After the Webinar: Empathetic Leadership – Building a Culture of Trust. Q&A with Katharine Manning

Webinar presenter Katharine Manning answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Empathetic Leadership: Building a Culture of Trust. Here are just a few of her responses.


Audience Question: Do you think desocialization of so many people through social media might be a negative factor on mental health? 

Katharine Manning: That’s such a great question. I will say that first of all, I should say, I haven’t looked at the research on that. And I know that there are lots of people who are doing incredible research on that, and I don’t want to give a definitive answer to it. Because I know that there are some really incredible takes on that. I do think that there are real challenges with social media, and in particular social media where people can be sort of anonymized. It seems to create environments where people don’t recognize the humanity of the people that they’re interacting with. I also will say though that I don’t know how I would have made it through the pandemic without social media. I’m very fortunate. I have family here in the home with me, but there were lots of people that I was not able to see for years, people very, very close to me, and if it were not for social media, I don’t know that I would have been able to maintain those ties. So, I think it’s important that we recognize both the benefits and the risks of social media. And we’re really thoughtful about how we are engaging with it and keeping an eye on our own mental health. Because I can tell you, this is what I do with regard to social media, but I don’t know that it would help others. I think it’s very, very unique, what is healthy for each individual in terms of social media, and I think we just have to really prioritize taking care of ourselves in our use of social media.


Audience Question: How can we show more empathy and connectedness, if we’re introverts and just aren’t as talkative, or do we just need to learn to talk more?

Katharine Manning: Ah, this is great. I’m an introvert too. I love it. So, I believe that introverts are not people who don’t like connecting to others. We do like connecting with others. It’s just that we also have to recharge. And so that’s the way that I have kind of balanced it. I do a whole other session that is specifically on self-care another training session, and one of the things I talk about is having a daily reset. I think it is particularly important for people who are introverted and maybe in professions or families, for instance, where there’s a lot of communication. We have to learn how to protect our own energy. And that might mean being very, very clear with people about, “I’m just going to take a break for a little bit. For instance, after this session, I love talking with all of you, but after this session, I’m going to go lie down upstairs in a darkened room for about 30 minutes. And I know I just have to do that to recharge. And that allows for me then later when my kids get home from school, I’m able to really be present with them in a way that is authentic and real, and I’m thrilled about seeing them. I think the key is just recognizing, again, we’re all individuals. We need different things. And there’s nothing wrong with being introverted. We are still able to connect with people. And one of the things I really love about introverts is I find we are often really, really good listeners. We observe things that sometimes people who are more extroverted, don’t observe and so it makes it sometimes even easier to provide really helpful empathetic support and leadership when you are an introvert. So, thank you for that great question.


Audience Question: Can the idea of institutional betrayal become endemic in an organization even after a change in leadership? 

Katharine Manning: I mentioned Dr. Jennifer Freyd as the one who was doing this research. And I believe that one of the things she is starting to look into now is this question of can you rectify an institutional betrayal? So, if you know that something has happened that has betrayed the trust of an individual or sometimes really of an entire team or organization. Are there things that you can do to mitigate that later on? And as far as I know, she doesn’t have studies that show that. But she has been able to show anecdotally that there have been instances where institutional betrayal has been rectified and in particular, a story that I heard was about a woman who was a student at the University of Oregon, who was sexually assaulted by two members of the football team. And at the time she reported it, the university leadership was very unsupportive, and I believe she ended up dropping out. She is now a public speaker who speaks nationally about this issue of sexual assault on college campuses and in football more generally. The University of Oregon and this was in recent years. but I think at least 15 years after her experience in college, the president of the university reached out to her and apologized for what happened to her then. He was not the same president who was there at the time, but he reached out, and he issued a personal apology to her, invited her to come and meet with leadership and with the football team. She spoke at the campus, and she has said that that made a big impact on her in terms of her healing. And so, Ron, what I love about that, is that idea that there can be horrible things that happened, but it doesn’t mean all is lost. There are things that we can do afterward that may be able to mitigate that institutional betrayal


Audience Question: Can you share where they might be able to find out more information about sexual assault in the military? 

Katharine Manning: Oh, gosh. So, I know there are tremendous resources on sexual assault in the military. I personally have done some training around that issue through nova, the National Organization of Victim Assistance. And, gosh, I wouldn’t even want to tell you where to go, because I know that each branch has specific offices related to it. Are there folks in the audience are people allowed to answer questions from the audience?

Host:  Yeah, actually Andrea just shared that they could go on the DOD website. They posted the report on there.


Audience Question: Do you have any advice for being too empathetic and not holding people accountable in the long term? 

Katharine Manning: Yeah, I’m really, really glad you asked that. It’s an issue that I see fairly often, actually. There was a woman I was speaking with for a little while, she’s the head of a non-profit organization that does phenomenal, really, really important work. And over the pandemic, one of her top leaders basically just stopped coming to work. And she let this go on for months. She would kind of check in with the woman and say, “How are things? Everything, okay?” But nothing was changing, and I think her take was, “Well, I’m trying to be supportive of this person who’s clearly struggling. But the reality is that all of the other team members are having to pick up the slack for that person who’s not doing what they have to do,” right? And so, it’s not really empathetic. That’s not really empathetic leadership. Check-in with the person, absolutely. Provide support, for sure. But if you are not holding people accountable for the tasks that you have said, are required for this position, and the ways of behaving that we have agreed are appropriate for this workplace. If you’re not willing to hold people accountable, then you’re really not being fair, or empathetic to everybody else in that organization, right? It is hard. I know it’s hard. They can be really, really uncomfortable conversations, but I think that clarity from the beginning about the expectations and then having as much flexibility as you can. Like, you can say, “I’m willing to be flexible on, in these ways. This is how I can be flexible, but we have a mission that we have to meet, and there are things we cannot bend on.” And, for those, you have to be willing to enforce those rules and codes of behavior, or else really, it is so toxic for your team. There were some really fascinating studies, where they looked at team culture. And they found that teams tended to have a culture of the worst-behaved member of the team. Isn’t that awful? So, they looked at business school students, and they put them in teams to do a task, and then they had one who was like an actor, who came in, and that guy, he would come in late, and he would like make fun of people, he would encourage them to cheat, or to cut corners. And it was, it was amazing how quickly he turned almost everybody else on the team, to start to mimic his behaviors. So, if we are not willing to call out the bad behavior, it is amazing how quickly the entire team, the entire organization, can start to have that kind of toxic behavior. So, it’s really, really important that we are clear from the beginning about expectations and that we’re willing to hold people to them.


Audience Question: How can you create or influence psychological safety up your chain? I’ve tried hard to create it and keep it with my team. But I find that I don’t have that same psychological safety and it can be draining. 

Katharine Manning: Yeah, absolutely. So, this is one of my favorite things, and this is why I feel like being a lawyer really helps me because I’ve gotten very good at making the case. What I have found when it comes to convincing leadership that this stuff matters is you have to explain to them, why it matters to them, and for them, usually, it comes down to productivity. Right? It’s what they need to see is the bottom line. So, how is this going to affect engagement, productivity, and ethical behavior? The things that they know they are going to be judged on. And honestly, my book starts with all the statistics that will just help you come in with, you have to be armed from the beginning with, like, hey, so, one of the things I’ve noticed is that we are struggling in terms of psychological safety. Do you know what that is? And you can talk a little bit about the Google Study. They loved the Google Study. Because all managers, think of Google as being like where they want to be, in terms of, like really good leadership. So, start with the Google Study and explain what psychological safety is, and then talk about what a difference it makes in terms of teams being able to be successful on every measure. If you just Google, I wish I had the site for you, but if you just Google Study Psychological Safety. There’s an article that The New York Times did a few years ago that walks through it. and you can share that with your management. So, give them the business case for it. This is how it’s going to affect our success, our longevity, and trust in the organization, and then walk them through some of the things about how to do that. So, you could say, for instance, did you know, teams have the highest psychological safety where managers check in at least once a week? Do you feel like that’s something you feel like you could do? So, give them first the business case, get their buy-in, and then the practical tips would be my advice.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Empathetic Leadership: Building a Culture of Trust.


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