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Leadership Isn’t Perfect with Margy Feldhuhn

High performers are often thrust into management roles without the training or tools needed to be effective. Margy Feldhuhn experienced precisely this in her first leadership position and had to navigate murky waters to rise to the challenge.

In this episode, Margy explains why insufficient training and preparation is the most significant hurdle middle management has to face and discusses solutions to the problem. Listen in to hear the other lessons she’s learned from her early work experiences and how she applied them on her quick rise from an hourly contractor at Interview Connections to CEO of the company.

After You Listen:

Key Takeaways:

  • Never stop developing your leadership skills—read books, go to conferences, listen to podcasts
  • Stress can affect both your mental and physical health. Understand how to regulate your nervous system to discharge stress and reset
  • Provide middle managers the tools needed to lead their team

Things to listen for:

[01:49] Lightning round with Margy

[03:17] Being thrust into leadership, ready or not

[06:41] Take care of yourself

[07:46] Going from hourly contractor to CEO

[09:16] Empowering middle management with the tools needed to lead

[12:49] The reality of being in charge

[14:46] Advice Margy would give to her younger self

[26:03] Craig’s takeaways


[00:00:00] Craig P Anderson: Welcome to the Accidental Leader Podcast, the only leadership podcast that shows how today’s successful leaders develop the competence, competence, and calm to lead their team and organization to success. I’m Craig Anderson and my career journey is a tale of accidental leadership. I started out with a degree in English and a growing comic book collection, and my plan was to be a high school teacher, but what we plan and what happens aren’t always the same thing.

A college job turned into a career in education finance. An entry level in my alma mater became over time increasing leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies, including many national leadership roles. As that chapter closed, I spun off a business from a large operating not-for-profit, and grew that into a successful business that was named a great place to work in Indianapolis.

Over my career, I learned a lot of leadership lessons the hard way I created this podcast so you don’t have.

My guest today is Margy Feldhuhn, the CEO of Interview Connections. Margy, welcome to the External Leaders Podcast. Greg,

[00:01:09] Margy Feldhuhn: thank you so much for having me on. I’m

[00:01:12] Craig P Anderson: excited to have you here. Before we dive into the lightning round, can you tell us a bit about the Interview Connections business? What is it that you

[00:01:19] Margy Feldhuhn: all.

So we are a podcast guest booking agency. So we work with online entrepreneurs, a lot of coaches, consultants, investors, and we book them as guests on podcasts to get them in front of their ideal clients.

[00:01:36] Craig P Anderson: Very nice, and I came across you guys several years ago and have been fascinated to watch your business grow.

So I’m excited to talk to you when we get to the segment on today’s leadership role. But to get us started, let’s dive right into the lightning round. Are you ready? Yes. Okay. Question number one. What is the best leadership book you have ever?

[00:01:57] Margy Feldhuhn: Okay, so I’m a big reader, so I agonized over picking one. I think I’m gonna choose Multipliers by Liz Weisman.

[00:02:07] Craig P Anderson: Okay. Wow, I’ve not heard of that one. I have to add it to the list.

[00:02:12] Margy Feldhuhn: It’s really good. But I do have a second, third, and fourth choice. .

[00:02:17] Craig P Anderson: Well, we only get one, but maybe the rest will come up as we go. Let’s see. Who is your leadership crush?

[00:02:23] Margy Feldhuhn: Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney. I am obsessed with.

[00:02:27] Craig P Anderson: I love it. I have a lot of really bad habits, and one of them is a big Disney person, and he is an amazing leader.

Okay, and then in 10 words or less, how would you define leadership?

[00:02:40] Margy Feldhuhn: I would define leadership as being willing to step up and take responsibility always for everyth.

[00:02:50] Craig P Anderson: I know so many people who just became thrust into leadership roles because they were willing to lead and had the ability, even if they didn’t know that they did.

And that sounds a bit like what you’re talking about there. Yeah. Okay. Now we get into the meat of it. So tell us about your first leadership role.

[00:03:09] Margy Feldhuhn: So early pre-work days of like being the leader on group projects and I ran for like student council or something, but my first like professional leadership role was very much accidental.

I was working as a door to door canvasser for an environmental group and I loved canvassing, which is a weird thing to love, but I was surprised to find that I really, really liked it. I really enjoyed meeting people. Similar to so many jobs. If you’re a really good producer, they just make you a manager.

Whether you wanna be a manager, have the skills or not. And so I became, I went from being a canvasser to becoming a field manager and then was sent with another field manager to a different state to open up a brand new office, which I was probably not super qualified to.

[00:04:03] Craig P Anderson: Wow. So you really were thrust into it.

You said you weren’t sure you were ready, so how did you

[00:04:11] Margy Feldhuhn: do? Overall, I think I did well. Looking back now, I can see how immature I was, like as a leader. I was also like 22, so just like as a person, I think I overall did pretty well. We achieved the objective. We hired and trained enough Canvasers to make that.

Office in Austin, Texas, like up and running. As far as I know, it’s still an active canvas, so it was effective, but definitely there were moments that even at the time I was like, that didn’t go perfectly.

[00:04:45] Craig P Anderson: When you think back to it, what surprised you the most about being in charge? I’m

[00:04:50] Margy Feldhuhn: not sure that anything really surprised me.

I did not enjoy it at all, and I found that as an early leader, I found myself getting frustrated with people in a way that I didn’t feel frustrated with them when I wasn’t a leader, because I feel like I had so much more responsibility over the team and the results of the team. And that made me, I think, a little bit more uptight.

And so I was having, I was not having as much fun as I had been having when I was just like on the team and somebody else was accountable. So I think that surprised me a little bit and then just how hard it was. To work with another leader. So we were chosen from two totally different offices in different states to go and open this office together and had really, really different personalities, different leadership styles, just very different.

And that was also surprising how. Tense. That was, and it was funny, one of my really good friends is someone I hired and trained like years ago and I just went to her wedding. We’re still close friends. And kind of recently she was like, oh, I could tell that you guys hated each other. And that surprised me cuz I was like, oh, I thought I was like keeping it pretty cool.

But I guess people could feel the tension.

[00:06:10] Craig P Anderson: Wow. What a challenge to not only have a leadership role, but have a co-leadership role. So balancing both getting things done through other people, with another person. What was the big leadership lesson you took away from that experience?

[00:06:25] Margy Feldhuhn: I think a big lesson that I didn’t learn right away is just around taking care of yourself and now I do a lot of like nervous system regulation work.

I’m getting certified as a neuro somatic coach because I believe that this stuff is so important for leadership and I really wasn’t, I didn’t have those tools, so I wasn’t really able to. Regulate myself and figure out what are the things that help me go from a tense state or a stress state to a regulated state, even if it’s as simple as like going for a walk or like having those routines, I just didn’t know that.

And so I can see now how the stress and strain of being in charge and being 22 and not knowing what I was doing was impacting me and how I felt and how I showed up in my life. At the time though, I really, I didn’t have that awareness or that vocabulary or those.

[00:07:17] Craig P Anderson: Now, let’s jump forward. You have this amazing role as CEO of Interview Connections, so tell us about how that role works for you today.

How did that come about?

[00:07:29] Margy Feldhuhn: So I actually started out as a producer role again, so at Interview Connections, I was a $15 an hour contractor. I was a booking agent and I was booking clients and became first employee of the business, and then negotiated 50% equity in 2018, and then stepped into the CEO role pretty quickly.

Because I realized that while I don’t love middle management roles, I really do love the CEO role and the business owner role and that type of dynamic leadership. While not easy, and I write in my blog pretty honestly about like mistakes I make and what I learn from them. This role now, I really, really love.

I love the strategy, I love the vision, and I love. I have to continue to grow as a person every day and kind of step into a new version of myself every single day. And I think that’s what makes leadership such a powerful journey. If you want that, if you’re excited about growth, then you’ll always be happy with the role because even on hard days sometimes you grow even more on those days.

So if growth is the focus, it’s really reward. And

[00:08:45] Craig P Anderson: you said you don’t re like middle manager roles, but really enjoy the CEO role. Is it growth that’s more challenging in the middle manager role? How do you draw that distinction? That’s

[00:08:55] Margy Feldhuhn: a great question. I think it mostly has to do with the fact that when people are put in middle management roles, they’re generally not empowered with tools to actually lead effectively.

So it’s not being a middle manager, it’s just everywhere that I’ve worked, there was no one mentoring me who really. Understood leadership on a deep level, and how do we inspire people and not micromanage them? How do we multiply, like the book multipliers make other people better than they were without us.

So it’s not about controlling, it’s not about that like, Typical boss that we see portrayed on tv that’s like laying down the law or is kind of distant. It’s so different than that. So I didn’t like middle management because I think it’s so many people in middle management are just kind of promoted up because they’re promising as an individual achiever, they don’t have the skills and they’re kind of put in a position to fail.

I also think that as. Grown as I’ve learned more about different types of company structures and learning about scrum and agility, creating self-managing teams where there are leaders or managers, but they’re not managing the people and the work. They’re managing the environment and the ecosystem so that they’re creating an ecosystem where people can thrive and do good work and solve problems easily.

And that type of management I love. But I don’t think that’s traditionally how management is taught and.

[00:10:23] Craig P Anderson: That’s a great point, and I’ve talked about this many times, is companies are quick to put that high performer into a management role because you must be good cuz you were a good individual contributor and then provide them with zero resource on how to transition from a management role.

Well from individual contributor manager and then into actually a leader. Cause those are very different things. Yeah,

[00:10:45] Margy Feldhuhn: it’s doing a good job yourself and understanding how to get a group of people to do a good job and be engaged. It is just totally different. It feels like totally different parts of your brain.

Totally different muscles. It’s not to say that you can’t do both, but like you’re saying, it really does take some like training and development. So

[00:11:05] Craig P Anderson: when you think back and you, maybe you gave a little precursor to this already, to that first leadership role. What did you take away from that? That impacts how you lead today in this?

I think

[00:11:16] Margy Feldhuhn: the biggest thing is what I said with like the regulation. I was experiencing really bad stomach pains and like fatigue and just all of this stuff that I now realize was because my nervous system was disregulated and I didn’t have a way to discharge the stress and to re-regulate. So I think that’s the biggest one.

And then I think also just like. It’s just not perfect. I’m so much better at leading than I was then. But back then there were shining moments and then there were moments that I was like, I could have done that better. And it’s still the case now, right? Like at a higher level. But that hasn’t changed.

[00:11:57] Craig P Anderson: It is interesting how the whole physical aspect of the stress of leadership can just manifest in you and creep up on you, and then you’re looking around going, why have I gained five pounds?

Why am I so tired? Why am I yelling at my dog? I would ask you this, would, do you think you appreciated the weight of leadership as much when you were outside a CEO role to where you actually

[00:12:21] Margy Feldhuhn: sat? No, I didn’t, and I think I’ve been seeing a lot of posts lately about this, which I really like. Being a business owner, being an entrepreneur, being like a hashtag like CEO boss because of the internet.

I think it’s gotten really, really glamorized and it’s like everybody wants to do it now, and it’s not to say that everybody can’t do it and build the skills. But I don’t know that people are really getting an accurate view of what it’s like because they’re seeing like photos of like going to conferences in these like gorgeous locations and like all of this cool stuff.

Like I was featured in Forbes and all that stuff, like amazing. But like I was featured in Forbes. It was amazing. That was like two seconds though. And like the day to day of it is really like stepping up and facing challenges and failing and learning and going back and regulating your nervous system.

And I think that until you really experience it, and I’m not trying to scare people away, it’s amazing. I absolutely love. It is really different, the experience of it and the responsibility of it, and it is really different when you own the business. Being a leader of a company or an organization you don’t own, and being the leader of your own company where you have full responsibility, everything is tied to your social security number, like it’s just a very different type of feeling.

[00:13:48] Craig P Anderson: It is. And a lot of the leaders I work with, kind of what I call the accidental leaders, are people who are really good at something. Podcast development, marketing. I have a great desire to help people in some way, and I created a not-for-profit. They don’t think that someday I’m gonna be a leader. I’m just pursuing a passion.

And if you’re good at it, suddenly you have 25 people around you going, what do we do? And you suddenly, oh, I’m a leader now, and where do you go? It’s quite the challenge. So last question for you. I love science fiction, love time, travel stories. You can pick a any time travel machine you want. It could be the DeLorean, it could be the one from HG Wells, whichever one.

Put yourself in a time machine, and I want you to go back in time from now and meet your early self in that first leadership role. What is the one piece of advice you would give yourself in that role

[00:14:42] Margy Feldhuhn: today? I would teach her some neuro drill. Just maybe three things and say, do this morning and evening and just see how it goes with the stomach pain and the exhaustion.

[00:14:54] Craig P Anderson: Building those practices in early can help us for the long haul, cuz it’s definitely a marathon, not a sprint when you’re in a leadership role. Yeah, absolutely. Margie, if people wanna know more about your business or about you, or you’ve got a blog and a podcast, how can people find you to learn more about what you’re.

[00:15:11] Margy Feldhuhn: My podcast and my personal blog, m a r g y, and then my company Interview Connections So if you’re interested in learning about getting booked on podcasts, that’s a place to go.

[00:15:27] Craig P Anderson: As always here on the Accidental Leader Podcast, I like to leave you with three takeaways from the interview, and I like to frame them in the key leadership area.

Building confidence. Confidence and calm to make you a better leader. And Margie had some great points she made today. So I wanna break this down for you so you have something you can walk away with. So the first is surround confidence. What really impressed me is she didn’t have just one leadership book that she recommended she had four or five.

Building your leadership confidence is part, educating yourself. What are you doing to develop your skills as a leader? That’s such an important piece in being a a big reader or attending training and conferences. Self-development as leaders going to help you build the confidence you need to be successful.

Competence, she said, leadership isn’t perfect. That mindset is going to help us. We are not always going to make the perfect decisions as leaders. What’s important is we make the best decision we can. With what we have available to us at the time, and realize that every day is gonna be a new day and we’re gonna have to continue to make decisions and move forward.

So realizing you’re not going to be perfect is a great way to feel more competent in the role. And then finally, in the area of calm, leadership is a weighty business. And you don’t realize until you sit in the big chair what that feels like. I love that Margie brought out the importance of self-care and returning yourself to a regulated state and learning the tricks to do that.

That is such an important piece. Whether you do prayer, meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, or as she said, just taking a walk, getting yourself into that regulated state and recognizing when you’re out of it is going to help you really have that marathon of leadership instead of just a daily sprint of trying to be in.

So thank you Margie, for a great interview and some great takeaways for our audience. Are you an accidental leader looking to level up? Well, one area that you’re really gonna hurt yourself as a leader is if you run lousy meetings and you run too many of them. That’s why I developed my 10 rules for better meetings.

You can download that slash better meetings. You will thank me for it and your team will thank you for paying attention to it. 10. Easy to implement things to make your meetings better. Thanks for listening to everybody and remember, leaders aren’t Born, they’re made, and you can go from accidental leader to the greatest of all time leader.

It just takes building your confidence, confidence and calm. We’ll see you next time in the Accidental Leader Podcast.