School Business Affairs February 2020 SCHOOL BUSINESS AFFAIRS | FEBRUARY 2020 39 A handful of strategies for leading with empathy Are You an Empathetic Leader? By Cindy Reilmann, CPA leadership L eadership is defined in many ways. For example, President Dwight Eisenhower said, “Leadership is the ability to decide what has to be done, and then get people to want to do it.” Regardless the definition, a core element of good leadership is empathy. Empathetic leaders understand others’ perspectives and use that understanding to lead more effectively. Some strategies for leading with empathy are offered here. Be Present Employees want to know their leaders care about them as people, and for that to happen, leaders must get to know their employees personally. This objective may be challenging for those who work primar- ily with numbers rather than people, but none of us can do our jobs alone. We must work together to prepare our students for the future. To work together effectively, we must know one another and depend on one another’s strengths and skills. To get to know the people they supervise, the people who are part of their work fam- ily, leaders must be present when interact- ing with their colleagues. It’s not enough to walk around the office greeting staff mem- bers and asking about their weekend. Don’t just ask—listen to their answers rather than thinking about what to say next. A super- intendent of a neighboring district recently tweeted, “Wherever you are . . . be present.” Be Invested Although we spend one-third of our time working with people, are we really invested in them? Do we know what it takes them to accomplish their jobs? Do we know what institutional energy is exhausted to meet daily challenges? Many employees are in stressful positions, such as those in the pay- roll department. School district salaries and benefits make up 80%–85% of a district’s budget, and the individuals affected by pay- roll are often supported by union groups that demand accountability, as do state and federal agencies. It is important understand and support the payroll staff in their some- times-stressful positions. The payroll department in my district has had to coordinate vacations around payroll dates. Even though the rest of the district might be experiencing a “snow day,” the payroll staff is still on the job meeting pay- roll deadlines, transmitting files to the bank, and perhaps working overtime to ensure that processing is complete. Supervisors with empathy don’t have to know how to do staff members’ jobs, but they are aware of the challenges that those employees face daily. The superintendent mentioned earlier also tweeted, “Don’t put more on your folks than they have the capacity to do.” Be Supportive Being supportive of one another and helping co-workers reach work-life harmony helps reduce stress and improve an individual’s general health and well-being. Improving their general health and well-being helps employees be more productive. Being supportive helps school districts improve outcomes, whether it’s student achievement scores or more productive staff members. I challenge you to encourage and support your employees and work to attain a sense of work–life harmony. Let’s create an environment of more empathetic leaders and strive to be pres- ent for, invested in, and supportive of our employees. You will be surprised at the results. Cindy Reilmann is director of finance for Francis Howell School District in St. Charles, Missouri. Email: FLAMINGO IMAGES/STOCK.ADOBE.COM