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Learn to Lead with Heart and Empathy with Roberto Giannicola, Author of You’ve Got Algorithm, But Can You Dance?
Hi everyone. It’s Jenn DeWall, and in this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit podcast, I sat down with Roberto Giannicola. Drawing on his experience as a software developer and project manager and his own journey of self-development, Roberto Giannicola coaches leaders from new managers to C-suite executives at fortune 500 companies and facilitates leadership growth. Underpinning his work is his belief that living up to one’s potential as an authentic leader requires seamless integration of analytical skills and emotional intelligence. He is the author of You’ve Got Algorithm, But Can You Dance? Learn How to Lead with Heart and Empathy, and today, Roberto and I will be talking about how to be an empathetic communicator. Enjoy.
Full Transcript Below
Jenn DeWall: Hi everyone. I am so excited to have Roberto Giannicola with us, which don’t you just love that name? It’s so fun to say! Roberto, thank you so much for joining us on The Leadership Habit. It is so great to have you on this. Beautiful. What, what morning are we at? Even though it’s not gonna be published right away, we’re at Wednesday today, post-Memorial day. How are you doing today, Roberto? And thank you so much for coming.
Roberto Giannicola: Doing great. Thank you, Jenn. Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Meet Roberto Giannicola—Coach, Facilitator, Speaker, Author
Jenn DeWall: So Roberto, we’re gonna be talking about how to be an empathetic communicator, but before we jump in, cause I know that your story led you to write your newest book, which talks about how we can really leverage the power of empathy, which we know we need right now with the future of work with the state of the world. We need to show up in a different way, but tell us how, tell us who you are and how you came to be.
Roberto Giannicola: Sure. Sure. So I always tell my people I’m just for my accent, my name you can tell I’m Italian, right? <Laugh> from the south of Italy, I grew up in Switzerland and then I came to the United States. About 30 years ago, I came here to for six months to learn English. And I never left and loved the San Francisco bay area. And that’s where I still am. So it’s such a wonderful place. You know, I come from a background of finance and technology. I worked in finance when I was in Switzerland. And then when I came here, I moved, it was right before the dot com boom, and I moved into technology and I was a programmer for almost 15, 17 years. I went from programming, working with a lot of financial institution and developing software application, project management, all that tech work.
And did that for, for quite a while because I just loved it. I loved having to develop applications that would make people’s lives better to facilitate something that would be much easier to do from using my programs. And here is a button for you to click on that makes things much faster. So every time there was something complex, every time that I had to resolve something that is, was challenging and convoluted, I loved going into that analytical mind because this was just challenging and it was stimulating for me and just enjoyed it so much. And I did that for a while. After about 15 years, I started to think, you know what? I, I’m stuck behind this screen all day long. I love what I do and it’s still here and I still love it, but I need, I wanted to move into something different and I’m moved into the classroom.
I was showing people how to use the applications, training them, how to to to actually implement them and love being in the classroom. And that led me to actually start working with Dale Carnegie training, where I was for a couple of years and becoming a facilitator, went through their whole training program and leading me to working with people much more, because Dale Carnegie is about facilitating leadership and presentations, communication and so on, right. Such a wonderful program. And from there loving this so much and also going through my self-exploration and the difficulties that I had for myself that I had to overcome as a behavioral, as emotional intelligence and everything that had to do with people skills. I realized that this is something that I can help other people with. And I became a coach and, and now I’m an executive coach and I have my own business and working with a lot of people who have gone through somehow the same path that I have working in technology and moving into leadership, moving into working with more people and how I realized how my story and what I had to go through.
And the changes and challenges that I had to face are very often the same things that I encounter with people in that same field in finance tech or the, the technology in high tech and biotech, people who have the technical mindset that have a hard time moving from being those brilliant people, knowing how to do everything like I did in front of that screen. But now moving to people systems no more the computer systems. Now it’s people systems that
Finding the Bugs in the Human System
Jenn DeWall: That’s a challenging thing, right? They change. There are a lot more bugs probably in the human system, to be sure!
Roberto Giannicola: <Laugh> yes!
Jenn DeWall: In the most lovely way because we’re all perfectly imperfect. But how did you get people to, I guess, what, or what type of challenges did you notice in your experience that when people were trying to shift out of that analytical mindset into more of that people systems place, what did you notice?
Roberto Giannicola: You know, it was interesting because I still encounter them right now, right? So there is that mindset of I can do everything, and they’re very brilliant. They’re intelligent. They can do everything when it comes to developing an application or designing a new bridge or architecture and whatever it is cause the mind works really well. It’s logical, it’s one piece then the next, and there’s a flow diagram that they can build to move into resolving it. And so what I’ve realized, and even for myself, is that the difficulties that they have often is getting stuck into that mindset of everything is logical, which is fine, which is great. But how do you apply that? How do you get out of that? What I call the hero loop of always being the person, resolving issues and knowing how to do everything when it comes to difficulties and bugs and problems, but now moving into being a manager, leading people and facing everything and people in social context somehow.So how do you stop micromanaging? How do you not use a commanding voice when you tell people what to do? How do you coach them? How can you be giving feedback in a way that supports them rather than ver being very direct? There’s the delegation process. I have so much gone on. If I stay in that hero, which I’m gonna explain in a moment, I get stuck in all this, the things that I need to do in versus delegating and encouraging people to take the task and how I can empower them to feel more confident about it. But how can you do that if you’re not confident yourself?
Jenn DeWall: Yes.
Roberto Giannicola: So there was that whole process. I had to go through myself, reminding myself of all my awkward moments in social context and how I had to overcome them. And now I’m seeing these people that I’m working with, they’re just facing the same issues. Yeah. And they’re simple to overcome by just taking, taking a few steps to see what holds you back first, what are your own barriers and then applying a new person or new you in a social context.
Writing About How to Lead with Heart and Empathy
Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh. Well, and I love that giving, you know, I know we’re gonna talk about your newest book because I want to dive into the hero loop because that is something that so many people I think, you know, find themselves in, whether you’re an executive leader that’s been in the business or someone that’s new wanting to, you know, prove yourself. But you wrote your book, You’ve Got Algorithm, But Can You Dance? Learn How to Lead with Heart and Empathy. What brought you to write that book? Is it kind of those experiences of seeing the challenges or is there anything that I may be missing about what brought you to that book, that title? How did you, how did that come to be?
Roberto Giannicola: Yeah, it’s so during the pandemic, I was starting to look around, I had more time to think too, and looking at and paying attention to what our customers and clients I work with are always bringing to the, to the coaching engagement that I’m working with. That I’m, that I am starting with them. And often it is related to points that, like I just mentioned, where they are feeling and finding themselves in difficulty, moving from being those brilliant tech experts leaders. So not, not even leaders, but really becoming leaders and managing people and having to do that transition to let go of the identity that they have built in the technology, in being able to overcome all those issues and developing incredible incredible software or incredible projects, but now having to move into leading people and managing people. So what I often realize, and that’s why I call it, the hero loop is that people often were stuck into that loop of there is a problem.
I am so good at it. I can resolve it. And because I resolved it, I am a hero and there’s a cycle that just keeps repeating there. And they pull themselves into that cycle because that’s their identity because they love being the problem solver because they love being the person who can overcome challenges. This is what they have been. But if you want to start moving into leadership, you need to move to the balcony and you need to start moving into a more creative stance. Which is I’m not gonna ha be able to resolve of these problems all the time. I’m not gonna be able to be in that the only person solve person who needs that people need to come to, to get advice or to resolve anything that is going on. They, he needs to, or she needs to manage and empower other people to do that for him or her. So it’s just changing that mindset and being more in a creative stance so that they can develop themselves to become those managers, but also develop other people to be more autonomous and empowered, to do things on their own.
The Hero Loop
Jenn DeWall: My gosh, let’s if it’s okay with you, I wanna talk a little bit, you said the word identity and it keeps just coming up to me as you’re, as you’re talking about this, because I think some of the challenges in, and I know that you’d likely address that as it relates to the hero loop, but identity, I think people don’t realize that we have this identity that’s evolved. That indicates who we are. It’s how we see ourselves. I know for myself, I’m very success oriented. That’s a huge part of my identity. And so when things don’t go awry or people don’t like me or some, you know, I get a negative feedback that hurts like that cuts because I, I have that as an identity, but I love the shift in identity. I love the shift that you’re proposing is, and just reminding people, because we forget, we forget that we can relearn and rethink and see yourselves in a different way. But what are some of the important lessons that you have, or that you wrote about in that book for the average leader or for the leader that they need to hear?
Roberto Giannicola: Yeah. So what, some of the points that I really recognize are how people often try to move into that leadership by staying who they are by remaining the person that they have been for so many years. And when they are then exposed to in a, in a meeting trying to influence people to maybe adopt their idea or vision, they don’t know how to express themselves. They don’t know how to show them how important that is. And what happens often is because they are finding themselves in difficulty, understanding human behavior, understanding how people think and how to encourage them. They have their own ways of understanding that they know how to do it for themselves. And that’s always worked well when you are an individual, but now when it comes to actually encouraging others to do it, it’s a little more difficult. And what often people tell me is Roberto, this is complex.
And I remember we actually had a conversation with somebody just a few weeks ago. We said, Roberto, this, this is complex. People are not easy. They are just so everybody’s different. They are, you know, they have different opinions. They have different moods and you need to adjust all the time. It it’s too much. And so I asked them, tell me, how do you do your work? And this person was a software developer. And I asked, how do you develop whatever application that you, you have done in the last, in the last project that you’ve been working on? And he says, well, I, you know, need to do the analysis. I need to understand exactly who’s gonna use it. What the, what’s the purpose, how they’re gonna go through that. He says, you’ve been through that. You know what it is like I said, yeah, I know.
Empathy is Understanding Your End-User
Roberto Giannicola: So you had to understand the users. You had to understand how they’re gonna use it. Where are they gonna click? When some bugs might come up, what maybe type of experiences they’re gonna have, or you try to avoid them to have, you have to analyze and understand everything so that when they are using the application, everything is smooth for them. And maybe some things you don’t anticipate and they come up, but then you come in and fix them and you make it better. And so you keep changing. So you are in a state of, before you even create the application, you try to understand what they’re gonna use it for. What’s the intent, how they’re gonna, and what’s the results they’re gonna, what’s the experience during the usage. And what’s the results afterwards. And I said, you love that, don’t you?
And he goes, yeah, of course, this is great. This is what I love. I said, I know that’s what I used to do as well. Now you’re gonna use that same mindset, but it’s not more about system and software. It’s about people. So before you go into the conversation, you’re gonna have to understand who’s coming. What type of personalities do they have? What’s their age, their gender, what’s the culture? Are they stressed? Are they knowledgeable? Not so much? What is their experience? What do you think they need from you to be able to feel more confident? How can you empower that? What’s the voice you’re gonna use? What’s the official expression that you’re gonna have to pay attention to. What’s your intent? Even before you go into the conversation, are you, do you have biases? Are you stressed today? Are you angry? Do you like him?
Do you not all that affects the conversation. All that affects how the person is going to respond to you and how you can maybe influence them to do something else. I said, it’s just the same as your software. As complex and interesting and fascinating as the software and application that you build, or the bridges that people build, or the architect architecture project that they put together. If you can use that same mindset of how you enjoy so much overcoming those challenges and getting into that technical, analytical mind with your projects, use that the same way with the people you work with, that you interact with and see how much more fun that can be when you go into, before you even go into interaction with whatever you want to do with them. And so in my book, I try to talk about all these different aspects and Jenn putting myself into the stories because I was, I was a mess myself.
I tell you I had awkward moments all the time. I was the sweaty guy in the conference room who felt awkward, who was getting defensive when people were asking me questions and didn’t know how to address him. I tell you for every client who comes to me with a problem, or with a, with an issue or an awkward O awkward moment that they want to talk about, I’m like, yep, I’ve been there, done that. I was that, that sweaty guy. I was that the one who, who felt really awkward every time somebody was asking me questions. It’s and it’s because I understood the technical side. I was great in my project, but when it came to people, I was, I was a mess. So
Remember Your Own Awkward Moments to Lead with Heart and Empathy
Jenn DeWall: I love that<laugh>, I’m laughing. I’m laughing because I have, you know, you talk about the awkwardness. People think you have it, like everyone has it figured out, right. That someone hasn’t had a beginning where you had to relearn and do those things. And I laughed because the sweaty like comment, I remember my first time going into, you know, early in my career, going into an executive’s office and having to present a ton of data to them about-I don’t know- it was a strategic initiative. I don’t even remember what it was, but I remember that I was so incredibly nervous, which people might be surprised. Yeah. I was absolutely incredibly nervous that I just started sweating profusely and it was mortifying. Right. Cause you know, it’s not like you’re trying to sweat in someone’s office. I’m not at the gym. And I ended up getting an award from her as like an endearing thing. It was like her kind of playing like it’s okay that you showed up like that. That was Never Let, ‘Em See You Sweat. And it will always stand with me for the rest of my life of like that moment when I just showed up to an executive’s office, sweating profusely out of nerves. <Laugh>
Roberto Giannicola: Those moments, Jenn, that makes you if you are willing. And if you want to look into it, it’s those moments that make you think there must be a better way. There must, it must be easier. There’s something going on within me that I need to change. And to me, every time I had those moments afterwards, I was reflecting on it and thinking, because my, my logical mind was like, there must be a logical way out of this. My, I had to understand what is going on within me that put me in such positions that made me feel nervous that made me sweat or defense, make me feel defensive. And so I would go to the bookstores and walk into a self-help aisles and read every book possible to understand what is it that’s going on and what do I need to change? And because of my technical mind and trying to always overcome challenges in the work I had that mindset of, I loved analyzing. I loved trying to find reasons and understanding human behavior, understanding human contexts, how we are and how we react and what, what makes us react in certain ways.
Jenn DeWall: Sorry to interrupt you. I’m so sorry. Like, because I think that there’s so much that’s said about like our self-awareness that we know it’s foundational, but yet it’s the biggest challenge, I think, for a lot of people. So I’m curious, what are your pro tips on even starting the journey of self-awareness because, and I know that you’ll you like you touch on that in your book. Like how do you even get someone to do that? Because I think oftentimes we assume that we know, but yet we don’t go one step further with that curiosity and that line of questioning.
Be More Curious to Lead with Heart and Empathy
Roberto Giannicola: Absolutely. And curiosity is the word that you use there is, is exactly what it is to me. I was curious just the same way. I was curious in how to overcome technical challenges. I was curious in what was happening with me and I’m thinking that must be a better way. It must be easier. Why do I feel awkward? Why is this happening? And I see that in people as well, right? And if you go with curiosity and think there must be a more fluid way to discuss, to have conversations and more free way of feeling for myself when I am in those conversations, what is going on. And often what we do is, you know, these people are the way they are and that irritates me. And that’s why I feel awkward. This person is very intimidating and that’s why I don’t feel right.
My manager is you know, it’s a big shot. I’m gonna have a presentation with the CEO today. And it’s, it’s not about what’s around you. It starts with what’s inside you. And that’s what I had to realize first, it’s my own built up fears, unfounded fears, unfounded self-doubts, anything that was happening within me, that made me feel awkward. And that made me feel challenged every time I was in those conversations. So I had to start looking into the mirror and that’s what I often tell people at certain points is like, Hey, you know what, Jenn, you know, coach too, you, you know, that sometimes starts asking those questions and help people realize this is, oh, this is nothing outside. This is inside. I know it’s me. And for instance, I have a way of using that with this, this brilliant minds, because that’s how, what works for them.
I ask them to create a flow diagram. And what I do is something as simple as, yes/no questions. You’ve heard of the one maybe that people talk about or you’ve seen on the web. It’s a simple one. Do you have a problem in life? And yes/no. Yes. I have a problem. Can you resolve it? Yes. Then don’t worry. I have a problem life. Yes. I have a problem. Do you, can you resolve it? No. Then don’t worry. You have a problem in life. No, I don’t. Then don’t worry. So I give them an example like this, and then I help them to elaborate a diagram to understand what is happening with them. So they have a fear of talking to the CEO. Where is that fear coming from? Is this something you can control? Yes/No. If you can control it, what is it that you want to do?
Or I can do a, or B or C. I love that. So I move them into creating and I’m like, take pen and paper, write down what is, what is going on right now? What is it that you can do? What is it that you cannot ask? Yes, no questions. And I’ve watched them design that sometimes with me, or sometimes I send ’em off and I say, okay, do that. And they come back with these create creative diagrams that helps them move out of their problem and, or their awkwardness or whatever it is. It’s, it’s very simple. And yet, you know, it’s called cognitive restructuring, right? It’s how to, and to change the way you think by being logical and really starting to think about what is going on. And these guys are so brilliant and they know how to do that for the projects.
It’s an easy move into, okay. Now use that for your, for yourself and see how you can overcome the issues that you have. And so some people gen tell me, yes, but this is simple for tech stuff. You know, tech is just ones and zeros. It’s yes. And nos. And it’s, it works that way. <Laugh> but for people people’s just too complex. How can we do that with them and understanding everybody? I’m like, it’s the same. When you think about your next meeting, if you are in a mindset of, or have biases around, I don’t like this person, guess how you’re gonna show up. You, they’re already gonna sense that and whatever words you’re gonna use, they’re not gonna try convince them. They’re not gonna help them move into something that you want. If you are in a place of stress, because that’s how you’re gonna show up.
It’s just, you know, so it’s all these points of, if you don’t pay attention to yourself in your state of mind, no matter what you’re gonna do or say in that next meeting, it’s gonna be affected by your emotions. And if you don’t understand that and overcome that and pay attention to at least neutralize them and put yourself in a position of calm of more welcoming and accepting of the other person and understanding of the person and moving into empathy, to see their side, it’s always gonna be about you. And if everything is about you, you are in that hero loop, you are in that self loop that doesn’t let you open up to other people and create influence and, and make changes to what you want to change.
I love that you gave a different approach to developing self-awareness. I have not ever heard of, you know, a diagram to be able to even get people thinking about that cognitive restructuring and how they want to approach it. And I like that again, you’re offering a different tool for how people can develop that because self-awareness is hard. It doesn’t always feel good to, you know, I think that shame right can come with it, but it really ultimately comes it up to us. Being curious about how we show up.
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Learn to be an Empathetic Communicator
Jenn DeWall: Let’s dive into, and I know we touched on self-awareness already, but how do you become, like, how do you change the way that you show up? So you can be an empathetic communicator. Yeah. How do you, where do you start with that?
Roberto Giannicola: That’s a great point. And you know, what’s interesting with these people that I work with and I, when whenever they work on a project that they want to develop or resolve or the bugs that they have. These people are very I would say they’re very kind, they’re very empathic in the technical side. For example, then I did that myself, right? That when I was in technology, we love helping people resolve problems. We have that desire to help them. We have a desire to understand their process so that we can improve them. We have enthusiasm and passion in how we want to make a process much easier for, for them. We use that and, and follow that logical flow diagram somehow to understand facts and problems so that we can make it easier.
As a programmer, when I used to do that work, or even anybody, an architect before they go into a project, they walk into somebody else’s shoes. You want to build a bridge, okay, I’m gonna walk around here, but why is this bridge needed here? And maybe they have to understand that people take too long to go around the river or the lake. The software I used to work on and follow people or users in their process, current process and understand their side of the world so that I can then make it better for them, for these people. Before they build a project, they do a whole lot of analysis and put themselves in their shoes, in the user’s shoes so that they understand them and then make it better. Well, here again, we can use that logical work, that project or technical mind work that we do and now move into being more empathic in our conversations.
Know Your Own Feelings First
Roberto Giannicola: So before I go into that conversation, I understand myself. Now I pay attention to myself and where I am. Now, I’m gonna want to understand the other person as well. Who are they? What is going on in their lives? How much work do they have? Can I delegate something to them? And if I do, what questions do I need to ask to make sure that they’re okay with that? Are they ready for the new task? Do they have too much going on? When I give them feedback, something didn’t work. They didn’t do it well, but I wanna give them some constructive feedback. I wanna build them up to support them so that they can become better. I need to understand their side. What is happening with you? Sure. The problem, the project failed. You delivered something late, but before I even know that, what’s your story?
Why was it late? And then you might say, Hey, I had so much going on. My daughter was sick last last week. There’s something happening there last night. Oh, okay. Now I see your side. It’s not just more about the work. Now. I understand you and you go into a conversation with more empathy. You want into a conversation with an understanding of the other person and try to see and feel what that feels like, what it is like for them. When you do, when you understand and feel how the other person is feeling and what is happening with them, you change your voice. You change the way you’re addressing it and you are making them feel seen valued. And when a person feels seen and valued, Jenn, what did they do? They build creative, incredible trust with you that just open up to you. That’s when you have that rapport, that relationship, that trust and these people, when you have built that trust, these people will open up to you and help you and work with you for whatever challenges that you have.
Remember We’re All Human
Oh gosh, right? Like this is where people need to rewrite their human systems thinking. I, because I think about when my journey, right? I, you know, I started getting into leadership when I was 16. And then by the time that I graduated college and I still followed that passion, I just thought I was a nerd. And I got into the workplace. I was like, oh, leadership is just that thing that they teach children to pretend that the world is a really great, happy place. <Laugh> I honestly thought that. I really, because I didn’t have the world deal to know that they were training companies or anything like that. I honestly looked around and I watched the interactions. And I’m like, what in the heck? But I’m so happy, Roberto, that you just said this in 2022. Think about it. The magic that happens when you just show up and see a human being and tell them that you love and support and value them. Which is different than the way that I walked into, you know, my first job in corporate America, it was very much you’re kind of disposable.
I mean, I can’t say that everyone was that way, but observing the higher level communications and even criticisms, they didn’t care necessarily about the individual. Like, I mean, they did. And they, like, when my dad had a life altering stroke, they, you know, were like, go and take time off. And that’s great. And so if they were those big life events, they were absolutely understanding. But not the day to day of like, we’re so happy you’re here. What else is going on? And I think that’s, you know, that old leadership that I cannot wait to run away from. I’m just so happy that you’re saying the Roberto. So what are the key benefits? I mean, you know, like trust obviously, like what are the key benefits when we show up with heart and empathy towards people, because I love that way of being curious and what else is going on? How can I understand and support you or maybe modify or re delegate? What are the benefits to an organization if we just show up in that way, because I know that someone’s saying, show me the money. Why should I care? We’ve got work to do
Roberto Giannicola: Yes. And that’s often what it is, right? We are driven by the projects and deadlines and the money at the end of the project and the results. And we forget everything in between. We forget how we interact with people and the importance that people play into the workplace. And, and in you achieving those, those goals. We, you know, often we are, we are stuck in that. We’re stuck into trying to move people to do things in in a certain way. And especially when we come to from a, from a technical area where we have to work on projects and be logical and we move into specific points. This needs to happen before that. And so on. We and I work with people who often tell me, well, I gotta tell ’em what to do. We have a deadline, we have the project and this needs to happen.
And if I don’t tell them, if I’m not there to check, if I’m not there to support them in more telling than actually supporting them and encouraging them, then things are not gonna happen. And they don’t take the time to think, well, did you pay attention to the other person and what’s going on with them to maybe try to see if they can actually take care of everything, you know, how much you’re missing on, if you tell them so much, right? We often miss on what they can actually bring to the plate because we force them and funnel them into a specific area of working and way of working. Instead of if you move into empathy and understand where they come from and what is going on with them, you can help them bring up new ideas that maybe are much better than the ones that you had in your head.
Trust Your Employees to Unleash Creativity
Roberto Giannicola: And not only that, but you encourage them to be more creative, which means they will bring even better things to the project, to the organization, to the team and so on. And when people are, have seen that and realize that it completely changes the way they work. You know, Jenn, one of the questions that I often ask my my new clients is tell me of someone or manager that you work with, that you really like. And I remember there was this guy, Brian, who says oh, easy! My boss! I don’t remember his name, but let’s say John, my boss, John, he is great. I’m like, okay, why is he great? Look, he says every time I go to a meeting with him, I need to be prepared with a lot of answers because all he does is ask me questions.
And I’m like, why do you think he does that? He says, I don’t know, but he just wants to know how I do something. And why, why do you say that he’s a great boss and what, what does that make you feel, you know, and he says well, I feel like he is really rely on me on how to do the work. He trusts my idea and he helps me being more creative. And I said, that’s great. And this is why often we forget what we forget to do as a boss, we tell people what to do instead of asking them questions, to understand where they come from, what are their ideas, what they can bring to the project. And when you do that, it makes people love working with you. They feel valued. They feel like they can be autonomous. And it just changes the entire dynamic with people. And they become much more enthusiastic about being there and doing their work because they feel valued. And so it’s just about changing that language that they need to understand.
Micromanagers Can’t Lead with Heart and Empathy
Jenn DeWall: Can we please address the role? Because I think that this comes down to feeling valued and you talked about it at the top of the show. Micromanagers. I can’t handle it. I absolutely am now to a point.
Roberto Giannicola: Nobody can!
Jenn DeWall: <Laugh> I, I, yeah, I can’t handle it. I think earlier on I was better at that, because then you kind of wanted that additional support to navigate it. And then now, today, I just feel like it’s the equivalent of being treated like a child. Like, I just, that’s how it feels to me not to say that it feels for everyone, but I know that if we’re leading, you know, if I’m looking at that individual that I have in mind, and if I show up with empathy to them, I can see that they’re stuck in what you call the hero’s loop. Or maybe it’s not that. But what is your advice for someone? Because if you are a micromanager, God bless you. I know that you’re just trying to get stuff done, but you may not be doing it in the way that’s creating connection, trust. So on and so forth. What would be your advice to that micromanager?
Roberto Giannicola: Yeah. If what if you’re a micromanager, you make it about yourself. You make it about your fear of not achieving something. You make it about not trying to understand the other side of the other person and the other side of the work you are making it about everything that is related to the project, the money, the achievements that you want to create versus building the person and really trusting the person and you creating a gap between you and this person and the people that you work with by not really helping them or connecting with them so that you can help them realize how valuable they are. And especially you’re missing out on really trying to understand who they are and what they can bring to the project, what they can bring to the work that you do. And you kind of stuck in that hero loop.
Often people are, I ask them, well, why don’t you delegate <laugh> and I’ve see, I heard that so many times. Why don’t you delegate that? And why don’t you let go of that one? And they say, with Roberto, if I do all this, then what am I here for? What? What’s my work? I mean, I had nothing else to do. Are they gonna get rid of me? And I’m like, no, you’re not. They’re not gonna get rid of you. So I work with them to try to help them understand what is it that motivates you? What is it that you want to do? What is the end goal for you? Once you have built up these people to be able to be more autonomous and do their work on their own, and you stop micromanaging them, what are you gonna do for yourself?
And that’s when they start thinking about, well, you know, yeah. I Could strategize more for different projects for higher level results, for new ideas that we can create, envisioning what the other projects we could work on. But, and I say, so if you continue micromanaging, you continue being stuck in the weeds somehow, how can you do that? What can you let go? And how can you empower these people so that then you can move away nor that everything is working well and be on the balcony so that you can still be with them and encourage them and support them, but then stand on the side, create something even more interesting for the company and the organization where you’re gonna pick them up again and involve them. It’s, it’s a different work. It’s a different, you gotta move away from the weeds. I call being, moving away from being always in the involved in everything. Now you’re a manager, you gotta move up to the balcony and doing a different type of work. Yeah. And so that transition is difficult.
What Impacts Our Ability to Lead with Heart and Empathy?
Jenn DeWall: Yeah. To be able to see the forest from the trees. I mean, it comes back to that identity question. Yeah. Yeah. But I know that we only have so much time left, but I wanna talk about a few of the different things that you had addressed, which is like, how do you present yourself as an empathetic communicator? What, and I know that there were a few different things that you touched on that can impact that. What are the things that can impact? And this is just coming back to the basics, how you’re showing up. So what are the things that can impact your ability to show up as an empathetic communicator?
Roberto Giannicola: Yeah. Great point. You know, it’s interesting because when I was writing the book, I thought, how do I, how did I become more empathic? Because 20, 30 years ago, I don’t think I was as empathic as I am now. So I had to look back into my stories somehow to understand what has moved me to become more empathic. And I realized there’s different categories. And some of them are meditation and being in silence to read, explore myself and understand what’s going on within me so that I can then see others as well. Often the mirror to what other people are experiencing is right here within you. So meditation and silence helped me a lot with that. Travel experiences- going outside of my little world and seeing how other people live and what they do, putting yourself in their shoes somehow, and being okay with what you sense and what you see. It can be uncomfortable. It’s okay. Sit with it, be uncomfortable. This is what’s going on. I volunteered a lot and went out into, I went to Africa. I went to China with Alliance for Smiles to do those surgeries for kids with cleft palette and lip surgeries. So spending time there and seeing what was happening with these people and being okay with that and crying sometimes because it was just challenging.
All these moments and emotional pains that you might go through in your life due to relationships and losses. And so on, all these moments kind of crack you, they open up something and make you realize what is really what is like to be in pain and understand other people. And seeing the other side, once you create that crack, I think it stays there. You don’t become callous. You become more open, more, real, more authentic. And as you realize that for yourself and what it is like, and think about even moments that you’ve ex spent in your life, or that you experienced, where you had those issues or where you had emotional pain, whatever it is. And then moving to curiosity and listening and understanding other people, it changes, it changes you and it changes your understanding of others.
And so when you are in that empathy, when you start every conversation or at least prepare for every conversation, in a sense of in a way of you decid, and I’m gonna want, I want to see what’s on the other side. I want to understand and sense. What’s the other side. When you move into those conversations, you listen differently. You hear the words behind the words, the things they don’t say and do not feel afraid of asking those questions. Hey, Jenn, I know we wanna talk about the project today, but I’m, I’m sensing something is off. Tell me what, what is happening and just being okay. Asking those questions and understanding the other side and watch how people often often open up to you. And because of you asking those questions again, they feel seen, they feel valued and then the relationship changes.
Take a Moment to Connect with Others
Roberto Giannicola: So what’s important is to take a pause sometimes and take a pause for yourself and take a pause to connect with people. Because once you create those connections and create that trust at an empathic level and seeing them for who they are and being okay through what you see and sense is difficult, just watch how relationships change, watch how much more they do for you and how things work. You know, there is an exercise, Jenn that we do sometimes in my classes, when I facilitate programs, we spend the evening together as a group and all the participants where the only purpose during dinner maybe is to share a defining moment or to share something important that happened in your lives that really changed you.
And so we have five, six people at the table. I usually started as the facilitator. And then we ask questions and we, I share my own story, something that transformed me. And then the other person goes next and so on. And we listen and we are just being with the person at the end of that hour, hour and a half with those people. What I hear them say is, wow, I knew you. And I saw you walking in the hallways, in the building and so on, but I didn’t know that about you. Or wow, after this, I feel like I could call you at two in the morning and you would answer the phone. And the other guys will never saw them before said, yeah, I would answer the phone for you. Knowing, knowing your story, knowing your side is just incredible. How much more you can create in relationships. If you take the time and how much that helps you in every aspect of your work. So yeah. Empathy is big.
Jenn DeWall: Roberto. I love that. You know, it’s about taking the time you just to recap some of the things that you had shared with us. Build your self-awareness, understand, and be curious with yourself. Why do you show up the way that you do and then extend that to others. Yeah. And being curious. And I love that you talk about the power of the questions. I notice. You know, if you notice something, say it, or if you see something, say something, I wanted to say that, but be curious. So then people can feel heard. Roberto, I love your story. I just love the framework of even thinking about it as transferring the, the knowledge from that, that tech user space to the human system. Thank you so much for joining the show. Your newest book— or your book. You’ve Got Algorithm, But Can You Dance? How to Lead With Heart and Empathy, where can people pick that up?
Where to Find More From Roberto Giannicola
Roberto Giannicola: So it’s, you can find it on my website at giannicola.com. So it’s my last name, dot com. Or, you can find me on LinkedIn as well. And the book is on Amazon. You can find all that information there as well, but my website is where you can find all that information about myself, speaking engagements or any work that I do, as well as the book.
Jenn DeWall: Thank you so much for joining The Leadership Habit. We are so grateful to have you, and thank you for coming on to help, you know, create more empathetic leaders. That’s what the world needs right now. Thank you so much for donating and investing your time
Roberto Giannicola: With us. Thank you, Jenn. Such a pleasure.
Some Questions Roberto Would Like You to Ponder
Jenn DeWall: Thank you so much! Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode at The Leadership Habit podcast. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Roberto Giannicola. I just love saying that name. If you want to get to know Roberto, he actually provided us with some follow-up questions, which I love as a closing call to action. If you want to become a more empathetic leader, start asking yourself the following three questions:
- What are the fundamental pain points that you are currently experiencing?
- What are people telling you about areas in which you need to improve?
- What would you want it to be like when you are feeling more at ease, in a social context, able to influence others with confidence, heart, and empathy?
Now, if you want to connect with Roberto, you can head over to Giannicola.com, and there you can purchase this book and find out more what the services he offers. If you’re interested in a two-hour complimentary leadership skills workshop, we would love to come in and help your team collaborate better, build trust, and just show up and create an environment we all want to work in. You enjoyed this podcast. Be sure to leave us a review, or share it with a friend. Thank you so much for tuning in until next time.