Donato J. Tramuto is an American healthcare executive, global health activist, author and former CEO of Tivity Health. Donato’s first book was released in 2016, “Life’s Bulldozer Moments: How Adversity Can Lead to Success in Life and Business.” His latest book, “The Double Bottom Line,” is an Amazon Best Seller. Donato is a recipient of the prestigious RFK Ripple of Hope and the RFK Embracing His Legacy Award, for his endless dedication to improving the lives of others. In this episode, Donato discusses the nuances of hardship, developing compassion, being yourself, understanding your associates, and using tenderness to establish trust before relying on tenacity.
[2:20] Donato lost most of his hearing at age eight, for ten years, and had a severe speech impediment until he was 17. The loss of his hearing created in him an enormous sense of compassion for people.
[4:14] For his latest book, The Double Bottom Line, Donato, and his team interviewed 41 world leaders and surveyed 1,500 employees across the country. Their research revealed that compassionate leaders need to do more than understand others’ pain. They need empathy in action to impact others.
[6:24] The Double Bottom Line is not just a business book. Donato shares a life experience. In the book, he tells the reader, “Listen to understand, don’t listen to react.” Donato suggests that if we practice compassionate leadership in our daily lives, we’ll take it into our business lives.
[8:04] Jan recalls recent guest Michael Bungay Stanier speaking about being compassionate, generous, and kind every day. Jan stresses the difference between being compassionate and being nice. Donato says, “If you want to be liked in a company, you’re probably better to go out and get 100 golden retrievers! Compassionate leadership is not just about being nice.”
[9:38] Donato advocates three Ts: approach your organization with Tenderness first, to get the Trust. Then you can use Tenacity. When making tough decisions, don’t start with tenacity. You gain trust by taking the time to understand each person in your organization.
[10:42] As the CEO of Healthways (Tivity), Donato avoided the CEO elevator to ride the regular elevator. He shares an event that unfolded from him asking an employee in the elevator how his day was going. Donato would not have known the employee needed help had he not asked the question. Ask questions to get answers beyond, “I’m OK.”
[11:52] Form deep relationships with your associates. Generation Z and Millennials will form 60‒65% of the workforce and they require compassionate leadership or they will leave. People are reflecting on their lives in ways we have never seen in our lifetime.
[13:07] In Donato’s last year as CEO of Tivity Health, he took a hard line with an executive in front of nine other executives just before a flight. He felt miserable about it. When his plane landed, he got off and called the executive to apologize to her. Because of that apology, their relationship blossomed. With compassionate leadership, you feel better, you don’t take problems home, and you gain credibility!
[15:42] Jim quotes Dale Carnegie, who said, “Be interested, not interesting.”
[16:36] Donato is thrilled to announce that the Boston University School of Public Health is going to convert The Double Bottom Line: How Compassionate Leaders Captivate Hearts and Deliver Results, into a curriculum to teach compassion. Many of the leaders Donato interviewed were not born with compassion. They learned it through someone in their family or a teacher. The book is a resource.
[17:26] There is an opportunity to train our current and future leaders on how to lead from the heart. Donato’s book has assignments at the end of each chapter to help individuals understand the key nuggets of using compassion. Donato’s commitment for the next 20 years is to expand this movement beyond the book and to help leaders see the key ingredients to being compassionate.
[20:22] Millennials and Generation Z are demanding a totally different approach to the work environment. Leaders will have to step up and embrace that change or they will be losing significant talent; they won’t be as competitive or as effective. The success of The Double Bottom Line is a validation of compassionate leadership. Institutions are asking Donato for training. The time is right.
[22:51] Donato proposes a Chief Compassionate Leader Officer for the C-Suite. Boards have got to be willing to ask these questions about culture and trust, to validate that the organization is moving in this direction, as opposed to always looking at a spreadsheet.
[25:36] What is the right amount of empathy, vs. making hard decisions? Empathy overload means getting too deep into the situation, clouding your ability to make hard decisions.
[27:06] When you ask to understand and have gotten to the issue, then you need to come to an agreement and consensus with “and,” not “but.” “I understand your issues, and how do we work together to make sure that your needs are met and the needs of the organization are met?” When Donato has taken that approach, they always got to an end result that worked for both parties.
[30:24] Establishing trust comes before results. Donato asks permission to help. Once he had a board member, who was not behaving well, refuse to receive some constructive insight. She said, “No. You’re not my coach.” Trust was not established. The board member did not have a favorable outcome; she was later asked to leave the board. Ask for permission to provide constructive insight and most will agree.
[32:40] When is it appropriate to address spirituality in the workplace? Donato believes our connection to a spiritual force influences how we behave. If you are a spiritual person, it’s not something to be embarrassed by. The world is increasingly secular. People who do not focus on spirituality may otherwise have positive values that guide their behavior for good. Be who you are.
[34:40] Until 2014, when he received the RFK recognitions, Donato had not shared with anyone that he was gay and had a partner. In front of 2,000 people, 500 of whom were his employees, he thanked his loving partner of 23 years. The audience stood to applaud. The more you are who you are, the more you develop an understanding in the workforce that you’re like the other person in many ways.
[37:07] Do people look favorably upon expressions of faith? If you emphasize too much one facet of who you are, then you make it an issue. Donato shares many facets of himself in case someone has one of those facets in common with him.
[41:20] Start to look at what you and your associates have in common. You will begin to realize that there is very little that is different about you. Take the time to understand the other person.
[43:20] Age discrimination is real. The average CEO is 59 years old. They hire their executive team from the same age group. Until we are willing to diversify the executive team, we will not integrate the values of the different generations to build an incredible team. Donato has just hired a terrific 23-year-old manager and he has learned a lot from her. Ten years ago, he would not have hired one of her age.
[46:55] The organization’s values should not be decided only by the executive team. Donato tells of changing a company’s 10 hard-to-remember values established by executive leadership into five carefully organized and prioritized values developed with the participation of the associates.
[47:34] Don’t choose when to be compassionate. Show compassion to everyone. Be compassionate all the time, just as a pilot flies a plane in a safe manner all the time.
[48:35] Donato’s challenge to listeners: There are many issues affecting us today. Start every single day by asking a friend or family member, “Tell me what you’re experiencing today.” After you’ve listened and you’ve heard them, do something! Kindness and compassion are the new currency of the century.
[50:40] Closing quote: “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” — Robert F. Kennedy.
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