1656 – The Power Skills with ELF Solutions’ Erin Thorp

In this episode of the Thoughtful Entrepreneur, your host Josh Elledge speaks to the Founder of ELF Solutions Inc, Erin Thorp.

Erin's journey in the construction and engineering industry exposed her to various types of leadership. This experience inspired her to focus on leadership development training, coaching, and facilitation through her company, ELF Solutions. She emphasizes the importance of equipping leaders with “power skills,” often referred to as soft skills in other contexts.

One of the key “power skills” Erin highlights is empathy. While the construction industry may not initially seem like a field where the heart is crucial, she argues that it is essential when dealing with clients to understand their needs and deliver the best projects. She noticed a lack of empathy within construction teams, which sparked her mission to create an environment where everyone can thrive.

Erin defines empathy as understanding and accepting other people's perspectives, emotions, feelings, and opinions. She emphasizes that empathy is not about reaching agreement but about demonstrating understanding and acceptance.

Key Points from the Episode:

  • Importance of empathy in leadership
  • Erin's book “Inside Out Empathy”
  • ELF Solutions and its focus on leadership development training, coaching, and facilitation
  • Equipping leaders with “power skills” (soft skills)
  • Lack of empathy within construction teams
  • Definition of empathy as understanding and accepting others' perspectives, emotions, feelings, and opinions
  • Importance of understanding and acknowledging one's own emotions

About Erin Thorp:

Erin Thorp is an empathic keynote speaker, writer, and coach for leaders in high-stress industries. With 20 years of experience in male-dominated engineering and construction, Erin noticed a lack of emotional skills among technical leaders.

This inspired her to focus on supporting leaders in navigating conflicts, communication, and performance during challenging times. She believes “soft” skills like empathy, vulnerability, and connection are essential for impactful leadership.

During the pandemic, Erin observed how leaders treated their employees and decided to address the issue herself. She now runs her leadership business full-time. Erin authored “Inside Out Empathy,” a book that explores using empathy to build effective teams, drawing from her career and experiences as a mother.

As a knowledgeable speaker and facilitator, Erin shares her expertise at various events and conferences, including those organized by the Vancouver Regional Construction Association, CCWESTT Conference, and Women Building Futures. She also conducts workshops and keynotes for corporations like WNORTH, Atlas Gas, ATCO Energy, Cenouvous Energy, and Schneider Electric.

Erin holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of Calgary. She is an Associate Certified Coach through Integral Coaching Canada and a Certified Mental Fitness Coach through Positive Intelligence.

Additionally, Erin is an authorized partner with The Wiley Brand and the Ken Blanchard Companies, certified to deliver DiSC, The 5 Behaviors, and SLII training. She resides in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, with her husband and three children and enjoys reading, outdoor activities, and cooking with her family in her spare time.

About ELF Solutions Inc:

Elf Solutions Inc. is a leadership consulting company that offers personal and professional development services to emerging leaders, professionals, business owners, and entrepreneurs.

Their services include 1:1 coaching sessions, keynote speaking engagements, and facilitated workshops. The company is known for its expertise in fostering leadership skills and helping individuals and teams thrive in their respective fields.

One of Elf Solutions' notable achievements is the authorship of the book “Inside Out Empathy.” This book highlights the underestimated superpower of empathy and its significance in building, developing, and inspiring strong and cohesive teams.

Through their coaching and workshops, Elf Solutions aims to equip clients with the essential tools to enhance their leadership capabilities, improve communication, and navigate challenges in high-stress environments.

With a focus on empowering leaders with emotional intelligence and people skills, Elf Solutions Inc. plays a crucial role in shaping effective and empathetic leaders who can drive success in both personal and professional spheres.

Tweetable Moments:

04:56 – “We spend all this time getting to know our clients and customers so we can deliver the very best project and product to them, and we spend no time trying to get to know our own internal teams and trying to figure out how do we make this an environment where everyone can thrive.”

12:49 – “You got to get in touch with what's really going on with you first because if you don't have the capacity to hold your own emotion, you'll never have the capacity to hold the emotion of anyone else.”

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Links Mentioned in this Episode:

Want to learn more? Check out Elf Solutions Inc. website at

Check out Elf Solutions Inc. on LinkedIn at

Check out Erin Thorp on LinkedIn at

Check out Erin Thorp on Twitter at

Check out Erin Thorp on Facebook at

Check out Erin Thorp on Instagram at

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Josh (00:00:05) - Hey there, thoughtful listener. Would you like consistent and predictable sales activity with no spam and no ads? I'll teach you step by step how to do this, particularly if you're an agency owner, consultant, coach or B2B service provider. What I teach has worked for me for more than 15 years and has helped me create more than $10 million in revenue. Just head to up my influence and watch my free class on how to create endless high ticket sales appointments. You can even chat with me live and I'll see and reply to your messages. Also, don't forget the thoughtful entrepreneur is always looking for guests. Go to up my and click on podcast. We'd love to have you. With us right now, it's Erin Thorp. Erin, you're a keynote speaker. You're the author of Inside Out Empathy, What you're going to talk about your leadership consultant. And you are the founder of Elf Solutions. Your website is Erin Thorp. Okay. We've got that link and other links in the show notes to a friend that's listening.

Josh (00:01:20) - Just click around in your podcast apps, swipe left, right, click on the information or whatever, whatever app you're using, and you can find all those links. Erin, it is so great to have you.

Erin (00:01:30) - Thank you. Josh It's great to be here.

Josh (00:01:31) - Yeah. So share a little bit more about your work and impact in the world today.

Erin (00:01:37) - Yeah. Thank you. So I'm an I like to call myself kind of a recovering engineer that talks about feelings. So it's the two things tend not to go together when you first look at them. But having spent around 25 years in the construction and engineering industry ran into a lot of different types of leadership, sure, you can use your imagination and don't have to dig very far as to what that might have been like. And, you know, just that experience has led me to where I am today. It led to the publishing, the writing of the book, the publishing of the book, the moving into the speaking about the experience, and then really wanting to make a difference in the difference in the industry as a whole, which led to starting this company and now doing, you know, leadership development, training, coaching, facilitation, and just trying to equip the leaders of today with, you know, people like to refer to them as the soft skills that might be what your audience knows them as.

Erin (00:02:37) - But I like to call them the power skills because they're the hardest to do, but the most effective.

Josh (00:02:42) - Construction doesn't seem to be an industry that is filled to the brim with empathy. That's just my kind of my outsider observation. So talk more about like, what was the spark like? How did you get to a point where you're like, You know what? I keep seeing this problem over and over and over again, and here's my idea for how to address that. What was that evolution or that kind of transformation for you personally?

Erin (00:03:11) - Yeah. Well, what's interesting is, is when you first think about the construction industry, you're right. You don't think about, oh, my gosh, there's a very empathetic, you know, group of people or work, you know, situation. What's interesting is, is when we're dealing with clients, we have to be very empathetic because we have to get into the shoes of our clients. We have to, you know, if we're building you a house or a building or fitting out an office space, we have to know what you want.

Erin (00:03:37) - So we have to listen to understand. We have to practice all these skills of empathy to be able to deliver the project that you want. But when it comes to like living inside the construction team, we forget all those skills and we don't use them to the, you know, to the to the benefit of the actual team pulling together the the project. And so that's that was sort of the first spark is like I noticed we can do this with the clients and we can do it when we're external facing, but we don't do it with each other inside of our our project groups and our companies. And I think the second piece that really kind of sparked this, this, you know, mission or movement or whatever you want to call it, that I'm on is around kind of the 10 to 15 year mark in my own career. I started to get pulled into a lot of conversations and I was I was internally battling with do I stay in this career or do I leave? And I was starting to get pulled into a lot of conversations that were like, why are we losing mid-career, technical women specifically out of the, you know, the engineering and construction world? And this is when the two pieces kind of came together and I went, you know, we spend all this time getting to know our clients and customers so we can deliver the very best project, project and product to them.

Erin (00:04:56) - And we spend no time trying to get to know our own internal teams and trying to figure out how do we make this an environment where everyone can thrive.

Josh (00:05:04) - You know, I love this, Erin. You know, on the topic of empathy, a number of years ago, see, this was back in oh, I'm not seeing that. It was I went to six years ago. I went to the Army Navy game 2016. I'm a Navy guy. So that was the one year that we did not win after I think it was like a 14 year winning streak. So I haven't gone back because I think I jinxed it for him. For the Naval Academy, I had the opportunity to interview Boo Corrigan, who at the time was athletic director for West Point. And so I wanted to pick his brain, you know, in terms of leadership, because obviously, you know, he's in a pretty demanding environment now. Obviously, it has a very demanding role. But he said, you know, it comes down to three things that his three, you know, kind of three pronged approach with the cadets and what, you know, his approach to kind of working in that environment.

Josh (00:05:56) - You know, again, just kind of his style of leadership, characters, incredibly important. But that third leg of the stool was empathy. And, you know, I had this whole interview all planned. But when the athletic director of West Point expressed that empathy was one of the three most important things that he could convey, I was like, it was like a what's that one sound effect where it's like, you know, like a brake stop or something like, wait a minute, what? Because I was in the military and empathy again wasn't, you know, something that was discussed about could you do could you maybe define your what what empathy means to you and why this should be a cornerstone to all of us who are in leadership? And why is it why it's so critical and important?

Erin (00:06:46) - Absolutely. Well, to me, you know, empathy is about understanding and accepting. Um, other people's perspective, emotions, feelings, opinions, you know, So we kind of work at the cognitive level, like, what are they thinking? So we understand and accept this is maybe what's true for them at the emotional level, you know, whatever they're experiencing and being able to communicate about that we understand and accept and then we behave in a way that demonstrates that understanding and acceptance.

Erin (00:07:23) - Where I think we get. Hung up and we start to kind of diverge from this definition of empathy is we we try to. We try to add in agreement into the definition. And we want to to reach agreement on things, right? So we want to reach agreement on how we feel about a particular topic or issue. We want to reach agreement about how we feel about whatever change is happening in the organization. And that is not a part of the definition of empathy. And we bypass understanding and acceptance to get to agreement. And when we do that, that's when people feel isolated, othered, you know, put in a box over here because we didn't we don't agree.

Josh (00:08:11) - That is amazing. In fact, I think I just shared something on social media is not too long ago as understanding is what I posted. Understanding is more important than agreement. I think with agreements, sometimes we feel this pressure that I have to convince you to believe like me or somehow like I have to change my perspective and we have to meet in the middle.

Josh (00:08:35) - When I agree with you, I think it's it's the it's the diversity of backgrounds and sensitivities. And, you know, it's like with my team, they have a perspective I don't have if I feel like I've got the be all and all and you know, for decisions or how we respond to certain things, I think that's incredibly arrogant and I think that's kind of a pride month before the fall kind of situation from my perspective. But I can I can imagine I love this. I love this. And kind of thinking about empathy. Empathy is not agreement. It's understanding compassion.

Erin (00:09:12) - It is, you know, and it's it's really that accepting of your lived experience. You know, I'll go back to like a construction example. If I'm building you, let's just use a really easy one. If I'm building you a house and you want the bathroom set up in a certain way because that's what works for you. But I don't agree with you. And I try to build the bathroom the way I want the bathroom built.

Erin (00:09:34) - You're not going to be a very happy customer. Right? And in fact, we're probably not going to ever work together again. And so if I've got my business interests at heart and I want repeat clients and good feedback and, you know, raving fans, I am going to understand and accept the way you want the bathroom built and build it that way, even if it's not how I would build my own bathroom, you know? But we and then we fail to do that same exercise and that same practice inside our teams.

Josh (00:10:07) - Yeah. Erin, talk about what engagement looks like. What are you doing when you're working today with clients or individuals? What does that practice look like?

Erin (00:10:20) - Uh, around, like, building empathy.

Josh (00:10:22) - Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Like if someone wants to hire you. Yeah. How does that look?

Erin (00:10:27) - What does that work? Look. So it can be as simple as, you know, a lunch and learn or a workshop just to kind of introduce the topics.

Erin (00:10:34) - So some seeds of thought throughout the organization, and it can look as involved as, you know, a 6 to 12 month container of time where we're doing some periodic training in terms of embedding new skills. And then we're also working one on one and in group different coaching environments to really help embed the skills that we're teaching in the training environment. So very scalable depending on what the organization is looking for in terms of, you know, their level of maturity, what their objectives and outcomes are.

Josh (00:11:10) - Yeah. Your book, Erin, is called Inside Out Empathy. What's Inside Out Empathy mean?

Erin (00:11:17) - Yeah, great question. So what I what I discovered throughout this journey was myself. I don't I think, first of all, I think we always teach what we need to learn. And so I, I kind of started out in my corporate career as a very, like black and white commanding control. You know, there's only one way to get this done. And it's usually my way, a type of leader, which didn't get me very far and, you know, was trying to model this, this this type of leadership that I was seeing in the construction world.

Erin (00:11:48) - And it wasn't until I started to kind of lean into understanding my own emotions and what was coming up in the situations that allowed me to then lean into what other people might be feeling and and thinking and experiencing in these situations that were happening. And when that started to happen, I would say that's kind of like when things unlocked and we were like, Oh, we can actually get further faster if we take time to understand where where each of us are coming from. And so the inside piece is this call to action to really get to understand our own emotions and feelings. Because what I witnessed in the engineering and construction world is we have a lot of a lot of logical, rational people that aren't in touch with how they're feeling and the emotions that come up in certain situations. And they want to hide them. They want to push them down and hide them. And when we do that, it kind of creates this like pressure cooker situation, right? They go under pressure and they erupt at the worst possible time.

Erin (00:12:49) - For me, my eruption of emotion usually meant I was crying. You can imagine how that went over in a construction site trailer or.

Josh (00:12:58) - Crying in construction. Luckily a scene of a from a League of their own. Right. There's no baseball.

Erin (00:13:07) - Exactly. Um, but in, in my male colleagues and in some of my other colleagues that I was working with, their emotion came up in terms of like they'd throw a hammer across the wall and embedded in the wall or they would, you know, pick up a chair and throw it or pound on the table or slam doors. So it just looked different in terms of how our emotion came out. So the inside piece is like, you got to get in touch with what's really going on with you first, because if you don't have the capacity to hold your own emotion, you'll never have the capacity to hold the emotion of anyone else. So it starts inside and then it goes outside.

Josh (00:13:44) - I love it. Erin, your website is Erin Thorp. Okay.

Josh (00:13:48) - Let's let's kind of share maybe, you know, where folks could go from here and how they might be able to engage with you or if there's maybe some other pillar content, obviously, aside from the book that you'd recommend, that would be great ways that you can start to have impact for them and their leadership style in their workplace.

Erin (00:14:09) - Yeah, absolutely. So on the website you will find the blog. I tend to talk about different leadership topics and how empathy is kind of woven throughout those. I do a lot of keynote speaking at corporate, corporate and kind of association events, so that can be a great way to to again introduce the topic of empathy. And you know, usually I'd say right now the two the two most requested topics are around feedback and engagement. How do we bring empathy to these conversations? And then how do we bring empathy just to tough conversations, you know, whether it's performance reviews or just general general types of tough conversations. And the third way would be just to book a call.

Erin (00:14:54) - You know, there's a link there on the website to book a call. We can we can just talk about what it is you're trying to achieve and where you'd like to go and how how myself and my team might be able to support that.

Josh (00:15:05) - Yeah. Again, your website, Erin Thorp, aka Erin Haupt. CA One thing in particular that you had mentioned and I was actually thinking about this earlier and you have a blog post that addresses this about feedback across generations. So, you know, your, your, your boomers, your Gen Xers, your Millennials, now your Gen Z's, there are absolutely just, I'd say, you know, cultural considerations when you're working with folks in in those categories. Some of them are just absolutely, you know, based on where they are professionally. But other things are just like, no, you know, millennials are a little bit more sensitive to X, Y, Z than, say, the boomers are. What are some of the maybe some of the biggest observations you've had as it revolves around feedback, which is really, I'd say from my observation is a big one.

Josh (00:16:02) - You better get that right, otherwise you're going to have problems. What are your high level observations on that?

Erin (00:16:09) - I think first and foremost, it's the mode of the communication that we tend to. So we always tend to default to the mode that we feel the most comfortable with as leaders. So if you are a boomer, you're going to feel most comfortable. Usually with face to face, you have no problem walking into someone's office booking a lunch. You know, you want that face to face, real, live, in-person action. If you go to those Gen Zers, which are my kids right now, that would absolutely terrify them. If somebody just walked in and said, I need to give you some feedback. Right? Because they're like their preferred method mean they grew up behind screens. Right? And and so their preferred method is they want they don't want an email. That's probably the Gen Xers. They want like a text message or an email. And they would probably prefer to have this conversation virtually like you and I are talking now.

Erin (00:17:04) - That's where they're going to feel safest. And so it's, you know, feedback across generations is you've really got to, again, put yourself into. Understanding and accepting. What did they grow up with? What is their preferred method of communication? How are they going to feel most comfortable so that they can receive the information that you have to give them? You don't want them hung up in the mode of the communication and totally stressed out where they can't even hear you.

Josh (00:17:33) - That's fascinating. You know, I didn't even think about that. But that would that might come across even if it's delivered in a way that I think would be totally appropriate, it might feel a little confrontational. It's like, whoa, we're in person. Yikes. This is really serious kind of thing. And I'm like, No, no, no, it's not. But still. Wow, Great point. Great point. Erin Yeah. So I just want to kind of leave folks with Call to action again, Erin Thorp, AKA you can also again grab your book Inside Out Empathy.

Josh (00:18:08) - But again, at your website, Erin, there's a button right there. You're right. Your blog is very good. And then there's a button right there. That's this book called Grab Some Time with Erin and talk about what's going on. And Erin, I'm sure you can help help with some great direction and some great ideas. So, Erin Thorp, it's been a pleasure having you. Thank you so much for joining us.

Erin (00:18:28) - Thank you, Josh.

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