Best-selling author, Creative CEO and empathy advocate, Mimi Nicklin, shares her thoughts on the culture of modern entrepreneurship.
Q&A WITH MIMI NICKLIN
Reflecting on your own experiences as a female founder, have you encountered many challenges as a result of your gender?
Mimi Nicklin (MN): As a female founder of a global marketing agency, we work across a variety of cultures, and that means I can spend a lot of my time as one of the only women in the room. I have often faced the reality of men only speaking to other men or replying to a man when I have asked the question, so I’ve developed strategies to reclaim my voice and power in these situations. If this happens during a meeting, I recognise the shift and ensure the focus tips back at the right time, and I regain leadership of the meeting as necessary. Inclusion is the core of everything we do as a company, so I try to create a space for wider, positive discussion while staying aware of cultural sensitivities.
In your opinion, what role does empathy play in shaping a successful CEO?
MN: As the environments we work within become ever tougher and sharper edged, especially in the ongoing tumultuous global reality, we are seeing employee productivity and performance dwindle. We have a deep problem at the exact point where humanity meets capitalism, and there is a lack of balance between the two which is impacting the performance, motivation, and capability of team members. This is a problem fuelled by three key parts. First, an ubiquitous obsession with growth at all costs which sees employee wellness drop in importance; second, a never-ending stress cycle which is impacting staff at all levels; and third, a widespread disconnection between our people and corporate culture at an unprecedented scale. Hybrid remote working fuels the complexities of these further. A successful CEO must balance the ability of their employees in delivering whilst committing to their sustainable wellness as people in doing so. The ‘E’ in CEO today would benefit from becoming ‘empathy’ to achieve this.
What led you to write your book, Softening the Edge?
MN: The inspiration, or vision, behind the book comes directly from a desire to overcome the 30 years of declining empathy levels, and the deeply sad realities and contentious events occurring in our world. I have a deep sense that an elevation of the discussion surrounding human empathy and global leadership is a conversation we all need to hold. We only need to look around ourselves to see what that picture looks like. Anxiety levels are on an ever-upward spiral, the great resignation continues to impact every global market, and we live with the deeply unsettling truth that the second biggest killer of our youth, globally, is suicide.
Empathy is evolutionary and it is a critical skill in connecting and protecting our people, our workplaces, and our teams, and yet we have let years pass with this skillset declining. It is a skillset that is now a new benchmark for any organisation that gathers humans behind a mutual goal. Empathy is innate, but the choice to use it is in each of our hands, and I hope my book encourages more businesses to consider this critical.
Being based in Malaysia, do you find this an enabling or welcoming environment for female entrepreneurs?
MN: I absolutely do. Malaysia is full of welcoming and hard-working, passionate people who have embraced me and my family as we work remotely from here. I take great care to respect their culture and I feel the same back.
Could you tell us more about why you choose to live by the mantra, ‘Life First, Always’ and what role this plays at Freedm?
MN: I believe that work is only one part of our lives and whilst it is critical to our growth and our career trajectory, there are other parts of our lives – our families, friends, pets, communities – that are a more long-term and rewarding facet of the time we spend on earth. At Freedm we live by this. We believe work should be greatly rewarding and motivating and that the only way to create this is to ensure we place focus on getting our wider living context and health, first. In this form we can be the healthiest and strongest versions of ourselves at home and at work.
Finally, what are some of your key priorities for the year ahead – either with regards to Freedm or other entrepreneurial endeavours?
MN: As we begin this year, I am more inspired than ever with a new book deal, a brand-new podcast launching, a potential radio show…and a whole set of courses coming to the market for the first time! 2023 is going to be a big one for Empathy Everywhere. We’re going to expand our reach even further and spread as many empathy resources across Asia, Africa, and the Middle East as we can. This year is about bringing people together and helping them find their place in the world and workplace – a world where increased empathy is more of a necessity than ever. In 2023 our audience will learn lots more about listening and communicating with others – because my prediction is that this year will be the year Listening Leadership goes mainstream.