Empathy In Leadership
Empathy In Leadership Is The Secret Sauce

Are you the same, improved, or living and longing for the good old days type of project manager? It seems like every human is suspended like a cat over a pool of water at these precious moments not really knowing without doubt which path is the correct path of survival. The project manager typically received very strict containers of knowledge and attached to a very narrow interpretation of management skills ready to apply in very diverse industries with precision and poise.  After all it was the certification with a solid foundation of knowledge areas, processes, tools with techniques and held together with experience.

Today the industries are looking at a very different tune. No longer are the service industries and health care personnel the only ones allowed to display what some would tag as extra soft skills, forward thinkers have now noticed that every human is to be considered in a unique way to be strategically aligned with business and their diverse needs. Allow me to introduce you to the messenger of the day, Sharon Kim.

Speaker Bio

Sharon Kim dreams of an organized and seamless project world where all kinds of complexities and challenges are solved by teams that get along, where everyone gets the vision, each member of the team works on the right things at the right time to accomplish the business goals to stay competitive and relevant.

As a PMP certified senior program management professional with more than 20 years of experience, she has worked in numerous Fortune 500 organizations, leading various strategic programs as a Program Manager, Portfolio Manager and Consultant. When she’s not leading programs or projects, you can find her on Saturday mornings at her local farmers market looking for the freshest ingredients for her latest cooking adventure or travelling and exploring the world with her husband.

Sharon Kim and husband having fun on a vacation

The next few paragraphs will only highlight some of the areas that Ms. Kim shared with us. I must encourage you to come and participate with the Advance Topics Seminars especially taking advantage of the virtual breakout rooms to exchange in-depth knowledge of your peers and plan for those next steps into your industries with modified skills and/ or new perspectives.

What role does empathy play in a life of a project manager?

Here is the general definition of empathy and emotional intelligence that seem to go hand in hand with the subject.

Empathy n. The ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation. – Cambridge Dictionary and highlighted words by our speaker.

Emotional Intelligence can be observed as a segway to a deeper definition, understanding, and reacting to the concerns and needs that underlie others’ emotional responses and reactions. – Daniel Coleman author of Emotional Intelligence

It fosters human CONNECTION and TRUST! – Sharon Kim

Ice Breaker

As an Ice Breaker, each participant was presented with a short survey to highlight their inner leader type. This little personality test gave tremendous insight of how you as a leader may not only interact with a team but could potentially foster a better understanding of yourself. It then extends to the test taker further insight as a beneficial collaboration tool and finally to emerge as the best version themselves as a Empathetic Leader. In many cases, this type of perception has been securely tucked away for the rainy days, colleague condolences or personal situations outside of the office. 

If you choose to embark on the same self fulfilling fun as we did, you may indulge by recreating the following simple excel version and enjoy the self-reflections. Disclaimer: The test is done in fun and not in any way intending to insult, degrade, or belittle anyone nor was our speaker tagging any individual as an animal.

Explanations of the animal reflections are as follows:

Lion – Column 1

This personality likes to lead. The lion is good at making decisions and is very goal-oriented. They enjoy challenges, difficult assignments, and opportunity to get better at things. Because lions are thinking of the goal, they can step on people to reach it. Lions can be very aggressive and competitive. Lions must learn not to be too bossy or to take charge in other’s affairs.

> Strength: Goal-oriented, strong, direct

> Weakness: Argumentative, too dictatorial

> Limitation: Doesn’t understand that their direct leadership can sometimes hurt others, hard time expressing feelings

Otter – Column 2

Otters are very social creature. Otter personalities love people. They enjoys being popular and influencing and motivating others. Otter can sometimes be hurt when people do not like them. Otter personalities usually have lots of friends, but not deep relationships. They love to goof-off. (They usually have messy rooms.) Otters like to hurry and finish jobs. (Jobs are not often done well.) The otter personality is like Tigger in Winnie The Pooh.

> Strength: People person, open, positive

> Weakness: Talks too much, too easy going

> Limitation: Remembering past things they were supposed to do, follow through with discipline

Golden Retriever – Column 3

Good at making friends. Very loyal. Retriever personalities do not like big changes. They look to feel safe and secure. Can be very sensitive. Very caring. Has deep relationships, but usually only a couple of close friends. Wants to be loved by everyone. Looks for appreciation. Works best in a limited situation with a steady work pattern.

> Strength: helpful, calm, reassuring

> Weakness: Indecisive, indifferent, unable to express emotional, too soft on other people

> Limitation: Seeing the need to be more assertive, holding others accountable

Beaver – Column 4

Organized. Beavers think that there is a right way to do everything and they want to do it exact that way. Beaver personalities are very creative. They desire to solve everything. Desire to take their time and do it right. Beavers do not like sudden changes. They need reassurance.

> Strength: High standards, order, respect

> Weakness: Unrealistic expectations of self & others, too perfect.

> Limitation: Seeing the optimistic side of things, expressing flexibility

Putting yourself in your team members’ shoes (Seeing things from their point of view)

 There are 3 Types of Empathy

  • Cognitive – seen as being intellectual and having the ability to hear what is said and echo it back to a person. It can also be interpreted as uncaring and manipulative.
  • Emotional – observed as feeling what others are feeling. There can be a negative side of being contagious and even dangerous without some boundaries.
  • Compassionate – blends emotions with rational thinking and the urge to help. Applies emotional intelligence not just driven by feelings. It leads with care, concern and help if possible and necessary.
Spectrum of Empathy

 If you are thinking of all the scenarios that would alert you to being over empathetic, yes there is a possibility but of course you must really tap into all of your senses and be aware of the signs of depletion, exhaustion, and depression. Take a break and set boundaries! When thinking of your own working place, would you consider it as an empathetic organization? In your own self-evaluation consider the 5 most common effects of an empathetic organization:

  1. Loyal Staff – workers leave due to lack of trust and appreciation from those they report to
  2. Highly engaged workers – form an urge to do more & reciprocate
  3. Employees that work well together – collaboration will result in a better coordinated work effort and increased productivity
  4. Happy staff / team – staff that feel seen, heard, and appreciated feel more satisfied with their work, and as a result miss fewer days on the job
  5. Creative workers all around – feels their success and the company success are interrelated, boosting their desire to find new, better, and more efficient ways of working

Project successes are easier to achieve which ultimately impacts higher bottom line to your business.

If by chance you were remotely thinking all the changes were just toward the interactions toward the project teams and stakeholders, no it applies to you as the project manager. We are all changing!  There are trends making it into the headlines.

5 Trends Changing the Role of a Project Manager

  1. A Younger Workforce – aimed at filling nearly 2.7 million project oriented positions annually through 2027
  2. Artificial Intelligence (AI) Playing a Bigger Role
    1. 3 Ways Artificial Intelligence can Improve Project Management by 2024
      1. Preventive analysis favored to produce less failed projects
      2. More accurate project planning
      3. Project manager capacity freed up for higher value work
    2. Effects of (AI) on Project Management
      1. (AI) will become a helpful associate
      2. Software Development supporting planning, quality assurance, optimization, architecture design and Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)
      3. First-line Analysis delegated focusing on high level architecture designs
      4. Self-learning Machines taking on the low-level roles and routine tasks will almost be effectively automated
  3. Journeys not Projects – they are organic and dynamic entities and can change shape and scope rapidly
  4. Variations and Diversification –  the once narrow scope of the Project Manager (PM) will become larger and demand more skills
  5. The IoT (Internet of Things) – Project Manager (PM) will be able to empower themselves with faster reporting tools, process improvements and more extensive collection of project data

How to encourage the quiet ones

Don’t forget your journey as an improved PM, you will evolve into a People Leader strongly displaying extensive skills in leading each and every person. We have arrived at the burning question…can you learn empathy? YES, you can! Empathy is both a trait as well as a skill, which is proof it can be learned. Let’s view this task as a muscle, it can be trained to get stronger and stronger within certain practices naturally increasing it.

Take an insider’s view into the 7 Mindset Shifts Focusing on Improving Empathy:

Speaker Nugget

If you still are not able to see empathy in your minds’ eye have a peek at the following Empathy in Action captured on YouTube: 

  • Tips for Bringing Empathy Into the Workplace
    • Rethink how you listen
    • Prioritize problems that are urgent to others
    • Be open minded to your coworkers’ concerns
    • Get to know your coworkers on a personal level
    • Accept that empathy doesn’t happen overnight

– Sourced from Talent Today by way of Sharon Kim

Bonus Insights

I truly hope you have enjoyed this Advanced Topics Seminar as much as we all did. Please know that each and everyone within the Project Management arena is continuing the tradition in striving toward excellence. Take the time to re-enforce your toolbox with the new skill bestowed upon you today. If you participated in the leadership type test earlier in this article, remember a successful project will require each of the animal equivalent references. Hope to see you at our next Advanced Topics Seminar (ATS). Register here!

Contributed by: Kassandra Cobb-Nwadigo Chief Editor / Web Developer
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