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Miriam Groom on Empathy and Connection as Business Tools

Miriam Groom is the CEO of Mindful Career and understands the importance of empathy in the workplace. They took some time out to share their insights on this topic with The Industry Leaders.

Can you start by telling us about your entrepreneurial journey? What led you to your current business, and what is it that sets your leadership style apart from others?

MindfulCareer, under my leadership, is more than a career guidance platform – it's a transformative journey aimed at life enrichment. My belief is simple yet profound: everyone possesses a unique purpose and untapped potential. My journey over the past two decades, enriched by engagements with Fortune 500 companies and leadership at a top national Recruitment Firm, has equipped me with deep insights into behavioral profiling, strategic career planning, and talent development. The inception of MindfulCareer was born from my personal battle with career-related burnout and a sense of disconnection. This period of introspection led me to a profound realization of my true purpose, igniting a passion to aid others in discovering their unique career paths. Recognized by prestigious outlets like CTV News, Forbes, and the Harvard Business Review, MindfulCareer stands out for its distinctive approach. Integrating industrial psychology with a human-centric perspective, I have crafted a methodology that underscores individual strengths, motivations, and values, aligning them with their innate purpose. Our approach has been a beacon for many, guiding them towards fulfilling careers, purpose-driven lives, and their aspirational roles. At MindfulCareer, we don't just guide; we transform lives by connecting individuals with their true professional calling.

You've been recognized for your focus on empathy and human connection within your organization. How did you come to realize the importance of these values in leadership, and how have they shaped the way you run your business?

The realization of the importance of empathy and human connection in leadership came from both personal experiences and professional observations. Early in my career, I noticed a distinct pattern: workplaces that prioritized technical skills over interpersonal ones often faced higher turnover rates, lower morale, and less effective teamwork. This observation was further reinforced by my own experiences in environments where empathy was lacking. The contrast in productivity, job satisfaction, and overall workplace harmony was stark. Recognizing this, I made a conscious decision to embed empathy and human connection into the core of my leadership style and business operations. This meant creating an environment where each team member feels heard, valued, and understood. It's about more than just acknowledging their contributions; it's about understanding their perspectives, challenges, and aspirations. Implementing these values has shaped my business in several ways: Enhanced Team Collaboration: By fostering empathy, we've created a culture where team members feel safe to express their ideas and concerns. This has led to more open communication, innovative problem-solving, and a collaborative spirit within the team. Improved Employee Wellbeing: Prioritizing human connection has had a significant impact on the wellbeing of our team. When people feel emotionally supported and valued beyond their professional roles, it leads to higher job satisfaction and mental health. Stronger Relationships with Clients: Empathy isn’t just internal; it extends to our clients. Understanding their needs and challenges on a deeper level has allowed us to build stronger, more trusting relationships, leading to better business outcomes. Adaptive Leadership: Empathetic leadership has also made me more adaptable. By being attuned to the needs and feedback of my team, I can make more informed decisions and adjustments, ensuring that our business remains agile and responsive. In summary, integrating empathy and human connection into our business model has been transformative. It's not only enhanced our internal culture and team dynamics but has also positively impacted our relationships with clients and the overall success of the business.

Can you share an example of a situation where employing empathy and connection as business tools made a significant positive difference in your organization? What were the challenges and outcomes?

The Challenge: We were implementing a significant strategic shift, which required reorganizing teams and roles. This transition created uncertainty and anxiety among employees, impacting morale and potentially affecting productivity. Empathy and Connection in Action: Open Communication: We initiated open dialogue sessions, allowing team members to express their concerns and providing them with clear, transparent information about the changes. Empathetic Leadership: Our leaders personally engaged with employees, especially those most affected by the restructuring. We focused on understanding their fears and aspirations, beyond just professional implications. Inclusive Decision-Making: We incorporated feedback from these discussions into our restructuring process, ensuring that the changes were not just top-down but inclusive. The Outcomes: Improved Morale and Trust: This empathetic approach helped rebuild trust and morale. Employees felt heard and valued, which eased the transition and fostered a sense of security. Smooth Transition: The inclusive and empathetic approach led to a smoother implementation of the changes. Employees were more receptive and cooperative, understanding the reasons behind the decisions. Enhanced Productivity: Post-restructuring, we observed a boost in productivity and engagement. The sense of belonging and being valued translated into higher motivation levels. Positive Work Environment: The emphasis on empathy and connection fostered a more supportive and collaborative work culture, which has had long-term positive effects on our organizational health. In summary, employing empathy and connection not only helped us navigate through a challenging restructuring phase but also strengthened our organizational fabric, proving to be invaluable tools for business success.

Empathy can often be misunderstood or oversimplified in a business context. How do you define it in your leadership practice, and how do you ensure that it's applied authentically?

In my leadership practice, empathy is understood as the ability to genuinely understand and share the feelings of others. It goes beyond mere sympathy or acknowledgment; it's about truly putting oneself in another person's shoes to comprehend their perspective, challenges, and emotions. However, empathy in a business context must be balanced with decision-making and action, ensuring that it contributes positively to both individual and organizational goals. Defining Empathy in Leadership: Active Listening: Empathy starts with listening. This means creating a space where team members feel comfortable expressing themselves and knowing their voices are heard and valued. Understanding Beyond Work: It involves understanding employees not just as workers but as individuals with unique life circumstances, aspirations, and challenges. Emotional Intelligence: It requires a high degree of emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, self-regulation, and the ability to manage relationships empathetically. Ensuring Authentic Application: Consistency: Empathy should be a consistent practice, not just a one-off gesture. It's important to regularly check in with team members and offer support. Actionable Responses: Empathy must lead to action. This could mean providing resources, altering workloads, or making other changes to address the needs and concerns of employees. Lead by Example: Leaders should model empathetic behavior in their interactions. This sets a tone for the entire organization and encourages a culture of empathy. Training and Development: Providing training on emotional intelligence and empathy for managers and team leaders can help embed these values in the organizational culture. Feedback Mechanism: Having a system in place for employees to give feedback on leadership practices helps in ensuring that empathetic leadership is being practiced and perceived as authentic. In summary, empathy in my leadership practice is a blend of emotional intelligence, active listening, and actionable support. It's about genuinely understanding and responding to the needs of team members in a way that aligns with and supports our organizational objectives.

Connection is not just about understanding others but also connecting with oneself. How do you maintain a balance between personal well-being and fostering connections with your team?

Maintaining a balance between personal well-being and fostering connections with my team is crucial for effective leadership. Here’s how I approach this: Self-Reflection and Self-Care: Regular self-reflection helps me stay connected with my own needs and well-being. This can be through meditation, journaling, or simply spending quiet time alone. Prioritizing self-care ensures that I am mentally and emotionally available to connect authentically with my team. Setting Boundaries: It’s important to set clear boundaries between work and personal time. This means having specific times when I am fully present for my team and times reserved for personal relaxation and rejuvenation. Mindful Communication: When interacting with my team, I practice mindful communication. This involves being fully present in conversations, actively listening, and engaging without distractions. It helps in building deeper connections while also being respectful of everyone’s time. Delegation and Trust: Delegating effectively not only empowers team members but also allows me to manage my workload, reducing stress and burnout. Trusting my team with responsibilities ensures that I can focus on my well-being without compromising team performance. Encouraging Work-Life Balance: Promoting a healthy work-life balance within the team indirectly supports my balance. When the team is healthy and balanced, it creates a more positive and less demanding work environment. Regular Check-ins with Myself and My Team: I regularly check in with both myself and my team to gauge our well-being and connection. This helps in identifying any issues early and addressing them before they escalate. Continuous Learning and Adaptation: I am committed to learning about well-being and leadership. Attending workshops, reading, or even informal learning from peers keeps me informed about new ways to maintain this balance. In essence, fostering connections with my team while maintaining personal well-being is about mindful leadership, self-awareness, and creating an environment of mutual respect and understanding. It’s a dynamic process that requires continuous attention and adjustment.

In terms of scalability, how do you maintain these human-centered values as your business grows? What strategies or tools have you found most effective?

Maintaining human-centered values in a growing business is both challenging and essential. As scalability increases, the key is to ensure that these values are deeply embedded in the company culture and operational strategies. Here are some methods I've found effective: Institutionalizing Core Values: It's crucial to formalize and integrate empathy and human connection into the core values of the company. These values should be clearly communicated and reflected in all aspects of the business, from hiring practices to day-to-day operations. Scalable Communication Channels: As the business grows, maintaining open lines of communication becomes more challenging. Implementing scalable communication tools and platforms, like internal social networks or collaboration tools, can help maintain transparency and facilitate dialogue across all levels of the organization. Leadership Development Programs: Investing in leadership development is critical. Training emerging leaders in the organization to understand and practice these human-centered values ensures that as the business grows, its leaders continue to foster a culture of empathy and connection. Regular Feedback and Engagement Surveys: Regularly gathering feedback from employees through surveys or town hall meetings helps in understanding their needs and addressing any gaps in maintaining these values. Recognition and Reward Systems: Creating systems that recognize and reward behaviors that align with these values reinforces their importance. This could be through employee recognition programs or performance metrics that include elements of empathy and team collaboration. Decentralized Decision-Making: Empowering teams to make decisions based on the company’s human-centered values encourages a sense of ownership and accountability, which is essential for scaling these values. Consistent Re-evaluation and Adaptation: As the business grows, continuously re-evaluating and adapting strategies to uphold these values is necessary. This means being open to change and improvements in processes and policies. Role Modeling by Leadership: Finally, the leadership team must consistently model these values in their actions. The leadership's commitment to maintaining a human-centered approach is crucial in setting the tone for the rest of the organization. In summary, scaling human-centered values in a growing business requires deliberate efforts to institutionalize these values, invest in communication and leadership, and establish systems that reinforce and reward these behaviors. Regular review and adaptation of these practices ensure that they remain effective and aligned with the business's evolving needs.

For those who are new to leadership or are struggling to build empathy and connection within their teams, what practical advice can you offer? Are there any exercises or habits that can be cultivated?

For new leaders or those struggling to build empathy and connection within their teams, here are some practical tips and exercises to cultivate these essential skills: Active Listening Exercises: Practice active listening in your interactions. This means fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively 'hearing' the message of the speaker. You can practice this in meetings or one-on-one sessions by summarizing what the other person has said to ensure you've understood them correctly. Regular Check-Ins: Schedule regular check-ins with team members. Use this time not just to discuss work but also to inquire about their well-being, challenges, and feedback. It shows that you care about them as individuals beyond their work output. Empathy Mapping: Try empathy mapping, a tool used to gain deeper insights into others' feelings. It involves considering what others might be seeing, hearing, thinking, and feeling. This can be done as a personal exercise or as a team activity. Reflective Journaling: Keep a reflective journal about your leadership experiences and feelings. This can help you process your actions and thoughts, and understand how they might be perceived by others. Feedback Culture: Encourage a culture of giving and receiving feedback in your team. This should be done in a constructive manner, ensuring that it's a two-way street where team members feel comfortable voicing their opinions. Empathy Training Workshops: Consider attending workshops or training programs focused on building empathy and emotional intelligence. These can provide valuable tools and techniques for enhancing your leadership skills. Mindfulness Practices: Engage in mindfulness practices, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises. These can help you remain calm and present, improving your ability to respond to team members empathetically. Role Playing: Engage in role-playing exercises where you put yourself in your team members' shoes. This can be a powerful way to understand their perspectives and challenges. Reading and Learning: Read books or listen to podcasts on empathy, emotional intelligence, and effective leadership. Continuous learning can provide new insights and strategies for improving your leadership skills. Mentorship and Coaching: Seek a mentor or coach who can provide guidance and feedback on your leadership approach. Sometimes external perspectives can be invaluable in identifying areas for improvement. Remember, building empathy and connection is a journey that involves continuous learning and practice. It's about genuinely caring for your team's well-being and creating a supportive environment that fosters trust and open communication.

You've shared some truly insightful thoughts on leadership. How have these principles been reflected in your products or services, and what has been the response from your customers?

Thank you for acknowledging the insights on leadership. These principles of empathy, active listening, and emotional intelligence are not just confined to our internal management practices; they're deeply ingrained in our products and services as well. Here’s how we’ve reflected these principles and the response we've received: Customer-Centric Approach: Our products and services are designed with a strong focus on the customer’s needs and experiences. We actively seek customer feedback and incorporate it into our development process. This approach ensures that our offerings are not just solutions but also resonate with our customers' real-world challenges. Personalized Experience: We strive to offer personalized experiences, understanding that each customer's needs and contexts are unique. This might involve customized product options or tailored services, which demonstrate our commitment to understanding and meeting individual requirements. Responsive Customer Service: Our customer service team is trained in empathy and active listening, ensuring that customer interactions are not just transactional but genuinely helpful and engaging. This has helped in building long-term relationships and trust with our customers. Community Building: We’ve created platforms for our customers to connect and share experiences, fostering a sense of community. This aligns with our principle of building connections and understanding the diverse needs and insights of our user base. Incorporating Feedback into Innovation: Customer feedback is a key driver of our innovation process. By listening to our customers, we’ve been able to introduce new features and improvements that directly address their evolving needs. Customer Response: The response from our customers has been overwhelmingly positive. Many have expressed appreciation for the personalized attention and the empathetic approach of our customer service. We've seen this translate into higher customer satisfaction rates, repeat business, and positive word-of-mouth referrals. Moreover, the community aspect of our services has been particularly well-received, with customers valuing the opportunity to connect and engage with others. This has not only helped them in getting the most out of our products and services but also in building valuable networks. In summary, by embedding our leadership principles into our products and services, we’ve not only enhanced customer experience but also fostered a loyal and engaged customer base. It reaffirms our belief that successful business is about understanding and genuinely meeting the needs of the people we serve.

Finally, for our readers who are interested in learning more about your leadership philosophy or your business, where can they find more information or connect with you directly?


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