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How to Use Empathy to Change Your Leadership in the Midst of COVID-19

How to Use Empathy to Change Your Leadership in the Midst of COVID-19

  • Leadership /
  • Podcast /

Emerge CEO, Jonathon Hensley recently sat down with Steven Todd at Open Sourced Workplace to dialogue about changes in leadership in the midst of the COVID era. Their passionate and intriguing discussion on the changes in leadership, and the intersection of leadership provide valuable insights in our rapidly evolving world.


Leadership in the Midst of the COVID Era

Empathy on the corporate level has never been more important than it is now. In the digital transformation and digital product space, we talk all the time about customer empathy, about employee empathy. But I think from a leadership perspective, it’s going to take an entirely new area of focus and prioritization for so many organizations. Empathy to really connect is going to be so important. One thing that really resonates for me is the idea that leaders have to step back. Instead of saying I understand how you feel, empathy really comes from saying, I want to understand how you’re feeling. Just shifting that thinking and really coming into how you approach your conversations, or that connection with people; that nuance, that detail, becomes invaluable.

For me personally, I pause, and I need to make sure I’m still making the effort to connect with people and to check in on how they are doing. It can’t just be, how’s that project going or is that task still on track? Those are management things. One of the most powerful things that has been reinforced through all of this for me, and also in talking to other business leaders and organizational leaders is the importance of empathy mapping right now.  Leaders have to be connecting and making space to engage their teams with empathy, not bias, not through their lens, not through the lens of the media or anything else that might be coming to them. They need to really engage with people on a one to one level, really make sure they feel heard, and that they’re understood. You can have a much more honest dialogue.

From a business perspective, one of the things that’s really exciting for me is, in all the conversations I’m having with people, there seems to be a groundswell with a lot of leaders right now that are understanding that goals are not product strategy. A lot of people are looking for quick wins, but they realize they can’t skip steps anymore. These times require hard work, that maybe during the best of times wasn’t prioritized. I’m hoping that will become a seed for change as a whole going forward. It has put a better lens on things out of necessity.  That’s a huge opportunity for leaders and organizations right now. Getting clear about diagnosing the problems that they have as an organization by creating a service blueprint, really understanding what unique approach they can implement to solve those problems with limited resources, and other constraints that are taking place. Being in the digital space of technology is very important for a lot of organizations to navigate these times and to make critical changes. How are we still relevant? What does this mean for the future of the business? Then, really thinking about: how do we cohesively empower every person on the team to move forward? That’s exciting to me, because it’s starting to filter out a lot of noise that has been clouding some really critical things and holding back a lot of organizations for a very long time. The conversation is shifting. I’m really looking forward to seeing what technology, what innovation will come out of this situation, and what the next year will look like. I think you’re going to see some amazing things come from individuals, from every area, and in bigger organizations as well.

I’ve always had an open door policy in the office. I’ve continued that virtually. Every single person in the company has access to me whenever they want. I reinforce that in every management meeting, every staff meeting as a reminder. I’m creating as much open space as I possibly can. It’s important that I establish that and let people know that I am available to them.That’s going to be essential, because I’m not just laying a foundation to navigate what’s happening right now. As a CEO, I’m having to think strategically about back to work, six months from now, a year from now, three years from now on things none of us can forecast.  Empathy, and building trust and honesty with my team is the foundation.


Intersection of Leadership

Leadership is two intersecting qualities in someone. One is the ability to have an incredibly clear focus and vision. Then, the ability to bring people from unique backgrounds, disciplines, and skill sets together to achieve that.  I’m a personal believer in servant leadership. The team that I have built at Emerge, or the teams that we work with, we’re there to serve them. As a CEO of a company, I’m there to serve my employees. They are what makes fulfilling our mission as a company possible. They’re the ones that move the needle every day. My job is to support them. What can I do today to make sure that they’re focused, have clarity of what we’re doing, and navigate the uncertainty that’s happening all around us in the world right now? And how are we going to measure success? What are we accountable to? What are those standards?  I think it’s essential as a leader to provide that clarity and that focus for an organization, for teams, and really make sure that you’re empowering those people to bring their best.

Success from a leadership perspective is being able to see somebody unlock their potential. I think a lot of times when we look at old working models, the thought was that you didn’t need to worry about what you’re building. That’s not the world we live in anymore. We’re asking people to be problem solvers, to be innovators, and to think about how they can help us transform our businesses, no matter what function of the organization they work within. We need to empower them with context. We need to help them to unlock the potential that they bring; that unique life experience and skills that we’ve hired them for. Each individual is also informing the culture of an organization. Making sure that is nurtured is essential.

Watch the entire interview:

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