Ep. 312 – Value Through Empathetic Leadership with Chris Shipley, Coauthor of The Empathy Advantage

Ep. 312 – Value Through Empathetic Leadership with Chris Shipley, Coauthor of The Empathy Advantage

On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Chris Shipley, co-author of the new book, The Empathy Advantage. Chris and I talk about the changing forces driving the great resignation to the great reset, and how empathetic leadership will be the key to navigating change in creating value today and in the future. Let’s get started.

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Transcript of Podcast with Chris Shipley, Co-author of The Empathy Advantage.

Brian Ardinger: Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host, Brian Ardinger, and as always, we have another amazing guest. In fact, this guest has been on the show before. It is Chris Shipley. She’s the co-author of the new book, The Empathy Advantage: Leading The Empowered Workforce. Welcome back Chris.

Chris ShipleyChris Shipley: Hey, I’m glad to be talking to you again.

Brian Ardinger: Hey, I’m excited to have you on as always. You’ve been so gracious to be part of the Inside Outside community for so many years, whether it’s speaking in our events or the last time we spoke, you had your first book out, the Adaptation Advantage. And that came out right during the middle of Covid.

And so, I wanted to have you back on with this new book, to talk about what’s changed and and where we’re going. You’ve got a new book out called The Empathy Advantage. Tell us a little bit about why you had to write a book coming out of Covid?

Chris Shipley: As you said, The Adaptation Advantage, our first book with Heather and I, it launched in April of 2020. So, we had all of these plans having finished the book at the end of 2019 to do all the things you do to launch a book. And the world came to a stop.

We had to adapt ourselves to really get that book out into the world. But what we recognized or what happened is it kind of became this accidental guide to leading through the pandemic, because everybody was without.

The Empathy Advantage by Chris ShipleyWe continued to read and write and work on understanding what was happening and changing in the workplace. During the pandemic, what became really, really clear is that the pandemic didn’t cause this disruption. It felt very disrupting, but it was, it amplified, it put a lens on what had been happening for a long time.

So, for example, the idea of the great resignation that really took hold about a year ago, people started talking about it. Well, that’s been going on since about 2009. The pandemic created; we had a lens to see it maybe more clearly. It wasn’t a new idea.

And so what we realized is that the amplifying effect of the pandemic combined with a workforce that was sent home, given a lot of autonomy, a lot of agency, in how they would do their jobs, they’re not gonna come back into an office place and say, oh, you know, all of that stuff that trust you had in me, nevermind micromanagement again, I’ll be fine with that.

A new kind of leadership is required to move people sort of back into a mainstream new frame of work that really embraces the way in which these workers are more empowered, they have more autonomy and agency. And we think that the bottom line is it’s a change in leadership that centers on empathy.

Brian Ardinger: I wrote a book. I started writing it right before the pandemic, and this idea of disruption and changes are coming and how do you start preparing for it? And then Covid hits, and it made it real. Obviously, for everybody in a way that talking about it and seeing it hitting in different industries might not have.

But nowadays we’re coming back into the place where, so we’ve had a couple of years of practice, so to speak to how do we become adaptive in that. But it still seems like there’s a lot of folks getting it wrong or trying to go back to the old way and that. So, what are you seeing when it comes to this natural pull to try to go back to quote unquote normal.

Chris Shipley: We’re never gonna go back to normal. And I don’t think really we ever do go back to a normal, right? We, there’s a new normal and it’s, it exists for now and then tomorrow it’ll be another normal. And that really speaks to being adaptive.

And so I think one of our challenges is that there’s kind of a new mold for leadership, but we’re still trying to shove the old ways into it. Right, that being a leader meant I needed to know how everyone worked. I needed to be the absolute decision maker. I needed to be the one who could see everything and guide everyone and manage people to some greater profitability and, and productivity.

That just doesn’t fit in the mold now. So, we need to recognize it if, and everything has, so much, has changed through the pandemic.

That what worked, that got us to where we are as leaders is not going to work to take us forward with this newly empowered workforce. And so, being able to, as a leader say, you know what? I don’t know. But let’s find out. Let’s learn together. Let’s work together to find this new way. You know, that’s really hard for a lot of folks who have been ingrained with this idea that I’m the boss I should be all knowing.

Well, you know what? You can’t know everything. Things are moving way too quickly. There’s too much. No one holds all the knowledge to, to get some, you know, to get work done today. And so, creating an environment of, of collaboration rather than a, an environment of competition means that people can come together, and problem find and problem solve in a way that you as a leader become more of a conductor or a coach, or a, of a mentor. that empowers and enables workers rather than commands and controls them.

Brian Ardinger: And that’s a great point. I was working with a company early in the pandemic and they were talking about, well, how do we adapt to this new hybrid approach? And one of the leaders was like, it’s not really our core people that are having to adapt much, it’s, it’s us as managers that have to learn how to manage differently. And look at how do we create productivity and guidance and everything around that communication with our people because they seem to be adapting fine as far as getting the work done. It’s us as managers that are having the challenge or trying to adapt on how do we manage differently.

Chris Shipley: Yeah. I was reading recently in a piece that a large percentage of managers think that they need to closely manage their hybrid workers. That that will make their workers more productive, increase performance, increase profitability, and the data doesn’t support that.

Data supports giving people clear direction. Pushing decision making through the organization to cross your team. Being, you know, very clear on desired outcomes, actually produces the kind of performance that, that you’re looking for. And in fact, the more there is a sense of oversight, and you know, keyboard tracking and all of the, you must be sitting at a desk in this work space, between these hours that actually tempers performance. It becomes a, you know, a bone of contention frankly, with workers who, like you trusted me a couple of years ago when, when we all got sent home to figure this thing out. Why are you not trusting me now?

Brian Ardinger: So, back to the book. What does an empowered workforce look like? And maybe what’s the mindset of an empowered workforce.

Chris Shipley: Enforced by, or a reckoning that came because of the pandemic. It was just for many families it was an existential crisis, right? How are we going to get by? Our work has changed, maybe our income has changed. We’ve lost family members. We’re homeschooling our, our children, you know, all of the things that we all know, and we all wrestled with repositioned where work fits in our lives.

And we used to talk about work life balance. And I think the biggest shift now is that people are thinking about life work balance. I do my work around the things in my life that are important. Family, my physical health, my mental wellbeing, and I will make decisions as a worker that favor my family and my wellbeing over my employer and his business, or her business and their profitability because I matter most now.

My family matters most. And so that worker, you know, combined with labor shortages and all sorts of other, other issues are just having to say it’s not worth it. It’s not worth it for me to sacrifice my personal time. My family, my health to work in many cases in an environment where I feel I’m not being paid appropriately. In conditions that aren’t conducive to health and wellbeing.

Pick any number of factors. That evaluation is happening in the minds of workers. And they are recognizing that they now have the power to say no. They have the power to leave that work and to go find some job somewhere else that’s going to help them be in the right place in their priorities.

Brian Ardinger: And you talk about this in the book, but it’s a movement towards employees and people in general wanting to have more impact. You know, they’ve realized that things can have a major impact on their own lives, but this movement towards how do I have an impact in the work that I do.

And I have a choice now to be able to make those from a company perspective, you got to make sure that employees really understand the mission and, and align that as well because impact seems to be driving a person’s commitment to the organization versus almost anything else.

Chris Shipley: It would be easy to say, ah, damn, these, these empowered workers, and they want to fulfill their purpose and be cynical about it. The truth is that’s your greatest secret weapon. If I can tap somebody’s, their passion for whatever they want their impact to be, that becomes an intrinsic motivator.

I no longer have to, you know, cajole my workers to work a little bit longer or provide incentive to work on a different project. I put them behind the thing that they most want to do and they outperform and I think if you can, as a leader, make the shift from they work for me to, I work for them. Figure out how to tap that power that’s within them to be their best self and to do their best work. That’s a win for the company. That’s a win for my leadership.

Brian Ardinger: Well, and the environment is such now that maybe it used to be in the past where you had to pull your talent from a local base. You might not find everybody in your local base that align to what you are trying to build or the impact you’re trying to have.

But now you have access to a global workforce that’s been trained on working remotely or otherwise, and so you almost have an advantage to being able to find those tribes of people that you know resonate with what you’re trying to build and have an opportunity to find different talent or cultivate different talent than you had in the past as well.

Chris Shipley: I think that’s absolutely right. So, you’ve got a global workforce, so it’s both harder and easier sometimes to navigate. But you’ve got a lot of other options now. So do your employees. Right. They have lots of other places they can turn and so really taking that time to hire well and to engage with your current workforce to, to understand do we have alignment of purpose?

And recognizing that there, that’s magic. And when there’s not, then your job as a leader is to help those people find a place where they can be more purposeful so that you can focus back to the mission of your own organization.

You know, and it’s tough, much harder in many ways to be that coach and conductor than it is to be a command-and-control leader because I’ve got absolute authority do as I say, and I can go home and have my steak for dinner and, and be happy that I was a good leader today.

To think here we are in a hybrid situation, and I want people to come into the office, but not to come into the office to do the same work they could do from home without the commute, without the hassle of getting ready for work every day. What’s that experience going to be like? I could in the past just call a meeting and expect everyone to show up in a conference room.

Now they have to really think about what’s that meeting’s purpose and how do we get everyone to prepare and to understand our goals so that when we do come together to think together, it’s actually to a specific purpose. And not just, wouldn’t it be nice to see everybody around the same conference room again. That’s a much more deliberate piece of leadership than we ought to have a meeting so that everyone can round robin about, you know, what’s on their to-do list today.

Brian Ardinger: One of the things I like about the book, you talk about the superpowers that the new management slash companies need to have as far as if you’re going to be a good leader, what are some of those superpowers that you need to start embracing.

You know, vulnerability of not knowing and awareness and candor. I don’t know if you want to speak to some of the superpowers that people should be cultivating when it comes to leading in this new world.

Chris Shipley: It boils down to one, I think, which is be human. When we can connect with people in our humanity, when we can recognize that the people who work for us are complex, messy human beings, and we are complex, messy human beings.

And we can lead with empathy to understand that, then the powers that it comes from transparency, from vulnerability, from honesty and candor, those kind of flow naturally. When I think about superpowers, it’s really how do we give ourselves as leaders permission to be fully human and to engage with the people who work for us in a fully human way?

Brian Ardinger: What do you think the costs are? If you ignore this shift.

Chris Shipley: You’re going to be constantly trying to hire people and train people, and hire people, and train. You’ll put yourself in that revolving door of building workforce rather than being in a place where you’re building the capacity of the people who are coming to work.

Do you want to spend your leadership time as a hiring manager trying to fill the position for someone who was not well aligned and for whom you did not well care? Or do you want to open up yourself to the risk, be a little bit vulnerable about your own humanity and their humanity and make those adaptations as you need to in order to really empower people to do good work.

Brian Ardinger: So, you’ve had a chance to work out in Silicon Valley and other places and that who’s getting it right now. Are you seeing any shining examples of folks that seem to be getting this more right than others?

Chris Shipley: I think we’re in a period of great experimentation. And I think that there are some companies that are trying hard. I think that Airbnb and his email to staff or at the beginning of the pandemic, which was essentially, I don’t really know, but as I know, I’ll share what I know.

It’s hard to be the person at the vanguard to say, I have no idea where this is going, but hey, follow me anyway. You can get people to follow if you are open and candid about that. I think so many challenges that leaders had during the pandemic were, I don’t know, so I’m going to wait until I know.

Rather than to say, okay, today we’re going to act on this bit of information that we have. And when that information changes, here’s how we’ll make decisions again. Kind of that framework rather than, rather than absolute decisions, here’s the framework that we’re going to use to make decisions. You kind of mitigate as much uncertainty as possible.

I may not know how things are going to work, but I know how I’m going to make decisions around new information, new knowledge. Sharing that out with a team helps to bring the level of stress down because I can watch for those same indicators and have a better sense of where we’re going to go as an organization.

I think the companies that are doing that, the leaders who were able to do that, to give their people frameworks to understand and frameworks for decision making were in a far better position than those who felt like they had to give an absolute answer, but then changed in a week.

And then it changed the week after that. Leaving people to think that my management’s wishy-washy. They making decisions all in whoop saw back and forth. That became very frustrating. Leaders, we think we have to know it all, and one of the toughest things to do is to say, I don’t know, but here’s how we’re going to learn together.

Brian Ardinger: Do you think the potential for the pendulum to swing back, I’m thinking through like an Elon Musk on Twitter and, and the way he’s manhandled, the taking back of that company and bringing back people in the office and firing them and going back with a more autocratic way of governing a company. Do you think that the pendulum is potentially moving back that way, or is that a anomaly, or what are you seeing?

Chris Shipley: I think I really appreciate Elon Musk and his leadership style for making it painfully clear to everyone else just how not to do workforce management. What we have seen reporting out of Twitter in the sort of random firings, because he’s in a mood one afternoon, is the kind of arbitrary leadership. It’s crippling for an organization; it’s paralyzing for an organization.

And so, thank you for that example, because we’ll know what not to do. The challenge here is that, and you know, we’ve talked about this before, change is happening so quickly that you just don’t know and so I don’t know where you have a choice but to be vulnerable about that lack of knowing.

Heather and I talk about this all. Are we wrong? Is there some other way to lead that looks like the models that we all grew up with and they keep coming back to no. The only way to lead now is with a heavy dose of human empathy because we’re all in this together and it is a grand experiment.

And some companies are going to work their way through it more quickly. Others are going to really struggle, but I think again, with an empowered workforce, workers will navigate to the experiments that are working.

Brian Ardinger: Let’s say I’m a manager or a leader in an organization and I’m struggling with this new world. Are there resources or hints or tips that I can implement tomorrow that would help me figure this out a little bit faster or more effectively?

Chris Shipley: Well, by next Wednesday there will be this new book on the market called The Empathy Advantage. I think that’s a good place to start. Of course. I guess I would start with your people. What do your people need? Even, you know, over the years as I didn’t make tough decisions or have difficult conversations, what became the most motivating factor for me in doing hard things was recognizing that the people that I lead really do know the answers.

And they’re waiting for me to, to do the right thing. Recognizing that you don’t lead alone. You lead among a group of people who you have entrusted with your business in some fashion. And the kinds of conversations that tap into their knowledge and their insight about themselves, about you and your organization is extraordinarily valuable.

I think that ability to, again, put aside the, I need to know it all. And go speak to your people. What do they need? What are they seeing? That I think is probably the best first step for any leader.

Brian Ardinger: It almost seems like you’re opening up your team to becoming leaders themselves and co-leading or co-creating and, and that speaks back to, you know, the motivations. If I’m an employee and I’m given the opportunity to both speak my mind and have a contribution, that should go a long way in making me want to be part of that organization moving forward as well. So it’s almost to your best interest because you are effectively growing your, your next leadership team as well.

Chris Shipley: Yeah, I mean, people want to be valued and valued for what they know. And for what they see and what they experience. Why would you not want to tap that value that plays back into a workforce that is more engaged, that is a shared sense of purpose and driving to the same outcomes.

For More Information

Brian Ardinger: Chris, I appreciate you coming on Inside Outside Innovation again to talk to us about what you’re seeing in the world. I always appreciate your insights and that. If people want to find out more about yourself or, or the new book, what’s the best way to do that?

Chris Shipley: Drop by my website, which is cshipley.com. Drop by your local book seller and ask for The Empathy Advantage. I think those are both good places to start, but I would say also just listen to your podcast. I think you, you deliver great value to your readers and I’m happy to be part of it today.

Brian Ardinger: Well, thanks Chris. I appreciate you being a friend and colleague of the changing world we’re living in and looking forward to having you back on the show soon.

Chris Shipley: Thanks very much.

Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.


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Episode 312

Ep. 312 – Value Through ...