I am convinced more and more that the root of great leadership is empathy. When you think of the qualities that define a good leader such as trust, communication, or caring, they all begin with someone who has empathy toward others. If someone has a core built on empathy, the rest of the skills of a leader are easily learned. Empathy in the workplace has become a recent passion and how someone with the natural ability to care for others can lead people and especially lead people safely. I have been doing some research into empathy, especially in the workplace.
Unfortunately, A theme that is apparent is that it is exceptionally difficult to teach empathy in the workplace. The first reason is that when someone is most able to learn empathy, they may not have been taught. It is early in a child’s development that empathy should be demonstrated. There is also evidence that empathy may be hard coded in our DNA. It could very well be a nature vs nurture argument. In reality, it is somewhere in between.
Once someone has found some success in a working profession they begin to harden toward change. Especially change in the emotional processes or feeling part of their work ego. These people are generally highly successful but lack any notion of how to respect other people. They are singly focused on their individual contribution. But due to that individual success, they are heralded as leaders. Individual success is not leadership
It is in the hands of the organization to find those that are good leaders and not just highly successful people. It is up to the company to evaluate and assure that those who are not fit for leadership are not allowed to affect the well-being of others with whom they have no empathy. It is a sad and disturbing place to be in where your supervisor, manager, and organization are so lacking in empathy that they ignore the basic needs of their people. They forget about safety. They forget about communication. They demand trust when it has never been earned. All because of a fundamental lack of empathy.
All is not lost, though. Even though empathy is one of the hardest skills to teach and enact in an organization some steps can be taken. Like most actions as an adult, it begins with knowing that there is an opportunity for improvement.