In my experience as a business and entrepreneur adviser over many years, I'm convinced that the days of the "command and control" business leader are gone.
Your employees have higher expectations of you than just defining their job--they want inspiration, motivation, and purpose. They respond with trust and commitment if they sense empathy for their needs and feelings.
A premier example of old-school command-and-control leadership was Jack Welch's leadership at GE. He measured you totally by your results in growing the business, and eliminated the lower performers without empathy.
This is in stark contrast with the leadership style practiced by respected leaders today, including Jeff Bezos and Howard Schultz.
I found many of the principles of the new leadership style outlined well in a new book, Cracking the Leadership Code, by Alain Hunkins, who has spent his career working with leaders in large companies as well as small, studying the practices and skills that work best today.
I support his recommendations on demonstrating empathy by developing new habits, including the following:
1. Seek understanding by listening rather than talking.
The feeling of being listened to is a fast track to connection. With connection, you get commitment and trust, and active following. You will also be surprised by what you can learn by offering employees your complete and undivided attention, and listening without interrupting or checking out.
According to another great student of leadership, Stephen R. Covey, "Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply." They're either speaking or preparing to speak. Your challenge is to break that paradigm and listen.
2. Be more open to new ideas, feelings, and experiences.
Start by being open with yourself--are you a leader who tends to control, drive your own agenda, and hide your feelings from others?
The new you, over time, will be able to tune in to the real needs and strengths of the people around you, enhancing both your productivity and theirs.
Although Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, is most certainly an idea guy himself, he attributes much success to being open to the ideas of his team. If he doesn't agree that an idea will work, he'll say so, but that doesn't necessarily mean he will shut it down.
3. Cultivate curiosity as a means of getting more engaged.
Empathic leaders are not hesitant to ask "why," perhaps over and over, to gain more insight and get you both out of your comfort zone. This leads to new learning, focus on the real challenge at hand, and commitment to results that will be satisfying and effective for both of you.
Elon Musk has been considered one of the most inspirational leaders in tech by many, primarily because of his insatiable curiosity across multiple realms, including all-electric vehicles, space, and brain-machine interfaces. He gathers the experts around him and learns from them.
4. Practice building empathy by engaging with strangers.
This will help you improve the quality of all your conversations, and help you build relationships with team members. Recognized leadership today is more about your ability to work with people than how many facts you know. Use networking events as an opportunity to practice empathy.
5. Break existing habit patterns to see people in a new way.
When you stop going through the motions and embrace novelty, your sense of connection to people, places, things, and events will be heightened.
Your team will respond to you in kind, making your leadership more compelling and their commitment to results more satisfying.
For example, some executives I know assume that the reason they have been put in charge is that they are smarter than everyone else. Thus when it comes to strategy, solving problems, or resolving issues, they see no need in involving anyone else.
6. Build empathy by spending time in another person's shoes.
Ask others to show you how they work, and create opportunities to ride along or shadow them in their jobs.
Be sure to use these as opportunities to learn and build relationships, not to spy. Watch your previously held assumptions melt away, and your empathy for their role go up.
Changing the perspective on empathy from those you lead won't happen overnight. It's a process of establishing or rebuilding your image and your credibility.
Overall, to be perceived as a strong leader today, a good connection has to be followed by great communication and collaboration. The challenge is a tough one, but the leverage gained by a good leader is worth it. Start today.