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Mean People Suck: How Empathy Leads to a Better Life with Michael Brenner (ep. 208)

Michael Brenner

John O’Leary welcomes bestselling author + business expert Michael Brenner to the Live Inspired Podcast to shine light on the importance of empathy.

What is the hard-to-define, touchy-feely idea of empathy and why is it so important?

Business expert Michael Brenner joins us to share how empathy, kindness + self-reflection can save us both professionally and personally.

You will leave today’s conversation understanding how being kind, cool + being yourself is the best path to happiness + success.

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  • Is society meaner? A recent University of Michigan study shows a 40-point drop in empathy in the last 20 years.
  • Michael’s parents were ultimate examples of empathy and it teaches him to be the same way with his kids.
  • Of his 53 jobs, Michael shares about being let go from one, only to be hired back weeks later.
  • Bullseye: What’s in it for the customer or person we are serving?
  • “Bureaucracy kills good ideas.”
  • Break down the walls that divide us by using Michael’s Pushback method: Who is this for? What is the impact it’s going to create for them? How do we measure it?
  • “Behind every bad idea is an executive that asked for it.”
  • “The customer is not always right, but they should always be heard.”
  • “Be kind. Be cool. Be you.”
  • Microsoft is focusing on a cultural shift to demonstrate more empathy, and it’s leading to more innovation.
  • Jørgen Vig Knudstorp turned the fate of Lego around by focusing on the mission rather than profits.
  • “Do you champion your employee’s ideas?”
  • Pivot from being the victim: Develop a personal mission statement by asking who are you serving, where is your passion, and how can you measure that result?
  • “We have a choice.”
  • Check out the Mean People Suck Companion Guide here, which includes my favorite: the Bullseye organizational chart.
  • Get a copy of Michael Brenner’s Mean People Suck here.

Did today’s episode inspire you? 

  • Listen to Liz Fosslien shares the importance of embracing our emotions, and simple tips to be the best versions of ourselves at work and in life. Listen to ep. 122 here.
  • Hear Andre Norman share his journey from juvie to jail to Harvard and how choosing empathy led him to find forgiveness. Listen to ep. 95 here.


1. What is the best book you’ve ever read? The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell.

2. What is a characteristic or trait that you possessed as a child that you wish you still exhibited today? Fear. There is a lot to learn from the things we’re afraid of.

3. Your house is on fire, all living things and people are out. You have the opportunity to run in and grab one item. What would it be? A picture of my wife and I walking down the aisle on our wedding day.

4. You are sitting on a bench overlooking a gorgeous beach. You have the opportunity to have a long conversation with anyone living or dead. Who would it be? Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m completely inspired by the environment he grew up in, the person he became and the fight that he led with such compassion and empathy. What allowed him to turn what must have been rage into such an effective form of change?

5. What is the best advice you’ve ever received? A piece of paper from my dad’s workbench that said, “quityerbellyachin'”

6. What advice would you give your 20-year-old self? It’s going to be okay.

7. It’s been said that all great people can have their lives summed up in one sentence. How do you want yours to read? Focusing on others is the counterintuitive secret to success.


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