Maybe call it the Empathy/Human Concern Gap? – A Leadership Reflection — Part 2

Leadership Strategy & TacticsFirst of all, not all leaders are good leaders.

Jocko Willink, Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual


More on the empathy/human concern gap… (Read part 1 here).

The business literature has no shortage of books describing the personal traits of individual leaders who were great at getting results…but, were quite a jerk in the midst of their greatness.

In my own life and experience, I have had leaders fail to correct me; leaders who corrected me very badly, leaving a pretty wounded soul behind in the process; and a couple of leaders who corrected and shaped me with the right kind of empathy and understanding in the process.

(I suspect that I have made some pretty bad moves in earlier chapters in my life also…).

No surprise:  those empathetic and understanding leaders are the leaders that I most appreciate.  And, I also think those leaders did the best job at helping me make needed changes.

In the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott, she states that good leaders have to do two things well:  Care Personally, and Challenge Directly.

They must first care personally – i.e., treat you with empathy, and like a human being.

But, if they genuinely care, they will also challenge directly.  If they do not challenge directly, their care does not run deep enough.  To care is to help; and thus to care is challenging directly the people they lead to make progress and improvement while correcting mistakes and flawed approaches.

Now, back to those leaders who are jerks:  I won’t list the specifics, but there are some rather well-known leaders who were known for their lack of empathy.  Steve Jobs; Lee Iacocca; Elon Musk; among others.  In many ways, these were great leaders – great as in getting great results.  But, they did not seem to nurture people all that well.

And this took away greatly from their greatness.

On the other hand, there are leaders who get results while leaving the people they lead feeling…appreciative; and more capable.  Here is a description of such a leader from Jocko Willink, from his book Leadership Strategy and Tactics:

At the end of each day, he would take out the trash. This was a tangible and physical action that represented pure humility. Delta Charlie was the most senior man in the platoon; he also had the most experience. But there he was, taking out the garbage. And yet I was too good to do it? …And while Delta Charlie was a phenomenal tactician, an incredible planner, and a gifted operator, it was his humility more than anything else that drove the platoon to want to do a good job for him. We didn’t want to let him down. We didn’t want to disappoint him in any way. …The core of what Delta Charlie taught me was the importance of humility. He had all that experience and all that knowledge and the rank and the position; he had every reason to elevate himself above us, every reason to look down on us, every reason to act as if he were better than everyone else, but he never looked down on us at all. The fact that he didn’t is what made us respect him and want, truly want, to follow him. I still try to follow his example to this day.

Humility in a leader keeps that leader human.  And being human – remembering that you too are human — is the foundation for having empathy.

Here’s a thought:  people do not see their own flaws all that well.  This is why the top leaders might need to hire a coach; a coach who observes them in action.

The world will not change until the leaders who are lacking in humility, and empathy, and human concern, learn to accept leadership from a leader they follow – a leader who will Care Personally, AND Challenge them Directly about their own flaws.

In other words, the best leaders know they still have some learning to do; including some learning regarding how they interact with the people they lead…

Yes, it is possible to get results and nurture people at the same time.  We should demand nothing less from our leaders.

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