When you become a new parent, you might be asked by those nosy (and ahem, opinionated) family members about what parenting style you'll try to govern by. It's an odd question to try to answer, as figuring out your personal disciplines and preferences comes with practice.
The same could be said about determining what type of leader you are when you run a company, regardless if you're the one signing the pay stubs or merely collecting one. Will you push your employees to meet specific metrics? Will you encourage them to set both personal and professional goals?
Will you remember to be empathetic? Life coaches and career experts agree that remembering that your employees are humans first and your direct-reports second will help you become a more effective, valued and trusted boss. “Empathy is important as a leader because without it you cannot succeed in a win-win way. Without empathy one is a dictator or a narcissist who just sees things from one perspective," entrepreneur and life coach, Lisa Haisha explains. “Black and white thinking can only take you so far and also loyalty from your followers is important to see your vision through." Here is how empathetic leaders lead differently - and arguably, in the way employees wish all of their bosses would have taught them:
They lead from the heart.
Much like taking care of anyone, managing a team requires an open mind. Not only are you constantly being dealt a new hand at often a moment's (and urgent) notice, but you have to coordinate a variety of personalities, ideas and questions. An empathetic takes the open mind approach but with an added layer of authenticity. As Haisha explains, they often put the heart and conscious at the forefront. “They don't make snap judgments or decisions. They truly care what people have to say and try to understand their perspective. Leaders who aren't empathetic have a tendency to be bull-headed, egotistic and narrow-minded," she says.
They put others ahead of themselves.
Your end goal might be to become a CEO one day, start and run your own company from the ground up or to simply claim your seat at the executives' table. While there might be some hard-balling and ceiling-breaking on the way to the top, an empathetic leader doesn't sacrifice the happiness of their staff to earn a new title. “They put other people's needs before their own. They want what is best for the company instead of leading from ego," Haisha says.
“They get that when you inspire your employees, they work harder for the company and everyone succeeds together. Life is unpredictable and everyone has consistent challenges happening, being an empathetic leader means to be in the moment and not looking at a situation from only the perspective of your lens."
They make sure their employees feel safe.
To the extent that they can, an empathetic leader will do whatever it takes to remain transparent, candid and open about the future of the business and what employees should expect. This caring attitude that hopes to ease any anxieties around job security, while also providing a blanket reality check is a quality employees will forever value. Why? It's simple: it makes them feel safe. “Empathy is the key element to creating trust which is the key element to creating strong successful relationships that in turn increase overall happiness and performance," business coach Emeline Roissetter says. “If your team members have faith that you will take their feelings into consideration, you create a strong bond between you and each one of them which is crucial for promoting better communication, increased creativity, empowered decision-making and enhanced performance.
“Empathy is the key element to creating trust which is the key element to creating strong successful relationships that in turn increase overall happiness and performance"
They know empathy has a ripple effect.
Just as children model the behavior of their parents, your employees learn from the way you make choices for the team, how you balance your own schedule and the way you handle difficult, stressful weeks (or months or quarters). But by putting empathy at the heart of your decisions, both for the professional and personal growth of your employees, you are starting a ripple effect that extends far beyond the office and hopefully, all the way to your customers. “The way you lead your team has a reciprocal effect on the way they deal with their work, other team members and customers," Roissetter says. “By making the well-being of your people a priority, they will in return make the well-being of the organization their priority."
They don't lead by emotion, but they understand its value.
Being empathetic means you are able to recognize and share other people's feelings. It does not mean you have to agree with those feelings, it simply means you are aware of them, even when you can't sympathize with them," she says. “Being an empathetic leader means you can appreciate what another person is going through and adapt your leadership style accordingly to deepen the relationship, increase collaboration and create trust. It also means you can provide that person with what they need to achieve their goals and improve their performance. Isn't that what true leadership is about?"
They're strong listeners.
They know success only comes when everyone succeeds.
In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.
For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.
Believe it or not, I am happy about that.
The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.
It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).
These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.
So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.
Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.
The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."
In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.