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Empathy Starts With You

leadership transition Jan 25, 2023

- By Sophie Pinkoski

As we lead into 2023, it’s clear the past few years of unprecedented disruption has shifted the leadership qualities we value most. At the top of the list is empathy for individuals’ unique needs. Unfortunately, empathy isn’t something everyone comes by naturally. For some leaders, it takes time to cultivate an emotional awareness toward themselves and others.

High emotional intelligence is a crucial part of building that awareness. After all, empathetic workplace culture starts from the top; ideal behaviour cannot be properly implemented if a leader can’t exemplify it first.

It’s your responsibility as a leader to assess your own behaviour and how it reflects on your team before you can work toward a more empathetic work environment.

The good news is, emotional intelligence can be built over time by learning to manage your emotions.

But what exactly is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence was coined in the ‘90s by psychologists Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, who took Darwin’s notion that emotional expression is key to survival and applied it to the professional environment. Not only is emotion key to survival, but it’s intrinsic to the human experience. In fact, every decision we make is driven by one emotion or another. Therefore, if a leader were to manage their emotional responses at work––particularly in high-stress situations––it would significantly improve the culture within their organization. What’s more, engaging with your team as individuals with unique, complex emotional reactions to your decisions would give them a far more fulfilling experience at work.

 So, how can you improve your emotional intelligence?

 Self-awareness –– Gaining self-awareness is all about identifying your strengths, weaknesses, emotions, and intuition. Assess your emotional weaknesses and take note of what sets off your negative reactions. By doing so, you can find ways to circumvent rash decisions as those emotions arise. This will give you a sense of clarity that leads to more sensible decision making.

Self-regulation –– Once you’ve pinpointed what sets off your negative emotions, you can then manage your reactions to them. This will help you better navigate stress, as you are far less likely to bottle up your emotions in order to push through your busy day. Acknowledging your emotions and giving yourself time to decompress allow you to focus on your organization’ long-term needs and goals. Accepting that there are things out of your control will also significantly mitigate your stress levels regarding what you can and cannot change. The decisions you make should come from careful consideration of your options and how possible consequences might influence your organization over all. In essence, controlling your emotions before they can control you will empower you to make the best choices for your organization and team.

Self-motivation –– It’s natural to be driven by outward validation from others, but in situations where you don’t receive regular feedback, it’s difficult to maintain motivation. Without motivation, you and your team can lose momentum and sense of purpose while working on projects. As a leader, you won’t always have someone to keep you on task and check in with your progress, as you’re expected to motivate everyone else. It’s common for leaders to feel isolated in their need to regulate their own productivity. Learning to embrace internal motivation is therefore crucial for maintaining both productivity and morale. Find fulfillment in your work beyond external rewards. What brings out your passions in your day to day work? Try to incorporate these aspects more regularly to regain a sense of purpose and empower your team to do the same. When you can find intrinsic motivation by taking advantage of your best skills and passions, you can maintain a healthy habit of self-discipline, proactiveness, and innovation.

Remember, your emotions are short term. They pass over time. The way you respond to them, however, can have long-term effects.

Becoming more invested in your emotional reactions to situations will indicate to your team how they’re expected to behave.

When your team sees you reacting thoughtfully to not only high-stress situations, but also to their ideas and feedback, they will feel more comfortable engaging within their work environment. Investing in your emotional intelligence lets you set a strong example of what is expected from your team. Empathy must start from somewhere; let it start with you.


Further Reading:

Adopting Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace is More Than a ‘Nice to Have’, Forbes

EQ is the New IQ: The Role of Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, Corporate Wellness Magazine

EQ in the Workplace: 6 Ways High EQ Employees Boost Productivity, EHL Insights

Utilizing Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, Very Wellmind

Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: What You Should Know, Leaders.com

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