action.

1. Be communicative: It may seem obvious, but communication is one of the best ways to show employees that you have their interests in mind. This means communicating the good and the bad, as well as communicating when you just don’t have the answer. Without communication in place, your team stuck at home is likely to conjure up ideas about what’s happening on their own. It’s better if that message comes from you.

2. Be understanding: Remote work isn’t exactly new. Before COVID-19, about 5% of people in the United States worked from home full-time, with 43% of Americans working from home occasionally. But if your ENTIRE team is suddenly working from home, there are going to be some growing pains. Everyone in the home is competing for limited internet bandwidth, so Zoom calls may not be as crystal clear as you’re used to. And people with kids must balance childcare with regular work duties. The answer is to be understanding and empathetic, giving your team the encouragement to manage their home life while also working from home.

3. Learn from it: After returns to some level of normalcy, what will you have learned? From how to make a remote team more effective, to how to weather an unforeseen crisis, there are lessons lying beneath the surface. Many of them are yet to emerge, especially as the duration of the COVID-19 crisis is yet to be determined. But one thing is for sure: leading with empathy is here to stay, and the lessons we learn today will shape how we lead tomorrow.