The less empathic a leader is to his/her people the less likely they are to gain cooperation and cooperation in the long run. Sure, being pushy and even bullying can get you your way in the very short run out of fear, but in the long run, the loathing takes over and it can cost you your ability to persuade them… and even an election.
One reason for that is based on neuroscience. The more a leader pushes things on people that they don’t want, the more stress that creates and the more that elevates a hormone called cortisol. The more elevated cortisol is, people think less rationally and they react more emotionally. And usually, the reaction to something that isn’t a match for what they want causes people to resist and push back.
One reason for that is that when you’re being pushy instead of empathic, you cause people to feel they “have to do” something and take away their being able to feel that they “choose to do it.” Most people and especially adult males resist and push back at having to do something, even though they might do it in the short run.
Alternatively, the more a leader gets what people most want, and even better, what they most need and then delivers it to them, the more that increases a hormone called oxytocin and dopamine and lowers cortisol. Oxytocin is the hormone most associated with empathy, bonding, “you had me at hello!” enthusiasm and pleasure (a.k.a. dopamine).
Right now what the American people want and need more than perhaps at any other recent time is a leader who can cause them to feel trust, confidence, safe and hopeful. All of those experiences increase oxytocin and calm and then dopamine pleasure. In contradistinction, distrust, doubt, unsafe and hopeless all cause increased stress and increased cortisol.
If as a leader, you think that is all science fiction, consider your enthusiasm when people including your advisors are pushing you to do something you don’t want to do. And think how often, instead of eagerly cooperating, much less listening to them, you resist.
And if you think you can play by different rules than others, just ask your advisors and Cabinet to give you a reality check (which is one of their responsibilities).
The late Jack Welch, former CEO of GE and never one to mince words once famously said, “I don’t need another Yes’ man. What I need is someone who can tell me, ‘No,’ even if it costs them their job.”
I have a sense the Joe Biden would welcome those, ‘No’s, and nobody’s job would be on the line. Why, because he is about making America a country where its people and the world can once again feel trust, confidence, safe and hopeful and in putting country and mission before ego will welcome any input that will help him serve both.
Why leaders sometimes resist being empathic
There are at least three reasons.
Many leaders are momentum and power junkies.
Momentum creates adrenaline and ignites testosterone. Adrenaline is connected with feeling powerful and excited. Testosterone is connected to feeling aggressive and hard-hitting. Feeling powerful, excited, aggressive and hard-hitting is intoxicating.
Most people are familiar with the term “adrenaline junkie,” which means that feeling powerful and excited is not just intoxicating, it is addictive. One of the reasons for that is that more than a few leaders (or at least founders) have ADHD. That means they can often become scattered and excited about too many things.
Adrenaline is the body’s natural Adderall and works like that stimulant to help ADHD leaders and founders to stay focused. Having to stop and be empathic towards others can abruptly obstruct and bring the adrenaline high to a halt.
Many leaders don’t want to have to change course if they care about others
Empathy, as in putting yourself in other people’s shoes and seeing, hearing and feeling the world through their eyes, ears, and emotions and then caring about their point of view can cause some leaders and founders to stop their thinking and have to course correct and switch their focus and strategy. This can be very discombobulating to some leaders, who have trouble pivoting and adapting.
Many leaders live in competence, confidence, control psychological silos
In other writings, I explained how most people that you think are being resistant to change, aren’t. Instead, they are experiencing non-rational, non-functional self-preservation.
That can be true for leaders as much as anyone else.
The more competent a leader feels, the more confident and in control they feel as well. Empathy, especially empathy that causes them to not just listen to but to have to consider someone else’s point of view in an area they feel incompetent, and therefore lack confidence and feel out of control, is something they will resist.
Still not convinced?
If you’re a leader, ask your Board – since you serve at their pleasure and will need them to buy in as well – these questions:
1: What would be the positive and measurable effect on our company’s success and bottom line if we could empathize with what our customers, clients, investors, talent we are trying to attract and people regarding what they not only want but “gotta have?”
2. What has already been the negative and measurable effect on our company’s success and bottom line when we have failed to empathize with what our customers, clients, investors, talent and people regarding what they not only want but “gotta have?”
I rest my case and my money and vote and hope is on Joe and Kamala to bring back leadership that brings back trust, confidence, safety and hope.