How empathy-driven leadership drives success
Are you the kind of leader who desires more innovation within your teams? Throughout history, numerous examples demonstrate that empathy serves as a catalyst, aiding people in generating inventions and innovations that have benefited organizations and individuals alike. Here, we offer several examples and suggestions for implementing empathy to drive innovation and success.
Use empathy to connect with your customers
Brandless places significant emphasis on the customer experience to fuel its growth. When examining their catalog, it becomes evident what the brand intends to convey through its product lines: “[We] bring together healthier life products and brands into a platform of trust and authenticity where people can share the products they love with their circles. Customer empathy and empowerment are essential components of our growth and future,” Tetro says.
For Tetro, this approach to commerce is not novel. As an experienced entrepreneur who has collaborated with major brands, she has previously prioritized the human and emotional experience.
“A consistent theme throughout my career has been driving innovations that create transformative moments for customers that align with their interests and build a lasting connection,” she says. “This vision has been at the core of my work at Disney, 3DplusMe, ForgeDX, and our current work at Brandless.”
Embrace and acknowledge new ideas
Once your team feels empowered to share their ideas, it is vital to genuinely welcome and consider them. Avoid adopting a defensive stance when confronted with ideas that differ from your own. Employ language that conveys a receptivity to new perspectives, even when these perspectives may not align with the team’s current needs.
Similarly, it is essential to acknowledge the ideas presented. Few things are more demoralizing for a team than offering ideas without receiving recognition for their contributions. Strive to credit every idea contributor for their efforts in seeking solutions to problems.
A useful gauge for assessing your openness to new ideas includes asking questions like:
- When was the last time I received an idea from an employee?
- Did I take action based on that idea?
- Did I acknowledge the employee, even if the idea wasn’t adopted?
- Did I make them feel that their ideas are valued?
Foster psychological safety in your team
Psychological safety in the workplace revolves around the belief that the workspace is conducive to taking risks. In such an environment, team members know that sharing ideas and asking questions will be welcomed and valued.
When team members feel that they won’t face repercussions for proposing new alternatives to a problem, they are more likely to share innovative ideas. Building a culture of psychological safety can pave the way for organizational innovation.
Infuse empathy into your team
Chief Ken Wallentine has led the West Jordan Police Department for nearly five years. He recognizes the challenges inherent in any organization, especially when its members interact with the public daily. “Like many organizations, particularly paramilitary government organizations, we grapple with creating a high-performing culture where employees are self-directed,” Wallentine says.
To address this challenge, Wallentine and his team adopted an unconventional approach.
“Perhaps our most significant innovation has been to incorporate the Arbinger Institute‘s ‘Developing and Implementing an Outward Mindset’ course into our core training and essential belief system.”
Throughout the police department, the phrase “You matter like I matter” resonates, emphasizing a focus on individuals rather than treating them as tools, obstacles or objects. They actively seek to understand each other’s needs and objectives as they work toward common goals.
"Mission and vision statements alone are insufficient for creating a culture that nurtures creativity and innovation through healthy human connections. Leaders must be intentional about identifying and implementing changes that promote a culture of trust, empathy and innovation. Those who foster innovation through empathy increase the likelihood of having teams committed to the growth and success of their organizations"
Develop empathy with diverse audiences
Innovation often emerges from forging connections with individuals different from ourselves, whether in terms of gender, race, religion, country of origin, sexual orientation, etc. Establishing authentic connections with diverse individuals can offer new perspectives on reality and novel approaches to solving organizational problems.
Avoid projecting your experience onto others
Dr. Alicia Castillo-Holley, the founder of Wealthing VC Fund—a firm that invests in innovation-based companies—highlights the complexity of empathy. She observes, “Empathy is such a complex feeling. We may think we understand another person, but in reality, we are seeing a reflection of our own experiences in that person. We are projecting our own experiences.”
To combat this, Castillo-Holley recommends self-reflection as a remedy for projecting one’s experiences onto others. She suggests asking three critical questions to foster empathy:
- Am I genuinely interested in understanding how the other person feels?
- Am I capable of understanding how that person feels?
- Can empathy add value to our connection?
Bridge cultural differences through empathy
Embracing and understanding our differences can lead to a wealth of understanding, excitement and human connections. These conditions are fertile ground for innovation, benefiting both the organization and its members. Implementing diversity through empathy requires intention and the adoption of procedures to ensure its presence not only within the organization but also in customer success efforts.
Jenny Lopez Reed, a public speaker, leadership coach and top executive in a global pharmaceutical firm, emphasizes the importance of applying empathy to understand diverse markets. She notes that people succeed through empathy because it allows them to connect with individuals from different backgrounds and perspectives. By understanding these differences, leaders can adapt their strategies to be more effective across various markets.
Lopez-Reed advocates for a direct questions approach to applying empathy, encouraging open dialogue and seeking to understand the unique challenges and perspectives of individuals from different backgrounds.
Communicate effectively to execute new ideas
Even when cultural differences are not a concern, the ability to motivate teams and clients to adopt your vision and mission is a valuable leadership skill. Empathy can play a crucial role in establishing the human connections necessary for organizational success.
Melissa Pickering, a global authority on innovation, emphasizes the importance of empathy in bringing individuals into a team or project. She notes that understanding where individuals are and how to align them with a common goal is a rewarding aspect of her job. Her approach suggests establishing early communication channels with customers during product development to create a culture of empathy that contributes to successful product outcomes.
Empathize with storytelling
Once data is gathered, implementing empathy to connect with customers on a human level becomes essential for any proposal, project or organization. Dr. Karin Kricorian, VP of decision science products at Disney, underscores the importance of empathy when delivering messages. She emphasizes the need to see the world from the consumer’s perspective, which can improve presentations and algorithm optimization. Kricorian advocates for storytelling as a powerful tool in data interpretation and communication, as stories help people process and remember information more effectively.
Use empathy to stand out
Empathy can distinguish your organization, particularly in competitive sectors. Establishing a deeper connection can make a significant difference in high-risk investment environments, such as the venture capital and innovation ecosystems.
Sid Krommenhoek, co-founder of Album VC, attributes his firm’s success to empathy. He believes that his experiences—including successes and failures—have given him a unique empathy for entrepreneurs. This empathy fosters stronger connections and healthier communication within the firm, facilitating innovation.
Establish a culture of innovation and empathy
Mission and vision statements alone are insufficient for creating a culture that nurtures creativity and innovation through healthy human connections. Leaders must be intentional about identifying and implementing changes that promote a culture of trust, empathy and innovation. Those who foster innovation through empathy increase the likelihood of having teams committed to the growth and success of their organizations.