When we hear the word “leader”, I bet what comes to the mind of most people is someone that is strong, confident, authoritative, charismatic and well respected. A leader needs to possess all these characters, no doubt. A leader is someone that leads or commands a group, organization or country, and according to Forbes a leader needs to be honest, delegate, committed creative and other good stuffs, but I think one character that have longed been overlooked is empathy. According to psychologytoday.com , Empathy is the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling, empathy is different from sympathy which is a feeling of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. They are very related and the argument on how they differ should be left for another article.
So how does empathy help leadership?
According to a research done by the center for creative leadership where a group of subordinates were asked to rate their managers on a scale of 1 to 5, (1=not at all, and 5= a very great extent) on how emphatic they were, by answering the following questions-
- Is sensitive to signs of overwork in others.
- Shows interest in the needs, hopes and dreams of other employees.
- Is willing to help an employee with personal problems.
- Conveys compassion toward them when other people disclose a personal loss
Then the managers were rated by their bosses(on a scale of 1 to 5 too) on three items concerning job performance, the items were;
- How would you rate this person’s performance in his/her present job?
- Where would you place this person as a leader compared to other leaders inside and outside your organization.
- What is the likelihood that this person will derail (i.e., plateau, be demoted, or fired) in the next five years as a result of his/her actions or behaviors as a manager?
The test revealed the empathy positively effects job performance, that is to say that the more emphatic a manager is, the better him/her and the people they lead perform. Many leadership theories suggest the ability to have and display empathy is an important part of leadership, Leaders today need to be more person-focused and be able to work with those not just in the next cubicle, but also with those in other buildings, or other countries. because the result of the finding was consistent in most countries. Follow this link to read more about the study
In Simon Sinek’s book and TED talk he talked about why the marine corps of the us army have a very tight bond that they are in most case willing to die for each other. He talked with a Lieutenant general of the army that said ” watch the Marines line up for their chow. The most junior eat first, followed in rank order, with the leaders eating last. This practice isn’t in any rule book; the Marines just do it because of the way they view the responsibility of leadership”. While in most organization leadership is all about rank power and privileges. He also talks about the biological effect of empathy, In his book and talk he talked about four neurochemicals- endorphin, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.
He described the first two as “selfish” chemicals because endorphin helps reduce pain when will are doing something we like (e.g. Running) it causes what we call the runners high. Dopamine is the feel good feeling we get when we accomplish something good, like ticking a task off our To-do list.
The last two he called “selfless” chemical because we can only release them when we do something for/with other people, serotonin is the molecular manifestation of the feeling of pride—we get it when we perceive others like or respect us, and as we all know for anyone that have personally felt pride or liked by colleagues, it’s a damn good feeling.Serotonin is the reason there is a bond between teachers and students, mothers and babies, leaders and followers.
Oxytocin- also called the “love hormone” is released when we interact and are close to those we love it also builds trust and more empathy between us and those we have come to cherish, and unlike endorphin and dopamine that gives us instant gratification, these chemicals last a little longer and the more they are released the longer they tend to stay.
CAN EMPATHY BE LEARNED?
Now we agree that empathy is important (at least I hope we do).
The question now is- can empathy be learned? And the answer is YES. It can be done by being more conscious about how other people around us feel, like sinek said, asking a colleague “are you ok?” can go a long way.Llistening attentively to what others have to say also helps build empathy, doing little things like opening the elevator for someone, holding the door, refilling the coffee after your drink, sincerely asking people how they are faring can really go a long way. Like bob marley said “one love, one love, let’s get together and feel alright”. When we are empathic and truly care about those we lead, it just doesn’t make them happy, it makes us happy too and most importantly it increases productivity.