Love as an Empathetic Leadership Strategy

EPISODE 7

How can leaders hold their teams accountable while still maintaining a culture of love? In this episode, we explore what it means to be an Empathetic Leader, and how there’s a very big difference between empathy and sympathy when it comes to the workplace.

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Feel the love! We aren't experts - we're practitioners. With a passion that's a mix of equal parts strategy and love, we explore the human (and fun) side of work and business every week together.

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Jeff Ma
Director

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MohProfile

Mohammad Anwar
President

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Frank Danna
Director

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ChrisProfile

Chris Pitre
Vice President

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Jeff Ma
Hello and welcome to love his business veggie a podcast that brings humanity to the workplace. We're here to talk about business. But we want to tackle topics that most business leaders shy away from. We believe that humanity and love should be at the center of every successful business. I'm your host, Jeff Ma. I'm a director at software and agency based out of Houston, Texas, that specializes in digital transformation, culture, and branding. Each episode here we're diving into one element of business or strategy, and testing our theory of love against it. And today, we're really excited to talk about empathetic leadership. And you might not make a immediate connection between the word empathy and business outcomes. But hopefully our conversation today is going to help change that perspective a little bit. See at software, we've actually had quite a journey in our own under ending of this relationship. And we've learned to apply it in in new and exciting ways. So I hope that we can share those with you today. And to help me out, I've brought along my friends. And so let's start over with Frank. Frank. Welcome. Frank is a director at software. And I'm going to pull up the magic icebreaker sheet and reveal your question here. This is terrifying. It should be frank, what fictional family would you like to be a part of?

Frank Danna
Oh, okay, I actually the Robinsons so there's this there's this Disney movie called meet the Robinsons. Hmm. And I know many people may not have seen it, or if they did, it's actually a hidden gem. It's a good like Disney movie, but it was in the early 2000s. And this family is incredibly whimsical and wild but they deeply love each other and there's this incredible bond between the family members and I would love To be a part of that family for how, you know creative and weird they are, but how much love they have for each other.

Jeff Ma
Frank, I know your family and I would say you're probably the close closest to a real life Robinsons in that sense. Your family's great. Your family's caring for your quirky I love that movie too. Just enough.

Frank Danna
Great answer.

Jeff Ma
Next up, Mohammed Anwar, president ceo software. Well, you know, your question your question, what is your cell phone wallpaper right now?

Unknown Speaker
The default iPhone.

Frank Danna
Well, come on Mohammed. So basic, sheepish

Jeff Ma
Look, why are you embarrassed by that? Why do you look like you embarrassed? Was that a problem? Yeah.

Unknown Speaker
Are you minimizing yourself?

Jeff Ma
It's the look on your face. It's the look on your face. Okay. Well. We'll just move on. He's answered the question. Fair enough. Yeah. All right. Last but not least, Chris peach revised. President software Chris, welcome. You're

Frank Danna
gonna question Okay, I was gonna say

Unknown Speaker
stubbles box doubles. That's double.

Jeff Ma
Well, your question is if you could see one movie again for the first time, what movie would that be? Hmm. with fresh eyes for the first time. This is this is too much dead airspace for a podcast already.

Unknown Speaker
I apologize to my loyal listeners who are probably in my corner at this moment because this is a very choppy course even with Chris not envy this position that I'm in and thank you for joining me in this position, Jeff.

Unknown Speaker
I'm just gonna go with go with my gut.

Unknown Speaker
The Devil Wears Prada. Oh,

Unknown Speaker
I thought you're on home alone. Oh,

Unknown Speaker
no. Cuz I was like when I was a child. So like, I feel like the reason for the Devil Wears Prada is because it taught me a lot about work. Oh,

Jeff Ma
Okay, well look at that bringing the business into the business podcast. I like it

Unknown Speaker
well, because it came out like my senior summer after my senior year. And so it was one of those movies where I just thought, like, I wonder if I'm gonna either have a boss like that, or eventually be a boss like that. And you know, I can only hope one day I can be the boss. I'm kidding. That's not empathetic leadership.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, well, let's get a perfect segue. Let's

Jeff Ma
we'll bring that example back up at the end and see if it all it all rounds out. All right, let's jump into it guys. And Frank, why don't you help us out here and start us off with the basics right? What is an empathetic leader?

Frank Danna
It's you watched The Devil Wears Prada. And it's the opposite of that. I thought we can wrap it in four minutes. So empathetic leadership is is an interesting thing. Because again, it's built off of empathy and empathy. You know, a lot of us hear the phrase, it gives you a chance to take a walk in someone else's shoes. Like if you want to really know someone, you'll you'll walk a mile in their shoes. What that really means is you get to understand the situation that a person is in. And when we apply empathy to leadership, and the result is empathetic leadership, you understand the context of what's going on for someone, but you take the extra step of working to help them get out of it. So it's this proactive, action oriented leadership style, where you're not doing the work for them. But you're coaching, you're mentoring, you're guiding them to learn and grow in a particular situation. Even if you haven't experienced that moment before you can still provide your experiences that helped shape you in one or another situation. So you're willing to jump in, you're willing to utilize servant leadership and say, What can I do to help and actually mean it. That's

Jeff Ma
empathetic leadership. Great, so pretty grateful. straightforward kind of definition there. But as we kind of known and experienced and are here to share, that's always not that's, that's easier said than done. Oh, yeah. Right. So what's the challenge with empathetic leadership, then Mohammed, can you share with that share buyback?

Unknown Speaker
So, what has happened to me in the past is I've been assuming that I'm practicing empathetic leadership, but I realized and caught myself actually being sympathetic. So, you know, there are a lot of situations that present themselves, with my coworkers, with their situations that they're going through the problems that they're going through, and, you know, I want to care for them and have compassion towards them. And I know that the way to have that is through empathy, but I've just recently realized that I've been practicing sympathy and not empathy. So for example, if one of my friends coworker comes to me and tells me, you know, hey, I've been having a, you know, XYZ problems at home are with family and I haven't been able to deliver the project work that I was expected to, because I was having all of these issues. And, and, you know, they go into sharing the details of the issue. And I obviously, you know, feel for, you know, what they're going through. And but what used to happen was, I would just say, you know, sorry to hear that, I really hope you can take care of your stuff and take care of the family problems. Don't worry about the project. I'll see you later. And, and in the end, you know, what would happen is the work couldn't get done. And we weren't able to deliver on our outcomes or results. And somebody else who was already working hard or was already stretched us 10 I would either delegated to them Or take it on. And we would end up trying to do the work. And what I realized over time is that what I've been practicing is sympathetic leadership is I'm definitely trying to understand their situation. But I'm leaving them there and letting them struggle with their struggles and not really going to pick them up from their struggles and bring them out and help them grow and help them deal with the situation that they're having. And give them coaching advice or really look out to figure out how to help them in their current situation. And that's, to me is empathetic leadership. But over time, I think what happens is, leaders believe they have care and compassion. And I saw this with my own team. And they were over sympathetic to a point that they weren't holding our team accountable to do their job or get the results that were needed. Now That doesn't mean, we go tell them, we don't care about your situation. But we practice so much sympathy that we walked away, not actually even helping them come out of that sympathetic situation that they're in the situation they're in, we actually left them there and said, you know, you can go struggle with it, I started to hear about it, and then just walk away. So we kind of started getting into this apathy through sympathy, surprisingly. So that's a trap that most leaders can fall into, if we're not really mindful of the difference between sympathy and empathy.

Jeff Ma
I think, I think for a lot for a concept like this, maybe laying out some scenarios or examples would be a really simple way for people to understand the difference. So do you guys have an example maybe have some real world context I think we've actually been through even that could help companies than contrast these different types of leadership.

Frank Danna
Yeah, I mean, I can start, you know, one, one of the things I was I'm actually guilty of this sympathetic leadership. And, and that is a few months ago, we were kind of in the middle of, I guess, not really the middle because we're still in it. But we had just come out of this kind of crazy tumultuous situation with our organization making lots of changes. And, you know, one of the team members contacted me and asked how I was doing but also led me to kind of told me how they were doing and how terrible they were feeling and how overwhelmed they were feeling. And instead of, instead of creating a sense of optimism or a sense of hopefulness in that conversation, I just said, Hey, I'm really sorry to hear that. And instead of providing that sense of leadership, I brought that person's problem to other people and said, This is what they're dealing with, but I never took it upon myself to actually help guide that person and and get them out of that situation, or at least show them a different person. perspective, right? So even in just a simple conversation with someone, it, it yielded something that actually caused more harm than good because I wasn't willing to take that extra step and apply empathetic leadership.

Unknown Speaker
You know, and sometimes I think, as leaders when you hear the stories, if we step into that same place, and also start going through those feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed out, and we're not actually helping our team come out of that situation, and we end up going there too. Then we fall trap to seeking sympathy from others. And that could be dangerous because as a leader, people are looking up to us to help them and if we sympathize with them, and don't help them get out of that situation, we could end up leaving them affirming their feelings affirming their thoughts. So we had to be very careful. of how we're able to cautiously be empathetic understanding, but also speak to them about the positives and the optimism and give them hope and show them how they can like get out of that situation by giving them tools, solutions, ideas.

Unknown Speaker
And like for me, I can find myself like, on the opposite end of that where I'm more apathetic, where if someone has, like, in the past, someone has come to me, especially after COVID and the pandemic, and everybody's looking for answers. And it's like, we all just got punched in the face. What do you think I haven't answered, like, you know, you start going into like, we're all dealing with the same thing. And you know, right now, we're trying to keep the business you know, going and whatnot, and I may not have the time to listen to every single problem she may have, but we still have to get to the outcomes right. And so, in my head, I start thinking those things, but you know, I try to pause before I respond right, but you Still, there are certain times where you're like, I don't probably come across frustrated as to give you this answer. But how do you, you know, as a leader start thinking through Wait, they're asking questions, not because they want to bother you. But because they are legitimately scared. They're nervous, they're, you know, uncertainty drives a lot of various reactions, you know, some rational, some irrational. And so turning that into empathy means that you are capable of helping people understand, yes, times are uncertain, here's what I can do to try and keep some stability. Here's where I need your support to continue down the path, right, and you try and transition their questions into hope, or into, you know, action. So that way, they're not just stuck asking question after question, but they're now thinking, What can they do to participate, right? I'm going to empower you in this time. This is now the best time for all of us to figure it out together because unfortunately, there is no strategy to address what just happened, you know, to everybody across the globe at the same time?

Jeff Ma
Yeah, I think what I'm hearing from these examples is that we're and I'll try to lay this out clearly you guys tell me if I'm, if I'm hitting it. It's that when we use, like empathy is a is a thing that we all can kind of define and understand as a human relational thing of when we say empathetic leadership, and we put these words in front of leadership, we're kind of putting basically the human condition versus the business need in this in this context. So when I say apathetic leadership, what we mean is apathy towards the human condition. Like I don't necessarily factor in how you feel. And then that's against, you know, my focus on the business outcome. So, an apathetic leadership would mean that I you know, put your feelings aside please then get the work done and write a cold, cold heartless approach. When I say sympathetic leadership If that means sympathetic sympathetic to the human condition, but you lose focus on the business outcome. So you're prioritizing that complete sympathy for the person at the cost of actually progressing. And then so what we're trying to advocate here is empathetic leadership, which is empathy for the person or the human condition, but in the context of the business, right, so making sure that we balanced that, that support and and need, like that need for growth really around these individuals, because we're not doing them any favors by going either the other routes, is that kind of how we're laying it out. I think I'm hearing those three kind of themes.

Unknown Speaker
Yep. I would agree. He nailed it. Yep.

Jeff Ma
So I can see. I think the reason I laid that out was because for me, the struggle sometimes is like, I know that many times in the name of empathy. I've done sympathetically. That's because the pure human emotion side of things is really easy to confuse. I'm just talking about, like, it's really easy if you just take the human part of it and just go, Oh, I feel so bad for them. And I Oh, let me put let me imagine what it's like to be them. You're, you're practicing empathy but empathetic leadership requires taking that and then the next step applying it to weight but how do I help them grow? I almost think of it like, like a parent with their, with their children coming with with struggling with homework or struggling with schoolwork. Right? It's like they bring the math they can't get it done. If you're a sympathetic you know, leader or parent in that situation, you're just like, oh, man, yeah, this math is hard. That sucks. Let's go play. You know, let's go do something else. And but but that's not generally what you would think a good parent would do a good parent would would take that feedback and kind of really feel for the child struggle, but also sit down, roll up your sleeves and kind of struggle with it, through through it with them and work through the problems. Other ways to solve it? and things like that.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, another real dimension. analogy similar to that is fitness. Right? Like so you, if you're a fitness coach and you have your student working out, there's, you know, they reach a point where they're like, you know, this is too hard for me, I can't do this. I'm really struggling. I've been working out I'm not. I'm not achieving my fitness goals, I'm not able to do it. You know, that moment in time. If your fitness coach is and who, in this scenario you can compare to an empathetic leader or leader is like, yeah, it's really hard. I get it. I understand. All right. Oh, I see you next week. Then. Go take a week off straight like, what good are we doing? I want that trainer. What good are we bringing to the to the fitness level of the person right in fact, at that moment in time with the person is really serious about how they're feeling about their fitness level. And what they're not able to achieve. If they're if they're, if they're being in that moment of feeling bad about themselves and like, not seeing the results and disappointed, and me hearing that as a coach, if I'm just like, Yeah, I know it sucks. But, you know, why don't we Why don't take a week off. I'll see you later. We're not really helping. Right? As a coach, I would want to say, I hear that. This is hard. This is tough. This is not easy. I understand where you're coming from. I was there too. But you got to fight it. We got to get through this together. Here's how I can help you. Here's what you need to do. And take the student and train them how to like fight those feelings and how to work on their fitness level and how to get that workout in and you have to keep fighting to see results. It takes time. That's coaching, right? That's how an empathetic leader Should coach their employees if their employees come and tell them? This is really hard. I'm not able to do this. I'm not having, like, you know, and at that moment in time, you're like, yeah, I understand. All right. Don't worry about it, by not helping them. They're being sympathetic towards their feelings or their situation. But really, in that moment, what they need is that help and support. That's our servant leadership from the lens of empathy comes into play. And it's so important, because otherwise, we're not helping get the business outcomes achieved, but also for that person. You know, we're leaving them in that state of depression or disappointment, and that's not great.

Frank Danna
They're coming to you, yearning for you to be empathetic, right? They're not, they're not looking for you to say, Hey, don't do this. I mean, if you give them an out, they may for a little while, say, Well, great. I mean, I don't have to really do this responsibility anymore, but in the setting in the business context and the setting of an actual organization. People are looking for leaders to help. They're looking for leaders to guide. They're looking for leaders to protect, and and to show them a path forward. And so if we're shirking that responsibility, and moving towards sympathetic leadership or apathetic leadership, we are we are truly holding people back from their potential.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. And I remember like, it's one thing to now be a leader, but I remember growing in a previous org, and I had a boss and I was, you know, President who was very much, you know, a mentor, but also practice that empathetic leadership in certain moments. And I remember, I was new in my sales career, I had never led a major deal. And the first deal where we were super close to the finish line, things just fell apart. The client went super dark. And I was calling and chasing him and, you know, she would ask me for updates. And I was like, I've been calling him, you know, several times a day and she like, picked up the phone and call me She's like, Chris, I need you to stop nagging him. Like, if he's not calling back there's a reason we don't know it yet, but please stop nagging him, but you want somebody to do that to you, right? Like, and she actually coached me into understanding what was going on. Still holding my feet to the fire, making sure that you know, I was successful in producing, you know, sales, but it was that phone call that really got me to understand that wait skirt, like I can't be nagging or tasting or doing these things that are sort of detrimental to a relationship in the sake of trying to meet the goal. But at the same time, she understood like been in your shoes before, but trust me, you're not doing any favors in that relationship if that client isn't going to call you back, right? So those small little moments and even my path to leadership has been instrumental in helping me understand what does empathy look like and what does that sort of accountability measure look like? Where you're not necessarily coddling you know your employee, but you're not leaving them out to dry and you haven't Those moments where, you know, like, this is the moment where I need to tell you to stop doing this. And you have to do that like, right. And it's it is like parenting, right? Like there are certain times where you have to be like, No, I have to address it now, even if it's in front of your friends, even if it's like, I have to know what you're doing is not the way to do it. And sometimes when you have the wrong mindset, even on the receiving end of that you might miss the lens of this is what empathy is, and might just result or resort to the feeling of being a victim or called out or that means maybe, and I think that's sometimes also the struggle of empathetic leadership is that you know, what's going to happen on the opposite end when I push them to continue even though they're voicing their struggle or voicing their complaint or voicing their challenge. Because then some people do want that out. They do want that sympathy. Right?

Jeff Ma
And it almost feels like the classic kind of mindset that that As a leader, when faced with this human versus business, you know, challenge is that that feels like there's only two routes, right? It feels like you can either be this, you know, business bottom line results oriented, you know, hard ass really, and just get the results or you have to be soft and squishy, right and like just just get run over like, so it's almost like strong leader, a weak leader. Like that's the only two options you have. And it seems like it seems like you know, we tie that apathetic leadership with you know, climbing the ladder, like that kind of perspective of just like, hey, that I'm that strong leader that is going to just, you know, you better shape up or ship out. That's it.

Unknown Speaker
And I'm worse problem.

Jeff Ma
Yeah, but so, so. So, Chris, if that's if that's the type of perceived strong leader or effective leader to be really an apathetic leader, what's the sell for empathetic leadership? Like why is it? Why is that better?

Unknown Speaker
So I mean, we see it here at software and I'm sure many others who practice it see it, which is you have a higher morale around you, which means you have happy people that are wanting to do more wanting to be more wanting to give more to the business outcomes, which leads to a lower attrition so people aren't leaving your your doors soon, right, which adds to cost because replacement costs and regrettable attrition are one of the most detrimental costs to a business, right? Because you're not just losing that talent, you lose the using the knowledge, but you're also losing the cost to actually go out and try and replace them. Right. So it is something where you can have true business outcomes and business impacts just by thinking about how you respond differently to one question, how you help someone in one moment, right, and you know, I think it all adds up. But sometimes it's very easy to forget that small interactions always will sort of Trump those big milestone moments where you think, Oh, I threw a party, but you know, all those other small moments along the way I didn't think about what I was doing to and with my employees.

Jeff Ma
It's awesome. And so, every episode, we like to always loop around back to the word love, and figure out, what's the tie in? And what's the takeaway. And, you know, I, I like to kick this off because, you know, I love this topic. And it's, it's, you know, we can talk a lot about the role empathy plays in love in general. But the reason I love it is because this podcast, you know, love as a business strategy. When people read it, there's two words in there that don't go together, which is love in business. Like I think this is the classic kind of struggle. And the thing that we're trying to share with the world like this topic of empathetic leadership kind of resonates the entire, you know, like our entire position on this, you know, as a culture as a company. It shows that there is room for for Love in strong leadership and that empathy is kind of the place to start servant leadership, stuff like that. Does anyone want to add on to kind of the empathy versus love play here and what the takeaways for others.

Unknown Speaker
So I think if you're going to talk, start talking about using love in the workplace, the first step to getting to that outcome or that goal is empathy. there absolutely is no one that you can say you love if you've never had the, the desire or the ability to practice empathy and see things from their perspective, but I just see things from their perspective, see how they think and how you can meet them how you can plus them up, how you can minimize your voice and maximize there's like all of those things matter. And so the step to love I think starts with empathy.

Jeff Ma
Mo Is there anything tangible that that leaders out there can do right now, like after listening to this, what can they go do?

Unknown Speaker
I think the first thing is leaders should do is introspect and try to see if they are practicing sympathy in lieu of empathy, right, that's the that's the fine line and the mistake that most leaders might be making, because in their pursuit of building a, you know, care for, you know, caring and compassionate environment, you might be going to sympathetic. And so I would say, try to introspect on that and having self awareness if you are being sympathetic in the moment or empathetic and trying to recognize that and working on yourself to figure out how can I be more empathetic versus sympathetic, that would be my key takeaway, but you have to like, really look into those moments. Think about those interactions and recognize if you're being sympathetic or empathetic.

Jeff Ma
All right. Well, this is a really good conversation. I think. There's a lot to like, like I said, this resonates so strongly with us as a as the DNA What are we do? So, hopefully, if you're listening, you know, there really is this real active activity you can go do which is this this introspective look at what's thought leadership Do you have right? Is it default apathetic leadership default synthetic? What what opportunities might you have to convert that to an empathetic leadership and see what kind of see what kind of value that could bring out for you. And we're really excited to hear about that if you have stories, or if this is if this is gonna work, working for you. Let us know, you know, and give us your feedback around that. We're, we're going to close things off here today, but we're posting new episodes every Friday and we'd love to hear from you, you know, software.com slash labs, la abs. If you're enjoying this content, please do give us that feedback. We'd love it. If you go on Apple and leave us a review. Give us that feedback. Subscribe, all those good things it would mean a lot. So with that, we'll close off this and we'll go forth and become more empathetic leaders ourselves. Keep practicing. Keep playing

Unknown Speaker
Thanks, everybody.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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