“People want purpose, meaning, and gratitude. Purpose is shared. Meaning is personal. And gratitude is the great connector.”
This quote from Eric Mosely, co-author of the new book, “Making Work Human,” captures the approach leaders in the modern organization must take to grow and partner with the people they serve. Employees are calling for a more empathetic and authentic workplace. The question is whether learning and development (L&D) professionals train organizational leaders on the skills to lead that workplace — skills that are not as visible on traditional leadership development competency models? As these skills rise to the top, three in particular are the drivers of a more humanistic workplace: courage, empathy and gratitude.
Can courage be taught? According to Dr. Brené Brown, the answer is yes — through the pillars of vulnerability, clarity of values, trust and what she calls “rising” skills (the ability to recover from failure or mistakes).
The workplace is becoming a more vulnerable environment. The word “vulnerable” can cause nervousness, while the word “trust” is still connected to “trust fall” exercises in many organizations. As a result, developing courage takes time. It must be a continuous effort of foundational learning, connected to individual development plans with actionable ways for leaders to cultivate trust in character and competence.
Learning professionals must be willing to open the door to non-traditional classrooms, where trainers spend time diving deep into defining values and modeling how leaders can openly discuss their values with their teams. Leaders have the privilege and the opportunity to seek to understand their employees’ values and how they connect to the meaning of the work they do.
This learning process is centered around courage — stepping into sometimes unpredictable outcomes but understanding the power of what leaders can build from the experience.
There are several hurdles to overcome when it comes to the check-the-box approach of developing skills like empathy. As author Daniel Pink told Oprah, “Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes. Not only is empathy hard to outsource and automate but it makes the world a better place.”
In Businessolver’s 2020 ”State of Workplace Empathy” survey, 76% of employees said they believe empathetic workplaces motivate employees, and 74% said they would work longer hours for a more empathetic organization. However, while 82% of CEOs said they believe financial performance is related to empathy, only 50% said they believe empathy increases productivity and motivation. Additionally, 83% of employees said they “would consider leaving their current organization for a similar role in a more empathetic organization.”
Just like courage, empathy can be taught, and talent development professionals have the responsibility of bringing empathy learning opportunities into the development curriculum. Research like the Businessolver survey can help them build strong cases for why their organization should invest in empathy and make it part of learning competencies and succession planning processes. Tying empathy training to metrics like employee retention will be key for learning professionals to gain buy-in from executives who don’t currently see the connection.
Gratitude correlates to leadership success, according to a 2012 John Templeton Foundation survey on gratitude. Researchers found that 94% of women and 96% of men believed “a grateful boss is more likely to be successful,” and only 18% felt a grateful boss could seem weak.
Gratitude can come in all shapes and sizes, and many organizations are now investing in online platforms that enable an easy process to reward and recognize team members. The key for learning professionals moving forward will be to help leaders incorporate gratitude in their standard work process, so it shifts from “a nice to do when I remember” to a regular part of their work.
Learning professionals also have the opportunity to share the importance of gratitude and what it can do for workplace engagement and experiences. Workhuman research has found that retention and engagement rates are higher for employees who receive recognition than for employees who do not. Those rates are even higher for employees who both give and receive recognition.
The workplace is adapting and evolving. As organizations work to create cultures of true belonging, where employees can bring their authentic selves to work and be accepted for who they are, leaders will have the opportunity to grow and develop new ways of connection. The workforce is looking for leaders who adapt and evolve with their team. As leaders demonstrate courage, extend empathy and share gratitude, learning professionals have the privilege of leading the way in coaching and developing them.
Editor’s note: Don’t miss our infographic on modern leadership development, which shares insights from learning leaders like this one.