Much is being written today about empathy and soft skills being essential leadership traits. Researchers from DDI identified empathy as a critical driver for overall performance, yet found that only 4 out of every 10 leaders are any good at it. Chances are, the memorable leaders throughout your career revealed their hearts, not just their smarts.
Empathy is, of course, only one aspect of our humanity. It’s time to explore what truly makes us human — the qualities that can’t be replicated by robots and artificial intelligence anytime soon — and get real about why they are so elusive in today’s workplaces.
Chances are, the memorable leaders throughout your career revealed their hearts, not just their smarts.
The balance between left-brain logic and our less quantifiable sides — intuition, emotions, authenticity — is rarely rewarded in most organizations. The obsession with data, digital, business models and winning tends to relegate these dimensions to the sacrificial altar… leading to burnout and dissatisfaction.
I speak from experience. Years ago I was humiliated in front of my team for my more intuitive approach to strategy, getting it gradually beaten out of me in favor of the “right” way. I’ve provided emotional support for clients who were ostracized for not fitting the mold and playing the game. I’ve worked with leaders who want to manipulate customers and employees to love their brand without feeling the necessity of loving them first.
Several of you have shared that you’re feeling guilty about enjoying the lockdown created by coronavirus. You’re able to spend more time deepening their connections with friends, family, and most importantly, yourselves. You might be feeling reluctant to return to a sterile workplace setting where humanity is set aside in favor of hard-charging performance.
The missing ingredient is within each of us
So many of us would like for work to be a safe space where success isn’t defined solely by the numbers. So why isn’t it happening? My friend Julie provided a clue when she told me last week:
“Being true at work scared or intimidated people. They didn’t know what to do with honesty and authenticity. Some days I played the game to make them more comfortable.”
During my recent 2-year sabbatical from the corporate environment, I gave myself the permission to let go of my left-brain crutch and drop into full self-acceptance… and now I can see that company performance and culture are simply mirrors reflecting the level of empathy and love we’ve learned to direct inwardly.
We can’t honor other people — including customers, partners and employees — until we know how to honor ourselves. That means taking time for self-care, listening to our needs, accepting emotions, and setting healthy boundaries. Knowing and acknowledging what we’re feeling, instead of pushing emotions away, is the ultimate demonstration of self-kindness and self-respect… and it’s impossible to show it to others until it’s cultivated in our inner worlds.
When we can give ourselves permission to drop into our hearts and lead from that grounded place, we become stronger, more confident, more at ease. Ironically, vulnerability is the source of power… it’s deeply connecting, and we’re all so much stronger together. Bringing our whole selves — mind, body, heart and soul — to work sounds overly sentimental, but it’s precisely what creates success in every sense of the word.