Want To Inspire? Find Common Emotional Ground

by Michael D. Hume, M.S.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with a client who had a real challenge being an inspirational leader. We’d typically start by going over the feedback he’s received (anonymously or otherwise) from his colleagues, who say they aren’t inspired by him, or even motivated. Of course it’s easy to complain, especially about your boss, but underlying much of this feedback was often the theme that his folks simply didn’t feel like he cared about ’em.

“I don’t,” the client would sometimes reply. “God help me, I’ve tried to care about a couple of these people, but I just don’t.”

If you truly don’t care about a person, it’s impossible to show them any empathy, let alone respect. And without these foundational elements, you’ll never inspire good things in others. That’s why I’ve made inspirational leadership, with empathy as a cornerstone, the foundation of my coaching practice.

Often, the problem is that the client feels his teammates (at least in a couple of cases) don’t care enough about their work, or haven’t handled challenges as well as he would have, or for some other reason finds he can’t relate to them. He doesn’t respect them. And he’s too busy to try to “manufacture” a false caring for the sake of everybody’s fluffy-bunny happiness.

I can relate to that. I’ve had folks on my team who were very hard to respect, let alone care about. I especially had trouble with employees who lie, cheat, and steal… but there’s a difference between that unsavory sort (who just need to be disciplined toward termination) and the type of person who’s yet to find her motivation. As a business owner (or business unit leader), I need to do all I can to motivate my people, and to inspire them, if possible.

If you struggle with caring, realize you’re not alone… it’s a common problem among leaders, and I think the problem’s growing these days when everyone’s time and emotional energy are greatly over-leveraged. But when someone really makes it hard to care about them, and you feel you should try to do so anyway, consider this: you may not have done what they’ve done, or reacted the way they’ve reacted, but you have felt the way they feel.

Years ago, one of my brilliant colleagues made the observation that there are really only four basic human emotions: Mad, Sad, Glad, and (the non-rhyming emotion) Scared. Recently, people in need of a PhD topic have done research to discover different lists, but if you think about it, common sense will tell you that all the ways you feel can be collapsed into those four buckets. And you’ve felt them all, intensely, at some time in your life.

So maybe that hard-to-care-about person on your team is carrying around a chip on her shoulder. Maybe she’s really angry about something (isn’t that likely in our world today?), and can’t get over it. Ever felt that way? If so, you may not be able to relate to her actions, but you can empathize with her feelings. You can say things like “I see you’re upset, and I’ve been there… it’s no fun” without implying that you agree with her thinking or condone her behavior.

And here’s the magic part: if you can see you way clear to start saying such things to her, you might find that her mindsets and behaviors start to change. It’s quite common.

Empathy’s not a magic bullet, and you can’t count on sincere statements of empathy to turn around every hard case on your team. But I wouldn’t give up on a person before I tried it. It costs nothing, and if it only helps, say, 10% of your team’s overall bad behavior to go away, it’s well worth it! And I’ve never seen empathy bring in such low numbers. You’ll probably find that it works wonders… for free.

 Michael Hume is a speaker, writer, and consultant specializing in helping people maximize their potential and enjoy inspiring lives. As part of his inspirational leadership mission, he coaches executives and leaders in growing their personal sense of well-being through wealth creation and management, along with personal vitality.Those with an entrepreneurial spirit who want to make money “one less thing to worry about” can learn more about working with Michael at http://www.caym.tv/18812Anyone wanting to jump-start their vitality can browse through the best (and most travel-friendly) nutraceuticals on the market at http://shop.enivausa.com/239824Michael and his wife, Kathryn, divide their time between homes in California and Colorado. They are very proud of their offspring, who grew up to include a homemaker, a rock star, a service talent, and a television expert. Two grandchildren also warm their hearts! Visit Michael’s web site at http://michaelhume.net
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