Having Empathy and Compassion: Tips for Military Leaders

In today’s post I want to talk to you about having empathy and compassion with the people you lead and work with.  Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”  To define it in my own words, I think of it as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.

As a military leader, you are in the PEOPLE business, whether you realize it or not.  You get paid to get things done through other people, not do to everything yourself.

Historically speaking, the military is a dictatorship.  There is a rank structure and firm set of rules in place for a reason.  It promotes good order, respect, and mission accomplishment.  In battle, discipline is very important.  Without a high level of discipline units will fall apart.

While I am a big fan of being professional, following rules, and being disciplined, I also realize that leading others is art form.  Yes, your followers will do what you command of them, as long as it is legal and moral.  Yes, your followers will respect your rank.

But if you want people to become loyal, give you 100%, and respect YOU as their leader, you have to be empathetic and show some compassion.  That means that you have to be able to put yourself in their shoes from time to time.

It means that you have to take care of your people.  You have to remember what it was like to be where they are at right now.  It means you can’t forget where you came from.  It means you aren’t too judgmental.  You don’t think that you are perfect or walk on water. You don’t think that you are better than anyone else.

Now, I’m not telling you to be a softie and to try and get everyone to like you!  I’m not telling you to bend the rules and spend all of your time trying to “win” your people over.

What I am telling you is that you need to have some compassion for the people you lead.  Yes, they are all Soldiers.  But, they are all people as well.  You have to realize that no one is perfect.

It would be in your best interest to learn what you can about each person that you lead.  It would be in your best interest to know their strengths and weaknesses.  It would be in your best interest to find out what motivates them.  It would be in your best interest to know their goals, hope and dreams.

And when things go wrong, have some compassion, rather than just leading with an iron fist.  Remember, that everyone makes mistakes and will let you down at some point or another.

This doesn’t mean you have to throw out the standards or just let people off the hook.  It just means that whenever you make a decision that affects someone else, at least take a moment or two and put yourself in their shoes.  Ask yourself “what would I have done if I was them and in the same situation?”

When your team knows you have compassion and empathy they will respect you that much more.  They know you might have to make decisions that negatively affect them, but if they know you value them as human beings, not just Soldiers or robots, they will have tremendous respect for you.

What are your thoughts?  What do you think about empathy and compassion?  Leave a comment below to let me know what you think.  I look forward to hearing from you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)
Publisher, Part-Time-Commander.com
Email: mrchuckholmes@gmail.com

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2 thoughts on “Having Empathy and Compassion: Tips for Military Leaders”

  1. Greg Boudonck

    There are many leaders who do not know what the word empathy means. For the biggest part, these leaders are hated and despised. Apart from their military job, many of their coworkers and those underneath them will have nothing to do with them. It is sad, because they end up living a very lonely life and are not really remembered after their death.

    A true leader understands empathy to its deepest point. As you said, they remember where they came from, and the mistakes they made.

    This was an excellent post that I hope all future leaders will read and heed. Thank you sir.

    1. Well-said Greg. Nobody likes a bully in the workplace, but some leaders think they earn respect by mistreating subordinates. The thing is, nobody wants to follow a leader like that. Sure, subordinates will obey because they have to, but don’t expect anyone to go the extra mile for you. People grow and learn, and strong leaders help them get better at their jobs and learn from mistakes.

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