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.