Patricia Bravo: Why Empathetic Leaders Create Better Teams (Episode 150)

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Patricia Bravo runs “Bravo for You,” a consultancy that accelerates leader capability through the use of empathetic leadership. She joins the show today to discuss empathy and leadership, and to share why it can be so hard to weave empathy and leadership together, even though it seems they should be natural partners.

Key Takeaways:

[2:10] - Even though it seems like empathy and leadership should walk hand in hand, the reality is that in many situations you can have leadership models that aren’t very empathetic, or empathetic habits that don’t display good leadership.

[2:57] - In Patricia’s work, she helps to teach leaders in the workplace about empathetic leadership. Some common questions she gets are “How can you show up as an empathetic leader while managing performance?” or “How can you juggle making important business decisions and being empathetic?”

[4:15] - Many leaders are struggling with the work environments they are in - volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA). Many leaders are commended for their performance and delivery within a business context, but not so often for the context and quality of their leadership. Despite this, leaders who invest in empathetic leadership are able to achieve more productivity through motivation and the results they get from their team members.

[6:52] - In some cases, there may be a little hard-headedness about adopting empathetic leadership, but in other cases leaders are just struggling with how to be more empathetic, rather than a rejection of the idea. Patricia had begun to notice that there is a hunger for empathy in the workplace, especially from team members for their leaders.

[9:25] - The definition of empathy that Patricia uses for leaders is from Daniel Goleman: The ability to understand the emotional makeup of others, and the skill in then treating people according to their emotional reactions. They also discuss what empathy is not; it is different from sympathy and compassion. Patricia talks about what these things are, as well as how they relate to and intertwine with empathy.

[11:58] - How can leaders balance empathy with ensuring they’re treating everybody the same? One of the benefits of empathetic leadership is that you can customize to an individual team member’s preference. As a result, the team member is more likely to continue to want to connect with their leader - it helps to establish a sense of trust.

[14:03] - Charlie talks about some of the tension that still remains. Middle managers often desire empathy the most, but at the same time struggle with executing it because of the pressure they receive from so many sides.

[17:18] - Some leaders find the speed of business today to be quite challenging. It is important to have some quick wins to demonstrate your success as a leader. One of the things Patricia suggests is for leaders to spend time early in the development of relationships with their team members learning about preferences and how they can meet team members where they’re at.

[18:29] - In her empathetic leader model, she encourages leaders to really try to relate with the individuals they are trying to connect with. The first thing you should do with a team is actually work out the empathetic stuff.

[21:21] - What are the first things leaders should do when they take over a leadership position? What would the first steps be in fostering empathetic leadership? The first thing Patricia advises is to try and do a quick assessment of what level of empathy their teams deserves. The second thing to think about is to what degree you are engaging your own emotions.

[23:44] - One of the first things you can do as new leader, is show up in an empathetic manner for your team members and demonstrate your interest in understanding their perspective. A meeting with your team to share your approach is helpful before you continue on to one-on-one meetings. If there is a situation that is more chaotic, it may be beneficial to first meet with individuals before you meet collectively as a team.

[29:05] - Part of what you’re trying to do in this stage is figure out the culture and values of your team. This can help you get to the unstated cultural norms that could get in the way of you being an empathetic leader. As you listen, you can look at nonverbal cues and the emotions behind what’s being stated.

[32:48] - Patricia talks about how she got involved in the work of empathetic leadership. Looking through all of her experiences, she noticed that leaders who led with empathy differentiated themselves at work because they got different results from people. They were able to increase their followership. There was not a lot of research on empathy in the workplace, so she began compiling these findings into her work. Her earliest experiences around empathy came from her grandmother, and have now translated into some of the work she does.

[36:04] - Empathy and compassion seem to have a gendered component to them. The research shows that women have a natural tendency toward empathy, but Patricia likes to focus on the fact that empathy is gender agnostic. So despite our natural tendencies, we all have the ability to develop and enhance our empathetic leadership. One of the things she does to engage with this is to just have a conversation about people’s experiences and what their objections are.

[39:07] - Many people may struggle with finding a balance between displaying a healthy amount of empathy and coming across as too “soft.” Patricia encourages people to experiment within the context of their environment to find a balance, and then practice with some regularity. In any case, just try it and see what results you get.

[41:34] - How can we create an organizational habit of empathetic leadership? One of the things about empathetic leadership is that it stands the test of time, because of that emotional connection. A good way to maintain empathetic leadership in your work environment is by partnering with one or two other people to stay connected on the topic.

[44:10] - Charlie and Patricia talk about how to implement empathetic leadership throughout the hierarchy in the workplace. As someone who is new to the workplace and not necessarily in a leadership position, you can engage in self-study and create a small community to talk about the idea of empathy (see below for Patricia’s book recommendations). At the middle management layer, it’s about finding moments to figure out where you can invest. Think about incorporating empathy into existing parts of your day. At the senior level, Patricia encourages first testing on some keyholders in the organization to hopefully gather support and help advocate for bringing it to the whole organization. They often have the most resources with which to experiment and can decide the most appropriate way to incorporate it.

[52:34] - There is a personal responsibility here to help implement empathetic leadership in your organization.

[54:06] - Patricia’s invitation/ challenge for listeners: She is really interested in hearing the stories that people have around empathy. She would love to hear your stories - contact her via her website Bravo For You. Her challenge is for you to try and lead with empathy in a different way than you have in the past, or try to incorporate it into your work if it’s new for you.

Mentioned in This Episode:

Productive Flourishing

Bravo for You

Can You Grow into Level 5 Leadership?, by Jim Collins

Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman

The Speed of Trust, by Stephen M.R. Covey

Co-Active Coaching, by Laura Whitworth

The Coaching Habit, by Michael Bungay Stanier

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Patricia’s and Charlie’s Recommendations:

Brené Brown

Wired to Care, by Dev Patnaik

Patricia’s Research

TouchPoints, by Douglas Conant and Mette Norgaard

168 episodes available. A new episode about every 6 days averaging 44 mins duration .