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Deloitte’s Kim Christfort on why a leader should be positive, kind, flexible and laugh often

Be Positive — Project positive energy and assume positive intent. No one is out to get you. I once worked with a manager who seemed to go out of her way to avoid me. I stayed positive and found natural ways for us to interact. Over time as I got to know her, I realized that she […]


Be Positive — Project positive energy and assume positive intent. No one is out to get you. I once worked with a manager who seemed to go out of her way to avoid me. I stayed positive and found natural ways for us to interact. Over time as I got to know her, I realized that she was just a very independent person with such a high quality work standard that she was slow to trust other people. Eventually, she become one of my biggest champions.

Be Kind — you can make tough decisions and provide feedback but you never have to abandon a sense of decency and kindness. This is particularly important when you have a team member who isn’t performing. Masking the feedback won’t necessarily do them any favors. Instead, think about things from their perspective. Do they have strengths that aren’t being utilized in their current role? Is staying in this job keeping them from finding something else that will really fulfill them?

Be flexible — there isn’t a single definition of success or a single path. You can take things different ways. Find which route is best for you. And if you’re disrupted from your course, create a narrative to make that work as well. Make yourself a hero in your own story.

Make time for a well-rounded life — being well rounded and having time for yourself is important and will make you a better leader. I try to look for moments to refresh and reset throughout the day, something as simple as walking outside for a few minutes, as well as building in the bigger things like taking a pilates class or painting.

Laugh often — have fun, enjoy what you do.


I had the pleasure to interview Kim Christfort. Kim is the national managing director of The Deloitte Greenhouse™ Experience team, which helps executives tackle tough business challenges through immersive, facilitated Lab experiences, and client experience IP such as Business Chemistry. As part of this role, Kim leads US Deloitte Greenhouses, permanent spaces designed to promote exploration and problem-solving away from business as usual.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

As an undergrad, I was fully committed to a pre-med path. It was only in my senior year (after having completed all my pre-med requirements and done the MCATs) that I realized that a career as a doctor might not let me play to all of my strengths and passions — particularly the more creative and innovative aspects of my personality. I decided to briefly explore the “business world” to see if that might be a better fit, knowing that my med school test scores would be good for two years.

At Deloitte Consulting, I found a great outlet for the analytical and problem solving skills I had loved in my science degree, but also got to flex a whole new set of muscles. That brief exploration turned into 12 great years working in Consulting. During that time, I realized that often my clients were challenged not only by technical business challenges, but by human ones. When a colleague of mine started a new group focused on infusing empathy and relationship mindsets into the business world, I jumped at the opportunity to help bring it to life.

Over the next five years we studied the human factors that could prevent, or promote, breakthrough through immersive experiences called Labs. This evolved into an opportunity for me to shape and lead the Deloitte Greenhouse Experience Group, a concept that blends a scientific underpinning with an understanding of human dynamics with theatricality, art and design. Truly a dream job for me!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I’m lucky — most of my job is interesting and every day seems to bring new insights. An interesting theme I see again and again, though, is the power of working style differences. One of the first things I did after leaving consulting was to dig into why people sometimes click and other times clash. Out of this research we created a system called Business Chemistry that codified four different ways of thinking, processing and behaving.

I started using Business Chemistry in my sessions with clients and immediately started seeing these ah-ha moments. While the idea that people have different styles wasn’t a particularly novel one, our clients hadn’t had the tools to recognize those differences in a work context, to know how to deal with those differences, and most importantly, to harness those differences to get more out of themselves and their teams. I had clients come up to me and say that they’d been frustrated with their boss or their co-workers, but now saw those relationships in a whole new light. Others shared success stories after intentionally bringing complementary skillsets together on their team. One gentleman even told me that this system helped him to finally understand and appreciate his estranged son.

I find the universality of these themes fascinating — the fact that they’re incredibly impactful in business but also relevant to people’s broader lives. I’m not curing illness like I might have had I been a doctor, but with things like this I do feel like I’m positively impacting people’s lives.

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?

When I started at Deloitte, I was staffed on a project where my job was to sit in a meeting and take notes with the group following along on an overhead projector. One day, I was typing along furiously, not really understanding a lot of what they were saying, when suddenly the group burst into laughter. As far as I was aware, nothing funny had been said so I looked around in some confusion, assuming it was perhaps an inside joke. Finally, one of the participants took pity on me and pointed out that they had been using a number of acronyms, and that I, not realizing they were acronyms, had been spelling them out phonetically as if they were words. Needless to say, after that I learned every acronym that that company used — ASAP.

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

Deloitte has been my home for more than 20 years mostly because of the people. It’s a friendly culture where people value collaboration, and where smart individuals come together to create a whole that’s greater than the sum of the parts, rather than competing for scraps.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

The Labs we are conducting have been particularly exciting. We have learned that when people experience something in an immersive environment it has a much different effect on them than when they just process something intellectually. We are studying what keeps groups from getting to breakthroughs, and designing one-day Lab sessions to address those obstacles. What’s unique about these sessions is that we’re merging rigorous strategic thinking with human aspects like psychological safety, bias, and motivations to address both explicit symptoms and implicit root causes. We’re also working with teams that are more virtual, or who work together infrequently. These experiential engagement methods accelerate their ability to partner effectively without the benefit of years of relationship building and trust.

What advice would you give to other female leaders?

I have three key pieces of advice!

  • See everything as an opportunity to develop a skill or make a connection. Even if something seems like the worst job in the world, you can learn something out of it.
  • Visualize where you are trying to go. You are the architect for your own future. Each skill and connection you make is a Lego block that will build something great.
  • And, finally, identify a mentor. Find somebody with skills, resources and an interest in your career and make a connection with them.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Listen a lot, and understand what they need in order to thrive. Recognize each team member’s strengths and needs and then engineer ways for them to play to their strengths. Create a culture where differences are valued and all feel that they can safely contribute. Get comfortable with delegation!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My Deloitte colleagues, Ken Clinchy and Diana O’Brien are firm believers in holding a hand out and helping the next generation. They spent the time with me, were generous with their advice, gave their constructive criticisms, and helped me recognize ways I can personally thrive.

To give an example, when I was just starting out facilitating Labs, Ken was an attendee in one of my sessions. At the end of the day, we grabbed coffee together and he asked about my career aspirations. He listened and asked relevant questions to help me clarify what I wanted and how to get there. That first coffee became a tradition of mentoring meetings which helped me define and thrive in the role I have today. Even now that Ken’s retired, he’ll still check in on me to see how things are going, and he’s still the first call I make if I’m up against a tough work situation. When I helped plan his retirement party, I interviewed many of his colleagues and friends and I was overwhelmed by how many people he has helped over his career. He is an amazing mentor, leader and now friend.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

You see so many executives feeling beaten down or stressed out when their jobs seem to become all about metrics and quarterly goals. Actually being treated like a person and having a moment to look around and think differently is a much-needed breath of fresh air. During our sessions, we try to put things into perspective and reactivate people’s interest and enthusiasm. We also build a lot of levity in what we do. Greenhouse sessions are serious in terms of business outcomes, but they are also fun and personal. People typically leave with an uplifted outlook and a smile on their face.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Be Positive — Project positive energy and assume positive intent. No one is out to get you. I once worked with a manager who seemed to go out of her way to avoid me. I stayed positive and found natural ways for us to interact. Over time as I got to know her, I realized that she was just a very independent person with such a high quality work standard that she was slow to trust other people. Eventually, she become one of my biggest champions.
  2. Be Kind — you can make tough decisions and provide feedback but you never have to abandon a sense of decency and kindness. This is particularly important when you have a team member who isn’t performing. Masking the feedback won’t necessarily do them any favors. Instead, think about things from their perspective. Do they have strengths that aren’t being utilized in their current role? Is staying in this job keeping them from finding something else that will really fulfill them?
  3. Be flexible — there isn’t a single definition of success or a single path. You can take things different ways. Find which route is best for you. And if you’re disrupted from your course, create a narrative to make that work as well. Make yourself a hero in your own story.
  4. Make time for a well-rounded life — being well rounded and having time for yourself is important and will make you a better leader. I try to look for moments to refresh and reset throughout the day, something as simple as walking outside for a few minutes, as well as building in the bigger things like taking a pilates class or painting.
  5. Laugh often — have fun, enjoy what you do.

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. 🙂

It seems that so much negativity and conflict stems from people being locked into their own points of view and unable to see different perspectives. If everyone made an effort to understand where another person is coming from, and could try to meet people where they are rather than forcing their own stance, the world would be a better place. When people make genuine connections the change happens individual to individual, but it quickly adds up to a movement. We need a pithy tagline though, because #WalkInTheirShoes is a bit of a mouthful!

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

“I do the very best I know how — the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.” — Abraham Lincoln

Often in life there’s no obvious “right choice” so you need to define “right” for yourself. For me, having an awareness of what’s important to me, and understanding my reasons for doing things really helped sift through the noise of other people’s opinions and judgments to get to something I believed in. Ultimately, you need to feel good about the choices that you make, try to do the best you can relative to your beliefs and priorities, and stay true to your self.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@christfort on Twitter

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