Leading with empathy – reflections from a recent Simon Sinek visit

I recently attended two brilliant talks.

The first was TEDxCoventGardenWomen – a full day of TEDx Talks in London covering an array of subjects. This year’s theme was vulnerability. The speakers shared how they had taken their own, or someone else’s vulnerability, and used their passion and courage to make a change.

It was such a powerful day. From an American university student who changed her couturetedxcgw fashion thesis last minute to design a stylish, affordable and incredibly practical set of clothing for refugees (waterproof coats that change into tents or backpacks or sleeping bags); to the man who explored ‘psychological economics’ and the results you can come up with when you put ‘humanity’ into the economic equation; to a top UK fashion magazine editor, who didn’t like the leader she had become, and spoke about her journey to change in order to get the best out of herself and her people to turn a failing magazine around. You can watch her video here.

The second talk I was lucky enough to attend on his recent visit to London was Together is simonsinekBetter by Simon Sinek. Simon is a person some of you may be more familiar with. Simon is an author, speaker and consultant who writes on leadership and management. And if you’re familiar with the TED Talks concept, he’s also responsible for the third most popular TED Talk video with over 29 million views.

A lot of what Simon said I felt could resonate with many of us in our roles, whether we lead teams or lead by example, so I thought I’d pass on three key insights…

1. Put the performance of your people first
One of the first questions he asked the audience to consider was, ‘How do we get the best out of our people?’ You may have lots of ideas in response to this… but consider the linguistics, ‘How do we get the best out of our people?’ It is self-serving. The words are focused on improving someone to enable you to get what you want. His main message here was that whether we are a hierarchical leader or a colleague who wants to set a leading example in their team, as a leader we should be establishing how we can grow our colleagues to be the best they can be. If they have the freedom to be their best, naturally they will help to grow our vision.

2. Creating a profitable culture
Simon proposed that most leaders in large companies continue to encourage a culture that was fit for purpose in the 80s and 90s, but not fit for today. In most companies, we’re still driven by targets and bonuses – work, bonus, work, bonus, work, bonus – numbers over people. He proposes that for the short-term this approach can be profitable. However, for the longer-term, it can have disastrous effects. He linked this to his view on getting the right ‘work life balance’. The ‘balance’ is less about health and well-being and more about how safe a person feels at work versus how safe they feel at home. People feel safe at home. And if you consider, as a leader, how safe and trusted you can help someone to feel in their role, naturally they will grow in their ability, helping you to grow your vision and create a profitable culture.

3. Empathy – it’s like a muscle – start small and you will get into shape
Simon really emphasized throughout his talk the importance of leading with empathy. A couple of points to pull out:

  • Firstly, when you’re choosing who to put into a leadership position (team leader / senior leader etc.), don’t only measure based on their performance. That’s half the metric. Also measure based on their ability to build trust and create the right culture
  • Sometimes, as leaders, we work to try and influence everyone. Simon proposed that we focus on the early adopters. Find the 15-18% of potential leaders who want to put people first – those that perform well and demonstrate great empathy – and focus on growing them, the rest will follow
  • And lastly… It starts with us. We can be the leaders we wish we had. Find a leadership buddy and commit to grow each other as leaders. Don’t sign up to get, sign up to give.

I hope you found these insights worth a share. And if they’ve helped you to consider how you could do something differently, it was worth it.



Comms ROI? It’s time to rethink how we approach data

I’m currently working on a really interesting project; and part of the spec is about reviewing the effectiveness of internal communications… so it got me thinking about measurement.

In the last PRCA/PR Week PR Census, 65 per cent of the PR profession said they did not believe there were adequate tools in place to measure ROI. From my perspective, if we’re looking at the set of tools most organisations use to measure internal and external communications, then I disagree. I think it’s not about the tools we are using, it is about how we are using the data. I really do believe in a more sophisticated, integrated approach.

So many professionals talk about measuring employee engagement, the number of likes or comments on intranet articles, Yammer/Twitter engagement, press coverage, labour turnover stats, reach… Does your CEO really want to know about what 2% of the organisation are talking about on Yammer? Is that the type of data and insight that will keep your CEO awake at night? My thoughts are that they are more likely to be having nightmares about whether customer satisfaction and reputation decline will threaten market value.

We need to stop talking like communication professionals and start thinking and acting like business-savvy leaders.

So where to begin? Start with your communication objectives. Before you even consider data metrics, define what it is you are actually trying to achieve. This should steer you in the right direction of what you should be measuring. Most communication professionals already tie in their strategies and campaigns with the overall business drivers. But what many don’t yet do is tie in their communication measurement with the overall business goals. Once you know your objectives, you need to create a communications scorecard with data that reflects the wider business metrics.

But it’s not simply about the data you decide to source, it’s about how you interpret that data. Add ‘analyst’ to your bag of tricks too. Correlate, compare and benchmark the data. Identify the trends.

Working with Klavs Valskov, I did some really interesting work on this for some global financial and pharma clients last year. Our key message? Where you can deliver real value is when you can prove trends over time – and establish how your communications activity is having an impact on the overall value of the business. For example, you could compare whether there are certain positive, negative or neutral story drivers that are dominating your press coverage, track these trends and compare this with your PR influence. Take this one step further and see how these compare to your brand index, your reputation index and finally, analyse whether these trends are together influencing share price. Or measure how effectively your values are lived by your employees; how does that reflect employee engagement and customer experience; does that then correlate with customer satisfaction rates, sales, share price? It’s about making the links.

Some communication professionals I know already do this brilliantly – and these are the ones that are on the executive committee. But not enough. So for the 35 per cent of you who do think you have the right tools in place to measure ROI, I agree. But to demonstrate real return on investment requires time, thoughtfulness and some additional brainpower.

If you can prove that your communications activity is moving the needle on public opinion, customer advocacy and market value, then you will be in a much stronger position to influence stakeholders, boost credibility and move a seat closer to the top of the business. Why? Because you are demonstrating where you are adding real business value.

Film review: Testament of Youth

‘Beautifully balanced, brilliantly cast’

(Testament of Youth – Out in UK cinemas nationwide now)

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Testament of Youth is far considered to be one of the greatest war memoirs ever written. So producing a film that reflected the experiences of Vera Brittain was never going to be an easy task; and I was even more dubious when I read that Alicia Vikander, the actress playing the British protagonist, was in fact from New Zealand.

Set in the shadows of World War I, Vera Brittain is a young lady who stands for being unique, not judged. Young and spirited, she swears off men, marriage and children and sets a primary ambition to study at Oxford University and become a writer.

But her ambition becomes mocked by reality. She falls in love. World War I arrives. And her brother, best friend and betrothed choose to fight on the front line. She has every opportunity to keep her head buried in her studies; or use her gender or class as an excuse, but instead she chooses to walk away from Oxford, and towards war.

What follows next is a beautiful, true story about one young woman’s journey to stand up and help.

A brilliant lead performance by Vikander, with sensitive supporting performances from Dominic West, Anna Chancellor and Mirander Richardson – and good work from Game of Thrones eye candy Kit Harington – I left the preview screening organised exclusively by TimeOut London for its members ( teary eyed, humbled and with one main thought; despite how life changes and the challenges it chooses to throw at you, you can still stay true to your soul.

You can watch a preview at:

In UK cinemas nationwide from Friday 16 January 2015.

Review first posted at

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Thinking of regrets or writing resolutions? Think again.

15 years old again... Mums, Workaholics and Travellers reunite

15 years old again… Mums, Workaholics and Travellers reunite

At the end of every year, I get together with the girls I grew up with. As we’ve grown older we have become separated by careers, children and countries… But the moment we get together it’s like we’re 15 again.

We talk school, boys and all things on kisses and crushes past… While scouring Facebook to find out where our former childhood flames are now. And every year we write ‘The List’.

The List is a digest of everything we want to achieve the following year. So when we get together we look at what we each wrote one year ago, laugh, cry or shake our heads shamefully, and then put pen to paper again.

The way I see it, the end result of each list can be classified in two ways:

– An aspiring list based on regrets from the year before; or
– An inspiring list based on anticipation for the year to come

It always disheartens me when I see lists based on regrets from the year before: “I want to make more time for my friends and family”, “This year I want to be at all of my children’s school plays”, “I want to make it to my taekwondo class more often so that I can enter a competition”. It means you haven’t yet forgiven yourself for how you responded to the challenges you came upon that year.

I used to write those aspirational regrets lists. Then I decided to get over it.

For most people, whether you hate your job or love your career, it is usually work that is the main cause of the ‘regrets’ list. And as much as we try to not let it, sometimes we just have to accept that work does and will continue to get in the way. We are not superhuman, we cannot control everything and sometimes it really just can’t be helped. Give yourself a break.

But how can we better manage work’s relationship with our lives? How do we make sure that when we look back on 2015, we are not writing a regrets list all over again?

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) new report on Labour Market Predictions for 2015 cited that labour turnover has been decreasing and it expects it to remain low. Does that mean we are starting to become happier in the workplace? With Gallup recently reporting that 87% of workers worldwide “are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and less likely to be productive”, I am inclined to think not. So are the majority of us destined never to find the path to a happy working life?

At this time of year, the Internet is crawling with good and bad reads on how to make work, work. Most cite that if you don’t like your job, change it. Is it that easy? J. Maureen Henderson’s recent article on Forbes takes a different perspective. She talks about how having a less fulfilling day job can work better for you. It means that in your spare time, you have the headspace to make those spare minutes creatively count; learn a language, improve your cookery skills, train for a marathon… Or if you have a well paid, potentially stressful job, you have the disposable cash to make everything outside of work more enjoyable. My thoughts are that when I have any spare time from my incredibly enjoyable but ridiculously manic consultancy work, in truth I don’t really have the energy to always get constructively creative. However, when I’ve finished a project, time out and escapism work for me. I book a trip and when I’m back, relaxed and refocused, I get back into the hobbies I love and productively plan what is next with work.

Every person and situation is different but the underlying message I have taken away from all of the various articles I have read recently is ‘change your mindset’.

If you love your job, but the intense pressure and long hours are taking you away from your friends, your family, your life – can you work smarter? Can you work from home more so you leave out the commute and are at home for dinner? Can you wake up half an hour earlier and fire off those urgent emails, instead of bringing your passion killer mobile phone and tablet to bed with you at night? Can you set the standard and let it be known loud and clear that you will be leaving the office on time as you have a commitment that evening – and then do it?

If you like your job, like the money but hate the hours, how big a step is it to go from permanent to contract, or contract to freelance?

If you dislike your job, stop moaning about it and take a good long look at why. Is it that you like your company but your role doesn’t work for you? Or you love your job but the company isn’t giving you the career development and opportunities you would like. Either-or, identify the root of the problem, make a plan and act.

Or if you’re like me, I spent 2014 thinking about how I can make my career work for me, instead of me working for my career and therefore, changed my approach. And for 2015, I have scrapped my aspiring regrets list, and have a new inspirational list based on potentially what lies ahead. It’s not absolute, but I have an idea of what needs to be achieved this year, a rough plan of how I am going to get there, a newly acquired acceptance that I am not superwoman and a broadly excited, optimistic attitude of ‘we’ll see how 2015 turns out’.

Change your mindset. Change your behaviour.