Leadership in 2017 begins with Empathy

I have a confession to make. Once upon a time, I was a terrible manager.

Honestly, if you looked up terrible managers, I was probably in the hall of fame. I bet you’re wondering why I’m sharing this. The truth is that I have seen several posts across blogs, forums, and Linkedin recently that highlight some not so stellar managers. In sharing my truth and how I change, I hope to prevent you and others like you from being a member of the hall of fame.

My first management role was less than a year out of college as a store manager at Target. I was the most egotistical, opinionated, nonlistening manager in the store. To make matters worse, I was responsible for all things guest experience. This meant that I had the largest team which numbered in the 100s. My team members came from pretty much every ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and religion. I was the brainiac from the deep South who had not been around many people from these backgrounds. As a result, I would cling to my ideals and was not receptive to feedback. This was undoubtedly the worst quality because there were team members that had been at the company for more than a decade and I refused to listen to them.

It finally took the overall store manager to come to me and say I had to “shape up or ship out” for me to change. I started with some of her suggestions, such as having lunch with team members and going out of my way to have conversations. What I found out at times inspired me and others devastated me. There were team members who took so much pride in the store and it was their home. Other team members were one step away from homelessness and the work they did every day was the only thing keeping them motivated to stay out of the streets. This knowledge changed me tremendously and taught me that I need to have the empathy to successfully lead a team.

Empathy has allowed me to morph from a manager to a leader. It has helped me hone my leadership style to gain buy-in from even the most recalcitrant team member. It also informs every conversation and decision I make with my team. It has allowed me to be the type of leader that receives emails, texts, and calls years after managing a team because a team member finally accomplished a goal. I recently read “empathy is the oil that keeps relationships running smoothly” and I could not agree more. As a leader, each day you should be thinking some of the following things:

  • How can I be of service to my team?
  • When was the last time, I spent 1:1 time with [insert team member name here]?
  • When was the last time, I told a team member that I appreciate the great work they do?
  • Am I being a good enough advocate for my team, so they can achieve their professional and personal goals?
  • How can I do more to support my team?
  • In the current high tech, a white-collar era where talented team members know it, leaders have to spend more of their time practicing empathy if they hope to ensure the best results from their teams.

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