Daring Women: Talent Savant Founder Ingrid Johnson Promotes Radical Empathy

Johnson says understanding how employees feel makes it possible to change ‘what isn’t working’

Ingrid Johnson founded Seattle-based Talent Savant in 2017 as a single mother with the goal of establishing a talent-recruiting company that works for people, particularly for individuals seeking a flexible schedule and work-life balance.

In 2018, as a sign that Johnson had found a niche in the industry, her company made Mogul Magazine’s Top 100 Innovators in Diversity & Inclusion list. Talent Savant, according to Johnson, is focused on ethics, transparency, guaranteed results and low fees.

Prior to launching Talent Savant, Johnson served as the marketing director at A La Minute Productions, a multi-media creative consultancy. She earned a bachelor’s degree in foreign languages and international affairs from the University of Puget Sound.

As part of the latest Daring Woman interview, Johnson shares some insights about the barriers faced by women striving to achieve leadership roles and ways to overcome them, her views on mentors and networking, and she also shares some advice for the upcoming generation of female leaders.

What are the most important characteristics of a good leader and what leadership traits are overrated?

No. 1: Radical Empathy. Leaders should do their best to not only understand the work requirements of their employees but put themselves in the position of their employees as often as possible.

If you don’t understand how your employees are feeling, you cannot be empowered to even have a frank conversation about your businesses’ challenges and opportunities, not to mention having the power to change what isn’t working for your people.

No. 2: Humility. Leaders shouldn’t be “above” any of the work in their organization and should push themselves to interact and learn about each facet of how their company works.

This builds on empathy by allowing leaders to walk a mile in the proverbial shoes of their employees.

No. 3: Generosity. This trait is so much more difficult to do than to say. Our companies are our babies. We grew them, we nurtured them, and in delegation, trust and sharing of our “babies,” we gain much needed support and empower our employees to turn our baby into their own baby.

Generosity can be demonstrated by allowing employees true ownership and taking a step back from decision-making, gaining an “executive view.”

When employees are trusted, they will do the right thing for your company ― because you are telling them that it is also their company. 

Overrated characteristics include the following:

No. 1: Manifesting power through fear. No woman leader should be afraid to make tough decisions that are best for her company. Even with radical empathy, you cannot please everyone all the time. But acting tyrannical and creating a culture of intimidation leads to insecurity, which leads to attrition.

No. 2: Being Indispensable. Women take on too much. Your personal health and sanity is more important to your company than it is for you to “do” everything. Delegate, build support systems, share knowledge. If you need a sick day or a week off, you shouldn’t be concerned that your firm will fall apart without you.

As a woman, what is the most significant barrier to becoming a leader?

Leaders innovate. They ask tough questions. They push their employees to be the best versions of themselves. We are still stuck in a world where women walk a tightrope to execute our natural leadership abilities without being labeled as a “bitch.”

How can women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations?

Find a mentor. Create a tribe. Learn from others’ experiences. You don’t have to do this alone, nor should you try.

I always tell women to use LinkedIn and find a woman who has achieved what you want to achieve. Do you want to be the director of marketing for a startup? Use the search function and find some local women in that role. Study their career path. Look at their network.

And finally, don’t underestimate the generosity of working women. Craft a thoughtful, sincere message. Tell them what you admire about them and their career track. And finally ask if they have a 15-minute chunk of time for you to buy them a coffee and pick their brain.

What key lessons did you learn from a woman who has inspired, mentored or sponsored you?

Fearlessness and grit. No one wants to hear how hard this is. No one wants to talk about the times we cried in the bathroom stall. No one wants to go through the many downs, but without them there are no ups. The reward is there if you pick yourself up and do the work.

What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders?

If there is someone you can help today in any way at work, help them without asking for anything in return. Doing good for others is the best way to create a network of people who will have your back, not only today, but all the way down this bumpy road.

How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?

Networking is the most important thing you can do for your career. Expanding your network should be done in a sincere, personal way.

I grew one of the largest networks on LinkedIn one connection at a time. I asked them about their dreams and asked them how I could help. If I could help, I did. I didn’t ask for anything back. Because if you approach networking like this, the returns will come on their own and in spades.

What would you do differently in your career?

Nothing. All of my many fails have led me to today. You have one life, don’t regret it.

Where will we find you on a Saturday afternoon?

Playing with my 5-year-old.

What would be the title of your autobiography?

“A Loudmouth and a Laptop: How One Woman Change the Conversation About Recruiting.”

We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire. 

Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.

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