Empathy Is The Superpower Of Leadership

One of the most anticipated and iconic scenes of any superhero movie is the part when they discover their superpower. Seeing them begin to wield an other-worldly level of strength or brilliance (sometimes even to their own surprise) – it inspires us to think about greater possibilities for our own lives! Whether your favorite superhero was born with their extraordinary ability or acquired it through an exceptional set of circumstances, their world (and our imagination) thrives due to the remarkable discovery and development of that superpower.

Are superheroes really that much different from us? Okay, sure some of them have physical or mystical “powers.” But in essence, the superhero qualifications come down to an exceptional capability beyond the norm. Then, there’s a personal commitment to use that enhanced ability for good, helping make the world around you a safer place. 

In the world of work, we need more leaders who are operating from a place of power that goes beyond titles. Think about the leaders you’ve worked with in the past, particularly those who were outstanding. There was something about them that stood out. It made you want to aim higher. Perhaps it was their confidence or kindness, the way they connected with people, their humor, resilience, determination, or how they made people feel seen and heard. Leaders like that, and ones who are right now making a meaningful, unforgettable difference in people’s lives – they have discovered and become proficient in their “leadership superpower.” Do you want to discover yours? Start with empathy.

 So, we hear the word “empathy” a lot these days. Let’s talk about what it means. 

 Empathy is:

  •  Being willing and able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand why they are showing up the way they are
  • Reflecting on what might be underneath how you relate with others and then working towards creating more authentic interactions
  • Considering that there is more than one side to a story versus just the way you see it
  • Assuming positive intent so that you may hear things from diverse perspectives  
  • Feeling with someone and connecting to the humanness of a moment

Empathy is the leadership superpower that can galvanize people to DO and BE their best, even in unsteady times – like in this current era of The Great Resignation. 

Here are 3 reasons why leaders should be leveraging empathy:

1 Empathy impacts belonging. There will inevitably be issues that arise on your team where, as an inclusive leader, you must be willing to see things through another’s perspective. When you open yourself up to doing so, you are giving the most important gift you can give as a leader.  Understanding people for who they are, what they are carrying with them, and how it impacts the way they show up creates a culture of care, understanding and support that so many people are craving these days.  

 Empathy can sound like:

  •  “I’m sorry that you are going through this.” 
  • “What I hear you saying is ___.” 
  • “I get why you would feel this way about this situation.” 

There will also be times when you’ll have to call for the “missing voices,” so that no one feels left out. Those “missing voices” are the thoughts and opinions in the room that are unpopular, overlooked, or that feel unsettling to hear. But those “missing voices,” and the people who carry them, still need to be recognized and included. When your team knows that their concerns matter to you and that you will follow-through, they are more likely to feel a sense of belonging, which in turn, encourages them to perform their best work. 

2 Empathy prioritizes people over projects. Positional leadership is the type of “power” that focuses on titles and “pulling rank.” But empathy can bring you into a greater and more influential power than that. Relational leadership. Relational leadership is where you can work together with your people to accomplish goals AND transformation. Relational leaders know that empathy is the key to maintaining morale, fostering psychological safety, and helping people to feel seen, understood, listened to, validated, valued, and connected. 

Empathy can look like:

  •  Giving your undivided attention when someone is speaking to you,  even on a video call
  • “Reading the room” to gauge the mood or energy of your team before starting a meeting
  • Offering support or guidance to work through a project or a problem

In a time where so many are apprehensive about showing vulnerability or being “too personal,” empathy empowers you to take that worth-it risk when others won’t. 

 3 Empathy keeps you mission minded. That part of your company’s mission statement that most resonates with you (and always has) is your “why.” It’s at the heart of why you stay. Yet, sometimes you can get so wrapped up in the day-to-day demands that you might lose sight of the reason you started in the first place. Empathy as a practice can help you to be more mindful. That’s because when you’re intentionally empathetic (in thought and in deed), you have an increased awareness that everyone, company-wide, is working towards the same mission, even though you have different functions and approaches for how the work gets done.

 Empathy can feel like:

  •  Having a deeper, new-found respect for people on different teams or in different offices within the organization
  • Resisting wanting to prove a point so that you can instead challenge yourself to consider a different strategy for the work at hand 
  • Appreciating disagreements and misunderstandings and seeing them as learning opportunities 

Staying connected to the mission is important. And being mindful throughout each day about if your values align with the organization’s.  Making sure the choices you make in how you treat people align with who you want to be, and how you want to show up as a leader and a person.   

Think about how different the world of work could be if everyone practiced empathy. We have certainly experienced what it’s like when it’s not being practiced. People without empathy are highly critical of others. They can’t handle uncomfortable situations. They overreact to seemingly insignificant things, unaware (or disregarding) others’ feelings in the process. This is the type of behavior that weakens workplace wellbeing. That’s not okay, and top talent won’t tolerate it. People want (and deserve) to work with those who are leading with empathy, especially now as work and home are more integrated than ever before.

And the thing is, there are going to be times when even with the best intentions, you may be shortsighted or misjudge people and situations. But through your sincere efforts to be a more empathetic leader, you are cultivating an environment where people feel safe to be human and learn from their mistakes. Even The Justice League and The Avengers would respect that.

So what will your leadership legacy be?  Choose your “superpower” carefully. Empathy is the one that might have the highest potential impact, both now and in the future of work.

Culled from Forbes.com by Teresa Hopke

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *