We all know that a leader’s job is to get results. And to do so he/she has to be able to motivate and inspire others to take action. But how does this happen when often times managers and team members are doing their jobs at a “mediocre” level. What does it take to push for more and get results?

It turns out when leaders practice empathy they get results. Why? Because empathetic leaders are able to really understand their team members. That understanding is so powerful that it can truly drive performance above and beyond the “mediocre”, surpassing company expectations.

Case Study: Jill and Rebecca

Recently, a client of mine, (I’ll call her Jill here) was dealing with a low performing team member, who I’ll call Rebecca. Over the past several weeks, Rebecca had not been engaged and was lagging behind. So during our coaching session, I asked Jill what actions had been taken to improve the situation. Jill explained to me that Rebecca had been told if no improvement was made, “administrative action” would be taken. I then asked Jill if anyone had talked to Rebecca about what was going on. The answer I was given —  “It’s none of my business” and “Regardless of what was going on, she needed to do the job.”

As our session continued, I pointed out what I saw as a lack of perspective and understanding of what was really happening in Rebecca’s life. I asked Jill how she thought that an ultimatum would inspire her to do better. This question challenged her, and opened her mind. I noticed the change as our conversation continued. We agreed on a plan of action. Jill would ask Rebecca what was going on, find out if everyone was OK, and gain an understanding of the situation from her perspective.

Two weeks later, Jill reported Rebecca was doing better. She had engaged Rebecca in regular conversation about her professional life and work/life balance. These conversations had turned the employee around.

Empathy leads to understanding and perspective. When leaders practice empathy with their direct reports they make choices that change the direction and performance level of their teams.

How to build empathy and become a more effective leader.

1. Engage.

Schedule time to talk to your employees about their experiences. Ask them how they felt and what they noticed. Also conduct what I call field “intercepts” where you have impromptu encounters with them in the workplace and learn about what they have been doing.

Engaging with people directly reveals their values and what they think. This leads to better understanding of them, which will offer you valuable insights as to how to influence them in the future.

2. Observe.

Observe one employee, or your whole group. View them in the context of their jobs. This can offer clues to what they think and how they feel. It will also allow you to understand their jobs and even present you with ideas as to how they can become more effective.

3. Immerse yourself.

Lastly, immerse yourself in the same experience as your employees. By doing so, you will have a better understanding of what they really go through and feel while they work. This knowledge can give way to the implementation of new practices that improve the overall performance of your department.

Effective leaders practice empathy. They engage, observe, and immerse themselves on a regular basis. By “standing in someone else’s shoes” we experience empathy. And it is a powerful thing and definitely has a place in a work environment. It can bring about positive change in your team.

Practicing these three ways to build empathy with your employees will give you a better understanding of their experiences and provide insights to improve your department’s performance. In addition, empathy can help you become a better coach and leader developer by better understanding their developmental needs.