Empathy & Authenticity First

I once worked with a manager who never had a negative thing to say about anything.  Everything was always, “amazing”, “super”, or “exciting”.  Her belief was that this fostered a positive culture and encouraged happy team members.  Many of us that worked under her were not so sure.  The thing was that her communications with us and others did not come across as authentic.  It’s as if she was putting on a face and her real thoughts lay behind it.

This was especially pronounced in meetings.  There were never any problems, difficulties, or reasons something might not work.  These were all classified as “excuses”.  Was your location poor yet you still had similar sales targets to every other store?  Well, then you needed to “get creative”.  Were you short staffed and HR had not provided you with any interviews in over a month?  Well then, you should find your own people.

These answers are not necessarily wrong.  The advice is useful and great leaders do get creative and find their own solutions to problems rather than getting dejected by difficulties.  However, the problem was that people did not feel understood or valued.  By not empathizing with the team first, it was as if our manager didn’t care about our situation and certainly didn’t seem to understand the challenges we faced.  This also resulted in an eventual failure to even bring up challenges.  In this way, communication break-downs resulted and the manager couldn’t make accurate predictions or judgments as much of the information needed to do so was missing.

As leaders, we want to encourage forward thinking, solution-oriented, and accountable teams.  But, our teams are still human and humans are emotional, not logical.  We often don’t want answers or advice first, we want to be understood.  Listening to your team, empathize with how they feel and how they understand the situation.  Once that connection has been created, then you can start looking at solutions together.  Sometimes as leaders we forget that we are part of the solution, not just the person dispensing advice from on high.

Whether it’s from my own experience or from watching others, I’ve noticed time and again that the leaders with the most authentic communication, the ones who understand their teams before pitching in to find a solution, are the ones that inspire the greatest results.

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