Empathy is one of those words, often regarded as “soft” yet our research into organisations who travelled further and faster than their competition or comparators discovered its power and impact. They took empathy to a whole new level – enlightened … yet also managed to build upon the foundation that gave people and leaders the confidence to let go and believe in their people’s and customer’s ability to take a leap of faith.
Empathy is one of those words often regarded as “soft”, yet our research into organisations who travelled further and faster than their competition or comparators discovered its power and impact. They took empathy to a whole new level – enlightened … yet also managed to build from that the foundation that gave people and leaders the confidence to let go and believe in their people’s and customer’s ability to take a leap of faith.
Joe Gebbia, a co-founder of Airbnb describes a disconnection from empathy as a “bleak dark time”. When in their early days they were struggling to convince customers or even find customers. In innovation speak this is known as the “trough of sorrow”. When nothing is clear, you seem to be speaking a different language and you feel disconnected from anyone or any solution. The way forward for Joe Gebbia was the epitome of enlightened empathy – go travel, hit the road, and stay with customers, not ask them what they want but live alongside them to see it for themselves. Then, just as our research identifies, take that insight and take the leap of faith into making it happen.
The tension, identified in our research hinges on the right balance between enlightened empathy and then stepping or leaning back and giving people the opportunity to take a leap – do something that might be new, unfamiliar and even plain scary.
The real questions we debate often with our clients are twofold:
In what ways and to what extent are leaders around here building genuine enlightened empathy with and within their teams or with their customers?
Do they therefore understand and appreciate the moment when it is right to take a step back and create the space for people to enter into that uncomfortable space in which we are tested and grow the most?
Enlightened empathy can be learnt, but first it needs to be really understood. My own first experience was an entirely personal one, trying to go beyond understanding my husband, as his brain tumour took him to a new reality and one that made little sense to me. I tried to bring him back to seeing the world as he had, reminding him, correcting him, covering up for him, until I realised, I needed to be in that world with him, if I was to stay connected and actually really be with him. I adopted his reality and when I see really skilled people, working with extreme neurodiversity that’s enlightened empathy in action. So, we can learn, if first we understand and sit in that tipping point between deep empathy and believing in someone – things can and will happen.