Have you suffered pain and adversity? Are you able to empathize with others? Do you allow yourself to show some vulnerability? If so, you may have the makings of a great leader. Some of the finest leaders have suffered adversity which created and instilled a sense of empathy for others and a vulnerability that inspired people. Doris Kearns Goodwin discussed traits of great leaders at the Empower 2019 conference. She discussed how great leaders had the ability to grow through adversity. They demonstrated empathy for others and vulnerability.
Personally, I admire leaders who listen. I admire leaders who consider the thoughts and ideas of others. I admire leaders that admit they do not have all the answers. I admire a leader that is strong and caring. Most of us want leaders who are strong enough to withstand all that the world throws at them, but vulnerable enough to show that they are human. They are, after all, one of us. They know what it means to live in this world and to experience all the ups and downs, the failures and the victories, the struggles and the joys of life.
Showing empathy for others is very important for great leaders. They carry out their mission, whatever that may be. Yet every step of the way they show how deeply they care for their people, and they create a mission that is in the best interest of the ones they lead.
I listened intently as Doris Kearns Goodwin discussed Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. It was fascinating to listen to the adversities of each – their struggles and pains. It was interesting how vulnerabilities created in each of them a sense of empathy for others. I began to think about the greatest leader of all time – Jesus. I thought about how Jesus grew through adversity – how He demonstrated vulnerability and empathy.
We often think that strong leaders have great emotional strength and a strong will; they do not seem to doubt themselves. If we look closely at some of the world’s greatest leaders, we learn of their struggles and their inner battles. Even our perfect Jesus experienced emotional pain. The garden of Gethsemane is one place where we see Jesus dealing with his own emotions and the mission of taking on the sins of mankind. “They went to a place called Gethsemane… he (Jesus) began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death’…(Mark 14:32-34) Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:35-36) Jesus suffered much on the way to great victory.
True leaders turn their adversity into growth. They use adversity to mold their mission and empathy for people. Great leaders know they are not perfect. They can identify with those they lead.
Teaching about adversity, empathy, and vulnerability is important in the classroom. We help children understand that adversity can help one grow – no one is perfect – we all fail – we all have problems and shortcomings – we show children ways to deal with troubles; we help them use their vulnerabilities to connect with others – we find ways to develop empathy – we show how empathy brings understanding which can build a mission. We introduce people that experienced adversity, were vulnerable, who showed empathy for others and went on to make a difference in our world. We help them understand that even those that have gone through the greatest hurts can become the greatest leaders. Be a leader that understands adversity, vulnerability, and shows empathy!