As a leader, balancing empathy with performance is a delicate dance.
Ultimately, being truly empathetic, is to balance both, but it can be easy to mistake not holding people accountable because of their personal circumstances, for empathy.
Understanding who someone is as an individual, their personal challenges, and how they react to situations, informs the relationship, but not holding them accountable for the work required of their position is doing both parties a disservice.
You’d be surprised how damaging not holding someone accountable can be to a leadership relationship. As a leader, you’re someone’s coach, mentor, and champion at work — if you’re not holding them accountable it can be a sign to them that you’re not fulfilling your end of bargain, as they’re trying to hold up theirs.
There really is no cut and dry solution to this (as with almost anything to do with empathy tbh), but from personal experience it’s an ongoing journey:
Kickstarting the relationship is the toughest part. I would say the best place to begin is discovering their communication style:
- How do they like to receive feedback (positive AND negative)?
- How do they learn best?
- How do they express themselves when they’re unhappy? Content?
Starting with communications style allows you to adjust yours to match — callback: platinum rule! — so you can ensure you’re at least communicating in a way that leads to mutual understanding.
There are also some great tools out there to help you discover eachother’s styles:
- Gallup Strengthsfinder (paywall) »
The Strengthsfinder test, which highlights an individual’s five core strengths, can be very helpful in identifying how a leader can assist in situations, and areas for development.
- 16 personalities (paid and free versions) »
Similar to a Myers-Briggs test, 16 personalities highlights a personality type, with advice on how other types can best relate.
I’ve attached a talk below from Film Producer Effie Brown that I saw a few years ago at 99U. It’s a great watch about building perspective and empathy into your leadership style:
Effie Brown: What Does It Mean to Be a Leader?
This post is part of series on Actionable Lessons From a High-Growth Startup »