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Being Your Confident and Authentic Self through Thought Leadership | Leslie Ehm

Being Your Confident and Authentic Self through Thought Leadership | Leslie Ehm

Finding your true voice through publishing thought leadership.

An interview with Leslie Ehm about training creative people and publishing a book while remaining true to yourself.

Today’s guest is Leslie Ehm, Swagger Coach, Amazon #1 best-selling author of Swagger: Unleash Everything You Are and Become Everything You Want, speaker, and Chief Fire Starter at Combustion Training: a creativity-fueled training company that transforms people so that they can transform organizations.

In today’s conversation, Leslie tells us her story; from working as a TV host, script editor, and advertising creative director, she found her true voice and started her own training company, building creative companies through a foundation of support for creative and inspirational people.

We discuss the slow growth of Combustion Training due to the need for trainers to be subject-matter experts in order to avoid the sub-par training experiences that she has seen in the past. From this realization came the origin and process of Leslie’s book, Swagger. Leslie shares the hard choices she made to keep her authentic voice, the methods she used to keep the words of others out of her mind, and how she connected her unique story to thought leadership. Plus, she shares the favors she called in to generate word-of-mouth for the book, and why paying back those favors is an important part of her publishing process.

Three Key Takeaways:
  • When bringing others onboard to spread your thought leadership, be picky. Only work with those who are the right fit for you.
  • It is crucial to write your thought leadership book in your authentic, individual voice.
  • If you ask others to promote your thought leadership, pay it back (and pay it forward).

If you need a strategy to bring your thought leadership to market, Thought Leadership Leverage can assist you! Contact us for more information. In addition, we can help you implement marketing, research, and sales. Let us help you so you can devote yourself to what you do best.


Peter Winick And welcome, welcome, welcome, this is Peter Winick, I’m the founder and CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage, and you’re joining us on the podcast today, which is Leveraging Thought Leadership. My guest today is Lesley Ehm, who is the swagger coach. She’s a Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Amazon Number one bestselling author and speaker. She has spent decades traveling the globe. Let’s see what else we have here. Her newer book is Swagger Unleash everything you are and become everything you want, but I wanted to get to this stuff. She’s been called better than therapy, a rock star ass, kicking a force of nature and then a witch. So it’s almost like which one of those don’t belong. But I guess, I guess you could be all of those. So. Welcome aboard, Leslie. Hi, this is going to be a great call, don’t you agree.

Leslie Ehm Do I? Yeah, that’s OK. I’ll take it. You know, listen, I owned it. I repeated it on my bio because I loved it. I loved it. Someone called me.

Peter Winick That’s fantastic. Great show interest. I mean, you and I had a great conversation the other day and you were talking about your business. Talk about the book, all that sort of stuff. So well, let me start with sort of one of my semi favorite questions is how the hell did you get here? So how did this all happen to be where we are here today because it’s typically non-linear or non-logical? Like, how the hell did this all happen?

Leslie Ehm Oh, sure. How far back do you want me to go?

Peter Winick Well, you know, we got 20 minutes.

Leslie Ehm Oh, OK. Well, I my background is not this. It’s not this at all. I was a TV host. I was a script editor and a script doctor. I was a musician for many years and then I kind of made the leap into the more formal business world, and I ended up working in advertising. I was an advertising creative director, but I found very quickly that I couldn’t really help my people from the inside. There was there was so much pressure to produce and perform. And as you know, creative directors are very much working leaders. They’re hard core, they’re expected to deliver and so on. And I found that that took all my time and my people were struggling and suffering, and I found that I was being changed by the environment and I couldn’t find training to help them and people didn’t understand our world advertising. People are very smart and they’re very smart. You know, you got it. They’re the great manipulators in the world. So if you’re going to try and train them, you better be a game. And I could not find anybody to do that. And I came home and said to my husband one day, You know, I feel like I’m using my superpowers for evil instead of good, and I think I’m going to quit my job and started training company. And he says, what was, excuse me what? He said, Leslie, you were hate training and you’re also untrainable. I was like, right? Who better to start a training company than someone like me? Because if I can create experiences for my mindset, I’ll probably be on to something. And I had no idea what I was doing other than being highly creative. Having grown up with parents who owned a summer camp, so I was used to working with big groups and I was super comfortable with that and I’d always been a writer. And I was a performer, so I was like, What else do I need? I have subject matter expertise, let’s go.

Peter Winick So this is the classic entrepreneurial journey of solving a problem that definitely existed in your mind and clearly because of the success of a company existed in others. And it reminds me of I did a turnaround in 2004 for a communication consulting firm, and my buddy was leading the firm and we had cocktails one day and he wanted me to come on board and I was like, Dude, hey, I have no interest in training, but I think it’s like, I can’t sit through anything. Everything I’ve sat through is just total crap drivel. I think most of the people in that business are like C players. Maybe by accident. There’s a B player now and then. Why do I want to do this? You know, and then it was a really interesting opportunity from a turnaround perspective. But I think that outsider’s perspective of God, you know, why does training need to suck? Why does it need to be torturous? Why can’t you hit me where I am, which is maybe a little A.D.D., but very creative.

Leslie Ehm Very smart? Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Peter Winick Don’t, you know, talk to me like, I’m an idiot.

Leslie Ehm Well, I think I think that the way that I approached it was. You know, one of the reasons that I think training is so crappy is because it’s delivered by trainers and those partners are not subject matter experts. So what are they know? I mean, they’ve learned the rulebook and they’ve learned the game, the game plan. But when it gets real in the room, they’re at a loss because they haven’t lived it and breathed it and done it and experienced it. So, for us, what I what I said was I’m not going to hire trainers. I’m going to hire subject matter experts and turn them into trainers in the combustion mold, which is half percent real. No bullshit. It’s irreverent. It’s direct, it’s soulful, but it’s a practical, practical practice. I said. I want people to be able to do their jobs better and differently the next day and the next day.

Peter Winick Most, most training organizations, it’s changing. You know, there was this this skillset called the trainer, and you could sort of plug in anything into the trainer and they could deliver the training, right because they had the classroom chops and can be engaging in bubble. And for the most part, they didn’t know much about anything, right? And they let me get the someone that knows the something that I could just develop whatever capabilities the need. You know, room management, time management, you know, whatever, whatever.

Leslie Ehm You know, there is something magical and special to me about what what I was looking for in a trainer. That’s why I grew very, very small. I’ve had people push me to try and grow and grow and grow. I was like, No, because I can only grow to the point that I can find the right kind of people to be combustion training. Like if I can’t find those people, I can’t grow. And so, it took years to build this amazing group of people who are hard core experts in their field and who have that soulful, irreverent, you know, super engaging quality. You know, it’s like there are few, few, few and far between, but that’s why that’s why we do what we do. That’s why people love us.

Peter Winick Interesting. So that’s a great story. So tell me a little bit about the book from the standpoint of you’re busy. Why does someone wake up one day? Or maybe it was more than a day, so I’m going to write a book. And then what’s the process been like? So tell us, tell us what the genesis was and what the process and what you’ve learned along the way.

Leslie Ehm While I was in all of those rooms that I was in around the world and it was, you know, it didn’t matter the country, the culture, the company didn’t matter the level of a profession, whether it was CEO down to kind of new entrants. When you’re when you’re doing skills building. No, but you have this soulful irreverence at the core of it. One of my approaches was always to try and crack the human open and kind of get the good stuff that was on the inside because I understood that that was really what their superpowers were. And what I discovered about everybody pretty much was that at their core, people did not believe that they could reveal who they really were and still find the success that they wanted. They just didn’t believe that they were good enough in their raw and real form to have the credibility that they felt that they needed. And I knew this to be the absolute opposite. You know, I’ve seen it happen countless times where people would step out of their shells and into themselves, and everybody would lose their minds, and then they would tell me that their lives have changed and so on. And I realized that for all of the skills building all of the layers of this new learning and knowledge that you’re that you’re piling on top of people if the foundation is shaky. Ain’t gonna work. You know, it’s all going to crumble and the person is not really going to be able to internalize these new skills and own them like a bad ass, you know, like believe that they’re worthy of these skills and then take them and go wild with them. And so when I have to be

Peter Winick like that, right, you have to you have to sort of deconstruct the person a little bit. Yeah, you get to that negation.

Leslie Ehm If they’re holding themselves back, all the training in the world isn’t going to work right. You know, because it will take themselves back. So, when I realized that I was like, Oh, OK, I know what the secret is because I’ve been working with people for, you know, for what, 14 years. I understand what’s holding people back. I’ve seen it countless times and I have countless stories and I thought, I can’t clone myself. So, the only thing that I can do to try and change the world, which is really what I want to do because I’m a big, sucky altruist. I thought, OK, I’m gonna to write a book. So that’s what I did, and it took me three years. There were a lot of ups and downs in that process. My mom got really sick and passed away. In the middle of that, I lost my creative mojo. All of that stuff. But when all of that stuff was kind of dealt with and I could refocus it, the last bit just kind of gushed out of me and finished it. In December 2019, and then it went to edits in February 2020, and then hello,

Peter Winick pandemic, right?

Leslie Ehm You know, ironically in retrospect, I think it was the best timing ever because this book is needed today. Now, more than ever, you know, the time is so right for this book. So the process has been painful and magical, you know, as you and I talked about.

Peter Winick If you’re enjoying this episode of Leveraging Thought Leadership, please make sure to subscribe. If you’d like to help spread the word about our podcast, please leave us a review and share it with your friends. We’re available on Apple Podcasts and on all major listening apps, as well as at Thought Leadership Leverage dot com forward slash podcasts for

Leslie Ehm tortuously difficult as writing a book is. And I say this as a writer, so I can’t even imagine how people write books about white writers for as torturous as it was. Launching a book is a thousand times harder.

Peter Winick Who doesn’t stay here a minute because I always feel like not always, but more often than I prefer the grumpy old dude in the rights of someone’s telling me how hard it is to write a book. Can’t just write a book when they’re in the process, and I’m like, Oh,

Leslie Ehm just you wait.

Peter Winick Yeah, you think that’s the. Yeah, right? Not to diminish what it takes to put out a high quality book because that takes work. I mean, real work. And there’s a lot of garbage out there that you can tell has been found in, right? So there’s a plethora of noise, right? But you know, you’ve marketed before, you’ve sold before. Uh huh.. So tell me about that because, yeah, getting a book out in the marketplace and we can get into all the data. The average business book sells eighteen hundred units and nobody reads past Page 18 and all this other stuff. But I mean, ultimately, what you’re fighting for is not twenty or twenty five dollars from somebody, but it’s like, Whoa, time out. Take a deep breath and give me, give me your attention. Yeah, for some period of time, if they buy the book and read it, it’s probably five, six, seven hours. But how do you how do you sort of proverbial shoulders and say, Take a look at me, take a look at me. This is interesting. This can help you.

Leslie Ehm Well, I made I made lots of choices along the way, both from a content perspective and then and then from a packaging perspective. The book is sweary, which a lot of people said, Oh, don’t do it, don’t do it in your business book. I was like, F, you know, because that’s this is who I am. This is the way I operate in the world, and the book is about being real. So if I was going to be real in the process, then whatever. I also need to

Peter Winick hold on status that can still, whether it’s language or whatever it is. But there’s an authenticity. Sometimes I’ve seen people write a book and they’re incredibly funny or engaging, charming or whatever. And then you read some of the stuff they’re written. You’re like, What happened? This is like my favorite dish, and you took out all the flavor. Yeah, but how did you do that?

Leslie Ehm My the big night like this

Peter Winick while I’m trying to remember and so I’m going to write like Mr. Amis writer would write.

Leslie Ehm And so the commitment that I made to myself when I started to write and again, remember, I’m an advertiser like I’m an advertising copywriter and a script editor script doctor. So I got some writing chops, which makes it even more stressful because you want to look good and respect that process of being a writer. But for me, the thing that was the most important was that the book felt the same as it did when you talked to me that it really felt the same and that I held on to my voice. So like, so strongly and so passionately, and I wouldn’t let anyone move me or shift me from that. And I also there’s a couple of other things that I did. I don’t know if this is helpful, but any books or any writers who were kind of in my vein or in my space, I did not read them. I actively did not read them. If I was worried that there might be too much overlap of content, I made my poor husband read them or skim them and tell me whether there was overlap because I didn’t want anyone else, anybody else’s words or voice in my head. I didn’t want to question whether my ideas were original and valid because they are. So I didn’t want that insecurity. And you know, you’re in a mind screw, and I didn’t have anyone read the book until it was done. I didn’t have a reader like a lot of people will, they’ll find a person or two that they really trust and say, Tell me what you think. And as we go, I do not have that. I wanted it to be complete as it as an entity. And only then did I give it to two different people. And I asked them for very specific feedback. Not like, here’s my book Tell me what you think, which you should never do, just

Peter Winick to stay there for a minute. Because I don’t I don’t know that there is a right way or wrong way. There’s a right way for you. So I’ve worked with folks that every step of the way, you know, there’s almost the committee, right? And you know, and the problem with that, I mean, there are benefits to that where if it’s the right group of right domain experts and expertise or whatever, that can help you get your game up great. Oftentimes committees have their own egos and their own course. I’m trying to be the guy in the room and then somebody is just trying to make a point for making the point. There are other times when people don’t show anything to anybody till the end of then. A couple of people look and go, Oh, geez, I wish I would have seen this six months ago.

Leslie Ehm This is why you have an editor. You want an editor, right? So I mean, I have a relationship with my editor. My editor saw it, but I am someone who does not go that does not live my life based on external validation. So for me, it was it was. I didn’t want to carry other people’s baggage because it’s all about perspective. And it’s also who is your perfect audience? Everyone says, give it to someone who’s your perfect audience. Well, if they know me, they’re not my perfect audience because they know me. So they’re already biased. There’s no such thing unless I find some random stranger off the street. I mean, even then, it’s like doing this advertising. I did focus groups for years. Never trust a focus group. It’s the same. It’s the same thing. So when I did ask for feedback, all I asked for was. Does this sound like me? That was my question. Does this sound like me? And the response was, Oh my God, it’s like, you’re talking in my ear. It’s the exact same as sitting next year. I was like, Good, thank you. I’m out now. I’ll go work with my editor, who I trust implicitly. And her job is to make sure that it is super cohesive. But again, I come from I was a script editor, so about I know about structure and form and narrative and stuff. So I came, you know, I came from a place of advantage. So that was that my language, my choices of kind of stuff. Then it was also how am I going to package it? And I worked with the designer who knew me very well. I actually didn’t use the designer from Page two, the cover designer. I went with someone who knew me very well. And when they gave me the very first design, I cried. And that’s my book. And I didn’t. It was funny because the book is hot pink and like hot pink and neon yellow, right? Which is quite female. And the book is not for women particular. It’s for everyone. You know, it’s equal, equally appropriate for men and women. So I had a moment where it was like, Is this a chick book or something? Is that is this going to look to cheeky? And then I was like, No, because of books called Swagger, and I’m not going to worry about that. I’m going to trust that, that it’s going to speak what it needs to speak. It took me two years to to come up with my subtitle as well. Two years advertising copywriter. It took me two years that I think was the hardest thing of writing. The entire book was coming up the subtitle, but I think all of these choices now. You know, I trusted my instincts. But the feedback that I’ve that I’ve gotten is, Oh my God, this book the cover, my god, it pops, Oh my God, the title, the title, the title. Like I made good choices, is sure what I’m saying. I make good choices. And it certainly stands apart. It does not feel like your average business book, and the feedback that I’m getting is it is blowing my mind. Like, go

Peter Winick back to the marketing, though for a minute because I want to understand, you know, you’re no stranger to marketing, given the advertising background. What were, you know, one or two things that really, really surprised you because a lot of people I’ve seen that have been amazing marketers and other thing B2B product technology, whatever. Like, Oh, well, the book, you know, the book’s a product. Here’s marketing one to one. Here’s 50 things I’ve done before in marketing, and then they apply it to a book and it’s like, it doesn’t work.

Leslie Ehm Yeah, yeah. So nobody cares. And you have to you have to start really with your tribe. You got to you got to tap into your tribe. One of the things that I learned that was the hardest lesson for me ever is that I’m not someone who’s really good at asking for help and learning how to ask for a lot of help with this book. You’ve got to ask people, because launching a book really is about sphere of influence, and it’s very it starts off with the word of mouth. And do you trust someone’s opinion? And this is a great book and all the rest of it. So. So having, you know, having a mailing list of people that are vetted, it’s not you. Not just, you know, pissing into the wind, but having a having your people, you know, who are supporting you and then reaching out to everybody that you know, who has some influence in some way, shape or form and asking for that kind of support and endorsement. And then slowly kind of inexorably building on that. But you better you better start doing that six months before you launch the book. Don’t wait.

Peter Winick Another book is all about the relationship with fellow authors thought leaders. Speakers after that already have the Trump-Cruz, because to build this, a tribe from scratch is really, really, really hard. And if not that you don’t have business colleagues that follow your own clients and all this other sort of stuff, but it’s very, very different than someone that’s been at the space for 10 years, maybe written a book or two or whatever and has a following. And the trick is to engage with those folks. Yeah. And ride their proverbial coattails

Leslie Ehm and also be prepared to pay back paid forward all the rest of it. You know, I think if you if you have ever asked anybody to endorse your book, then at least at the very least, you must endorse two other people’s books within the six months after your book is released or you’re an asshole. Yeah. I mean, you’ve got two and you’ve got to keep it. I think I find

Peter Winick that the community or the tribe, you will, if you will, have, you know, author, speakers, thought leaders etc. are really, really generous. There’s a couple.

Leslie Ehm So I feel like

Peter Winick everybody’s been there, done that. They could look at you and go, Oh, I was there or when I was there. Oh, I’m totally glad to help because I dig your stuff and people are, I think, more so than almost any other professional I’ve been around. Right? Is this collegial ooh secret handshake wink wink. What can I do to help and let me go introduce you to three of my friends? And you know this this freewheel of

Leslie Ehm feel like this daisy chain of love. I mean, I’ve had all of these people kind of pulling me up along with them, and then I’ve been reaching back to people who are, you know, launch books six months after me and holding onto their hands and lift them up. And it’s a beautiful thing. I mean, it really, it really is a beautiful thing. And it’s funny because a lot of people would think, Oh, you know, authors, they’re competitive and the ego. It’s the freakin opposite. It’s the absolute opposite. It’s like no one’s going to help you more than someone who’s got a business book just like yours. You know it’s going to help you more.

Peter Winick Exactly, exactly. Well, this has been great. Thank you so much for spending some time with us today. I love the boldness of the cover, which would make sense because I wouldn’t expect a book called Swagger to be on like Business Blue and whatever. But this has been awesome. Thanks for sharing, sharing your experience with us today.

Leslie Ehm Oh, it’s been. This can’t be our last time. It was too good.

Peter Winick No, you know,

Leslie Ehm we have to do it again,

Peter Winick of course. Thank you.

Leslie Ehm Anytime with my pleasure.

Peter Winick To learn more about Thought Leadership Leverage, please visit our web site at to reach me directly. Feel free to email me at Peter at and please subscribe to Leveraging Thought Leadership on iTunes or your favorite podcast app to get your weekly episode automatically.


Peter Winick has deep expertise in helping those with deep expertise. He is the CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Peter on Twitter!

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