Leading with empathy: what employees expect from a woman at the helm
Showing empathy does not mean you will be taken for a ride or be perceived as a weak, emotional person. It is an important leadership trait that will get you and your company far and instil confidence in your employees.
History may seem to suggest that there have been more men than women in leadership positions, but I have a slightly different take on it. Women, in my opinion, are natural, born leaders, because a leader is not just the one who takes an army to battle, wins mega corporate pitches or elections in a democracy. A leader is also someone who is able to make these victories happen. She is someone who takes charge of the thousand invisible challenges that life keeps throwing her way every day. Someone who inspires and leads by example. And she does it unflinchingly because she is gifted with a unique soft skill – empathy.
Recent studies have indicated that while making tough leadership decisions, human insights are more important than hard analytics. A deeper understanding of the people who actually work to turn visionary ideas into reality goes a long way in bolstering their confidence, improving productivity and creating a healthy, happy work environment.
High emotional intelligence leading to higher efficiency: A happy workforce is a winning workforce, and leaders are thus on their feet, innovating, adapting and ideating in order to make the most of a largely young and dynamic team. In modern work environments, leaders are constantly required to work on their emotional intelligence to create a healthy organisational structure. In this context, women in leadership positions are expected to score higher than their male counterparts.
Better empathy from women leaders: In my experience, in an office where a man and a woman are on an equal footing and may have similar roles and responsibilities, their peers and colleagues may respond differently to them. It is almost natural for younger team members to approach the female leader with a problem. They trust her instinctively to address their concern with a certain amount of empathy. It is not to say that they do not trust the male leader who would have the same kind of technical resources to address the problem. It is just that the employees may feel more comfortable sharing their views and even being candid with their women leaders and expect a more humane resolution to the trickiest technical or administrative problems. In fact, empathy is said to be every successful woman leader's secret superpower.
According to Henry Ford, if there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put oneself in another person’s place and to see things from his or her point of view –as well as from one’s own. In other words, he speaks of empathy that helps a leader to acknowledge and appreciate diverse perspectives without judging.
Multitasker and good listener: Fact is, women are good at multi-tasking – at any given point in time they would be handling at least two different roles – professional, personal. In the process, we develop the ability to listen. To understand what the other person is trying to convey and engage with them, even if we disagree with their views. This goes a long way in shaping leadership decisions – getting the most out of diverse and often multidisciplinary teams and unlocking hidden potential.
Belongingness creation and stronger soft skills of women leaders: Expectations from a woman in a leadership position are manifold. But most importantly, colleagues, peers and employees look to her for empathy. It does not mean that a leader with empathy is someone who is easily manipulated. Or she is someone who is just too nice, or maybe sentimental. Or she is not strong enough to lead the team through a crisis. Because listening is not surrendering. Someone who listens is not weak. Just as someone who is voluble is not necessarily a strong leader. Rather, the use of this soft skill of empathy humanises the workforce, earns their respect. When an employee is made to feel that he/she is not a mere number, a statistic, a 'resource', he/she feels inspired to contribute better. Empathy is also what helps a leader make informed decisions. A leader who is attuned to the team is responsive to their aspirations and gives the impression that she cares, and is someone who is able to grow.
There are many leaders who believe empathy is a weakness, a luxury and an indulgence they cannot afford. But empathy does not mean allowing disruption, encourage laxity or paving the way for anarchy. To understand, encourage means to create happy employees. This was underlined by a panel created by Forbes. According to the report, "empathy leads to happy employees, and happy employees are productive employees."
Work. Life. Balance: Human interactions are complicated in this era of smartphones, artificial intelligence aided programmes and robots that offer cuddles and are programmed to show they care. But as long as we continue to deal with people in our immediate and extended workspaces, it is our ability to lead with empathy, to engage with each other with compassion and exude positivity that sets women apart from their male counterparts.
As any woman who is at the helm of her own army at home and at work will tell you, whether it is cooking the perfect biryani or meeting impossible revenue targets – it takes a fine balance of soft skills and some sharp administrative moves to make it work.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)