Putting People First

“Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” —Peter Drucker

Coaching with empathy means putting people first.  Leaders who coach have a responsibility to guide and care for those they lead, remembering each individual has unique experiences and value to contribute.

Along the path of business and revenue goals it is easy for leaders to lose sight of their people. Has empathy been thrown out the window of your lowest performing employee’s review? Do you seek to understand the context of your team, leading to authentic understanding of team dynamics, strengths, and weaknesses?

Leaders have the power to influence the mental and physical health of employees as well. This influence greatly impacts an employee’s level of engagement and commitment to a job. Interpersonal relationships with leaders carry weight, affecting the entire being of an individual. Bob Sutton, of Good Boss, Bad Boss states, “Having a good boss decreases your chances of getting a heart attack.”  Leaders illicit performance on both micro and macro levels. When leaders are putting people first, they are creating a workspace where humanity and concern for employees is the actual walk, not just the talk.

When coaching, articulate employee strengths while addressing liabilities. Be sure, however, to not do this in a punitive way. Instead, approach these topics in a manner that is reflective of constructive criticism and empathy. Dr. Helen Weiss gives practical coaching advice, through the acronym E.M.P.A.T.H.Y, on how to do just so:

Eye contact: Usually the first indication we have been noticed by someone (although culturally this may vary). Individuals want to be seen; understood; appreciated. Eye gaze is the first step toward communicating that another individual has been seen.

Muscle/facial expression: Our faces are a roadmap of human emotions. How do our faces express needs/wants/warning.

Posture: Posture signals if we are approachable or not.

Affect: Affect orients ourselves to the emotional experience of a person as it is the expressed emotion of an individual.

Tone-of-voice: Tonality is emotionally activated. A crack in the voice of someone who is about to cry; the edge in an angry voice.

Hearing the whole person: Understanding the context in which others live. Keep curiosity open until we understand.

Your response: People absorb the feelings of others. Our inner experience and feelings mirrors those of others, because that is what is required for authentic, interpersonal interaction.

While employing the E.M.P.A.T.H.Y. technique, also practice a deeper level of listening by removing assumptions and listening carefully. Respond thoughtfully by uncovering answers through inquiry, openness and exploration. Ask employees and individuals what else they could do/who else is affected by the situation/and what else occurs to them. Lastly, resist imposing personal solutions. While personal solutions have an appropriate time and place, coaching is about helping to empower individuals to come to a conclusion.

Finally, when coaching employees through empathetic leadership employ the artful critique. Daniel Goleman states, “The artful critique focuses on what a person has done and can do rather than reading a mark of character into a job poorly done.” To do this:

  • Be specific, focusing on what was done well, done poorly, and how it can be changed, while avoiding generalizations.
  • Offer a solution through useful feedback, pointing out a way to fix the problem, and letting employees know you want to see them succeed.
  • Be present as critique and praise is most effective face-to-face and in private.
  • Be sensitive through attuning into the impact of what you are saying and how it will be received.
  • Realize the difference between power over and power with. This is the perspective of having power over them versus having an integrative, collaborative power with each other.

Brene Brown reminds us, “empathy is a choice where we have to dig in ourselves and choose to feel something to connect with the individual.” How can you develop an empathic approach?

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