I do not feel your pain. In fact, I do not want to feel your pain. What is more, I think feeling your pain is actually a psychological problem.
Before you start thinking, here goes Kless off the deep end again, let me explain.
Despite the fact that the two words are used interchangeably, empathy and sympathy do not mean the same thing. Empathy means to experience the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself. Sympathy means to understand the outlook or emotions of another being. There is a big difference.
Great leaders (and consultants) exhibit sympathy, not empathy. Empathy implies that the leader would share in the anxiety of the follower. This would hamper the ability of the leader to lead and therefore not be in alignment with great leadership.
Edwin Friedman in his masterpiece, A Failure of Nerve, says of empathy, “…It has become a power tool in the hands of the weak to sabotage the strong. It serves as a rationalization for the inability of those in helping positions to develop self-control and not enable or interfere. The focus on empathy rather than responsibility lessens the potential for survival of both leaders and followers.”
Leaders need to be self-differentiated. They need to exhibit a strong sense of self. They need to be autonomous, independent, individualistic, and, yes, sympathetic. They need to understand the feelings of their followers, but not to experience them.
Me, sympathetic? Hell YES!