152: Leaders with Heart Focus on Relationships

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In this episode, Heather speaks directly with listeners about some changes happening with the podcast, her thoughts on the US Capitol violence, the status of her book and some key thoughts on relationships:

Key takeaways:

  • We get to choose how we handle what is in front of us.
  • Focus on relationships and all else will follow.
  • Choose to be the bridge and not the divider.

Showing Up Differently

What happened in the Capitol has just increased the political climate and division. But my hope is for you to see that as an opportunity to, in your own skin, create more unifying presence and more bridges in your life rather than divide others. Look at this as an opportunity to be the light, the bridge to make connections, while not stooping down the level of those who decided to stoop low. You stay high. I know that it has been tough, and mentally, it has. Fortunately, it’s a new year, and we get to choose our attitude and how we show up this year.

We get the opportunity to show up differently and put our energy in certain places. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Important Updates

I want to give you updates on a couple of things. First, next week, you will hear the podcast change. For those who have been listening weekly or for years now, you’re going to hear different things. I’ll add a couple of new elements. It’s going to be super fun. I just don’t want you to join and be like, “Am I in the right podcast?” Yes, you are. I am trying to shake things up a bit and add a little bit more layers to the show just to make it more interesting for you to listen. Caring leadership and leading with heart will never go away. This year, we need more caring. Just yesterday, I starting recording the audiobook for “The Art of Caring Leadership,” the next book based upon this podcast. I am excited for all of you to get hands on either the audiobook or the physical book. Interestingly enough, the publisher first wanted me to get someone else to read my audiobook. I was flabbergasted because the book is based upon the podcast where I am the host. How can I have someone else record my audiobook? Also, I felt that I would be betraying all of you listening for so long. I wanted to make sure you continue to hear my voice, and hear the messages that I will deliver and those that have been delivered through many of the leaders you have been listening to. I’m so excited more than I was the first time around with my first book. The book comes out in April 2021. I will start to have some of my own copies in March. I am just thrilled.

The message of hope and leadership is what we need right now. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Relationships are the foundation of anything else we want to achieve in life. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Stronger Relationships

Relationships are the foundation of anything else we want to achieve in life—relationships with our children, our spouse, people at work, in the community.  What we can focus on 2021 is building stronger relationships, particularly in the context of a leader. First is spending time with those that you lead by taking the time to be with them one on one. You cannot get to know people if you don’t spend that time. If your office is not allowing you to do in-person meetings even with your co-workers, you can do it via Zoom. Have that one-on-one time, sitting with them and finding out what they’re doing. Be vulnerable and tell them your goals. Carve it out. Put it on your calendar. Spend that time to build relationships because if you do, those people will be there for you later on.

If I give more than I get, everything works out and the world pays me back. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Give more than you receive. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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151: Leaders with Heart Know When to Let Go

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In this episode, Heather speaks with Phil Weiser, Attorney General in Colorado. Heather met Phil during her law school days at CU Boulder, but invited him to be on her podcast after hearing a speech he gave about empathy. Caring leadership is about emotional intelligence, and with empathy at the core of that, Heather knew she had to have Phil as a podcast guest. 

Phil shares his leadership journey, sage advice, enjoyable anecdotes, and even the DEI&B initiatives underway at the Colorado Department of Law. 


  • To be alive is to grow. 
  • Focus on leading with empathy and not judgement. 
  • Leadership is about urgency, care and vision. 
  • Some people need to be asked and encouraged to apply for promotions. 
  • Your strengths are also your weaknesses, be alert. 
  • True care means willing the good for another. Even if that makes more work for you. 
  • Give yourself grace. 

Phil Weiser is the 39th Attorney General of Colorado.  

As the state’s chief legal officer, Attorney General Weiser is committed to protecting the people of Colorado, defending the rule of law, and building a Department of Law that serves all Coloradans effectively.  Public Service is one of Weiser’s core values.

Previously, Weiser served as a Professor of Law and Dean of the University of Colorado Law School, where he founded the Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship.  Weiser served in senior leadership positions in the Obama administration, and was appointed to serve as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice and as Senior Advisor for Technology and Innovation at the White House’s National Economic Council. Earlier in his career, Weiser co-chaired the Colorado Innovation Council and served in President Bill Clinton’s Department of Justice.

After graduating law school, he worked in Denver for Judge David Ebel on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and held two clerkships at the United States Supreme Court, for Justices Byron White and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Attorney General Weiser lives in Denver with his wife Dr. Heidi Wald, and their two children.

Growth Through Mistakes

I’m a big believer. This is something that the people who work with me are still going to use—continuous improvement. It’s a journey. Anyone who says, “I’m perfect, I’m the best version of me I’m ever going to be,” I would say that means you’re dead. To be alive is to grow. To challenge yourself to grow is to acknowledge that you’re imperfect. You’re human.


I have made mistakes, and I will make mistakes. I have done things I feel bad about and that I wished I hadn’t done. But that’s being human.

To challenge yourself to grow is to acknowledge that you're imperfect. – Phil Weiser #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Caring, Vision, and Urgency

Part of what I believe leading entails are three things: caring, vision, and urgency. Part of that caring means some people are going to leave my team because that’s the best thing for them to do, and I support them. One of the best things I do as attorney general is help support and encourage lawyers who become judges. That is an extraordinary accomplishment. I will lose them for my team, but I care about them. I want them to be their best selves. I want to help support their journey.  The second point is you have to have a vision. What are you trying to accomplish? How are you trying to accomplish it? What are your core values? What is your mission? That’s spelling out a vision for what your organization is about. The third point is, I believe leaders need a sense of urgency. I’m very entrepreneurial in how I look at the world and think about things. When people are working with me, I don’t want you to tell me “We’ve always done it this way before.” I want to hear, “What’s the best way to do something?” or “What if we try this experiment?” That’s the sort of thinking I like to encourage.

The caring point and the innovation point go together. This is not always understood. But if you lead an organization in a climate of fear, if people don’t feel cared about, and they feel judged, they will feel like they’re at risk. They’re not going to take risks themselves. They’re not going to be innovative, because they’re going to be afraid of what’s going to happen.

Care about your team members. They need to know you care about them. – Phil Weiser #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

I'm focused on leading with empathy, not with leading with judgement. – Phil Weiser #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Empathy, Not Judgement

My journey is to be more accepting of being human, and being more compassionate.  The reason that I gave that speech is because I believe empathy and emotional intelligence are so undervalued for lawyers compared to how important they are. It’s a real problem in our profession. Right, now I’m focused on leading with empathy and not with judgment. When I say leader, you could be one in your family, in your community, or in your workplace. Do you show up with empathy? Do you show up with judgment? A lot of people are quick to judge other people without knowing all that’s going on our current society. We’re making quicker judgments based on less information and less understanding. I want to do my part and the best I can do to lead with empathy, not with judgment. 

I want people to know I care about them and I support them. I know they’re going to make mistakes because they’re human. I make mistakes. We learn from mistakes. If we don’t make any mistakes, it may mean that we’re not trying enough new things. We shouldn’t be afraid to try new things. We’re going to have a bunch of different initiatives at the Colorado attorney general’s office to serve the people of Colorado. We’re doing it because we care about the people of Colorado, and we want to find new ways to make people’s lives better.

If we don't make any mistakes, it may mean that we're not trying enough new things. – Phil Weiser #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

We need to not be afraid to put ourselves out there. – Phil Weiser #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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150: Leaders with Heart Are Accountable and Humble

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In this episode, Heather interviews the two women from her DEI certification class which she referenced in her blog recently. These two women shared an interaction, which truly inspired Heather. Antrece Baggett, History, Associate Chair and HCC Foundation Board Faculty Representative and Golbou Ghassemieh, Project Manager/Recruitment Manager at Koff & Associates, both demonstrate humility, compassion and accountability in their interaction.

Watch this week’s episode to experience the beauty of friendship and the true nature of caring leaders. 

Key Takeaways:

  • It’s important for caring leaders to be able to have accountability and take criticism.
  • Have courage to confront the person that did something to harm you. 
  • Demonstrate empathy and compassion when conversing with those who were hurt by your actions.
  • Both parties in a confrontation need to 
  • Assuming positive intent and accepting what someone was intending to do, take people on their word. Giving people the benefit of the doubt. 
  • Create a safe space for someone to speak up, everyone deserves an opportunity to open up and talk.
  • Be authentic leaders, whatever that is and whoever you are. Be yourself.
  • Help people to lean into the discomfort in their mistakes and embarrassment because that’s where growth happens.

Antrece Baggett

Antrece L. Baggett, daughter of Robert and Joyce Baggett and a native of Jackson, Mississippi, graduated from Texas Southern University, BA, University of Mississippi, MA, and Ferris State University, and is a Community College Leadership doctoral candidate.

Antrece is the Houston Community College History Associate Chair, and the Director of the Africana African American and Women and Gender Studies Certificate Programs where she supervises both programs, establish curriculum standards and course loads, recruit and monitor faculty and student activities, plan cultural celebrations and events, and maintains budgetary oversight authority.

She has served the institution since 1995 in a variety of positions including part time campus manager, academic division chair, and HCC Foundation faculty liaison. Antrece has supervised security officers, maintenance employees, receptionists, monitored campus events, facilities, address emergencies, and assist faculty, staff and administrators.

Antrece co-supervises 100 plus faculty members and provides leadership for the faculty senate as its Vice President. She teaches American, African American and Women’s history and Humanities courses. Her classes are face to face, online and hybrid.

For additional questions or clarifications, do not hesitate to contact Antrece at 832-741-6300.

Golbou Ghassemieh

Golbou’s professional qualifications include over sixteen (16) years of experience in the Human Resources field, most recently serving as a Deputy Director and Director at County and City agencies in the public sector. She has extensive experience in all aspects of human resources including but not limited to classification and compensation, recruitment and examination, organizational development and training programs, EEO, employee and labor relations, MOU administration, policy development and administration, performance management programs, discipline administration, recruitment and examination, presenting to Boards and Commissions, and general human resources leadership and administration. 

Golbou has been an instructor for Sonoma State University’s Human Resource Certification courses 9 years and has served as a speaker during many public sector HR conferences.

Golbou earned her B.A. degree in Psychology with a minor in French at University of California, Berkeley; her MBA degree with an emphasis in Human Resources Management from Sonoma State University; and holds the SPHR, SHRM-SCP, and IPMA-SCP professional certifications. Certification as a Certified Diversity Practitioner in progress.

Self-reflections, Safe spaces

Golbou: Sometimes people have to really have some self-reflection and recognize that things could get quite uncomfortable for us personally and for the organization. Part of creating a safe space is being willing to make it safe for people to be uncomfortable and for people to be in a worldview or self-perception that is being challenged. The opportunity for what has come out of that interaction wouldn’t have occurred if there wasn’t the combination of courage, bravery, speaking out, and being willing to be put in an uncomfortable position to have self-reflection.

You have to get uncomfortable. You have to be okay with being uncomfortable. – Golbou Ghassemieh #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Authentic Discomfort

Antrece: One of the videos that we watched in Dr. Allen Goben’s class was a video by Dr. Irvin where he calls us to be authentic leaders, whatever that is. “Whoever you are,” he’s saying, “be yourself, lead in that authentic-ness and others will follow.” What I strive to do every day is to be my authentic self, whatever that is because leadership changes. There are some days when I am a situational leader, depending on the circumstances. There are days when I like to be a participatory leader. I like to bring everybody to the table and get buy-in (support). But then there’s some days when I miss it. As much as we say we want to be leaders and we want to do this, leadership is not easy. It’s difficult.


Golbou: It’s really important for people to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and to lean into that discomfort, because that’s where growth happens. Here was Antrece being authentic and brave, and demonstrating courage. It was an opportunity to lean into the discomfort, the embarrassment and to have a chance to learn about her, what she was saying, and the experience she was having because she’s not alone. There is no there is no growth without discomfort.

If you do whatever it takes for you to achieve whatever that goal is, but we can't bring people along with us, then our journey is very sterile and is boring. It's not worth living. – Antrece Baggett #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

I'm still learning and I'm going to always be learning. – Golbou Ghassemieh #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweetben

Improving Conversations

Antrece: As leaders, a lot of times we are faced with having pretty difficult conversations, and we don’t know how we’re going to react. Of course, one will say what “I would never do this. I’m going to do this.” But when your true self comes to life, like because Golbou was so compassionate in reaching out to me, I said that I have to respond back. Out of all of the things that happened in 2020, building a relationship with her at the end of the year is probably one of the best things that I’ll be able to reflect on.

Golbou: For me, through the whole exchange I was baffled. I was stunned. I was playing what other people had said, it came out the other way and I didn’t realize. It’s really important as a burgeoning diversity practitioner right and a leader to be willing to take feedback and criticism, especially as somebody who wants to be an ally and somebody who has experienced my own set of experiences in life as an Iranian American person. If people are willing to be educated, I’m willing to educate. If I’ve said something that I didn’t even realize I said and someone’s brave enough to call me out on it, I am going to take that feedback as a gift. I’m going to recognize it as an opportunity to improve and to become a better person in general.

It's important for people to be willing to hear when they've made a mistake; otherwise they can't correct in the future. – Golbou Ghassemieh #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Be your authentic self. – Antrece Baggett #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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149: Leadership with Heart 2020 Wrap-up!

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In this episode, Heather helps us reminisce on her favorite episodes for 2020 in order to plan for 2021.

Key Takeaways:

  • Leaders get to choose how they think, behave and interact with those they lead.
  • Don’t forget the poster you have to show us as your best self. This helps those you lead show us as their best as well.

Prepare your hearts for this one of a kind wrap-up! Happy Holidays!!

Meaningful Conversations

I cannot believe going through the third full year with the podcast. It’s pretty exciting that you are part of it. As I think about the why behind creating this, I actually wanted to start off just having conversations with leaders who are more emotionally intelligent, those who can add a lot to the conversation related to caring leadership, and who show up with a lot of heart. I do not have other intentions but just to have good conversations to make sure other people can learn from them as I have.

I do not have other intentions, but just to have good conversations to make sure other people can learn. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Important Reflections

Over time, the brilliance of those who I was interviewing was so big and vast that I need to highlight them in a different way. That’s why I created the book “The Art of Caring Leadership” which comes out of April 2021. It includes over 80 of the leaders from this show. Their voices have been amplified inside this book because they are great teachers of how to show up with true heart.

I wanted to highlight a few of them as some of them have key messages—those that I tend to highlight already in the work that I do and the messages that I say. Let’s reflect on somebody’s past voices for 2020. First is Heather Loenser and Garth Jordan. They talked about the importance of empathy and how it is important to show up as empathetic leaders in the workplace, and to understand where our people sit. Next is Diana Steinhoff with the importance of compassion, helping our team build resilience, and understanding that compassion is the action behind empathy. We also heard from LaToya Lyn about the late John Lewis and her idea of creating safe spaces for others to follow. We also heard from the fabulous Michelle Nevarez about evaluating our thinking pattern as leaders.


During midyear, I made the announcement about “The Art of Caring Leadership” and I shared the Author’s Day I had with my publisher. It was so cool as my editor spoke about the importance of this book. We also heard from Benilda Samuels as she talked about helping others breathe through challenges and helping them build resilience. Early on in the year we heard from Cheryl Fullerton and she helped us remember to create psychologically safe environments where people feel comfortable in bringing everything to the table. Lastly, we heard from Don Davis. He had his focus on creating a vision for others to follow. 

The brilliance of those who I was interviewing was so big and vast that I need to highlight them in a different way. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

They are great teachers of how to show up with true heart. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Becoming Your Best Selves

Now, we are at the end of 2020 going into the new year unprecedented, and not knowing exactly what is going to happen and the direction it is going to be. But one thing I will tell you, we get to choose how we show up. We get to choose our thinking, behavior, and interactions with those we lead, whether formally or informally. Leaders with heart know that they can exercise emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and self-control so that they can show up as their best selves. This can allow those that they lead to turn and show up as their best selves as well. Hopefully you enjoyed 2020 with me, and you look forward to 2021 and all that it has to offer. I guarantee you it’s going to be a great year. We will flourish together.

We get to choose our thinking, behavior, and interactions with those we lead, whether formally or informally. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Leaders with heart know that they can exercise emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and self-control so that they can show up as their best selves. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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148: Leaders with Heart Bring out Others’ Strengths

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In this episode, Heather interviews Esmeralda Martinez, Migrant Education Program Director for the Southwest Region of Colorado. Esmeralda demonstrates caring leadership by advocating for those that are not at the table. In her line of work, that is primarily underprivileged students and their families. 

Where does Esmeralda’s drive to lead come from? Her beautiful and empowering familial history and the struggles they endured that became opportunities for success. Heather’s last podcast guest, Barbara Medina, recommended Esmeralda and was an example of bringing out the best in others. Esmeralda herself now emulates this as she uplifts and motivates her team, rallying them behind the mission of their work. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Advocate for those that are not at the table. 
  • Value each individual as a whole. What do they bring to the table? What are their strengths and talents?
  • Instill passion you can do that successfully, and you can achieve more together.
  • Uplift and empower others to do what’s right. 
  • Be true, and reflect that we may or may not be at our best, so stay consistent, focused, true and strong. It is not easy, but you are not alone.

Esmeralda Martinez is the Migrant Education Program Director of the Southwest Region at Adams State University in Colorado. 

Previous to being a director, she was a teacher and English Language Acquisition Site Coordinator for the Alamosa School District. She began her career teaching English Learners in 1997. This experience motivated her to obtain a Master’s Degree in Linguistically Diverse Education. In an effort to facilitate instruction for Spanish learners in their native language, Mrs. Esmeralda Martinez completed coursework earning her an endorsement in reading. Mrs. Martinez is a former member of the CABE (Colorado Association of Bilingual Education) board of directors. 

Her latest educational achievement was the completion of her Principal Licensure in May of 2013. Mrs. Martinez represents Colorado in the Interstate Migrant Education Council (IMEC) a National Policy Organization Advocating for the Nation’s Migrant Children and Youth. Mrs. Martinez currently serves as Vice-President for the Board of Directors for the Sierra Grande Scholarship Foundation, a nonprofit organization which provides high school graduates with scholarships to further their education. Mrs. Martinez was voted by the people of the Sierra Grande community to represent them as a Sierra Grande School District R30 School Board Member in 2015. 

She is currently serving on the Sierra Grande School Board as Vice-President. Mrs. Martinez also serves in the advisory council and steering committee for the College Assistance Migrant Program at Adams State University. Mrs. Martinez is an active advocate for all students. She spends most of her time planning and implementing programs that make a difference for those in most need of advocacy. Her passion embraces the needs of equity, justice and achievement for all youth.

Not At The Table

We all need teachers in our lives, especially now with a pandemic. Some of us parents have to do that role as well in supervising children while accessing their academics. It is challenging. I guess some people saw that I was a leader as I served in many committees in the school district that I worked for. I always have the objective of doing what is right, making a difference for children, and making sure that I was advocating for those who were not at the table.

I think about valuing individuals as a whole. What do you bring to the table? What are your strengths? – Esmeralda Martinez #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Making A Difference

I get up every morning and I think I get to do what’s right. Today I get to make a difference and I think I am blessed to have this job because I have an opportunity to make a difference for others. Collectively, we can continue to do this work more impactfully. I have lost a couple of employees and they have more time to do bigger and better things. But they are my biggest supporters. They may leave the work that they were doing before with us, but now they continue to support it. They always have these at the back of their brains: How can we work with migrants? How can we work to make a difference? How can we support that work, even though we’re not part of the team anymore? Remember, now you can support it from a different perspective. Creating our allies is very impactful as well. When you’re living in small communities and you have limited resources, you depend on that support from each other. To really make a difference in a child’s life, you need that team effort. You need that team approach. You need people in the community. Every support that this child receives is going to make a difference.

I am not saying that I am an expert, but I am willing to share some of those struggles and successes with you all. – Esmeralda Martinez #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Believe in the work that needs to get done in others. If you can do that successfully, then you can achieve more together. – Esmeralda Martinez #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Only Human

When things are just getting out of hand, I reflect on myself as a leader. What am I doing? What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? Recognizing that is key. Recognize that again, as a human being, you have faults. It’s how you resolve those faults, and how you learn from the situations that will make you overcome that situation. I think about what can we do together to make sure that we solve this situation and move past it. We’re not our best maybe because we’re stressed, tired, or because of a personal baggage. It’s really important for us to also take time to recognize that we are human. We have faults and we need rest. We need to also take care of our ourselves to be better leaders.

It's really about uplifting others and empowering them to do what's right and to really make a difference in their communities. – Esmeralda Martinez #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

It's perfectly okay to recognize that we're human and that we may or may not have all the tools to resolve a situation that's before us. – Esmeralda Martinez #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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147: Leaders with Heart are Part of the Team

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In this podcast episode, Heather interviews Karen Erren, President and CEO at Feeding Westchester. As a leader of a non-profit food distribution service, Karen is familiar with showing care to others, but that doesn’t mean she was always a perfectly caring leader. 

What Karen shows in her conversation with Heather is the effort that leaders have to put in to be there for their teams, especially during these trying times. Karen exemplifies being a caring leader by taking her place among her people, not above them. She meets them where they are each day, and expresses the importance of genuine and transparent vulnerability. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Have high expectations for yourself and your team. 
  • The best thing you can do for someone is to believe in them.
  • Stretch yourself, innovate, and fail. 
  • See yourself clearly, and the way others experience you. 
  • Be a part of your team every day. 
  • Be genuine and transparent. Share as much as you’re willing and say, “But I’m here to work with you now.” 

Karen Erren currently serves as the President and CEO of Feeding Westchester.

With over 15 years of experience in food banking, and work experience in corporate advertising and marketing, Karen specializes in Strategic Planning, Fiscal Oversight, Relationship Cultivation & Stewardship, Change Management, Board Relationships, Fundraising, Major Gift Procurement, and Capital Campaigns among others.

Karen earned her degree in Communications from Stephens College.

Joys of Nonprofit

I have been here since late July, early August, but I have been in food banking for about 15 years now after corporate advertising and marketing. I loved the work of corporate advertising and marketing, but I had zero affinity for the product. So, transitioning from corporate advertising and marketing into nonprofit leadership really has brought me a great deal of joy and gratitude, frankly. My nonprofit journey was through fundraising and development, so it’s a mission instead of a product.

I do everything I can to lift them (my people) up and help them be successful. I have very high expectations of myself, my organization, and my team. – Karen Erren #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

My observation of my team is that the stress and concern for our community is counterbalanced, though not totally, by their commitment and passion for our neighbors who need our help. I have just been delighted, appreciative, and ecstatic that every single one of them is here honored to be able to do this work in a global pandemic, when our neighbors need us more than ever. One of the things that I really treasure about the Hunger Relief System is that we food banks provide food, for the most part, to food pantries, kitchen shelters, and other organizations that feed the hungry. It truly is neighbors helping neighbors.

One of the reasons that I consider it really an honor to serve our partners is because they know that neighborhood. So, when we go to food distributions in partnership with our pantries or other organizations, I love the dialogue that occurs between those that are sharing the food and those that are receiving the food— “How’s your grandma? Is your dad feeling better? Is your mom back to work?”those types of interactions that solidly tell the story that this is a community. These are people who care for their neighbors and want to make sure they have food on the table always. One of the things I think about a lot is the tough periods of time in my life where my family and our friends has sort of carried me through. What we find is that even pre-COVID, many of those who come to our pantries or our direct distributions for help, they just don’t have that network of people who can carry them through the hard times. Essentially our food pantries, and our direct distribution programs become that.  I love to tell our supporters that they are caring for someone’s mom, someone’s grandchild, or someone’s brother. In a family structure or situation that for whatever reason they don’t have that network, you are that network.


In a way, a silver lining to COVID19 has been that our hungry neighbors are more visible. – Karen Erren #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

You've got to try new things. You have to stretch yourself. – Karen Erren #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Treating Others

You got to try new things. You have to stretch yourself. You have to innovate and you have to fail. I have limitless examples of failure when it comes to leadership. When I was a younger leader, I was self- indulgent. I’m very expressive and very verbal, and I do say I have a very short fuse. I think we have to be willing to see ourselves clearly because there are the stories that we tell ourselves and there are the ways people experience us. What I most want to accomplish is that my team is as delighted to come to work every day because we work really, really hard. That is the lens through which I need to filter my decisions and filter my behavior and filter—the way that I treat others.

I want this team to be as delighted as possible to come to work every day because we work really, really hard. – Karen Erren #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

As you take on leadership, the way that you behave strongly impacts your team and organization. – Karen Erren #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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146: Leaders with Heart Recognize and Unleash the Greatness in Everyone

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In this Leadership with Heart episode, Heather interviews a seasoned leader, Barbara Medina. Dr. Medina was recommended to be on the show by one of the many caring leaders that she helped develop during her time in the Colorado Department of Education as Assistant Commissioner

Caring leadership techniques were ingrained in Barbara from childhood, when she was growing up on the family farm. There, she learned the importance of collaboration, mutual benefit, service and mission. Even the littlest one makes a contribution on the farm, and this is true in organizations as well. Barbara took her natural foundation in leadership to great heights in Colorado government advocating for ESL students and helping develop many caring leaders along the way (who hopefully will be joining Heather on future episodes!). 

Key Takeaways:

  • Everybody has something to provide the organization. Leaders have to help them see this even if they haven’t already. 
  • “I need you to be brilliant, I need you to be bold, but I need you to be brief” also be balanced. 
  • Invest your energy where you can make the biggest difference. 
  • Recognize what people bring to the table, before you invite them to lead with you. Think of it like a party invitation. 
  • Obligation to do your best work will drive you and feed your souls, and you can’t do anything better with your time.
  • Leaders, be gentle and practice good compassion with yourself. 

Dr. Barbara M. Medina has served K-12 students and educators throughout her career. She holds a doctorate in Educational Policy from the University of Colorado, Boulder. 

From her first position as a educator serving students in a rural migrant summer program to her leadership at the Colorado Department of Education as Assistant Commissioner she has been actively involved at the district, state and national levels in the areas of language and literacy for diverse populations, cultural and linguistic diversity, qualitative research methods, and school reform. 

Grounded in K-12 practice, Dr. Medina began her career as a social studies classroom teacher she served as Coordinator of Secondary Second Language Programs in Boulder Valley Schools.  As Professor and Chair of the Department of Teacher Education at Adams State University, Alamosa, Colorado, she accessed federal grants to serve rural districts through graduate programs in Literacy, Special Education, and English Language Development. In 2006 Dr. Medina was appointed as Director of the Office of Language, Culture, and Equity at the Colorado Department of Education. 

Dr. Medina’s most recent administrative position was as Director of English Language Acquisition, Denver Public Schools. Dr. Medina worked to re-negotiate the modified consent decree with the Office of Civil Rights.  In the spring of 2013, Dr. Medina began work as an Educational Consultant. Her consulting is known as 3milagrosconsulting, appointed as an adjunct faculty she has worked with the University of Denver, University of Colorado at Boulder, Regis University, Aurora Public Schools, DELTA schools a charter school incubator firm.  Beginning in 2013 to the present she consults with IMEC, the Interstate Migrant Education Council on issues and policy development for Migrant students on several projects including reauthorization of ESEA and “Promising Practices in Migrant Education”.  She is also currently affiliated with MPI, (Migration Policy Institute, Washington DC) as an MPI Associate on migration policy issues, the education of immigrant and refugee students, teacher professional development for students learning English as a second Language.

Dr. Medina has served on several boards including CASE (Colorado Association of School Executives and Education Specialists), Diversity and CAES, CABE (Colorado Association of Bilingual Education).  Dr. Medina recently completed two terms on the City of Denver’s Denver Human Rights Council, Appointed by Denver Mayor’s Hickenlooper and Hancock to the Latino Commission..

Collaborative Contributions

My parents and grandparents were great examples of service and collaboration. Being first generation on one side, it gives you a hunger. Your parents sacrificed so much for a better life for you, to make sure you had a better chance. So, you honor that sacrifice and you’re always reminded of what obstacles they faced. They teach you about collaboration and service in many spoken and unspoken ways. You have to work together. In my environment, everyone works. Even the littlest one makes a contribution.

You have to recognize what people bring to the table before you can help lead them to serve with you. – Barbara Medina #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Brilliant, Bold, and Brief

You always have to be really clear about mission and your vision, and they have to be shared.

I was working with young people as a teacher, realizing that not everybody had the same start place, so I kept on trying to create opportunities so they could improve. At the back of my mind I was always about making sure that the children I taught had the same opportunities and the same access I did.


I served as an Assistant Commissioner at the Colorado Department of Education and I was the first Latina to be in that role in an appointed position and to last six and a half years.

I just didn’t want to be the last person to have those opportunities. When you have an appointed position, you have a very short period of time. When you have that pen in hand, you have to be very directive, but you also have to be really clear that you have a short mission politics comes and goes. Power changes can change swiftly and so you’re in a leadership position, you better write it and you better write that well. I used to tell my team, “I need you to be brilliant. I need you to be bold, but I need you to be brief.”

You have an obligation to do your best work. – Barbara Medina #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Every person has something to bring to the organization and you have to help them see that. – Barbara Medina #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Best self, Best work

When you meet people, you have to invest your energy in them as well. You have to help them see past what they’re currently doing, to see what they were, and how they can make the biggest difference. All you push for every day is where can we make the biggest difference, where can we have leverage.

You have to recognize what people bring to the table before you can help lead them to serve with you. It’s like an invitation to a party where you say, We’re going to do some amazing things together. I can’t do it by myself and I need you to be your best self. You have an obligation to do your best work, and you keep that in front of you.” That’s going to drive you and feed your soul because you know it’s meaningful work. We make our worst decisions and we treat people the most off-considerate when we’re overtired, not rested, too caffeinated, or when we hadn’t set our own balance around us and we are not centered. So you have to really guard.  You have to really protect a part of yourself that keeps you whole and healthy mentally and physically because it’s a marathon. It’s not a sprint. When you do make mistakes, you have to own them and you have to apologize, which is for them.

We have to start with leading ourselves. You can't lead anybody else or an organization unless you can lead yourself. – Barbara Medina #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

I would just ask leaders to be really gentle with themselves and to practice good compassion for themselves. – Barbara Medina #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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145: Leaders with Heart Show Others How to Be Grateful

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In this episode, Heather speaks directly to listeners about gratitude, resilience, and how leaders help those they lead reframe and focus forward.

Key takeaways:

  • Help your people become resilient.
  • Use gratitude as a resilience-building tool.
  • Curate experiences that change the frame.
Hope you don’t miss this short but sweet episode. Listen and learn!

Lasting Traditions

It’s a tradition that we have in our family that at Thanksgiving, we talk about what we’re grateful for at the table. We share stories of others and those who are maybe less fortunate than us, the things that we want to do better for that, as well as the following year to really show up better for other people. The following day is a cheery day as we put on our ugly sweaters, get to our trees, listen to music, and have hot cocoa, chocolate, and cookies. Today is that day, but I would be remiss if I did not get on here and thank all of you, the listeners.

It wasn't about (their) perfection. It was about (their) imperfections and how (they were able) to move from that place. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Imperfect Brilliance

For two and a half years of doing these podcasts, listening, talking to amazing people, and really hearing them share great stories, it is because of you that I continue to have these conversations and have great guests. As many of you have referred them to me, we’re able to reveal their brilliance. 

Don’t forget the book that’s coming out next year, “The Art of Caring Leadership.” It is based upon the interviews I’ve had on this podcast with these brilliant people. When I got to episode 25, I realized a lot of people don’t listen to podcast and I have got to get these people’s voices on here. I have got to amplify their brilliance. 

It wasn’t about their perfection. It was about their imperfections and how they were able to move from that place, of maybe being stuck as a leader to a place of more enlightenment, and greater treatment of their employees. I know that they’re delivering better experiences out there because they’re more emotionally intelligent. They’re showing up with more care.

We were all put here to do something. We were all put here to be someone. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Focus on what it is we were put on this earth to do. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

More of Them, Less of Me

It really is less about me and more about the people that I highlight on this show. I want you to know that I’m grateful for you. Right now, a lot of people are hurting in this world and they don’t know a way out. My message for you today is to try to be that way out for them. Try to be a message of hope for them. Try to be the light for others to follow. I had a lot of darkness in the early years of my life and I wanted to be the light for others. I wanted to show up in a different way. So, show up as that light for other people to help them see a different path forward right now when the world is chaotic. Give as much as you have yourself. Give your time, essence, and energy to those who need you. Help them light a way for a new path that they have to go on.

Be very intentional about setting up the proper environment that creates the right mindset, and the right behaviors that'll help your people see a future that is brighter than what’s right in front of them. – @HeatherRYounger… Click To Tweet

We focus on creating cultures of listening. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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144: Leaders with Heart Throw Themselves on the Line First

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In this episode, Heather hosts a solo show. In a concise and powerful episode, she connects a classic movie, “The Gladiator,” to caring leadership. 

Maximus, the protagonist of the movie played by Russel Crowe, exemplifies that people can lead from any place, with or without a title. He produces a strong and effective team of gladiators by using key caring leader tactics. He takes the time to build trust, by doing exactly what he says he will do. He puts himself on the line for his team, and proves that he believes in the power of the team. Lastly, he shows the gladiators that it is possible to work together as a team and succeed. 


  • People can lead from any place, with or without a title. 
  • Build trust by following through.
  • Show your team that teamwork is the path to success.
  • If you put yourself on the line for your team, your team will in turn throw themselves on the line for you. 
  • Show up in a way that produces greatness inside of others as well.

The Gladiator

Last weekend, I watched the movie, with my kids, The Gladiator with Russel Crowe. I forgot how inspirational it was actually.  He was someone who was very close with the emperor of Rome, who had a son but he wasn’t a great leader, and people did not want to follow him. So, Russell would be the one to be the emperor. He was not a part of the family and the bloodline. He was just someone who had rose into the ranks and had impressed him through his leadership capabilities.

It’s how you demonstrate trust. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Leader without a Title

The character played by Russell Crowe who’s going to be the next emperor ended up being a gladiator rising through the ranks. He ended up fighting in front of the new emperor who killed his father and who was not really worthy of position. 

Russell Crowe didn’t have a title. He was just a gladiator. He was looked at as a slave, someone who was forced to do the work. But in the end, he was able to bring these other gladiators along and produce a super strong team. 

He took the time to build the trust. He built the trust by doing what he said he would do. He let them know there was going to be a particular strategy, and every time he went on executing that, the result he promised actually happens. 

He put himself on the line for the team. There were many different instances where he would throw himself really in the middle of the Coliseum and make sure there’s his followers from a distance, and right there in front of him. They were not having to get into the fight or they would not die because he was putting himself on the line, or he knew he had superior capabilities, but he also has a deep belief in the power of team. 

He showed them what was possible when they work together as a team.  I remember seeing that they’re really all going to just be wiped out but they all stuck together. They followed him.

What do you do for your people? How do you show them what's possible in the team? – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

(Your team members) will go over and above, and they will then throw themselves on the line for you. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Over and Above

There is really no greater compliment from a leader, than to set your desires aside and to put the team, first. The team members know and they will go over and above, and they will then throw themselves on the line for you.

When you think about whether you have a title or not, it’s not the title that you have. It’s how you demonstrate trust. What do you do for your people? How do you show them what’s possible in the team?

How do you create that broad stroke of the vision for them? —to understand what is possible, so they can feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves, and to be in that group with people who are like-minded, focused on winning, and allows winning to actually take place.

You have the ability to show up in a way that produces greatness inside of them. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

It made me think so much of how people can lead. They can lead from any place without a title. – @HeatherRYounger #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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143: Leaders with Heart Lift Up Others

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In this episode, Heather speaks to Garth Jordan and Heather Loenser of the American Animal Hospital Association. Both leaders of this organization: Garth, CEO, and Heather Loenser, Senior Veterinary Officer, together with Heather Younger have a very dynamic discussion about their personal leadership findings. 

To the Heathers, empathy comes naturally. To Garth, it has been a work in progress. Yet, they all agree that empathy is crucial to the art of leadership, and that the follow up action is just as crucial as the initial empathetic response. Leaders cannot merely seek to understand; they must go a step further. Heather Loenser describes how empaths have their own struggles: you cannot stop at feeling what the other person feels, you must help them resolve the issue, and step out of the dark hole with them, together. 

Garth shares about his leadership journey and where he found a place for empathy amidst it. He speaks to the importance of hearing every voice. Leaders are responsible for responding to the findings of any listening exercise, and they have a duty to accompany their team through the changes, and to the solution. Everyone wants change, few want to change, and no one wants to lead the change. 


  • As an empath, it can be exhausting to feel another’s fears. 
  • Compassion is a necessary follow up to empathy-we see and feel someone’s pain—what do we do about it?
  • Do unto others what they want you to do for them.
  • Change will only happen if everyone is lifted up and they understand what it looks like and their role in it.
  • If you only have one to one empathy and compassion, design thinking helps you get from one to many.
  • With voice comes responsibility—to become part of the solution. 
  • Your worth as a person is not tied to your performance.
  • Empathy is like a muscle, you can exercise it and find ways to bring it into personal and professional life, and find more value by practicing it every day. 
  • Leaders bring to the table lessons learned, a lot of us learn a lot about how to exist in the world from our first families. If our experiences with our families weren’t perfect (and few are) then we will carry that with us throughout the rest of our lives. Best step to take to grow and become grounded and self aware is therapy.

Garth Jordan

Garth Jordan currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is an accomplished C-level executive with over 15 years of diverse leadership experience growing non-profit trade and professional associations through innovation, teamwork and digital transformation. 

Garth is also exceptional at strategy design and execution, Board relationships, and creating customer value using human-centered design methods. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry, Summa Cum Laude at the University of Colorado Boulder, and his MBA in Marketing, Summa Cum Laude at the University of Colorado Denver. He is also a polished writer and speaker. 

Heather Loenser

Heather Loenser, DVM is the Senior Veterinary Officer at the American Animal Hospital Association. She is a skilled facilitator for AAHA’s influential medical guidelines, a dynamic veterinary conference emcee, and a peer and pet-owner educator. Heather is also media-trained to deliver a polished and entertaining message, as well as a compassionate and efficient emergency veterinarian and manager.

Heather earned her Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science, and her degree in Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Iowa State University. She is also a detail-oriented yet creative technical writer. 

Garth: Empathy & Experience

The diversity of experience has been a significant part of my leadership journey. I’ve been all over the map and it’s been a lot of fun. I crave that type of experiential diversity. That’s one big ticket item that I expect to be part of my ongoing journey.

I’m not a natural Empath. The first half of my career, I was the cowboy. It’s my way or the highway. But I got into design thinking and it really did change my life. What I’ve learned is that leading and designing with empathy, and putting empathy at the epicenter of my journey has been important for me personally, professionally, and spiritually.

I can't think of a leader who wouldn't benefit from therapy. – Heather Loenser #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Heather: Empathy to Compassion

I got into a lot of communication training and that has allowed my empathy to communicate how I’m feeling and the feelings I see in you as another human. 

I’m also very good at interpreting how animals are feeling and that is incredibly useful on the floor. I also use my empathy to try to serve my colleagues.

I am not afraid of seeing an animal in pain when I’m in my hospital because I know I can fix it. I’m the kind of person who charges to the front door. 

When I hear that an animal had been hit by a car and it’s coming into the hospital, I am there to get it, grab it, take it with me, give it medications, and get it comfortable again.

What I have to learn is seeing other people in pain. If I am just stick to empathy and not actual action, I just end up crawling down in the hole with the person who’s feeling sometimes positive feelings. 

Also, as empaths, we tend to be more empathetic about things that are a little heavier. Without adding action to it, I can just get stuck in the dark hole with you. You’re not alone and that’s great. But what are we going to do?

Exercise that (empathy) muscle and find more value from the practice every day. – Garth Jordan #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

If we're not changing, we're going to be in big trouble. – Garth Jordan #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Design Thinking: One to Many

About one-to-one empathy and compassion, one thing design thinking helps us do is do it from one to many.

But when we think about leading with heart, leading with empathy, and leading with compassion, the better we understand our target audience, whether that’s our staff, our actual paying customer, or some other audience.

We can go understand them in depth and with an eye toward empathy, then distill that collective knowledge into very specific themes. What are the thematic pain points of your audience? Then instead of being just one to one, we’re now one too many.

If I understand those thematic pain points, challenges, or issues, and if I can distill all of that qualitative empathetic view, then I can turn it into a product or a service something incredibly unique and with value that’s going to solve challenges.

When you look at the companies today that are the most successful, they’re the ones simplifying people’s lives because they found like these compassionate views of their customers.

I do believe there's a certain amount of Nature versus Nurture when it comes to empathy. – Garth Jordan #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Your worth as a person is not tied to your performance. Be careful with what you bring into a conversation and where you derive your worth. – Heather Loenser #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


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