The Leadership Playbook: Too Direct or Too Empathetic

Leaders need to make effective choices about their approach when they interact with the people they lead. The measure of a leader is taken by how well the leader can match the approach to the situation.

Too Self-Directed

Some leaders believe that they need to be very self-directed to be effective. Self-directed can come across as self-oriented, selfish, and oblivious to what the other person needs or the constraints with which they are struggling. I’ve met some leaders who pride themselves on their self-directed approach. And sometimes it is exactly the right approach. This is especially true when the leader is protecting the culture they’ve built, or when they are dealing with a legal or moral issue. There are some issues that are non-negotiable.

But unless you have the relationship that allows for self-directed communication, every time you are self-directed when it is unnecessary takes a little something out of your moral leadership. When you are unnecessarily direct and short with people–even if it’s because you are short on time and under pressure–you are making a withdraw from your relationship.

If you’ve ever seen a coach on the sideline during a game, you’ve no doubt seen them grab a player and light them up when they are trying to make a point, rev them up, or change their state. If your approach is always high negative energy, then when you really need to call on that approach, it won’t mean anything. You will have worn out the approach.

Too Empathetic

Other leaders believe that they always need to be patient and empathetic. There is no doubt that as a default approach, this is a pretty good choice. But it isn’t always the right approach. Sometimes, to make your point felt, you need to be impatient and demanding. Serious issues may need a serious, unrelenting response.

Empathy and patience can sometime be the wrong response. Being empathetic at the wrong time can cause people to believe that a serious issue isn’t a big deal. It can lead people to believe that they aren’t really accountable for change when they have a serious behavioral issue or when they aren’t producing results. But worst of all, when it is your only approach, you are a pushover, and you can just as easily lose your moral authority.

Some people and some situations call for patience and empathy. Some call for coaching and an approach that fosters learning. Sometimes you need to explain yourself carefully. But other people and situations call for a more self-directed approach.

A great leader will have a range of approaches they can use for different people in different situations. All of those approaches must include some consideration of the person and the relationship, lest your approach subtract from your moral authority.

Filed under: Sales 3.0, The Leadership Playbook

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