Episode 276

Do You Care Too Much or Not Enough as a Leader? with Mark Fisher

In this episode, Mark Fisher joins me to talk about the question “do you care too much or not enough as a leader?”

[00:00:00] Hello, my friend in today’s episode, I’m speaking with Mark Fisher. And what we’re talking about is a question submitted by one of our listeners. One of you asked us, how do you know when you have too much or too little empathy as a leader? So you’ll see Mark and I, uh, talk back and forth on this topic. I don’t know if we give you a straight answer, but give you lots of great ideas about how we’ve tried to navigate this and how we’ve seen people navigate this over the years.

So if you are not sure whether you’re one of those people who has not enough or too much empathy, keep on listening, this is a great episode for you.

Welcome to the business for unicorns podcast, where we help gym owners unleash the full potential of their business. I’m your host, Michael Keeler. Join me each week for actionable advice, expert insights, and the inside scoop on what it really takes to level up your gym, get ready to unlock your potential.

And become [00:01:00] a real unicorn in the fitness industry. Let’s begin.

Hello, fitness, business nerds. What’s up. Welcome to another episode of the business unicorns podcast. I got Mr. Fisher here today. How are you, my friend? I’m doing great. Before we dive in today’s topic, which I’m really excited about, honestly, I want to talk a little bit about the fact that we are opening enrollment right now for our unicorn society group, which as you all know, as regular listeners is our kind of coaching group for gym owners.

And this is the moment to apply. If you want to tell them what’s in it for them, if they apply before November 5th. Yeah, well, certainly if you. Apply before November 5th. You will save thousands of dollars. Literally, you will save over 2, 000. There might be some other goodies we tell you about if you decide to fill out the application soon.

And I just got to say, we have been working our butts off to further solidify. What we’re doing and the pitch that I want to make to you so hard, I’m going to hard pitch you and then we’re going to get into our podcast. I’m going to hard [00:02:00] pitch you right now is I really want you to think about what it is costing you in time by not getting some clarity, by not getting support, by not coming to your business with excitement and joy and focus because you’re working with a person that is both giving you personalized individual accountabilities and deadline while also allowing you to leverage done for you clearly laid out.

Uh, proven processes, playbooks, standards, et cetera. I can’t imagine you trying to run your business without it. Something that’s certainly in my business lands that I do too. And I really hope you’ll consider doing it because I have always felt good about what we’re offering now. And I feel like right now we are absolutely on fire.

At the risk of sounding completely obnoxious, I am getting blown away by some of the things we’re seeing our clients do right now. So you should get on this train as leaving the station. Yeah, 100%. It’s the number one takeaway we hear when people join Unicorn Society is that for the first time, maybe ever, they’re more clear on their goals, more clear on their role, more clear on what’s important, more clear on how to spend their [00:03:00] time.

And they spend less time dilly dallying, less time confused, less time stalled, less time stuck. And so if that sounds appealing to you all, my friends, go click the link and join us because we’d love to work with you. And I’ll say one other thing, this is an actual takeaway for your gym, is for the love of God.

Do testimonials and case studies because we have sucked at this historically. We’ve not been good at this in this video course. And part of why right now I’m like, you have to join this is because we finally got our stuff together here. We got a lot going on. Okay. Settle down everybody. But we finally did.

And what that meant was it was an occasion for me to really look through client results, both the way they feel about their business and also the way their revenues have changed. And we’re talking just people doubling their revenues, increasing their monthly recurring revenue by 10, 20, 30, 000 per month.

And it’s happening pretty predictably. So anyway, I’ll shut up there. I’m not being obnoxious about this, but I would say a takeaway for you is if you are not collecting and sharing the case studies, the testimonials, the story of your clients, both in terms of their [00:04:00] quantified results and the way they feel about their fitness, that is an opportunity for you because we got our act over here together.

So now you can too. For sure. Let’s talk about today’s topic. This one came in from one of our listeners and this question was really about the experience of being a founder and owner, a business owner, a leader. And the question was really about how do you know if you have too much or too little empathy?

That’s a great question. How do you know when you have too much or too little empathy as a leader? And I, I’ll kick this off before I pass it to you, Fisher, and just to, so we’re all speaking from the same songbook here is that empathy is really defined as the ability. to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, the ability to imagine what it’s like to be someone other than you.

And there’s a lot of folks in the world, uh, who are really naturally empathic where they really naturally take on the challenges and issues, both the highs and the lows of other people [00:05:00] around them. And they’re really good at empathizing for some people that takes work. It takes work. It’s a learned behavior for some folks.

And they have to really learn to think about the thoughts and feelings of other people. And as a leader. If you’re really empathic, if you have a lot of empathy, it can really weigh you down. If you’re constantly taking on the stresses and anxieties or even the highs and celebrations of everyone around you, that’s exhausting.

If you have too little empathy, you’re a monster. If you don’t ever think about other people, those are the extremes. And so figuring out what the balance looks like for you, I think is at the heart of this question. So I don’t know, where do you start with this one, Fisher? I honestly don’t know. I hope you have some frameworks for this because I think in practice the person that has too little empathy by definition, I would assume often doesn’t know it right.

Very rare in my experience has someone been like, Hey, I really need your help because I don’t think I just, I don’t care about my employees and I don’t have empathy and I’d like to develop empathy. That’s not a thing that I’ve ever seen. I think it might also be helpful to you. to tease [00:06:00] out another framework I’ve seen for how one defines empathy, which comes from the work of one of my favorite psychologist philosophers, Paul Bloom, who wrote one of my favorite books entitled Against Empathy, where he argues essentially for the delineation between empathy.

cognitive empathy, which is the ability to have like theory of mind to be able to understand what someone might be like, you know, imagine things from their perspective versus emotional empathy, which is the feel physiologically the emotion of someone else. And he makes the point that the latter is more often not maladaptive and unhelpful because it’s not actually always helpful to jump in the thing with the other person.

You want cognitive empathy. We’re not trying to be a monster. You want to understand how your actions are going to impact other people or how other people are feeling. You certainly want to be an ethical person and do your best to ease the suffering others to the extent that you can. But I think part of why I bring this up is because Certainly, when you’re talking about people that have too much empathy, that’s often the issue.

As you said, you’re [00:07:00] overly concerned about how somebody’s going to feel because it actually physically harms you when they are hurt, and that’s admirable to some extent. There are certain relationships in which, correctly, you would be accused of being a monster if you didn’t have it at all, right? If you’re talking about your baby child, it would be weird to not maybe have that.

And then you can maybe offer, okay, that’s like a scenario where maybe that’s valuable because maybe if there actually is a physical threat to your baby, that, that somebody really wants to move you to some action. But in practice, the, yeah, I’m curious to hear if you have your learnings, Dr. Keeler, if there’s anything you’ve seen in your training, your research, because as you know better than anybody, this is absolutely something I’ve struggled with over the years.

I think the longer I’ve been doing it, frankly, I don’t know, like the older I get, there’s something about, I’ve just been doing it so long. I think I, I care a little bit less now, but yeah, what would you say to somebody if somebody, I guess we can start with that when the person’s, I care too much about my team, how do you coach them?

Yeah. One hundred percent. Like any change that is about changing, changing a team, changing a dynamic, changing a culture. It all starts with you. It starts with self awareness. It starts [00:08:00] with knowing where are you on that continuum naturally. Where do you naturally sit in terms of your thoughts on a day to day basis, thinking about, caring about.

Worrying about taking on the feelings of other people. And there’s some ways to learn that pretty quickly. One is you can just do some 360 feedback, literally ask the people that you work with, ask people you live with, ask the people that you are in families with, ask them, you can ask them all kinds of questions.

If you want to, if you want to make do a full 360, but you can ask them specifically how they think that you, how they think you show up in a supportive or non supportive way in their lives. And with all 360 feedback, you have to do it repeatedly to really get into a place where people. Are comfortable giving you candid, direct, honest, critical feedback.

The first time you do some sort of 360 feedback survey or round of interviews or however you approach it, you’re not likely to get like the most honest feedback when you go, they have to learn over time, especially if in a work setting that there’s going to be no negative repercussions to giving you that feedback.

So you might need to do it [00:09:00] six months. And then the six months apart one now, another one in six months, another one in a year, you might need multiple rounds for the people around you to learn. Hey, when Mark puts out that survey to ask how we think he’s doing as a leader, he really wants to know. And in fact, you can say things really honestly in there and you’re not gonna get fired.

You’re not going to get in trouble. So if you really think that he doesn’t show up in a very supportive for way away, then you should tell him that. Right. And that’s, I think is where it all starts is recognizing how do you show up for others? And you have to have enough trust with them for them to be able to tell you that.

And that’s why I think you mentioned earlier, Fisher, what catch 22 here is too often people have not developed the psychological bravery. In their work environment for people to feel like they can tell their boss, Hey, actually, I don’t trust coming to you with my problems because you’re actually not supportive.

You don’t care what my experience is. That’s hard to say to a boss if they haven’t built that kind of environment. It’s hard to say boss, if they have built that kind of environment, it’s hard to say to anyone. Yeah. Obviously it starts with self awareness. Yeah. What would you add to that? [00:10:00] Yeah. I think that feels like a very good first step.

If someone is, first of all, Bravo, if you’re listening to this and you sincerely are concerned that you. Don’t have as much empathy as you think maybe you should have and you’re uncertain that feels first of all That’s amazing self awareness and be curious about that and then second of all I think that’s a great way to learn a little bit more about that because listen there obviously are people that you know are Even in leadership roles or empathetic to a fault and again, that’s something I of course gonna be forever working on But in practice, there’s also some my understanding here again.

You can speak this I assume some researchers suggests that when you’re in a dominant power position With someone that you actually lose the ability to read the micro expressions and what makes sense to me about that And I again, I don’t know if there’s ever been a mechanistic explanation for why this would be is because the model I tend to always look at things through is like evolution psychology, right?

So if an individual is in a power situation, it’s less advantageous for them to waste time and [00:11:00] energy Caring about what you think I hate to say it like that and it’s really not the way all leaders behave but in practice Is that a true thing that I make that up or is that like a real thing? No, it’s true.

It’s true. I think you mentioned in the presence of someone who has more power than you, if they have not developed the kind of psychological bravery and safety needed for them to be their authentic selves, they will hide. They’re true selves and you won’t see the microaggressions because they’re hiding it, right?

They’re hiding their actual response to you walking into the room. They’re hiding, they’re not showing you their true self. They don’t think it’s safe to, right? So if they think it is safe to show your, your true self, you’ll see more of it as a leader. But I think by definition, um, by, by having that power dynamic be pretty typical in most workplaces and there’s ways around it doesn’t always have to be that way, but the fact that’s a default mode, many of us work in that.

Yeah, you’re right. As a leader, you’re not going to see people’s true. Expressions and experience in the workplace because something, some cases they don’t feel comfortable being themselves, but [00:12:00] yeah, and that, that makes sense, but it’s interesting your stance is what you posit is going on. There is the individual’s purpose of hiding it.

My, I think it’s right. I think that’s the first part, right? It’s like, it’s harder in part. There’s actually nothing to see because it’s not there. And the other part of Yeah. Yeah. And the other part of it is that the leaders themselves are not looking. They just care. Yeah. Yeah. They’re not, they’re looking hard enough.

Even if they claim to care, they’re not exactly sure what to care about because they’ve never had that conversation with the people they want to care about. How do I care for you? How do I meet you where you’re at? What do you need from me as a leader to feel safe and brave and strong and empowered and, and once you learn what they need from you, then you know what to look for.

It makes it sound easier than it is, but it’s not asking is a good start. So I think it goes both ways. It’s not just. One, one dynamic. I’m curious to hear that because I suspect the listeners of this podcast are less likely to fall into the former category, maybe not. But I have noticed a pattern that the people that are drawn to our work are maybe more likely to be in the latter camp or [00:13:00] maybe they’re feeling overly empathetic and I’ll just share a couple of examples from my own life which, you know, that maybe you can give us some models for how we approach this is.

The cost of this is if you. So, you can really do damage to the organization, the organism of the business, because you’re overweighting the way one person might feel because you’re so afraid of making them unhappy. And this is something, like I said, I think I’ve gotten better at over the years, but to be honest, it’s.

Still, and I’m lucky. I have a very good relationship with direct reports that give me almost always one piece of feedback. It’s just a little bit every quarter checking, but in a really positive way and I really care for them. So it doesn’t hurt. Oh, what? Oh, thank you for saying that. Thank you so much.

And oftentimes it’s a version of, you can feel free to stop over apologizing when like Chris Carther’s the other day, we’re doing our checkings. You don’t need to apologize so profoundly when you need to cancel a meeting with me. I understand you felt bad in the past that people felt disconnected and unsupported.

I feel very supported by you. You do not need to. Maya culpa because you have to cancel me like I get it. You’re fine. We’re good. I’ll tell you if I need something We’re in a very good place. [00:14:00] I was like, okay. Okay. Thank you, Chris That’s obviously not that big of a deal early in my career. There were places were really got in the way So cure I’m wondering how do you coach people through this?

You’re dealing with a gym owner. They care a lot about their team What do you tell them? Yeah, I think the developing empathy doing more empathy is almost easier Then developing less empathy, developing more empathy is just be more curious, ask people how to support them, acknowledge your own biases, get outside your comfort zone, right?

There’s very obvious things to be more empathetic. The opposite is harder and it really is all about setting boundaries. And the way you’ve heard me say this a million times, Fisher, and some of the listeners might have as well, but the stance we want to take when we want to. Step away from that empathy is this kind of sense of detached engagement.

And we want to learn to replace all those empathetic feelings with compassionate feelings, right? Because if empathy is, I can feel what it’s like to be in your pain. Compassion is, I can see that you’re in pain that must suck for you. All right, you want to move [00:15:00] from, I’m taking on the feelings and experiences of you, I’m not walking away, I’m still engaged, but I’m detaching myself enough to see that’s your experience that you are going through.

I don’t have to go through it with you to be helpful to you, to be supportive of you. Uh, in fact, I will be more helpful and supportive of you if I’m not in the ditch with you feeling that sadness or that anger or that frustration. And so it’s really about starting to set those boundaries with yourself.

And frankly, it’s. Yeah. Other, we can talk about like external boundaries, but it starts with those internal band boundaries of that dialogue you have with yourself to say, Hey, I’m recognizing this goes back to self awareness that in this moment, I’m taking on this frustration of all the people at this table that are mad about this thing.

I’m taking on their anger, even though I’m not angry about it all. How do I detach myself? And I, and it starts with saying it out loud. It starts with reckon, noticing and naming the feelings and say, Hey, everyone, I want to just pause and recognize that like you all are mad and that makes sense. And I feel like I’m being pulled into being angry, but I want to experience, I want to tell you that I actually feel like optimistic about how this [00:16:00] could go right.

That as one example, but I think it’s the idea of setting some boundaries with yourself and replacing all that empathetic feeling with more feelings of compassion, trying to be engaged, but detached enough to be helpful. Is that making sense for sure? Yeah, yeah, no, it, it makes sense. It’s the other thing I’ll offer two other things I think could be helpful that I know have been a big piece of my journey is first of all, this is like brutal, but go to therapy.

Like literally go to therapy. Like there definitely were like re parenting things that had to happen. And listen, I don’t know. Again, I’m not a real psychologist person, but it does seem there were a certain lack of reassurances that I received as a child from my primary family unit, which other people had more, maybe like reassurancing kind of things.

And I needed some re parent. I needed a therapist to actually talk through sometimes specific work situations where they were, that’s not fair. You deserve better and stick up for me the way a parent might stick up for you because I didn’t really have that mode So I was to the effect that they were upset extreme ownership.

I’m doing it wrong I’m doing whatever and the [00:17:00] killers point like you’re actually not helping them. You’re making it worse. And and I think yeah, there is a certain And I also know, I hope to be, if anybody struggles with this, I can, you can get the other side of it. There are situations now where I’ve been able to acknowledge, look, I know some of this is my baggage, but this is like mostly your luggage.

And it always takes you to a tangle. I know I’m participating, but I’m going to choose to not give this much energy because I know my hands are as clean as I know how to be in this. And I’m not going to be perfect in my relationships. And I’m like pretty good in this. It’s okay that you feel this way about me.

Um, the other part that I would mention is the physiological piece, right? Which is to say, because a lot of us, the know yourself thing, right? Like I know, like I’m pretty hot and that works really well in a lot of situations, right? It means I can stand up in a room, I can sell. There’s a lot of places I leverage that to my positive outcomes.

But where I have to really be cognizant of that as a leader is my behavior is loud, right? It’s very, my emotions are very contagious and I can see the, like the coming out [00:18:00] of me. And part of how I can downregulate that for me is the physiological pieces, everything from sleeping to meditating, to exercising, breathing.

Another one that, which I admittedly mess up regularly and I. I really need to get that. I can intentionally always mess this one up. It’s like not having a big cup of coffee before a full team meeting because it’s making me more reactive. And then when the things happen, I’m just a little bit more like I have a little bit more of an edge, a little bit more corner, which again is maybe surprising people that don’t work with me on the regular to know that like I can get pretty spiky, but those are some of the pieces too that are not that maybe a little bit more low hanging fruit to help you just be a little bit less reactive in general.

Yeah, I think that’s a really smart picture and I think that last piece I really think is a great place for people that are listening to start, right? Because that self awareness starts with, okay, is my pulse racing? Am I, do I feel queasy in my stomach? Am I, is my, are my hands getting sweaty? Do I feel the need to want, that is a great place.

[00:19:00] Physiological kind of embodied exercise to be like, okay, what’s actually physically happening in my body right now, because that’ll give you information about your emotions. Right. And we’ve said it before on this podcast that we are terrible at naming and noticing our emotions as humans. We don’t, we, I think the last survey I quoted, I read was something like most Americans can only name like a dozen or so emotion words.

So we have very limited vocabulary for talking about describing our kind of internal experience. And that’s a great way to start developing more. Self awareness is what’s going on with my body. They’ll give you clues about what you’re feeling, and then you can start to connect the dots about why you’re feeling that way and maybe make some choices that change it if you want to.

But I think this is a, this is a skill that empathy is a skill we’re always going to be working on as. People as leaders, the stakes are sometimes even higher, as you mentioned measure, like your behavior as a leader is loud and other people’s behavior around you as a leader in a power position is weird.

It’s a very scientific word. It’s just weird. Like people [00:20:00] act weird around people who have power and that changes the people with power. And so it’s a hard environment to learn how to care about others and manage ourselves in a way that is. Healthy for us, but I think hopefully we’ve given some pointers.

Let me try and summarize the things I think were pointers in this conversation. I think one thing that I thought was really valuable is the last thing you just mentioned is starting to build some self awareness in part by building self awareness around your body. Find some coping mechanisms while you get in touch with what’s going on with you, meditation, breathing, walking.

Writing, talking to a trusted friend. These are all ways that you can regulate your emotional system. I think, don’t think self awareness around how other people see you is the next level of this. And we’re talking about like emotional and social intelligence skills here. Right. That the next level is how do other people see you as being empathetic, compassionate, some version of that.

And you want to feedback about that as a leader on a regular basis. And then over time, I think the kind of the pot of the end of the rainbow that we’re all searching for is to be able to have the right amount of empathy in the right moment. In the right context [00:21:00] Right? And that’s constantly evolving every few minutes.

The environment and context changes. And so it is a moving target. There’s not one way of being that’s right in all contexts at all times. And again, the pot of the rainbow here is not to be perfect in any one way, but to be really, uh, nimble. In your ability to pull on compassion and empathy when it serves the context.

Yeah. Any other tips that I missed? No, I think that was great. I think, uh, I’ll offer one parting thing, which is, I think a little tangential to necessarily being too empathetic, but it has to do with managing your emotions is. One, I, I highly recommend learning how to do that process of noticing and naming your emotions with your team and modeling that for them.

One of the things that MFF team has gotten so good at is people just like naming and also having it be. Okay. If it’s like a dark emotion, that’s something I had to work on too, right? Because I was so afraid of anger always in my life experience, always being forced for [00:22:00] destruction and violence to be comfortable, particularly as a man with like mixed feelings about not wanting to like have power over and just a lot of like weird feelings around that to make it be okay to like express.

Emotions and feeling and certainly you have to develop relationship and trust and social capital, a trust that that will be received, that you’re not doing irreparable harms relationship just by naming that there’s stuff going on. So anyway, that’s again, not necessarily empathy per se, other than perhaps more how to move through your own emotions in a way that’s productive.

But that’s another thing that I think have on your radar as we all seek. Craft. We all seek mastery in a craft of which we shall all remain forever apprentices. Yeah. Great point. Great point. Listeners. We thought we hope you found this one useful. It was a big departure from our normal talk about systems and spreadsheets and marketing and sales.

Um, but it’s a feeling once in a while. It’s like feeling it’s important. It’s important. It’s important. Our friends. Thank you so much for listening. Thanks for the great conversation. Fisher as a reminder, go apply to Unicorn Society before November 5th, save literally thousands of [00:23:00] dollars and filling out the application does not mean you’re committing to anything.

It just means you’re going to talk to us and we’re going to see if we’re a right fit. So go do it. And we hope to work with you soon. Thanks Fisher. Talk to you on the next one.