Intellect and Empathy
Albert Einstein once exhorted us, “We should take care not to make the intellect our god. It has, of course, powerful muscles, but not personality. It cannot lead, it can only serve.” Einstein is saying that while intellect is important it does not influence the hearts and passions of others. To be an effective leader, we must possess both intellect and influence, fully integrated with integrity.
Empathy is being able to place oneself in the shoes of others and understand their perspective. It involves not only listening, but also listening to understand, asking questions, and seeking clarity. It does not mean that we necessarily agree, with that person, only that an understanding of where that person is coming from has been attained. This would include not only understanding their logic, but also their emotional feelings, internal needs, and motivations.The basis for influence with others is empathy.
Why is empathy so critical to influence? It is because people do things for their reasons and not our reasons, even if that reason is fear. If this is true, then to influence other people we must understand their motivations, whether they be logical or emotional, that cause them to commit and behave in a certain manner. Once we have clarity about their perspective, and they are convinced of our genuine understanding, then we can choose what leadership style to employ to help people motivate themselves. It is empathy that forms the basis for commitment, passion, and buy-in to the vision and helps fulfill the adage, “People do not care what I know until they know that I care.”
A fundamental principle involved in acting with empathy is: We must first understand and manage our own emotions. We must have absolute clarity about how our own emotions trigger behaviors and our ability to process them as they occur. In other words, we must know, and manage ourselves, in order to have any hope of understanding the emotions and perspectives of others. A fundamental tenet of leading and influencing others is: I must first lead me. If this tenet is violated, we are only deluding ourselves if we believe we are leading or influencing others, they will see our duplicity and be turned off.
I do not believe that any act by a leader communicates caring and genuine value to others more than empathy. Conversely, not listening, communicates a lack of caring and interest in others. To be an effective leader, we must articulate not only the vision or direction for the organization, but we must understand the emotional needs of others, to illicit the commitment necessary to carry out that vision. And, in order to accommodate their needs, we must have empathy, to understand what those needs are.
The gifted and effective leader balances the intellect with empathy and always acts with integrity. It is the balance of the two wings, thinking and feeling, that inspires the passion, enthusiasm, and commitment the organization needs to thrive and grow in today’s environment.
Intellect is the power of knowing and capacity for knowledge. It is perhaps one of the most prized leadership characteristics today, because it represents intelligent and rational thought, enabling an organization to have direction and destination to focus on. It is intellect that enables a leader to see the possibilities or vision for an organization.
Intellect, however, represents only one “wing” of leadership. Much as an eagle requires two wings with which to fly, so an organization requires two wings to reach its greatest potential. A highly gifted and effective leader must know not only the “where” and “how” of an organization, but also have the ability to influence others to follow him or her there. Thus, to attain its highest possibilities the wing of vision must be combined with a second wing of passionate, enthusiastic, positive, and committed people acting to carry out that vision.