“She’s hopeless. Consistently late and her content is littered with mistakes. Do something about her!” ACCORD Learning had won a $200m BPO contract to deliver training for Britain’s largest telecom. The stakes were high, the timeframe short and I was managing teams in London, Bangalore and Houston. Nishani was the project manager for the Bangalore team, and reported directly to me. I liked her, and more importantly so did her team in Bangalore.
During several one-on-one talks, I learned she was caring for her parents, both very ill. Moreover, she was studying part-time, had a child with special needs and had recently lost her husband. Each day, she would travel for three hours on buses to get to work. While her performance continued to be a challenge, the team and I found a way to support her during a difficult time and for the project to succeed nonetheless.
The situation was not simple, but very human. I feel we learned more about each other and about teamwork than if I had simply ‘done my duty’ and put her on a performance improvement plan.
Camus’s The Guest explores the conflicted decisions made by Daru, and his treatment of his ‘prisoner’, the Arab. Daru is reluctant to condemn the Arab based on externally imposed expectations, choosing rather to rely on his internal moral philosophy – though not without pause. By treating the Arab with respect and equality, providing him with food, shelter and the dignity of choice, he displays a level of empathy many would find impossible in such a situation.
Empathy is playing an increasingly important role in leadership and is positively correlated with performance (Goleman, 1995; Salovey & Mayer, 1990). As we witness escalating cross cultural collaboration, remote working and technological innovation, empathy and emotional intelligence has become vital in attracting, engaging and retaining talented individuals (Bar-On & Parker, 2000; George, 2000).
Further, it’s not a natural gift, it can be learned (Gentry, 2010). Developing and evolving our ability to see beyond the external is not only vital in business for performance and effectiveness, it may – ambitious as it may sound – assist in reversing the growth of stress, anxiety and isolation in society as a whole.
Bar-On, R., & Parker, J. D. A. (2000). The handbook of emotional intelligence. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Inc.
Gentry, W. A. (2010). Managerial derailment: What it is and how leaders can avoid it. In E. Biech (Ed.), ASTD leadership handbook (pp. 311–324). Alexandria, VA: ASTD Press
George, J. M. (2000). Emotions and leadership: The role of emotional intelligence. Human Relations, 53, 1027–1055
Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Dell.
Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9, 185–211.
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