4.10 Transformational Leadership – The Power of Empathy
EGL Newsletter Volume 4.10
Empathy. We all hear about it, we all experience it. We all have various levels of ability to use this skill. Some of us use it consciously. Empathy is the basic capacity of humans to relate to others through the emotional information we sense by tuning into others’ experience. It is what guides us and allows us to join into groups with some feeling of safety, or to steer away from situations that do not. It provides us the opportunity for deep personal connections. It creates emotional bonds in groups. The absence of empathy creates the psychopath. Expanded empathy leads to heightened intuition.
Empathy is an absolute requirement for effective leadership.
Empathy is a complex set of behaviors and processes that we learn over time. To understand it, we must realize that it comes into play through an interaction between our frontal lobes of our brain and our amygdula, the most primitive part of our brain, where our fight/flight responses live. When we are born, our amygdula is nearly fully developed, whereas it takes our frontal lobes until we are in our 20’s to develop fully. During that time, we are learning about what our experiences mean and what is useful information for us in life. Through these interactions, we create a set of beliefs that form the basis for internal conversations between the frontal lobes and the amygdula about what is actually occurring around us.
Our amygdula is how we perceive information from our feelings about others. We look at another person, and our feelings respond first. The amygdula is the fastest processor in the brain, although it takes in less information than other areas. It is high speed and low resolution. The amygdula processes simultaneously with the frontal lobe, which is low speed and high resolution. Because of the dynamic between the two parts of our brain, most events that we encounter that have an emotional content are first interpreted by our amygula, then by our frontal lobe.
So, our first and potentially strongest emotional response is sometimes one that we learned earliest in life, maybe as young as 4 or 5. When we begin ‘thinking about our thinking’ and ‘thinking about our feeling’, we begin to teach our amygdula new responses, and allow us to move into a stronger and more mature state of connection with others. When we were 4 or 5, our responses were dependent in nature. With maturity, we learn to be independent, then interdependent. Through mindfulness, we learn how to feel what is happening with others and have it guide mature and connected action on our part. This is how we begin to lead in confusing or chaotic environments.
What we learn to do is to train our minds to take on our belief sets and expand our ability to connect with others in meaningful and powerful ways. Through this, we can consciously choose how we engage with other people, and how we use the power of empathy to relate to others. As a leader, this skill is fundamental to leading and influencing others. We first understand where others are by stepping into their experience, and understanding how it would be for us.