143: Leaders with Heart Lift Up Others

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In this episode, Heather speaks to Garth Jordan and Heather Loenser of the American Animal Hospital Association. Both leaders of this organization: Garth, CEO, and Heather Loenser, Senior Veterinary Officer, together with Heather Younger have a very dynamic discussion about their personal leadership findings. 

To the Heathers, empathy comes naturally. To Garth, it has been a work in progress. Yet, they all agree that empathy is crucial to the art of leadership, and that the follow up action is just as crucial as the initial empathetic response. Leaders cannot merely seek to understand; they must go a step further. Heather Loenser describes how empaths have their own struggles: you cannot stop at feeling what the other person feels, you must help them resolve the issue, and step out of the dark hole with them, together. 

Garth shares about his leadership journey and where he found a place for empathy amidst it. He speaks to the importance of hearing every voice. Leaders are responsible for responding to the findings of any listening exercise, and they have a duty to accompany their team through the changes, and to the solution. Everyone wants change, few want to change, and no one wants to lead the change. 


  • As an empath, it can be exhausting to feel another’s fears. 
  • Compassion is a necessary follow up to empathy-we see and feel someone’s pain—what do we do about it?
  • Do unto others what they want you to do for them.
  • Change will only happen if everyone is lifted up and they understand what it looks like and their role in it.
  • If you only have one to one empathy and compassion, design thinking helps you get from one to many.
  • With voice comes responsibility—to become part of the solution. 
  • Your worth as a person is not tied to your performance.
  • Empathy is like a muscle, you can exercise it and find ways to bring it into personal and professional life, and find more value by practicing it every day. 
  • Leaders bring to the table lessons learned, a lot of us learn a lot about how to exist in the world from our first families. If our experiences with our families weren’t perfect (and few are) then we will carry that with us throughout the rest of our lives. Best step to take to grow and become grounded and self aware is therapy.

Garth Jordan and Heather Loenser’s Full Bios

Garth Jordan

Garth Jordan currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is an accomplished C-level executive with over 15 years of diverse leadership experience growing non-profit trade and professional associations through innovation, teamwork and digital transformation. 

Garth is also exceptional at strategy design and execution, Board relationships, and creating customer value using human-centered design methods. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry, Summa Cum Laude at the University of Colorado Boulder, and his MBA in Marketing, Summa Cum Laude at the University of Colorado Denver. He is also a polished writer and speaker. 

Heather Loenser

Heather Loenser, DVM is the Senior Veterinary Officer at the American Animal Hospital Association. She is a skilled facilitator for AAHA’s influential medical guidelines, a dynamic veterinary conference emcee, and a peer and pet-owner educator. Heather is also media-trained to deliver a polished and entertaining message, as well as a compassionate and efficient emergency veterinarian and manager.

Heather earned her Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science, and her degree in Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Iowa State University. She is also a detail-oriented yet creative technical writer. 

Garth: Empathy & Experience

The diversity of experience has been a significant part of my leadership journey. I’ve been all over the map and it’s been a lot of fun. I crave that type of experiential diversity. That’s one big ticket item that I expect to be part of my ongoing journey.

I’m not a natural Empath. The first half of my career, I was the cowboy. It’s my way or the highway. But I got into design thinking and it really did change my life. What I’ve learned is that leading and designing with empathy, and putting empathy at the epicenter of my journey has been important for me personally, professionally, and spiritually.

I can't think of a leader who wouldn't benefit from therapy. - Heather Loenser #leadershipwithheart Share on X

Heather: Empathy to Compassion

I got into a lot of communication training and that has allowed my empathy to communicate how I’m feeling and the feelings I see in you as another human. 

I’m also very good at interpreting how animals are feeling and that is incredibly useful on the floor. I also use my empathy to try to serve my colleagues.

I am not afraid of seeing an animal in pain when I’m in my hospital because I know I can fix it. I’m the kind of person who charges to the front door. 

When I hear that an animal had been hit by a car and it’s coming into the hospital, I am there to get it, grab it, take it with me, give it medications, and get it comfortable again.

What I have to learn is seeing other people in pain. If I am just stick to empathy and not actual action, I just end up crawling down in the hole with the person who’s feeling sometimes positive feelings. 

Also, as empaths, we tend to be more empathetic about things that are a little heavier. Without adding action to it, I can just get stuck in the dark hole with you. You’re not alone and that’s great. But what are we going to do?

Exercise that (empathy) muscle and find more value from the practice every day. – Garth Jordan #leadershipwithheart Share on X If we're not changing, we're going to be in big trouble. - Garth Jordan #leadershipwithheart Share on X

Design Thinking: One to Many

About one-to-one empathy and compassion, one thing design thinking helps us do is do it from one to many.

But when we think about leading with heart, leading with empathy, and leading with compassion, the better we understand our target audience, whether that’s our staff, our actual paying customer, or some other audience.

We can go understand them in depth and with an eye toward empathy, then distill that collective knowledge into very specific themes. What are the thematic pain points of your audience? Then instead of being just one to one, we’re now one too many.

If I understand those thematic pain points, challenges, or issues, and if I can distill all of that qualitative empathetic view, then I can turn it into a product or a service something incredibly unique and with value that’s going to solve challenges.

When you look at the companies today that are the most successful, they’re the ones simplifying people’s lives because they found like these compassionate views of their customers.

I do believe there's a certain amount of Nature versus Nurture when it comes to empathy. - Garth Jordan #leadershipwithheart Share on X Your worth as a person is not tied to your performance. Be careful with what you bring into a conversation and where you derive your worth. - Heather Loenser #leadershipwithheart Share on X


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Leadership With Heart With Heather R Younger

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