For those of you who have seen The Godfather, the phrase “it’s not personal, it’s business” will be very familiar.

I’m guessing that anyone dealing with frustrated and angry customers will have heard this, too.

After all, when dealing with people, it’s easy to take things personally and we can draw some comfort when we think of it as only business. For this allows us to become detached, inoculating ourselves from the emotion in the situation.

Yet, this can lead to a complete lack of empathy for people you are here to serve. This can best be seen in customer service roles, but can also be present in the relationship between a leader and their team.
Those leaders that hold a belief that it’s all about business, make little or no time to engage with the emotional side of the people who make up their team. How many times have you heard something like this: “When I’m at work, I’m at work and do not bring in my private life“.
Somewhere, long ago, we were told or just assumed that it was best to take on a role that focuses strictly on business. Hopefully, that has shifted since we started to talk about authentic leadership, but somehow I still suspect there are leaders who do not engage with their emotions at work, let alone their team’s!
Maybe you’re saying it’s a male thing? Yet, I’ve also worked with women who have assumed what may be seen as a macho trait, perhaps believing it’s the way to survive in this world.
So I’d like to offer an alternative phrase. I can’t take credit for it as it comes from the film, You’ve Got Mail.¬†
Joe Fox, the character played by Tom Hanks, is talking with Kathleen Kelly, Meg Ryan‘s character, after his part in closing The Shop Around the Corner. The dialog goes something like this:

Joe Fox: “It wasn’t… personal.
Kathleen Kelly: “What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?
Joe Fox: “Uh, nothing.

So, next time you think it is only business, consider this thought. If organisations are simply a bunch of people gathering around a common purpose, then surely it should be personal. Get to know the people you work with and get to know your customers, too.

For as Kathleen Kelly says “Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.