Empathy in leadership - Veterinary Practice
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Empathy in leadership

How to use empathy to enhance your leadership status

The greatest leaders allow others to thrive based on their strengths. Daniel Goleman has done some work in the USA, drawing on research involving over 3,000 executives, which has been published in Leadership that gets results. The research concluded that a manager’s leadership style was responsible for 30 percent of the business’s profitability; that isn’t just money, but staff productivity and engagement, creating a negative or positive working atmosphere.

Last month, we looked at how authentic empathy can result in greater profitability in our practices. This month: how we as leaders, can show by example how cognitive empathy, emotional empathy and empathic concern can become part of who we are as individuals, leading to greater success at work.

Cognitive empathy means “I understand how to listen to the team as a whole and I can communicate with individual team members by listening, understanding and feeding back.” Communication must be tailored to the individual and varying needs of the team members, requiring more one-on-one meetings as well as group staff meetings. It’s time consuming.

Emotional empathy creates a leader who can assess the staff morale as it changes from day to day. If management has emotional empathy running at high levels, there will be rapport among the team and a reduced gap between management and staff. However, it requires flexibility and the ability to change tack at short notice. Leadership can and should be situational depending on the needs of the team.

Empathically concerned leaders create highly bonded team members. These are the leaders who organise CPD for vets who are struggling clinically, the line managers who remember if a nurse’s parent has cancer and make sure they have compassionate leave, the head vet who knows the name of every receptionist and PCA and the manager who books mental well-being seminars for the team that’s lost direction.

So how do I cultivate authentic empathy at all three levels in myself so that it becomes part of the culture of the team? How do I learn the difference between empathy, sympathy and apathy and the impact on the human connection?

Mindfulness mini-meditations

Allocate 20 minutes each morning to clear your mind and attain pinpoint concentration on your breathing. Next, consciously decide to make the effort one day at a time to be more mindful of hidden cues in others, and to understand “emotional data” in your staff. This increases cognitive and emotional empathy. It takes effort at the start and then becomes a habit and a firm personality trait. Finally, putting your “compassionate hat” on for the day, resolve to be mindful of your thoughts and actions at work, ie be acutely aware of each thought and each action.

Make yourself aware

Make sure that you are aware that lack of empathy in one-on-one encounters has the potential to abolish any positive effects which that time-consuming one-on-one encounter could have had; it can hinder communication and can even cause psychological harm.

Be more emotionally intelligent

Resolve to be more emotionally intelligent, where you can identify and manage your own emotions and identify and manage the emotions of your staff more effectively, thus setting the standard for behaviour in the practice. Refer to the previous article on self-awareness here, and the one on self-regulation here.

Understand yourself better to safeguard your own mental health and personal well-being. Be more reflective personally and professionally, thus having empathy but not becoming emotionally exhausted with sympathy.

Listen more actively

Pause to digest and absorb what has been conveyed to you.

Understand reflexive leadership

Understand reflexive leadership and how to use these skills for staff well-being and productivity. Respond with wisdom and show that you have tailored your response to the individual. As Viktor E Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Plan one act of empathic concern each day

Plan one act of empathic concern each day at work thus avoiding apathy and showing the team that you are a leader who is not jaded.

Empathy breeds empathy. By showing you have a high EQ (emotional quotient) as well as a high IQ, your charisma and leadership status will improve in your team’s eyes. It becomes infectious. Don’t be bashful about it. Spell it out and be honest.

In the words of Joshua Freedman, CEO of Six Seconds Emotional Intelligence Training, “Leaders influence the team’s mood. The team’s mood drives performance. What’s your conclusion?”

Laura Woodward

Laura Woodward has been the surgeon at Village Vet Hampstead for over 10 years. Laura is also a qualified therapeutic counsellor and is affiliated with the ACPNL and the ISPC. She runs Laurawoodward.co.uk – a counselling service for vets and nurses.

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