When We Lead with Empathy, Our Teams Respond in Kind

I started my career about 11 years ago as an R&D power systems engineer. Before I joined Idaho National Laboratory (INL), I had carried out various roles as a team member, a project leader, and a mentor. I have experienced many ups and downs during my career. Despite my best efforts and passion for my work and organizations, there were times when I felt discouraged, disappointed, and even hurt when my leaders were not supportive, equitable, empathetic, and were displaying exclusive behaviors. I understand how a toxic environment can be harmful for individuals, as well as for the organization at large. I have also experienced how leading by example and with empathy helps a team truly integrate and bring out the enthusiasm and innovations of every team member.

When I became a department manager at INL about two years ago, I knew the gravity of the role and the responsibilities I would carry for the people in my department. I started my first day with an empathetic attitude and with an attitude that I can learn from everyone. I have dedicated myself to building a work environment that is transparent, inclusive, equitable, and trusting, and where all efforts are appreciated regardless of the outcome. What I have learned is that when we are empathetic leaders, team members will respond in kind. They can give credit to each other, support each other, and bring their best selves to work each day. They are passionate, innovative, and successful when they feel they belong to a group that is working toward a common goal.

I constantly remind myself that all team members, from interns and junior researchers to senior researchers, are people with different backgrounds and perspectives who play important roles in the success of our work. I have never been afraid of admitting my own mistakes, and consider making such admissions a strength and an opportunity for growth. By practicing these values and beliefs, team members understand that although we all make mistakes, what’s important is that we face them with a positive attitude and learn from them.