Maybe call it the Empathy/Human Concern Gap? – A Leadership Reflection — Part 1

I have written many times on this blog about the “knowing-doing” gap.  It is a real gap; a serious gap; we “know,” but we do not do.

But, there is another gap – a gap I don’t quite know what to name.  Maybe call it the Empathy/Human Concern Gap?

It is this kind of gap: the books say this, but the folks out in the real world ignore and/or contradict what the books say.

Let’s start with modern-day leadership books.  There is a long list of books that speak of the value of empathy, of treating all of your employees like human beings, of seeking to truly engage your workers so that they stay loyal to the organization, thus greatly reducing turnover.

The wisdom in these books is clear.  It makes sense.  It sounds right; it feels right.

And, yet…the stories of leaders, especially CEOs who ignore such leadership principles and approaches, is legion.

These leaders get things done, no matter the human cost.  They don’t seem to really care about the human needs of the people they “lead.”  Maybe, they don’t lead “people,” they lead companies to attain results, and they view the people as utterly replaceable; disposable.

And, here’s the truth; though we do admire those human centered leaders, and we certainly admire the authors who write of such leadership (Brené Brown, Hubert Joly, among others), we seem to want to buy stock in the companies that see the best results.

Here’s just one example: Amazon is what you might call a true American success story.  It did not exist, until not too long ago, and as of now it is the fourth most valuable company in the country.  Do you know their turnover rate for their workers in their fulfillment centers (warehouses)? – it is well more than 100% per year.  Read this:  Investigation into Amazon raises questions about workforce turnover, HR errors – Marketplace:

David Brancaccio: Among warehouse workers at Amazon, attrition for workers is how high?

Karen Weise: Roughly 150% a year. It’s actually so high that Amazon tracks it weekly. It’s about 3% a week. And this is much higher than the warehousing and retail industry is broadly.

Brancaccio: More people leave Amazon warehouses in a year than if you add up all the employees that are employed at Amazon warehouses?

Weise: Exactly, it’s the equivalent of having to replace the entire workforce every eight months. 

And, how does Amazon, especially Jeff Bezos, feel about this?  Actually, pretty good:

Part of what was so interesting, Kantor told “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio, was that Amazon has long seen high turnover as a good thing — and has deliberately encouraged it through various internal policies.

“Bezos really wanted turnover. He was afraid of a stagnant workforce — what he would call a ‘march to mediocrity,’ ” Kantor said.

In other words, in the case of Amazon’s mindset, such a very high turnover keeps the company from stagnating.

And they do produce results, don’t they?!

So, not much empathy; not much human concern; but plenty of results.

So, what do we make of all of these books calling for human concern and empathy?

I realize that for some, this is not a good and proper question to raise; but, maybe there is more to life than results? 

I’m not sure I want to live in a world where leaders have so little empathy; so little concern for human need.  Do you?

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