page title icon 044: Sarah Simon: The blood drained out of my face

Sarah Simon Show Notes

Sarah Simon was in a new role and had little experience when her boss came down with a terrible migraine headache. She told Sarah to take over as the facilitator for a very important client meeting. Sarah had to make the choice of embracing her fear or running away from it. Listen to Sarah tell her story and how she was able to get over the hump.

Sarah Simon was born on the west side of Cincinnati, Ohio, where she was an outspoken, mischievous and athletic youngest child. Sports were central to life her childhood home, and she gravitated especially to soccer and competitive swimming.  She was fortunate to come of age at a time when kids were free to wonder all day in the woods without a map or bicycle long distances without a helmet. Her dad was a career academic, but the lure of her mother’s clicking heels and power suits was irresistible and Sarah followed her mother’s path as a businesswoman.

Sarah started her career as a number-crunching data analyst for a boutique market research, headed by a husband-and-wife team of Burke alumns, where she quickly realized she found a home in business intelligence.  She worked her way into program management with web survey pioneer Intelliquest in Austin, Texas.  Three months of triple-digit Texas heat became too much to bear and the high technology market itself was on fire, so she ran to the Rocky Mountains to work for Heat Software as their in-house analyst. In 2003, despite dire warnings that she was senselessly “pigeon-holing herself” into the dead-end world of customer engagement, Sarah leapt happily into the world of Voice of Customer research.

Currently, she serves as VoC Consulting Director at Confirmit, where she uses in-depth needs analysis to architect new feedback initiatives from scratch, and runs diagnostics on existing programs to optimize structure and function to yield business insight. She is a 2015 CXPA CX Expert, CX industry blogger and occasional speaker.

Sarah takes her free time seriously, and can be found climbing the high peaks of Colorado (and the word!), riding her Harley Davidson or off-roading in her Rubicon, caring for her large second-hand mutts and working on her small acreage.  Sarah loves cooking and travel and hikes a section of the Appalachian Trail northbound every year.  She has a weakness for wine, music and muscle cars.

Tweetable Quotes and Mentions

Listen to Sarah Simon and get over the hump on the @FastLeaderShow Click to Tweet

“A lot of times my best work…is when I say don’t hesitate, just go.” Click to Tweet

“Innovation requires risk, success requires risk.” Click to Tweet 

“We get so afraid of making a mistake that we check for threats that aren’t there.” Click to Tweet 

“Stop over focusing on analyzing things to death.” Click to Tweet 

“Being courageous isn’t about not having fear, it’s about facing fear.” Click to Tweet 

“The longer I hesitate, the longer I wait, the more fear manifests itself.” Click to Tweet 

“I need to take fear and turn it into excitement and positive energy.” Click to Tweet 

“If you’re a little bit nervous with something just jump out and do it.” Click to Tweet 

“You’re not going to innovate…if you’re constantly fearful of failure.” Click to Tweet 

“Do not hesitate, go.” Click to Tweet 

“It’s okay to go by the seat of your pants when you’re smart.” Click to Tweet 

“Sometimes you just need to trust your gut and make things happen.” Click to Tweet 

“When I’m where the buck stops, backing down is not an option.” Click to Tweet 

“You’ve got to save your social and business capital for the fights that matter.” Click to Tweet 

“Happiness is a choice.” Click to Tweet 

“It’s up to me to play the cards I have been dealt.” Click to Tweet 

“Anger and sadness don’t hurt anybody but me.” Click to Tweet 

“The universe does not have an agenda against you.” Click to Tweet 

Hump to Get Over

Sarah Simon was in a new role and had little experience when her boss came down with a terrible migraine headache. She told Sarah to take over as the facilitator for a very important client meeting. Sarah had to make the choice of embracing her fear or running away from it. Listen to Sarah tell her story and how she was able to get over the hump.

Advice for others

Do not hesitate, go.

Holding her back from being an even better leader

I’m actively trying to understand my growth limitation and when I identify it, I am going to kill it.

Best Leadership Advice Received

You need to pick your battles.

Secret to Success

I love to build things from scratch. When I do, I am a woman on fire.

Best tools that helps in business or Life

Confidence in new situations.

Recommended Reading

The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation

Contacting Sarah




54 Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Competencies List: Emotional Intelligence has 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: 

[expand title=”Click to access edited transcript”]

044: Sarah Simon: The blood drained out of my face


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 intelligence practitioner, Jim Rembach.


“Whether in the office or on the road, work with your community or coach to practice great behavior and produce great organizational results. Capture real time behavior practice from competency base development plans and invite feedback in an elegant and simple application. Take top performance mobile by going to and getting a $750 performance package for free.” 


Jim Rembach:   Okay Fast Leader Legion, thanks for joining us today I have the excitement of being able to have a good time with the guest that we have today. Sarah Simon, was born on the west side of Cincinnati, Ohio where she was an outspoken mischievous and athletic youngest child that loves soccer and competitive swimming. Sarah feels she was fortunate to come of age at a time when kids where free to wander all day in the woods without a map or bicycle without a helmet. Her dad was a career academic but the lure of her mother’s clicking heels and power suits was irresistible, and Sarah followed her mother’s path as a businesswoman. 


Sarah currently serves as the VoC Consulting Director at Confirmit, where she uses in-depth needs analysis to architect new feedback initiatives from scratch and run diagnostics on existing programs to optimize structure and function to yield business insight. She’s on the CXPA expert panel along with me and is an Industry blogger and occasional speaker. Sarah takes her free time seriously and can be found climbing the high peaks in Colorado and the world riding her Harley-Davidson or off-roading in a Rubicon. She loves cooking and traveling and hikes a section of the Appalachian Trail north bound every year and when not doing these things she easily succumbs to her weakness for wine, music, and muscle cars. Sarah Simon are you ready to help us get over the hump?


Sarah Simon:    You bet I am Jim. Thanks for having me.


Jim Rembach:    Okay Sarah, I’ve given our listeners a brief introduction but can you tell us what her current passion is so that we get to know you better?


Sarah Simon:    Absolutely, Jim. I have a lot of ways that I love to focus my energies in my free time but I am spending a lot of time and energy right now on home renovation and also doing some work in maintenance around my small acreage.


Jim Rembach:    So when you start talking about home renovations, I mean, for me the planning process and going through that was just as important as doing the work. So when you start thinking about some of the things that you’re working on right now, how do you go about tackling, getting something done?


Sarah Simon:    Well Jim, first of all something will just kind of bite me as I need to take this project on. And just the other day I was looking at my cabinets and I thought, why is it they’re looking tired, I’m tired of the light colored maple, I’d want some deeper richer color, so you go out on Google and you Google cabinet refinishing at-home cabinet refinishing, you get some tips and tricks but at the end of the day what you need to do is just say “Here’s my color, I’m going to do this.” So, you follow some of the steps for prepping and cleaning the cabinets, the de-natured alcohol, the scrubbing, the light sanding and then you just take that leap of faith and apply that new gel finish and stand back and hope that you like what you see it. Fortunately I do.


Jim Rembach:    So for me I kind of, almost can get an insight into your head and looking at a particular process. The reason I asked you that question is because many of the guest that I have the opportunity to have on the show and for our listeners, we focus in on improving the employee experience and the customer experience and the strength of leadership that’s necessary, the depth of leadership, the skills associated with all that in order to be able to create more human-centric organizations, and one of the biggest and chief humps, I guess you’d say that a lot of people have to get over, is the difference between looking, measuring, and actually doing and impacting and having enough fact. One way or the other whether it “Hey, it didn’t come out right, I need to do it over again or hey that turned out pretty well but I actually did something”, so how do you get folks that are struggling with that hump of actually doing something to get over it? 


Sarah Simon:    Jim I find that a lot of times my best work that I produce is when I just say don’t hesitate just go. And innovation requires risk and success requires risk and one of the things I think in this voice of customer experience, employee engagement space, it is important to measure right, just like with a home improvement project you say measure twice cut once. But sometimes we get so afraid of making a mistake, so afraid of looking like a fool in front of our colleagues or doing something wrong that we get into the second guessing this over analyzing, we’re checking around every corner for threats but threats that aren’t really there what’s the worst thing that can happen if you jump up and try to make an improvement to the customer experience? We need to get a little more into some calculated risk taking and stop over focusing on analyzing things to death. Some of my favorite quotes or thoughts are around courage and a lot of people think when they see someone who’s brave, when they see someone who’s courageous, that that person doesn’t have fear and the opposite is true, being courageous isn’t about not having fear it’s about facing fear, acknowledging fear, and overcoming it.


Jim Rembach:    I think you bring up a really valid point. Even when you started talking about tackling and fear and going on the Appalachian Trail, hiking the Appalachian Trail, and the difference in the fear component, and how you actually approach it from a mind-set perspective, there’s a difference between seeing fear in front of you and putting the fear behind you. Often times when I think about folks that I’m having conversations with about their own voice of the customer data, their employee data that’s associated with engagement and those things is often times I’m talking to folks that their only fear is that I have to measure and get my measurements out. It isn’t the fear of, we have to make some changes and make some movements and I am fearful that it’s going to go bad, so it’s almost like they’re focusing in on the fear of their current responsibility that has been given to them. So when you talk about being able to have that person increase their ability to carry the data, the information, the insight forward to folks that have to make the decisions, how do you advise them?


Sarah Simon:    Wow, wow! Jim that’s a good one for me to ponder. I would say this, one of the things that I’ve noticed for myself whether it’s a business, climbing mountains, long distance back packing trips, riding motorcycles, when I find myself being fearful the longer I hesitate the longer I wait, the more that fear manifest itself, it grows from just being a fear in my mind to a physical reaction in my body. And I’ve learned overtime that when I feel that fear coming on I need to just channel it and I need to move. I need to take that fear turn it into excitement, turn it into positive energy and do whatever it is I’m doing whether it’s riding my motor cycle on a wet road or downhill skiing on a slope that I look at “Ooh maybe that’s a little too steep for me”, I just need to do it. And I would encourage customers experience professionals, if you’re a little bit nervous with something just jump out and do it, I’m not talking about being rash or being careless but I am saying maybe you need to be a little less cautious or a little less careful than your being because if you’re spending all of your time measuring customer feedback, measuring employee feedback you’re not going to have any time left to actually act on somebody’s gut instincts when you start seeing a trend emerging in the data and you think that’s exciting, that’s the kind of thing that we can a wrap a campaign around to get our colleagues excited about the customer and about a partnering with the customer to build this customer experience, jump out and do it, just go ahead and try, take some risks. 


I likened to, when I was a kid we had a big diving board at the swimming pool we would go to, and if a kid would get towards the end of the diving board and hesitate sometimes they crawl back down. And I’m like, “Get over it, just jump.” Sometimes you just need to get to the end of a diving board, jump off and make something happen that’s when the excitement and the innovation happens. You’re not going to innovate in your customer experience program if you’re constantly fearful of failure.  


Jim Rembach:    Listening to you say that, it actually reminded me of a story that my older brother Dan tells about a time when we had gone to a public swimming pool. At that time this is, I think it’s unique when you talk about it today, but they had like a 20 foot diving board it’s a big facility, and I was in front of Dan, Dan’s afraid of heights, I went to the edge of the diving board and for me, that water seem like it was close yet far away but I jumped anyways and went head first, and let me tell you, it was a good smack on the head but I got up and did it again. So, as you were talking about this whole fear thing and where you place it, and also one of the things that you said that kind of stood out to me is that, and I have to ask the question and this one has to be directed to myself as well is that, am I practicing fear or am I practicing boldness? Because it does come in one of those scenarios to where, you’re going to get what you practice and if I continue to practice fear, that fear is going to be the first thing I see and it’s going to stop me dead in my tracks. So thanks for sharing that.


Sarah Simon:    Absolutely!


Jim Rembach:    So quotes, you started mentioning quotes and you mentioned about quotes of courage and things like that and quotes are important to us in the show, is there one or two that kind of stands out to you and gives you that bump of courage?


Sarah Simon:    You know Jim really it’s just, “Do not hesitate, go!” For me that’s been the most important, there’s nothing eloquent about that quote, it’s direct into the point. I don’t want to steal from Nike and say “Just Do It” but sometimes we need to do that. And having kind of cut my teeth and come of age in the business intelligence world we can be a very, very cautious bunch. But as I started spending more time with sales, I’ll admit it first, when I first started working heavily with sales people they annoyed me because they made me nervous because they’re willing to go by the seed of their pants but then I watched them have huge success doing business by the seed of their pants without over planning, sometimes you just have to have the confidence to trust your gut and as I saw that happening in the sales world as I worked farther towards the tip of the sphere with the business development process I realized it’s okay to go by the seed of your pants when you’re smart. If you have good judgement, you don’t need to always plan things to death, you don’t need to analyze things to death, sometimes you need to just trust your gut and make things happen that’s where change happens, that’s where excitement happens, that’s where things get fun, that’s where innovation starts to emerge.


Jim Rembach:    You know, it reminds me also of a quote that was from a previous guest that had a similar type of message about, just get moving, he said: “Look, look folks we’re not killing babies here, no babies are going to die here.”


Sarah Simon:    [Laugh] I tell clients sometimes Jim, we’re improving the customer experience, we’re not curing cancer, so if we’re one neuron off in our estimates that’s okay.


Jim Rembach:    That’s a really good point. You have to put it in proper perspective and, but that goes back to what I was mentioning as far as sometime we feel that our job is at jeopardy and if I don’t do this that means I’m going to get that. And you could say that’s it’s a culture issue associated with that organization, however I think as a society we live with that fear. It’s just one of those that I think that we have like you say put behind us and have that fear be behind us and hopefully propel us to make that right decision and continue to move forward.


Sarah Simon:    Years and years and years ago, I’ve said, more of a junior associate, kid in my 20s, I was on site with my boss and the company owner for some focus groups for a major technology client and I was there running support for her, I was making sure the recordings were working, making sure that any late arrivals were ushered in and was also there to learn and help to manage and socialize with the clients while she ran the focus groups, I had never in my life ran a focus group, maybe some round tables but this was a learning opportunity for me. Right after the first focus group of two that night, my boss pulls me aside she says, “I am terribly sick, I have a roaring migraine, I cannot do the next focus group, I need you to do this for me.” The blood drained out of my face, and I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m 20 something kid, I have no training in this.” And she said, “You don’t understand I’m sick enough that I think I would go to the hospital with this migraine, I need you to run these focus groups.” She handed me the discussion guide and in I go, this 20 something kid, I’ve never done a focus group in my life and I sit down with that discussion guide and I just had to sit myself up in that chair, summon my confidence and be the expert and I did it, I got through it, I lead my first focus group. I had no preparation I just went through the discussion guide and frankly the client seemed quite happy with what I did and that’s an example. I could’ve ran from that, I could’ve ran out of that room and said, “I refuse I can’t do this, I’m going to mess this up, I’m going to upset the client, this is going to be a disaster” but that wasn’t a choice.


Jim Rembach:   Listening to you tell that story it makes me reflect upon my own kids and looking at the different personalities that they have, and birth order, and things along those lines and even listening to your bio and where you grew up and being that mischievous child and the one that would hang out and get lost in the woods and go crazy on her bike and do all the competitive stuff, I’m not surprised that you were successful with that, I really not. However when you start thinking about that, going through that, addressing that fear moving past it, what do you think it permitted you to do after that, that you would’ve never expected?


Sarah Simon:    I think it taught me to trust my expertise and know that when I’m where the bucks stops backing down isn’t an option,  I’ve just got to get it done. I might be scared but I’ve just got to hide that fear from the people who need to have confidence in me at that time and push forward and just do what has to be done to get the job done.


Jim Rembach:    That’s one of the reasons also I wanted you on the show, you seem like a woman who has a set of confidence that comes from a place that is not really fear motivated. I mean, when you start thinking of confidence and people having that type of persona and projecting that type of persona a lot of times it comes from a place of total fear, “Hey I don’t want to mess up, I need to have this certain Image” and unfortunately, when you have that as your primary driver as your basis when it cracks it shatters but I don’t see that in you, so when you start looking at all of the things that you have done and that you’re yet to do, what are some of your goals?


Sarah Simon:    Wow! Well some of my goals, it’s sounds cliché, I want to travel the world. I want to see the entire world and I have an insatiable curiosity and an insatiable desire to just make that happen, even if it’s got to happen one step at a time, one country a year but that absolutely one of my goals.


Jim Rembach:    And the Fast Leader Legion wishes you the very best. Now before we move on, let’s get a quick word from our sponsor. 


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Alright, here we go Fast Leader Legion, it’s time for the—Hump Day Hoedown. Okay, Sarah, the Hump Day Hoedown is the part of our show where you give us good insights fast. So, I’m going to ask you several questions and your job is to give us robust yet rapid responses that are going to help us move onward and upward faster. Sarah Simon, are you ready to hoedown?


Sarah Simon:     I am ready to Hoedown Jim. Let’s do it.


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


Sarah Simon:   You know what Jim, if I knew the answer to this I’d be a better leader already. I’m going to be real honest with you, I’m actively trying to understand my growth limitation and when I identify it you better believe I’m going to kill it but I haven’t found it yet.


Jim Rembach:    What is the best leadership advice you have received?


Sarah Simon:    Absolutely hands down. Dad would tell me when I was a kid you need to pick your battles, you can’t fight every fight, you need to know which battles are going to make the most sense to engage in, do a cost benefit analysis, there are downsides to each and every engagement each and every battle, you might break or damage relationships, you might lose credibility, but dad taught me you’ve got to save your energy, you’ve got to save your social and your business capital for the fights that matter and just let the lower guy you battles pass.


Jim Rembach:    What is one of your secrets that you believe contributes to your success?


Sarah Simon:    I love to build things. Jim, as a kid I loved building little cities out of whatever I could find. Sand, old bricks, tissue boxes, discarded woods, I would pirate things from my big brother’s train set and build them into my own little cities and I assumed everyone was like this but I found over time that not everyone likes to build things from scratch. For some people building something from scratch is overwhelming and it’s no fun but for me building something from scratch it summons this creative energy that can overwhelm almost any lock in my pathway, it can overwhelm fatigue, frustration or a bad mood, there are few things that I love more than building something from nothing, when I get to build something from scratch I am a woman on fire.


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


Sarah Simon:    We touched on this just a little bit earlier in the conversation Jim. It’s confidence in new situation. Let me tell you when I was a baby my parents taught me how to swim as an infant and the amazing thing about a baby is if you throw her in the water she just swims it’s instinct, she doesn’t have time to be afraid, she doesn’t have time to second guess, she doesn’t have time to come up with a plan, the arms and the legs start kicking, the little nose and mouth pops up periodically for air and the kid swims and I’ve taken that same confidence in new situations into my work world.


Jim Rembach:     What would be one book from any genre that you would recommend to our listeners?


Sarah Simon:    The Challenger Sale


Jim Rembach:    Okay, Fast Leader listeners you can find links and other bonus information from today by going to Simon. 


Okay Sarah, this is my last Hump Day Hoedown question: Imagine you were given the opportunity to go back to the age 25 and you’ve been given the opportunity to take the knowledge and skills that you have now back with you, but you can’t take everything you can only choose one, so what skill or piece of knowledge would you take back with you and why?


Sarah Simon:    So Jim I would sit down and tell that 25 year old Sarah “Happiness is a choice” I didn’t know this when I was 25 but I know it now. I had to come to the realization that I cannot control other people, I cannot control other people’s actions but I can control my reactions to circumstances and my reaction to the behaviors of others. So I decided it’s up to me to play the hand of cards I’ve been dealt, I can’t choose that hand of cards but I can choose how I’m going to play them. So I choose to smile and be happy, I’ve realized that anger and sadness these things, they don’t hurt anybody but me, if I want to carry them around with me and burden myself with them that’s my problem. So, no crying over spilt milk, that the universe does not have an agenda against you, just let go of negativity, there are rude people, there are mean people, there are negative people, I will not give them power over me to tell me how I’m going to lead my today and my tomorrow.


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


Sarah Simon:    I absolutely Jim! Easy place to find me is out on Linkedin. You can also find me on Twitter I am @vocmountaineer.


Jim Rembach:    Sarah Simon, 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 the so we can help you move onward and upward faster.