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What working with an empathetic leader would look like | peopleHum
Leadership Development

What working with an empathetic leader would look like

HR blogs
Giuseppe Ando
January 19, 2022
Human Resource Management Platform

Introspection to recognize our emotional states and distinguish them from our higher activity does not belong to emotional intelligence, but to intelligence. It is a specific function of rationality to become a third party to observe the emotional states of the subjective self. People with a high level of self-control, who do not react impulsively to stressful situations, are simply intelligent.

Intelligence is not only understanding, it is also modifying one's emotional drives in view of a relevant goal. Seeking and finding a solution in moments of high emotional stress is not a matter of emotional intelligence, but of self-control, and self-control is the responsibility of the neocortex. It is absolutely obvious that pathological drifts are excluded from this discourse which, by their very definition, escape any control, emotional or not.

Choosing the most suitable behavior to achieve a goal is an integral part of the overall rational-strategic reasoning. Intelligence is called into question, without the obscure "emotional" attribute. There is no doubt the importance of "feeling others", that is, of "feeling" the emotions and needs of others, but it is their intelligent understanding that benefits, not emotional empathy. Empathy is a myth of our years and is bringing terrible results on the moral level. Feeling others emotionally is the exact opposite of what can be called intelligence. Empathy activates mechanisms that are often deleterious.

What working with an empathetic leader would look like | peopleHum

Working with an empathetic leader

Concepts such as justice, priority, emergency are overwhelmed by compassionate behavior. I guess you want a practical example, here it is. In 1995 (the very year Goleman published his  Emotional Intelligence ) the  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published an illuminating study. Psychologist C. Daniel Batson had gathered some people in a study group.

The object of the study was to submit to these people the interview of a terminally ill girl, who was applying to obtain from the  Quality Life Foundation a treatment that made the final part of his life less painful. Half of the subjects had been asked not to be influenced by the emotional aspects and to remain detached from the painful sensations of the candidate (low-level empathic approach), the other half of the subjects had been invited to listen to the candidate identifying himself with his state, imagining the his feelings and pain (high-level empathic approach). Later, all subjects listened to the same (fake) interview with a bright and brave 10-year-old girl named Sheri Summers.

Her painful pathology was explained in detail and at the end of the interview the study subjects were asked if they thought it appropriate to move Sheri to the top of the children's waiting list. bypassing even children with lower temporal life prospects. The outcome was merciless. Three quarters of the subjects predisposed to a high level of empathy asked to shift Sheri's position upwards, compared with only a quarter of the subjects predisposed to a low level of empathy.  The effects of empathy had made people forget all principles of justice and every moral principle was defeated in favor of a (false) candidate who had had the opportunity to share his (false) pain.

If you want more details on this experiment and some more scientific information on the value of empathy, I recommend you read on Against Empathy: The Case of Rational Compassion by Paul Bloom of Yale University. But let's get back to the point. The relationship between the rational and emotional dimensions of man has always been the sore point of our higher activities. Building a theoretical framework that supports the idea of ​​emotional intelligence means bringing the question to a level of logical contamination that does not allow any possible methodological systematization.

I would like to remind you that I speak as an executive coach and, therefore, I deal with leadership and how to implement it in the professional and managerial or, in any case, work environment. In our everyday life, we can (rightly or wrongly) abandon ourselves to our emotions and choose to pity whoever we want. But when we are called to exercise a public role and to answer for our behaviors and our choices, it is appropriate to adopt a system that can be recognized and judged by all, so it can only be rational.

Have you ever heard of triage? The word triage is French and derives from the verb trier which means to sort according to a criterion ( to sort in English). All of us (apart from the superheroes who were reading) have gone or will go to an emergency room and there, upon acceptance, undergoing triage, they will assign us a code.

The code can be white, green, yellow, or red. Triage is an activity that, regardless of the patients' feelings of pain and grief, orders priorities for intervention based on the acuity of the disease or injury. With the white code we would have done well to stay at home (not critical, non-urgent patients), with the green code we could have called the family doctor at ease (not critical, no developmental risks, deferrable services), with the yellow code we did well to go to the emergency room (on the average critical, presence of evolutionary risk, possible life-threatening), with the red code we had no choice but to go to the emergency room (very critical, life-threatening, top priority, immediate access to care).

If you arrive in the emergency room with severe pain from a sprain, whoever encounters you cannot help but pity you, it is very likely that you will have to wait several hours before seeing yourself on the doctor's bed. It's not all. In the event of mass accidents (air disasters, collisions between trains, etc.) the first criterion adopted is that of precedence over the most serious cases, i.e. life-threatening, and among these, those with the highest possibility of salvation are preferred. and survival, compared to desperate ones.

Imagine if operators were to be subject to criteria of empathy, it would be a disaster. People would be saved on the basis of subjective and superficial criteria. Fortunately, the triage is a coldly rational system that places the method above all emotional contamination. I would like to see the team leader of a triage team apply emotional intelligence! In those conditions, the more you detach yourself from the suffering you are surrounded by, the more useful and productive you are. I can already imagine some comments: but how can you remain insensitive to the pain of others? The question is wrong because it is off-topic.

The real issue is to establish which behavior is most useful to the cause and which approach should be encouraged in a leader. To understand the emotional basis of the behavior of our fellow man it is necessary to carry out an analysis, that is, a breakdown of the factors that make up the attitudes, behaviors, and statements of our interlocutor. It is not a question of identifying oneself in order to understand, but, on the contrary, of understanding in order to identify oneself.

About the author

Giuseppe Ando is a C-Level & Executive Coach - Associate Partner at the acclaimed Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching. With a career that presides at the crux of the Venn diagram of Passion, Skills, and Experience, Giuseppe’s reputation as top executive coach has spanned decades. Among his many accolades, he is also recognized for his unique ability to understand and inspire those he coaches to excel professionally and personally while also delivering their organization’s desired results.

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October 25, 2021

A very inspiring list. Thanks for putting this together


October 25, 2021

This is such a great list of women leaders! More power to you all