People over positions

People over positions

The talk of the great resignation is the hot topic these days in the business world. Some companies are working to get ahead of the exodus of talent from the organization, others are afraid to even broach the topic in fear of speaking it into existence and a small group just blames the workers for not wanting to work anymore. (EP 292, 4 Phrases to remove from your leadership talk)

The dynamic has shifted and people feel more empowered not to settle and are looking for a place that pays fairly, allows them to have a healthy personal life, and equips them to grow in their careers. 

I’ve led for years with the mindset of People Over Positions. As I teach the concept to other leaders, I always frame it up in terms of resources. With enough time, I can fill any role in any organization, but I only get one (your name here). If you knew that you only had one of a particular resource, wouldn’t you want to take care of and nurture it like your life depended on it?

The concept, while simple, certainly has been an Ah-ha moment for leaders as they think about how they currently treat and prioritize their people and key roles across the organization. Here are some tips on how you can live out the People over Positions concept with your team and build a highly efficient team and sticks around for the long term. 

Make the person’s personal time a priority

You’ve heard countless stories of people that have sacrificed large periods of their personal and family lives in order to get a job done. I was that person for a while, and it caused me to have a weird sense of a badge of honor and a chip on my shoulder like the company owed me something. I took realizing that I was out of balance and stepping up to difficult conversations at times to get back on track. 

Your team should never feel like they can’t have a life outside of work or have to sacrifice large personal goals in order to collect their paycheck. Some ways that you can make your team’s personal time include:

  • Be as accomodating as possible to time-off requests: Ensure that the person doesn’t feel guilt for taking the time.
  • Cover small investments like books and seminars. Could the person cover the cost of a $22 book? Likely, but the gesture is worth far more. 
  • Be authentically engaged in their personal hobbies, passions, and family adventures. Learn family members’ names, and take a genuine interest beyond, “How are you?” Open up your conversations with the personal aspects to show them it’s a priority for you.

Help them move on

Part of People over Positions is helping people move on to the next thing that they want to do. I’ve had leaders struggle a bit with this point in the past. “Why would I want to give up someone that’s so important to my team?” (We call that a Blocker in my world because they are blocking the talent pipeline behind them)

Everyone is where they are for a season. Eventually, you are going to move on from your role and so will each member of your team. Now imagine how that person feels when you are actively involved in their career aspirations. 

  • They feel cared for. It’s an active effort that shows you are caring for them on a personal level. The fun benefit here is that they begin to care for their teammates in a very personal way when they themselves feel cared for.
  • They are more effective than ever. As you invest in your person, that investment begins to pay off before they move on. Their larger sense of the business or the added context of an entirely different area makes them better in the role that they are in today. 
  • Your hiring costs go down. When a person feels cared for they are going o stick around longer. They are also going to shorten your time to fill open roles because they will be willing and ready to take on the new challenge. You also have an advantage of a person coming into the new role with a strong sense of context to have more of an immediate impact on their new work. 

Ways that you can help 

  • Support academic learning – from books to classes
  • Support time needed to learn and study. 
  • Give them stretch assignments
  • Provide them opportunities to explore curiosities and career journeys across the organization
  • Be a connector. Connect them to other key people in the company that can help propel their career
  • Help them prepare their successor

Model it yourself

In order to fully live out the People over Position concept, you’ve got to include yourself in that process as well. That means you’ve got to bring balance in your life and not have your job be your life. Certainly, it’s a part of your life, but it’s not healthy for it to be all-encompassing in your life. What would happen if the business folded or your position went away? Not only do you lose your income, but your sense of purpose and value also disappears in an instant. 

Show others that you are prioritizing your health, time away from work, and investing in yourself so that others know it’s ok and safe to do the same themselves. You can give them all the empowerment in the world, but you don’t live out what you talk about, then the person is much less likely to take healthy action. 

Unlimited Paid Time Off (PTO) became a hot trend at forward-thinking companies and continues to be the norm in some industries and circles. What people found is that while the company offered unlimited PTO, people were actually taking less time off than other companies with a more traditional vacation policy. It’s the classic example of talking the talk, but not walking the walk. Be sure you are walking your talk. 

Keep it in context

People over Positions can be a game-changer in the mindset of how you and other leaders engage your people. While the approach puts a priority on care, it doesn’t mean you put your business at the bottom of the priority list. With this concept you still on occasion:

  • May ask a person to make a small sacrifice in time to help the team meet a critical goal. 
  • May need to connect in “off hours” on something that can not wait until the next business day. 
  • May ask them to do a task that they aren’t happy with. 

Absolutely keep your accountability high with this approach to your team. They will be more willing to step up when they know that you care for them. Don’t be afraid to reach out about asks from the above points, just be mindful not to overuse the asks, and that it’s an appropriate level of urgency to warrant the interaction. 

Care and invest in your people. Remember that you only get one of that unique individual for a set amount of time.  Your legacy will grow as others go out and model your influence, your business will become stronger and you’ll have a higher sense of purpose as a result. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

Empathy, sympathy & pity

Empathy, sympathy & pity

Empathy, Sympathy, and Pity. Besides a catchy title to a podcast, it’s three words and that have different meanings and that can get a leader tripped up and cost the leader personal credibility when they get these three confused. 


The ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

We covered the topic of empathy in detail on previous shows and newsletters. Empathy is certainly the strongest of the three emotions. It requires a connection to the person and the situation and will also cause you to act in a caring and compassionate way. 

Empathy is the gold mine for relational leadership. It allows you to quickly build trust with others to establish great working relationships that pay off.  Acting on empathy also empowers the leader to connect with the team while holding on to strong expectations and standards. 

As a young leader, I was very black and white. Either you met the standard and expectation on you didn’t. I thought that when someone had clear expectations and resources to get the job done and they didn’t then, it was on them. Growing in empathy helped me to begin mastering the grey areas of leadership. It allowed me to meet them where they were and then show them a path to their own greatness. 

I’ve yet to meet a person that didn’t value a strong relationship with their leader where they felt valued and challenged to be their best. 


An Affinity association or relationship between a person or thing where whatever affects one similarly affects the other. 

Sympathy is a way to connect with others, but it usually means that the leader’s feeling is not as intense and the connection level is not as deep either. 

Sympathy can get the best of leaders in a number of ways. For some leaders, sympathy leads to lowering their expectations or leading inconsistently across the team. This is especially true for leaders that aren’t balanced in their approach and are too relational in their leadership and relationship with the team. For some savvy employees, they will take advantage of this dynamic will turn you into an enabler to their inconsistent and bad behaviors. 

For other leaders, they may feel sympathy, but then don’t know what to do with it. Do you ask if you can help? Do you just express it verbally and then try to awkwardly move on? I would suggest some type of action when you feel that sympathy for others. Don’t ask, because they may not feel comfortable asking for help or assistance. It can be a small gesture like a gift card to a restaurant so they don’t have to worry about cooking a meal to clearing out and covering a schedule so they have some time away. 

Act on your sympathy towards others. 


The feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others.

The definition itself doesn’t sound too bad, but pity often comes across as condescending. You can be seen as putting yourself on a pedestal, believing that you are better than someone else or that you feel sorry for them. 

The feeling of pity often leads to inaction. You see it, recognize it and then keep moving on. Take the feeling of pity and then turn it through the lens of empathy. Route the feeling through a positive and healthy approach so that the other person feels valued and cared for during your interaction with them. 

Pity is a feeling and emotion which means it isn’t bad. It’s just an emotion! How you act and react to that feeling is what can give someone a negative view of your personal behavior and beliefs.

So what?

It’s important to understand the differences between these three types of feelings and what your natural reaction are to them so that you can react appropriately when the situation occurs. 

People hold on to long memories of how others treated, handled, and helped them when they needed it. Grow your self-awareness around these so that you can lead others well, become a model leader for others to follow, and turn tough situations in a positive direction. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

Roadblocks to empathy

Roadblocks to empathy

We’ve spent time understanding what empathy is (EP 245) and looked at tips to grow this ability (EP 246). This week we will focus on common roadblocks to empathy and practical tips to continue to grow in your ability to connect with others. 

Roadblock #1: Missing the signs

It’s hard to be empathetic with a person when they don’t come out and tell us what the situation is or what they are going through. 

Develop a keen awareness and remember back to the power of body language (EP 186). People often telegraph that they are struggling and their need to talk before they communicate it verbally. 

Take a proactive approach and reach out to the person. Then listen well and be willing to open up at least a little to the other person. Sometimes leaders in an effort to connect with others end up making it about themselves instead. Be very aware not to turn the focus towards yourself during the conversation. 

Remember that empathy goes both ways and when you make yourself vulnerable and listen well you are allowing the other person to return empathy back to you in the situation. 

Roadblock #2: Prejudice both known and unknown

The prejudice that we have towards general cultures or types of people can be a major hurdle to empathy.  

Clairborne Paul Ellis was a man that grew up in poverty and thought that African Americans were the ones that were the cause of these troubles. He followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the KKK. His hatred for African Americans became a driving force in his life. He was later asked to be a part of a community group to tackle racial tensions in schools because of this prominence in the town. 

Ellis worked alongside an African American woman named Ann Atwater. He hated Atwater and obviously had no empathy towards her. Ellis eventually learned about Ann’s similar stories about poverty and began to realize that his situation had nothing to do with another people group. His empathy began to grow and it pushed him to action. He renounced his KKk membership, became lifelong friends with Atwater, and organized a union that had a 70% African American membership.  Ellis’s story is a powerful one that shows how empathy can impact your own life. 

Question the prejudices that you know about in your own life and dig down deep to find those ones that you don’t realize that you have. Make an effort to connect with people from those groups and situations in order to establish a new perspective on things. 

Roadblock #3: Missing the person for the problem

I’ve recently had several different leaders across multiple industries reach out to PTB about how to handle employee performance issues and potential actions that should be taken. It seems to be the number one thing that makes leaders hesitant or afraid of. 

People know, or have heard at least heard, horror stories of these events. Conversations gone sideways. Freakouts. Violence. The fallout afterward. I’ve never had this happen to me once I harnessed the power of empathy. 

The problem is that the leader gets hyper-focused on the problem, or what the offending person did and they act out in hostility or anger when having the conversation. This, of course, causes a reaction in the other person, and thus another horror story of accountability gone wrong is born. 

You may understand and know the problem, ensure that you use your empathy to understand the root reason why they acted the way that they did. Treat them like a person by giving them honor and respect no matter the situation. They are still human after all.  Taking this approach will make these conversations much more successful. I lean heavily into my empathy skills while having these conversations. As odd as it sounds, I’ve gotten multiple handshakes and hugs after letting people go. Empathy is powerful. 

Use your knowledge in empathy to grow your ability to connect with others in a meaningful way. Your likability with others will increase, your decision-making ability will be more thought out and your ability to navigate tough employee conversations will be strong. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

Tips to grow your empathy

Tips to grow your empathy

Empathy is certainly a learned skill much like riding a bike or any technical skill at work.  Now that we understand what empathy is (EP 245) you should have an idea of where you can begin to grow your own empathy. 

You need to be open to empathy 

You first have to be open to the idea of allowing yourself to tap into your own emotions and those of others.  This point of entry into empathetic growth is why you will never be able to force someone to grow in this area. You can’t tell a person to close their eyes and imagine themselves in the other person’s situation if they aren’t open to it. They may close their eyes, but they will not establish a connection. 

In order to be open to growing your empathy, you must first have a strong sense of self, confidence, and comfortability with engaging in emotions. You won’t reach your fullest potential in empathy without this foundation. 

You don’t have to walk a mile in their shoes

There are variations of a saying that basically states that you shouldn’t judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. The premise of the saying is that you should understand and live out an experience before you cast judgment on someone else.  That’s not necessarily needed to make a good empathetic connection. 

Let’s say that a co-worker is devastated because they bombed their first presentation in a meeting. You haven’t had that experience, but you can remember how you felt in a similar situation. Maybe it was a time you let a bunch of friends down or disappointed a boss that you really looked up to or your nerves got the best of you in a situation. Connecting how you felt in those situations to how your co-worker is feeling is a great bridge for solid empathy. 

I may not have lived out that exact scenario, but I understand the emotions that you are feeling. 

Understand that the bridge to true empathy is not created equal

It is easier for us to have empathy with people that look like us and have similar backgrounds. That’s because we can easily relate their experiences to our own. It’s a short and wide bridge to cross. 

Understand that it takes more mental work to make connections to other groups and backgrounds. That bridge is longer and more narrow. Be very mindful of these situations. Listen more, ask questions, and look for ways to establish that connection with the other person. 

Think objectively in the situation

Know that people communicate through filters. They want to protect themselves or they are only talking about the scenario from their point of view. I’m not saying that the other person is a liar or trying to deceive you, but know that their emotions may be clouding their judgment, communication, and mindset.  

Understand the impact on the person while thinking about the bigger picture of what’s going on around them. This helps me connect well with a person while making informed decisions on the larger view of things.

An objective example of this would be when two employees get into a disagreement. One comes to you feeling disrespected and hurt. You can connect with that person in how’d you’d feel if you were slighted. Staying objective helps you avoid making a brash decision and seek to understand the other side as well. You may even find out that there were a number of things that lead to the blow-up. 

Having a strong objective view helps you have empathy for both sides when working through people issues. It is always to good to have empathy for all sides in employee and family conflicts.

These tips give you a great start in growing your empathy with others. We’ll share roadblocks to growth and more tips next week. 

Make a better tomorrow. 

Understanding empathy

Understanding empathy

A good leader is served well when they have a strong sense of empathy towards others. Empathy is everything in leadership; without it, there is no true understanding and without understanding, there is a failure in leadership. 

Trusting partnerships, stronger family ties, and better working relationships come when both parties have empathy for each other. 

What empathy is and what it is not

Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s perspective and share their thoughts, feelings, and motivation.  It’s not a requirement that you’ve actually experienced what the person is going through or the situation behind the difference between you and them.  It’s more about being able to put yourself mentally in their shoes to understand the emotional state of the other person. 

Strong empathy does require for you to have a good grasp of your own emotions and self-awareness. You’ve got to know yourself before you can fully understand others. 

Empathy is not an all-loving, non-confrontational person that just wants everyone to be happy and joyous. You must understand the other person and let that understanding help in your leadership and decision-making process. You still have to lead and you are still going to make decisions that don’t make everyone happy.  Having great empathy helps you make better decisions. 

Three types of empathy

Your empathy can be broken down into three different aspects of thought, emotion, and action. 

Cognitive Empathy (Thought) focuses on the ability to have an understanding of how the other person is feeling or what they are thinking at the moment. It’s understanding the reasoning behind their thought process. Having a strong sense of cognitive empathy helps you communicate with others in a meaningful way that reaches them right where they are. 

Emotional Empathy is truly connecting with the emotions that the other person is going through.  It’s the burden or pain you feel for others in a tough spot. Your ability to cry or tear up for a character in a film, show or play is due to your emotional empathy in that person. 

Compassionate Empathy (Action) pushes you towards action in these scenarios. The tug of the heart to do something to help the other person is a result of this. Compassionate empathy is also what drives better decision making in good leaders. 

Putting it all together

We are going to use the example of a co-worker going through the loss of a loved one.  A person with little or no empathy skills will shy away from connecting with the person. You may feel that giving the other person space is what they need when in reality it’s an excuse that you give yourself in order to not have to deal with the issue. 

You may feel sympathy for the person. You feel sorry for the person going through the tough time or maybe you’re even a little sad that they are sad. 

Empathy takes the connection deeper than sympathy. Your cognitive empathy helps you understand what’s going on in the other person’s mind. How close was the person to them? How does this impact their daily life? What responsibilities are they suddenly having to carry? 

See? We are already more complex than sympathy. The other two parts of empathy carry it even further. 

With emotional empathy, you connect with the emotional toll that the person is going through and understand how it may change their behavior and decision-making ability. You connect with the heartache that they are experiencing. 

Finally, compassionate empathy pushes you to act and help your colleague. This is where you change to assist the other person. It could be taking on their workload so they can step away, bringing them a meal, or being there for them outside of work. Compassionate empathy makes you do something about the situation where sympathy does not. 

Think about your empathy level with others as you go through your daily routine this week.  Next week we will cover practical tips on how to strengthen your empathy towards others. 

Make a better tomorrow.