The New Portrait Of Leadership: Therapist Lynsey Retzlaff On Which Legacy Ideas About Leadership Need To Be Discarded, And Which New Approaches To Leadership Should Be Embraced
Curiosity. Encourage the team to grow personally and professionally. Create an environment where people feel safe to ask questions, without judgment, and allow their minds to “wander” and be curious and passionate about their job and life. Develop retreats, workshops, or mentor programs so employees can feel invested in the company and learn new skills that will increase their sense of purpose and worth personally and professionally.
We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Lynsey Retzlaff.
As a mindset and mental wellness speaker, working mom coach, and licensed therapist, Lynsey Retzlaff, MSW, LCSW shares her insights to impact lives near and far. She is a mother of two and has over 10 years of experience in the mental health field. Through this experience, she has found joy in helping working mothers redefine, renew, and reclaim their journeys through The RENEWED Working Mom Narrative™. As a result of redefining her own life, she partners with companies on mental wellness solutions to address burnout which impacts the bottom line of every working person. Lynsey’s most notable feature to date has been in the well-known Parade magazine and her insights can be heard on multiple podcasts.
Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?
I am passionate about mental wellness so I’m excited to share that I have expanded mental wellness solutions within my business to include speaking, workshops, fireside chats, and discussions for companies to reduce burnout and retain employees. This allows me to have more impact on the world as effective mental wellness tools are often overlooked in business and society today. I have worked in companies that had poor workplace culture, unhealthy leaders, and lacked support for their employees. It caused many of us to burnout and leave the company.
My services highlight the missing pieces that leaders (and employees) need in order to make the most of their careers and personal lives. As a working mother and business owner, I have many roles. Burnout is prevalent in today’s work society and is heavily felt by women and mothers. I’m excited about this business expansion because it helps complement the already existing coaching service that I offer to working mothers who want to reclaim their lives and prevent or recover from burnout. The 10+ years of experience I have as a therapist in the mental health field has allowed me to witness common mindset and belief systems that people are unaware of and limit their ability to meet their personal and professional goals.
Personally, I am enjoying spending more time with my two young kids as my business transition allowed me to restructure my schedule and have more flexibility with work and home life. I’m looking forward to being present with them and enjoying the holiday season that will soon be approaching!
We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?
While working with a few unhealthy leaders in the past, I expressed concern and offered solutions to address major issues arising in the job with the hopes of improving the culture. My efforts appeared to be unsupported as months and months went by without any change being made. Knowing I did all I could that was in my control, I changed jobs and worked in a different mental health unit within the hospital.
My new supervisor, Dr. Chad Wetterneck, is a psychologist and clinical director whose leadership style was a breath of fresh air. I noticed my personal and professional growth skyrocket while working with him. I was in a difficult transition and experienced some personal struggles at that time. Additionally, as with all jobs where you interact with people, there are interpersonal issues that need addressing to keep the culture and the team running effectively and achieve the best results. Dr. Wetterneck often said statements like these in my meetings with him: “Thank you for telling me. That has to be really difficult,” or “I will follow up on this issue.” And then he would! Without sharing inappropriate or confidential information, he would let me and my colleagues know how he addressed the issue and the plan moving forward. Sometimes the issues were outside of his control but being validated and having him circle back around to me decreased my distress since I felt appreciated and understood. How many leaders would use a line like, “Thank you for your concern” in a dismissive tone and then never validate the person and revisit the issue again? Without a follow-up, the other person is left to come up with their own story about why nothing is being done. That usually doesn’t turn out well!
Additionally, Dr. Wetterneck would share details about himself and his life outside of work. He increased his connection with me by showing his “human” side, not just his professional side. Too often leaders feel they need to create a brick wall around their human side in order to be seen as “professional”. Sharing appropriate information and not oversharing builds trust and connection so employees will open up as well. Then and only then will leaders have the opportunity to intervene with support to help the employee problem solve, feel appreciated, and refuel.
Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?
If I had to pick one mistake out of the many, it would be reacting without assessing my belief systems or personal bias. Lacking this skill creates wakes with others that build into tidal waves. Have you ever been closed off to a new idea? Felt frustrated by someone on your team? Received feedback that you are unapproachable or “cold”? There is a bias or unhelpful belief system that causes these behaviors and we all have them. All of us. The experiences we have from a child to adulthood influence how we think and what we believe.
Here’s an example: A child lives in a house where parents don’t hug or say “I love you” to the child. They don’t outwardly express their emotions. Add another layer and let’s say they punish the child for crying. Repeatedly. What happens to this child? The child grows up with a belief that his/her/their emotional needs will never be met and they cannot express spontaneous emotions due to fear of serious negative reactions. The adult with this distorted belief system may be viewed by others as cold, uptight, or flat and receive feedback from their employees that they are “unsupportive” and “don’t understand”. Of course, they would. On some level, they leader learned that keeping their emotions inside and not asking others for their need to be met keeps them safe. Feeling safe is a basic human need.
Through my experience as a therapist, I quickly learned that people have varying degrees of “awareness” or “insight” into these beliefs. Part of coaching or therapy is to help shine a light on these “blind spots” so the person can change their behavior and receive different results. Through my experience personally and professionally, I discovered that many of the –ism’s of our world, i.e. racism, sexism, ageism, etc., could be addressed if people were more aware of their “blind spots.” Part of the process of redefining and renewing our lives comes from discussing our story, processing it, challenging unhelpful beliefs, and rewriting our story. I was able to do this in my personal and professional life. My mission is to help others do the same.
How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?
My definition of leadership changed from one of hierarchy, emotionless, and punitive, to equal, vulnerable, and supportive. Previously, and unfortunately still today, it is expected to show the boss “respect” by not expressing frustration and having unhealthy boundaries, such as working long hours in order to get the job done. For too long we were conditioned to believe work and personal life should be separate. You are supposed to hide the pain of the death of a loved one, an argument with your partner, or a new medical issue and show up to work like nothing is happening. Employees are human, and along with being human comes emotion. We are not two different people at work and at home, so burying emotions is unhealthy.
Being a leader today means increasing self-awareness and social awareness to support the mental wellness of the team members and the leader. This is often referred to as emotional intelligence. Assessment of your own behaviors as a leader and understanding the deeper needs of the employees is what makes for an effective leader who retains employees and prevents burnout.
Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?
Great point. One legacy behavior I stopped is acting “inhuman”. As I mentioned earlier, we all have a stereotypical idea of how a “professional” person behaves and what they wear. We may picture someone overusing corporate jargon, dressing in suits, and acting emotionless. While all of these examples are not inherently unhelpful all the time, there are deeper layers that need to be discovered and addressed if the leader is getting constructive criticism about their performance.
Knowing all people have a basic human need to feel safe and understood physically and emotionally, I make it a priority to share my struggles and model healthy boundaries with those around me. Modeling these behaviors in the workplace communicates permission for others to do the same. It’s important to continue to renew your leadership style as leaders are human as well — experiencing their own personal and professional struggles. High levels of self-awareness and social awareness are skills to evaluate and renew.
What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?
Asking for clarification or direction. We typically react to situations based on how we would want the problem fixed. The best leaders have asked me “What do you need from me?” when I share a concern or problem. This is a quick and effective way to identify the solution needed in that situation. Assuming you know the internal struggle, needs, desires, and goals of someone else creates a mismatch when communicating or supporting that person. What happens when you assume the other person is burned out and needs less work? Maybe that is what someone would want in this situation, but is it true for this particular employee? What would happen if the employee wanted to have more work because their need was to engage in more value-driven work? They will be left feeling unfulfilled and burnout will continue because their need is not being met.
There are many solutions to a problem. Are you actually utilizing the correct solution based on the individual needs of your team members? The only way to know what someone needs is to ask them. This requires social awareness in order to identify employees are different, have their own experiences and needs, and require different solutions to problems.
What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?
I would want them to know that their old patterns were relevant and have worked for them at one point in time. These behaviors were even conditioned by other people in your life. Every time someone gave you a raise or praised your leadership style, your behavior was reinforced. However, how socially and self-aware were those people that reinforced your behavior? Did they have all the information and a fully comprehensive understanding of how you interacted and led your team? The chances of that are slim because they do not see all of your interactions and decision-making processes that happen every day.
What we understand about culture and social patterns constantly changes. Technology and psychological approaches change. We learn new things daily. Fifty years ago, car seats had no buckle and one metal bar going around the child with a large gap in between the child and the bar. Today, we have new insight into what are best practices and systems for car seat safety. Are you still using a 1950’s car seat? If so, your team will feel less safe, valued, and maybe even resentful if you have not caught up with new systems or techniques. Since there is more awareness and focus on mental health and wellness today, the use of these old patterns will cause people to feel more stressed, be less productive, not be able to meet team goals, and ultimately threaten your reputation and effective track record as a leader.
Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?
Yes, leading people is challenging. I would encourage new (and seasoned) leaders to surround themselves with others who have the skill sets they desire. Are you hanging around people who are closed off to new ideas and techniques? You will only grow as much as those around you. I learned that lesson quickly when I changed jobs and was around leaders who were a few steps ahead of me. I was able to learn new skills quickly because someone had already done it. There was less trial and error.
Also, embrace honest feedback. Nothing will highlight areas of improvement better than honest feedback from those around you. Once you have that information, it is your job to utilize it and change unwanted behavior. Are you experiencing pushback or rejecting the feedback? That is a sign internal work is needed to challenge belief systems or personal bias.
Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each. The top five traits that are exemplified by effective and successful leaders today”
1 . Awareness. Leaders who understand their belief systems and how they affect and influence those around them are more likely to engage in effective behaviors. Without awareness, you are less likely to notice errors in your thinking. This can cause leaders to offend, display microaggressions, disrupt interpersonal effectiveness, and break healthy connections, which decreases psychological safety and increases burnout. One barrier to internal awareness is cognitive dissonance, which is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories.
Here’s an example. Let’s say a corporate leader is responsible for evaluating the performance of their team members. They have a senior employee, Employee A, who has been with the company for many years and has always been seen as a strong performer. However, this year, Employee A’s performance has noticeably declined, and there are clear signs of underperformance, such as missing deadlines and producing lower-quality work. Due to the leader’s long-standing positive perception of Employee A, they might exhibit confirmation bias in the following ways:
Selective Attention. The leader may subconsciously focus more on instances where Employee A performs well or excuse their underperformance, attributing it to external factors like workload or personal issues. This selective attention reinforces their belief in Employee A’s competence.
Interpretation Bias. When reviewing Employee A’s work, the leader may interpret mistakes or shortcomings as isolated incidents rather than as part of a pattern of declining performance. They may downplay the significance of negative feedback and emphasize any positive aspects.
Seeking Confirming Information. The leader might actively seek out feedback or information that confirms their existing positive perception of Employee A, such as asking colleagues who share their viewpoint or discounting feedback from those who raise concerns. These patterns impact effective decision-making.
As a result of confirmation bias and lack of awareness of this internal belief system, the corporate leader may delay addressing Employee A’s performance issues, avoid providing constructive feedback, or resist taking corrective action, all because they are unwilling to let go of their long-held belief that Employee A is a strong performer. This can ultimately harm the team’s productivity and morale, which can cause employees to quit.
2. Consider new perspectives and viewpoints. Common beliefs such as people are mainly driven by financial means, employee turnover is mainly HR’s responsibility, or that employees should adapt to company culture and not the other way around are belief systems that negatively impact employee retention. Effective leaders understand that employees are also motivated by factors such as career development, a sense of purpose, work-life balance, and a positive work environment. Employee retention is a shared responsibility and leaders should actively engage with their teams, solicit feedback, and address concerns promptly. Adapting the culture to be more inclusive, diverse, and supportive can enhance retention. Overall, effective leaders are internally aware and then actively do something to change their unhelpful beliefs.
3. Non-negotiable practices to support employees. Burnout was previously rewarded because it was thought to show dedication to one’s job. The harder someone worked, the longer hours they worked, and the more they got done was a sign that was an A+ employee. What else did burnout do? The person is now irritable and short-fused from being exhausted and other people on the team don’t want to work with this person. Company culture is now negative, resentment increases, nothing changes, and employees leave. Effective leaders decide on non-negotiable practices that enhance mental wellness for their team. It can include leaving work at a consistent time, flexibility, or honoring personal responsibilities with family.
4. Assess the effectiveness of your behaviors. Let’s say leaders have started implementing the previously mentioned traits. Are they working? Effective leaders assess their behaviors consistently. The only way to know if a behavior or technique is working is to ask for honest feedback. When leaders implement the previously mentioned traits, they have created a space where employees feel safe and appreciated for addressing issues they once avoided. This isn’t a one-and-done process, not when we are working with people. Personal life and changes in our jobs influence how we show up on a daily basis. Without consistent awareness of our belief systems and emotions, important spots for tweaks and new interventions are missed. Continuously assess the effectiveness of your techniques.
5. Curiosity. Encourage the team to grow personally and professionally. Create an environment where people feel safe to ask questions, without judgment, and allow their minds to “wander” and be curious and passionate about their job and life. Develop retreats, workshops, or mentor programs so employees can feel invested in the company and learn new skills that will increase their sense of purpose and worth personally and professionally.
American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.
A masterpiece is an outstanding work of artistry, skill, or craft. Historically, in order to be a “master” of your craft or skill, you need a qualification for membership into a guild. For any skill or craft, this means keeping up with the times. If you are in the construction industry and continued to make houses from the same old materials that were used hundreds of years ago, you wouldn’t be considered a master of your craft when compared to the worker who is using the latest and greatest materials and techniques. The same is true for leadership. People, circumstances, culture, and policies change. If you are leading people like you did years ago, chances are you are behind in your skill set. However, that’s the exciting part about living — we get to renew ourselves in times of transition in order to be effective and grow.
I have gone through a couple of major renewing periods in my personal and professional life. One was when I was recovering from mental health issues and the second was after becoming a new mom and working full time. This is what led me to redefine, renew, and reclaim my life so I could adjust to the new demands and roles. The way I was living before kids was no longer working for my current stage of life. I needed to develop a positive and growth mindset, improve emotion regulation so I could parent in a healthy manner, and fine-tune my time management skills to keep the house running and my career moving forward. While I was overwhelmed at the start, I renewed my life and reclaimed it in the long run.
I now help others to make each day their masterpiece, just as I did. One of the ways I do this is by coaching working moms on discovering innovative ways to recover from (and prevent) burnout. As mentioned earlier, burnout causes a lack of motivation to live life, so we skate through the day. Working moms feel they have limited time because they work all day and raise their kids at night. The Renewed Working Mom Narrative™ program helps women make each day a masterpiece by renewing their lives, relationships, parenting, hobbies, and careers.
What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?
The legacy I aspire to have is one of servant leadership, awareness, wellness, and renewal. My experience in the mental health field for over 10 years made it clear how people struggle to live their lives to the fullest and happiest when their basic human need for emotional and physical safety is not met. All their energy goes to making them safe. There is no energy left to achieve higher forms of living.
Speaking at companies and coaching working moms allows me to make an impact on the masses. In 2023, there are more moms working than in the past and many of them are struggling with burnout. In addition, leaders are struggling because of the inability to retain employees. Life is hard right now and burnout is high. Burnout can be prevented by internal and external changes, i.e. thoughts, behaviors, workplace culture, societal norms, and family dynamics. The mental wellness solutions I provide are creating healthy minds and psychologically safe environments at home and in the workplace. Renewal of our thoughts and behaviors is the answer.
How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?
You can find me at www.lynseyretzlaff.com where you can book and explore my keynote, training, fireside chat, panelist, and working mom coaching services, along with blog articles. Companies can book me at www.lynseyretzlaff.com/book. Working moms can join The RENEWED Working Mom Narrative™ coaching program, or the newsletter and/or private Facebook group for more free content and support.
Lastly, don’t forget to follow me on social media: LinkedIn (@lynseyretzlaff) and Facebook (@lynseyretzlaffllc).
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!
About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.