Written by: William D. Anton, Ph. D., Founder of CEO Effectiveness

“The number one practical competency for leaders is empathy.” There is a zero correlation between IQ and empathy. Peter Drucker


Some forms of depression have been referred to as the adult equivalent of a temper tantrum. These have been contrasted with sadness to emphasize the dynamic difference. While sadness is a reaction to real loss, some depressive expressions can be conceived of as a reaction to the loss of illusion. Let me explain further.

When a child is not seen and embraced for who he/she is, they often create an ideal self (in contrast to the real self). They hope this constructed self will be worthy of the attention and admiration that they seek. This compromise of the real self can lead them to seek a kind of pseudo recognition, where the child gets attention only to the extent that they are willing to suppress parts of their real self. This pattern starts in relation to important adults in their life but overtime becomes embedded. The problem is that nourishing this false idealized self only further starves the real self. A vicious cycle is created. Reinforcement and recognition become disengaged from the real self and eventually become meaningless.

The construction of an idealized self to compensate for perceived lacks in the real self is at best a compromise. Anger is often evoked as losses are suffered by the idealized self. But, the grief process is blocked because the injury to the real self is never seen, much less addressed. Because of this, the normal reaction of sadness and grieving at the loss to the real self are not experienced. As a consequence, the person begins to lose hope of ever becoming good enough to be valued for who they truly are. The old anger is stirred and directed toward the real self for not being good enough. The subjective experience of this process is depression, often accompanied by a sense of hopelessness.

Commenting on 21st Century Leadership, Robert K. Cooper talked about the importance of people being seen, heard, and valued by those important to their future. Modern trends of invisibility and no voice contrasts with timeless needs of visibility and voice. In describing the physiology of valuing, Cooper notes, “ When a person feels genuinely seen or heard, the eyes moisten.” In 99%+ of daily conversations, there is no moistening of the eyes! Persons who responded to not being seen or heard as children are not only invisible to themselves but to others as well. No wonder they experience depression as their life evolves into a largely unconscious two front war.

Is depression on the rise, or is it just talked about more? My response to that question is a series of other questions: Do parents have less time to see, hear, and connect with their children? Is there a trend towards valuing each and every child for their uniqueness and talents? Are persons at work and in other adult relationships responded to as individuals with unique strengths and assigned jobs based on this? Or, are they seen only in relation to their instrumental value?

There is little disagreement that greater emphasis on productivity, accountability, and innovation are necessary for companies and our nation to remain competitive. Problematic is our failure to apply enduring principles as a means of achieving those ends. Here are a few: We only invest in what we ourselves create. Nothing living will obey. Commitment to a relationship is a function of the possibility of growth. If leaders refuse to see, hear and acknowledge their own or other’s inner truth, then creative and joyful contributions will never be offered.