For this blog series, I asked some of my favorite leadership experts this question: “What do high EQ leaders do that sets them apart?” Their responses were both informative and inspiring. Some expressed similar ideas, but each person’s approach added depth to this important question. This is the second in the series, and it holds special poignancy for me because of the topic. I hope you read and enjoy all of them.
For the last week, I have been tending to my beloved mother who had a traumatic fall last Tuesday and who passed away peacefully yesterday morning.
My mother never appreciated personal drama and she made it very clear that when medicine could no longer improve her quality of life, she did not want to be kept alive artificially. When she became unresponsive, we made arrangements to send her to a wonderful place called Hospice House near my home in Sarasota, Florida.
I asked her Saturday morning to blink if she could hear me, and she blinked very deliberately. Because she was always very up front about her wishes and very open about death, I spent a lot of time Saturday talking to her about where she was and what had happened, and I told her I would follow her wishes about last arrangements.
She wanted a very simple memorial and she wanted to be buried next to my dad in Tennessee. I was granted the opportunity to tell her I loved her and that many people were checking with me about her condition. The doctor told me she could last from 3-8 days. She died at the beginning of the third day. I believe she had it her way even to the very end.
Because she was very clear about her wishes, I have little to do today to plan for her funeral, and I am left to write the article for this series that I had planned to write. I wanted to focus on the empathy that emotionally intelligent leaders demonstrate, but I am writing from a very different perspective—as the recipient.
In the last few days, I have been the grateful recipient of so many kind words and acts of concern that, in addition to talking about why leaders need empathy, I will write about what it means to experience that special gift. I have received phone calls and emails from dear friends and family who seem to know just what to say. They are able to get inside my heart and tell me the things that bring me joy and comfort at a difficult time.
One friend of many years wrote: “Now you can take time to sit back and remember the happier times you shared with her. You were a good daughter and you made her both happy and proud.”
Another wrote: “… I am so glad she knew you were with her in her final days. Still, it is so sad. There is so much to remember about the wonderful woman who was your mother. Lots of things to celebrate about a remarkable 92 years. I'm so glad she was near you these last years. It is a time to grieve for one of the most important people in your life. As you do, hold on to all the good memories of times past.”
Another said: “Life is a long journey and she was with you for so much of yours. Her early days in the mountains must have created that strong, positive and interesting persona. I always enjoyed being with her.
Thinking of you having that last conversation with her brings tears to my eyes. What better gift could she have asked for than to know you were there and that everything she wanted would be done? But it must have been poignant for you. It's hard to survive someone you love - even your mom...
Wish we were there to hug you; we are certainly doing so from afar.”
One friend said to call her if there was anything she could do, even in the middle of the night. She wrote: “If you think it's silly to call that time of night ...it is not...the monsters are out, but when you speak to a friend they disappear.....”
These words of concern have eased my sadness and helped me know that people care. I cannot minimize the passing of a woman who shaped my life so much, but maybe because of that I will talk about it in terms of her leadership and the impact that leaders make on those around them. Leaders are able to get into the hearts of someone else to say and do the things that bring them peace, joy, inspiration, motivation and a sense of purpose.
For this series, I asked a number of leadership authorities to articulate what made emotionally intelligent leaders stand out. Ted Coine and Jon Mertz very graciously responded to my request and offered empathy as one of the most significant skills leaders possess. These are their responses.
Ted Coine wrote
"The most talented leaders I've ever met, interviewed, or worked with all had very robust emotional intelligence - I'm convinced that is an absolute prerequisite for leading in a sustained and successful manner. As such, every last one of them had this one key trait in common: they put themselves in the shoes of the person they're trying to lead, and ask themselves, "What's in it for this person?" or "Why would he want to do what I'm asking of him?"
"That keen sense of other-directedness is the source of their emotional intelligence. Their ability to answer those questions accurately, or to rethink their own agenda if necessary so they were able to answer those questions from the other's perspective, is what made them a leader worth following."
Jon Mertz replied:
"Emotionally intelligent leaders are self-aware in who they are and how they can improve their leadership capabilities. Threaded through both is a strong sense of empathy. By listening actively and understanding another's perspective, creativity excels and partnerships strengthen. When these actions happen consistently, others will recognize the empowering elements of being an emotionally intelligent leader and follow the examples being set."
Emotionally intelligent leaders have the ability to empathize in the following ways:
1. They are in touch with their own needs and emotions so they are able to act or articulate what someone else needs.
2. They are fully present with someone else’s situation.
3. They pause to consider what they would feel under similar conditions.
4. They allow themselves to feel the pain, joy or excitement of another person so they can understand their needs.
5. They consider what they would want to hear or to have done in a similar situation.
6. They are willing to put the other person’s needs ahead of their own in a genuine and caring way.
7. They take a risk in offering their own hearts and emotions to the other person.
There is no magic formula for empathy just as there is no magic formula for leadership.
Both take a willingness to try and possibly to fail, maybe even to sound foolish. Empathetic leaders and friends try and they reflect until they can get it right. But, the results strengthen relationships and brighten otherwise difficult and trying days.
It is not just in times of grief that empathy is important. It is when someone needs encouragement to begin or complete a difficult project, to understand the stresses of competing responsibilities, to offer kind words in defeat and genuine congratulations in success.
Leaders, friends and family members see that real success comes from influencing others and making their lives better. They articulate the lessons we learn from life in a meaningful and caring way. They offer support and encouragement in all kinds of situations.
In an email to me a few years ago, my mother said: “Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.” I genuinely believe those words and, in my sadness, I believe she brought sunshine into the lives of others and she kept some of it for herself.
What are your thoughts about leadership and empathy? Can you learn them? Are there other traits of empathetic leaders? In addition to feeling empathy, how can you show empathy for someone else?
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Photo credit: In addition to his meaningful quote, Jon Mertz created a graphic for this article. Many thanks to him for his thoughtfulness.