Tag: Manager

The Lost Art of Empathy

The Lost Art of Empathy

Empathy at Work

She had lost her husband; her sadness weighed her down as she walked out of the grocery store. The little boy held his father’s hand as they walked by and watched the elderly lady walk towards her car. After a moment of thinking, he asked his father, “What’s wrong with Mrs. Clare?”

“She lost her husband?”

“Oh. Can’t she get another?”

“How would you feel if our dog, Jake died?” The father asked.

“Sad. Terrible.”

“Would you want another Jake?”

The boy looked at his father, point well made, and said, “She is sad.”
“Very.”

They walked into the grocery store and started shopping. As the boy walked by the boxes of macaroni and cheese, he stopped and put a few boxes into the cart.

“Put them back,” his father said.

“No,” the boy responded. “We need to make them for Mrs. Clare.”

“huh?”

“When I am sad, you always make me, Mac and Cheese to cheer me up. I want to do the same for Mrs. Clare.”

Empathy is the ability to sense other people’s emotions, thoughts, and situations and to experience them as your own. In the above story, the boy’s father guided him to understand how Mrs. Clare felt by imagining what it would be like if he lost something dear to him. Unfortunately, the ability to see the world from another’s perspective is becoming a lost art.

We no longer take the time to think about how the other person might be feeling; how their situation may be different from ours; how their perspective is unique to them. We create mental short cuts to say this group acts this way or that group always behaves this way. It is easier than taking the time to get to know the person.

At a large corporation, I worked at there was a program called “Walk-a-Mile.” Each employee had the opportunity to work in another department for the afternoon with the hope that if they better understood what the other department did, they would be more than willing to help them out. Guess what? It worked. Employees would come back and explain the challenges the other department had and how their department could help them out.

Can we increase Empathy at work?

I believe so, and I am not the only one. In his article, Six Habits of Highly Empathic People, Roman Krznaric provides us insights on how to do precisely that.

  1. Cultivate Curiosity: People who are talking to individuals outside of our usual social circles have a higher level of empathy. Increase opportunities for your employees to interact with each other. In one situation, a manufacturing company moved their offices to the center of the manufacturing floor; this allowed the management staff more opportunities to interact with the production employees and to see the work through their eyes.  
  2. Discover Commonalities: We have more in common than we don’t. Create opportunities for employees to discover things that they have in common through work activities or team building. (Note: I am working on a program to do this; let me know if you are interested in beta testing this in your organization.)
  3. Teach Active Listening Skills: Active listening skills help the listener understand not only the words the speaker is saying but also the non-verbal cues as well to have fully enriched conversations. Being able to sense other’s emotions will help employees be more empathic in their responses.
  4. Build Trust: When two employees trust each other, they are willing to be more open and to share their perspective with others. Trust is a critical element in the success of high performing teams.
  5. Provide New Experience: As I mentioned above, the “Walk-A-Mile” program we used, provided opportunities for our employees to see things from another perspective. It doesn’t have to be limited to inside the business; give the employees opportunities to experience how a customer uses your services and products.
  6. Tell Stories: Stories help people relate. Go back and read the story above. Did you feel for Mrs. Clare? Did you feel for the father? How about the boy? Stories help people relate to others.

If we can’t measure it, we can’t improve it. Use this quick quiz at Berkely’s Greater Good to measure your level of empathy. If your empathy is high, how can you help others be empathic? If your empathy is low, use the six habits above to increase it.

In the world filled with misunderstanding, empathy is the antidote. It builds a positive corporate culture; it reduces stereotyping; it improves team performance; it teaches kindness.

Enjoy the Journey

John Thalheimer

PS: Are your managers effective in leading their teams to a high level of performance? According to the Gallup Organization, eighty-one percent of managers are not successfully leading their teams. This needs to change. I work with organizational managers so they can be a positive influence on their employees’ performance. At True Star Leadership, we coach, workshop, and mastermind with your management team to improve their leadership skills.  To learn more reach out to me at john@johnthalheimer.com

The Myth of the Alpha Dog

The Myth of the Alpha Dog

My wife and I have adopted two puppies this year, and as I was researching how to potty train our younger dog, I came across the headline, “The Myth of the Alpha Dog.” The article discussed how our belief that dog packs structures are based on an alpha dog or dominant dog is false. And that dogs have a more cooperative approach to pack structure.

This same myth is pervasive throughout our discussions on leadership. In the west, we have mythologized the single person as the saver of the world. The man on the white horse who comes in to save the day. When we talk about great discoveries, we talk about them as if a single person made the discovery. Admiral Peary had over 50 people with him as he tried to reach the North Pole in 1909 but the names of the other people have all been forgotten. We talk about great inventions; we talk as if a single person invented the light bulb. However, Thomas Edison had a team of “young muckers” working with him at Menlo Park. In the world of leadership, we talk of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, both who are famous for the companies they started. However both had strong partners working with them; Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates had Paul Allen. This isn’t to say that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are not brilliant men, it is just to say that rarely do we do anything in isolation.

My research and experience have led me to the conclusion that the leadership team is more important than the single leader of an organization. In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about the importance of having the right people on the bus. This is even more important the closer you get to the top of any organization.

 

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

 

Why are leadership teams more valuable than a single leader?

  1. They provide a greater level of experience.
  2. They provide balance against a singular strength or limitation
  3. They offer diversity of thought.
  4. They provide the ability to delegate work
  5. They provide increased touch points to an organization

This does not mean that a leader can abdicate her responsibility for the team. It means that she has more resources to make the best decisions, create the best strategic vision and build the best team.

When I work to improve leadership teams, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Are the right individuals on the leadership team?
  • What behavioral changes will make them a better leadership team?
  • What is their level of motivation to improve the working dynamics?
  • How do they discuss different points of views?
  • Are they focused on the same vision of the organization?

Always start with an assessment of the team’s strengths and limitations. This gives a good understanding of what is working well together and what is not. I usually use an assessment tool, followed up with individual interviews. This provides an excellent groundwork to start working with the team to improve their team dynamic. Working with the leader and the team, we create a path to developing the leadership team dynamic. The goal is to understand the strengths and limitations of each member and that of the team. If you can create positive connections and a desire to move the organization forward, the team dynamic will improve.

The goal here is not to remove the leader or to dismiss the leader. The goal here is to provide a team of individuals working together to assist the leader in their challenges of running a large organization.  To create a cooperative approach to the team structure.

 

Together we are stronger than we are alone.

Walter Payton

 

 

The Importance of Routine

The Importance of Routine

It was Thursday Afternoon, and I was waiting for a manager I coached to arrive at the local coffee shop. It has been a good year for her. She managed a team of high-performing individuals and had focused on continually improving their performance, creating and changing processes to get better results. I was looking forward to our conversation.

As I waited, I noticed that a good portion of the customers were greeting each other by name, exchanging pleasantries and waving their goodbyes, saying they would see each other tomorrow. It was their afternoon routine.

The Manager arrived sitting heavily in the chair next to me. Apprehension showed on her face and in her body language. This wasn’t going to be the conversation I had imagined.

“I just reviewed the numbers. I wanted to give you an update, show you the improvement.”

A long pause as she gathered herself.

“Productivity is down ten percent from last month. And it’s not a blip; I looked at the previous week, it is down fifteen percent.”

“How is it year to date?”

“Still good we are up overall by twenty-five percent.”

“Good then?”

She smiled. She knew what I was doing, trying to get her to look at the big picture; to see the improvement in her team. What they had accomplished together.

“I am just frustrated that the team is losing their level of commitment to the new changes.”

“How does the team feel?”

“Frustrated, to be honest. They are complaining about the latest change. Too complicated they say.”

“Is it?”

“Not any more than the last few changes.”

“Maybe it’s not the change but the amount of change.”

“Huh?”

“Let me give you an example. Do you remember when they were working on the major interstate and each morning you had to take a different way into work?”

“Ugh. That was terrible. I could never get my rhythm in the morning. I felt out of sorts.”

“Yes. Each day there was a new change. You had to adjust.”

“I did. I had to watch the detour signs. In fact, it was so confusing; I turned off the radio so that I could concentrate on where I was going.”

I sipped my drink.

“Oh no. My employees are feeling confused. They are working harder when I told them they would be working smarter. They aren’t sure where they stand because our expectations are changing with each change.”

“And now what?”

“I need to work with my team to develop a routine so we can smooth things out and get them feeling better about the job they are doing.”

“So how are those numbers?”

She smiled.

With all the push for evolving, changing, progressing and growing our organizations, leaders have forgotten the importance of routine. Humans have a basic need for security and stability, to be able to forecast the possible future when change disrupts this, it makes us uncomfortable.

As a leader, I made touching base with my staff part of my daily routine. Each day, I set aside time to get out of my office and talk with my team. This method allowed me to see what their day was like, what challenges they were facing and how I could support them. Usually, there were little to no, short-term gains, i.e. there wasn’t anything I could do to support them at that particular moment, however in time, I learned who my employees were, saw trends impacting the business and was able to make better management decision based on this routine.

Routines are also beneficial to the productivity of your team as it provides them with a sense of security, a feeling of stability and increases their overall confidence. In a study done by Dinah Avni-Babad (2010), showed that individuals use routines to increase their sense of well-being.

Routine also allows for the automation of thought. The benefit of this can be seen in our average commute to work. As I used in the example with the manager I was coaching, her commute to work was disrupted by the road work. She had to increase her concentration, and she was continually out of sorts, emotionally tired. However, when the road work was done, and she was able to get back to her morning routine, her energy came back, and she was able to plan for her day as she drove into work.

In his book, Daily Rituals: How Artists work Author Mason Currey describes the importance of routines for some of our greatest thinkers. In one instance he talks about Benjamin Franklin, who at the end of each day asked himself “What good have I done today?” used a routine to make sure he was accomplishing all of his goals. His routine provided structure for his day. Like Einstein who wore the same clothes each day, Benjamin Franklin did not have to think about how his time would be spent and was able to focus on the work at hand.

When an individual creates a sense of well-being for themselves through routines, it offers an increase confidence. Allows them to project forward and create a sense of control over the future. It also gives them the platform to take risks, be creative, be innovative, and paradoxically challenge the status quo.

To recap routinely provides the following benefits:

  • Better sense of well-being
  • Increase focus on high priority tasks
  • Daily or weekly structure
  • Reduces distractions
  • Increases overall confidence
  • A platform for challenging the status quo.

When we realize the importance of routine on the individual, we can now appreciate why people are naturally resistant to change. We can also understand the importance of Change Management to help facilitate bringing an individual from their old routine to their new routine. Change Management is the framework that allows the organization to manage the people side of change. Without Change Management there is a greater risk that change initiative will fail.