Wonder Women Use Empathy as Their Leadership Superpower
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I am a huge fan of Patty Jenkins and it turns out, so are most people. Wonder Woman is now the number one superhero movie of all time! What’s super exciting about this is not just that our Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, is female; it’s because she battles injustice by using love as her guide.
In Wonder Woman: The Art and Making of the Film, Jenkins reflected on the greatest superpower of all: " . . . to be strong enough to love in the face of darkness is the thing that sets Wonder Woman apart from so many before her.” Without love, Wonder Woman would not possess the empathy muscle in her arsenal of strength. As you build a daily practice of empathy into your leadership approach, consider these three examples to help you tone your empathy muscle.
Build an environment where people bring their best selves to work.
As CXO at SaaStr and co-founder and CEO of ChIPsNetwork.org, Mallun Yen builds communities and ecosystems that enable her stakeholders to thrive. With empathy at the core of her leadership approach, Yen is able to create and cultivate high-performing teams. “Because I often hire people who are different from those already on the team, it’s especially important to create an environment that is open minded to new people and ideas and divergent ways of thinking,” Yen says.
After being promoted into an executive role at a Fortune 100 company very early in her career, Yen was given the very vague advice many receive as they climb the corporate ladder: develop executive presence.
After a lot of starts and stops, Yen finally figured out that her executive presence was not about trying to fit into an ideal image of a young executive. Instead, she had to lead authentically and that meant holding empathy at the core. “For me, being authentic was understanding the whole person: what their background was, where they were coming from, what their interests were, what motivated them, and what their goals were,” says Yen.
Yen’s advice for making empathy your super power: Enable people to bring their best selves to work in good times and in bad. “I try to create an environment that recognizes there’s no such thing as ‘perfect’ and instead embraces creating a safe environment for risk-taking and making mistakes,” she says.
Change your definition of power.
After relocating from New York to Florida 13 years ago, Sharon Fekete, founder of The Doctor Whisperer, experienced a leadership rebirth. “I was exposed to a different level of humility in leadership and it impacted me greatly,” says Fekete.
Rather than a command-and-control approach, Fekete started to build transparency and honesty into her leader-follower relationships. In addition to transparency into business decisions, she began to share insights into her successes and failures. This set the stage for bi-directional empathy where employees felt trusted and engaged rather than controlled.
We humans learn as much from our missteps as we do from our successes. Reflecting on an incident when a contractor was on the verge of missing a client deadline, Fekete found herself in a sticky situation. The contractor had just experienced a minor car accident.
Rather than reaching out with empathy to gather information and talk through options to get the work completed, Fekete reacted by questioning the contractor’s intentions on fulfilling her responsibilities. The relationship severed. “If I chose empathy first, I could have diffused the situation and maintained a good working relationship,” says Fekete.
Fekete’s advice for making empathy your super power: Remember that empathy is key to a new leader-follower engagement model. “This is a whole new age we live in that caters to where the employee fits in versus why someone would be honored to work for your company,” she says.
Meet people where they are, not where you want them to be.
Leaders need empathy in good times and in bad. Empathy enables leaders to understand the who, what, why, and how of the people around them. Without it, leaders are ineffective in leading disruption. While it may seem manipulative, understanding what makes a person who they are enables you to gear the engagement component of the transformational journey you introduce to achieve your disruptive vision.