To say that Heather Younger, J.D., has a diverse skillset would be an understatement. She’s an in-demand speaker, a Leadership Warrior, one of our favorite authors to cite, and a highly recommended LinkedIn follow. If Heather hadn’t sent along a concise bio for our TINYcon website, I might still be writing it.
The Founder and CEO of Customer Fanatix keeps a busy schedule. This March, she added to it by starting the podcast Leadership With Heart. It’s a great listen; Heather’s a natural interviewer and her guests share insightful stories for leaders at any level.
We talked with Heather about launching her podcast, how Leadership With Heart is going to influence her TINYcon presentation, and the underrated importance of birth order - among other things.
I’m so happy you started this podcast, and I was also a little surprised! I don’t see a lot of new business podcasts. Why did you start it now?
Well, there are other leadership podcasts out there, but I think that people often take leadership for granted. So when I named it "Leadership With Heart", I did so purposely. I think that in business, everything starts and stops with leadership and especially leadership done with heart.
As someone who's led people for a very long time, I don't think we talk enough about great leadership principles. I don't think we hear it enough. And of course, I have a very particular passion about revealing the good, the bad, and the ugly in this space. It's so important for leaders to see themselves in other leaders - and then learn from it.
As a listener, I really appreciate the intro to your podcast. Even though I’m a subscriber, it gets me prepared for what I’m about to hear. How did you decide to do that?
I took the idea of doing the intro from a friend of mine, Sarah Elkins. I love the fact that she actually does an intro on her podcast, Your Stories Don’t Define You, How You Tell Them Will.
When people are coming into it, you want to prepare their mind. Putting that intro on there helps people get their minds around what we're about to go.
I know you talk to leaders all the time at Customer Fanatix in person. How different has it been doing a podcast?
Anyone who knows me knows I am who I am; what you see is what you get. On any platform, on any media, that's my same voice. I speak with leaders [at Customer Fanatix] in very similar ways to what I do on the show; in a one-on-one, very personal, warm, rich way.
The key difference might be that with my clients, I help them uncover more strategies and brainstorm with them. I want them to think of me as a trusted advisor who is always going to have their backs. I'm going to keep the things they reveal to me in deepest confidence so I can help with their strategy. But in the end, my main focus is about connections and relationships. That’s the same in conversations on the podcast and in a closed-door meeting.
When we think about personal branding, we want to try to put out messages and act and behave and speak in ways that align with that brand. I take it very seriously, the message I put out there, and I try to make it consistent with who I am. So if it sounds like it's a intimate conversation, that's exactly how I want it to be!
You launched the podcast in March -- it’s May, and you have 12 episodes already! By the time you speak at TINYcon in September, do you anticipate that Leadership With Heart will influence your presentations?
You know, what I love about my discussions on the podcast is that they really give me great stories to tell. I can reflect on those conversations and hopefully illuminate the minds of those hungry for more leadership education.
I love this particular talk I’m planning, because it does highlight really key things that leaders can do to engage their people and obviously improve the employee experience. I think the podcast is absolutely going to provide me some richer stories to tell, no doubt.
Every episode of Leadership With Heart so far has a title that follows this format: Leaders With Heart ______. “Leaders with Heart Are Servant Leaders Who Look At Their Role As A Vocation”. “Leaders With Heart Make People Feel Important.” Do you have a favorite so far?
I decided to use that title format because I wanted to associate the title with what the message boils down to inside the conversation. It's my own personal spin, right? So someone else may come up with a different takeaway, but it's just that unique thing that I'm finding. So I love each of them for their own reason.
I was on a couple of calls recently that really got my adrenaline pumping, I have to say - and they're not live yet. (Ed. note - They may be now! Two episodes have been published since our conversation with Heather.)
The words that those leaders used to describe what leaders do and the power they have to change the lives of the people that they lead is what really pumped me up. They were so evocative, my hair was standing up on my arms. I love all of them for their unique angles. But those two, so far, are the ones are really got me going.
That’s a brilliant answer. You have to listen to the episodes coming up to hear Heather’s favorites, everybody!
Do you have a favorite question and/or answer from podcasts or presentations?
One of the things that I think is funny - and you're going to find this interesting - is that people ask me, "Well, do you believe that employee surveys are still effective?" every day. "Do they really even do anything to drive engagement?" A lot of people just can't stand surveys and say they sit on the shelves and get dusty. You know how I feel about this.
Employee voice is my north star. It's the most important thing that employers need to be focusing on.
I always answer absolutely: pursue any way that you can to gather the voice of the employee in a consistent manner. Then you can develop a strategy around what you're going to do after you listen to the employee. Putting together the plan and involving some of those employees in the change that they're seeking is key.
So that's usually the message I give them - and I know there are people that can't stand surveys. I don't always like surveys, particularly if nobody reports back to me what they heard, and what they plan to do about it! So my job in my space is to help organizations put together the strategy and then go implement it.
That’s a thing that I hear a lot, and I would say it's my favorite because I know a lot of people are thinking "yuck" when it comes to surveys.
I know you at TINYpulse and I share such a passion and a belief that truly listening to employees and validating their truth - and then acting on it - is key to engagement and the employee experience.
One thing that I think is really interesting about the podcast is all the ways you find guests - through recommendations from your network, through LinkedIn, often with people you haven’t met. How do you approach finding guests?
So as an only child, I always found it really easy to meet strangers and kind of build rapport. Making deep connections with people is really what I focus on. It's what I do every day - it's just who I am.
I’m able to do this online. When I meet people in person, I'm obviously able to solidify that because of the sensory experience when you meet the people - I can hug them and see microexpressions and everything. So I just pride myself on being able to make those connections online, and then hopefully in person someday.
The people that come on my show are not going to self-select. They’re just not - because the people I'm looking for are leaders with heart. They're probably going to be more humble - it doesn't mean they don't have egos, that’s not what I’m saying - but they’re probably more focused on others and have a lot of humility.
I’ll have guests on without doing huge amounts of validation because I trust the people that are sending them my way. I really trust my network.
What advice would you give those of us who aren’t only children on building a network, whether online or off? We know that’s a big part of the appeal at TINYcon, connecting with other people devoted to the employee experience.
I believe in warmth and deep connection, and when I initially built my network on LinkedIn, I responded with that warmth. I use a lot of emojis - that’s kind of funny, but that’s who I am.
When you do present yourself consistently, people know you for your character and it just makes it easier for everything else to come from that. That’s true online and offline.
I mentioned it earlier, but I’m very excited for TINYcon because meeting people in person is really important to me. I say “sensory experience” a lot. I believe that it's extremely important to leadership and to the employee experience for people to meet face-to-face.
Before I founded Customer Fanatix, I was working full-time, I have four children, I had just published my book - all of these things were happening and the only way I could network was online. Now that I can, I take quite a bit of time to have in-person contact.
As an only child and a mother of four, do you think that birth order affects personalities in a profound way?
Oh, gosh, yes! Yes, I really do. When I see my kids, the baby is absolutely different than the oldest. They really are following the birth order. It sounds very hokey, sometimes, to believe in that stuff but I do.
Then I've got these two middle children who love to load on the guilt a lot about how the oldest and the youngest get all the attention. And I’m saying, “Are you kidding me? I love everybody the same.”
You’re a busy person. It’s a long way from Colorado to Seattle. What made you decide to come speak at TINYcon?
My main focus in my business, in my life, is employee voice - and that’s the main function of your platform. There's lots of other things you do at TINYpulse, but that pulsing survey is a huge part of it. It's where you started.
The topic of your conference is employee experience and that’s what I’m about. What I wake up to do is help leaders focus more on how they can deliver more positively impactful experiences for the people they lead. I think there will be a lot of leaders with heart at TINYcon.
Who should come to your presentation at TINYcon?
I always tell people that I talk to leaders inside or outside of HR. It can be any leader - and "leader", for me, is supervisor or above. So you don’t have to be an executive to get something out of my talks.
Anybody who's interested in impacting the lives of people inside their workplace should be there.
Will your talk turn attendees into Leaders With Heart immediately, or will it take some time?
I certainly hope that my talk will resonate with people immediately. Change usually doesn’t happen immediately, but I do believe in continuous improvement and taking the baby steps to become a better leader.
While I'm at TINYcon, I'm going to be on the lookout for some organizational leaders who exhibit some of those “Leadership With Heart” tendencies.
Are you going to bring your podcasting setup to TINYcon?
I may just do that! I'll be trying to focus on giving the best content, delivering the best messages I possibly can for the folks that will be attending. It’s about them first, and me second, so I may have it - but I may not get around to it.
I want to take in all the other speakers and learn as much as I can from the people that are in the audience and make that be the main focus for my time at TINYcon.
Me too. Thanks, Heather! I really appreciate you taking the time.
Thank you. See you in September.
You can see Heather in September, too! She's speaking and bringing her books to TINYcon 2018. It's September 12th through the 14th, at the Seattle Marriott Waterfront. She's one of 20+ expert speakers that are currently being announced on TINYcon's site.