Most Lean Leaders manage through influence and not authority. This is especially true when just starting out. This can be challenging and learning how to effectively and sincerely influence an organization to learn to adopt the Lean worldview and also its practices requires that we demonstrate empathy in a genuine and sincere way.
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In a recent article on FastCompany, empathy is described as “the most powerful leadership tool” 1. I’d have to completely agree.
The article describes what each lean practitioner knows all too well:
- People don’t have to follow us.
- People don’t have to listen to us.
- People don’t have to believe in our ideas.
This is true because most Lean practitioners often start out with no authority, but only through influence. This means that literally nothing can be exerted onto people. But this also means that we have to exercise true leadership by bringing people together, to believe in a vision, to march toward the same direction – that is the essence of leadership.
And, empathy is a key ingredient in the process of influence.
Become The Other
To increase our influence, the author of The Zen Leader suggest that we need to “become the other.” What the author means is this:
To become the other person is to listen so deeply that our own mind chatter stops; to listen with every pore on our body until we can sense how the other’s mind works. To become the other person is to feel into her emotional state, see through her eyes, think like she thinks, and see how she views us, our proposition, and the situation at hand.
This is also a practical approach because once we understand the other person’s perspective,
influence becomes a matter of showing how our idea connects with those interests.
And the upshot of this approach can be incredibly powerful:
Extending this empathetic approach, person by person, group by group, through your world, you can see where your actions start to be informed by an ever larger context. Consequently, your ideas, actions, and direction will start to resonate within that larger context. You can start making big things happen, not by controlling, but by connecting; not by making war on them, but by becoming the people whose interests are served by those big things.
For Lean leaders, Genchi Genbutsu is an application of demonstrating empathy.
As practical steps to take to become a more empathetic leader, the author suggest taking the following steps:
- Deeply understand your own needs and interests: Go beneath the surface to unearth what you really want and why.
- Become the other. See through their eyes, think with their mind; sense its patterns. Consider what is truly in their interests.
- Go from there. Show how your idea is in their interests, either directly or through an exchange you offer.
Not only is this advice good for leaders in general, but it’s especially important for lean leadership and lean managers.
Below is a framework 2 for empathy and how empathy can support Respect for People as well as be very strategic in your lean journey.