Demonstrate Character with Empathy and Humility

RBLP Staff – Building and Leading Resilient Teams Series

Demonstrate Character with Empathy and Humility

True leaders do not build great teams through their words but through their actions. How you act will reveal your authentic character. Moral courage, honesty, empathy, and humility are the “must have” components of character for leaders. Let’s take a look at humility and empathy.

You can choose to be honest with people, and you can choose to demonstrate moral courage in a crisis. Empathy and humility aren’t choices. They come from within and must be nurtured and developed over time. Empathy and humility reveal how you will deal with the emotional lives of those who report to you.

Empathy can be tricky. In cases where you have shared an emotional experience with one of your employees, you can tap into your authentic feelings and meet them where they are at. As a manager, you will certainly have to help a younger worker through the emotional distress of having made a big mistake at work. This is something we have all been through. Share your own experiences with the employee. Make sure they know you are available to listen to them as they navigate the emotional fallout. That way you allow them to grieve their error and learn from the situation.

Or maybe it’s trouble at home. If you’ve been there yourself, let them know. When you can relate to someone’s situation, sharing your experience will let them know you’re supporting them as they resolve the matter.

But don’t confuse empathy with sympathy. For instance, you may have an employee who has suffered trauma. It could have been in the military, or as a child. Perhaps a close family member unexpectedly died. If you have not experienced their brand of trauma yourself, you must be careful not to try to identify too closely with the person’s trauma. They won’t buy it. But if you tell them you can offer sympathy, kindness, and understanding, you have shown them the compassion they need from you.

Note: You can grow your own empathy with your team by getting down in the trenches from time to time with them. There’s nothing like a shared experience with the boss to boost empathy across the whole team.

Humility, like empathy, is primarily an acquired trait. Every time you face a humbling experience, you have the opportunity to nurture your personal humility. We frequently see humility in action in sports. The swaggering young quarterback humbled by his first taste of a professional defense. The baseball phenom who grabs headlines with his early prowess, then can’t buy a hit in June. The once-invincible coach who loses his touch and the respect of his team and owners. If these folks get back up, dust themselves off, take a hard look in the mirror and learn from their comeuppance, they may soon be Comeback of the Year. If not, well …

The lesson most newly minted managers learn is this: Take the blame, share the praise. When you are big enough to shoulder your team’s setbacks … When you give credit for good work done to your team instead of claiming it for yourself … When you openly admit to your own mistakes and flaws … You have demonstrated humility to the troops. They will see it, and they will respect you for it.