"In the future, if you don't have worthwhile input, please just don't speak." How is that statement for motivating and encouraging you? Have those words, or something similar, ever been said to you? Or have you ever felt that message delivered by the body language of your boss or colleague? I have and it certainly impacted my mental engagement, at least temporarily. It also made me question the motives and desires for input on the part of my boss. Continued display of that attitude and I wanted a change in my job or boss.
Psychology Today defines empathy as, "the experience of understanding another person's thoughts, feelings, and condition from their point of view, rather than from your own." In my opinion, displaying empathy, not only in business related conversations and meetings, but in interactions broadly with colleagues (and family and friends) is a key characteristic of a caring, sincere, and "good" person. And now I have found an extensive research study that backs my long-held belief.
Research published in 2016 by the global human resource consultants, DDI, helped me understand why empathy is so important to a high performing organization. High Resolution Leadership (PDF), the DDI report, was based on assessment data from over 15,000 people in 18 countries representing five levels of leadership positions, from front-line to C-suite executives.
Despite 462 million Google entries on the definition of leadership, DDI believes leadership is largely dependent on mastering successful conversation across the spectrum of stakeholders a leader has to address. DDI wanted to determine the interaction skills that had the highest impact on overall performance for early stage leaders.
Two related skills were determined to be most important for job performance: listening and responding with empathy and, secondly, encouraging involvement. I would argue that the empathy is a prerequisite for successfully encouraging involvement. Furthermore, while 77% of the assessed individuals were effective in opening discussions, only 40% listened and responded with empathy and only 50% encouraged involvement. Obviously, this presented an opportunity for improvement and growth for early stage leaders and probably more senior leaders, as well.
The Baldrige Excellence Framework is based on a set of eleven core values and concepts. These core values and concepts are the foundation for integrating key operational requirements within a results-oriented framework that creates a basis for action.
A set of leadership behaviors has been developed to reinforce these core values in high-performing organizations. These leadership behaviors have been part of the curriculum for Baldrige Executive Fellows since 2014.
Previously, I wrote a blog listing the behaviors and identifying those that the Baldrige Fellows ranked as their key strengths. Two were clearly ranked the highest among the Fellows: visionary leadership and valuing people. Those two characteristics embody behaviors that are built on empathy, including
- creating and ensuring a supportive and collaborative environment
- building and fostering an organizational culture that focuses on engagement, development, and well-being of workforce members
- creating an organizational environment that is safe, trusting, and cooperative
Certainly, we all want empathetic bosses and colleagues. We also want to empathize with the challenges our children face. We want a health care provider who is both technically competent and empathetic. That bedside manner is critical.
However, the reason I began thinking about the topic of empathy was a conversation with the graduate students in a course I teach on Strategy and Organizational Analysis. The course is part of an executive master's program in which the students go through the program as a cohort group. In an informal discussion, we were talking about the courses in which the students felt they had the greatest learning. While course content certainly was important, they talked about their need for faculty who challenged them but didn't threaten them. Upon further discussion, they reduced the emotion to faculty who cared.
I have seen over my career how much difference sincere caring makes. How do you demonstrate that you really care?
A Systems Approach to Improving Your Organization’s Performance
Baldrige Excellence Framework
The Baldrige Excellence Framework has empowered organizations to accomplish their missions, improve results, and become more competitive. It includes the Criteria for Performance Excellence, core values and concepts, and guidelines for evaluating your processes and results.