Navigating Authenticity and Empathy: Lessons from the Enchanted Wood

Navigating Authenticity and Empathy: Lessons from the Enchanted Wood

Once upon a time, a hare named Ishi and a leader beaver named Honcho lived in the Enchanted Wood. One morning, Ishi was discussing with the group a plan for gathering berries from the east and west groves, when he mistakenly mixed them up.

One of his peers noticed the mistake and called out the correct procedure. Ishi thanked him and was about to proceed when Honcho stopped him mid-hop and bellowed: “You have erred!” and subjected him to a harsh lecture in front of the forest crew. Ishi’s ears drooped lower with each barb, while Honcho challenged his competence publicly, shaking his confidence. Unfairly. (SCARF, Rock 2018)

The hare later approached the leader and said, “I mean no disrespect, but I can’t tolerate being treated like that, especially so publicly. It wilts my spirit and undermines my confidence.” But Honcho was adamant. “I was doing you and everyone a favour, correcting your mistakes for all to learn! You can’t accept feedback; that’s the real issue.”

He explained that was his “authentic” style, though seemingly harsh. The Grant Master owl’s wise words immediately came to mind, “Authenticity without empathy is selfish. Authenticity without boundaries is careless.” Ishi apologised for the mix-up (never executed) several times and tried to argue about the handling, but the leader was never there to listen. Honcho was too busy defending his authority. (Goleman’s Leadership Styles; DiSC).

In the weeks that followed, the tension hung thick in the air.

Ishi replayed the public rebuke over and over in his mind; he knew he needed to find a way to mend the rift. The hare stepped back, reflected on the feedback and their behaviour patterns (LAB Profile®), and adopted a new approach.

In the next meetings, he changed his stand-up updates, curbing discussions or creative inputs in favour of established processes. No questions asked. Honcho felt back in control and the tension passed.

Eventually, harmony was back in the Enchanted Wood and arguments disappeared, along with creative collaboration, idea sharing, and challenging directions. The order was restored though.

Ishi couldn’t help but wonder:

  • How can leaders balance authenticity and empathy when giving feedback?
  • How can pack members communicate effectively with different leadership styles?
  • How can forest chiefs encourage constructive feedback and creative collaboration?
  • What role does clear process communication play in preventing misunderstandings?
  • How can individuals develop resilience and adaptability in challenging work environments?
VR-based training for leaders

VR-based training for leaders

Last week, I was fortunate enough to be part of an innovative leadership training session on coaching, leveraging the power of VR technology.

Immersive experiences allow participants to practice real-world scenarios in a safe, controlled environment. By now, you have probably seen many studies showing (eg. PwC, 2020) that VR-based learning can increase retention rates and confidence to apply the skills learned immensely (275%), 4x faster than traditional methods.

What struck me was, in another job, I ran coaching workshops with group discussions and activities, yet this time it was quite different seeing a room full of leaders, each immersed in their own VR coaching simulation. After their personal VR experiences, the facilitator brought the group together to share insights and strategies, an interesting blend of individual exploration and collective learning.

AI-generated concept art. Still, not too far from what we had that day
AI-generated concept art. Still, not too far from what we had that day.

Positive feedback reinforces the potential of VR in leadership development.

I was very grateful for the opportunity to be part of this training. Witnessing leaders enthusiastically engage with a virtual ‘coachee’ and navigate non-linear conversations was truly inspiring. In 2018, I proposed a similar idea to my previous team, but it was deemed too complex and resource-intensive. Fast forward to today, and it’s incredible to see how far we’ve come!

As we embrace this ever-evolving tech, I’m excited about the future of learning and development.

#VRTraining #LeadershipDevelopment #FutureOfLearning #InnovativeHR #TechInLearning