Can my empathy really make a difference in the motivation of my team?
It is a well-known fact that internal motivation of employees is a key to any company’s success. Yet, one analysis after another demonstrates serious decline in motivation and engagement among employees of Western companies. According to one recent Gallup survey, in Western Europe only 10% of employees are engaged at work. Needless to say, demotivated employees cost their companies a fortune. The lack of motivation, however, is not an evil plan set up by employees to bring a company, they work for, down. We are all human. It happens so that even the best employees experience personal or professional difficulties, which affect their work motivation and productivity. Such situations are probably unavoidable but they are, nevertheless, manageable. A lot depends on a team leader or a department head, more precisely, on their ability to switch on their empathy.
A new word in the language of business
Empathy is a relatively new word in the vocabulary of business relations. It seems to be an antonym to competition, success, control, - all those notions which traditionally considered to be the best qualities of real executives. Empathy is the ability to acknowledge and understand emotions, feelings, and thoughts of others, relate to them and support them. It is not just a feeling of sympathy but active compassion for those around us.
Any employee is first and foremost a human being. And as such, each employee experiences a range of emotions, feelings, and thoughts. There is nothing unprofessional in this. This is simply human. Our responses to actions, words, and events are not the same as all of us have our own unique background. Besides, each person may find themselves in a difficult life situation: troubled relationship, bereavement or health issues. More than that, an employee may experience emotional burnout and, as a result, is unable to prioritize and complete their tasks. Any of these feelings may trigger the fear of punishment, nonacceptance, misunderstanding and cause stress or even depression, leading to further decline in motivation and productivity.
Effective leader is an empathetic leader
A domineering overbearing boss is an image from the past. The evolution of business relationships has consistently confirmed that in the long run such type of a manager does not achieve any considerable positive results. Nowadays, the major challenge is rather an ineffective director, who is unable or unwilling to understand their team members. Such executives cost their companies a fortune, in direct and indirect costs. On the contrary, an effective leader is the one who is able to understand their own emotions as well as to recognize and respect the emotions of the others. Two separate research papers published recently, each based on the analysis of a large sample of organizations, have confirmed the importance of empathy as a leading leadership quality. Research commissioned by the Centre for Creative Leadership found that managerial empathy is positively related to overall job performance (https://www.ccl.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/EmpathyInTheWorkplace.pdf). Similarly, cross-national research by Development Dimensions International has concluded that empathetic leaders perform 40% higher in overall performance (https://www.ddiworld.com/global-offices/united-states/press-room/what-is-the-1-leadership-skill-for-overall-success).
Cost-effectiveness of empathy
A proactive leader will always compare the costs and outcomes of different courses of their actions. What is more effective: to motivate an employee or to look for a new one? There are, of course, many ways to motivate an employee, and empathy is not a “magic pill”. But it is true that what causes a really deep response is when a person feels that they are understood and accepted just the way they are. This arouses the real boost of additional motivation.
Despite being a powerful motivational tool, executive’s empathy needs to know its boundaries. There is a danger of becoming a freelance psychologist for employees. For the sake of successful business and proper atmosphere in the office, it is healthy to maintain respectful subordination and not to get too much engaged into employees’ problems. Just to make the last point clear: we don’t encourage executives pretending to show empathy. We are friendly alerting them to the danger of getting overwhelmed by other people’s feelings and emotions. The latter may easily lead to the difficulties of being able to make balanced management decisions.
What is the added value of empathy? An executive with a developed sense of empathy can activate the strong features of employees, motivating them to deliver a high quality work and performance in a manner beneficial to their personalities.
A leader’s empathic approach is beneficial for everybody. An employee realizes that they are valued and treated as a respected individual. This gives a boost to loyalty and motivation. The benefit of an executive is in securing long-term employee’s loyalty and the possibility of continuous productive cooperation within the team.
Empathy is a part of what is known as soft skills. Despite the ‘softness’ of a term, emotional intelligence and social skills are the hard-core tools of personal and professional success. The good news is that these skills can be learned at any age and stage of your career. At Gross Leadership we have created a number of training programs and workshops devoted to various aspects of emotional intelligence.
We treat each of our clients individually, adjusting our programs to their specific needs and requirements. Therefore, you can be sure that our methods will definitely work in your particular case. You can find more information on our website:
What do you think about the role of empathy in business and leadership success? Would you like to share your accounts of how empathetic attention has improved employees’ motivation?
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players…”
(W. Shakespeare, As You Like It)
We believe that each and every one of us is not only a leading actor but first and foremost a writer of our own destiny. Overwhelmed by life events, we may unintentionally forget that we are the sole playwrights of our own lives. We may even unwittingly drop or lose the thread of our unfolding life story. Then, we start questioning ourselves and let others do the writing for us. Doesn’t this happen to all of us occasionally? The best thing we can do is to resume the leadership as soon as we can: only we should write the play of our life!
With the renewed confidence and new skills, we design new perspectives. Coaching and training are the best instruments we use to achieve this goal.