Not everyone is going to think and act like you do. This might seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many leaders I see who get frustrated when their team members express differing views. One of the most critical skills of a good leader is empathy. Don’t confuse empathy with sympathy. Sympathy is sharing another’s feelings. Empathy is seeing and understanding where people are coming from.
Related: 20 Ways to Build Empathy
A good leader understands that each member of his or her team will have very different thoughts, ideas and beliefs about how the world works. That’s the beauty of diversity. The leader’s role is to unify a diverse group of people by identifying what motivates them individually, and then pairing those individual skills with complementary ones. Below you’ll find the top three characteristics of empathetic leaders.
1. They set aside their personal viewpoints.
Empathetic leaders understand that there isn’t only one solution to any problem. They’re willing to set aside their own beliefs about a topic, and instead open their minds to another perspective. They’re less concerned with being right than with understanding. They listen to understand rather than respond. They listen with their eyes, ears, instincts and heart. This isn’t an easy task. The ego is persistent, always lurking just beneath the surface, ready to pop up when you least expect it.
If you’re struggling to be open to others’ thoughts and opinions, try writing each perspective down on paper. The list will serve as a visual reminder that your option isn’t always the best, or even the only, option.
2. They invest their time in people.
This isn’t an autocracy. You are not the king or queen of a country. The people who show up to work for you every day bring value to your organization. But that doesn’t mean they’ll blindly follow you. Spend some time investing in your team. That could be as simple as monthly team-building events. It could be handwritten notes on Friday mornings. Whatever you choose, don’t just go through the motions. Be curious about your team members. Ask about their backgrounds, their families, their dreams. Implement development programs so your team can continue to learn and grow. If you invest in them, they’ll invest in you.
3. They continue learning and adapting.
You don’t know everything. An empathetic leader understands the importance of being a lifelong student. Challenge your beliefs, assumptions and absolutes. The world is changing; be prepared to change with it.
This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
John Addison is the Leadership Editor for SUCCESS and the author of Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose, a Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-seller. Renowned for his insight and wisdom on leadership, personal development and success, John is a sought-after speaker and motivator. Read more on his blog, and follow John on Facebook and Twitter.