The Empathetic Leader: How Empathy Can Shape Leadership

by | Sep 15, 2017

We talk regularly about business model disruption; it’s a common theme for boards and executives. But we don’t hear much about the disruption happening to leadership. The reality is that while business models are evolving, leadership is changing too. The hierarchical model of command and control, and even the much-favoured matrix model, is just as much in need of redefinition as the business model itself. Let’s examine why and consider the Empathetic Leader as a potential model of future leadership:

Boost productivity by creating delightful experiences for your team

If we are to create an unparalleled focus on the customer as the centre of the business and on customer empathy, this needs to be mirrored by the leadership structure in the organisation. If we know that customers are no longer interested in products and services we offer them, but are looking to be delighted by experiences, then how do leaders reflect this reorientation in their leadership style? Focussing solely on the numbers, product sales, market growth and the like are “inside out” strategies for leaders – and just like we need an “outside in” strategy for customers if we are to succeed in the future, so too we need a corresponding “outside in” strategy for our subordinates and team members. Are you creating delightful experiences for your team? What processes do you have in place as a leader to do so?

Build a culture that encourages ‘doing’ rather than ‘talking’

If we are to encourage short, rapid experiments to validate and, more importantly, invalidate hypotheses, how is this openness to change reflected in your leadership style? It’s not just about accepting failure (though of course that is necessary) but it must involve building a culture “from the ground up” that rewards action over inertia, that embraces experimentation, that encourages “doing” rather than “talking”, and puts the customer top of everyone’s mind, with a “whatever it takes” attitude throughout the organisation.

Empathy is the necessary ingredient if we are to put the customer at the centre, and create experiences that delight them. Design Thinking starts with genuine empathy for the customer, seeks then to understand the problems the customer faces, ideate around the problem, and prototype and test creative solutions. Are we doing this as leaders with our teams?

The Empathetic Leader: The leadership style of the future

We call for you to embrace the concept of “the empathetic leader”. Start with empathy for team members – what are their needs, gains and pains? Do we really understand the drives, aspirations, frustrations and day-to-day experience of the people whom we depend on to realise our vision? As leaders, what problems in the team do we need to solve in order to drive performance? There’s no point making changes to the team unless we understand the problems. Then, ideate. Bring together the team, and a range of disparate “others” to ideate on how some of these problems could be solved. Go wide – diverge – then converge on specific solutions. Then – prototype – test the possible solutions. Change some of the structure into the new model. Build metrics of success – or failure – around these changes. Co-create experiments of structures with the team to validate and invalidate the various hypotheses. And finally test, test and test.

If we are to put the customer at the centre, then as leaders we need to empathise with our team members and treat them as internal customers. Which they rightly are. As leaders, we need to use methodologies such as Design Thinking internally as well as externally, and empathy is the place to start.

We propose the Empathetic Leader as the leadership model of the future. The model that will enable us to reshape our business models and disrupt ourselves creatively.

The Strategy Group

About The Strategy Group

The Strategy Group’s expertise sits at the nexus between Design Thinking, Lean Start Up and Strategy. We are obsessed with innovation, and support our clients to master leading edge approaches to deliver successful innovation projects.

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The Strategy Group’s expertise sits at the nexus between Design Thinking, Lean Start Up and Strategy. We are obsessed with innovation, and support our clients to master leading edge approaches to deliver successful corporate innovation projects.

To do this we bring together the best of Design Thinking, Lean Start Up, Traditional Corporate Strategy and Customer Centric approaches to service delivery. If you have a compelling problem to solve, an idea or hypothesis to test with customers, or half or fully formed business model to commercialise, we will delight in partnering with you to achieve tangible impact.

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