How building an empathetic culture pulls teams through adversity.

Feb 09, 2022


Values and culture are essential aspects of highly functional teams.  How the leader communicates and chooses to respond or react is usually more impactful than what is actually said. 

For example, one of the values that I lead my teams with is ‘Family First.’  This means that should a need arise by those whom are dependent upon you, you should be empowered to step into that (and away from work) as needed.  The idea and definition of ‘family’ can of course be different with different people.  Taking this time could be considered for a pet or for the self (such as for mental/emotional health).  I can remember a few times when an employee would call off work due to a family emergency and I would assure them that I would reach out to let our customers know and if they were not understanding of that, then clearly, they were not the right customers for us.

Leading with empathy transforms the whole dynamic of a team, so much that it can allow for the tough conversations that need to happen.  I have had moments where team members are explaining to me how their needs and lives have changed so drastically that it actually steers them to opportunities outside of the company.  In recent times, the constant pressures deriving from COVID 19 has been forcing most of us to focus on our own needs that have likely been overlooked for a long time.  Sometimes this leads to employees ‘graduating’ and moving on.  The parting is of course bittersweet as a bond has been built that now must be severed, and yet the reverberation and effect on the team as a whole is much less dramatic as opposed to a sudden departure.  These team members reflect that empathy back and choose to respectfully hand off projects to the rest of the team as opposed to leaving careless loose ends which can cause major damage.

So what does empathy look like in leadership? It all starts with holding space for care and suspending judgment, giving the benefit of the doubt when faced with a confusing situation.  One really powerful way that I am able to connect with the deep sense of care for my team is to use the Enneagram assessment tool which reveals to me how stressors are processed by the individual. 

No matter what tool you use as a leader, leading with an empathetic and caring intention will go a long way towards a sustainable and resilient team.