EMPATHY: AN ESSENTIAL SURVIVAL SKILL FOR LEADERS

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  Empathy is also a necessary survival skill for leaders.

(Photo by Bryan Bope)

My mentor Danny Twardowski, currently the Superintendent of Waller Independent School District in Texas, would often tell me the following whenever I was wrestling over a complex decision or how to respond to a difficult issue:

As a principal, remember you have the power to help people or to hurt people.

Leaders have the authority to help people or hurt people.  Every day a leader can either remove obstacles or create them for their employees.  No well-meaning leader intentionally piles up obstacles but what about unintentionally?  How does a leader understand the impact of the decisions they make on their staff?  How do they understand the challenges and aspirations of those they lead? This deep level of understanding is impossible without empathy.

ACTIVELY OR PASSIVELY VISIBLE?

Visibility is about more than the principal’s location in the building.  Instead principals must move beyond passive visibility and actively engage their students and staff to build necessary relationships.

 (picture credit: Michael Brooking via Flickr)

In a recent article for Education Week, Peter DeWitt reminds principals that the idea that principals simply be visible in their schools is not enough:

They need to create authentic relationships with students. What Quaglia and Corso write about are not unreachable. Serving food to different grade levels, welcoming students off the bus, having dialogue with them in the hallway instead of asking them “Where are you supposed to be” in an authoritarian way can be easily done.

Principals have a real opportunity every single day to create the same kind of relationships with students that teachers do. The fortunate thing about being a principal is that they can foster those relationships over a number of years as students grow up through grade to grade. Through those moments students will learn that they truly do have a voice

Principals must move beyond “patrolling the building”  even beyond “checking up on classrooms” and instead actively engage the students and staff throughout the campus.  Intentionally starting conversations with reluctant students or providing a listening ear to staff will have a cumulative positive effect on campus culture.

What is RAVE?

RAVE is a pathway of thinking about your role as a leader. The four components of Rave are Responsiveness, Accessibility, Visibility, and Empathy. Leaders who utilize RAVE will be more effective at building professional relationships and developing belief and buy-in for their ideas and initiatives.

(To learn more about RAVE)