August 16, 2023

What’s Working: Growing into a Leader – Mastering giving feedback and building 1:1 relationships with your team

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In this episode, Nicole talks with Steve Ossenheimer, Director of Talent Acquisition at Encore, about leadership. They discuss how to grow into becoming a leader and the qualities of a good leader. Some tactics include becoming better at giving & receiving feedback, achieving alignment with your team, and having 1:1 with your team to cultivate meaningful relationships.  

Episode Transcript

Hi everyone, and welcome to What’s Working. My name’s Nicole Magats and I’m a lead recruiter at Hirewell. What’s Working is a show where we talk to business leaders in their field about the different tools, philosophies, habits, and so on that are working for them, right? These are the things that really last, are core to who they are, and make them successful and effective in their role.

Today, I’m so excited. I have Steve Ossenheimer, who is my former boss from Encore, a company that I worked at before Hirewell. And he was my, like I said, my leader at Encore and he- I have to say, Steve, you were one of my favorite leaders that I’ve ever had, so I’m so excited to have him here today.

He is going to share a little bit about his leadership philosophy, a little bit about feedback, and just how he’s been able to kind of be seen as this leader in his organization. So Steve, I’m so excited to have you here. Well, thank you very much. That was awesome. Appreciate the intro. Of course. So Steve, what’s working for you?

I’m in a really good spot right now with leadership and, just management. Our situation at work here is to a point where I’m actually now being able to manage my team and lead my team and not be in the minutiae every single day. It’s been a great last year, year and a half, just practicing leadership, practicing management skills, and being actually, a director instead of a working director, in the mud with everybody else.

So it’s been a good year. It’s awesome to get, like, to see that you’re able to be a little more strategic. Because I know when I was there, you were still doing some recruiting and stuff, and so it’s amazing to see you like kind of really evolve into this true strategic role. And I’d be curious, how would you qualify your leadership?

What is your approach to leading a team? Yeah, that’s a, wow, that’s such a big question, right? I know. So, I guess, for me it’s, one, it’s being an expert in the space. So I have to know what I’m talking about. I have to be able to coach and train on what I’m doing or what they’re doing and so on.

But the bigger picture is, and to be an effective leader, for me it’s trust. It’s, they trust that I’m looking out for their best interest, for the company’s best interest. It’s not personal it’s not whatever. It’s, “Hey, we’re all trying to do the same, move forward, get better, be more productive,” whatever it would be.

So that trust factor’s really important. And like having that like same overarching big picture, right? Getting everyone aligned it sounds like is kind of the through line there. Yeah, I’ve seen in my mind, and I’ve used this a couple times, but, you have direction and you have speed.

So I use a compass and travel speed. So if you’re going really fast, but you’re going in the wrong direction, you’re going really fast down the wrong way. So my structure and my strategy has been let’s figure out where we’re going. What’s the mission? What’s the objective? What are we trying to accomplish?

Once we have the compass set, “Hey, this is where we’re going” then, all right, let’s get there as quickly as we can. So that’s kind of a simple way of getting the team all in the same place. It’s the vision, everybody sees the same thing. I will qualify that, they don’t see the same thing because everyone’s different.

They see the same mission. The end result. How we’re going to get there though, is individually determined on their style. There’s two ways I want to go. So I’m going to start with point 1, so it sounds like for you guys, I mean, you have this vision, right? It’s, I don’t want to say dictated, but it’s something that is put together, collaboratively with everyone, right?

When you’re working through the big picture, the why, like, how do you get everyone on the same page? That’s a big one in leadership. I’ll tell you, I heard this saying, it’s really become my founding mantra on, on how I think about getting people on the same page.

And it’s the old, hopefully everybody’s heard this culture eats strategy for breakfast, right? So, leaders need to be collaborators, partners. My total success depends on my team’s success. I can’t do it all on my own. So what I try to do is I make people feel like they’re part of things at they’re heart of things, or not on the periphery.

Certainly not perfect at that at all the time, but I do certainly try to get them more involved in the day-to-day decision making, what they’re doing. I truly feel we’re all motivated by making a difference. And that’s why I’m in recruiting because I want to make a difference in someone’s life.

I’m going to give them a job or I’m going to help their career or whatever it is. and I know my team feels that same way. So, every time somebody fills that hot job or influences a hiring manager, they’ve made a difference, and I think it helps us sleep better at night. So that’s the first thing is just kind of getting everybody in that same mind space.

And then the second part of that is the old compass versus speed theory that I like, it’s clear expectations are really key. I don’t know what direction you’re going in before you hustle down the road. Saves a lot of time, a lot of frustration and so on. So that’s a simple answer of how do I get everybody on the same page. I know it’s such a big overarching question, right? How do you answer that in like a fell swoop in like two minutes? But that was perfect.

That saying goes the whole room is smarter than I am. So I have to bring the whole room in to get the right answers, to find out what works for the majority of people. So yeah, collaboration, it’s done through one-on-ones, just talking about what their vision is, how to change that, or “Hey, you’re spot on. Let’s go at it.”

But it’s also in our team meetings, making sure that we’re all saying the same language. We’re all talking the same strategies, we’re talking the same philosophies, and it could be as simple as customer service. Hey, what does customer service mean to you?

And have everybody go around the room and talk about customer service and what it means. Oh yeah, people learn from each other. At the end, okay, so how are we going to treat customer service? What’s our mantra here? So that’s how I try to get everybody on the same page by getting all their opinions.

You mentioned that you do one-on-ones with your team, tell us more about that. Yeah, sure. So every week I have a meeting. So one of the things that leads to that is I totally hate micromanaging. One, I don’t like to be micromanaged. Most people don’t. I don’t like to micromanage.

In the beginning though, there’s a lot more involvement in somebody. But as your team grows, I kind of look at it as, once you’ve trained a team, you need to step back and let them do their thing. If you’ve trained them and everybody’s on the same page and the compass setting is correct, step away, let ’em do it.

So the one-on-one is more of an opportunity for them to come and tell me, “Hey, these are the things I accomplished this week.” fantastic. Let’s log all this stuff down. Hey, here’s a challenge. I had an obstacle. And then we talk about what’s your future look like? Not every single time, but once every two or three meetings, I always ask, “Hey, what’s next for you?”

What do you want to do? What do you want to learn? So it’s, “Hey, this is what I’ve done. This is where I’m stuck.” Or maybe I’ve run across a couple things and. Let’s talk about your future. That seems to work. It’s a way to build that relationship and build the trust, right? It goes back into the the how you’re building the what, how, and why of everything.

Yeah, totally. And I would say it’s a lot of questions. I might come to the meeting with here’s some things I want to make sure we get across, and so on. But I’m going to do it in a conversational thing, but it’s a lot of questions. So this is a simple exercise I try to use.

If I asked you to jump out of a plane for a hundred thousand dollars without a parachute, would you? No. What if it was on the ground? You’re right, I’m not asking the right questions. Ohhh. Right. It’s all about information. It’s about asking, clarifying, it’s an immediate, no, I wouldn’t, the common sense tells me not to do that.

What if? Did I really know the situation? So anyway, that’s the kind of the mentality I try to use when I’m asking questions. What ifs, are you sure you’re asking all the right questions? You got all the information. I think what’s interesting about that is you are leading people to come up with the decisions themselves.

You’re not dictating what that should be or how you think it should be. You’re asking the questions to get them to a solution without you having to be the driver there. Totally, and that only works if I am flexible enough to know that there may be another solution. It’s not always my solution, but in my head I’m thinking, oh yeah, we got to get this person here.

It may come up with a better solution or a different solution or something that I hadn’t thought of and so on. So, yeah, I’ve got to get them thinking, what ifs? Did I cover all the angles? Did I ask all the questions with the hiring manager or the client? Whatever it would be. Because if I don’t ask all the right questions, I’m not going to have the data I need to perform at my highest level to, to meet the person’s expectations of whoever it is that I’m trying to deliver for. Yeah. Oh, that’s awesome.

How did you get good at asking those questions? Was that, and even too, like leadership in general, I feel like there’s an inherent quality of that care and interest in others.

Was your progression to being a leader natural, or did you find you had to intentionally decide that you wanted to become a leader?

I don’t remember ever thinking about me being the person in charge, it doesn’t ring a bell. I will say if I could put my finger on something that maybe differentiated me from the crowd, and that would probably be initiative. Ever since I was a little kid, I mean, the paper route, playing baseball, getting a job when I was 16. I was that person that always raised their hand. I got things done quickly, done well, didn’t need to be micromanaged, and I think I stood out that way. And so, that’s kind of how it got started. I didn’t even think about though, it was what I was doing.

It was just how I did things. And someone once told me that, leadership is, true leadership, is about being able to influence without the title. I really like that. And I think about that because I don’t have a title that I can influence everybody. I have a title, but I didn’t always have that title.

So how did I influence up, how did I influence my peers, et cetera. Was, was really another key piece of my, growth. I’ve figured out how to do that through my actions basically. I wasn’t a talker, I didn’t talk myself up. I was very humble, in a sense of, I don’t even want you to look at me.

I’m just going to do what I got to do and we’re going to do it the greatest we’ve ever done it before. But I think the other side of that too is having patience about what is that next step like, I never worried about am I going to get promoted or I don’t, I know I’ve never spoken to a one of my managers or bosses about, when am I going to get promoted or given responsibility?

I just wanted to be the best at what I was doing and let the results, speak to themselves. Now, it doesn’t mean that, and then people can word this any way they want to. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask, what do I need to do? What’s the goal here? What’s the strategy?

Ask those questions. But I’d highly recommend never using the when as a word in some of a conversation with your boss about when am I going to get a raise? When am I going to get promoted? If you’re doing everything like you should be, you’ll be recognized. I love that.

Yeah. There’s like a quality of the humble hustle almost, right? Being able to, I mean, obviously natural there, but there is having to like really cultivate and develop those skills that make you stand out in the way that you’ve kind of highlighted. Great. That’s awesome. That’s done well for me.

I mean it really has because just over my time of seeing you, right? I mean, you’ve-

you are really good at like the things that you do and I think there is

there’s something to be spoken about, right? I think there’s always comments about, “Hey, you, just because you’re good at the technical skills at your job doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to become a good people manager.

But I think to a certain extent too, though, there is an aspect of having to be really good at your job. And I think what’s made you a really great leader is you’ve done the tactical things. You’re able to put yourselves in your worker’s shoes or your employee’s shoes because you’ve done it, and you’ve done it really well. I agree. That’s a big factor. Being a a smee on something is certainly helpful.

I love that. Anyone who’s watching, who knows Steve would, I think really agree is you’re really good at giving feedback.

And that I think is really important. Like the coaching piece. You know, helping elevate other leaders to get to where they, future leaders even, to where they need to go. And that’s something that’s always really stood out to me about you. How have you kind of built that coaching philosophy or mentality throughout your career?

I’m going to have to say the feedback I’ve received, but more importantly, the feedback I didn’t receive. Oh. So, I would go into, and I’ve been in the business a long time, so I’ve had a lot of reviews.

I would go into reviews and I would go, where did that come from? Like no one-

I wish you would’ve had said something to me six months ago. I could have fixed that. And so that’s been my, I don’t want that to happen to anybody that’s under my direction or in my team or anything like that, because that’s the worst feeling is that you’ve been evaluated, you’ve been graded, or you’ve been talked about on something you didn’t know anything about.

That’s a personal life and a business life, I think. Just be honest. Good feedback, for me is, when you know that they’ve got something from what you’ve said. So it could be something that, it could be just one thing out of 30 minutes, but they got it and it made it a difference to them and so on.

You have to be very specific to what you’re saying. I think I shared this with you a couple of months ago, but I was like, I read something where saying, “Hey, just saying good job on something is probably lazy coaching.” Now, in a lot of cases. Good job might be enough. Yeah. We all know exactly what happened and that was a good job. If I could come to you and say, “Hey, good job. That PowerPoint presentation you made was awesome. Slide five, the data that you came up with was crushing it.” I mean, everybody walked away going, oh my gosh, where did that?-

That was awesome. Keep that up. Now I’ve given them, oh, okay, that’s good stuff, right? And I got to keep doing that. And the reality is, I think if you can. You’re always going to have weaknesses and you’re always going to have strength. But if you can focus 80% of your time on your good spots, then you are going to be a very productive person.

A lot of us worry about our weaknesses, right? Well, what do I got to work on? What do I got to- and that’s important. But if you can work on all the good things you’re really good at and get better at those, and your 80% goes to 90% of effective, productive processes that you’ve got in place, think how much even better you’ll be versus working on the one thing or two things that, oh, maybe it’s the writing, I’m not good at grammar, or something along those lines.

Yeah, good thing if we have technology that can help you with that, but, yeah. Focus on the good stuff. I love that. How do you think people can be better at receiving or being receptive to feedback? It’s always like really scary. People freak out, you know? You maybe experienced this earlier in your career.

I know I did. It hurts, it feels personal. How do you recommend people get better at receiving feedback? I know this is a very simple saying, but you have to just fully understand it’s not personal. If you can do that, then you can hear the feedback. If it’s, “I don’t like the tone, I don’t like the words you’re using, you’re personally attacking me.” If that’s all in the way, then you’ve lost the conversation and you’re not going to be receiving the feedback and getting better at what you need to do.

Now, I will put a lot of onus on the deliverer of the information to not do all of those things, and that is my responsibility to make sure I’m not doing that. But I’m human, right? People are human, and we are not always perfect in our speech. So from a receiving perspective, I think you just have to know, I think going back to originally we talked about trust, it’s, “Hey, this person has my back, this person has supported me. This person asked me, what can I do to get you better? So whatever he’s telling me or she’s telling me, I really probably should trust that it’s in my best interest.” It takes some time, sometimes, to get that way, especially if they come from another area another company that wasn’t that way. Right? And it was a lot of bad, “Oh you stink at this” and yeah, so it takes time.

I think even too, like going back to the one-on-ones and like creating spaces where feedback is meant to be shared has to help too, right? You’re creating a forum where feedback is expected and it can be asked, and it’s a safe space, right? To share it as opposed to publicly or in situations where it maybe isn’t as favorable. So, yeah. Yeah. Safe spaces are good. Yeah.

I think when you walk into the one-on-one, if you do it as I was talking about, it’s conversational. Hey, tell me about yourself. What are you working on? I think that helps make it a conversation. And it’s not a, this is what you need to do, this is what you haven’t done, blah, blah, blah. I mean, that’s important to get to that point, but how you get there is different. I’ve had plenty of times in my one-on-ones where somebody has said something that was probably not appropriate, kind of out of character. And if I took it personal or if I walked away going, Okay, I’m going to write that in my book and I’m going to make sure that next time-

I’d be a horrible leader. Yeah. People make mistakes. People say things sometimes that they shouldn’t, but how you react to it helps, I think for me anyway. For them to receive feedback coming to me knowing that, hey, I just said something, and they could probably go back and think about it and yeah, I probably shouldn’t have said that, but how I reacted, well help them understand.

It’s okay. Hey man, we’re all human. I love that. Oh, that’s such a like, not to reuse the word human, but such a humanistic way to look at it. That’s amazing. Yeah. I know you, at your level, right, you have other peers that are leaders, and you were kind of the first person in your peer group that became a director of TA at Encore.

And you also have people underneath you that are ascending into leadership roles. And I am curious, what feedback advice have you given them to help them kind of transition into these roles that are a little bit more strategic, are a little more people focused than just being an individual contributor?

I think going back to the questions that you ask, it becomes more important the higher you go up, the better questions you should be asking. It’s because more eyes are on you at a higher level. There’s more upper management that’s watching what you’re doing.

You want to make sure you’re-

fully understand what’s required of me or being asked of me and so on. So that’s one thing I try to work with ’em on. At this level, it’s not as dramatic. I mean it’s really mining nuggets of gold here and there. Hey, did you ask about this? I didn’t think about that.

Simple things like that. The other part is, it’s one thing when you look at your manager and go, “oh, I could do it way better than them.” Yeah, sure. And then you get into that role and you find out, wow, right. Talking to eight different people who are all different in their personalities.

It’s not that easy, right? So you try to teach them a little bit about, more about, how people are responding to their communication. Did you notice this? Did you notice that? Or could you have, maybe we did it this way, would that have changed? So it’s higher level, definitely, coaching that goes on.

Awesome. So Steve, if myself or someone listening were to take away one thing from this conversation, what do you hope it is?

Man, that’s tough, because a lot of stuff we talked about was so valuable, but I really think it comes down to information, right? Having the right information, which you only get by asking the right questions. Understanding the workspace that you’re in, understanding what the team’s trying to do and so on.

But really asking the right questions so you don’t have to, it’s not 20 questions like bing, bing, bing, bing, bing. It’s what’s the right question here? And making sure, ’cause that one usually leads to other things. It enables people to learn, it enlightens them, it gives them different perspectives.

There’s a lot of great stuff that can happen if you’re asking the right questions. Amazing.

Alright, well Steve, you did such a good job that my dog, Bonnie wanted to join and be a part of the conversation.

So here’s to you. Hey Bonnie. But thank you so much for joining. I mean, I obviously selfishly love any excuse to get to chat with you again and see you and so like having you on my podcast was, I mean, such a dream come true. And I know this is going to be really impactful for folks watching.

All right, everyone, well, thank you again for joining me for What’s Working. Again, my name is Nicole Magats. I’m a lead recruiter at Hirewell, and this is filmed in conjunction with Hirewell, if you guys have any questions or want to connect with Steve, he is tagged in the post.

But thank you again for joining. Thanks, Nicole. Take care.

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