Two years ago, when the pandemic was still on the periphery and not yet a threat to our everyday lives, Sharon Williams, Founder and CEO of Taurus Marketing, was one of the few leaders championing a new style of leadership – empathy. As Sharon coined it, “Empathy is the new brand currency” and would be the deciding factor for whether a company would weather the pandemic to hold their business and team together, or feel the sting of The Great Resignation – a revolving door of employees.
Recruitment website Glassdoor, was the first to recognise the trend towards a different style of leadership. Late in 2020, they published their top-performing CEO’s in the US and UK, based on employee reviews. The common traits that put these CEO’s on the list was their willingness to listen, to prioritise employee wellbeing, offer flexible working arrangements and maintain clear communication. In essence, it was their ability to be empathetic that put them on top.
As Sharon explains, leaders who use empathy as a tool will better retain and motivate their team and in the long-term, build a positive culture.
“When I started Taurus Marketing 27 years ago, I wanted to create the best place to work for all my team members and particularly create an environment where mothers could return to the workforce and not just thrive, but grow to be the best and most respected in the business. Today is no different, my team are my priority. I see it as my job to lift them along their life’s journey, to teach and show them how to work to live, not live to work. That means creating space for individual needs and making sure everyone feels valued.
“Brands will need to have empathy at the heart of their leadership and therefore their marketing approach if they are to survive and prosper in this new unstable working environment. Peoples needs and expectations have changed on just about everything. From brand promise, to brand value proposition, customer expectations, hybrid work from anywhere to the skills shortage – empathy will lift and carry people, brand and businesses through this crazy period.”
So, how do other companies stack up in their approach to leading with empathy? We spoke with other business leaders to get their stance on what leadership looks like post-pandemic, and why the status quo must change.
Mel Cochrane, Equifax Group Managing Director, Australia and New Zealand
“While the last few years have been tough, one positive is the recognition that empathy is an essential trait of great leaders. For me, empathy means truly listening and putting ourselves in the shoes of others, to understand how they’re feeling, and why. We all want to work for someone who cares about us, values our contributions, and understands that sometimes we don’t present our best selves but supports us nonetheless.
“At Equifax, we’ve actively focused on supporting our team members’ mental wellbeing through challenging times and our people have responded to that support by delivering amazing results in a time of uncertainty.
“In our post-lockdown world, it’s vital that the benefits discovered over the past two years aren’t forgotten. Empathy is now a baseline expectation, and people aren’t afraid to leave an environment that doesn’t meet their needs. So we’re creating a culture that works for everyone. No two roles are the same, just as no two people are the same. We want to make sure our people get all the important things done – at work and at home.”
Amanda Rose, founder of Small Business Women Australia and Western Sydney Women
“Empathy means you’re listening and understanding where someone is coming from and why they are potentially acting a certain way.
“Someone who has empathy has high EQ (Emotional intelligence) and is a critical skill for leaders to possess if they are to have a productive and supportive environment. You can’t empower your team if you don’t understand their needs so having empathy and understanding only works if you have open communication channels.
“From a recruitment perspective, an empathetic workplace culture will lead to happier staff, who are your biggest asset and also your greatest advocates. If you’re trying to attract talent to your workplace, word of mouth praise from existing employees will be your best advertisement.
“From a retention perspective, staff generally don’t leave because they’re unhappy with a company, they leave because they’re unhappy with their manager. Feeling heard, understood and valued are the three biggest and best ways to retain staff and you can’t do that if you’re not an empathetic leader.
Rachael Williams, Director of Printing Systems, HP Australia & New Zealand
“If we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s the importance of prioritising the things which matter to you the most. Being able to work from home helped many people, including myself, realise that work can’t constantly take first place; our friends and family, our hobbies and interests, are just as important to our lives. It meant that flexibility within the workplace became critical, with workers able to live their lives with balance and an increased consciousness around personal and employee wellbeing came to the forefront.
“For leaders, it is critical to not only recognise the needs and wants of employees, but to act decisively on them. By being empathic and recognising that each employee has individual needs that must be met, organisations and leaders can build a workplace culture that is inclusive, fair, and productive. This isn’t just good for people, it’s good for business.”