034 | Building A Better Workplace As An Entrepreneur, With Sarah Markwick


Today I will be talking with Sarah Mark wick. Sarah is a human resources manager who has launched a new podcast show called Don’t be a jerk at work. I’m sure we can all relate to that. I do really recommend to hear it because it’s very funny and illustrative and they are eating to build a better workplace to casual and humorous conversations. Sarah graduated in human resources from British Columbia Institute of Technology BCIT she’s also an entrepreneur in the owner of the light lamb consulting firm.


Welcome, Sarah. And we are excited to have you.


Thank you. Thank you very much for having me on the show. I’m excited to do this today.


Yeah, and luckily, you are the first person I’m interviewing from Vancouver from same town. Haha, we’re both locals. Yeah. All right. Okay, so before we dive into the juicy stuff, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself your background and experience so that our audience can get to know you better?


Sure. So I run my own HR consulting practice where I get to help my amazing clients build great places to work. Just like you, I’m a fellow person. podcaster. So I co founded the podcast, Don’t be a jerk at work with two other smart, passionate women. And we were recently on global news here in Vancouver, BC, talking about our quest to help people create better workplace humans through our show. I’m also a writer, Mom and the captain of my hockey team. So life is busy for me.


Awesome. Awesome. So this whole concept of Don’t be a jerk. How did that come about? Like, you know, did you experience something in your own workplace or tell us some background storey around it?


Sure. So the two other women that I created this podcast with Sandy Gannon, Tara k mesh both have human resource backgrounds just like me. So we have no shortage of odd jerk behaviour and strange human interaction storeys to share. And we would often sit around and talk about our days over a beer on a Friday and commiserate about whatever, whatever strange experiences happened in our workplace that week. And then we started thinking, and we should be recording these conversations. I think people can really learn a lot of stuff from this. And that’s how the idea of the podcast came to be.


awesome. And do you do you think, you know, over the years, this problem is getting worse? Or is it pretty much the same? But it’s getting noticed more because of social media? And, you know, people are sort of sharing their storeys more often these days?


Yeah, I think that’s a good question. The response that we’ve had from the folks that have listened to the podcast is that it’s very confusing to figure out how you’re supposed to be showing up at work right now. I think with things like hashtag me to been in the news a lot. It’s made people really think about how they’re showing up at work and whether or not they’re being appropriate and being jerks or, or not. Or, you know, are you are you actually not a good, but you’re just surrounded by a bunch of oversensitive people. So I think it’s resulted in a bunch of strange behaviour and assumptions that people are making, because they’re fearful about coming across the wrong way.


Yeah, yeah. So um, so is it also working in opposite direction where people are not able to express themselves? because of the fear that they will be, you know, perceived as a jerk?


Yeah, I think so. And, you know, one of the clients that I work with we, we had a conversation with this about this at a staff meeting, because it’s the kind of company where you play a lot of practical jokes and each other, everybody has a good sense of humour. It’s not uncommon for some of these face to be printed out in it in some sort of a meme and put up in the kitchen. And people have a good laugh. And it’s always been mentioned, good fun. But all of a sudden, we were looking at that stuff and going, geez, I wonder if anybody’s offended by this? Geez, I wonder if anybody thinks I’m a jerk, because I did that. Now, what are we going to do? The guidance I gave people on that was, listen, you just need to ask if, if you’re wondering if people are thinking that your behaviour is jerky, the thing to do is just check in and see if that’s the case. And I think we’re in the middle of trying to figure that out. And I think it’s our responsibility as as leaders to ask people and check in on our behaviour. And then by the same token, it’s other people, you know, the people that we’re asking, it’s their responsibility to tell the truth. And let us know if what we’re doing is offside.


Yeah, yeah. And, and you, you, you brought up a very good point earlier, like, you know, some people are also oversensitive. And they, you know, even even a harmless fun they take offence of that, like, have you experienced that a lot? And how do you address something like that?


Yeah, I think I probably even experienced that myself, I’ve got a healthy sense of humour that, you know, and humour is something that hits people in different ways, depending on if they share your, your background, and your sensibilities, and, and everything else. But what I’ve thought about when I hear that some of these may be put off by something that I’ve done or said, is, is it more important for me to be looked at as funny? Or is it more important for me to be looked at as somebody who’s not a jerk, because right now, there’s somebody in my workplace that thinks I’m a bit of a jerk, because of the way that I’ve displayed my humour. And that’s, I think that’s the trade-off that you, you ask yourself, if you’re willing to make, yeah.


And, you know, we have a lot of professionals and, you know, new entrepreneurs in the audience. So tell us a little bit about, you know, maybe give us some guidance about how they should prepare themselves for either, you know, entering into the workspace, or maybe they will be promoted very soon, and they will be leading other people are the entrepreneurs, you know, they are responsible for building a culture in their company. So, what should they be looking out for? And how should they, you know, come across and encourage other people to behave so that they have a very cohesive culture in their companies?


Yeah, it’s a good question. And I don’t think there’s one easy answer for it. But I think, you know, knowing, knowing who you want to be as a leader is important, I think most of us show up at work every day, just planning to be our best and, and being a, you know, a nice, good person, probably the kind of person that your parents wanted to raise you to be. And we think that’s good enough. But if that were good enough, then there wouldn’t be any jerks out there. Because I don’t think that people get up in the morning intending to be jerks at work. I think it happens unintentionally. And so the first thing is thinking about really hard thinking really hard about how do I want to be viewed as a leader at work? And then what sort of things do I need to do in order to demonstrate that to people? And then something I think about at the end of the day, when I come home, is okay, in those interactions I had in those meetings I had with people did I do the things that represent the leadership brand that I have? Is that person going home and telling their spouse about their interaction with me and using the same words to describe me as I would like them to use to describe me? And that’s a nice little sort of gut check to us, I think. And another is, is there anybody in your workplace that you’re avoiding communicating with, there’s somebody in your workplace that you’re avoiding? Maybe they’re difficult? Maybe they don’t like your ideas? Who knows? There’s probably a good chance that you’re demonstrating some jerk at work behavior.


I see. All right. And, you know, I have, I have listened to your podcast, and it’s quite, quite funny. And for me,


Thank you. Thank you.


And I particularly like how you have categorised the behavior of some bosses. So I’d love for you to share some of these categories of bosses, and maybe you can give some advice on how to avoid being a boss.


Now. Sure, great question. So we did a, we actually did a three-parter on this, because we had so many jerk boss archetypes that we had brainstormed out. But the point of it all is is is that, you know, not to necessarily label people as those that when you see that behavior showing up, how do you respond to it? And if you’re prone to exhibiting that kind of behaviour, how do you check yourself and make a change. So one of them is the busy boss. So, you know, this is the guy or gal who never has time for you, they rush through meetings, they cancel on things, they’re late to appointments, they double book, they are overwhelmed, and they don’t make good on their commitments. Now, I am this person. So and I think what happens is, is you get so overwhelmed with stuff and so busy that you start thinking that people are giving you a pass for this stuff, they can see that you’re busy, right, they can see that you’ve got a lot going on. It’s not like you’re sitting there taking long lunches and not bothering with deadlines. And you can make the assumption that people are giving you a pass because you’re so busy, and they can see it. And often people are not. And the other thing I’ve noticed for myself when I’m busy, is my energy, what I’m putting out there is not great, and putting out this sort of stressed negative energy. And the place I noticed that the most are when my husband and my son come home, from work and from school. And I can tell in my tone of voice when they come in and say how was your day if the first thing I do is let a big siloed and say, and then it was really busy or really stressful or whatever. I’m starting that evening off with all that negativity. And I’m often I’m not even noticing that I’m doing it because I’m so wrapped up in how busy I am. Yeah. So it’s important if you’re the type of person who’s a busy person. And if you are bootstrapping and you are an entrepreneur and trying to get stuff out there ground, there’s no doubt that you just remember that you got to think about, again, that leadership brand, what are you putting out there every day? And is it positive? Is it negative? And are you making assumptions about what you’re able to get away with or not without checking in on your team and seeing how this is impacting them?


Yeah. What about some, some of the other ones? I know you have more interesting ones.


Yeah, maybe people can relate to the micromanaging Boss, I think we’ve probably all been there in some way, shape, or form. And I when I get to be micromanaging, it’s usually out of a place of fear, I’m uncertain about how this person is going to execute on something. Maybe I’m uncertain about my ability to give clear direction. So I give too much information I do too much checking in. I usually start off thinking that I’m being really great and accessible and available to the person but it’s kind of a bit of guy have. Actually, I’m really worried this isn’t going to get done. So I’m that’s why I’m actually doing this. Yeah. So I think that’s where it comes from usually is fear and how to check in with yourself on whether or not you’re being a micromanager, besides just asking the people around you is by thinking she’s on that last project that I gave Alan, how much time did I spend talking about this specific individual tasks that he needed to do in order to get there versus what success looks like? And what the impact look like? Right?


Yeah, yeah, that’s true. Um, any other archetypes that you want to share? Or should we move on to the next several sorts of questions?


Well, maybe the last one I’ll share because I think this will resonate with your listeners too is the nonscalable boss. So this is typically somebody who’s been promoted from being an individual contributor to being a leader of a group of people. And it’s a tough transition to make because the things that made you successful as an individual contributor are not the things that make you successful as a manager of a team or in a high leadership position in the organization. And all of a sudden, job satisfaction changes around what you’re producing because you spend much more time in meetings and planning and coordinating than you do on actually executing. And that can feel really uncomfortable. I remember the development manager that I worked with, at one point, who had just moved into that role. And we spent the whole day interviewing for his team. And they said at the end of the day, wow. How do you feel? And he said that was a waste of time. And I said, Why is that? And he said because all I did was spend my day in meetings, and I said, Well, but you’re spending your day in meetings looking for the next great team member. I mean, and we’re a small team, that’s huge. And we may have found them, but to him, moving away from actually executing on developing the product to spending time in meetings with an HR person didn’t feel as productive. But when you’re scaling up, you have to learn, you have to learn that those things are really important. And hopefully, you’ve taken the position because that stuff gets you to get your juices going in a way that maybe the individual contributor stuff wasn’t anymore.


Yeah, for sure. Now, let me ask you another controversial question. Okay. You know, everybody who has sort of reading biographies of some great people, some of them, they actually, you know, pride themselves to be jerks. And it gives us this perception that you know, being a jerk, gets things done. And, you know, the biggest name that comes to mind is Steve Jobs. And I know, you know, a lot of people love him. I love his creativity. But we know that you know, he was, you know, sometimes not very nice to his employees. What do you think about that, like, you know, is that a true perception or true notion that you need to be a little bit of a jerk to get things done, or to overachieve or not?


I guess it depends on your definition of being a jerk. I think having, you know, courageous, difficult conversations with people is a really important skill to have. And sometimes you might be perceived as a jerk for doing those things. But when I got to have one of those conversations, rather than make the barometer of success, how that person reacted to what I was saying, because you don’t have any control over that, I think about was I respectful? was an empathetic did I think about what it would be like to be in that person’s shoes hearing this from me? And was clear and concise you know, did I babble on and on and not give a clear message or was a clear and concise and if the person at the end of that is angry, hurt, tearful? Of course, I’m not going to feel good. But rather than think, gosh, I really failed at that conversation. I’m going to go back to those things and think, Wow, okay, this didn’t land the way I was hoping. But did I practice empathy? Yes. Was I respectful? Yes. Was I clear and concise? Yes. Well, okay. I did my job.


That’s cool. Yeah. So So basically, you, you cannot control how other people perceive you. But you can control how you come across and assess yourself on these criteria. Is that right?


Yeah, I think that’s the thing to pay attention to. We have to pay more attention to ourselves then. And what we’re doing and what we intend to do. And if we’re actually executing on those things, then we do worrying about those around us. Now, I just finished saying you have to be empathetic. So it sounds like I’m contradicting myself. But the important thing to notice is just what you said, the thing we have control over is us and focusing on that and being intentional about what we’re doing is really important because as soon as it comes out of our mouths, it’s gone. We don’t have any control up after that,


For sure. And yeah, I mean, we could, you know, you alternate words to take what we said back, but the harm has been done, I guess, you know, it’s kind of hard to take that back. All right, in one of your podcast episodes, and I found it interesting. You said that you know, you overcame the imposter, imposter syndrome. So tell us about that, you know, because a lot of people suffer, you know, having that, and I went through it myself. So tell us a little bit about that.


I’m still a work in progress with that. You know, imposter syndrome is really feeling like you don’t deserve the success that you have. And it’s usually about thinking that success for you is a result of external factors, a situation or luck, or what have you. Or it was all because you had a great boss, for example. And when you come up against what you might call failure, it’s all on you. You own all of that it didn’t have anything to do with any external factors. And it’s a tough thing to get over. I think it comes from that little voice that sort of sits on your shoulder and tells you all the things in your ear that make you a bit freaked out about stuff. And a little bit of fear is healthy. Like for me, I a little bit of stress is healthy, too. But when you feed that voice, and it takes over and becomes the thing that controls you it can become really destructive. Yeah. So Gosh, is not an easy thing to get over. And I mean, I was just on global news for the podcast. And if you had seen me the night before, you would have realized that imposter syndrome was raining, you know, harried notes, over-preparing? That’s a sign for me that imposter syndrome is kicking in over-preparing for stuff. So it’s a battle. And it’s a mindful battle, listening to that voice and having the wherewithal to sort of shut it up when you need to.


And can you share any techniques you used anything, you know, mental techniques, or anything else that you use to overcome that? Maybe that will help some people in the audience who are going through this?  


Yeah, sure. I have a great pal that I call as a sounding board that she allows me to bounce the stuff offer and rather than saying, oh, you’re great, Sarah, or all you can do it, Sarah. She asks me good questions about why I’m feeling that way. And usually uncovers that the reason I’m unfilled feeling that way is completely invalid, untrue. not proven, all of those kinds of things. I decided that this year, that I would say yes to everything. So this was one of my ways of getting over imposter syndrome and taking on new challenges. It was going to be my year of Yes, like the Shonda Rhimes book, and it was a great medium to long term plan that a bad short term plan because saying yes to everything the short term is, is totally overwhelming. But it gave myself permission to take on new challenges without worrying about whether or not I could because I went back to my Look, I said this year, I was going to say yes to everything. And that’s what I’m going to do. I want to be unafraid, and take on new challenges as best I can. And that’s who I want how I want it to show up. And sometimes it’s a fake it till you make it thing. And once you get comfortable showing up and saying yes to stuff, all of a sudden, you realise Oh, geez, I don’t have that same fears. I used to hear that voice is a lot quieter than it used to be. Yeah,


that’s so true. Like, you know, if, if I go back and listen to my first few episodes, they’re not really good. Like, you know, I was, I was fumbling all over the place. But I’m getting more comfortable now. So that’s definitely true. Just go out there take action and say yes, as you put it.


yeah, just say yes. And then when it doesn’t work out, say, Oh, well, that’s the other thing. Oh, well, you know, okay, and move on.


Yeah, there’ll be an always another day. All right. Now, you know, one of the things that I read or listen to you, you emphasize that you should know your y. Know, can you tell us a little bit more about that? And how did you uncover this? And yeah, I mean, what’s the story behind that?


Well, that the Simon cynic talks all about that golden circle. And knowing your WHY IS is a great thing for I think everybody to have a look at. So if you haven’t checked it out, do a little Google search and spend a few minutes looking at that. And I have a coach who I’ve worked within the past whose, whose works out of Vancouver, her name’s Lisa Martin. And one of the things she’s fond of saying is that it’s important to let your daily actions reflect your deepest desires. So if you want to be an artist, and you aren’t practicing art every day, or you want to, you want to be a kick-ass leader of your team, but you’re doing zero leadership development on a daily basis, then your, your, the stuff inside of you that the things that are those dreams inside of you that you want to bring to reality, if you’re not feeding them every day, then you’ve got a misalignment in terms of what you’re doing with your time, and what you really want to be doing. So it’s important to know what those are. So those things line up. It’s hard to think about achieving goals and big chunky terms. But if you think about what little things do I need to do in order to stay fit, for example, or stay healthy? What do I need to do today, and that’s why things like the Fitbit works so well, right? It’s just adding extra steps. It’s such a tiny little simple thing, but it’s, it’s what really grabs people and makes little tweaks in their behavior turn into lifelong habits. And if you know your why, which is so powerful, you can become clear on aligning all of those things, to bring you the success that you want. And also hopefully reduce your stress. Because in periods of stress for me, it’s often related to me not doing the things that I really want to be doing and not spending the time on stuff that makes me really happy.


Yeah, that’s so true. And, you know, just to add to it, like a lot of people I talked to, they don’t really go deep enough on their way, like, you know, they, you know, most of the people I talked to their wise, like, I want to make more money, but they don’t go one level deeper, several level deeper, why do you want that money? You know, why do you want to own money or travel? or do whatever the, whatever their true, why is like, you know, too? To keep asking that question over and over again and get to the root? Why?


You got it, you got it. Money’s an outcome, right. And it’s, it’s an outcome of you pursuing whatever that why is for you, rather than it is the pursuit itself.


So that’s interesting. So do you, do you think then, you know, even entrepreneurs want to launch their companies or bootstrap their companies or professionals? Once they know them why they can? They can do these small little things take small actions to work towards their goal?


yeah, hell yes. My Why is I ultimately want to make now this sounds pretty lofty and out there. But I want to make the world a better place. And I think that one of the ways the world becomes a better place. Because if we have better workplaces, because we have all experienced or know someone who’s had a really crappy job, and it impacts everything, it impacts your social life, it impacts your family life, if you have a family, it can impact your health, your mental health, all of those kinds of things. So, you know, the reason this podcast came about the reason I got into human resources, the reason I work with small to medium-sized businesses that don’t have the resources for sort of a purpose, minute full-time person like me, is because I want to help create better workplaces create happier humans and a better society as a whole.


That’s, that’s very good. Done. Very, very much appreciated, for sure. Now, tell us a little not deviating. Like I’ll ask a couple of personal questions. Tell us about your love for hockey. And how did you become a captain of your team?


Oh, that’s a good question. I think people see me as fair, approachable and positive. And most importantly, I make sure there are ice and beer brought to every game. I think that’s critical.


But um, anybody in Canada will? Definitely,


Definitely, appreciate it. For sure. Yeah, and I, I’m not the best player on my team by a long shot, right, which is not typical for a captain. And I will tell you, it took me years to get really comfortable wearing that sees, and playing that role. Because I thought I didn’t really grow up playing hockey, I learned as an adult, I’m not the best person on the team. I don’t really know how to coach people very well. But I have a real clear sense of what I think a great culture on a team should be. I’m good at bringing people together, I’m approachable, people have problems. And I’ve built a good environment that way. And most of our decisions we make by voting, which funnily enough came about because of imposter syndrome. I didn’t want to make decisions on my own and have people judge me for making the wrong one. So we ended up having a little democracy. So, you know, in that regard, having an imposter syndrome contributed to the culture that we have. But yeah, it kind of just came about by happenstance. And I’ve been doing it for the last 15 years, it doesn’t look like it’s going to end anytime soon. That’s amazing. So are you saying that imposter syndrome can be actually positive? In some ways? Sometimes? I think all of our experiences helped shape us. For sure. And as long as you can identify what they are and learn from them, they’re, you know, that they make you a better person at the end of the day, at least they have for me.


Yeah. Well, that’s, I think that’s universally true. And that’s very well said, we just need to realize that any experience can be, you know, it’s none of the experiences we have are bad. It’s just how we perceive them and how we take, you know, learn from them.


Yeah, exactly. Does this become part of your story of failure? Does this become part of your storey of success? Make it one of success? right?


Exactly. All right, great. Is there anything else that I haven’t asked you about, you know, being a jerk, or how to be a good boss or a co-worker?


Um, you know, I think knowing your why is, is really important. And I think to remember that as a boss, you don’t need to have all the answers, I think there’s a certain point in time when you things sort of the triangle kind of turns on its head. So instead of you being responsible for mentoring others around you, when you get elevated to a really senior leadership position, or you’re running a senior team, you’re building that senior team, all of a sudden, those people are the ones that are mentoring you because you no longer have narrow, deep knowledge in one area. And you need to hire people around you to help you there. So remembering that you don’t need to have all the answers. And not over-relying on your experience. Trusting, trusting that you can be successful without having gone through everything already, for the first time yourself is is key. Otherwise, we never do anything new. Right? If we assumed you were going to fail at anything that we did for the first time. Yeah. And go easy on yourself. Be curious with the folks around you, if you’re not sure how you’re doing, have the courage to ask. And, you know, if you’ve built if you’re building a good culture, sure, those people are going to be more than happy to help you out and give you some guidance and give you the answers that you need. We don’t have to have all the answers when we’re bosses, we just have to make ourselves open to receiving them from the people around us.


For sure. Yeah. And yeah, I mean, some people who do pretend to have all the answers, they generally end up being the jokes that we were taught, right?


Yeah, precisely. Precisely.


All right. I mean, you know, I’ve been guilty of that in the past as well. So anyway, you know, you learn and you move on. So before I let you go, can you tell us a little bit about your company? And I know, I think you have a book coming up as well. So tell us a little bit about your company and the book and the podcast we already talked about?


Yeah, yeah. Yeah, sure. So my consulting company is called light the lamp, you can tell I’m a hockey fan by the name there. And you can find me at light the lamp.ca. I work with small to medium-sized businesses that are passionate about building great places to work. And I am currently working on a collection of personal essays that I’m hoping to have published within the next year or so I’ve been working on those for a couple of years, I really enjoy writing. And that whole vulnerable writing processes been a great learning experience for me. And yeah, I’m hoping to get those out there sometime soon.


The Great, so only with local companies or you work companies across geographic


Mostly local companies, but I’ve had I have worked with a couple of companies remotely.


Okay. Okay. Great. Awesome. Thank you so much for being on the show and sharing all your knowledge and wisdom. I’m sure everyone got a lot of value out of it. And hopefully, you know, we turned a few jokes around into really happy and cheerful coworkers.


Well, hey, that would be great. Thanks a lot for having me on the show.


Thank you.



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