He rightly suggests that although grit is a wonderful character to have in school and in life, it is not always indicative of leadership ability or skill. Take for example the superstar salesperson, the Olympic athlete or the solid performer in an organization. They all share an ability to “muscle” through anything, focus on the goal and achieve great things. However, it’s usually alone or worse, at the expense of others who try to help them or got in the way.
As with most things, it’s about balance. A leader who has grit will keep the company going in good times and in bad. But it isn’t the only thing that matters. What keeps a team together is empathy. As I was once asked, wouldn’t it be great if we all crossed the finish line together? That will not win the Olympic 200m sprint, but it will win in the business world.
Goleman states that without empathy, no one will follow the leader. And to make things happen inside an organization, you need a team, otherwise, you are a company of one. The emotionally intelligent leader has empathy, knows what it is and how to use it. Along with grit, this is a powerful combination.
We’ve all seen unsympathetic leaders. It’s the person who had an idea and doggedly pursued it to success regardless of the road kill along the way. It’s the highly paid hedge fund manager who is out to “win,” mostly for him or herself. For individual achievements, this works just fine. For pretty much anything else, you need a team around you who wants to follow and wants to contribute to everyone’s success. Often when companies promote the “superstar” they are dismayed when that person ends up winning, but can’t motivate a team and worse, has routine defections from team members jumping ship. They just can’t understand why everyone won’t do it “their way.” No empathy.
However, I have seen those with low empathy on the StrengthsFinder profile, actually be very good leaders. They have learned over time that in order to get things done, they need to be able to see things from another’s point-of-view. They work hard at understanding motivations so the job can get done – and they have a lot of grit to keep things on track along the way. It’s not a weakness to ask for help or be concerned about others’ feelings, it’s a strength. And when it comes to successful leadership, a lack of empathy is more deadly than a lack of grit, and you need both.