Don’t Leave Home Without It
David Freund, Chief Leadership Officer
For several weeks, I have been thinking about the challenges we are facing in America. Our nation has been through so much, and I believe we have a tough road ahead of us. The coming months will be filled with great uncertainty and will require more leadership than perhaps at any time in recent memory. A key component in our leadership will need to be empathy. I really believe that empathy, coupled with vision, will be the difference-maker.
For years, people have written books and developed training sessions to help us improve our people skills—you know, those skills that we were taught way back in kindergarten. Playing well with others or, as I used to call it, “Get Along Ability.” Regardless of what we call it, the foundation needs to be empathy. Empathy is so important because it helps us understand how others are feeling so we can respond appropriately to the situation. As leaders, how we respond to others will determine whether we succeed or fail at whatever we are trying to accomplish. Please remember that showing empathy doesn’t mean agreeing with another person’s perspective, but rather a willingness to put in the effort to understand their perspective.
While I was digging around on this subject, I found these three types of empathy:
- Cognitive empathy. Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand how someone else feels and to work out what they might be thinking.
- Emotional empathy or Affective empathy. Emotional empathy refers to the ability to share another person’s emotions. This means that in some measure, you feel what they are feeling.
- Compassionate empathy or Empathic Concern. Compassionate empathy is when you take feelings to action. It goes beyond understanding and relating to other people’s situations and compels you to do something.
Can you see why great leaders have empathy? When I work with organizations, it becomes very clear if leadership has empathy. It also becomes very clear when an organization requires more empathy. Often, people take sides and rally around a chosen point of view. There is an “us and them” mentality. Employees become scared, and innovation is stifled. People see only problems, and those problems are often seen as other people in the organization. Tempers get short and often result in insults or verbal attacks. Does this sound familiar? In an age of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, it’s so easy to find fault and much more of a challenge to be empathetic.
The next few months will be filled with so much uncertainty, and people are anxious and fearful. Now more than ever, we need to lead with empathy. Maya Angelou once said, “I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.” Do you have the courage to stand up and live out empathy?
I have only scratched the surface on this topic. If you are willing to take the empathy challenge, please join Marisa Norcross and me for Episode 165 of The Next Page podcast as we look deeper into what empathy is, why we need it, and how we can live it out at home, work, and in our community.