When we speak of leadership it is usually in reference to a supervisory or management position. A professional setting of some sort. But leadership is also a factor in one’s personal life. In that role, it is pretty easy to be empathetic. When you child’s team loses out in the playoffs or he/she has a disappointing grade after studying so hard. No one thinks the worse of us when we are empathetic in those situations.
But, what about on the job? There are many times when a leader must deal with unpleasant situations. Sooner or later a leader will have to handle a disciplinary situation, a layoff, or a termination. If you show empathy in those matters will people view you as a wimp or weak? I’m not talking about breaking down and crying, but just showing some compassion for the cards you are dealing out.
I have long argued that any leader that handles terminations should have unexpectedly lost his/her job at some point. Nothing instills empathy more than having been in that situation yourself. You understand the economic setback, the blow to one’s self-esteem, the embarrassment, and the fear.
Even when the termination is fully justified and all chances have been given for the employee to do better the matter can be handled with some compassion.
I’ve terminated many people, not something I brag about because in every case it was a failing of mine or the company that I represented. We hired the wrong person, they didn’t get enough training and support, they weren’t given the right tools, or maybe the company was just going through rough times due to no fault of the employee.
Doing those nasty jobs are what they pay you for. It has to be done. But, it can be done with empathy, compassion, and an understanding of what the other person is facing and feeling. That is not a show of weakness, it is a show of character.