By LUCY DENDINGER
A conversation with Dr. Aponte-Moreno …
All the world’s a stage, and Dr. Marco Aponte-Moreno has uniquely recognized the importance of method actor training for today’s business leaders. His work is interdisciplinary; centered around exploring the role of the arts in empathetic leadership development, the study of leadership in a global context, and the analysis of the political, economic and social environments in Venezuela, his country of origin.
Empathetic Leadership Builds Business
1 out of 3 employees would switch jobs for a more empathetic company.
Percent of customers that would refuse to buy from a company they don’t believe to be empathetic.
Only 40% of managers are proficient or strong at empathy.
Communicating with Authenticity
During his doctoral studies, Aponte-Moreno was trying to understand how leaders persuade followers through language. His dissertation explored how former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez used metaphors to present himself as the embodiment of the nation, to conceptualize his political project as a fundamental component of nation building, and to frame his political opponents as enemies of the nation.
This work led to exploring more specific elements in the communication of leadership. In particular, understanding authenticity as it relates to leadership. His main question was whether or not the communication of authenticity could be developed to make leaders more persuasive. This question assumes that people have a true self that they can access at any time. Therefore, if leaders want to communicate authentically, they need to learn how to access their true selves.
The Saint Mary’s College Business School experience is guided by the Lasallian Core Principles. Our MBA program is rooted in examining the relationship between business and its social setting.
Leaders Can Tap into Empathy Using Method Acting Techniques
Theater acting techniques have provided a solid framework to understand how leaders could access their true selves in order to inspire and persuade followers. More specifically, method acting provides interesting insights on how to be truthful on stage. In method acting an actor is trained to find true experiences and feelings within himself or herself that can be used when playing a character. Thus, instead of pretending to be sad, surprised, stressed or happy, the method actor is trained to be truthful by accessing real emotions and personal experiences that are similar to those experienced by the character.
The belief that the arts in general, and theater performance in particular, can be used to develop leadership skills, has extended Aponte-Moreno’s research from authenticity to empathy. He now focuses on the attributes of storytelling and performance to develop empathetic leaders. This work is based on the Global Citizen Story activity, which he developed in class with his students.
Dr. Aponte-Moreno’s focus on developing empathetic leaders is timely and relevant. Although empathy has commonly been recognized as an essential element in leadership, its development has not received much attention in business schools. Saint Mary’s College is proud to have creative and passionate faculty committed to exploring leadership development in creative and original ways.
The Global Citizen Story Activity:
Empathy is a key leadership tool that is often overlooked in leadership development programs. This activity is aimed at filling that gap.
The Global Citizen Story (GCS) is the foundation of most of my research work linking the arts with leadership. It is allows students to empathize with a person in another country who is facing a serious challenge and circumstances.
The GCS is based on three pillars:
research, writing, and storytelling.
Students write a story in the first person singular, about the life of an imaginary person who lives and works overseas. In the preparation stage, the student conducts extensive research on the chosen country and circumstances. All stories are built around a challenge or conflict that the character is facing. The stories are rehearsed and then told in front of the class.
The fact that stories are told in the first person allows students to embody their characters and feel their characters’ challenges as if they were their own. This is similar to the process that an actor goes through when performing in the theater. Her or his understanding of the character is based on the actor’s ability to imagine that she or he is the character in those circumstances.
After the story has been told, the class asks questions about the story to the student (the storyteller). She or he answers the questions in character, always in the first person. It is in the Q&A part of the exercise, when the student is really in character thinking about how to answer the questions, that the full embodiment takes place. Putting the student in the shoes of the character is expected to develop their empathetic skills.
One concern, dealt with possible issues of cultural appropriation. This is not the case. The connection that students make with their characters is done at a human level. It is about understanding the needs and challenges of the characters as human beings. Students do not dress like the characters, they do not imitate accents, nor adopt any other superficial marker. Cultural appropriation involves the exploitation of another culture by a more dominant group. In this activity, the goal is to understand and empathize with people from other cultures.