Empathetic leadership is probably not the first thing you think of when you think of business. But according to today’s podcast guest, Barrett Brooks, it should be. Being a business leader is more than just making things happen. It’s about connecting with those you’re leading, making wise decisions, and focusing on the health of your business in all areas.

Barrett is an entrepreneur and business coach. He has gained much knowledge and insight into the business world through various experiences. From starting his own business Living for Monday in 2011, to working at a few different startups, Barrett has found that the best leaders are those who care deeply for their followers’ growth in partnership with the health of the company.

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Empathetic Leadership

If you watch too much news or spend too much time in the dark depths of the internet, you might start to believe that the world is a cold place where evil triumphs over good. That we are constantly in danger of being attacked by some dangerous “other.”

There are many ways to respond to a feeling like this. You might emotionally withdraw from thinking too much about issues that matter. You might become angry and point fingers at the “other side.” You might even decide that life is simply the process of occupying our time as we slowly march towards the inevitable end.

Or, you could lean into the feeling of discomfort. You could explore the questions. You could acknowledge the ways in which we have power to control the narrative. In a word, you could choose to lead. To care. To rally the people in your community to do the same, even when they don’t agree with you on every issue.

I write for the people who choose the latter path (hopefully that’s you).

– Barrett Brooks

As long as he can remember, Barrett has approached the world that way. From a young age, Barrett has held the default perspective that it’s someone’s job to lead. If we look at things and we don’t like the way they are, what better way to improve things than to step up and do it ourselves, and rally other people around us?

His mom was the breadwinner in the family, and an entrepreneur. He learned so much from observing how his mom led. At holidays, she would host dinner parties for her teams. He remembers laughter filling the house. It was in those early days of watching his mom lead well the he learned teams were more than just a way to achieve a business goal. It’s about building trust and creating authentic relationships with the people you work with.

Barrett recalls his dad being the perfect example of servant leadership. He wasn’t great at expressing emotions, but he sure did show it through acts of service. He would go out of his way to help people, and build relationships through sacrifice.

Seeing both his parents have agency in their life, and work to make things better, was a huge factor in leading him to understand what empathetic leadership looked like, and why it was so important.

Emotions Are A Good Thing

Barrett acknowledges that life is hard. There are a lot of ways to react to the tough things that happen. The most hopeful and engaged way is to say “I’m going to make it better. Even if I fail, I am at least going to try.” For Barrett, that’s the way of having hope for the future. It’s a way of investing in something that might become better because he was involved, and because the people he loves were involved. It’s ultimately an act of faith and possibility and investment in his kids’ future. And it all starts with little acts within our own families and communities. Then it expands from there.

In his late 20s to early 30s Barrett started to dissect and understand the roles different people played in his life to shape him into the man he had become. He began recognizing the values and experiences – both positive and negative – that shaped him. Hope and action became his way out of anxiety and fear. Leading became his way out of sitting and stewing in the things he wished would change.

The more he has come to understand himself, the more open he has become to the emotions of life. And the more he has opened up to his own emotions, the easier it has become to hold space for other people’s emotions. He has grown in compassion with a greater capacity to sit with someone in their feelings. Barrett believes empathetic leadership is about giving people more room to feel what they’re feeling. Often, people don’t process things because they haven’t been given space to, so as leaders it is incredibly important to be a place people feel safe and seen. Barrett encourages leaders to stop holding the mindset of “keep work at work” and shift the narrative to establish a workplace where your employees feel cared for in and outside the office. We must allow there to be emotion in the workplace again.

Going through his own growth arc allowed Barrett’s capacity for empathetic leadership to grow immensely. The more a leader focuses on their own growth, the more capacity they have to lead others in growth. One thing Barrett has come to believe in during this journey of self-discovery is that businesses are typically limited by the growth of it’s leader. A business cannot grow faster than the one leading it. So this old perspective of leaving emotion out of work is a lie in some ways. People are emotional. It’s one of the primary channels through which we process the world. We translate that into emotion, and then we translate that into logic. It doesn’t go the other way. Even the most logical people in the world have emotions, and they also justify their emotions with logic without realizing it.

The act of learning to respond differently to our emotions, and not just being reactive, is an act of empathetic leadership.

Don’t allow your anger to let you react in an ineffective way. Understand what is behind that emotion, take a breath, and determine the best and more effective way to respond. Solve the problem instead of just reacting to it. Barrett believes that any leader who says they leave emotion out of work is not being honest with themselves. They aren’t seeing the ways in which their emotions are fueling their actions.

By leaving room for emotions at work is acknowledging what is already true. Practice naming it, bringing it to the forefront, and allowing people to be human beings so you can continue to work toward goals together.

Experiences sHAPE uS

Barrett has had a variety of experiences in different businesses and companies over the years, including running his own business for a short time. All of those jobs helped pave the way for where he is now – an executive coach. Each of those experiences gave him a greater understanding of what good management is. They planted ideas in his head about what great company culture, leadership, and meaningful work looks like. He began to think critically about how businesses can build cultures where people can perform at a high level and feel a sense of belonging?

During his time at Fizzle (now known as ZenBusiness), a company dedicated to helping individuals run their own business, he was given the opportunity to teach people how to run businesses, how to be successful, how to build teams, and how to manage well. That solidified his views on entrepreneurship – on what it looks like to run a organization well, to build a product that people want to become profitable, and to make a business sustainable.

The way out of any situation where you feel trapped is by reclaiming your agency. If you feel stifled in a job, go find a job that suits you better. Barrett shares the most genuine act of leadership is to help someone reclaim their agency and help them on their way to a thing that will serve them better in their career. One of the greatest reputations you can have as a leader is to be an advocate for the people who come to work for you. That includes you being willing to help them move on to something better. A great question to ask when you feel like an employee might not be performing at their best is, “How can we partner in this together to make sure we’re both flourishing using our gifts, strengths and talents, and not wasting them?

Barrett talks about how for so long he would get frustrated in a job, or experience burnout, and finally one day was able to determine why that was: he was looking for a leader that could help him grow as a leader himself. He was trying to find a leader who would lead him the same way he felt like he led others. It was that empathetic leadership that was lacking in his experiences.

Empathetic Leadership + bUSINESS cOACHING

It was then that he decided to start his own coaching business. While jumping into the world of coaching felt intimidating for him, he prided himself on training to become one of the best business coaches in the world. Barrett desires to serve entrepreneurs by helping them find strategic and effective ways to work towards their goals over time, in both their emotional and business journeys. He strives to help founders of companies realize their potential as leaders, and create wholesome, impactful, high potential work environments that make a difference in the world.

A valuable part of how we grow in business is by listening to other people’s stories and hearing parts of ourselves in it.

Coaching is about passing on wisdom. Barrett finds the number one way that happens is by creating a container for learning. For a leader who most of the time people look to for answers, it’s a place for them to be vulnerable, to be open about the ways in which they need to grow. His job as a coach is to help someone build the tools and agency so they can have self efficacy over time. Ideally, Barrett says he works himself out of a job as fast as possible. If he can help someone grow to where they don’t need him anymore because they’re confident in their leadership style, they recognize their emotional patterns, and they know where they’re going, he has met his goal. That’s what great coaching looks like. It’s helping people develop a clear perspective on how they want to do things and then being open about that with their teams.

If you are interested in Barrett’s coaching business, you can find him at barrettbrooks.com/coaching. He loves to work with business owners who have achieved most of the goals they set out to achieve and are now questioning, “where do I go from here?”

Let us know in the comments what you are taking away from this episode, and what your experience has been with empathetic leadership.

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