The Leadership Decision with Dr Catherine Rymsha

Dr. Catherine Rymsha is a leadership development expert and lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. She’s a TEDx speaker and also the author of the book, The Leadership Decision. In this show, you can learn about:

  • What the leadership decision is and how you make it
  • How to use the A.P.E. Model to make the decision
  • Why listening is a key component in leadership
  • The importance of getting more feedback in your day to day

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Music: ” Upbeat Party ” by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

Transcript:Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

The Leadership Hacker News

Steve Rush: If you’ve already made the decision to lead or contemplating making that decision now, indeed it could be you’re helping others to make the decision to lead. The question many people often find themselves asking, is, are leaders born or bred? Do I just have it? And it’s a persistent question that we’ve been asking for years, some senior managers and policymakers believe it’s absolutely true. That leads the bread that they must come from the right background, have the right characteristics and have the right genes. While others argue strongly that anybody could be made into a leader given the right training or support. So, who’s right?

Well, the answer is a bit of both. In fact, there are two elements to be a good leader. Certainly, they must have the right individual characteristics. The desirable characteristics that include proactivity and tiny levels of intelligence, proactivity and fluid intelligence are innate traits, but crystallized intelligence is experiential and gained as part of our education and learning experiences. So therefore, it might be really difficult for somebody who’s highly introverted to Excel when the role calls for extroversion, charismatic and transformational leadership approaches, it’s difficult to learn how to go against one’s intrinsic feelings, right? Each leadership approach like transformational leadership or transactional leadership and a like, cause for very different levels of behaviors and the ability to exhibit that behavior is conditioned by our own personal characteristics, beliefs and mindsets. The personal individual characteristics are part territory and part experiential and research suggests that 30% of our leadership competence is hereditary. So those who say that leaders are bred up partly right, but that also means that for the rest, 70% of the potential leaders, characteristics are all about their understanding and adapting to the upbringing early experiences, life experiences, while also learning about people along the way. This is why many believe it’s important for youngsters to immerse themselves into competitive sports to captain the rugby or the football team at school, or the take up opportunities of clubs and associations and start excelling at public speaking. And these early experiences build those personal profiles that help build the right foundation for later learning. So, if the person has the right personality and innate personal characteristics, and they’ve continued to develop that through their informative years, they are potentially in a position to be taught leadership. Because of course of one thing that you can’t teach in leadership is passion, desire and energy.

And even if you were a great scholar, you had great genes and you came from a captain, the background of your sports team at school, without that innate energy and passionate, and desire, it’s unlikely that people will succeed and like any subject we need to learn about leadership and behaviors and people, and therefore immersing ourselves in knowledge and understanding. And theory is part of that, helping us reinforce those behaviors and actions. So, in summary, I’ve explored that leader must have the right personal characteristics. So partly hereditary and partly from early life experiences to succeed. But most importantly, they must learn the right behaviors and develop those behaviors over time in line with the leadership approaches that they may choose. So that’s been The Leadership Hacker News. Please get in touch with us, if you have any insights or stories that you’d like us to air on our show.

Start of Podcast

Steve Rush: Joining me on the show today, we have Dr. Catherine Rymsha. She’s a learning and development expert. A leadership lecturer at U-Mass’ and author of The Leadership Decision: Decide to Lead Today. Catherine, welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Thank you, Steve. I am so thrilled to be here.

Steve Rush: Me too. I’m really intrigued to find out that there is a leadership decision and that one we can take, and we’ll get into that in a little moment, but first, maybe for our guests listing to you for the first time, maybe give us a little bit of a backstory as to how you’ve arrived at what you’re doing?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Sure. I’m going to go back a little bit. So, bear with me. But when I was in college, I went to school for journalism because I thought that was a very noble ambition to try to unearth the truths in the world. And I learned a ton where I went to my undergrad college and when I was there, I took a few courses in marketing, believe it or not. And I hated the courses in marketing. And I thought I will never be in marketing in my career because I just thought this would never be something that I would do. So obviously no offense to any of your listeners who may be in marketing, because that is a very interesting field with its own challenges and levels of success. But when I got out of college and I started to think about, you know, what I really wanted to do, I wanted to be a journalist, but I was young. I had student debt to pay off. I was anxious to start my life and saw what journalists were making and all of that nobility and wanting to be a writer, went out the window and I got my first job, believe it or not in marketing.

Steve Rush: Ironically, yeah.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Yeah, of course, ironically. And I worked for about 10 or 12 years in marketing and was able to do a lot of really great things in terms of doing healthcare conferences and meeting presidents and fortune 100 CEOs and was really fortunate to get the marketing experiences. But I cried my way through my marketing career because it just wasn’t a good fit for who I was or am as a person.

Steve Rush: Right.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: So, along the lines started studying leadership and really became obsessed and started, you know, I got my master’s degree. I got my doctorate degree at Northeastern in Boston. I started teaching on the side and then once I got totally burned out from marketing, made the switch over to doing leadership development, full time. And then along the lines and through my studies, you know, started to write the book and, you know, after seven or eight years of plotting through that, finally published it last fall, but I took a roundabout way to get there.

Steve Rush: All right. So, when did you first notice this passion for? I guess there’s two things, isn’t it? There’s the education, there’s teaching other people, but there’s that real passion for the subject matter, which came first for you?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: The passion for the subject matter.

Steve Rush: Right.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Really did come first. And then once I got so into it, then came the idea of how do I get others excited about this too.

Steve Rush: During the last kind of eight years or so. And you’ve been in the world of teaching and leadership development. You had the foresight to craft a great book, The Leadership Decision. Tell us a little bit about what the inspiration was behind that?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Yeah, you know, since I’ve been teaching and looking at the topic for years, you know, I always get a kick out of it because people always will come to me and say like, oh, Catherine, I want to be a leader. What do I need to do? And it’s just, if I get promoted, I’ll finally be a leader. Or my boss is a jerk Catherine. Like they’re not going to let me lead. And you know, throughout my studies and teaching both in the academic and corporate worlds, I had people coming to me all of the time with, you know, these excuses about why they couldn’t be a leader. And I was finding myself getting so frustrated and saying to them, or giving examples of like, you know, so-and-so who we work with as a leader here. And they didn’t, you know, they weren’t told to lead or asked to lead. They just made the decision to lead.

And, you know, you can go through more famous leaders. And whether that be in the corporate sense or the academic sense or the political sense or the humanitarian sense. I thought about that a lot because people would, you know, like I said, they would come to me with what I considered to be excuses of like, hey, I can’t lead because of, you know, I didn’t get the promotion. And I thought, well, that’s such crap because that’s not what leadership is. It’s not a title at work. Although for some, that’s a piece of it. I mean, so much bigger than that. And I think because I struggled myself with my own career ups and downs and having some people say you can lead and some people saying, no, you can’t, you know, and then hearing others say the same things about experiences that they had. I thought there’s so many books on this topic and yet all the books talk about the skills and the abilities, all of which are great, but yet there’s a really practical element to this too, is that some people are going to take the initiative and decide to lead. And some people aren’t, and that’s really where it comes down to, who becomes a leader and who doesn’t. It was a mix of those experiences and frustrations and kind of, you know, realizations that helps me get to writing a book about the topic.

Steve Rush: And there’s a massive difference, Isn’t there?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Oh, totally.

Steve Rush: Where people aren’t in leadership roles, but they think that they’re leaders and behaviorally nothing like leaders, there’s a complete kind of oxymoron. People get a title with leadership in it or leader in it. Doesn’t make them a leader, does it?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Not at all, and maybe I’m too close to it sometimes, and naturally just because of everything that I do and I don’t know why other people don’t realize that and get so stuck in this mindset that they have to be a leader or be kind of granted that permission to lead. And they look at that at the sense of a promotion. And I think, well, that’s being a manager at work, you know, once you get that final title to say like, okay, now you’re getting paid to lead formally. I mean, that’s not the real, the true essence of leadership. And I still wonder where and how people get stuck with that.

Steve Rush: Yeah, it’s interesting, Isn’t it?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Totally.

Steve Rush: One I’ve kind of been probably kicking around for many, many years too. The best way I’ve been able to describe that is, you can watch young kids in kindergarten demonstrate leadership. You can watch young people on a sports pitch, demonstrate leadership, and it’s got nothing to do with the pay grade or a title. It’s an absolute behavior.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: It is an absolute behavior. And I can tell people that until I’m blue in the face and the ones that I need to tell that over and over again are just not in that mindset to lead. But then I see plenty of people who I don’t even need to tell that to are making great leadership decisions and making the decision to lead each and every day, whether they realize it or not. And that’s what the true differentiation is between being a leader and not is making that decision to act in that way and behave in that way.

Steve Rush: So, the decision. The leadership decision, is that a physical thing? does it manifest itself in a physical way for you and for the people you teach?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: I would say so. I think that people who make the decision to lead have a huge level of initiative and they make decisions to act and to take charge. And that’s what puts them in the light of being leaders, title or non-title, corporate or non-corporate, but people still get so stuck in that headspace. And I think that’s where it can be so frustrating in terms of trying to give people guidance on how to be leaders, because they either get that basic factor, they don’t.

Steve Rush: Right.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: And that’s the tough thing about being in this job, but it can also be the rewarding element too.

Steve Rush: You’ve referenced a lot about making a decision. That seems to me, it’s much more about their mindset at that time than it is about what’s going on around them?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: It is, it is about mindset, and I think a lot of that can be attributed to the way that people are brought up, but the way that people interact within the culture that they’re in both for about organizational culture, or even more of a cultural element of how they were raised in their backgrounds. But I do think it’s so surprising how, regardless of gender, regardless of culture, regardless of any of that, is that you still see some people making those decisions to lead, regardless of what life throws their way.

Steve Rush: What do you notice about the gender element that is different for some folk?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: I do think that women, and this might be a generalization. I think some women hold themselves back with their own leadership decisions because of fear. And I think back to my own career and experiences that I’ve been put in and, you know, reference in the book in terms of things that men will say to women when they go to lead, or if you’re a woman and you’re trying to be too, I don’t want to say dominant because I don’t want to have that kind of negative connotation, but when women make leadership decisions and begin to be more forthcoming in that, I do think that they are met with different struggles then.

Steve Rush: Yeah, there’s no question.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Yeah.

Steve Rush: And you know, just the labels and the fact that you wanted to hold back from saying dominant because there was a perception of a label that comes with it, it’s true, Isn’t it? You often don’t see a male leader being described as dominant.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: No, you don’t.

Steve Rush: And exactly the same way.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: A hundred percent. And it’s funny, I was looking through some old evaluations on a session that I gave a couple, maybe about two years ago. And I just happened to stumble on them up in my attic. I mean, with COVID. I mean, people are home cleaning all the time, and there was an evaluation that talked about how within the presentation that I gave, I was very clear. I was very concise and I was very direct and this person learned a lot. And the negative feedback that I got or the area for improvement was, could be warmer and her delivery. And I’ve been thinking about that since I found the piece of paper, actually rooba was spinning around upstairs and actually came across it. And I’ve been thinking about that for the last week or so, because the session that I gave was all too women and here’s one woman within that group, that’s still criticizing me for my tone and not being warm. And I thought if I could get up there and convey a message and be very clear and concise and direct, those are all beautiful, wonderful things that you want a facilitator or a leader to be able to do.

Steve Rush: Right.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: But yet, because she didn’t perceive a level of warmth in my delivery because I was trying to be factual, then that’s where I still get criticized. And I don’t think a man would get that type of criticism.

Steve Rush: Yeah, it’s very true. So in helping people make that decision, as part of the book, you created a model called the A.P.E. model to help enhance those decisions. Tell us a little bit about that model and how it might work?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Sure. So A.P.E. stands for Awareness, Practice and Evaluation, and it was one of those things that, you know, I was brainstorming about the book and my house was covered with sticky notes and the concept of leadership being a decision had been with me for a while. But then I thought like, oh gosh, I just can’t throw out this concept of like leadership being a decision, because how vague is that? Because some people are going to say that or read that or hear that and say like dah Catherine, of course leadership is a decision. Some people are going to be like, oh wow, I never thought about it that way. But I thought in order for me to help develop people or encourage people to take action within their own lives, I needed to give them some sort of model. I mean, at least with a model, you can kind of cut it out of a book and hang it up on your cube or your refrigerator, and it gives you some sort of word to stick to that you can hopefully be mindful of throughout your day as you’re making leadership decisions.

Steve Rush: Sure.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: But I was thinking about this kind of ongoing cycle that the leaders that I saw doing well and really making decisions to lead or being very mindful in their awareness. So, they were learning, they were reading, they were having conversations, they were extending their network. They were going to conferences. So, it was different levels of awareness or even outside of the corporate sense. It was being very in tune to what the community wanted and where people in the community wanted it to get better. But then, you know, there’s so much with awareness that people can read every single book in the world. They can watch every LinkedIn learning course. They can watch every Ted talk, you know, at this point and learn a ton, don’t get me wrong, but where you really start to make an impact and see a difference is where people practice and that’s where they fall down.

Because I do think that people get fearful of making mistakes or looking like they’re a failure, which is natural and psychological, and there’s no fault in, but I had so many folks say to me when I’ve trained over the years, like Catherine, Catherine, you know, I took your course. I learned a lot. I went back to work and nothing changed. And I’m like, oh really? Oh, why do you think that is? And not to be condescending, but it would be like, oh well, did you do this that we talked about? Did you practice this tool that we had talked about in the course? You know, and they say, oh, no, I didn’t. Well, that’s where are you become a leader. And yet that was still hard for people to comprehend. And then I would talk to some people and they say, you know, and this is the beauty of doing this within the corporate world, because you can kind of fact check, you know, okay, so-and-so took the course. Then you can go talk to so-and-so’s employees, you know, in the lunch room, back in the day when we were face-to-face and say, oh, how are they doing as a leader? Are they doing X, Y, and Z? And some employees would be like, yeah, they really, you know, making a big difference and things are really getting better. And some people were like, no, they’re not doing anything like this. So, it’d be a way to kind of check my own work too. But you know, the practices where it comes down to it, but then that final element with the evaluation is really getting into the nitty gritty of feedback. And, you know, feedback is such a hot topic. I mean, you can’t battle Ash about seeing feedback on Harvard Business Review or Ted or any of these other kind of leadership sites and podcasts, and it’s incredibly important, but it’s still something that people are absolutely horrified by of just getting comfortable with getting feedback, giving feedback, and being very mindful of what they do with feedback.

Steve Rush: Yeah, that’s a whole another podcast, that one, isn’t it?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: It is, indeed.

Steve Rush: The whole subject of feedback, feed forward, how you get it? Who gives it? How do you take it? How do you respond? How do you avoid getting triggered? All of that kind of stuff is really, really important. And suspect that’s perhaps some of the reasons why the “E” in your model is probably the one that you might see way more than the others.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Totally, and people just get so fearful of asking for feedback.

Steve Rush: Right.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: And I get to tell you. I think we over romanticized feedback because I always say to leaders, we’ll just ask people, how did this go? What did you think about this? I mean, it doesn’t need to be a 360, anytime you do anything on the job, it could just be simply as picking up the phone or doing a Zoom or even a text of like, hey, how do you think that when? Or where do you think I could have done better? And once you start doing that more, it becomes so easy. And then you’re going to be getting feedback all the time and being able to pivot and course correct, and make a better leadership decision.

Steve Rush: Yeah, I agree. Also, I guess it’s one of those labels, isn’t it? That people have a mindset about when you mentioned feedback, some people will feel really good about giving and receiving it. Others will have a different experience. And therefore, instead of asking for feedback, just simply ask, as you said, how did it go?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: That’s it, that’s all it needs to be sometimes.

Steve Rush: Now within the book you have, there is another model that helps kind of leaders get more focused called the toll model. T-O-L-L, tell us about that?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Sure. So, toll stands for timing opportunity, looks and likes. And when I first started studying leadership at maybe 23 or 24 years old, I was still, I was very new into the career world. And you know, my parents to their credit had always tried to give me kind of guidance that. You know, you can work hard and yet things might not go right your way. And you don’t really realize that until you start working. So, the irony was, I was going to school for leadership. Learning all these great concepts and thinking about what makes a leader, a leader. But the caveat to that as I was so conscious of what made a leader, a leader and where there were good behaviors and bad behaviors. So, I would think about it all the time, but yet I was also getting my own dose of reality each and every day.

By trying to understand like, what I call in the book is toll. Like you said, so it’s timing opportunity looks and likes. And there were points in my career that I would be working so hard and killing myself over these jobs, trying to get a promotion and yet a year or two might go by and it didn’t happen. And it would be like, oh, well, the timing’s not right. Which was such crap too, because I felt like I was working and that I would see people who worked for what I perceived less than I did getting promoted. And that’s where those other elements of toll came into play to. Like I said, put this real practical lens on it, because if you’re not seizing opportunities, when you see them or even talking to the right person when time permits or, you know, figuring out where there’s opportunities for you to maybe kiss up or leverage a skill set, or just know when to push yourself, I think that’s where you see a lot of people get promoted from that formality. But I think even within my career, it became more apparent to me that there are some places and there are some managers who will promote based on their own bias.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Whether that be, you know, they promote the people they like, you know, and we see that happen all the time. And that can be incredibly frustrating for people who aren’t in the kind of click, but then it’s also the matter of looks. And I get to tell you, you know, growing up, my parents and family were like, wow, it looks count. And you know, I was of this age of like, wow, if you work hard and, you know, bring a, you know, unique perspective, you know, maybe it doesn’t quite matter, you know what you look, but I had this one manager at some point who was pretty open to say like, well, we’re not going to promote this person because they’re overweight or we’re not going to promote this person because they don’t dress like a leader. And that’s a huge reality too, whether we want to face it or not. And I felt so superficial talking about that in the book and still trying to be just, but that’s a real problem too. Bias is all over the place these days too. But there’s so much of that in the way that we define leaders, promote quote, unquote leaders and really view leadership.

Steve Rush: It’s a really great observation because I don’t think we’ll ever be rid of bias. You know, it’s one of those unconscious behaviors that we all have and we all carry on. And actually, just being aware of that as a leader can help you pivot what you do so that you can at least try and face into it and adapt and modify it, and second guess it almost, right?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Right.

Steve Rush: Yeah, love it. Now you have a fantastic TED Talk by the way.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Thank you.

Steve Rush: Which I thought was really authentic. And if anybody hasn’t had the opportunity to do so, please get an opportunity to look at it. I think it’s called, if you want to become a better leader? Just listen.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Yes.

Steve Rush: Brilliant. So listening is such a key component to leadership, isn’t it? What’s the reason you focused on that for your TED Talk?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Focused on that, because there had been times in my career at that point that I had had great experiences with people who were then leadership roles that really took the time to listen. And in the TED Talk, I gave a, you know, an example of somebody who was in a leadership role and was very mindful about giving people space to talk and was very aware of how he listened and then changed or made differences based on the feedback that he was getting. And I think a lot of that, he equated to taking the time to listen, which was so mature for a leader to have that level of awareness. And I say that, and I kind of cringed as I say that, because you would think that most leaders would have that maturity, but yet I’ve worked for leaders and in the TED Talk too, talked about a leader when I was expressing some concerns and that he was totally out of the conversation, he wasn’t listening at all. And, you know, I think there’s a funny element to that story, which is why I don’t want to ruin it for anybody who wants to listen to the TED Talk. Hopefully people think it’s funny, but I was pretty horrified and, you know, listening is one of those things that it’s so critical, but you know, I’ve trained all over the world and gone to China and all over Europe and the United States and LAT’AM and what have you. And I always ask the question when I train, you know, who here has ever taken a listening class, and I got to tell you, in the states, no, we don’t ever teach kids in school, grade school, how to listen, like I said, I’ve been everywhere. The only place that I’ve heard of people taking a listening class is that when I’ve worked with people who have gone MBAs in London, at London schools, they’ve had it as a part of their MBA curriculum. So, I got to tell you, that’s stuck with me for years is, why people don’t get listening classes when they’re growing up through school? But yet only in an MBA class, within one small pocket of the entire world, are they teaching listening as a skill as a part of an MBA? So, what does the rest of the world missing out on?

Steve Rush: Yeah, it’s interesting, Isn’t it?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Yeah.

Steve Rush: I think when you and I first met, I shared with you that as part of my work, I spend quite a bit of time teaching listening, which in itself, people start to think of notion as a really easy thing to do, but when you actually break it down, because we get easily distracted in our virtual communication, as well as our physical communication, it’s not as easy as people perceive.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: You’re a hundred percent, right. And I’ve thought about you often over the last couple months, since we first chatted. Saying how you train people to be better listeners, and that is no easy task, but yet it is so critical. And yet people in schooling and organizations fail to give anyone any sort of formality on that for the most part, but yet considering this virtual environment that we’re navigating now, I mean, look at how crucial those skills are today compared to what they might’ve been a year and a half ago.

Steve Rush: Even more tough, right?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: A hundred percent.

Steve Rush: So how have you seen that adapt in the last year or so as we’ve pivoted more to a virtual world, what have been the big themes presented itself in the world of listening?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: I get the question a lot about the TED Talk and with the listening and then, you know, trying to utilize some of that within the virtual sense, and I can understand why it’s so important. And then I think, you know, how do people really become better listeners virtually? And I do agree that there’s an element about having the camera on. That you can begin to understand some of the nonverbal cues through, you know, watching somebody on the other side of the side of the screen and being more focused or taking extra time to call somebody or text somebody to check in, you know, after a meeting or just, you know, randomly throughout the week to still connect. And one of the tools that I’ve been utilizing and training on isn’t mine, and it’s one from a group up at West Point, New York here in the states called Thayer Leadership.

And they’ve got this tool called back briefing, and I’m sure it’s called other things. I don’t think that they’re the first kind of creator of this. And that’s one thing that I’ve been training leaders within the corporate sense to do more. So simply the concept is to, you know, give someone some instruction or some context of what you need them to do and why, and then ask them to repeat back what they heard. And at first, I thought, oh gosh, that is such a horrifying tool to use because that just sounds so condescending in many ways, and it’s not something that you could use without giving somebody some sort of introduction or, you know, heads up that you’re going to start using that tool. But yet that’s one tool that I think has helped people just check for alignment. And just to confirm that people are saying what they mean to say, and people are hearing what they need to hear.

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: I think that’s one thing that stuck with me a lot over the last year and a half.

Steve Rush: I like that because, I think you’re absolutely right. You need to frame the concept behind it, but actually just by framing the concept down, people will pay more attention.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: They will.

Steve Rush: And therefore, you know, it captures the attention right from the get go as well, doesn’t it?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: It does. Because it’s kind of like giving them a pop quiz every day of like, you know, saying, well, what did you hear me say? Like you’re a parent or in grade school, but it does help. And there are so many other tools and instructions out there that give people insights on how to listen better. I just think the trick to that is practicing it too and using those skills and they’re highly beneficial when somebody does.

Steve Rush: And in a virtual world, we have less opportunity to pick up on some of that physical environment and some of the nonverbal cues that happen below the waist. And you know, all of the things that we would take into consideration as part of that listening exercise. Now we have to rely much more on tonality and pace and how people breathe and that kind of stuff. And I just wondered in the conversations you’ve had, whether you’re not, you see that becoming more challenging for folk or easier given the environment we’re in now?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: I still think it’s a challenge. I think listening’s always a challenge for people. And I do believe that with COVID and the pressures of people having to homeschool and work and be cooped up within their homes all day, although that is beginning to transition, that made listening harder because of some of the mental stressors and distractions. It’s something that I do think leaders need to be more mindful of knowing that all of that background noise is happening for them to struggle through.

Steve Rush: Yeah, got it. One thing is to spring to mind is, what do you think the reason is that we don’t teach listening from a very early age as almost like a subject?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Because it’s assumed.

Steve Rush: Yeah, I guess it is, isn’t it?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: It’s assumed that people are going to develop that skill on their own. And I had somebody on YouTube and somebody made a comment that it was like, well, if somebody listens, they’ll get good grades in school. And then because they’ll get good grades in school, they’ll do well in their careers. And I think I’m quoting that comment on YouTube wrong. But I think about that a lot because you’re making the assumption that they’re learning that skillset just by nature of being a person and around other people, but yet there’s no tools or practicality granted that helps people really be mindful of that from our larger sense.

Steve Rush: Yeah, I agree. So, we’re going to spin the lens a little now.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Sure.

Steve Rush: We get a chance to hack into your great leadership experiences and your leadership mind. I’m going to ask you to try and get down to your top three leadership hacks. So, your top tips ideas or tools, what would they be?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: So, the first, which is broad is, I think that people need to consider how they’re making leadership decisions and that, like I said, can be a bit vague, but we’re making decisions as leaders each and every day, whether we realize it or not. I would say the second thing is get used to asking that question of how do you think things went, because that can be a great way in a very easy way to start getting more mindful and getting more feedback in your day to day. And I do think the third, you know, going back to those points that we made a few moments ago, I should say. Really think about how your listening and if there’s a way that you can learn more about that topic or use a tool like back briefing, or even gain more instruction on ways to be a better listener, because that will do a huge world of difference for your relationships and understanding and what you do moving forward as a leader, if you get really in tune to what people are saying and what they’re asking for.

Steve Rush: Yeah, I love that. And of course, practice because you can practice listening.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Yes, a hundred percent, practice.

Steve Rush: Next part of the show, we’ve affectionately called it Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something hasn’t gone as well as you’d planned, might have screwed up. But as a result of that happening, you now have something that’s positive in your life or your work. So, what would be your Hack to Attack Catherine?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: When I was in marketing, I worked for a woman and she did not like me. And this is where some of those elements of toll come into play. And she was pretty vocal about not liking me, which was pretty detrimental to my self-esteem and my confidence within the role itself, and one day I snapped at her. She had pushed me and pushed me and talked so terribly about me for years. And it was a pretty raw experience. And I sucked it up for a long time. And then, like I said, I snapped at her one day and I was like, you don’t listen to me. I’m like, you don’t respect me. And that conversation did not go well, to say the least. And although I say that now and laugh, like I was horrified at the moment, but I think that’s been one thing that has helped me developed empathy, but also pushed me to be more vocal with people around me when things aren’t going well or if I’m sensing any sort of conflict or uneasiness to try to address that to never get to that point again, where all of a sudden you blow up at a manager and have a less than desirable experience after that.

Steve Rush: Yeah, I think many people can have empathy with that, for sure. And of course, that’s a leadership decision too.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: It is.

Steve Rush: By being vocal earlier, by being thoughtful about how you’re responding and reacting to others around you.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Totally.

Steve Rush: So, the last thing we want to do is give you an opportunity to do some time travel, bump into yourself at 21 and give yourself some advice. What do you think it might be?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Oh, I was going to say, don’t go into marketing, but I had a lot of great experiences in marketing and it helped me do a lot of other great things within my career. But I would say to be more vocal. I think for many years I was, you know, shyer, more of an introvert. And I think that developing the skillset to be more vocal and to be more comfortable doing that would have helped me do more overall if I had just been able to conquer some of that shyness.

Steve Rush: Yeah, it’s interesting. As we get older, some of these things that become very natural to us, if we could have only done them as well before, years before would have just expedited everything, wouldn’t it?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: I mean hindsight’s 2020, so yeah.

Steve Rush: Isn’t it just?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: It is indeed.

Steve Rush: So, I would Imagine if anybody’s been listening to this, they’re probably thinking, how do I get ahold of the TED Talk? How do I get a copy of Catherine book? So, when we’re done, where’s the best place we can send our listeners?

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Sure. So, the book is on Barnes & Noble, it’s on Amazon and it’s on Apple Books. I also have a website, And then if you go to the TEDx website on YouTube and Google or search for my name, you should be able to find the TED Talk there.

Steve Rush: We’ll put the links in the show notes as well. So, everybody can head over as soon as they’ve done.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Excellent, thank you.

Steve Rush: Catherine, we need to find a way of working together in the future, I think.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Yes.

Steve Rush: I haven’t figured out what that might look like yet, but we share such a lot of similar experiences in not only our work, but also in our futures, I’m sure. So, I just wanted to say thank you for taking time out. I know you’re having a really busy time of things. Thanks for coming on the podcast and being part of The Leadership Hacker Community.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Thank you, so much for having me. It’s been a joy and I do hope we can collaborate at some point in the future.

Steve Rush: Excellent, thanks Catherine.

Dr. Catherine Rymsha: Thanks Steve.


Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there is @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

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