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To Lead Effectively, Lead with Empathy

I recently read an article by Courtney Connley in Chief, in which she highlighted Ken Chenault’s efforts to challenge leaders to employ empathy and a high level of self-awareness in order to lead effectively.

Despite all of the disruption we’ve experienced over the past several years, the article points out that CEOs feel that 2024 will be an even more challenging year. I suspect most leaders in the trade show industry agree. It seems the only constant we can rely on these days is that we can’t rely on anything.

Why Empathy and Self-Awareness Are Essential

In an earlier discussion with Ken about leading during disruptions, he said that people must be the first priority. Ken stressed:

You’ve got to focus on their safety, health, and wellbeing – and the same for your customers and clients. Your organization, people, and customers need to know that you really understand and empathize with them. You have to continually communicate with transparency and provide context.

I completely agree with Ken that business challenges demand we make use of our soft skills, empathy and self-awareness in particular, which are critical to effective leadership. While this may not be a new idea, it’s certainly worth a reminder. When we are working with tighter budgets, unexpected disruptions, shockingly higher prices, and other challenges, it’s all too easy to become defensive and reactive, to lash out, and to allow our emotions to color our decision-making process.

By drawing on our emotional intelligence, we can instead focus on better communication and collaboration to solve the short-term challenges facing our industry while innovating new solutions for long-term improvement. Without the ability to remain self-aware and acknowledge our own shortcomings, to work with others effectively, the struggle is exacerbated.

How to Be a More Empathetic Leader

The most important thing you can do to demonstrate empathy as a leader is to listen.

Listening – not to react or respond but instead to hear and understand – is one of the most powerful attributes of empathy and of leadership. Being empathetic is not an easy skill to develop. As a business executive who has stakeholder pressure to achieve profitability despite whatever circumstances your company or industry might be facing, it can be easy to pass that pressure onto team members. But empathetic leadership has enormous benefits, including better employee retention, innovation, and engagement.

Judith Orloff, MD, suggests honing these traits to become more empathetic:

Integrity. Value and model integrity, always taking the high road and consistently doing what you say you will.

Connection. Take a genuine interest in team members. Relate to others in a way that enables you to understand their point of view, know how they feel, and discover what inspires them.

Nurturing. Nurture team member’s talents and strengths while using appreciation and positive reinforcement to encourage excellence.

Whether you manage a small group or an entire organization, empathy is critical to successfully navigating the challenging times facing your company.





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