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LEADERSHIP


on the other hand, is the ability to understand why that person is in need in the first place and how it might feel to have that particular need. Tere are two broad types of


empathy. ‘Affective’ empathy is the capacity to respond with an appropriate emotion to the feelings and concerns of others – it is emotional and often spontaneous. ‘Cognitive’ empathy is the capacity to understand another person’s perspective or mental state – it is conscious and rational. A person’s ability to empathise


is also believed to sit on a contin- uum, much like any personality characteristic. People at the low end of the scale, with lower levels of empathy, are likely to show traits such as detachment and objectivity, although in extreme cases these can become cruelty and callousness. People with high levels of empathy


will come across as being interested in, and concerned for, others. Tey demonstrate higher levels of ‘pro-social’ behaviours, such as supporting others and volunteering help. Tey’ve even been reported to show stronger responses than their less empathetic counterparts when they observe other people in physical pain or discomfort. Research in neuropsychology also


suggests that our level of empathy may be linked with our familiarity with another person. For example, it appears that we are less likely to be empathetic towards people who exist outside of our social grouping, as we don’t have any particular connection to them.


Empathy in leadership


It would be great to say that there is a clear linear relationship between empathy and great leadership, but that’s not the case. On the one hand there are strong arguments supporting the role of empathy in leadership and, on the other, there’s the reality within organisations. In support, empathy is a key part of Goleman’s model of emotional intelligence and it sits in almost every model of ‘Transformational’ leadership, still popular within many organisations. Tese are assumptions, however, as proving a direct relationship between empathy and great leadership is somewhat difficult. Much of the research over the past years has looked


10 | May 2017 |


at leadership and EQ, a much broader set of qualities and skills than empathy. Tere is some specific evidence


that supports the notion that empathy is one of the critical skills in enabling leaders to connect with a wide range of people and demonstrate inclusive lead- ership. Empathy has been linked with developing stronger levels of trust in teams as well as stronger connections within dispersed and remote teams. Te other perspective, however,


is that many organisations may inadvertently develop leaders who play down empathy or are encouraged to put other skills well ahead of empathy and perspective taking. In the world of work, and often in education before that, a strong emphasis is placed on





leaders with a significant lack of empathy, it’s easy to see the negative impact it can have on morale, en- gagement and ultimately connection with an organisation. Narcissistic and psychopathic characteristics, for example, are believed to stem from a lack of empathy. Hogan and Hogan (1994) point out that leaders who derail tend to over-emphasise task, when their followers actually want and need trust and integrity. It’s safe to assume that there is a


link between the ability to demonstrate empathy and effective leadership, but the relationship is a complex one. For example, someone with an empathy deficit may be seen – at least in the short term – as being objective, detached and decisive as a leader, while someone who is very strong in empathy may find it more difficult to take the same tough decisions, resulting in less certainty, focus or decisiveness. Given that many leaders will gain recognition and success for driving and achieving results, it’s fair to assume that empathy is not mandatory in becoming a leader: however, it would seem that it is a significantly beneficial skillset to adopt to be an effective and inclusive leader of people. Our own business psychologists at Pearn Kandola have found that,


The skills that leaders most need to develop are building relationships, anticipating reactions, listening and understanding others’ views


delivering results first and foremost, and getting things done as efficiently and effectively as possible. In the early stages of management and leadership, this nurtures the skills of logic and tough decision-making, alongside a determination to deliver. Tis is usually done within an environment where leaders are recognised and rewarded for making things happen and achieving solutions, rather than “listening” or “showing understanding” to those around them. For many early in their career, sharing feelings or being regarded as a “good listener” at work may be seen as a sign of weakness. When we look at examples of


over the past five years, around 60% of coaching on senior leadership develop- ment programmes has involved helping those leaders to tackle issues and challenges related to a lack of empathy. In particular, they have found that the skills that leaders most need to develop are the ones that typically involve: connecting and building relationships with others; anticipating others’ reactions; listening effectively, and truly understanding others’ views when problem-solving and making decisions.


Can empathy be developed?


So, we know that empathy is an area where almost two thirds of


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