Karin’s Leadership Articles

One of the most important leadership lessons of my life happened five minutes after I stepped off that stage. I’d been giving out recognition awards on my massive “road trip,” a 27 states in 45 days kind of tour of motivational kick off meetings in Verizon Wireless’ outsourced call centers.

I was the “client”–read that “scary exec”–who was doing everything in my capacity to have my team viewed as developers, not auditors.

As I made my way to the back of the room from the makeshift stage, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned around to find a small, gray-haired women with eyes gleeming with pride. It was Lisa, the service rep who had swept the recognition awards. Lisa was one of the heroines in this call center’s turnaround story, I was delighted to talk to her to understand the secret to her success.

“Lisa, congratulations! You’ve got to tell me, what’s the secret?”

What she said next was so utterly simple and yet totally profound.

“Last year I was almost fired.  My metrics were a disaster.

Everyone kept telling me that I needed to be more confident, to be the expert for our customers. But the problem was I just wasn’t FEELING confident. And I didn’t THINK of myself as an expert.

And then one day, my team leader gave me an opportunity to re-record my opening greeting. I decided this was my big chance to sound absolutely energetic, confident, and convey my expertise. I recorded it again and again until it sounded just right.

And then a miraculous thing happened. The customers heard that greeting. They began to greet me with comments like, “Wow, you sure sound cheerful for so early in the morning.” Or, “I am glad that I got the expert, I should be in good hands.” Well, after that I just had to stay cheerful, and began feeling more confident. And you know what, I had to be an expert. Turns out, I am one.

After thousands of calls, only once have I had a customer respond to this in a negative way. My customers are getting a great experience because I know I can deliver it.

And now, here I am.”

That’s what we SHOULD have been celebrating… her story… that’s what the others needed to hear. Why hadn’t I heard the back story BEFORE I’d taken the stage? Why had I wasted that recognition moment?

I vowed to no longer be the executive hand-shaker without getting the details. (See also:  why your recognition is backfiring).

Full of confident-humility, she was poised to teach me what mattered most.

You Can Too

Even if it seems impossible to go that deep, it’s worth it.

Take time to understand the turnarounds. Hear the whole story. Ensure others know it too. Know matter how many layers fall between, as a leader, it’s always your job to know the good stuff.

I promise. It’s worth it.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Terri Klass

    Thanks Karin for sharing that awesome turnaround story! I find that leaders don’t always have the belief that they can have a re-do and end up just replaying their old scripts. When I work with managers who feel stuck in repeating an unsuccessful strategy, I ask them: What would happen if you tried approaching this differently? What are you most afraid of? Sometimes it is pure fear of failure that prevents us from digging deeper. Taking a chance is often what we need to do.

    Thanks Karin and I will share this story with my clients!

    • Karin Hurt

      Terri, Thanks so much! I totally agree with you that it’s often the fear of failure that keeps us from growing. Excellent add.

  2. David Tumbarello

    I am reminded of a Six Sigma concept called the 5 Why’s. Lisa won the award. (Now pretend this is at the stage when you could gather the back-story.) Why? She won it because her metrics were up and she made a difference in the unit’s performance. Why? She not only knew her material but customers complimented her knowledge and credibility. Why? She was extremely confident and came to work with the voice of an expert. Why? She had a conversation with her team leader and was encouraged to re-record her message. Why? Metrics told one story but in reality she was an expert.

    This is a long winded way of saying that it takes some probing to get to the bottom of metrics. While the numbers tell a story, usually there is a person or group making a fundamental change. Tell that story and you will inspire and move others!

    • Karin Hurt

      David, Excellent point. That’s a great way to teach this concept to leaders. Thanks for extending the conversation.

  3. LaRae Quy

    Thanks for sharing that great story, Karin!

    It’s an excellent example of how much more powerful we can be as speakers, leaders, etc when we take the time to excavate the significance of our stories. We all have them, and they are such effective tools!

    • Karin Hurt

      LaRae, I so agree. Storytelling is one of my favorite ways to help leaders grow.

  4. Alli Polin

    Great example of what we can learn when we stop long enough to make a connection vs making an appearance. We had tons of execs and clients come through our call center but few did more than admire the buzz on their way to the conference room to hear about the great work we were doing. Sadly, there was more to learn from walking the floor than a 45 minute PPT presentation. People thought it was too much of a risk – letting the bigwigs talk to the frontline reps. Truth is, they were the heart of the operation – not the SVP who briefed them later that afternoon.

    Great story!

    • Karin Hurt

      Alli, I think we need to get together and talk call centers! I’ve been doing some writing around that as well. I’ve seen the scene you described repeated over and over.

  5. Steve Borek

    Wow, what a great message.

    As leaders, we can be the conductor for change by enabling change to begin with.

    I can’t tell you how many situations where organizations say they want change yet don’t provide the tools to incorporate said change.

    Leaders need to model the way.

    Another avenue is to understand what motivates each person. What are their values? Who do they want to become? Be overly curious about what this person wants for their personal and professional life. Not enough is being done in this area.

    This particular call center was motivated by a couple of things. Fear of losing her job. Pride.

    What stood out for me was the leader took a little time with the person to uplevel their situation. And it worked!

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