While leading with empathy is certainly not a new concept, when I started my professional career as a creative marketer more than two decades ago, it was not common practice.
When I was just a couple of years out of college, I landed a position at a well-known publishing house as the assistant to the editor-in-chief of a high-profile magazine. I remember feeling a bit stuck in my role and craving new challenges more in line with my personal passions. So, I mustered up the courage to set up time with human resources and shared my vision for my role within the company and how I wanted to do more. After my meeting ended, I took the elevator down, feeling so proud of myself for speaking up. By the time I got to my floor, the elevator door opened, and I was met with only two dreaded words: “You’re fired.”
I was completely shocked. It took me a while for me to process exactly what had happened. Instead of leveraging my talents and passion, my employer dismissed me completely in the most final of ways and showed zero empathy in the situation. This was an experience that helped me form my own leadership style—a chance to do things very differently.
Data Backs Up the Empathy Approach
When I started Base Beauty 15 years ago, it not only gave me the opportunity to become the mom I wanted to be on my own terms, but also the ability to create a company where leading with empathy would be common practice and the core value I foster in all areas of the organization—for our clients and our internal team culture.
Showing empathy in the work we do on behalf of our clients is the secret to the success of our programs. My team considers the end user with a generosity of spirit that is unique and fascinating to watch. As part of our empathetic creative process, we dive deep into the consumer experience, putting ourselves into their shoes, which results in rich and powerful insights to act on.
We recently conducted an internal study of my team’s talents and learned that we scored exceptionally high in the empathy area of emotional intelligence assessments. In fact, of the 12 different emotional intelligence competencies, empathy was the highest, along with self-actualization. After further analysis of the work that has been most effective for our clients, we found that there is a direct link between our team’s empathy and driving results, whether it’s an increase in DMs asking “where to buy” or driving a 33% increase in sales. We know from our clients just how impactful it is to respond to these DMs right away in real time, as it’s an opportunity to connect with customers.
This data point proves how leading with empathy and hiring talent who believe in your same value system is not only great for team culture, but also good for pushing your clients’ work forward.
Build Empathy Into Work Culture
But empathy is so much more than data; it’s about human connection. I’ve had a lot of jobs through the years, and plenty of challenging experiences to inspire change. With my agency, I wanted to create a work experience that celebrates our side hustles and life beyond work. It sounds so simple, but many team members came from jobs where they had to hide their life beyond the office to maintain a facade of 100% work dedication. I don’t want to work all the time and I don’t want my team to either. We’ve proven time and time again that we can make magic happen during classic business hours, and once the workday ends, explore, embrace, and enjoy the other facets of our lives.
Empathy is also built into our team programs. We created a monthly Mental Health Day a few years ago to counterbalance the increased pace of marketing. This is an extra day, in addition to PTO, that is pre-assigned to staff for them to do whatever they want other than work! This program has grown and is a powerful way to communicate how much I care about my team’s well-being, and helps to retain staff and attract new hires. Empathy also leads our Peer-to-Peer Program, which pairs staffers who are new to the agency with people who have been here a long time. The goal is to foster connection and provide rooting for new hires, but also a way to ensure that we are creating opportunities for staff to grow in their careers. As someone who felt “unheard” in my former jobs, I wanted to build a program that puts our staff’s voices first in leading their trajectory at Base Beauty. We’ve discovered incredible talents in new team members just by asking, “What else are you good at?”
For leaders overseeing teams, whether big or small, having a deep understanding of your team members’ goals and challenges, personal and professional, will show them that they are not just a number but a human being with feelings that truly matter to you. In return, the leader’s empathy will be rewarded tenfold with employees who will return the kindness with loyalty, dedication, and a desire to succeed.
So, whether you are an entrepreneur hiring talent or an intrapreneur in an established company looking to build a team, consider rethinking the core value system that will help drive positive growth and change. Being a good boss or company that leads with empathy and kindness first is not only morally the right thing to do, but also good for business. And that is something we can all stand behind.