Empathetic Leadership – the Road Map

Les Teresa Conor Salmon fishing

Les, son Conor, and Teresa after a successful day salmon fishing in the ocean off the Columbia Bar.  Les was one of my original design process and leadership mentors.

Tomorrow, I’ll be presenting, along with chronic co-conspirator, former Rally Software CTO Ryan Martens, and new friend, SAFe Fellow Jennifer Fawcett, at the Scaled Agile Summit, a convergence of software managers and engineers interested in accelerating and managing ever more complex software development projects.  We’ll be sharing the stage and talking about development of empathy in leadership, which I discuss in my posts below on Servant Leadership 2.0.  We’re shifting the terminology a little bit, but at the same time, I think it’s fair to commend Jim Collins’ work in Good to Great on Servant Leadership as a starting point for my process of reflection on how leadership works.

As well as what has changed. The demands of companies as we approach the year 2020 are still somewhat the same — we have to ship product or services and make money.  But with increasing diversity, global markets, and far more connected systems and integration problems, lots has also changed.  Collins’ book was originally published back in 2001, when doing business in China, for example, wasn’t exactly new, but also still relatively difficult.  Now the entire globe is mapped together with interconnected supply chains, software is traded in 24/7 work cycles that follow the rotation of the Earth, and even locally, customers expect levels of personalization for basic products that were heretofore reserved only for the very high end of anyone’s product line.

Equally, the challenges of integrating larger social and environmental concerns loom large, and as a corporation, what you’re not aware of not only can hurt your bottom line, but increasingly, on a planet beset by global warming, can literally kill us all.  24 hour media cycles, and the ubiquity of the Internet also means that the expanse of global awareness has been amplified almost immeasurably.

And though, at times, this seems like a burden, it’s a good thing.  We are all interconnected, of course, so the actions of everyone can and do affect the whole.  At the same time, the enlightened leader has to prioritize actions, and spheres of influence.  We can feel deep compassion for starvation in the South Sudan.  At the same time, our own survival is keyed to shipping the next revision of our product.  That’s just a fact.

What Ryan, Jennifer and I will be presenting on is not a topical-level road map toward solutions of all these problems.  Anyone telling you that you’re going to master leadership by clicking through a checklist is selling an increasingly long bill-of-goods.  The evolutionary answer is to create the circumstances within your empathetic self, so your awareness grows — becomes emergent — and you can use all those tools, skills and experiences gained over your lifetime and career to facilitate the growth of the people around you.  As well as yourself.  It’s not an open loop process — it’s a coupled system, and as your empathetic self becomes more connected to others and feeds information and energy into others, so it also comes back to you.  There is no chicken, nor egg — but we can help with the process of self-preparation.  That’s our intention.

How do we intend to do this?  We’re going to lay out the real Big Picture — the meta- road map of how we’re all connected, from the neural level through our own organizations and desired outcomes, to larger societal cultures, constraints and intentions.  And then we’ll help with a little self-training.  While it is true that we’ve only got 45 minutes, we also believe that you can start the evolution process, interestingly enough, by seizing the development of personal agency through interaction with others.  And then hopefully, you’ll take that back and use it on yourself.  Of course, there’s more.  But all great quests begin with a handful of friends.

The connections you make will influence how that path will develop, and where those differences will be made.  We can’t know, and don’t pretend to.  But we do hope to inspire, at least a little by example.  How?  With one of the main lessons I think all three of us have learned in our own very different paths — by facing our ignorance, accepting ourselves, and then committing to action.  It’s as simple as the statement “I don’t know.  But I believe in myself enough that I can find out.  And I’m going to do it.”

All my Servant Leadership 2.0 posts are listed below.

Servant Leadership 2.0 — A Starting Point
Servant Leadership 2.0 — It’s coming, whether you like it or not
Servant Leadership 2.0 — some Semi-Final Thoughts
Servant Leadership 2.0 Continued — the Evolved Global Holistic Team
Design Thinking and Servant Leadership — the First in a Series
Design Thinking and Servant Leadership — Part II — Understanding the Legalistic Transition
Design Thinking and Servant Leadership — Part III — Trust-Based Relationships and Leadership Acceleration
Combining Servant Leadership 2.0, Empathy, and Design Heuristics in High Performance Teams

Postscript:  This hit my Facebook feed today.  None other than Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, is singing the importance of empathy.    And the most in-depth, systemic perspective is right here on this blog.  Word.

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