Minter Dialogue with Dr Peter Sear
Dr Peter Sear is a psychologist, senior member of the Accredited Counsellors, Coaches, Psychotherapists and Hypnotherapists (ACCPH), founder of The Empathic Mind organisation, based in the UK, and author “Empathic Leadership, Lessons from Elite Sport,” published by Routledge. His book explores coaching in a number of sports, such as rugby, football, hockey and lacrosse and across a variety of countries and cultures. In this conversation, we discuss how empathic leadership has become more prevalent in sports, especially in helping to manage relationships, build trust and establish a strong line of communication. We look at the role of empathy in giving feedback, the notion of mattering and purpose for athletes, and the issue of governance and dealing with the owners. We also explore the crossovers of empathic leadership in sports into society and business, including notions of dealing with multi-cultural environments, high stress, male and female differences, as well as the immensely important challenge of developing trustworthy relationships.
Please send me your questions — as an audio file if you’d like — to email@example.com. Otherwise, below, you’ll find the show notes and, of course, you are invited to comment. If you liked the podcast, please take a moment to rate it here.
Other elements cited in the podcast:
- Article in the Journal of Business Ethics, Empathy in Leadership: Appropriate or Misplaced? An Empirical Study on a Topic That is Asking for Attention, by Svetlana Holt and Joan Marques, Woodbury University, Burbank CA.
- The Lee Mears interview on Minter Dialogue
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Music credit: The jingle at the beginning of the show is courtesy of my friend, Pierre Journel, author of the Guitar Channel. And, the new sign-off music is “A Convinced Man,” a song I co-wrote and recorded with Stephanie Singer back in the late 1980s (please excuse the quality of the sound!).
Full transcript via Otter.ai
SUMMARY KEYWORDS: empathy, empathic, coach, athletes, sports, players, performance, talk, team, notion, business, feel, book, understand, leadership, peter, emotions, part, people, feedback
SPEAKERS: Minter Dial, Peter Sear
Minter Dial 00:06
Hello, welcome to Minter Dialogue, episode number 551. My name is Minter Dial and I’m your host for this podcast, a most proud member of the Evergreen Podcast Network. For more information or to check out other shows on this network, go visit evergreenpodcasts.com. So, this week’s interview is with Dr. Peter Cyr. Peter is a psychologist, senior member of the accredited counselors, coaches psychotherapists and hypnotherapist in Britain, founder of the empathic mind organization based in the UK, and as far as this talk is concerned, the author of empathic leadership lessons from elite sport, published by Routledge. His book explores coaching in a number of sports such as rugby, football, ice, hockey and lacrosse, across a variety of countries and cultures are really interesting read. And in this conversation, we discuss how empathic leadership has become more prevalent in schools, especially in helping to manage relationships, build trust, and establish a strong line of communication. We look at the role of empathy and giving feedback, the notion of mattering and purpose for athletes, and the issue of governance and dealing with the owners. We also explored the crossovers of empathic leadership and sports into society and business, including ideas of dealing with multicultural environments, high stress, male and female differences, as well as the immensely important challenge of developing trustworthy relationships. You’ll find all the shownotes on Minterdial.com. And if you have a moment, go over and drop in a reading and review because that’s the lifeblood of all podcasts. And then don’t forget to subscribe to catch all the future episodes. Now for the show. Dr. Peter Singer, how lovely to have you on my show. I have I just devoured your book, it’s called “Empathic leadership, lessons from elite sports,” and you do indeed have a lot of lessons from a lot of sports. So, it’s a real whirlwind of the world, and of so many different sports. Great book, I would encourage everybody to read it, but in your own words, Peter, who are you?
Peter Sear 02:32
Thanks for that introduction. And thanks for reading the book. So, I’m a psychologist, I’ve been studying psychology since the mid 90s. always been really interested in people and behavior and why people do the things they do. I base that book on my PhD, which came after doing a degree in psychology, a master’s in human resource management and a master’s in human post union studies. And the PhD was understanding empathic leadership in elite sport. And it was kind of a combination of my interest in psychology, because I found that as I studied psychology from a variety of perspectives, emotions were always my sort of area of interest as, as drivers of behavior or inhibitors of behavior, perhaps. And I thought that empathy and Compustat. And so, if I could study empathy, within a context that I really was interested in as well, which is sport, then it would give me sort of more understanding of the human condition. And that proves that there are certain ways that I believe in leading people, and human relationships, I think, is a fundamental part of that and understanding each other. So, I wanted to explore that and see if it was occurring in a competitive environment. Because I thought if it was, if it was competing, if it was, if it was occurring in a competitive environment like elite sport, then that would be evidence that it’s something that’s very important and should be explored in all arenas.
Minter Dial 04:17
So, what about your interest in sports? What tell us about that? This isn’t clear in the book where what sort of sportsman you are what you like to do, although there’s a lot of rugby, so I’m guessing…
Peter Sear 04:27
No, you’re wrong with the rugby I did actually play one game for the school team at rugby, but that was when they were short. And they just used to recruit people in from the football team. So, yeah, football was my sport. I was playing football. From the age of four. I remember my mum line to the sports center locally to get me in because you had to be five and my cousin was already playing. And I wasn’t happy with that. So, I managed to get in and I was we learned a lot of skills at the local sports center. And that was always my preferred sort of part of the sport, the sort of technical, skillful side. And I played football through my youth, every day in my life, just playing all the time. I played for my county at schools, I played for Essex County at school, I was at Watford FC as a youth player till I was about 15-16. And I actually left there. So, I’m quite proud of the fact I didn’t get released by a club, I left. I wasn’t enjoying it at the time. And maybe there’s something that has stayed in me, that may have been something to do with why I wrote that book as well, because I saw a lot of people leaving as well, who were really good players. And some of the people that were getting retained and putting them in the youth team, weren’t necessarily the best players, but they were people who just did what they were told and didn’t ask any questions. And I saw things differently even then. I thought that asking questions was important and understanding what you were doing. And the reasons you were doing it was were important. And I also wanted to be sort of recognized for who I was, and what my strengths were. And I didn’t see any of that going on. And so, when I reflected later in life on that, and when I came to do the PhD, you know, that was something that I had strong in my mind; that was not part of sport back then. He was a very autocratic coach, who is — it’s a cliché — but it really was his way or the highway, you know. And I guess back then I chose the highway because I just didn’t want to do it his way. I didn’t want to be run into the ground around the streets and do lots of physical training without ever touching a football. I wanted to just play football, you know, when I wanted the ball. And there wasn’t a lot of that going on in the sort of mid to late 80s. Watford Youth….
Minter Dial 06:51
So, lots of things within there, but we both actually, as we just found out before we started recording, that we support the same Premier League team, the Reds of Liverpool. And the little story in my head says, well back in those days I used to support Liverpool in the first Watford in the second, Wrexham in the third, and Torquay, because I knew the son of the owner, in the fourth division as it was called back in those days. And so, I have a strong thought in my mind, which is Watford and Liverpool and John Toshack. There was always a link between the two. John Barnes. John Barnes well before it wasn’t a tough act. Didn’t Toshack leave Liverpool to manage?
Peter Sear 07:41
He went to Swansea, I think, to manage Swansea. That’s it? Yeah, yeah. John balance was at Liverpool and then was at Watford and then went to Liverpool. Yeah, he was like my hero growing up. I mean, before that, when I was really young, it was Dalglish. And then, then John Barnes was really my hero. Yeah, right. I remember being away one year and my girlfriend wrote to me and said that she’d met John Barnes and had danced with him in a nightclub, and I wasn’t sure which side I was more jealous of. He really was my hero. Yeah. phenomenal.
Minter Dial 08:18
So, in your book, you start off by laying out the premise that empathic leadership is interesting, because it’s helpful in relationship management, building trust, and communications. So, in this, it’s super relevant to business and life, not just in sports. I’m still interested, though, in the nuance between, whereas you mentioned before this notion of the emotions because you talk about the emotional aspect of a business that you call about the emotional cauldron of sports. So, to what extent it’s applicable and not applicable in life. If I start with this idea, you talked about emotions, but the emotional cauldron seems to be a less appropriate term for business.
Peter Sear 09:14
Yeah, I think, I think that sports seems to height and everything. So, if you look at something like transparency, compared to business, there’s more transparency with sport, because the performance is laid out there every week for the customers or fans to watch. It’s dissected death by media, pundits, people in the pub. It’s the whole business. Everyone from top to bottom is analyzed. You know, fans will know who the CEO is, they will know who the chairman is. They’ll know who the coaches are, you know, in every part of their lives. He’s looked at even the personal lives of these people and players and everything. So, it’s very transparent in industry. So, I think it tests that more than any other industry could contest. The emotional quarter part is, with, again, with performance you’ve got a sports team will perform once, maybe twice a week, typically sports teams. And so, there’s that reaction to results is going to have a massive effect to the emotions in the climate at the club. So, you know, if you lose two games in a row, the mood in the whole environment, it’s going to be very different. So, if you’re on a strong winning run, and that affects everything, so one of the biggest jobs of the leader, then the head coach is to turn that round, you know, how do you get these people believing and enjoying their work again, because we do whatever work we do, whether it’s business or football or any sport, we do our best work when we’re enjoying ourselves, and we feel happy about it. So, I think that’s become a huge part of sports become more intense, if you like, and those react those reactions to performances and personal performances as well. That’s something that the coach has become more pressure to get involved with and concentrate on, because it just I think it’s just understood to be a bigger part of his job.
Minter Dial 11:13
Now, I was wondering, in how you talk about that, to what extent, things have changed in a way that has made empathic leadership more appropriate. So, for me, the way I would lead into that contextually, would be to say, it’s my observation that in sports in particular, we’ve now bought in so much money into it, it’s real commerce back in the 80s. You know, Trevor Francis, 1 million pounds, right? Now, we’re talking about hundreds of millions, Salah or whoever. And, and then there’s also the arrival of data, where the not only is everything scrutinized, everything can be tracked how many passes you made to the left foot in the game, how many passes were accurate, how many fucked up on and all that. So, the data, which tends to be an unemotional idea, and has maybe with also the addition to the fact that it’s a lot of money, then mediatic attention, which, you know, hyper, hyper evaluating, and analyzing everything, like you’re saying, how all of this has contributed to the need, as in, it’s a reaction to having more empathic leadership?
Peter Sear 12:32
Well, we have seen enormous increase in the amount of data collection and analysis. And I think the biggest thing missing from that emotions are very difficult to quantify. So, that’s where I see empathic leadership coming in is that you can’t just have somebody counting things like emotions on the sideline, you can’t, you can’t put it into numbers. So, there’s lots of programs been developed software on athletes to be able to sort of judge what sort of level they’re playing and everything, but they usually just focus on all these different statistics and emotions just doesn’t come into it. So, there’s, there’s a massive variable there that’s affecting performance. That’s not recorded. And I think, I call it I don’t know whether I call it in the book, but I’ve caught it in articles. Empathy is, us as humans, our greatest form of data collection, it’s, it’s the most human form of data collection is how we’ve always collected data on other people. It’s by observing, getting to know getting to understand, and then being able to predict once we’ve got that information, we can predict behavior, we can predict performance, we can allocate tasks appropriately, we can, we can use the information that we collect, that we collect through empathy, in just as greater if not greater ways than the statistics collected on the sideline by more computer literate people.
Minter Dial 14:07
That was one of the first sentences that raised my eyebrows, as I was reading the book is “empathy is knowledge.” That was the first time I’ve ever come across that specific framing. And this idea of data collection, for sure. But do you know of any good way to measure empathy?
Peter Sear 14:32
I think that’s really difficult. There are some scales that used to measure entropy, they usually sort of self-reporting, or people who work in businesses have had people who work beneath them, right, the leader for empathy, but it’s a very difficult thing to quantify.
Minter Dial 14:48
As much as we’re talking about knowledge and data, yeah, it’s not you can say, Well, you got 100 out of 100 in history, or you know, 62% of how much he’s feeling this?
Peter Sear 14:53
Yeah, it’s very difficult. Yeah, I think I think the biggest thing to measure in that is probably perceived empathy. So, by going to the people that are being led, or that are in teams in sport, for example, and I mean, they’ve got to be the target of, of this understanding of how empathic the leader is, because they should be, they should be feeling that empathy, they should be aware of it, they should be seeing it on a daily basis, like head coaches, talked about transparency earlier, it’s not just the fans watching everything, these athletes, watch everything that coach does. So, when a head coach is dealing with another athlete, the rest of the squad are not ignoring that situation, if there’s a personal problem going on, maybe with an athlete and the coach is dealing with it, every other athlete will be keeping an eye on that situation as much as possible. And that information they’ll use, they’ll think, when so and so I had that going on, he was really good with him or she was really good with her. So, I know I can go to them with my issue, and that it’s not going to come back on me in a negative way. So, if a coach has been seen to say to a player, like I know you’re going through this personal situation or divorce or something like that, I’m not going to drop you from the team would come to me and talk about anything you need to talk about. And we’ll just carry on as normal, then the next person that comes along, who’s going through something similar conduct to the coach with the confidence that they’re not going to react negatively, and they’re going to be there to support them. So, that sort of observation and that perception of the coaches and empathic guy understands, you know, he, he, he wants to know, what’s going on with us and how we feel about it. That’s a perception of empathy. And I think that’s really powerful. So, I think that the best people to measure it would be the people being led by I don’t know how you quantify, it’s a very difficult thing to do. I mean, you could get them to write it. That’s what that’s what the scales do at the moment, you can get just writings from different people about different leaders. But it’s just those everyday experiences. And it’s, it’s about being empathic the whole time as well, it’s not going to coach coming in and saying, right, I’m going to be an empathic leader. Now, I’ve read this book, however good the bookies. It’s got to be something that is part of who they are. So, it’s, it’s evident in all of their behavior, it runs through their blood. So, when they’re observing how the coach treats other people, whether it’s, it might not even be other athletes, it might be the opposition, the respect that they show the opposition, that indicates what sort of person is leading them. And I had coaches, one of the coaches that I interviewed for the research that I did, she said that their main rivals, they used to have really aggressive encounters the two teams. And she thinks that that filter down from the aggressive sort of relationship she had with the opposition coach, and that they were always arguing over decisions on the touch line and things like that. One day, maybe because she got a bit older, she realized that, you know, is this the best thing for my players, because they’re reacting from what they see me do. And so, she started to sort of understand the perspective of the opposing coach and realized, obviously, that they’re in the same boat as her, they’re doing the same job as her. And they started to get on a lot better. And she found that the rest of the team’s performances stopped being so aggressive. But there was no less effort there. The effort to win was still there, but it was more controlled. And it was a positive experience for her. So, everything these coaches do, as I say, has been observed and the way they are with other people, whether it’s opposition press, other staff, it really makes an impact on the athlete and what sort of performance and behavior you’re going to get out there.
Minter Dial 19:14
Yeah, this notion of the emotional element, and you can use emotions and stress to good and bad. And I’d certainly be interested to know how she approached that antipathy that she had with the other coach, because I think there’s a lot to be learned in how to draw down confrontation, replace the ego. And I would typically say, but that’s a sexist remark that women are more aware of that idea that men were the ego that takes the quadrant position. But one of the things I want to push back on Peter is this notion of perception of empathy. I tend to in my work, think of emission in reception, but not necessarily emitting anything Because I believe that empathy is merely understanding and doesn’t necessarily mean showing the understanding. That’s what comes afterwards. So, for example, I might see you playing on the pitch and, and I see, you mentioned, let’s say, a divorce, where a bad relationship, and I might talk to the other person. Because that’s what I believe is the right empathic action, the action that should follow, but the player might not see it, it may never be revealed. So, this notion of perception suggests that there must be an empathic action, but sometimes no action is what’s requested or just listening, which is hard to observe, if you will, because when you’re the speaker, you don’t realize you’re just been listened to almost you sort of get into your Me-Me-Me mode.
Peter Sear 20:58
Yeah, I agree with that empathy is just about the understanding stage. And the way you react to that understanding is totally up to you, you know, you can be an empathic person who uses that information in a very negative way, very antisocial way. Indeed, one of the ways in which a head coach can use empathy is to understand the opposition coach to understand the opposition players, and then use that to strategize against them. So, with the perception and not displaying it, I think these things always come out. I mean, you’re right, sometimes the display of behavior might have behavior might be entirely absent. So, coach might understand what a player is going through and decide not to act at all. And then your question, obviously, is alluding to does the player know that the coach has understood him. But I think there’s always going to be a moment where there’s some sort of recognition that that understanding has taken place, in something they do. And if things like that, there might be, there might be things that don’t come out at all, but I think they’ll always be other examples, more to do with the performance side of the game, where the coach will understand what’s going on. And that’s always going to be coming out because the relationship and the communication is dynamic, between a coach and a player about what’s going on with their performance, whether it’s half time, full time or training the following week, there’s going to be discussions about performance. And I think, empathy will come out in that conversation, because it will soon become apparent to the athlete, whether the coach really gets them and understands, you know, what motivates them, why they might be feeling a bit down about the way they’re playing, or maybe any sort of issue or problem they’re having, and how the coach reacts to that. So, I think there are always opportunities for the athlete to, to judge whether that coach has been empathic towards them.
Minter Dial 22:59
It feels like, we often need to find proxies for empathy, not specific to the word. For example, the consequence of my empathy is a performance. And another element that seems interesting, which is hard for the individual to observe, but as a group, when a coach knows how to speak differently to Peter than to Paul, Mary, and I shift my communication style. But Peter may not see that I’ve shifted, all he knows is he’s talking to me in the right way. But he might not even consider that as empathy, if you see what I mean, because it’s sort of like petting a dog in the right way. Oh, well, he’s petting me the right way. That’s what I need. That’s how it is. If he’s not doing that, oh, he pisses me off. He’s rubbing my fur he wrong way. Well, ah, and he walks away. But he doesn’t necessarily associate the right petting with empathy.
Peter Sear 23:57
Yeah, I’m sure there’s very few athletes in fact, that actually considered the word empathy. Maybe more recently, they do because it’s become more of a part of the discourse, but I’m sure there are plenty that don’t. So, I think then it just comes down to sort of an overall feeling. How does this coach make me feel? You know, I’m sure I’m sure we’ve all had anybody that’s been involved in sport, have had encounters with coaches that we think are really like playing for this this person, you know, they, they made me feel good, I enjoy when I when I turn up each day, I’m glad to be in his presence, you know, and other people that you think I wouldn’t really care if I didn’t spend time with this person again, you know, it just it doesn’t. It doesn’t make me feel that I want to put in more effort for the team is just not noticing me. It’s not approachable, that’s just the way it makes me feel. So, it might not be understood explicitly in the form of empathy, but I think it’s understood, sort of consciously or even subcon Just laying the way somebody makes you feel.
Minter Dial 25:01
And just circling back to another point, you know, you end up showing up a lot of professionals paid to show up. So, as a, you know, pundit or a fan, we say, hey, look how much we pay this person. And we now that so much money in it, you know, there’s, well, they’re being paid, they should show up. But it turns out that it’s a great example of just money, not just get, you know, performance, you obviously have some parents who are just worth that money, if you will, where he’s perception wise, thanks to the television, her licenses or whatever. But one of the things we can transfer in business is that motivation, ultimately, isn’t through money. It’s going to be through doing things legacy, the to the relationships, that everything that helps with the empathy. And one of the topics that’s of critical importance to me, in my work, where I work a lot of businesses more than sports, like you, is this notion of mattering, that you bring up in the book, this idea of having a purpose. And so, you got two teams, two coaches, and both teams say, Well, what are we here for? What’s our purpose, and our purpose is to win. And we’re going to set a goal of winning the championship or winning this or whatever, beating the rivals Merseyside. How, how do you see the word or the notion of purpose and empathy meeting together? And how specifically, would that have a role? In other words, beyond just winning in sports?
Peter Sear 26:39
I think that’s another thing that the head coaches got to understand about each athlete, you know, what is their personal unique motivation for being there for performing every game. And I think that’s an additional pressure that’s increased in recent years, because each athlete not only has the team to worry about their own performance to worry about, but they start to have their own brand to worry about as well. So, there’ll be athletes out there who are more concerned with their own brand and how that’s doing maybe their Instagram, their Instagram page. Yeah, and maybe even earning more money out of their own brand than they are out of playing, you know, for sponsorships and, and maybe thinking about their subsequent career once they’re finished in the sport, you know, what things are best for that. So, I think that’s, you know, something extra for coaches to understand these days. But I had an example of that one coach told me that his team had lost the game. But one of his players had scored a couple of goals and gone straight back home and put it on social media about how one has scored a hattrick. Right. Yeah. Right. And, and he had to have a conversation to say, you know, can you see can you see how this looks to the other players, you know, how are they going to be thinking about you now? How it sort of just brings the whole squad down to see that sort of behavior that you’re not there for them? You’re there for yourself? And that’s it. So, I think it’s a something that’s become more and more prevalent for the coach to understand.
Minter Dial 28:12
In the building of trust, which is necessary in order to establish safe spaces, an ability to be vulnerable and such, I’ve long maintained that trust is not based on competency. It is based on personal attitude and relationships. And in business, it’s almost a dirty word, this idea of personal. You know, we’re here for professional reasons. You got a job to do and you know, what happens at home stays at home not in Vegas but at home. And but in my I’ve had a number of sports people on my podcast, sports, specifically who play rugby because that’s my sport in general. Excuse me and I had Lee Mears, for example, the Lions player, captain of England and captain of Bath I think talking about this notion of captaining leading in those three different areas professional team, national team and then the Lions which is a whole other category of transnational pride, but the notion of trust — and in my little mind — I have this idea that because I’m throwing my body on the line that ups the ante about trust amongst one another. Where the more physical the giving in a team like ice hockey, you have a lot of references to ice hockey which I absolutely adore a sport as well. Whereas other sports is more about, like a relay, while you’re being physical, but it’s not only you giving your body you’re just running your course you’re transferring the baton, but there’s not like you’re laying your already down at risk of peril, kind of feeling. I was wondering what you think about that?
Peter Sear 30:06
I suppose that is something additional for the athletes to be concerned about. And if they don’t feel that, it gives them a bigger reason, I guess to expect empathy and to be able to perceive empathy, not only in their head coach, but in the team around them. And in my book, I talk about a lot of the work that head coaches do to improve the empathy in teams so that players feel it from each other as well. So, you mentioned trust, I think, I think trust and empathy both come from getting to know people better. And that’s one of the things that coaches aim to do is to make sure that each athletes were introduced to his teammates, and they do certain things like ask for sort of them to share biographical stories about where they came from a lot. I mean, sports, a real great testing ground in the as an industry, it’s full of people from different cultures and countries working together. I don’t think that there’s probably a few industries that can compete in that way. And so, it becomes even more important for these guys to understand the lives that they’ve had up to that point, the hardships they’ve gone through, and that gives them an idea of what it means to that athlete to be where they are. And once we get to know and understand each other, and the ship, the sharing of personal information as well, that increases trust, because if we see somebody is willing to open themselves up and tell us things about their lives, perhaps things that have upset them in the past, or obstacles they’ve had to get over, then that opens up a channel of trust, I think, and it brings people closer together, I think it makes it makes you feel more, I think the closest thing you can think of is a family. So, in most families, you know, you trust each other because you know each other inside out, it’s not only trust that brings it’s it’s been able to predict behavior and emotions as well. So, the greater you know, somebody, if you walk into a room with you, your sibling, for example. And there’s a certain atmosphere in that room, you’ll know how your sibling is feeling. And that’s the kind of level of knowledge about other athletes that a coach wants to bring these days, is to really be able to predict how situations are going to make their colleagues feel. And if they can do that, and share the hack, happy to sort of share their lives with each other, then that brings them closer together and 10 occasions obviously a very important thing to coaches.
Minter Dial 32:53
This notion of cultural differences really interesting. And going back to the into your head with Lee, the there’s those that multicultural reality that you’re bound to have in a professional team. Because they can come from anywhere, or there are certain national elements you can only have four people from outside or whatever, depending on the sport, but that’s multicultural. At the national level, it tends to be less multicultural. I mean, you can come from different places, there’s different elements, and then you’re flying the flag together. And then he describes the story of being on two Lions tours and how one was a flop and one was a success. And he attributed their success and I want to get it more or less right. Lee, if you’re listening is the captain in in posed some time off the pitch. And said you have this time. And this is time just to get together you have a budget for beer. And my door is always open. And so, this notion of getting to know you getting to understand make bridges with you, even if you’re Welsh and I’m English or Scottish and Irish, whatever, what we will unite you will be that personal bonding. And so, that’s going to be true in the Lions game. And it’s going to be true at the club, less a little less so — although in a different way anyway, at the national level — because you all come from the same country at least, but you’ll all have different paths to there, surely, and all that.
Peter Sear 34:26
Yeah. So, in some sports, lacrosse, for example, because it’s a smaller sport in a number of lacrosse competitors who are youth age, etc. are not as great as something like football for example. So, a lot of the people competing internationally at lacrosse know each other from when they were kids. They’ve been playing together since then. And the head coach of the lacrosse team told me that that is a really important part of these of his team cohesion because these guys They’re like family, they’ve known each other, since they were so young that he’s like being a family. I had international rugby coach telling me something similar as well about he was coaching a smaller international team. And a lot of these guys knew each other, they knew members of the families, that other people, you know, it really brought them closer together. And no matter how long there was between international fixtures, since they got back together, again, they were just really tight, like they hadn’t been away from each other, because they just like you say they had so much in common, and that included relationships. So, I think that can have a huge effect. And that’s the that closeness is what head coaches of teams with multi cultures and multi nationalities in is aiming for that sort of tight community. And that brings a lineman, it brings a lot of things, you know, but more than anything, that that understanding of the person, that’s next you, fighting with you. And that also crosses to communication that you mentioned earlier about the coach, knowing how to talk to certain players. That is the same for athletes themselves, you know, they see someone might not be having a great game, there’ll be different ways through knowing them that they know they should talk to that person to try and get them back in, in a positive mindset.
Minter Dial 36:25
Makes me think of feedback. Which coaches of course, have to do a lot of and I recently did a session with about 30 doctors about feedback and in the link with empathy in feedback. How is empathy and feedback necessary? Or what’s the play within the sports field?
Peter Sear 36:50
Feedback from the coaches? I spoke to coaches a lot about this. Firstly, about the mode of feedback, you know, how do we meet when we’re giving feedback to individual athletes? For example? Do we do it via text? Do we do it on the phone? Do we do it on Zoom? Do we do it in person, and all of them want to do it in person primarily, if it’s possible, they want to be in the room with the person. So, when they’re given the feedback, the coach can take knowledge from the reaction to the feedback primarily. So, not just by what the athlete says, but how you react, how they react. So, they might be reacting by sitting there tapping their foot, which you wouldn’t see on a zoom call, for example, they might be reacting by chewing their fingernails or, or shaking their head in disagreement, what’s been said. But the, the communication with feedback as well. Another thing that the head coaches got across to me was, it should be a real dynamic community education, it shouldn’t be just, I’m talking to you on giving you feedback, it should be more of a discussion about what’s going on. And so, there should be some sort of understanding of where that performance was at between the two people, not one person giving their view. And that understanding comes through more empathic communication. So, you can use techniques like asking the other person, how they think. By asking the other person what they’ve heard, the coach sighs and the coach says the athlete, from what I’ve just said, how do you understand how I feel about your performance, keep almost asking them to repeat back to remain, yeah, to make sure that it’s been understood. And so, that’s a really important part of feedback. I think each coach gets to learn as well, how sort of hard or harsh they can be with feedback with certain athletes, and how others might need a little bit more, you know, confidence boost for their feedback. So, it’s going to be tailored uniquely. And the more the coach gets to know each individual athlete, the better and more accurately you can tailor that.
Minter Dial 39:09
So, as we wind down that I wanted to ask, what are the downsides of empathic leadership? The context within which I put this is that it feels for me that there’s a big swing that’s happened away from the autocratic coach the autocratic CEO. And we should do what you want, we should do what you feel as opposed to what we need. Or we as a team, and the individuals’ presence, the individuality of our society, not to mention ego and narcissism, which we little bit referring to about, you know, the woman who went and ranted on about her hattrick. What are the downsides? Do you see downsides? If you read your book, everything is good about empathy. Yeah, and I understand that. But you do talk a little bit about the downsides, but where, how, and when is empathic leadership going to go wrong?
Peter Sear 40:14
Well, this is something I was cautious not to focus on too much when doing a literature review for the PhD, etc, you’ve got to make sure that you look into everything, you know. So, the downsides of empathy that are discussed in the literature, particularly things like burnout, if if a leader is trying to understand the emotional, the emotions, the lives of all the people that they’re leading, and in sport, this is, this is a big task, because unlike 20 years ago, or so the squad sizes are bigger, the staff sizes are bigger, there’s more media people to understand there’s more people in the business in general to understand. So, if they’re taking on all these people’s lives, and emotions, is that going to be too draining for them to cope with? So, I put this to the head coaches, and all of them came back with the same answer, that they’re sharing in so many positive experiences with their athletes, that that is a positive impact on them. And the draining aspect doesn’t come into it, it. They, a few of them said that the burnout came from maybe working too many hours or not spend enough time at home, things like that. But it wasn’t ever because the emotional demands put on them by being a more empathic leader.
Minter Dial 41:33
Well, of course, there is the notion of the empath, who feels too much, when everybody everywhere, and that can be a burden, for example, in the in the hospital, the hospital, or in other areas, so that that certainly something I don’t know, I, I can see how it can be a positive yet, when performance isn’t there. And that stress comes in, and you say, Oh, I’ve got to be empathic. There’s, there’s always this pressure with time being the factor in the middle. Because the way I see it, empathic leadership needs more time.
Peter Sear 42:11
Yeah, I think that’s that sort of situation is a reminder of what empathy is, it’s about understanding. So, we understand in that situation, where things are going badly, the job of the coach, The Empathic Coach, is to understand what those athletes need to turn it around. So, it’s not about, you know, feeling sorry for them or that it’s not about compassion, it’s about understanding the true needs for those athletes to turn their performances around. And it might be a bit of compassion, it might be a kick up the backside, it, it could be anything. I had one coach who just called Training off after about 10 minutes one day, because he’s his athletes weren’t on the ball. And he sent them all home. And that was just like, a real mark of how he felt in just one piece of behavior. And the athletes came in the next day in a completely different mode. So, he clearly understood that they needed a real sort of shop. And so, an empathic coach will understand what the athletes need. I think that’s what’s most important thing to remember.
Minter Dial 43:18
There, like the reset. I want to finish on another topic, because that’s something that I thought particularly insightful, was the notion that many coaches you write in the book, say that the hardest part of their job is actually dealing with the bosses. And I talk about this a lot in empathic cultures, where the governance element, ownership, if you, at the very top, don’t have empathy, but you are expected to have empathy down below, that dissonance, that disassociation is toxic?
Peter Sear 43:57
Yes, certainly, yeah. I think I gave some examples in my book, where the athletes actually saw what was going on above the coach. And that’s probably having a negative effect on their commitment to the organization as a whole. They might feel committed to the coach and the team. But if they see people above behaving badly, and not in the interest of the organization, or not demonstrating any empathy towards people below them in the organization, including the athletes, and that’s going to have a negative impact on them and their performance. I think, I don’t think business that when you go above the plain sight of a sports organization, you’re talking about more of a bit of a typical business. And I don’t think business as a whole is the greatest sort of area of empathy is it in fact, the word business often gets used as an excuse not to be empathic or compassionate, doesn’t it? It’s business that’s why I’ve just trained you.
Minter Dial 44:53
Don’t take this personally, but you’re a piece of shit.
Peter Sear 44:55
Exactly! It’s business. So, that to me says that business has the greatest opportunity with empathy. There’s the biggest gap there of anything of any industry. If people are working in business like that, and treating people like numbers rather than human beings, then that presents the greatest area of potential, I think. I know there was a study in about 2014 of different academic institutes or houses in the university. And I think business came out about bottom for empathy and understanding of the importance of empathy. I think economics out of all the business schools were the worst.
Minter Dial 45:48
Well, that’s an indictment folks from my business school INSEAD. I would love to have that steady. But last point, then, without a notion of governance and ownership. And if you mentioned this, and it was the growing distance between fans and athletes, which is kind of odd at some level, to the extent that it’s very obvious when you’re on the pitch, how quickly you’re being booed, how quickly they’re cheering for you. Yet, this gap, and I suspect that same sort of gap has been happening with the professionalization and media money going into professional sports, how there’s a gap also between the players and the owners, because the owners are probably very wealthy, you know, could be Russian could be American, whatever. And they’re not really in contact with the players.
Peter Sear 46:38
It’s very similar in our political system in the UK as well. There seems to be a huge gap between what the leaders are taught how they live their lives, and how other people live theirs. And you’re right, you’ve got owners of professional football clubs arriving by helicopter, coming in from a different country, often just for the game. Whereas if you go back a few decades, athletes, fans, possibly people working above in the club, but maybe even owners might have seen each other in cars or on the bus on the way in. So, it has been a real big part of it. And I think social media has probably offered a little bit of an opportunity for engagement with players and people above in the club. But, you know, again, that’s, that’s not the same as meeting people in person and getting to know them and be able to understand each other’s worlds.
Minter Dial 47:31
It makes me think of how mom and pop shops or maybe clubs in the Fourth Division back in our days, you know, how the owner would be on the sidelines, we’d be going to trainings and, and we’ll be having breaking bread with them. You also have entrepreneurs in the business world, they’re they’re very much involved, and it’s their skin and blood and, and their livelihood. And but it’s also them, they’re in it. And then all of a sudden, you sort of go up a few levels and becomes a corporation, Sister contract, you know, got these bigger things. And then we just have too many layers in between us, or just very different ways we roll pizza. It has been an absolute pleasure chatting with us. I absolutely didn’t cover all my questions are. But I hope it is stimulated some of our listeners to go and get your book, “Empathic Leadership,” which is in hardcover and paperback here and hard in paper, lessons from elite sport by Dr. Peter Singer by Rutledge, publisher. Any closing words? And how can people should they wish to hire you get in touch with you follow it you up to writing and reading? Don’t listen to your courses I What is the best?
Peter Sear 48:46
I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on Twitter, as @DrPeteSear. You can find me at empathicminds.org, as well. And yeah, I like to help leaders in the industry using what I’ve learned from psychology in school. And any organizations who think there’s a gap there that empathy offers potential for, because I think, you know, I don’t need to persuade you, but it offers a huge amount to any company wants to improve their performance.
Minter Dial 49:17
And what’s unique, Peter, about your offer, as opposed to usually being like an athlete who’s come in and this is how I did and performance management, that you are really actually at the core of the management principle within sports. So, that’s why I’d highly recommend anybody get in touch you, Peter. Many, many thanks.
Peter Sear 49:34
Thank you. It’s been wonderful, thanks.
Minter Dial 49:39
So, a really heartfelt thanks for listening to this episode of The Minter Dialogue podcast. If you liked the show, please remember to subscribe on your favourite podcast service. As ever, rating and reviews are the real currency of podcasts. And if you’re really inspired, I’m accepting donations on www.patreon.com/Minterdial. You’ll find the show notes with over 2100 blog posts on minterdial.com on topics ranging from leadership to branding, tech and marketing tips. Check out my documentary film and books including my last one, the second edition of “Heartificial Empathy, Putting Heart into Business and Artificial Intelligence” that came out in April 2023. And to finish here’s a song I wrote with Stephanie Singer, “A Convinced Man.”
I like the feel of a stranger
Tucked around me
Precipitating the danger
To feel free
Trust is the reason
Still I won’t toe the line.
I sit here passively
Hope for your respect
Anticipating the thrill of your intellect
Maybe I tell myself
There’s no use in me lying.
I’m a convinced man,
Building an urge
A convinced man,
To live and die submerged.
A convinced man,
In the arms of a woman
I’m a convinced man
Challenge my fate
I’m a convinced man
A convinced man
In the arms of a woman.
And struggle to see
Live for the challenge
So, life’s not incomplete
What’s wrong with challenge
I know soon we all die
I’m a convinced man
Practicing my lines
I’m a convinced man
Here in these confines
A convinced man
In the arms of a woman.
I’m a convinced man
Put me to the test
I’m a convinced man
I’m ready for an arrest
I’m a convinced man
In the arms of a woman.
I’m a convinced man… so convinced
You convince me, yeah baby,
I’m a convinced man
In the arms of a woman…
Minter Dial is an international professional speaker, author & consultant on Leadership, Branding and Transformation. After a successful international career at L’Oréal, Minter Dial returned to his entrepreneurial roots and has spent the last twelve years helping senior management teams and Boards to adapt to the new exigencies of the digitally enhanced marketplace. He has worked with world-class organisations to help activate their brand strategies, and figure out how best to integrate new technologies, digital tools, devices and platforms. Above all, Minter works to catalyse a change in mindset and dial up transformation. Minter received his BA in Trilingual Literature from Yale University (1987) and gained his MBA at INSEAD, Fontainebleau (1993). He’s author of four award-winning books, including Heartificial Empathy, Putting Heart into Business and Artificial Intelligence (2nd edition) (2023); You Lead, How Being Yourself Makes You A Better Leader (Kogan Page 2021); co-author of Futureproof, How To Get Your Business Ready For The Next Disruption (Pearson 2017); and author of The Last Ring Home (Myndset Press 2016), a book and documentary film, both of which have won awards and critical acclaim.
👉🏼 It’s easy to inquire about booking Minter Dial here.