“Empathy is not just an awareness of what others are experiencing; it’s aware of, being sensitive to, and caring about how one’s own behavior affects others.” — Danny Meyers
Danny Meyers is one of my favorite entrepreneurs.
He is a successful New York City restauranteur and the CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group. He is behind successful restaurants like Union Square Cafe, Eleven Madison Park, Gramercy Tavern, and the famous fast-casual restaurant Shake Shack.
I am a technology entrepreneur. So you might be wondering why I find Danny’s experience relevant to my quest to be a better CEO and leader.
Well, I have always been fascinated by the entrepreneurial story. What drives someone to make the leap to start something? What are their fears or doubts? And, most importantly, what are their learnings? In studying this, I hope to gain better insight into my own journey.
Several years ago, I picked up Danny’s book — yes, he’s also an author — called “Setting the Table,” where he chronicles his entrepreneurial adventure and the secrets to the success of his restaurants.
For example, he made a concerted effort to place his new eateries in parts of the city that he felt had much potential.
“I was determined to go against the grain. I was no expert in New York real estate, but I understood on a gut level that if I handicapped the location correctly, and could successfully play a role in transforming the neighborhood, my restaurant, with its long-term lease locked in at a low rent, could offer excellence and value. This combination would attract smart, adventurous, loyal customers, in turn giving other restaurants and businesses the confidence to move into the neighborhood until a critical mass had been reached and the neighborhood itself changed for the better.”
But, among the fascinating insights from his book is the importance of empathy. Danny believes in hiring people who are wired to be empathetic to customer needs. He also talks about how his empathy towards his employees shapes their behavior, positively, towards his customers. At any of Danny Meyers’ restaurants, you’ll always notice unwavering attention to detail and sensitivity to what’s happening in your life as a guest.
This attention has a powerful effect on the customer’s experience of the product, and it also builds a stronger team.
His story is partly why I have focused so much on developing my abilities as CEO and helping my teams.
Empathy is underrated in leadership roles these days. Exercising that ‘muscle’ is vital for a CEO —
John Belizaire is a serial entrepreneur, advisor, and investor. He is also the founder and managing editor of CEOPLAYBOOK — an online publication dedicated to exploring what it means to be a startup CEO. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter. Subscribe to his popular newsletter — Mental Candy — read by over 500 CEOs.