Empathy, Leaders

Leadership Empathy

In the pursuit of success, leaders constantly look to push for better productivity from their teams.  So much time and effort are spent looking at past production, comparing it to current production and setting higher production expectations.  So much so that when production goals are not met, leaders would expediently address the issue with the individuals who are not keeping pace, and the common message is just to get your act together and pick up the pace.  The pace may pick up, but the true issues causing the decrease in productivity isn’t addressed and will continue to persist until it’s truly explored and resolved.

Leaders have many fears, but one fear that may scare leaders most is not meeting production delivery goals.  Failing to do so has major impact on their performance reviews, the perception of their ability to lead and motivate, and may close doors on opportunities for career advancements.  Therefore, many leaders will go to great lengths just to ensure that their productivity commitments are met.

In the bag of tricks leaders carries, it has thing such as making threats.  “You’re not getting your work done on time.  Get it done or I’ll deduct your pay”.  “Your work isn’t done you can’t go home until you’re finished”.  “If you don’t make your deliveries on time, it will be noted for your review”.  These are just some of the threats that have commonly been used to get employees to meet delivery goals.

Another method commonly deployed is offering additional incentives.  “Get your goals met this time and you’ll get a little something extra in your paycheck next time”.  Or an extra day off.  Or it will be noted for the next review.  Basically leaders may resort to bribing their teams to get things done on time.

While those methods may have shown short term effectiveness, it lacks the effort to really comprehend what the true issues are and how to address them for the long haul.  The true objectives of a leader should not be meeting production and delivery goals.  The true objectives of a leader should be supporting and ensuring that the team and team members are as prepared technically, physically, emotionally and psychologically to perform their job functions.  Using methods such as threats or bribing may possibly get the objectives met that one time, but the issues persist and it becomes a revolving door having to be addressed over and over.

When being threatened, no one responds well.  We may push harder just to get pass the moment, but that builds resentment and is toxic.  Giving additional intensive sounds good on the surface, but it sets the wrong culture where additional incentives will always be expected to just to the regular job expectations.  Instead of using those methods, try exercising empathy with team members who are not performing well.

When I speak with my teams about Empathy, and I ask them “What is empathy?”  I get a lot of “Well, it’s sympathy”, which is almost correct.  Sympathy is the ability to understand what others are going through.  Empathy takes it a step beyond that.  Empathy not only understands the other person’s issues, but share in their emotional experience and then treating that person the way we would want to be treated if it was us in that situation.

Instead of making threats like “You’re not getting your work done on time.  Get it done or I’ll deduct your pay”, try asking “Is everything ok?  I notice you’re struggling this month on your production, when you normally do pretty well.  Can we talk about it?”  Instead of bribing employees with “Get your goals met this time and you’ll get a little something extra in your paycheck next time”, try sharing with the individual something like “I’ve noticed the quality of your work isn’t as great as you usually deliver.  Is there something troubling you?  Is there anything I can do to help?”

Often leaders do not make any attempts to understand why an employee unusually struggling to meet production requirements.  It is commonly assumed that the employee is just slacking off and not focusing to get the job done.  However, practicing empathy may reveal a deeper cause to the declined productivity.  You may discover that the individual may have a personal problem at home that’s causing them to be distracted.  You may discover that the individual may have a health issue that’s preventing them to be fully functional.  Exercise empathy and give additional support to the individuals going through this hard time in their lives.

Digging deeper to find root causes making individuals perform poorly and then providing the support structure to help the individual overcome those struggles truly resolves the issues for good.  Once the issues are resolved, productivity will automatically resume as expected.  It likely may even surpass expectations, as the individual will be more motivated to perform better for you.  Showing empathy and caring for the individual over the productivity builds trust and a healthy relationship which will last.  Trust not only with the particular individual, but other members who witness the compassion and empathy given.  They will recognize that you care more about them and that you’re willing to help them in their time of needs.  This will lead to a stronger team with a much better culture that is sustainable and will perform at a much higher level.

Photo by: Tim Gouw

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