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Friday, June 14, 2013

Lean Quote: Build A Culture of Empathy

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

"The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer." — Peter Drucker

As management guru Peter Drucker said, “The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.” Empathy is an important component of keeping a customer.

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes and walk a mile.  It’s the ability to imagine what it might be like to experience and relate to the thoughts, emotions, and experience of the other person. Empathy is more than simple sympathy, which is being able to understand and support others with compassion or sensitivity. 

Some people naturally exude empathy and have an advantage over their peers who have difficulty expressing empathy. Most leaders fall in the middle and are sometimes or somewhat empathetic. Fortunately, empathy is not a fixed trait. It can be learned. If given enough time and support, leaders can develop and enhance their empathy skills through coaching, training, or developmental opportunities and initiatives.

When empathy is not practiced within the organization—with all constituents—it’s impossible to expect it to happen with customers. It has been said, “You can’t truly love another before you learn to love yourself.” Organizations are no different. If we don’t love and respect and admire the people we work with every day, we can’t collectively give our customers the love they deserve. Empathy is an inside-out job.

Transformational leaders need empathy in order to show their followers that they care for their needs and achievement. Empathy is a powerful antenna for understanding the experiences of those around us. It helps good leaders become great leaders and is a key to business success.

Customers want to feel that we understand and appreciate their circumstances without criticism or judgment. Customers have simple expectations that we who serve them can put ourselves in their shoes, understanding what it is they came to us for in the first place.

Build a culture of empathy. Empathy is an essential component of caring about your customers, your employees, and your company, and its absence signals larger problems in organizational culture. Empathy can’t be plastered on like a fake smile, but it can be cultivated from within.

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  1. This is a great point. I believe that having been at 3 different companies and doing everything from customer service to sales to installation to operations has helped me be empathetic when an employee tells me their struggles. I can relate. This helps me get the best out of my employees. Empathy is a very valuable management trait.

  2. I don't think it's possible to emphasize and repeat this point enough. Without empathy one cannot establish a culture of trust. Any organization where there is a lack of trust between coworkers or between the business and its customers is doomed to fail.

    Trust is king and empathy is the key to establishing an environment where trust is built.

  3. I couldn't agree more. However many confuse this concept with sympathy or apathy. Great leaders focus on satisfaction of customers and employees. Empathy is something we can teach and therefore make part of our DNA and culture. We need more leaders with this trait.