The one thing all great leaders (and humans) practise

There is one fundamental characteristic of anyone who has ever inspired and lead change.

It’s often dismissed. Even more often misunderstood. And, most painfully, confused with sympathy.

I’m talking about empathy.

So what?

Empathy is infinitely powerful and always relevant.

I’ve written before that we’re all irrational, and thus all rational. That is to say, that most people behave in a way that fits their view of the world, and that they believe this to be entirely rational.

In order to move forward, then, to lead or enrol others in our project, we must have an empathetic posture.

A posture that says: I see you, I hear you and I’ll meet you where you’re at, regardless of whether we share that belief.

Some call it Sonder.

Importantly, it cannot be attained or bestowed upon you. Instead, it must be practised.


Well, here are some questions that can help break open the frame to empathise with others:

  • Why are they right?
  • What do they believe that you don’t believe?
  • What gets them excited?
  • What do they value?
  • Why do they buy from your competitors?
  • What story do they tell themselves?

Putting it into action


One cannot always be right when attempting to step into someone else’s shoes. But the act of trying, of acting “as if”, will often open up your mind and provide a glimpse of what life looks like from their perspective.

A glimpse of the stories they tell themselves and the beliefs they hold.

With that in mind, consider the following subjects from last weeks post and ask:

Does it change the way you’d sell to these people? Market to them? Interact with them? Build a relationship with them? Negotiate with them?

The access card wearer

I believe in minimising risk. In creating efficiencies as much as possible. It’s one less thing for me to worry about. And as a mother of 2, I already have enough things to worry about.

By wearing my access card at work, I make my life easier. There’s no chance of locking myself out, asking to borrow a colleagues card or paying $20 for a replacement when I lose it. Something my forgetful colleague Pete, always seems to do.

The repeating greeter

I was always told to be polite. To go first. To say hello and good morning to everyone.

It’s common courtesy, and if I’m going to spend 8 hours a day with my colleagues, I’d rather we be friends, than work in an environment where no-one says hello.

I have friends in office environments like that and it sounds toxic.

The multiple screens guy

I’m a visual and detail orientated guy. I like to have all things laid out in front of me and be clear on all of the information.

Having multiple screens allows me to bring this to life, without the need to run multiple browser tabs and be constantly flicking back and forward between them.

The oversharer

I believe transparency builds trust in any kind of relationship.

I don’t like the unknown and I value being across my colleague’s lives and personal interests. It helps us connect better and trust each other.

The walk and talker

I’m an active and energetic person.

Walking helps me think. It clears my head. Focusses me. It gets the blood pumping and allows me to bring my full self to the phone call.

The smelly food guy

I get it, broccoli, tuna, pumpkin and rice aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. And yeah, heating them up kinda smells. I know it does. I’ve got a nose too.

But it’s the reality of eating healthy, and I’m over here trying to lose a couple of kilograms and improve my health. Better this than a burger and chips.

Besides, would you eat cold vegetables?

The resident barista

Life’s too short for crap coffee. I mean, if you’re only going to have one or two a day, why wouldn’t you make them as good as possible?

I remember starting out as a barista when I was 15 and my boss told me the milk frothing sounded like I was strangling cats. Nobody wants that.

The whiteboarder

I believe in thinking visually.

In brainstorming. In sharing ideas early. In gathering feedback, iterating and bringing energy and excitement to my work.

I love moving around, presenting and using my hands to talk.

The corporate jargon regurgitator

Someone once told me there’s no point going to a meeting and not contributing. I’m here to learn, grow and eventually get promoted.

I’ve been involved in a lot of meetings, and we’ve talked about the ‘burning platform’ consistently, so I choose to use the same term so as to not confuse things.

The ‘he must sleep here’ guy

My parents always taught me to have a strong work ethic. That by doing so, I’ll get noticed and live a successful life.

My family is more important than anything else. I work my butt off to provide for them so that they can live a better life.

The ‘have you seen my email?’ guy

I value teamwork and building relationships at work.

Email can be clunky. Sometimes the tone of voice and context goes missing so I always find it valuable to check in with the recipient and make sure the message was clear so as to not waste time or risk offending anyone.