tales of bad bosses and why they don’t need to be

This is probably not surprising to you, as almost all of us have encountered the dreaded bad boss. The micro-managing boss. The only-care-about-the-bottom-line boss. The disorganized-and-has-no-clue boss. Or the can’t-make-tough-decisions-and-just-wants-to-be-friends boss. Sound familiar? Even this post was inspired by the experience of a friend who recently asked her boss for bereavement days off to attend an out of state funeral of a close relative.  The bosses response, “Can’t you just Skype in?” SKYPE IN!!! I just about fell out of my chair when I heard that one. And I’m sure you have your own horror stories of bosses who seem to want to sabotage the productivity and well-being of their employees.

So why is it that some bosses are great and others are so bad? One big reason is an empathy deficit that seems to get worse the higher up you go in an organization. In Robb Smith’s TED talk he notes how CEOs have the lowest emotional intelligence in the entire workforce. Empathy, what Dianne Stober calls, “one of the most basic capacities required for understanding one another,” is often lacking in leaders. Oh yeah, and it matters to business success! Forbes notes that “the reality is that for business leaders to experience success, they need to not just see or hear the activity around them, but also relate to the people they serve.” We already know how important engagement is, and you can imagine how much engagement falls off around a lack of empathy.  Just think of the shift in engagement when being told to Skype in to a funeral!

With empathy so important, how does one develop this quality that seems elusive to so many leaders? In Ginny Whitelaw’s latest book, The Zen Leader, she describes how to boast empathy in her chapter on the flip From Controlling to Connecting. She describes how the energy patterns of FEBI can be a power tool to help summon real empathy that fully allows you to ‘become the other person.’

“In a pattern sense, we can make this flip by starting in a quiet, listening, Organizer place, and then relax completely. We invite a kind of permeability into the boundary of our self-in-our-skin and sense another’s rhythm. We can listen for their breathing, their pulse, sense their entire being all at once, and we enter Collaborator’s empathetic engagement. If the talkative Collaborator is Home for you, your challenge might be to access the quiet listening of the Organizer as a starting place. If you normally live at the Driver’s speed, you may find it hard to slow down enough to sense depth, rather than racing over the surface. If you normally live with the Visionary’s expansiveness, you may need enough centeredness to connect without losing yourself. Whatever your challenge, you now know how to access the energy pattern that can support you in building a practice of connecting with empathy.”

There are two important points that Dr. Whitelaw makes here. First, we see that the energy patterns can be a great supporter of our effort to summon empathy. If we need help seeing someone else’s vision, we can enter the Visionary energy pattern, which feels comfortable suspending prior beliefs and is open to new possibilities. If we need to better understand someone’s passion and enthusiasm we can enter Driver and use its intensity to better feel into their sharply-focused excitement. As we’ve seen with applications such as virtual leadershipand creating a climate of engagement, each pattern has value when it comes to engaging in empathy.

The second point here is that it isn’t enough to just know about the patterns in general, rather we must understand how these patterns show up within ourselves. Our ‘personality’ is our individualized preferences for each of these patterns. Often times, one or two of these patterns are much more preferred, and thus utilized, over the others. When one of these patterns is used at the exclusion of the others, this can result in a gaping hole in leadership abilities.  For example, that micro-managing boss may be over using his or her Organizer pattern while not using enough of the Visionary’s willingness to let things play out.  The bottom-line-above-all-else boss may be over using his or her Driver pattern, while not using enough of the Collaborator’s concern for the impact on other people.

Before we are able to truly understand where someone else is coming from, we must first have a deep understanding of our own lens, which we use to interpret the world around us. This self-awareness provides us with an opportunity to see any distortions this lens creates.  With a deeper understanding of ourselves, we can begin to understand others from a much more authentic place. This skill is how we close the empathy gap, which is simply imperative for leadership success. In the words of Dr. Whitelaw, “Become the other, and it opens up a world of understanding, in which communication becomes naturally influential, and influence becomes just another authentic dialogue.”

To learn more about the energy patterns within you, take the mini-FEBI for yourself.

E-Newsletter Signup Form