Liz Gross, Founder and CEO of Campus Sonar, started her leadership journey very young and was repeatedly reminded of that fact by the people on her team. At the time, her response was to shy away from connecting with her people and take on more work rather than try to teach them how to do it.

In this episode, Liza shares why she does the exact opposite in her current role. Listen in to hear how to inspire and guide the people on your team so you can make significant progress together. Along the way, you’ll also learn about how Liz ensures the people she hires have values to align with the companies.

After You Listen:

Key Takeaways:

  • Hone your delegation skills for superior leadership, maximizing team efficiency
  • Cultivate a space encouraging personal and team development, sparking creativity
  • Align your core values and the company’s mission for long-lasting business success

Things to listen for:

  • [02:31] Lightning round with Liz
  • [08:10] Lessons learned from being a young leader
  • [12:30] The pitfalls of failing to delegate
  • [18:59] How to develop a growth mindset in others
  • [22:25] Liz’s advice for her younger self
  • [23:51] Craig’s takeaways

Liz’s Transcript

Craig: [00:00:00] Liz, welcome to Executive Evolution.

Thanks for joining us.

Liz Gross: Thanks Craig. I’m so excited to be here.

Craig: Oh, me too. We’ve known each other for a long time, but we haven’t had this conversation, so I’m very excited to get your insights for everybody. So before we jump in, you are the founder and c e O of Campus Sonar, but can you tell us a bit about what Campus Sonar does?

Liz Gross: Absolutely. We are an expert services firm that empowers higher education leaders with insights from online conversation, and we gather that through social listening research in order for them to be more audience-centric. So what that basically means is we help them align the strategies of their institution and their organization with their stakeholders, where they are now and where they’re likely to. In the future and within that realm, we tend to focus on brand and reputation management, institutional and presidential strategy and enrollment targeting and positioning.

Craig: Wow. So a real pipeline to leaders of what’s going on out in the world in the conversation about [00:01:00] them.

Liz Gross: Yes,

Craig: Fascinating. Great. Are you ready for the lightning round? Are you ready to dive

Liz Gross: I am so ready.

Craig: All right. Question number one. What is the best leadership book you have ever read?

Liz Gross: This one. I know right off the top of my head. It is Give and Take by Adam Grant. I believe I read it probably about three years ago. And I’ve read a whole lot of leadership books. I did a PhD in leadership and this one really took the cake for me. And if anyone’s curious about why it gave a name to something that I have felt. While growing this business which is proa, it is the opposite of paranoia. It’s the feeling that the universe wants you to succeed rather than fail.

Craig: Wow. I love it. That is the first time that book has come up on the podcast, so thanks for sharing a new one for us. It’s so interesting to me cuz leaders we sit in these elements and the one thing I hear a lot from leaders is, I feel so alone in this role. And that does lead to a little bit of paranoia, but turning that on its head to say, no, actually people want me to succeed. Has gotta be uplifting. How did that change how you looked at your leadership role when you read

Liz Gross: So the premise behind Give and Take is that in all aspects of the world, but absolutely in business and in leadership, there are givers and there are takers, and there are people who also just try to like make those two balance. And the givers are those who will. Almost always, not always, but almost always are willing to give of their time, their talent, their treasure, whatever that might be to help someone else without the immediate expectation of something coming back to them in between.

And Adam Grant’s a business professor at Wharton. He’s got a whole bunch of data sets that he’s working with, and he started to quantify what happened with givers over time in terms of business success, personal gain, those sorts of things. And he found that givers who would just. Goodness and help and support out into the world would generally get more back than those who were trying to, even the scales or who were more interested in being a taker.

And [00:03:00] they were also more willing to talk about this feeling that I’m just gonna help other people cuz I know they’re also going to help me when the time comes, whether that’s this person or someone I haven’t met yet. And that’s where the paranoia came from.

Craig: That’s so great because so often we don’t really see what the long term can do for us and what other people can do, and just leading with, Hey, I’m just gonna give and then see what comes back.

Liz Gross: Yeah, and I, in my own personal leadership, we’ll talk about this eventually, but within the last couple of years, folks have worked with me to start to try and map my personal network and see again what went out and what came in, just cuz they were curious and they wanted to see it. And I’ve started to see it in my own life too.

Like things I did 10, 15 years ago are now coming back around, which I had no expectation. Need for. And it’s really great to see that play out in real life. So highly recommend the book no matter what industry folks work in or what level they are in organizations.

Craig: [00:04:00] Okay. Question two. Who is your leadership crush?

Liz Gross: I am glad that who isn’t actually singular cause I’m gonna answer with a group and that is everyone. In my leadership mastermind. I’ve been meeting with a small group of leaders that are in education or education adjacent since about. 2019. I know it was before the pandemic and we always met via Zoom cuz we’re all over the world and they are fearless leaders in all sorts of organizations that ultimately believe in the value of education for individuals and for societies. They are the people that no matter how crappy I might be feeling that day, talking with them is going to lift me up and refocus me.

Craig: All right. And then last question for the lightning round. In 10 words or less, how do you define leadership?

Liz Gross: This was hard because I can be wordy, but I’ve wordsmith this a little bit. Inspiring and guiding people to make progress together.

I was really struggling with, wanting to add and do more together than they could on their own, or did it have to be achieved? There was a lot of wordsmithing, but I think I’m happy with inspiring and guiding people to make progress together.

Craig: Yeah. And that’s, and as you get that’s this old move. We’ve gotten away from positional authority and you do what I tell you to do, to really, Hey, this is a big part of our life and we want to feel like we’re part of something bigger. And when you move away from do this, do that to, hey, Look, here’s the bigger goal. Here’s the bigger vision of what we’re trying to achieve with this business. How can I help you get along the path so we move the whole thing forward? And that’s embodied in what you’re saying there. So that’s a great definition.

Liz Gross: Yeah, it’s absolutely the type of leader that I am, which doesn’t make me a great fit for certain types of organizations or leadership roles, but excellent for others.

Craig: Liz. So you’ve been in this leadership role with Campus Sonar for a while, but it’s not your first time in leadership. Take us back. What was your first real leadership role?

Liz Gross: So I could take, I could choose a couple of different things cuz I was a student leader in college and I led initiatives in my first few jobs. But I think what would probably be most interesting to talk about is the first like career leadership role that I had, and that was as director of university marketing and communications at the University of Wisconsin Waukesha, which was a Two year campus of the University of Wisconsin system. And I started that role, it was my third full-time job out of college when I was 28 years old.

Craig: Okay, so how did it go? How do you feel looking back now, how did you do?

Liz Gross: Looking back as wild because it seems like another lifetime I consider myself a higher education professional, but that was my last on-campus role. And I honestly, I think I was average. I thought through this a lot. Like what? Cuz everyone thinks they’re above average, right? I think I was average.

The good things I did, I wasn’t afraid to do new things. The reason I applied for that job was because in 2010 it talked about using social media as part of a core university marketing strategy. And that was new and innovative then. And the entire function needed to be monitor mo, modernized. We were still faxing press.

When I got there. So I wasn’t afraid to do those no things. They hired me knowing that in terms of my actual job, like I met or exceeded the expectations that were set before me. I built really good relationships with my peers on the university leadership team. It still boggles my mind that I was 28 years old, basically sitting on cabinet.

But I did had good relationships with those folks some of whom are university presidents now. Had good relationships with faculty. I volunteered to do a bunch of new things just cause I thought the campus needed it and it sounded like it would be fun. And I ended up leading the campus strategic planning process.

Again, before I was 30 the, like, all of that [00:08:00] was great, but what stands out in my mind, of course, is what I didn’t do well. And this is why I’ll say I was average. And if it wasn’t for all those other things, I would’ve said below average because it’s what’s so important to me now. I didn’t do a good job of growing new skills in my team members or setting new expectations for them in that area.

We got off to a rough start. They were, they made it known in my first week that their children, Were far older than I was, and that just set things off in a weird spot. And they needed some new skills to grow and be successful in their careers, not just in working for me, but in what higher ed marketing needed in 2010, 2011.

And I didn’t do a good job of doing that. And along with that, I think possibly because things started off so adversarial. I didn’t spend a lot of time getting to know my staff, which was small. It was three full-time staff members as people. I didn’t know what they were passionate about. I didn’t know what motivated them.

I just knew we had tasks, lists and jobs to get done and we were gonna go back and forth about what that was. Looking back, I had great relationships all around the rest of the campus, but with that core group that I was relying on to, to get stuff done, I don’t feel particularly. Great about it. So that brings me back to average.

Craig: Yeah. So that’s something that a lot of younger leaders find though, right? I’m, fresh in Heaven help you. If you look really young too on top of it, that you come in and you’re leading teams of people who are twice your age, or as you said, who have kids older than you. So how did that, was that an imposter syndrome thing for you? Was it just a, I don’t really want to tell ’em what to do, cuz I’m afraid they’re gonna tell me I’m young and. Unwise, what really held you back with that?

Liz Gross: Yeah. I have never been someone with a ton of imposter syndrome.

Craig: Okay.

Liz Gross: But what I think it did to me was I internalized this as well. [00:10:00] If they don’t wanna do the social media stuff, the website stuff, the, literally all this stuff that I needed to do to move us forward as an office, I’ll just do it. So it led to me doing a lot more of the work and again, not allowing them to, In the areas that they needed.

Which thinking back on it probably set the position up really rough for the next person as well. But I had been used to being called out as too young to be a leader for quite a few years at that point. And I was more annoyed by it than rattled by it.

Craig: And it is interesting cuz it sounds like this timing was right at the launch of, social media as we know it today. So all of it was new. So not only were you this, young kid coming in telling him what to do, you’re also telling ’em, Hey, let’s quit faxing and start posting on social media.

So you were bringing whole new insights and when they blew it off, you just came [00:11:00] to, this is important, so I’m gonna take it all on myself.

Liz Gross: Yes.

Craig: That’s something I think when you move leaders, moving from that kind of independent contributor role to that, now I’m in charge role. That’s a default setting if I don’t know how to make ’em do it or how to encourage them to do it, which was a bigger stretch for you.

I’m just gonna do it myself.

Liz Gross: Yeah. And not the best choice, but the one I made at that time. And it rippled into my personal life at times too.

And should the director have been the one doing that? Probably not, but was I the only one who was like using the systems to do it? So was I doing it from the hospital next to my husband’s bed as he came out of anesthesia surgery one day? Yep. That was my problem that I created because I didn’t share responsibilities and needs for growth good enough.

Craig: Over time, did that relationship with the team start to change? Did you have to change

or were you trying to get them to change? Or was it just always that way?

Liz Gross: I don’t know that it [00:12:00] really changed all that much. One person eventually retired and I was there for. Just about two years. So I did hire one new person and I think I was building a better relationship with them. But in terms of the team that I inherited I don’t know that it changed much at all.

Craig: Sure. So now let’s fast forward. Now here you are a founder, a C E O of a very successful business that kind of created its own space, if I’m not mistaken. What lessons did you bring forward from that first

leadership role that drove how you lead today?

Liz Gross: Yeah relationships are key to effective leadership, not just peer relationships and industry relationships, which I was always very good at. But relationships with my team and. I think if any of my current team members listen to this, which I know some of them will, they’ll be really surprised to hear my [00:13:00] reflections on that first role because we are a human-centric company and that is written down in our values and it’s part of our culture and my leadership now.

So that definitely has changed. And now that I think about it too, that changed over time through a bunch of different leadership training and leadership assessments that I did. Cuz coming out of that role, I then went into another job that we’re not gonna talk about and supervise another team that I did a better job with.

So I’ve learned relationships with keto effective leadership. I’ve learned that it is better to over than under communicate internally and externally, but particularly internally.

People might not see or understand or hear something. The first time or the second time or I might not be very clear the first time or the second time, I start to worry things aren’t making sense. If we’re trying to communicate about a big a big goal, a big initiative, something like that, six or seven times, and it’s still not landing, [00:14:00] but I don’t worry if we’re not at that point yet.

I’ve also definitely learned that I can’t do everything myself. And even if I think that I can in certain areas I shouldn’t and that I’ve continued to learn particularly that last part, it’s oh, this one area I can just be really involved in that and do a lot of that. And that’s, we’re a company of 17 people.

There’s no room for that anymore. And then I think the other thing I’ve. Is back in that first job. I didn’t say no very often cause I wanted to prove myself. Like everything that came my way I was gonna do it. Now I’ve do a lot better job at saying no setting boundaries. I know that in order to say no.

To sometimes to my team, I need to ask tough questions and make sure I understand the why of what’s being proposed. In terms of boundaries, I have to really model behavior that I feel good about. You won’t catch me working at a hospital bedside anymore these days[00:15:00] let alone, just most nights or weekends. And along with all of that, when we’ve decided as a group or as a supervisee and myself, what we’re gonna achieve together, I have to be now much better at holding people accountable to that. Cause I’ve really leaned into the growth versus fixed mindset way of looking at folks.

All right. There is a lot to unpack there, but when you look at the totality of it, how does that impact the team? You talked before in your definition about inspiring the team. How are you seeing the response to that leadership style you’ve now cultivated? How has that changed the

Craig: dynamic with your team?

Liz Gross: They all know where we’re headed and how to some extent we’re going to get there.

So I ask on about. What if we say trimester, is it clear to you where the company is headed and could I be more clear about our vision? And we have that conversation one-on-one regularly and also as a group, so the team knows where [00:16:00] we’re going. We hire differently because that’s so important to us.

The first question, here’s a cheat code for anyone who ever wants to interview to work at campus. On our, the first question in every single phone interview is what do you wanna achieve in your career? And we try to figure out are we aligned in terms of mission and purpose, both as organization and as individuals.

And then in terms of how we deliver our product or how we position our offering, or how we drive demand, I’m not doing that anymore.

And it’s like I miss it, but also it’s really awesome to see other. Do it really well, and I think anyone on the team right now would be able to tell you what they’re looking to achieve this year and how it aligns with where the business needs to be and what they’re trying to do better today than what they did yesterday.

Craig: And I love that because a lot of the research around employee engagement and that stickiness of keeping your employees around. A big part of it [00:17:00] is when they align themselves with the mission of the organization and they see how they’re helping to achieve it, whether they’re an administrative assistant or a head of a division or a salesperson, and that’s really starting to cultivate for you by really starting to clearly communicate that, seeing where their goals are, and that all meshes together.

Where does growth mindset versus fixed fit into that? Because I’m a big junkie right now on growth versus fixed mindset topic. So how does that change? how do you get into your team a growth mindset?

Liz Gross: So I’m also a Peter Sege nerd. So we talk about what it means to be a learning organization and work towards personal mastery, but or, but also team development and having a safe space to make mistakes and move forward. That’s another one of our written culture statements is that we’re a learning organization.

So you pulled two of them out already. We’re human-centric. And people. I think can see [00:18:00] how their individual innovations have impacted how the business is growing and changing and how ultimately our work is being applied in higher education to achieve the vision that we’ve set out for the company.

And I hear this often when we’re interviewing. Potential employees and they turn the tables on us. And if I’m in an interview with a team member and someone says, what do you like about working here? And how is it different from working on campus? Because we have a lot of former campus employees working for us.

And a really common thing I will hear people say, and it’s not always the same people, is I know that the work I do has an impact because I can see it in near time what I do. We’ve got folks who are doing things today that they did not know how to do when we hired them. We hire a lot for transferrable skills.

We hire a lot for alignment with values and motivation. Many of our social media [00:19:00] data analysts had never analyzed a lick of social media data when we hired them, and that we knew that they didn’t pull one over us. But we understood how they thought about things both quantitatively and qualitatively, and what types of problems they wanted to solve. Our CRM manager had never used the crm. That we use before he started the job. He was very clear about that. He now also does consulting on the side to help other organizations understand how to level up their CRM to align their client engagement with their strategy. So I tend to answer questions in a couple of different stories to illustrate the point.

Craig: But all that being said, our folks. Have grown the company along with themselves, and if that growth mindset isn’t really clear to them, just from day one, Yeah. And it’s embodied in , that growth mindset of idea of I can’t do it yet. And that’s all the examples, right? Yeah. I appreciate you can’t do it. It’s just you can’t do it yet. And we’re going to give [00:20:00] you the skills and the abilities and the training and now look at least one of your people’s out teaching other people something they didn’t know the day they walked in the door, right?

Liz Gross: Yep, and their two year anniversary was last week, so they got there pretty quick.

Craig: That’s, yeah. Wow. That’s fantastic. All right, and so the last question I have for you today, Liz, is, I’m a big sci-fi junkie, so I love to put people in a time machine. You can pick anyone you want. Go back in time with all your knowledge and skills today to 28 year old Liz walking in the door to these three people who wanna send out fax. And not embrace the new thing and see you as this kid. What’s the one piece of advice you would give young Liz that would make her a better leader?

Liz Gross: Yeah. I would remind young Liz that age is not a substitute for wisdom or drive or talent, and very specifically, I would advise her to come back, come up with a witty comeback that you’re gonna use every single time people comment on how young you are. That disarms [00:21:00] them a little bit. Let that sit there and then just move on and do the work because. You’ll prove yourself in no time by doing the work. So just cut that comment off at its ankles and move on.

Craig: Love it. I love it. Just a quick, witty rejoinder and move on with the work that has to be done. So Liz, thanks for being on today. Where can people find you if they wanna follow you or connect with you?

Liz Gross: Campus Sonar is@campussonar.com and most active on LinkedIn and Twitter. I, as an individual, am the same, most active on Twitter and LinkedIn. My username on Twitter is Liz Gross, 1 44 because 144 is a dozen, which is a gross

Craig: Nice.

Liz Gross: That’s really important to add some numbers when you, by marriage, acquire a name that is no longer as unique.

That’s the first one. So LinkedIn and Twitter are where I’m most active. I also probably should mention that I have a on again, off again newsletter about leadership called Elder Millennial Leader. It’s at [00:22:00] elder millennial leader.com. And if people don’t wanna talk about leadership, and they’d rather see gardens and cats, Liz Gross, 1 44 on Instagram.

Craig: Love it. All right, we’ll get that all into the show notes. Liz, Thanks for being on Executive Evolution and sharing your knowledge to help more young leaders like that. 28 year old, you be successful. Thanks a lot.

Liz Gross: Thank you.