The Farmer and the Goose
Once upon a time, there was a farmer who had a flock of geese. One day a fox came into the yard where the geese lived and tried to snatch a goose. There was a terrible flurry of wings and beaks pecking at the fox. Eventually the fox was driven off but one goose was left with a broken wing. The farmer saw all of this and went to help the goose. But the goose kept hissing and running away from the farmer. After chasing the goose around and not catching it, the farmer asked, “how can I be the goose?”
Concerns and assumptions may interfere
There are times we avoid asking certain questions like “how can I be the goose?” because we think it is not becoming or appropriate. After all, generally being a goose is associated with foolishness. Also there are times when we feel disappointed in or angry with a team (or staff person’s) member’s behavior. But at the same time, who will get things running smoothly again? Ultimately, it is our model that shows others what is expected. Asking ourselves to examine more closely why we are avoiding the difficult situation or people can highlight what concerns and assumptions are going on in our heads.
Great leaders are empathic
There is some confusion as to how an empathic leader behaves. Empathy is not sympathy or pity. It does not imply or state agreement. Empathy is putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and understanding his/her perspective. You do not even have to agree but acknowledging the other person can give you insight so you can identify the actual problem (which can be very different from what is being reported), if your vision and expectations are clearly communicated or the strengths and weaknesses of your team. While people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are lionized for being harsh, driven leaders, the statistics of disengaged workers (63% of workers worldwide are not engaged) is a wake up call for leaders in small and large companies. In a 2014 survey conducted by Lee Hecht Harrison, it was reported that 58% of managers fail to show understanding towards their employees. And how many anecdotes have you heard about people enjoying their work but unable to tolerate the organizational culture?
How to “do” empathy?
As Henry Ford once said, “The secret of success – if there is one – is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes, and to consider things from his or her point of view as well as your own. ” It is both easy and hard to do.
- Quiet yourself- If you have a chatterbox in your head, you will remain focused on your opinions, assessments and thoughts.
Listen actively- Ask questions, reflect back what you heard, summarize both agreement and disagreement and request suggestions for resolving the issue
- Watch the nonverbal cues- Eye contact, tone of voice, speed of speech, posture and choice of words are all hallmarks of how engaged the person is in a conversation. If something feels off, even if you cannot identify what, acknowledge the disconnect by stating, “I think I missed something here” or asking “do you have any additional concerns?”.
- Lend a hand- Asking how you can help get a task done opens the door for conversation. Your team member may say he/she does not need the help but your offer lets them know you noticed.
- Practice, practice, practice- Even the most empathic of us have off days or get distracted by the enormous amount of work and responsibility. If you are new to expressing empathy in a leadership role, it might feel awkward. No matter your experience level or stress level, empathy is improved with use.
“How can I be the goose?”
Asking the question is the start of empathy. When you see a staff member struggling, you are like the farmer wanting to help the goose with the broken wing. As you go along, you may notice that some people respond well to questions about how the work is going while others may need to hear you tell them to take a break and refresh themselves. Empathy gives you a better sense of how your small business is functioning and lets your team (and staff) know you want them to be well and perform well.