What Mental Toughness Has to Do With Caring Leadership


I’m excited to announce that my forthcoming book, The Art of Caring Leadership: How Leading With Heart Uplifts Teams is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Writing this book has been a long journey – and it’s not over yet!

As I put the finishing edits on the book, one topic that has been top of mind for me is how, in these upside down and unprecedented times, we need to care more than ever for our employees and, at the same time, somehow help them cultivate resilience… especially for those who are being disproportionately impacted by the concurrent crises.

At first glance, “mental toughness” might seem like the antithesis of caring leadership, but strengthening our reactions to the events spiraling around us is how we develop the capacity to show up fully and be present for the people we lead.

There are four practices that have helped me remain mentally tough and allow me to continue to show up for you from a place of caring leadership and service, which you can learn more about below.

1. Intentionality

Having an intentional mindset is about noticing how we respond to circumstances and interpret them as either adverse or challenging. When it comes to mental toughness, we can practice shifting our initial response to something as “bad” and instead looking for the positive. You can ask yourself, “What in this circumstance will help me move forward?” In my TED talk, I share how flipping this switch has helped me so much in my life and business. I reframe things constantly.

2. Forward Focus

The second practice is ensuring that my mission and my vision for myself and/or my organization and my team are so robust and create such positive emotion for me that I have no choice but to grab onto them—even when times are tough. When I can take steps that support that clear and enduring mission and vision, I can continue to move forward rather than remaining frozen in place. Alignment requires that I keep my eyes focused ahead at all times instead of getting mired in the past when things haven’t gone the way I hoped they would. My mission and my vision are instead my North Star and keep me moving forward. 

3. Be Courageous

The third way that I remain mentally tough and resilient is by being courageous. We can wear our courage like a barrier or shield that allows us to bounce or repel obstacles in our way, because we realize these obstacles are inconsequential when it comes to reaching our goals.

4. Fake the Funk

One of the final ways you can cultivate mental strength and toughness is by—as I always like to say—”faking the funk until you make it.” In other words, sometimes you might not feel a certain way, but regardless you have to tell yourself that you are the person you hope to be. If we tell ourselves that often enough, we can become the person we say we are—just by virtue of how we talk to ourselves. 

This practice strengthens our mental toughness and helps us step out of victim mode. Instead of, “Woe is me,” we can say, “I’m a successful CEO of a growing business where I have a message that is impactful, that will change lives, and that has services that will help people.” 

Even if, on some days, you don’t feel a certain way, that affirmation—that faking the feeling until it actually happens—is a huge part of maintaining mental toughness so that we can continue to show up fully for the people we lead.

127: Leaders with Heart Don’t Give Away Their Influence

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In this episode, Heather speaks to Michele Nevarez, CEO of Goleman EI about her drive to lead, her leadership style, a time when she was not the best version of herself and her interesting take on discovering what we can influence and impact.

Key Takeaways:

  • Don’t give away your influence.
  • Realize that we have a choice to focus our thinking on what we can influence.
  • Are your current thought patterns helping you or hurting you?
  • What are your thinking habits?
  • Keep building evidence for who you want to be.
  • We are often stuck in our own mindsets.
Listen to this episode and strengthen your leadership with heart!

Michelle Nevarez serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Goleman EI. 

Founder and creator of the Goleman EI suite of Coaching and Training programs, Michele’s vision is to democratize EI as a means of igniting personal and global agency. This driving force for Michele is at the core of how Goleman EI’s programs translate emotional intelligence from theory to a powerful and practical vehicle for meaningful transformation and lasting habit change. 

Michele brings 25+ years of executive leadership experience working for industry leaders in healthcare, investment management, management consulting, and manufacturing. A founding member of Rangjung Yeshe Institute based in Kathmandu, Nepal, Michele has practiced mindfulness-based training for 27+ years.

Michele received a B. A. in Religion from Bryn Mawr College and a Master of Science degree in Positive Organizational Development and Change from the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University. 

Twist and Turns

I think I might have been too hard and a little too critical on the CEO’s that I have reported to in the past. My leadership journey has been marked with being the head of a startup, and having zero startup capital. That required a lot of creativity, hard work, and it’s taken a lot of twists and turns along the way.

Being a good leader, in general and as a CEO of a particularly small company, has a lot to do with how you interact with your people and how much time you spend interfacing with your team.

I have always been fascinated by what causes people to behave the way they do and how their beliefs factor in. – Michele Nevarez #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Innovation and Kindness

My people tell me that I tend to have kind of an innovative streak, and I am definitely the kind of leader that leads with vision and innovation in mind. I have no shortage of ideas—that’s never the issue. It’s the ability to execute on them.

I am a “fly by the seat of my pants” kind of person, in my natural style. But anything to an extreme is also not great. There are potential negative behavioral implications to that.

I’m pretty hands off if I think the person has it covered, but I’m more inclined to be present to someone new, or a person doing initial setup. But I struggle with carving out enough time for all the important things. It’s actually a real challenge, to be honest.

My drive to lead is linked to my desire to do good in the world and to be of benefit to the maximum of my potential in this life. I want to do so in a way that amounts to playing big.

I come from a long line of really hard workers, migrant laborers during an era that was not so kind. That’s where my work ethic, the idea of fighting for the underprivileged, fighting for people who really need some ground cover, and believing that I have the ability to somehow provide something to that equation of benefit, come from.

The things that keep us stuck are causally linked to ultimately our thinking, mindset, and beliefs. – Michele Nevarez #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet Everybody's situations are very different. – Michele Nevarez #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Influence and Control

As humans, we’re inclined to spend a lot of time worrying, persevering, or being focused on things that we don’t actually have that much control or any control over. So, it becomes a waste of our time and energy.

I always encourage my clients and the people who go through our program to think about influence more critically. Where do they actually have influence and control over, where do they have none? Going through that analysis and realization that they would do well; we would focus on where we have the ability to impact.

We don’t always have the ability to control what comes up, but in that moment of becoming aware of what’s there, we have at least the possibility of choice of how we will relate to whatever we find—an emotion, or a thought. Also, we have agency to work with our thinking and relating to our thoughts that is more productive.

When we turn our capacity for awareness to a productive point of observation or focus that can actually move us forward, there’s a lot of possibility in that. – Michele Nevarez #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetThere's no power in victim mentality. – Michele Nevarez #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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126: The Beginnings of the Art of Caring Leadership

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In this episode, Heather shares with listeners her very special Author’s Day presentation with her publisher and guests. In it, she goes over her personal background, her “why” for writing, and the main focuses of the book. Her editor also talks about what makes this book so different.

If you are a fan of the guests from this show, this episode is surely a treat!

A Very Special Day

I decided to share with you my Author’s Day presentation with my publisher for my second book, “The Art of Caring Leadership.” The majority of the book is founded on the interviews from this podcast. You will get to hear me present the book in an interview format.  You will also get to hear my editor offer his own views, as well as give comments and ask questions coming from the guests. 

This is a very heartwarming special day and I want to share it with you.

We ourselves are also hopefully striving to be caring leaders. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

A Very Special Book

Caring leadership is not some nebula, or a squishy thing. It is real.

Each of us knows it when we feel it, and when we experience it from those who lead us—whether it is our parents, aunts, uncles, leaders of the community, or those inside the workplace.

We ourselves are also striving to be caring leaders. In this book, I am going to put some real guard rails. I will be writing real fundamental principles down on what it means to care. 

This way, people can put their hands around something and it just won’t fall between their fingers. I hope you enjoy my Author’s Day.

Caring leadership is real. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

A Very Special Request

I’d love to hear from you via email or comment on social media. Please do me a favor, and don’t forget to write a five-star review on Spotify, Apple podcast or wherever you listen.

This means a lot. The more people would get to hear the content and the brilliance of the leaders that I have on here, the better the world is going to be. I truly believe that.

Thank you for joining and listening consistently. Thank you for your loyalty. I hope you sincerely enjoy this episode. Be well. You may find my presentation as unlisted in YouTube.


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125: Leaders with Heart Course Correct Themselves and Others with Care

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In this episode, Heather interviews Curtis Martin, CEO of FOCUS about his drive to lead, his leadership style, his struggle with patience, and a time when he took his eye off the business and abdicated responsibility.

Key takeaways:

  • Don’t abdicate responsibility but be there to guide people.
  • Show the balance of care and strength. 
  • Take the long view when leading so that you can create tension for the long term goal benefits.
Don’t miss this insightful episode!

Curtis Martin is the founder and CEO of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), one of the fastest-growing college outreach apostolates in the Catholic Church. 

FOCUS was founded in 1998 as a national outreach to college students on campus. Starting with just two missionaries on one campus, FOCUS now has hundreds of full-time missionaries serving tens of thousands of college students on campuses throughout the United States. FOCUS is working to play a vital role in the New Evangelization called for by Pope Saint John Paul II. 

Curtis Martin holds a master’s degree in theology and is the author of the best-selling book, “Made for More.” Curtis is likewise the co-author of “The Real Story: Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible” with Dr. Edward Sri and “Boys to Men: The Transforming Power of Virtue” with Dr. Tim Gray.

In 2004, Curtis and his wife, Michaelann, were awarded the Benemerenti Medal by Pope Saint John Paul II for their outstanding service to the Church.  In 2011, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Curtis as a Consultor to the Pontifical Council of the New Evangelization. Curtis and Michaelann live in Westminster, Colorado. They have been blessed with nine children.

The Prodigal Son

The story that Jesus told of the prodigal son was my life. I was blessed to have parents who love me. The table is set for me. It was a great life, but I wildly squandered it growing up. I was a train wreck when I was 18. I realized that I have only one life and I can live differently. So, I decided to come back to my center and live.

Sometimes people walk through life saying, “I could do whatever I want. I’m not hurting anybody.” In truth, you might not be hurting anyone but you are supposed to do something to help people. 

I cannot fix everything. But I can fix something. – Curtis Martin #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Ripple Effect

The key is create a ripple effect of impact by God’s grace—not just setting things better for others, but to teach them how to do it for others whom could also be taught how to do it for their people. 

With this, you’re also able to impact people you’ll never meet by paying it forward. This is a better way to live life than simply avoiding hurting people.

Some people believe in life after death, and some people don’t. But whatever it is, you’re done. All you have is a memory, but that memory lives on.

We live in a world with radical poverty. There’s breakdown of families, and marriages and children are in need. There are more people in slavery right now than ever in the history of the world, whether it is the typical slavery of work, sex slavery, or drug abuse.

You could spend the rest of your life addressing these issues and making people’s lives better, or walk through life hoping not to hurt anyone. I think that the former option, choosing to live for others is such a compelling invitation to form meaning and purpose in people’s lives. That’s a really exciting way to live and to help other people to live.

People start to come alive when they realize that they could walk through life and set things better. – Curtis Martin #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetFriendship is a wonderful ointment—in the midst of life, you are sharing life. – Curtis Martin #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

On Friendship and Parenting

I’ve worked to establish friendships with the people that I lead. It’s been an honor to not just work with them but also to be invited to weddings and to their homes. You may throw an elbow or step on a toe unintentionally, but friendship is an ointment that heals that wound. I’ve been blessed to work with great people

Many of us are parents. I am working with a 12 year old, and I have an impatience with parenting. It’s a slow walk, and I know they’re not going to be living in a mature life overnight. 

My goal is not to be a buddy, but to be a coach. We can be buddies 20 years from now, but I want to be friends with you a million years. So, I do not care whether I lose a little bit of credibility because I take phones away.

As a father, I have to play the long game all the time. Sometimes it’s three steps forward, one step back, and that’s okay as long as we continue to make progress.  But remember the goal we’re aiming for.

We are patient with one another, even in failures because we’re willing to lose our battle. This is not a war against people. We aim to win people’s minds, hearts, and trust to care for them and help them overcome obstacle that keep them from experiencing lasting joy.

Great vision and great investment covers for impatience and imperfections. – Curtis Martin #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetWe're always grateful, but never satisfied. – Curtis Martin #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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How to Eliminate a Victim Mindset

victim mindset



I worked hard to eliminate my victim mindset. “Victim” is defined as (1): one that is acted on and usually adversely affected by a force or agent (2): one that is subjected to oppression, hardship, or mistreatment.

Over a year ago, I stepped onto the TEDx stage to share a part of my story of overcoming adversity and a victim mindset. At the time, I remembered seeing what I thought of as “victim” thinking on a large scale. Whenever I turned on the news, the story line was that this person or group of people did this thing, or could not do this thing, because these things happened to them and made it impossible for them to make different and better choices. As such, I was growing disheartened by the growing message that people must accept their circumstances and place limits on themselves as a result.

In my TEDx talk titled, Transforming Adversity into Opportunity, I shared a portion of my story where I was an outcast in my own family, because of my race. Unfortunately, I felt like I wasn’t good enough, worthy, listened to, cared for, or important. While my family experience hurt me deeply, I did not let their perception of me be the end of my story; I refused to use my circumstances as a crutch. You see, while I may have been victimized, I could choose whether I would define myself as victim. 

When I refer to victim in this context, this is not meant to be against victims themselves. Rather, in the behavioral context, I am referring to the ability to think and act counter to any impact of a challenge or threat we are facing. While many of us do have to fight against our very real feelings of being victimized daily, what wins out is what matters.

For most, it is hard to think differently when faced with adversity. The things that are happening to us or around us are very real. Fight as we might to set them aside, we are often stuck, which makes it hard to move forward. Nonetheless, if we are to move forward and overcome the thing that threatens us, we must think and act differently about our circumstances and disavow a victim mindset.

Below are three main strategies I use to change any victim thinking to that of empowerment and action:

1. Put on the armor


When I reference “put on the armor”, I don’t mean that we cannot be human and feel the pain of our circumstances. To the contrary, we must recognize what is happening to us, but we must create a sort of “adversity deflector”. Recently, I watched one of my favorite movies, Remember the Titans. In it, Denzel Washington, a black actor, plays as the head coach for a recently integrated high school in the South in the 1960’s. What strikes me most every time I watch it is his ability to recognize how the community negatively perceives him, and his similar focus on putting on the armor, staying centered and, despite it all, moving forward to achieve his vision for the team.

I know that this practice is not easy. Right now, I see my cousin, who has been fighting breast cancer for ten years, hold a smile on her face even after tough days of treatment. I don’t hear her complain. Quite the opposite, I see her walk with her shoulders high and put on the armor of great courage.

She has effectively eliminated any victim mindset.

2. Learn to reframe


In my TEDx, I spoke about the process of reframing, which is something I do all the time. The best way to begin this process is to see our circumstances as a gift. For example, what did you learn because of the challenges you faced or are facing? Often, what we learn replaces what we lost, or the pain we experienced.

The real process of re-framing requires, first, that we recognize and even write down our irrational thoughts surrounding the challenge. Then, we must actively and intentionally change the irrational thoughts into rational thoughts. Then, what I do is visualize a “switch” in my head, and I flip it to help me see the positive side and move forward.

If we are to shed a victim mindset, we must reframe our way there.

3. Focus forward


While I do believe that the stories of our past are useful in helping us and others move forward, we need to create new forward-focused stories. The most effective way to focus forward is to write down your goals and desires on paper and place them in front of you. Over twenty years ago, I was a Sales Director with May Kay Cosmetics. One of the strategies they taught was to have affirmation posters that were both visual and descriptive. Fortunately, this helped me stay focused on moving forward and not making excuses. As such, there was very little room for victim thinking.

Another way to keep focusing forward is to surround yourself with people who move that same way through life. Think about it, if you hang around people whom are always looking back, or making excuses, you will be tempted to do the same.

Lastly, it is easier to focus on one step at a time, but while putting one foot in front of the other. Visualize that for a moment. When we focus on the forward movement, there is not time or need to look back. As such, I keep multiple things on my radar and as a part of my plan at a time so that I am focusing on the very next thing.


“Woe-is-me” thinking and acting gets us nowhere. If we want to move forward, have impact and uplift others, we must put on the armor of courage, learn to reframe the irrational and focus forward on what we can influence and change. When we do these things, we empower ourselves to act as victor and not as victim.

If  you are struggling to uncover what you can influence, having a hard time making excuses for moving forward, or need to find your personal power, download my free mini-course and action-planning guide to help you focus-forward.

Click download link below.

124: Leaders with Heart Find a Way to Be the Solution

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In this episode, Heather joins listeners in a personal journey during COVID-19, the racial divide, and writing a book.

Key takeaways:

  • Be the solution to the problems in our world. Don’t bail out from taking responsibility.
  • You are worthy of your leadership. You are good enough for others to care for. 
  • We can all choose to be unstuck post-COVID-19.
Prepare your ears for this wonderful episode!

Updates on the Book

I am excited to report that I already finished the first draft of the book and I was able to give it to the publishers for sending out to reviewers. Now I am getting feedback. This gives me the opportunity to look back at my manuscripts with a fine-toothed comb and start to work on the changes based on their review.

Not all of it was awful. Most of it were very insightful. No one said that I need to go back to the drawing board. I feel good that that did not happen. But I have work to do to get that done.

We cannot control everything. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Black Lives Matter

One thing that continues to happen throughout our histories is the treatment towards people of color, predominantly Black Americans but also other races. When we think and learn more about it, we have to stop seizing the opportunity in a negative sense, of treating people with darker skin as lesser people. Historically that is how it has gone and it has been opportunistic and gearing towards selfish interests.

We cannot change the system, the processes, and how America is formed. Some of us might have the power and control to do it, but some of us have the ability to control our mindsets and how we think of all humans, including people before us, first. How are we supposed to be acting with them? How can we show up and stand up?

What we must think about is the role that we play in the process and in the solution. Know that you have and possess a certain amount of power, authority and ability to show up differently, to be antiracist, and to support all humans: the people, the brothers and sisters around you. 

So I ask you to stand solidly in your shoes, take your responsibility, and be accountable for your own things. You must not get completely overwhelmed with every single thing in the world.

We can control lots of things and we can influence many. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetYou possess a certain amount of power, authority, and ability to show up differently and be anti-racist. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Art of Caring

One of the things that came in my heart when I was writing the book is the title, the Art of Caring Leadership: Why Leading with Heart Uplifts Teams and Organizations. This is based on this podcast and all the people I have interviewed.

I adore every single guest I had on my show. I have experienced so much richness and value, and I didn’t set out to write this book when I wrote this podcast. But little ways in, I realized that I have got to share these people with the world. 

We have to stop treating people with darker skin as lesser people. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetI find great excitement and thrill by highlighting and uplifting others. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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