The Happy Engineer Podcast

057: You Do You – How to Unleash Your Authentic Superpowers with Erin Hatzikostas

Hurl aside the crusty old engineering career advice you’ve likely heard for way too long: lean in, executive presence, networking, blah, blah, blah.  Let’s talk about authentic leadership in engineering.

There’s a better way to have success and get great results.

An approach that will produce a massive win-win: you do succeed, you don’t sell out.

In this episode, discover that approach with former 9-figure CEO turned Professional Pot-Stirrer, Erin Hatzikostas. She is on a hell-bent mission to help people have the big career they deserve, without compromising everything else.

This conversation is raw and hilarious!

Erin is a best-selling author, career coach, TEDx / keynote speaker, and podcast host. As a former corporate executive, she became the CEO of a 9-figure company at the age of 42. In just 3 years, she tripled earnings and sent employee engagement skyrocketing.

So press play and let’s chat… because she’s about to tell you how!

Then join The Happy Engineer Community online and get access to bonus content and coaching in our free group >>


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What a really encouraging message about authentic leadership from Erin.

Authenticity is about more than simply being yourself. And it’s not the same as transparency or oversharing. 

Authenticity is not just being yourself. It’s not coming into work and being transparent about all of the issues going on at home or your recent health situation that you just found out about that this person wasn’t ready for you to share. 

Authenticity is action. It’s something that you can choose to do. 

While authenticity is you doing you, it’s not about you bringing some uncalled-for level of transparency into the workplace. 

Strategic authenticity shows up through actions and behaviors that are characterized by these six words:

  • Humility
  • Unexpected
  • Model
  • Adapt
  • Narrate
  • Spark.

And again, each one of these has a set of principles and actions that you can then take by choice proactively to do you, to be authentic in a way that is going to drive the results that Erin shared. 

Take this, ask those questions that Erin left us with: What are you sick of? What do you want more of? 

Make a decision today on what action you’ll take first. 

Maybe it’s that out-of-office message. That’s, by the way, a fun and simple catalyst to opening up authenticity for yourself. 

I encourage you to grab one action that you can take immediately. I am absolutely going to change my out-of-office message after having this conversation with Erin. 

I think it’s a perfect place for you to begin showing up as yourself in an authentic way. 

Being authentic is not actually about you.  It’s about the impact that you can have on other people in your organization, human to human, by being yourself. 

And when you can do it with that genuine, authentic give to give mentality that mindset, it comes back tenfold. 

The reason to show up and be authentic and to break down the BS in the workplace and all the things that nobody wants, the things that everybody is sick of the reason is not for yourself.

You do it from a place of generosity and service. That’s the most powerful and beautiful thing about this message. 

If you need a place to get encouraged, don’t forget to join our free group.

Here’s a challenge: decide on something, take action, and it in the group.

I’d love to see it. I’d love to engage with you.

Previous Episode 056: Unpack the 3P’s of Your Purpose in Life with Cartwright Morris




Erin is a CEO, best-selling author, career coach, TEDs/keynote speaker, and podcast co-host. Erin is a former corporate executive, where at the age of 42, she became the CEO of a 9-figure company. In just 3 years, she tripled earnings and sent employee engagement skyrocketing. When she realized that it was her extreme authenticity that both allowed her to say “yes” to the job and achieve incredible results, she walked away to start b Authentic

Erin is determined to create a massive authenticity movement to eradicate the all-too-fake Corporate world and enable people  to have a big career, without compromising everything else. Erin is a prolific speaker (including TEDx in Oct 2020), truth-teller, and edutainer. She’s spoken in front of thousands and is a regular contributor to publications such as Business Insider, Fast Company, and Well+Good. She also co-hosts an offbeat career and leadership podcast, b Cause with Erin & Nicole. Erin is a CEO, wife, mother, coach, runner, MBA, and Running Man enthusiast.





Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: Erin I am so excited for this conversation. I love you and your energy and thank you so much for making time to be with me and the Happy Engineers out there. This is awesome. 

[00:00:12] Erin Hatzikostas: Could be more excited to engineer with you. 

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:15] Zach White: We’re gonna engineer something. I think it will be fantastic. So there is an absolutely B.

[00:00:22] GIF on your website that we must start with because I happen to be a dancer. I did ballroom Latin swing, dance competitively in college, and those who, you know, follow the show and me know that already. And here’s. Erin, you’re this CEO on stage in a gift of you doing some incredible dancing. And I loved the quote that was on your site around this, that you hate dancing, where you’re supposed to dance, but you love to dance where you’re not supposed to.

[00:00:55] So, Erin, can you please explain what in the world is going on with dancing, Aaron? In that gift. Yeah. 

[00:01:03] Erin Hatzikostas: Well, 2 things. One that was, uh, taken from a leadership offsite that we led back when I was the CEO of, PayFlex. And so, we’re prepping for this two and a half day leadership event.

[00:01:15] We had a leadership company. And as we’re prepping, they’re like, well, you, you needed the you’re the CEO, you’re gonna do the opening and then we’re also gonna have you close it. And I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah. Like I got this, this is my jam. I love, energizing. I love speaking, et cetera. Totally got it.

[00:01:29] but I could tell they kind of wanted me to prepare, so I did, prepared the opening. It’s not a script. I never script, but I, put some thought into it and had sort of an arc and that was great. And then they said, well, also the ending, I said, well, I can’t prep the ending. You’re like, you gotta wait, see?

[00:01:42] Erin Hatzikostas: Right. You gotta see what happens. Like it’s a, they said, well, we have an idea for you. And they had sent couple weeks earlier. They had sent this video. It’s the, you might have seen it, the dancing man video It’s got millions of views on YouTube. It’s this guy at a concert. And he, he, all of a sudden starts dancing and then everybody else starts dancing.

[00:02:02] And I can’t remember who did it, but somebody wrapped sort of like this leadership message around it. Like, something about followers of the lone knot. And it was this whole, like, leadershipy like people follow others to dance. Sure. so fast forward, it’s the day before the event, they come into town, it’s like four o’clock, we’re kicking it off that night.

[00:02:20] And we sit in this office, there’s five of us, cramed in this office. And they’re like, okay, Erin, do you also have you’re closing prepared? And I was, like, well, you know, roughly, but I, you know, I wanna wait to see. And they said, well, what about the video we sent you? And I was like, oh yeah, the, the video you sent me, that’s great.

[00:02:40] But what I’m gonna do is I’m just gonna do what he did. I’m not gonna show the video, I’m gonna dance and then get everybody else to dance. And they were like, well, ha have you watched it? Cause it’s got this really good message over it. I was like, okay, said, let’s pull it up again.

[00:02:54] So we pull up this laptop and they start playing it. And I swear, I only could make it like 10 seconds and I stopped it and I said, look, not for nothing. This guy, isn’t a leader. He’s drunk. Mm-hmm and the people aren’t dancing to foam they’re drunk too. And the reality is. I wanna seek inspiration.

[00:03:13] Like I never like to copy what somebody does. I sort of take it, make it my own. And I love though the idea of somebody dancing and then other people following. So I’m just gonna dance. And I swear to God, Zach, they all like, including my team, like my team, they all kind of just look at me and I just, I go, okay, okay, wait, are you worried?

[00:03:33] Because. you think I’m gonna make a fool of myself or B you think we’re gonna have this great two day event and then I’m gonna ruin it by dancing on stage. And they’re like, we’re not worried about the second one. And I was like, perfect. I’m doing it so fast 

[00:03:47] Zach White: forward we get to the end.

[00:03:49] Okay. Wait, wait, wait, I love this room. This moment. I can relate to this. If, if I was one of your five team members sitting there listening to you pitch the idea. It’s like our CEO. Is about to dance on stage in front of all these people and make a fool of herself. I’m not sure if I should recommend or or so the protection instinct.

[00:04:08] And so they’re trying to, I’m kinda curious, what was the vibe in the room? Like, were people just really silent? Like didn’t wanna step on the toes or were they really saying like, Hey, hold on Aaron, like maybe 

[00:04:18] Erin Hatzikostas: no, they were more silent. They were more like, Oh, are you sure?

[00:04:22] Okay. Like they were like, not like, that’s an amazing idea, but they weren’t like, don’t do it. I mean, at the end of the day, yeah, it was a hundred people. This is my team. This was my leadership team of the company. These were all my leaders. This isn’t like I was doing it in front of investors. so they were just, I think they were, worried about sure, whatever, like an, an idiot.

[00:04:40] So fast forward, you know, I go through my closing and I had them. I said, look, we’ll make a slide that has the quote. So you can get your quote in whatever the quote was on the thing. Sure. And then cue the music. Of course, I picked like the music that we walked into on our wedding, like great music.

[00:04:55] and I knew by the end of that two days, like I already knew who was gonna first dance. Cause I knew this woman in the front, right. A certain person has energy. She was one of our, like, service op managers and sure enough, they put on the music. I start dancing, not, four seconds later.

[00:05:11] Erin Hatzikostas: Is she up dancing? Not. 10 15 seconds later, the entire room is dancing. I ended up going down off the stage to each table. some, especially some of my older men, employees like the worst dancers ever, but they were doing their best to shimmy. Everybody was up. And when we got done, I remember going over to the leadership, company that we worked with and they were.

[00:05:35] Oh, my God, that was like, it could not have ended better than that. so I tell that story one, because that is literally the story behind it. and it also, it’s such a metaphor for me. Like I literally, I don’t do this anymore at all, really, but even back in my twenties, if people said, let’s go out to the dance club, I would be miserable because when you go to a dance club, guess what you’re supposed to.

[00:05:57] you’re supposed to dance. So then it’s like predictable and like you’re supposed to do it. Take me to an Irish pub that has like a jukebox in the back and give me a few extra drinks. And by the end we’re like dancing on tables, which has definitely happened before to me, that is like the best night possible because it’s, my, my son said it best.

[00:06:16] He’s such a, he, he. Right off of the tree of me, we were down in Orlando, this winter, my parents have a place down there and we’re not big Disney people. we love water parks, but when we went down there, we just went, we hung out. We rode in golf carts, swam, and we were taking a walk one morning. he’s actually never been to the magic kingdom.

[00:06:33] My daughter has. And I said something about it kind of feeling guilty. And he goes, he looks at me. He goes, no, I don’t like organized. He’s like, that’s, I don’t like, you know, like, I don’t want somebody to tell me, like I want spontaneous and it’s just, it’s a metaphor for everything. And I think so many people feel that.

[00:06:49] And we’ll talk about that. I’m sure today, but this, this concept of, not doing something, you know, we hear it all the time. Don’t show on yourself. Not because you should, but not doing stuff that doesn’t feel align, but the good news is you don’t have to do completely different, like showing that video.

[00:07:03] Totally in alignment with what felt right. Mm-hmm but I applied actually what I call a 50% rule and I like 50%. I kept the concept. Then I did it my own way, and that’s really where I thrive. And I think that’s where so many people can thrive and they can understand that, they can actually do it their own way and do it better.

[00:07:21] using that moment, maybe as a, catalyst to get into the work that you do and how powerful it is in organizations. What. that you believe, looking back at that dancing and the spark that it created in the room, what is it that makes it work? is it that anyone could get on stage and just start dancing and it always would happen?

[00:07:43] Zach White: Or is there more to the story and like, could you just, yeah. Maybe pull that out for us. Why does what happened happen? In that moment. Well, 

[00:07:52] Erin Hatzikostas: so I’ll start there and then I’ll go backwards. the reason that worked wasn’t because of, energy, it, really was authenticity. I mean, at that point, people knew me as a leader and by the way, I’m not a dancer.

[00:08:05] that’s a gift that shows two seconds. Like I do the worst running man, but I love doing the running man, but. It’s a connector. My team, really felt connection with me because it’s not just that I danced, but I danced really crappy. I didn’t dance. Great. I, it was messy. And, just to kind of take a step back, I think for your listeners, I had a great corporate career, but much like most people, it wasn.

[00:08:28] it wasn’t planned. I didn’t, come from a small town in Northern Michigan, Michigan girl, like, like you and your wife. And, you’re not a girl, but , uh, you know, I didn’t have grand plans to be some big executive, you know, I came into to Aetna, which is a great company. and in fact, I think your listers should know, how I started there.

[00:08:45] Erin Hatzikostas: Mm-hmm I was in college and I was actually in engineering. I was in engineering program because I was good at math and that’s what you do, right? Like you go into, of course, I was a paper engineering major at Western Michigan university, which, uh, was great until we took a little trip to the paper mill.

[00:09:00] And then I realized that’s not where I wanted 

[00:09:02] Zach White: to be working with. Wait, that’s a specific discipline you could be is a paper engineer. It’s a 

[00:09:07] Erin Hatzikostas: specific that I have at Western Michigan university. And, um, so I didn’t very do very well. I think I got my first C ever in my entire life in engineering. And so my sophomore year I decided to drop.

[00:09:19] And it was my sophomore year and my roommate actually was a junior. So she was in the business college and she knew, you know, I was just taking classes, which was fine. I was still taking my math classes, taking some of my other core classes. And she comes home from school one day and she like flies in the door like creamer.

[00:09:34] And she’s like, oh my God, Erin, I found it. I found the career for you. And I was sort of like, okay, Amy, you know, what is it? What he’s like, sure. If I pay. Low stress. So I was kind of like, okay, I’m listening. Yeah. and she’s like, it’s called an actuary. And I was like, 

[00:09:56] Zach White: oh no. Oh no. 

[00:09:58] Erin Hatzikostas: Ooh. That sounds great. No, this is Prego, right?

[00:10:01] I’m an old, fart. So this is 1995. no idea what an actu actual it was. Couldn’t Google it. all I could do was go to the fourth floor of our library. And try to find a book on actuaries, which all I found was this five by seven gray pamphlet that literally just listed the names of companies, the physical address and the phone numbers of companies that hired actuaries.

[00:10:22] So that’s all I knew. but I was like high pay, low stress math. I’m in. . so I actually, applied for an internship at a couple of companies, including Aetna kind of found Connecticut on a map, totally swindled them into hiring me, and started out in that profession. So, you know, not too far off from, the engineering crew, the analytical side.

[00:10:41] I I’ll tell you in three years, you know, what an ASA and FSA is the professional designations. Right. I got them in three. I got all right. I attempted seven actuarial exams. I failed seven actuarial exams actually didn’t pass a one. So Bo boom. but my story’s going somewhere. So, so even though I failed, the good news is I, was in a big company.

[00:11:05] Erin Hatzikostas: I, yeah. Had people that took a chance on me. I Bob and weaved through some assignments that and rules that I was highly unqualified to do. And then something happened. I joined, the PayFlex organization, which was, a company that was acquired by. It had been acquired a year earlier about a thousand people.

[00:11:24] So it was a smaller company, relative to the larger enterprise, but a growing industry, health savings accounts, flexible spending accounts that got it area. And, every time somebody would leave, from the executive team, they would sort of look around and be like, I don’t know, maybe we should give it to Erin.

[00:11:41] so I think in like three years, I, you know, I took on newer roles, bigger roles, nothing. Ginormous. And then what happened? Zach is one day it was a Friday freaking Friday, Friday afternoon. I was working from home, it was like, okay. I glide into the weekend time. And my boss who was the COO texts me.

[00:11:58] Erin Hatzikostas: And he is like, can we talk? And I was like, oh God, what? Okay. Not on 

[00:12:01] Zach White: Friday, 

[00:12:02] Erin Hatzikostas: not on Friday. He calls me up and he is sort of like, this is a little heavy for Friday, but I’ve decided to leave. And I wanna know if it’s okay if I recommend you as our next COO. And I literally thought for about two hot seconds and I was like, no, thank you.

[00:12:17] What happened in that moment is something that happens to a lot of people. I now call it the compromise calculation in that moment super quickly, like a computer. I ran the compromise calculation and the compromise calculation looks like this. If I take on this role, yes. I’ll make more money.

[00:12:33] I’ll have more authority, you know? Better title, but there’s an anti correlation with time with my family, my health, and even degrading kind of who I am. Right. Uh, I have to compromise on those things and it was sort of like, ah, well, I’m making good enough. And my stress, level’s not too, too bad.

[00:12:52] But if I, and I, and I said, no, thank you. but we kept talking and as you can imagine, he sort of talked me into, why don’t you think about it over the. I did first what everybody does. I asked a bunch of people like, what should I do? Right. Yep. And, and guess what, everybody had a different answer and a different perspective.

[00:13:08] And, and in the end, you know, weren’t the, the people that can make the decision. And then this is what hit me, which is so important. I finally stopped to think about why do I not wanna. And what I realized is that I was worried about having to enter this club. this executive club. And, and I always say, you know, in this club, my, calendar would overflow my home life would become a shit show.

[00:13:33] My personality might even start to blow. Like I was gonna have to become somebody that I didn’t wanna be. I was gonna have to become those people that I saw. Yes. And then it hit me. You shouldn. Not do something because you hate the way it was done before. Instead do it your own way. it was really this realization that yes.

[00:13:55] Maybe some of these people had, you know, on a plane all the time, or maybe they were, moving their, their families and they were leading, you know, with, on behalf of emails and becoming sort of this facade, but that’s not what had gotten. that far. And that didn’t mean that the minute I turned to an executive, I had to do that.

[00:14:16] it was really with that realization that I was like, I can do this different. And then. What happened was, you know, so I was COO and then a year later, the CEO of the businesses was pulled into another huge enterprise, initiative. And so they tagged me as interim CEO, which is a lovely title. They literally were like you’re CEO, but were, recruiting for this to see if there’s anybody better.

[00:14:41] Erin Hatzikostas: And I was like, awesome. That sounds great. Wow. Appreciate the 

[00:14:44] Zach White: vote of confidence. There 

[00:14:46] Erin Hatzikostas: feels really good, but I also then realized, well, while they’re testing things out, I’m gonna test it out too and make sure I want it. I’m really proud to say that I did end up getting the CEO title. I, it was actually the best thing that could have happened if I went into an interview process SAC.

[00:15:03] I would’ve lost my resume. There was nothing on my resume that said, this should be your next CEO, but instead I could just focus on, okay, well, they’re tied up doing that, which is a pain in the at butt, right? I’m gonna just. Do everything I can to kick so much, but we, we renegotiated some big deals. We turned some things around.

[00:15:22] I was showing big progress and you know, really prove my worth. and then here’s the final thing of the story. And then I’ll let you lead again. So in three years, I’m really proud to say doing things my own way. And not succumbing to this club, not succumbing to, sort of the executive presence and all the other crop that I was worried about.

[00:15:44] In three years, we went from previously having flat earnings for like four years. We tripled our earnings. Wow. Our employee engagement went up 12 percentage points. And when I announced my retirement, which is a whole nother story, but I decided I was ready to do something new. Here’s what happened, 75% of the message.

[00:16:04] Kept saying we’re gonna miss your authentic leadership. And it wasn’t that I was surprised like, Ooh, who me authentic, like, yes, that word fit. But it wasn’t a badge I had been pinned with. what I realized as I started to reflect I had purposely like my authenticity, wasn’t something that was like permission just to be myself.

[00:16:28] So that I could enjoy my job. I had actually purposely been doing things that were authentic to stand out and be different from the other leaders, which allowed me to gain the best talent. It allowed me to keep the best talent. It allowed me to negotiate deals better. It allowed me to gain the attention from executives and quarterly business reviews, because I wasn’t giving the same spiel like everybody else.

[00:16:50] And so that’s when it all kind of came together and I hadn’t left to, start this company, but I, I want your listeners to hear this for so long. I assumed this compromise calculation, this, as you rise, it is just a given that you have to do more BS, that you have to do more politics that you have to have, less time with your family.

[00:17:10] When I finally proved that by purposely not doing that, it created this connection and this trust. My employees and my clients and others that I actually got better success. Right. So it wasn’t just that, oh, you can do it and have the same, like it was the reverse, like the more you can buck that crap.

[00:17:29] Yeah. And do it your own way, the more success. And I was like, oh my God, I gotta go teach this. 

[00:17:35] Zach White: I love this. And Aaron, you could tell the story all day. It’s an amazing story. I love listening, but let’s come back to that moment. That weekend. Mm, because you said something that I know the engineering leaders that I coach and who are listening go through when they get to that moment of decision and they’re making the compromise calculation in their mind and they go ask everybody for advice, what would you do?

[00:18:02] What do you think? I’m really curious. For you, having done it yourself and, and kind of walk through that process. And now as a coach and coach SNT and consulting the work you do, what do you think about that? Do you still encourage people to go out and solicit a lot of, friends or family or mentors advice at those key moments or looking back?

[00:18:23] Would you say that just added noise to the calculation and in the end, it really simply came back to you? 

[00:18:31] Erin Hatzikostas: I would say. Absolutely go out and ask for that where I think people fall short is they don’t synthesize it. They don’t curate it. Mm-hmm they don’t process it. In the way they, they take it sort of like, a cheeseburger off the McDonald’s line and think they’re just gonna eat it.

[00:18:50] no, you like, just take the one, you know, the pickles out of there and then take, I don’t know the French fries from this is the worst metaphor I’ve ever come up with. Right. Like cur it, I mean, and, and here’s what I’ll say. Unfortunately, most people that are close to you, that you’re gonna ask, first of all, they are well intended.

[00:19:09] Erin Hatzikostas: They, any advice they give you is because they care about you and they want you to do their own right thing. The bad news is. They don’t know the freaking right thing all the time. And they also don’t know mm-hmm , I mean, most of them are not coaches. Right. Really what people should do if you, if they come to you, you go to a friend, they should come back to you and you know this, they should ask you questions, right?

[00:19:29] Like they should be more reflective versus advice, but that’s not how we’re wired and I’m not perfect either. I mean, I’ve, given out plenty of advice, but I would say it’s not that you don’t wanna do that. I would say whether it’s advice or just, you know, I talk to so many of my clients about this, people that have risen in their career have said, when have you ever stopped to actually curate and think about the things you’ve learned and put together your own recipe, your own thoughts, your own perspective.

[00:19:54] So, that’s my advice. Take it, but you really, you gotta then take it back and you gotta do some your own. 

[00:20:00] Zach White: Yes, that’s really good. And I agree people don’t have a practice of creating space, silence, stillness, to let their thoughts. Yes. You know, I, I like the word marinate yes. But, uh, totally since we’re on a food metaphor, we can just roll with that.

[00:20:15] I don’t think of McDonald’s cheeseburger and marinate go together, but we can find a way to make us make this work. Aaron mm-hmm the thing that I find then with the engineering leaders that I coach. They really love what you just described, do it your own way. And I, you know, the title of your book is amazing.

[00:20:33] Zach White: The, you do, you ish, you know this whole, but there’s a lack of belief that that’s actually possible. It’s like, it sounds great, Aaron, and you found a way to pull it off in your company with the culture there because of these. And we can always come up with five or six or 20 reasons that it worked for you.

[00:20:53] But if I take that director of engineering position, or if I take that CTO position, I’m never gonna see my family again, it worked for you not gonna work for me cuz Aaron, you don’t know my company culture or I, you know, da, da, da. so can you describe your experience or just help us to nurture some belief that that’s BS and it’s possible anywhere?

[00:21:15] Like why should I trust that this is a true story? 

[00:21:19] first of all, I didn’t work in Storyland or some, fanciful place. In fact, my, my leader cuz I, I was CEO, but I still reported up to an EBP of the parent company was not authentic was a sort of corporate, like she had been doing it, the way forever and.

[00:21:37] Erin Hatzikostas: What I’ll say is that there is a period of time whether it’s micro or macro. So it could be on a meeting that you’re doing or a project you’re leading or, you know, business. where it’s going to feel uncomfortable if you, for example, say, okay, normally, we, we do these projects and we always do a steering committee and we report it up and we fill out 17 templates and da, da, da.

[00:22:03] And you say, we’re not going to do that anymore. I’m just picking an example for you. Say, we’re gonna do our own way. We’re gonna do it. we’re gonna cut out the BS, we’re gonna do it our own way. There is gonna be a period of time of re. But here’s when your leadership doesn’t. when you get results.

[00:22:20] Yeah. So there was a period of time for a couple of months where my boss thought I was not. So like, just some of the ways I was negotiating things or doing things, I’m sure she was like, she had no idea what she’s doing and let’s, hurry up this executive search. But once you start showing results, which you will, because guess what everybody is craving you to be that leader that cuts out the crop and, and.

[00:22:44] You more human and all the, principles that I talk about around authenticity, you are gonna get better results. Once you start getting those better results, they aren’t gonna get two hoots what you’re doing, because that’s all your leadership cares about. first of all, if you’re wor I have a quote, my book, I think it’s something like if you’re working harder, you’re leading worse.

[00:23:01] you know, some of that, I’m just gonna be tough love, like you’re addicted to the ho and the buzz and the fact that you,think that you’re gonna take on an executive role and work more hours is probably cuz you’re lazy and you’re not leading enough. And I, I know that’s really tough love and trust me.

[00:23:16] Erin Hatzikostas: I’ve been there. I am not perfect, but, yeah, everybody has those constraints, but once you can get the results, doing it a different way and you can get the best. I mean, really it’s about getting the best team. Let’s be honest. at the end of the day I used to laugh. I’m like, it’s one big popularity contest within the halls of Aetna, 50,000 people.

[00:23:34] I was constantly stealing the best talent. You know, how easy your job. When you have the best talent. Yeah. You know how much less you work less, you stress if you have the best talent. So there is an investment period where you might look weird. You might be working harder, but if you have the guts to say, well, it’s either that, or I just keep running on the same treadmill and that might not work out either.

[00:23:56] If you have the guts to say I’m gonna do it different, it will pay off, but you’ve gotta get 

[00:24:00] Zach White: it’s. So B. I wanna put a giant exclamation point on this idea that if you simply solve the problem that you’re facing by working harder, longer hours, that’s actually the lazy way out because you’re not. Doing what it takes to lead and become that authentic leader who can then enable and equip and delegate and all the things it takes to let the organization improve.

[00:24:24] and the ego in me even curls up right now, as we talk about it, I still want to go down that path, cuz it feels good for Zach to know that I carried the banner and I’m the one who got us across the finish line. And I know better in my conscious mind, but even today there’s this little ah, voice in the back.

[00:24:43] Zach White: That’s like I wanna go crush it and working hard makes me feel good. And so woo Aaron that’s like we could do a whole nother episode just on that point. Let’s get into the terms. I, you know, the engineer in me, I love definitions and being precise about what things mean, and you do a great job of helping people understand what authenticity as a leader is and what it’s not.

[00:25:07] And some distinctions there would you share that, for me and for the engineering leader, listening, when you talk about authentic leadership and being authentic, what does that really look. . back to the story, right? Like I come out, I have this epiphany. I was like, oh my God, I gotta go teach this.

[00:25:22] Erin Hatzikostas: And then I was. Crap. How do I, what is it? how do I teach something? That’s like fluffy unicorn studio as I call it. but I knew, I knew I didn’t wor walk into work like I would walk into a pool party at my best friend’s house. Right. Like I knew that it was more than simply being myself. so I started to start to reflect and do research.

[00:25:42] one of the things that’s important to understand the, the root word of authenticity is authentic coast, which is a Greek word and authentic coast means to be genuine, original and authoritative. when you think about when you, I see the word authenticity and you think of the first person that comes to mind, there is a more nuance complex.

[00:26:03] and so once I had. Realization and, and I realize authenticity is not simply being yourself. It’s also not synonymous with transparency. I get that question all the time, but, well, Aaron though, can you ever be too authentic, win wink? I’m like, no, you can’t. You can be too transparent. Yeah. You can come in and talk about all the troubles you have or your relationships, that’s not the same transparency and authenticity.

[00:26:26] Erin Hatzikostas: Aren’t the same. And so when I work with people, I mean the first thing I do. Really get them to understand, not only is there a richer definition, but this is really important. People that are authentic, especially authentic leaders. And I talk to people both in leadership levels and authenticity works for climbing the ladder, but especially in the leadership, authenticity is actually not about you.

[00:26:52] When you do authenticity, when you act with authentic. You’re doing it actually for the other person, your, for example, one of my definitions is exposing who you are when people least expect it. and one of the key, principles is humility and where you purposely use humility. I did at the beginning, I purposely will always use humility.

[00:27:13] When I first meet somebody, I talked about failing my actuarial exams. Not cuz it makes me feel better and get something off my chest because I know it’s the best way to connect and gain trust with you. Because as soon as somebody FSEs up that they’re terrible at this, or they failed at that or they, you know sure.

[00:27:29] You know, whatever fell on the way into the interview, all of a sudden, your little trust, you know, radar starts to like calm down. You’re like, well, If they’re told me that, they’re probably not hiding anything else. Right. and so everything I teach about authenticity is actually that you are doing things to buck the norm, but not because it makes your life better at first, but because it creates connection and trust and inspiration with others.

[00:27:55] And then guess what happens. It all comes back to you because you’ve created that cross connection, which, leads to better results, relationships, et cetera. And so that was sort of like my moment where I realized this actually is teachable. There are specific things that I used to do and that others that I watch.

[00:28:15] And I, when I do workshops and stuff, we share tons of examples and videos where you’re like, oh yeah, like that is authenticity, but it’s not just them being themselves. and so then what I did is you’re really curated. Go figure. I cooked up, um, a framework that I call the six principles of strategic authenticity.

[00:28:34] And it has, an acronym humans and I’m gonna be really clear. Each of those wars are not freaking adjectives. They are action verbs. Like they’re not like I always drives me nuts. I’ll read like a Forbes article on authentic leadership. And it’s like, it means that you have to be caring and servant and.

[00:28:55] You know, snooze Fest and not actionable. And like, yes, you you put down the article and you’re like, I’m not doing anything different. So the way I teach it with these six principles of humans are literally actionable things where you use each of these principles to start to rewire they’re training wheels.

[00:29:12] Right. It’s not like I always tell people, like, I hope you forget about humans, a solid. Few weeks a month into, after reading the book or doing one of my workshops, it’s training wheels, but it’s training wheels that are very tangible, so that it rewires. You get out of that zombie mode of doing the corporate stuff and not bucking the norm and not, leading with authenticity.

[00:29:32] And then once, once you’ve practiced with those, then you’ve actually changed and you’ve changed your addiction. You haven’t changed who you are. You’ve actually just changed an addiction to being somebody that is, is more authentic. 

[00:29:44] Zach White: the engineer in me relates really well with the challenge you described about that Forbes article.

[00:29:52] And we tend to look at things in, ideas, in principles, in, theology ideology. Type of terms and engineers love to think, you know, we’re in our heads a lot. And, and so it’s easy to take something like authenticity and break it down into first principles that are these ideas rather than actions and where we often fall short is that translation of a great idea, like humility, Being human with someone else.

[00:30:20] I love that the six, actions of authenticity spell out humans, cuz it’s, I mean, it is a human to 

[00:30:27] Erin Hatzikostas: human it’ll angling, but it 

[00:30:28] Zach White: mostly works. That’s right. That’s perfect. And, and so. I think just that recognition that for one, it is an, it’s an act, it’s a behavior that you are intentionally choosing, but also to recognize that if we get caught in the principles of this in our heads, That that’s really not any different or better than all the BS we’re trying to let go in the first place.

[00:30:52] We just added a new layer of posters on the wall, in the executive wing. we just paste it over the old poster with a new poster. And so what have you found is the key to getting the, into the action? What helps people take it out of the conceptual and really begin? I love you said that creating a new addiction to the kinds of behaviors that are authentic, how.

[00:31:14] get someone started. What’s the catalyst to action. You know, 

[00:31:17] Erin Hatzikostas: it’s funny, there’s literally one catalyst and I think it’s the most ridiculous, but people love it. and forgive me, if anybody, you know, is, is sensitive to the addiction metaphor, I, I mean no harm, but, I truly believe like it is, I don’t like to change people like the change, their addiction, and then they start to just watch and observe, and actually my gateway drug, my gateway drug that everybody loves is changing your out of office message.

[00:31:41] Out of office messages are the most crusty old thing I will meet out of the office. I will get back to you as soon as I can. You know, some of the past aggressive too, like I might not be as quick to respond. Well, no, no, you should respond. Right? Like, you know, here are the people and it’s such, it’s also such a missed opportunity.

[00:31:59] I mean, unfortunately you’re out of office, probably gets, a hundred sends a day, plus, depending on how many emails you get. And so, that’s actually one of my favorite gateway drugs and some people are really bold and brave and some people just add a little human language.

[00:32:11] I had, I had one woman, a corporate workshop. she changed it to like diamonds are a girl’s best friend I’m out on the baseball diamond, where you find me most, you know, watching my son play baseball. and what it does is. Authenticity in general, this is a microcosm. It doesn’t just unlock something in you.

[00:32:29] That’s kind of dormant. It, unlocks it in others. So as soon as somebody sees that out of office one, they know more about you and they’re like, oh, but then they’re like, it triggers them like, well, if they’re changing this crusty old thing that we’ve been doing, like, what else can we do? And so. Um, I, I actually have exercises.

[00:32:47] We do things like an intriguing intro. I have, uh, glowing through the motions exercise instead of going through the motions. we have a whole narrate is one of them. So we work on building your story library, but I I’ve really found like,, The underdog push on the swing is this stupid out of office.

[00:33:04] I’ve had senior executives. I had this one senior executive he’s in his sixties. He is a SVP at a major consulting firm. That guy could not have been more proud. He’s sent me like two or three of his thought of offices since we did work at his, company. and he is just like so proud of it and this guy’s been around the block forever.

[00:33:21] Erin Hatzikostas: So yeah, that’s, that’s usually the, the place 

[00:33:23] Zach White: it starts. I think that’s amazing. But, but it speaks really powerfully to the point, Erin, that what we’re seeking to do is disrupt a pattern mm-hmm in people’s thinking and the culture and allow someone an opportunity to show up and be present as themselves fully.

[00:33:42] again, where you least expect it, it’s like the out of office message. You always expect that exact same Google default message. what a cool. Idea. So I would challenge the engineering leader, listening to this. go make that change if it feels authentic for you to do so or find one that is a little moment, an opportunity where you can show up as yourself.

[00:34:01] Zach White: Erin, there’s a thousand questions I wanna explore, cuz this is such a big concept and it’s so fun, but I actually would love it. If you would tell us. maybe it’s a story or a couple of examples we talked about when you start getting the results from being this way, then all that discomfort and initial resistance to it starts to wash off.

[00:34:21] And it becomes a lot easier because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re here to create in engineering and in business is the meaningful result for, the bottom line in our customers. So can you just describe. You know how authentic leadership changes the results. 

[00:34:35] yeah, I’ll give a story.

[00:34:36] Erin Hatzikostas: I’m, I was newly into this interim CEO position and the company had been struggling financially and I think our largest vendor partner that we paid, you know, millions of dollars to every year, came to.

[00:34:49] And well, actually they didn’t come to us. The, our procurement area at Aetna was like, you gotta get that on a new contract. It’s on an old rickety shaky pre-acquisition contract. You’ve gotta get it on our industrial strength, you know, gustapo contract. And as you can imagine, the vendor was like, yeah, we can do that.

[00:35:05] But. You’re gonna have to pay more, it’s so much more restrictive. Like your contracts got all these, you know, blah, blah, blah. And I was like, oh my God, we were just so fragile financially. I’m like, we can’t afford, like we’re not gonna meet our plan this year already. we cannot afford an increase, but I’ve got procurement here.

[00:35:21] Like. Gotta do it. Your predecessor already didn’t do it. You gotta do it. And I remember, my first meeting with their senior executive from the other company and I didn’t, I never took a negotiating class. Like I was42 years old. I wasn’t like this super strategic, like I know I’m gonna go in with this in my pocket.

[00:35:40] so I went into the meeting and I remember just sort of naturally saying to him, Hey, what’s important to you in this negotiation. and he wasn’t expecting it. So what happens when they’re not expecting it? They tell the truth, right? there’s no time to plan. And he was like, well, you know, our company’s gonna go IPO.

[00:35:56] And we’ve got a lot of contracts that. Up for renewal. And, basically I teased out that it a long term contract would mean a lot for him, and he turned the question back on me, which I also hadn’t prepared for. Cause I didn’t prepare to ask him and like outta my mouth, I was like, look, our financials are struggling and I’m also interim CEO.

[00:36:16] And if I can negotiate a good deal here, I have a good shot at becoming the CEO. And I was like, soon as it came outta my mouth, I was like, oh my freaking God, Aaron, I can’t believe I just said that. Why you didn’t really literally tell him. but what happened after that? Zach is. When he heard that he liked me, we had a relationship.

[00:36:36] I had worked with him before. I just wasn’t at the same level. And he was, like, wow, like I like you. And I wanna see you be CEO as well. And we went through about three or four months, you know, cuz it was business. And then we had the procurement over Lords and duking it out, but he really fought for us.

[00:36:54] And in the end, Zach, they ended up giving us a 10% lower rate than we had before. And where they were gonna actually increase their rates. And so, I mean, that’s just an example where it’s, it is kind of a popularity contest and not a surface level popularity contest, but a deep one in which the respect that he had one by asking the question, wanting to give him what he wanted, but also by just being open and honest and, and yeah.

[00:37:21] Humans wanna help other humans. And, when we had a good view that that contract was gonna go well, that was one of my first wins where my boss, who thought I was nuts was. This is really good. And then, and then we had another big negotiation and then we had some other things.

[00:37:34] And then I would also just go back to guys. It’s it’s a talent. It’s a talent game period. Yes. And a story like it now more than ever, when you are known as an authentic leader, a whatever, cinema, approachable, genuine someone, they can, trust word gets around very quick. Especially in this day and age, everybody’s like, okay, I need to leave, but I’m not leaving unless I go to a good culture, good leader.

[00:38:01] And once you have that and once you’re willing to clean. Up after parties with people, dance with people, my emails, corporate com we would do, I had this corporate com guy and they would do reorgs and they’d have to write everything. I said, no. Nope, Nope. I, he did a draft. One time I go.

[00:38:18] I honestly don’t understand half the words you just said, how is my team gonna do it? I, I literally couldn’t understand what he was saying. So I wrote it. So I wrote it because my team knew my voice. And so I just look for those places where they would expect a corporate com that they would never read.

[00:38:33] And instead just do something a little different and then people don’t wanna leave. You people wanna come working for you. And results. 

[00:38:40] Zach White: This is an awesome example. And I. Echo the talent war, the game that’s being played in winning the talent war right now, if you wanna win that game, what Erin is saying?

[00:38:50] Engineering leader, listen, this is so true. I’ve, coached one on one with hundreds of engineering leaders around the world and can say one of the consistent themes. If they’re exploring a new opportunity, they’re all asking, how will I be able to find out if this is the right culture and the right fit?

[00:39:05] Everybody’s asking that question. If you have the kind of reputation. Aaron’s describing that is a massive advantage. my clients talk to my other clients about, Hey, this is a great company for these reasons. And I love my leader and everybody would wanna work here. So 

[00:39:23] Erin Hatzikostas: it’s engineering group.

[00:39:25] up till like a few months ago, I was kind of making all this stuff up, but we actually did a research project. I don’t even know if you know that Zach, but we, launched, the impact of authenticity in the workplace. We did a national study over 1100 respondents, plus or minus 2.9, eight, 5% credible.

[00:39:42] And we looked at number of things. we looked at, is your leader authentic or not? And then we extrapolated and that looked at, oh, brilliant trust, followership, the correlations. I mean, one example we asked how much is authenticity practice in your organization? And we gave ’em a Likert scale, very often, whatever, five, five point scale, and then separately, like 10 questions later, we asked them do you think you’ll be working at your company two years from now?

[00:40:11] The people at the top of the Likert scale that said, it’s, you know, always practice 92% said they would be, then it went down to like 80, some percent, 65%. And those where it’s not practiced, it was 40%. Yeah. the correlation of would you follow your manager if they went elsewhere, authentic managers, it was four times more likely trust was four times higher.

[00:40:32] So like data guys, the, the sounds fluffy, but Shows that, you know, I like to call it the, the ROI is there. The ridiculously obvious idea 

[00:40:41] Zach White: has been the ridiculously obvious idea. Oh, that’s brilliant. Aaron, this is so good. I’m excited to see where you take us to land the plane today around this idea of, of authenticity.

[00:40:53] And it really does connect to what we do and coaching and what these engineering leaders are doing every day out there, getting the work, done that in our lives and our work. The questions we ask lead and answers follow. So if we want better answers, let’s ask better questions. so if the engineering leader who’s been listening to this conversation wants more of that authentic leadership in their life.

[00:41:18] What would be the question you would lead them with today? My God, 

[00:41:22] Erin Hatzikostas: it’s so freaking simple. Here it is. What are you sick of? Or what do you want more? Then give that to people. We are stuck in this disease that we think we’re the only ones that are sick of the racy documents or sick of this PowerPoint process or sick of the town halls that go through the five different bullets, the same every time.

[00:41:46] What are you sick of? What are you craving? Literally sit in that seat and then reverse it and go change it up. Everybody else is craving it. That 

[00:41:58] Zach White: I love that you are not alone. If it’s true for you, it’s true for the team. Get 

[00:42:03] Erin Hatzikostas: going hashtag not special. I always say hashtag you’re not special. Everybody 

[00:42:07] Zach White: wants, well, Aaron, I have a hard time believing that you’re not special, but this conversation has been hashtag special for me.

[00:42:14] I can’t thank you enough. So if people wanna find more, they wanna hire you, bring you into the organization, get connected. Where can people go to get more air in their. 

[00:42:24] Erin Hatzikostas: Yeah, my, so my website is B authentic, It’s just the letter B authentic find all kinds of crud. There, all kinds of authentic stuff.

[00:42:36] So whatever floats your boat, hopefully we can help. Push you along. 

[00:42:40] Zach White: So for everybody who wants to see Erin dance in that gift, please go visit the website immediately. It will not be a waste of your time. And I can’t speak highly enough about the power of the work that Erin and her team are doing in companies.

[00:42:54] And it could be yours if you need this, or if you need coaching, please connect with her. It’s. Amazing. I mean, I feel that energy of authenticity and trust building just in chatting with you, Aaron. So, I mean, it clearly works and everybody, I, I encourage you to go out there and plug in with Aaron.

[00:43:09] All those links will be in the show notes, you know where to find those at the happy engineer, Aaron, thanks again for making time your generosity, the value you gave us today. It’s just been awesome. 

[00:43:19] Erin Hatzikostas: My pleasure. Great to be with you guys.