Leadership – Understanding and empathy, the secret of leadership?

It’s the beginning of the quarter. As a leader, you’ve done the right thing and set your biggest goals. Everyone knows the direction you need to be heading and their most important task to focus on. Everything for the short term should be fairly straight forward. You’ve ticked off the leadership box, right?

Then, you find that you and another staff member are just not getting along. Or two of your staff members don’t see eye to eye. The tension and anxiety is trickling into the rest of the team. It’s having a dramatic and negative effect on the company culture you’ve worked so hard to build.

What do you do? This isn’t a task thing, it’s a personality and behavioral thing. It’s much more intangible than that. It’s very hard to write policies and procedures of how people should “feel” about each other and how they should behave with other staff.

So where do you start?

Leadership lesson 1 – Understanding yourself

We all have personal biases, preferences and values. Whether we like it or not, we see the world through our own lens. This is based on our values, thinking styles and past experience. There is nothing wrong with that, it’s normal. But, it does means that each of us perceives the world in a slight or significantly different way.

What are your values? Do you strongly favour knowledge, rules and regulations? Or, is the aesthetic and freedom more important to you? Are you more people orientated or do you focus on the task more?

We do DISC profiling with our staff during the recruitment process. This gives us a better idea of who they are and their fit within the organization. However, DISC profiling itself only gives you the observable behaviour of the person or the outcome of their values. It does not give the reason why someone behaves the way they do. It’s like looking at the results of a football game and saying “If I improved the score by 20 points, we would win”. It does not tell you the how and why.

Looking at the profiling deeper allows you to understand the values behind the behaviours. It gives you a bit more of a clue as to the why and how to address the conversation.

For example, I strongly value theoretical knowledge, am moderate on rules and regulations and am fairly low on aesthetic. Therefore, my bias will more likely be towards task oriented conversations, detailed and technical concepts. Understanding the “feel” of something is an area that does not come naturally to me. This is something I have to “work on” to understand.

I take these biases into the conversation with others. I will often struggle to see why someone can’t just “get it done”. However, I need to be aware that this is my bias, not theirs if I want to understand the world from their perspective.

Leadership lesson 2 – Understanding them

This is the other half of the dynamic. The other person will see the world from their perspective and not necessarily from yours. There is strong value in diversity. But, there will also be frustrations, and, there is a fine balance between the two.

For example, if two people are both very theoretical and task orientated, they may be great with concepts and technical detail. But, they may be stuck in detail and never move on or finish the task. They may not also see the effect they have on the people around them. Or, that they can be hard to approach and talk to.

A more aesthetic and people orientated person may allow the group to see a broader picture. For example, when working on how a technical task will be seen by the rest of the world. It will also allow the group to see ideas that are “outside the box”, to be unstuck from the technical detail of the task.

So, there are direct and profound benefits.

But what if they don’t get along. For example, a people oriented staff member is poor at finishing tasks. This is a major problem for the other task oriented members of the team. What do you do next?

Referring back to your goal

I don’t have the perfect solution. The next step would be to sit the team together and let them see the values and preferences of other staff. This sounds easy in theory. But, because there is usually already tension between staff members, it will feel uncomfortable at the start. That is normal. Remember the point of the exercise is to build trust in a safe space. This way the staff members understand each other and can work together.

At this stage, I also refer back to the overall goals of either the organisation or of the quarter (whichever is more appropriate at the time). The staff members will discuss their own profiles, and, how each person sees this goal differently because of their own values and biases.

Some may get it, some may not. Others will just need more time (especially the high theory individuals). But, you will feel a palpable reduction in the anxiety of the room. This will hopefully mean that there is a beginning of a conversation.

At this stage, I would discuss with each staff member which values they can compromise on and which are non-negotiable. For example, if someone is very high regulatory, which rules can they compromise on? And which rules if broken, do they expect an apology from the other staff member?

It’s not perfect, but it does begin to set the ground rules of how each member will interact with each other. It is also the beginning of building some trust.

Keep working at it, it’s never going to be perfect

This is not a formula or a standard chemical reaction. This is process of working with people’s value and getting them to build trust. Both of which is valuable and very fragile. It will take time, work and you will not get it right all the time. That’s okay. You can always keep working at it. As long as the conversation is going, you have the chance of building trust and co-operation for the long term.

This is hard, emotional work. But, the upside is an open, inclusive culture where staff are valued for who they are and that they feel heard.

Join the discussion on leadership and have your say?

If you want to want to further discuss leadership and how understanding and empathy affects your organsiation:

  • Comment below!
  • Call us on (03) 9857 0644 or (07) 3505 1494 (Paddington)
  • Email us at admin@mdhealth.com.au
  • Check out our other blog posts here

Our leadership team and branch managers would be happy to have chat if you have any questions.

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