In December 2014, the Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501 crashed en route to Singapore, killing all 155 passengers and seven crew on board.
The founder and chief executive Tony Fernandes quickly responded by travelling to be with the bereaved families.
Moreover, he communicated through Twitter
to brief the media and the airline’s large, multinational customer base.
At the time, he said:
“I am the leader of this company; I take responsibility. The passengers were on my aircraft, and I have to take responsibility for that.”
Indeed, in that deeply traumatic period, he used social media to connect really compassionately with everybody, said Yamini Naidu, director of Yamini Naidu Consulting and author of the new book, Power Play.
“For a CEO to have such a public and deeply empathetic response at such as traumatic time, I think was one of the things that made a big difference in a very difficult context," she said.
Empathy involves walking in other people’s shoes, and empathy power allows leaders to connect with emotions, Naidu told HRM Canada.
For Naidu, the challenge of effective leadership involves “head, heart and hand”.
“By that I mean, head is the data (the logos) – so you have got to have clarity around what the logic and the data is,” she said.
“Heart revolves around how we engage people. How do we engage people holistically and engage their emotions? “
“And hand is: how do we create a mandate for change? So I think empathy empowers us to do the heart and the hand.”
Naidu explained that empathy power is really about understanding and caring about other people, but also demonstrating that and doing it appropriately.
What can get in the way of that is projection bias, she added.
“We quite often think other people think just like us and that can create a distortion in our empathic response,” Naidu said.
“For me, I love chocolate so my projection bias would be assuming everybody loves chocolate. So you’ve got to be conscious about your own projection bias.”
Naidu said empathy power and story power are wonderful tools for leaders as long as they are used with integrity.
“I think because of the quite transparent age we live in there is a real mandate for leaders to use these tools and use them with integrity,” she said.
“I think integrity is understood as being a key in leadership, but as we can see in the fallout in some leadership and political institutions, it can sometimes be a challenging concept.”