Empathy, Psychological Safety, and Servant Leadership

March 1, 2022 David Witt

The stress and strain of the past two years has people everywhere looking for a little more empathy from their leaders, says bestselling business author Ken Blanchard.

Blanchard reminds leaders to “Be where your people are. It's not about you, it's about them.” Blanchard’s recommendation? “Have a conversation. Check in on how your people are doing.”

Randy Conley, trust expert and Blanchard’s coauthor on the new book Simple Truths of Leadership, adds that empathy means “understanding your people, relating to what they may be going through, understanding their needs, and then working to meet their needs.”

Conley recommends that leaders spend a little extra time making sure they are creating a psychologically safe place when people are stressed. Conley draws on his experience teaching the concepts of trust in both organizational and individual contexts.

“An environment of trust allows psychological safety to flourish. That’s an important component of emotional well-being. The presence of trust and psychological safety frees people to be vulnerable with others around them.

“A trust-filled, psychologically safe environment allows people to take risks and be innovative,” says Conley.

Blanchard adds that a psychologically safe environment also improves listening, feedback, and overall communication—essential skills when everyone is feeling a little frayed.

“One of the key elements of being a trusted servant leader is to listen more than you talk,” says Blanchard. “People want to know they can give feedback or share opinions and not get slammed. The leaders that excel at this respond to feedback by saying ‘Tell me more.’”

“In our book we share how today’s leaders invite people to follow,” says Conley, “and I think that really gets at the heart of creating a safe environment. An environment of trust is created when you're invited to follow. Ken has said for years that leadership is about going somewhere. If you're leading and no one's following—well, you're out for a walk. Empathetic leaders invite people to follow along. People get the message: ‘I'm valued. I'm appreciated. I'm wanted in this environment.’”

“Effective leadership is about we rather than me,” adds Blanchard. “When writing our book, we had three groups primarily in mind. One was experienced leaders who just need a reminder or refresher on the basics—the simple truths. The other was newer managers stepping into a bigger leadership role who might need to learn some of these commonsense principles.”

“The third group we wrote the book for was college graduates,” says Conley, “people just getting started in their professional careers. What should they be looking for in good leadership?”

The subtitle of the book is 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust. Blanchard and Conley both love the idea that leaders at all levels can explore an idea a week and that each one is designed to create the mindset and skillset of a trusted servant leader.

The authors say the book was a labor of love—one that allowed them to become reacquainted with simple truths they hadn’t thought about for a while.

“I loved getting reacquainted with the simple truth about catching people doing things right,” says Blanchard. “That’s the Second Secret in The One Minute Manager, the book I wrote with Spencer Johnson back in 1981. The concept is even more relevant today and is the basis for Simple Truth #5 in this new book.”

For Conley, it was getting a refresher on how to create autonomy through boundaries, which is Simple Truth #12. “This concept was originally explained in Ken’s Empowerment Takes More than a Minute book, which has always been one of my favorites. It's a great simple truth that some people don’t seem to appreciate much at first. There's a misconception that structured boundaries are about locking people in, and that they prevent flexibility and innovation."

“But when you study it closer, you discover the opposite actually occurs,” explains Blanchard. “Boundaries channel the energy that keeps people moving in the same direction. My coauthor on the Empowerment book, Alan Randolph, said it best: ‘A river without banks is just a large puddle.’”

Conley explains that half of the new book is devoted to servant leadership principles and half to concepts around building trust.

“On the trust side, I would say the simple truths about forgiveness have been resonating the most with people we’ve talked to recently. I think it’s because of everything we've all lived through in the past two years. In many cases, people have been treated roughly by organizations, governments, or institutions. We lift up the idea of forgiveness as being totally under your control and not dependent upon the actions of anyone else. It's your choice to forgive and to move forward in a healthy way. People really relate to that message.”

Conley and Blanchard have both been appreciative of how well the book has been received by a new generation of leaders. Blanchard especially, after teaching these concepts for more than forty years, appreciates the strong, positive response to the book from millennials and younger folks in the workforce.

“I think that shows the universality of these truths and how they apply across different generations. The basics haven't changed, even though the environment and the times and circumstances have. These simple truths have long-lasting capability.”

“We call them truths for a reason,” adds Conley. “Truths endure over time. We won't be the last people who are sharing these truths. But we are grateful to be the most current messengers shining light on these truths for the next generation of leaders.”


Would you like to learn more about bringing simple truths about servant leadership and trust into your organization? Join us for a free webinar!

Servant Leadership for a Next Generation Workforce

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The best work relationships are partnerships. They require collaboration between both the leader and the direct report in regard to communication, working style, feedback, direction, and support. In this webinar, leadership experts Ken Blanchard and Randy Conley will share key concepts from their new book Simple Truths of Leadership. You’ll discover that servant leadership is a journey that includes both a mindset and a skill set.

The most effective leaders recognize that leadership is not about them and that they are only as good as the people they lead. Participants will learn when team members believe their leader has their best interests at heart, performance is enhanced through

  • Improved Collaboration: Servant leaders support, motivate, and empower their team members so they can achieve the extraordinary.
  • Accelerated Learning & Development: Servant leaders learn how to diagnose and provide the right amount of direction and support, helping their team members to grow more quickly.
  • Talent Retention: Employees are more likely to stay and endorse the company as a great place to work.
  • Increased Innovation. Servant leaders help people overcome constraints that limit their ability to solve problems, address challenges, and develop innovative solutions.

Working side by side in relationship with people, servant leadership is a better way to lead—and one that leads to higher levels of engagement, performance, and human satisfaction.

Don’t miss this opportunity to learn how to bring servant leadership principles into your organization.

Register Today!

About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for Blanchard®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

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