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Ninja Leadership: Flipping the Script with Empathy

Menzie Pittman • ArchivesCurrent IssueJanuary 2024Small Business Matters • January 9, 2024

It is my hunch that if you were to question most folks in the music business, they would say that being an owner or manager was not their first plan if it was even their plan at all. But, through one means or another, voila! They found themselves in a position of responsibility.

The next challenge for these folks was deciding their most effective leadership style. Don’t scoff – this is a jumping off point for many. Some in a position of leadership put no thought into the idea that leadership can be nuanced.

Recently the topic of leadership style surfaced in a discussion between a few respected employees and me. We joked about the assorted styles of leadership, and which of those styles we believed to be the most or least effective. Personally, I refer to effective leadership as “Ninja Leadership.” We discussed dealing with those awkward moments that may occur because of unusual circumstances. Those are the moments that really expose what kind of leader you are. It is easy to lead when things go along seamlessly. It is harder to lead when others may not perceive something as important as you believe it to be.

During any business day, owners and managers must make split-second decisions that directly impact those around us whether we realize it or not. The humor is, when your role is an owner or manager, everyone around you expects your standard to be impeccable. What do people say? “If you want the praise, ya gotta take the heat?”

So, are there tools to improve how others perceive our leadership communication style? What communication tools do you, as a leader, keep in your personal arsenal? Do you ever witness other leaders and wonder what made them take a particular approach in resolving an issue?

When dealing with daily matters, one approach I strive to have my staff incorporate is empathy. I have always admired leaders who work through conflict resolution using the empathy tool. I also believe it is the hardest one to naturalize. Face it, in business we are supposed to be faster, more savvy than our competitors, and we are expected never to blink in the face of any adversity. We are bottom-line guys! So, to evoke compassion and empathy when you rarely receive it, is a big ask!

When you think about it, in today’s climate, empathy is out of vogue. The reason for that is simple; for people to use this tool, they must let their guards down and be open. That runs counter to today’s “faster, bigger is better” world. Using the tool of empathy instead of arrogance is what I call “flipping the script.”

Empathy means you must consider the position of the other party before your own. I liken it to using an instinctive skill that music introduces to us: Listening! To use a musical comparison: in Nashville, musicians understand something instinctively that most novice players don’t, and that is to “always serve the song.” They joke and use the term “elephant ears.” My point is that the better musician you are, the more you reduce your individual importance, putting the song’s expression first – over your own.

Now, let’s go back to empathy as the tool for improved communications. The trick is, when finding yourself in difficult moments, take your ego out of it. Let the moment be like a recording session. Your job as “the producer” is to make the moment work.

You are also better served when you consider the other person’s frustrations. Empathy equals compassion and compassion comes from understanding. To understand, you must first listen, feel, and consider the other’s point of view. It is as simple as flipping the script.

This is not an easy strategy to embrace. However, it is one that serves the situation best. And when you think about it, you are creating harmony. The best harmony singers understand the magic of blend! As owners and managers, it is our job to keep things flowing, even if we’re not.

That’s not easy, but it is important! Also, don’t be afraid to have a little empathy for yourself. Leadership is not a game for the faint of heart !

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