A Tri-Part Series Discussing Areas Of Focus Necessary To Be The Effective Leader You Want To Be: Part 2
Focus on Others
Now let’s move onward from discussing self-focus to others-focus and how a balance of the two plays a role in your effectiveness as a leader. The image that comes to my mind is a seesaw. It’s rarer to find a seesaw at a playground today and there might be some readers who haven’t ever experienced the sensation of this teeter-totter play.
But the skill involved can be imagined as you picture yourself sitting on one end of a seesaw while balanced with the person sitting on the other end. Now shift your imagination and picture your self-awareness, discussed in Part 1 of this three-part series, on one end of the seesaw and your awareness of others at the other end.
And we know that both not only need to be present but also delicately balanced as movement between the two plays an important role in effective leadership.
And something to really be aware of at this present time when nearly all of us feel more stressed from the many affects of Coronavirus and the resulting COVID-19 threat is that achieving this balance is now more challenging in all of our leadership roles.
Dr. Daniel Goleman defines focusing on others from the word “attention”, meaning “to reach toward.” Now shift your imagination again and picture yourself on one end of the seesaw and the person you’re leading at the other end. You, the effective leader, are reaching towards those you lead. Focusing on others is the foundation of empathy and of an ability to build social relationships, which Goleman views as the second and third pillars of emotional intelligence.
Whether in an executive, a teacher, a parent, a coach or some other leadership role, leaders who effectively focus on others are the ones who find common good, whose opinions carry the most weight, and with whom other people want to work. And they emerge as natural leaders regardless of organizational or social rank.
Effective leaders are able to focus on others with three types of empathy in motion:
“cognitive empathy—the ability to understand another person’s perspective;
emotional empathy—the ability to feel what someone else feels; and
empathic concern—the ability to sense what another person needs from you.”
The Focused Leader by Daniel Goleman
Here’s a summary of how Goleman describes these three types of empathy relative to effective leadership:
(1) Cognitive Empathy
When we demonstrate cognitive empathy toward someone we lead, it’s an outgrowth of our own self-awareness. It enables us to explain ourselves in meaningful ways and also understand those we lead. The executive circuits in our brains that allow us to be aware of our own thoughts and monitor the feelings that flow from them also allow us to apply that same reasoning to other people’s minds. Our inquisitive nature feeds our cognitive empathy and we choose to direct our attention that way. As one successful executive with this trait puts it, “I’ve always just wanted to learn everything, to understand anybody that I was around—why they thought what they did, why they did what they did, what worked for them, and what didn’t work.”
(2) Emotional Empathy
When we demonstrate emotional empathy, we’re able to effectively mentor, manage clients, and understand group dynamics. Parts of the brain beneath the cortex-the amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampus, and orbitofrontal cortex allow us to quickly and literally feel the emotions of others, without too much thought.
We have an open awareness of another person’s external signs of emotions such as their facial expression, voice and other body language. And we also deliberately bring our attention and focus to how we are mirroring the other person’s feelings. As Tania Singer, the director of the social neuroscience department at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, in Leipzig, says, “You need to understand your own feelings to understand the feelings of others.” There’s the seesaw.
(3) Empathic Concern
When we demonstrate empathic concern, we’re able to not only sense how people feel but also what they need from us. It’s what we want to experience in our relationships with our doctors, significant others, bosses, and it is what children want to experience from their parent, their primary leader. In fact, its roots are in the circuitry of the brain that compels a parent to direct attention to their child. Empathic concern requires us to manage our personal distress without numbing ourselves to the pain of others; thus, the seesaw balance.
When it comes to building relationships, people who lack this skillful focus on others, aka social sensitivity, seem to be the clueless among us. They are the ineffective leaders whose seesaw rarely moves with any balance.
Painting the picture, this is the leader who, while competent in their area of expertise, as Goleman puts it, “bullies some people, freezes out others, and plays favorites—but when you point out what he has just done, shifts the blame, gets angry, or thinks that you’re the problem—is not trying to be a jerk; he’s utterly unaware of his shortcomings.
When we skillfully dial in our focus on self and others, keeping our seesaw moving in a balanced ebb and flow, we are the effective leader we want to be. The full range of ideas and talents within those we lead are expressed, regardless of rank, and our organizations and relationships flourish. Part 3 will discuss “Focus on the Outer World”.