The Level Up Leader
Episode - 5

Meaningful Change and Impact with Michele Isaly and Michael King

On today’s podcast, I am joined by Michele Isaly. Michele is the Regional Vice President for Word and Brown. Michele has decades of experience leading and her story of how she addresses change is something we can all relate to.

Everyone would agree that the organization that embraces change the best is the organization that wins. How you implement change matters. 

“Good leaders listen before they act. And the best leaders prioritize listening to their best people.” 

On today’s podcast, I am joined by Michele Isaly. Michele is the Regional Vice President for Word and Brown. Michele has decades of experience leading and her story of how she addresses change is something we can all relate to.  Please welcome Michele to the podcast. 


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Michael King  0:00
Everyone would agree that the organization that embraces change the best is the organization that wins. How you implement change matters. And I love this quote from Gallup. Good leaders listen before they act in the best leaders prioritize listening to the best people. Welcome to the level of leader podcast. I’m your host, Michael King. I’m an executive coach and founder of teams that coach, I work with sea level leaders to clarify and expand the vision, elevate performance and level up leadership. On today’s podcast, I’m joined by Michelle ously. Michelle is the regional vice president for Word and brown. Michelle has decades of experience leading in her story of how she addresses change is something that we can all relate to. So please welcome, Michelle to the podcast.

All right, thank you for joining the Liberal leader podcast. Michelle, it is so great to have you on the show. How’s everything going for you today?

Michele Isaly  1:16
That’s great, thank you, how about you?

Michael King  1:19
it’s going great, it’s going great. We’ve spent a few minutes just kind of talking through just getting to know each other just a little bit and kind of hearing about what you’re doing at your company and also hearing just the scope of of what you do as a leader. So thank you for making time to be able to get to know me a little bit and also spend some time on this podcast. So we have with the whole point of the of the level of leader podcast is really for us to be able to get to leaders that are actually in the field working and leading teams and figuring out ways that they can level up the leadership themselves. Because we all know that, that you know, leadership kind of starts with you first and foremost. And then somehow it transitions out and it actually starts to affect the environments in which you lead in. You are you take on some new responsibilities. Can you tell me a little bit about about what you’re currently doing in leadership?

Michele Isaly  2:14
Of course, of course. So I am in the same industry and career that I’ve been in for for over 20 years, I started out in the Employee Benefits business right out of college, I was a an eager, almost I had almost graduated, I had maybe three or four weeks left before I was graduating, and I was recruited to go to work for an insurance company and became a group rep for them, and then eventually ended up in the general agency space, which for any of you who understand insurance terms, even those who who don’t, what we do is we’re basically an aggregator of group insurance products for employer groups. And so we offer a different source a distribution outside of the direct carriers themselves. And we like to say that we do it a lot more efficiently, we provide more services, and so on and so forth. And there’s a lot more that goes goes into that. But I have been a sales rep in that space, or had been for the better part of 20 years, just over 20 years. And I always had a natural desire to go into leadership, I think it’s kind of it’s in my DNA, I’ve just kind of always been that person who was hasn’t ever been afraid to go first, if you will. And I’ve always looked at leadership as as really, it really that’s, that’s just it, right? It’s really just someone who’s willing to go out in the front and set an example and have others join along the way. And so the role that I’m in right now is a formal leadership position. I actually took a different form of the role that I’m in now when I first came to work for the company that I work for. And I was promoted within the course of a year. And I think it I think a lot of it has a lot of factors that played into that. But I think a lot of it and the success that I’ve had just comes from years of observing what worked and what didn’t work, and specifically just in my own experience, right. I mean, I think there’s a lot of well, I know that there’s a lot of humanity and leadership, right? It doesn’t just come down to dictating what people should and shouldn’t be doing or talking at anyone. It’s really just relating to people as people and seeing them as individuals. And so what I do now gives me the opportunity to do that and be their biggest coach their most, I guess, true source of feedback when that’s needed. I don’t know if that’s the right way to say it. But I just get the opportunity to help people see things that may they may not seeing themselves and encourage them to do what they need to do to accomplish whatever goals they’re looking to accomplish. And that transcends outside of just their professional goals. It’s really all encompassing for me, and that’s what I love about what I do.

Michael King  5:18
Yeah, I love, I love that too. I love that. I love that you’re in a field where you where you’re quickly recognizing that humanity is a really big part of leadership. And that you can’t really consider yourself a leader unless your your life is impacting other people, and that you’ve taken responsibility to shine in no spaces, and also want the best things for those people that are kind of in that in your in your wake and in your circle. So I love that, I love that you’re getting the opportunity to be able to experience this. The just the great humanity of it too, is that understanding that these are relationships, how you shine and how you bring out the best in people is, you know, people have to want to know that you actually do want the best in them and in from them. But also at the same time is that by you leaning into that space, you get to create an opportunity for people to be able to know that they’re trusted, and also learn how to trust it again. I think those are really big deals when it comes to especially when you’re talking about transitional leadership. Tell me a little bit about now you’ve been you’ve been you know, you’ve been with in the industry for, you know, a couple decades, in some sort of way, shape or form. And now you’re leading in a completely different capacity. You’re actually the vice president of word and brown, regional VP role is that correct? Yes, that’s correct. Yes, he that’s. So that’s a completely different animal as well, but different levels of responsibility? What are what are some pacts that you have, or some leadership practices that you currently put into play in which are really big value points for you?

Michele Isaly  6:56
Oh, gosh, I mean, most of most of what I think is the is the compass for me is really just what I learned over the course of 20 years, what worked and what didn’t work. And what I always approach my team with is, I’m super into collaboration. And I’m a gatherer of information. And so if I’m looking to make a decision, or if I’m looking to implement a directive or a change, I’m always looking for input. And I’m never, I’m never the one who’s resolute in my way is the right way. I want everyone to have a voice. And I really don’t care what position they’re in, you know, they could be the most tenured person on our team. And I would take, take feedback from someone who’s the newest person on our team, if it’s something that’s going to serve us better, or improve a process or help us drive a better outcome, I really want everyone to feel like they’re equally invested. And I feel like that’s what really gives us the opportunity to not only not only win, but But the beauty is in everything that happens to get to that point, right, because we all come together and everyone feels important. And feels heard, being heard as a really big thing. For me, I think I struggled with that for a long time, in my own experience. And so I want everybody to have a voice. And sometimes as you know, I’m still learning this, sometimes you really don’t, sometimes it’s the voices you hear aren’t necessarily the ones you want, right. But that’s part of it. That’s just part of the job. And that’s what helps you evolve and leadership, but, but I feel like that collaborative aspect of it. And using my framework within that has has really helped us to accomplish a lot of things that I think are really important.

Michael King  8:50
I think it’s brilliant, that you have the insight to be able to feel that and be able to sense that I’m a big proponent of the idea that we become that our identity is really gets wrapped up in maybe there’s some of the top five loudest voices that are actually in our life. So my identity and starts who I am, it’s like I want to make sure that I choose those voices wisely, just as a as a leader. Because if that’s going to be something in which ends up kind of determining, you know, the type of impact I’m going to have in my organization, and also in the lives of the people that I lead, I want to make sure that my voices are legit, you know, that I’ve taken some time to, to really, you know, to drill down on that so good for you. I think that’s really good. Now, what I also love about your story, too, is that you say this is that you say that, that you’ve been in the same career for 20 years and had a desire to be in leadership but you’re frustrated with a lack of some Compassionate Leadership. Can you tell me a little bit about that frustration that drove you to to to step into bigger leadership opportunities?

Michele Isaly  10:00
I think for a long time, I just I longed for it. This is something that you’ll see, you know, if you notice some of the things that I post on LinkedIn, one of the things that I subscribe really wholeheartedly to is psychological safety. I think I think for me, that’s just it’s so important like that, that really I think transcending beyond even the professional space like that is really at the heart of everything, every successful relationship needs to have an element of psychological safety. And I think where I’m at now, in my career, I have a lot of that I have psychological safety. I have. You know, I’m fortunate enough to work with a team of people that believe in me, and I think I said that earlier, that’s a big, that’s a big, big part of what helps set someone on a trajectory, in my opinion, is just knowing that they have someone that believes in them. I mean, I told you, I was just at a, at a gym class over my lunch break, right. And I was observing people and how they engage and the fact that they’re all high fiving each other, that’s a form of believing in one another while we’re working out so that we all feel good about what we’re doing. Right? I mean, we may all have different outcomes. But that is just so important in everything at work, at home, at the gym, wherever you are. And I just I think in my experience, it’s just it. I’ve had so many epiphanies over the last three years since I’ve been in a formal leadership role. And that’s one of them, like the power of belief and the power of safety, and just giving people the opportunity to survive in those spaces. Because I know for me, that’s what’s really that’s what’s really done it. For me, that’s really what’s been the catalyst and what’s been different.

Michael King  11:47
I love it. I love it. So what is something that you do to really champion safety?

Michele Isaly  11:56
Sorry, to take a drink of water. So everyone on my team knows that there’s really not anything that’s off limits in terms of discussion, there’s not going to be judgment, there’s not going to be retaliation. There may be disagreement, and there may be some pushback. But that’s necessary to get to where we need to get to with that relationship or whatever outcome we’re looking to accomplish. So I just, you know, I’m very open with my team about having those difficult conversations. And not that I like to have difficult conversations, but I can tell you, I get better every time I have one. And I’d like to the people that I work with would feel the same way as well.

Michael King  12:40
Yeah, I would, I would say it takes practice. You know, and I think specifically, when you’re talking about like the outcomes of culture, culture is always a reflection of the of the health of people who occupy those important seats that you have, whether it’s emotional, psychological, intellectual, EQ, etc. Culture is one of those things to where it’s like, it’s one of those, you can’t really necessarily always measure, but I can measure it, I know that I know, the things that I’m looking for, internally, when I’m working with the culture of an organization, I know that when a senior leader tells me that they want to create safety out of that, I know that there’s two, two ends of that story. I know that that’s there’s your end of the story that says this is why this is important to me. And then I know the other end of it that says, Do I trust it or not? And I know, I had a chat with with a leader a couple weeks ago. And they’re talking about their ability to, to ask that question of like, of always bringing the final 10% to the to the conversation, feeling, you know, almost like figuring out a way to, to, I would say systematize safety, you know, of like, let’s get it down into our DNA. It’s that conversation kind of left left, you know, in a couple different ways is that it made me ask a couple of questions, even in my own personal leadership of going, Okay, so the people that are that, that are in meetings with me, and that we all have that moment of wanting to create safe, safe environments. Are we really, truly creating safety? Or is it just a kind of a pipe dream. And that was, that was kind of a big deal to me, because I want to make sure that when it comes to EQ, and the things that we build within our organizations, that were actually championing real things. And if I hear you rightly, what you’re saying is that is that you’re doing whatever you can to make sure that the right questions are being asked, and that you’re laying down strong foundations as you go, in which trust can be championed. Is that kind of what I’m hearing from you.

Michele Isaly  14:48
100% I mean, when I when I first took this job working for Gordon Brown, I actually started my job three months before COVID So you know, left company I’d been with for 18 years, I knew, I knew the players, I knew the systems and knew the processes, brand new organization a lot to learn. And all of a sudden, three months into the job, we pivot to a virtual environment. So I’m leading a brand new team. Yeah, half of which were just they were, they were in the door, maybe a month or two before I was. So I felt like the best way to get to get us to the point where we needed to be working cohesively together was just first and foremost, to earn trust. So I worked really hard for the first I mean, definitely the first year, I continue to do that every day. Right. It’s just it’s part of the role that I have. But that was my top priority was just to know that anyone that was working on my team could trust me, as their leader. And know that and I’ll still say this, you can ask anybody on the team that works for me that even if there’s a mistake that’s made, it’s it’s not going to be a situation where they’re going to they’re going to have to experience retaliation for it. All I ask is that we learn from our mistakes, and that we were better for it as we move forward. And, and that’s the really the goal. I mean, there’s a selfish outcome that I’m trying to drive out of that. And it’s really just to empower people. Because without that fear of retaliation, I have found, in my experience, it makes it hard for employees in the conventional sense to want to take that, that next step and speak out and make decisions on their own because they’re fearful. And there’s nothing, there’s nothing that will kill kill the culture and the collaboration of a team than fear. There’s nothing worse than one.

Michael King  16:42
100%. And, you know, it’s when it comes to the overall value of what a team member actually brings to the table, that you have a couple of things that are high value, things that you would want to make sure that exist on your team. So you want to make sure that your bandwidth, and the people that are surrounding you that their bandwidth is actually taken up by things that truly do matter. Right? It’s so easy for you to get tricked. And to the next thing you know, you’re spending your time and your your resources and your your vision on something that truly isn’t your TrueNorth it’s just not something that you should be spending your time on. But that second thing of like making sure that you have equitable trust within your organization, that there’s something that has been so significant that you’ve locked in as far as like, this is what we’re about. And we’ve created, we’ve created environments where where leaders can flourish, and, and really building the right things here. That’s so huge. And you’re doing a great job with that. I love that you that, you know you’re early on, within Gordon Brown, you’ve taken upon yourself to really recognize these are the things that are important for me. And this is what I want to start building on to make sure that we move forward to better places. So good for you. That’s really, you’re a brilliant thinker on that. Just kind of closing out in this. And I think I want to get you on again later in talking about just the power of trust within an organization because I’d love to be able to have your your take on that. So maybe that’s something to consider down the road if you if you ever want to do that with me. But what’s something that maybe just to kind of close this out what’s what’s the final thought, as far as maybe something that you’re struggling with internally within your organization, or something that is like a is a final thought you want to leave us with?

Michele Isaly  18:27
I’m so struggling, I can’t think of anything off the top of my head right now. But, but I will say that, you know, I’m truly grateful because I feel like I finally been given the opportunity to work with people. And I have a few people on my team that come to mind, who have really just embraced my style of leadership and are running with it. And I think that it just reminds me of one of the one of the things that my husband and I had talked about when I was considering this opportunity that really resonated with me. And I think this is so important for people that are considering a role in leadership that really want to have a bigger impact is he said to me, he said, if you think about it, aside from you know all of the other factors, you have the opportunity to leave your fingerprints on something that will far outlive you. And so in other words, you have the ability to create a legacy and I was like, like that gives me goosebumps like that. That’s That to me is that’s really the best return on leadership is when you have that ability to have people be maybe taking actions that you prompted them to take or saying things like I have some really really crazy analogies. I don’t know why and my brain just works that way I like to I like to paint visual pictures for my team. And so that’s kind of our joke, but like my hope is is that long after I’m gone. They’re still talking about those things. And I Yeah, that’s great. We have titles and we get paychecks and all this great stuff. I’m not complaining. But for me, that’s really the best return on the role that I have. And I feel I feel blessed that I have this god given, you know, quality to that I love that I love to be out front and and I love to be that person who can get people to, you know, jump in the bus and join me. I think that’s where the magic is.

Michael King  20:20
I love that. And the fact that you are that type of person that’s special. And so know that, know that your years of functional leadership and actually helping build healthy teams and helping call out the best others that you’re literally just starting to have a bigger impact. It all started with you working for 20 years plus in an industry and having a dream of leadership and now these things happen for you. Really happy for you and and I’m excited to see where things go for you. So high five.

Michele Isaly  20:50
Thank you high five.

Michael King  20:53
Thank you for joining us today on the level of leader podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, consider reviewing us on Apple, Spotify, YouTube, or wherever you get your podcasts. It helps to get the word out and make sure to like, subscribe and follow so you get all of our content. Michelle wants to leave a legacy she admits that she has always been interested in making a bigger impact in having an official leadership role or title. But the opportunities only came with an official title just right now, Michelle is a great example of how you don’t need a leadership title to make a difference. She has learned that keeping everyone in the loop and listening to people that have gone before her are great practices when it comes to making meaningful change. We can all learn from that. A special thank you to our featured artists names without numbers for allowing us to use their music. We decided we wanted to feature only music that I’ve actually produced in the studio. So thank you so much, guys. I love that we need to do this together. To find out more about everything that we’re up to check us out at www dot teams dot coach and don’t forget to like our Facebook group, teams out coach slash level up leaders