Driving, directive, coercive styles of leadership may move people and get results in the short-term, but the dissonance it creates is associated with toxic relationships and emotions such as anger, anxiety and fear. People are getting sick and tired of the greed, selfishness and lack of integrity of organizations and their leaders. People are expecting a change.
Leaders in business schools, organizations and in politics are taught to lead with their heads and not with their hearts. Leaders are expected to be strategic, rational, tough, bottom-line business people who focus on results. Yet, recent research on successful leaders and the current turbulent economic and social times calls out for a different style of leader — one that exhibits compassion and empathy.
Bill Taylor, writing in the Harvard Business Review blog network believes it is because of “the hunger among customers, employees and all of us to engage with companies on more than just dollars-and-cents terms. In a world that is being shaped by the relentless advance of technology what stands out are acts of compassion and connection that remind us what it means to be human.”
What’s the Difference Between Empathy and Compassion?
Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are related. Empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, to put yourself in their shoes and imagine what they’re going through in that situation. Compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help, to take action.
Neuroscientists Tania Singer and Olga Klimecki conducted studies comparing empathy and compassion. Two separate experiment groups were trained to practice either empathy or compassion.
Their research revealed fascinating differences in the brain’s reaction to the two types of training.
First, the empathy training activated motion in the insula (linked to emotion and self-awareness) and motion in the anterior cingulate cortex (linked to emotion and consciousness), as well as pain registering. The compassion group, however, stimulated activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex (connected to learning and reward in decision-making) as well as activity in the ventral striatum (also connected to the reward system).