Can We Teach Empathy?
By Rumeet BillanApril 30, 2012
As an educator of a leadership course, I often find myself reflecting on this question.
Empathy seeks shared meaning. By demonstrating empathy, we attempt to emotionally involve ourselves in another’s experience. However, using another’s reference points in an attempt to understand their perspective can be a difficult task – significantly so if we have not participated in the experience firsthand.
Â So what do we do?
Empathetic leadership encourages us to think beyond the traditional notions of leaders and their followers, in order to promote understanding, empowerment, and inclusivity.
Three components to consider when exploring empathetic leadership include; understanding oneself (making meaning out of our experiences and having an awareness of our preferences, biases, and assumptions), understanding others (appreciating diversity and recognition that perspectives vary depending on personalized experiences), and understanding the environment (consideration of the context and awareness of internal and external influences). It is the interplay between these three elements that allow leaders to include the dimension of empathy in their personalized style and approach to leadership.
I would suggest that empathy, like leadership, is not something that is taught. It is, however, something that can be learned through reflection, intentional exposure to different experiences, and being aware of our circumstances. By demonstrating empathetic leadership we can find the shared meaning that we seek.
Title: Social Entrepreneur & Educator
Rumeet is the President of Jobs in Education, an employment job board bringing together employers and job seekers within the K-12 education sector. She is completing a PhD in Higher Education at the University of Toronto alongside a collaborative doctoral program with The Munk School of Global Affairs in The Dynamics of Global Change. She has worked for Youth Net Peel promoting youth wellness for over ten years. Additionally, Rumeet is teaching a course on Leadership and introduced a new course on Social Entrepreneurship at the Humber Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning in Toronto.
Over the past seven years, Rumeet has contributed to school building initiatives in Africa and South America. In 2010, her vision for enabling education led to the creation, development, and implementation of The Toor Centre for Teacher Education in the rural community of Nzeveni, Kenya. At the age of 25 and again at the age of 28, Rumeet received the honour of being named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women by the Women’s Executive Network. In 2012, she was one of five honourees at the Sikh Centennial Foundation for her work in education.
Rumeet has served on the President’s Advisory Committee at the University of Toronto and on the Academic Planning Committee at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM). Additionally, at UTM, she served on the Teaching Excellence Awards Committee and Research Excellence Awards Committee. She was selected to represent Canada at the 6th Annual UNESCO International Leadership Programme: A Global Intergenerational Forum and was a facilitator for the European Regional Forum in Italy. Rumeet was the Canadian Ambassador for the 1GOAL: Education for All campaign with FIFA World Cup promoting the right of every child to have access to primary education.
Rumeet continues to focus on integrating her business and doctoral studies with her passion for creating change through education. Contact email@example.com to learn more.