Empathetic Leadership in Critical Situations: How Can Leaders Lead with Empathy in Times of Trauma?   [open pdf - 292KB]

"Junior officers and senior enlisted leaders face intense crises and duress during deployments. They operate in high reliability organizations (HROs) where planning for failure is the norm and individuals' expectation of loss is high. Still, when units experience IEDs (improvised explosive devices) or suicide bomb attacks, unit integrity and ability to stay together and focused are called into question. This thesis first explores and develops the concept of empathetic leadership; it is differentiated from similar concepts of leadership in the context of a critical military incident. The research then analyzes leadership behavior described in detail in a Ground Combat Element (GCE) after an unexpected suicide bomb attack at an entry control point in a combat zone where a well-respected Senior Enlisted Leader (SEL) lost his life. His positive effect on his men made his loss difficult for the unit, making it hard for the unit to recover and heal. The central aim of this thesis is to analyze the incident of the loss of the SEL and uncover key leadership behaviors under traumatic and life-threatening situations necessary for managers of high reliability organizations. More than any other characteristic of leadership, empathy plays a vital and effective role in the leading as long as it ensures communication and generates mutual trust between the leader and the follower. Lessons derived from this case provide useful perspectives of managing and leading in critical situations where major trauma is a vital concern."

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