Supporting Teams Through Authenticity with Wendy Ryan

S02 | E11 Supporting Teams Through Authenticity with Wendy Ryan

Who are you being as a leader?

These past 18 months have been tough, full of uncertainty and constant change. As leaders, we are exhausted, and unsure of how we can cultivate trust with so much trepidation in the workplace.

Wendy Ryan joins me today to discuss how we can rebuild that trust and support our teams through being authentic and vulnerable. We don’t know what tomorrow will look like, and we don’t need to pretend that we do. Our people will benefit more from our vulnerability and transparency than from putting on a show of what we think they want to hear.

Ready to better support your teams? Listen in!

Listen on your favourite podcast player

About Wendy Ryan:

Wendy Ryan (she/her/hers), MHROD, is the CEO of Kadabra, an interdisciplinary team of leadership and organizational change experts based in Silicon Valley, California. With over 25 years of combined experience in human resources, organizational development, non-profit leadership and executive coaching Wendy has partnered with hundreds of individuals and organizations throughout the U.S. helping front-line through C-suite leaders and board members achieve success as individuals and in teams.

In her consulting work, Wendy’s ability to build trust and rapport with her clients, and her agility in assessing and engaging individuals and teams from “where they are,” facilitates breakthroughs and business results. She is an expert in organizational and individual assessments, leadership development, strategic visioning and implementing change from start-ups through the Fortune 500. Wendy customizes research-based best practices to work with each client’s unique culture and business model. She understands the dynamics of entrepreneurship, venture capital and private equity funding and seamlessly integrates those dynamics into her work for the benefit of her clients.

In addition to her work with Kadabra, Wendy is an active mentor, strategic advisor and angel investor in early stage, BIPOC, LGBTQ++ and womxn-led companies and an advocate for expanding diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the investor and business ecosystem.

Wendy holds a Master’s Degree in Human Resources and Organizational Development from the University of San Francisco and a post-graduate Certificate in Management and Innovation from Bentley College and dual Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology and Spanish from the University of California at Davis. Wendy was previously certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources.

Her first book, Learn Lead Lift: How to Think, Act, and Inspire Your Way to Greatness was released in May 2021.

To learn more, visit Kadabra’s website and connect with them on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter. You can also connect with Wendy on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter.

Mentioned In This Episode:


Lindsay Recknell  0:08

Hello, welcome to Mental Health in Minutes, where we open the door to conversations about workplace mental health, and help leaders and HR professionals create safe and innovative organizations for our employees and our companies. I’m your host, Lindsay Recknell, psychological health and safety advisor, a workplace mental health consultant, speaker, facilitator, and an expert in hope.

Lindsay Recknell  0:28

Each episode of this show has three objectives to discuss the future of mental health in the workplace. To identify the best, most successful strategies are opening the door to mental health conversations at work, and to share the top ways we can engage our leadership in the workplace mental health conversation, and have them endorse and pay for a positive culture shift within our organizations.

Lindsay Recknell  0:51

If you’re listening to this podcast, you know that our people need us more than ever, but most of our organizations have a long way to go until supporting employee wellness is embedded in the culture of our workplace. This episode is a resource you can use to start and continue workplace mental health conversations, and my guests will share their experiences and what’s worked for them excited to get going. So let’s dig in.

Lindsay Recknell  1:11

Today’s guest is Wendy Ryan. She is the CEO of Kadabra, an interdisciplinary team of leadership and organizational change experts based in Silicon Valley, California. With over 25 years of combined experience in human resources, organizational development, nonprofit leadership and executive coaching. Wendy has partnered with hundreds of individuals and organizations throughout the US. Helping frontline through C suite leaders and board members achieve success as individuals and in teams. In her consulting work, Wendy’s ability to build trust and rapport with her clients, and her agility in assessing and engaging individuals and teams from where they are, facilitates breakthroughs and gets business results.

Lindsay Recknell  1:52

She’s an expert in organizational and individual assessments, leadership development, strategic visioning and implementing change from startups to the fortune 500. Wendy customizes research based best practices to work with each client’s unique culture and business model. She understands the dynamics of entrepreneurship, venture capital and private equity funding and seamlessly integrates those dynamics into her work for the benefit of her clients. In addition to her work with cadabra Wendy is an active mentor, strategic advisor and angel investor in early stage bipoc LGBTQ plus and women led companies and an advocate for expanding diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the investor and business ecosystem.

Lindsay Recknell  2:36

Wendy holds a master’s degree in human resources and organizational development for the University of San Francisco, and a postgraduate certificate in management and innovation from Bentley college, and a dual bachelor’s degree in psychology and Spanish from the University of California at Davis. Wendy was previously certified as a senior professional in human resources.

Lindsay Recknell  2:57

She is also an author. Her first book, learn lead, lift, how to think, act and inspire your way to greatness was released in May of 2001. visit her website, the Kadabra website, or you can email her for more details. And we will have all of those links in the show notes.

Lindsay Recknell  3:18

Welcome to the show, Wendy.

Wendy Ryan  3:22

Hello. So happy to be here with you.

Lindsay Recknell  3:24

It is so wonderful. I just love to read your bio, because man, you have done a lot of things.

Wendy Ryan  3:31

Thank you, I got kind of tired listening to it as well. I thought wow, it’s been a busy, busy 30 years I’ve had

Lindsay Recknell  3:39

well and see 30 years, you don’t feel like you’re 30 years, you know that you’ve been around for 30 years. But that is a lot of a lot of things to put into those 30 years. And it. I mean, your clients would absolutely benefit from all of that wisdom, I imagine and having read your book on vacation this past week, I know that you have had the privilege to to hang out with some really phenomenal leaders as well.

Wendy Ryan  4:06

I have and it really I have to say that. And I’m sure a lot of other consultants and coaches say something similar, which is that our clients are our best teachers. So we can learn so much from books and formal education and our own life experience. But really part of the joy for me and the work that I’ve done and I’m doing today is it’s all about how much I learned as I’m teaching others and that that risk reciprocity that seems to happen around the learning and the growth for both of us.

Lindsay Recknell  4:40

Very cool. I love it. So it feels like you get involved with a lot of organizations and a lot of different industries. We’re recording this in September 2021. And tell me what are you seeing out there in your clients in their organizations as far as the future of work when it comes to mental health in the workplace?

Wendy Ryan  5:04

Well, I think that, unfortunately, the catalyst for a lot of the discussion we’re now engaging in around mental health was certainly a negative one, not a positive one, right. So I think we have to give unfortunate credit to the pandemic and the disruption that that caused as well as our racial reckoning in June of 2020, that it started at that point. And it’s still both of those things, I think are continuing.

Wendy Ryan  5:36

But I think those sort of twin crises together, really were the catalyst for a lot of people to wrestle with mental health issues at work for the first time, leaders previously, were taught to stay far away from these kinds of discussions, or quickly pull in the HR person to come in and deal with it because they were qualified. And I think all of that is something that organizations I’m in contact with are really questioning. Is that the right model going forward?

Wendy Ryan  6:11

And I think the overall consensus is it’s not we leaders have to be equipped, not just our HR team members, but all leaders need to be equipped to have some basic understanding of typical mental health challenges and opportunities, and then be able to support people who are finding themselves in in difficult situations, whether it’s at work or at home.

Lindsay Recknell  6:38

Very interesting. I just had a conversation earlier this afternoon about leaders and the impact the pandemic has had on that role, specifically, I mean, I believe that their leaders are in that sandwich, right that especially functional Ed, department line leaders, where they have they’re responsible for supporting their people and taking care of themselves, but also managing up and supporting, you know, the health of their whole overall organization. Are you finding that leaders are as exhausted as I think they are?

Wendy Ryan  7:15

Yes, I had a little pause there, because I have so much in my head around that. But yes, I think the exhaustion is real. And part of that comes from, you know, when I remember going to Spain, I lived in Madrid for a year, and I thought I knew Spanish because I had taken it in high school, and I took it in college, and I was getting a Spanish degree. But I spent the first month in Spain with a splitting headache, and exhausted every night just falling into bed.

Wendy Ryan  7:46

And it finally dawned on me that the reason I was so tired of the reason my head hurt is because my brain was literally just having to process everything in a different language. And I wasn’t used to that. It was like trying to run a marathon after I’d really only been, you know, walking around the track for a few laps. So I think it’s a little like that some of our exhaustion comes from just not having the expertise yet. And it really does get easier when we allow ourselves the opportunity to practice and learn give ourselves some grace around that.

Lindsay Recknell  8:24

Grace is my word for 2021. Because I think, I don’t think that it can be underestimated. Just that whole self forgiveness piece and that you use the word. Yeah, like, learning, right? We are still learning, we still don’t know what tomorrow looks like, right? It continues to change and, and that feels exhausting in itself. I would imagine.

Lindsay Recknell  8:49

I know, it feels exhausting for me to think, okay, you know, we’re gonna return to work, just jokes, not really. Like, you get these plans, and you can see the end in sight, and then something changes and you go back to square two, you know, we didn’t go all the way back. But you know, we did come back. What do you say to leaders that are experiencing that? Like, how, how can you give them hope and all of this?

Wendy Ryan  9:16

Well, I think it starts with acknowledging that As humans, we are all wired fundamentally to really crave certainty. We feel safer when we have some ability to predict what’s going to happen. Even those of us who tend to really thrive around change or consider ourselves to be really spontaneous by personality. There’s a certain threshold for everybody and I think for a lot of us, you know, the length of time that this uncertainty has gone on is exceeded even people who say yes, I love change, bring it on.

Wendy Ryan  9:51

So I think first of all, just acknowledging if you feel that way, that is normal, and also, as Leader understanding that what we’re in is what we call a vuca. context. We have volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity and so that you for uncertainty, this is with us. And to some extent it’s a permanent ish condition that we need to acclimate to. So it may not be as much uncertainty as you’re talking about where it’s as if, hey, we’re going to the office next week. Oh, no, now we’re not. Okay, now we’re gonna go in two weeks, okay. Now it’s four weeks, maybe not quite that much back and forth.

Wendy Ryan  10:36

But in so many dimensions, we can see a lot of that decisions being made, having to be rethought, made again, and, and how that creates a sense of uncertainty for us.

Lindsay Recknell  10:50

So from an employee, looking at their leaders who are being forced to truly being forced to take back what they are saying, you know, we’re going back next week, no, we’re going back four weeks. You know, how do you do? I don’t even know how to ask this question. But like, I feel like that’s eroding trust. It is that it’s roading trust at the organizational level, for no fault of their own, if they are truly operating in the best interest and the best way that they know how, you know if they’re operating from a place of excellent character.

Lindsay Recknell  11:32

But how do we continue to build that trust or rebuild that trust? Or, you know, that’s not even a question. But you know, what I’m trying to say like, what do you say to Oregon to organizations and leaders that are experiencing that erosion of trust simply because of circumstance?

Wendy Ryan  11:49

Yeah, it’s not a trivial issue. I would say trust is really important, it’s part of that social contract that we have between us and in our employer. And we really have come to expect a certain amount of predictive trust, meaning that, you know, if you say to me, Hey, I’m going to get this to you in two weeks. And that happens often enough, we have built some predictive trust.

Wendy Ryan  12:22

So I feel like I can be reasonably certain going back to certainty that this is actually going to happen when you say it is. And so what we’re talking about is how that has been tested. Because people have had to make guesses essentially, and then realize that that wasn’t going to be a feasible path forward. So then we really have to fall back on what we call relational trust, which is actually the more important thing for us to cultivate as leaders. Relational trust is not so much about being able to depend on you to do a certain thing at a certain time. It’s about believing that you are what I call a leader who has fita behavior.

Wendy Ryan  13:11

So in the Learn lead lift framework in the book, one of the elements is behavior, how you show up to others. And we talk about fita behaviors as being a leader with focus, integrity, decisiveness, Authenticity, and humility. And when a leader shows up with a lot of fita, and does it on a consistent basis, it really serves to build relational trust. And so when you have this kind of volatility and uncertainty in the environment, you get a lot more leeway from people because they go Yeah, even though it seems like she said one thing now and then she’s saying the opposite thing next week. I fundamentally know that this person has integrity, I know because of our history together, that they are humble that they’re not. There’s not a different agenda behind our dealings with each other.

Lindsay Recknell  14:15

brilliant, brilliant. I love that what you say about the vulnerability, the authenticity. I know and I believe that you would be aligned to this but having a you know, a leader that expresses those kinds of characteristics leads to a more psychologically safe workplace, right? For psychologically safe workplaces. We all want to show up as our best selves and contribute in the in the best way that we can. Can we teach freedom to leaders,

Wendy Ryan  14:47

we can be fita is not you know, each of those dimensions that I mentioned, if we take authenticity, for example, it’s not really just one thing. It’s really the outcome. The perception that I have certain mindsets and certain skill sets that are operating together and then producing or manifesting that behavior of authenticity. So it is possible to teach and it’s so important that leaders now and into the future, as we think about what do leaders need to be working on for the next 20 years and getting better at authenticity is a big one.

Wendy Ryan  15:29

But I can mimic authenticity. But people ultimately can kind of tell authenticity is because sometimes we think of authenticity, and it’s this superficial authenticity, it’s people who have wild hair, or, you know, have provocative statements on their t-shirts and slogans. And yes, that’s expression, that’s not authenticity. Authenticity is showing people who you are in a way that respects their inherent worth and their autonomy. So it’s, I’m I’m showing you who I am, without sort of steamrolling over you or sucking all the air out of the room or not, not leaving space for you to also be yourself.

Wendy Ryan  16:20

So in leadership, I think authenticity has to be, you know, there’s like a, I don’t want to say moderated. But we always need to be aware of how much space we’re taking up relative to the people we’re trying to lead. And our goal is not to dominate that space, it’s to invite people into that space with us.

Lindsay Recknell  16:41

We love that. And I had a thought leader is similar to you on the show, who talked about personal branding, and how personal branding contributes to creating psychologically safe spaces. And it feels very similar to what you’re talking about. Whereas if, if your leader exemplifies a personal brand of openness and compassion and curiosity, and that inviting people to share this space, it just, you know, encourages people to show up as their best selves, that feels well aligned.

Wendy Ryan  17:19

Yeah, and I’m thinking as we’re talking about this, that this can be really hard, especially for senior leaders. And I would, you know, put HR leaders who are often senior leaders in there as well. Because there’s a lot of pressure for us to show up in a certain way. And to satisfy certain stakeholder groups, like our shareholders, our owners, you know, our customers in a particular way. And so sometimes part of our struggle, is getting better at leadership and start showing up authentically is figuring that out, how do we occupy that space.

Wendy Ryan  18:01

And I think that window has also shifted a lot in the past 18 months, I think there’s much more openness now, because we’ve had a peek behind the curtain and a lot of people’s lives, including senior leaders to do that. So really encourage senior leaders to, you know, push that boundary as much as you can, because what that will do is it will signal for other people, the people you’re trying to lead in particular, like, hey, I’ve got issues too, you know, I’m not perfect, and that this also goes into humility a bit.

Wendy Ryan  18:41

And so, and I’m successful, and because I’m not perfect, and I’m successful, you can be to that. So often, people that are trying to get promoted, and they’re and they’re trying to grow in their careers, get caught up in this idea that they have to be perfect. And women seem to struggle with this for some reason. Well, I have some ideas about why but I think it’s very common to see this as being an issue for women in particular, much more so than than male identified people. And so I this is something I really want to push on. I really want all of us to work on this.

Lindsay Recknell  19:23

So if you are working to say the listener is working in an organization and they know the power of this stuff, they recognize how important it is to show up and encourage others to show up as their real selves. But they are meeting restriction they are meeting Yes, they are they are hitting the the top of the engagement from senior leaders especially, you know, you can only do so much grassroots effort without leadership by an executive top down by in what do you how do you counsel leaders in that position, I imagine you must come into those scenarios.

Wendy Ryan  20:04

Yeah, I think you know, when I’m working with C suite leaders or board members, I always want to assess where they are in on the spectrum of, can we approach this as a business value proposition? Or can we approach this as a sort of human centered, heart centered discussion, and or both. And sometimes we can do both. Sometimes, we have to start with here, all the business reasons why you want to show up as a leader like this, here are all the business reasons that it is that people are looking for this company to, to make some changes in the culture, right. And if that’s the case, we can certainly do that.

Wendy Ryan  20:57

And I’m fairly pragmatic in that, if that’s where we need to start. And we can’t go much further than that. As long as the changes are moving in a direction that is going to be supportive of people, and help the organization eventually, to make the shift toward being more human centered, then there’s something for me there to work with. And there’s something that I feel called to do there. And that I can be helpful with.

Wendy Ryan  21:28

But my preference is to work with leaders who can admit, hey, I don’t know what all this human centered stuff is about. I don’t know what you mean when you talk about IE leadership and learn lead lift. But I’m open to hearing about it. And I’m intrigued, and I want to understand that because I get intuitively that there’s something there that I may not know yet. But it feels important. Those are my favorite people to work with

Lindsay Recknell  21:57

you, me both sister, you and me both. Although I do also love the first group of people that you’re talking about, because there’s a ton of potential there, there’s a ton of opportunity there. And if we start the conversation by speaking the language of the business, you know, the pure black and white dollars and cents of business value of it. And they buy into that.

Wendy Ryan  22:20


Lindsay Recknell  22:20

when I mean, yeah, baby steps, baby. Right?

Wendy Ryan  22:24

Exactly right. Yes.

Lindsay Recknell  22:26

So how do we open the door to these kinds of conversations at work? pandemic aside, you know, how, how do we start to have these conversations at work if the pandemic hasn’t been enough to trigger an avalanche of, you know, heart centered focus?

Wendy Ryan  22:43

Yeah, well, I think that the invitation that I like to extend to leaders, and it can be in this works in a lot of different contexts, but I really encourage people to say, Why do you want to be a leader? And who are you being as a leader? Right?

Wendy Ryan  23:02

So you mentioned earlier talking with someone about personal brand, it’s like, well, it’s not why do you want this job? Why do you want to be a leader? Like, what? And what does that really mean for you? And then, okay, now, how are you actually showing up in that role? And is there alignment there or not? And sometimes, in fact, I would say 90% of the time, people I meet and I asked this question, or I work with, have never thought about that. I mean, it’s shocking the degree to which people sort of end up in leadership or raise their hand for leadership role and never sort of view it as any kind of through a vocational lens. By itself.

Wendy Ryan  23:50

If we always been the leader, it seems like with a functional responsibility, or a, you know, political position or something. And there’s great value and just sort of taking those apart for a minute and just looking at the leadership part of the equation and saying, What am I really trying to do here? And why?

Lindsay Recknell  24:12

kind of the difference between a leader and a manager right at the leading the people part, as opposed to just managing the tasks in the business at hand?

Wendy Ryan  24:20

Yeah. And I think that helps people certainly get in touch with what’s the deeper purpose and what is possible here. And that can generate a lot of energy and excitement around. Now what do I do with that insight? And so I think that’s a really good starting point for people.

Lindsay Recknell  24:42

Because it also not only brings excitement and energy but traffic trepidation and feeling terrifying.

Wendy Ryan  24:54

Absolutely, at times, it does or, or sorrow or grief or you No, it can. It can bring on both negative emotions and positive ones. And that’s okay. And sometimes it’s a mix of both.

Wendy Ryan  25:08

I think part of what is a common theme around great leadership is we recognize that we have to tolerate some discomfort in order to be great, we recognize that leadership is hard work, that it is not it because it really isn’t ultimately about the title or the accolades. It’s, it’s about, what are we able to help get done in the world? Like, how are we influencing other people in order to make something happen, and it’s not self serving at its core, it’s not self serving. So that’s something I think once people get in touch with, it can feel kind of heavy. But it gives us a real, strong foundation on which to build where do we go from here, because now we’re really telling the truth about why we want to do this.

Wendy Ryan  26:04

So for example, I’ve had people say, Well, I want to be a leader, because I want to make a ton of money. And that’s okay. I’m not here to judge that. Okay, but let’s understand the implications of that for you and for the organization. So let’s, let’s take that apart, and let’s just let’s look at that. And, and how that’s impacting how you’re showing up as a leader, and how that’s impacting the thing you’re ultimately trying to get done. And if we think about all of that holistically, sometimes we’re surprised by what we find in that.

Lindsay Recknell  26:43

So we’ve talked over the last half hour a lot about all the things that it takes to be a leader, all the things we need to do, all the things we need to think about are the gaps we need to close, that feels overwhelming. Um, if you could leave one, what’s the first place to start? If anyone is listening, feeling overwhelmed? What would be a great place to start?

Wendy Ryan  27:08

I think I mean, a simple answer to that is start from wherever you are. And I don’t mean to, you know, be too general. But I think sometimes we start looking so hard for the perfect mentor, the perfect program, the perfect book, The perfect course, that we really wait a long time to get started or we end up kind of scattershot all over the place.

Wendy Ryan  27:34

So I think starting with the questions I just mentioned, is great. And then identifying, okay, going back to the Learn lead lift framework, you know, what are some skill sets? One or two? What are some mindsets, one or two? And what are some behaviors one or two, that would really support, you know, who I’m trying to be as a leader, and why I want to be a leader, write that down, and then tell somebody else about it.

Wendy Ryan  28:06

If you do those three things, we know, all the data and research tells us and I can verify anecdotally that they’re more likely to actually do something about those things. So you create a little plan for yourself, and that and you tell somebody, and that helps you get started and moves you forward.

Lindsay Recknell  28:27

That feels practical and simple. I know in practice, it would be much, much harder. But I just thank you so much. I could listen to you speak on this topic forever. And I know how important having good leadership, having authentic leaders, having humble and curious leaders are for creating that psychological safety and to open the door to those conversations at work. And I know that everybody listening to this show is also hearing from your brilliance, and I thank you all listeners for another year for listening to another episode of mental health admits, having worked in leadership and organizational change for so long.

Lindsay Recknell  29:04

Wendy has such great insight on the various ways we can support our team members and our other leaders at work. I especially loved our conversation around vulnerability and how essential vulnerability is for leadership. She and I are so aligned in wanting to normalize conversations about mental health at work, and I know that if you get a chance to read her book, you’ll find many more tactics to do just that.

Lindsay Recknell  29:25

Wendy and I both believe in the power of our leaders to create psychologically safe workplaces. And I know that you do too or you wouldn’t be listening to this. If you loved this episode, please consider subscribing and leaving a review on your favorite podcast player. You can find us everywhere at Mental Health In Minutes, as well as on the web at

Lindsay Recknell  29:03

You can start supporting the mental health of your organization in minutes by joining my digital subscription. Monthly done for you presentations designed to engage, inspire, and increase mental wellness in your workplace. It’s my pleasure to get to work with people like you. People leaders who care so much about your employees and want to give the best of yourself to support those around you. I also know how bonker bananas it can be as a people leader and how competing priorities always seem to get in the way of actually being able to provide the good stuff. That real value added stuff.

Lindsay Recknell  29:03

Let me help you by doing  the heavy lifting, and you can get back to doing what you do best. Engaging with and supporting your people. Let’s connect and talk about the best ways I can help. As always, I’m here if you need me. And I know that Wendy and her team at Kadabra are too.

Lindsay Recknell  29:03

Wendy, it has been such a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us today.I know there are so many pieces of wisdom and takeaways that the listeners will be able to implement right away, so thank you for your brilliance.

Wendy Ryan  29:03

Thanks so much for having me. This was really fun.

Lindsay Recknell  30:39

Take care.

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