How did I used to entertain myself on dog walks, long car journeys and gardening Sundays before podcasts became a ‘thing’? I’m not entirely sure but I listen to them a lot and in particular “The Diary of a CEO” by Steven Bartlett.

He interviewed Karen Brady recently…you know, that lady from the apprentice. She had a very interesting story of grit and determination to get to where she is today but what really struck a chord with me was her explanation of what makes a good leader and what, she believed, was the difference between leadership and management.

“Management is about setting a series of goals and managing people to hit them. Leadership is about vision and persuading people to believe in your vision to help you deliver it. Good leadership is what creates culture.” That struck me as a little one-sided, and dare I say it, more than a little archaic.

I, like I'm sure many others, honed my management / leadership skills “on the job”. I absorbed the workings of managers before me, saw what worked and what didn’t, understood how I liked to be treated and have tried to pass this on to others. Something that I hope I achieve well.

I’m lucky to work with a great team and a good employer, through Iress who are actively looking to attract the best talent. The recent introduction of “long weekends” is just one of the many reasons they are a good employer but they have also served as a fantastic platform to help me perfect and improve my leadership and management skills. And, while Karen Brady may have been slightly off the mark in some ways, she’s right that good leadership creates good culture. How can I expect my team to perform well if they’re not happy? And it’s harder for me to be a good boss if my bosses aren’t.

Everyone wants to think they are a great manager, and a great leader too, but can you really achieve this without being empathetic?

Now for the shoes...

When I’m not listening to podcasts, I like to read books and am particularly interested in autobiographies and books to help me in my career. One such book “Softening the Edge” by my (I might be slightly biased) extremely talented cousin, Mimi Nicklin, taught me that I am also an empathetic leader. Something I wasn’t aware of until I read the book and truly understood what empathy meant. It is a term we hear a lot these days and I see it on lots of CVs when recruiting. It isn’t just a buzzword, instead, an incredibly important trait for anyone to learn to apply in a professional context. This was the one point missing from Karen Brady’s interview and I think it should have been considered.

Everyone wants to think they are a great manager, and a great leader too, but can you really achieve this without being empathetic? This isn’t just about “putting yourself in others shoes” as Mimi comments, but “walking with them a little too”. It feels like we’ve been talking about empathy in the workplace for many years now, but the last couple of years have brought discussions of mental health, burnout, work/life balance and pressure into sharp focus. We can’t separate work life from home life any more, and I think that’s a good thing.

We’re all people with lives, partners, friends and commitments outside of work. We feel things based on our experiences inside and outside of work and - good or bad - we are affected by them. I’m sure we’ve all had friends and loved ones come home having had an awful day at work (or a great one) and have seen this from the other side. In fact, we’ve all had those days ourselves; how would I want to be treated?

Notwithstanding the fact that he was by many accounts a horrible boss, I think Steve Jobs put it most eloquently when he said "It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do."

Leadership is as much about enablement as it is about direction. We hire people because they’re good at their jobs. In fact, often we hire someone because we think they’re the best at their job. And yes, although some like direction more than others, it seems counterintuitive to hire a great person and then tell them how to do something that they have clearly been doing successfully for a number of years. Again, empathy is the order of the day here.

I manage a sales, relationship management and training team here at Iress and I find myself more on the balcony as opposed to the dancefloor these days. I remember times when I was 100% dedicated to being on the dancefloor. Meeting customers, listening to feedback (not always positive) and truly understanding the needs and wants of the customer. This experience is what has enabled me to empathise with my team and in turn create the culture and leadership they deserve. It’s helped me come to the conclusion that - rather than having a vision that inspires - being a good leader is, first and foremost, about trying to be a good person.