Welcome to this weekly online resource. Executive coach and wellness professional Jo Foster, offers thought provoking insights on positive psychology, mindfulness and self care. As well as access to her weekly online yoga classes and nutritious recipe recommendations. 

This week we are continuing to look at the psychology of leadership. 


“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt


Earlier this week, I had a fascinating conversation with a prominent and highly successful business man, about Empathy. I must first say that this individual inspires and challenges my thinking on a frequent basis and whilst we don't always agree, we do always learn! This week we entered into the debate around whether Empathy can be learned. What do you think?

I think, yes. Before I make my case on this, I must express that I am an optimist, more than a pessimist or realist at times! So in this regard my thinking may to some, seem fanciful. However, for those of you who have followed by "food for thought" blog in the past you will know that Optimisim is a mindset that Martin Seligman believes and has evidenced can very much be learned, so why not empathy?

Last week we introduced Daniel Golemans theories on leadership and how this is underpinned by developing emotional intelligence. The below table shows his take on the 'primers' necessary for great and versatile leadership. Empathy sits in the category of Social Awareness, however I believe that this is a by-product of developing the first category Self Awareness.

Emotional self-awareness is learned through experience, reflection and self enquiry.  I would also argue that it can be learned through combining reflection with knowledge. Acquiring knowledge that challenges your assumptions can inspire a change in 'limiting beliefs', develops confidence and all the EQ skills that follow. By seeking to understand our own thoughts and feelings we evolve and grow the wisdom to understand, appreciate and relate to the same in others. 

HOW do you develop your self-awareness? For many of us this happens in multiple ways, here are a few:

  • Connect. Through conversations with friends, colleagues, family etc. Conversations that require us to show up vulnerable and courageous with our truth. 

  • Listening. Not judging, labelling, controlling, just observing. This is a skill. It is practiced in mindfulness, meditation and for many of us on a simple walk where we really absorb / see our surroundings rather than analyse them. It is difficult to see things clearly when we are clouded in thought and emotional clutter.

  • Journalling. Wild writing / let the pen without restraint say what you truly think, then reflect to see your emotions with clarity. This feeds accuracy of self reflection. Seeing our feelings mapped out on paper is like holding up a mirror. It helps remove some of the distortion.

  • Seeking inspiration. Whether this is looking for a 'good read', reading scriptures, attending interesting talks, events or workshops. Or engaging with religious or other self help community groups that you have an affinity with. Inspiration comes from so many different sources, but it only inspires if we can relate to it and we are willing to challenge our assumptions and unlearn.

  • Coaching. I'm separating this out on the basis of the above mentioned conversation. My friends thoughts were "you can't go on a course to learn empathy". I would argue that you can, and that is just the sort of thing you can achieve with executive or personal coaching.

WHEN do we learn self awareness? I would like to say all the time, but in truth sometimes we are so busy defending and fighting for our self-worth, that self-awareness fades into the background. But here are a few things that bring self-enquiry back into the light:

  • Adversity. This isn't something that we want or can engineer, but we all experience it in life and often it is where we grow the most. Covid-19 has been, and for many remains, a significant adverse event that has forced us all to 'dig deep', to get to know ourselves better and to respond with changing perspectives, behaviours and beliefs. Some of the most inspirational people I know are those that have overcome adversities from loosing their job (and confidence), battling through loss and grief, fighting for their survival against illness and loss of limbs. Out of the other side of these challenges I have observed multiple and highly noticeable changes in their emotional intelligence and mindset.

  • Making mistakes. Getting it wrong is one thing, but acknowledging our mistakes and owning them is where we learn. I tell my children repeatedly, "it's ok to make mistakes, it's how we learn". This is a behaviour as adults we must continue to model. Own your mistakes, they are valuable and human. AND essential to recognise in the context of reducing judgement on others and enhancing empathy.

  • Choice. This enables us to prioritise self-enquiry at any stage. It is as simple and difficult as that!

Why should we choose to develop our self-awareness? Have another look at the table below... Developing "Emotional Self Awareness" is the bedrock of developing every other Emotional Intelligence skill that succeeds it. We will embark on the leadership applications of these EQ skills in the coming weeks. But incase you didn't get the time last week to read Daniel Golemans article on leadership, here it is again!

So, what are your thoughts? Can Empathy be learned?

Image by Aarón Blanco Tejedor
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Autumn Harvest Honeycrisp Apple and Feta Salad.

By Half Baked Harvest

This recipe is packed with goodness in particular it's very high in vitamin c and antioxidants. The perfect food to help boost the immunity to combat the Autumn colds doing the rounds and particularly good with a fresh baguette!