Empathic leadership

In times of crisis, all employees in every organisation need a safe culture, where trust and respect are the basis. Paul Zak gives an overview of research on “High Trust Organizations” and what effect a culture of trust has on employees in his book ‘Harvard Business Review’. Of employees who work in a culture of trust:

  • 74% – Experiences less stress
  • 100% – Have more energy in the workplace
  • 50% – Have higher productivity
  • 76% – Are more engaged

Empathic leadership aims, right through the crisis, to build and maintain an organisation in which all stakeholders, employees, customers, suppliers and managers work together optimally because there is a strong culture of trust and respect. 

In this blog we look at the first of the three elements of empathetic leadership that directly contribute to a safe culture.

  1. A culture of appreciation
  2. Ongoing communication
  3. Transition leadership  

A culture of appreciation

Our brains have different filters that determine which information comes in and which we prefer to keep out. The two strongest filters are: trust and respect. The moment I trust someone, my filters open and I understand what the other person is saying. The same applies the other way around: if I don’t trust someone (my boss, my colleague, a customer, a teacher, a student), I misunderstand 90% of everything they say. The moment I feel respected by someone, I understand much better what that other person is saying because I don’t experience fear when someone treats me with respect. 

If someone is cynical (the opposite of respect), I am immediately wary of them and misunderstand 90% of everything they say.

How can you build a culture where trust and respect flourish? 

1. Value yourself

As a manager, you influence the culture of the organisation at three levels:

  • 10% by what you say
  • 30% by what you do
  • 60% because of who you are

I know managers who talk a lot about appreciation, but don’t put it into practice very much. They think their employees feel appreciated, but they don’t feel that way at all. That is why a culture of appreciation and trust starts, where managers learn to appreciate themselves

2. Then start with gratitude

Gratitude promotes communication, creates a positive and safe atmosphere and connects people. Dr. Robert Emmons describes some of the consequences of a gratitude lifestyle in his book ‘Thanks!’:

  1. More optimism
  2. Clearly more happiness
  3. Living longer and healthier
  4. Better and more restful sleep
  5. Healthier heart and blood vessels
  6. Better and more sustainable relationships
  7. More resilience 

You could almost say: ‘What more do you want?!’ So start developing gratitude in your own life, and towards the people around you. Start with 20 minutes at the end of the week; what are you grateful for? Write it down and acknowledge all those “gifts” you were able to receive this week. Develop the habit of thanking several people every day. In your mail traffic, by writing “Thank-you cards” and of course also by regularly expressing thanks for small and big things that the other person achieves.

3. Rituals of appreciation

A culture of appreciation is created where appreciation becomes part of everyday life. Here are a few rituals of appreciation that you, as a manager, can work on immediately:

  1. Listen consciously and actively to your colleagues
  2. Offer your help and support
  3. Share useful and helpful information
  4. Have regular evaluation and coaching conversations with your employees
  5. Give yourself spontaneous time now and then
  6. Regularly celebrate successes together
  7. Encourage the other when going through difficult times

To sum up:

  • A culture of trust and respect never arises automatically
  • As a manager, you can contribute directly to a healthy or unhealthy culture
  • Appreciation can be built into the DNA of your culture by sincerely appreciate, develop a lifestyle of gratitude, and live and promote rituals of appreciation throughout the organisation.

I wish you joy and success in building a healthy and safe culture within your organisation or company. Especially now in these times of crisis. Now is the time to build an inspiring and healthy organisation together with your employees.

Paul Donders