Published June 28, 2020 by with 0 comment

Empathy and Leadership


All leaders in the organizations expect their employees to give one-hundred percent in achieving the organizational goals. Usually, they would set the goals for the organization, break-down those goals based on each employee's role and responsibilities, and come up with individual goals.

While this helps in coming up with relevant goals for each of the employees, from the perspective of growing the organization and achieving greater success, doing it without considering how the goals would help the employee grow, could result in lack of motivation amongst employees.

Empathetic leaders take into consideration their employee's individual sense of purpose, so they can align it with the organizational goals for the mutual benefit of both.

What is Empathy?

In simple words, empathy is the ability to put oneself in the shoes of another person, and understanding their perspective. With empathy, one can connect with others and relate to them, thereby building a strong relationship, without which the relationship is mostly superficial. An empathetic person is a good listener, who doesn't judge others based on what they share.

Importance of Empathy in Leadership

Empathy is critical in becoming an effective leader. With empathy, leaders are able to connect well with their employees, thereby building trust with them. Empathy enables leaders in understanding the needs of an employee, and thus they are able to provide the opportunities for them to grow and succeed. When employees know that the leader is aware of their feelings, they show faith in their decisions.

On the other hand, when leaders lack empathy, they are seen more as a manager rather than a leader. Lack of empathy shows up when a leader expects the employees to think the same way as they do. For example, a leader puts in long working hours, and expects the same for their employees to do, even though the working situations are very different for each of them.

Employees find empathetic leaders as approachable, and are able to openly share their concerns with them. Empathetic leaders listen to their employees, makes them comfortable. This helps in building up a very open culture in the organization, and the employees feel valued.

Empathetic leaders are able to understand the strength and weakness of their employees, and accordingly provide them with opportunities that would help them grow and succeed. When leaders don't understand the capability of their employees, it may result in dissatisfaction amongst employees, and they feel demotivated. This in turn impacts the growth of an organization, as the employees become less productive.

On the same lines, empathetic leaders are able to understand the reason of poor performance of their employees, and thus are able to take necessary actions to nurture an environment, where employees are not scared of failing. This also enables employees to be innovative at work, because they know they have a leader who believes in them.

How to Develop Empathy?

Be a good listener. The first and foremost method of developing empathy is by being a good listener. As a leader, make sure you listen to your employees, without judging them. You should put all your personal motives aside, and just be there and listen to them. Give your full attention to your employees and don't get distracted by phone calls or texts.

Consider employee's growth while defining goals. When defining goals for your employees, understand how those goals would also help the employee achieve personal growth and success. Try to understand what motivation, employee can find while working towards achieving those goals. While giving them new assignments, try to gauge if they are excited about it or they are taking it as just another work item. While it's not always possible to give what your employee needs, it's important to make them understand why you chose them for this assignment, and help them see the growth opportunity.

Conduct regular one-on-one meetings with your employees. More often than not, leaders use such meetings to give feedback to their employees on where they lack and what they should do to improve. While this is important, it's also important to take feedback from employees on how you are performing as a leader for them. This again somewhere ties to the trait of being a good listener, but giving them a platform to share their needs and concerns makes sure you get a regular feedback. At times, we have employees who don't talk much, and they don't reach out by themselves, even if there's something troubling them. One-on-one meetings comes handy in such situations, where you can encourage them to speak and share their feelings with you.

Reach out to your employees. Last, but not the least, reach out to your employees and talk to them about their personal lives. Show interest in their hobbies, ask them what they do on weekends, talk about their families. This helps in building a strong relationship, and helps your employees open up to you. While doing this, it helps to share your personal life experiences with them too, to get the conversation going. Knowing your employees at personal level helps you further understand their personal situations and challenges.

Developing empathy doesn't happen all at once. It's like any other skill. The more you practice, the better you become at it.

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Published June 21, 2020 by with 3 comments

The Art of Prioritization

The Art of Prioritization


Do you feel like putting in a lot of effort, and yet unable to make any progress? By the time you finish the work at hand, another high priority task shows up, that needs your immediate attention? When you begin, everything seems to be on track, but somehow you consistently miss the deadline? If so, then the art of prioritization can help you out.


In simple words, prioritization is a technique, which helps you rank the items in your to-do list, in the order of their relative importance and urgency. Higher the urgency, higher the priority.


But, what if all the items in your list are equally important? That's where the art of prioritization becomes useful. The idea is to combine prioritization with tools and techniques, that can help you become more effective in achieving your goals.


Why Prioritization is Important?


Context switching is one of the main productivity killers. Research has shown that although the cost of context switching might seem small, but when done repeatedly, can have a long-term compounding impact on our focus. Prioritization can help you focus on one task at a time, and thereby reduce the occurrences of context switching. Let me explain with an example.


I was working on an important presentation, for an upcoming event. I worked for hours and finished up the presentation. While I was drafting an email to share the presentation with my management, a colleague reached out to me, needing my help with a critical problem. Considering the criticality, I left my email there and started helping them out. After spending an hour with them, we were able to solve the problem. I came back to my desk, completed and sent the email, and left for home. It felt good on completing the presentation, and at the same time helping out my colleague. Next day when I woke up, I was surprised to see the reply on my email. It said, "You forgot to attach the presentation". All the hard work put in to finish the presentation on time went in vain.


Now, it might seem that context switching in this case was just a coincidence, and I would have forgotten to send the presentation in any case. Even if that's true, what we should try to understand is, context switching helped increase the chance of this happening. Most of the times, that's all it takes to lose focus. And the result? A delay of few minutes resulted in lost productivity for not just me, but for the management as well, who had planned their day assuming they would receive the presentation the same day.


Learning the Art of Prioritization


You must be wondering why I am referring to prioritization as an art. Prioritization may seem pretty straight forward, if you think only from the perspective of scheduling your tasks in the order of criticality. While that may work in some cases, it cannot guarantee optimal utilization of your time and achieving effective results. When combined with patience, analysis and good judgement, you turn prioritization into an art, and thereby make the most out of it.

 

Below are a few techniques I have been using to achieve effective prioritization.


Maintaining a To-Do List


This had to be the first one in the list, right? Although it may seem quite obvious, but I know only a few people actually go about maintaining such a list. More often than not, we try to maintain the list in our mind. There isn't any problem in doing that, just that it's an additional thing our mind has to worry about, apart from obviously completing the task at hand.

 

I remember my school teacher once telling the class that while reading a book, never try to see how many pages the book has. If you do, you will feel there's a long way to go, and you will never be able to finish the book. Instead just keep reading, page by page.

 

Similarly, if you maintain the To-Do list in mind, it keeps reminding you there's a long way to go and you tend to lose focus under that pressure. Instead, simply maintain a list on your notebook, or your mobile phone, or your laptop. Keep adding new tasks to the list as they come, and continue focusing on your task at hand. I personally use Notion for my To-Do list.


Time Blocking


Okay, so you have your list of tasks for today, in the order of priority. You start working on the first task, and before you realize, the day is about to end before you could go to your next task. Sounds familiar? Sure, it does. And when that happens, we start to think, "Where did all my time go?".


Parkinson's law says, "Work expands, so as to fill the time available for its completion". So, what does that mean? It means, if for a 1-hour task you give yourself 1 day, you will actually end up taking a 1 day for it to complete. This is where time blocking technique comes to the rescue.


Time blocking means allocating a fixed time period for each of your planned tasks. This helps in two ways. First, by allocating time of each task, you would know your goal for that day. Second, you would keep a check on how much time you should be spending on a task, as otherwise it can impact your remaining tasks for the day. Once the time period elapses, you can review the task status, and if it's still not complete, you can decide whether to continue working on the current task or move on to the next task. It's like maintaining small checkpoints for the day to review the progress.


This technique is also helpful in managing the unknowns. A lot of times we come across tasks for which we don't know the completion time up front. If we don't decide a time block for such tasks, we could very well go on working on them, thereby ignoring other important tasks. Time blocking in such case gives us an opportunity to review our approach towards solving the task.


Big vs Small Tasks


In the world of computer programming, there are numerous scheduling algorithms. Some works on first come first serve basis, whereas some tend to process critical tasks first, irrespective of the task duration. In real life also, we come across situations where we have a critical task which is time consuming, whereas there's another not so important task, which is of shorter duration.


What I have learnt is, a single approach cannot work in prioritizing such tasks. If you prioritize the critical task first, chances are, you may not be able to start on the other tasks. Whereas, if you pick the smaller task, it may delay the critical task. Here, apart from time blocks, the deadline for each task also becomes important.


Suppose, the deadline for the smaller task is midday, whereas the deadline for the critical and longer duration task is next day. If you start on the critical task, and there is a chance you might not be able to finish it before smaller task's deadline, then it would make sense to prioritize smaller task first so as to meet the deadline. This also makes sure you will get enough time to finish the critical task before the deadline.


On the other hand, if the deadline for both the tasks is same, then it might be a good idea to start on the critical task first, so as to get it out of the way early. Once done, you can then freely focus on the easier task.


Not Jumping Into the Act


Many a times, when a critical ad hoc task comes in, we tend to take it up right away, leaving the task at hand. This has the ability to disrupt our plan for that day, and gives us a feeling of not being able to achieve anything.


In such instances, what we need to do is take a step back and add it to our To-Do list, just like any other task. We should also try to get an answer on what is the deadline for this task. Should this be completed as soon as possible, or we have a time window for it? We shouldn't be assuming the deadline, even though the task is critical. Additionally, it's also important to understand the impact of this new task on our existing planned tasks, and judge whether the criticality is high enough that we can bear the impact. Only when we have answers to these questions, we should entertain such task.

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Published June 13, 2020 by with 5 comments

What's Your Locus of Control?


When faced with difficulties, do you feel you have control over the outcome and are fully responsible for the end result? Or, you feel that external factors are involved, over which you don't have any control, and thus you cannot influence the outcome? Depending on the thought process, you either have an internal or external locus of control. Let me explain with an example.

A software firm was working on an important client delivery. They were supposed to roll out a new app feature to the customer. The timelines were tight, but they were confident to get this through on time. The team worked very hard, and everything seemed to be going as per the plan.

With three days to go, they had an internal demo with the management, to walk through the feature details. During the demo, it came out that they had missed developing a very critical piece, and now there was no way to deliver the complete feature within stipulated time. The whole team was disappointed that even after putting so much effort, they had failed. As a usual practice, the team gathered to retrospect on what went wrong.

There were multiple points raised to understand the reason of this failure. To quote a few -

  • Developers - Analysts should have provided the requirements clearly.
  • Analysts - The development team should have gone through the requirements properly, and reached out if something wasn't clear.
  • Project Manager - Demo should have been scheduled early, so that the team would have received the feedback on time.

What do you notice here? No one took the responsibility of the failure. This behavior is what is referred to as having an external locus of control. Everyone was busy blaming the external factors for the failure.

Now, let us rephrase above statements from the outlook of a person having an internal locus of control.

  • Developers - We should have asked for the clarification from the analysts, as we knew requirements aren't clear.
  • Analysts - We should have checked with the developers if they have understood the requirement or not.
  • Project Manager - I should have scheduled the demo earlier, so as to get an early feedback.

See the difference? With this outlook, everyone showed that they had control over the outcome, and took responsibility for it. This refers to having an internal locus of control.

So how do we define this concept of locus of control? 

Locus of control is a psychological concept, which defines the degree to which people believe they have control over the situations and outcomes of the events happening in their lives, as opposed to external factors.

How does having an internal versus external locus of control affects us? 

People having internal locus of control tend to analyze and take appropriate actions to set things right, when faced with problems. They are driven individuals. They feel confident when faced with challenges. On the other hand, those with external locus of control would appear to be complaining about outside factors being the cause of their shortcomings. They lack confidence, as they don't believe they can change the situation with their efforts.

Let's see some more examples.

External locus of controlInternal locus of control 
I failed because the questions were out of syllabus. I failed because I didn't go through the complete syllabus. 
I always lose this game. Luck is never on my side.I always lose this game. I need to practice more.
I got late to office due to high traffic.I got to late to office, as I didn't leave early considering high traffic.
We couldn't crack the deal because the panel was biased.We couldn't crack the deal because we were not prepared well. 

Although, having an internal locus of control is a good thing in most of the cases, but it has its drawbacks too. Such people at times can become highly self-critical, resulting in a state of anxiety and depression. It's important to find the right balance, and not to beat yourself up over the failures. 

The idea is to develop a thought process, where you don't go by your instincts, but take a step back and analyze the situation. Think of the options you have, and figure out if there is something you can do to influence the situation or not.

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Published June 06, 2020 by with 2 comments

How to ask for help at work?


At work, more often than not, we end up in situations where we need help or guidance from fellow workers. It could be help in making a presentation, in writing a piece of code or as simple as reviewing an email. At times, we get what we need and at others, we don't. Many a times we hesitate, thinking it would make us appear incapable, someone who can't get their work done on their own.


Let's talk about the times when we don't get the help we need. There could be various reasons for that. It could be that we couldn't ask for help in the first place, or the person wants to help, but helping us would mean delaying their own work.

Here, I have noted down 3 simple tricks for you, that would make asking for help a lot easier.

 

Do Your Homework

When you are stuck with some problem, how do you reach out to others for help? A very common way would be to ask, "Hey, could you help me solve this problem?". Simple as that. 

Now, let's think from the perspective of the person helping you. All they know is you have a problem, and need their help to solve it. The first thought that would come to their mind is, "I need to understand the problem first, do my research and then provide a solution. This is going to take time". Another possible thought that could come is, "Why don't they solve it on their own? I can't spoon feed them every time.".

Suppose, if we change our ask to - "Hey, I am stuck with this problem for sometime now. I have tried this solution, but no results. I have searched for other possible solutions as well, and this is what I could find. Could you guide me if I'm on the right track, and what else I could look at?". 

Notice the difference? Before reaching out for help, we did our homework, and provided them with enough information, so they don't have to start from ground zero. Also, we showed that it's not like we didn't put any effort. We tried whatever we could, and after exhausting all our options, we have reached out to them. Lastly, we didn't ask for a solution, but guidance. This is crucial, as we don't want to be spoon fed, and would like to solve the problem on our own.

 

When people see that we are not going to them with a blanket problem, but with possible solutions as well, they are more likely to help.

 

Show Gratitude

We all have a go-to person in our lives, whom we keep bugging with our queries. It could be because we feel comfortable reaching out to them, or they are know-it-all types, who has an answer for every problem.

At times we think, "Are they getting bothered with our repeated requests?". They might very well be, and we should not take them for granted. So, to avoid being in a situation, where they might actually get tired helping you, a simple solution is to show gratitude. 

 

Let them know how helpful they were in solving your problem. Instead of just saying "Thank you", explain them how crucial their help was, and what it would have been otherwise if they hadn't helped. 

 

There is no better feeling than to realize the difference we made in other person's life, by simply helping them out.

 

Give As Much As You Take

The last, and probably the most important trick is, give as much as you take. Help and guidance is not a one-way street. The willingness of others helping you, largely depends on your reputation of helping others.

 

There is a popular saying "Do as you would be done by". Like in many other cases, this is applicable here as well. Develop a habit of assisting others, even if it would mean taking out extra time for them. Such a behavior never goes unnoticed. It's a natural tendency for an individual to help someone they have received help from in past.

 

Additionally, when you regularly help others, you automatically develop the self-confidence to ask for help, without thinking if it would make you feel incapable. By helping others, you understand that how normal it is to ask for help and guidance, and if you are helping them, they would help you too.

 

This needs to be done with consistency though. Something you did long back won't have the same impact in contrast to what you would do consistently.

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Published June 02, 2020 by with 5 comments

Consistency: Foundation of Better You!


A few years back, I was speaking to a friend. He looked frustrated, and was talking about how he felt unvalued in the organization he was working for. Curious to know, I enquired what happened. "All these months, I have given my best for the company, and never missed any deadline. For once I did, and my boss pointed out in front of the whole team, and I felt so humiliated", he said. 

The incident made me realize, how years of consistent hard work could get overshadowed by not being consistent for once. The person who was once the best performer in the company, got humiliated because he couldn't meet the deadline for the first time. How is that fair? But, when I think more about it, it all makes sense. The reason he was the best performer was because he "consistently" met the deadlines. Now that he didn't, his boss simply questioned his consistency. Once you set the expectation of consistent outcomes, the world will not accept anything less. This happens in all areas of life. Everyday, you go to bed on time and wake up fresh in the morning. For once, you sleep late and you have the worst headache when you wake up.

The idea behind consistency is not just to follow a routine to reach the top, but to stay there. A lot of time I see people try to show they are consistent, in an attempt to get noticed, to stand out. With such an intent, the success is short-lived, as they fail to convert their consistency into a habit. You can't predict when your consistency will come to fruition. But it will one day, that is certain. 

I have this habit of joining meetings a few minutes early, making sure I don't miss out on important discussions. Also, as I value time, I make sure other attendees do not waste their time waiting for me. Few years back, when I had then recently joined a company, I was in a virtual meeting with my manager. We both joined the meeting early, waiting for others to join. Out of the blue he spoke, "We both have something in common. We like to join meetings early. I rarely see people doing that". This was just my third meeting with him. Something which I was doing out of habit, as a result of my consistent effort over the years, was noticed when I was least expecting it.

If people notice you being early to the meetings, they will notice when you are late too. Does that mean we are not allowed to break the routine at any cost? Not at all. What matters is understanding why did you miss in first place. Did you get complacent, thinking you have been consistent all this while and it's okay to skip once? If so, being consistent has not turned into a habit for you, and you are still far from achieving your goals.

Think of consistency as a stepping stone for developing habits. Good habits help you grow as a person, resulting in a better form of yourself. With good habits, you keep improving, consistently, and achieve great success.
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