Contradictory leadership skills

„What are the most important leadership skills?“, I challenge my team. Amongst several valid skills ‚empathy‘ and ‚resilience‘ come up. As we discuss what each one means to us, we are realizing that these two skills can become quite contradictory.

But before we look deeper into that matter, let’s understand what each skill means.

Empathy – n. the ability to imagine and understand the thoughts, perspective, and emotions of another person.


We use empathy in client and staff meetings to understand the perspective of the other party. We comprehend or even feel the emotions of the other person. In consequence, we act according to the situation in the room. This behavior costs energy. It takes effort.

Resilience – the ability of people or things to recover quickly after something unpleasant, such as shock, injury, etc.


Resilience is needed when we need to bounce back on our feet. It is the inner voice of encouragement that keeps us going despite of failure and pain. But when we experience a lot of setbacks and unpleasant moments, our heart doesn’t bounce back to the former state but rather moves to a new place. A place where the chance of getting hurt again seems to be lower.

The result can be seen in the behavior of a person. There are people who once were loud and joyful but have become the silent listener at work. Others move to a place of criticism – criticizing every idea in a meeting before they themselves could be criticized. Others become the bully at the workplace – attacking everyone and everything before they can be attacked.

But at all these places it is very hard to be empathic at the same time. Being empathic goes hand in hand with being open – and vulnerable. It is the skill that lets others feel that they matter. It will create followers and strengthen teams.

The challenge in leadership is being resilient while keeping one’s heart at a place of empathy.

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