In June we attended a retirement ceremony for an Army Colonel, who was also our neighbor. As there were friends, enlisted staff, and other senior officers there all celebrating him, we heard plentiful stories about his leadership accomplishments. One of most memorable was an earnest narrative from a junior officer who recognized the Colonel’s leadership. He stated, “Gary was the most shrewd and sincere leader I ever served with. He knew when to be empathetic with each of us. He knew when to call us on a lack of performance and when to appreciate what the other person was feeling. He understood how feelings were affecting our execution of our tasks, our team relationships, even our belief structures, without passing judgment.”

Many of you may know the works of Simon Sinek, the British-American author, motivational speaker and organizational consultant. Sinek says researching his latest book has even changed the way he conducts his own life and business. “The lesson I’m learning is that I’m useless by myself. My success hinges entirely on the people I work with—the people who enlist themselves to join me in my vision. And it’s my responsibility to see that they’re working at their best capacity.”
Simon believes in the practice of empathy, the ability to recognize and share other people’s feelings. He believes that it is the most important instrument in a leader’s toolbox; and, can be expressed in the simple question, “Is everything OK?”

  • Shrewd leaders listen to understand, not to just respond. They are willing to consider a wide range of outcomes and options rather than rigidly insisting on specific techniques. They use empathy by paying more attention to both the verbal and non-verbal cues that are a part of daily communication. They achieve success by being open-minded and are willing to consider many possibilities and combinations of options.
  • Shrewd leaders practice empathy and create sincere rapport with their staff. They are approachable and exhibit a richness of emotional intelligence, knowing that individuals are not Xeroxed copies of each other. Understanding and thoughtfulness make it less likely that resentment or jealousy can skulk in, derailing all the work the group has been accomplished so far. The element of trust between all members is re-enforced.
  • Shrewd leaders are aware of how reality is at that moment. They recognize the energies that are negative invested into resentment, anger, or resignation over the current circumstances. They often try to redirect that same level of energy into acceptance of actualities right now. They do not forget to include how much they ‘care’ about the next chapters of the future they are collectively forging with others.
  • And, they validate others with their significance. Their conversations often begin with, “With the successes we have celebrated together, or since you have helped me achieve that product launch, this has changed how I would like our future collaboration to be.” Whatever they lead with, it will be something to bear out the importance, talent, or skill in the accomplishments in from that person or for the whole organization.

Today, one of the leading exponents of experiential empathy is the U.S. product designer Patricia Moore. Her specialty is using empathy to cross the generational chasm. Her best-known experiment was in the late 1970s when, aged 26, she dressed up as an 85-year-old woman to discover what life was like as an elder. She put on makeup that made her look aged, wore fogged-up glasses so she couldn’t see properly, wrapped her limbs and hands with splints and bandages to simulate arthritis; and, wore uneven shoes causing her to hobble. For three years she visited North American cities in this disguise, trying to walk up and down subway stairs, open department store doors, and use can openers with her bound hands.

Shrewd Leaders Practice Empathy