Empathy in Action: A Thoughtful Look at the Empathetic Leader

Ron Darling, a stellar pitcher with the New York Mets in the 1980s, was going through a brutal divorce. He struggled through spring training and the start of the season. His emotional turmoil  hurt his game.

Davey Johnson, the team’s roughneck manager, noticed Darling’s struggles and reportedly said to him, “I went through a rough divorce. You can’t sleep. It affects every part of your life. It’s devastating. I get it. My heart goes out to you.”

He then continued, “But I’m also your manager. We pay you a lot of money to pitch. It’s also in your best interests to be successful. So leave the past behind you and throw the ball!” As the story goes, this conversation turned Darling’s career around.

This story is a wonderful illustration of the power of empathy. If Johnson hadn’t first empathized with his player’s difficulties, Darling might have become furious, left the team, or quit baseball. But Johnson first empathized, making Darling receptive to the truth, which inspired him to perform to the best of his ability. Read More