Why a Leader Should Not Be Their Team’s Therapist

Laura Coman

8 minutes read

Why a Leader Should Not Be Their Team’s Therapist

Let’s say that you’ve just been promoted to a management position, and you want to prove that you can successfully overcome all the challenges that lay ahead. One of those challenges is managing the team. As you would imagine, each employee comes with their own „baggage”: personal disappointments, expectations, needs. And because you want to win over the team, you try your best to make everything work for everybody. Little by little and without realizing it, you become your team’s therapist, and you start absorbing other people’s problems. How destructive is this habit?

According to a study conducted by Qualtrics in the spring of 2020 and cited in an article published by the international magazine Forbes, almost 42% of the participants declared that their mental state has worsened when the current sanitary crisis started.

Moreover, 67% of the people interviewed said that their stress levels have increased, 57% reported an increase of their level of anxiety while 54% declared that they feel emotionally exhausted.

Also, other results of the same study have shown that 53% of the respondents feel sad, half of the people interviewed feel irritable, 30% have trouble focusing and 20% need more time to perform their usual tasks.

Taking into consideration these numbers it’s not surprising that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore, the need, more stringent than ever, for the leaders to be empathic, because, according to Forbes, it is the most important quality that a leader should have.

But how can you express your empathy?

According to the authors of that article, there are two types of empathy that the leaders can show:  cognitive empathy („If I were him/her, what would I think now?”) and emotional empathy („If I were him/her, I would feel …”)

If you put yourself in the employee’s shoes, not only will it be easier for you to understand their needs, but it will also be easier to find more efficient ways in which to meet those needs without foregoing the needs of the company.

But it is extremely important to offer your employees empathy in a balanced manner, in order to avoid overburdening some employees at the expense of others, including you.

Maybe your gut feeling is to take over some of the tasks of an employee or even of the entire team. But you won’t be able to do this/sustain such a pressure on the long term.

Teams need clear-headed, alert leaders who know when to delegate and how to solve the stress equation. If you as a leader are on the brink of burnout, chances are that you won’t be able to efficiently manage your team and in the long run you might even cause more harm than good.

Therefore, you must understand that being a leader should not mean being your team’s therapist. If you notice destructive behavior among your employees, such as violence, aggression (regardless of the cause that made it manifest), depression or similar manifestations, you should refer those persons for specialist medical advice.

Trying to „treat” them with your own advice or tolerate intolerable behaviors just because you don’t have a replacement for a person is not the most efficient solution to this problem because it will have a negative impact on the rest of the team members.

Also, it’s crucial that you set clear boundaries between work time and the free time, and it’s important to also teach the employees to do the same. It’s a good thing and it’s advisable to always keep the door open – be it of your physical or virtual office – for people to share any difficulties they might have. But it’s preferable not to do this after the work hours so that you don’t set an unhealthy precedent/habit.

Last but not least, in order to ensure the mental and emotional balance of your team, you should be proactive and take positive initiatives. You could, for example, organize different activities that might improve employee sentiment and facilitate the communication within the team.

Especially during the times that we are all experiencing, there are still many people who find it difficult to deal with different work styles and have a hard time managing the new situation, therefore they might need some time off where they can stop thinking about the stressful daily tasks.

A group therapy session, an online or, if possible, on site cooking class, a team game or a training session can sometimes have a much bigger effect than anticipated. 

In your opinion, as a leader, what are the best ways to manifest your empathy?

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Written by Laura Coman


Freelancer, I am curious by nature, with a passion for writing and reading, especially in places that inspire me, which I choose according to mood and season: an intimate café, a blossoming park – as long as the battery holds – or a coworking space with modern facilities.

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