Cultivating (K)ind Cultures: Leading with Empathy and Connecting with Trust

Cultivating (K)ind Cultures: Leading with Empathy and Connecting with Trust

Jun 27, 2023

By: Jennifer Lyn Simpson

This article is excerpted from the KOAN method: Breakthrough Leadership for a Divided World, the newly released book by Integrated Work owner and CEO Jennifer Lyn Simpson. Available now.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Today more than ever, breakthrough leadership is required to unleash the creativity and innovation to solve our most pressing problems. Inspired by decades of experience studying organizations and how they operate, the KOAN method’s guiding principles  — Be (K)ind, Be (O)pen, Be (A)daptive, Build a (N)etwork — draw from both ancient wisdom and cutting-edge research to evaluate and evolve how leaders can create the conditions that enable people to move beyond divisions and discover breakthrough solutions.

The first step — be kind — is the most straightforward but also the most overlooked. By centering humanity and treating others with empathy and compassion, leaders can nurture loyal, engaged, and innovative teams. This approach may run counter to what many of us are used to: workplaces that prioritize efficiency and cultivate fear.   

It’s important to note that creating kind cultures is not just about “being nice.” It’s about creating the conditions for creativity that can unleash the kind of imagination necessary to solve any problem. It’s about creating policies that are overtly, intentionally, and unapologetically heart-centered.

People who feel seen, respected, and trusted are more likely to do great work. As an example of kind cultures and empathy at work, I’ll share a story from my book.    

Unleashing the Creativity to Solve Big Problems 

I sat in the ballroom of a big hotel in San Francisco, surrounded by more than 500 kindred spirits at an Emerging Women conference, listening to Vicki Saunders share devastating statistics about the amount of venture capital funding that goes to women entrepreneurs (less than 4% at the time and down to 2.3% by 2020). 

It was what she said next that jolted me awake, though. After having launched and exited several companies herself, and now with a front-row seat to the investment scene, she was tired of tinkering around the edges and was out to build another way. Her recent book highlighted how “SheEOs” thought about and operated their businesses differently. Founders and CEOs who identified as women, she said, operated less in isolation and more from a spirit of Radical Generosity and care. 

She was bringing that spirit to a new model of funding — inviting communities of women to contribute $1,000 each to a shared fund and then deciding together how to distribute those resources to support enterprises that were working on the world’s most pressing problems. I got excited and got involved. 

Over the next seven years, SheEO raised more than $15 million of capital and distributed it in a regenerative cycle to more than 170 small businesses around the world. By starting from principles of connection and kindness, critical funding flowed to dozens of ventures. In 2021, the community renamed itself from SheEO (which focused on individual entrepreneurs) to Coralus (to reflect the collective community and its impacts).

Beyond the elegant simplicity of the economic model, the movement shows what is possible when we begin with empathy and trust in connection. We unleash the creativity necessary to solve big problems together. 

Creating the Conditions that Foster Breakthrough Thinking  

Watching the SheEO→Coralus evolution has reinforced my belief in the power of kind cultures to unleash creativity and inspire progress in diverse communities. When we bring this kind of empathy to our work — not because it is nice, but because it is what works best to motivate and support groups of humans to be great together — we can accomplish incredible things. 

Building the kind of future we want requires us to embed empathy in our everyday tasks and remake extractive systems. Studies have shown that empathetic workplaces tend to enjoy stronger collaboration, less stress, and greater morale, and their employees bounce back more quickly from difficult moments such as layoffs. 

It’s resilience, yes, but it’s more than that – it’s a level of open-mindedness and understanding that deepens with continued empathy and care. To create the conditions that foster breakthrough thinking, we have to remember that we are human, first and always. 

Purchase the KOAN method today

Ready to continue learning? Watch Jen talk about why kindness is the first KOAN principle and why it is essential to cultivate kind cultures that move beyond discord.