Empathy comes from experience.
Over fifty years ago, I was CEO of a record manufacturing company in Hollywood. We were the only such facility on the West coast to provide and control the entire process from studio, through finished vinyl record pressings in the same building, therefore able to promise quality control others could only dream about.
The “clean” work in the front office
As founder and CEO of the then public company, I was expert in several of the “clean” processes such as studio recording, record mastering, cover design and photo lithography. But if I knew then what I know now, I would have spent time working with my employees in each of the subsequent and more mechanical processes such as printing press management, record press management and shipping control to better learn my own business and hear first–hand suggestions from the line.
I lost an invaluable opportunity to learn from the front line.
Later, as CEO of a fast-growing computer software company with over thirty employees in customer service alone, I did learn the lesson, as I sat in on customer service calls on occasion to get a more complete understanding of the process, pressures and opportunities for improvement. Then, when my manager of customer service sent a request up the line asking for funds for equipment or expanded staffing, I would understand the need, sometimes offering suggestions for improvement to try before making the investment.
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My conclusion is your challenge:
It had taken years to learn that empathy comes from experience, not just perceived understanding. And that there is such a thing as a business leader showing empathy while making good strategic decisions. I learned that employees appreciate knowing that their executives have experienced and can understand their world. I learned that tough decisions, such as denial of a request, are better received when all affected know that there was a deeper understanding of the issue and reasons for the response.
All because I learned to sit in and understand the position, the workflow, and the challenges at each stage in the process of customer service.
Are you too busy to learn each step along the corporate process enough to understand issues and challenges? Start by sitting in with some of your employees in the tough jobs alien to you. The benefits are immense.