Measuring Emotions and Empathy in Educational Leadership

Measuring Emotions and Empathy in Educational Leadership

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-4144-2.ch010
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Educational leadership combines transformational and transactional leadership. Yet this combination is not equal, instead favouring transformational leadership which is focused on an individual's social interactions and their ability to identify and react empathetically to others. Many leadership theorists suggest the ability to have and display empathy is an important part of leadership. Until recently the focus of determining an individual's ability to recognise emotions has been through self-reporting questionnaires. These can only be used to report manifestations in our body, picked up by self-awareness, such as anger, sadness, and joy. Therefore, individuals are reporting their awareness of and externalising of the sensation based on what they perceive the emotion to be. This chapter explores the use of neuroscientific techniques to better understand empathy. What this chapter highlights are that these techniques are more accurate at measuring an individual's ability to recognise emotions than the traditional self-reporting questionnaire.
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Human interaction is highly complex and dynamic, changing with every interaction one makes. Our ability to traverse the ever-changing layers of social interaction often defines us as successful within our professional and personal lives. Lying at the heart of successful social interaction is the development of empathic responses, which can closely mirror the affective state of others (Le et al., 2020). Shamay-Tsoory, Aharon-Peretz and Perry (2009) point out that the emotional contagion system, the phenomenon of having one person’s emotions and related behaviours directly trigger similar emotions and behaviours in other people is the basis of one’s ability to empathise emotionally. For example, I feel what you feel, illustrates the emotional contagion system. This idea of matching relations has been correlated in Gallese (2007) to the mirroring neuron system (MNS), which subsequently has its origins in the theory-of-mind concept. While theory-of-mind research focuses on complex inferences about abstract mental states such as another person’s beliefs, another line of neuroscientific endeavour has focused on our ability to understand other people’s goals and intentions by merely observing their actions. Gallese et al., (1996) and Rizzolatti et al. (1996) have all been involved in this area of research which found that neurons in the premotor cortex were firing both when physical hand movements were performed and when observing others perform the same hand movements.

When emotionally synchronised with others a state of empathy exists where we are not only able to share but fully understand the affective states of others, allowing us to successfully relate to them by responding in the most appropriate way (Eisenberg & Miller, 1987). This understanding and response are of particular importance when individuals occupy leadership roles in education. This is due to educational leadership being conceptualised as either task-orientated or socio-emotional or as a combination of both, depending on the role within the organisational hierarchy that an individual occupies. These two leadership functions have been reimaged into practical theories such as transformational and transactional leadership (Bass, 1990). Transformational leadership principally focuses on building relationships with those with whom leaders work, whereas transactional leadership critically focuses on task achievement. Developing educational leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence (EI) is key to individual and organisational success, especially in people-centred professions such as education, medicine and leadership argue Hughes, Patterson and Terrell, (2005). Part of having high levels of emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise emotions, commonly called empathy. The capability to recognise one’s own and others' emotions makes managing all other emotional information feasible for those in people-centred professions. It is important to note that EI is just one of many traits that leaders should possess.

However, Wall et al. (2017) note the extensive range of literature on the positive role that emotions play at the personal, organisational and societal levels, including workplace job satisfaction. Leadership theorists such as McClelland (1961), Wofford (1970), Jago (1982), Vroom and Jajo (2007), and more recently Henkel et al. (2019) and Psychogios and Dimitriadis (2021) have all become interested in developing strategies that would enable leaders to integrate these two fundamental leadership roles. In this chapter, these will be referred to as task-oriented and relationship-orientated leadership in order not to attribute the approaches to one particular leadership theory. An individual's ability to move effectively between task- and relationship-orientated activities is critical if leaders are to be adaptable and responsive to organisational challenges. While the ability to move seamlessly between task- and relationship-orientated activities, individuals need to understand their existing levels of empathy.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Transactional Leadership: Transactional leadership, sometimes known as managerial leadership, focuses on the role of supervision, organization, and group performance. Leaders who implement this style often focus on specific tasks and use rewards and punishments to motivate followers.

Eye Tracking: Is the process of measuring either the point of gaze (where one is looking) or the motion of an eye relative to the head. An eye tracker is a device for measuring eye positions and eye movement.

Transformational Leadership: Transformational leadership is a leadership style in which leaders encourage, inspire, and motivate employees to innovate and create change that will help grow and shape the future success of the company.

Emotional Intelligence: Emotional intelligence (sometimes referred to as emotional quotient or EQ) is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.

Empathy: The ability of individuals to understand and share the feelings of another.

Electroencephalogram (EEG): An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a recording of brain activity. During this painless test, small sensors are attached to the scalp to pick up the electrical signals produced by the brain.

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