52: Leaders With Heart Use Empathy To Understand Their People


In this episode, Heather speaks with Sarah Bernhardt, VP, People of Greystone Technologies about her leadership style, a time when she was not the best version of herself and one critical thing leaders can do when they are stalled in their approach to connect with their people.

Key Takeaways:

  • Even when we are not our best selves, we should be able to bring our whole selves to work.
  • Getting out of the daily environment to connect with our people is all we need to do.
  • Moving physically away from negative environments can change how we lead.
  • Never lose empathy for those you lead. Put yourself in their shoes.
  • Sometimes when people misbehave at work, they are living out of fear.
  • Think about the intentions of your people when they behave oddly.

She’ll be a special treat for those of you listening on the show. Tune in and learn!

Sarah Bernhardt’s Full BIO

Sarah is passionate about building things and making a lasting mark in the companies she partners with. Currently, she is Vice President of People at Greystone Technologies as their first ever HR professional. 

With a strong 16+ year HR career, Sarah strongly believes that HR isn’t about forms in triplicate and 9-page policies; it’s about navigating the complexities of being human in the workplace and aligning those strengths with organizational needs.

Building Things

I really love building things, making a difference and leaving a legacy. One of the coolest things about coming to Greystone was I got to be the first HR person they’ve ever had. That was huge for me because it’s an organization with a hundred years of history and I’ve been coming in on the back end of that. 

We call that “the legacy stuff” and I love the idea that I’d be a part of building that for us. I’m into building things and helping other people build their things.

I know the folks that I work with now are not going to be here forever. We talk about that and that’s okay. But I want to help them in their journey to get to their next place too, their next spot, even though I don’t want it to be tomorrow.

Never lose empathy. #leadershipwithheart Share on X

Taking it Personally

So much behavior is driven by fear. #leadershipwithheart Share on X

We’ve created an environment where we talk about all the things good and bad. Sometimes as a leader, that’s hard because I am emotional person too. If somebody will give me constructive feedback, somebody will tell me he’s just not feeling it, or somebody’s engagement is suffering, I take that personally because I care deeply about what we’re doing. 

When you are fostering an environment where it’s okay to be yourself at work, sometimes you’re going to hear feedback you don’t want to hear. 

But, even when I am not my best self, I feel like we have an environment where we can bring our whole person to work. Even when stuff’s not going well, we can talk about it.

When I think about myself, if things are going great at home, my tolerance level for a baloney at work is significantly higher. 

But, if I’m struggling at home, my kid is sick, my husband is struggling and life is just harder at home, it becomes tougher to put on that “game face” at work. Having balance between those things is pretty big.

I really invest in the folks that I’m working with and I really want them to be okay, happy, successful, growing and feeling good about stuff and when they’re not, occasionally, I take it personally.

Other People’s Shoes

Remembering to place myself in other persons’ shoes and understand what they might be thinking and feeling is really powerful.

Oftentimes, the people that we work with are behaving in ways that we find abrasive or challenging. When we think of toxic behavior in the workplace, so much of it is fear-based—controlling information, playing politics, etc. 

These kinds of behaviors are just people wanting to be successful and want what’s good in the organization. Sometimes we just don’t know how to deal with it or we’ve only seen it done in certain ways. We behave in these manners to end up being negative.

Getting out of our environment, switching things up, is big. #leadershipwithheart Share on X

But why are they acting this way? What could be driving this behavior? Think about their intentions. When somebody is driving me nuts, I look at them and understand that their heart is in the right place. I trust their intent.

Almost everybody thinks they’re the good guys in any situation. So, if you can look at it from that perspective, even if somebody’s acting out, it’s because they’re not feeling heard, or they think something is being handled incorrectly.

I care a lot about what we're doing. I'm personally involved and sometimes I am not as disconnected emotionally as i should be. #leadershipwithheart Share on X


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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


CEO of Employee Fanatix

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

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

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An expert in creating spaces for these vital conversations.

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


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