Posted by: tucsonjefe | December 10, 2006

Leadership: Empathy

Some years ago I was on a hospital visit to a burn unit.  One of my church members was accompanying me, so I was a bit nonplussed when I heard a booming voice cry out, “Virgil, you old #*%.  How the %# are you.”  As it turned out, there was a fellow working there who had previously worked for me in my “before Christ” career at another hospital.  He proceeded to grab me by the arm and take me to meet his current supervisor, who he apparently felt needed a role model.  He told her, “This %# is the best #@%’n boss I ever worked for.  He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.  He never asked us to do what he wouldn’t do himself.”  His boss was polite but unimpressed.  I was embarrassed, and my church member was shocked.  Looking back, I think this tells us something about what folks want in a leader.  They want to feel that their leader has some concept of what they are going through and a compassion for their plight.  Empathy tempers inspiration with genuine compassion.  I can’t tell you how to get where you need to be if I don’t know where you are.

At the end of the last century, we had two consecutive presidents who fell on opposite sides of this axiom.  President Bush the first lost a lot of votes when he visited a grocery store and was unfamiliar with a price scanner at the checkout.  He obviously did not get there very often.  President Clinton, on the other hand, was roundly ridiculed by conservatives for proclaiming to the masses, “I feel your pain.”  Unfortunately for President Bush, people seemed to believe that the kid from an alcoholic home in Arkansas actually did empathize with their circumstances.  In my ongoing quest to define characteristics of a good leader, I am convinced that empathy is high on the list.  We are looking for an irregular, regular guy.  He understands us and loves us, but also inspires us to greater things.  He knows what it is to make a mortgage payment, have a boss he doesn’t like, or make health care decisions based on money not health.  If we know that he understands where we are, we have confidence that he will not abuse us unduly as he tries to move us to where we need to be.  Effective leaders understand and empathize with those they lead.  They know the job and they know the sacrifice they are asking.  Pastors and presidents who miss this are in for a short run.

 Scripture Reading:             2Cor 5:21  Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God. 

Somebody Said:             Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field. — Dwight D. Eisenhower, September 11, 1956 

As a pastor, I have to remember that my flock have jobs and kids and lawns and cars and bills. I must also remember that I am called to get them ready to meet Jesus and give account.  The two are not incompatible, only difficult.  Jesus did it.



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