Do we all possess the capacity to lead with empathy? This is the question posed by author, CEO and poet Azure Antoinette in her spoken-word performance at the start of Lattice’s Resources for Humans (RfH) Virtual Conference. Her moving performance details the ways in which “we all have the destiny of architecting a new foundation, one with pause, one with empathy, one steeped and built in humanity.”
“Leading with empathy” was the theme of this insightful conference that brought together over 40,000 HR professionals to learn from over 40 industry leaders and professionals, including Serena Williams and Adam Grant.
The day was packed full of learnings and advice on topics ranging from people best practices to mental health care. We’ve decided to share six of our favorite learnings and takeaways here.
1. As a leader, empathizing with employees is no longer a “nice-to-have” – it’s a must.
This year, many leaders are starting to see that empathizing with employees and showing them compassion is no longer just a “nice-to-have” – it’s a must. And RfH Virtual keynote speaker and bestselling author Adam Grant says it’s key for any successful organization. According to Development Dimensions International (DDI), empathy is the biggest single leadership skill needed today and a universal team value that promotes high commitment and cooperation in the workplace.
This may seem obvious, but it’s a skill that many leaders have yet to master. Adam Grant says it’s time for leaders to rethink how they approach leading with empathy and managing with compassion.
2. We have to protect and empower culture carriers.
Culture carriers are the people who go out of their way to enrich the culture of your organization. Grant says that most senior leaders do not know who these people are. This is a problem. In order to really empathize and connect with your employees, you need to know who is making a positive impact and driving the culture. These are key players who are incredibly valuable to a company. As a leader, it’s your job to learn from these culture carriers and protect them from the load they’re carrying.
This is a job disproportionately carried by women and people of color who have to do extra to prove they fit in or belong. Leaders need to meet with them and learn from them. What are their stories? How can we amplify them? How can we get them to feel seen and heard?
One piece of advice Adam shares is the idea of rethinking exit interviews. He candidly points out that “they’re hosted at the absolute dumbest time to run them.” Why wait until the end to learn all you can from your employees? Hosting this kind of interview early on gives people a chance to express themselves and customize their experiences and roles to their strengths and values.
3. Being creative can help you find the empathy within.
Sometimes empathy starts with a little creativity. Artist Shantell Martin delivered a powerful talk while creating an original drawing during her presentation at RfH Virtual. She explores the connection between tapping into your creativity and developing collaborative, compassionate relationships in life and in work.
She details how she’s learned how to let the ink teach her that there are no boundaries that cannot be broken with simple connections created by imagination and conversations. She also says that you don’t have to consider yourself an artist in the traditional sense to be your creative self.
Being creative means being present, aware, focused, taking the time to live in the moment that you’re in.
–Shantell Martin, Artist
Organic conversations fuel the creativity that leads down the road to empathy. “We ask why someone is in the situation they're in, when often there are bigger frameworks that are failing humanity, and so we’re not encouraged to be empathetic. Because that would lead to challenging and dismantling the status quo, which we have been conditioned to think is normal,” she explains.
People in the field of human resources are not only the creators of culture in the workforce, but also the leaders. We have to push those boundaries outside of the status quo. It starts with you – if you lead with a desire to inspire empathy in whatever you do, there will naturally always be organic connections with one another.
4. Watching puppies and hippos on a live cam eases anxiety.
It’s true, some studies have suggested that watching cute animal videos can lift your mood and help build your resilience to stress. In a unique break during the conference, attendees were encouraged to hop over to the live cam of Guide Dogs for the Blind or Fiona the Hippo. Just look at them. Enough said.
5. Hiring is the ultimate weapon.
The key to any successful business is hiring the right talent. And hiring the right talent starts with having leaders with a shared hiring mindset across teams and departments – these leaders are called Talent Makers. Greenhouse CEO and co-author of Talent Makers Daniel Chait joined Beth Steinberg, Founder of Mensch Ventures, Ashvin Vaidyanathan, VP of Customer Success and Insights at LinkedIn, Robert Lopez, SVP at JustWorks, and Erica Johnson, Head of Diversity, Equity and Belonging at Chime, to explore this idea that having a Talent Maker mindset can transform your business.
“Before [reading] Talent Makers, I didn’t know what I was aspiring to do, but now I have a word for it,” Ashvin shares. These are the people who understand that hiring is the ultimate business advantage – whether they’re a Director of Talent Operations, a VP of Sales or a CEO.
When we do QBRs, there’s always a discussion on hiring and talent. Business topics include people topics.
–Ashvin Vaidyanathan, VP of Customer Success and Insights at LinkedIn
When you prioritize hiring in your business objectives, you’ll see that you’re able to efficiently hire the right people, which unlocks human potential and allows your business to grow.
According to Beth, “Every senior leader should be spending 20–25% [of their time] on hiring. If you’re not, you’re not spending enough time. You also need to be thinking about talent as a long game. Look at the business 2 to 3 years out and plan ahead for who you need to bring in and build up.”
It’s also essential that leaders use a structured hiring process as it helps to mitigate biases in the process. “We’re growing at warp speed and the most important part of that is that we do it with DE&I in mind,” shares Beth. “We want our team to be representative of our member base. We have to be intentional about what those demographics look like.”
“Hiring is hard and hiring diversely is hard. It's all challenging,” shares Erika, but that doesn't mean it should fall by the wayside. “We need to be attacking DE&I hiring with the same amount of energy that we attack sales numbers.”
The best leaders are the best hirers.
–Robert Lopez, SVP at JustWorks
A final point about attracting the right talent in today’s market where there are so many options is bringing a sense of authenticity and storytelling into your recruiting process. According to Robert, “People remember stories – they don’t remember facts. If you can get those stories into the recruiting process, you can be successful. This is a candidate market. You have to be able to show what the company has done, their vision and what people have done. They want to be inspired. That’s what can catch people.”
6. Transparency is the key to authenticity.
Serena Williams is a legend and icon in so many ways. As an athlete, CEO and investor, she had a wealth of insights to share as the keynote speaker at the close of RfH Virtual. And through her experience as one of the greatest tennis players of all time, she knows a lot about power and strength, both physically and mentally. In her address, she shares something incredibly powerful, something she weaves into everything she does: authenticity.
When you approach your work, leadership and daily life with authenticity, you unlock so much of your own and your people’s potential.
I am authentic on camera, off camera, on or off the court. It’s just how I am in order to be the best I can be.
– Serena Williams, tennis champion and entrepreneur
This authenticity starts with being transparent. Communicating with honesty, feedback and being your whole self in the workplace allows you to build trust and understanding while creating an environment where employees are encouraged to thrive.
“We're humans, right? We have to be empathetic toward each other,” she advises while sharing a story about approving one of her coaches' time off. The coach was in need of some rest, and Serena gave her approval without hesitation, noting the importance of putting your employees' mental health first. As she so beautifully put it, “People want to be seen and heard on a human level. Supporting people is really powerful.”
Did you miss out on the impactful sessions of the Resources for Humans Virtual Conference 2021? Find out how to transform your hiring by watching the Talent Makers session here.