The Keys to Leading with Empathy:

Active listening and setting boundaries

A few years ago, I cancelled a meeting at the drop of a cat. Yes, you read it correctly, at the drop of a cat.

A happy picture of me with my cat Ginger. He died alone, while I was away on a business trip.

A fifty-something male member of my team stood teary-eyed in front of me and asked if he could go home to comfort his son who called to say that the family’s pet cat of 13 years was dying.

Realizing that my team member was too distraught to complete an important report that we were set to discuss that afternoon, I let him go home and at the same time, I said that I would reschedule our meeting for the following day.

I could totally relate to my distraught team member’s reaction. I remember how upsetting it was when my own cat, Ginger, died alone while I was away on a business trip.

On reflection, I realized that in this situation, there was a healthy dose of #empathy, balanced with the commitment to get the work done.

Empathy is the ability to understand the other person’s perspective and respond in a way that supports the needs of the other person, even if you don’t necessarily agree with their point of view or emotional response to a situation. 

Although my experience with the death of my own cat made this situation relatable, there have been times when it was difficult to understand the concerns and emotional reactions of my team members. 

Striking a balance between the well-being of the employee and the corporation’s #financialperformance was challenging.

I had to learn to listen actively to what was being said, how it was being said and why it was being said…. a tough thing for a talker like me!

I found out that the key to empathetic #leadership is setting healthy emotional and professional boundaries, which strikes the right balance between #empathy and the ability to make sound #management decisions. For example,

  • Never playing psychologist to a distraught employee. Offer help by referrals to #employeeassistanceprogram (EAP) or other professional resources. 
  • Accommodate special requests and preferences (e.g., assign special projects, flexible work schedules, etc.) without compromising the delivery of core mandates. Be clear about the special accommodations.

A reminder to leaders –

Empathy is meaningful when employees are listened to, when they feel that they are heard. More importantly, leadership must commit to implementing solutions that balance the needs of employees and the organization so that employees thrive and the organization prospers.  

See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.

Further reading

Caring for work from home caregivers

Prendre soin des proche aidants qui font le travail à domicile

Make workplace empathy meaningful: Provide employee benefits that help women advance their careers

Published by Camille Isaacs-Morell

Enabling businesses and people to be successful. This is my mission, my life’s work. It’s always been what I have done wherever I’ve been employed, called to serve or to volunteer. An experienced business leader, my core values are truth, integrity, and respect. I believe that values-based leadership is critical for organizational success that is enabled by an engaged and empowered workforce. Working over the years in several senior marketing, communications, and executive leadership mandates for global, financial, healthcare, and non-profit organizations, it has been through times of transformation and difficult change that I have done my best work. In my blog posts, I share my perspectives on leadership, marketing and strategy that are based on my key learnings and observations over the years, all with the objective of helping others reach for success. In my spare time, I enjoy the beauty of nature which I reproduce in my pastel paintings.

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