SDL’s Founder and CEO, Karan Ferrell-Rhodes, was featured on Secret Ops Podcast, speaking on “Exploring the Evolving Landscape of Human Resources and Leadership.”

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From the show notes:

In this episode: 
Karan Rhodes is the Founder and CEO of Shockingly Different Leadership, a leading professional services firm who is changing the way HR-functions scale up during peak period of work.

With over a decade of experience as an executive in Human Resources and Leadership Development, we discuss how to rethink and pivot global workforce infrastructures and people strategies, while also preparing their leaders to better lead the redefined operations.


[03:38] Individuality in the Workplace

[12:57] Trends in Human Resources

[16:44] Performance Management

[21:40] Skills Assessment and Upskilling

[39:13] Seven Exemplary Leadership Tactics

[30:53] Technology Implementation Challenges

[43:17] Practical Application of Leadership Tactics


Karan Rhodes (00:00:02) – Everybody is not uniform and appreciating their unique brilliance that they bring to the table. That’s one of the most important things I’ve found over the years, because if you’re able to tap into that, then you have earned the right to be heard by them, and then they’ll be more energized to follow whatever your suggestion is that you’re trying to get them to do.

Ariana Cofone (00:00:26) – Welcome to Secret Ops, the podcast uncovering the world of operations, one episode at a time. I’m your host, Ariana Cofone. And today’s guest is Karan Ferrell Rhodes, founding executive and lead organizational strategist of shockingly different leadership. Now, Karan has been a Chief Human Resources Officer for over a decade, and in that capacity is an insane wealth of knowledge, not only just in best practices. She’s done a ton of research understanding how to be a good leader and the qualities of a good leader. So throughout this episode, I learned a ton from where we were in HR a decade ago to where we are today and helping leaders do their best work.

Ariana Cofone (00:01:12) – So let’s jump in. Karan, welcome to Secret Ops. I had this big smile in my my brain when I knew we were going to be talking today because as someone who’s been a Chief Human Resources Officer for over a decade in the leadership space, you have seen so much change over the last decade plus in the industry. And I would say not everyone leans into this world. So what is it about human resources leadership strategy that really, I don’t know, piques your interest, gets you going?

Karan Rhodes (00:01:49) – Yeah, that’s a great question. I will share that when I first when I was in college, I started out and I have a degree in industrial organizational psychology, which is basically this, psychology of the workplace or the world of work. And I thought I wanted to go into clinical practice about that, but with using that degree. But I realized I really love overdosing on business and business strategy. And I was thinking, gosh, what what kind of profession can I go into where I could combine both loves? And I knew I didn’t want to, you know, become an academic and teach as a college. I wanted to be where the fun was out in the world. So long story short, and believe it or not, back when I was in school, I was telling my age, I didn’t even know about Human Resources until I got to learn more about business school because I was in, the sciences at the time. So when I heard and read about human resources, I was like, that’s it. That’s where I need to be. And then when, you know, exploring those courses and I, realized there was a lot under the umbrella of human resources, you know, there was talent development and leadership, and, you know, you name it, there’s, you know, all these different functions under that umbrella. And I thought this, this, these are my people. This is where I need to be.

Ariana Cofone (00:03:15) – How do you think? I mean, I am very intrigued by organizational psychology. What I guess from your studying, like what is maybe the most valuable thing that you learned in school that brought you, that you brought into the world of human resources, or like a way of thinking, even maybe something that people who didn’t have that education can, can bring into their days.

Karan Rhodes (00:03:38) – What I realized early on is that every person in the workplace, in the workplace, is like an employee of one. They are a superstar one. And yes, you’ll see a lot of models and suggestions and strategies which are valid within themselves. I’m not saying they aren’t, but when you’re in implementation mode, you really have to make sure that to the best of your ability, you can take into account the psyche, the values, the desires, the passions of that individual, and then customize your conversation or discussion or a bit of encouragement based on them. So realizing that, everybody is not uniform and appreciating their unique brilliance that they bring to the table, that’s one of the most important things I’ve found over the years, because if you’re able to tap into that, then you have earned the right to be heard and by them, and then they’ll be more energized to follow whatever your suggestion is that you’re trying to get them to do.

Ariana Cofone (00:04:56) – Oh my gosh, every layer just sort of blew my mind as you were talking. Employee of one, I think you you’ve said it so perfectly, because I think this is also what we’re seeing more within like work culture, is, you know, you have your group mindset, you have your company goals, but you have individuals with individual goals, whether that’s monetary, whether that’s career growth, whether that’s just how they want their lives to look. How do you balance both things at once? Right. Because at the end of the day, we need to make revenue. We need to be productive, we need to be efficient, but we also need to support individuals. And I’ve seen, especially for newer managers or newer leaders, that’s a really hard balance to strike. So how how do you coach people in finding that sweet spot?

Karan Rhodes (00:05:40) – You know, it’s tough. And I would say that, you know, I would encourage leaders and managers to change the term balance into the term prioritization, because there are times that in order for the business to be sustainable or if they’re going through a crisis or the industry is going through a transformation, there are going to be times that you’re going to need to prioritize doing what it takes as a leader to get your team rallied around keeping the business afloat, sustainable and successful.

Karan Rhodes (00:06:20) – And then there are times when things are, you know, plug it around quite nicely, and you have a little bit of bandwidth, you know, to keep up with those, weekly or monthly or quarterly, one on ones and do all the leader or management hygiene that you should be doing at all times and then you can focus on doing that. Well. So for the times that you can do both, I if you are a manager or a leader, you definitely should. But I encourage, you know, people, leaders to give themselves a bit of grace when times are tough or when they need to buckle down, that they do what is best for the business because that’s going to keep be what keeps the, you know, their team employed. But explain it to all the individuals and let them know and say, hey, you know, for the next couple of months, we’ve got we have a merger going on and, you know, it’s going to be all hands on deck. I’m going to try my best to keep up with all of our, you know, conversations.

Karan Rhodes (00:07:22) – But just know I’ve got to work with you to focus on the business. And then hopefully in a couple of months that we can get back to normal. So it’s very dynamic and very fluid in the world of business, as you know.

Ariana Cofone (00:07:36) – Totally. Well, that’s a great point too, because I think that if I were to think about my younger self, the mistakes I made being a manager, it was not communicating until I knew an answer or knew what was going to happen 100%. And sometimes that is the case. Like you want to have a very clear answer if it’s going to affect somebody’s salary or benefits or whatever may be. But also, you know, I think especially 2020, it’s like, I don’t know what’s going to happen. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. So the only thing that I can tell you is that this is how we’re navigating this. This is what we’re seeing. This is where our focus needs to be in. My focus is in case I’m not, you know, showing up the way I normally show up.

Ariana Cofone (00:08:17) – It’s so hard, though, in those moments to be like, okay, zoom out, communicate your needs, you know, in addition to your team’s needs. Especially somebody who is, you know, an HR leader in the business. How do what do you think is the role of a Chief Human Resources Officer in embedding that culturally within a business embedding? I guess, like radical candor is the best way I could put it or, you know, honesty, like, even if you may not have all the answers. Like how? Because not again, that’s not like a skill everybody has coming into being a leader or a manager. So how have you instilled that?

Karan Rhodes (00:09:03) – You know, it’s really important that, you infuse it into all of your development programs, so as someone moves up to a higher career stage where they are a people leader or a broad business leader or executive, depending upon what they are in their career. There should always be a component in every single offering that speaks to.

Karan Rhodes (00:09:29) – How do you make the lessons that you’ve learned in this course real? We’ve heard a lot. We, you know, practice a lot. We’ve role-played, we’ve had case studies, Okay, well, let’s bring it on home to your daily work. How do you make it real and what would that look like and what challenges would you have. So I would say infuse that element into all of your development offerings and then while you’re in the real world, I would have everyone practice it, you know, as they’re doing their daily work, you can, encourage these type of hard conversations in staff meetings, you can do it during town halls, Demonstrate by example. Right. You can, just be conscious of it and encourage not just your leaders, but your whole infuse it into the culture where all of the workforce is conscious about sometimes the need for that radical candor and reward examples. You know, for someone who did it really well, and it ended up being a great result, they caught something that wasn’t going well, or they, were able to use radical candor to succeed, you know, call it out and recognize it, you know, in a public setting so that people see the magic that can occur, you know, when you have those tough conversations, or you’re telling the truth and deliver messages that. Quite aren’t quite as ideal as one would hope and like.

Karan Rhodes (00:11:07) – And you know, I still learn about every day. You know, I really do. And one of the things I dread is always having, you know, when you have to deliver those hard conversations or hard messages. I’m such an over the chart extrovert and people person. I want everybody to love each other and sing kumbaya. And I mean sometimes, and I don’t. I hate being called the air police, but sometimes you’ve got to, you know, pull it all together and deliver it because it’s the best thing for both the employee and the business. So I still struggle with it every day, but, I always try to be 1% better today than I was yesterday. That’s what I’ll say.

Ariana Cofone (00:11:50) – That is such a good thought, too. I also immediately felt that feeling of being, you know, everything for me now is virtual versus in person. And having those hard conversations in person. You’d have to, like, keep everything quite bottled for quite a while until you, you could go get a coffee and then be like, really? It was so intense.

Ariana Cofone (00:12:08) – But now it’s like you turn off the zoom or you turn off the Google Hangout, you’re like, oh my God, that was, I need to go lie down for a second. You know, it’s like, it’s so it’s so funny how it’s changed by the feeling is still the same, even if the environment is a little different. It is interesting when we think about the trends that we’ve seen in human resources also, just like people and culture. Like I said, you’ve seen so much change and different focuses has happened and also different, you know, budgets allocated towards giving you resource to create learning and development programs. What are some of the larger trends that you’ve seen, I guess, over the last ten years plus that is interesting to sort of track, in retrospect, like the history of what you’ve seen.

Karan Rhodes (00:12:57) – Well, let me just say upfront that. When I first got out of college, some of the things that were top of mind then ended up going, out of popularity, I’ll say, and then they pop up now. So I would say almost everything is a cyclical.You know what I’m trying to say?

Ariana Cofone (00:13:23) – Like skinny jeans, you know, like they’re out of style now, but they’re gonna come back in a decade. Yeah, yeah, totally. Totally. The middle part is in, but not the side part. Yeah. That’s right. Like around.

Karan Rhodes (00:13:36) – So I will say, one thing that, a lot of HR infrastructure struggle with is, centralization versus decentralization of people and processes. So we keep going back and forth on that. There are advantages, pros and cons to both, but the justification seemed to change over time based on what’s going on. Kind of in the world of work, if you will. Right now, some of the hot trends, as you, you probably know, is, the whole concepts of, you know, how how AI is going to impact our workforce. And, what is the role of people operations within that? No one I know that’s in HR went to school for technology, so they don’t feel, as technically astute as, you know, those that are in technology.

Karan Rhodes (00:14:37) – So for, our field, we’re having to ramp up very, very quickly. And then we’re also having for ourselves. And then we’re also having to take into account, okay, how is, AI in particular, but technology in general, the way it’s evolving every nanosecond, how is that going to impact our workforces, our industry, our policies, and how we do business? And so tough decisions are having to be made, by executive leaders and the chief people officers are usually the ones at the table with the business executives trying to help navigate that. So that’s huge right now as well as, Blended workforces. The use of both internal traditional talent with external or extended workforces such as contractors, technology, freelancers, you name it. We’ve seen, if you look at CNBC or any of the business shows, you see that there are a lot of companies that are laying off part of their workforces, because they’re having to rethink how to be competitive. So, that’s something that, you know, they’re really trying to nail down.

Karan Rhodes (00:16:01) – And then the third train I’ll just mention, and I’ll hush for a second is, performance management. I just, I host, HR executive huddles about once a quarter, and they’re all with, VP or CRO level, people in the people operations space. We just had one this week, so it’s so timely, our talk. Performance management is still at the top of their list, as well. Trying to keep the workforce engaged, motivated and focused, even with tons of change happening. You know, in the world. So, yeah. So there’s something like top of mind.

Ariana Cofone (00:16:44) – Each of those. I feel like there’s like a personal story that I’m like, I have another question, Karan. I was trying to figure this out. Well, starting with performance management, because that is on the top of my brain. I was helping a client of mine figure out the performance management framework. And I think there’s a way like especially I deal with medium to small businesses. You deal with larger businesses.

Ariana Cofone (00:17:05) – You know, having that framework is really important. But I sometimes think there it becomes too overwrought, and then sometimes it’s too simplistic and there’s nothing really happening. Yeah. But finding that like middle ground, like the Goldilocks is really difficult it because you’ve got managers you know you’ve got to think about okay what is the manager’s time going to be like. What is, how do we train them up. What’s expected. How is that tied to raises or compensation. That’s right. And it’s actually it seems so simple, and it’s insanely complex. it’s so difficult. So I guess what are some in the performance management space? What are things that are working like? For sure working. And then what are some things that are just like, we’re still trying to figure it out because I, I’ve never know. And I feel like it’s changing very quickly. Like a couple of years ago, pulse surveys were all the thing, right. Like everybody do a post survey, you know, like three, you know, five, five questions on a Friday. And like, I don’t know if that’s a thing anymore. So. So what are you what are you seeing that’s working for sure.

Karan Rhodes (00:18:14) – Well, you might not like this answer, but I’m going to say it depends on the organization. What they do and how they reward, excellent performance. And I always say, you know, you have to start at the core of your mission and vision and what you’re trying to in your objectives and what you’re trying to achieve, and then build in the performance systems that will support what that organization is trying to do. But I will say that right now, the trend is away from the bell curve and the ratings. You know, they’re moving away from that, more into the conversations and, motivating factors and, helping them decrease development gaps, things like that. Upskilling and re-skilling is hot right now so having conversations with your, teams around. It’s kind of like a two-edged sword. You not only have to catch them up for what they’re doing today, but you also have to coach them up for what their jobs may look like 6 to 18 months from now.

Karan Rhodes (00:19:34) – So that balance is something that people managers haven’t historically, had to do a lot, and now they’re having to do so along with factoring in how things like technology are impacting someone’s day-to-day task and role or essential functions of their jobs. So in my opinion, being a manager of people today is 15 times more complex than it was ten years ago.

Ariana Cofone (00:20:08) – Okay. At least the stress of it all feels warranted then. Yeah, absolutely. I talked to a lot of people, especially at, earlier in their career, and they’re like, Ariana, can I pick your brain? Of course. And, you know, a lot of the things that I wanted in my early career or what they want, they want to be a manager. They want to become a leader. You have to be like, yo, managing is not for everybody. It’s like, also really difficult and not always the most fun thing to do. It’s a very in the fact that it’s getting more complex because there are more tools, technology, you’ve got a remote workforce, global workforce, probably more so than ever is. It’s very hard to balance and to know where to point in the right direction, to be a good manager.

Ariana Cofone (00:20:43) – I did have one specific question that keeps coming up, which is the skills assessment piece. So in the interview process, I kind of used to be in the more technical side of things, and you’d have coding challenges and you know, you’d also have like email challenges or whatever it may be. Yeah. But now people are wanting to take the skills assessment and bring it to internal employees as a part of their review. And that’s something that I just have a question for you. One, have you been seeing that more so, and you know, what are your thoughts if part of the responsibilities that we help to upskill is also part of the responsibility to see that that upskilling investment is translating into results. Like, how does that piece work?

Karan Rhodes (00:21:40) – Yeah, it’s becoming more and more common. It’s very common at the larger enterprise level of companies. It’s becoming more and more common at the next tier down and smaller companies and I’ll tell you why. It’s because the way work gets done is changing so rapidly that companies have figured out that they’re needing to understand what are the breadth of skill sets that say, you have that could be retooled into what, a new job description that doesn’t even exist today might be down the road? They’ve got to start getting an inventory of their human talent in order to be more informed about where we should go. As a business, what we should do if we re-tweak the way we do business, and do we have the skill sets internally to make that transition pretty quickly? And if not, where are our holes? Where are the gaps in that? Everything that you are skilled in is not on your resume. Probably 1/100th percent is on your resume. So they’re trying to find a way to catalog those, if you will, in a better way, so that they have more agility and they into, how they, structure or restructure their workforce both now and in the future.

Karan Rhodes (00:23:21) – So that’s where a lot of the energy of that is right now. It’s the behind the scenes planning. I think you’ll see more of that and the more conversations about that, probably in the very near future, because I was, speaking at a conference for Gallup, and that was on the top of the list. And in trying, in helping companies really trying to catalog, skill sets so that they can reskill if needed and get ahead of the curve on that or bring in to your point, bring in either training programs or ways to upskill their current staff because, you know, I mean, employment levels are still very unemployment levels are still very low. So it saves money to reskill your current talent. If they’re great workers, then to try to find them out there in the world hiring market.

Ariana Cofone (00:24:19) – Yeah. I mean, if we think about it, whenever, you know, we think about upskilling somebody versus bringing someone new in, there’s all the historical context of the business that lives with them that you can’t replace. You know, you can digest and you can put into a wiki or a knowledge base or whatever. You can make training videos, but you have to live it to really understand it. And right, that actually makes a lot of sense. I guess my immediate feeling about that, I was like, oh, I don’t want to like score people all the time on things. But if you’re looking at it as where do your interests intersect with your skills, and how is that going to be best used in a quickly changing market and business culture? That makes a lot more sense to me. I guess I always get too fearful. Like a while ago I was when you were applying for jobs, there were a lot of personality assessments that were getting done. Yeah. And I was like, not really keen on that. Like part of it, it was nerdy. I was like interested, but part of it was like, oh, don’t bucket people into this. You know, you can’t always bucket people.

Ariana Cofone (00:25:23) – and I had that same feeling when I heard about these more, you know, continuous skills assessments. Yeah, but that context makes a lot more sense, especially when we talk about the effect of AI in the workplace. Also, a lot of people seem to be bridging the gap on specializations. So, like, you don’t have somebody that’s just, you know, solely, I guess, a web developer, but they’re a web designer and they’re, you know, they’re an application developer. And there’s all these different things. Like you said, you can’t always put that on the resume. So how do you reflect that for the leadership to then the best use their skills, abilities, and interests?

Karan Rhodes (00:25:59) – That’s right. And can I just say something quick? I want to just give you my thoughts on the personality assessments. So I love them, for what they are. But I want your audience to know that personality assessments are not 100% one. Number one. And number two, they’re more about tendencies versus putting you in a box. And for any personality assessment, you should always give the person who took it the leeway to agree or not agree if it was accurate or not. Because they’re not always 100% accurate. They can give you some insights to have conversations versus putting folks in a box. So they can be valuable, but they should not be used in the wrong way and they should not be used, in my opinion, this is Karan’s opinion, you can throw tomatoes at you all, but it should not be used in any performance management. It should be the basis of conversation to verify if those tendencies are correct, and then have. And then there’s the people manager. You can have a conversation about how those tendencies, if correct, impact your ability to succeed in the current work culture that you’re working in. So I just wanted to plug that I love that, yeah.

Ariana Cofone (00:27:22) – Because I sometimes think, you know, especially people who are applying to jobs, sometimes there’s these, you know, personality tests and you don’t see the results of those tests and they kind of go into this black hole and then you’re like, who is my data on my personality? What is that data showing? And there’s all these pieces. But it really is about like how, you know, first of all, the transparency of what that’s saying, why we ask for it, what’s the basis of what that information is being used for? I mean, that’s how I feel about data in general, is I want to be able to have, you know, a right to the data that I put out there in the world. But like you said, using it for conversations, like for myself, I’m a very fast thinker to the point that I need to slow down, right? I have a tendency to move too fast. And that would be an incredibly helpful thing for a manager to help me with, right? Like, okay, well, how what are the things that we’re putting in place to help you sort of slow down that thought process to make sure that we’re including everything, or that you’re not getting too spun up and making too many fast decisions. Right. That’s where it becomes a conversation on a human to human level. That’s just like, all right, here’s your score. Like you’re an ENFT, ABC.

Karan Rhodes (00:28:33) – Absolutely. Well, you all you and I are like, in that way, I’m a very fast thinker as well. I won’t say weakness, but I’ll say my area of opportunity is if I run into something I don’t know, I pull back to think it through. And and sometimes I think too long when others need guidance. And so to your point, it’s great to have someone to have a call, you know, your manager have a conversation and say, okay, Karan, you know, we hit a, you know, a roadblock. We may not know which path to go yet, but let’s talk it through and then let’s make a decision, because people are waiting on the decisions that we made to continue to move forward. So anyway.

Ariana Cofone (00:29:14) – And if we look at if we look at the personality test, you and I could score exactly the same, but have different tendencies and need support in different ways. That’s why it becomes a conversation on a human to human level. That’s right. Do you think now that everyone in their own right needs to become a bit of a technologist? When we talked about AI, the workforce changing, I think about HR, you know, CRM, HR platforms or resources, information systems. Do you think that anybody walking into this world needs to have, you know, an ability to leverage technology to make people and culture the best it can be? And if so, where have you started that journey?

Karan Rhodes (00:29:58) – So the answer is yes, yes and yes. Definitely need to have, become more astute in this area, but I’ll say there’s an additional layer you need to focus on too, because technology is fantastic. It can be fantastic. But where I see, especially when I’m, you know, working on change management projects or technology implementations or what have you, where I see things break down our workflows, like how do you use the technology to help augment the way our company needs to work? And I’ve seen some of the best technology with the most fascinating bells and whistles that you could find that, wow the world. But if you don’t know how to use it to make your company team department efforts more successful, then it renders it useless.

Karan Rhodes (00:31:03) – Then people say, oh, well, you know, that didn’t work. ADP didn’t work totally. Workday didn’t work. Or, you know, HubSpot didn’t work. It’s not always just the technology. It’s learning the technology, learning the magic that it can do, how it can help save you time and streamline processes and what have you. But then you need to retrofit the way you want it to work in your workflows, make sure your technology is meeting those needs. And unfortunately, one of the things that happens is that a company invests and you know, it’s not cheap rate. It’s hundreds and thousands of dollars. It could be up to millions, depending upon how big your organization is, to infuse the technology in the workforce. But you don’t do it correctly, then it’s a big loss.

Ariana Cofone (00:32:02) – Time, energy, confidence, trust. This is the thing I think that drives me crazy, especially with operations. I am usually served up like dozen plus platforms. So like figure out how to put them together and make your workflow work.

Karan Rhodes (00:32:17) – Right, make it talk to each other.

Ariana Cofone (00:32:19) – Automate the thing and do the thing. And, and then I have to be like, yeah, the problem isn’t the platforms you’ve got, like you’re using best in class platforms. The problem is how your people are using this. Like it’s not adopted. It’s not like you’re not reinforcing why we need to enter this data here and how that goes through this. Like, I could set up all the bells and whistles and it’s not going to solve this, which I think is a missing piece of the technology pie. That 100%, like you said, is just so much it’s it is the key to making any adoption work in any technology work for you. But what happens I’ve seen is, all right, so we moved to this platform that I have said as an operator is best in class for X, Y, and Z. For some reason it’s not adopting in the business, Leadership is annoyed that they invested time, energy and money, and now they want to move to the other new shining platform that somebody heard about through a friend of the…exactly. And it’s like, no, it takes time. Change is hard.

Karan Rhodes (00:33:24) – It takes time. And yes, and unfortunately, many companies don’t buy the extended consulting engagement. So they purchased the technology. They’re handheld by a solutions architect when implementing implementing into the company. And then 3 to 6 months and their service agreement is over. And for people who aren’t technology astute, they’re still trying to learn it and figure out the bugs and figure out processes. But then all of a sudden your assistant is gone because the service program is over. And then that’s where a lot of conflict happens when they’re left on their own to try to figure it out. So I think it’s helpful to have extended time for implementation or have a consultant or to your point, go do a deep dive into the technology while you have help, and then have a few people on point to keep up with the technology, best use practices, and all of that kind of good things to increase the probability that the technology is going to work at your organization.

Ariana Cofone (00:34:43) – Oh, totally. And you know, here’s the thing. There is the emotional readiness of being able to adopt these platforms, right? I was doing an operations review with the client and I was like, you need a sales CRM. I don’t know it. I cannot believe that you’ve been doing this without centralizing any of this information. But they were not emotionally ready to bring that on. They didn’t want to enter the data. They’re happy with their weird spreadsheet systems. That would drive me absolutely bonkers. And, you know, but that’s okay if that’s the decision that they’ve made. I’ve done my job saying, here’s the advantages of using something like this. Here’s why you’d want to do this and then at some point they’re going to see, oh, I think we got to do it right. But they’ve got to it’s like, I would assume it’s like when you’re raising a kid to, you know, you can like, what is it like— lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them to drink? Yeah. It’s kind of like that.

Ariana Cofone (00:35:39) – And I used to get really annoyed at that because I’m like, it’s so obvious, you know, it’s like right there. But for people who aren’t used to that or haven’t seen it, it’s not obvious. And maybe, you know, they’re like, if it’s not broken, why fix it now? And it’s like, well, that’s the whole point of ops is to fix it before it’s broken. Yeah, but I, I’m with you too. It takes time. It takes investment and it takes being uncomfortable to get to where you need to go. All of those pieces have to fit together to be able to roll that platform out.

Ariana Cofone (00:36:01) – I want to dive into research because you’ve done research on effective tactics of high performing leaders, and I certainly am always trying to figure out how to be a better leader, how to help others be better leaders. So, can we dive into what you’ve learned, and what are some tips that we can bring into our world?

Karan Rhodes (00:36:36) – Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for allowing me to share.

Ariana Cofone (00:36:40) – Yeah. I’m excited.

Karan Rhodes (00:36:41) – I tell you, you can’t put me in a box. I’m that that girl that does all kinds of other things. But, I’ve always been passionate, not only about, you know, the, the whole HR functions, but, in particular, leadership development. And, what I found over my years is that usually companies, deliver pretty great soft skill programs and leadership courses and what have you, but they miss what I would call the last model of leadership, which is okay, we’ve given you all the basics and what you should do and not do, but we haven’t focused on leadership execution, meaning how do you infuse it into my day-to-day role? How do I implement all that I’ve learned into my current job? And without that piece, people are going to fall back to what they’re more comfortable in. And you’ve invested all this money and, blowing their skill sets, but they’re like, I don’t understand where to go. So I’m gonna fall back to what I know, you know, goes very well.

Karan Rhodes (00:37:45) – So anyhow, I guess it’s been about five years or so now, I decided to because I have a background in high potential leadership development, I ran a program for Microsoft. Since I saw that gap, I commissioned a research study to understand what did the top performing leaders do so well, where they were recognized as top performing leaders? What actions did they take that were different than 90% of the other population? That was the question we were trying to understand because I thought, wow, if we could figure that out, then we could close the loop with the development, right? And so long story short, we we did an extensive research of, of over, 10,000 high performing leaders and organizations across the globe and discovered, quite a long list of factors. But after doing data analysis, there popped out seven that were, actions that contributed to exemplary leaders, no matter their job function or industry or profession.

Ariana Cofone (00:39:08) – You know you are gonna have to break that down for us. We gotta know, I gotta know.

Karan Rhodes (00:39:13) – So we thought, well, we can get that out into the world, that would dramatically increase the probabilities. And the great news is, none of it is rocket science. It’s things that we do every day, but as being very conscious and focused about it. And all of these seven are equally important. You just because these are tactics, behaviors, things you do, you may use one or more, more than you would the others in particular situations. So to get let me first talk about the seven. I’ll run them down really quickly for you. The first was exemplary leaders, led with what we call intellectual horsepower. And that’s all about using your area of expertise to kind of peek around corners and find things, or discover trends or opportunities that others may have missed. So if you’re able to bring something fresh, new, insightful to the table that others hadn’t thought about, then that excites people.

Karan Rhodes (00:40:14) – And then they will want to get behind you. When you’re trying to implement it. So, that was one. The second one is leading with courageous agility. That’s all about having the courage to do what you think is right, or stand on your opinion or principles, even if you’re unsure about where this is going to go in the future. So that was to those who had the courage.

Ariana Cofone (00:40:24) – Oh it’s beautiful. Speak up.

Karan Rhodes (00:40:38) – and stand up for what? You know, sometimes you might tweak your thinking based on the feedback, but you got to get it out there. So that’s what a lot of elite leaders do. The third one is leading with the drive for results. It’s exactly what it is. It’s about being very tenacious about achieving, your end goal. Even if obstacles come your way. It’s all about being able to pivot and tweak, but still being able to achieve your end goal. The fourth one was leading with executive presence. Everybody knows what that is. But the way we kind of define it is your ability to deliver.

Karan Rhodes (00:41:16) – Either oral or written, presentation of your perspectives in a way that influence others to want to follow your lead. So it’s having that knowledge, that grit, that, being dynamic, in a way that with facts and data that is going to convince others that, yep, Karan knows what she’s talking about. And I think we might want to give her a shot, in implementing whatever she’s proposing. The fifth one is leading with strategic decision-making. That’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s either, making great decisions yourself or leading a great decision-making process with your team. So leaders who were able to do this effectively, really stood out from their peers. I think I’m on six. The sixth one is leading with entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurship is all about, bringing to the table, improving, products or processes or services or the way one does things within the organization or entity that you’re working in. So it’s very similar to entrepreneurship, but it’s within the structure of your current employer. And then the last one is leading with stakeholder savvy.

Karan Rhodes (00:42:37) – And that’s all about being very agile to adjust your interpersonal skills based on the dynamics of both the person and the social setting that you’re in. So, for instance, if I’m a salesperson and I’m trying to woo a client, I might, you know, leverage a certain personality or a certain conversation or a certain approach. If I’m a people manager and I’m having to terminate an employee, I’m going to probably have a different demeanor or a personality or conversation. So, those are the seven that came out of the research.

Ariana Cofone (00:43:17) – The words that you put to those qualities, it’s like, oh, that is all the things that I’ve heard, but in a better way. Like emotional intelligence, right? Like there’s a weird, maybe not stigma, but it’s like, be emotionally intelligent. It’s like, well, no, actually understand how you can talk to stakeholders and be able to leverage the things that you have at your disposal to work with them and to, you know, put a vote in what they what matters to them.

Ariana Cofone (00:43:43) – What was the second one? That one really struck me.

Karan Rhodes (00:43:47) – Courageous agility.

Ariana Cofone (00:43:48) – Yeah. That one for me really hit a personal note as well, because when we talked about well, when we were first talking about, you know, how do you apply the things that you learn as a manager in a leader, like how do you learn those things? And you’re like, apply it into your day to day. I think the courageous agility… I grew up in the Midwest and we got that people pleasing, like keep a chill until it’s not chill. I think as a part of that, like not wanting to rock the boat is really like a cultural thing and that does such a disservice. And I guess what I always thought in my head was that, oh, you know, if I, if I spoke my mind, then I was being confrontational. And I think that that wording for me that you found is actually what is going on there. It’s saying, here’s where I’m at in this moment today, thinking about this thing.

Ariana Cofone (00:44:46) – I’m open and willing to have that be changed. But this is where I’m thinking about this and that. That has been, you know, years of therapy and a lot of different things, trying to understand it and not initially sort of get defensive or back away. And people please too much. These are all real human things that you just have to practice every day. Like I forget somebody. I think it was Michelle Obama, I don’t know. My friend sent me a a video snippet of her saying, like, you put a vote to who you want to be every day, you know? Yeah. Are you making your bed every day or taking out the garbage? You know, all these little things add up to those qualities that you’re talking about and that’s in the workplace and at home. That’s right. How have you found this research been received? Like how have how is the research been received? Have people been like, oh yes. How do I now enact this?

Karan Rhodes (00:45:45) – It has been. So out of this we also created because because we’re data geeks. Right. We created an assessment for it. Now, ours is a diagnostic. It’s not a personality assessment. It’s a diagnostic on, how skilled you are at each of the tactics and the tactics are actions. So it’s either you kind of know it or you don’t. So ours is probably one of the first assessments that it’s fantastic to have green on all of them because, you know, you want people to be knowledgeable about it. However, that’s only one piece that’s just showing you where that you do have a level of understanding of each one of the tactics. But the magic occurs in that. What I’ve said, the last mile of leadership, is how do you execute it in your role? And so part of our development program and workshops that we offer, are what we call action learning, where you actually learn while doing in your role. And we, have a fun, exercise called the Micro Leadership Challenge. And we, challenge the participants in our programs to think of a way that they could improve the roles or a suggestion that they had always loved to make to their employer.

Karan Rhodes (00:47:06) – But were too chicken to do so or didn’t think anybody wanted to hear. And we’re like, look, we’ve gotten you the permission. They want to hear what you have to say. So let’s put it together. Let’s think through, your strategy, how it would be executed, who would be your key stakeholders, how it would really work if we move forward and put together a plan of action and prepare you to present it to your boss or executive leader or what have you. And so this has been so much fun for people because it’s easy to understand, but it’s meaningful and they get the exposure to a lot of their ideas, that they’ve been sitting with every single day. So it has been, really wonderful, been loving to get a lot of speech requests about it. So it is a very unique aspect to, leadership development. And it’s something that no matter your career stage, you can definitely leverage.

Ariana Cofone (00:48:12) – I immediately, something echoed with what you just said for me, which is a part of leadership, is learning how to take your thoughts and manifest that into communication and action. And that seems so simple. But sometimes we get stuck in the thoughts and we don’t speak the thoughts, and then we get bitter and then we get resentful. And the monkeys are going. And you get kind of stuck in that thinking without the actioning. And as somebody who’s been a leader in the business, oh my God, man, do I love to see somebody that’s like, hey, I see this problem. I’m like, all right, cool. Research some potential solutions and presents, you know, something simple to us. And watching them take that and run with it that, you know, the entrepreneur, oh my God, there’s nothing better. It’s so exciting. Like I, you know, I want to give gold stickers to everybody because it’s just like, so there’s nothing I know that I don’t have all the answers. And I really know that the more I can empower people to pursue different ways of thinking, the better we all are. But it’s difficult like to, to embed that and to see people to, to go that journey. So that muscle that you’re talking about, of doing it, that’s the that’s the piece. Right? That’s getting through that.

Karan Rhodes (00:49:36) – And there are two big things that I just want to make sure your listeners understand that we infused into our experience. Number one, we set the stage with our participants that while this is exciting, what comes out of it? You know, we don’t say that your leaders are going to, implement 100% of what you all present, because they have to think holistically about, you know, resources if it’s feasible, does it make sense and what have you. But why the executives love it is and we have kind of a Shark Tank light presentation, but not as brutal as you see on TV. But what it does if you just think about it, if you have a team of 20 and you’re the top leader, say the chief sales officer, I’m just making this up.

Karan Rhodes (00:50:24) – Chief marketing Officer, and you see your team present 20 viable, innovative ideas and have a plan of action behind each of them. It gets you to start thinking as well, where you can put together the pieces and say, hey, Bob suggested this and Mary suggested that. But if we combine this, I bet we could have a competitive advantage if we applied it to a product or service or whatever, and so they can, you know, pull together the pieces of the puzzle to make an even better, process or, or open up a new revenue opportunity or what have you. And so that’s the magic that occurs, that the executives are excited about hearing that and thinking how to they could possibly implement it. The participants are usually excited to hear the feedback, of both what they present and what their peers present because they learn for what, you know, listening and observing what happens when others present as well and it ends up being a win-win generally. So, yeah, we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback.

Ariana Cofone (00:51:34) – The cool part is too, I think the first time you do anything is the heart. It’s the hardest. It’s just like so difficult and you’re very precious about the thing. Yeah, it’s your baby and you don’t want it to be. But here’s the thing. You get in a room, everybody’s pitching, everybody’s seeing, everybody’s practicing, everybody’s trying. Then they’re just like, again, it’s a muscle. So then you’re going to do it again and again and again again until it just becomes how you approach your work and how you approach communicating and proposing and solutioning. And that’s the beginning process. But that first one man helping people to get through that journey emotionally, I’m sure is, exciting. But also, you really do have to check them to say like we do.

Karan Rhodes (00:52:16) – We have coaches that work with them, and we have to work on something that is near and dear to them that they know inside and out, because they do the job every day so that they don’t have to worry about, like having to learn a new technology or mechanics or anything. They don’t have to worry about that. This came from them, but they need to. They put it together, but then they need to, learn how to present, effectively in a way that influences, you know, their teams or executive staffs. And to your point, it prepares them mentally. We create that safe space for them to do so. Their job is not on the line or anything like that. And to your point, once you start working that muscle, that lactic acid goes down and it’s a big a heck of a strong muscle.

Ariana Cofone (00:53:06) – No Tums are needed or not as much and more.

Karan Rhodes (00:53:11) – Exactly. It builds their career courage. Honestly?

Ariana Cofone (00:53:14) – Absolutely. Yeah. Being a leader takes courage, and being a strong, good leader takes a lot of courage personally and professionally to do that. Karan, I could talk to you for ages, but we we need to wrap up. So I want to leave the audience with some personal questions about you as a human being, so we can get to know the Karan behind this.

Karan Rhodes (00:53:37) – Karan behind the scenes. It’s kind of scary. Scary fun. Not scary.

Ariana Cofone (00:53:42) – Yes. That’s amazing. So I’m gonna. I’m gonna shoot some rapid fire your way. You just answer with whatever your gut says. So first one is, what is the favorite part of your day, time wise?

Karan Rhodes (00:53:53) – I’m a night person, so I thrive when everybody else is probably asleep. And then, one of the ways I decompress is I love organic gardening. And so, I take breaks during the day to go out and check on the garden if I, if it’s up and going, or my plants inside. So kind of a little nerdy, but yeah, that’s a lot of that.

Ariana Cofone (00:54:17) – Well, along those lines, then what is the best purchase that you’ve made under $50?

Karan Rhodes (00:54:24) – Well, I love to cook. And so I have a great set of knives that was on sale. That got to be probably right around the 50ish mark.

Ariana Cofone (00:54:35) – We’ll count that. A Hundred percent. Yeah. Get those discount codes. That totally counts. Yeah. What is your favorite quote or quote that’s stuck with you over the years?

Karan Rhodes (00:54:50) – You’ve got to be at the table to play the game. One of my mentors told me that early on and said, you’ve got to be at the table, meaning be at the table for, you know, any you like big meetings with decision makers in order to be able to influence the course of action you want to see others take.

Ariana Cofone (00:55:13) – What is the most important lesson you’ve learned so far?

Karan Rhodes (00:55:18) – I’ll go back to what I mentioned to you before. Always strive to be 1% better today than you were yesterday. And if you’re doing that, then you know that not only you’re growing, but you’re hopefully moving in the direction I’m making, the type of impact that you want to make in the world.

Ariana Cofone (00:55:35) – Last question, which is what do you want to be when you grow up?

Karan Rhodes(00:55:42) – This is going to be funny. I really want to be a movie critic who’s also a sommelier.

Ariana Cofone (00:55:52) – You can merge those. Absolutely.

Karan Rhodes (00:55:54) – My dream is to have a show on that. Where? Because I’m a movie fanatic as well as of, I’m a member of like four wine clubs. And no, I’m not an alcoholic or whatever, but I do appreciate, a great, bottle of wine with the different notes.

Ariana Cofone (00:56:13) – All all I see is you matching movies with different straight like we need. We need your care and movie wine recommendations. That’s 1,000%.

Ariana Cofone (00:56:28) – Before we wrap up, if people are listening to you and they are interested in reading the research, doing the assessment, learning more about what you’re up to, where can people find you?

Karan Rhodes (00:56:36) – Absolutely. So, you can find us on our website, Hopefully you’ll remember that Everything is there. Our signature leadership program, what we do to help support, people, operations and infrastructures and how they get in touch with me and my team.

Ariana Cofone (00:56:58) – Amazing, Karan. Always such a treat to talk to you. You really do make me smile from ear to ear.

Karan Rhodes (00:57:07) – Right back at you.

Ariana Cofone (00:57:09) – Everyone who’s listening, thank you so much for listening to Secret Ops or watching us. Please remember to follow us wherever you find your podcasts or on YouTube these days. If you’re a visual learner like myself, and we will check you out next time. Bye.

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