Learming Hub
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Just over a week ago I was sitting in the panel of the IMI Diploma in Leadership audit presentations, as I heard each manger and executive reporting back on their leadership audit journey I found very interesting how many of them recognised empathy as a critical area for development.

In my job as facilitator, empathy is the most critical skill I rely on to guide groups through though organisational development processes. Yet for many managers and business leaders, empathy can make people uncomfortable or be seen a sign of weakness, so much so that it is often referred to as a "soft skill."

It is important to understand that empathy is at the core of healthy and sound interactions, it is what drives each one of us to recognise when someone is in difficulty and to provide them with help. In my experience, it is at the centre of collaborative work.

During my research on Emotional Intelligence and Management Practice I find that there is a direct correlation between the extent to which managers "care about what happens to others" and their ability to address poor performance effectively. I can safely say that while empathy is about interacting with people effectively it is also most certainly a hard skill: it is directly wired into our brain through the "Mirror neurons", it can be practiced and developed through very specific exercises, it triggers reciprocity.

So how can you develop empathy?

Pay attention - empathy starts by recognising the minute physiological changes in the person we are interacting with. Paul Ekman spent most of his career codifying the connection between facial expressions and emotions and developed an excellent set of training tools to quickly learn the skills to recognise such connections. NLP calibration exercises teach us how to recognise small changes in skin complexion and color, eye movement and pupil dilation as markers of change of a person base state to emotional state. Observing the people you live and work with is the first most important step to develop empathy.

Explore gently - Once you detect something out of the ordinary (even the most subtle changes are important) you have an opportunity to explore what is really going on by becoming interested in the person in front of you. The most effective way to do so is probably invite them to share their thinking, to do so effectively it will be important to develop the ability of matching your facial expressions to your intentions, showing interest, openness and suspending your own judgment while inspiring psychological safety. Again Paul Ekman's training tools and NLP calibration exercises can also help you rise such levels of self awareness. Finding the right questions to ask in the appropriate situation is also very important, Judy Barber's book "Good Question" has been a great insight for me and helped me choose the best questions for the most difficult of situations.

Adjust approach - At this point in time you should have enough information to understand with a degree of precision what emotions the person in front of you is experiencing. You can literally walk in their shoes, and by doing so you will clearly realise what is the best way to approach them, to effectively delegate important tasks, to give effective performance enhancing feedback, to effectively reinforce desirable behaviours and effectively address inappropriate behaviour. The possibilities are endless.  NLP is again a great help in developing and practicing this skill using a technique called "Perceptual Positioning". Yes, empathy is a "hard skill" to learn and apply but it is at the core of every human interaction. Empathy is necessary to build healthy and effective relationships with the people we work with, lead and manage, of course it is hard to develop and is not going to get any easier it is only going to get later...

Fabio Grassi is Executive Learning Director at IMI. He is a specialist in the development of team performance, collaboration and motivation.  His approach involves the facilitation of tailored workshops aimed at the achievement of specific business outcomes. He is passionate about the development of ethical leadership through executive coaching. e-mail Fabio Grassi or call on +353 87 9183282

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The Challenge The world of business is undergoing a global transformation. Economic pressure, social issues and political challenges are forcing a fundamental change on how business needs to compete to survive. This change is most evident at the front line of businesses where the current battles for productivity, cost, and survival are being fought. The Current Battle The role of the Front Line Manager (FLM) has significantly changed over the past 20 years. Evolved from the supervisor role the FLM has taken on additional responsibilities as a result of industry advances. The emergence of Strategic Human Resources (SHR) has added the responsibility for performance management, performance appraisal, training and development, and coaching. Flatter organisational structures have increased the accountability of the front line and driven delegation and team work to new levels. The emergence of the ‘knowledge worker’ coupled with employee's diversity has changed the profile of the front line. FLMs can no longer depend on the supervisory skill set laid down by Henry Fayol in the middle of the 20th century, instead they require a more robust and integrated set of skills. Enabling the Front Line In my experience of designing and delivering FLM programmes, at IMI and in other organisations, I have found the Management Effectiveness Cycle (MEC) has proven to be a very useful approach to enable FLMs to deliver business results in a short period of time. The MEC is a Front Line Management development framework that includes 6 core stages: Stage 1 – Understanding the role and context The FLM needs to be able to interact with both the people and the business, to understand exactly what the current situation is and to be able to diagnose current challenges. Stage 2 - Planning and goal setting Setting specific smart goals, that are directly related to the business and enable the employees to understand that by doing what it is they do, they are contributing to achieving the organisational goals. Stage 3 - Aligning goals and recourses The ability to produce more with the available resources maximises the return on investment. Aligning goals and resources requires a selection of skills including delegation, communication, versatility management, empowerment, innovation, and creativity. Stage 4 – Building an enabling culture Building an enabling culture is an ongoing process similar to the training of a marathon runner. By giving the person support and encouragement along the way to make sure that they are equipped and nourished to deliver the different stages of the long run. It is not standing at the finish line with a trophy. Stage 5 - Review and renew FLMs also need to look at how they can reinvest, redevelop and renew their energy and the energy of their staff. Providing feedback, performance management, energy management, innovation, observation, and assessment are the key enabling skills to review and renew. Stage 6 – Leadership In this model leadership sits at the centre of the management effectiveness cycle. This is not accidental. Leadership is the individual’s ability to create followership, so that people at the front line can look at the FLM and be inspired, motivated, and trust the FLM competencies, skills, and abilities. Leadership starts with an internal search, understanding your motivations, your values, your direction, your vision, your goals. Only once the FLM has mastered these skills can they look at how to inspire others. Ultimately, to successfully enable FLMs to deliver results, organisations must help them to blend the internal personal mastery with the external environment to inspire the followers to succeed. IMI is dedicated in helping organisations develop their Front Line Management to deliver bottom line results, to learn more about it check our dedicated FLM web site space. Derek Fox is an expert in management development, innovation and interpersonal communications. Derek has published a number of books including his bestselling titles in both Psychology (DISCovering your style and dealing with difficult people) and Presentation skills (Presenting without fear).  He contributes to journals and business publications such as: T&D Magazine, HR Ireland, People Management, and has published articles with the Sunday Business Post, and the Sunday Times.   [post_title] => In today's business the front line delivers the bottom line [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => in-todays-business-the-frontline-delivers-the-bottom-line-6 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-11 21:37:37 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-11 21:37:37 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.imi.ie/news-and-events/?p=1949 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 18880 [post_author] => 7 [post_date] => 2017-03-10 13:07:56 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-03-10 13:07:56 [post_content] => [post_title] => Visualising a Person on a Page: Who am I? 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Gareth Jones

Gareth Jones

28th Apr 2017

Gareth Jones is an IMI associate on the Senior Executive Programme.

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The Neglected Art of Observation

We recently listened to a remarkable BBC Radio 4 programme “The Life Scientific” which concerned the work of Frans De Waal, a famous Dutch primatologist and ethologist, though he now resides in Atlanta as a Professor at Emory University.  The programme made a huge impression. His research which focusses on the behaviour of non-human primates like chimpanzees, bonobos and capuchin monkeys made us reconsider some of our fundamental assumptions about what distinguishes human beings from their very near genetic neighbours – the other higher primates. Our view had been that language, consciousness and morality were solely the property of human beings and that this represented a giant gulf from any other species. Quite simply De Waal shows that this view is wrong.  His research demonstrates that other higher primates have the capacity for empathy, co-operation and conflict resolution. He even shows that they have a conception of social justice.

The art of observation (Photo source)

After days of letting these revolutionary thoughts sink in, another question started to animate us. How did he find these things out? Or to put this in philosophical terms what’s the relationship between his epistemology (his definition of knowledge) and his methodology (how you can acquire more knowledge). Our conclusion is that De Waals work over the last 30 years has rested heavily on the power of observation. In his early career, his office even overlooked the chimpanzee enclosure. We have argued with executives for some time that they spend too little time on observation. On watching people work, how they cooperate, how they handle conflict, if and when they innovate, how they treat customers, how they interact with suppliers and their response to authority and the rule structure of the organisation. Instead of engaging in this executives allow themselves to be detained in long meetings with other executives or find themselves pouring over detailed numerical accounts of how their organisation is performing. They don’t make sufficient time to just watch. Without this, they never develop what we have called elsewhere the meta-skill of leadership – situation sensing (without it, you cannot develop the other leadership skills). To use an English idiom, it’s the ability to “smell the gravy”.

Why don’t executives find time to observe? Let’s consider the options. Some feel like it doesn’t constitute real work. Some aren’t quite sure what they are looking for. Some are over-reliant on what they think of as “hard” data.

There is yet another worrying trend. This failure to find time for observation is often worst of all in the Human Resources department. Recent developments in HR metrics, more complex analytical techniques and perhaps an attempt to look a little more like the finance department, have led many HR professionals to think that you can do great HR sitting in front of your PC. They couldn’t be more wrong. HR professionals, perhaps more than any other, need to find time to hang around in their organisations. They should be visiting work places – watching and listening very attentively. Thelonious Monk the legendary jazz musician, once remarked “what you don’t play can be more important than what you do”.  That’s a skill HR needs – what people are not saying can be as important as what they say. Really smart HR functions like Bosch use clever techniques to make sure they get to know what’s really going on. They use reverse mentoring to make sure that their young talent is heard and listened to. L’Oreal have enlisted the power of social media to stay in touch with their employees. Useful as those techniques are, they are no substitute for careful, insightful observation.

Can skilful observation be learnt? Try this little experiment. Next time you go to an art gallery, spend 30 minutes looking at three paintings without using the audio guide.  Now, look at the same paintings again wearing the headphones. Here is our prediction – you will see the paintings differently and probably better. In other words, the audio commentary is helping you to see. Some years ago, we were asked to do some consulting to a major supermarket chain. The company insisted that before we started the work, we visit six stores for a day in the company of employees. What a great investment of time. We learnt what to look for in supermarkets. More recently, we’ve come to know some detectives in The Metropolitan Police – guess what their observation skills are like? Absolutely first class because they have spent many years observing human behaviour and often noting it. We often advise executives when they take up a new project or move jobs, to keep a diary of their observations. The very act of making notes sharpens your situation sensing capability.

So if you want to become the equivalent of Frans De Waal in your organisation make time for careful observation.

Gareth Jones is an IMI associate on the Senior Executive Programme. Gareth is an expert on organisational design, culture, leadership and change and is currently a visiting professor at the IE Business School, Madrid, and a Fellow of the Centre for Management Development at London Business School. Gareth has published several books co-authored with Rob Goffee, including “The Character of a Corporation” and “Why Should Anyone Be Led by You?”


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