“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
― Theodore Roosevelt
My career in leadership started in 1980 when I was asked to take on the role of the Lead Technical Support Analyst in “Data Processing” at a custom manufacturing company in the Midwest.
(Note to audience: For those younger than 40, Data Processing was a term used for Information Technology or Information Systems back in the earlier days, along with EDP – Electronic Data Processing)
My entry into data processing was by luck, and I was truly feeling my way through it. I had only been in “data processing” for a little over three years when I was asked to take on more responsibilities and promotion into a lead technical support role. My job at the time was a lead computer operator, and I did not believe I was ready for a promotion. I was going to college for Computer Science, trying to fulfill my role as the mother of two very young children, a wife, and I was working nights to reduce the time I spent away from my children. Talk about trying to do it all! I was the only female in our department, and I was most often referred to as the “girl.” We have progressed!
The technical support role was new to the department, and the responsibilities were my responsibility to create. By accident, I had formed the concept of my role and responsibilities by assuming leadership responsibilities without asking permission. I took on responsibilities such as creating the job schedule, instituting incident and change management (we didn’t even know what to call it back then), asset management, and other ITSM like controls. We didn’t have industry standards to pull from back then. It just made sense to me.
I am getting off track here while remembering those early days. At the time, I was nothing less than afraid. Part of my fear was that my male peers had longer tenure and would resent me for the propmotion. Why me? Was I good enough?
I lamented my concerns to a well-seasoned engineer who I often looked to for sage advice and counsel. His advice to me was this:
“Take care of your people, and they will take care of you.”
“Is it that simple?” I said, “How do I do that?” His reply as I recall it over all these years:
“You are not there to be their friend, but that doesn’t mean you should not be friendly. If you show them you care about their well-being, they give back their best. It is that simple.”
Over the years, his advice remained my mantra and cemented itself as one of my core personal principles. It earned me the moniker of “Dragon Slayer.” More importantly, it earned me the mutual respect of trusted team members with whom I remain good friends. It is my secret sauce that isn’t much of a secret.
It all comes down to EMPATHY, a trait that most do not think of as a leadership characteristic. Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experiences of others. Empathy is more than simple sympathy, which is being able to understand and support others with compassion or sensitivity.
Let’s move beyond my own experience and let me tell you a little about another leader’s experience – Bob Chapman.
I’ve not had the personal honor of meeting Bob Chapman. I came across him in the book Everybody Matters by Raj Sisodia.
Bob Chapman is the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller. Barry-Wehmiller is a $1.5b global manufacturing company of capital equipment and engineering consulting with about 7,000 employees. No big deal. Except their corporate message is very different.
Their home page message is unique. On the main page, in the center, you immediately see a slide show with the following message:
“We’re Building A Better World.”
When you link to their “Our Culture” page it starts with:
“Step inside any one of our 100 locations around the globe, and you’ll feel it: a culture of care, compassion, and human connection. “
…and it ends with:
“Better me, better we, better world.”
Wow! Who could not see themselves moving mountains in a culture with this type of leadership at the helm?
The company principles do not talk about profits, results, or income. They talk about leadership, about people, and appreciation of individual team members and their families.
This direction was set by and is continued to be led by Bob Chapman. He walks the talk. Here is what I learned about Bob.
Somewhere in the l990’s Bob had an epiphany. He came to realize that the value of his company hinged on the people. He realized that as a leader he was responsible “to provide the care of nurturing employees to be all that they were meant to be?” and that “leadership calls us to be stewards of the special lives entrusted to us every day.”
I love how he ties the state of the world back to leadership. How we treat employees and how they feel about themselves as a result of our treatment, has a direct influence on their relationships at home. How many people have arrived home after a bad day in the office and felt good about their interactions that evening with their spouse, family, or even their pet? He goes on to correlate happiness in the home to the outlook we have in the rest of our lives. It makes sense to me.
Stewardship of each other is the missing link to the success of our society, in our companies, and our families. We are not taught caring in school or our textbooks. We are taught the mechanics of the bottom line. We don’t hear about it in management or leadership training. We are not taught or told that we have the power to inspire, influence, and positively impact employees or other people in our lives. We don’t believe we need to take responsibility for the success of our employees. The reverse is discussed. We are told the employee is the architect of their career and success. And they are, along with our help.
Do we believe that as leaders we are responsible for our employee engagement? Do we commit to accountability for shaping the culture of that engagement? Do we have the power to refocus our energy on society and becoming a caring leader? Can we envision the power of empathy? I can.
What is the real reason we hold back? Why are you holding back?
IT Executive Advisor and Leadership Coach
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