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.
"Sh*t!" my daughter exclaimed as she dropped her iPad to the floor. A little bit of context; my daughter Victoria absolutely loves her iPad. And as I watched her bemoan the possible destruction of her favorite device, I thought to myself, "If I were in her position, I'd probably say the exact same thing."
In the Rastegar family, a word is only a bad word if used improperly. This is a concept that has almost become a family motto. Because in our household, we do things a little differently. To put it frankly, our practices are a little unconventional. Completely safe, one hundred percent responsible- but sure, a little unconventional.
And that's because my husband Ari and I have always felt akin in one major life philosophy; we want to live our lives our way. We have dedicated ourselves to a lifetime of questioning the world around us. And it's that philosophy that has led us to some unbelievable discoveries, especially when it comes to parenting.
Ari was an English major. And if there's one thing that can be said about English majors, it's that they can be big-time sticklers for the rules. But Ari also thinks outside of the box. And here's where these two characteristics meet. Ari was always allowed to curse as a child, but only if the word fit an appropriate and relevant context. This idea came from Ari's father (his mother would have never taken to this concept), and I think this strange practice really molded him into the person he is today.
But it wasn't long after we met that I discovered this fun piece of Ari Rastegar history, and I got to drop a pretty awesome truth bomb on Ari. My parents let me do the same exact thing…
Not only was I allowed to curse as a child, but I was also given a fair amount of freedom to do as I wanted. And the results of this may surprise you. You see, despite the lack of heavy regulating and disciplining from my parents, I was the model child. Straight A's, always came home for curfew, really never got into any significant trouble- that was me. Not trying to toot my own horn here, but it's important for the argument. And don't get the wrong impression, it's not like I walked around cursing like a sailor.
Perhaps I was allowed to curse whenever I wanted, but that didn't mean I did.
And this is where we get to the amazing power of this parenting philosophy. In my experience, by allowing my own children to curse, I have found that their ability to self-regulate has developed in an outstanding fashion. Over the past few years, Victoria and Kingston have built an unbelievable amount of discipline. And that's because our decision to allow them to curse does not come without significant ground rules. Cursing must occur under a precise and suitable context, it must be done around appropriate company, and the privilege cannot be overused. By following these guidelines, Victoria and Kingston are cultivating an understanding of moderation, and at a very early age are building a social awareness about when and where certain types of language are appropriate. And ultimately, Victoria and Kingston are displaying the same phenomenon present during my childhood. Their actual instances of cursing are extremely low.
And beneath this parenting strategy is a deeper philosophy. Ari and I first and foremost look at parenting as educators. It is not our job to dictate who our children will be, how they shall behave, and what their future should look like.
We are not dictators; we are not imposing our will on them. They are autonomous beings. Their future is in their hands, and theirs alone.
Rather, we view it as our mission to show our children what the many possibilities of the world are and prepare them for the litany of experiences and challenges they will face as they develop into adulthood. Now, when Victoria and Kingston come across any roadblocks, they have not only the tools but the confidence to handle these tensions with pride, independence, and knowledge.
And we have found that cursing is an amazing place to begin this relationship as educators. By allowing our children to curse, and gently guiding them towards the appropriate use of this privilege, we are setting a groundwork of communication that will eventually pay dividends as our children grow curious of less benign temptations; sex, drugs, alcohol. There is no fear, no need to slink behind our backs, but rather an open door where any and all communication is rewarded with gentle attention and helpful wisdom.
The home is a sacred place, and honesty and communication must be its foundation. Children often lack an ability to communicate their exact feelings. Whether out of discomfort, fear, or the emotional messiness of adolescence, children can often be less than transparent. Building a place of refuge where our children feel safe enough to disclose their innermost feelings and troubles is, therefore, an utmost priority in shepherding their future. Ari and I have come across instances where our children may have been less than truthful with a teacher, or authority figure simply because they did not feel comfortable disclosing what was really going on. But with us, they know that honesty is not only appreciated but rewarded and incentivized. This allows us to protect them at every turn, guard them against destructive situations, and help guide and problem solve, fully equipped with the facts of their situation.
And as crazy as it all sounds- I really believe in my heart that the catalogue of positive outcomes described above truly does stem from our decision to allow Victoria and Kingston to curse freely.
I know this won't sit well with every parent out there. And like so many things in life, I don't advocate this approach for all situations. In our context, this decision has more than paid itself off. In another, it may exacerbate pre-existing challenges and prove to be only a detriment to your own family's goals.
As the leader of your household, this is something that you and you alone must decide upon with intentionality and wisdom.
Ultimately, Ari and I want to be the kind of people our children genuinely want to be around. Were we not their parents, I would hope that Victoria and Kingston would organically find us interesting, warm, kind, funny, all the things we aspire to be for them each and every day.
We've let our children fly free, and fly they have. They are amazing people. One day, when they leave the confines of our home, they will become amazing adults. And hopefully, some of the little life lessons and eccentric parenting practices we imparted upon them will serve as a support for their future happiness and success.