EP: 176 Unlocking YourAuthentic Superpowers With Erin Hatzikostas

Brave Women at Work| Erin Hatzikostas | Authentic Superpowers

 

So, we talk about superheroes with their superpowers in the movies, in books, and when playing with toys with our kids. We may have even believed we had the ability to authentically be ourselves and claim what makes us special and unique, what makes us stand out from the rest of the crowd. Then we grow up and stop believing in make believe and a lot of magic.

What if we turned back to that and started believing in ourselves again? In our superpowers? In our ability to be authentic? In our dreams? In careers we love to go to each day?

Erin Hatzikostas, my guest today, was so fun to interview and a firecracker of energy. She shared so much wisdom about how we can follow and lead with our authenticity. It’s through this path that we can uncover our professional superpowers and land in positions that truly light us up from the inside out.

During my conversation with Erin, we chatted about:

  1. What strategic authenticity is all about.
  2. What the compromise calculation is and how we’ve all done it.
  3. The BS Burnout Wall and why it’s a real thing.
  4. More about her book You Do You(ish): Unleash Your Authentic Superpowers to Get the Career You Deserve.
  5. How we can identify our own workplace superpowers.

Listen to the podcast here

 

Unlocking Your Authentic Superpowers With Erin Hatzikostas

How are you doing out there, everyone? We often talk about superheroes with their superpowers in the movies. What about Marvel as an example? We see them in comic books or books and when playing with toys with our kids. We may even have believed that we could authentically be ourselves, have our superpower, claim what makes us special and unique as children, and what makes us stand out positively from the rest of the crowd.

We then grow up and we may stop believing in make-believe and a lot of that magic. What if we turn back the clock? What if we turn back to that and start believing in ourselves again, in our superpowers, ability to be authentic, dreams, and careers we love to go to each day? Can you imagine that?

My guest, Erin Hatzikostas, was so fun to interview. She has a firecracker of energy. She shared so much wisdom about how we can follow and lead with our authenticity. It’s through this path that we can uncover our professional superpowers and land in positions that truly light us up from the inside out. During my conversation with Erin, we chatted about what strategic authenticity is all about and why it’s important.

What is the compromise calculation is, and I’m sorry to say, we’ve all done it. The BS burnout wall and why it’s a real thing. More about her book, You Do You(ish), Unleash Your Authentic Superpowers to Get the Career You Deserve, and how we can identify our workplace superpowers. Here is more about Erin. Erin Hatzikostas is a former corporate CEO turned professional pot stirrer.

Erin is the bestselling author of You Do You(ish), a TEDx and keynote speaker, a coach-sultant, and the co-host of an offbeat career and leadership podcast, b Cause with Erin and Nicole. Erin’s talks have reached hundreds of thousands of people and her thought leadership has been featured on ABC and CBS, and published in Business Insider, Fast Company, and Well and Good, among several others.

Erin spent her career “first half” working at a Fortune 50 company, where at the age of 42, she became the CEO of their $2 billion AUM subsidiary company Payflex. In just three years, she took a struggling company and turned it around, tripling earnings and sending employee engagement skyrocketing. Her secret, radical authenticity. Erin holds a BBA in statistics from Western Michigan University and an MBA in finance and marketing from the University of Connecticut.

She is married to her husband, Manny, whom she met while stumbling through, and as she says, failing an early career in the actuarial field. Erin and Manny have two highly authentic children, Ella and Mick. In Erin’s free time, you can find her coaching basketball, running, skiing, drinking wine in her fat pants, as she calls them, or dancing wherever you’re not supposed to dance.

Before we get started, if you’re enjoying Brave Women at Work, please make sure to leave a rating and review in Apple Podcasts and or Spotify. If the show has made an impact on you, please make sure to share it with a family member, friend, or colleague. Of course, your ratings and reviews help the show get into the hands of more women, and more people around the world. That helps the show continue to grow and gain traction.

If you’ve already left a rating and review, I thank you. I’m giving you a hug and a high five. Thank you so much. Also, if you haven’t yet downloaded my freebies from my website, check them out at BraveWomenAtWork.com. I have created three just for you. The first one is 24 Career and Leadership Affirmations because who couldn’t use a boost of their mindset?

Five Ways to Manage Your Imposter Syndrome because we’ve all faced imposter syndrome and self-doubt from time to time, and Getting Paid: 10 Negotiation Tips. These are guides that are workbook style, so you can fill them in at your leisure. They’re my best of the best tips, and you can complete them on your own time. Again, they’re free. Go to BraveWomenAtWork.com to learn more. Let’s welcome Erin to the show.

 

Brave Women at Work| Erin Hatzikostas | Authentic Superpowers

 

Hello, Erin, welcome to Brave Woman at Work. How are you?

I’m good, feeling brave.

Looking Back

All right, good. It’s a joy to have you. Why don’t you start by telling us a little bit about you, the work you do, and your background story?

I guess first and foremost, I’m a small-town girl who never had a strategic plan, never had this quest to become an executive, etc. I had parents who were both teachers. My fate was defined pretty significantly during my sophomore year in college. I had originally gone to Western Michigan University for engineering, and much like you and your audience, I thought that was the direction but was just throwing the ball in one direction and seeing what happened.

I learned very quickly that I hated it and I wasn’t very good at it but I kept taking math classes because I was good at math and I was smart enough to know that a lot of people weren’t. Do the thing that you’re good at that others aren’t. In my sophomore year, my roommate was a junior and she was already in the business school.

She came home from class one day and she was jacked up. I remember the door opening. It was like Kramer from Seinfeld coming into our apartment. She said, “Oh my God, Erin, I found it. I found the career for you.” I was like, “What is it? Let’s go have a beer.” She replied, “No, no, no. It’s high pay, low stress, and you just have to be good at math. You’re the only person I know who’s good at math.”

Now I said, “I’m listening.” She said, “It’s called an actuary.” I replied, “Ooh.” Yes, that one’s exciting, right? This was 1996, I couldn’t swivel my chair and google how cool is the actuarial profession or uncool. I was excited, high pay, low stress, had to be good at math and I thought, “Done.” The next day I went to the library like we did, which Gen Xers had to do.

I remember having to walk up to the fourth floor where it was the books that were maybe non-fiction or whatever about careers. I went to look for all the books about this actuary position that was so mystical, and magical. There weren’t any, except for there was this one pamphlet, and I remember pulling it out, and all the pamphlet did was, it was, of course, as you might expect an actuarial pamphlet to be, it was beige and probably Arial font.

Not that inviting, but all it did, it list the companies, their address, and the phone numbers of companies that employed actuaries. I’m thumbing through it and I noticed a pattern that a lot of these were in Connecticut. I was lucky. One of my friends had made the summer before waiting tables and probably sitting up till three in the morning drinking beer afterward. I don’t even remember her last name. Her first name was Heather. She lived in Connecticut.

I thought, “This is cool.” I called up these companies. It’s hard to fathom what we had to do back then. I called them up, looked into and honestly thought if I got something, I’d be going out to Connecticut to volunteer my time as an intern and then wait tables at night. I would sleep on Heather’s couch. This is what I had pictured.

I remember telling a little bit of a white lie. I said, “Yes, I’m going to be out there for spring break in March. You might as well interview me. I’m going to be there.” Meanwhile, I had no ticket and later found out they would have flown me out. I thought, “I spent all that money?” That’s what you get for white lies. Somehow, some way, I didn’t have any actuarial exams under my belt, but they hired me into the actuarial program and it paid like $13.50 an hour. I said to myself, “Jackpot.”

Back then, that was a good coin.

Super good coin. I think I was making $5 an hour tutoring calculus, befriending everybody, and having a blast. I made my way out to Connecticut and then I was hired back full-time the next year into the program. I spent three years taking actuarial exams and three years failing every single actuarial exam, which was fun to move out 900 miles and then literally fail.

You know, Jen, how people are like, “Failure is a good thing.” Most of these people haven’t truly failed. I failed, like black and white, I mean, objectively. In fact, you’d have to call this woman, I used to call her a bleep, to find out if you passed the exam. These exams, you have to understand, are graded on a curve. I remember one where I thought that I passed it, but unfortunately, there were a lot of other super smarty pant math nerds that did better than me, but you would call.

There was no bedside manner or anything. You’d click in your numbers or whatever and then she’d say, “Fail.” You’ll think, “There’s four months of my life down the drain.” The good news is I bobbed and weaved my way through. I was at Aetna. It was a very large company, with 50,000 employees, and took on increasing job responsibilities, which we can dive into because there are a lot of lessons learned there, but I eventually joined a subsidiary company and that subsidiary company had just been acquired six months earlier.

I took a step back when I joined this company, which I think is a good lesson. When I say take a step back, I was leading a team of about 40 people before that. I didn’t take a step back and pay. I still was, I think I might even get a little bump, but I went down to zero employees and this promise like, what we want you to build out the strategy business development team, we’re going to make this bigger.

It was an ego drop. I remember worrying about people going into the address book and then not being able to double-click and see anybody under me. “What happened to Erin? She was a manager before,” but what happened is it was an acquired company with a lot of entrepreneurs, mostly guys, and they got sick of the big company pretty quickly and they would leave.

Every time somebody would leave, they would look around and say, “Maybe we should give it to Erin.” It’s like a musical chair. I was the last woman standing. They’re like, “Give it to her.” There’s a story in between, but I want to give you a chance to take a breath. I eventually, for background purposes, became the CEO of that company. It sounds exciting, but it wasn’t because the company was also in the pooper.

It was an integration gone bad, with flat earnings four years in a row. There was no room for investment, whether that’s in widgets or our people and reputation wasn’t great. We stumbled through some of the integration. What happened over the next three years when I had no clue what I was doing was that we ended up tripling earnings.

We took them from $17 million to $50 million and our employee engagement went up 12 percentage points just in the last two years, which I would say is crazy because that even includes a couple of hundred call center people, which God bless them. They’re not happy ever because they have crappy jobs. Tough jobs, I should say. That’s just to round out how that led me to here.

I was having great success and quite frankly, my biggest sponsor was Karen Lynch, who is now the CEO of CVS Health. She was the president then and she said, “You’re itching for something new. How about this? How about that?” It was like reading a menu at a restaurant and nothing sounds good. I don’t feel like tacos or burgers and I just had this itch to do something new.

I decided to retire, going through this quickly. When I announced that I was retiring, people of course were shocked. I was 44 years old and had a huge reputation in the company because I had turned around this company that was fledgling. Everybody kept saying, “We’ll miss your authentic leadership.” That sounds super lame, but I wasn’t surprised they called me authentic. It wasn’t this badge that had been pinned on me before. It was like all the badges just got thrown at me at once.

What’s so interesting about that is that, even though I was having success, I kept thinking, when is my luck going to run out? It wasn’t imposter syndrome. I had gotten that memo before. I would look to my left and right. We had monthly reviews and quarterly business reviews.

I was always in some conference room, telling my boss where our numbers were and where our problems were. I would watch my peers sacrificing so much more. They would get on planes every week to visit clients or move their families. It was just sweat coming down their brow. I’m not a lazy person. I work hard, but I’m not sacrificing everything. I still had young children and all this.

I thought, “God, my luck is going to run out soon. This was about a good ride.” When I got those badges thrown at me, I finally had this epiphany, I wasn’t going to be found out. I was playing a different game than everybody else. I was using authenticity as my strategy, as my secret weapon, not consciously at the time.

In retrospect, I had been doing it for years after mirroring my father. That’s what got me the results. I had better employees because everybody wanted to come work for the executive that’s “authentic” or cool or whatever you want to call them. We had some big negotiations that were part of our financial turnaround and I don’t know what I was doing. I just used my authenticity like I always had to create connection and trust. It worked and executives trust me because that’s what authenticity does.

Very long story capped out, I realized even though I didn’t know what I was going to do in this next phase that I needed to go teach people because this authenticity thing wasn’t just this permission to be myself, it was the power. This is a pretty darn big win-win that more people need to consciously understand. That’s what I do now. I’ve spent the last five years through my books, my talks, and keynotes. I call it coach-sulting.

Working with companies to help them understand that their strategy can be authenticity, both internally, but also externally for growth because once you have the new guts and playbook and kickstart to understand that not doing everything like everybody else and using the big buzzwords and sounding so smart in the 72-page power Ddecks, and if you instead back the norm a little bit and use authenticity as a way to create connection and trust and to stand out, you don’t have to work as hard and you’re going to have bigger results.

Authentic Leadership

That’s a cool arc to your story. It ties into a post I put out on LinkedIn recently. I read an article in Harvard Business Review and they did a study, I think it was HBR. They did a study in 2012 and the word authentic did not show up for executive presence. What are the top qualities that you’re looking for in executive presence, authentic wasn’t there? They did the same study in 2022 and 2023, lo and behold, it shows up. You were ahead of your time because authenticity matters now, especially when it comes to leaders, leadership presence, and being a top executive.

I love that. I didn’t realize the contrast of those two. Thank you. That’s cool. I knew they had done some older research. We did research into my company, B Authentic Inc. We did our research as well because we want to see like, “Let’s make this more than fluffy unicorn doo-doo and see what is the impact, whether that’s on retention, people’s results, or followership.” Yes, it was there screaming more than we even expected. I don’t know if you know that authentic was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2023.

You Do You(ish)

That’s awesome. It’s very timely that we’re talking about this earlier in 2024. I want to spend some time on your book. It’s called You Do You(ish), Unleash Your Authentic Superpowers To Get The Career You Deserve. How did that come about in the journey?

Brave Women at Work| Erin Hatzikostas | Authentic Superpowers
You Do You(ish): Unleash Your Authentic Superpowers to Get the Career You Deserve

What’s great about books is you don’t realize it. You think and then you write but it’s a little more you write and then you know. What I mean by that is when I first started writing, I knew that authenticity was powerful and that there were some unique things I did in my career and I wanted to share those. It wasn’t until I sat down and wrote, that it forced you.

You have to go slow, you only can type so fast. You have to be more organized. It forces you to think about things on a deeper level. When I started writing that book, I remember I had a book coach and I was a month into it and I said, “Oh my gosh, Patty, I just had the biggest epiphany.” Authenticity is actually a strategy.

As it was unfolding, I realized it was this thing that you consciously purposely actually have to do in the workplace because it’s so hard not to and the name. The reason I did You Do You(ish) and Lord knows it’s funny. I had a million names for this thing. I have my second book. I haven’t changed the name once. It’s going to be what it is period.

Of course, you test it out with people and then they’ll like what it should have been to sell. I put it out to people on LinkedIn and Facebook and they’re saying, “That’s so not you. It’s not sassy enough. It’s not unique enough.” I finally landed on You Do You(ish). I remember Patty didn’t like it at first, but sometimes you just have to, especially with something like this.

I think it’s the case for a lot of things in life. You’re never going to make everybody happy. I remember so wanting her to love it and then I thought, “I don’t care. I love it.” The reason I call it that is two reasons. One, when I talk about authenticity, one of the first things I do is be clear. Authenticity is not about being yourself. It’s not synonymous with transparency or being yourself. The root word is Greek, which you and I both share, Greek husbands or at least partially Greek husbands.

The root word is Authentikos. It means to be three things. It means to be genuine, which feels pretty synonymous with how we talk about authenticity but it also means to be original and authoritative. When I talk about authenticity, especially when I work with companies and from stages, the biggest epiphany people have is when I tell them, “I have to tell you authenticity is not about you.

When you are authentic, especially in the workplace, but everywhere, when you book the norm, you do things differently, and you expose who you are when they don’t expect you to. You’re doing it for the other person. You’re creating this connection, this trust, this stickiness, this, “Thank God, they’re just like me, they’re imperfect.”

When you do authenticity, if you first think about it, especially in a workplace, when you’re so focused on doing things right. Saying the right things and doing the right agenda and instead doing authenticity. It’s not for you. It’s actually because it’s what other people need to put their guard down, to listen to you to wake up. That’s the ish. The first reason is the “You Do You, but it’s the ish. The second was because everything I teach is the second principle in my human framework that is unexpected. There was a little bit of a, “I want people to think, “huh? Why did she name it this?” It was a little on-brand as well.

I love the title because I knew being a leader, you’re just saying, you do you, you do have to have the ish when you’re leading other people. If you do, you’re not tapping into the other person. It’s all about you and not about that interplay between you and your team.

If you just be yourself with no regard for everybody else, I call that being faux-thentic. The definition is the definition is bringing your whole self to work. You don’t need that.

That’s funny. You saw when we were on video right before we hit record, I bought the book and I’m going to overuse this word, but I think that the writing was just so authentic. It is like I was sitting next to you and you were saying, “Let me tell you the real deal.” it is like we were having a cup of coffee or a glass of wine or whatever. I love the way you talk in this book because it’s not so academic. It’s not like regular business books where it’s just all polished and glossy. Of course, it’s polished and glossy in its own way but I love how real it is. Congrats to you for that.

Thank you. Yes, I say this in the first chapters, but Jen Sincero, when I read her, You Are a Badass book, was the first, because I’d always thought, “I probably should read a book.” Now I’m in this new space of speaking and consulting and stuff but then I say this, the first line of chapter one is, “I hate books.” Even some of my favorite speakers, and I won’t name them, but their books are so snoozy. They’re, “I know it all.” Even if they’re not trying to.

When I read hers, and it’s so sassy and frank, I thought, “You can write.” Whether hers is more self-help, mine’s a quasi-self-help career professional development. You can do it your way. What I also realized when I was writing the book, and I remember telling Patty this, and she said, “Yes, that’s been said before.” I replied, “I thought it was profound.” It is that writing is just speaking on paper.

When people read my book, especially if they know me personally, they’re like, “I can tell you wrote it.” I said, “Yes, because I’m just talking on paper.” Like I’m not cleansing it. I also wanted to be 3D. I think some people that read it, it’s the message, but some people that read it, whether they’re an author or whatever it is, hopefully, get just inspiration from that, that I was brave enough to just write the way I talk and hope that people liked it. Thank you.

Compromise Calculation

Yes, I can tell you’re my people. As I was starting the book, I wanted to ask you some questions that we can dive in, but the first one is the compromise calculation. What does that mean for women?

The compromise calculation, let me tell the story of how that first came about. I put a fake name around it. That was hopefully catchy. I told you I became CEO and I said there’s a story in between. The story in between is I had been promoted a few times running this subsidiary company of Aetna’s. One Friday, I was working from home because we used to do this pre-COVID sometimes. My boss texts me, “Can you talk?” I hate those texts. I call him up and he says, “This is pretty heavy for a Friday, but I’m going to leave the company and I want to know if it’s okay if I recommend you as my successor.”

I quickly replied, “No, thank you.” The reason I replied no, thank you is I ran the compromise calculation. Of course, I hadn’t named it yet, but essentially, what happened in my head in a millisecond was I could take a bigger job. If you’re picturing a graph, the X-axis, I’m going up, but with that greater authority and pay, I also have the compromise calculation, which is a hard-coded line that says everything else in my life goes down.

It’s this anti-correlation straight line. At the time, I was running strategy product marketing. We were busy. We were working hard, but on the lower-stress side, I wasn’t running ops and finance. I could make a little more money and get a little more authority and whatever, but my family, my relationship, my health, and even who I am will probably be compromised.

I don’t want to come down that line and then he was smart. First, he was smart because I haven’t told this story very often but I said, “What’s plan B?” He replied, “Plan B is we’ll just call him Kevin.” I objected, “Oh God, not Kevin. I don’t want to work for Kevin.” That was well played because there’s no way you’re thinking of Kevin. That’s not his real name. He said, “Think about it over the weekend.”

I did what most people would do. I thought about it over the weekend, but I also put it in front of friends and we’d be at a basketball game. I said, “This opportunity. I’m trying to figure out if I want to go for it.” Nobody had the right answer. Some people said, “Go for it.” I remember one guy said, “You don’t want to do that.” I said, “Thanks.”

Thanks for the vote of confidence.

It finally hit me. The reason I was saying no and I was worried about the compromise calculation going in the wrong direction was that I was worried about having to be like every other executive I saw. They were overweight, had heart attacks, were stuffy, were divorced, and were stressed out. If you’re tuning in to this and you have a pad of paper, this would be the one thing I would write down.

I had this thought that you should not do something because you hate the way it’s done before. Instead, do it your way. I thought, “I don’t have to become Joe and Larry and Vanessa. I can do this my way.” I went back and said, “Yes.” This compromise calculation is this thing, this mythical calculation, if you will, that we think is hard coded.

You should not refuse to do something just because you hate the way it was done before. Click To Tweet

In the book, what I teach and I promise is that if you start to do things more authentically and with, I don’t even want to say more authentically because that’s the fluffy stuff. If you start doing authenticity purposely, you actually can tip that scale completely. Quite frankly, by the time I became CEO, trust me, there were some big heavy issues that I was like in the midst of because I ran a healthcare financial company. It was not low-stress.

The big stuff weighed on me but I had a business development. I threw him on a plane. Was I doing more work at night? No, I was maybe reviewing some PowerPoints here. I tip that. If you’re doing it right, you should be able to rise in your career and not have to compromise more. In fact, the goal is to compromise less.

Becoming A CEO

That’s interesting because Sheryl Sandberg said, “We lean out versus leaning in.” What she doesn’t share is what you’re sharing in the compromise calculation. How long were you in that role?

Three years and then I decided to retire and everybody thought it was a nutcase.

No, it sounds like that was the best thing that ever happened to you.

People said, “Are you crazy? That’s so brave.” For me, what happened is the fear of not going and trying something new. I’ve been 22 years in the same parent company. That fear of not doing something and learning what was on the other side became greater than the fear of leaving. Especially when you leave with a good reputation. I’m not saying something had been handed to me. I thought, “I probably could have come back pretty easily,” worst-case scenario.

What happened was when I was contemplating it, I had a business trip and this woman on the plane, I started talking to her. She’s super friendly. She had worked in the corporate space for about ten years and then was running her own HR consulting-type practice. I still connect with her to this day. I was asking her a bunch of questions, peppering her with questions. Finally, I stopped and said, “I’m sorry, I’m asking you so many questions. I haven’t told anybody this, but I’m contemplating going out and doing something on my own.” As soon as it came out of my mouth, Jen, I thought, “That sounds stupid.” I retracted all my statements, I said, “That would be stupid right now because my reputation’s at an all-time high.”

She looked at me and succinctly and so matter-of-factly said, “Who says this is the top? I was like, “Whoa.” That metaphor of the mountains that I have climbed and all that immediately disappeared. That’s the last section of the book, “Who says this is the top?” It was that profound statement that got me thinking about and brave enough to think about at least experimenting with something new.

BS Burnout Wall

Another thing you mentioned in the book is the BS burnout wall. What is that? Is that a real thing? I don’t want to say it’s a cliche, but burnout is a popular topic now. You and I both work with people that have this. I have personally experienced it. I don’t know if you have, if you have feel free to share your story, but burnout is the buzzword. I wanted to get your thoughts on whether is it a real thing or is it just something we’re making up.

What I would say is people don’t hate their jobs. They hate the junk. They don’t hate the marketing work that they’re supposed to do or the financial analysis, they hate the politics, the extra meetings, the snoozy emails, the corporate training, and the passive-aggressive colleagues. It’s the BS or the junk that’s burning them out.

Too often we think everybody is burnt out because they’re working too hard. The reality is they are working hard, but a lot of times they’re working against this BS stuff. The reason I call it out, and I talk about this even more in my next book that’s out this fall, you can do something about it as a leader. Part of being an authentic leader, you can’t claim yourself an authentic leader if all you do is act with authenticity if you will.

Part of that is also cutting out the BS that’s plaguing your team and saying, “No, you know what? Let’s stop doing those reports. The meetings, we don’t have to have three layers of people.” People at the VP level can be in a meeting with people who are not in a VP-level meeting. Trying to get some of that BS off that burnout wall. That’s why I like to call it out because is it easy to remove? No, but one on your own, you need to start calling it out. And as leaders in particular, you need to understand what is burning out your people. Is it that they have too much on their plate of work? Probably not. It’s probably the 30% or 50% of the BS or the fat that you can at least start to try to carve away for them.

That makes sense. You think that burnout is a real thing, but your perspective is there’s a lot of BS. It’s not just the work. It’s not just overwork. It’s also the BS that they’re all trapped under.

I think most people are in the work that they love. A great example of this is Shopify. I don’t know if you saw it in 2002, I think it was January 2022. That’d be two years ago. They did a BS initiative, a burnout initiative. They didn’t call it that, but their COO led this initiative to cut out unnecessary meetings. They created an automated bot that went into calendars. Their first criterion was any meeting with more than three people that was recurring, they vaporized it.

They told people, they said, “Give it a couple of weeks. If you need this meeting, reschedule it.”They cut out 300,000 hours of meetings and then they kept going with it. They did No Meeting Wednesdays and all of this stuff. One of the quotes in one of the articles was from one of the programmers. He thought that it was amazing. He gets to do the work that he was hired to do. He loves that. Programmers love to program. Marketers love to market and be creative. Strategists love to do strategic work. Most people are in a job where the core work is what they love. What’s interesting about the Shopify story is if you look at their stock price from around January 2022 versus January 2023, it approximately doubled.

One thing I’m thinking, and I say this probably correlates before we move on. As an executive, I’m often in meetings. I’ve had people ask me, “When are you doing your work?” I call it magic time because it’s not during the day very often. I’m not saying that every meeting is BS and is not needed. There probably are some meetings that are required, but not all of them and that’s what you’re talking about.

One of the cool things on the Shopify story, you know what they did next? He teamed up with his CFO and they created a meeting cost calculator. It’s a plugin to their outlook. If you went to schedule a meeting, I would say it was eight people. It would look at the Director, VP, whatever. It would estimate the cost of an hour of their time or whatever it is and say, “This meeting is going to cost you $7,000.”

It’s brilliant because there is a cost to it, whether it’s the real cost or to your point, you sitting in bed at night, not being able to have a conversation with your family because you’re doing a stupid PowerPoint. That’s the stuff that is authenticity. That’s the 201. Once you get through the concept of what I teach, you wish the 201, which is my second book. How do you use it as a true leadership and a business advantage? I love Shopify. That’s one of many.

HUMANS

That is a great example. That’s a good one. From your book, what are the six principles of strategic authenticity that you have identified?

I use the acronym HUMANS, which I was able to use some synonyms to get things to line up, but it stands for Humility, being Unexpected, Modeling, Adapting, Narrating, and Sparking. What I like to say is these are not adjectives, they’re action verbs, which any English major will poo-poo me because they’re not really. I’ve read enough Forbes articles on how to be authentic at work or be an authentic leader, and nothing has changed.

These six principles have tangible examples. For example, humility. Humility is a fast pass to connection and trust, but you have to purposely decide to use it. I teach a lot of, especially sales folks but also leaders, how to create what I call the intriguing intro. This is to replace your stuffy let’s say you’re at a finalist meeting or an interview or a business development conversation and tell me about yourself. Normally, it would be like, “I was in product for ten years, and then I moved to a strategy role.” It’s such a lost opportunity to make a great first connection.

We use a formula that includes a humility moment, a big brag, and then a what’s in it for them. That’s why I say being authentic and using it as your strategy work. Start to plan out how you’d introduce yourself. Part of that is using a humility moment you wouldn’t expect, but then creating this throughline of why that shaped you and what that means to them.

Each of these principles, like humility, doesn’t have to be something as fancy as an intriguing intro. Just add something in your LinkedIn bio or at the beginning of a meeting where you admit you had yogurt in your hair. I talked about it in my book. I walked around for an hour with my successor and realized I had a clump of dried yogurt in my hair. Most people would try to hide it because I was on authenticity autopilot, I said, “There’s yogurt from five hours ago in my hair.”

I just have done that naturally because I know the reaction. It makes people smile. It makes them feel connected. Each of these principles I talk about it in the book of experiments that you can do to start adding these into your meetings, into your communications, into your work, and also into your personal life as well, and then starting to get addicted to the results you see from doing it.

Addressing Addictions

Speaking about addictions, as I was reading, you said you’re committed to changing people’s addictions. What do you mean by that? I probably haven’t gotten far enough. What addictions are you talking about?

I feel so many of these self-help and self-development business books, you read them and it’s like, “You need to start doing more of X and less of Y.” You’re like, “I know, but right then that takes discipline and habit.” I am not the discipline habit queen at all. Instead, what I’ve always found more helpful. Especially with something like using authenticity at work where it is for most people, a true change management exercise is just an experiment. For example, let’s say you have a small team meeting and you do a humility. You tell them a story that pokes fun at yourself and you, whether people react to it or they come up to you after, just collect those moments.

What I mean by the addiction is I want you to just experiment and then get addicted to the feeling, and the results you get, instead of saying, I have to change. What I always say is that my six principles are training wheels. They’re not meant to be, “Here’s how you should act.” That’s pretty hypocritical. Use those training wheels for a little while, but then start to get addicted to this way of being because you’re seeing positive results from it.

First Safe Step

That makes sense. I’m using Brené Brown’s terminology like armoring up. They come in and they present a certain face. I think Glennon Doyle has said, “I’ve let my other representative enter the building.” They’re not who they are. They’re listening to us. They’re like, “I’m scared to tiptoe into authenticity.” People don’t know who I am at work or personally or what have you. What would you say is the baby step, like the smallest, safest step for them? If there is a safe step for them to take, what would it be?

There is one people love it. I, at one point, was going to take it on my talks, and then even senior executives sent me notes, “Look what I did. It was so awesome.” Okay, this is it. That baby step in the workforce is changing your out-of-office. It’s silly but I one day woke up and I asked, “Wait, who am I?” We all like, “I’m going to be out of the office. I’m going to get back to you. Please contact Sandy.”

It’s such a missed opportunity. Make a little change. Let’s say you’re taking a three-day weekend to go to your daughter’s softball tournament. The super simple one, you don’t even have to be funny. Just say, “I’m taking three days off.” Tell the truth. “To go to a softball tournament in Hershey, Pennsylvania.” Add a little flair, people start to play with it and they get kind of cute and funny.

What’s new since I’ve been teaching and there’s chat GPT. If you’d like to do something a little funny, put it in chat GPT I’m not against that. That’s not against authenticity rules. Make it your own, but they might give you an idea. One of them was this woman who talked about going to a softball tournament and diamonds are a girl’s best friend and she plays off that.

I have friends that text me them, and then the responses they get. I think it’s the best training wheel because you’ll start to see, whether people respond and say, “My daughter plays softball too.” I had this one, I worked with Electric Boat which is super, I don’t want to say stuffy, because they are. They’re engineers, they work on nuclear submarines. After I did the talk, one of the organizers, I got her out of the office because we were following up after.

She talked about going to Scotland to be with them, what do they call the cows there? I should know, I have a big frame and something else. It stuck out and she said she got so many responses. That’s the baby step. Play with your out-of-office. At least be honest and if you’re a little bold, be a little witty, be a little fun, and watch what happens.

That is fun. What if that doesn’t fit with the culture but it’s authentic to you? It’s just a little step out of my comfort zone. Is that why you say that’s one of the first little steps?

Let’s address what doesn’t fit with the culture. Let me tell you a metaphorical story. You have two children. I think you have two girls. You and many of our readers have all been to those birthday parties, namely when they were four years old. It’s two hours, you go to a bouncy house and then for the last half an hour, they shuffle them into a room for the pizza and the cake.

They bring in the pizza, and then they bring around the cake. Of course, all the kids are asking, “Can I have a bigger piece? Can I have more ice cream?” They all take their cake and then the parents awkwardly stand in a semi-circle or a square around them and wait. Usually, there’s some leftover cake and they come around and they offer it to the parents. What do most parents say?

Decline.

What are most parents thinking?

They want a piece of cake.

That’s authenticity in the workplace. You can say it’s culture all day long and I have so many, even third-party stories of people who met with curmudgeon CEOs and unlock them. I don’t care where you are. At the end of the day, culture dissipates. You’re working with people and almost all people want the cake.

That’s good. That makes a lot of sense. Thank you. That’s a great story because many of us have been at that birthday party week after week. No one’s talking to one another. It’s just a sidebar and we’ll come back. It’s interesting. I have a 12-year-old and a 5-year-old. I have a kid that was a young toddler during COVID. Then I have an older child that way before COVID. It’s interesting because birthday parties for my older child, like all the parents interacted for the most part. Now, they don’t. It’s interesting, everyone’s on their phones and everyone’s a little bit more to themselves because I don’t know.

The six-feet distancing is over, people.

Authentic Superpower

I know. Go get the cake. It’s funny. You mentioned in the book that it’s like a superpower. Your authentic superpower. If someone says, I want to find my superpower. How do we find our workplace superpower? What do we do?

Funny you should ask. I have a quiz on my website that is the Find Your Workplace Superpower name. It’s stratified into six different archetypes. It talks about the things that are good about you and the things that you probably struggle with. For example, one of them is a passionate people person, which is awesome and it’s also not awesome.

One, there’s a quiz that you can take at bauthenticinc.com. I think the authentic superpower is about combining the training wheels like I said that I have in the framework with who you are. For example, and it’s so important, and I think I’ve gotten past this after five years, I always want people to know. I am a fairly extroverted storytelling charismatic person. I don’t ever want people to think, “It works for Erin.”

Now I’ve collected so much data from super introverts, and from special operations forces that I’ve talked to, this stuff matters to everyone. It’s funny, it’s about combining some of those training wheels to start doing things a little bit differently and taking half of that with half of what you’re good at. Maybe you are more of a good listener, probably a little better than me.

Unlocking your superpower is about combining your training wheels to start doing things a little bit differently. Take half of that with half of what you are really good at. Click To Tweet

Us extroverts aren’t always the best listener. Finding those things that are your best traits and then mixing them in. I’m laughing a little bit. My next book is called The 50% Rule. The 50% Rule is a super simple rule on the surface. It says that anytime you’re doing something new or learning from something, always take, only about half of what is normal or what you’ve learned and combine it with half new.

That’s super simple. Of course, I wrote 60,000 words, There’s much more to it. There’s a journey I take people on and stories about people that 50% ruled and how it created a massive success for them. This is like a mini, I would say use the 50% rule. Take half of the things you have to purposely do, do more storytelling, use more humility, and be more unexpected, but combine that with the things that make you the most awesome. If you do that, amazing things will happen.

That is cool and helpful. Thank you so much for sharing that. I didn’t see it on your site. Can you share what your workplace superhero name is?

That’s a good question because I, of course, tested the quiz a million times and I can’t remember cause we’ve had it for a couple of years. What was mine? Analytical, I’m trying to remember that’s an analytical achiever. That’s not me. Passionate people person. I don’t think it was me. There’s a something dreamer. That was me. I’m like the big idea, big dreamer, but like sometimes can’t get their poop in a horizontal line to march forward.

It’s funny in the next book. The manuscripts were written, but it’s with my publisher right now. It’s not out until October. I have all the inside scoop that everybody doesn’t have. One of the chapters I talk about is SWOT yourself I call it the olive garden of strategic planning. It’s funny. I’m waiting for my publishers to say, you need to explain that and then I’ll say, “No, I want people just to take it however they want to take it.”

We need to do that for ourselves. Often we sit in the W box of the SWOT analysis and we think, “We can’t do it as well as them. We’re not as this. We’re not as that.” We forget to slide over to the left and do the S part and also then translate to the opportunities and threats. I don’t even remember the question you asked, but we got to do more sliding over and figuring out our strengths and making sure that we use that to mitigate some of this imposter syndrome.

That’s why the subtitle of the next book is Stop Comparing And Start Competing In The League Of Your Own. Here’s a super simple example. I have a friend who has a house that is always perfectly neat and clean. To be honest, she’s got to be OCD. For a while, I would feel so traumatized when she’d come over cause our garage always has garbage and stuff because my husband refuses to do garbage pickup. I was like, “Sorry. It’s been two weeks since he went to the dump.”

That’s where I always lived. Finally, I was like, “Wait a minute. Yes, her house is much cleaner and more organized than mine but I just wrote a book and I did this.” It sounds super snarky, but sometimes we have to get ourselves out of that compare mode. We have to equal the playing field and doing a little SWOT analysis and making sure you don’t forget about the S box on yourself is my little hack to do that.

Brave Women at Work| Erin Hatzikostas | Authentic Superpowers
Authentic Superpowers: Sometimes, we have to get ourselves out of that compare mode. We have to equal the playing field.

 

That’s good. I can’t wait for the next book. You said it’s coming out in October.

Yes, October 1st.

What Other People Want

We’ll have to feature that in the future. I ask all of the guests, but I would love to hear your thoughts. What are one to two ways women can be braver at work today?

I love that question. I think the first thing is keeping that cake story in mind and thinking about what other people want because I think when I was getting ready for this podcast, I was thinking, “Was I brave at work or was I just doing the things that had worked for me in the past and that I knew everybody else wanted?”

I think that the latter part is so key to authenticity. Instead of being, “I’m going to be different and brave and bold.” Why don’t you focus on what are people yearning for? I’ll give an example. You’ve got a town hall coming up, or a team meeting that you’re leading. It’s so easy to get stuck in the agenda, “What we’ve done for the last three years? Let’s fill in the financial results,” then stop and be like, “I’m sitting in that meeting. What am I sick of? What am I yearning for?” Just do that thing.

Brave is a word that’s scary for me but if you change it to just doing the thing that people want, it takes a little of that bravery out, but it of course is a brave and bold move. What’s so cool, and that’s why Spark is the last thing in HUMANS, is if you also not just don’t do it for yourself, but also realize that you’re inspiring others to do the same, it makes it a lot easier to be brave and bold and do that authentic thing.

Leadership is not just doing it for yourself but realizing that you are inspiring others as well to do the same. Click To Tweet

Closing Words

You’ve got a lot of good stuff. We’ve talked about the quiz, we’ve got the book we featured today, and the book coming out. How can women connect with you and your work online?

I would say the best way to go to LinkedIn then you go to my website, if you’re curious, the quizzes are right there but that’s the place I hang out as a semi-human the most. I probably post five days a week. I would say follow or connect there. I also have a podcast. If you’re a podcast junkie, it’s called, b Cause Work Doesn’t Have to Suck, although we may be changing it.

We’re experimenting with a new format. We released an episode today called Buck That, that we might rebrand. The thread is inspiring people to do things authentically at work. The concept of Buck That is we’re doing one story from somebody that bucked the norm and had great results. If you’re a podcast listener, you can look for either b Cause Work Doesn’t Have To Suck or if it’s years from this aired search my website or search my name. I think I’ll still be podcasting. We’ll see.

It was so fun to talk with you, Erin, and you’ve given us some great insights. I encourage everybody again to go get the first book and the second book when it comes out. You Do You(ish), Unleash YourAuthentic Superpowers To Get The Career You Deserve. Erin, thank you again for being on the show.

Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

That’s a wrap-up of my discussion with Erin. I hope you found our conversation both valuable and inspiring. Here are some questions to consider until next time. Have you had to run the compromise calculation? If so, how has it shown up in your life or your work? Have you hit the BS burnout wall? If so, how did you know that you hit it?

How can you show up more authentically, whether that’s at work or home? Finally, what is your workplace superpower? How can you proudly use that superpower to show who is large and in charge? We know who that is, that is you. As a reminder, please rate, review, and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. The show is also available on any other podcast platform you enjoy. Until next time, show up, unleash your authentic superpower, and be brave.

 

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About Erin Hatzikostas

Brave Women at Work| Erin Hatzikostas | Authentic SuperpowersErin Hatzikostas is a former Corporate CEO turned Professional Pot-Stirrer. Erin is the best-selling author of You Do You(ish), a TEDx and keynote speaker, coach-sultant, and the co-host of an offbeat career and leadership podcast, b Cause with Erin & Nicole. Erin’s talks have reached hundreds of thousands of people and her thought leadership has been featured on ABC, CBS and published in Business Insider, Fast Company, Well+Good, among several others.

Erin spent her career “first half” working at a Fortune 50 company, where at the age of 42, she became the CEO of their $2bn AUM subsidiary company, PayFlex. In just three years, she took a struggling company and turned it around, tripling earnings and sending employee engagement skyrocketing. Her secret? Radical authenticity. Erin holds a BBA in Statistics from Western Michigan University and an MBA in Finance and Marketing from the University of Connecticut. She is married to her husband, Manny, who she met while stumbling through (and failing) an early career in the Actuarial field. Erin and Manny have two highly authentic children – Ella (14) and Mick (11). In Erin’s free time you can find her coaching basketball, running, skiing, drinking wine in her fat pants, or dancing wherever you’re not supposed to dance.

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