Empathy & Innovation


Empathy Innovation |

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What does it mean to be empathetic, to exercise empathy within a leadership position? There are many managers and leaders across the globe that would love to know the answer to this question. As a leadership keynote speaker, it’s my aim to inspire leaders of all kinds towards greater empathy, both personally and organizationally. Why? Because it’s one of the most important aspects of daily life – to be able to walk a mile in another’s shoes – but it’s also one of the most important traits of an effective leader to drive engagement.

In today’s business world, success comes down to an organization’s ability engage a multi-generational workforce to be thinking, passionate, creative, proactive, taking initiative people within the current climate. Empathetic leadership bolsters these types of actions and behaviors and lead to innovation and positive change. Failing to be sensitive to honor the efforts of the past before launching a transformational move into the future all too often fails to empathize with change in regards to team members, often to the detriment of their organization.

What Empathy Looks Like

Empathy is the ability to acknowledge the feelings and circumstances of others when they express emotion. Within the context of leadership, empathy takes the form of focused direct listening and an understanding of the emotional component of teamwork. As a former NFL quarterback and a current leadership speaker, I can tell you firsthand that there is ALWAYS an emotional component to teamwork, and that’s not a bad thing! If you can effectively listen and appropriately respond to the emotional requirements of your team, you’ll be able to lead responsibly, and at a much higher level. It’s not enough to merely acknowledge the emotions and circumstances of your team members – you’ve got to utilize those emotions to help grow them into stronger members of the team, and ultimately, better team and organizational performance.

How Empathy Works for Your Organization

It’s no secret that empathy is currently a hot topic in the management sector and among leaders in different organizations. In fact, companies like Cisco and Ford Motors are now explicitly including empathy courses in their training on onboarding processes. Why? Because it works. Not only do empathy courses help larger corporations like these hang on to well-performing employees for longer, they actually make them more money. It’s true! In fact, a study from DDI, which pulled stats from 15,000 leaders from 300 companies in 18 countries across more than a decade, found that empathy has the biggest bearing on job performance when compared with other traits. Furthermore, according to the Empathy Business, an international organization that measures this trait among the world’s largest companies, empathy has a direct correlation with revenue. In fact, the top ten companies on the Empathy Business’s Empathy Global Index reported 50% more revenue per employee.

Empathy Isn’t Leniency

The first thing that many think when they hear about empathetic leadership is leniency. For whatever reason, people seem to think that empathetic leaders are less strict and more willing to let deadlines slip or to accept outlandish excuses, which is not true. Empathy is the ability to acknowledge and respond to emotions, that doesn’t mean that those emotions are always put to the forefront. Empathetic leaders should know the emotional aspects of their team in order to understand, in real time, what is and isn’t important. That’s the only way to responsibly lead change and to successfully have everyone focused on bringing their best efforts and ideas to the table. Perhaps you have a member of your team who is easily stressed and requires tasks to be scheduled out by the month to be most efficient. Maybe you have a team member that thrives off the pressure of spontaneous assignments and tight deadlines. Emotions play a part in how every team member operates. As a leader, it’s up to you to be aware of the emotions of your team members and to respond responsibly by creating an environment in which your team can thrive.

Seattle vs. Arizona: A Timely Example of Empathetic Leadership

You don’t have to look far to find examples of smart empathetic leadership. Last month, I referenced Pete Carroll in my blog post about what it means to win. Well, this month, we can turn again to Coach Carroll for a stalwart example of empathetic leadership. If you’re a Seahawks or a Cardinals fan, you’re likely still wringing your hands over the game a few weeks ago which resulted in a 6-6 tie after back to back missed field goals. For the purpose of this blog post, it’s each coaches subsequent reaction, not the results of the actual game, that matter. Because, as you may well know, Pete Carroll and Bruce Arians had quite different reactions to their kickers missing the field goals; Arians: “You get Paid to make that.” Carroll: “I love him and he’s our guy.”

Carroll’s response is a perfect example of empathetic leadership. He’s been in this position before, and while the field goal was extremely important in that moment, what’s more important is how his team, as a whole, moves on afterward, how they plan to stay together in order to prosper. Hanging the entire loss on that kicker is an emotional weight that’s heavy for the entire team, let alone one player, to maintain prosperity. It was an emotional moment, which Coach Carroll acknowledged and responded to responsibly. Ultimately, that’s what empathy is all about – not just winning, but also winning the right way; leading your team towards prosperity with a clear vision of what it means to win.

In my role as a leadership keynote speaker, it’s my job to inspire leaders within organizations of all shapes and sizes to lead change responsibly. If you’re interested in any of the ways in which I can help your organization succeed, please get in touch today!

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