Work's Not Working... Let's Fix It!

The ROI of Empathy. How Compassionate Leaders Drive Business Results: Michael Jenkins

November 03, 2023 Sian Harrington Season 1 Episode 10
Work's Not Working... Let's Fix It!
The ROI of Empathy. How Compassionate Leaders Drive Business Results: Michael Jenkins
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode of Work's Not Working... Let's Fix It, Siân Harrington and acclaimed thinker Michael Jenkins, author of Expert Humans: Critical Leadership Skills for a Disrupted World, explore why a blend of altruism, empathy and compassion is key to transforming today's workplace into a thriving, humane environment where individuals and organizations can succeed together.

Today's workplaces, more often than not, lack these essential qualities. Transactional relationships, metrics-driven evaluations and mechanistic tasks can sometimes make us forget the genuine human connections that form the essence of a thriving organisation. Yet, evidence suggests those who embrace compassion who understand and act upon it, are the ones more likely to climb the professional ladder, to earn higher incomes and to contribute more profoundly to their organisations 

Just imagine a workplace where the heart meets the machine, where compassion intertwines with technology to create a harmonious, productive environment. In this age of AI let's not forget our intrinsic human advantage, our ability to care, connect and create meaningful relationships. This is what Michael calls being expert human.

Key takeaways

  • Importance of compassion and empathy: Why these traits are crucial in the workplace for fostering a humane environment conducive to growth and how 'expert humans' leverage care, connection and meaningful relationships
  • Digital transformation and disruptors: How AI, the pandemic, inequality, sustainability and trust are disrupting modern society, plus the "tyranny of the algorithm" and why being an expert human matters more than ever
  • ACE Model - Altruism, Compassion, Empathy: An explanation of the ACE model and what each of these traits mean in practice
  • How you can personally develop altruism, compassion and empathy: Practical approaches to enhancing your personal empathy and your organizational compassion
  • ROI of Empathy and Compassion Training: How to develop the business case for  empathy and compassion training
  • Real-life business implementations: Hear how organizations are using ACE
  • Practical steps for leaders: The first three steps you should take to become a compassionate and empathetic leader

About Michael Jenkins

Michael Jenkins, born in Malaysia, has had a distinguished career across continents. A Durham University alumnus with advanced studies from Nanzan University, he's worked at Toyota and was a director at INSEAD. A former CEO of Roffey Park leadership institute, he founded Expert Humans and partners with the Future Work Forum. He is author of Expert Humans: Critical Leadership Skills for a Disrupted World and Toxic Humans - Combatting Poisonous Leadership in Boards and Organisations,  published in January 2024.

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Michael Jenkins [00:00:00]

What I'd like to suggest is that if we are able to leverage more empathetic behaviour, more compassionate leadership, one of the net benefits for that is that we will be able to create, I believe, a more human, if not humane, workplace for people to then grow and develop and thrive. 

For many years I've been working with people who are absolutely fantastic when it comes to technical skills, whether they are lawyers, engineers, doctors, medics, people who are really good at the jobs that they do. And yet, it seems that they haven't really had the opportunity to perhaps work on some of those other skills, the human skills side. In other words, to have the opportunity to become an expert as a human.

Siân Harrington [00:0:57]

Welcome to Work’s Not Working - a show about forward thinking people leaders, innovators and academics, and how they think we can fix work to make it more meaningful, healthy, inclusive and sustainable. Brought to you by The People Space

I'm Siân Harrington, and on the show today, Michael Jenkins on the need for more compassion at work. 

As the workplace evolves with the rise of artificial intelligence and machines, there lies this deeply human element that's often overlooked: Compassion. 

You may ask, why does compassion matter in a world seemingly inching closer to automation? Well, the answer is not that it's a nice to have but is in fact rooted in concrete research. Studies have consistently highlighted that compassion isn't merely a noble trait, but a cornerstone for professional success. It moves beyond emotion into actionable support that not only enhances individual wellbeing but propels organizations forward. 

However, today's workplaces, more often than not, lack this essential quality. Transactional relationships, metrics-driven evaluations and mechanistic tasks can sometimes make us forget the genuine human connections that form the essence of a thriving organisation. Yet, evidence suggests those who embrace compassion who understand and act upon it, are the ones more likely to climb the professional ladder, to earn higher incomes and to contribute more profoundly to their organisations. Just imagine a workplace where the heart meets the machine, where compassion intertwines with technology to create a harmonious, productive environment. In this age of artificial intelligence, let's not forget our intrinsic human advantage, our ability to care, connect and create meaningful relationships. This is what Michael calls being expert human. 

Later on, we'll discuss the AI winter and the tyranny of the algorithm. Michael will reveal his ACE model, altruism, compassion, and empathy. And we'll discuss how we can all develop these skills. 

But before that, let me tell you a little about Michael. He was born and spent his early years in Malaysia, and Asia is clearly in his blood for he graduated from Durham University in Chinese, followed by a postgraduate in Japanese language, politics, and economics at Nanzan University in Nagoya. After working at Toyota Motor Company, he returned to the UK to work at the University of Bath as director of the Foreign Languages Centre. In 2000, he joined INSEAD in France as regional director, Japan and Korea. In 2009, Michael took on the role of CEO at leadership Institute, Roffey Park, which is where I met him. In 2020, he went back to Asia and set up his own company, Expert Humans, as well as joining the Future Work Forum as a partner. 

Named one of the UK's most influential thinkers in HR, he is author of Expert Humans: Critical Leadership Skills for a Disrupted World. And next year, we'll see the publication of his new book, Toxic Humans - Combatting Poisonous Leadership in Boards and Organisations.

So let's dive now into why empathy and compassion are the future's currency and how we can rediscover our humanity in a world of algorithms. I start by asking Michael, why is it so important to be talking about compassion and expert humans now and what underpins his thinking?

Michael Jenkins [00:04:34]

I think the importance of expert humans in the world today is probably to do with the disruption that all of us are facing and, of course, organizations as a whole have to deal with a number of macro level disruptions. And I'm thinking specifically of things like digital transformation, for instance, which can obviously be very good. I'm particularly a great advocate for digital transformation, AI. The application of all of these things, I do believe, can help the human condition. And at the same time, I think we need to recognize that there's going to be quite a bit of impact now and going forward as a result of digital transformation for all of us in the workplace. 

Then of course you have global human health. The pandemic of course has triggered so many different changes in the workplace. So that was one of the second disruptor that I looked at. 

I also thought about inequality. Thinking about the inequality that exists in the world, but also the fact that the pandemic, if anything, has exacerbated the situation around equality in organizations today, particularly, I think, for women and for other groups for whom I think we've worked very hard to improve access to the workplace. I think we need to be very careful that we don't lose the gains that we've made over the past decade or two in that area. So I think we need to continue to recognize that inequality is a very big disruptor in our world today. 

And I guess the fourth disruptor that I looked at was sustainability. Of course, sustainability is rising to the top of the agenda for many organizations. A lot of organizations, particularly the forward-looking ones, are trying to see how they can integrate a sustainability agenda into their overall business strategy, which I think is incredibly laudable. And I think we would all like to see more of that. Of course, there's a link between sustainability and global human health, of course, because the more we encroach on animal habitats, the greater the likelihood of zoonotic transmission of viruses is going to be. We're going to probably see more of that in the world going forward. 

And then last but not least, the other big disruption, sometimes friends and colleagues say, why did you put this into your book as a disrupter? I decided to add trust into the mix because I think one of the things that we're facing right now is a crisis of trust in institutions, in political systems, in politicians as a whole, but also I think in terms of into their personal levels of trust as well and trust within organizations too. I think many of us would agree that with trust as such a bedrock concept, underpinning so many different things in organisational life, the fact that trust is, if I put it this way, under severe pressure from many angles, I think that was something that I also wanted to look at. 

Siân Harrington [00:07:50]

Yes, trust is something that, when we've written about  it, we've had lots of feedback. I think it really is a subject that people in the HR field are considering a lot at the moment. I really liked your phrase that you used in the book, the tyranny of the algorithm. And you also talk a bit about the AI Winter. Could you just explain a little bit about those two areas for people who are perhaps not thinking about AI in that way? 

Michael Jenkins [00:08:14]

Perhaps demystify AI and exactly what AI is because I think you have a certain school of thought which regards AI as still extremely embryonic and we're not about to be overtaken by robots, for example. But of course, in our everyday lives we interact with chat bots and so forth. So there is a modicum of impact, I think, by AI in many different aspects of our world. 

When I talked about the tyranny of the algorithm in my book, I was thinking there about how the level of sophistication of AI is such that there's still an awful lot more to do. I think everyone is probably familiar with the experience that Amazon had in terms of trying to apply AI in its recruitment and selection process and inadvertently manage to screen out all of the applicants who happened to be women. I think it's a famous example of how the tyranny of the algorithm can make or create more problems than it solves. 

Likewise, talking to some colleagues in banks here in Singapore, for instance, where banks have adopted, as elsewhere I think, chatbots to do the sort of frontline interaction with customers. It might be an overstatement but there does seem to be the sense amongst bank employees that some of the human contact that they enjoyed in terms of the conversations they had with customers are being replaced by the chatbots who can handle that level of sophistication, if you like. That was another aspect of perhaps some AI and the advance of AI and its impact on the human condition. 

And then when I spoke about the AI Winter, what I was referring to there was that in terms of AI's progress and advancement, it does seem to be somewhat cyclical. In other words, there seems to be a surge of advancement in terms of how AI becomes more sophisticated and then it plateaus. And then to a degree, interest in investing in AI can sometimes dissipate before it surges again and a new discovery or a new advance is made and then there's renewed interest in it. 

So when one looks back at the recent 10, 15, 20 year history of AI, maybe even longer, you can discern this up and down pattern. And I was merely suggesting in my book that perhaps we’re entering a period which we could call, and which is called sometimes an AI Winter. And the reason I gave for that was that a lot of the companies, Honda is an example, for instance, their work in humanoid type robots has been – I don't know if I should use the word terminated – but it's been terminated. And I think probably what we'll see is the advancement of potentially non-robotic type AI going forward, rather than if you like that sort of archetypal, or should I say stereotypical view that we have that robots are about to take over? 

Siân Harrington [00:11:7]

One of the key points you argue is that purpose is really important, particularly in a disrupted world. And you talk a bit about the purpose and meaning vacuum, which resonated with me because I'm probably hearing that word purpose thrown around more by businesses and by HR people than many other words. I'm not sure businesses have really embedded that idea of purpose. Though I wondered, why do you think it's so important and how can organizations make sure they mean it? 

 Michael Jenkins [00:12:02]

I think when it comes to purpose, purpose as a concept, I think also has a kind of pattern to it. So if we were to cast our minds back to the financial crisis of 2007/8, I think we probably all remember that there was a tremendous surge in interest in the concept of purpose. That was a reaction to people feeling that given this crisis of trust in the banks at that particular time, something needed to be invoked to be able to counterbalance, if you like, all of the negative aspects of that particular period in history and purpose was one of those concepts that was appropriated to try to be almost like an antidote to some of the sort of negativism that was coming out of the banks and I think affecting business across the board. 

Now I think one of the problems before I come to this sort of positive aspects of purpose, I think one of the problems that we've found is that no amount of governance or extra rules and regulation seems to really work when it comes to ensuring that in this case banks or more broadly businesses actually toe the line and behave in an ethical way. And so I think that purpose, unless it's purpose with teeth, I think it can be fairly meaningless. And the fact that it's being invoked now again is very interesting because we're coming out of a, if you like (although some would argue of course we're still in it), we're coming out of a sort of crisis where people are beginning to ask about the meaning of work. Why am I here doing what I'm doing? Which isn’t actually the answer to the question, what is your purpose? It's the answer to the question, to that very question, I am here doing this because… and that will lead you to your purpose. 

So I think purpose is coming to the fore primarily because of the surge in both interest and concern about sustainability and the future, not just at the planet, but I think of humanity. And that's why I think that when you listen to the sustainability discourse, a lot of it is led by that particular phrase, purpose, purpose led. And I think that's why we're seeing a resurgence of purpose right now. But I think we need to listen and observe the debate with a certain degree of scepticism and cynicism. Because I think, like values for example, I think purpose can be rather overused and, if I could put it this way, convenient sticking plaster to cover a multitude of sins. 

Siân Harrington [00:14:55]

 That brings us nicely, I think, to the key element of your book, which is the caring trio: altruism, compassion and empathy. Could you first start by explaining what each of these mean and why they're different to each other because I think it's quite easy to use the wrong term or to think they're all the same.?

 Michael Jenkins [00:15:16]

 Altruism, compassion and empathy. I'm currently living in the land of acronyms. Altruism, compassion, empathy is what has given rise to the very simple model in my book, which is called the ACE model. So A for altruism, C for compassion, E for empathy. And in terms of explaining what each one is, I've used, if you like, a kind of very simple graphic, looks like a dartboard and in the centre of it is altruism. 

And I see altruism as a sort of aspirational human goal. I also see it as an incredibly understudied area of the human condition. I think some good work has been done, but I think that there's a lot of very interesting work that could still be done to understand the power of altruism, particularly in an organizational context. So altruism is basically doing good without any net benefit to you, yourself. So it's a selfless act to do good because it's a good thing to do. 

Now in my book, I've also parsed altruism into probably 12 different types of altruism. So there are varying degrees of altruism which make altruism incredibly interesting. So for example, mixed altruism and an example of mixed altruism might be when you decide to go and work at an animal shelter or an animal sanctuary, for example. So the altruistic part is that you want to help animals. You feel a really strong desire to do that, but at the same time, you also need to earn money to be able to survive. The driving force behind that decision is an altruistic one but, at the same time, we can't expect to do all of that very good work for absolutely no compensation ourselves, otherwise we wouldn't be able to eat ourselves. It's a fascinating area, the whole area of altruism. 

In terms of compassion and empathy, and this is probably one of the things that I feel very passionate about, is that empathy is the pathway to compassion. And the big difference between empathy and compassion is action. 

So if I take empathy first, empathy is a wonderful thing. And we may come on to discuss some of the negative aspects of empathy a little bit later, but empathy is a great thing but it's a segue, it’s a pathway to compassion. And the reason for that is that I can empathize with your problem, challenge, condition, for example. But it doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to act to alleviate the pain or suffering that you might be feeling. In other words, to be able to share the feelings of others, which is effectively what empathy is, is a very good thing but I don't think it should end there. It should actually then progress to what I would call the next stage, which is compassion. And that is where you actually do something in order to make a difference, make a positive difference. 

So that's why in that simple model, I have altruism in the centre, then compassion and then empathy. So the immediate task at hand is to ask the question, what can we do to really dial up our ability to be more empathic or empathetic? How can we do that?

Siân Harrington [00:18:55]

 You talk about these aren't necessarily innate skills and we need to work and hone them. And I'm sure a lot of people will be thinking, how can I personally do it? But also how can I help people in my business to develop these traits or skills, whatever you want to call them. Can you give me some practical ways people can start to develop and hone altruism, compassion, empathy?

Michael Jenkins [00:19:21]

It's a conversation that I have with many people. Wonderful conversations actually where It goes something like, Michael, I totally get the need to be more empathetic at work, more compassionate, if not altruistic. But how do I actually operationalize that, for want of a better word? How do I actually make it happen in my organization? 

And sometimes I turn it around and say, what kind of things are you doing now? And often leaders will say, in terms of empathy, I'm trying to listen more to people. And whenever I hear this, I say, I think listening to people is obviously a really good thing to do if you want to try to empathize with them. And we know that the mark of authentic and trustworthy leaders is that ability to listen to people. But above and beyond that, what else are you going to do to improve your empathy? And when I ask CEOs and senior managers what they're going to do about that, they will say I haven't really thought much further than listening more assiduously to my people. And it's at that point that we can then explore some really concrete things that people in organizations can do to improve their empathy. 

And I think there are probably two levels that you can look at how to operationalize empathy. One would be at an organizational level. And if we took that one first, some of the things that we can do is to really ask ourselves the question, and this is I think where our people professionals, our HR professionals can really play a significant role, and that is to ask the question, are our systems and processes as human as they could be? Have we exercised empathy and compassion sufficiently in the design and application of these different systems and processes. Maybe we have, but there still might be some scope to improve those parts of organisational life. 

The next thing that we can do is that we can invite our very senior leaders to make a habit of talking about empathy. Because one of the things we know is that if people talk enough about something, it's a great way to make a difference, to normalize, let's say a new concept or a particular human quality like empathy. To have our leaders take the opportunity to talk about empathy and from there, and again, our HR colleagues have a role to play in this as well, I think the name of the game then is to create what I would call empathy stories. In other words, examples, tangible examples, stories, if you like, of how we have approached a particular challenge or issue to do with our people that has required us to have an empathetic, if not compassionate response to that particular issue. And to really, if you like, put those stories centre stage because one of the things we know from the literature is that if people are able to see their leaders being empathetic, being compassionate qualities, given the role model of effective leaders, people will look at that and think, I thought I'm quite like that, I might actually give that a go. In other words, compassion and empathy generates the capacity for others to be more compassionate and more empathetic but we have to actually model it. So those are some examples of what we could do in terms of bringing more empathy in at an organizational level. 

And then, at the very human level, let's say the level of the individual, when we ask ourselves the question, how do I dial up, how do I strengthen my empathy muscle? I think there are a number of things that you can do here. Perhaps the first thing to do is to think about attending to yourself first. There's some wonderful and very rich literature around self-compassion, for example. People who are I'm sure interested in learning more about self-compassion can look at the work of the American scholar Kristin Neff, who's probably one of the world's leading thinkers in terms of self-compassion, and really consider how can I be more supportive of myself? 

And that might sound a bit strange and listeners might think, so does that mean going off to the corner shop and buying myself a big block of chocolate and then eating it in one sitting while watching Netflix? Actually no, it's more about thinking about things that perhaps you might not be too proud of. Things that you're potentially guilty of thinking about and musing on, possibly even years after you have actually experienced that negative event in your life. And it's about self-forgiveness, about enabling you to be your authentic self without any of the trappings of anything that you might feel encumber you as a human being. 

And sometimes it's helpful to think of that sort of famous aircraft analogy when you get on the plane and you go through the safety demonstration, you're always told to put your own oxygen mask on first before attending to another person and helping them with their oxygen mask. And so it's quite an interesting way to think of it, to tend to your own needs around self-compassion so that you can then be in a really good place to help other people. So that would be the first thing that I would suggest. 

The second thing is, and it may sound very obvious, but with empathy, one of the challenges for empathy is that we tend to empathize with people who look and sound like us. And also the research suggests that we tend to feel more empathetic, for example, towards attractive people. And we're not readily able to be empathetic towards people who are very unlike us. And so thinking about that and thinking about opportunities to put yourself in a situation where you are interacting with people who you wouldn't normally interact with through your normal everyday life means that things like volunteering, for example, it may sound very obvious to suggest that, but volunteering I think is a fantastic way to improve your empathy because it brings you into contact perhaps with people who you would never normally meet and that's got to be a good thing. 

And then the third thing I wanted to suggest, and this may sound really a little bit leftfield, and that is to try as much as you can to read fiction and poetry. And you might think fiction and poetry, really, why would that help my empathy? But if you think about it the wonderful thing about fiction, and of course poetry, is that you are being invited into a world that has been created by someone, a world that you probably don't either know at all or not very well, and you're invited to see the world through another person's eyes or from another person's perspective. And that is really the essence of empathy, really getting better at being able to do that. 

So those are just some small examples of some things that we can do at the individual level to be able to improve our empathy and our compassion. 

Siân Harrington [00:27:19]

With the actual model, do you therefore need to do it from outside in? Does it go empathy, compassion, altruism? Is there a linear development there? If somebody's thinking, I'd really like to use this model in our organization but it's quite difficult to get our heads around it and is it worth the time? What's the ROI on it? What would you say to that? 

Michael Jenkins [00:27:42]

Approaching it as an actual model, I think it is quite a good way to approach it from the outside. So thinking, okay, I need to approach this from the empathy angle. Think about that. Progressing, if you like, then to turning that empathy into actionable things for the benefit of other people, which is when you're coming into the compassion area. And then beyond that then, perhaps taking your compassion to another level, almost literally and figuratively, to that point where you are actually being altruistic. I think that's where the aspirational part comes in. 

But if we pull it back to and anchor it in the everyday hurly burly of workplace life, the two areas that we can perhaps concentrate on in the early stages would be compassion and empathy. 

I think we're all probably very aware of the work that has been done in the area of psychological safety. It’s a very big topic of interest across the world right now. And I think that the application of this simple ACE model can be one of the things in our toolkit. Is it the only thing? No. But it's probably something that we could maybe usefully deploy to be able to start the process of two things really: creating the conditions for psychological safety and also for nurturing trust.  

I think there's been some really good work done by scholars like Gervase Bushe, for example, that build on the work of other incredible scholars like Amy Edmondson from Harvard, for example, where he's saying we should relieve leaders of the pressure to be the ones that make psychological safety. It's not something that you make. But you can create the conditions within which psychological safety can happen between individuals. It may be parsing things in a somewhat philosophical way, but I do believe that that's probably the way to go. It's about individual interaction, human to human interaction, and how we go about doing that. 

And in terms of the ROI, there's some very interesting research, which is actually now probably about 10, maybe 12 years old, whereby a care home enterprise in the North East of the United States decided to conduct a longitudinal study whereby they took two cohort groups of paid care workers and they put one of the cohorts through what in those days in the US was termed virtuousness training, which has now become more recognized as compassion and empathy training. They put one cohort group through that training and then they, with the other cohort group, which is effectively a control group, they didn't put them through any training at all. 

And what was very interesting was that after two, three years, it became very apparent that some of the normal, what we might call normal KPIs, such as in this case one could call it customer satisfaction is actually the satisfaction of the people being cared for in the care homes, those KPIs were not only met but exceeded by the group that had gone through this so-called virtuousness training. But then what was really interesting was that when you looked at the data further out, so five, six years later, something they began to discern was that people actually lived longer. Those people who are being cared for by people who had gone through, what we would now recognize as empathy and compassion training. And so we see this potentially replicated in actually many sectors and industries around the world. And I'm really lucky to be working with some organizations right now that are actually in the process of embedding the ACE model as a practice in their organizations. 

Siân Harrington [00:31:52]

That was a great example from yesteryear, but what are you finding out from businesses that you're talking to? Is there any exemplar already? 

Michael Jenkins [00:32:01]

One particular company that I'm working with at the moment is an amazing medical equipment manufacturer. It's originally a German family-owned business but it's now become a global business. We've been working very closely with primarily the Asia Pacific part of this organization, and so that would include all of the countries from Sri Lanka, India, through Southeast Asia including Japan, China, and South Korea. And what's been absolutely amazing and fantastic to observe is how having studied the ACE model and thought about how it could be used in that frontline situation, I was very excited to be able to watch presentations from about six different teams of people who had gone through a programme looking at empathy and compassion, as well as digital transformation at the same time, because the two things are interconnected, human and AI. 

 And what people are doing is they are thinking of practical ways that they can increase the potential for interaction between different groups of employees in different parts of the company. So they've come up with some really innovative methods of creating the opportunity to have really good conversations with each other. 

 So for example, in Japan, they've created what they call the Coffee Club. And so within Japan itself, the Coffee Club, is a venue whereby anyone can come in and have a conversation about the business, share ideas in a very sort of friendly, warm and welcoming environment. And it's where all of the generations can interact. So they're now piloting this particular approach to creating an environment within which people can have these very enjoyable conversations across the business. 

So we talk a lot about how do we break down the silos that exist between different functional areas in an organization. And creating this sort of lateral, if you like, Coffee Club venue is something that then having started that, that as an idea is then being tried out in China, it's being tried out in Southeast Asia and in India and Sri Lanka as well. It's a way of, often the solutions are hiding in plain sight actually, Siân, and I think that giving people the opportunity to talk about what small adjustment might create an exponentially benefit effect, it's not, for want of a better word, sometimes that we have to do anything particularly complicated. Sometimes the simplest things can be the most effective. 

What they're now suggesting is that through activities like this and the opportunities for people to share ideas, it's actually turbo charging their ability to be innovative. And of course, in the fast moving world of medical equipment, where there's a lot of competition, being able to be cutting edge and being able to foster that ability to be innovative and to welcome ideas from everyone is proving to be really exciting for them. 

So the ROI. The early ROI on that is that they're beginning to see that people are very keen to buy into this. The hypothesis is that people will stay on with the company because they feel it's a good place to be. So there's that talent retention piece, which I think many of the listeners will identify with. We don't want to be losing the valuable talent that we've got. So that's a saving. So that's also a return on investment that we can articulate. But more than that, I think the ability to be able to be innovative and have those conversations that lead to new products or that solve longstanding issues, I think is really critical. 

And I perhaps might just perhaps invoke an example from Amy Edmondson's book, The Fearless Organization, where she very interestingly points out that the demise of Nokia was perhaps less to do specifically with missing the innovation boat and much more to do with the kind of culture of fear and intimidation that was created at Nokia by the senior management, particularly the CEO, who was renowned for shouting at people. And on that particular point, Siân, there's some interesting research out there that correlates the amount of shouting that is done by senior people with the amount of stress, anxiety and mental ill health experienced by people in that organisation. 

Siân Harrington [00:37:13]

Is it possible to choose one of the ACE traits that you think makes the most difference or do they have to come together? 

Michael Jenkins [00:37:17]

Siân, I think we have to be practical about this. In terms of discourse and getting people on board and with the programme, I think it's much more straightforward to focus on empathy at the moment. I think people can more readily buy into a conversation about empathy right now than they can do jumping straight to compassion. But I think that's okay, because if you accept that empathy is that segue to compassion, then I believe that compassion is a really good place to start. 

Siân Harrington [00:37:45]

And so you talk a bit at the end about new disruptors that we're going to be facing going forward. Can you briefly identify those and talk about why the model would be important in helping us to deal with those? 

Michael Jenkins [00:37:56]

Yeah, in terms of the future disruptors, when I wrote Expert Humans, it was actually at the start of the pandemic and I think that global events since then have really underscored, I believe, the need for a different way of looking at things and certainly a completely different style of leadership. 

I think we've seen some glimmers of how different it could be based on some of the exemplary behaviour of political leaders, for example. I think everyone has the example of Jacinda Ardern, for example, from New Zealand. Okay, New Zealanders may say that domestically, some of the things that she's done left were wanting in terms of policy decisions, et cetera. But the fact is that she is an exemplar of someone who has managed to reach across the void and come across as a very compassionate and empathetic leader. And I think we're going to need more of that going forward because the disruptors that I identified in Expert Humans, if anything, are becoming more and more cute and intense and perhaps the biggest one of all is the sustainability agenda. 

 And I do believe –  my sustainability colleagues will often say to me, but it's not enough, Michael – but I do believe that a great starting point for pushing the sustainability agenda is to invoke altruism and to say, you've got to get involved because it's the right thing to do. And I know my sustainability colleagues will say, but it's not enough, Michael. And I would agree with that, but it's a great starting point. Let's do something because it's a good thing to do. But let's also do something because it makes complete sense in terms of a new paradigm of doing business. In other words, doing business, I think profit and purpose can go together very well. And I think the glue of that could well be altruism, compassion and empathy. 

Siân Harrington [00:39:50]

I totally agree with that. We always like to end with a few practical steps. So if somebody's listening to this and thinking, I'd quite like to explore this a bit further, what are the first three steps that leaders can take to start this journey towards implementing the ACE model effectively?

Michael Jenkins [00:40:11]

I think there's probably three things to do perhaps. The first is think about yourself and how you can strengthen your own self-compassion. Try starting there. The reason why I mention that is that in many studies of compassion it's very important that we develop our ability to deal with what's called distress tolerance. In other words, we can't really be empathetic and be compassionate to other people if we don't have the emotional bandwidth and the energy to do that. So that'd be the first thing. Maybe think about how can you take, how can you do a bit more to take a good care of yourself? 

 The second thing is I think that as I mentioned in the book, I think HR people are in pole position to really make a difference. I talked about bringing it up as a subject, something that we normalize and talk about, I think that's something that doesn't need to cost a lot of money and that can be really effective to do that. 

And then the third thing, as I touch upon in the book, think about things that you can do to dial up that capacity to be empathetic. Think about reading some good fiction, watching some good films as well. It doesn't have to be anything like a chore. Let's make it fun and let's make it engaging. And I think our HR professional colleagues are in a great position to be able to encourage everyone in the organization to embrace it and have a go. 

Siân Harrington [00:41:32]

That was Michael Jenkins on altruism, empathy, and compassion. If you're still not convinced these are key skills for today, let me just tell you the result of an EY US consulting study from March, 2023. It discovered that mutual empathy between company leaders and employees leads to increased efficiency, job satisfaction, creativity, idea sharing and innovation. Now which business doesn't want all these? 

So thank you for listening to the show this week and I hope you learnt some valuable tips for developing empathy and compassion yourself. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts/ Follow me on LinkedIn at sian-harrington-the-people-space and if you want more insights and resources on the future of work, check out

This episode was produced by Nigel Pritchard and you've been listening to Work’s Not Working... Let's fix it! Goodbye.


Michael Jenkins Soundbite
Siân Harrington Introduction
Five disruptors to business today
The tyranny of the algorithm
Is purpose important?
ACE: Altruism, compassion and empathy
Practical tips for developing ACE skills
How to put the ACE model into practice
Real-life examples of ACE in business
Future business disruptors
First three steps you can take to develop ACE skills
Final thoughts from Siân Harrington