The Leader And The Physician

Have you seen the ‘Undercover Boss’ programmes on television? Though I’m not an avid fan I have watched a few. Why? Because it still fascinates me how individuals can hold senior leadership positions and still be completely dissociated from the people who make the company great.

Tearful insights that other people have challenging lives outside the business. The realisation that others also care as much about the company.

At times tough decisions have to be made at organisational, team and project levels. This does not mean we have to leave our empathy, humanity and emotional intelligence at home.

When it comes to making tough decisions, those who fall into the life-threatening category surely must be the toughest. The decisions made by a physician and other medical practitioners have far reaching consequences. The need for a degree of detachment in these scenarios can also impact on an individual’s empathy.

But is it true that when making difficult decisions you can’t afford to be empathetic? I say not as do Drs Robert Buckman, James A Tulsky and Gary Rodin. In their article ‘Empathetic responses in clinical practice: Intuition or tuition?’ for the Canadian Medical Journal they highlight several interesting points.

Empathy vs sympathy:  Sympathy involves the sharing of emotions with another. Empathy on the other hand is an understanding of another’s experience rather than a sharing of their emotions. Therefore, being more empathetic helps us adapt our communication with others to take into account what they may be feeling without becoming too emotionally involved.

Clinical empathy and patient satisfaction:  Research has shown that clinical empathy improves patient satisfaction and their willingness to follow their treatments. If this is possible in stressful medical environments just think of the positive impact being more empathetic in business can have on team members, peers and customers.

Developing the empathetic response:  Buckman and his co-authors found that it is possible to educate people in the art of empathy and also highlighted this should be complemented by continued maintenance of empathetic skills. Making empathy part of own personal development; part of our organisational and team culture, our recruitment, our customer service, our marketing help to improve our understanding of and connection with others. All of which have a positive impact on innovation, well-being, performance and productivity.

If empathy has a place in the life and death arena of the medical profession then it certainly has a place in organisational, team and project leadership. And that means genuinely caring enough to understand those who help make our teams and our companies successful.

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