Summary: In his latest blog Professor Harden discusses empathy and the traits of a great leader, the increasing presence of predatory journals in the news and spacing as an effective learning strategy. Description: Empathy and what makes a great leader?
Training for leadership is on today’s agenda. There were several workshops on the theme at the recent IAMSE Conference in Burlington and the AMEE/ESME online course led by Stewart Mennin, Glenda Eoyang and Mary Nations has proved popular with the next twelve week course starting September 2017. What are the characteristics of a great leader? In his blog of June 8th George Couros suggests 10 characteristics

  • Vision based on empathy – meeting the needs of the people served
  • Passionate about what is possible
  • Know when to push and support
  • Great manager as well as leader
  • A learner – the ability to adapt to change
  • Confident but not arrogant
  • Solution orientated, turning problems into opportunities, weaknesses into strengths
  • Work side-by-side with those they serve
  • Develops more leaders – leadership is not a sole act but a group effort
  • Knows when to follow. As noted by Steve Jobs “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people who can tell us what to do.”

In Management Today in an article by Adam Gale, Do business leaders really need empathy?  the question of empathy in a leader was raised. It is little wonder, he argues, that empathy is regarded as a prerequisite of the modern leader. He distinguishes, however, emotional (feeling how you believe others feel) from cognitive empathy (understanding how others think). The distinction is explored by James Kelly in his recent article When I say…empathy and Hojat (2007) suggested,

“Empathy is a predominantly cognitive (rather than emotional) attribute that involves an understanding (rather than feeling) of experiences, concerns and perspectives of the patient, combined with a capacity to communicate this understanding”.

Gale suggests that cognitive empathy is essential for a good leader but emotional empathy is more complex. Empathy, he argues, is an asset for an aspiring leader but whether it translates into success will depend on how you use it. He writes

“Inside an organisation, you will be a better leader if your team believes you care about them, but empathy is not the same as caring (to comfort a frightened child, Bloom points out, you do not need to feel the same fear). Indeed, empathy produces a bias towards people who are like you, so it could make you a worse judge of character and ultimately cost your business talent and make it vulnerable to group think”

Mona Siddique in a BBC broadcast described empathy as the act of being human.

Hojat, M. 2007. Empathy in Patient Care: Antecedents, Development, Measurement, and Outcomes. Springer, New York, USA.
Kelly, J. 2017. When I say…empathy. Med Educ. 51(6). 573-4.

Predatory journals and reproducibility of research findings
Predatory journals are also in the news. This term was introduced by Jeffrey Beall who created a list of journals engaged in unprofessional or unethical practice that took advantage of authors who for a fee are eager to publish. Often provided are bogus publishing opportunities. Biochemia Medica has devoted a recent issue to the theme (2017, volume seven, no. 2) including an article by Beall.

A problem with publishing, not just with predatory journals, described in a paper in the issue (p292-9) is that 70% of research results published are irreproducible. There may be many reasons for this including possibly poor peer-review. Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal, has previously documented problems with the peer-review process and Retraction Watch recently reported

“A sweeping analysis of more than 5,000 papers in eight leading medical journals has found compelling evidence of suspect data in roughly 2% of randomized controlled clinical trials in those journals.”

Writing in The Scholarly Kitchen, David Crotty argues however that

“We tend to think of research as either being reproducible and thus valid, or irreproducible, and questionable. This sort of binary thinking is problematic, because there’s a large body of research that’s entirely accurate but not easily reproduced.”

Many experiments, Crotty argues, are designed to answer specific questions under specific conditions. The data generated may not be of much use outside of answering just those questions. The same may apply in educational research. I have previously described this as the “utility” criterion as part of the QUESTS criteria for evaluating published research.

Harden, R.M., Grant, J., Buckley, G. & Hart, I.R. 1999. BEME Guide No 1.: Best Evidence Medical Education. Med Teach. 21(6). 553-62.

Spacing and learning
I referred in my last blog to spacing as an effective learning strategy. In his blog of 20th June Christian Glahn talks about spacing as part of a microlearning approach, with the learning activities distributed over time. The relevance to microlearning, he argues, is that small, instructional chunks are easier to spread across time than long lectures that require a significant amount of time to digest. He suggests that learners are more likely to engage in a few micro-activities because they know they are not stuck in a lengthy process and feel in control of the time they dedicate to learning. This, he argues, is particularly important in relation to on-the-job learning. Glahn stresses the importance of motivation and of feedback loops.

Glahn, C. 2017. Micro learning in the workplace and how to avoid getting fooled by micro instructionists. LO-F.AT. Epub.

Finally, a bit of fun
Lawrence Sherman sent me this video clip of what happens when a dog joins an orchestra. (