The Decline of Empathy and Rise of Self-Aggrandizing

It’s not a word I use if at all, but when I contemplate the spectacular collapse of people’s careers over comments, it really just fits. Self-Aggrandizing as defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary is to enhance the power, wealth, position, or reputation of someone or something, often at the expense of another. “He exploited the situation to aggrandize himself”.

The New York Times article applauding the 12-hour fast action of Disney Executives to terminate Roseanne Barr following her racist late-night tweet is what has triggered this article; along with the many other destructive tweets that have gone before it.

As a leader this trend concerns me because I firmly believe empathy is a core building block for a healthy organization. When we stop caring about each other and being able to see things from the other person’s perspective, we stop trusting. And when we stop trusting, we start losing confidence and empowerment in ourselves and each other. With trust, confidence and empowerment on the way out the door it won’t be long until innovation, creativity, productivity and profitability follow suit.

We can look to research to see how empathy can be undermined and why. A recent University study suggests that by the time a medical student has finished medical school that their empathy level has decreased by 38%. In some respects I believe that’s a good thing, in terms of where I would want their focus to be when conducting brain surgery on me. However it’s not so good when communicating to a family in trauma.

Another University of over 14,000 students over the past 30 years found that the level of empathy of students has dropped 40% with a more dramatic decline as social media has dominated our life and work space. Sadly as we have become more connected we have become less empathetic. The need to genuinely care for others is arguably in direct correlation to the ease at which we can be “liked” and have new “friends” with very little skin in the game. The ease of having “friends” online can make people more likely to just tune out when they don’t feel like responding to others’ problems and then become a behavior that continues offline. Relationships are not the same as a stamp collection!

As an Influential Leader I see it as my responsibility to be part of the solution and not just give into a very destructive and destabilizing trend. I also see that the rise of self-aggrandization is both a blend of lower levels of empathy and a need to be valued and heard. In a season where connectivity has never been higher it is ironic that people feel even more lost and disconnected.

So as an Influential Leader how can I make a difference? That’s a great question and I believe the answer is found in us being INTENTIONAL with Validating, Identifying and Honouring our people. I call this Influential Leadership skill VIHing our people from a place of genuine empathy and making your ceiling their floor:

·        Validating people for What they do,

·        Identifying with the challenges and celebrations of How we do what we do together,

·        Honouring Who they are and Why they matter.

When we are INTENTIONAL (not just planning to do something) with VIH, my experience reveals people are valued and heard in a way that engages, empowers and inspires them. They want more of what we have and that my friends is empathy! As they grow in trust, empowerment and confidence they soon will want to VIH someone else! When that starts to happen we are truly operating as Influential Leaders; giving someone something they didn’t even know they needed or wanted, but now that they have it they can’t imagine living without it and can’t wait to give it away!

Go ahead and VIH someone today and be the Influential Leader you are called to be!

Coach Mike


michael walker