Imagine a rope that is swinging in the wind, high up in the air between two skyscrapers. On it, a person with a long stick balances their path from one roofdeck to the other. This image perfectly illustrates the daily struggle of today's managers, who balance between two extremes: being a force for empathy and good mood within the team, and being the strict teacher who ensures everybody behaves. Many managers, especially those just starting out in their leadership roles, struggle to find their balance and place in this complex dynamic.
The Dual Pillars of Effective Leadership
Leadership is not a one-dimensional role. It requires a nuanced understanding of two critical aspects: empathy and authority. Empathy allows leaders to connect with their teams on a human level, understanding their challenges and fears, their motivations and aspirations. Authority, on the other hand, is about setting clear expectations, providing direction, and holding the team accountable. Striking the right balance between these two is a key aspect of leadership development.
1. Empathy: Understanding Before Leading
Empathy in leadership is about walking in your team's shoes. It's about actively listening to their concerns and showing genuine interest in their well-being. Don't just listen to what they are saying - listen to understand why they are saying it. This doesn't mean lowering standards or compromising on goals. Instead, it's about creating an environment where team members feel valued and understood. When leaders practice empathy, they build trust and loyalty, which in turn fosters a more open and collaborative workplace. Ask questions, give positive feedback, appreciate - those are the core components of demonstrating empathy.
2. Authority: The Backbone of Leadership
While empathy connects, authority directs. It's about setting clear standards and expectations for your team. This involves communicating the broader vision and goals clearly, defining roles and responsibilities, and establishing measurable benchmarks for success. Authority also means being decisive, making tough calls when necessary, and ensuring that the team stays aligned with the organization's vision and objectives. It doesn't mean that you are in opposition to your team - like sometimes it's misunderstood. It means to show your loyalty to the best version of the team and their performance - even if that means performing outside the comfort zone.
How to Balance Between Empathy and Authority
The true art of leadership lies in setting standards that are both aspirational and achievable. These standards should challenge your team to stretch their capabilities while also being grounded in reality. Leaders should involve their team in setting these standards, making it a collaborative process. This not only ensures buy-in but also gives team members a sense of ownership over their work and goals. Transparent, honest, and frequent communication helps in aligning team members with the organization's goals while also addressing their individual needs and concerns. Regular feedback sessions, team meetings, and one-on-one discussions are essential tools in this balancing act. The difficulty always lies in finding the right time and the right amount of time. It always depends on factors like culture, tasks, goals, personalities and leadership styles.
In conclusion, leading between empathy and authority is about viewing leadership through a dual lens. It's about being firm yet fair, directive yet understanding, fun but focused. By setting clear standards and guiding your team with a balance of empathy and authority, you create a culture of high performance, mutual respect, and continuous growth.
About the Author
Marc Breetzke, M.A., M.A., founder of MB INSPIRATIONS, is leading expert on strategic thinking, communication, and leadership. Since 2013, Marc assists companies, organisations, and individuals worldwide to achieve their objectives, increase their performance, and realize their untapped potential. Marc has helped thousands of people in consulting and training projects. Currently, he lives in Stuttgart, Germany.