Friday, September 16, 2022

Less Empathy, Please

As you know, empathy is all the rage in the psycho world. The word drips from everyone’s lips, as though the capacity for empathy makes people more human, more humane and just plain nicer. And not just in the psycho world-- it has even infested the business world.

Obviously, the executive coaching corps has joined the bandwagon, amassing hefty fees for telling bands of incompetent executives that they will improve their job performance if only they shower their staff with empathy. And, by the way, they must also manifest their vulnerability. 

Nothing is quite as inspiring to your team as to hear their leader whine about how badly he feels for them. Huh.

Worse yet, I have it on good authority that touchy-feely girl talk has invaded the sanctums of America’s top business schools. Students sit in class and hear their professors ask them how they felt about this, that or the other thing.

Now, you might say that these schools are catering to a new class of students, largely of the female persuasion. Of course, your therapist often asks you how something makes you feel. If such is your case, fire your therapist. A therapist who wants to teach you how to get out of your life and into your mind is doing you no favors.

As I have often noted, it’s all about girl talk and psychobabble. It shows that decadence has invaded America’s executive suites. The outcome is not going to be good, for anyone.

So, now, as though to prove my point, journalist Walter Isaacson takes the measure of three of America’s most successful executives, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. They are so well known that I do not even need to tell you who they are or what they do, or have done.

And Isaacson remarks, in a Fortune article (via Maggie’s Farm), one quality that these leaders did not have was-- empathy. Note well, they were suffering an empathy deficit. They did not feel your pain. They did not feel for you. They did not shower you with deep understanding. They did not even tell you to feel your feelings or to get in touch with your feelings.

They were about getting the job done, regardless of how you felt about it. They were unemotional task masters. They were highly demanding, regardless of how anyone felt about it. In our increasingly feminized world, this triumvirate stands out as the exception that condemns modern corporate practice. 

For instance, Isaacson reports that Steve Jobs was brutal, and that he occasionally brought people to tears. Tsk. Tsk. We do not know how Tim Cook does it, but the truth remains, Steve Jobs had an impressive track record. Would he have done better if he had had more empathy?

Now, Isaacson says that these men are not concerned about being liked. They are not wondering how much affection they garner from their staff. Somehow or other, and despite what you have learned in business school and from reading Brene Brown, the truth remains, you cannot both be liked and get the rocket to Mars. Naturally, some of you will think that you can be both. Thinking does not make it so.

As for Elon Musk, oh my God. Isaacson describes Musk’s attitude thusly:

Comparing the Tesla CEO to Steve Jobs, Isaacson said: “Musk is very similar in being extraordinarily open…that transparency is part of his genius.”

“He’s able to sequentially focus in a way that I almost find like he’s half-Vulcan or something…because he doesn’t wake up in the morning…worrying about depositions, he’s worrying about valves in the new engine for the Starship.”

“If he’s sitting in front of four or five people who have messed up getting the booster of Starship right, he says, ‘If I’m starting to feel empathy [for them] instead of moving them out, then that’s a misplaced empathy. My empathy has to be with the enterprise of getting to Mars, not with the person in front of me,’” Isaacson said. 

I am not sure how depositions got into the equation, but clearly, a serious executive would not be worrying about legalism, but would concern himself with engineering. 

And Musk has heard all of the drivel about empathy. He has rejected it, because you gain nothing if you feel sorry for the guy who just messed up. His focus is on the task at  hand, not on the person.

So, America’s most capable executives are corporate warriors, not whiny empaths. In a better time they would be setting an example for other corporate executives. In our time, corporate America seems hellbent on being kinder and gentler, in having executives who care about your feelings, who are creatures of emotional lability, regardless of the outcomes.

1 comment:

370H55V said...

Rush Limbaugh used to call it "chickification" (I use a stronger term), but either way it is an existential threat to America.