Your typical leader probably uses a combination of money, autonomy, interesting work and participation to motivate a follower. In this article, we shall discuss a lesser known method of motivation: emotions and empathy. A truly excellent leader would be able to build up an emotional connection with a follower by empathizing with them. Some situations even demand it. Most of us are familiar with the basic idea of empathy, so instead, we shall focus on obscure ideas.
Empathy at Work
1) Acknowledge Stupid Work
Some projects are crafted from the pits of Hell by higher management. These projects may be meaningless in nature, or extremely tedious and thankless. In these scenarios, ditch the idea of trying to convince your fellow teammates to find purpose in their work. It will merely come off as cheesy or disconnected: people aren’t stupid.
A slightly riskier but more effective way of pulling the team thru is to acknowledge the ridiculousness of the project. If it’s a tedious project, let the team know that you’re frustrated too. If it’s a meaningless project, acknowledge it and make it clear that you don’t approve of higher management’s actions. This is allows you to appear more human to your followers through the use of empathy. In turn, they are more likely to cooperate with you; after all, you’re one of them. Recognizing problems that can’t be avoided may also relieve some of the frustration that comes with them, making work more bearable.
This can be risky though. It has the potential of making you look like a rebel to higher management: an extremely dangerous prospect for you. If your followers detect any insincerity in you, then your efforts are null. Always approach with caution and never exaggerate the situation.
2) Give them a Break
During your tenure as a leader, you will encounter employees who are in need of a favor. Perhaps they’ve been feeling terrible recently and can’t finish a deadline; maybe they have pressing family issues. While it can be tempting to squeeze them for their worth and show no tolerance to their excuses, sometimes a gentler approach is better. Let them have their way once in a while, be it extending deadlines, reducing workload or giving them a day off.
Not only do you appear more human, it makes any normal employee feel indebted to you. This may sound extremely selfish in theory, but think of it as an investment. By giving them a break now, they are more likely to compensate your kindness later on when they are in a better position. It is part of human nature to settle any feeling of debt. Showings of kindness will often motivate your workers. They start going the extra mile, sending in future projects earlier and with greater detail. Simply put, it is a form of motivation.
Again, be careful when giving breaks to your employees. Some may feel as though it is their right; thus nullifying any motivation to make up for their temporary state of incompetence. Common sense dictates that you only show compassion to workers who are usually hardworking but are currently in a rut and need your help.
The two steps outlined above are simple ways for you to be emphatic in the workplace. Empathy is a powerful long term tool to motivate the workplace. If you can present yourself as a humble and down-to-earth leader, followers are more likely to respond to you and take you seriously. In a nutshell: don’t be a jerk to the people below you.