What is the story you create? How do you engage your people to connect the dots and bring to life a shared story?
As a leader you must cultivate curiosity and empathy in your people to engage their imagination for creating your organization's future.
In this Key, I share with you what a passionate tour-guide taught me about the qualities of curiosity and empathy.
The Story You Bring To Life
On a recent visit to New York City with a group of consultants I went to the Tenement Museum. Our tour guide, Christina, led us into the building on 97 Orchard Street in Manhattan's Lower East Side.
Before we entered, Christina pulled us together and said: "As we go inside to see the building, I will introduce you to the people that lived here, John and Caroline Schneider. We will discover how they lived their lives, and I want to give you an experience so that you can imagine what it was like for them to live here and operate their beer saloon at the end of the 19th century."
Even before we walked in, Christina introduced us to the empathy mindset. Minutes later we settled into a small room with a few artifacts. It was a room that served as a beer saloon and Christina described a typical scene in the saloon. What happened in the next 45 minutes surprised me as she transported us through time by bringing both John and Caroline to life in front of our eyes.
Left to my own devices and impatient self, I would have completed the tour in 4 minutes and remembered little or nothing. But Christina gave me no chance to apply my fast routine. She slowed us down, engaged our curiosity with questions and helped us imagine how hard Caroline worked in the small kitchen space. Layer by layer, with intimate details of a typical Sunday beer saloon as the German neighborhood gathered, she painted a living, breathing panorama of the place and time. Through these images she brought John and Caroline Schneider into the room.
We moved to the bedroom and then to the kitchen. In every room, Christina asked us to imagine how the space was used and what the conversations between Caroline and John might have been like as the center of the community.
How did Christina bring John and Caroline to life?
She produced in us a sense of empathy. She stimulated our curiosity, sketched out the boundaries of that period in time and painted a three dimensional picture that unfolded the story of their lives. She didn't just ask us to imagine ourselves in the Schneider's shoes; she described the texture, sounds and speeds of their day-to-day lives. She produced the morphological field of the house and sifted through the layers of memories deposited in the walls to distil into our experience the essence of the Schneiders and their achievements.
Here are three points about my experience in the Tenement Museum that are pertinent for you as a leader:
First, Empathy. Empathy is the beginning of insight. To appreciate the people and the environment you serve, and to understand partners and clients, you must exercise empathy. Empathy is different from sympathy. Empathy is to walk in the shoes of another and understand their experience. Sympathy is to identify with their situation and express solidarity or sorrow for that condition. You build sustained relationships and leadership through the practice of empathy.
Second, curiosity. Curiosity propels the spirit of inquiry and learning. It is the curious mind that connects the dots in new ways and finds creative solutions. To transform your situation and unleash innovative possibilities you must apply curiosity.
Third, the story you bring to life. We all live inside a story, consciously and deliberately, or not. If you do not choose the story you live in, someone else is choosing your story for you. If you do not connect the dots, something else is weaving the picture for you. You lead by working to create a meaningful story that mobilizes action. To create the future with your teams you must bring to life a story of change and development.
Now it's your turn. Turn the Key. Practice empathy. Apply curiosity. Bring to life the story of the future you choose to create.
© Aviv Shahar