Industry Insights

In the shoes of the boss

Posted by John Wills on Mar 28, 2023 12:45:28 PM

What is a trusted leader, why is empathy important, and why should we take time to experience our organizations from our colleagues’ different points of view?

Understanding how another person thinks, feels and experiences the world is the essence of empathy. And empathy is an indispensable asset for any leader wanting to achieve and maintain long term success. That’s because leadership requires engaging with people and building mutual trust with them. Success is contingent on enthusing the people that will help you get to where you want to be.

Trusted leaders become more successful leaders. But this doesn’t mean that successful leaders can assume the trust of their teams

A leader that is not well-trusted is not likely to be followed, and their decisions are unlikely to have the sincere buy-in of employees. It may be tempting for leaders to simply demand trust based on impressive past results. But this approach is likely to communicate to employees that the leader intends to impose a rigid top-down hierarchy, whereas a trusted leader should be inviting their employees to join them on a collaborative journey where responsibilities and rewards are shared as a team.

Building mutual trust is hard, if not impossible, if leaders and employees do not know how the other thinks and feels, and why they do so. Therefore, leaders must empathize with their employees, and those employees must be able to empathize with the leader.

Traits of a trusted leader

People choose who to trust, trust cannot be taken for granted. Certain behaviors are likely to build trust, while others undermine it. A leader is more likely to be trusted if they display trust in their team, while transparency in decision making and planning help to reinforce that rapport.

Habitual micromanagement, or failure to involve and inform employees about decision making, will make it less likely that team members will trust leadership.

Transparency is non-negotiable if you want to build trust

Leaders who are transparent in their decision making, planning and feedback are on-track to building trust with their team.

But to really build empathy between leaders and employees, each needs to be able to see the world from the other’s point of view. Obviously, transparency goes a long way towards achieving this, but actually stepping into one-another’s shoes allows leaders to appreciate the specific challenges that their teams face – but which may not be immediately apparent from the outside.

More importantly, this works the other way, too. Experiential learning puts employees in hands-on, immersive and lifelike situations where they are faced with the types of decision making and dilemmas that face leaders every day. This empowers employees with an understanding of what it is like to be ‘in the shoes of the boss’, in a safe, controlled environment. This new-found understanding then helps build a stronger rapport and better trust throughout the team.

Creating the environment for teams to become more cohesive requires trusted leadership

Interdisciplinary teams integrate people with different skillsets through collaboration. Interdisciplinary teams can be highly efficient and can have the flexibility to work in agile and creative ways. But these positive outcomes cannot be taken for granted. Interdisciplinary teams can malfunction when communication and teamwork break down.

Interdisciplinary teams only function if the teams’ goals are clearly defined, and if the teams are safe spaces where individuals can contribute to collaborative creative thinking by being allowed to express different points of view while being listened to sincerely. All of this requires effective, strategic, and trusted leadership.

The defining of objectives, determination of how these objectives should be fulfilled, and monitoring of outcomes, is an intensive multi-stage process. When this process is carried out with care, leaders can create well defined structures within which the team can work, experiment and innovate, getting the best results out of everyone involved. If this is not done effectively, it becomes harder for the team to act in a cohesive manner.

Again, experiential learning can help here. Giving employees an opportunity to experience the strategic decision-making process first-hand will help them to understand why their leaders are taking the strategic approach that they are. This makes it easier to get buy-in and commitment from everyone on the team.

Diversity and inclusion help to build stronger, more productive teams

Trusted leaders should also expect that committed team members will feel confident in giving honest feedback. Employees that have benefitted from the types of experiential learning methods mentioned above are well placed to give feedback to leaders within their organization on how the workplace can improve, both in terms of productivity and employee well-being.

Again, trusted leaders are essential if employees are to feel confident in giving such feedback, while knowing that it will be considered seriously.

The benefits of this two-way trust and constructive feedback are amplified when an organization fosters diversity and inclusion. The wider the range of alternative viewpoints available, and the more freely these viewpoints are expressed, the greater the chances of transformative innovation taking place.

Once trust is established within a team, the traits of transparency and honesty that such an environment encourages will also help in gaining the trust of clients or customers. However, trusted leaders can do a lot more than just maximizing productivity. Leaders who foster empathy create happier, friendlier workplaces. And this directly improves well-being for employees. In turn, this reduces employee turnover, increases employees’ dedication to the organization and fortifies team cohesiveness. All of which will have a significant impact on maximizing the likelihood of the organization’s long-term success.

Start developing trusted leaders in your organization today

Having trusted leaders in your organization is essential for long-term success. Investing in the right training is a great way to ensure that those people are in place. Experiential learning is a powerful tool for developing the right kind of leadership skills to achieve this. If you’re ready to start exploring experiential learning methods, get in touch today!

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