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Hidden Gems: Meet Karan Ferrell-Rhodes of Shockingly Different Leadership (SDL)

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karan Ferrell-Rhodes.

Karan, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
Since my childhood, I’ve always had a passion for understanding what made the most successful individuals tick. The stories behind their perspectives and what they did to set themselves apart was a constant source of fascination to me. In college, I discovered that I loved both the psychology of people and the world of business. So I decided to combine the two via a degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and a MBA with a triple concentration in HR, Org Development and Marketing.

Fast forward to after a career of 18+ years as a corporate executive in Fortune 100 companies leading Leadership Development, Organizational Development and Human Resources teams, I realized four irrefutable facts:
1. Lack of good leadership and poor HR infrastructure account for the majority of discontentment of employees.
2. People truly want to show up as their best selves at work and HR functions are accountable for making sure this happens.
3. However, HR functions are frequently understaffed and underfunded, which undermines their capability and capacity to optimally support Talent initiatives.
4. When HR teams need external support, it is hard to find great HR consultants due to the fact that the HR consulting industry is largely unregulated and extremely unpredictable in quality.

So in 2013, I decided to leave my Corporate career to do my part in helping to up-level the “people side of business.” I was passionate about developing stronger business leaders and helping them execute their People initiatives because, ultimately, both the employees and the community would be positively impacted. And, for those companies who had the wisdom to prioritize this work but lacked the staff to carry it out, I wanted to be able to provide them a viable option for support.

I founded Shockingly Different Leadership (SDL) to be a premier global human capital services consultancy that helps companies solve the problem of quickly engaging high-caliber, trusted expertise to help them get their People projects accomplished. We work with Learning & Development, Organizational Development, and Human Resources teams to execute business-critical, talent-related initiatives on an on-demand, project, or contract basis.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
While starting SDL has been undeniably rewarding, it was not easy. I started out as a solopreneur and remember reading about the high failure rate of new service firms. Suffice it to say that I was determined to beat the odds!

Two years into the business, I tweaked the business model to hire a mix of internal staff and on-demand consultants in order to better facilitate business growth. I was determined not to issue a cattle-call and build an online marketplace of 50K unproven HR bios. Marketplaces work well for technical, creative and finance functions.

However, the HR function is a deeply personal, very dynamic and highly confidential field of work. I wasn’t prepared to vouch for consultants I didn’t know because both my reputation and the reputation of SDL was on the line. I started by only hiring colleagues who I worked with in the past and eventually expanded to include recommendations from my staff. SDL now hails over 250 consultants in 15 countries.

As you know, we’re big fans of Shockingly Different Leadership (SDL). For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
In addition to what I mentioned before about SDL, I am particularly proud of creating a leadership diagnostic assessment which is accompanied by a signature leadership development program.

This came about when I commissioned a research study to identify the most successful aspects of leadership execution. After evaluating over 10K high-performing leaders, I discovered seven tactics that dramatically increased the probability of success during any leadership effort. I also found that these tactics were common and applicable, no matter your job function or industry.

I wrote a book on leadership execution and the seven tactics, called “Lead at the Top of Your Game: how to deliver compelling influence, drive differentiating value and build an impeccable leadership brand.” I also created an assessment, The Leadership Tactics Diagnostic, which measures your acumen in each of the tactics and identifies where to best to focus to accelerate your leadership skills.

What do you like and dislike about the city?
I love how Atlanta is the true New York of the South: – There are communities of every race, religion and nationality in existence.

– You could eat all your meals at three different restaurants each day and not come even close to experiencing all the Atlanta culinary scene has to offer.

– Atlanta is a true high school, college and professional sports city

– However you define Culture, Atlanta has it- Broadway shows, concerts, clubs, festivals, arts, etc.

The only things I find challenging about our city is the heavy traffic and level of homelessness.

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