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Empathetic Leadership with Steve Ingalls

George Grombacher July 26, 2023

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Empathetic Leadership with Steve Ingalls

LifeBlood: We talked about empathetic leadership, how we’re all in the people business, why many of us struggle with accountability and what to do about it, and how to bring change to organizations, with Steve Ingalls, President and CEO of Catalyzer, and Veteran of the US Army.      

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Steve Ingalls

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:02
Well I’m left with this is Georgie and the time is right welcome. Today’s guest struggle powerful. Steve Engel. Steve, are you ready to do this?

Steve Ingalls 0:09
I am. Let’s go. All right,

george grombacher 0:11
let’s go. Indeed, Steve is the president and CEO of catalyzer. They’re an organization driving change through relationships, not transactions. He’s a graduate of West Point and a retired Lieutenant Colonel. Steve, excited to have you on thank you for your service. Tell us a bit about your personal life’s more about your work and why you do what you do.

Steve Ingalls 0:33
Yep, personal life is, is pretty straightforward. I recently celebrated the 41st wedding anniversary with my wife Gara.

That is something I’m incredibly proud of, I have two boys, one of them will turn 40 this year and the other will turn has just turned 36.

They are both transitioned successfully into adulthood. Although for one reason or another, I do get the occasional ball where they want a couple of 100 bucks. So you know, that doesn’t end for those people out there listening, thinking that they may cut it off completely. My younger son is married to a young lady who is my favorite child of the three of them. She grew up in Kansas, and is the daughter I always wanted never had. And maybe the thing that’s the most precious to me about all that. And their relationship is they blessed us now with three grandchildren going on four. So Elijah is 10. Adeline is seven, almost eight. Silas is two and then Judah will be born in late August, early September.

george grombacher 1:50
Congratulations on all of that.

Steve Ingalls 1:52
Thanks. All good. The the organization has been around for We’re celebrating our 14th year truly a virtual organization headquartered near Kansas City. And we are in the leadership development space. We’ve tried very hard not to call ourselves consultants. But no matter how you slice it, that’s what we do. And we do four primary things we do. We build and develop tailored leadership development programs for businesses coast to coast border to border. Those businesses are a variety of sorts, profit, nonprofit, privately owned, publicly traded. Ranging from at one point we had a short contract with McDonald’s United States. The other larger organization is a man trailer manufacturing company that we had an eight year run with that ended last year. But literally border to border coast to coast business to business. The leadership development programs are, are tailored in collaboration with the organization because we need to make sure that we’re tackling the right thing, and leaving alone to things that they don’t want to change that they would like us to, like us maybe to reinforce. And they are of a little bit different nature, but large, in large part they are a leadership development program. The second thing we do is a fair number of assessments, those assessments are integral to the Leadership Development Program. Either set them up to assess their efficacy after the fact. But primarily to allow the participants that learn a bit about themselves as they’re negotiating the skills based model. So it’s a lot of self awareness type work. Third thing we do is one on one coaching, that coaching kind of runs the gamut from a young leader that may be in the position of taking their first formal leadership role, all the way up to a C suite executive. And coaching is interesting because it’s really turned, turned 180 degrees out. It wasn’t that long ago that when the organization asked you to get a coach, or found your coaching met, you’re being essentially sent to the principal’s office. These days, it’s much more positively oriented. And organizations are typically identifying those folks that are really high potential, high performing individuals and getting them a little extra help to try to lay a better foundation for when they get to those roles so that they can perform more more successfully. And then the last thing that that we do is we’re involved in people focused projects and for whatever reason when an organization thinks about a People initiative, be it a retention campaign or a workforce engagement study or maybe succession planning or You name it, they typically will send it down the hall to human resources. And while Human Resources deals with people, the people part of a business is really a leadership thing. So, these human resources, departments are often understaffed under resource those initiatives sit in an inbox for some time. And what we found is organizations using us as added muscle to get those things done. So that’s us 14 years C Corp in Kansas veteran owned small business, and about 12 people that support our programs in one way or another spread across the country.

george grombacher 5:45
I love it. People focus projects, little bit of added muscle to get things done, and coming into an organization focusing on the things that need a little bit of focus and making sure that you’re not just tinkering with stuff that ought not to be messed with, because it’s operating just just fine or operating pretty well. Sure. Sure, I like it, and you’re leading with its character, empathy, trust and accountability. Was it easy to settle on those four?

Steve Ingalls 6:20
It was, it’s been easy to stay with them as well. So the way that we we look at those four values is character is the way in which a leader shows up on the inside to the world, the burden of character shows up. It’s an homage, frankly, to our West Point roots, roughly 40% of the organization is a West Point grad to it. 60% are veterans. So character is an incredible element credibly important foundational element to who we are as leaders, empathy of the manner in which we bring that character to others. And so as a subset of emotional intelligence, which is one of the foundational skills that we incorporate in most of our programs. Empathy is the way in which we interact with others, the result of empathy, the result of a relationship that’s founded, with empathy and with with strong emotional intelligence is a trusting relationship. If if you and I deal with one another in an empathic way over time and build that relationship, it’s likely that there’s going to be an element of trust, that’s going to continue to grow over time. And where we have trust in a relationship, accountability, as the necessity of business is going to end up being enabled. Too often we think of accountability as a negative thing, we will hold people accountable. And it typically suggests that there’s discipline coming. But in our vernacular accountability is the leader action that connects a result to an expectation, whether positively or negatively, certainly, if the result didn’t not meet the expectation, that’s an opportunity for a leader to exercise to jump in with an accountability moment that, if that’s true, then it’s also appropriate that if I exceed an expectation or meet an expectation, those are accountability moments as well. And we’re trying to change the dialogue about that, you know, one group at a time. Because all too often, I think that accountability is hardwired into our DNA as young children, our accountability moments as children typically involve some level of discipline. And we bring that hardwired perspective into the workplace in an unhealthy way, and end up trying to avoid it and not doing the accountability work that leaders are obligated. So those were our values developed in 2009. It was harder work to develop them than it is to maintain them. But they suit as well, for sure.

george grombacher 9:02
That’s really fascinating. And it makes all the sense in the world that we have trauma. When we think about accountability from when we were kids, if we’re getting in trouble from our parents, or from our teachers, or from a coach or something like that. Typically, it’s because we did something wrong. And so it makes sense that we would carry that with us to our professional lives.

Steve Ingalls 9:25
Right. I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t know that that’s the case. But it just seems common sensical that where, where we had pain at some point, emotional pain, typically at some point associated with accountability that when faced with the requirement to hold others accountable, that we’re going to try to avoid that because we don’t want to inflict that pain on others.

george grombacher 9:50
What do you think about the idea that that really true love is is accountability

Steve Ingalls 9:58
of yo of course You know it, you know, without diving too deeply into it, a couple of nuggets come to mind. First of all, love is an underused word in business. And you will hear businesses say something to the effect from time to time that we love our customers, we love our employees, we love our shareholders. And the reality is their behaviors, their behaviors betray that it’s not love, business as usual. But there are organizations, we work with one that has family as a, as an element of their value set. When I see it, because of the experiences we’ve had elsewhere, I’m always suspicious that they do love each other. But that love involves what we know that even with our children, that love involves praise when it’s appropriate and involves discipline when it’s not. And a book that’s in the universe, that radical candor essentially speaks to the notion that when I, when I hold you accountable radically, I’m radically candid, I love you enough to tell you that you’re goofed up that what’s going on. And so I absolutely believe that, that loves an element of leadership that loves an element of business. And, obviously, we’re a little squishy talking about the word because it’s so powerful, but it does relate to what you’re talking about does relate to what you said.

george grombacher 11:32
And squishiness, I think is is is is a great term, and one that I don’t necessarily automatically connect to the military. And not that it is but the thought about empathy, I don’t necessarily automatically connect that to the military either. And I’m obviously wrong.

Steve Ingalls 11:59
I think it’s a fair reaction. It’s, you know, the empathic leaders are, are oftentimes, not always the empathic leaders are not the ones that are doing the yelling and screaming, and that get everybody’s attention and the juicy. By the way, America is a little bit like this, empathic leaders don’t get a lot of press. It’s the ones that are a bit bullish, bully ish. They say really, really crazy things, they get a lot of attention. And so it’s, it’s, as a consequence of going back to your point about the military, the military is portrayed in movie television, as it’s tough, stern, stoic, personality 1000s and 1000s. of examples, I got caught up in this when I was serving, I was I’m not an empathic person by nature, I have to work at this every day. Of the Army’s values, which is the service that I was a part of for 22 years. Empathy is not a value, loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage, where’s the empathy there. And yet, when the army assesses the skills that are required for young officers young in noncommissioned officers, young soldiers, who advance they will often talk about interpersonal skills as the most critical skill set necessary for advancement. By the way, the same is true in business. So I understand that I understand the resistance, I would give the army more credit than it probably gets, because of the way that it’s portrayed. And I’ve certainly met a ton of empathic leaders while I was in uniform, and now out.

george grombacher 13:49
So when you say you’re, you’re constantly working on your, on your empathy? How does that? How How are you doing that?

Steve Ingalls 14:02
This is the nature of our work. It’s very easy for organizations like ours, to talk about these skills and how you build them. And for whatever reason, if I put just at the beginning of the sentence, it makes it all all the better, right? Just practice more empathy. Just be more creative, just be more open minded, without ever telling you what’s necessary to do the work. That’s where we, we take issue with the just sentences, and we work on the empathy. So as an example, there are plenty of empathy exercises and emotional intelligence 2.0 A book that we regularly use Travis Bradbury and Jean greaves, when they talk about social awareness, for which empathy is a subset. They have some number of dozen or more techniques if you get their book I opened the book and it will tell you a number of ways that you can practice your social awareness. And by extension, empathy. There’s plenty of research that suggests that people who read generate better empathy. Imagine immersing yourself in a story, losing yourself in the process of understanding, trying to understand what the author is saying, or losing yourself in a work of fiction. You’re being empathic just in the process of doing so. There are drills about throwing an image of a human up on the on the screen, and giving them name giving them story, whether it’s their story or not, but the fact that you ultimately have to transition out of yourself into somebody else’s shoes for the moment, and to consider what they may be encountering feeling doing thinking is a way to practice empathy. So I do this. It’s not a natural skill for me, as I said, I struggle with it. But there’s certainly ways that we can all practice it.

george grombacher 16:06
Amen. I appreciate that. And what a throwing just in front of something, what a what a throw away. And I’ve never really thought about it like that. Just do it. Just Just Just Be nice. Be just just just be more empathetic. Why don’t you guys just just get along? Well,

Steve Ingalls 16:27
if it was that simple, Georgia do it. If it was that simple, we do it. We wouldn’t need organizations like catalyzer, we would need coaches we would need, but we don’t, because most of the time, it’s not evil people that are performing in this way. Is that I don’t know how. And I need somebody to give me the insight and teach me. So yeah, just sentences are dangerous.

george grombacher 16:55
Do you think that most people are interested in in doing the right thing and getting along?

Steve Ingalls 17:03
Yeah, I’m, I take, I take a little more cynical view of the world than that, I probably should. I’m gonna say that there are when a woke when when wakened, I’m probably not using the right word. When you ultimately draw someone’s attention to the fact that they need to be present in a certain way for the people that they’re interacting with, whether it be seniors, colleagues or or subordinates. Typically, you will get a willingness to do well, I don’t know how to do that. So help me. But what we find that gets in the way, in a, in a magnificent ly destructive way, is, you know, the world is moving at a pace these days business as a consequence, moving to pace these days, where too many leaders are talking themselves out of that development. Because in the name of being too busy, I’m too busy. Okay, well, are you too busy to hire the rehire the 30% that are gonna go and find another job, because they don’t want to deal with you anymore because you’re too busy. When I bumped into a leader that says they’re too busy to develop, their subordinates are too busy to sit down for an annual performance review. My question of them is typically this and and I’m throwing at their head. Is it leadership development is developing your subordinates a part of your job? Yes. Question to Ben, why aren’t you doing your job? It’s as simple as that. We all have the same amount of days, minutes, hours, seconds. In our day. It’s a matter of how we prioritize. And most of us whether we realize it or not, are in the people business and we ought to be spending our time with people. Right? We’re in the people business, we just happen to be a leadership development CEO, or I’m in the people business, you’re in the people business. You just happen to run this podcast. I was in Virginia this weekend with a motorsports company. They’re in the people business, they just happen to race cars. Or I’m in the people business. I just happened to build precast concrete components or I’m in the people business and just happened to be in law enforcement. That changes your focus when you finally wrap your head around that.

george grombacher 19:31
I think that that’s really well said. Thank you. Steve, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? How can they engage with catalyzer?

Steve Ingalls 19:42
They can certainly find us at our website, which is we’d invite you to follow us on LinkedIn. You can find us there under catalyzer. You can certainly follow me personally on on LinkedIn or on Facebook, Facebook, you’re gonna see a lot of pictures of my grandchildren so probably better to follow. Follow us on Facebook at catalyzer. And certainly if you want to, if you’re intrigued by anything and just want to give us give us some shout, you can reach me at angle at Bing We’d love to hear from you.

george grombacher 20:24
Excellent. Well, if you enjoyed as much as I did show, Steve your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, go to Team and check out the grave resources, follow them on LinkedIn as well as Facebook and get in touch directly with Steve at angles at Team i n g a l l s. Thanks good, Steve.

Steve Ingalls 20:52
Thanks, George. I enjoyed the time.

george grombacher 20:54
And until next time, remember, do your part by doing your best

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