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Rise of the Empath



INFLUENCER: We need empathy to truly understand individual needs and dreams so that we can plan our journey accordingly, writes Coffee & TV's Leonie Moreton

Rise of the Empath

There is excitement in the air, a glimmer of spring and the suggestion of hope. For the last 12 months we’ve barricaded ourselves at home, high on anxiety as we’ve watched the world as we know it, burn. Now like a Phoenix from the ashes we’re carefully unfurling, dusting ourselves off to step into a braver new world and I want to celebrate the rise of Empathetic Leaders that will boldly take us there.

It is true that empathy is not gendered however studies in ethology, social psychology, economics, and neuroscience show fundamental differences in measures of empathy between men and women. Regardless of gender or our innate leaning towards it, empathy can be learned by those willing to work hard enough to carve new neurological pathways.

Why bother? Because there’s a 'significant business cost when leaders lack empathy'. In my first job at 16 my manager’s rousing call to action at the beginning of every shift was, 'don’t fuck it up'. At which point my stomach would sink, my heartrate would rise, and I would nervously go about my day, fucking it up at every juncture. Fear drove a chasm of disconnect between this leader and his transient team.

Conversely, psychoanalyst Prudy Gourgucheon explains that empathy enables leaders to 'better understand the human environment therefore make better predictions, craft better tactics, inspire loyalty and communicate clearly'. It’s taken a global pandemic for us to widely recognise empathy’s power, so expertly exhibited by leaders such as Jacinder Ardern (and lack thereof from BoJo and his Cummings crew.)

Alongside her noncognitive sisters, empathy is widely considered to be a soft skill. There’s nothing soft about it. It can be impossibly hard at times to understand the feelings of another team member when the reality may place your mindsets miles apart. The Empath recognises that challenge and using empathy as a gateway to kindness, actively works to truly understand another’s perspective, ensuring people feel both seen and heard. Although such vicarious introspection will inevitably impact how you run meetings or communicate plans, it does not make you malleable. Leading with empathy doesn’t mean amending your goals to meet the needs of individual perspectives, but it may well lead you to tweak the strategy that gets you there.

It was a strategic decision made by the Coffee & TV founders to promote me to managing director. As a proudly people-led company it made sense to them to place a people-led leader at the helm. I’m not embarrassed to admit I love the team at Coffee & TV; I wear my heart on my sleeve. Perhaps that sounds sickeningly saccharine or insincere. It’s a trait not always welcomed but I make no apology for it. For me, leading people without emotion would be tantamount to treating them like robots and no one wants to be a cog in that machine. I find it impossible to remove my soul from my work because without soul there is no purpose. And without purpose there are no goals. And without goals there is no action. And without action, we are going nowhere.

As Glennon Doyle (HRH) has so poignantly reminds us, love does not make room for martyrdom. I shan’t be laying down my coat so the team don’t get their toes wet. Go ahead and drench yourselves. Throw yourself in at the deep end. Take yourself to a depth you find uncomfortable in order to learn what you’re truly capable of. But you won’t drown because I’ll be watching. I find no greater satisfaction in life than supporting people to unleash their full potential and thrive.

Of course, we don’t always get it right at Coffee & TV. We’ve celebrated a pitch win that has tipped work life balance into the back of beyond. We’ve bemoaned burnout whilst falling fowl of calls to action after dark. We’ve failed at times because we’re human, fundamentally lacking the programming of a foghorn announcing hazards ahead. We don’t profess to have always got it right, but empathy ensures we won’t turn a blind eye when we’ve got it wrong. If there’s a gap in our understanding, I want to learn it. If there’s a route you’d prefer to take, let me hear it. Every day we’re trying to do things better.

‘Do things better’ is the mantra that will carry us into this brave new era. As a Certified B Corporation our commitment to be a positive force for good is not just a lofty goal we’ll pull out to PR, but its written into our Articles of Association. We have a legal obligation to maximise our impact on our team and clients and minimise our impact on the planet. Of course, we’re not saving lives here, but it would be wrong to neglect the privileged position we’re in to positively impact them. We can enable our clients to realise a vision that has kept them awake at night. We can empower our team to reach goals they may have previously deemed unachievable. And we can do so with kindness and clarity, patience and understanding, support and sincerity.

But to stand any chance of achieving that goal we need empathy to truly understand individual needs and dreams so that we can plan our journey accordingly. Let us wear our empathy like a badge of honour and promote those potent pathways and their full potential. I’m powered by hope for the future and I’m listening.

Leonie Moreton is MD Coffee & TV

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Coffee & TV, Tue, 09 Mar 2021 16:10:02 GMT