Empathy as Inspiration

I sit across the table from an anxious exec in a windowless room.

“I’ve got this guy on my team, critical to a project that can’t fail. He can’t quit,” he said. “Problem is, we can’t give him the promotion he wants. He’s not really ‘promotable’ — and his review is tomorrow.”
“How can I help?”
“I need some graceful way to, well…”
“String him along?”
“Sort of.”

I turn on the video camera.

“Let’s try it. I’ll be him. What are you going to say?”
He starts. “It’s too early to tell what’s going to happen with promotions. You know it’s a crap shoot. We should talk again in a couple of months. I’ll have a clearer sense of…” And so on.

I turn off the camera. I show him the playback.

“Oh my God. I’m lying. Look at my eyes. Look at my hands. How do we fix that?”
“We can’t fix that. If you’re lying, he’ll know.”

We sit quietly. Things sink in. Then I ask: “If the roles were reversed, if you were the indispensable, non-promotable guy, what would you want him to tell you?”

He thinks for a minute. I turn on the camera.

“You’re critical to this project. It won’t succeed without you. You’re the only person on the team, maybe in the firm, with the skill and expertise to make it happen, and you know how important it is. I want you to know how much…” He is clear and direct. Suddenly he stops. “Turn off the camera.”
“You want to see it?”
“I don’t need to. I just got an idea.”
“What?”
“I just figured out how to change his job, how to make it more interesting and set up a role he can shine in.”
“Where’d that come from?”
“I don’t know. It just hit me.”