I heard Ben Horwitz, CEO of Opsware, tell a touching story about why he had his company pay insurance premiums for an employee that technically was not eligible for them. The man needed treatment for terminal cancer and the cost would be over $200,000. Ben had been leading his company through a protracted struggle for it’s very survival for nearly five years when this decision was made. When the man’s widow called two years later to thank him for such a generous gift she asked him why he would do something like that for someone who he didn’t even know, he told her “I guess I did it because I know what it feels like to be desperate.”
It’s interesting to speculate about whether or not he would have made such a generous gesture if he hadn’t been through such a struggle. I don’t know Ben, but I think he, and almost everyone else in the world, might not have done it. There is a sensitivity to pain that is born in our hearts when have been through a fire.
This sensitivity is called empathy. The dictionary defines empathy as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Empathy is a valuable tool for building your career as well as for helping others. Since every business is a people business, we must remain in touch with our humanity. Responding to the desperation in people’s lives will enhance our reputation among those we lead, and build rock solid loyalty in those we assist.
Some thoughts about empathy:
- We don’t always choose when it shows up
- We don’t always pay attention to its call for our attention
- We always benefit from following its promptings
- We will always be remembered when we use it
Next time you are personally going through the fire, be grateful that not only is your courage being tested, and your resolution to succeed deepened, but that your heart is also being tendered for those who need you most.
I’m curious about how empathy has shown up in your work life. Please make a comment and share your thoughts and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog.