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Christine Matzen: “Leadership is being able to let go and not hold a grudge”

An important aspect of leadership is being able to let go and not hold a grudge. When you are in a position of power having a strong sense of self-awareness and emotional temperance is important to establish trust. It is important for employees to feel that they can recover and still excel despite needing to […]

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An important aspect of leadership is being able to let go and not hold a grudge. When you are in a position of power having a strong sense of self-awareness and emotional temperance is important to establish trust. It is important for employees to feel that they can recover and still excel despite needing to be corrected. We are not interested in holding past transgressions over an employee’s head or putting them on the bad behavior list. Our goal as leaders is to build the best and most effective team with no member left behind. Always lead by example and be the bigger person in every situation.


As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Matzen.

Christine Matzen B.S., M.S. Author of Leader The Journey To Become The Force Your Business Needs To Win And Founder of Oak Street Strategies, LLC leadership development and strategy.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I am a medic at heart. My own personal leadership journey began with working in Emergency Medical Services for seventeen years. As a paramedic, I made life and death decisions. This responsibility allowed me to develop strong instincts and leadership skills. Working in a fast-paced, high stakes career gave me a deep intuition and respect for people. Combining that experience with my master’s degree in leadership and management, I mastered the challenge ready mindset that allows me to make decisions without hesitation.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

My unique ability to train individuals with a challenge ready mindset is what sets my company apart. I help individuals become confident leaders who are ready to face any challenge, all the while prioritizing personal fulfillment in their lives. They develop their own leadership style focusing on honing a strategic mindset in conjunction with their unique skills.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I have had so many interesting adventures throughout the span of my career. I have always loved the behind the scenes part of leadership training. Early on in my paramedic career, I had the opportunity to see many things from behind the scenes including airports, concerts and even the occasional professional sporting event.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

There are always too many funny mistakes to choose from. How about a recent mistake?

I am new to being a self-published author. The writing and editing process had been fun. I found a great editor that I worked well with and we breezed through all the final edits. The book was done ahead of schedule and I could not have been happier.

I was so excited I decided to immediately upload it for pre-order on Amazon. I did not realize that the only pre-order available was on the digital version. When I uploaded the paperback it immediately went live.

The book that was supposed to be released in November with the help of some marketing and media was now just there and available. At first, I will admit I could not believe that I had done that. In hindsight, it was a silly and easily avoidable mistake.

At that moment I decided to roll with it and not allow it to diminish the work that I had put into the book. I cooked a big dinner for my family and got dressed up. I had the best launch party that any author could ask for. I am so grateful for my husband and two sons that celebrated with me. Albeit four months ahead of schedule.

What advice would you give to other CEOs and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?

Burnout is such a critical and real issue that we see in leadership and the employee base alike. Common sense should dictate that life and work are a marathon, not a sprint. Unfortunately, the hamster wheel that we find ourselves on can seem never-ending. The faster we run, the further away we get from happiness and contentment in our lives.

Often, we become completely involved and overwhelmed with the pressure that we feel in the situations where we spend the most time. This is what I refer to as the proximity and pressure trap. This trap is formed when an individual loses perspective over their true priorities and vision in life. This loss of perspective begins to make everything feel of the same importance. Suddenly, everything is an emergency and everything must be done right now. This constant need to sprint to every finish is completely unsustainable.

When you are a paramedic, not every call can be an emergency. That feeling of constant crisis would make you completely ineffective at creating calm in chaos. Emergencies are what you train for and responding to them is what you do for your entire shift. Maintaining this perspective is essential to caring for your patients. Remembering your training, evaluating the scene, and having confidence in your skills and equipment allows you to operate at optimal levels.

In the same way that a paramedic relies on their training to allow for perspective, you the leader will rely on a simple practice I call Define Yourself Daily. Setting the tone for the day by knowing who you are, what you stand for and where you are going. Having this foundation allows you to maintain perspective in each moment and to make decisions that bring you closer to your vision for life.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Everywhere you look these days there are influencers and thought leaders. The term Leader gets tossed about casually with little regard for what is required of leadership. For me, the test of leadership and what defines a leader is the ability to make the hard calls, accept responsibility and lead during a crisis.

Leadership is a living, breathing action of a small subset of people. Leadership is a true caring about others and an internal strength that is radiated to those around you. Leadership is the ability to influence others who would follow you even into the most difficult of situations.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I agree that preparation is a key component of success. As a leader, I recognize that the hard calls usually come when we least expect them. This knowledge allows me to ready myself daily. I keep things quite simple so that the preparation itself does not become a stressor.

I maintain a simple bedtime of ten o clock. I may be showing my age here. For me, bedtime and optimal sleep make a huge impact on judgment, emotional temperance, and performance.

I have celiac disease, so meal planning is especially important for me. I have not eaten out in many years so always having a plan and a packed meal keeps me happy and healthy.

Lastly, I am a big believer in a daily strategic contemplation practice. I try to spend between thirty and sixty minutes a day in this form of deep thought. I love to do this while taking a walk or even doing the dishes when I am crunched for time. The constant availability of information and distraction makes this practice an important pause to the input of information from technology.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?

My experience in managing teams and giving feedback was throughout my time in EMS. I spent many years training individuals to be paramedics as both a preceptor and field training officer. Training paramedics requires that you be direct and specific in giving feedback. You often need to give feedback during critical management of patients which makes it an important skill to master. I also managed small groups and a larger EMS system as a Clinical Field Supervisor.

This might seem intuitive but it will be constructive to spell it out. Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?

Effective leadership is rooted in your team having the capacity to perform tasks and master challenges that they face daily. The ability of the leader to give clear and concise direction can allow the team to work through problems efficiently. Correcting negative or inappropriate behavior in a calm and constructive way can allow your team members to grow and strive for greatness. Respecting your team by communicating with individuals directly can build trust and loyalty in the team.

One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Lay the foundation

Have you ever been told some hard news or truth by a trusted family member or friend? Although the truth may be hard to hear, you took it to heart because you know that this individual cared for you and wanted the best for you. For me, the capacity to give well-received feedback starts long before the conversation. I believe the leader establishes the foundation with their employees in the way that they treat their employees daily. Treating your employees with respect and establishing that you have their best interest at heart daily is the foundation that allows these constructive conversations to be well received and more importantly acted on.

Set the tone

How you approach an individual for a hard talk is important. Even if a situation has happened that has caused anger or dissatisfaction it is important for a leader to be calm and collected before the conversation. As a leader having emotional temperance and the capacity to respond and not react is essential.

Remember that as the leader you are in a position of authority. A leader who is angry or reactive can make an employee feel insecure about their job and standing. Employees that feel threatened by an authority figure can lash out or have anxious type reactions.

Whether you are face to face or communicating remotely being calm and direct is important.

Hear them out

Anytime you are having the hard talks with employees it is important that we give them the opportunity to be heard and acknowledged. All too often situations that need to be corrected or information that is given to the leader is wrong or incomplete. It is important that as the leader you hear the information and thought process from the employee perspective. That you acknowledge how they see the situation. This can be an important factor in fixing knowledge gaps, gaining trust and respect from employees.

Have resources

Having the hard talk with employees should be conducted with the goal of allowing the employee to learn from the mistake and then improve. With this as our goal, having resources for the employee to learn from can be an effective tool. If you, for instance, have an employee that is having a difficult time mastering a hands-on skill, partner them with an employee that can serve as an example and mentor. We want to be specific in the tools that we give to our employees so that they can have the best result in their growth. There are so many resources available from instructional videos, books, and even online trainings. Taking the time to be prepared for the conversation conveys that you care and want the best for the employee moving forward.

Get back to work

After the discussion is over, move on. An important aspect of leadership is being able to let go and not hold a grudge. When you are in a position of power having a strong sense of self-awareness and emotional temperance is important to establish trust. It is important for employees to feel that they can recover and still excel despite needing to be corrected. We are not interested in holding past transgressions over an employee’s head or putting them on the bad behavior list. Our goal as leaders is to build the best and most effective team with no member left behind. Always lead by example and be the bigger person in every situation.

Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote.

How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?

Addressing concerns over email is becoming the new normal in leadership. When you are addressing employees in this way it is important that you again establish a foundation with the employee. As you begin to create the dynamic it is important that you are deliberate in pointing out areas where the employee is doing well while also correcting negative behavior/performance. When we are working in a face to face environment, employees may have the opportunity to see when we are satisfied with their performance.

I would also encourage leaders to make it a point to not make large corrections via email. This has become an easy thing to do in society at large to be impersonal and use text or email for conversations that should be done in person. Your employees are human, and they deserve a leader that respects the need for a human connection from their supervisor.

The trend of handling difficult situations, such as firing people via email or conference call leads to distrust in the employee base. We as leaders must take the responsibility of being personable and hearing people out even when we know the discussion may be hard to deliver.

In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals? Can you explain what you mean?

Although a direct and quick correction to mistakes may be the most expedient and memorable, it is of course not always appropriate. Corrections should be made in a timely manner while also considering the employee’s feelings and the overall situation. Is the conversation one that should be done privately, so as to not compromise the employee in front of colleagues or customers. In those situations, take the time to respect the employee by addressing the issue in private as soon as you can.

In a situation where multiple employees are making the same mistake and it is more of a process type mistake then it would be appropriate to correct in the moment. For instance, maybe you hear employees directing customers to a webpage that is no longer available or quoting a price special that is no longer valid. This type of in the moment quick correction while addressing multiple employees is helpful and appropriate.

How would you define what it is to “be a great boss”? Can you share a story?

To me “a great boss” is an individual who loves their life. An individual who lives by a code and holds themselves to the highest standard while exemplifying this to their team. They genuinely care about their employees and encourage them to pursue happiness and fulfillment in their own lives as well.

Take for instance a physician who cares for their own well-being and promotes an environment of health. A physician that has the emotional temperance to listen and understand their employees as well as patients.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Neighbor for Neighbor would be the movement that I would start. If there is one thing that I learned from my time as a paramedic is the power of community. I have seen community members come running to help in times of need.

What if everyone spent time getting to know their neighbors?

What if we all committed to making a few contributions to those that surround us? Imagine the power and impact that could come from sharing time and resources with your neighbors. These could be simple things like mowing your elderly neighbors’ lawn while you mow yours. Maybe helping a single mom by keeping her kids for playdates with your kids a few afternoons a week. Even buying some extra groceries to help a family in need can mean so much and have a lasting impact for those that receive the generosity of neighbors.

There is something so amazing and healing when you feel surrounded by support and resources. I believe that we can all contribute and lift each other up. Leadership begins at home and should radiate to those around you so that no one is left behind.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A quote that I find helpful in my life is “Anything worth doing is worth doing well”. This simple saying helps me to stay grounded in giving my all to my family and the projects that I take on. This did not always come intuitively to me. Choosing to bring my best and focus in the moment allows me to be proud of my performance and not regret passing on other projects.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

https://www.oakstreetstrategies.com/

Thank you for these great insights! We really appreciate the time you spent with this.

Thank you for the opportunity!

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