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leading with "nice" with Mathieu Yuill

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What makes a good leader? If you’re an executive director in a nonprofit, you're probably thinking about how you can be more effective and motivate your team to create a bigger impact. But what are these qualities you should have to inspire others?

To learn more about what makes a great leader, I sat down with Mathieu Yuill, Founder of Leading with a Nice, consultancy that develops leaders. Mathieu has more than 25 years of experience in the field of communication and marketing, as well as a master's degree in management and leadership.

Myths that Mathieu wants us to walk away from:

  • Leaders only give orders. Leaders who inspire their employees are those who practice empathy, listen, and genuinely care about their employees' well-being rather than just the work.

  • Leaders should hide any weaknesses. Honesty and trust are qualities of a good leader that requires being vulnerable, assessing one's own weaknesses, and communicating them to one's team.

Matthieu’s GET HG: qualities of leaders that inspire

  • Gratitude: Checking in with your staff and simply asking how things are going or offering them help is a way to express gratitude because you trust the person to do their job. You're also acknowledging that they're working hard and that you appreciate it.

  • Empathy: Stepping into other people’s shoes to understand their circumstances. A leader who shows empathy toward their employees reduces employee absenteeism and has a more productive team.

  • Trust: It is all about intent. By communicating your desired outcome to your team and trusting them to choose the best path forward.

  • Honesty: It is about understanding your own weaknesses and releasing control.

  • Generosity: It is simply a matter of making time to mentor your employees and check in with them.

Favourite Quotes from Today’s Episode

Post your favorite quote on social media to share with us!

“So if you have a report who's working on a project often what we do is we'll come by and be like, “Hey, you know, are you done with that yet? Or how far along are you?” That's checking up and that's like a doctor's appointment. Nobody likes it. But instead, check-in and be like, “Hey, how are things going? Is there anything I can help you with?” That's actually showing gratitude and trust cause you're trusting the person they're doing their job and you're also acknowledging that they're working hard and you recognize like, “Hey, can I help you? Like I get this is a job that might need an extra set of hands.” That's a very simple way to show gratitude.”

”We need to understand how to communicate with each other and that's really the first base, the barrier to entry is do you know how to communicate with each other? ”

Resources from this Episode

Leading with Nice

Crucial Conversations

Culture Code

The Good Partnership


Cindy W.: Hey everyone. Last time we did a podcast on leadership. My friend Tony emails me and he said, leaders are not trained. They're developed or something, sorry, Tony, if I'm misquoting you. But I thought that was a really interesting point and as we love conversations about leadership on this podcast. And most of us have experienced the full spectrum of leadership, leaders we want to aspire to be, and those we want to avoid becoming and so we're going to continue that conversation today because we can never get enough of it.

You're listening to The Small Nonprofit podcast and I'm your host, Cindy Wagman. And we are here to help you get more done for your small organization because you are going to change the world and we're just here to help.

Today's guest is Mathieu Yuill. He is the leader of Leading with Nice and his company helps develop leaders and so Mathieu comes with 25 years of experience in communication and marketing. He has a master's in leadership and management. One of the most important things for him, which I think is lovely and agree is that he's husband to Alison and a father to three.

Mathieu, welcome to the podcast.

Mathieu Y.: Oh my gosh. I've been so looking forward to speaking more with you, we've had a few conversations in the past, so this is great.

Cindy W.: Yes. We have had lots of opportunities and I'm just laughing because we all have like stuff happening in the background. So we're just gonna say, we have the dog, no big deal. This is a, this is life these days/

Mathieu Y : He was left out of the bio.

Cindy W.: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I love it. We hear you dog. We hear you.

Yeah, I'm really excited for this conversation when I first connect or I think you connected with me and I thought, oh, I really love it, I looked at your website because we all do online stalking.

And I was like oh, I really that you use a scientifically backed process to help people understand the people around them as leaders and how to I would say step into the leaders we aspire to be. And so we're going to talk about that and you have you call it nice leadership what does that mean?

Mathieu Y : Yeah, sure. It really was born out of a conversation I had many years ago, probably in the mid two thousands. I did some journalism in addition, we, today they'd call it a side hustle back then we just called it a part-time job. And for a magazine I wrote for, I did a lot of the profiles and somebody asked me like Hey, what makes a good sometimes you're really excited about these leaders. Sometimes you're not what makes, what is it?

I love data. So I kept a lot of like spreadsheets on the people I wrote about. And what I've discovered is the ones that really amped me up were the ones that had a really high aptitude in one of six qualities. They showed a lot of gratitude, had a lot of empathy, have a lot of trust in both themselves and the people they work with they're honest, they were very generous with their time and money, and very service driven.

From there, the next question was are these just nice to have, or do they actually help the bottom line? Because clearly, we all know, like you mentioned that and the intro, we all have theirs. We all know leaders who both make lots of money for a company and those who don't and those who are very nice and also make lots of money. So what's the difference?

It turns out that people that have these qualities, there's lots of research out there that says, for example, a boss who shows a lot of empathy, those employees we bosses that show a lot of empathy. Those employees will actually show up to work 30% more often they'll take less sick days, less, personal days, et cetera. And of course the more often your employee there at work, the more productive they are, the more the bottom line.

There is actually data showing that if you have these qualities of you really build into them, you're gonna make you gonna make a lot more money and that's a lot of the time that's a good thing.

Yeah. Or, because our audience is nonprofits it's money, but money is like impact, right? Like we, as a fundraiser, I know we need money, but ultimately what it comes down to is better programs, better service, all of the things, our north stars, right. Like the things that we want to do in this world.

I was thinking of there's a nonprofit I've worked with that. They have a membership model, so that's they have a revenue source and they use that revenue to serve their mission. And for the longest time, the front desk person it wasn't really fun to talk to not fun that's the wrong one there was unpleasant. And then there was a change in leadership and a new front desk person to go over.

And they were great. And I asked one of the long-term employees what the difference is in what their front desk. They're like, oh the new director of guest relations just has a real aptitude for, listening and really caring, which is I would call that empathy. And that front desk person is the main point of contact in renewing memberships.

So come on it is like, it is directly tied one to two. And I remember let's talk to the board of directors and they're celebrating all this great programming that obviously had generated the more revenue. And I was like, no, I have an empathetic leader now in that position, that's it, that's all there is do it. And when they saw it, they're like, oh yeah, that's exactly what it is.

Cindy W.: Oh, there are so many things I want to dive into. I wanted to go through the six attributes again, but before we do, you mentioned something, which is you referred to that person answering the phones or at the desk as the leader as well.

And I want to talk about what is a leader because we have a very hierarchical perspective on these things often, but that's, and I think I've had conversations with it on podcasts before, about how we are all, how we can all step into leadership. And so I'd love for you to weigh in.

Mathieu Y.: I say like leadership is just influence. So any, we, you hear about leading up and leading sideways and leading down well that's basically like influencing. So that's all leadership really is it's influenced because I have yet to see a job description and the title is the leader of this. Now you might see like manager or director of a vice president and in the job description, it will say you lead this department, but there's no job leadership and actually, I talked to my one son he is not the loudest. He's definitely social and an extrovert, but he's not at the front of the pack often, but it was funny one day his friends run over here and they were probably like 15 at the time.

And they wanted to go, it was having a sleepover and they wanted to the park at 11:00 PM. And I was like, all right, I'm pretty sure like that would be bad parenting if I let them go. And so I said, Hey boys, sorry. Your friend Connor has got a strict dad and they said, oh, you know what, Mr. Yuill Connor already said that we shouldn't even go. And he's always the one keeping us out of trouble. And I realized there, so after the next day, I said Connor, like when they said that, that is them talking of your leadership, what are you talking about? It was their idea. They wanted to go. I said, but look at how you influence them even before they asked me. And I said that's leadership in a nutshell. And so we have a lot of conversations in our house about influencing and how we can, through our actions can show leadership. Nice leadership nothing in there, you notice that there's nothing in there about like implementing great programs or having a three-step process. No, it's all about your aptitudes, your actions.

Cindy W.: Yeah. Okay. A side conversation, how did you raise a kid to be so responsible, but that's another time. So let's talk about this. How do we, you've said to me previously like basically what we're doing is learning how to increase our empathy and that is but talk me through. How we can start this? Is it starting with the six attributes or is there another path? Do we assess where we're at?

Mathieu Y.: Our, we use a tool actually a disc assessment, but it's a bit more than just if you're familiar with a Myers-Briggs or straight there's a bunch out there. We haven't don't use a tool that we like, because it's re it's based in a lot of science and when I first started looking for the right way to, so actually in my, in the master's program, the question I had was, okay, now I know this is true, but can you teach somebody? The answer was yes. And I was like, okay, what, where are the programs that I can learn that I can implement? There, there weren't programs.

And so I found this tool that did a great, does great assessments that give you the feedback on where you need to train up and. So where we typically start is like seeing where there are some deficits where are there some low hanging fruit that we can just do some simple exercises and, One of the, one of the greatest tricks and this is where it starts getting people thinking, oh, this is complicated, but it's really not.

So for example, if you are trying to lose weight, often you can get apps, you can track your weight, whether or not as many apps where you can track your hours exercised and your calories input, and so your weight loss, that's a leg indicator, that tells you how you're doing a lead indicator are the calories and the hour's exercise.

So I would say start creating. A scorecard for yourself with some lead indicators. So for example, empathy and people are going to say you charge for this and I'm like, yeah, people, actually will help will pay money cause it's so important. I'll say one simple thing is Starkey, keep a scorecard of like how often you asked your reports, how their weekend.

Start keeping a scorecard of how often you put yourself in a situation that you're not familiar. So that could be trying as simple as trying new food at a restaurant. Somebody you'd never ordered before. One thing that I like to do when I work with faith-based organizations is encouraged them to attend a faith ceremony that's not their own. And just, stepping into others' shoes. And the reason why the sound's so out of the left-field is that we're not talking about customer service training, we're not talking about, okay, I'm going to teach you how to use Excel better or something.

I wish it was as easy as teaching Excel better because there have people that just are not gifted in empathy. They just don't have it and so he will say how do we help this person do it? And I'm like, in that occasion, there probably needs to be, probably need to find a job for them that does not need a lot of this, there's a friend of mine and he's a friend who works in insurance and he's the guy that has to calculate how much of a financial risk it is.

Cindy W.: Like just referenced is insurance agents in a session? I was like, though, put your insurance agent hat on and be like the ruth most ruthless, like nitpicky, cause there's something about that job that

Mathieu Y.: He's on an agent he's called an actuary,

Cindy W.: the backend where they're like, do you get money from us or not?

Mathieu Y.: So he actually, when I bought a trampoline for my kids, he almost unfriended me. He's what are you doing? This is the biggest risk, anyhow. So he would tell you, he does not have a lot of strong empathy, but he's very generous with his time he's very service-driven, but he's just not the guy who's going to care if your weekend was good or not. So we talked a lot about empathy right now, bt but there are all these there are five other attributes that make a nice leader. And usually I said, most like the best leaders had three, so they're not busting out at all and all six. Oh my gosh. That would be, that's near impossible, but anyhow.

So those quality let's re let's go over those qualities again, because I think that they are worth talking a little about, so these ones.

Yeah. So I actually, the acronym I use in my own head is get hugs.

It's yeah, it's a gratitude, empathy, trust, honesty, generosity, and service. So that you, as a small you in this acronym We'll throw an underwater, I don't know, make it work. And gratitude, for example I liken that to like, if you want to, if you want to know how to the simplest form of doing gratitude is I call it the check-in versus checkup.

So if you have a report or working on a project, often what we do is we'll come by and be like, "Hey, are you done with that yet? Or how far along are you?" That's checking up and that's like a doctor's appointment. Nobody likes that but instead check-in and be like, "Hey, how are things going? Is there anything I can help you with?" That's actually showing gratitude because and trust cause you're trusting the person they're doing their job. And you're also acknowledging that they're working hard and you recognize "Hey, can I help you? Like I get this is a job that might need an extra set of hands." That's a very simple way to show gratitude.

Empathy, we've talked about trust is again, just. I just talked to somebody this morning who teaches. A small, medium business operating system and he referenced the Marine Corps so they have intent command it's called. So the old way of doing military is we gave you an order. Take that bunker, do it this way. Now it's about intent. So we talked about the outcome we want to achieve, and in between me telling you the outcome and achieving the outcome, I'm trusting you to choose the best way forward. So are you giving orders to staff or you give it intent? I tell my one of graphic designers

I often will say, okay, here's what I want. Now, if I have a very specific idea in mind, I will show it to you. But at no point, if I have not done that I come and tell you that's wrong because I didn't, I told you the intent was was the outcome.. So yeah.

Cindy W. : Yeah. It reminds you of loading the dishwasher, which I think every household is like, If one thinks their way of loading the dishwasher right at the end of the day is the dishwasher loaded. The dish is clean.

Mathieu Y. : I look at it like directions. How do you get somewhere? Oh, why don't you turn left here? I'm trying to get to Tim Horton's well, I usually go. right Okay. Is there a Tim Horton's at the end of this? Then we're good. We're good.

Really a lot of it a bit is about like releasing control. You would know this, like we talked about, I talked about generosity. Yes. Corporations who do like their, donation day there. I shouldn't say this one because my friend works there and he's oh, we need them. But say for example, you're building a family structure and you get a, there's a cap, there's a nonprofit that does that.

And your company comes for a day and they build a house or like another one I worked at a food bank and people would always want to come with their company and be like like we actually have a system already for delivering food for building this. When you come, it actually takes away. It slows us down.

So generosity, how can we be more generous in our work as opposed to just going out and doing volunteer work? Is it is generosity a matter of you putting aside an hour a month for each of your reports to do some mentoring, to do some talking to go for coffee and just ask how they're doing to do a check-in.

Is it a matter of, instead of being I say okay the company is going to give a bunch of money to this nonprofit. What impacts you and your local neighborhood? Can we give $500 to that as opposed to anyhow, and then service driven obviously is just if you lead to serve, I would say my bosses their job is to serve their reports. So not them to serve you.

Cindy W. : I love that. And often I think of like our my job, or the job that we do is to serve our clients, like very I love that word service. Because I think it is like our reason for pain for me a lot to help other people before we look at the other ones, I want to go back to the idea of releasing control, because I think people have a hard time with that. And I think that is one of the areas where I love to hear how you can develop that. That muscle of letting go of like your way of doing things my way of doing things.

Mathieu Y. : Again, it goes to okay, great question. And it's not as simple as oh, here you go. Here's you read,

Cindy W. : come on. You can't fix this all in 30 minute conversation.

Mathieu Y. : One of the things that we learned, what we do, we show off the assessments. One of the things we learn about is our communications styles right and so I think understanding how you'd like to be communicated to and how you personally communicate, it goes a long way in helping you release control. So for example, I worked for a boss that just wanted the bottom line first, and then sometimes didn't even care about the details, but I wanted to walk in and tell her a story of how I ended up with the details because the journey for me was important.

And for 15 years she suffered of me and I did not get it. And then finally, actually I left that work and I've come back and I now do consulting for them. And now since I left and realized that now I cannot get over the compliments I get for my, astute leadership. And I'm like man, the only thing I ever had done differently this now I just tell her the bottom line first. And so that was me releasing control of how I wanted to communicate. So if you understand how you communicate and you understand how somebody else wants to be communicated to, that can actually a big release of what would be control.

Another example would be I'm very relational so I love working in person. I want to come into your office and be like, Hey, look, how was your weekend? And blah, blah, blah. Some people actually look at that as do you not trust me? Like, why are you checking? Why are you, why do you want to get so much into my business? We're not friends. We're colleagues, we're coworkers.

And for me, I would say my colleague, I should be friendly with, really again, it's about understanding how people want to be interacted with what motivates them so what is motivating you to work here is different probably than what's motivating me to work here. Now, broadly, we may want to help that mission or cost, but I might be working here because I have a desire to grow my academia.

I really want to learn about the sector where somebody else might be working there because they want to grow their status. They'd like to, they'd like to have it on their LinkedIn. That's not wrong. Again, that's it might be easy to say whoa, status. That's wrong. And judgy. Okay. Does it, I'm sorry. Is it motivated him to get out of bed in the morning and come here and do an amazing job? Then you tell me it's wrong again.

Cindy W. : We haven't talked about honesty yet, and I'd love for you to tell us a little bit more about that.

Mathieu Y. : Okay, honesty first is about looking in the mirror. It is not about the freedom to say I hate your work. That is not what it is honesty is first about understanding your weakness. That's the first thing to be honest with, and again, releasing control. So I just had to meet with my own staff and I said, I am not a great finisher. I'm a great starter. I can get a project ramped up in when it starts to plateau. I lose interest. So I gave my two staff we're kind of project permission to not even ask me permission to make things happen.

I said, if I come back in a week from now and you've told me about three things, you've done to move the ball down the field. And even across the finish line, you win. That is you're the best employee, if you want to loop me in for sure. But if you are waiting for me to get back, she, want an answer to this.

I'm probably overwhelmed at my indecisiveness, and I don't know how to communicate to you in that moment. So that's my weakness. Owning it. And unfortunately I'm the boss. So I can, it's easier for me to say that, but often when you are working with a with, if you're not the boss, it's okay for you to say to your boss, I need help in this arena.

I will be totally, be the best employee ever in this arena. And if you allow that, can you also allow you to pay extra attention to maybe this detailed piece that I'm not great at? So that's the first thing.

The second piece, when it is, there's a great book called crucial conversations and it's about one of the things we do really badly in north America is letting people go from our work, firing them and laying them off in most, in a lot of south American countries, European countries and Asian countries. There's a book called the culture code that talks about this a lot of them, when somebody's been laid off, there's actually a very intentional, like six month process of checking in, going for dinner, seeing how they're doing, giving, helping them network and resource for what's next.

And so that's a bit of honesty as well, too. Crucial conversations. Check that out. Culture code, check that out. And, but honesty starts to look in the mirror, first of all, an honest, oh my gosh, which is tough, right?

Cindy W. : Yeah. So you men, you said I'm the boss. So it's easier for me to say, but I actually want to push on that because I, in my experience, I think a lot of people have an expectation of like how they show up or they're supposed to show up as a boss and then they feel the deficits and try and hide them.

Mathieu Y. : So maybe I said that because of my own context, people calling me, so I worked with a coach, Wendy Paul. She's amazing when he pulls out calm and she really helped me understand my inner critic the self-sabotour that person that lets in, like we all have it, we all think we're not good enough in certain arenas.

Cindy W. : All right. So we all have an inner critic, but I feel like we have these expectations of what like a boss is and like how we're supposed to be or what a leader is. So how do we, so what is, like you mentioned earlier, the assessments, like if someone wanted to start to think about okay I almost feel like we start with honesty and like, how do I get clear on looking at myself and looking at how I show up? How do we start that process.

Mathieu Y. : Yeah. And this is why in the great question. The reason I mentioned my communications and marketing background is often what prevents us from getting better at this is we don't know how to communicate. And before we can even talk about empathy, trust gratitude. We need to understand how to communicate with each other. And that's really the first kind of the base, the barrier to entry is do you not, do you know how to communicate with each other? And it was so interesting. I was talking with my education and training coordinator about the assessments and. One of the great things that has this, like highlight like personalized high level how to for employees.

So the manager when their team's done their assessments, they can just reference this like really quick kind of cue card, cheat sheet of how to communicate what's important, motivators, et cetera, et cetera. And And that has really helped her team when we were the client we were talking about helped her team just get better, all the other things, because now they understand how to communicate with each other.

And so honesty. Yes. But I would actually say the biggest one trust caused because trust is a one that allows me to screw up in a meeting and not worry that you're going to go back to your department around the water cooler and talk about how dumb that cause that

Cindy W.: I can't do that anymore though.

You can still do it. You're the outsider. Now you're going to be the, one of the outside. Yeah. That is trust is actually the number one barrier. Honesty comes you have to have trust before you can have honesty with each other. Honesty personally, yes. But it doesn't help if I'm really honest with myself, which allows me to be honest with others if you don't trust me or I don't trust you.

Cindy. : Yeah. Yeah. And I imagine they're all a little bit, like they operate like you can't re you said a good leader has three, but I think the culture needs to have a little bit of everything. Is that fair?

Mathieu Y.: Yes, definitely. You cannot be absent of like gratitude and we're very, we have great honesty, trust, in we're service driven, but nobody here is appreciative of you.

Cindy W. : I want to talk a little bit more about how to build trust, because I think that, and maybe this goes back to communicating, but it's hard. It's hard for people to show up, trusting. And that hasn't been our experience before. And I've seen that with people where even if they're in a new environment if they're, they, it becomes embedded in oh, I don't trust. I don't trust people.

Mathieu Y. : Yeah. There, when I asked this question, I went looking for a researc has anybody explored that you explored this before? And of course, there is lots of it. And one study in particular talked about trust and