5 Ways to Be a More Empathetic Leader

Knowing the benefits of empathy is only the first step. Here's how to weave it into your company's DNA


Our Empathetic Leadership Blog Series has covered why workplace empathy matters and how understanding the different types of empathy can power a better employee experience. Empathy is one of NewRocket's core values selected by our Crew. As CEO, it's my mission to apply employee feedback directly into our plans, processes, and goals. That feedback helps us operate as a high-empathy organization.

I encourage all leaders to adopt empathy as a core value – a fundamental guide that drives the heart of your organization.  

How to Be an Empathetic Leader

Knowing the benefits of empathy is only the first step. Here's how to weave it into your company's DNA.

1. Stop and Listen

Stephen R. Covey, author of the best-selling book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," said it best: "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." We tend to listen with an objective we're trying to achieve, whether the intent is to reply, share our perspectives, or convince the other person.  

Listening is a deceptively simple skill that can produce dividends when put into practice. And listening is just that – a practice.  

Truly listening to a client can inspire a creative solution – it might be one single word they said that sparks an idea previously unexplored.  

Listening to employees can increase employee morale, engagement, and a sense of empowerment. At NewRocket, it's essential that we create space for Crew Members to voice their opinions on business decisions and actions, and that can only be done when leaders truly stop and listen.  

Practicing active listening can yield incredible results on your journey to becoming a more empathetic leader.

2. Be Curious

Curiosity can act as a precursor to empathy. Before we can demonstrate empathy, we must develop it, and being curious is a muscle we can learn to exercise.  

American psychologist Carl Rogers described empathy as "seeing the world through the eyes of the other, not seeing your world reflected in their eyes. To be truly empathetic and understand another person's perspective, feelings, and motivations, you have to be curious about that person."

Leaders must weigh every decision from an empathy perspective. This includes knowing what's happening throughout the company and learning more about how employees think and feel.  

At NewRocket, our rally cry is to "Go Beyond": Go Beyond for our clients, Go Beyond for our partners, Go Beyond for our fellow Crew Members, and Go Beyond for our communities.  

I think "Go Beyond" applies here too. Go Beyond to incorporate curiosity into your daily life. You'll begin to notice deepening relationships (see why deep work relationships matter in my previous blog) and a deeper understanding.

What does this look like in practice? Ask employees for feedback on how you're doing. Learn about them by asking open-ended questions that give them the freedom to share their professional and personal aspirations. Express a genuine interest in what they're doing and experiencing. Outside your comfort zone? You'll be a better leader for it.  

3. Offer Different Ways to Give Feedback

Most employees are hungry for feedback that helps them grow and improve. However, how that feedback gets delivered can either motivate and inspire increased productivity or demotivate and hinder results and output.  

In a high-empathy organization, feedback is continuous and ongoing. The simple act of reflecting on how another person might receive the feedback instantly makes the delivery constructive and goal-oriented.

That doesn't mean you shy away from difficult decisions or conversations. In fact, executing a difficult decision can always be handled empathetically and can be an act of empathy itself. For example, leaving someone to routinely underperform due to being in the wrong role is not empathetic. As leaders, we hold an important role in guiding employees and our businesses in ways that lead to employee and organizational success.  

As we've discussed throughout these blog posts, you can't simply declare you have an empathetic organization or culture – it has to be fostered and created, and providing multiple avenues for feedback can help.  

At NewRocket, we share anonymous engagement surveys, host coffee chats, meet 1-on-1, and have a Rockstar Recognition program where Crew Members recognize others doing great things. When employees have ample opportunities to express what's on their minds comfortably, the feedback you deliver and receive will be more valuable.

4. Understand Your Technology to Stay Connected  

Though some companies have welcomed employees back to the office, the working world is still primarily a digital-first, remote environment. While remote work has many significant benefits, no paradigm exists without drawbacks. Because the days of catching up at the water cooler or swinging by a colleague's desk to chat are no longer possible for most of us, connections and the feeling of connectedness can begin to break down.  

A fully remote or even hybrid workplace needs empathy put into practice intentionally to maintain, create, and develop connections. How do we do this? Understand the technology you have to leverage it best.  

Familiarize yourself with the technology that enables a more fluid working environment, and ensure your employees have the tools they need to do their work and stay connected. Get your teams on video calls to see each other's faces. Encourage frequent and real-time communication. Think through at-home offices and what employees could use to be more productive. At NewRocket, every Crew Member gets an annual Productivity Stipend to facilitate a more robust work-from-home experience.  

Remote and hybrid work is here to stay. Avoid making assumptions – ask proactive, thoughtful questions that will guide you to understand what technology your employees might need, now and in the future.  

5. Create an Employee Value Proposition

You're probably familiar with creating value propositions for a new product or service: a statement regarding the value that the product or service provides and how it stands out from competitors.  

An Employee Value Proposition (EVP) applies that same premise to a company and its employees. An EVP is a statement highlighting the unique value your company can offer its employees. It is the guiding principle to how you approach your people practices. In other words, it's your company's commitment to its employees.

At NewRocket, our EVP is People Matter. Employees Matter. You Matter. We believe our Employee Value Proposition is achieved by living our Core Values: Excellence, Creativity, Integrity, Teamwork, and Empathy (ExCITE).  

Creating an Employee Value Proposition shows your employees that you are committed to showing genuine care, respect, and concern for their experience at your company.  

Becoming an empathetic leader doesn't happen overnight. It takes time, training, and a willingness to make mistakes along the way. However, it's well worth the effort. You'll discover new results and ways to improve your company while connecting with your employees like never before.

Connect with Matt on LinkedIn.

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