Karin Hurt is the CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international training firm focused on human-centered leadership development. Karin with her completely different approach towards leadership is helping leaders develop more influence and impact in their work. Having led a remarkable transformation in the leadership vertical, Karin is passionately trying to bring a massive shift in the way leaders work and deploy business strategies. Karin, with her focus on result-driven innovation, is out to help leaders master the productivity basics, achieve more clarity, and generate never before results but without losing themselves. The goal is to dispel the prevalent “win at all costs” mentality in organizations and demonstrate that being a good human being is the greatest approach to achieve long-term success. She was recently named on Inc’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association’s 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a host of the popular Asking for a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. Karin is also committed to the company’s philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells which aims to build clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.
We caught up with Karin to learn how she is inspiring transformational change and her role as the CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders.
Aspioneer (A): Tell us a bit about Let’s Grow Leaders. What services do you offer?
Karin Hurt (K): “We’ve been in business for 8 years and are based in Laurel, MD just outside of Washington, DC. We work internationally doing in-person and live-online programs and have trained over 10,000 leaders in 14 countries. We help human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos so they can drive innovation, productivity, and revenue without burning out employees. We empower leaders to get breakthrough results without “losing their souls.” We’re on a mission to end toxic, cynical dehumanizing leadership by providing very practical tools and techniques. We offer comprehensive, customized solutions, practical tools and techniques, and digital learning reinforcement that creates lasting behavior change. Everything we teach is based on our own extensive executive experience leading large teams, grounded in research, turned into practical tools.”
(A): How has been your professional journey, and what motivated you to start your own business?
(K): “I was a Verizon executive (I worked at Verizon for 20 years). The first decade was in human resources (HR business partner, organizational development, and training) and the second decade I led a variety of field assignments including a 2200-person sales team and a 10,000-person customer service organization. In my final role there, I was asked to lead the turnaround of our “strategic partnership channel” (BPOs taking Verizon’s calls). In working to help these companies transform their results through culture, leadership, and better training, I began noticing patterns of what was working—and started a blog to spread the word. The blog took off and gained an International following (it turns out that many human-centered leaders are looking for highly practical tools and approaches to get breakthrough results). I gave my first keynote at the International Customer Service Association conference, and people immediately began asking when I was leaving Verizon to help more companies and when I was going to write my book, etc. So, I leaped and started Let’s Grow Leaders. I’ve never looked back. I love the impact we are able to make around the world. A few years in I met my (now husband), David Dye. We were so philosophically aligned that we decided to collaborate to write Winning Well together. After we finished writing the book, we realized that we had fallen in love. We got married and merged our businesses. That’s really when our business began to thrive. We have a powerful partnership with diverse skillsets that enables us to serve our clients well. In the last few years, we’ve been expanding our team with more human-centered staff—who have also made a huge impact.”
(A): What were some of the key lessons you learned en route to your entrepreneurial journey?
(K): “One thing that surprised me in the early stages was the ups and downs of the work coming in. Sometimes there was so much work that I had to turn some away and other times there was not enough. What I learned about being an entrepreneur is that to keep things steady, it’s vital to be working on business development every week while working on building content and delivery. I also learned the importance of building a strong network of peers doing similar work (other leadership authors, training company leaders, and keynote speakers). I’ve learned so much from my “competitors” who have become great friends and supporters.”
(A): How did you deal with this ambiguity?
(K): “It’s funny you should ask that question. Dealing with ambiguity and change is the topic of our most popular blog article. You can’t always choose what you show up to, but you can always choose how you show up. We stay grounded in our values and in our mission. We’re willing to experiment and try new approaches. During this pandemic, we had to completely transform our business from 90% in-person to 100% virtual. We feel so grateful that our clients were willing to adapt with us. Our business has been thriving during this challenging time.”
(A): After all the success, what do you struggle with now?
(K): “I’ve gotten better at this, but it’s still hard to trust the process—that doing the right things will keep the business growing. Being an entrepreneur means there will be setbacks (like the time the CEO of our largest client (who was also a dear friend) died suddenly of a heart attack, and the new CEO did not believe in investing in human-centered leadership and we lost the contract). I wish I could worry less and just focus on execution. Also, we work REALLY hard, which means long hours and lots of travel. I’m always thinking about our clients, readers, and business. Sometimes I find it hard to disconnect. I’m constantly asking for (and responding to feedback from others) to help me to grow. I’m also always learning from all the other leaders I know. I pay close attention to what they do and the impact it makes (good and not so good), and process it through my writing and teaching.”
(A): How do you usually unplug?
(K): “I love being a wife and mom—we have fantastic kids. I love cycling (particularly in the mountains) and traveling (looking forward to getting back to more of that).”
(A): Where do Karin and Let’s Grow Leaders go from here?
(K): “It will be interesting to see what happens with so many companies choosing to stay virtual or to have more hybrid teams. We’re working hard to stay on the cutting edge of training technology to continue to support virtual training as well as to expand our offerings to make them even more accessible. We’re currently working on building out a Courageous Cultures Catalyst kit (with a facilitators guide and video vault of resources) to help facilitators and coaches to leverage our tools and techniques to help more teams. We’re also excited about the momentum of our latest book, Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates.”