Execution. Expertise. Is empathy the new management trend?

Is Empathy The Next Managerial Style?

Start here, on the supposed themes around management since the Industrial Revolution:

“If organizations existed in the execution era to create scale and in the expertise era to provide advanced services, today many are looking to organizations to create complete and meaningful experience. We would believe that leadership has entered a new era of empathy,” said McGrath.

In the above quote, McGrath refers to Rita McGrath, who wrote this article on the same topic.

I’ve written about these topics 100s of times all over this blog, so feel free to poke around if you want. (I’ll throw some links at you later in this post.)

There are two ways to look at this and break it down:

  • How organizations relate back to their people (employees)
  • How organizations relate back to their customers

Empathy is important in both cases. Let’s dive a little deeper, eh?

Organizations and Employees

You need to start with the concept that your best-performing employees (internal) should be treated the same way as your best-performing customers (external); even though the conventional logic is that your customers make you money, the reality is that both sides make you money in different contextual ways. High employee turnover isn’t a good thing, writ-large.

There’s been a pretty drastic reduction in managerial empathy over the past 2-3 decades, I’d argue. Some examples?

This is semi-logical: the whole idea behind it is that business got faster, and more complicated, and involved more parties and partners. That actually might not be true, but it’s a conventional narrative, so let’s roll with it for now. When business gets faster and more complicated, what tends to happen is that middle managers — who probably have larger spans of control, generally-speaking — get more work and deliverables, because senior managers are mostly insulated from that and rank-and-files aren’t thought to be ready to take on certain challenges.

Thus, managers in the middle? Work piles up. So who has time for empathy?

The thing that people miss? Empathy and connection aren’t things you have to schedule. It’s not an Outlook feature. You can be a better manager, for example, just by walking around and talking to people. (And hey, a walk would be good for you as well.) You can be a better manager just by replacing vague praise with specific praise. Simple, small wins. They do exist.

Bottom line here: inject some empathy and connection into how you work with employees (the bad ones, the good ones, and the great ones). Remember that leadership is more about coaching then just hitting targets. Work with people, meet them where they’re at, and show you have an interest in them.

And remember: people typically leave bosses. They don’t leave jobs. There’s a difference.

Organizations and Customers

Consider this, from the same Forbes article at the top:

Even with hardware and technological purchases, our decisions are based on emotions. So what you need to do is use empathy here as well; what does your customer need? How does your product fill their needs in a way that your competitors’ products don’t?

People seem to miss this boat all the time. When you’re running around with your hair ablaze screaming about deliverables and bandwidth and ad buys and your Outlook calendar, stop and remember this: anything you ever sell, people buy it for basically two reasons —

You can only hit a customer with emotions / better version of themselves narratives if you know how to involve empathy.

Raw Empathy


There’s something in sales called “Addressing Objections.” You want your customer to click the buy button, but there are hundreds of reasons why they may choose not to.

Again, we need to put ourselves in their situation. What would you feel if you were worried about the product you were spending money on? Is it a scam? Does it work? Do I really need this?

This is hard for organizations; they’re typically heads-down and focused on the minute details of what they do. They don’t always see it from the end customer/purchaser standpoint, because they want to get their specific project out the door with the right specifications as set by their boss. This is human nature. It happens all the timeall over the place.

And now, a final point on empathy:

All the marketing in the world isn’t as good as one person sharing with a friend, “Hey, this person listened, cared and solved my problem.” If you can work to develop yourself into “the person who solves problems” as opposed to just another company selling a product, then a lot of your marketing is done for you with no added expense.

Credibility is created and trust is earned which leads to lifelong customers and success.

Written about this a little bit before, too: more people need to conceptually understand this idea of “marketing and the passionate minority.” Basically, you can have these amazing campaigns that reach 200 million impressions or whatever, but solidly reaching 10 people with empathy and understanding might do more for your bottom line. The greatest sales / lead generation engine ever, since pretty much the Dawn of Man, is referral and word of mouth. People trust their friends and their relationships. They believe those people will lead them to good products and experiences, as opposed to some marketing/advertising/sales guy who needs to always be closing.

You get trust and credibility and referral and word of mouth largely through empathy. It’s crucial.


I’m not entirely sure “empathy” will be the third arc of managerial styles, because … I think “The Temple of Busy” might kind of drown empathy in the flood. (“I have no time for this empathy shit! I’m out here slaying revenue targets, baby!”) But I’m hopefully that if we moved from execution to expertise and we want to keep that alliterative train going, the third stop should be empathy.



Ted Bauer

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