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How Empathy and Perception are Pivotal Characteristics in Leadership

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06.03.2021

By Lilit Davtyan, CFO & EVP at Phonexa.

Being successful in a leadership or executive role requires a deep sense of empathy, and awareness of perception. Doing this as a woman also requires a heightened sense of confidence. Sure, there is a diverse set of leadership styles, depending on the company, individual, product, or even gender and culture. However, empathy and perception should be applied universally regardless of such differences.

Easy right? Not exactly.

Empathy is an internal intelligence that can be exercised in just about any situation. Contrary to popular belief, being empathetic to others’ thoughts and emotions doesn’t make you weak – it makes you human. It’s also not a trait solely inherent in women – we are just more open about it.

Understanding that employee behavior is a direct result of circumstances in their life outside of work will not only make you a more respectable leader but also boost your confidence in the decisions you make. Even if those decisions result in terminating an employee.

As women, we tend to have a more nurturing personality. Couple that with us also being empathetic, we’re often perceived as inferior. This is why having confidence in your decisions is key. Being empathetic doesn’t mean feeling bad for someone and giving them too many chances. It means understanding the person’s situation, considering all sides, and being comfortable with your next course of action.

Perception is Pivotal for Leaders

On the other hand, perception is the understanding of how a verbal, written, or physical action might be perceived. This one’s a little tricky, because, unlike empathy, it requires you to think about many people’s perceptions at the same time, based on your own actions.

As impractical as it may seem, your sense of outside perception should be on at all times. The way you dress, how you start meetings, how you react when you’re angry, who you spend most of your time with, what time you take your lunch – these are all examples of actions that will form employee perception about you. There is no right or wrong answer as to how you should act in these situations. The idea is to be confident in how you choose to act. 

Consider a situation where a new employee is hired and you, as an executive, connect with him or her well. How would it be perceived if you invite this person out to coffee once or twice a week, considering you don’t typically have coffee with anyone else in a similar position within the company? This is such a simple act that can actually turn disastrous. Imagine now if you’re in an HR or finance role, and make friends with someone outside of that department that happens to be a new intern. Your coffee conversation could be all about shoes and handbags, or even your pets, but the perception of everyone else may very well be that you’re sharing confidential information with someone that shouldn’t be entitled to such insights. 

If you ever watched the hit show “Friends” you might recall the episode in which Rachel takes up smoking so she doesn’t miss out on conversations between her boss and another employee. The perception there was that the boss and Rachel’s co-worker are getting closer because of their common interest in smoking, and therefore the coworker gets more attention and opportunities than Rachel. As a good leader, her boss should’ve allocated time for Rachel as well, not only to get to know her the same way but to desensitize the perception that Rachel not being a smoker somehow affected her career.

While the perception in the business world might be that women leaders are not strong enough to handle executive roles, the reality is that we’re not loud enough in how strong we actually are. We have a great perception, too much empathy, and sometimes not enough confidence to exercise them efficiently. This, on top of juggling a family, being a doctor to your children, and what society might perceive as a “good wife” – we’re basically superheroes in disguise.

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About the Author

Lilit DavtyanLilit Davtyan | CFO & EVP at Phonexa
Lilit Davtyan is the CFO and EVP of Phonexa, a web and call lead tracking and distribution software. She oversees the company’s business development, supervises on questions of compliance and internal finances, and maintains relationships with key clients. She works closely with company leadership on long-term strategy execution, while also overseeing all financial aspects of the company and acting as a liaison between the firm and outside legal counsel.

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