The Curiosity Advantage: Redefining Leadership In The Workplace With Trevor Blondeel

Alexandra HazzardTake Back Time Podcast

Take Back Time | Trevor Blondeel | Lead With Curiosity


By being curious and willing to understand each other, teams can reach their full potential. In this episode, Trevor Blondeel discusses the art of fostering meaningful connections in the workplace. Trevor shares his thoughts on the importance of understanding others in manufacturing while using mindfulness, showing how it can help unlock your team’s full potential. Together with our host, Penny Zenker, they dissect a real-life scenario that explores practical strategies to navigate tricky workplace dynamics. The pair discusses how curiosity and honesty affect work relationships, dealing with discomfort with intention and self-awareness, and other topics. Tune in now!

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The Curiosity Advantage: Redefining Leadership In The Workplace With Trevor Blondeel

In this episode, we’re going to get real focused because we’re going to talk about how we get to the root cause and why it’s important that we get to the root cause. I’m excited to have a friend, a fellow speaker, an expert in the manufacturing space and across the board to talk about this because I think manufacturing is a great space that deals with getting to the root cause. Trevor Blondeel is with us. Through his speaking, writing and coaching, he works with manufacturers to connect the top to the shop.

Over many years of working within the manufacturing industry, he’s learned from his experience that successful organizations are built on engaged teams who are accountable for their actions and continually looking to improve their skills. It sparked a passion for developing leaders in manufacturing that allow individuals and teams to reach their full potential. He’s taken it to the stages. He shares his best practices. He is focused on helping people to change behaviors. Without further ado, Trevor, welcome to the show.

Thanks. I love how you said top to the shop.

I like how that rolls off the tongue there. It’s good to have those types of alliteration. You’ve been in manufacturing for a long time. What had you step outside of the manufacturing arena to speak about it and develop further best practices and those types of things? What had you expand your horizons there?

You talk about the root cause and we have a lot of problem-solving inthe Six Sigma. We find out like, “What’s the real problem?” We focus on one part of the line, but it’s coming from another area, like how your back may be hurting, but it could be something to do with the alignment in your legs. We’re trying to figure that out. I was good at that.

You’re good at identifying what the root cause was.

I’m good at spreadsheets and doing thesis analysis. At the same time, I might have someone come into work, one of our leaders or whatnot, and you could tell that they were physically and emotionally maybe upset about something. I’d be like, “You can leave your emotions at the door, and we got work to do because we got to figure out this problem.” I never got to root cause. We go maybe go through that day and that week, and I didn’t have some of that skill required to find out what’s going on with that person or maybe what’s going on between you and I. All of a sudden, we have some clunkiness in how we’re communicating. We had the buzzword about communication and I had to get better.

It’s critical. I saw a statistic and it was a long time ago, but it was something like more than 50% of leaders’ interactions were focused on conflict.

I call it like the surface conflict. Maybe it’s something around some performance that you and I are working on together, and there’s this action that’s not getting done. We’re talking about the accountability of it, but how do we go a little bit deeper? That’s why I like to talk about the whole curiosity aspect. It’s like, “I know Penny’s smart. I hired her for a reason. She’s a great person. She’s committed. I’m pushing her on this task, but I don’t go below that.” I’m like, “You’ve knocked out some great projects. What’s going on on this one?” You might say, “It’s because of the supplier and this.” I’m like, “No, let’s step back for a minute. What’s really going on?”

I like that step back. That’s one of my big things. I want to step back for a second. The first thing that you said, and I want to highlight this because most people don’t even do this, “I know I hired Penny for a reason. I know that she does good work. I’ve seen the good work. It’s just that in this instance, something’s going on.” You are already starting with giving me the benefit of the doubt. You’re not deciding that if this happens again, you’re going to fire me or somebody’s got to pay for this mistake.

There are different types of leaders. That mindset shift is important if you want to get to the root cause because all you’re going to face if you have the mindset that these mistakes are their fault and that’s it. There’s no true leadership there. What happens is that people put up that resistance and there’s no connection. I’m going to do as little as possible as I need to because I can feel your resistance towards me. I wanted to point that out because you’re already in a much lighter place to be open and curious.

That first step is a good point because often it might be we want to attack what we see and how do we shift that gear? It comes back to that whole, “We are hardwired sometimes to protect ourselves and the situation.” When we can be a little bit more curious and step back and say, “I’m feeling this way. I want the task done. I want this project completed. I want my family member to acknowledge this,” or whatever that might be.

It’s stepping back to say, “What else could be true? What’s driving this person to be this behavior?” I have this sometimes with my mom, even talking to her and it’s like, “It seems like she’s getting irritated. I’m trying to communicate this. What’s beneath that? Is there some history between her and me?” It’s deep in like, “How is this landing with you, Mom?” Those types of questions.

It’s not easy to have those direct conversations. As a matter of fact, I had one of these direct conversations. I was maybe a little too harsh about it, too direct because both sides felt that the energy was off. You feel it. I said to somebody that I was interacting with on a project that we’re working closely, “Do you feel that the energy is off? Did I say something that upset you?”

I’m very direct. I’m like you. I’m curious. We’re on the same team. We need to get to the root cause so that we can get past it. Otherwise, it sits there and lingers or it’s like a bag that you hold on that keeps adding stuff to it and it gets heavier and heavier on your back. It’s delicate and not everybody is good with those kinds of questions. How do you deal with that? When you want to get to the root cause, you’re already a curious leader, but other people may not be receptive to the direct conversation. How do you do that?

People will know where it’s coming from. That’s one that I’ve learned and try to work with. As a leader, I knew I was likable. I was a pretty friendly person, but at the same time, I upset a lot of people and they ended up not liking me because I would miss that. It is training ourselves to know that we’re going to naturally judge other people. That’s going to come into our mind and it’s catching ourselves and saying, “I feel like I’m judging this person, but maybe I need to be a little more curious. Maybe there’s something else going on here. Maybe it’s not the energy between me and this person. We don’t normally have this conversation.”

It’s like if you are truly coming from the right place, they’re going to know like, “Are you being weird? Are you trying to blame me for something? Are you really genuine like, ‘The energy is changing here?’” I love that approach. I don’t think it’s direct. I think it’s like, “Are you feeling this? It seems like this is getting frustrating for both of us.”

What I said afterward was maybe a little bit too direct because the answer was no, there’s nothing and I’m like, “Really?” I was like, “You’re pointing out what I said this time and how I said it.” When you start to have that type of, “Remember when you said that you should do this and yesterday, you said,” that means we’re focused on what was said in the past that we’re not looking at the solutions. We’re looking at, “My feelings were hurt. My expectations weren’t met.” There are other things that are coming up when people are doing that. An example that probably everybody can relate to is if you’re on a customer service call and somebody says to you, “We’ve never had that problem.”

“I don’t care that you’ve never had that problem. That’s irrelevant to me,”  but if somebody’s looking to cover themselves and instead of saying, “Let’s see how we’re going to solve this,” and be focused on solving the problem, one is focused on covering their behind and then it’s not an energy that doesn’t work. It can turn into some passive-aggressive behavior.

That’s a great catch, even by yourself there. You started it with, “What’s the energy?” For someone, you go back to the original question of like, “If this is something that we’re regularly comfortable with,” because it’s not, but the safe area is focusing on keeping it on yourself and saying after is okay, but it’s like, “Really? I’ve got this weird feeling and I don’t know why I am feeling it.” I’ve used this to people, “I feel like I’m irritating you.”

I say that too. Here’s what I learned and you can tell me whether you think, “That’s what I said too,” is it sounds like, “I’m frustrating or irritating you.” The mistake that I made is when somebody says, “No,” I think that I probably would’ve been better off instead of trying to dig deeper with curiosity. I should have said let them think about it and say, “Maybe I misread that. I apologize.”

Let it lie. Maybe they didn’t feel safe with me. It’s a new relationship. We don’t have any previous experience. It’s not like where you might be a leader of somebody working with them on a day-to-day basis, this is more new. I think we also need to know when to let it sit for a little while and when to dig deeper. I tend to be a heavy digger, but that’s not always effective. What do you see in those situations?

I could see where you and I, we dig in right away. We’re in that space. I’d ask you, and I think we get that quickly identify whatever that would be. The saying I like to use is, “Meet people where they’re at.” The perfect example is what is the level of your relationship with that person versus whether you have worked with them for a while? Is this the new project? The power of saying, “Is it something that I’m doing here? The energy seems off.” I like that. That’s a great concept of like, “This is a point where the awareness of others,” and the fact of, “This person’s not ready to have that conversation, but they know how I’m feeling.”

Meet people where they're at. Click To Tweet

You didn’t say anything about that person. You were saying, “I feel like I’m frustrating you. Thanks. I’m acknowledging that,” then you may see a shift in that alone and maybe they’re not at that level to have that conversation, but you are the one that’s labeled it out there taking some accountability. It’s like, “Maybe I’m feeling a little bit of that, but I’m not ready to talk to Penny about that yet. I like the fact that she’s acknowledged that.”

I hope that’s the response that I got. That’s a typical thing that I’ll talk about, which is energy because we all know it. My husband jokes because I tell him I’m energy-sensitive, like, “The way you said that. I’m energy-sensitive. Remember, that’s me.” In your curiosity, you came up with some great questions already. I think the questions that we ask ourselves are important. I want to recap some of them.

You said, “What else could be true? What could be going on with this person outside and acknowledging that they typically do good work and something’s off?” What are some other things that you might say to yourself or say to others that would help you get to the root cause of a conflict or challenge?

I thought about you because I thought I’d got this opportunity to speak with you. I thought about your readers. I think about like, “How do I want to make her feel? How do I want to make her readers feel?” I’m thinking about that in the morning. I’m getting excited. I go and read some of your other episodes and guests, and get into that mindset of like, “If we spend a little bit of time ahead of time, we can prep ourselves and know that, ‘I know that when I leave, I want it to feel like this. I want to have some fun. I want to laugh a little bit. I want it to be conversational and be helpful for all of us.’”

I think that plays a huge role. It is coming in with a clear intention. That’s why I said in the beginning, “Let’s step back and look at how you were already positioned,” because that’s the initial intention that you were already put in that space. That’s why you were in that state of mind.

That can shift that whole energy in general. That would say how you show up impacts on how people feel and how you make them feel determines the extent to which they can engage with you. A lot of it is we can get in front of once. I do this. Sometimes, I get into the conversation and my intentions are not landing with your perceptions. At least, that’s what I’m feeling and what I’m accustomed to do. You’re right, it takes a little bit of practice, but I’ll say like, “How’s this conversation landing with you?”

Take Back Time | Trevor Blondeel | Lead With Curiosity

Lead With Curiosity: How you show up impacts how people feel and how you make them feel determines the extent to which they can engage with you.


How does it work when you ask that? I’m curious. A quick story. I was in a group called CEO Space. It’s a group of CEOs and they had some language in there. When you’d give somebody feedback, you would ask them, “How did you receive that?” When you say that to someone, what’s the typical response that you get from that or how does it work?

Sometimes, you read it wrong. It’s like, “What do you mean how’s it landing with me?” I’ve gotten that before. It’s like, “I want to take a little pause here and say we’ve talked about this problem or whatever the conversation is and see how that’s going.” Sometimes it’ll be, “This isn’t helpful.” I’m like, “I sensed that. That’s why I asked it,” and it can be that little moment of saying okay.

Will people say that? Will they say that it’s not relevant or it’s not working?

I’ve had people tell me before, “It feels like you’re questioning me.”

It feels like an inquisition rather than a curiosity of, “Let’s get to the bottom of this.”

I had a good friend from high school. We had a hard conversation. We hadn’t been talking as much. I called him up and I’d seen him in person, “What’s going on with you and I? Sometimes like it seems like you’re harder to get ahold of lately.” I feel like it’s something that I’m doing. He says, “Sometimes I feel tired when I get off the call with you.” I’m like, “Say more on that.” He is like, “Sometimes you ask too many questions. I just want to have a conversation.” I’m like, “I didn’t know that.”

Now we’re talking lots again and I’m asking less questions. That’s a 35-year relationship. That wasn’t my intention. We can have that attitude when we come in, but sometimes our intentions don’t land as other people’s perceptions. If you’re not curious enough, you’re going to miss out. I’ve missed out enough. Try to not miss out anymore. I’m still going to miss less now.

The goal is to be more aware and bring out our best selves whenever we can. I love that that you’re saying the same thing as I was saying. You don’t want to lose the friendship, so you’re like, “What happened here?”

This is funny because I have another relationship and that conversation didn’t go as well. We’re not talking as much now and we found out we’re not that good of a fit.

Is that what their feedback was, “We’ve grown apart?”

It was probably a little harsher in that area, but that was the end result and that’s okay because there are some things about me that I want to change and that I’m curious about. If I was making you feel like I wasn’t doing an inquiry with you, I’d want you to tell me that, but then there are some aspects of who I am. I’m a pretty extroverted, funny, loud person and sometimes people don’t care for that and that’s okay until you find out who you mix with.

To that conversation, you realize that when you come in and you’re curious and then you got to self-reflect and saying, “How much do I own in this? How much does the other person own in this?” If we start with ourselves first, then we can evaluate that and some people aren’t ready for that conversation or to go to that space.

I think that is the same at work. Each party has to own what they bring to the table. Sometimes, it’s not a fit. Sometimes, you can bend over backward and try to say things the right way or the best way that you know how and constantly be making adaptations, but sometimes it’s not a fit. There are some things, like you said, that don’t get changed.

I’m trying to think of an example. For somebody who consistently comes in late or is late for meetings or something like that, there’s a conversation and an understanding, but there’s also got to be some understanding from the other people’s side that this is wasting other people’s time. It cannot be accepted in certain things. There’s not a compromise.

We both got to have some curiosity. It’s like, “You’re asking that about me. Now I’m curious in why you’re asking that.” You talk about the energy. It’s like, “It’s interesting that you ask that. Where’s that coming from?” “It’s coming from here,” and then that’s where you get to that root cause. Sometimes, it’s the silliest of aspects that you don’t realize. Maybe it’s a text. We take that text out of context. Instead of running down that rabbit hole, it’s like, “Can you give me a call? My mind’s going someplace weird in this text.”

“What do you mean by that? I don’t want to misinterpret.” I had somebody who sent me a text that should not be on text. I’m like, “I think this is a phone call that we should have. I’m not going to read the text. Let’s talk.”

That’s you showing up. You’re curious. You see the text, “We don’t have to put this into the wrong place. Give me a call.”

[00:20:50] Do you have any other key questions or a framework that you use or any other tools that you see around this topic of being curious and being able to get to the root cause?

I call it the showing up space, the space between how we think we show up versus how other people see us. To me, that’s the most important space in my life because it’s like you get to that point where it’s, “I don’t need everybody to like me. I do want to come across as I intend, though.” That whole space of showing up causes that constant work of checking in and doing that even afterward. Maybe that next step is even after that conversation, if you’ve asked that question, that energy and you can even say like, “How do you think this project’s going when you and I are working on this together? Is there anything that we need to adjust in what’s going on?”

We’ll definitely see about that. After that phone call I said, “Are you okay to continue working with me? Is there an issue? Are we going to be okay to work together?” The other side needs to be, “Do you feel the same? What do we need to do to meet in the middle?” It’s curious but candid. It has to be candid. We have to understand because I think if you don’t have those candid conversations, then it stays surface-level. You might have some of the richness. Once you get through that, if there is bad energy and you’re able to get through that, your 35-year-old friend could be 10 times closer after resolving something because you work together to resolve something. It makes the trust in the relationship stronger.

You love the guy and then you’re grateful. Maybe the final key is that when it comes from care, does this person care about me personally? You can get away with so much and what you say and using the wrong words, but when your words or actions start to come to the point where it does feel like a dagger and it’s like, “If you cared about me, I wouldn’t feel that way when it comes from you because when you care about me and it comes from that place, I don’t know what’s going on. The last couple of times we were in that meeting, it felt like everything I said was wrong. I care about our relationship. I’m coming from this place.” The opposite is if you’re coming here to condemn me, then I’m not going to receive that because I don’t need that. If you don’t think you care about me, then I don’t care about your opinion.

Take Back Time | Trevor Blondeel | Lead With Curiosity

Lead With Curiosity: The final key is when it comes from care.


What happens in a lot of organizations, and I was writing a note to myself to think about, is that this thing where there’s a tipping point where people feel like you don’t care, and then they are actively disengaged. Meaning they are sabotaging the relationship and the organization. When they feel like you don’t care, they’ll do anything to stick it to you from people you’d never expect that from, too. I have two clients whom I’ve worked with over the years and I saw this happen with one person at each of those organizations. I was thinking, “Where does that come from? What was it?” It was something that triggered that felt like they were being taken advantage of or the leaders didn’t care.

You have two choices or maybe more, but the two main choices that I see there is your own behaviors to reinforce your belief window that they don’t care. That is option one and it sounds like it can be done and the other one is that you can come up with your own curiosity and say, “That person makes me feel like they don’t care. I’m going to ask them. Do you not care about me?”

For somebody who feels in an organization, they’re whatever, whether they’re manufacturing and on the line or they’re in leadership somewhere, wherever the role might be, how does one address that with their leadership?

I can remember a moment where I’m running a plant, at least in the majority of it, and the general manager or the VP is overriding me a little bit, going directly to some of my team and making me feel undermined. It’s funny, once we start to get into that space where you were describing with that person or me and my old boss, we start to get weird. We start to separate ourselves from that person and distance it a little bit. It gets awkward and it’s like, “How do you even address it?”

I got him out of his office in some neutral territory and I said, “When you do this, it’s making me feel like this. When you call the supervisor in the middle of the night and then I’m not even involved, it makes me feel like you don’t trust me.” We got into that deeper conversation. We had a reset moment and the boss isn’t always going to do that. I wasn’t the boss. I had to go and say, “What’s going on here? Are you losing trust in me because your actions are making me feel this way? I don’t like it.” It was hard. I was nervous.

The hardest part is you’re nervous, you don’t want to get fired maybe because you’re doing this to your boss, you’re talking to your boss. I could imagine all that fear, anxiousness and even emotion in the moment. I was afraid that you wouldn’t even say the right thing and, “What if I say something bad?” You need to go in there prepared with a clear intention and thought about how you might open that up.

I would even suggest it. If you’re reading this and you maybe you’ve got a conversation you need to have, I’ve even started it with, “This is uncomfortable for me to bring up.” I let them know right up front, like, “This isn’t easy for me to bring up. I’m feeling like there’s a trust issue here. We’re not performing well, but I feel like we’re getting some distance and that’s not going to help us perform better. Right now, I’m feeling more nervous about our relationship and I’m going to make less impactful decisions because I’m going to be in that fight or flight. I’m nervous about you. This is only going to get worse and I want it to get better. How do we make it better together?”

You’ve brought many great nuggets to how people on all levels can speak more candidly with more curiosity and intention with each other. Thank you so much for being here.

Thank you.

Where can people find out more information about you?

We have the podcast Mindfulness Manufacturing. For my speaking, it is When I work with manufacturers, it’s

Thank you so much for being here.

I love it. Thank you.

Thank you all for being here. Mind blown. This is probably one of the most important episodes that you can read because it’s the complexity of our relationships that makes our work complex. There is a way through and that’s simply by getting curious and having these candid conversations from that place and with intention. I hope you guys took a lot. You took some notes.

Maybe you can have a catchphrase that you can use when you have a challenge with somebody. Find what works for you because clearly, one sentence might work for Trevor and one might work for me and you have to find what works for you. Have that go-to so that you can say, “This is a little uncomfortable. I wanted to share how I was feeling. Tell me more about what’s going,” or whatever it is. Find the catchphrase that helps you to have these conversations. We’ll see you in the next episode.


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About Trevor Blondeel

Take Back Time | Trevor Blondeel | Lead With CuriosityThrough his speaking, writing, and coaching, Trevor Blondeel works with manufacturers to connect the top to the shop. Over 25 years of working within the manufacturing industry, he learned from experience that successful organizations are built on engaged team members who are accountable for their actions and continually improve their skills. It sparked a passion for developing leaders in manufacturing that allows individuals and teams to reach their full potential. He took what he learned and started his own business, Manufacturing Greatness to share best practices. His process is built on changing behaviors one at a time, resulting in systems that work every day. Clients utilize his speaking, coaching and advisory services to increase performance, productivity, and profits.
Trevor holds an Honors Bachelor of Business and is certified as a manufacturing leadership coach with the Center for Executive Coaching. He also holds a Professional Coaching Certification with the ICF and is certified and active as a Genos Emotional Intelligence practitioner. As President Elect of the Kentucky chapter, Trevor loves learning and sharing in the community of the National Speakers Association.


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