"No one tests you on empathy"

CJ Westerberg, March 16, 2012 5:43 PM


Update: January 2012 - Recently I met with a retired school headmaster who was more than surprised by the attendance for his one-night chat on empathy.  With that nugget, here is one of the Daily Riff's classic posts . . .

"They  (younger generation hires) often come to you with their little list because they want to know how they're going
to be measured. . . ."
-Kathy Button Bell

Talking about educational "outcomes" . . .
how about empathy, adaptability, initiative and responsibility?

by C.J. Westerberg

An interesting interview with Kathy Button Bell, VP and chief manufacturing and marketing officer at Emerson, as conducted by  interview by Adam Smith for The NY Times.  Bell offers her unique insight about a host of topics which include the importance of sports, early influences in school, leadership and favorite interview questions.

A few of her comments are well worth noting, especially the one at the top of this post about the younger generation who seek a "list" of how they will be "measured." 
Fascinating - and where did they learn this?  Is learning only about how one will be assessed, as is a "job" only about how one will be assessed?

Plus, since we assess our students with grades and standardized test scores as "outcomes," isn't the ability to function well in the work world an outcome, too?

"Lots of very smart people lack empathy. 
They're able to test their way through life and get A's.
- Kathy Button Bell

Ms. Bell values authenticity, perseverance, a lack of defensiveness and empathy.  She also talks about candidates being a good "cultural fit" which is interesting.  Based on her other remarks, my read on this comment is that she is looking for people who share the same sense of mission and values, not necessarily people who all think alike or do things the same way.  At least, that's my take from this particular point.  

  The entire interview is worth the read.  A few excerpts:

Q.  Any other observations about the younger generation?

A. I think it's true of everyone when they're younger, but I see it especially in this younger generation, who seem worried about, "I need the list of things I need to do to get promoted."  I would never have asked for that. Maybe I should have, but I would never have asked for it.  They often come to you with their little list because they want to know how they're going to be measured. I think mentoring people past their lists is where you want to go.

Q. How do you hire?

A. I think the No. 1 thing is, you look at someone's experience, and you want to see consistency of purpose, maybe of outperforming.  One of the big things I always ask is,  "What was your favorite job you ever had?"   That's usually where their greatest success was.  So you follow up, and you ask about failures.  But people are so polished on that question now that I find them less polished on the success question.  

Probably the most important thing is a cultural fit for Emerson. If you don't have it, you're done.  And I think "authentic" is the word I use on that, and I can tell that in a person faster than whether they are smart.  They'd better be real, that is the No. 1 thing.  And if they're not energetic, if they're not authentic, if they're defensive, they're not going to make it.  Defensiveness is an awful trait.  We've also put in a much better culture of listening, because that's part of making people innovative.  So I'm trying to hire people who have empathy.

Q. How do you find that out in an interview?

A. I think you can feel empathy pretty fast from people.  I think you can also tell by what kind of jobs they've had, and what they liked. You get at someone's personal values a little bit.

I would actually say that most of the time when you have a failed employee, it's a person
who lacks empathy, and they didn't hear what the organization was telling them. They don't hear the cues.  Lots of very smart people lack empathy.  They're able to test their way through life and get A's.  No one tests you on empathy.  You can also learn a lot about somebody from the questions they ask you.

Let us know what you think.
Published The Daily Riff July 3, 2011

Would You Hire your Own Kids?  The 7 Skills Schools Should be Teaching Them
by Tony Wagner

Something's Gotta Give by C.J. Westerberg

  • Well, how can you blame the younger generations? Adults have insisted so much on the importance of having _a_ job, whether you like it or not, whether you are yourself or not, whether you have to lie or not.

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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
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