If you are like me when you read the title of this blog you thought, “I don’t even know who Jean Nidetch is, so what can I learn from someone I don’t know?” However, I think there is a very important lesson for leaders to learn from this pioneering entrepreneur and trendsetter.
I met Jean this morning as I was reading the Wall Street Journal. Buried in the Business and Technology section was an article about Weight Watchers founder, Jean Nidetch, passing on at age 91. My initial thought upon reading the title of the article was that I was impressed she had made it to 91! My second thought was that I had never thought about how Weight Watchers got started. Although nearly every female in my early childhood life had at one time or another proclaimed to be on “Weight Watchers”, I knew almost nothing about it.
I was fascinated as I read the article and learned about how this organization came into being. Suzanne Knaper, the writer for The Journal puts it this way, “…Ms. Nidetch, a perpetually overweight housewife, discovered an important weight-loss tool that was missing from traditional diets: empathy."
Wow! That hit me like a ton of bricks.
I ran across a great quote by Jac Fitz-Enz the other day that resonates with where I am heading in writing this article on empathy:
"Sometimes, if we cut through the brain and get to the gut, we learn the truth."
When I teach seminars on Emotional Intelligence I often ask the group for a common definition for empathy. The response I get back more than any other is; “walking a mile in the other person's shoes.” I love this definition, but to take it one step further (pun intended), “walking a mile in the other person's shoes, even when the shoe doesn’t fit.”
[Tweet "Empathy: walking a mile in the other person's shoes, even when the shoe doesn’t fit."]
It is easy to be empathetic when someone is just like me. It is much harder to have empathy when someone is not like me. How about you?
According to Steve Stein and Howard Book in The EQ Edge, "Empathy is the ability to be aware of, understand, and appreciate the feelings and thoughts of others.” Alfred Adler put it this way, “Seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another."
As I talk with people in organizations, one of the most significant areas for improvement I hear about the leaders they work with can be described as lack of empathy.
This symptom manifests a number of ways. It may sound like this:
- I feel like my boss just doesn’t care about me.
- I try to communicate but he/she just doesn’t listen.
- We are talking, but I feel like they are not present with me.
- I feel like I am not a priority for them.
- I have 50% of their attention, but I don’t know where the other 50% is.
- They just don't understand what they are asking me for
- It is so frustrating to not be understood
I know some of you are worried right now that by being an empathetic leader you will be viewed as soft. Well, not so fast. While empathy often lands in the "soft skills" of leadership, I think empathy is actually the hard stuff of leading others. Stein and Book recognize this when they say, "Empathy is more than being nice, it is more than sympathy, it is more than giving up your position." - The EQ Edge
Being Empathetic is about being compassionate, caring, listening, and being flexible if needed. Empathy is perhaps recognizing that an employee doesn’t have the skill set to do a job, working with them to develop the skills, if they still can not perform at an acceptable level, helping them find something they are better at. Even if this is not what the employee wants. Empathy is understanding what is good for the organization, the leader, and the follower, and finding a winning space for all three.
This is what Jean Nidetch pioneered for dieters in the 1960’s. A caring and compassionate place of support and encouragement for those who needed to get healthy with respect to food.
So I was thinking, I wonder if my readers have such a place of support for leadership?
Do you have a safe place to come and talk about leadership issues you are facing? Do you want to learn more about leading, but just can’t find the time or the discipline to get the improvement you want? Are you getting feedback that your leadership is less than adequate for what your organization is expecting?
If you are interested in this type of supportive environment for your leadership, I want to help.
On Monday's at Noon EST, Noon CST, and Noon PST I will be holding small leadership circle groups. Each group will meet once a month, for one hour, via video call (or you can phone in if you don’t have video capability that day). Your group will include 4 people, along with myself, who will come together and talk about leadership issues you are facing.
Here is how we will use our time:
- 20 minutes - Discuss a short assignment Dr. Scott has given the previous session (something like a short reading or reflection).
- 20 minutes - Case presentation by one of the members on a leadership issue you are facing.
- 20 minutes - Group discussion on the case.
In addition, upon joining one of these groups you will receive, at no additional charge, a one-on-one monthly 30-minute phone/video coaching session with me. This time is completely yours and can be utilized however you see fit.
The preparation time is minimal and the value is huge. We are only taking a limited number of people for this opportunity and the price for this will never be this low again. So if you have considered an opportunity like this in the past, Act Now, Act Fast.
These sessions do come with some commitments on your part:
- You commit to 6 months at a time so that the group can form and build trust.
- You will do your best to prioritize and be present for every session.
- You will come prepared to learn and grow.
These sessions also come with some commitments on my part:
- To provide a safe learning environment for all participants.
- To have you in groups with people you do not know to maintain privacy and confidentiality.
- To challenge you to leadership heights you never thought possible.
The cost for joining one of these groups is $225/month (or save 10% and pay $1,200 for the entire 6-month commitment upfront).
If at any time you are not completely satisfied we will refund your money, no questions asked (or at least I won’t try and talk you out of your decision, although I may be interested in why you would want to leave).
If you are interested in joining one of these groups, click here to complete an informational form and my assistant, Brandi, will be in touch to set up a 30-minute phone conversation for us so I can answer any initial questions you might have.
Empathy, such a misunderstood, yet valuable leadership trait.
Thank you, Jean Nidetch, for leading the way and teaching us so much. Rest In Peace.