To be or not to be empathetic , that is the question.
Empathy is a difficult subject to deal with for managers and leaders in their professional environment. We have a hard time with this trait because we like to see ourselves as compassionate and sympathetic people when we may be perceived in our professional life as a non empathetic person. This is often due to existing misconceptions about empathy. Empathy is different from sympathy, and has little to do with compassion. Sympathy and compassion are directed toward the other person well-being with an emotional contagion that can overcast our objectivity when empathy is just a capacity to represent the state of mind of someone else to be able to adjust and to act appropriately with him or her. The provocative question then becomes: Can a manager be successful showing empathy or sympathy and compassion at work ?
Beyond ethics and Corporate social responsibility statements, corporate governance has never been about compassion. Concerning empathy this is another story and leadership models have pointed out its importance. Showing empathy allows us to understand the others and therefore to effectively cooperate. It is related to some kind of social intelligence which is certainly something we want to see in our teams to successfully drive our business. Empathy is a vector of mutual understanding. It gives the necessary room to the other person to actually exist in our own space and thinking mode. Empathy reduces conflicts and provides positive mindset and engagement to achieve a common task. The potential liability associated with this trait is certainly to confuse empathy with sympathy and compassion. Both can blur our capacity to take the necessary difficult decisions required by the business context or by the lack of performance in a team. This is a thin line to walk but empathy is certainly a leadership trait that we should try to play for effectiveness if not for other reasons.