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2 min read


Are you motivating people the wrong way? If you don’t know Goodhart’s Law, you might be making a huge mistake.

Goodhart’s Law states this: “If a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” That may sound dense and complicated, but it’s critically important for any leader to understand. In this video, I break down what Goodhart’s Law means — and why it matters so much for your management skills.

Used properly, Goodhart’s Law ensures that your people are all working together for common goals that benefit the company. But ignore the law and chaos can result. 

Goodhart’s Law applies to managing sales teams, projects, and pretty much any business enterprise — and that’s not all. I show how this principle can cause a good dog to go bad, or even lead to manipulation by your kids.

If you’ve ever tried (or failed) to potty train a child, it’s material you need to know. 

The stories in this video come from my podcast Pessimists Archive, which explores how change happens (and why people often resist it). Check out the show for more!

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5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


At first, the idea of offering a product or service for free feels counterintuitive. After all, it costs money to run a business. Entrepreneurs need to generate revenue if they want to experience any type of lasting success. But I’m not suggesting you give away the cow at no cost, as it were. Rather, that by strategically introducing giveaways or gratis add-ons, you can enjoy significant future growth, and in these five specific areas.

1. Growing your leads list

Free offers are a tried-and-true method of lead generation. Many B2B brands will provide ebooks or other materials in exchange for signing up for their newsletter. This serves as an easy way to collect email addresses that can be leveraged in future marketing campaigns. This type of giveaway is so widespread that Content Marketing Institute reports that 88 percent of B2B companies use content marketing for lead generation.

Of course, similar tactics can also prove effective when selling consumer products. Many brands use product giveaways that encourage people to follow them on social media or sign up for an email list to gain additional entries. The result is more potential buyers who will receive email and social media marketing, leading to future purchases.

Related: Should You Offer Your Product or Services for Free?

2. Helping others understand what you have to offer

Free trials are a common tactic used by service providers. B2B software companies, video-streaming services and others will typically provide a limited period when users can test out their service for free. This can prove remarkably effective. Growth marketer Lincoln Murphy suggests benchmark conversion rates of 60 percent for trials that require credit card info and 25 percent for “opt-in” trials.

A recent conversation with Piotr Orzechowski, CEO of Infermedica, provided further insights. “In light of COVID-19, we offered a free risk-assessment tool to help triage coronavirus symptoms remotely,” he explains. “Ministries of health in Poland and Ukraine implemented this solution on their websites. It was the right thing to do, but it’s also allowed organizations to see how our products work. It gives us a chance to show our commitment to quality service, which will undoubtedly lead to new client growth in the future.”

3. Generating buzz for your brand

Product giveaways are a great way to grow a following. This is commonly seen with social media contests when a brand or influencer will require that followers tag friends as part of their entry.

When done right, this can generate a snowball effect that leads to many people discovering the brand and its products. In fact, a report from Easypromos found that 99.3 percent of contest participants will share links online if the contest incentivizes getting friends to participate.

Of course, the benefits go well beyond brand awareness. Contests can lead to exponential growth in your social media followers and email subscribers. They can also dramatically increase engagement through these channels. More followers and higher engagement will naturally lead to more qualified leads and purchases.

4. Collecting valuable market feedback

Your most loyal customers can serve as an important source of information when testing a new product or service. Speaker and author Brian Tracy has written for this site about how testing products with customers is “the only real test of a product,” explaining, “Go to a potential customer with your sample or prototype and ask if he would buy it. Be sure to call on the individual who makes buying decisions. Then ask him how much he’d pay for this product. If people criticize your new product idea, ask them why. Ask how the product could be modified to make it more attractive.”

Many customers are willing to test your newest product or service because they view it as a low-risk proposition. They don’t pay anything. They get to try out your next product or service for free and give their honest feedback.

For your most loyal customers, the potential of being the first to try your next innovation is motivation enough. And the wider of a group you can test, the more diverse and reliable feedback you’ll receive.

5. Upselling purchases

There’s a good reason why many online retailers like Amazon and Walmart set minimum purchase requirements to qualify for free shipping. It’s an easy way to encourage customers to buy one or two extra products to fill up their shopping cart before checking out. In fact, a UPS study found that in 2017, 48 percent of online shoppers added items to their cart to qualify for free shipping.

Similar results are possible when you offer a free product or value-added service when customers meet a set minimum purchase threshold. Alternatively, you could bundle a free item with a lower-selling product to boost its sales. Pair relevant products and services together to better upsell to your customers.

Related: 4 Creative Ways to Use Free Samples to Grow Your Business

Free today, but plenty of profit tomorrow

As these examples illustrate, giving away products or services for free is all about the long-term results. Whether you’re providing customers with an opportunity to essentially “try before they buy” or directly motivating additional purchases, strategically introducing these offers will have a positive impact on your bottom line.

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5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


A crisis can take different forms and emerge without warning. These crises include advertising disasters, miscommunication with suppliers, or a mishap during a company event. Most organizations prepare contingency plans for various crisis scenarios. However, regardless of the type of crisis that we are facing, it is important that the leaders of an organization use their emotional intelligence when faced with a challenge. It can greatly help them overcome the crisis they are facing. It helps us manage our panic and reactions, and it helps us understand others and help calm their panic.

What is emotional intelligence?

It’s our ability to manage our emotions, which enables us to handle crises more efficiently. Emotional intelligence has four elements — self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management/social skills. 

Related: Successful Leadership Tactics in a Time of Crisis

Self-awareness

As a leader, you are under constant watch. People will monitor your every move. Because of this, you have a great opportunity to influence. If they see you calm, they will stay calm. So how do you ensure that you stay calm even in times of crisis? You need to be conscious of how you react to your situations and other people. When you are aware of your reactions or emotions, you are in charge of the situation, not your emotions. Find out how you react when you’re under pressure. Does your heart beat faster? Do you become irritable? When you know how you react, you can manage your emotions, which increases your ability to deal with the crisis because your emotions do not influence your decisions.

Self-management

People who are self-aware can easily identify their emotions when they take the time to do it. Even experts require a moment to gather their thoughts, but once they have, they can easily manage themselves.

So, what does it mean to self manage? When you know you’re about to react negatively to something, you can do something to intervene before things escalate. For instance, one of your employees made a mistake, which might cause your company to lose an important client. How do you feel? While you’re allowed to have those emotions, you need to learn to manage them so you can deal with the situation. 

If you manage your emotions, you can set your disappointment, anger, and panic aside and begin to deal with the problem first before dealing with the employee. In other words, your emotional intelligence can help you focus on the important things during the crisis. When the crisis is over, you can take the time to let those emotions out in private. 

Related: 8 Powerful Phrases Leaders Need to Say in a Time of Crisis

Social awareness

While the first two elements focus on internal matters, social awareness (and relationship management or social skills) focuses on your ability to connect with other people.

“Empathy is a core skill of social awareness,” writes author Daniel Goleman. Empathy is our ability to understand and share other people’s feelings. During a crisis, you’re not the only one who’s experiencing different emotions. As a leader, you can influence how others feel. If you let your emotions run wild, your people will probably do so as well. If you show them that you are afraid or angry, they might feel those emotions too.

Your people are probably just as afraid, if not more than you are. Your anger might make them feel antagonistic too. Instead, if you manage your emotions, you are in a better disposition to help them deal with their emotions. You can motivate them to continue working despite the crisis that you are facing. You can even encourage them to work towards solving the crisis.  Being socially aware allows you to lead others to manage their emotions and focus on the tasks at hand.

Relationship management or social skills 

“Relationship management refers to your ability to influence, coach, and mentor others, and resolve conflict effectively,” writes Lauren Landry of the Harvard Business School. Yes, you need to be a good communicator, which means learning to be a good listener. Being a good listener improves your ability to be socially aware. You need to use what you learned from your observations (due to your social awareness) to help you manage your relationships. For instance, a crisis creates tension, which means increased emotional responses. To prevent conflicts from arising, you need to address the issues before they become problematic, and having a good relationship with your people as well as with external parties allows you to resolve the issues easily. 

Related: What Leaders Can Learn From Governor Cuomo About How to Communicate During a Crisis

All of these mean that leaders need to develop their emotional intelligence while there is no crisis so that they are ready by the time a crisis occurs.

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5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


It’s a tough time to be a leader. COVID-19 has created what Arianna Huffington, founder and CEO of Thrive Global, calls a “generic atmosphere of stress.” A lot of workers are telecommuting for the first time, worrying about the health of their loved ones and wondering what effects the coronavirus will have on the economy and their jobs.

We’ve all been anticipating a recession for a while now. If you’ve prepared by setting aside some cash reserves, great. If you haven’t, that’s OK, too. There’s still time to make the right decisions to get you through this crisis.

So how will you guide your team through this critical time? First, take a deep breath. I’ve advised hundreds of businesses over the years and know you can do this. Companies have survived tough times before, such as during 9/11 and the Great Recession, but you will need strong leadership and a calm, compassionate heart to do it.

Related: 3 Survival Traits for Any Leader

How to lead during difficult times

Remember that your employees are probably afraid and stressed out; you may see tears and hear all sorts of personal things. It’s your job — and your privilege — to help your people manage their difficult emotions. Here’s how:

1. Provide structure to encourage collaboration and prevent loneliness.

Working from home has its perks, but it also means losing the structure that office life provides. This loss can feel especially acute when your team is forced to become remote overnight. To keep employees engaged, figure out ways to create a remote environment that encourages collaboration and connection, which 21 percent of remote workers have concerns regarding. For instance, consider scheduling a weekly video call with your team to touch base on projects and check-in to see how everyone is doing. This can go a long way toward helping your employees stay motivated and social.

Ask your team to contribute ideas for what would best work for them. Would they prefer a virtual happy hour or a weekly breakfast chat? Do they have suggestions for any tools that would make remote work easier? Whatever you settle on, you’ll want to make sure your team is connecting on a personal basis as well as discussing work matters. Your goal is to be a leader, not just a boss, and to provide emotional support during difficult times.

2. Give your team the guidance and tools they need to do their work remotely.

When prepared for properly, remote work can increase productivity, according to Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom. But if your employees have been thrust into remote work, they may find themselves working from their kitchen tables, dealing with screaming kids and needy pets. You may need to provide additional tools and guidance to help them succeed in their new work environment. Coach your employees on how to set up a workspace and ask them whether they have the tools they need to do their jobs well from home. For example, tools like Slack, Asana, and Dropbox can keep projects organized and advancing even when everyone is physically apart.

Related: 198 Free Tools to Help You Through the Coronavirus Pandemic

3. Communicate what you know about the timeline.

While public health experts and economists say the path to normalcy will not be quick, this situation is almost certainly temporary. Make sure your employees know that they’ll be back in a collaborative work environment eventually. Regularly update employees with what you know and tie your decision to return to the office to a specific event, such as when schools open back up. Doing so will reassure your employees that you are monitoring the situation and intend for business to resume as normal as soon as it’s safe.

4. Be transparent about the health of your business.

Transparency can help employees feel empowered and reassured during an uncertain situation. For example, according to a PayScale report, more than 80 percent of employees would be OK with below-market pay if they knew why it was necessary.

Your employees are probably nervous about their jobs, so be an open book about your company’s financial health and the steps you’re taking to ensure success in the future. The more you can tell your employees, the better they’ll feel, freeing them up to focus on work and preventing any negative knee-jerk reactions. You also need to admit when you don’t have the answers. Enlist your employees to help solve roadblocks.

5. Be honest about your employment outlook.

Don’t make promises you can’t back up. Now is probably not the time to tell your employees that everyone will still be on the team once this crisis blows over. If you need a reality check, consider that more than 700,000 American workers lost their jobs in March alone. Even former big success stories like Bird have had to trim its workforce: The electric scooter rental company recently laid off 30 percent of its workers via a live conference call.

While you can’t promise job safety to everyone, you can promise that you will be the best possible leader and do everything in your power to get the company safely through this storm.

Related: 4 Tips To Keep Your Business Afloat in a Downturn

COVID-19 has thrust business leaders everywhere into tough times, but know that we’re in this together. Summon your courage and compassion, think long-term, and support your employees, and you’ll surely survive to the other side of this storm.

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9 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Our natural response to fear — our fight-or-flight response — is widely understood. On perceiving a threat, the hypothalamus in our brains sends the message to our adrenal and pituitary glands to release hormones that prepare the body for action. When the perceived threat is gone, the brain stops triggering the release of these hormones, and homeostasis begins, with our bodies gradually returning to their normal states. Easy-peasy.

Things start to break down, however, when our brains start continuously getting signals that there is a threat. When that happens, the natural fear response basically short-circuits, with the body stuck in a continuous cycle of releasing hormones then trying to normalize. This creates chronic stress, which drains the body’s adaptive energy and leads to emotional exhaustion. Hans Selye, often referred to as the “father of stress research,” named it General Adaptation Syndrome, which progresses from an initial Alarm Stage to Resistance and ultimately to Emotional Exhaustion.

The impact on your employees is insidious and going to get worse

The conditions for emotional exhaustion have been in play for your employees — and everyone else for that matter — for months now. Our brains are inundated with relentless non-specific fear stimuli stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic. From the moment we open our eyes we are braced by reminders that we aren’t in Kansas anymore. And just in case the myriad of disruptions in every aspect of our lives weren’t enough, mainstream media and social media give us daily, hourly, minute-by-minute reports on infection rates, deaths and the omnipresent risks we all face. These feed directly into Selye’s Resistance stage and are continuously depleting our adaptive energy.

You may not be seeing the signs in your team yet, but it’s unlikely that they aren’t already dealing with some degree of emotional exhaustion. It is equally unlikely that the fear stimuli, either health or financial, will be ending anytime soon, meaning that things are only going to get progressively worse in the upcoming months.

The negative implications to your workplace can’t be overstated. Mary D. Moller, Associate Professor, Pacific Lutheran University School of Nursing, and Director of Psychiatric Services for the Northwest Center for Integrated Health, has spoken extensively about the negative impact of emotional exhaustion on people’s ability to learn and to adapt. Other experts have pointed to emotionally exhausted employees as caring less about customers and feeling less personal accomplishment at work — and a number of other serious physical and emotional issues.

Oh, and they’re also more likely to be thinking of quitting.

Previous management strategies won’t help leaders now

Mitigating the impact of this emotional exhaustion in the workplace has become a priority. Ignoring it isn’t a viable option, and winging it could potentially make matters worse. Unfortunately, the leadership practices considered the most effective up until just a few months ago simply aren’t good enough right now. They were designed to improve engagement, collaboration and productivity, not to combat emotional exhaustion.

Traditional change management approaches are equally unlikely to work. They are founded on having a clear vision of the end result and clearly defined, incremental, timelines to get there. Those things are, at the moment, elusive for most organizations. Even if they weren’t, workplace changes represent only a small part of the ongoing negative stimuli fueling employees’ emotional exhaustion. Addressing them in isolation is not likely to have a significant impact.

Your employees need a safe zone

One thing you can do for your employees is to mitigate their emotional exhaustion by removing negative stimuli from the workplace environment. Stop the stimuli, stop the brains from short-circuiting and give brains and bodies an opportunity to begin recovery. You can make the workplace, in essence, a welcome safe zone.

I have seen the impact of this firsthand in the first business I owned — a small chain of toy stores. The mandate in them was to create a fun environment for kids so that they would want to return. It worked, but I was always struck by how many employees actually looked forward to coming to work too.

Most of them were either university students or parents of young children. For them, it turned out, the idea of playing and being around happy kids was a welcome respite from the pressures at home and school. “You don’t understand,” one employee once told me, “This is my happy place. Getting paid is just a bonus!”

The opportunity for employees to recover adaptive energy in a safe zone helps them develop adaptive resilience — the mental strength and ability to adapt and cope with frequently changing or uncertain environments. It’s a temporary respite, of course. The stressors will still be present in all other aspects of your employee’s lives, causing the cycle to start anew and again drain adaptive energy. But this only increases the value of the safe zone you’ve created for them.

Your employees need adaptive resilience leadership

Creating a safe zone for your team is the necessary first step in what I refer to as Adaptive Resilience Leadership. The foundation of this safe zone is, not surprisingly, you.

Your moods and your emotional intelligence play a critical role in the emotional balance of your team. In their research into Primal Leadership, Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee highlight the profound impact a leader’s upbeat mood can have on the workplace. That needs to be your starting point. After that, there are four things you can focus on:

1. Remove visual and auditory stimuli from the workplace

While safety and vigilance need to be at the forefront of anyone in a workplace, it does not have to come in uninterrupted streams. Try to avoid conversations about the news while in meetings and discussions about work. Encourage employees to take social media breaks during working hours. These are, at the moment, full of negative stimuli. There is a difference between staying informed and being overwhelmed.

2. Create certainty

Mitigating the pervasive climate of uncertainty is another goal for your safe zone. The absence of certainty is a powerful stressor that impacts people both mentally and physically. While it’s true that you may not have certainty in terms of where your business and workplace will be in the months to come, you can create a degree of certainty in terms of what each day will look like for your employees. This starts with establishing predictable routines at work.

Routines are effective ways to bring order from chaos, and as a leader, it’s important that you establish them for your teams. One effective approach, for example, is to implement a highly-structured 6-minute huddle with your team first thing every morning. If you don’t stray from the 6-minute restriction, don’t vary from the format and keep the content meaningful, this practice begins everyone’s workday with that little bit of order — signaling that the safe zone has begun.

These huddles are particularly valuable if you have found yourself with a remote workforce, where employees may be struggling to separate home life from work life. They are also a powerful vehicle for reminding your team that, despite everything, their purpose remains unchanged. Purpose, as Dan Pink highlights in his autonomy-mastery-purpose model, is a critical motivator in ongoing engagement.

3. Enhance communication

Communication with your employees is, of course, critical. But it’s not just the volume, it’s the nature and quality of communication that is important. A 2015 study found that job-relevant communication and training, as well as positive relationship communication, were strong counters to emotional exhaustion in social workers.

In addition to the morning huddle with your team, have daily check-ins with each employee — particularly with those working remotely. Keep them brief, positive and relevant to their work so that they aren’t perceived as annoyances. Consider varying the check-ins occasionally to include two employees at a time. It’s a great opportunity to help your employees feel positively connected with each other, and gives them a sense of transparency and being part of something larger.

4. Maintain an effort-reward balance

Johannes Siegrist, Senior Professor of Work Stress Research at Duesseldorf University, identified high-effort/low-reward work conditions as being a significant cause of stress and negative health in the workplace. Her research shows that stress increases when people perceive that the physical and mental effort being asked of them is greater than the reward they are receiving.

Your employees are, at the moment, being asked to cope with significant ongoing changes, learning curves and emotional situations. This is increasing their effort markedly, and you need to make sure that the effort is balanced out. It’s not necessarily about money, although that is one of the three reward types Siegrist identifies. The other two are Esteem and Status Control, and they are equally, if not more, important.

Esteem is created when leaders demonstrate appreciation and recognition for employees’ efforts. This means making sure that each employee has no doubt about how much you understand, appreciate and value the efforts they are putting in. Status Control is closely related to the autonomy component of Pink’s model, and is created when employees feel a sense of control over their work, and that their input is valued. This means listening to their thoughts and ideas, and giving them an opportunity to contribute.

Strong, strategic leadership has never been more important

It’s a fair guess that your employees are already short-circuiting and in some stage of emotional exhaustion. Given the current global environment, how could they not be?

Sadly, the relentless tsunami of negative stimuli is not going to be ending soon. The likelihood is that, even when the threat to health begins to abate, the economic fallout will still be in full bloom. If left unattended, the ongoing negative impact on your employees’ mental health and the resulting health of your workplace is only going to deteriorate. There has never been a time when strong, strategic leadership was more important.

 

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5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, business owners have had to make difficult decisions they never thought they would – often on short notice with minimal time to prepare. In a matter of weeks and even just days, they have faced business-critical choices, such as whether to pivot or change revenue streams, whether to furlough employees or even whether to close.

Much of decision making is grounded in empirical data. Numbers don’t lie, whether you’re looking at revenue generation, product success, employee productivity or something else. But something just as important when making tough decisions is your instincts. 

How to know when to trust your gut? It’s not an exact science. However, there are times and places when relying on your intuition can guide you to places that are bigger and better than if you’d relied on data alone — and your instincts may even help you achieve a significant breakthrough.

See the whole picture.

People often try to apply rational logic and data to infer the best option when making a decision. If you’re doing this, you’re looking for patterns — using what you’ve seen in the past to predict a decision’s outcome.

This approach isn’t always effective, however.

For entrepreneurs and startups forging new paths, there may not be enough data to inform the best decision. Historical patterns — the causes and effects of prior decisions, either yours or from companies that inspire you — may not repeat themselves in the same way they did before. This is especially true in the current economic conditions; the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the present and future for both existing companies and entrepreneurs alike. The past may be a poor indicator of what’s to come.

Related: 7 Methods to Maximize Your Decision-Making

This uncertainty makes your instincts and vision crucial for making decisions. Even with historical data in the driver’s seat, you’ll need to grab the wheel and apply logic and intuition to avoid potholes.

Look for the payoff.

When, then, should you trust your gut? In some situations, as when there isn’t enough data available to guide you, you’ll simply have to. And even when data is available, your gut may push you to embrace other factors before you make a decision. Often, it’s worth paying attention to that feeling, especially if you’re hoping for a big payoff.

Consider introducing a new product, for instance. If there isn’t precedent for how people will react to it, your instincts should be a significant component of your decision-making. Even with all of the data in the world, you won’t know how people will react to something novel.

The most innovative entrepreneurs define their categories by trusting their instincts. Imagine if Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone and Evan Williams decided against building Twitter based on the information available to them at the time. Of course, now it’s a multi-billion-dollar company providing a service many people can’t imagine life without.

Related: How to Avoid Making Disastrous Decisions

When BlueVine introduced a credit line product, I initially got pushback. Was it necessary, I was asked. But I saw a gap in the market and read between the lines of what I was hearing from both our customers and our partners. Trusting my gut was the right move: BlueVine’s line of credit has been immensely successful.

Of course, not every gut decision turns into Tesla, Uber or even your company’s best product. There’s a risk in following your gut instead of data, and sometimes your instincts can lead you astray. That’s happened to me, too. 

It can be risky to make an instinctual choice in an uncertain economy, so make sure your business is ready to accept the risk. But when the risk is big, the reward can be, too. 

Find your instinctive leaders.

You may not be the kind of leader with strong instincts, or you may be too nervous about trusting intuition over data. There’s nothing wrong with that. 

If that sounds like you, look to your team to find the person naturally gifted with strong instincts because they can add a piece to the decision-making puzzle that may be missing. Leadership on major decisions may come from an unexpected person or place. But if you want to create an incredible product, identify the bloodhound on your team.

Related: Let Go of These 10 Things and Start Making Better, Faster Decisions

Remember that choosing the right path for your company isn’t formulaic. You can’t go with your gut all of the time, but neither can you always trust data alone. The right decisions are usually a combination of both data and instincts. But in times of uncertainty, like the one many people find themselves in today, it’s especially important that you listen to the inner voice guiding you towards what’s best.

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6 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


It was a sunny day in April. The air was crisp and the walk ahead of us enjoyable.

I stared at the beautiful Embarcadero situated near our San Francisco office, feeling grateful for working close to such a stunning view.

Then I shifted my gaze over to Tim, my walking mate for the afternoon. We were on one of many walking meetings we’d shared over the past year. But this time was different.

Tim, a normally talkative employee, was dragging his heels and appeared disgruntled whenever I asked for status updates. He kept his head down, answering only in curt replies.

Something was off.

As his supervisor, I could have easily approached his behavior with a stern stance, by grilling him, or asserting my authority. But 14-plus years of entrepreneurship have taught me one thing: A harsh, adversarial response is never the answer.

Instead, I slowed my pace and asked him how things were going at home. “Is everything OK?”

Tim confided then that his father had recently had a stroke, and that he was taking turns spending nights at the hospital, leaving him tense and run-down.

I nodded. “I’m so sorry, that sounds very hard.”

“How can I support you?” I offered.

We spent some time talking over how to alleviate some of his load at work, and even scheduled some days off for him to be with his family.

After our conversation, it was as if a weight had been lifted. In our meeting afterward, he began eagerly participating, even offering feedback I hadn’t asked for.

Showing genuine care and concern only took a few seconds of my time, but it was enough to let Tim know that I was on his side. 

Related: How Companies Are Leading With Empathy

One of the most overlooked skills in business

Empathy — the capacity to recognize and understand other people’s feelings, to “put oneself in someone else’s shoes” is a critical leadership skill. Common sense tells us that it’s a basic human quality most founders would have in their arsenal, but in fact, it’s one that many leaders often get wrong.

In a commencement speech on June 15, 2014, American business magnate and philanthropist, Bill Gates, stood before an audience of Stanford grads and spoke of channeling optimism into a conviction to make things better.

“If we have optimism, but we don’t have empathy,” he said, “then it doesn’t matter how much we master the secrets of science. We’re not really solving problems; we’re just working on puzzles.”

This has been true to my experience as the CEO of my company JotForm. We started with one goal: Create a drag-and-drop tool that enabled people to quickly build forms, even if they didn’t know how to code. As a software engineer, I’ll be the first one to say I’m the biggest nerd I know. I enjoy taking a complex issue and making it easy and accessible.

I’ve had the privilege of growing our small startup to a business with over 250 employees and seven million users worldwide.

And what I’ve learned from being a founder all these years is that people, not software, matter most. Connecting with our team and our customers is the real vision that keeps us moving forward.

I believe the secret to our success lies in empathy.

Beyond sympathy

Our culture admires a certain business stereotype: the die-hard leaders who push the envelope and only care about themselves. But at what price?

A shortage of empathy in the workplace accounts for an increasing lack of employee engagement, which impacts productivity. This costs businesses more than $600 billion per year.

How does this happen? Simple: by confusing empathy with sympathy.

Sympathizing — feeling sorry for an employee’s situation isn’t the same as understanding their feelings and needs, or building rapport.

Instead of becoming annoyed with their employees or commanding them to pick up the slack, effective leaders know how to express themselves by showing real concern and asking how they can improve the situation.

While valuable, sympathy is only a surface-level response that keeps you at a distance.

Empathy, on the other hand, is a perspective shift — it’s genuinely imagining yourself being in the other person’s shoes, and allows you to connect on a deeper level.

Related: You Must Lead With Empathy to Achieve These 5 Crucial …

Empathy fuels productive conversations

“As a leader, you should always start with where people are before you try to take them where you want them to go.” – Jim Rohn, Entrepreneur and Author

Many entrepreneurs mistakenly believe that empathy is something you’re either born with or not. But as CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, emphasizes, empathy is a muscle that needs to be exercised.

Nadella, who went through numerous personal challenges — trying to obtain a green card to come to the United States, building a new life for himself and his family, adjusting to his children’s disabilities — all of these struggles gave him the emotional insight and sensibility to create a collaborative company culture.

He didn’t just relate to employees and customers on an intellectual level, he understood that everyone needs to feel supported in one way or another.

Empathy isn’t only human and caring; it’s also practical, as Peter Bregman points out in a story for Harvard Business Review. It can turn a confrontational conversation into a collaborative one — allowing all parties to arrive at a shared truth.

When we can take our hard lessons learned and channel them into the ways we communicate with our team, we foster engagement. We do this by actively listening, being open to feedback, and approaching employees with attention and care.

“Empathize first,” Bregman writes. “It doesn’t take long, and it’s not complicated. Just start with the relationship — even if you don’t feel like you have an established one — because showing care and concern is what creates that relationship.”

Simply asking if someone is OK is enough to let them know you’re willing to show up when it counts.

Related: 3 Ways Increasing Your Empathy Makes You a More Effective Leader

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We all face conflict at some point in our day, whether professionally and personally. Conflict at work, while unfortunate, is to be expected. Everyone is different. Differences lead to conflict when individuals cannot agree. And because conflict is inevitable, it’s best to prepare so that we can handle ourselves when disputes arise. As a leadership consultant who has worked with smaller companies and Fortune 500 companies, I have developed what I call the “5C” approach to handling conflict. 

Here are the five ways to approach conflict in the workplace.

1. Carefully listen. 

Every conflict has sides. Before deciding how to resolve a conflict, make sure to listen carefully to what each party is saying. Careful listening is one of the best ways to handle conflict as it allows you to validate others’ ideas and let them know that they are being heard, regardless of whether you agree or not. 

Related: How to Mediate a Conflict Between Your Employees

Let both sides present their ideas. Make sure that one group doesn’t interrupt the other, reserving comments during this phase. This presentation of ideas isn’t about establishing whose argument is better, but about carefully listening to each side. Perhaps these seemingly opposing ideas can be combined for a more effective outcome — but you and your team won’t know it unless everyone learns to listen carefully to each other.

2. Considerately look at the situation. 

When conflicts arise, emotions and anxieties are heightened. To avoid worsening the situation, make sure that your teams learn to understand each other, even when they don’t agree. Part of being able to listen carefully is being able to understand and accept others’ ideas. Remember that you’re not always right, and your ideas aren’t necessarily the best. Remind your team of this, as well, as you mediate the conflict. 

Related: 5 Ways To Enable Your Team For Better Conflict Resolution

Careful thought and consideration are important. After having your team listen to each other, give them time to consider what they have said. Have them summarize their points of agreement and disagreement and ask them to work together on a compromise. Keep an open mind, and make sure that your team members keep their minds open to others’ opinions and ideas.

3. Calmly discuss the conflicting perspectives. 

How we respond to conflict can intensify tension. Conflicts worsen when the arguing parties become emotional, and the argument becomes personal. The best way to handle conflict is to stay calm: Calmer minds produce clearer ideas. Keep yourself and your team calm. Avoid showing signs that you agree with one group and not another. Show your team that you can keep calm and reasonable. Insist all parties talk to each other in a relaxed and civil manner. Don’t let emotions overwhelm the situation by making sure no one shouts, makes offensive comments, or blames. 

4. Conscientiously look at the facts. 

Be sure you have all the facts before making any decisions to resolve a conflict. Clarify the points first, taking into consideration each person’s different perspectives. For instance, if a conflict arises while the team is deciding how to solve a problem, try to identify what each team member perceives as the problem. Different perspectives on the same problem will lead everyone to consider different solutions. Let everyone present their ideas without interruption so that you can all get the relevant facts you need to make an informed decision. As with careful listening and consideration, be sure to listen to each person and consider the facts they present. Be thorough in your investigation.

5. Cooperatively work together. 

All four C’s should help your team to work together in resolving the conflict. With each of these tips, you’re focusing your team on addressing the shared problem instead of attacking each other’s personality. Because you and your team carefully listened, considerately looked at the situation, calmly discussed perspectives and conscientiously looked at the facts, you can all cooperate despite initial disagreement.

Related: 6 Strategies to Resolve Conflict at Work

Letting everyone be a part of conflict resolution teaches your team how to handle conflict for themselves. The next time they find themselves disagreeing, they are less likely to need your intervention.

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Right now, you need to practice social — not emotional -— distancing. Amid the ever-changing chaos, your team deserves an empathetic leader who deeply understands what individual people are going through. Making the right managerial and executive decisions are challenging enough during good times — and even harder amid a global pandemic. 

Having lived and worked around the world, I cannot think of a more necessary time for empathy. The playing field has changed for the foreseeable future. Unless you adopt empathetic leadership principles quickly, you may find yourself the captain of a sinking ship filled with crew members suffering from analysis paralysis and traumatic shock.

Related: 3 Ways Increasing Your Empathy Makes You a More Effective Leader

The importance of empathy

You may already be familiar with the value of empathy in leadership, at least on a theoretical level. The Wall Street Journal notes that roughly one in five organizations provides soft-skill training opportunities for staff to learn the art of leading with empathy. If you’ve been through a similar workshop, you might not have realized how important that training was until now.

Difficult situations reveal why empathy is important in leadership, and crises like COVID-19 drive the lesson home. Teams led by people who possess high emotional intelligence tend to work hard and persevere through rough patches. They also develop deeper bonds of trust, which are essential when employment statuses seem all too fragile.

Right now, plenty of workers are dealing with tremendous fear. Those guided by empathetic leaders will likely have an easier time working through their stresses, while others operating under a “business as usual” manager may become disengaged and resentful. Make no mistake: Leaders will be judged by how they react during this historic moment. Of course, leading with empathy is not an innate ability. Even if you have a high emotional intelligence quotient, you may need a refresher course in empathy and leadership. Here are a few strategies to practice:

1. Become more personable and accessible

To attune yourself to your team’s feelings, you must get in touch with your own emotions and understand how to express them. Marc Benioff, the head of Salesforce, showed signs of empathy when he tweeted his eight-point plan for dealing with the coronavirus. Point seven asked every CEO to wait 90 days before resorting to layoffs. If you have to furlough personnel, be graceful and compassionate about it. Don’t coldly layoff 95 percent of your employees via a video like Cirque du Soleil did at the start of the crisis, a decision that garnered negative attention.

Take time to recognize and express your emotions as well as help your team work through their fears. Add a daily reminder in your calendar or phone to stay grounded. That little “ping” will remind you to reflect every day on what you’re feeling and what’s going on. In time, you will be able to tune in emotionally without a physical reminder.

Related: Does Empathy Have a Place in Your Workplace?

2. Listen and respond honestly and optimistically (within reason)

The only way your team will be vulnerable with you during this difficult period is if you learn to listen without judgment. Leading with empathy often involves saying nothing at all and sometimes agreeing that you are sad, confused or angry, too. According to work published in The Journal of Behavioral Science70 percent of successful people say they feel like imposters from time to time. Imagine how refreshing it would be for your team members to hear that you also struggle and will not use their feelings against them.

One caveat: Don’t allow yourself or your team to wallow too long in sessions focused on negative emotions. Instead, enable honest discussions and then pivot the conversation toward positive solutions. However, be aware of the language you use when you want to refocus your team. For example, in English, we tend to use “I feel” when we really mean “I think.” If you say, “I feel like you all need to get back to work,” then you are telling your team what to do, not empathizing. Consider your words carefully after team members open up; you want them to feel heard, not ignored, when you gently move the conversation in an optimistic direction.

3. Become an emotion-seeking detective

Now is not the moment to assume you know everything bothering your team. Ask employees, “What keeps you up at night?” Their answers may surprise you. Seem a little touchy-feely? Maybe. But your team members will hear your words as an indicator of your interest. Salesforce’s report “The Impact of Equality and Values Driven Business” reveals that when leaders pay attention to their employees’ needs, the employees are 4.6 times more apt to produce stellar work.

Related: Successful Leadership Tactics in a Time of Crisis

You may discover that getting to know team members on a deeper level helps you notice when they’re not on their A-games. If you see someone struggling, intervene before their work completely falls apart. Part of the importance of empathy in leadership is being able to provide emotional guidance and encouragement that will help everyone develop personally and professionally.

Uncertain times call for unparalleled leaders. Show your humanity with a heavy dose of empathetic leadership. Empathy will not only motivate your team through crisis, but it will help you deal with your own conflicted feelings, too.

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