“What has happened since our last session?” I asked.
He’d been feeling bad for his employees.
He felt like he was failing them.
With guilt on deck, underperforming employees fueled his resentment.
He was spending so much time and effort trying to be a better leader,
being understanding and supportive of them.
They, on the other hand, were not.
“I confessed my guilt to my employees.”
“What do you feel right now?”
“What did you learn?”
“That all this time I was hyper-empathizing instead of empathizing.
That to empathize, it’s not enough to understand.
I also have to be honest with myself and others.”
This is a common pattern.
So I decided to make a workshop out of it.
Some of you replied to my last email asking how micro-managing can be good.
I’ll answer in a roundabout way.
My clients aspire to do good as leaders.
Good to employees, customers,…
It’s like wanting to be good parents.
Who can argue with that?
The irony is that trying to do good has not made an impact or made things worse.
This is one reason why realizing empathy is so critical.
We have an image of what “good” looks like.
But that’s what we think.
Doesn’t mean others will also appreciate the image as “good.”
I owe one of my most amazing growth experience to being micro-managed.
To be empathic is to be context-sensitive.
Our “good(s)” are unappreciated? We’ve misunderstood the context.
We often think micro-management entails meddling with every little detail from the moment we delegate work to another person.
Actually, there is another form of micro-management.
This is where we give someone the autonomy to do whatever they want, only to meddle with every little detail once they bring back the fruit of their autonomous labor.
The only difference here is when we micro-manage, not whether we micro-manage.
With accumulated life experience arises fear.
Between fear and care arises concern and anxiety.
Our concerns are well-intended.
Yet, when we behave out of anxiety,
it can also do harm.
How many parents ever intend to hurt their child?
Yet, we were hurt by them.
Often by behaviors that arose out of anxiety.
I have yet to coach a CEO who does not care about their co-founders or employees.
Yet, these others were hurt by the CEO.
Often by behaviors that arose out of anxiety.
Same holds for CEOs hurt by co-founders or employees.
Not caring isn’t always the issue.
The challenge is also to care without anxiety.
It is to regulate our own tension.
A difficult, but necessary skill to learn as a leader.
We say we want to be strong.
And by strong, we usually mean strong alone.
We can also be strong together.
And by being strong together,
I don’t mean helping others become strong alone.
Nor do I mean getting help so we can become strong alone.
I mean being strong by virtue of being together.
To be strong together is to be dependent, even for a moment.
Dependent is a dirty word with which nobody wants to be associated .
Yet, there are things we must depend on others to achieve.
Survival is one such thing.
Few things are more rewarding than knowing that we are needed.
Few things are more deadly than thinking we are not.
Perceiving people merely in their roles makes it easy for us to take them for granted in that moment.
You’re my mother, of course you cook for me.
You’re my child, of course you obey my orders.
You’re my employer, of course you pay me.
You’re my employee, of course you work hard for me.
You’re a doctor, of course you cure my ill.
You’re my patient, of course you do what I tell you.
The more we strip away the roles and see eye-to-eye, as human beings, the easier it is to appreciate each other.
The less appreciated we feel, the more resentment we let build in our relationship.
The more resentment we let build in our relationship, the more difficult it is to perceive beyond the roles.
Thus forms a vicious cycle.
I still remember the day I realized I was not living my own life.
I was shocked.
Because I prided myself on living my own life.
I had been intentionally deviating from what my friends were doing.
I thought I was living my own life.
It turns out I’d been conforming to nonconformity.
I’d been playing the role of a “rebel.”
Much of our lives are spent playing roles: a good son, a caring parent, a resilient entrepreneur, a modernist painter, a stoic physician, …
As we do, we mistake pretending for being ourselves.
We mistake pretending for being.
Hamlet once said “To be or not to be, that is the question.”
Let us ask this question.
Lest we die having never lived.
Some of the tensions blocking our empathy comes from sitting around hunched over a computer screen.
Do a few burpees.
Stand up and write on the whiteboard.
If you’re breathing shallow, breathe from your belly.
Stand tall, look up at the ceiling for a few seconds and smile.
Submerge your face in ice-cold water for a few seconds, a few times.
For a period of time, walk around holding a frozen water bottle in your hand.
Whatever you do, remember that it is our responsibility to choose to relieve our tension.
Whether we do it ourselves or ask for the help of others, we still have to notice and make the choice in our mind.
Let us make the choice.