How Education Leaders Can Practice Empathetic Leadership

Empathy or the ability to recognize and understand other people’s emotions is a leadership trait that many education leaders lack. When educators or students feel validated and accepted, it usually leads to better performance. For instance, if one of you teachers is grieving over the loss of a parent, an empathetic leader would do all that they can to help them through the process, even if it just means checking in to see how they are doing every once in a while. How can education leaders practice empathetic leadership? Keep reading to find out.

Be present. If you want to practice empathetic leadership, you must be present, and in the moment. When having meetings or informal conversations with educators, make sure you turn off your phone or at least place it face down. Refrain from using any type of tech devices, unless using them is relevant to the conversation. This means you are free to give others your complete attention and respect.

Be an active listener. You must be an active, nonjudgmental listener to practice empathetic leadership. This allows you to gain insight into what your staff member is feeling and where they are coming from. That way, your responses will be informed and authentic.

Monitor non-verbal cues. Communication runs deeper than just words. If you notice a teacher hanging their head down or shaking it from side to side or avoiding eye contact, you need to know what these non-verbal cues mean. Then you can ask them how they are feeling, which will give them permission to discuss how they think, without fear of being judged.  

Practice pausing. A lot of times when we attempt to give someone advice, we often interrupt or finish their sentences. When communicating with someone today, wait at least 3 seconds after they stop speaking, before you start talking. It may feel awkward because you are used to chiming in immediately, but you will be surprised at how being silent, speaks volumes.

Instead of giving advice, ask questions. Instead of giving advice to someone today, ask questions to understand their perspective better. Don’t overthink this, just ask them the questions that pop into your mind organically.

Choose “we” over “me.” When education professionals are experiencing performance issues, they feel isolated. To let them know that you and the rest of the team supports them and will help them get through their slump, us the terms “we” and “us” so they feel empowered. For instance, “Let’s talks about how we can solve this problem.”

Put yourself in their shoes. To be an empathetic leader, put yourself in your colleagues and employees shoes. What anxieties and fears might they be facing? Even when you are dealing with a difficult teacher, give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they have a positive intent. Stay the course, until their intent proves malicious.

What did I miss? What else can education leaders do to practice empathetic leadership?

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