Step Shoes

A few situations I’ve come across in recent months have left me curious about a particular skill that becoming regarded as a fundamental item in any toolbox of a leader. However, the reason it doesn’t get as much attention is because in the tech industry alone, humans need to cope and grow in so many areas that it’s becoming quite a chore to choose what to concentrate on;

New trends? What is a microservice? Javascript frameworks? Another one… Agile? Jeez. Another scrum meeting. Whoo. Productivity? If I could only mesh GTD with Personal Kanban! Empathy? Huh?

Think of someone right now that tends to be in the centre of all the office bullshit. Got their little face in your head? Good. Now if I threw in the term ‘lack of soft skills’ into the mix, I’m sure you would be wryly smiling because you’ve said that to your boss a thousand times. Why are we so sure that we can have our team get up skilled in the latest Cloud platforms but when it comes to soft skills we slap the knee, give a smile, and say ‘some people can’t change’?

One of the key problems with Empathy is it’s hard. Really hard.

For someone to be able to take themselves out of the situation and literally pivot their brain to think like the person on the other side takes all sorts of Jedi mind tricks that some will not be able to grasp… but it works, and I would implore you to do everything in your powers to study it, practise it and use it.

Nobody comes to work to be evil, stubborn or a complete pain in the neck but without truly taking a look at the situation and taking a step into their shoes you could be forgiven to think that numerous humans within your organisation are.

Whats to say that someone doesn’t think that you are the evil one in the org?

Empathy is also a skill that constantly places a giant mirror in front of you and points the finger in your face. Ever ran a conversation back in your head and wondered if you had said the right things? Stepping into someone else shoes means you need to reflect on how you have dealt with someone else… and sometimes that isn’t pleasant. Pride is involved and sometimes not knowing you were wrong until after the fact leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

It also opens you up to being vulnerable; and that’s not a bad thing.

Why couldn’t they understand my proposal, are they stupid? Why are they so uptight whenever I ask them something? Why is she so defensive when I challenge?

There is no greater need for empathy than being a parent.

Having a tiny human at your feet, unable to speak your native tongue as they scream at the top of their lungs because they are not getting what they need causes panic in many households. However as parents become more adept to their child and learn their traits, they use empathy to figure out what that child actually needs until it becomes able to communicate better. Now I’m not comparing children to work mates… ok yes I am let’s move on.

Being able to see the world from a number of perspectives is not only rewarding but others will notice it too. You’ll become someone who is known to be caring, understanding and open to conversation as well as being able to execute tough decisions that some others might find obscure.

‘Why do you care that this will create more work for x?’ ‘Because it will create more work for x!’

An organisation runs only as well as the sum of it’s parts and being able to understand as well as help all layers of the org is what makes a fantastic leader and someone that humans will genuinely want to follow.