leadershipEmpathy for leaders like Derek Alexander, the protagonist in our soon-to-be-released book, is hit or miss. Perhaps you know someone like Derek. Perhaps you worked for someone like Derek in the past – maybe even now.

Like Derek, many people who excel in their jobs, and want more autonomy and opportunity for advancement, accept leadership positions only to be chewed up and spit out by the organizations they serve.

Perhaps Derek is lucky this time. At least he is given the opportunity to explain how he plans to turn himself around. This is after he’s handed a written performance review stating that people are quitting his team because he is a lousy manager.  How does he turn himself around? You will have to wait and see.

That said …

That said, I write about the importance of empathy from leaders for their employees. Before writing this new book, it dawned on me how little empathy goes into preparing people like Derek for their leadership roles. The common practice selects managers because they get their jobs done and not enough emphasis on their proven ability to lead people.

What is the outcome? Unprepared leaders struggle. Some are hated. Frequently employees quit once a better job shows up. This leaves you with higher than normal turnover.

Imagine for a moment what it feels like to be hated because you were unprepared for leading people – while you are treading water just as fast as you can. Narcissists don’t care. It’s your fault anyway. But the others who are our neighbors and fellow colleagues who pour their heart and soul into making a difference experienced that hateful outcome differently.

Empathy for leaders like Derek

Since our last book, TIGERS Among Us – Winning Business Team Cultures and Why They Thrive, was published ten years ago not much has changed for emerging leaders. In fact, not much has changed since the TIGERS Model for Group and Leadership Development first emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Excellent leaders inspire loyalty. They motivate belonging and inclusion. They induce excellence. On the other hand, poisonous work environments cripple organizations. So why do we still offer unprepared managers a potential outcome that perpetuates the problem?

How lack of empathy for leaders impacts the workplace

In a recent study produced by the Society for Human Resource Management, toxic work cultures damage morale, injure productivity and erode bottom lines. For example, employee turnover caused by toxic culture cost employers more than $223 billion over the past five years.

That is lost revenue that does not end up in the pockets of employees, in new innovation or in your communities. It is lose-lose all the way around.

Ultimately, poor leadership perpetuates poor cultures. And, managers can only perform as well as they have been trained. It is now time to break this cycle for a couple of reasons.

First, leadership development is still a challenge. Without the benefit of micro-training platforms, it takes time and often time away from the workplace to train leaders. Yet many executives continue the sink or swim approach to leadership advancement and still select people because they get things done and not because they have a demonstrated ability to lead.

Leaders in the 21st Century must do both. They must get things done through people who they coach and develop. At the same time, they must improve their own skills – even during times of change.

Second, too many managers feel overwhelmed, confused and stressed. The rules they grew up with are changing. The goal posts are moving. They also realize it is nearly impossible to build from a shaky foundation and they don’t know where to start.

Empathy for leaders that supports everyone

All too often, we operate from the erroneous business belief about achieving goals and for taking action when the satisfaction people feel for what they are accomplishing is discounted. The mantra is “get things done”. The bottom line is that when we exclude people and their satisfaction for getting things done from the equation, we perpetuate the problem. It is short-sighted and one reason why engagement is such an issue among middle managers and employees.

This means that the solution to this problem rests on the shoulders of your Stockholders, Boards of Directors and Senior Executives. Ultimately, that’s where the buck stops.

Select managers and supervisors with the proven ability to lead people before they assume leadership positions. This is the solution. This also means training all your people to see who actually steps forward to improve employee relationships, communication, planning and strategy.

Are you familiar with the “kick-the-dog” theory?

The theory goes like this: Someone has a bad day, returns home after work and takes their bad day out on the spouse who takes frustrations out on the kids who turn around and kick the dog. If you have no empathy for your untrained managers, how do you expect them to have empathy for their employees? How do you expect your employees to have empathy for your customers and provide stellar customer service? Because, you pay them? Think again.

Empathy is not a woozy-feel-good-bunch-of-fluff. You find the ramification for this kick-the-dog behavior in your bottom line. Look in Risk Management, HR, and other areas of operations when you track their Key Profit Indicators.

The “get it done approach” to leadership without regard to the satisfaction of employees performing the work runs at odds with effective leadership. Yes it is nice to have a leadership team that can fly over the hurdles for you. But if you expect them to get all their team members over those same hurdles, training is required. People want to know from employee-to-supervisor-to-middle manager that senior leaders understand their situation and point of view and are willing to provide training to ensure their safety and success.

Why mental toughness isn’t enough to get you over the hurdles

Contrary to popular belief, a hard-headed, tenacious mindset isn’t mental toughness. Mental toughness is the ability to manage emotions, which helps you manage thoughts that result in successful behavior. So telling an untrained manager to toughen up rather than train them in empathy skills that build their emotional intelligence runs counter to how people learn, what they feel and how they respond in frustrating or tense situations.

The bottom line is that the human condition is emotional. “Humanity is ‘hard-wired’ for emotional response!”, according to an article posted by HRD Press. This means that when something happens and we think we are operating from self-control, the first response is always emotional and this response is not gender specific.

Many people are taught at an early age to ignore their emotions or submerge them. This results in knee jerk reactions that lash out and attack rather than respond to situations in a way that is more effective when dealing with people. People who learn to integrate their thoughts and emotions to respond with curiosity to understand the person in front of them are much more successful leaders. And, this skill can be developed whether they agree with the person in front of them or not.

To sum it up, now is the time to plan for your year ahead. Take a day or two and think about how you hire and promote people in your organization. Is it working? What is your turnover? How engaged are your employees? If you have higher turnover in one department, why is that? What are you willing to do to help your current leaders succeed?

Yes, you can lead a horse to water and the reality is that some of your managers in Derek’s position may choose not to change. At least you know. Then you can make the right decision for your company and employees as you take strides to improve your work culture and leadership team behavior.

Copyright TIGERS Success Series, Inc. by Dianne Crampton

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