Balancing Empathy and Accountability

Individuals, teams, and organizations continue to face numerous challenges due to the pandemic while living in a world of unknowns and crises. As a leader, you are most likely navigating individuals who are still adjusting to working from home, some while also overseeing distance learning, teams nervous about the future, a limited workforce, and moving business targets, to name a few. If you want to continue to be effective this year, you need to empathize with your employees – but that doesn’t mean that you have to let everyone off the hook. You can give grace and still push the business forward. Remember, as a leader you are still responsible for producing results.

So, how do you do both? How do you support your team looking to you in this time of uncertainty for support, guidance, and insight while also staying focused on business results? As with most things in life, balance is essential. If you’re communicating well, employees should have no problem coming to you when they have extenuating circumstances. At the same time, if you’re clear about deliverables, they’ll continue to know your expectations of them despite their new situation. Swinging the pendulum too far toward empathy risks your bottom line, and too far towards business puts relationships and culture at risk.

Here are our 5 top tips for maintaining a healthy balance between empathy and accountability to keep your team and organization ON Point.



Continue to communicate with your team about significant business changes due to COVID that impact them. How long will they be working from home? Are they still launching this product or service they have been working on for months? Is there a new team member they need to onboard? You may not always have the answer – and it is okay to say you don’t know at this time. Your team will appreciate hearing from you directly, maintaining an open level of communication while creating space for empathy. Express to your team that you understand how challenging this time is and how the internal changes affect them.


Redirect the Energy

Reminding your team, and yourself, of the long-term vision is a great way to redirect the energy. It’s often not the actual goal that is changing, but the steps to get there and the timeline. Your team must continue to understand their work’s value and how it plays into the bigger picture to stay motivated.



It’s easier to hold people accountable when they know what they responsible for. Now is the time to ensure project requests, tasks, and goals are SMART. When you have specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound goals, your team not only has a clear picture of what is expected of them, but it also gives you a straightforward, unbiased platform to provide feedback on – whether positive or negative.


Be Human

Not all communication is a conversation. Humans naturally crave connection, which is hard to come by during a pandemic – a time when we need it most. Set aside time to connect human-to-human with your team members. Ask how they are and how you can help support them in a judgment-free zone. Share your own vulnerabilities. Remember, we are all going through this together.


Set the Pace

As a leader, you set the pace for your team. If your team sees you pivoting with intent and problem-solving during this time, they are likely to mirror you. Unfortunately, the same happens when you are rattled, distracted, and indecisive. If your team sees you extending empathy to others, they will likely extend the same compassion to their peers and direct reports. By setting the pace, you are modeling what you expect of your team and cultivating culture.

Finding the balance between empathy and accountability can be tricky and will not happen overnight, but it is essential to move your business forward.