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Ep. 61: Curiosity and humility in servant leadership

Heidi Scott, Ph.D, VP Learning and Development |

Innovative leaders know how to both leverage new technology and build solid relationships—a powerful combination for workplace success. Heidi Scott, Ph.D, Vice President of Learning and Development at, shares how her background in virtual education informs her technological savvy (she started before virtual education was a “thing”) and her relationship building skills. 

On this episode of Raising the Bar on Leadership, host Aaron Levy chats with Heidi as she explores how to balance individual career goals with company goals to create a winning environment for everyone. 

Answered on this Episode

  • What are some effective ways to coach colleagues with new technology?

  • How can business leaders earn trust with individuals and in a workplace team? 

  • Why is it important to establish group norms in work teams, and what are some examples of successful team agreements? 

Advice from Heidi

  • Foster real connections with virtual teams to combat the isolation often felt by remote workers. Heidi traveled to meet her teams in person, building trust and teamwork by showing she cares about them as individuals.

  • Advocate for a culture of continuous learning within teams by encouraging leaders to understand each team member's learning preferences and provide tailored support.

  • Empower your team by giving them autonomy and responsibility. Heidi trusts her team's abilities and encourages them to take ownership of their work, fostering a sense of pride and accountability.

Connect with Heidi: LinkedIn | Gonzaga University


Find This Conversation


Full Transcript

Raising the Bar on Leadership | Heidi Scott, Ph.D

[00:00:00] Aaron Levy: Heidi, it's so good to have you on. I'm just so excited to have this conversation after talking to you a few weeks ago. I'm excited for others to learn from your journey and your story. Thank you for being here. 

[00:00:11] Dr. Heidi Scott: Oh, thanks for having me. And this will be a fun conversation. We'll just see where it goes.

[00:00:16] Aaron Levy: Yeah. I think one of the things that I was most interested when we first started talking was your journey and education and teaching. You started a virtual school years and years ago before virtual was like the thing to do before COVID forced schools to go virtual. So how did being the principal of a virtual school shape your approach to team building in the virtual environment?

[00:00:39] Dr. Heidi Scott: That's a great question. And it's funny because you're right. It's been 20 plus years. I've been virtual before virtual was cool before it was a thing and have been leading virtual teams since those early 2000 years. I think, opening doors way back then for a statewide public charter school [00:01:00] where everything was delivered online and 1200 students and 55 teachers across the state.

Every nook and cranny and zip code of a state where processes hadn't been built and people didn't know what they were doing and didn't know how to do it well. They wanted to do it well, but they didn't know how. So it was, I think early on I had this kind of an epiphany of, if I know it's virtual, but if I were able to really build a relationship with each one of these.

people, these 55 people that I'm responsible for to, help them be successful. But if I really built a relationship, I think I could be successful in this and took it upon myself. And I did, I traveled to every nook and cranny of the state and met with these people in their home offices.

Alleviated some fears of how they were working and how, suggestions of how they could work better and then fostered a sense of team. I think one of the things with virtual leaders, and employees who work [00:02:00] virtually is so often we just feel isolated. Look at you you're working from home, you're by yourself, you're connected with people.

I live on Zoom all day long, but I'm working from home. And so, I think that, when we're able to foster relationship building between a manager and those who are on our teams, but also cross functionally we Get the guards down on people help drop the guards and for ourselves as well, to be a real person, to be authentic, certainly helps.

I believe helps the output. I know for me, it does. When I have someone who takes an interest in who I am, where I want to go in my career, who I am as a person. And I'm not just a widget maker. That makes me want to contribute in a more holistic way. 

[00:02:47] Aaron Levy: Okay. I have so many more questions about this.

Cause this is just my mind went to this is before zoom. I want to dig a little bit deeper into. I love the concept of like I built relationships with the 55 [00:03:00] people on my team. But you talk about cross functional, like how do you build those cross functional relationships?

How do you get them working with each other or sharing the things that might happen in, a school, the teacher's lounge that, There's no teacher's lounge in this virtual school. 

[00:03:14] Dr. Heidi Scott: And it's been really years, a couple of decades since I've worked in that school setting. In the corporate setting, it's the same thing.

You may have a large team. Do you meet with them regularly? When we say large, if you've got 12 or more direct reports, to me, that's a large team because people can hide. You can have a zoom meeting. One of my team rules is cameras are always on and I will oftentimes show up with my baseball hat on.

I will have gone for a run, hair in a ponytail, baseball hat on because I want to demonstrate to them. It's not how you look. You're not turning your camera on because we want to, you know, see how you look. We want to see your face. We want to see your expressions. We want it [00:04:00] to be real.

So, I think modeling that the expectation and again, how can we encourage people to be real human beings? So inside of that team setting, if you have a large team how can you break them into subgroups that make sense for whatever the work may be? And. Again, look at what are the team values you have?

Most organizations have values and you can look on the wall. There's a mission, vision, values. Most of the time I find team leaders, managers, they've never really stopped to think what are my team values that must align to the organizational values, but taking that time as a leader to help craft them with your team, have your team speak into them.

It's funny, Aaron, I just, yeah. I'm big into AI. How can we leverage technology and used a number of different tools that long story short, I put our team values into a [00:05:00] 30 second song. And that's going to be part of our end of the quarter review of are we living them? How are we doing this? And it why did I go that route?

Just to be surprisingly creative and fun, just, to get a smile and to help people go, oh yeah, we have been talking about these on a regular basis, at least quarterly. But what a fun, different way to look at this and go, oh yeah, we're doing a really good job on this one.

We could do better over here. So, I think when you talk about a team, like getting people on the same page, there is important. I'll say, are we two feet in? Doesn't mean you have to love everything. Every little word, every phrase, every nuance, but no I'm, I'm two feet in. I can buy in and I'm going to do what I can to live that value in and amongst our team.

[00:05:48] Aaron Levy: There's so much richness in what you just shared. There's so many layers to this that I don't even know where to go. We talk about this all the time. We talk about the importance of setting team agreements and I've purposely, our team has purposely [00:06:00] avoided values so that people don't get confused.

You have company values, but each team has a set of values as well. We call them agreements just because it makes it a little bit simpler, but what are those agreements that you're holding to as a team? And I think that's just. It's subtle, but so important, right? Like, how do we, if we want to create this team, why don't we treat it like a team and treat it like, we have a set of principles, agreements, values that we live by and work by.

[00:06:21] Dr. Heidi Scott: Yeah, I agree with you. I think as well, it So I'll oftentimes, I do a lot of coaching and I'll have leaders say How do I get rid of someone on my team? That's a very, it's, it can be, unfortunately, it can be a real need. How do I get the right talent? How do I track them?

How do I keep them? How do I have those that need to get off the boat, find the exit? And I'll often say, are you very clear on how the team is to work together? Are you very clear on what I would call values? Like this, no, this is how we operate. [00:07:00] So when someone is outside of that, That they've typically begin to feel uncomfortable Oh, boy this team is wanting this from me, this leader is asking this of me, and I feel resistant, eventually, if the values are on target and aligned to what you need to be delivering as a team, and aligned to the organizational mission and even just annual goals, eventually, someone's going to say, this isn't the place for me I'm not having fun, I'm not Well, there's a door either in my mind.

It's like you have a ton of talent. You have a ton of Aptitude it's really up to you either this is how we play ball or you can go find a different game Because that's and that's okay So again, I using it that direction of I've also had people say hey if you ever have an opening on your team, please think of me.

Even if they're inside of the organization. I've heard great things about working for you. I've heard great [00:08:00] things about people's experience on your team. And it doesn't mean that I'm so great. It just means that I'm allowing people to bring the best of themselves and want to be a part of something that's rich and real.

So hopefully, I think that's great. It's subtractant, but it's also guardrails. 

[00:08:16] Aaron Levy: Yeah. And it's sometimes when we have managers who complain, like to your point, they complain about an employee and it's usually they're probably violating one of your values, whether you've documented or not.

So, if you have it, if you have those values written out, you can see pretty clearly, they're not two feet in or they're not, giving feedback with love or whatever the values or agreements are. And so, I think that's such a good. Such a good reminder of the base is setting the space, setting the, sphere by which you and your team work.

And I think the other thing about what you shared was making it fun and creative. We do values reviews; we do reviews and resets at the end of every quarter. We each do our own like kind of grading of how did I live into the values this quarter? And we [00:09:00] rate ourselves and that's nice.

But I smiled as soon as you said, I made a song about it because that is exciting and different and not just like rate yourself and it's bringing it to life in unique ways. And I think that's fascinating. I'm just curious, what are some of the other unique ways in which you've brought either values or other things to life 

[00:09:18] Dr. Heidi Scott: One of them is to be a continual learner.

If you're part of an L and D team. Let's hope that it's part of the fiber of who you are, that you are this continual learner. The other day I was working with one of our folks on my team. And I said, hey, throw that, throw, let's throw this into chat GPT. And he was like a little bit, like just stopped for a second.

I said, use it, it's there. Now he did have the tab open. So yeah, I said, you're sharing their screen. So that was great. I said, throw it in and. And ask it for, I think where I said, ask for an analogy of what this is because we need something that everyone can relate to before we go and hang content on the skeleton, give them the skeleton.

And [00:10:00] the person typed in analogy, and then pasted the stuff. And then this person was like, See, it doesn't really work. I was like no, actually it does. Let's prompt it more effectively. And what I realized was, while the person has access to the tool, they haven't become competent in using the tool. And a lot of people when we get stuck doing our job, we're doing, sometimes it's hard to just, it's hard to carve out time.

If you don't set that time for, Hey, there's my time. I'm gonna, I tell my team, it's okay to go dark. Turn off the technology. You're using technology. Turn off Outlook. Turn off teams, turn your phone off just for an hour and go dark and learn what you need to get lost and do what you need to do, whether you're working on a project or whether it's time set aside to actually learn, I'll tell my people like that is your job.

Your job for this next hour is to learn, and I think sometimes we get so busy doing that we [00:11:00] forget that learning can be a task. It can be, it can happen here and there, but if we set time aside to actually learn. All that to say, when I was working with this individual on my team, it was really fun to be able to say here's a way to prompt.

Here, let's do it this way and model that and then we saw results. I said, now let's refine it and did it a couple of times. I was like, look, you have five great options to use in this. Whatever we were building. So hopefully that kind of helps as far as an example of taking a value of let's be continuous learners into how do we do that?

How do we model that? How do we expect that of ourselves as well as those we lead? 

[00:11:42] Aaron Levy: Yeah, there's something about what you said in that too, which is getting me it, I'm reading this book, deep work by Cal Newport, and it it highlights what I feel about. We need to remove distractions and just be able to get deep into learning, right?

I'm writing my next book. The only way I'm going to write it is if I block [00:12:00] us the same time every Monday morning and I'm at a coffee shop, not at my house, and I have coffee in me. Like, there’s certain settings to beat to, to get my mind ready to learn or to go deep in a certain area.

And I guess what I'm curious from your perspective as a yeah. Experienced leader of learning teams and learning organizations is how do you find the balance between that deep work and that collaboration, right? Like that balance between open floor plan. And we also need to not be on slack to get some stuff done.

[00:12:31] Dr. Heidi Scott: Yeah, I would come back to do, your priorities. So, if I asked you right now, do you whatever system you use, even whatever it is, where do you list your projects? Where do you know what's on the docket? What's coming next? How you re sequence and why you re sequence.

If we know what those priorities are, like, I'm sure you're familiar with the old Brian Tracy book, Eat That Frog. What's the one, what you would say distasteful thing you need to do. Like I have [00:13:00] one. It's been for three weeks now. It's I know I need to tackle this project. I don't really want to do it.

And it's going to take some time. And so, for three weeks, I'm like, Oh, nope. Today just got away from me. Nope. Today just got away from me. And then the end of the week, Oh goodness. It's been three weeks. So now I'm like, okay, it has, it's moving its way up to the top of my project list where I know, okay, my job is going to be to do what you just said.

Where are those two hours? I need to go dark and work on it to move it forward and then schedule my next just like a salesperson don't leave your session with yourself without the next session with yourself calendared, and then treat that session with yourself, like a million-dollar appointment, don't be late, show up on time, be ready, be engaged.

If I had a million-dollar meeting, I'm going to, I'm going to be my best. So, I think sometimes we shortchange ourselves. I know sometimes I do when I say, oh, I have something to work on. And [00:14:00] it'll be a little bit half baked, or I'll be multitasking. Today, Aaron, before we met, I would have a project that I'm delivering here in about two hours.

 It was crunch time. I was like, Okay, enough messing around. And it was amazing to see what inside of 90 minutes I could crank out as, as a result of fueling it, but then also having that time, that block of time that was dedicated to do only this thing and block everything out.

[00:14:26] Aaron Levy: And I like what you said. And it reminds me of just the concept of we think creativity comes from like, oh, it's just a spark and I'll take it when it's a spark. It's no, treat it like a million-dollar meeting and your brain will get ready. Like I find myself Sunday nights thinking about what I'm going to write on Monday morning, because.

Monday mornings blocked off, right? That's my million-dollar meeting and it's a block of time. And so, I like the importance of not only blocking that time, but treating it like a high value time. And I think you're right. I think we often shortchange ourselves and then, look at our text messages, look at our Slack, look at our [00:15:00] email, check LinkedIn or whatever else you're scrolling through.

And before you know it, you're half-assing it. 

[00:15:06] Dr. Heidi Scott: And I also think that there's, maybe not everyone's this way for me having time to let an idea develop but being intentional about it. So, I love to work out and I'm going to go ride. For 30 miles. I'm going to go with the mental agenda.

I'm not just writing. I'm like what am I figuring out? What am I strategizing on? And it could be anything, but typically it'll be work related. And so. in my mind I'm building whatever the strategy is. When I go for a long run, it'll be the same thing. What am I thinking?

Thinking about I'll go off and I may be listening to something, but I also be like, what am I wanting to think about? What am I wanting to just have the architecture be built one, one board at a time as I'm putting the pieces together, step by step or rolling along on a bike or taking a long swim.

So, I, [00:16:00] again, everyone has their thing of when you're walking or. Sitting at the beach or whatever it is that you do. I think problem solving sometimes can be a life-giving strategy. It's incremental so that when you have that million-dollar meeting, you can bust it out because you've had this fuel that's been blowing the embers of this fire that now is going to like whoosh.

When you have that time that's dedicated to really move it forward. 

[00:16:27] Aaron Levy: Yeah. I can only feel the same way. I think we've talked about this. We're both triathletes. And I do, I've done some of my best problem solving in the pool. Pool there's no other things around and it's just stroke, breathe.

And you get into this monotonous rhythm and the brain starts flowing. What I'm wondering is for those people who are listening to this and saying I'm not on the bike for 30 miles, or I'm not doing laps for an hour. do you equip as the leader of the learning component of your organization?

How do you equip others with the tools to problem solve, to get deep or to, get through the tasks that they need [00:17:00] to from a learning standpoint? How do you equip others to do that? 

[00:17:03] Dr. Heidi Scott: I would say, do we understand what their needs are? Person by person, they process differently.

They learn differently. The light bulb of understandings or aha moment is going to be different for each person. So have I taken the time to really understand what fuels someone? How coachable are they? Will they welcome me into partner with them in a collaborative fashion or will they find that?

oddly threatening because they haven't worked with me long enough to know that, oh, no, actually that's really fun. And we get good results. So, I would say, how do we help people with that? Do we know them for, and I'll give a couple of different examples. I've got a guy on my team that loves to dialogue through ideas, or he may have a challenge and he'll just, chat me and teams chat me and we'll Be on a quick video conference.

It's do you have just a little coaching segment? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. What's up. So that, that, that helps me. So, I've encouraged that [00:18:00] if you need some coaching, tell me, I'd like some coaching on this. I'm trying to figure this out. That's my alert to, okay, let's put on the coaching hat and not be the manager.

So that, what does that even mean to me? That's that. Can I manage myself to say, okay, this person doesn't need to be told what to do. This is my opportunity to really ask, what are you trying to figure out? Now I get to ask the right questions. to help them have their own aha moments and begin to connect the dots.

And I find if I'm can just be patient, patience is a virtue. It's not my strongest suit but if I can be patient and just allow them time, put the dots on the page. And as they begin to connect them, typically, because they came to me with a maybe more of a vested boots on the ground, deep in the weeds of whatever this.

Work project is they're at a different level than I am that as I ask questions When they come up with their answers, [00:19:00] They're better than I would have done on my own coming at it to say Oh here's what I think you should do. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. I think as leaders It's oftentimes when I know for me when I’m pressed.

It's very easy for me to be Highly directive. Oh, that's a great problem. Do this talk to that person. Got it Okay, see ya because I’ve got My own pressure is going. So, when I can slow up and ask the right questions, that typically will really help someone like that. If there's someone else that has a, as I, I may foresee why this person seems stuck.

And, I may not be the right solution to their... issue of being stuck. It may be, hey, have you considered reaching out to so and so on our team that maybe I know that they have a better, different connection, or maybe they're going to have some sparks for solving an issue.

So, I think those are the initial thoughts of do I know what my people need and who they are and how they function best. And can, how do I best come alongside them? How [00:20:00] 

[00:20:00] Aaron Levy: do you systematize that? I don't even know if that's a word. How do you broaden that to a group or cohort or set of managers or set of employees who like, who need to all develop a certain skillset or toolkit?

How do you do that on a broader scale, right? If someone's listening to this thing, okay, great. That makes a lot of sense on a one-to-one level. But how do I do that if I have. 25 managers who need to get better at this, or a marketing team who needs to learn how to adopt this.

[00:20:29] Dr. Heidi Scott: Yeah, I would think in that situation, Aaron it's going to be am I presenting clarity around what the business need is? Hey team I'm seeing us and I'll try to include myself because it's not just like me pointing the finger. Hey we collectively as a group, we need to get better in XYZ. And if you're asking yourself why it's because our business has called us to do ABC, whether you like it, whether you believe in it, whether you think it's a harebrained [00:21:00] idea, that's what we've been asked to do, or that is the business goal that we roll up to.

And because of that, as I look at where we're at, we, and I actually have an example like this. I won't give details, but with my team currently, it's you know what? Whether or not you are, you buy into what the directive is, above me has been, we got to get on board. We collectively, we have to each and then collectively as a team, move forward in this direction.

We have to drink our own Kool Aid. It's not just about us pushing training to the rest of the team. We have to own it. We have to model it. We have to live it. And that may not sound like fun to you. And I know for some on my team, I could say, I know that feels like a big distraction. To what you're trying to drive towards in various projects.

But this is part of the job. This is what I'm asking you to do. This is what I'm. Doing as well. So, I think that, [00:22:00] slowing up to say, it's not just me saying, hey, everybody do this. Why are you doing that? It's more a matter of, hey this is, I guess I'm just so into alignment because otherwise we were out there's like, why are we doing this?

I don't know, it doesn't relate to the business need and it doesn't relate to data that can be looked at, especially when you think about leading and managing an L& D team. I'm always looking for what is being watched that I know we impact. Sometimes it's not a direct correlation. We did this, we provided this training, people went through this and now look, wow, it's not usually a one-to-one correlation.

It's going to be a number of things. What can we. Take steps in that does matter eventually as it goes on up the line. 

[00:22:46] Aaron Levy: I think there's something so simple yet so often missed in what you just shared. It's like you said, first, let's get clear on the issue. Let's make sure we're all clear on what the, what we're trying to solve or what we're trying to do, clarity is [00:23:00] kindness.

And. We often jump past that or it's clear to us, but not clear to them. And if it's clear to us, then we don't care about re clarifying it for anybody else context. And we always talk about this, as a manager, your responsibility is clarity. Context, how does it relate to the business and psychological safety?

But what I heard from you, and I think what this creates the safety or at least it creates even more clarity is, you need to own it as well. There needs to be a collective nature to it. And that's something I hadn't thought of before of Hey, this is we got, this is what we have to do.

This is the context of the business. And you know what, whether we love it or not, we need to collectively own it in order to get other people on board with us too. 

[00:23:39] Dr. Heidi Scott: I'll also say Aaron, I think sometimes giving people permission that what you're asking them to do. Is part of the job today.

I had someone that, that was chatting and said but if I do this, which was the right thing to do and what we're trying to develop, I'm going to have to redo it for the next three months as this [00:24:00] product gets refined. And new versions come out. And I said yes, that is that is you're absolutely right.

I'm glad you caught that. Yes. That is part of the job might not be what you want to do. But that's what's best, if it is that, if that's what's best for the good of the whole, yes, that is now your job. And 

[00:24:18] Aaron Levy: the truth is there's no job in the world where everything you do every day is what you want to be doing all day long.

Like regardless of I've started my own company and there's plenty of stuff that I do that ah, it's not the most fun thing for me. Do I really have to do that again? Yes, it's what, and as you said, it's like, it's what's better for the whole. And I love. The simplicity by which you bring this stuff back is like, how does it match with priorities?

How do the priorities match with the larger goals? are people clear in it? do people understand the priorities? Do people understand why the priorities are there? And then at the end of the day, if you want this to be your priorities or you don't, you can choose, this is the team that you're, this is your job and the work that we're doing and the work that we're deciding to do.

[00:24:59] Dr. Heidi Scott: I've [00:25:00] always told people that work on my teams. Hey, if you don't retire here, that's okay. Odds are in today's world, very few will retire in the job that they're currently in. And so, helping people see, I want to help you get where you want to go, whether that's here in this company or down the road.

think that to me, that's that humble mindset of being really being that servant leader. I'm really here to help you be better along the way. I'm going to get better because I get to work with you. I get to have conversations with you. I get to learn from each of you. I think when people, if you're really authentic in that mindset, I call it a “heart set,” if you're really that, that's really how you feel and how you approach working with people.

 They're going to spot a phony right away. But that invites people to come to you and say, Happened to me today. Hey, if you're asking for this height, is this what you mean? Because I'd like to talk about this a little bit further It's like I’m so [00:26:00] glad the person asked because I thought if that person's asking it then Probably a few others are as well.

So, it allowed me the opportunity to set some clarity So I think those are things if people really Know that you have their best interest at heart. You're going to get the best from them. And I don't say that to be manipulative., I want to bring the best of me to work and I want them to do that, do the same.

So, I know that as I'm believing in them and caring about them as an individual and caring enough to know where they want to go, so I can look for opportunities, if they can grow in those ways to prepare them for where they want to go. All the better. 

[00:26:37] Aaron Levy: Yeah. And if you're getting the best out of them, it is not just self-serving for what your output is that you need in the team, but it's self-serving for them too, because they're getting the best outta themselves. And I think it's so interesting because 

it was clear in every single story you've shared throughout. It's the humble nature, the I think this works for me. The coach nature of how you show up, which is my answer might not be right. Or my [00:27:00] thought might not be right. But here's how I think about it.

 Pulling back to a little bit more of a humble and heart sense, as you were saying. It's a powerful way to approach people and a powerful way to approach relationships in partnership versus in creating that structure above them. 

[00:27:16] Dr. Heidi Scott: Yeah, I think managing ourselves, knowing yourself, you think about emotional intelligence.

, do you know what's going on behind your own eyeballs? Can you manage what's going on behind your own eyeballs? Can you read the room? Can you manage those relationships and socially what's taking place, I think all of those are skills that we need to be mindful of.

Regularly, how am I doing? In those areas. 

[00:27:41] Aaron Levy: This has been just a tremendous wealth of knowledge. Have so much more I want to spend time on. We didn't even talk about your triathlons. We didn't talk about your work as a coach. There's so much more here, but this was just really insightful. And I love how. You were able to simplify and clarify some of the big [00:28:00] tenants from relationships to understanding others, motivations, to really getting clear and contextual with people to understand them and support and serve them and support and serve the business.

This has been really just awesome. Thank you. 

[00:28:12] Dr. Heidi Scott: Thanks for having me. It's been a fun conversation.


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