Empathetic and Mindful Leadership

Guest post from Aryeh Brickner:
The other day I was in an elevator. A man who looked to be in his thirties got on, while talking on the phone. Entering behind him was a couple with a baby boy about a year old in their arms. 
The guy on the phone says, “I have to hang up now, I just got into an elevator”.
The father turns to him and says in a nasty tone, “Did you really have to endanger all of us just to finish your call?” 
He snaps back, “I hung up before the doors closed, its’ fine”.
The father responds, “I don’t know what physics degree you have but it really doesn’t work like that!”
End conversation.
I was so taken back about how quickly this whole scene needlessly escalated. The man had clearly hung up the phone, so all the father had to do was mention politely how the radiation can still be impacted even with the doors open. Instead, he took an aggressive tone from the start, and was responded too in kind.
Obviously, one of the most important qualities a leader needs to posses is the ability to be a calming voice. But I think it goes deeper than that. At work, we sometimes encounter people who are usually pleasant and calm talking in an aggressive, or belligerent manner. Rather than attack them back, or chide them for their behavior, a leader needs to think to themselves, “Why is this person acting like this?” Perhaps they are under some intense pressure at work due to some deadlines. Maybe it’s something in their personal lives which is causing them to lash out. Next time you see an employee acting out, take them aside and reflect their behavior back to them in as polite a way possible. Then ask, “Is everything ok, this really isn’t like you.” Nine out ten times you will find there is something going on in their lives which is bothering them. (The other time, is they likely skipped lunch and are just cranky!)
To me, one of the most important character traits of leadership is the amount of compassion we show others. Compassion means thinking about the other person, what is ailing them, and how we can help. Most people in this world are good kind-hearted people. So, when they lash out at others there’s a good chance there’s a perfectly good explanation for it. Our ability to help find this explanation and deal with it is rooted in our humility which is of course another quintessential hallmark of leadership. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the offense especially if their tirade is aimed at us, we neglect to think about the root cause.
That elevator I was in, happened to be in a hospital. One look at the child and it was clear he was a patient, which was likely causing an enormous amount of stress on the parents. It doesn’t excuse the father being a little nasty but it sure can explain it. All the guy had to do was swallow his pride, look at these parents and say, “Sorry, I didn’t realize there is a problem to talk on the phone when the doors were still open” And if he was being super polite, “I hope your child gets better soon”.

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