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.
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.