Empathy, engagement the ‘secret sauce’ for post-pandemic leadership success

It would be an understatement to say that the devastating spread of COVID-19, and industry’s collective reaction thereto, has prompted a seismic shift in how corporations are intending to operate in the post-pandemic era. One particularly notable pivot is that toward staff empathy and engagement. This profound cultural shift is requiring business leadership at all levels — from C-suite executives, division and department heads, and team leaders, to entrepreneurs of every ilk — to level up and evolve their managerial skill sets to meet new occupational expectations.

One company famed for helping professionals develop the kind of leadership and communication skills that inspire and motivate others over the course of 100 years, professional training purveyor Dale Carnegie, is assessing and addressing that burgeoning need and demand. In fact, executives throughout this iconic leadership and development company are helping employers worldwide become more compassionate, engaging with staff, and celebratory of workforce successes, both individually and as a group. By proactively improving such practices, the end game is to establish more welcoming, tolerant, enjoyable, and rewarding places to work.

“What we’ve found is that our own employees, and those at companies we work with around the world, are increasingly looking for a meaningful purpose in their jobs, to reduce stress, and achieve better work-life balance,” says Joe Hart, Dale Carnegie CEO. “The current trend of ‘quiet quitting’ is one glaring example that too many companies are falling short of this. Exacerbating the problem is that recent published reports cite remote and hybrid work is, itself, proving to be more physically and mentally stressful.”

Amid these new and ever-fluid dynamics, numerous Dale Carnegie executives have unsurprisingly indicated that companies are approaching them for training on new ways to adapt their workplace cultures to become more attuned to employee needs and more engaging in general.

“As leaders, we’re entering new territory,” Hart highlights. “What’s important is that today’s breed of businesses take the time to encourage employees to ensure they feel good about their work and themselves.”

This indubitably includes managers at all levels being accessible and proactive, taking the time and effort to carve out more one-on-one time with team members to listen, learn, commiserate, and congratulate.

“We must take time to stop long enough to truly celebrate successes,” urges Seth Mohorn, managing partner of Dale Carnegie in the Mid-South.

Lead From The Heart author Mark C. Crowley is following emerging science supporting the idea that human beings are not as rational as we’ve always believed.

“Up to 95% of the decisions we make every day are driven by feelings and emotions,” he says. “That means employee engagement is a decision made by the heart — and managers who want to drive the greatest loyalty, commitment, and productivity need to intentionally focus on how their employees feel.”

“Today’s managers and executives must engage in staff conversations that glean insight into the ‘whole person’ in order to understand what is happening holistically in an employee’s life, and not just what is going on at work,” says Neville De Lucia, managing partner for Dale Carnegie Central and Eastern North Carolina. “No longer optional, it’s imperative to create time and opportunity to have meaningful human-to-human conversations about ‘them’ … be it over lunch, Zoom, or by telephone.”

A recent Better Business Bureau (BBB) bulletin that was distributed amid August National Wellness Month indicated the need for employers to implement practices that support a positive workplace mental health culture. Some of the tips they offered to achieve this led with “taking the time to connect,” citing a Harvard Business Review report emphasizing that “a culture of connection is key.” It further underscored the importance of stepping up manager training to better equip office leaders to navigate sensitive conversations, build trust, and create authentic staff relationships. A third notable in the BBB report promoting the importance of work-life balance cited findings from The Happiness Index, a platform dedicated to happiness and engagement in the workplace. It underscored how “maintaining a healthy work-life balance can enrich health and relationships, improve productivity and performance, and minimize burnout.”

Phillip Zeller, Dale Carnegie location owner and master trainer for Southwest Michigan, concurs with these top-line tips, stating, “It’s key to take quality time to connect with team members in ways that foster a mental health check, while also seeking a better understanding of that person’s talents and personal aspirations. In doing so, that leader can then identify and address any wellness concerns, work-life imbalances, and otherwise help align the employee’s purpose with that of the organization. As well, the employee can better understand and appreciate the meaningful difference that they are making through their work, while also feeling seen, heard, and cared for by leadership.”

According to Zeller, now is a time to for leaders and staffers to have the kind of discussion that help them mutually reassess, review, and realign. Specifically, reassessing the job role, reviewing what projects are being worked on, and realigning tasks to be linear with the company’s goals. This can result in a powerful perception — and motivational — shift as employees can realize with far more clarity how they are contributing to the overall success of the company, while also feeding their own desire to live a purposeful life.

Merilee Kern, MBA is a brand strategist and analyst who reports on noteworthy industry change makers, movers, shakers, and innovators across all B2B and B2C categories. She is founder, executive editor, and producer of “The Luxe List” as well as host of the “Savvy Ventures“ business TV show that airs nationally on FOX Business TV and Bloomberg TV and the “Savvy Living lifestyle TV show that airs in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Atlanta, and other major markets on CBS, FOX, and other networks.

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