Avoid the Empathy Trap

  • Fact: The 80-20 rule is a well-researched phenomenon that applies across a significant number of areas that claim the time, attention and energy of leaders. One widely reported statistic is that leaders routinely spend 80% of their time dealing with “problem people” (who are almost always among the lowest performing members of the organization) and only 20% on their high-performers. The Appreciative Inquiry movement has amassed an impressive body of research indicating that what an organization focuses on tends to grow larger; what it neglects, tends to shrink. This goes a long way toward explaining why a leader who is constantly spending valuable time on the “problem people” rarely has much of the creative energy needed to foster a healthy corporate culture.
  • Action: Chapter 8 of our recent book, Resilient Leadership 2.0, is entitled “Avoid the Empathy Trap” and suggests a better way of exercising leadership—a way that can help a leader avoid time wasted offering comfort when what is most needed is challenge. If the 80-20 rule is something that rings true for you, read Chapter 8 (pp. 131-46) and determine which of the Core Practices suggested there will most help you escape the empathy trap.

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