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Why Trust and Empathy Are Key Ingredients of Leadership

They were important before the pandemic, but now they’re essential

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The present moment — and foreseeable future — poses a unique challenge for leaders. Every employee is going through something. Parents are juggling work demands, family responsibilities, and remote schooling. Many have faced some kind of personal or financial loss. Even those fortunate to be employed are facing increased mental health challenges due to COVID-related stress and job insecurity.

If leaders are going to inspire and motivate their people to pursue a common purpose and find meaning in their work, they need to support their people at the intersection of work and life, where many of these tensions exist. Offering that support might mean stretching out of comfort zones — for leaders and employees alike — but even small efforts can yield big results for individuals, teams, and organizations. A strong sense of trust in one’s team and leadership predicts significant increases in key business metrics, including 33% in engagement and retention likelihood, according to the Thrive XM Index, a research report that measures the connections between employee experience, performance, and organizational resilience. Additionally, workplace connections — including perceived trust in company leadership and a sense of belonging — are the top predictor of employees’ likelihood to advocate for the company and recommend it to others.

To build and sustain this trust, managers need to lead with empathy — that is, being able to identify with what individuals on their team are feeling or experiencing. These traits have always been key ingredients of effective leadership, but in the current environment they have taken on new importance and urgency.

Communicating with care

For managers, empathy is a key driver of job performance, according to a study by the research firm DDI, yet only 40 percent of business leaders display strong empathy skills. 

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