As a learning consultant for over two decades, I have worked with managers and leaders, helping their teams develop relevant behavioural and functional competencies.

During this journey, I have engaged with many senior persons, those who were business heads, heads of departments and functions, and managing large teams. Working with such leaders, helped me evaluate and understand different leadership traits.

Based on my educated guess after analysing their behaviours, I can say that only a handful of these leaders were empathetic. Empathy as we all know is an inevitable trait of a leader. It is the ability of the leader to connect with others, on a human level and see beyond one’s circumstances which is key to Emotional Intelligence.

Daniel Goleman, in his books on Emotional Intelligence (EI), has emphasized the importance of leaders being empathetic, as a critical skill for a good leader. This essential skill however is not possessed by many leaders.

Is leadership about controlling people?  

We all know the answer to this question, and sadly, this is what most people in higher positions do; control people. Good leadership is all about developing people. A so-called leader may use the power of one’s position to control people, but a true leader uses the power of empathy and knowledge to develop people. 

The adage of putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes may hold good for a definition, but it may not cut ice when it comes to demonstrating empathy. Empathy, in action, is being vocal and communicating the identified feelings of others. 

Who is not an empathetic leader?

You will find many non-empathetic leaders in higher positions across various functions, who continue to frustrate their team members and customers due to their behaviours.

Here is an effort to categorize non-empathetic leaders based on their actions and behaviours. I am sure you would relate and identify with some of them, those whom you may have come across in your career.

Disclaimer; “All leaders and events in this blog are non-fictional and are based on incidents from personal experiences. Any similarity to a living or dead person may be true and warrants behavioural change.”

The Know-it-alls

There is always a person of this kind found in all teams. When leaders are the know-it-all type, they become over-involved and display their shallow knowledge in all the discussion points. The know-it-all leaders love to listen to their own voices and hence are bad listeners.   Listening is a big part of being empathetic.

They sometimes go into a repetitive mode saying the same things again and again annoying their team members.

One size fits all; is what they follow. Be it any scenario, the know-it-all would come up with their concept and would try and fit it into the scenario.

I once had to deal with a leader who always said, “Opinions are the lowest form of knowledge.” When opinions came from the top management, then conformity bias sets in, and would immediately get into an agreement. When the same opinion came from the junior employees, it was discounted or discarded by quoting his favourite phrase. 

The Belittlers

Appreciations are scarce from these leaders. The Belittlers enjoy overly criticizing and putting their team members down, even if they do exemplary work.

They fail to realize that genuine appreciation is the best way to motivate their team.

Even if one writes good emails or delivers excellent presentations, it is trivialized as just ‘English’. These managers do not invest their time in coaching their team members but love to swoop in when a mistake is committed, only to blame. How easy is that?

The Control-Freaks

Some senior executives as leaders, do not empower their team managers.

The control freaks micromanage every task of the various teams under them and do not allow the respective managers to make decisions for their teams. They want to have the last word in every discussion and decision. This kind of behaviour discourages the managers and destroys the morale of the team. 

The Control-Freak leaders love to hold on to the harness of every individual of the various teams. Doing so, they fail to realize that the larger team pulling the organization, is being pulled in all directions instead of moving towards a shared vision or a goal.

Organizations need to build leaders who understand that true power lies in empowering teams and not just managing them.

The Conceited Boss

Team members who work under a conceited boss, don’t have a say, in any topic discussed.

Even if meetings are conducted to brainstorm, all ideas from team members might be shot down. Then the boss comes up with his own and it becomes the final one to be implemented. Most decisions made by this kind of boss are ego driven and self-opinionated.

It doesn’t matter whether the team members are experienced, experts or novices, the boss has the final say, and is closed to suggestions and opinions from the rest of the team.

The conceited boss may sometimes be passively aggressive and their aggression may not be very conspicuous but is usually expressed indirectly.  

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The Repercussions

Non-empathetic leaders drive away talents and are detrimental to the organization. They bring down the morale of the team making them dysfunctional.

An employee might know well that it’s not possible to choose a boss, just like how one cannot choose their parents.  Hence, employees working with non-empathetic leaders would carry on work with despise. They parallelly will look out for better employment elsewhere for a quiet quitting.

How many of you wonder how these leaders reach the top with this non-empathetic behaviour and display of negative attitude?

Most of the time, people grow in an organization based on tenure and individual performance and they become leaders by virtue of their title. Some get on board using relationships and are not evaluated on relevant skills.

So, organizations should relook at the process of hiring and promoting leaders especially when people management skills are of utmost importance. They also need to invest in training their leaders in Emotional Intelligence to curtail attrition and improve engagement. In the current times, it becomes imperative as these leaders manage more millennials than Gen X as team members.

Question to ponder: Does your organization have a robust leadership development plan? Do they invest in training the leaders on Emotional Intelligence?


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3 Comments

Princely · October 28, 2022 at 1:05 pm

One of the amazing write up’s that i have read on leadership styles . completely echoing it . I wish in future when i get a chance to lead a team i would be conscioulsy keeping these styles in mind. Thanks George for sharing this article

Daniel Vasanth A · October 28, 2022 at 4:32 pm

Nice one…you nailed it….

Deepa Aravindh · October 28, 2022 at 6:55 pm

Sure that everyone would have come across atleast one kind of non-emphatetic leader in their career.
Nicely written ??

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