Be an Empathetic, Caring (But Not Meddlesome) Leader - Huffington Post 11.21.2014

Though spoilt and pampered as Pharaoh's adopted grandson, Moses strongly empathized with his embattled, embittered Hebrew brethren, and would often come to "look at their burdens" (Exodus 2:10). One day, he observed an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave mercilessly. Moses, possessor of a compassionate and tender heart, intervened and stopped the oppressor in his tracks.

By voluntarily leaving the luxurious palace and going out to spend time with his oppressed and downtrodden brethren, Moses displayed personal humility. He felt himself to be no better than the others, despite his privileged status, and sought ways with which to help them. Power and privilege can lead to arrogance, but Moses checked his ego as he exited the palace doors.

All leaders would be wise to seek to emulate Moses' example. The young, future leader was able to develop a strong sense of empathy and connection, despite the distance that separated him from the slave population. Because of that bond, Moses was prepared to defy the royal edict and thereby endanger his own life in order to save a complete stranger who only shared a common lineage.

One way for leaders to develop a strong bond with their people is to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Not just their own work, mind you, but the work of their direct reports, as well as their reports' reports. Take time to sit in various offices and seats within the organization and seek to develop new skills and make connections on different levels. Ask about existing challenges within the company and develop empathy for those who are tasked to address them regularly. Brainstorm with staff about how best to address these issues to optimize performance. By bringing yourself down to your people, you will gain their admiration as someone who really seeks to know their situations and improve them.

Of course, another significant benefit is the knowledge that you will learn about parts of the company about which you are presently unfamiliar. Your newfound perspective will add insight to decision making processes large and small.

Though a leader's direct involvement can really energize her team or company, she should be careful not to become TOO involved. I made that mistake once, at the beginning of my principal tenure. I would regularly come out to join staffers who managed the carpool line, thinking that such involvement would help the teachers and offer me another opportunity to engage with parents and students. All of that was fine, until I started taking over the process and stepping on some toes as I did. I got the hint when my associate principal told me that it was "beneath me" to be out there barking carpool instructions. That was her nice way of saying that I had gone a bit too far and had worn out my welcome.

Leaders have to walk a fine line in the workplace. On the one hand, people want them to be interested and involved. On the other hand, they can easily wear out their welcome by becoming meddlesome and "stealing" the process from those who were tasked to complete it. So long as leaders can take the necessary measures to remain in others' good graces, they will find that their time in the trenches will be time very well spent.  

Naphtali HoffComment