In a previous post (This is Your Brain on Power) late last week, I took a look at fascinating research which explores the power paradox, a phenomenon where some leaders exhibit decreased empathy and interpersonal efficacy as they gain increased power.
Over the weekend, I came across a story about a unique way a college professor chose to address a similar concern. Charles Schwab executive Walt Bettinger describes a test he took in a Business Strategy course which featured a single question. He explains:
“Next, the professor said: “I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last 10 weeks, but the most important message, the most important question, is this: What’s the name of the lady who cleans this building?”
“Her name was Dottie, and I didn’t know Dottie. I’d seen her, but I’d never taken the time to ask her name. I’ve tried to know every Dottie I’ve worked with ever since.”
Mr. Bettenger shares that he did not answer the question correctly and he made a ‘B’ in the course, falling below a perfect 4.0 GPA. But he does not express any bitterness. Rather, he expresses appreciation of the lessons emphasizing humility and service he received from his parents and mentors. He also seeks those qualities within his organization, commenting that when he interviews job candidates ‘what I’m looking for is whether their view of the world really revolves around others or whether it revolves around them.’
I would very much like to work with a leader like that, and I believe most others feel the same way.