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Creating Successful Leaders

Last week I talked about the importance of community, tracing it all the way back to our first ancestors. This week I’d like to follow up on the topic and focus in particular on how empathy is the “glue” that binds all successful communities together.

Empathy itself is great, but it is empathetic action that makes all the difference. A team of psychologists and researchers recently came out with a book titled, “The Compassion Instinct.” Among many other interesting insights, they lay out some active steps to making a community truly grow:

1. Plug in! 

“People who give to others give healthier, happier lives to themselves.”

Service is key to any successful community. Join a cause you believe in, volunteer at a food shelter or be a mentor to young people. Don’t just send checks in the mail to a charity. You need to actually get out and get your hands dirty in order to cultivate strong bonds between other people. Community is based on this type of service, and you will feel more alive when you take part in other people’s lives in your neighborhood, your church and your workplace. And, speaking of workplaces…

2. Break the rule of leaving your personal problems out of the workplace.

Many workers assume that they are supposed to check their personal problems at the door when they enter the office.” 

The book mentions how employer-employee relations have steadily declined since the 1980s due to increased globalization and competition between companies, which led to more lay-offs across the board. Thus, it’s common to be suspicious and distrustful of your boss nowadays, and you certainly don’t want to bring your own baggage into the office, lest you want to risk appearing unprofessional.

However, the research shows that companies do better when their employees feel connected, cared for and appreciated. Therefore, it is not only healthy for you to become close with your co-workers, it also will make a difference in productivity and innovation. The challenge is the risk you take by attempting to create community at work: for it to be successful, you must let your guard down. Which leads to the final point…

3. Trust in others!

“Trust is an intrinsic part of human nature…most simply defined as the expectation that other people’s future actions will safeguard our interests.”

It’s easy to see why trust has declined in the country for some time now. We are skeptical of politics, companies, advertisements, banks, and even our neighbors. And for good reason, I might add. How many Watergate-type scandals, corporate fraud news headlines and stories of mild-mannered folks becoming violent are we expected to endure and still put our faith in others?

Yet the solution to these problems, horrible and scary as they are, is not to shield ourselves even more. Quite the opposite, actually. We need to put faith in our peers enthusiastically, not reluctantly. We won’t think they’ll pull through, we’ll expect them to! Trust is the one ingredient above all others that enables us to thrive in our communities. And it starts at a person-to-person level.

Keltner, Dacher, Marsh, Jason and Jeremy Adam Smith, eds., The Compassion Instinct (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2010)



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