page title icon 001: Lesley Lykins: Don’t tell the commanding officer

Lesley Lykins Show Notes

What did Lesley do when she was steering a massive battleship in Iraq and headed for a big oil tanker; at the age of 23? Join me as Lesley Lykins shares her story as a young naval officer trying to get her crew to get on board.

Learn how that moment shaped her career and life and how you can take the insights she shares to move onward and upward faster.

Lesley Lykins was raised on a farm in Minerva, Ohio. She followed her father’s lead by serving in the United States Navy and was commissioned as an officer in 2001 through the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) at Boston University where she graduated from the School of Management with a degree in General Management.

She started her naval career in San Diego, California and after three years she transferred to the Navy’s Public Affairs Community and worked on several projects including overseeing media relations for Explosive Ordnance Disposal units.

She left active duty following her assignment at the Pentagon where she helped establish the Navy’s social media efforts.

She is currently employed as the Director of Member Engagement for the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) where she brings the leads of both big and small brands together to collaborate and share best practices around customer experience, employee engagement and customer culture.

She spends time fundraising for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, participating as a leader in her church and is a wife and mother.

Tweetable Quotes and Mentions

Check out @lyfsgr8 on the @FastLeaderShow Click to Tweet

“In the end, after everything else is done you still have your family.” -Lesley Lykins Click to Tweet

“Never put off for tomorrow, what you can do today.” -Lesley Lykins Click to Tweet

“Give people something compelling & engaging that they want to own.” -Lesley Lykins Click to Tweet

“Implement from their perspective to motivate them to get on board.” -Lesley Lykins Click to Tweet or Get Video

“It took a lot…to learn how to engage & interact with somebody so opposite.” -Lesley Lykins Click to Tweet

“Is it easier to steer a warship or a naval executive?” -Jim Rembach Click to Tweet

“There is an incredible amount of leadership I have been able to witness.” -Lesley Lykins Click to Tweet

“Social media was not evil.” -Lesley Lykins Click to Tweet

“Best job in the world. I work with 3500 people that love people.” -Lesley Lykins Click to Tweet

“Keep your emotions in check.” -Lesley Lykins Click to Tweet

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Hump to Get Over

Lesley was commanding a group of sailors getting ready to go on shore leave in India. Lesley had a great idea for a community service project to help out a local orphanage. But her eighteen and nineteen year-old subordinates had other ideas.

Lesley was in charge. Or was she? Thing did not go as she planned. Listen to her story and see what she did and learned and how it made her a better leader.

Her story may just help you from repeating the same mistakes so you can move onward and upward faster.

Leadership Epiphany

While it took a few lessons for it to come. I have better success when I control my emotions and focus on learning what inspires them.

Best Resource

I really enjoy reading articles and books.

Recommended Reading

Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization

Frequently Purchased with Tribal Leadership

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

More Resources

54 Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Competencies List: A lot of what Lesley discussed is about improving your Emotional Intelligence skills. Emotional Intelligence is proven to be the right kind of intelligence to have if you want to move onward and upward faster. Get your free list today.

Show Transcript

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Intro:   Welcome to the Fast Leader Podcast, where we explore convenient yet effective shortcuts that will help you get ahead and move forward faster by becoming a better leader. And now here’s your host, customer and employee engagement expert and certified emotional intelligent practitioner, Jim Rembach.

Jim Rembach:  Thanks Kimberly. Alright Fast Leader legion, you’re going to get the opportunity to meet with somebody today that I think everyone of us can emulate in so many different ways.

She is a high energy person. She is a mother. She is a coordinator, an innovator, somebody who always looks at the bright side. For me, she’s just one of those people that I am so excited to be able to interview today. And her name is Lesley Lykins.

She was actually raised on a farm in Minerva, Ohio. Where she actually got the opportunity to milk some goats, I don’t think we’re going to be talking about that a whole lot today, but I’m sure there was some life lessons that were in there that we can all learn from and I hope she’ll share those.

She is actually a former US Navy officer. She started a career driving warships based in San Diego, California. After three years she transferred to the Navy’s Public Affair Community and served overseeing media relations for Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit. Just imagine the kind of stories she can actually share with us in regards to that.

She actually left the active duty following an assignment at the Pentagon, where she established the Navy’s social media efforts. She’s currently employed as the Director of Member Engagement for the Customer Experience Professionals Association where I have personally had the opportunity to interact with her on several different projects in several different ways, and that’s why I wanted her on our show. I think she’s phenomenal.

She actually spends time fundraising as well for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and participates as a leader in her church. And is a wife and mother of three young children and a fourth that’s can be coming at any time.

So, Lesley, I am so excited to have you today. Are you ready to help us get over the hump?

Lesley Lykins: Yes, absolutely.

Jim Rembach: Thank you. So, I’ve given our listeners a brief introduction. But, could you tell us a little bit about what your current passion is so that we can get to know you better?

Lesley Lykins: Sure. I absolutely enjoy what I do for a living. But I would say that my biggest passion in life is by far my family. All of the decisions that I’ve made up to this point have been around my family and how to best support them. I feel like in the end, after everything else is done, you’ve still got your family. So I put a lot of passion and energy right now into raising our three children—supportive wife to my husband and really making decisions around those goals.

Jim Rembach: And also, one of the things I didn’t share with you is that Lesley also has a special needs child.  So amongst all of her accomplishments, all of the things that she does—and she still moves forward and keeps that positive outlook and really has an awesome guiding light that we can all learn from. Lesley, I know that you probably had many different leadership quotes with in your life with your father being in the service as well as yourself, but is there one that kind of stands out for you as something that you always use as a grounding point or a gut check, would you please share that with us?

Lesley Lykins:   My daddy used to wake us up every morning yelling, “Reveille! Reveille! All hands heave out, which is not the leadership quote that I would share with anyone [Laugh] so terrible way to wake up but it got us started every morning. I think the thing that he instilled in us the most that I carry with me to this day is the quote that ‘You should never put off tomorrow what you can do today’. So, I’m a big believer of not procrastinating. And over the past I’d say maybe five to seven years I think what I’ve really learned about leadership and just over all working with other people, is the idea that you really need to strive to give people something that’s really compelling and engaging that they want to own in their lives. Early on I have a lot of passion, I’ve a lot of energy and passion that’s my thing, but I feel like you need to be able to translate that to others. So I’ve really in the past, I don’t know maybe decade really focused in on that.

Jim Rembach: That’s good, sage advice in a lot of ways. The kind of peace that I was talking about the other day when somebody is—you know, the concept of perfectionism. But being a perfectionist it’s really no good if you’re also procrastinator along with it. You’ve got to get things done, you’ve got to move them forward. And I see that you do a great job in both of those things. Yes, you do pay attention to details but ultimately you need to move forward, thank you for sharing that with us.

Oftentimes too we have situations where we have to get over a hump and they become defining moments for who we are as a person and also shape us going forward. And those stories can be so valuable not to just us but then also to all of our listeners. The reality is we all are leaders and it doesn’t matter what your job is, it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about leading self, whether you’re an entrepreneur, whether you’re leading a business, whether you’re part of a team, we all have to lead. And we can learn so much by those stories because I don’t have a lifetime trying to figure all that staff out. I look towards people like Lesley and many of the people who are on our show to help me get over the hump.

So Lesley, is there a moment, a time, a story that you can share with us where it kind of defined you and shaped you, could you take us back to that time?

Lesley Lykins:   Sure. That might be two times because it took me a lesson before I figured it out how to do it the right way the next time.

In the military our service members are given a lot of responsibility very early in their lives, it’s kind of incredible now that I look at it from a civilian point of view. I had a group of around 20 sailors that I was in charge of at the age of 21, and that’s an incredible thing to think about. [Laugh]Where we’re you when at 21 years old, and really what was your personality like and your leadership style and you’re still trying to develop all of that.

I mentioned, I’m a really passionate person, so early on as I’m 21 years old I remember—probably the thing that I look back as my leadership failure at that time was we pulled in to port in India. I was in charge of public relations again, just a sort of my thing, and we set up a community relations project in India where we’re going to go in an orphanage and we’re going to spend the day at this orphanage painting and taking care of different repairs that needed to be done. I remember wanting my sailors, my 20 sailors to come with me to this orphanage and help for the day—and these are also 18 to 20 years old who really had better ideas for India [Laugh] and didn’t necessarily want to go unpaid at an orphanage. And I remember sitting there and watch with the bunch of these sailors trying to convince them that they really should do this community relations project, and it was… Oh, I got so emotional, oh, I got so, so emotional. I learned really early that was not the way to lead people. They did not come with me, we had a number of sailors that did, but I couldn’t convince them. I was so frustrated and so upset that I wasn’t able to inspire these group, the sailors in my division, to come with me to do this community relations project. So I took that lesson with me moving forward and it really started to shape my mind frame of how do I look at something from another person’s perspective and then implement it from their perspective to motivate them to get onboard. That lesson helped me tremendously as I move forward in my career and how to deal with other leaders, in fact.

Not too many years on the road from that experience, I was on a very large war ship and we had…we does exercises where we’d capture, we didn’t end up capturing pirates. And the commanding officer of the ship was very anti-media, he didn’t trust public affairs officers—which I was at that time—and so I’m trying to explain to him how this is very valuable story, it tell to the American public and he just didn’t want to have anything to do with it. So, I took the lesson I’ve learned in my career and I did a really good job of highlighting the sailors on the other two ships that have participated in this. And just completely left his ship quiet we didn’t do any interviews with him, I just really focus on the other ships.

Sure enough, 24 hours later, as all of the views medias covering this big story, he comes up to me and he says, ”Lt. Lykins why isn’t our ship being covered at the media?” I had to explain to him, “Well, sir if you’d like to do some interviews, we could go ahead and get that set up.” But it really did helped me, that early experience, about looking at it from somebody else’s perspective and not getting so emotional. I feel like as an early leader, as a young kid out of college I was so emotional about things. And so I had to really take that out of my leadership style.

Jim Rembach:   Now, those are two awesome stories. I can imagine like many of us—you said something about early in your career, I know that all of us deal with those emotional issues even later in our career I would dare to say that it actually get worse as you age because you become a little bit more what they refer to as non-elastic in your ability to flex in your thinking and all of that. So, that’s still a sage advice, many good things that we can learn from that story, both of them. Also too when you start talking about that point at which you said, “Oh! And you reflected, you had that aha, that epiphany, can you take us back to specifically when that occurred? We would love to hear that.

Lesley Lykins: I wish it was a point in time [Laugh] maybe I could have gotten more success then, right at that point in time. But it really take to kind of involved in as I went and just learning hard lessons as you go. I don’t think that there was one point in my career where it was like, “Oh! Wow, so that’s how you’d be a great leader.” [Laugh] I wish that it was because probably it would have saved the odds about the lessons. Now, it’s been this kind of overarching in thing about how do you interact with people, I think that’s a big piece of this. You just have to keep learning about what inspires people, what will impact their frame of mind. I’ve worked with a lot of people, a lot of senior military leaders getting to a mind frame. My personality is not a typical military personality either, so it took a lot of my part to learn how to engage and interact with somebody who is so opposite in their thinking from my thinking. And so it’s taken a lot of intuitive observation around people and what they’re thinking, what their emotions are like, what they appreciate and value, and then how can I come from that approach.

Jim Rembach: Got it. So let me ask, is it easier to stir a bigger warship or a naval executive? [Laugh]

Lesley Lykins: [Laugh.] There was a close calls steering that warship around the oil platform [Laugh] so I don’t want to say it’s easy, I do miss it though tremendously. It’s funny, I think of that as such a funny question to me because I think, I’d been 23 years old and we were driving circles around an oil platform off the coast Iraq and I had watched, I was observatory deck and in charge of the ship is Capt. [inaudible 11:59] and it’s the middle of the night and this big tankers is coming off of the platform and we we’re not in a good position. And I remember thinking, “Oh! My goodness this is crazy but…nothing happened we we’re all good and don’t tell the commanding officer. Now it was fine but there were definitely times where I think back now and I think—first of all to be the commanding officer of a ship like that and to have a 22 year old or 21 year old driving your ship for you in the middle of the night, think of the amount of just pure nerves and guts to allow that to happen and be able to through that – we’re exhausted too. There are some tremendous amount of leadership that you see that I’ve been able to witness and as I look back at the responsibility and the accountabilities of these people that I’ve worked with, that’s an incredible lessons, incredible examples that I’ve seen.

My very last tutorial with the Pentagon was probably one of the most interesting when you ask about steering executive leaders in the navy. We had to “sell” social media to the vice chief of Naval operations who is now the CNO, Admiral Greenert. I remember seating in a room trying to convince him that social media was not evil, that was a good thing. And it took a lot of explanations and coming out of it from a different angle. I was very emotionally and [inaudible 13:30]  this, so you have to again take the emotions out and look at it from somebody’s point of view, where’s the value and how can I demonstrate that to them. It took the earthquake in Haiti for us to lodge social media for the Navy but it did work very well and to date the Navy has a phenomenal program, so it’s something to be really proud of it, I think.

Jim Rembach: Lesley, awesome stories. Gosh, I know we can probably go on and on, but we have a show to continue on. Maybe we can have you back again in the future to share some of these stories, because they’re just so great. I want to actually talk about what you’re currently doing today. Could you tell us a little bit about what it is that your day to day career entails?

Lesley Lykins: Sure absolutely. Right now I’m working for an association that’s just over three years old, Customers Experience Professionals Association, which Jim I know you’re very familiar with, and it has been such a rewarding opportunity in my life. I came from the military, from bureaucracy, left the Pentagon and I see a group of people who are so inspired to reach out to employees, to reach out to customers and to create a culture and business that is around humanity and around people. And I got to tell you it is the best job in the world. I tell people this is the best job of the world because I’m working with a group of 3,500 people who love people. And they’re just great and they’re willing to share and to talk to each other about the practices that they’re implementing. So, my job is really pretty simple, but don’t tell anyone. [Laugh] It’s just to help this people who are dedicated to advancing this cause, communicate and learn from one another. And so I do everything I can right now to help that sharing and to help that engagement.

Jim Rembach: Well, we wish you the very best within that role. But now we actually are going to move on the fast and furious part of our show and that is the “Hump Day Hoedown”. Okay, Lesley the Hump Day Hoedown is the part of the show where we give you questions and you give us good insights fast. Alright so I’m going to ask you several questions and your job is to give us a robust yet rapid responses that are going to help us move onward and upward faster. Lesley are you ready to hoedown?

Lesley Lykins:   I’m ready.

Jim Rembach: Alright. What do you think is holding you back from being an even better leader today?

Lesley Lykins:   I’d say I still think I have room to grow when it comes to determining the passions of others and coming out it from that approach. I think I can constantly learn that.

Jim Rembach:  That’s a good point, I have to do the same. What’s the best leadership advice you have ever received?

Lesley Lykins: Watch my emotions. Keep my emotions in check.

Jim Rembach: Yes. I have to do the same cause we usually have high energy here on the Fast Leader Show. What is one of your secret that you believe contributes to your success?

Lesley Lykins:  Transparency and communication. Firm believe in that.

Jim Rembach:  What do you feel is one of your best resources that helps you lead in business or in life?

Lesley Lykins: I would say I really enjoy reading articles. I’m reading books and I learn a lot from tribal leadership, but definitely reading as a resource.

Jim Rembach:   What would be one of your favorite books that you could actually recommend for our listeners?

Lesley Lykins: Tribal Leadership, phenomenal book.

Jim Rembach: Thank you very much. So, we are going to provide a link to that and many other things on the show notes page by going to, you’ll be able to get access to those.

Okay Lesley, now our last question on the Hump Day Hoedown, imagine you woke up tomorrow morning and you were 25 years old again and you were supposed to begin a new job as a manager of a team that is underperforming and disengaged and you have to turn them around but you have all the wisdom and skill that you currently have, you get up, you get ready, you head up to work, what do you do now?

Lesley Lykins: I think the first thing I would do is observe the people and really talk to them. I want to know who they are, who are the people that I’m leading now, what’s important in their life and how can I inspire them with those things that are so important to them and the passions that they have to come to a common goal.

Jim Rembach:  Perfect. Lesley it was an honor to spend time to with you today. Can you please share with the Fast Leader listeners how they can connect with you?

Lesley Lykins: Sure. I am available on Twitter@lyfsgr8 or I’m always available by email and you can find me on the page or also on LinkedIn. I look forward to connecting.

Jim Rembach:  Lesley, thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom. The Fast Leader legion honors you and thanks you for helping us get over the hump. Woot Woot!

Thank you for joining me on the Fast leader Show today. For recaps, links from every show, special offers and access to download and subscribe—if you haven’t already, head on over to, so we can help you move onward and upward faster. [/expand]