Recently, some of my peers organized a “Leadership Workshop” for interested students to attend. We took part in a series of activities; the most meaningful one for me being “the leadership compass.” In this activity, through a self-assessment form, we learned which leadership characteristics we’re most dominant at, out of the choices of: action, vision, empathy, or analytical. By far, the category that I most related with was empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.
For the past few weeks, what I have garnered from various discussions with my classmates is that the students here are exceptionally headstrong, passionate, and eager to speak out about world issues. Many of us were at the top of our classes, exceptionally bright students, and believe that the information we have learned to propel us through life is undoubtedly right. Many of us like to focus solely on facts, because facts are known to be the basis for opinions. Thus, naturally, we like to try to convince each other that what we know is the ultimate truth. But I have also been able to discuss with people who would prefer compromise and have told me they are able to see both sides to presented issues. One of my friends told me last night that she cares to voice her opinion only when it is something that is emotional for her. It is interesting to see the divide between those who will debate anything just to feel right, and those, like me, who will only debate things they feel strongly emotionally about.
For me, understanding that I am an empathetic leader has helped me understand why I might not be the ‘ultimate debater’ type of person, but someone who cares more about emotions and feelings. I often grapple with the question, “how do we know if what we think is right?”. And time and time again, I find myself pondering, when meanwhile the muffled sounds in the distance consist of a group of people debating; trying to convince each other that their views on a certain issue are the correct views. But then I wonder, how are passions shared with others? Do you simply just search for people who share the same passions? If this is the case, then those with more passions will likely have more acquaintances. Thus, I wonder, is being able to “walk the line” and understand people’s passions but not engage with them, putting me at a disadvantage?
I’m not passionate about so many issues, but there is one that I am excessively passionate about, meaning I would share my opinion and knowledge with anyone; and that is the life of the Jewish people and the existence of the state of Israel. If I hear someone negatively discuss, or say false information about this topic, I will speak out about it in order to defend what I believe, and how I feel the existence of a peaceful Jewish state is the most important thing in the world. For the past ten years or so, I spent two hours every weekend studying Jewish culture and the Torah’s teachings, discussing with my Rabbi the definition of justice and how to exemplify it, what it means to be a good human being, etc. From this, I learned the importance of compromise and seeing both sides of every issue.
What is wrong with wanting to fit in to society and appreciate the positive sides of life without questioning everything? Are people like me, who are less headstrong and able to see both sides of an issue, at a disadvantage in life? Are we not assertive enough because we are often looking out for others, and trying to harbor others’ feelings to ensure that everyone feels content? When it comes to competitions and peer selection, being an empathetic leader has its drawbacks, as people don’t often think of you as the person to get the job done as quickly and effectively as someone else, who is possibly more in the “action” category of a leader, or maybe overall a more charismatic person, or is more passionate about selected issues.
Being an empathetic leader is difficult, especially when you end up battling against someone who has more visions, or takes action quicker. Although at the present moment it feels like I may need to re-evaluate my leadership skills, the important thing is what matters in the end. A recent study was done proving that leaders in the workplace, such as CEOs and Senior Executives, lack emotional intelligence. The Managers and Supervisors exhibited a much higher emotional intelligence overall. But the most important fact to garner from this study is this: those considered the top performers in each category, from individual contributor to CEO, had the highest emotional intelligence scores. That’s to say, in the workplace it is extremely important to have a high emotional intelligence no matter what your position is, and understand others.
(The study can be accessed here:
As part of the inaugural class of EMIS, I am often told that I will be a “world leader,” but I think that definition is too vague. If being a world leader consists of being loud, prominent and making a global impact, than it is much different than leading by example or making even a small difference. Why must the way we talk about “leaders” be constructed around the ideals of grandiosity and world changing? For me, even changing or improving one person’s life would be the most gratifying thing. I came to EMIS because peace and the well-being of others are of great importance to me, and if we are constantly unable to agree on meager issues, how can we expect to achieve peace, especially in an area so volatile and pluralistic like the Middle East?
Written by Hannah Cook
Edited by Tom Sagiv