41: Leaders With Heart Are Genuine, Allowing Those Who They Lead To Be The Same


It’s great to see leaders putting in so much focus on their people. Interestingly, Heather met someone who is just comfortable in his skin and in being out there, in that space of transparency and vulnerability.

Today in this podcast episode, Heather speaks with John LaFemina, Director of Performance Management at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory about his leadership style, a time when he was not the best leader he could be, and some great tips on being genuine and how he connects with his team.

Key takeaways:

  • Being a genuine leader gives permission for others to be the same.
  • Don’t believe the myth of the perfect leader.
  • Embrace yourself and be okay with yourself.
  • Create more human work relationships.
  • Embrace failure.
  • Believe that you need other people to accomplish things.
  • Apologize when you screw up.
  • Leaders can’t accomplish anything without being authentic.

John was a fantastic guest. As a seasoned leader, he thinks of himself as the mirror for this organization, helping them measure the success of projects and initiatives. Listen in to learn from him!

John LaFemina’s Full BIO

Dr. John P. LaFemina is the Director of Performance Management at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) where he is responsible for the development and execution of a comprehensive set of performance management metrics resulting from rigorous self-assessment, internal audit, independent oversight, external bench-marking, and the application of advanced data analytics to PNNL’s performance information.

His experience includes nearly 30 years in a variety of research and executive management positions. Prior to that, John was a Captain in the United States Army, teaching chemistry and physics. John earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry at The Pennsylvania State University under the direction of Professor John P. Lowe in 1985. He has written or contributed to more than 50 scientific papers and made over 100 presentations on a variety of scientific and technological topics. He is also an active member of the American Chemical Society.

He is an ordained Elder in the Presbyterian Church, an active coach of youth sports throughout the Tri-Cities for the past 16 years, and spent 13 years as a guitarist for the local rock band Mudshark.

Leadership is Service

For me, leadership is all about service. It really comes from two things. A part of it comes from my faith. I feel like that’s part of my calling– to serve. I think that I can do that through leadership. It also comes from my family. My mom and dad were really big on giving back to the community, and giving back to others.

Do you believe that you need other people to accomplish things? You know, it also comes over time with the realization that, on my own, I can’t actually accomplish a whole lot. I can do some things, but I cannot actually accomplish a whole lot. And if I have big dreams and big aspirations, and a big ego which I do, then I need others to join in with me.

And the only way to do that is to help lead them, with a vision of where we want to go, and how we can go there together. That, for me, is key to actually getting big and interesting things accomplished.

Need them in a way more than just as cogs in a machine. You need them to be engaged. You need to bring them to bring their whole cells to the enterprise in order for it to be truly and spectacularly successful. If you believe that leadership is about service, then you understand that the relationship is the most critical aspect of the activity. When that gets damaged, it needs to be repaired.

Passion is really important. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Repairing Relationships

It has to start by admitting that you were wrong.

You have good people around you. You selected them to be around you for a reason. So as a leader, you better pay attention to them. You don’t always have to agree with them. But you better pay attention to them. When it does goes south and things come off the rails, you have to repair the relationship. To repair that relationship, you have got to be honest. You have got to be transparent. You have got to admit where you screwed up.

That’s something else I also learned from my dad and my mom. We were not afraid to share our emotions with each other, often in very loud ways. What I learned from home was that it was okay, as long as you do it respectfully. Sometimes, it doesn’t come out so respectfully. When that happens, you have to work to repair the relationship. You have to apologize.

I love quotes about apologies. I apologize because I value the relationship, more than I value being right. When you’re willing to be vulnerable, to be open, to be genuine, to apologize, to take ownership for your mistakes, it tells people that you value the relationship.

I like the analogy of relationships being like a bank account. You have to make deposits if you want to make withdrawals. Just like your bank account, you cannot withdraw money if you haven’t deposited money. I was able to survive because over time, I had made enough deposits in those relationships— built the trust, that foundation of success so that there are some trust and belief that I could be successful, because I had demonstrated success in the past. But it was really the deposits made in those relationships that allowed me to survive.

A lot less use of the word 'I' and a lot more use of the word 'we'. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Plan, Do, Check, Act

It is easy to articulate big bold outcomes, talk in generalities, and have big aspirations. But if you can’t put a plan in place to get there, and you don’t know what you will measure to understand if you’re truly being successful or not, then it really is just a dream. It is not really a plan. It’s not something where you can inspire other people to work towards, because you might get people all excited about the vision, and the aspiration. But then their next question is going to be, “How do we get there?”

I don't see how anyone can accomplish anything if they can't be authentic. Try to focus on being genuine, open and transparent with people. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

If you don’t have a map, and if you don’t understand how you’re going to get there, and how you’re going to measure progress along the way, you’re going to lose people pretty quickly.

What’s the plan? How are we going to know when we’re being successful? More importantly, how will we know when we’re not being successful? If you think about the most successful entrepreneurs, and people who have been able to accomplish really big bold things, they know how to fail fast.

Understand what you need to do, what the most critical aspects of the activity are, so that you can focus on those. And if you’re going to fail, fail fast. That way, you don’t spend a whole lot of time, energy and money doing things that don’t make sense.


What are you doing for others? #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet
If you're going to spend time doing things, it has got to be around something that you like, something you are passionate about-- a cause or an outcome you think is worth doing. #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


People are afraid of failure. But we have got to embrace failure. There are ways to embrace failure that are productive, and ways that are not. Think about the whole cycle of plan, do, check, act. So, you plan. Then, you go and try to execute the plan. Next, you try to evaluate how well you’re making progress against the plan. Typically, there are some things that you need to fix, and then you act in order to fix that. Make a new plan, and continue to go around the cycle. That is going to be critical.

There’s a great quote by a Prussian field marshal from the late 19th century that says, “No battle plan has ever survived first contact with the enemy.” 

We make plans. We go and try to execute them. The first thing that happens is we meet reality. And reality is always more complicated than we presumed. It is always more complicated than we can plan for. So, we need to be able to adjust. We need to be able to embrace failure, so that we can then understand it, fix it, and make it better.


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Leadership With Heart With Heather R Younger

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