As business operations shift because of recent crises, leaders are recognizing they’re navigating new territory, especially when it comes to communicating with their team and within the organization.

New communications methods have tested their expertise, patience, and compassion. Old models and structures have had to be redesigned to adapt to a changed environment. Leaders are dealing with more than keeping their employees productive.

They’re having to engage their employees through understanding and compassion.

Leaders who insist on following the old model are realizing that the energy level of their remaining employees is low. Morale has dropped, which adversely affects productivity.

To keep a functioning, enthusiastic and innovative team requires more than adhering to a schedule. It requires listening.

What does being a good listener entail? Why does listening contribute to good leadership?

A good listener makes others feel heard

Do you have a good friend you can confide in? You probably trust this friend because she does something you truly need at that moment — she listens. Your friend knows you and maybe has an answer that quickly comes to mind as she listens to you pour out your heart. But she refrains from saying what she thinks you should do. Instead, she waits until the right time to guide you to the answer you need.

We don’t always need a solution. But we do need to be heard. And we appreciate it when our friend doesn’t interrupt, is quiet, and shows by body language and facial expression that she’s really listening.

And being a good listener includes digesting the facts and thinking the matter through before taking action.

Whether we’re a leader, coworker, or a friend, we can offer what people generally crave — a listening ear. They need someone with a clear head, free from prejudice and preconceived ideas, to listen to them express their thoughts.

Why is this important? There is a lot of noise and “advice” around us. If we seek advice, we can weed through the noise by remembering we should listen to advice only from the people we want to exemplify. Do you look up to this person? Do you admire him or her?

Good leaders are good listeners

Leaders need to keep in mind they are in a position to be the mentor and trusted adviser their team needs.

Everyone is busy and working on tight deadlines. We’re dealing with more stress than ever, heightened by fear. We’re experiencing a shrinking workforce, new working environments and changes in roles, all of which have shifted rapidly and often require time to adjust.

Now more than ever, your most important role as a leader is to guide your team. That requires more of your time and energy to focus on them, rather than production. You’re no longer dealing with the hours they put into the work, but focusing on their physical, mental and emotional health to help them through crises instead.

Leaders have to focus more on their empathy and compassion toward their team of employees. At the same time, it’s imperative you take care of your own health in order to be the pillar your employees need.

Listening to understand your employees’ concerns, their challenges and their fears is important for you in order to know what changes need to take place, and where more help and balance is needed.

When employees approach you, do you pause, look at them and take time with them to listen to their ideas? Their concerns?

If you want to know what your team members are thinking, how they’re approaching decisions, and the potential innovation that’s waiting to be created, listening to them is the best way to know what is going on. Your tone and body language will reveal your level of interest in what’s important to your employees, so make sure you’re approachable.

Action may or may not be needed. If it is needed, it’s best to gather all the facts and give yourself time to mull over the situation before making a decision. Seek others’ input if necessary to weigh all the factors. But encourage your team to speak out.

Your reaction and your willingness to listen will tell your employees whether you are approachable. A leader who is not approachable cannot make good decisions for their team or the organization when they don’t know what’s happening under their own nose.

Be the person your team of employees can respect by setting a good example at listening.

Your reaction and your willingness to listen will tell your employees whether you are approachable.

Listening contributes to growth

All of us can benefit by being better listeners. Being approachable and willing to listen to others’ concerns helps both our personal and professional growth.

Understanding your team’s challenges from each person’s perspective and listening to their ideas with an open mind can lead to not only greater innovation but also heightened morale, which is needed now more than ever before.

Ask your employees for their ideas. What are some suggestions they have for operations? Life-changing events also change people’s outlooks, which sometimes alters perspectives in inventive ways. What are some changes your employees would like to see implemented?

When your employees genuinely feel they are being heard and understood, their loyalty toward you strengthens. It is imperative to build that trust, especially when at certain times certain sacrifices might have to be made.

Relationships matter more than ever as the world faces a disconnect on a level most of us have never experienced. As you show your employees you empathize with their plight, and you show them compassion for their needs and circumstances, you’re likely forming bonds you didn’t think were possible in a work environment. People are separated by screens, but they don’t have to be made to feel alone.

Listening is compassion

Listening has nothing to do with schedules, policies or micromanaging. And leadership doesn’t need people in an office for the business to thrive.

Listening has everything to do with compassion.

When employees sense that the one they look to for guidance cares about them and displays empathy, they are more determined to be creative and engaged.

In these extraordinary times, employees have an even greater need to feel valued and know that their hard work and sacrifices are appreciated.

Takeaway: Operations have shifted, which means the way leaders lead has changed. While we cannot foresee the future of the workplace, we have to focus on the present. Now is the time to develop and strengthen relationships with your team. Help employees build their trust in you by being the compassionate, understanding and approachable leader they need.

By making the work atmosphere more human, you’re helping your employees to adapt to the changes they’ve had to make, and calming their fears.