October 31


The Missing Links in Leadership

Relationships can be the most difficult, frustrating and fulfilling ways to grow as a person.  

All successful workplace relationships include 2 characteristics that are in short supply in busy workplaces where deadlines and achieving goals are all-important.  These characteristics are essential to successful relationships.  They develop your emotional awareness of others and in so doing, they inspire those who work with you.

The 2 characteristics are of course, compassion and empathy.  

Without compassion and empathy, we can push too hard.  Ask too much.  Without understanding the consequences to the other person.

A kind word, a please and thank you often go a long way, but when a leader is under pressure, the softer side of things often go out the window due to frazzled nerves, a lack of sleep and an unbearable weight upon shoulders already overburdened.

the missing link 1

The Missing Link: Compassion and Empathy explained

Think about a time when you were under pressure and instead of getting an encouraging word to help you along, you were told to work harder, faster, better.  Can you think of one?

How did it feel?  What was the impact on you?

the missing link 2And now, think of a time when you were under the same pressure and this time you were given that encouraging word and pat on the shoulder to help you along.

How did that feel?  What was the impact?

The main difference between both these approaches is the inclusion of compassion and empathy.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at both characteristics.

What is Compassion?

The word compassion means:  a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.(taken from www.dictionary.reference.com)

So, building positive relationships that will grow requires a compassionate and thoughtful approach.

My favourite story about compassion is the one about the woman who gets onto the 5pm train with 2 rowdy children.  She quietly sits down in her chair, not seeming to notice how her two little ones start running up and down on the busy train, calling out to each other noisily and making a nuisance of themselves. A work-weary commuter watches with growing irritation until eventually he cannot take the noise and exuberance any longer and firmly yet forcefully taps the woman on the shoulder and asks her if she is aware her children are creating a disturbance.

the missing link 3She starts and seemingly comes to attention, almost blindly looking around the train to see where her children are before saying to the man, “Oh, dear, I am so sorry, I have just left the hospital where my husband has just passed away.  I was trying to figure out how I am going to tell the children their Daddy is gone.”  At which point, the man on the train reaches out no longer with anger and irritation, but with compassion to put his arm around the mourning mother to comfort her.

Being Compassionate Everyday

Compassion is about ensuring you have the right intention in approaching a situation or person.  Often we make assumptions due to our own view of the world and find we are mistaken and then we have to make reparations.  Try to control your first reaction in order to clarify with the other person before taking action – it will be worth it in the long run.

What is Empathy?

The definition of empathy is to acknowledge someone’s feelings, EVEN IF YOU DO NOT AGREE with them. 

Most of us think that empathy is telling the other person you understand how they feel. A large number of you reading this article have gone on training that has taught you this as a technique. 

And yet, in your experience, how well does this comment go down?

Exactly, not too well! 

I am here to tell you that that is absolute nonsense.  All that telling someone you understand how they feel is raise people’s feelings to boiling point and gets them even further off side with you.

To truly empathise, you recognise and acknowledge the feeling that the other person has either overtly or covertly said to you. 

It is a life skill that once you get it, you will always have.  A few examples of how true empathy works:

Their words: I am so disappointed that I have to work late again this week!
Your empathetic response: So you are pretty disappointed?

Their words: I think that service guy was a rude so and so.  Ooooh!!! 
Your empathetic response: You sound mad!

Empathy is simple to understand, but not easy to implement….

Empathy is easy if you can correctly identify the other person’s emotional response.  Making sure you get the right level of emotion is a little trickier, however with practice and observation, you will begin to get better at it.  And, you should start to see resistance melting and relationships start to mend.

Don’t expect your team to provide you with value and contribution because you pay for it and therefore are entitled to it – even though this may be true.  This approach will only alienate you and create demotivation and resentment in your team.

When you are under pressure, it’s the small things that make a big difference.  Often, they will either push you over the edge or they will bring you back to sanity.

The skill of using compassion and empathy is a vital part of being emotionally intelligent with others.  How would you rate yourself?

My challenge to you today is to take a compassionate approach and be courageous under pressure.  Show your colleagues and fellow workers that you appreciate them and the work they do.  Take the time to say a simple “thank you” when you see them having given their best for the day, when they speak up in a meeting or when they contribute a valuable point.  Best wishes!!

Over to You

  1. What opportunities do you have to employ compassion and empathy in your workplace?
  2. Has using these characteristics ever got you into trouble?  
  3. What stories do you have on this topic – please share them in the comments section below

A Dedication to A very Special Little Person

This article today is for James, a true-life superhero fully deserving of our compassion and empathy. 

In the late hours of  Thursday, 24 October 2013 this little boy who fought his whole life to stay alive, and managed to smile courageously through most of it, passed on after a prolonged battle with a urinary infection blown out of proportion.  His Mom, my best friend and her husband, were by his side when he breathed his last breath.  He was not yet 9 year’s old.  

Jamie Phipps


See you at the top,



emotional intelligence, leadership, leadership qualities

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