On Communicating and Leading with Empathy during change

I have experienced first hand how challenging leading through a change period can be. Particularly during mergers of two or more organizations that not only had different cultures but also engaged in seemingly similar industry in this case Technology, but operated in such different ways due to not only the difference in complexity of their businesses, but also the business model. 

From the difference in how success is defined in one organization, to how performance metrics are set, to how solutions are designed, how much autonomy individuals have, what is escalated , how ideas are debated , to how leadership takes and considers opinions to how much emphasis is put on learning. To trivial matters like if people serve their own tea or tea is served to them, to who has their own office and who sits in general population (gen Pop as it is called in prison lingo), all these aspects play a major role in the overall emergent culture and leadership in the new outfit. 

Over the last couple of months, I have tried and continue to think deeply on what role exactly Culture and most importantly Leadership Culture and Communication Culture plays in ensuring success during transition periods within organizations. Not only in mergers, and acquisitions but also in aspects like transforming the focus or business models within organizations. 

I am no expert in these matters, but I have purposed to learn as much as I can on this subject. In addition to starting my Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) studies in January 2022, focusing on leadership and change management particularly during this era of Digital Transformation (whatever that means to various industries and organizations is debatable), in a VUCA world is a field that I would like to sharpen my skills in both through formal learning in academia and also practical on job experience. 

The question today is what are some of the ways we can set ourselves up for success during such times? How can we shape the emergent Culture ? Particularly leadership, Communication and learning Elements of culture?

Humility and Empathy 

Humility and Empathy are two key leadership traits that I find quite critical before, during and after organizations go through a change phase. As pointed out in this article , for leaders to be able to Listen and learn, having the humility to accept our own shortcomings and blind spots as leaders play a key role. 

I have pointed out before here that in order to lead, we must be able to listen, and Learn. On the subject of listening, particularly for senior executives and leaders, this article from HBR titled Are you really Listening” points out some truly important tenets. By giving the solution for business leaders as building a “listening ecosystem” and being able to escape the noise bubble. 

Failure to do so, leaders risk having information with key facts omitted and warning signs dampened down. The result: living in the proverbial ivory tower and what I called in my article here being the naked king.

From communication to connection 

Humble and empathic communication not only results in the message being effective but also results in communication achieving connection. 

In his book Titled: Everyone communicates, few Connect, JC Maxwell who is in my view one of the greatest teachers on the subject of leadership highlights these key areas of communication that results in connection. 

“The most effective leaders know how to connect with people. It’s not about power or popularity, but about making the people around you feel heard, comfortable, and understood.”

Common Ground: Finding common ground is a time tested means to form relationships, find it as a leader, there is always something we agree on even with our greatest of rivals, this is especially important for leaders to find. 

Keep it Simple: do not bog down people by jargon and need to make things complex. Keep the communication simple and concise. The aim is to communicate not complicate. 

Appeal to and Capture people’s interests: keep your personal interest second, get your ego out of the way and speak to the authentic purpose and interests of those you are leading. Remember, people are at the center of leadership. 

Stay Authentic in all your relationships: As a leader, being authentic is a point of strength. Don’t treat everyone the same and equally, people are different with different needs and individuality, stay authentic to the relationships you have with each of them. 

Bringing it Together 

In the end, what matters is making a positive difference in the lives of those we lead. People may forget what we say or do, but they will most likely never forget how we made them feel. As leaders heavy is the crown. Purpose to be better than we were yesterday, and always remember this, progress over perfection. 

So go forth and be vulnerable, communicate and lead with humility and empathy, let us connect with those in our charge and bring out the best in them.

#Godspeed #IamJustAman


Ouko Joseph is a Father and a Leader in the making. A passionate student of leadership. Read more here

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