building brand ‘you’

September 19, 2019

Sandra Jones is a Business Management Consultant and Coach in the area of Strategic Accountability. She is also an Athena Award Winner.

In our personal lives and in our careers too, there is one aspect that makes us more acceptable to others—our understanding of their situations. And managers need this quality all the more than anyone else, given that a high empathy score draws the path towards effective leadership.

As a manager, and particularly a manager who aspires to be a leader, the brand of ‘you’, is your most important asset. Your brand is the image you create over time. Your brand voice can be heard in all that you say and do, as well as what you do not say and do not do. It is based on who you are and how you show up at work. The more focused your brand voice, the more consistent your messaging. The more compelling your message, the more it resonates with employees.

The key to establishing a singular and powerful brand voice lies with the practise of empathy. Recent articles across the business spectrum point to the necessity for empathy as the defining characteristic of an excellent manager and leader. Magazines including Forbes, Fast Company and Harvard Business Review have all published articles on the compelling case for corporate and managerial empathy.

Think of it this way. Would you rather work with and for a person who commands you to do your work or one who participates in the assignment and conduct of that work? Would your child rather have you explain a homework problem or belittle him for asking such trivial questions? Would your spouse appreciate you more if you were sympathetic to his/her bad mood than if you brushed it aside as an annoyance? There will always be destructive leaders and bad managers. There will always be those leaders who see themselves as kings of empires and view workers as interchangeable servants. There were more of these in the past—and there are still plenty around today—but they will be less popular in the future. As hourly wages and benefits increase, the cost of a single employee rises. When employees can move among businesses, employers will find the cost of replacement far exceeds the cost of retaining employees. Companies who value employees will be the ones employees want to work for and the other companies will find their employee costs rising, losing competitive ground.

We all want to be heard and seen. We want to be valued and of value. Certainly, some only work for the paycheck and that will always be the case. There are others who want to be part of something and are willing to work conscientiously and spend more time just because someone takes the time to communicate and appreciate that work.

Leaders and managers come with varying degrees of knowledge and experience. They bring different attitudes and beliefs to the business table. Those that excel in the long run take the time to communicate clearly. They allow their employees to be part of the business conversation. They explain why things happen. They talk about the numbers. They pay attention to the workplace environment. At any moment, they are likely to have a sound grasp on the opinions, views, and attitudes of those they manage.

Why is this true for some in leadership roles and not for others? It comes down to empathy. Simply defined, empathy is the ability of a person to step into another person’s shoes. It is the ability to understand what that person says, thinks, feels, and does. Empathy is not sympathy although the two can be confused. Sympathy causes you to feel sadness for the person. Empathy does not directly cause a feeling but rather creates an understanding of the life condition of the individual. It may result in feelings of sympathy or pity, even anger or disgust. It could also result in feelings of joy or praise. Whether positive or negative feelings are triggered, those are by-products of the understanding that has occurred. It is the act of understanding that is empathy. You are not trying to agree or disagree, merely to understand.

A hot topic among marketing professionals is the customer value journey. Several templates have been developed to help marketers help their companies work through the path of the customer’s journey. One of those templates has been the empathy map.

Empathy is the ability of a person to step into another person’s shoes. It is the ability to understand what that person says, thinks, feels, and does.

The empathy map is a simple grid with four quadrants: say, think, do, and feel. Just as the sweet spot on a Venn diagram is where all the circles converge into a small center circle, the circle one can draw around the center point of the quadrant is where empathy begins. The larger that circle is drawn, the more empathetic you become. Let us look at the four quadrants.

  • say – Do you know what your employees are saying? What words do they use to describe you as their manager or leader? How do they describe the workplace? What do they say about the environment? Do they use pleasant words when they talk about co-workers or make disparaging remarks?
  • think – What are your employees not saying? What are they afraid to say? If they say something, can you take their words at face value or is there a hidden meaning behind the words? If I asked you to tell me what the individuals you manage would say about you, could you reliably tell me? Or would you have to guess? How about the workplace? The company?
  • do – What actions do your employees take? Are they late to work? Do they procrastinate? Do they jump to a job quickly? Does quality and pride show in their work? Is their work area clean or does it tend to be messy? Do they help co-workers? Do they welcome and teach newcomers?
  • feel – How do the employees who report to you feel about you? Do they think their pay is fair? Are they comfortable in the workplace? Do they worry about safety? Are they paranoid about being constantly watched or do they remain in a relaxed state during work, knowing they are doing the right work the right way?

You can make this grid yourself and I encourage you to take the time to complete one as you develop the brand ‘you’. In order to gain the most from this exercise, I would recommend that you do the following.

01 Create a grid on a piece of paper by creating four quadrants, drawing a line from top to bottom and from side to side in the center of the paper. Label each quadrant. The quadrants on the left, say and do, are the visible ones; the ones to the right, think and feel, exist in the mind. Begin with the two visible quadrants and then move to the invisible ones.

We tend to react favorably to those we like and who like us. We tend to discount those with whom we feel less closely aligned.

02 Complete your first empathy map for yourself. What do you say about work and about your manager? What do you do at work? Then move to the two right-hand quadrants and ask yourself what you think about your work, workplace, boss and subordinates. Finally, ask yourself how you feel. As a test to see how empathetic you believe your boss is ask this final question: How closely would your manager’s answers match the ones you provided for yourself? 10 percent? 50 percent? 80 percent? How does this make you feel?

03 Now do this for your employees as a group. Your first time around, it is easier to focus on group behavior, actions and attitudes. Look at the results and decide how closely you think you would come to their answers?

04 Go back and map individuals. Ask the same questions. I am certain you will find wide variations in your responses to and knowledge of the individuals who report to you.

05 Finally, think through the variation and different results you got from the individual and group maps. You will likely find that the group map has skewed towards the employees you think you know best. This happens to most managers. We tend to react favorably to those we like and who like us. We tend to discount those with whom we feel less closely aligned. It becomes dangerous in the workplace when we assume we know the group when we really only know a select few.

The result of this exercise is usually eye-opening. Think about this: if each of your employees felt as understood by you as your select few how much better would your work environment be? How would you be looked at as a leader as opposed to a manager? How would you feel about yourself? How could results in your areas of responsibility help improve your relationships and the work itself?

Try an empathy map today!