Community//

Emily Perkins: “Compassion is vital as a leader”

Compassion is vital as a leader. If you cannot understand where someone is coming from, cannot imagine how they are feeling, and cannot then take it into account in your actions, then you are doing them a disservice. Curiosity keeps businesses alive. Without it, you never ask ‘what if?’ and take your business on a […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and though they are reviewed for adherence to our guidelines, they are submitted in their final form to our open platform. Learn more or join us as a community member!

Compassion is vital as a leader. If you cannot understand where someone is coming from, cannot imagine how they are feeling, and cannot then take it into account in your actions, then you are doing them a disservice.

Curiosity keeps businesses alive. Without it, you never ask ‘what if?’ and take your business on a growth path.

Humility is probably the rarest trait I see in leaders, and when you find it, it’s usually within companies which have the highest levels of satisfaction. No one wants to work with a C-suite team that brags about their successes, underplays the contributions of others, and is honestly just frustrating to be around.


As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Perkins, Chief Brand Officer at Epro and bestselling author. A storyteller almost from birth, Emily has worked with some of the world’s largest tech companies, including Samsung, Beats, B&O Play, and many more. She leads Marketing and Branding at Epro, a clinically-led digital solution for healthcare professionals and organizations.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I have wanted to write, tell stories, and entertain from a very young age. My earliest school reports (read out at my wedding, thanks Dad!) described a little girl who loved writing stories so much that she struggled to concentrate on anything else.

The subjects I loved at school all centered on storytelling. English, History, Philosophy: the subjects that explored who we were, why we did what we did, and how we as a humanity have grown. I couldn’t just pick one subject for university, studying both History and English, and started working as a copywriter. I’ve earned a living from writing and understanding stories ever since.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you joined your company?

I joined Epro, a health tech company that supports the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK the day before the country’s COVID-19 lockdown began. As you can imagine, it was an incredible learning curve.

Within the first few weeks, I quickly realized that rather than acting as a commercial company, we were more like a not-for-profit, each member of staff a part of the team because we wanted to make a positive tangible difference to the NHS.

For example, there was an NHS Trust that was particularly focused around the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in London, and it was struggling. The healthcare professionals and support staff there didn’t have enough visibility about who had COVID-19 or not, who had been tested or not, which patients were struggling and were likely to need ventilators…

This made bed management almost impossible. They called our most senior clinician who completely understood their challenge, and within an hour, we had created an Alerts system to help solve those problems. The patch immediately empowered the NHS Trust to have greater visibility, protect patients, and make better decisions for ventilator and bed planning.

It was truly humbling to see how the clever technical minds in our organization were able to almost immediately create a solution that supported bed management, ward control, infection and contagion.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I am, by nature, a people pleaser. When I started off my freelance career, it was completely remote and so it was impossible to read my employers, pushing me to go far out of my way to ensure that they were happy with my work.

My first commission was fifty articles a month. It may have been a challenge for some, but I wrote quickly, and I prided myself in meeting a target. Within a week, the fifty articles had been written, proofread, and sent over to my editor.

I had expected…you know, I’m not sure in hindsight! Praise? Thanks? Even an acknowledgment that they had arrived would have been gratefully received, but I didn’t hear a thing.

After a few days, I emailed my editor again, ostensibly to check that the articles had arrived — but the only reply I received was a quick ‘yes’, and that the topic of next month’s 50 articles would be with me in three weeks.

It was a sharp learning curve. I had been asked for something, and I had delivered. I shouldn’t necessarily receive praise for that, not when that was literally my job. If I had gone above and beyond — suggested some topics for next month, sourced an interviewee on that month’s topic — then perhaps I would have done.

But all I had demonstrated was that I could follow instructions. If I had acted with vision, brought in a strategy, that is when I would have deserved additional praise.

It was a hard lesson to learn, but it has stood me in good stead.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My parents were such inspirations to me growing up and still are to this day. They never stop learning, have never stopped being curious, and have always encouraged that curiosity in me.

My husband encouraged me at a low point during our degrees, and I credit him with the success of my author career. If he hadn’t taken the time to see my true vision for my career and encouraged me to go for it when I really needed it, I don’t think I would have committed to it.

He also does a great job of treating us to bubbly for the launch of each book!

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

No one likes stress. Our bodies are designed to turn it into an advantage, pouring cortisol and adrenaline into our bodies, helping our brains to access more oxygen and hopefully concentrate better — but even those of us leaders who say they thrive off stress aren’t telling the whole story. They have found techniques to manage that rush of adrenaline, and here are some that I use on a regular basis.

  1. Go to the bathroom before that important meeting! Even if you don’t feel like you need to go, I can guarantee you that as soon as it begins, your bladder will contract and you’ll need to go. Don’t torture yourself: go to the bathroom!
  2. Remember that you earned a place at the table. Yes, someone may have helped you get there, but you wouldn’t have gained their support if you weren’t clever enough, strong enough, insightful enough to be there.
  3. Breathe in deeply before responding. When put under pressure, it’s easy to just rush out an answer, any answer, to fill the silence and defend yourself. By taking a deep breath, you give your brain more oxygen and your mind an extra few seconds to formulate a response.
  4. After the meeting or stressful situation is over, reward yourself. Even if you don’t feel it went that well, do something for five minutes that you like. Listen to a favorite song. Make a delicious drink. Read your emails. Text a friend. Bring your body and mind back into ‘normal’ stress parameters.
  5. If making a decision, sleep on it. My parents always told me that good decisions weren’t made late at night. Sleeping on a decision allows your unconscious brain to poke around that decision and consider whether you actually want to make it.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Let’s ignore, for a moment, that it’s the right thing to do. What’s the business case for greater diversity?

A Boston Consulting Group study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation.

A McKinsey study revealed that companies with more culturally and ethnically diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to see better-than-average profits.

The least diverse companies, in both gender and ethnic terms, were 29% more likely to be less profitable, results showed from the same study.

Diversity makes business sense. But more than that, it makes good leadership sense. Who wants to have six people in an executive team who all think the same? We need people with different backgrounds, different life histories, with different experiences, to bring something different to the table.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

I am by no means perfect, and I have a lot of work to do as a cisgender, heterosexual, well-educated, able-bodied white woman. But what I can do and have striven to do throughout my career is to create a platform for people different from me.

In my various positions, so far that has meant:

  • Advocating for flexible working to allow single mothers to more easily return to the workforce
  • Championed women in technology by example and through mentorship opportunities
  • Spoken at events about diversity, and stepped aside after being invited to speak so someone with a more diverse background can step into that gap
  • Championed flexible working for employees with mental health challenges to aid in their treatment/recovery
  • Introduced demographic-blind recruitment practices, including using this gender decoder for job role descriptions
  • Being willing to accept that I can be well-meaning and still get things wrong

This is not an exhaustive list, and for others in different roles, there will be other things you can do.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

It’s about responsibility, ownership, and pressure. Ideally, everyone in a business, from the most junior position to the most senior, has those qualities alongside creativity, passion, and a desire to see everyone succeed. The key difference is that the junior role can probably get by in their job without them, but it’s impossible once you reach a certain level of leadership to be without them.

An executive in a senior position can’t be thinking about today all the time — or tomorrow. They need to be thinking about next year, the next decade. They need to have the vision and the strategic viewpoint to lead the business of the choppy waters of today to the calmer seas of 2025.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

I think one of the strongest myths of being a C-suite executive is that you have all the answers. I don’t! In fact, any C-suite person who attempts to come across as all-knowing is only going to lose the respect and trust of their team.

We are fallible people who make mistakes and can, at times, fail to recognize new opportunities. It is impossible to get everything right, and so for those C-suite people who have imposter syndrome, it’s critical to remember that you reached that position because multiple others believed you could deliver excellence.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

There are a number of frustrations that are, at the moment, part and parcel of being a woman and in leadership. Thankfully, I have never received this treatment from anyone I have worked directly with; no colleagues, whether junior or senior to me, have created these challenges for me which I suppose says a huge amount about the companies that I have chosen to work for.

But it is inevitable, when meeting with clients, customers, competitors, or people at networking events, that I am quite often underestimated. I have been mistaken for very junior roles, including the tea lady, and asked intensely personal questions within seconds of being introduced.

In some situations I have had my own work explained back to me, and in some situations, what I have said has been completely ignored in a meeting, later repeated by a man in the room, and then that idea applauded.

I think the most challenging place for women leaders from my experience has been networking events. If I have to go through one more conversation where the first three questions are my name, whether I am married, and how many children I have, I will scream!

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Time! My previous role was incredibly busy, always rushed. I wore three different hats in small business and so rarely had the time to dedicate to a new creative strategy as much as I would like. Time is absolutely essential for creativity to blossom, and it’s one of the things I’ve really enjoyed in my role here at Epro. Of course, there are time-dependent projects, but most of the time we have enough time set aside for that project to ensure we give ourselves space to breathe.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

Honestly, I do not think that there are specific character traits that make you more successful as a C-suite executive. Everyone brings such a different flair to the role, and different companies will need different things from their senior team.

I have seen a wide variety of traits in the senior leaders I have worked with, and some of my favorites are compassion, curiosity, and humility.

Compassion is vital as a leader. If you cannot understand where someone is coming from, cannot imagine how they are feeling, and cannot then take it into account in your actions, then you are doing them a disservice.

Curiosity keeps businesses alive. Without it, you never ask ‘what if?’ and take your business on a growth path.

Humility is probably the rarest trait I see in leaders, and when you find it, it’s usually within companies which have the highest levels of satisfaction. No one wants to work with a C-suite team that brags about their successes, underplays the contributions of others, and is honestly just frustrating to be around.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

I would give the same advice that I would give to men leaders to help their team thrive:

  • Make sure your team is challenged, but ensure to support them throughout that journey. Their professional development will be led by you, so ensure you push them beyond their comfort zones but with a safety net
  • Push boundaries based on their passions. If your social media marketer loves making videos in their spare time, see how their job role can encompass that. Sales staff learning a new language? See how they can support that account team with some admin to improve their skills. We are all far more than what we bring to the office
  • Listen to everyone, and make sure everyone is listened to. Often the best ideas come from the quietest person in the room
  • Consider offering 10% of the working week back to your staff for work-based projects. Has one of your development team always wondered if they could fix that weird loading problem? Maybe one of your finance team is sure they could reorganize the filing system if they just had the time. Ring-fencing time for business growth that doesn’t tie into sales always benefits the company
  • Create a space where frustrations can be aired without judgment. A company that doesn’t have space for frustration won’t see creativity

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

At Epro, everything we do is support the NHS. Acting as a not-for-profit is a huge part of our recruitment process — we want people to join us who want to leave a positive legacy from their time at work, and that’s created a team of people who are incredible to work with. Our success at Epro doesn’t just push a company forward, it creates a happier NHS and a healthy nation.

Personally, I have tried throughout my career to bring up people with me. That has included mentoring young people from deprived backgrounds to aid them in navigating the university application process, to stepping aside when invited to speak at events to ensure that a more diverse person could step onto that stage.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  • You’ll never get there on your own. It’s foolish to think that one person is the only one responsible for their success, so make sure you thank the people around you who empower you to grow
  • Failing has to happen at some point. Early on, it’s easy to be terrified of failure, but that’s how you learn. After the first instance, that fear fades but the learning shouldn’t
  • You will never know everything. Don’t be daunted by your lack of deep knowledge — take it as an opportunity to dive into the subject, and remember that you’ll always be somewhere on the learning curve
  • Taking a leap doesn’t mean not looking first. Whether that’s launching something new, changing jobs, or pivoting career, leaping doesn’t mean ignoring preparation or planning
  • Clients are people too! It’s easy to consider them terrifying when you first start out, but actually, in that meeting everyone has the same goal: to create something incredible

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would like to see nurses more celebrated and well regarded than they are. Nurses are such a vital role within healthcare around the world, taking on some of the most important caring and medical tasks for a person during their healthcare journey. And yet in many places, nurses are not considered important and are very poorly paid. I think that the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how important nursing staff are — along with other underappreciated roles, such as bed managers, healthcare assistants, cleaning staff, and porters.

I would also like to banish the term ‘male nurse’ — we don’t always say ‘female doctor’ when the clinician is a woman, so why on earth do we do it with male nursing staff?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Mind how you go.”

It’s a family phrase, and not one that I’ve heard outside of it. It’s a farewell parting, which is very simple but contains a myriad of nuances: you are going and I will miss you, but I will not stop you. I care about you and worry about that journey, even though you must take it. Be careful, to ensure we can meet again.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

Martin Bromily. An airline pilot, after tragically losing his wife in a routine operation, he has campaigned ceaselessly and without any financial benefit for greater reviews into surgery complications, a no-blame culture in the NHS, and surgery checklists and other communication innovations that I am sure have saved thousands of lives. He has the exact spirit that we pride at Epro, and I’d be honored to meet him.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Emily Perkins: “Why being right isn’t the same as getting it right”

by Ben Ari
Community//

“Create a culture of belonging” With Tammy Perkins CPO at PMI

by Yitzi Weiner
Community//

Conscious Business Leadership: An Interview with Kimberly Faith

by Mark Samuel

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.