There’s plenty of great information available on the value and power of empathy for leaders – so much, in fact, I hesitate to write on this topic for fear of not adding any value to the discussion. However, I would like to share a facet of empathy often not associated with leaders: the facet of being an empath.
Empaths are highly sensitive individuals who have a very well-developed ability to sense what people around them are thinking and feeling. Psychologists may use the term “empath” to describe a person who experiences high levels of empathy, sometimes to the point of taking on the pain and emotions of others. Empaths can and will often feel the energies and thoughts of others by simply entering the room or shared space.
Empaths are rare individuals. Their gift of a heightened ability to empathize can make them naturally gifted in human psychology. But what does this have to do with leadership?
According to Judith Orloff M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and the author of “The Empath’s Survival Guide,” empaths are independent thinkers and question the status quo at work if it doesn’t feel right. They like to know the reasoning behind a decision so they make sense of it in their gut.
When I allow myself to abandon the fairly common misconception that empaths are “too sensitive” or possibly even a little “weak” due to their need to recharge often (because of the valid energy drain they experience due to connecting so deeply with others), I begin to hear Orloff’s words as some pretty amazing leadership attributes!
Mahatma Gandhi is considered an empath by many experts. Gandhi was noted for his ability to relate and connect with others immediately. His ability to empathize and feel another person’s emotions and sensibilities as his own has been attributed as one of his greatest leadership abilities.
Like Gandhi, empath leaders are change agents. They challenge the status quo and often rally others to join in the change movement.
Although true empaths are rare, I wonder how we might learn from their unique gifts and attributes to become better leaders? Here are three ideas I have:
- Quiet your inner voice. The chatter that is so often playing in our heads gets directly in between listening to understand another and deeply connecting with the other. We cannot empathize if we’re telling ourselves our own story!
- Get more comfortable with silence. In fact, intentionally create it and make room for more silence by not talking. When we are silent, our senses are heightened so we can take in more (and likely more valuable) sensory inputs. We can more deeply listen with our whole being.
- This should have been No. 1: You have to want to be a better leader. No blog, no person, no book can tell you to want to connect more deeply to improve your leadership abilities – you have to tell yourself. Figure out what’s in it for you and attach to that to discover your authentic “want” in becoming a more empathic leader!
If you’d like to know more about one of the deepest and most meaningful leadership development experiences you could have, reach out to me to talk about the many opportunities including leadership coaching and our year-long LeadFORWARD leadership transformational experience.