The New Leadership Model: Leading With Empathy And Compassion
There’s an argument to be made that past business models were somewhat Machiavellian in nature, with the idea that it was better to be feared than loved when it came to company leadership styles. The image of the self-assured, overly confident manager was predominant in the media and propaganda of the 1950s all the way up to the late ’90s. But conventional wisdom rebukes this heavy-handed mentality in favor of a more egalitarian-and kinder-work environment helmed by a more thoughtful leader, one who considers more than just the bottom line.
Why Choose Empathy
Perhaps driven by the circumstances of the past two to three years where questions of empathy were behind actions as decidedly simple as whether or not to go for a night out or, perhaps, driven by the rise of the millennial and Generation Z workforces, empathy and compassion are now hallmarks for any successful management style.
In February 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unemployment rate of 3.8%. This figure, coupled with the plethora of “help wanted” signs posted in grocery stores, hospitals and businesses big and small, are perhaps some of the more apparent signals on why empathy over fear may be the way of the new leadership model.
Employees are now two years into a global pandemic. Over the past two years, they’ve struggled with a healthy work-life balance while maintaining some semblance of normalcy for young children and aging parents. At a time of great emotional duress and uncertainty, employer empathy was not just a request-it was a necessity. Now that the precautions taken during the pandemic have begun to wane, employees have come to expect the same understanding they received during the Covid years to carry on throughout their careers. If such empathy isn’t received, the job market is such that switching jobs-or even career paths-is no longer out of the question. With the benefits of remote work and flex work fresh in the minds of employees, it is to the benefit of the employer that compassion is one of a company’s guiding principles.
And aside from employee retention, there’s another reason to lead with care: creating a happier, healthier workforce can result in more productivity. In this way, your bottom line is often a reflection of the working conditions of employees across departments.
A Generational Divide
While millennials are the U.S.’s fast-growing workforce generationally, the number of Generation Z employees is on the rise. This generation-which never knew the world without the global reach of the internet-is also the generation of wealth equity, protests and sustainability. These three factors make a workplace that deals in compassion particularly appealing to America’s youngest workers. Ideas of sustainability, for instance, center on the concept of creating a safe environment for their peers and future generations. A generation that thinks this far ahead is bound to be more receptive to ideas of leading with a softer hand.
But while millennials and Generation Z may be on board with the shift in leadership styles, employers may encounter resistance with older generations (X and baby boomers) who are used to more rigid lines of command. As you make changes to your leadership style, it is essential to communicate why these changes are necessary to workers and beneficial to the company. Doing so may bridge the disconnect between past and present management styles, while opening the floor up to questions and concerns from different generations.
How To Implement Compassionate And Empathetic Leadership
One such way to do this is by incorporating training as part of the behavioral shift. Ensuring that all employees are given the same level of access to changes in company policy makes it easier to open communication channels. When people are equipped with the same literature, discussions begin on an equal playing field. This can help ensure that the opinion of the majority does not drown out the concerns of individual employees.
In a culture whose political discourse has increasingly been centered around concepts of self-sufficiency, isolationism and independence, integrating kindness and teamwork into your work plan may seem like a foreign concept at first. But there are ways to lead with thoughtfulness and care without alienating more reluctant employees.
Mindfulness is not simply a buzzword. It’s a thought process that asks individuals to live with intent. When people are mindful, they’re observant of not just themselves, but of the world around them. A mindful employer will recognize that a good employee whose work has been less satisfactory as of late may be dealing with several issues, from health to home. Considering factors outside of work allows the employer to make meaningful, productive decisions about the employee instead of simply assuming laziness or disinterest on the employee’s behalf.
Not entirely dissimilar to mindfulness, the power of active listening cannot be ignored. Many employers now have an open-door policy that would have been unheard of in times past. If not seated directly amongst employees, management has now elected to have literal open doors or blocked hours where employees can come to them to talk about what’s on their mind, be it a work-related concern, idea or personal problem. For best results, the manager in this situation has an open mind and isn’t afraid to give and receive meaningful feedback in a compassionate-but earnest-manner.
Whether you elect to engage in mindfulness practices or switch to an open-door policy, the benefits of leading with thoughtfulness cannot be overlooked. And in a time when joblessness has decreased and employers are clamoring for talent, the best leaders must recognize the benefits of empathy, not only to their enterprises but to society at large.
Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.
About Dylan Taylor
Dylan Taylor is Chairman & CEO of Voyager Space. Dylan is a Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute, Member of the World Economic Forum and Co-Founding Patron of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. Dylan is a commercial astronaut, having flown on Blue Origin’s NS-19 Mission. Dylan holds a MBA from the University of Chicago and a Bachelors in Engineering with Honors from the University of Arizona where in 2018 he was named alumnus of the year. Follow Dylan on Twitter and Instagram. Full bio available at www.dylantaylor.org