Empathy and Emotional Intelligence: Leaders who show empathy and emotional intelligence connect deeply with their constituents. Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, demonstrated exceptional empathy following the Christchurch mosque shootings. Her swift response and heartfelt interactions with affected communities showcased her ability to understand and address the emotional needs of her nation.

We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Debbie Bryan.

Debbie Bryan provides a renowned coaching service dedicated to guiding leaders to overcoming challenges, developing effective strategies and enhancing their leadership skills.

After experiencing a devastating car crash, Debbie was told by doctors that she would never walk again. Despite her setback, her tenacious spirit soon saw her achieve the unthinkable, transitioning from being confined to a wheelchair to cycling an incredible 360 miles across India.

Today, Debbie uses her wealth of experience to provide clarity, assistance and support to others, helping them to overcome and conquer whatever business challenges they may have. Her transformative and mastery coaching approach helps executives to become exceptional leaders who can drive impactful change.

Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?

I am super excited right now to be having conversations with entrepreneurs and business owners about motivating themselves and their teams by discovering what really makes them tick. As entrepreneurs, we assume everyone is the same as us and has the same motivations to succeed, and this is totally wrong. Using the Success Blueprint™ Personality Archetypes, we are unpacking what really matters and getting some stunning results that extend beyond the workplace and into personal family life.

We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?

I am always impressed by people who do more than people who talk about doing, and I love to follow Steven Bartlett’s podcasts, Lisa Nichols, Ken Honda (soon to be featured in a book together), and Joe Vitale.

Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?

25 years ago, as a call center leader, I was tasked with training a team. One individual, in particular, struggled and came to me daily, saying he couldn’t perform the task. To my annoyance and frustration — though I did not vocalize it — I’m sure I made him feel inadequate as well. Until someone advised me to cease teaching him using my learning style and instead adapt to his. Catering to his analytical personality style, we grabbed a notepad the next day, went through the steps, and bingo! I learned a vital lesson about teaching, which I now incorporate into my Success Blueprint.

How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?

Reflecting on my journey, there’s been a noticeable shift. Initially, I was deeply invested in achieving outcomes by fitting myself into a box of what I thought a leader should be like. I found myself losing a sense of my true self in the process. I began imitating my mentor, which took me away from my authenticity. About a year ago, a realization hit me like a wave, prompting a change. I embarked on a journey to rediscover my authenticity, comprehend my core values, and distance myself from the chaotic “always be hustling” mentality that had become ingrained.

Today, my understanding of leadership revolves around excelling with a foundation of inner strength and resilience. This evolution has enabled me to prioritize mental well-being without compromising either personal or business growth. To me, being a leader now entails guiding and inspiring others, while staying true to oneself, fostering growth, and nurturing a healthy equilibrium between ambition and self-care.

Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?

Stop emulating others and just be you. So often, we mirror what we perceive as success: working hard, playing hard, hustling until you win. But if this isn’t truly aligned with your values, you’ll eventually feel like an imposter or burn out trying. Standing in your own skin and teaching or serving from a place of value and service is far more rewarding. Someone said to me recently, “If you are pretending to be someone else, then how can your people find you?” Be the honey, not the bee. Having experienced a life-changing accident 12 years ago, where I not only saved my own life but defied surgeons who told me I would be in a wheelchair right now, I recognize that you only get one shot.

What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?

One ongoing leadership behavior I’ve developed, which I find quite valuable, is the skill of balancing strategic thinking with effective operational systems. I’ve realized that achieving success involves the ability to step back and strategize, all the while ensuring strong day-to-day processes are in play. Essentially, I’ve adopted the approach of focusing on the bigger picture of the business instead of getting slowed down in its daily operations.

To nurture this behavior, I’ve really grasped the importance of trusting my team and seeking external support whenever needed. At first, I had concerns about clients collaborating with team members other than myself. Surprisingly, the outcome was positive — clients were actually satisfied working with different team members. By outsourcing tasks externally and making use of tools for routine activities, I’ve effectively gained back valuable time. This allows me to invest it in long-term planning and strategic initiatives.

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?

While it’s essential to recognize what’s worked before, it’s equally important to be open to new directions. My own emphasis has consistently been on achieving concrete outcomes and optimizing profits, rather than just boosting revenue numbers. What I’ve noticed is that certain business owners get caught up solely in their turnover figures, often neglecting the actual bottom line. This can keep them busy, sure, but genuine success involves more than just staying busy — it’s about making sound business choices that drive real prosperity.

Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?

One common thread I’ve noticed is the belief that you can give endlessly, even when your own resources and energy are depleted. It’s understandable that emerging leaders often prioritize showcasing their credibility in the industry, which can lead to attempts at giving from an empty cup. Remembering to take a pause is crucial during this journey.

I used to find myself caught between two versions of myself — one molded after my mentor, projecting a tough coach-like demeanor, and the other, a kinder and gentler side that cherished activities like exercise. Discovering my genuine self and shedding the limitations I had imposed was truly liberating.

During a six-week hiatus when I consciously did nothing, I was able to reflect and gain remarkable clarity. This period unveiled the mental turmoil I had been navigating — a challenge not exclusive to me but a common one shared by many entrepreneurs. Recognizing the possibility of breaking free from this chaos marked a turning point.

My advice? You don’t need to wait for an extended break like mine. Start small, with moments of deliberate disconnection. Carve out just 10 minutes to switch off, whether it’s during a shower or in a parked car away from distractions. Integrate practices such as white noise, meditation, or brief mental pauses — these seemingly minor adjustments can yield significant differences from the outset.

Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now?

Effective world leaders demonstrate a diverse set of traits that enable them to navigate complex global challenges. While the traits can vary, here are five key qualities that stand out based on experience and research:

  1. Visionary Leadership: Effective leaders possess a clear and inspiring vision for the future. They are able to articulate this vision in a way that resonates with people from different walks of life. A prime example is Nelson Mandela, who envisioned a united and free South Africa, despite decades of apartheid. His unwavering commitment to this vision galvanized a nation and led to a peaceful transition.
  2. Empathy and Emotional Intelligence: Leaders who show empathy and emotional intelligence connect deeply with their constituents. Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, demonstrated exceptional empathy following the Christchurch mosque shootings. Her swift response and heartfelt interactions with affected communities showcased her ability to understand and address the emotional needs of her nation.
  3. Adaptability and Resilience: In a rapidly changing world, leaders must adapt to new situations and challenges. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, is renowned for her pragmatic and adaptable leadership style. Her handling of the Eurozone crisis and the refugee influx demonstrated her resilience and ability to navigate complex, ever-evolving scenarios.
  4. Effective Communication: Great leaders communicate with clarity, authenticity, and transparency. Former President Barack Obama’s speeches often captivated global audiences with their eloquence and relatability. His speech in Cairo, where he addressed the Muslim world, exemplified his skill in fostering cross-cultural understanding and cooperation.
  5. Collaborative Decision-Making: Successful leaders seek input from a diverse range of experts and stakeholders when making crucial decisions. The European Union’s leadership, exemplified during the negotiations of the Paris Agreement on climate change, showcased collaborative decision-making. The involvement of multiple nations in crafting a shared solution highlighted the power of international cooperation.

American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.

This is a fantastic quote and completely embodies how we work. Every day, I aim to be the ‘Best Version of Myself’ I can be. This isn’t about living your “best life,” because really, who knows what that is? I commit daily to giving myself permission to be my best version. I do what I say I am going to do with a full-bodied 100% YES. Whether it’s going to the gym — smash it; healthy eating — commit to it; a speaking event — wow the audience; setting a financial goal — go for it. If you live half-heartedly, you are cheating yourself, not anyone else. So don’t you owe it to yourself to be the best you can be?

What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?

The legacy I aspire to create as a leader is deeply rooted in becoming the ultimate source of support for entrepreneurs who find themselves stuck in the cycle of self-doubt and an overwhelming fear of success. I understand the struggles that arise when attempting to escape these limiting patterns.

My main aim is to lend a hand to those working on setting healthy boundaries, helping them navigate this path and guiding them toward a life marked by true joy. My approach is all about empowering entrepreneurs, giving them practical tools and insights to transition to a future where they feel genuinely fulfilled.

But what truly fuels me is sparking back the passion in these individuals. It’s not just about their businesses — I want to help them infuse that energy into their personal lives too. Ultimately, I hope my legacy is remembered as someone who ignited positive change, fostering transformation and a renewed zest that touches both their professional and personal spheres.

How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?

Contact me at [email protected] or www.debbiebryan.com

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!