Kindness sparks empathy
“I needed to come up with a concept that was simple for people to understand,” Jim says.
“kindness is simple for people to understand. It’s like, don’t be mean, be kind. It’s a T-shirt. So if you can fit it on a bumper sticker, it’s something we can do globally. It’s something that people don’t really understand: you’re kind, that is going to go a long way to building belonging.”
When speaking about how being “good” wins in the long-run, Jim admits he wasn’t always kind.
“I tried the being a jerk route, being the guy who shouted people down. I basically realised that the outcomes that you achieve then are worse than outcomes you achieve when you’re kind.”
And he adds he is the test case of how employees react to unkindness. “I went through so much trauma and I (had) so much PTSD because corporate America was so unkind to me and so to defend myself, I used to put up this angry firewall.”
Jim is now a champion for leadership, advising his mentees to “practice” asking questions and building empathy in teams.
“There’s a time where you have to stop and get to know people, use empathy and understand what’s going on,” he explains. “And that’s when I start talking about the whole heart leadership versus head leadership.
“That comes from experience and understanding. I have executives who I mentor that come to me and say; I just don’t understand. Like sometimes teams may have this one person, that is not performing very well.”
Jim responds to that with simple but essential questions centered on empathy: “have you had a conversation with them? Have you asked them what’s going on in their lives? They may be having something going on at home.”
They are simple questions but he finds many leaders across society are not asking them. And Jim acknowledges sometimes there are team members who are not acting how they are supposed to. That’s human.
When talking about innovation, hostilities can come down to million dollar problems. Leaders need to have escalation plans in place, focused on outcomes. Set ground rules on what is supposed to happen if there is a disagreement or hostility on the team. Allowing room for team dysfunction and pathways to resolving problems is essential.
Diversity and Inclusion
Jim had another great line: diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance. We spoke at length about how we can do better at including all of us and how more diverse teams, with different perspectives, generate better results.
Jim says around 80 per cent of the population is neuro-typical - which means 20 per cent is neuro-distinct. That could be from, as in Jim’s case, being autistic, or it could result from a condition, like having a traumatic brain injury, that can impact your way of thinking. When you introduce neuro-distinct people on your teams you make sure whatever products you develop include all the different ways people think.