It’s not enough for CEOs to empathize with employees

In the novel City of God, writes EL Doctorow, “You always see in CEOs that life is business. Having an act of cruelty is seen as a right. The three-time winner of the National Association of Book Critics’ Award for Fiction puts this aside, but it is a particularly unsettling indictment for business leaders.

I asked Rasmus Hougaard, founder and CEO of the Leadership Consulting Potential Project, what he thought of Doctorow’s observations during a recent video interview. He immediately points to J. Willard Marriott, the founder of Marriott International, as a notable exception. The famous Marriott lived in the hotel business without cruelty, and his famous orders”Take care of associates and they will take care of customers“Still a mainstay of the company’s culture after almost 100 years.

And yet, Hougaard admits, “there are a lot of CEOs at other companies [about whom] you could say the exact opposite. It’s almost as if they think, ‘Now that I’m a senior executive, I don’t have to be nice anymore.’ ” Compassionate Leadership: How to do difficult things the human waythe best valuable.

Hougaard and co-author Jacqueline Carter, director of the North American Potential Project, argue that managing the top people was once espoused by CEOs as “Chainsaw Al“Dunlap and”Jack Neutron“Welch is a loser’s game. “Obviously rights are dying and for good reason,” Hougaard told me. “Anyone who says, ‘I can be mean, because I have power now,’ will be punished, because people won’t work with them.” CEOs who live up to Doctorow’s caricature by holding back emotions and coldly making decisions that are harmful to people also come at a high cost. Hougaard added: “You turn into someone you probably won’t like.”

Often, empathy is seen as the antidote to business sense. But Hougaard argues that a leadership approach based solely on empathy has its own adverse side effects. “Leaders can take the pain of those they are causing and experience literal empathy burnout,” he explains. “Many CEOs tell me they make billion-dollar decisions and sleep well at night. But when it comes to giving tough feedback to employees or restructuring the workforce, they don’t sleep for weeks.”

They lose sleep because they don’t realize that empathy is only the first step to solving emotional human problems. “The mantra here is: connect with empathy but lead with compassion,” says Hougaard. “Empathy is great for people, because they’re not alone anymore, but it doesn’t really get them out of their misery. Compassion is an intention. We take a little perspective on the situation and ask, ‘How can I help? What can I do?’ Empathy plus action equals compassion.”

Empathy is only the first step to dealing with emotional human problems.

Hougaard will ask leaders to add a dose of reality to this equation by practicing what he calls wise compassion. Wisdom is the ability to see reality clearly and act accordingly. Compassion is the intention to benefit others.

Research conducted by the Potential Project, which includes data from 15,000 leaders and 150,000 employees at 5,000 companies around the world, established a direct correlation between wisdom compassion and rank. leader. Hougaard and Carter write: “The data also show that leaders who appreciate philanthropy have 66% lower stress levels than their less philanthropic counterparts, with 200% lower intention to quit. and 14% higher efficiency. (The “Mars and Venus” devotees note: male leaders who rank themselves for compassion are wiser than female leaders who rank themselves. But employees disagree — they rank them. rank female leaders higher than male leaders.)

So how do you bring wise compassion into the tough conversations you’re called to have with people? Hougaard offers the following advice.

First, spend some time preparing by thinking about what you will say and how you will say it, what questions the other person might ask, and how you might answer. “No matter how hard it is for you, it’s even harder for other people,” says Hougaard. “So, respect that person by mentally and thoroughly preparing for the conversation in the right space.”

Second, separate the person from the problem in your mind. “It’s easy for us humans to say, ‘Oh, that person did that bad thing, so he’s a bad guy,'” and in general that doesn’t work very well, says Hougaard. To avoid this pitfall, try to see the entire person sitting in front of you, not just the employee fulfilling the role.

Third, give the person options. “While the options won’t make messaging any easier, [they send] a message that you care and want to work together on this process,” wrote Hougaard and Carter. “Delivering options gives people a sense of control, even if only in a small way.”

Fourth, reply, not react, in chats. “The CEOs we talked to all had great examples of situations where they reacted and the conversation turned into a fight,” says Hougaard. “Your job is to constantly respond, but never react.”

Fifth, say what you need to say, and then give the person time to respond. “You’re basically blowing a bomb in someone’s face,” Hougaard said. “When that happens, people need space and time. You just have to be there and help people process at their own pace.”

None of this is rocket science. In fact, one executive told Hougaard how to be a compassionate leader in very simple and memorable terms: “Leave management school and learn to be human again.”

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