As the end of 2020 nears, it’s easy to look back and recognize the many things this year has taught us. When faced with hardship and adversity, we tend to learn more about ourselves, each other and what’s truly important. Throughout this year, discussions centered on empathy – in the professional sense – have surfaced more than ever before. It’s changed how we lead, how we work, how we interact and how we respond. So let’s continue to unpack this concept as we learn to lead with empathy.

Start with humility

The ability to understand and share the feelings of another person starts with a mindset: the belief that someone else is more important than yourself. Laying a foundation of humility levels the playing field. Regardless of job title or role, no single person is valued more than another. This humility develops safe work environments which ultimately leads to greater opportunities for connection and understanding.

Recognize your own imperfection

As leaders, it can be difficult to admit that we don’t have all of the answers. And contrary to popular belief, we aren’t equipped to solve every problem. Recognizing our own imperfections as leaders, enables us to better relate to the flaws and shortcomings of other people – particularly our team members. When we’re able to accept our own weaknesses, it’s easier to accept them in other people. This self-awareness and emotional intelligence allows us to approach conversations with understanding, empathy and forgiveness rather than judgment.

Show up + put people first

When it comes to empathy, half of the battle is simply showing up. It’s easy to get consumed by the busyness of your own day without taking a moment to appreciate the people standing right in front of you. But leading with empathy requires valuing your people above everything else – and sometimes that requires sacrificing your time, productivity or schedule in order to show up and be fully present. It takes intentionality to see people as people, not just a part of the machine that produces achievements for the company. Being an empathetic leader means caring for your people and putting them first.

Listen

It’s been said that being heard is equal to being loved. Listening first expresses care and concern. It’s important to understand how people are feeling or thinking without interjecting your own opinion of right or wrong. It’s less about fixing someone or something and more about acknowledging someone else’s feelings and recognizing that they’re real. By listening intently, you give your team members the freedom to be who they uniquely are rather than making attempts to mold them into the people you want them to be. 

These simple steps will get you in the habit of practicing empathy regularly. Our teams, organizations and businesses will benefit from less time focused on ourselves and more time focused on those around us. So let’s make others the priority and flip the golden rule on its head – it’s time we start treating others the way they want to be treated.

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