Men … Woman – Empathy in Leadership

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 4.46.04 PMI meet many people and over time I have made an observation about men and women who are leaders – it’s almost ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ type of discovery. What I notice is when I meet a man who is the CEO of the company, he will immediately and assertively introduce himself and state his title ‘CEO’ and on the contrary, a woman I meet will introduce herself, with a fair amount of assertiveness but seldom mention that they are the ‘CEO’. Usually these women will ask me about my life outside of work, showing real interest in me as a person.

Why are Men and Woman that different?

Men find significance in their work, they work to earn and provide for the families they support. A man finds a lot of his dignity in his work and when he is unable to provide what the necessary, starts losing his self-worth. Women on the other hand are more nurturing and they find significance in being part of something bigger like family and their community. Women in the workplace may see themselves as part of something bigger and therefore have little need for the recognition a title like CEO may bring.

Does the title make you a leader?

Unfortunately not, a title at best may make you a manager and if your management style is to incorporate fear then you are simply a bad manager and I might add, probably a micro manager. Why do I say this? If you intend to be effective then you should rather view people as volunteers, instead of workers controlled by you. Viewing people as volunteers will force you to change your style, see the person as a human as opposed to an object and this will cause you to become a real leader. This approach is from a very different perspective. See people as volunteers rather than someone who is forced to come to work. We also need to realise that if people were volunteers and they did show up at work, we would need to show real leadership to keep them motivated and focused on achieving the outcomes necessary to make a profit.

We as leaders would need to adopt an approach where we could relate to others without becoming soft on them, they would still need to remain responsible for their own lives and our task would be to lead. To do this effectively we would need to allow them to discover their own greatness (remember they had the skills otherwise you would not have chosen or employed them) and this means we need to trust them.

How then can we lead with Empathy?

People don’t know what they want, we have to understand them, not ask them! Leading with empathy is not a reactive process, but rather pro-active. To understand this let’s look at the style of management, it’s totally reactive and expects you to do what you were told to do. If you fail, the manager reacts and often the manager actually notices that you are about to fail and allows you to fail. Then they react even more and the working environment becomes even more toxic.

Using empathy to understand the people you are working with requires that we think. This process requires that we think about, what we think about when we think. Being pro-active allows us to pre-empt the actions of others, thus making them accountable for their actions in the moment and usually avoiding failures. The more empathetic we can become the more we will understand the reasons why people do what they do.

In the process of understanding others, the key is actually not them and we should first understand ourselves. We can do this by asking why we do what we do. This level of understanding ourselves and others will help us become better leaders.

Empathy is the key to being a good person. If you can’t empathise, you cannot lead others.

Photo credit: rooracer / Source / CC BY-ND

About RichSimmondsZA

Retired but still Disruptive
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