Empathy is the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions.
And, since leadership centers on delivering and creating action, it stands to reason that guiding our actions as leaders through a filter of empathy is not only the right way to treat our sales people, but also a more effective form of sales leadership.
Sadly, our culture doesn’t often pair the words “empathic” and “leader” together. We usually expect leaders to issue directives that will accomplish the company’s desired results as quickly as possible and with “failure is not an option” bravado!
Knowing this, the mere suggestion of embracing empathic leadership might sound like a pitch for a weaker form of management–but not so!
Research suggests that people who feel understood and appreciated by their managers actually become more successful and productive. So why not give empathic leadership a shot?
Here are three key areas for practicing your empathic leadership skills…
1) Create Time for Focused Curiosity
Every salesperson is unique, and each has a distinctive mental pattern that drives his or her decisions and behaviors.
Empathy begins with understanding. And the best way to deepen your understanding of your salespeople is developing a genuine interest in their priorities and goals.
Consider taking individual time with each of your sales people (heck, take them to breakfast or lunch!) and asking them the following questions:
• “What is most important to you in your personal life outside of work?”
• “How do you define success right now? How would you like to define success in the future?”
• “What are your financial priorities today? What about the next 3 – 5 years?”
• “Where would you like to grow, or what would you like to accomplish in the next 12 months?”
• “What motivates you? What excites you? What do you dream about?”
Right now, can you honestly say that you fully understand each one of your sales person’s missions? Can you summarize in one sentence why this person gets up and comes into work each day?
Yes? Good for you! No? Time to get curious!
2) Encourage Time Away from Work
Empathic leadership demands a dual focus – it requires an approach that not only considers the health and well being of the company but also the health and well being of the sales professionals that generate revenue for the company.
Time on the job is important; but so is rejuvenation time away from the office.
Do you encourage your sales people to take a much needed break and take care of their personal life? You might find yourself shocked at the ROI of this simple approach to empathic leadership.
3) Treat Failure as a Growth Opportunity
Failure provides a unique opportunity for empathy. Old school leadership responds to failure with disdain, reprimands, disciplinary action, and/or threats leading up to employment termination.
Consider a new paradigm. Use failure as an opportunity for growth; a chance to connect with your salesperson, to assess both the behaviors and attitudes that lead to the failure, and to genuinely ask how they feel about the shortcoming.
Share your own stories about times when you did not succeed and how that made you feel. Empathy builds on empathy. Perhaps when your salespeople fall short on a goal what they really need is compassion and understanding so that they can dust themselves off and get back to work with a positive outlook.
So what is your empathic leadership potential? Are you truly connecting in a meaningful way with you sales people? Empathy is a skill you can cultivate and a habit that you can foster.
We’re going to spend more time focusing on the topic of “predictive empathy” and building a high-performance sales team at Jeff Shore’s annual Sales Leadership Summit: Level Up 2015.
I hope that you will join us in Chicago on September 10-11 as we take a journey into the future – your future – to define what excellence and success look like in the next level of your career.
Change your paradigm …and change your world!