There is a lot written in recent years about the need for a leader to demonstrate empathy when creating a safe, high performing culture for their constituents. When I refer to an empathic leader, I am not referring to someone who can demonstrate empathy. I am referring to someone in a leadership role who is considered a highly sensitive person – an empath. This is someone who feels what others feels and may often feel overwhelmed by this sensitivity and the environments in which they find themselves. Maybe they have been accused of being too emotional. For more information, you can refer to the work of Judith Orloff, MD, who has written a lot about this way of being.
Often people who are empaths shy away from leadership positions because, if they don’t have solid daily practices, exercising self care to manage this way being, they can be easily overwhelmed. Here is how it can show up: You are constantly stressed or overwhelmed. You are stressed by the deadlines and workload. You absorb and are stressed by what your employees feel consequently your employees feel that from you. It doesn’t matter what you say. They experience what you embody – your emotions and the energy vibe you give off. All the way around it creates a chaotic and unpleasant environment for you and for them.
The good news about being an empath is that you are aware (sometimes painfully so) of how everyone feels. The bad news is, you may take it all on and not filter it or distance yourself from it. When employees are stressed they want two things: the sense that their leader gets them and cares, and wants to, and can fix it for them – create calm or remove the stuff (people, deadlines, projects) that are stressing them out.
But you can’t give away what you don’t have. You can’t create calm if you don’t have calm. It generates from within you. For the Empathic leader the greatest thing you can do is, as the famous analogy states – put the oxygen mask on yourself! First, notice when you are feeling really stressed. Notice the source from which this stress is coming. Exercise extreme self care by mentally and emotionally, and sometimes physically distancing yourself from those employees who are negative. Sometimes you may be sitting in a meeting and it is just your mental or emotional orientation you shift if you need to still interface with them.
Then there is the single more important thing you can do to keep yourself grounded, or to re-ground yourself if you are feeling stressed: Have some kind of daily practice that keeps you centered within yourself. This could be: running, walking, meditating, doing yoga, journaling, talking to a trusted colleague over morning coffee, driving, swimming, prayers, affirmations, etc. It could also be an activity, practice, person or some sort of support group you tap into.
Whatever your “thing” is, do it for at least 20 minutes religiously everyday. This will give a certain baseline from which to navigate from. When you are really stressed, do another 20 minutes and another, etc. A leader’s job, like a parent, is the hardest one as people look to you for support, vision and help, especially when they are stressed.
At Sage Leadership Strategies, this is what we do well – hold the space for leaders to understand their patterns and enhance their approach for greater impact. If you know you can get better results with your constituents but just need some additional support to gain clarity and sort things out, please call us for a complimentary discovery session: 203-730-2103.
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