New Year's MailbagSteve Adubato, Ph.D.
It’s the first day of the New Year, so what better time to empty out the mailbag and share what our readers had to say about my recent column regarding the ability (or inability) of leaders to learn compassion and empathy.
Arlyce from Montclair wrote; “I believe that compassion and empathy are inherent human traits. We are social creatures after all. However, dependent upon the environment we grow up in, we will modify our behavior to adapt and thrive. If someone is continually rewarded for results they achieve through lying, cheating and stealing, there is no motivation to change...I would like to see businesses rated based on integrity and other favorable character traits and I would consciously gear more of my money toward them.”
Great point, Arlyce. But since such ratings would be subjective on many levels, I suggest that you and other readers make your own decision about a company’s character and integrity and put your money in them. That’s what economists call market forces.
Lucille from Morristown said; “Great leaders work hard and are very focused and excel in whatever comes their way. A leader will always work at being more compassionate, empathizing with others and being caring to others. To be a leader you must give 100 percent.”
Well said, Lucille, but for those of us who try to lead organizations know, saying it is one thing, but doing it on a daily basis is another. An additional key to great leadership is to realize how often we make mistakes, own up to them quickly and then make a commitment not to repeat these errors. Like I said, easier said than done.
Scott Pontier, a psychotherapist and executive coach from Bridgewater offered the following; “Empathy (and lack thereof) is closely related to narcissism. Individuals with pathological narcissism are typically almost void of natural empathy... Can one ‘learn’ empathy? One can ‘understand’ empathy, and even ‘grasp’ how another may feel, but they may not actually ‘feel’ empathy...Most of us would prefer an understanding, compassionate, caring boss; however, too much of this will also cause ineffectiveness for corporate performance...A healthy balance of empathy and pragmatic views gets the job done.”
Well said, Scott. Nothing to add here.
Brian Fitzgibbons from Teaneck said that there is a need to recognize potential in order for people to be developed as effective leaders. Said Fitzgibbons; “I have seen leaders emerge from the ranks because they possess that unique combination of skills and personality that make people want to work with them and, in turn, accomplish the important work of a specific program.”
One of the keys here, Brian, is for a person in a leadership position to aggressively seek out these people with high potential and nurture them. This takes a degree of security and confidence on the part of the team leader that other leaders can develop around him without jeopardizing his standing and, as a result, this will ultimately strengthen the team.
Ron Dahlhaus from Parsippany believes that leadership is usually learned. Said Dahlhaus; “Leadership comes from failing or doing wrong in a previous experience or situation. You become compassionate and able to feel empathy for a team member or employee after you learn the skill set. Some learn it early on, others after some time. As for being born with it? I believe that some part of it comes from your upbringing...”The only catch, Ron, is that I’ve seen and worked with professionals in a leadership capacity who never learn empathy and compassion, even though they’ve been at it for years. The great leaders are constantly engaged in honest self-assessment. That takes a degree of introspection and candor that not every leader possesses no matter how long he or she is on the job.
Steve Adubato coaches and speaks on communication and leadership and is author of the new book "What Were They Thinking? Crisis Communication: The Good, the Bad and the Totally Clueless" (Rutgers University Press). Write to him at The Star-Ledger, 1 Star-Ledger Plaza, Newark, NJ 07102, visit his Web site at www.stand-deliver.com, or e-mail him at email@example.com.