Empathy and Accountability – You Can Manage Both

I was recently talking with a friend who is a CHRO about a webinar on empathy that we hosted at Coaching Right Now. Her response surprised me – “Maybe we are showing too much empathy, and not holding people accountable for their work commitments.”

It took me about a half a second, and then I got it! When we substitute sympathy for empathy, (Sym · pa· thy: feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune), it can seem cruel to hold them accountable for their actions.

On the other hand, empathy is making the time and space to genuinely care, and be curious to understand, what matters to the other person, and to acknowledge it. When we recognize and understand feelings and emotions in others, we can have influence to drive different behaviors.

Whether your leaders are managing virtually for the first time, or inside your workplaces with your essential workers, it is easy to make assumptions about what people are struggling with, and why they are not delivering results as they typically would.

To recognize and understand what is going on with someone, Core Leaders need to know and practice asking the right kinds of questions. Asking their employees:

  • What is your experience?
  • What are you thinking, feeling, and wanting?
  • Tell me more …

When leaders make the space for deeper understanding, they often find that their assumptions are off.  In times of change, struggling to clearly understand new ways of behaving and delivering in one’s job is typical.

Here’s how your managers can help with structure and accountability:

  1. Structure your day and block your time – share your calendar.
    • Share what you are working on and what you are excited about accomplishing today.
    • Provide status updates.
  2. Make sure everyone knows how best to show up in meetings (virtual and in-person).
    • Provide agendas in advance of the meetings so everyone is prepared.
    • Be on time and present. Show respect and consideration by not checking emails, texts, or chats during meetings.
    • Start each meeting checking in on the personal side. Start with yourself, and remember -you set the tone.
  3. Prioritize actively managing your team.
    • Make sure you have regularly scheduled one-on-ones.
    • Show that you recognize and appreciate what they are accomplishing and contributing.  Make it a habit to ask, “Are you getting what you need from me?”
    • Be disciplined in creating project charters as a team. Ensure project status updates are openly shared. Everyone should know what they are responsible for, what others are contributing, and how it all integrates. At the end of projects or any significant event, follow-up with an After-Action Review.
    • Constantly evaluate what is working and what isn’t, and then make necessary changes. Communicate these well.

Now, more than ever, is a time for HR leaders to be true business partners. One of the most powerful and significant contributions you can make is to provide insights and help develop the skills of your Core Leaders to manage effectively and keep their teams engaged and productive.