News & notes

Notes from a Conversation About empathy

On August 26, a group of ethical leaders gathered to explore the role empathy plays in their leadership practices. What follows is a brief summary of that roundtable conversation. It doesn’t even scratch the surface of the rich conversation among the gathered participants.

Topic for the day: Empathy: What, where, when

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.

Insights from around the table

  • The ability to empathize is a demonstration of our values.
  • Demonstrations of empathy are powerful ways of showing our values and of showing how we value others..
  • When we open ourselves to the experiences of others, we have an opportunity to examine our own world view.
  • Our ability to empathize with others requires us to suspend our own world view in order to understand another’s perspective.
  • empathy allows us to change our perspectives.
  • A key is to reconcile our own perspective with that of others.
  • In reconciling our perspectives we can gain insights into our shared values and differences in perspectives.
  • Getting past stereotypes is an important factor in our capacity to being empathetic towards others.
  • Empathy can also be overwhelming and lead to paralysis.
  • Being empathetic to others requires an emotional commitment.
  • The question of feelings and how we deal with them is important. Recognizing our connection to our emotions is critical to empathy.
  • Be open to what we don’t see.
  • Be sensitive to what people need.
  • Don’t forget self care.
  • Empathy is a key to other traits of servant leadership.

Insights for Leadership

  • We are naturally drawn to fixing things in response to the challenges faced by those around us.
  • We need to support those whose work (nurses, social workers, chaplains, etc) is founded in their ability to empathize with individuals likely to be in distress.
  • There is a point where empathy is open and not open. The work still needs to get done.
  • We don’t know where people have come from and the things that weigh them down on any given day.
  • Empathy has a time stamp on it. Awareness of ourselves and others is an important element in practicing empathy towards others.
  • Loyalty is a relationship not a one way street. Showing empathy to those around us is one way to honor the importance of others.
  • Building trust is important in any group.
  • Special treatment for one can lead to lack of trust among other group members. Leaders must sometimes walk a delicate balance between treating people as individuals and in respecting the (sometimes) confidential information they are entrusted with.

A Golden Nugget

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

Join our mailing list

You can get weekly reminders of our Servant-Leader roundtables. The list is only used for sharing information about this growing community. We don’t share your information.

Click here to sign up

For more information

Contact me to learn more about Servant Leadership and this growing community:

Dan Lococo, PhD

Barrier Knocker Downer


Insights on Awareness and Self-Awareness

The topic for the March 22, 2018 Servant-Leader roundtable was “Awareness and Self-Awareness.” The following notes reflect the rich conversation that took place around the table. These notes are a summary of the notes taken by Jim Kerlin and have been edited to reflect the themes of the conversation. They are a mere shadow of the wisdom shared by the people at the table.

In this summary:

Topic: Awareness and self awareness

  • Improving one’s awareness is a journey not a destination.
  • We all have different levels of awareness and it evolves throughout life.
  • We are the 7 people we hang around with most.
  • When we are our weakest we tend to grow the most.

Awareness of others:

  • Some people have self awareness as a strength and others not so much.
  • Most people are good judges of character.
  • Some people can sense things in others that they don’t even know…almost like a sixth sense.
  • Most people are much more transparent than they think, – and so are we.
  • Given enough time…people’s real intentions come out.
  • Sometimes it is difficult to find the balance of how much awareness or self awareness to share.

Developing awareness

  • Feedback coaches can provide a sounding board for developing better perceptions and awareness.
  • Our feedback coaches should be people that are different than us. We will learn the most from diverse voices.
  • Sometimes we don’t like the feedback we get.
  • Sometimes the input we receive from those closest to us is resisted whereas a neutral party giving input might be more accepted.

Insights for leadership

  • When we are trying to lead people there may be a gap between our perception and the perceptions of others.
  • It can be challenging to assume a leadership role among peers.
  • Be consistent in your feedback.
  • Trust is a huge factor. Without trust your feedback will be rejected…period.
  • If you are leading for your own gratification people will see through you and not want to follow you. You need to be authentic as a leader to be successful.

For more information:

Servant-Leader Milwaukee roundtables take place almost every week. All roundtables are free and open to the public. If you would like to get weekly reminders of roundtable events, you can join the S-L MKE mailing list, click here.

Copyright 2018, Affinity By Design, LLC. All rights reserved.

S-L MKE Roundtable Summary August 24, 2017

The Servant-Leader roundtable gathering held on August 24 focused on leveraging those times when the operations/business cycle allows some to be idle while others are busy. The conversation quickly moved to the development of an organizational culture that encourages the development of self and others as an integral part of a servant leadership focused organization. The elements of servant leadership highlighted below include: awareness, listening, foresight, and persuasion. There is also a strong undercurrent of building community throughout the notes.

The notes include the following sections:

Topic: The challenge of leading when we have more people than work to do.

On any given day the level of effort required of individuals and workgroups ebbs and flows from relaxed to intense. The frequency of variation depends upon the operational and business cycles of the organization and can easily be affected by leadership practices.


  • Technology turns over every seven years.
  • Unemployment is at a 44 year low.
  • The internet makes a great deal of information readily available on almost any subject at any time.

Need to have an open candid trusting environment to process all of these factors.


  • We need to understand what motivates people. For some it’s title/position. For some it’s money/financial reward. For many, public recognition is a strong motivator.
  • Just showing people the doors of opportunity available to them can be a source of motivation to explore self-improvement.
  • Avoid depending only on email. Different individuals process information in different ways. There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction when it comes to interpreting body language.


  • There needs to be a basis of trust between management and employees.
  • We need to let people know they are important.
  • Scheduling one-on-one time with each staff member is a way to ensure individualized contact. It should be their time to direct the conversation.
  • Allowing people to identify how to be productive in slack times can be a good way to discover both potential in others and problems that are not obvious from a manager’s perspective.


  • Encourage people to read or learn during slow times.
  • Help nurture your employee’s personal growth. Appreciate creativity when there is idle time available.
  • Encouraging cross training among staff members develops leadership potential, allows growth through learning, and develops organizational capacity.
  • Retention and career management is golden for an organization.
  • We as leaders own the culture. We need to model the way.


  • We need to put people in positions with new challenges to give them the experiences they need.
  • Grooming people to take your position can be a hard thing to do.
  • Put effort and monetary resources into encouraging continuous learning.
  • Make learning objectives a part of the performance review.

The group meets weekly in the Milwaukee area. All are welcome to join these roundtable conversations. If you would like to join the Servant-Leader Milwaukee mailing list, click here:

Exploring loyalty with ethical leaders

Loyalty is a word that is often used to describe our feelings towards people, groups, or causes.  On Thursday, March 23 a group of ethical leaders gather to explore the topic of loyalty in relation to leadership.  The notes that follow are a brief summary of the rich conversation that took place around the table.  These notes are a synthesis of the notes taken by Jim Kerlin and my own revisions.

Topic: Dimensions of loyalty.

What does loyalty look like?

  • There are different dimensions to loyalty.  When we talk about loyalty, we are often focusing on a particular dimension:  a person; a principle; a cause.
  • One typically can’t be loyal to a cause unless it is on high ground.
  • There needs to be congruence:  when we are serving our customer but not our staff…We can generate a myopic disconnect.
  • Blind loyalty
  • Misplaced loyalty
  • Misguided loyalty
  • Betrayed loyalty

Characteristics of loyalty:

  • If we are truly serving we are not expecting something back for our Loyalty.
  • Loyalty can be based upon conditions and priorities.  There seems to be, however, an inverse relationship between loyalty and its constraints.
  • As humans we seem to have a need for loyalty.
  • There is a guilt that goes with breaking a loyalty.

Personal loyalty:

  • One needs to ask themselves, what are my core values?
  • Our core values reflect our loyalties.  How we spend our time is a reflection of our values.
  • Derek Deprey just wrote a book called SHIFT: Move from Frustrated to Fulfilled.  The first chapter is about identifying your core values.  .
  • While our core values remain fairly durable over time, our priorities may change.  These changes in priorities can result in shifting loyalties towards people, causes, or groups.

Leadership & loyalty:

  • Loyalty is a product of trust and authentic relationships.
  • When leaders share sincere words of recognition and encouragement, it can cement loyalty.
  • High expectations and loyalty are not mutually exclusive.  A leader that expects hard work can still build loyalty.
  • When words and actions are inconsistent, loyalty towards the person, organization, or cause is weakened.
  • Once trust is broken, loyalty is very difficult to re-establish.
  • Conflicting loyalties are often difficult to sort out.
  • Simplest answer:  Be loyal and don’t expect anything in return.  Just serve the people around you.

If you would like to receive reminders of Servant-Leader roundtables in the Milwaukee area, you can join our mailing list by going to:
Our web site can be found at:

Copyright 2017, Dan Lococo.  All rights reserved.

Keeping the “All” in “Merry Christmas to all.”

These are the notes from our Servant-Leader roundtable gathering of Thursday, December 22.  These notes are a compilation of the wisdom in the room, Jim Kerlin’s notes, and my own notes.

Topic for the day:  Keeping the “all” in “Merry Christmas to all.”

  • We routinely say “Merry Christmas to all” even though approximately 30% of Americans either have no religious affiliation or are not Christian.
  • The Declaration of Independence states, “Freedom and justice for all” even though “all”” didn’t refer to everyone at the time.  There continues to be on-going debate regarding what is meant by “equal justice for all.”
  • In both cases, these words are most often shared as statements of goodwill, unity, and shared values.
  • As ethical leaders we are called to be both a source of unity and to respect the diversity that naturally exists within any group of two or more.

How do we work as a servant leader with people who don’t share the same viewpoint

  • As a young man, Earl grew up within walking distance of a Baptist church, Muslim temple, Jewish synagogue, Pentecostal church, etc.  One day Mom gathered the children around a tree and pointed out that, just like their different view of the same tree, people can have different views of the same God.
  • A key element of the Franciscan world view is respect for all of God’s creation.
  • People talk about Justice but what they are often talking about is “just us.”
  • Emma Lazarus is cited as having said: “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”  People are free to believe what they want, even if their point of view is different than
    Ours, so long as it does not interfere with the freedoms of others.

How do we navigate the transition to accepting people for being different than ourselves?

  • When our views differ from those of others, there appears to be a consistent tendency to characterize those differences as extreme from our own.  As leaders we need to be aware of how we are interpreting what others say to us and how our words are likely to be interpreted by others.
  • Capitalizing and italicizing the word “ALL” when describing the individuals we are referring to in our communication is a strong reminder that “all” does not mean “some.”
  • All people need someone who cares about them.  There is a whole lot more about the person than one characteristic or another.  There is a whole person here.  How we use this knowledge is an indicator of who we are as people and how we can serve better.
  • We don’t have to like ALL, but we should love ALL.
  • We can start by asking about what we share and then just listen.
  • Our forefathers were geniuses.  Because we do differ, because we have the freedom to differ, is what makes our great republic work.  Embrace the differences.

This was the last gathering of the year and last gathering of the 6th year of the roundtables. 

Copyright 2016 Dan Lococo.  All rights reserved.

The importance of transparency

The following notes are a brief summary of the roundtable conversation that took place among a group that gathered at the Mad Rooster Café to sharpen their leadership skills.

Our conversation began with a discussion of the challenges that were illuminated as part of the recent violence that followed the shooting of (an armed) black man in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee.  The complexity of that situation was compounded by the lack of first-hand information regarding the specific details of the situation, its aftermath, and the underlying stressors associated with race, segregation, and injustice in the United States.  Among the factors that served to sensationalize the situation was the introduction of individuals from outside the neighborhood immediately after the shooting and the fact that a burning building makes for better TV news than does church groups Ministering to their community.  As a roundtable, we recognized that this is a situation beyond the capacity of the group to address in the limited time we had available to us.

The group agreed to consider another situation that was both more accessible and more manageable to address in our time together.  The scenario we dug into was at a far smaller scope than racial disparities but had surprisingly similar dynamics.

Among the highlights of the conversation:

  • Policies and procedures create a transparent set of operating agreements.
  • Trust and an expectation of equitable treatment are undermined in the absence of standard operating procedures (SOP).
  • It is almost impossible to define a set of policies and procedures that cover all eventualities.
  • It is the responsibility of the (formal) leader to determine when, and how, SOP will be modified to fit non-standard situations.
  • When the need arises to stray from SOP it is important to ensure that the reasons for the deviation, actions to be taken, and distribution of responsibilities are clearly articulated.
  • Anytime SOP is abandoned for a specific situation, it is important to determine whether the situation justifies the exception or if there is a need to revise policy and/or procedures.
  • If everyone around the table responds “Fine” to the question “How are things going in your area of responsibility?” it’s probably the case that they are not.
  • Sometimes, the clearest act of leadership is to acknowledge that things are not going “fine.”  This can create a path forward to a more collaborative, cooperative environment.

The following article was not discussed during the roundtable but seems relevant to the conversation. 

3 tips for surviving a toxic workplace

Sustainable persuasion–really?

On Thursday, April 28 a group of Servant-Leaders gathered to explore the topic of “sustainable persuasion.”  Sustainability evokes images of equilibrium while persuasion often takes the form of coercion.  The notes below reflect highlights of the rich conversation that took place.  These notes reflect the synthesis of the notes Jim Kerlin took, my own notes, and the wisdom of the people around the table.  Dan Lococo (5/9/2016).

Environment and culture:

  • A top down / command and control environment is not sustainable.  Good people will leave that environment.
  • Having a clearly defined mission and articulated values creates the foundation for any effective organization.  Messaging for mission and values, has to be continual and from multiple sources.
  • Having great vision is really useless without having great people.  When we are insensitive to the values those people bring to the table, we cannot cultivate a sustainable environment.
  • It is much easier to persuade others once we understand their perspective.
  • Trust is a key to being able to persuade people in a positive way.  Persuasion doesn’t work without trust.
  • When trust does not exist, arguments to persuade can end up being the basis for counter arguments.
  • People are like coins we hope they show their heads more than their tails.


  • When we seek to persuade others, we start from the assumption we are right in our thinking/perceptions.  In a situation where we are trying to build consensus seeking to persuade without sharing the vision of the end result does not provide a foundation for collaborative effort.
  • We need to understand our role.  Having an understanding of the creative value others bring to the table can provide insight into how to leverage the power of collaborative efforts.
  • If you know you have communicated clearly we may need to back off and let things sink in.  When dealing with a group, sometimes you should voice your opinion, stop, (pray) and be satisfied with the results.
  • It is not how we ‘react’ to things; it is how we ‘respond’ to things.  Compromise is not weakness.


  • A persuasive argument is meaningless without a receptive listener.  People need time to process – pushing to convince others can be counter-productive.
  • The dynamics of growth and change are relevant to both persuasion and sustainability.
  • When there are groups with opposing viewpoints, it is often harder to persuade than if there is one group.  Allowing people to take ownership of why they are opposed to something can be more productive than trying to silence opposition.
  • Start with getting to a shared value or set of values….then persuasion is a mutual process.
  • Once the shared vision/value is established persuasion becomes an opportunity for mutual growth.
  • Manage emotion and focus on shared value. “How does this meet the shared value we established?
  • Three C’s:  collaboration, compromise, consensus.
  • Out of conflict you can have great conversation.
  • After conflict there is opportunity.
  • Conceptualization and foresight are tied to achieving sustainable persuasion.
  • We can facilitate discussion in a way that integrates persuasion with collaboration.  Conversation becomes more one of collaboration toward a shared value when the parties are persuading each other.
  • Criteria for decision making can take some of the emotion out of it.
  • Start with shared value and persuasion comes easier.
  • There are multiple ways to do most everything.


Servant-Leader roundtables take place in the Milwaukee area most Thursdays of every month.  If you would like to receive reminders of where, when, and roundtable topics you can join our email list.  Click here to add your name to the list.


Copyright 2016, Dan Lococo.  All rights reserved.