The US presidency is the hardest job in the world. And as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to assume office in January, he’s certainly got his job cut out for him. The raging COVID-19 pandemic, the state of the economy and a deeply divided nation are just some of the problems that will test his leadership.
Does Biden have what it takes to lead the world’s most powerful nation through one of its toughest times in history? Experts say he checks all the boxes on leadership, having served two terms as Vice-President in the Obama administration.
Empathy Is A Superpower
But what makes him really stand out is what many describe as his leadership superpower: empathy. The President-elect has the ability to make strong personal connections and put himself in the shoes of another.
“Leadership, at its core, in my view, is about being personal,” he said in a recent interview. “You always put yourself in the other person’s position, and then also to understand where they're coming from, whether it’s a major foreign leader or a friend whom you have a disagreement with. And it’s also being willing to share credit, give recognition, and share in the benefits as well as in the losses if you’re in an endeavor together.”
Empathy is one of the most important elements of leadership. According to American psychologist Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence is a crucial leadership skill in the world today. Emotional intelligence has five key elements: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. Many say that of the five, empathy is the most important skill for leadership and success.
“Leadership, at its core, in my view, is about being personal,” Biden said in a recent interview. “You always put yourself in the other person’s position, and then also to understand where they're coming from, whether it’s a major foreign leader or a friend whom you have a disagreement with.
And Joe Biden has plenty of that. In his 47 years in elected office, his ability to connect with people has been his hallmark. He’s known as a people’s person who listens with compassion. His words soon after accepting the Democratic nomination in August 2020 were telling: “Character is on the ballot. Compassion is on the ballot.”
Throughout his campaign, his compassion for others was his selling point. Former President Barack Obama believes that Biden’s empathy and compassion are what contribute to his skill as a leader.
In his appearance on the Pod Save America Podcast on October 14, 2020, Obama shared an incident from his time on the campaign trail with Biden. He said that when they’d meet people in line through the ropes, he always noticed that while he himself was already towards the end of the line, Biden was only halfway through. Biden was taking his time to speak to people, share his story and hear their concerns.
Obama went on to say that when you’re thinking about the president, you need to look at the basic character of the person. He said “Are they people who are able to see the world through somebody else’s eyes and stand in their shoes? Are they people who are instinctively generous in spirit? Right. And that is who Joe is.”
A day after Obama’s podcast appearance, Joe Biden further proved the importance of listening to people’s stories and concerns. He stayed back after a town hall at ABC ended telecast to answer questions from people who had not had a chance to pose them to him during the show.
One of the most telling examples of Biden’s compassion and empathy is his special relationship with the Amtrak crew. The President-elect took the train for years between his home in Delaware and his Washington office because he wanted to tuck his children into bed. Over the years, he struck up a special friendship with the crew. One crew member remembers receiving a call from Biden to check on him after he suffered a heart attack.
In many ways, Biden’s compassion stems from his personal grief. He lost his first wife and 13-month daughter in a 1972 car accident and, more recently, he lost his son to brain cancer. Biden knows what it’s like to experience loss and pain. In fact, he used his own experience of loss to relate to a mourning group of military families in a memorial day speech in 2012. He connected his loss to their loss and was able to connect with them with his words.
It takes a lot to become a strong leader. Leadership requires technical knowledge, experience and conflict resolution skills. But these are not enough. You need to also be able to connect to people empathetically to be able to truly lead them and understand their needs and necessities.
And that’s where Joe Biden has an edge. But he’s going to need all the empathy he has to lead the US through its worst health crisis in history.
Picture courtesy: The White House
Aishwarya Agarwal is an associate in the Curriculum team at Harappa Education. She has studied History and Liberal Arts and moonlights as a stand-up comic. This was a well-kept secret…till her cover was blown.
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