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Essential Empathy: 3 Ways To Improve Presence

Darren was reviewing the leadership 360 assessment that he’d brought to the coaching session. The big gap was between the high rating he’d given himself and the low ratings his direct reports gave him in “Building Trust”. As we dove deeper into the coaching conversation, Darren uncovered one of his core leadership beliefs. It was an old binary story: You either hold people accountable for results, or care about them as people. But you can’t do both. In Darren’s version of reality, successful leaders needed to be tough, and empathy was for “softies”. Darren saw his team of individual contributors as merely that: Contributors. He had no curiosity about them. His story limited their performance, as well as his own. Sadly, Darren’s story is not unique. Many leaders discount the value of empathy and pay the cost of doing so.

The Hard Case For The Soft Skill Empathy is defined as showing people that you understand them and care how they feel. At first glance, this may seem like a soft and fuzzy metric. Nothing could be further from the truth. Empathy is essential to leadership and organizational success. In a global study of more than 15,000 leaders, Development Dimensions International (DDI) found that leaders who respond with empathy will perform more than 40% higher than their peers in engaging others, coaching, planning, decision making, and overall performance. Richard Wellins, DDI senior vice president, states, “Being able to listen and respond with empathy is overwhelmingly the one interaction skill that outshines all other skills leaders need to be successful.” Further studies by Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath have found that “feeling cared for by one’s supervisor has a more significant impact on people’s sense of trust and safety than any other behavior by a leader. Employees who say they have more supportive supervisors are 1.3 times as likely to stay with the organization and are 67% more engaged.” After addressing Darren’s limiting beliefs around empathy, we discovered yet another developmental hurdle: Darren’s skillset. Darren confessed, “To be honest, when I’m with other people, I’m not really with them. I’m thinking of all the other stuff I have to do.” Darren continued, “I want to get better at building trust with my team. But what can I do to get better at being present?”

Developing The Power Of Presence You can’t show people you understand them if you don’t show up. You can’t care how they feel if you’re checked out. Being present isn’t an item you can just check off your daily to-do list. Presence is not a way of thinking; it’s a way of being. Kristi Hedges, author of The Power of Presence, defines presence as “the ability to connect with and inspire others. When we think of someone who has a great presence, it’s much more than just how they speak, or how they interact in a meeting; it’s really that they inspire you. You want to be around them. You feel a connection to them.” Here are three tangible things you can do to strengthen the seemingly intangible power of presence:

1. Eliminate Distractions Presence starts with focus. Focus gets diluted by distractions. Have you noticed it’s a lot easier to not eat the cookies in the pantry if you don’t bring them into the house in the first place? Distractions operate under the same maxim: Avoidance is easier than resistance. For example, you’re less likely to check your email when someone’s talking to you if your laptop or phone’s email program isn’t staring you in the face. (Better yet, power off any non-essential devices and put them away.) Work to eliminate every potential distraction you can. There’s a reason we use the verb pay in the phrase “pay attention”. Your focused attention is the most limited and valuable resource you have.

2. Show Up Prepared Aristotle famously wrote, “Through discipline comes freedom.” When you show up to a meeting prepared and with a clear intention, you’ve created space to be present. Otherwise, you’re spending a lot of your mental bandwidth on figuring things out as you go. This dilutes your presence. When you’re prepared, you’re free to show up and fully listen to what the other person is saying. It makes for a much more productive conversation than listening to those chattering voices in your own head.

3. Park Your Agenda If you’re attached to your own agenda, you’re not showing up to lead people; you’re showing up to manage tasks. Leaders who are present know how to ask questions and then be comfortable in the silence after the question has been asked. Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO from 2001 to 2011, has said, “We run this company on questions, not answers.” It’s hard to be present when you’re attached your own agenda. Parking your agenda allows you to be curious. Research by Harvard Business School Professor Francesca Gino found that curiosity leads to fewer decision-making errors, more innovation, reduced group conflict, more open communication, and better team performance. The complexity of today’s challenges call for leaders who are less “commander-in-chief” and more “facilitator-in-chief”. Leaders who can weave disparate threads of information together into tapestries of insight. Strengthening presence allows you to be more focused, prepared, and curious. Not only will this help you to build trust, but it will help you build the foundation of a high-performance culture. Source: read://

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