Release Date: 
Tuesday, August 3, 2021

HFC’s Shai James-Boyd publishes article on the empathy mindset of an exceptional leader

Shai James-Boyd

HFC Assistant Director of Institutional Advancement Shai James-Boyd has been able to hone her leadership skills by being her authentic self.

James-Boyd (whose previous article appeared in the Ferris State University Doctorate in Community College Leadership program publication called “Perspectives”) recently wrote an article titled “Leadership Through the Lens of Empathy” in the June 2021 issue of Leadership Abstracts, which was published through the League for Innovation in the Community College. This monthly publication features the community college field’s focus on learning.

Empathetic leadership is essential

As businesses return to a “normal” office setting in this post-pandemic world, strong and empathetic leadership will be needed more than ever, said James-Boyd.

“People from all walks of life are hurting and experiencing life challenges they have never faced before. This is not a season to command but guide people through with grace, dignity, and humility,” she said. “I have experienced some good leaders and some pretty horrible ones in my career. Long before the pandemic, I often wondered what the difference was between a good leader and the exceptional leader. What initiated this article was the latter – one who demonstrates compassion and understands that it takes nothing away from being in authority.”

From the article: The future will require empathy as a core competency requirement that emerging leaders will need to master. For this reason, leaders can no longer use a command and control approach to inspire productivity and create a civil and respectful culture. The idea of leading with warmth followed by strength seems simple, yet too many leaders fail to embrace the notion of empathy as a skill required for followership buy-in, commitment, and loyalty.

“Just because you hold the title of ‘leader’ does not mean people follow you from a place of respect and loyalty,” she said. “That has to be earned.”

Command and control approach is no longer effective in business

According to James-Boyd, leadership with more of an empathetic approach is needed rather than a “command and control” approach. This helps create a sense of teamwork and connection, which leads to better productivity and engagement.

“The command and control approach never worked (in business),” she said. “People come to work because they need the resources the job provides. Employee satisfaction and loyalty are developed when employees feel valued, respected, and unequivocally know leadership cares about them as an individual. By the same token, an empathetic leader is not weak or frivolous. In fact, it takes courage to demonstrate compassion when you have the authority to rebuke or penalize an individual.*

James-Boyd is not advocating lack of accountability -- she is recommending updated, collaborative methods for ensuring it.

Empathy is a mindset and guiding leadership principle

James-Boyd has served in her position at HFC since 2014. She has been very active within the College community. Along with Dr. Susan Shunkwiler, Dean of the HFC School of Health and Human Services, she is an HFC MI-ACE representative. She earned her bachelor’s degree in public relations from Wayne State University and her master’s degree in non-profit leadership from the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Currently, she is a candidate in FSU’s DCCL program and will graduate in 2022.

She gave her definition of empathy: The genuine ability to lead with warmth followed by strength or the ability to put yourself in someone else’s role, then respond accordingly. She has seen empathetic leadership in action. It has been practiced by her supervisor, A. Reginald Best, HFC Vice President for Institutional Advancement.

“I lost four family members to COVID-19, and three were members of the same family who died within weeks of one another. Reginald consistently made sure I was doing well, both mentally and physically,” said James-Boyd. “It seems simple, yet too many leaders fail to embrace the notion of empathy as a skill required for followership buy-in, commitment, and loyalty. If empathy were not a personal core value before the pandemic, it probably wouldn’t be going forward. Empathy is not an article of clothing leaders put on and take off. It’s not a fad or the latest hot topic. Empathy is a mindset and a guiding leadership principle that should be perpetually practiced in order to be effective. If those in leadership are simply trying to return to ‘normal,’ then empathy may not play a significant role in future decisions most will have to make on behalf of their organizations.”