139: Leaders with Heart Start with Caring for Themselves

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Mario Harding, Associate Chief Operating Officer at Denver Health, about the origins of his leadership style, leading him to success as a humble leader. Mario relays a story when he was not present for his team during a time when they needed him. He sheds light on important qualities of a leader: vulnerability, being present, taking care of yourself first, balance, putting yourself out there for your team, giving yourself grace, and strong support network. 

Heather and Mario also discuss how to reconcile personal drive with true care, as well as the sacrifices necessary in leadership not only to care for others but to care for yourself better as a leader. Delegation can be key to improving yourself, by allowing you to be more present and providing others with opportunities to grow. 
 
Key Takeaways:
  • Don’t let your circumstances define what you can do. 
  • Take care of yourself and balance priority projects. 
  • As a leader, always be present especially during tough times. 
  • Be a vulnerable leader and put yourself out there. 
  • Being a leader means giving yourself grace. 
  • Ask yourself as a leader, “What can I let go?”
  • Delegation can be seen as giving a gift to someone else. 
  • Hear from other leaders; let their stories lift you out of self-doubt. 
What an insightful episode! Hope you don’t miss this!

Mario Harding currently serves as the Associate Chief Operating Officer at Denver Health.

Mario has over 20 years of healthcare leadership and management experience in non-profit academic and public health care systems. He attained administrative and operational skills in hospital and clinic operations management emphasizing patient care, education and research. 

Mario continues to grow and augment leadership and managerial skills to reach career goal of President/CEO of hospital or health system. He earned his degree in Zoology at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, and his Masters in Healthcare Administration at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine.

Seeing Both Sides

My leadership journey continues to evolve and grow. I’ve been in the healthcare industry for over 20 plus years now. I have worked at various organizations and hospitals that have way more money. 

Then there’s places like Denver Health, whose mission is to serve the underserved, the uninsured, and the very vulnerable patient population. So along with that comes this humility that I’ve been able to see both sides. As a leader I continue to learn and to educate myself from others.

 

I won't allow my circumstances to define what I could do. – Mario Harding #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Building Support Systems

I’ve had times where I’ve made mistakes or failures, but I don’t let that override what I’ve accomplished. I try to find some balance in making sure of the things that I do and how I contribute in the organization. It’s also critical to be authentic, and at the same time making sure that the things that you’re doing are really valuable to your time as well.

If you are striving for perfection, if that’s what you choose to do, just know that you may not get there. But why put that on yourself? I think it’s extremely and absolutely critically important as a leader that when you find yourself in a place where you make a mistake, learn from it, move on and forgive yourself.

But like I said, learning point. I think the other thing that comes to mind really is also about surrounding yourself with people who support you. Whether it’s professionally or personally, you’re going to need folks to maybe vent, have honest conversations, or have something that’s creating a challenge for you.

It’s absolutely important to help people more to build you up and not tear you down when you need it the most. Again, Support. Surround yourself while there’s enough negativity out. With the pandemic right now, there just is.

If you're not taking care of yourself, it's quite a challenge to think that you can do just as well with someone else. – Mario Harding #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetYou have to acknowledge that you can't do it all. – Mario Harding #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Personal and Professional

I don’t know it all as a leader. You have to be in a position to make sure that you rely on to those around you who may have greater experience or knowledge in the subject to help you get to where you need to be. That has helped me in the years as a healthcare lever.

I look for opportunities to find leaders who need to be elevated and taken out of their comfort zone a bit. As I work with my direct reports, I really encourage them to do the same—find someone who has a voice but may need to be given the opportunity to use that voice more so than they have in the past. I am very much about supporting my team, lifting them up and being transparent

I want to do more. I want to do better. I’m blessed, because having people around me to help support my career certainly has put me in a place that has impacted my leadership role. I take that personal side really intersects with my professional journey.

When you have that doubt sitting there, you need perspective to overtake your head and reassure you that it's okay. You can do this. – Mario Harding #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetYour integrity and ethics are absolutely critical when you're trying to establish credibility with others. – Mario Harding #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

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Picking and Perfecting Your Diverse Leadership Behaviors

Yesterday, my family and I went to the pumpkin patch. We went through a complicated selection process, picking up different pumpkins and testing them for size, weight, shape, color, cleanliness, overall appearance, and more. We debated if this particular pumpkin was too green, or if this one was too round, or if this one was too small—essentially conducting mini focus groups for every imaginable quality.

Of course, we rejected a few gourds in favor of others. Though it may seem like a stretch, I would liken this fall tradition to honing our own leadership behaviors at work. In my new book, The Art of Caring Leadership, I explore nine different behaviors that caring leaders exhibit. I believe a truly caring leader encompasses all nine of these behaviors with aplomb and confidence.

But here’s the thing: we as individuals get to choose how many of those behaviors we exhibit. Sometimes, we call on certain behaviors that suit us in the moment. Other times, we take a different approach, it ends up not working, and we have to pivot and adjust in response. Just as we troubleshot different pumpkins in the patch, a caring leader tries every approach at their disposal when guiding their team.

The process of caring leadership is all about trial and error—experimenting with different approaches until you find the ones that work best for you and your team. So how do we discern which behaviors suit us best?

First, we need to be meeting and engaging with our people often—both as a larger team and one-on-one—in order to find out what they need from us. Though it goes without saying, I’ll say it anyway: the needs of your team members come first. Instead of showing up the same way every day across the board, we should personalize and customize our approach to best address their changing needs and expectations. Each team member is an individual, and should be treated as such. What may seem like too small a pumpkin may be just the right size for someone else, and leadership behaviors are similarly received in different ways based on the person.

Another underutilized tool is organizational surveys. Whether it’s pulse surveys or more sustained, 360-degree feedback, all that information is valuable data we should listen to when trying to determine what areas of improvement need attention and how we can best address them. Instead of randomly trying out different behaviors until one resonates, you can use that energy to intentionally listen to your people’s voices, and architect your leadership approach accordingly. In short: listen first, act second.

The nine behaviors I explore in The Art of Caring Leadership are the arrows in your quiver, the tools in your toolbox, the paint in your palette, and yes, the pumpkins in the patch. Whichever metaphor inspires you most, the message is the same. Picking and choosing different leadership behaviors based on the individual situation is an act of care, and a demonstration of your acuity as a leader. It will take time to become comfortable switching between these behaviors, but that time spent is valuable practice for yourself. So get out there, get practicing, and find the pumpkins that suit you best.

138: Leaders with Heart do What is Necessary to Lift Others

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In this episode, Heather speaks with John H. Chuang, Founder and CEO of Aquent about his leadership style, a time when he was not the best leader he can be, and some great tips for leaders new and seasoned.

Key takeaways:

  • It’s less important if something is easy. Make it happen; be different.
  • Focus on people and do the right thing for them always.
  • Help your people realize their highest potentials.
  • Make people feel like they are a part of something new and exciting.
  • Using data is a brilliant way to scale better employee experience.
Prepare your ears for this insightful episode. Thank you for listening.

John H. Chuang is the CEO of Aquent. He founded Aquent in 1986 in his Harvard dorm room, and grew into the largest marketing and creative staffing agency in the world. 

Over the course of his career, John has been widely recognized for his entrepreneurial leadership and accomplishments. John’s accolades include Boston Business Journal’s “40 Under 40,” Mass High Tech’s “High Tech All-Star,” and Ernst and Young’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” for New England.

How it started

Aquent didn’t start with some master plan.  It started very organically. I was in college with some roommates who are still my partners and shareholders today. We’re all working together for 35 years.

We saw an opportunity while working on a student newspaper together. We did desktop publishing for companies in the area and it did really well. Then we thought maybe we can help other companies by sending people. We did well in Boston and we just started opening other offices. That’s how we got started.

We're always looking to differentiate and to add value. That's how we add value to the world. – John H. Chuang #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Right Communication

Right communication is so important as a CEO. If you don’t like saying the same thing over and over again, you’re not going to be a very good CEO. When you communicate and you have 10,000 employees, you’re often saying the same thing over and over to a large group. You’re talking and writing about it. Nowadays, you’re doing videos about it as well.

You’re constantly communicating. The CEO needs to emphasize, reemphasize, communicate and over communicate a single message. You’re saying the same things over and over, but with a different twist, every time and with as much excitement that you’re almost like an actor. This is why actors sometimes become great leaders.

I say something for the hundredth time but I need to say it with as much passion and genuine feeling as I did the very first time. That’s what you have to do for the person hearing it as they might be a new employee, or someone hearing it for the first time. That’s part of the job requirement as a CEO and a leader.

If the message you’re saying is correct, then it will stand the test of time. It will resonate over and over. It also has a reinforcing quality. If the message is actually correct—if it’s actually working in the marketplace, that message will resonate.  It will be possible to continue to do it because it’s really working.

If it is not working then perhaps you want to shift or change strategy. I believe company strategy changes, but company values do not change.

The message and the values that a company has shouldn't be changing every day. They really need to be grounded and rooted. – John H. Chuang #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetSometimes, it's people that stop themselves. – John H. Chuang #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Worthy Accomplishments

There’s constant adversity. You have tough competitors that arise in the market. There’s lots of change. So, what keeps me going is the self-reinforcing satisfaction that comes from accomplishing worthy tasks. When we accomplish something or achieve something that the world has never been able to accomplish, that’s what I live for.

The satisfaction of being able to accomplish something for people drives me and leads me to keep on pushing forward to do more. For example, in 1992 we became the first staffing company to offer full health insurance to all of our temporary workers.

Today, we are one of very few companies and we are definitely the company that offers the very best benefits to our temporary help employees. We’re extremely proud of that. During the coronavirus pandemic, we became the first staffing company and first gig economy company to give sick pay to all our employees in all states. Again, it’s that satisfaction of being able to accomplish things that are worthy.

You need to be bold enough to take risks and not worry so much about what might happen if someone says no. – John H. Chuang #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetWhat's great about today's generation is they really care about impact and making a difference. – John H. Chuang #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

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Learning from the Little Moments

I’m often asked where I find my inspiration. Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer. Of course, I am always inspired by my work, my clients, and the diverse people I connect with every day. I even find there’s nothing more motivating than helping others overcome obstacles, enhance their organizations, and achieve their goals.

However, caring leaders have to source their energy from places outside of their work as well. If your mind is firmly locked within the four walls of the office, you’ll have a significantly harder time coming up with creative solutions, replenishing your energy levels, and fortifying a sense of self-worth independent of your job performance.

So where should you look for that inspiration? I argue that sometimes you don’t even need to look in the first place. By that I mean, inspiration often reveals itself to us when we least expect it. We’ve all experienced the phenomenon of “shower thoughts,” or getting your best ideas in the shower when your mind is seemingly turned off. If you’re desperately searching for epiphanies, your overthinking might be scaring them off.

Just the other day, I was sitting on the couch, becoming visibly stressed out as I went through my mental to-do list. Like most of us, the list felt neverending. My ten-year-old son noticed my anxiety, and suddenly said, “Don’t worry about any of that. Lay down, take a few deep breaths, and breathe all those things out of your mind and let them go, and everything will be alright, okay?” Naturally, I was taken aback by his precociousness, but I went along with his suggestion. “Are you teaching me about meditation right now?” I asked, and he replied, “Yeah, about mindfulness, Mama.”

Sure enough, a moment of quiet reflection did me good, and I was grateful that my youngest child was there to pull me out of my spiral and grant me the time and space I needed to recenter my focus. Of course, this is a great reminder of how much we can learn from our children, but there’s a larger universal message here as well. Teachers, instructors, and educators are quite literally all around us. Caring leaders know that life’s most teachable moments often arrive outside the workplace, usually without the fanfare of a grand “Eureka!” moment. It’s our job to take those lessons and leverage them towards improving those we lead. Whichever experiences are fueling those “a-ha” moments are what make your perspective truly unique and needed.

Inspiration not only gives us new ideas for possible innovation, but it also replenishes our energy levels and reminds us of our core purpose in whichever field we choose. This element of self-care is critical, as caring leaders must fill up their own emotional/mental cup so they can continue to pour from it for the benefit of others. Whether you find inspiration in art, nature, literature, food, family, or even reality television, carve out time in your schedule to hold space for the things that bring you joy and excitement. Take note of those places where you get your best “shower thoughts,” and save them for when you need an extra boost of encouragement. Welcome those little moments back into your life—even if it seems counterproductive—and I promise the creative and emotional return will be worth the small investment.

137: Leaders with Heart Lead with Integrity

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Tara Healy, VP of Compliance at Cherry Creek Mortgage about her leadership style, a time when she was not an empathetic and responsive leader, and some great tips for recognition and getting through this pandemic with our teams.

Key takeaways:

  • As leaders, we must be people of integrity.
  • Ask yourself whether you are congruent with who you say you are.
  • Are you creating safe environments for others to be themselves at work?
  • Do you recognize your people in the ways they receive it as such?
Hope you don’t miss this pearl of an episode. Listen and learn!

Tara Healy currently is Vice President of Compliance for Cherry Creek Mortgage Co., Inc. She is a well-respected mortgage professional with 20 years of experience and with specialized skills in the areas of Origination, Operations Management, and Compliance.

A true advocate for the mortgage banking industry, Tara serves as the youngest President of Colorado Mortgage Lenders Association (CMLA), a member of the CMLA Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Committee, past Chair of the CMLA Education and Events Committee, and a member of the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues & Regulatory Compliance Committee. 

Tara was awarded the prestigious Certified Mortgage Banker designation in 2018. She is only one of 11 women in Colorado to have this designation.

Leadership and Styles

It truly is a journey and it’s a fun one. Honestly, I talk about retiring just on the hard days, but I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon.

I don’t think there’s actually one leadership style. My style varies depending on what we’re trying to accomplish, who the person is if it’s a one on one, and if there’s a certain goal we’re trying to kick off and implement. Over the years, I’ve come to learn that there’s not a one size fits all. I’ve learned that watching how it went well and how it didn’t go so well with other leaders.

Helping people is what drives me the most. – Tara Healy #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Leading with Integrity

Integrity is doing something when no one’s watching—doing the right thing when no one is watching you. That sounds really silly, but it’s true. 

When I lead, I would say one of my leadership styles is I’m very honest. If I’ve messed up, you’re going to hear it from me. I’m going to own it and I’m going to apologize for it. I’m going to try to make amends. Leading with integrity—hearing people, understanding people, expressing empathy and just doing the right thing—is not easy, in all honesty.

It also means having difficult conversations oftentimes, which is saying what needs to be said. It doesn’t mean you have to be nasty or mean, but it’s having difficult conversations because they need to be had.

This is where it gets a little bit interesting from an executive perspective, because you’re trying to tell your executives, the people that you report to, something very difficult to say like telling them they’re wrong.

It doesn’t always go down well. So, over the years, you learn how to craft that message and get to the same result. That’s been something I’ve struggled with in the beginning, and I’m still here.

You're always a work in progress. It's never done. – Tara Healy #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetBusiness is personal. – Tara Healy #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Water Cooler Meetings

We have 30-minute water cooler meetings even before COVID. We don’t talk about work. We just talk about what’s going on. It’d be the one of the things you would do on a Friday in the office, where you’d walk around and talk to people. But you can’t do that right now, so that’s our Friday water core message during Zoom calls.

I have a stack of thank you notes by my desk. When I see something, I write them in and I just send them out. It’s a small little touch because it’s personal. Over the years, I was told to keep business and personal separate.

But I’ll be honest with you, I think business is personal. You’re dealing with people and it becomes personal. Recognizing people for their talents, their time, or their treasures, is a great thing.

Give yourself some grace. – Tara Healy #leadershipwithheart Click To TweetBe patient with yourself. – Tara Healy #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

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6 Tips for Honing Your Unique Leadership Style

In the countless interviews I’ve conducted with leaders as part of my podcast, Leadership with Heart, I’ve grown to appreciate the multitude of leadership styles my guests bring to the table. I’ve learned through these dialogues that no two people lead in the same exact way, and that it’s these differences that make the workplace such a nuanced and complex ecosystem.

Within that environment, I often find my clients struggling to develop their own unique leadership style. And with a growing body of literature and thought leadership out there, it’s harder than ever to cut through the noise and carve out a meaningful path for yourself.

So how do you begin to discover and refine your personal leadership approach? In this article, I share six tips that can get you started on that journey.

  • Reflect on what makes your perspective unique. Right out of the gate, I recommend conducting an in-depth dive into yourself. Assess your personality, examine your dominant character traits, identify your core values and morals, determine your most comfortable communication style, etc. Because our behavioral traits will always influence how we make decisions and interact with those around us, it’s crucial to pay attention to how they manifest (consciously or subconsciously) in a work environment.
  • Identify your weaknesses. Knowing where your overall skill set is lacking can help you better leverage your team’s strengths as a countermeasure. Moreover, being fully transparent about your shortcomings can inspire your team to improve themselves, as well.
  • Build a culture of feedback. In all honesty, you will never know how effective your personal leadership style is if you fail to solicit feedback from your peers. Gauging your performance on a frequent basis and in a constructive manner will help you adapt your strategies in real time, and make your team members feel valued and respected.
  • Take notes from leaders who have inspired you, but don’t copy too closely. Take stock of leaders you’ve connected with in the past, and consider what they did to truly impact your life. However, in my opinion, there is nothing worse than a poor imitation of another caring leader. Of course, we as humans learn from observation, and you should always be looking to others for inspiration and motivation when crafting your unique approach. But avoid emulating others too closely, or it may come across as inauthentic and disingenuous. After all, your leadership style should be your own.
  • Learn from past leadership mishaps—others or your own. Conversely, reflect on instances of poor leadership. What went wrong? What did they do (or didn’t do) that negatively influenced the outcome? As with many things in life, learning what not to do may be as productive as learned what to do.
  • Put yourself in new (and potentially uncomfortable) situations. Discomfort is one of the most effective self-discovery tools in the caring leader’s arsenal. Take on a project outside of your wheelhouse, talk to someone you wouldn’t normally connect with, or sit in on a meeting in a different department. When honing your leadership style, venture outside your comfort zone to discover how you instinctually react in moments of growth.

With all that said, it should be noted that introspective questions like these should be returned to every so often. Our leadership styles are always evolving with the times, and changing as we learn new information. As such, a critical element of honing your leadership style is remaining flexible and open-minded enough to adapt it as needed, so you can ensure your approach maintains relevance in a rapidly progressing world. If you welcome these adjustments as the necessary learning opportunities they are, you’ll find you’ve created a leadership style all your own before long.