A female leader in front of an open office space full of workers

What’s one step beyond empathy? Do your employees trust that you care about them? How well are your team members connected to each other?

In Trust and Inspire, Stephen M. R. Covey asserts that trusting and inspiring leaders connect with employees by practicing empathy and kindness. They also work to connect employees with each other and a greater purpose.

Keep reading to learn how to foster these crucial connections.

Connect With Employees

Trusting and inspiring leaders connect with employees. To do this, Covey argues that you must practice empathy and kindness. Empathy is understanding people’s feelings and experiences from their perspective and doing so without judgment. Kindness is a step past empathy—you use your understanding of others to assist them based on their needs.

(Shortform note: While Covey argues that kindness is a progression of empathy, Paul Bloom suggests otherwise in Against Empathy. Bloom argues that rather than leading to kindness, empathy often leads to immoral actions—for example, recommending your recently fired friend for a position at your company even though they’re not qualified, ultimately setting them, and the company, up for failure. Further, Bloom argues that there are more effective ways to guide kindness, such as “consequentialism”—considering the likely outcomes of your actions so you can make the best decision.)

Covey cites two reasons for empathizing with and showing kindness to others. First, showing care for someone makes them more receptive to you and therefore more likely to be inspired by you. Second, connecting helps you identify an individual’s personal sources of inspiration. You can then link this to the organization’s larger purpose, motivating the individual to produce superior work to achieve it.

(Shortform note: Empathy is a proven way to inspire and influence people; however, it can also be a form of manipulation. Experts explain that some people feign empathy or use their understanding of other people’s emotions to gain compliance. In other words, they use Covey’s tactics for personal gain rather than to benefit their followers and organization. To use Covey’s empathy tactics in a positive way, ensure that your intended results don’t come at the cost of others’ well-being.)

Connect Employees With Each Other and a Purpose

Another level of connection Covey says you must foster to be an inspirational leader is connection with something larger than yourself. This requires you to nurture connections among individuals in the group and among individuals and the group’s larger purpose. Doing this inspires people by infusing them with belonging and purpose.

(Shortform note: Psychologists explain that belonging and purpose motivate people due to our survival instincts. In early human history, being part of a group was necessary for survival—it minimized the risk of starvation and attacks from animals. As a result, we’re motivated to become members of a larger group because doing so satisfies our evolutionary instinct. Further, one of the reasons we may crave purpose is that it makes us feel needed. This is linked to our desire for belonging because if we’re needed, we’re less likely to be abandoned by the group.)

On a smaller scale, building connections between group members fosters camaraderie and establishes a shared identity and sense of belonging. This inspires collaboration and excellent performance among individuals because they want to uphold their roles in the group and make their team members proud.

(Shortform note: In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni also discusses the importance of building trust and connections between employees and provides a few specific ways to do so. For example, Lencioni suggests having team members share their personal histories—this vulnerability will help people find common ground and trust each other. Taking and sharing behavioral and personality profiles can also build connections by helping group members understand each other better.)

More broadly, providing an overarching vision for the group makes members feel instrumental in achieving something meaningful. Covey explains that this sense of being part of a larger purpose inspires people, as it fulfills our innate need for belonging and meaning.

(Shortform note: In First Things First, Covey Sr. similarly emphasizes the importance of creating a shared vision to inspire people. To do so, he says you must create an empowering mission statement that: focuses on a purpose people are passionate about; comes from the employee rather than the administrative level; is based on universal principles like fairness and human dignity; addresses everyone’s needs; and addresses the four human needs to live, love, learn, and leave a legacy.)

True Leaders Connect With Employees (Stephen M. R. Covey)

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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