Amber Vanderburg, Founder, The Pathwayz Group

Amber Vanderburg is a multi-award-winning international businessperson, keynote speaker, author, and founder of the international learning development company, The Pathwayz Group, which has led 800,000+ learners in more than 75 countries in action-focused leadership and team development learning journeys. Amber’s history in talent development includes talent development with Adidas Gameday Academy and Paris Saint Germain Academy in Bangalore, India, authoring top-reviewed online learning courses for platforms such as LinkedIn Learning, Lecturio, and PluralSight, and acting as HR Director of Paradigm Shift Leadership. In 2022, she published her first business adventure book “Uniquely Better” about building higher team performance.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Outlook Magazine, Amber shared her professional trajectory, what sets The Pathwayz Group apart from other market competitors, insights on diversity in leadership, her biggest stress reliever, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Hi Amber, please brief us about yourself and your journey as Founder at The Pathwayz Group.

I have spent my entire professional life devoted to talent development – whether it be building healthcare teams in the medical system, soccer players in professional academy teams, students and faculties in universities, or professionals in business teams. I am passionate about equipping others with the tools, resources, and support they need to be the best version of themselves.

My journey started a few years ago when I was the HR director for a national education leadership company. It was a dream job with a dream team and a dream company….and I left it to chase another dream. That was a large leap – to leave predictable happiness for a vague idea or thought of something bigger.

I wanted to start an international learning and development company that would help teams perform better through improved leadership, communication, and collaboration skills. I wanted to create a more actionable, approachable, and digestible instructional design that was truly memorable for learners. And I wanted to be globally focused – specializing in multi-national organizations.

I started giving keynotes and workshops, building online courses (this was before the pandemic and online courses were not as large-scale), and learning as much as I could. My goal was to create a full company – not solely the Amber Vanderburg show. I wanted to create an organization where we could learn from and support one another. As we continue to learn, try, discover, fail, revise, and refine our content and delivery methods – it’s opened up doors I never imagined. I have an incredible team and we have the opportunity to make an impact in some remarkable organizations.

My team talks about how, as a learning company, we are constantly learning – it makes sense. We are constantly challenging, refining, growing, and learning to be better versions of ourselves – the talent development ideology is from the inside out.

What sets The Pathwayz Group apart from other market competitors?

The qualitative surveys say it best – it’s the action-focused learning that breaks down ideas into motions. The Pathwayz Group sessions draw from a unique blend of professional athletic instructional design, educational curriculum development, and corporate training methodologies. The result is shorter, faster, more agile iterations of learning, more memorable and digestible action steps, and more focused facilitated discussion. The average learning session features 1-4 action-step focused activities per hour. Our learning features 5-8 action-step focused activities per hour with more than 60 methods of engagement in our facilitator toolbox.

We also believe that activities are only as good as the time spent reflecting upon them. Our facilitators average 10-20 years of experience in a leadership/facilitation position and are certified to lead deeper, challenging conversations to get to the heart of the learning.

One of our recent feedback surveys said it best, “I’ve been to a lot of sessions, but this is the first one that I walk away truly believing that action will be taken. It’s not only discussion, it’s an action plan.”

What are some of the major challenges in the leadership industry we face at the moment? Why do we need to address our efforts to improve leadership for the future?

One of the major challenges I see in the leadership industry is leadership expectations. Leadership is a tough skill and the expectations for those in leadership positions are growing more and more – from leading a dispersed workforce to leading a more generationally diverse workforce – the toolbox continues to expand. It’s an exciting opportunity to increase the skills of leaders to make a powerful impact.

In tandem with the growing expectations, the investment in leadership skill development must continue to grow. Since the pandemic, we have had furloughs, layoffs, early retirements, and The Great Resignations leading to a gap in knowledge/skills in some workplaces. We’ve had several instances with organizations that have 50% new leadership in the last 3 years with no leadership development – sometimes this percentage is even greater. Investing in future leaders and preparing others to step into leadership positions early makes for a smoother transition and greater success.

Working in a historically male-dominated industry, what has been your journey breaking down barriers and stepping into leadership roles?

Of course, there are challenges. Especially in international business, there are some areas of the world where being a female business owner is particularly difficult. At the end of the day, it’s the relationships with those who support and encourage that speak volumes into my life. A couple of months ago, I was in Europe to give a keynote to a few hundred technologists – before my speech three guys came to see me just to offer well wishes and show their support. Last week, I was preparing for a big proposal for one of our larger clients, and a mentor offered time to give their insight and advice to enhance the presentation. Recently, I was in a particularly challenging meeting in Asia and had two guys reinforce my ideas and make sure my credit was acknowledged. I could tell you about the small-minded voices and actions that make my job more challenging than others, but small-minded voices get a small amount of space in my brain. I focus on acknowledging, appreciating, and utilizing those who have been champions of my success and help me confront the hurdles and challenges that come with being a female-owned business in this industry. In turn, I aim to champion the success of others.

What are your thoughts on diversity and inclusion? How important is it to have authentic conversations with leaders, professionals, and changemakers to create more acceptance across the globe?

Of course, diversity and inclusion are critical aspects of communities, workplaces, and society as a whole.

I have a course on LinkedIn Learning about Diversity in Teams but let’s talk specifically about Diversity in Leadership. I was working with a large organization’s executive team during their end-of-year retreat. They had incredibly strong relationships and supported one another in a way that other teams would only dream of. The challenge was – through all the niceties they were terrible at executing ideas.

We did the StrengthFinder profile and found that – in this large national company – 88% of the executive team’s strengths were in relationship building. Less than 5% of strengths were in executing ideas. Imagine all of the ways this single-focused team dynamic negatively impacted the leadership and progress of this organization?

When looking at diversity, we look at abilities, gender, race, strengths, ethnicities, politics, religions and so much more. It’s critical that we intentionally build more diverse teams.

Now, you can have a diverse team that is not inclusive. And you can have an inclusive team that is not diverse. I was working with one team that was wonderfully inclusive. In fact, it was one of their core values! Be inclusive! I was welcomed by the team and quickly invited to any and every social event. I looked around. Everybody looked like me. Most people had the same background, beliefs, and ideas as me. As I worked with the team more, we brought in a more diverse group of people. The team was challenged in the way they understood, interacticed, and collaborated with others. The inclusive behaviors were challenged. After some serious growing pains, we were able to add BOTH diversity and inclusion into our work dynamic for a more creative, innovative, and holistic team performance.

It’s critical that we have real honest conversations about creating more diverse and inclusive places around the globe.

In your academic or work career, were there any mentors who have helped you grow along the way? What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?

Some people say that “it takes a village to raise a child.” I feel like in my life, I was raised by a metropolis of people who have constantly encouraged, challenged, supported, and championed me to be the best version of myself. I do not take for granted the people who have poured into my life and try in earnest to pay forward the investment.

I have a notebook of advice and quotes from over the years. One piece that stands out is from a dear mentor of mine in academia who said, “Amber, there is a big difference between the person who has 30 years of experience, and the person who has 1 year of experience repeated 30 times.” It challenged me to constantly learn, develop, grow. I reserve the right to be smarter and better tomorrow than I am today. This ideology applies to me as a person and to The Pathwayz Group as an organization.

What’s a leadership lesson that you’ve learnt that’s unique to being a female leader?

A common “Vandy-ism” we say at The Pathwayz Group is, “If you can achieve your dreams on your own, then you are not dreaming big enough.” It’s true, if you want to build something, do something, be something bigger than yourself, then you have to include more than yourself.

I think this should apply to everyone, but I’d like to point out that, particularly for women, include others and ask for help. Successful people rarely achieve success on their own – seize the opportunity to build a relationship and include others on this journey.

What is your biggest stress reliever?

I schedule time in my calendar to walk or run. The mental clarity during that time is a game changer in my life.

What is your secret to striking a work-life balance?

I don’t think anyone has ever struck the secret to work-life balance. Part of my ideology I emphasize with my team is identifying what is important and what is priority. There are a million things that are important – what is priority for right now? We have projects, ideas, initiatives that are important for our teams – we have three priorities and focus areas for right now. Same goes for life, laundry is always important – yesterday it became a real priority for me.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?

My focus is to continue to build this company to expand our global reach and make a positive impact in the workplaces. I see this company with a stronger facilitator team, enhanced curriculum, and a prominent global presence within the international business community.

What practical tips would you like to share with other professionals who aspire to improve leadership skills within their own organisations?

Find one area that you would like to improve upon, identify one action step, and start today. When it comes to leadership: Don’t delay, start today.

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