If you work for an organization, you work for a leader. They might be the CEO, a founder, an exec board, or a senior leadership team. And it’s likely this leader is sometimes a source of frustration for you and your teams. This frustration is amplified the greater the distance between you and the leaders of your organizations.
Spoiler alert: yes. Firstly, people often paint a hugely unhelpful picture of what the people at the top of their organizations are like. The gulf in status can sometimes feel absolute and unbridgeable. Secondly, we often fail to imagine that our leaders are every bit as fragile as we are. Both of these points hinder our ability to do our best work. Here’s how to start having empathy for your leaders:
- Go and observe a board meeting. Many public sector boards are open to the public, and board members are often willing to chat afterwards. Shadowing or attending board meetings gives a sense of the decisions/stakes involved at their level. This may not scale particularly well, but it’s a great place to start.
- Be mindful of mindset. Many leaders are regularly, if not constantly, in stress and crisis mode. Remember this.
- Reduce the distance. I recently met a leader who’s made a conscious choice to sit and work in the same space as her teams—yet it’s rare anyone will sit at the same table as her. I met another who has an open door policy, yet, it’s rare that anyone drops in to talk to him. Sit down. Go into the office.
- Check your language. You are a team. You are one organization. Albeit, it might not always feel this way, but this is what most of us wish for. You can reflect this in the language you use; try to use “we,” not “they,” and “us,” not “them.
- Talk to those who know your leaders best. If it’s impossible to talk to them, try talking to the people who know them best. Interview their Executive Assistant—nobody knows them better. Executive Assistants are often more accessible, and sometimes even in a better position to see the needs of an exec than they are themselves.
- Treat your leaders as you would your users. What are their needs/motivations/goals? How can you *demonstrate* you understand these? We should all have empathy for each other, and our customers, no matter our seniority level.