Follow Up On Mirror Neurons & Empathy

Yesterday I shared a video about the role of empathy in human civilization. One of the push backs that people always have when I get all soft and touchy-feely and start talking about emotions and empathy, is that philanthropy requires more rigor than an empathetic, emotional approach (supposedly) allows.

So I want to point to a new article in the Harvard Business Review about how great leaders defy the empathy/accountability tradeoff.

From the article:

“A common pattern among leaders is to adopt a persona that’s either excessively tough or overly empathetic. The assumption at the root of this pattern is that these positions must somehow tradeoff on each other — you can either hold people accountable or support them, but not both. Drill sergeant or grandparent. Fear or love. Pick one.

We’ve found that exceptional leaders often defy these tradeoffs. They’re demanding excellence, while being relentlessly committed to enabling their team’s success.

…If you’re having trouble visualizing what this looks like in practice, take fifteen minutes and watch an excerpt of The Suze Orman Show. We know it’s not your typical leadership development homework.

Suze — she’s achieved first-name only status in American culture — is increasingly known for her "Suze smackdowns," the tongue-lashing she’s willing to give viewers who aren’t taking full responsibility for their financial lives. As these public rebukes often reveal, Orman can be a fierce critic with exacting standards. But what clearly animates her is creating new possibilities in the lives of her viewers. Orman’s emotion and energy peak when she’s knee-deep in the challenge of helping people get out of their own way.

…Said another way, Orman doesn’t trade empathy for expectations, or expectations for empathy. She reveals both in almost every interaction she has with her audience.”

If you think of philanthropy as an attempt to empower people and organizations to make the world a better place, I can think of no better advice than don’t “trade empathy for expectations, or expectations for empathy.” Instead, embrace both in every aspect of your giving.