Natalie Siston

Turn stagnant seat-warmers to engaged employees

10 Sep 2019   |   Leadership

Natalie Siston

Turn stagnant seat-warmers to engaged employees

10 Sep 2019   |   Leadership

If you have ever felt like you’re sitting stagnant in your seat, you’re not pushing forward, you’re not taking risks or efforts to grab opportunities that come your way, then you have quit. Quitting doesn’t mean you’re throwing your ID on the ground and stomping on it while you scream, “I QUIT!”. Feeling disengaged at work is another form of quitting. It’s just that you haven’t left yet. In fact, it’s much worse that the conventional meaning of quitting your job. Director of Coaching at Nationwide Financial and the founder of Small Town Leadership, Natalie Siston explains how to use coaching to identify people who have “quit” and how to re-engage them.​​

What we learned from this episode

-There are two types of quitting, the really dramatic kind, and the kind where people stay on the payroll, but just do the bare minimum to get by.​

-There are climbers and campers. Climbers are always trying to get to the next place and the next goal. Campers are fine where they are and just want to make that place better. As a leader, you have to know which kind your team members are and give them engaging tasks that fit. ​

-One of the growing trends in corporate life is how we equip our managers with coaching skills and not just management skills. They can have the type of connection and conversational relationship with their employees, that’s going to be necessary to help us in this ever evolving, fast paced, change driven world.​​

What you can do right now

-Reach out to people whom you think are risk taking and making that jump. Think in terms of what you can learn from that person. They’ll be more than happy to share their experience with you.

-Create a unique environment for your team. Everyone is different. To engage employees you need to understand their unique position, their desires, their motivations. Don’t have one-to-one conversations like everyone’s the same.

-Have a coach-like mindset with employees whom you think are disengaged. Listen to understand, have curiosity, care for them genuinely, and be compassionate so you can have a meaningful dialogue and figure out what’s wrong.​​

Key quotes

“But then there’s this other type of quitting. And that is when you quit, but you’ve not yet left. You’re sitting stagnant in a seat, you’re not pushing anything forward, you’re not taking any risks, you’re not raising your hand for any other opportunities. You’re quite literally taking up space in a position.”​

“You’ve got two types of people in your organizations, you’ve got campers, and you’ve got climbers. So, the climbers are the ones who want to move forward. They want to get to the next thing. Then you have the campers, who are just interested in hanging out.”​

Links mentioned​

Small Town Leadership​

Natalie on LinkedIn

Today, our guest is Natalie Siston. She’s the Director of Coaching at Nationwide Financial and she’s also the founder of Small Town Leadership. And this episode is called Work Minus Quitting. Hi, Natalie. How are you?

I’m doing great. Thanks for having me on, Neil.

Very excited to have you on. You have an interesting title. Interesting story. Why don’t you start off just telling us a little bit more about yourself and how you got here?

Absolutely. I wear two very distinct yet integrated hats in my life right now. I serve as the Director of Sales Coaching and Development at Nationwide Financial where it’s my responsibility to lead a team of professional coaches who are helping all of our leaders become coaches. It’s very unique. You can’t find many people in the industry doing this. It’s a very, very rewarding position. And I came to it because three years ago, I started my own company called Small Town Leadership. It connects me to the town I was born and raised in, Republic, Ohio, population 600. And as I was setting up Small Town Leadership, it was a way for me to tell stories about growing up in Republic and how that translated to the type of leader I’ve become today. And as I was growing that, I began having conversations with people inside my company about what I was doing. And it ultimately led me to being in the role I’m in today. But I think it’s a good lesson for all of us that the journey we’re on might seem disconnected at times, but it pulls you back together when the right opportunities present themselves. I’m very much an intrapreneur within my company, but also very much an entrepreneur as I’m growing Small Town Leadership.

Let’s talk about this because I think a lot of people would find themselves in a similar position where maybe they have a little bit of a hobby or a passion or they have an idea for some company they want to start but they’re not sure how to do it. They don’t know should they go full in. Your model is interesting in that you have it, you started it. Were you still working at Nationwide while you started that?

I was. Yes, I was in my previous role, which is where I was a relationship management director. So, I was working with partnerships, strategic alliances type of thing, and had decided through a coaching engagement, so coaching will be a theme I think throughout our discussion today, I was working with a coach because I was feeling that kind of “meh” that we all get to. And I think that’s why I decided that Work Minus Quitting would be a great topic for us today. So, I was getting to this “meh” place. But I knew I didn’t want to quit. So instead, I engaged with a coach and she helped me really dial into what are the things that I’m passionate about, what do I love doing. And those things are speaking and writing. Those are things I’ve done since I was a little kid in the 4-H club growing up in Republic. And I realized that anytime anyone asked me to come speak or things I wrote about all tied back to being from Republic, Ohio, being small town.

So, very much Small Town Leadership is my style of showing up. And this all came about through a six-month coaching engagement. And I did what the only thing I knew how to do at the time was I started a blog and a website called And that slowly morphed over three years into the place where I am doing more keynote speaking, I am running a coaching practice through the Small Town Leadership platform as well. And I think for a lot of people, it can start with just that simple spark of I have this idea, I have this passion inside me. And what do I do with that? So, for me, I had to work with someone, I had to have someone help guide me through that process. But once I was off, I was off and running. And it became about the balance of how much am I doing there, which was very much writing, speaking occasionally while still holding down the steady 9:00 to 5:00.

So, talk to us about how that happened with Nationwide in terms of the day they’re asking you, what are you doing? And they realized that you’ve got this other thing going on and like, wow, we could really use that. What was that process like of becoming the Director of Coaching?

It was actually through a conversation with my now boss and basically telling him everything I was doing with Small Town Leadership. There was no ulterior motive in that conversation was simply a networking meeting. And when I explained how I was building a coaching practice, and I had just finished my coaching certification, it came up in conversation that that was the type of position that was going to be open soon. So quite literally, I feel like I was in the right place, right time with the right person. And it came to fruition because at the time I was facing the hard decision of quitting myself. I was thinking that in order to do all these things I love doing that I would need to quit and I would need to go pursue this full-time when, for the last year, that has not been my reality. I’ve gotten to double down in the things I love doing internally, which has allowed me to flourish with my own business as well.

So, let’s talk about quitting. You’re in a position where hopefully you’ve realized a lot of the dreams you had, you pushed through a lot of the hard points. But talk to us more about how you get there and those common things we face when we’re thinking about quitting?

Absolutely. I think first, Neil, it’s important to distinguish the two types of quitting. So, there’s the quitting that I think in this drama land of mine, I must be watching a lot of kitchen reality TV, but I picture the quitting where you take off your apron, you throw it on the floor, you slam the door, and you say I quit. So, in the corporate world, that probably looks more like submitting your two weeks notice, handing in your ID badge and your laptop and going on to your next thing. Which happens for lots of reasons, you’re just done growing, you found your next great opportunity, maybe you weren’t feeling supported or challenged. But then there’s this other type of quitting. And I think it’s actually the more dangerous type of quitting that we face in corporate America. And that is when you quit, but you’ve not yet left. You’re sitting stagnant in a seat, you’re not pushing anything forward, you’re not taking any risks, you’re not raising your hand for any other opportunities. You’re quite literally taking up space in a position.

That’s a really great distinction because when we think of quitting, we mostly think of that first type you have. But I think a lot of people are in that second type where they’ve quit mentally, they’ve quit emotionally, maybe they’ve quit relationally, but they’re still there. They’re still getting paid. And the company is wondering what’s going on. The managers are wondering what’s going on. What are some telltale signs that somebody’s in that stage?

I think there are a couple of key things that we can pick up on when someone’s in that space. One is they’re disengaged. And I know you probably talk about engagement a lot on this podcast. So, from disengaged, I mean, quite literally, they aren’t interested in joining the team when they decide to go to a social hour or even go out to lunch during work hours, or they’re completely withdrawn in team setting. They keep their head down, they keep their earplugs in, they even might be avoiding eye contact or just completely withdrawn. So, that’s probably the extreme case where you can probably sense something’s going on here. I think in other cases, it’s where they are doing more of the complaining or venting and not choosing to do anything with that. So, it’s really bringing forward all the problems, but then not recommending any of the solutions.

But I think quitting before leaving shows up in lots of different ways. And someone categorized it like this at an event I was at and I loved this. So, I think this might be a good visual for your listeners is you’ve got two types of people who tend to be in organizations, you’ve got campers, and you’ve got climbers. So, the climbers are the ones who definitely they want to move forward, they want to get to the next thing, then you have the camper, the person who’s just interested in hanging out. And guess what? We need campers in our organizations, we need those rock solid people who are showing up and putting in good work and doing their thing day after day. But it’s when the camping turns to complacency when we’ve got to have our sensors on as managers and say, how do I ensure that this person hasn’t quit? How do I get them back in their campsite if that’s where they need to be?

Natalie, is there a good type of quitting? Because I mean, we always do too much. I feel like there’s always a lot of things that are out there. So, how would you define the positive side to quitting, saying, no, I’m going to stop doing this because I need to stop doing it to focus on something else?

I think there are points in time when quitting is absolutely what you need to do. Whether it’s because you got that new, great opportunity or because you realize there’s something that’s impeding your own health, your own growth, your own development, that type of quitting is really important. I think what needs to happen, though, first, is people need to take a step back and ask themselves, why am I quitting? In this case, I am talking about the literal, I’m putting in my two weeks notice quitting. I work with a lot of coaching clients in my coaching practice who come to me because they’ve had it, they’re ready to leave, they’re ready for a new job. And they come to me because they want help doing that because in a lot of regards I do networking coaching. And in almost all cases in working with these clients, we’ve reached the end of the engagement, and then some, some cases one or two years later, and they’re still there. And they’re a lot happier. Because what happens in the type of engagement like that, and I think it’s very similar the experience I went through when I hired my own coach is you start to separate your work self from your real self and yourself and you realize work doesn’t define me.

Because we all know that when people are suffering at work, they aren’t that fun to be around, whether it’s their partner, their friend, their child, it’s tough to be around someone who’s really, really miserable at work. And when I work with someone in that regard, we do things to build in daily practices so they can understand that their life is more than their work. And some of these are probably things that we’re all familiar with. It might be a daily meditation, it might be journaling, might be getting some exercise, any number of things for them to be able to focus on themselves. In many cases, it’s a gratitude practice. And what that usually does is it illuminates for people that, I’m not broke because I’m unhappy at work. I’m a whole person, and I need to lean into the rest of my life. And so, when you allow people to lean into the rest of their life, then all of a sudden, they start to show up a little better at work. And they start to get a little more creative at work. And they start to get a little more engaged at work. And then they start to realize like, oh, this isn’t a terrible place. I actually like being here, like, oh, I like myself, too. So, that’s the remarkable experience that I’ve seen a lot of people go through when, initially that first meeting, it’s like, all right, I’m going to be out of here in six months. Help me get there.

Tell us a little bit more about your own story. You were out in Silicon Valley for a while. Now you’re back not necessarily in a super small town like you were in Republic, but back in the Midwest area. So, what was that like? Do you feel like you quit Silicon Valley? How would you describe that transition?

No, I definitely didn’t quit Silicon Valley. I moved out to Palo Alto to Stanford because my husband was in graduate school out there. We got married super young. And my first job out of college was at Stanford Alumni Association, which was awesome, amazing place to be. And when my husband graduated, he received a job offer to come back and teach at Ohio State, which is both of our undergraduate alma mater. And for us, it was the ultimate homecoming. It’s pretty rare for someone to go back and teach at their alma mater at that kind of level. So, we’ve been back home now for 13 years. And we definitely didn’t quit Silicon Valley. It was an amazing, amazing time in our life. But I think I have had those moments, Neil, where I’ve wanted to quit in my career, even some things in my life. And I’ve recently, like quit stuff in my personal life, from a board perspective, community perspective, because I realized I needed some space, I needed some time. So, I think in your earlier question, you said when is quitting good, I think in that regard, looking at the things you’ve taken on in your life and realizing, I’m quitting the bake sale, I’m quitting the next fundraiser type of thing, that’s okay if you need the space in your life to do it.

Talk to us about the difference between making these strategic choices on how to reengage and that feeling that we get, or at least we tend to look down on, of somebody who’s always just chasing after the next thing, feels like the next flashy thing they want to move on to, quit what they’re doing and go to something new. What’s the difference between what you’re talking about and what that is?

And I think that’s when also we have to realize that people are wired differently. We’re going to run across people in our careers all the time who are going to be chasing after the next thing. And we’re looking at life through a lens that we see. And so, we see that person going, oh my gosh, really? Another thing? When maybe in our own life, it’s because we’re a little scared. Maybe we want to be a little more like that person, a little more risk taking, a little more out there to say, look at me, pick me for this next thing. So, I think it’s really important to understand where our mindset is when we’re making that kind of judgment or knowing about leaping to the next thing. I think it’s when we are just, the word stagnant keeps coming up in my mind right now, is when we get to that place where we’re feeling the stagnation, and we’re looking at people making that leap, taking that jump, that’s when we really have to step into it and say, what can I learn from that person?

And I think I’ve learned the most in my life by actually leaning into conversations with people who I see them doing something, I want to understand what that’s like. What is their life like? What’s their mindset like? So, I’ll go have that conversation. And when I think we all find out through those conversations that we’re all more alike than we are different. And we can learn a lot from that. So, I think if there are people that you see doing things in their career that you’re either scratching your head at or going, “What if I was a little more like that?”, reach out to them. They probably are more than happy to talk to you about what their experience has been like. And maybe it’ll give you a few ideas on what you can do to prevent yourself from quitting or maybe to quit if that’s something that you’re ready to do.

I keep coming back to this camper and climber analogy you made. I think it’s really nice because, like you said, there’s a good side to both. You need campers and you need climbers. And there’s a bad side to both. Climbers can be going off climbing the next new thing and leave everyone else behind or find something else they want to do and just keep switching from thing to thing. And then of course, campers can get complacent and stagnant and not want to move and hold everyone else back. So, what are your thoughts on those advantages and disadvantages of both groups?

I think it depends how, from a management perspective, you’re approaching that. So, from a management perspective, if you’re going to approach that as knowing that I’ve got different types of people on my team, and I’m going to, therefore, treat them differently, I think that that’s very positive. And that’s when the camping and the climbing works really well. Because guess what? People on your team know which side they fall into, they might not have called it that, they might think of it differently. But it’s approaching them one to one thing, I see that you’re someone who wants to get to the next thing, let’s figure out how that makes sense in our current team structure. So, that would be the conversation I have with a climber. For the camper, the conversation I would have is, are you fully satisfied? Do you feel like you’re giving everything you’ve got to give? Because maybe that person just hasn’t been asked, maybe they have not been asked what they can contribute beyond what they’re currently doing. So, I think that it’s all around how the management frames that. Now, if you approach everyone exactly the same, that’s when you’re going to run into resentment, that’s when you’re going to run into people at the team looking at each other funny or saying, man, why is this person getting the new project, they have no interest in it? I’m the one who wants the new project. So, it’s all about that individualized one to one connection that we have in the workplace that really matters. So, we’re creating the environment that’s needed for each of our associates based on their unique position, their desires, their motivations.

Do you feel like it’s corporately acceptable, socially acceptable for people to admit that they want to be camper? They say, I’m not quitting. I like where I am. I don’t want to move from here necessarily. I just want to hold down the fort. I feel like there’s almost a lot of social pressure that if you have that attitude that you’re not growth minded, you’re not positive, you’re not moving up. What do you think about that?

I think we actually need the campers and I think if the problem we’re probably facing is no one’s having that outward dialogue. They’re making assumptions about what is acceptable, what’s not acceptable. But if we can actually have the conversation with the person who’s been super happy in the same job for eight years, they’re doing a great job, their performance is good. And just being articulate with them to say, are you in a place where you want to be? And if they’re like, yeah, I really just dig what I do every single day, then man, we’re probably pretty lucky. Because as a manager, it’s also really hard if every single person on your team wants to keep climbing the ladder, because we all know that those positions get fewer and fewer, or just become harder to satisfy those desires for associates after a while.

Tell us a little bit more about what you’re doing at Nationwide in terms of building out the coaching practice there and a little bit about how coaching works at that corporate level.

Thanks for asking that question. So, we have been actively building a coaching program for 12 years now. And I give the credit to my predecessor and the team because I’ve only been in this place for a year. But we’ve built an internal program to work crediting people to become certified coaches. So, we’ve built the curriculum, we work with them through a training process. And then the most powerful part of what’s happening internally is the seven coaches who are on my team are doing oversight work with all of our leaders. And what that means is they’re sitting down during those one on one discussions or often we’re out in the field, where our sales leaders are riding along with their sales associates so we’ll be there as well. But we’re observing that leader as a coach, and we are reminding them of all the competencies they’ve learned in their coach training, and helping them to understand how they coach more than manage their associates. And so, through this oversight work, we can really dial in with a leader, what are the things that you need to do to be more effective as a coach in your space? What do you think that particular associate might need from you? And how do you build the appropriate coaching plan forward from there?

It’s really terrific. We’ve had nearly 400 people go through this program over the past decade, and have certified a lot of coaches through this process. And what’s really rewarding is I’ve been able to sit down with a lot of leaders as part of my role and they say, this coaching program changed my life. And I lean in and say, okay, tell me more. And they’ll say things like, yes, I’m a better leader here and I show up better for my team. But I’m also a more patient spouse, I’m a better parent to my child, I just have more self awareness around what’s going on. And that’s the type of thing that we’re working hard now to calculate from an ROI perspective is, how can you take all those feelings and those qualitative aspects of being a manager as coach, and then translate into what it means for a business result?

And that’s what I was going to ask, too, is how you define success, because I think a lot of people, especially talking about sales leaders, it’s a highly competitive field, a lot of recruitments going on trying to bring people from one place to another. So, offering a benefit, like coaching, personalized coaching from someone within the organization, is a great thing. But what are the other ways that you measure the success of your unit?

We look at it through how the teams are also engaging with our group. So, not only do we do this one to one work, but we do the one to many work as well. So, if we know that we have a team that’s working hard on building up their emotional intelligence or deepening their growth mindset, our team is well-equipped to come in and facilitate those types of engagements. So, we see success as if our phone is ringing and people are calling us to say, hey, we need more of that success. And we’re also finding ways to partner more across our organization because we are pretty unique to one particular area of the company. So, how can we share what we’re doing broader in the enterprise that way our peers in different parts of the business can understand what we’re doing? And those are the types of conversations I get excited about because I’m a long timer at the company, I’ve been there for 11 years. So, I know people all over the company. And for me to be able to share what I’m doing in this current role with those who really have no idea that it exists, it opens their eyes to the possibilities of what it’s like to be a manager as a coach, which I think is one of the big trends that we’ll be seeing moving forward in corporate life is how do we equip our managers with coaching skills, not just management skills, but true coaching skills, so they can have the type of connection and conversational relationship with their employees, that’s going to be necessary to help us in this ever evolving, fast paced, change driven world.

Natalie, if you could close us out with this question. We’re talking to managers, people who are leading teams, they see people on their team who they feel like are in danger of quitting or getting close to that level, either of the types of quitting you talked about. What’s one mindset shift, one question they can ask, one thing they should be aware of as they’re interacting with people on their team that are in this danger zone?

I love this question because I think we are all looking at some point for that magic bullet, that silver bullet that’s going to get us just where we need to be. And here it’s not a specific question. But I would just invite everyone who’s listening who finds themselves in this management position to ask themselves, how can I show up more coach-like with this associate? Because coach-like in my mind means I’m listening to understand, I have extreme curiosity, I care, I’m going to be compassionate. If I can demonstrate all of those coach-like tendencies, those coach-like skills, that associate is probably going to open up a lot more to me. And I’ll be able to have a more meaningful dialogue to dial in and figure out what’s happening. And from there, once again, from a coach skill perspective, you’ve got to trust your intuition, follow your gut in how that conversation goes. So, ask yourself, how can I show up more work-like so I can get to a place where I can have the honest conversation and get that employee where they need to be?

Great. I love it. Natalie, tell us where we can go to learn more about your work?

Absolutely. I would invite anyone to find me on all the socials, primarily LinkedIn and Facebook and Instagram, I’m Natalie Siston. And Small Town Leadership on all of those places. I’m highly involved and active on LinkedIn. So, if I invite anyone who wants to continue the conversation to connect with me there.

Fantastic. Natalie, thanks so much for being on the show, sharing what you’re doing, and we’re excited to hear more from you.

Wonderful. I appreciate being on. It was a lot of fun. Thanks.


Natalie believes everything she needed to know to succeed in her career she learned by growing up in a town of 600 people. As a Certified Professional Coach, avid writer and award-winning public speaker, she helps her clients and audiences make wherever they are feel like a small town. She lives in Dublin, Ohio with her husband, Rob, a professor at Ohio State and two little girls.

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