32: Leaders With Heart Know That They Must Show Up And Participate

Today on the podcast we have Rich Gassen, supervisor of the University of Wisconsin’s print shop, chair of the CSN network and owner of the Flying Button Design.

Rich has been out there, interacting with me on LinkedIn for quite a while and I just see the type of content that he puts out there. I see the level of caring that he has, his desire to grow himself and the people around him, and his deep desire to always learn.

In this episode, we talk about his leadership style, the roots of his leadership, and some great tips and nuggets on how he leads his team.

The key takeaways in this episode are:

  • Sometimes we must be leaders without titles to  become leaders with titles
  • Empowering staff to do their best work allows the leader of the team to enrich a broader audience and grow themselves
  • Always be present, available and engaged with your people
  • When your staff knows your mission and knows what has to be done, trust them to do it
  • Someone emotional self-management , or regulating our emotions is something that we learn to get better at over time
  • Leaders cannot give what they do not have and must find resources for themselves to manage others better
  • Seek out training and development opportunities for your team that takes into consideration the whole person inside and out of work
  • We all win when the team uses theirs strengths
  • Life-long learning is key
  • Get to know your staff and attend to their needs

This episode is helpful for all leaders, but particularly helpful for newer supervisors or managers. Great stuff!

Rich Gassen’s Full BIO

Rich Gassen is currently a supervisor at the DoIT Digital Publishing and Printing Services Shop- UW Madison in 2012. He is directly handling 15 staff members over a total group of 40. Prior to that he has already been working in print, prepress and design environments, taking on lead production roles even without a title. He is also specialized in supervision and empowerment, marketing, graphic design, preflighting, customer service, consulting and project management.

Rich also chairs the Campus Supervisors Network (CSN), a community of practice with over 500 active members at UW-Madison, supporting other supervisors in their roles, offering training and networking events on campus, and maintaining a website of resources.

For years, he has been building the team atmosphere, empowering the staff in order to allow them to make decisions on their own, be their own leaders. When not in the office, he does freelance graphic design for a few clients from home. He is a proud husband and a father of two teenage boys, and have lived in the Madison, WI area his whole life.

Calmness and Participation 

Rich describes his leadership style using two things: casualness and teamwork. 

I work right next to my staff. My office is in the production center. The door is always open. I can see people working all the time.

I’ve always had a mantra that I live by that says, “Show up and participate.” And for me that means always be present, always be engaged with people. Obviously it means come to work for starters.

I don’t get too upset or excited when there are issues. We try to solve them as a team and learn from them so we hopefully be avoiding them in the future.

Hopefully my staff would say that I am easy to work with. I try to be lenient as far as things like flexible time off for family and for health reasons.

I’ve have been in the production environment long enough to know that getting angry doesn’t do you any good. #reasonoveremotion #leadership Click To Tweet

Training the staff

Rich believes in equipping the team to get better.

I have a lot of staff now that were in the same position as I was in in my previous job where they are natural leaders, leading the work in our production areas.

I have several people that have come to me and asked questions about “How can I handle this better?” or “I am actually struggling with another employee in communication with him. Is there something that I can do differently?”

We have plenty of training for things like conflict management, and communication styles. I decided I would do training for some of the staff just so that they are better prepared. They are on the path maybe to become a supervisor at some point in their career.

So making sure that the tools and the resources available to interact with each other right now and in their future is important to me as well.

We all win when they improve their communication skills or their conflict management skills. Everybody benefits from that. And they become a better team as a result of that which makes my job easier. 

You will learn over time that a little more professionalism and level-headedness wins in the end. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Well there is that saying of What happens if I train them and they leave? But the other saying is What if I don't train them and they stay? #equip #empower #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Keep Growing

This needs to be a continual-process improvement initiative.

I read a lot of books over the last few years. And it’s something that I would continue to do and always try look for new resources whether it is a book or an online blog.

Being bound in a covenant and a contract in your work environment is an interesting concept. The contract is the fact that you show up and we pay you and provide benefits for you coming in and you doing the job you do. But the covenant is being guided by the department’s mission and vision and wanting to fulfill that mission regardless of the pay and the benefits. It is saying, “I am here to do the job and the pay is great but I want to meet that mission.”

You are bound by a covenant as well as a contract in your work environment. #mission #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

It takes a team to make things work. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Get to know your staff and so that you can tend to their needs on that personal level. I am lucky to work alongside my team as opposed to being isolated from them. Being flexible to them also have huge advantages because everyone is comfortable talking to me about anything work-related or not.

Lastly, I had a supervisor once and he supervises staff the same way that I aspire to now. So I learned some of what I am doing now by seeing it in another manager. The kind of feeling that he had my back and he was there with me the whole time, and that really resonated for a long time. I appreciated that I had that kind of support. Seeing him manage that team and taking in the best parts of what he did and importing it into my management style, that was my goal when I became supervisor, how I would lead others. 


Connect with Rich on LinkedIn

Seven Intuitive Laws of Employee Loyalty

Daniel Pink’s Intrinsic Motivation

Kimberly Davis’ Brave Leadership

Lolly Daskal’s The Leadership Gaps

Max Depree’s Leadership is an Art

Subscribe, rate and review the podcast on iTunes!

Listen to the podcast on Spotify

Leave a Comment


Leadership With Heart With Heather R Younger

“Heather’s courage and vulnerability to share her authentic self are truly inspiring. She shares the most cutting-edge leadership strategies on topics like emotional intelligence and employee experience. If you’re looking to sharpen your leadership skills, this podcast is for you.”

Heather is a Workplace Culture Expert

She's the...

CEO of Employee Fanatix

A leading workplace culture and employee engagement consulting & training firm.

A highly sought-after keynote speaker

Bringing the best insights from over 25,000 employee stories to the stage.

A diversity, equity, & inclusion strategist

An expert in creating safe spaces for these vital conversations.

A contributor to leading news outlets

A trusted expert for stories on culture, workplace engagement, and employee retention.


The Cycle of Active Listening

Create a listening culture that elevates the workplace experience for everyone.

Through this guide, uncover how to ensure those in your care at work feel heard and valued, resulting in increased loyalty and satisfaction.

  • Understand why listening is the key to improved engagement
  • Learn how the Cycle of Active Listening contributes to strong workplace relationships
  • Get a practical framework for creating a listening culture that is bidirectional, responsive, and supportive
Get the Guide
Are you interested in hiring Heather for consulting and/or workshops?*

Contact Heather Today!


I'm really interested in...

(select all that apply)*

I can be reached at...

Additional Comments