Home » Blog » The Manager Coach- Balancing Empathy and Effectiveness

Results drive investment- that is the simplest rule of the world. Both these entities are looked at by the leadership in the work environment and thus, they must always stay on top of these two to ensure that the organization runs in the right direction. Effectiveness guarantees results, while empathy guarantees employee happiness. There prevails a notion within the working community, that to achieve one, the other must be sacrificed. For a long time post the industrial revolution, society was driven by hyper-ambition and people decided that empathy was a bit too mushy for work. Work meant hard efforts, tangible results, and liquid profits. Even today, often segments like engineers or analysts (and the lot) seem to think that it is preferrable to stay focused on the important stuff-the results. How people go about achieving them is immaterial. People are generally of the view that bringing empathy into conversations is only a waste of time, time that would be better spent achieving that next target or reaching out to that next customer.

For many, the thought of empathy in leadership can be daunting, because managers are not psychologists, and getting personal with work colleagues contradicts decades of management books. With a shift to remote/hybrid working, management styles have needed to become more outcome or results-focussed. Micromanaging is simply not an option in a remote environment. Leaders attempting this approach will find team members become distracted and unproductive, with both parties falling into a relationship of distrust. Successful managers agree on short-term objectives with team members, ensure clarity in what success looks like, and check in along the way to offer timely support.

The Dark Side of an Only Results-Based Leadership

Bad tidings tend to come all at once; together. If you are an employee of an organisation that is witnessing a dip in its fortunes, you will be expected to put in more effort at work so that the turnaround may come. However, that situation may be compounded by somebody in your family battling ill health. This circumstance would definitely make it hard to bring a clear, creative and present mind to the outcomes you’re working towards. Quite obviously, the health of your family will easily take mental priority over any work objectives and the absence of empathy from leadership will drive up disengagement.

Why Empathy?

The benefits of managing a team with empathy far outweigh the misconceptions of why a manager should focus only on results. Showing empathy engages others. Engagement and performance are highly correlated. When engagement is higher, performance also tends to be higher.

Furthermore, empathy is a relational skill. When relatedness is stronger, the bonds of a team are stronger.

Walking the Tightrope between Empathy and Execution

How can managers serve their team members’ needs and still deliver results when the business requires extraordinary effort to achieve success? It all starts by engaging in conversations that connect. Conversations are the simple key to balancing both empathy and execution because they’re the place where compassion and action converge – a formula for success. When managers are reacting to mountains of challenges, and the pressure to perform is high, it’s easy to skip conversations with team members and attempt to drive results via email and directives distributed at meetings. Typically, when managers are feeling stressed about deliverables, they double down on managing tasks and cancel one-on-one meetings with team members. But there’s a better choice. When the pressure is on, meaningful, efficient one-on-one meetings are pure gold. Managers may think they don’t have time to connect, but the missed opportunity cost can be significant. Connect with the team. Remember, these conversations happen with a team member; not to them. The trick here is to have very short but extremely meaningful conversations. Even a five-minute quick catch-up on expectations and short-term goals can infuse both the manager and the team member with the ‘we got this!’ energy. The feeling that something can be achieved is one of the biggest mental reliefs to anybody.

Some pointers to have meaningful conversations that are empathetic and drive performance are-

Open-ended questions asked in a non-accusatory tone go a long way in establishing the trust in management. Questions like-

will definitely make the employee feel valued and thus motivated to give their input on the contextual matter. Additional questions like “What resource could help you do this faster?” or “How can we achieve this while helping you achieve this?” are the literal definitions of empathy and execution together. Conversely, if somebody is still not cooperating despite your best efforts, do not be afraid to have honest conversations with them.

A pro tip, especially for managers all around the corporate sector- When you ask somebody how their weekend was, don’t do it as a formality. Don’t treat their answer as a filler to the inner monologue running around in your mind. Actually listen, express interest, and continue the conversation in that tone for a bit so that it does not feel like a formality to them as well. You will immediately notice the warmth that comes through. If somebody says they aren’t feeling well, check in with them a couple of days later, even if they haven’t taken any days off and seem fine; by saying that you hope all is good now. Conversations and circumstances in a person’s life always link. And as the manager, if you show efforts to trace that link, you will find that reciprocation is a beautiful feature built into humanity.

To Conclude

According to the World Happiness Report, the four key drivers of happiness are financial security, personal health, trust, and relationships. If one or more of these take a hit, that person will not be working to their optimum capacity. Managers today cannot afford to lead without empathy and must connect more deeply with their teams so that they can develop more cohesive and resilient units that achieve great performance outcomes.