Empathy is often difficult to discern by simply reading a resume, but most of us know it when it’s present and perhaps more so when it’s missing. When it comes to leadership, empathy is an essential quality.
Tensions over Ukraine have been escalating and a recent poll by Yahoo News/YouGov indicates that 62% of Americans who identify as Republicans say they believe Russian President Putin is a “stronger leader” than President Biden. The numbers rise to 71% of those who identify Fox News as their primary news source.
While this may be explained primarily due to the extreme partisan nature and political divide in the United States, it may also have something to do with our collective notion of how we define strong leadership.
How do you define a strong leader?
In business, according to job site Indeed, strong leaders share these characteristics:
In government, according to govloop, strong leadership includes these qualities:
- Learning agility
- Technology Savvy
- Great Motivator
- Change Embracer
- Strong Communicator
When it comes to governing leadership, I came across article by Mark Funkhouser, the former publisher of Governing magazine. He contends communication and courage are the most important leadership qualities for any government leader.
“I’m not talking simply about making speeches or giving direction, but about listening and speaking in ways that make others feel heard, understood and valued,” writes Funkhouser. “It starts with learning.”
And when it comes to courage: “Leaders take on the problems of others and are willing to risk ridicule, derision and the loss of position or reputation to overcome those problems. It is this test of moral courage that separates real leaders from those who merely hold positions of authority. People have to know that you care about them. They have to have hope that if they stick together and stick with you, their circumstances will get better. And they have to believe in the mission—not only that you are competent, but also that you have a plan and the plan is going to work.”
Funkhouser’s perspective and many in the lists of characteristics and qualities mentioned above are elements of empathy, or the ability to connect with others by being aware of, sensitive to and understanding of what they are feeling or experiencing.
According to Helen Riess, author of The Empathy Effect, leadership is all about emotions.
“We often cite intelligence, instincts, and expertise when describing someone we consider to be a great leader, but great leaders are exquisitely attuned to others’ emotions and are experts at regulating their own,” writes Riess. “The truly great leaders among us have a combination of keen emotional attunement made possible through shared neural circuitry and quick, decisive, and creative minds that find opportunities and figure out how to execute a plan—which may explain why great leaders are hard to find.”
Perhaps it’s easier to be viewed as a “strong leader” in countries governed by those who don’t have to worry about a free and fair election every four years and a limit of two presidential terms. American leaders have limitations on what they can do and maybe that’s what contributes to making the United States such a great country.
Until we decide that we’d rather have an authoritarian leader like President Putin, perhaps we should reconsider how we define strong leadership with regards to our president.