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Individually, we tend to assess the authenticity of another's message by whether it meets some preferred standard of
validity, logic, reasonability, or rationality that holds our personal attention. When, however, we are articulating
messages as mandated leaders, we tend to forget that we already have the attention of our team. By virtue of the
fact that, in the perceptions of others, we have considerable power in our organization to end or otherwise impair the
employment or career or membership of those we are charged with leading or representing, our team members
automatically pay close attention to our words. I became especially aware of this reality when I began, for the first
time, to write a speech for a Toastmasters' club I had just joined.
Toastmasters is great place to become aware of one's particular pattern of emotional shifts and its influence on, and
affect from, conventions of language meaning and demeanour. I joined imagining that the extensive experience I had
had creating and making presentations in front of employees of the large organizations that were the clients of my
mentors at McKinsey & Company would assure my success at Toastmasters. How false that imagination turned out
to be! In the event I found preparing speeches for the much more varied and much less captive and reverential
audiences of Toastmasters to be initially a trigger for many anxieties on my part! Caught between desire to express
my insights without reservation and growing concern as to whether my audience would find my hard won (and
therefore precious!) wisdoms either uninteresting or offensive, I felt extremely nervous. As the hours ticked away
toward my first speech, I became clearer as to why: I simply did not know, as much I had usually known as a McKinsey
consultant, what range of perspectives and needs, wants, interests, and preferences my audience would bring as
filters to their experience of my speech. In short, my authenticity would be in question, but in ways I had never
experienced when introduced as a McKinsey consultant.
The word 'empathy', by contrast with the word 'authenticity', is more familiar to people conceiving themselves as
leaders (which, hopefully, includes us all on occasion) but, even so, its meaning seems to me to be fully understood
only in the field of the healing arts -- fields most of us try to avoid as much as our health permits. Therefore, I hope
you will not find me too pedantic if I offer a few words of definition here to save us some possible misunderstanding.
Empathy received may be defined as the capacity sensed in another to be trustworthy in respecting the feelings one
needs, wants, prefers, or has interest to express, perhaps confidentially. Because empathy is an idea akin to the
ideas of 'sympathy', 'compassion', and 'concern', perhaps a good way to clarify further what empathy is might be to
distinguish the meanings of these words carefully.
Empathy is different from both sympathy and compassion in that in empathizing one does not presume a superior
status as we implicitly do when expressing sympathy (always!) and compassion (too often!). In empathy one takes
care not to presume that one’s understanding of another’s situation or thinking is accurate. Instead we give sensitive
attention to the small details of what is happening and of what we are told of another's evolving circumstances, and
engage in considerate curiosity aimed at facilitating expression of fuller description of the feelings of a team member
concerning what is at stake in a corporate productivity matter. Extending empathy is more vitalizing than extending
compassion or sympathy because, in empathizing, we do not create dependence or encourage the settling in of either
a victim or an entitlement mentality. Rather, in empathizing we encourage a reciprocal flow of goodwill and fellow
feeling. This is a critical point to grasp because only in a culture in which such flows are felt to be the 'natural climate'
can the curiosity so essential to learning flourish enough for members of our team to learn in good time what they
actually need, for the purposes of the team, to learn. Empathy is also different from concern in that acts of
empathizing may or may not, depending on what we learn from our empathizing, lead to relief of our concern.
The capacity to empathize is essential to productive teamwork because, if a team member does not perceive enough
empathy in other team members' behaviours, including especially that of the team leader, s/he will feel inhibited from
contributing her or his most authentic contributions to team conversations. High degrees of empathy invite high
degrees of authenticity, and low degrees of empathy inhibit expression of what authenticity might otherwise be
forthcoming. In other words, the productivity of a team significantly depends upon the qualities of both empathy and
authenticity that each member both contributes to, and senses in, his or her fellows.
This being so, do people naturally find expressing authenticity and empathy in the same conversational episode easy?
Unfortunately, not very often! This is not only because we must use both (right-brained) listening skills and (left-
brained) articulation skills but also because we do not easily notice, let alone give recognition to, the particular styles of
either authenticity or empathy offered by others from a different culture (or sub-culture such as a profession, tribe,
clique, cabal, establishment, ethnicity, dissident group, or family) from our own. I also sense it is partly because few
people in organizations have had much education in what constitutes empathy, let alone how to offer it, partly because
we believe authenticity is frankness, which it is not -- as the diagram at the top of this page explains, and partly
because most of us reserve our most authentic expressions for domestic situations (where we can usually hope that
miscues arising from indulgence in the freedom of jocular spontaneity will be either enjoyed or forgiven, or, at the
How then can a person increase his or her capacity both to express a combination of, and also acknowledge a
combination in, his or her fellows of both authenticity and empathy? The question is not even an easy one to
comprehend on first reading, let alone to answer! Nevertheless, by being aware of what empathy and authenticity are
and how the informational content of authenticity will not flow without trust that the relational quality of
empathy is reliably present in the team cultural climate, a leader can develop more of what he or she already has of
the two key personal qualities central to the raising of team productivity.
A prerequisite of empathic authenticity is, of course, the practice of thorough consultation of both self and affected
others more or less at the same time. In other words, if one wants to be effective as a vitalizing leader of a group for
whose productivity as a team one has a formal accountability, one will need to have proficiency in the practice of nearly
simultaneous self-and-other consultation. Also, to be a good team member in a new team, one must deliberately
practice this faculty in the new milieu even if one has already learned that one was good at it in other teams.
One can state this quite clearly in theory. But, after reflecting on many, if not most, of my experiences in the work
and market places, I recognize that experiencing and realizing deeply empathic authenticity in work relationships has
been rare for me. Perhaps it has for you too? In any case, that seems to me to be both why insights arising from
team co-operation do not occur as often as we would like, and also why usable insights occur so rarely outside team
co-operation! Does this mean that, if we believe we have mastered the concept of empathic authenticity, we may yet
have work to do to appreciate the 'other side' of a particular story, in other words to grow in perspective? I believe
so, and it may be the reason we so often feel the need to complain of 'a silo of group thought' as an irritating obstacle
to raising the level of corporate or community productivity. We all have had, however, memorable moments of
relationship with a good friend in which empathic authenticity happened naturally. Indeed that’s how we know that, by
being empathic and authentic ourselves, we can hope to learn how to create a state of relationship in which all the
parties with whom we may be in communication will feel the well-being of mutual confidence and reciprocated co-
“So,” some may now be thinking, “I know more or less what empathic authenticity is, but as for expecting to
experience it reciprocally at work, forget it!” Although most people do hold that view, Authentix coaches have found
practical ways to increase a person's ability to participate with empathic authenticity in team conversations. But,
because such ways are currently very rarely practiced, deliberate efforts to increase their occurrence in one's own
organization will often encounter askance (if not alarm, push-back, concealment, or even shameless deceit!) from
others to whom our efforts seem disconcerting or upsetting. That is why we often fear revealing ourselves in work
settings. Yet it is also why we continue to want, if at all safely possible, to do so even after years of hearing and
experiencing that doing so is 'impossible' because it would be 'inappropriate' or 'immature' or 'a waste of time'.
The consequence of this natural obstacle to widespread practice of high levels of empathic authenticity is that one has
to be willing, in the conversations of one’s work or marketplace, to risk being occasionally considered, and even
severely judged, as strange, awkward, weird, and even insincere or malevolent at times. Virtually all of us feel at least
a little uncomfortable when judged in such ways; and some of the more sensitive of us even worry that we might be
being considered 'out of line' by others too polite or inhibited or insufficiently interested to tell us. In some ways this
very common reality is a fortunate one for otherwise life would simply be too upsettingly unpredictable for most of us.
When, however, some adjustment to the culture of an organization is needed, someone will have to be willing
frequently to set an example of behaviour that many other people will initially find weird and some may judge
disdainfully, or even, if they dare, contemptuously (and resentfully if they dare not!). But fortunately, such disdain or
contempt will appear increasingly absurd to watchfully impartial others.
That, therefore, is the personal investment required of a leader if he or she wants to raise the cultural climate of
an organization to where empathic authenticity is a are consciously shared aspiration. First, the values leading to
empathic authenticity must be discovered and accepted as a worthwhile aspiration for a growing minority. Then, in
small but increasing degrees, these values must become 'standard' expectations for everyone's conduct in due career
season. Not surprisingly, few people are willing to make such an investment, and those who do have usually felt the
need to paint, not always truthfully, as in the Saddam WMD pretension, a picture of what leadership coach and author
Daryl Conner calls a 'burning platform'. Is such a cost worth paying in your particular circumstances? That's not an
easy question to answer. Of relevance to a rational answer, however, is the following chart. It compares, in hard
numbers, the average performances over a decade of organizations differentiated by arguably the most salient
features of organizational culture:
|Reading Material Sample
|Services to Leaders
Coaching Essay: Conscious Leadership
Consciously Equanimous Leadership:
Productive Teamwork through Empathic Authenticity
(A Conscious Approach to Finding and Sharing Well-Being)
(c) 2008-14, all rights reserved, by
Principal, Authentix Coaches
A team develops macro-insight by synthesizing the micro-insights its members each bring to team
conversations. The quality of macro-insight produced by a team depends, therefore, on the quality
of micro-insight contributed to the team's deliberations by its members. What then determines
whether a team member will bring his or her very best quality of micro-insight to the 'team table'?
Whether or not a team leader has insight into this question will clearly be a major determinant in
whether he or she can evoke the best in productivity of which his or her team is capable. In this
paper I hope to shed light on the concept of empathic authenticity as an ingredient in productive
teamwork of which leaders are wise to become especially conscious.
The word 'authenticity' is quite a new one in the vocabulary of many leaders. So, to make sure you
and I are using this word in the same way, please review "Authenticity: A Learning Approach", a
paper in which I explore the concept of authenticity in considerable detail. If, however, you are truly
pressed for time, the following is a useful summation: Authenticity may be defined as the degree of
expression of what one has experienced and learned that others with whom one is in
communication find relevant to the issue then in discussion.
In the schematic above, the top row describes an evolving (cyclical and progressive) process by which one 'extracts
data from one's emotional flow' as one seeks to maintain equanimity in the face of challenges to one's sense of
clarity, poise, and balance. Unlike technical decision-making processes, this process does not ignore data for the
purpose of being relieved of one's emotions. In other words, it is not a simple feel-good process, nor one that stops
at confortability! Rather it empowers a leader to sort out the rationality and reasonability from the bias in his/or
emotions by avoiding loss of the useful information concerning legitimate personal needs that is a part of them (but
too often an unconscious part). When the information inside a leader's emotion is not scrupulously discriminated
between its components of personal need, automatic evaluative judgment, and value to the collective of which he or
she is a part, people affected by that person's decisions are vulnerable to whatever may be sordid in the quality of
equanimity then known to the decision-maker.
Few actually know the difference between equanimity and emotional ignorance, and this reality has the awful
consequence that society is suffering grievously from heavily biased decisions taken from emotional states far
To factor emotional data fully rationally and reasonably in to conscious choices, one must first become consciously
aware of the emotion one has. One may imagine a spectrum of states of being in which one will be called to lead. In
the diagram above the states of being acknowledged with an IHXEN by a senior project manager are listed to illustrate
such an 'emo-spectrum'. Anyone can categorize his or her emotions as experienced as either pleasant or as
unpleasant or as ones that s/he cannot clearly label as either. Such ambivalent states of being are usually being
experienced when, for example, someone says "I'm fine!". A statement like that typically means that the speaker has
what we might term the 'emotion of ignorance'. Only very rarely will it truly be labeling a state of equanimity.
The emotion signified most often by one tone or another of "I'm fine" will be somewhere between the distinctly
pleasant and the distinctly unpleasant. It will be made up of an emotion-mood arising from habits of presupposition
that a person has either honed by self-discipline or inherited by good fortune. Whichever it may be, it has become
habitual and what is necessary to know here is that it 'hiding', perhaps consciously but perhaps unwittingly, much data
concerning a person's characteristic ignorance of either his or her own needs or those of others.
The schematic outlines how we can consciously shift the focus of our attention in response to whichever of the three
categories of feeling and thought of which we become aware during our decision-making deliberations. We can learn
to do this by deliberate "self-monitoring". Authentix Coaches have techniques for this purpose in which we help our
clients become skillful. These techniques are rooted in the "I have X emotion now" self-monitoring linguistic, to which
we have given the acronymic name IHXEN (pronounced "Eye-Zen"). You can find a case example of a coach and
client working with IHXENs at this link. Once we have verbalized an accurate IHXEN, we can advance in our decision-
making through the following three steps:
If we think our state of being, here and now, is equanimity, will we feel perfectly poised to act wisely on behalf of both
self and others? Few of us can distinguish equanimity from its common feel-alikes -- possession by presupposing
moods of, for example, stoicism on the one hand, or of brusquely insensitive ignorance on the other. We can
recognize the state of insensitive ignorance, for example, when we become vaguely aware of some nagging
unanswered questions, to which our consciences will require answers before we can decide on action without fear of
later experiencing regret, or even grief. Likewise, in the state of stoicism, we will be aware of some tendency to believe
that one 'should' be the hero figure in the drama one is experiencing, e.g. be either the silent and martyr-like 'strong
one' or the forcefully articulate, 'saviour' of everyone else. In this state we are aware that we tend, by comparison
with the tendencies of others, to neglect our own needs for well-being -- sometimes even when our own needs are
We want, of course, to be able to distinguish genuine, 'honest-to-goodness' equanimity from its feel-alikes, which will
always include a segment of emotional ignorance and almost always some 'ismic' bias of thought, such as the biases of
workaholism, narcissism, authoritarianism, or simplisticism. We want to make these distinctions because in genuine
equanimity we acquire a fund of well-being that is automatically transmitted to the people we lead – whose rate of
more or less conscious learning of how to combine the principles of authenticity with empathy will then increase.
Unfortunately, and this is crucial to know, we cannot be sure we have done so until we have become very
consciously aware of the differences between the genuine feeling of equanimity and its "counterfeits of
thunk thought" (for example: brave stoicism on the one side of equanimity and brusquely insensitive
ignorance on the other). This we can only do in proportion to how willing we are to contribute to the reciprocal
flow of empathy and authenticity in the social milieu in which we are working.
If, therefore, we introspect enough to discover our emotions sufficiently accurately to specify them in conscious
IHXEN statements (such as "I have frustration now" or "I have doubt now" or "I have anxiety now", to give just
three examples), then we can proceed to uncover their sources from "because I want Y needs/desires/requirements
met" articulations and/or conversations. At that point we can begin to formulate specific requests in relation to how
we conceive "Z" situation, the one in relation to which a decision seems necessary. In this way, we both avoid making
others responsible for our feelings and uncover what our actual needs are in the situation we are confronting.
Learning to acquire IHXEN proficiency takes time, of course. But we can speed the process by acknowledging to at
least one other person – possibly a leadership coach – that we do indeed have needs and shortcomings that we have
been reluctant to admit and for which we have therefore been reluctant to request help.
Acknowledging our needs and shortcomings as valuable aspirations over time for personal growth, we can engage our
energies in growing our skills of empathic authenticity. This is the path along which engagements with Authentix
Coaches are designed to support our clients. Along this path, our clients acquire, economically, the personal and
organizational insights both to perform prosperously and to distribute well-being. When we acquire proficiency in the
path of empathic authenticity, we will have learned to find genuine equanimity before rushing off to gain the immediate
relief by which we have in the past temporarily quenched a want, and we are then launched along a learning path in
which our personal values and those of our corporate affiliations become increasingly aligned. Our skills -- to express
ourselves in relation to the real-life work issue in hand both fully authentically and with appreciated empathy -- then
grow rapidly. In summary, when we have distinguished the centered balance of genuine equanimity from its
counterfeits, which typically were 'fashioned' by emulation of the common idiosyncrasies of our formative cultures, we
are ready to move forward both intuitively and rationally.
Thus the schematic above presents, in simplified form, a set of rationally related emoto-linguistic techniques (and inner
experiential processes guided and sparked by such techniques) by which we learn to deepen the wisdom of our
leadership choices and decisions. Applying its principles we find ourselves integrating more and more of our current
knowledge and history with the narratives and capacity to experience and express curiosity with those we are
mandated to lead. These decisions will be ones from which not only we, but others affected also, will enjoy reasonable
fulfillment of whatever needs the degree of empathic authenticity of both ourselves and of our team members and the
team climate in which we are investing has allowed to be expressed.
In summary, our key existential task as leaders is to be able to distinguish, surely, genuine equanimity from
its counterfeits (which, depending on the cultures and sub-cultures from which we have come, is likely to be a
philosophy, such as stoicism, or its opposite -- in that case brusquely ideological, and therefore, insensitive
ignorance). After fully experiencing both these pseudo-equanimities, we will be able truly to say we know when we
have genuine equanimity. From genuine equanimity one can gather the poise to make a decision both equitable for all
in the present and vital for the future of the organization one leads.
(c) Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 080615-141114, excerpted from "Adventure & Reliability: Searches for a Viable Balance", to be published in 2015,
by Angus Cunningham, all rights reserved. Permissions.
The chart clearly shows the huge positive impact a non-defensive culture has on long-run performance. The
figures confirm that attention to constructive values such as those making up the core, but not the whole, of a culture
of empathic authenticity has real and lasting effect upon the bottom line. The performance of your organization may
not be problematic today. If so, this is significantly due to something about its culture and sooner or later the culture
will fall out of kilter with its customer and resource markets unless you, as leader, consciously take steps to prevent
that. In other words, someone is either making the investment necessary to bring its culture up to the level needed to
maintain its independent prosperity or alternative arrangements will have to be made by you or your successor. As
always, the choice of the most senior leader is his or hers alone. Yet true as this is, it does not change the reality that
attending to the subtle but high-leverage issues of organizational culture is always easier when one is not under
pressure from poor performance. Therefore leaders are wise to make the aim of every interaction involving others in
their organization a learning one for the values required to be prized by their team members -- even when such issues
are regarded as unimportant or unpleasant to discuss. This means that delegation of urgent, but less important,
problems by the leader is critical to long-run success. And the good news here is that delegation, with carefully
calibrated monitoring of consequences, provides opportunities for growth in leadership by others.
OK, so how can we make practical preparation to make our investments in the quality of our team's culture pay off?
Authentix Coaches has found that leaders who first spend the time to distinguish moments when we know we have
genuine equanimity from very similar moments when our equanimity is more a socially correct aspiration than a deeply
felt knowing, acquire deeper insights -- insights that not only bring us clarity and poise but that also productively
vitalize all involved. The process sketched in the diagram below is the one Authentix Coaches use to improve the
trade-offs that every decision-maker in an organization is intrinsically making: the one between immediate productivity
and longer-run productivity gains through the benefits to be found in a communicatively more vital culture:
|New! 7-page pre-publication Author's Preface to
"Adventures in Authentic Dialogue: A Coach's Story"