Larry Dix II: 5 Ways Empathy Will Affect Your Leadership

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Give people a chance to make a good decision

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is increasingly recognized as a pivotal leadership trait. In an ever-evolving business landscape, leaders who exhibit genuine empathy are better equipped to connect, inspire, and drive their teams towards success. But how exactly does empathy shape leadership dynamics? How can it be harnessed to foster stronger relationships, improved decision-making, and a more inclusive work environment? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Larry Dix.

Larry Dix, a titan of entrepreneurship, has carved an extraordinary path from humble roots in a small Texas town to towering success at 60. His story is a testament to grit, determination, and unwavering perseverance in the face of adversity.

Starting as a yard dog at just 18, Larry navigated the turbulent waters of the S&L Crisis and embraced the challenges of the sales world, swiftly climbing the ladder to manage a truss plant by age 27. But his journey was far from over. In 2000, Larry took a bold leap into entrepreneurship, founding APEX with the guiding principle to always “Do What’s Right.”

Rooted in the lessons from his resilient mother and perseverant father, Larry’s ethos propelled him to new heights, earning him the prestigious title of “Manager of the Year” and inspiring countless others along the way.

Today, Larry is not only a successful entrepreneur but also a beacon of inspiration and mentorship. His latest venture, the “Born or Made” podcast and accompanying book, dives deep into the heart of entrepreneurship, exploring the age-old debate through Larry’s unique perspective and insightful interviews with top business minds.

But Larry’s influence extends beyond the boardroom. As an entrepreneur and life enthusiast, he races cars, raises beef cattle on his farm, and dabbles in real estate. He’s passionate about fitness, nutrition, and pushing his limits through marathons, cold plunges, and saunas.

Through his podcast, book, and personal endeavors, Larry strives to inspire others to live their best lives and be their best selves. His story is a reminder that success is not just about wealth and status but about staying true to oneself and making a positive impact on the world. In a realm where many aspire to greatness, Larry Dix stands tall as a true Entrepreneur — a living testament to the idea that success is both born of inherent qualities and forged through life’s fiery trials

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about empathy, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Inever really had a career path. I just wanted to own my own business since I was 14 and wanted to be a millionaire and I honestly didn’t know what that meant or how to achieve it. Now they are known as entrepreneurs and it’s cool. Maybe not having a concrete plan was easier because I was not stuck on a particular path just the result. I have never found a job I was too good for so I just do it and see where it takes me. I always kept my head down and worked.

I learned people are constantly changing jobs and looking for a quick move up. I just did my job and when things changed they would look around and say “Hey that Dix kid always shows up and has a good attitude with good results.” They would give me a chance and I would get the ball and never relinquish it and never look back.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I started my business in March 2000. I got an Investor to give me $250,000 at the time I knew that would be more than enough money based on my business plan and cash flow projections. Fast forward to September 2000 I’m broke I have no line of credit and no way to pay my creditors. So I picked up the phone and started calling everybody that I owed money to and told him I wasn’t going to be able to pay them.

The first guy called was my lumber guy. I owed him about 100 grand. It was a family-owned business that had been in business for about 40 years. He sounded almost confused when I was on the phone with him and said “Wow. I’ve been in business for 40 years and no one has ever called me and told me they weren’t gonna pay me.”

So he hung up the phone about 15 minutes later the owner of the company called me and we talked for a few minutes and he said I need you to come up here and meet me. I went up there the next day and met with the father and the son. The father was a 70-year-old business guy and he was tough. He asked me a bunch of questions we talked. He stood up, shook my hand, and said we’re gonna keep doing business with you. I still buy most of my lumber from them 24 years later.

What you find is if you’ll just talk to people and not run and hide which we’ve all tended to do you tend to get better results I learned that early in my career and trust me there were plenty of times had to call people and tell them I couldn’t pay them, but I always did what I said I was gonna do, and made every effort to do so.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We always do What’s right.

We call people back, no matter the situation.

We have a high-level sense of urgency

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I was always willing to do what I was asked and not complain.

I never quit

I was honest to a fault

I am a process follower.

During the SNL crisis, many of us were shifted around to different jobs so they could keep us employed while they laid off literally hundreds of people. During this time, we were building another location and I was called into the Vice President of my company’s office and asked if I would be willing to take one of the company work trucks to drive to San Antonio. “Be there at 7:30 in the morning and pick up ceiling tile that needs to be back to the south store first thing in the morning.” Many people would’ve seen that as beneath them and I was so excited because they had such confidence in me, knowing that I would have to get up at 3:30 in the morning, drive three hours to be someplace to pick up something made me feel like they really appreciated the fact that I was willing to do whatever I had to do.

I can assure you, this did not go unnoticed as I was later moved to that other store, and given a lot of responsibility in many different areas, meanwhile many of my friends were laid off or not given jobs with much responsibility. I was 21 at the time.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

One I remember vividly was in October 2006 when I was at a volleyball game listening to a realtor tell me about all the deals that he was doing and how much money he was making, Braggadocious Lee, just explaining how the market worked. I listened with great interest and what he was explaining to me. I’ve been in business now for a little over 6 1/2 years, so my head was down and I was working hard to grow my business.

After that conversation, I went home that night and told my wife that we were going to have to pay everything off and get ready because we were fixing to have a major financial collapse. So I doubled my payments, paid off my equipment, and six months later made the decision to close down one of my two truss plants. It was very hard for me to do because I had to let go of about 40 people and close down a facility, but in hindsight, I would not be in business today if had I not made that decision. You have to remember, that sometimes you have to cut to protect the whole.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define empathy in a leadership context, and why do you believe it’s a vital trait for leaders to possess in today’s work environment?

Empathy cannot be stressed enough. This is something that many leaders just literally have no understanding of sometimes because they’ve never been in their shoes or sometimes they’ve just never had the challenges or the clarity to see things from another person’s view. I think because I started working in the cotton fields at the age of 11 and my first real job for a big company was a yard dog and working my way up from the very bottom position to owning my own company just gives me a true understanding of every position.

I can honestly say that I have struggled more than I have not struggled, so therefore I have a true understanding of what it’s like for others, and I truly never forget this. I am so blessed to have the ability to talk to the person working in the ditches to the CEO of the bank with the same clarity and understanding. I have said forever, and I truly mean this from the core, “God does not ask for your balance sheet when you get there we’re all the same.”

Can you share a personal experience where showing empathy as a leader significantly impacted a situation or relationship in your organization?

I have very many experiences with relationships in my organization. My greatest success has been that I have people that it worked for me for literally since the day I started my business. I help people out in any way I can. I pay extremely well, and I am kind to everyone.

This does not necessarily go with my business, but something that I’ve always struggled with is when I’m sitting in a light, and I see a person standing there saying that they are homeless, need food, or will work for money. One day, my wife and I were sitting at a red light and I mentioned that I really have a hard time with this. If you look around at other cars or people, most of us look away or look on our phones to try to not make eye contact. She looked at me and said, ”You know what you could do is, go to the bank get $100 in five dollar bills, and every time you come to one of the lights you just hand him five dollars and let God sort it out.”

I did that five years ago and it was one of the greatest releases of stress for me and I cannot explain how good it makes me feel. This is the way I feel about everybody who works for me and I know that they know that and it makes me feel good. Remember, when you’re showing empathy to other people, you are the beneficiary at the end of the day.

How do empathetic leaders strike a balance between understanding their team’s feelings and making tough decisions that might not be universally popular?

Look, somebody’s gotta make the hard decisions that’s just life. I keep it simple. I know when I walk out of the room everybody thinks on some level you don’t know what you’re doing. They will never have the clarity and view that you have and that’s just the fact. I can say this with authority because when I worked for somebody else, I used to think that, then I started my own business and I realized how smart they were, and I’ve never forgotten that.

How would you differentiate between empathy and sympathy in leadership? Why is it important for leaders to distinguish between the two?

Empathy is getting on someone’s level and feeling into what they’re feeling & thinking.

Sympathy is caring enough to get on someone’s level.

So they can truly be together this can lead to compassion.

What are some practical strategies or exercises that leaders can employ to cultivate and enhance their empathetic skills?

Spend time with someone in their job. You will soon be on the level and understand their frustrations and concerns. Remember just cause it’s not painful to you, their pain is their pain.

Learn to genuinely apologize when you are wrong.

How can empathy help leaders navigate the complexities of leading diverse teams and ensure inclusivity?

As the leader, never be the smartest person in the room. Get people to give input, use it if it works, and get them to buy in and you will have committed people.

What’s your approach to ensuring that succession planning is a holistic process, and not just confined to the top layers of management? How do you communicate this philosophy through the organization?

I would answer this by asking how many times in your career you thought you deserved the job and someone else got it? Fast-forward 10 years later, you’re not as smart as you thought you were and you realize you weren’t good enough at the time. One thing I have learned is, as I’ve moved many people up in my company the cream does rise to the top. You’ve got to get the right people on the right seat on the bus and sometimes they just got to get off the bus.

Based on your experience and research, can you please share “5 Ways Empathy Will Affect Your Leadership”?

1 . Get on people’s level

2 . Be genuine

3 . Ask people’s opinions and truly listen

4 . Give people a chance to make a good decision

5 . If I have to make you feel bad, I don’t want you working for me

Are there potential pitfalls or challenges associated with being an empathetic leader? How can these be addressed?

People can see empathy as a weakness. So you must be prepared to show strength quickly and decisively

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

All things keep you up at night or more like wake you up at 3: 30 AM. If you want to be successful you will probably have a lot of concerns. I always remember what I am doing is hard and if it was easy everyone would do it.

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

Well, for me, I trademarked “Do What’s Right” as doing the right thing is not always the easy thing, but it’s always the right thing!

How can our readers further follow you online?

Check out my new podcast:

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.