Be an em­pa­thetic leader

A moral leader is a lis­tener, who em­pathises with oth­ers, seeks con­sen­sus, and is com­mit­ted to the growth of peo­ple

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - Guide - - FRONT PAGE - Yourviews@ shine. com The au­thor is di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of Cape Town’s Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness

Wal­ter Baets

Both an­i­mals and hu­mans are in­her­ently em­pa­thetic, sci­en­tific re­search shows — but the break­down of com­mu­ni­ties leads to in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic, of­ten un­eth­i­cal lead­er­ship. To cre­ate the con­di­tions for com­mu­ni­ties to thrive, a re­turn to em­pa­thetic lead­er­ship based on self- knowl­edge, the dig­nity of dif­fer­ence,

and stew­ard­ship of cre­ation is needed.

A rat will give up a choco­late treat to help an­other rat es­cape a trap.

This ex­tra­or­di­nary dis­cov­ery, ob­served by Univer­sity of Chicago (US) neu­ro­sci­en­tists, and pub­lished in the jour­nal Sci­ence, emerged dur­ing the lat­est ex­plo­ration into in­her­ent moral­ity. And the find­ings sug­gest that — con­trary to the writ­ings of count­less authors and philoso­phers — em­pa­thy is nat­u­ral in both an­i­mals and hu­mans.

Frans de Waal, lead­ing bi­ol­o­gist and pri­mate be­hav­iour spe­cial­ist at Emory Univer­sity in At­lanta, US, agrees that “hu­mans have a lot of pro-so­cial ten­den­cies” and that the ca­pac­ity for com­pas­sion is nat­u­ral.

De Waal’s re­search shows that, in fact, an­i­mals of all kinds lean to­wards “rec­i­proc­ity, fair­ness, em­pa­thy and con­so­la­tion” and that this em­pa­thy un­der­pins hu­man moral­ity. We are born with the in­stinct to co- op­er­ate with oth­ers.

How dif­fi­cult is it?

The trou­ble mod­ern life­styles


is, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for us to re­main em­pa­thetic.

Iso­la­tion and over­pop­u­la­tion can dam­age nat­u­ral em­pa­thy. Ur­ban­i­sa­tion, par­tic­u­larly in de­vel­op­ing economies, pro­duces both these con­di­tions. Frag­mented so­ci­eties and the break­down of fam­ily struc­tures chal­lenge hu­mans’ nat­u­ral moral ten­den­cies and leave them more soli­tary, ag­gres­sive and com­pet­i­tive — and prone to cor­rup­tion.

The re­sult is lead­er­ship lack­ing in moral strength and com­pas­sion for the pop­u­la­tion. In the community set­ting, lead­er­ship should cen­tre on ser­vice to oth­ers rather than the pur­suit of per­sonal power.

De Waal ar­gues that while mod­ern ur­ban cul­tures are de­stroy­ing the “nat­u­ral” bent to­wards em­pa­thy, con­nec­tion and moral­ity in hu­mans, other cul­tures ap­pear to sup­port it. Many African cul­tures, for ex­am­ple, have long ad­vo­cated the phi­los­o­phy of ‘ubuntu’: that one ex­ists through one’s re­la­tion to oth­ers.

One of the foci of moral lead­ers to­day should be on build­ing con­nec­tions be­tween peo­ple, which will au­to­mat­i­cally fa­cil­i­tate a more moral so­ci­ety, says Arch­bishop Thabo Magoba, head of the Angli­can Church in South Africa, in an ad­dress at the Univer­sity of Cape Town’s Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness.

“Do we sit by while cor­rup­tion grows, nepo­tism flour­ishes, free­dom di­min­ishes, and in­equal­ity deep­ens; and be happy, heed­less, com­plicit, while nar­row self- in­ter­est, cal­lous self­ish­ness, and the pur­suit of per­sonal gain, of power, sta­tus, and ma­te­rial wealth, re­gard­less of the con­se­quences for other peo­ple or our planet, be­come the norm?” he said. “Do we turn a blind eye as cut­ting cor­ners, drop­ping stan­dards, sharp prac­tices, be­come the or­der of the day?

What is lead­er­ship?

“Lead­er­ship is about re­spon­si­bil­ity, it is a re­cip­ro­cal process that en­tails the leader, the led and the con­text. It is a trans­ac­tional and trans­for­ma­tional re­la­tion­ship; a col­lec­tive process of adap­tive goal seek­ing. Lead­er­ship, above all, is for the well-be­ing and the flour­ish­ing of in­di­vid­u­als and so­ci­ety as one en­deav­ours to change the world. It is about ubuntu,” he said.

So what does this spir­i­tual stew­ard­ship — and re­turn to em­pa­thetic lead­er­ship — en­tail? It should be based on three ba­sic val­ues, self-knowl­edge, the dig­nity of dif­fer­ence, and stew­ard­ship of cre­ation.

Self- knowl­edge en­sures a re­turn to one’s most ba­sic na­ture, as it in­volves know­ing one’s lim­its, one’s emo­tions, and be­ing in touch with the val­ues you live by. “One must have per­sonal val­ues, prin­ci­ples that guide one’s ac­tions and de­ci­sion mak­ing,” said Magoba. “It also re­quires that one re­views or re­flects daily on one’s de­ci­sions made and ac­tions taken.”

The dig­nity of dif­fer­ence, too, can be an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the true na­ture of things and peo­ple, with­out the in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic drive to shape them to one’s own model. Es­sen­tially, it is the cel­e­bra­tion of diver­sity: ac­cept­ing oth­ers ex­actly as they are. “Very of­ten we want to knock peo­ple into a box or we say the per­fect can­di­date for the job has to tick all these blocks,” said Magoba. “This is a very nar­row view; a tech­no­cratic view. We should cel­e­brate our dif­fer­ences.”

Stew­ard­ship of cre­ation is tak­ing se­ri­ously the planet and its re­sources, re­spect­ing “this world as cre­ated by God.” Tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the planet as a whole, ar­gued Magoba, would au­to­mat­i­cally grow a sense of community.

Magoba em­pha­sised eight main lead­er­ship prin­ci­ples needed to achieve this: self mas­tery, men­tor­ing oth­ers, valu­ing diver­sity, shar­ing vi­sion, tak­ing risks and ex­per­i­ment­ing, be­ing both vul­ner­a­ble and ma­ture, de­liv­er­ing re­sults, and al­ways rais­ing aware­ness. But most im­por­tantly, he said, a moral leader is a lis­tener, who em­pathises with oth­ers, seeks con­sen­sus, and is “com­mit­ted to the growth of peo­ple and the build­ing of com­mu­ni­ties as well as is com­mit­ted to the heal­ing of the soul of this world.”

So, it seems, peo­ple are in­her­ently moral, it’s just a mat­ter of shap­ing our en­vi­ron­ment to re­tain so­cial struc­tures and fos­ter­ing lead­ers who lead al­tru­is­ti­cally and with em­pa­thy for the greater good.

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