Empathy. In business?!

Experiencing a pandemic has got many of us reflecting on what is working in our world and what isn’t. In essence, it has shone a spotlight on our dysfunctions.

Much of what is wrong (or right) with our systems starts with our collective mindset.

A mindset is a set of assumptions, methods, or notions held by a person or group. It’s a habitual or characteristic mental attitude that determines how we interpret and respond to situations individually and collectively.  We become so used to our mindsets that we don’t see that our thinking is fixed in this particular way. To us it’s normal.

If you observe behaviours of yourself and others around you, it’s not difficult to identify mindsets. Here are a few examples of what you might discover…

  • Sufficiency mindset—There is enough, and I am enough.
  • Growth mindset—Life is about expanding awareness and continual learning.
  • Thrift mindset—It’s my responsibility to use resources, both mine and the planet’s, wisely.
  • Sustainability mindset—What I do must contribute to life carrying on, now and in the future.


Empathy is also a mindset, and the subject for today. This post was prompted by Simon Sinek‘s talk on empathy. Since he’s known for his consulting work with businesses and organizations, I was curious. Empathy is certainly not something I associate with business, so I wondered what he had to say about it.

Simon Sinek is one of the visionary thinkers of our time. In his work with businesses and organizations, he discovered how great leaders think, act and communicate. His first TED Talk, in 2009, is the third-most-watched with 40 million views and subtitles in 47 languages. He hss also authored several best-selling books, the most recent being The Infinite Game.

Simon Sinek describes himself as an unshakable optimist who believes in a bright future and our ability to build it together. That undertone is what I find refreshing about this talk—the reassurance that my instincts are correct, that we don’t need to buy into the heartless model of business, that business can and needs to operate from a different mindset.

Key points…

  • The work world has changed in the past twenty to thirty years in ways that are bad for people and bad for business.
  •  We are suffering from the side effects of business theories left over from the end of last century.
  • The concept of shareholder supremacy was proposed in the late 1980s, popularized in the 90s, and is standard form today.
  • As a result, the priority of companies has become maximization of shareholder value. That’s considered normal today, and we don’t even see it as broken, or damaged, or wrong, or outdated.
  • The concept of mass layoffs—using someone’s livelihood to balance the books—is another part of the outdated model. Yet it’s become so normal in America that we don’t even understand how damaging and broken it is, not only to human beings but to business.
  • The practice of getting the best (i.e. most) out of people, wringing everything out of them, is endemic.
  • All of this has created a culture where workers lie, hide, and fake in hopes of surviving in the workplace.
  • When the model of shareholder supremacy became the norm in the 1980s and 90s, it was a very different time—boom years, relatively peaceful, and a kinder gentler cold war (when no one had to practice hiding under desks in school). We are no longer in these times, and old models cannot work today.
  • The alternative is to create a workplace where people do not come to work afraid, a culture where they feel safe to say I don’t know what I’m doing, I need help, I made a mistake, I’m worried. 
  • Workers thrive under an empathetic leader who creates an environment where they feel cared for as human beings, where they are helped to be at their natural best rather than having all their best wrung out of them.

More next week about empathy at work…in ways that affect us every day.

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