Empathy…the gateway to compassionate leadership
I’m sure you’ve seen the one about the nail…well it’s actually called ’it’s not about the nail’ and depicts a man listening to a woman as she describes the pain she’s feeling in her head – I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it but it’s a useful 2 minute reminder about the need for empathic listening. https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=it%27s+not+about+the+nail+video&view=detail&mid=E9D7BFCA59164E7A35EFE9D7BFCA59164E7A35EF&FORM=VIRE
I was describing this video to some colleagues as we debated the continuum between empathy and compassion and the implications of both in leadership. As we all know well, emotional intelligence, of which empathy is a key component, is slowly being explored within the frame of leadership capabilities and competencies. I say slowly, not because there isn’t a lot of awareness about emotional intelligence in the organisational space, but because it has yet to really be integrated into leadership styles as a core practise.
Building our emotional intelligence is a hard slog for sure and within that taking the time needed to be really empathic can end up being a casualty of the to-do list. And yet, empathy is only a gateway to a higher quality and capability – that of compassion. Compassion is sorely needed, and urgently, if we are to create any substantial change in the relationships between organisations and society. The commitment to a higher purpose linked to greater good, along with the collaboration needed to solve hugely complex problems means that we first have to access our compassion.
We had some debate, my colleagues and I, about what is meant by compassion. For me the essence of compassion lies in the belief in the unity of all – a belief that we are all interconnected and that what happens to one of us happens to all of us. The challenges within the principles of unity and interconnectedness are many when viewed from the personality or ego perspective. Our desire for uniqueness, individuality and independence are key parts of our evolutionary journey and yet they can lead to competition and separateness, not to mention a lack of concern for our fellow human beings. The opportunity lying ahead of us now though is to elevate that to seeking diversity within unity.
For that we need to be able to connect with our compassion. Compassionate leaders will connect through their empathy to a broader vision and seek out the ways and means to building a world that honours difference and diversity. A world which addresses the inequalities and deficiencies that are being/have been created as a result of our more ego driven competitive mind-sets and behaviours. So, the daily focus needed in building our emotional intelligence and our empathy is fundamental to access our much needed compassionate leadership.