Would you let an employee take the day off to go to the movies? Recently, a team member asked to do just that, and my answer was an unequivocal “yes.”
A decade ago, asking for a personal day – much less time off for the movies – could be considered a bold request. Face time equaled productivity. But as work and life become increasingly integrated, managers are adapting their leadership styles to reflect this new paradigm. Empathy is front-and-center.
Empathy is defined as “our ability to understand and share the feelings of another person,” and it’s a critical component to emotional intelligence. Empathy is a top management performance driver: researchers have found that managers who show higher levels of empathy toward their team are also ranked as better performers by their bosses. For first-time managers, practicing empathy is an essential building block for long-term management success.
How to Become a More Empathetic Manager
Here’s how to cultivate a more empathetic management mindset:
My team works incredibly hard in an entrepreneurial sales environment and there’s a high risk for burnout. The pressure to hit numbers and associated mental strain can be intense. My job is to lead through example while ensuring my team has the resources they need to succeed and stay motivated. My approach: don’t assume I know what every team member needs. Listen first. And I mean really listen. People are more productive and engaged when they feel genuinely heard and understood.
I tell my team they don’t need to earn my trust– they already have it. Why do I extend everyone 100% trust from day one? Honesty is key to a productive and positive work environment. When employees are distracted by personal issues, their mind isn’t in the office – it’s with the child who is home sick or the spouse they haven’t seen in a month due to conflicting work schedules. When employees can honestly address personal needs, they’re more focused and engaged at work.
The more time you spend managing, the easier it is to forget what it’s like on the other side. Empathy keeps you in touch with the human struggle your team members may be facing, giving you valuable insight into your team’s emotional state of mind. I make it a habit to ask myself, “How would I feel in a similar situation? What would I hope my manager would do? What would I not want my manager to do?” Remember what it was like for you when you needed extra time to run an errand, schedule that doctor’s appointment, or take a mental health day.
So why did I let my employee take a day off for the movies? It came down to my simple belief that we must look out for our people first, and when we do so, business success will follow. In this case, conflicting work schedules meant my employee and her spouse had not had a day off at the same time in months. My employee knew she needed to care for her relationship and asked for the personal day to do one of her favorite traditions with her spouse: a movie date. I appreciated her honesty and I knew taking the day off wouldn’t detract from her work. I sensed the opposite: taking time to connect with her spouse would help her be more focused and successful in the office.
Learning how to be an effective manager is tricky, especially when you’re new and still figuring out your management style and how to coach your team. A commitment to practicing empathy will carry you through the bumpy transition period and serve you well throughout your career. I know it does for me every day.
What role does empathy play in your daily approach to management?