Most senior managers and professionals become experts in their fields after many years of experience. Leadership is also often learned on the job. More recently, empathy at work seems to have picked up steam as one of the key skills a leader must possess. However, it is not the easiest skill to nail down, especially in today’s global organizations and multi-cultural surroundings.
Syamant Sandhir is the Business Head of Futurescape and has over 15 years of experience in technology and communication. He specializes in using technology to drive innovative new services and communication platforms for organizations. His vast array of experience includes work in Healthcare, Mobility, Retail and Learning Environments. Syamant writes extensively on new technologies, digital experiences, and music.
How do you see the role of ‘empathy’ in organizational culture and leadership?
Hopefully, empathy will not become just a term in management literature or a corporate asset that needs to be quantified. An organization needs a sense of being real. In these times, we simply cannot allow ourselves to be carried away by our past successes or think that something that has worked up to now will work in the future.
An organization needs to have real interactions between people. You need people to talk, to understand each other’s point of view, to take decisions, to accept failure and learn and equally not get carried away by success. Learn and iterate at all times.
Take team sport as an example. Superstars may win a match here or there, but long-term success is all about combining skills and experience and to align together in joy and sorrow.
Why is empathy at work so difficult?
Success can be misinterpreted. One can believe that the method that helped reach a goal once will also provide similar results the next time. As a result, we enforce that as a best practice. Somewhere in this need to scale success, we lose the ability to listen and collaborate.
While digital tools have created opportunities to connect with other colleagues, processes, culture and hierarchy changes have not kept pace. Mr. Vivek Ranadive, CEO Tibco, talks about the 2-second advantage and success. Technology can likely deliver on the 2-second advantage, but it is the cultural aspect of these changes which needs to be understood by leaders.
How important do you think ‘internal’ branding is for an organization today? Why must leaders invest in being empathetic?
You can train a person for knowledge and skill but more important is the attitude that one brings to the table each work day. The atmosphere that is conducive to the being real mantra of a leader must be created by starting with hiring the right people. I think it is important to always be in conversation with the team.
I think a team should feel that they are one unit. They should feel no fear. And they should be willing to experiment. Internal branding is not just what you read on posters. It is articulated in actions.
What’s your personal leadership philosophy that you practice in your organization?
I have a set of rules that help me navigate various responsibilities that have been assigned to me:
- Do not micromanage. Let the team be independent.
- Trust the other person to do the job.
- Learn constantly and help the team learn.
- Keep experimenting and learn new skills.
Maybe, like Syamant said, empathy is perhaps just allowing ourselves to bring our real humanness to work.