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/ / An inspirational and empathetic approach to leadership

An inspirational and empathetic approach to leadership

The younger, less gray version of myself spoke with little consideration of another person’s perspective. Every time (which, fortunately, was not often!) that I made an employee cry, I mistakenly thought I was being empathetic, “Of course! You should just get it” was my default inner voice. The truth is that pushing your way to an outcome is not the best or most efficient way to achieve your desired result. It’s not just what we say, it’s how we say it. We all know this deep down, but self-reflection is hard. We’re all the center of our own universe. For many startup CEO’s, this is a Master Class in leadership.  

As a founder-CEO, it’s incumbent on you to be clear, intentional and inspirational when you’re communicating with — notice I didn’t say “talking to”– a variety of stakeholders including employees, customers, vendors, your board of directors, and investors, among others. I’m a big fan of behavioral profiling programs such as DISC, Meyers Briggs, and many others. It’s interesting to learn how people communicate differently and how to manage and inspire others through effective communication. And, although we can’t profile all our stakeholders, we can learn to identify certain behavioral attributes and communicate more effectively to achieve our desired result.  

Getting all stakeholders swimming in the same direction isn’t easy and it takes a practice and a special leadership style to harmonize this symphony and maximize results. So, how do you communicate effectively with each of them? How do you get them all to buy-in, day after day, hurdle after obstacle after hurdle? Aside from constantly talking about your WHY, here are a few things to consider when tailoring your approach to maximize the impact of your message. 

1. Inspire and Motivate

Your employees, investors and customers want to be with winners and be on a winning team — but they have different motivations. If you walk into a room expecting the same message will excite different stakeholders, you’ll miss the mark. Here’s a few considerations:  

  • Customers care about their experience, things like product quality, price, and ease of use.
  • Boards and investors care about not losing money first, making money second—then social well-being, risk and other factors. 
  • Employees care about the practical experiences of their working life, such as pay, time off, benefits, career path, and whether or not they like the company, the people they work with and for, and their job function.

Think of a time in the past.  Have you ever said to yourself “why are you telling me this?” It’s because the speaker or leader didn’t consider his or her audience. As a founder-CEO you have to learn to communicate to achieve your goals. Motivate your employees. Assure your investors (even with bad news.) Excite your customers. Make your audience stay connected to the mission.

2. Speak with empathy and respect

People respond best when they’re spoken with, not to. Stop talking. Ask questions. Listen. As type-A people, we tend to expect people to want what we want because we know we’re right, right? If we shut up for a few seconds and really listen, we demonstrate respect, create the space for empathy, and we learn a lot. So, next time you’re presenting or meeting one-on-one, pause. Create a moment of awkward silence and see what happens next.

Communication is a Master Class.

The best leaders hone their communication skills throughout their entire lives. They’re intentional about understanding and connecting with people in a meaningful and genuine way. It’s the key to creating the maximum impact with everyone, internal and external stakeholders, family, friends–everyone. It also makes launching and sustaining a successful business that much more fun and rewarding. 

Learn more about the phenomenons that got me to buy in, here. (link to Steve’s investment portfolio) 

As Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Enjoy the ride!