They say leadership is all about business and money. While those things are important for a leader, it is also necessary to be assertive and have compassion towards your employees. Especially now, with the pandemic, bosses have to be more empathetic so that they can start to build trust and respect in the workplace. Join your host Ben Baker and his guest Monte Pedersen of The CDA Group, LLC as they discuss the importance of practicing human-based leadership. Monte then reveals why leaders should “Clarify, Deploy, and Achieve” in order to lead with empathy and watch as employees become the true asset of the business and take it to success.
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Human-Based Leadership: Leading Through Empathy In The Workplace With Monte Pedersen
I have a great guest for you. Monte Pedersen and I are going to talk about human-based leadership because it is important. It’s near and dear to me and Monte’s heart. Let’s get into this. Monte, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Ben. It’s an honor to be here and a pleasure to tackle this subject. I’m looking forward to it.
Let’s start by giving people a bit of history. The world should know your name, but I’m sure there are people out there in the 7.5 billion people in the world who don’t. Where did you come from? How did you start your career? What brought you to leadership? Let’s get into your philosophy of things.Help people become their best even if you have to drag them over the finish line. Click To Tweet
I was born and raised in the US, Midwestern. I love the Midwest. I’ve traveled around quite a bit, but that’s where I live. The people are important to me. I had an extensive career in hospitality management. I worked for two global contract catering companies for many years. Between the two of them, they were competitors. In 2016, that all ended for various reasons, but it was a good thing. The business was becoming heavily commoditized. My last few years were difficult. Once I knew I was leaving, two weeks after that, I knew what I wanted to do. That was to go back and help people not to make the mistakes that I made as a leader.
It’s an amazing venue. You get caught up in something, you do it for so long and you think that’s the only way and the only thing, or that’s how everybody else is doing it. You then step outside of that, and all of a sudden, you open yourself up to the world in what’s going on. You start reading and getting a little more intuitive about things. You have this negative highlight reel in your head where you’re constantly playing back all of the mistakes you made. The good news in my case was I leveraged that into a business model. That’s when I formed my own business, The CDA Group. It stands for Clarify, Deploy and Achieve, which to me are the three most important things that leaders do. You can never communicate expectations enough. You can never clarify objectives enough. You need to deploy resources and give your people what they need in order to be successful, no matter what that is, whether that’s physical tools, knowledge or emotional support.
The last is achieve. You help people become their best even if you have to drag them over the finish line. You remove barriers out of their way and get them where they want to go. That’s what leadership is all about. The CDA Group is a leadership and training firm that I formed. We’re out there aligning the daily tasks and activities of everybody on a team with the strategic objectives of the organization. We have a system and methodology that we use that helps instill that discipline and makes people recognize what execution is and how it should be done.
I’m a big believer of, “We’re a culmination of the lessons that we learned and the experiences that we had.” I want to bring it back to the time before you got to CDA. That’s important to draw the distinction of what got you out of one industry and then to the other. What were the biggest challenges? What did you learn from them through your time in the hospitality industry? That’s a dynamic amount of time especially dealing with it on a global level. What did you find were the biggest challenges that were leading to the commoditization? What did that mean in terms of how you were viewing leadership?
The business itself was exciting. There was never a dull moment. The reason I got up and did it every day was because I never did the same thing on any given day. Everybody eats and likes enjoying themselves. Being around that is intoxicating, but what happened is we grew out of the best-kept secret because a lot of people work in hotel and restaurant management. My side of it was on the institutional side. I worked in colleges, universities, businesses and healthcare. That’s a side of it that’s more in control. It didn’t quite have the ups and downs that people experience.
If you’re working in a restaurant or a hotel, you’re probably working nights, weekends and holidays. If you’re in the institutional sector, you’re Monday through Friday because you’re feeding people in large numbers in various institutions, but it didn’t make it any less stressful. What led to the commoditization of the business is people building companies and jumping into it. It became three large global competitors, one out of the UK, one out of France, and then one is Philadelphia-based here in the States. We ate each other’s lunch. It was this constant one-upmanship. The problem that it had for me from a leadership level was that it ate away at all the margins.
My ability as a manager was required less and less because we needed people from above me telling us what we had to do in order to make the margins, “You had to cut this. You had to cut that. You couldn’t do it this way. You had to use this resource.” There was no freedom scale and managing anymore. To remain competitive, we were constantly trading customers. It got to the point where you could almost sign a contract over the weekend. I could sign it on a Friday and you could be operating in place of the other company on a Monday. That’s how commoditized it got. Not an enjoyable time from a leadership level because you were forced into situations that you weren’t comfortable doing and that you never felt right about it. You did it because that’s what the organization wanted you to do, but you couldn’t feel good about it. I saw a lot of people who had committed a lot of blood, sweat and tears over the years and enjoyed what they did. All of a sudden, because they were tied to an organization that had a contract, they were forced to go out and get another job, join another company and transfer to another location. A lot of upset and different change. That was tough to take.
How do you deal with that? When you’re dealing with the regular restaurant situation, there’s a lot of chaos that goes in that. People work crazy hours. They work from early in the morning to late at night. They may finish a late-night shift, then they have to take a noon shift the next day. On the institutional side, it’s a more leveled playing field, but with commoditization. It must lead to a period where employees lose a sense of empowerment. They don’t have the ability to create their own destiny.
When I was a waiter back in the 1980s, the amount of money that I made as a waiter was insignificant. It was all about tips and relationships with customers. People ask for my table by name. When you’re dealing with institutional, you’re dealing with unions, process, procedures, and trying to get 1,000 meals out at the same time. As a leader, how are you able to either motivate, empower or communicate effectively to be able to give those people the incentive to be the best that they can do, and to be able to reflect the quality of the brand when the brand is constantly being driven down by price considerations?
It was largely all a function of budget because if you had the reserve or the training dollars allocated, the sky’s the limit. Some of that was related to who the account was with and how were your margins and budgeting. Those types of contracts tended to draw talented people because the word would get out. People would say, “You want to work here because it’s a great place.” They invest in their employees, and this is a program that they believe is beneficial. It’s important to them to attract people with the dining program or catering. People would flock to those locations.When you invest in people, they do all of the things you share. Click To Tweet
You could do anything. I ran a worldwide training center at the time for six big accounting firms. You’d be amazed at the money we had to do training. We were out in the parking lot with fire extinguishers and training people how to put out grease fires. We could do about anything we wanted. That was all great. People loved it there. You could get it to the level you wanted. Take the antithesis of that where the money’s tight, and they’re only paying you so much to do certain things. They still want everything done as first-class as possible. You’re stressed and you’re doing it with fewer people. You’re trying to get the best culinary talent in there to give them a great meal at the best price possible. It’s two sides of the spectrum, but neither end is great. Over time, you get spoiled and somebody comes along and says, “We’ve got to cut back.” On the other side, you never get to that point where you can even do a great job. You can do a good job but you can’t do a great job.
Let’s macro this. Let’s take this out of the hospitality industry and take it into the world in general. Let’s focus on human-based leadership because what we’ve been talking about is the fact that trained, effective and empowered employees are better employees. They’re far more willing to work harder for an organization than people that are stressed, under constant pressure, and don’t feel valued. How do we get within organizations? How do we get CFOs and CEOs who are constantly looking at budgets and saying “Where can I cut?” to realize the value of their people, and that they are the true asset of their brand?
It’s all about making the people the argument. Keeping the people in the forefront of the conversation and saying, “This is what this is all about. We impact the business by how we impact the lives of those who work for us.” In my book, that is what truly human leadership is all about. At the point where you recognize that when you invest in the people, they do all of the things you shared. They’re committed, loyal and going to go over and above. They’re going to care about other people. They’re going to care about your customers. There’s a tremendous ROI related to that. That’s the part that most senior leaders don’t have faith and they can’t see it. They’re under the pressure of quarterly results and short-term needs. That’s where they’re focused. That’s where their management style goes.
You’ve got to take it culturally and operationally to a level where people are looking at the long-term viability and sustainability of the organization as the true measure of success. It’s that combination of focusing on your people, giving them what they need to succeed, and then watching what happens over the long-term when you do that well. I’m certain you’re probably familiar with Bob Chapman and Barry-Wehmiller Corporation, Everybody Matters book. Bob Chapman says it succinctly, “We think of people as objects and functions to organizational success.” We need to think about it the other way around. That our people are what’s critical to our success. That’s the big mistake that senior leaders make.
Let’s get into this in terms of where we start. It does start from culture, purpose and leadership. How do we get senior leaders who have either a lifestyle business or a small to medium-sized business and they’ve been micro-managing or autocratic in terms of their leadership style? To them, it’s either do it my way or go away. How do we get people beyond that point and get them to understand that first of all, there is a different way of doing things, and what the benefit of doing things in a human-based leadership matter benefits their company?
That’s a big question because there are a lot of autocratic leaders that are so far down a path. They can’t see their way to doing something new. I’m not saying that it’s impossible, but most people need to have some trigger experience. Something needs to happen to them personally that gets them looking at something differently or saying, “This is the way that it should be.” If I can reference Bob Chapman again, he was at a wedding when he realized that somebody was giving up their daughter to this man to be married. He goes, “This is the way we should be as leaders and as employers. We have all these people that are somebody’s precious child. Once they’re given to us, we have a responsibility to them to do the best we can for them because somebody entrusted us with that.” I know that’s a reach for a lot of people. It’s something that they can’t see because they’ve done things their way for such a long time. Short of getting those people to read more, get out of their fixed mindset, get more into a learning or growth mindset, and think about other ways to operate the business. That’s about the only way that I can see it happening.
The people that I do business with are already there. I’ve not encountered a situation where I’ve tried to pull somebody. If I got somebody like that, then I’d probably run as far as I could the other way thinking that my chances of success might not be so good. I’m excited about technology and what social media and platforms like LinkedIn have done for leaders like that because all of a sudden, it’s hard to not be exposed to it because you’ve got podcasts, you’ve got more books. We’re taking our information in bytes. We get that across our phone now. There are ways. It is either a revolution that starts with the people or somebody close to them, confides in them, comes to them and says, “We need to have a come to Jesus meeting here because things aren’t working the way they should be.”
Social media and media, in general, nowadays is a huge equalizer because there is that huge dichotomy of opinions at your fingertips. It’s amazing to me, and I see it all the time, that a lot of senior managers are lurkers on social media. They tend not to be involved. They don’t like, don’t tweet, don’t comment, but they’re there and they listen. They tend to gather an enormous amount of information that enabled them to see what’s coming next and what’s happening. What is promising in the world nowadays is able to sit there and say, “I can gather opinions from a variety of different points.” I may agree with some, I may not agree with others, but if I’m willing to listen and say, “Just because I disagree with this person doesn’t mean that they’re wrong. It means that I have a contrary viewpoint.” That is a big factor that is probably leading to management styles changing over the years. We talked about Carleton State, the incentive-based program and be autocratic. I see that that’s changing, and I’m hopeful that that’s changing. Do you think that COVID is going to be a game-changer in terms of looking for that line in the sand to change people’s minds that enable them to become far more human in their leadership style?
I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say it’s going to be a game-changer, but I can see where it’s going to impact a lot of people. All of a sudden, whether these leaders recognize the personal lives of their people or not, they were forced into it as a result of COVID. All of a sudden, they were doing the Zoom meetings with them at home and had their kids with them because they’re homeschooling or Zoom schooling. All of a sudden, they had to take into consideration their people. I was reading a Harvard Business Review article where they were talking about trends as a result of COVID. The number one trend was that leaders were going to be forced to move from employee engagement to life experience understanding, and that leaders would change as a result of that. I hope it has some impact and it’s not short-term, but it’s going to change some minds. There’s no question about it. You can’t have gone through what we’re all going through and have some continued lack of consideration for human interest and benefit.
The word that’s coming to mind to me is empathy. People are hopefully, becoming far more empathetic. There are stories of CEOs taking their Zoom calls from their car in their driveway because they’ve got three kids running around the house. It’s bedlam inside the house that they don’t feel that they could be professional in a meeting situation because there’s nowhere quiet in the house for them to do. If they’re having those types of challenges, maybe they’re thinking about their employees in that same situation. Do their employees have the tools that they need to succeed? Especially as we were going to reach a situation where there’s going to be more and more employees working from home, maybe a lot of people will come back, but there is going to be a lot of people that are going to stay remote.
We need to be thinking about as leaders, how do we make our people successful? What do we do when we wake up every morning to make sure that the people within our charge are successful and have the tools that they need to succeed? When you’re working with your leaders, with people, and you say they’ve already crossed the chasm, they already have some degree of empathy and wanting to help their clients or their employees, how do you help them get better? How do you help them build systems, processes and purpose to enable their people to succeed and be empowered?
It comes down to getting them to care. A lot of them do care. They just don’t understand the extent to which they need to care. The systems that I use in my business are around trying to get the dialogue going. I make sure that there’s continuous two-way feedback at a minimum between a manager and a direct report. The system that I use contributes to that. If you’re going to build trust and respect inside of an organization, you’ve got to have people talking to each other. What I’ve found is if you start with the cultural elements and reinforce those annually, meaning you don’t set up your mission, vision and strategic initiatives, you live in them. Every 30 days, you’re having a conversation about what are the core behaviors that we need to have as a team in order to be successful. If you’re not talking about those things or not keeping them top of mind, then a default culture forms.
You get people doing what they want to do to the bounds that leadership tolerates, that all get accepted. It is instilling discipline in people around, making sure that they’re talking to each other, practicing empathy, and they do understand that what they’re doing on daily basis ties back to the mission and vision of the organization. If you don’t do those things, you’ve got people that are failing a role. They feel it. They’re not going to go out of their way, but if you can get them fired up about it, listening, talking to each other, and understanding that, “I felt the same way you did about that issue.” They’ll let their guard down. They’ll give you everything they’ve got, and you’ll be able to do the things you want to do. This is one of those things that until you see and experience, it’s hard to envision.
The hardest part of communication is listening. We all communicate to people, not with people. That’s a challenge. We speak to people. We don’t speak with people. We need to speak with people. We need to be able to not only talk to people but to understand. Do they understand what we were saying? Do they understand what it means to them? Do they understand the impact and what their next steps need to be in order for everyone to succeed? That’s an extremely challenging thing. This is something that everybody struggles with. How can we help leaders learn the skills needed to be able to have those two-way conversations that will be able to empower people to be better?Many autocratic leaders are so far down a path that they can’t see their way to doing something new. Click To Tweet
It’s all about being present, but it’s difficult for all of us. Even in my head, I walk out there thinking the best of people and trying to be attentive to what it is that’s being said. You have clutter. You always have other things going on around you. It’s difficult. What I try and share with leaders is you’ve got to be there in the moment for your people. Not only do you have to exhibit it in the one-on-ones that you have with people, but you’ve got to model it throughout the day in terms of your behaviors in what you’re doing. When people see that, then they go, “The boss is doing this. It must be okay.” It’s one of those things that’s a challenge. As I work with organizations, one of the artifacts of the system that I use is that we get to control. You get control of the organization. When you execute well, you have discipline, things tend to get better, and that allows your time.
I try to encourage my leaders to take that time to look at other things that will increase the sustainability of the organization. I do a lot of leadership skills training and social-emotional learning around that. That gives you the opportunity to teach self-awareness, empathic learning, relationship management. Those things are critical to being a good person. What I mean by that is being more kind, more understanding and more open. It is that empathy piece. It’s looking at how people see you and looking inward first versus pointing fingers and blaming. That’s a long-winded way of saying there are a lot of things that you can do. It’s just everybody is different. You’ve got to go with those people and look at their past behaviors. If you can get them thinking at the moment and be present, that’s as good a place as any to start.
One last question that comes from a conversation you and I had. We were talking about ego. We were talking about leadership as a mindset and not a job title. It’s about them. It’s not about you. How do we move a group of people that have been trained to believe that they are the center, “I’m the boss. I’m the person who’s in charge. I should know everything. I should be the one that people are coming to, and it’s my responsibility?” To realize that it’s more about the team and making sure that the team succeeds, how do you help them create that mindset shift? That puts everything in a ball about everything that we’ve talked about.
We spoke about John Maxwell. I like how he positions it, “If the ego is a problem for you, you have to understand that if you lead from the inside first, the longer you do it and the better you get at it, the greater you will be on the outside.” What he means by that is if you lead with the heart and the mind, take care of your people, and do extraordinary things for them, then they’re going to come back and shine your star. You’re going to have not only a better reputation, brand image, quality of life, successful business. You’re going to have all those things and probably more things than your ego could possibly hold if you do it the right way.
I like that angle where you’ve got to take people and say, “You’ve got to value people over the position.” All the great leaders look at things from a different perspective. They’re not afraid to apologize for their mistakes. They inspire people. They’re willing to do whatever it takes to help them be their best selves. When I do those things, even on a small level for people, my ego, adrenaline, dopamine, I get that push anyway. You can imagine what it’s like. If you have 7,000, 10,000 or 100,000 employees, you instill that leadership model and your ego. It’s going to have a hard time being contained in a Canadian province.
Those provinces are pretty big. I loved the conversation. I want to thank you. I have one last question I ask everybody when they leave my show. When you leave a meeting, get in your car and drive away, what’s the one thing you want people to think about you when you’re not in the room?
It’s probably that I added some value, that the time you spent with me was worth it, and that it made some level of contribution to your life, however small. What you don’t like is pulling away, having regrets about what you said, how you did something, or that you put people to sleep. Most people are congenial and polite. You don’t always get that. For the time that we had together, I’ll be at a wink of an eye. It was worth something on some level to them.
Monte, I found this conversation extremely impactful. Thank you for being such an amazing guest, and thanks for sharing your insights with my audience.
Thank you, Ben. Thanks for what you do and continued success.
- Monte Pedersen - LinkedIn
- The CDA Group
- Everybody Matters
- Harvard Business Review article – Article about trends as a result of COVID
About Monte Pedersen
Monte Pedersen enjoyed a 35-year career in hospitality management before deciding to form his own leadership and training firm focused on “Strategy Execution Management” helping businesses and organizations to deliver consistently on their strategic plans.
His extensive tenure and experience working in the corporate sector demonstrated to him that people and leadership are the two most important elements in any workplace and they’re also the most taken for granted.
Monte’s full-time focus is now driven by the desire to help others avoid many of the mistakes and failures he experienced while managing others.
He is an avid reader, golfer, above-average cook, and is constantly on the lookout for the best bottle of wine under $20 (US). He resides in the United States in the great Midwest in Galena, Illinois with his wife and daughter.
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