A wise man said to me recently: “Companies don’t have empathy, people do.” He was right. It’s not possible for an entity to have feelings, but it is possible for the people who make up the company to have them.
After twenty years in the media and marketing business, I’ve learned that compassion is the most effective attribute of a leader – well, at any level really. I probably don’t have to explain what compassion is, but I will take this opportunity to articulate a few, simple guiding principles that have helped me cultivate teams of people to care not just about their work, but about each other.
See Someone? Say Something
You know the expression “see something, say something?” Well, I’ve reimagined it to “See someone? Say something.”
Whether walking into the office or a crowded boardroom, say “hi,” “good morning,” “how are you?” or whatever the occasion calls for. Look people directly in the eyes, call them by their name, and acknowledge they’re there. This opens up the room, shows you have a vested interest, and sets the tone for inclusion.
Don’t be so Quick to Get Down to Business
Get to know what’s happening in the lives of those with whom you work. It’s easy to be all-business-all-the-time, but if you don’t have a fundamental understanding of what’s happening in the lives of those you work with (give or take) 52 weeks of the year, it’s virtually impossible to empathize with them.
Like compassion, I’ll forego detailing what empathy is, but I will point out how far it goes in creating an environment of loyal, thoughtful, and hardworking employees. Admittedly, there is a fine line, and you have to be careful to not become a therapist, so try starting your one-on-one conversations by just asking about the family or holiday plans or whatever’s germane at the time. Trust me, it’s a good use of five minutes.
Step Outside Your Box
As a leader, I find it can be easy to become disconnected from the underpinnings of what makes your work world go ‘round – in my case, it’s the specifics of client workings. Coming up in the industry, these details were once my primary responsibility and allowed me to be immensely creative. Nowadays, they’re the onus of those whom work around me. Finding areas outside your purview to regularly engage helps provide real-world perspective on what’s happening with the business, demonstrates that you can be a collaborator and, often enough, reinforce the reasons you’re still in the industry. If you’re lucky enough to have a great team like mine, it can be fun, too.
I’ve found that investing in work relationships improves the quality of both the work and the relationships. That investment creates the dividend of openness in the work environment. Together the two (quality of work and engaging environment) add to the success and value of any business.
Creating a trusting environment for your employees also makes your business more personable for your customers. As marketers, we’ve heard the old maxim that people buy from people. In our world of nearly limitless choice, that has evolved to people buying from people they trust to deliver. A person may not remember what you said or even what you did, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.
In closing, I’ll impart that if you want to improve your ability to lead from the heart, start by operating more compassionately in your leadership role. And while it may seem indulgent to think of honing-in on your compassionate and empathetic side, I assure you there’s nothing soft about either.