The UAE’s empathy expert, Mimi Nicklin, has written a new book that is part business tool, part corporate cultural guide and part social eye-opener. Focused on a new set of techniques she dubs Regenerative Leadership, in her book, titled Softening the Edge, Nicklin aims to help leaders increase the efficiency, wellness and performance of their organizations as well as keep top talent, motivate millennials and connect with leading clients, brands and communities. A week after the launch earlier this month, the book became a bestseller on Amazon.ae.
Nicklin, a writer and coach with a background in advertising, hosts the Empathy for Breakfast online morning show as well as the Secrets of The Gap podcast. Nicklin believes that empathic influence – a scientifically validated skill set – has the power to not only change business environments, but to change society for the better. The following is an excerpt adapted specifically for Livehealthy.ae:
Empathy. The decade’s most critical skill. As an author of a book all about empathy in business, leadership and community, I often come across people who question my research and opinions on wellness at work. “Is emotional intelligence valid in the hard-edged world of business?” they ask. It’s a long journey to changing the opinions of those at the top of the business tree. There are so many who believe that empathy, humility and connectivity are not currencies for the corporate world. Over the years there have been many naysayers who disagree with my conviction for empathy as a leadership trait to live by, but that in itself has been enough to keep me working around the clock.
My strong belief in human decency and kind leadership above all else means that I am profoundly saddened by the employee health issues plaguing our world today. Our wellbeing in the 5/7ths of the week we are at work is at an all-time low, with burnout at an all-time high. Why is it we are all so willing to watch this pass by? In recent years, seeing the health and emotional wellbeing of team members who were being stretched to the impossibly sharp edge of the moment when work entirely takes over has always been a painful experience for me. Life shouldn’t be this way. How long will we let our health and emotional wellbeing slide before we all say enough is enough?
Today I write and speak widely to try and support those in these hard-edged environments and to inspire those with the power to make a change to do just that. In our fraught world, where politicians and industry leaders debate matters that are vital to our health in isolation of action on the ground, I want to provoke that action.
A few years ago, I left my corporate career to set up a Yoga Therapy business committed to imparting the ancient knowledge of the East to help the corporate world heal, or at least ease some of the immense stress making us unwell and unhappy. I knew then that empathy was more important than ever, both to our teams and to ourselves, and is looking out for our bodies and minds. As our global context and competitive environments have tightened, with conflict, terror, and spiralling health issues bubbling underneath them, I recognized that we all need to at least try to move the needle toward a more sustainable state of corporate wellbeing. I had chosen yoga and ayurvedic health as my first path to making a difference and passionately followed my belief in empathy and wellness. I was entirely in awe of my new business. For a short time.
I also remember the exact moment I realised that the entrepreneurial life I had embarked on wasn’t the right path and it was time to go back into the corporate world.
The turning point
I was sitting at the dining room table in my countryside home in the winelands outside Cape Town. I had a handmade South African ceramic mug steaming next to me, with mint leaves from my garden. The sky was clear African blue, I was in love and I was a business owner. Life was good and I was passionately committed to attacking the stress endemic sweeping the globe and helping people across the corporate world get well again. I had an army of people around me willing me on.
Then the phone rang. And everything changed.
My father had had a heart attack on a British Airways plane heading from Cape Town into Heathrow. His heart and my world collapsed simultaneously and life was never quite the same. As the machines kept his heart pumping, my pulse didn’t stop racing and I booked a flight to go to him as soon as I could. With the genius of 21st century medical magic, he was healed and strong again within four months. I, however, was not. I was changed. In the split second between hanging up from that harrowing call and taking a moment to look out at my garden, I was hit with a sharp dose of clarity and I knew instantly that I was going back to my corporate career.
When faced suddenly with potential family tragedy, I realised two things instantly. First, I would never again put myself in a position where money would be a barrier between me and my loved ones (as an entrepreneur, the price of a last-minute long-haul flight had been a serious barrier), regardless of how much I believed in the vision. Dreams and goals would have to be reconsidered at a later date when they could be balanced with the security I needed for my family. Second, I realised that surrounding myself with people is absolutely integral to my own happiness. I don’t know why it was that phone call per se that made me realise that, but I realized that working alone was absolutely not on the top of my ‘things that motivate me’ list. I recognized that being able to connect daily with others was utterly key to my own wellbeing and beyond that, I began to understand that this wasn’t unique to me but was a deep-rooted reality for human beings.
There are many benefits to working for yourself. No line management slowing things down, no formal hours, no office politics or the potential for ‘toxic’ environments, no desperately sad gap in empathy driving morale down and resignations up. But what people don’t tell you is the other side. The fact that you no longer have anyone around you to invest in, or return the favour. There is no one to brainstorm with, no team to inspire, no one to travel the ups and downs of client life with, no one to teach you anything, share anything, or stop you in the corridor to say ‘well done.’ No one asks you for advice or shares a cup of tea with you, and you don’t get to spend your days helping others solve and thrive in their days. It. Is. Lonely.
I left corporate work because I could see the impact of the Empathy Deficit on our people, and I was hooked on trying to find a solve for this, but in the months that followed my father’s heart attack, I realised that I needed a change in focus if I was to find my own strength in continuing to deliver empathy at scale and that to really make that change, I needed to be in the corporate world.
- Adapted from Softening The Edge, which is out now and available on Amazon.ae and in all leading bookstores as well as via all major e-book and audiobook platforms.