1760 – A Customized Approach to Leadership Development with Matt Lesser

In this episode of the Thoughtful Entrepreneur, your host Josh Elledge speaks with the Founder of Uniquely Normal, LLC, Matt Lesser.

Lesser wide

Matt's approach to leadership development is as unique as the organizations he works with. He tailors his strategies based on the specific needs of each organization, whether it's conflict management, communication, or other areas.

Matt's work isn't limited to individual leaders; he extends his expertise to the entire organization. He provides executive coaching to senior leaders or teams and plays a crucial role in developing new organizational leaders.

Matt's new book, “Unengaged: Building Flourishing Organizations,” is a treasure trove of practical guidance for leaders. It explores three pillars of building a flourishing organization: empathy, empowerment, and excellence.

Regarding empathy, Matt can't stress enough the importance of genuinely knowing and understanding people. He encourages leaders to take a relational approach rather than a transactional one. According to Matt, sharing stories is a great starting point as it opens the door to a person's heart.

Matt believes leaders who embrace empathy, empowerment, and equipping their teams will have lower turnover and engagement issues than those who do not prioritize these aspects.

Key Points from the Episode:

  • Introduction of Matt Lesser, founder of Uniquely Normal and author of two books
  • Matt's work with family businesses and focus on leadership development
  • Matt's approach to working with individual leaders and the entire organization
  • Discussion of Matt's new book, “Unengaged: Building Flourishing Organizations
  • Exploration of the three pillars of building a flourishing organization: empathy, empowerment, and excellence
  • Emphasis on the importance of empathy and understanding in leadership
  • Discussion on effectively communicating sensitive information within an organization
  • The importance of empowering employees and allowing them to do their job
  • Addressing employee concerns and taking action based on feedback

About Matt Lesser:

Matt Lesser, a resilient entrepreneur and seasoned executive, initially faced adversity when his family business faltered, leading him into a dark period of suicidal depression.

Rising from this setback, he founded a successful company that expanded from three to nearly two hundred employees, experiencing a remarkable twenty-fold increase in revenue before a strategic sale to trusted competitors.

With a twelve-year tenure in private equity C-Suite roles and subsequent transitional roles in banking and commercial uniforms, Lesser accumulated a wealth of experience.

In 2021, he established Uniquely Normal, LLC, empowering leaders to address people-related challenges through empathy, empowerment, and excellence. A bestselling author with “unSatisfied: When Less is More,” Lesser is also a certified executive coach adept in numerous personality, preference, and leadership assessments.

He has been a sought-after keynote speaker and facilitator for over two decades, engaging leaders globally. His upcoming book, “unEngaged: Building Flourishing Organizations,” is slated for release on October 24, 2023. Matt, who married his elementary school sweetheart in 1996, resides in northeast Indiana with his family.

About Uniquely Normal, LLC:

Uniquely Normal, LLC addresses workforce management challenges, offering a comprehensive solution to concerns such as high turnover, low engagement, and productivity issues. Specializing in equipping leaders and leadership teams, the company provides practical tools, training, coaching, and resources.

By fostering the intentional development of team members, Uniquely Normal aims to transform organizations into flourishing entities.

The approach yields tangible benefits, including a significant reduction in turnover, heightened engagement and productivity, efficient filling of open positions, and a notable increase in commitment and loyalty.

The Uniquely Normal team employs proven practices and practical applications, focusing on three core principles: empathy, empowerment, and excellence.

By intentionally integrating these principles, leaders and teams are equipped to build and sustain flourishing organizations. Uniquely Normal, LLC, thus, serves as a valuable partner for businesses seeking to enhance their team dynamics and overall organizational success.

Tweetable Moments:

08:08 – “Once you see a person's heart, you will not view that person the same way again.”

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Links Mentioned in this Episode:

Want to learn more? Check out Uniquely Normal, LLC website at

Check out Uniquely Normal, LLC on LinkedIn at

Check out Matt Lesser on Facebook at

Check out Matt Lesser on LinkedIn at

Check out Matt Lesser 2nd New book: unEngaged: Building Flourishing Organizations 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 influence and click on podcast. We'd love to have you. With us right now it's Matt Lesser. Matt, you are the founder of Uniquely Normal. You're found on the web at Uniquely Normal, and you're the author of two books, Unsatisfied When Less Is More and this new one, which I'm really excited to talk about with you, it's called Unengaged Building Flourishing Organizations. Great topic for this show, Matt.

Josh (00:01:23) - Thank you so much for joining us.

Matt (00:01:24) - Hey, thank you Josh, I have been looking forward to our conversation today.

Josh (00:01:28) - Absolutely. Well, give us an overview of we'll get into the books for sure, but I'd love to learn about your work and who you work with and what you do.

Matt (00:01:35) - Sure. So my primary audience is it's just kind of happened this way is family, businesses and so of all shapes and sizes and all industries. And primarily my focus is working with the senior leadership team or the leaders in the organization in leadership development. And so starting out with whatever the pain point is, literally, I custom build every approach. And so don't come to the table with, hey, this is what you need. I have all the solutions to all your problems because every entrepreneur, every business owner, every business leader has a felt need. And so let's start there. And so we start with the felt need. And then we often move into other areas, whether it's conflict management or conflict engagement or it's communication or whatever it may be.

Matt (00:02:19) - And so that's one area of the business. Also do quite a bit of speaking, whether it's small audiences, big audiences doesn't really matter. Just talking about either my work or my story or the books. And so it's really kind of all the above.

Josh (00:02:34) - So when you're working with leaders and or in companies, are you working primarily with one person leadership team or the whole organization? Yeah.

Matt (00:02:44) - Great question. And so I have done both. So in addition I do a lot of executive coaching. And so sometimes I will come in with coaching, whether it's the senior, whether it's the owner, the CEO, maybe his or her team, or it could be coming in and say, you know, I have a couple of clients right now that the little the owner of the company called me and said, hey, I've had a lot of turnover, I have a lot of new people, a lot of new people in leadership positions that have never been in those positions before. I need help. Can you come in, please, and help me develop those people? And oftentimes, Josh, what that leads to is developing the senior team as well.

Matt (00:03:19) - And so because it's both in helping them relate better together, especially if there's a generation gap and don't understand each other and they don't understand how to communicate with each other. So I'm not giving you a specific answer to your question. I know that, but it's kind of both and situation. And so I often start with one and then gravitate to another.

Josh (00:03:38) - Yeah. Yeah. Well again how apropos. Because I mean this is something that I think has been in a lot of business headlines over the past couple of years. And again, that has to do with the title of your new book, Unengaged Building Flourishing Organizations. And I think a lot of leaders and organizations are struggling more so than ever before when it comes to recruiting and retaining and then also motivating team members. There's just been a lot of movement there, and I think that, you know, you just look at all of the forces and disruptions that have taken place and have a lot of empathy for leaders and have a lot of empathy for team members, too, that want to work at a place where they feel like their work matters, they feel important, they feel valued from the work that they do, you know, and the other stuff.

Josh (00:04:25) - Right? They're fairly compensated. It's good work, life balance, that sort of thing. Give us maybe just kind of a thesis, if you will, to unengaged.

Matt (00:04:33) - Well, you just honestly described the first pillar. So there's three pillars to building a flourishing organization empathy empowerment and excellence. And so the book unpacks this. When I wrote my first book it was a great learning experience. And I've talked to many authors since that. I've written multiple books. And they often told me, it's like you will come to hate your first work. Well, I don't hate my first work, but it was a great learning experience. I have an amazing editor, so she coached me along the way. When I wrote the second one, I took a completely different approach. So it's a fable. It's a fable approach. So there's a story, there's a narrative that ties it all together, and it's the story of Paul. That's my character. And even though it's a fable, it's all rooted in reality.

Matt (00:05:16) - Whether it is my personal experiences or experiences working with organizations. And he's on this journey moving from one organization that had what I would describe as a toxic culture, and now moving to another organization, working for his best friend or his past best friend, and helping him maintain and build a healthy organizational culture, flourishing culture, empathy, empowerment and excellence. So the book is in three parts. The first part is that the second part, I actually pull in a model from the first book called The Flourishing Life Model, but applied to organizational culture. And then finally the third part, Josh, is integration and application. I'm a big believer that we don't need more conceptual type books that are ethereal and just idea based. We need practical and implementable books that leaders can take and say, okay, great, you told me about flourishing organizations. You tell me about the flourishing life model. What do I do about it? And so the whole third part is the playbook. And so if you want if you're serious about this, if you're passionate about this, here's how you do it.

Josh (00:06:20) - In Matt, specifically, when we talk about empathy and mean to make this sound like a dumb question, but what does that look like or like as leaders? Because we don't want to be fake and empathy, you know, fake empathic, right? We truly and I think that if our hearts are there, I feel like this is going to be easier than for someone that maybe has not extolled that virtue in the workplace. And, you know, their culture is a little bit broken in that regard. Maybe they've just been a little bit transactional, a little bit of the, you know, you give us an honest eight hours of work and we'll give you an honest eight hours a pay and then, you know, whatever it's, you know, or maybe it's been done in a kind of a fake way that hasn't gone over real well. Like here, we're all family, you know, that sort of thing.

Josh (00:07:05) - Yeah.

Matt (00:07:06) - I'm not a big fan of the family Word in corporate settings because I'm a huge fan of teen, but I don't like family because it's very difficult to fire family.

Matt (00:07:15) - And sometimes, unfortunately, you have to fire somebody. Honestly, I really like the way you described empathy when you talked about it a few minutes ago, because it's really about genuinely knowing people, understanding people, taking a relational approach, not a transactional approach. And what I encourage people to do is start with story in fact, one of my first things that I'll do with when I work with a team especially, is I will do my best to either get them off site or get them someplace where they cannot be interrupted and literally say, go around the table and say, share your story. And I don't mean the CliffsNotes version, I mean the full on story, because once you start sharing story, even if you're not comfortable with that or used to it or to your point just a minute ago, you're more transactional in nature. There's something about sharing a story that begins to open up the door to a person's heart. And once you see a person's heart, you will not view that person the same way again.

Matt (00:08:08) - And so I will actually often start with the CEO or the founder of the organization and say, and I'll pull him or her side beforehand and say, I want you to share your story. I want you to lead, and I want you to go deep, and I want you to be vulnerable. And they say, well, I don't want to do that. I say, okay, fine, I will go first, I'll share mine, and then you can just follow me. And Josh, I oftentimes, if that's all I get accomplished in a first session with a team, I consider that a success because the feedback that I get just from doing that alone is absolutely huge.

Josh (00:08:42) - Yeah. Tell me a little bit more about being vulnerable as a leader and what that looks like. And I wonder how many of us think that. Well, if I show vulnerability, that translates to weakness. And weakness is not an admirable leader trait.

Matt (00:08:58) - That's, I think, what we have been told. I think that's a lie that we've been fed either from education or from our culture.

Matt (00:09:04) - And I disagree with it vehemently, because oftentimes what happens is the exact opposite of what we think will. If I'm vulnerable, people like, oh, wait a minute, he's a real person or she's a real person, I can identify with that. All of a sudden we go from untouchable to touchable. Not in a weird way, but just an approachable way. And so I'm a big fan of vulnerability because guess what? Every single human being on this planet has either experienced failure or we've experienced setbacks. We have weaknesses. Nobody is perfect. Nobody is super, you know, the super person that everybody thinks they are. And so I think we have put leaders on this pedestal. Yeah. Basically destined to fail because we say, okay, here you're on this pedestal and you can never screw up. You can never fail, you can never show weakness. And all of it is non-human. Yeah.

Josh (00:09:57) - Yeah, it totally does. I mean, think about that. The work that I've done on the advising on PR and, you know, going to be on stage and or even in sales, right, when we're willing to just be much more transparent with people.

Josh (00:10:11) - I think that that brings a new level of intimacy, quite frankly, between those people. Yet, you know, I'm still kind of wrestling that with a like, let's say, for example, and there may be some things that might not be appropriate to share with the troops, right? Yeah. If we're worried about I don't know if we're worried about things, you know, I think about should I share with everybody that our sales numbers and our cash flow is kind of messed up right now? How can we maybe broach some of those sensitive topics in a way that's honest, but also, well, we don't want to freak everyone out and have everyone look, you know, start putting resumes out because they think we're going out of business because it's a leader. I'm going down with shit no matter what, right? Yeah. So that's right. I'm here to turn this thing around at all times. But it's not to say that we don't have those fears that come up from time to time or frustrations.

Matt (00:11:01) - No, you're exactly right. And I think that a lot of discretion and wisdom has to be applied. And, you know, there are certain things that what I experience more often than not is that senior leadership, especially, they feel alone. They don't know who to trust in their surrounded by people that want to please them, and so they don't know exactly what they can share, what they should share. And so one of my first things that I advise senior leaders is put together a personal board of advisors have two or 3 or 5 people that you can meet with on a quarterly basis where you can be completely gut level, honest and fully transparent. And so that's where you start. And then let them help you and say, okay, what's the next layer that I should bring in my other senior leaders or next year? You know, you don't want to get on a microphone and announce the entire organization. Okay. The ship's taken on water, but you also don't want to paint this picture that, oh my goodness, we're sailing high on the seas and blah blah blah.

Matt (00:11:55) - But people there are certain people that need to know in your organization when you're hurting.

Josh (00:12:00) - Yeah, yeah. And I think most importantly, you know, to let them know in the same breath or in the same conversation, here's what we're doing. Yeah, I like that. So the book and I want to make sure that folks pick it up again. It's called unengaged building flourishing organizations. I think oftentimes too, it can be really easy to be just very frustrated with where a leader might say, I feel like I'm doing the right thing. I feel like our top level leadership is doing the right thing, but gosh darn it, I can't get these lazy people to come back to the office or something like that. Right? And so, you know, that's how we look at, you know, disengage or engagement or quiet quitting or whatever you might want to call it. Right. But can you address kind of that where it might feel like there is a gap there, like one department's got it, the other department has it, like what's going on here?

Matt (00:12:50) - Yeah.

Matt (00:12:51) - No, it's a common issue is that how do we get everybody on the same page rowing in the same direction and passion about what we're doing? And really that moves from it starts with empathy and really helping people see people as people. I believe people or organizations, organizations or people. And we've lost some of that human element. You know, Covid did some things to us culturally that we're still trying to figure out. And so how do we bring back the human element and everything that we do? And then empowerment then is all about equipping and then releasing the people that you hire to do a job, to do the job you hire them to do. You know, I can't tell you how many times, Josh, I hear people say, well, I was hired to do this thing, and then I've never really been allowed to do that thing. You know, either I've got 17 approval levels I have to go through, or I'm micromanaged, or I have to put together 35 reports every week.

Matt (00:13:39) - So therefore I came into my job. And so I think it's a matter of trying to clear the path and say, okay, listen, what do you need going to people and say, what do you need to be successful in what you do? And so if a department or division is struggling, rather than trying to layer in more demands, more mandates and say, do this, do this, do this, it's just going to them and having a honest and open conversation and saying, we're struggling here, okay, what's it going to take? What do you need? How can I help you be successful as a leader or whatever, and then be open to what is shared? And then for goodness sake, do something about it. The worst thing possible is you have that kind of a meeting and your people share with you, and then you do nothing about it. Oh, that's going to kill.

Josh (00:14:22) - Yep. Because if you don't do anything about it, what are you teaching.

Matt (00:14:27) - That my voice doesn't matter.

Josh (00:14:29) - Yeah. Yeah. Right. Oh my gosh.

Matt (00:14:31) - So now all of a sudden now we just went totally against empathy. So now we're reversed now. And that's how you lose people. So yeah when I talk with leaders about tell me about the last five people you left and why they left. Oftentimes it comes down to Josh. Sometimes it's compensation related. Most times it's they didn't feel appreciated. They didn't feel heard. They didn't feel seen. They didn't feel valued.

Josh (00:14:53) - Now, can I ask you to maybe to look into your crystal ball a little bit. And, you know, when it comes to people leadership and when it comes to, you know, being a leader of people and great teams, where do you think we're headed?

Matt (00:15:07) - Oh my goodness. I think it depends on if leaders start to embrace. You know, I'm not saying that I have all the answers because I don't. But I will say that it's interesting to me that there's a whole lot of noise on the street right now related to empathy, empowerment, making sure that people feel seen, valued, known, heard and loved.

Matt (00:15:27) - You know, I'm hearing more of the love word in corporate right now than I've heard in a long time. That's amazing times. It's a word you want to avoid. And so I think that's part of it. And so I think the other part of it is truly being able to equip people to do the job that they're hired to do. You know, it's but I go back to when I wrote the book, I put empathy as the first pillar because I believe it's the most important. Obviously, you have all three together, but if those companies that I worked with, a lot of companies and those that understand this and they get it, they don't have the same turnover, they don't have the same recruiting issues, they don't have the same lack of engagement issues that other companies do.

Josh (00:16:06) - Yeah I love this. Okay. So again your website uniquely I've got two books Matt unsatisfied when less is more. And then of course the new book Unengaged Building Flourishing Organizations. Both of those can be found at uniquely

Josh (00:16:26) - Aside from the books, someone that's been listening to our conversation like, I like this conversation and they want more of you, what would you recommend they do?

Matt (00:16:34) - My website has a contact me information, so you fill it out and I will get an email. Or you can email me directly. Matt at uniquely and Josh am open to talking with anyone. I love having, you know, this kind of conversation. And if I can come alongside the leaders and help equip them and their teams to become a flourishing organization and talk about it in terms of, I want to help leaders address their greatest people related challenges because we live in intelligence era, right? So it's all about people, people intelligence. And so if I can help leaders equip them and their teams to become more intelligent when it comes to people related issues, that's what I want to do.

Josh (00:17:11) - Yeah. Awesome. Matt Lester, again, you are the founder of Uniquely Normal, your new books, Unengaged Building, Flourishing Organization, and of course the classic.

Josh (00:17:22) - The original book is unsatisfied when less is more, which we didn't even have time to get into. But really great conversation. Matt, thank you so much for joining us.

Matt (00:17:31) - Thank you Josh, really appreciate it.

Josh (00:17:38) - Thanks for listening to the Thoughtful Entrepreneur show. If you are a thoughtful business owner or professional who would like to be on this daily program, please visit up my influence slash guest. If you're a listener, I'd love to shout out your business to our whole audience for free. You can do that by leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or join our Listener Facebook group. Just search for the Thoughtful Entrepreneur and Facebook. I'd love even if you just stopped by to say hi. I'd love to meet you. We believe that every person has a message that can positively impact the world. We love our community who listens and shares our program every day. Together, we are empowering one another as thoughtful entrepreneurs. Hit subscribe so that tomorrow morning. That's right. Seven days a week. You are going to be inspired and motivated to succeed.

Josh (00:18:36) - I promise to bring positivity and inspiration to you for around 15 minutes each day. Thanks for listening and thank you for being a part of the Thoughtful Entrepreneur movement.

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