With the first quarter of the year behind us, the middle of the second quarter 2015 is fast approaching. In light of the fast-paced and dynamic environments that we operate in today, I want to share thoughts on leadership and other insights on what is required for a business to succeed.
Ask a random sampling of people which traits they look for in a leader and you’ll get lots of expected answers. Intelligence, focus on results, vision, communication skills, and decisiveness rank high on the list. One equally important trait that is more obscure and much less likely to be mentioned is empathy. Why is that? What is it about our notions of empathy that makes it rarely associated with leadership?
Our old view of management may lean towards the archetype of the overbearing boss with single-minded focus on employee productivity. While this may still apply in some companies, in some places, modern offices have softened their stance. The idea that aggressively pushing workers until they break is outdated. Conventional wisdom has shifted towards creating fulfilled workers. Empathy in today’s businesses isn’t just about the relationships between management and employee. It’s a state of mind that extends from the customer to the top of the business and back down. To empathize with your customer is to understand how they perceive your company and your products. For example, you’ll understand how occasional customer complaints come to be, and how to quickly resolve them. Now, let’s apply this same exercise to the interoffice relationships.
Whether or not you feel naturally prone to empathy, you can still actively cultivate this trait in your workplace. A great place to start is paying attention to how you listen and respond to employees.
Practice being fully present when communicating. In meetings as well as face to face chats, actively listen and pay attention. Vocal tones, body language, and of course words themselves are clues to the meaning behind the employee’s message to you or the group. Put down the smartphone and don’t lead employees to wonder “Are they listening or just waiting to speak?”
Be mindful in all your responses. Don’t interrupt when someone is speaking, as this not only frustrates them, but cuts off their train of thought. It could be that you’ve shut down what could have been a substantive discussion, and the employee’s fledgling idea isn’t given the attention it deserves. Along with interruption, dismissal is a common complaint. Dismissing an employee’s concern is as frustrating as interrupting them. Let them finish their thoughts, and given them due consideration.
Encouragement and recognition are important, too. Some people are naturally quiet and reserved. You can encourage them to speak up in smaller conversations, eventually building their confidence so that they contribute in larger groups. And all employees should receive praise for a job well done. The simplicity of a genuine smile and a thank you go a long way towards letting them know you appreciate the time they put into the company.
To build positive habits in your business, it helps to start with the customer relationship and apply those same skills and perspective to employees. After all, in many of our businesses, our coworkers are our customers – think of the internal computer helpdesk as an example. When we cultivate empathy, we give and receive more honest feedback, gain trust, and develop deeper relationships at all levels. Most importantly, we build a more human workplace. That is a top priority for us at RAY ALLEN INC, as we have continued to grow and expand with our new Denver office, and we have multiple corporate social responsibility initiatives from health initiatives and employee enrichment programs to the support of local nonprofits. Connect with me on Twitter @toddring to continue the discussions!
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