Wall Street Journal: Joe Biden Promises Empathy, but That’s a Difficult Way to Lead, by Sam Walker (author, The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams (2018)):
Stop me if you already know this, but Donald Trump did not win the presidential election. Neither did Joe Biden.
On Saturday night, during a drive-in pep rally in Delaware, the Biden campaign revealed the true winner on two giant video boards behind the stage.
They said: “The People Have Chosen Empathy.” ...
The prevailing view is that empathy is a good thing for humans to possess: It's a positive and unifying social force for good. But the people who study it are increasingly less convinced. What’s even murkier is the relationship between empathy and leadership.
Studies have linked highly empathetic leaders to popularity and the ability to build better working relationships. But another pile of data suggests they can be indecisive and ineffectual in making tough decisions. ...
Many people still don’t understand what empathy means: They mistake it for compassion or sympathy. Empathy is about understanding and sharing the emotions of others, or “getting” where they’re coming from. Compassion is when we have powerful feelings of warmth or concern for somebody who is suffering. Compassion can be pleasurable. Empathy is hard work. ...
Another challenge, in times of crisis, is that leaders also need to display strength. If you’ve positioned yourself as an empathetic leader, it’s a lot more difficult to make unpopular decisions, even if they’re objectively the right ones. ...
One study, published in January, looked at the leaders of companies that had gone through a crisis, and what role empathy played in the outcome. The authors concluded that a chief executive’s response to a crisis is “fundamentally” shaped by empathy, but that empathy is both a blessing and a curse.
On the positive side, the empathetic CEOs were generally more attuned to the concerns of their people and better at collecting the information they needed to diagnose the problem. They were better at comforting others, avoiding blame and repairing the team’s ability to work together. They were more adept at convincing outsiders that the company cares.
On the other hand, they were often so empathetic to their people that they struggled to assign blame. They worried more about repairing internal relationships than fixing the problems that caused the crisis, and were sometimes biased in favor of decisions that would relieve anxiety and pressure. ...
Overall, the researchers believe that empathetic leaders are usually more effective in the early stages of a crisis, when relationships matter and finger-pointing doesn’t help. Over time, however, the magic wears off. They tend to focus on the wrong things and struggle with hard choices. ...
In the final analysis, I don’t think empathy would make a very good president. It’s a useful tool to hang on the pegboard, but it’s not a comprehensive leadership strategy.
- Entrepreneur, The Future of Leadership is Empathy
- Entrepreneur, Why Empathy Is Important in Leaders Right Now
- Forbes, The Importance Of Empathy In Leadership
- Forbes, Why Empathy Is Vital For Effective Leadership, Especially In Times Of Crisis
- Harvard Business Review, Empathy Starts with Curiosity
- Harvard Business Review, Preventing Burnout Is About Empathetic Leadership
- Harvard Business Review, Real Leaders: Oprah Winfrey and the Power of Empathy
- Harvard Business Review, Without Compassion, Resilient Leaders Will Fall Short
Other Captain Class leadership columns:
- When Should 'Gladiatorial Leadership' Be Tolerated (Or Even Encouraged)? (Mar. 21, 2019)
- Gallup's 'Single Most Profound Finding In Its History': 70% Of An Organization's Success Depends On The Quality Of Its Managers (Mar. 27, 2019)
- Great Leaders Abhor Half-Measures: Why John Adams Succeeded With The Declaration Of Independence And Theresa May Failed With Brexit (June 7, 2019)
- How Much Do Coaches (And Deans) Matter? (July 9, 2019)
- The Seven Leadership Secrets Of Great Team Captains (July 26, 2019)
- In A Life-Or-Death Crisis, Humility Is Everything (Aug. 1, 2019)
- Deuteronomy Leadership (Sept. 15, 2019)
- WeWork’s Adam Neumann As A Millennial Jobs Prophet: The Search For Fulfilling Work (Sept. 23, 2019)
- Declining Participation In Football Threatens American Exceptionalism (Jan. 19, 2020)
- Covid-19 Was A Leadership Test. It Came Back Negative. (Apr. 4, 2020)
- The Best Leaders Are Often Reluctant Leaders (Apr. 6, 2020)
- Leadership Lessons From The COVID-19 Pandemic (Apr. 9, 2020)
- Leadership Lessons For The COVID-19 Recovery (Apr. 27, 2020)
- Why Bill Cartwright, Not Michael Jordan, Was The Chicago Bulls' Most Valuable Leader (May 20, 2020)
- Chief Justice Roberts' Rules For Leading In Polarized Times (Oct. 22, 2020)