While in a position of power in an organization, it can be difficult to gauge how effective a person’s leadership style may be. Oftentimes employees are nervous to address issues with their supervisors, especially if they think their managers won’t listen to their perspectives.
While there isn’t one right way to lead, more and more research reveals that leaders who practice empathy have better relationships with their teams.
A person who can adapt their communication and leadership style to meet the needs of different individuals are liked more and seen as friendlier. This type of leader knows that there isn’t just one way to do things. They can change how they manage their employees based on context and situation. They welcome meaningful feedback and apply it effectively.
Our Guest: Gary DePaul, Ph.D., HR and Leadership Expert
The special guest on this week’s episode of #WorkTrends is entrepreneur, author, researcher, and performance consultant Gary DePaul, Ph. D. Books he’s written include Nine Practices of 21st Century Leadership, The Most Effective and Responsible Clinical Training Techniques in Medicine, and his most recent work, What the Heck Is Leadership and Why Should I Care?
When talking with Gary about effective leadership style, he said one of the major things to avoid as a leader is fake collaboration. This happens when a boss creates the illusion of collaborating with their team–but in reality, they’re not listening to others, making all the decisions themselves, and having a one-way conversation.
Real collaboration, Gary says, can only occur when a supervisor listens and guides their team based on the exchange of ideas. There is no hidden ego or agenda on the boss’s part.
“If we’re going to have real collaboration, you have it so that one person is leading, and everyone else’s role is to inquire. The boss should consider: What is this person saying? Why is it important? Am I understanding it right?” Gary says. “That’s what real collaboration is. When you have that synergy, when you’re focused on what the other person is saying, and you sincerely are listening, using empathy.”
Empathy is Crucial (Whether You’re a Boss or Not)
A great way to make your team feel comfortable sharing ideas, Gary says, is to acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. Admitting to things you can improve on shows self-awareness. Also, it shows your team that you’re empathetic to any concerns they may have regarding your present leadership style.
For example, Gary says, “If you’re new to being a supervisor, acknowledge it. Recognize you’re going to make mistakes and ask for feedback, informally. Say, ‘How am I doing? I know I’m new at this. What can I do to do this better?’ Do things like thank people and acknowledge them for what they do. And then hold people accountable with the team and hold yourself accountable for what your team does.”
Of course, leaders aren’t the only ones who can benefit from practicing empathy. The best way to get good results at work, whether you’re a CEO or hourly employee, is to outright ask people for feedback and provide it to others voluntarily. As an employee, you can improve relationships and overall output at work by taking the initiative to interact.
“If you’re not a leader, but you want to connect with your teammates, simply ask your peers how they’re doing!” Gary says. “Check in with them, especially if you’re working in a virtual, remote environment. And give your boss upward feedback!”
Developing a leadership style that works can be difficult. But if you’re empathetic and open to your employees, you’re setting everyone up to improve not just their work output, but their human experience at work!