96% of employees believe showing empathy is an important way to advance employee retention, Forbes 2019

I was blown away when I recently read this statistic. It’s almost been conditioned on us to separate work and life throughout our careers. Even the term ‘work-life balance’ feels like an oxymoron - is it not just “life”?

In a start-up world every ‘people’ interaction is more intense. The founder(s) are often managing a myriad of tasks and responsibilities, some of which they are equipped for. Many of which they aren’t.

The survival and success of the business, the responsibility of paying their team, acquisition of new clients, development of the product or service and the stress of success all knocking at the door, often at the same time.

Then for those working in that environment, people leaders and team members, they are also dealing with the stressors of constantly switching context, and both managing and executing a wide variety of tasks.


Growth businesses are intense environments!

That is why I found this statistic very refreshing.

We all know people join companies, and statistically leave their leader. Adding empathetic leadership to your toolkit is key to reversing this statistic.

Abetterleader.com defines leading with empathy as:

“A person leading with empathy is sensitive to overworked employees, interested in their lives, willing to help with their problems, and compassionate when they share their troubles.”

The great thing is that empathy is a learned skill.

Lolly Daskal has created some fantastic tips for empathetic leadership. For the full definition click on the link it is worth a read, the summary is as follows:


Key tips to empathetic leadership
  1. Truly listen. Empathetic leaders don’t just listen but truly listen.
  2. Don’t interrupt. Empathetic leaders know how easily distractions can affect the quality of listening.
  3. Be fully present. When an empathetic leader speaks with someone, you’ll never catch them glancing at their watch or scanning the room or checking their phone.
  4. Leave judgment behind. Even when the feelings of others are in direct opposition to their own, empathetic leaders don’t judge.
  5. Watch body language. Empathetic leaders understand that nonverbal communication can say more about what you are thinking than any words.
  6. Encourage the quiet ones. We love this one at Sprout, truly we believe the best ideas can come from the least noisy people.
  7. Take a personal interest. Empathetic leaders have genuine curiosity about the lives of those who work for them, and they show their interest by asking questions about people’s lives, their challenges, their families, their aspirations.

At Sprout we would add one more to this list, given the nature of scaling and growing businesses…


It can be tough leading with empathy, it can feel like taking an empathetic approach is slowing you down. If you flip this and understand that if you are not empathetic to what is happening in your employees' individual world, then how productive will they be in any case?


We are not perfect…

I personally have realised many times that I haven’t been as empathetic to the businesses we work with or the team we are in. Often I have fallen down in listening first, being fully present or truly understanding a person’s individual situation.

That’s the nature of any high growth business, coupled with ambitious leadership, you can get blindsided by execution and growth - though this should not be an excuse.

Without a highly engaged and happy team it’s tricky to deliver to your dream.

(Again… 96% of employees believe empathy is key to employee retention).


Empathy and 2020

We noticed the power of empathy more than ever through COVID-19.

Every single person in our team had different challenges through the lockdown periods. All tricky, none comparable. We noticed the same was true of the businesses we work with.

We are one of the fortunate businesses that grew through 2020. What fueled our success last year?



Brien Keegan is founder of Sprout and like many of our clients is also on a journey to navigate Sprout around it’s on growth journey. If you are a founder and would like to talk about being more empathetic as a leader then you can reach Brien on brien@sproutnz.com

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Brien Keegan

Founder, Managing Director, Connector

027 699 8509