Which Leadership Trait Is More Important?
One of the world’s foremost leadership experts, Dr Marshall Goldsmith (who is like a virtual mentor to me) once said “Personal contact matters — and matters greatly”.
When I was an Executive Coach, I came across many CEOs and MDs who were very emphatic on the personal touch.
Regardless of whether you are in a leadership role or not (in a professional capacity), you must have come across situations where you acted as a leader.
Leadership is a very wide and deep area, and it covers many aspects of human behaviour.
For the purpose of this article, let’s focus on how to use empathy and how not to use authority in a leadership role.
If you wish to test your leadership skills, please try being the leader of a group of children. That is why I take my hat off to primary school teachers.
With leadership, comes responsibility – a responsibility to lead by example.
Now, here is where some leaders make the mistake of thinking that they will lead better by using authority as a leadership tool.
Authority can be used and must be used at times eg. when order needs to be restored. However, if an authoritarian approach is used on a daily basis, the subordinates of the leader will start to build resentment. That will not be productive for anyone – the leader, the subordinates, and certainly not the organisation.
Let me give you an example. There is a boxing gym where I have been training for many years.
Every now and then, a very authoritarian guy (who is very experienced), comes to the same boxing gym.
He is often asked by the trainer to help the new comers or the kids in learning the right footwork and punching techniques. Many a time, I have seen him talking down at the people that he is helping, and telling them about how long he has been doing boxing for. Raising his voice is something that he is never ashamed of doing.
Needless to say, people have often complained about his authoritarian behaviour.
A few years ago, my cousin asked me to join him at his mixed martial arts academy.
I now teach basic mixed martial arts to kids at that academy on Monday and Tuesday nights.
When I started teaching these kids, the first question that popped up in my head was “Should I act like an authoritarian leader or an empathic leader?”
The answer to that question was very simple – empathy all the way!
Can you imagine how an 8 year old might feel, coming to their first mixed martial arts class? They would most likely be nervous and self conscious. Imagine if he/she was yelled at and told that they are “too soft” for this sport. What impact would that have on their self image?
The first thing I did was to think about the authoritarian guy at the boxing gym. Although he is not a popular figure at the boxing gym, I am extremely grateful for him.
Why? He taught me what not to do!
Through him, I realised something that I have shared with many CEOs, MDs, and mid-level managers – “Empathy outweighs authority in a leadership capacity”.
My simple suggestion to you when you are acting in a leadership capacity is to embrace empathy, and not abuse authority.
As Dr Marshall Goldsmith said “Personal contact matters — and matters greatly”.
That personal contact is amplified when it comes in the form of empathy.
Let’s break it down and see why empathy is so positively impactful.
Empathy allows you to be more human because you are putting yourself in the shoes of the other person, and seeing things from their perspective.
Empathy has the potential to be reciprocated. Two weekends ago, I delivered a speech at a regional leader’s conference. One of my suggestions was – “When helping your subordinates solve a problem, use empathy. If they disagree with your suggestion, say something along the lines of “I can see where you are coming from.” That will prove to your subordinates that you are putting yourself in their shoes. If they are being unreasonable, ask “Can you see where I am coming from?””
In a leadership capacity, if you show empathy, it is more likely to be given back to you.
Authority will not be reciprocated. In most cases, it does not have the potential to be reciprocated.
That is why abusing authority in a leadership capacity can be very dangerous!
Now, here is my little disclaimer – please use empathy within your limits and the limits of your leadership. Some people can take advantage of your empathic nature. You need to discern when it is wise to stop projecting empathy toward someone.
Try this exercise the next time you are in helping someone solve a problem or you are caught up in conflict resolution:
- Ask the other party to fully explain why they want, what they want.
- Put yourself in their shoes and see things from their perspective.
- Tell the other party where you stand and what you can/cannot do.
- Ask them to “Put yourself in my shoes and see where I am coming from”.
Quote: “What empathy really means is being able to understand the needs of others. It means that you’re aware of their feelings and how it impacts their perception. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with how they see things; rather, being empathetic means that you’re willing and able to appreciate what the other person is going through.” Tanveer Naseer
I sincerely hope that I have given you a simple insight on how to use empathy when you are acting in a leadership capacity.
Influencing you to your excellence,