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Navigating the Messy Middle with Betsy Kauffman

George Grombacher March 24, 2023

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Navigating the Messy Middle with Betsy Kauffman

LifeBlood: We talked about navigating the messy middle between entry level and the C Suite, the challenges and opportunities of women leaders, what organizations can do to better support their people, and how to advocate for yourself, with Betsy Kauffman, globally recognized organizational agility coach and Founder and CEO of Cross Impact.   

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Betsy Kauffman

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:02
Well my place is Georgie and the time is right welcome. Today’s guest struggle powerful Betsy cup. And Betsy, are you ready to do this? Yes, George. Good morning. How are you? I’m doing great. Thank you. Let’s go. Betsy is a globally recognized organizational agility coach. She’s the founder and CEO and coach with cross impact. She’s working to help mid level female leaders successfully navigate the messy middle. Betsy excited to have you on tell something about your personal life’s more about your work and why you do what you do. Yeah, so thank you. Again, that’s

Betsy Kauffman 0:34
located here in Charlotte, North Carolina, which has been absolutely gorgeous. So I can’t complain. And we are an organizational design firm. So we go in and we help organizations really think through some of the sticky stuff that happens from

rewards to mergers and acquisitions. How do we do a better job with processes. And just really, you know, I think our magic superpower is leaning into organizations and just getting to know them. And it’s interesting some of the work that we do, I was doing some fantastic work with a branding coach. And I found out that I love working with female leaders. So that’s another piece of work that we do is we really support mid level female leaders and how they pull themselves up the ladder. So lots of good stuff happening in there personally, married have two boys. So I live in a house of men. And that is always something fun and interesting. And I have one in college and one in high school. So I’m kind of getting through those those interesting life stages as we continue to navigate everything.

george grombacher 1:41
I love it. So the messy middle is a great term. What is it? What does it mean?

Betsy Kauffman 1:47
Yeah, you know, it’s that in an organization, as you know, you’ve got this kind of group of leaders, right, they’re not brand new, they’re not emerging. They’re not frontline leaders. They’re also not sitting at the C suite. So they’re sitting in that really messy middle. And they’ve got folks that are, you know, pushing up on them pushing down on them, they’ve got looking across the organization and how they partner. And that can get super messy, because they’re having to navigate literally throughout the organization. However, I feel like it’s probably the most important layer of your organization, because they can make or break any part of what they do, right of any, any initiative, any strategy that you’re trying to do. Some people call them like the permafrost layer, which I hate to say that, because they can like they like ideas can can generate, and they can stop right there. Or they can actually soar and fly. So depending on how you support that group, is really going to depend like that will then make your organization actually potential to do really well, or potentially not. So it’s really important for me, I think, to spend time on that grip, and making sure that group has what they need to support so they can drive your initiatives throughout the organization.

george grombacher 3:00
Yeah, that that makes a lot of sense. If you look at the breakdown of an organization, you’ve got just just just how you described, but if you can maximize that that middle group, which comprises probably a very, very large portion of the organization, and help them to maximize their career potential and their personal potential, all these things will 100% drive the success of your organization?

Betsy Kauffman 3:24
Absolutely, absolutely there. I don’t know if you remember, this will probably date many years ago, there was a commercial, I think it first launched in a Superbowl ad, you know, I went to a monster a And was like the leaping job platform. And the big job was it was a kid, he’s like, I want to work my way up to middle management, it was like this big joke, and nobody wanted to be there. But if you find yourself like in your career, majority of folks that are at this point are probably sitting in that middle management layer. And so they’re just trying to figure out, you know, how do we how do we continue to support the organization, some of them are on the C suite, and some of them won’t. So it’s actually not a bad place to be. It can be really rewarding for sure.

george grombacher 4:02
Yes, certainly. Just because, you know, somebody might think Well, everybody wants to be, you know, the, in that C suite, but that’s not necessarily true, there’s probably plenty of people who are happy doing what they’re doing.

Betsy Kauffman 4:13
Exactly, exactly. And there’s you know, as skin it kind of gets smaller as you get up to the as you get up to that that C suite right. And that C suite has a lot of pressure so may look glamorous from afar but if you can think about some of the things that are on the on their shoulders, right that can be a really a lot as well weighing on the C suite so that that middle layer is critical. And it’s okay to be just in that middle layer as you continue your career.

george grombacher 4:40
So how do you do it? It’s It seems that you talked about leaning in and getting to know the organization it seems like if I want to know if, if if Georgia Betsy who’s in that messy middle if they’re, I need to know what what they really want and Am I able to how do I do that with with with everybody?

Betsy Kauffman 5:03
Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, we have been super successful even in this time of you know, virtual and we’re not in person in person is a little bit easier because you can go and sit in meetings and read body language and really get to understand the dynamics of a culture of an organization. But we’ve been successful to continue to stick to stay and work in that place. So we we get to know really what’s happening, right, we meet with key players will observe meetings, and then we’ll start to really help them think about, Hey, I see this group of folks, and they’re really good at what they do over here. And we thought about bringing this other group of folks together and making them a team, or this is where we’re having a little bit of, you know, I can see there’s some friction happening, or maybe a lot of friction, right. And so just naming it and calling it and helping leaders to think a little bit differently with some new perspectives on how to change how to actually drive the organization forward. So it’s, it is about getting to know personalities, it’s about people, right, and it’s getting to know the personalities and people are going to make your organization and that you know, how they work and how they interact is going to be critical to the success of whatever you’re trying to accomplish. So we can put tools and technology and that’s phenomenal. But there’s also the people part of it. And so if the people don’t want to be a part of it, you’re gonna have a bigger problem.

george grombacher 6:19
Yeah, yeah, for sure. Right? The whole people think so.

Betsy Kauffman 6:25
Right, gotcha. Those people if we could just get them all and make them all like AI robots, which is, of course that like terrifying thing that’s happening out there. But you still have to have people in order to, to continue to make things happen.

george grombacher 6:37
Of course, of course. It strikes me that, that being able to train and coach managers to be able to help and have these important conversations with the people that that they’re supporting. Make sense, but then also also at the same time, I wonder if human nature, some of those folks will feel intimidated if they, if they help these people get better? Will they take their jobs? Is that am I on on track?

Betsy Kauffman 7:06
Yeah, so it’s interesting, that’s a mindset thing, I think the best leaders actually want their people to take their jobs, right, because then they know you’re being successful. And so you know, a lot of times when I’m working with a leader, I’m like, Well, who would be your successor. And if they’re like, I don’t have anybody, there’s no way that can do this, that’s actually a problem and a big red flag, like, okay, then you’re going to be stuck in your role for forever, or, you know, until you decide that you want to leave, and you really don’t want that you want, I mean, it’s okay to go lateral and go horizontal, or even go up, right, go vertical, but you want to make sure that your folks are actually as well as growing and learning in order to keep them working and satisfied, or they’re gonna leave the organization, and then you’re gonna better pumps try and replace them. So the best leaders have a successor, they may have multiple successors, and they’re actually hoping that they’ll take their jobs so that they can move on to something else, or they can go work on something else, because then that’s a true sign of a true leader, in my mind, is when they are able to identify that talent and continue to support it and pull their folks up the ladder as well.

george grombacher 8:13
That makes a lot of sense. So the unique challenges and opportunities have you said that you’d like to work with with female leaders? What are some of those unique challenges and opportunities different than, than the males?

Betsy Kauffman 8:28
Yeah, so, you know, Oregon is? Well, one, we’re seeing a lot of women leave the workforce. And I don’t know if that’s pandemic related. I mean, they say it is pandemic related, and all the things that are on a female’s plate, you know, if they’re, if they have a family, you know, if they’re working full time, but they’re also having to home school. And so we see a lot of women who have left the workforce, and there’s actually not becoming a huge gap in male versus female sitting in that corporate space. So women tend to take on a lot more responsibility both at home and at work. And it comes to a point where it’s like how much we’re seeing a lot of burnout happening. So that’s part of it, part of it is, is supporting women and how to balance and how to actually, you know, show up and lead from a position of, of strength as well as balance and not to not have that burnout. So that’s part of what we’re seeing. We’re also seeing, you know, sometimes women can feel intimidated when they’re sitting in a room full of men, it’s all about the dynamics and how they work together. And so we help to support them, you know, how to show up how to have great conversations, how to, you know, speak with conviction. And so those are some of the challenges that we see that females faced in the workforce. And, you know, if you’ve got a male dominated, you know, leadership team, a woman may feel intimidated as well. How do I start to make a mark here? How do I start to navigate so it’s, it’s really trying to make sure that we’ve got a balance of genders that are sitting at the table together and having really good conversation?

george grombacher 9:53
Yeah, certainly, that would be. I think that anytime you are in a minority, whatever but it might be if you are correct, you need to to the other people, that could certainly be intimidating and can be uncomfortable, particularly if I’ve never done it before. So being able to help coach the individual and then as well work with the, with the other people to sort of make them aware of it. And how do you think about that?

Betsy Kauffman 10:24
Yeah, it’s interesting. So there’s this term that women use, and I’m sure you’ve probably heard it called mansplaining. Right. And it’s funny, because I never, I never really encountered it until maybe relatively recently. And I was in a meeting, and I was talking to somebody, and there was a gentleman there, and he was just kind of talking down to me, and all of a sudden, I got this weird, like, got like, what, what’s, what’s happening here, right? And I just walked in, I kind of recoil a little bit. I’m like, What’s going on here? Okay, so I can either like, like, leave, or I can like fight or like, what am I going to do here? And when the conversation was over, and I reflected on like, Oh, my goodness, I think he just felt the need to, like, have to explain to me, you know, like, I didn’t understand or I didn’t hear it. And so that’s becoming this. Like, it’s not new, but it’s a term out there. And I don’t know, I don’t usually use that as a thing. Like, Oh, whatever. But when it happens, it’s a trigger. Right? And I’ve talked to many women recently, that are like, yeah, the minute I, the minute that I feel like somebody’s trying to talk down to me, it’s I get this like, feeling happening. I’m like, oh, okay, there you go. That’s your trigger happening. So I think that becomes the awareness piece of it is, when you are interacting with somebody, are you having a rich, fulfilling, you know, conversation? Or do you feel like you’re being talked down to or you’re not accepted? Or you’re not, you know, your ideas and opinions are not valued? And and I don’t, you know, I don’t want to hide behind anything, right? So I’m not, you know, it’s, it doesn’t happen a lot in the world, in my world, but I also don’t allow it to happen. Right? So I show up, I show up with strength and conviction, and I ask questions. And, you know, I just bring my whole authentic self to the table. So, you know, I don’t think it’s a thing that’s pervasive, but when it happens, it happens. And there comes a trigger. And then, you know, as as a woman, you know, you got to figure out like, how do I respond to this? How do I react to it? You know, and how do I continue to show up? So, I don’t know, maybe it happens on the on the reverse side, too. You know, I’d be curious if, if, if men ever feel like their female counterparts, I don’t know what the other term is for. But if there’s, you know, there’s that feeling of, of, you know, domination, or she’s trying to explain it to me into treating me like I don’t understand it. So that probably goes both ways. I just happen to work a lot with female leaders. So it’s a topic that comes up quite a bit.

george grombacher 12:41
Yeah, I think that that’s a really, really, really interesting thing that you just hit on. Is it? Is it in? The answer is probably yes to all of it. In some situations, it’s some guy who’s being a real jerk, and who is condescending, and others it could be, I am going out of my way to over explain, and to try to be inclusive, and that comes across like this, this, this, this, this person is being negative. So I think that that’s really interesting thing and you know, human beings it is, it’s certainly going to be messy, but you talked about how you go and work really hard to show up with strength and conviction and to really know your stuff.

Betsy Kauffman 13:27
Yeah, it’s, it can be messy. And I think it’s just again, learning how to work with people. You know, everybody’s got different personalities, everybody’s got different working styles. And it’s, it’s about just how do you work with all the different styles that are around you. And I think you know, it’s, it’s an art maybe there’s a little science to it, there’s a lot of books and stuff that you can read and how to handle your emotional intelligence and what’s empathy and, and servant leadership, but a lot of it is also you know, art and just continuously to perfecting it and, and trying to different different things, it’s a practice as opposed to a you know, this is the way that we do it in every time you approach a situation, you do it the same way. Because we don’t write we constantly practice we become an art as we learn it. So some people are phenomenal at it and being able to navigate and work different types of humans and some really need some work. And so that’s, I think, as a leader, recognizing that and identifying that is critical. As opposed to I’m just going to show up every way the same way not necessarily needs to be the case sometimes you got to show up a little bit differently depending on your audience.

george grombacher 14:32
I think that that’s really well said and I had somebody on the show a little little while back we talked about how have the female female brain and so people might not like this but he talked about how they’re your your your brains are more connected than then then men’s across both sides. So that leads you to have the ability to do way more things to be way more empathetic to so to me it’s it’s it’s it’s bad. her to be able to do that.

Betsy Kauffman 15:02
Yeah, that work is fascinating. It’s funny because there’s a big joke that like women have, like we think about like a browser, we have like, 1000 tabs open, right? Like in there, we’re constantly able to like, click between tabs. And it’s just the way that women are wired and how they can can jump to many, many different topics. And then, you know, it’s not saying that men can’t do that, but women tend to be that multiple tabs, you’re at this point. And, and I think it’s also I have to say, I’m sometimes a little bit jealous, right? Sometimes I’m like, Man, I wish I could just close all the tabs and like, just be present. And it’s, you know, it’s one of those things like, it’d be really nice if I could shut all that down. And unfortunately, we’re just wired neurons neurologically a little bit different. And that’s okay. Right. That’s the real, that’s the great part about it is that’s how we, you know, we all work well together. But I remember there was a gentleman said he was, when you ask us, like, what we’re thinking and we say nothing. It’s like, that is absolutely true. Like, we can shut up. And I’m like, I’m so jealous. I really wish I could have that ability. Because I don’t have any moment in time that I’m not thinking about something right at that present moment. So it’s one of those like, there’s a jealousy thing happening here on my end? For sure,

george grombacher 16:18
yeah. Well, I think that’s, that’s really what the value and the opportunity of of your work is, is to help organizations to recognize and it sounds like such an obvious thing, that the human beings are different, and some men are going to be more open, and some are going to be more driven, and vice versa. So it’s just human beings are going to be different than than one another. And so the more that we can design our organization to be able to tap in and to have a better understanding and to improve our communication. That’s just again, driving everything forward.

Betsy Kauffman 16:53
Yeah, it’s fantastic. And I think, you know, it’s funny, because people are like, like, how did you know how do you have all this, like academia behind it? And I’m like, No, it’s just really being like, saying the very basic things that are happening in the room, calling them out, even virtually, like I was on a call the other day, and it was a very odd dynamic, we hadn’t had that kind of dynamic. And I just said, I don’t know what’s going on here. But this is not the same, like dynamic that we had just yesterday, or the day before. And somebody came up to me after and I’m like, Oh, my gosh, thank you so much for saying it. Because I was feeling the same thing. And I just, I didn’t know what it was, and you named it. And so it’s just really naming what you’re seeing. And there’s no science or academia, or it’s not, it’s just very basic things that are happening. But if you call them out, and you bring them out into in forefront, people start to like, recognize and say, I’m so glad that you said something. Thank you. Because we had some, you know, a situation happened yesterday, or, you know, a conversation from a leader came down to us, and we had to, you know, it’s changed how we all see each other like, Okay, that’s good to know. Now, let’s figure out how to continue to move forward. So it’s just basic, basic stuff, but it’s having that courage to bring it up.

george grombacher 18:09
And that’s the hardest stuff, right? We we like to work our way around issues, and we hide them and we avoid them. So to be able to feel like I am able to, to call something out to give it a name and then to start to work through it. I mean, that’s key in every aspect of life. Certainly.

Betsy Kauffman 18:29
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. So interesting stuff, fun stuff. Like stuff, but also, I think, very much needed in today’s working world, because there are so many complexities. And we’re all like navigating even more so than we did prior to 2020. Right. We’ve got a lot of complexities that are so that are now front and center that we didn’t have three years ago.

george grombacher 18:50
Yeah, it’s a real shame to it’s sad and terrible. To to realize that women aren’t leaving the workforce. It’s like we’ve made all these gains and more women coming into the business world and other aspects of life and to then start going backwards. Hopefully we’re able to, and I’m sure that we will be able to, to write the ship and fix that trend, but it’s not going to happen automatically. We organizations need to recognize the need for what we’ve been talking about. So I appreciate the work you’re doing Betsy.

Betsy Kauffman 19:29
Thank you. Yeah, that’s why we started the collaborative. So that is that is the whole point. It’s the collaborative. It is an annual program for female leaders, really trying to provide that sense of community and it’s a personal and professional development. So we do everything from group coaching, where we work as a group on different leadership topics and personal topics. We offer one on one coaching which is fantastic, Margaret Of course, my coaches are amazing. We do networking, keynote speakers. So and then every Friday we do a meditation just to like, bring it all back down, because we’ve had a very crazy week. And we created it because we realize that women need that support system. And they need to have other women that are in the same position as them to help them continue to work and navigate and balance and, and show up and continue to pull themselves and each other up the ladder. So that’s, that’s the newest offering from the company. Super exciting. We launched it in January, and we’ve had great success. And we’re just going to continue.

george grombacher 20:32
I love it. Well, Betsy, thank you so much for coming on. Thanks for your work. Where can people learn more about you? How can they engage? Where can they learn about the collaborative all of it?

Betsy Kauffman 20:42
Yeah, cross impact would be the best place to go. We’re in the process of reworking our websites across impact Or you can link in with me, just search for Betsy Kaufman.

george grombacher 20:54
Excellent. Well, if you enjoyed as much as I did, to better your appreciation, and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas go to cross impact And check out the great resources check out the collaborative that launched in January. And you could find Betsy Kaufman, BTS YKUFF M A N on LinkedIn and figure out how to navigate that messy middle a little bit better. And until next time, remember, do your part by doing your best

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