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4 Simple Tips On Leading With Empathy In A Digital World

In a digital era, data-driven decisions are everything, but leading with empathy is a powerful tool to drive organizational success.

In the age of information, it’s easy to make data-driven decisions.

When looking at our headcount resource, we measure productivity and utilization – and take pride in driving these metrics up. Recently, several companies changed the HR title (Human Resources) to People Manager; putting the focus on the person and not on the resource. But at the core, all of these areas are measured the same way. Managers are expected to solve their people’s problems to drive the company’s performance and success.

One thing that has stood out in the COVID pandemic is the acceleration of digital solutions for customers and the workplace. The result? In a post-pandemic space, we find ourselves in a world where resolving issues can be done remotely – removing the need for face-to-face interactions.

As organizations, we’ve gained a lot in terms of productivity and efficiency. With that being said, we need to remain wary of damaging customer experiences and personal engagement.

Leading with empathy isn’t a digital process – it’s one deeply rooted in human nature, and it’s essential in the success – both with our customers as well as with our team. 

The Essential Role That Empathy Plays In The Workplace

Up until recently, process ruled the modern work era – and emotion had minimal input. If you wanted to run a well-oiled machine, you removed as much emotion as you could from the equation and ruled with an iron fist. But in a world where experiences drive value, the opposite is true. And the concept of authentic leadership has become prevalent among business leaders worldwide. 

Empathy plays an integral role in the workplace and ultimately drives long-lasting value in an age run by technology. So, if empathy creates a competitive advantage, leaders need to learn how to harness their humanness to lead more effectively. 

It must be said that the purpose of leading with empathy is not to think of how one would feel or react as if we were in another’s place, but simply to be there and support one another. Understanding what one is experiencing without any judgment – is the true definition of empathy. 

Empathy = Smart & Effective Leadership.

Empathy is critical in understanding people. In the context of the business ecosystem, that translates into employees and customers alike.

Empathy is dually important in improving your offerings, driving efficiencies, and improving ROI. It’s also essential in succeeding at digital transformation since leaders need to ensure teams and customers get valuable technological interactions.

Placing people at the center of how every process works ensures a seamless blend of people, processes, and technology. Embracing a People-First approach is not only smarter leadership, but also smarter business. It applies to your employers using technology in the flow of their daily work, and also to the customers who experience your end-product. 

How To Cultivate Empathy In A Primarily Digital World

As we navigate further into the digital world, empathy is the golden ticket that will allow us to lay a stronger foundation for our future. We aren’t lacking in successful professionals; we are lacking leaders who recognize the value of empathy. Here are my (surprisingly simple) tips on how to cultivate empathy in a primarily digital world.

1. Humility

Having spent the first 5 years of my life in Japan, and going back to work there, I learned a lot about Japanese culture – and philosophies. Something that stuck with me throughout the years was a garden in Kyoto and the insightful philosophy behind it.

The garden contains 15 stones. However, regardless of where you view it, you can only see 14.

You will never be able to get the full perspective and understanding if you don’t have the humility to accept that you can’t see the whole picture. You need to rely on other people’s perspectives.

2. Focus on building relationships

We need to earn the right to serve our customers and lead our people. Building relationships based on trust is the first step to proving this. In the digital age – and social distancing –  building relationships has become increasingly harder. We’re social creatures. Not social networking creatures. 

As humans, our brains are wired to handle face-to-face reactions. For the most part, this is removed, when we’re behind a screen. And with it, the assurance of being able to see a person smile or frown when reacting to something. While emails and text messages might be a good way to exchange information on some matters, it’s an approach which often pacifies our ability to share emotions. And instead creates a feeling of indifference.

If you want to reduce or counteract these situations, make use of more personable communications like video chats or voice calls, and when possible, in person. 

3. Listen with the intent of understanding

Something which is vital in building relationships is being able to listen. 

And not just hear. Listen – with the intent of understanding.

Sometimes, those around you (even those who work for you) need to express a feeling. Being able to show them that their thoughts and feelings are as valuable as your own gives them the opportunity to remove any level of seniority, and approach you as an equal. This paves the way for more open and honest conversations. Employees who feel like they can be more honest at work are more productive.

A good practice is to try to listen to someone for 10 minutes without interrupting – actively listen. Don’t rush. Reflect. 

4. Never make assumptions 

Or at the very least, validate them. 

The measure of a strong leader versus an inept one isn’t just their capacity to lead – it’s their capacity to take ownership and not make assumptions. 

Being in a position of leadership often means being in highly-emotional and stressful situations, and it’s easy to assume that others are out to sabotage us. The truth is that people have good intentions. They may be hurt and disappointed and the pain they inflict is a cry for attention and the need to be heard.

If you listen with the intent of understanding, it may be easier to realise that what people are saying or doing isn’t malicious, but honest and that it may be time to step back and reflect on yourself.

The Power of Leading With Empathy in A Digital World

In a digital world, we are constantly looking for ways – or creating new ways – to increase productivity and efficiency. We try to replace routine work with bots, and when that doesn’t work we turn to AI. The thing is, while this might work for buying concert tickets or issuing insurance policies – what happens when people are stressed and confused? What happens when they need a real person to hear them out? Is this robot a good listener?

While even the most intuitive technology may thrive at automating and even resolving issues, it’s not ever going to be a good listener. Technology assumes what the problem is, and suggests a solution. This isn’t empathy. 

So how do you teach a machine empathy? You can’t. The essence of a machine is to judge.
Keep the empathy to humans.

Yariv Ben-Yosef, COO at Air Doctor

With over 20 years of experience in operational roles, Yariv specializes in fostering teamwork and diversity to create business value and drive customer growth. Yariv moved to Air Doctor from Highcon, a pioneering digital technology company, where he spent three years as the Vice President of Customer Success. He has also worked in HP-Indigo, Numonyx, and Intel, leading teams of up to 350 people. Yariv holds an MBA from Tel-Aviv University and a BSc in Industrial Engineering from Ben-Gurion University


Jenny Cohen Drefler

Jenny Cohen Derfler

Air Dr CEO & Co-Founder

Jenny is the CEO and one of the Co-Founders at Air Doctor. She spent more than 20 years at Intel, most recently as general manager of its manufacturing facility in Israel and before that in various engineering and manufacturing roles in Silicon Valley. Air Doctor is her second startup having previously founded electric vehicle company ElectRoad.