141: A Role Model of Leadership Excellence – the Story of Julia Anderson with Catherine Zaranis

Ep141 A Role Model of Leadership Excellence Julia Anderson Catherine Zaranis TalentGrow Show with Halelly Azulay

It’s a wonderful thing to have someone in our lives whom we can regard as a role model. On this episode of The TalentGrow Show, my friend and colleague Catherine Zaranis shares the story of Julia Anderson, an inspiring model of leadership excellence. Julia was a mentor and an inspiration to Catherine and many others she worked with, modelling traits like integrity, living your values even in high stress or high pressure environments, and having the strength and dedication to develop each individual on your team to their highest potential. Listen to discover what made Julia stand out from so many other leaders, what you can learn from her leadership style and techniques, and what it means to be a true role model. Plus, for those of you with longer commutes to and from work, find out how Julia made the best use of her commute time! Listen and please share this episode in memory of a truly remarkable leader.


Catherine Zaranis is an award winning serial entrepreneur, educator, and public servant. She has helped launch several startups and family businesses such as RescueCorps, Zaranis Lawns, Crepes by the Sea, Online Fluency, and her latest venture, Perform-Link LLC (Founder and CEO), founded in 2012. Perform-Link is a full-service performance improvement company that enables individual and organizational excellence by continuously improving quality, systems and leadership to support the mission and bottom line. Catherine says they build high performing organizations that are happy and healthy.

Julia Anderson photo courtesy Catherine Zaranis


  • Halelly introduces what this episode is all about (5:29)

  • Catherine begins telling the story of how she met Julia Anderson, a remarkable leader (6:14)

  • Catherine describes Julia’s performance-standards, and how falling short of those standards would be met (8:14)

  • What made Julia stand out from so many other leaders? (9:03)

  • Living your values, and what it really looks like (11:12)

  • How to stay consistent with your values in high pressure or high stress environments (13:11)

  • Catherine describes the mind-mapping software that Julia favored, and how she used it successfully (15:17)

  • How Julia consistently kept in touch with people (16:46)

  • What Julia did during her long commute to and from work (17:25)

  • Catherine shares some things she still does today that she learned from Julia (18:40)

  • Catherine wraps up the story of Julia Anderson (21:31)

  • Halelly and Catherine talk about what it means to be a true role model (22:57)

  • What’s new and exciting on Catherine’s horizon? (24:18)

  • One specific action you can take to upgrade your leadership effectiveness (26:08)


  • Connect with Catherine on LinkedIn

  • Check out Catherine’s website

  • More about the theory behind the tool Catherine learned to love from Julia, Mindmapping


Episode 141 Catherine Zaranis

TEASER CLIP: Catherine: I hadn’t met somebody who was so admired at home and at work and in her community. It’s not as though she was excelling in one area. She modeled for me how she was able to build a life worth living, both personally and professionally, and supported the whole person. As we talk about in leadership, she truly modeled whole person leadership.

[MUSIC] Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.

Halelly: Hey, hey, welcome back TalentGrowers. I am so glad that you are here today with me. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow and this is an episode of the TalentGrow Show, where we develop leaders that people actually want to follow and usually, about three out of every four episodes is an interview and one out of every four episodes is a solo show where I try to teach you something that I know or answer a question about leadership-related topics, and usually when I’m interviewing people, I’m interviewing them about subject matter expertise that they have. They wrote a book, they’ve developed a process, they’re well known for something. Today we’re going to do something really different. Today we’re going to share a story about a remarkable leader. In the third person. I have brought on a big fan of that leader, my friend Catherine. She told me this story and I told her, “You have got to come on the show and share with others.” Because this leader that she will describe is such an amazing role model and it wasn’t in a book and it isn’t some abstraction and it’s not based on research. It is based on this person, through trial and error, living her life as a leader in a way that was remarkable and in a way that left a legacy. I think that every one of us can learn from her legacy, and this is why we have today’s show. I can’t wait to share it with you. Let’s get started.

Hey TalentGrowers. This week I have a friend of mine, Catherine Zaranis, on the show. She is an award-winning serial entrepreneur, educator and public servant. She’s helped launch several startups and family businesses like RescueCorps, Zaranis Lawns, Crepes by the Sea, Online Fluency, and her latest venture, Perform-Link LLC. She’s the founder and CEO. Perform-Link is a full-service performance improvement company that enables individual and organizational excellence by continuously improving quality, systems and leadership to support the mission and bottom line. Catherine says they build high-performing organizations that are happy and healthy. Catherine, welcome to the TalentGrow Show.

Catherine: Thank you so much for having me here today. It’s a pleasure to be with you and your audience Halelly.

Halelly: I’m really glad that you came on. As TalentGrowers, you’re going to discover, we’re actually going to have a little bit of a different show today in that Catherine is not going to be describing her knowledge and her expertise and her unique career – although she’ll tell us a little bit about her journey in a moment. She’s going to be talking about another leader who is exemplary so we can learn from her. But before we do, Catherine, every guest always does describe their professional journey very briefly. Where did you start and how did you end up where you are today?

Catherine: Wow Halelly. I started my professional career teaching leaders communication skills, critical thinking and professional development as a Peace Corp volunteer in Romania in the 90s. As I was thinking about this, I realized I’m pretty lucky in that I still get to do that today, I just have learned to do that along the way with different audiences, so I’ve had an opportunity to work in corporate environments, in federal, non-for-profit and a lot more in higher education these days.

Halelly: It’s true in your career, but you have not just done that. You have skills in so many different arenas and I have definitely been privy to observing those skills because we worked together, actually a couple of different times, along your career. You moved from different fields and I was lucky enough to see you in both of those different fields in a couple of different employers. Isn’t that cool?

Catherine: Yes! We met in a financial services environment where you had created the training onboarding that I experienced as an employee, which was just wonderful, in a sales and learning environment.

Halelly: It’s amazing. We really have known each other for a very long time. It’s been fun knowing you and it’s been fun being inspired by you. I think of you as a person who is driven by ideals and ideas and are very heart-centered and smart. Very unique, I think, in how you approach the world of work.

Catherine: Thank you for that. I think we’ll share that a little bit more about this other person that we’ll talk about.

Halelly: Yes. TalentGrowers, listen up. Basically, Catherine and I have been keeping in touch forever and always looking for opportunities to connect. As you know, I moved from the Maryland suburbs of D.C. to California, now three and a half years ago, and whenever I go back to Maryland I sometimes try to connect with people from my network that I haven’t seen in a while. So on a recent trip, Catherine and I went to have some coffee together and we’re standing in a Starbucks and she starts telling me the story about a leader that she had and the influence that she had on her. She’s telling the story and telling the story and I had to stop her and said, “You’re going to come on my podcast and tell about this woman, because this is remarkable. This is amazing.” This is what this show is all about, and in a way Catherine is going to have to repeat herself to me, but you guys have got to hear this. So Catherine, tell us who is this leader that you told me about, and she was remarkable in my judgment, based on how you described her, so what was she to you and how did you work together?

Catherine: I met Julia Anderson in 2006. She’s a very special lady, I’ll describe her a little bit to you. Imagine this beautiful redhead that is very even-tempermented and that she manages to turn every situation into an opportunity to learn and grow. In 2006, shortly after I had entered graduate school, I was looking for a boss and a position where I would be encouraged and supported to incubate some of the design thinking concepts that I was learning in my studies on the job. So, I went on many interviews and Julia Anderson really stood out, right from the very beginning. During the interview process, she shared a copy of the Covey 7 Habits with me. She leaned in and said to me, “The seven habits were the leadership and management principles that she used with her team.” Then she handed me the book and I said, “Are you giving me this book during an interview?” And she immediate looked at me and looked for something else to hand me, and she handed me a cupcake on her desk. She said, “This is from the St. Patty’s Day celebration. This is for you too.” I said, “Are you giving me books and cupcakes in an interview?”

She said, “Yeah, these are for you,” and she immediately nodded at me. She could tell how appreciative of this I was. I was very familiar with the Covey seven habits, and I was really grateful that she was basically at the interview telling me how she was going to run her team. Then quickly it moved into things could usually take a while but I’m going to move things through and you’ll be hearing back from us shortly. I started working for her three weeks later, and I remember shortly after I started, I asked her, “What are our performance standards here?” And she said, “Oh, okay, 100 percent excellence, 100 percent of the time.” I said, “Excuse me? What happens if we don’t do that?” She just paused and looked at me and said, “Well, that’s what we’re striving for.”

Halelly: Did you ever learn if there was something that happens if you don't?

Catherine: Of course we didn’t always hit 100 percent. She turned things into a learning situation. It was one of those things where if things didn’t go the way that we hoped or wanted, she’d say, “Okay, what did we learn from this and how are we going to do it better the next time?”

Halelly: We don’t have a long, long time, so I’d love for you to try and distill for us some of those really, maybe the top most remarkable or unusual practices or traits or behaviors that really made her stand out from so many other leaders.

Catherine: Right. We could talk for hours about Julia.

Halelly: If someone does it for a whole career, there’s a lot of things!

Catherine: And we got to witness it everyday. I worked with Julia very closely for five years and one of the first things she said to me, and I think I’ve shared this with you Halelly, it was going so well as soon as I started and I wanted to pinch myself and make sure it wasn’t going to end quickly. So I asked her and said, “How long are you going to stay here?” Her eyebrows went up and she said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Do you have plans to move on very quickly?” And she said, “Listen, I’m going to develop you to the point where you’re going to leapfrog up and over me.” I said, “Are you trying to get rid of me?” And she said, “Hold on a second. Hold on. And, if you grow bored, please let me know because it’s time for both of us to go because I’m not growing anymore.” Okay. I never had anybody ever share anything remotely close to that and that’s how it happened. When I graduated, it took me five years to work through my Masters, and at the end, the last year, she had invested very heavily in my development and she said, “Every penny of this is worth it because you’ll turn it into an inspiring product or service.” The last year, she said, “I have nothing else to give you. It’s time for you to fly.” I also never had somebody that was basically giving permission to move on, because they wanted me to continue to grow, and when I started Perform Link, she asked me if she could give me my first two contracts. And then checked in on my every year to make sure that I was still happy or with the idea that things were still going well.

Halelly: Amazing.

Catherine: I also shared, she talked about Covey, and early on, this may have been in the interview that she shared this with me, because she really lived her values and I think that she shared them. She disclosed them early. And then she lived them. And one of the things that she shared with me was that her family, her work and her faith were equally important, and if she wasn’t make “deposits,” using Covey language, to each of those things on the weekly basis, that she felt like an imbalanced, lopsided person. So that I would know she as investing her energies in each of those areas, and she was genuinely interested in knowing what was important to me and supporting me in those areas.

Halelly: And you told me she had like four kids or something like this, right?

Catherine: She has five sons and each of her sons was quarterback of a high school football team and an Eagle Scout, so she also talked about how she was consciously trying to help each of her sons strive for excellence as she did, and that it wasn’t okay if just one was doing that. Each of them had a potential and that she was helping them to realize that and I was sharing with you, she did that with us, her team, too. It was interesting, I hadn’t met somebody who was so admired at home and at work and in her community. It’s not as though she was excelling in one area. She modeled for me how she was able to build a life worth living, both personally and professionally, and supported the whole person. As we talk about in leadership, she truly modeled whole person leadership, where she treated the whole person in the office and treated the whole person at home.

Halelly: You guys had a stressful kind of work environment. It was a company that was growing and there was definitely lots of the typical stressors and pressures. It wasn’t like this place where people kind of sat around and ate cupcakes together and read books to each other. It really struck me, her ability to be so centered and focus on the whole person, I know that so many people who listen – and I’ve met so many leaders – in their heart this is what they want. They don’t disagree with any of what you’re saying. But they often feel like when push comes to shove, or in my current situation at work, I’m unable to really do that, and when things slow down, I’ll hopefully be able to do it. What do you think was the way she was able to manage all of that pressure and still deliver on that promise, on those values?

Catherine: She planned it and created it. The one word that comes up for me is the word she used to use to describe how she did it. She used the word “integration.” She often times would share with me that some folks before her would try to compartmentalize, and she said, “I don’t feel like a whole person when I’m compartmentalizing, so I try to integrate.” For instance, she would invite us to her home for our holiday parties and her boys would be the ones that helped prepare the meal and serve her team. It was one of those things where she was integrating all of her relationships and she was planning. It wasn’t by accident. She often used a mind-mapping technology. She mapped out all of the relationships that were important to her, and she wanted to make sure that she was making contributions to each of those relationships because she said they were all important to her. She was tracking that.

Halelly: Say more about this technology. Do you mean technology as in a technological app or a system or software device, or do you mean as in system?

Catherine: She actually was a very big fan of the tool called Mindjet. It’s a type of mind-mapping software and so she loved this as a tool that we used for lots of reasons. She would use it in her performance evaluation planning, where she tried to show alignment between strategy and day-to-day task. She used it to product launch. She also used it in her personal life, when mapping out, mind mapping, how she was going to stay connected to all of the relationships that mattered to her. She did this on a weekly basis to make sure that people didn’t feel forgotten or left out. This is how she included everyone and she used this tool, and I still of course use this tool in a variety of different ways. She would talk about the science. She was so captivated by this tool. I guess Tony Buzan was the first to capture the right and left-brain and this tool allows you to see both the big picture and the details with one view. So you don’t get lost by the detail, but you don’t lose sight of the big picture. She would use this tool as one way to integrate and manage her relationships. She would mind map her family, her staff and her community on a regular basis to make sure she was checking in on everyone and, using the Covey language again, emotional deposits in their lives.

Halelly: Wow. Did you get a sense of how she then implemented that? The actual nitty-gritty of keeping in touch with people or checking in with people?

Catherine: She shared that too. She said it didn’t have to always be a very lengthy thing. Sometimes it was just a message, a note, or a card, so she’d write cards, she’d send text messages, she’d make phone calls, she would make stop-by visits. She varied it. It was based on what she thought that person would appreciate and would just do it and it wouldn’t matter how big or small it was. She just wanted to at least make a connection and tried to make sure she was connected.

Halelly: Amazing. That’s great. You told me about her commute, too. This person didn’t live close to the office. She had a really long commute, and how she used it.

Catherine: Oh yeah! She lived on a farm. Our office was in Tyson’s Corner [Va] and she lived on a farm in Maryland, so her commute was at least an hour and a half each way, but could be longer. She chose to use that time to listen to audiobooks and she said it was a time she loved because she could listen to these books that she didn’t have time to read, so she was making use of this commute, which most of us who are maybe sitting in a car would dread, and she said it was her time to listen to these books. If she got physically exhausted, she said sometimes if it was raining or if it had snowed and the commute would turn into a two-hour commute, she would pull into a parking lot and do jumping jacks so she’d be revitalized and energized and then get back in the car, listen go the book and drive home.

Halelly: I love that. That picture is so great! In the snow, jumping jacks. I love that. You obviously have been very strongly impacted by her, and many people have, and you’re doing a lot. You mentioned a couple of things you learned from her that you keep doing. Choose something that you feel is something important that you know you’re doing in your own leadership practice that you learned from her.

Catherine: I think the biggest thing was the integration and the whole person. It was one of those things where when I do it, people will catch me doing it. For instance, folks that work with me will attend many family events, holidays, and the other way around. I don’t try to separate who I am, my personal and my professional life, and I try to integrate folks in more ways than I would have in the past. I used to keep my lives separate, if you will, and now I am more willing to be open and reveal myself to people and invite folks to be a part of my life, both personally and professionally, if they choose. The development piece, I intentionally … Julia had said to me she attended a conference because we lived in Washington and somebody said to her, “If you’re living in Washington and you don’t have a Master’s, people think you’re sleeping, and if you have not kept current with the certificate or certification every year or two that you’re not staying current.” So she impressed that upon me and it was just now not so much that it has to be a formal thing, but it certainly made me think about what I’m doing to stay current every year.

I know one of the things I do is I teach a UMBC, and one of the reasons I do that is so that I continue to stay current, so I can use whatever I’m researching and being able to share that with the clients and then I take what I’m learning from my client work and have the ability to then share that in practice with my students. I think Julia sort of created that space, and I'm intentional when I have team meetings with my team. I ask them to share what they’re working on or what they’re learning. Julia also had an “I pick, you pick,” so she would ask me to pick something I was interested in professionally in learning and then she’d say, “I get to pick something you may not love, but I know the organization is calling for,” so in that way I’ll support you with both of these. I do that with my team as well. I pick, you pick.

Halelly: For development?

Catherine: For development, yes.

Halelly: That’s awesome. We are going to talk about one specific action – we always share that at the end of every episode – but before we get there, and before we talk about what’s new and exciting for you, I feel like we should finish the story. I mean, unfortunately, it ended for Julia but her memory lives on. I’d love for you to sort of tell us how it came to where we are now.

Catherine: I was sharing with you, Halelly, over the holiday, over coffee, that I had lost this beloved mentor who was really the best boss and I shared with you, I guess now, when I have lost special people, I realize it’s on me now to be that best boss. I want to be that Julia for people. Julia passed away unexpectedly in October. She’d had a heart attack. Everyone that worked with her, when we worked in this environment, we had a life celebration for her. They were so moved by how special she was, they actually asked me if we can get together on an annual basis and honor and remember her on her birthday, which is this month, so when you asked me to speak about Julia, I said it would be great to record this on the month of her life so that her memory is eternal and lives on and all of the lessons that she passed to me, I’m able to share with you and we can share with your audience.

Halelly: I think that’s special. That’s amazing. Obviously she had a major impact on so many people in all aspects of her life, and I love how in your description, I look for role models. We don’t always come across role models, but the people that are role models are not the people who write their own bio and say, “Hey, look at me. I’m a role model.” A role model is in the eye of the beholder. Other people need to deem you as a role model for you to be a role model. It’s such a treasure to be able to have her model and you tell about it, like that. It just doesn’t happen everyday, so this is why I knew for 100 percent we had to share this. It’s just lovely to be able to learn from a real person, not some person in the mythical book or a movie or in what some expert says you should do theoretically, but this woman didn’t make herself famous or anything. She just lived her life. But she did it in an exemplary way. Thank you for sharing that story with us. We appreciate that so much.

Catherine: It’s my pleasure. You know Halelly, I was looking for, and it wasn’t conscious to me either, a female role model that had balance and success both personally and professionally, and that was one thing I was really grateful to have as a young woman was a female role model that brought those examples to me too.

Halelly: Yeah, so true. We’re going to switch gears a little bit. I always ask my guests what’s new and exciting on your horizon. What project or discovery has your attention these days Catherine?

Catherine: We’re starting to get requests more from organizations that are inviting us to help them to bring their material and help them to be more accessible so that audiences of different kinds. We’re being invited to and make materials accessible to people who are visually impaired, maybe culturally diverse and geographically dispersed, so I think of the organizations more to this high-performing value that develops organizations and individuals to being happy and healthy, where we’re getting requests to actually include the whole person and different kinds of whole people and we’re being invited to help support them in doing so.

Halelly: That’s nice. Do you find that you’re called on to learn new things to figure out how to do that? To me that sounds like it would be a challenge for me if I had to.

Catherine: It’s interesting. I think because our group now, because we focus on this “I pick, you pick,” we’ve been learning about a lot of things that help organizations to be happy and healthy. Actually, it’s helping us to learn about it, because we’ll be learning about something that a client is asking for, and then we’ll discover shortly after that we have a family member that’s struggling with the same thing and how nice is it that we’ve been researching and figuring out how to solve this for an organization, because somebody else’s mother or uncle needs this too.

Halelly: That’s integration for sure, right there!

Catherine: It’s good. It just continues to reinforce the whole person thing. And the learning and leading thing that Julia shared.

Halelly: Yes. Cool. All right, so what’s one specific action, based on our conversation, based on what you learned from Julia or however else you want to use this time, what’s one specific action that listeners can take today, tomorrow, this week, to upgrade their own leadership success?

Catherine: We talked about how Julia had mapped out relationships and was making conscious deposits, so to consciously practice and express gratitude, and maybe we’ll start specifically with people that are on your team, where you are intentionally sharing one thing that you appreciate about them and expressing that to them on Friday afternoon, if that is the end of your work week, or whatever is the end of your work week. Expressing that one thing that you appreciate about them, so as they head out on the weekend, they are aware and conscious of what you appreciate about them and can be present and share that with their families.

Halelly: I love that. And of course they leave with an uplifted mood, because you’ve given them the gift of appreciation and recognition, which is something that no one gets too much of, anywhere. You’re also telling them that you’re paying attention, and what matters. I really like that. Do you have a format or is that too formulae? Is there a way you do this?

Catherine: I know that with geographically dispersed team members, I will send text messages, and if it’s somebody that’s in close proximity, I will say it in person. But I will go through periods where I do this with my team and I know that it creates a multiplier of positivity that sustains us, especially during maybe more challenging times to kind of get through things. I don’t always have a specific formula. I think just the act that you shared Halelly, appreciating and recognizing something that the individual has said or done for the reasons that you shared, the fact that people stop and notice and catch you in the act when you’re doing something right, it can be unusual, unfortunately, and so just doing that is very powerful.

Halelly: Great. I sometimes get so granular for listeners. Just the ones that think about this in this way. So, you try to say something different each week, right? You don’t want every Friday to appreciate the same one thing you appreciate about them, because then you’re going to sound kind of …

Catherine: I really appreciate that. I don’t do it every Friday. I’m inviting your listeners to just practice that skill of catching people and making it. Just trying that on, so at the end of their work week, whenever that is, and in whatever way is comfortable to them to just practice and express that gratitude in a way that you think it will be received positively by the person that you’re sending it to.

Halelly: Very good. Catherine, thank you so much for sharing the story of Julia with us and spending time on the TalentGrow Show with us. We really appreciate you. If people want to – and I hope that they will – stay in touch with you and learn more from and about you, what’s the best way to do that?

Catherine: There are two ways. If you’re on LinkedIn, by all means, send me a note, invite me on LinkedIn and send me your information. If you’re not on LinkedIn, you can go to our website. It’s www.Perform-Link.com. Just go to the contact page and send us a note there.

Halelly: Perfect. All right. Catherine, I appreciate you and thank you for sharing that. It’s inspiring and you always inspire me, so I look forward to our next conversation. Thank you.

Catherine: Halelly, thank you so much for having me here today, for creating a space for us to honor Julia, and to your audience for tuning in.

Halelly: Well there you have it, TalentGrowers. What did I tell you? A little bit of a different show than usual, and I am so curious to hear what you thought of it. Should I do more of these? First of all, I’d like to hear more about exemplary leaders so that I can interview them or someone to tell about them. If you think this is something of value, I also want to know from you who it is that I should interview or who it is whose story we should tell. Also of course, take action. I will start. I will role model what Catherine suggested to do, which is to say something of appreciation. I do appreciate Catherine. I’ve known her for many years and what I’ve always loved about her is how absolutely bubbly positive she always is. She really brings such an appreciative demeanor to all of her interactions, and she always looks for ways to learn lessons from the different experiences that she has that can help build up better processes, better teams, better organizations, better people. So she’s been a really positive kind of person in my life and I’m glad that she was able to share a positive person from her life here with you all.

I look forward to hearing from you about your reactions, your feedback, your insights, your thoughts, and thank you for listening. This has been an episode of the TalentGrow Show, and I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow, and I look forward to hearing from you. Until the next time, make today great.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the TalentGrow Show, where we help you develop your talent to become the kind of leader that people want to follow. For more information, visit TalentGrow.com.