151: Leaders with Heart Know When to Let Go

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Phil Weiser, Attorney General in Colorado. Heather met Phil during her law school days at CU Boulder, but invited him to be on her podcast after hearing a speech he gave about empathy. Caring leadership is about emotional intelligence, and with empathy at the core of that, Heather knew she had to have Phil as a podcast guest. 

Phil shares his leadership journey, sage advice, enjoyable anecdotes, and even the DEI&B initiatives underway at the Colorado Department of Law. 

Takeaways:

  • To be alive is to grow. 
  • Focus on leading with empathy and not judgement. 
  • Leadership is about urgency, care and vision. 
  • Some people need to be asked and encouraged to apply for promotions. 
  • Your strengths are also your weaknesses, be alert. 
  • True care means willing the good for another. Even if that makes more work for you. 
  • Give yourself grace. 

Phil Weiser is the 39th Attorney General of Colorado.  

As the state’s chief legal officer, Attorney General Weiser is committed to protecting the people of Colorado, defending the rule of law, and building a Department of Law that serves all Coloradans effectively.  Public Service is one of Weiser’s core values.

Previously, Weiser served as a Professor of Law and Dean of the University of Colorado Law School, where he founded the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship.  Weiser served in senior leadership positions in the Obama administration, and was appointed to serve as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice and as Senior Advisor for Technology and Innovation at the White House’s National Economic Council. Earlier in his career, Weiser co-chaired the Colorado Innovation Council and served in President Bill Clinton’s Department of Justice.

After graduating law school, he worked in Denver for Judge David Ebel on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and held two clerkships at the United States Supreme Court, for Justices Byron White and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Attorney General Weiser lives in Denver with his wife Dr. Heidi Wald, and their two children.

Growth Through Mistakes

I’m a big believer. This is something that the people who work with me are still going to use—continuous improvement. It’s a journey. Anyone who says, “I’m perfect, I’m the best version of me I’m ever going to be,” I would say that means you’re dead. To be alive is to grow. To challenge yourself to grow is to acknowledge that you’re imperfect. You’re human.

  

I have made mistakes, and I will make mistakes. I have done things I feel bad about and that I wished I hadn’t done. But that’s being human.

To challenge yourself to grow is to acknowledge that you're imperfect. – Phil Weiser #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Caring, Vision, and Urgency

Part of what I believe leading entails are three things: caring, vision, and urgency. Part of that caring means some people are going to leave my team because that’s the best thing for them to do, and I support them. One of the best things I do as attorney general is help support and encourage lawyers who become judges. That is an extraordinary accomplishment. I will lose them for my team, but I care about them. I want them to be their best selves. I want to help support their journey.  The second point is you have to have a vision. What are you trying to accomplish? How are you trying to accomplish it? What are your core values? What is your mission? That’s spelling out a vision for what your organization is about. The third point is, I believe leaders need a sense of urgency. I’m very entrepreneurial in how I look at the world and think about things. When people are working with me, I don’t want you to tell me “We’ve always done it this way before.” I want to hear, “What’s the best way to do something?” or “What if we try this experiment?” That’s the sort of thinking I like to encourage.

The caring point and the innovation point go together. This is not always understood. But if you lead an organization in a climate of fear, if people don’t feel cared about, and they feel judged, they will feel like they’re at risk. They’re not going to take risks themselves. They’re not going to be innovative, because they’re going to be afraid of what’s going to happen.

Care about your team members. They need to know you care about them. – Phil Weiser #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

I'm focused on leading with empathy, not with leading with judgement. – Phil Weiser #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Empathy, Not Judgement

My journey is to be more accepting of being human, and being more compassionate.  The reason that I gave that speech is because I believe empathy and emotional intelligence are so undervalued for lawyers compared to how important they are. It’s a real problem in our profession. Right, now I’m focused on leading with empathy and not with judgment. When I say leader, you could be one in your family, in your community, or in your workplace. Do you show up with empathy? Do you show up with judgment? A lot of people are quick to judge other people without knowing all that’s going on our current society. We’re making quicker judgments based on less information and less understanding. I want to do my part and the best I can do to lead with empathy, not with judgment. 

I want people to know I care about them and I support them. I know they’re going to make mistakes because they’re human. I make mistakes. We learn from mistakes. If we don’t make any mistakes, it may mean that we’re not trying enough new things. We shouldn’t be afraid to try new things. We’re going to have a bunch of different initiatives at the Colorado attorney general’s office to serve the people of Colorado. We’re doing it because we care about the people of Colorado, and we want to find new ways to make people’s lives better.

If we don't make any mistakes, it may mean that we're not trying enough new things. – Phil Weiser #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

We need to not be afraid to put ourselves out there. – Phil Weiser #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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How Caring Leaders Practice What They Preach

Over the course of my career as an employee advocate, I’ve seen countless attempts to level up one’s leadership game. Many of these endeavors have been successful, but many of them have also fallen flat. Across these various trials and tribulations, I’ve observed a common thread that seems to make or break a leader and how they impact those around them. So what do I believe is the secret ingredient to being a caring leader?

To be quite honest, there are many, but for now I will just speak to one: integrity. There is a special magic in seeing leaders who live out their values, who walk the walk and talk the talk, as they say. A true caring leader makes known their beliefs, and carries them through every one of their actions on a daily basis. Integrity is hard to describe but easy to feel; it’s just simply something you know when you see it.

What does integrity look like in the context of the caring leader? It means that we do not show up one way for one person or group, and entirely different for another. We are who we are no matter what, and we do not pretend to be someone that we are not, regardless of context, location, or company of people. We do not shy away from telling the truth, however uncomfortable that may be, and we are confident in owning the entirety of our personal and professional self.

That last point highlights a main pillar of being a genuine leader; to be authentically me, I must know myself well. I need to know my strengths, weaknesses, objectives, communication style, personality, identity, and a plethora of other dimensions that make me—well—me! Without in-depth self-awareness, my behaviors might sway in the wind. To know myself well means that I am aware of what might trigger me, what makes me smile, what makes me react or be proactive, and how I like to lead myself and others.

You can engage in learning more about yourself by examining your performance every day. Ask yourself what you did successfully, and what you could’ve done better. Ask yourself how you make others feel, and if they walked away from their interaction with you with a sense of authenticity. You can even solicit feedback explicitly, and inquire if your peers perceive you as disingenuous.

Getting reacquainted with yourself doesn’t mean you get to know yourself once and you never change again; quite the opposite is true. By knowing thyself, so to speak, you can better make adjustments to your leadership game as needed, since you will have a more nuanced and realistic appraisal of your faults and flaws. As you compensate for those gaps, you will find yourself better equipped to lead with confidence, authenticity, and integrity.

Being a caring leader who practices what they preach will not only reap benefits for you as an individual; it will also yield rewards for those around you. Being in proximity to a leader with integrity helps employees see they’re part of something bigger than themselves, and inspire them to have faith in those they follow. Moreover, it will motivate them to engage in the same kind of introspection and internal work, creating more and more caring leaders and setting off a chain reaction. However, the question remains: are you ready to start that domino effect yourself?

150: Leaders with Heart Are Accountable and Humble

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In this episode, Heather interviews the two women from her DEI certification class which she referenced in her blog recently. These two women shared an interaction, which truly inspired Heather. Antrece Baggett, History, Associate Chair and HCC Foundation Board Faculty Representative and Golbou Ghassemieh, Project Manager/Recruitment Manager at Koff & Associates, both demonstrate humility, compassion and accountability in their interaction.

Watch this week’s episode to experience the beauty of friendship and the true nature of caring leaders. 

Key Takeaways:

  • It’s important for caring leaders to be able to have accountability and take criticism.
  • Have courage to confront the person that did something to harm you. 
  • Demonstrate empathy and compassion when conversing with those who were hurt by your actions.
  • Both parties in a confrontation need to 
  • Assuming positive intent and accepting what someone was intending to do, take people on their word. Giving people the benefit of the doubt. 
  • Create a safe space for someone to speak up, everyone deserves an opportunity to open up and talk.
  • Be authentic leaders, whatever that is and whoever you are. Be yourself.
  • Help people to lean into the discomfort in their mistakes and embarrassment because that’s where growth happens.

Antrece Baggett

Antrece L. Baggett, daughter of Robert and Joyce Baggett and a native of Jackson, Mississippi, graduated from Texas Southern University, BA, University of Mississippi, MA, and Ferris State University, and is a Community College Leadership doctoral candidate.

Antrece is the Houston Community College History Associate Chair, and the Director of the Africana African American and Women and Gender Studies Certificate Programs where she supervises both programs, establish curriculum standards and course loads, recruit and monitor faculty and student activities, plan cultural celebrations and events, and maintains budgetary oversight authority.

She has served the institution since 1995 in a variety of positions including part time campus manager, academic division chair, and HCC Foundation faculty liaison. Antrece has supervised security officers, maintenance employees, receptionists, monitored campus events, facilities, address emergencies, and assist faculty, staff and administrators.

Antrece co-supervises 100 plus faculty members and provides leadership for the faculty senate as its Vice President. She teaches American, African American and Women’s history and Humanities courses. Her classes are face to face, online and hybrid.

For additional questions or clarifications, do not hesitate to contact Antrece at 832-741-6300.

Golbou Ghassemieh

Golbou’s professional qualifications include over sixteen (16) years of experience in the Human Resources field, most recently serving as a Deputy Director and Director at County and City agencies in the public sector. She has extensive experience in all aspects of human resources including but not limited to classification and compensation, recruitment and examination, organizational development and training programs, EEO, employee and labor relations, MOU administration, policy development and administration, performance management programs, discipline administration, recruitment and examination, presenting to Boards and Commissions, and general human resources leadership and administration. 

Golbou has been an instructor for Sonoma State University’s Human Resource Certification courses 9 years and has served as a speaker during many public sector HR conferences.

Golbou earned her B.A. degree in Psychology with a minor in French at University of California, Berkeley; her MBA degree with an emphasis in Human Resources Management from Sonoma State University; and holds the SPHR, SHRM-SCP, and IPMA-SCP professional certifications. Certification as a Certified Diversity Practitioner in progress.

Self-reflections, Safe spaces

Golbou: Sometimes people have to really have some self-reflection and recognize that things could get quite uncomfortable for us personally and for the organization. Part of creating a safe space is being willing to make it safe for people to be uncomfortable and for people to be in a worldview or self-perception that is being challenged. The opportunity for what has come out of that interaction wouldn’t have occurred if there wasn’t the combination of courage, bravery, speaking out, and being willing to be put in an uncomfortable position to have self-reflection.

You have to get uncomfortable. You have to be okay with being uncomfortable. – Golbou Ghassemieh #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Authentic Discomfort

Antrece: One of the videos that we watched in Dr. Allen Goben’s class was a video by Dr. Irvin where he calls us to be authentic leaders, whatever that is. “Whoever you are,” he’s saying, “be yourself, lead in that authentic-ness and others will follow.” What I strive to do every day is to be my authentic self, whatever that is because leadership changes. There are some days when I am a situational leader, depending on the circumstances. There are days when I like to be a participatory leader. I like to bring everybody to the table and get buy-in (support). But then there’s some days when I miss it. As much as we say we want to be leaders and we want to do this, leadership is not easy. It’s difficult.

 

Golbou: It’s really important for people to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and to lean into that discomfort, because that’s where growth happens. Here was Antrece being authentic and brave, and demonstrating courage. It was an opportunity to lean into the discomfort, the embarrassment and to have a chance to learn about her, what she was saying, and the experience she was having because she’s not alone. There is no there is no growth without discomfort.

If you do whatever it takes for you to achieve whatever that goal is, but we can't bring people along with us, then our journey is very sterile and is boring. It's not worth living. – Antrece Baggett #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

I'm still learning and I'm going to always be learning. – Golbou Ghassemieh #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweetben

Improving Conversations

Antrece: As leaders, a lot of times we are faced with having pretty difficult conversations, and we don’t know how we’re going to react. Of course, one will say what “I would never do this. I’m going to do this.” But when your true self comes to life, like because Golbou was so compassionate in reaching out to me, I said that I have to respond back. Out of all of the things that happened in 2020, building a relationship with her at the end of the year is probably one of the best things that I’ll be able to reflect on.

Golbou: For me, through the whole exchange I was baffled. I was stunned. I was playing what other people had said, it came out the other way and I didn’t realize. It’s really important as a burgeoning diversity practitioner right and a leader to be willing to take feedback and criticism, especially as somebody who wants to be an ally and somebody who has experienced my own set of experiences in life as an Iranian American person. If people are willing to be educated, I’m willing to educate. If I’ve said something that I didn’t even realize I said and someone’s brave enough to call me out on it, I am going to take that feedback as a gift. I’m going to recognize it as an opportunity to improve and to become a better person in general.

It's important for people to be willing to hear when they've made a mistake; otherwise they can't correct in the future. – Golbou Ghassemieh #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Be your authentic self. – Antrece Baggett #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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Finding and Fostering Greatness—However Small it May Seem

Honest confession: I am an unapologetic and total fan of NBC’s The Voice. The popular singing contest debuted in 2011, and I’ve been following the show ever since. Part of my fondness stems from my musical upbringing; my father was a musician—he was head of glee club in school, head of the choir in church, and he even had his own band at one point. So as his daughter, I was always surrounded by music, and I’ve loved it for as long as I can remember.

But beyond that, I love The Voice for another reason that I just recently became aware of. Throughout my entire professional career, I’ve had an innate desire and capacity to notice the smallest improvements in people, and wholeheartedly encourage that incremental progress. Whether it’s working one-on-one with employees to improve their communication skills, leading a bigger team on a major project, or consulting entire organizations on improving employee engagement, I’ve always been inspired to assist people along their personal journeys to bettering themselves. Seeing progress in others touches my heart, and drives me not only as a manager, but as a person.

Occasionally, I see more potential than is actually there, meaning that sometimes I overestimate others’ capabilities. Nonetheless, I love trying to reveal that brilliance to others and grow their light, so that it may shine brighter. I naturally believe in people and their potential to want more and be more. When we believe in our team’s potential and help them actualize it, we show that we care for them as humans, not just for what they can do for us. And when people have someone in their corner and feel supported, we are inspired to exceed our own expectations of ourselves.

So it’s no surprise, then, that I get genuinely emotional watching these budding musicians refine their craft week after week on television, and achieve greatness over the course of a season. Seeing professional coaches mentor these artists is like watching caring leadership in action. Why? Because caring leaders prioritize recognizing and growing the gifts and talents of those they lead. Instead of ignoring the signs of greatness in their people, caring leaders search for it.

If you are a leader, you may be asking yourself how you can do this with your own team. You might consider having meetings with individuals to really get to know them and their professional goals, and understand your role in assisting them towards those objectives. You could also keep an eye out for and pass along professional development opportunities you think they would benefit from. Give them gracious and constructive feedback on a frequent basis so they can continue working on themselves. Use your network to connect them to mentors or sponsors, so they may advance in your organization, and ask other leaders you admire about how they approach employee development.

Speaking from my own perspective, I know that I love playing a part in progress, however insignificant or time consuming it appears to others. I find it uplifting to improve people, cultures, organizations, and structures, and I consider it my job to get others to seek these improvements as well. 

I believe everyone loves bearing witness to an evolution, to an underdog story, to an upward swing in others that defies expectations. Some call it naïveté, some call it hope, but I just call it leadership.