Ep050 [The FLIPPED episode!]: Halelly Azulay is interviewed about her career, developing leaders, and going from light-bulbs to impact by guest host Margarita Rozenfeld

Halelly Azulay host of the TalentGrow Show podcast is interviewed by Margarita Rozenfeld on the FLIPPED episode ep 050

In episode 50 the tables turn on me! I was interviewed on my own podcast by my friend and fellow podcaster, Margarita Rozenfeld, CEO of Incite International and host of the Leadership Insights podcast. Margarita asked me some of the types of questions I've asked almost 50 guests over the two years since launching The TalentGrow Show. On this episode, learn why I LOVE those light-bulb moments, and why they’re never enough (and what else is needed). I share my early career aspirations (you might be surprised) and what I've learned about leadership and employee development done right through my 25 years of work with hundreds of clients and thousands of learners. Plus, of course, I include an actionable tip at the end (as always) that will help you harvest your career stories for greater satisfaction and success! Go ahead and listen now, and leave me feedback in the comments section below!


Listen to Stitcher
  • You’ll never guess Halelly’s first career goal and how abandoning it led her to become a talent development expert (3:15)
  • What Halelly learned from the world of academia (4:05)
  • Halelly forges her way into the corporate world (4:55)
  • Hear one of Halelly’s greatest experiences about the craft of leadership training and development (5:10)
  • The TalentGrow Show is born (6:15)
  • Halelly speaks about her view of a “learning journey” (7:15)
  • The single biggest piece of wisdom Halelly has gained in working with clients over the years(7:40)
  • Halelly’s long-standing labor of love (9:30)
  • Halelly’s secret passion (11:58)
  • Halelly explains the difference between a light bulb moment and lasting impact (13:00)
  • Why leadership is different than execution and why top performers sometimes struggle in management roles (14:10)
  • How training is not the only way to develop your people (15:05)
  • How mid-size companies most often struggle with leadership development (16:26)
  • Making sure organizations never let potential leaders “go cold” (17:40)
  • Is training enough to develop leaders? (18:15)
  • Halelly’s training superpowers (19:10)
  • What Halelly has on the horizon (21:10)
  • Announcing Halelly’s book project (21:35)
  • The “plenty of other fish in the sea” approach to networking (21:40)
  • An action step for you to develop your career passionately (24:20)


About Margarita Rozenfeld

Margarita Rozenfeld is the CEO of Incite International, an award-winning organizational development company providing consulting, coaching, facilitation and training services to non-profit, corporate and public sector clients including Pew Charitable Trusts, Melwood, Reston Limo and the World Bank.

Margarita is a frequent speaker on topics of strategy, leadership, cross-cultural communication and organizational development. Her expertise has been featured on the Fox Morning Show, Washington Business Journal, Washington Post and several books on entrepreneurship and organizational effectiveness. Margarita is the host of Leadership Insights Podcast that has been featured in the iTunes New & Noteworthy category and founder of YES!Circle, a networking, advisory and educational organization for entrepreneurs in the D.C. region. Margarita graduated with honors from James Madison University with degrees in International Affairs and Spanish, minor in Russian Studies and holds an executive certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown University. She is a 2016 Leadership Center for Excellence 40 Under 40 honoree.


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 there. Welcome back to the TalentGrow Show. This is episode 50! I can’t believe it. Actually, I’m celebrating two years in podcasting with this episode, so I thought that to celebrate two years, and to treat this episode a little differently, I would show you a little bit behind the curtain and have the tables turned on me. In this episode, I’m actually the guest, and my friend and fellow leadership developer and fellow podcaster Margarita Rozenfeld, came on the show to ask me some of the very questions that I ask my guests, in order to help you, the listeners, learn a little bit more about who I am and what I do instead of just me asking all the questions. Sometimes people do this as like an episode zero or episode one, and frankly, I didn’t even think about it when I started. But I thought it would be something nice to add to the list of episodes that’s available out there so that you can learn a little bit more about your leadership development strategist. So my guest and actually my interviewer and host is Margarita Rozenfeld. She is CEO of Incite International, an award-winning leadership development company and host of her own podcast called Leadership Insights.

Margarita and I have known each other for many years, have collaborated and been friends so I felt very comfortable to bring her on and have her ask me some questions. So, you’ll hear about some of the things that really turn me on in my work, where my strengths and special talents are, the things that I just live for in terms of what I do for work and what I try to bring and why I started this podcast, what my hopes are, all this kind of stuff. I hope that you find it interesting. I’d love to hear what you thought of it, and let’s get it started, shall we? Here we are, Margarita Rozenfeld, interviewing me, Halelly, Azulay.

Hey, Margarita. Thank you so much for interviewing me on my own show!

Margarita: Well, Halelly, it is such an honor. Of all the people to interview, I love turning the table on such an amazing interviewer and podcaster, so thank you.

Halelly: Thank you. Do you see why I got her?

Margarita: Well, I would love to begin this episode of your show by asking you about your professional journey. You are always asking your guests where they started and all of your guests have been wondering, where have you started? Where has your journey brought you from?

Halelly: Yeah, I guess I should talk about that. I actually wanted to be a professional dancer, did you know this?

Margarita: I did not know this.

Halelly: I wanted to be a professional ballroom dancer and my dad said that was a bad idea, so I listened to him. He was such a smart man, but oh well, I didn’t try it. I went to college and I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to major in, but I’m good with people and I’m good with ideas and I like theory and I like communication, so I started in business school. I was going to go into advertising and marketing, and then I got into business school at the University of Maryland which was an achievement. That was hard to do and as soon as I got into business school, I changed my major and I went into communication. I loved studying that. Then, when I finished my bachelor’s degree I went out and started working in advertising and PR and marketing. After about a year of that I went back to grad school and got my master’s in intercultural and organizational communication and I also started working as an instructor at the University of Maryland while I was studying there. This was my beginning of my career, because I had to create the curriculum, I had to do all of the lectures, I had to do all of the grading and I had to get people to learn. I loved teaching, but I didn’t love the lack of commitment of the undergrad, lower – what were they, freshmen and sophomores? So that wasn’t fun. I also saw the politics of the inside of the academic department from the professor side, because I thought maybe I would go into academia and that made me realize I didn’t want any of that either.

So I went into the corporate world. I started as a training assistant. Then I kept getting promoted and promoted and promoted until one day I found myself being the manager of the training department in that organization. It was a financial services company that was headquartered in D.C., but they had offices throughout the country as well as in three locations in Europe. All of the newcomers, all of the sales people, all of the leaders, everybody had to come to my training department to learn about the business and that was an amazing place for me to learn a lot. I learned so much in that time, well, about myself too, but also about the craft of training and development, of workplace learning, of how people actually learn and what I love. I enjoyed helping people learn about foreign exchange and factors that cause currencies to change their value – which was one of the things I was teaching them about – and products and services and proprietary systems, but what did I love the best? It was helping them communicate better and then I started the first management training program at that company.

That was like, “Oh my God, that is me. This is what I want to do.” From there I just found other positions in other companies that allowed me to do that full-time, to help people become better communicators and better leaders within their organizations. A couple of years later I decided to take the leap and start my own company. That was over 11 years ago now. TalentGrow was born and now I help all kinds of companies – financial services but also in the private sector, in the nonprofit sector, in the public sector, in all kinds of industries – and I help leaders be the kind of leader people actually want to follow.

Margarita: I know you did that so beautifully. I’ve written books about it and of course you help people with your podcast. The first question for you, because I love the story of how you kind of meandered your way into this career, and I imagine the people you’re working with and helping have maybe a similar challenge where they may have started at one point and ended up at another point and they’re like, “Who am I as a leader?” I wonder whether things that you learned on your journey are things that you use now with your clients?

Halelly: Of course. I think everything you learn, you use. We’re always on a learning journey. We never, ever stop. Even if it seems like a detour or if it seems like something – you try something and it didn’t work out – the lessons are always going to be with you. There’s always something that can convey. Maybe it’s a different context, but the lessons can convey. For example, something that was important to me and it was a theme I think throughout my journey was that I really seek to work with people who are self motivated and who are interested in applying what they’re learning and they’re not there as hostages or victims, being forced to learn something. I felt in that initial job at the university, I felt like people were … they acted like they were victims and hostages and I hated that. The last thing that I ever want to do is cause someone to do something they don’t want to do. And learning has to be self-motivated. You have to have an intrinsic motivation to learn.

So one of the challenges of course, part of my maturation, was you will face people that seem like they don’t get it or they don’t buy into it, and just running away from it is probably not the best thing. So earlier in my career, I just sort of went somewhere else. Whereas now I might stay a little bit longer in the fight in the sense that they just might not see what’s in it for them. My challenge is to help them make that connection. Once they do, often their motivation is there. It’s just making that link between why am I here and what can I gain from it? And once I’m able to help them see that, then they’re with me.

Margarita: I think the problem is they just hadn’t met you up until that point and they don’t know that you’re the brilliant trainer who is going to help them want to learn and want to grow!

Halelly: That’s very sweet of you.

Margarita: Well, let’s talk a little bit about your podcast. Having been so busy with all these wonderful clients that you’re helping to grow, somehow you decided that you wanted to find the time to be a podcaster, which firsthand I know how time consuming and challenging it can be. So what inspired you to start this podcast?

Halelly: Yeah, it really is a labor of love, and it’s not something that I do for money or fame or anything. It is really just a way to share with other people and help them grow. But, it gives me an excuse to get in front of people that might have not heard of me before and share with more people. One of my goals in life is to help as many people as possible actualize their potential. I mean, this is sort of I guess my mission. So, if I only work with the people that are actually working with me, I’m limited. But if I can reach even more people, and the podcast is a good way to do that, writing a book is a good way to do that, blogging on the internet is a good way to do that. The more people that I can help, the better it is for me. I achieve my mission. So that’s one of the reasons why I’m doing it. Also, I love talking to my guests and learning from them, so in many ways, I get just as much out of it as my listeners do because I’m on the learning journey and sort of scratching my own itch and talking to these brilliant people about what they know really well and getting them to share their wisdom with me, but in a way that actually has a multiplier effect because I record it and then I share it with the world. So to me, truly if I could just learn for a living, if I could figure out the formula for how I could just learn and still feed my kids and have a house, I would do that! Because it’s my favorite thing to do.

Margarita: Well, I think what a gift that you are such a dedicated learner that you are able to share the passion and the joy, both with your live audiences, but also with your podcast listeners. As one of your loyal podcast listeners, I think it’s so wonderful to hear your style and the curiosity that you bring to those interviews because you can tell from them that you genuinely are just so curious and interested and that makes all of us want to learn along with you.

Halelly: Thank you. I am curious.

Margarita: Curious absolutely. I have a question for you, always interested with people who do what you do. What have you discovered through podcasting – whether it’s about yourself or the craft – that maybe was unexpected to you? Anything surprised you in this last two years that you’ve been doing this?

Halelly: You know, I genuinely enjoy listening to how other people describe things and then finding connections. And so I don’t know, maybe I should have expected it because it’s one of the things I do naturally, but almost anytime I talk to anyone, it connects me – in my mind – it connects immediately to some other interview I did or something else that I just read. There’s so much synchronicity, I always feel like maybe I’m sticking my finger in the socket. The hard part for me is to control the time because I have a million different directions I want o take it in, with all the curiosities that arise for me that I have to keep it under control, Halelly, it’s a 30-minute podcast.

Margarita: That’s awesome. Let’s tie this back into what it is that you do in your day-to-day world. What are you most excited about in the work that you do?

Halelly: Two things that I go for. One is light bulbs and I’ll explain that, and one is impact and change. Because they’re different. And one does not necessarily beget the other. I love the light bulb moment when you see awareness forming. My work is not just being in front of people when I speak at conferences or when I facilitate workshops for my clients about different topics related to leadership and communication. A lot of my work is also behind the scenes with consulting. When I’m helping an organization formulate an entire leadership development strategy, and when they see the connection between things that they’ve been noticing but did not connect, when they understand the cause and effect relationship – people are leaving that are good performers that were happy before, and something happened, why are they leaving? They complain about their manager or I have managers who used to be the top performers. They were amazing people, their commitment was completely unquestioned and now they seem like they’re just in the doldrums and suffering or frustrated and becoming maybe even negative or maybe even looking for something else. What happened?

When they realize that a lot of times, organizations, they just shove people into leadership roles when they’re not necessarily ready, but then they don’t really have any good, reliable ways to support them to help them bridge the gap. And even to understand, like what portion of your job now is helping other people understand or supporting other people versus doing your own work, like you were doing excellently before your promotion? There are organizations that have been growing so fast and didn’t slow down to think about this as their growth expanded the number of employees they have and then there’s layers of reporting and then there’s more managers and they don’t really have any solid way to develop those people. So, I’m talking a lot, but even behind the scenes, when I talk to the leaders of that organization about developing a leadership development strategy, even as a consultant, you see that connection or if I’m standing in front of people in a workshop and I’m explaining some kind of concept and I lead them through an experiential exercise and they make that connection, the light bulb goes off. Love the light bulbs.

But, light bulbs are not enough. So my second favorite thing is getting people to actually help them find specific step-by-step processes or tools or methods, things that come from thought leaders, things that come from people that have done it before them that work and teaching them how to do it. And then knowing that they’re actually implementing and seeing the changes, that’s what I live for. Because getting light bulbs by itself is not enough. If people go back to their business as usual and just do whatever they were doing before or have obstacles and things in their way and they don’t implement those “a-ha” or light bulbs, they become dim and eventually they go away. That makes me sad. Sad Halelly.

Margarita: That’s very hard to achieve and we don’t want to see happen, oh no! Halelly, I wonder, are there particular trends that you’re seeing with your clients or problems they’re coming to you for so as listeners are kind of thinking about what’s going on in their own organizations, they could be like, “Wow! We’re experiencing that. We should talk to Halelly because she can help us with this.”

Halelly: Yeah, for sure. Many of the organizations that I describe, which are growing really fast, going through exponential growth, they’re big enough that they have layers and managers and supervisors and directors, but they’re not huge organizations. Like some of the clients that I work with are huge organizations. They don’t need my help to set up a leadership development strategy. They’ve got that. They’re doing well. I can help them hone it. I can help them refine it and I can help them help their leaders learn specific skills through my workshops, but the organizations that are just sort of, they just do their work, and they expect their leaders, their managers, to do work, but they don’t really guide them specifically or have any kind of a repeatable process or system in place to develop leaders. Okay, we see someone, they have leadership potential. What are we doing to help them enhance that? What are we doing to help them learn the skills to get them ready so that when we need them to jump into a leadership role, they’re more prepared than just going blind?

Now, someone is in a leadership role. What specifically should they be exposed to and how should we continue to develop them in an ongoing and predictable way through a variety of interactions and activities and programs and conversations to help make sure that we’re never letting them just go cold, and we’re never letting them wonder when their next development opportunity will be. There is a way to develop this kind of an approach, a strategy for developing leaders, and I can help organizations put that into place. So it might include some workshops, but we both know, training is not the only way to develop people. It’s not the best way to develop certain things, and it’s not enough. Because people need to do their work. They can’t be in training classes all day long. So you can’t just, “Oh, we’ll send you to training once a year,” and then what happens the rest of the time? So there are so many other ways you can develop people and if you have a mindful approach to it, you can map out the whole year and you can then think, people who are new to leadership need different things than people who are in the middle of a leadership journey versus people that are more seasoned. So how are we supporting the development for each of those types of leaders?

Margarita: You can help them do that? You can help them map it out so that they know how to do this.

Halelly: Exactly. I can help them all the way to designing everything that they need, but I can also just help them create that overarching plan and then they can kind of help figure out how they can do all the detail work on their own.

Margarita: Great. Thank you. And what do you think is your superpower? What is something that you feel like – I know it’s a hard question because it’s so hard to talk about this about yourself – but what do you think is something that you’re particularly gifted at, as a leadership development strategist?

Halelly: Yeah, that is hard. I think that for me, it’s a combination of my top strengths. So I appreciate excellence and I seek excellence and I think that I want to give people excellence, right? Help bring out excellence in people, so that kind of drive toward excellence is something that I bring to all my work and I have very, very high expectations of myself and everyone else, so I believe that it’s possible. I strive for something excellent rather than just good enough. And I’m also very curious. I love learning.

Margarita: We’ve discovered that about you already!

Halelly: It means that I’m open to new ideas and I’m always seeing connections, so there’s always a freshness that I bring to my ideas, to my consulting, to my workshops that I think help make sure that it’s on edge, that it’s on the cutting edge or that it’s not stale and it’s never stale for me. And then critical thinking, so I’m curious but not everything goes. Probably somewhere between curiosity and excellence that I’m able to curate my ideas and I’m able to curate content and I’m able to curate connections in a way that I try at least to make it as relevant and targeted as possible.

Margarita: Awesome. Those are so crucial. Being a colleague, I think that those are just such keys to having that sustainable impact in the organization, but I know it’s really important to you and certainly to our clients, right? You talked about always wanting things to be fresh and interesting and so I’m curious about what do you feel most energized or passionate about at this moment? What are you exploring, what’s a growing edge for you now?

Halelly: Well, I am talking to a publisher about my third book.

Margarita: Oh my gosh!

Halelly: And it’s very exciting. I actually have a contract, I just reviewed it in my email, so that is something I’m super, super excited about. And I really look forward to doing more speaking and writing about the topic and the topic –

Margarita: Can you tell us what the topic is?

Halelly: It’s about networking without the ick factor. So the title is, who knows, it’ll change a million times probably before it’s actually published and I haven’t signed the contract yet so I don’t want to jinx it, but it’s something that I see a lot of people struggle with and it’s something that I know a lot about, because I like to say that I’m a born again networker. Like I saw the light. I used to hate it too. Because I think that people that are genuine and like to make genuine connections kind of feel like networking seems like a contrived thing, like you force yourself to do it and you connect with people you don’t care about and talk about things that don’t interest you and it all just feels cheesy and fake and gross. Of course that’s not how networking should be. It’s how people that don’t know how to network do it. But networking is about building meaningful, long-term, mutually beneficial connections with people, like actually making friends with people. If there’s no mutual benefit and you can’t see how you can help each other down the road or you can learn from each other, then don’t connect with them. There’s plenty of other people. Don’t force yourself to be friends with people that you don’t want to be friends with, if you will.

There are so many techniques I’ve used and it’s helped me build my business. It’s helped me build my leadership skills. It’s helped me connect with influencers. It’s helped me connect with my clients. It’s helped me create value for the people that I help when I’m consulting and when I’m teaching, when I’m facilitating. So it’s not the main thing in leadership for sure, but it is an aspect of leadership and it’s an aspect of being a professional that I think I can definitely help from firsthand perspective. Plus all the people that I know, I have lots of people in my network, that have amazing stories and specific tips that can help people, so I’m going to use that of course. I’m going to have lots and lots of interviews and stories to share in the book and then of course maybe podcasts related to it and speaking related to it. Maybe an online course related to it. I don’t know.

Margarita: Great. Well, we’re excited. We’re going to stay tuned. I’m also excited about you sharing tips. You’re always so good with practical ideas and I know that’s how you end your podcasting session, so I’m very sad that we’re coming to completion of this episode and I can’t let you go without asking you, what is one actionable tip that listeners can take to raise their career satisfaction and be better, stronger leaders?

Halelly: Sneaky woman!

Margarita: Learn from the best.

Halelly: My own question. Fair, that’s fair. We should always end with an actionable tip. So, I think that people can look at their career trajectory and their journey thus far, and look for some of the highlights. Like what were some of the moments you can remember from each of your steps along the journey and actually try and remember a story or a specific example of something that was joyful or something that was exciting or very fulfilling and rewarding? Because we’ve all had jobs we didn't like, but there were always things about those jobs that were pleasing, or certain situations that were success stories. And if you can harvest – it’s kind of like picking the fruit from the trees along your journey – harvest those stories and those examples. Like earlier, when you were asking me were there things that I took from each of those steps along the journey that are useful to me today, absolutely. But sometimes we might not have that awareness or maybe we’re not mindful enough of those lessons. So I think that there are two things that will come out of this exercise, and it shouldn’t take a long time. But maybe go for a walk and think about it or maybe write down in your journal and you’re thinking about it, but actually list out your jobs and then look for a specific example of story for each one of them of something that was extremely satisfying or exciting or successful. Satisfying doesn’t mean easy, right? Sometimes really, really, really hard things you did are the most satisfying, right? Because that creates that sense of accomplishment. And then look for the themes. What are some things you’ve already used from those learning points in your current job and that you can use in the future? But what are some of the things that maybe you haven’t really harnessed and that you can turn into something that brings you even more satisfaction and more successes now, or can bring you insights about what your next steps should be?

Margarita: Brilliant. Absolutely fantastic. Well, it’s a wrap on this episode of the TalentGrow Show. I was having so much fun interviewing the master and thank you for this opportunity and I hope everybody enjoys listening to this just as much as I loved interviewing you, Halelly.

Halelly: Thank you so much Margarita. You’ve been a great and gracious host to me on my show and I appreciate you playing the game. I look forward to returning the favor on yours.

Margarita: Great.

Halelly: Totally different, right? That was a little bit awkward, but a lot of fun to be on the other side of things. I hope that you enjoyed it. I’d actually love to hear what you thought and what questions you have and definitely, if I can help you, because there is a lot of passion that I bring to my work in leadership development and if that’s something that I can bring to your company it would be totally my pleasure.

The TalentGrow Show, as you know, is a proud member of the C-Suite Radio Network of podcasts. They’re podcasts from the world’s leading business podcasters for C--Suite leaders, business executives and entrepreneurs. And it features premium content from top thought leaders, designed to increase knowledge, deepen understanding and build skills to enhance your personal and professional lives. Check out C-Suite Radio at c-suiteradio.com. Check out our show notes page at TalentGrow.com/podcast/episode50 and make sure that you download the free tool, 10 Mistakes that Leaders Make and How to Avoid Them, and also that will put you on the mailing list for my weekly fun, short and actionable newsletter. I would really enjoy staying in touch with you in that way. As always, you are invited to leave comments in the show notes page comments section. You are very, very encouraged to share this show with others. And if you would – take a couple of minutes of your day. I know you’re very busy – and just go over to iTunes and leave me a rating and a one or two or three sentence review. You can do it under a pseudonym and that really adds so much value because it helps other people that are searching for a show to listen to feel good about trying this show out and it also actually helps the algorithm on iTunes pull this show into search results more. The more ratings and reviews that I have, the more likely that it’ll show up in search results. So you would help me so much by doing that. Hopefully you can just take a couple of minutes, go over and do that, and if you’re right now in the car running errands or running, then I hope that you’ll remember to do that later.

I appreciate you listening. Thank you very much for tuning in. Thank you for sticking around until the end. And until the next time, make today great. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist. See you!

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.

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