We coach leaders.

# 12 Let’s hear it for empathy!

A couple of weekends ago I read an essay in The Sydney Morning Herald  that moved me deeply. Written by Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of psychology and psychiatry at Cambridge University and called Evil lives when empathy dies, it’s a plea for the use of empathy as what he calls a “universal solvent” because he believes that “any problem immersed in empathy becomes soluble”.

Baron-Cohen’s piece ends with the story of two fathers who were sharing the same stage at a gathering in north London:  Ahmed, a Palestinian and Moishe, an Israeli.  Ahmed’s son was killed by an Israeli bullet.  Moishe’s son had been killed by a petrol bomb thrown by a Palestinian. They’d met through The Parents Circle for Israelis and Palestinians that enables bereaved parents to make free phone calls into each other’s homes to express their empathy.  Baron-Cohen:

Here were two fathers, from different sides of the political divide, united by their grief and embracing each other’s language.  Ahmed described how he had been at home in Gaza one day when the phone rang.  It was Moishe, at that time a stranger in Jerusalem, who had taken that brave first step.  They both openly wept down the phone.  Neither had ever met or even spoken to someone from the other community, but both told the other they knew what the other was going through.

I included a piece about Baron-Cohen’s essay in the most recent edition of my Value Adding newsletter and some of the responses I’ve received have been fascinating.  For example, a colleague in the UK who coaches executives there emailed me the alarming information that a book he’s reading suggests that research is showing that many people in very senior roles are neurologically incapable of empathy.  Eek!  I thought.

Can empathy be learned?

I believe it can.

However for senior executives the first important step is to realise that strong technical skills and a high intellect are no longer enough to remain relevant – they also need to be self-aware and have strong inter-personal skills – what is now called Emotional Intelligence or EI.

Accessing regular time with an AnD Consulting Leadership Coach is one very good way for leaders to learn how to hone their EI – including their empathy – and so to apply the “universal solvent” to challenges within their organisation and market place.

How would you rate your Emotional Intelligence?

  • Login