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You Can’t Lead From Behind a Desk

Summary Keywords

conversation, driving, feel, kline, knowing, leader, leadership, learning, leaving, love, managing, meeting, melissa, michelle, organization, people, role, situation, team, team member


Narrator, Melissa Aarskaug, Michele Kline

Show Notes

Welcome to the first episode of the Executive Connect Podcast – a show for the next generation of business leaders. I’m Melissa Aarskaug, and in each episode I’ll be speaking to experts and thought leaders who will share their unconventional leadership strategies that brought them success.

In this episode, I spoke with Michèle Kline, bestselling author and founder of Kline Hospitality.  Michèle shared her story of how she got where she is and how she helps other leaders reach their potential.

Topics included:

  • When to step away from a toxic workplace and start your own leadership journey.
  • The importance of emotional intelligence and how it can be learned.
  • How to bridge gaps in your team by asking the right questions.
  • How to build positive change in your organization from the top down.
  • And so much more…

If you have any questions about today’s show or have a topic you’d like us to cover, reach out to me at executiveconnectpodcast@gmail.com.

Please subscribe so you can catch all our future episodes.

About today’s guest:

In 2010, Michèle Kline founded Kline Hospitality out of an unparalleled passion to enhance the quality of services, increase performance and improve leadership across the industry. Co-creator of WTF! Walk The Floors, All Things Hospitality Training, a podcast and training program specifically curated for industry professionals, she sheds light on the areas of opportunity leaders miss when managing from

behind their desks. As a Certified Coach, she works with individuals 1:1 and in group settings, facilitating meaningful conversations and reaching breakthrough performance and growth, across all industries.


About me:

I’m an energetic executive with 15+ years of experience steering companies to new heights of growth and scale. An engineer at heart (I started my career as an engineering manager on one of the world’s largest concrete bridges), I’ve become a trusted leader and business builder in the technology and cybersecurity space.



Narrator 00:08
Welcome to the Executive Connect Podcast, a show for the new generation of leaders. Join Melissa Aarskaug as she speaks to a wide variety of guests that bring new insights into leadership, prosperity, and personal growth. While no one has all the answers, by building a community of open minded and engaged leaders, we hope to give you the tools you need to help you find your own path to success.

Melissa Aarskaug 00:38
I am over the moon today to have one of my dear friends, Michele Kline, join me on this podcast. When I first decided to do my own very own podcast, the first person that came to mind was Michele Kline. And I knew I was going to wait until she was ready to do my first podcast. So I’m thrilled she’s here today to speak with you. Michele, do you mind telling our listeners a little bit about you and your background?

Michele Kline 01:05
Well, first of all, thank you, Melissa, for having me, and congratulations. Starting a podcast is a big endeavor and and it’s exciting, and I’m so happy for you. So my name is Michele Kline. I am President and operator of Kline Hospitality Company where we help people grow. We work on leadership and performance coaching both on an individual setting and a group setting. So basically what we do, is we create difficult conversations that produce growth and transformation in individual contributors and in teams as well.

Melissa Aarskaug 01:44
I love it. And when I think of leaders, Michele, I think of you. So we could talk for hours about leadership, but generally speaking, what does leadership mean to you?

Michele Kline 01:56
That’s a very loaded question. And I know you sent a few, a few options of questions there. And I was thinking through these last night, and it’s really a really loaded question. Why because leadership is a lot of things right? Leadership is, is teaching leadership is helping others grow leadership is knowing how to guide people in times of crisis, and how do you go through crisis, as opposed to avoiding it? There is no way to avoid that. It’s it’s inspiring. It’s it’s coaching. It’s having those difficult conversations with, with specific examples of how the other person can do things a little better, how can they progress, right, it’s communicating efficiently is finding common ground and looking for win win situations leadership is, is the opposite of being selfish. Right? And I think that above all, this is something that I talk about a lot is a lot, is leadership is connecting with people at their highest level. Right? So knowing that you can elevate each other through conversation, and creating that connection that will put the conversation and put the relationship on a very different level. I think that one of the best skills that a leader can have is to be able not only to communicate efficiently and effectively, but also to be able to connect with people in a different way.

Melissa Aarskaug 03:29
Absolutely, I love that. I always say as a big time lover of the Wizard of Oz, I always tell my teams that I’ve led that, my job is to keep you guys on the yellow brick road and keep the yellow brick road clean and pave the way forward for you. And yeah, I love your comments on on leadership, because it is communication. And we all communicate differently. And we’re from different backgrounds and different cultures. And it means different things to different people. And I appreciate you sharing that. So from your perspective, can you share a defining moment in your leadership journey and what you learned from it?

Michele Kline 04:11
Yes. There are many defining moments in one’s careers, right. It’s leadership is really a journey. So it’s it’s hard to pinpoint one specific moment, but if I had to choose that, that one turning point where I was pushed to make a very difficult and scary decision, was a little bit of the background story, was I had a CEO who was, had a very different leadership style than mine. Let’s just say that. And I was in charge of a specific region and he decides to show up at my region without much notice. As of the region was rather large, and he demanded, he wanted every single person in our leadership team to be part of the specific meeting. So I scrambled to A. make sure that all my properties were covered, that all the operations were going to continue to run smoothly. This was, I was in charge of several departments in various hotels, and you can’t just take off, right, there has to be someone there who’s ready to make decisions, and well, I had to pull everyone out. So with every effort of getting the team out to this one particular location where this meeting was gonna happen, no agenda was really shared. So we didn’t really know what was expected from us, or what was to be expected from that meeting. So I gather all my resources, I put a plan together, get the team out there, and as we are sitting in the, in the meeting, I start picking up on this vibe, that is my, my CEO, just being upset at the team, being rude to the team, like very aggressive, very aggressive, and I talk, I share the story in one of the books that I collaborated in. And you know, there’s the details there. I don’t want to bore everyone on the other side, but here’s the thing, it was something that I did not want to be associated with. At the end of the day, that team was my responsibility, and putting them, I felt like I was putting them through this, this nonsense, completely unnecessary type of situation, right? We were the highest revenue generating region in the country. We had incredible resort results. We had super high customer service scores. We had the lowest turnover rate in the country, so there were all these positive things. And in working with other of the regionals in the organization, I knew that my region was always being used as an example. So I was like, what is going on here? Like, where is all these meanness coming from? Right? And, and again, like, I, we’re all adults here, I don’t want to put my team through this, I don’t want to be associated to this, and it took a lot of courage to finish in that meeting with a positive mindset, and not simply say, let’s go walk away. And you can’t do that. I can’t drag people with me, but on the other hand, I could not accept my team having to go through that. And you know, I’ll give you a quick example. He was saying things like, you will never be good enough, you will never do this, you will never do that, you will never own this, your mother should be ashamed. Crazy talk. And this was true for every single leader in the room, he wasn’t just pointed at one person. No. So we leave the meeting, you could hear a pin drop, it was terrifying. We leave the meeting, and obviously we won’t go from the meeting space back to our office, the office was at the back of the house at the hotel. And this entire time, you have to crawl go across like two different towers, a specific gaming floor, then another gaming floor, and it’s like you can’t hide. Right. And I have all my leadership team gloomy walking through the floor, and I noticed that as they left that meeting room, they put on their happy face, because they knew that guest service was way more important than anything else that happened in that room. So by the time we get to the office, I was like scrambling in my head, what do I do to pull them out of this funk? This is terrible. They should have never been a part of this. So I decided to have them write down, take the time, write down how this meeting made you feel. Right. The behavior of this particular person focusing on the behavior not so much on the person, how did that make you feel? And they wrote it on a piece of paper and then we all stood around. We had a huge shredder, and I asked each one of them to read out loud what was on the paper, one by one and then just shred it. And that was leaving things in the past and knowing that we were there to operate in our highest performing way. We were there to be a team we were there to serve the guest, yada, yada, yada, all those beautiful things, but on my drive home, I started processing what I was feeling based on that particular situation that had happened. And I started thinking, I just, I can’t be associated with this, I cannot be the face of this, I cannot be responsible for this. and I’m not in control of how this person will feel. And the reality is that in any organization, the heads of the organization, are the people that are going to drive the culture, and when you’re in a toxic environment, what can you expect from that culture? What can you expect? The people below them will do? How are they going to react? How are they going to behave? So that was a pivotal moment for me when I thought, you know what, I can do this. I love my industry, I love my people, but I am going to start flying solo. I’m going to make my own rules. I’m not going to associate myself with this kind of behavior anymore. This is not leadership. This is just BS, for lack of better terms. So I think that that was a pivotal moment for me to say, I have the courage I can do this, and then from that day forward, is when I formed my my own company, and I decided to start touching operations in a very different way and being in control of, of not only the end result, but also, what is that journey gonna look like, I’m not going to beat you up for not making your numbers which at the end of the day, we were making the numbers, right, but the journey is as important as the outcome. So that that’s what that was it. That’s one of the stories,

Melissa Aarskaug 11:43
I love it, I love this shredding of the paper, that’s brilliant, because I know I’ve come across a similar situation like, I’m going to use that next time. So that’s a great, great idea. And I love your attitude with this, which being aware and mindful and having a high emotional intelligence and being, knowing your people and how to respond to them, because ultimately, like you said, we are responsible for the people and the culture that of our people is super important, because if they don’t like to come to work, and they’re scared about their boss, or the energy that he’s bringing, or they disagree, it’s only a matter of time before it breaks the team and or people quit and the morale goes down and the profitability goes down. So it’s amazing that you noticed that, which leads me to my next question. Ummm. Kind of similar where we were going, what role do you think emotional intelligence plays in the leadership approach?

Michele Kline 12:45
That’s a very good question. It’s, it’s a two way road. Right? It’s it’s critical that not only leaders have a high emotional intelligence level, which, by the way, something that you can learn. EQ is definitely something that you can develop. So anyone who that feels like they need a little push on that I highly recommend that you take a course take a class, hire a coach, do what you need to do, because it puts you on a different level, but also it’s on the other side, right? So EQ is all about mindset. It’s about understanding that I may not be in control of a specific situation. But I am most definitely in control of the way I feel, and the way I react against that situation. And then on the other hand, is putting yourself in the shoes of a person that is in front of you. If you’re about to have that difficult conversation. How can you craft, how can you prepare for that conversation, so that a you’re empathetic of what’s going on on the other side? You understand that person’s world? Sometimes, you know, leaders role jump into conclusions without really knowing what that person’s world looks like. And by world I mean, what are their resources? What are their challenges on a daily basis? What are those things that they’re lacking? Right? And, obviously, having social skills, being self motivated, being able to motivate others in difficult times, right? Keeping in mind the motivations of others to write how can I get to you, being empathetic, being self aware? What are the things that I am doing that are triggering things on the other person’s soul and that’s why they’re reacting that way. Right? It’s not walking away from a conversation it’s being prepared for that conversation. Right? It’s self regulating when when you’re in front of someone who’s screaming at you. We see this in hospitality all the time. You have a guest, who just arrived to check in at 10 o’clock at night, at the front desk with three kids, coming from the other side of the country. They’ve been traveling the entire day, and your front desk agent says, I am so sorry, but your room is not ready, and the person on the other side, the guest is like, are you kidding me? It’s 10 o’clock at night, I have three children that have been driving me nuts for the past 6,7,8 hours that we’ve been traveling, what do you mean, my room is not ready? Or what do you mean, my, my I don’t I don’t get adjoining rooms. I have kids, they can’t be on their own, right? So how does that front desk agent react to that situation? Being proactive, you can manage that conversation or manage that communication in a different way. You may be able to be thinking creatively and find other solutions. So EQ is important in every level of the organization.

Melissa Aarskaug 15:56
I love it. And you know, I love that you said you can learn it. You know, I’m a math and science girl. I studied engineering. So EQ wasn’t at the top of my list, and I had to teach myself that and how to be aware of people’s emotional feelings, or their pressures, or understanding their desk, and what is giving them a hard time, and reverse it onto them. So I think personally, anybody who’s managing people, or leading people in teams, you’re right, they need to learn it. They need to understand it, and take a course because when you understand the motivation, behind your people, and what’s driving them, you’re better able to lead teams. So knowing people from a personal level and a professional level, because if we understand that they have to pick up their kids at four o’clock in the afternoon, we can better understand what happens for them at the end of the day, or whatever they have going on if they have to drop their kids off in the morning, or they have a sick family member. And when you’re you’re more understanding of that to employees, they’re more likely to go the other direction for the company versus shutting off their computer or ignoring an email. I think it goes both ways.

Michele Kline 17:18
Absolutely. And here’s the thing, Melissa, if there is one thing, there are many things that happened during 2020, many things, many scars. Yeah, that 2020 left, but then there are many other things that we can take as learning experiences, right? And then on the other hand, many things that we were able to stop doing, do less off, because they weren’t serving us. We’re asking visual contributors of an organization, as human beings, as members of a family, of members of our community. And there is one thing that I can say that COVID left is a higher degree of awareness when it comes to I want to feel human. Yeah, that’s for sure. Yep. People want to feel human. So like you’re saying, if you have a team member that needs to leave, at four o’clock, three days a week, how can we make this happen? There’s always creative ways. And I always use this analogy. Once you stop holding the world, you realize that the world continues to spin. So the same thing happens for your team member? Is there a creative way for us to provide a solution, because at the end of the day, that person is going to become more engaged. That person is going to become more loyal to the brand. The person who’s going to want to go the extra mile without anyone asking them. So it’s critical that we bring the human back into the way that we do business. And EQ plays a huge role on that.

Melissa Aarskaug 18:57
Yep. I love that. And I think about, you know, my career journey. I very rarely in my career, if ever have had, you know, people asked me how I’m feeling or what’s going on in my life. And it also wasn’t until I had a child that people were like, oh, maybe we should ask her how her kids doing? And so if you’re out there, and you know, you are managing people, I challenge you to find out something you don’t know about your employees, because they could be struggling with a sick parent, or a sick child, or dealing with things that are affecting their emotional, their emotional needs and their, their their brain space, and by being empathetic and understanding what’s going on for them. They will repay repay the favor down the way.

Michele Kline 19:47
Absolutely. And here’s a quick tip, if I may. You have leaders that go from never asking those questions, right? Never, never bridging that gap, between I am the boss, you’re the team member. And as we move through this couple of years out of COVID, where people seem to be seen where seat people seek to be understood in a different level where people seek to connect, how do you move that leader from there to breaching that gap, right? And there is a very quick tip that I can share with your audience, which is, instead of going straight to asking the question, how is your kid? Or how is your father, because you know that the father was going through some surgery, and you don’t know it from that team member, but you know it through someone else? Right? So instead of perhaps starting with a question, if you want to get warmed up, I way to do it is by simply mentioning it. I hope your father’s doing great. I hope your father is progressing. I hope your kid is growing healthy. Or I’m sure you’re if you know about, I don’t know, you’re accused of how two years old? Well, maybe you say something like, I hope your kid is not driving you crazy with the terrible twos, right? Yeah. But if you need to warm up to creating that bridge, that’s a great an easy way to start.

Melissa Aarskaug 21:22
One hundred percent that’s a great example. So it’s kind of keeping to this flow here. What advice do you have for leaders to seek to what advice you have for leaders seeking to drive positive change in their industry? So if somebody’s managing people, and maybe profitability is down or morale is down or you know, anything that the organization is focusing on? What advice do you have for them to drive some change?

Michele Kline 21:51
So, I would say, and this may sound a little bit like a cliche, but I would say be the change. If you can remember those three words, you’re good to go. But you know, what kind of change you’re seeking? Yep, be the change, right? We don’t do both cultures of trust, when people trust each other. When team members know that there is a way that I can raise my hand, there is a way that I can disagree, and we can disagree with a level of communication that that is eloquent, and is factual and is respectful, then you build trust, right? When people operate in, in environments of trust, you move the needle faster, you’re not asking for specific checkpoints, you’re you’re definitely moving faster, you trust that that person is going to take this project to the finish line. Right? Yep. One thing that I will say is, never stop learning. Right? Don’t stop learning. If you want to drive positive change, ask your people what they’re seeking. Ask your team, what is it that we need? What makes us different from our competitor, from a human standpoint? Find that out, speak with your colleagues, everybody has networks, speak with your colleagues and find out how is it that your guys are dealing with this? Or how are you doing this? Have you improved any of your non traditional benefits? What does that look like? So don’t stop learning? Be curious? Right? The other thing that I would say is in order to drive positive change is believe in people, you know, empower them to do. If you’re always the one who’s behind every single one of your team members, because you have a hard time letting go, because you enjoy your your task so much. Here’s the newsflash, you’re in a different role now. Let go. Teach your team, train them, provide them with the tools that they need, equip them to be successful, and then empower them. Because empowering people will make them feel that they can believe in themselves. And when people believe in themselves, then there is so much more that they’re going to do for the organization. So that is positive change, moving from being strict, moving from not trusting that team members can grow within the roles, right, to developing the people within that positive change. Be creative. Find roles that that meet their strengths. Know that people is not replaceable. Why do we have high turnover? It seems to be an epidemic. But here’s the thing, we got to look inward, we have to see, from an organizational standpoint, we, what are we doing, that is driving people away? It’s not just the money. It’s not just the money, right? Be strategic.

Melissa Aarskaug 25:10
Yeah. 100% I agree with all that. One other thing that comes to mind, too, that you mentioned, a lot of times people correlate leaders with people that are managing people. So I’m a manager of X people are a director of EP, even if you’re not a leader of people, you’re a leader of yourself. At first, and and you could influence organizations and change, and so if you go to the break room, and everybody’s complaining that you have to come in at five and you were leaving it four, be the catalysts and the change to talk through a strategy with other people. Why is that such a big deal? What about this and, and be a positive catalyst for, for solutions to problems that may happen? Even if you’re not managing people or yourself or maybe this is the year that you’ve decided that you’re going to read more, get in shape and leading yourself and be a positive catalyst for change for yourself and being your own biggest cheerleader is key as well. So, a lot of times people say, oh, well, you know, you you’re leading people, and I always say not really my the way I see organizations is we’re all supporting the cause, and we’re doing it together, whether it’s a executive title, or an admin title, we’re all on the same level, driving the same things and supporting each other. And I think when you build a culture like that, that everybody’s ideas and opinions are valued, then it creates safety for people to want to come forward to share their opinions to share their feelings, feelings about whatever the company is working on.

Michele Kline 26:58
Absolutely. And you said a few very key points. Number one, it starts with you going to the break room. Walk to the break room. Stick with them. Listen in on those conversations. Leaders who who manage their teams and their operations from behind the desk, they don’t get to see what’s out there. They don’t get to see where we’re failing, where the challenges are what our people are thinking. So going into that break room and being part of that conversation is absolutely critical. And if anything, that could be the very easy first step, right? Another thing that you said that is very critical is allowing the team to know to know that every single piece of the puzzle, every single one of the of them plays a specific role, every piece of the puzzle makes the bigger picture. Absolutely. So even if you are a janitor, we still need you, and you are a very critical part of our operation, because what are you, you produce that the first experience, which is walking through those building doors, right? So it’s, it’s important for people to know that every single one of them is an important piece of the puzzle. And that is driving positive change.

Melissa Aarskaug 28:21
Yep, absolutely. People, people follow. It’s like children, you know, I have a one year old and I have to be careful what I say. Now, if I say something, he says something. And if you’re leading people, you should be a leader of people and do what you say not do as I say, not as I do. So if you’re leaving early, and you’re upset, because your people are leaving early, you can appreciate that they may not respect you, if you’re, you know, driving down requirements of them, but doing the exact opposite and, and being aware, like you said earlier in, in understanding your you know, emotional intelligence and how that plays into the organization. But I love what you said getting face to face with your people is key, key, key, you know. Managing behind a desk is easy to do. Actually talking and getting out there to people is key to building relationships. Yeah, so switching gears a little bit. People that are looking to lead people are emerging in a leadership position, and their longtime goal is to be a manager of people. What advice can you give them to aspire to become a leader such as yourself?

Michele Kline 29:37
So, emerging leaders are my favorite kind, and I’ll tell you why. They are excited about learning. They’re excited about knowing what else do I need to do to get to that level? Right? So the the one thing that I’m going to say is everyone is a leader. Every one is a leader, personally, professionally in your community, every single human being is a leader. If you’re impacting someone, unless you live in a bubble, and you don’t interact with absolutely everyone, you’re more than likely impacting someone. Now, there’s ways and ways you can impact someone in a positive way. Or you can impact someone in a negative way. Right? So, it is entirely up to you to decide what kind of leader you want to be. Do you want to be the one who’s remembered because of the crazy things that you taught them? Or do you want to be the one that is remembered because you had to put your entire team in an office space, write down what they were feeling and shred it? Right? Work hard, be present, put your phone down, connect with people. Raise your hand, ask questions, it’s okay to ask questions is the only way that you’re actually going to get to learn anything. Right? Final clarity. You cannot have goals unless you’re clear about what exactly it is that you need, and want, right? Stay focused, be prepared. Don’t just show up, show up at your best self. When you’re prepared you perform better, period bottom line. That’s that, right? I would say follow your dreams. Yes, follow your dreams plan, and once you have a plan in place, make sure you have a deadline, and you know what resources you need, and then take action, and then do temperature checks or checkpoints where you know. How am I gauging where am I going? Am I winning? Am I losing what’s going on, right? Another thing I would say, is never let anyone alter your moral compass. If there is something or a situation that you’re in that you feel, this just doesn’t feel right, walk away, walk away. You don’t have to be in that situation, right, and if I can encompass all the above into one description, be a unicorn. Be a unicorn. Be that unicorn leader that everyone wants to hire, the one that has a little bit of knowledge on many things, and if they don’t have that knowledge, you’re gonna research it, but then you know several things that are very specific, right? You are a beacon in that particular area. Understand that showing up and showing up in your best self and showing up to work early or being prepared all those things that I just mentioned, that makes the explanation of what a unicorn employee is. That’s where you want to be. You want to be the unicorn leader. So there is no doubt and your people love you. And your the people that you report to, love you and you’re invited to the table. And if you’re not invited, you are confident enough to pull up a chair. Right? And if the doors not there, you will work on, you know, having your tools to create that door and eventually the door opens to the other side. So be a unicorn.

Melissa Aarskaug 33:23
I love that. And one other thing I think of is be genuine in when you’re asking questions. People can tell when you’re robotically going through things or, you know, if you’re asking them how was your weekend and they get halfway through their sentence, and then you’re telling them about your weekend, let them finish their thought ask a question to understand. Oh, wow, how was that? You know, how was that movie? You know, my kids mentioned they wanted to see it. What did you like about it and asking to genuinely understand not because you’re trying to check a box today that you talk to your employees about how the weather was or you know how their weekend was people can sense that they can sense that you don’t genuinely care what they say if you’re cutting them off in halfway through the sentence to get your point across.

Michele Kline 34:14
Absolutely. It’s all about listening with with intentionality. Right? I’m asking how was your weekend, because I really want to know. If I’m just checking a box. Yes, they’ll read through it. They’re listening with intent. Hundred percent.That information will be useful as you move forward.

Melissa Aarskaug 34:31
You know, sometimes I do this when I can tell people aren’t listening to me. I asked this question, what do you think about what I said, and see if they can remember what actually came out of my mouth and I’ve found in multiple situations, most people can not regurgitate and much of what I said if they’re not listening, right? So trust and verify, right? If they’re actually listening, I know we’re getting closer to the half an hour. Any final thoughts or anything you want our users to know, our listeners, not users, I guess.

Michele Kline 35:10
I think that something that is probably common knowledge to most, because we see a trend, we’ve seen a movement, but a good reminder, if you already know this, and if not something new that that you can pick up, which is the world is huge. There is room for everyone. People have different tastes, people want different things. There is space for everyone. So there is so much more that we can do through collaboration, than there is when we do things individually. So just you know, go for it and lean in and find ways to collaborate with people to connect with people, and to bring the human back into the way that we do business.

Melissa Aarskaug 35:59
Well said, well said. Find your tribe and respect the others through your journey, right. I want to thank you so much for making time today. I know you’re a busy, busy woman and I adore and appreciate all you have said and reach out to Michele Kline. She’s a rock star leadership and performance coach. I absolutely recommend her and I hope to chat with you again soon. Thanks again for making time.

Michele Kline 36:28
Thank you so much Melissa. Thanks, everyone for being on the other side.

Narrator 36:36
You’ve been listening to the Executive Connect Podcast. If you have questions or ideas on how to bring leadership to the next level, email us at executiveconnectpodcast@gmail.com. And don’t forget to subscribe so you can catch every new episode. Until next time.

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Bryan Hancock Headshot — Founder of Integrity Development

Bryan Hancock

Founder of Integrity Development

Integrity Development

Executive Biography

Bryan Hancock has been managing real estate investments—and overseeing development and construction projects—for nearly two decades. He has deep roots in Austin, Texas, and comprehensive knowledge of the opportunities and challenges in this fast-growing market.

Through his development and syndication companies, which he built from the ground up, Bryan has developed 50+ urban infill projects and managed $25M in real estate sales with approximately 35% return on investment at the project level. He also co-founded two private equity funds.

Bryan brings in-depth industry awareness, sharp business acumen, and extensive in-the-trenches experience to his work as co-founder and principal of Integrity Development. He partners with a team of professionals and industry experts (many have been involved in Austin real estate for 40+ years) to identify value-added and opportunistic investments that protect capital and reduce risk for lenders—while delivering outsized returns for investors.

Earlier, Bryan founded and directed Inner 10 Development, a residential development firm focused on Austin’s top zip codes and surrounding communities, and H2i, LLC, a real estate syndication company. He steered these organizations for 17+ years, overseeing the acquisition, buildout, and sale of single-family and multifamily properties, including a 350-unit urban infill joint-venture project.

Bryan was successful in delivering strong returns while minimizing risk for bankers and investors by taking a targeted, data-driven approach to opportunity analysis, due diligence, and strategic decision-making. He zeroed in on potential risks and developed proactive mitigation strategies to protect and grow investments.

Concurrent with his work at Inner 10 Development and H2i, Bryan established Gentry Lending Group, a private-equity debt fund. He also served on the board of Bullseye Capital Real Property Opportunity Fund. These experiences provided Bryan with a grasp of both investor and banker viewpoints, including an understanding of risk and liability on the lending side. This aspect of his background continues to shape his real estate decisions to this day.

There is another unique aspect to Bryan’s career—a corporate history that differentiates him from other investors and developers in this field. Bryan has built organizations, controlled multimillion-dollar projects, and supported billion-dollar programs for some of the world’s largest companies: Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Dell, CACI, and Charles Schwab. He managed teams and vendors in the US, China, France, and India, and often balanced up to 10 projects at a time. He was trusted with a Top Secret Security Clearance from the United States government.

A business-savvy leader and lifelong learner, Bryan holds an MBA in Finance and Entrepreneurship from Texas Christian University and a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

Bryan founded the Wealth Investment Network, co-founded RealStarter (a crowdfunding platform for real estate investors), and was a member of the Urban Land Institute and Central Texas Angel Network. He has been a guest speaker at 20+ national events, including conferences and meetups through the Information Management Network (IMN), SXSW, Rice University, Bay Area Real Estate Summit, Soho Loft Conference, Texas Entrepreneur Network, and many others.

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Melissa Aarskaug Headshot — Founder of Executive Connect

Melissa Aarskaug

Founder of Executive Connect

Senior Executive, Board Member & Advisor

Vice President of Business Development
Bulletproof, a GLI company

Executive Biography

Melissa Aarskaug is a global executive and business leader at the forefront of the technology/cybersecurity industry. She shapes strategy, leads teams, and partners with Fortune 500 companies and other enterprise clients to protect their organizations from risk and noncompliance—while improving operations and accelerating growth.

For 15+ years, Melissa has taken the reins to propel organizations to the next level of performance. By combining business acumen and revenue optimization with the sharp mind of an engineer, she uncovers and seizes opportunities for profitable growth in the US and around the world.

Melissa has established a distinguished career with Gaming Laboratories International (GLI), where she is a key member of the senior executive team. Throughout her tenure, she has assembled teams, developed new markets, and influenced P&L impact, ultimately positioning GLI as the #1 provider of testing, certification, and cybersecurity services to the global gaming and lottery space.

After achieving this feat—a big win for GLI and game-changer for clients worldwide—Melissa steered both GLI and Bulletproof (acquired by GLI in 2016) into untapped verticals: finance, government, healthcare, higher education, hospitality, and retail. An enthusiastic, knowledgeable growth driver who cultivates partnerships and rallies teams, she led GLI/Bulletproof to dominate these markets as well.

Before joining GLI, Melissa shaped and executed strategy as Vice President of Business Operations for LV Investments, where she built and optimized a portfolio of commercial and industrial properties. Earlier, in a very different role as Project Engineering Manager for Fisher Industries, she directed and mobilized a team of 550 employees and contractors to develop the world’s largest concrete bridge. Previously, she headed a major engineering project for Pacific Mechanical Corporation.

A curious, lifelong learner, Melissa holds dual Bachelor of Science degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering with minors including Business and Mathematics. She is a Karrass Master Negotiator and C4 Executive Coach who actively pursues ongoing education and inspiration as a member of Chief, Austin Technology Council, Austin Women in Technology, and Toastmasters International. In addition to her own personal and professional development, Melissa is committed to helping other people thrive both inside and outside of the workplace. She actively mentors and empowers team members at GLI/Bulletproof, and is an executive leader and coach for Global Gaming Women. She founded Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) Austin and is a current or past board member of many organizations, including Emerging Leaders in Gaming, Ballet Austin, Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, the Society of Women Engineers, and the American Society of Civil Engineers. She has been a Junior League volunteer in Austin, Las Vegas, and Reno for 15+ years.

Throughout her career, Melissa has inspired individuals, teams, and entire organizations to think differently about innovation, cybersecurity, leadership, and business development. She was honored as one of the “Emerging Leaders in Gaming: 40 Under 40” and she continues to share her ideas and expertise through publications, podcasts, webinars, and presentations.

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This is the Executive Connect

A show for the new generation of leaders. Join us as we discover unconventional leadership strategies not traditionally associated with executive roles. Our guests include upper-level C-Suite executives charting new ways to grow their organizations, successful entrepreneurs changing the way the world does business, and experts and thought leaders from fields outside of Corporate America that can bring new insights into leadership, prosperity, and personal growth – all while connecting on a human level. No one has all the answers – but by building a community of open-minded and engaged leaders we hope to give you the tools you need to help you find your own path to success.