Thoughtful leaders seem to be quite rare in the workplace. That doesn’t mean that these rare birds don’t exist. It would be good to work in a world where thoughtful leadership was the norm.
Unfortunately this isn’t the case because personal ambition and a lack of regard for others are common in leadership. Even when these qualities aren’t present, you’ll find that in their place are ignorance and a lack of introspection which results in a similar effect.
When thinking about how to be a thoughtful leader, it’s best to start by examining their characteristics.
What is a thoughtful leader?
Well, the name is a giveaway. A thoughtful leader is a leader who thinks more than your average leader. Everybody thinks, you say. Well, that’s true.
A thoughtful leader thinks often about the impact her behaviour, actions and leadership has on the people around her. A thoughtful leader thinks about the ramifications of decisions before he makes them. Let’s look at some more specific characteristics of thoughtful leaders.
A thoughtful leader shows empathy
Thoughtful leaders have the ability to empathise with others. They are able to put themselves in somebody else’s shoes and attempt to understand how others feel. Thoughtful leaders aren’t omniscient, but they put effort into trying to understand others.
When they make decisions, thoughtful leaders think about how this may impact their team. They use phrases like “If that was me I’d feel…” to try to understand how others are responding to situations.
A thoughtful leader talks to his team to see whether he has the right perspective of somebody else’s behaviour. Empathy is a developed skill that comes from observing behaviour in others and understanding the true reasons behind it, rather than just guessing.
A thoughtful leader is introspective
Some people seem to go through life looking outwards. A thoughtful leader frequently looks inwards. Sometimes, a thoughtful leader looks inwards to better understand their own thoughts and feelings about a situation whilst other times they look inwards to see whether they feel they could have done better.
When a thoughtful leader is upset or angry, they look inward to try to understand why they feel that way, when it isn’t immediately obvious. When somebody around them is unhappy or upset, a thoughtful leader will look inwards to examine whether they could have perhaps acted to create a different outcome. Introspection is why a thoughtful leader always improves.
A thoughtful leader is perceptive
Thoughtful leaders don’t wander through life in a bubble. They pay special attention to the signs around them. Thoughtful leaders pay attention to body language, emotions, what people say and what people do.
Thoughtful leaders do this because it helps them react to the world. If they know somebody is upset, they may choose to act differently than they would otherwise. If someone is being passive aggressive, they’ll respond differently to that, too.
Leaders who aren’t perceptive will often stumble into situations and make decisions that aren’t suitable. They’ll upset people and cause conflict. A thoughtful leader knows that conflict is sometimes necessary, but it should never be unexpected.
A thoughtful leader stands up for themselves and others
Some people think that the word “thoughtful” implies softness or weakness. They think that this doesn’t go hand in hand with leadership. But if you want to know how to be a thoughtful leader, you need to realise that this isn’t the case.
A thoughtful leader understands how her team is feeling, so she knows when she needs to push back and say no to unreasonable requests. She knows when she needs to take a stand, because if she doesn’t, bad things will happen. This is why a thoughtful leader is not a pushover.
Thoughtful leaders will make tough decisions, but they won’t make them without thinking first. Thoughtful leaders are not out to be friends with everyone, but they realise that when you like what you do and you like the people you work with, you’ll get better results.
How to be a thoughtful leader
If you want to be a thoughtful leader, you need to develop the characteristics mentioned above.
You need to think about the impact you have on others, before making decisions or taking actions.
You need to be aware of the situations and people around you. Observe what makes people happy and try to understand why. Observe what makes people angry and the reasons for it. When you observe points of interest, take some notes if you need to, so you can remember for next time.
Note the different characteristics of your team members. They are all different, and sometimes need to be treated in different ways to get the best results. You might reward them differently, praise or recognise them differently, depending on how they like to be treated.
You need to engage in the practice of being introspective. Thinking inwardly about what you could have done better and why you feel the way you do. Take time out to do so. This is what leads to improvement.
You need to show empathy with the people around you. If you find this naturally difficult, use this sentence structure to frame your thoughts: “if that was me, I’d feel _______, because _______”.
That’s how to be a thoughtful leader. Being a thoughtful leader is difficult because you can’t act with impunity. You need to consider the impact you have on those around you and act accordingly. You need to slow down and be extremely intentional about what you do and why.
That takes thought. But that’s how to be a thoughtful leader. Your team will thank you for it.