Empathy in Management with Eric Girard

Reading Time: 14 Minutes

In this episode, my guest is Eric Girard. Learn how to transform from a high-performing individual contributor to a great people manager!

Takeaways We Learned from Eric…

Empathy is the Key to Leadership Excellence

Empathy is not just a soft skill; it’s a strategic advantage in leadership. By understanding and valuing your team members, you create a foundation for collaboration and productivity.

Transitioning from Taskmaster to Team Leader

As a new manager, mastering the transition from an individual contributor to a team leader is crucial. Learning to delegate effectively and letting go of tasks you love is a powerful step toward achieving results through your team.

Set SMART Goals for Clear Direction

Set SMART goals with your team. By making goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, you provide clarity on responsibilities and enhance overall team efficiency.

Coaching and Feedback: The Power Duo

Developing coaching and feedback skills is a potent combination for effective leadership. Utilizing models like the GROW model for coaching and the SPI model for feedback creates a supportive environment that fosters continuous improvement.

Recognizing the Power of Crucial Conversations

Leveraging tools from Crucial Conversations, such as addressing gaps between expectations and outcomes, helps build a culture of openness and accountability without resorting to blame or shame.

Mastering Delegation for Team Success

Delegation is not just about handing off tasks; it’s about strategic decision-making. Understanding what tasks to let go of and empowering others fosters a more efficient and empowered team.

Mindset Shift: Embrace Accountability and Change

Shifting from an individual contributor to a leader requires internal dialogue. Embracing accountability, having crucial conversations, and managing change effectively contribute to a successful mindset shift.

Building Networks for Success

Encouraging new managers to expand their networks is vital. Through deliberate mixing in training sessions and promoting interactions outside the comfort zone, new managers can enhance their networking skills for broader organizational impact.

Continuous Learning: Recommended Reads

Eric recommends essential books like Crucial Conversations, The Coaching Habit, and, of course, his own book, Lead Like A Pro. These resources provide valuable insights and frameworks for aspiring leaders.

Leadership is a Learnable Skill

Contrary to the notion of inherent leadership qualities, Eric believes that anyone can learn and develop into a good manager with commitment and effort. It’s an ongoing journey that involves applying learned principles to real-world situations and continuously improving.

About Eric Girard

Eric Girard, CEO, Girard Training Solutions has over 30 years of experience helping improve the performance of managers and employees. He specializes in the development of new managers, focusing on their successful transition to their new role and on their team management skills. He has a high-energy and engaging facilitation style.

Eric is a passionate, lifelong learner. As a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor, he is pursuing the rating of Master Scuba Diver Trainer. When not designing or delivering training, he enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife and twin 14-year-old daughters.

Read the Transcript

Allison: Welcome back to the Deliberate Leaders podcast. I am your host and executive business coach Allison Dunn. Our topic today is empathy in management. Our guest is Eric Girard, he is the CEO of Girard training solutions. He is also the author of Lead Like A Pro, The Essential Guide For New Managers. And he’s also the host of the Management Development Unlocked podcast. Eric, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Eric: It is my pleasure. Thanks, Alli.

Allison: Absolutely. I love to kick these off with a deliberate conversation, what would be your number one leadership tip for our listeners?

Eric: So many things I could say, I’m going to use us what our third topic today is, which is empathy.

I would say that any good leader needs to be an empathetic human.

You need to listen well, you need to ask great questions, you need to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes. Not to become a therapist, not to become a counselor, but just simply to let the other person know that you hear them that they’re valuable, that they’re important. And then you can go about solving the problem. So I would say empathy.

Allison: Empathy is one of those things that is really hard sometimes to understand. And I think you just did a really good job of describing like, how to be empathetic. We do manager, new manager training as well. And so I’m actually really excited about having this conversation with you. When I think about new manager training, one of the things that we talk about is the opportunity when someone is really exceptional at what they do inside of an organization. And because they’re so good at that as an individual contributor, they often get asked to step up into leadership. So what are some of the things that you believe new managers need for skills? And the actually set? Let me just start there, I guess, with the skills I have other questions.

Eric: You know, I think that the first skill that a manager needs to master is the skill of making that psychological transition from I was an individual responsible for tasks.

I am now a manager responsible for a team and getting results done through a team. So that’s the first thing that I would suggest that a manager needs to master. And that means learning how to delegate.

That means learning how to let go of stuff, including maybe some stuff that you really like, this happened to me with my own business, I started out as a solopreneur. And did everything I did the website, I did the bookkeeping, I did all the things, and realize that I wasn’t doing all of them particularly well. And so one of the first things I had to let go of was the website, which I was enjoying playing with. And so there was a little bit of grieving where I’m like, well shoot, I kind of like that. But Sandra is actually better and faster at it than I am. So you know, it works out.

So I would say delegation is a huge one, followed by being able to set goals with your team, and help them understand, you know, who does what, how much and by when, and making that very, very clear to everybody on the team that this is what you’re responsible for. This is what you’re responsible for. This is where I begin, you end sort of a thing. I love SMART goals. Smart is my favorite method for setting goals. So I use that an awful lot. And, you know, I could go on, we could certainly talk, you know, for the rest of an hour about all the skills that I think a manager needs.

But I would start with delegating and letting go of the things you really love. And then setting goals so everybody knows who’s responsible for what.

Allison: How can you tell when someone or what are the some of the setbacks, when someone actually can’t quite step up as from an individual contributor, or someone who is on a team to leading a team, what are some tips that you would have for like, just the mindset shift that they need to make from there.

Eric: One of the things that I see, you know, when somebody hasn’t stepped up, is when they keep defaulting to going back to what they’re really good at. So I’m a great engineer. That’s why I was hired. That’s why I had my old job. That’s why I got promoted, because I’m a great engineer, or I’m a great financial analyst, or fill in the blank. So I’m just going to go do that. And just keep doing that. And that’s the behavior that I keep seeing is it folks fall back on what they were good at, because that’s where they get their validation. And I did the same thing. My first management job out of the gate, I kept falling back into to my individual contributor tasks, and I didn’t pay enough attention to my team and we all paid dearly for that. So that was a learning for me as well.

Allison: So, your topic today is about empathy. Why is empathy such an important skill for especially new managers?

Eric: Well, it really comes down to, if you want to get results through people, you have to really relate to your team, you have to, you have to be able to really sit in their seat for a while and understand things from their perspective. One of my favorite assessments is called the DISC assessment and disc is an acronym. Yep, you love that. So, dominance, influence steadiness and conscientiousness, are the four disc quadrants, that you can learn through this assessment. And it helps you understand yourself and your own preferences for approaching work situations. And then you also get the tools to speed read other people.

The purpose of that is not to make other people have a magic decoder ring to understand you, it’s you making the adjustment to meet them where they’re at. And so that, to me, is a form of empathy, where you adjust and you adapt, to make things easier to facilitate communication with somebody else. And I think if you can do that, as a manager, you’re going to get better results for your team, because they’re going to feel like a, this person gets me, they actually listen to me. And it’s easy, it’s easy for me to talk to Eric, it’s easy for me to talk to Ali. Because I don’t have to work so hard. And that’s because we’re doing the adjusting, we’re doing the shifting, to make it easier for our teams. So those are just a couple of thoughts that come to mind. Yeah,

Allison: DISC is also my preferred assessment type of platform. And it’s really a powerful tool. And the way I say is, is that it’s to be used for the power of good and not evil. So once I understand myself, then I can identify who I’m talking to, and make adjustments so that you can speak to them the way they want to be communicating. I love that what other skills do new managers need?

Eric: Well, we’ve already talked about delegating, and goal setting.

I think a really important duo of skills, a power, a power duo, if you will, is coaching and feedback.

So being an excellent coach using something as simple as the GROW Model, which stands for growth goals, reality options, and WayForward. It’s a super simple way to facilitate a coaching conversation. And then feedback, I use the SPI model, which is situation behavior and impact. And those two simple little models can help you learn so much about your employees and what motivates them, what’s important to them, get their ideas on why a problem happened and how to avoid it to happening again in the future. So coaching and feedback go hand in hand, and they’re super important. And one book that I always recommend, when we get to that point in the show is I talk about Michael Bungay Stanier and his book, The Coaching Habit. I absolutely love that book and his seven questions that you can feed in very easily into the GROW Model. Just think that asking good questions, good, open ended curious questions is so important to being a good coach.

Allison: You have a specific model that you follow when training new managers on how to properly delegate and like how to hold people accountable to what they’ve delegated to them.

Eric: Yeah, I don’t use a particular model for delegation per se. What I do have people do is think a little bit about am I doing the right things right now? So there’s a famous saying, Are we doing things right? Are we doing the right things? And so I get people thinking about that, and you know, it, listing out what they’re doing? And is this stuff that I really need to be hanging on to? Or can I delegate that kind of hand it off? Can I train somebody else to do it? I do love crucial conversations. I think that that is a fabulous book and a fantastic course, and being able to use crucial conversations to have a conversation about hey, I expected this, I’m getting this. Why is that gap there? And what can we do together to close that gap? I think that the tools taught and crucial conversations can really help. Two people come together to close the gap to close the performance gap. In a way that’s not shaming in a way that’s non blaming, but does actually get good results.

Allison: Thank you do similar idea in the sense of like the delegation of delegating to a new team. You may have been on the team before you get elevated up. What are some of the ways that you would help a new manager make that mindset shift of I’m just stepping away from doing and leading the team to do the work.

Eric: You know, it kind of comes down to, you have to do some inner work first. So you have to take on, you have to put on that new job. So you got to take off your old coat, which was the doer, you know, and put on the new coat, which is the leader and spending some time thinking about, Okay, I’m leading this team, and I’m not part of the gang anymore. And this can be especially difficult if you have got team members who are friends. And now you’ve been elevated above and let’s say work on a team.

Like, for example, I worked on a team of three, and I was elevated to lead to the other two. And I had to have some pretty frank conversations with folks saying, Okay, it’s not business as usual anymore. I’m still Eric, I’m still I’m still the same guy. But, you know, like, we can’t go out and go to happy hour together anymore. Really. I’m not, I’m not part of the gang, as is a friend of mine put it. And that’s one of the hardest things to do is to have that have that conversation inside your head first that says, okay, things are a little different. Not that you suddenly become, you know, suddenly you’re walking around in a suit and a tie, and you’re very stiff and formal. It’s not like that. But you do have to kind of realize, okay, things are a little bit different.

And accountability becomes a big part of your job and holding people accountable to results. But you can do that in a way that’s not let’s not frightening or intimidating by just setting goals together. And having a collaborative process.

This is okay, what what are you going to accomplish this quarter? Or this month? What are you going to accomplish? And how are we going to keep track of that? And then just being consistent in holding folks accountable, saying, hey, you know, we’re here, I’d like to see you here. So let’s, let’s move, let’s move up a notch? And what are your ideas for doing that?

Allison: Think your highlighting also kind of an interesting point. Because sometimes as we grow in our careers, and we get elevated to the opportunity of management, which means we’re leading, we have to almost step out a little bit out of a social group. So how do we? How do we encourage new managers to recognize that expanding their network and building relationships of similar peer groups? Like what are your thoughts on how to do that effectively, and why it isn’t so important?

Eric: Well, one of the things I do in my training courses is an all bring together a group of usually it’s mixed. Usually, there are new managers in the same room with people who have been managing for 10 years and just never received training. But you know, I’ll get a group of say, 30 people together. And what I will do as a facilitator is deliberately mix people up over and over again, in different activities. To relieve boredom, first off, but also to get people used to talking to a lot of different people in a short period of time. And I’ll make the point at some point that, hey, I’m mixing you up on purpose to help you build your network. So we do that inside of a facilitated classroom experience, to give folks the chance to learn how to do it, and then I’ll make the point, okay, from now on, everywhere you go inside the company, go talk to somebody you don’t know. And, you know, just strike up a conversation because you never know who you can help first off, and then maybe somebody can help you in return. So having that that mindset of wanting to be of service and helping other people is going to go a long way inside of any organization.

Allison: So far in the interview, you’ve recommended two books, Crucial Conversations and the coaching conversation was that the other one, the Coaching Habit, the coaching habits? Do you have a third top pick for anyone who’s listening who is maybe currently an individual contributor? And it’s coming at aiming at a leadership management role? What else should they be reading?

Eric: And I’d be selfish here can I can do it, I would suggest Lead Like A Pro my book. So Lead Like A Pro, The Essential Guide For New Managers is a very heavily research based book. I went to all the top authors I could find to write this one and then baked in some timeless, classic truths that work no matter what. So and the bibliography of lead like a pro is a big fat thick section. So if you want to dive deep in anything that I talked about in the book, it’s there. But yeah, in lead like a pro, I break it down into to nine basic areas that folks either be focused on, and most of which we’ve already talked about. where I end the book is with a short section on recognizing and rewarding your team in a way that doesn’t break the bank. And then managing change, which is very important these days, because change is nonstop.

Allison: Oh, I love that. Okay, so ending it. And I, those are all segments that are near and dear to my heart of your nine, I think you use the word principles, correct? Sure. Which one is your favorite?

Eric: You know, I like them all, obviously, but I would, I would have to say that the first and longest chapter is my favorite. And that’s the chapter on empathy.

Allison: Okay. I think in the kind of the pre amble of things, you I use the wording that empathy is not a squishy skill. Yeah, can you? Can you just expand on that for me?

Eric: Well, even a few years ago, if you asked a manager to develop empathy skills, they would probably look at you a little sideways, like, why do I need to be empathetic to my team, I just need them to perform. And I’m going to, I’m going to do what it takes to get my team to perform?

Research shows and experience shows that if you are more empathetic toward your team members, whether you’re leading that team, or whether you’re part of that team, if you show a little genuine emotion and a little genuine humanity, people are going to be more willing to work hard for you.

And, you know, back in the day used to be empathy is something we can put aside, that’s too squishy. That’s too, that’s too woowoo. I don’t go woowoo in the book at all. But I do spend some time thinking about okay, well, there’s science to this. And Daniel Goleman. In his book, emotional intelligence really goes deep on the three different types of empathy, and how that can really help build a team and build the unit in order to get a lot done.

Allison: Awesome. I’m, I’m asking this, and I’m not really sure where I’m actually taking it. But is everyone able to be trained? With the skills to manage?

Eric: Well, you know, I thought you were going to go down the path of can everybody become empathetic?

Allison: Get up to a higher level.

Eric: So I’m going to answer my question, and then I’m going to answer your question. So the first is, I actually, it was very interesting. I was in a class where I was talking about empathy. And somebody raised their hand and said, I’m autistic. Empathy is very, very difficult for me. And so you know, what I’m not suggesting is that anybody stripe seek out a personality transplant, or trying to become something they’re not. But their empathy, like skills you can display to encourage folks to come to you with their problems, to want to brainstorm and problem solve with you. That doesn’t require a huge shift in your personality.

So as the first thing I would suggest is, I think everybody can at least display some empathy, like skills. And that will help it will absolutely help. Now to your question, which is, you know, can everybody be taught how to be a good manager? I think so. I think I think you can’t, I think it takes work, I don’t think that anybody’s going to wave a magic wand, and poof, you’re done. And that’s why my courses, there’s tons of activity in the course. And then at the end, I always ask participants to pair up with one or two other people and make a coffee date to meet within a week to talk about what they learned and kind of create that habit of talking with somebody else.

Because the forgetting curve is a real thing. And if you don’t talk about and apply what you’ve learned soon after the learning experience, it just goes away. So I think you can learn it. And I think it takes work. I think you do need to partner up with folks and think about okay, well, in my situation, my company and my team, how can I apply what I learned? How can I apply these nine principles in a way that’s going to help the team grow and move forward?

Allison: Is there any one obvious skill that indicates that someone will be good will be a good leader?

Eric: No, I don’t I don’t think so. It’s not like, you know, I can look at somebody and say, Oh, they’re a D and disc, and therefore there’ll be a good leader. That’s, that’s not true. And that’s not what this is for anyway. Great. Just because somebody is naturally empathetic does not mean there’ll be a good leader. It means it means they’re empathetic. That’s what it means.

But I think it’s a it’s a collection of skills and attributes that can be built over time. You can learn these things in order to be a better manager.

Allison: Eric, I super appreciate our time together. What is the best way for folks to follow you and or get your book?

Eric: Yeah. So if you find me on LinkedIn, I’m Eric P. Gerardo on LinkedIn. That’s probably the easiest way to find me. You can also send me an email at Eric at Gerard training solutions.com. And my book is available as a paperback, a Kindle book and an audio an audible book on Amazon.

Allison: Awesome. Thank you so much for joining us here today.

Eric: Thank you very much. It was my pleasure.

I'm Allison Dunn,

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