As Adshel’s Head of Marketing, this task was one of the greatest challenges of my 20+ years as a marketer. Not only would I have to draw on all my project management experience, but I would need a high level of empathy.
Empathy is the capacity to comprehend and share another person’s feelings. It is more than sympathy, it allows us to put ourselves in another person’s shoes so that we can understand them better. Empathy is a critical leadership skill which allows us to influence, inspire, and help people cope with change as well as achieve their goals.
I learned a lot about leading with empathy in that six week Adshel-oOh! brand transition.
Lesson 1. Keep people at the heart of the process
For Adshel’s people, being part of Adshel was much more than just a job. These people were fiercely loyal to the brand - re-branding Adshel would be more akin to removing a personal identity than simply changing a name.
Clearly, this brand transition was going to hurt a lot more than simply ripping off a bandaid. I needed to come up with a well thought out and empathetic approach with people at its heart. One way we achieved this was by renaming the Adshel brand ‘Commute by oOh!’ which reflected the commuter audience proposition of the Adshel outdoor network, giving Adshelians an immediate identity within the new organisation.
Lesson 2. Make it safe for your team to open up
It was vital for me to create a safe haven for people to ask questions, give me feedback and, most importantly, be themselves. I needed to remain open and approachable as their leader so my team could trust that I would listen without judgement.
Listening is important, but the ability to open up and show a touch of vulnerability really helped throughout the process too.
Lesson 3. Look to the future
Go beyond your own concerns and doubts to create a clear vision for the future and remain clear about your expectations and the role of each team member within that vision. Clarity is quite powerful.
Lesson 4. Be kind to yourself
While it’s important to remain empathetic and continually seek to understand what others are experiencing, as a leader you must also consider your own needs. If you don’t also take care of yourself, it’s difficult to be present for others.
The culture within teams and business is crucial to success. Being able to practice empathy as a leader allows us to tackle complex problems in an emotionally intelligent way. The genuine affection that empathic leaders have for people, and the strength of their core values, inspires trust.
Looking back at those challenging weeks, I strongly believe that leading with empathy was a key ingredient in the successful brand transition between Adshel and oOh!
This article first appeared in the August 2019 edition of The Marketing Academy’s newsletter.
Jodie Koning is oOh!’s Group Marketing Director. When she’s not espousing the genius of Brené Brown, she’s leading a team of marketers and designers, discussing all things customer experience, hitting the gym or hanging out with her gorgeous sons.