What difficult decision or unpleasant situation are you avoiding right now? How is your need to be liked getting in the way of something you know you need to do. What would you do right now if you had more faith and courage and self-management? The key to resolving such dilemmas is counterintuitive and appears on the surface to be ugly.
Consider the following dichotomies and ask yourself what's better: abundance or scarcity; giving or taking; philanthropist or narcissist; selflessness or selfishness; contribution or consumption?
If you are like most people subscribed to the general social contract, you probably answered that abundance is better and so is giving and being a selfless philanthropist making a contribution. But what would you say if I asked you whether feminine energy or masculine energy is better (not to be confused with man or woman)?
When my eldest son was barely verbal, whenever we asked him an "or" question, he would instinctively say "both". Cake or ice-cream? Both. He saw no reason to choose or to even justify himself. His parents had by that time split and I think it was his way of remaining integrated. Mom or dad? Both.
The idea of giving seems morally superior to taking. But is it really? A philanthropist has lots to give, sure, especially if he was a very successful business person with a long history of taking profits. But where exactly did he get what he has? All things taken (love and profits) are taken from givers, just as all things given are given to takers. If there is no taking there is no giving.
Everyone I ask says that "narcissists" and "ruthlessness" are bad. Here's a counterargument. Apparent narcissists (who are not at the pathological extreme) are just self-focused, but sometimes to the point of being self-centered, self-indulgent and insensitive to others. Empaths or people with ready access to their empathy might look at narcissists as if they are dangerous and morally inferior; they ironically have little or no empathy for them. I think this is actually funny. There are many advantages to being self-focused including very high levels of self-awareness, accountability, influence and ambition. All virtues. There are also a lot of advantages to being other-focused like compassion, humility, sensitivity and respect for what's important to people, where they come from and how they think and feel. All virtues. This is the dichotomy of feminine and masculine traits.
Ruthless and narcissistic people genuinely cause a lot of pain and destruction. But like every virtue and strength there is also crippling down-side to being too empathetic. Empathy is the capacity to put ourselves in the shoes of others in order to gain an appreciation of their emotional and mental situation. This is very valuable and very close the meaning of "ruthful"– to feel sorry for something. It's a legitimate moral emotion and what we feel when we see a baby animal abused or hurt. But it's often a misapplied idea as it sometimes freezes us to act.
Constructively ruthless leaders are willing to confront difficult situations, make tough decisions and take bold actions despite collateral damage.
Do we let go of a poorly performing employee or put them on probation or shut down the entire business unit or dig in and make the hard changes? Ruthless people care less about being liked and more about the integrity of the decision and the initiative. Feeling sorry for people is not automatically helpful; well meaning empathetic people often do more damage and take less action by getting caught in the drama of the emotions of the situation.
The question ultimately is not whether it's better to be empathetic or ruthless. The question is how to be both constructively empathetic and constructively ruthless. Or just ruthlessly empathetic: confront difficult situations, take the time to understand the people involved, make the tough decisions and take care of the collateral damage. The best of both the feminine and masculine approaches to a problem creates the best solutions.