There are times when certain news stories touch me more than others. The same happens with scenes in some movies. I had a period where I’d be crying all the time when I saw these things, for a few years after my dad passed away. It took a long while to gain better control over some of those emotions.
I don’t know if I’m all that much different than a lot of men. I didn’t cry from the age of 9 until I was 43, when Dad passed. I was proud of that fact because it got me through a lot of different situations over the years. It’s amazing just how much not crying is valued in some places. Even with serious pain and disappointment, not crying, being able to put on a face of relative nonchalance, gives one respect from peers.
Truth be told, often I’ve had to hide feelings over the years as a leader. When you work with people on a daily basis you’re going to come across situations where those who you work with have issues that makes them lose control. People pass away; relationships break up; others get sick. And of course different types of disappointment affect people in different ways.
Even when I’ve been in positions to have to visibly hide my feelings, mainly in order to keep my own control, I have to admit that I’m basically a compassionate type of person. I may scoff here and there at some things that I don’t think warrant emotion but when I believe it’s something that’s expected, I’m right there with others.
I know a lot of people who aren’t able to be empathetic when it comes to the needs of others. I always figure that there was something in their background that has led them to learn how to suppress these feelings.
You can often tell when people aren’t empathetic by how they respond to certain events. For instance, weeks ago we had the incident in Paris where 12 people were killed. Most of the reactions I saw were outpourings of grief and anger that terrorists had the nerve to kill people for what amounted to cartoon caricatures, even if they were offensive. Many though believed that they got what was coming to them for being stupid.
Frankly, even though I’m someone who believes that consequences can come to people whose actions irritate someone, I felt for the families of those who had nothing to do with this magazine, especially the second day when terrorists captured more people and killed some of them because they wanted to go out as martyrs.
Part of me couldn’t understand how one couldn’t find compassion for something like that. The other part of me understood unfortunately. There are factions who say “it has nothing to do with me” or “I guess it was just their time to go.”
Fine; I don’t like that type of thinking but I understand how it goes. What I’m not sure of is how many of those people are leaders. If that’s a leader’s mindset, we’re all in trouble.
Some people think good leaders should never deal with personal issues. I think there are times when leaders have to worry more about the department than lingering personal issues; that’s why they’re being paid after all.
However, if someone in the department is in distress, being empathetic and compassionate to their needs is integral to good leadership. Maybe there’s nothing you can do about the situation. Maybe you as the leader needs to counsel an employee or a co-worker in some fashion. Not solve their issues if you can’t, but offer suggestions like taking time off, going to Employee Assistance, getting legal counsel… things like that.
Not only do they show that you care but it shows your department that you’re human, and people love working with and for those who act human. I was a fairly dispassionate leader most of the time. I felt that keeping an even keel was the best way to have a stable department. But when it was needed I’d let down those shields and embrace the pain of an employee, whether they worked for me or not.
Leaders aren’t automatons; they’re people. If you as a leader can’t show compassion when it’s needed, you’ll never be a great leader.
My opinion of course; what’s yours?