We’re just abuzz at the Ranch this week, because a brand new book has its Chicago launch party at our space! And it’s all the sweeter because it’s the debut book from none other than Erin Diehl, one of our favorite facilitators and entrepreneurs.

Erin is the founder of improve it!, a professional development company that strengthens teams and leaders through play, improv and experiential learning, and whose workshops at the Ranch are perennially popular.

Besides helming the mighty improve it! ship, she’s also a podcast host, keynote speaker and mentor. And just last month, with the debut of her first book, I See You!: A Leader’s Guide to Energizing Your Team Through Radical Empathy, she added one more hat to the hat rack: bestselling author.

Ranch staffer Bryan got to chat with Erin and learn more about the new book. Read on to learn the origins and purpose of I See You! — plus what this former-Chicagoan does when she’s back in town.

Erin, welcome back to Chicago! Big congrats for debuting I See You!, first of all, obviously. But because Chicagoans can’t NOT talk about Chicago, I’ve got to ask: As a former Chicagoan who’s back in town, what very-Chicago items do you hit while you’re here? Any local faves on your itinerary amid all the fanfare of a book launch? (High-key brag, by the way.)

Ah! Always love coming back to Catalyst – ya’ll are truly my home away from home! I’m so thrilled to be back in Chicago, especially in the spring. I’m hoping to go to one of my old favorites Hub 51 and grab a tuna thai basil sushi roll. I’ll make a stop at DryBar in River North to get the do’ done, and then I’ll be speaking at an event with CoreNet on Thursday at the Ivy Room.

After that, my team and I are having dinner at Adobo Grill and then seeing one of our team members in The Second City etc show on Thursday night. It’s a packed week, but I’m so excited to see the things I know and love in Chicago!

Oh wow, yeah, that’s a great list. Of course the improve it! improv mavens are all over Second City! But back to the matter at hand, let’s get into I See You!

Erin and the improve it! team leading an exercise at Catalyst Ranch

From what we’ve seen of the improve it! workshops and the crowds who’ve attended, the audience is pretty wide, right? The subject matter applies to folks at all levels of an organization. Who are you writing for in I See You! ? Is the audience the same or any different?

The audience is pretty wide. I wrote this book for leaders of any kind: leaders of teams, organizations, communities. Leaders of homes and households. I wrote it specifically for leaders who are burned out, who need to give more love back to themselves, and in doing so, they have more to give to the people they serve. It’s a great read with a coffee, glass of wine, and a face mask. It will be your best friend and biggest cheerleader.

That sounds really revitalizing. And “Radical Empathy” is a big part of the book. How did that concept first take up space in the way you operate? Was it something that you kind of learned gradually/slowly, or was there a specific moment/experience that unlocked the idea?

Such a good question! Radical Empathy was definitely something I witnessed in being led, by my former boss, Jennifer D’Angelo. I dedicate an entire chapter to how her leadership affected me. As I became a leader of improve it! I knew it was something I wanted to emulate.

What’s wonderful is that the main tenet of improv, “yes, and” lends itself to radical empathy. It is a postponement of judgement, and a philosophy to make sure all are seen, heard and valued. It’s what we teach, and it spills over to every facet of our business.

An improve it! workshop at Catalyst Ranch

This book is such an organic, logical evolution of your roles of facilitator and edutainer. What prompted you to channel your teaching into this new medium? What’s your relationship with writing?

Another great Q! Over the past three years, I went on a healing journey. I talk about this in the preface of the book, but I was experiencing what I call the Three P’s. Pivoting (during the course of the pandemic), people-pleasing (as a new mom to a miracle baby, as a leader navigating the pandemic, as a daughter to a mother who had just had a stroke), which lead me to my third P. Pain. Chronic pain. It was pain that kept me up at night, and pain that was undiagnosable by doctors.

When I finally realized that my pain was caused by unprocessed emotions I had hid from over the past 3-5 years of infertility battles and navigating the “new normal” of the pandemic as a leader – I got to work. I healed through therapy, meditations, coaches, healers, journaling practices.

It was during this healing, I received a download from a former loved one to write this book. This loved one had taken their own life, and had noticed some of the same patterns in me. I was able to create from this healed place, while feeling guided the entire time. I truly feel like I didn’t write this book. This book wrote me.

Oh gosh, I’m so sorry you experienced all that, Erin. I think, to find yourself on the other side of incredible challenges and be compelled to share what helped, I’m amazed by folks like you. Your readers have some really valuable insight in store for them, it sounds like.

What an exciting accomplishment. Thank you for sharing part of yourself with us, here and in your debut book! Can’t wait to dig in.

Thank you! I have been hearing it’s fun to read and listen to on audible! I hope you enjoy it!

Have a wonderful event on Friday! Oh, and Happy Women’s History Month! Before we let you go, who’s one of your favorite history-making women? 

Thank you! I’m so excited and cannot wait to be in one of my favorite places on earth – Catalyst Ranch!

And my guiding light, my north star is always OPRAH WINFREY. I’ve wanted to be her since I was thirteen years old, and I’m going to put it out there, Bryan. I am manifesting this so save this article – I’m meeting her in 2024!

Wow, I love it when a conversation come right back to Chicago! You know, her aura still lingers here in the West Loop after all her Harpo time back in the day, I’m sure of it. We can’t wait to hear about when you do meet her. It’s gonna happen!

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