Leading From the Heart; Empathy, Kindness and Passion.

Over the last year or so, I’ve had quite a number of people ask me about how I built my amazing Marketing team; what do I look for in recruits, what’s my hiring process, how have I retained my staff so well, how do I keep my team motivated, etc. To be honest, I never really thought about it, I never really thought my team was any different from the next team out there, we were just doing our jobs and having a ton of fun doing it. It wasn’t until late last year when I finally came through the denial stage and decided to admit to myself that yes, maybe I am actually the strong leader everyone has been telling me that I am.

I think back across the last few years and I’ve tried to distill down what it was that I had done to build and lead my team so successfully. I’ve read and read and read countless books about management and leadership, trying to work out what it was exactly that I was doing as I thought maybe someone else smarter or more experienced could articulate it for me. But I just kept coming back to one solid principal, manage the individual person not the role they fill and treat them as humans, the way you yourself would want to be treated. With empathy, kindness and passion!

Having empathy and compassion for what your team are going through not just in the work environment, but also within their personal lives speaks volumes to one’s character. Kindness is a virtue that we seem to have lost as humans over the last few decades, it costs nothing to be kind and show you care, not to mention it goes a very long way with your team. And passion is an absolute must have for anyone in leadership. How can you expect your team to come to work every day, roll up their sleeves and accomplish amazing things all with excitement and enthusiasm if you yourself aren’t passionate about what you’re trying to accomplish? Passion is infectious, people can feel it!

It’s simple psychology in my opinion, when you bring these three things to the table as a leader, it allows you to build something greater than just a Marketing team, a Sales team, an Engineering team, etc. You build a team of individuals with such a strong bond, it gives them the confidence and strength to just go for it and shoot for the stars in all they do. It also allows you to create a safe environment for them to thrive within without worry, both physically and mentally, but most importantly, it allows them to feel safe emotionally!

That last point is HUGE, especially for women in the workplace who have a tendency to feel as though they have to hold everything inside for fear of being judged and labeled ‘too emotional’. (Yes ladies, there’s another post coming about this one as well, stay tuned!) To provide emotional security and safety for the team you are responsible for is imperative to the success of that team. It’s through this sense of security that you create the bond of trust and respect not just between yourself and the individual team members, but amongst the team as a whole. It’s not enough for your team to have trust and respect for you, they have to have trust and respect for one another.

Prime example is my own team! (Yes I’m still claiming them despite leaving 😊) From the outside many see a strong, dominant team who seem to be able to churn out high quality pieces of content consistently, command a massive audience on stage with ease and lead highly technical and advanced workshops without hesitation. However what you don’t see is the delicate nature of the individual personalities and challenges they each go through on a daily basis. One of which has been struggling with mental health for over 10 years. Another unfortunately lost a close family member early last year, requiring her to take time off unexpectedly.

Both of these instances are very personal and private matters for each of these amazing women, neither of which technically impact the business. However by providing them the safety and security of knowing they weren’t alone and both myself and the team around them were there to help them manage through these tough times, ultimately created a better working relationship between us all. It allowed them to do great work, knowing that no matter what happened, we would always have their back and support them without limitation. It strengthened the trust and respect factor and more importantly it really opened up the lines of communication and transparency within the team knowing you’ve created this safe place for each of them to bring their true selves to work every day.

Leading with empathy, kindness and passion is just the beginning, here are a few other areas I strongly believe in when it comes to being a successful leader:

Autonomy and Ownership:

One of the reasons I feel my team was so successful at driving insane numbers, was due to the level of autonomy and ownership each had over the work they were contributing. When your team feels as though their voice matters and the work they are doing originally stemmed from their own ideas, they will put more effort and passion into that work than anyone who’s had their work dictated to them. Your team and your business will thrive because of this.

Do the little things:

Go the extra mile and do the little things for your team to show them that you care about them as people not just employees. Things such as monthly team lunches to strengthen the relationship and bond between team members and celebratory drinks to celebrate the large and small victories you’ve accomplished together. I’m also a huge advocate of hand written notes and cards. I can’t begin to tell you how far that goes with someone and it only takes 60 seconds to write out a thank you note, a birthday card, or a work anniversary card. Books, I buy my team books all the time! If I read something and I think one of them would really enjoy or benefit from the book, I buy them a copy. It shows that not only am I investing in them professionally, but I want to invest in them personally as well.

Protect the team at all cost:

One of my previous colleagues uses the term ‘Aircover’ for our roles as managers and leaders meaning that, it’s not so pretty sitting at the top of the organization and seeing all of the flaws and challenges the company faces. However it is our job to ensure that we protect our teams from the negative and the heaviness of those challenges, it creates an environment where mentally they are free to focus on doing great work. In addition, if the rest of your team follows this mentality, each of them will also make decisions that are best for the team, reducing if not removing any selfish behavior which could be damaging to your business as a whole.

Transparency and Communication:

I can’t stress enough, over communicate with your team and be as transparent as possible with them about the reality of the situation. This will really enhance their trust in you as a leader and will continue to strengthen the bond across the team. In addition, it leaves no room for error or misunderstanding on a project when everyone has full transparency of the details. This also prevents skepticism from creeping into the team or the feeling of one person being privy to more information because he or she is favored or more important. It keeps a level playing field across the team when everyone has been briefed with all details and information surrounding the team structure or a particular project.

Have fun and don’t be afraid to shoot for the stars!

Through it all, don’t forget that we spend so much time at work and with our work colleagues, if you’re not having fun doing what you do every day, then why are you doing it? If you’ve made a commitment to be a strong leader, it’s your job to ensure the happiness of your team. If you keep them feeling safe in their working environment and happy doing their work, this will allow you to throw out the most insane targets, goals and objectives and in turn they will trust you enough to embrace the uncertainty and go for the win!

This isn’t a roadmap or an exhaustive list of items that will make you a successful leader, these are just my own thoughts derived from my own personal experiences. Thanks for reading and if you’d like to discuss any of the above or want to just chat about your own team, get in touch!

Here are a few of the books I’ve enjoyed over the past few months on leadership:

Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Handbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell — Written by Eric Schmidt, ex-CEO of Google

Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time
Written by Howard Schultz, ex-CEO of Starbucks

What You Do is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture
Written by Ben Horowitz, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz

Leaders Eat Last:Why Some Teams Pull Together and Other Don’t
Written by Simon Sinek, author and motivational speaker

Marketing. Quirky. Fun. VERY Opinionated. Lives for music, sports, good food and cocktails, definitely cocktails!

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