Empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of the other.
I have been finding this word in multiple sources, from podcasts to books, on leadership and coaching. One may wonder what this feeling has to do with leadership or high-performance teams or even, culture and a safe workplace.
Before diving into the power that this “word” might have on your team, let’s get back to the beginning, right to the classical’ Greek period.
The word have its origin in the greek empatheia word. This is a conjunction of em (‘in’) with pathos (‘feeling’).
In feeling, the capacity to be inside the feeling of the other, to share their emotional state.
In the book “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek, the author share some interesting stories where the common denominator is this feeling. One of those stories is about a U.S. Air Force pilot that was over flying a Special-Ops team of 22 in a zero visibility environment when they were engaged in combat.
Enough to say that the pilot did what it was needed, risking his life because just thinking about what those guys were feeling and facing was enough. That story resonated with me, it took me to one moment in my life when I was a volunteer firefighter. In a moment of crisis we never thought about ourselves. It was always about the others. You go into a burning building when everybody is leaving. Knowing that someone might be in panic, in pain, suffering, with their life at stake, that is enough to push you forward. That’s empathy for the other, someone that you not even know.
Ahh, we should add to the equation that nobody gets any bonuses or paycheck? We were volunteers, remember ?
Stop for a moment !
Think about it.
Feel the power of that feeling, that mental state.
Now, back to your workplace. You know, that spot where you spend the biggest part of your life.
Recall all the moments you complained about your lousy paycheck or the bonuses that you thought you deserve just for performing your everyday tasks.
I know, this is a difficult matter !
Let me recover another story that Simon Sinek shared in that book. It’s about a factory worker, that were paid hourly, and that his spouse had a terrible disease. That guy was in a bad situation. He needed to be there for his spouse but he couldn’t afford of not going to work. I think that is important to add, to this story, that that particular factory was going a major cultural reform. The new owner had a different vision about how his employees should feel about their workplace and their colleagues.
Trust was provided to the entire workforce. People started to feel they really belong in there and that what they were doing make a difference. True friendships emerged. Colleagues cared about colleagues, or should I say “Friends cared about friends”.
So, that guy’s colleagues went to the HR department and, even against company policies, they asked for the company to take some days off of their vacations time and assign those to that guy in need.
They made that decision without thinking about annual bonuses, more vacation time or better paychecks.
Yes, yes, I know that that stuff is important, we are not in the Wonderland.
But see it as a round-cycle, if you care about your people, and your people cares about your people, the probability that you have a great work environment rises.
A better work environment provides a great foundation to build a high-performance team.
A high-performance team will miss less deadlines, will reduce waste to the minimum, will be more self-organized and, well, get better results.
A team with better results will be in the top positions to be noticed by top management.
Remember those annual bonuses or better paychecks? Now is the time to expect them. (if none of these outcomes occurs, I’m really sorry to say that you boss sucks!)
And it all started with having empathy about the other instead of just looking to your navel.
That’s the power of Empathy !!!