I’m sure you’ve had a boss or two that took their title a little too personally– barking orders and leaving all the work to the grunts beneath them. And you most likely wondered how they got there, or if they even cared about the work you did.
I’m here to tell you that there is a huge difference between a boss and a leader. A leader seeks to have an understanding of the people they lead and empowers them to be their best selves. Building community and connection between coworkers is important to creating an effective and efficient workplace, but what does it mean to lead with empathy and understanding?
In this post on leading with empathy and understanding, I’ll break down the importance of creating that sense of community and connection by fostering a vision rather than taking a position.
What Does it Mean to Lead Through Community and Connection?
It’s easy to talk about a vision, but understanding how your team feels about that vision is much more difficult. In order to be a leader who helps others reach their goals, it’s important to be able to relate to others on an emotional level.
That’s why so many leaders today advocate for putting emphasis on community and connection. It creates an environment in which people are both willing and able to bring out their best work.
Now, that doesn’t mean you need to open a room in your office specifically set up with crayons and other “safe space” activities (unless you run a daycare). You can still respectfully take time to understand how and why someone is doing the things they’re doing and relay to them their importance in your organization.
When everyone understands where they fit into a bigger picture, motivation becomes easier. And when you can motivate your employees to do great things, it makes business leading much easier.
Vision vs. Position
From janitor to president, vision is always more important than position. Vision—what you hope to accomplish— goes beyond your job description. It’s about where you want to be or where you think we should go as a business, not necessarily what you’re doing right now. Having a vision automatically creates attraction because you know what you’re looking for. And when you share that vision with your team, they are more inclined to stand behind it.
A visionary leader cultivates a sense of community among employees at all levels by leading with empathy. They seek input from the team and showcase a constant desire to improve. They don’t just set an example; they also encourage others to follow that example. This kind of leadership comes from building trust and being honest with those around you, which means that it takes time to develop. But once it’s there, it can make all kinds of business endeavors possible.
By contrast, a position-based leader might tell you what to do without really understanding why it would be important to you. They won’t necessarily be good at community building or connecting with others, because they don’t always take their positions into account. This kind of leadership generally comes from fear—fear that someone else will outshine them, fear that their work won’t be appreciated by their superiors, fear that their ideas won’t pan out. The leader might even see themselves above others, causing separation, friction and unnecessary opposition.
Eliminate the Friction That Comes From Taking a Position
There’s an old saying in business that leaders don’t have positions; they take positions. When leaders take a position on every issue—particularly complex issues—they limit themselves to a narrow view for decision-making and immediately put themselves at odds with stakeholders. The act, mindset, and overall philosophy of actually taking a position creates an opposition. Stepping left, ‘creates a right.’ Stepping up ‘creates a down.’ Every action creates an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, the stronger your position, the stronger the opposition. When comparing this stance to having a vision – ultimately by comparison, it has no opposition. This is exactly how Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the world. His vision brought people together. Not his position
By not taking a position, you can create an environment where everyone has input into decisions and each person feels heard and valued– AKA community and connection within your organization. And when you bring people together, it builds trust and increases accountability.
But these things can happen only if you eliminate all friction between decision makers and those affected by those decisions. Your business will function more smoothly, as well as become more adaptable to change, if all voices are heard.
Having a Vision Creates Unity
Once a vision is in place, there needs to be an understanding that everyone has a role to play within that vision. If people are fighting for their own personal piece of it, then each person’s actions will become selfish rather than directed towards achieving larger goals.
This is where empathy comes into play. When you have empathy for your team members, you can better understand how they fit into your vision as well as what they need from you to succeed.
Empathy helps create unity because team members feel valued; they know that their contribution matters and that they have someone who understands them on their side. Without empathy, people will never truly buy into your vision. They may go through the motions of doing so, but without feeling like they have support from others and without being fully aware of why they’re following a certain path or working toward a specific goal, their minds won’t be in it. And if minds aren’t in it, no amount of money or resources can make up for lack of motivation.
Strengthen Your Team through Empathy and Understanding
Leading through empathy is a powerful way to strengthen your team by building a culture of understanding, connection and trust. It’s also one that most leaders neglect because it takes more effort.
On a personal level, empathy means putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. You try to see things from their perspective, to relate to what they are going through. Think about how your team members feel when something goes wrong on a project or with a client. Are you able to put yourself in their shoes? Can you relate to how they feel? If not, work on being more empathetic—it will help strengthen relationships within your organization and build trust among team members.
Whether you just entered a leadership position or have a few years under your belt, understanding that leadership involves more than just yourself is key to building a strong and empathetic community of teammates. Having a vision that they can stand behind will give your organization a roadmap for success.
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