HEATHER: Hi everyone, this is the Leadership with Heart podcast and this is Heather Younger, your host. Employee experience is powered by emotions. Managers and/or leaders within organizations get to choose which emotions they unleash from within the people they lead. Leaders, meaning supervisors or above in an organization, drive much of the positive or negative emotions by their actions or inactions, their words, or what the fail to say. When a manager chooses their words and their actions carefully, they exhibit great emotional intelligence. These managers are often thought of as, “Leaders who care,” or I as I like to call them, “Leaders with heart.” This special brand of leader drives engagement and loyalty by simply being themselves. Are the leaders perfect? Absolutely not. It is in their awareness and sharing of some of their imperfections that we realize their brilliance. In this podcast I ask you to see yourself in the stories my guests tell about times when they were not the best versions of themselves, but how they used their heart to guide them to a place of deeper connection with their teams and heightened leadership prowess. Today I’m very excited to welcome Andy Books. He is one of these great leaders with heart and he’s going to show some interesting stories of the ups and downs of his leadership journey and we will all be able to take it in. Enjoy.
Okay, everybody welcome to the Leadership with Heart podcast. This is Heather Younger, your host, and it’s the first episode. And I am very excited that Andy Books is joining me on this call, an amazing leader at — Actually, Andy and I had a really great time on LinkedIn. We support each other on his posts and — you’re going to hear a lot about him too — But, I thought it was really apropos for him to be one of my select managers that are going to be on this show. So, welcome Andy.
ANDY: Thank you, Heather. I’m honored to be here, really quite honored that you to asked me to participate, so thank you.
HEATHER: You know, after we’ve been — Oh, sorry, were you still talking?
ANDY: No, it’s okay. Go ahead.
HEATHER: I was going to say just because we’ve been really supporting each other so long on LinkedIn and now that we’re part of this no longer virtual group where we support each other as well, it just made sense. And of course, watching you over the years and seeing how you respond to my posts and seeing how you respond to other people’s posts and the content that you put out there, it made me realize that you are a leader with heart and so that’s why I personally invited you on this show. So, I just wanted you to know that’s the reason why.
ANDY: Thank you. That’s gratifying to hear because that’s a component that I’ve tried to develop and it’s been a succeed and fail process, right? Some things work, some things don’t go well and you’ll learn from that. So, that’s gratifying to hear. And we’ve had a great relationship on LinkedIn and not just you and I, but many other people that we’ve connected with over the last couple of years. So, it has been an absolute adventure hanging out with my virtual friends, as my family likes to chide me about from time to time, but a lot of great experiences with people.
HEATHER: Absolutely. Yeah, it’s great. A lot of great people, you’re right. So, tell us a little bit about you as a leader. Basically, what do you do right now? What’s the role that you’re in, in the leadership capacity that you hold?
ANDY: Sure, there’s a couple of different things that I do right now. I’ll separate my day job and my night job. My day job actually I am a sales manager for West Corporation. West Corporation is based out of Omaha, Nebraska. We are a tech entitlement — not entitlement, but we are a tech enablement company that connects people all over the world. We provide best-in-class service and support as well as global class sales strategies for a lengthy list of Fortune 500 businesses. My job as a sales manager — and honestly when I say sales manager, I don’t think that title really does it justice because I do more than just being a manager managing the sales department. Largely, my responsibility is working with a team of 20 people and also collaborative management of a much larger group of 200 people with other managers –basically working with and developing them so that they can achieve certainly their sales goals and sale strategies but also to connect with them and make them better people so that once they leave West — hopefully they won’t but if they do — they will have career skills that will apply for a lifetime. So, as sales manager, honestly, I think of myself more as a coach and developer. Also, at night I do some teaching on the side for a local private college in Wisconsin for Marian University where I teach and enable and also set up classes for groups of people dealing in business and management and leadership practices.
HEATHER: Oh, great.
ANDY: Other than that, I write [0:04:02.6] on LinkedIn, I do articles on LinkedIn periodically, and also do some writing and some contributions for the goodmenproject.com.
HEATHER: Yeah, that sounds like a lot.
ANDY: Yeah, well —
HEATHER: That’s a lot going on.
ANDY: Yeah. [0:04:19.0] I’m parent. [0:04:20.4].
HEATHER: But, it’s also just great space. Yeah, it’s all in a great space. It doesn’t surprise me that you look to teach other people and even just what you talked about as seeing yourself as a coach more than as a sales manager says a lot, again, about you and goes to what we talk about that leadership with heart, that person that is emotionally intelligent, the one who is socially intelligent and connects with their people and looks to grow their people. The things you just talked about is kind of a direct reflection. So, what drives you as a person and as a leader and then where does that drive come from?
ANDY: Well, this has been a process over the last 20 years and certainly to no one’s surprise, as it is with anybody, I’ve evolved. And really, when you ask me that question, where I think that really comes from is my love to be a parent and a family man. I really work quite hard that I’m setting the right example for my children and quite frankly, when I’m making a big decision about something I always ask myself, “What would my children think?” or, “Is this the example that I’d want to set to them as a parent?” And that really drives me for a lot of different things. Not only am I a provider and a parent, but I’m also into example setting and my drive to do well in my job and in my career and in my life really comes from my drive to make sure that I have set the right example for my children. There’s always that drive you say when, as a parent you ask them, “What do you want for your kids?” and you certainly want them to have better than what you’ve been able to provide for them. You always want them to achieve more. That doesn’t necessarily mean you want them to have a better paying job or a better career or anything like that, it’s more about for me, being able to be a better person and be able to contribute more as they get older and as they have their own life experiences. And that can cross a broad range of things but really it’s more about I want to be a better person because I want them to be a better person. So really, that’s my drive and how I approach leadership, how I approach management, and how I approach my position and my presence in the workplace.
HEATHER: That’s awesome. I mean, you know a lot from the writing and the speaking that I do that a lot of things derive from the lessons I learned from my children. I have four of them and it is so impactful when it hits me and I’m having exchanges with them and I see either that I’m not having the right thinking and that they help me have a better way of thinking or that I’ve had an impact on them in a positive way. It’s not always so positive, it’s like you said earlier, we’re not perfect. But, it’s so insightful to be just with them and to be present with them and see how much we either have impact or they have impact on us and just leaders — leaders are everywhere. They’re just — they’re all over the place, irrespective of title.
HEATHER: And so, you know, I definitely — kudos to you for having that philosophy. I love it. So, how would you really define your leadership style? So, when we’re looking at the West Corporation, how would you actually consider you as a leader? What’s your style?
ANDY: I consider myself to be a practitioner of situational leadership in that you are constantly evolving changing your styles to develop and make the people around you better. I mean, there’s different situations that you approach and you need to approach them differently. They are not all the same. You need to meet [0:04:20.4] an awareness but innate leadership related strengths and how you develop and how you can be better than what you currently are.
I believe in conducting highly effective coaching conversations and being able to produce teams and organizations by accelerating the development of individuals that are new to the roles, maybe they’re learning new tasks, and my role we have people who have been senior for a while or have been tenured for a while and new people that come in so you need to be able to intermingle and be able to weld those together or weld those skills together to make sure you have an effective team.
But largely, I’m about trying to engage them on a personal level and being able to understand what drives them and what motivates them. I mean, some people want to be able to excel at the highest points of the organization, I think that’s important, we need to be able to give them the tools to get there meaning we hand them a job and say, “Congratulations, you’re now a high level employee,” but we need to help them get the tools and develop those tools to get there. And at the same token, I would expect my leadership to do the same for me. But largely, you change your style to address the needs of the team and by doing that you’re addressing the needs of the organization.
HEATHER: That’s great. So, describe for me a time that you were just not the best leader you could be and then from that situation, what is it that you did to overcome or kind of go past that point where you really weren’t shining?
ANDY: Sure. Well, I have to tell you there’s a lot of different examples that I can run through, [0:10:17.5]. One in particular stands out and that was when I was with a previous employer. I pride myself on being as transparent with my team as I possibly can. That’s how you develop trust. You can’t develop trust of the employee feels as though if you have your own agenda or as if you — I mean, what you achieve for the company is important but really considering what the long term impact to them, really what they take away. And I’ll preface it this way: employees generally feel they work for a supervisor [0:10:57.4] work for someone, they don’t necessarily work for a company. Now, right or wrong, that’s just how they feel. They feel that you need to be [0:11:05.0] and be genuine.
Answering your question, I had a previous employer where I had to release or knew that I had to release a certain part of my time due to downsizing. Unfortunately though, we were not able to disclose that to them right away as we had a contractual base where we needed to keep a certain amount of people over a certain amount of time before we let them go. And when I talked to my superiors about that, my instructions were, “Don’t tell them. We can’t tell them for a little while.” Honestly, I think it was like 30 days. And that bothered me. It really bothered me because I felt like I was withholding important information to them. I mean, these [0:11:47.5] we need to give them time to move onto other jobs. And when I questioned why we were doing that, it was because they were just afraid of losing people before our contract was up, before we could finish our work. I lost sleep over it for a couple of days and then finally I decided to walk in my boss’ office and say, “We can’t do this. This is not what we should be doing. This is the wrong approach. We need to be honest with them and we need to let them make the decision what they’re going to do. I mean, we need to have faith in our employees that they’re going to stick around and help us finish the job. Maybe we need to incent that in a way and if these people feel that they need to leave now because they have another opportunity someplace else, my God, that’s what they need to do and we need to let them do that because albeit we might be winning on the short term by not sharing that information with them, we’re losing by the example that we’re setting. We’re losing as a company, we’re losing an employee, and we’re losing simply by the reputation that we are cultivating by doing that.”
So, I really had to fight for that. Went in — I was thankful that I had a boss at that time that saw it my way and gave me the approval. But, I’m making it sound easy, it wasn’t. But, he gave me the approval to that and went in and was able to tell my team and quite frankly, I slept better. Honestly, for me, it wasn’t about what the company wanted, I needed to know that I was doing the right thing for the people.
HEATHER: And see, what that says to me, when we talk about the emotionally intelligent leader, we think about them having a high self awareness of their emotions, the emotions of others, and how they can kind of control both. And in this instance, you knew innately what those people were feeling and also what they would feel, like that kind of sense of mistrust that would maybe develop if you weren’t as transparent. And so, you know, I really just appreciate number one, your openness to share that, because I know that’s a [0:13:54.6] situation. But also, how you came out of that with — it sounds like to me, and tell me if I’m wrong, that you just went back to your north star. For you, it was all about integrity. “I’m a certain type of leader; I have to be a transparent. I need people to know that they can trust me and I’m always going to go back to that for my level of success.” Does that sound kind of right?
ANDY: Yeah, and I’ll one-up you on that. Really, it was about that I felt that I had to have a better character than what my company was currently representing. And that’s not to say it was negative. I understood what their motives were and I understood why it felt that way. But, I felt that that was just not a characteristic that I could necessarily live by.
And believe me, I’m not talking to myself and saying, “Woohoo, look what I did.” That’s not it, it’s just that, honestly, I needed to look myself in the mirror. And I get back to your original question. I mean, I look at the example I want to set for my children. Would I want them to be honest? Would I want them to be transparent? Yes, I absolutely would because that’s just the right thing to do. We need to live by doing the right thing sometimes versus what we should do or what others want us to do.
HEATHER: Beautiful. Yeah, that makes total sense and, you know, I wish more leaders had that. I do call this leadership with heart and I think that story exhibits it perfectly because your heart was open for your people and you felt. So, you had that kind of social intelligence to be having empathy to what they were going through and what they would feel again as a result of you not being transparent enough. So, I mean, this is just a beautiful example that we can’t actually script out. So, I appreciate you putting that forward. So, what do you do to connect with your team? You feel like sometimes you get in a rut or everybody is going and doing tactical things all day, what do you do to connect your team in a deeper way?
ANDY: Well, honestly, and this sounds so simple and we talk about it so much and that is you simply you need to know the people. You need to talk to them, you need to know them personally. I mean, one of the things that I completely believe and I know that the people that I work with currently believe is that you need to need to know something personally about your employees and your associates. I mean, it can be something simple as, knowing what they do outside of work. What do they enjoy doing, what are their — what do they do when they’re not working? Do they have children? Do they have a family? Do they have struggles? I mean, everyone’s got a story, right, and everybody wants to tell a story.
People have a genuine need to connect with a leader on a humanly identifiable level. I may have someone who reports to me but at the same time [0:16:50.8] football. You have to talk about the different things that are going on in their area and that’s how we identify with everyone. I mean, we may be coworkers, we may be on different levels of work, but genuinely, at the human level, we’re both football lovers and we can talk about football all day long. And that’s a big deal. And once you’re able to create that human connection, you’re in a far better position.
Your original was what do I do [0:17:23.0]. Honestly and in a way, I go back to the well. [0:17:30.2] to be able to flesh out my own thoughts, but really in terms of connecting with people, it’s simply having that conversation. “What do you do? What do you like to do?” And you’d be amazed at what you will learn from people and what they will share with you and the respect you will gain by simply sitting down and talking with them.
HEATHER: I agree. I can think of multiple times where I was actually on one-on-ones because I have a process where usually I would establish a one-on-one with each team member that directly reported to me. I found great value in it and I think they did too. But in those meetings, it wouldn’t just be about projects and timelines and what they’re doing for the organization and for the team, but it would be, if I knew there was something going on, in their house or something that was just happening, I may say, “Well, how’s that going?” or, “How’s she doing?” because I wanted them to know I remembered our previous conversation, that I care about them as people outside of the work they do for me and the organization. So I think, again, what you just said completely exhibits that, and I appreciate that.
ANDY: Well one of the best stories — If I may, I’m going to — One of the best stories I had came from a position that I had about 10 years ago. We were basically starting up a new client relationship with a company and I was on a phone call with a lot of people, including the vice president of the division. And the vice president, I kid you not, this lady was like 5 feet nothing, you know? And she looked like she really didn’t have much but man did she pack a punch and we all knew it. During the meeting when we started meeting — and unbeknownst to me at the time — one of the people on the phone call working for this other company, had had a — his wife had an accident with her children in the car maybe like 3-4 days prior. Thankfully, everyone was okay but there were some injuries. And we all got on this call and the vice president strutted out and said, “Okay, before we get into this, let’s talk about what’s important. Joe, how’s the family? How are the kids? How is everybody doing?,” and he talked for a minute and talked about the accident and what happened and it was maybe like two minutes and at the end said, “Now, thank you for asking,” and the VP echoed again, “You know, I’m really glad you’re here, that everybody’s okay, and this is just — you know, we need to focus on the important things in life,” right? And it just set the tone and it blew me away because —
HEATHER: By the way, the hair just stood up on my arms just now and the back of my neck, but keep going.
ANDY: Right? I mean, it was just — it was an incredible moment. I gained so much respect working for her and I still do, to this day. Unfortunately, we don’t work together but she’s somebody I’m in contact with and connected with on LinkedIn. So, it’s that [0:20:29.2] example setting that we need to genuinely care — genuinely care — for our associates, and through that is when there’s a betterment of the company and betterment of ourselves.
HEATHER: Yes, I absolutely agree and this stuff, like I said, I could not have scripted this. This is the kind of stuff I want to continue to reveal; reveal the leaders who are like you who already get it, but reveal the leaders who may be developing in this area because some of us are stronger in other areas, and that’s okay, right?
HEATHER: You know, I appreciate [0:20:56.7] and again, knowing that we fall down, that we aren’t always the best versions of ourselves, but it’s the idea that we aren’t seeking perfection, we are seeking continuous improvement. We’re looking at how we can better, stay connected with our team, and just be better people. And again, I love the fact that you point back to, “Can I sleep at night? Can I be proud of what my children think of me or how they see me and how they view me?” These are some really good [0:21:21.6] to, “Am I being the kind of leader that everybody would be proud of?” really. So, I just — I love that. So, I would love to wrap up with one thing and I’d like you to tell me and tell the listeners basically the one kind of seed, the one thing you would like to pass on to them as it relates to just being better for your team, being that leader with heart, being the more emotionally intelligent leader. What’s the one little thing you’d like to just tell them as an ending to this episode?
ANDY: Wow, only one, that’s tough. I would have to say — and this goes back to, and not to beat a dead horse — but I think really, the key to being an exceptional leader, I’m not just going to say a good leader but to being an exceptional leader is that yes, you need to have a vision of where you want to go and where the company wants to go and what you’re going to do for the business, but ultimately we need to respect that inverted triangle style of management. It used to be that we put the business at the top of the triangle, now we need to invert that because if we’re not taking care of the people, we’re not helping the business and we’re not helping ourselves. And when I say take care of the people, yes, those are things that are important like good pay and good benefits and those types of things, but ultimately, I think the key to retention in my world is that you are connecting with those people on a human level. And that doesn’t have to take a lot. I always felt that — and there’s probably — I’m sure there’s some sort of theoretical basis behind this out there and you can find it somewhere on the Internet if you look. But yeah, people wear two hats, they have to be a leader and they have to be a manager. I propose and I believe that there’s a third hat in there and that third hat is counselor. And that there are times that you have to sometimes work with an associate who might ask you, personally — I’m not saying that you need to give them legal advice or marital counseling by any means, you certainly want to stay away from that. But, I think one of the biggest credits is when someone comes to me and says, “Can I ask your opinion on something,” and it may not necessarily be work related. And I’m more than happy to listen to it, I’ll give my two cents worth and let them know that I’m not a professional by any means. But, that’s a sign that you are connecting if you have that type of rapport with your associates or rapport with anybody. I mean, I’d want my children to want my advice and I go back to looking and looking at those parallels between a parent and being in a workplace. But, I think ultimately it’s connecting with your people and that’s what will make them stay, that’s what will make them happy, because ultimately people leave their companies and their relationships because they don’t have the type of rapport relationship with their supervisor that they need to have. They don’t leave companies, they leave supervisors and bosses.
HEATHER: Amen, Andy Books. So, as we wrap up, if anybody wants to get a hold of you, how should they do that? How can they get a hold of you?
ANDY: Really the best way is to go to my profile, Andybooks, that’s B-O-O-K-S, no ‘R’ in there, just like what you read but only one — or more than one, excuse me. But that’s the best way to get a hold of me. I also write on The Good Men Project, I’m also on Twitter @andybooks1 but I confess, I’m not the world’s best Twitter twitterer, by any means, [0:25:06.5] made a joke to you [0:25:08.9] not long ago. But really, LinkedIn is going to be the best place to find me.
HEATHER: Awesome, and what I’ll do is I’ll make sure for the listeners — I’ll put lots of different contact information for Andy so there’s many different ways for you to contact him and a little bit more about his bio on our website. So, don’t forget to visit the website at customerfanatics.com and when you go there, again, it’ll be in the notes for this podcast. You will be able to go in and see some of the notes — written notes — related to this podcast, but also some of the ways to contact Andy and any other future episodes will also go there, as well. So, thank you so much, Andy, this has been amazing. And again, hair standing up on the back of my head and on my arms because it’s so great. Leadership with heart is amazing.
ANDY: I appreciate you having me. Thank you very much and I’m going to plug for you and make sure you read your book because I have a copy myself and have referenced it several times. So, thank you very much. But, thanks for having me today, it’s been an honor and a privilege.