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Leading Off
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How are you feeling … about empathy? We can tell you how your people feel: they want to see more of it from their leaders. In a recent study, almost 50 percent of respondents rated an empathic approach to workload balancing as a top factor in how favorably they viewed their organizations during the pandemic. This week, let’s elevate your sensitive side with the help of research, experts, and even a robot.
Take your empathy pulse
Let’s hope that empathy, or the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, hasn’t seen its moment come and go. In survey after survey, leaders overwhelmingly point to its importance and say their organizations are empathic. Although employees are less convinced, three quarters of them still tie empathic leadership to productivity. Some leaders even see it as a defining quality in leading, of all things, digital transformation. Take a quiz as part of your empathy checkup, then dig deeper with McKinsey experts on the ways to tune in, turn outward, and lead better with compassion and empathy.
“The people you are leading have big expectations of you. They want you to be perfect and often forget that you are human. But the more human you are with them, the more trust and empathy they lend to you.”
Alain Bejjani, CEO, Majid Al Futtaim Group. Explore what other CEOs are thinking about during this new era for leadership.
Five questions for: Frances Frei
Five questions for: Frances Frei
“It’s not about you” is the message Frances Frei has been delivering to a lot of high achievers, in and outside of academia, through her TED Talks videos and a new book, Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You, coauthored with her wife, Anne Morriss. Frei, a professor of technology and operations at Harvard Business School, sees leadership and opportunities for cultural change through the lens of the trust that leaders can muster through authenticity, logic, and empathy. Here, she shares some advice.
Leading Off: Why the book?
Frances Frei: We had been reading lots of leadership literature going back 20 years, and we were finding that the executives most informed by it were paying a ton of attention to themselves. That didn’t coincide with those who were the most effective leaders, those who were paying more attention to others. It was a performance hypothesis: the ones who were holding up a mirror to themselves were not achieving as much as those who were getting great performance out of others.
Leading Off: Why unapologetic?
Frances Frei: It’s quite a different perspective, and we don’t want people to be ashamed about it. If you walk into a room and ask yourself who is the most important person here, and it’s you, you have such a big hole to dig out of to be an effective leader. We need a different lens for leaders because it’s not about you.
Leading Off: You describe empathy as the most common “wobble” among high-achieving leaders. Please explain.
Frances Frei: What I try to do is give people a new lens on empathy. You have a chance at being empathetic if you can be present to the needs of others in the room. You have no chance if you are not present to the presence of others. So I have to help you see the absence of it.
What high achievers do in meetings is: they grasp things quickly and then multitask until they’re liberated. If I’m looking down at my phone, no one is confused about whether that’s about me or about everyone else. It’s about me, and I’m not present. You’re sending a signal: you should not trust me for anything related to what we’re talking about. You might be a great contributor, but you won’t be a great leader.
Leading Off: What would a better leader do?
Frances Frei: Don’t bring personal technology to meetings and schedule shorter meetings. Constantly scan the horizon for clues as to how other people in the meeting are getting the subject under discussion. Remove the parallel play and help everyone else.
Leading Off: Empathy. Trait or skill?
Frances Frei: Skill. There are very few traits. Everything has been learned and can be learned.
The percentage of employees who feel basically disengaged from their business.
So reports Minter Dial, a speaker and authority on technology and marketing. In this interview and podcast, “Getting the feels: Should AI have empathy?,” Dial explores the need to close the empathy gap among humans, and also whether artificial intelligence can evolve to the point of becoming empathic. If you’ve ever shed so much as a single tear watching WALL-E, you’ll enjoy this journey with Minter and his bot, JJ.
— Edited by Bill Javetski, an executive editor in the New Jersey office
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