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Leadership Development

How Leading With Empathy Empowers Employees

By ROHEI
6 January 2022

In a Nutshell

  • The Great Attrition is happening. People are leaving firms, and businesses are struggling to retain their finest talent.
  • As the global workforce moves towards a hybrid work arrangement, it is imperative for a post-COVID leader to enable employees to feel a greater sense of involvement and engagement than before. One way to achieve that is by empowering employees.
  • When leaders make decisions that take into account employees’ concerns and feelings, they help both the business and employees grow.
  • While it may have been known that demonstrating empathy in leadership is important, a new study proves its critical role in everything from innovation to retention. 

New kind of leadership needed in the new norm

The Great Attrition is happening. People are leaving firms, and businesses are struggling to retain their finest talent. Resignations peaked in the United States in April and have remained abnormally high for the months that followed.

This wave is predicted to persist, and organisations must recognise how to adapt if they intend to not only survive this challenge but rise above and find success. 

“Employee expectations are changing, and we will need to define productivity much more broadly — inclusive of collaboration, learning, and wellbeing to drive career advancement for every worker,” according to Satya Nadella, CEO at Microsoft. As the global workforce moves towards a hybrid work arrangement, it is imperative for a post-COVID leader to enable employees to feel a greater sense of involvement and engagement than before. One way to achieve that is by empowering employees.

Research has regularly shown that when employees feel empowered at work, it is often associated with more robust job performance, job satisfaction, and commitment to the organisation. This is still very true in today's evolving work environment. And leaders can increase the empowerment of employees by demonstrating empathy in their leadership.

 

Empathy is fundamental to empowering employees

Forbes described empowerment as a “motivational concept related to self-efficacy and self-actualisation”. In the words of Murielle Tiambo, senior engagement manager at PwC in New York, “Empowering employees to achieve something requires alignment between individual aspirations and organisational goals". There cannot be alignment without understanding your people's thoughts, emotions, and circumstances.

When leaders make decisions that take into account employees’ concerns and how employees feel, they help both the business and employee grow by facilitating empowerment. Here are some ways empathy empowers your teams and boosts results:

 

Empathy helps leaders put people where they can truly value-add, deepening engagement

Empathetic leadership takes into account the realities and situations of employees. Leading in this way naturally empowers employees with a voice to openly share not only their concerns and feelings, but also their preferences.  Managers can maximise human capital investment by putting employees in roles where they can flourish while increasing engagement at the same time. Employees who do work they can excel in are more productive and less likely to quit.

A company that does this well is Google, consistently named among the best organisations to work for by Fortune magazine. Here, managers work alongside team members to set and achieve goals together. The sense of agency that employees have over the work that they do enables them to have a stake in decisions that directly concern them, which translates to higher overall engagement. 

Empowering employees with the ability to have a say in the work they do allows them to feel valued both corporately by the company and relationally by their managers, which will increase manager-staff connection and overall sense of belonging at work. This is supported by McKinsey’s research, which found that employees want to feel valued and crave meaningful relationships at work beyond pay, benefits, and perks.

Leading from a position of empathy empowers employees with the ability to create better career plans for themselves, which in turn makes the company an attractive one to work for.

 

Empathy allows co-decision making, strengthening ownership

When leaders carry out their roles with empathy, they involve employees in decision-making. This communicates that managers trust and value the opinions of their team members, which in turn builds employee engagement. 

When employees are empowered to share their opinions, they are sent a message that their opinions are important and worth listening to. Employee participation in decision-making improves employee morale, leading to higher productivity and commitment.

A Stanford University study found that a defining aspect of human society is that people work together toward common ends. “The results showed that simply feeling like you’re part of a team of people working on a task makes people more motivated as they take on challenges,” the researchers say.

Invitation to collaborate in the decision-making process empowers employees to have a say in important matters and helps to build a sense of belonging and ownership over their work. 

 

Empathy creates an environment for everyone to speak up, increasing retention

Empathetic leadership gives employees opportunities to provide feedback and raise issues in a safe space without fear. When employees are empowered to speak up, it gives them a sense of control over their environment. Research suggests this is a critical antecedent to increased ownership and belonging at work. 

The benefits of empowering employees to speak up go a long way. In a study by MIT Sloan Management Review, employees who spoke up were 92% more likely to stay with the company (even if offered a comparable position elsewhere). 95% said they would recommend their company as a great place to work and expressed excitement to come to work to do their jobs.

 

Empowering your people with empathy honours both people and results

While it may have been known that demonstrating empathy in leadership is important, studies continue to prove the critical role it plays in everything from innovation to retention. 

While the traditional ways of leadership often overlooks empathy as a nice-to-have, with some even arguing that it may make the leader appear weak, today’s climate has shown that empathetic leadership is an increasingly critical trait needed to lead a thriving workforce. 

As businesses confront new and persisting challenges, they must adapt, react, and be highly effective in a new global context of work. They must lead with relational competence—with human centricity and empathy. This empowers employees to find success as individuals which help teams and organisations to thrive.

Empathy is part and parcel of the first of 6 Responsibility of a Relational Leader: Recognising Reality. Learn more about relational leadership by downloading this free e-book: Learn more about empathetic leadership relational leadership by downloading this free e-book.

 

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