Photo: Joe Corrigan/Getty
This editorial is part of our GREAT DEBATE feature ‘Why Aren’t There More Women In Positions Of Power?‘
Ask your boss, or a prospective managerial hire, to draw the letter “E” on her or his forehead, using her or his fingertip. The “E” stands for Excellence, Engagement, but most of all, Empathy.
Observe how she or he draws the “E.” If they draw it so that it’s backward to themselves, but would be right-facing and legible for you, then the individual possesses the quality known as empathy. If not, then she or he lacks the perspective of others.
Empathy is considered a right-brain quality—”feminine,” for lack of a better word. And this quality is not widely trusted in business these days. In attempt to tough out our current economic crisis, many people are responding with the wrong half of their brains.
By “wrong” half, in this case, I mean the left-brain, the orderly, organizational, linear, so-called masculine brain. But this is not to say the masculine brain is wrong, per se. It just refuses to ask for directions when it gets lost.
This is because the left brain does not easily engage in the empathic process. Left-brainers have trouble feeling what others feel. And they have a hard time believing that anyone else can ever feel their pain. “Empathy,” after all, comes from the Greek word pathos, or pain.
Daniel H. Pink explains in his remarkable book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” that empathy—not authoritarian rigidity—is what creates engagement, which is key in every aspect of business. He writes, “On the altar of action orientation and tough-mindedness, we’ve sacrificed the fundamentally human quality of empathy.”
If we look at a business like a human brain, perhaps the conference room is the neocortex, where data is received and information is processed in the most sophisticated way. But recent studies reveal that women are dropping out of the pursuit of executive leadership. Our country has fewer female CEOs than ever, fewer women in other key executive roles, fewer women in public office, fewer women on powerful, decision-making boards, and so on.
Without the presence of women, and the engagement of men, America is without the key pillars of leadership. This means that both men and women have to be present at the table where decisions are made. Pink notes that business is no longer an either/or matter of paying attention to the bottom-line OR being empathetic on a human level: success on the bottom-line REQUIRES empathy.
Empathy—the ability to feel what others feel—is what makes good sales and service people truly great. Empathy as in team spirit—esprit d’corps—motivates people to try harder. Empathy drives employees to push beyond their own apathy, to go bigger, because they feel something bigger than just a paycheck.
Men have built generations of success upon the process of deflecting emotion from the workplace. This is because business in the industrial age was built upon the steely, military-industrial model. But the factories have closed. Yes, current Presidential candidates rant about a return to manufacturing on U.S. soil, but that’s only part of the answer. Information, interactivity and communication are the most viable products we have to offer, and the rigid model of the past century will never work again.
Many business-people still use dated martial imagery, referring to an “arsenal” of products, or their company’s “secret weapon.” Well, here’s the real bombshell: the real secret weapon for success in the communication-age is empathy. If you’re not drawing your “E” backwards, you’re sure to feel the pain.
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