Podcast: Joy Meserve: Leading with Joy

In today’s episode, join me as I sit down with Joy Meserve, CEO and founder of Leading with Joy. We delve into her transformative journey from corporate PR to pioneering STEM education, exploring insights on joyful leadership and navigating career shifts. From parenting parallels to practical college prep tips, Joy shares candid wisdom and actionable advice for listeners seeking purpose-driven growth in work and life.

TRANSCRIPT

Joy Meserve: 

And so it’s really as a parent, you have to tap into the observations of where their strengths are and really see them. Where are they going? He loves history. Okay, check. She loves volleyball, okay, check, like what is what does all this mean? Right? And then try to kind of help them find these new things. And listen, he could have said, I hate this podcast. It’s stupid Mom, I don’t want to hear it. Right. And I’d be like, Okay, that’s a signal to right there all signals.

Sheila Akbar: 

Hi, everybody, welcome back to the podcast and Happy April, I get to have another one of my good friends on the podcast today. And you’ll probably sense a theme here, I am really drawn to people who are super reflective, they trust their intuition, and have taken maybe the path less traveled in their career journey. And, you know, I like to think people would say the same thing about me, really, it’s that I just admire these people so much in their courage to pursue alignment with themselves. I think it’s really what we need more of. So that’s why I keep featuring these kinds of stories. So today, I’ve got my friend join reserve, joining me. And Joy has a storied career at id Tech, which is one of those companies that runs summer camps for students. But these are like stem summer camps. And it’s a massive company. And she helped it grow from a startup to when it sold, I think it was a $65 million company. So she really knows what she’s talking about when she talks about scale and managing large teams and things like that. And one of the things that I think is so interesting about joy, is that she has a very specific perspective on leadership. And you’ll hear about that in the interview. And having known her and having worked with her son a little bit, I can see how those principles come into her parenting. And you know, your family is not a business. It’s not a corporation does not need to be run like a corporation. But I think there are some principles that we can apply from the business world into our families. After all, there’s so much research that goes into you know, how to be a good manager, how to motivate people, how to hold people accountable, etc, etc. Why wouldn’t we use some of those lessons when we’re working with our own children? So you’ll hear in the interview, just how Joy makes that connection? I hope it’s as inspiring to you as it was to me. So I’ll see you on the other side. Jerry, thank you so much for joining us today. Really appreciate your time.

Joy Meserve: 

I’m so excited to be here, Sheila, thank you for having me.

Sheila Akbar: 

Of course, you’re one of my favorite people to chat with about all kinds of things, especially since you have a son who’s going through the college process right now. There’s so much that we can chat about. But beyond that, we connect in so many other different aspects of our lives that we’re really simpatico. So let’s start by talking about your life. Tell us what has brought you

Joy Meserve: 

to where you are today. Huh? Yeah. So since we’re talking to people about college, I’ll start there. So trying to figure out, you know, what college I was going to, I’m ashamed to say I only applied to two colleges. Yes, I got into both. But I think of that and compare it with today’s standards. There is no way that I would coach my children to only apply to two colleges now. It is so much different. The landscape has changed dramatically. So I ended up going to UC San Diego. I was from San Diego and I thought why leave this gorgeous city. I double majored in communication in theater. And then I went off to corporate America to use that communication major in public relations. So I was in a big PR firm on Wilshire Boulevard and LA and just being there probably a few months and I looked around and I was like, Oh, these are not my people. And the way I felt that and the reason I felt that is because I was seeing behaviors that I didn’t agree with. I saw women scratching other women on their way trying to climb that ladder. I saw my boss who had been there for many, many years. She was a pioneer. She was one of the few women in PR when she joined at the time and really carving out a place for women and PR, but she was on the phone with her child. And she was saying tell Mommy, you love me. No, I’m not going to be home later tonight. Just tell Mommy you loved me and I thought that’s not the way it’s supposed to go, you know, and I was there till three Egham, you know many nights, dining on the company dime. And just thinking this is not this is not for me. And so when the opportunity fell in my lap to join a startup, I pretty much jumped at the chance feeling guilty for leaving this job that I have no idea why, why I felt any sense of loyalty to that company. But I did. And I felt, you know, oh, gosh, I’m leaving them in a lurch. They had me replaced in two weeks, it was not a problem. And so I took a chance I was the third employee hired on at a company called it tech. And id Tech, some of your listeners may know is a program for kids and teens teaching STEM education, and we were at universities, all over the world, at our height. And it was a wonderful place to be, I was given a gift. And this is kind of what I’m out doing now is I want to give the same gift to other people. When I started, first day on the job, I was asking my boss questions was like, okay, so what do you have in the way of, you know, a manual on how to run the programs, what are we handing to staff so that they know how to run our programs on a day to day basis. And he said, that’s your first assignment. And so I and then I was off, I was off and running, I had so much ownership, I had so much autonomy, I was moving at a fast pace toward mastery, I was taking on more and more responsibility. Year after year after year, I was inviting in people that I loved to work with, who stayed, because we built an award winning culture of fun, of excitement of really honoring people and seeing and valuing them for what they could bring to the company. And, and that is what I’m trying to do now. So I lasted there 22 years, almost 23 years. So it was quite a journey. And I became the CEO there for the last eight years of that journey.

Sheila Akbar: 

And tell us a little bit about what you do now. And then I’m gonna back up because I have so many juicy questions for you about this journey.

Joy Meserve: 

Okay, great. So now I am the founder and CEO of leading with joy. And I’m trying to help organizations and executives tap into intrinsic and extrinsic motivators of people to really drive engagement, drive productivity, create higher retention, and really create companies and cultures where people want to stay, and they want to work and they want to give their best effort. They really want that company to succeed. So they’re in it to win it. And that’s what produces really profitable growing companies.

Sheila Akbar: 

Alright, so we’re gonna come back to that, because like I said, I have so many questions. But if we back up to you had this first corporate job in a PR firm, as a communication major, I’m sure that felt like the next logical thing for you. And I’m sure it was a coveted position that you got at a really fancy company, and there was a lot of competition for it. I’m curious how you felt when you realize it was not for you. And you had put in all of this effort? And, you know, one out the position against other people. And then you were like, Wait, I don’t I don’t actually even want this. Tell us about that.

Joy Meserve: 

Yeah, I think it was over time. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not an aha moment. It’s the grind. It’s the grind of the day to day, it’s the getting home at 2am 3am. And saying, like, what was all this for? Again, you know, this, I think it was a $30,000 paycheck at the time. And I’ll just give you the quintessential picture. So picture me driving home on Laurel Canyon Boulevard back to the valley. And I’m listening to Jill Sobule song. And I want to get better. I don’t want to turn cruel. I know want to get old before I have to write. And so that was my mantra. And I was like So something was amiss, because I was screaming that song at the top of my lungs. And I knew that in my heart of hearts, like change needed to come. And I got lucky. I got lucky in that. You know, there was a knock on my door and it happened to be my boss who I didn’t know I invited him in. We SAT down. We talked I had a lot of parallel experiences that dovetailed into the company that he was trying to build. But you know, I think you have to listen to that intuitive voice and I call it the little whispers. So if you’re getting those little whispers repeatedly, it’s a sign it’s a sign that they’re something else for you.

Sheila Akbar: 

Oh, wow, I just got chills when you said that. I had the little whispers, and I finally listened to them at some point in my life too. Now, you know, you were in your early 20s, when you started listening to those little whispers and realizing you were kind of out of alignment with yourself with your favorite song. And I think most people will say, okay, when you’re in your 20s, that inner voice is probably one that you could start listening to. But before that, what are these kids know? Right? Oh, you just want to do something that sounds cool. You don’t know what the real world is like. So now that you, you know, have at least one kid who is approaching College? How do you explain this concept of the little whispers to him? And how seriously? Are you able to take that inner voice of his as his parent?

Joy Meserve: 

Mm hmm. It’s so much observation. And I feel as though correct me if I’m wrong parents, but I feel as though we see them before they see themselves. And so you know, it’s all those little things from childhood that you realize, oh, wow, my son’s really social. Oh, wow. My daughter’s really gifted at art, you know, and you see these little things and you go, so maybe a career like this. And I remember, specifically with my son, knowing that he was so intellectual, he loved to talk for hours to grownups about various things. I was like, You should listen to this podcast, what’s a podcast? You should listen to Freakonomics, right. And that was the thing that got him started in this area. And now he wants to study economics. And I’m not going to take credit for that, I’m gonna say that he’s this unique gift of a person. And so it’s really, as a parent, you have to tap into the observations of where their strengths are, and really see them. Where are they going? He loves history, okay, check. She loves volleyball, okay, check, like what is what does all this mean? Right? And, and then try to kind of help them find these new things. And listen, he could have said, I hate this podcast, it’s stupid Mom, I don’t want to hear it. Right. And I’d be like, Okay, that’s a signal to right there all signals. When I do talk to them about the intuition. Now, my daughter is so much more open to intuition and whispers. I mean, we pulled her tarot cards last night. So we could she’s 14, we were tapping into her subconscious. I was like, these are not predictors of the future. They’re reflections of your subconscious. But you know, both of them. I think it’s about guiding in the way that they want to be led.

Sheila Akbar: 

So that takes me forward to what you do. Now, as a leadership coach. It involves a lot of observation, gentle suggestions, maybe offers that you have no, on the receiving end, they have no obligation to take. But you’re doing such a good job of observing, that is probably exactly what they need, if they’re open to it in the moment. So talk to us about that connection there between parenting as a coach, really from the position of a coach, and what you do now professionally.

Joy Meserve: 

Yeah, so I actually have coined a phrase, it’s called partner leadership. And exactly, this is a way to lead by saying, Okay, here’s these problems and our company to solve, right? Anybody have any ideas, thoughts, opinions? I want to hear, right, I want to listen. When somebody gets really passionate or excited about something just like your child getting excited about a sport or something, or acting or whatever it is. It’s going further with that. It’s saying, Okay, I see that. That’s great. Do you want to take this on? Would you like to lead this effort, this project? Would you like to spearhead it, right? And so once they do that, though, it is their choice. And this is where it differs from traditional delegation of, here’s this task, I’m going to give it to you, and I assign it to right, there’s no choice in that. It’s up to them whether or not they take it on, and they move forward with it, if they choose to take it on. The second part is you really want to express your belief in them. It’s, I believe, you can do this, I know you can do this. I’ve seen you do X, Y and Z, you’re gonna be great. Right? And then the next part is partnering with them. And so that’s a lot like parenting because we are constantly coaching, guiding and supporting, removing obstacles along the way. You know, give And then feedback, and trying to positively reinforce those moments when they’re doing great. And the last part is finding a way to shine a spotlight on them, is to give them that moment in the sun, whatever it is, if this is at work, it could be, hey, I want you to present the team, what you’ve just been working on these past few months, because you created this great thing, and they need to know about it, right? That moment where everybody else can look at them and recognize them. It’s not just you saying Good job, I love to great work. It’s the they’re getting this from other people, which is very reinforcing, probably more so reinforcing than parents. More so reinforcing than bosses is when the peers recognize them for those things. And so that’s it. So it’s a framework that call opportunities. So the O ‘s offer ownership, the first p is prime them, the second P is partner, and the S is for shine a spotlight.

Sheila Akbar: 

I love that so much. And I see so many ways that I need to adjust my parenting. But I think that’s so wonderful. So now, if you don’t mind, let’s talk about your experience as a mom watching your son. Struggle, not because he’s got any issues, but because it’s a process that everybody struggles through struggle through this college application process, choosing the right schools writing the essays, waiting for the answers. I know we’re waiting for answers in the next two weeks here. And it’s just like we can’t possibly wait anymore. Tell us what that experience has been like for you. And if you have any pearls of wisdom to drop, as I’m sure you do, please share.

Joy Meserve: 

Okay, well, first of all, engage someone like Sheila, much, much sooner, right? I know you work with students as young as freshmen to start creating their resume and figuring out what activities they want to do. But I think that, because the landscape has changed so much here was my approach. I said, we’re not visiting any colleges before you apply. And because I don’t want you to get your heart set on any one of these colleges. I want to know which colleges you get into. And then we will go visit them. And then you can choose from there. So this was a scattershot approach for us. I don’t know if this is right or not. But we applied to 20 colleges. And I say we because as a parent, there was so much hand holding through this process of okay, when’s that deadline? What’s the deadline for that? And when do we do this? Well, guess what, because you have this in this going on. These are our only, this is our only day to get to knocked out, you know, so we’ve got to do those essays today. And we’ve got to do those essays next week. And so time management is not my son’s strong suit. And so I really had to take an active role, much more than I would have liked. But But again, 20 universities, I mean, he added up, I think it was 8000 words, he needed to write for the essays. I wish the common app was like one and done. But no, every university says, we’re going to need three specific individual questions answered for ours. And they’re all like that, and and there was rarely overlap between from question to question. So it was long and arduous. And I would say, in retrospect, I would have started earlier we would have been working on this summer of is between junior and senior year, trying to knock out as much or at least getting rough drafts, honed for every single one. We and we probably would have done a lot more early admissions.

Sheila Akbar: 

Well, I had the opportunity to meet your son once, let’s say one and a half times. And he certainly is super special. And I think you’ll be happy with the results that you’ll get back. Fingers crossed. Of course, we never know. But I guess my last question for you is, you know, you’re about to do it all over again. And I know your second kid is totally different from your first. But what would you do differently?

Joy Meserve: 

I would have her start earlier. I would you know in terms of looking at activities and events in her life. I would want her to journal about them. And so here’s the thing that I noticed, I was like, I don’t think in my son’s education or my daughters. They had a lot of narrative writing experience, first person narrative writing. And so I would have her journal, some of these great experiences that she’s having journal on him now so that they can be little thoughts and things that will you’ll be able to look back on and write about later. And just the practice of that right writing in first person.

Sheila Akbar: 

Yeah, and you’re so right, you know, some schools teach, or like some point in their junior year, maybe after AP exams are done, they’re like, Okay, we’re gonna write your college essay in this class. But it’s not the thing that they’ve been taught through all of their K through 12 education to write. And yet somehow, it is one of the most important things they have to do to get into college, so backwards. But I think journaling is such a great example of one of these practices, that is going to be good for your daughter, no matter whether it leads to a great college essay or not. You know, we know writing and that kind of reflective mindset that goes along with journaling is so valuable for personal development, self awareness, emotional regulation, all of those things. So it’s kind of one of those things you should do anyway, and the side bonuses, you can look back at it and have all of these potential topics for your college essays. I think it’s great advice. Thank you for sharing it.

Joy Meserve: 

Yeah. And I journal too, for those reasons, right? It’s, it does tap into those whispers that we were talking about earlier, because what I’ll find is that I do sort of a brain dump of thoughts. And the person that appears at the last moments on my page is the higher self is the person that’s trying to coach and develop me into being a better person?

Sheila Akbar: 

Oh, that’s so beautifully said. I just got chills again. Well, you know, I could talk to you forever, as you know, but let’s leave it there. If people want to learn more about what you do, how can they find out more?

Joy Meserve: 

Sure, head to leading with joy.com. And I’m often offering a free performance coaching workshop. I call it practical conversations for busy leaders. So if you want to know how to have some of those tough conversations, just tap me come to one of my workshops, follow me on LinkedIn. And you can get some tips there as well.

Sheila Akbar: 

Fantastic. I’ll make sure all of that is linked in the show notes. Joy. Thank you so much. This is a great conversation.

Joy Meserve: 

Yeah, thank you, Sheila, this was fun.

Sheila Akbar: 

There you have it, folks, I know that I am already making a list of of ways that I can be a better partner leader, to my son, and I hope that you’re feeling similarly inspired. Check the show notes for how to learn more about joy. And we’ll see you next week.

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