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How do I know if I’m an empathetic leader?

Top Answer : In order to be an empathic leader, the first thing you need to do is be vulnerable. That is one of the things that I always encourage my leaders to do. You don't want to have egos. It's not about you, it's about your teams. Your success is measured as a function of their success.  Empathic leaders also make an effort to be approachable. Interacting with people increases a lot of your health, your wellbeing, your mental state, all those various things. There's a lot of positive chemical interactions that occur when you're approachable. That helps reduce the stress level and improves empathy within the organization. In this digital age, you can drop in randomly. You have several apps to do that, dropping in on channels, on any of the meetings, and so on. The next thing is to be attentive. People who approach you and ask you for your time, it's tough for them to express the pain and suffering they're going through because they have to be vulnerable themselves, and they have to be able to open up. When someone comes and talks to you, and this is something I tell my teams, you need to respect that. You need to hold their trust, you need to keep it confidential, and at the same time, don't get distracted. Just because they're not talking about you and it's not important to you doesn't mean that you can be working on something else or texting on your phone or something. Give 100% of your attention. The next one is to be appreciative. It's something simple, but not a lot of people truly understand that. I've been in some toxic organizations where open criticism was common, especially getting berated in a hallway, which is very, very stressful. Appreciate in public, give feedback in private. No one comes into work or logs into work, saying I'm going to do a sucky job today. There's always a reason, so don't be overly critical or emotional when one of these events happens. Try to dig deep and put yourself in their shoes and figure out why that happened.  And then the last one is to be helpful. This is especially true with compassionate empathy, which means that you are going to show empathy through your actions. When you're saying that you will do something empathic and you make sure that your say-to-do ratio is as close to 1 as possible, that's how you build trust.

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How can we permeate empathy throughout the organizational culture?

Top Answer : If you look at the typology in an organization, there are three organizational cultures as identified by Ron Westrum. One is pathological, which is very power-oriented. This is where you have very low cooperation; the messenger is usually shot, responsibility is avoided, collaboration is discouraged, you fail, you are scapegoated, or you are made an example—a cautionary tale to the rest of the organization. It’s a very, very toxic environment. Any kind of novelty is crushed. The next kind of organizational culture is bureaucratic, which is very process-driven and rule-oriented. There's a decent amount of cooperation, but usually, the messengers are ignored. It's very opportunistic collaboration, so unless they get some value out of things, they're not going to cooperate. Collaboration is kind of tolerated, and if you fail, they try to get justice. They try to impose some sort of punitive measure so that other people will learn from it. This is not very healthy, but it is still way better than pathological. The third one is generative, which is the ideal cultural state of an organization, where you have high cooperation, you're connecting, you're collaborating, you're high performing, and you embrace failure. In this culture, failure is considered part of learning. And when you're an empathic leader in a very power-oriented or toxic organization, what you want to do is you want to start moving from that pathological organization all the way up to generative. If you want empathy to permeate through your organization’s culture, reward empathy. If someone is empathic, reward them. Tangible rewards. That actually helps change the culture. It helps remove manual toil and friction. In my book, I go into more detail about this initiative called Project Athena that we used as an empathy engine for the entire organization and tried to reduce the manual toil and friction. We had a tremendous amount of productivity gains and value gains out of it by just helping people go home quicker and spending time with their loved ones. And that's a powerful story.  Look at your value stream and try to find your pain points, and eliminate those points of waste. You want to improve the flow within your organizations, increase the value. Make things flow better so your productivity increases. As your productivity increases, people start becoming much more prouder of their teams. They become high-performing teams, and their team bonding increases, so the empathy level increases within the organization. At the same time, you're going to hit all your numbers out of the realm of what's being measured.  Share stories. I know that a lot of us in IT are introverted. You don't have to tell a story physically, but you can send a newsletter. You can share in an email all the glorious things that your team has done. Create a great dashboard that you can share with the organization, a webpage that continuously updates real-time. Infographics, those are good things. And by sharing that, not only does the team get appreciation, but they also get serotonin, and you get serotonin because you're feeling proud about your team.

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What metrics can hold leaders accountable for being empathetic leaders?

Top Answer : You can measure this in many ways. Here are some tactical or operational approaches. The first one you can do is conduct an employee NPS survey to figure out where they're at. Or have a very bespoke survey to your organizational culture, asking about pain points, the things that are hurting people, or causing stress and anxiety within their life, day to day. Have a pulse survey with your employees to figure out where they are, make it part of your OKR metrics or your organizational culture metrics saying that these are the things that we're going to aspire for, we're going to measure it, and we're going to make sure that we are promoting and increasing in this way.  While it's easy to claim that your success is dependent on your team's success, you want to make it much more quantifiable, and by that, I mean try to measure success in that way. Change the MBOs, the management by objectives, and OKRs to reflect that. Ensure that your OKRs are measured by the team’s OKRs or the OKRs of the company. Have a happiness index as part of it, have an EMBS. Start embodying empathy and collaboration. Try to measure how many cross-team projects that you were able to spearhead within the team. Those are simple ways to do it. And you can measure your personal success in empathic leadership quantifiably as your day goes. As you reflect over your day, you can think about your actions and interactions with people and see, did you do an okay job? Were you empathic enough?

What % of your org is new and has never met another person from your org due to the pandemic?

Top Answer : If you can do virtual video invites there is no difference between meeting someone in person or via virtual meeting. I like not having people constantly coming into my office just to shoot the shit.

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What does empathic leadership mean to you?

Top Answer : Each person has different definitions of empathy, but researchers who study this have defined three main kinds of empathy. The first one is cognitive empathy, where you're rationally trying to communicate and connect with someone. This kind of empathy is something that negotiators use a lot, or sales executives use this. You want to put yourself in your customers’ shoes, understand the pains, and then see how your product or technology will solve their problem. The next one is emotional empathy, where you're trying to have a genuine connection. This is found in enterprises, especially with high-performing teams. They have that camaraderie, they have that bonding, so they work to help each other and reduce the pain. That's emotional empathy. And the third one is compassionate empathy, which is not just to be concerned about how people feel and empathize with their pain and have that emotional connection, but it is doing something about it, doing an action. So that's effective or compassionate empathy. And this is the most active form of empathy because you are doing something to reduce the pain and not just trying to connect to the person. Mentoring is an excellent example of compassionate empathy, where you're listening to somebody, you're trying to help them, you understand their pain, you put yourself in their shoes, and then you try to suggest ways in which they can reduce that pain.  Empathic leadership, in my mind, involves demonstrating all these things, and more so compassionate empathy, because it's all about action for empathy. But here's an interesting fact that I want to present: You do not need to have a title or a role to be an empathic leader, and that's something that I actually address a lot in my upcoming book, Lead With Empathy. Your actions to improve human quality of life in these adverse times are what makes you a leader. Don’t think that you have to be empathic if you are a leader. Instead, you become a leader by demonstrating empathy.

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How do you define empathy?

Top Answer : It's a huge umbrella term that can be used for a number of things. Very simply stated, empathy is the ability to emotionally understand what other people feel, to see from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their position.  Dr. Brené Brown, from the University of Houston and wrote a fantastic book, Dare to Lead, says that there are four qualities of empathy: The first one is to see the world as other people see it. The second one is to be non-judgemental. The third one is to understand other people's feelings. And then the fourth one is to communicate your understanding of that person's feelings.  A lot of the reason why I am so passionate about empathy, and it has been a guiding principle throughout my life, is because of my upbringing. My mother was a doctor. She was an extremely strong and empathic person. She was one of the reputed researchers on HIV/AIDS. At a young age, I got exposed to adversity, people suffering, and all the various things that HIV/AIDS exposed in those days. So empathy has always been a passion for me. Through her, I developed my guiding principle for empathy, which is, “When I can look at someone, a fellow human being, and put myself in their shoes, understand the pain and the stress that they're going through—and, this is the essential part for me—when I can value their happiness over my own and do something about it, that's when I feel that I'm empathic.”

What inspired you to write your book on empathic leadership?

Top Answer : Empathy has become so important right now, at least in my mind, because of the pandemic’s effects on our hierarchy of needs, as Abraham Maslow stated. It really shook the foundation of our physiological safety, our love and belongings, and our interactions with people, so suddenly, we started feeling impacted by these things and had increased stress and anxiety in our lives. As part of this book, I'm collecting many stories and exploring all the adversity that the pandemic produced: the unemployment, the BLM riots, the inequalities, people suddenly losing their identities of going to an office. Everything just became revolved around the house with shelter in place, and it causes a lot of stress and strain upon humans. There are so many stories of pain and suffering in this world and true stories of people going above and beyond and being empathic in these times. It's very heartwarming to see how much humans have stepped up and demonstrated empathy. So I figured it was an apt time to express my passion to the world in the form of a book. Hopefully, it will be out by the end of this month.

What should companies consider when thinking about returning to in-office, staying remote, or developing a hybrid approach?

Top Answer : Be very, very thoughtful about what you need to be able to execute well, based on the nature of your business. If you've got a large set of engineers that are fundamentally being able to collaborate and do what they need to do in the way they do it, and you don't want to disrupt it, and it's working well, that's great. But if your product requires you to have a much more collaborative way of operating and executing which will be more effective in person, then I think you need to think about that as well. Overarching all of this is honestly just guidance and what makes sense based on all of the procedures that go into it. I think it's going to be quite some time until people are like, "That's just how we're going to basically operate," in terms of going to an office, because there are so many other unknowns that go into it, in terms of how you regulate an office and what the legal obligations are and all of the facilities obligated. There is a lot more that goes into that now than before.

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What have been your top challenges with WFH and what techniques have helped you overcome them?

Top Answer : What I found at my previous company was internet connectivity issues, that was a big problem, because people never updated firmware on their old Linksys or whatever. And then all of a sudden, they have 20 devices on their network and it's slow, even though they have a fast connection, potentially. When this first started happening with COVID, my IT team was troubleshooting home networks, to make sure they were effective, because we were using Teams, and they don't really have any bandwidth accelerators like Zoom does. Every call we had with Teams was cutting out, and it was frustrating to everybody. So the CEO made it an initiative for IT, to go, “if we have to buy new routers or whatever, for everybody, let's just do it because we have to make these calls better. We have to make this work.” So in a lot of situations, we did that. The hours were another thing, because not everybody wanted to work a regular 8:00 to 5:00. A lot of people were either working earlier or later, and it was harder to get a hold of people. We didn't really have any rules for when you had to be available specifically. But the biggest one for us was work-life balance, because now, there's no work, so you lose the balance because everything is home. So everything's life and not necessarily work, unless you have a big enough house to completely separate that. Then our offices, when we were there, all had great food and everything, but now my fridge is right there and I can put whatever I want in it, and so that's distracting too. And then trying to coordinate meetings when you don't see people in the hallways, the hallway conversations aren't there.

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