Human Beings First With Paul Wolfe

Looking to challenge the status quo of traditional leadership? Tune in as we share an intimate conversation with Paul Wolfe, a seasoned CHRO with over two decades of wisdom. He is the mind behind the transformative book, Human Beings First. We delve into unexplored territories of leadership, shedding light on how vulnerability and authenticity can profoundly impact the way we lead and interact with our teams. Paul’s experiences at Indeed and his unique perspective on dealing with a global crisis will leave you both intrigued and inspired.

Our exchange goes beyond the boardroom as we touch on the blurred lines between work and personal life in these changing times. Hear Paul’s candid account of dealing with his own mental health struggles during the pandemic and how opening up fostered empathy and understanding within his workspace. We also delve into his brush with billionaires, and how they set a refreshing precedent for respect and equality. This is not just another podcast episode, but a heartfelt conversation that may well change your perspective on leadership. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn from one of the finest minds in HR today.

Listening Time: 20 minutes

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Paul Wolfe
Human First Leadership Advocate

Paul Wolfe is a Human First Leadership Advocate who champions the development of workplace cultures built on authentic connection, shared vulnerability, and purpose-led performance. Wolfe came to this mission from an over two decade resume as an HR executive, and his lived experience of seeking to show up– and view others, as humans before titles.


Human Beings First With Paul Wolfe

William Tincup: [00:00:00] This is William Tincup and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today we have Paul on and we were talking about his book, human Beings First, and I met Paul when he was at Indeed. He’s got a wonderful history in HR and I can’t wait to talk to him, especially about his book. Paul, would you do us a favor and introduce yourself and then we’ll start talking about

Paul Wolfe: your book.

Thank you, William. Thank you so much for having me on. Paul Wolf, I’ve been a C H O for the last 23 years, up until January of 2022 [00:01:00] and I left and I was working for Indeed, I worked there for almost eight years and helped him grow from a thousand people to 12,000 people. Over that period of time and manage, help manage that organization through the pandemic, like a lot of other CHROs, which is a whole nother conversation.

William. And I wrote a book called Human Beings First Practices for Empathetic and Expressive Leadership. And I’m out, it came out March the eighth, available on Amazon. My site any place you can buy a book online. And I’m out in the world trying to, get people to think about being human first, leadership advocates, and lead with a human first and human centric.

Approach, and I think the world could be a better place if everybody did that.

William Tincup: I remember the work that you did during Covid, like the beginning of Covid that January, all of that chaos. We emailed and talked a couple times during that, and then, and you just did a wonderful job of leaving a global organization through chaos.

Paul Wolfe: It, yeah. I appreciate it. It was like, I think I’ve talked to a lot of CHROs especially since I’ve, gone out on my own now and we all tend to talk [00:02:00] about the pandemic and it’s a look, it was a shit show. Like you’re right. Yeah, it was, there was no data. There was like, we didn’t know what was gonna happen next and.

It was my first, so I was in Austin for a VP offsite. It’s probably like the second or third week of February of 2020. And I got home on a Thursday night into New York and it was like, I don’t know, 1145, almost midnight. And a business partner of ours in Singapore text me. Hey, I don’t know if you’ve heard of this Covid thing, but we think we have an employee that’s been exposed.

I’m like, shit. Huh? What? So I’m like, what the F do you do now? So I like Google. Of course, there’s no information, none. I pinged I was reporting to our CO at the time. I pinged him. I didn’t hear back. And and also I’m respectful. It’s like it’s midnight now, right? Of course. And so I pinged our CEO who happened to be in Austin, so it was a little earlier for him.

Chris Hymes is, was our CEO E at the time. He’s still the c o. He said, what’s up is, I think it was every, is everything okay? Cuz he [00:03:00] knew Yeah. To ping it midnight from your c h os a hundred percent. Not necessarily a good thing, right? And I said, I gotta call you. So I called him and I said, look, I have no information.

This is all I have. This is gonna be A shit show, I think. He’s what do you wanna do? I said, I wanna close the office. I wanna send a note out now and tell people to, they had just, it was the early morning their time. Go home and tell them why I wanna be transparent. And he’s I don’t wanna cause.

A great concern. I said, we have to be honest and just tell them what’s going on. And we just don’t know. And so we did that. And then it was a little bit of a game of whack-a-mole for the next, like three or four days because it was like, we’re a global indeed’s, a global company, people are traveling all the time.

And so we closed Singapore and then we heard, eight hours later, oh, somebody in Sydney went to Singapore last week was this person in the office then? Oh, somebody in Dublin went to the office, and it’s okay. So then we got, it is by the, it’s the end of February now, and we were sitting in a senior leadership team meeting and Dave, our coo, said, cuz we were talking about what office is closed.

He’s like, why don’t we just close everything [00:04:00] because we don’t know what’s gonna happen next and we really don’t know anything about this and I. Appreciate the fact that he said that. And I’m like, I agree. Like it’s just easier. And then we got into the mode of it is every decision is based on the, this overarching goal is the health and safety of our employees.

So it became easy even without data to make decisions based on that. And that the beauty of it is, like any technology organization you’ve got. Groups, and I’m gonna try and be as uns stereotypical as possible, but I’ll be some, I’ll do some stereotyping. You have groups that want a ton of data in every decision that you make.

You wanna understand everything that you considered a hundred percent before you made or got you to decision. And I, we were just very clear with them. We don’t have any data. We did and this is one of the best things I think we did was probably two weeks after we closed everything in early March, we hired a medical advisor.

Who was a doctor in Seattle. Oh, that’s not cool. He was, and he was the nicest guy, like the most reasonable, [00:05:00] easygoing, like doctor who would tell you the scientific, and like from a business perspective, he was used to supporting businesses. And he’s here’s how I think you should think about this and your business.

And he understood our business pretty well and our global footprint. And people would ask questions and I’d ping him and I’d get an answer, a medical answer, and I’d give it to them. And so that was the thing that I think became a. Easy, which sounds ridiculous now saying it out loud, but easy for us because we just went to, we’re gonna protect you as best we can and we’re gonna be really cautious about everything that we do.

And people re, even though they may not have necessarily liked it, they respected it and they understood why we were making the decisions

William Tincup: we were. And you were early, really early. Yes. With a lot of those things, especially for our industry. I think you led a lot of folks in our industry to a model that, that they had to, that had to, that they embraced because they saw it working.

Let me ask a question with empathetic and expressive. First question is going to be how do you teach that to leaders? [00:06:00] And maybe even employees if we go, if we vertically integrate this but how do you teach that? Like how do you bring that to the table and say, our organization needs to do these two things.

We need to do a lot of things, however, let’s focus on these two things. How do you think it’s, how do you best convey to them not just the importance, but. Tactically how to

Paul Wolfe: do it. I love, like I couldn’t have planted a better question, so I appreciate it. And I wanna be clear. I did not plant that question.

No, you did not. No. It was funny, my, so I used a co-writer to write my book because a blank sheet of paper scares the crap out of me. I can tell a story and I can tell, but oh my God, like writing this on my own would’ve been I would, I’d be doing it for the next 25 years. And the first time I sat down with her, she’s here in New York.

And so we met in person after I hired her, and she’s okay. She’s what? What are we gonna teach people? What is your eight step patented process? I’m like, there’s no nothing to teach anybody. You’ve gotta expose them to behaviors and emotions that they already have as human beings and the, what I do in the book [00:07:00] is, Give them real life examples of either how I’ve leaned in as a human first leader in certain situations, or that I’ve seen other leaders do that, and I’m the type of, and everybody’s a different learner, and I get that.

But for me, I wanted to keep it simple. Kiss, keep it simple, stupid. And I didn’t want I didn’t want somebody to have to learn a new. Skill or a new Right. New model. A new ex. Yeah, a new model. A new model. That’s a better way of saying it. And it really is vulnerability is, there’s a chapter on it.

And I talk about how I was vulnerable at Indeed with 12,000 employees. And it’s not something that leaders are for a long time have been taught like, Have been taught to, to show vulnerability or to show even emotion. I think of, I, I was lucky enough to be in a yearlong rotational program at Jack Welch’s ge in the, I’d like not to say the year anymore, but Yeah.

Yeah. You can’t say the year in the early nineties. Something on the Hudson, cause I’m old. Yeah. And I got to go to four different classes at Crotonville, which was a [00:08:00] storied, leadership training center at Jack’s ge. And I remember A leadership class that I went to and I think back and at the time I was like, this is amazing.

It’s crotonville these speakers are amazing. These leaders are amazing. Oh my God, this is like the, the i the cherry on the top of the Sunday for me, and I think back now on the things they taught us, their model that they taught us, and it basically was to be an imposter.

It was to have every answer to never like be ruffled. You gotta know everything. You gotta control everything. And I, and I. I, I thought about that as I started to think about how to portray this in the book and it’s look, it’s like we’re all humans. That’s the one universal truth is we’re all human beings.

That’s the one thing that makes us all the same on this planet. And then it gets more difficult when you lay in everything else that makes us different. And if you approach it from that perspective. I think you can have a better relationship a work, on a team that’s more cohesive and more collaborative.

And those words get thrown around a lot, especially collaboration. And if anybody’s ready into my [00:09:00] recent LinkedIn post about these forced return to offices and people using that collaboration as a reason why, it just sends me into a whole nother like world. Me too. But I think it is. It’s the way I try and help people understand this or teach it to them is by giving them very clear examples from me.

And that doesn’t mean they have to do the exact same thing, but my hope is after somebody reads this, or after somebody walks out of a room that I’ve spoken to or a workshop that I’ve done, that they’re gonna think a little bit differently about their next interaction with a human. Whether it be, in the most utopian world, anybody could read this book and maybe.

Treat their neighbor a little bit differently. Somebody that, some stranger, they meet in a store a little bit differently, and the world would be a better place if everybody used that approach. That’s the, the the utopian part of me, but like leaders and employees reading this will be able to.

Really think about their interactions and you’re interacting. Even though I may be a leader and somebody may be an employee, we have these titles that were given, but the original title we have is Human being. And so if [00:10:00] we approach everything from that core, I think that things could be better and things could be easier for everybody.

And there’s not really anything somebody has to learn, they’ve gotta be able to put down. Some barriers, like vulnerability is scary cuz it exposes us, but it can really change and shift relationship in a meaningful way. And you just have to get comfortable with that. And not everyone’s gonna be comfortable, there’s a spectrum of being vulnerable and I think, you’ve gotta take baby steps to get there.

But that’s the approach that I use in the book is just giving people real life examples. It’s funny

William Tincup: that the thought that it conjures up for me is I’ve had the fortune of meeting a few billionaires. I’ve worked for two, and in both cases I said I can just say it now. Mr. Walton and Mr.

Bass Ed, both of them immediately corrected me. I remember Sam saying, my name’s Sam. Yeah. And Ed did the same thing. Yes. And my name’s Ed. They corrected me right from the jump. No, we’re, we’re maybe not equals. But I have a first name. You have a first name. Yep. [00:11:00] We can it level set everything for me?

Yeah. And

Paul Wolfe: That’s a beautiful simple example of human first leadership. It’s I’m, we are the same. You’re right. We may not be equals, but we are the same and that we’re both humans and we should treat each other as such.

William Tincup: So let’s empathy, I think, showing people and giving people examples, especially people that aren’t as empathetic.

Whether or not you self-describe as empathetic or not. Either you are or you aren’t, or you’re somewhere on the spectrum. Okay, great. But having examples and then saying, okay, that’s what it is. Okay. That’s good. What do you do with expressive? How do you show examples of expressive.

Paul Wolfe: I think, I think it’s leading people. So we, I talk, the chapters are one word titles. Share, see, hear, protect and it really is just all of those bringing together to be more expressive as a human, expressing yourself as a human being. And remembering that, because I think leaders forget that sometimes they think I have this job and we do, and we get paid more to lead.

But we also have our own life that’s going on. And I, [00:12:00] since the pandemic, and I think it, it started the line between work and life was blurry before the pandemic because of technology, which I think is a good thing. And we talk about work-life balance for such a long time, and it’s not that anymore.

It’s just life and work is a part of it. And You want everyone, including yourself to have your best life possible. And work is a part of that. And so you wanna be successful at work and you wanna do, the job that you want to do at work. And I think by showing up as a human and expressing to people what you’re going through, highs and lows, it doesn’t have to be all negative, one of the things that I did during the pandemic at Indeed, we like, like lots of companies, started a weekly q and a.

And then it turned into we did that and there was like this weekly email from me that came in on Thursday, that’s probably Thursdays that probably started like in May or June of 2020. And it was early on, it was all covid all the time, answering everybody these questions and like when we thought we were going back to the office, cuz in the early days we thought cause this is gonna be a couple months.

And then it turned into a couple years and it was [00:13:00] probably like August of 2020. My the internal communications manager that supported me sent me the draft on Wednesday afternoon like she normally did, and she, we spent a lot of time together in Zoom and she understood my voice really well and I appreciated that.

Cuz her drafts to me, I’d maybe change a word or two or like a sentence, but there were no major rewrites and she sent it to me like she normally did and I added two paragraphs. And I sent it back to her and I get a slack from her 20 minutes later she goes, are you sure you want to say that?

And part of me was like, why wouldn’t I? And then I thought about it for a hot minute and I’m like, yeah, like it’s fine. And the two paragraphs I added were the fact that I had. O c D&I was diagnosed 2005, a long time ago now, and it had been completely manageable up to the pandemic, but because I wasn’t leaving the house during the pandemic, it was manifesting itself in different ways, like almost every day.

Oh wow. And, I would show up to meetings like we all do the Brady Bunch, zoom boxes during, while we were forced to [00:14:00] work from home. And I, may have my camera off more than usual. Cause I was, I tried as a senior leader, you tried to have your camera on all the time, even though there is zoom fatigue and you get tired of it and just trying to look at the camera all the time.

And there may be days where, I wasn’t my usual self and I didn’t want, the reason I added the two paragraphs explaining what was going on was not. For people to feel bad. For me it was like, Hey, if I show up in a meeting and I don’t have my camera on, or I seem not myself, it has nothing more than likely has nothing to do with you or anything that’s going on in the meeting.

It’s just I got my own shit that I’m dealing with and I’m not gonna go into a bunch, a big bunch of detail about it, but just understand this is what it is and this is why I may seem a little different for now. And the note went out on that the next day, and I was in meetings all day and I probably had a 30 minute break at three or four that afternoon, and I am a inbox zero person.

I cannot see that little red number next to my inbox. My husband. Has 4,232 unread emails. And it, [00:15:00] I think that gives me anxiety. Oh, it does? No, it gives me anxiety. And so I I am like, I gotta work the inbox. And so I popped into my inbox as I had 30 minutes and I saw 400 unread emails. Now my first reaction was, Shit, what happened?

Select all. Delete. Yep. Correct? Yeah. And like, why didn’t somebody call me like, or text me? And then I, oh, and then I started to look at the subject. It was like, it was in response to my Paul’s weekly email, whatever the date was, right? And I’m like, oh, shit. Did I did I f something up?

What? What, yeah. Then I start to look at them and it’s I have OCD two, here’s how I manage it. It’s different for me since the pandemic. Wow. I have bipolar disorder. I have, and it was like, I was like, oh my God. This is, yeah. Not what I expected. And so it was probably like next day you gave permission.

Exactly. You were vulnerable. Exactly. You gave permission. You were v I was vulnerable and expressive. I expressed what I was going through, and it allowed people to do the same. And you don’t, that’s why I say vulnerability is scary, but it’s also powerful and it the thing that really hit [00:16:00] me was the next morning.

I was doing a focus group with a group of London based employees, and we got on, and an employee that I knew just said, she goes, before you start, she goes, I just wanna say thank you and I can’t play poker. And I was like, probably thinking the look of my face is I don’t, I probably didn’t do anything to wanna thank you.

It was probably somebody in my team, so I wanna know who to thank. So what is it? And she’s you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, do you? This is zero zero, which is most of the time, yeah. And I, I said, no. And she’s You, your email. And I said, oh. I said, I have help with that.

It is good. She goes, no, like the part about you and what you’re going through. She’s it made us all realize you’re just like us, Uhhuh. And it was like, when she said that, I’m like, holy shit. Like

William Tincup: I’ve always

Paul Wolfe: been just like everybody else. Exactly. Like I put my pants on everybody else does.

Like I do everything just like you’re billionaires. No, I’m Sam. Yep. And it was, but it was just I don’t know. It was like, holy crap. Like I had no, that there was, that was not my intent. But I’m glad it turned out that way because then it was like, I had [00:17:00] people for weeks and months coming up to, pinging me and hey, I’ve got this going on.

Do you mind if we chat? Cuz I said to people, I’m happy to chat. I may not be able help you. And I think a lot of times people just want someone to listen to them. They want to be heard. They want to be seen. And I think that is just one way and that’s a very extreme example. I don’t think every leader is gonna email 12,000 people telling ’em about their mental health challenge.

But it is just one simple example in the book that really helps to me. It shows just how leaders can be human and can be expressive and express what they’re going on outside of being a leader. Because the leader title is second to the fact that we’re a human.

William Tincup: It’s really interesting as you’re talking about it it’s un unlearning or rewiring.

The things that you learn to ge it is,

Paul Wolfe: It’s, you’ve gotta, you gotta be deprogrammed and you’ve gotta reprogram yourself to be this way and you gotta

William Tincup: want that. As a leader, if you’ve come up through a command to control type of environment, which a lot of us have, yes, you’ve gotta [00:18:00] want to change a then you’ve gotta put yourself through this whole process of accepting a new you that doesn’t have all the answers that can be vulnerable.


Paul Wolfe: this is when you. You also have to be in environment that you’re comfortable doing that. Yeah. So psychological safety plays into this. And somebody asked me that. I did a book launch event here in New York about a month or so ago, and somebody asked me that question and I said, you know what?

I really didn’t think about psychological safety in that moment. I also was in a very different position. I was the head of HR for Right. A technology company. And so and I had a really good relationship with Chris, so I didn’t really think anything of it. And I respect other people have to like, Think through that.

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. But you’ve gotta, but the more leaders that lean in this way, they’re gonna create that safety for their employees to mirror these behaviors.

William Tincup: If and if they don’t, someone else will. Exactly mean This is also becomes a retention issue, not just an attraction issue. But if you don’t, as a leader, if you don’t do this, the Gen Z has proven to all of us that they’re just not willing [00:19:00] to work in an environment that’s not going to receive them in the way that they wanna be received.

So yeah, absolutely. Brother, I’m so ha A, I’m happy to just talk to you, but b I love what you’ve written and I know it comes from the heart. Thank you for being a guest, but also more importantly, thank you for being just

Paul Wolfe: wonderful. Oh, thank you so much, William. I appreciate you. I’m glad to catch up with you.

I’d love to catch up with you in person sometime in the near future. It’s always good to chat with you and I enjoy it a

William Tincup: hundred percent. And everyone, thanks for listening to the podcast. Until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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