Empathy as a leadership strength. Another one of those buzzwords. It used to be Sympathy for a while, but then that got a bad name, because apparently it means rescuing someone, taking their problem off them and that would leave them feeling weaker than before.
So what’s the difference to empathy as a leadership strength, then? And, more importantly, why do we need it?
Empathy is connected with Emotional Intelligence, and denotes the ability to understand the emotions of someone else, without owning them. Therefore in leadership, empathy often helps to understand what a person or group of people is struggling with, without getting caught up in their story or drama.
Why is this important? It allows you as a leader to keep an outside perspective, which puts you in a much stronger position to coach the struggler(s) to find their own solution. It also means your view of the matter won’t be clouded by the same emotion they are currently captive of, which in turn can assist them to look at the problem at hand from a different point of view.
If we subscribe to Einstein’s affirmation that the mindset that created the problem will find it hard – or even impossible – to solve that same problem, we can easily see the quality of the contribution you make with your empathy as a leadership strength, by not getting caught up in the drama of the person who comes to you for help/advice/support.
How do you do that?
How about starting with practising a little self-observation of the following:
How do you react to what people tell you?
How hard/easy do you find it to understand their concerns behind the words they are using?
When you listen to them, where is your focus?
• On yourself and what this means to you?
• On them, looking to really understand what’s going on for them in this matter?
• Listening not just to the words they are saying, but how they are saying them? Their tone of voice?
• Listening between the lines to what they are NOT saying?
• Noticing their body language?
Empathy as a leadership strength is in essence about keeping the focus and interest on the other person/group of people, rather than disappearing into your own head.