Leading with Empathy is a Superpower

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By Zainish Hussain

The Ascend CIO (Chief Inclusion Officer) Forum, a group of Diversity & Inclusion leaders, recently gathered to discuss the ongoing critical importance of care and concern to bond colleagues as workplaces begin to emerge from the pandemic.

In a conversation guided by Vandana Juneja, Executive Director, Canada, at Catalyst, the CIO Forum members expressed their thoughts and past experiences on empathy and the Future of the Workplace. The subject brought to light how a lack of empathy in the workplace can make people feel excluded, face barriers, and feel different, especially for those coming from immigrant families.

“The world does not need more brain; the world needs more heart. Empathy in fact helps us to lead with our heads (thinking), hearts (feeling), and hands (action or doing). It improves attraction, productivity, and engagement in the workplace. It’s a key future of work skill for building an inclusive culture and one that each of us can learn, practice, and refine” says Vandana of Catalyst, a global nonprofit supported by many of the world’s most powerful CEOs and leading companies to help build workplaces that work for women.

In that way, Empathy is a superpower. It teaches us to be human and to treat others as humans too. It can not only help build an inclusive environment, but it can also increase engagement, retention, and innovation, as seen in the Catalyst report here. The CIO Forum leaders described inclusivity as a place where you feel like you can breathe as well as embrace and leverage your differences. Empathy has the power to push us in the right direction and strive for a better work environment.

Empathy is coachable

Empathy is often thought of as a natural skill, but this is not the case. Empathy can be developed, cultivated, and improved on. Next time you express empathy, kindly remember to refrain from interrupting, or inserting your own stories, and simply give the person your undivided attention. The focus is to let the other person feel heard. Once learned, this superpower can be at your disposal too!

Empathy can help to reduce burnout

During the pandemic, burnout has been a serious concern in the workplace. Now more than ever, it is important to be empathetic and support each other. A survey by Catalyst showed that when workplaces have highly empathic leaders, women of color specifically, are less likely to report high levels of burnout (54%) than those with less empathic leaders (67%). Empathy can go a long way during difficult times.

Empathy is about listening and understanding

When presented with a problem, it is many people’s first instinct to come up with a solution. However, when it comes to empathy it is not about fixing the problem but actively listening and expressing your care for the person. Don’t assume they know you care, it is important to express it!

We encourage others to display empathy at their workplace, whether it means lending an ear to someone or directly telling someone you care. Let’s all become a superhero of Empathy.

 

Zainish Hussain is in her last year of Rotman Commerce, specializing in Finance and Economics. She is currently a student intern in the Ascend CIO Forum. She always strives to have a positive impact on her community and challenges herself to get out of her comfort zone. One word to describe her is ‘curious’, as she is always looking to learn new skills and adopt new hobbies.