Anrah News - January 2017
  • Leadership and empathy
  • Vera Rubin - the discoverer of Dark Matter
  • Anrah News
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Humans, according to Frans de Waal a primatologist, share with birds and other mammals the ability to feel what others feel. We are highly social and mimic others' emotions - when one is stressed, others closest are stressed, when one is happy, the others are happy. This emotional empathy, the ability to walk in someone else's shoes, is the pre-cursor to altruism and compassion.

Moreover, larger mammals such as elephants, dolphins and primates have the ability to anticipate and predict what others are thinking and feeling - they have a 'theory of mind' or cognitive empathy.

Why is empathy important? We humans are far more likely to empathise with those closest - family, tribe, work. It creates social cohesion. To win empathy, one must show empathy. Research indicates that when children have secure relationships where their own needs are recognised and supported, they show much more empathy towards others.

In order to develop a strong, cohesive and high performing team, a leader needs to inspire loyalty and a sense of collective responsibility founded on empathy. Indeed according to Gallup's 'Strengths Based Leadership', one of the aspects leaders need to demonstrate to their followers is compassion - as a consequence of empathy, both emotional and cognitive. I would go further. To gain recognition and promotion to achieve leadership in the first place takes accurate theory of mind skills or cognitive empathy to read colleagues and superiors, to anticipate decisions and to develop clear understandings of how to leverage that knowledge.

How to develop the skills of empathy:
  • When we imitate facial characteristics of those we want to empathise with, changes in brain activity as well as in heart rate and body temperature correspond with those emotions. Next time someone is happy or grieving, without exaggeration, imitate their expression and examine the consequence to yourself.
  • Read a novel or watch a TV drama. Pause and ask what you imagine characters are thinking or feeling and how they are likely to act.
  • Focus on each member of your team and ask yourself how they may be thinking and feeling and likely to react to decisions. Check out whether your guesses are right. They will appreciate your effort.
  • Think about someone you have an antipathy towards. Ask yourself what you both have in common.
  • Frans de Waal suggests challenging yourself to see any 'out' group or individual as part of the 'in' group and act towards them accordingly.

On Christmas Day the astrophysicist, Vera Rubin died at the age of 88.  It was her groundbreaking and unorthodox work in the 1970s that confirmed the existence of dark matter.
When discussing her career options, a high school physics teacher told her, "As long as you stay away from science, you should do OK." However, Rubin was passionate about astronomy having watched stars late into the night and built her own telescope at the age of 14. After graduating, she was rebuffed by Princeton from their graduate school because women weren't accepted on the course (this held until 1975). By this time she had one child and another on the way.

She looked for a problem she could do at her own pace that was family friendly. She resisted the fashionable study of black holes to focus on a little known area, the examination of the orbit of galaxies. She noticed a curious phenomenon. The stars on the outer rim of galaxies travelled as fast as those in the centre. This was unexpected. It was either Newton’s gravitation laws failed, or a huge amount of invisible mass was holding the stars together. This unseen substance has since been called dark matter. After studying 200 galaxies, there was a gradual and grudging acceptance of her work. Nowadays it's believed that more than 90 percent of the universe is composed of dark energy and dark matter “and now," Rubin said,"we learn that we are just studying the 5% or 10% that is luminous.”

She was eventually elected to the National Academy of Science, awarded the National Medal of Science in 1993 and the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1996 - the first woman to receive it since 1828. 

Her advice on balancing work and family life was to “just sort of muddle through. It gets easier.” It helped that she had a supportive husband and a large house. “The kids had their rooms, and I never cared what they looked like,” she said..

In addition to her transformational work, she was a passionate advocate of women in science. She wrote, "I live and work by three basic assumptions

  1. There is no problem that can be solved by a man that cannot be solved by a woman.
  2. Worldwide, half of all brains are in women.
  3. We all need permission to do science, but, for reasons that are deeply ingrained in history, this permission is given to more men than it is to women."
Anrah and STEMM Commercial 
STEMM Commercial has been invited to several Royal Society of Chemistry events. I had the privilege of giving a presentation on "Confident Presenting" at Burlington House in November at the Chemistry World Jobs Live event. You can find our training courses advertised on their website
Cola as a Chemical: 3 Simple Experiments to Try at Home
"I never thought I could do that."
Experiments from 
Do you want coaching and training on developing:
  • credibility
  • gravitas
  • influence
  • increased reach
  • stakeholder buy-in
  • leadership authority
Please email me or call 07939 261743 to discuss your objectives for yourself or your leadership team and how I could help you achieve them.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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