Empathy: Quality of a True Leader

A few months ago I had the opportunity to speak for a group of university professors. I asked members of the audience, “Who here wants to become a better leader?” All raised their hands. I then asked, “Why?” Some answered that they wanted help the university. Others indicated that they wanted to influence the political sector. I found it ironic that no one mentioned the simple notion I had in mind: to help others become happier and more fulfilled. This led me to consider different ideas that exist regarding what leadership is and how many are for self-service and manipulation. The problem with narcissistic leadership is that oftentimes others cease following the moment they feel used or manipulated.

The leadership that truly endures is a leadership of service, leadership that seeks to propel others toward a more positive place, leadership that creates a win-win between leader and followers. (I seize this opportunity to mention that the true leader is one who duplicates leaders, not simply followers.) But in order to lead with others in mind, one must develop a very specific quality: empathy.

Empathy is the ability to put oneself in others’ shoes and understand what they may be feeling or thinking. People with a greater capacity for empathy are those who know best how to emotionally read others. They are able to capture large amounts of information from both verbal and non-verbal language: tone of voice, posture, and facial expressions. Based on these signals, they can peer into what is happening inside, what others are feeling. And since feelings and emotions are often an extension of cognition, they are able to deduce what others may be thinking and perhaps offer positive solutions.

If you have not sufficiently developed your ability to empathize, there is hope! A person can increase their capacity by observing others in more detail, listening to them, giving them their full attention and reading all the messages that the other person transmits, striving to be in the other’s place, studying what emotions and thoughts are being expressed. If while you talk to a person you are more aware of your own words, of what you will say in response, of what is around you or of certain concerns within your own mind, your ability to read the other person will be inhibited. Awareness is the first step toward growth in this area.

Cultivating empathy within ourselves is essential if we want to be better leaders. The golden rule still applies today: treat others as you would like them to treat you!

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