core competency: empathy

By September 22, 2010Leadership

I’m sure you’ve heard someone describe the difference between sympathy and empathy.  Sympathy is saying, “I see that you’re going through a hard time.”  Empathy, however, speaks more personally: “I’ve been through that myself and I know how it feels.”

What does empathy have to do with leadership?  Why would I call it a core competency?

An effective leader gets things done in one simple way: by working through other people.  If a leader does everything himself, he may accomplish a few things — even important things — but it would be hard to call that person a leader.

A leader is one who harnesses the power of their influence to motivate and guide others in a common direction.  Often a leader is tasked with leading people down a path they may not feel comfortable going.  The challenge is to lead without coercing or manipulating the followers.

An empathetic leader anticipates how a decision will make others feel.  Empathy forces us to consider other points of view.  It’s tempting to just run ahead and hope others catch up.  Some will, others won’t.  Some might have if we would have taken the time to anticipate feelings and led differently.