Careers

How EQ Can Improve Your Career Impact


Can you run out of empathy? According to Psychology Today, individuals facing consistent trauma (in other words: people living through the pandemic) can find themselves facing “compassion fatigue”. Worn out and running on empty, many are feeling the effects of extensive burnout. That short fuse shows up in a lack of consideration for others. While many regard empathy as a soft skill, true leaders see the power inside of deeper understanding – and deeply value the ability to continually access empathy, now more than ever. Because, at its core, empathy is about understanding: being able to see the world from another person’s viewpoint. Without that ability, teams break down. Leaders lose respect. Individuals are not recognized, and potentials go unrealized. Especially now, as the pandemic pushes into its 11th month, empathy is in short supply. Here’s how to access a deeper understanding around empathy, and access EQ (emotional intelligence) during a time when your organization needs it most.

Perhaps the easiest way to define empathy is to discuss what it is not: empathy is not ego. In other words, empathy is not a focus on yourself, your goals, your identity and your ambitions. It’s a focus on what others are experiencing. Ryan Holiday, in his book, Ego is the Enemy, describes ego as, “Arrogance. Self-centered ambition…The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility – that’s ego. It’s the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent.” Empathy looks not at the self, but at the circumstances, challenges and considerations of others. For leaders managing remote teams, or aspiring leaders participating on one: that means seeing your team in a new way.

  1. Empathy is not Sympathy: seeing other’s circumstances and really walking a mile in their shoes isn’t about feeling sorry for someone. Sympathy has its place, but empathy is about seeing things as they are for another person, without getting lost in your own feelings. A manager, filled with sympathy for an underperforming employee, may be inclined to cut corners or make excuses to try and assist – when what’s really needed is something different. Because acting out of sympathy isn’t the whole picture: if you’re lost in your own emotions, how can you help others to work through theirs? Empathy means seeing and understanding the feelings of another; emotional intelligence helps you to manage your moods in the midst of that recognition. Leaders help others to rise above their feelings, to take action – but they don’t deny that those feelings exist. The emphasis on action comes from a place of understanding: a perspective that steps outside of your own goals, needs and ego, and sees the capabilities inside of your team.
  2. Cognitive Compassion is a Vital Leadership Skill: empathy is sometimes described as “feeling with” someone. As a coach to business leaders, I’m always feeling with my clients – but I work hard not to get lost inside their world. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is needed to help balance what others are seeing with what needs to be seen next. Cognitive Compassion is another way of describing emotional intelligence: technically, sensing another person’s emotional state without allowing it to effect your own. The capacity to be aware of emotions – and express your own in a way that’s measured, useful and appropriate – is central to leadership success. Harvard Business Review cites 12 aspects of EQ, including self-management and social awareness. But what’s the career impact of that awareness?
  3. Emotional Intelligence is Career Fuel: understanding the emotional state of others is vital to the success of any leader. And that’s not just because EQ and empathy are scarce right now. People need leaders who can say, “I see you” and mean it. Maybe even more importantly, “I feel you.” Acknowledging that this pandemic has taken something from all of us is a powerful step towards unity – and towards finding new results. Because, if you can’t see where your team is right now, how can you get them where you need them to go? Every journey begins at the same place: it always starts at now. Yes, we plan and strategize but people can only move from where they are now. Seeing where people are is vital to your impact – and to your career. That understanding might be the most intelligent thing you can discover for your career, in these troubled times.

Empathy and understanding points in the direction of service. As I was working with a coaching client recently, an engineer at a famous-name technology company, he wondered how he could influence his boss and his peers in a deeper way. Leadership without authority (or with it) always comes from a place of service. How can you understand how to serve, without an understanding of the emotional state of the people around you? And if that state is a bit of a black box, remember the lesson from the greatest servers in the world. I’m talking about the servers in a high-end restaurant: remember when we used to dine indoors?

The tragedy of this pandemic (one among many) is that these great servers are, in many cases, out of work. But remembering indoor dining, at a top-tier restaurant, reminds us of what emotionally-intelligent service really looks like – and how empathy is the key to safety, intelligent choices and new results.

Think about a waiter at a high end restaurant, who has already asked, “Does anyone here have any food allergies?” before sharing the specials for the evening. One patron, who happens to have a nut allergy, listens closely and then orders the Halibut. (You know why? Just for the halibut.)

The halibut is encrusted in almonds (nuts) and so the waiter says, “I’ve got to stop you right there. With all due respect, the halibut is excellent, but there are almonds in the recipe.”

The patron is grateful, and the server’s action isn’t an intrusion – it reminds him that this is a high-end restaurant. It’s not a rude interruption – it’s service at the highest level. The waiter isn’t lost in regret over the nut allergy – the waiter just responds in the best possible way. Just as a waiter doesn’t want a patron to get sick or have an allergic reaction, the true leader is always watching out for ways to serve…to make things easier…to interrupt from a place of powerful guidance. From a place of empathy. And emotional intelligence.

Empathetic leaders help people to win in ways that they may not have discovered just yet. It’s time to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and our circumstances. It’s time to acknowledge where we are, and make some smart choices about moving forward.

Can you feel that?



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