Leaders Know That Empathy May Not Be Sufficient
Throughout my career, I have been complimented on my empathy, my ability to feel what others are feeling and to help them understand that I “get it.”
This week, I read an article by Theodore Kinni, who interviewed Rasmus Hougaard, founder and CEO of the Potential Project, which helped me realize that while empathy is an admirable trait, sometimes it is not enough.
Hougaard recently co-authored a book titled “Compassionate Leadership: How to Do Hard Things in a Human Way.”
As we know, frequently empathy is called upon as a salve for inappropriate business behavior by others. However, Hougaard thinks that an approach to leadership based solely on empathy can have its own detrimental side effects. He says “leaders can literally take on the suffering of the people they are inflicting suffering on and experience empathy burnout. “
Hougaard claims that empathy is only the first step in addressing emotionally challenged team members and their issues. He advises leaders to connect with empathy but lead with compassion. “Empathy is nice for people, because they’re not alone anymore but it’s not really helping them get out of their suffering. Compassion is an intention. We take a bit of perspective on the situation and ask how we can help. What can we do? Empathy plus action equals compassion.“
Hougaard ask leaders to act with wise compassion, the ability to see reality clearly and act appropriately. According to him, compassion is the intention to be of benefit to others.
So ask yourself on a regular basis: How are you bringing wise compassion to challenging conversations you must have with people in your workplace?
Hougaard suggests these steps:
1. Take time to prepare by thinking through what you will say and how you will say it, the questions the other person may ask, and how you might respond
2. Separate the person from the problem and focus on the whole person, not just on his or her position as an employee
3. Provide the person with options, which gives people a sense of control, even if only in a small way
4. Respond, do not react, during conversations
5. Say what you need to say, and then be quiet and allow the person time to respond so they can process at their own pace
As one wise CEO told Hougaard, becoming a compassionate leader is very simple: “Unlearn management theory and relearn being human.”
This is indeed a wise piece of advice for all of us!