Great leaders inspire their teams to do their best work. And that begins by using philosophies that are born out of high-stakes hostage negotiations.
For many leaders, however, ego and authority often get in the way of great management. When that happens, failure is usually lurking right around the corner.
But there’s an easy fix, which is to consciously and continuously try to see things from your team’s perspective by utilizing an effective leadership framework.
At the end of the day, employees want other people to understand them, their circumstances and know how they feel. To do that, leaders need to practice tactical empathy—the process of using empathy as a tool. They need to handle their employees as if the employees were hostage takers, doing what they can to get inside their minds and see things from their perspective—which is how, during tense hostage negotiations, we would increase our chances of getting the best result.
As a leader, you don’t necessarily have to get it right every time when you’re trying to understand where your workers are coming from. But you do have to make an attempt to get it right.
In many ways, the attempt itself is what’s most important.
Using Tactical Empathy Like a Leader
Tactical empathy can help keep both ego and authority in check—thereby thwarting failure. Using tactical empathy, leaders can gather information from their teams and figure out a game plan that works for the task at hand.
As you start to deploy tactical empathy on a regular basis, you need to keep these three bullet points top of mind:
- Tone: How you say something is more important than what you say
- Delivery: Consider how, where, and when you’re delivering your message (e.g., don’t drop a major project on someone on Christmas Eve)
- Projected sincerity: You need to demonstrate a genuineness in communicating with your employees
Focus on these three things, and you’ll be able to motivate your team and improve morale.
For many leaders, however, this is easier said than done. Keeping these things top of mind takes discipline and effort—which is why many poor leaders simply don’t practice it.
Their laziness can be your reward. A little time and effort can go a long way toward making you stand out among all of the other bosses your employees have worked for over the course of their careers. And that could give them all the motivation they need to help your company reach its full potential.
Leading Like a Hostage Negotiator
Most leaders listen to direct reports intermittently. They only listen for long enough to get the gist of what they’re hearing and figure out what they’re going to say next. Such an approach prevents you from practicing tactical empathy because you’re focused inwardly—and not on what your team is thinking.
Our leadership framework, which we call Hostage Negotiator Leadership (HNL), starts with a very basic tenet: It’s not about you, it’s about them.
You can start using HNL by repeating a mantra over and over again in your mind prior to going into a difficult conversation: It’s not about me, it’s not about me, it’s not about me ...
From there, you can move on to information-gathering and sequencing relatively easily because you’ll enter into the conversation with the right mindset. For a discussion to be as productive as it can be, leaders need to remain curious—and not accusatory or judgmental, which is how most subpar leaders act.
When you’re genuinely curious, it’s hard to focus on where you want to go or get angry because you’re zeroed in on what the lay of the land looks like for your direct reports.
What to Expect When Transitioning to a HNL
As you start to embrace HNL and try to incorporate tactical empathy into your daily routine, you may notice that previously held habits start to creep back into your life. In large part, this is because HNL is counterintuitive.
Many of us are self-focused—which makes executing The Black Swan’s skills and techniques fairly difficult at first. You might find yourself feeling uncomfortable or awkward, which is perfectly normal. Because we’re wired to prefer to feel comfortable, your old habits—those that have paid off in the past—might rear their ugly heads.
Go into HNL expecting the awkwardness. But when you get the response you’re looking for by using these tactics, it’s like seeing a unicorn for the first time. When your team starts to volunteer more information and be more open, honest, and transparent with you, you’ll know the tools are working. At that point, employees will be happier and more productive, leading your organization to better business outcomes.
If you want to make your direct reports actually feel like working for you, you need to work for them first. This starts by identifying the negative emotions associated with certain workplace conversations and figuring out how to mitigate them. When that happens, your team will believe in the mission and actually want to work for you. It may take some time—but it’ll be time well spent.
Ready to take your leadership skills to the next level and lead like a hostage negotiator? Check out my new book, Ego, Authority, Failure: Using Emotional Intelligence Like a Hostage Negotiator to Succeed as a Leader to learn more about how to be an effective leader.