The Path To Leadership

Cultivating Space for Reflection in the Leadership Landscape with Erin Fajen

March 19, 2024 Catalyst Development Season 1 Episode 26
Cultivating Space for Reflection in the Leadership Landscape with Erin Fajen
The Path To Leadership
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The Path To Leadership
Cultivating Space for Reflection in the Leadership Landscape with Erin Fajen
Mar 19, 2024 Season 1 Episode 26
Catalyst Development

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Have you ever wondered how to communicate effectively with your team or manage the invisible weight of leadership? This week, we're joined by leadership maven Erin Fajen, founder of On the Up, who brings her extensive experience to the table. From her beginnings training healthcare professionals to launching her own company, Erin's insights into connections and the Everything DiSC framework are a treasure trove for anyone looking to guide with empathy and influence.

Leadership isn't just about strategy; it's about managing the burdens that come along with it, too. We unpack the critical but often overlooked practice of shedding responsibilities to prevent burnout, and share personal anecdotes that underscore the importance of reflection and boundary-setting. This episode is a heartfelt conversation about tidying up not just our desks, but also our commitments and emotional investments, to lead more effectively and with a lighter load.

Finally, we touch on a subject close to my heart: the importance of self-care in leadership. Through personal stories and shared experiences, we explore the challenges of overcommitment and the power of saying no. The episode rounds out with a look at how programs like Madam President Camp are creating waves in young women's lives. Join us for a session filled with real-life learnings and actionable insights to enrich your leadership journey.

Connect on LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/erinfajen

Follow Catalyst Development on LinkedIn @catalystdevelopment, @drkatieervin, @jennascott, @emmablankenship

www.cdleaders.com

Theme music by Emma Jo https://emmajo.rocks/

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

Have you ever wondered how to communicate effectively with your team or manage the invisible weight of leadership? This week, we're joined by leadership maven Erin Fajen, founder of On the Up, who brings her extensive experience to the table. From her beginnings training healthcare professionals to launching her own company, Erin's insights into connections and the Everything DiSC framework are a treasure trove for anyone looking to guide with empathy and influence.

Leadership isn't just about strategy; it's about managing the burdens that come along with it, too. We unpack the critical but often overlooked practice of shedding responsibilities to prevent burnout, and share personal anecdotes that underscore the importance of reflection and boundary-setting. This episode is a heartfelt conversation about tidying up not just our desks, but also our commitments and emotional investments, to lead more effectively and with a lighter load.

Finally, we touch on a subject close to my heart: the importance of self-care in leadership. Through personal stories and shared experiences, we explore the challenges of overcommitment and the power of saying no. The episode rounds out with a look at how programs like Madam President Camp are creating waves in young women's lives. Join us for a session filled with real-life learnings and actionable insights to enrich your leadership journey.

Connect on LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/erinfajen

Follow Catalyst Development on LinkedIn @catalystdevelopment, @drkatieervin, @jennascott, @emmablankenship

www.cdleaders.com

Theme music by Emma Jo https://emmajo.rocks/

Speaker 1:

Hi everyone, welcome back to the Path to Leadership. I am super excited to introduce you to one of my dear friends and, quite frankly, probably one of the reasons I am sitting here wearing a Catalyst hat, which we'll talk about that. But hey, erin, how are you? I'm well. Thank you for having me. Well, I'm so excited to have you and to share about your work and then kind of also our connection and how we got here. Excellent, can't wait, yay. So can you tell us just introduce yourself, who you are, what you're doing, what you got going on? Sure.

Speaker 2:

Erin Fajian. I run a business called On the Up and my focus is to work with leaders and managers. You know, people, humans who have a deep care and passion for helping others develop, and so I specialize in everything disc. So I do a lot of disc workshops and coaching and leadership programming, but more than that, I just really enjoy helping leaders find the way to, you know, kind of set down the heavy stuff and lean into what really works for them.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I love it because, as I tease, like you're really good at that, intentionally and unintentionally, like helping people find the path, and so for me, like we met a couple of years ago and I was kind of like through our friends, mike Allison connected us and I'm like what are you thinking about doing this? And I don't know and you're like do it go, john.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, it's easy to encourage people that you see talent in right. You were right there, ready to make that leap, and you had all the right pieces in place and just that little nudge, I could see it in you. You were just on that, you know, edge of greatness and it's been so fun to watch your journey unfold since the day we had that conversation.

Speaker 1:

Well, and I appreciate it so much and your journey is part of what inspired me, so can you share it with everyone kind of your career journey and how you've ended up where you are now?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, sure you know, I started my professional career in training and development. That was, you know, just really where my passion was and teaching and being a part of that learning process and I really had a travel bug after an opportunity to travel and study abroad when I was in college, and so I knew that I wanted to have an opportunity to see the world, and my first position gave me that opportunity to be training doctors and nurses in hospitals all over the United States and then eventually got an opportunity to spend about a year in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which just solidified for me just how much I enjoy, you know, learning about other cultures not just learning about being immersed in other cultures and having a, you know, chance to sit down and talk with people. Humans are just humans everywhere. We all have the same worries and struggles and we all go to work and come home, we go to the grocery store and come home. We want to be with our families and you know people care about the same types of things and that kind of unifying thread really kind of lit the fire under me and I knew that the next big global opportunity that came up I wanted to raise my hand for. So I had a really, really cool chance to go and live in Australia for a couple of years and build the learning business on behalf of our organization in Australia, and that was just. That was incredible opportunity to meet so many different people from all different cultures in that role.

Speaker 2:

And you know, once that kind of era of my life came to a conclusion and it was time to time to head back home and be back in Kansas City, I knew that the thing that was the most obvious to me is the leaders, the managers, the people who took on the burden of responsibility of the care and care and feeding of the humans doing this really complex work that meant so much to the world. They were burnt out and very stressed and taking on more and more, and not just more work, but more emotional burden, more mental stress around how do we make this work and care for the humans in the process. And so, you know, my heart for leaders just continued to grow and I knew that I wanted to spend some time learning how to run leadership development programs, learn the management training space, anything that I could do to help really, and so that's how I got involved and spent the last you know, 10 years or so, really kind of developing that out.

Speaker 2:

And as my time went on, you know, and as family circumstances changed, I decided to make the leap out of the corporate world and, kind of, you know, bring what I had learned, you know, kind of to the streets. I had this idea was, you know, I didn't know what my business was going to look like, but I knew that there had to be a way to pour even more into those leaders that were feeling that heavy, heavy burden. And so that's where that's how I ended up spending all this energy and building my business around, really just caring for leaders.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, I love that. And before I go all the way down that road with that, the other cool thing, the work that you do is you're a master facilitator for disk and I love disk. I mean, people know Catalyst, we love working genius. But yeah, this is one of those and we've talked about this before how it marry so beautifully. I think it's so important. So can you talk a little bit about the work you do with disk and why you know it has such an impact on organizations and individuals?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I, you know, looking back on my career, there have been days where you know you just look back and you're like, oh, that felt, it just felt so good, it felt so energizing, it felt right. And those were days when I was invited to facilitate disk for groups. Those were the days where we got to set down kind of the heavy work of the day and really like look at each other for the first time as humans, to share our stories, to talk about our backgrounds and experiences and how they shape the way we show up at work. And that level of self disclosure, that sharing, that building of trust really paves the way for some of the tougher conversations that we have to have in the workplace. Because I don't know about you, but when it comes to having to deliver tough feedback to somebody, I want that coming from a place of deep care and respect for the human. I'm sitting across from whether I'm on the giving or receiving end of that. And so when I decided to kind of take my energy for a disk and actually make that into a business, I gave a lot of thought to.

Speaker 2:

You know, there are a lot of different assessments and different profiles out there and I love working genius and so my ranks is absolutely fantastic. There's so many and there's so many tools that help you learn more about you and then you walk into a room and that need to be able to read the room and quickly understand how can I relate to this person and be even more effective and really effective. Not just I don't need to be right, but I do need to be effective in my ability to work with different people, and I think that's what the disk in a programming offers, and the reason I love facilitating it is because you get so much out of, you know, taking an assessment. That's great. It's the guided reflection, like the actual taking the time, spending, spending that intentional moment, like really deciding.

Speaker 2:

Is this me, you know? Is this a blind spot that I have? Or, you know, do I even care that this feedback is sitting here? Because maybe this is, you know, maybe this feels like harsh feedback to one person, but maybe it's actually a part of my style and my swagger that I love, and so, you know, just being aware of it is kind of the point. But the assessments are useful. The use, the actual use of it comes from you know, kind of deciding if you're going to accept it, you're going to reject it or question it, and you know, make your own decision on what that's like, yeah, what that is to you.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and I love that I've seen you not the full disk facilitation, but doing some kind of introducing disks to a group of leaders and just even just watching people say yes, that's me, no, that's not me Kind of that self-awareness and how you use those strengths and those opportunities and to really use that self-awareness to just lean into who you are.

Speaker 2:

I love it. I love the. You know you talk about strengths. You mentioned strengths and opportunities and certainly we do talk about. You know, here's how you come across to others, here's the impact that you might have on a room and there's opportunities that come with that.

Speaker 2:

But you know, my take on disk is I love getting the opportunity to celebrate what makes you, you know, really celebrate the attributes that you uniquely bring to the room, and that's pretty exciting and I think that's the emphasis that I put on disk. That may be different than how others facilitate it, but I really just enjoy that opportunity to acknowledge and appreciate and I feel like that's the piece of, you know, just kind of the variety, the diversity of thought, the diversity of style of how we operate in the workforce and in the workplace that I don't know that we celebrate it often enough. We talk a lot about, hey, I need to get better at this or, you know, I could really kind of sharpen that saw a little bit more. But the things that we do really well, just like letting that shine and being so celebratory about it that others know that they can come to us and really tap into that, and I think that's what in working genius you talk about so much is. Let's tap into that genius because that's fantastic.

Speaker 1:

Let's have more of that. Yeah, yeah, I think you're so right and you talk about and I've seen you talk about the importance of simplifying our life and the way we do things, and I know that a lot of the work that you do is around that concept. So how do you do that? What does that look like?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, for me it has been a really personal journey of simplifying and over the past probably 10 years I've taken a really hard look at things like physical things in my life that are just like this you know this cup. Why is this cup sitting here, like, do I love this cup? I mean, it's just like it's stuff in your life. You just accumulate things over the course of your life and it's not just physical items. You pick up different responsibilities, like we do in our work.

Speaker 2:

I don't know. I've just always done that. It's been a thing I enjoyed. We pick up obligations, have a monthly coffee date with so and so, or we always get together as a family for these particular events. So you've got relationships that continue to grow and evolve and you kind of reach this crescendo in life where you're kind of maxed out, can't really fit any more stuff in your home, you can't really fit anything else on your calendar and you actually might not be able to fit anything else in your heart.

Speaker 2:

I mean, there's just so much to care for that I feel like it's really useful to spend the time to take a hard look at what's getting your attention, what is filling up the physical space in your life, what is filling up time on your calendar, and especially as leaders who have the additional desire to take on the emotional and mental burden of caring for the livelihood of others, to help care for their development that extends into their family and all of the things that they care about. So you could take on these huge burdens when you step into a leadership role and if you're not careful it can really burn you out, and that's what happened to me. I got really burned out and I had to do some things that I didn't think that I would ever step out of that corporate role where I was climbing that ladder and kind of start over at zero, yeah, and without a plan, and I don't think that we have to get there. I don't think it has to be this catastrophic moment that happens for folks, and so it is my hope that, through different conversations, everybody hears things differently in the moment that they need to hear them, whether that's through a disk workshop or some professional development event that they go to or a conversation that they have with someone that they trust. All these different experiences are happening for you and giving you a chance to reflect and, if we're looking at those different experiences as intentional moments, really consider what's working for me here, what's not. You don't have to go throw away your entire wardrobe or delete your entire calendar. You don't have to declare email bankruptcy although I have done that and that's a pretty fun topic to dive into.

Speaker 2:

It doesn't have to be dramatic, it does have to be intentional, or we'll get to a place where we just can't fit anything else on our plate. We might not have room for ourselves if we go too far with it. I just like to build that into everything I do, whether I'm coaching or working with organizations on leadership programming. One of the first things I ask is what are we not going to do? What are you focused on setting down Before you take on this new thing? I don't know that we always spend enough time on that. I know that was never role-modeled for me. I was given more projects, more direct reports, more responsibility, and I was never asked what will you set down?

Speaker 1:

in order to do this new thing successfully.

Speaker 2:

It was never role-modeled for me. I'm hopeful that leaders in the future will be equipped to role-model that for others.

Speaker 1:

But it will take some work.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I think you're so right. I talk a lot lately with especially women, but men as well. We're spinning all of these plates all the time. Like you said, instead of taking plates away and keeping like three of them spinning really well, we're just adding more plates and we're just constantly running in this chaos and for our leaders it's to. You did a really cool program with the participants of that sitting reflection of what are you going to take away, even to the point where they pulled out their cell phones and are like what in here that don't need to be, like what are the contacts that don't need to be here anymore? That's a really powerful thing to reflect on. Sometimes we just have seasons where we need something and then we don't need that anymore. It's okay to remove that in that season of life.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. Yeah, we move really fast. I mean, this is a modern era that leaders haven't had to operate in before, so we have to navigate this in a different way than those that came before us. So I think it's these types of conversations that can help just remind us of what we already know, like we already know we have too many things going on. We already know our calendar is bloated. We already know we probably over committed and we don't really feel like going to the thing we said we'd go to. We don't have the tools and the role modeling as broadly in saying no and saying thank you, I need to protect my energy. That's not something I can take on right now. It's not popular to say no. It's not widely accepted. So role modeling that in a way that is professional, that is courteous, that gives others permission to practice it, yeah, I think is a really powerful leadership skill that we're not leveraging fully.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Yeah, it's that prioritizing ourselves and prioritizing what we need. I shared a story with you. There were some events that I really wanted to go to, but I also just needed to crawl in bed and put on my PJs. I had to prioritize that in myself. I really feel like you do that really well. I've learned a lot of that from you. You got to take care of yourself and your family and your relationships. You're so good at that and I know you've practiced it, but you're so good at it.

Speaker 2:

Oh well, thank you. Thank you. Yeah, it's been a very long journey. I'm still learning, still learning.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I think that's. The important thing is and I talked about this recently with a different podcast guest is we never really fully master anything. We have to just keep working and growing and going and acknowledging that it's just a journey. It's a journey Absolutely. Yeah, I love it. Well, the other thing is you're a big supporter of Madam President. We recently had Mary Mesner on. She's one of your good friends. You guys do such cool stuff together, but I had not heard of Madam President camp until I met you and Mary. Can you talk a little bit about why it's important to you and why you're such a big supporter of that program?

Speaker 2:

Sure, I mean okay. So, madam President, camp for those who aren't familiar with it, it's a in-person day camp for young girls to explore the concepts of leadership through the lens of civic engagement. So they spend a week hearing from role models, mentors, leaders in the community, helping them even define what a leader is. And you know, my connection to that is that data shows that before I believe it and Mary knows these statistics even better, but I believe it's before the age of eight, boys and girls have the same level of confidence and then, as something happens, and the girls, their confidence tanks and it takes until their 40s for that confidence level to come back up to equal confidence level of men. And so I just that feels like such a miss in our society that we're missing out on you know, 32 years of these incredibly powerful, talented women who express their full power, and I know that I felt that in my own life and you know, as a young girl I felt very confident. I was so self assured. I was like, yeah, I got this. My parents asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said I want to be in charge. That was my answer. I wanted to be in charge and then, you know, somewhere along the way I just lost that confidence that it could be me or that I could be that next leader I always saw there was, you know, somebody else that might be more qualified, and I didn't take all the risks that I could have taken as confidently as I could have taken them. And so, madam President, camp has been.

Speaker 2:

I've witnessed the transformative experience that can happen in a week. In a week it is amazing that these young girls you know asking them the question are you a leader? On day one, and no hands go up. On day five, every hand is in the air and they're confident. I mean, one camper took the mic out of my hand as I was facilitating the kind of graduation ceremony. She took the mic out of my hand and gave like a speech to her peers. She felt so confident and so excited and just like jazzed up and just like we're leech, kind of like let a little pep rally, and it was fantastic and how powerful our communities would be if women felt like let me grab that microphone and tell you what we're going to go do next. That's just, I think, incredibly special and the environment that they're able to create at Madam President Camp. To elicit that kind of a response in such a short period of time, it's kind of magical. So I love the organization, I love supporting them and, yeah, it's pretty cool.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I think that's so. It's so amazing and so important. You know, as women, to show up for other women and to show up for young girls, and you know you talked about you know having role models and being role models and you know showing, showing everyone that it's okay, and I think it's so important and I believe a lot of people are getting better at that. But what I love about the work you do and kind of the network of people we kind of have around us is, as a group of women, we just show up and support each other and I think that's pretty cool.

Speaker 2:

I agree, I agree and I, you know, wouldn't have found the same type of enthusiastic support for other women growing their careers, growing their businesses If I had stayed doing the work that I was doing in the corporate environment, and I'm just, I just feel really grateful to have found this network and this community providing those role models, because I don't know where all that exists.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah Well, and it's so cool because you recently and on the up was recently recognized as one of the greater KC chamber small business superstars, so congratulations on that.

Speaker 2:

That's really cool, thank you, thank you and congratulations to you as well. And the catalyst team.

Speaker 1:

Thank you, yeah, and what I love about that is what's cool is we don't know who like you, don't know who nominated you, we don't know.

Speaker 2:

I know.

Speaker 1:

For someone to take the time to recognize the work and be like you're doing great work and we, we're going to share it. But so I think that's really, really fun.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I think that's a really it's an incredible program and the fact that it exists is is pretty cool. But then to have you know, clients, colleagues, peers, invited to nominate, yeah, it was really special recognition. So thank you.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, Well, and you're doing so many cool things. I know you're doing a program with Mary at your M KC. Where can people find you? What? What do you got going on?

Speaker 2:

Yeah we have a Presentations Connection Workshop, and let me explain the name of that, because Mary does a lot of keynote speaking. She's a professional speaker. I facilitate workshops and professional development experiences. So you know the combination of standing on stage in front of a large number of people in a professional speaking environment and breaking out into smaller groups and facilitating conversations that can be at times quite intimate and, you know, personal.

Speaker 2:

You know marrying those two together to really take away, like I don't know how many people are gonna be in the room that you're talking to. It might be one person, it might be 5,000 people, we don't know. The point is, when you're standing in front of a group of people conveying a message, it's not just about having a perfect presentation, it's about connecting and telling your story in a way that captivates an audience, helps them consider how those messages might stir up some different feelings in them. And you know, just really not worrying about being perfect. Maybe you lean on the podium, Maybe you, you know, tap your toes or whatever's happening, and we're not as worried about that as the story that you have inside of you, that we all need to hear from you.

Speaker 1:

Well and we'll put your LinkedIn in there so people can follow you and connect and see all the cool stuff you've got going on. So the last question I ask everybody when I ask this question because, you know, social media sometimes paints things as very shiny and beautiful and pretty, which is lovely, but that's not real life as we know. So to level your comfortable sharing what is your biggest leadership or career messed up that you've taken no gosh there's so many to choose from.

Speaker 2:

Let's see. Well, you know, I talked a little bit about having an opportunity to be in Australia for a couple of years and I thought I know everything about this business. I've been, you know, managing these teams and working with these types of clients for a long time, and doing this type of work Like this is gonna be so much fun. And I was there for just over two years and the first year I was being asked to. So the job was go build the learning business in the Australian you know, australian, new Zealand market. And so I thought, okay, this would be a really fun challenge, this would be really cool, and I know my stuff. You know, I felt confident that I knew my stuff. But I didn't know sales, and I certainly didn't know sales in that environment. And so I did what I do best, which is put in a lot of effort, and I built an agenda and I invited everyone to come and I talked to all the key stakeholders and I brought everyone together and I got, you know, pastries and we had a conference room and it was all very official and I was like, okay, here's the, you know, here's the sales goal and here's how we're gonna do it. And here's the demo and here's your part and my part. Here we go.

Speaker 2:

And, katie, people stopped coming to my meetings, like they just didn't come. Oh no, for like a year. Oh no, I mean, I was not popular in this office and I was talking to one of the executives that you know. I reported to him. Man, I'm just trying my heart out here. You know, I'm putting in all this effort and I'm going and getting these leads and I'm doing these demos and holding these meetings and like people aren't coming, like where's the team? And they were saying things like oh, erin, stop being so great, stop making us all look bad. Or, you know, stop being so amazing. And I was relaying this to this person that I trusted a lot and she just stopped and she looked me right in the face and she said I think they want you to stop. They're saying stop being so great. They're saying stop making us look bad. But all of these phrases begin with the word stop.

Speaker 1:

Yeah.

Speaker 2:

And when I heard that, I mean I was just. I was deflated, like what, stop being like me. I mean, I don't know what you want me to do. This is how I do things, and what I failed to take into account is just the culture that I was operating in was not one of. Let's have a Monday morning meeting at 8 am and, you know, call everybody out for their mistakes, which you know who wants to go to that meeting anyway, and that's essentially what I was doing.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I didn't make a lot of friends in that first year and I certainly didn't make any money. We did not meet our goal, that's for sure. But the lesson that I learned was to stop. I was holding on so tight and I was just putting in all this effort and like grinding so hard for something that wasn't working, rather than letting go and looking at people and having a heart for what they cared about, not just my, like literal agenda. And so I started going to coffee with people and getting to know them, spending some time finding out what they were worrying about, and that was the first time in my career that I really, truly in my soul, understood importance of, you know, care and feeding for the people doing the work, not just the work, because we were all very good at all the work we were doing.

Speaker 2:

It was the people that mattered the most and when you're aligned with the people, a lot of really good things can happen, and so that next year we saw a lot more success as a team and we knocked it out of the park. It was a really, really cool year, but it wasn't without its highs and lows. I had a lot of repairing of relationships to do and I learned a lot from that. And that was really the kind of fire that it lit under me to say you know, I've got a lot to learn in this space and I would like to lean into that because I can see the power of relationship development and working together to be effective, not just the one. That's right, because I found out pretty hard that that's not work More effort to not work, but letting go works.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, wow. Well, thank you for sharing that story and what a beautiful illustration of where you are today. And you know I would imagine you know the lessons you learned during that after that year. Yeah, and I think you're really out so beautifully in the work you do now.

Speaker 2:

Thank you, yes, it's been. I mean like.

Speaker 2:

I said it's been a long journey and I feel like I just continue to relearn those lessons. That was more of a macro version of that lesson and felt more dramatic, but continuing to focus on it, I think, is the point. And focusing on, you know, what can we, what are we, what are we holding on to so tightly? That isn't working. And when those moments come, I I'm getting better and better at learning to let go and that's helping me to you know, in my own business and in working with my clients recognize those patterns and start to you know, interrupt them more effectively.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, when I think as leaders, you know, as we come through our career journey, it's like, especially early in my career it was you know what I think I'm supposed to be and so I'm just going to just bulldoze through it, and it's like, oh, I wish I would have, I wish I would have had like the knowledge or the emotional intelligence or even just the basic sense of okay, you can't bulldoze your way to success.

Speaker 2:

Yeah 100%.

Speaker 1:

Yeah Well, thank you so much for your time today and sharing your stories and, really more importantly, thank you for the support you have given me and to the catalyst team. I just I love having you in my advisory group and support and and I just appreciate you so much. So thank you, Thank you, Katie. Thank you, you are welcome. Well, everyone, I will put Erin's contact information the show notes so you guys can reach out and connect. If you are not doing disc, what are you doing? Reach out to Erin, learn more about it, you know. Figure out what she's doing and how she can support you and your organization. You won't be disappointed. So, thank you everyone for joining us and thank you Erin. Talk to you soon, Right? Thanks, Katie. Bye everyone.

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