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Empathic Leadership

Command & control is out for a long time anyway.
It’s old-fashioned.

-reading time: 4 minutes- / -audience: Leaders-


The days are long gone that we were hired by the local factory to push the same dirty button all day, get paid just enough to buy food and pay rent, and when we accumulated some savings, we could have any car colour we want so long it’s black, and that we stayed with the same employer until the grim reaper knocked on our door.

Now, we are well-educated, multi-skilled, get paid enough to travel the world, switch jobs, work from home or even the beach, change careers, look for purpose. We want self-actualisation, realising our personal potential, self-fulfilment, seeking personal growth, and we don’t want a boss who commands and controls us.

Command & control is out for a long time anyway. It’s old-fashioned.

The marketing people have early-adopted this since Philip Kotler: create pull instead of push. In HR terms: when people want to work with you instead of being forced to, you can create much more value and a pleasant time for everyone involved.

This is not an alien mindset for you – I hope.

When you lead an organisation, division or a team, you should concentrate on six pillars embodying this value creation and pleasantness, in correspondence with the times that we live in:

  1. Voice, trust & integrity
  2. Innovation & new ideas creation
  3. Engagement & commitment
  4. Ownership & responsibility
  5. Performance
  6. Job & life satisfaction

1. Voice, trust & integrity

Providing a climate for people to speak up, promoting voice behaviour, is key for building trust. By not only sending (talking) but also receiving (listening), moral obligations are created. Adherence to moral and ethical principles and obligations demonstrates integrity.

When the leader possesses personality traits of agreeableness and conscientiousness, team members rate the leader’s ethical leadership positively; ethical leadership influences followers’ voice behaviour.

Authentic leadership behaviour has a statistically significant indirect effect on work engagement through trust in supervisors.

Humble & supportive leadership behaviour includes inclusiveness, support, trustworthiness, openness, and behavioural integrity.

2. Innovation & new ideas creation

Voice, trust & integrity allows the team to make mistakes and learn from these mistakes. A climate which has space for creativity supports the cultivation of the team members’ capacity for creative problem solving, which leads to innovative ideas, especially when information and knowledge are shared.

Diversity, sharing differences, and expressing different opinions play an important role too; team members should not have the fear of being rejected.

However, it is important to note that diversity does not only bring positive consequences. It has often been recognised that heterogeneity in teams can reduce intra-group cohesiveness. Therefore, it is essential to avoid in-group/out-group dynamics, as this hampers innovation and new ideas creation.

3. Engagement & commitment

When people can be themselves, express their opinions even when opinions differ, in a climate of trust, then engagement and commitment will rise.

Transformational leadership – working with teams to identify needed change, creating a vision to guide the change through inspiration and executing the change – is a win/win when it is carried out in tandem with committed team members.

Be mindful that supportive organisational practices are positively related to employee work outcomes, such as organisational commitment. Make sure that the team receives what it needs: time, training, explanations, facilities, equipment, and so on.

Praise and positive feedback are essential to foster engagement and commitment.

4. Ownership & responsibility

Once engagement & commitment is established, nothing will stand in the way for the team to take ownership and responsibility.

The role of the leader here is to strive for leadership inclusiveness, which is the explicit display of openness, availability and accessibility while focusing on team members’ perceptions that the leader acknowledges their contributions.

Leader inclusiveness is even more influential in low-performing teams. Leadership inclusiveness plays an important role in preventing harm, as it facilitates speaking up.

5. Performance

When all previous pillars receive full leadership attention and commitment, performance should be a walk in the park.

However, performance is not only measured by the occasional achievement of financial, technical and commercial metrics. Bringing the entire team to a higher performance standard that sticks, is the base for the individual team members to realise their potential and personal growth.

But when the performance standard is low, the team members may feel too comfortable for their good or even become apathetic.

6. job & life satisfaction

Leadership responsibilities do not stop once a high-performance standard is achieved. Circumstances may lead to new targets and objectives, negative team dynamics can surface, the team composition may change with old faces leaving and new faces integrating, and job satisfaction levels – and as a consequence life satisfaction levels – may drop.

The leader’s psychological and relational capital can help to keep everyone on board when external and internal factors impact the team’s satisfaction levels. Psychological capital is defined as an individual’s positive psychological state of development. Relational capital is an asset achieved through the creation and use of relationships, by building trust and commitment. Its four pillars of Hope, Efficacy, Resilience, and Optimism (HERO) are linked to job satisfaction as well as life satisfaction.

Individuals who are unsatisfied with their team members show an increase in self-serving bias. The most highly satisfied teams also demonstrate an other-centric bias: assigning more credit to other team members than to themselves.

And what about you? How do you score on these 6 pillars?

The central mediator for all the six pillars of Empathic Leadership is a psychologically safe climate. Psychological safety is about giving candid feedback, openly admitting mistakes, and learning from each other. A psychologically safe climate and organisational culture is increasingly important in the modern economy for companies to learn, innovate and grow.

Although psychological safety is considered a concept attributed to a team, the leader brakes or makes it. If the leader does not find it valuable nor believes in it, then the attitude towards creating a psychologically safe team climate is negative.

There is also another element which is key for a leader to drive psychological safety or to excel in it: leadership personality and how the leader is perceived from day to day and under stress.

Psychological Safety Excellence - psychological safety excellence_ -

Do you know how you are perceived from day to day, and how this impacts each of the pillars positively and negatively? Do you promote or risk psychological safety?

Do you know how you are perceived when you are under stress, and how this impacts each of the pillars positively and negatively? Do you sustain or hinder psychological safety?

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your road to psychological safety excellence

If you find it important to excel in achieving success for all the six pillars and you want to know how your team member’s perception of you impacts the key ingredient: psychological safety – then commit to the Psychological Safety Excellence Assessment for Leaders.

Not only will you receive rich insight into your perceived personality, but also how it impacts all six pillars that embody modern leadership.

And to make sure that you will be able to excel, you receive detailed feedback including recommendations which will help you on your road to achieving Psychological Safety Excellence.