Some people are convinced that to be a great leader, one must be appreciated by everyone. It is not so. People don’t look for friends when they refer to a boss. They are looking for direction, support, honesty, and clarity, in the word ‘leadership’. And while they may not know at first, they may be looking for a dose of “hard empathy”!
True leaders identify with the people they lead, they know what the daily tasks and challenges their employees face are. They know the inevitable ‘peaks and valleys. The best leaders come from hard, operational work and know what it means to close a bad quarter, see their offers rejected, and know that the customer is not receiving or taking their call. They feel the bruises of defeat on their skin.
So empathy towards people is important, but sometimes the empathy that a leader must have is of the ‘hard’ type.
Hard empathy means giving one’s team what it needs, not what it wants. Sometimes it means telling people things they don’t want to hear or defining work practices and goals that they may initially disagree with. But this is fine: ‘hard empathy’ works because it indicates what is needed at a given moment, not what is most appreciated. ‘Hard empathy’ identifies a balance between respect for the individual and the corporate imperative to achieve the goal (which will then benefit everyone).
Hard empathy could mean sitting with a salesperson who is failing, setting up a training or retraining plan, managing activities closely, imposing better time management, setting daily goals, providing intense coaching. This is sometimes heavy on the team and very often not even fun for the leader. Yes, it’s hard, but a leader must do it because he/she cares about the team’s success and the future of individuals. And, if they are capable people, they will understand.