How Our Authentic Stories Can Bring About Greater Good

After a lifetime of trying to minimize my difference—the difference between me and my white mother, the difference between me and my coworkers, the difference between me and other thought leaders—I am now being pulled out of the shadows and into the spotlight to share my story. These past few years, I’ve felt compelled to share my journey of overcoming adversity, being an outsider in the workplace, and existing as an outcast in a biracial household. My Jewish grandmother was dissatisfied with whom my mother had chosen to start a family with (i.e., someone Black and Christian), which complicated our relationship since I was a symbolic embodiment of that sin, so to speak. As an adult, I now see the professional skills this experience of exclusion instilled in me, and I feel how this story resonates with the audiences I share it with.

It’s a strange and uncomfortable process, simply because I’ve been conditioned to find safety in hiding my story. But when the call to action is so loud and so resolute, it’s important to follow that call for the greater good. As I’ve discovered my leadership style over the course of my career, I’ve learned that a caring leader is someone who is comfortable being vulnerable with those they lead, thus fulfilling a higher—albeit more difficult—purpose. 

About eight years ago, before my current role as an employee advocate, I became good friends with an Orthodox Jewish coworker whom I had hired as a sales representative. He wore a yarmulke, attended an Orthodox synagogue, adhered to kosher eating guidelines—and he did all of this openly and with pride. He knew a little bit about my Jewish background, but not the entire picture. At that point, I was still in the process of becoming comfortable bringing my full self to work, complicated family history and all. However, he was generally aware of my Jewish heritage, and it allowed us to forge a strong connection.

A few years down the road, he invited me to his son’s upcoming bar mitzvah. Now here’s the truth: at that point in my life, I had never attended or even been invited to a bar mitzvah, despite my half-Jewish upbringing. After all, I was never welcome at those kinds of events as the “black sheep” of the family. Admittedly, I was a bit surprised, a bit nervous, and of course very honored by his invitation. He had no idea how special that small gesture was to me, yet his act of grace and courtesy made a big impact on my relationship with my Jewish identity.

I attended the ceremony, perhaps with a little trepidation. In the past, I’ve written about how my Jewish grandmother would keep me hidden from her community because she was ashamed to have a biracial granddaughter, and since then, I’ve been anxious to reenter Jewish spaces. To my suprise, everyone at this Orthodox synagogue was extremely welcoming, accepting, and warm. I felt as if I was in a judgment-free zone, where no one even cared that I looked different than the rest of the crowd. At the end of the day, I finally felt accepted and included in a community I had always been a part of, but in which I had never felt truly welcomed. 

Recently, I shared this particular story with a corporate client who was trying to grasp the meaning of inclusion. The key takeaways helped elucidate what inclusion means to me: don’t lead with fear if someone on your team is different from you. Instead, lead with curiosity and courage, and stand in solidarity with them as you honor (not erase) that very difference. Be proud of your alignment with other communities, and welcome others into that process who you believe might benefit from that proximity to diversity. This is exactly what my Orthodox Jewish friend did for me, and I now pay that grace forward by telling our story.

My life and career is full of these kinds of stories, and I’m now witnessing the power they hold if wielded responsibly. As I become more comfortable opening up as a caring leader, I can attest to the profound potency that vulnerability carries as a teaching tool. I encourage you to take stock of your own stories, and consider what lessons you can pass along if you just take center stage for a moment.

3 Tips for Leading With Empathy & Compassion

The other day, I was picking up an order from a deli for my mother, who had ordered ahead of time. I didn’t realize the order was set for a later pick up time, so I arrived, and it wasn’t ready. When I told them that I had traveled 45 minutes and was wondering if there was any way for them to expedite the order, the cashier shrugged off my request, and told me there was nothing they could do, and that I would just have to wait around. My mother decided to call them over the phone, and to my surprise, they gladly agreed to speed up the order and have it ready in 15 minutes.

Frustrated, I wondered why they chose not to show me empathy and understanding when I was standing right in front of them. Why did they not care for me and my needs until a secondary request came into play?

My interaction with the deli staff made me think of all the times employees come to their manager with an issue, and are brushed off without a second thought. In the most dysfunctional organizations, employees don’t consider their manager a caring leader. Rather, they consider them a boss, someone who has the authority to make their professional life a walk in the park or a living hell.

We each have the choice to decide how we show up for others. Do we problem solve with our team members as they stand in front of us, or do we leave them to their own devices? Do we make excuses for why we didn’t treat them better when we’re called out for our behavior? Do we exercise empathy and compassion when we’re called on to lead? Do we leave our employees feeling supported and respected, or unheard and unimportant?

These are the questions I ask my clients all the time. They’re the questions you should be asking yourself on a regular basis to ascertain where you’re failing your employees. So how do we consciously do better as leaders? Below are three tried-and-true tips for leading with empathy:

  • Slow down. We all know how busy managers can be, but when an employee comes to you with a problem and you treat them as another box to check off on your to-do list, it makes them feel like you don’t have time for them. Try to slow down your interactions, and see the person in front of you as a human being worthy of dignity and care, and not just a cog in your machine. A little undivided attention goes a long way.
  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. This is what empathy is at its core. It’s about seeing a situation from someone else’s perspective, and connecting to the emotions from their viewpoint. Step out of your shoes and ask questions to get a better sense of their experience. “Why do you feel that way? What do you see that I might not be aware of? In your opinion, how can I best support you?” Questions like these will aid you in creating a solution that works for both of you.
  • Exercise self-awareness. Oftentimes, we offend people when we least intend to, so be conscious of every word you say, the tone with which you say it, and what your body language might be communicating that your words aren’t. When we fall short in caring for our employees, use self-reflection to determine what you did wrong, how you can improve moving forward, and how you can rebuild that bridge.

The relationship between employee and leader should be a mutually beneficial one, where both parties are respected, supported, and inspired by one another. You shouldn’t leave your team members high and dry in moments of frustration, like the deli staff did to me. You should center your leadership approach around empathy and compassion, and prioritize connection-building as the foundation of a healthy team dynamic.

131: Leaders with Heart Know the Power of Appreciation

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Danny Langloss, City Manager at City of Dixon in Illinois about his leadership style, the importance of showing appreciation for those we lead, a time when he was not the best version of himself, and much more.

Key takeaways:

  • There is a delicate balance, for the leader, on being self-aware and managing emotions.
  • There is a big difference between being very aware of who we are and how we are feeling, than how others are feeling or responding to who we are.
  • We should have robust personal and organizational or team mission to hold on to when things get tough. That is our north star
  • The leadership journey is not simple or easy.
  • We’ve got to show the right amount of care first, before we can focus on productivity and timelines.
Prepare your ears for this insightful episode. Listen and learn!

Danny Langloss currently serves as the City Manager at Dixon, Illinois.

Danny is a leadership speaker and coach specializing in leadership mindset, employee engagement, creating high performing teams, cultures of leadership, organizational excellence, change leadership, and crisis leadership. He is driven to inspire, motivate, and help individuals and organizations reach their full potential.

Danny believes the best way to predict the future is to create it. He is a lifelong student of leadership with more than 13 years of executive leadership experience. Danny is fueled by the value of being committed to excellence and is constantly looking for new, progressive strategies that drive employee engagement, ownership, and excellence.

Over the past 5 years, Danny has served as the keynote speaker for national and state conferences on leadership, substance use disorder, brain health, and protecting children from child predators. 

Great Profession

Honestly, it bothers me not to be in law enforcement. There’s so much change that needs to happen in that great profession.

Before becoming the City Manager, I was getting ready to run for the International Chiefs of Police on four premises: first was leadership, developing leaders, and forefronting meaningful, progressive change. Second was to build meaningful strong relationships with communities of color. The third was substance use disorder and addiction. The fourth was mental illness. I wish I could’ve stayed but I love Dixon. We’re doing great things at Dixon.

There's no destination in our leadership journey. – @DannyLangloss #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Great Commitment

We really try to create a culture that is really consistent with the feeling of getting a family where we hold each other accountable. I talk a lot about a relaxed environment, where the expectations are high and we’re going to perform to a certain level. But in a relaxed and caring environment, it’s all about inclusion, empowerment, growth, opportunity, and innovation.

It’s funny that you get different feedback the farther you move up in an organization. I just had my evaluation a couple weeks ago. I was blown away by a lot of the words and the things that our top team members have said. I would hope that my commitment to doing the things I just talked about would be reflected there.

My team is so amazing. They always rise to the occasion and that has never been more evident than during this whole COVID- 19 situation. When the state of Illinois came out with the downstate small business stabilization grant, the city had to be an applicant and every business had to be a separate application between 80-100 pages.

But our team rose to the occasion and we submitted 54 grants on behalf of our community. That is true dedication, living one’s purpose, and ownership. That is commitment. It was inspiring to be part of that, to see us deliver, and come through for our businesses.

The more you give back, in the end, the more you receive. – @DannyLangloss #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

We're not perfect. When we think we are, we're done. – @DannyLangloss #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Great Passion

I’ve always wanted to be in the position that gives me the ability to make the biggest difference with my current skill set. When I was a police officer, I never said I want to be the police chief. I just always wanted to be in the position that would give me the chance to make the biggest impact. Early on, that was as a patrol officer. Then it was as a detective.

I’m very passionate. One of the things I’m very passionate about is giving a face and a voice to victims of child sexual abuse. I specialized in that for ten years. I worked on these cases, and I was sent to incredible trainings. Also, I helped create our first child advocacy center.

I was very frustrated with the way victims were treated when they came forward. When I became police chief, that wasn’t a destination. That was the beginning. I used my badge as doors to create major community awareness and prevention campaigns, to raise money for our local center, and to help Erin Merryn create Erin’s law, which is the first law in the country that required age appropriate child sexual abuse prevention education in grades Pre-K through 12.

While my passion is one of my greatest strengths, it is also my greatest weakness.  – @DannyLangloss #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Proactive communication is one of the greatest tools of leaders during these times. – @DannyLangloss #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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129: Leaders with Heart Use Employee Feedback to Improve Themselves

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Scott Miller, EVP of Thought Leadership at Franklin Covey about his leadership style, his drive to lead, and his unique view on leadership and self-awareness.

Key takeaways:

  • As leaders, we must be aware of our shortcomings to truly meet our people where they are.
  • Do your people feel safe to tell the truth about you to your face?
  • Great leaders are more concerned with the right thing than being right.
  • Be the leader who is comfortable with your people eclipsing your leadership.
Listen in and take as much wisdom as you can from this leader with heart!

Scott Miller is a 25-year associate of FranklinCovey and serves as the Executive Vice President of Thought Leadership. 

Scott hosts the world’s largest and fastest growing podcast/newsletter devoted to leadership development, On Leadership. Also, Scott is the author of the multi-week Amazon #1 New Release, Management Mess to Leadership Success: 30 Challenges to Become the Leader You Would Follow, and the Wall Street Journal best-seller, Everyone Deserves a Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team

Previously, Scott worked for the Disney Development Company, and grew up in Central Florida. Scott served under the tutelage of Dr. Stephen R. Covey for close to two decades as a sales producer and sales leader.

He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife and three sons.

Cycling Back

I think I am transitioning out of leading people. It’s been a wonderful journey.

[Leadership] can be unrelenting. It can be unrewarding and it’s not for everyone. Not everyone should be a leader and I’m not sure if I should have been a leader early on. I’ve grown and matured a lot. At this stage of my life, I’m very comfortable saying my leadership journey is coming to completion.

I’m going to cycle back into becoming an individual producer. Right now, I’m leading three boys that my wife and I have brought into this world.

Just because you're in the C-suite does not mean you perfected all of the leadership management strategies. – @scottmillerj1 #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Blind Spots

Sometimes, I have extreme courage. I’m too courageous when it comes to calling up people’s blind spots. I don’t let issues linger.  Also, I could use some growth on balancing my courage with my diplomacy or consideration.

It’s your job as a leader to constantly become more self-aware, whether it be through seeking feedback and making it safe for others to tell you their truth about you. I say their truth because sometimes it’s about their ex-boss who sounds like you, or their ex-husband who looks like you. You have to make it safe for others.

What I often do in a conversation is I just ask people what’s it like to work for me, to be in a zoom call with me, to work a trade show booth with me, to go to lunch with me, or to work on a product launch with me. I would  make sure they know that I’m not going to refute, deny, or explain it away. I’m just going to listen and write it down.

Then I would take it a step further. I would show extraordinary levels of vulnerability, and ask them what they think is going on with me when I’m showing those. I’ll ask if I seemed jealous, insecure, unprepared, or threatened. I would roll out some adjectives so that they can share with me what they haven’t felt safe saying before. Occasionally, someone will tell how I react and I become more aware of why I act that way in front of a meeting. It’s insightful.

No one is as self-aware as they think they are. – @scottmillerj1 #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Scott’s best talents are two things: taking nothing and turning it into something, and giving my people feedback on their blind spots. – @scottmillerj1 #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Leading People

I don’t believe that everyone should be a leader of people. Sometimes it gets confusing that everyone has leadership skills in them. Of course, you lead yourself, or your legacy, or a project. But I don’t think that everyone should be a leader of people. I think, too often, people are lured into being leaders of people.

A study said that the average age when someone is promoted into their first management role is at age 30. But the average age they receive their first leadership development training is at age 42.

Now there’s a whole lot of people wrecking carnage across cultures and organizations because they were not trained to be great leaders. Either they weren’t vetted properly or they weren’t told that this is what leadership looks like.

If your people know that you're willing to grow and learn, they can share insights about your own blind spots with you. – @scottmillerj1 #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Effective leadership is not acquainted with charisma or vocabulary. It's confidence, humility, vulnerability, and listening. – @scottmillerj1 #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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13: Leaders with Heart Know Themselves First

One of the things I’ve been finding as I speak to leaders on the show is most of them are really focusing on connecting with their people on a personal level. They recognize the importance of spending 10-30 minutes of their time with their team, not talking about work, but just getting to know and seeking to understand more about them, sharing with them and being more vulnerable with them.

Our guest for today is Trent Selbrede. I’ve been having interactions with him for 2-3 years now on LinkedIn, and every time I would post things related to management, or he would post something, our exchanges are always so rich. I could see that he had a big heart, which is why he’s on the podcast, and that he really led people to a place of empowering them and letting them grow.

Trent Selbrede’s Full BIO

Trent Selbrede became a hotel General Manager at the age of 20 after eight months in the business. He remains a hospitality professional and currently works with a phenomenal team at the Residence Inn by Marriott in San Diego, CA. He is also the Chairperson of the Marriott Champions for Rady Children’s Golf Tournament which raises over $120k per year for the local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.

Trent’s ‘why’ is rooted in his wife, 2 daughters, and 2 adopted black lab mixes. In his spare time, Trent enjoys home improvement projects, mountain biking, and extensive community service.

People call Trent when they are stuck in the mud of best practices, checklists, and broken cultures. He’s not a magician, but he is incredibly resourceful and can make magic happen.

In this episode, Trent talks about his background in the hospitality industry, self-awareness, the importance of investing in yourself to become a better leader and a lot more.

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“Hospitality Is in My Blood”

Trent’s motivation to lead comes from his family. They make it easy for him to get up every morning and take care of them, making sure his kids have everything they need.

Many people think that I’m in the hotel business, and that’s easy to see from the outside, but I think it’s an important distinction that I’m in hospitality. I don’t even like to call it a business.

Some people say that’s semantics, but our owners are in the hotel business, they’re in it to make profit. Hospitality is in my blood. I like helping people.

Trent shares that hospitality is a great industry for him. Yes, there are financials and administrative work, but it’s also fun and engaging, and every day is different.

He works with a diverse group of associates and guests from all over the world, and they all have different wants and needs. That’s what drives him, because if he gets bored, he gets in trouble.

Self-Awareness and Leadership

I think my self-awareness now is probably better than it’s ever been. So if I’m going off track, or if I know that there’s an outside influence that’s going to try to derail me, I also tell the people around me,

“Hey, I got a lot going on. If I’m a prick, just yell it.”

And I open that door, because if something’s going off-track for them, I’ll try to ask them about it, or I’ll engage with them and try to see what’s going on.

How do we empower, how do we lead and guide, if we aren’t aware of where we sit in our own space, in our own skin? #selfawareness #leadership Click To Tweet

Start Your Day Right

For me, when I enjoy doing something, it’s easy. @trselbrede #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

One of my favorite activities right now is I come in half an hour before our back of the house team or housekeepers and I come in and I just hang out and drink coffee with them. We talk, and we laugh, and we don’t talk about scores or financials. We talk about kids, what we’re doing that weekend, or biking.

We’re just being people.

They’ve got a long day ahead of them, I’ve got a long day ahead of me, but – I hate to call that a habit because it’s just something I drive on. It sets the tone for my day, and it sets the tone for their day.

Find somebody you trust and that you can follow, and you’ll learn some great things as well. @trselbrede #mentor #mentorship #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

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