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How to build highly-connected teams through empathetic leadership

As more and more businesses toil with the sudden transition to remote working, leaders across the ‘C’ suite can use this time as an opportunity to connect with their team.

Ongoing disruptions have disturbed the balance for almost all teams and especially marketing — prompting employees at all levels to reassess their own personal career priorities and expose personal anxieties that have been hiding in the woodwork. Now more than ever, CxOs must step up to the plate and realign their approach to satisfy the needs of their people.

I believe the cornerstone of all successful leadership (global pandemic or not) is to foster deeper connections with your teams and double down on the time investment in helping them get value out of their day-to-day work. At the same time as working to inspire your people for the future, providing a safe space to open up and share experiences remains crucial.

I’d like to suggest some practical tips on how they can connect with their people and adopt a sensitive approach at all times.

1. Go a Layer Deeper


While almost all management books will make reference to the need to show empathy and take time to make people feel valued, CxOs have a responsibility to dig a level deeper ensuring their intent is always followed by action.

I believe there are two types of leaders:

  1. Those who present a facade of care.
  2. Those who genuinely care about helping their people.

Starting from a place of wanting to help is important, but the key to building authentic relationships with your employees is to listen. Become a leader who harnesses empathy in order to genuinely improve the lives of your employees.

Crucially, CxOs must appreciate that connecting with employees on a deeper level requires a real investment. I spend a significant chunk of my time reading and learning about human psychology and personal development to upskill my leadership style and become the best leader I can be for my team.

Practical Tip — Best Leadership Books for CxOs


My #1 tip to help you build deeper connections with your people is to simply pick up a book. Some of my favourite books around human psychology and successful people management include:

  • The Leader You Want to Be. Amy Jen Su’s five essential principles are a great place to start if you want to learn more about the key components of becoming a better leader.
  • The Trillion Dollar Coach. Eric Schmidt uncovers key management lessons from legendary coach, business executive, mentor to some of the most successful modern entrepreneurs — Bill Campbell.
  • The Making of a Manager. Julie Zhuo’s masterful grasp of how to negotiate becoming a successful manager delivers a modern-day field guide full of everyday examples and unmatched insights.

2. Acknowledge Vulnerabilities


The biggest mistake a CxO can make is to sweep problems under the carpet and battle on as if nothing has happened. As recent events continue to turn people’s world upside down, successful leaders will use this time to check-in with employees and identify how they can help.

Don’t let your employees suffer in silence. I’m constantly looking for new ways to create a safe environment where my team can express their feelings, ask for help and share experiences with their fellow co-workers.

While lots of your team might feel like they’re fighting an individual battle, the reality is they’re probably experiencing very similar things to those around them. The take-home point is not to be scared of difficult conversations and communicate that it’s ok to not be ok. Difficult conversations open the door to reflection. Reflection has the power to reset the mind, allow you to think differently and reinvigorate your approach to work.

It’s important not to sugarcoat everything in these difficult times and constantly communicate the value of open communication to build internal trust within the group.

Practical Tip


As a leader, setting clear expectations is pivotal. Weekly check-in meetings with team meetings can help to understand how people are feeling, but encouraging self-grading that promotes self-reflection and honest conversations is a great strategy to create a supportive team dynamic.

3. Talk About People’s Ambitions


Recent disruptions have triggered lots of people to reevaluate their purpose, hit the reset button and reflect on how they can make changes to their life in a post-COVID world.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about how to support my employees through this process and understand what I can do to help them reach their goals. While it’s easy to get bogged down with trying to push your company through tough times, your people must come first.

I’m a big advocate of the GROW Model Coaching technique to actively engage with people’s personal journeys through structured coaching sessions. Echoing my previous comments about the need for action over intent is critical to ensure your desire to help doesn’t translate as a series of muddled gestures.

Practical Tip


I like to use Asana to keep track of one-on-one coaching sessions and create a record of how people’s thoughts develop.

I’ve created a project called ‘team’ and added a task for each member to keep a seamless conversation that follows an individual’s professional journey. This process makes people feel understood as their leader is making a conscious effort to listen and absorb. Again, the practical element of using Asana serves as a facilitator to ensure that my intent translates into action.

Note that it’s important to use a set of structured questions throughout these coaching sessions to help you reference back to old conversations and observe how an individual’s outlook has evolved over time.

4. Encourage Independence in the Workplace


Promoting self-organisation is key in these disrupted times. People have their own personal challenges to deal with so it’s more important than ever for CMOs to give their team space to fit work around their individual schedules.

For me, successful leadership is creating an environment where the team continues to thrive even in your absence as a leader. There is nothing more beautiful than seeing a self-governing team where people step up to become the driving force behind progress. Empowering your people and encouraging independence will generate proactive high performers who don’t require constant micro-management.

Practical Tip


Adjusting your leadership approach and shifting towards an output-based management structure could help your team enjoy the benefits of independent working, while still delivering the same (if not better) results.

As your growth team adjusts to remote working, ask yourself whether you could create operating principles that do not increase a huge burden of admin but instead fosters accountability.

Embrace Empathetic Leadership


The key to building strong connections with your people is to show genuine care through actions. To truly become empathetic as a leader you will need to adjust your approach constantly, not be too rigid, and be persuadable to new ways of thinking. Use this time to provide your team with a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, and a hand to hold.

  • Dig deep to fully understand your employees and how you can best support them during this challenging time.
  • Don’t ignore small issues as they can easily grow into much larger ones.
  • Cultivate a culture of reflection. Create an environment where employees feel safe and supported to voice their opinions and establish open communication.
  • Try to understand employees’ ambitions and how you can support them to reach their goals (the GROW Model Coaching technique is a great tool for this)
  • Adopt an output-based management structure to give employees more trust and flexibility.
Leadership Marketing