Leadership in 2022: Focus on Empathy

Leadership in 2022: Focus on Empathy

Why leading with empathy is the key when working across cultures

The pandemic has accelerated diversity of teams, remote working, and the way we work, but most of all, it has emphasised the necessity of soft skills in our leaders. Empathy stands out as a core skill that must be alive and nurtured within our teams if we are to achieve our desired outcomes in 2022 and beyond. This blog explores what empathy looks like in a business context, why it’s so important, and what we’re up to at Cloudera.

For a leader to thrive in today’s environment, they must be willing to exhibit and value the core “‘soft skill’” of empathy. When we’re able to truly make the most of a diverse team, we’re more open to new ideas; we can take these and adapt our processes, and significantly improve the employee experience, making an entire organisation stronger as a result.

Diversity in Asia Pacific is multifactorial. It’s easy to only consider the single element of culture, but we’re also working across four generations. A 20-year-old digital native in India, for instance, is very different from someone who is 60 in India and started their career before the internet was born. Alongside this, we are witnessing a positive, strengthening wave of gender, disability, and socioeconomic diversity.

Leading with empathy: Understanding employees to uplift your workforce

Empathy has never been more important than in the last two years. Whereas sympathy is ‘I feel sorry for you’, empathy is ‘I understand you.’ It’s not about being nice; it’s about taking the time to fully be connected to the person you’re with and truly listening to them. Doing so can dramatically change how people relate to each other by building trust and enjoyment in their working environment. Within my role, I’ve also seen the power of not only having an empathetic leadership style, but encouraging this mode of relatedness between people.

“I’d go as far as to say that today, soft skills can spell the difference between success and failure between workers and their employer, and in the time of the great resignation that impact is even greater.”

That’s why more businesses are recognising the role of empathy in the workplace. Grant Thornton’s 2021 International Business Report research highlights the emergence of empathy as a valued leadership trait. Among mid-market business leaders who grew their staff numbers by at least 5% in 2020, empathy was more consistently important than the global average, with 25% citing it as a key leadership skill. It also scored well with those who grew exports and revenues during the height of the pandemic. For the APAC region, 21% of respondents cited empathy as one of the most important traits in leaders.

A whitepaper by the Centre of Creative Leadership, based on a global survey, found that empathy is positively correlated to job performance. Managers who show more empathy toward their teams are viewed as better performers in their job by their bosses. On the flipside, empathic emotion, as rated from employees, positively predicts job performance ratings from the leader’s boss. 

This particular whitepaper also highlighted a fact that I’ve found to be true in my own experience: that empathy can be learned. Leaders can develop and enhance their skills in this space through coaching, training, or developmental opportunities and initiatives. I can see my own journey developing and paying dividends not only for me, but especially for those with whom I work.

Bringing empathy into the workplace: An insight into Cloudera

My team was already geographically dispersed, and flexible in workstyle prior to COVID-19, but everyone has been impacted in very personal and real ways. At Cloudera, we operate on the basis that people are the trusted heart of our company and are always investing in ways to make our teams feel valued and heard. This became even more critical during the height of the pandemic.

Engaging in empathetic leadership can consist of simple practises. Actively listening when on a video call, with the camera turned on and minimising potential distractions, or reaching out over Slack or Instant Messenger may seem simple but requires discipline and can ignite optimism. You may choose to take the time to remember and acknowledge celebrations or milestones – whether that’s a birthday, work anniversary, or the anniversary of a loved one passing. During lockdowns, finding reasons to celebrate certainly helped to lift the spirits of those around us at Cloudera and was a reason to learn more about each other and share even virtually.

At Cloudera, we’ve also become much better at setting and tracking both personal and shared business goals. We’ll talk to our people and ask them what their plans are for the future, where they want to be in the coming year or two and what matters to them in their work. We can then align this to the broader business goals to empower our workforce. Goal setting is one way we deliberately build gratitude and a sense of service within the team and have that human touch and conversation. 

We also frequently underestimate the role of technology in aiding our leaders to be more tuned in and empathetic. For example, data is helping both Cloudera and our customers to create better, healthier, and more open relationships with employees. 

For example, as highlighted in our recent Cloudera Data Impact awards, Indonesia’s Bank Mandiri utilised data to track employee health. The bank used its data lake to feed a real-time dashboard that tracked employee health, which led to better support for employees. With information on staff working locations and health status across all branches and regions, the bank was able to ensure employee safety as well as business continuity. Of course, this highlights a more physical health perspective, but it accentuates how data can be used to build greater understanding of how employees are doing. This lends itself to establishing or extending health and wellbeing initiatives, or even opening up conversation. I admire and appreciate the confluence of making people’s lives better with technology.

Moving into the future with powerful leaders

With more people experiencing personal hardship, huge uncertainty and reconsidering their work, this year requires more leaders to step up and become a mentor, guide, and inspiration to those around them. We do this by being honest and vulnerable ourselves and living core qualities through key touchpoints. We will only be able to move successfully through this time and engage in growth and innovation by putting people first.

At Cloudera we operate according to core values. You can find more about how we operate and our company culture here.

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