The idea that Eskimos have lots and lots of words for snow is a commonly understood shorthand for recognising that the more familiar we are with something, the more nuanced our abilities to describe it becomes. Here at Cognomie we share the view of a lot of people who work in Mental Fitness that this also holds true for our Emotional Intelligence. The more we extend our ability to describe our emotions and behaviours, and grow our emotional vocabulary, the more nuanced our emotional intelligence, or EQ, and the stronger it becomes.
That’s why a recent article we came across about empathy and leadership really resonated. We are huge champions of the importance of empathy as a vital competence for today’s business leaders. You can read more here about how empathy not only creates connection with the people we work with, but is also a powerful driver of productivity, innovation, purpose and retention.
But as with any emotion, perhaps we can consider empathy with even more nuance. Empathy is vital for good leadership and has become even more so as the pandemic has required us, as leaders, to help our teams deal with the anxieties and Mental Fitness challenges it has created. But too much empathy can itself become a burden and a challenge and lead to weakened decision making.
A recent article in Harvard Business Review explores how this can be avoided by moving beyond empathy to the capacity of compassion.
“Sympathy, empathy, and compassion are often used interchangeably, but whereas sympathy and empathy are emotions felt for and with other people, compassion goes beyond mere emotion to include the active intention to help others.”
What is critical here is that compassion should follow empathy. Sometimes what is required is simply to be heard and understood and the person is not asking for something to be fixed. But it is our role as leader’s to be able to go beyond “hearing” into action, or, often more vitally, the ability to share our own abilities and to be able to “coach” the person to find their own action or resolution.
One of the most common responses we hear from leaders who have undergone their own programme of transformational coaching is how, in turn, it has empowered them to be able to coach and support others themselves. Helping team members to find their own path or resolution, and this is a powerful leadership tool. Compassion can sometimes sound like a “soft” or a “weak” word in business, but in fact for many leaders it becomes one of their greatest strengths, particularly when combined with action.