Patrick Gallen

By Patrick Gallen, Partner, People and Change Consulting at Grant Thornton in Belfast

Now, more than ever, we need empathetic leaders to get us through this crisis, to lead people through this uncertainly to a new reality.

A leader who can put themselves in the shoes of others, whether that is customers, employees or colleagues, gains an insight that serves them well and provides valuable context. That awareness changes their perspective, and their empathic connection builds trust with those they lead.

There is an old saying, “People don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care.” And this is certainly applicable in our current situation.

We all know leaders who can be aloof – they are emotionally disconnected from those around them and have a lack of sympathy or awareness of others’ moods and feelings. They may seem uninterested in other people’s problems, and don’t pick up on social cues.

Being aloof can have its advantages – these leaders don’t get caught up in politics or messy people problems. They’re all business and appear to know what they’re doing. But aloof leaders experience trouble in tough times. History has taught us time and time again, that when the going gets tough, people trust a leader that cares.

They want someone they can connect with during periods of uncertainty. They want a compassionate leader.

The word compassion can mean different things to different people, but for most it brings about visions of caring, kindness and consideration. For some leaders this can be an overcomplicated practice as leading with a more emotional lens may be unfamiliar and daunting.

Fundamentally leading with compassion means giving consideration to the circumstances of others and applying flexibility and understanding.

COVID, -19 has changed our lives and businesses in so many ways. People are concerned for their health, their loved ones, their business, their jobs, and their future. They are juggling working from home (if they’re fortunate), with home schooling, and confined quarters.

It is with this in mind that good leaders can begin to practice compassionate leadership in relation to output and participation. An empathetic leader will check in with their people, to see how they are coping, and what support they need to continue to contribute while working from home.

An empathetic leader will make adjustments based on what they hear, and accept that capacity will fluctuate based on individuals’ circumstances and commitments.

Stress can cause some people to withdraw into themselves. When there is too much going on in the outside world, some find it overwhelming and retreat into their familiar cocoon.

But what the world needs right now is compassionate leaders who engage, listen, connect with others, and show sensitivity. It is only by putting yourself out there, by showing genuine care and consideration for others, that you will earn the trust and respect of your team.

That trust will serve you well not only during this crisis, but in the near future as you begin to rebuild after the storm.

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