Empathy Produces Better Decisions

A friend of mine works for a university. Commencement is coming up in the next couple of weeks and a rehearsal has been called to ensure that everything goes well. The event will be held at a community stadium about one mile from the campus. Earlier this week, everyone involved received an email announcing the rehearsal and asking them to park on the campus and walk to the stadium.

This has my friend, and lots of others, puzzled. The stadium has ample parking. The rehearsal will be held at 2PM on a Tuesday afternoon, but it’s a long walk from the campus. Aside from those who are physically unable to make the journey, my friend and her colleagues are wondering why they have been told to “take a hike.” Unfortunately, no explanation has been provided.

Chances are, you have received more than one email or memo similar to this over the years. A command comes from above, directing you to perform a task, attend a meeting, start doing something or stop doing something, without even a sentence of explanation or context. You probably wondered why, but didn’t possess the energy or curiosity to ask. So, you simply complied in a detached sort of way.

If this has happened enough, you’ve probably wondered why management seems to be tone-deaf to what its workforce must be thinking. If you’ve asked around, chances are your co-workers have felt the same way. As a result, people begin to feel like human-doings rather than human-beings.

In my 35+ years of leading, managing and consulting with business teams, I have heard the claim, “People are our greatest resource,” so many times it has become a joke. Thousands I have spoken to feel the same way. Yet this farce persists.

Much the same as the observation “people join companies, but leave managers,” people also leave cultures that don’t engender empathy. This is especially true in a job market that has employers scrambling to fill positions. In essence, it is the little things that drive people away.

Those who rise to the tops of organizations tend to be analytical types who study the numbers, not the people. It doesn’t occur to them to share details not directly relevant to the mission.

Explaining your reasoning also takes time they don’t feel they have. Besides, they’re the leaders. Everyone should just trust them. Right?

If you want people to make good decisions, you have to provide more than just bare bones instructions. If you don’t, you can’t expect them to use their common sense, develop situational awareness, offer ideas that will enhance organizational performance, or empathize with your burdens as a manager. When it comes to empathy, where do you fall on your journey to effective leadership?

Recommended Posts