It can be difficult to support coworkers as they go through hard times. Liesel Mertes cultivates empathy at work as guests share stories of how real-life struggle affected the workplace. Episodes close with actionable tips to make you a better manager, coworker, and friend.
Empathy and Connection for Start-ups: an interview with Selfless.ly
- Joshua Driver And so it's always been confusing to me why startups don't think about their culture from day one. And because we spend so much of our wake time at work, especially on our stage and the positive vibes or feelings you get out of helping others or contributing to the betterment of your community or society or making a difference for somebody else is such an important experience I think everybody should have,
Why aren’t we focusing on culture from Day 1? Today, we look at building connection in the world of start-ups. My guests are Josh Driver and Zach Rodenbarger from Selfless.ly. They have a lot to say about how to build connection AND their technology platform is also a platform for companies to give back, so this is like a double-impact interview.
Zach and Josh’s origin story begins just before the pandemic, launching their platform with high hopes and ideals into a pretty brutal business environment.
They are talking about how they sustained connection, built their company, and expanded the scope of influence in the midst of the dual pressures of start-up life and a bruising global pandemic. As a bit of a teaser, you will hear about the importance of taking a walk, how “hangry” can get in the way of communication, and why Nerf guns could be a good idea for your office culture.
Zach and Josh are both tech guys who are from the same Indiana town of Valparaiso. The met in 2018, committed to the concept of building a platform where companies and individuals can give not just money but time and effort to support causes that matter. The website describes the platform memorably: “Selfless.ly is a unique company that was designed by selfless people to help the world become a better place.”
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes I'd love to hear from both of you. Why do you think that that is even an important conversation to be having? And how would you define empathy work to me.
- Zach Rodenbarger There's a few tangible examples.
That is Zach Rodenbarger, the COO of Selfless.ly
- Zach Rodenbarger Sometimes in our interactions, Josh will come in or I'll come in and we'll have something and go back and forth. And then one of us will say, do you need to go for a walk?
- Zach Rodenbarger And I was like.
- Zach Rodenbarger Yes, I need to go for a walk. I need a little fresh air, you. And maybe that's just because we've been at our computers for a couple of hours or longer and need to have take a pause and have a step back. And so we've had that over the year, especially when we're working hard and looking at new timelines and goals and things. And I know I've needed a walk or two here and there.
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes We had other good practices. Sometimes it's a walk. I also find that sometimes it's a snack. I have you eaten recent links to a snack?
- Joshua Driver Yes. We've encountered the snack situation as well. Yes. Hunger is a thing so much.
And this is Josh Driver, fellow-hangry sufferer and the Founder of Selfless.ly
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes That was like one of my biggest learning curves early on in my marriage. I I used to think it was just Luke. It's totally both of us be like, Is this really a thing, or am I just really hungry right now? And you can't know until you're no longer hungry, like, you can't even find out.
- Zach Rodenbarger I think that's a good follow up on empathy. It's probably easier to see in other people. And then when do we take that step back and look at ourselves and actually admit that? And I think that is really helpful to business partnership or even as we continue to onboard new employees, you know, thinking through, how am I coming across to others?
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes But also, do you put yourself in their shoes and how are they feeling and so kind of both well and hearing that it actually takes a foundation of some relationship and trust to be able to take some
Lead Like a Human: an interview with Adam Weber
– Adam Weber
One of the I think keys to genuine empathy is through consistent one on one and how you display empathy, like, structurally inside of an organization. So, for example, a one on one is that place where as a manager, you can create safety with your team and with your direct reports and create a vulnerable relationship where you really do know what's going on inside of their world in their life
INTRO Sometimes, when you hear from leaders, you are inundated with their success stories: their key tips to making your life or company just as successful as theirs has been. And the whole thing can kind of seem a little unattainable and aspirational.
Which is one of the things that I love about today’s interview with Adam Weber, the Senior Vice President for 15Five. Adam is one of those highfliers whose work is marked by successes, whether that is leading HR professionals in HR Superstars or successfully growing and then selling Emplify as a co-founder.
But my conversation with Adam isn’t just a series of success stories. He is going to tell you about moments where he was NOT his best self, where as a young founder under tons of stress, he created distance instead of connection…and what he learned from it. Along with a lot of other great content.
Adam is a structure guy, so be ready for some really actionable suggestions. Adam is also the author of “Lead Like a Human”. Great title! He has a wife, two sons, and a dog named Poppy and he loves spending time in nature, camping, and bird-watching. I hope you enjoy today’s conversation as much as I did.
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes Adam, I'm so glad to have you as a guest today. Welcome.
- Adam Weber It's good to be here. Liesel. Thank you so much.
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes Yes. So a question that I oftentimes get in my work is defining what empathy looks like in the workplace. And I know that you're someone who has worked a lot professionally and written and thought about connection in the workplace. How would you define empathy at work? What does it look like?
- Adam Weber I think it work. Empathy at work, I think, is seeing your employees as whole people as their whole sales and just in recognizing that they have things that are moving in their life that are outside of work, they have aspects of things that work that are impacting them that maybe you're unaware of. And so just taking that holistic perspective of each person and the unique experience that they're having and translating that and how you relate to them.
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes Thank you for that. I have found as I work with different companies as I meet with individuals that oftentimes when people like get it, when they feel really resonant with the importance of empathy and connection in the workplace, it comes out of a place of personal experience. They've had some touch points with either needing empathy and care or being in the position of giving it in a way that was really impactful. I'd love for you to share a story of when you've either really needed care in the workplace or when it's been really important for you to give it.
- Adam Weber Yeah. I think I have two stories that come to mind. The first is maybe how early in my career I was able to practice empathy in a way that helped me see the value in it. I started in my career when I was 22 to 25. I was the pastor of a Church, and it's a story for a different day, but basically became the head pastor when I was 25, never given a sermon in my life. Wow. And was trying to support and was really the only staff person for two to 300 people and was trying to support them when in reality, like, I was just still really young myself.
- Adam Weber And I think through that experience, a lot of people opened up to me about their lives. And you got to be a part of some of those high moments, like weddings, but also you're very much in the midst of really, really difficult situations
To See It, Be It: an interview with Max Yoder
- Max Yoder That divine middle is emotional liberation, where I can be compassionate and show compassion to an individual. But I do not need to carry whatever it is that they are feeling, right, not my responsibility to. And the thing about the thing that I think this is so important for me in my life is I think this was my biggest blocker, my biggest blocker to grow like something that I may have gone through my whole life and never addressed if it were not for something like Lessonly.
When companies and individuals think about skilling-up in empathy and compassion, there are common questions that arise. How can I take on the feelings of others without being crushed by them? What do good boundaries look like? How am I ever going to keep my people accountable to their actual work if I start being all touchy-feely with the. My guest today touches on all of these questions and more. There are many reasons why you should take the time to listen to Max Yoder: he is erudite, well-read (see all of the books and authors he noted in the show notes), and he really cares about people. He is also the co-founder of the continually growing learning platform, Lessonly. Just last week, Lessonly made headlines in the tech world when they were acquired by Seismic. And the last few years has been a series of success stories for the company. Max is much more than an executive and a thinker, he is also a crafter of Lego art. - Liesel Mindrebo Mertes Is there anything that you found yourself giving time to in the pandemic, whether that's like a new pursuit or a hobby that you have particularly enjoyed?
- Max Yoder Yeah. I've given myself a lot more time to make art, and I tend to make art with Legos. I really appreciate this man named Joseph Albers, who was a teacher at Black Mountain College, right. During World War two, post World War II. And he created this series of things called Homage to a Square. And he really like color theory. So he would put basically squares inside one another. And he did about two0 of these over a series of 20 years, I think from his 60s to his 80s, if I recall correctly, so hugely inspired by somebody doing 2001 thing from their 60 to their 80s.
- Max Yoder And these squares, like I said, they're color theory. So he was trying different colors, and he said when I put a blue in the middle and I surround it with a red, that blue takes on a different cue, then it visually looks different than if I surround it with a lighter blue. Like what we put around to color changes the way we perceived that color.
- Max Yoder So during COVID, I started doing all of these squares, and they were these really great free flow activity where I could get a 16 by 16 Lego square.
- Max Yoder And I would create my own version of Joseph Albers Homage to a Square, all these different colors, and I have them all around my attic now. And it was just one of those things that I could do without thinking I sift through the Legos, I'd find the right color. I'd build these squares. It was not taxing, but it was rewarding.
- Max Yoder And so I think in general, what I learned to do during COVID was play and not have a goal. And in one way of doing that with art and just really, truly understand what playing is, because I think I spent a lot of my adult life and I think a lot of my adolescent life achieving instead of playing, and I think you can do both at the same time.
- Max Yoder But I don't think I was doing both. I think mostly achieving I love that.
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes Well, especially with the relentless pace of work in general, but especially accelerated as a result of the pandemic to actually have spaces of purposeful rest, whether that's like actual physical rest of sleeping or encompassing it with the mental release of play is something that I hear again and again as I work with different individuals, even as being really life giving. Yeah. I love th
Human Skills Are Business Skills: an interview with Joe Staples
- Joe Staples For anybody listening, you can learn empathy. It's not something that somebody should go. You know, I'm not an empathetic. So I'm just going to stay the way I am.
Human skills ARE business skills. You cannot create lasting, high-performing teams without paying attention to and caring for the actual humans on your team.
This is something that my guest, Joe Staples, has seen again and again in his years of work. We are going to talk about tips and tactics to build connection (hint: nothing brings people together like food), how walking a mile, literally, in someone else’s role can build empathy, and why a group softball game was one of Joe’s biggest misses in team building. You will hear stories of high school bullies and reflections on the changing expectations of generations in the workplace. All in all, it is just one fine episode full of wisdom.
Let me begin with a little bit more about my guest, Joe Staples. Joe is a senior B2B marketing executive who advises companies around go-to-market strategy and activities. He has spent decades in the business and developed expertise in building a powerful, differentiated brand and generating demand.
Joe is also the author or coauthor of numerous articles on leadership, customer experience, marketing, branding, employee engagement and work management. His work has been featured in all sorts of publications from Ad Age to Digital Marketing Magazine.
Joe lives out in Salt Lake City, where he gets to spend time not just working but enjoying the great outdoors.
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes What are some of your favorite things that you get to do out in Salt Lake City?
- Joe Staples You know, we have we have a large family and so we're constantly going to parks going up in the mountains. We have we have a cabin that's kind of our getaway place. And, you know, we just we like the outdoors. The interesting one of the most interesting things about Utah is you can you can golf in the in the morning and ski in the afternoon if you hit the time of year just right. And we're 20 minutes from the closest ski resort.
- Joe Staples So a lot to do.
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes You can you can just have a whole day of recreation at your fingertips.
- Joe Staples Right. And when you when you think of small grandchildren, it doesn't take much to entertain them, give you like some rocks and potato bugs. And there's that
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes That's that is true. I feel like in my own family, I have four. I was going to say young children, but the eldest is now 13, so they're getting less young with each passing year. But we know 13 down to seven. And as you mentioned, the cabin, we did well.
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes We still do a fair amount of camping. And it's amazing when you strip away some of the electronics and iPads and all the interactive toys that are so dazzling. How really entertaining a good puzzle, a little bit of mud and a pile of sticks can really be.
- Joe Staples That's exactly right. I agree completely. You know, the other thing for me, so getting to our cabin, you go through what's called the Heber Valley, which is this little old farming community, and then you go up into the mountains. And as I come down into that valley, I could physically feel the stress just kind of fall off of my shoulders. And I forget about everything that's good.
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes There's a there's a particular power about familiar land, just that you revisit again and again. And I can think even this weekend we're going down to Bloomington, which was a meaningful place for me. I did graduate work down there. I gave birth to a young daughter who died shortly afterwards. But there was a lot of emotion that's tied up in that time. And there's a particular trail that I I ran and walked a lot during those years. And then I always make a point to come back to.
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes And there
An Awakening: Embodied Empathy for Leaders
- Tegan Trovato There's an awakening happening in corporations and people are now choosing their jobs based on values. And that will force organizations who aren't already inclined to that thinking to really start rethinking their approach to caring for their people and the beautiful thing.
Today, we talk about the awakening that is happening in the workforce as a result of COVID, change, and choice. How workers are choosing jobs based on values and what top leaders are doing to welcome and nurture the whole person at work.
And I am excited to have both a colleague and a friend on the show as a guest: Tegan Trovato is the Founder of Bright Arrow, a premiere Executive and Team Coaching firm supporting clients nationally.
Tegan is an HR industry veteran specializing in Talent Acquisition, Talent Development, and Organizational Learning. She has served as an executive or leadership team member for companies like Levi Strauss, Zynga, Xerox and Cielo.
At Bright Arrow, she and her team offer executive coaching, leadership team coaching, and group workshops. All of Bright Arrow’s coaches value authenticity, confidence, courage, growth, and leadership and make these values a priority in every interaction.
Tegan is also the is wife to Brian (a fellow entrepreneur), mommy to Athena (who is really, really bute), and mom to her two fur babies - senior kitties Pascal and Dedier (pronounced D.D.A).
She loves nature and we began our conversation hearing about her recent break from work here in the Indiana summer.
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes I would love to hear some of your favorite things that you've gotten a chance to do on your staycation so far.
- Tegan Trovato Oh, you know, just being outside and my husband and Athena and I all being together as a family is everything, because with the pandemic, we still don't have child care yet. We do have someone starting soon. But we've just been like ships passing in the night, just handing Athena off for for one of us, one entrepreneur to have a meeting and the other one goes and takes care of her and then we switch off again throughout the day.
- Tegan Trovato So just being together has been and I don't even know what the word is, heart filling.
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes Have you have you gotten a chance to eat some good food? Are you finding your being outside a lot? It's been raining and muggy that you know,
- Tegan Trovato That doesn't stop us. I'm from the South, from the real South where it is always rainy and muggy and we just go do your thing anyway. So, no, that hasn't stopped us. And there's been enough breaks in the rain and we've spent a ton of time. Yeah. Walking on the trail and jogging and setting up the little kiddie pool outside for her.
- Tegan Trovato So, yeah, that's been that's part of what nourishes me is being outside and and yes. Eating healthy food. So we always eat relatively healthy, but we've been doing a little more of the salads because we've had time and all that good stuff so.
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes Well, and who wants to be slaving over their oven or stovetop too much in the high heat of summer? The salad is a great option.
- Liesel Mindrebo Mertes One of the things I would love to talk with you about is how you've seen the need for empathy grow and change specifically over the last year and a half within your coaching practice. Give us a little bit of a 10000 foot view of what your typical client looks like.
- Tegan Trovato Hmm. Thank you for asking that. It does help set the stage a little bit for who is seeing what inside of the businesses and from where they're seeing this all unfold. Right. So the clients that we typically work with at Right Arrow are executives. So VPs and above inside the organization, they tend to be very driven, pretty holistic leaders, meaning they do want for their employees to feel good and be healthy and often at their own peril. R
The Pulse of Your People: Optimizing Workplace Support During Crisis and COVID
Nick Smarrelli But at the end of it, you know, you can't be listening to the reality. It can't be you can't be talking about how fantastic things are when things don't feel fantastic because then you lose all credibility and that's what people want. I think in leadership these days.
I can get really snarky when technology is not working well for me…just ask my family. Chromecast under functioning, the link refusing to load. All of it can seem like a lot. But the biggest frustrations come when the technology that I need for work isn’t WORKING. So, when I call the support desk, I am bringing a lot to that interaction.
My guest today is Nick Smarelli, he is the CEO of GadellNet Consulting and a big part of what his team does is troubleshoot those complex, frustrating tech calls. Nick is talking today about how he keeps his staff engaged, supporting their well-being in the midst of a pandemic, giving them what they need so they can give the customers what they need.
Nick is open, insightful, and has great tips for anyone who is leading through a time of crisis and I anticipate that you will get as much out of the interaction as I did!
First, a little bit more about Nick. Nick joined GadellNet in 2010 after working with Ingersoll Rand. He studied psychology and finance as an undergrad and, I love this line from his bio, “Nick views all business decisions from the lens of blending both humanity and fiscal responsibility to achieve incredible outcomes.” And I think you will hear that impulse in his interview.
GadellNet grew over his 10 tenure, from 4 employees to 150 across three states. GadellNet has also earned honors as an Inc. “Best Places to Work”.
Nick is an ultramarathon runner, a father of three, a spouse of over 12 years, and an avid supporter of the community. Nick has a podcast, “Zero Excuses”, where I had the pleasure of being a recent guest, where he speaks to guests on the power of the human potential – and how to live a self-accountable life. He is currently pursuing his Masters Degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology from Harvard University.
We began our conversation talking about early morning workouts. Nick is often up in the wee hours of the morning to exercise or to get work done, which feel slike a necessity at this stage of life as he is also a parent and a husband.
Liesel Mertes I was I was a rower in college. I was on the crew team. So I'm no stranger to like the four. Forty five am waiting approval.
- Nick Smarrelli I'm getting up in the morning.
- Liesel Mertes Yeah. Were you always a morning person or did you come to that with your like athletic pursuits.
- Nick Smarrelli I would say I am never been a morning person. I, I don't know if I am right now. Frankly it is not, it is not my default by any stretch. But I think by virtue of athletic pursuits, work commitments, usually speaking, there's just a lot of work to process and I find mornings to be really solid for that. It's again, after having kids, that is my lone moments of reasonably energized solitude. You know, certainly the kids go to bed, but by the time bedtime happens, I'm spent.
- Nick Smarrelli I'm not enjoying that moment. So carving out that morning space has given me a little bit of of time to have and be, I would say, selfish. That's my selfish time. That's my how. Take care of my body. Take care of my mind. Take care of a little bit of work so that when the kids wake up and my wife wakes up, I'm in a place and they're going to get the best of forty five minutes of me before the cycle starts again with, with kind of a normal workday.
- Nick Smarrelli So that's, that's really where I use that selfish time because I feel like the rest of the day is kind of committed to your pursuits outside of just myself.
- Liesel Mertes Totally. Well and I like that turn of phrase and the differentiation between energized versus d
Empathy — yes, yes, yes.
What an imperative message to get to the masses: empathy. Listen in and share with others.
Caring about others - inspiration
Liesel, I really appreciate the calm and clear way that you help people tell difficult stories, so that others can learn and heal. THANK YOU!!
You handle with good care
Beautiful job of maximizing the voice of others for the health of our communities. You do this masterfully because you care, you’ve experienced and you’ve learned.