How to balance empathy and pragmatism as a leader

 It has been repeatedly proven throughout history that two good heads are better than one; and two quality skills will surely surpass one. When given a choice between two options, ask why you can’t have both.

There is no one-stop-shop for leadership skills, and what works for one may not work for the other, so diversifying your teams’ thinking style will give well-balanced results and create the best outputs.

As a leader in a home or an organization your reaction, especially to negative events will determine the progress of whomever you lead; it will either guide them out of the current dilemma or push them further down the hole.

Consider the meeting of the members of the board of a company whose quarterly returns do not look good at all. The leader looks everyone in the eyes and says, “ I know you all tried, it just didn’t work for us. Let us just keep our heads up and do better,” and then dismisses the board members.

They all rise, murmuring as they leave the board room. Their leader empathized with them. He did not push any blames, but he did not find answers to their problems either. He did not even ask any questions. They feel good and connected to the leader, but goals on the other hand are not achieved and no progress was made.

If under the same scenario the leader stands up to address the members of the board and says, “This doesn’t look good at all.” He queries them and asks for weak points and strengths, then dismisses them. The board members rise to feel a little excited about the prospects of employing their findings to obtain a solution and head home. Not long after, the excitement is gone because they did not actually connect to the leader but still deliver better results.

During a third board meeting under the same circumstance, the leader stands to address the members, he looks at each of them, clears his throat, and starts, “these results are not acceptable. I know you all did what you could, and I appreciate your efforts, but I know you, and I know you can do better. Right now, before anyone leaves this table we will draft up precise steps on how to correct this and make the next quarter twice as good as our best quarter.”

Leaders who are pragmatic are strong sources of inspiration to the followers; the followers look up to them because they see clarity in the vision of the leader and they want to put in their all to help attain the set goals. At the same time, however, empathic leaders who feel the pains of the people they serve, are viewed positively as a source of much needed emotional support.

The board members love the leader for how he tackles the problem. First, he shares in the misfortune as a loss to everyone, himself included, then he goes on to find solutions to the problems. They need to establish the next course of action that will lead them out of the drain and into safety.

The first and second methods of leadership do work, but by fusing them to form the third, the followers understand that the leader is not just someone who bosses them around but empathizes without neglecting progress, and who seeks for viable steps to achieve future goals without demoralizing the team members.

A leader who shows empathy connects deeply with their team members, thus the team members feel obliged to go the extra mile for their leader, and each other.

Leaders who are pragmatic are strong sources of inspiration to the followers; the followers look up to them because they see clarity in the vision of the leader and they want to put in their all to help attain the set goals. At the same time, however, empathic leaders who feel the pains of the people they serve, are viewed positively as a source of much needed emotional support.

“When you need that supporting hand!” Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

Where a leader who shows only empathy may win the crowd, goals may not be achieved due to a lack of proper scrutiny and definition of purpose. Similarly, when a leader adopts a purely pragmatic approach, tasks may be completed quickly but her team members and followers may feel estranged and detach themselves from their work in much the same way robots operate purely on mechanical principles. As Mike Thomas and Caroline Rowland, write in Leadership, Pragmatism, and Grace: A Review, “there is a disconnect between contemporary models of leadership and calls for sustainable ethical leadership in the spheres of public and business environments.” They add that “Compassion and kindness remain in the side-lines yet the implications for future trust and commitment are neglected in times where the discretionary effort of workers and volunteers is crucial to goal achievement.”. Put more simply, compassion and fairness (the hallmarks of empathic leadership) are crucial to building trust and encouraging team members and employees to take the initiative to reach clear targets that have been set by a more practical tone of leadership.

Balancing empathy with pragmatic leadership is a skill every leader should cultivate to sail their ship safely to port. A leader with a combination of both qualities will fit him/herself into the shoes of their subjects without letting them get complacent, at the same time knowing where they are and helping to set clear goals and define the steps that will help the team reach their goals.

An organization where the leader shows empathy while being pragmatic will show unique signs of growth because there will be high morale, new daily motivations, and trust and belief in the leader. Finding the right balance may be difficult and will take time, but it will be worth it.


Featured photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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