During these frightening and uncertain times, employees turn to leaders for guidance. And senior leaders have responded by stepping up their employee communication efforts and rallying the troops to tackle big challenges.

But as employees struggle to carry on, they want more than someone who will lead them into battle. They want a leader that will put down the sword for a moment and just listen.

Some leaders are great at being active listeners. Other leaders find it difficult because they’re too focused on solving employees’ problems instead of empathizing with their struggles.

Being an empathetic leader isn’t just about saying the right things. It’s about connecting with employees on a personal level and giving them the chance to share their stories.

How can leaders do this?
The most important thing leaders can do is create opportunities for employees to voice concerns, ask questions and propose their own solutions. For example, one of our clients recently hosted virtual listening sessions on diversity and inclusion. Senior leaders shared their perspectives during the first 10 minutes and then gave employees the floor for the remaining 45 minutes.

But keep in mind that some employees may not feel comfortable speaking up in big forums like these. To ensure these people are heard, leaders should reach out and have more intimate group discussions or one-on-one conversations.

Another thing leaders need to do is take off their armor and let employees experience their  emotional side. Advise your leader to talk about challenges, like struggling to work from home with three small kids or planning for an uncertain future.

It can be intimidating for leaders to show vulnerability. But employees see it as: “They get what I’m going through.” And this makes a huge difference in helping employees get through the tough times.

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