As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Sharon Lamm-Hartman, Founder and CEO of Inside Out Learning, Inc. (IOL), an award‐winning global leadership, team and organization development consulting business. In addition to running IOL, Dr. Sharon is a global executive and presentation skills coach, leadership and organization development consultant, speaker, writer, educator, wife and mom. She has designed and delivered over 2,000 innovative programs, including many women’s development and executive presence and presentation skills programs. Dr. Sharon has coached thousands of CEOs, executives, educators, professionals, and entrepreneurs worldwide. In her upcoming book, The Authenticity Code™: The Art and Science of Success and Why You Can’t Fake It to Make It, Dr. Sharon helps you understand that the secret to your success lies in being your authentic self.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
After graduating with my master’s in industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University, I took a corporate job with a Fortune 500 company for five years and received incredible Human Resources and international training and development experience. I also had the privilege of working with Libbi Lepow and Ed Petka, who truly taught me so much about the field of training and organization development. I traveled to several countries in Europe and Asia at a very young age and fell in love with the training and development field. Because I found my passion, I enrolled and was accepted into Columbia University’s Doctorate program in Leadership and Organization Development. The program allowed me to still work and attend in person one weekend a month and three weeks over the summer.
As I met incredible fellow students and faculty, they started to offer me work — amazing work like at GE’s Leadership Development Center. Also, some of the consultants I hired for the Fortune 500 company where I was working asked me to help them on consulting projects.
At the same time, I was getting frustrated working for the company. I kept bringing the senior leadership team innovative programs and ideas with plans for implementation, and it was such a struggle to get anything approved. I felt like they did not take me seriously as a tall, blonde woman in my early 20s.
The offers I was receiving for consulting work were for more money than I was receiving working at the company that employed me, so I took a leap of faith and quit. I was very fortunate to have so many clients in my first year of business because of my fellow students at Columbia University as well as consultants I had hired at the company that employed me. Once I started to run my own business, I never looked back. My father was scared for me because he liked the security of a big company behind me. I loved the excitement of building and running a business.
Later, I found an 8th-grade essay I had written about my dream job, and I wrote about being an entrepreneur and running my own business. Even in 8th grade, I said that I don’t want to work for anyone else. I guess entrepreneurship is in my DNA. I LOVE it.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
I flew to Beijing China to deliver a professional development program to a room filled with 25 managers who were all Chinese. We had simultaneous translation. I never asked for information about the room I would be facilitating the program in. When I arrived at the hotel, and the concierge showed me to what I thought was a conference room, he brought me to the bar which had a big dance floor and disco ball in the middle of the room. And all over the walls were pictures of Marilyn Monroe with very little clothing on.
I said that it must have been a mistake and that I should be facilitating in a conference room. He said, no this was the only room available to conduct the training. I was in my 20s and it was hysterical. I actually delivered a program in a disco bar to 25 Chinese men with pictures of Marilyn Monroe behind me. I ended up getting several marriage proposals because I had blonde hair.
I have a picture of me with all the participants behind the bar. And then we all went out to dinner and laughed about learning in a disco bar.
The key lessons I learned from this were: 1) always ask about the room you will be presenting in, 2) ask to see pictures of the room, 3) have your assistant send room set up requirements, and communicate with the venue coordinator before you arrive, and 4) we actually now send a detailed logistical document prior to arriving and prior to selecting the room.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. I love parables more than boring business textbooks. I love this story because it is a story of authenticity and transformation — 2 qualities I live my life by and teach. A story where the main character — Santiago realizes his true self. I also love the journey he goes on and the trials he faces.
It is so interesting to me because until now I did not realize that I have modeled my own book — The Authenticity Code™ — The art and science of success and why you can’t fake it to make it after the Alchemist. It will be released in August 2021 and it is a parable of two professionals competing for the same job and how they have to discover their true self along the journey. In their journey to preparing for the interview and required presentation, they learn about the authenticity code — Your Presence + Your Audience + Your Presentation = Your Success.
The foundation of my business (Inside Out Learning, Inc) — is authenticity and transformation — we put this into everything we do from coaching to leadership team offsites to leadership and professional development training programs.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
To help people become the leaders they were born to be and to help people really be their authentic selves as a leader, whether we’re teaching executive presence, communication or presentation skills. We also do a lot of team development and relationship repair work to help people clear up misunderstandings, as well as organizational culture change. We’re really fortunate to have clients such as The Boeing Company, Virgin Orbit and government agencies as well.
When I started my company, my vision was to support leaders in developing from the inside out. So often we try to change our outer world whether that be a better job, better work relationships, or winning more business. The reason I named my business Inside Out Learning is because I believe true change starts from the Inside. When we change on the inside patterns like not feeling worthy, not feeling good enough, not appreciating ourselves, that is when our outer world changes. So, we help our clients shift on the inside, and they end up getting double promotions, landing the job of their dreams, transforming difficult relationships, and closing incredible deals.
My dream and vision is still to help as many professionals and leaders worldwide do what they came here to do and be who they came here to be.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Truth — Know the truth and the truth will set you free. When I can authentically tell the truth about whatever we are facing, it helps us to move through any business challenge. Also speaking the truth respectfully and thoughtfully can help to clear up misunderstandings.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family-related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Personal — It was really difficult with my son who started as a Freshman in high school and due to the pandemic, he has not had the opportunity to truly bond with or find his tribe. Helping him do other things besides video games, watching TV, and being on his phone has been a great challenge as well. We set a limit of hours for his video games — 20 hours a week — and said if his grades fell then the video game time would fall. Also, we have him plug his phone in our room by 9:00 p.m. each night. We get him out mountain biking and he was able to play Freshman volleyball this spring at his High School, for which we are really grateful. He is now back at school full time and we see a real positive shift in his mood and his desire to do other things.
Business — We lost 75% of our revenue overnight in March 2020 when all our clients canceled our face-to-face programs. I thank God for the PPP loan to get us through March and April. We pivoted to 95% virtual and also have digital mobile learning APPs. We spoke truth to our clients and showed them what we were capable of doing virtually. Our government client was so supportive and impressed that they allowed us to do our leadership team off-sites for them virtually. They have been incredibly effective.
One of our Fortune 100 clients just had us do our three-day Authenticity Code Program virtually. It is going exceptionally well. We also developed an Authenticity Code 15 steps to develop 5 habits in authentic presence and presentation skills. I would have never done this without COVID. And I finally finished my book. We made lemonade out of lemons, and I am very grateful. However, we still have not returned to the revenue we were once at pre-COVID, but we were able to keep all of our employees. It has been a creative and innovative time, and my book is launching in October 2021.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Back in March and April, we were looking at needing to lay off some employees. I am so grateful our Managing Director was able to secure PPP funding to help us get through two very difficult months. I felt like a failure that my business was not better prepared for a pandemic.
Having 75% of our products as face-to-face offerings, I had to call on my GRIT and perseverance that my parents instilled in me.
I worked long workweeks to pivot and create engaging, meaningful, and exceptional virtual programs that would benefit our clients. We partnered with an APP developer who has received industry awards for their platform. We designed and developed APP’s that help shift habits through the course of daily work. It only takes 15 minutes to complete an action step. Participants can also communicate on a social platform and share their experiences with others who others completing the APP.
We must continue to innovate and create and secure our businesses to operate even in a pandemic. I am so grateful for this lesson as we now have a wide range of products and services that we did not have before. Not to mention a brand-new book — The Authenticity Code™ — that will help the masses of professionals and leaders do what they came here to do and be who they came here to be.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I encourage my family and loved ones to tell the truth about what they are feeling to me. One of my gifts is to hold a safe space where truth can be spoken. One of our greatest human needs is to feel heard. I feel once we feel heard we can shift. I am really grateful that my family feels safe opening up to me.
Also, I encourage them to write in their journal about what they are feeling, and also exercise truly helps — especially walking, running and hiking outside.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time, the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Decreasing the expense of office space for one. Many of our clients are seeing that remote work is possible, and I feel it is here to stay. Yes, some clients have to return to an office, but those that don’t are not.
Also, virtual and digital offerings that we never thought possible. I mean who knew we could do large conferences virtually or three-day training programs virtually. I would have never thought they would be as effective, but many of them are. We are experts at helping our virtual meetings and programs be interactive and engaging.
I also feel we will see an increase in the desire to be face to face because people have been craving this for over a year. Some of our clients have said as soon as it is safe to be face-to-face, we want an in-person training program or leadership team off-site.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
More remote and virtual work will be acceptable. I mean how great is it that this has expanded our possible marketplace. When we do virtual meetings, we can include global participants without the expense of travel.
Less desire for commercial real estate in businesses that can and are operating virtually.
A greater appreciation for things we once took for granted like being able to gather as a family, go to a sporting event or concert, and eat inside a restaurant.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We have always been a remote workplace. Our employees and consultants are spread throughout the world, we will continue to operate in this way. We don’t need a big expensive commercial real estate space to effectively operate.
Launching and marketing my book, digital apps, virtual facilitator-led programs are key ways we are rebuilding and growing in post-Covid. In addition, our in-person programs provide an opportunity for co-workers to finally get together and see one another face to face when it is safe to do so. We just had our first face-to-face off-site with a new client in LA. It was a huge success, and everyone said how great it was to finally see one another again.
Now we have offerings that are not dependent on meeting face to face and also have our in-person offerings. This allows us to scale our business to the masses of professionals and leaders who exist worldwide.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
We actually have a YouTube free course called the recovery remedy (insert link). I encourage everyone to take 45 minutes and watch this program. It gives businesses critical tools to recover from the COVID pandemic. I encourage them to implement these tools from establishing new operating norms, to understanding how to move your organization through organizational change and setting new strategic SMART goals.
I encourage everyone to ensure they can meet effectively virtually. We also have another free offering called The Remote Remedy that helps you set up a virtual work environment and get engagement from your virtual meetings. I encourage everyone to watch it, as there are ways of being effective working virtually.
We never know when the next pandemic may hit or whether COVID really is under control. It appears to be in the US right now, but many global countries are experiencing severe COVID mutations. We must be prepared as business owners and leaders to still operate our businesses virtually if necessary. For those businesses like manufacturing, they must find a way of staying safe while producing their products. We are now better prepared for what the future may bring. We also offer for free The Recovery Method, lays out key leadership tools you must use to successfully return from a crisis.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“People always want to arrive before experiencing the journey.” How it is relevant is to remind myself on a daily basis that life and business is a journey. We have a vision, and it won’t occur overnight, so we need to enjoy the experience of the journey.
How can our readers further follow your work?
And please check out my new book The Authenticity Code™ — The art and science of success and why you can’t fake it to make it!