The art of Mess Up: Fess Up & Dress Up: Empathy

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 At one time I was responsible for co-leading a team that served approx 25,000 clients a week and we had a saying, "Mess up, dress up and Fess up."

As a leader I have spent a good portion of my life messing up, fessing up and dressing up. I have been learning about the power empathy and transparency have to connect all people; even enemies.

How good are you at walking in others shoes? Are you naturally understanding,  can you easily see things from others perspectives, orientations, and are you compassionate?

Or not?

I am constantly asking myself as a leader how would I want to be treated. The golden rule is my compass and I absolutely believe if we each embraced humility with open arms and practiced the art of wearing others shoes and really, really took the time to look at all situations from a multitude of angles well; we would be capable of most anything. Because most things that matter involve humans and humans, especially humans like me, mess up alot.

People ask me what makes me unique as a business consultant and one of the first things that comes to mind is the fact that I have both struck out in business; failed at a startup which lost money for me and others ( messed up) and succeeded at growing and selling a $13M dollar company. 

Life is full of messes.  All of us have messed up and as a leader its important we embrace our messes AND even when we can't make them right we can own them as part of our story.

It's my transparency in sharing the messes; failied startups, divorce, teenage rebellions that allows my clients  to know that I am real. As I own the good, bad and ugly of my life journey others in my life are liberated to embrace their own story and imperfection. Connecting, relating and being known occur at this intersection where we have empathy for others and are invited to know them in the truest sense. 

 Empathy: walking in another's shoes, the ability to understand, to have understanding for, to see, feel and hear things from anothers perspective. It appears to me empathy is what you and I want everyone else to have, but the question is are we empathetic?

Are we understanding with the late employee, the client who is asking to many questions, the vendor who is behind in his payments and the spouse who is stressed out?

 Are we aware and intuitive enough to detach from our self interests and concerns long enough to imagine for a moment what it might feel like, what the other person is going through; here now presently?

Perhaps empathy is best developed by having needed it from others, or perhaps in seeing others model it or maybe even having experienced the opposite; indifference, disregard; disrespect and inconsideration.

Empathy is an art form one that connects people like nothing else and one every leader of human beings and human souls needs to perfect…

Perhaps the best way to become more empathetic is to think of a time you messed up. And to think of what it took for you to walk yourself through the humble process of messing up, fessing up and dressing up. Perhaps all empathy needs is for humility to visit?

When was your last great blunder, failure, mistake or error that was of consequence to others?

Messing Up. We all do it and the sooner we get real with ourselves, our teams, clients and peers the better. Parker Palmer talks about how relating and coming to know one another is contingent upon vulnerability. In leadership its essential we own our mistakes our vulnerability and transparency with our teams and families allows them to enter into the deepest knowing of us and connects them to us in a way that is impossible if we keep our mistakes and errors from them.  I'm often asked what makes me different from every other business consultant and I quickly answer that I have both failed miserably at a startup – and co-owned and sold a $13M dollar business+. Home runs and strike outs. Ventures that made money and ventures that lost money for me and others.

Life is full of mess ups; most of us don't intend to mess up but once we do the question is; what now?

Fess Up: Over and over I remind myself and others as soon as you are aware that you've messed up – its time to dress up. Sometimes we are so wound up in our own business and life we're ignorant to all the ways we have messed up. Sometimes the white water is so deep and we are struggling to fight our way back to shore and in the fight we totally lose track of how many people we're knocked overboard in our fight to stay a drift. But once we get to shore,  its time to fess up and take responsibility for the mishap, mistake, error…

Dress Up: So how did our mess up impact others? Now is time for empathy on both parts the offender and the offended. For the one who has messed up it's time to think about the emotional, financial, spiritual, physical and intellectual consequences to others and to ponder about how to best make things right; now. Dressing up is all about going the extra mile to do your best to dress up  and make pretty that which you are responsible for.

Empathy: When people mess up how empathetic are you? Are you good at taking your shoes off and affording the offender the grace and understanding you would want if roles were reversed? What is your compassion quotient for errors, mistakes and others shortcomings? It's not only important that you and I practice empathy in good times we also need to become skilled practitioners of humility, compassion and understanding in hard and difficult times.

I continue to be amazed at my own ability to mess up and I am equally awed when my failures are met with compassion and empathy.

Pam Hoelzle

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