The Art of Caring Leadership

The last 12 months have felt incredibly turbulent with COVID-19 and an increasing polarization in society dominating the news. For these reasons alone, I feel that the need for caring leadership has never been more important than it is right now. It is often said that we should be the change that we want to see in the world, so I set out to learn more from those who have mastered the art of caring leadership.

We have all been that person who has worked for someone who genuinely embraced us with their care. By contrast, we’ve all worked with someone who did the exact opposite and left us feeling not heard, not important, and not cared for at all. We are all searching for a sense of belonging and feel that our voice is valued. But what does caring leadership look like? And how does it uplift both teams and organizations?

I have shared my personal story in my Ted Talk about how not feeling heard or important inspired me to transform adversity into an opportunity. My mission has always been to ensure others always feel listened to and that their voice matters. One of the biggest drivers in my management career has always been the desire to listen more effectively. 

In my Leadership With Heart podcast, I have been fortunate to speak with and listen to over 150 inspiring leaders who have shared profound and actionable insights on how to be a caring leader. Each leader had a unique leadership story. They were also brave enough to share a moment when they were not the best version of themselves.

Howard Behar, former president of the Starbucks Coffee Company; Judith Scimone, senior vice president and chief talent officer at MetLife; and Garry Ridge, CEO and chairman of the board of the WD-40 Company are just a few examples of people who have shared with me how they have learned the art of caring leadership.

Throughout my career, I have read through thousands of employee survey comments from people who felt their voice was not being heard. When I listen to what the leaders are saying and the actions they take, I automatically find myself sniff testing if it is reconciling against what employees wished for or the things, they did not have in those survey comments. 

Ultimately, I have learned that if your people know you care about them, they will move mountains. Every leader I have interviewed expressed caring in their own unique, personal way. The powerful and profound insights gained from listening to both employees and leaders inspired me to write my second book, In The Art of Caring Leadership: How Leading With Heart Uplifts Teams and Organizations. 

I took lessons learned from 80 of my best interviews, along with thousands of those employee comments I have seen over the years. Together they have helped me build a framework that gives people actionable steps to show that they care. 

However, I didn’t just focus on Fortune 100 leaders or big names in the industry. I also shine the spotlight on everyday caring leaders and showcase what they do every single day to uplift and change the lives of those they lead. We are surrounded by caring leaders committed to seeing people succeed, not just for what they can do for the team or organization.  

I have witnessed first-hand how employees will go the extra mile for leaders who show they are genuinely concerned with what employees can do and who they are and can become. If this book makes it into the hands of people who don’t express or exhibit care and lead their people, I believe we can make a real impact in the workplace and the world.

I invite you all to join me on this journey of continuous learning, and together we can all master the art of caring leadership. You can find out more details and pre-order my new book here.

157: Leaders with Heart Lead with Curiosity

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Donald Comer, Staff VP of Fedex Corporation, an incredible leader of color who was recommended by Stephen M.R. Covey. Donald’s leadership wisdom conveys that he is a humble leader who leads with reverent power. Their conversation conveys that anyone in any place in an organization has the opportunity to lead. Donald and Heather discuss strategies for maintaining culture in a remote environment, which are very useful in today’s climate.

Key Takeaways:

  • Lead with reverent power. 
  • Make sure your personal brand and company brand mesh. 
  • Foster an environment that allows mistakes and by consequence innovation. 
  • Bring culture of office to the remote environment.
  • Handwritten notes are a forgotten skill and a powerful tool. 
  • Share a different perspective than what you’re accustomed to.
  • Assume positive intent and use curiosity to meet the other person where they are.

Donald Comer currently serves as Vice President, Decision Science & Analytics at FedEx. He is a seasoned Fortune 100 business professional with successful experience across broad portfolio of business disciplines and industries. 

Donald has been a member of the FedEx family since 1989. He is a recipient of the FedEx Five Star, awarded to the top 2% of employees annually. Prior to FedEx, Donald was with International Paper, Holiday Corporation, and Brandon, Smith & Jones CPA in accounting, finance, and audit roles. 

He is currently the Board Chairman and the member of the Executive Committee of the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA). Donald has also been a member of the Executive Committee of LeMoyne-Owen College, and at Stillman College as a member of the Advancement & Development Committee and the Athletic Committee.   

He earned an MBA from the University of Memphis and BS in Accounting from the University of Tennessee. Beyond his professional and board commitments, he enjoys music, traveling, and photography. 

Expecting A Lot

I use data analytics machine learning and artificial intelligence to explore opportunities. It’s such a great job. I have lots of opportunities to share thoughts with leadership and to lead an amazing team who are extremely talented. I expect a lot. What I aspire to be in my leadership style is to set expectations: to have a team that trusts me, that knows that I support them, that expects me to remove barriers, and knows that I am a caring leader. I think that’s what’s important.

I try to always assume positive intent. – Donald Comer #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Adaptability and Reverent Power

I’ve always struggled with my drive to lead. Is it something you grow and develop, or is it innate? I think that it is innate. But I also do think that you have to work at it. You have to be highly adaptive, because the expectations of the people, of your organization, and of society, continue to evolve. Whether it’s learned or it’s innate, you have to be adaptive and you have to be a continuous learner. You have to grow, and you have to develop. When you become complacent, it’s very quick for people to notice. That doesn’t slip in your leadership. Whether it’s truly a slippage from how much you care, or it’s just the fact that it’s not on pace with what’s expected in the marketplace, it shows up. I want to be relevant. There were some times that I want to lead from the second tier. I want to contribute, but I want to do it in a way that it always has some degree of influence on how other people show up. It’s not always about being the person that leads from a position of authority. I want to lead with reverent power. I want people to respect me. I want people to believe that when I show up my commitment is real, that what I say is what I do, and that there is no gap between those two.

(I’m) always trying to get to the place where the other person is before I make a decision. It is my nature because I'm a fixer. – Donald Comer #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

It's extremely important as a leader to find a culture that either messes with your style or gives you the tools to adapt. – Donald Comer #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Inspired And Motivated

A lot of my career in marketing and in the job I am in has been around innovation. It’s about changing minds and hearts about what an opportunity looks like. Leading a team in that space of innovation means you’re going to have far more time to choose strike out, then you win. What I’ve had to learn in my journey is to how to keep people inspired. I am going to be really intentional about using the word inspire. I used to say that it’s motivation. But there’s a significant difference between inspiring people to want to continue to do more, because I’m having to do the same thing for myself. As a leader, when I’ve worked hard on something, I have to maintain my motivation, then inspire a team to pick themselves up and move on to the next opportunity. Know that driving the organization to the right decision is really what success looks like. I could choose to see that as a failure or I could choose to see it as a learning moment and be inspired to move on to the next opportunity.

You have to be intentional about leading a team because trust is probably the most significant thing now. – Donald Comer #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

I want my entire leadership journey to be more of relevancy. – Donald Comer #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


Connect with Donald on LinkedIn

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156: Leaders with Heart Care All Year Round

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In this episode, Heather speaks with LaToya Lyn, Vice President of Talent Strategy at Oscar Health. Heather and LaToya begin with a discussion of Black History month and what it means to both of them. Their conversation ranges from activism, to identities, to listening and learning. One of the richest episodes to date. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Black History month is in February because of 2 prominent birthdays in February—Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. 
  • Drive D&I conversations all year round. 
  • Safe spaces aren’t just for the trendy voices. 
  • Repeated exposure to stimulus creates learning. 
  • Listen for the other person’s lens; listen outside of your shoes. 
  • Everybody has so many identities. 
  • Search for people’s “why”.
  • Know the goodness that everyone has been a part of on both sides.

LaToya Lyn is an HR leader with a deep passion for people within the workplace. 

LaToya has a dual masters in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior from Brooklyn College. Her professional experience spans from executive coaching to driving organizational changes and culture transformations for technology companies globally. She has contributed to the world of cognitive neuroscience, including adult learning theories, and animal research. 

LaToya is also a four-time National DisruptHR presenter, GoCoach, and ThinkHuman reoccurring contributor. She is also a recent Harvard University and MIT executive coaching and artificial intelligence professional. 

Growing, A Celebration

Growing up is always a celebration. It was always something that we thought through like a plan. We have monthly assembly, or someone’s doing like African dancing. Maybe someone is reciting a poem from Langston Hughes and singing “Lift Every Voice,” the black national anthem. When I think about black history month and how it works, it’s important for us to keep that connected spirit and stay aligned when it comes to the bigger picture—how we think about black history in general.

I always said that Black history month is history. It is highlighting and focusing all of us in one time of the year. – LaToya Lyn #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Comfortable Conversations

I think Oscar is one of the most forward-thinking companies when it comes to diversity and to having actual conversations in the room. There’s obviously a lot of work to do, but there’s been a lot of efforts from our leadership team, which in some ways makes my job pretty easy. I can just bring up a topic and it’s spoken about and heard. Then, a lot of questions come back, like “What do I need to do differently?” or “How do I think about that?” or “Oh I’m going to go ahead, think about these things, and come back to you.” I think it’s really great when it comes to that, especially for the members being served. It’s super important that every company spends a lot of time, allowing space and being able to drive these types of conversations. Also, not only talking about black history once a year, or during the month of February, but talking about it all the time, which my company absolutely does. It’s like they make [diversity] in front of a business standpoint. Because every other companies can’t do it, this is a reason why we have issues like a vicious cycle. A lot of companies should think about how to have conversations in a comfortable way, and not feeling like they’re in threat.

A lot of companies should think about how to have conversations in a comfortable way, and not feeling like they're in threat. – LaToya Lyn #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

When I think about like history, it's not just about pain. It's also a really fun time. We also need to remember our history for that. – LaToya Lyn #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Self-care, An Activism

I have a new activism I’m doing. I started, a few months back, an activism on myself. That means I’m taking care of myself. Self-care is a priority and that is a form of activism. Making sure that my mind body and soul is healthy, that my family is grounded, and all of those things are a priority in my life. Whenever we have a moment where folks really need to think very deeply about why and how people need to do this is really about self-care. That is the center of my life and a very rich form of activism. Anyone out there who is considering working out as a priority, or like a treat now, those are all the things you need to do—working out, eating right, drinking a lot of water, being very balanced, having quiet time at least 15 to 20 minutes a day for yourself to regroup, rethink, even going out, and hugging their family could be a recharge as well. This is so important to be able to continue on, push forward, and be in these spaces where there’s not a lot people that look like us.

Going back to black history month is about being curious. I think that will help people lean in a little bit more. – LaToya Lyn #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

If you're not putting a position to be in a different environment or a different sort of stimulus to kind of get you there, then you are going to have a bias. – LaToya Lyn #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


Connect with LaToya on LinkedIn

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Why You Are Who You Say You Are

I have the privilege of speaking and working closely with organizations every day. From those conversations, I have learned that any solopreneur, entrepreneur, or successful leader can suffer a crisis of confidence when they least expect it.

You are not alone if you have ever experienced moments where you feel hopeless, questioned if you are too young to be in a role, or felt that you are simply not good enough. It can also manifest itself in a dreaded case of imposter syndrome. However, many of these feelings are often caused by how we think people perceive us, rather than who we actually are.

As humans, we often define ourselves by a series of labels that we think represent who we are and how we want to be seen by the rest of the world. Although these labels can help us achieve our goals, we often forget that we are much more than the perception of others. Ultimately, your truth is who you say you are. 

When you believe, feel, and say you are that thing, something magical starts to happen. Your inner voice and curiosity become your compass. You can envision yourself in a specific place and begin to naturally move in a direction that will guide you to find your place in the world.

I began my career as a lawyer, but it was only when I was brave enough to be honest with myself, that I learned it was not my truth. I am and have always been a people person that cares for others. I pivoted, and my journey took me into the customer and account management sales space. I loved the experience and enjoyed helping customers. Once again, I quickly realized that this was only a part of my journey, rather than the final destination.

My true calling in life was to be a leader with heart in the employee and leadership space. I didn’t need an advanced degree to lead with empathy and compassion, it’s who I am, and I was called to do this, so I continued to follow my path. My leadership journey was successful because I dared to embrace that I am who I say I am, and that is the same for everyone else too.

Along your journey, you will encounter those who will try to put a label on you or convince you that their perception of you is different from who you are. The reality is that only you can determine your identity and use it as a guide to take you to where you need to go. When you accept that you are who you say you are, you can walk in that direction confidently with your head held high.

I encourage you to follow your inner compass on your leadership development journey. Let the lessons you learn about yourself along the way guide you to where you need to be in this life. Most importantly, remember you are who you say you are and not how others perceive you.

Caring Leaders to Watch in 2021

We have all worked for managers that took us for granted or made us feel like just a number. On the flip side, some leaders make us feel valued and crucial to both our team and the organization. We will go the extra mile for those that show they care about our wellbeing and value our work. Leading with your heart can uplift teams and transforms performance. It’s time to upgrade your leadership journey.

Caring leadership starts with leaders who care for those they lead. Leaders who are committed to seeing people succeed, not just for what they can do for the team or organization. They understand that caring is imperative to their future success. But it must be an authentic expression and come from their heart.

The caring leader is not the manager who never responds to an employee when he requests. Neither is the manager who micromanages every little thing leaving her employees feeling squeezed away from independent thinking and action. By contrast, a caring leader excels in the domain of soft skills, such as integrity, communication, empathy, compassion, responsibility, and positivity—and produces real results that drive an organization forward. 

There is much more to leadership than achieving performance targets. Modern leaders are not afraid to improve their emotional intelligence and recognize the negative impacts that their words, actions, and inactions can have on their teams. Much has been written about what a bad leader looks like. I wanted to put those that are the living embodiment of caring leadership on a pedestal and celebrate the impacts of what happens when you put people at the heart of everything you do.

In this article, the leaders I highlight have been handpicked for their display of many of these soft skills, which influence how they show up for those they lead when at work.

Benilda Samuels

Benilda “Benny” Samuels joined Rose Community Foundation in March 2020. As vice president of programs, Samuels directs the staff of the programs department in granting approximately $10 million annually in the seven-county Greater Denver area. Samuels was named one of Colorado’s 2020 Top 25 Most Powerful Women by the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce.

In this period of uncertainty, the world can feel like a strange place in terms of how we relate, tolerate, and lift each other up. Benilda is tackling social change from a different angle and proudly manages with intentionality. She is passionate about helping younger generations in the workforce by supporting their vision and resolutions for people living in poverty.

Benilda proudly declares that people should always come first; tasks come second. By bringing people close to you and not being afraid to pause amidst adversity, she has a unique way of helping others breathe through challenges to ensure they are not overwhelmed and overtaken by a situation.

In our interview for the Leadership with Heart podcast, Samuels shared the importance of pausing through adversity to tackle issues head-on together. Personally, I have had the pleasure to watch how she shows up and supports others in the world.

Listen to our interview now

Connect with Samuels on social media: LinkedIn 

Claude Silver

Claude Silver is VaynerMedia’s Chief Heart Officer, and she is passionate about creating spaces for people to thrive through the culture of empathy. Her success in guiding client relationships, global brand strategies, operations, and management can attest to that. 

For Claude, everything is about relationships and connection. She has embarked on a constant quest to discover new ways to hold space for people and bring growth opportunities to them with professional growth workshops and corporate team-building sessions. She’s not afraid to admit that she doesn’t have all the answers, but she is committed to helping her people find their own. 

Claude shared her belief that connection is the beginning, middle, and end. When combined, it builds trust. She prides herself on making sure that every person feels recognized. It could be anything from a high five, an email, a wink, or anything. But this is not just a leadership strategy, it’s in her DNA to actively listen without an agenda and has become a big part of her life’s work. 

During our conversation for the Leaders With Heart podcast, we talked about Claude’s leadership style, the unique ways she engages with her team, how her “real” way of leading grows those around her, and much more. She is someone you’d want to sit and talk with for a lifetime. If you pay attention to social media, you will often see Claude on video pouring her heart and soul into amazing leadership gems from which all of us learn.

Listen to our interview now.

Connect with Claude on social: LinkedIn – Twitter – Website

Daniel McCollum

Daniel is the CEO at Torrent Consulting. He is a Certified Salesforce Consultant with years of CRM and Salesforce experience. A firm believer of the “Greater Growth, Greater Impact” mindset, he is passionate about raising up impact-driven business leaders. Daniel has 15+ years of project management and technology solution experience across various technologies and organizations. He deeply fancies his family, as well as living overseas.

Daniel is passionate about raising up leaders and giving all people that opportunity regardless of economic status, race, or religion. Leading with his heart, he firmly believes that together, we can make an impact on the world. Daniel encourages his people to think bigger. He shared with me why it’s so crucial for leaders to set a vision that might be bigger than they thought they could do.

At a time where we are surrounded by adversity in the world, Daniel believes that courage is the willingness to face fear and move through it. By empowering his teams to think bigger, he actively helps them find the courage to make decisions and take those little steps in the journey to develop them as a leader.

In our discussion with Daniel McCollum, he shared how raising up other leaders and caring for the people he works with is what brings him the most fulfillment. Daniel’s organization created Torrent Academy, a 2-year Salesforce analyst training program, empowering marginalized Guatemalan youth to break out of poverty through formal employment.

Listen to our interview.

Social: Twitter 

Diana Steinhoff

Diana Steinhoff currently serves as the Executive Vice President of Product and Strategy at Life & Absence Management Administrative Solutions and has a demonstrated history of working in the insurance industry. She is a strong business development professional skilled in strategy, communication, organizational leadership, and product development.

Many perceive compassion as a virtue of “softness,” but on the contrary, it requires courage. Diana shared with me the necessary skills to master the art of compassion. She believes the essential qualities of a good leader are authenticity, intentionality, and positive and constructive feedback.

Diana leads with her heart and proudly declares that her place in this world is to help individuals. But these are much more than words. She has created safe environments for her employees to operate, succeed, and even fail without fear or judgment. Her leadership style involves recognizing that people are an organization’s best asset, and together they can build a world a better place for individuals who really need it the most.

In our interview for the Leadership With Heart podcast, she shared how she works on facilitating human-to-human connection at work to create spaces for colleagues to be vulnerable and drive employee success. Diana was referred to me from a listener who felt very strongly that Diana embodied the principles of leading with heart. I can say that she was right!

Listen to our interview now.

Connect with Diana on social media: LinkedIn 

Kelly Moran

Kelly Moran, Executive Director of the American Cancer Society in Denver. 

She is an experienced professional specializing in volunteer engagement, fundraising, community engagement, and event planning. Kelly shared with me how our attitude matters in the workplace. If we want to instill confidence and help others move forward past adversity, we must do it first.

Leaders are often challenged to learn while they are working. Kelly embraces this and thrives on the energized feeling that manifests when she is aware that she’s learning and growing. For Kelly, if she’s going to fail, she would rather do it quickly and move on to something else if it doesn’t work out. On the subject of failure, she is quick to highlight that one person’s terrible idea often leads to someone else’s good idea. 

As a leader, Kelly shared with me the importance of knowing your attitude and put yourself in other people’s shoes when they are having a stressful day or find themselves under a lot of pressure. Kelly feels compelled to want to shield everyone rather than project when it comes to pressure and stress in a work environment.

Ultimately, Kelly leads by example and proves that you will get kindness back if you put kindness out there in the workplace. During our conversation with Kelly, she spoke to the importance of allowing and empowering everyone around you to bring their best selves to work and how being purposeful in your communication can help create strong connections. Kelly leads with compassion and heart in an organization that fights for those who struggle with cancer and in the middle of pandemic. She exercises the necessary self-leadership to lead with care.Listen to our interview.

Connect with Kelly on social media: LinkedIn 

Kevin Kruse

Kevin Kruse launched his first company when he was just 22 years old. He built and sold several multimillion-dollar technology companies and picked up Inc 500 and Best Place to Work awards along the way. He is also known for his NY Times bestseller, We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement, Employee Engagement 2.0. But his achievements only tell half of his story.

Kevin is a massive advocate for experiencing your emotions and investigating them. We all experience fear, anger, anxiety, pride, happiness, guilt, etc., and by recognizing our emotions and identifying their roots, Kevin explains that we can become an even better leader for others. 

By providing an emotional commitment and engaging with employees, Kevin proves that teams transform their performance and put businesses on the right path to success. Kevin currently serves as Founder & CEO of LEADx, an online learning platform that provides free leadership development for millions of people around the world. 

Kevin has not been on my podcast, but he has, two times now, endorsed both of my books though we have never met. He is a selfless person who looks to grow and give to others.

Connect with Kevin on social media: LinkedIn – Website

LaToya Lyn

LaToya Lyn is currently the VP of Talent Strategy at Oscar Health. LaToya has a dual master’s in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior from Brooklyn College. Her professional experience spans from executive coaching to driving organizational changes and culture transformations for technology companies globally. She has also contributed to cognitive neuroscience, including adult learning theories and animal research. 

LaToya believes that it is not what you do as a leader but how you do it. She believes that her biggest gift is the ability to bring people together and bring out their best selves and their fullest potential in an authentic way. But she is also happy to take off her leadership cap and become the student that learns from them too.

LaToya embodies creating space to share with others and bring them along too. In our discussion, she also talked about why leaders must respect their own life and warned that only then can they automatically respect others. Ultimately, it’s about integrity and intention rather than the mistakes we might make along the way. LaToya is a leader to watch in 2021, because of how she breaks down barriers for others to gain access to opportunities. She broken thru a few of her own!

Listen to our interview.

Social: LinkedIn 

Dr. T Renata Robinson

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.

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. 

Good, effective leaders understand that they are not always right. Although she is a self-confessed results-driven person, you won’t find Dr. Robinson chasing results at the expense of others. By contrast, her approach builds relationships that support people to get the results. It’s not about you. It’s about perspective and how to shift the narrative. 

During our conversation with Dr. T Renata Robinson, she spoke about her desire to model humility as the highest honor. It’s important to understand that often, we encounter our people in their brokenness, so admitting your own mistakes as a leader shows strength and helps strengthen others. As someone whom I have actively partnered with, I see so many caring leadership behaviors in Renata.

Listen to our interview.

Social: LinkedIn 

Timbra Yoakum

Timbra Yoakum has been in education for 15 years and is currently the Director of Special Programs for a Texas public school district. She has spent the last eight years as an Educational Diagnostician. This year, Timbra modeled how to be a servant leader and get in the trenches with those you lead. She talks about the value of spending one-on-one time and getting to know your people personally.

Timbra never wants to be known as the kind of leader that’s not down on the ground with the troops. As a leader with heart, she invests her time getting to know her employees and making sure they feel comfortable approaching her if they have any problems. She shared how much of a difference a little bit of your time can make when building relationships.

Timbra proudly wears her heart on her sleeve and told me how we just show up as leaders. We do the hard stuff with a good attitude. In our interview with Timbra, she spoke about the importance of knowing her people’s daily lives and how that helps her people feel comfortable in their environment and builds a relationship of trust. I have watched Timbra engage people through her willingness to admit her mistakes while maintaining a solution-focused mindset many times over. She shows us all how imperfect leaders are also brilliant when they learn and course correct.

Listen to our interview.

Matt Manners

At Inspiring Workplaces™, Matt Manners is on a mission to change the world through the world of work. The company believes in recognizing and shaping the new, forward-thinking organizations of the future. Engagement and commitment in their community of inspirers play a critical role in creating a movement focussed on changing the world for the better.

In my discussion with Matt on his Inspire Club Podcast, we talked about helping leaders understand the power they possess to ensure employees feel valued and have experiences in the workplace that inspire them to greatness.

For several year, I have watched Matt has catapulted all things employee engagement to the forefront of our social media universe with the awards that he offers both individuals and organizations. He chooses to see the greatness in those around him and highlight it for the world to see. He is definitely someone to pay close attention to in 2021.

Listen to the Interview

Social: Website  LinkedIn

Leaders who intentionally exercise their power to be more emotionally intelligent in their communications and interactions show much more heart in the process. This display of heart keeps their team members and co-workers bonded to them and drives increased employee engagement and loyalty. These are just a few reasons why all of the leaders in this article embody caring leadership.

As Karen Johnson, equity and inclusion administrator at the Washington Department of Corrections, said during our interview, “If you take care of your staff, if you take care of the people that are entrusted to your care, they will not only take care of the people that they are supposed to take care of, they will also take care of you.”

155: Leaders with Heart Exhibit Ownership

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In this episode, Heather interviews Dave Sims, CEO of Floify, the industry’s leading mortgage automation platform. Dave is an example of a humble leader, one who recognizes that his leadership journey has no end. We discuss his development within his company and the crucial leadership lessons he learned along the way that he incorporates into his everyday. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Leaders take ownership for the whole company. 
  • If there are problems on the front lines, take ownership and seek a resolution.
  • Your leadership journey has no end. 
  • Create a sense of belonging within your organization. 
  • Leaders learn to become less involved, so others can learn and excel.

As a veteran fintech software engineer, one of Dave Sims‘ many passions is identifying inefficiencies within industries and developing technology solutions that streamline common workflow processes and alleviate IT security concerns.

After developing and launching Flux, a software platform designed to manage file transfers and batch processing workflows for the banking and finance industries, Sims’ focus later transitioned to the mortgage space. Having been inspired by his personal experiences with acquiring a mortgage, Sims set out to build a solution that would not only enhance the security of exchanging and managing sensitive borrower documents, but also make the process far more efficient.

Floify, the industry’s leading mortgage automation platform, was the outcome of this effort.

Since launching Floify in 2013, Sims has led his company from a simple self-funded and customer-funded concept into a robust loan origination solution that now supports more than 2,000,000 users via mobile and cloud-based digital mortgage offerings.

Today, Floify remains unmatched in the level of functionality, flexibility, security, and service offerings it provides to mortgage originators, borrowers, real estate agents, partners, and other loan stakeholders. Despite numerous competing point-of-sale solutions that have entered the market in recent years, Floify has withstood the test of time through Sims’ leading-edge technology, massive suite of third-party integrations, a pricing model that puts the customer first.

As CEO of Floify, Sims continues to lead his robust team of software engineers, security experts, account executives, marketing professionals and other staff, and explore new partnerships with fellow industry leaders to ensure the solutions his company develops remain on the leading edge of technology.

Support and Success

We started so small, seven and a half years ago, and we were up to about 40 folks now. So, I am cruising along my leadership journey and still trying to learn so much. I definitely suffered from imposter syndrome but I am trying to do it right. 

It took me forever to tease out the difference between customer support and customer success. That evolved and it’s always evolving. I feel like every nine months or so, our company becomes a brand-new company all over again. You’ve got to adjust and reorder sometimes. 

It's just really fun to try something new and see if it's going to work out. – @FloifyDave #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Ownership and Trust

We have a thing called ownership and trust. Every new employee who comes on board on the first day read a pretty short article I wrote a year or two ago called “Ownership Interests.” What that really means is everyone owns their own place within the company. As they execute well their work with their teammates, their sphere of trust grows. So, they can take on more and more things in from time to time.

When I was working for someone else, I also wanted to own that piece of the business I was involved in. It feels great that you want to be in charge of your own destiny there. You want those responsibilities, and to carry it along. So, I have no interest in trying to take that away from folks who work here. Some people call it micromanagement. Nobody wants that right. Everyone wants to run their part of the business. Some do really well, grow, and expand that sphere. Some people don’t want it to be bigger. So we try to accommodate all different types.

It’s still quite amazing how many responsibilities different folks at the company have to take on because you’re still only 40 people, yet there’s thousands upon thousands of customers will need. 

In the past, and I still do today, I want customers to have like the perfect experience when they’re going through something. Previously, it was harder for me to let go to micromanage. I’d want every single interaction to be perfect, and I was too involved. Over time we got bigger and I slowly realized that I’ve got to become less involved. If someone doesn’t lay down like this awesome great experience, I’m starting to learn it’s really my own fault—maybe I didn’t give this person enough training, or maybe we didn’t have enough weekly practice sessions, or I didn’t empower them enough.

A lot of us get nervous, and aren't confident in certain situations—I think it's totally normal. – @FloifyDave #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

If a customer doesn't get an experience up to the standard of what I would want to give, that's really my fault. – @FloifyDave #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Trying Something New

I wanted to try something new, so I started a company a software company 21 years ago. It’s still going strong, and Floify spun out of that company back in 2013. I have zero background and mortgages. I refinanced my home here in Boulder and I used a local lender. Just going through the process, I thought, “Oh, my goodness, this could be so much better.” How much fun, would it be to try to build software that would make the work lives of like the lenders and make the personal lives of the borrowers better. I thought it would be an incredibly fun journey. But I had no clue whether it would turn out well or not. We almost walked away from Floify. But we made the bet to keep going.

I remember in the seventh grade I sold bubble gum to my classmates. My mom would take me to the store to buy out all of the bubble gum and I’d sell it. My spirit is always been entrepreneurial.

Everyone owns their place within the company. As they execute their work with their teammates well, their sphere of trust grows. – @FloifyDave #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

I'm always thinking about how can a prospective new team member or someone who's been with us for a year or two continue to grow within the organization. – @FloifyDave #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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154: Leaders with Heart Know When to Step Back

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In this episode, Heather interviews Dr. Nikki Johnson, the first ever Chief of Mental Health Services for the Denver Sheriff’s Department. Nikki shares countless caring leadership traits and best practices, and how she came to pick them up along her own leadership journey. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Strive to be empathetic, genuine and non-judgmental. 
  • Stay true to yourself, even in a unique and seemingly opposite environment. 
  • Know when to take a step back to better care for yourself. 
  • Be your own best cheerleader. 
  • Take the time for proper self-care. 
  • Place boundaries around the things you value, and make sure you honor them as well as others. 

Nikki J. Johnson Psy.D., CAS currently serves as the Chief of Mental Health Services at the Denver Sheriff Department (DSD).

She has practiced as a licensed psychologist in the state of Colorado since 2008 and as a Certified Addiction Specialist since 2010. Dr. Johnson has worked in corrections for the past 15 years, with 7 years of her career working for the Colorado Department of Corrections. Dr. Johnson also served as a professional board member on the Colorado State Board of Psychologist Examiners, and as the Program Coordinator of Jail-Based Evaluation and Restoration for the Office of Behavioral Health.

Dr. Johnson also served as the Vice President of Correctional Psychology Associates and as the Director of Mental Health at the Jefferson County Detention Facility, implementing a Behavioral Health Unit and Special Needs Unit. She also served as the facility and staff trainer for Mental Health Awareness, Suicide Prevention, Identification of Personality Disorders, Working within a Special Housing Unit, M-0.5 Transportation Hold, and Restrictive Housing.

Dr. Johnson earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Women’s Studies from Kansas State University, a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, Counseling Track from Regis University and a Doctorate of Psychology in Clinical Psychology from the Colorado School of Professional Psychology in Colorado Springs.

New Year Goals

I have a couple of goals for 2021. The first one is to develop a competency restoration program. This is a pilot program of 12 beds, where we can provide that competency restoration treatment for those individuals and expedite that process. Another one is to provide a crisis response team that will be made up of civilians within the jail system. So, the first line of response will be someone in khakis and a polo, who hopefully will approach an individual in a non-threatening manner and work to decrease those number of crises in the jail system.

I'll be looking at what we can do for the mental health services for incarcerated individuals and helping them to return to the community hopefully better than they came in. – Dr. Nikki Johnson #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Taking A Step Back

I tend to look for strengths within individuals and build upon those. There’s a time and a place to give feedback, and to give critical feedback to employees or individuals. Most people work well having more of that strength-based approach and giving them that independence to grow within their own professional career. A lot of times we may see leaders that hold people back because they don’t want to lose them within their agency. For me it’s important that I meet them where they’re at, try to build upon that journey for them with their strengths, and see what direction they want to go. Even if it means they may have to leave the agency we work at together. Working in my particular field, we often give ourselves emotionally to the point where it’s called compassion fatigue. You truly are completely exhausted emotionally and have nothing left to give anyone. I think back to times where I was at that point and I became very cynical. I’m always a very optimistic and hopeful person in general. So, I knew it wasn’t me. When I was having a very cynical, negative view of what I was doing, you start to question your worldview in a deeper level. When I hit that point, it was definitely on another level where I truly had to leave my position and move on to something else. So, I really handled that by leaving a job that I did enjoy and in a lot of ways was I good at. Because of the vicarious trauma, and the emotional fatigue that came with that, I had to leave, take a step back, do something a little different, and take a year to recover and to move on to my next step in leadership. I think it’s a matter of seeing, and recognizing whether it’s taking a step back, changing roles, taking care of yourself, or giving up some things.

Go back to self-care. It's important to not only talk about it but to do it. – Dr. Nikki Johnson #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

As high achievers, we're always wanting to do more. We see more things we can do and more problems we can solve. It's really hard to take that step back sometimes. – Dr. Nikki Johnson #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Self-care and Encouragement

I think a lot of the skills that I have as a psychologist actually transfer well to being a leader because a lot of it has to do with empathy, and being genuine and non-judgmental. A lot of those skills need to be in a leadership role as well. Those come naturally for me because I am a psychologist, so it’s easy to transfer those into relationships with employees or individuals working with me. It’s important to be your own best cheerleader. That’s hard to do, especially as women. We’re not always reinforced to be confident or to be in a leadership role. But I do think it’s important for us to be our own biggest cheerleaders, where we don’t necessarily let outside voices that aren’t supporting our passion, drive, and vision to stand in the way of that. Not everyone’s going to understand what drives us or why we want to do the things we want to do. But I think it’s important to stay confident in that in order to be your best self. The second thing is going back to self-care. I think a lot of leaders talk a lot about self-care, but then you see them in action and they’re not taking care of themselves. They’re completely running themselves ragged. It’s important to not only talk about it, but to do it.

Try to see when people are truly ready to make that next step for themselves whether it's personally or professionally. – Dr. Nikki Johnson #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

It's been important to work my way to a leadership role to be able to assist the population in the best way that I can. – Dr. Nikki Johnson #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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Standing up for Intentionality

The last twelve months’ events have seen many of us consumed by too much news. Finding the balance of staying informed without feeling anxious about things beyond our control is a challenge that we have all had to face and overcome. While a leader can have a lot of influence and control over our lives, we need to remember that we have just as much control over ourselves.

It’s easy to blame someone else like Donald Trump or social media algorithms that continuously feed us content that strengthens rather than challenges our belief system. But how we show up each day, how we think, and how we behave is our own personal responsibility.

Although I do not approve of Donald Trump’s actions or inactions, I feel very uncomfortable with demonizing one person for the choices of others. If you were to think of a gang of people bullying a kid in the playground, each gang member is guilty, not just the one who started it. My mom always told me to take the higher ground and that’s because it’s required. 

Confession time, I have recently binge-watched the popular Netflix series Cobra Kai. When one of the main characters delivered the line, “The only way to end a rivalry is for someone to rise above it and be the bigger person,” it really resonated with me. The fictional tale of fierce rivalry between Daniel Larusso and Johnny Lawrence reminded me of the recent unrest in our world. Both characters have a different view of events and have created their own narrative.

The show reminded me of an interview that I saw with former CIA undercover officer Amaryllis Fox. When she was asked to share the most significant lessons that she had learned in her role, the answer blew me away. She replied that “Everybody believes they are the good guy and the only real way to disarm your enemy is to listen to them.”

Fundamentally we are all the same and, for the most part, we all want the same things out of life. Currently, we are picking sides instead of standing in the middle and saying this is what I stand for, as a human being, not red or blue. If we dare to put politics aside and step away from our keyboards, maybe we will find we have more in common with each other than we realize.  

These are just a few reasons why I choose to build bridges and create meaningful connections. By listening intently, showing compassion, and being more empathetic, we can all help disarm any form of conflict. It’s too easy to blame the democrats, republicans, Nancy Pelosi, or Donald Trump, and we have seen where this approach has led us.

Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. Maybe it’s time we tried something different and recognize that what we can influence and control is much more than we think. We need to stand strong in our schools and in our shoes by allowing our values to light up the world.  

Leaders are only human and will often fail. When they do inevitably fail, it’s our responsibility to think rationally and remain objective. We all have a collective responsibility to choose how we act towards each other in a way that is entirely separate from governments and leaders.