April 13, 2021

24 : Leading with Empathy with Kerri Jacobs


Welcome to the mindful fire podcast where we explore living mindfully on the path to financial independence and beyond. I'm your host, Adam Coelho, and I'm so glad you're here. On today's episode. I'm joined by my friend, Kerri Jacobs. Who's actually a former manager of mine. I'm really excited to have her on the podcast.

Kerri Jacobs has been leading high performing teams at Google in London, New York city, and now the Bay area for over 12 years. Her obsession with empathy and leadership and inclusion in every aspect of life led her to create the program, leading with empathy and to roll it out to leaders at Google.

Kerri is also a member of the 2021 class of Stanford University's CCARE in collaboration with ACA's applied compassion training for architects and ambassadors of applied compassion. A Scot from penny cook. She used to read books, watch films, and see a lot of Broadway shows. But these days, mainly anxiously scrolls, Twitter, and comfort eats. 

In her life before business, she taught dance sang in piano bars and wrote a dance and education syllabus for Scottish education curriculum. For primary school teachers. Kerri's facilitation style is not to lecture. She shares horror stories and LOL worthy moments from her own life as a manager, parent, and partner, and keeps it as real as one can, when video conferencing from a garage.

In this episode, Kerri and I explore what empathy is and why it's more important than ever to bring empathy into our interactions with the people we work with.   And how really small changes, really just being more thoughtful about how we're interacting with those we work with and those that work for us can make a huge difference and making people feel seen, heard, and cared for. Kerri also shares a number of practices that we can use to create greater empathy and connection with those that we work with.

And she shares how leading with empathy in this way can really not only impact your relationship with that one person, but can also transform your business and the success you're having as a business.

Kerri and I explore how she used to be super skeptical about all of this mindfulness stuff and how she actually came to understand the value of it in her own life when she found herself physically and mentally burnt out from work.  How mindfulness really helped her in her recovery and led her to explore and create more meaning in her life and her work through this leading with empathy program.

 Now more than ever before the demand is so great for this, she's finding herself being reached out to by people outside of Google, and it started leading trainings outside for other companies and organizations as well.

I really enjoyed this conversation with my friend, Kerri Jacobs. It was such a treat to be able to have a conversation with a leader that I've actually worked for.  I hope that you enjoy it as well.

Kerri’s Website  - LeadingWithEmpathy.com

Full Show Notes : https://bit.ly/3dVkRAH

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Transcript

Adam Coelho: [00:00:04] Welcome to the mindful fire podcast where we explore living mindfully on the path to financial independence and beyond I'm your host, Adam Coelho, and I'm so glad you're here. On today's episode. I'm joined by my friend, Carrie Jacobs. Who's actually a former manager of mine. I'm really excited to have her on the podcast.

Kerri Jacobs has been leading high performing teams at Google in London, New York city, and now the Bay area for over 12 years. Her obsession with empathy and leadership and inclusion in every aspect of life led her to create the program, leading with empathy and to roll it out to leaders at Google.

Carrie is also a member of the 2021 class of Stanford University's CCARE in collaboration with ACA's applied compassion training for architects and ambassadors of applied compassion. A Scot from penny cook. She used to read books, watch films, and see a lot of Broadway shows. But these days, mainly anxiously scrolls, Twitter, and comfort eats.  

In her life before business, she taught dance sang in piano bars and wrote a dance and education syllabus for Scottish education curriculum. For primary school teachers. Kerri's facilitation style is not to lecture. She shares horror stories and LOL worthy moments from her own life as a manager, parent, and partner, and keeps it as real as one can, when video conferencing from a garage. 

In this episode, Carrie and I explore what empathy is and why it's more important than ever to bring empathy into our interactions with the people we work with.   And how really small changes, really just being more thoughtful about how we're interacting with those we work with and those that work for us can make a huge difference and making people feel seen, heard, and cared for. Kerri also shares a number of practices that we can use to create greater empathy and connection with those that we work with.

And she shares how leading with empathy in this way can really not only impact your relationship with that one person, but can also transform your business and the success you're having as a business.

 Kerri and I explore how she used to be super skeptical about all of this mindfulness stuff and how she actually came to understand the value of it in her own life when she found herself physically and mentally burnt out from work.  How mindfulness really helped her in her recovery and led her to explore and create more meaning in her life and her work through this leading with empathy program.

 Now more than ever before the demand is so great for this, she's finding herself being reached out to by people outside of Google, and it started leading trainings outside for other companies and organizations as well.

I really enjoyed this conversation with my friend, Kerri Jacobs. It was such a treat to be able to have a conversation with a leader that I've actually worked for.  I hope that you enjoyed as well. 

You can find the full show notes for today's episode, including all of the resources and links mentioned in the episode at Mindfulfire.org/24. 

 Let's jump into today's episode.

 

Welcome to the podcast, Kerri. 

Kerri Jacobs: [00:03:25] Thank you for having me. What an honor. 

Adam Coelho: [00:03:27] . It's really cool to have you here.  I've thought it would be fun to have my bosses or previous bosses on the podcast. So it's very exciting to have you here on the podcast having been my former bosses boss. 

Kerri Jacobs: [00:03:45] I hope that's not how you think of me a boss's boss.

That's 

Adam Coelho: [00:03:48] That sounds very official. Doesn't it? 

Kerri Jacobs: [00:03:51] Colleague, friend, that kind 

of 

Adam Coelho: [00:03:52] thing. Yes. We have graduated to friend and I would say career mentor as well. Every time I came to New York, it would be I got to catch up with Carrie and talk about life and career. So I appreciate all the guidance throughout the years.

Kerri Jacobs: [00:04:06] Thank you. I get a lot from it too, and it's really cool to see what you're up to and how successful you're being Adam. And how true you have remained to yourself and what matters to you. It's really impressive. 

Adam Coelho: [00:04:19] I appreciate it. Yeah. It's a sort of an ongoing process I would say. It's gotta be.

  So I'd love to start by having you share with the audience a little bit about who you are and what you're up to in the world. 

Kerri Jacobs: [00:04:31] Yeah I think it's important to start by saying that I identify as a straight white cisgendered female. So my experiences are not the same as everybody else's experiences.

And I've been lucky to walk through the world as such, and experienced a lot of privilege. But originally I'm from Scotland lost most of the accent these days, but it comes and goes.  I've spent the majority of my career working in tech for very exciting, fast moving companies, mostly Google for the last 13 years in sales leadership roles.

 I'm also a mom. I can't believe, I didn't say that first. I went straight to the job stuff. But I have two kids. I have a phenomenally amazing partner. My husband Fergus. I'm an atheist. I'm a feminist. I'm a depressive. I'm an insomniac and I on a good day. I'm an artist. That's how I'm learning to talk about myself.

So in the workplace, I've always been leading teams and, because you've been in teams that I've led that I have strengths and I have weaknesses, and I've very quickly come to realize what those weaknesses are. ie: I don't know, pivot tables. I'm not terrific when it comes to is a long-term strategy and things like that.

But I've always known what I was good at, which was leading, empowering inspiring and bringing out the best in people. So I've spent the last two years focused on a program, both within my workplace and now outside of it, which I call Leading With Empathy to really help managers, people, managers, leaders understand why it's so damn important to have empathy as a trait in leadership.

  It's been a really interesting experience.  I wish it hadn't taken a global pandemic to prove my point. That empathy was really important. It has. And I think you can look at any leader across the world and see with which the degree of empathy that they used was helped in the success of dealing with the pandemic, but everything's come to a head at the same time.

So I'm glad that I was already working on it and able to help so many people when the world shifted and those of us who are lucky enough, moved to work from home.

Adam Coelho: [00:06:51] That is the most robust background. I have gotten on the podcast. So thank you for sharing all of that detail. It really paints a full picture of your life and how you're approaching your work and your life in general.  

Having been working with you and knowing you for a few years, I know that you weren't always so into the ideas around mindfulness. And I wouldn't say empathy. I, you always been very empathetic, but this idea of mindfulness and compassion, maybe you were a little bit more skeptical about that in the past.

So I'm very interested in, I really don't know this to hear how you moved from being a skeptic to. Not only being into it, but leading trainings and sharing this with thousands of people. 

 Kerri Jacobs: [00:07:39] I'm still learning, I'm nowhere near the expert level that you are. But I think firstly, what happened with me is that my body broke down.

So I definitely was a victim of burnout and that burnout manifest itself in lots of different physical ways. But I knew that there was a lot going on psychologically that had to be addressed. And when you start working with a psychiatrist or a therapist, I was really taken aback by how much mindfulness and meditation played a role in the therapy.

And I think for me, I'm always driven by science. Adam, I'm just not interested in anything hokey. Which, and so I think maybe when it came from a medical practitioner, I started to take it a little bit more seriously. And also, I think there's been so much more work on the scientific side of it recently.

There's so much more research showing the benefits. And what I love about I'm trying hard, but I am by no means like, how do I have a regular practice? I'm trying to adhere to Sam, Harris's waking up practice. I can't do Headspace. Cause Andy's voice is exactly like my husband's, which is really weird.

They have the same accent come from the same part of England. But what I do is that idea of giving yourself the gift of loving attention. I think that's so important. I'm learning a lot about how to handle triggers. I'm learning a lot about mindfulness not being judgmental, that it's just.

Attention, just like looking in the mirror and what is, is? So I have a long way to go, but I definitely think that just that maybe just even being at home during the pandemic has helped a lot of us talk about mental health and the challenges we face. And I think these days, any conversation around mental health, empathy, compassion, there's always going to be a mindfulness element.

Because it's so important. 

Adam Coelho: [00:09:31] Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, that I think is a really great point.

 I really like how you mentioned that mindfulness is really the foundation of. Empathy and compassion and that without mindfulness, which is really a kind   awareness of what's happening without resisting what  is, you really can't meet someone where they are or act in compassionate ways.

You really need to be able to see that right now, it's like this is what's happening. And what are my choices from here? Not how do I wish it was? It's really a key element and something that has become more and more important in my practice and in life. I was for, I was practicing for years where I was just, my mind would wander.

I'd bring it back. My mind would wander. I bring it back. And I was not really bringing that kind curious attitude to what my experience was. I was more just focused only on the attention part and bringing that self-compassion into  the practice has allowed me to be a lot more kind to myself and allows me then to meet people with more kindness, because, when we practice self-awareness and empathy towards ourselves, we're training ourselves to be able to do it for others as well.

Kerri Jacobs: [00:10:46] Yeah , I think I've been very fortunate in that working for a company like Google, you're surrounded by people that really embrace new methods.  I've always encountered people like yourself and some of our other former colleagues who were way ahead of the game with this stuff.

And then I've seen it start to make its way into the corporate world. And as the mother of a third grader and a fifth grader, I can see that it's even making its way into the classroom now.  I can see my children being taught strategies and techniques around breathing. And I just find all that very encouraging that we're leaving the skepticism aside, or we're at least moving forward with embracing new new ways of dealing with stress and anxiety and other emotions.

Adam Coelho: [00:11:33] Awesome. And so it sounds reaching the point of burnout and having, physical manifestations woke you up to needing to do things a little bit differently. And the therapy that you were able to take part in, helped you learn about mindfulness and apply it in your life.

How did that grow into wanting to dive more into empathy and eventually share that with your colleagues?

Kerri Jacobs: [00:11:58] I feel like empathy is  a very easy to understand concept. When we talk about compassion, that's in response to suffering and when you say the word suffering in a workplace, people can clam up a little bit.

Oh no, nobody's suffering here. What are you talking about? Whereas empathy is more about tuning yourself into someone's frequency. And I felt like even the most skeptic leaders, even those leaders that really move away from anything touchy, feely, talking about emotions, they could wrap their head around empathy.

It was it's not so much of a barrier, a mental barrier to, to think about. You're really just asking leaders to I'm really just asking them to remember, or imagine what it's like to be on the other end of the conversation or in a different situation and adjust their behavior accordingly.

And I think there's a real need for it. I think it's proven that, the higher you go in the corporate ladder you really you remove yourself from understanding the people that you're managing, right? So you start to rely on stereotypes or, just to understand, Oh, this is how a direct report must feel.

And this is how a female direct report must feel. And it's understandable. You suddenly, you have all these other priorities that you need to think about when it comes to running your business. But the truth is this is all about people. And I think COVID has shown us that too, nothing else matters. And I really felt like I could tap into, I only get one hour with leaders, right?

They're very busy people. I can't have them do a 20 minute meditation and then an introspection exercise that takes two days. Like I have 60 minutes with them. So I want to get really straight to the meat of it. What are the behaviors you can do that make people feel more included that have that sense of belonging?

Because actually that's going to make them do better work. It's going to make them stay at the company longer, go above and beyond to be more creative and innovative, attract other top talent to your team, help you get a reputation for being a phenomenal leader. So I do wrap it in that kind of. wrapping.

This is about helping you get better at your business and get better at leadership, but at the same time, just showing more compassion and empathy to everyone around you. Because we spend so much time at work. It can be a hotbed for suffering, if things aren't going well. So that was the driving force.

I've done a lot of research where I ask people, what are behaviors from managers that make you feel included?  It's just what empathy are you seeing demonstrated in the workplace. And what are the behaviors that make you feel excluded? And it's nothing to do with pay rises or promotion or getting cool projects or visibility at senior levels.

It's about when the manager remembers something about you, the name of your kid, the country you grew up in. The fact that your dog died three weeks ago, that's what matters to people being present in a, one-on-one not moving meetings around last minute, without any kind of apology centering the conversation on the person, rather than on yourself. Saying, thank you.

It's the most small, tiny human behaviors, which is all about being mindful, that matter. And so I really just wanted to build a workshop where I could get in and out and make as much impact in a short space of time with as senior leaders as I could, because it has this kind of thing has to come from top down.

Adam Coelho: [00:15:40] Very interesting. I agree completely. And and I think I read somewhere on your LinkedIn or on your website that, peop it's something to the effect of people don't leave jobs. They leave managers, and  I've had good managers and I've had bad managers and just.

You can feel the difference, and it's not good or bad. And they got me promoted or they didn't get me promoted. It's do they even care about me? And that makes all the difference. That I've been fortunate, knock on wood to have the same manager who we both are very close with Paul for the last six years, more or less.

 I used to joke that, if they, we got reorged and now we were stocking the micro kitchens, I would still be working for him because you can tell he really cares and isn't just telling you things to tell you things, he's telling you the truth and he actually cares about you as a human being. And that makes all the difference. 

Kerri Jacobs: [00:16:39] It does. And you're lucky to have a manager like Paul and I was driven to build this program because not all managers are like that. And you're right. It's the number one reason people leave a job is because they're unhappy with their manager and it can really affect your life.

I know it has done mine in the past and there's I, I'm not advocating that the managers are so empathetic that they're forgiving of every mistake and, pushovers. It's not about that. It's just about recognizing the person where they are. And I think  those of us who had the privilege to work from home when COVID hit, you really have seen there, that managers that weren't leading with empathy are the ones struggling because.

There was no connection made between the two human beings. And now when you're just speaking to each other on a video call, it's very different, difficult to establish that. Whereas the teams that were already tight, high levels of psychological safety are the ones that have been thriving. But I still believe everyone is born with the same capacity for empathy, Adam, right?

It's just like any muscle it can strengthen. It can atrophy. And actually the gateway drug to empathy is fiction. So immersing yourself in Netflix, watching movies reading fiction is really good because you're immediately identifying as a character. That's not yourself and putting yourself in their position.

I still truly believe that even managers who, who think none of this is in their skillset, they can still improve. Very small tactical practical things that they can do every day. Just making sure that the, if you move a one-on-one around at the last minute, You send one short ping saying, I'm sorry, I've done that.

I look forward to speaking to you tomorrow. I know this is the third week in a row. That's all you have to do. Or, just making sure that when you're in that one-on-one, that you're showing your hands. So the other person knows that you're listening. And if you are making no it's in the dark, at least saying that to the other person, Hey, listen, I'm not multitasking.

I'm making notes about the conversation that we're having. Tiny things like that. If someone gives you a piece of information about their life, whether it's the name of their spouse or where they went on vacation, just making a note of it, whether it's in your head on a post-it note or an doc, and then using that information at a later date, because it's the one thing that's going to make someone feel the difference between working for you, and really wanting to work with you to do great things. So it's not impossible. I don't think there are barriers. I just think sometimes you have to build it into a system. You have to practice I'm loath to say fake it till you make it, because I don't want anyone to be inauthentic when they're displaying empathy, but just remembering the way you were raised.

Just to say, please, and thank you. And how are you and to be genuine in your interactions. That's all it takes. So it's the tiniest behaviors that make the biggest difference and that's not hard.

 It's not hard to say how you doing or, how's your son, how's your mother doing this week? Like, how was your vacation? Did the contractors arrive on time? Did the, did your cat managed to cough up its hairball? Whatever it is, it's not hard to do. You just have to practice.

But the rewards are disproportionate. You just by you being kind, being thoughtful, being mindful showing a connection, showing that you care, even if it's inauthentic to start with, you will quickly learn that. The rewards from that are just they're incredible. I cannot tell you when I do my research, sometimes I'll ask what's the behavior from a leader that makes you feel included and someone will say when they say, thank you.

 That's heartbreaking, right?

Adam Coelho: [00:20:26] Yeah. 

Kerri Jacobs: [00:20:27] But saying thank you isn't hard to do so that if you want to start doing that, there you go. That's a start show up one minute early to meetings so that you can chit chat with the people that also show up early and learn things about them, be present in your one-on-ones help people move up in their career.

None of this is attacks on you as a leader because you're actually helping them do greater work. And that in turn is helping you be seen as the leader that everyone wants to work for. 

Adam Coelho: [00:20:56] Yeah. So it sounds like you, it sounds like you do these trainings for leaders, which I would assume as like managers and directors and VPs. Is it something that just those people should be thinking about, or is it something that we all should be thinking about? I'm an individual contributor. I'm not managing anybody. I think I know the answer because I've seen it in my own life, but curious as to how you would counsel, the person listening to this to bring more empathy into how they interact either at work or at home.

It's a really good question. I've been very intentional about targeting leaders because I believe that's where it has to start. Everyone who's in a position of authority is a role model for those that report up to them. And if we don't change the behaviors of those in leadership, then the next generations are just going to make the same mistakes and repeat the same bad habits.

So I've been very intentional about that. But I do think that. Empathy, of course is important and we're all leaders, right? We're all leaders in our own way. There's three different types of empathy. You can have the cognitive type where you're thinking about, you may not have lived the experience of that person, but you can use logic to understand how they might be feeling.

Then there's emotional empathy where your mirror neurons are firing, because you're, if you're speaking to someone who is so excited about something, you start feeling excited too. And then there's empathic concern or sympathy where you really feel called to action to do something. Now that does not just apply to the manager, individual contributor relationship it's to all of us.

And at any point in time the the person serving you coffee in the morning what are they going through and how can you make them feel better about themselves and relate to that? Or your child or your your child's teacher. There are so many. Interactions that we have every day and less so now, which makes them even more important. It's really important that we empathize with everyone that we speak to.

And it's hard. It's hard. I've never been homeless. I'm very lucky, but I've definitely been broke. I've definitely dealt with addiction. I've definitely felt great loneliness at times. None of that comes close to being homeless, but I'll use those experiences to tune me into that frequency so that I can try very hard.

I'm never going to empathize with a white supremacist, right? There are limits here, empathy alone. Isn't going to dismantle hundreds of years of systemic racism or misogyny or homophobia, but it's a valuable tool. And I just like to get people in the practice of using it. And you're right. It's certainly not exclusive to leaders.

Yeah. One thing that stands out to me as we were talking about this is just how impactful this skill has been in my own career, and it's evolving all the time. I've really come to realize that it's like my number one skill and I didn't even talk about it as empathy for a very long time or even recognize it at all. I would say, I'm not the smartest person. I'm not, certainly not the most organized or the fastest person to respond to emails, but I can connect and empathize with people and get them to trust me, not out of any manipulative way, but just by connecting with people.

And that has served me so well. And it's really the small things, right? It's starting your emails with, I hope you're doing well. I hope you and your family are safe. It's saying thank you.  I led a training two days ago with Paul, for the Gtech team and one of the guys,  we are on a call together the previous day  and he had a three week old baby on his lap. And I was like, Whoa. And then sure enough on that call there, he is holding a three week old baby. And so I just took that opportunity to just. Connect with him in front of everybody just saying, Oh my God, I'm glad to see.

There's actually proof that you have a three week old baby. It's so cool. Congratulations. And that relationship serves me so well when I need help with something or, just when we're working together on something, it makes all the difference. 

Kerri Jacobs: [00:25:15] I agree. I think one of the most valuable tools I've learned during this work from home period is to start conversations, instead of saying, how are you doing?

Because people are just going to automatically default it. Fine. Great. How are you is to say, how are you doing this afternoon? Pause. And of course, displaying vulnerability yourself. It's easy for me to say, Adam, and this is the truth. I'm freaking out about my hair. I haven't had it cut since COVID began.

And this morning I was like, Oh my God, what am I going to do with it today, when I have to speak to Adam? So just like being real with it. I've also been very aware that we have to have empathy for people who are experiencing things differently from us. And the light has really shown on some of those types of diversity beyond race, sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity, to things like socioeconomic background.

Now that we're all working from home and we can see into each other's homes, that's quite invasive. And I've been on calls where someone's dialed in from their yacht and someone else is dialing in from a cupboard or closet.  So we're seeing these huge disparities of opposite ends of the economic spectrum.

And that's become something that I want people to have empathy for in the workplace. Or you mentioned family and congrats to your colleague with his three week old baby COVID has not been very supportive to families going through fertility treatment or adoption procedures. Some of that has been screwed up.

So when we keep talking about parents being heroes in this crisis, We have to also be mindful of those who want to be parents and that right now can't be. And that's just another thing to think about, or people who've been affected in different ways. They've had to move back in with their parents.

They're unable to get the treatment. They normally would. They have a kid at home with special needs or some positive ones. Some people who lead with introversion are really thriving in this environment. And now as leaders, we need to think about it. And as colleagues, how do we maintain that? How do we give them that security when we one day returned to the office?

So I think just having empathy and being mindful that even the boat you're in the storm today could be a different boat tomorrow. And everyone is experiencing this in completely different ways and we should never make assumptions and we should never project how we might be feeling or how we imagine we might be feeling in any given situation onto someone else.

That's been probably one of the biggest things that I've learned. 

Adam Coelho: [00:27:43] Yeah, that's a really good thing to call out, right? There are many different experiences that people are coming to work with or coming to whatever interaction with and, can we check our preconceived notions at the door and meet them fresh with beginner's mind, so to speak and tune into what's going on for them and ask them what's going on for them.

Give them the opportunity to share a little bit about what's going on. If they feel comfortable to do that.

I'm curious about, in this training, I assume there are some practices or practical applications of building this muscle of empathy. Can you share a few of those with the audience? 

Kerri Jacobs: [00:28:23] Yeah, I think that's the part of the workshop where people pay the most attention.

That's when everyone grabs their pen. Because people are like, okay. I get it, so tell me what to do. And there are some really simple things, like just being intentional about scheduling some time, maybe every second Friday, you put 15 minutes in your calendar in your head.

You can call it recognition, time in your calendar, call it whatever you want, but using those 15 minutes to intentionally sit down. Think about everyone that you work with and reach out to them, whether it's a handwritten card, a ping, an email, a text, a post-it note, whatever it might be just to, to do your intentional reachout.

Like how's your mom doing? Or, Hey, have you watched this yet on Netflix? I know you'd love it. Or great work last week. I don't know how we could have got through this without you. You may be good at doing the right thing in the right moment at the right, to the right person. But most of us are just swamped.

So that's really important. I think if you work for a company that has employee resource groups for underrepresented people within the organization, join them, be a good ally, learn what they are going through. I've learned a lot for example, about what ex military personnel and law enforcement personnel, who now work at the company I work at, they have their own employee resource group and I joined it and I'm listening.

I'm being a good ally. And just things like that can really help me understand that for those people, with a military background, the sense of helplessness during a crisis, like the one that we're going through can be quite debilitating. And I would not have known that otherwise or things that the transgender community is going through that I think I know about, but joining their resource group has definitely helped me see that.

One of the biggest barriers to empathy and inclusion is the perception of favoritism. Usually there's no malintent, right? But just as humans, whether we're aware of our biases or not, we definitely tend to treat certain people differently. And so one thing you can, practically do, is just really think about how  do I, and how does my team celebrate things like birthdays, babies being born, people being married, people getting promoted, joining, leaving the team.

Let's see if we can do that consistently in a consistent manner so that we're not one person leaves. And we send like a document with all piled into and another person leaves and they get a two line email. Like just, those are the things that can sometimes really lead to those feelings of being left out.

If half of your team is connected on social media and the other half isn't, when you're in a team meeting and people are talking about, how nice your garden's looking at this time of year, then those who are not connected to you on Instagram immediately feel excluded immediately feel like they don't belong in the conversation and that they're not part of the group.

So there are a lot of practical things that people can do to just eradicate some of those feelings of favoritism, but also just build into your daily life things that will remind you to, to lead with empathy, every step of the way. 

Adam Coelho: [00:31:33] So Kerri, there's a huge need, there's a ton of practical, very simple and easy to implement things that we could do to build our muscles of empathy and make the people we work with, feel more connected.

And I'm curious how you built this course and how you're getting on the calendars of all of these very busy senior leaders and getting the their attention and interest in this. How has that happened? 

Kerri Jacobs: [00:32:01] I started with  just looking a lot into my own experiences. And I partnered with a friend of ours, Jillian Fiore. With her organizational psychology background, we looked at just our own workplace and we did a lot of focus groups and one-on-one interviews and then a ton of research with  surveys.  This is definitely a growing area of research in the scientific community to Adam, right? So there's a lot of people now researching empathy in the workplace; tends to be in a more medical setting.

It's so important that medical practitioners can empathize with patients, for example. So a lot of studies being done there, but I worked with learning and development teams. Definitely took a lot of counseling and advice from diversity equity and inclusion teams, because this is all. One in the same, to develop the content. Now how, am I getting on calendars? I wish I could clone myself. There is so much demand for this stuff. And I think it's because leaders finally recognize that how important this is and whether it's taken the pandemic or economic recession, the racial injustice, reckoning the climate crisis, having your kids at home murder hornets, wildfires, like whatever it's taken for us to get to this point of recognition.

I'm okay with it because it definitely the work that we're doing is highly. It's definitely in demand. Across the industry people are seeing their colleagues, burnout or retention rates among underrepresented groups are low. It's not easy to hire people from different backgrounds with different perspectives.

And I'm not saying that by my own company, I'm saying it about the industry at large. So it starts taking a real toll on your ability to be a successful business. So this is good for businesses. And I think it's just a reckoning. I think people are finally realizing the importance of it when they see half of their employees having to take extended sick leave, because they're feeling so awful and are being so impacted by wellness issues or when they're seeing people just get so frustrated by not being able to advance or do good work in their organization because of,  legacy behaviors that just aren't empathic. 

Adam Coelho: [00:34:23] Yeah, absolutely. There's something that I just want to share with you that is coming up for me. So when I teach search inside yourself, there's this point at which you tell a story about a compassionate leader and the story that I always use is about Paul and specifically on the day when you announced that you were leaving the team. Because when you announced that you were leaving the team, everybody was devastated.

Obviously we had a lot going on. It was a very challenging time within our environment. But when you announced that you were leaving the team, I think everyone had this feeling that the soul of our team was leaving and Paul recognized the suffering that was happening.

I can picture Jillian's face cause she was living in San Francisco, sitting next to me at the time. And Paul just cleared his calendar and made space for people to come and talk about their concerns and their feelings about you and the team and everything. And that just really demonstrated to me, compassionate leadership, through and through.

 So I think that speaks to one, the importance of awareness and meeting people where they are and recognizing the needs of the group, but also to the incredible culture that you created within the team. Lots of people leave the team, but it's not that big of a deal because people move on.

But that really stood out to me and I've told a thousand Googlers that story. And so one, thank you for creating the culture you did on the team. And I just wanted to share that with you.

Kerri Jacobs: [00:36:08] Glad you did. I feel bad because I don't want to ever cause suffering. And I hope, that the circumstances we're talking about, I didn't want to leave the team.

It was just the way things panned out. I'm so glad the other leaders like Paul, like stepped up and took over and you know what we created, we had a very unique experience of a small team that grew very quickly, but  we all handpicked each other and we had a great leader ourselves in Steve and we definitely built a culture.

I'm learning so much about culture now that I'm studying compassion in the workplace.  I just think it's so important. The culture it's about the way that rules are defined, right? It's the way it's the routines that help the work get done. It's the meaning and the modeling years provide it's not the happy hours.

 That's important, but that's not culture in the workplace. So I'm sorry. You had to go through that. We've all come over. Okay. And I love seeing one of the most gratifying parts of leadership for me is seeing other leaders that I've helped, flourish and fly. And  that's so cool because we talked a lot earlier about role modeling and there are times, and with me and my leadership style is very real.

If I'm feeling a little shit, I'm going to tell you that. Because I'm just too tired to pretend anymore. Know, it's very, it's what is what you get. And I think I love that. I can now see other people moving into management roles who take a little bit of that, but also at their own empathy quirks to to make their leadership more real and influence other people. 

Adam Coelho: [00:37:43] Yeah, thank you for sharing that. And yeah, it's it is, it's very interesting, how this all comes to play and, speaking of Steve, we just had, a very tough couple of weeks for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. And he did the same thing, right?

He saw suffering and he cleared his calendar. He spent, I think, five hours that week just creating safe spaces for people to come and share, and people really recognize that. And so it's cool to see this happening more and more. 

So it's pretty cool.

 He's a leader that I looked up to and learned a lot from, and I've told him recently about just how important the work that he's doing for the Asian American community in our workplace is, and how heartfelt people have been telling me about how much it means.

 I think, the act of listening is compassion, right? That's it.. When people learn that's all you have to do, you have to listen without judgment and you have to listen without problem-solving,  just giving space to talk and understand, especially given what everyone's going through right now.

That's the act of compassionate self. 

Yeah. Okay. So let's talk a little bit more about compassion. What, for people who might not be familiar with the clear distinction between empathy and compassion, maybe you can spell out the difference there for us. And then we can talk a little bit about how that skill of compassion is important in the workplace. 

Kerri Jacobs: [00:39:12] I always think, and I know this is how a lot of researchers define it, but empathy is a reaction to all sorts of different emotions and all sorts of different experiences.

Whereas compassion is directly a response to suffering, right? That's the difference? So suffering is definitely something that is happening in the workplace and without compassion, workplaces can really amplify that suffering. Now I have to caveat all of this by saying, it's relative right now. You and I work for a company that is very good to us.

I am not having to drive an Uber at night and wash the floor of a hospital during the day. I'm in a very privileged workplace. Nevertheless, suffering can happen because mental illness and anxiety, stress, depression, all of those things can affect us, whether you're the janitor or the CEO. It's a chemical imbalance in your brain. So suffering can happen. And especially in workplaces that I come across, where there is an very high performance culture. No one wants to admit any sign of weakness. I know you're nodding and smiling at him because that's, it's very real. And there's also  the guilt that compounds the suffering makes everything worse. The guilt, because we do work in a relatively good environment with people that care about us and we're compensated well.

And so you start thinking I don't deserve to feel this way. I don't deserve to, to feel like I don't want to get out of bed this morning. What's wrong with me. But the truth is it doesn't matter who you are or where you work. We spend so much of our lives there. My husband often says to me like, your workplace gets the best of you because.

I'll give you everything I've got and then I'm just broken by the end of the day. So I'm going to take all my stress and all my frustration on those that I love and are closest to me, which is not fair. So yeah it's sometimes it's hard to equate a workplace with a place of suffering, unless you're like, in a penitentiary or you work in a hospital or something like that, but it doesn't matter where you work.

If you are stressed, if you are burning out, if you feel like you don't belong, then you're suffering. 

Adam Coelho: [00:41:35] Yeah. I totally agreed that there is a lot of suffering .

And there's also that guilt that I work for the company that everyone in the world wants to work for. I shouldn't be feeling this . But there is suffering and there's, the expectations are super high. The pace is unsustainable and it's so easy to fall behind and just get down on yourself.

And even though I teach mindfulness and all of the stuff, there's another level of guilt there that I shouldn't be feeling this because I'm supposed to be the calm, Zen person. But the reality is that life is full of ups and downs and suffering. And it's part of life. So I'm interested in your perspective, and I know that you're doing this compassion program.

Maybe you can talk a little bit about that as well, but, compassion has become a bigger part of what you're doing. And I'm curious to hear your thoughts on how compassion helps us deal with the suffering that we and others experience in work. 

Kerri Jacobs: [00:42:38] Yeah,  I joined this course offered by Stanford on applied compassion training.

 I want to study more in this area because I definitely think it's a bigger topic than I'd ever given it credit for being. I think compassion for me, Adam is about learning to meet the person where they are and letting go of prejudices that might block my compassion, really understanding why someone is feeling the way they're feeling and that their suffering is real.

Not dismissing it. But validating it. And doing what I can to alleviate it. And I think so much of the suffering honestly, is caused without any mal-intent, but just by the way we work. Right? Just by us using ping and chat without context, you get you there question Mark ping from someone in authority and you're not saying, Oh good.

I wonder what my vice president wants to speak to me about. You're thinking I'm fired. I'm I've done something terrible. And all they had to do. Was put a little context, Hey, this isn't Arjun. I just have a question about next week's offsite. That's all it takes to remove that anxiety that let's face it right now, don't need. We don't need any extra suffering. 

So I just think there are things we can do systematically within our organizations to just reduce the noise and help people. And I think some of what we've done during COVID is helping.  I feel very safe and secure working from my house. At any point I can reach down and pick up my cat and that makes me feel better. I'm already experiencing anxiety about returning to the office, because I've put on so much weight in the past 12 months that I'm going to have to buy a whole new set of clothes. So there are things that we've learned that we can be compassionate to our fellow workers that I want to make sure that we continue when we returned to normal.

Adam Coelho: [00:44:47] Yeah, definitely. Again, it's really standing out to me, just how being more thoughtful about how we are interacting with others and how our actions impact them. Is really all we're talking about. It's really just, that's all thoughtful. 

Kerri Jacobs: [00:45:06] That's all it is. And that's why I'm always saying to leaders, this isn't hard.

I will hear stories from someone who says, two years ago I was off sick, but my director visited my office in New York and she left a note. She left a post-it note on my desk saying, sorry, I didn't get to meet you. I look forward to seeing you next time I'm in the city. I still have the post-it note.

This worker will tell me because it just meant so much to them. Now, do you think that director, that scribbled something on a post-it really thought this is going to make or break whether this person stays at this company and does great work for the next two years? Of course they didn't, they just did it and stuck it on the desk.

But the size impact that it had is the reason that person just really gave their all and is flourishing in the company. So it is, it's so small. It's not difficult, but it takes reminding. And it's funny that you're saying even as a facilitator of your search inside yourself, course, you still have to remind yourself.

I teach this course multiple times a week and I still get things wrong. I will still be distracted in a one-on-one or I will still turn a conversation back to my experience rather than truly listening.  So it's understandable that with the pressures that we're under, the stuff's going to fall between the cracks.

I'm just advocating that. We all just remember that these are the things that matter. These are the things that will help people be open when they are experiencing burnout. They're going to be more likely to tell you about it sooner so they can get the help they need. They're going to be more likely to encourage other strong performers to join your team.

You're going to be someone who gets a reputation as being a phenomenal people manager, or a phenomenal teammate. And that's going to progress your career. If you need to reframe it that way, whatever you have to do, but just remind yourself that it's the small things that still make the biggest difference.

Adam Coelho: [00:47:05] Yeah. Yeah. It's interesting. As you're saying that, I'm thinking when I was looking for a job leaving a less than ideal situation I was brought to your team by Linda, who I worked with in the past. And she's this team is amazing. You're going to love it. And then when I joined the team, I brought two people as well.

I brought to David's.  You want to bring people  into the environment when you feel supported and cared for and all of that and as you said, you want to work a lot harder. If I'm disengaged and I don't really feel very connected to my manager, I'm not going to go above and beyond.

I'm just going to do what I need to do. But working for Paul, if he needs anything for me, I'm going to jump up, raise my hand help. Because, I know that he cares about me and that I care about him and I care about the team and it all makes such a big difference. And it's just these little things that show that care and we can all practice them.

So I think that's really the takeaway from 

  1.  

Kerri Jacobs: [00:48:10] And by the way, that can extend beyond your internal workplace too. If you're in a customer facing situation, This is the time to really flex those empathy muscles. Whether it's just, reaching out and right proactively giving them a recommendation on a platform like LinkedIn, without them even asking for it, because people are worried about their jobs in this economic climate. Or just recognizing them, sending them, a handwritten note or a card or, offering some storytelling time for their kids.

If their kids are stuck at home and not back at school. 

 Whatever you can do to also remind your customers that we're all in this together. I saw a beautiful example recently, Adam of a company they're called Moonpig, it's like hallmark. They make greetings cards that you can personalize on a website and then have them sent to to your loved ones and in advance of mother's day in the UK, which happens in March, it's a bit earlier in the UK, they emailed everyone on their email database who had signed up to get alerts for mother's day. And they emailed them and said, Hey, this year is different. You may not want to be reminded that mother's day is approaching.

You may not want to be reminded that it's time to buy mother's day cards and gifts. If you want to unsubscribe from the mother's day alerts, here's how you're going to do it because we do not want to be the trigger. When so many people have lost parents, mother figures in their life, we don't want to cause any suffering.

Now to me, that's just a perfect example of displaying empathy with your customers, right? You don't want to be associated with pain and suffering. So giving them the heads up and saying, it's okay, like we may lose you as a customer short-term but you'll be back at Christmas. Because because we care about you.

I got a bill the other day from Cal water. Is that what you call the water company here? And it said at the bottom, it was talking about how you can, you might be struggling to pay your water bill right now. And it said at the bottom, we may be six feet apart, but we're in this together. And I know it's just a little slogan, someone stuck on the bottom of a bill, but it gave me a moment of being like, Oh, that's nice.

That's really nice. So I think there's ample opportunity for us to extend those small things. Again, they have to be authentic. You can't be just like faking it, but just extending those small reach-outs to people, whether they're within your circle with the teachers at your kid's school, the guy that delivers your packages, I'm being sexist.

It could be a woman delivering your packages. Whoever is just doing those reach-outs there's never been a more important time to do it. 

I'd love to talk a little bit about how this training that you created within Google has now grown beyond the walls of Google.

Can you tell me about how that has happened? I think it's pretty recent, and how it's going and what your vision is for that. 

Yeah. I'm letting it all just very organically play out. The lovely thing about empathy is that usually after every workshop that I do, regardless of the seniority of the leaders, I get some reach outs, whether it's ping or email afterwards, thanking me, or more likely telling me that they're suffering and where should they go for help? And I've also just over the past year, had a lot of people say to me, my husband's company would really value something like this, or they'd really benefit from this.

So it's all happened, very organically word of mouth, which I think given that the nature of this as empathy and compassion is the way it should be. I feel a little icky about, proactively advertising something. I want to have empathy for people's inboxes. I want to have empathy for their calendars. If, and when people arrive at the conclusion that it would be pretty cool to have someone who's not one of us, but who knows what it's like.

To be one of us to come and just talk to us about our culture and give us some practical tips about how to make things better and base it on research based on the data. Then I'm having people just reach out to me. And what I love is learning about each individual company and the nuances of their organization and their internal culture.

And we're not that different, it doesn't matter whether I'm speaking to marketers or security people or finance people or sellers.  Everyone's going through the same stuff. So I'm really enjoying just getting to know other organizations and how they work so that I can use their terminology when I'm working with them.

But then just gang, sometimes having an independent facilitator is all they need to just crack that open and have people start really telling each other how they truly feel. And that's a real privilege to be able to do that and watch people go through that experience. 

Adam Coelho: [00:53:12] Yeah, absolutely. Just that third party perspective that just comes in and puts out an invitation, says, Hey, let's try something a little different let's, I don't know, I'm not in the weeds of everything that you have going on, so I can come with a different perspective and open the door for you to experience something new.

Kerri Jacobs: [00:53:32] Yeah, and I try and make it funny and entertaining, there's, I don't think I've sworn much on your podcast, but there's, I'm from Scotland. I curse a law. And I just, I want people to feel safe enough to start talking now, it doesn't always happen. I've done sessions where no one said a word and it's tumbleweed in the background and those are awful. But afterwards people will still reach out and say that actually, I really connected with that thought and I'm always going to, I'm going to make a real effort to change the, what changed my behavior in this one particular area.

We need the breakthroughs might not happen within the 60 minutes, but it's a start and then I can return and do more work with your organization at a later date. But I think it's that initial intervention. It's giving people permission that, for the next hour, we're not going to talk about work.

And I'm also not going to approach it from, I'm not going to take you through a meditation at the beginning, cause that's not my skillset. I will definitely advocate that you start doing that work, but we're going to get right to it because I've only got you for a short period of time.

And you're very busy and you're being chain smoking meetings for the last. 400 days. So the fact that you've given me an hour to do this is not lost on me. And it's it's a real privilege to be able to jump in and do that intervention. An empathy intervention. 

Adam Coelho: [00:54:52] That's a great term, empathy, intervention. I like that.  

So let's switch gears now into what I call the mindful fire. Final four.  So the first question is. What one thing would you recommend somebody start with to bring more empathy into their interactions with those they work with or live with or care about?

Kerri Jacobs: [00:55:15] Okay, I'm going to say, I want you to, whenever you ask a question, I want you to sit on your hands per tape, over your mouth, do whatever you have to do to listen to how someone responds. And don't just fight that urge to jump in and talk. It's all about radical listening and then really listen.

Adam Coelho: [00:55:36] Very good, great advice. I'm in this program called the inner MBA. And I was listening to a talk about listening today from  this guy, Scott Schute, who's the head of mindfulness and compassionate LinkedIn. Definitely an area that I could invest more in.

Okay. So the second question is what piece of advice would you give to somebody early on their path to financial independence? 

Kerri Jacobs: [00:55:58] So I'm not sure that I'm the right person to answer this. I'm not an expert with this Adam, but I think,  people talk about follow your passion, right? Do job that you love.

I think that is definitely something that I've learned over the years. And we talked about, there have been instances where I've been in a situation where I've really not jelled with the manager. Find a new one. Follow the people and follow your purpose and don't get bogged down with titles and, climbing that ladder. That will happen if you do great work.

So just invest in your relationships with other people. And that I think that really stands you in good stead to do well. I wish I'd listened to my own advice. I spent way too many years in jobs where I was unhappy. 

 Adam Coelho: [00:56:45] Yeah. Is there any question that somebody could ask themselves to reflect on either, Are they in alignment with their purpose or even, figuring out what their purpose might be.

 Kerri Jacobs: [00:56:58] I will say it's a privilege to ask yourself that question, right? Because most of us are just looking to get salary and survive. So it becomes it's definitely you're in a very fortunate position when you can start thinking about purpose and things like that.

However, I always think it's one useful question for me to, I've always found really insightful is to think about what's the most impactful piece of advice you've ever received in your life? Why was it impactful and what were the circumstances who delivered it to you? And just by answering that, whether it's like, Oh God, that was someone that a mentor of mine once said, or my grandfather once told me this and it really resonated and helped guide me.

Usually you can really start to ascertain what your values are and where you're prepared to blur the lines or not. And what matters to you. And I think just reflecting on things like that can really help you. And it's okay to not have purpose to to, or to do that outside of your salary job to do things in other places. 

But once you get to the position where I love what I do, I love it. Like I wake up in the morning, really excited to do it. I get so much from it. It's not entirely altruistic. I've never felt like that before. And it's really wonderful.

So if you do find yourself in a position to doing something like that, then just embracing it. 

Adam Coelho: [00:58:22] Awesome. So the third question is  what piece of advice would you give to someone getting started with meditation or mindfulness? 

Kerri Jacobs: [00:58:30] I am definitely not qualified because I'm still in the learner category here.

But what I've learned from you and other colleagues is you just have to keep going until you find what works for you. To not put any pressure on yourself. And for me, what's really helped is just seeing it as that reflection. Seeing it as that mirror back without any judgment.

So just find what works for you and  if you really want to go all in and you're doing like multiple times per day or per week, or you're just deciding to do it for me, I have to do to let the same time. That's my meditation. So whatever works for you, but definitely if at first you don't succeed.

Keep trying, 

Adam Coelho: [00:59:13] Very good. And the final question is where can people connect with you online and find out more about the leading with empathy work you're doing. 

 Kerri Jacobs: [00:59:22] Yeah, so leading with empathy.com is probably the best place, but you can also find me on LinkedIn and you can find my doodles on Instagram, doodle my meditative good doodles.

But leading with empathy.com is definitely the best place to find me. 

Adam Coelho: [00:59:39] Awesome. Carrie, thank you so much. It's been an absolute pleasure having you on the podcast and yeah. Thank you for joining me on the mindful fire podcast. 

Kerri Jacobs: [00:59:47] I did not know what to expect, Adam, and I was a little apprehensive, but I really enjoyed it.

So thank you. And thanks for nice or comfortable. 

Adam Coelho: [00:59:56] My pleasure.

Thanks so much for joining me on today's episode of the mindful fire podcast. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Kerri Jacobs about leading with empathy. If you got value from today's episode, please hit subscribe on the podcast player you're listening to this on. This just lets the platforms know you're getting value from the episodes and you'd like to be here when I produce additional content. 

As a reminder, you can find the full show notes for today's episode, including all of the resources and links mentioned in the episode at mindfulfire.org/24

 



Kerri Jacobs

Sales Leader at Google and Founder of Leading with Empathy

Kerri Jacobs has been leading high performing teams at Google in London, New York city, and now the Bay area for over 12 years. Her obsession with empathy and leadership and inclusion in every aspect of life led her to create the program, Leading with Empathy and to roll it out to leaders at Google.

Kerri is also a member of the 2021 class of Stanford University's CCARE in collaboration with ACA's applied compassion training for architects and ambassadors of applied compassion. A Scot from penny cook. She used to read books, watch films, and see a lot of Broadway shows. But these days, mainly anxiously scrolls, Twitter, and comfort eats.

In her life before business, she taught dance sang in piano bars and wrote a dance and education syllabus for Scottish education curriculum. For primary school teachers. Kerri's facilitation style is not to lecture. She shares horror stories and LOL worthy moments from her own life as a manager, parent, and partner, and keeps it as real as one can, when video conferencing from a garage.