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Leanne Butterworth

Founder, Empathy First

Fast Five is our quickfire interview series where we hit up some legendary movers, shakers and innovators with, you’ve guessed it, five big questions.

For classroom teachers, Fast Five is a great way to introduce your students to some awesome real-life changemakers and have them think about life as an entrepreneur.

In this week’s edition, we talk to Leanne Butterworth, Founder of Empathy First, a social enterprise helping leaders and future leaders create happier, healthier, more sustainable workplaces and communities – and save lives – through empathy training.

Q1: Give us three words that describe your life as an entrepreneur.

Brave. Messy. Loving.

Q2: Tell us a little about your current role. What does a day in the life of you look like? 

Roles! I run my own social enterprise (Empathy First), tutor and lecture Social Enterprise business at QUT and am Learning and Development Specialist at Queensland Social Enterprise Council.

My days are varied and might include speaking engagements, webinars, mentoring, marking assignments, designing courses, researching, reading, meeting with social entrepreneurs or running leadership workshops on healthy empathy!

Oh plus I’m mum to Rowan and Zara (11 and 9), play beach volleyball and have started Olympic weightlifting. Never a dull moment!

Q3: Tell us about a massive flearning (failing + learning) moment for you.

Oh my, so many. It’s funny, as much as I talk about healthy empathy, it has taken a lot of work for me to be healthily empathetic.

I was always a should-er, not a shoulder. I was an insecure perfectionist who believed my value in life was in my achievements and not in my presence. I used to put project over people, and emotions made me uncomfortable.

However, after having my kids, this avoidance meant that my postnatal depression went undiagnosed for several years.

In my recovery and work since, I have learned that strong relationships, connection and mental health come from listening, being present and being ok with all the emotions, even the big ones.

People don’t connect with perfection, they connect with presence. I don’t need to have the best answers, solutions or advice, I need to be the best listener – to others and to myself.

Q4: What’s one thing you wished you’d learned at school? And, where could people can go to learn more about this?

I was always awarded for my academic achievements and marks in core subjects and pushed towards a science career when I was at school.

As such, my first degree (which I loved) was in exercise physiology, but I never really made a career of it. However, when I look back at my report cards, they all said I was good at organisation and leadership – but that was never mentioned as a career option or valuable strength. They weren’t as highly valued as good marks in maths or physics!

There was never a practical application or acknowledgement of the value of my skills. That didn’t come until much, much later.

Having a real world context for my learning at school and a chance to see the value of organisation and leadership would have been very useful in my self-confidence and career path. I would have loved the opportunity that a program like Future Anything offered.

Q5: What’s one book, website or podcast that’s inspired you, and why?

Whenever I watch Brene Brown I find myself saying YES at the TV. I love her work and she inspires me every day.

I really enjoyed her Netflix special ‘The Call to Courage’. Her candour and storytelling are so unique and heartfelt that I am inspired to convey a similar style in my workshops about healthy empathy.

My core values are bravery, empathy and impact and she is a huge inspiration in that pursuit.

More about this week’s Fast Fiver, Leanne Butterworth

Leanne Butterworth is an Empathy Speaker & Educator, University Lecturer and Mental Health Advocate. Education and empowerment are her passion, both personally and professionally and these are intrinsically linked with her mission to create a world where everyone feels heard, valued and visible.

She believes that if we can show enough people how to communicate with empathy, together we will create healthier, happier, more productive workplaces and communities that thrive off authentic interactions and empathy-based solutions.

Leanne is one of over 50 entrepreneurs, changemakers and innovators who are supporting students in Future Anything schools through our Activator program. Read more and meet our 2022 Activators here.

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