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As leaders, many individuals are counting on you. Yes, your employees and colleagues, but equally as important, your partner and family.
In this episode, Michel shares the story of Sam and explores how some of us take our “mask” off at home while others put our “mask” on when we get home. And it was the pandemic that blended these “separate” lives as we had to learn to become whole.
Empathy, for leaders, is such a necessary part of our toolkit. It allows us to get to know our employees better. But as discussed in this episode, the three kinds of empathy allow our employees, as well as our families to know US better.
Thanks you for listening and sharing!
Sam is a people manager who works at a company in Toronto’s Financial District, a 2 hour daily commute from his home. He has 5 children ages 3-14. Sam, his wife and kids live in a 4 bedroom townhouse in a suburban community on the east-side. He usually takes the first train to work. At that time in the mornings there are very few commuters. Except for the train attendant’s announcements, it’s usually a silent ride into the city. His morning commute was the only solid hour of quiet time he could carve out of the day. A 20 minute walk from the station to his office was his entire fitness regimen.
He made sure, as much as possible, to keep regular lunch dates with his sister, at least 3 days each week. Sam’s sister lived on the west end of the city but she worked close to his office which made it very convenient for them to really keep in touch – this was his favourite thing to do in the city.
Then came the pandemic.
The morning of the first day in lockdown, Sam got up ahead of his household, as usual, and got his coffee and was ready for his day. A couple hours later his 3 youngest children, also on lockdown, came running into the kitchen where he was working at the counter. So, he moved to the family room but found his wife already online and working. His oldest was in the dining room – the main floor was already really busy and it was only
Sam started looking up at the stairs. Was he going to have to spend the entire day in his bedroom?
The master bedroom was in the middle of a renovation project that he started a couple weeks earlier – he couldn’t show that messy background on video. He was the leader of his team, he didn’t want them to see the chaos that was his bedroom. He always presents neat, tidy and put together. No need to break that perception right from the jump. It was in disarray at every angle he tried, and the house was getting more noisy with the kids and his wife getting into their day.
Work needed him, his team needed him, and his standing 8 o’clock meeting with his boss, the CEO, was about to start. They had some strategizing to work through for the pivot to remote working – everyone at work was feeling anxious – he had to show up.
Sam was concerned about inviting her into his home. He quickly set up in a corner of his bedroom and nervously logged on for the call. The CEO greeted him warmly and took time to ask how his family was doing. Only 5 minutes into the meeting, his 3-year-old twins ran through the bedroom door and whined, in unison: “Dad, I’m bored!”
The realities that the pandemic imposed on us at home were certainly not identical for everyone – some were delighted to be home, others were terrified and couldn’t wait to get out of the house. The way you are ‘at work’ doesn’t always translate well at home.
To greater or lesser extents, you may relate to Sam’s experience. Being suddenly forced to fit work into home and home into work gave new meaning to ‘work-life balance.’ Juggling petcare, childcare, team care, and self care at once while working. Strategically planning trips to the supermarket in between meetings before the lines grew ridiculously long presented its own type of challenge – waiting until the weekend was just not a viable option.
Maybe, you had a team member who struggled to navigate their own ‘new normal’ while trying to give their best level of performance – and the ‘new normal’ seemed to change every week..
Home had to shift to fit work
Sometimes we conceptualize ‘work-life balance’ like a scale. Work hanging on one side and life (including life at home) on the other. A compartmentalization to help us cope.
We were forced to deal with our own personal lives – unable to escape to the office
We were forced to introduce the members of our households to our ‘at work’ personas more intimately
We had to connect with our places of work and our colleagues at work a little differently
People on the front line – had to create a new space to be (between home and work to protect our families)
One perspective was:
Working from home felt more real – working in a space where most of us take off our masks, where we don’t feel as if performing a role on stage
Recognizing that work can be performed without that mask
Bring the kids or pets to work took on a whole new meaning
You were freed to just be in their homes while doing work
No daycare – we are parents and the kids are part of who we are
The children passed into and through our virtual meetings and that was ok
We lived and we produced
We learned how to function at home apart from each other
Another perspective was:
Home is where the mask is worn
Home is where the performance happens and that performance was stressful 24 hours a day with nowhere to go to be real – like work
Home is stress for some and peace for others – we had to confront these new realities
The result is discomfort
So,we sit with the comfort or discomfort of the newly configured work/home. We are coming together to get work done from varied perspectives, experiences and struggles. Nothing new, to a greater or lesser extent we have always worked as individuals separated by our experiences but getting things done together. Proximity is not a sufficient ingredient for separation. However, the sense of separation gets sharper The separation presents a unique challenge for leaders to lead and this pulls at our ability to understand, share and have sensitivity for the situations and feelings of others
How do we lead confidently in this new reality?
Leadership in a post-pandemic world will require that we pay closer attention and learn more about ourselves, others and the environments that shape us
Rethinking and reframing what work means for us and how work might get done differently –
reflecting our values more clearly
Your mindsets will continue to shift to come to terms with working as our whole person – working more fully as who we are.
You may be reluctant to go back to what you used to do and who you used to be
In this process you may have found the courage to step out and take on things you had been thinking of doing
Like this podcast and UpSkill Community – in my case
Exercising empathy is a key lever to access
As leaders we need to lead in more real ways
Aware of the real situations
And the real people who perform the work
How can we integrate greater empathy and community into our leadership toolkit
How do we as leaders reconstruct our understanding of ourselves, our people and our leadership roles
What does this mean for how we work with each other?
It was refreshing for many people to meet their coworkers families, enter their homes even virtually and connect on a more personal level
having a better idea of who you were working with – when this was possible
We have met each others pets, kids, art, sounds and backgrounds
not everyone was comfortable letting others in
We observed the socioeconomic disparities that exist in our team
The real challenges that impact our colleagues
What we learned in the process is that there is more to our people than we see on the outside
What do we mean when we talk about empathy?
Empathy is not one thing. It’s not expressed, experienced or expected in one way by all people.
Daniel Goleman refers to 3 types of empathy that are essential for leaders to be effective – and no time like the present.
Understanding perspectives – perspective taking
Sensing, predicting and matching solutions to needs
Cognitive empathy – Think – Reflect – “Get what you feel” understanding your own feelings (as it relates to) and someone else’s perspective
Emotional empathy – “Feel it with you” – being able to physically feel what someone else feels
Empathic concern – “I feel it for you” What it must be like, feel like to be them’ being able to sense what others need from you
The E in emotional intelligence is for Empathy
Get good at looking for signals – nuances – clues
But signals are mostly culture specific – so it takes work to really learn about important signals we are missing because we don’t come wired with all this knowledge – we pick them up on our journey
Much like the digital games that allow you to pick up stars and armours and special protection based on certain experiences
Understand your own style of expressing and experiencing empathy
There are different ways to express empathy
Know your default style of empathy
And know when it is appropriate
Other styles that may be appropriate in different situations
Draw on the appropriate style to match the situation
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