It starts with an idea.
A raison d’être that inspires entrepreneurs to put their heads down and get to work.
The work is what defines a successful entrepreneur, but it’s not all that defines the best. What defines the best is a trait that informs an entrepreneur’s ability to take control of every element of their business and career effectively – from their employees, to their website UI, and managing their stress levels.
What defines the best entrepreneurs is empathy.
Empathy Lubricates Your Creative Drive
Is empathy what you expected me to say, or did you guess something else? Persistence, maybe? Developing the trust of your client or customer base? Sales?
Whatever you thought, you did so because it’s a major aspect of you and your business. But I guarantee that it only goes so far if not backed by empathy.
What good is persistence if you haven’t taken the time to recognise why something isn’t working? How can you make sales if you won’t listen to the needs of prospective clients?
Think of empathy as a lubricant. Entrepreneurs are driven by a desire to create something new. That’s never easy; there’s always friction, especially when dealing with people on a personal level. Empathy serves to lessen, and in the case of the best, all but eradicate that resistance, because it demonstrates a willingness to understand.
The benefits are threefold:
Finding Your Tribe
The sale and marketing of products in the digital age is a two-way street. Once this fact is embraced as a benefit, not a burden, entrepreneurs can take the time to ask questions of their market as the market asks questions of them. Simply by listening, new possibilities inevitably emerge. This is especially the case with millennials, too often portrayed as wilful narcissists by those who do not realise they are actually just searching for understanding. Prove you are of their tribe, and they will become lifelong customers.
Expanding the Market
The needs of Australians are not the needs of Americans. Or the Chinese. Or Italians. Business acumen nor reputation aren’t enough if you’re looking to expand overseas. The empathetic entrepreneur understands that. They take pride in their vision, but also know that cultural differences mean this vision can get lost in translation, and so search for ways to overcome such obstacles. This is relevant of local markets too. They might live in the same country, even the same state, but if one client lives in the city, and another in a rural area, it is wrong to presume they want the same thing.
Fortifying the Walls
It’s not just the external aspects of your business that benefit from an empathic outlook. The leader who is trusted to listen, to support the aspirations of their employees, and doesn’t use traditional hierarchy to weigh the value of their opinions is one whose staff will provide a solid backbone for the company’s future.
How Do You Become an Empathetic Entrepreneur?
It’s easy. In fact, it seems our ability to empathise is founded on a genetic level, with a 2016 study revealing both nature and nurture play significant roles in the development of empathy.
Training empathy is another matter. Effective means of doing so include reading fiction, or travelling to gain an understanding of international perspectives. Inside your business, humility, openness, and simply listening go a long way. It sounds straightforward, but when entrepreneurs get an idea in their head, it’s easy to find yourself ignoring everything else. Make a habit of that, and things won’t end well.
At the beginning, I said that work defines success, and empathy defines excellence. Let’s be clear: the two are not mutually exclusive. You can’t found any business on the basis of empathy alone (we’ll talk about that more in the coming weeks), but neither can any entrepreneur who wants to build a business that matters do without it.