“How you behave and the strength of your character [are] just as important, if not more so, [as] making your numbers." ~~Sandra Peterson, Group Worldwide Chair, Johnson & Johnson
Resilience and empathy are the most important skills for leaders in today’s 24/7 digital world, according to Peterson. So, can a highly-productive employee who lacks empathy ever learn to surf the interpersonal waves of a workplace? If a team member lacks the empathy and resilience that is usually hard-wired into our brains between birth and seven years of age, is it always too late?
No. Absolutely not. But here's why you might have gotten the idea that development of soft skills is a "use it or lose it" proposition in the early years. Or...here's why your efforts to build soft skills in adults may not be working.
The developmental windows for empathy and other forms of emotional resilience opened in the earliest years of your and your employees' lives. During these perfectly-timed windows, an opportunity is specifically matched with new skills and capacities that enable development. A sort of template awaits within, until its window opens.... For example, the optimal window for development of empathy's template coincides with the transition from a state of complete dependence on others, to one of emerging independence, via the abilities to talk and walk.
Once a window of developmental opportunity opens, external influences begin to shape the template for this new capacity. Somewhere around 18 months of age, your window of opportunity opened for the development of empathy (and the healthy interpersonal boundaries that make it possible). Your internal tempate for empathy came under the influence of your parents, older siblings, child care teachers, and/or other significant members of your world.
As for you, so for each employee at your organization.
Each family, doing the best it can with whatever resources it has, and doing its best to overcome whatever barriers it encounters, works upon the template that shapes the Independence of its toddler. Each toddler then moves on into the preschool years--and, 15-20 years later, into your workforce--with a brain wired either well or poorly for: empathy and emotional intelligence; psychological and mental boundaries; and interpersonal resilience. All this, from a developmental window of opportunity that was open from about 1 and 1/2 years of age to 3 years.
And if the wiring is faulty, was poorly done (as it was in many, MANY families)...? Is there recourse? Is there rescue?
Yes, because the template is still there. Just as digital templates are copied before editing, so that the original stays ready for future use, our developmental templates are not erased or replaced by our developmental experiences.
Rewiring adults for healthier emotional, mental, and psychological boundaries; for empathy; and for interpersonal resilience -- it IS possible. In fact, even in middle age, we can rewire these responses in ourselves, by tapping into the empathy template. From my deep understanding of that template, as a Developmental Psychologist, I have created workplace-appropriate interpersonal technologies to disrupt the outputs from poorly-wired empathy.
See me Sunday afternoon, April 15, 2018, in Springfield, MO, where I will be signing copies of the Living the INNERgized Life anthology at Alchemist Attic on South Avenue, noon to 3:00 PM.
Coming soon: video of my TEDx Wyandotte talk, "Never Lost Forever," on reclaiming the lost art of dreaming...yes, it has a template, too.