What impact do you unleash after you exit the room?

by Grace UengSavvy Growth

A few months ago, a client told me that one of my greatest strengths is empathy. I didn’t think much of it. Until another client made the theme of her weekly COVID CEO letter to her 2,000 employees on the power of empathy. As a strengths-based coach, I realize it is important for me to understand what clients tell me is my strength. I share highlights from her letter that gave me pause for reflection.    

  • Sometimes empathy means admitting that everything is not okay, instead of insisting it is or will be.
  • Empathy means listening to hear the feelings of others, not to explain our own feelings or opinion.
  • Empathy requires intentionality & courage.

Maya Angelou said, “I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.”   

A client shared concerns with me that one of their executives is a “consultative leader” and not necessarily engaged. This CEO said “even though you are a consultant to our firm, you are engaged!” That made me explore, just what does “engaged” really mean?

I recently led a session for a client and the CEO dropped me a note thanking me for “an excellent discussion” afterwards saying, “I do wish more of my leadership team would engage.”

I thought through these comments regarding empathy and engagement in reading Unleashed by my new favorite authors Frances Frei and Anne Morriss. This book’s thesis is that leadership, at its core, is not about you, rather, how effective you are at unleashing other people. I realize that an unleashing leader is an empathetic and engaging #leader.

I share my top takeaways by leaving you with 5 Questions to Consider:

  1. Are your teammates and colleagues better off when you are around as well as when you are not around? As a coach, do you help your players reach their potential, and do your players help each other on and off the court? Are you curious about what your people are thinking, feeling, and doing? Do you want to understand what makes them tick? How many questions do you ask them? I just finished watching “The Last Dance” chronicling Michael Jordan’s career, so I related to their commentary that leadership is much less about “Be Like Mike” and the guy flying through the air, rather much more about what everyone else on the court is doing.
  2. Do you use a carrot or a stick more often? Is your ratio at least 5 to 1 of carrot to stick? Often leaders push their teams to work harder, to try harder. Instead, they should build them up. Research shows that to motivate behavior, you need to offer at least 5 praises for each piece of constructive feedback. And make sure that the praise is specific. Don’t just say “good job!” Instead, tell them specifically what they did that you thought was good. To see if your guidance is working, just watch to see if they are improving. I was sharing with Savvy’s sales management practice leader the profiles of a client’s sales team. When I described one that was the most successful, he said – that is because he makes his customers feel good about themselves. So they like being around him and doing business with him. Building your team up by using a carrot, instead of stick results in their feeling good about themselves which leads to the results both want. Instead of relying on negative prompts for improvement, the authors like to send leaders out into the world as “ambassadors of other people’s awesomeness” (OPA). Share with a team member that you’ve noticed in them some kind of talent – no matter big or small – see where that gift might take them if they decide to share it more often.
  3. How do you empower each member of your team? Would they operate well independently if you had to focus entirely on a family crisis or a personal health issue for the next four weeks? Your mission as a leader should be to continuously improve the performance of the people around you, enabling them to thrive and want to perform at their highest standards even after you walk out of the room (or Zoom!). This requires you to set high standards and reveal deep devotion at the same time, a nontrivial challenge the authors refer to simply as love.
  4. Do team members love you? I coach the CEO of a 2,000 person healthcare services organization and in my work for them, I am asked to speak to many a team member. I often hear from them, “I just love Danielle (name changed for confidentiality]”. This CEO has a non hierarchical mode of operating, so she touches staff many levels beneath her and they also feel free to approach her. In her weekly notes to her entire team, she shares transparent, often difficult business updates with heartfelt messages inspiration and encouragement often mixed in. An activator, she has huge capacity and expects high levels of thinking and results from her people. Frei and Morriss espouse that the highest form of love is tough love that places equal emphasis on tough and on love. Holding your people to very high standards yields deep devotion. They provide the case study of Steve Jobs – notoriously severe as a leader, who built the most sustainably innovative company of the last century. He regularly empowered the people around him to perform superhuman tasks with unflinching devotion to the potential of his team. The executive on his team that launched the first Macintosh shared what many of his top hires felt, “I consider myself the luckiest person in the world to have worked for him.”
  5. Do your leaders trust you? This is an incredibly important quality to earn and often is built over many years including working through difficulties together. Frei and Morris were hired to rebuild trust at the employee level at Uber. Frances committed to wearing an Uber T-shirt every day until the entire company was proud to be on payroll. Together, they led an effort to rewrite the company’s cultural values, one they invited input from all fifteen thousand employees on the the commitments they wanted Uber to live by. A new motto they settled on was “We do the Right Thing. Period.” We recently facilitated a Core Values & Visioning Workshop for a client. They came up with one value as “Wear Company T-shirt Proudly. We have each other’s back!”

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on what empathy and engagement mean to you to in becoming an unleashing leader.

#leadership #emotionalintelligence #positivepsychology 

About the Author

Grace Ueng is CEO of Savvy Growth, a boutique management consultancy and leadership coaching firm founded in 2003, whose mission is to help companies and their leaders achieve their fullest potential.

Grace and Savvy’s Managing Director, Rich Chleboski, lead the development and implementation of strategies to support the growth of impact focused companies. Before starting Savvy, Grace held leadership roles at five high growth tech ventures that exited through acquisition or IPO. She started her career at Bain & Company and after graduating from Harvard Business School, worked in brand management at Clorox and General Mills.

Rich, her classmate at MIT, is a senior executive with three decades experience growing large and small technology firms. Throughout his career, Rich has combined technical, financial, strategy, operations, and business development skills to solve complex problems. He co-founded Evergreen Solar and as its CFO led the start-up through four rounds of VC funding, an IPO, several post-IPO financings and to a market cap of over $1 billion with more than $300 million in revenue.

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