109: Leaders With Heart Often Find Their “Why” Through Their Adversity

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In this episode, Heather Younger speaks with Kirk Adams, President and CEO of American Foundation for the Blind about his unique journey as a blind person for most of his life. Kirk shares how his uniqueness frames his leadership style, and a time when he was not the best version of himself. 

Key takeaways:

  • Learn from others via podcasts, books, and biographies.
  • Be an inclusive leader and don’t make decisions in a vacuum.
  • Make sure your values align.

In a time like today with the coronavirus taking us by storm, Kirk provides an uplifting lesson on how we can move past adversity and shine as leaders. Thanks for listening.
Kirk Adams’ Full BIO

Kirk Adams is a longtime champion of people who are blind or visually impaired and is committed to creating a more inclusive, accessible world for the more than 20 million Americans with vision loss.

Adams has led AFB in a new and innovative direction since becoming president and CEO in 2016. A preeminent leader in the field of blindness, Adams frequently serves as a keynote speaker at conferences across the country, informing audiences of AFB priority issue areas that include education, vocational rehabilitation and workforce participation, vision loss and aging, and technology.

Before joining AFB, Adams served as president and CEO of The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. Prior to that, he was also general manager of administration and director of public relations and resource development.

Active in his community, Adams was a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Disability Employment and the Seattle Public Library’s Strategic Plan Advisory Committee. He served on the boards of the Aerospace Futures Alliance and the Association of Washington Business. He was also the treasurer and member of the Board of the National Association for the Employment of People Who Are Blind and a board member of National Industries for the Blind.

Adams graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, and earned his master’s degree in not-for-profit leadership at Seattle University in Washington. In 2019, he completed his doctorate in leadership and change at Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Creating Change

I think I am really where I should be. I am a totally blind person. I went to school for blind children in Oregon and I “swam hard” to succeed. After that, I entered the world of work and had a wonderful family. But I determined that I should be in a non-profit sector, leading an organization that serves people who are blind.

It became very clear to me that this where I want to spend the rest of my working career, to creating change and systems to eliminate barriers for people who are blind. My organization focuses on systems change and looking at everything through the lens of employment. To be the head of this very unique, historic, and iconic organization in the blindness field gives me a special opportunity to make a difference.

I am driven a lot by thinking of kids, hoping that their life passes smoother than mine way. – Kirk Adams #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Hit or Miss

It is important that everyone should think about their “why” and ask, “Why am I doing what I am doing?” 

For me, I just think back on being a blind child as I talk to parents who are like my parents: parents who have never met a blind person before but have a child who is blind. They are scared and they don’t know where to go.

I talk to parents all of the time. They ask me, “What does the future hold for my child?”

I cannot honestly say that it’s not going to be a struggle. The parents are going to have to do everything right. They have to lead them to right school that has the right resources. They have to go above and beyond all the time to put their child in a position to live the life they want to live. It a very “hit or miss” situation.

If a blind person happens to be born into a family that has resources and advocacy skills, the child can make it. If not, then it gets very hard for people.

I would really like to be able to sit across the table from those parents and say, “No your kid can do whatever they want to do in life. Here are the resources, the pathways, and some examples to do that.” But that is not the kind of conversation I can genuinely have right now.

Sometimes we take messy inspired action. – Kirk Adams #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetI want to spend the rest of my working career in creating change and systems to eliminate barriers for people who are blind. – Kirk Adams #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Goals, Roles, and Processes

I don’t really believe that I have that many decisions to make. In my team, we talk about goals, roles, and processes.

I am here to support everyone’s success, and make sure that people have the tools and the resources they need to accomplish our strategic objectives.

My job figures a lot of aligning, and ensuring that people are in active mutual support of one another, in each part of our organization as we all enforce and learn.

We have four employee-led values: 

Learning. We want to learn all the time from everything we are doing. 

Collaboration. We want to be collaborating internally and externally. 

Innovation. We need to do things differently in order to get different results. 

and, Excellence. We want continuous quality improvement.  

I want to be clear on who has the decision-making authority, and it is mostly my leadership team. – Kirk Adams #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetI want optimism, enthusiasm, and dreams to live within children – Kirk Adams #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetTalk to the people you admire. Learn from them. – Kirk Adams #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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108: Leaders With Heart Are Not Imposters At The Table

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In this episode, Heather Younger speaks to listeners from Chicago at the No Longer Virtual Conference about imposter syndrome and why it happens. She also shares what to focus on instead and the ways we are all meant to be where we are.

Key takeaways:

  • Know that you are uniquely created to be where you are.
  • If you don’t think you belong, others might not think it either.
  • Create the opportunity to include others who might feel the same way.

This episode brings in helpful insight to you and your people. Don’t miss it!

The Imposter Syndrome

I came to speak to meeting planners for the first time at the Meetings Industry Council – Colorado’s Annual Conference. We had an interesting setup called Theatre in the Round and when I went in, I was super nervous. There were speakers who were talking for a lot longer and I was feeling a little judged. But that wasn’t because of them but because of me.

The imposter, the person on my shoulder went on saying “You are not good enough. You don’t belong here.” It has pervaded my life. As an outsider in my own home when I was young, I felt like I didn’t belong and I wasn’t good enough.

But part of my talk on the stage was about using my voice to help others who may be feeling the same thing and I felt very compelled to tell it.

I was put on this earth to uniquely deliver the message I was going to deliver. – @CustomerFanatix #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Bring People In

So, I went home and I prepared quite a bit more. I had a little bit of nerves the next day but not so much as to fall from underneath me. When it was time for me to speak, I walked up, stood there and I just felt more confident. The story on belonging was really coming to heart.

When we sit around the leadership table with other executives or managers, sometimes we look at people and go, “That person is seriously smart,” or “That person is really sharp.” We are judging and sizing up people in a way that minimizes us. 

As leaders with heart, we know that we’re human and we’re going to have this journey up and down, so expect that to happen. But know that you are uniquely put on this earth to give the message, to be the person, and to represent your own people.

There are people that you need to bring into the fold to make them feel included and not feel small around you. You may embrace people physically or with your eyes and your word. Bring them in, so that they know that they belong and they are included.

As leaders at the table, we sometimes ask, “How the heck did we get here? Do we even belong here?” – @CustomerFanatix #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetI influence people and so do you and every single person on this planet. We all get to choose who we influence and how we influence. – @CustomerFanatix #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Open More Windows

If you are an executive leader you won’t realize the fear that circles around private meetings inside the organization. 

You may minimize or do something even bigger like informing them what came out of those meetings. That is a way to show that you are including other people, and there is nothing to be fearful about.

There is a power structure in organizations, whether we try to make them more humane. There is fear and division. I am not saying it would go away, but it is there. So produce more open windows to make your people feel they are part of something big. When you walk into the room, they don’t have to look at you like you are above them.

If we walk away with leading someone feeling like they are an outsider, and if they feel they’re less than us, then we have not been leaders with heart. 

You do belong. You are good enough. – @CustomerFanatix #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetProduce more open windows where people can see and listen through to make them feel connected. – @CustomerFanatix #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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107: Leaders With Heart Consistently Appreciate Their People

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In this episode, Heather speaks directly with listeners on the International Employee Appreciation Day 2020. She highlights some of the real critical ways to show appreciation to employees. She also makes us think about the value appreciation brings and what its results can be.

Key takeaways:

  • What does feeling appreciated mean to you with those you lead?
  • Should showing appreciation be a cookie-cutter approach?
  • How often do you just sit with your people and dig deep to find out what’s going on with them?
  • In what ways do you show those you lead that the work they do is meaningful and that you value every bit of it?

Appreciation expands over many different concepts. May this episode enlighten you!

Different Motivations

Do your people see that the work they do is meaningful to the whole organization and the world?

Probably you have supervised at least one person. Now, there are some people who are motivated by money, and some people are motivated by incentives that actually do cost. 

There are greater percentages of people who will take a thank you for the times you are just sitting with them, engaging in deep conversations and giving them undivided attention. They are motivated when you show deep care for them outside of work, not just as team or project members, but as humans and people in this world.

Do people feel important in your presence? Do your employees feel that you and those in the organization value the work that they do? – @CustomerFanatix #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Leadership Legacy

Appreciation does not have to cost you a penny. – @CustomerFanatix #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

On this International Employee Appreciation Day, its great to celebrate! 

But each and everyone of us should master becoming the manager whom people will remember as the one who’ve made them feel important, valued, and listened to, especially when they move on to a new role in the organization or leave for another company. 

This is critical for employee retention. But it is equally critical to also think about our leadership legacy. How will our people remember us? 

Always Watching

People are always watching. 

Especially, they are always watching those in leadership roles. How do you want them to remember you when they stand around your casket?

Consider the small ways where you can show people that you care, so that they will look to you for guidance and loving care. Also, they will know that you are going to be in their corner. When you have accomplished that, you have accomplished true appreciation

Take care, thank you for joining, and have a wonderful day.

How intentional are we when we interact with people around us, whether they are our direct teams, or not? – @CustomerFanatix #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetWhat impressions are we leaving on our people with every single interaction? – @CustomerFanatix #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetHow do you want your people to remember you when they move on, or when you move on from this world? – @CustomerFanatix #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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106: Leaders With Heart Are Human And Give Others Permission To Be The Same

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In this episode, Heather Younger speaks with Dr. Karen Johnson, Equity and Inclusion Administrator for the Washington Department of Corrections about her leadership style, her drive to lead, and her leadership conversion story. She also shares her unique view and purpose for working with the incarcerated and those that serve them.

Key takeaways:

  • It doesn’t matter how much you know, but how much you care.
  • Take care of yourself, so you can take care of your people. In turn, they will care of you and your customers.
  • Realize you are human and give others permission to do the same.
  • Be grateful even for painful feedback.

You’ll surely love this episode. Listen and learn!
Karen Johnson’s Full BIO

Dr. Karen Johnson is the Equity and Inclusion Administrator of the Washington Department of Corrections since 2018.  She is passionate, driven, and has more than 20 years of experience and leadership in federal and state government.

Johnson served as the strategic operations manager at the Employment Security Department, chief administrative officer with the James E. Van Zandt Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and regional Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) program manager for the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System. Previously, as the strategic initiatives executive at Department of Social & Health Services, she led the development of a respectful, equitable, diverse and inclusive (REDI) workplace culture to achieve organizational excellence and results.

Johnson earned her Master of Public Administration and doctorate in Urban Studies from Old Dominion University. She is a Certified Master Respect Facilitator and a Certified Diversity Professional. Karen is currently pursuing the Certified Diversity Executive credential, and is a 2018 participant in the Leadership Women America program. Also she currently serves on the Special Education Advisory Council and the Washington Statewide Reentry Council.

Right here, Right now

I am right here—present, in the moment, in the now—embracing everything that confronts me and slips my way right here, right now.

My life’s purpose is to work towards liberty and justice for all, until justice rolls down like water. People being treated justly and fairly is what gets up me in the morning.

I get to build my legacy through unapologetically championing and preparing others to embrace, emulate, and embed a culture where everyone commits to collectively valuing, including, and respecting each other. I get to show up and help others to begin addressing the biases and the bigotry that has impacted the lives of our people.

People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. – Dr. Karen Johnson #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

It Takes a Village

I am doing this work with those we serve which is the incarcerated individuals, and those who serve them. 

In my life in the correction, I am not fully convinced with who needs the greatest help. Are they the ones behind bars to which we have the key to open their cells, or the ones who have the key, but are imprisoned by their minds and hearts to which we do not have the key? 

I see my work as the key to begin unlocking the hearts and minds of the staff.

My people would say that I am a transformational and authentic servant leader. They will tell you that I am there to serve them. That has thrown many people off because many believed that as leaders, particularly in the corrections, we bark orders and tell people what to do. But that is not how I show up. 

I believe that alongside strategies of respect, equity, diversity and inclusion, there has to be active listening, foresight, and empathy. Leaders should be feeling, understanding and living what others have lived. They have to be healers while bringing awareness, demonstrating commitment, and encouraging staffs to commit to growth and freedom. 

There also has to be a sense of community and team building. It takes a village to a raise a child. I believe that it also takes a village to do good work. We need to be able to expand the village and uplift them as we lead.

In this high-tech age, leaders are required to demonstrate appreciation of people for who they are and what they do. – Dr. Karen Johnson #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetCut yourself some slack. Realize that you are human. – Dr. Karen Johnson #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Loving Myself Adequately

In my journey, I had to learn how to adequately and properly love myself so that I can have the capacity to love others adequately, too. I talk about love here as a verb: an active, intentional, and tangible decision. 

Learning how to love myself changed the trajectory of my leadership philosophy. To this day, I am thankful to those individuals who spoke the truth.

What is going on in us impacts what is going on with the team. If we do not have self awareness, self-reflection, self-correction, and growth, that doesn’t give anybody permission to do the same.

Take some time off. Encourage others to do the same. – Dr. Karen Johnson #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetIf we take care of our people, their care towards the people entrusted to them will extend to us. – Dr. Karen Johnson #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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Five Insightful Ways to Become an Intentional Leader.

This weekend, I attended Mary Poppins, the musical, as my daughter played a role in the ensemble. I have seen this musical many times, but there is something compelling about seeing it in real life. It authentically explores the concept of becoming an intentional leader.

At one point, the young lady playing, Mary Poppins, sings
the song, Anything Can
. To complete the sentence, it is, “Anything can happen if you
let it.” I love this phrase, and I think it most important in the context of

I am working on launching a new website that has my name as
URL. It’s is not easy to land on what the messages on the front page on the
website should be to speak to those who will search and land on it. As I
thought long and hard about what my work and messages stand for, I realized
that it does and always will boil down to intentional leadership.

Whether I am talking about caring leaders, resilient
leaders, tenacious leaders, leaders who care for themselves, those without a
manager title becoming aware and making changes to how they treat their
coworkers, it boils down to being intentional and purposeful about it. It is
not easy, but it is worth it.

I realized in this new website process that what I stand for is intentional leadership. What do I mean by this? Leaders who are intentional don’t wait for things to happen. They set out to make them happen. Moreover, they don’t focus on accidental outcomes, but curate environments and make decisions that produce outcomes they want. Interestingly enough, I am consistently advocating for this type of leadership.

Mary Poppins’ reference in the song above really pinpoints
the power of choice. I think that this is the crux of great leadership, making
better choices.

Below I have outlined five insightful ways to become a more
intentional leader and make Mary Poppins proud:

Set Your Mind Right

The most important part of the process of becoming an intentional leader is to set your mindset up to push excuses away. Often, when we don’t show up as the best versions of ourselves, we tend to give ourselves too much grace or leeway to maintain our behaviors. Said another way, we don’t have our “eye on the prize” for the end result of showing up more intentionally.

Think about it, when we don’t think through an interaction
with one of our team members, it might feel like the interaction just happened
to us. This might make us feel like we have no control.

I promise you that we can control more than we think. Unless we are in a military camp or other place where someone is controlling our thoughts, we can turn our thoughts around. Mary Poppins refers to “moving mountains” and “making your dreams stretch like elastic”. This all starts in the mind, and no one can take this away from us.

If you focus on setting your mind right first, the road to
intentional leadership will illuminate.

Write a Plan for Change

There is nothing that speaks more to intentionality than
writing down a plan for how you intend to make changes and achieve goals. This
might be in the form of writing daily to-do lists, and putting together a
quarterly personal improvement plan. Either way, you are not leaving your
leadership effectiveness to chance. Moreover, you refuse to let how you treat
those you lead be accidental.

Take the time to jot down some ideas and hold yourself
accountable to executing on them. Writing a plan for change is critical to
achieving it.

Evaluate Yourself Daily

Despite your desire to be more intentional in how you show
up as a leader, like any change, we must evaluate whether it is happening and whether
it is long-lasting. You think you set your mindset right and put the proper
plan in place. Now, how well are you executing on the change you wish to see in

This is critical. In my faith, I make it a habit to examine
myself daily to measure my behaviors and my outcomes against my vision for
myself and my desire to impact those around me. Some days, I can smile at all I
have done to move toward that better leader. Other days, I realize I may have fallen

I am not looking at perfection, but I am expecting continuous
improvement. I am on a journey to intentionality every day, never really
reaching a destination.

Make it your business to evaluate yourself daily. Don’t
leave your leadership identity to chance. Be intentional about growing you as a

Ask for Feedback

If you know me, you know that I live and breathe by the voices of others. I don’t mean that my identity is tied up completely in what others say about me and my behavior. To the contrary, I simply seek out feedback from those I lead, colleagues, customers and friends. Additionally, I use that feedback as a barometer to how I am fulfilling my personal vision for myself. This is the act of an intentional leader.

At work, this might be 360 feedback, or bi-directional
performance reviews, or just informal coffees with friends and colleagues.

No matter how good we are, we cannot see everything. I have
made some minor tweaks to the ways I show up based upon what a trusted few have
revealed to me.

Ask for feedback. Don’t worry, it only hurts a little.

Find an Accountability Partner

Being a leader of people can be lonely. Moreover, leaders might
not trust colleagues at their same level in the organization with deep authentic
conversation. When I am coaching my clients, I often tell them to look for an
accountability partner. Yes, they have me, and that can be valuable.
Nonetheless, finding someone who you can trust at work is key to executing on
intentional changes.

For example, if you know that you need help with having more
connected relationships inside of meetings, find someone you trust who is
usually in those meetings with you. Let them know that you are trying to make
changes that help you connect with your coworkers in a more connected way.
Then, they will no what to look out for and suggest to you after the meetings
so that you can be more intentional about making that change.

Leaders do not have to do it alone. In fact, when we do, we
are less effective and less magnetic.

In conclusion, if you want to be more emotionally intelligent, more present, more focused, more connected, you have to first be an intentional leader. When you focus on setting your mind right, writing a plan, evaluating yourself, seeking feedback from others and selecting an accountability partner, you will notice your overall leadership effectiveness soar! Becoming an Intentional leader is choice. Let’s make better choices together.

Mary Poppins would be proud of you for even trying!

105: Leaders With Heart Understand That If Their People Fail They Fail

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In this episode, Heather Younger speaks with Dr.T. Renata Robinson, Chief Human Resources Officer at Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, about the complexity of leading an organization that serves the poor and at times, employs the poor. She also shares a story of her leadership mishap and some key ways to thrive as a leader.

Key takeaways:

  • Understand that often, we encounter our people in their brokenness.
  • Humility is the highest honor.
  • Admitting your mistakes as a leader is a sign of strength.
  • You must build relationships first before strategy.
  • Provide your people the right resources to do good work.
  • Allow autonomy to those you lead.

This episode speaks straight from the heart. Listen and learn!
T. Renata Robinson’s Full BIO

Dr. T. Renata Robinson is a professional of many firsts. She is currently the first Chief Human Resources Officer of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, as well as the Principal and Chief People Officer of her consulting practice MeekAdvantages, LLC. Dr. Robinson was the first Chief Diversity Officer for the City of Boulder, CO, and Director of Organization Development and Talent Management for Total Long-Term Care Solutions. She has been Vice President of Human Resources for Teach for America Colorado and the Human Resources Manager for Comcast. 

Dr. Robinson spends her days cultivating an inclusive culture, bolstering employee morale, and developing leadership skills in others. She has been consistently successful in creating and implementing inclusive human resource programs and initiatives. Having extraordinary change management and strategic leadership skills, she is a high-energy people leader with 15+ years of success in building top performing diverse teams, increasing employee engagement, and developing culturally action-oriented organizations. Her unique approach to innovation, engagement, and culture has improved communication between teams, stakeholders, and executives in non-profit organizations, fortune 100 and 500 companies. 

In her free time, she is a wife and mother of two, and she gives back to her community through coaching, mentoring, and helping individuals design and accomplish their career path goals. She teaches youth workshops on public speaking skills, how to become bully-proof through confidence building, personal branding, and interviewing skills. 

Dr. Robinson’s educational background consists of a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership, a Master of Art in Organizational Management, and an Educational Doctorate of Organizational Management.

Accomplish More

I have accomplished a lot of things I wanted, but there’s so much more out there. I’m still on a journey to accomplish more. I have more to give back and to help people, as well as to develop personally and to grow professionally. Even though I might have accomplished some job positions I aimed for, that’s not necessarily the whole reason I’m here.  

I think about life as that dash in between; I look at every morning and ask myself what I do and why I am on earth. I am in a place of wonder, growth, development, and I pull people along with me on my journey. 

As a leader, you have to understand that it’s not all about you. It’s about the people around you, helping you to get there. 

As a leader, you’ve got to have great relationships. You need to know how to communicate. – T. Renata Robinson #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Results Driven

I am results-driven person, but I am not the type to just run over someone to get the results. To me, the result is not always winning and success, because sometimes, you fail.

Bottomline, you must ask yourself: Did you try? Did you do your best? How did you get there? If you hit your head, let’s not hit your head again. Let’s figure this out. As a leader, that’s how I lead my team. I am flexible and open.

I really care. I know there always different analogies on leadership. But, I would define myself personally as a caring leader because I actually care about my people. It is important to build relationships that support people to get the results. 

Understanding relationships is so significant. Afterwards, we need to communicate the plan, be aware of what is happening, and provide the resources needed to get the results. I am very results driven, but in order to get there, I look at three levels: how I look at my relationships, how I communicate, and how I create access. 

Finally, the fourth most important thing to me is autonomy. The worst thing a person can do to me is to micromanage me. I don’t believe in micromanagement as a leader. I believe in people giving people the autonomy to do their job. 

That also means you have to hire right. You must ask the right questions. Find out what a person can or cannot do. Remember you’re hiring for their strengths and not their weaknesses. You have to make sure you’re placing people to right positions, too. 

Failure leads to success. – T. Renata Robinson #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetIf my people are not successful, then I am not successful. – T. Renata Robinson #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Take Time Out

If you’re having a tough week, you just have to pause. Often, we feel like we should have all of the answers in the moment. But the reality is, you don’t have all of them.

You also have to reach out to your peers, take a moment, give affirmation, and come back with more insight in order to drive forward. Remember that you just need to take time out for you. Take an emotional day-off of work to recover.

If you’re finding yourself in a challenging place, sometimes you’re in there because of pride. While you don’t want to be wrong, and you’re fighting everyone to be right, the truth is, sometimes you are dead wrong.

It’s not about you. It’s about perspective, and how to shift the narrative. Pause is so important. Get away from the office. Sometimes, the best time to work is when we are not in a building, we are away where we can have transparent conversations, and strategic planning.

Leaders are not perfect people. – T. Renata Robinson #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetHR is one of the hardest areas to lead in an organization. – T. Renata Robinson #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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