Dear Creative Leaders: You Care About Your Team, But Do They Know It?

As a creative leader, empathy must be more than a feeling. It must be an action.

Image source: Adobe Stock / ReeldealHD images.

Today, I want to talk about feelings. Adobe MAX 2018 resounded with creative leaders calling for greater empathy in our work. I wholeheartedly agree, but I’d like to turn the lens for a minute.

As creative leaders, we talk about empathy toward the customer. We’re great at asking, “Who are we marketing to? What do they think and feel?” But we’re less skilled at applying this empathy toward those who lead.

Are you speaking the same language?

In a recent study, Businessolver revealed that while 76 percent of CEOs believe that empathy is important and 60 percent believe that their organizations are empathetic, only 24 percent of employees agree. Compounding this revelation is the fact that 1 out of 3 survey respondents reported that they would leave their current employer for a more empathetic employer.

The discussion of empathy in leadership isn’t new. Theodore Roosevelt famously wrote that leaders “need more than anything else to know human nature, to know the needs of the human soul.” As creative leaders, in particular, we know that our teams won’t feel the freedom to imagine and innovate without our support. We feel their struggles because we’ve been there ourselves.

But as a leader, empathy must be more than a feeling. It must be an action. It’s not uncommon for leaders to believe they possess empathetic management skills, only to find out that their teams don’t agree. This disconnect can be painful and frustrating. You know you care, but does your team?

If you’ve felt this distance, it may be a matter of perspective. In a survey conducted by Adobe and Invoca, “What Customers Expect in the Age of AI,” we found that 71 percent of millennials understand the concept of Emotional Quotient (EQ), but, in contrast, only 58 percent of those ages 35-54 and 31 percent of those over the age 55 reported to understand.

In times of change, it’s time for change

In times of change, we feel fear and stress. Business has never experienced the rate of change that we’re undergoing right now. Our teams will expect more from us moving forward, and we need to understand that more means more than just promotions and bonuses. It’s attention and care, plus the support of technologies that allow individuals to triumph in their craft. Becoming more empathetic while also becoming more innovative may seem daunting, but here are three great springboards:

1. Remember that one-on-one goes both ways

If you don’t have regular one-on-one conversations with your direct reports, start there. If you do, begin to ask your teams not only how they’re doing, but also how they see the business innovating in ways not directly tied to their role.

This type of request signals respect for their insights and vision, but also gives you a crowdsourcing channel for insights that can improve performance across your entire organization. Remember: Innovation swims upstream.

2. Connect more dots

The more you know about your team members, the more empathetic you will be. But there’s compounding power in making sure that your team members know each just as well.

Team meetings, lunches, and parties are great but they don’t really allow you to know what makes those around you tick on a deeper, emotional level. Find time for your team to share their personal stories with larger groups.

3. Celebrate the unseen

Thousands of innovative ideas burst out of individuals inside organizations each day. How many do you hear as a leader? And how often are those people acknowledged and celebrated for bringing new ideas to the table? Not as often as they should be.

Communication tools as simple as Slack channels for “Innovation Ideas” or “Team Kudos” will rapidly cast light on these ideas. I bet that you remember the first few times your leaders applauded you for innovative accomplishments. Those moments build a lifelong bond. It’s your turn to give back.