How About Some Empathy, Please?

I am currently reading Simon Sinek’s latest book, Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, a fantastic read by the way and one I highly recommend to police. I have read a lot of book on leadership and quite frankly Simon Sinek in my view understands people and what makes them tick, like no one else I have read. His first book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action was outstanding as well. I actually developed a training program based on Start with Why for Sergeants called ‘Why Did You Choose to Lead.’

In the book there is a great section on Empathy and its importance in getting organizations to gel and work together. This got me to thinking about policing and our culture and how much it’s changed over the years. I am not talking about the laws and procedural side of things which have indeed changed as well and seem to be where most police organizations focus their efforts. I instead want to focus in on the relationships and how they have become much more individualized or are more often in forms of clicks and small groups of people who take care of their group while ignoring others and at the worst case examples, actively seeking to destroy others. This adversarial climate leaves people always on the defense and with the feeling of intimidation and distrust as well as the overwhelming feeling of not belonging, which effects not only individual attitude that’s negative or unproductive but it affects the climate of the whole organization in a negative way. Why, is this the case and how do we bring empathy “that concern for others” back into our ranks?

Simon Sinek makes a very astute observation; “In the linear hierarchies in which we work, we want the folks at the top to see what we did. We raise our hands for recognition and reward. For most of us, the more recognition we get for our efforts from those in charge, the more successful we think we are. It is a system that works so long as that one person who supervises us stays at the company and feels no undue pressure from above— a nearly impossible standard to maintain.”  We have all seen this and perhaps participated in ourselves? People get in the position of power and then seek to bring those they are closest to along for the ride. Now if this “bringing along for the ride” is based on professionalism and a person’s work performance I don’t really have a problem with it. Because it advances the mission and interests of the organization, but if it’s solely based on clicks and groups and neglects to consider professionalism and performance it creates a culture of mistrust and this is detrimental to any organization.

Empathy Develops Esprit de Corps a Commitment to One Another

Esprit de Corps (otherwise known as morale) is the capacity of a group's members to maintain belief in a common purpose or goal, particularly in the face of opposition or hardship. Esprit de Corps is often referenced by authority figures as a generic value judgment of the willpowerobedience, and self-discipline of a group tasked with performing duties assigned by a superior.

According to Alexander H. Leighton, "morale is the capacity of a group of people to pull together persistently and consistently in pursuit of a common purpose"

Working towards a common purpose; Simon Sinek explains as “the will to succeed and the desire to do things that advance the interests of the organization aren’t just motivated by recognition from above; they are integral to a culture of sacrifice and service, in which protection comes from all levels of the organization.” I see this as individuals working hard and smart while continually learning in a quest to continually improve the organization as one. Meaning, they are not just thinking about themselves but are indeed thinking about and committed to the organization as a whole.

In the right conditions, one that focuses on core values and working together, Sinek says; “the people with whom we work would choose to do those things for us. And when that happens, when those kinds of bonds are formed, a strong foundation is laid for the kind of success and fulfillment that no amount of money, fame or awards can buy. This is what it means to work in a place in which the leaders prioritize the well-being of their people and, in return, their people give everything they’ve got to protect and advance the well-being of one another and the organization.”

The Challenge for Leaders, Build Character and Empathy and Working Together Will Follow

You can have a vision for your organization that people can see and understand, but they will not help you achieve it if they are not engaged. A leader’s ability to mobilize others hinges on your ability to engage them in their work. When you engage people they are willing to use discretion and initiative to solve problems and continually improve. Discretion and initiative supercharge your organization and develops pro-organizational behavior that has a profound impact on its effectiveness. Do develop this you have to have robust communications, up down and sideways. Communicate on a regular basis, use meetings, speeches, informal chats, emails, phone calls and status updates. Give thanks for work well done and be thoughtful which is, an important way for people to know they are valued in the organizations. Celebrate accomplishments and make note of progress being made. Share your knowledge and teach people something of value. Do these types of things everyday and teach others to do the same. These simple steps will help to build the character and empathy necessary for a cohesive organization.

Exceptional organizations all have cultures in which the leaders provide cover from above and the people on the ground look out for each other. This is the reason they are willing to push hard and take the kinds of risks they do. And the way any organization can achieve this is with empathy.  Inject empathy into the organization and trust would be the new standard.

Simon Sinek has an example in the book of an organization whose leader saw the lack of enthusiasm and caring for one another and sought hard to make positive change through empathy and an adaptive leadership methodology that allowed everyone to voice their opinions (good or bad) as long as it was focused on moving the organization forward. This simple step evolved into reforming the culture.

“They had a renewed commitment to the organization, and it didn’t come as a result of any promises of bonuses or threats. They were more committed because they wanted to be. A new culture of caring allowed the people and strategies to flourish. This is what happens when the leaders of an organization listen to the people who work there. Without coercion, pressure or force, the people naturally work together to help each other and advance the company. Working with a sense of obligation is replaced by working with a sense of pride. And coming to work for the company is replaced by coming to work for each other. Work is no longer a place to dread. It is a place to feel valued.”

Truly human leadership protects an organization from the internal rivalries that can shatter a culture. When we have to protect ourselves from each other, the whole organization suffers. But when trust and cooperation thrive internally, we pull together and the organization grows stronger as a result.

If certain conditions are met and the people inside an organization feel safe among each other, they will work together to achieve things none of them could have ever achieved alone. The result is that their organization towers over their competitors. I am craving the give and take of empathy and more organizations that work together, how about you?

I highly recommend Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Team Pull Together and Others Don’t

Stay Oriented!

Fred