Empathy is fundamental to leadership

I am convinced more and more that the root of great leadership is empathy. When you think of the qualities that define a good leader such as trust, communication, or caring, they all begin with someone who has empathy toward others. If someone has a core built on empathy, the rest of the skills of a leader are easily learned. Empathy in the workplace has become a recent passion and how someone with the natural ability to care for others can lead people and especially lead people safely. I have been doing some research into empathy, especially in the workplace.

Unfortunately, A theme that is apparent is that it is exceptionally difficult to teach empathy in the workplace. The first reason is that when someone is most able to learn empathy, they may not have been taught. It is early in a child’s development that empathy should be demonstrated. There is also evidence that empathy may be hard coded in our DNA. It could very well be a nature vs nurture argument. In reality, it is somewhere in between.

Once someone has found some success in a working profession they begin to harden toward change. Especially change in the emotional processes or feeling part of their work ego. These people are generally highly successful but lack any notion of how to respect other people. They are singly focused on their individual contribution. But due to that individual success, they are heralded as leaders. Individual success is not leadership

It is in the hands of the organization to find those that are good leaders and not just highly successful people. It is up to the company to evaluate and assure that those who are not fit for leadership are not allowed to affect the well-being of others with whom they have no empathy. It is a sad and disturbing place to be in where your supervisor, manager, and organization are so lacking in empathy that they ignore the basic needs of their people. They forget about safety. They forget about communication. They demand trust when it has never been earned. All because of a fundamental lack of empathy.

All is not lost, though. Even though empathy is one of the hardest skills to teach and enact in an organization some steps can be taken. Like most actions as an adult, it begins with knowing that there is an opportunity for improvement.

A More Organized 2023

Welcome to 2023!

I joked that my New Year’s Eve party included creating a custom digital GoodNotes planner for 2023. It was a wild party at my house. I was up late. There was some wine. It was after midnight before I was done with my project. I then wished the family a happy 2023 and went to bed. 

The next day, my wife said that I could share those documents as part of my leadership consulting business. At first, I thought that was pretty silly, as who would want some stuff that I created? On second thought, it seemed like a worthwhile idea. I have been designing digital planners for myself since 2016-ish. This current version had remained mostly unchanged for the last 3 or so years. So, it has been well tested.

I have tried many of the iOS notes taking apps that are available. I was a Noteabilty guy for some time then discovered GoodNotes 5. I do not think there is a perfect note-taking app, but GoodNotes has served me best. I like the stickers, element creation, backup structure, and how well PDF document import as note-taking pages. 

As we enter 2023 together, I am excited to share my journey templates. The first sheet is a full-year calendar in which dates can be highlighted. To the side, I dd brief notes to explain the highlights. For example, I may highlight January 10-11 in orange. Then to the side of the week write in orange “BOS” for traveling to Boston. 

I love this one-page look at the whole year. I use stickers to indicate birthdates, anniversaries, medical, and dental appointments. It is nice to see my whole year at a glance. When I am syncing up with others, I can look at that page and see my appointments and travel. 

The other page included is for those frequent travelers. I am on the road for 3-4 weeks every month. I can quickly lose track of what I have booked and make sure I have the timing right to get where I need to go. This sheet has worked great as it gives me a one-month view of my travel. I know where I am going, how I will get there, and that I booked everything I need. 

Finally, I like Cornell notes for my bullet journal. Check out this article on Cornell notes https://bit.ly/3jKOACT

Enjoy! I hope your 2023 is well organized and efficient 🙂

Why HR?

I have had a few people ask about my transition from safety to human resources. Why make that kind of move? What interested me in HR? They are kind of the same but still very different. This is something I have been really thinking about recently. 

First, you should know that I am an inherent problem solver. I also live inside my head . . . a lot. So between the internal dialog and the need to keep reflecting and solving, this idea of “why HR” continues to stick with me. It was only recently that in the middle of a conversation with a friend and colleague that I found my answer. 

Even early on in my career in safety, I knew there was something fundamental about the work. It seemed that even though there were laws to tell me what I should be implementing and maintaining, the right to a safe place to work should be a human right. There are bigger organizational components to a robust and functional safety program. There are critical aspects of a company that if not in place will adversely affect a safety program regards of how competent, dedicated, hard-working, or credentialed the safety person is.

Safety is either accelerated or hindered by:

  • Communication
  • Ethics
  • Funding
  • Leadership
  • Training
  • Medical Benefits
  • Employee Assistance Programs
  • Corporate Values
  • Empowerment

Other than the CEO, which branch of an organization is best suited to guide these principles in a way that enables safety? It would be HR. Many times learning and development, communication, and even safety roll up under the HR organizational structure. It made sense to me at that moment that the reason I accepted my role in HR was to clear that path so that safety could be successful. It is the Maxwell leadership principle of influence.

Through the organizational structure, I would have a chance to change and influence the core building blocks of a strong people-oriented safety program. Only time will tell if I will be successful at what I hope will be a successful experiment in safety systems. What I do know so far is that this is continued proof that safety cannot function alone in an organization. It takes a concentrated organizational effort to provide a safe and healthy workplace. 

Here is my “consolidated theory of safety” 🙂

1) An organization that has the items on the list will have a good safety program.

2) An organization with a good safety program will have [pick an item in the list].


3) Safety is the litmus test for organizational culture.

Safety Mentorship Tools: Xmatrix 2

It’s X-citing

It’s X-hilarating

It’s X-treme

It’s the X-Matrix.

As leaders and from my personal experience leaders of safety programs, we are responsible for the one-year plan, the metrics to improve, and setting a long-term vision for the department. I personally love an X-matrix to help evaluate and visualize the process of setting these goals. I was very skeptical at first of if this process would actually work. What I found was that once other team members and leadership have seen the vision and agree, the x-matrix helps to keep everyone focused.

One of the troubles that I have seen and heard from other safety people is the overall leadership’s ability to quickly change priorities. In safety, they are focused on the fire that is in front of them rather than the reasons for the fires. For every injury, there is a sudden and intense focus to drop everything and fix that issue. I will be clear here, for every injury there should be urgency. An urgency that helps to drive a root cause and robust corrective action. But a new injury should not completely change the fundamental trajectory of the entire program’s strategy.

I have seen it so many times, where an incident occurs and then there are fast and unwarranted changes to system programs. One of the first principles of lean during a problem-solving event is to ask “if there a standard?” If the answer is “yes.” The next question is to ask “was the standard followed?” If the answer is “yes”, the standard needs to be updated. If the answer is “no”, the focus should be on the motivation and environment to encourage or discourage the use of the standard. The immediate reaction should not be to completely reinvent the entire program.

I have digressed, through. Let’s talk about how to complete an x-matrix. This exercise is best completed in a small group where the team understands the operation and the needs of the department. Many times, the safety person is the only person in the department. In that case, it is all yours to control. The process works through filling in the bottom five topics, then working clockwise. There are five topics per section. There can be fewer, but I would never recommend more. When thinking about strategy, you do not want to become ineffective by having too much to do. Focus on what is important and work the plan. I have found that five is the right number.

The bottom section is where the process begins. This is where you focus on the five items that will be your 3-5 year breakthrough objectives. Breakthrough is the keyword here. These are items that in the next 3-5 years that will create big gains on your department and the safety of your organization. Think about changing culture, driving learning, and systemically reducing risk. I love the idea of “begin with the end in mind.” If you have a great safety system in place in 3-5 years, what would it look like? What systems would be in place? What engineering changes would be implemented? These are the 3-5 year objectives that can make a big difference.

Next is the left-hand section of the matrix. This is where we would take a closer look at the next 365 days of progress. What is it that you need to get done this year that gets you closer to your 3-5 year objectives. We cannot fix it all today. Safety especially is about culture and motivation. As much as we want to do it all today, it is not something that can happen. This section is about this year. What is nice about this section is that you can use it to create headings in a year-long Gantt chart and set tasks under each of those categories to show progress. The tools work together to help create the vision, long-term strategy, and actions to drive the change.

Moving to the top section, we want to define the top-level improvements or priorities. These are the values of the organization or department. For example, it would be items like no injuries, no spills, robust corrective action process, everyone reporting hazards, etc. This section for me has always been about the culture that I want to see that aligns with the values of the organization. It is important to not forget that safety should be a core value.

The final section to complete is the right-hand side. These are the metrics that we want to improve. Think about your current safety key performance indicators. Generally, I do my best to focus on proactive measures. How many hours of safety learning? How many hazard reports were filed? What were the audit scores? Were incidents investigated in less than 24 hours? I also will admit that normally I do add reduction in injuries. Even though it is a lagging indicator, it is a KPI that I want to vastly improve. I want fewer and fewer injuries until there are none to report. I do not simply want a number. I want a system and culture that has created an organization that does not hurt people. This section is not to define your KPIs, it is only listing the KPIs that you are planning to make the most improvement in during this 3-5 year journey.

Now that we have discussed how to fill in the x-matrix, I will discuss in the next blog the tiny blocks that are around each section and how these are used to bring the x-matrix to life. All these items that we just spent so much time thinking about and filling in are now going to be interrelated. It is an interesting and eye-opening X-perience 🙂

Mentorship Part 9 – X-Matrix Planing

As a safety person, I have found myself wearing many hats for an organization. I was the one that had to set the vision, make the plan, and lead the work to be done. Early in my career when asked to do all the things, I had no training or tools at my disposal. I had to make it up as I went and hope that it was right. Honestly, the planning process for some organizations was me taking the OSHA recordable incident rate and reducing it by 10% each year for 5-years. Then, praying that I could achieve those numbers with no real investment, support, or leadership training. For many years I would then report a statistical miss on the 5-year plan, get yelled at on a conference call, then perform the same 5-year 10% exercise using the current OSHA RIR.

It was later in my career that various organizations started teaching real lean theory and how to use the tools to benefit the safety organization. What I love most about lean or six-sigma is that there are so many tools at my disposal. That is also a problem, though. Not every tool is needed every time. It is up to the practitioner to choose the right tools for the right application so that they can be effective. One of those tools that I have used many times to help create the vision, plan, and tactical steps for a safety program is an X-Matrix or Hoshin X-Matrix.

First, a quick side-story. While completing my MBA, I was in a statistics class. The professor was lecturing on the importance of knowing which method to use for which scenario. Which even to this day confuses the heck out of me. He was telling a story of a Ph.D. student he was mentoring. He has asked the student what their plan was for their dissertation. The student expressed that they would gather sets of data and run pretty much every statistical model they had learned on the data. The professor let them follow that direction. Long story short, the student discovered that not every statistical model was needed to create good conclusions.

This is the same with using lean or six sigma tools. Not every tool is needed for every job. It is necessary to know the tools and their uses. That way when there is a situation where planning or data is needed, the person is aware of the tool. These methods of organization are tools just like physical tools in a toolbox. If all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail. But if you have a well-stocked toolbox, then you can adapt to the job and the circumstances of the work that you need to perform. Part of being a mentor is to help equip someone with the tools they need at this stage of their career and the future they want to create for themselves.

It has taken a while to get to the point. The X-matrix is not a tool that is used in every single circumstance. If you need to help focus on the 3-5 year goals, your 1-year objectives, the metrics that need to be influenced, and your top-level priorities, this is a tool that can help bridge the short term to the long term. It helps to crystalize the actual plan. When I have been in a position where I was setting these visions, the x-matrix is invaluable. I routinely review the matrix with the top-level leadership to remind all of us about the top-level priorities. It helps to keep the safety mission on track while still making the necessary course corrections.

Next time I will walk through the process of using the x-matrix, but until then here is the blank copy that I use. Enjoy! 🙂