How to be an empathetic leader without being a pushover
In these difficult times, we look to business leaders to take the helm of their company with confidence and authority. However, now is not the time to rule with an iron fist. It certainly would not be an effective way to invigorate your team to come back to work, and more importantly, to perform at their best.
Ideally, it is a time for leaders to show empathy, relatability, and understanding, mixed with a balance and measure of authority, so you don’t convey a message of weakness to your team. The right balance is often not so obvious. Here are helpful points to keep in mind.
Be likeable as a leader
Most people want to be liked. To please is a natural instinct we all have. Research shows that a sense of belonging and love is third most important, just beyond basic needs and safety. A team liking its leader leads to higher levels of productivity and commitment. It’s a win-win for you, your team, and your business. How can you accomplish this?
- Honesty is key: If you want honesty, be ready to offer it first. Even when it’s not comfortable to do so, being honest is always the right choice. Show the opposite and don’t be surprised if you will have to deal with dishonest team members. You get what you give.
- Listen first before speaking: Listening is a skill to be practiced often. Stop whatever you are doing and focus with the intention of truly listening to your employees. Take notes because they may have the next creative idea in mind. Show openness and be receptive. If they’re taking the time to give you ideas, chances are they care as much as you do about the business and its goals.
- Get in the trenches: Be willing to join your team to do whatever needs to get done. Barking orders won’t get you anywhere. Your team should see that you are capable of doing their job if they can’t. Be the pinch hitter that is needed just in case but know when to pull back when things are going well and allow for normal activity to resume.
- Delegate and trust: Doing everything yourself is good but counterproductive. Teach your team and show them how to handle responsibilities you wish to pass on to them. Get busy discovering new ways to generate revenue. Grow your business because that’s where you are supposed to be, and where your skills are being used for their highest good.
- Fairness gets you everything: Never play favorites. Know your employees well enough to know what motivates them and also what discourages them. Know how to handle both ends of the spectrum.
No pushover in this corner
Being liked doesn’t mean being your team’s doormat. Catering to their needs, solving their problems, and letting them do whatever they want is not beneficial for you or them. How can you avoid being a pushover?
- Don’t carry the lion’s share of the work: Sharing is caring, but there’s a limit. Don’t be taken advantage of. You should not finish what they started. A deadline is a deadline is a deadline, no matter what.
- Mistakes are not yours to correct: If you spot mistakes, have the employee correct them. Don’t do it yourself; your team member’s learning curve is tampered with if you do that. Show them and tell them, but they need to do the dirty work. Otherwise the lesson is not conveyed or learned and mistakes will continue.
- Rules are rules: They are set in place to be followed and respected for a reason. There is no option.
- Make time for feedback: People learn and grow from feedback. If you are unhappy with an employee’s performance, you need to set up a meeting and review the issues with the employee. If you say nothing, then most likely nothing will change — either the employee doesn’t know or the employee doesn’t care. A meeting will address both issues.
- The elephant in the room — conflict: If there is a situation that needs attention, it’s best if you deal with it swiftly. Don’t let it fester, which allows additional employees the opportunity to get involved.
Your ultimate goal isn’t to be liked. Your goal is to be respected as a leader and a visionary of your business. Earn your team’s respect and the rest will follow. Count on it!
Angela Civitella is founder of Intinde and a certified business leadership coach.
Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.