Improve Your Workplace With Love and Compassion

Max Yoder Lessonly discusses the roles of empathy, vulnerability, and compassion in a better workplace.

When he says he wants to bring more love and com­pas­sion” into the work­place, Max Yoder, CEO and Co-Founder at Lesson­ly, often gets eye rolls. But he’s seri­ous about it, in part because he finds the cul­ture of Cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca tox­ic and has to push back hard. But also because he’s seen the pos­i­tive effects of that com­pas­sion with his own team and wants to spread the word.

Max joined us on The Brag­Wor­thy Cul­ture pod­cast recent­ly to share his ideas.

You can find a lot of those ideas in Max’s book, To See It, Be It.” It con­tains more than 100 notes on what he’s learned in work and life. They remind him of his pur­pose and moti­vate him to lead with authen­tic­i­ty, grace and gus­to. His hope in pub­lish­ing the book is to help oth­ers to do bet­ter work and live bet­ter lives (free copies are avail­able, you just need to cov­er the shipping).

In 2012, Max start­ed Lesson­ly to pro­vide train­ing soft­ware to a mar­ket that was dis­sat­is­fied with the choic­es avail­able. He asked those who were buy­ing the soft­ware what they thought could be improved. Then Lesson­ly set out to deliv­er those improve­ments, inspired by the design aes­thet­ic and com­pa­ny cul­ture of com­pa­nies that were real­ly grow­ing dur­ing that time, like Square­space, Mailchimp, and Tumblr.

Lesson­ly was recent­ly acquired by Seis­mic, anoth­er play­er in the space, and con­tin­ues its mis­sion of help­ing team mem­bers learn.

Max’s Entrepreneurial Start

Max had an unusu­al upbring­ing: his fam­i­ly ran a funer­al home. It was con­nect­ed to the fam­i­ly home by a driveway.

Max cred­its this with, among oth­er things, keep­ing him ground­ed; when you grow up next to death, you don’t have any illu­sions about immor­tal­i­ty. So many of Max’s friends had nev­er seen a dead per­son, and he had seen hundreds.

It also taught him that there’s not an unlim­it­ed amount of time to do all the things that mat­ter to you. Nor is there an unlim­it­ed amount of time to give for­give­ness or rec­on­cile bro­ken rela­tion­ships, etc.

Start With Yourself

Max shares a sto­ry about hold­ing his new­born child. A nurse came into the room and pushed his shoul­ders down, ask­ing if he was ner­vous. He laughed and admit­ted he was. She then told him that the more relaxed he was, the eas­i­er it would be for the baby to relax. Even when only a few hours old, humans feed off the ener­gy of those close to them.

That’s a les­son Max relates to work. If some­one is agi­tat­ed, you don’t want to match that ener­gy. Instead, focus on your­self and make sure you’re calm. That’s the best chance you have for pass­ing on that calm to them.

Max also encour­ages us to real­ize that oth­er peo­ple get fired up some­times. They are human and have feel­ings, and those feel­ings some­times are effec­tive­ly a reflex. We have to be care­ful to give them the grace to react, some­times reflex­ive­ly, but we should not do the same.

That’s hard.

Max admits that it was when prac­tic­ing giv­ing peo­ple grace — forc­ing him­self not to act reflex­ive­ly, try­ing not to get fired up when some­one else was fired up — that he real­ized just how hard it is to adopt cer­tain behav­iors. It’s real­ly easy to tell some­body not to be angry or to react in a cer­tain way. But when Max tried it him­self, he real­ized it’s a jour­ney that requires a lot from an indi­vid­ual, start­ing with self-aware­ness about the prob­lem and a will­ing­ness to put in the effort to change.

Max knew he had to keep work­ing through those chal­lenges, not just as a leader of an orga­ni­za­tion or the father of a fam­i­ly, but as a human seek­ing to improve every day.

But Max also sees lim­its, par­tic­u­lar­ly with empa­thy. He acknowl­edges that it can have its uses but says it takes a lot out of the per­son who is extend­ing the empa­thy — after con­tin­u­ous­ly being empa­thet­ic for even a lit­tle while, that per­son can find their emo­tion­al bat­ter­ies drained.

Rather than extend empa­thy, Max offers com­pas­sion­ate action” as a way to help team mem­bers with­out drain­ing their emo­tion­al bat­ter­ies. Com­pas­sion­ate action has bound­aries and won’t open peo­ple up to the pos­si­bil­i­ty of burnout.

Set Boundaries With Your Team

Lesson­ly expe­ri­enced a lot of growth and Max shares that when it was a small team of a dozen or so, they were spend­ing a lot of time togeth­er, build­ing engag­ing rela­tion­ships. But that lev­el of inti­ma­cy was sim­ply not prac­ti­cal when the com­pa­ny grew north of that, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it grew beyond 50 people.

That meant it was impor­tant to strike a bal­ance between emo­tion­al slav­ery,” which sub­jects you to everyone’s feel­ings and judg­ments, and emo­tion­al detach­ment, where there is no con­nec­tion to oth­er peo­ple. Max fol­lowed a con­cept out­lined in Mar­shall Rosenberg’s Non­vi­o­lent Com­mu­ni­ca­tion” — emo­tion­al lib­er­a­tion. The con­cept is sim­ple: be present with an indi­vid­ual and with their expe­ri­ence, but set bound­aries not to car­ry that expe­ri­ence with you.

Encourage Vulnerability

Set­ting bound­aries shouldn’t dis­cour­age peo­ple from shar­ing. Max calls vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty a glue. When you’re will­ing to call your­self out on a mis­take, you’re admit­ting that you’re human and you give oth­er peo­ple space and grace to do the same.

This is chal­leng­ing for a self – pro­claimed recov­er­ing per­fec­tion­ist” like Max, but as we not­ed above, it’s only in prac­tic­ing some­thing that you real­ize how hard it is and can get an appre­ci­a­tion for it.

This type of work envi­ron­ment can serve as a cor­rec­tive to years of bad pro­gram­ming” by Cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca. Max encour­ages those in charge of hir­ing to con­sid­er hir­ing for poten­tial, not cre­den­tial.” To advance in Cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca, you may have many hid­den wounds that allow you to progress and that can end up affect­ing oth­ers neg­a­tive­ly. Those who don’t have the cre­den­tials but have the poten­tial don’t have any bad habits to unlearn, and Max sees this as a much bet­ter start­ing position.

Check Out the Full Episode

Max believes that work cul­ture trick­les down from the lead­er­ship. He frames reac­tions to chal­lenges as either soul-suck­ing or life-giv­ing. He keeps striv­ing for the lat­ter, always. If you’d like to learn more about Max and his jour­ney to make him­self and the peo­ple around him bet­ter, lis­ten to our full inter­view by tun­ing into the pod­cast on Apple or Spo­ti­fy.

Look­ing to build your own Brag­Wor­thy Cul­ture? Fringe can help. Fringe is the num­ber one lifestyle ben­e­fits mar­ket­place. Give your peo­ple the pow­er of choice and save a ton of admin­is­tra­tive headaches by con­sol­i­dat­ing exist­ing ven­dors and pro­grams into a sim­ple, auto­mat­ed plat­form. Talk to our team to get started.