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Podcast Interview with Wendy Ryan

Why it was selected for “CBNation Architects”:

In this IAMCEO podcast episode, we learn from Wendy Ryan, MHROD, the CEO of Kadabra. Wendy possesses more than 25 years of experience in human resources, organizational development, non-profit leadership, and executive coaching. Throughout her career, she has partnered with hundreds of individuals and organizations across the U.S., helping leaders and board members achieve success both individually and in teams.

CEO Story: Wendy is the author of the award-winning bestseller, Learn Lead Lift: How to Think, Act, and Inspire Your Way to Greatness, and has been featured in various publications, including Forbes, Yahoo News!, Business Digest, Authority Magazine, CEO Magazine, and Thrive Global.

Business Service: Kadabra specializes in offering leadership development, strategic guidance, and executive coaching services, emphasizing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the business landscape.

Advocacy: Wendy is an active mentor, strategic advisor, angel investor, and advocate for early-stage, BIPOC, LGBTQ++, and woman-led companies. She believes expanding diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility is critical in the investor and business ecosystem.

CEO Hack: One of Wendy's favorite CEO Hacks is Audible for accessing audiobooks on the go.

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Wendy Ryan 00:00

It all comes back to what I call, who do I want to be in this role and and who am I being in this role? And we want to ideally start every single day asking that question. That's, I think my number one hack for leaders, if you will, is be very clear and intentional about who you want to be and who you're being.

Why do you want to do this? Who are you being as you're doing it?

Intro 00:25

Do you want to learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and grow your business from successful entrepreneurs, startups, and CEOs without listening to a long, long, long interview?

If so, you've come to the right place. Gresham Harkless values your time and is ready to share with you. Precisely the information you are in search of.

This is the IAMCEO podcast.

Gresham Harkless 00:52

Hello, hello, hello. This is Gresh from the IAMCEO podcast and I appreciate you listening to this episode. If you've been listening this year, you know that we hit 1600 episodes at the beginning of this year. We're doing something a little bit different where we're repurposing our favorite episodes around certain categories, topics, or as I like to call them business pillars that we think are going to be extremely impactful for CEOs, entrepreneurs, and business owners, or what I like to call the CB nation architects who are looking to level up their organizations.

This month, we are focused on leadership, management, and coaching. When we think of leadership, management, and coaching, we often think of doing all of the other things, but often it's a person that's able to build up their team, that's able to cultivate a creative and innovative culture, so that people can excel and actually be their own leaders. So that's why this month we're focusing on those 3 big topics, because they make a huge impact on the organizations that we're part of.

Now, you'll hear some of those topics this month, and, of course, some really great perspectives on how people are even defining leadership, which I think is extremely exciting. So sit back and enjoy this special episode of the IAMCEO podcast.

Hello, hello, hello. This is Gresh from the IAMCEO podcast. I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Wendy Ryan of Kadabra. Wendy, it's great to have you on the show.

Wendy Ryan 02:10

It's great to be here, Gresham. Thanks for having me.

Gresham Harkless 02:13

Yes, super excited to have you on and talk about all the awesome things that you're doing. Of course, before we jumped in, I want to read a little bit more about Wendy so you can hear about some of those awesome things.

Wendy Ryan MHROD is the CEO of Kadabra with over 25 years of combined experience in human resources, organizational development, nonprofit leadership, and executive coaching. Wendy has partnered with hundreds of individuals in organizations throughout the United States, helping frontline through C suite leaders in board members achieve success as individuals and in teams.

Wendy is the author of the award-winning bestseller, Learn Lead Lift: How to Think, Act and Inspire Your Way to Greatness and has been featured in Forbes, Yahoo News, Business Digest, Authority Magazine, CL Magazine, Thrive Global, and now IAMCEO podcast too.

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Wendy is also an active mentor, strategic advisor, an angel investor in early-stage, BIPOC, LGBTQ++ and Women X-led community companies and an advocate for expanding diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the investor and business ecosystems.

Wendy, excited to have you on the show, even more excited about the work that you're doing. Are you ready to speak to the IAMCEO community?

Wendy Ryan 03:23

I'm ready.

[restrict paid=”true”]

Gresham Harkless 03:24

Let's make it happen then. So to kick everything off, I know I touched a little bit when I read your bio, I wanted to rewind the clock, take us through a little bit more of what I call your CEO story.

Wendy Ryan 03:33

Yeah. Yes. I started out my career in HR because I thought, Ooh, I like people, I like business. So of course that's the place to go and I loved HR had a great career, lots of learning there, but I always felt like it was a little bit in the box for me. So back in 2000, which is a while ago now, I ventured out into leadership development, executive coaching, and some organizational development. I was pretty much thrown into the deep end of the pool. I had an amazing mentor who just really believed in me and said, Oh, you've got all the skills. You just need to get in and do it. Went back after a couple of years, got my master's degree in H.R. and O.D.

That was the time and I think this happens to a lot of us where I said, Oh, this is what I've been doing is actually called. And, oh, this is the model. And, got all the vocabulary, right. Then it was just a take-off and learn time. And then in about 2014, I really felt like I had reached the top of my learning curve with the firm I was with, loved my mentor, loved what we were doing, but I was ready to kick the tires and do some experimentation. So the time was right for me to go out and start my own firm. So 2014 was our soft launch. We became an LLC officially in 2016 and haven't looked back.

So, here we are today, it's 2022. And we are, as everyone has been on a journey the past couple of years through pandemic, et cetera, but we're really happy to be here. I feel like the work that we do is more meaningful now than it has ever been and I'm more excited to be doing it than I ever have, then.

Gresham Harkless 05:22

Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate you sharing that. So, I imagine, especially for the type of work that you do that in of itself for organizations has probably been a journey too?

Wendy Ryan 05:32

For sure, for sure. I've always said my clients are and have been my best teachers. And I think that remains equally true today as it's always been. When I started writing my book in 2018 I was that 75% of the way through it and then I actually stopped for about 6 months. This is when George Floyd was murdered. I put the book down. I took about 6 months and I said, I'm just going to immerse myself in what do I not know that I need to learn more about? And then I'm going to come back to the book and read it and really discern, do I need to throw it out and start over?

Because it's all this stuff I've been talking about leadership still makes sense to me or can this work. Fortunately, I felt like it was still on the right path, but it's certainly taking that time out and learning, I think, really enriched the book in a way that was very important and it continues to be really important today, so.

Gresham Harkless 06:30

Yeah, absolutely. And I appreciate you sharing that. I think, for so many people in so many different ways with George Floyd is so impactful. I wanted to drill down a little bit more. I know we touched a little bit upon like how you work with and serve your clients.

Can you take us through a little bit more about that? Your book and all the awesome things you're doing to make that impact.

Wendy Ryan 06:48

Yeah at Kadabra, if I could put what we do in a nutshell, it's really about catalyzing growth and change for leaders, whether they're emerging leaders, managing people for the 1st time all the way through C suite and board level, because there are some universal tenants about leadership that really never change. No matter, what your role or title is. However, the game certainly evolves as you go along. We really do that through unique learning experiences. Learning can be you read a book, you listen to a podcast, attend a group learning session, or maybe you're participating in one on one coaching.

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There's a lot of different ways that people can learn and develop and really the cornerstone of what we do that around is the learn, lead, lift framework. That's what I wrote about in my book. The Learn, Lead, Lift framework is really looking at what does great leadership mean and what does it need to be now and going into the future? And how is that different from how we led for most of history frankly, especially in the 20th century, we were very command and control. We were very, there's one ideal leader type and all of us need to be as much like that type of person as we can and then we're going to be successful.

Learn Lead Lift really flips that notion on its head and says actually leadership is about how you think and mindset like identity matters are really big deal, people first is an important mindset. Skill sets or know how to do. Those are like your handheld tools and for so much of leadership development. Historically, we've really just focused on skills, right? We focused on just get better at emotional intelligence. Just get better at holding people accountable and you'll be a better leader. That's only part of the story.

I think the third part of the story is really behaviors. It's how you show up to others. So, in the Learn, Lead, Lift framework, we talk about FIDA, which is focus, integrity, decisiveness, authenticity and humility. Those are the 5 things that when you go out and you interview people on the street, you say, what makes a great leader? Tell me about someone that you interacted with, he was a great leader for you. 9 times out of 10, you will hear one or more of those five themes in FIDA that come across.

Gresham Harkless 09:13

Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. So would you consider that to be what I like to call your secret sauce? This could be for yourself, the business or a combination of both. But is it that ability?

And I would even say to me, it seems like a sign of excellence to be able to take that framework and to be able to translate it so that people can implement it easy. Do you think that's part of your secret sauce?

Wendy Ryan 09:34

I do. I'm a big believer in we can have very sophisticated, high-level, abstract, conceptual thinking, but at the end of the day, what are we going to do with that? And I think every leader I know is busy. Everybody has a lot going on in their life. So, for me it's not very satisfying. And for my team, for us to just be living in the world of ideas, ultimately what we get satisfaction out of is how are we gonna translate that into something really useful, and something that you don't need to have an MBA or a Ph.D. to understand or be a high-level engineer to understand how to do that thing.

Everything we do should apply whether you're running a gymnastics academy or you have your own small business out of your house or you're running a Fortune 500 company. It should be useful across all of those domains. How can I make sure that I'm supporting women that I'm supporting? And then, as that evolved, it was also people of color, LGBTQ founders, because those are the folks that have just as many or more great ideas, but have real systemic barriers to access to capital. So how can I with the modest amount of capacity I have make a difference there?

And I will say that has been both such a complimentary journey and such an enriching one, and to me, it all holds hands, but it all comes back to making decisions as a leader, whether you're leading as an investor, whether you're leading as a CEO, whether again, you're leading in your family. It all comes back to what I call, who do I want to be in this role, and who am I being in this role? And we want to ideally start every single day asking that question. That's, I think my number one hack for leaders, if you will, is be very clear and intentional about who you want to be, and who you're being?

Why do you want to do this? Who are you being as you're doing it?

Gresham Harkless 11:35

Nice. I absolutely love that hack. Awesome. So what would you consider to be what I like to call a CEO nugget. So it's a little bit more of a word of wisdom or piece of advice. I like to say it might be something you would tell your favorite client, or if you hop into a time machine, you might tell your younger business self.

Wendy Ryan 11:51

So, the conversations I'm having now with CEOs and clients, whether they're my favorites or not my favorites they're all amazing. But I think the crux of many of those conversations and the advice that I've been giving a lot is what are you doing to orient people in your organization, in your team right now? What I mean by orient is not in the sense of onboarding new people, it's imagine that we're all scaling a mountain right now, right? With all the things that are going on in the world and all the things that people are dealing with individually, it's so easy for people to feel like they're on a hiking trail, but all of a sudden, someone's just ripped all the signs off.

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And people have lost sight or lose sight more quickly of any sense of progress that we've made toward our company goals toward our team goals. And so I feel like right now there are a lot of things that I would like to see leaders be intentional about. But that's one thing, especially for CEOs. I think understanding that your job is to orient and reorient the team so that people can see, Oh, we actually have made progress, even though the world has been crazy and the news is bad. We actually have made progress toward our goals, and here's what we have left to do. Here's what we're going to do.

So, I think a lot of our job has to be about, especially right now, providing those pockets of certainty, because people need that in order to feel a sense of safety and motivation. It's really hard to stay motivated if you feel like you're just on a treadmill and you're not going anywhere.

Gresham Harkless 13:37

Awesome. I love that. And so I wanted to ask you now my absolute favorite question, which is the definition of what it means to be a CEO. We're hoping to have different quote and quote CEOs on this show. So, what does being a CEO mean to you, Wendy?

Wendy Ryan 13:49

To me, it means the buck stops here. That anything that my team achieves, I give credit to my team, but anytime we trip up or we wish we did something better, we learn from that. But ultimately, it's my responsibility and I have a duty of care. I think that's also implicit for me in that buck stops here.

So I have a duty to care about my people and my clients and who are we being as a company? Who is Kadabra being in the world? How are we showing up to people? And are we really congruent with our values? Nobody can do that but me. I have to see that as part and parcel of my responsibility as CEO.

Gresham Harkless 14:31

Truly appreciate that definition, and of course, I appreciate your time even more. So what I wanted to do now was pass you the mic, so to speak just to see if there's anything additional that you can let our readers and listeners know. And of course, how best people can get a hold of you, find about your team, all the awesome work you're doing, and of course get a copy of your book.

Wendy Ryan 14:48

Thank you. Yes, Learn Lead Lift: How to Think, Act, and Inspire Your Way to Greatness is the name of the book, and it is available anywhere books are sold. I always like to put in a plug for my independent book sellers. So, consider that as an option as well.

We have a website, which is, where you can actually get a sneak peek at the book and you can read some testimonials and hear more about it. We also have a lot of free resources on our website, so you can actually go to That's with K dot com and you can download some free tools to start using right away.

And can try on learn lead lift as a framework and see, how can this work for you and your team? And I think we have a lot of exciting things coming. So encourage people to follow me on LinkedIn. I do post a monthly newsletter and I post weekly, about both what's happening real time as well as, what are some things for leaders to be thinking about? Really want to lead in a future forward kind of way.

Gresham Harkless 15:56

I love that and I appreciate it. We will definitely have the links and information in the show notes as well, too, so that everybody can follow up with you. Appreciate your time and I hope you have a phenomenal rest of the day.

Wendy Ryan 16:05

Thanks. You too.

Outro 16:06

Thank you for listening to the IAMCEO Podcast powered by CB Nation in Blue 16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at IAMCEO is not just a phrase, it's a community. Want to level up your business even more? Read blogs, listen to podcasts, and watch

Also, check out our IAMCEO Facebook Group. This has been the IAMCEO Podcast with Gresham Harkless Jr. Thank you for listening.


Dave Bonachita - CBNation Writer

This is a post from a CBNation team member. CBNation is a Business to Business (B2B) Brand. We are focused on increasing the success rate. We create content and information focusing on increasing the visibility of and providing resources for CEOs, entrepreneurs and business owners. CBNation consists of blogs(, podcasts, ( and videos ( CBNation is proudly powered by Blue16 Media.

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