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Collection: Leadership - #3 Simon Sinek | Practice Empathy & It Will Change Your Life



We do not practice empathy. What is empathy look like?

Here's the lack of empathy – this is normal in our business world – you walk into someone's office, someone walks into our office and says, "Your numbers have been down for the third quarter in a row. You have to pick up your numbers, otherwise, I can't guarantee what the future will look like." How inspired you think that person is to come to work the next day?

Here's what empathy looks like, you walk into someone's office, someone walks into your office and says, "Your numbers are down for the third quarter in a row. Are you okay? I'm worried about you. What's going on?"

We all have performance issues. Maybe someone's kid is sick. Maybe they having problems in their marriage. Maybe one of their parents is dying. We don't know what's going on in their lives and of course, it will affect performance at work. Empathy is being concerned about the human being, not just their output.

And we have to practice empathy, and one of the groups that we are pretty bad at practicing empathy with is our young millennials.

So let me show you what empathy looks like, listening to understand, trying to understand someone's point of view and disposition. At a hundred percent of the talks that I gave or the meetings that I have, invariably, someone will raise their hand and ask about the millennial problem. (Laughter)

Apparently this young generation is unleadable, apparently they have confounded every single company in every single industry. And so now it's at the point where companies have given up and are now just asking millennials, "What do you want?"

And so they say, "We want free food and bean bags." (Laughter) And so now every company has free food and bean bags and guess what? Nothing has changed. (Laughter)

So what I thought we would do – what I thought I would do is show you what empathy looks like, how do we practice empathy with someone, we don't understand? How do we practice empathy with an organization or a group that we're struggling with, right?

So we have to understand that this breaks down to four things. I've broken it down into Parenting, Technology, Impatience and Environment.

Let's talk about Parenting first. Too many millennials have grown up subject to what has been described as a failed parenting strategy. Too many of them were told as they were growing up that they were special that they can have whatever they want just because they want it.

They got medals for coming in last, they got participation medals right? And the science on this is already good. We know that it devalues the feeling that somebody who works hard and comes in first place. And it actually makes the person who comes in last embarrassed because they know, they don't deserve it. So it actually makes them feel worse, it actually doesn't help.

There are a lot of kids who got into honors classes, not because they deserved it but because their parents complained. And they got As not because they earned them but because the teachers didn't want to deal with the parents, right?

Then those kids graduate and they start a job and in an instant, they find out that they're not special, that you don't get anything just because you want it, you get nothing for coming in last and your parents cannot help you get a promotion. And in an instant, their entire self image is completely shattered. And in an instant, the way they view themselves have completely changed, turned on its head.

And so what you find is that there's an entire generation growing up with lower self-esteem than previous generation. Remember, they have grown up in an Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat world in which they are very very good at putting filters on everything. They're very very good at curating how they want to be seen and we think they're full of confidence. They seem to have all the answers. They seem to be telling us what to do.

At the end of the day, it's just not there, it's just not true. It's just not true. Their confidence is a lot weaker than before, they don't know where they're coming from, they don't know where they're going, they're unsure of themselves and they lack the courage to ask. We say things like, "My door is always open" assuming that they have the courage to walk through the door. Number one.

Then we add in Technology. There is a chemical in our body called dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for the feelings we get when we find something we're looking for or we accomplished something we set out to accomplish.

You know, that great feeling you get when you cross something off your to-do list, or when you win the game, when you hit the target, right. Win the client, get the promotion, whatever it is. That elation – find your keys (Laughter) – that elation comes from a chemical in our body called dopamine, right?

Now other substances – other things that release dopamine include alcohol, nicotine, gambling. That's what makes us feel good when we engage with those things and it's the root of a lot of addiction. In fact, almost every alcoholic on the planet discovered alcohol when they were teenagers.

You see when we're very very young, the only approval we need is approval from our parents. And then as we go through adolescence, we now crave the approval of our peers – very frustrating for our parents – very important for us. It allows us to acculturate outside of our immediate families into the larger tribe. Very very important right?

It's a time of high stress and high anxiety and we're supposed to learn to rely on our friends. Some people quite by accident discover alcohol, and the numbing effects of dopamine to help them cope with the stress and that becomes hardwired and then for the rest of their lives when they suffer some kind of extreme stress, they don't turn to a person, they turn to the bottle, right?

Now, we also know that dopamine is released with cell phones and social media. So that bing, buzz, flash and beep that we get from our phones that feels so good, it releases dopamine. We like getting it. Yes, we all hate all the emails, but we love the bing, right?

We've all been in this position, you know, you feeling a little bit down, you're feeling a little bit sorry, maybe feeling a little bit sad and so what do we do? We send out 10 texts to 10 friends. Hi, hi, hi, hi, hi... (Laughter)

And we hope that they write back because it feels good, right? So now we have a young generation with basically unfettered access to social media and cell phones. We have age restrictions on alcohol, we have age restrictions on smoking and we have age restrictions on gambling. We have no age restrictions on this other dopamine-producing device called social media or cell phones.

It's the equivalent of throwing open the liquor cabinet and telling our young adolescents, "I know this is a stressful time, try the vodka, it'll get you through these hard times." (Laughter)

That's basically what we're doing. And so, what's happening is, it's becoming hardwired where our young generation isn't learning the coping skills and coping mechanisms to turn to another human being when they're struggling or stressed they're turning to social media or their cell phones.

Their self-worth sometimes becomes wrapped up in how many likes they get, they obsessively check, how many likes, how many likes, how many likes... And actually will get depressed if they don't get any. You see them going out with their friends and instead of connecting with their friends. They will simply sit and talk on the phone.

Let me show you something that's really powerful. Can I borrow your phone please? There's one right there in between you, just let me borrow that for a sec. (Laughter) I'm asking you to give me somebody else's phone.

You don't have to turn it on. I just need it. Thank you.

So let me show you the subconscious power of this device. What if I were to hold my phone while I'm giving this presentation, I'm not checking it, it's not buzzing, it's not beeping, I'm simply holding it. Do you feel like you're the most important thing to me right now?

No, you do not. And this is an artificial environment. Now think about how often this phone is out while we're talking to other people. Hey boss, can I talk to you? Sure, what's on your mind?

As opposed to; Sure, what's on your mind?

We go out for dinner or lunch with our family and our friends, we have meetings and we put the phone on the table, which sends a subconscious message to everybody else in the room that this is not that important to me. You're not that important to me. And by the way, putting your phone upside down is not more polite. (Laughter)

This is my favorite one where the phone rings in the middle of the dinner and the middle of a lunch, in the middle of a meeting and somebody goes... "I'm not going to answer it." (Laughter)

Oh my God, just so magnanimous. (Laughter) Right?

Thank you.

Right? Put it away. Keep it away. Because what it does is, it actually hurts our ability to relate to each other. Now, you look at young kids these days, they're on them all the time.

I don't blame them. It is addiction. We yell and scream at them, but we – it's like yelling and screaming at an alcoholic. It doesn't help the fact that it's a chemical addiction, right?

So, you take an insecure generation that now, through no fault of their own, struggles to cope with stress, they don't know how to cope with and deal with stress. And as they have told me, many of them will admit that they struggle to form deep meaningful relationships. They will admit that many of their friendships are superficial, right?

That their friends they know would cancel on them if they get him better plan that – they wouldn't really know who to talk to, if they get depressed. And maybe they'll turn to an online support group which is not a real thing. It's not human, right?

And we've seen the impact of this. We're starting to see rises of depression in this generation. We're starting to see rise of suicide in this generation. We're starting to see rise of accidental death due to drug overdose from this generation.

Universities are currently dealing with an epidemic that they've never dealt with before, which is the number of kids requesting leaves of absence due to depression, right? Now, those are all extreme examples.

The less extreme and more likely example is that someone will go through life, just never really finding joy or fulfillment and everything's just fine.

How's your job? It's fine.

How's your friends? You know, they're fine.

But no joy because you just cannot, because joy and fulfillment comes from this. It comes from human interaction. We are social animals and we need it. And we have to learn to rely on our friends and that skill is desperately lacking.

So, you add in the next one Impatience. This generation is often accused of being entitled, and if you've worked with any of them before, sure seems that way. But I would argue that we're misreading the tea leaves. They're not entitled. They're impatient.

Again, let's practice empathy. How did they grow up? They grew up in a world of instant gratification. You want to buy something, you go on Amazon, it shows up the next day.

You want to watch a movie? You don't check movie times, you just log on and download it whenever you want to watch it. Stream it, right? You want to watch a TV show? You don't wait week to week to week, you just binge watch for the weekend.

In fact, if you want to get hold of somebody, you don't leave a message on their machine and wait for hours for them to get the message and call you back. You just text them and they'll call you, they'll get back to you literally instantaneously.

Heck, if you want to go on a date, you don't even have to be like, "Hey", you just swipe right. You got a date! (Laughter) Never learn the skill set of like, "What are you doing?" Right? (Laughter) You can four dates in the night!

In other words, everything comes instantaneously, they have falsely applied the instant gratification model to life fulfillment and career fulfillment. They wanted all instantaneously.

The problem is life, relationships, career are not destinations like, "Look, I found the job I love." That's not how it works. It's not a scavenger hunt. I'm looking for the job that will – no, it doesn't work that way. It's a journey.

It's a – like it's the same with love is like, "I found love." No, you didn't. You work hard every single day to stay in love. It's a journey. It's as if they're standing at the foot of a mountain, they know exactly what they want, they can see the summit, what they don't see is the mountain.

I talked to some recent college grads who are in their entry level jobs on a regular basis and I'll ask them things like, "How's it going?"

And they'll say, "Yeah, I think I'm going to quit."

I'm like, "Why?"

They're like, "I'm not making an impact."

I'm like, "You know, you've been here eight months, right?" (Laughter)

And this is the problem. They see it as destination. "I'm not making an impact" that I hear it all the time, but they don't even know what that means impact. Yes, we all want to make an impact. What kind of impact? What you want to do? How do you want to contribute to the world?

This is what vision is, this is what why is, it's become generic and abstract, but the problem is they're wafting around there, they're looking for the right – they'll go from job to job to job. Hoping that the next one sticks. They go from relationship to relationship. Hoping that the next one is the love that I've been looking for. They don't know how to ask for help and they makes them feel even worse because they can't find the thing that they're looking for. Maybe it's me.

So an insecure generation that doesn't have coping mechanisms that once everything resolved, they resolved now. I have a thought, let me just send a text, as opposed to let me wait an hour when I'm done with lunch with you and then I'll send my text, for example.

And then we get to the fourth and most egregious of the four observations, Environment. We're now taking this wonderful, smart, idealistic, ambitious, hard-working, good group of people that were dealt a bad hand and we're putting them in corporate environments that do not care about them as human beings. Right?

We have for some reason, our work world has changed in the past 20 and 30 years. We are suffering the side effect of business theories left over from the 80s and 90s. And they are bad for people and they are bad for business.

Let me give you an example, the concept of shareholders supremacy was a theory proposed in the late 1970s. It was popularized in the 80s and 90s. It is now standard form today. You talk to any public company and you ask them their priority and they say, "Maximize shareholder value." Really? That's like a coach prioritizing the needs of the fans over the needs of the players. How are you going to build a winning team with that model?

But that's normal today. We don't even perceive it as broken or damaged or wrong or outdated. Remember, the 80s and 90s were boom years with relative peace and a kinder gentler Cold War. Nobody was practicing hiding under their desks in school anymore. We are no longer in the times. These are no longer boom years. These are no longer peaceful times and those models cannot work today.

Here's another one, Mass layoffs, using someone's livelihood to balance the books, right? It's so normal in America today, that we don't even understand how broken and how damaging it is, not only to human beings but to business. You know, companies talk about how they want to build trust and cooperation, they announced a round of layoffs.

Do you know the quickest way to destroy trust and destroy cooperation in a business literally in one day? Lay people off and everyone gets scared, right? Can you imagine sending someone home to say, "Honey, I can no longer provide for our family because the company missed its arbitrary projections this year."

And forget about the people who lost their job, think about the people who kept their jobs, because every single decision a company makes is a piece of communication. And the company has just communicated to everybody else, "This is not a meritocracy, we don't care how hard you work or how long you've worked here, if we miss our numbers and you happen to fall on the wrong side of the spreadsheet, I'm sorry we cannot guarantee employment."

In other words, we come to work every day, afraid, and we're asking our youngest generation to work in environments where how would any of us ever stand up and admit I made a mistake.

We're constantly being told, "You have to be vulnerable, leaders are vulnerable." What does that even mean, it doesn't mean you walk around crying, "I'm vulnerable," right? (Laughter)

No, what vulnerability means that you create an environment in which someone feels safe enough to raise their hand and said, "I don't know what I'm doing. You've given me a job and I haven't been trained to do it. I need help, I made a mistake, I screwed something up. I'm scared. I'm worried."

All of these things, no one would ever admit inside a company because it puts a target on head in case there's "another round." And so we keep it to ourselves and how can a company ever do well if nobody's ever willing to admit they made a mistake, they're scared or they don't know what they're doing.

And so we've literally created cultures in which every single day, everybody comes to work and lies, hides and fakes. And we're asking our youngest generation to work and succeed and find themselves and build their confidence and overcome their addiction to technology and build strong relationships at work. We're asking them to do this and these the environments we've created.

We keep saying to them, "You're the future leaders." We are the leaders now! We're in control! What are we doing?

This is what empathy means. It means if there's an entire generation struggling, maybe it's not them. It's like, you know, the only thing that I – the common factor in all my failed relationships? Me. (Laughter)

Same thing. "Well, we just can't get the right, you know, the right performance out of our people." Maybe, it's you. Right? It's not a generation, it's not them, they're not difficult or hard to understand, they're human beings like the rest of us trying to find their way, trying to work in a place where they feel that someone cares about them as a human being. By the way, that's what we all want.

In other words, it's not even generational, it's all of us. This is the practice of empathy that if we're struggling to communicate to someone, if it's struggling to help someone be at their natural best.

I'm tired of people saying to me, "How do I get the best out of my people?" Really? That's what you want? They're like a towel, you wring them. "How can I get the most out of them?" No, how do I help my people be at their natural best? Right?

We're not asking these questions. We are not practicing empathy. We have to start by practicing empathy and relate to what they may be going through. And it will profoundly change the decisions we make, it will profoundly change the way we see the world.

Someone's driving to work. You're driving to work and someone was to cut into your lane, what do you do? Do you pull your car up or would you let them in? Most of us pull our cars up and go like this, "You wait, your turn."

Now, let's practice empathy, I don't know, maybe they've been out of work for six months. Maybe they had trouble getting the kids out to school this morning and now, they're running late for a really important interview and they just have to get to this interview and they're going to cut into our lane. Or maybe they're just a bastard, I don't know. (Laughter)

But that's the point. We don't know.

We don't know. And the practice of empathy will say, I'll let them in and I'll arrive to work, one car length late. Right?

We don't always have to be right. We don't always have to be in charge. We don't have to be the one who succeeds. It's not about winning or losing and that's where I go to the second point, after empathy comes perspective.


[YAPSS Takeaway]

  • Empathy is being concern about other human being, not just their output.

  • Millennials are not hard to lead, you just need a new way of leading.

  • If you have a same problem over and over again, perhaps the problem is you.

  • Life is not a destination, it's a journey.

  • The point is we don't know and that's why we need to practice empathy.

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