In yesterday’s Promotional Consultant Today, we discussed how to boost your empathy as a leader. But what do you do if your empathetic nature causes others to take advantage of you? If you feel like your team members or colleagues take advantage of your kindness, it’s important to know how to respond. If you let things go, your team members will continue their same behaviors.

Ben Brearley, MBA, a leadership coach and consultant, says people may test your leadership in different ways and for different reasons. Sometimes they test your leadership because they want to push the limits on your empathy level. Other times, they may be unhappy about a work situation and take it out on you. For example, your sales reps may decide to make their own decisions without consulting you or they may criticize your decisions openly. Sometimes, team members may miss deadlines or begin to build relationships with other leaders.

However people may test your leadership, Brearley says there are a few smart ways to respond. We share his tips in this issue of Promotional Consultant Today.

Be patient. Leaders need to earn their team members’ trust, and this takes time. It pays to be patient and allow work relationships to grow. If you can keep this in mind, Brearley says you will feel much more patient when people challenge you along the way.

Stay calm, cool and collected. When you know your team members are testing you, don’t get frustrated or become emotional. Your team members may be pushing you to see how far they can go. While you may want to yell or burst into tears, this reaction will only lead your employees to believe you don’t have what it takes to handle the pressure. Instead, Brearley says it’s much wiser to stay composed and engage with your team in a constructive manner. One way you can do this is by visualizing yourself responding constructively. According to Brearley, this technique can help wire your brain to respond better in tough situations.

Model the behavior you want to see. Remember that you’re the leader. If you want your team members to behave in a certain way, set the tone. People see what you do and emulate it, says Brearley. Rather than getting into a screaming match with someone, practice maintaining a calm and constructive demeanor.

Be clear about your boundaries. When employees test your leadership, it’s important to clearly describe what happened and what you expect to happen next time. Explain the behavior or attitude, find out what’s behind it and communicate that it is unacceptable to continue in the same fashion, says Brearley. By being upfront about your expectations and limits, you are helping your employees understand what you will and will not tolerate.

Build trust. The more your team members trust you, the less likely they are to test your leadership. Much of the testing is to see whether you are up to the job, Brearley notes. You can build trust in many ways, including giving credit where it’s due and asking your team members for their input more often. People like people they respect, so strive to be someone they can respect, Brearley adds.

Being a good leader requires not only empathy but also the ability to set boundaries and to define clear expectations. Whether your team members try to test you by interrupting you or questioning your decisions, or they show up late for meetings or miss deadlines, you can take a thoughtful stand by applying the tips above.

Compiled by Audrey Sellers

Source: Ben Brearley, MBA, is a leadership coach and consultant who helps thoughtful leaders build confidence and find the right balance in their leadership.