Challenging Yourself to Lead with Catherine Rymsha

Reading Time: 17 Minutes

Catherine Rymsha knows what makes a leader, a leader. Based on her years of training, research, and consulting, she’s determined how a person becomes one: they make the decision to lead.

After the Interview

About Catherine Rymsha

Catherine is a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, where she teaches courses on leadership. Catherine spent over ten years in leadership roles ranging from marketing healthcare conferences to writing speeches on payment card security. She now leads learning and development for a software company. Between her academic and professional experience, Catherine has taught thousands of courses on leadership, feedback, and career development to global leaders across an array of industries.   

Read the Transcript

This transcript was auto-generated from the original video recording using Otter Voice Meeting Notes. While the transcript has not been human edited, we hope it will still help you to quickly find or reference useful information from the interview.


Deliberate Leaders I am your host, Allison Dunn, Executive Coach and Founder of the Deliberate Leaders podcast helping you build strong, thriving businesses. And so the question on the table today is, have you ever thought about what it takes for an individual to grow into a strong leader? Well, today we have Catherine Rymsha with us. She is a true expert on this matter. Catherine has spent years building her experience on this topic, and in her book The Leadership Decision, she explains her opinion of how a person becomes a leader. Throughout her experience, Katherine has taught 1000s of courses on leadership, feedback and career careers, to global leaders across an array of different industries. She believes that we are all capable of leadership and through her book, she provides ways that we can develop our leadership brand. I’m excited to dive into this topic deeper, as I believe the book really aligns well, with our mission that we strive for here to lead deliberately and deliberate directions. Catherine, thank you so much for joining us today.


Thank you, Alison. I’m so excited to be here and to be sharing a bit more about me in my book with your listenership.


Fantastic. And I just want to shout out, we have listeners all the way across the country, and we have a strong listenership back in New England. And so you are in the Massachusetts area. So I wish I hadn’t been home for a long time. So I hope the weather is better there than I is in the mid part of the country.


It’s, I think it’s a bit better than what it is in the midpoint of the country. But it is still pretty cold here, as I’m sure you can recall from your own good times.


Fantastic. So I just want to say I absolutely love the quote, that is inside of your book description, which is challenge yourself when you decide to lead today. And I just think that that is such a powerful question that people can choose to do. Right, right.


Yeah, they, can. And that’s where it one thing, you know, through studying leadership that I was always kind of perplexed by is that so many people don’t realize about how, you know, leadership is not simply a title, it’s an active decision that you need to make for yourself, and to your point to in the mission of what you do, you know, being very deliberate in your actions and behaviors and making sure that you’re doing everything that you can to be a great leader.


Why do you believe that leadership is a decision? And at what point does someone decide to make it?


Yeah, you know, it first came to me, you know, for years, I’ve studied leaders, and what makes a good leader, a good leader, and the studies and the research and the books and listening to all of the great podcasts out there, and the whole kind of podcast sphere. And one day, when I was doing a session, somebody asked me to present specifically on, you know, how does one become a leader, and I started to really think about how it’s a choice, and it’s making very smart, deliberate choices in what you’re going to either do or not, that’s going to help you be perceived and branded as a leader. And I wish that I had a more kind of scientific way to say, you know, I came at this at a, you know, a level of research and I and I did, but it just seemed that there were some people and it wasn’t, you know, an age or a title or particular job level. But it just seemed like some people, whether they were 21, and deciding to lead or 47 interseting to lead or 52, when deciding to lead but for whatever reason, they had that internal of some say clock that was ticking, but that might not be the great analogy that I’m looking for. But they had this kind of push inside of wanting to take initiative and to do something that was going to make an impact. And like I said, I see that happen at all ages, genders backgrounds, and what have you. But I think this is where some people get stuck or put in a rut when it comes to leadership, especially at the corporate level is that they feel like they have to be promoted or told to lead and they might be fearful to take initiative or may not know what that looks like. But that’s what really defines someone who leads from someone who doesn’t.


I have been a lifetime Rotarian, which is just a professional community professional club, essentially and it has a worldwide presence. And I think that I have seen some of the best demonstrations that leadership can happen at any age. With our youth programs, some of our youth leaders that are coming up into leadership roles in the in the business world are just going to be absolutely phenomenal.


They are Yeah, I am to and to think about some of these super young people, creating startups and just being so entrepreneurial. And there thought, you know, I was talking to a friend and her 16 year old niece is taking a business planning course as like a sophomore in high school. And I’m like, where was that when I was in high school, I mean, that would have made such a difference. So it’s so exciting to think about how it’s at any age, people are getting ready to lead and especially at the younger levels to take on a bigger, brighter future.


In in your book, you talk about the toll as an acronym, can you explain to our listeners what that is? In regarding to gaining leadership awareness?


Sure. So when I was writing the book, I was thinking a lot about my own career and some of my own professional struggles about thinking like, at times, Why wasn’t I getting promoted, or what was happening in this particular situation where I felt maybe undervalued or even thinking about some of the situations and being a woman where men were a bit kind of critical of my appearance, and how that played into my leadership, quote, unquote, capability. So I wanted to provide a practical lens for my readership, and some of which, as I say this, I feel silly, because I just wrote a book about it, but some of which feels superficial, but it’s not because with timing, the toll model stands for timing, opportunity looks in likes. So oftentimes, like I said, as I began to mention, when I think about looks and likes, it feels very high school, like, Are you the popular one of the company who looks good, that’s going to get promoted. But like I said, when I was analyzing my own career, and having managers say, like, well, this one’s getting promoted, because they’re attractive, or this one is thinner and getting promoted, which like I said, I feel so silly sometimes saying it, but sometimes it’s those conversations have like a level of awareness of like, Okay, if people are still making very biased decisions, if you will, about the fundamental, not even the fundamental, but about the basics of how someone looks, and whether they’re a great leader or not, it’s such a disconnect between what we teach in the academic world about the skills and the competencies and the attributes that make a leader, a leader. But yet, we don’t talk about some of those kind of elements that come up in settings that we can’t control how people perceive us, the T, and the O stands for timing and opportunity. So not only is it about considering, you know where you are in your career with timing, but even if you think about outside of the corporate world, or kind of structures that define whether a leader is a leader, it’s making your own. It’s thinking about your own timing about is it a great time for me to lead, but then on top of that making your own opportunities. So even if you’re not getting promoted, or leading formerly within the corporate world, are there more areas within your communities or hobbies or other pursuits that you can create your own opportunities to exert yourself as a leader and what that looks like? So that’s where I came up with total, and just thinking about, you know, where I’ve had my own roadblocks heard friends have their own roadblocks have students have their own roadblocks. So in kind of analyzing those four elements, it does bring a greater sense of awareness about where you can make better leadership decisions.


I think so the L is likes and books. Okay, so the, so how do you influence the likes part of it? Because I do, I think that’s probably the most common that people can identify, you know, that they’re ready, and that there’s opportunity. But I do often hear like, I don’t think they liked me as much as this other candidate. So what are some of the specific skills that you can’t just get people in, not influenced others, but make the connection necessary so that the likes are there?


That’s a great question. And one that I think I still struggle with as a career professional. But you know, I think about I reported to a woman for many years and like yourself, you know, before getting into this world, I was in marketing, which was so ironic because I took a marketing course in college, and I was like, I never want to be in marketing. And then when I got out of school, like the first job I got was marketing. And I did it for about 10 or 12 years before making the switch. And I had this one manager who I reported to, and she did not like me and she was pretty vocal about that. And she wasn’t going to promote me she did not see any value in me and the work that I do. Did and at the time, I was pretty stressed out about it because I was thinking like to your question of how am I going to get this woman to like me enough that she sees value in me that she’ll promote me and help me advance in my own career, which was never going to happen. And I think when you’re in situations where you have a manager who’s either toxic or vocal to both you and others about your ability, it can be a very challenging situation to be in. And sometimes that’s the level of awareness of saying, is it worth fighting the fight knowing that this person is never going to see the value in May? So do I keep trying to form a relationship? Or do I move on and get in an environment and work for people who do see my value, which is probably the last ditch effort that one could make. But I think in the near term, if someone’s at a job that they love, and they happen to be presenting or working for a manager who doesn’t quite see value in them, or like them, or data, they feel kind of accepted in that environment. I think that’s where you’re getting feedback. And trying to understand the perceptions is so critical. And I know that’s a topic that you talk about a lot with your other guests. But people tend to be so fearful of feedback, even though it’s one of the more hot leadership topics out there. Right now. I mean, Everywhere you look, it’s being talked about, but yet, asking for feedback and trying to understand perception, and then understanding how you can use that knowledge to either kind of adjust your behaviors or kind of rethink how your strategy is going to look like dealing with folks can be really critical and making decisions to say, I’m going to work on this relationship, use this feedback as a tool to make it work. Or I’ve gotten to a point where it’s time for me to think differently about my career and take a new path. I


Very much appreciate that those sentiments on that. Catherine, what would you say are the few key leadership skills and behaviors that matter the most in side of businesses?


You know, one that I’ve been thinking a lot about, and I talked a little bit about this in the book. And it’s one that I’ve started to see a little bit more. And I was actually reading a Harvard Business Review case study about it was edge and I think about what edge looks like. And even in the book, I kind of struggled to define how a leader can be edgy and yet be liked and fit in but still kind of challenge the process and maybe need to cut when they need to do the right thing. And I think although that can be kind of difficult to describe the actual behaviors that give someone an edge, I still think that’s critical for people to think about and not simply going with the flow. But speaking up when the opinion may not be popular, or trying to do the right thing or pushing back to help support their team, especially during the current conditions and people needing to find balance. And sometimes trying to not be liked, because you’re doing the right thing can pay off even though in the moment it may not. And those are some of the examples that I look at when it comes to edge. But I think on the flip side of that, too, I think vulnerability is really key. And I know that that’s a topic sometimes it’s kind of looked upon, kind of like you within the world of leadership, like it shows a level of weakness. But I think between having an edge and being strong and trying to do the right thing. But also knowing when to step back and be vulnerable and connect are really two critical elements that leaders should be considering and trying to weave into their leadership style.


So I would I love the I love the term edge. I don’t think I’ve used that as like a leadership characteristic. But I think that’s a great word to hold on to and develop. Let’s talk about vulnerability and why it is so important for that connection side of things, because I think our willingness as leaders to show vulnerable ability in and be real, is what actually endears people to us when we’re edgy also, right. Instead of what is the Do you think vulnerability is something that people resist doing? Or is that something that is being more embraced?


Good question. You know, I want to say that people say that they’re trying to be more vulnerable, but I don’t think that’s actually the case because I think with people losing their jobs in some scenarios, With COVID of companies downsizing, or you know, leaders not wanting to look weak, because they’re trying to lead in a time of kind of uncertainty that they don’t want to say to their teams, like, I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen and what this looks like, and you know, finding their own struggles between balance between work and life. But yet, I think it’s something that leaders are saying that they’re exemplifying. But I don’t think that’s really the case, because so many folks are still trying to look strong, if you will, considering all that’s happening. And we get it. But I think sometimes that kind of perception of wanting to look strong or tough, might be kind of taken the wrong way. And that people feel like they can’t be vulnerable or admit when they’re concerned or feeling stressed, because they’re not seeing their leaders do the same thing, which adds another element of pressure, which is one thing that I think no one needs right now, considering all that’s going on.


I would agree with that. So you’ve spent a lot of time talking about leadership brand, what would be your advice to listeners about how they can define it for themselves, and, and then how to incorporate that into their lifestyle, because I think you have to be congruent between the two.


Totally, I make my MBA students do this all the time, and they hate me for it. But I love this, I love talking about leadership brands, and what that looks like. And what I tell them to do. And I think this is important for anyone as they begin to think about how they want to be perceived or understood as a leader and what their brand really signifies. But the thing that I have my MBA students do is first define what a leadership brand is. And there’s plenty of Harvard Business Review articles and other resources out there, as you know, about leadership brand. And it’s kind of a kind of a hot topic these days. But really defining you know, what does that look like for you? Is it similar to that of an organizational brand and just that you want what you want to be known and perceived as, or you know, your reputation. So there’s a lot of similarities there. But I think this is where the next step is really starting to define your own brand. And that can be difficult to do. And the thing that I tell my students to do is kind of come in from it from a different angle. But write a story about a time that you really felt like you were leading, whether at home or professionally or academically, whatever, write a story, maybe write two. And then after you write those stories, weed through it and talk about and have a kind of a side note to just put down where you see similarities or patterns and how you lead. And when you look at your stories, and look at your scratchpad of where you see kind of examples of competencies or certain behaviors that you exemplify, you can begin to use that shortlist to say, okay, as a leader, I’m hard working, I’m dedicated, I’m committed to my people. And yet, I’m gonna say that about myself. But yet I know that there are times in my life that I’ve exemplified that. Once you create that, let’s say definition, after you’ve kind of written your stories, you kind of have your shortlist you’ve written some sort of mission statement, I think the next step that leaders can do is really vet that with those that they know and care about, like, do you think this is reflective of May, and having that written out, and printing it out and having it at your workstation or in your refrigerator or in your car, can be a nice reminder to yourself to as you make decisions as a leader about Hey, am I living in line with what I say that I want my brand and my reputation to stand for. And that can be a helpful exercise just for people to get their minds wrapped around these concepts and how they kind of become the foundation for their decisions as leaders moving forward.


I do a similar exercise with the leaders that I’m working with. And I think the outreach, we are so shy about asking people for, like, what makes me special? Or what makes me unique, or what’s my special sauce that you’d say I have. And so I asked them to go out and ask a dozen people, it could be mom, it could be your best friend. It could be coworkers, it could be you know, past bosses, and it’s almost it almost brings tears to their eyes when they actually realize like all the things that make them cool and unique and special. And like what like they shine in on other people. So such a powerful exercise cool. And I do it could be used as leadership brand for sure. So


That’s awesome.


I love your concept of a special sauce because it is it is that special sauce of what makes you you and how you want to communicate and what you want to be known for. But it’s you want to do that introspection, But to your point to get that feedback from people at all aspects of your life to really flesh


What would you say is the turning point in your life where you made the decision that you were going to lead deliberately?


When I got to my early 30s, and I was in marketing, and like I said, I never thought I would be in marketing, but I did it. And I did it for a long time. And then, after working 10 years in it, I thought, This is not what I want the rest of my life to look like. And I was not happy marketing after a while. And I thought I don’t want to be a marketing leader, no offense to anyone who might be listening, who is a marketing leader by any means. But I felt, you know, I’d had my leadership expertise with education and teaching, but wanted to make that pivot from, like I said, marketing into leadership full time. And I think once I did that, I changed a lot and how I interacted with people, I think my own persona and brand changed. But I was able to make decisions that felt more like Catherine than what marketing Catherine felt like that I think helped me be a better leader. And I noticed that once I was in a role in an environment where I was more comfortable with my self, I think more of my own leadership strengths came through compared to being in a field that wasn’t quite a natural fit. And I had a manager who I worked for, at the time, when I pivoted, from marketing to od and leadership development. And he had been a former psychologist, he was in leadership development for years. And he always said, happiness in life is goodness of fit at work, which I always thought was such a nice little saying, My is it was happiness in life, his goodness of fit, but he would talk about it more in the work context, even though I think it can be applied to the overall generalization of life.


I thought that’s so true. Because once I was happier, I was able to lead better because I was more confident and more kind of happy with myself. But I think it was that realization of saying, like, I can’t do this for the rest of my career, I’m not, this is not me anymore. And then making that decision to move and be in an environment and a culture and in a field that felt like a better fit enabled me to lead better.


I think it’s, I assume that you’re, you know, being in a in a position or in a role instead of a company, recognizing that it’s not all of who you want to, you know, want to be is, is a common story. I relate to it a lot. I smiled when you were saying it, and then realized that was probably a disconnect for anyone who watches this on YouTube, that it was in marketing recognized, like I wasn’t exactly, exemplifying everything that I knew that I could bring to the world so and to move past into a new chapter in a new role and a better fit, how do you recognize when it’s the right time to take that leap? and lean in and lead deliberately? I


I think a couple things come to mind. And I think the biggest is when you start to have conversations with friends about how miserable you are at your job, and that starts to take over the conversation compared to anything else is a big warning sign that it’s time to move on. But I think it’s ultimately when you begin to wake up in the night thinking about the job and the stress or, you know, as I like, as I see people talk about on Facebook, or Instagram, and I felt it myself, but like the Sunday scare is you know, when Sunday afternoon around two, three o’clock comes around, and you start to get the butterflies or some of the anxiety and start thinking about the week and can’t quite still kind of relax with the weekend. You know, I think that’s a big sign. But I think for me, what I guess is I mentioned when I start talking about it more with friends and how upset I am and having that impact my relationships. That’s always a big eye opener to me, or when my friends start doing the same. And just simply focusing on work, if that’s where your mind is that and you can’t see anything else because you’re so stressed or unhappy with situations or managers or what have you, then that is a big sign that it’s time to be deliberate with a decision to move on and do something different.


Thank you for sharing that. So what do you have on the docket beyond the deliberate You know, this last book, what are you working on? What’s coming next?


So I teach at the University of Massachusetts and so I’ve got some classes, they’re coming up, you know, I’m starting to think about a second leadership book. You know, I think leadership brand is a big topic and I want to explore that more, but I’m kind of seeing where I go next between doing more with my own book and pushing and sharing the message of that. But then thinking about what other books look like that I can really help leaders be more mindful in their leadership practice and try to think about how I can support people through that medium.


Fantastic. What is the best way for our listeners to connect and follow you?


Sure. So I have a website, the leadership decision calm, but I love Love, love LinkedIn, I am on LinkedIn all day long. So requests, messages, feedback, anything like that I’m always open to so that is a great way to connect with me right on LinkedIn, or like I said, visit my site.


Fantastic. Catherine, thank you so much for your time today and joining us here on the Deliberate Leaders podcast I am, I will share this episode right on LinkedIn and connect it to you. So thank you so much.


Thank you, Allison. And thank you for all that you do.

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I'm Allison Dunn,

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