Building Trust. Respect is earned as is trust. It wasn’t until I was managing a large organization that I understood how much trust played into the equation. I had multiple managers reporting to me and reps from lots of acquisitions on my team. These reps did NOT care about each other, what they were selling, or being a part of a larger team. I had to earn their trust and help them understand that working together and learning from each other would benefit all of us much more than going it on our own.

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 Lyndsay Dowd.

Lyndsay Dowd is a Speaker, Founder, Author of “Top Down Culture,” Coach, Podcast Host, and Disruptor. Recognized as a Top 10 Business Coach by Apple News and recipient of the 2023 Award for Innovation and Excellence, she has 25 years of leadership experience, 23 of which were with IBM. As the driving force behind Heartbeat for Hire, she champions transformative leadership through building irresistible culture and modern leadership practices. Besides leading her globally recognized podcast, “Heartbeat for Hire,” Lyndsay is a distinguished expert in sales, leadership, and culture.

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?

Thank you for the warm welcome. Diving straight in, one of the recent milestones I’m thrilled about is the launch of my book, “Top Down Culture: Revolutionizing Leadership to Drive Results.” Writing a book wasn’t an initial aspiration, but as my company evolved, I recognized an urgent need to guide leaders from the rigid old-school methodologies to embracing modern, heart-centered approaches without compromising on results.

On the media front, I helm a weekly podcast, “Heartbeat For Hire,” that is globally ranked in the top 10%. Our episodes spotlight a diverse array of guests, from Olympians and CEOs to Emmy-winning journalists and world-champion athletes, offering insights on resilience, leadership, and culture.

My fervor for LinkedIn has manifested in a monthly live course titled “HONE YOUR VOICE WITH LINKEDIN.” Here, I offer a comprehensive analysis of participants’ profiles, elucidating LinkedIn’s intricate workings. By the course’s conclusion, attendees not only comprehend the platform better but are also poised to harness its potential fully, whether for passionate discourse or career progression.

Lastly, in collaboration with Ashley Pereira, I co-created the “SELL ME YOUR STORY WORKSHOP.” Tailored amid the challenging backdrop of the Great Layoff of 2023, our workshop empowers candidates to articulate their narratives compellingly. Through our structured methodology, we elevate individuals from merely being intriguing to utterly irresistible, ready to leave a mark in a saturated job market.

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

The story I probably tell the most is about one of my former bosses and friends, Sherry Lautenbach. Sherry and I were friends before she became my boss but I watched her successfully navigate a stale, male and pale sales culture with determination and ease. She was widely respected by all who knew her so when she became my boss, I was delighted to get first-hand, great leadership experience. I was managing one of the largest and trickiest accounts in IBM and to add complexity, we were each others’ clients, we were partners and competitors. So, there were strings attached to every move we made as an account team. I had a large team of 55-plus people working on the account so it was a lot to coordinate.

When I shared my strategy for how I wanted to lead the team, after going on for a couple of minutes, Sherry stopped me and said, “Girl, I’ve got your back. Now fly.” She couldn’t have known how those words would influence me at the time, but that gave me the courage to push my team and share that we had an opportunity to do things differently. We had her support and her confidence and in turn, my team had mine.

We proceeded to close the largest deal in our history over $20M, something we were all proud of but what was most impactful was the way the relationship changed with this client. We became advocates, partners and truly were energized by our collective success together. That lesson would stay with me for the rest of my career and helped me to guide other leaders and companies on how to be a modern leader.

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?

I learned early on that leadership is not about power. It’s about empowerment. And this mistake I made was one I learned early on in my career but I would keep with me throughout every job I held afterwards.

One of the first jobs I ever had in the corporate world was in customer service. I was overly enthusiastic and extremely observant. I noticed dozens of things that needed fixing and wasted no time going to tell my manager all of the things that were wrong. She was incredibly patient with me as I listed each thing that wasn’t working. After I went on for some time, she stopped me and said, “Lyndsay, you are especially observant and I don’t disagree with much of what you said. However, all you’ve done is bring me problems. You haven’t offered any solutions.” I was mortified and I knew she was right. I didn’t want to be known as the ‘girl who bitches” ever again. I vowed I would never again cite a problem without bringing a solution.

I tell this story to teams I’m leading because it’s easy for folks to understand. More importantly, I’ve put this into practice. Anyone who works for me is always welcome to bring me their issue as long as they come up with a way to resolve it. What this does for people in your charge is empower them to think outside the box and be creative when they hit roadblocks.

I’ll add that trying to be perfect and all-knowing is a losing battle. When you share your struggle it makes you way more relatable and accessible.

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

It has absolutely evolved over time. When I was coming up through the ranks in hugely male-dominated sales organizations, being a manager was a power play. I watched so many of my colleagues treat their direct reports terribly and they demanded respect because of the title they were given. I have embraced the horror stories as much as the great ones because the teaching points can be illustrated so well by both.

This story falls into the “things I would never do as a leader” category. At IBM we always had a number of bosses. I had a manager who wasn’t my direct boss but was somewhere in my reporting chain- we’ll call him Bruno. We were attending a mixer of business partners and clients and there were about 100 people in the room. It was an opportunity to introduce our leadership team to our clients and partners and in this case, I introduced one of my clients to Bruno. I said, “Chip, let me introduce my boss, Bruno.” We exchanged some small talk and Bruno went on to the next intro. After excusing the partners and clients, Bruno took the opportunity to address the room. He stood up at the front of the room and said, “Team, let me be clear. Don’t EVER introduce me as your BOSS to anyone. I am your manager and should be introduced as such.”

I knew full well he was addressing that to me. He had choices. He could have pulled me aside quietly and shared his thoughts. He could have worked with my direct manager and suggested coaching. He could have done a lot of things differently. But what he managed to do was embarrass me, break my trust and I vowed to never work with or for him again.

What Bruno did wasn’t modern leadership. It was intimidation. It is disappointing to see leaders make these choices and my mission is to help transform leaders to be more heart-centered, vulnerable, and responsible to the people in their charge. We are all works in progress but there is nothing more gratifying than seeing someone evolve their leadership style. Thankfully, I know many leaders who have and I love to share their journeys as examples of what is possible.

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?

I really try to make the most of the time that I have and that especially relates to meetings. Oftentimes people believe that if they are busy, they are being productive. The pandemic really taught me to be very intentional with my time and if I felt that we could solve something with an email or a Slack, I would ask, can we solve this without having a meeting?

As a leader, when you do this, it forces people to think critically and communicate with the relevant teams to see if it can be solved. There is nothing less satisfying than getting off a call and realizing everything you talked about in 30 minutes could have been resolved in 5 with a thoughtful email. Time is precious, treat everyone’s time that way.

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

There is a huge conversation about the desire to see more vulnerability from leadership. While I totally agree this is a great power skill that the best leaders embrace, it is not easy for leaders who have never done it before. I teach that your biggest pain is your power and I have devoted my entire podcast to this specific concept. On the Heartbeat for Hire podcast, I feature Olympians, pro-athletes, Emmy-winning journalists, CEOs, disruptors, World Champions and so many others as they share stories of resilience with my lens on leadership and culture.

In almost every episode, my guest shares a story that shaped their trajectory. It is often deeply painful. Sometimes it’s a tragic mistake. But whatever the moment was that forced their pivot, we emphasize the growth. Sharing what changed them and how they transformed is deeply inspiring but also memorable.

In the “SELL ME YOUR STORY WORKSHOP,” we emphasize the value of personal stories. By embracing and sharing impactful moments, individuals can transform challenges into powerful messages. Such narratives make them stand out, which is particularly important in today’s world. It’s a beneficial skill for everyone to cultivate.

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?

This is one of my favorite topics. It’s so hard to ask a leader who has been tough and possibly insensitive to all of a sudden be a vulnerable heart-centered leader. But you have to start somewhere and the place to start is by building trust. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick but a simple way to begin is by asking their direct reports, “How can I be the best leader for you?” It’s a humbling question and one that will vary wildly between people based on tenure, experience, career aspirations, and age.

When you ask this question, and you listen to the answers, you can advocate for your team. You will know where everyone is at. You will have a starting point in understanding what motivates your people, who needs coaching, who needs a job change, who needs more training etc. If all of your leaders start asking this question, you will have a built-in happiness gauge. You can tap any leader on the shoulder in your organization to say, “What’s going on with your team?” They will be able to share exactly where they are. And rather than wait for surveys which 50% of your population may not respond to, you will have an honest understanding of what your employees are enjoying and where you need to improve.

You will also be able to identify where you have toxic leaders based on their responses. This is a powerful tool as a leader running a large organization because toxic leaders do one thing very well and that is manage up. The signs can be missed with these leaders so having this intel can help you build an irresistible culture that drives results.

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?

The first thing I want a new leader to know is that nobody knows everything! You may think you need to have all of the answers but if you did, you’d be deeply overqualified. That being said, my best advice is to stay curious. Ask questions. Find allies both on your team and from your peers. Learn the political landscape and ask what is working well and what is something the team struggles with. Lastly, I’d remind you that you are probably not the smartest person in the room and that is a good thing! Lean on your team to build new best practices. Give them the space to do the job they were hired for. When you can provide psychological safety, your team will innovate, collaborate, communicate, and lift each other up. But they will follow your lead so be the leader you’d want for yourself.

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

I put these all under the category of POWER SKILLS and I’m so happy to share them.

Building Trust

Respect is earned as is trust. It wasn’t until I was managing a large organization that I understood how much trust played into the equation. I had multiple managers reporting to me and reps from lots of acquisitions on my team. These reps did NOT care about each other, what they were selling, or being a part of a larger team. I had to earn their trust and help them understand that working together and learning from each other would benefit all of us much more than going it on our own.

We built a storytelling program to explain the different products we were selling as there were many the team had never been exposed to before and my only requirement was that each story had to be simple enough that an elementary school teacher could understand it. (We were in tech and known for complicating everything.) Slowly the lightbulbs began to go on. They started to see the bigger picture. I created an opportunity for some of the reps to present the stories which gave them exposure they hadn’t had before.

Our sales increased. Our partnerships grew. Our reputation did as well and people started knocking on my door regularly to become a part of our team. We had fun. We built new best practices and we allowed for failure. But what I was most proud of was the legacy of leaders I left behind. Those leaders felt safe enough to ask questions, ask for feedback, and take risks. They remain some of the most impressive leaders to this day.

Building a Culture of Advocacy

I didn’t realize how unique this concept was until I left IBM. But what building a culture of advocacy really means is allowing people to have executive interviews with leaders outside their reporting chain. Not only was this allowed but it was a wonderful way to forge new career paths.

The way it works is if an employee is particularly impressed by an executive they can ask their direct manager if they can have an EI (executive interview) with that leader. Usually, it is supported and they would set up the time. It worked especially well for anyone who was nearing the end of their time in a particular role and if a direct manager knew that leader was hiring.

I leveraged this practice many times and at least 4 times it resulted in a new job. One of my favorites was when I got to meet with a Sales VP, Melinda Matthews. Melinda asked me a question I would ask hundreds of times in my career which was, “What’s your story?” I was able to share my experience and skills with her and when I finished, I asked, “So based on what you heard, do you think you have any open jobs on your team?” She replied with, “I sure do. I have 5 roles you could be a fit for. I’m going to share what they are and then you can tell me which one you’d like.” It was an incredible response and one that set me on a different career trajectory than anything I could have imagined.

To do this properly, the whole company needs to be on board. Once you realize how powerful this practice is, you will better understand the talent on your bench. When other leaders have open jobs, you will be able to recommend folks you have met with and employees get a glimpse into other parts of the company they may not have been exposed to.

Communication and Tone

How you say things is as important as what you say. I never felt this more than when I was in my last job before I started my company, Heartbeat for Hire. I was working with a leader who admitted she had limited soft skills. (Her words, not mine but she wasn’t wrong.) I would find myself frequently with my jaw on the floor listening to the things she would say like, “Why do you care that people like you?” I couldn’t believe that was a real question, as I was leading a team of Client Executives and needed to build trust with my direct reports and our extended team.

But the nail in the proverbial coffin was after a call where I had to present our forecast on a large team call. I was definitely nervous and felt NO psychological safety from my leadership team. I had to take senior leadership through a ridiculously complex forecasting process that my 20+ years in sales wouldn’t prepare me for. But I was determined and did my best to convey the points I needed to. After the call, she called me and said, “I don’t think that went well. I don’t like how you represented the team or yourself. Do better next time.”

Well, how do you think I did next time? I was terrible. I was so nervous and so anxious about performing that I couldn’t rely on my instincts, my sense of humor, or my ability to read people. All I could focus on was the words coming out of my mouth and if they were right or wrong. It was a tragic way to lead and ultimately ended in her firing me.

That horrible lesson gave me fuel and the determination to help leaders never make that mistake again. Your tone and words matter. Don’t ever forget that the people reporting to you are watching you. If you have ever been the leader that yells or stomps their feet, pounds their fists, or jumps on tables and embarrasses people, I can promise you, that style has never inspired anyone.

Psychological Safety

Creating psychological safety is probably one of the most impactful things you can do as a leader. When it exists, people will stick their necks out for you. They will try new things, innovate, communicate, inspire each other, and collaborate. Put simply, psychological safety is the concept of creating a space for people to do their best work. Let’s not mistake this concept for allowing people to mail it in. It is not about inviting mediocrity. It is the exact opposite of that.

A wonderful leader who I respect deeply has a practice whenever someone on her team goes on maternity/paternity leave. She tells the team that we must let that person have this time with their new bundle of joy. However, she understands that this is a deeply vulnerable time for the new parent. If you are a Mom and just gave birth, your world may very well be upside down. Your body feels foreign, you are sleep-deprived, hormones are raging and you are trying to care for this new being you just brought into the world. You may also be thinking in the back of your mind, I guess they are doing fine without me back at the office.

What an unexpected surprise to receive an email or a text from your boss saying, “We don’t need anything but we wanted to tell you how much we miss you and the impact you have here.” She also adds a personal anecdote about something that person does uniquely that they notice.

That simple practice lets the new parent breathe a sigh of relief. They likely feel confident that they are taking the time they need without fear of losing their job and it’s likely exactly what they needed to hear. It is a powerful practice that helps bring out the best in everyone on your team. When people feel safe enough to speak up and try new things, that’s when the magic happens.

Sharing the spotlight

An insecure leader does not know how to do this. And there is nothing less inspiring than watching a leader steal your ideas and claim them as their own. That is the fastest way to wreck your reputation and break trust.

If you think recognition isn’t of vital importance to your company, let me share a few statistics. 67% of employees don’t feel appreciated for their contributions at work. 49% of Americans say employees are less than fully engaged in their work. 53% say their company lacks the strong culture of appreciation that is essential for their success. These statistics were from a study by Blueboard in February of 2023.

Sharing the spotlight is a crucial power skill that sets you apart from other leaders. This is a skill that also helps you model the behavior you want from your team. When you consistently share something positive that someone on the team has done you are seen as a generous leader. This also comes through with delegation. Delegation can often be seen as a negative concept but when you understand your team and what they need to be successful, you are in a position to offer them tasks that provide them much-needed exposure.

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

I love this question. To me, this all comes down to mindset. While you can’t control other people’s reactions, you can control how you move through the world.

We were blessed with a lovely German Au Pair when I was raising my twins and she did something that would stay with me until today. At the end of her assignment with us, knowing she had to return to Germany gave her some anxiety. When I asked her what she was worried about she shared that she was worried that when she would go back to Germany she would be surrounded by serious people and she would lose her joy. Americans were happy and smiley something she really loved.

She knew she had to shift her mindset because that was what she could control and she did that by holding herself accountable on Instagram and created 100 Days of Happiness. Each day she would post something that made her happy. Some days it was big and most days it was something really small but no matter the post, it shifted her mindset to one that kept her noticing the good.

When you live this way and you are grateful for the little things, when you share a smile, when you demonstrate kindness, and when you lift others up, you will always be able to find the good. And in a world of bad news, we can all use more of that!

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

The greatest legacy that I could leave behind is that I helped people understand what good leadership looks like and what it feels like. I’m always astounded by how many people have never had a good leader. That is something I want to change. My goal is to transform leadership as we know it. And if I can be remembered for a piece of that revolution, I have done my job.

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

The easiest way to find me is to go to my website All of my socials are listed there as well as my workshops. But you will find me most active on LinkedIn and all of my socials are @lyndsaydowdh4h.

You can also check out my book at

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

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my views on culture and leadership. It was an honor to be part of this series.