Demanding and Empathetic: A Balancing Act of Leadership Characteristics (Part 3)

May 12, 2009 -- Sal Silvester

In my two previous posts, I mentioned that leadership often requires the ability to balance sometimes opposing characteristics. In Part 1, I touched on the balance of Courage with Humility. In Part 2, I talked about the balance of Strength and Vulnerability.

The third set of characteristics that I believe is required of a successful leader is the balance of being Demanding with being Empathetic.

As a word, demanding means requiring or claiming more than is generally felt by others to be due. People respond as they are expected to respond, and if you expect only the best from your people, then they will respond in kind. In terms of leadership, demanding means having high standards and expecting the best from your people, especially when they resist change. More importantly, being demanding means that leaders hold their people accountable to agreed upon standards, goals, and values. This is incredibly difficult for many leaders, especially those who fear conflict. More on that in later posts.

On the flip side, leaders also have to be empathetic. As a word, empathy means the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. (who writes these definitions?) In terms of leadership, empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes – to understand their unique challenges, strengths, and talents they bring to the team. Then to take those challenges, strengths, and talents and create an environment that is motivating to each person as an individual. A “one size fits all” approach to leadership doesn’t work. Leaders must have empathy.

How do you balance being demanding and empathetic in your leadership roles?