The Power of Empathy – the Good and the Bad

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” —Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee Many have written about empathy, and most conclude that the ability to empathize is essential to inter-personal, professional and commercial success. But are there different facets of empathy? And can too much empathy be detrimental? Two types of empathy are “cognitive” and “emotional”. Emotional empathy is also known as “sympathy”. What’s the difference between them? I like to explain this by using an analogy of how we respond to watching a movie. Imagine a movie scene where a character is crying. If you shed a tear as well because you share the same feelings, you’re being emotionally empathetic, or sympathetic. If you don’t cry, but you fully understand and appreciate why the movie character is crying, then you’re […]

“But I’m not ready to lead!”

“I don’t know nearly as much as all those subject matter experts!” the competent project manager exclaimed further. “Don’t get me wrong” she said, “I’d love to take on a senior leadership role, but I can’t speak in their terms – the scientific and technological details – so why should they listen to me? They wouldn’t accept me as their leader, let alone respect me as their director.” “Hold on a minute” I interjected, “wasn’t your education in a scientific field?” “Yes.” she said hesitantly, seeming to reflect on her perceived inadequacy that was at the root of her reluctance to consider advancing her career. “But I only got a bachelors in microbiology – not really related to the sciences of product development, manufacturing and testing!” “Maybe not,” I said, implying only partial agreement. “But how many development and technology transfer projects have you managed so far?” “About forty” she said indifferently. “Anyway, I was […]

“You did not fail.”

The words were repeated gently but emphatically to the beleaguered supervisor, his eyes misting as if hearing the phrase seemed to strike a chord. His strong sense of professionalism and orderliness, while they were assets for his role, were interpreted by his co-workers as being authoritarian and abrasive. The systems and procedures he had designed to ensure compliance with industry quality standards were appropriate, but he wasn’t getting cooperation from his team for implementation. The supervisor’s intentions were clear and in line with corporate management’s requirements to ensure compliance with the quality rules, but these drivers were not enough to fully engage and motivate his team members to ensure whole-hearted, sustainable implementation. He was using negative motivators like ordering, forcing and even threatening staff to co-operate.  He didn’t usually behave like this, but being under pressure himself to achieve the required quality targets was bringing out traits that were detrimental to his leadership potential and […]

Uncommon Leadership

The project was in a tailspin. Unforeseen technical issues. Timelines in jeopardy. Commitments in tatters. Stakeholders spitting teeth. Worst of all, the experienced project leader had lost confidence in his ability to get the project back on track. A “manager” probably would have berated him and gunny sacked the issue at performance review. Or would have fired him on the spot. So much for supporting and investing in people. This situation called for profound and uncommon leadership; rarely seen in many work environments. Rapid workplace-oriented therapeutic intervention and coaching got this struggling project leader back in the saddle. Talking in industry-relevant terms strengthened rapport with the project leader, prompted reminders of his expertise and previous achievements, and mobilized his creative problem solving skills. He carved out technical options and tactics that ultimately righted the project. In the process, he regained self-confidence and even generated a sense of pride in learning from this nerve wracking challenge […]

9 Principles of Person Centered Coaching

The concept of person centered healthcare is becoming increasingly established among health and social care professionals. The concept is also important in the field of coaching, for both personal and professional development. Reviewing the Medicines, Ethics & Practice guide published by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (UK), I saw correlations between person-centered healthcare and the practice of person-centered coaching. Here are 9 principles that are as fundamental to the Coach-Client relationship as they are to the person-centered interactions in the health & social care professions. 1. Partnership. Coach and Client are equal partners in decisions about Client’s personal & professional development. 2. Client-Focus. Decisions about the coaching program and progress are centered on the needs of the Client. 3. Respect for Client preferences; their own sense of creativity and how it relates to their course of action. 4. Compassion. Support if Client experiences challenges or difficulties, especially between coaching sessions. 5. Dignity. Reinforce Client’s sense of […]