The process of becoming superhuman is an important, life-long pursuit.

A commitment to the process will never fail to impact your personal and professional success and well-being. Beyond that, it can also have a profound positive impact on the success and well being of others.

A few years ago, I conceived of the Superhuman Framework as a method for unlocking your potential to grow, and address any challenge in your way. The first part of the framework is learning, which is our primary tool for growing our awareness about the world around us.

Given recent events, I think it’s time we look at how learning prepares us to actively contribute toward making a world that is kinder, safer, and more equitable.

This post is about work. Also, this post is not about work.

NOTE: While there is nuance that exists in the space between intelligence, wisdom, and knowledge, for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to be using the word knowledge in this post as shorthand to describe the state of having information and understanding about a topic.

The Relationship between Knowledge and Empathy

One of the things The Coaching Habit says about what great coaches do differently, is they “stay curious a little longer.” This is because to be a great coach, you need to ensure you’re solving the right problem and this is often buried a little deeper beneath what people immediately reveal. So, we ask questions and asking the right questions requires empathy. Done effectively, it allows us to gain insights into how the other person sees the problem but also to create the space where the real problems can even be safely revealed.

We use our empathy to gather knowledge.

Great leaders have the capacity to accomplish great things as a result of the size, innovation, competency, and cohesiveness of their teams. But a team will neither grow nor stay together without understanding and acceptance of one another. It will be neither the most competent nor innovative without diverse perspectives. Those with insufficient context and knowledge will lack the tools to empathize with those who have a profoundly different lived experience, and will fail spectacularly as a leader.

We gather knowledge to effectively empathize.

This relationship is cyclical. We must continually learn in order to better empathize and we must use our empathy to continually learn.

Knowledge is Power and its Antidote

You’ve probably heard that phrase before: knowledge is power. What you may not have considered is that knowledge is also the antidote to power. Power, which often implies some form of authority or control, can be wielded by those with greater access to information. Therefore, learning can be a defense against control or illegitimate authority.

For example, those have read the 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene are able to recognize the tactics when someone tries to use it against them.

A basketball player who has watched hours of game footage is better prepared to recognize an opponent’s tendency to go left or right and can be in a better position to defend.

In short, knowledge isn’t just power, it’s also often your best defense against power. This is why those in positions of power often want an imbalance in access to critical information.

Learning at full speed

time lapse photography of tunnel

One of the unfortunate aspects of both school and our lives after graduation, is that neither is particularly well-suited for developing well-rounded people capable of critical thinking. In both cases everything is moving at full speed racing toward priorities that are not your own.

In school, it’s about fitting in, following directions, and earning the grade. You’re racing toward graduation, toward work, toward whatever is next. The time to sit in deep contemplation is presumed to come later…but it often never does.

Instead, we move right into the next high speed chase for whatever we’re supposed to do next: the next degree, the next job, the next promotion, marriage, kids, retirement. Nowhere along the way are we encouraged to slow down and think about where we’re going or why.

This is because those who are in a race for survival will be too busy to disrupt the status quo. We are a generation that is burned out, working too hard, with not enough impact to show for it. Working too many hours but sleeping too few. All we have to show for it is a crisis of burnout robbing our generation and future generations of the opportunity to make meaningful change in the material conditions of all humans on this planet.

So what can we do?

The Lesson Plan

Before we talk about what we can do next, let’s quickly recap:

  • Empathy leads to knowledge
  • Knowledge leads to empathy
  • Knowledge is both power and its antidote; which is why
  • Power wants an imbalance of knowledge.

Therefore, power likely wants an imbalance of empathy. We disrupt that power when we have knowledge and when we have empathy.

So, here’s the plan: we commit to learning, we commit to empathy.

We gather knowledge to increase our empathy, and we use our empathy to increase our knowledge. Then, we apply all of it to make a better world, at work and at home.

But what should we learn?

Sure, we could continue to focus on learning all of the skills that will help us in business. Things like sales, marketing, psychology, persuasion, productivity, process improvements, etc. But, what else?

Life and Death Priorities

If you are a leader, the past month has revealed something about you. I want you to think about the following people at your company.

  • The women in your office
  • The people of color (this includes anyone not categorically white — e.g your black and brown team members, as well as Asian or Latinx)
  • Those who are LGBTQ+
  • Anyone who sits at the intersection of any of these different identities (also consider those who are disabled or on the spectrum of neuro-diversity)

Any idea how they’re feeling at work right now?

For those of you who are part of one of those groups, you probably know where this is going. For those who are not, consider the following.

Less than a month ago, there was a leak of a majority decision from the Supreme Court of the United States revealing their plan to overturn Roe v. Wade and consequently removing the constitutional right to privacy. This paves the way to overturn same sex marriage, interracial marriage, and other protections against discrimination. Literally, everyone who is not a cis-gender, white, heterosexual male is in the crosshair.

Less than one week ago, a racist, white-supremacist, neo-nazi sympathizing terrorist gunned down and killed 10 people for the crime of…being black. Here are their names…

  • Roberta A. Drury of Buffalo, N.Y. – age 32
  • Margus D. Morrison of Buffalo, N.Y. – age 52
  • Andre Mackneil of Auburn, N.Y. – age 53
  • Aaron Salter of Lockport, N.Y. – age 55
  • Geraldine Talley of Buffalo, N.Y. – age 62
  • Celestine Chaney of Buffalo, N.Y. – age 65
  • Heyward Patterson of Buffalo, N.Y. – age 67
  • Katherine Massey of Buffalo, N.Y. – age 72
  • Pearl Young of Buffalo, N.Y. – age 77
  • Ruth Whitfield of Buffalo, N.Y. – age 86

The Asian-American community has seen an enormous upswing in violence and hate crimes over the last few years. Less than a week ago, there was yet another attack on an Asian salon in Dallas, TX.

These issues impact the physical and mental health of your team members. If you are not part of these groups, ask yourself if you have spent enough time understanding what these team members may be feeling.

What do you know about the history, the generational trauma, and the day-to-day lived experiences of these team members?

Recommended Learning Paths

man in blue and white plaid button up shirt sitting on black chair

I can’t tell you how to interact with the people on your team except to encourage you to listen more, talk less, be curious, and give space. What I can do, however, is give you the tools for self-guided education.

There are two approaches to learning that would encourage you to explore: Wide and Deep.

Learning Wide

Learning wide includes consumption in large quantities. If you want to learn about sales, read 5 books on sales, watch 10 youtube videos, listen to 5 podcasts. In this approach, you want to focus on speed and pattern recognition. You are looking to bombard yourself with information in an attempt to let your brain sort out that which repeats. This is about looking at a wide array of sources and trying to identify the commonalities around the topic.

Learn wide for general understanding. Be careful to choose reputable sources and also ensure that you are including a wide variety of perspectives.

Learning Deep

Learning deep is much slower than learning wide and the objectives are different. Instead of going for speed and pattern recognition, you want to slow down and study the material. Instead of 5 books, 10 youtube videos, and 5 podcasts, read the same book 3 times. Take notes. Go back over it and review the ideas. Do the exercises at the end of the chapter. Watch the same Youtube video a few times. Find a response video. Look for ano ther creator’s take on the same idea. Examine the topic from every angle until you can draw it with your eyes closed.

Where to Start

I want to tie this lengthy post up for you with a neat little bow.

If you are a leader, of any sort but especially in business, I want to encourage you to take a break from your typical topics. Instead, I want to encourage you to learn about people.

Specifically, learn about…

  • Racism, white supremacy and fascism
  • Gender and sexual identity

Pay attention to what people from affected groups are posting online. Don’t comment, just read. Add more books to your collection and go both wide and deep learning about the issues that impact the people on your team who don’t look like you.

Nurture your empathy. Expand your knowledge.

You can be part of the movement to change the world toward equity. You can lead a heroic life of deeper meaning and purpose. It all starts when you commit to learning. Action will come next, but for now “stay curious a little longer.”

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