innovation | July 30, 2015

Motivation by Inspiration: Doreen Lorenzo on Empathetic Leadership

Traditional wisdom relates business success with a dog-eat-dog, take-no-prisoners style of leadership. But in “Leading, the Inside Game,” leadership speaker Doreen Lorenzo makes a compelling case for soft skills—empathy, humour, and patience—as "the very things that could turn an average leader into a true visionary."

In her talks, Lorenzo—past president of frog design, and instrumental in its rise to becoming one of the largest design agencies in the world—shares proven techniques for getting the most out of creative teams and workforces. She teaches Fortune 100 companies and leaders of all stripes how to cultivate creative ecosystems that yield fruitful results. Here and elsewhere, she stresses that the surest route to success lies in realizing that creativity isn't a solo-game, but a team sport (with plenty of room for kindness).

With contracts on the line and the stakes sky-high, it often seems like there's no time for kindness at work. As Lorenzo notes in her essay, some of our most lauded business visionaries—Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, or Elon Musk—have reputations for being "unreasonably hard on their employees." Our association between strong direction and a lack of empathy—even cruelty—is so pervasive that "large numbers of people are actually afraid to be nice at work" for fear of losing power or being taken advantage of. 

However, Lorenzo turns this trope on its head, reminding leaders that greater empathy produces tangible rewards. "It’s more than a moral or ethical responsibility," she describes,  " it’s their responsibility to the business." Drawing upon her years of consultancy and executive work, and citing recent evidence stating that "incivility at work significantly damages employee health, hijacks employee focus, and lowers employee creativity," she asserts with confidence that "a toxic workplace is ultimately an unproductive one." In fact, incivility "from the top down" means that "Bezos, Jobs, and Musk succeeded despite their lack of empathy for employees, not because of it. If they had treated their employees better, perhaps they could have been even more successful and improved thousands of people’s lives in the process."  

To Lorenzo, the importance of empathy can't be understated. For managers, policy-makers, executives, and anyone else in a leadership capacity, there's an instant takeaway to her advice. Compassionate, collaborative leadership means "seeing those who work with you as the indispensable human capital needed to achieve your goal." In other words, it means a deep investment in teamwork and seeing individual value. It also means laying the ground for your own career as an inspirational figure: "Civility creates perceptions of warmth and competence, which in turn dictate whether people will trust and follow you."

"When you lead through empathy," Lorenzo claims, "you are factoring employee perspectives into your decision-making and empowering them to realize a collective vision." That's a model for business success that many of us need to hear—for our own health, the health of our employees, and for our organizations.

To book Doreen Lorenzo as a keynote speaker on innovation, creativity, empathy, and leadership, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

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