Empathy and the Servant Leader

Written by: on Friday, August, 9th, 2013

Empathy is the ability to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions or experiences of others.  Empathy is more than just sympathy, which is being able to understand and support others with compassion or sensitivity.  Just like with listening, empathy is not passive. It requires self-reflection and self-control.  Start by letting go of defensive and controlling leadership strategies such as “but I’m the President” or “but they are just homeowners.”  Then, use the listening skills you mastered earlier to give people your full attention and strive to get beyond their first complaint and get to the “real” issue.  You can often do this by rephrasing or restating what you’ve heard and asking open ended questions like:

  1. What do you want from the board/association/me?
  2. How will you know when you have it?
  3. What are your obstacles to getting what you want?

Another way to develop empathy is to do genuine perspective shifting – walk in the other person’s shoes, get in their skin.  Imagine what they are experiencing, how it is affecting their life, how frustrated they must be to be behaving the way they are.  Then, cultivate compassion. Go back to the question above and try be seen as a solution to the problem instead of the obstacle.  Emotional Intelligence is a far reaching topic but one that may be worth pursuing on your journey. I’ve done leadership development classes on developing emotional intelligence and can work with boards of any size through a series of sessions to raise awareness, build skills and develop empathic leaders. For more information email me at lsanchez@hindmansanchez.com.

Loura K. Sanchez