Empathy is a leadership skill | Fola Daniel Adelesi

Leadership without empathy is wickedness! There is no other word for it and there is no other description for this. When you start leading people and you cannot empathize with the people, you’re leading you will lose them. Before losing them, you could have crushed their spirits.

I have seen leaders with great visions and integrity. I have seen amazing leaders with a sense of purpose and clear direction but without empathy, they drove the people like slave masters and many of the people working with them saw nothing but a wicked leader.

Before I delve into more details about empathy, you need to understand that life is not cast in concrete. You can’t expect every situation to be a black and white situation. That’s why some other colours and shades make up all the colours that we have in life.

As a leader, you certainly expect people to understand you when things happen. You want people to understand why you came late to a meeting when you do. You want people to understand you when you couldn’t meet a deadline that you agreed to. You expect people to understand you have a busy schedule and that’s a good reason to excuse some of your lapses but you don’t want your followers to be excused for whatever reason.

Empathy is not about making excuses. It is not about explaining incompetence away. It is not the idea of missing deadlines and hoping the leader understands. There may be genuine reasons for missing deadlines but empathy is about a leader being able to put him or herself in the shoes of the follower. If you do not know how to empathize, you will force people, against their will to do things just because you have the authority to make them do so. Where there is no empathy, there will be no willing followers in the organisations or any other setting requiring leadership.

People leading without empathy simply recreate a military regiment where you’re to do as you’re told and not ask any question. Even at that, I can assure you that successful military leaders understand the place of empathy to win as a team and not as an individual.

Why will it be difficult for leaders to empathize? It is simple. There are several reasons leaders don’t empathize but chief among them could be that the leader is focusing on the goals and what needs to be achieved rather than the people who will be instrumental to that achievement. When you focus on the goals and don’t realize how important the team is to the goal, you will keep driving the people until some of them drop dead.

Take a look at the people who are into horse racing. They don’t just focus on the race and neglect the wellbeing of the horse. They have food for the horse and also go beyond just feeding the horse. They take good care of the horse and prepare the mind of the horse for the race. This horse goes through training and they know when to push or when to slow down to get the best from the horse. If you disregard the health and wellbeing of the horse, the final outing on the day of the race will be disastrous for you or the horse rider.

I have had to emphasize the fact that the horse gets more than food because of leaders who think their followers get paid and they must do as their told since they’re paid. You may be paying them to work for you but it doesn’t change the fact that they have a choice and can move to other organisations. Even when it appears they have limited choices, you do not own them and they are no properties or machines without feelings. They are human beings and human beings have emotions. The emotions of human beings and how they interact with or respond to their environment will always necessitate the need for empathy.

To effectively empathize with your team or followers, you have to be that leader who shows some care even when you do not need your followers for anything urgent. If you only show some care when you need them then you have told them they are only important because of the task. Some followers already know that their organisations do not respect or show them care until there is something to be done and their skillsets are needed.

I once worked with a leader who will go around asking people how they’re fairing. This isn’t a one-line show-you-care statement that’s made before you ask them to take on a task or at the beginning of phone calls. The stops you in the hall-way or spends time with you on the phone asking you questions about your wellbeing and what you think he can do to help you. He sends notes to anyone he knows who can help you or anyone he knows you can train you.

I have also heard about other leaders who know the spouses of their co-workers or team members. Some even know the names of their team members’ children and will always ask about them. I once worked on a project and some team members were talking about their leader. Within that organization, I a few people who rose from being nothing to something. The case of a gentleman who joined their organization as a cleaner and rose to become an accountant stood out. This wasn’t just the man having dreams and working towards the dream. The leader of the organization supported him and made sure he had room to pursue the dream he had while working in that system.

Empathy will make you show that you genuinely care for the people. This kind of care that you’re showing them has nothing to do with their task in your team or company. This is genuinely caring for them and letting them know they are loved beyond the work that they do for you. Without or without the job, they matter and they’re valuable. If you don’t show this kind of care, you are simply telling people who they will be treated with there no project for you to work on together or if they have to exit the company where they work for you.

On the political landscape, politicians can demonstrate empathy by putting the people ahead of their interest. They can demonstrate empathy by showing us they’re willing to take the first hit in hard times rather than living a luxurious lifestyle and trying hard to explain how hard things have become to the people.

Always remember that the people who work with you are human beings. They have feelings. They are dealing with issues and you can’t afford to mess with their minds or emotions just because you’re the leader.

Some people who work with you have sick spouses or children to care for in addition to working with you. They have also proven to be skilful at what they do. Empathy has to kick in when dealing with such people but you will not even know what they’re dealing with if you haven’t shown them that you care enough to ask what’s going on in their private lives.

There is one great advantage of showing empathy as a leader. When you show people that you care about them and that their feelings are genuine, you will be able to get more from them. Empathic leaders always have more influence over the people they lead. They find it easier to make demands from the people and get results almost immediately. When the leaders know that you care, they always want to work with you. The people always want to be on your team. I have seen leaders transferred to work on different locations and the people they used to work with were willing to go with them despite the distance.

This proves that you can win more with influence than you can with authority handed to you by the office you are in. One of the ways to build that kind of influence is empathy.

You can integrity, vision, strategy, direction, a solid team and the resources to make things happen. Without empathy, you may soon lose it all or be stuck in the middle of nowhere.     

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