Empathy and Leadership


Complaining: On Wednesday last week, my life imploded. I found out that I might need to take a semester off of classes (LOA) after I get PRK (which means I wouldn’t get to commission with the rest of my class), my stress fracture regressed, and the plan I had started for the drill meet was ripped to shreds. I wasted hours making phone calls and looking over paperwork without finding definite answer to whether or not I’d need to take an LOA. The time that I had all ready put into the drill meet was wasted; I had to re do everything. Scheduling and attending doctor’s appointments for my stress fracture also took up a good chunk of time.


Misery Love Company: I didn’t even get close to getting everything done, and I fell behind in class work, meaning I was going to have to spend the weekend playing catch up, and with having to w
ork security at the football game and clean the stadium the next morning, I only got a few hours of sleep over the weekend. On Friday when I explained my situation to my roommate, his response was a sarcastic, “Aww, Muffins…” which is typically how my roommates and
I respond to each other when one of us is under a lot of stress, has a lot to do, and needs to vent. At the time, my roommate was in his 38th hour without sleep and was trying to plan a field exercise for the freshmen and sophomore.


Aww, Muffins…: Knowing that this is okay to say to each other is an example of knowing each other’s boundaries. Another example of boundaries is that help is never expected, but, if anyone of us goes to another and asks for help picking a part a Letter of Instruction or flushing out the details of a scheme of maneuver, he always receives help. “Aww, Muffins…” is our cynical way of letting each other know that we feel the other person’s pain and understand what it’s like to be in that position or are also currently in a similar situation. It’s also a way to let the other person know, “Hey, you’ve got this. There will be worse that you’ll still be able to do. This isn’t that bad” and while that’s an example of sympathy instead of empathy, its still comforting.


Empathy in Military Leadership

Simon Sinek, an expert in inspirational leadership, has written several books on organizational leadership. In his most recent book, he spoke with Lt. Gen Michael Flynn, who explained that Marines always let their most junior members eat first, being followed in rank order with the highest ranking member eating last. This shows the true role of a leader. Followers don’t serve the leaders; leaders serve their followers. In short, service should always follow down. A leader employs his followers in accordance with their capabilities and gives them the resources needed to complete the task.


Another principle role of a leader is to inspire groups of people to come together and accomplish tasks they didn’t think could be done, and the only way this can be accomplished is for the followers to truly believe the leader will prioritize their wellbeing. As said in a Blog for Company-Level Leaders in the Army, sympathy is treating the symptoms of a problem, while empathy is taking the time to find the causes of the problem and caring enough to implement solutions. To insure his followers’ wellbeing, the leader will always seek to find the root cause of a problem that is affecting his followers. Taking the time to solve a problem (empathy) instead coming up with quick, “easy” band-aids demonstrates that the leader truly cares. It will also improve the follower’s performance, which helps the team in mission accomplishment.


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