Managing the Shape of One’s Heart

It’s been said that leaders are not paid their enormous salaries because they are talented task-masters. Rather, a good leader is one that is effective in managing the mood-swings of a large number of people in an organization while still producing the company’s desired results.

Image by Flick user jnyemb and used under the Creative Commons license.

Simply put, leaders manage people, not processes.

As I continue to grow in my career, I am reminded of this almost daily.  Whether it be the challenge of coaching an intern in the third year of college, or the colleague who is easily old enough to be living in the senior community next door to my parents, each person I work with represents a different opportunity to observe and learn.  The education that takes place – I hope – is a two-way street.  But, at the end of the day, there is only so much I can do.  Accepting that as a fact of life – well, that’s the hard part.

Those who speak know nothing, and find out to their cost, Like those who curse their luck in too many places, and those who fear are lost.
– Shape of My Heart – Sting

Take Roxie, for example. Now, Roxie is a very good employee – follows the rules, and cares greatly about doing her job, and doing it the right way.  However, Roxie wears her heart on her sleeve.  Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with this, as it can be an endearing quality. But in the workplace, it can be disastrous, for both supervisor and employee.

For the supervisor – who wants to be known as the person who makes Roxie cry every week during their one-to-one coaching sessions?  When you start to worry about hurting feelings, you worry less about organizational goals.  Managing someone’s heart will truly have a manager feeling lost in no time.

And for Roxie, how do you expect to learn when every piece of feedback is construed as a personal attack?

However, this week, I was turned on to a great article in the Harvard Business Review entitled “Learn the Three Languages of Leadership.” In it the author looks at the Greek terms logos, ethos and pathos.  He further suggest that pathos is nothing more that caring for people – even when they may not even care for themselves.  He says:

It’s also important to tell stories about your own lessons in empathy. For example, a leader of a large professional services firm told this story: “We employed a male receptionist for ten years. Every day he left work at 4:45 p.m. on the dot. When he retired, I asked him why he left so precisely every day. He explained that he was the conductor of our national opera orchestra, and he had to leave to go to practice. For ten years we never asked this guy what he did, and we had a genius under our noses. That was wrong. How many other people with great hidden gifts are there in our company?”

For Roxie, I have utilized empathy – or pathos  – in the past, and it has been a wonderful ally.  But – there comes a time that this hyper-sensitivity  becomes detrimental to the team, and the organization.

Good leaders can be empathetic, but great leaders can give you that well-timed speech – “It’s time to grow up; it’s time to decide what type of professional you want to be.”  While harsh for Roxie, it serves not only to admonish this type of behavior in the workplace, but it also empowers the rest of the team to not tolerate that type of behavior.

In the end, if Roxie can handle the constructive feedback, then she will grow into an excellent employee – a keeper.  The emotional-outbursts associated with the feedback will cease, and her colleagues will truly look to her as a leader as well.

And everybody wins.


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