Leaders, the captain of the ship - Karin Hurt [Interview]

About Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt is the CEO of ‘Let’s grow leaders’. She is an award-winning author of three books- A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul’, ‘Overcoming an Imperfect Boss’, and ‘Glowstone Peak’. She is a greatly sought after keynote speaker, in improving leadership strategies and mentoring leaders worldwide. She’s been recognized as one of the topmost leadership coaches by a multitude of organizations globally. We are very happy to have someone of her stature to be in our interview series. 

Leaders, the captain of the ship - Karin Hurt [Interview]

Aishwarya Jain

We have the pleasure of welcoming Karin Hurt today to our interview series. I am Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team before we begin just a quick introduction of peopleHum. peopleHum is an end to end one view integrated Human Capital Management Automation Platform, the winner of the 2019 Global Codie award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted Employee Experiences and the Future Of Work with AI and automation technologies. We run the peopleHum blog and video channel, which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around two interviews with well-known names globally every month.

Aishwarya

Welcome, Karin, we are thrilled to have you

Karin

Thank You so much for having me.

Aishwarya

Our pleasure. So, Karin, I wanted to begin, by asking you, 

What is ‘Let’s grow leaders’?What was your vision when you started writing? When did you start imagining what kind of an organization it would be? What’s your vision now, has it changed?

Karin

Oh, that’s such an interesting question. When I started, ‘Let’s grow leaders’ I was still an executive at Verizon. So it was just a blog at the beginning and I was finding that I was telling the same leadership stories again and again as I was going in to try to help mentor and transform my teams. 

And I was also finding that it was really necessary as my team was getting bigger and bigger. Ultimately I had a 10,000 person team. 

“It was impossible for me to develop every leader on the team, so I thought, How do I break these things down into very practical tools and techniques that we can scale?” 

And so I started writing about that on the blog and never had any intention of leaving Verizon. 

But what I noticed is that, I started getting all these phone calls and people were asking me ‘Oh, hey, can you come to be our keynote speaker?’ ‘When are you going to write a book?’ ‘When can you come to consult’ like wait a minute, no I have to stay at my job. 

So one day, I did go to a keynote. I took a day off from work and just did it for free. I got off the stage and the other keynote speaker who is following me happened to be the Head of the international Speakers Association. He said, ‘When are you leaving Verizon?’ and I said ‘Am I? Did I say that from the stage’ and he’s like, ‘No, but I can tell you were meant to do this’. So I thought about it, and I gave Verizon a four months notice so everything would be a smooth transition. 

I started ‘Let’s go leaders’ as the company and it has been quite a journey. It’s been six years. We work internationally and we do leadership development programs all over the world, both in-person and live online. And, we do keynote speaking, and of course, the writing. We are about to launch our next book, which is called Courageous Cultures. How to build teams of micro innovators, problem solvers, and customer advocates. And we’re delighted about that. 

We partner with the University of North Colorado’s. It’s really a heavy research base, and we have good case studies from leaders across a variety of industries. So that’s a little bit about who we are. I am in business with my husband David. And so we do a lot of the programs together jointly, as well as do some of them independently and always collaborate on our writing. 

Aishwarya

That is so wonderful and your journey has been very, very exciting and thrilling. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of learnings and now you are a much more experienced person, and it’s amazing to have leaders like you who are, kind of paying it forward and growing other people. It’s very kind of you to do that, it’s really amazing.

Karin

It’s so fulfilling, you know, to watch leaders really grow and come into their own and gain their confidence and to have transformational results. It’s the most important thing.

Aishwarya

Absolutely. If you’re giving purpose to somebody else and that purpose is fulfilling for that person and for yourself too there is a sense of gratification, you are just kind of happy looking at the other person grow, that’s so fulfilling to you that really is amazing. 

Over the years we’ve seen different kinds of leadership styles. So how do you think these leadership styles have morphed with changing times and priorities, and especially now what should be the focus of leaders as we delve into an uncertain future. 

Karin

It’s interesting clearly, over time there has been more of a migration away from this top-down and to create more of a collaborative, the servant leadership, the engaging, and yet you still see some organizations not acting that way. Some governments are not acting that way, right? And that’s interesting. 

It’s not been a total evolution, and I think, it’s the leaders that are really what we call winning well, getting results without losing your soul by being a decent human being are the people who can show up with confidence and humility and focus on results and relationships and, really manage that balancing act. 

I think… 

“When we think about it now, in these crazy, uncertain times there are a couple of things that are really vital, and the number one is absolutely empathy.” 

We are leading in a circumstance where the whole world is dealing with real uncertainty both professionally and personally and you’ve got to know that every person on your team is dealing with a nuance that you may not even know about, so is under tremendous stress. 

So I think the first is, are you having a human connection? And how are you doing that? Even when you are remote? And so I do think turning on the cameras, being delivered about having small talk, being delivered about really asking personal questions to see and check-in with how people are feeling is always important. But it’s more important now, than ever before.

The next is clarity. Clarity of expectations is always so critical, but it’s even more important now because people are so distracted. There’s so much going on. So we always talk about, setting clear expectations and then reinforcing those expectations five times, five different ways, and that’s really very, very important. 

The next is how do you really identify what are your most important strategic priorities? 

Because with so much going on, you’re not going to be able to accomplish everything. So how do you know what you must be doing for your business for your team right now to make sure that you’re continuing to move the ball forward? I would say those are the big three that I would focus on right now.

Aishwarya

Absolutely. That makes so much sense. And empathy is really the need of the hour because now there are so many remote people and you just have to collaborate with them. It’s really not an easy task.

How do you think leaders should balance the need for employee welfare and safety with business objective approaches and the need for being in the office?

Karin

There are certainly some industries. My sister is running operations right now in a hospital and she’s got to be there, face to face. There are certain industries where people really are absolutely mission-critical. And, the other people in the economy that are keeping things running.

The grocery stores, the food distributors, we have those folks that we need to do whatever we can to protect them and to make sure that they’ve got the equipment they need for protection, that their policies are in place to protect them. In those kinds of circumstances, people do really need to come to work.

“What is important for everyone else is what are the creative ways that you can do to keep your business rolling without putting people in danger”

…because the bottom line is. I’m not a health expert, but we definitely know that if this gets worse, it’s going to impact. If the spread continues so fast it’s going to impact the economy either way, as healthcare systems become overwhelmed. So I am in the belief that at the moment we need to do everything we can to protect as many people as possible so that we can all get through this and begin to re-establish a new normal. 

Aishwarya

Absolutely. We need to now be okay with what’s happening and make the best of it. Probably this would be the new normal, we’ll just have to make peace with it, right!

Karin

I mean, it’s certainly not ideal for our business. We make a living and most of the work that we have to do face to face, but what ‘s really been interesting is for the last couple of years, we have been running an international live online program in eight different countries. And so we’ve been doing this for a while, and it works really well if you use the right technology.

And so we’ve been able to transition a lot of our clients to do the programs remotely and, you have to do some things differently. You’re not going to have people join you for an eight-hour program live online, for example, we’re working with one of our clients now we just took his one full-day program and we’re breaking it up into 90-minute sessions over a longer period of time. 

There are some advantages to that right because now they can do what is base learning and they do work in between sessions and will be applying what they’ve learned. So that can be done. Well, there could be some benefits to transitioning to, you know, a live remote situation. 

Aishwarya

Absolutely, you’re helping so many people out there, especially people you know that cannot really travel, cannot commute long distances or they might have disabilities. This is such an important need, and we must be flexible to make it more inclusive. And that is kind of my next question, 

How important of a role will technology and digital play in the inclusive workplace of the future as we imagine it to be?

Karin

You know, it is interesting. I was just talking with this Chief Learning Officer who is a client of mine. I was just thinking about a program that we had done, and she said you know, the thing is, I’m so glad we made everybody do it remotely, as opposed to having the people that were co-located able to be face to face. 

And then everybody else styling in because what that creates is serving in group and an outgroup. So…

“I do think that this is going to level the playing field for a lot of people.” 

If people are trained to do this, then you could be paying attention to who has contributed. One of the things that we do is we make a list of all the participants in a learner program, and we put a checkmark next to when someone has spoken up and then that way the introverts are reluctant or they’re getting overwhelmed by the extroverts, we can then deliberately pull people in. 

And we’ll do that in a way where it’s not like putting them on the spot. So I would say, ‘OK, so this is, great, you know what, Laura? I haven’t heard your opinion on this, I’m gonna come to you next. But first, John, let me take you’ And so you give Laura a heads up, and then you give her time to think. And so I think techniques like that really do create more inclusion and that you know, to your point about people with disabilities. 

We need to be thinking about all of that because you know some of the technology. So if you have someone, for example, a vision problem, well, that’s gonna be difficult as you move and people are chatting and doing things like that. So we have to be able to think through who are all the people on the team. 

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What are their circumstances that they’re faced with? Another inclusion issue that we’re having right now as people are working from home their kids, being able to not be there right is we have this diversity of parents versus non-parents and how do you manage that? And when do you schedule your meetings? And so that the parents can also multitask and juggle through what they’re having to do to support kids at home who need help with their school work or that kind of thing.

Aishwarya

Absolutely, that’s a very important point, that diversity not only as we know the term to be, but now there’s a definition to it because we’re all remote working. And there are, you know, people who are parenting. And those are not. That’s a very critical point that you put out there. 

How important do you think that now, with the rising millennial workforce and the gig economy, a lot of us belong to the gig economy. Do you think that the corporate world is already prepared for this scenario, or do they still have to work on that?

Karin

I think one of the most important things that people are not necessarily fully evolved in some companies around this around the gig economy is how do you create a culture in a gig world? And I think in the past, when you had mostly employees and a handful of contractors people didn’t worry about, ‘Are they being included?’ you know, ‘Oh, they’re just the contractors’ 

“But now you see organizations that have a lot of contractors coming in and out, and I think there’s a real benefit from that. If you could tap into it because you have now people who have best practices from other companies that they’ve worked in.” 

And so not just to say, hey, get on board and do things our way. But to show up incredibly curious and say, ‘How did they do that in these other places that you worked with’ and you can bring in all these ideas. If you do that well and you don’t just treat them as a second class you know, people in your organization, I think is really important. 

So I think we need to get better at that. How do you pull in the best practices? And how do you make sure that you are still treating people with respect ‘Oh, just fire the contractors when the economy gets rough’? No, because you want those people to come back. 

So how do you become an organization, that gig workers want to come work with and they’re telling their friends? And that is in, How do you build a culture around that?, I think, is a really important question, and I know that there are companies that are really doing this well, and it’s again back to making sure you’re still connecting at a human level and still getting to know your contractors as human beings and engaging them as if they are an important part of the team because they are.

Aishwarya

And talking about culture, what is the role of a leader when it comes to maintaining the culture of an organization? And what does it really take to change from the inside as a leader if you want to go from X to Y, what does it really do to initiate that change? 

Karin

Well, this is all our next book is all about. But I really believe it is first of, What is the culture that you want and not just what you think you should have, but really deep down what are your core values? Because culture is all about values and our favorite definition of culture is Seth Godin, who says ‘People like us, do things like this’ and that’s not just what you say you want people to like us to do. 

But how do people act on it on a daily basis? I just got off the phone with the CEO that was doing a lot of cultural transformation work with, and they have a fantastic culture, and they have chosen their values and they’ve been living with them. But she’s got a direct reporter who’s not behaving according to those values.

And so the conversation we just had was ‘You can’t you have zero tolerance for this because the minute you let that happen, that’s when your culture begins to break down’ because people look up and say, ‘Well, if she’s doing this, then they must not be serious’.

I think that part of the culture-building is from the inside out. Determining what it is that you want people to like us to do and then make sure that everything is aligned around that your communication, what you’re rewarding? how you’re managing performance?

All of that is consistently where every single message is being sent to reinforce that culture. And, you know, I think part of you to build a really great culture and… 

“What we call courageous culture is this pounce of clarity of vision and then showing up really curious so that you’re tapping into all the best ideas and thinking and solving problems of every member of your team.” 

Aishwarya

Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense when you talk about giving feedback to an employee as a leader. 

What do you think is the best way to give feedback? Because I do hear a lot of positive criticism, and you’ve got to be more gentle than tough. What is your take on that?

Karin

I think for me, we talk about showing it with confident humility. So you want to be confident, confident of your skills as a leader, confident in the vision that you’re setting out, confident that you can get there from here with your team, because teams want to follow a confident leader, but then humility to surround yourself with the people who will challenge you, to know your vulnerabilities, to admit your mistakes. And that’s not weak, right? 

That actually takes more strength to be able to admit when you’re wrong. So I think it’s that balance. When you see leaders get in trouble is when one of those is off, right they are so confident that they don’t care about what anybody else thinks and they shut everybody down or they’re so humble that people don’t take them seriously and they can’t get inspired. 

“It’s not as tough versus gentle but clear and open I would say.”

Aishwarya

Oh, yeah, that’s very insightful. Being clear and being open and just being confident as a leader. I think, Yes, you can really inspire people if you are very confident and you know that what your alignment is towards the culture of the organization.

And so for that, you need to really strategize and know what your organizational culture will look like. And that would be the foundation stone. 

And do you think now, after we come out of the pandemic that cultures will change? Do you think that we’ll come back with a very different mindset after this is over and how leaders are supposed to cope with that?

Karin

You know, for some organizations, I hope so. I hope that people are taking the time to really learn, to really be paying attention to what is most important.

You know, one of the things that I think has happened for a lot of companies, as they’ve had to realize what are the most vital things that they’re working on, what of all the things they’re providing for their customers, do their customers care about the most? 

Because they can’t transform everything all of a sudden very quickly. And so taking a step back and saying, how do we create the human connection that we need, 

“I think there’s a lot of good if we could tap into the learnings from this, that will be very very critical.”

I just wrote about this, earlier this week on our blog. I’m also hearing some really bad behaviors that are happening, where, people are saying, I got laid off via email. So where people are being so stressed and desensitized that they’re doing things that are going to damage the culture for the long term. 

If they’re not caring about their people, if they’re making short term decisions, for short term profits that are really, really on the backs of the people who have been killing themselves for the company.

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I think that people should think well now about the long term ramifications because, how you lead during this time, everybody is watching. As the economy recovers, they’re going to want to go and work for the companies that lead well, during this time, that showed up with strong values, not only for the employees but how did they act in the world? 

Aishwarya

Absolutely. I do agree with you that now is the time when you really need to show resilience, and you need to show your compassion as well, because there will be a lot of fingers pointing at you and your organization about how you dealt with the situation. 

Because these are tough times and, you know, when there are tough times, people definitely point fingers at you and talk about you. So excellent point I totally agree with you on that one and to wrap this conversation up I’m gonna ask you the last question. 

If you have any important sound bytes that you’d like to leave our viewers with, that would be great.

Karin

So we always say…

“Be the leader you want your boss to be” 

…and I think you can learn as much from working for a bad boss as a good boss and to really reflect on your own values as a leader. And how do I want to show up in the world and to be really deliberate about that? If we had more people doing that, we would have less bad bosses out there.

Aishwarya

Yeah, it’s such an important point. I think your book would be a testament to that. How to kind of overcome an imperfect boss and that’s kind of great advice that you’re giving. Thank you so much, Karin. I loved our conversation. It was a pleasure talking to you. I really appreciate your time and you sharing your views with us. Thank you so much.

Karin

So glad to be here and really enjoyed the conversation.