The Power of Empathetic Leadership

On the evening of June 3, 2017, a van was driven into a crowd of people walking across London Bridge. Eight people were killed, 48 people were injured. The three men in the van were all killed.

This attack came less than two weeks after 23 people were killed and 119 people were injured at the end of an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena.

In less than 14 days, England was struck twice by terrorist attacks. A total of 31 people were killed and 167 people were injured, many of them seriously.

Less than 48 hours after the London Bridge attack, United States President Donald Trump Tweeted criticism of how the mayor of London responded to the attack:

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After two brutal attacks in England, President Trump thought that more should be done to prevent further attacks, and that the citizens of London should, in fact, be alarmed. They should be doing everything they can to prevent further attacks, and the mayor was wrong (in President Trump’s opinion) to suggest anything less.

Today as I write this, it is June 14th, 2017, only 11 days after the second attack. What must it like to be in England right now? What causes alarm and concern on a crowded street? How do people react when they hear an unexpected, loud noise? How do parents talk to their children about being safe, vigilant and caring?

In the hours after the London Bridge attack when the city was still scared, still trying to figure out exactly what happened, when people may have still been trying to learn if their loved ones were alive or not, I wish President Trump had shown empathy rather than anger and indignation.

Empathy, though, can be difficult. In order to be empathetic, we need to put aside our own feelings,  interests and opinions, and imagine we in  the shoes of someone else. What are their concerns? Their interests, their fears? What do they want?

Practicing a little empathy myself, I imagine that President Trump saw what happened in London, and didn’t want the same thing happening in the United States. I imagine he wanted to assure American citizens that he would react to a similar attack with strength, power and decisiveness. I also imagine he wanted to use the events in London as an opportunity to forward his own agenda of banning citizens of Muslim countries from entering the United States.

However, if President Trump had taken the time to exercise empathy, I like to think he would have recognized that Mayor Khan, seeing his city lost in chaos and fear, realized the very best thing he could do was to help make the people of London feel a little bit safer, and little bit more calm. More police were being deployed throughout the city, and Mayor Khan wanted the people of London to know he and his government was doing everything they could do to keep everyone safe.

When we are truly being empathetic, we are taking the time to consider another person’s point of view. Whether you are Tweeting about world affairs, or making a Facebook post about a party you just attended, take a moment to ask yourself what is the situation of the other person? Are they happy? Proud? Scared? Suspicious? Eager? Though we can never guarantee to accurately guess what someone else may be thinking, we can use our experiences and what we know about the other person to make a pretty good guess.

When we are in someone else’s shoes, we are on the “other” side. We can see things we did not see before. There is newfound transparency, and we can see a perspective and truth we could have never seen before.

Maybe we even sacrifice a bit of our own interest as empathy puts the interests and concerns of another person before your own. For instance, if President Trump imagined he was in Mayor Khan’s position, he may have instead Tweeted:

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Or, if President Trump still wanted to forward his own agenda while being empathetic, he could have Tweeted:

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When we are empathetic, we are communicating with generosity and transparency. We break down walls because we can imagine how other people feel, and we find ourselves sharing their hopes and concerns. When our leaders are empathetic, the benefits extend to larger groups, like departments, teams, cities, states and countries.

Actions and words have real power and impact. Let those words be words of empathy.

*The first Tweet shown above was posted by Donald Trump on June 5th, 2017. The 2nd and third Tweets are fake, which I produced on https://faketrumptweet.com/. 

My Best Worst Day

I was sure that whatever was making my vision a little blurry would be rinsed away in the shower, and I could get on with my day. I had just gotten out of bed. I had to get breakfast, get dressed, and my wife and I had to get our six and three year old daughters off to school so we could each get to work. It was January 23, 2002.

I got into work, and it felt like I was looking through a piece of gray saran wrap. It wasn’t so much that my vision was blurry…it was dull. Whatever I thought would be rinsed away earlier was still there. I had my optometrist take a look. “Larry,” he said, “I want to send you to see someone else. There’s blood in your eye.”

I was in touch with my wife and my boss along the way to let them know what was going on. They were each appropriately concerned, and wanted me to keep in touch.

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The ophthalmologist pointed bright lights in my eye. Dye was injected into my veins. Snapshots were taken of my eyeball. “I need to do some more tests,” he said, “and I will call you at home tonight, but I think you had a stroke, a retinal vein occlusion.” I was 35 years old.

It was now about 3:00 in the afternoon, and I was close enough to work that I stopped in to check my voice mail (yes, we still did that in 2002). My boss was happy to see me, and was very sorry to hear I may have had a stroke.

I went to my office, and the director of Human Resources stopped in to see me. “Larry, I heard there was something wrong with your eye. Are you OK?” I explained everything that happened that day, and that I was sure I would be just fine.

But then she didn’t leave. She just stood in the doorway of my office.

“Is there something else I can do for you?” I asked.

“I’m here to let you go” she said.

Only four months after the horrific events of 9/11, our company was struggling as were so many other companies. Some of my friends had lost their job earlier that week. After working at the company for nine years, it was now my turn.

I have told this story dozens of times, and always the first response is “…and they still let you go? Even though they knew you had a stroke?!?”

Yes, they still let me go, and good for them for doing so. I was not bed-ridden, and they had to trim their staff rolls to remain a viable business. They gave me severance, out-placement support, and health insurance for several months. They did the right thing, for the right reasons, in the right way. And what a gift that was.

I could not be very concerned about my job loss, because I was so concerned about my vision. On the other other hand, I could not be very concerned about my vision because I was so concerned about finding my next job. My concerns cancelled each out quite nicely, thank you very much.

I was out of work for 13 months. As difficult as that time was, and as much as I did not want to be out of work, I came out ahead in almost every way.

  1. I got to spend more time with my daughters. I was able to be present, available and involved in ways that are so much more challenging when work took me away from home for 9 hours a day.
  2. Much to my surprise, I found that I enjoyed networking. I was good at it. I was fearless. I called people I did not know, and they actually met with me. I learned a lot about other people, and about myself. It was as a direct result of my networking efforts then that I am in the career I am in now, over 15 years later.
  3. I was more prudent in the way I spent money, and my wife was a vigilant bookkeeper. I did not need gas for a commute, I did not need to buy lunches with co-workers at the office. And while I did not enjoy collecting unemployment checks, somehow we got by, and we found ourselves still financially healthy by the time I went back to work.
  4. My wife and I have always been there for each other, but perhaps never more so than during my time out of work. She was there to support me, there to believe in me, there to encourage me. Her love and support felt nothing short of unconditional.

15 years later, I am in a career that I love, my family life is strong and happy, and I wear eyeglasses. I continue to try to grow and improve as a father, husband and professional every day, and I know I would not be where I am now in work or at home had it not been for the events of that very best of worst days.

Working Out Loud Success through the lens of Yammer Analytics

I confess. I was selfish. I was only thinking of myself.

When I suggested that we introduce Working Out Loud at my workplace, yes…I was thinking about how my colleagues could achieve meaningful goals, and how they could improve their career or personal life, but those were not my only concerns. Mostly, I was thinking about how Working Out Loud could help our Yammer networks.

Our staff has been using Yammer for almost three years to communicate and collaborate internally in a home network, and with members of our organization in an external network. While staff Yammer adoption was strong enough, I recognized it could be stronger. And maybe, if through Working Out Loud we could better appreciate the value of sharing information and working in a collaborative platform, our Yammer engagement rates would grow even stronger.

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Recently, a member of one of our Working Out Loud Circles made a comment about a post I had made in our home network regarding Yammer engagement rates as found in Swoop, our Yammer analytics platform. She had come across my post while doing research in support of her Working Out Loud goal, and was amazed to realize how much our engagement levels supported the overall goals of Working out Loud, which encourages people to network, leading with generosity, and to make work visible, and framed as a contribution.

Swoop Analytics sets every user’s Yammer activity in the context of any one of five different engagement personas, or levels. While there is no incorrect engagement persona for a user to have, the overall goal is to achieve the highest “Engager” level,  which means you are asking questions on your Yammer network, sharing information and staying connected to people.

If someone is making posts less than twice a week, and they don’t reply to anyone else, their personal level is “OBSERVER.”

A “BROADCASTER” makes more posts than they receive replies. A lot of information is pushed out. Additionally, they don’t often reply to other peoples’ posts.

Along the same lines “RESPONDER” makes many more contributions than they receive replies, but their contributions are usually replies, likes and posts. They are a bit more engaged than their “broadcaster” colleagues.

Now, the pendulum begins to swing a bit. A “CATALYST” receives more replies than they make contributions. They are making posts that people care about, and they are inspiring people to action.

Rather than necessarily being the most active user, the “ENGAGER” has an even balance of contributions and replies. They post, they click the “like” button, they reply, they are interacting with people, and people are interacting with them.

All these levels refer to Yammer activity, but they also make perfect sense when looking at them in the context of Working Out Loud.

Observe

We are going to experience less Working Out Loud success and growth if we only “OBSERVE” what is happening. If we never reach out to people, if we never have anything to share, if we never express our appreciation, we will make little progress in sharing information, or connecting to more people.

A key part of Working Out Loud that when we network, we do so leading with generosity. We consider first what we have to share, rather than that which we might receive. Sometimes that means we broadcast the information we each have. We share what we know. But, if we only broadcast, if we only push out, we are not letting very much back in. We are not learning.

If we are Working Out Loud at a “RESPONDER” level, that means we are probably not being very proactive. We are only doing what we have to do, and we are not being thoughtful about what we have to share or how we might be able to help others.

When we are at the “CATLYST” level working at a level where we are actively reading the posts of others, and we are sharing information that people care about, and information that people respond to.

Solidarité-internationale_guidedelamobilitéFinally, when we are Working Out Loud at the “ENGAGER” level, we are networking with a true spirit of generosity and empathy. We care about the information that people are sharing, and people care about the information we are sharing. We “like” the posts that we see, we comment on how the information has helped us, and we share the information with others in our network.

In turn, others are “liking” the information we share. Our network is growing, and together with our contacts, we are learning new things and we see real, meaningful improvement in our life both at home and at work.

Working Out Loud has indeed helped our Yammer networks to grow,  but only when we use our analytics are we able to truly understand the key ingredients to that growth, and to understanding how Yammer really can help us find a true level of connection, transparency, engagement and success.with our colleagues and members of our organization.

Collaboration and Yammer Access

There is no organization, be it a suburban household or a multi-billion dollar international corporation, that does not want to find ways to collaborate more effectively.

1120140483_9509Though collaboration may be a bit simpler in a household (shopping list on the refrigerator, Sunday night planning meeting for the week ahead), most every organization, large or small, is trying to collaborate better. Trying to stay better connected, trying to be more transparent, trying to be more effective.

One key to better collaboration is making sure people have access to information. Yammer, and other enterprise social network (ESN) platforms, provide access through private networks, discussion groups and file libraries. When setting up a Yammer ESN, it is important to understand who can have access, and how information can be shared.

Home Yammer Network: Glickman Telecom (my imaginary billion dollar company) sets up a home Yammer network. All Yammer networks are based on email domains, so our Yammer network would be found at http://www.yammer.com/glickmantelecom.com. Only people with an @glickmantelecom.com email address can get into the home network.

Discussion Groups: In our network, discussion groups can be created. These groups can be either be public to everyone in our private network, or they can be private for a specific team.

Add Extra Domains: We have a sister corporation called Marx Digital. We can go to our Network Administration page in Yammer, and indicate that anyone with a marxdigital.com email address is able to access our network.

yammer-place-o365-groupsCreate an External Group: Users without a glickmantelecom.com or marxdigital.com email address can be invited to our home network by creating an external group. This is a discussion group feature designed for the specific purpose of collaborating with users outside of our organization. Users in these groups, though, must have a work email address. Gmail, Yahoo and  other major ISP addresses will not work in an external group. External group users will only have access to that group, and not to the entire network.

Create an External Network: If there is a need to regularly engage with users outside of the organization, with users who may have a work email address, or a gmail address (for instance), Yammer offers external networks. An external network works exactly like a home network, and users with any kind of email address can be invited in.

Now that your Yammer network has been created, and you have determined which users should be in your network, it is now time Set the Table for Yammer Success by planning your groups, curating information and getting people engaged. Now, the real work begins!

Working Out Loud: The End

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I shared the following message with our Working Out Loud group this week:

Tomorrow.
Tomorrow is our last meeting.
Tomorrow we continue the learning.
Tomorrow we discuss our accomplishments, what we have learned, and how we have incorporated WOL into our lives.
Tomorrow we share our challenges. What did not work, what did not go as planned, what else we wish we had time for.
Tomorrow we make plans for the future.
Tomorrow.

When our group first met 12 weeks ago, we were colleagues. Though we all knew each other, most of us were not close friends. But, as soon as Working Out Loud began (only about halfway through our first meeting!), we all became tightly connected to one another. We shared challenges, we were vulnerable with one another, and we all became deeply invested in one another’s success.

When our group first met 12 weeks ago, not everyone was even sure what Working Out Loud was all about. But, people trusted the process, and made a commitment to learning and participating.

  • “While I had NO idea what the heck this was about, I took a leap of faith to experiment and explore and I am glad I did! It opened a whole new way in bringing intentional thought to personal goals and did so with the help, encouragement and trusting conversations from our WOL Circle.”
  • “I too took a leap of faith and pushed myself out of my comfort zone and feel blessed and honored to have connected with such outstanding colleagues who are now friends. Each of us is growing and connecting our sacred work and our lives in new ways…both within and with each other.”
  • “WOL is now a sacred part of my week! I’m grateful to have this opportunity to connect with colleagues across the organization in such a unique way and working towards my personal goal has brought focus to other areas of my work (and life).”

We had goals in mind, but we did not have a clear idea about how those goals might be achieved. We worked together. We followed the excellent circle guides created by John Stepper, and we all made meaningful progress. We supported one another, challenged one another, and celebrated with one another.

This is not to say Working Out Loud is not without its challenges. Time must be found outside of meetings to pursue goals, and grow relationship lists. We read books and we read blog posts. TedTalks were watched. We researched, we wrote emails, we sent tweets and we made posts. We committed to our goal, and we found ways to pursue that goal every week for 12 weeks.

But every person in the group found some level of success. Everyone made new connections, learned valuable new skills and developed habits that will serve them well as their learning and networking continues. Some group members are even talking about doing Working Out Loud again, as they feel they want to experience the process again.

Sadly, not everyone in our group could join our last conversation, as holidays and vacations conflicted with our meeting. So, we agreed that our meeting today was Part 1, and we will have Part 2 of the meeting once everyone has returned to work. While it would have been nice to have everyone on the call, I think it will be nice to be able to reflect with everyone after a couple of weeks have gone by. Will we still be using our newfound skills? Will we still be making connections? Will we still be Working Out Lod?

When we first met 12 weeks ago, we did not know what Working Out Loud was. Today, the six of us are connected by an incredibly positive shared experience. We have learned new skills, and we have made positive changes to our work lives and personal lives.

12 weeks seems like so long ago.

Working Out Loud: Week 11, The Week I Missed

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A Working Out Loud (WOL) Circle meets one hour a week for 12 weeks. As Working Out Loud author John Stepper points out in his circle guides, this may feel daunting, but it actually represents only 2% of your time. When we commit this one hour a week, we give ourselves the opportunity to create new habits within a fixed period of time. We know we won’t get burned out. We know the end is in sight, only 12 weeks down the road.

But, our lives are busy, and other commitments may conflict with our WOL meetings, despite our best efforts to keep that a “sacrosanct” time. I was out of town this week for several days of meetings, and for the first time, I missed a WOL meeting. Though I was very sorry to miss the time with my group, as we meet regularly using Zoom video conferencing software, the meeting was easily recorded and shared in our private Yammer group for later viewing.

It was a long week away from home, but upon my return I was able to settle in and watch the meeting recording. Usually, I dread the prospect of having to watch a recorded meeting or webinar, but watching my WOL friends and colleagues talk about their goals, their challenges and victories was a real joy. I felt oddly detached and closely connected, all at the same time.

It occurred to me that these people I was watching started WOL only as work colleagues, and now one could only surmise they were all dear, lifelong friends. They were laughing, sharing intimate insights, and encouraging and challenging each other throughout the entire conversation.

It was a real joy to see how far along we have all come. The assumption is that after 12 weeks, we will have developed new habits and be thinking in new ways, and watching the meeting recording, I found this to absolutely be the case. People are blogging, people are connecting with contacts in new, innovative ways, their work and personal lives are being changed for the better through what they have learned in WOL.

It was a real joy to not facilitate the meeting. Don’t get me wrong, I love facilitating WOL conversations, but after facilitating this group for 10 weeks, I was so happy to see the momentum easily continue in my absence. Other participants stepped right in, they kept the conversation on track, and they prepared for the next meeting.

It was a real joy to be tested. Yes, tested. The meeting was liberally peppered with information my WOL colleagues insisted I report back to them to show that yes, I had indeed watched the recording. I love this. It mattered to them that I was not there, it mattered to them that I keep up with the group, and it mattered to them that I continue to learn along with them.

It was a real joy to know that although I missed the meeting this week, I was able to continue making meaningful progress in my goal. Through connections made online and in person, the work of Working Out Loud continues.

Although it is just 2% of your time, one hour a week for 12 weeks is a serious commitment, and from time to time, meetings will need to be missed. But a missed week does not mean missed opportunities. Stay connected to the group, stay connected to the goal, and before you know it, week 12 will be here!

Working Out Loud: Week 10, The Instinct of Protection vs. The Virtue of Generosity

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The Working Out Loud (WOL) Circle Guide for Week 10 is titled “Become More Systematic.” As everyone in our group works to make new habits, this week provides a valuable opportunity to run through a check list of things we can be doing to strengthen our relationships and deepen our networks. In other words, we are checking in with our WOL systems.

  1. Connect with someone online.
  2. Show appreciation by clicking a Like button, or sharing a public thank you.
  3. Share something you’ve learned that can help others.
  4. “Connect the dots” by spreading something of value through @mentions or direct shares.
  5. Ask a question.
  6. Answer a question.
  7. Offer feedback.
  8. Reflect on your experiences.
  9. Offer original ideas.
  10. Connect a purposeful group.

We spent time talking about gratitude, and recognized that sharing words of gratitude with anyone is so powerful, yet so many of us are hesitant to say “Thank You” in any kind of public way. Why is that?

Ironically, many people on our staff regularly communicate using Yammer, and when making a post in Yammer, all users have the option to make a post as “Praise” rather than just as a regular update. Those posts automatically send the person being praised an email notification, and we can pick fun, wacky icons to go along with our words of thanks and recognition. Whether we choose a thumbs up, a gold star or a bag of money, there are many ways to praise a colleague in a fun, meaningful way.

Sadly, very few of our colleagues ever use the “Praise” functionality. Sharing a public thank you can be challenging because when we are public with our appreciation, we are concerned that for that moment in time, we are unprotected.

We are unprotected because through our praise, we have shared the fact that we needed help. Or there was something we didn’t know. Or that someone else is better at doing something than we are. Or maybe we think we are the ones who should be getting the praise, not the other person. We are sometimes afraid that something valuable has been lost when we help a colleague to look good through a public “thank you.”

If we don’t praise anyone at all, our armor stays firmly in place. Nobody ever needs to know there is something we didn’t know. No one needs to know that from time to time we need help, and we can always keep to ourselves the fact that there may be someone else who is also good at doing things. If we never share anything, we are sure to always be protected.

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However, the result of our self-protection efforts is that we are living in a thick suit of armor. We can’t see, we can’t breathe, and we can’t move. We definitely can’t grow.

When we show praise…when we are transparent and generous with that which we don’t know, that for which we are thankful, and those for whom we are appreciative, people are given the opportunity to connect with us in valuable tangible and intangible ways.

When you give the gift of praise and thanks to a deserving colleague, you will absolutely be making someone’s day. You will be setting a valuable example to your colleagues by showing positive, public vulnerability and appreciation. You will have the opportunity to surface important issues such as weaknesses in systems that may have been identified and resolved, customer service success stories that can be learned from, or ways that one colleague was able to help and support another colleague. As a result, your organization be more effective because people are being more transparent and more collaborative.

We all have the instinct of self-preservation and protection. But when we step out of our armor and share genuine praise, thanks and appreciation, everyone benefits.

On to Week 11!