Part 3: Just the right amount of connection

In our previous blog articles on the role of emotional connection in great leadership, we shared the research proving its importance, and we helped define more accurately what we mean by empathy by providing a continuum of emotional connection.

I signed off the last article stating that the amount of empathy you need to be able to muster is similar to what Goldilocks is looking for in the famous fairy tale. You don’t want to have too little or too much – you want just the right amount.

Many leaders struggle to find that Goldilocks zone. In our research – as reported in the book Xtraordinary: The Art and Science of Remarkable Leadership – we identified three ordinary patterns of leadership representing around 70% of leaders, which operate outside the Goldilocks zone.

  1. The Control pattern pays little attention to others’ emotions, and when it does the response is just as likely to involve telling others why they are wrong to feel a particular way.

  2. The Relate pattern pays too much attention to others’ emotions, usually at the expense of getting things done or holding people accountable for responding to their own challenges.

  3. The Protect pattern shows little or no response to others’ emotional states, creating a perception of uncaring apathy or even disdain.

There is however, a more extraordinary pattern of leadership that operates within the Goldilocks zone. This Catalyst pattern is demonstrated by less than 30% of leaders. If you are a leader operating within this zone, you’re showing enough empathy to show others that they matter and that you care, at the same time as maintaining some objectivity about the causes of their emotional states.

As a Catalyst leader, you’re not so emotionally fused to others that you lose the ability to think objectively and act independently. At the same time, you can be capable of showing genuine compassion for others’ experiences – but you’re not always compelled to rescue them from the negative experience.

The Catalyst leader knows that sometimes people need to find their own way out of the mess, building competence and confidence in thems