Oskar Schindler joined the Nazi political party in 1936. Hired as an information specialist on enemy troop movements, he soon became a well-respected member of the Nazi party. He was given a factory before the start of WWII in Krakow, Poland. This factory would one day be the means by which the lives of 1200 Jews were saved.
Through the years of the war, he bribed Nazi officials to turn the other way, to look beyond his factory of 1200 when the Nazis were taking Jews to concentration camps, and later, to extermination camps.
Schindler was a Nazi official. He would be the last person pegged as a leader or a champion to a people with which he had no necessary connection.
Nevertheless, he is seen in the history of WWII as one of the deliverers to a people without a voice in a hopeless time.
This is a dramatic example, but the result is interesting. After the war, Schindler’s fortune was all but abolished. The government gave him a small reimbursement for his efforts of buying-off officials. For majority of his remaining life, Schindler went from one failed endeavor to another, eventually being supported by those 1200 people he had saved from the death camps.
Empathy is something we’ve touched on before. I bring up this example because I want to illustrate an important point: when we are empathetic to others, we earn a trust and loyalty that time or money rarely breaks.
I’m not talking about empathy to your favorite colleagues or your top five friends. I’m talking about Schindler-like empathy. Going down to the level where it isn’t popular to go. I’m not asking you to save 1200. However, as a leader, you have more fates in your hands than you know. The ripple effect of your influence will surpass 1200, if it hasn’t already.
You gain loyalty when you are empathetic to the nurse who’s late to work because she was up with a sick child.
You’re empathetic to the new intern when they mess something up. Something, “any intern should be doing blindfolded”. You do this, not because of what it will bring you, but because it is the right thing to do.
The power that comes with empathy, which can often be seen as giving someone a break without making them feel shame, is that you are given priceless insights into your team member’s lives.
We’ve talked about giving people the benefit of the doubt before, but this goes deeper. It’s giving them the benefit of trying to understand. It’s one thing to let a mistake slide – anyone can do that. But leaders take a moment to ask if there’s anything they can do to help the person who’s just made a mistake.
More often than not, people want to do a good job and be fulfilled in the work place. You have the power and the responsibility to see people beyond their employment and mistakes. This takes time – undeniably. And, if you want to lead, is unavoidable.
Empathy is a sure fire way to see people as they really are.
Your challenge this week: while giving someone the benefit of the doubt, ask them if there’s anything you can do for them.
Nothing is more disarming than an offer to help, to serve. The majority of the time, they will say they’re fine. And 100% of the time they will appreciate you asking. What you will notice is that at first they will say they are OK. With time, their trust will build and they will start letting you into the areas that are in need of your leadership. That is when the growth becomes exponential.
Good luck this week!