Five months ago, I traveled to Dharmsala India with a Delegation from Washington State, Compassion 2020 Delegation, to have a private meeting with the Dalai Lama. I have always admired and respected the Dalai Lama because he promotes human values such as compassion, forgiveness, and empathy. He happens to be a Buddhist monk, but the values he promotes and lives are independent of any religion; they are simply human.
As we were sitting in his reception area waiting for him to arrive and anticipating what our meeting would be like, I felt nervous and anxious. Yet the moment he entered the room, I felt a sense of warmth that I can say reminded me of being around my grandmother, who also projected love and kindness in this manner. I immediately relaxed and focused on listening to his message, what he wanted to share with us. He talked to us at length about these human values he promotes and how compassion forgiveness, and warm-heartedness are our path to peace and happiness in our lives.
The Dalai Lama has been living in northern India since 1959, when he fled his home country of Tibet as a young man and crossed the Himialayan mountain range on foot and on horseback. India offered him asylum in Dharmsala, and since that time, thousands of Tibetan men, women, and children have taken the same journey to join him in exile. The Central administration of the Tibetan government also lives in Dharmsala, including the Prime Minister and cabinet officials. We met with them as well when we visited.
After all of this time living in exile, leading his people, and working diligently to preserve his culture, I wanted to understand how he has maintained such positive energy and enthusiasm throughout it all. I was fortunate in our meeting to ask him this question, and he responded by saying that he sleeps 9 hours every night and he meditates for 4 hours per day. I have reflected on his answer for the past 5 months, and even more now as we are currently battling this Covid-19 crisis, and our lives have been disrupted in so many ways. The lesson I am understanding is as leaders, we must prioritize our self-care, and we must maintain a healthy heart so we can be empathetic, kind and compassionate towards others as an automatic response.
Imagine a team where everyone is kind to one another, trust is at a high level, and we never have to question intent. When trust on a team is low, it is much harder to manage, to participate. Consider the amount of time, emotional energy and stress that goes into self-preservation, questioning intent, being cautious, and building alliances. All of that energy can be focused and coordinated towards achieving team and client outcomes. What are the possibilities for achievement and experience when we feel safe to trust others? This can only be accomplished when leaders prioritize people, practice human values, and lead with a pure heart.
Last week I wrote that the most important soft skill that leaders will need to practice over the coming months is Empathy. I have been fortunate to interact with many leaders over the past week who have shared their stories of how they are leading their teams through this crisis, and two stories stood out to me. I have changed names to protect their anonymity, but their stories are unfiltered, and authentic.
Mike, a senior leader in a professional services firm shared, “Amy, now is not the time for us to sell our service, now is the time to support our clients. A time will come when it is appropriate to refocus on pipeline and closing sales. Our industry has the opportunity to shine in a crisis, and I am focusing my team on providing as much support and value to our clients as possible today.”
This is a brilliant example of empathy in action.
Today, a CEO shared that in his own leadership journey, he learned to become uncomfortable with not knowing. He shared this with a group of leaders who were beginning a leadership development program that we were launching virtually at his firm. He went on to say that if they didn’t know what this meant before, they should know now. In other words, he was communicating that it is ok to feel like we don’t know what to do, that we don’t have all of the answers, and this is part of being a leader. As he shared this, I watched this message resonate across their many faces on my monitor. He was creating a safe place for them to learn and to grow as leaders
What are ways we can practice empathy? Please share your ideas in the comments so we can keep the conversation going.