As we look ahead to the Spring months, many of us will be using this time to set in motion our plans for the achievements we hope to celebrate over the next financial quarter. But for many, 2023 is shrouded in angst and uncertainty. Global economic challenges continue to affect companies, customers, and communities across the world. Consumer spending growth is expected to drop, and many of our employees are already feeling the strain of rising inflation and a looming recession, with higher levels of money-related worries known to negatively affect employee wellbeing and performance. With the need to implement changes and champion employee wellbeing in the year ahead ever-present, the era of the empathetic leader is truly imminent.
The impact of the Global Empathy deficit
For years, it was believed that we were rational beings in and out of the workplace. But human beings emote before we react, and as the years since 2020 have played out, our emotional responses to what’s happening around us have played a considerable role in our health, our businesses, and our workplace culture. Feelings of anger, fear, and loneliness can change the way we connect to each other at work and the extent to which we are able to build and maintain organisational relationships and performance as a team. The more prominent these emotions become outside of the workplace, the less empathy we see within our teams – just at the time when we need more of it given that our shared mutual understanding has been affected by three decades of declining empathy levels, known as the Global Empathy Deficit.If we are to bring employee connection, cohesion, and communication to the fore in 2023 then managers must prioritise and proactively implement empathetic leadership throughout their organisations and teams.
As a leadership capability, empathetic leadership enables trust and open conversations within the workplace that leads to positive changes for their people and profits. Furthermore, from a strategic and organizational perspective, the ability to connect empathically with others at work is fundamental to driving up a high percentage of all corporate KPI’s. Teams win when they work together, and empathetic leadership allows us to better co-exist with our colleagues and teams by deepening our knowledge of each other’s expectations and skills, thus enabling a more collaborative and connected environment that can perform in the months ahead.
Increasing our empathy levels also helps us to metaphorically step into the shoes of our customers. In doing so, we can better understand their needs and how the current situations are affecting them, informing how we as business leaders respond to changes in our marketing, sales, and operations. If we don’t understand our customers, we won’t be able to effectively meet and exceed their expectations, meaning we won’t just lose their attention but also their custom.
Strengthening our shared empathy
As business leaders and people managers, we can no longer have an internal-only mindset that only considers employees in terms of their output and performance. Rather, we need to recognise that our ability, and desire, to do and be at our best is entirely connected to our contexts and realities. Without this, leaders will struggle to make decisions that reflect the realities of your people and find it nearly impossible to inspire and lead their teams to success.
But this can be far easier said than done. When we’re in ‘survival’ mode, we default to a more ego centric, protectionist and introverted focus and find it far harder to activate the parts of the brain which are responsible for empathy. Studies also show that people will cognitively turn off empathy if they feel like they are unable to help somebody, or respond, how they would ideally like to.
However, it has been proven time and again that far from being an immutable trait, empathy is a skill that can be refined and improved for the benefit of ourselves and those around us. It is a choice for leadership teams to invest in the development of empathy within our teams – and this investment must be continuous, for empathy is not a ‘one-off’ session hosted by HR. It is a long-term solution that leads to a path of competitive advantage.
In 2023, it will be the organisations which embrace empathetic leadership that will be able to move forward with the support of their teams and turn these challenges into business triumphs. Business leaders, now is the time to prioritise the shared understanding of your community and train your teams in humanity’s oldest leadership trait. If not, you could be looking back at 2023 and wondering where did it all go wrong?