Published in Forbes Magazine in Jan 2017, by Fleet Maull. Fleet will be presenting Seven Keys to Mindful Leadership for Social Transformation at Hollyhock on June 28 – July 2, 2017.
There are many different leadership styles and qualities that make a good leader, but people tend to be most attracted to and influenced by leaders who are empathetic.
A study by BI Norwegian Business School found that employees were more committed and efficient on the job when their employers displayed increased self-awareness and insight. As leaders, listening is one of the key skills we use to give people the experience of our empathic presence and make them feel heard. But to give others our full attention and become an empathetic leader, we first need to be empathetic with ourselves.
Start With Self-Empathy
How we feel about and relate to ourselves directly impacts how we relate to the world and interact with others. We tend to place the blame for difficult feelings, such as anger or jealousy, on the actions of other people or our surroundings. Most people assume that our feelings are the result of other people or external circumstances. However, our feelings actually arise based on whether we perceive our needs as being met.
When we perceive our basic human needs, including our need to be acknowledged and respected, as being addressed, we’re content. When we perceive that they aren’t being met, or that they are being under-addressed, that’s when feelings of frustration, anger, sadness and jealousy emerge.
Validating our own needs and having the predilection to validate the needs of others is an important part of becoming an empathic leader. Being able to look people in the eye and say, “Of course you need respect/clarity/to be heard,” is the ground of empathic communication.
Developing Empathy Through Self-Awareness
Mindfulness and self-awareness practices can be very helpful for developing empathy for ourselves and others. A study conducted by Harvard and Northeastern Universities found that mindfulness not only improves mental health and overall affect but also increases compassion toward others. Through regular practice, we can learn how to bring more awareness to ourselves, our senses, and our thoughts.
A daily mindfulness practice can help us keep this awareness in our daily routines, both at work and in our personal lives. Beyond that, these practices should also be fused with a non-judgmental approach and an empathic relationship with ourselves. Being willing to really feel and experience everything that is going on within ourselves emotionally, physically and cognitively will connect us to an important conclusion: We are human. We have every kind of emotion and thought possible, and there is nothing wrong with that. Of course, it’s important to be responsible about which emotions and impulses we act on, but once we embrace the fact that there is nothing inherently wrong with feeling things, such as jealousy or anger, it makes it easier for us to address the cause, instead of just the symptom.
Emotions such as jealousy are uncomfortable, especially in the workplace. We may feel bad about experiencing negative emotions in the first place and, therefore, we feel resistance toward sharing what we’re experiencing. The first step to overcoming this resistance is realizing that such reactions are human, and something that we all experience. Once we develop a panoramic awareness of our own experiences, we will be able to infuse awareness, a sense of humor, and a willingness to recognize our own humanity into everything we do. From there, we are able to develop a friendlier, more compassionate relationship with ourselves.
Turning Our Empathy Outwards
This self-empathy enables us to focus on healing. Once we develop a positive relationship with ourselves, we can begin to develop a better relationship with others. A study conducted at Carnegie Mellon suggests that self-compassion can even lead to increased positive social interactions with others.
Being more conscious of what is going on within us allows us to heal anything that is bothering or distracting us, rather than suppress it. Once we heal, we’ll have the capacity to give our full attention to those around us, instead of being subconsciously caught up in our own stuff. We can turn the compassion, awareness and empathy that we learned to apply to ourselves outward. Just as we became aware of our own feelings and needs, we become more willing to be aware of the feelings and needs of others. Once we’ve accepted that we’re human and prone to experiencing human emotions and reactions, we’ll be more understanding of those emotions and reactions in others.
Fleet Maull is an author, consultant, trainer and executive coach who facilitates deep transformation for individuals and organizations through his philosophy and program of Radical Responsibility™. He is a dedicated servant leader working for positive social transformation as a meditation teacher, consultant, trainer, social entrepreneur, peacemaker and end-of-life care educator. He is a senior teacher in two meditation traditions, a holder of the Way of Council, and a certified trainer with Partners in Leadership, New Line Consulting, Prison Mindfulness Institute, Center for Mindfulness in Corrections and The Event Training.
Join Fleet for Seven Keys to Mindful Leadership for Social Transformation at Hollyhock on June 28 – July 2, 2017!Register Now!