Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Listening, Understanding and Empathy, Traits of a Leader


Listening, Understanding and Empathy, Traits of a Leader

It was a dark evening, 5 PM in the middle of January.  The sun was gone, the sky was dark and the snow was flying.  I stepped into a conference room for a meeting where I only knew one person who sat around the large oval table. 

Before the meeting, I was introduced to everybody at the table but didn't get a chance to talk to anyone before the person giving the presentation got started.  For the most part, everybody listened and kept their eyes on the presenter.  The presentation was educational and quite interesting.

There was one exception.  Someone who had been introduced to me with a CFO title wasn't listening and wasn't making eye contact with the presenter. Through the entire presentation, the CFO had his eyes focused on his smart phone screen and all I ever saw from my vantage point on the other side of the table from the CFO was the top of his bald head.

When the presenter was finished, he asked for questions from those of us at the table.  At this moment, the CFO lifted his head and engaged for the first time.  The CFO had questions.

The problem was that the presenter had already addressed every question the CFO asked.  If the CFO had paid attention, shown respect to the presenter and had been polite enough to put his phone away while in the presence of someone who had traveled through snow and heavy traffic to arrive on time to make his presentation, the CFO would likely have had no questions.

In most companies, a CFO is high enough in the executive team to be considered a leader.  Though I had just met this CFO for the first time, it was clear to me that despite his “C Suite” title, he wasn't a leader.

Leaders not only listen, they strive to understand what they've heard and they strive to empathize.  To empathize doesn't mean sympathize.  Empathy means having the capacity to participate in the feelings or ideas of another person.  You can’t participate in someone else’s feelings or ideas if you’re communicating with your smart phone and you’re not listening to the presenter in a meeting.

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