Solving the World’s Greatest Challenges With Empathy–Devon Kuehne – UN Foundation

12.26.2014 | Devon Kuehne
Global Accelerator
United Nations Foundation

As the world becomes more decentralized the call for unselfish understanding has never been greater. It’s often thought that to change the world those with the greatest intellect are needed, but what if another skill set is equally (if not more) important? Empathy.

Dr. Noelle Nelson, author of “Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy,” defines empathy as, “The experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective; placing oneself in another person’s shoes, so to speak, to feel/sense/better understand what they are going through.”

When talking about social entrepreneurship, this skill becomes vitally important as workers and volunteers from around the world gather and collaborate to solve problems. Being able to lead a group and cultivate empathy from within the organization is of tremendous benefit.

Ashoka, a network of social entrepreneurs worldwide, believes in empathy so much they have launched an empathy initiative. Within this movement they have put together a curriculum to teach elementary-age children the skills of empathy. Ashoka has identified that to be a positive changemaker in the world, citizens need a skill set that will help them to resolve conflict, collaborate, listen effectively and make thoughtful decisions. Ashoka envisions that worldwide contributors of good in the future will have mastered empathy with the same vigor with which they are taught math and reading.

The good news is that already-established organizations can jump aboard the empathy movement too. “You can implant empathy at any stage of an organization’s growth,” says Dr. Nelson, who is also a clinical psychologist and business trial consultant. “What it takes is leadership from the top down by direct example: asking people the whys and wherefores, making it safe for people to describe their method, approach or process.”

Dr. Nelson says this understanding of one another within an organization breeds cooperation. “If you sense I’m making an effort to see where you’re coming from, you’ll be more willing to work with me,” says Dr. Nelson.

Psychologist Dr. Carey Cherniss has come to similar conclusions. Empathy is a cornerstone attribute to emotional intelligence (EQ) and Dr. Cherniss has long studied the field of EQ. In 1999 Dr. Cherniss published a paper citing a 19-point case for businesses to pay attention to EQ, citing research and data from others. In one case study on L’Oreal, the cosmetics and beauty company, high EQ employees who had been hired based on certain emotional competencies had 63 percent less turnover during their first year than those selected in the typical manner.

Applying Empathy
To begin making changes within your organization Dr. Nelson offers a few pieces of advice. First, don’t scream at an employee that they’re doing something wrong. Instead, find out if they understood what the assignment was and whether or not they are qualified with the knowledge and skills to fulfill the task. Once you understand they have the relevant training, begin to examine their method or the process they applied in approaching the work.

An important note is to never make someone wrong for how they executed their approach—especially now that you understand their thought process. Rather, say something like, “Ok, I see why you did XYZ, but I’d like to suggest an alternative that I think will be more effective.”

For social entrepreneurs, approaching the world’s greatest challenges with empathy might be most effective.


Management Success Tip #143: Wanna Get Things Done While Maintaining Your Cool? Find Your Assertiveness Sweet Spot.

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As a manager, you have to get things done, yet you need your employees to think well of you.

If you’re aggressive, and demand, blame, threaten, or yell – cooperation and morale fly out the window. You may get this one thing done, but employees will sabotage and/or resist the next twenty. . .

If you focus too much on camaraderie and making sure everyone is feeling fine, well, chances are things aren’t getting done in the way or time they need to.

There is, however, an assertiveness sweet spot, according to research done by Ames & Flynn, 2007. It’s somewhere between the drill sergeant approach and the find-your-inner-guru approach. It’s where you respect the personal boundaries of others, you communicate clearly your expectations rather than demand or threaten, you ask questions you really do want answered about the feasibility of stated goals, and provide resources as needed, etc.

How to know if you’ve hit the assertiveness sweet spot? It’s easier to ask how to know if you’re being too aggressive: people will shy away from you, or be reluctant to ask for resources or support. Or if you’re being too touchy-feely: people are comfortable approaching you for anything, but goals aren’t being met, your numbers are dragging.

Interestingly enough, according to Ames & Flynn, when you’re in that sweet spot, your assertiveness isn’t even mentioned. Things are just going along fine, and that’s what your employees and your bosses want to know.

Management Success Tip #142: To Perform At Your Peak, Get Some Relief: Meditate!

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The demands on managers – let’s rephrase that – the demands on you, whether you’re running a department, a line, a team or an entire business, are intense. The explosion of technology and social media, with the transformation of how we do business, has multiplied your daily to-do exponentially. Not to mention your monthly, quarterly and annual goals and deadlines.

Somewhere in this, you need relief. Because there’s no way you can do what it takes to make your employees happy, if you aren’t enthused yourself. And you can’t possibly drum up enthusiasm when you’re tearing your hair out.

Try meditation. Mindfulness. Reflection.

It works. Just a few minutes of deliberate calm, of breathing, of internal quiet, goes a long way in producing focus and clarity, two essential ingredients to dynamic leadership.

Don’t take my word for it, here are some examples, as reported by Bill George:

With support from CEO Larry Page, Googleʼs Chade-Meng Tan, known as Googleʼs Jolly Good Fellow, runs hundreds of classes on meditation.

General Mills, under the guidance of CEO Ken Powell, has made meditation a regular practice. Former executive Janice Marturano, who led the companyʼs internal classes, has left the company to launch the Institute for Mindful Leadership , which conducts executive courses in mindfulness meditation.

Goldman Sachs, which moved up 48 places in Fortune Magazineʼs Best Places to Work list, was recently featured in Fortune for its mindfulness classes and practices.

Meditation and mindfulness are not just for full-time New Agers. On the contrary, they are powerful instruments for your well-being and success.

Management Success Tip #141: What You Can Learn from Jimmy Fallon: Respectfully Ask New Employees/Team To Get To Know You

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Most managers, when coming in to a new department, or taking on a new team, start with their credentials: “Here’s my experience, the other departments I’ve successfully managed, and why I’ve been asked to manage this department/team.” Or they dive right into their goals.

Managers often forget that the first order of business is to create relationship with those who now answer to them. Not gooey, sappy “Oh, you’re all so great and I know this is going to be wonderful” type of relationship building, but something much simpler, yet much more appropriate and powerful than that.

An introduction.

James Poniewozik commented for on Jimmy Fallon’s first Tonight Show gig as host:

“I was struck by one small, but in retrospect very important, thing that Fallon did starting out: he introduced himself.

“Not as in “Hi, I’m Jimmy Fallon, and I’m looking forward to this!” He very deliberately walked the audience through who he was, who his supporting stars were and what kind of show he was going to do. He literally, at one point, pretty much explained how a late-night show works, down to the fact that a host comes out from behind a curtain and tells topical jokes… It was simply Fallon respectfully asking his new audience to get to know him.”

Take a page from Fallon’s playbook: before you do anything else in your new position, respectfully ask your new “audience” to get to know you. And then make an effort to get to know them.