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.



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.