I love a good historical drama, I’m a sucker for anything that gives us a peek into the way life used to be.
It seems to me, in the Victorian era, that your Character was your most valuable asset. Your word, your handshake, whether you honoured your agreements and paid your debts, was openly discussed in society.
Were you honourable? That was the first question someone asked before they would do business with you or allow you to accompany their daughter.
In one drama a man had written someone a check and it bounced because of insufficient funds, that was enough to make him a social outcast. Imagine the implications if that were true of today’s banking.
From Character to Confidence
At some point, we shifted our values and decided that being honourable, “your character”, was not as important as being confident.
Now we’re in pursuit of this great attribute. She looked confident, he presented to the Board with confidence, I want my child to feel self-confident, this elusive thing is what people strive for.
It doesn’t matter if a project isn’t well researched, doesn’t appear sustainable or carries hidden risk – if it is presented with enough confidence people will buy in.
We’ve stopped questioning and valuing that person’s character. Donald Trump seems to personify this – he is supremely confident and people are attracted to that, do they think he’s honourable – I’m not so sure.
Where will Confidence lead us?
Confidence is important – please don’t get me wrong. I do a lot of coaching to help people find their confidence. It allows you to be heard when you have an opinion. It helps you push away anxiety and try something new.
Confidence helps you to believe in yourself and all the things you’re capable of. It’s crucial to help you stop berating yourself with the fear you aren’t good at your job.
Confidence lets you put down the worry that other people are judging you harshly and it allows you to enjoy yourself.
But it isn’t enough.
Books like CEOs – How they Blew it or The Psychopath Test are filled with stories of leaders so full of their own confidence that they took whole companies down with them, because they lacked character.
What we need today
Looking ahead we see a new normal and it’s terrifying. Spontaneous terrorist attacks, regular stock market fraud, senior leaders making poor decisions that result in business losses and closures.
We hear about it daily. The artificial growth bubble in China, the failure of Tesco’s Management to monitor their business, The Football Associations corruption, these are the new normal.
The Big Short is a fantastic movie that makes it easy to understand how mortgages, once as solid as the houses they financed, became a total house of cards that took down the world’s economy. It also makes it clear that this still continues, no regulations have made it safer.
We need to shift what we value again, we need a new measuring stick for people we trust and believe in.
I’m going to suggest the future lies with people who think about others before they make decisions. It’s that easy. They take a few moments to walk in the other person’s shoes and see how their decision will impact them.
On the British news we saw a young man toss a can of gasoline, followed by a lit cigarette onto the steps of a Mosque. The cctv footage shows him running off, with the cig going out in the rain before it caused a massive fire.
Did he stop for a moment to think about the people inside? Did he wonder how many were struggling to understand their own faith, now that ISIS had hijacked their religion and equated it to terrorism?
On the business front, Undercover Boss is an hour long episode of forced empathy. Week after week CEOs volunteer to do the dirty, difficult jobs in their own companies. They inevitably make changes when they’ve walked in those uncomfortable shoes.
We need to value people who have empathy. We need to encourage corporations to have empathy. Many are getting there.
Companies are starting to understand that bad labour practices will go viral and hurt them, they also understand that a great community involvement or investment makes customers choose them.
They recognise that empathy can be a lever just like price and variety.
Empathy and Confidence
The beauty of empathy is that it can also give you confidence.
Try this the next time you are sitting self-consciously in a meeting full of senior people. Stop worrying about what they are thinking of you and put your full imagination into what might be stressing them out. What is that company president hoping for in response to their rhetoric? What do they want from the group?
This is your ticket to your own confidence. If you can figure out what they are feeling, what they need – you can deliver that. It might be verbal support, it might be encouragement or understanding.
Instead of sitting on the fringes wondering what you can say, you’ll find yourself naturally offering the nods, the support, the questions that the manager was hoping for.
If you really have your empathetic pants on, you’ll be the one asking the questions – how will our consumers feel about that? What will our viewers/readers take away? How will the people on the bottom corporate rung be impacted by our decision?
Using your empathy consciously gives you confidence in where you are going. If you stay true and act based on how things will impact others, your character will also be in good standing.
If you have 10 minutes, watch the amazing animation in Roman Krznaric’s talk on Empathy, just click below