How I Got Hired

125. Karin Hurt: From leaving golden handcuffs at Verizon to writing a blog that became a leadership training firm with clients like Adobe, Microsoft, Nestle!

January 30, 2024 Sonal Bahl
How I Got Hired
125. Karin Hurt: From leaving golden handcuffs at Verizon to writing a blog that became a leadership training firm with clients like Adobe, Microsoft, Nestle!
Show Notes Transcript

We’ve had lots of guests on the show who quit their job, were called to a higher purpose, set their eyes on entrepreneurship and never looked back.

One thing we don’t often see is the mess that goes on behind the scenes. Karin Hurt’s story is one that deserves to be told, because Karin is no ordinary former 9 to 5’er who started her own training firm. Karin left a very well-paying job at Verizon after 20 years, and left a tonne of money on the table, so much so everyone around her told her she was crazy. Karin then started a training firm called ‘Let’s Grow Leaders’ with her husband David, and have together helped 10,000 leaders in 14 countries with their human centric approach to increase innovation and productivity without burning out.

Karin shares the trajectory of her career in great detail — from her unique academic journey to her unexpected leap into corporate roles, and finally her decision to pursue her own venture. Karin also sheds light on the concept of human-centered leadership, her encounters with workplace conflict, and her commitment to a communicative approach in dealing with these conflicts.

The episode tells a story of how an individual's passion for their work can lead to extraordinary success and the transformation of one's career path. It emphasizes the pivotal role that mentors play in recognizing this passion and the essential need for confidence and humility in leadership. We end with Karin giving advice on how to deal with organizational conflict, using her research as a reference.

This is a must listen episode!

Pre-order Karin's book here. (https://letsgrowleaders.com/conflict-phrases-book/)
Follow Karin on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/karin-hurt/)
Learn more about her company about Let's Grow Leaders (https://letsgrowleaders.com/)

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  Introduction and Background

Hey there, welcome to the How I Got Hired podcast. I'm your host Sonal Bahl, former HR director and founder of Supercharge. And I've had an insane corporate career that started in India. Then moved to South America and then to Europe, often working only in Spanish or French.  Why do I call my career insane?

Because while I've had the privilege of working across geographies and industries like consulting, mining, chemicals, food, telecom, without a work visa, without any local network during big, fat recessions, and often while being a new mom to one of my kids.  I've seen career heartbreak and multiple layoffs as well  as a career strategist.

I strongly believe that a fulfilling career is a birthright and not a privilege for the lucky few who have access to prestigious education, capital, and networks. I'm now on a mission to democratize access to high value career advice by designing affordable digital courses with my YouTube channel. And yes, this podcast right here, where we.

Learn together from ordinary people like you and me and how they created extraordinary career success. Now let's get you ready to get supercharged. Let's go. 

The Insane Career Journey

Hey, welcome back to the show. So you probably remember, I have had all sorts of guests who  ended up quitting their job.  They felt like they were called to a higher purpose and set their eyes  on that purpose and never looked back ever again.  One thing that we don't often hear. When you, you know, we listen to podcasts and we, we read all these biographies.

We don't always get the  mess, like proper shizzle that's happening behind the scenes.  

The Story of Karen Hurt

And this is the reason Karen Hurt is on my show today because I think her story deserves to be told far and wide.  And the reason is Karen is no ordinary former nine to fiver who started her own business. Because she was, you know, called to a higher purpose and how beautiful and sailed into the sunset.

There's a lot more to this. Karen left a very well paying job at Verizon  after 20  years. And if you can imagine at a senior level after 20 years, you have piled up a beautiful, beautiful tenure. And seniority in the company. And by leaving all of that behind, she left a crap ton of money on the table. So much so, everybody around her told her she was  crazy. 

The Transition from Corporate to Entrepreneurship

Karen then started her own training firm. Called let's grow leaders with her husband, David, which is a story in itself. And we're going to talk about that. And they have together helped 10, 000 leaders in 14 countries with their specific human centric approach to increase innovation and productivity without burning out.

Yes, please. More innovation,  more humanity in the world we are in today. without the burnout. Who doesn't want this? 

The Interview with Karen Hurt Begins

Karen, it's such an honor. Welcome to the show. 

Oh, absolutely. My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me. 

Absolutely. Karen, we're going to get into it. There's so much to talk to you about.

There's so much to learn from you. So let's start with,  yeah, the elephant in the room. I talked about Verizon, where you spent the better part of your career  and You started there back in the 90s, right? And you worked in so many different roles. I checked LinkedIn. It said eight different roles. So different from each other, you know, business development, sales, customer service, all sorts of things you did in these 20 years.

So I don't always like to think that, Oh, it's all about how it ended. It's also about how it started and how the middle was right. There's so much that helps us to grow. Uh, to grow as a person. 

Karen's Early Career and Growth at Verizon

So talk to us about the first part, right? My show's called How I Got Hired. How did you get hired? Cause you already were doing a couple of other, uh, roles before Verizon.

How did you get that job  at Verizon back in the day? And my part two is what do you think helped you to grow  quickly and steadily like within the company during these two 

decades? 

So, interestingly, I was working on a PhD at the University of Maryland and I, I was working on a research paper and I, uh, it was all about teams, how self directed teams was what I was studying and organizational communication.

And I was working on this, this research and I, I, you know, back in the day, this is before you could even Google things, right? I'm like literally in this. Stacks in a library. And what you would do is you'd go to the back of the journal article and you'd see who the other researchers were in your field.

And you'd go down these tracking these down. And I noticed that there was a sky, uh, called Dr. Henry Sims and almost every single thing I was looking at, he was being cited. And I'm like, I wonder where this guy is. And then I look him up and I'm like, he's at the university of Maryland. I'm in the communication school.

He is at the business school. So I literally, I tell you, I  ran across campus. I mean, I was just a young kid, right? But I ran across campus and I knocked on his door and I said, Oh my gosh, I've just been reading your stuff. And I did not realize you were here. And I was like, you know,  

So basically you did what the modern version of fangirling. 

I fangirled this. 

Professor. I love that because you found him without LinkedIn, right? You just like literally look, look up probably like yellow pages 

or whatever.  So, so I walked, so he opens his store and he would, of course, you know, who wouldn't want to be like, no recognized like that. And he's like, why do you like my stuff?

And what are you researching? And we spent two hours  and he says, why are you working on a PhD? This is a very interesting question, I said, because I really want to go make a difference in the world in this. And he said, uh huh. How's a PhD going to do that for you? Now this is a professor. How is a PhD going to do that for you?

That's a difficult question. You know, he's like, do you, do you really want to teach, like be in this academic system? And I'm like, no, but I want the credibility to go out and do what I need. And he says, you don't need a PhD. You need a contact. And. And he said, what are you doing next week? I know. So I, I said,  what do you mean?

He's like, I know somebody at Bell Atlantic, which ended up becoming Verizon. 

The Unexpected Turn in Karen's Career

And he says, I'm going to take you to lunch. And he took a, one of his former students who had a PhD and me to lunch. And he said, I think Karen needs to get into an organization and just do this stuff.  That's what she wants to do.

So it's interesting. It's what I'm doing now. All the way. Right. And, uh, and so she hired me as a, basically as an intern. Uh, and I started doing the work, and the work got bigger and bigger. And then she says, can, I'd like to offer you a job?  And it was, now, keep in mind, I'm a teaching assistant working a PhD, right?



you, you're on an academic, uh, track, right? Definitely not like thinking corporate. 

She's like, yeah, she, and this was like my dream job.  So I left, so I let that, uh, so things I quit, right? So I didn't finish the PhD. I went to work for her doing exactly what I wanted to do, building self directed work teams, applying my research to real jobs.

So I spent then 10 years in HR doing all that kind of stuff. Uh, and then this is another interesting how I got hired. I, after 10 years, I was really on a track to become vice president of, of human resources. And I was working on a merger integration project with a senior vice president of customer service, and he says to me, Karen, what are you?

No, he's not my boss, right? He's just a, you know, a basic, you know, internal client of HR. He says, what are you going to do next?  I said, we'll probably be VP of HR. He's like, uh huh. You could. He said, but you know what? I think you'd have a lot more credibility, uh, as an HR, whatever you end up being, if you had led a really large team.

How big is your team now in like 35 people? He said, yeah. Why don't you come lead, like, a customer service mega center? 500, 000 people, then you can see if your leadership theories really work.  And I said, well, who's going to let me do that?  And he said, well, don't take my word for it. Uh, why don't you go, uh, meet with each of my four vice presidents of customer service and see if they would put you in one of their call center roles. 

And so I did, uh, four of them, three of them said, absolutely. Fourth one said.  Yeah, no, you, you're really good in HR, you should stay in HR. Well, six months later, an opening came up in one of these call centers and the vice president put me into that role. So I went from being in an HR function, you know, really studying, going deep on all kinds of leadership stuff  to leading a couple of large call centers, uh, where I had never taken a customer call.

I was not familiar with the technology. So that leap. I think was one of the most important things that I'm so grateful for that both of those mentors, right? Both of those mentors who cared enough to say, I see something different in you and I see a potential here. So for your listeners, I hope that we're always looking out for people and saying what, you know, helping people see what they're capable of.

So, you know, that is, that's really how it all got started. And then once I was had the confidence that I could go in and do something completely different. Then I had the confidence of, well, sure, I could lead a 2200 person sales team. Sure, I could leave a 10, 000, lead a 10, 000 person customer service organization, because I had made that leap once. 

My mind is officially blown. Oh my gosh. So both of these instances,  it's not just the power of mentorship. It's also  what are they making you think that you had not thought about before? Simply because.  You know, sometimes we choose mentors who are like us, and that's very dangerous. These mentors were nothing like you, right?

And, and in fact, the second one, I would even go as far as to say, um,  unlikely mentor, unlikely, because you said this wasn't my boss and you know, not that all mentors are bosses, but this is brilliant. I love what he said. The first one,  not sure you need a PhD to change the world. You need a contact.  What a simple observation.

I would even say, Karen, that  Simple observation. It must have felt uncomfortable for you at the time, because you know, why do you want to do a PhD? How will  it help you to change the world? We don't, nah, I don't like that question. I don't know if I can answer it. But that question  probably changed the trajectory of your career.

Absolutely. If not, if not your life, I don't,  I'm not exaggerating it because there's so many different twists and turns you took. So this  is brilliant. And I love that you're talking about this and I love that you're sharing this because you probably thought academic, Karen, that is the way to go.

Professor Hurt, that's my thing. And,  and I also love how you ran. Um,  I, I think that  when something feels good, I think it's almost a physical experience, like the whole body tells you, yes, do it, do it. And you know, when it feels wrong, like the stomach cramps and there's a reason they say that. I think that the, the gut is a second brain and I think it's probably more powerful.

So it felt right to you. And, and  why would he entertain you for two hours after that? You're a kid, some kid from the street probably saw something in you. So both of these examples are like absolutely mind blowing. And, and. That is how you grew, you know, inside the company and, and you probably, you know, in that time you saw others who were like,  you know, maybe not as successful as you are and, and would, what would you say is that one differentiator, Karen, between someone who just goes for it, um, has,  when I say success, because it's very, it's very relative, you know, success in the sense that they're moving around laterally, vertically learning new things, what separated you that one quality?

Compared to others who you kind of overtook, even though, you know, they may have all the 

smarts.  I really think it is a passion for what I was doing and the, what I, the funny thing is the whole time, whether I was in HR or whether I was leading large sales teams, I was growing leaders, you know, I was passionate about having a big vision and then just getting the whole team rallied around that and implementing it.

I thought that was so much fun. And, uh, it was funny because, you One of the most challenging roles I had was when I moved from, uh, over from the landline side of the business over to the wireless side of the business, and I was leading a 2200 person sales team. 13 out of 14 of my direct reports were men and 14 out of 14 had been in retail sales for their entire career.

And nobody wanted in the, on that team, nobody wanted me to take that job. Everyone wanted this really high potential guy who had been.  Man, man to get that job, you know, not you, not a woman, not me, not, not a woman and not a woman with no sales experience.  And you know, so I had a really uphill battle taken over that team. 

And that actually is chapter 6 of our book, Courageous Cultures, is how we completely transform that team to the winning all kinds of sales awards and you're exceeding revenue targets and getting, you know, why it was leadership. It was leadership. Right. And, you know, so I love that. And I remember when I took over that team, the guy who was my right hand guy, he's like, Karen, you're running so fast and I'm running with you and like my watch is spinning around on my wrist because I think I've lost so much weight trying to keep up, you know, but that's the passion.

That's that same little girl that ran across the campus. 

Yeah. Yeah. That, that's been the common thread. Karen, I want to stay here with you for a second because a lot of people when they hear this, right.  Um, and all credit where it's due, but a lot of people when they hear is, Oh gosh, follow your passion. I don't know what that means.

Where does it come from? How do you ignite it? How do you find it? Some say it's a garden. You got to plant the seed. You got to nurture. Some say just do things. How  would you, how would you explain this to someone who  wants this? Passion and how important it sounds, but they have no clue where to begin.

Yeah, I would look to the, what makes like to your point, what feels good in your body, you know, um, and not what somebody thinks you should be doing. And, you know, and, and if you are in a role, right. So, you know, one could argue, I just sold cell, I sold phones, right. But I didn't sell phones. I mean, I did sell phones, but what I did was do, you know, in where I was planted.

built my passion, which was leading large teams, establishing a big vision, doing that kind of thing. So even, you know, a lot of times people say to me, I have to be in this job right now. There's not, you know, circumstances. I had a whole stint as a single mom. I couldn't relocate. I get it. You know, there's, you know, but you can still find which elements of this role light you up and how can you seek out opportunities to, to do the things that bring you true joy.

And it's not all going to be easy. I mean, there are, there are a lot of bad days, right? There were a lot of bad days, but what is it that ignites you? And if, and if you don't feel, I'm really feeling very sad right now for some of my friends. Who have gotten to my age, right? So, uh, you know, and my age is, I spent two decades at Verizon and 10 years at Let's, running Let's Go Leaders.

So that gives you a sense of my age, right? But who get to my age and, which we still have a long way to go in terms of contribution to give to the world. Who are like, it's too late now. Oh. And, 

and it's breaking my heart. It's tragic when I hear 

that. You know, and I'm just going to play it out.  I'm like, you got one life.

No, 

I, I, Karen, I, even my mom says it's too late and she has an idea and she's thinking about opening an Instagram account. I'm like, do it, do it. Life expectancy is not our parents life, our grandparents life. It's just, yeah, it's too hard. Yeah, it is too hard. But like you said, yes, it's not easy.  No, it's not easy.

There will be certain bad days. I think the good days far exceed the bad days. Otherwise, why would we even do it? But we don't want to find out. So no, I, I, I hear that. And I'm, I'm so happy, uh, that you explained it in almost like this physicality, right? In the, in the way that you did.  So Karen, you and I have talked backstage before we've met before, right?

I kind of know what's coming, but I want to hear, cause I know you left some details out because I wanted to hear this from you.  Directly from the horse's mouth. Everything sounds great, like things were going really well. 

The Decision to Leave Verizon and Start a New Venture

Let's go back to your time at Verizon. Talk to us about that decision you made to leave.

Yeah. And, you know, obviously there's more to it about how you started your business and, and versus going to another company. You could have been another sort of vice president somewhere doing really well without the hassle, without the stress of opening another, opening a business from scratch. But what made you do that?

But let's start with part one. about the decision.  

Yeah, so just I've got to give you a little bit of the backstory so you have some context. So one Saturday, I was morning, I was, I was driving back from the gym and my, my, my phone rings and it is my boss. And he says, Karen, um, they, you were about to get a call.

from a very, very high level person at Verizon. And they're going to offer you this job and I don't want you to be blindsided. So here's the job. It, they, we, so Verizon had just started selling the iPhone. Uh, there was a point in time where AT& T, now this is a long time ago, but AT& T had exclusive rights.

So why does that matter? Well, because what had happened was. Verizon had, because that decision had happened so quickly, uh, or the negotiation happened so quickly, I don't know why all of a sudden, but they had such an influx of customer calls, it was overwhelming all of our contact centers. So they went to all these outsource companies super fast and said, Can you, uh, build a 500 person call center and start taking our calls like now?

And all of these companies, because they wanted to work with Verizon, they said, Okay.  Absolutely we can do that right now. You do not need to be in the call center business to know that it is, you cannot train 500 people overnight. Right. Or even 

what are you, what are you doing? I, you're giving birth to adults.

Like where did they 

go? Like you just, it takes to build a great culture, to build a high performing team that takes  a long time. And so, um, so what happened was all these companies.  Um, had, we're struggling and the customer experience was abysmal. Now, I'm like on the phone now, keep in mind, I'm like at the top of my game right now.

Our, our sales team is like winning awards, like why would I leave this job to go take that job? And I said, so what do they want me to do? And he's like, well, we want you to  go figure out which of these call centers to close. And I'm like, Oh my goodness, you know, I don't know if you've seen the movie up in the air, but with George Clooney, but like he flies around and he has to fire a rebellion.

This is what I'm picturing. And I am like, you've met me, right? I'm a human centered leader. That sounds like the worst job in the world for me. But thank goodness he gave me an opportunity to the heads up because my first reaction was heck no, but my, but as I was driving, I thought, well, what if I do this?

What did I say?  I will take this role under two conditions. One, our role, because I like to, I like to rally a team towards a vision. Our job is not going to be which centers to close. What if our job is to get all these centers to parity with internal centers? Okay, so my vision was going to be. It's the same customer experience, no matter who takes the call.

Like that was our mission statement for this. And then I said, and I get to hire my direct report team because I was going to have four directors reporting into me. And I said, I'm, I get to, I get to make those hires. You're not going to, nobody's going to tell me who to hire because I did not want people who wanted to go fly around the country and shut down call centers.

I wanted human centered leaders who wanted to rally people towards an exciting vision. And I had built a lot of really good relationships over the years of other human centered leaders. 

And credibility. 

And credibility. And the reason they were calling me is because they knew I knew culture.  And, uh, they knew I could build these relationships with these external, uh, companies.

So, so fast forward. It's a couple years later. We're at the top of our game. Most of the centers are at parity with internal centers, right? This is a good. News story. I mean, you know, my team's all getting rated. Well, it's like we're so proud of ourselves. And all of the people in these call centers, all of these, you know, senior leaders that who own these call centers or the sea level, the call centers, I have built fantastic relationships with them.

They're proud of the work they're doing. These cultures are good where they're working, in low margins. Like, we're happy. Well, so, my boss's boss said, I want to come see it for myself.  So, uh, let's take the corporate jet, because We wanted to visit a whole bunch of them. Now, this is very exciting for me. I get to ride on the corporate jet.

Uh, you know, I'll keep in mind the last couple of years I have been like. Fancy Karen. Fancy Karen. And, 

and, and I want to say you, they almost didn't hire you, right? Because you were like, they didn't, they wanted a guy. Anyway, good, good. I'm loving this.  

So I'm like, Okay, this is so much fun. So, you know, I get in the corporate jet and you don't even have to go through security to be on the corporate jet and there's bagels, right?

It's exciting. And so we fly in, we fly all the way across the country to our top performing center. Now, this center is outperforming most of our internal centers, right? So there is, and I'm thinking we are there to celebrate.  And recognize and thank  the senior leader and the team and to see what they're doing and why they're so good  and one of the senior leaders who was there and I, that this where I will, I won't say who, because I don't like to disparage, but basically showed up is what I will write about in our books as a.

Toxic courage crushing behaviors. Hmm. I just walked in and was intimidating  mean, and I like, 

why, why, why Karen? Because this is the top performing center. I'm trying to understand. I think 

she was trying to say, I, you know, we are the, we are the client. I'm in charge. I want you, you know, and I fear and intimidation.

I think she really, that was her, sort of her mo like, you're gonna get better performance if you scare people. And that she, that's how she was,  and I was just destroyed as, Oh my gosh, I was embarrassed because,  right. Because these people were, they deserve to be recognized. And so this 

person represents the company.

She represents you, but you're like, no, that doesn't represent me. 

Right. Right. I was really, I was just destroyed. And, uh, so my boss was there and she saw the look on my face. And she just took me aside and she knew exactly, she knew I was about to say something and you know, I'm all about speaking up. You read my books and I'm all about speaking up.

Yeah. But she said, Karen, if you care about your career, you won't say what you're about to say.  And now there's a difference between courage and stupidity. And that was good advice from my boss. Because in the heat of anger,  I would have probably said something that would have completely destroyed my career.

Right? To this woman who  You know, it's not a human centered leader.  So  I went, I got back on the corporate jet and I took my laptop and I walked all the way to the back of the jet. They stayed in the front. I went all the way to the back and I pulled out my laptop and I just started writing down every single thing I believed about leadership. 

Like how you can get results and be a decent human being, how, how. How you empower, just every single thing I believed, I made this huge list  and then so I was like, at least I got it out, right? Like, this is my values. This is what I believe. Then on the way home, I called everybody who had seen the incident and I said, here's the thing.

We're going to keep leading the way we've always led. It's working. Don't worry about that. I apologize, but don't worry about that. So I'm still owning me and my leadership, right? And, but I did not destroy that relationship. And Karen, 

you talk a lot about human centric leadership in simple terms, right? If you had to explain it to my 11 year old, what would a human centered leader be 

like?

Yeah, it is funny that you say, if you would say it to your 11 year old, because we did. To do this, uh, raising Sebastian and, you know, it's landing in the end, landing in the end of two things,  landing in the end of confidence and humility. So what do I mean by that? The confidence to have an audacious vision, the confidence to stand up for what matters, the confidence to speak the truth.

Human centered leaders have that. Coupled with the and of humility surrounding yourself with people who will challenge you know your vulnerabilities as a as a human being as as a leader as an organization and being willing to admit when you're wrong. So, confidence and humility and then focus on results and relationships.

Results, setting clear expectations, holding people accountable to those expectations and relationships, fostering collaboration up, down and sideways, getting to know the people you're working with as human beings, you know, and we say, you know, we can't possibly give you a tool for every leadership situation you're ever going to have, but if you are entering in and you have to have a difficult conversation or terminate someone or run a contentious meeting, You're Pause. 

How do I show up in this moment with confidence and humility, focused on results and relationships? And if you pause and do it that way, you are much more likely to have a successful outcome. A 

hundred percent. I love that. And, uh, because it's. Tends to be traditionally one at the expense of the other and very binary thinking this or that you can be confident.

You can't be humble.  Don't let them see you weak. Don't let them see you cry  and and the human is like embrace all of that. It's OK because and that's probably what made you so successful in your two decades at Verizon.  

So then it's the weekend. And now what do I do?  And so I decided once I went to Barnes Noble and I bought a book and it was like how to write a blog.

And I opened the book and I just went chapter by chapter. I was like, Oh, figure out the name of the blog. All right. Let's grow leaders. Uh, you know, and I just went through and I put up this blog  and, uh, it was so funny too, because I don't know if you know Seth Godin, but he is, uh, yeah, really very famous in the marketing space.

Love him. Love 

him. So I had the stupidity, audacity to send him my first blog post. Which, by the way, was terrible.  So, you know, but he's all about ship your art. Just ship your art. So I sent him my blog post and I said, I love your work and I'm shipping my art. And he wrote back on a Sunday  and said, good for you.

Like. Not it's a good post. He didn't say that. He was just like, good for you for shipping your art. Uh, which is funny because he's now endorsed our latest book, which is really exciting. Uh, so yeah, I've, I've kept in touch with him. I've had him on my, my show. So, you know, these relationships evolve and again, a mentor or somebody who will support you.

Right. So it was then the blah, what I.  I still hadn't made a decision to leave Verizon. I was just finding my voice of, you know, what, what do I believe? And so I, I started this blog. What I did not expect is that it would sort of blow up, like get an international following. Then my phone started ringing.

Will you be our keynote speaker? Will you, um, you know, when are you writing your book? And I'm like, no, I have this stage up. I can't do that.  But then I had another moment. And it is funny how these moments. Right. Can become so pivotal.  I, one of these, um, chief operating officers from one of these call center companies said, look, Karen, I'm on the board of the international customer service association.

We need a keynote speaker. Would you be our keynote speaker? And I'm like, I'm not a keynote speaker. And he's like.  You could be  speaker. So why don't you just come on? Like, all right, well, so I took a day off from work because I didn't want there to be any conflict of interest. I did not accept pay and I went and keynoted this conference.

Well, I walk off the stage. And the guy who's coming up next was Shep Hyken. Now, Shep is a very well known, uh, very expensive keynote speaker, well known in the, in the call center space.  And, uh,  he says, when are you leaving Verizon?  And I said,  Did I say that from the stage? Cause I was so nervous. I don't know what I said.

And he goes, no, but if there's anybody who's meant to do this, it is you. It's like, you have such passion. You are speaking from the heart.  I think you could do this for a living.  And. He said, then he handed me his card and he said, I am also the president of the National Speakers Association. So if you decide you want to do this, call me.

So now like the universe is kind of telling me you should go do this thing. So I went home. I thought about it. And I, I decided to do it and I called Shep and he was very helpful and then I gave Verizon four months notice because I cared about my team and I didn't want anything. I really didn't want anything we had built to fall apart.

I wanted a smooth transition.  And then I walked away and started Let's Grow Leaders. So I took my blog and turned that into a, uh, a leadership and development company. Oh my God. 

I've got goosebumps listening to this story.  Wow. There's so many takeaways. First of all, I love back in the day, how blogs used to,  used to take off at SEO was so much easier than it is today, but you,  something called you from that, that horrible experience.

Um, Left you with such a sour taste and such a bitter taste in your mouth. And rather than forget about it over a glass of wine, um, you know, during the weekend, you were like, what am I going to do now? And you decided to buy a book on how to write a blog. Like you were like possessed or something. I don't know what was happening with you.

And you do this. So I love there's a couple of things here. I love how we are coming full circle in a way.  

The Power of Mentorship and Direction

You were fangirling with Seth Godin and he replies to you on a Sunday, you were fangirling that, that dude that had, you know, in the, in the beginning we talked about during your PhD days. And the second thing was Both those times, those first two mentors we talked about at the start of our conversation, unlikely questions they asked you and they  pivoted completely the direction that you were going to take.

And the same thing happened again because this dude, Shep, right? Oh, sorry. 

The Unexpected Path to Keynote Speaking

Even, even before Shep, the international, uh, custom service organization wants you to be a keynote speaker. You said, I'm actually, I don't do that. He said, you could be a keynote speaker. Uh, these, I think these are  completely.  I hate life changing.

I hate saying that because it's so overused, but they are so like.  Perspective shift type questions because they are questioning the very source of your identity, right? I'm not, I'm a Verizon person who does this and is heading customer service and call center. You could be the keynote speaker. Oh, you could do this in HR.

Oh, you could be a VP. You've got 35 people under you? 35? 2100? It's not a big difference.  It's like these leaps that you've taken that look completely risky to the outside world. They presented themselves in such a way that they didn't look so crazy to you. And I think it comes down to the power of those perspective shifting questions.

So completely love this. 

The Influence of Seth Godin and Personal Branding

And  I could not love Seth Godin more. It's a dream of mine to have him on the show. Far away from me, but I've quoted him so many times in my, even in my resume course, I have a digital course on resumes  on my website. And one of the chapters is about personal brand on your resume.

I've quoted him twice because I talk about having a slogan, like Nike has a slogan,  just be, you know, just, just, it's one way to stand out. And he has certain perspectives on what. What do you think about as far as marketing yourself is concerned? And I quoted him. So I love that you, uh, you approached him.

Ship your art. You've got to ship the product. Done is better than perfect. 

The Journey of Starting a YouTube Channel

Um, and as so many people say this, when I started my YouTube channel, your first few videos will be your worst few videos. Like. If they, if you're, if you're scared to start, it's going to suck, you might as well just do it because, uh,  looking back, that's those videos make me cringe.

I'm like, what was I thinking? And probably the same for you for your blog post. But, and there's so many people that unfortunately, when I see that they have deleted their first four years or three years of their YouTube channel, because they're like, it's too cringy. I'm like, actually, I, I'm proud. I'm really proud.

People say you shouldn't be too proud because, uh, that means you already peaked. And I'm like, no, no, no, I'm proud of how far I've come. It's all right. And I'm no, I'm no, when you're a professional and I'm, I'm sure you think the same, right? I'm always improving. I'm always getting better. It's never finished.

So. Legitimately, like this is one of my favorite stories of all time.  And you were like, okay, I'm going to do it. It's not as simple. Okay. I'm going to do it. 

The Decision to Walk Away from a Stable Job

You walked away from life changing money back there. So I'm sure it wasn't an easy decision for you. Um,  it became clear to you, I think, right. So clear that so clear that you, you couldn't think about joining another company anymore.

You were like, I have to do this. And, and, and, and Karen as romantic as this sounds, right.  Talk to us about this.  You,  what were those early months and years like to land paid clients? Were they beating down the door? It was your phone ringing off the hook. So there's two parts. Once I got that, there's two parts.

You can see I'm very greedy. 

The Challenges of Starting a Business and Working as a Couple

It's not just that you were doing this, but you were also doing this as part of a married couple. Okay. I mean, it's one thing to like have a lovely time with my husband and it's very different to see him day and night. So that. Talk to us about both these sides, landing business, business development, um, how you got your first client that actually paid you, like not, uh, you know, uh, pro bono stuff and, uh, working, um, as a couple.

All right. So a lot, a lot of things. 

The Love Story Behind the Business

So first I gotta tell you a little bit of the love story because I was not married to David when I, uh, started Let's Grow Leaders. So we met, um. I was, I was single, uh, we, we met online, not the swipe right, swipe left kind of online. We met blogging. So here comes the blog again, a blog for the win.

If you're, if you're, you know, looking for true love after 40, you know, write a book. So we were, and he, uh,  said, uh, he had read something I had written a blog and he, he actually called. Cause I had my phone number on the, on the. Website and he said, uh, when are you leaving a Verizon? So I'm still at Verizon, but I've already made the decision to leave.

And I said, why do you say that? You're the, do you know Shep Iken? He just said that to me. Why does everybody keep asking me that? And he said, your, your posts are getting edgier. Like I was getting bolder  and he said, I'm a year ahead of you. I have left a big executive role and I, so if you need any help and he's like, and plus you should join the National Speakers Association, which is so funny, right?

Because everybody's telling me join the National Speakers Association. So, um, so the.  It was a lovely conversation and we, you know, and we knew like I ran something called a front front line festival where other bloggers submitted their articles and I did summaries and you showed up kind of generous in that community and he's part of that.

But so we're a lot of people, right?  So.  Then, um, we go to a book publishing lab because, uh, uh, there was this, uh, National Speakers Association had this thing that you could go and they would, you know, introduce you to publishers and show you how to write a book proposal. Cause I really want, I had a self published book and so did he, but we both wanted a real traditionally published book. 

And so we met and we realized we were writing the same book, pretty much. Right? Human centered leaders get results. Don't be a jerk.  Practical.  And we said, well,  we should collaborate sometime. Yeah. I went home and I call, I thought about it. I called him. I said, let's do it. He was do what? Write an article? I said, no, let's write this book together. 

And now the thing is, our personalities are so different. Like, I'm like, as you can see, I kind of like, yeah, let's go do this. Like, just, and he's like, um,  let's write a book proposal and see if we are really aligned. So he makes us write this, like, really, you know, you got to do all the research in the market.

And I would never have done it that way. 

Way to kill, way to kill the momentum. 

But he was right. Right. So then, um, So we write this book proposal and then we write the, we get it, we get a book contract and we write the book. He's living in Colorado. I am living in Maryland. We are now becoming best friends, right?

Because like we're, we're talking every single day. We're chatting, we've got a chat, a Facebook chat up on our, our computer all day. And you know, Oh, what do you think about this?  And neither one of our businesses are very strong at this point. So we have plenty of time to write this book and apparently plenty of time to fall in love.

Didn't realize after the book is published that we have fallen in love.  And so then, uh, we, we get married, we, he had a business, I had a business, we merged our businesses, or as I like to say, let's go leaders acquired trailblaze. And, um, and, and that's, that's.  

That gives, that gives a company merger a whole new meaning.

So, uh, no, I love this story. And even back then when you said no, um, that you were both writing the same book and you were like, Oh, okay, let's do it. He said, let's do what? I thought you were going to say, let's get married.  

Oh, that would be hysterical. That would have been an even better story. That would have, if he would have been right then, that would have been an 

even better story.

Oh, but, but I love this. I was just, I was just checking him out on LinkedIn and, and, um, I've, I've heard of this book, Wishing Well. Um, and it's, uh, Winning well, I'm sorry, wishing well, it's, it's on the back of your shelf as well. So, so this is a fantastic. You both obviously have a lot to say and you know, um, Karen, I'm feeling, I'm feeling a bit edgy when you said you're, you know, when he noticed, because for someone like him.

Because you say it's more calculated, more thought thoughtful, and you are more like, um, action work completely relate with that. I think we have a similar dynamic in my family. And then, you know, when he said to you, what are you leaving Verizon? And you were like, you said, what makes you ask that? He said, your posts are getting your blog posts are getting edgier.

Can you give me an example? We're talking about eight, 10 years ago, what an edgy. 

Yeah, one of the things I was speaking a lot on was authenticity and that try, stop trying to make every person on your team fit a mold.  And so one of the, you know, some of the, some examples, you know, I was, when I, uh, was promoted into that, that call center job, my boss took me aside and said, you And said, I think you should take 3, 000 and invest them in expensive shoes. 

And I was like, what does that have to do with leading a high performing team? And I really, I did not do that. Um, I also got feedback. Um, you know, you smile too much. You laugh too much. Your team seems like it's having too good of a time. We need, you need to be more serious.  You need to be serious 

and you need to wear Jimmy Choo's.

Make this make sense. Yeah, and I'm like, have you seen our results? Because it doesn't matter that my shoes are 70 shoes. And it does not, and my team's results are so good because we are having  fun while we're doing it. That's half the battle. So I was kind of ranting against that. Yeah. 

Oh, I, I, somebody had to.

Oh my goodness. I'm so glad. I'm so glad that was you because they were going down a very,  almost self destructive path to be talking about. Don't have too much fun at work. Don't wear shoes from Payless shoe source. Like wear something expensive. Oh goodness me. Coming. It's a different mindset. It's coming from almost. 

I don't know. For me, it's almost like a different generation. 

It was. I mean, you don't see that stuff now most of the time, right? Yeah, 

but people do say, you know, do, you know, dress up for the role you want if it means investing in, you know, 3, 000 Hugo Boss. And I'm like, wow, really? Clothes really make the man?

I don't know. I feel like it's, um, yeah, it's dwindling, but you do, you know, hear about it. Um, so. And, and Karen, when it came to your, uh, before the companies merged and before the two of you got married  while you were on your own, right? 

The Struggles and Triumphs of Acquiring First Clients

Those first few weeks, months, years are so incredibly lonely and hard and yes.

And hard because they're lonely, right? They feed into each other. Talk to us about, uh, how you acquired those first few clients. How did they start trickling in? How long did that take for you? It 

took too long.  It was so, I mean, I, I really want to be honest with you about that because your listeners, you don't want to say, oh, it's easy.

And I actually, I took a hundred thousand dollars and said, I will, I am willing to lose.  Invest, it's not loose. I am willing to invest a hundred thousand dollars before I start really bringing in solid revenue. But if it goes past a hundred thousand dollars, I'm going to go get another job. 

So you mean you're off your own savings?

Of my own savings, 

that's what I said. I'm going to, cause you know, you've got to really build out the website and you need marketing and right. Like you've got to. Pay market, the book, there's all kinds of things that cost money to set up a business, right.  And, uh, I had to hire an assistant, you know, all those things.

And I came very close to blowing through that money before it all turned around. And, um, but it did, it did turn around. So the first client is an interesting story. I mean, I had little ones, little ones, 500 keynote here. Not, I mean, now I, that's how 

it, that's how it starts. Word of mouth. Right. Yeah, 

you, you got to start and you need to have a sizzle reel and you know, how do you get a sizzle reel as a keynote speaker if you're not keynote speaking?

Well, apparently I went to the back of my parents church basement  and there was a stage that we use like we used to do, you know, community theater. I went to the stage. I've been in that community theater all my whole life and I hired a videographer and I pretended I was being doing keynote speaking and I started that as my, my sizzle reel.

Like you have to start somewhere. 

You gotta be resourceful. I love this. I, that you didn't have to like hire a fake crowd and, you know, Photoshop. We're like, let's just do whatever I've got. And it's in my backyard. So 

why not? Yeah. So, you know, but then, um, I had one of the guys. Who was one of the clients, uh, you know, or it was like one of those call centers that I was the client Verizon was, you know, he calls again, not the same guy who told me to keynote speak another guy.

And he says,  um, can you come? I bring you my entire executive team together for an offsite, but I can't pay you. Hmm. 

Why not? Why not? Why not? I know, right? You got, you got deep pockets. Hello. 

I know, but I'm like, I need some film for the real,  right? So cause I just have the church basement stuff. So I said, I will, can I bring a video guy? 

And so I, so I, so I had some real footage and, um, and then he gave me at the end, a crystal bowl. So my, I'm like, okay, I got a crystal bowl. I still have the crystal bowl. Uh, but what happened next was interesting. So I had been sitting through his executive meeting, you know, through, before my time to speak.

And he was talking about his social media strategy, like how they were going to now be. Um, social media, they were going to be social media experts, this contact center, and they were going to, you know, be able to bring on all the social media work. And so now you've got to remember, I've become a social media expert, right?

I have 70, 000 Twitter followers. So I go online in the back of the room and I want, I'm like looking them up and I'm like. Oh, my goodness. How are they going to sell social media services if their social media account is this fast.  So I have an audacity to say to this guy at the break. So I've already spoken and I said, would you, are you interested in my thoughts on some of the strategic planning that you're doing here today?

I said, I'm totally out of my lane. I know you hired me to talk about leadership and I know I'm out of my lane.  But I also am somebody who believes in speaking the truth. Do you want my opinion? And he's like, sure. And I said, I think you're not ready to do this strategy. And he goes, why? And I said, and I pulled up, I said, I've been spending a lot of time on social media.

I, you know, I, this, and I know some things about this and I see what you guys are doing and I don't think it's going to work  because they're going to, first thing they're going to do is do what I did and say, do they know what they're doing? And, uh,  he said,  would you like a project?  And. He gave, he says, would you be willing to go to El Salvador and go to this call center?

And, and so I went and I, I got this very big consulting project. Okay. Okay. It wasn't, it wasn't leadership development, but it was strategic vision and it paid the bills, right? It was enabled me to pay back myself for all that investment. And 

the rest is history, right? Karen, because it leads to something else.

I love the story because. Um,  again, it's like the universe, like you want paid work, you'll get paid work. Now, what that paid work is may or may not align with your bread and butter that you want to be paid for, but that somehow it happened. I, I, one thing I want to walk away from, and I'm very guilty of this.

So I want to call myself out. You know, there's so many times where you people, you see people ranting on LinkedIn, especially women. And I'm one of them that are like, Hey, you got to pay pay us, man. You want us to speak? Pay especially self employed people, right? And I'm like, you know, a crystal bowl and exposure.

I even had a poem on LinkedIn exposure burns, exposure kills, exposure does not pay my bills. Yeah.  Having said that, when you're starting out. When you're starting out,  the opportunity cost is zero anyway. Well, what am I doing? You know, and, and in terms of business development, I've done my first few, um, speaking engagements for free as well.

You know, maybe it was a not for profit. They didn't have any budget. Sometimes they have the budget. They greedy after a while you build up enough credibility. So yeah, sure. These are my fees. When would you like me to speak? No, we, that comes with time. The confidence doesn't come right away because we haven't proven ourselves.

So I love that you, you, you pivoted in, into a different area. And you also said this in, uh, in an earlier part of the conversation, uh, there's a line, there's a difference between courage and stupidity. I think there's a very fine line between courage and stupidity. And also  courage is 51%, maybe stupidity is 49%, but, but, you know, hey, to say this to some, you're not ready for this.

And nobody wants to hear that, but you were like, Following that voice that said,  it's better you say it now. So they don't feel stupid about it later. And you did and look where it got you. So this is unbelievable.  I also want to talk to you, Karen. This is so interesting. 

The Impact of Workplace Conflict and the Power of Communication

Now you and David are,  um, have done this. 

I don't know, at least a couple of years, this juicy research and, um, for those who are listening on the podcast, you can't see Karen's background, but she's done a whole, uh, you know, uh, conflict at the workplace study and it's even resulted in a book and we're going to talk about that. So you've done this juicy research.

On workplace conflict, and it's got 5, 000 human beings, 5, 000 participants from 45 countries and all 50  U. S. states.  So. My question is, Karen, this sounds like a lot of hard work, okay? I'm all about low hanging fruit.  Now, there's probably, like the devil's advocate is telling me, there's probably loads of research that already exists, with, you know, the McKinsey's of the world, with D.

Lloyd, Berson by D. Lloyd, Josh Berson, all these cool people.  What made you take this on your shoulders,  And say, this needs to be done today.  Talk to us about this research, what was the most surprising thing that you found out about the results? 

Yeah, so I think it's one thing to, you know, read somebody else's research and say, okay, you know, like Gallup, you know, we're big, you know,  managers are more disengaged than they ever have been, right?

Like it's. But, but what is that, like, unless you're really mucking around in the data, like if you really want to understand, so what happened was our publisher, so we have, um, Winning Well, and then we have Courageous Cultures, so we're published with HarperCollins, and Tim, uh, our editor over there calls one day and said, Hey, um, would you like to write a book about workplace conflict?

Um, here's the title powerful phrases for dealing with workplace conflict. He gave us a title, which is not usually how things go. Right. And he's like, our, our, our market research team. Is saying this, this book needs to be written. Now, here's the thing, like we had a sense of what was happening with conflict in the workplace or since the pandemic and the shift to remote work.

Cause we do work with organizations all over the world. And we had a sense  where, you know, we wanted to do it right. And Courageous Cultures was very much research based, and we didn't feel like we could just phone in this book. We really wanted to understand what was happening. Is conflict getting worse or better with the shift to remote work?

Why? What are people regretting about the way they're showing up with conflict? What's missing in our approach to conflict?  And so we invested in this stuff is not inexpensive to your point, it is expensive to be able to go out and get that many people, you know, through panels and, and then to do the analysis in a correct way. 

But I think, you know, it's 1 thing to say, this is my theory. And it's another thing to say, this is what 5000 people are thinking and feeling. And we just wanted to do anything we're doing to serve our community. We wanted to be sure it was right. So, and then, you know, there's something when you go through all of these verbatims and we've asked people about, um, think about a workplace conflict that you've had.

Um, if you had a chance to do it over, what would you do differently?  And 55 percent said, I would stay calm.  And like, be more patient and then 21 percent said, I would speak up sooner. And when you read through these verbatims, their level of regret that people have for not saying something level of anxiety, the level of staying miserable,  not getting what they needed, not advocating for themselves.

Right. And so what we wanted to do is give people really practical tools to solve for that problem. And that, and that's what this book is all about. Amazing. 

Um,  I wish I'd spoken up sooner  and what was the other one?  

Stay calm. Stay calm. But the reason people don't, they can't stay calm because they don't have the tools.

No, no. Yeah. Yeah. I hear that. Take a beat before you tweet. Um, can you give an example of a phrase  that  can help us to stay calm as opposed to lash out in the heat of the moment? 

Yeah. So we, we taught, we have 12 phrases that I'm not going to give y'all 12, but that we call our goats, um, our greatest of all times, uh, you know, powerful phrases and they, they're falling to four categories and the four categories.

Our connection. Start with connection. So a, a powerful phrase that with connection is to say, Hey, I really care about you and what we're doing here, and I'm sure there's a solution that we can come up with that will be good for both of us. Mm-Hmm. Right? Mm-Hmm. So you start there. Uh, and, uh, but you of course have to really care about them to say that.

Otherwise, if it's disingenuous, authenticity. 

Oh yeah. Absolutely. 

Absolutely. Right. Um, or another way to deescalate a conversation. That's a connection. One is.  It sounds to me like you're really frustrated,  right? So the person feels hurt, like not, you're not just coming back and like, I'm mad too. It sounds to me like you're really frustrated.

So we call that a reflect to connect. So that's, you know, connection one, a clarity one. Um, what would a successful outcome do for you?  What would that 

look like? Yeah. 

Because if I'm trying to accomplish this and you're trying to accomplish that, well, we're going to stay in conflict if we're not working towards the same goal.

So getting the clarity about what success looks like is really a good one. So yeah. Connection. You got clarity. Then curiosity.  Um, a good curiosity one, you know, tell me more. Yeah. Yeah. Um, how does this look from your perspective, right? And show up and be genuinely interested in what the other person is going to say next.

And the last category is commitment, uh, which is a lot of conflicts.  Escalate because they just swirl. We don't find a next step out of it. So a commitment is where we're going to, you know, what are we doing from here? What is one next step? We can both agree to here.  

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I love this. So we said clarity, curiosity, connection,  what was the commitment?

I love, love this. I think you're, you know, when you said go to definitely is, these are some of the greatest ones. Uh, uh, I'm remembering even Chris Voss, right. And never split, never split the difference. He says, uh, you got to name that emotion to tame it first. So I can sense that you're feeling frustrated.

We call it out because then the other person's like, Yeah, how do you know? Like, don't keep that under the carpet, right? So, uh, it sounds like this book is going to help a lot, lot, lot of people. Because if there's one thing  that is not going to go away anytime soon, it's conflict. Whether it's at work or, um, in the world in general.

So Uh, so Karen, there is this one question I ask all my guests and I'm curious about yours, right? When you look back on your career, almost 30 years, is there one standout defining moment that supercharged  your career and helped you to move closer to your current success?  

Yeah, I honestly think  It is that moment on the plane. 

I really do.  

When you, when you, uh, created that physical distance and you wanted to be at the back of the 

plane. And I had to center myself and say, what is it? Who am I going to be?  And, you know, that it was like, who am I going to be? And I didn't have it all planned out. It was like, I was like, Oh, I'm going to go start my own business.

But what I did was I said, I am going to ground myself,  you know, in what, in, in who I am, what I value, what I care for and take a moment. I don't know what's going to happen next, but I know I'm going to ground myself. And I think that was the moment. 

Yeah, yeah. And, um, yeah, actually, there's so many moments, right?

Probably that connect so well together. But I think that was that crescendo from where there was no turning back. You didn't know it at the time, but there was no turning back. I can't believe your company's 10 years old.  

Me either. And, you know, and it's successful. I mean, we, you know, we work all over the world.

Nestle is one of our clients. We work with some fast growing startups. We have, um, you know, it's keynoting, it's, uh, leadership development programs. It's books. It's products. And so, yeah. So that's what I would say. I hope people will find some encouragement to just start 100 

percent 100%. So, um, we're recording this, uh, by the time this, this, um, episode comes out, it'll be early 2000. 

When does your book, cause I'm going to, I'm going to just call it a, call the name out. And then I'm going to put it in the show notes as well. It's called powerful phrases for dealing with workplace conflict by Karen Hurt. Karen is K A R I N and David Dye. So that's D Y E. E. When does this book come out and how can we get our grubby little hands on them? 

Yeah. So it is available for pre order now. So through any major outlet, you know, Amazon or any of the other guys. Uh, so, uh, you'd go ahead and just order it and then you'll have a special surprise in May. Uh, so it comes, it will be 

released May 14th. May 14, 2024, definitely. And, uh, for anyone who wants to learn more about you, Karen, what's the best way for them to do that?

The best way is our website, which is Let's Grow Leaders. And, uh, we, we write a blog that, you know, comes up. Still writing a blog. 

That same blog, that same blog from 

Wow. Yeah. Wow. Love that. So lots of free resources at that, at that site. 

Perfect. Perfect. I will list the website, um, the book as well as your LinkedIn profile for anyone who wants to follow along the journey and, and, you know, get more updates, Karen, it's been such a pleasure.

Thank you so much for your time and I wish you and your better half  so much success with everything you do. 

Uh, thank you so much. It's been absolutely a delight to talk with you.  

Hey there. Thank you for taking. The time to listen to today's show. If you loved it, please do leave me a review on Apple podcasts. 

I search high and low to bring you the very best guests, and I'm so proud to bring you their stories and game changing career lessons, the best compliment that you could ever give me is taking a screenshot of today's episode and sharing it with your LinkedIn network and tagging me at Sonal Behl, S O N A L B A H L.

I look forward to spending time together on the next episode of the How I Got Hired podcast. Take care of yourself 

and bye for now. 

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