201: Leaders with Heart Ask the Right Questions

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In this episode, Heather sits down with Misty Guinn, Director of Customer Advocacy at Benefitfocus, a data-driven, cloud-based software solutions for health care and benefits administration. Their mission is to improve lives with benefits that focus on people and culture. Misty believes that leaders can learn exactly what their people need by asking the right questions. After all, it all starts with listening. During her interview with Heather, Misty talks about her leadership journey, why she describes herself as a “recovering perfectionist,” and more. 

Key Takeaways: 

  • Her motivation to lead comes from the desire to help people become the best versions of themselves
  • Becoming a mother and becoming more vulnerable made her a better leader
  • Perfection is not real and it’s not authentic
  • Asking your people the right questions can make a world of a difference
  • Surface level questions will lead to surface level results
  • Benefitfocus is a data-driven, cloud-based software solutions program for health care and benefits administration
I'm a recovering perfectionist. – Misty Guinn #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet
Our mission is to improve lives with benefits. – Misty Guinn #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Misty Guinn is the director of customer advocacy at Benefitfocus, where she works closely with customers and stakeholders to build relationships and experiences that cannot be replicated anywhere else by designing programs that champion Benefitfocus brand, people and culture. She’s dedicated to designing a culture and environment that allows others’ total well-being to flourish through education, programs, and policies, while also improving employees’ health literacy and consumerism. In her previous role at Benefitfocus, she served as the Director of Benefits & Wellness where she established best practices in benefits engagement, education, and data-driven strategies. Misty is committed to fostering the foundations of a healthier workforce and community by embracing all the different pillars of well-being: physical, mental/emotional, financial, and social/purpose. She has been certified as a worksite wellness specialist with the National Wellness Institute and a Franklin Covey Facilitator in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Asking the Right Questions

Being aware of what your people need right now and how they want to be engaged are the most important questions to shift from the professional LinkedIn profiles walking around in your hallways to the whole person walking around. It’s important to ask them what’s going on in their life, not just what benefits they want next year, because you’ll get cookie-cutter answers like medical, dental, vision, etc. But instead, if you ask them deeper questions such as “Are you caregiving for anyone in your family right now? Have you purchased a home in the last 12 months?” You will not only connect, but you’ll be able to add real value to them and their benefits options. Asking the right questions is key before you start designing a benefit plan that doesn’t apply or benefit your people.

questions misty guinn leadership with heart

Making Better Choices in 2022

making better choices in 2022

Decisions, Decisions…

I was walking with my son one day, and he said to me:

“Everything starts with a decision, which is just really a choice. We all have to make a series of choices. That gets us where we are today.”

He went on to say that as he makes choices, he would do what others wanted him to do if he was interested in that option, but if it didn’t interest him or he thought it was a bad idea, he wouldn’t do it. Nor would he care what others thought about him regardless of his choice. 

That resonated with me.

In 2021, I made a lot of decisions—many that served me well and some that did not. I wrote a book that came out in April, which required me to focus, have quiet time, get organized, and follow a process with my team. Those were all choices. On the other hand, I wavered on my diet, ate too many sweets, and put on a little weight. I made the decision not to do what I knew would serve me and my preferred health.

Life is constantly about making choices. The no-brainer choices, the difficult choices, and all the curveballs in between. So how can we all be better in 2022 about making choices that serve us well?

Identifying Self Habits

Being able to recognize your habits, good and bad, is so important. We are often too hard on ourselves by jumping to conclusions, overthinking, and making decisions that don’t really benefit us in any way. Some just for the sake of convenience, and others because we simply didn’t take time to think things through.

I once read an article from VeryWellMind about nine psychological habits that make you a better decision-maker and keep your mental health in check. Here’s a short snippet from each:

Take note of your overconfidence

Good decision-makers recognize areas in their lives where overconfidence could be a problem. Then they adjust their thinking and their behavior accordingly. Perhaps you are 90% sure you know where the office is that you’re visiting. Or maybe you’re 80% certain you can convince your boss to give you a promotion. If you’re overconfident about those things, your plans are likely to go awry.

Identify the risks you take

Identify habits that have become commonplace. These things require little thought on your part because they’re automatic. Then take some time to evaluate which might be harmful or unhealthy, and create a plan to develop healthier daily habits.

Frame your problems in a different way

When you face a decision, frame the issue differently. Take a minute to think about whether the slight change in wording affects how you view the problem. For example: One surgeon tells his patients, “Ninety percent of people who undergo this procedure live.” The other surgeon says, “Ten percent of people who undergo this procedure die.” The facts are the same. But research shows people who hear “10 percent of people die” perceive their risk to be much greater.

Stop thinking about the problem

While science shows that there is plenty of value in thinking about your options, overthinking your choices can actually be a problem. Weighing the pros and cons for too long may increase your stress level to the point that you struggle to make a decision.

Set aside time to reflect on your mistakes

Make sure you don’t dwell on your mistakes for too long. Rehashing your missteps repeatedly isn’t good for your mental health. Instead, keep your reflection time limited—perhaps 10 minutes per day is enough to help you think about what you can do better tomorrow. Then, take the information you’ve gained and commit to making better decisions moving forward.

Acknowledge your shortcuts

Make it a daily habit to consider the mental shortcuts that lead to bad decisions. Acknowledge the incorrect assumptions you may make about people or events, and you may be able to become a little more objective.

Consider the opposite

Considering the opposite will help break down unhelpful beliefs so you can look at situations in another light and decide to act differently.

Label your emotions

Make it a daily habit to label your feelings. Note whether you’re feeling sad, angry, embarrassed, anxious, or disappointed. Then take a minute to consider how those emotions may influence your decisions.

Talk to yourself like a trusted friend

When faced with a tough choice, ask yourself, “What would I say to a friend who had this problem?” You’ll likely find the answer comes to you more readily when you’re imagining yourself offering wisdom to someone else.

In my book, I talk a lot about self-leadership and how it influences your way of thinking. Refocusing and adjusting these small habits into your life will do you a world of good when it comes to making better decisions in every aspect of your life.

Offering Yourself Solutions

It’s tough sometimes to sit down and think about the choices you’ve made and why you made them, especially when you weren’t happy with the outcome. But there are always ways to break down your thinking and make better decisions next time. Offer yourself realistic solutions.

Know your why for making the decisions you have made. Are they for you or someone else?

I know I’ve made decisions thinking more about others than myself. Many of us do, but being too selfless isn’t always a good thing. Remember that it’s equally important to take into account how you will be affected by your choices. You may be making a decision about something that’s overall best for your family, but is it the best for you? Make sure you consider all outcomes and do your best to make decisions that equally benefit you and any other party you’re considering.

Break it down into bite-sized actions, which makes it easier to accomplish.

Maybe you’re taking on a big project at work, or perhaps you’re just packing for a family vacation. Thinking about everything you have to get done will quickly overwhelm you. Instead, take the time to write yourself a to-do list and check action items off as you go. Seeing your accomplishments one by one will help alleviate that pressure and stress.

Give yourself a little grace, but not too much. Too much allows us to skip backward.

Sometimes you will go off-track, take a detour, and may even be forced to backtrack. Rather than beat yourself up or blame others, remember to give yourself a little grace. You will quickly find yourself back on track and will figure out how to overcome almost any obstacle.

Exercise gratitude and give yourself praise for which choices you stick to daily and the results.

Anything worth having is worth tracking. Measure your success and setbacks along the way in a journal or tracking tool. For example, I have gone in and out of tracking what I eat, and I am much more successful at staying on track when I know I have to write it down.

Remember, we are all human. We will make some decisions that move us forward, and some that move us backward. It’s how we are. We can increase our chances of making better choices and achieving all we want in the new year if we recap the five above.

Going into 2022, which choices will YOU make?

200: Leaders with Heart Trust Their Instincts

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In this episode, Heather sits down with Whiting Dimock, her long-time friend, and former law school classmate. Whiting started her career in a big law firm, where she spent a few years before transitioning into a corporate setting. During that time, she worked for a commercial real estate company and eventually switched to work on the people side of the law business. After some years, she moved back to Boulder, CO to work as the dean of students, where she is currently. She’s now preparing to transition out of her current role to start a law firm with her partner in January.

Key Takeaways: 

  • Her motivation to lead comes from the desire to help people
  • It’s critical to speak up when you don’t think something is right
  • Taking on too much will eventually lead to being unable to deliver
  • Leaders need to be held accountable for their actions
  • The law culture is very demanding of its people
When things don't make sense to me, I can't just be quiet about it. – Whiting Dimock #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Whiting Dimock has served as the senior assistant dean of students at the University of Colorado Law School since 2010. In this role, Whiting has worked to support students as they navigate the law school experience and transition to the legal profession. She works with students and colleagues on efforts to maximize student success and retention, with a particular focus on supporting students from backgrounds that are historically underrepresented in the legal profession. Examples of this work include service on the admissions committee to ensure that the holistic review of applications considers structural barriers to entry into the legal profession, coordination with support resources for students facing mental health, economic, and other challenges, and advising and support as students transition to the legal profession through applying for admission to practice law and preparing for the bar exam. Whiting worked with students and campus leadership to place a full-time psychologist on-site at the law school to help enable free, confidential access to counseling for law students.

Before serving as dean of students, Whiting practiced law and worked in management at large law firms and a commercial real estate company in Washington, D.C. She also served as a career transition advisor for lawyers. Her experience includes recruiting, integrating, training, coaching, evaluating, mentoring, advising, and facilitating departures of personnel. Whiting earned her law degree from the University of Colorado Law School and her bachelor’s degree from Williams College.

In January 2022, Whiting is leaving the University of Colorado to return to practicing law. She and her partner Glen Matthews are founding a law firm, Dimock Matthews LLC, to assist individuals facing divorce, DUI charges, and other challenging circumstances.  

Wearing Ourselves Down

We have such a “no pain, no gain” mentality and nonstop pressure to push ourselves. This mentality is so common amongst us in law. Many think that it’s the only way to succeed. The legal profession rewards that type of mentality so much that we’ve gotten to a point where we idolize it. I’ve noticed that the times when I feel not the best about how I’m showing up is when I have really overworked myself. I’ve had to learn how to distinguish between individual employee problems versus systemic problems. Before, I would blame myself or the systems in place when something didn’t go right. That was taking a toll on me mentally, so learning how to distinguish has been life-changing. I’m kind of shifting back to basics right now. Taking more time to take care of myself and what I’m focused on. I’m learning how to train myself to understand what my needs are.

instincts whiting dimock


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Handling Layoffs with Dignity

layoff better ceo

The Ugly Truth

I’m sure you’ve heard about the CEO from Better.com who recently laid off 900 of his employees over a Zoom call. Sure, he came forth to apologize eventually, but a late apology often seems as empty as the cold delivery that started it all. I mean 900 employees, wow! If you haven’t yet read the recent updates, company executives also resigned following the chaos. What a terrible way for an organization to crumble. And all for the sake of not having a caring leadership mindset.

Back in 2014, I had a personal layoff experience. I am blessed to say the company I worked for at the time handled it with dignity and made my family, and I feel cared for through the process. They did it with kindness, which set the pace for everything that came along thereafter. I was able to handle my layoff without depression or prolonged anxiety about what would come next. You can read my full story in this article.

But it’s all too often we see that isn’t the case with most layoffs. They may be unfortunate events, but when an organization is ready for the unexpected, such as the Coronavirus, they will take the brunt of the suffering and not lay that onto their employees.

Unfortunately, many employees aren’t taken care of or valued for the time they’ve put into their position. So in light of a layoff, they look to their managers or HR and often don’t receive the correct answers. Instead, they’re told one thing and maybe a few days later, told something entirely different. It can be a frustrating, difficult, life-altering event to navigate that is avoidable if there is structure in place to provide families with support in these circumstances if it’s ever needed. 

Dignifying the Decision

I think everyone would agree that laying an individual off from their position isn’t something that comes easy. If you’ve ever been put in that situation before, the stress and emotional anxiety that hangs on your shoulders can get overwhelming. Similar to the stress and anxiety that begins to spiral if you’re the one being laid off.

  • How will they survive without their salary?
  • Can their partner support them while they find a new job? What if they’re the sole provider?
  • What will happen with their insurance?
  • How will they pay for childcare?

The list of anxieties goes on and on. Though the situation from both sides may not be ideal, there’s a way to make it dignified on both fronts. So how can you be a caring leader through something like this? It’s important to be transparent and upfront, but in a caring, genuine way. I talk about this in a recent podcast that you can listen to here

Things to Consider

Be kind about it. You shouldn’t say things like, “If you’re on this Zoom call, you’re one of the unlucky few being laid off,” as the Better.com CEO did. That’s certainly not caring. As I’ve said before, it’s just as important to be a servant leader during layoffs and furloughing as it is through a regular workweek. After the initial shock has worn off, find ways to help make the transition easier.

Be of service to those going through this tough time. My previous HR went above and beyond to ensure my family was insured during my layoff until we could make the necessary changes. This was something that definitely was not expected.  

Be involved. Check-in with those affected and make sure everything is going as well as it can during this time. If you had promised anyone information that you didn’t necessarily have the answer to when the news was originally delivered, be sure you do your due diligence to follow up and provide those answers.

Be open to additional communication. There will be a lot of questions that will be thrown at you as the layoffs or furloughing take place. Leading with openness and willingness to communicate as much as you can for those with a lengthy list of questions will make your team feel much more supported.

Leading with Dignity

Layoffs and furloughing will always be unfortunate, and many times unavoidable, circumstances. Knowing the best ways to demonstrate caring leadership and soften the blow to those afflicted will speak volumes about your character. The way you lead with heart and present solutions to these individuals will become a direct reflection of your organization. We all remember how we felt at each place we worked. At the end of the day, employees just want to feel that the time and effort they put into their job was worthwhile. This will be a time to show them they are valued and appreciated. If you can manage to leave them with their dignity when they walk out the door, they will remember you more fondly. 

199: Leaders with Heart Don’t Cause PTSD

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In this episode, Heather sits down to discuss the recent news of the Better.com CEO laying off hundreds of employees through a 3-minute Zoom call. This has made headline news – and not for good reason. This CEO acted in the complete opposite of what we encourage on this podcast and showed absolutely no care. Let’s break it down. 

Key Takeaways: 

  • Leaders need to be held accountable for their actions
  • Lay-offs are often necessary – but they can be done with care
  • A lay-off should be about the employees and not about the leaders’ guilty conscience
  • Leaders and managers are in control of how they make their people feel
  • Mass negative news, such as a lay-off, should be done with care
In just three minutes, one leader changed the entire trajectory of all of those 900 employees and their families' lives. – 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 on their journey to Caring Leadership.  

Leading without Care

Better.com CEO recently laid off hundreds of employees via a 3-minute Zoom call. He made the call more about him stating, “last time I had to do this I cried” is a very robotic way. Those are the wrong words to use when you are changing the trajectory of your employees and their families’ lives. Instead of making it about himself, he should have focused on his people and how they were feeling. In the video, you can hear how heartbroken this employee is to hear about the news – but he didn’t think about that. He made the call about himself with little regard as to how he was impacting lives. Since then he has apologized and taken a leave of absence – but how genuine is his apology? It doesn’t seem very genuine to me. 

hold leaders accountable

​​How Favoritism Plays a Role in Workplace Conflict

favoritism workplace conflict

Self Awareness and Bias

It’s in our nature as humans to build friendships with those we come in close contact with regularly. This is what we call affinity bias. For most of us, many of those friendships form with people we work with. However, whether it be a fellow employee, a subordinate, or someone who holds a title, recognizing these relationships and the negative effects within the workplace could become challenging to navigate.

Playing favorites within a leadership role is easily overlooked as these friendships begin to blossom. Yet, allowing yourself to become self-aware of how you treat your employees as a whole is the first step to fixing, or hopefully avoiding, workplace conflict involving favoritism.

What is being self-aware? Being self-aware means “having conscious knowledge of one’s own character and feelings.” Being self-aware can be challenging when personal relationships are involved. These relationships will always occur because we spend so much time with the people we work with. 

A Common Example

Say there’s a project that has come up, and you need help completing it by week’s end. You reach out to one of the team members who you’d say you’re closest with because you know they perform well and trust their capability to get it to you by your deadline. You ask them for assistance, and over the course of collaborating, you two have a few meetings to go over tasks, walk to each other’s desks to check in, which results in various chit chats, etc. Finally, the project is complete, and everything goes swimmingly.

Then a couple of days later, you ask for their help again. And again the following week. Then a few days after that. See a pattern here? Eventually, you’re going to build that trust and begin relying solely on that person to deliver you results. Then the rest of the team is going to recognize that you’re specifically choosing that person because you’ve built a friendship, therefore labeling them as your “favorite.” As a result, each of them questions what they’ve done wrong. This is affinity bias in action.

This is a scenario that commonly happens without perception. Allowing this behavior will create jealousy, anger, and even envy amongst the team, which could easily result in conflict. Additionally, it’s highly likely that another team member has a similar skillset and would have been equally capable of assisting you. 

This “playing favorites” is also compounded when we consider the impact of such treatment on those in marginalized groups. Team members in those groups often report feeling like an outsider. They tend to feel lesser than, and regularly report receiving fewer opportunities than their white coworkers. A leader who is not self-aware will amplify these feelings in their more diverse team members.

The Importance of Validation

Understanding the power you hold in an authoritative role will allow you to provide validation to employees. Having regular one-on-one meetings to ask them how they feel they are performing will be a key factor in determining what barriers they may be facing.

Those barriers or other blind spots that may be crossing their path will have easier resolutions with your help. Creating these weekly or bi-weekly cadences will allow you to get a better understanding of how your team members are doing individually. Plus, it will give you a better idea of how to address the team overall. Without that open equity, there will be no hope for direction and no positive path forward. The biggest thing you can focus on to minimize this favoritism is self-awareness. Lastly, being aware of your actions, biases, and strengths is the best defense against playing favorites at work.

198: Leaders with Heart Solve Problems

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In this episode, Heather sits down with Shawn Lalehzarian, Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer at The Red Chickz. The Red Chickz is a Nashville Hot Chicken franchise restaurant that Shawn founded in 2018. Before that, Lalehzarian spent over 20 years in the restaurant industry – starting off as a dishwasher and proving himself worthy at every position, ultimately leading him to where he is today. Take a listen.  

Key Takeaways: 

  • It doesn’t matter where you start, you can work your way up
  • Hard work pays off
  • You can build a successful brand with content marketing
  • Being a problem-solver makes you indispensable 
  • Personal growth is also reflected in your work
My drive comes from being eager to solve problems. – Shawn Lalehzarian #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

“I immigrated to United States in 1999. I was 17 years old and didn’t really know anything about the country and culture of it. I didn’t even know how to speak English. Got a job as a dishwasher and that’s where my journey in food and beverage industry started.

I’ve been in food and beverage industry for 22 years, spent 18 years of that in management and senior management positions. I have operated multi-branded operations with over $25 Million in revenue and 400 employees. I’ve been involved in over 40 restaurant openings of brands such as California Pizza Kitchen, Starbucks, Ruby’s, Pinkberry, Chili’s and Wolfgang Puck.

I opened my first restaurant in downtown Los Angeles in 2014, second restaurant in 2016 and The Red Chickz in 2018. Launched our franchise program for The Red Chickz in September 2021 and working on our expansion plans.”

Prioritizing Employees

Our employees are just as important as the brand. When I’m making decisions on how something will affect our brand, I also think about how it’s going to affect our employees. That’s because I’ve been there myself. I have done all positions, from dishwashing to being a cook and even serving for a couple of years. From experience, I know how it feels to be in that position. I know how miscommunication from top management can affect employees from experiencing it myself and don’t want to do that to our employees. 

solve problems shawn leaders