March 11

Episode 26: Actively Listening With Carrie Woods


Today’s guest is Carrie Woods, founder of Catalyst North, a training and development provider specializing in leadership training, one-on-one coaching, and custom content development.

In This Episode, You’ll Learn…

  • Working with clients to help them implement successful change
  • Why change often fails and what leaders can do about this
  • How to avoid training your team to ignore you
  • The danger of making assumptions and how to avoid it
  • The concept of Mirror Time


  • “Change is a consistent stumbling block no matter who we’re talking to. It’s something we all need to face and the better we can do it, the more success we can achieve.” – Carrie Woods
  • “Change is nothing more than an idea. It’s a concept that we play victim to rather than approach with a clear mind and a tactical strategy.” – Carrie Woods
  • “Even if those outcomes aren’t what we want, often we’re more comfortable knowing what they’ll be, so we settle for something that is subpar to avoid having to shift those habits and get in that uncomfortable state.” – Carrie Woods
  • “When as a leader you’ve taken the time to sit down and craft a strategy — we call this an implementation plan — and then be able to communicate effectively and consistency so that not only the change can happen but it can sustain into a new habit.” – Carrie Woods
  • “Oftentimes as leaders it is our job to implement change, but we have to be mindful of who it is we’re leading and how they’ll perceive it. The “ah-ha” I had was if the leader is implementing change, they’re having to change.” — Mike O’Neill
  • “As a leader, we don’t tend to take a step back and go ‘how are my actions contributing to these outcomes that I’m getting that I don’t want.’” – Carrie Woods
  • “Sometimes the first assumption that people make is that the people you are leading actually listen.” – Carrie Woods
  • “When we use the word ‘listen,’ it is a much deeper and more complex term than ‘hearing.’ They might ‘hear’ what you are saying but are they ‘listening’ to you? Do they understand why? Do they understand what? Do they understand the facets of the change, and are you having the right conversations to make that happen.” – Carrie Woods
  • “It’s not up to them to change and figure it out, it’s up to us [leaders] to provide that support.” – Carrie Woods
  • “Mirror Time is slowing down and looking in the mirror. ‘What do I need to change in my habits to change the outcomes I’m getting?’ If the leader can’t look at their own actions, their own habits, their own behaviors, they’ll never be able to change them to be able to get a different outcome.” – Carrie Woods
  • “The idea is great but implementing it takes action and takes consistency and takes focus.” – Carrie Woods
  • “We feel like they [the team] has had the same exposure to this topic that we [as leaders] have. We’ve talked it to death, but none of them were in the room. It’s a fresh new — SCARY — emotional thing for them. It’s our responsibility to help them through it and not abandon them to figure it out on their own.” – Carrie Woods
  • “When people finally get to the point that they pick up the phone to call us, the building is already on fire and they need help right now. That’s why a coach can come in and be so helpful because we don’t have the emotion in that moment, we can use logic and help you get there.” – Carrie Woods
  • “Emotion and logic can’t live together.” – Carrie Woods
  • “Plant your feet, look forward, and be willing to do something about it. That’s what will help your team. – Carrie Woods

Links & Resources Mentioned…

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Read The Transcript

Mike O'Neill:  

Welcome back to the Get Unstuck & On Target podcast. I'm Mike O'Neill with Bench Builders, and we're speaking with thought leaders to uncover tips to help you break down the barriers that may be keeping you or your business stuck. Joining me today is Carrie Woods. Carrie is the founder of Catalyst North.

Her firm is a training and development providers specializing in leadership training, one-on-one coaching, in custom content development. Welcome Carrie.

Carrie Woods: Hi Mike. I am so excited to be here with you today. Thank you for having me.

Mike O'Neill: Well, the pleasure is my mind. And the pleasure is going to be the listeners as well. Carrie

you have the ability to talk on a wide variety of topics, but the thing that just kind of caught my attention is how you work with clients to help them implement successful change. And so I'd like to spend our time together,  wrestling with why does change often fail? And what can leaders do to implement successful change?

Carrie Woods: Absolutely.  Change is a consistent stumbling block, no matter who we're talking to. Right? None of us love it. None of us look forward to it. I mean, I guess there's a few people out there that do, but it's something we all need to face and the better we can do it, the more success that's what we can achieve,

Mike O'Neill: You know, change is something that you probably hear batted around a lot, but the degree of change that the world has had to deal with over the last 12 months is something that,

nobody necessarily saw coming but here we are.  I like to draw, some of the questions I'm going to ask you from an article that you wrote, let me quote you, "But change is nothing more than an idea. It's a concept that we played victim to rather than approach with a clear mind and a tactical strategy."

Carrie Woods: Yes.

Mike O'Neill: If you didn't pick up on this already, and I didn't include this in my introduction, Carrie is also a very gifted writer and that is extremely well said. Rather than our approach with a clear mind in the tactical strategy. Why don't we start with the obvious and it is why does change often fail?

Carrie Woods: Oh my goodness. So. When we hear the word change or not even, we don't even have to wrap it in that box. Right. People are creatures of habit. We like habit. We like predictability. We like to be able to understand outcomes. And even if those outcomes, aren't what we want. Often we're more comfortable knowing what they will be.

So we will settle for something that is subpar. To avoid having to shift those habits and get in that uncomfortable state, because change is uncomfortable. It elicits an emotional response. It kind of triggers that fight or flight in a lot of people where were suddenly your mind is playing tricks on you and taking you down the worst case scenario.

And I think a lot of times people get caught up in that. Also, when we look at change, there's two sides to every coin. There's the side of the leader. What are we doing to implement change? Well, are we doing our part to set people up for success or are we setting them up to fail? So that's kind of one side of the coin.

The other side of the coin is. The individuals are we making kind of flawed assumptions. And I talk about that, me in the piece of how are they receiving, what are they hearing? Are they able to do what we're asking them to do? And when you can find balance between those when as a leader, you've taken the time to sit down and craft a strategy, craft a plan, we call this an implementation plan and then be able to communicate effectively and consistently that's the next piece so that the change can not only happen, but can sustain into a new habit.

It's that process. And when you walk in and you're talking to somebody that's frustrated, they feel stuck. Right. They could see where they want to go, but man, I just don't know how to get there. When you break it down, the disconnect is going to be somewhere in that and we can kind of even drill it down even more into whether it's on the side of the leader or on the side of the team and what's going on,

that's causing these, repeated failures. And I say repeated failures cause there's a bit of a pattern here. What we tend to hear when we go into organizations and we start talking to the team about change and why change fails? What we'll hear is, Oh yeah. They come around and they tell us to do something.

And then two days later they forget about it and we go back to what we were doing anyways. Gosh, Mike, that is so dangerous because now not only are we building bad habits in terms of how we're rolling things out, communicating them and implementing them and sustaining them. But now we are literally training our teams to ignore us and to not do what we've asked them to do.

And that becomes that vicious downward cycle. That's so difficult to break out of.

Mike O'Neill: I want to unpack that a bit more, but when you said something a moment ago about change, there's two sides to the coin. I had a aha and maybe I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but here's what happened. And that is our listeners are leaders.

And oftentimes as leaders, it is our job to implement change, but. You also reminded us, but we have to mindful of who does you're leading and how they would perceive it. But the aha I had is that if a leader is implementing change, they're having to change. And I don't know why that's never really kind of dawned in my head, but as a leader, you have to be mindful that you're implementing change, but you also be mindful that you have some preconceived notions about change, even good change that factors in.

 Am I just slow to come to that realization?

Carrie Woods: No, I don't. I don't think you that you are because that kind of hits people at different points of wait, wait a minute. So we call this mirror time Mike. This is the word that we wrap around it. We get these outcomes. So everybody has run into that person in their life that they come up to them like, Oh my gosh, why does this keep happening to me?

And they can't see it. Right. They can't see how their actions are driving these outcomes. But everybody else that they're talking to is like, Oh, ask me, I can tell you exactly why that keeps happening to you. And everybody kind of laughs. Right. But as a leader, We don't tend to step back and go, okay, how are my actions contributing to these outcomes that I'm, I'm getting that I don't want?

And it's often inadvertent and it's often even subconscious and it's rooted in habit and all of these things. But you're so right. If we are going to implement and sustain successful change, the first thing that we have to do is sit back, look at our behavior, our actions, and go, okay, what do I need to shift to move forward?

There's a book called Crucial Conversations. And there's one line in that book that man, it just sticks with me and they talk about, okay, what is it that you really want? What is it that you really want? Okay, if that's true. How would I be behaving right now? Wow, isn't that a gut punch sometimes when we're like, okay, well, this is what I say I want, but this is what I'm doing.

Are my actions truly supporting the goals that I've said? And when you can get those to line up now, you're one step closer to achieving what you're after.

Mike O'Neill: You know, I mentioned that we would like to kind of unpack the, implementation and sustainability. Why don't we start with implementation. As leader you're tasked with implementing a change, but oftentimes as leaders we make assumptions, do we not?

Carrie Woods: Yes, we do.

Mike O'Neill: And you write in your blog article that sometimes the first assumption that people make is that the people that you're leading actually listen.

Carrie Woods: Yep. So, but I told him to do it. Gosh, you and I will always have a career because of that one sentence. If nothing else is going to make sure that we stay employed, it's going to be that. Because I can't tell you how many times I've sat down across from a very frustrated leader who is dealing with a failed change, who feels like they've done everything right.

Because I told him to do it. So the question that I have, and, and for all of you leaders out there that are listening, I want you to really slow down and think about this one. How many times has somebody walked into your office, told you to do something and you immediately and permanently changed your behavior?

Again, everybody kind of laughs cause they're like, doesn't happen. Okay, so we can't hold up to that standard. Why do we expect others to as well? When we use the word? Listen. It's a much deeper and more complex term than hearing. Yeah. They might hear what you're saying, but are they listening to you? Do they understand

why? Do they understand what? Do they understand the facets of the change? And are you having the right conversation with them to ensure that happens? So when leaders come in and they're like, Oh, I told them to do it. Well, we're just assuming that they listen to us. And that it's going to change permanently when that's just not the case.

It's just not realistic to think that or to depend on it.

Mike O'Neill: So you very nicely kind of tied to assumptions that oftentimes we find ourselves making. That the people we are leading listen and that the people that we lead in understand what you're asking them to do. And you're really encouraging us to kind of take a time out and ask that question.

Carrie Woods: Yeah, understand part is, is kind of the second piece. And it's so important and I'm so sorry I cut you off. But, we had a beautiful example of this in a client where we had a client that was very, very frustrated.  He was leading frontline leaders and they weren't completing task the way he thought they should.

So we came up with a simple survey, told me, he said, Hey, go out and talk to your leaders and see where their knowledge gaps are. And he was like, okay, so he did it and in a beautiful turn of events, they all brought the survey tool back within 24 hours. And they had listed out exactly what they needed.

And he was shocked. He was absolutely shocked at the things that they were admitting they didn't know. And he, he, he actually got kind of angry. He was like, why, why don't they know this? Why don't they understand how to do this? Why, why do they have these questions? And I just looked at him. I'm like, Who's in charge of training them and he got really quiet and he goes, well, I am.

I'm like, well, so if they've got gaps, you're the one that has to provide that. And so we make this assumption one that they hear us, and then two, that they have the ability to do what we're asking them to do. They say that leaders underestimate the impact of what they're asking by a factor of 10. Oh, it's so easy.

It's so easy. And the person that's standing there, you know, holding this new task that they've been given is like, I don't know what to do. I, they have no idea how to move forward. And so those two assumptions, they work together. People listen, people understand, people have the ability and it's up to us to support them through that.

Right. That's why we're the leader. It's not up to them to change and figure it out. It's up to us to provide that support.

Mike O'Neill: You characterize that implementing successful change is both implementation, which we just spoke about and sustainability. And that is, you know, what are you doing as a leader to develop and sustain these new behaviors?

You introduce a moment ago, this mirror time concept of mirror time. Can you elaborate on that please?

Carrie Woods: Yeah. So mirror time is slowing down, looking in the mirror and going, okay, what do I need to change in my habits to change the outcomes I'm getting? And one of the very common habits that we find ties to sustainability and to the,

the successful outcome of change, right? So it's one thing to implement a change and have it going well for a day or two. It's something completely different to support that change into a long-term habit. And that's where people fail. And so when we talk about mirror time, that is what are my actions and the common one that we find is consistency.

So we, we kind of go back to the, but I told them to do it right. Leaders feel often that, okay. I gave you the tools, you understand and go. And that's not realistic in terms of long-term success. So if we, if we want to sustain this new change into a habit, we have to slow down and go back to that implementation plan.

I told you about really create a strong plan. How are we going to communicate that plan consistently? The same message to every person every time. And then how do we change our actions so that we're checking in consistently we're asking questions? We're following up, we're troubleshooting. We have contingencies in place.

If we hit a fail point and when I talk to leaders, you hit a point about, okay, here's what we want to do. Here's kind of how we're going to do it. Here's how I'm going to roll it out. And then their plan stops if they've got it that far. Right. That's as far as their playing goes. So I started asking  questions.

What are your KPIs? What defines success?  Where are your fail points? What's your contingency? And they just look at me. They're like, Whoa. What are you talking about? Well, that sustainability. That's understanding how to support this term and being able to pull in out the whole thing so that we can sustain the whole change.

But it all comes back to mirror time in that if the leader can't look at their own actions, their own habits, their own behaviors, they're never going to change them. Like you said, it requires change on our part too, to be able to get a different outcome.

Mike O'Neill: So Carrie you describe how do you sustain the new behaviors?

And it doesn't stop just at the individual or team level. If change is going to really stick in an organization, it needs to be part of what the organization now does. It almost becomes the it's the process and procedures, but for really, for it to stick, it needs to become part of the DNA.  You know, you described not

consistency, but you described it as being a consistent investment. Not that you do it once, but you come back to it time and time again, to reinforce this new behavior, to make sure through KPIs through the things that you just mentioned, that the organization has embraced this new way in a way that can be measured.

Carrie Woods: Absolutely. You know, it can be something as simple as let's. So KPI's, that's the manufacturing world. That's kind of where we live. Let's talk about work, instructions. Work instructions change all the time in manufacturing. So let's say you change some work instructions and then suddenly people aren't following them.

And suddenly now you've got quality misses. Right? And that, that snowball is going downhill. Well, we changed the work instructions. Okay, will do they know where to find them? Are they posted? Have you checked to make sure they understand them? Did anybody walk through them? You know, that whole implementation process, where in somebody's mind, just simply changing them and maybe switching out a piece of paper and a book is sufficient that doesn't change behavior.

It just doesn't especially muscle memory behavior, like we're talking about with work instructions. So, when we look at even a simple change like that, there are steps. There are continuous investment steps that take us from, okay. Here's what we've decided to do. The idea, right? Changes the idea to the strategic action on our part that allows that to be successful.

The idea is great, but implementing it takes action and takes consistency and takes focus. Because here's the thing guys, as leaders. We've usually lived with this perspective change for a long time. We've had meetings on it. We've talked about it. We've made plans about it. Honestly. We're kind of sick of hearing.

We're bored. So we roll it out and we're like, okay, your turn. Because in our minds, and I don't think we do this consciously, we feel like they have had the same exposure to this topic or this idea that we have. Well, we've talked and talked and talked and talked about it. Good grief. We've talked to, to death.

Yeah, but none of them were in those meetings. None of them were in the room. So while you may be bored, it's a fresh, new, scary, okay. Hold onto that scary. It's an emotional thing for them. So that's our responsibility is to help them through that and not just abandoned them to figure it out on their own.

Mike O'Neill: You make a really excellent point and that is planning for change.  Doesn't necessarily mean that the people you're leading or in the room as part of client process. And it goes back to these assumptions made earlier. You'd assume, thereby knows what you're talking about. You assume everybody gets it, buys into it and is ready to do it.

And you're challenging us as leaders, is take a time out. Be mindful that the folks you're leading, they may be hearing this for the first time. And if it is, we all agree hearing it once is not enough. They need to hear it multiple times so that they can internalize excellent.

Carrie Woods: And they need the, what the why and the how, what are we doing?

Why are we doing it and how am I supposed to do it?

Mike O'Neill: And in that truth for all of us, we, we, we. Ask the question. Well, what's in this for me. And if you can convey, and hopefully that you can find where this would be a value to them for this change. Even something as "mundane" as work instructions, if they can see why this change and how this change might work, hopefully they'll come to conclusion that this change is designed to improve process, to improve,

overall effectiveness.  If it's a manufacturing environment to improve quality, to perhaps improve productivity.  Excellent. So you've kind of bottled up the notion of change as falling into its implementation and sustainability.  But nonetheless, I know that you have worked with clients that what perhaps brought you in.

Is because they're stuck, they've come realization that they're stuck. That's what brings clients to Bench Builders. But can you share maybe an example where a client of yours got stuck and what is it that, that you and you all had to do to get unstuck?

Carrie Woods: Yeah.  So the running joke with my team is that nobody calls us when they're having a good day.

Right now nobody calls for the external, trainer or consultant or whatever title you want to put on it to come in when they're having a good day. So when people finally get to the point that they pick up the phone to call us, it's like the building is already on fire. We need help right now. And I had a particular client.

I will never forget this guy. He's, he's been one of my favorites over the years, because he was told he had to meet with me by his leader and he was not happy with it. Right. I am not going back to kindergarten. I don't know why you're here, but you're going to have to sit in my office for an hour because I was told I had to sit with you.

So just sit there and be quiet. Okay. That's where we started. And I kind of laugh and so week one went by and we were talking and he looks at me a couple times. He's like, how do you know this stuff? Right. And I'm like, well, you know, I have done this a long time. And our conversations start getting a little richer and a little richer.

And the reason I was working with him is he was a very high level leader in this organization. But this organization had two sides, A, B, he had always been kind of head of side A and side A was in control and doing well. And recently they had switched him to take over side B, which he had never done before.

And he was very uncomfortable with, it's a very different process, very different type of employee. And his thought was, well, I'll just take what I did in side A, put it in side B and it's going to work great. Well, we all know that probably didn't work so great. So thus I'm there. And he had this whiteboard in his office where he would constantly just brain dump.

He just did just massive scribbles and everything on it. And so the second time I went in there, we started talking about the whiteboard, but he wouldn't let me touch it. Third time I went in there, I was like, well, let's, let's talk about this. Right. And so I stand up and I start slowly just taking everything

he has brain dumped on this whiteboard and I start organizing it. And I mean, this is a very basic session, Mike, you know how these go, where we're just lining things up. This goes into this, and this goes into this. But what I'm showing him as we do this, because to him in that moment, he is completely overwhelmed.

The reason the whiteboard looked the way it did is because his mind was so stressed. He couldn't make sense of it. That's not a fault of him. That's a, that's a symptom of the reality he was trying to function in. That's why a coach, a trainer can come in and be so helpful because we don't have the emotion in that moment.

We can use logic and we can help you get there. So this guy's a great leader. He just was in such a overwhelmed, survival mode state that all he could do is react. Right? That's the danger of survival mode. When you get to that point, that all you can do is react. You're constantly looking over your shoulder, trying to fix what's behind you.

And therefore you're running into whatever's in front of you because you don't see it. So we started organizing his whiteboard. By the end of the session, he had these nice rows and you can see him kind of looking at it and he's like, man, I never thought about it. And then, you know, I thought I'd get wild and crazy.

I took a few of the top boxes and when we laid out just a basic implementation plan of, okay, how can you conquer this low hanging fruit? And he looks at me and he's like, I'm going to try this just so you'll be quiet, like, okay, I'll take it. Prove me wrong. Right. And so I come in the next week and he's sitting at his desk and he's just looking at me.

I go, Hey, how'd your week? He goes I'm mad at you. Really? Why are you mad at me? He goes, cause that stuff worked and I didn't want it to, I'm like shocking. I'm going to give you stuff that actually makes life easier. And he like puts his head down and he's like, okay, fine. So I guess that means I have to listen to what else you have to say.

I'm like, well, I don't know. Is your life a little easier this week? And he goes, yes. So, do you want to try something else? Maybe we cross a few more things off that board. He goes, yes. And from there we built a really rich relationship. And so that gentleman has gone from where he was to now. He is leading his whole, a whole facility.

He is in charge. He's thriving. I still work with him, but he will tell you to this day, that, without those sessions, without that time to get his brain in order, he will tell you, it's like, I don't know that I could have gotten here on my own. I needed somebody to help me get out of that moment and get unstuck and with that.

So what are the, one of the great things that I thought came alongside of this? Because when you're working with leaders and helping them get unstuck, you're not just helping them, you're helping their whole team. Right. Cause a lot of times you're the go between between the team and the leader and. I get to leave

so be mad at me don't be mad at your team. And a couple of his next level leaders came up to me one day and they said, Hey, we have to tell you something. I'm like, okay. And you know, these conversations can always go good or go bad. And they said, we didn't know you were working with him. And we were starting to get really concerned cause he hasn't yelled at anybody in like eight weeks and that's a record.

And then we found out that that's when you started working with him. And we just wanted to tell you that we really appreciate it. Cause none of us have gotten yelled at months now. And it's great. I'm like good. So. Help people find answers, help them find solutions, suddenly their emotions calm down.

They're not in that heightened, emotional bay state. They can think one of the things I tell people all the time is emotion and logic can't live together. When emotion shows up logic leaves. So when somebody's emotional, that's how they're reacting. And they need somebody else to come along. Sometimes I go, okay, well, let's just try this baby steps, baby steps, baby step.

And then suddenly they can walk on their own. And that is one of the reasons I love what we get to do so much.

Mike O'Neill: Well, I share that love and you make an interesting point here, and that is when one feels stuck, regardless of the circumstance, there is a logical component to it. But what's probably more powerful is the emotion that you just make reference to.

And in his case, he was very successful in one part of the business, he was put in another part, part, he knew nothing about that was very different and he got stuck and the frustration came through loud and clear. But through your effort to help him get unstuck and help that team move on. They come back to you and say, you've made a difference.

Thank you. And so that's really cool.

Carrie Woods: Yes, it's pretty great. I love those moments all the days that you walk out and you're like, man, am I doing anything? And then you have those moments. You're like, okay, this is, this is why we do what we do. It's pretty great.

Mike O'Neill: Carrie as you kind of reflect on the things that we discuss today.

What might be takeaways that you want our listeners and some are watching on YouTube, our viewers, what do you want them to have from our time together?

Carrie Woods: I would say a couple of things. One realize that everybody makes these mistakes. Even people that are good at it. Even people that study it that do it right.

Everybody has those moments where the perfect storm has hit and suddenly they're doing all the wrong things that they know aren't going to get them where they're going to go. So don't beat yourself up. If you look at what you're doing or what you have done, and you see some of these things that we're talking about. If you see them be willing to do something about them, That's the next step.

When we recognize where we're stuck or we recognize where our behavior, especially as a leader, we're creating these outcomes, then it becomes our responsibility to do something about it. So yeah. Cut yourself some Slack. If you can see that you've done it in the past, or you, you see that maybe you're engaged in it right now. But then plant your feet,

look forward, and be willing to do something about it. And that is what will help your team.

Mike O'Neill: Excellent.

Carrie, what would be the best way for folks to reach out to you? How can I connect with you?

Carrie Woods: Absolutely. So we have a website, you can go to and you can connect with my team there.

You can also connect with me on LinkedIn, Carrie Woods. And, I'm sure if anybody really wanted to find me and they couldn't, they can send you an email and you could hook them up with us that way. But, we're happy to help with anything that you guys need, or if any of this kind of sets the bells ringing in your head and you'd like to learn more, we'd love for you to reach out.

Mike O'Neill: Well, for those who didn't get a chance to write that down, this contact information will be included in the show notes.

So thank you, Carrie.

Carrie Woods: No. Thank you, Mike. This has been a lot of fun. I really appreciate your time. And, getting to sit down and talk to you for a few minutes today.

Mike O'Neill: Well, the pleasure has been mine as well. I also want to thank our listeners for joining us for this episode of Get Unstuck & On Target.

We upload the latest episode every Thursday. And if you haven't already, I invite you to join our growing list of subscribers. We have Bench Builders. We love to help companies get unstuck. With practical management training, leadership coaching, and better business planning and execution. But if you've been listening to my discussion with Carrie and that you're realizing that something is keeping you or your business stuck, let's talk, visit, to schedule a call.

So I want to thank you for joining us, and I hope you have picked up on some tips that will help get you Unstuck & On Target. Until next time.

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