There is one key soft skill that I’ve found impacts a leader’s ability to rally their team in personal development and leadership. Empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
As a leader empathy has become a superpower. We have led our teams through a Global Pandemic, recession, social unrest and an environment ripe for burn out.
We have to develop empathy and be able to put ourselves into the shoes of our team members to ensure they have what they need to do their jobs and create balance in their home lives.
Everyone has access to empathy. It’s one of those innate skills that we’re born with and is important for personal development and leadership.
We either learn to tap into it and allow it to grow stronger or we learn to shut it off. As with the personal development of any leadership skill there are levels of mastery. For the purpose of this conversation, we’ll focus on scenarios where there is tension in the office.
However, it’s important to note that this process can be used to either stop and investigate behavior or encourage the expression of positive behavior. The only difference will be the type of next actions you select.
Stage of Empathic Intuition for Personal Development and Leadership
Stage 1 – Become Aware
In the beginning stage of learning empathy you learn how to understand the feelings of others. This simply means that you can sit in the shoes of another and understand how they could feel the way they do. To do this you must first master how you feel.
Then you can begin to recognize those feelings in others. The second part of this stage is to begin noticing your empathetic intuition.
Remember, this is a skill you already have. Allow me to demonstrate. Have you ever walked into a room and immediately sensed that something was off?
Of course you have. That’s your empathic intuition at work. This exercise is about learning how to master it to create a safe workplace for everyone.
In mastery, empathetic intuition looks like being able to walk into a room and “feel” the collective vibe of the group. As you scan the room, you sense that something is going on with Cameron. You can feel a heaviness in their presence that you don’t feel with anyone else in the room.
With high levels of empathic mastery you can tap into the actual feeling they are feeling in that moment and identify the emotion. So you might tune in and notice that the feeling you are noticing is exhaustion.
As you look at Cameron’s eyes you noticed they look tired. This can be tricky and to be honest, people aren’t super cool with other people trying to tell them how they feel so it’s important to understand that this is information that is designed to help you determine your next action. The next action here isn’t to tell Cameron that they look tired.
Stage 2 – S.E.E. the Next Action
You walked into a room and you sense that a team member, Cameron, is feeling tired. What do you do next? The next stage is to use the acronym S.E.E. to develop a next action. S.E.E. stands for Simple, Effective and Efficient.
As you evaluate your ideas for next actions you can ask yourself; is this simple; is this effective; is this efficient? I love a pragmatic solution to a seemingly soft leadership problem.
Now that you are aware of the emotions in the room you run yourself through a series of scenarios of your possible responses.
For example, you could approach Cameron and say, “Hi Cameron! How are you feeling today?” It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming our intuition is correct. Trust me. When you first start out, you will be wrong.
A lot! You’ll think you’re feeling someone else’s emotion and realize it’s your own. Then you’ll start feeling other people’s emotions and thinking they are your own. And finally, you’ll start to learn the subtle differences.
A large contributor to accurately identifying emotions you sense will be your ability to identify how your own emotions feel. If you don’t have that baseline you will be at a disadvantage.
So instead of prescribing a solution right away, be sure you are clear on the problem and that you’ve identified the right emotion. The best way to do that is to get curious and ask questions. Once you are confident you understand the emotion, you can then define a clear next action.
Questions you can ask that help you validate your empathic intuition
- How are you feeling today?
- I’m feeling an air of tension in the room, is there something we should address before we begin?
- Is everything ok? I’m sensing some discomfort in the room?
- Let’s go around the room and do a check in on how everyone is feeling
Once you know how someone is feeling and the reason why they are feeling it, you have the information you need to prescribe a Simple, Effective and Efficient next action. Remember, if it’s a behavior you want to see more of you can explore how you can scale it, rather than manage it.
Also don’t forget to checkout the toughest phase of growth for personal development for leadership.
Step 3 – Practice a Variety of Next Actions in the Wild
Learning how to be an empathetic leader is a marathon, not a sprint. As you begin to explore how you can tap into empathy to build a stronger team you’ll recognize that there’s a style to it.
There isn’t one solution. There’s the solution that works best for you and feels most authentic to you. As you become a stronger empathetic leader you’ll even develop your own intuition swagger, but to get there you need practice.
I’d like to acknowledge that practicing new skills takes a tremendous amount of courage. So for those of you who are reading and put this into practice I would like to honor your bravery and your vulnerability.
You will have to put yourself out there in front of others in order to practice using your empathic intuition. It has taken a lot of confidence building to feel comfortable talking about emotions and intuition in the workplace and it might take time for the practice to feel “comfortable”, but I assure you it eventually will.
In fact, if you practice this personal development skill for leadership enough it will become second nature to you and can even become part of your signature style of leadership.
So here’s how this works. Come up with a list of possible scenarios you run into in the office where you feel discomfort in the air. You’ve felt this before, so simply remind yourself of those situations and think of how you would’ve liked to respond knowing everything you know now.
Ask yourself how I could have become more curious? Where did I make assumptions? Where did I betray my intuition? What were the results?
Then make a list of no more than 3 responses you would like to begin practicing if you ever run into those scenarios again. Make a list and keep it in your daily planner, calendar or notebook.
Look at it frequently throughout the day to remind yourself that you are raising your awareness of your empathic intuition in the office and that you are looking for opportunities to practice it. Then take the window when it opens.
Step 4 – Monitor Outcomes and Responses
The first response to monitor is your own. As a general rule, I’ve found that looking within as the starting point is where the rich personal development growth for leadership is.
Notice the opportunities you took. What happened? Who were you with? What was your intuition? Was it on target? Was it off target? Then look for opportunities when you don’t. Reflect on what happened and why. Then ask what you would do differently next time.
Write it on your list and move forward. Mistakes are part of the learning process. If you make a mistake that you would like to take action on, I’ve found it’s easiest to simply acknowledge it and tell people “I am practicing being a more empathic leader and sometimes I get it wrong.
Thank you for this learning opportunity.” People are very forgiving when you tell them you are working on personal development for leadership and often it spurs a conversation that helps them grow too.
Next, look at the responses you received from those you interacted with. Were they positive or negative? Did your intuition help diffuse any situations?
What response did you receive when you spoke up about your intuition? Look at these situations through the lens of the other person and see if there are any additional perspectives to consider.
Step 5 – Ask What Really Works? What Would Make it Better?
These are the money questions in this process. Notice it isn’t asking what went right? Or what went wrong? There’s no assumption of fault or wrongdoing in this process.
Instead, we look at what worked best. Then we look at what would make it even better. This language allows us to better embrace the personal growth for leadership growth process and receive feedback in a constructive way. It’s worked so well in my career that I now use it throughout every aspect of my life.
So you’ll ask yourself these questions and journal your answers. Then if you want to take it to mastery go back to the people you engaged with and ask them for their feedback in person.
Tell them about your personal development for leadership growth experiment. You may be surprised at the feedback you get back. I find it’s often far more positive than my internal dialogue would have me believe. There’s a beauty to knowing where we stand with people, especially in the workplace.
Asking for feedback gives you clear and direct insight that can be constructive in your growth. And when it’s not, throw it out. Remember, feedback is one of the largest opportunities for growth and often one of the most challenging to take the window to receive when it opens.
Step 6 – Update Your List and Repeat
Now that you have a clear understanding of what worked and what would be better, update your list of responses to your empathic intuition. At this stage you can expand it to 5 potential responses.
Then start practicing again. Get feedback. Update your list. And repeat until your responses become so natural that you find yourself not needing your list anymore.
That won’t mean you’ve reached the end of your learning journey for becoming an empathic leader, but it will mean you’ve mastered how to acknowledge and speak about your empathic intuition. And you will have found a way to leverage your empathic intuition to improve working relationships.
This experiment-based approach using the S.E.E. Methodology I developed over my leadership career has rapidly accelerated my growth as a leader.
I’ve found the beauty of this methodology is that I don’t try to take on the large mountain of becoming some version of a “perfect” empathic leader all in one chunk. Instead, I can grow one layer at a time.
Taking it to mastery is one of my core values. Instead of skimming the surface of a bunch of layers, I’m going deep and often reaching mastery in a matter of months, instead of years.
This methodology is my secret sauce. I continually use it to become a stronger leader and more empathic person. It has been fool-proof. I’ve grown in 100% of the experiments I’ve run.
I offer it to all of you because I believe as a community of leaders it’s important for us to share how we are making headway in our organizations so we can create global social change and rapid forward momentum in the workplace, in our communities and in our home lives.
Creating safe spaces for everyone to work is imperative going forward and it’s going to require millions of leaders to step up to the plate to become cultural change agents in their organization.
It simply isn’t acceptable to allow tension and toxicity to fester in a working environment. We know there’s unspoken tension. Let’s break our silence and have the courage to address the elephant in the room with a kind gesture of curiosity. After all, if we don’t, who will?
Empathic intuition is an important personal development for leadership skill. First, start with becoming aware of your emotions. Then find a simple, effective and efficient next action.
Next, practice, practice, practice. As you practice, monitor outcomes and responses from the people you tested your methodology out with. Ask what really worked and what would make it better to optimize your results. Then update your list of responses and practice, practice, practice again.
Learning how to use empathic intuition for personal development and leadership is a process that will take time. However, as you practice you will get better and better, ultimately being able to trust your intuition to understand what is happening in your team and others.