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Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Archive for the ‘Empathy’ Category

The Stronger the Personal Feelings, the Less Likely Any Agreement Will Occur

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conflict

The primary barrier to mutual communication is a person’s natural tendency to judge and approve or disapprove of what is being said by another person. Judging takes place because people tend to evaluate what they hear from their own personal point of view and reference. These evaluations short-circuit their ability to objectively think through, reframe and analyze responses.

Leaders not only have to communicate their own thoughts, ideas, and messages clearly, but are often responsible for facilitating better communication between groups and individuals with divergent points of view. Leaders must understand that communication is heightened when personal feelings and emotions are deeply involved. One rule of thumb always applies: the stronger the personal feelings of the involved parties, the less likely any mutual agreement between the two.

This is because two ideas, two sets of personal feelings and two sets of judgments exist completely disconnected from each other. When these are not laid aside, nothing remotely resembling communication occurs.

This is a serious consideration for leaders, as they are often placed in situations where a complete lack of communication exists. They can find themselves in an environment where communication has completely broken down due to the highly-charged emotional content of both parties’ arguments. Without an understanding of the factors directly affecting communications, leaders will find themselves unable to facilitate useful exchanges and discussions; the communication that does take place will produce aggravation, conflict and frustration for all parties.

Healthy communication occurs, and personal evaluations are avoided, when leaders are able to listen with a genuine sense of interest and understanding. This is a direct result of seeing an expressed idea or attitude from the other party’s point of view and developing a sense of how the other person feels. This allows leaders to achieve a personal frame of reference linked directly to an individual’s thoughts, perceptions and interpretations. When a leader is able to develop this understanding, he or she is able to facilitate better communication, assuage the other person’s fears, and establish more realistic and harmonious relationships.

Leaders can effectively apply this technique in a difficult environment by requiring each party to clearly restate the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately to the speaker’s satisfaction. Only after this is accomplished does the second party state his or her viewpoint in response.

This should be done before anyone states their viewpoint or makes a response in a heated discussion, because it forces each party to pause and consider the other’s point of reference, helping the individual to identify what lies beneath the communicator’s thought process. This technique works because it immediately gives each party time to pause, think, analyze, evaluate, and remove the emotion from their statements.

This method requires an individual to achieve the other party’s frame of reference, so he or she can understand their thoughts and feelings well enough to summarize them accurately. This establishes real communication guaranteeing amicable solutions can be reached for two reasons. First, when understanding is achieved, it forces the other party to revise his or her own statements and thinking, to filter out emotions and subjectivity. Second, it reduces the differences between conflicting parties to reasonable disagreements that are both rational and understandable.

Leaders should know that complete understanding is often difficult to achieve because of the risks associated with challenging and altering one’s own thinking and views. Most are averse to this perceived threat.

Additionally, when emotions are at their peak, it is extremely difficult to achieve another’s frame of reference at the exact point when it is needed most to accurately interpret what is being said.

Leaders can easily overcome these barriers by assuming the role of neutral third party. In this capacity, they restate both individuals’ positions and points of reference to build clarity, introspection and understanding. This is an effective method for neutralizing potential miscommunication problems through active personal interaction. When individuals realize they are being understood clearly and accurately, and feel comfortable because their views are being mirrored, their statements grow less exaggerated and defensive.

Taking the position of a neutral third party allows leaders to handle any insincerities, exaggerations, lies and “false-fronts” that typically characterize communication breakdowns. This method leads to discovery of the truth and a realistic, objective appraisal of the barriers inhibiting two-way, interactive communication. The aim is to achieve “mutual” communication, focused on solving problems rather than attacking individual or group ideas, reasoning or appraisals.

Excerpt: Improving Communication in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 16.95 USD

Related:

Eight Ways to Improve Communication

Correctly Framing Problems Pinpoints the Right Solution

The Challenge of Handling Conflict

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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Building Employee Support Requires Interactive Leadership

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Effective leadership is an active, not passive, process. Leaders get involved in the day-to-day challenges and inspire employees to take risks and rise above the ordinary in their thinking, attitudes and actions. Leaders know they are not always the innovators, Most believe that workplace innovations and especially daily task-related decisions should be made by the employees doing the work. They fully support the actions of their employees and see that they are given the opportunity to create, innovate, and adopt new ideas and methods.

One of a leader’s primary tasks is to develop a sincere interactive leadership style and work climate focused on their employees’ advancement and attainment of goals. Creating a supportive work atmosphere becomes a main ingredient for achievement. Without daily interactive leadership support, very little gets accomplished within an organization.

A totally supportive leadership climate implies establishing shared power, shared risk and shared accountability. It visibly supports all employees’ actions through mutual respect and trust. Only in this way will there be a willingness on the employees’ part to make the organization a top priority with a shared desire to strengthen it.

Interactive leadership focuses on making the organization’s welfare the number one priority by cultivating each and every employee to support its direction and efforts. Supportive leaders continually emphasize the fact that if the organization wins, everyone wins. Every employee activity that assists and promotes this belief must be nurtured and encouraged.

The thrust of leadership is to support all employees effectively and passionately enough to instill the belief and trust that attainment of collective goals will benefit all involved. To see employees reach this level of trust and security, leaders can do the following:

Link Collective and Management Goals

It is essential that interactive leaders support their employees in all their efforts, especially when it comes to identifying and attaining goals. Before goals can become a reality, leaders must instill in their employees a desire and passion to think in terms of the organization’s best interest. Organizations and companies do not just “pocket profits,” they provide people and families with jobs with which to earn a living. It is in this light that every activity and action needs to be focused on the organization’s advancement.

In order to best support their employees in this effort, leaders must make certain that they develop specific strategies for linking management goals to all individual and collective employee goals. In this way, as the organization succeeds, so do they.

Build a Mutual Interactive Support Network

Interactive leadership and its support is a relationship between leaders and the employees they seek to lead. A failure to understand that leadership is a shared responsibility easily breaks down the support process being actively built within an organization.

Interactive leaders don’t attempt to become heroes by accepting full responsibility for their departments, thinking they should be aware of everything going on and able to solve every problem that arises. They realize this mindset inhibits personal and employee progress and development. It disintegrates the shared vision intended to direct, guide and support every unit member toward each goal’s attainment.

Help Employees Realize Their Goals are Cooperative

Leaders interactively support their employees by helping them realize that their goals are cooperative. This is accomplished through applying day-to-day organizational norms, expectations and standards that encourage them to share information, consider each other’s ideas, exchange resources, and respond to each other’s requests through positive interdependence. Doing this ensures the building of a mutually interactive employee support network.

Effective leaders plant “seed” questions that require employees to gather input from peers before responding. This technique serves to create an environment of active communication on all levels, which instills a high degree of mutual support within the specific organizational unit.

Offer Direct Help and Provide Necessary Resources

Providing ongoing, direct assistance and the resources needed to do the job are concrete signs of cooperative goal attainment. Imparting information on how a newer technology might facilitate completion of an assignment, or offering suggestions as to how to increase personal productivity or decrease wasted time and energy are visible examples of a leader’s desire to actively support all members of their work unit.

This strategy also serves to unify the entire unit, as it actively promotes the general welfare of the employee as well as the organization. It emphasizes that even though assignments vary, everyone has the same basic goal. All tasks and individuals become interdependent in the name of advancing the leader’s vision and organization’s cause.

Distorting or withholding information is a clear sign that an active undermining of a leader is taking place within the organization. This destabilizes the motivational framework within individual work units. It also instills a sense of competition between leader and employees, and manifests a lack of trust on the leader’s part.

Promote Cooperation

Leaders support each individual member in words and actions demonstrating respect, warmth and personal acceptance. They resist the urge to make competitive comparisons among employees. Effective interactive leaders reward productive individual and cooperative efforts to develop and attain specific goals and objectives.

The key to moving the organization forward lies not in promoting competition, showing preference for one employee over another or overpowering people to gain compliance, but in winning their employees’ complete cooperation, trust and loyalty.

In order to do this, leaders must foster an atmosphere that secures collective participation among their employees. Actively supporting cooperation built on mutual interdependence is the most effective strategy for creating and sustaining strong collaborative relationships. This strategy is successful because it demonstrates both a willingness to be cooperative and an unwillingness to be taken advantage of.

Interactive leaders need to recognize and encourage ongoing positive interaction among employees. This implies actively working to instill cooperative reciprocity that establishes deeper bonds of trust. During this process employees begin to openly acknowledge that all goals and work-related assignments are collaboratively essential and equally important.

One of the most effective strategies for eliciting cooperative efforts and to display active employee support is to enlarge the “screen of the future.” In other words, leaders must promote the realization among employees that they can expect to be working together as an ongoing group in all future assignments, tasks, decision making, goal setting and planning.

Employees are much more likely to support one another and their leader when they know they will be involved with each other on a continual basis. This is because an expectation of future interaction encourages employees to actively support and cooperate with one another in the present. Active support on all levels becomes far more common and enduring.

Excerpt: Improving Workplace Interaction: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 16.95 USD

Related:

Five Ways to Establish Trust and Credibility

Do You Clearly Establish Employee Expectations?

Do You Have Faith in Your People?

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Handling Workplace Complaints, Concerns and Issues

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blogNegativeEmployees

Leaders in the workplace hear several complaints every day. Some are minor and easily resolved; others are more complex, requiring complicated solutions. Leaders should have a specific procedure or decision tree set up to guide them through the resolution process fairly and consistently.

Decision trees come in different varieties, some more suited to particular issues than others. One type can be quite logical, providing the leader with a rather intuitive model to follow for simple problems. Difficult problems, on the other hand, require more complex models that give leaders the more intricate guidance they require.

Unresolved complaints are symptomatic of underlying issues in the workplace. When left unsettled, these issues fester and ultimately surface as major problems that can impact productivity, efficiency and performance, as well as expose an organization to legal liabilities. Leaders must always strive to resolve a problem; otherwise, employees who continually complain about the same issue yet don’t see action being taken likely have legal recourse. Even a seemingly minor issue can have potential legal ramifications that make the company liable for failing to address the complaint.

Effective leaders understand the importance of immediately addressing and resolving complaints. They know that lingering issues hinder the performance of their organizational unit by disrupting the harmony and balance required to maximize output. Additionally, the time invested in “nipping a problem in the bud” is well spent when compared with the time required to deal with a complaint that has exploded into a major problem. Good leaders furthermore understand that a quick and effective response to a complaint limits the company’s legal liability.

Undoubtedly, leaders are well-versed in dealing with daily operational problems (e.g. production, quality, scheduling and efficiency) associated with the organizational unit’s performance. And while it is possible these methods are effective at resolving related employee complaints, they are not the focus of this lesson. For present purposes, complaints will be limited to general workplace issues such as intimidation, harassment, bullying and other employee-related concerns.

When a complaint is initially brought to the leader’s attention, he or she will most likely immediately classify it as a problem that is either major or minor. This tendency is natural, as quick classification leaves the leader with the necessary time and energy to identify and resolve the problem.

However, leaders must take care not to minimize a complaint. They need to recognize that it takes courage for an employee to voice a concern. In fact, before the complaint is made, quite often the issue has been going on for a sustained period, with the employee making many failed attempts at resolving it. Hence, it is important that the leader carefully consider the complaint’s seriousness. Even if the individual tends to complain or whine about everything, each grievance should be examined on its own merits. If, after thoughtful consideration, the leader finds there isn’t much to the complaint, then it may be dismissed. But a repeat pattern of similar complaints may require further action on the part of the leader. On the other hand, some employees rarely complain, and when they do the problem may be more serious than it initially appears.

Once the legitimacy of a complaint has been established, several steps must be taken. A decision tree, as outlined below, guides the leader to the ultimate solution.

Preliminary Investigation

A preliminary investigation identifies underlying causes, the individuals involved and impacted, and the extent of the problem. When the problems causing the complaint are rooted out early, potential solutions can also be identified right away. If this is the case, leaders can act quickly to resolve the problem and move on to more pressing issues. If not, leaders must move on to the next step.

Documentation

If the problem is bigger or more advanced than originally thought, then leaders must begin to document its extent—that is, the activities of the individuals causing the problem, and the complaints and actions of the employees affected by the problem.

Effective leaders understand the importance of documenting the problem: the process helps develop objective facts necessary for a satisfactory resolution and protects the company if the termination of employees is required.

Interview All Participants

An initial investigation of a complaint and a documentation of the facts should include personal interviews with everyone involved in the issue. This gives all parties ample opportunity to express their viewpoints. Leaders must take care to stick with the facts and not be biased by previous experiences with anybody or let their personal feelings impact their decisions.

Pinpoint the Causes and Solution

After interviewing all participants and listening carefully to what they had to say, leaders should be able to pinpoint the underlying causes of the problem. Sometimes the issue to be dealt with is obvious; in which case, immediate action is advised.

In more serious cases, leaders may need to consult with their superiors or the human resources professionals in their company to determine further action or attain recommendations. When issues of legal liability are involved in the solution, leaders must seek counsel from others more familiar with the issues. Effective leaders understand the limits of their responsibilities and the importance of calling on others with more expertise. When in doubt, it is best to call human resources to get their view on possible courses of action.

Implement the Solution

Depending upon the seriousness of the problem and who is involved in crafting and implementing the solution, leaders must take action as soon as possible. Clearly, the solution can take many forms and have a variety of actions. As a result, leaders will often have to sit down with the people affected, either individually or together as a group.

In these sessions the problem will be plainly laid out, the findings and extent of the problem will be reported, and a discussion of the possible solutions initiated. In certain cases where the problem is very serious, solutions can be presented without options, leaving the people who are causing the problem with clear instructions to cease their behaviors or face specific consequences. In other cases, the parties will discuss and agree upon a solution.

Once again, leaders aren’t doing this alone: they are guided by the seriousness of the problem, instructions from their superiors, and the legal liabilities and ramifications if the issue is not resolved. Each area offers unique guidance that, along with understanding the particular circumstances surrounding the problem, will help leaders identify the final resolution and the actions they need to take.

Monitor the Solution

After a solution has been implemented, leaders should actively monitor the solution and periodically interview the employees affected to assure their satisfaction with the outcome. The leader’s central purpose here is to ensure that the problem is completely resolved. If unresolved, then further action must be taken. Consequences may need to be revisited and more drastic action may be called for.

Leaders must understand that every complaint and problem is unique. Dealing with workplace issues means working with complex human behaviors that often have no simple or straightforward solutions. While some solutions are mandated by company policies or management direction, others require the leader’s persistent application of logic until the problem is completely solved.

Excerpt: Negative Employee Attitudes: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 18.95 USD

Related:

Five Critical Steps to Maximize Performance

Execution: Six Action Steps

Performance Plans Create Results and Maximizes Performance

Objectives Allow Managers to Focus on Obtaining Results

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2014 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Does Compassion and Empathy Have a Role in Leadership?

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William Hewlett and David Packard - Founders of Hewlett-Packard

William Hewlett and David Packard – Founders of Hewlett-Packard

Leaders do have control over the actions, behaviors and decisions that influence and shape their personal credibility. This once again involves self-awareness as well as comprehensive critical thinking abilities to examine the consequences of both their long and short-term actions. All leaders have choices, but the right choices demand a leader’s willingness and acquiescence.

“Bill [William Hewett] and Dave [David Packard] could be gruff and demanding but were seen as compassionate at heart. They agonized over layoffs and, according to company lore, would apologize for angry outbursts. They created one of the most humane workplaces in the United States. The founders also served as models of integrity. HP products were expensive but they were dependable. Wall Street could trust the numbers that Hewlett and Packard presented to analysts.”[1]

My research substantiates that the great leaders were compassionate and displayed empathy. There is a story about George Westinghouse (Westinghouse Electric) conducting a tour of his factories with visitors. In the course of the tour, the group observed a young man stumbling and falling while carrying a large copper plate. As the group laughed at the young man’s predicament, Westinghouse walked over and in his business suit, kneeled down and assisted the young man.

Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines) has fostered compassion and empathy within his company. He took a personal interest in even the smallest events of his employees’ lives. Using their own initiative, his employees have in turn, routinely used voluntary payroll deductions to assist fellow employees with serious financial problems such as terminal illnesses.

In the quest for ever-increasing shareholder value, many contemporary leaders perceive empathy and compassion as a sign of personal weakness. Quite to the contrary, my research proves that the great leaders, especially those who were compassionate, were also strong leaders. There was nothing weak about them and their compassion and humanity didn’t diminish their performance. Most times it enhanced it.

An additional benefit the research revealed was that strong levels of compassion and empathy result in strong levels of trust and loyalty. Rather than diminishing shareholder value, the great leaders typically outperformed their competition.

Howard Schultz (Starbucks) “explains how [employee] meetings help him lead a fast-growing $ 6.4 billion global company with 90,000 employees, 9,700 stores, and 33 million weekly customers. ‘People aren’t interested in how much you know… It’s how much you care.’”[2]

Jack Welch (General Electric) noted the value of a compassionate leader, when he said, “If you have everything else you need in terms of talent and skill, your humanity will come to be your most appealing virtue to an organization.

Your team and your bosses will know who you are in your soul, what kind of people you attract, and what kind of performance you want from everyone. Your realness will make you accessible; you will connect and you will inspire. You will lead.”[3]

Related:

  1. Legitimacy: The Sole Basis of Leadership
  2. Your Commitment to Others Defines You as a Leader
  3. Emotional Bonds are a Reflection of a Leader’s Effectiveness

Reference:

  1. Johnson Craig, The Rise and Fall of Carly Fiorina: An Ethical Case Study (Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, November 2008)
  2. Meyers, William, Conscious in a Cup, (U.S. News & World Report) October 31, 2005
  3. Welch Jack, Get Real, Get Ahead (Business Week) July 23, 2007

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

December 6, 2012 at 10:22 am

Does Empathy Undermine Your Leadership Abilities?

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Leaders do have control over the actions, behaviors and decisions that influence and shape their personal credibility. This once again involves self-awareness as well as comprehensive critical thinking abilities to examine the consequences of both their long and short-term actions. All leaders have choices, but the right choices demand a leader’s willingness and acquiescence.

“Bill [William Hewett] and Dave [David Packard] could be gruff and demanding but were seen as compassionate at heart. They agonized over layoffs and, according to company lore, would apologize for angry outbursts. They created one of the most humane workplaces in the United States. The founders also served as models of integrity. HP products were expensive but they were dependable. Wall Street could trust the numbers that Hewlett and Packard presented to analysts.”[1]

My research substantiates that the great leaders were compassionate and displayed empathy. There is a story about George Westinghouse (Westinghouse Electric) conducting a tour of his factories with visitors. In the course of the tour, the group observed a young man stumbling and falling while carrying a large copper plate. As the group laughed at the young man’s predicament, Westinghouse walked over and in his business suit, kneeled down and assisted the young man.

Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines) has fostered compassion and empathy within his company. He took a personal interest in even the smallest events of his employees’ lives. Using their own initiative, his employees have in turn, routinely used voluntary payroll deductions to assist fellow employees with serious financial problems such as terminal illnesses.

In the quest for ever-increasing shareholder value, many contemporary leaders perceive empathy and compassion as a sign of personal weakness. Quite to the contrary, my research proves that the great leaders, especially those who were compassionate, were also strong leaders. There was nothing weak about them and their compassion and humanity didn’t diminish their performance. Most times it enhanced it.

An additional benefit the research revealed was that strong levels of compassion and empathy result in strong levels of trust and loyalty. Rather than diminishing shareholder value, the great leaders typically outperformed their competition. Howard Schultz (Starbucks) “explains how [employee] meetings help him lead a fast-growing $ 6.4 billion global company with 90,000 employees, 9,700 stores, and 33 million weekly customers. ‘People aren’t interested in how much you know… It’s how much you care.’”[2]

Jack Welch (General Electric) noted the value of a compassionate leader, when he said, “If you have everything else you need in terms of talent and skill, your humanity will come to be your most appealing virtue to an organization. Your team and your bosses will know who you are in your soul, what kind of people you attract, and what kind of performance you want from everyone. Your realness will make you accessible; you will connect and you will inspire. You will lead.”[3]

[1] Johnson Craig, The Rise and Fall of Carly Fiorina: An Ethical Case Study (Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, November 2008)

[2] Meyers, William, Conscious in a Cup, (U.S. News & World Report) October 31, 2005

[3] Welch Jack, Get Real, Get Ahead (Business Week) July 23, 2007

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about the humanity, empathy, humility and compassion of the great American leaders, through their own inspiring words and stories, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. It illustrates how great leaders built great companies, and how you can apply the strategies, concepts and techniques that they pioneered to improve your own leadership skills. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

May 31, 2011 at 10:20 am

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