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John Southard

  • Customer Experience

  • Employee Engagement

  • Trust

  • Cultural Differences

  • Communication


About John Southard

John Southard has a PhD in U.S. Military history, and is an author, speaker and expert in empathetic leadership. He has applied his historical research on empathy to corporate America to build empathetic leaders and cultures and optimize customer and employee experiences. John is passionate about teaching clients how to harness the power of empathy to change lives both within and beyond your organization’s walls.

John’s book, Defend and Befriend, chronicles the greatest, yet unknown story of empathy in world history. He tracks a small group of U.S. Marines in the Vietnam War who leveraged the power of empathy to build a sustainable trust in the most unlikely of places. The marines, unbeknownst to them, actually laid the foundation for a unique empathy framework that companies today can use to build trust with customers and employees. After studying this group of marines for more than a decade, John has applied their empathy playbook in the corporate world, which has yielded impressive business returns.

Featured topics

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Building the Loyal Customer Base of the Future

Research shows that the lack of empathy in today's fast-paced business world is costing companies millions of dollars in lost revenue every year.  Customers long for companies that build long-term relationships and address their changing needs.  But companies are sacrificing empathy for expediency, severing the emotional connection and humanizing experience that customers crave - and pay a premium for.  


Author John Southard, customer engagement expert and military history PhD, shares the incredible story of empathy from a small group of U.S. Marines in Vietnam and what they can teach us about building a loyal customer base. Backed by more than 10 years of research, John has transformed the lessons from these marines into a simple and proven empathy framework. In this keynote, you will walk away with actionable customer engagement strategies from the greatest, yet unknown story of empathy in world history.  

  • Discover how to build sustainable trust with customers and employees

  • Learn how to implement a unique empathy framework, rooted in deep historical research

  • Receive actionable methods and strategies to better understand customer needs

The Vital Link: How to Connect Your Leadership with Employee Performance and Retention

Although 84% of CEOs believe empathy drives better business outcomes, 60% of them admit to struggling with being empathetic. Leaders must learn how to close this gap, as research shows that empathy cultivates a more engaged, innovative and collaborative workforce. The good news is that leaders, at all levels, can learn how to leverage empathy to build more productive teams that enjoy their work and the culture surrounding it. They just need to know how to be more empathetic.  


Author John Southard has created an empathetic leadership framework that teams can use to maximize their performance and leadership abilities. In this keynote, John blends his business leadership experience with his military history PhD to share how lessons from a small group of U.S. Marines in Vietnam can help us build a more empathetic workplace. He has translated those lessons into a new empathetic leadership framework that corporate leaders can use to build a culture of trust, teamwork and performance.  

  • Explore empathetic leadership lessons from an elite group of U.S. Marines

  • Discover how to maximize your team's productivity through a research-backed empathetic leadership framework

  • Learn how to build an empathetic culture that knows how to motivate and inspire each other


Speaking on Your Passion

Are you a speaker, or an aspiring speaker that is apprehensive about getting started in speaking? Are you lost in terms of figuring out what you should speak about?  If you even thought about saying “yes” to either question,  this talk is for you. You see, at one point, John answered both questions with an emphatic “yes.”  Through his own journey of going from military history PhD to business professional to speaker, John inspires you to not compromise with your genuine passion in life. More importantly, he explains how you can take your passion and turn it into a professional speaking topic and a self-fulfilling career.

  • Be confident about converting your passion into a speaking topic

  • Understand how to find a career and speaking topic that actually excites you

  • Improve how you communicate the value of your passion to others

What People Are Saying…

Regional Director of Sales

“John’s unique perspective on empathy helps you identify customer needs that you didn’t even know existed.”

Senior Director of HR


“John’s keynote will change how you think about engaging with customers, employees, and even people in your personal life. The world needs to hear his message right now!”

Marketing Manager

“I consider myself a history buff and a marketing research guru. But John’s incredible story about these U.S. Marines empathizing in the middle of a war absolutely blew my mind. I have never heard a keynote like this before. It is unique, inspiring, and very applicable for someone in my field.” 

"The vast majority of people in the world have unique experiences and perspectives that probably challenge, if not clash with your own. But rather than ignoring the differences, or even vilifying them - embrace the differences. Challenge your assumptions and perspectives through empathy, and become a better version of yourself."

- John Southard



Defend and Befriend: The U.S. Marine Corps and Combined Action Platoons in Vietnam

After relatively successful military interventions in Iraq in 1992 and Yugoslavia in 1998, many American strategists believed that airpower and remote technology were the future of U.S. military action. But America's most recent wars in the Middle East have reinforced the importance of counterinsurgency, with its imperative to "win hearts and minds" on the ground in foreign lands. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has studied and experimented with the combined action platoon (CAP) concept used from 1965 to 1971 by the Marine Corps in Vietnam.


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