Do you Need a Leader or a Superhero?

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Leader or Organizational Glue?

How often as a leader do you feel like it is your responsibility to hold your whole organization together? Do you strive to keep it together through thick and thin so that no one will see anything other than a fearless leader? You are not alone if those questions hit home. 

When leaders put on the persona of a superhero with their imaginary capes serving as impermeable shells, they really don’t exhibit the unifying forces that a leader needs. This facade of strength and power distances a leader from their employees more than it brings them together as a team. 

Leaders who are too concerned with maintaining their reputation and holding it together miss out on important details, relationships, and development opportunities. Think of it this way: if you were actually a superhero flying above your organization, you might have an apparent view of what’s often referred to as the 30,000-foot view, but you won’t really be down there in the midst of it with your employees. 

All about Balance

Good leadership is all about balance. It’s about knowing when to observe from above and when to get your hands dirty with your team. It’s about knowing when to appear strong and courageous and knowing when to let your walls down so your team can get to know the real vulnerable side of you. 

The Center for Creative Leadership came out with a list of 10 qualities that good leaders embody:

  • Integrity
  • Ability to delegate
  • Communication
  • Self-awareness
  • Gratitude
  • Learning agility
  • Influence
  • Empathy
  • Courage
  • Respect

These are not in any specific order, but the second one immediately jumped out at me. I’ve seen this in myself, and I’ve seen this in leaders I’ve worked under. Leaders who rely on their strong outer shell and persona can get so caught up in their own world—their often lonely world—because they don’t let anyone in. Then, when a challenging workload or a problem bigger than even their superhero-sized ego rolls around, they struggle to see when they need real assistance and help. 

Vulnerability is Key

Leaders, be vulnerable. We can go to the movies to catch an extraordinary display of strength and power. But in our workplaces and our homes, we need examples of real people. We want to see the humanity of our real-life heroes and leaders. We want to understand that they have flaws alongside their gifts, that they can ask for help. Great leaders recognize their limitations. They choose to delegate their work to find that balance and free up some time to catch a glimpse from 30,000 ft. 

Being a leader is difficult. I don’t think anyone would challenge that. But I assure you, opening up and showing up to work every day without a cape or a mask, as the real you, is infinitely more powerful than being a superhero. 

For more information, listen to my podcast with Cori Burbach, “Leaders with Heart Understand that Leadership is about Courage and Vulnerability”.

178: Leaders with Heart Must Find a Balance

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In this episode, Heather interviews Mikki Gates who is a Strategic & Inclusive People & Culture Leader for over 6 casino properties and a TEDxManitouSprings Curator. While her two occupations keep her pretty busy, they are a good balance since she gets the best of both worlds. She prides herself on being a servant leader, as well as a results-driven one. Mikki believes it’s important to be both – contrary to what many people believe. Take a listen to hear how she’s able to manage being an empathetic leader while also holding her employees accountable for their actions.
 
Mikki thinks of herself as a natural leader and has been using her influence since she started working at the age of 15. Take a listen to hear more about how Mikki is able to use her natural abilities to lead her team with care, compassion, and respect. 
 

Key Takeaways:

  • Being caring and kind doesn’t make you a pushover.
  • You can be caring and still be firm.
  • Be present when your team comes to you with a concern. 
  • Leadership can be lonely, but only if you let it be. 
  • Showing care and compassion for your teams will result in greater productivity. 

 

Mikki Gates attended the University of Colorado, and has since worked in various Human Resources roles throughout her career. She is also a curator for TedXManitouSprings. This means that she’s in charge of finding speakers, getting fundraisers, and everything else involved in creating a TedX event. Additionally, she is also a HR Generalist for over 6 casino properties. 

She is unapologetically empathetic and is a firm believer that being caring, kind, and respectful is the best way to lead your teams. Throughout her career, she has always tried to implement this leadership style and it has proven to be effective. 

I can be kind, I can be caring, but I can still be firm. – Mikki Gates #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

You’re Not a Pushover

About 5 years ago, before being empathetic and emotionally intelligent as a leader was widely known, I used to have people say I was a pushover because of the way I treated my employees. I often had to stop them and defend myself. Just because I took the time to listen to my employee’s perspectives and treated them with respect, people thought I was a pushover. When in reality, it’s quite the opposite. Because of the way that I treat my teams – with care, compassion, and respect, they in return, are happier to do the work that is expected out of them. 

leader mikki gates tedx

Finding a Balance

When I began my role at my current HR role, one of my executives asked me if I thought this job would fulfill me. At times I thought I wouldn’t, but because I also work for TedX I am able to find a healthy balance of everything I need. These two very different but fulfilling positions give me the balance I need. I would recommend for everyone to find this balance, it doesn’t have to be a job, it can be a hobby or anything else you enjoy. I found a way to fulfill those missing gaps and I think everyone would benefit from doing a bit of that too. 

It often takes an employee a long time to work up the courage to come up to you, so when they do, be present and listen. – Mikki Gates #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet
 

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Bezos v. Jassy Meets Caring Leadership

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Amazon, the customer, then the Employee-Is it Worth it?

Jeff Bezos, the business tycoon and founder of Amazon, stepped down as CEO on July 5. The reins are now in the hands of Andy Jassy. I recently was a guest on the Bloomberg Business podcast and had the pleasure of discussing my advice to Andy Jassy. My portion of the interview begins at 00:20:40. 

I’m sure many of us have heard whispers about the company culture of Amazon, one of the world’s largest tech companies. In all the research I did for this post, the number one thing I found on Amazon’s company culture is that it is customer-centric. Always and first and foremost, the customer. Contrarily, here at Employee Fanatix, we work hard to meet the needs of each employee to meet the needs of the customer better. 

How can my idea of Caring Leadership, which has become a little online ecosystem, which you can find here, fit into the corporate beast of a company like Amazon?

Most Recent Updates

recently read that before Jassy became CEO, Amazon updated its leadership principles to be more employee well-being and empathy-centric. While this sounds like a massive step in the right direction, it makes me a little nervous. How often do companies swimming in wealth hand out great compensation and benefits hoping to atone for the harsh working reality?

In the Bloomberg Businessweek podcast, I discussed how Bezos was often aloof and advised Jassy to listen more. I also saw that Jassy is known to be more personable (see here). 

Additionally, rather than throwing the dog a bone and extending benefits packages or increasing wages, I hope that Amazon digs into the core of the issue. I hope that Andy Jassy will seek out first-hand stories of the company he now stands at the helm of. Figure out what it is that really makes the ship rock. Long hours? Harsh working conditions? Obsessiveness with speed? Besides, a generous 401k and a pat on the back won’t fix these issues. 

I argue that shifting this focus to your employees and their needs does not contradict your customer-centric leadership approach. In fact, if your employees feel heard and see that you are caring for their actual needs, they will feel valued and live out the mission of their work even more. 

The Solution

After listening to the very real concerns and complaints of the Amazon employees, it might be daunting to consider the changes that can no longer be avoided. Instead, Jassy should gather his leaders and discuss the best solution for their employees. Ultimately, they might even have to even consider altering their 14 company leadership principles

I firmly maintain that you can put both customers and employees first within an organization. It’s simple-just care for people, on both ends, wherever they are. Definitely listen on both ends. Grow and maintain a culture that sustains the level of work output and the employees’ wellbeing. 

If you’ve heard an Amazon warehouse horror story or any tale of the workers feeling burnt out, then you are not alone. Leaders can’t problem-solve this one on their own. There is a huge need for inclusiveness, and I’m not talking just about marginalized groups. I’m talking about the frontline workers, the ones who are in the midst of the issues. 

I think that this multi-level inclusion actually fits perfectly with the following of Amazon’s leadership principles: 

Learn and Be Curious; Nobody in life ever finishes learning, and this includes leaders at Amazon. People in charge at Amazon should always be looking for how to know better and be better. Leaders are always seeking options as well as looking for ways to explore them.

What Amazon Can Do

What better way to “know better and be better” than by using the voices of the people who work with you? This allows you to find perfectly tailored solutions to their needs. This work doesn’t have to be internal, added to the plates of people already experiencing burnout. There are people out there like my team, who come in to handle this challenging change process for you and your organization.

Leaders, if you’ve ever had your organization compared to Amazon, are worried about a bad reputation for employee wellbeing, or have experienced firsthand the trials that your team has to work through, then start here. Above all, start with listening.

177: Leaders with Heart Must Fight Compassion Fatigue

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In this episode, Heather speaks directly to her listeners about the struggles that come with being a compassionate and caring leader. This applies in and out of the home for Heather – in this episode, she opens up about parenting, compassion fatigue, and more. Take a listen.

Key Takeaways: 

  • Being a Caring Leader can be exhausting. 
  • It’s important to disassociate from other peoples problems. 
  • Compassionate leaders must practice distancing themselves from their emotions in order to be objective. 
  • Sometimes what people need from you is just to for you to listen. 
  • Leaders need help too. 
Lean in with care. – Heather R. Younger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Heather R. Younger is an experienced keynote speaker, two-time author, and the CEO and Founder of Employee Fanatix, a leading employee engagement, leadership development, and DEI consulting firm, where she is on a mission to help leaders understand the power they possess to ensure people feel valued at work. 

Known as The Employee WhispererTM, Heather harnesses humor, warmth, and an instant relatability to engage and uplift audiences and inspire them into action. 

Rooted in her belief that employees aren’t just numbers on the payroll but human beings with ideas that matter, Heather’s talks and workshops are dedicated to helping teams, leaders, and organizations shine by improving how they listen to, communicate with, and empower employees.  

Lean In the Right Way

Being a Caring Leader can be challenging. I am a person that tends to lead with compassion, care, and empathy naturally, so I used to find myself entirely emotionally drained just from hearing other people’s problems. This was tough for me in particular because caring leadership is who I am – it’s even my business! Yet, although empathy is a strength, it’s also my biggest weakness. Whether it was at home or at work, I would often experience compassion fatigue. However, throughout the years, I’ve found several ways to fight this compassion fatigue and still be able to show up as a compassionate mom, boss, and friend. The root of it all is intention. When you go into a problem or situation with an intention, it is much easier to disassociate and distance yourself from your emotions and have an objective view. 

leaders compassion fatigue podcast
 

 

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176: Leaders with Heart Know Leadership is a Choice

leadership choice podcast heather r younger

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In this episode, Heather speaks directly with her listeners about the importance of reframing our mindsets around leadership. Being a leader can sometimes be seen as a hassle due to the hard work involved. When we reframe the way we think about leadership, it can be both exciting and rewarding. Here are some tips.

Key Takeaways: 

  • It takes a lot of work to be a leader, but it comes with a lot of rewards.
  • A person who cares is a leader who leads with compassion.
  • Show kindness on purpose.
  • It is a gift to be a leader.
  • Taking care of yourself is just as important.
Leadership should be seen as an opportunity, not a burden. – Heather R. Younger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Heather R. Younger is an experienced keynote speaker, two-time author, and the CEO and Founder of Employee Fanatix, a leading employee engagement, leadership development, and DEI consulting firm, where she is on a mission to help leaders understand the power they possess to ensure people feel valued at work. 

Known as The Employee WhispererTM, Heather harnesses humor, warmth, and an instant relatability to engage and uplift audiences and inspire them into action. 

Rooted in her belief that employees aren’t just numbers on the payroll but human beings with ideas that matter, Heather’s talks and workshops are dedicated to helping teams, leaders, and organizations shine by improving how they listen to, communicate with, and empower employees.  

What it Takes

I understand how overwhelming it may seem to have someone like me tell you to be appreciative, caring, and giving to your team when you are struggling to get by. Nevertheless, I never promised an easy journey. To be honest, it’s hard for me! However, it is a choice. You have the choice of how you want to show up as a leader – do you want to be a caring leader or one that just gets by? When you find that you are not being the best leader, I encourage you to think about these things. We’ve all been there. All it takes is learning from them, and being better for it.

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