Empathy : Critical for Leadership

Making points emphatically,pumping fists, mugging up good lines is not Leadership. It is also not “a switch on- switch off mode”. Leadership has to be lived, day in & day out. Merely setting an example is not good enough, where things tend to go wrong is most Leaders are devoid or lacking in empathy. The ability to get the other person’s point of view & understanding why he holds that view ( compulsions,circumstances, influences,monetary situation etc) is empathy.

The combat  military arms used to have a very sound system of well organized platoons / companies wherein each officer knew his men better than their mothers ( knew them) This also included comprehending their emotional needs & counseling them when the chips were down. Nothing connects a person better than understanding his point of view and sharing his/her hopes, aspirations, doubts & fears.

According to Harvard Business Review there are three issues related to  empathy :-

  • It is Exhausting :- Empathy depletes our mental resources. can lead to “compassion fatigue”. demanding nature of work & low pay in non profits (military,police, charities) can exacerbate the element of self sacrifice.
  • It is Zero -Sum :- Empathy just does not drain energy & cognitive resources but it also depletes itself,  the more empathy you devote for your spouse the less you have for your mother. The supply is limited period.
  • It can Erode Ethics :- Empathy can cause lapses in ethical judgement. People are more inclined to cheat when it serves another person,people use this altruism to rationalize their dishonesty.

Empathy is a must for Leadership,just how much is too much is a matter of individual judgement.

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