Can you be a super leader?
“The top 10 companies on the Empathy Index increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom 10, and they generated 50% more earnings.”
How often do we attempt to understand things from someone else’s perspective? As an entrepreneur or small business leader, this skill is critical in human resources, but it also impacts your bottom line.
Empathy includes everything from how employees perceive you to whether customers are satisfied with your products or services. And while it’s often dismissed as overly “touchy-feely” or “wimpy and emotional,” practicing empathy is linked directly to financial gains, so ignore it at your own risk.
Why Empathy Drives Business Growth as Much as Solid Working Capital
According to the Harvard Business Review, empathy means understanding our emotional impact on others and making a change as a result. “It’s more important to a successful business than ever, correlating to growth, productivity, and earnings per employee,” HBR explained.
Need proof, check out the global Empathy Index, which analyzes the ethics, leadership, company culture, brand perception and public social media messaging of 170 companies listed on major financial indexes. Staggeringly, companies that performed well in “empathy” also had equally high overall business performance.
“The top 10 companies on the Empathy Index increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom 10, and they generated 50% more earnings (defined by market capitalization).”
5 easy steps for entrepreneurs to practice better empathy
Great business relationships, especially those involving growth capital and funding, start with a face-to-face understanding of the client’s needs, fears and goals.
As business partners, we’re always listening for ways to make our services more responsive. Renowned leadership advisors and empathy experts SYPartners recently published a list of 5 Ways to Cultivate Empathy, and it struck a chord. (This cutting-edge management consultancy also created an app called Unstuck that helps people understand what’s holding them back and how to move forward — it’s worth checking out.)
According to SYPartners, empathy enables leaders to “build stronger teams, design more ingenious solutions, and deepen their emotional intelligence, an increasingly covetable skill in the next era of business.”
Try their five proven ways of practicing empathy:
1. Put down your guard.
“Your ability to feel emotions is what triggers them in others. If you want to connect with someone, you have to let yourself be vulnerable, too.”
ACTION ITEM: It’s easy to dismiss chitchat around the office, but sometimes these genuine interactions can take your business relationships to the next level. When someone asks how you’re doing, be real with them. Share a story from your weekend or a challenge you’re facing right now. SYPartners recommends starting your meetings with a “pulse-check” to invite your team to share what they’re excited or anxious about. By getting real with your colleagues, even for a moment before jumping into business, you’ll be practicing empathy.
2. Help others know they matter
“As Oprah often says: «Every human being is looking for one thing, and that is to be validated, to be seen and to be heard.» Your job as a leader is to help others know they matter.”
ACTION ITEM: In modern business, devices control our lives. Computers, tablets, smartphones and even smart watches. But they can also destroy our attention spans and ability to focus on the people around us. Can you go through an entire meeting without your gaze drifting to your screen? Often, that text or email can wait. When it matters most, give your full attention to the people around you — in face-to-face meetings, client conversations and critical moments with your staff.
3. Pay attention to body language
“Thousands of invitations for empathy cross your path every day. Do you notice them and shift your behavior, or do you let them glide past?”
ACTION ITEM: Your actions speak volumes, especially when you can pick up on subtle cues from your team’s body language — and then respond empathetically. In presentations, for example, notice how the room reacts to your comments. Pause to let key points sink in, allow curious minds to ask questions or shift your tone and topic if the message isn’t resonating. When you sense changes in your coworkers’ body language, these are visual reminders for you to acknowledge the mood and react accordingly.
4. Stand in someone else’s shoes
“It’s not always possible to get all the necessary voices at the table. But that doesn’t mean you can’t summon your imagination and best acting skills to pressure-test your team’s thinking.”
ACTION ITEM: True empathy comes from experiencing a situation from another perspective. SYPartners recommends that you take on personas in your next team meeting or workshop, assigning roles to each team member. By acting as skeptical customers, investors, competitors or a long-term client, they’ll be forced to take on those people’s characteristics — facing the challenges from a different point of view. You can also have the team interview these real people in advance to get a first-person perspective and immediate feedback.
5. Take a field trip
“It’s hard to get perspective when you sit at a desk every day. To better understand whom you’re designing for or collaborating with, go to them where they are and observe their routines.”
ACTION ITEM: Whether it’s a different team, department, office location or your client base, you’ll never get more first-hand experience than visiting where they work. Take your team on a “seeing exploration” to observe their environment, as SYPartners explains. Ask questions about how they operate on a daily basis, the major challenges they face, what they are proud of and even potentially how you can help out.