Thoughts on Empathetic Leadership

Thoughts on Empathetic Leadership

Mischa Downing

In a world of Musks and Bezos’s, what skills make a modern trailblazer stand apart from antiquated and autocratic leadership?

Nikkia Reveillac shared her thoughts on the importance of empathy in leadership as she delivered the Bryant University Women's Summit closing keynote session. Nikkia addressed the room with grace, wisdom and humor as she told her story of going from a dancer to completing her MBA and climbing the ranks of corporate America. She started out at Colgate Palmer, then moved to Twitter where she worked as Head of Research. She now leads a team at Netflix as Director of Consumer Insights. According to her bio, Nikkia found success ‘by artfully challenging the status quo, thoughtfully asking the questions which others are often afraid to and dedicating her time to coaching and mentoring young people, often those in marginalized groups, so that they can grow and thrive.’ 

As she closed out the 25th Women’s Summit, Nikkea left attendees with plenty of food for thought as she shared her thoughts on innovative and empathetic leadership.  “Learn how to be masterful with people, starting with yourself. Lead with influence. Win hearts and minds in a way that's uniquely you.” 

Despite what we’ve been culturally conditioned to understand, a leader doesn’t just command a team or a room. Someone can have outward power but lack internal guidance. In fact, we often see many leaders possessing power over others but not themselves. As Nikkia put it succinctly: 

“Mastering your craft is half the battle, the other is truly understanding not just people but yourself.” Here is how Nikkia broke down the tenants of successful modern leadership into seven easily digestible parts: 

#1: Self awareness - What are you good at? What are things you need to work on? Assess yourself honestly, and celebrate your strengths too! 

#2: Empathy - Put yourself in the other person's shoes and imagine what they’re feeling. Don’t be afraid to “name it” and address difficult topics too. Having productive conversations about elephants in the room can boost morale and facilitate trust. The goal is to create an environment where folks feel safe discussing things on their mind in productive ways. 

#3 : Humility - It’s the recognition that you can always improve! Letting ourselves be challenged or admitting that sometimes we just don’t know helps us see the big picture more clearly. 

 #4: A growth mindset - Its opposite is a fixed awareness that actually limits growth both personally and collectively. Growth mindset is a desire to want to improve, to be honest and say, hey, I’m not great at it—but I’m learning

#5: Relationship building - The ability to build strong, authentic connections with people is critical. This means mutual respect by establishing trust and credibility. 

#6: Effective communication - The ability to express your ideas clearly is everything. This helps avoid bigger issues down the road and allows the opportunity for reciprocal dialogue—important so that everyone on the team can feel equally heard. 

#7: Personal influence -Understanding people's communication styles so you can approach and communicate with them with ease. 

And a special bonus: learn to embrace the gift of feedback. Sometimes we have blinders on and as humans we interhently want to be liked. Feedback can often be misconstrued as conflict and many of us want to do everything or power to avoid that. Reframing feedback from a difficult conversation to valuable awareness can help us see ourselves in a new light. Success is never final—we are constantly a work in progress. Learn to embrace the insights people send your way, because as long as they are done respectfully and with good intentions, what at first might seem an obstacle could actually be an advantage.