Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 6, Issue 35;   August 30, 2006: Peek-a-Boo and Leadership

Peek-a-Boo and Leadership

by

Great leaders know what to say, what not to say, and when to say or not say it, sometimes with stunning effect. Consistently effective leadership requires superior empathy skills. Here are some things to do to improve your empathy skills.

To babies, Peek-a-Boo is much more than a game. Part of the fascination is excitement about the new (for them) concept of object permanence — the idea that objects continue to exist even when they're out of view. In Peek-a-Boo, the "object" is often Mommy or Daddy, and it certainly must be a relief to realize that "out of sight" doesn't mean "gone for good."

A happy baby

A happy baby. Photo (cc) Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 by Kenny Louie courtesy Wikimedia.

Belief in object permanence rests on the ability to form mental models of objects, and on the belief that the models have predictive value. Eventually, most of us also learn to make mental models of the inner experiences of other people. And that's called empathy.

Since empathy skills help to determine leadership effectiveness, improving empathy skills can make us better leaders. Here are some tips for improving your empathy skills.

Begin with yourself
Probably the best foundation for empathic skill is comfort with and understanding of our own inner state, especially our emotional state. Ask yourself, "How do I feel about that?"
Reflect
Reflect on events, on what else could have happened, and how you could have helped make that happen. Focus on the personal iceberg of others — that mostly-hidden hierarchy of copings, feelings, perceptions, expectations, yearnings, and ultimately the Self.
Keep a working journal
Since empathy skills
help to determine
leadership effectiveness,
improving empathy skills
can make us better leaders
Journaling guides reflection. The writing slows your thinking, and you can review past thinking because it's recorded. Focus on incidents in which someone (possibly yourself) used (or failed to use) empathy skills. If there are people you interact with regularly, journal your interactions with them, and make conjectures about your inner state and theirs. Notice patterns. See "Working Journals," Point Lookout for July 26, 2006, for more.
Ask open questions
To learn about the inner state of others, ask questions that get people to open themselves to you. "What's that like?" "Tell me more about that." "What would you have liked instead?"
Notice experts
Notice empathy skills in others, especially those who seem to do well. Notice also how people react to them.
Notice interruptions
When we talk less, we learn more. Notice how other people interrupt each other. Noticing this will help reduce your own interrupting behavior, effortlessly. For more on interruptions, see "Let Me Finish, Please," Point Lookout for January 22, 2003, and "Discussus Interruptus," Point Lookout for January 29, 2003.
Play improv games
Some improv games actually sharpen your empathic skills. Interview someone else asking only open-ended questions. To learn to slow down, try conducting a conversation using words of one syllable only.
Facilitate
Facilitating debates in which you have no stake and little expertise sharpens your observational skills, especially with respect to conversation dynamics. And you might learn to be more of a facilitator even when you do have a stake in the topic.

This list might seem daunting, but you don't have to do them all at once. Pick one. Try it repeatedly. Notice how you're feeling about it. When you feel like it, try another. Go to top Top  Next issue: The Solving Lamp Is Lit  Next Issue

For more about empathy and the uses of empathy, see "The Uses of Empathy," Point Lookout for January 4, 2006.

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We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people. Available here and by RSS on November 22.
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When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.

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Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

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