Is the Pursuit of Justice Worth the Relational Mess?

Voice Studio 22

In this Voice Studio episode, Andrea tackles the question, “Is the pursuit of justice worth the relational mess?”

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Bringing Hope to the Hopeless Around the Globe

Episode 22 with John Cotton Richmond of the Human Trafficking Institute

Are you overwhelmed by the problem of sex trafficking and forced labor in the world? Sometimes it feels like a hopeless reality. What can really be done to make a difference? Well, today I have a leader in the fight against human trafficking and he is on a mission to bring hope to this hopeless situation. Once you hear what he’s done for the fight in the U.S., you’ll see that with people like John at the head of the fight, it just might be possible.

John Cotton Richmond leads the Human Trafficking Institute as it works to combat slavery at its source. Numerous survivors of sex and labor trafficking have found victim-centered advocate in John. He has been named Prosecutor of the Year and expert for the United Nations and every trafficker’s worst nightmare by the head of the FBI’s human trafficking program.

Mentioned in this episode:

Play here (the red triangle below), on iTunes, Stitcher or TuneIn Radio (Amazon Alexa) or wherever you listen to podcasts.



Hey, hey! It’s Andrea and welcome to the Voice of Influence podcast. Today, I have with me John Cotton Richmond. I am really, really honored to have him on the show today because he is doing some amazing work, and has done some amazing work in the area of human trafficking and justice in general.

Aaron and I met John a couple of years ago at a workshop. I was immediately struck by, not only his authority and competency in this area but, his ability to communicate it very empathetically and truly care about the person that he’s talking to.

John leads the Human Trafficking Institute as it works to combat slavery at its source. Numerous survivors of sex and labor trafficking have found victim-centered advocate in John. He has been named Prosecutor of the Year and expert for the United Nations and every trafficker’s worst nightmare by the head of the FBI’s human trafficking program.

As you can tell, this is going to be a great interview. So let’s dive in.

Andrea: Well, John, welcome to the Voice of Influence podcast.

John:  Thank you so much! It’s great to be with you Andrea.

Andrea: Why don’t you introduce us to this idea of the Human Trafficking Institute, the human trafficking issue and why this all got started for you?

John: I think that it all starts with the realization that there are at least 20 million people in the world today who have the same problem. They don’t get to make the most basic decisions about their lives. Someone else decides when they wake up, where they work, and even who touches their bodies.   And I think it’s hard to sort of awaken ourselves to this reality that these people are trapped in modern-day slavery, and they’re trapped by a group of individuals who are traffickers, who are trying to profit by exploiting them.

As I began to be confronted with this over 15 years ago, I was in private law practice. My wife and I decided to move to India to help with International Justice Mission’s slavery work there and I got to direct their office and learned about forced labor in the Indian context and see and meet victims, see and meet traffickers and the law enforcement officers that we’re trying to intervene. And I was overwhelmed by the reality of the problem, by the scope of the problem.

And then I shifted to United States Department of Justice where I was a federal prosecutor for over a decade in a specialized human trafficking prosecution unit, and I started working sex trafficking and forced labor cases across the United States. And again, meeting with survivors every day, hearing their stories,


trying to figure out how do we bring their voice to courts so they can speak truths and let the world know what the traffickers have done to them so that we could stop and restrain them.

By doing that, I got to work with the United Nations on the human trafficking protocol and travel around the world training judges, prosecutors, and police. And through that we just begin to see these really predictable patterns and these proven strategies that can work to stop traffickers. And the Human Trafficking Institute was born out of the desire to help criminal justice systems in the developing world grow in their ability to stop traffickers and bring rescue to the victims.

Andrea: Where are you at with this Human Trafficking Institute at this point?

John: Human Trafficking Institute started just over a year and a half ago. I stepped down from the Department of Justice along with Victor Boutros, who was a federal prosecutor with me there and we’d worked cases, like we even tried a case together and Victor co-wrote The Locus Effect with Gary Haugen from International Justice Mission in which he has a ton of experience. And then we added to our team Dave Rogers who’s the former head of the FBI’s human trafficking unit out of their headquarters office. We worked together for years and we’re all in government and we come together with sort of these years of experience.

And the Human Trafficking Institute is actually going in and doing a few simple things. One is helping government establish specialized units so they can actually have people freed up to work these cases and then take them through an academy where they learn not just some sort of two or three days at a hotel conference room with Power Points but they really learn the way adults learn which is by digging into material over an extended period of time. It takes these specialized units through and advanced to county.

And the third thing is embed the inside of those units. Experienced and experts who have done these cases before who have gone to office with the specialized units and worked day in and day out with them as they work on these cases. And then wrapping around that the Human Trafficking Institute is to provide research, writing, and best practices in trying to move the thought leadership in this space towards recognizing ways that we can specifically stop this problem. We really believe that institutionalized systematic slavery can end because we’ve seen it end where it’s been attacked before and that just give us a lot of hope.

Andrea: So what is your role in the different processes that you’re talking about here?

John: Victor and I together had set out the vision for the institute and the different projects we have. And a lot of my works over the last years have been building relationships with government actors in the different countries as well as in the US on bringing people together to think about how we can identify and then use these proven strategies that actually work.

And then I also lead research efforts in terms of the type of work that we’re putting out on understanding the cases here in the United States where justice is going so that we can use these as examples in the developing world when we work with leaders.

Andrea: And I’ve also seen a number of news articles that the Human Trafficking Institute has shared that indicates that you have been at a United Nations, you’ve been at the White House, you’ve been sharing this thought leadership in these various faces what’s that been like?

John: It’s been so inspiring. There really are people of goodwill who wanted to do this work. And so yes at the United Nations, there’s amazing group of people that have been carefully thinking about this issue for a long time. We were very grateful that the White House wanted to call together leaders and just got a briefing and learn about the issue of trafficking. We were happy to participate in that and just share of what’s happening in the field and what’s actually going on the ground.

We’ve also met with prime ministers, attorneys, and generals from different countries and we just hosted two cabinet level, guests from police here in Washington D.C. One thing, Andrea, that is so important is that all of this is driven by people. There are people in government, in places of influence who have a voice on this issue and there are people who are trapped in slavery whose voice is currently being muted.

And the desire is how do we use the voice that is out there from leaders and from the general public as a springboard to un-mute that, to stop the traffickers from actually harming those victims. It’s been a great honor and privilege to have had a career building the relationships that are allowing us to do that.

Andrea: I want to come back to this idea of un-muting voices a little later, but I want to ask you how did you really get involved with human trafficking in the first place? You went to India 15 years ago, you said, and I’m curious why? What brought you to that point where you were ready to go to India and start learning about this?

John: That’s a great question. My wife and I, we’re processing it at the time with our friends and we really felt compelled to go. It was very simple and clear in so many ways. You know, I’ve been practicing law for about four years. We had worked hard and paid off all our school loans, and so we were to taking a fresh look at where do we want to be and what do we want to do. My wife was actually eight months pregnant when we left the United States to move to India.

Our second child was born in India, and she actually never even been in the country before. She went on faith and she went on a belief and a strong, clear compulsion that we could do something to stop slavery. And what was amazing is we had never met a slave before. We had never been involved in this work. I have been doing commercial litigation and employment law but it really sprung from seeing with real clarity the need that exists and then thinking how do we move to a solution. And we’ve been so up close as I began to travel in India and China and different places that there was such a need. There are people who are suffering because they don’t have food or water or shelter and there’s been a natural disaster and those people need aid and we can help them.

But then there’s this whole other set of people whose main problem isn’t that they don’t have food, shelter, or water, their main problem is that an individual is oppressing them and those people aren’t able to get the development aid that is out there. They’re not able to participate in the food program or this child’s fostership program or to go to the educational institutions that are nonprofits funded. They’re trapped.

And so how do we move in to solving that problem. We really feel like it was quite simple. There were lots of lawyers that wanted to work at my law firm. They were really smart and their resumes would flood in, but there wasn’t a whole lot of lawyers that wanted to go and say “We wanna be a part of changing this system. We wanna be a part of liberating individuals in restraining perpetrators.”

And so we thought “Let’s give that a shot.” And so it went and honestly, we built vision, we built strategy, and we built our understanding of the issue after we started. It all wasn’t clear. It was sort of like you start with a limited amount of information and as you go it becomes more clear.

Andrea: So you had this desire to change the world in a different kind of way. There’s such a tendency for people I think to get comfortable and stay where they’re at and a fear of adventure or moving fast where they are in order to be able to do some things significant. What was it about the two of you, you and your wife that made you willing, desiring to do that?

John: I think it was a couple of things. One was this understanding of the status quo not existing that there’s nothing stays the same. I think our desire to not venture out or the desire to not start something new is because we’re worried that it may not work out or that we may lose the safety security or comfort we’re currently experiencing. And the truth is it may not work out, so the risk is real in launching, in going forward. But the lie is that the status quo is real as well. There’s nothing really stays the same. If I don’t take the risk, I’m not guaranteed to have my current status quo remains. Everything is always changing.

The number one running back in the NFL this year is guaranteed not to be the number one running back in the NFL 10 years from now. Life changes: car accidents happen, unemployment, jobs shift, everything is a risk. And so once you realized that “I can’t really keep the status quo, I can’t, in the sense have an ice cream cone on a hot summer day and just hold it and expect it to stay the same. I can either enjoy the tasty treat or I can end up with a mess all over my hands,” right? The reality that if we’re not moving forward, we’re going to deteriorate. And I think that launching forward to do something really stands from the idea that we’re risking far less than we really think we are.

The other thing that motivated us, honestly was our faith, we were motivated by a really clear vision for what could be and by the sense that if I was stuck in slavery, if someone was trapping me or my family, I would want people to go and stop them. I want people to come for me. I want people to love me in a demonstrated way, not just by wearing the right color ribbon on the appropriate awareness day, but I want someone to make my pain stop. And if that’s true for me, I bet it’s true for those 20 million who are currently trapped. And believing that people have value really is a fundamental philosophical pivot point that allows us to confront evil.

Andrea: So you came back and you started working for the justice department at that point, right?

John: I sure did.

Andrea: And you started working with victims, talking to traffickers; what do you bring to those conversations? What did you get out of these conversations?

John: Oh I got so much. But what I brought honestly was time and availability. I’m going to make myself available and I’m going to spend a lot of time with the victims and hear their stories and allow them to tell their story at their pace. So it’s not rush in “Just give me all the facts.” If you ask someone to open up about some of the most traumatic abuse that they’ve ever experienced, it’s going to require a relationship. It’s going to require time of moving forward slowly to help them feel like they’re in a position where they can tell the truth they don’t want to share initially.

And with traffickers, it’s very much the same. It’s coming in and listening to their stories and hearing where they’re coming from and how they approach their crime, what they thought about and how they profit it. And understanding the crime from their perspective, add so much value as we try to stop others from committing it. But I learned a great deal about evil and trafficking and abuse from all of these conversations and then my job was to try to bring empathy.

Try to understand the situations that we could create for juries who are sitting in judgment in these cases and create empathy within them for what the victims have experienced and help them understand kind of how non-violent coercion works. How manipulation really works, how the traffickers was able to solve quickly sometimes to get the upper hand and control someone when it just doesn’t make sense to the averaged person. And so I think creating empathy for people is a real pathway for truth to be shared.

Andrea: At what point did you start thinking there’s another step beyond this one for me and my work in this particular realm and you have this friend, Victor, at what point did you guys start to dream of this Human Trafficking Institute?

John: It was in the last few years that I was at the Department of Justice. The first seven or so years was me just learning how to be an effective prosecutor and working these cases kind one after the other. In the last half of my time where I began travelling a lot internationally and I saw what we were doing to educate and help empower criminal justice systems around the world. We would go into these two or three days seminars or weeklong seminars and then we come back and work our cases and I saw very little changing. It just didn’t seem to have an impact the way we wanted it to and I worried that there was a lot of busyness but there wasn’t a lot of progress.

So we just begun to think “How could we impact this in a more substantial way?” About that time, we were ruling out a new program at the Department of Justice to improve the federal approach to prosecuting human trafficking cases and they were called the ACTeams. And the director of the Human Trafficking Prosecution unit at DOJ pioneered this and I was lucky enough to work with her. We developed the advanced curriculum and we basically created specialized units of federal agents from the FBI and Homeland Security and federal prosecutor counterpart in the region.

We took those groups to an advanced human trafficking course that I got to produce in developing and delivering. And then I would get on the plane fly to those districts and we would work cases together, either I would be on the ground doing the case with them or just advising and helping shepherd those cases and we saw dramatic results, Andrea. In two years, we had six districts that were selected. There are 94 total prosecutorial districts in the United States, six of them agreed to participate. We took them through this and create specialized unit, have significant academylike training and then we have people working cases within day in and day out.

And when we did that, we saw a 114% increase in two years in the number of traffickers charge in those six districts. The other districts saw a 12% increase. So they still improved some but the difference between a 12% increase and a 114% is tremendous. And what’s most amazing is that those six districts which represent about 5% of all the districts in America were responsible for over half of all the human trafficking convictions in those two years. 56% of all the human trafficking convictions came from those six districts alone.

And so we were like “Wow, this system really works.” And we realized there is nothing like that in the developing world where right now trafficking is exploding. Traffickers feel absolutely no risk that any law enforcement agency is going to come in and restrain them and stop them from making money by harming others. And so where traffickers seeing no risk where you are actually more likely to get struck by lightning than prosecuted for openly owning a slave, traffickers just operate with impunity. They can do whatever they want. So we thought, “we want to change that calculus. We do not want traffickers operating with impunity. We want them to feel a very real risk to engaging in their crime and we want to do it in a way that honors and values the victims at every stage of the process.”

Andrea: Wow, so at that point you guys started thinking about how do we do this? How do we turn this into a global effort?

John: Exactly!

Andrea: And how did you choose the model?

John: So we’re not for-profit organization. And we chose that I think because we wanted to work with government throughout the world. We wanted to work with the government here in the United States. And to that effectively, we thought the nonprofit model was far better than a for-profit structure. It would allow us to engage a whole community of people in this process as partners with us.

And so we are building a small army of individuals that are passionate about this issue and they want to make a difference. They’re tired of just people constantly telling them stories about injustice and then they don’t know what to do. They don’t know how to engage or how to really make a difference. There’s a lot of passion about ending human trafficking but there’s not a lot of clear structured plans about how to make that happen.

I think we just get fatigued sometimes. We experience in a very real way compassion fatigue or awareness fatigue. We feel like, “stop just making me aware and to know more stories in the sense of another 13-year old girl in a moon by brothel. Stop making me aware and making me feel like I don’t have a place to go with my awareness.” We want people to feel that there is hope because we can draw near pain if we have hope. It’s really hard to draw near the pain and have compassion if you think nothing could be done.

But I think what is animating about this is that we not left just to deal with the consequences, just to mitigate the outcomes of traffickers. So it’s not like a natural disaster where we don’t know how to stop earthquakes. So when earthquakes happen to the country, we all rush in with food and water and shelter and try to help out.

Unlike earthquakes, human trafficking is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It’s not a weather pattern. It’s not like a tsunami or typhoon or a hurricane, it’s a choice that an individual is making, and it’s a crime and we know how to stop crime. It’s just question of are we going to do the things necessary that we know where to stop this criminal activity that is trapped in 20 million people.

Andrea: The hope that you talked about, part of it comes from this idea that we’re not victims to the idea that it’s just going to keep happening and we don’t have any control over but there is something that we can do.

John: Absolutely, and I think where there’s hope we can come up with a plan. And when we can clearly identify what the problem is and we believe that a solution is possible, we can figure this out. I think the hard part is that you see a problem, even clearly see a problem but if you think “there’s nothing I can do,” it’s not really going to make a difference. And that causes people to give up and move on to another structure or another project.

I think that people trapped in slavery are worth our consorted intentional efforts over a long period of time, or what Eugene Peterson called “A long obedience in the same direction.” Like if we have longevity in this space and we are willing to commit ourselves, we can see massive change in the next few decades.

Andrea: I’ve also heard you say before that slavery have been around forever and it’s only recent phenomena that we begin to really realize that this is wrong. Could you talk about that?

John: Absolutely! This is one of the reasons for hope. So for most of human history, slavery has been legal. It’s been on every continent, in every culture from the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Romans, and the Greeks and all over. It’s been enshrined in our own US constitution. Slavery has been assumed as something that is always there and it’s been supported even by people of faith. It wasn’t until about 250 years ago that countries began to say “Wait, we think slavery is wrong.” Not that it needs to be regulated or the impacts of it needs to be minimized but just that it is illegal and what is stunning is most of human history, thousands and thousands of years, slavery has been legal. In the last 250, we’ve seen every country in the world pass a law that says slavery is illegal.

That is why in its major pivot point, historically where at least now we have the laws that say, slavery is wrong. Now, we need to take those protections of law that are written on parchment and extend them down to the people they were intended to protect. Now we have a delivery system challenge. How do we get the legal protections that say every human being has intrinsic value and should not be owned all the way to the people that need those protections?

That’s what we get to be about. I think the historic part of that is inspiring because it shares with us that this is doable, where there’s a special place in history that there’s never been a better time to fight human trafficking. As our friend, Gary Haugen has said “It’s not a question of whether trafficking would be defeated, it’s whether this generation will be a part of sweeping it into the dustbin of history.” And I just find that concept motivating and inspiring and it makes me want to move forward.

Andrea: Oh yeah, definitely. Somebody like me who isn’t on the frontline of this is thinking about this problem and feeling guilty, feeling stuck in my own inability to make much of a difference. What kinds of things can I do to help, you know, aside from giving money to organizations such as yours, what else can I do?

John: I think there are a number of things that can be done. One is to get informed about it because there’s human trafficking happening in the United States, in Western Europe but it’s exploding throughout the world. We’ll begin the process of understanding how the problem looks and what it’s like. There’s a lot of myths about human trafficking, a lot of misunderstandings about it and so kind of deconstructing those is a fantastic use of time because it means that we’re going to be able to detect it and we’re going to be better able to understand the scope of it and what strategies would work. So getting people informed really matters.

The second thing that you can do is think about how their talents could be employed in this fight. I think a lot of people think “Well, I’m not an FBI agent and I’m not a prosecutor, how do I get involved?” Or “Maybe, I’m not a trauma certified counselor or how do I help individuals.” But the reality is if you’re a web designer or you’re an accountant, all of these skills sets need to be employed in this fight.

We need forensic accountants. We need all sorts of people who can communicate the vision clearly, who can tell the stories and who can honor these survivors. And so I think thinking through and inventory of our own skills and talents and then beginning to explore “How do I get involved?” Or “How do I encourage young people to go become FBI agents. How do I encourage young people to go and engage as a career these big, hairy global issues and take them on.” So I think that is something that individuals could do.

I think individuals can also find organizations and there are so many good ones out there who are active in this fight and come alongside and learn from them. You mentioned earlier that there’s a group of people that have been joining us as justice partners where there’s sort of a monthly communication about what’s happening around the world with trafficking. There are many organizations out there that they could connect with the local and global and I think that matters.

The other thing that I think people can do is develop a culture of justice in their own lives and in their own communities on issues that are far ranging not just limited to human trafficking. And what I mean by that is that pursuing justice, seeking justice can become a habit. When I was studying philosophy in college and when I was learning about these things, people would bend themselves into pretzels trying to understand what is justice and it’s so unhelpful.

But oh yes, justice is quite simple. Justice is making wrong things right. It seems something wrong and working to make it right; big things, little things, local things, or global things. And I think if people want to develop culture of justice, they start making wrong things right in their community. They’re identified on their street, on their neighborhood, on their school system, or on their companies and they see problems and start working to make them right. And as we build a culture of justice on the local level in the little things in our lives, we build the muscle and create a platform that allows us to seek justice and make the wrong things right on the big picture global level including trafficking in persons.

Andrea: I love this. There are a couple things that come up as questions for me as you’re talking about seeking justice in our own personal spaces. And one of those is that I see a lot of people struggling to know what to do with- recently this issue in Charlottesville, the event that took place in Charlottesville with white supremacy- and there’s a lot of angst and confusion about how to approach the subject.

And for this one thing, I might be against this other things that matters to me too and there’s so much confusion it seems about when to speak out and not to speak out, when to do something about it, and when not to. Do you have anything to say to this confusion that we feel and conflict that we feel about things that might in some ways feel wrong but then another aspect of it feels wrong too, so we’re not sure how to deal with that?

John: I would say where there is that conflict, move towards it. We move towards that conflict because it’s going help us clarify where we’re at. And I think we have to be able to embrace nuance, that there are different positions or different thoughts even within ourselves. But I think the other thing to move forward is really clearly and boldly identifying what is wrong and identifying what is right and then speaking to that. And I think that oftentimes, we don’t want it in their end because we don’t want to even admit to ourselves sometimes that these are paragraphs answers in a Twitter sort of world, right?

Andrea: Yeah.

John: These things aren’t solved with 140 characters, it takes more information and more new ones but once we process it, I think worth understanding in our own hearts that we want to move towards love. We want to move towards good and I think we go there full esteem ahead. We want to see the problems of the world and we want to bring hope by the truckload, I mean just lots of it. And where there is pain and there’s suffering, we want to push that away and resolve it.

I think that sometimes, we over complicate things. I think sometimes, we want to access that everyone on the team that there’s white hats and black hats out there, good guys and bad guys, and the reality is there’s a lot of us who are just gray hats. We’re messed up and we need to move for its clarity and truth and we’re going to address the issues in our own hearts and address these issues in our culture.

Andrea: I find that for myself it was difficult… You know, couple of years maybe when I was still trying to figure out what do I do with this voice of mine. It was difficult for me to want to identify my voice with any particular issue because I was afraid of being thrown into a box, categorical box and then I would only have a voice with those people in that particular box. So religious, political, whatever it might be but usually a combination of those two things, how do we have a voice of justice to sort of transcends these boxes so that we can actually have dialogue that’s going to move things forward?

John: Hmmm that’s a great question. I would love to learn from you as you maneuver through that. I believe that if we’re going to develop expertise, if we’re going to develop experience in a space, we have to dive in and get into the deep end of whatever pool that we’re going to swim in and figure it out and develop mastery. And so I would, in some ways, tell people don’t worry about getting in the box. Go deep into an issue. Work over the long term and really become good at it. But then find that principles that make it work because the principles out there that are going to really allow you to do well at a specific thing are going to have general impact and applicability across the board. In a sense, they’re going to work in lots to different boxes.

So the real principal behind the idea of trafficking is that people has value and that we should go love other people in a demonstrated way that we can go and actually change systems to benefit people. Well, those same principles applied to lots of things. People have value. We should go address and meet the needs in other spheres and in other topical areas. So I think diving in deep is worth because I think it builds expertise, it builds credibility, and you can have a greater impact on a specific thing, but then find those threads that are common to all and they’re always there. Speaking up close to encourage others in this big, big fight to go and seek justice around the globe.

Andrea: Yeah. You’ve mentioned before this idea of different hats that we see people wearing, these teams that we feel like we’re on and I guess that was sort of the same thing as this box that I’m picturing. But I think we’re looking for identity, wanting to identify ourselves with something that’s bigger than ourselves. And it’s tempting to have it be a pat or box rather than a principle because principles seem to be a little bit more messy. If you’re in a box, you know what the rules are and you just follow these particular set of beliefs or things that we’re supposed to do or to be and to talk about. But if you focus on a principle then you have to kind of wrestle with every issue that comes up based on that principle. It’s just more complicated it seems.

John: Right. I mean, every relationship is complicated and messy and unstructured and these principles of joy, hope, love, and truth that are going to win the day. And so I think that the great joy of life is getting in that mess of all of these principles and figuring them out in midst of all these wonderful relationships and seeing them grow and flourish. When you think about that who would want a tidy little wife inside a small box? It would be much more fun to live out our days pursuing something bigger and more joyful than that.

Andrea: Yes. And I love that you can bring the philosophical side of things but also you’re taking massive action. I don’t know, when we talk about peace, joy, love these sorts of things, it feels a little you know heady and not practical but you’re making it very practical.

John: It is in the practice. It’s in the day to day kind of ordinary moments where I think these ideas are really refined and shaped. And I think that people do want to see practical actions. People want to have concrete plans that they can take and things that they can do and they’re there. If there’s a destination that we want to get to, we can find a path to get there and it’s just going to be a question of are we going to do the hard work of finding that path or creating that path and I think it’s worth it.

Andrea: I do too. I really also appreciate the fact these threads that you said run throughout other things. They really reached to a personal level as well and so I’m curious how you and your wife’s values about the importance of human life and dignity and voice, how these things reached into your own home?

John: Hmmm. You know, it has a huge influence. In fact, the way we parent to our kids and the way we think about our marriage and the way we think about finding trafficking are so inextricably intertwined and I don’t know which feeds the other. They very much go together and our kids have lived this life with us as we have been working on these cases and travelling the world and obviously their time growing up in India has had a big impact on them.

But I think it comes in some really clear ways. We have a group of kind of family rules that apply to every phase of our lives and they really shaped how we think about each other in our marriage but they also impact how we think about work. And so like one of them is that people are more important than stuff. So we have a choice to make and it could be reduced down to whether we’re choosing people or stuff. We should almost always choose people.

And so when we think about what shall we do on this next case, how do we approach this? What’s the cause of it going to be? There’s a person at risk there and we’re going to out that person who’s a victim ahead of stuff or material interests. We also applies that at my kids when they were learning as toddlers to share, building that friendship is more important than who’s playing with that toy. Or it applies as we plan out, now that we have adolescence and two kids and high school, like how we’re dealing with the demands of their schedules and thinking about how we value people at each turn.

And so I think that these ideas of making wrong things right and honoring individuals as well as respecting systems and authority and thinking about innovation or how we want to refocused on getting things done more than the forms that we’re building. Each one of these ideas is just another step towards integration and flourishing and that’s what we want to be about. So we’re really happy to be engaged in this journey both as in the messy parts of resolving conflicts at home and loving each other well. Or the messy parts of resolving conflict at work and loving our team well but also loving survivors well and trying to demonstrate what real love looks like to traffickers.

Andrea: It’s beautiful! So what’s the future for the Human Trafficking Institute and how can we get involved or support you?

John:   Right now, we’re in the process of working with agreements with a couple of countries that are interested in building out specialized units and having them trained and having _____ and really trying to end the impunity that traffickers enjoy. So we’re very excited over the next few years to see the results that can come in the individuals that will be free but also how deterrence and ending impunity can be reflected.

We got a group of amazing law students who are joining us in the next few weeks at Douglass Fellows and Dr. Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist who went on after he had gained his freedom and taught himself to read and write. He ended up being; I think most people don’t realize this, the chief law enforcement officer for the District of Columbia. He was a United States Marshals and he had just this amazing life. In his honor and with his family’s initiatives, with their participation, we formed the Douglass Fellowship and we got some law students who are going to be Douglass Fellows this year doing research and writing and helping us build out these practices.

I’m excited that new process and we’re excited about that new process and we’re excited for people and your listeners to join in this movement. They can join us as justice partners on our website and connect to a monthly community that is thinking about this in finding new ways and innovative ways to tackle this problem. And we’re excited for what’s going to come over the few years. We got a great lean team that we’re building. We’re developing the model that we think can have the greatest impact.

Andrea: I love it. I love every bit of it. Is there anything else that you wanted to mention before we sign off?

John: I’m just so grateful for you, Andrea, and for letting your voice into all this and encouraging people to have the influence in the communities that they’re engaged in. I think that as more and more people stepped forward and say they want to be a part of making wrong things right, the world is going to continue to become a better place.

Andrea: Well thank you so much for your time here today, John. I really appreciate the way that you’re using your voice in the world.

John: Thanks Andrea! I’m glad to be with you!




Bring this to Every Intentional Conversation

Voice Studio 21

In this Voice Studio episode, Andrea discusses the one thing you need to be sure to bring to every conversation of intentional friendship.

Mentioned in this episode:
Episode 21: How to Find People to Challenge You to be Your Best with Laurie Hock

Play here (the red triangle below), on iTunes, Stitcher or TuneIn Radio (Amazon Alexa) or wherever you listen to podcasts.

How to Find People Who Will Challenge You to be Your Best

Episode 21 with Laurie Hock

Laurie Hock’s coaching credentials through Gallup and the John Maxwell Team define her specialization of helping people stop living life, and start leading it. Through her company, Growing Points, she creates and delivers individual and group growth experiences purposed to “set the caged bird free and empower those already flying to soar higher.

Laurie is a personal friend and one of the many powerful things we discuss on this episode is how we started and developed our own friendship to challenge and encourage one another to be our best.

Find Laurie at and sign up for her monthly video series.

Play here (the red triangle below), on iTunes, Stitcher or TuneIn Radio (Amazon Alexa) or wherever you listen to podcasts.


Hey, hey! It’s Andrea and welcome to the Voice of Influence podcast. Today, I have my friend, Laurie Hock on the line. And Laurie is somebody that is really into her calling and who she is kind of continuing to grow and develop her own self as well as the offerings that she makes the to the world.


Andrea: So Laurie, I’m so thrilled to have you on the Voice of Influence podcast.

Laurie: Thank you! It’s a total joy to be here with you!

Andrea: Well, Laurie and I have been friends for a couple of years. I don’t know how long have we been friends, maybe about three or four years?

Laurie: Yeah, probably around there.

Andrea: Something like that and she lives in North Platte where I live. A few years ago, we’re in the same bible study, small group kind of thing and Laurie took off on some trip and she came back and was like ready to go with this whole new purpose in her life and it was just amazing. And since then, she has really grown and she has really inspired me to look at what I offer as something that could be done as a business. I don’t know, we just had quite a little journey together, Laurie.

Laurie: That’s right. Yeah, it’s fun to think about as each of us grew individually; we also grew together as well. What a beautiful thing.

Andrea: Yeah. So Laurie, why don’t you tell the Influencers listening what it is that you do right now?

Laurie: Right now, I have found my true sweet spots and some of these will probably be described as our conversation continues, but moving from working with people one-on-one primarily to creating growth experiences. And I’m both a coach, speaker, facilitator; I’d feel probably describes me best as I get to come alongside people in their growth journey and help them really navigate their way from where they are to where they want to be and getting in touch with the core of their true self.

Being able to celebrate what’s great about them and really creating this kind of transformation in the context of community and relationship with others, which is what I think is one of the greatest and most significant aspects and elements of any growth. So I serve people locally. I serve people in different states as well. Much of what I do can be done virtually or in person, so there’s really no geographical limits and there are needs all over the world. It’s a wonderful, wonderful exciting privilege of watching other people really come alive and step into their greatness.

Andrea: And you have a couple of credentials really behind you. That credentials and also these influences tools that these things have offered you which would be like the John Maxwell Team and the Gallup StrengthsFinder. Do you want to tell us just briefly about those?

Laurie: Sure! Yeah, I’m very privileged to be able to be connected with really some of the global experts on the planet in the field of personal development and what really started this journey for me several years ago as becoming a coach and speaker with the John Maxwell Team. John is by far and has been for years the world expert on leadership. He is the number one leadership guru and I get to be affiliated with him. He really has been on a mission in his later years of his career of wanting to leverage his name and his influence to give other speakers and coaches a platform to open opportunities for them.

So he’s been a big influence in my life. I use some of his materials in what I do and his ideas have helped me shape my own ideas around what it means to be a leader. I continue to stay connected with the team on many levels. So there’s that and then also the privilege. The experience you mentioned in the introduction was when I went to Gallup to be trained as a Certified Strengths Coach and that’s really about leveraging their Clifton Strengths Assessment. To help people identify what they do best and their innate talents and strengths that really indicates where their greatest potential lies and how they can develop that to achieve the greatest results and sense of fulfillment and satisfaction and success in their lives.

So I have some really amazing tools that both of those affiliations gave me that the true joy in finding my voice of influence has been, not just in speaking from one of those lanes or the other, but allowing them to marinate and come together within me. And then speaking my truth of how those blend and how I find my own voice and make my own ideas from that foundation of how I can best serve and support clients, friends, peers, family, and all the people in my life.

Andrea: Hmm I love that idea of wanting these other influences and letting them saturate and become like really a synthesis and I guess to come out as your own voice. Yeah, that’s really cool!

Laurie: Yeah, exactly!

Andrea: I know that I you didn’t start out your career path with this particular thing in mind. If you want take us back to what you were doing that moment that you knew that you wanted to move in this direction of finding business and developing your voice of influence in the space where you can really utilize your own strengths and offer that to other people?

Laurie: Yes. I will give you a brief insight into my life in 2007 that’s really where this revelation started and then it’s been a process over the last 10 years. Oh actually, let me go farther back even than that. In sixth grade, I really set my sight and got very clear for some specific reasons that I wanted to be a dietitian, a nutritionist in terms of how I understood it then. So I pressed on with that in pursuing all my educational requirements to be a registered dietitian. And everything that I aspired to do in that, I now see the motivation underneath that is the same thing I am doing now. It was just going to be expressed toward helping people create positive changes in their health and developing healthy lifestyles. What wasn’t correct in that fate was the specific industry that I was applying that in.

And so as passionate as I was to help other people to create positive change, I felt a lot of limitations in that particular career path of being a dietitian that wasn’t going to allow me to do that the most fully and in a way that made me feel most alive and engaged. I had great coworkers and colleagues there but it felt like it wasn’t the right fit. And I came to that revelation in 2008 or so that I needed to really be willing to lay down that part of me and being able to create and new way forward.

That was a really huge identity crisis in every sense of everything I thought I was was no more in the sense that if I lay down that career path, I knew in my heart it wasn’t the right fit anymore. It would be a disservice to stay there knowing that just because I had all my educational investment and requirements met there, it would be a disservice to not only my own destiny but to the lives that my life is purposed to speak into. There were too many limitations and restrictions in that industry for my voice to be most heard.

And so I had to find out who is Laurie Hock without that career. Who’s Laurie on her own? Who’s Laurie without any sort of work-related attachments to it? And I think that’s a question very few people ask themselves and that begin a very deep soul searching journey for me because I didn’t have the answer to that. I knew different things I enjoy and was good at but I’d never thought just who I was at the core of my identity without anything else defining that.

So it took several years to come into that but the biggest decision and that turning point was making the intentional choice to create a new way forward that I could redefine myself. I could find my deeper truth that I didn’t have to stay with what it was or who I had been to that point, but that I could define who I was going to be outside of what I did.

Andrea: Hmmm. Laurie, was there anything in particular that helped you to realize that you didn’t have to stay there, that you could be something new? Do you remember?

Laurie: You know at that point, I didn’t have a lot of community. I didn’t have a coach I was working with. I was totally unaware of this whole personal development industry and all the opportunities of working with people that are experts at this. I remember I started going to the library. We were living in San Antonio at the time and I picked up a few John Maxwell’s books actually.

And I began to feel that there was something greater within me that was begging to be awakened. And through the practice of reading some of these leadership-related materials and paired with journaling to really get in touch with the deeper things going on inside me. This restlessness, this cry for more when I could sit and really allow those feelings from within to be exposed and surfaced and expressed in the form of my nightly journaling, wow, I just heard such a longing in me. That even if I didn’t know what it was and as risky as it felt to lay that other piece down, I knew it was far riskier to stay. And so it was just this light-bulb moment. It’s a combination of all those. Does that make sense?

Andrea: Sure! So really, I mean John Maxwell has a huge impact on you from the get-go.

Laurie: Yeah. I think this is true for all of us that there are certain voices that the spirit within us just clings to and it resonates with us so richly and so deeply even if it’s far beyond that we can’t understand in the moment. It speaks to us and it awakens something inside that knows it’s going to continue to unlock more of our potential and more opportunities for what’s ahead.

Andrea: Yeah that’s cool! Okay, so what happened after you kind of had this light-bulb moment like “Wait a second; I don’t have to go down this path that I was going down. I could choose this other path.”

Laurie: Yeah, it came with a lot of tears. I’ll be honest, I feel a lot of grieving and searching and then from just the decision to find a new way to create a new way, it probably took about five years actually. My husband had a job changed. We relocated back to Nebraska. I sensed heavily then that I wasn’t to look for a position here in North Platte as dietitian. I had left that in the past life and so I had some times. We started a family. I had some years with some kids all the while doing intensive searching within me and that’s a real discipline.

It takes time to truly find who we are but in that, the fruit of that is within over that compounding effort, the voice of influence we carry becomes clear. So yeah, I encourage everyone listening to this to give yourself the space, the time, and the freedom to enjoy the process. This cannot be manufactured overnight. It’s not an overnight success. It is something that really takes consistent commitment. And I believe we find our message when we first find ourselves.

Andrea: Yeah I like that. I really like that! We find our message when we find ourselves and we have to enjoy the process and kind of let it just set it in and keep moving. I love that. Yeah, because five years that’s a long time and it’s hard when you have little kids. That was definitely a struggle for me to try to understand who I was in the middle of having kids. But you were really processing all of that in the midst of that. At what point then did you decide it was time to move forward that you found yourself, you found your message?

Laurie: Yeah, I’d say the awakening really became clear, I was in some other leadership roles in our community but was feeling like in those situations, people were looking to me for the answers and I was wondering who can I look to for the answers. I know I was too young in my journey to have all the answers. I needed someone that could lead me so that I could lead them and that came through this incredible process of then discovering that John Maxwell had a team of people he was training and equipping and credentialing to be leadership coaches and speakers.

So I joined and made the investment in myself to join his team strictly for personal growth. That was back in 2013 with no intentions of it becoming anything more than just me growing as a leader so that I could feel this bigger call in my life, this leadership mandate. Even though I had no idea what’s that look like, I could sense it that I needed to be equipped and grow as a leader to be able to carry out my life’s mission.

So I found out that you can join the Maxwell Team. I did it for personal growth. I went to my first live event in 2014 with John in Orlando and it was rather unexpected but I really looked back at that moment and now see that I received my life calling there in the middle of one particular session.

It just became incredibly clear through a lot of just emotional eruption of joy and gladness and tears and all sorts of things that God was really calling me to make a business that would empower leaders and help them understand and recognize their true potential to be alongside in this journey and developing it. To call out who they really are so they can step forward more boldly and confidently and to fulfill their life’s purpose.

And it was just very clear that this is my time. This is my time and I didn’t have a clue that business was on my radar at all. It was so clear in that moment. Of course, I said yes immediately and everything shifted in that moment. Even before going to that event, I remember sitting out by the pool before the first session and I love to journal my thoughts before going in to some experience like that and just really putting out there “I’m expecting this to change my life. I’m coming to be transformed.”

And I remember just this _____ before going into that first day was that I wrote down in my journal “Your whole life has been leading up to this moment.” So I felt then like “This is my voice” and it’s been a process in the years since of finding what it looks like to do that and to be that but that day changed everything for me.

Andrea: Yeah. I remember you coming back from that experience and coming into this little small group of a number of basically stay-at-home moms and saying “I’m supposed to start a business.” Your joy, your excitement, it was such a clear picture of how affirmed you felt in that decision, in that call.

Laurie: Yeah. It felt like everything had been leading up to that moment and what I thought was _____ so that I can grow others and it can go a pinnacle in receiving that calling and then coming home thinking “I’m doing this no matter what.” It’s so obvious to me even though it’s so unknown. It cannot be bought. It’s so clear and so unknown at the same time. I think so the big picture vision is so clear and how to get there is the unknown but we find that one day at a time.

Andrea: Yes, yes, so true! Yes, I love that because you knew it was ahead but you didn’t know exactly what steps to take, what does it mean to run a business, and all those things. But that vision you had seems to be really motivating you to be able to keep your nose to the grinding and keep figuring that out even if you don’t know what’s next.

Laurie: Because we know the why. See I got my why that day in Orlando. The how is negotiable. The how doesn’t matter in the big picture when we’re connected to that why that’s what drive us forward. That’s what’s drive our influence is the why, our why.

Andrea: Definitely! Then basically you started this business and it’s kind of turned into what it is today over the course of a few years. Do you want to say anything else about that transformation of your business?

Laurie: I think what has been really critical for me in that and this is truly a main message I would love to emphasize to your audience is that it really takes the help and support of other people for us to find our voice however that’s expressed. If it’s in terms of business or personal things in terms of your relationship and the influence you have with other people in your life. I believe we can’t find our voice on our own.

So when things begin to get really clear of what I’m best at and what my business is most effective at doing and how it can meet the needs of the people around me that my voice is called to reach. That clarity all came from the context of being in relationship and connection with other likeminded peers and experiencing the benefit of really feeling support, and I’ll define support in just a moment, for people to help me clarify my own value.

We don’t understand what we’re best at or where we really shine because it’s so familiar to us. The same work I do with strengths. People don’t recognize their strengths or that significant because they’ve always been there. They’re so normal to them. We don’t realize that it’s exceptional to others. And so in the context of me being a participant in several masterminds with my colleagues and peers that are in the same industry really allowed me to get clear on what my voice can best accomplish.

Andrea: So what is that look like for you in terms of finding those other voices, those other people in your life that could give you that kind of feedback?

Laurie: I know. Isn’t that powerful that in order to find our voice, we need the voice of others? I think that’s so perfect of how we’ve been designed to need and really have to depend on one another but it’s a _____ to depend on one another. So what is that look like to find people? I think what that’s really look like for me and what I would encourage your listeners to consider as well is really finding the people that are willing to challenge you. When I began to experience this environment of support, I discovered that supporting one another doesn’t mean agreeing with one another.

Andrea: Hmmm yes!

Laurie: When we think of “Oh I support you in that,” or when we think of people supporting us, we think of kind of people maybe standing and applauding with us or celebrating us in some way and really _____ in a way that means they’re probably agreeing with us, encouraging us, and behind us sort of thing in what we’re pursuing. But what I have found as the strongest support that I can both receive and that I can give is the support that means I stand for your best, I stand for you. I stand with you, for you, and your highest good no matter what it costs me or what it cost you and being willing to really play all in on behalf of the best interest of others.

The support that I found has been instrumental to me really owning my voice of influence is embracing my role as a challenger. I feel like that best describes it where the best way I can support others and I encourage you as you’re looking for what kind of voice that could speak into you and help you define your message and your sphere of influence and your life mission. Who’s going to be willing to disagree with you or to risk your approval to speak your higher truths and speak into you and show you your best assets, your blind spots, and some of the other things that we have to have that outside perspective to do for us.

When I began experiencing that through this peer connection, I begin to grow faster than I ever grown before. It was truly and epic exhilaration of explosive growth when I had people and it’s a handful. It’s not multitudes that are willing to speak with us and be with us in our journey like this; it’s a handful of a select few that are willing to walk that road for us.

But I think in your heart of hearts if you begin to look around and see who you’re naturally drawn to, who inspires you in some way and being able to kind of mind what it is that draws me to them and what I admire in them and show me something I need to grow in in my own life that’s what happened for me is that some people that I admired were exceptional setting boundaries and being very clear and very direct in a loving way.

But that was radically different from what I’ve experienced or really taking a strong stand in letting their voice be expressed no matter how it was received when given from that place of care. But I realized “Wow, I’m admiring that in him because I need more of that in me.”

Andrea: Yeah. This is making me think about how really when we hear, and I’ve seen this in my relationship with you and my relationship with other people but as you have expressed a certain kind of style or voice, tone, or challenge; when you see that in other people and you see that there’s something in you, it almost gives you permission or you start to realize that you can do that too.

It may not be the same as the other person but I’ve noticed that for myself for sure that as I’ve seen that in you and other people, it’s just different things, confidence, whatever it might be that “Gosh, you know what, I could step into my confidence too.” And I think that what you’re saying about being in a community like that in an environment where somebody would be willing to push you and challenge you most certainly I can see how that would help the actual leader that’s involved and that put themselves in that position that they would then get some of those attributes for themselves as well where it awaken those in them.

Laurie: Yes, exactly! I think we all have people in our lives that support us in the traditional sense of love and celebrate who we are and what we do. But the rare jewels are those that are willing to tell us what other people either can’t see or unwilling to say. Those of them are the most meaningful relationships in my life in helping shape my voice in a way that nothing else could of those ones that are really willing to say the hard things and stand with us through that.

Andrea: And you know when someone is in a position of leadership, which I know that you’re working with people who are in positions of leadership, when they’re in that position, it’s very uncommon for other people to feel like they can or want to or want to risk that idea of challenging that leader in any sort of way. I can see how that would be incredibly valuable for that person to find it outside of their normal environment. I guess, by coming to a group like yours or the sort of community that you seem to be talking about.

Laurie: Exactly. I have two distinct programs right now and that’s really the sole purpose that were gathered together to be a group for women, women rising above the lies that limits us and helping us overcome those things that are holding us back from speaking and being our true authentic self and being willing to challenge one another in that. And a group for company leaders called Catalyst where again it’s a community thing. But what I wanted to share just for a bit though is about the process.

I love how you said “we have to give ourselves permission to kind of go there with people.” And I think giving myself permission to really embrace my role as challenger took a while. That was months in the making. It just becomes really clear in the last year. It’s been unfolding over the past year actually of realizing I’d always seen myself and this relates to what I shared a few minutes ago about the traditional way where we understand support.

I’ve always seen myself as the cheerleader and this natural encourager that came so easily for me and people really seem to appreciate and be inspired by how I could really instill belief in them through the encouraging words that just very effortless for me to give but very sincere and genuine. But when I began to recognize that there was a deeper part of me that was waiting to be discovered in this challenge or piece, it felt very unsafe initially.

And I really had to wrestle through “But I’ve always been a cheerleader” like I’m not sure if it’s okay for me to really stand in that place of what seemed to me, to conflict with celebrating and honoring who they were. So I’d always limiting beliefs I had to work out which is true in most cases. That’s why I feel like I’ve gotten very good at identifying limiting beliefs in the people I work with because I’ve gone so much practice on myself. Being able to hear the ways by limiting beliefs and talking about the things that we’re believing either on the conscious or unconscious level, but how I define this are really beliefs that limit our present ability and restrict our future potential.

So this belief I had, “It’s not okay to be a challenger like I am cheerleader. I’m nice. I’m friendly. People call me smiley wherever I go and they have my whole life sort of thing.” This whole persona that I had wrapped around that but was not going to allow me to tap into this challenge or piece of me that’s really the challengers where my true voice of influence is.

Andrea: Oh Laurie that is really cool and I certainly see that. When you talk about a persona that’s the kind of thing that does not come down easily, a persona is something that you know we really construct around ourselves that is there for a reason and can often…I don’t know be really painful to let go of. Did you find that for yourself that it was hard to let go of the ones so that you could embrace the other?

Laurie: It took probably at least six months of working on myself and just a lot of reflection, a lot of writing and processing, and trying to figure out what always going within me. A lot of conversation with my peers and working with my coach, a lot of conversations and really examining how I was showing up in my life and what things indicated where limiting beliefs was hiding or holding me back. But what I realized in that was that I didn’t realize…I thought the smile was me and it is…hear me on that, it is. When I smile, it is sincere. It’s who I am. It’s the expression of my DNA and all that I am.

I didn’t realize how much I was hiding behind it as well that it was actually, yeah to some degree this a mask or this persona that there was deeper truths inside me. But because I felt I had to maintain this smiley demeanor because that was who I am, right? And that’s what people expected me to be that if not Laurie starts poking people from a place of love but still poking them in the sense of calling them to more and saying “I disagree with that. You’re making an excuse for yourself there. You’re lying to yourself. You’re putting below your means,” whatever that looks like.

Yeah, that took a lot of work, internal work I’m talking about to be able to say, you know it’s grounded in care when my voice comes from a stand of love and they can see my heart in that. I have the power. I have the authority. I have the commissioning, the call to speak into those things that my eyes have been gifted to see and call forth the things within them that they can’t see in themselves, to call out those limiting beliefs and help them discover the higher truth. To be able to identify those things and to create new life in them by challenging their perspective or their way of beings so that they can become more and who they’re designed to be.

When I began to see that my heart _____ in that of calling them to do their best and helping develop their potential, it doesn’t always look like nice. But I don’t think any of us want nice more than we want growth and to really sense that someone is willing to advocate for our best no matter what, that’s where the real value is. That’s what my clients experienced with me. They say that means more than anything else. That they don’t find that in other relationships in their lives because most people have too many insecurities to allow them to speak freely and directly and fiercely like that. But you got to hear me; it’s from the grounding of love that allows my true heart to come forth and for it to be able to be received in a place that others see as a gift not a threat.

Andrea: Yeah that’s like the surgeons’ merciful knife. It’s not malicious. It’s what the purpose of destroying of building up and yeah…

Laurie: Yeah, strengthening.

Andrea: And restoring yeah. That’s really refreshing to have somebody come in and say “Hold on a minute.

Laurie: Yes. I think we’re all starving for those voices in our lives whether we realize it or not and that’s why they were so meaningful when I begin to find a few challengers in my life to be able to really experience the value of that and that gave me the courage to really be able to take my stand and own that that’s what my voice says “I am the challenger.” And as terrifying as it felt at first, it feels so free now. I’ve never felt more at peace with myself and more powerful in the sense that this is my purpose.

Andrea: I’ve really appreciated our relationship. I feel like we should share a little bit about just the way that we have interacted a little bit because I think that it could be really beneficial to other people who are looking for other people that they could walk through this journey with. And while I think it’s really beneficial to have a coach, it’s also beneficial to have peers. And so how would you describe our relationship in the way that we have pursued this?

Laurie: You are a priceless gift to me, Andrea. You have brought so much value into my life by you being who you are and freely expressing and generously giving your gifts through our conversation has been really key to me sharpening my voice, my clarity, my stand that I wish that for everybody that they would be able to find a peer, a friend, a true support. And I believe it takes time because I’ve longed for a friendship like this for a long time and someone that could really get me and that could hold all of me.

And you’re big enough, you’re great enough, you’re grand enough and all of your power to be able to hold all of me because for all of these influencers here, man, we have a big call on our life, right? I believe everybody on the planet has unlimited potential but they’re not all accessing it. They’re not all engaging it. They’re not stepping forward in an intentional way to do something truly remarkable, globally remarkable for that matter.

But I believe that’s your thrive, Andrea. That’s the people you’re attracting of this incredible stellar global leaders and I would say, keep your eyes open and be persistent. I’ve had to try on several different relationships to explore and see what space that friendship would allow me to have and I think we all are aware that we have different levels of relationships, different flavors of relationships in our lives.

But for you and I, I think we’re we both come together anytime we’re in a conversation or in experience together. There’s just such mutual respect for one another, such clarity on the great things that are happening now and the bigger things that are to come. There’s not a sense of competition or comparison I think that can sabotage relationships very quickly, but just this expectation that both of us are creating our own unique journey. And it’s going to look so differently even though we’re called to such similar things.

The way it’s going play out, it’s going to be very unique and individualized to us being able to come together to celebrate that and to show each other what one of us can’t see. And being able to just provide both kind of equal measure encouragement and balance, I think that’s truly what makes the recipe for a very fruitful intentional friendship. And wow, being able to also stay consistently engaged with that that it not be something that we know is there but that we’re not intentionally continuing to nurture.

And as you and I tried to be as diligent with getting together and catching up and regrouping and speaking into one another on a regular basis because a lot of life happens in between a week or two or a month. And when we can lose sight on the intricacies of one another’s journey, we have less leveraged to really speak into them because we’re less aware of where they’re at. So yeah, I’ll pause here. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you too.

Andrea: Yeah, that was such a great description and I want to highlight one of the things that you said the comparison and competition thing because when we first…well, first of all you were the one that initiated the relationship, I would say that. And I think what other people, an influencer listening, what you probably should take away from this is # 1 – you start out with figuring out what you have to offer somebody else because Laurie came to me and she said she had the strengths training that she was going through and she wanted to invite me to participate to take the assessment and to do a little bit of coaching with that and I was like “OK we’ll let’s try that.” So I feel like we’re really kind of started to take the turn, don’t you Laurie?

Laurie: I do and can I go back a little bit further than that?

Andrea: Sure!

Laurie: Sometimes, we really have to be diligent to pursue the people that we want bring into our life and be in relationship with. I observed you speaking at one of the Mocks meeting a few years, can you hear me?

Andrea: Yes!

Laurie: Prior to that, the message you gave spoke to me. And I thought “I need to meet this woman. She speaks my language. We are deep. We are likeminded. I could just feel, even though I probably don’t have all those words in that moment, but I just knew like “Hmm, there’s some rich connection here.” But you had a lot going on in your life and it was a matter of trying to kind of figure out, “How could I initiate some sort of friendship or some level of connection here?”

And it really required me coming to you, kind of on your terms, I guess might be the easiest way to say it. But then in the right time and in the right season, it truly blossomed. So don’t lose heart along the way. If there’s people you’re drawn to that you really feel or to be voice in your life and critical to you developing your voice, don’t lose heart. Keep engaging and yeah, I love how you said figure out what you can offer them instead of wondering what it could bring to you.

Andrea: You know, I remember you’re using that way to describe how you come into me in my terms before. You actually said that to me one time and I was like “What?” You know, I didn’t know what to do with that but basically what that meant was and practically speaking was that you joined my small group, those small groups that I was leading. And in that sense, it was like an opportunity to start cultivating that relationship and then came that moment when you were ready to offer…we had a relationship there but it just wasn’t the same as you know up to the notch, a few notches.

Laurie: Yes that’s true.

Andrea: And really, you came and started speaking into my life at the time when I really desperately needed it because I was in a frustrated mood of being because I knew and I felt that I had more to offer. But I did not know how exactly I was supposed to do that so you brought strength to me at that time and opened my eyes. Maybe the way that I thought that I was maybe wasn’t exactly who I am.

And so just as you found your challenging voice, I found my kind of strategic voice in learning about the StrengthsFinder and what I had to offer and thinking that I was supposed to be mostly empathetic and mostly helping to develop people when I started to realize that “Oh, I actually really able to see the big picture and know which way to head next. That was life changing for me and it also helped release in me the idea and challenge that limiting belief in your words that I couldn’t write. I really didn’t think I could.

You helped call that out of me and I could see that “Oh gosh, you know what, I do have what it takes to make a decision, to make a decision about what I’m going to write about and how to formulate arguments and whatever. I just need the time and space in my head to get it done.” So that was huge for me. I mean, that was the very pivotal time for me and we just kept going and going and going and going and going.

And another thing that really hit me about that was when we were first talking about this “What are we called to?” “What am I called to?” “What are you called to?” “How are we different?” Became one of the questions that I was really interested in answering because I felt like our messages were so similar, but yet I knew that we didn’t need to be competing with one another. So in my head, I knew that but at the same time there’s that like “What do we do with the fact that we’re so similar. What do we do with that?”

And so for me, one of the greatest benefits since then has been to really kind of dissect who we are and see that “Gosh, Laurie is so good at this and I’m good at that.” And the way that this message that’s very similar inside of us is coming out of us has so much to do with who we are in our gifting, in our strengths, in our personalities and that sort of thing, in our experiences and what we’re drawn to. It’s actually coming out in very different forms but yet so similar at the core so that has been super helpful for me.

Laurie: So there again in context of relationship and support of others, we get clear on who we are.

Andrea: Yes. Yes, yes, yes! OK so also practically speaking, I mean we get together maybe once every two or four weeks, I would venture to say. And when we do get together, it’s not for an hour.

Laurie: Yeah, a minimum of three hours.

Andrea: Yeah. And really, I think this is interesting too. We don’t talk a whole lot about our day-to-day lives. We don’t talk a whole lot about our families. We’re really concentrated focus on our personal growth and development of our messages, our voices, and our business which I think is interesting.

Laurie: Yes. It’s not the surface level day-to-day grind stuff. Yeah, I don’t think we really give any attention to that honestly. It’s the deeper things because that’s the rare gift we can give one another. Most other people in our lives don’t want to or unable to relate at that level.

Andrea: Uh-hmm. I think there’s so much value in both of them. I think about different people in my life who… gosh, we have such a different kind of relationship and I love them. I love them all but this is the kind of thing that when it comes to developing your voice of influence, if you’re wanting to do that, this is one of those relationships that you need to be looking for and pursuing like Laurie said and really intentionally pursuing it.

Laurie: Yeah. You can’t wait for it to happen to you. You need to go and create it.

Andrea: Yeah, so true! Do you have any other suggestions for people that are listening for how they could pursue other avenues that would give them those relationships like maybe they have a friend like you and I kind of have this relationship. Maybe they have something like that or maybe they don’t, but what other kinds of ways can people cultivate, find that support, and challenge in their lives?

Laurie: I think you need to enroll whoever is in your life currently with the fact that you want to grow and giving other people access to speak into you. If it’s a sibling, a spouse whatever that looks like or a boss for that matter, but when you can first make yourself available to being open and willing to receive that then you’re giving them permission to be their voice and inviting that to come into your freely.

As we look at our relationships, people probably, I don’t know what percentage of time there actually, honestly reflecting and expressing what’s going on inside of them with us. But if we take away those barriers of “What are they gonna think? Are they gonna upset with me?” Whatever that looks like even friends in a marriage if you’re able to say to your spouse “You know what, will help you see where I’m falling short?” Or “Will help you see the blind spot of where I can’t see that I’m getting in my own way?”

I just had an amazing conversation with my husband last night about that of sharing something I was struggling with and he said, “I tried to tell you that last week but you didn’t hear it you know.” And I said “Stay with me on this.” Sometimes, it’s such a blind spot. We can’t see it and it doesn’t resonate initially. But he persisted. He helped the course and now a week later, I had this incredible revelation that I really needed to be able to move me forward in a bigger way instead of holding myself back.

And so his persistence and then me celebrating that and saying “Keep doing this,” like even if it doesn’t seem in a moment like I get it or that I appreciate it or that it resonates. I mean that. I mean that and now I could see it. So I think we open a great door of opportunity for us and them. We’re open and willing and inviting it from whoever that looks like. Did that kind of answer your question?

Andrea: That was great! I mean, I was really expecting you to say something about finding a coach but that was so wise advice. I love it! You know, it reminded me about what you said earlier that when you went to the John Maxwell event that initial one, you were journaling ahead of time because what you like to do is you like to journal beforehand and expect something significant to happen in your life.

Really, it’s that opening up of your heart, that opening up of your spirit to say, “I’m ready to receive whatever it is that you have to offer,” and that is super powerful. Gosh, I just think that it’s a great way to wrap up what we’ve been discussing here because when you are open to receiving the challenge that somebody else has to offer, you have no idea until you experience it.

Even though it feels so terrifying because it might rock you at the core in the end, like Laurie said, she is standing more confident and free in who she is now more than ever before because she continually put herself in that position. I’m experiencing that as well. Oh man, so good. Love that. So Laurie, where can the listeners find you?

Laurie: My domain name is my name and you can find me there. I am on Facebook as well. I have real joy realizing a great platform for my voice of influence in it’s infancy stage, but it still tons of fun, is making a monthly video where I share my latest class and insights of what’s growing and challenging me. But then I releases tools to be something significant that can challenge the growth in my email communities.

So you can go to my website and if you want to be a part of receiving those monthly videos, just enter your name and email address and I’ll include you in the emails that I sent out, the challenging messages _____ that would be appropriate. Yeah, I just want to celebrate and honor everybody on the line and be able to encourage you that in time you’ll find your voice. And it’s a lifelong process of developing it. I don’t think we ever end that quest. It continues to unfold and develop layers upon layers of more richness.

Andrea: Well, thank you Laurie for being here today. I will make sure that your website is in the show notes. You kind find those at or if you’re listening on iTunes, you should be able to just click right there in the show notes on iTunes. Remember that if you’re interested in continuing to listen to this podcast, please subscribe to wherever you listen to podcast. I also have an email list and you can subscribe there at

I just want to encourage you that wherever you can find community. I tell you, I listen to podcast when I first started getting excited about growing my voice of influence. And for the past two and a half or three years that has been one of the biggest blessings for me and challenging me too. So I just encourage you to keep making your voice matter more.



How to Facilitate Transformation in Students, Organizations and Teams

Episode 20 with Doug Walters

Douglas J. Walters has over 45 years of experience as an educator, administrator and consultant. Most recently, he is the president and founding partner of Transformation Specialists LP. Prior to that he served as a teacher & administrator for the Kanawha County Board of Education, adjunct professor at Marshall University, and Dean of Students at the University of Charleston and the College of the Marshall Islands. He is a widower, father of two sons and grandfather of four. Additionally he is an author of several journal articles & co-authored a book on civic engagement/deliberation and work in higher education.

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(approximate transcript)

“Students know when you care. Students know when you are sincere. Students know if you respect them and then they will rise to the occasion if they feel those three things are in place.”

Hey, hey! It’s Andrea and welcome to the Voice of Influence podcast. I am thrilled to be on the line with Doug Walters today. He is somebody that I’ve known ever since I was in high school actually. And he was an instructor at this program called the Summer Honors Program, which was a local academic camp that I participated in and actually the place where I met my husband. So I had Doug for an instructor one year and just really enjoyed it in him and appreciated him. He did it for so many years at that program. It’s a really special thing so we’ll probably talk a little bit about that.


Andrea: But Doug, thank you so much for being here on the Voice of Influence podcast.

Doug: Well, thank you very much Andrea. I’m very glad to be with you today.

Andrea: So Doug, maybe we should start by telling the listeners just a little bit about SHP, the Summer Honors Program.

Doug: I’ll be very happy to.   Well, the program, Andrea, started in 1978 as an outgrowth of trying to provide academic stimulation for students in Nebraska especially South Central Nebraska. And I was very fortunate to have a friend of a friend who recommended me to be one of the instructors in this very intensive two-week program in 1978.

Andrea: And you weren’t living in Nebraska?

Doug: No, no. At that time in _____, at this point live in Charleston, West Virginia. So the program has grown in most tremendously over the last 40 years. In fact the summer program ended almost toward the end of June and the program celebrated its 40th anniversary, and I have been fortunate enough that my schedule and work life and family life was able to be there 33 out of the 40 years.

Andrea: Which is amazing, so you have seen a lot of life in Nebraska at this Summer Honors Program and how it changed and how students have changed over the years and all that sort of thing, which I do want to ask you about but maybe not quite yet.

Doug: OK

Andrea: So what was your role at Summer Honors Program because you retired this year is that right?

Doug: Yeah, I felt that it was time for me to sort of hang up my boots so to speak so that I will give other instructors the opportunity. I taught the social sciences, Andrea. Basically, _____ have to do primary and secondary research and the one thing that I had the great luxury with was that I was able to take and explore the various social sciences. So one year, it may focus on sociology, the next year it could have been psychology. Many times, it was on history whether it was a regional or American or world history. So I had a platform that afforded me great variety over the years. It’s a very tight as you well know having been a student in the process, a very tight two weeks of intensive academic focus.

The students are nominated and then they take entry exams to be admitted to the program. In fact, there are 10 academic areas in the entire SHP process. The number of students that I had in the program varies between about 10 to 14, which was perfect for small group discussion but yet doing teamwork. And so I was able to do that with great success in working with these wonderful, mostly rural, bright, articulate, and talented high school students. And for example this year, I focused on psychology and I like to get into that a little bit more later on in our discussion but one of the keys of the program was a very intense structure that I had students seven and half hours a day.

And for any educators, especially high school teachers that are out there listening to the podcast, you know that when we change classes every 45 to 55 minutes depending upon the type of schedule that the high school has, you have to start up and you have to _____ every day. And so once we get started in the program, we had a quality full seven to seven a half hours a day of concentrated work. So the contact hours are usually varied between 70 and 75 hours, and boy can you cover a lot of ground in that amount of time?

Andrea: And it’s so interesting because the students, and once they get there, it’s so fun. It’s a totally different kind of environment than school. I think when you pick out those kids that are really interested in digging into a topic for a while; I mean it’s a different environment.

Doug: Yes, and it’s very intense. It’s really interesting, as you well know, students could go multiple years but most students don’t go more than two years. But when you get of what we call rookie when she or he comes along and they see the amount of work that’s going to be done, they’re somewhat intimidated the first day or so. But once we get into the rhythm of the process, we found, and not just myself but over the last 40 years, all of the instructors just really developed fine academic opportunities for these students. And in many cases, we didn’t always stay in the classroom, lots of field research and lots of fieldtrips built into the entire program. And in fact, I think your brother-in-law, Chris, had the opportunity to go with me when I took a group of students to Brazil in 1999.

Andrea: Yes and why did you take them to Brazil?

Doug: Well, part of life has been filled with a great deal of travel and it was the history and cultures around the world and I’ve been involved with an organization. We have about 40 years called the Partners of the Americas and West Virginia sister state is in a small state of Espiritu Santo, which is right north of Rio de Janeiro and we made arrangements. These students were my class for two years. We made a two-year commitment and so I was able, along with another teacher and the two of us, took them down for two full weeks and it was one of the best experiences I think I ever had and I think with students also did that.

Andrea: Wow that’s amazing. I mean, it really is amazing to think of taking students to another country for two whole weeks but you also did a lot of prep work the year before so that was just a deep kind of work, deep experience that I’m sure it’s just had life changing results.

Doug: Yeah, I think so. I mean, any time that I’ve ever travelled internationally with students which has been a number of times, I have found that once they had that kind of educational experience and had interactions with people from a different culture, it really changes who they are to their very core. And I’ve had lots of follow up with some of the students that was in that class in 1998 and 1999 and they would tell me that it still remains one of the highlights of their lives.

Andrea: Oh yeah, I’m sure. Well, I would say that the Summer Honors Program for me even though I never travelled anywhere, I was there four years, and man, it had a significant impact on me. Maybe part of that had to do with just the idea that you could, first of all, be around people who are also interested in going deep into one particular topic. Aaron and I very lovingly call it “nerd camp” and then you go to this place where there’s a lot of other people that are interested in digging in like you, and all of sudden it’s just fun. There was a lot less concern about popularity and that sort of thing. I mean I say fun even though it was a lot work but it felt like fun work because it’s not the same as just kind of memorization things like that.

Doug: Right. You know, one of my personal educational philosophies is what I call, making sure the students have an opportunity to do what I call enhanced hands-on learning. And because all of these was in many cases primary research, for example one year we did an analysis of all the elections trends in Nebraska over a hundred year period. And we took students into different county courthouses and back to the primary _____ records of people in different communities and looked at through the analysis that was obviously not in the classroom. And keep in mind, Andrea, most of the time that this program has been in place at least 30 of 40 years and was without internet, was without computers. And so the methodology that is used in the program has really changed over the last 40 summers.

Andrea: You know that leads me to one of the questions that came up when I asked, we have a Summer Honors Program alumni group and I just let those people know that I was interviewing you and I asked them if they had any questions, and one of the questions that came up was how do you, over the years, structures, restructures know what to keep and what to change? So obviously, the internet had something to do with that. Have the students changed over the years?

Doug: That’s a really good question because one of the things that happened over 40 years is that the students have not changed in the sense of the quality of their ability to work hard, good work ethic, interested in learning, and fascinated by new possibilities. There has been that consistency throughout the entire program. You know, in taking back, Andrea, over the 40 summers, I don’t think there was any dramatic change other than in technology equipment that came along for some of the classes for example in the summer of 1978, there would never had an opportunity for a class in filmmaking taken place because the technology in a portable way wouldn’t allow that.

And so one, students haven’t changed. Their interests are much broader than they were 40 years ago and I think that is the because of the increase of various types of technology and media. I have found that students, first of all they want to be there. It was a competitive process and they’re interested in the subject matter in which they found themselves whether it’s in creative writing or if it’s in science or geology you know whatever happens to be. So you don’t have to worry about motivating the students and so that is a tremendous help.

One of the things that I learned very early on was that their appetite for new knowledge, new range, new strategies, new methodologies for learning just right up over this entire time period. I have found that they’ve great flexibility in the way that you approach teaching class, for example, in this year’s class, after the first year in the program teaching, I learned very, very quickly that I had to be over prepared because the very first year I was there, I thought I had enough materials to teach for two solid weeks and by Wednesday of the first week, I was out of materials.

Andrea: Oh that’s hilarious!

Doug: And so I would rush home every night no matter where I was, I would rush home, prepare research keeping in mind no internet. And so after that, I’m always being over prepared and in many times, they even push the limits under that sort of circumstances because we’re talking about such a bright young group of young men and women. And then the other thing that did change was their awareness when they came into the class of the world around them was much more propelled and deep today than it was in the 80s, simply impulsive than exposed in ways that you know students and myself included who were not exposed to in the early days of the program.

Andrea: It’s really interesting. It’s sounding to me like a lot of time you hear this “kids these days” kind of comment about the younger generation and I’m not hearing that from you at all.

Doug: No, you will never find me saying that. First of all, students know when you care. Students know when you are sincere, students know if you respect them. And if you have those three elements introduced from the very beginning of the class, and I’m talking not just in this particular program but I think it’s still true today in most high schools for all students, and then they will rise to the occasion if they feel those three things are in place. And I never doubted anytime in my teaching in Nebraska that there was ever a student that didn’t want to be there.

Now that’s not to say that once you get to know the students especially about the second week, you can tell if something happened the day before and they were not on focus. And then because the program is so all encompassing with emotional and counseling support, we were able to do some interventions over the years with some students that would have fallen through the cracks had it been a regular academic year.

Andrea: And it’s a special place, there’s no doubt about it and they’re going to miss you I’m sure. So Doug, I’m curious about what you’re doing now and how you got to where you’re at now like what is the story arc of Doug’s career?

Doug: Well, if someone had told me that when I started teaching in 1965 that I would have walked of the hallowed halls of academia from K through doctoral programs or that I would be working in the corporate world as a leadership coach, I _____ crazy. And so I have been blessed, Andrea, with my path being fairly clear through most of my life and I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve had opportunities that afforded me some diversion from what my original academic career would have been. I think teaching is a noble profession and everything aside in my life that I’ve done from a professional standpoint, the place where I have gotten the greatest joy and the greatest amount of satisfaction has been in teaching and I’ve had at all levels that you can teach in. And I’ve been blessed with students that were receptive.

But along the way, I was a classroom teacher then I was a school administrator for a number of years, and along the way embedded in that and even when I was in the administration, I was teaching in higher ed as an adjunct professor and then lead me to the central office at a large school system here in West Virginia where I was working with teachers as well as students in making sure that they were prepared for the test of the day. I retired early because I had an opportunity to become a dean of students at the University of Charleston here in West Virginia.

It was an unusual set of circumstances that I was called, I was still a fulltime employee and the president of the university at that time said, “We need you here at your alma mater to help us move forward.” I said “OK let’s talk.” And so I made the decision and it was a very difficult decision because I love my job, what I was doing. I had great opportunities at that particular point and I was a dean at two colleges or universities over a period of a little over 10 years. One at the University of Charleston, which was an immense joy in my life and once again, I got to work directly with students but in a different way of leading and teaching.

Andrea: I’m curious, you said that they called you and said we need you, why you think and why did they say that they needed you? What did you have to bring to that situation whatever it was that they would call you?

Doug: Well, it’s very interesting about my professional career and to some degree in my personal life. I’ve always been the person that had the skills set, God-given skill set to be able to bring people together to have conversations. And so therefore, they felt that they needed someone on campus that was going to help them grow and become a residential university and also to expand the university. It got themselves into a little bit I guess trouble with the community because the university wants to expand into the neighborhood and the neighborhood thought that they were being encroached upon.

And so the president called me and said “Can you help us do this?” And so I did. I came onboard. The community protested did not want anybody to build the change in campus. They wanted to keep it the same, but we also knew that we had to build new residence halls and we’re going to expand student body and become residential.

So over a period of about nine months, I have literally, and this is no exaggeration, sat in the living room, the kitchen, or the patio of every home that bordered the university. It took me six months to do that along with everything else that I had responsibility for. So I started in September to May, at the end of the academic year, I got the approval of the neighbors, the zoning board, and the city council and there were no negative votes.

Andrea: Wow!

Doug: I don’t want to be prideful here but I’ve always been able to get people to talk and to listen and to present both sides. And so that has followed me throughout my life, not only in that city but also when I was the dean of students in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific for a couple of years, and able to do that with some organizations in which I’ve been part of the leadership. So it’s been a very interesting journey because I had that reputation and so I was able to do that and I feel very happy about that.

Andrea: I don’t think that’s prideful at all, I think it’s being able to own who you are and communicate that clearly, and obviously, it’s a gift that you have that you’ve been able to give others. And when they know what that is then they can utilize that gift of yours and I’m really interested in this because this is the Voice of Influence podcast, right?

Doug: Right.

Andrea: This is about voice. It’s about how we communicate and what is unique about our style of communication even that makes us fit for certain things. So the fact that they looked to you for that, it just makes so much sense. You know, you took the Fascinate Assessment which I invite guests to take and it’s just an indication of what your voice is and how to categorize the way that you communicate. You came out Innovation and Alert and I know that Passion applied for you as well because passion is about relationships, so obviously that makes sense.

But then Innovation being willing to take risks and see your way around obstacles and then Alert, you know, crossing every t and dotting the i’s making sure I guess it’s preventing problems with care. And so it makes so much sense that you would be the perfect person to come in and make sure that every single one of those, you know, to sit down everyone of those porches and have these conversations and make sure that there were no ‘no’ votes. I love it. It’s brilliant!

Doug: And one of the things if I may take that as a point, I helped co-author a book several years ago about the concept of deliberation in higher education along with a few other people. And I want to talk with you about one of the things that I’ve learned in that journey working, being innovative and thinking outside the box and yes I am a risk taker. I was not surprised by the results of the Fascinate, so one of the things that I feel very passionate about is the whole concept of deliberation and civic discourse conversations.

You know, it has a variety of names and one of the things that I’ve championed in my life and work especially now in my business, Transformation Specialist, working and coaching the CEO’s, leaders across a broad spectrum in education, in government, and in business in the nonprofit world and there are four things that I think make influence more powerful if you will, Andrea.

Andrea: Oh please that’d be great!

Doug: I called these the 4Ps of Leadership. The first P is called Plants. Basically, plant the idea, the seed and you had to tend to it and nurture it as needed. In other words in the context of learning in the classroom or working with the leader whose organization is in a little bit of trouble, you can’t plant something if you don’t tend to it and you don’t nurture it. And so that’s what many leaders do I think across the whole spectrum of leadership, not only in this culture because I’ve worked in the number of countries overseas and this is true there also, so the first P is Plant. The second P is Process. You’ve got to work to process of the idea giving it time.

I have found that in the corporate world in particular, you have leaders that understand process that they don’t give it time to sort of rise. If you’re making biscuits, we have to let the dough rise before you cut them and put them in the oven. So you’ve got plants and you’ve got process. The third P is what I call, you got to tamper your leadership with Patience as the idea, the seed takes root and develop. If you don’t have patience as a leader your influence either never there or it wanes overtime.

So we’ve got Plants, Process, Patience and then fourth one which for me is the easiest because of the kind of personality and style I have and that is you’ve got to model Personal Relationship for those responsible for developing implementing the new idea in seed. So it goes back to what we were saying at the beginning of the podcast and that is when a student knows the teacher respects them, the teacher likes them, the teachers respects them that personal process is there. These are my 4P’s and so when I’m coaching and working, this is one of the things that I talk with people about.

Andrea: Oh yeah that’s really good stuff. Is that in this book that you helped to co-author?

Doug: Yes.

Andrea: And what is the name of that book?

Doug: The name of the book is called, Deliberation and the Work of Higher Education. We wrote this book with a wonderful research foundation called the Kettering Foundation out of Dayton, Ohio and it has a 2008 date. You can call the Kettering Foundation.

Andrea: Well, I will. If there’s a link to that, I will definitely link that in the show notes so that people can go get that. Yeah, those 4P’s, I mean this idea of having good conversations that could result in change, it’s a hard thing to accomplish but we need people like you out there facilitating these conversations and helping us dialogue so that we can move forward together. So I’m just really glad that you’re out there talking about this sort of thing.

Doug: Well, I appreciate that. It’s been one of the mainstays, you know, I didn’t formalize the 4P’s until we started writing the book. It has become a cornerstone of my consulting work and it also God’s have taught also.

Andrea: Yeah. The deep need that people have to know that you care and that you’re sincere and that you respect them, I mean that just opens up hearts to be able to receive whatever it is that you’re wanting to offer.

Doug: Yes, very much so, very much so.

Andrea: So let’s say, you’re in the middle of talking about your work as a dean of students to a couple of universities and then where did you go from there?

Doug: Well, I retired the second time. I have formally retired twice. I thought, I would do some traveling and just relax with my family. I was beginning to have grandchildren and three months into the process, I knew I was going to serve. I lost my wife to breast cancer during this period and I know myself well enough that I had to have a goal. I had to have something that I did each day and so to that extent, I said I can do this. Then I had a couple of friends and I said to them, “You know, let’s see if anybody wants us.”

And so what we were able to do was we formed this company called Transformation Specialists, LP so about 10 years I live and doing consulting work. The other individuals have all fulltime jobs and do their own thing and I’m sort of like have the mobility to go out. So we work in higher ed. We work for profit business. We work with nonprofit business and we’d never advertise one time, Andrea. It’s all been word of mouth and so at any one time, we can manage the complexity of maybe four to six clients and then at the same time, I went back to the University of Charleston and helped teach in their MBA program.

Andrea: With Transformation Specialists, do you have a stated mission?

Doug: Yeah, it’s a very simple phrase. It says strengths-based strategies for success. And so we take the positive approach to working with an organization. We go in and we do lots of analysis. Usually, we start off with what is called an OHA, (Organizational, Health, Appraisal, or Audit) to find out what they’re successful with and then any challenges that may exist within the organization. And so over the last almost 10 years, we gone in and worked with organizations. We’ve had you know we’re with them for six months but we’d have some clients that we’ve been with for five years.

Andrea: OK, so your organizational health analysis and then you help them move toward organizational health?

Doug: Yes. What we do is go in and we do analysis of their services or products. We go in and look at efficiencies. We look at the landscape of the actual physical layout of the facilities. We’ve worked with some organizations that have multiple facilities and so we go in and we start off with the leadership team of determining of their social styles. We’ve got some instruments that we use to look at what are their strengths. And so we always approach it upfront not from the deficit standpoint but from a strengths standpoint because most organizations you’ll find, you know what’s wrong with you, let’s take it to the doctor and give you a physical from that standpoint and so we do the reverse of that. It’s almost like a preventive care management program if our medical world looks like that.

Andrea: Uh-hmm kind of positive psychology starting with strengths instead of weaknesses.

Doug: Yeah.

Andrea: And so do you use the StrengthsFinder in your…

Doug: Yes. It’s one of the best we use. We also use David Merrill Social Styles. We also use Maslach Burnout Inventory. One of the things that we have found in many, many case is that the individuals’ maybe burnout and sometimes we’ve gone into organizations and of course, we can only make recommendations. If the organization is not willing to listen to us, we make a very quick decision and we exit almost within the first three to five weeks of working with an organization and that’s only happen to us in all these years twice.

Andrea: How can you tell?

Doug: Well, when they don’t take your suggestions and your observations and there’s always a “but you don’t understand” or “but” this calls that to take place. And so it all starts with the CEO and the management team of the organization. So what we do is that we absolutely make sure that everybody in leadership capacity and down one or two tiers in management know what their strengths are, know what their social styles is.

And so what happens is we have found that if you have an organization, let’s be hypothetical here, let’s say an organization has six managers and four people that are the CEOs, COOs and CFOs and if all of them are drivers, guess what happens? They’ll kill each other and there are arguments. They don’t get along. They can’t figure out what it is if they’re all analytical. They’re always seeking to have more data, more information before any decisions are made.

So once we identify and everybody knows everybody else’s style and their strengths, you don’t have that. In fact, we got into an organization where we post them at the entrance, and their office or their cubicle. And so you would find out very quickly that I am for example and I’m using David Merrill’s work, I am an expressive which you probably would understand that. It is you know an expressive, someone who’s intuitive, thinks outside the box, and rebels a little bit and how you consider that and how you consider this.

And if you know, you got all four quadrants and all the potential strengths out of StrengthsFinders in your organization, you can then have a balance of leadership team creating and awareness of why you don’t necessarily get along with someone would be a driver may not get along with an analytical because the driver wants to process and get things done rather quickly. Analytical doesn’t want to do that. They always want more information or data and so we massage that and work with that. As I said, we have worked with and had great opportunities even in the corporate world and of course that was an interesting experience, transitional experience for us and that sometimes the table is not necessarily set the same way as it is in education in particular. Of course you know my foundation or work is from there.

And so what happens overtime is that we find out what your strengths are and how to balance that and we’ve got several organizations to make it part of their HR process. If for example you’re looking for and you’ve got five divisions in your organization and they’re all going really well, your division head retires or moves on to another position and you want to maintain balance in the style, in strengths of that person, you then look at that as a deciding factor if everything else is equal.

Andrea: So how do we fit together and finding the right fit.

Doug: How we fit together and then because going back to the whole concept of influence is that this absolutely helps influence the direction of the organization and we have found that we can make you healthy and we have found out overtime, in fact one of my co-boards in this a gentleman by the name of Anthony J. Marchese, PhD. and he has just written a book that I used in the program in SHP this summer and it’s called Design.

It is a book that plays upon our experiences and help how it really works because the full title of the book is called Design: An Owner’s Manual for Learning, Living, and Leading with Purpose. And so we have found that we each have a unique design and so we use that to create awareness, and I was able to do that this summer I think fairly successfully with students that I had in my class in Nebraska.

Andrea: So that awareness that were uniquely designed and even I assume finding out what that is, what that design is, what is that awareness do for people in your opinion or in your experience?

Doug: Well, I mean it’s really truly and Aha moment because of course the book was written not with high school students in mind to tell you the truth. It was written for the college level and people in career work of whatever level of the field that happen to be. And so what I wanted to see if it was applicable to high school students. And guess what, Andrea that it sure was and it was one of the great a-ha moments of my 40+ years in Nebraska. It was just absolutely wonderful and I’m still hearing from the students saying that “This has changed my life.” And I don’t think that there’s anything more rewarding for a teacher than to have a student say that to you.

Andrea: Why do you think they said that?

Doug: Well you know because we go back to how much time we were able to spend together?

Andrea: Yeah.

Doug: So we had the luxury of time in dissecting this book and doing exercises in different strategies and processes in the two weeks that allowed them to look at things. For example, one of the things that we talked about is the whole concept of wonder. The literature is very specific about wonder. We lose it generally by the ages of 10 to 11. And so when I presented the very first series of exercises which dealt with wonder, they all looked at me and said “What do you mean wonder?” I mean, they know what it meant and I said what would those things that absolutely excited you when you were 4 years old or 7 or 9 years old? And they had to do some thinking about it.

But eventually, remember the 4P’s, you know, it’s about process and patience and so what happened was there was almost like an acrobatic kind of exercise, catharsis for the students in which they said, “I did lose it. I didn’t do this. I don’t do that any longer.” So that was one thing that we did and then the other one was that the book talks about birthright gifts. We’re all born with birthright gifts but we have a tendency in our culture to play them down and when we get so old, at certain age and the book details some examples of that.

And I found out that with the 13 students that I had this summer, they fell into the same category. They had forgotten about some of their birthright gifts. Now I want you to listen to this. I had one wonderful young woman in the class and so in the introductory exercises we do the first morning at the first week, she said “Well, I speak four languages.” And I looked at her so did everybody else and she has self-taught herself; Ukrainian, German, Japanese, and she’s taking Spanish academically.

Andrea: Wow, besides speaking English?

Doug: Yeah, besides speaking English. I was stupefied. It was one of the few moments in working these students that it sort of made me stop and pause that “Oh wow, I couldn’t do that.” And so she discovered that she has the birthright gift of linguistics but no one had ever actually talked to her about that and so we did some research on that for her.

Andrea: That’s awesome! That’s a good stuff. Yeah, you know, I mean I just resonate with so much of what you’re talking about and I got a chance to look at the book last night and get a really good feel for it and I loved it. I love Design that book and the things that you’re talking about. I think that that something that really drives me as well is that the desire to see people to instead of trying to figure out where they fit in, figure out how they fit together.

Doug: Right.

Andrea: I think even for myself when I was younger for sure, there’s this tension inside of younger people I think especially between trying to figure out if it’s okay to be who they are and yet wanting everybody to be like them. And so it’s hard for them to know to be able to respect the fact that somebody else is different and that’s okay and there’s a good way that we can fit together and you know that whole concept is so important in our formation of our purpose and our identity and understanding how that _____ in our lives and how we can turn that into something that comes out as a voice and then it make a difference, a voice of influence. So man, I just love all of this. I love what you’re doing. And is there anything else that you had thought about ahead of time that you want to mention today.

Doug: Well, I just think that in closing from standpoint, I believe all of us have a capacity to continue to grow and to learn. You know, culture has a way of sometimes limiting what we can do because they say, “By this age you should have done that. You stop studying, go get a job have a family and live happily ever after.” And I think that we live, Andrea, an era in which learning now and opportunities for learning is at its richest point in the history of mankind. And I believe that if we can figure out ways of capturing that and redesigning our public schools to include some of the kinds of things that we have talked about today we can really make some changes; I believe that this is going to make a huge difference.

I will tell you what I’m getting ready to do this fall, I’m working with the school system in which they listened to me, and we’ve been working on this process for several years and they finally agreed for us to go into a school system with two high schools and three middle schools to begin to introduce the concept of understanding self in design as part of the regular curriculum. And so we’ve committed ourselves to a five years research study to be able to do this in the school system and so I will start training the core group of 24 teachers in these three high schools and three middle schools.

And so we’re identifying six teachers at each of those schools to be trained in knowing about strengths, about social styles, a little basic kinds of skill set to identify issues that may impact learning in the classroom. And we’re going to start off with a control group about 90 students and follow them and see if we’ll not only can improve their ability to learn but also enhancing decrease the dropout rate because the school system is in an area of West Virginia in which they opened it unfortunately epidemic and crisis is hitting hard and it’s in the cow fields. And we believe that we can make a change in those kinds of cultural settings that we can do it any place in the country.

Andrea: That’s so exciting! Those students are just so blessed that they’re going to get to be part of that.

Doug: I hope so.

Andrea: Yeah. Before you go, I do have one more question for you. This one really comes from one of your fellow instructors at the Summer Honors Program.

Doug: Okay.

Andrea: And I love this question and this is a great way to end I think. Doug, you have the most wonderful character, kind, out-of-you-way polite, humorous, generous, appreciative, and toughest nails when it comes to discipline and work, how much of your well recognized leadership skills would you attribute to character and how much to formal education?

Doug: Wow! I mean that is an unbelievably structured question and I appreciate the thoughts behind that. I believe that if you have a centered family, your character evolves in the first five to eight years of your life and if you have firm grounding principled parents and the family as a whole is nurturing and respectful of you that is somewhat like one of the cornerstones or part of the foundation of your potential as a human being.

One of the things that I believe, and I had to work at this because early on in my life, I was undisciplined in the sense that I wanted to be a little bit of everything for everybody. And I had to step back and figure out where do your strengths lie and this was long before StrengthsFinder or even some of the positive psychology research in the last 25 years and I said to myself “I’ve got to figure this out.” And so I was able to do that because I had strong support initially from my immediate growing up family and then I had it with my wife, my beautiful, wonderful Barbara.

And so, our marriage was a partnership and therefore we approach raising our sons in a partnership. And so we continued to do that but we had very, very high expectations of our boys and I’m proud to say that they’ve done very, very well and I’m just unbelievably blessed to have that. So I think you know, basically as combination of continued learning, I still was taking, Andrea, formal classes until three years ago and I’m 73. I started grade school when I was 5 and so I basically was in some kind of a formal or informal learning mode for 65 years of my life up until that point.

But you got to have people that believe in you also and if you got someone that believes in you and I think this goes by to the very first part of our conversation and that is the students know if you care for them and if your heart is there to help them do whatever they need to do and I think respect is part of it. But boy, they got to know that you have strong expectations.

Andrea: That’s a great way to end this conversation. Doug, thank you so much! Thank you for your voice of influence with students and on the world today and in organizations and for being here today on the podcast.

Doug: Well, thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure!

Andrea: Well, listeners, Influencers listening, you just got a lot of wisdom dropped on you and I’ll be definitely putting all the links to the things that Doug mentioned, the books that he mentioned and his own information in the show notes. I encourage you to go care, be sincere and respectful and make your voice matter more.



How to Keep it Real in Your Personal Brand

Voice Studio 19

In this Voice Studio episode, we go back and discuss why Andrea interviewed Naomi Loomis about branding cattle and how that relates to Personal Branding. It’s not what you think!

Mentioned in this episode:

What You See is What You Get: Ranching, Branding and Blogging

Episode 19 with Naomi Loomis of the Circle L Ranch

On this episode I speak with a rancher from the Sandhills of Nebraska about her experience with cattle branding and her passion to bridge the gap between the consumer and producers of food.

In her own words,
“Howdy I’m Naomi Loomis, from the Circle L Ranch.

I am an adopted farm girl that grew up in Wyoming. Right out of high school, I married a cowboy from the Sandhills of Nebraska. My husband Cody, I and our 4 children are making our life on our own family ranch raising beef cattle, Quarter Horses and a few ranch dogs.

My days are spent wrangling ranch children, ranch animals, driving kids to school, managing a feedstore, while maintaining my duties as a ranch wife, ranch mom, ranch hand, ranch rodeo producer and whatever else will fit in the cracks.”

Mentioned in this episode:

Play here (the red triangle below), on iTunes, Stitcher or TuneIn Radio (Amazon Alexa) or wherever you listen to podcasts.



(approximate transcript)

“It’s really important to me that we have a respectful dialogue. We’re talking about people and so whoever you’re talking about, remember that there is a person on the other side.”

Hey, hey! It’s Andrea and welcome to the Voice of Influence podcast. Today, I have Naomi Loomis on the line from the Circle L Ranch in Nebraska.

Andrea: Naomi, it is really good to have you here today!

Naomi: Yes, I am so excited! This is my first podcast, so listeners be a little bit heads up that maybe I’m not the best podcaster but I’m super excited that I’d get to be in a podcast. It’s something that I have been intrigued by. And Andrea you doing it, hats off to you, because I think it’s awesome and I think it’s another way that people are getting the word out and communicating with people, which communication is always a good thing. So yeah, I’m super excited. Excuse me if I’m a little bit nervous but I’m sure we’ll get through it.

Andrea: No worries, not at all. Well, Naomi, I’m excited to have you because a couple of weeks ago, I posted something on Facebook. I just said, if you have some idea about branding or you have some stories about branding cattle, ranchers, I’m really curious about this process and I kind of knew you already. So I kind of tagged you when they were thinking maybe you’re a good person to talk to and we ended up getting on the phone and talking about it.

And it was really eye-opening for me because you told me some things that I didn’t really realize then through that process, I was just like “Oh I’d really like to have Naomi just come on the podcast to explain this to listeners because I do think that there’s a lot of really interesting value in trying to understand what branding is for cattle versus what it is for human beings and that sort of thing.” And then also just the fact that you are a blogger, you have your own voice of influence in the world, so I am looking forward to hearing how that all started for you.

Naomi: OK!

Andrea: So Naomi, why don’t you just tell us first of all just what you do, a little bit about yourself and your family?

Naomi: Yeah, so have you taken that personality test that tells you know what color you are like yellow, blue, red, green right?

Andrea: Yeah.

Naomi: So I’m a yellow. So that means I don’t tell people “no,” right? So with that being said, I do a lot of things because I can’t say no, so obviously my husband and I have a ranch and we’re raising our four kids on this ranch. It’s a family ranch. It’s in the sandhills of Nebraska. We run mama cows. We run a little herd of quarter horses. We have our own studs so we breed some mares. It’s mostly for our own good but we love baby _____ you know training them whatever. A few dogs, some chickens, some goats, some frogs, some lizards anything in between, right?

So that’s a little bit about ranch life. So also, I think it’s good to know for the listeners that it’s about 50 miles one way into town for me and we have no internet at the house. So people are always like “Well, how do you blog without the internet at the house?” Yeah that’s challenging but I get it done. So my second home is a feed store in Bridgeport, Nebraska where I’ve raised the kids here. I got hired just out of college and the boss is very generous and let me bring the kids to work and so they’ve all grown up with the feed store. So it’s also convenient that the kids go to school in this town, so yeah. So I’m a feed store manager.

Andrea: And what is a feed store? I mean, let’s just assume that the listeners know nothing about the rancher.

Naomi: Sure! So I feed store is where farmers and ranchers come to buy mineral, salt, or protein. I sell dog food, cat food, and stuff for their animals so that’s what a feed store is. Our feed store is a little bit unique because I also sell tack for horses like saddles, bridles, and stuffs of that nature. I sell a little bit of women and men’s clothing. I sell boots, so yeah we’re kind of all around kind of a western kind of a store.

Andrea: And how big is Bridgeport?

Naomi: Oh my kids’ classes are like 16 to 17 kids. There are lots of restaurants and a couple of dollar stores and a couple of bars, I mean, that’s important, right? So that’s the feed store and then whenever I have a free moment, I also write for the Western States Ranch Rodeo Association and I’m also their association rep. So that keeps me on the rodeo trail going up and down the road attending those ranch rodeos and doing stuff like that.

Andrea: What do you write for them? What kinds of things are you writing?

Naomi: Yeah, I write for the Rodeo News, and it’s like all members or events spotlight or something like that. Mostly, it’s about the members like how they got involved in rodeo and 99.9 of them have been on the rodeo trails since they were in _____ and stuff like that so it’s interesting. I really like that part because it gives me out and about. I’ve gone a lot of places with that association and I like the rodeo. I like the history of rodeo, so it’s something that I’m passionate about. I also serve on the Fair Board. I’m the current president and have been for about 14 years of the Morrill County Fair Board.

Andrea: 14 years!

Naomi: It’s forever.

Andrea: That is forever.

Naomi: I also serve on our local cattlemen association board or FFA board. I know, I’m the president of our Morrill County Fair Foundation, so wherever there’s a craft, I’m a yellow. If you know anything about that personality thing, I’m totally a yellow.

Andrea: And you’re filling in the gaps.

Naomi: Oh yeah!

Andrea: Not just filling in the gaps though, it sounds like you’re heading up a lot of events or organizations that mean a lot to you.

Naomi: Right, absolutely. Somebody always asks me “Naomi, you’re so involved in so much stuff, how do you do it all?” When you’re so passionate about something then it makes life a lot easier and then you’re willing to go a lot further than I think if you’re not passionate about it. So ranch rodeo is something I feel like it’s a tradition. It’s been a tradition since before black and white photographs, right?

It’s a tradition with ranching families that in the old days they used to get together as like a neighborhood kind of like of branding, we haven’t talked about that, but I mean it’s a neighborhood gathering. They would get to get together. They would get their wild horses out and ride _____ then it decided they were going to make a competition about who could brand the calf the fastest or who could tie one down the fastest and so there you go into traditions.

It’s been going on generations to generations and it’s something that I want to keep going because I want my kids if they desire to have the opportunity, I want to make sure they have the opportunity. So those things like that I’m so involved in. It’s not just “Oh I have some extra time and I need to go volunteer,” right? It’s because I really do want to make a difference. I really do want to make sure that my kids have the opportunities that I did so it’s just one way to do it, I think.

Andrea: I don’t know, you’re really perpetuating your culture, your tribe if you will and you’re just making sure that the culture of your tribe really continues and sustains.

Naomi: Yeah, because really in all honesty, we can stand back and we can look at other people doing stuff and making a difference, but I really feel like if we’re able or if God gives us the chance, we need to make a difference. I guess that’s where I’m at. I hope to be doing it until I die. I hope God gives me enough energy but as I get older, I’m wondering but anyway, I’m still _____ so…

Andrea: I suppose you can always back off a little bit, but I don’t know, Aaron’s grandma is somebody who has always been like that I think and I think she’s still going strong. I just can’t believe how involved she’s still is. So Naomi when did you start blogging?

Naomi: I think I started a blog in 2009 and I didn’t really start making like saying “OK, this is something I really wanna do until about 2011.” And so then I really was like alright, I have made a couple of posts, and people that I put it out there were like “Man, we wanna hear more from you.” You know, our technology world whether as parents of teenage kids wants to believe it or not, right? It’s going faster than what you and me can keep up with so then getting away from the farm and the ranches and like where does your feed come from? These kids, nowadays, they just don’t know and is it the parents fault? Is it my fault?

You know, being a rancher, I don’t know whose fault it is but I think that there’s a lack of communication definitely between a consumer and somebody like me that does put food on your plate. And blogging was one way that I felt like “OK, I could make a difference at that time.” And so I really did kick it off with “Here’s our story, read it if you want to. If you don’t that’s OK. If it makes a difference in your life, I’m very happy about that and if it reaches one person that’s OK too.” And still I’m not trying to push anything down anybody’s throat. If there’s something that I can help somebody, absolutely that’s where I’m at.

Andrea: And what is your blog about then? So it’s about communication gap between producer and consumer?

Naomi: Yeah, so my blog has a lot. So I do a little bit of cooking recipes that I do really like to cook that’s like something that a lot of people don’t really know about me but I do like to cook. So I do add some recipes. I’m not the Pioneer Woman so I do not have a very good lighting in my kitchen or facility, so what you get is pretty well black and white _____ but that’s OK because it’s just food at the end of the day, right?

But I talk a lot about faith. I believe that we’re all here for a reason and we all can help each other out and so then I started doing something call A Sunday Thought, which is just a thought that I’ve had during the week and had to do with God and what we can do. I know I’m not the only one that struggles some weeks or I know that I’m not the only one that maybe didn’t get down on their knees today and prayed.

So I wanted to make sure that there’s other people that knew “OK, it’s alright like you’re not the only one.” So the Sunday Thought has been really good for me and has brought a lot of readers to the table. I’ll be quite honest with you, the last couple of weeks I have not had a Sunday Thought just because I have been so busy. But it’s not that I haven’t had them, it’s just that I just _____ down on paper.

And then the third part on my blog is about Our Family, about the kids. I do a little bit about marriage. You know, my husband and I, we got married when we’re 19 you know the kids thought that maybe I was pregnant or you’re too young or are you sure you want to do that? I mean, I heard it right but 19 years later, we’re still married and I still feel like “If you wanna get married at 19 and you know what you’re doing _____, ” and so I have a blog about that, I blog actually a lot about that.

I blog being adopted because I’m adopted and I feel like that that is tender to me or it’s dear to me and I really do appreciate adoptive parents and I try to get a word out with that. And of course about beef and the safety of it and just eat more beef. So my blog is probably not a traditional blog I would say, it’s kind of I want to be more of a friend. I want you all to know that I’m probably struggling, same struggles as everybody else. And if you walk into the feed store or you walk up on my ranch that the person that you read on the other side of the computer, you would know or it’s not fake. I don’t wear makeup. So that is my goal with that blog.

Andrea: It sounds like you’re wanting to connect with your audience, you’re wanting to offer yourself and your story and see how that might make a difference.

Naomi: Right, because at the end of the day, my business obviously is selling beef products, right? So I’m selling my calves that I know that they are going to be feeding families. And I think that that’s an important thing but I think we lose because there’s so many generations away from a farm or ranch that we’re losing like the real meaning of it. We’re real people too, right? You see so much crap on social media, right?

We’re back on social media but you see so much stuff about bad things that farms and ranches do and I promise you, we don’t do that. I don’t have enough energy to do that number one. I have way too big a heart to do it, number two. So it’s just a way of me trying to connect to some of those consumers that “Oh yeah, you know, I saw this blog and she told me a story about branding,” or “She talked about driving 50 miles one way to town and the struggles of that and oh well maybe life isn’t so bad and so whatever.” So I guess that’s my point with that.

Andrea: So Naomi, when I first talked to you a couple of weeks ago, I came too with a question about just what is that mean to brand cattle. I was actually just looking for stories because I had an idea of what it was in my head already but you took me to the process which is a little more helpful. And so just for the Influencer listening, the reason why I’m really interested in this is that first of all I live in the sandhills of Nebraska. I kind of on the edge of the sandhills of Nebraska but it’s part of my culture even I’m not completely in it.

I’m actually in a town and I don’t engage like I don’t go up to a ranch and I don’t know much about it. But my parents grew up on farms and we kind of always go to the family farm the day before Easter and so there’s some of that in my blog, but I don’t necessarily understand that all. I’m actually a pretty sensitive gal, so I don’t like squeezing bugs let alone seeing a rodeo. It’s just hard for me to be able to understand it.

So I need to engage with it in order to be able to really understand it and that’s the reason why I wanted to talk to Naomi about it and then also because branding. This idea of putting a brand on a product is basically the same thing as what we’re trying to do as somebody who has a personal brand. What is it looks like for me to have a brand and where did this idea of branding come from? So Naomi, would you tell us a little bit about what is the process of branding cattle?

Naomi: Yeah, so you’re right and you’re probably one of my favorite people or you are. I’m going to say you are, how’s that? Because you’re the person that I’m trying to reach because I want you to ask questions to me, right? If you don’t know then I want you to come say “Hey, I know you live on a ranch and I wanna know what happens from the time that a calf is born until the time that you ship them on a truck to a feedlot, like I want to know what do you do.”

And so I really do appreciate that you’re allowing me to answer these questions because it’s something that gives me goose bumps. In fact, I have goose bumps right now just talking about it because I’m so passionate about it and I’m so thankful that you asked questions because I don’t want anybody to assume what goes on, right?

Andrea: Right.

Naomi: So with that being said, branding is a special time on a ranch, it’s just really is. And I’ll tell you why because all ranches are different but for the Circle L, we start calving in mid March. So from mid March I’m going to say 45-60 days, we are and between school and work, right? Mostly my husband does it all and we do come in and fill the cracks at night but we’re making sure that every calf that is born from our mama calves is up and walking and has the best start that they can get.

And so it’s long hours especially as you know it’s like winter storms, it’s making sure that we plan and listen to the Weather and the Weather says “Oh we’re gonna have a storm,” moving those mama cows to somewhere. And I don’t know if your listeners know that the sandhills of Nebraska are so awesome because there’s just so many, we don’t call them mountains, we call them hills, but anyway they cut the wind and makes shelters for these cows.

And so we do a lot of stuff getting the cows prepared to have their babies. We don’t put them on barns but we make sure they have shelter enough that if they’re going to have a calf that when she has it, the calf can get up and get going. So it’s a long hours, it’s tedious, and it’s stressful. Mother’s Day for the last three years, we’ve had a huge winter storm come through and we have been up for like 48 hours, you know getting calves up and dry them all and making sure that they’re alright.

So with that being said, when it comes to branding season which is in the spring we are ready, I’m not going to say to party, but we are ready to get off the ranch and to talk to other human beings. The brand itself, for example ours is a Circle L Ranch, so it’s just a circle with an L in it. It’s something that when my husband and I got married, we decide that we were going to get a brand ourselves. And so it’s a process you have to make up your brand, send it to the state brand office and they will approve it or say “Nope, there’s too many brands like that.” So it’s actually a really unique brand. It’s really unique that your neighbors don’t have.

Andrea: Right, so it’s important to be really distinctive and different because you don’t want your cattle getting mixed up with somebody else’s and all that.

Naomi: Yeah and so the Circle L Ranch came when Cody and I got married. But Cody’s dad also had brands that he had got when he was married and then also with his grandparents. So brands are like passed on from generation to generation. I grew up in Wyoming and my mom and dad had a brand and we call it ______, and I still own that brand and it’s something that I don’t brand my cattle with but I’ll never ever let it die. I’ll never let somebody else have it because it’s a tradition. It’s something that it’s important to me. It has a lot of significant value to me.

And so just like brand like we want to brand on a blog or what brand on a product, it’s something that it’s so important. It’s almost always has a significant value to it. The Circle L Ranch brand is significant to us that I want to be able to pass on to my kids as well. And so my kids also have gotten brands passed on to them from the grandpas. So it’s not like we just go find iron with something on it and put on our calves. When you see a brand of yours or your kids or maybe great great grandpas, I mean it makes your heart beat “Oh yeah.”

Any branded thing that comes out, you know, when you see it you’re like “Oh yeah that is Dr. Pepper or M&M’s,” right? So it’s the same thing with cattle and so it’s a tradition and something it’s really important. And I think that we can put that together with our personal lives like our branding of our blogs or branding of our pages. Yeah, you’ll probably going to see Circle L watermark on almost all my photos because I’m proud of that photo. I’m proud of that picture. I’m proud of what in that picture and I want everybody to know that’s Circle L, and so no different than a calf brand.

I know you’re talking about branding, your product branding. Be proud of it, be proud of that branding that you have and be proud of the brand that you do. Don’t let anybody knock you down for something like that, just be proud of it. I always tell people whether they have a page on any social media. If you’re on social media and you’re showing photos, go get a watermark app and put a brand or something on your picture. Be proud of it like you’re living it and you’re posting it, be proud of it. I’ve talked to quite a few people, I’m like “You know, you should watermark that. You should be proud of that picture.” And so same thing, does that make sense?

Andrea: Yeah, yeah.

Naomi: So your tags, you know like earrings in a human being, they get lost or they fall off, you lose them, and you can’t find them. And so your tag on a calf or on a mama cow is the same thing. They rub them off, they fall off, or you lose them and so branding is another way on that mama cow that says “Hey, that’s a Circle L cow,” and she needs to go back to where she needs to go. So it makes life a lot easier when they have a Circle L on their hip or the neighbor’s brand so you know where they go.

Right now, it’s really up in the sandhills, the neighbors and us, we turned out bulls and things just happen. They get switched around, they come over. They come visiting, bulls comes visiting us. Our bulls go visiting other people; I mean it’s just how like it is. Even the bulls, bulls are like teenage kids, they don’t stay where you tell them to stay. They go wherever they want to go wherever the ladies are and so it’s really easy if you have a brand on your bulls like “Oh yeah that’s a Circle L bull and needs to go to back to the Circle L Ranch.” So it’s really important for us ranchers is that we have some form of identification on those calves or cows or bulls.

Andrea: OK so what is the actual process like the day of the branding, people come. It sounds like the neighbor invites you, invites other people as well. How many people are gathered for branding?

Naomi: It usually depends on the year and depends on what’s going on. I’ll just say like with our branding, I cook about 35 to 50 people so that’s about what’s in it. I know there’s some branding that might have a little more than that but a good crew you can knock, brand, and get it done before noon really fast. So that’s about it, I would say it averages about 40 to 50 people.

Andrea: But that’s quite a neighborhood party.

Naomi: Yes, absolutely! It’s usually is the best. Yeah, I encourage your readers to go look at the blog and look at the pictures because it seriously is one of the best. I mean, the kids are playing, the kids get to know their neighbor kids and they get to see and catch up on mom stories. You know, I’ve had such good conversations with the neighbors and felt like “Oh yeah, I can be human again.” You know, they’re going to same struggles with their teenage kids as I am with mine. I don’t know, it’s like no other.

And if anybody, I’m going throw it out to your listeners seriously, if anybody is like “I really want come to your branding and I want to know what it’s all about,” let me know because it’s my favorite time of the year. It’s something that’s so important. It’s important for all of us, consumers too maybe on the ranch like it’s super important.

Andrea: So what happens then, you cooked your food, people come over to your house and what goes on from there?

Naomi: So typical branding, they will start at anywhere between 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. Everybody comes, saddles their horses and we gather all the cows and the calves and we put them on the _____. Everybody is assigned a duty and some of these duties, remember we’re talking about like the code of ethics for branding, so there’s a code of ethics and whoever is branding that you are at, he is the boss, so the owner of the cattle.

So I’m going to talk about _____ so my husband’s name is Cody, and so when it’s branding day of our day, he is the boss. I would wait for him to tell me what to do and so do all the people around. He doesn’t tell me what to do because I’m the cook. But if I wasn’t his wife then I would wait for his direction to say “OK, Naomi, I need you to vaccinate the calves and here’s the syringe.”

And so everybody has a job. Everybody is given a job and it goes really smooth. It’s just a line of communication. The most important job is the brander and he’s the one that puts the brand on the calf and if you are asked to brand, you are pretty high _____. It’s always been that way. It’s a tradition and so that’s how that is. So you need a brander, you need to vaccinate and then you need wrestlers, because we got to wrestle the calves down and so that’s another. We need ropers that rope the calves so everybody has a job.

And then you get asked to trade off so you might rope for a while and then you might be asked to trade with somebody else to rope and you would wrestle or vaccinate or something like that. So after branding is done, when all the calves are branded and turned out then it’s time to eat. I don’t cook in the house. I cook out on the fire, so we always have steaks, and all the wives would send either salads or desserts. So it’s kind of like a bagel picnic and you sit around and chat. And you know I’ve known that we have left brandings till 3:00, 4:00, 5:00, or 10:00 o’clock at night just _____, just talking and letting the kids play. It’s a long day but it’s super fun.

Andrea: Yeah. Now, you also mentioned to me, we were talking about the actual branding process where the heat of the iron is really important, can you explain why it’s such a big deal that you get a brand right and the person that’s branding is the one that does it right and that sort of thing?

Naomi: So what we talked about too, you know, there’s so much controversial about branding or we’re hurting the animal or it’s crying. I’ve heard “Oh my goodness, the calves cry when you brand them.” Working with cattle, they cry when they’re uncomfortable so when you’re holding the calf down, it’s crying. You haven’t even touch it and it’s crying. So you know it’s kind of like changing a 1 ½ year old diaper that’s like rolling over and not sitting still and poop is going one way and you’re trying to clean their diaper and they’re screaming that’s seriously about like holding a calf.

So it’s uncomfortable to the kids. It’s uncomfortable to the calves because they’re like “Hey, we’ve never been touched and we don’t like it.” So that’s how I kind of tell people about calves. It’s kind of like seriously screaming to you. They don’t want to do with what you want them to do because they don’t want to sit still, right? I mean, why should they sit still when they could move. So same thing with calves and that’s why they cry. The branding iron is really hot and that’s why I said it’s the most important job because the person that puts the brand on my calf, I want to make sure that it is fast that’s it’s done right and it doesn’t hurt the calf.

And so the branding iron, the heated branding iron is really important because the hotter it is, the less time it takes to just put the brand on the hide and get off. If it’s not warm enough, it takes a long time; you have to sit it on the calf side. If you put it on too long then you burn the hide that we don’t want and so it is important. It’s like an art. It takes somebody that has done it a lot to do it but it’s not what people think it is for sure.

Andrea: And you said that the skin of the calf, you wait until the calf has a little bit thicker skin or thicker hide, can you explain that too?

Naomi: Sure. We wait for those calves that are older. They’re growing their skin and their growing their bodies, they’re growing everything. So it’s not a young calf that we’re talking about. We’re not talking about like we called calf; we’re talking about month’s old calves. Their skin is thick.

Andrea: You also mentioned that underneath of the hide is where it’s particularly sensitive and that’s why it’s so important that the branding iron is being really hot so you can get on and get off and it doesn’t actually sink in to that inner layer skin that might actually hurt the calf.

Naomi: Right. I don’t want to talk about that our skin is the same as calves because it’s not, but we have layers and so the calves. When you say like first degree burns, second degree burns, what they’re talking about is the layers of the skin that the burn has burned through and so it’s no different in a calf. So when we brand, you don’t want to go through the second layer of their skin and so that’s why we make sure that the branding iron is hot. We make sure that it’s hot and you do it fast so you don’t hit that layers skin. It’s uncomfortable to the calf but it’s more uncomfortable for the calves lying on their side with you holding them than it is with the brand.

Andrea: I think it’s really interesting and helps me like I mentioned before being somebody that’s kind of sensitive and empathetic, when I see that now, my brain can kind of kick in. My outer cortex can kind of kick and explain to that part of my brain that it’s not hurting the calf that this is what’s going on, like I can kind of understand it better and I don’t have to feel that tension like I would otherwise. So I really appreciate just being equipped with that knowledge.

Naomi: Yeah, because if you think about people, like I talked to a lady the other day and I don’t have my ears pierced so I do not know what it feels like at all, but I talked to a lady that had just done like their 3-month-old baby with ear piercing and I was like “Did she cry?” And she was like “Well, yeah, a little bit but not bad.” And that’s how I feel like that we have to think about our animals a little bit not that they’re a 3-month-old kid but I mean there’s not really difference when you’re doing with your kids.

I get to make a decision about what I do with my calves just like when you make decisions with your kids. And yeah she said “She was more upset that she had to sit down in a chair, you know like more subdued than she was that she got her ears pierced.” This is same thing with the baby calves, like they’re more upset that you’re holding on through them than you are that there’s something else going on like a brand on their rear. If you think about like “Oh yeah, I bet that I ______ my kid before and they had a tantrum,” same thing with the calf.

Andrea: Sure and then the brand itself you said something that’s really important to the ranch and it means something. Tell me what it means to you to know that your calf that has your brand on it and really that’s your product is being sent off and what is that means to you like what do you want it to say about you?

Naomi: Right. So we talked about branding as one of my favorite times of the year but the second part of ranching that’s my favorite time of the year is when I see the trucks roll up and I get to put our calves on the truck and everybody is like “Oh really Naomi, your calves are leaving you.” And I get it, they’re like teenagers that are going on and they’re so much bigger. There’s a bigger mission beyond the Circle L Ranch for my calves and so when the truck pulls up and I put them on the truck, I have to thank God for giving me the opportunity to raise a family. You know, they have a marriage that we all support something that is going to help the next person in line.

I know that when that calf hits to the next step of his life which is in the feedlot that I’ve done a job well done like all those long hours and all the sleepless nights. It’s a job well done to us. I know that I’m going to feed somebody. It’s a feeling that I can’t really explain because it’s giving me goose bumps but it really is something that’s like “Wow, we’ve lived through it and we’re ready to do it again.” So that happens in a fall so when those calves go to the feedlot, they’re about 500 pounds to 600 pounds. So the brand on them, you know, it’s a proud thing it’s like “Hey, those cattle came from the Circle L, and yeah here we go, they’re on to feed the world.”

Yeah, it’s so intense; it makes me feels so good. It’s a reward that I don’t know how to even explain it, maybe if you found a $100 bill and you were on your last penny and you’re like “Oh yeah, I found a $100 bill and God just knew and placed it there.” You know, when you get goose bumps like that that might be the feeling. I don’t know, it’s really hard. When you get butterflies in your stomach, it’s amazing. It really is. It’s something that you know your hard work really does pay off and you know “OK, well I really mean this for the right reasons.”

Andrea: It really sounds like it’s an experience of knowing that you’re connected to a bigger mission, to a bigger picture, or to a bigger story that you’re not only connected to it, but you’re providing something and that the work that you have done, the hard work that you’ve done matters.

Naomi: Yes, absolutely because you know, we’re in Corporate America, it’s really hard to not find a job that isn’t owned by a bigger company nowadays and that’s just how it is, right? And so sometimes, I think that people get lost in Corporate America like you know, I go to work every day and I drive the same route every day and I get home the same time every day and it’s just repetitive. And I wish those type of people really saw like there’s light at the end of the tunnel if you just look far.

So just like calving and branding and you know kicking them out to summer pastures and then bringing them in and sending them on the truck like that’s my reward for like “OK, you did a job well done,” and I’m very proud of that. I’m pretty sure my husband would say the exact same thing like “OK, I can see all my calves on the truck, there’s not one that’s sick, there’s not one that’s lame and they are on to bigger things.” So it’s a good thing. It’s a really good thing.

Andrea: Well, Naomi, this has really been interesting. It’s been fun to hear your passion and just to know that you’re contributing your voice to this conversation about where food come from and connecting us back to that, the roots of that and I think it’s an important conversation to have and like you said it’s important to ask the questions that make us uncomfortable and ask them of people who are actually in that position or much better for me to ask you who’s actually living on the ranch than go to some research paper and try to find the answers but to actually go and talk to a person is a big deal. Thank you for sharing your voice. And Naomi, where can people find your blog and where you’re at on social media?

Naomi: Oh man, my blog. I’m redoing my blog a little bit and so I just switched it over so I’m open for suggestions if there’s something on it. It’s probably because I’m not smart enough quite yet to figure out how to change the back of it.

Andrea: And you don’t have an internet at home so you’re just doing this when you’re in town.

Naomi: Yeah, I’ve been in town almost every night 10:00 or 11 o’clock at night. I have an hour to drive home working on the blog, but I want everybody to go visit and like “Hey, Naomi, nice blog, but maybe you should work on it a little bit harder.” But anyway, it’s so it’s new and I honestly just changed that like a week ago. So check it out.

Andrea: Yeah, I’ll link to it in the show notes.

Naomi: OK

Andrea: Yeah and where else are you on social media?

Naomi: OK, so I’m on Instagram, it’s faith_family_ranching. I’m on Twitter @loomis489. I don’t know _____ and then I’m on Facebook. The Circle L Ranch as well is on Facebook.

Andrea: Alright, we will definitely link to those in the show notes. If you’re wanting to be more connected to your food and to somebody who’s living that life, I think that Naomi is a great person to follow. As you can see and as she said at the beginning, as you can hear, what you see is what you get with Naomi. She is not trying to put on any kind of shoe, she’s just going to show you and tell you like it is. So I really appreciate it that about you, Naomi.

Naomi: Yes and I want to encourage everybody like honestly, put your phones down, go buy a piece of meat at the meat counter. If you have questions about your meat, if you have questions about the grain that you’re eating, I mean honestly don’t read your phone. Send me a message. I just want it to be black and white. I don’t want you to fear about what you’re eating and I don’t want you to fear about what you read. Put your phones down, call me up and I’ll leave you my phone number if you want because obviously I don’t get messages until the next morning when I drop down off the field and I get some internet.

Andrea: So they can call you anytime.

Naomi: You can call me anytime. I mean social media is a little bit sketchy but it’s not that I won’t respond and don’t think I’m being rude, it’s probably because I’m up the ranch where I don’t get internet. But honestly, I’m open. I mean, if you have a _____ problem, if you have question about your food, or if you have a faith question, I’m here. That’s just how it is.

Andrea: Love it! Thank you so much, Naomi!

Naomi: Thank you!

Andrea: This interview, this time with Naomi, I don’t know if nothing else, you know what it sounds like to hear somebody who’s just going to put it out there and say it like it is and you also don’t just go by your feelings when it comes to your food or when it comes to anything, when it comes to living your life. Dig underneath the surface; go to your research, especially if you’re going to put your voice out there in the world. Don’t say something that you can’t back up.

Go ahead and if you’re going to be speaking out against someone else or for something, make sure you go deeper, you dig deeper and know who you’re talking about and who you’re talking to. It’s really important to me that we have a respectful dialogue. We’re talking about people so whoever you’re talking about, remember that there’s a person on the other side.

So thank you so much and go make your voice matter more!





Two Attributes of Youth Every Influencer Should Cultivate in Themselves

Voice Studio 18

What can we learn from successful millennials to apply to our own dreams? In this Voice Studio episode, Andrea suggests two attributes that anyone can apply to clarify their purpose and solidify their determination.

Mentioned in this episode:
* Episode 18: Creating a Business that Frees People: Pacha Soap

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Listen by pushing the red play button below. You can also find the Voice of Influence podcast wherever you listen to podcasts – and if you can’t, please let me know and I’ll get it there! ( Thanks!

Play here (the red triangle below), on iTunes, Stitcher or TuneIn Radio (Amazon Alexa) or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Creating a Business That Frees People: Pacha Soap

Episode 18 with Andrew & Abi Vrbas

Andrew and Abi Vrbas are cofounders of Pacha Soap Co., a social business that creates delightful bath goods that do good. Together, their company and its customers are putting the solution in the hands of those most affected by WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene) issues and the cycle of poverty. Give-away bar soaps are made in the very communities that they help, using local ingredients and local talent. Nationals are trained to manually drill clean water wells, creating jobs for those in-country and providing much-needed clean water to hundreds of people per well.

Andrew is CEO and passionately drives the mission and vision of the company. Abi is Pacha’s former head designer and marketing/brand manager. Together, they take on the co-founder role to help spread the mission and build relationships with customers, retail partners and mission partners. In their free time they like to rollerblade and bike ride to the local snow cone shop, fix up their 1890 home, and watch The Office together.

Mentioned in this episode:

Play here (the red triangle below), on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn Radio (Amazon Alexa) or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Develop Your Voice of Influence, Volume 1

I’ve put together this special PDF of 15 tips and strategies for emerging thought leaders and message-driven creatives from experts interviewed on the Voice of Influence podcast. It’s a quick win that will encourage, inspire and equip you to make your voice matter more. Read up, listen in and make your voice matter more.

Download it here.


Hey, hey!  It’s Andrea and welcome to the Voice of Influence podcast.  Today, I’m excited to share with you Abi and Andrew Vrbas who are the owners and cofounders of Pacha Soap out of Hastings, Nebraska.  They have quite a story.  This is a business with a purpose.  And so Abi is with us right now and Andrew is going to jump on in a little while.

Andrea:  So Abi, it’s so good to have you here on the Voice of Influence podcast.

Abi:  Thank you so much, Andrea, it’s an honor to be asked and have this conversation with you.

Andrea:  Now, Abi, you and I met when you were back in college at Hastings College and we lived there and I remember having a couple of conversations in particular with you.  So it’s been really fun for me to watch you and Andrew from afar and see this company go from zero to hero, truthfully in a few years.  And so I would love for you to share with the person listening what exactly is Pacha Soap?  What do you do?

Abi:  Well, in a nugget, we create engaging bath products that change the world.  So we create organic handcrafted bar soaps.  We have froth bombs which are similar to a bath bomb that you use on your tub and it fizzes but it also creates a nice frothy latte like foam in your bath.  We have some other Willy Wonka just really fun, engaging, and delightful products that we’ll be launching later this year.  So our products are super fun and super clean ingredients.

We use organic ingredients, well-sourced ingredients, and we have a lot of fun with what we do.  And then the part that changes the world is we have a mission to help with the WASH sector which is (water, sanitation, and hygiene).  So that’s a part of our mission, but really the root of our why for our company is we believe that business can free people.  So what we do is we help to create opportunities for people in developing countries through soap making and clean water well drilling.

So like I said, we’re helping with the WASH sector, but really it’s a vehicle which we can help others help themselves.  So water sanitation and hygiene is a huge issue in developing countries and the best way to help people with those issues is to allow them to be the heroes in their own countries.  Through the sale of our products, we’re able to help startup small scale soap shops in places like Burundi, Africa and hopefully some other places in Africa soon.

And we have a heart for South America as well, wherever the partnership leads us and then also providing jobs for clean water well drillers.  So these are well drillers who are natives in the country.  The team that we help start is called Intwari Drillers, which means brave drillers.  Yeah, they are local Africans who are helping other Africans have access to clean water.  So soap and our mission with the WASH sector is the vehicle in which we’re able to further our mission of helping others help themselves.

Andrea:  Wow that’s amazing! So how did you guys get going?  What’s the origin story of Pacha Soap?

Abi:  Yes, so Andrew was in Peru, South America in 2010 for a semester, he was going to Hastings College at the time and wanted to study abroad.  And during this time there in Peru, or I should say, he was a construction management and Spanish major obviously very helpful in starting a soap company.

Andrea:  Really?  That’s awesome!

Abi:  Yeah, so he was down there in Peru to further his Spanish and also he was volunteering with some construction projects.  But what really transformed him in his thought process was, he’s this Kansas boy, who you know hardly get any rain fall where we are but he goes down to Peru and then they get the worst flooding that they never got in like a hundred years or something.  So Kansas boy brought the rain with them to Peru.

Anyway, it was really terrible flooding and it closed off the train that went into Machu Piccu, which is the biggest tourists destination in Peru.  He just saw how fragile the economic system is in Peru that it was very dependent on Americans and Europeans and without things like Machu Piccu and other touristy places, their economy was just super fragile.

So he had this idea of starting a company that would employ local people for the local good, so it wasn’t again, not depending on other people for economic stability but being able to provide that within itself.  So then he was thinking and it sounds like it’s from a movie, but he was riding on a bus on his way to work.  There was a couple of hours bus ride to where he works for the day.  He was on this bus and he was reading a certain book at this time and was just really influenced by the philosophy and thoughts behind it and just thought “Oh, I could create a business that does good.”

And he said like there were tons of people on this bus, really hot and sweaty, there’s no air conditioning on it, bumpy road and he just gone through Peru and he got to this place that he’s going to be working for the day and just had this light bulb moment that he went into and create a business that could free people so then he got to thinking like how he could do that and soap was the vehicle in which he could do that.

So the great thing about soap is the ingredients are found in many places where there’s extreme poverty.  So things like palm oil and coconut oil and then even plants that can be distilled into essential oils are found in a lot of the places where there’s extreme poverty and then soap making also is a very simple process.  It’s been made for thousands of years.

You don’t need special equipment or lots of education in order to do it.  It doesn’t take any electricity or lot of funding to start a soap shop.  So he was thinking that soap would be a great way to bring jobs to people and country without saying “Okay, you need all these equipments to do it – very, very simple so that is the answer to why soap?

Andrea:  Did the soap thing just kind of come to him as well or did he did some research, do you know that?

Abi:  His very, very first thought was tea but then got to thinking of all the complexities of like bringing in tea to another country and then his very next thought was soap.  He has always been interested in fragrances.  And actually, he is able to join now so here he is.  This is Andrea of the Voice of Influence.

Andrew:  Hi, Andrea!

Andrea:  Hi there Andrew!  It’s good to have you.

Andrew:  Yeah, thanks for having us.

Andrea:  I was just asking Abi about your origin story for Pacha Soap and she kind of took us through the ‘why’ of soap.  But maybe you could share with us how you moved from your idea to actually turning it into a business, would you mind just jumping in like that?

Andrew:  Yeah.  Well, I think you kind of answered it in your question.  I’m just jumping in because, you know, there’s obviously people just talk about how difficult to start a business but I think, especially when you’re younger and you’re passionate about an idea that could change the way things are done, you just jump in and figure things out.

So we started really small scale with just Abi and myself just dreaming what the future could be, so just experimenting and learning and busying with people and spreading our idea around and I guess you just quickly learn how to do what you need to do, I guess.  So yeah, the specific recipe for us was definitely just jumping in and being passionate about what we’re doing and loving to create, yeah I guess that’s it.

Andrea:  Yeah.  The youthful naïvite was certainly playing in your favor.  I mean, why not just jump in and go for it.  It seems like the older people get the harder it is for us to start things.

Andrew:  Yeah, it’s like you don’t know what you don’t know and ignorance is bliss and all those things that you don’t know how to do, so you just kind of do it.  And I think the more that we can keep that as a part of our mentality sometimes, it’d be better off to be and so yeah.

Andrea:  I remember seeing pictures of you guys selling at Farmers Market or things like that, is that where you kind of started out?

Andrew:  Yeah that’s exactly right.  One of our most favorite memories from when we first started was when we’re in the garage in the house that I used to live in where the first soap shop was, we’re just preparing for Farmers Market for the next day and it was like the first time we ever sell our product and telling our story.  And it was just funny to think that that was while we’re both in college and it was so much fun.  I remember at the end of the night, we just ended up just dancing the music, so it was fun.

Andrea:  Oh that’s so fun.  We’re you guys dating at the time or what was your situation together?

Andrew:  Yeah, we were dating at that time but we didn’t start out dating.  We’re friends initially in school and started dating while we’re still in school.  I think it was like our interests were aligned and both loving to create things, be creative, and be innovative.  And we’re still learning about each other and we feel like we have each other peg down but then we’re learning something new about each other.  It seems like every day, like yesterday, we learned something that we both share similar traits and we always thought that we’re innovative but really like in taking that test that you sent over especially was kind of interesting to see how closely we did align.

Andrea:  Yeah, yeah.  Now, he’s talking about the Fascinate Assessment that I invite guest to take if their interested.  They both took it and they both came out with innovation on their top #2.  So yeah, that was really, really fun to see that I could see how that just really makes it easy even for you guys to take risks probably.

Abi:  Yeah, and it makes it a lot of fun to create together because like I was saying with our products, it’s really fun to innovate and think outside the box.  But also it’s our mission to think forward and have innovative ideas with our mission, it’s also super fun.  So we can kind feed off with each other in that way and I think that’s what kind of hold us move forward and starting a business is that you just don’t get down when you think about “Okay, we hit a roadblock.”  It doesn’t mean no, it means no for that but there’s another way around that.  You can make it work.

Andrea:  Yeah you can work around it.

Abi:  Yeah, exactly.  You got to figure it out someway and having a partner on obviously helps a lot.  It helps to be together because if you had to do that by yourself, I can see how terribly difficult that would be to approach those roadblocks with confidence.

Andrea:  For context, did you guys start the business, graduate, get married that sort of thing?

Andrew:  Well, it’s funny like when we actually first started the business, we used several start dates but really the idea came in 2010 but we officially started beyond just like Farmers Market and really got serious and hired our first employee in 2012 it would have been, but we used kind of like 2013 as our first or like our official starting of our company.  We got married actually in 2013 as well.  We bought our first house in 2013 so that was a big year.

Andrea:  I was reading in your website today too, was it 2013 that you guys got into Whole Foods?

Abi:  Yeah, it was.

Andrea:  That’s just huge first of all but it’s also just really so much has happened so quickly.  Even though I’m sure it felt like a long time from 2010 to 1013 that happened pretty quickly.  Did it feel like it took forever or were you feeling like it was clip in along at a pretty good pace?

Andrew:  Oh man, I guess both of us like we’ve lived a lot of life being 27 and 26, so it doesn’t seem like it was really quick.  But you know from the outside when people talk to us, it seems like it wasn’t that long ago but for us, sometimes like we show like we’re on our 50’s.

Andrea:  Old souls.

Abi:  Yeah, like the day-to-day maybe seems like a little slower, you aren’t moving so fast.  But then when you look at it as a whole, when you look back it does go pretty quickly.  I don’t want to take things for granted because you know we were really blessed to be doing as well as we’re doing.  So I don’t want to take that for granted because I know it is just really difficult to start things and put yourself out there and be vulnerable in that way.  So yeah, it does seem like it has happened pretty quickly but it’s definitely not all because we have an awesome team like both here in Hastings working with Pacha and also in the field working in commenting our mission.  It is way beyond Andrew and me.  We cannot be where we are without our team.

Andrea:  I have so many questions written down and floating in my head because you’ve got a really substantial thing going and there’s so many things I think that we could cover.  So one of the first questions that I want to ask at this point is how many employees do you have in Hastings?  What’s the team look like in Hastings?

Andrew:  We’re like around 40 people.

Andrea:  That’s crazy!  No, that’s wonderful.  It’s so great.  I mean, that’s a lot of employees.  That’s a big team.

Andrew:  Yeah.  It is.  We’re so blessed to have the team that we have.  They make the culture what it is and it’s just so much fun to work with the team that you respect and love to work with every day.

Andrea:  How did you manage going from just the two of you to starting to add people into your team who I assumed for the most part older than you as well.  Is that true?

Andrew:  Yeah, we’re some of the younger ones for sure especially in leadership.  I think the main thing when you’re looking to grow or bring people on is making sure that your core values are set and that your hiring based on those core values.  You’re living everything through this core values and so that’s something that we learned along the way just recognizing how important that is and making sure that everybody is onboard with those core values.

Andrea:  Do you feel like your core values were pretty set when you started or did they really develop as you kept going and growing?

Abi:  Yeah, I think like the fundamental purpose of our company has remained the same.  It’s just kind fine tuning how that’s played out on a day-to-day like how you write those core values out.  So I would say like nothing has drastically changed from when we first started but you know, it’s fine tuning it.  And one of the greatest things that we got to do with defining our core values is looking at all around and saying “Yeah, I really like about this person.  I really like that about this person.”  And then integrating those things that we are inspired by our team members and using those as guidelines in which we created our core values, so using our actual team as our guide for creating those core values or fine tuning those core values.

Andrea:  That’s really cool.  So you took a look at who was here and how they’re functioning and what you really appreciated about them and said “Okay, yes that’s something we wanna keep.”

Abi:  Yeah, exactly!

Andrea:  Wow!  There’s a lot of wisdom in that.  I wonder if you being younger when you got started might have had an impact on the way that you respected the people that were working with and for you.

Andrew:  Yeah that probably is true because we had a lot to learn.  I feel like when you’re not as full of what you already know and you’re more just like trying to learn and maybe it’s just more of a humble way of being a leader because you’re forced to be humble.  You don’t really know a lot and I think that’s something that every human probably struggles with and we all will struggle with to remain humble and have a learning attitude and learning mind all your life.  And that’s a hard thing I think probably for all of us because we get to a place where you know we feel like we know what we’re doing.

Truth is like there’s not one person that knows and has all the answers as much as our cultures kind of push towards and are looking towards that you know like “I wanna find the answer.  Just tell me the answer.”  Although, there’s lots of answers in solving everyday problems especially when you’re growing a business like there’s not one person that can tell you every move you make to grow that business.  Yeah, that’s probably a good point.  I never had really followed with that.

Andrea:  Well, I want to qualify my statement by saying that not every person who’s younger would have had that attitude though.  So while it may have helped in some ways you’re willing to learn like you said, it’s a quality that we should all be striving for life, for willing to learn from other people.  I love the respect that you guys have for your team and for the people of the world that you’re trying to serve and I think that that respect comes somewhat from that humbleness too.  I don’t know, it’s just seems really grounded.

Andrew:  Well, sometimes.

Andrea:  OK that’s good.  I love that.  Let’s keep it real, right?  So you also have the partnerships carrying out your mission.  So what are those relationships like with the people around the world, what do you mean by a partnership that’s helping you carry out a mission in Africa for instance.

Andrew:  Yeah, so like in East Africa, we have a couple partners that we work with both on the soap side and in the water side.  Those partnerships start with organization here in the US that we work with and then the mission enacted in the developing world and namely in East Africa, we work in Burundi.  But we also work in other countries through water nonprofit that we partnered with  So yeah, we break our mission down into two basically like two ways of impact and there’s presale impact and post sale impact.

So presale is like before any product is ever purchased, how is our company having an impact.  And then post sale, once the sale is made then how’s our company having an impact to our customers having an impact with their purchase after the sale was made.  Largely, in East Africa, where folks come is after the sale of our products, we are helping to start businesses in both soap production and clean water well drilling.

And so it’s essentially soap and water – two very critical elements for development and for health sanitation and hygiene but it’s done in a way that is actually creating, self-sustaining enterprise.  That’s the piece of it that is really, I would say, it’s not necessarily the most important element because saving people’s lives with clean water like people have access of clean water obviously that has a huge impact.  If people are able to wash their hands and children namely in schools; you can see that that would a huge impact.

But I guess the reason why I mentioned the aspect of our mission to be considered really important and maybe most important is that the people themselves are able to provide the answers for themselves and we’re just the catalyst somewhat of an injection and not an IV you know.  And truly that business through clean water and business through soap production is the way that people are employed and that their business are able to flourish and grow on their own overtime, whereas, we just act as catalysts.  Anyway, that’s kind of how we partner right now and I guess it all comes back to our why in our purpose for being which is that business can free people.

So we look at a lot of issues that are related to poverty, the way we can help with extreme poverty that people are able to have their own economic freedom or economic independence because these people are able to provide for themselves then issues can overtime be diminished.  Like the people can afford to pay for education.  If they can afford to buy soap, if they can afford to buy clean water, you know lots of issues can be reduced overtime if people are able to escape poverty.   And really the only way that’s done in there in a long term basis is if they’re able to opportunities to do it themselves through business, through the Wealth Creation process.  So anything we do comes back to the fact that business can free people.

Andrea:  It sounds like when someone is talking about social justice, there’s one-on-one charity kind of like “Let me help you with this thing.”  Or there’s the systemic change that happens and it sounds like what you’re talking about is wanting to provide not only that bar soap to save somebody’s life but the systemic change by giving them that opportunity to be empowered to have their own income and everything that’s really, really exciting.

Andrew:  Yeah, they’re both okay you know.  Sometimes, there are people who maybe would be really staunch and say “No,” like there’s no place to give anything because you’re creating dependence.  I understand that because I’ve seen it, we all have it.  We’ve travelled in the developing world and that’s not good.  That is not empowering.  But at the same time, sometimes I want to say like “You know there is a place to give things and that’s okay.”  It just has to be very limited and it has to be in a way that is not creating habit-forming dependence.  It’s something that it can be done in a good way and it’s not like always a bad thing to help.

And we see it firsthand with like the World Food Program for instance like children coming to school and for some of them that could be their only meal that day.  So in that way, children are able to receive education and come to school because they are being subsidized a free lunch.  I would say that’s not a bad thing.  Obviously, the better thing would be how can we have, you know that food is coming from the outside, how can more acres be converted into small farms for the parents that overtime maybe our food can be purchase locally like obviously that would be better.  It’s process and a transition so there’s a place and time.  We definitely like to focus on both of those things but if it’s not creating self-sustaining jobs then it’s probably not a long-term solution and could be creating more harm than good, maybe.

Andrea:  Interesting.  So what is exactly is your role as Pacha Soap, what is Pacha Soap’s role in Africa?  What do you actually provide?  Are you providing the funds?  Are you providing the training?  What all are you providing?

Andrew:  Well, we provide funds so we kind of act you could say as an initial customer for well drilling team, for soap shops, say help to set up soap shops.  We provide some advice in how to do that but then we’ll be that initial customer so we’ll buy soaps from those teams initially and that soap is then given to schools in the surrounding area for children for hand washing.  All the while, those teams are growing their own sales with different soap products so that overtime, those giveaway bars could be transferred to another soap shop that could be set up and the process can start over as established team sales increase.  So that’s the goal and same with clean water.  So Pacha as a company funds those operations and it’s essentially the first customer through subsidizing bars of soap and clean water wells that overtime will leave in a established teams that can sell products on their own and be self-sustaining.

Andrea:  It seems like there’s so many different plates spinning, how do you guys manage your time?  What percentage of time are you working on soap and sales and stuff overseas, and your mission, your message?  How do you guys decide what your roles are and how to divide up your time?

Andrew:  We go by the system called Traction.  It’s a book and it’s really been helpful process with our time up, but honestly, I think that the main thing that helped us is having an awesome team.  We can’t really stress out enough because as much as somebody might say they’re so awesome like it’s a team to do anything.  So I think the real answer to that is the fact that we just have a team that handles so many things and does it so well and has extreme ownership over of what they do and so that’s probably it.

Abi:  Yeah, it’s hard to balance your time because you want to do everything but you know, you can’t do everything and that they’re actually people who can do that thing better than you.  So knowing what to let go and what to still maintain for yourself is a hard thing to kind of figure that out.  But like Andrew said it’s just the team that we have that it’s a well-oiled machine.  There’s always new things to try and things that we’re currently doing that could be better or different but we just have such a great team that’s willing to jump in there and may use the word ‘scrappy’ a lot.  We’re just part of that sort of mentality and we never want to lose that no matter how big our company gets or how many years its life is, just having that scrappy mentality of saying “It’s just a road blocks” but yes we can get pass those barriers and do that together.

Andrea:  So as cofounders then since you guys started and everything, I would imagine that quite a few people that are listening to this podcast or people that are dreaming about starting something or they feel like they want to live a purpose-driven life.  They want to feel like their message is a part of what they do.  So I’m kind of curious about how you guys work together as a couple?  Was it hard when you first got certain and kind of got going to figure out who was in charge of what or was that pretty clear from the get-go or did you have any road bumps?

Andrew:  I think we worked pretty seriously like at the beginning and on.  I think as we grow and things got more complex in some ways that was a little bit more challenging because you had more people to the equation then you have to split up tasks way more.  So there’s always some more roadblocks or road bumps there but I think it’s just a constant learning thing.

Abi:  Yeah, it is hard as life partners and business partners finding the balance between how you spend your time.  When you’re at home, it’s impossible to not talk about work because you’re passionate about it and it’s a big part of your life.  And then at work, it’s hard not to talk about your personal life because it’s your life so there’s that overlapping.  We really tried to keep those two things as separate as possible because it’s too different mind frames.

When we first started out like that things showed we’re both innovative, so I think that was really good to help kick-start something new.  But individually, I graduated with a degree in advertising and public relation so kind of marketing and had some experience with graphic design.  So from my tactical standpoint, I was able to help with the marketing side of things and help create the graphics and different visual elements.

And as we progressed, I started understanding what it means to build a brand which that’s a monster in and of itself so that’s kind of like where I had my focus.  And Andrew had such a passion for the vision of the company and just always reaching for how can our mission be better and just dreaming of those ways in which it can happen.  It’s cool to be able to look at each other’s strengths and appreciate how each of those strengths helped build the company.

Currently, I have stepped out of my marketing role and I’ve taken on more of just a cofounder role and that has been a big transition for Andrew and me personally.  It’s just the decision that we made together that we’re both just thriving so hard in the day-to-day in the company so it was easier to continue that.  If someone is in the boat and the other one is drowning, it’s a lot easier than both of you drowning together.  So yeah, it’s a partnership and it’s give and take and it’s having grace for one another and don’t know within the next few years are going to look like so just being willing to hold life with open hands is really important.

Andrea:  You know that’s funny because I was going to ask you what’s in the future for Pacha Soap?  Do you have a vision for the next few years or is it something that you are truly just going day-by-day or what’s that like for you guys?

Andrew:  We have lots of visions of what it could look like but the main thing is how can our mission be amplified, so how can we framework people?  How can that be the heart of every decision we make?  So whether it’s new products that we launch or new categories that we’re in and new channels of trade like the way in which we’re bringing products to people, it will all lead back to how our mission can be amplified and how people can be a big part of that.

I guess it’s not really a specific vision but that’s such kind of the way it’s looking.  A lot of ideas of how to get there but it will definitely just take time and the right people who are also believing in the overall mission and message that care about, not only a business doing well and having an awesome product that people love, but also caring about what that product represents.

Andrea:  Yeah.  So when you look to make those decisions, do you knock on doors and just see which one opens or how do you know what next step that you’re going to take in the moment?

Andrew:  Usually that, yeah.  Usually just researching things and trying things out, asking a lot of questions, and talking to people you know that’s kind of how and like big decisions are met is trying some things out and asking a lot of questions before we move on something.

Andrea:  What advice do you have for someone who is kind of in that dream stage where maybe they feel like there’s something on their heart or maybe they’re in that position where Andrew you were on that bus thinking “There’s got to be a way to help.  There’s going to be something that I can do.”  Do you have any parting words of wisdom for these influencers who are listening?

Andrew:  Yeah, I think just have fun.  Ultimately, it’s just got to be something that you like.  It’s not every element you’re not going to like and that’s maybe why a lot of business fails because there are these things in starting a business that aren’t as much fun.  But if overall what you are passionate about or what you’re doing you like it too, you like the people you’re with; I think that’s the biggest piece is of just being real to yourself about what you like or what you love to do.  I think it’s also about why you’re doing it, so just asking yourself these questions.

It’s different for every person but the advice for somebody like myself is just to try it out.  There’s nothing stopping anyone from really accomplishing whatever they want to accomplish but you just have to be willing to stick with it and push forward.  And I would say the other biggest piece is don’t be afraid to learn along the way.

I don’t feel like you have to figure it out all in its entirety right away because you probably won’t and your idea might shift for the better.  Your initial vision might be one thing but maybe you’ll figure out a way that could be even enhanced and just don’t be afraid to learn.  That’s probably the biggest piece that prevents people, they feel like they need to have it all figured out right away.  But you can figure it out as you go along, as you’re able to learn all the way.

Andrea:  That’s a great point.  Abi, do you have anything you want to add to that?

Abi:  If you’re going into business with your life partner, just try to communicate and have grace with one another.  If you’re doing it on your own, look for people to support you through it and be vulnerable with them and don’t lose heart.

Andrea:  Well, this has been a very short 45 minutes but I am so thrilled that I could share you with my audience that we could learn more about what it meant for you guys to start something.  And you’ve taken it so far and I know that it’s just going to keep skyrocketing because just the humility that you bring to it and the willingness to take risks to listen like you mentioned and to not lose heart like you mentioned, and to communicate like you mentioned are so important.  And so cheering you on from over here and looking forward to seeing what Pacha Soap does to change the world in the future.  Thank you so much for your voice of influence in the world!

Andrew:  Yes, thank you for having us!

Abi:  Thank you so much Andrea!


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How to Get Started Sharing Your Message on Social Media

Voice Studio 17

A few years ago I stumbled upon a few voices online who helped me to see that social media wasn’t just about sharing family pictures, catching up with long lost friends and debating politics. A wave of realization dawned on me that I could have a voice through social media, too. In this episode I share a brief description of that shift for me and how you can start or amp up the way you share your voice on social media, too.

Mentioned in this episode:


Play here (the red triangle below), on iTunes, Stitcher or TuneIn Radio (Amazon Alexa) or wherever you listen to podcasts.



I’ve put together this special PDF of 15 tips and strategies for emerging thought leaders and message-driven creatives from experts interviewed on the Voice of Influence podcast. It’s a quick win that will encourage, inspire and equip you to make your voice matter more. Read up, listen in and make your voice matter more.

Download it here.