Leaders walk a fine line these days between being empathetic and compassionate while also being professional and keeping their team productive.
Amid COVID-19 and the devastating derecho, not to mention the growing percentage of people feeling lonely in this country, leaders are likely to be called upon for empathy and compassion more so than in the past. This call to action may come more instinctively to leaders with high emotional intelligence, however, that’s not to say others can’t learn to monitor the emotional climate and keep a finger on the sensitive pulse of their team. They can. It just might take more effort.
For this reason, start by building a high-quality connection with your team. Quality connection is key to reading and understanding people’s needs and concerns while still keeping everyone focused and accomplishing work.
Many leaders confuse being liked with being trusted or respected. The goal here is to build a caring relationships with your team, not a friendly relationship. Your role as a leader is not to become a personal confidant, it’s to show empathy and care.
Opportunities for building high-quality connections arise naturally in the workplace. Leading from the field requires being intentional about fortifying connection. Consider allocating time at the beginning of a virtual meeting for conversation unrelated to work or hosting a video call for a purpose other than work.
Whether it’s a virtual meeting, phone call, or some other form of electronic exchange, monitoring the emotional climate from afar requires keen observation, listening with openness and curiosity, and a shift in mindset.
Listen for what is being said, as well as what is not being said. Take note of the length of time someone talks about something. That’s a clue that whatever they’re talking about is important to them. The same is true when people repeat themselves. Note where there is a display of energy both positive and negative. Pay attention to your gut feeling, but don’t confuse your feelings with those of someone else. We often assume others will react to a situation the same as we do, and that is not necessarily true.
Each situation and each employee is different. Acknowledge and understand the emotions they are experiencing during difficult times. But don’t wait for widespread crisis to occur before doing so. By maintaining an empathetic and compassionate team culture people are more likely to proactively come to you when they are in distress, and you will be better able to detect problems early on.
Consequently, a few signs that could indicate problems are mood swings, any mention of change in eating or sleeping habits, or decrease in productivity. If you sense something is wrong gently inquire without prying. If something is wrong and the person opens up to you, listen before advocating for a certain course of action. Ask how “we” as an organization can support you. This language incites a sense of belonging and inclusivity. Know your company policy before committing to any arrangements.
Keep a pulse on the situation by checking in regularly with the employee. They will appreciate that you care, and you will get a better sense of how they’re coping. Keep them engaged and productive by being realistic about what they can accomplish given the circumstances and set goals they can meet.
Make people a priority. In the long run, getting work done with others is not the same thing as building quality relationships. Leaders must go beyond the transactional interactions to understand the human dimension.
All things considered, people are wired for relationship. Believe your time spent getting to know someone through high-quality connection is time well spent. Building quality connection does not have to take a lot of time. Short conversations rooted in care and compassion can positively influence your employees’ sense of wellbeing as well as your own.