Empathy. It is a powerful word, and yet so many of us do not truly understand its full potential. We hear terms like emotional intelligence, relationship driven culture, transformational leadership, but where would they be without empathy?
Without empathy, emotional intelligence would be reduced to self-awareness and self-management without the thought of others. Without empathy, relationship driven culture would be reduced to a self-driven culture. Without empathy, transformational leadership would be preservation leadership. We might grow inside of our personal bubble, but that would be it..
So what is the big takeaway with empathy? What do we do with it? It can be defined easily enough, but how does it apply to what we do as leaders?
Simply put, Empathy is nothing more than the ability to understand how others feel and to put ourselves in their shoes.. The application/takeaway for leaders is to approach every opportunity with an authentic desire to do the following:
- Acknowledge Everyone and be Present: To understand and be engaged you have to first recognize the humanity of every individual you encounter.. Remember the moments of your life that have shaped the person you are today, and the unique perspectives that you have gained. Now, apply this to the other person and the events that may have shaped their lives, and helped them develop their own unique perspective. Being present and aware lets the other person know you are engaged and truly care.
- Strive to gain Understanding: Acknowledgement is the launch pad to gain understanding and the real work starts here. It is easy for us to apply our own perspectives which may bog us down in details that do not matter. To truly understand, we must step outside of ourselves and do our best to view the world through the lens of that other person. This requires us to learn about one another which opens the door to our third step.
- Reach Out and Build Trust: Once we have acknowledged and gained understanding we can begin to share feelings and reach out to bolster relationships and build trust. Sharing feelings goes much deeper than simple validation or appeasement, it requires us to remain outside of ourselves and objectively look at the emotions of another. Both validation and appeasement take our own feelings into account, but the sharing of feelings required for empathy is only concerned with connection with that other person, whether we agree with them or not. There is no manipulation, no game playing, and individuals still have room to disagree, but we do so with the goal of establishing authentic connection.
In the Impact model, we talk about “Make it Personal”, which is the way of emphasizing the need for a relationship driven culture if we want to lead in excellence.
Making it personal is all about establishing genuine connection with others using emotional intelligence and empathy as its cornerstone for social awareness and healthy relationship management.
It is imperative that as leaders we truly make the effort to understand the importance of empathy and apply it. It will transform our lives and culture.
– Taylor Brooks