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5 days ago
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Seth Freeman is an award-winning negotiation and conflict management professor at New York University and Columbia University.
In his book, "15 Tools to Turn the Tide- A Step-by-Step Playbook for Empowered Negotiating," Seth provides practical tools to navigate conflicts effectively, guiding individuals to create value, strengthen relationships, and approach negotiations with empathy.
In the episode, Seth emphasizes "winning warmly," ensuring that negotiators can achieve their goals while considering the other party's needs. Seth believes combining strength and kindness can lead to better outcomes in conflict resolution, even when disagreements remain.
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Stephen Matini: When did you decide what you wanted to pursue professionally? Is that something you've always known or unfolded over your time?
Seth Freeman: Well, as I often say, I used to practice corporate law. Now I enjoy my life. I was a very unhappy corporate lawyer for six years, and through a series of life events, I found myself trying just as an experiment to teach a class to paralegals on securities regulation.
Nobody wants to learn securities regulation, so I made it a little fun and they loved it and I loved it. And that was a revelation. I said, well, all right, I'll do it again. And ditto. And then I said, well, maybe I could teach corporate law and ditto. And now I've got a stack of reviews of students who said this was really great. So I started to pursue it, and that led me to Fordham Business School and I taught there.
And along the way I became pa interested in mediation, which led me to teaching negotiation. And that led me to teach at New York University, and that led me to teach at Columbia, and that led me to teach around the world.
Stephen Matini: So what, what do you think that was missing, like at the time that you were not having fun?
Seth Freeman: Well, I think I had to unlearn some things. I think I had understood that the purpose of work is to work more, and that you can get interested in anything. And so just find whatever's enjoyable about it and find something that you're reasonably okay with and just, you know, do it and don't, you know, don't worry about trying to find your calling or anything like that. And all of that proved to be in my hands, very unhelpful. And I was chronically miserable and I felt very bad about that.
I said, there must be something wrong with me because I just find this work so boring and stressful and I'm not very good at it. So there must be something wrong with me. And what I now realize is that Albert Einstein's remark is right, you know, he said, if you ask a fish to climb a tree, it's not gonna do very well, but if you put him in the water, it'll swim brilliantly.
That was me. I was definitely doing work that I really wasn't called to do. And this idea of calling became a critical realization. What am I called to do? And that takes some real introspection. It takes some prayer, it takes some, some, some exploration. But what do you know, 30 years later I rejoice in this. The idea of retiring to me sounds awful because I just love doing this.
Stephen Matini: You know, in hindsight it's so much easier to see what happened. So if you had to do it all over again, would you say that could have been possible for you as a younger professional to find out earlier on what your direction could potentially be?
Seth Freeman: Well, I'll answer for myself and separately. For others, for myself, I'm very grateful. I did not know, because what that would've probably meant was I would've sought a PhD and I would've found myself doing some rather obscure scholarship and some rather obscure place and perhaps getting into this work to some degree.
But I wouldn't have been primarily teaching, I would've been mostly focused on scholarship, which I love as an avocation, but I would not want that to be my primary focus. And that is what it is, what it means to be a, a tenure track academic. So it was a, a real mercy for me to discover this indirectly to first get a law degree in practice and discover what I don't enjoy doing. But it turns out that printed on the back of every law degree is a stamp that says good for a second career in academia.
For others, what I would recommend is make little bets, try different things, information interview. And those ultimately proved to be very valuable for me, along with understanding what it means to have a vocation if possible. All that I think would be my advice to others.
Stephen Matini: And then you focus on an area which is not necessarily something that a lot of people love, which is conflict management, negotiation. What was about that area that spoke to you?
Seth Freeman: You know, I took a vocational test when I was a corporate lawyer just to see if somebody had any perspective for me that I had missed. And they said, you have too many interests and abilities, so there's not gonna be one subject or field that will work for you. You're gonna need to basically build a three-legged stool and try to do several different things or take on a an enormous task. And that might occupy your interests and skills better, like say world peace. That was kind of a throwaway line. But here I am 30 years later and it's a term of art that I try to avoid whenever possible.
Cuz world peace can be such a cliche. But how do we get along is such a remarkably rich and varied question. It, you can bring any field of study to bear on it. It's the richness of it, the depth of it, the practical usefulness of it.
I can walk into a kindergarten or I can walk into the United Nations and I have or anything in between and talk with them about what I'm working on, what there is to learn. And they go, yeah, this is useful, this is interesting. Let me tell you my situation.
And as a result, what I'm learning is that it opens almost every door. If you want. If you're interested in psychology, you've got this history, politics, law, economics. This subject covers all bases. So that I think is why it remains so fascinating for me.
And most importantly of all, the sheer joy of seeing people go from being afraid or on the other hand, very arrogant and finding a way to work together with others that's powerful and gentle at the same time is just delicious, to be able to see people create more peace and prosperity and harmony, I never thought I could do that and I could do it. And what a difference that makes.
Stephen Matini: You know, one thing that I've noticed speaking to different guests for the podcast is how, for so many of them, what they decided to pursue was either a response to a problem they had an issue, something that they struggled with, that somehow became their life calling. Do you think that we are better off or what in terms of how we get along as people?
Seth Freeman: Well, there's several ways to answer that. One is that one of the least well known and most astounding developments in your life and mine, is that the world is doing better than we have ever done in our lives.
In 1961, John Kennedy talked about a global alliance north and so east and west that can secure a better life for all mankind against the common enemies of man, tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself. Now, this is no observation about John Kennedy, it just notes that those goals seem completely unreachable and lofty.
But fast forward to today, and what we discover is that tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself, not withstanding some of the headlines we dread, are actually in better conditions than at any time in human history.
Two billion people have left extreme poverty in the last 20 years. It's unbelievable. Deaths due to disease have fallen off. Literacy rates around the world are way higher than they've ever been. Many diseases have been cured. It just goes on and on and on, and it's just not widely known.
And if you think of all of those as part of what the larger definition of peace is, then things are actually in a better place than you would've ever dreamed. And yes, there's less war and deaths due to war than there've ever been notwithstanding Ukraine, notwithstanding in the Middle East and all and and such, not to trivialize that at all, but in general, we are doing better.
Now, does that mean everything's hunky dory and that I'm out of a job? Absolutely not. Could it change tomorrow? Absolutely. And there are all kinds of interesting questions about why this is so, and you might be familiar with a book by Steven Pinker, “The Better Angels of Our Nature.” And he talks about how the violence has declined for the last 500 years. And just to the point in the Middle Ages in Europe, the murder rate in most villages with something like 70 per hundred thousand, today it's two per hundred thousand. It's unbelievable how violent our ancestors' lives were, and we're not living that way.
Stephen Matini: Why do you think there's so much emphasis on the negative? It's impossible to read the news that all that we hear is just a celebration of negativity.
Seth Freeman: You know, my grandmother used to say, if it makes you happy to be unhappy, you should only be happy. And there can be a tendency for us to court that which makes us unhappy. It may have something to do with story mastery. We feel the need to master something that's disturbing or distressing. We run to it to learn it. And so we don't have to feel the fear anymore. Whereas if something is good, we're kind of almost programmed to go, okay, I don't need to worry about that anymore. And we don't discuss it.
Now that's just one brief level of discussion. It's also the nature of news itself. Not to say anything politically, but the nature of news is something happened that was big and noteworthy and the changed things. And typically it's negative and often explosive things that answered that description.
How did we cure polio? Well, it took years. There were certain people who were key to doing it and they eradicated it around the world over the course of several years or smallpox, but there was no one moment where that happened. And so it's much harder to craft that into a news story.
And so each year I curate a list. I, I usually find it online, something called 99 Good News stories that you didn't hear about. And some of it's a little political, but some of it's really wonderful like science breakthroughs and discoveries and the decline of tyranny, poverty, disease, and war.
And you go, oh my God, why didn't I hear about any of this? Hans Rowling is a demographer from Sweden. He passed away a couple of years ago, but he had a whole thing called the greatest PowerPoint presentation of all time and even wrote a book about it. And it shows how remarkably the world has advanced in the last 20 years. But he found that most western audiences, including journalists and scholars, had no awareness of this. And often when you tested them, they would score worse than chimpanzees.
And the reason is because they're reading the news. So for example, if you read the New York Times, and then I ask you, what's the likelihood if you catch Covid that you will be hospitalized?
The average New York Times reader would say 50%. Turns out the answer is 1.5%. So here's even the New York Times, and yet readers are kind of being led to believe their problem. And I, this is not a comment on how serious or unserious Covid, this is an order of magnitude difference in understanding of what the, the risks are. And it's not specific to the New York Times, it's not specific to that issue.
There are lots of issues I can name where almost every time you have a percentage in the headline, there's some misleading quality to it. And so you have to read with great care and you wanna check the footnotes, you gotta check other voices who has the time for that? And so as a result, we wind up hearing the negative and just assuming it's true,
Stephen Matini: How do you overcome polarization? What could it be a one first, a super small step?
Seth Freeman: If you're asking on a macro level, what can I, or what can you do to change the tenor of the times that we live in, in a great nation like Italy or the United States? I don't think there's a lot, at least in the moment. Although we can certainly plant seeds and we can live a life that looking back we feel glad and and hopeful.
But on a one-to-one basis, I do think there are things one can do. And indeed, I've been teaching one vein of this to my students for the last three or four semesters. And I teach them a very simple method. It's quite counterintuitive. And then send them out and I invite them as an optional assignment to try it to have a, what I call a hot topics conversation about a political issue that they're an eight, nine or ten about.
And that someone in their life is a one, two or three about, you know, opposite sides. They care about it. So there's a lot, there's, there's something at stake. Somebody they very much disagree with, can they talk about it?
I would guess 60 to 80% of the time they come back and say, that went way better than I expected. And it went way better than my counterpart expected. We both enjoyed it. We felt closer to each other afterwards. We didn't necessarily change either's mind, but my counterpart said he was energized, he enjoyed this, he wants to do more of it. And in the process they sometimes say, I learned things. I thought there was no possible thing they could say that would make a difference. And they go, oh my gosh, I learned something. I hear that. And I go, what a delight, what a joy.
And I've seen students do this, literally the world from New York to Pakistan, to Korea, to Haiti, to China. It doesn't matter what the culture is, it doesn't matter what the issue is. They've talked about everything and they've still had these experiences. So it's kinda a test of concept. You can do this and it's not that hard to learn.
Stephen Matini: So basically what is it they did? And they made it possible was about listening? Was about not trying to convince the other person that they should change their mind?
Seth Freeman: Very good. Each of those is part of it. But it really comes down to just three little words. And just as a side note, this is my next book, not the current book or it's part of it, but the three little words that they're using are paraphrase, praise, probe. Lemme say that again. Paraphrase, praise probe.
And the idea is you get onto a hot topic and you start by just listening when the other one is finished talking about his view on the issue, you see, lemme make sure I understand that. And you say back what the other one says, so well that the other one goes exactly.
And then you praise, you actually intentionally highlight something non-obvious that you can truthfully say you learned or appreciate about what the other is saying. Does that mean you're agreeing with them? No, but almost invariably there's something, in fact probably several things that this person has shared that is worthy of praise and that takes a little discipline.
And if there's absolutely nothing, then you go back and say, say more. And eventually you discover, I don't agree with this person, but this person is really caring, really cares about children's safety here. Or this person really cares about justice or this person really cares about the free speech and these are worthy things to care about. Now their conclusion may be opposite line, but those are worthy things to praise so you can praise them.
Then you ask a question, not a prosecutor's question. Isn't it true? But a question that a child would best ask, like, can you help me understand this? Or when you use this word, what do you mean? Or Can you gimme an example? Or how would we falsify that? Or how could we test that in really simple questions? And then you just repeat the process.
Now, eventually you do share your view. By the time you do, you have built such goodwill, such trust, such validation. The other one is interested in reciprocating and you've modeled for them the very kind of conversation that you would like.
And the conversation turns out to be delicious and you can go anywhere you want with it, but it's a lot better than the arguing. And I can speak with some confidence about this cuz I went to argument school or law school and I know that's a great way to alienate people and bother them.
Stephen Matini: Anything you say is very kind and very positive. Would you say that kindness and being positive could be part of these formula on how to negotiate?
Seth Freeman: Paraphrase, praise probe gives you a tool, dare I say it, to structure intentional respect and kindness. The basic thing I teach my students is the goal here is not to change someone's mind, but to touch their heart and to be 3% more loving.
It turns out that that's often one of the best ways to change somebody's mind eventually. And a good example of this is Darryl Davis. Darryl Davis is a 50 something African-American jazz musician, rhythm and blues artist I should say living in southern Maryland. And over the course of about 10 years, he built relationships with a number of members of the Ku Klux Klan. And in one-on-one conversations with them, the way he was with them was such that they left the clan.
In fact, many left the clan. Hundreds left the clan because of the way he was talking with them and essentially doing what what I'm describing. And they would give him their clan outfits and he has a whole closet, dozens, dozens of clan outfits because they renounced their racism and apologized.
And he said, I never ever set out to get any of them to leave the clan. I just wanted to engage with them human being, the human being, and ask them, how can you hate me when you don't even know me? And that gradually destroyed their misconceptions.
Stephen Matini: Seth, how do you preserve your energy? Because it's not easy what you do. So how do you stay positive? How do you stay kind, particularly when things get tough?
Seth Freeman: The truth is I'm not up against a lot of toxicity. I'm not up against a lot of animosity. I'm not putting myself onto social media in situations where people are prone to act like snipers. I'm actually in a very fortunate place and I have to speak with respect and humility about those who aren't so fortunate. But I can tell you that there are people who I've had the privilege of getting to know, who are dealing with incredible toxicity and they're succeeding.
That's hostage negotiators. I've had the privilege of getting to know the leaders of the New York Police Department hostage negotiation team, and they've come to my classes, we've had interviews, they're kind of become friends.
They'll tell you that there are specific learnable skills that make a difference. And it can be horrible to be talking to somebody who's got a gunpoint at the head of a 10 year old boy. And yet they succeed. Not always, but they succeed. And how do they cope with it?
Well, they have a team with them. Partly they have training, partly they're doing a lot of the same things that I would, I was just talking about paraphrasing, very big part of it.
And one of the things that's crucial in this work is taking a break. When you're overwhelmed, getting out of there, finding a way to detox is very important. There's an old misquote, never go to bed angry, terrible advice because what's the chance that drunk and exhausted at two in the morning? You and your significant other are gonna work it out. You know, if you're just take a break and you might do much better.
So there's no one thing that can protect one from toxicity, but that's one of the reasons having an array of treatment options is such a big deal.
Stephen Matini: What would it be in your experience the best way to approach that, when you know that you have something that could potentially change things for the better, but you are afraid of voicing them out?
Seth Freeman: In a sense you've just framed the thesis of the book or the challenge that the book seeks to speak to. Sometimes I refer to this as Godzilla. How do you negotiate with Godzilla?
So it may not be somebody who's mean, but somebody who is so powerful that it feels like I'm Bambi and he's just gonna crush me. How do I actually engage with this person in a way that's gonna be at least have a chance of being constructive and successful.
In a sense, every tool in the book is designed to help with that. I'll start with the very first one. I had a student who got a phone call from her client, biggest client of her, of her company, represented by a woman named Brenda.
And Brenda said, hi Janice, how's the project going? Oh, it's going great. We're gonna have it for you when you asked in 60 days. Yeah, that's what we're calling about. We need it in 30 days.
And she says, I really don't think that's gonna be possible. Would you please check cuz we really need it checks? No chance comes back, says, I checked, there's really no way she's not happy. Brenda's not happy. She says, all right. She hangs up. Long story short, her boss calls and says, if you don't give us this project in 30 days, you're gonna lose us. And with that, the company would die itself and the boss has no idea what to do. And Janice is with him when that call comes in and she says, tell him you'll call him back. Okay, but you're gonna have to come back in 20 minutes.
Okay, so now we've got Janice and her boss and the boss calls everyone else in and says, we've gotta do this, we've gotta get this done in 30 days. And everyone, but Janice says, we can't.
The boss says, you've got to can't got to, can't got to. They're in a classic impasse and the clock is running. Now what would you do in a situation like this? That's the very question you're asking me, Stephen, what would you say to your boss? Your boss is clearly freaked out and essentially his boss is freaked out what to do?
Well, what Janice did was to deploy the first tool of the book and it transformed the problem from an impasse to a dare I say it, a negotiation that allowed them to develop a counter offer. And the counter offer was so satisfying to the client that the client said, you guys are rock stars.
You're gonna get more business from us a lot more cuz you're fantastic. And the calls ended happily. Janice was a hero. How do you do that? Well, I couldn't do that in a crisis by myself. But what Janice used essentially was the first tool of the book. And the first tool of the book is the key to solving that kind of a problem.
Stephen Matini: When I looked at your book, how did you come up with such a great name for every single chapter? Because none of them is what you would think a book on negotiation is, you know. How did you come up with these great names?
Seth Freeman: Well, it's very, very kind of you and I'm pleased to hear you feel that way. That was not what I came up with. My editors said come up with something short, pithy and catchy. And I said all right, so, I came up with these things. Yes, he said, that’s what I want.
Stephen Matini: ”Decide with three birds in the bush;” What is that about?
Seth Freeman: That is a tool that's designed to answer the biggest, the most frequent question I get from students during interview season. And that is, professor, I've got one job offer. It's not very good. I have till Friday to get back to them. I don't expect to have another offer anytime soon, but I really don't think it's a good offer. What should I do? Do I have to take it?
And that reveals a real flaw in what we negotiation instructors teach. What we teach is that when you're in a situation like that, you should develop your BATNA and that means your best alternative to a negotiated agreement. The only problem with that, although it's good advice on its face, you do research, you get creative, you come up with something that makes you stronger, that's great, but I don't have time for that.
I've got till Friday and I've been looking and I haven't gotten, you know, maybe in a, in, you know, a month or two, but I got nothing right now. So what that implies is that you should take any darn offer if you got nothing else. Cuz the conventional wisdom is you walk away if and when your BATNA is better. But here your BATNA is zero. Does that mean you should take an offer for a dollar a year? Obviously not. But what do you do?
So the tool you're asking about is designed to help better answer that question. And in essence what it's asking is, alright, you have a bird in the hand, right? But what if it's reasonably likely that in the next two, three or four months you could very well get three birds in the bush, should you let go of that first bird?
And the answer is, well, very possibly yes. And the tool walks you through a systematic way to wisely discern what your likely near future prospects are and to discount them in a way that recognizes both logic and the human heart and the practical wisdom of somebody older, wiser, and smarter than you.
And you put those together and you come up with a good estimate of what I call your notional BATNA. You don't have it now, but in 2, 3, 4 months you may very well. And that's the logic that most business people use to make critical business decisions.
How does a game designer design a game? Very often what they have to do is assume that a microchip will be powerful enough in 18 months to do what it right now can't do. And they build toward that. Now that takes a certain burden of hand three in the bush way of thinking. And there's a lot of decision science that's designed to help you think this way too. And what I've done is adapt all that into this tool.
Stephen Matini: Do you think it's possible to negotiate anything if the other person doesn't sense some sort of humanity on your side?
Seth Freeman: Oh, it's absolutely possible. And one of the reasons why we need to know how to cope is because a highly aggressive or obnoxious or manipulative negotiation practice or conflict management practice is a high risk, high return bet.
It's very risky. It can cripple your reputation, it can alienate people, it can blow up, it can really, I don't recommend it at all. And it's tempting and that's why people do it.
So one of the most scary examples of this is Soviet style bargaining tactics. For example, in June, 1961, John Kennedy goes to meet for the first and only time with his opposite number from the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev. And 90 minutes after they first met Kennedy walked out of the room shaking like this, and his, his his aide went, what, what, what?
And he gets into the car and he melts down and he later said this was the worst thing that ever happened to him. John Kennedy, a man who, who nearly died twice in the hospital, a man who was nearly killed in World War II, a man, his brother was killed, his his sister was institutionalized. This was the worst thing. Why?
Cuz Nikita Khrushchev practiced the most aggressive and severe and menacing kind of negotiating practice there is. And it harrowed Kennedy and it can work at least in some ways. So that's why you can't just assume that everyone's gonna be nice. Our goal is to be strong and kind. If you're just kind, you can wind up like Kennedy shaking and ruined. If you're just strong, you can wind up like a, a Soviet premier, you know, just all the strength and and awfulness that comes with that.
But if you know how to combine these seeming opposites, you can be hard on the problems, soft on the person. And that's one of my aspirations for the book. It's certainly not original, but my op my goal is to make that much more operational, to make much more accessible in real time when you most need it.
Stephen Matini: Is there a word to point out what you just said? The strong and the kind.
Seth Freeman: There are people who embody this quality. I'm not sure there's a single word for it, but you know, the people who I find who are most able to bring these qualities together are people like Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. They had this, this remarkable capacity to do both and it seems impossible, but they literally changed the course of history, saved entire nations saved millions of people.
And so it can feel like, well I'm not Martin Luther King, I'm not Nelson Mandela. No, actually you can do what they did on a more local scale. Very much this in the same way, because these are not lofty tasks, these are very accessible tasks, but it takes just a, a little training or a little, you know, some tools to help you do it.
Stephen Matini: Is there any specific hope that you have for readers, for anyone who decides to read your book? Is there anything you would like them to take away?
Seth Freeman: Oh, I'm very ambitious for my readers. Well, as for my students, I end with this, go make me proud. And my intention is for them to do wonderful things. As I often say to my students, and as I might say to my readers, when you win the Nobel Peace Prize, remember me in your speech.
Even that is just a small ambition, truly because I want them to create more peace, prosperity, justice and success for themselves and others in every walk of life. This is something that literally an 11 year old child can, has learned to do and demonstrate remarkable maturity, wisdom, and graciousness in the process.
And I've also seen companies create literally a hundred million dollars in savings in the course of a year, and yet do it in a way that left their suppliers saying, you guys are great. We love you, we wanna work with you more. Seems impossible, right? But there's a word for those sorts of results. And the word is shalom, which is, you know, is a Hebrew word. And it doesn't just mean what we usually think it means that often is translated as peace, but it really means “wholeness” or the full flowering of human potential and the nourishing of human aspiration, harmony, understanding, prosperity, justice.
Seth Freeman: All these things are daily longings. And if you take those lofty words and put 'em aside and you listen for other words that we find in business life, in political life, everyone is longing for these things. They just have different language for it.
But my aspirations for my readers to actually be able to speak to a boss in this way, in a way that might help the day or help the company survive and thrive that can help them talk to friends more lovingly and still nudge them toward a wise and different outcome to discover hidden paths to opportunity that people think are nowhere to be seen.
Stephen Matini: Maybe based on what you said, the word wholeness could be the word that could put together the kindness and the strength. I always had this sense that when two sides are battling, it does require a much larger, holistic vision, you know, to get somewhere else. Because as long as you stay in the little confined space, nothing is gonna happen. So that's a word that somehow really resonates strongly with me.
Seth Freeman: When we're most in conflict, we're most seeing things through a pinhole and we're seeing ourselves and not seeing the other or seeing the other as an adversary and an implacable flow. It was Stalin who famously said, get rid of the person. You get rid of the problem. And so we can usually think of the other person as roadkill. And there's a lot of negotiation advice or wisdom out there that basically nurtures that view. And I wanna be careful here because it's certainly important to advocate for yourself and to claim a goodly portion of the wealth.
And the book very much talks about how to do that. It it actually gives you specific tools so that you can do what I call winning warmly. You can create a lot of wealth and claim a favorable portion of it. That's a wonderful ability too.
And isn't it fantastic that not always, but more often than you might think, we can actually care for the other well as we care for our own people really well. And that's a state of affairs that never ceases to delight me and my, those who I know who do it go, everyone is so much better off.
Stephen Matini: Do you think is it just so happened that your book came out this year? Or is there reason why this year and not two years ago, three years ago, five years ago?
Seth Freeman: The funny thing is that I started writing it as recession was starting up. And this was about three years ago and it was originally titled “Negotiating Recession.” And my agent and editor said, this is a bigger book than that. This is a perennial, this is much more to offer than just in the narrow circumstances where times are tight.
And so we expanded it. So you know, it's not just an economic tide that you wanna turn. There are all kinds of others as well. As long as they're human beings, they'll be, I'll have full employment because conflict is just part of human nature and it really is like fire.
If it's out on your rug, it can burn your house down. But if it's in your fireplace and your stove, it can heat you and, and feed you and help you live. So the question is how do you tend it?
And the tools are probably very timely because certainly people are distressed about all sorts of things right now. And the book can speak directly and immediately to that. But 5, 10, 20 years from now, I have every confidence these tools could still be very useful.
Stephen Matini: So Seth, we talked about different things and there are so many different components, important components about negotiation and conflict management. What would you say that it is the one thing that would be important for our listeners to pay attention to in order to better handle their own conflicts?
Seth Freeman: I’ll run through a few basics that I think you don't need the book by itself to learn. I think many books will tell you there's some key principles. One of course is what you're doing so well and that's listening. There's ways to do it and there are ways to really do it. Actively listening. Preparation, knowing your all, your BATNA. These are principles that you'll find in, in many, many books.
My fascination and what animates the book is not nearly giving people the principles, but doing what you got when you were in school. When you're, when you were in school, your teacher didn't just tell you the alphabet, she didn't just tell you how to read.
She covered the wall with tools, little templates, little mnemonics, little reminders, little charts, little graphs, little things that could remind you to that, that what teachers call scaffold your learning so that you have a structure, a framework that you can take with you that can make it much easier to retain and use this work.
I would say it's those principles, but also crystallized in the form of usable tools or sayings. But that said, I think just transcending any one book, I would say it's a little mind shift from the idea that we are necessarily adversaries to the idea that we actually might just be able to collaborate in ways that we are both happier with. And I'll give you one very specific example.
Consider the supply chain or purchasing agents and suppliers. I was talking with Abe Ashkenazi, who is the head of the Association for Supply Chain Managers and he said, for the last 50 years, purchasing agents have lived by the motto, I gotta get it for a dollar less.
And he said, that method simply won't work today because the supply chain is too complex, it's too fragile, witness Covid and all the upheaval that that's led to. And there are so many ways that that can cripple you, that purchasing agents and suppliers have got to learn a different way.
Well, I actually know consulting firms and my own clients who have learned to do that. They've learned this more, better, different way. And it's literally created billions and billions of dollars in value and much better relations, but it's still a secret.
So in a sense, this idea who cares about nicey nice, this is actually a competitive advantage as well as something that can make you more humane. And I leave it to my listeners and readers to decide, which is more important. But the good news is that you can have both. You can actually thrive and grow more humane in the process.
Stephen Matini: Seth, thank you so much. Conflict is such a, a big part of our lives. That's how we learned. That's how inevitably springs from relationships. So I really appreciate you taking the time to talking to me and to share some bits of, of your book and much more. So my wish for you is for this book to be still relevant 20, 30, 50 years from now.
Seth Freeman: Thank you so much, Stephen. You've been a wonderful interviewer. You've, you've made this a conversation and a delightful one. You've brought out insights that don't usually come out in these sorts of conversations, so I credit you with all that. I you know, blame me for any deficiencies and thank you so much. I've so enjoyed it.
Wednesday Nov 22, 2023
Wednesday Nov 22, 2023
Wednesday Nov 22, 2023
Frank O'Halloran & Judith Asher are executive coaches and trainers with over 25 years of experience in leadership and communication.
Their podcast ‘What's Next 4 You, launching in early 2024, is a testament to their dedication to helping people perform at their best and to helping younger professionals discover their talents and calling.
Judith and Frank point out that the traditional educational system often neglects essential life skills, such as communication and relationship building, maintaining a positive mindset, cultivating gratitude, and embracing challenges with optimism.
For Judith and Frank, developing good habits that boost productivity, seeking help, learning from mentors, and embracing continuous feedback are essential for constant growth and success.
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Stephen Matini: I want to ask you how, when, the two of you met?
Frank O'Halloran: Judith, how did we meet? I think it was with our babies.
Judith Asher: Yeah. We met as parents, not as professionals.
Stephen Matini: And when did you start working together as professionals instead?
Frank O'Halloran: Judith's husband, George runs a University of Human Rights on the Lido and he asked if I would come and give three lectures on communicating to the master degree students. I did and Judith came along and listened to each one of the three lectures.
My client needed me to bring another trainer with me for one of the sessions that I was doing for them in a little town near Barcelona. Judith and I were taking our babies in their carriages over a bridge and she just happened to say, “Hey, how's work going?” And I said, I'm a little upset because I can't find someone to bring with me to do this training in Barcelona.
And I looked at her and I said, but you could come and do it with me. We have 30 days. You just have to do exactly what I say. And of course, Judith was a natural at this, so she did really well on her first time out. Then the rest is history. We've been working together ever since and now the babies are 20 years old.
Stephen Matini: Oh wow. So it's been a while now.
Frank O'Halloran: A long time, like 19 years we've been working together.
Stephen Matini: Oh wow. That's a long time. So, and now your last project together, it's the podcast. When is it gonna come out?
Judith Asher: The plan is to have it launched sometime in the early autumn. We are working actively on setting up a bank of interviews, getting things all lined up. So we've started actually producing it, but we're not going to have it go live for another couple of months.
Stephen Matini: So the name is “What's next for you?” Was it hard to find this name?
Judith Asher: Oh yeah. It's hard to find a good name. For us, we were first inclined to go for something that involved the word career, you know, like looking for a new career, how to find your best career. That was a big part of the idea. But then after talking to some various friends and thinking it over between the two of us, we realized that actually people don't have careers like they used to.
And just the idea of a career is this notion of like the “posto fisso,” as we would say in Italy, you know, that you find one thing and that's the thing you do and you're gonna do it forever. Just find that one job you can do and repeat for 50 years.
But now it's not about that. It's actually more what's next for you. Like what are you doing now and what could it be? And you have to be adaptable. And it clicked that it made more sense really for the point we wanted to make.
Stephen Matini: Of all possible topics that you could focus on, why did you choose as your target 18, 33-35 years old, young professionals?
Frank O'Halloran: In our training business. Judith and I work doing soft skills training, mostly communication with corporations that you would know the name of if we mentioned them. And lately we've been working with a lot of young individuals, all right, people in university and people starting their career.
And they get very attached to Judith and I and they ask us very basic questions about, you know, how do I know what careers are out there? How do I know what to say if I go to a networking event, how can I ask somebody to help me out or how do I find a mentor? And if I find one, what do I say to the mentor?
We kept getting all of these questions and to be honest, even our first idea was we should write a book for young people. Then we thought maybe a podcast would be better for them than a book. That's how we switched over to doing a podcast.
Stephen Matini: When both of you were younger, when you were in that situation of not knowing exactly where to go, did you have anyone that somehow was able, was important, someone to look up to that guided you?
Judith Asher: You know, I'll answer for myself that like you Stephen. No, not really. I would've loved it. And you don't know what you don't know, right? So I didn't know that I should even seek that out. The idea of finding a mentor or talking to people, asking what they do, speaking to my friend, you know, my friends' parents or my parents' friends, you know, like sort of just using my own little network.
Just the idea that I even had a network that wasn't the era we lived in. Just kind of feel your way forward. I did an internship when I was in graduate school and the head of the NGO I was working with, she ended up being my mentor, but I was so clueless at the time that I don't think I really even realized she was my mentor. But that's what she was doing and she helped me set me up for what was my first career, which was in the area of public health, which I worked in for many, many years.
Frank O'Halloran: I am a little fortunate because I had lots of people helping me out. I think maybe I just came across as so clueless that all these people I came in contact with said, Frank, let me give you some advice here. Or Frank, did you think about this or did you think about that?
I have been blessed my whole life with people helping me, pointing me in a direction, encouraging me, supporting me. I saved my whole life. It really started when I went to university.
I just, professors and other people I had to work during universities. It was easy. I went to school in Manhattan, in New York City, I worked uptown in an office and I must say everybody just took me under their wing. I wish that kind of thing for everyone.
Stephen Matini: For someone who's clueless, what would you say that could be the first step to take?
Frank O'Halloran: Because I was totally clueless. I grew up in a very poor, in a very poor neighborhood, in a very provincial town. So I was really clueless when I got to New York. And I think for me the thing that helped me the be the most was just to be positive. I would always ask people about what they did and show like a real positive energy towards finding out more.
Stephen Matini: Judy, how would you answer the same question that I asked, you know, to Frank?
Judith Asher: If I go back to that internship, which for me was a turning point in my life, I grew up in Montreal. I did some graduate work in Toronto and then I did an internship in New York City again. And when I got there, this was done unconsciously. I mean, I wasn't planning on doing this. This wasn't a strategy.
We had the first meeting at this NGO for women's reproductive health and rights, which was what was my interest area and what I was studying at the time. And I was in this NGO that I thought was really doing amazing work in the world. I was just so happy to be there. And at the first meeting when they had like the Monday meeting and they introduced the new intern, I said, Hey everyone, you know, I'm Judith. I just want everyone to know I don't know anybody in New York.
Judith Asher: I have no friends, I have no social life, which means I'm pretty well free all the time.
So what I wanted to say was, I'm available to help anybody who needs help with anything. Like here are the few things I'm good at. Like I'm good at editing, I can speak French and English, I can help to pour coffee. I'm, it's no problem.
I'm happy to be the person to show up on a weekend when there's a press conference. You know, get the coffee, get the sandwiches, put the chairs out and like anything really. And then after that I went and I reminded people, oh by the way, do you need help? Or I'd hear someone complaining of being overworked. And I just always continued to say that. And what happened in the end was this was the start of my whole career. I got to know everybody there.
Judith Asher: I got to know what they did. I found it really fun. I got to do a lot of things that were sort of interesting and fun that I otherwise wouldn't have done.
And then eventually the UN called one day and ask the CEO of this organization, listen, we need somebody to come to London, like ASAP, we're shorthanded for a global conference and we just need someone who's flexible, who's willing to do anything. And that's what happened.
I flew to London and that was the start of my international public health career, you know, so really it did come from that giving out of the energy. And also, and this is something Frank likes to talk about and I think he's really right about this, it was also a focus not only on, oh I'm here and I'd like to learn this and I'd like to do that and this is what I wanna suck from all of you.
You know, Frank often talks about like don't only put out in the world what you wanna get from others but what you can give. And even though I sort of had nothing to give cuz I was just very young without any experience, that energy of here, I'm willing to give anything I possibly can. It did come back to give me some good karma.
Stephen Matini: Do you think you can teach energy to people?
Judith Asher: I mean I think you can teach mindset. I think you can give a lot of guidance on what's a good mindset and what's a bad mindset. So if your mindset is everything sucks, there's no opportunities. I'm from a generation that lost two years in Covid and I'm just doomed. If you have that kind of mindset, you give off that energy.
Frank O'Halloran: Yeah, I think you can teach it. And in fact, in all of our classes that we design, we start with the mindset, all right, what's your mindset for negotiating or selling or presenting to people? And I think you can give examples to people of what would be a negative vibration or a positive vibration in certain interactions.
Judith Asher: I'll add just a little comment about all our young clients, the ones in college, the ones in their first stages of their careers, the ones in their twenties. Often when we talk about mindset, people will say after like why didn't nobody ever point this out to me? I have been thinking wrong. Like nobody taught me this. Why are they trying to teach me algebra? This is much more important.
Stephen Matini: People in the future who are going to listen to what's next for you, your podcast, we would you like them to take away?
Frank O'Halloran: We'd like them to take away a few things is one, don't despair. Things work out. And you can control that, to a certain extent by what you do, what you say. And we'd like them to walk away with their mind a little bit expanded about what's out there, what possibilities exist, and real practical examples of how people did it.
Stephen Matini: You think it's harder now for younger professionals to find their way in the world compared to the way it was before, particularly now after Covid?
Judith Asher: I mean a couple of things to say on that. One is, you know, yes, because Covid did put a kind of cork in people's development. So for two years a lot of people who were at the prime of their young lives missed out on some very important experiences. And I don't mean just like the problem with homeschooling and remote learning, I mean those kinds of relational experiences interacting with adults, with professors or you know, in internships or volunteer activities, interacting with peers.
Just so that lack of emotional development has probably set people back in terms of emotional intelligence as well. So that's something to be compensated for. I think young people would do very well to not feel stressed about checking every box as they move forward. You know, I've gotta get to university, I've gotta do this, I've gotta do that. But actually to take a little more time for the kind of thing you talked about, Stephen, figuring out what brings you joy, figuring out where you show up at your best.
Judith Asher: So I think that's one point.
And the second point, and then Frank, you can add, it's kind of counterintuitive in a way. You'd think wow, you know, the world is open to me, there's a globalized workforce I can find work anywhere that's amazing. I can work in any time zone, I can go live where I want with remote work.
But as most of us know who are a little older, you know, that much choice is not necessarily a blessing, right? This is for many people, even more complicated because on the one hand I can start thinking people from all over the world can apply for every job on top of it. So there's global competition, they have other skillsets, maybe it's overwhelming the number of possibilities someone can be anything and do anything. It can be even harder than a much more simpler time where you just needed to figure out the thing that could help you make the money you wanted to make to do the things you wanted to do.
Frank O'Halloran: You know, it's like going into a store to buy a bag of potato chips and there's 50 different flavors. <Laugh>, you just sit there for an hour trying to figure out which one you want. That's true. Judith what you said.
I also think that Covid produced the kind of work from home environment that most companies find themselves in. I was just in this big office building in Boston and there was no one there. A friend of mine's son lives alone and in apartment in Brooklyn, he wanted to go back to the office like he wanted to work with his colleagues. So now he goes into the office and nobody's there.
Stephen Matini: The thing is the gap between what colleges teach and what people actually need in order to have a career, it seems to get bigger and bigger and bigger in terms of what else can be done in order to make the transition more seamless?
Frank O'Halloran: Stephen, I think there's a lot of things that could be done. I think some universities are really trying to do those things and put people out in work, experience programs, things like that. They set people up for internships.
The thing is that if for, for a university to do that, they have to put a lot of effort into it. It's a big job to do it well. And I know here in Venice where we live, the kids who study “Economia e Commercio” (business), they have to spend, I think it's three or four months or 150 hours working in a company.
So the school will get them an internship doing that. But if they don't take charge of it, the university gets them a job like carrying suitcases in a hotel. They have the program, they have the idea, but they don't put the effort into it. I think more effort could, could be done like that.
And also with companies could benefit more from the internships if they put more effort into really providing the interns with good work experience.
Judith Asher: You know, I, I'll add one thing in. I think those are all important ideas. I'm married to a university professor so I'm <laugh> keenly aware of some of these things.
I think one of the things that could be done in a positive way is for professors or anyone teaching to take a little bit of time, it probably doesn't require that much time. I mean, I'm thinking about this as I'm saying it, but if there could be some conversation about how what we have learned in this class are transferable skills, what could you do?
Let's just have a big open conversation, a brainstorm activity even. It could be, you know, a kind of lab outside of the normal class time, but explicitly helping people pull out what they've learned, the soft skills, the hard skills, how they could transfer it. Because I think this is what really seems to Frank and I what's missing cuz even young people who have all sorts of talents and skills and abilities, they don't know that their skills and abilities.
Judith Asher: If I was the person who was the one who on my own organized the ski trip at Christmas time, you know the “Settimana Bianca,” do I know that in the work world that's called stakeholder management, you know that I'm happen to be good at that. That I, I love pulling people together, finding a, something that everybody can agree on and executing a project that's called project management.
There are a lot of things that young people are doing both in school and in their extracurricular activities that they don't understand how they can market them, but they are marketable. So I think there's like a little wedge that needs to be placed. So people like you, Stephen, who are teaching of course, maybe the more forward thinking ones can start doing that and then that can rise from above where students say, actually this really worked in this class. Could we have that in every class?
Frank O'Halloran: Well usually what happens in academia is you ha you're being taught by academics now you, you Stephen have business experience and all of that. And then you go in and you teach part-time at a university.
But most professors studied their whole life and then they taught for the rest of their life, right? So they don't have that practical experience and I guess find it challenging or maybe it doesn't even occur to them to try to help the students close that gap.
Stephen Matini: Both of you, you had a lot of experiences with underprivileged kids and communities, throughout your life. Would you say that maybe some of those experiences have been the, the inspiration to what you're doing right now?
Judith Asher: I'll say something first on that. I'd say for myself when I was doing my graduate field work, I lived in Uganda for a year and I did field work like out in the jungle on adolescent reproductive health and rights. And that was a life-changing experience for me to see how questions that are asked everywhere around the world.
And I knew how they were asked in Canada cuz that's where I came from, how they get asked and answered in different cultures and access to information and the lack thereof changes everyone's lives. So that I think has been a big part of everything I've done in both my public health career and my coaching and training career is knowing the value of information and then also knowing the value of the information one has. I'd say that, and then Frank and I, we we take part in a charity project together.
Frank O'Halloran: Student and I and a bunch of our friends put on an English pantomime, which is a musical comedy, which is based on a fairy tale. It's always good versus evil good always wins. The audience participates. There's a sing along, it's full of local jokes. It's about the lowest form of entertainment available to the public.
We put that on every other year in Venice for the babies who have to live with their mothers in prison. Because in Italy, if your mother is a criminal and you're up to seven years old, you have to go live with her because you can't separate the baby from the mother even though the mother is in prison.
So the kids have to live in prison and we have three women on our, my island here, the Giudecca island in Venice, who help these kids to have a normal life. So they take 'em to football, they take 'em to ballet lessons, they take them to school because the government system just doesn't provide that.
Frank O'Halloran: And they get better furniture, better toys, better equipment for them in the school. And we have all of our friends working to put on this show to raise money to help these women.
Stephen Matini: What would you say that is your main drive to start this podcast? Why this podcast? Why this podcast with this soul?
Frank O'Halloran: The main reason is that Judith and I have always had a big affinity for young people. Even though we're parents, we're both very good friends with our children's friends, you know, they come to us, they call us, they ask us for help with this or they talk to us about that. So I think just naturally we have an affinity for young people.
Judith Asher: Now at this point in our careers, after having worked with business leaders and companies of all sorts around the world and really having a global viewpoint on this, we would like to spread some of the information we have, some of the knowledge we have because meeting these young people, hearing how they feel, they're kind of on the sidelines and they don't know how to step into their lives and no one around them is able to help them.
And we feel, oh, like actually we have all kinds of things we can add and we can contribute. And a podcast seemed like a good venue for that. You know, I sometimes think of it as what if I could hold a cocktail party like an “aperitivo” with all the most interesting people that we've had the occasion to meet. Cuz we've heard everybody's career stories along the way.
Judith Asher: What if I could hold that huge cocktail party and invite a whole bunch of young people to just mingle and get to know them and feel in the know that's the image of our podcast to me.
I mean, being happy should be the goal, but I don't think a lot of young people are exposed to that idea. Like, what gives me energy? What do I really love doing? What does bring me a feeling of happiness and then how can I translate that? That is not the criteria most people are thinking they're supposed to apply to themselves.
So it's good to have it. And it doesn't take that much for a young person. I mean, I was young, you know, you guys were young, it's sometimes one person and just their energy, their attitude can spark something in you that you hadn't explored before. So it doesn't take that much to truly change something for somebody.
Frank O'Halloran: Well, no, I was just saying about one of our guests who was sort of stressing out about her career. She was in university and one of her mom's friends said to her, think about something you're interested in that you think you would be happy doing for two years or a year and a half and do that. And she said that took so much weight off her shoulders, it gave her a new way to think about things. I thought that was brilliant, that advice.
Stephen Matini: Is there anything specific that you do to get over your misery? You know, that's the notion of Pity Party Over.
Frank O'Halloran: One is I just read the newspaper and I find out all the horrible things that are going on in the world and these people who are suffering so much. So I just say, all right, knock it off.
And the second thing I do, I, I'm a big meditator. I've been meditating for about 18 years now and part of my meditation has to do with gratitude. And I'll tell you, it makes a huge difference. It doesn't, if you can just list 10 things you're happy about, it changes your whole outlook.
Judith Asher: I agree a hundred percent about the gratitude part. This is a very important life skill. Again, that's not really being taught anywhere unless you happen to listen to some podcasts or seek it out.
You don't hear that that is a life skill. So I'd say gratitude is one, and for me at least, exercise is another one because we talk about that getting into a state of flow, finding yourself just completely present in the moment because anxiety and worry, this is about thinking about something you'd screwed up in the past or something that you fear in the future.
And I think that exercise is like meditation. It's another way to just get outta yourself and be in the moment and then you feel better and you benefit from all those hormones and chemicals in your body on top of it. So I'd say that's probably a big one for most people.
Stephen Matini: So we talked about different important things, for younger people. We talked about the mindset, we talked about positivity, the energy, gaining practical experience and such and such. If I had to ask you, what would you say that there are the five main competencies that now younger people should focus on?
Frank O'Halloran: I would say start with the soft skills and in particular your ability to express yourself. That is something that can serve you in so many different jobs, so many different careers.
Judith Asher: Number two I'll add on are what we would call relational skills. Again, in the soft skills, rap, rapport building, feeling comfortable communicating with other people. And back to your earlier questions, Stephen, I mean post Covid and with the smartphone taking over everyone's lives and how, I mean, young people often they've lost the art of conversation.
It's been a long time that they have been exposed to that. So really learning that it's not just the art of conversation in terms of those, those skills that Frank just mentioned, but also how to build relationships, how to show up and get people to like you and bring your best self forward.
Stephen Matini: I loved when you said gratitude and happiness, which people will not think about, but those are massive skills to have, you know, connected to so many other things and so little we talk about those, but they're imperative, they're really, really, really important.
Frank O'Halloran: Yeah. And you can be grateful for a very simple thing, you know, <laugh>, it doesn't have to be that you won 18 million euros in the lottery.
The other thing that I would say is to do a little reading. One interesting thing to read about is developing good habits. A habit is not something that's tough for you to do, it's something that's easy for you to do.
So if you put in a little effort, develop good habits, be a little disciplined about it, then that can get you through a lot of difficult times because you can fall back on those good habits of, you know, getting up, being focused, answering the emails when they come, you know, whatever it is that's important for your job.
Judith Asher: Now that I'm hearing us talk about it, you know, some of these things kind of go in conjunction with the others because the most popular course at Yale University is called the Science of Happiness.
It's the most popular course in the history of the entire university. It's so popular that they've done spinoffs online. The teacher, the professor who's this incredible psychologist, she teaches this for high school students now, but there's a reason people are seeking this out if they're exposed to it.
So I think that's just the first point. And my second point was thinking about how things move together. Gratitude, relationship building, happiness. I mean if you get into the habit of telling people that you appreciate something very specific about what they did for you, be that someone in your close circle or someone in your professional circle or student circle, you will see that that boomerangs back to you, right?
Judith Asher: Cuz that helps build relationships. So just being in the right mindset and then, you know, mindset leads to gratitude, leads to learning how to express that.
And that actually you should say those things out loud because they also will help you in the end. They'll help that other person and then that makes you feel happier and then you'll see doors open for you.
So that kind of cycle, again, these are to me the most crucial life skills. I'm trying to teach these to my own children and we're trying to give this off in whatever way we can in the more formal trainings that we do.
And if you, Stephen can give this to your NYU students, again, you know, once they receive it, maybe they'll realize they should get that more as well. And there can be those ripple effects.
Frank O'Halloran: Don't be afraid to ask for help. Sometimes young people think, oh, I'm supposed to know this or I'm supposed to know how to do this. But if you go up to someone and you say, Stephen, I know you've had some experience with this, could I have a coffee with you and could you explain how I should approach this one for, you're probably gonna be very happy to have that coffee. And I think that's a big lesson for kids to learn that you can ask.
Judith Asher: That has something to do also with whatever school system they've grown up in. Cuz as the three of us know, you know, some school systems are a little more authoritarian and young people are not brought up in that system to think, hey, I can approach an adult and say, I don't know something.
Actually it's exact opposite. They think they have to know everything before they can in fact approach an adult. So there is some unlearning that has to be done for some people to be able to feel comfortable even doing that.
Cuz I think, Frank, you're totally right. You know, most people will feel perfectly happy if they're asked for advice and if they don't have time, they'll tell you that I don't have time. And then the la next skill, and the last one I'll add in is learn to not take things personally.
Judith Asher: If you can learn that most things people say to you that are hurtful actually are a them thing and not a you thing. You know, that lesson I wish I had learned a long time ago, and again, that's something I'm trying to teach my kids now because it's, it is a life skill to know that you should not take things personally and even the hate you get online and all of this really, most of it has nothing to do with you.
And if it does have something to do with you, it won't hurt you and upset you. It'll inspire you to change something. So when someone tells you something useful, it should feel bad, good or good, bad rather than just bad.
Stephen Matini: Your podcast, it sounds like a place where people are going to hear a lot of things, they're not conventional. Both of you have had this big career with leaders, you know, training leaders, coaching leaders and such and such. If I had to ask you what is it one thing that you have heard more frequently from leaders, one observation that you have made working alongside so many leaders, what comes to mind?
Frank O'Halloran: For me working with them and one thing that's always impressed me is that when I show up, they want to learn something. Now I can't tell them how to run their companies, but I can help them with different areas of running the company. They have to take care of the whole thing. But when they're very interested and want to learn and realize there are things that they don't know and could learn from me, that I think is a great characteristic.
Judith Asher: I'm gonna add something completely different. I agree Frank with what you say. One thing I hear leaders say is that there is a generation gap between the, like speaking of young people, that there are always going to be generation gaps, but there truly is a generation gap with the post Covid, post smartphone online reality.
That is something that needs to be addressed, not from the top down, but in all directions. So young people themselves have to enter and get into the workforce ready to dialogue with the leaders, to find how can companies be most successful? How can we all be successful in a way that manages that generation gap?
Stephen Matini: My last question to you is for anyone who's gonna listen to this episode, is anything specific that you would like people to take away from our conversation? Something that you think it is important other than listening to your fabulous, “What's next for you” podcast?
Frank O'Halloran: You have the ability to do this and it's not as difficult as you think.
Judith Asher: It's exactly that. And do things, be productive. Do the things you love and don't worry what it's gonna add up to. If you are active with the things that activate you, that is where it will lead you to what you want.
Stephen Matini: No, I'm, I'm really excited about your podcast because it comes from seasoned professionals and a lot of the fact that you're taking really different types of routes. So thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Frank O'Halloran: Thank you Stephen.
Judith Asher: Thank you Stephen.
Tuesday Nov 14, 2023
Tuesday Nov 14, 2023
Tuesday Nov 14, 2023
Caitlin Drago is an executive coach who uses improvisation to get people to communicate and work effectively as a team.
Caitlin highlights how the principles of improv, such as yes and..., making each other look good, and building trust, can be applied in business, team dynamics, conflict resolution, and personal interactions.
Caitlin is the founder of Inspire Improv & Coaching Inc. In her book, "Approaching Improv: Communication and Connection in Business and Beyond," Caitlin shares that the principles of improv aren't just for the stage; they have a remarkable impact on improving communication, teamwork, and conflict resolution within organizations.
Listen to the episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Amazon Music, Podbean, or your favorite podcast platform.
Subscribe to Pity Party Over to overcome long-term challenges and enhance your managerial and leadership skills.
Do you have questions about this episode? Say HI to Stephen Matini via email or LinkedIn.
This episode is brought to you by ALYGN learning and organizational consulting firm specializing in leadership and management development. Sign up for a free Live Session.
#caitlindrago #improv #communication #trust #teamwork #pitypartyover #alygn #stephenmatini #leadershipdevelopment #managementdevelopment
Stephen Matini: When did you develop your interest in acting?
Caitlin Drago: Ooh, that's a good question. The first thing that came to my mind is when I was little, I remember when my mom would make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I honestly don't know if I did this out loud or just imagined it in my brain, but I would go through like a commercial for this peanut butter and jelly sandwich and like the different components of it and why it was so great. I should probably ask my parents and Zoom, this all happened in my mind or was I acting this out? So I think that's like the first time that I can pinpoint to where I started acting theater bug.
Stephen Matini: How did your parents react to your desire of pursuing acting? Were they supportive or what?
Caitlin Drago: So my parents were very supportive of my interest in theater and acting when I was in school, in elementary school and high school, I didn't do a lot of theater in school. I was more involved in the Odyssey of the Mind program.
There is a world competition, so it does exist internationally, but basically you have a small group of kids, maybe seven or eight, and you get a problem that you have to quote unquote solve and you make a skit about it and you have different parameters that you have to solve this problem with it and timeframes and budgets and all of that.
So you're making your own eight minute play and then bringing that to competition. And then in high school I did do some more theater in school and did some community theater and things like that. When I was deciding what I wanted to go to college for, my initial thought was to go for music therapy because I was really into music and also really into psychology and human behavior.
And so I thought that was a nice combination. So there was a lot of support around that. And then when I ended up auditioning for different colleges, I got accepted into a lot of the music programs.
But there was one school where they had a music theater program and a music therapy program. And so I thought, Ooh, I'll do a double major. At that particular school I, that was the one place that I didn't get accepted on the music side, but I did get accepted for acting. And so it was one of those, I'll always wonder if I don't try and see what could have been.
And there was a lot of support from my parents there. When I graduated I did a couple of contracts with some children's theaters and then I wanted to be able to, you know, go somewhere, set down some roots and California was it for me.
And I remember my mom <laugh> saying, you're looking at this through Rose Cut Glasses. Glasses. She's a kindergarten teacher. So she's got those things. And there was still support, but it was just that concern for, you know, I just want my kid to be okay because I didn't have a job lined up or anything like that. I just had a couple of friends who I was getting an apartment with <laugh> that was understandable. But overall there has always been a lot of support for my different endeavors.
And when I decided to leave my full-time job to start my own business, which was a similar feeling, I'm sure as a parent to your kid saying, Hey, I'm gonna move to la I'm not exactly sure what's going to happen, but this is what I wanna do. I knew enough about myself and enough about communication at that point where I knew what the natural reaction from a parent would be.
I was a parent at the time, I had a 10 month old and I said right at the top of the conversation, what I need from you is your support and encouragement. And I could feel my mom swallow back all of the things that I'm sure she wanted to say and instead gave me that support and encouragement, which I am ever so grateful for.
Stephen Matini: And so if your kids decided to pursue acting, would you react like your mom?
Caitlin Drago: I hope that I can react like my mom in the second iteration. I also know what it's like to be a mom <laugh>, so I'm sure that there would be some of that. Yes, I want you to do what makes you happy. I also want you to understand the risk that you are taking.
Stephen Matini: In hindsight, the only route that I believe matters for all of us is the one that once you embark, you will be able to be driven and determined enough to continue despite challenges. And any, any path is challenging. I think it's much harder when you push in a direction that doesn't feel like yours. That's what I had to learn the hard way. So do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?
Caitlin Drago: I think that as I've grown older, I am an introverted extrovert. I do get a lot of energy from talking to people. And if I am working from home all day and don't talk to anyone at the end of the day, do you feel a bit drained? However, if I go out and I'm around a bunch of people or if I'm facilitating something for a full day, I absolutely need to have that recharge time. Nobody talked to me, let me just decompress and be by myself.
Stephen Matini: My surprise when I did a theater was to see how many people, how many actors are very, very shy, very introvert. The stereotype would be, oh, you must love the attention. What has been your experience working with other professionals, other actors?
Caitlin Drago: I would say the majority are probably on that extroverted side. At the same time there are introverts in there and I think part of it is because the real skill that's required of actors is being able to be present and zoning in on the person in front of you. And that's something that both the introverts and extroverts can be capable of and really thrive in.
Stephen Matini: When did you start doing improvisation?
Caitlin Drago: I probably did a workshop somewhere in high school, or you know, even growing up in the summer I went to a camp, it was called Theatrics. And so we would play different theater games and, and so I'm sure that improv was in there just wasn't labeled as such. 'cause We were kids.
Where I really got into improv more in a formal sense was when I lived in Los Angeles and I knew those basics of we say yes and we accept what's put out there and we add onto it. We stay away from no and we try to look for what can work.
When I was at an audition for an improv character at the Universal Studios theme park where we were auditioning and someone yelled out, make each other look good because on stage there were a couple of people who were, you know, just trying to vie for the spotlight 'cause we were auditioning for a job and in doing so they were kind of throwing the other person under the bus.
That idea of make each other look good really clicked because it's like, well of course we can't both be up here fighting for the spotlight. That's not gonna work. It's just gonna make everyone feel uncomfortable. But if we both agree to try to set each other up for success, try to set each other up for a laugh, then we both end up looking really awesome in the end.
And so that was reiterated when I started taking classes at Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles. And what was interesting was there's four levels and they're like main curriculum. And the first level is fun, you're learning yes. And you're learning how to make each other look good.
And then the second level, you start learning the structure of the Herald, which if you think about it, is kind of like the structure of a sitcom where there's three different stories and they all kind of interconnect.
So you're trying to do all of this with a team and somehow without like having a huddle to the side and figuring out what you're going to do. And that felt like a math class every time I went because there was a formula to it and it felt like your brain was going to explode by the time you left.
But for someone like me who, although I am creative, I do really enjoy having a structure and some parameters to work within, that's where I really thrive. Tell me where the box is, tell me what the rules are and then I can go,
Stephen Matini: If someone feels a super anxious about the idea of trying improvisation, what would you tell them?
Caitlin Drago: I would tell them that it's not about being funny, it's just going to happen because of the rules of improv. And hopefully if you have a great partner, they're gonna be there to support you again, it's not up to you. We're there to make each other look good.
So the more we put our focus on the other person, the less self-conscious we are about ourselves. The other thing is that they're already doing improv all day every day. No one woke up with a script this morning. I don't think, you know, I always say it's just you're sharpening a tool that you already have.
Stephen Matini: So what are the rules of improv? You already mentioned a couple of them, but if you don't mind provide an an overview.
Caitlin Drago: The two main rules are first that you always say yes. And so what that means is if somebody throws out an idea or a concept, you accept that as the idea of the moment and you build on that. So if I were to say, Hey Stephen, I love your red hat, you would say, yes, you love my red hat and I am going to wear it to the picnic this afternoon.
So that's, you know, accepting that that yes, yep, I'm wearing a red hat Now what our natural tendency is as humans is not always to say yes to, especially if it's unexpected or if it's an an idea that's uncomfortable or we're just not really sure how it's going to pan out. We say no and we reason why it's not going to work. Or maybe we don't even listen to the whole thought the other person is putting out there before we squash it.
And so within the world of improv, what that would look like is if I said, oh Stephen, I love your red hat. And you said, I'm not wearing a red hat, I'm not wearing a hat at all. And now you are uncomfortable and I'm uncomfortable. And probably the audience that is watching us is uncomfortable.
And so what improv does is it challenges us to skip over that no reflex and go to yes and at least look for what can work versus what can't work. When we translate that into how that can look in regular conversation, it doesn't have to mean that I'm going to say yes or agree to everything that yes can mean.
Yes, I'm here. Yes, I'm present. Yes, I'm listening to you and I'm going to maybe reflect back or validate what you are saying and then I'm going to add on to that conversation instead of trying to push the other agenda that I came into the conversation with or the idea that I'm trying to get through.
The other big rule is that, like we mentioned, we, it's, we're always looking to make each other look good. So when I go out on stage, I'm not thinking, what's the funny thing I'm going to say? Everyone's gonna think I'm hilarious.
And the best improviser here, what we're doing is understanding the strengths of the other people on our team and looking for ways to set them up for a laugh. And so if you've seen an improv show and you see the person who's getting all the laughs, they're a good improviser, but the person who's setting them up for the laughs is the really, really great improviser and that's the kind of person that we wanna be when we're on a team.
Sometimes we think that we have to take on everything ourselves, especially if it's a leader <laugh>, when there's probably people around us who have special skills and talents and passions that they would love to be able to use.
So it's about being mindful and again, understanding what the strengths are of the people who are around you and what they wanna try and what are the things that they wanna get better at, and giving them opportunities to do that and letting them step into the spotlight and being willing to play a supportive role when necessary.
Again, understanding that if we all do that we can all use our talents and our creativity and our passions and grow and learn. We do it with a little less pressure and a lot more creativity and a bit more fun.
Stephen Matini: Why do you think people so often seem to be so oppositional? You know, it's all about box and divisiveness. Why do you think that is?
Caitlin Drago: I think it's from our survival brain, especially when we are under stress, which the world is a stressful place. And so when we're in that state, especially if our brains are triggered into that fight flight fawn mode, we're built to look for the threat and to see anything, even if it is objectively neutral as a threat or as something that is scary.
And so it's a lot easier to see what's not going to work and to say, no, I'm not comfortable with this. It takes intention to skip over that, no, or acknowledge it and then you know, let it pass.
And to instead choose to look for what could work and to be curious about something rather than squashing it right off the bat. And in doing so, what's really interesting is that by being the person who you know, that if you go to them, they're going to listen to you.
Maybe they're not gonna go along with your idea, but they might ask questions about it, they might help you to find the holes they might, you know, see where what could work there. Through that you're building trust with that person and they know that they can come to you with their great ideas and also with their awful ideas.
And the bonus there is that they're likely going to come to you sooner if there's a problem and sooner like when you can actually do something about it versus being afraid of what your reaction might be. And so putting it off and putting it off until it's gone way too far and there's nothing anyone can do about it. I
Stephen Matini: Think what you do is brilliant because you're describing what any team in any organization should function. You know, when they innovate, when they try to collaborate, when they try to do whatever. What has been your experience about improvisation and using it with managers? How do people react to this amazing tool?
Caitlin Drago: Well, at first when I come in and say, Hey, we're doing improv, people aren't usually, you know, standing on their cheers and cheering. And so it requires that I first start by being really explicit about the purpose and letting everyone know what those guardrails are.
We are here to learn <laugh>, we're here to connect, we're here to be better communicators. It's something they're already doing. It's not about being funny and there are rules. It's not just going to be a free for all. I'm not going to say, hey, go up there and go.
I also make it a rule that unless I'm asking someone to volunteer to help me show how a game is going to be played or how an exercise is going to work, I don't ask anyone to come up and perform on the spot. We do everything simultaneously in small groups or in pairs.
So nobody has to be worried that, oh no, when am I gonna get called on and I'm gonna have to go up without a script and do this <laugh>.
Once we put that into practice, once everyone knows what to expect and knows what the rules are and what our purpose is here, then my next order of business is to get people laughing because that's going to help to bring people, you know, if they still are in that fight or flight mode where we can't take in information and everything is a threat, including me as a person in the front of the room, what laughter is going to do is it's going to help to reduce that cortisol, get people connected, activate that part of the brain that allows us to learn and try something new and actually take in new information.
And that's the wonderful, that's the other wonderful piece about improv is that that laughter doesn't end after an initial warmup exercise or whatever.
You know, it continues throughout just because of the nature of improv. Even if we are using situations that hit very close to home that are, you know, so that it's really something that's applicable, they're going to get to practice these concepts to an extreme. And because it's to an extreme, there is probably going to be some silliness in there.
They're also going to be able to decide what they wanna take away and be able to scale that back in a way that makes sense for them. But that laughter is woven throughout so it's keeping our brains open and it's allowing us to learn and connect and build trust and all of those wonderful side effects that laughter can bring to the learning space.
Stephen Matini: Well you train and you work as an actress for a long time, so you are a master in emotional intelligence, you know. Of all professions. I've always seen actors at people, they are such a a people connoisseur because you have to embody a person, you know, more than really any other profession in my opinion. So if someone seems not to be that great in terms of emotional intelligence, you know, for whatever the reason they don't have the great self-awareness or that ability to connect to people, can they still do an improv exercise successfully?
Caitlin Drago: I think so. The improv exercises are a way to gain self-awareness without having it be so pointed or feeling like they're being singled out or attacked. You know, I like using the example of the one word story 'cause it's really simple. It's really easy to envision.
So if you imagine a group of people, they're standing in a circle and they're telling a story going around the circle, each contributing one word at a time. Pretty simple, easy game. They can have fun with it, hopefully things kind of go off the rails a little bit.
Something silly happens, they laugh and at the end we can ask, what did you notice about that experience? What was interesting, what was fun? What was challenging about it? And it's a way for them to notice, oh you know what? I was kind of thinking ahead or I was not paying attention so much to the person before me 'cause I was figuring out what I wanted to put through.
It's a way for them to notice things about themselves. It's an inroad to that empathy and through that to that emotional intelligence without it being something that is so direct, you know, they get to learn through an experience and pull that out themselves.
Stephen Matini: What about using improv, let's say with a team of people that needs to improve a teamwork, let's say, and they have a huge trust issue. Can you still do improv with someone that you don't trust?
Caitlin Drago: Within the confines of a workshop? Yes, because I'm going to make sure that everyone's following the rules so we practice everything to an extreme so they can see what it's like. You know, I really hold everyone to those rules of we're here to make each other look good, we're here to say yes. And they can try that out and see what that looks like, even if it's with someone who they don't feel a lot of trust with.
And maybe through that experience of both of them having to connect with each other, having to be present with one another, and really being held to that idea that I have to listen to what you say, I have to accept it and then I have to add my own idea to what you said that gives them that training ground to maybe start to build some of that trust. I
Stephen Matini: Think everyone should do this thing seriously. I mean, I cannot think of a single person that who would not benefit from it. Have you ever used it with kids?
Caitlin Drago: Oh yeah, <laugh>, I have two kids. My son asked, what do you do <laugh>? And I told, and we played one word story and he really enjoyed it. And you know, when we're in the car, like, mom, can we play one word story? And so, you know, we'll play, but just in terms of some of those practices that aren't so overt, kids come up with lots of ideas.
And especially my eight year old, he's a big ideas kid. I want to foster that creativity and that wonder and that problem solving within him. There are times where he throws out an idea and my initial reaction is absolutely not <laugh>. But in that moment I have to kind of take a step back and say, okay, what about this might work? Is there a little piece of this that we could agree on and build from?
How can I challenge myself to instead of defaulting to no and making him feel like, oh well anytime I ask mom about anything, she's gonna say no. So I'm just gonna stop eventually. And that's gonna, you know, erode our own trust and our relationship. Where can I look for where the possibilities might be so that we can work together to come up with something that we can both agree upon.
Stephen Matini: Is it possible to improv on a specific issue the team is having? Let's say the team has a dynamic they they cannot quite resolve. It can even be an interpersonal conflict or whatever they might be. Can they use improv as a way to explore possibilities, alternatives, different endings?
Caitlin Drago: I think so. So I have a full program where, you know, we start with the basics of improv and then on top of that we can add on some of those skills that people might already have a basic understanding of like having difficult conversations or giving and receiving feedback and looking at how we can infuse the improv approach in there and make those conversations even more effective.
When it comes to the conflict resolution, I will ask ahead of time for what are some experiences that you've had either with other people on your team or with the people that you serve, either you know, internally or externally.
And let's play with that and see what it looks like if we are defining that mutual goal and then trying to say yes and throughout that conversation. And what is really fun about when those conflicts come up is because people are being forced to say yes and repeat back what they heard and really understand the other person's argument or perspective and then add on their own to that.
A lot of times we skip right over the finger pointing and get right to getting on the same page and trying to have a collaborative conversation to work towards a solution. So that's one answer to the question. I think the other answer to the question is, I like to play a game called worst idea.
And so sometimes when there is an interpersonal conflict or something that people are struggling with, when you ask, okay, well what do we wanna do about this? We have that pressure to come up with the best idea right away. If I say, what is the worst idea that you can come up with?
It gets them so far outside of the box, it's no, I don't want this to be the thing that you're gonna end up doing. Like tell me something that would get us kicked out of the company <laugh>, you know, what is the worst thing you can think of?
And then from there the challenge is to look for like what's that little piece in there? What is that little spark of maybe an idea that might work? And how do we build on that little spark so that we can gradually work it back to something that might be something that is feasible, but we didn't have to start by coming up with something that was brilliant, we could take that pressure off. And so that's another way to use improv to find out, you know, what those other outside of the box solutions could be to something that feels extra sticky. I
Stephen Matini: Love it because it seems to me that you help people stop being boring adults and to go back to be playful and resourceful and open, which is beautiful, you know, and then somehow at some point we seem to lose it. But for the reason that you pointed out, everything gets so complicated and boring. I wanna ask you, the title of your book is Approaching Improv Communication and Connection in Business And Beyond How the Idea came about.
Caitlin Drago: So I knew that I wanted to write a book for a while. I wasn't exactly sure what, and for a long time I put pressure on myself because I know there's the other books about using improv for communication and its application and business.
And so I thought, okay, I have to come up with something completely different. I was talking to a friend about book writing and you know, shared that the reason that I was feeling stuck was that I thought that it had to be something completely new and novel and you know, I can't write the same book that someone else did and that friend gave me the permission to go for it because it was going to be from my perspective with my stories, with my insights, and specifically for the people who are drawn to me and the way that I teach and speak and relate.
Once I had that permission to, it's okay if it's in a similar vein of other things, it's still yours. I was able to kind of go and ended up really enjoying the process. I, I know that when, when people say like writing about, oh, it's such a drag and it's just, I liked it. Well
Stephen Matini: Probably because you, you were in the process, you were more about enjoying the, the process of learning how to do this rather than the final outcome and whether or not this would've been something amazing, which I think it's the best way to approach any project, you know?
Caitlin Drago: Exactly. Yeah. And I think once, once that lens was put on in terms of think about the person that this is for, who are you trying to help and having it be through that lens of, oh, is this going to be helpful or versus is this going to be brilliant?
Stephen Matini: So let's say I read your book, what do you hope for me to take away from your book?
Caitlin Drago: I hope that you can take away an understanding of those basics of improv. What does it mean to communicate and lead with that yes and mindset and this idea of making each other look good. What are the ramifications of that? How do you exactly do that? Because there's a lot of ripple effects that come from putting that into practice.
And then I want you to, like I mentioned before, to be able to take what you already know about certain communication skills, like giving and receiving feedback, having difficult conversations, communicating through change, and being able to apply the improv approach to those conversations to make them even more effective. And finally, I want you to be able to understand the cultural ramifications of this. What can this look like if it is something that is shared culture wide or you know, company-wide?
And for you to also have some of that encouragement because I know that this is not something that is easy and so I want you to have some encouragement there too. In improv we have this concept called follow the fear. And so it's that idea that, you know, if you have an idea that's a little scary, instead of letting that keep you from doing anything, you step into it anyway and you share it because you need to.
And the reason that I titled it approaching improv is because again, I know that it's not the easiest thing to do <laugh>, and I wanted to make it something that can be approachable, something that anyone can pick up and take something away from and implement right away.
Stephen Matini: When we talk about improvisation, I assume that always entail to have at least two people that go back and forth, back and forth. Can improvisation be used also with the dialogue that I have with myself?
Caitlin Drago: I think the answer is yes. There's some statistic where if you have an idea or an inspiration and you don't act on it in some way within five seconds it goes.
Stephen Matini: Well, I I experience it every single day because I share with you that I'm writing a book.
Caitlin Drago: Yeah. So in that moment, if you got one of those inspirations and you used this improv approach and said like, yes to this and what, what in this can work and how can I take just a moment to try to build on that idea? What might that look like for your writing process? That can be rhetorical or you can share. It's such
Stephen Matini: A wonderful thing because interestingly enough, in the business world, we love to think in terms of processes and systems and we come up with all sorts of different rules. But life these days moves us so fast that they oftentimes all these systems and the structures are too heavy.
They simply do not react to changes super quickly. And I love what you bring, you really are the Tinkerbell of the corporate world, <laugh> because everything you say is so applicable to such a wide number of scenarios, you know, from team dynamics to innovation, you name it.
But yeah, I love it. It's a simple structure and then understanding that all of us together bouncing back and forth, we can create something that you know, does not exist, did not exist before. So it's beautiful. So we talked about a lot of different things. If you have to point out to our listeners something that is really dear to you that you hope for them to take away from our improv podcast episode <laugh>, what would you say?
Caitlin Drago: I think that, you know, especially if you're, if I'm thinking about something that's dear to me, underneath all of this is people connecting through listening. If we could all slow down just a little bit enough to really take in what someone else is saying, again, it doesn't have to be that you agree with everything that person is saying, it's that we look for the humanity in it.
We use our empathy to try to understand what they're saying and to look for some of that common ground, even if it's underneath what they're saying and underneath that, to be able to build connection through listening. And one way to do that is so you can't say yes to something that you didn't hear. And so throughout someone's day, if they were to, you know, go off and take a listen to this and then say, oh, okay, what's something that I can do today?
I would say to look for something that you can say yes to or say yes to a part of. Even if you don't end up doing it, your brain is now focused on the positive and looking for what can work in looking for where you can connect with somebody else. So that would be the, the more practical piece of what they could actually do. Today
Stephen Matini: I'm a huge fan and I hope your book to be a smashing success for everybody to read it. <Laugh>, thank you so much for sharing with me this important conversation. Thank you.
Caitlin Drago: Thank you for having me.
Wednesday Nov 08, 2023
Wednesday Nov 08, 2023
Wednesday Nov 08, 2023
Delegation is one of the most critical skills for managers, as it creates time for strategic thinking while empowering others to grow.
This episode's guests are Zahra Sbeih and Nourhan Sbeih, SVA Agency's founders, providing professionals with highly skilled virtual assistants to save time, increase productivity, and focus on strategic tasks.
Zahra and Nourhan discuss the struggles when delegating tasks, such as perfectionism, control, and difficulty differentiating between short-term time investment and long-term time-saving benefits.
Listen to the episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Amazon Music, Podbean, or your favorite podcast platform.
Subscribe to Pity Party Over to overcome long-term challenges and enhance your managerial and leadership skills.
Do you have questions about this episode?
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Stephen Matini: So in terms of your interest, in general, have you had the same interest growing up or not, or were you that different?
Zahra Sbeih: Oh no. Way different.
Nourhan Sbeih: We still don't have the same interests.
Zahra Sbeih: Yeah, we have the same values and sometimes people would tell us that we like talk very similarly to each other because we spend a lot of time together. But in terms of like hobbies and like personality wise, not much similarities there.
Stephen Matini: Where did you get your work ethic from?
Nourhan Sbeih: I've always been very sensitive to consequences and my impact on other people. Taking that into consideration means I'm always kind of sensitive or aware of how my output is being perceived, how I'm making other people's life easier. I know that this is leaning more towards people pleasing, but it's served me well.
I'm setting boundaries in some places, but in terms of performance, I was always aware that I need to be putting out the best image of me, what I feel is the right thing to do.
And so when I got my first job opportunity, I was like I don't need to know what the rules are, all I know is that this output I feel is good. I wanna be perceived as 1, 2, 3. And so I just oriented myself towards that end goal of how I wanna be perceived and it's served me well so far.
Zahra Sbeih: I agree with you but I think there is like also a playing factor when it came to our dad. Our dad is also a business owner. We are amazed by his, like how hardworking he is and his work ethic towards his employees and towards his company and he's just been like a role model to us throughout our lives. I would say I got a bit of her work ethic also.
He's very disciplined and he used to say, if you expect your employees to come to the office early and you're not even that, what are you doing? He was saying you can't preach to them about punctuality or work ethic and you stay in bed till 12:00 pm. So he's always that person that's like you need to kind of match the work that you're preaching.
Stephen Matini: The same thing happened to me. I believe that I'm a combination of my mom and my dad. My father was also a small entrepreneur, you know, he used to import silk from India and from the north of Italy, so it was a distributor.
And my mom, she became eventually basically an HR Director. You know, she studied as a nurse and then she ended up managing a bunch of doctors and nurses, and both of them, the example, their work ethic, you know, how strict and kind they worked with people, you know, still resonate with me every single day. You know? When did your professional path merge into this venture that you have together?
Nourhan Sbeih:: We didn't know at any point that this was going to happen, that this is where we were going to lead a virtual assistance agency. We just knew at a very young age that we wanted to go into business together in the future. We wanted to build something on our own and somehow life ended up here in this career path.
Zahra Sbeih: Although Nourhan has studied law and I've studied economics, it's a bit different than what we currently do in our business. But yeah, funny how life is.
Nourhan Sbeih: You know, this is why we, I think the general advice is don't get too hung up on labors, but I studied a marketing degree. I have to do something with marketing, or I studied law so I have to be a lawyer or I have to do something with my law degree because that would've really shut us off from opportunities.
What helped is that we weren't expecting much when we first started. We were like, well this is a gap in the market that we can possibly adjust with our skills. Should we like try it out, we'll continue on our usual path and we'll see what happens there.
I guess the return was surprising. It, it was really needed. There was a lot of demand in the market and it took over, and keeping yourself flexible in that way to what comes up and where your passion is taking you, where your skillset suddenly that you's also important.
Stephen Matini: That's a good point that I wish more people knew about because a lot of people think in terms of roles as you said, career path rather than focusing on their talents and what resonate with them.
Like myself actually I found it out really later on in my life. You know, I made a lot of I wouldn't say safe choices but very logical choices and only later on I finally said that no, I want to capitalize on something that truly resonate in my heart.
You are an agency that focuses on helping people that really struggle with delegation. What have you learned so far about the struggles that managers go through as far as delegating?
Zahra Sbeih: There are several that come to mind. One of which could be the fact that they feel like they can do it themselves and it's takes a lot of time for them to give it to someone else and teach that person and give them the explicit instruction. They could have done it in that time.
You know, this is one of the things that we hear sometimes. Also like having the sense of like perfectionism and like control. They have a way of doing something and they wanted to, they're just so focused on that process.
So when they do delegate it to a virtual assistant and they see her or him doing it in a different way than they would, they kind of like, no do it in my ways. They're like kind of focused on that.
That's exactly it. Just to elaborate a little bit that the two major issues is they don't differentiate between the time that it took to do this task when they delegate versus how much time they're gonna save later on.
And this is something that early on I tried to explain that delegation is not about on this task right from the start you are saving time, it's a long term investment in your time. It's I'm going to spend more time now explaining my preferences, my workload, but later on I don't have to do this again. So that's the first thing.
And the second is exactly what Zahra said is that they forget that I need to give them the goal, or I need to give them the context. For effective delegation, you're bringing someone in, especially when it comes to SVH, we give them a lot of training and they're, we try to add value. We can't add value if you are also dictating the process because then I won't be able to identify gaps for or opportunities, for optimizing, for streamlining. I'll be able to do it because now I'm following a manual.
That way they're really missing out on what delegation can do for you and your business because that person has a unique perspective and they're creative in their own way and they're a third party so they're not biased to a particular process yet.
And that's why when when they're delegating, tell them don't delegate a task, delegate a responsibility, empower them, give them your goal. So tell them the end result that I want is this. See what you can do with that. And this usually yields best results, gets them to really achieve things. But that takes trust and this is why we focus a lot on building trust with our partners and with our clients.
Stephen Matini: After we record this episode, I'm going to send the audio to Jack, Jack who's my editor and he's fabulous. And we started working recently because I had been editing most episodes myself and then at some point I said, I just cannot continue doing this. I love editing, so much fun, but really it's time consuming. And then you know, I'm not an editor.
I found Jack and when we talked and Jack is gonna listen to this, he's gonna <laugh>, he's gonna laugh, we discussed about how we're gonna do this and he said, well you can tell me what you want to cut, the edits to be or I can do it. And he said in a way that was so nice, he said, well I would imagine if you're trying to delegate this, you don't want to be the one that tells the editor exactly what to do.
And I said absolutely. And you know what? I don't want this to be exactly the way that I want. I want anyone who contributes to bring some flavors. It doesn't have to be my way. And I have to say the most freeing thing obviously, you know, you have to communicate well, you have to let go.
The control freak in me had to let go, but now you know, I feel fine, you know, I feel I can give it to him and it's something is off and we can discuss it quickly, but it's such a relief. And also I don't feel as lonely, you know, because sometimes the entrepreneurial path can be very lonesome.
Nourhan Sbeih: That's true because a, what we do is also psychological support that emotional support that know, you know with this scope, with your work, with your business, a lot of things come up. Make sure you know, challenges, problems.
Knowing someone is there to give you a hand is super important. There is a flip side to that because there is delegation and that's good and effective and leads to growth. But there is also something that we've also noticed as a problem, which is delegation by abdication and abdication is different from delegation.
You have the flip side of a manager who's controlling and wants to control the entire process and so he's not getting as much result, which is a manager who's telling them, there you go, I'm not gonna look again up until things start falling apart. Why? It's not because that person was not trustworthy, is not skilled or anything of that sort.
But because abdication kind of implies that the manager did not give enough context, is not empowering them, giving them enough accountability and so they're kind of doing it in a non-constructive way. They're removing themselves from the equation and that also does not end well.
So I would say these are like the top three problems that we face when it comes to delegation and that managers usually we give them a heads up like watch out for this, we're optimizing our processes internally but we want you to trust the process and these are the things that we look out for.
Stephen Matini: I love what you said. It's such a good point. It's a crucial point and I call this concept the right distance. It's like you know, you're not too close, so that you micromanage people, you're not too far and you abdicate and it's completely lack of management.
One word that we, we said a bunch of times, we talked about control, you know control, control, control. So if someone is used to do everything herself, whatever for whatever the reason, what would you say that is the first step in order to relinquish some of that control without having a panic attack?
Nourhan Sbeih: Usually what I do, what we do is we tell them no pressure. Tell me what kind of tasks usually are time consuming for you. And we do that audit and then I take one or two that we know that we do really perfectly and that are very deliverable based. So they're not like kind of a recurring task or anything of sort.
So that would be anything from particular design, a particular research data, a video edit, something of that sort. We take this deliverable that we know we do really, really well and we tell her before we start, how about we do this just so that we break this preconceived idea that no one can do it as well as I.
Particularly when it comes to like a creative task, that's where we find the most hesitation because it's so subjective. So with these tasks I like to start with them to break that barrier because I check what they used to do, just so I get a sense of their preference and then we assign a VA (Virtual Assistant), we're so blessed, we've doing amazing.
And that usually does the trick, and then later on the things that are recurring, representing them in communication, so, community management, email handling, these are also always the most stressful things to delegate.
And what we start with is, hey, how about we do a guide for you, as if this guide based on our conversations with you and what you want and previous emails that you have, lemme create a guide that has your total standardization of recurring messages, recurring emails, so that we prep templates for you.
And that also gets them more warmed up to the idea of delegating because they already approved a scenario.
This is a like don't overwhelm I guess the client or the manager by taking everything in one go and jumping into it, because then psychologically, even if the output is good, there's resistance to accepting it, we take it slow and we take deliverable base first. Things that are recurring and subjective and personal, sorry. We create some standardization, some templates, some guidelines and that also warms them up to the idea.
Stephen Matini: So basically you are a psychologists of some sort.
Nourhan Sbeih: I swear I used to say this all the time because it really does matter a lot. We're working with humans not only internally with our VAs, but we're also working with humans who are stressed out, who are overwhelmed, who are super ambitious and overachievers.
They have a lot to deal with, not just externally but internally that they're struggling with. So all these different dynamics we've had to learn over time how to navigate all of it. You know, you were talking about empathy earlier, that was the key, that was like the aha moment that we just need to understand that they're going through something and try to fit our support within these circumstances.
Stephen Matini: How do you find the two of you, the right distance between the two of you so that you don't step on each other's feet?
Zahra Sbeih: Well, when we first started we each like assigned responsibility. We knew what our strengths, key strengths are. So for me, for example, it's my people skills. I love to work in a team, I love to work with people. So naturally operations was like my scope, dealing with internally the team and all of that. That was my part.
Nourhan is like a great negotiator, she's a strategist. She comes up with ideas and plans and all of that. So she's the Managing Director. She gets us, the clients, she get comes up with ideas for the growth of the company and all of that.
We manage to like each separate our roles in a way, handle our own responsibilities and consult with each other when needed. And it has worked very smoothly since the start. It's been amazing.
Like we can't step on each other's scopes because our hands run with our own scope. We had to jump into this trust because we're sisters that was very easy. I would say if it's founders that are strangers or even if it's friends, I'd say a contract, a founder's agreement, codifying these things, putting a third like an objective accountability system will do miracles for you and it has nothing to do with your trust to your partner. But starting on that will take into consideration all scenarios that you may face in the future.
Stephen Matini: In Italy, a lot of businesses are family based and then eventually grow, grow, grow, become this big monster. And I've always wondered how people strike a balance, you know, and it must be beautiful to know that someone of your family's right there with you. But at the same time, two different level of relationship.
Zahra Sbeih: Nourhan and I have learned to separate like the personnel from the business. So when we're working, we're business partners, we're not sisters and that has helped us like along the way I would say.
Nourhan Sbeih: It wasn't instantaneous, I was over time trial and error and vocalizing our boundaries. Sometimes we're driving back home in the car and Zahra wants to me, she wants to tell me something work related. I'm like, Zahra, my school requires making a lot of big decisions. Like I'm not making a single other decision and Zahra's the same.
Sometimes I'm like discussing to her something that I'm worried about and she's like, I'm outta the office, sorry <laugh>, check in with me tomorrow morning. So I think your partnership with your team also expressing boundaries and vocalizing those things and not being afraid to do so.
Stephen Matini: Has it always been easy for the two of you vocalizing your boundaries? Because that's something that I had to learn. I mean really I had to learn because I was a mess. Has it always been easy for you?
Zahra Sbeih: To be honest, no, not for me. It takes a type of personality to be able to be that confrontational and to express your boundaries.
Well Nourhan was a natural, like she's very verbal with how she's feeling with how like she communicates. Whereas I not so much, Nourhan has to get the talk out of me at times I'm not very good at it, but I was very lucky and blessed to have like such a partner and sister because she really, she helps me become better to express my boundaries more. She encourages communication, which is always helpful from a partner.
Nourhan Sbeih: Totally right. I've always been the kind of person who doesn't mind confrontation and so I've never ever had an issue with expressing boundaries because I would think whatever reaction they have I'm ready to face. But also what helps if you're on the other side of that spectrum and Zahra is one of them, she's aware of that and she expresses that that hey, I'm not very confrontational.
So we also set up systems for that, which is some recurring check-ins, I've learned and maybe this will help someone who's in a partnership with someone that's not as confrontational. I've learned that when it comes to Zahra, don't ask the big question first, break it down simpler of of cooks her outta her, shell slowly <laugh>.
So I wouldn't come to Zahra and say, what's upsetting you? Did it bother you that I did this? I would say, how it's your day, how did this thing go? What happened when this person told you this? And so it's like micro questions that add up to her coming outta her shell and then she like just expresses herself. Yeah, but it started with self-awareness. You can't help someone if they're not aware like what the problem is.
Stephen Matini: The one thing I wanna ask you about the whole notion of upskilling, you know, learning within organizations, because oftentimes people get so busy with operational staff that they literally have no time for learning for themselves. Very often they say, yeah, I would love to be more strategic, I would love to be to have more time for this and that, but I, I'm the only dude here. There's nothing I can do. And I believe that one of the most incredible advantages of an agency like yours could be helping people you know. With that, would you mind explaining a little bit more?
Nourhan Sbeih: Actually this is exactly what we put the whole agency on. What happens is, and this is something that we fell into Zahra and I, which is that we have a concept for a business. We start the business and we end up doing the day-to-day tasks, right? We become the technician and our own business.
When we first started, Zahra and I, we got super sucked into this dynamic where we're doing, let's say VA, we were the first VAs in our VA agency and so we're taking on clients until we figure out that this model is working and we're doing the thoughts and we got lost in this for a year and a half.
We were stuck there because then when we were trying to expand on hiring people, we were doing both and we felt like we're too in it to accept. Again, remember when we were talking about the process versus the end result, we were stuck kind of holding onto the process and wanting people to do it.
Just as we have done why we evolved and how our evolution impacted the service that we provide. We try to explain to the entrepreneur that you, what you're contributing to your business is that innovation, that entrepreneurial spirit, your managerial skills. So you'll creating systems, organizing things and your creativity.
Now those three things actually require some space. You require some time to recharge, you require some time to reflect, you require an eagle eye view of things and you're not so in it. And so what we say, Hey, have you been doing enough of this?
What's a time audit like? Like what is your day like? And most of the time it's not. And they freak out when we tell them, hey, schedule some free time. Relax because it's important for your work because there's this culture of if you're not busy all the time, then you're not actually successful in this hustle culture.
So we tell them the VA, you as the entrepreneur and manager of your business, create a system, create an order, that's fine. Focus on that and that will allow your VA the operations of the day-to-day things without any issue. And it will run.
Let's take our business as an example. I know all businesses in the backend kind of look the same. So imagine that Zahra and I were doing the customer service as well as the marketing, that's digital marketing for our agency as well as actually handling client accounts.
When would we have time to network? Think of strategic partners if we need to expand to a new department. And all this requires, you need some space from the day to day because if I'm replying to emails all day, I'm gonna get this false sense of satisfaction that I did something in the long term. I didn't do anything for my business, it wasn't helpful, I did not serve its best interest in the long term.
Zahra Sbeih: This is the difference between like working in the business versus on the business. So in the business is the technician work, it's the day-to-day tasks that are not really contributing to the growth of the company, but whereas working on the business, you're being strategic, you're having a moment to reflect on everything and coming up with the ideas for the growth of the company.
Nourhan Sbeih: And no business can scale by the way or growth. If it relies on your presence, that means you have a job. It's a coincidence that the job, like you're your own boss but then you still have a boss don’t you? Then this is the dynamic that you want. It's probably more stable to go to find yourself a corporate job, right? That shift in our mindset after a year of struggling because it really sucks the passion outta you. That really made all the difference because then we were able to step back and create a business that runs smoothly even if we're not there.
Stephen Matini: You know, while you are talking about is something that I learned, God, after a lifetime of trying millions of different things. I'm kind of thick compared to where you are. But essentially now what I do that works incredibly well for me after trying Excel files, you name it, all kinds of fancy stuff. See this one there's a piece of paper, so it's green and red.
The red stuff is basically the operational stuff, the green stuff is the strategic stuff. And what I do, I do it the night before, literally for one minute and I take like the back of a printed sheet, you know, something that I, I don't want to throw out. So I, I take this sheet, I ripped in four different parts. So the size is this, it has to be this size, it has to contain some information but not that much.
And then a minute, you know, I write and allows me to, okay, tomorrow this is the stuff and this simple distinction red and green allows me to see there's enough strategic stuff where I'm drowning, you know, as you said into operational stuff. Honest to God it works wonders. It's not about managing my schedule, it's super simple a minute and then in my head everything is clear and the following day I go, you know?
Nourhan Sbeih: I love that, that is it. Lemme tell you something, this is it. And if you have a VA, you already did the hard part. Okay, you identified the things that potentially you can delegate later on to your team, to your VA. So yeah, good.
Our whole business is about delegation. Our way of thinking has been conditioned to be as such. So for example, when I'm planning a project, I now automatically plan it again. So I automatically, when I'm writing the project down, I don't get specific, I draw a general map and then later on I duplicate the template.
So there's a template now if I ever have to do this project again and then I get into specifics and delegate it. This takes over time training, but this is the right way to do it. And creating as a business owner systems that you can replicate.
So if your time is really precious and it's, it's especially as a business owner, if you're spending time on something, you have to make sure that you're not gonna do this again if you don't have to.
So if it's a email reply and it's something that you can standardize, save it for later. I love taking notes. If it's a project done, digitize it, replicate it as many times and you can customize later, that's fine. But still you're not starting from scratch.
If you're starting from scratch then you haven't been codifying enough, you haven't been digitizing your life enough these days. It's a waste of opportunity, it's a waste of time. Even if it's a notebook, you don't have to digitize it, but for searchability purposes, my only advice would be open your notes up, keep it digital so that one search button would just bring up whatever to do list that you had that day and maybe you forgot something or anything like that. So it helps. I use every note.
Stephen Matini: What advice would you give to anyone that has been postponing the idea of going after their dream? The dream of you know, being an independent professional, having a company, pursue whichever project, which advice would you give to that person?
Zahra Sbeih: You know, this is something that Nourhan mentioned earlier about overthinking. They should not overthink it, they should just go with it. Go for it because you are gonna like spend, I don't know, a year planning and focusing on the details and just time is running by while someone else is doing the same idea and perfecting it and growing while you're still thinking about the details.
Trial and error has served Nourhan and I along the way. We sometimes went with the flow and and figured things out as we go, but the most important part is that we started, we are trying, you know.
Nourhan Sbeih: And you're never gonna expect how it's going to be like you're never, no matter how many, how smart you're or how much you're prepared or how much advice you get, you are going to make mistakes that later on you're gonna look at and you're like, it was so obvious.
It was obvious. I shoulda done something else. And this is important because when I'm talking to younger entrepreneurs now, yes it's important to have a passion. Yes it's important that you love what you do, but it's also important to know that whether you're working on your own or you're self-employed or an employee, it's always gonna feel like work. Because it's work, it's hard work.
You're not gonna feel the same about it consistently all the time. Sometimes it's gonna bring so many challenges. You're gonna be like, why am I doing this? Why did I put myself in this position? That's fine. Even if you're following your dreams, you're gonna pass through these moments. And I wish that I knew this when I first started so that I'm not, I don't feel like maybe I'm in the wrong place.
I wasn't in the wrong place, I was just not aware that this is normal, that it doesn't feel good all the time. Especially the entrepreneurial journey. I mean the problems that we face, Zahra and I was just super unexpected way beyond what we thought we were able to handle and we handled them and it was okay.
Stephen Matini: It's a process, you know, it's a process that requires getting your hands dirty and trying stuff. I think when I was younger I was mortally afraid of making mistakes, you know, so I definitely, I overthought the whole thing now, you know, maybe because of the experience I not what the heck it is.
I try to approach it as rational as possible and then I think okay, you know, for today this is the best I can do it and maybe it's just stupidest thing as you said and one day I will look back but as of today, this is the best that I can do.
Having this bar, you know, super high, I have to get there and if I don't I'm going to be bad. Such a loser. You know? Now that, well hopefully I will get there. I have a dream, you know, I have a goal like all of us, but I'm more interested in the process and making sure that, am I really enjoying this with all the, you know, tribulations and difficulties? And then the answer is yes. Well then I continue, the answer is no. Well then you know, maybe there are some adjustments.
Nourhan Sbeih: I 1% agree with that, especially the part where you said reflect. If it's no you're not feeling the journey, although sometimes you're not gonna feel it, but if it's been consistently not being felt <laugh>,
Stephen Matini: The whole notion of gender and age and any other traits that make us different is something that really doesn't matter. For you considering the context where you grew up in everything, did any of these components matter? The fact that you're a woman, the fact that your age, the where you were born, I mean has any of these things somehow impacted the way you think, the way you are?
Zahra Sbeih: I don't think it directly affected like in a very straightforward way. The fact that we're women or our age played apart. But there were times where we kind of went through things and we had a thought, you know, if we were men, would it have been easier for us. If we were older, would it have been easier that situation? So we wonder at times. I wouldn't say it has a played a part like directly.
There was no roadblock in our way and we're very grateful for that because we live in a time where it's never gonna be a roadblock. There's always another way to make it happen. But something that wasn't very nice to go through. So when we first started we were 22, 23.
In our society it's not really that essential for women to be making something depends on every family. But we weren't raised on the idea that you have to be financially independent, and when we first started we weren't taken seriously whatsoever.
Nourhan Sbeih: I dunno what the reason is. Even from our families, we were like, okay, can we get like some advice or we want advice or anything of that. So we wouldn't even get advice because they'd say like, just go have fun. Instead of us pitching a business idea to capable women pitching a business idea, it was two little girls trying to play office.
That was kind of how we felt in the moment when we were getting this kind of input. Just go have fun, it's fine. So we wouldn't even get advice and that was a tough pill to swallow at the time. Now I think it's because our identity is in our business.
Some people might say that's not a good thing, but we felt like we built something that reflects our values, our work ethic, how we like to do things as well. It's very structured and we have to figure things out from scratch so we, it's not outdated because this is all new answers that we have to come up with, but there's a success story for every gender, for every age.
I wouldn't say that it was an issue, it's just it was a bummer. It was a bummer in some moments, especially when you go into a meeting with a client, they're like taken aback. Oh and you feel like it kind of brought the whole negotiation or the whole deal to a halt, but again, confidence focusing on your value makes you push through and it wasn't a roadblock in any way.
Stephen Matini: I wanna ask you something about the Barkat program because you're part of these fabulous program, which is a social initiative to support female entrepreneurs, you know, in Africa, in the Middle East. How did you come across the program? How did it happen?
Zahra Sbeih: We were in in a, like a WhatsApp group for women leader organization, I'm not sure. So they sent a broadcast about this coaching program called Barkat. It's focused on things that I would want to develop in myself, like leadership skills, also the networking opportunity that would come with it, getting to know other women entrepreneurs in the Lebanon.
So I thought of it as a really good opportunity to maybe apply and see if I get selected because I think they only accept six women. So I applied through the form, I got an interview, I did the interview with Puneet, who's amazing and then I got selected and I was really, really happy for the opportunity. It's going really well.
Stephen Matini: What would you say that has been the biggest contribution so far of the program to you as a female entrepreneur?
Zahra Sbeih: The support system that this program has provided, like getting us six women together in a cohort and getting to know one another, sharing our experience, it's been really enlightening. It makes you feel like you're not in this alone and people are going through the same things as you.
Even though the industries are different and the businesses are completely different, but somehow the core challenges are there for all of us and just having this support system where you could share and get advice has been incredibly helpful. I think this is the main thing that I really loved about the program.
Stephen Matini: When you need to center yourself. We were talking about that before, like you know, carve sometime for yourself. What do you do? Do you meditate? Do you pray? Do you walk in nature? What do you do? What do you need to center yourself and to replenish your energy?
Zahra Sbeih: At times of maybe stress or when I wanna just like take a step back, I would maybe go for a walk. I step away from whatever situation that is causing me any kind of negative feeling. I step away from it, I go, I leave the place, I go and think I sometimes I just listen to music. I like listening to something distracting myself. Could be a podcast, could be music, it could be whatever, an audio book that is usually my way of stepping out. Or alternatively I go to Nourhan <laugh> like Nourhan, I want to rant <laugh>, please, let's go have the ranting situation. <Laugh>
Nourhan Sbeih: Definitely us having a mini panic session helping <laugh> but also like it's relevant not to a particular like crisis moment. Having hobbies is important. Definitely it has kept me sane. So I would say I go to the gym regularly that helps. Exercise is super important. When I move I feel like whatever hormone neurotransmitter, I'm not very sciencey, but whatever is happening that's causing me stress, it's really like flushed out.
I enjoy my reading session so my, I don't have a particular time slot within my day for my reading session. It's more of an intuitive thing. So sometimes I just step aside with my book and I read and that also centers me because I've tried meditation. Have you been there, Stephen? Have you tried meditating?
Stephen Matini: I tried a bunch of them. I've done a lot of mindfulness. The one that I prefer the most are the dynamic meditations. Like, you know, walking in nature, I do it also the static one, but I noticed that eh, just after a while, God I have to stay still, you know, instead nature works wonders with me.
Like even last night I was so miserable, I've been working a bunch of hours, I was tired, I was cranky as hell. Something happened at the end of the day that really upset me. You know, there's this park, you know, close to my house where I go and I go there by myself when there are not many people around and somehow that really does the trick, you know, it just thoughts stop. I start breathing correctly and then my intuition kicks back and then by the end of the walk, all right, it's not that bad.
And the reason I'm asking you is because a lot people feel like meditation or that the classic meditation does not work for them. And I'm one of those people and I really gave it a shot because it's important to kind of declutter your mind in a way.
Nourhan Sbeih: And I found that reading for example, does that. Music does that for Zahra and forcing my brain to focus on this page. And so I am centering myself. People need to also, again, forget about labels, forget about what you're supposed to do, try a bunch of different things and see what works for you.
Stephen Matini: Is there anything that we haven't talked about so far that you feel would be important for our listeners to know?
Nourhan Sbeih: Two things. The first thing is when we started working and we work remotely and when you're working remotely with someone, it's way different from working with them in person when there is tone and there is body language and you're not imposing your own disposition onto their disposition.
We were like very put off by the people we're working with communication style. We were put off by their texting style. Maybe they as well felt like we're very remote from them. So we're not really human, we're someone behind the screen. It takes on a different psychology as well when you're dealing with something like that.
And I think what served us really, really well over time is to have that empathy there. That our clients are ambitious, perfectionists, stressed out, overwhelmed, overachievers. And this is a very difficult combination to have. And so sometimes they don't have to send emojis, they don't have to keep complimenting, they're trying to make things happen, they're trying to make mountains move.
Understanding that helped us a lot, especially 80% of our clients are women. And what we noticed is they don't get as much allowance when it comes to not being nice.
Although I swear <laugh> when it comes to our clients, the men do not even attempt to put on emoji, say a kind word, excessive compliments. Our female clients do that and I've noticed it as a pattern.
But even when they're overwhelmed and they don't do that and the VA might be like, wait, is she being mean? Is she upset? I'm like, listen, this is like kind of societal conditioning on, you have some empathy, she's busy, she's busy, it's remote work, it's normal.
And also on the other side, we also tell our clients there is a human behind the screen that we want you to connect with because support will be different if you connect with, and that's where our whole setup is based on have direct contact, know this person, name, background, preference, whatever, but also set recurring video calls that helps.
And you have direct call access whenever you wanna hear a human to talk to. That impacts overall the dynamic between you. So focusing on people, focusing on empathy, understanding what the other person is going through and how you're meeting them, where they're at at the moment. Circumstances are different, is important.
Zahra Sbeih: I do agree with what Nourhan is saying, it kind of made me think about our relationship or the VA's relationship with the client. Usually we do build a bond with them and the VA becomes kind of like the best friend of the client. And it has happened a few times where the client is like, let's like talk on a personal level, let's keep work aside. I feel like talking to you, getting to know you. So they do build that bond and it helps because sometimes you just want to talk to a human being and it's not all work, work, work.
Stephen Matini: Now, I understand why you talked even last time when we met about empathy, why it is so important. I completely understand it; it's true. It's something that comes up a lot with my job. The misconception people have – "oh, it's not in person." You know, digital is not empathetic. I said, you know, I could not disagree more. If someone doesn't want to be here, it's not, you know, I've had plenty of people in front of me sleeping, during a training to give you an example. Yeah, I think empathy is absolutely important.
Nourhan Sbeih: When it comes to digital work, it's more crucial because you're operating so many preconceived ideas and assumptions, so many that you need to like almost, you feel like you're physically suppressing these assumptions that are coming outta nowhere or she didn't send an emoji this time.
So I feel like she's being rude, when actually the sentences don't impose any assumptions on what you're breathing. And so empathy here is more important so that you give the other person that room to be human.
The second point is, it's okay to ask for help. I need entrepreneurs and ambitious people to hear this. You are not less of a success if you're coming up with ideas and someone is executing them with you. So you're not 24 hours in a day busy doing emails and writing emails and replying to messages and doing these operational things. That doesn't mean you're not successful as an entrepreneur reading your jobs to come up with innovative ideas.
So if you're sending emails all day, doing meetings all day, how are you coming up with these ideas? Don't relate your value to how much you're getting done on your own. And do ask for help. There's no shame in it. Rallying people, empowering them, working with them alongside them is the biggest determiner of success.
I got asked this a lot, which is, what's the key characteristic of your clients that you've seen that determines how successful this client is or ends up being? And I always say that they're a team player, they expect some kind of characteristic that is outside this like super disciplined or incredibly intelligent.
It's literally just someone who works so well with a team who such a good team player and it's very collaborative, she's very collaborative and this really makes all the difference and determines how successful their business ends up being. These are the two things.
Stephen Matini: I have to say that you must have a really great dad and I have to say I don't have kids, you know, but being twice your age, if I had kids, I would love to have two daughters like you. You are awesome.
Zahra Sbeih: That means a lot.
Stephen Matini: I love this conversation we had. I think it's gonna help a ton of people. And I listen to a lot of people and I want just to say that your wisdom is really ageless, you know, it really is. You know, you said a lot of things that will make even more sense with time being someone that talks with a lot of people. I'm really, really so pleased, you know, and I've learned a lot today. Thank you so much.
Nourhan Sbeih: You're gonna make me cry.
Wednesday Nov 01, 2023
Wednesday Nov 01, 2023
Wednesday Nov 01, 2023
Keith Storace, an Australian psychologist and consultant, shares his experience helping clients overcome limiting beliefs and focusing on the positive to create meaningful lives.
Keith highlights the power of the poetic principle in shaping our reality and emphasizes the importance of authentic relationships in our personal and professional lives. In therapy and leadership, Keith emphasizes the importance of understanding others, embracing their strengths, and fostering meaningful connections.
Keith maintains a Psychology and Consulting Practice at kikuIMAGINATION® working with individuals, couples, families, and groups; conducts seminars and workshops; and consults on mental health, professional development, and leadership.
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Stephen Matini: Keith. We met at this stage of our lives, right? But as you look back, have you always been this way, the way that I see you? Compassionate, warm.
Keith Storace: I'm reluctant to say yes because it might make me sound as though I am big, noting myself in some way, maybe not in childhood. I dunno if I was as compassionate as I'm now as I was in childhood. 'cause I was too busy being a child and all the great things that come with that.
But I've always wondered about things from a compassionate perspective, and not that that's easy because I think compassion is when you remove yourself from the middle of your life and put someone else there, as temporary as that might be.
My perspective has really been shaped and molded by many wonderful people in my life. I just paid enough attention at the time. I don't know why or how, but I was paying attention to the heart of what they wanted to get across.
Stephen Matini: When did you decide the focus of your career? Did it happen early on? Later on?
Keith Storace: There are a number of things that happened, a sequence of things. It wasn't until I was in my mid to late twenties that I connected the dots and thought I need to pursue psychology.
One of the earliest memories was when I was 14, I read the book by Kahlil Gibran called The Prophet,, and there's one line in it where someone asks the prophet what is work? And his response, or at least the shrunken version of his response that I remember in my head was work is love made visible.
And I remember thinking at 14 when I read that line, wow, that's what I want. That's the kind of job I want. I had no idea what that looked like, but I love the line work is love made visible. And I wondered, is that possible to have a job where you can do that? What does that look like?
As I grew up, I realized, well, you can enter the religious life, you can work as a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist. You can even do it as a pastry cook. You know, it depends what you are passionate about. That was the beginning of me beginning to wonder about the kind of work I would do.
I wasn't aware of psychology at the time. I didn't know what psychology was. That didn't happen until a few years later when I was in high school. I have this wonderful teacher who asked us, or the assignment for class was we had to come up with a project that was about life. It could be anything. It could be trees, it could be whatever we wanted it to be, but it had to be about life.
And my usual approach to any project or homework was to leave till the last minute. I wasn't very good. I was too busy interested in what adolescents are interested in. So I left it and I realized on the Sunday the day before the project, the assignment was due that I hadn't done anything.
So it was close to midday on the Sunday and I rode my bicycle to the local library, which closed at midday, and I ran in, we didn't have computers back then. I went through the little index cards to try and find something.
And I remembered watching on television a few weeks earlier, a documentary by Jacques Cousteau on “pearls.” And I thought, pearls, that's life. That's about life. I'll write about Pearls. So I couldn't find what I was looking for. I went to the desk, the lady at the library desk announced that the library was closing. I was the only person left.
And I said, I need a book on pearls. And she said, oh, I think we've had one just returned. I got the book, she stamped the little card. I went to my bicycle, sat on retreat, started raining, the library closed, and I started to read this book on pearls. I thought, okay, I need to come up with something for handing in my assignment.
And the book wasn't about pearls as I thought it would be. It was about a man who was called Pearls, but he was the father of Gestalt therapy. So it wasn't a book about pearls, it was about Gestalt therapy. And I was so angry at myself. I had my own mini pity party <laugh> in my head. I went home, I threw my bike against the garage wall and, and I forgot I had the book in my bag, which was just a very sort of a hessian kind of bag.
It was very soft material bag. And it started raining. And early evening I realized that I'd left the book in the bag and I ran out to get it. It was soaked. And I started crying and my mum overheard and she said, oh, you can use my hair dryer.
So I had this book opening up the book, drying every page. And as I'm drying it, I started reading it. I didn't understand most of what I read, but one thing that really came across the gestalt therapy was saying that we are parts of a whole, our behavior, how we feel isn't looked at in isolation.
So I ended up writing, I dunno how, but I ended up writing a project on people and Gestalt therapy for the assignment. I received an a triple plus, and I had the Gestalt prayer, what they call the Gestalt prayer on the front of the project.
And the teacher had written just underneath the A plus, she wrote a couple of words from the Gestalt prayer, which was, I am me and you are you. If we happen to meet and get along, that's great. If not, that's great as well. And she happened to be of the hippie era. So she really understood what I was trying to get across in my assignment.
But it did a lot for my confidence and the way that I understood community and people. And that was my first inkling that there was something that was called psychology that existed that was in the back of my head and it kept brewing.
You know, there were other incidents that brought me to that conclusion that I really needed to study psychology which I really feared because of the statistics. I was never good at math, but I quickly realized statistics is not mathematics. It's a language. Once you understand it, you can really bring some wonderful information together to make sense of the world.
Stephen Matini: And how did you get closer to positive psychology? Last time when we met, you talked about your reluctance for the word abnormal, which is something that in the industry, in the field is not longer used, you know, in many instances. Did it happen earlier on and later on af after a while that you worked?
Keith Storace: I'd heard about positive psychology, but it really came into being in my own understanding, I guess when I was studying psychology, that early stage of studying psychology where everything was labeled as abnormal, abnormal psychology.
There's a place for that in the scientific world, but we had humanistic psychology. And I didn't really come across positive psychology until I was introduced to appreciative inquiry, because that really focuses on the positive core, the difficulty I had with the term abnormal.
I remember speaking with my supervisor at the time, what happens if a client feels as though they're being labeled as abnormal? You know, they might come across the term. And she challenged me to come up with another term.
And I was sitting in the student cafeteria at university and I overheard one of the students talk about her appreciation for what she's learning. And it dawned on me at that point that appreciation psychology rather than abnormal psychology was a better fit for what i I was concerned about.
And that was way before I came across appreciative inquiry. But when I did come across appreciative inquiry, it was via the five core principles. And that's when I started to understand more about positive psychology. You know, because a lot of people ask me, well, I hear about positive psychology, but where's the therapy?
What's the therapy associated with positive psychology? And I struggled with that as well. You can look at what positive psychology offers, which is people often understand it as well. It's about feeling good and being grateful and looking at the good in things.
And a challenge isn't a problem, it's a challenge or a problem isn't a problem, it's a challenge, all of that. But how do you engage with that in therapy? And that's why the five core principles or the classic principles, that's why I think they're really powerful because that's when I started to, to use those principles in particular in leadership, I began to question whether I couldn't use those somehow in one-on-one therapy.
And that's how I, I started to develop the appreciative Dialogue therapy program with positive psychology. I came to know it because of my question around how do I use positive psychology in therapy? And the answer really came through appreciative inquiry.
Stephen Matini: So for those listeners who do not know, appreciative inquiry belongs to positive psychology. And it's a whole approach that focuses on strengths rather than weaknesses in rather than deficits. What you were mentioning, the five principles, and if I remember correctly, they are constructionist, anticipatory, poetic, simul, <inaudible>, and positive. Are you attached to all five of them? Or, or there's one of the five, the somehow speaks volumes to you.
Keith Storace: They're all fantastic, they're all brilliant and they're all powerful. When they're used together, they're amazing. But the one that stands out for me as a psychologist and as what I learned growing up is the poetic principle.
I often, in my early days of inquiry, I used to say to people, I even wrote this in one, in an article I wrote, what was David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva, who, who developed appreciative inquiry back in the eighties, what were they thinking? How did they come up with this? This is exceptionally wonderful. I didn't learn this in psychology.
The poetic principle in particular says that what we focus on becomes our reality. In simple terms, that's, I mean, you can really extrapolate it more than that as a psychologist. More importantly, as a human, I see that at work every day. If you are thinking of something that is on your mind the whole time, if you are working on a dream, that dream is working on you, even when you're asleep, when you move, move deliberately to bring that to life in the world, it's just brilliant.
And for me, the poetic principle stands out because it's really what the Appreciative Dialogue program is about. It's bringing to life in the world. What matters most to individuals. I mean, we've seen it big time post Covid, and we're still feeling the ripple effects of post covid and especially in Melbourne where we had such a long lockdown. In total it was nine months.
But I saw clients through that time, and I always came back to the poetic principle because during Covid and post Covid, what people are talking about is, I don't want to go back to my pre covid life. I, I need to do something different. We've heard about the great resignation globally. I don't think it's about the great resignation, it's about the great personal revolution or evolution. It's really wanting to move forward with who I truly am. Again, I probably sound really passionate about the poetic principle, but that's why, you know, what we focus on becomes our reality.
Listen to anyone who's achieved what they've really wanted to achieve in their lives, and they will tell you, I can't believe I get paid for doing what I love doing for doing what defines who I am. And they quickly say, that's my purpose in life. And I say, well, yes, at the moment it's your purpose in life, but I think that's your bliss. Our purpose over time changes, but that's your bliss.
That's where you are in the moment. I mean, there are 10 principles for people who are listening. There were the emergent principles, which are valuable as well. I certainly don't want to minimize those, but it's the classic ones, the five core ones that drew me to a appreciative inquiry that shaped my behavior as a leader and certainly crafted my approach to therapy, which is all about relationship as Irvin Yalom that wonderful American therapist says that the relationship is the therapy. And that's so true. You can't fake a genuine relationship. How do you ensure that that's going to happen? Not just as a psychologist in therapy, but as a leader in leadership?
Stephen Matini: It seems so complicated for a lot of people. Business is made of a lot, a lot of different things, it's a very complex type of thing, but really it boils down to relationship with a lot of different stakeholders. You know, one thing that you said when you're talking about poetic, you said that what you focus on, essentially you manifest. And yet a lot of people have such a difficulty understanding what is important to them to get the clarity.
Even myself, I would say I've always kind of known what I like or what I did not like, but for the longest time, it was so difficult either to have the courage, maybe greater clarity about what I want to pursue, which is something that I have right now, you know, in my fifties, and I never had it before this clear. And then last time, you and I talked about limiting beliefs. Are the limiting beliefs that do not allow us to see it or, or anything else.
Keith Storace: Limiting beliefs are a good way to start because limiting beliefs are the result of how we've somehow interpreted the world around us and believe the world sees us. It may not be true. The thing about limiting beliefs or negative core beliefs is that they're there for a reason. I really try and get the client to understand the importance of what they believe their core belief is.
So we do this exercise, I've developed a, a series of cards. I used to have it as a questionnaire, but it's much more fun having a series of cards and I have words on them. And, and the client will say, look at the card and say, I am. And if it says unworthy, it's a bit like a Likert scale in the either almost always or almost never. And there are a couple in between. So eventually we filter down to seven core beliefs and then eventually filter down to one.
And I make it my task. When we do that exercise, I make it my task to make sure that I don't end up taking the card with me. So I have to somehow convince through the narrative that emerges between us. I have to think of a way of a client agreeing that they are not a hundred percent unworthy once they agree to that, and they usually do, because, you know, I mean coming to therapy first and foremost, well, if you're a hundred percent unworthy, you wouldn't have believed that you had a right to come to counseling <laugh>.
But once we establish their core belief, and look, I I have to say this point, I always say this in therapy, a belief by its very nature is something that is not true. If it was true, then it would be a fact. People don't say, I fact I am unworthy.
I get them to look at the importance of the power behind the belief. We often hear how powerful a thought is, and yes it is, but I say a belief is far more powerful because quite often we dunno what we believe it's there in the background, but we dunno what it is getting at least some sense of what a client's core belief is.
Then I ask 'em three questions and again, consider the five core principles of appreciative inquiry. But the three questions are, I look at a person's energy their relationships and their sense of future. I know it's not a feta complain, but I say to people, these are the three things that make us who we are. They're the three things that make us human and deal with experiences in the way that we do. So by energy, I asked the client, and you can ask this yourself about the life you are living.
And I did this through covid during the pandemic, but in terms of core beliefs and limiting beliefs, I asked the person, does your core belief energize you or does it exhaust you? He or she will think about that. And then I ask them, does your core belief build relationships or does it isolate you?
And the third one, does your core belief reveal a welcomed future or an unwanted one? Now, usually if the first two are negative or what I call negative, which is I'm exhausted and I'm isolated, they're not gonna have a good response to the future one. Now, it is frightening for some people when they do this exercise because when someone is deeply suffering from self-doubt, they don't see a way out in many ways, and this is why a lot of my work focuses on limiting beliefs and self-doubt.
So once a person has answered those three questions, I then get them to contemplate a time when they were doing something that was good for them. And I call this the create change exercise.
So I asked 'em to think about a time in their life where they created a change that in turn created them. At that point, they don't necessarily see a connection between what's going on on for them in terms of, of self-doubt. But they do come to understand that we get there eventually.
And sometimes there's hope happens over several sessions. So it's certainly not immediate, but I'll ask 'em to create a change. Think of a time where they created a change that in turn created them. And then I asked them three questions. Who or what inspired you to make that change? What did that change look like in your mind before you even began to move toward making that change? And who is involved in helping you bring that change to life?
Everyone has a story as little or as big as, as it is. Everyone has a story. What I'm really doing is looking at how they allow themselves, how they enable themselves to be inspired, how they enable themselves to imagine, and how they enable themselves to collaborate, especially with imagination. That goes a long way to build resilience. Once we have this story, I then go to talk about what I refer to as the seven positive stimulus statements. I call them stimulus statements, because for me, that's positive psychology.
Stephen Matini: Like a mantra.
Keith Storace: Yeah, each statement becomes a mantra. And, and usually as you asked me, and so rightly so, which of the five core principles stands out for me? And, and the poetic principle, again, it stands out for me because what we focus on becomes our reality. So the seven stimulus statements is to inspire that in the client. And then we've moved into the three questions, you know about inspiration, imagination, collaboration, and then the five, the, sorry, the seven stimulus statements.
They're about belief, imagination, perseverance, success, possibility, foresight, and action. And each one says, belief says belief influences choice. Three words, simple idea, but it's true. And we discuss that by unraveling a story that the client has. And we usually go back to the story, but the create change exercise, you know, okay, you told me that you decided you wanted to have a life change or see change.
You were working as an engineer, for example, you decided you wanted to do something completely different. We look at how belief influences choice in the light of whatever story they've, they've given me with imagination. We are who we imagine ourselves to be. That again, leans into limiting beliefs and core beliefs. So self-doubt is that preoccupation, you know, having that fear of failure and self-doubt on its own won't stop you.
Self-Denial, on the other hand, will, because self-denial is an action. And I don't mean self-denial in the way that psychologists talk about denial. You know, where someone who is grieving is denying what's happened or what life's gonna be like. Now it's self-denial where you stop yourself from moving toward how you want your life to be. And that's an action. So self-doubt is a belief, and self-denial is an action. So how we imagine ourselves to be the second positive stimulus statement and which is about imagination.
If we are steeped in self-doubt, if we are steeped in the limiting beliefs, then that's how we see ourselves and we won't progress. I often use the image of someone who has a basketball and there's a basketball hoop. If the person who doesn't believe in themselves thinks, well, there's no point in me trying to get this basketball in the hoop because I'm hopeless, I'm not worthy, it's not going to work, then they'll have a half-hearted approach to getting the ball in the hoop. And of course, because of that half-hearted approach, it won't go in.
And then they'll say, you see, I was right. Perseverance there is no failure, only frustration. Now, a lot of people disagree with me about that. Oh gosh, you know, you should embrace failure because you learn from it. And I'm saying, I'm not saying not not embrace failure, but someone who's suffering from the fear of failure, then they need to reframe what failure is.
And the way I help them reframe it is to say it's not a failure, it's a frustration. I do this a lot with university students. You failed an exam, okay, that's gonna frustrate you moving forward because you have to reset it or you may need to do redo the semester. It doesn't mean you failed your intention of eventually working in this field. It just means it's frustrated the process a little bit.
You know, we talk that through and they generally understand what I'm getting at when I talk about that. Success is not limited to natural ability. You don't have to be naturally gifted to do what you want to do. If you really want to do it, then it's going to take a lot of hard work and some people will have to work harder than others. But that's the, the notion of success possibility.
You know, with positive psychology and appreciative inquiry, the positive emerges through the possible. People often think it's the other way around. We begin to see possibilities when we are in a positive state. And that's true, but where does it begin if someone is not in a positive state? So let's look at what's possible.
And we've already started looking at what's possible because we've done the create change exercise, <laugh>, and then foresight, which is a little arithmetic. I give them H plus I equals F. That's from my statistics days. And I made up that little formula. Basically it's asking, or it's saying that hindsight plus insight equals foresight and people do ooh, when they hear that, when I actually write what it means on the board.
But hindsight plus insight equals foresight. If you can get that right, then you're on the way. And I, and I highlight for the client how they've already told me that because in their story, the create change story, they've given me the positive call.
The client might not think they have a positive call, but there it is. And action. Our goals are only as achievable as the actions we take toward them. So those seven stimulus statements are to stimulate the kind of conversation that the client will believe. Again, going back to belief, the client will believe what those statements are really wanting the client to grasp because the client has told me their their create change story.
When I give talks about this people, their first question usually is, but what if a person doesn't have a create change story? What if a person truly can't think back to a time where they created a change that in turn created them? And my response is, well, firstly, I've never encountered that There have been clients who have struggled and they've struggled because they try to think big. You know, what's a big change that I created in my life?
And that's not about a big change. It's a tiny, it's a tiny change. It can be big if you've got one. Sure. The reason I call it appreciative dialogue, which is really an offshoot of of appreciative inquiry, is that it's an intentional conversation with a positive direction. And that in itself gives me my answer to how is positive psychology,
Stephen Matini: How long does it take to someone to change a limiting belief?
Keith Storace: Look, it really varies. The program that I use, depending on the nature of the client situation, it can take between six and 12 weeks to, I wouldn't say completely change their beliefs. Some people are really stuck with their beliefs. So I try and get them to understand, let's not focus too much on moving on from your belief. Let's focus on moving on with your belief, which really suggests managing it and controlling it. You know, you've heard that saying, we teach what we need to learn.
For me, that's my life lesson, how to really deal with my own self-doubt. So sometimes people can't move on, sort of leave it in the background. So it's about controlling it and understanding what it actually is. It's not hard, but it does take patience. As I started out saying, the relationship is the therapy. You have to really wanna be there with this client.
You really want to be able to walk in their shoes, you know, and understand what it is like for them. Because I haven't experienced everything a client has experienced. I've got my own experience of life. So I probably make it sound simpler than it is. I, I have to say too that I do use evidence-based, I call it my therapy triangle. There are three approaches to therapy that I use that underpins everything I've talked about.
And that is existential therapy, solution focused and cognitive behavioral. I now embed those three therapies because, and it's a really strong triangle because existential, the existential approach says individuals create their own meaning. Solution focus says elements of the desired solution are usually already present in the person's life, hence the create change story.
And cognitive behavioral therapy says behavior change is the result of a change in one's thoughts and beliefs. Again, we're looking at core beliefs now for the client. I don't talk about that with the client. I don't say I'm using this triangle of therapy, but I do say to them, there are three things that, that we're gonna look at that will eventually manifest in your life in a way that you'll be able to move forward and use this whole approach in all sorts of situations in life.
Stephen Matini: It's very subjective. Also, the, as you said, you know, how long it takes. Is it, it depends. It varies. You covered a lot of really important things and thank you so much, first of all, for being so generous with this conversation. If you had to highlight one main takeaway for a listener, something that, based on anything you said that you deemed to be really, really, really important as a starting point, what would you say that is?
Keith Storace: I would love for listeners to spend a good amount of time if they can, whenever they can immersed in the things that matter most to them. Because the gratitude that emerges from that kind of experience is an affirmation of who they are. When who you are is brought to life in the world.
In this way, the people around you will not only come to know you for who you truly are, they will also in one way or another be infected by you, <laugh> in a beautiful way and benefit from the good in it all. So the more you become your true self, which is what we're all meant to be, the more others will benefit from that.
And if I had to talk in leadership speak, I would say that when people are encouraged and supported to engage in work or study that resonates with their strengths, values, and what they enjoy, they in turn feel strong, valued, and motivated to produce good work. You know? And this ultimately benefits who they are and their mental health and social relationships. What matters mostly is who you are. And that's what we all want to know.
Stephen Matini: Thank you, Keith. This has been wonderful.
Keith Storace: Good conversations. Appreciate with time and this has certainly been one of them. Thank you.
Monday Oct 23, 2023
Monday Oct 23, 2023
Monday Oct 23, 2023
Sara Truebridge EdD, is a researcher and author specializing in resilience.
Sara is the Founder of EDLINKS, an organization whose mission is to educate, support, and sustain a global community by embracing the resilience of humanity.
By recognizing the whole person, encompassing the cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual aspects of our being, Sara emphasizes the importance of a holistic approach to growth and development.
Sara encourages us to follow our hearts. When we align our actions with our passions and values, we unlock our true potential and contribute to the oneness of humanity.
Listen to this episode of Pity Party Over to learn how to boost resilience and the significance of humor in difficult situations.
Subscribe to Pity Party Over to overcome long-term challenges and enhance your managerial and leadership skills.
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Stephen Matini: So Miss Sara, for those who are going to listen to this episode, would you mind sharing where you grew up?
Sara Truebridge: I grew up in upstate New York. A lot of times when you say New York, people think of New York City, but I grew up outside of Albany, the capital of New York. And so it was very suburban.
Stephen Matini: And when you and I met, you talked to me about your upbringing and also how early experiences have inspired you to dedicate your life to others. So were there any special people, any special events that somehow contributed to the way you are?
Sara Truebridge: Yeah. thank you for asking about that Stephen. It's so funny cuz people say, where did you get interested in contributing or being of service? My answer to people is I came out of the womb that way.
My mother and father, I grew up in a home that dedicated themselves to service. And so it is very cellular to me.
So my mom especially, I would come home and never know who would be in my home because very often my mother would find someone who needs a bed to sleep in at night. Sometimes it would be someone who needs food or needs a meal. So it wasn't something out of the ordinary for me. Like I said, service is ingrained. It's who I am. It's part of my being.
Stephen Matini: What was one of the, one of the biggest bombs that you dropped to your parents growing up?
Sara Truebridge: <Laugh>. Oh my god. Shall we start with the A’s, we’ll go through the alphabet <laugh>. Oh my god. One of the later ones was when I was a young adult and I took time off of work to travel the world. I, you know, donned a backpack and traveled world. That didn't surprise anybody in my family. That was normal. That was like, oh, okay. But what did surprise, it took me a while to share this with my family is that I did a lot of hitchhiking and the hitchhiking that I did was in areas that normally women traveling alone probably don't hitchhike. And so yeah, that was a bomb. And I don't know, yeah, I waited quite a while to share that. Why worry, why have them worry?
Stephen Matini: I was a good kid. I was very obedient until I reached 18 years old and out of the blue I said, hey, I'm gay and I'm going to live with my boyfriend. That was downhill from there.
Sara Truebridge: <Laugh>. I love it. Did your parents accept that?
Stephen Matini: The answer is yes. And my whole life, I've never really experienced any form of discrimination, believe it or not. I mean, I've seen it around myself.
Like, to give you an example, it has been difficult with the families of former boyfriends. You know, those families were not super accepting or they were half accepting. So I've seen that, but I've always been a firm believer that the biggest probably battle that you combat is within yourself.
You have to be okay with yourself. And if you're okay with yourself, that sends a very positive message out there. And so my philosophy approach has always been, this is who I am. I did not decide to be this way. If you have a problem with this, if you wanna talk about it, we can, but it's your problem.
Because my problem so to speak, is I have to live life this way. You know? And with that in mind, that's how I have approached everyone.
Well, you know, and it's really beautiful that your parents that had to come from somewhere. And so I'm sure your parents infused you with a sense of pride and you know, strength and resilience. It's funny because I often tell this story, which is very interesting. You know, my work is in resilience, that's where my doctorate was. That's a book I wrote about blah blah blah, resilience.
I had a fascinating experience where when I first started teaching, my first teaching experience was in a high school teaching English as a second language. These were the days where there were chalkboards, they weren't whiteboards. So that kind of dates me. When I first came in to this classroom, I walked up to the chalkboard and I wrote, you know, the typical, my name, my maiden name was Brownstein.
So I wrote on the chalkboard, Ms. Brownstein, and I introduced myself, you know, and with that, a young student, the young man stood up, he was very tall. He walked into my face and spit right on my face and said, I'm not going to be taught by a Jew.
That was my day one on teaching day one, first day on the job teaching, I realized I had 28 other students in the classroom. This one student came up spit on me.
And so, you know, what I did was he goes, I'm not gonna be taught by a Jew. And first I wiped spinoff and I said, oh, I guess you're not gonna be taught by anyone. And then I calmly went over, those are the days they had intercoms and phones in the classroom. And I went over and I just called the office and I said, someone has to be escorted out of the room. But to my point of discrimination, and it comes outta nowhere, right? I mean, and then you think deeper and oh no, there's always a story, you know, somewhere. But it's how we react in the moment. Right?
Stephen Matini: How did you keep your love for teaching after that incident?
Sara Truebridge: It's interesting, I haven't thought about this in a while, but when that incident happened, it wasn't about me and it wasn't about the student who did that to me. It was about the other students in the class who witnessed that.
They were the ones who I had empathy for. Like it was all about them. And I wanted to make sure they were okay with what happened, that they didn't worry about me. You know, I'll be okay. When that incident happened, it didn't turn me away from teaching. It showed me how much I needed to be a teacher.
To me it's not about reading, writing, arithmetic. It's, are you a good person? Do you have a good heart? Is service going to be a part of who you are? That's education to me. It's funny because although I started with high school, I primarily ended up teaching the primary grades, kindergarten, first, second, you know, third. And that's where my niche was with teaching. And it's so funny because every single year at the last day of school, I'd have my little second graders sitting on the rug at my feet, right? And I'd say to them through my tears, I don't want you to remember me as the teacher who taught you reading. I don't want you to remember me as the teacher who taught you math. I want you to remember me as the teacher who taught you how to love yourself and others. That to me is the biggest part of teaching and learning.
Stephen Matini: My elementary school teacher, Ms. Lombardi, still lives in the neighborhood where I live. And when was it? Like a few years back I went to see her after many, many, many, many years. And she was exactly the way that I remembered her. She was not like a teacher “mom”. She was professional. She was very assertive. But you could sense that she was always on your side, but she was demanding. When I saw her said that, I truly have to tell you that you are very likely one of the most important people of my life because the way that I think, the way that I am has been so deeply ingrained in me by you. You know?
Sara Truebridge: Oh, I love that. You know, it's so funny you should say that because we as teachers don't always know the impact that we have on our students. What you just described, I still get from students, they track me down and they'll say, oh, you have no idea. And I won't, I won't. I'll be like, oh my gosh.
I have a student for instance, who went into teaching and I have her in kindergarten and first and second grade I looped with students where you stay with them. She had a personality, she was a pistol when she was little and then she's like, I'm a teacher now because of you. So I love that you went back and visited your teacher and that probably meant the world to her too.
Stephen Matini: It's a tough job. I think teaching. You know, I've been teaching for what now for 13 years. You know, I teach second year college students and I love teaching, but as you said it, very often you are not quite aware of the impact that you have on people.
It did happen a few times that people actually, several times the students from, you know, years before, they reached out through emails, some of them I met them in person and they shared with me how those moments together have impacted their lives. You know, and that's really the, I think the biggest gift that anyone can give you.
Sara Truebridge: In the work that I do, and in the research, it's so interesting because in many ways the research that I do, I call it “the,” "the” research, you know, because the research bears out the importance of caring relationships. The research bears out one person can make a difference in your life.
Stephen Matini: What is your definition of resilience after so many years studying it, you know, working with resilience?
Sara Truebridge: One of the things like the most simplest definition that I used to say is bouncing back from adversity. I have changed what I say now. I say bouncing forward from adversity because I want to express that it's not only bouncing back, but it's thriving, bouncing forward and thriving.
And I think with being a strength-based practitioner that I am and researcher bouncing forward is what I want people to think about the healing process, the bouncing forward. Now that's the simple definition. Then there's a very formal definition about the external strengths, the systems, the internal strengths that we have within ourselves.
So there's a very formal definition that I use, but for the simple definition I'm sticking with bouncing forward from adversity. And you know, another interesting thing in the academic world in the definition of resilience, there are academic researchers who will say that resilience is about bouncing what they say back from significant adversity.
I do not use the word significant because I have a strong belief. Everything is a matter of perspective. Who am I to say what was significant to you? You have your own life story. What's significant to you may not be significant to me. So that's where I sometimes differ from other resilience researchers.
Where I will recognize adversity being what the individual identifies as adversity. I don't say it has to be every day. It could be something that a daily stress experience you have to deal with tapping into your resilience.
I always say if you take anything away from when I talk about resilience, I want people to understand it is not a trait. Resilience is a process. It is not a trait. In other words, everyone has the capacity for resilience. It's not a matter of do you have resilience, it's a matter of what can I do to help support you to tap into your resilience cuz it's in there.
And the question is, has it been tapped? And we don't want to say that you have to tap your own resilience. There are so many systemic and environmental factors that are barriers to one's resilience. So we have to look at systemic issues as well. There's the researcher in me, right?
Stephen Matini: The one thing that somehow I don't think I've ever read much about is the notion of courage based on your infinite knowledge and wisdom way more than mine. Have you ever researched or studied the notion of courage, of being courageous?
Sara Truebridge: You know, it's so interesting that you should bring that up because you know, I just wrote something and in my book I have a section where I talk about words matter. And when we hear words, a word can elicit a feeling or a behavior and courage.
We talk about in resilience, what are some of one's inner strengths that they draw upon to support their resilience. And courage is definitely one of those inner strengths that one draws upon to support one's resilience, it helps to support it.
And also by engaging in your resilience, you develop courage. So it goes both ways. It's not only something you have that supports your resilience, but the resilience can support your courage.
I think it's really important for me to encourage others to create and sustain an environment that allows people to be courageous and to stand up for who they are. Stand up for others and express their acts of courage, words of courage.
Stephen Matini: If I understood correctly, there is an element of practicing all this, the more that I do it, the more I become resilient, the more I become courageous. So it's something that you have to actively do.
Sara Truebridge: Exactly. I love that. It's a process. And it's not even linear. You know, we all have experienced times where we can tap into our resilience easier in this time than last time when whatever. So again, it's a very dynamic process.
Stephen Matini: You said the resilience is bouncing forward and I love that. And so sometimes I look at myself, but I, I see scars, you know, I do see some scars here and there that I dragged from the past experiences and those scars, yes, they're dear to me. They're important experiences, memories. So as I look at my scars, what would it be the best attitude to look at scars?
Sara Truebridge: The scars, you know, in a resilience framework, it's like multiple scars. They can build up you. It's like calcium, you know when you have a break and it builds up and you know the break builds up stronger.
So sometimes when something happens it can strengthen one's resilience. Cause you are able to look back and say, wow, I made it through that experience. And you focus on what did you draw upon that helped you get through that experience as opposed to, oh poor me. You know, that type of thing.
Now in that same vein of talking about, as you call them scars, I don't know if I would necessarily use that as the word because, again, I identify as a strengths-based practitioner.
I recognize trauma. We all have experienced trauma.I am not discounting trauma. But what I like to focus on, part of resilience, the work in resilience is reframing. And I like to reframe words. And so instead of focusing on trauma, I encourage people to focus on healing.
Trauma is such a deficit based word. At the same time, I do not want anyone to misinterpret me in negating trauma. Yes, trauma exists. It's not putting on rose colored glasses. It's not saying, oh you'll be fine. It's saying no, you know what, that sucks. Now it's validating the trauma. But moving forward towards healing.
Stephen Matini: I have been a seeing a therapist for more than a year now. And one of the thing that I come to learn through this experience is to, I don't know if it's the right definition, normalize my trauma. Which means not to downplay them, not to label them, but still see them as part of life and to create this space to see them and to learn from them, which has been so simple but so crucial.
Sara Truebridge: I love that you're saying that because so often, and I said it before, people think resilience is oh, everything's gonna be dandy, unicorns, cotton, candy, and you know all the fun, you know things and let's be super positive.
Well no, resilience is being able to validate. Yeah, you know what? That sucked! Or validate. You know what? Yep, you have gone through a very difficult time. But you know what, you didn't kill yourself. You're alive, you're here today. What made you wake up the next day? What did you draw upon? And it is dark, it's not forgetting, it's remembering so that you remember and you engage and validate and move forward.
Stephen Matini: You have such a strong energy and you said it, I was born that way. <Laugh>. How do you preserve your energy, particularly when things may get extra tough? Is there anything you do?
Sara Truebridge: I know for one thing, my humor. My humor gets me through a lot. And it has come up in times where I don't even expect my humor to come out. But I know that humor comes out naturally as a way to support my resilience.
I was in a really, really, really bad car accident, a head-on collision. I was airlifted and they didn't think I was gonna make it. And I was airlifted to the hospital. And when I got to the hospital, they put me on the, you know, stainless steel table in the emergency room and all these doctors came in and huddled, the car was wrapped and I was wrecked. I was a mess. And so they have me on this stainless steel table, they start cutting my clothes, they start at the pants, you know, and they start cutting my clothes cuz I was a wreck. They start cutting my clothes and through the strength that I have, I say, “My mother would be so proud of me!” I said, “I have on good underwear.”
Stephen Matini: <Laugh>.
Sara Truebridge: Well the doctors, they started laughing, but they're saying to me, you've gotta stop cracking jokes. You need your energy. You have to stop cracking jokes. And so there I am close to my deathbed and I'm making jokes, you know.
Stephen Matini: I have this thing, I've always had it. When a situation becomes tough, I have to make fun of it. I don't know what it is, you know? But I have to, it's not really downplaying it, it's not that I'm trying to make it into something that it's not, but it just irreverence that I have.
You know, you hear the stories of newsrooms and hospitals and dark humor, you know that people like just what you said in order to every day deal with things. How do you deal with trauma? Day in, day out, day in, day out? Humor does have a role.
Stephen Matini: Last time where you and I met, you talked about something that I kind of resonated with me, which is the, the whole notion of the whole child. Would you mind telling me more about it?
Sara Truebridge: Here's the thing, the whole child, there's cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual. Those are the components that we all have. When we recognize all those elements, then we are recognizing the whole person. When I talk about the whole child, it's recognizing all those components in a child.
And in education people are throwing around just like they're throwing around the word resilience without really understanding it. They're throwing around the term, oh, we recognize the whole child.
However, traditionally in education, they recognize the cognitive, physical and we're getting really good with the social and emotional. But we're petrified of the spiritual because people still equate spiritual with religious. And it's not, it can be, but it's not. We all know the four year old that has awe and wonder and curiosity. We know that those should be within us always, but for some reason we lose that.
And I really say that unless we embrace the spiritual aspect of our being and we as educators incorporate that into who we are as teachers and look at that, then if we are not incorporating the spiritual component, then don't tell me you're working with the whole child.
Do not be afraid of that component. That component, if you leave it out, you're not recognizing the whole child. I do a lot of work and you know, I'm grateful that the social emotional components have become so prominent and you know, center stage in education.
A lot of times in education we talk about passion and the heart. It's touching the heart as much as the head. As a matter of fact, I often say the heart is the portal to the head. It's so interesting. So the whole child, I feel the whole child has to, you recognize the cognitive, physical, social, emotional and spiritual. You know, that's the head, the heart, the body and the social and emotional.
You know, some people will say, well, isn't social emotional enough? And I say no, because social emotional deals with the outside. It's relational. Spiritual, it's looking in and it's recognizing the unity of the globe, the unity of our being, the connections we have with each other, the connection to something greater.
Stephen Matini: As you said, the words can be divisive. You know, they have different meaning to different people. And so yes, some people may have a different interpretation of what being spiritual means.
Sara Truebridge: I really want people to recognize that when we talk about spirituality, we are not talking about religion. And again, that's not to say religion can embrace spirituality, but spirituality does not have to embrace and talk about religion.
Stephen Matini: No, it's interesting because in my job, this conversation happens, you know, all the time. I work often with people with different cultural backgrounds, I never know what word to use, you know? So I do use that word, soulfulness, spirituality, spiritual. And I try to emphasize the fact that my approach is very secular. You know, I'm not pinpointing to any specific philosophy and religion. Yeah.
Sara Truebridge: I think personally that this movement that we have seen and I was part of for social, emotional, learning, to get integrated more into education and to become more of a more, we're on the cusp of doing that with spirituality.
We are going to see, cuz it started already, that people are becoming more accepting and like you said, you know, whether it's soulful, whether it's spirituality, you know, whatever word you use, it's finding that component that is part of who we are that we cannot dismiss.
Stephen Matini: I have one last question, which is to anyone who is thinking maybe a younger person dedicating their lives to servicing other people, to be helpful to other people, either as a teacher, whichever capacity, what would it be an advice that you would give to them?
Sara Truebridge: The advice I would give is follow your heart. Listen to you. You know, I have another TED talk and in that TED talk I mention, you know, people who are older listen to them. They have wisdom. There are a lot of times people will say, oh you should do this, or oh you shouldn't do that. And I say, listen to them. They have wisdom. But at the end of the day, follow your heart. That's sometimes is the most difficult thing for anyone to do, is to take the time to listen. What is it that your heart and soul are saying to you that makes you be the whole person?
Stephen Matini: This is wonderful. Thank you so much for spending time with me.
Sara Truebridge: Thank you.
Tuesday Oct 17, 2023
Tuesday Oct 17, 2023
Our guest today is Stephen (Shed) Shedletzky. Shed is a Speaker, Leadership Coach, and advisor. In the episode, we will discuss the importance of creating a safe and inclusive environment where individuals feel comfortable speaking up, sharing their thoughts, and being vulnerable.
In his book “Speak-Up Culture: When Leaders Truly Listen, People Step Up,” Shed Shedletzky explores psychological safety, employee voice, and the benefits of fostering a culture where everyone feels safe contributing.
Listen to this episode of Pity Party Over to learn the transformative power of psychological safety and its impact on productivity, creativity, and innovation.
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Stephen Matini: When did you decide somehow or when did you get a sense that what you're doing now is what you wanted to do? Have you been doing this for a long time?
Stephen Shedletzky: For me, it really began back in university. So I took a number of courses with a particular professor who I loved. He's a Kiwi from New Zealand by the name of Dennis Shackle. And he was a professor on leadership, on organizational behavior, on public speaking.
There was distinctively one class I took of his called “Advanced Presentation Skills” and at the end of the first class he showed a clip of Martin Luther King Jr. Giving his eye of a dream speech and he said, okay, class, your assignment for next class is to prepare a five minute talk and attempt to match Dr. King's passion. No small request.
So I was at school in a Canadian university, so there were people who spoke of their love of their favorite hockey team or of curling. There was one person who spoke of their love for mid chocolate chip ice cream.
Stephen Shedletzky: And so I knew that if I really wanted to speak with passion, there was only, there were only a few things I could speak about and one of them was overcoming my fear of public speaking.
So I grew up with a stutter, I still have a speech impediment, I married a speech pathologist, good choice more so for my kids than for me personally. I gave a five minute talk on this universal fear that you know everyone, you know, it's the good old Jerry Seinfeld joke of the number one fear in North America is public speaking and number two is death. So we'd rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy, which makes no sense whatsoever. And so I gave this five minute talk on my experience of failing as a public speaker.
There was a moment in French class in grade two when I couldn't say the word “très," which is like the third fricking word you learn in French. And that was sort of a low point. And from there I got the help that I needed to feel more confident speaking publicly, whether it's this one-on-one, a small group or in front of a large group.
I gave that talk and that was sort of the itch for me of, ooh, I wanna do more of this because it was the first time in my life I gave a talk and it actually felt that it impacted others in a positive way. It wasn't promoting something, it wasn't about me, it was about service.
And so from that point I was hooked in terms of the speaking piece. And then I got into coaching and organizational behavior just from connecting with people who shared similar values and and beliefs and sort of figured out my career path by looking at the people that I admired and wanting to emulate them. One of them being Leanne Davey who introduced us as well.
Stephen Matini: You know, when I went to Emerson College in, in Boston, it's a communication school, I believe it's the oldest one. The first class that I took was “Advanced Professional Communication” and I decided to take it with a bunch of people, they were just unbelievable. And this professor would give us like this bandaid you would put in your arm and it would change color depending on how nervous you were.
It was a temperature sensitive type of thing and everyone had it black, you know, pitch black and terrified by this class. So it was really, really hard. And the first thing that I did it, I felt really nervous, but somehow there was a moment that I screwed up and people laughed but we're not laughing because I screwed up but they were laughing at something I said and there was something in my head that went, you know what?
This maybe is not supposed to be as hard as I thought it was, you know, anyhow. So it was the click that made the whole difference. And from the moment on I learned that I don't feel a hundred percent comfortable but I can still connect with people, you know, generally authentically speak from a place that feels real to me. And when I do that, you know, the nervousness goes down.
So when you did your speech, you know, in the moment was anything that clicked in your head somehow it was any, anything that somehow you learned?
Stephen Shedletzky: So a couple things come to mind. I mean one, I very distinctively remember that talk and where I was standing in the class and where a few students were. I had one of those, there's like the part of your brain that just does and then a part of your brain that thinks.
I sort of had one of those like outer body experiences where I was doing the thing and also reflecting on like, wow, this is fun and I think I might be effective. I attempted to like hush that cuz it was getting in the way of performing and doing and giving and serving.
The other thing that just came to mind, Stephen, from what you just shared is, I don't know the stats or the science on this, but I believe it to be true and it's from our own experience. I think that's so often we are so concerned about what others think of us, that everyone is just wasting time thinking about what other people are thinking of them.
Stephen Shedletzky: So when giving a talk or doing work or working on your craft, whatever it might be to work on focusing on service and giving rather than what are other people thinking of you.
Because everyone's busy thinking of themselves. Like a quintessential example of this is you walk into a meeting late, and you walk in and you're so mindful and you're so quiet and you're like, oh, what are people thinking of me?
But if you notice the body language of others when you walk in late, they'll often sit up straighter themselves because they're thinking about, ooh, what's this new person thinking of me? So everyone is wasting time thinking about what others are thinking of them focus on giving, focus on serving, focus on being effective for yourself and for others.
Stephen Matini: Now is it better when you have to give a speech, do you feel, or do you still feel nervous?
Stephen Shedletzky: Of course for me though, that's just data. You know, if I don't feel nervous, it means I might be lazy or don't care. And so for me, nerves or anxiousness or excitement, that active energy for me is just data for me that this matters.
I want to do as good of a job as I can. And for me, when I'm giving a a talk, I mean my rule, which I learned from a mentor, Simon Sinek, which is only talk about things that you care about and only talk about things that you know and care is more important than know.
You can say, hey, I care about this. I don't know everything but I want to give it a whirl, you know, and work with me here. And so I only wanna speak about things that I care about and I only wanna speak about things that I know at least something about.
And so the nervousness is also around there is something that I've experienced or that I know that I want to attempt to transmit and help others have a similar experience. So for me, the nerves are around being the most effective that I can be and giving what I feel that I know about and care about so that others might care about it and know about it more as well.
Stephen Matini: One thing that stood out was the fact that if I understood correctly, part of your, let's say mission is to help people feel safe. And I thought it was such a nice thing. Tell me more.
Stephen Shedletzky: One, I'm flattered and thank you. It's such a basic human need and when we feel safe we are more likely to flourish. I've reflected on experiences in my life when I've been in rooms or environments or in relationships or in a company or a culture or in a congregation or in any sort of form of community where it feels safe and where it doesn’t.
When it doesn't feel safe, we waste energy on protecting ourselves from each other, from other people. And it is such a waste. It's a waste in productivity, it's a waste in energy, it's a waste in what could be creativity and and innovation.
And then I've also reflected upon moments in relationships, one-on-one groups, communities where I do feel safe, where I have permission to potentially even say an unpopular or a hard or vulnerable thing to share or raise a concern. And it is met with curiosity and openness and a desire to learn and improve and it just feels healthier and better.
And I'm not talking about communities that are homogeneous, I'm talking about diverse communities where as many people as possible from all different walks of life are valued as human beings and are treated as if their voices do matter because they do. I prefer those environments not just for the benefits to our mental and physical wellbeing, but also from a business perspective. It just creates better results.
Stephen Matini: You mentioned about the speech impediment. Was any other event or people that somehow were really important for the way you think today?
Stephen Shedletzky: There's one individual and I write a bit about him in in the book that I have coming up this fall called “Speak Up Culture.” His name is Dr. Robert Kroll and he just passed away a couple years ago unfortunately.
So there are a couple of pivotal moments in my journey with my speech impediment three come to mind right now. So one was that French class when I couldn't say “très” in front of the class and for me that was, that was a low, I don't know what it was, but I went home that day from school and I said to my mom, we need to get help.
I first became aware that I had a starter in around grade two. It wasn't that bad. We tried some interventions, they didn't go so well and so we just kind of ignored it for four years. And then I had this moment where I'm like, hmm, this is gonna get in my way for my future.
Stephen Shedletzky: You know, I just knew that for some reason. And so I shared with my mom, we need to actually get on this, I need help. And so that summer, it was a summer of grade six, I was a 13 year old kid and I went to, I think it was a two or three week, maybe even longer sort of intensive stuttering camp with an organization that is still around today called the Speech and Stuttering Institute.
I remember I took the subway to downtown Toronto for the first time on my own, like it was a big sort of coming of age thing. And then I joined this class, I was the youngest there. There was one other young man who was 14 years old from Ottawa. And then everyone else was older. There were a couple people, one was probably in his mid twenties, couldn't land a job because he couldn't speak in an interview.
Stephen Shedletzky: There was another gentleman, his first name was George. His last name was very complicated because he was Sri Lankan. I remember in one of the classes, Dr. Kroll took him bit by bit and again, we need safety in order for this to happen cuz it was hard work.
He took him syllable by syllable to help him pronounce his own last name. It probably took 15 minutes, but it was the first time George ever said his own last name. And like his pride and joy and relief was palpable. Like it was amazing.
A few things happened in that stutters program. One was a bit of a relief and even sorta guilt or survivorship shame or guilt in the sense that I realized my stutter wasn't as bad as some others. I was thankful that I was getting early intervention. I saw how Dr. Kroll facilitated and created a really safe space for experimentation, for failure, for trying, for innovation.
Stephen Shedletzky: And then I began to mentor and serve others that one 25 year old guy who couldn't land a job even though he was well educated, it was a bit of a big brother, little brother relationship, and we would sort of trade crib notes on some things that we would both try to better manage our stutter. And it was a really special relationship. I don't remember his name. If you put in front of me in a lineup, I probably wouldn't be able to to pick him. It was, you know, that was a a really big thing.
The last thing I'll share is, so a year later, the next summer I resumed my regularly scheduled programming, if you will, and didn't go back to this stutter camp. Not that I was healed, but I had some strategies to work with as well as I had more confidence and I had an opportunity to take part in a summer camps theatrical production.
It was kind of like Saturday Night Live. There were skits and improv. It was a lot of fun. And so I had a fairly big role in this production. So much so that the staff picked me and I believe two or three other campers and performers to go down to the dining hall where the entire camp, all campers and staff, about 450 people were eating dinner.
And we created this little skit and commercial to invite them up to this mandatory evening program to watch our performance. And we made this little ditty, this little skit on the lawn outside of the dining hall. And my character had a complicated last name and I couldn't pronounce my character's last name in this skit. And the other campers and the staff member who brought us down were like, they called me “Shed” back then, they still do today.
And I was like, Shed like, what's getting into you? And I was nervous and I was stuttering. I couldn't say a complicated word. Time ran out. We had to go and do this skit and my worst nightmare happened.
I stuttered in front of 450 people, like I failed abysmally. And the thing with the stutter is kind of like a finger trap that the harder you try to force a word out, the harder it is to do it. And so I tried, I tried, I tried, I finally pushed out this word, this last name, and it was as if either nobody noticed or nobody cared.
And so it was the best thing because I took a modest reasonable test and my worst fear ever happened. And I didn't die right? I didn't die, you know, I was totally relieved after that little skit. We went up and performed that night and I performed without a hitch and had a blast and it was fantastic.
And I remember that feeling of elation and joy after the fact. It was just an amazing moment of the awful thing happening and didn't matter. So those are sort of a few pivotal moments and from then on I kind of didn't look back and I still do stutter. I still stammer over some words, but it is what it is and I embrace it.
Stephen Matini: You know, I am completely ignorant about stuttering.
Stephen Shedletzky: So this is my understanding of it. So we don't completely know there is a hereditary link, more males stutter than females typically. So I'm very proud of my heritage and I come from a long line of stutterers. My dad overcame a stutter when he was a kid, my uncle, my grandfather. I'm sure if we keep going back, you know, there is a hereditary component.
You can treat it, you can work with it. There are strategies that you can employ to make it better. Also, we know that a stutter does get worse the longer you leave it untreated. And if a child becomes aware that they have a stutter, it can impact their confidence even more. So that's what we know about it.
Stephen Matini: For me it shows up mostly when singing. I don't know what the heck it is. Your voice going out is something that I love. I love singing, I love sharing, but it also evokes this tremendous amount of fears. This story that you're telling me, have all these experiences, have somehow made their way into your book?
Stephen Shedletzky: Yes. So first, a couple things just to double click on. One, one of the hacks to beat a stutter is to sing. So one of the therapies is you sing because when you do sing miraculously, the stutter just disappears and you can actually treat the way that you speak as if you're singing. Cuz oftentimes speaking can be very melodic.
So anyway, but one of the fun things that you can do is to sing, to be the stutter. But I think Stephen, you're also speaking of the vulnerability of sharing one's self, the vulnerability of sharing your gift, or your art, or your emotions, or your feeling.
It's also the vulnerability of leadership to step up and stand for something. This definitely has come into my book, it's one of the inspirations of my book, which is, you know, I've called this book SpeakUp Culture and the two sort of main inspirations are one, growing up with a stutter.
Stephen Shedletzky: I know what it feels like to be voiceless and as well being in relationships, whether it's in work or outside of work, where there is a speak up culture and how marvelous it is and how great it is for relationships and results, as well as being in cultures where there isn't a speak up culture and how stifling it is both to health and results.
And the other thing that I think really from this conversation is infused and highlighted in the book as well, is that I am not a fan of the term fearless leader because it doesn't exist. Everyone has fear. Fear is normal, fear is biological. Fear is actually designed to keep us safe. Fear is a risk modulator. When we feel fear, it's our body saying, look out, something's going on. Whether real or perceived. Rich Diviney, who's a retired US Navy Seal wrote this book, “The Attributes,” which is a brilliant book.
Rich taught me that if you come across a fearless leader, that's the one who's gonna get you killed. So I harp against this term fearless leader. And for me it's all around how do you feel the fear? Use the fear as data and then choose how to progress, which could be lean in and keep going. It could be get out of there, it's you know, fight, flight, freeze.
But for you, when you feel that fear and you're like, no, breathe into it, I want to communicate, I want a voice, I want to sing, it's worth it. It's worth that connection. It's worth that it expression. We find something either internal or external to us that is worth that risk of fear, worth that risk of vulnerability.
Stephen Matini: Vulnerability is such an important word and somehow it's not that popular in the business world. With leaders oftentimes there's this misconception that you got to be fearless, you have to be perfect, you have to be, you know, sturdy or whatever, whatever.
So in your book, you could have taken so many directions, when leaders truly listen, people step up. But then the critical point is once my voice is out, is the leader going to listen to it? And that very often, you know, is a problem. So of all possible directions that you could take with your book, why this one?
Stephen Shedletzky: So I've been on the speaking circuit for many years working with Simon Sinek and sharing his work, start with why, infinite game, leaders eat last. And so I have been asked many times over the 15 or so years that I've been speaking, when are you gonna write your book? Because I guess keynote speakers write books. And my response was always if and when I ever come across something worth writing about.
I never wanted to write something for the purpose of being a keynote speaker. We've all, you know, seen those books that are written not cuz it's a message that really needs to be shared. It's just something to stay relevant or sell at the back of the room. And I never wanted to do one of those or do that.
So at the beginning of 2021, I decided to say yes more. I just made, you know, based on just some things that were happening in my career and my life, I just said, you know what I'm gonna say yes to more opportunities that come my way and just see what happens.
And so one such opportunity, a guy by the name of Barry Engelhardt who's become a friend, he's at a St. Louis and he's involved with the Local Society of Human Resources Management chapter there, SHRM. And he reached out to me, it must have been spring of 2021, saying, Hey, we're doing a virtual conference in the fall, do you wanna speak?
And I said, yeah, well I'll do my content even though I didn't really have content. And so that summer, so a few months later I got an email from the organizing committee saying, we're so excited for your talk. You know, please click on this link and fill out your talk title and description. And I went, oh snap. And so I remember sitting on the couch, this would've been just about two years ago, being like, what can I do and what can I talk about?
And I had already become fascinated in past years and really leaning into psychological safety. I'd listened to one of Adam Grant's podcasts on Speak Up Culture, and I'm like, I think there's something here. And sort of my introduction or my access point to the topic was the Boeing 737 Max tragedy, which is one of many, I mean we saw it again with the Titan submersible most recently time and time and time again, so many of these disasters or tragedies could have been avoided with healthier internal cultures.
Ones that actually encouraged and rewarded, made it safe and worth it for people to share their ideas, their concerns, their disagreements, and even their mistakes. And both in these two instances of the 737 Max, with Ed Pearson being the most vocal person who spoke up and eventually became a whistleblower at US Congress and in the Titan submersible, both of those whistleblowers are people who spoke up were punished and fired.
Or in the case of Pearson, he retired early cuz it was just too hard to keep going in that culture. And so that was sort of my, my access point. And the more I learned about it, the more I began to form a point of view on it.
So when I first started writing, I fully thought that I was rebranding psychological safety. For me, I'm a huge fan of Amy Edmondson and her work. I'm a huge fan of employee voice of psychological safety. For me, some of the terms were a little bit too academic and I felt as though they were putting sort of a white lab coat on a very human experience and emotion.
And so I leaned into good old Zig Ziglar's quote of, people don't buy drills that buy holes. And so I'm like, if psychological safety is the drill, a SpeakUp culture is the whole, so let's talk about what you get as a result.
Now, as I dug in and begin forming my own point of view on it and researched more and leaned into an amazing team who helped me with that, we realized that psychological safety is one piece of a SpeakUp culture.
It's not just psychological safety, it's also a perception of impact that before we speak up, we consciously or subconsciously ask two questions. Is it safe to speak up then? Is it worth it? And what's really interesting is if you have psychological safety, but it isn't worth it, like you might speak up, but that's like telling a friend who is an alcoholic, you know, you should really stop drinking. It's like, yeah, of course you might feel safe, but do you feel like it's gonna lead to any meaningful change? So there's this interesting dynamic of, obviously we want it to be both a perception of safety and a perception of impact, that it's worth it, right?
We don't want it to be that bottom left corner of the quadrant where it isn't safe and it isn't worth it. That's an unhappy marriage of both fear and apathy. I've been there, it's debilitating and it's no fun. I've seen others there, right?
That high safety, low impact is really interesting. It might speak up, but it's not gonna lead to any meaningful change either because a habit that's too hard to change bureaucracy or a systemic issue.
But the really interesting one to me is low safety, but high impact. It's really hard for me to speak up, if I speak up, it's at personal risk to my job, my reputation and my relationships. But I feel connected to stakes that are too important for me to remain silent. And that's when you get courageous leadership.
And so I learned that it isn't only about psychological safety that leads to a speak up culture. It's also about a perception of impact. And sometimes if you have a perception of impact that it's worth it to speak up, you feel that it will lead to some positive change or result. You're willing to take the risk even if it isn't safe to do so. And that to me is really fascinating and interesting. I highlight a few of these people, ed Pearson, Kimberly Young-McLear, who's a retired US Coast Guard, both of whom spoke up as courageous leaders to their own personal risk.
Stephen Matini: Like a lot of people, I had to learn to speak up a little bit more, you know, to be more assertive, to say what I had to say. For many, many years I practiced what I thought was speaking up, like being assertive, telling you no, not to this, not to that.
But only recently I'm learning what we talked about before. It's not just saying no, but also you have to make yourself vulnerable and to tell the other person what is that you want. At least let's have a, a discussion about something else.
So it's not to that, but for this to this and that, yes, I'm completely open and it's just weird combination of being, you know, sturdy to say no, but also to be vulnerable, to say, hey, but maybe we can go that way. Maybe we can create something more beautiful and more representative of both of us.
Stephen Shedletzky: It's both though a willingness to be open to the fact that you are worth it and that it matters to you. It's also connecting to the stakes of it will lead to more fulfillment, healthier, better relationships.
So there's a fun example I use in the book. So the strength of a culture is determined by the clarity of its values and then the degree to which those values are behaved. We have a little bit of a culture and maybe more than a little bit, we have an organizational culture in this home.
My wife and I are the partners. We have two subordinates, our children who are seven and four, and we have a few values that are really fundamental that make the relationship between my wife and I strong. Perfect? No, strong. And my wife and I, I described in our wedding speech that we're different where it compliments and similar, where it counts, right?
We have shared common values and beliefs, but we're different people with different strengths and perspectives. But the things that we agree upon are we are helper people, we can always help others and we can always find other helper people.
The second value and cultural pillar is we treat other people as the human beings that they are. Even if we don't like them, we still treat people with respect. That's a second one. And we're willing to prove to our kids we do that, we have to model that behavior ourselves as well.
And then third is we are allowed to talk about our emotions, especially the hardest ones. Those are our three values. Now, if I invited a guest into our home, regardless of if those values are posted on the wall or not, which they aren't, but I've put in the book. So now they're at least written somewhere.
And that guest, let's say they're a prospective client, and if that dinner goes well, I will have a new contract, more food on the table. Hooray, right?
If that guest comes into the home and disrespects treats my children and my wife as lesser than, I have a choice, do I have a meaningful and hard intervention with that guest, even though they're a prospective client in the moment or thereafter? And essentially say that behavior isn't tolerated. And if we're gonna do this, I need to see a shift in behavior.
Which by the way, if I let them walk all over my children and my wife, what does that say about these cultural values that I've put out? I'll only live them when they're convenient to me, regardless of if they're convenient to you or not. I'm putting profit ahead of my values and my people and my purpose, right?
But if I take the risk to speak up because something matters, like the health of our relationships matter, I'm proving to my subordinates and to my partner that these values aren't just nice to have as they're imperative and I'm willing to have them cost me money or cost me something valuable to have a sacrifice with them.
And then that prospective client will either walk out and we have more leftovers and they're like, you know what? You're totally right. And display some humility and they're a fit.
And so I think you know, what you're pointing to is when we display the courage to actually set boundaries, share what matters to us, try to invest in relationships, right? The definition of a toxic relationship is the more you invest in it, the worse it gets. And the only person responsible for that negative outcome is you. That's a toxic relationship.
A healthy thriving relationship is one in which both parties take responsibility for the health and maintenance of that relationship. And the more you lean in and the more you share hardships or opportunities, the more that relationship improves, which means it could evolve and change, you know what, we should shift or end this relationship or this job isn't the right job for you. Those are all can be healthy, progressive outcomes. So just a few things that come to mind there that is it worth it? And do you have enough value in yourself and value in the relationship to actually go there?
Stephen Matini: Based on where you are now in your own personal journey, what is still difficult for you in relationships?
Stephen Shedletzky: Oh my God. I mean, speaking up is never easy. It's funny, I dedicated the book to my wife and at first the dedication was to Julie who makes it easy to speak up. And then I went, no. And I changed it to, for Julie, who makes it safe and worth it to speak up because it is never easy, you know?
And to walk around in this human experience thinking that you never have to have difficult or hard conversations or conversations that take courage would be foolish. And so speaking up is not about fearlessness, it's about us creating less fear in our relationships. So, you know, I'm definitely, definitely imperfect <laugh>, you know, I definitely have a gap between what I say and what I do.
I just had one yesterday, I let a partner down, I told them that I was gonna do some research and do some work on some things and have it ready for our next meeting.
And I totally didn't do it. And she said, Hey, have you done that? And I'm like, nope. And that is on me, I'm sorry. And they were like, all good, let's do it now. And we did it in the moment and now I have work assigned for me to do for our next meeting, and you sure as hell, I'm gonna do that work.
And so if I was holier than now and didn't apologize and made it their problem, what does that do? I apologized twice. I apologized in the moment and by the end of the call I said, you know what, like again, I'm really sorry I gave you my word that I would do something and I didn't do it. That's on me and I'm gonna be better.
And now I have a choice of do I actually close that say do gap and do the work that I said I'm gonna do next time. So, you know, being human is not about being perfect, which is a faux-topia and boring. Being human is about embracing our imperfections and working to improve all the time.
Stephen Matini: When I did the episode with Leanne, we were talking about something similar and essentially she said, you know, this whole relationship, this whole conflict, it's a messy business and it's supposed to be messy and you're supposed to screw up, you know, meaning it's not about perfection.
Stephen Shedletzky: And the dynamic changes, you know? So my wife and I will have, you know, a hard conversation around how to better parent our kids. And then our kids aren't static <laugh>, they grow, they evolve, they change the world around us changes. So it takes constant maintenance, it's dynamic as well.
Stephen Matini: When your book is gonna come out. So let's say I buy your book, I read it. Ideally, what would you like for people to feel once they close the book?
Stephen Shedletzky: So for me, I wrote the book specifically for leaders, not necessarily by title, but by behavior. So the book is written for either a very senior leader who has the title and who has the authority, and quite frankly, the expectation to behave as leaders for leaders in the middle, and I often think we bash quote unquote managers, but managers are essential and we need them.
There's a lot of sort of conversation in the zeitgeist of like management bad, leadership good. And it's like, no, no, no, we need leaders to behave as leaders and we need managers to behave as leaders. And managers are essential. They're the only layer in an organization that has multi-directional influence. They can influence up to peer side to side and to subordinates down. And so it's also for managers who have either had great, or let's be honest, probably mostly awful experiences with leaders and who want to lead better.
And then it's also for people who may not have a role or title of leadership in the moment, they're committed to the practice of learning how to behave as a leader. And I want this book to help when people close the book, I also want them to know the truth and the fact that how they show up and how they behave has influence on others. That a SpeakUp culture isn't relevant only for lines of work where it's a life or death line of business, like aerospace, healthcare, military law enforcement, or making submarines, that if you are in a role of leadership, we know this from UKG and the National Institute of Health, that our relationship with our direct supervisor has more of an impact on our health than that of our relationship with our family doctor or our therapist if we have one. And it's at par with our relationship with our life partner.
For any leader who's like, yeah, but like I don't work in a life or death line of work you do because you have either a life feeding or a life depleting impact on the people around you. And so none of us are allowed to say, I'm a great leader. Like if I say to you, Stephen, I'm a really great leader, I invite you to run away from me. No one can claim themselves to be a great listener, a great leader, a great teammate that is bestowed upon by the group.
If others describe you as a great leader or a great listener or whatever it might be, it's because of how your behavior makes them feel. And so I want leaders by title and behavior that when they close the book at the end for them to realize, huh, how I show up, what I say, what I do really matters and I'm gonna work to be better. That's really it. And when you work to be better, the people around you are healthier and are more likely to thrive. And so are your results.
Stephen Matini: Based on anything you said, I would not be surprised if your book somehow found its way with the niche, a target that you haven't even thought about. You wrote it for very specific people, but what you're talking about, you're talking about voice really, you know, and all the beautiful things we covered. So that's something that I guess all of us can relate to it for sure. We talked about a bunch of stuff, for people who are going to listen to us, what would you like for them to take away? Is anything that is dear to you that you would like for them to pay attention to?
Stephen Shedletzky: I really just admire and love the vulnerability in this conversation. You know, we showed up, there was a tech issue to start, you know, there's nervousness. It's like, it's all good. Like, I didn't care. We're here, we're here to do the thing. You know, Leanne, my dear friend, spoke so highly of you and said that, you know, you do great research and prepare great questions. So, we had a chance to meet and do a pre-meeting where we couldn't help but fill a complete 30 minutes and it's like, we should have recorded this conversation. This was, you know, and so for me, I just, I love it when people show up as they are and own it and show up with vulnerability because vulnerability is positively contagious. Vulnerability to me is, is showing up, wearing both our strengths and our weaknesses on our sleeves. And vulnerability is essential for teamwork.
For you and I, we're a team, we're trying to create what we hope will be a valuable conversation for others. This is team. It's a group of two or more people working toward a common goal or objective, goal or objective, a conversation that adds value to others. For us to be most effective, we need to be aware of what are each other's strengths, what are each other's weaknesses, because we know who should step up and who should step back in certain moments.
So yeah, I hope listeners will realize that vulnerability is actually a source of power if used appropriately. And vulnerability doesn't mean sharing all the things all the time to all people that could be oversharing or not suitable for work. Vulnerability is about context.
Stephen Matini: Shed thank you so much for doing this with me. I, I've learned a lot and I feel that it was the best time for my Friday. Thank you, thank you, thank you
Stephen Shedletzky: <Laugh>, my total pleasure such a joy and I look forward to this coming out and serving and helping your audience and look forward to sharing it with mine as well.
Monday Oct 09, 2023
Monday Oct 09, 2023
Monday Oct 09, 2023
The fight for gender equality still has a long way to go, with half of the world’s population facing cultural biases sedimenting over centuries.
Our guest for this episode is Mona Makkawi, founder of Konsult, a consulting, advisory, training, and coaching firm based in Beirut, Lebanon.
Mona highlights the importance of entrepreneurial ideas greater than fear and limiting beliefs. With a persistent, stubborn, and culturally aware attitude, Mona has successfully positioned herself as a kind and strategic voice in a male-dominated consulting world.
Mona Makkawi is a three-month Barkat Entrepreneur program graduate, an application-based 100% scholarship offering for Middle Eastern and African female entrepreneurs, and part of The Goddess Solution by Puneet Sachdev.
Listen to this episode of Pity Party Over to learn how to pursue your entrepreneurial dreams despite limiting beliefs and societal expectations.
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Stephen Matini: So I'm very happy to be here with a female leader from Lebanon.
Mona Makkawi: It's my pleasure.
Stephen Matini: Mona. For the listeners, for people that do not know you, so would you mind telling me a little bit about your background, where you grew up?
Mona Makkawi: I grew up in Beirut, and I grew up during the Civil War. My parents used to move us a lot from either within Beirut or to the mountains where it's safer. This is why I had to change a lot of schools. This is why I became so good with people because I, every time I needed to meet new people and get to know them. And the downside was that I didn't hold onto my friendships a lot. But the good side was the diversity gave me this skill that I used later in my career.
Stephen Matini: To connect with people.
Mona Makkawi: Yes.
Stephen Matini: When you were young, is this the future that you envisioned for yourself? Were you thinking something else for yourself?
Mona Makkawi: I've always thought that I would be a doctor, a surgeon, but I wasn't interested in science when I, when I grew up. So I shifted. I've never imagined that I will have a, an office job, but I knew I would do something to be of service for people.
Stephen Matini: Were there any people or events in the past that made you understand it, that you wanted your life to be of service to people?
Mona Makkawi: I'm the eldest among my siblings. And you know when I was little, my mom always told me to take care of my brothers and sister. I think I used to do it well. I used to like it. So maybe this was and for what I will become later, because later I was involved in HR throughout my career for almost 20 years. So it was rooted somewhere in my past.
Stephen Matini: Were you aware about any gender discrepancies? I mean, in being a woman versus being an a men professional? Did you understand, did you sense any difference?
Mona Makkawi: To be very honest, I've never tasted it. And in my house we've been raised very equal because my mom or my dad never asked us to do anything for our brothers, such as prepare food or do anything. No, it's, it was, you do it yourself. So I grew up never having to deal with this kind of differentiation. And even when I joined the workforce or the workplace, I never felt that because I'm a woman, I've been treated or, or getting paid less. It never happened to me.
Stephen Matini: Would you say this is something that is the result of the way your family brought you up or is something that women in your country experience?
Mona Makkawi: Specifically in my house, because my dad and mom, they believe in equality. But to be fair to my country, we have our labor law that indicates that the women should be paid not less than a man. I mean, there might be certain practices here and there, but the common knowledge is you get what you deserve.
Stephen Matini: In Italy. In terms of laws, in terms of gender, yes, the law protects both genders the same. However, I would define this culture to be very masculine, in many different ways. There is space for both men and women, but still, you know, in the corporate world, somehow female professionals and then female leaders seem to have to put three times the effort of the male counterparts. How was your experience working in the corporate world?
Mona Makkawi: Going back to the subject of breaking the glass ceiling, because I hear it from my colleagues or from my friends, they've been facing so many struggles, especially when they, when they want to reach a higher position. But I've never faced this maybe because my choices were so defined and maybe because in my head I was strongly a believer that I deserve this much. So when I negotiated, let's say my packages or so, I always knew what I want and I always asked for it. So maybe this is something that influenced the way how people treated me at work.
Stephen Matini: Have you ever felt somehow hesitant about having your voice heard? And the reason I'm asking this question is because oftentimes I see people feeling a bit fearful. You know, what is it gonna happen to me if I say exactly what you think? I don't know. Have you ever felt hesitant?
Mona Makkawi: Actually, no, because I always go prepared and I always say what I want when I see an opportunity to help someone or an opportunity to, to develop people around me. So I never had this hesitation or fear towards my managers. I always prepared myself, and I always was so structured about how I ask for what I want.
Stephen Matini: How do you prepare yourself? Is there anything specific that you do to make sure that you enter the conversation structured and prepared?
Mona Makkawi: I'm a big planner. I mean, I plan conversations in my head even. So I prepare myself for all scenarios. And I start to imagine if they say this thing, I would answer it this way. If they reject in a way, I will have another argument. So I always prepare my, in my brain, all the scenarios.
Stephen Matini: This is huge deal for a lot of people because what I see with my job, I see a lot of people, as I mentioned, they're really afraid of saying what they think. They always are fearful about the potential consequences. And it's a such a tricky thing to live, because if you don't say anything, you're going to end up feeling that you are in some sort of a jail. You know, you feel like a pressure cooker, and if you say something, the question is what is it gonna happen? How am I going to be perceived?
But as a colleague pointed out, actually, this is someone that I interviewed for this podcast. Her name is Linda Hoopes, and Linda focuses on resilience. She made a comment that I love that she says, you always say no to something even when you don't say anything, even when you don't make your voice heard, you always make a choice. And when you don't say anything, you say no to all those opportunities that could have happened if you had said something.
Mona Makkawi: Sometimes our fear of being judged is what stands in the way of us asking or saying what we want to say. Yeah, I guess I trained myself not to listen to this part of the brain that's telling me you are being judged.
Stephen Matini: How did you decide to start your own business? You were in corporate and then at some point you decided to start your business. How that happened?
Mona Makkawi: The idea started in 2008. I was in a job that I hated. I was so frustrated all the time. I had a very tough manager back then I decided I should pursue a higher degree in HR to develop you know, my knowledge, my skills and all that. And I joined a program to study HR at the university. The moment I started this course, I felt that my life is changing and I have to do something about it. I've met a group of amazing people, trainers and HR people, and even my teacher who was a doctor in HR, I said to myself, I need to benefit from this God sent gift. And I started to structure my, my first business, which was Management Solutions Lebanon, an HR consultancy to provide solutions for small to medium side businesses in all HR related topics.
Mona Makkawi: And because I needed help, so I asked my colleagues and my teacher if they could help me in this endeavor. Of course, they were very, very kind. And it started just like that. I remember my first project came from someone who doesn't know me. We were in a friends dinner. He heard me talking about it, and he had a friend who needed this service, and, it happened. So it was amazing how it started.
Back in 2009, I had my own business for like couple of years. And then I went back to the corporate because I had been head hunted by, by a Canadian company to handle the Middle East, and everything related to people development. And I thought it was big opportunity for me to learn and develop my skills even further. And it took me like 12 years to, to get back to reopen my own business again. But this time I developed the concept. I recreated the name. I mean, it's now it's consult and we work on developing people through consulting, coaching, and training.
Stephen Matini: Desire, your energy, the second time that you decided to start your business was different compared to the first time?
Mona Makkawi: I've never felt that I'm the perfect employee throughout my whole career, although I've been really enjoying my time and working from all of my heart. But I always had this idea of doing things my way, you know, working for someone else. It's very different from having your own practice, and I'm sure you know that.
Stephen Matini: Yes, I do. <Laugh> If someone had the desire to start a home business or his own business and whoever the person is, what is a practical advice you would give to them?
Mona Makkawi: Being very persistent and being very stubborn about not quitting, not stubborn about the process because sometimes we have to change course, we have to adjust, we have to be agile. Being persistent and not taking no for an answer. And challenging the economy and the financial situation of the country and everything. So the idea needs to be bigger than the fear.
Stephen Matini: That should be written as a tagline. When you and I met, you said that as a female entrepreneur, you have to work as super, super extra hard in a field that is more male dominated. Can you tell me something about what that is?
Mona Makkawi: It's known in Lebanon or in the region that consulting is a male dominated profession. You can work in a consulting company, but it's hard to own a consulting company and getting big projects. I had to really prove myself in this area. And because, you know, sometimes you work with the Gulf and they are more comfortable working with a man than dealing with the women they used to be. I mean, now they are getting really much better on this area, and I can acknowledge this very well. I had to work very hard and be very attentive to details. And because, you know, any mistake would have cost me a lot. And you know, building a reputation in this field, it takes time. I mean, it's hard.
Prepare yourself and lobbying and having lots of friends and in order for you to be known and to get projects, and I had to join, you know, all the organizations that foster and empower women led businesses here just for me to be known and to be heard.
Stephen Matini: You know, there's a lot of talk in general about differences between gender, you know, if a female leader is different compared to the male leader. Being a woman, does it give you any advantage compared to your male counterparts?
Mona Makkawi: To be very honest and objective, I had bad female managers and bad male managers. So, you know, I used to work in recruitment for the companies I never recruited or never have been biased for gender towards another gender. I mean, what everyone needs in the, in the workplace is someone to do the job and to be good at it and to excel in it and to differentiate themselves in a way. I don't think gender when I work. So I'm really neutral about it and people can feel that. I am a human being who's equipped in this area and who's very knowledgeable in certain area and who can help. This is how I think of myself as a contributor to any solution I give to my clients.
Stephen Matini: Based on what you say, it seems that when we are faced with any sort of potential discrimination, which could happen for a bunch of reasons, including gender, it seems that maybe the biggest step is work that we need to do within ourselves.
Mona Makkawi: It's a matter of culture, because I would not be a hundred percent correct if I said we have to work on ourselves and everything will be okay and all the doors will open. I mean, it's a matter of culture as well. I mean, there are certain cultures in the region that still think less of a women. I mean, even worldwide, the glass ceiling is not broken yet and women still face the same discrimination that they've been facing ages ago. I mean, I've been working with family businesses a lot during my career and I know that they favor their sons more than their daughters in the workplace. So how I react to it is that I don't consider it, but how the society and the environment reflects it on me. This is their issue. I do what's mine in this area, or I change what I have the ability to change.
Stephen Matini: Have you noticed any differences throughout your career when you coach one or the other gender? You know, when you help a female executive compared to a male executive?
Mona Makkawi: Sometimes women know what they want more than men, maybe because they have fewer options, so they know what they want and they work harder to get it.
Stephen Matini: And what about male leaders? Because last time when you and I talked, you talked about that throughout your work, you got to understand some of the distinctive traits about coaching and, and consulting and training male leaders, you know, in South Arabia. What are some of the features that you noticed?
Mona Makkawi: Perceptions are changing, especially now I'm working on a project with young Saudi leaders and you can see that they have totally different views about everything. They are more diverse, more inclined to the concept of diversity and inclusion. They are more welcoming to the idea of having women working with them. They started to even include women in decision making. Some of them, they have no problem being led by a woman, which was surprising for me because being led by a woman creates ego battle <laugh> inside the head of some man, yeah, you know?
Stephen Matini: To your daughter, based on anything and everything that you have learned as a woman and as a leader, what are some of the biggest lessons that you pass to her?
Mona Makkawi: She's even stronger. Her character have been developed in the past couple of years, very surprisingly. I always tell her to be kind to herself first and to others. We, we've never been taught to be kind to ourselves. We've always been taught to be strong, to be competitive. Maybe they taught us to have this, the traits of men in order for us to survive. And this is very tiring for a woman because it conflicts with our divine feminine nature. I always tell her to be kind to herself, to love herself, to appreciate that she's a woman and she's different and she'll always be different. And this is ok.
Stephen Matini: I could not agree more. Kindness is such a, an underestimated quality because maybe in, in the eyes of some people could be seen as naïveté. To be kind to ourselves and to be kind to others requires a lot of strength. You know, a lot of strength when things get difficult, you know, really, really difficult for whatever the reason. How do you stay kind to yourself and others?
Mona Makkawi: Things that I do that help me stay grounded are, you know, meditation and I pray and I always try to not to lose it. <Laugh> meditation helps a lot. It makes you detaching from whatever's happened. And I journal also, ao whatever is bothering me, I I learn to write it down, process it and letting it go.
Stephen Matini: And what's gonna be next for Mona?
Mona Makkawi: I'm also a dreamer. I have lots of dreams and lots of aspirations. So I hope that I can help as much people as I can. Well, you know, whatever I'm doing, either through coaching or training or you know, or even companies as, as a consultant, I really want to deliver value to people because this is what impacts people's lives.
Stephen Matini: For those who are going to listen to this episode, for people that somehow feel that they may not have a voice or they will like to have a voice or maybe they would like to start their own business, what would it be a first step in your opinion, based on your experience, to move forward?
Mona Makkawi: First to know what you want and to really do the research. Cuz sometimes we have crazy ideas and we start to go after them, and then we do not do our homework really well and we fall short. So you have to be prepared in terms of knowing everything, seeing, trying to see the full picture, being prepared will help you not to overcome all the obstacles, but you will be prepared.
I mean, you will, you will anticipate what's coming and maybe you change course or do something else. So knowing what you want and being very consistent and persistent, you know, and this is what makes any difference in whatever you do.
People told me that I will never make it. People told me that I will never be a good trainer. People told me that I will never deliver anything and if I were to listen to all the voices that were saying anything negative to me, I wouldn't have done anything in my life. Always listen to your gut. Your gut is very supportive to you and it guides you. Listen to your intuition. Try to shut the noise because you know, sometimes we are very concerned about the noise and we tend to forget our voice. So this is very important. And always be true to yourself. Whatever you want to do. Be true to yourself. Know your weaknesses and work on your strength.
Stephen Matini: Mona, have you ever doubted your instinct? Because that's something that me personally, I did it for the longest part of my life. Have you ever trusted your instinct?
Mona Makkawi: I've always trusted my instinct because I'm a very intuitive person, but sometimes I used to fear a lot and I don't know from where this fear is coming until I learned about limiting beliefs. So I started to identify if this is the limiting belief that is giving me this fear and is stopping me, or is it something else? And this made all the difference.
Stephen Matini: What do you do to identify your limiting beliefs and understand that it is a limiting belief and not just the truth?
Mona Makkawi: I start to ask myself from where this coming? Is there anything that supports this idea or thought that I'm having? If things were different, what would be my reaction or my response to it? All these questions, you know, will help you dig more or more information in your head and inside of you. And nobody knows you the way you know yourself, and all the answers are inside of us. We just have to ask the question and they told us something in the coaching school that is, you don't know what you know until you say it.
Stephen Matini: I believe that we all have a different interpretation of reality. You know, we all have a different understanding of what reality is and what is good for us. I tend to agree with you that probably the person that can know us the best is ourselves. You know, nobody else will ever experience ourselves the way we do, at least for people like me. That took a long time to gain self-confidence. Sometimes as I, you know, pointed out, it's difficult to have the trust, you know, to listen to that intuition. So if someone is not particularly intuitive or maybe doesn't have the much self-confidence, what would it be? A first step to feel more in touch with yourself? What would you suggest to do?
Mona Makkawi: Of course, to see a coach, A coach can help you a lot. Certainly for people who are not into it or who don't know how to structure their thinking in a way, or if they have, let's say, limiting belief or obstacles or if they are facing anything. I mean, coaching is an amazing tool to make this shift inside of your head. You know, everyone has capabilities and areas inside of them that they just need to tap on them in order to discover them.
Stephen Matini: In my coaching career, I had different people that have been super, super important in helping me out. Mona, we talked about different things. From your perspective, what would you say that is something really important that would you suggest to our listeners to pay attention to?
Mona Makkawi: The voices inside their heads and the intuition, of course, the patterns in our lives are very important, but we tend to forget about them.
Stephen Matini: Do you think, is it possible for anyone to become more aware of those voices and in making some shifts? Because some people seem to be really resistant to it.
Mona Makkawi: Yes, because even if it is tough on others, it's, it's our comfort zone and people are resistant to leave their comfort zone. I mean, through coaching, I believe that any shift can happen because through the questions that the the coach ask, they can tap into areas in your inside of any person that the person doesn't know exists, not having the willingness to change it's rooted somewhere else in their subconscious mind. It's their defense mechanism towards something. Maybe this is how they've been raised. So they developed this throughout many incidents and this is where the coach interferes and trying help the clients to decode what's happening inside of them.
Stephen Matini: I don't know if I should call it competency or simply quality, but I'm talking about courage. If someone is not particularly courageous, as some people seem to hesitate, you know, to leave the comfort zone. What can they do to take a first step to feel a little bit braver?
Mona Makkawi: I believe they need to redefine courage inside of them because sometimes we have different definitions for, for things because what courage mean to you, it's different than what it means to me and or what it means to somebody else. So I believe that maybe defining or tapping into this definition will help the person understand it more and maybe either embrace it or overcome it.
Stephen Matini: I love that because the notion of courage is often associated with, you know, being fierce. You just keep moving, you move forward. But it's not necessarily what a courageous act is.
Mona Makkawi: Exactly, because you can be courage, but when you will not throw yourself to lions, this will not be courage. This would be something else. You know. Even in the corporate world, I mean, being courage, it doesn't mean that you have to face the CEO or saying something against someone, you know, this is not smart. Being courageous is something that will help you maybe maneuver.
Stephen Matini: I believe exactly what you said before, it is a mix about assessing the situation, be well-prepared about the dynamics, and at the same time to have a, a good understanding of yourself. A big chunk of me, me personally, becoming more courageous involved, to give myself permission to feel all that I felt, to experience all my contradictions and to be okay with different parts of myself that somehow I was running away from, you know, to understand that there's this space and time for, for everything, even to feel fearful and somehow being more okay with all those parts of myself have made me braver. Also, it gave me the ability to understand the situation better and to understand people a little bit better.
Mona Makkawi: And here is not necessarily a very bad thing. It makes you prepare more, it makes you more vigilant and more, you know, aware of whatever you might face.
Stephen Matini: Mona, you have seen a lot of things in your life. You know, you were telling me about your upbringing and what it means to be a woman and to continue to believe in yourself and building what was important to you. As of today, what is the one thing that it makes you feel fearful?
Mona Makkawi: The unknown. The fast pace that the world is shifting into, because everything is moving very fast and, and this is maybe something that sometimes I feel uncertain about what's next? Maybe because of that.
Stephen Matini: When I met you said I think the whole point is to leave this place better. The way that, that we found it. Actually very often when I feel uncertain, what gives me courage and gives me hope is just my contribution. You know, I focus on what I can do today and then what value I can bring today. And of course, I don't know what's gonna happen tomorrow or what can possibly happen five years from now. You know, I simply tend to focus on how I can contribute and somehow that gives me a lot of peace.
Mona Makkawi: Yes, living the moment, I mean, this is very important. Yes. When you live in the moment, you don't pre occupy your mind with the future, which not happened yet, or the past, which you cannot change. Being present and being in the moment, this is what we have to focus on.
Stephen Matini: Do you think that your daughter is going to pursue your same career or something else?
Mona Makkawi: I don't know. She's very influenced by me, <laugh>. I mean, she's studying business now in the university. I would love for her to pick whatever she likes, you know, it doesn't necessarily that she follows my steps. Of course, she will be welcome to to join <laugh> if she wants to, to do anything else, I would support her. Of course, she has this ability to coach people even though she doesn't, she doesn't do anything about coaching.
Stephen Matini: Mona, you joined the BARKAT Entrepreneur program created by Puneet Sadchev, who had the pleasure of interviewing for the podcast. The barca program is a social initiative to support female entrepreneurs in Africa and in the Middle East. What motivated you to apply for the BARKAT program?
Mona Makkawi: Actually, it was through an organization, it's called L L W B, Lebanese Meet for Women in Business. So it was through them. They send usually their members any opportunities for either development, training gatherings and so on. I read about the Bar project and I found it very interesting because first it wasn't local, and second, it was, it was the first time for me to, to be coached on the business level. The concept is to connect women leaders, I mean women business owners, SMEs, owners in Lebanon together. So it was for me, great opportunity on all levels.
Stephen Matini: How has participating in the BARKAT program influenced your personal growth and leadership skills as a female entrepreneur? What's been the biggest takeaway for you?
Mona Makkawi: The group coaching is something really different and it's beneficial on all levels because you, you are not only working on your issue that you have in mind, but you also can listen and learn from the group. It's a learning experience for for anybody that's listening and the work that we, that we do outside of the coaching sessions is, is what matters and what's making the, the, the biggest difference. Because we have assignments to do and we have to support each other, creating, supporting groups, creating morning gratitude message that we send on Slack. So we have like certain things to do that are helping us.
Stephen Matini: Mona, thank you so much for spending time with me.
Mona Makkawi: Thank you so much, Stephen, and I really enjoyed our conversation. Thank you so much.
Tuesday Oct 03, 2023
Tuesday Oct 03, 2023
Tuesday Oct 03, 2023
Today, we deep dive into the topic of reframing our thoughts. In this episode, leadership expert Tammy Heermann explores the power of mindset and its influence on behaviors and outcomes.
Tammy openly discusses her path to mastering discernment and conquering perfectionism, advising that we begin by clarifying our vision and the impact we aim to make.
Women in leadership can effectively challenge biases and shift perceptions by employing strategic questioning and adjusting their communication approaches.
Listen to this episode of Pity Party Over to learn how to acquire a positive, successful mindset by crafting our internal narratives.
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Stephen Matini: You are an author. When that idea came to you, how did it happen?
Tammy Heermann: It was more like when I worked in the consulting company. And so part of my job was to write and to blog and to speak. And because I had two authors that were, you know, on the team, Leanne and, and someone else, Vince, I kind of saw how it worked. And so I think the difference between, you know, fiction, I believe you need so much creativity, you do need that inspiration for business books or self-help books is more like how do I get everything out of my brain that I've learned in the last however many years in a way that is digestible, entertaining, relevant, credible, all of that. So I think it's a very different process than a fiction where, you know, you are literally inventing characters. And for me it was like, okay, you know, this'll be an important tool for my business. It's something I thought, can I do this? But I think it's a bit different than fiction.
Stephen Matini: Was it harder or easier than you anticipated?
Tammy Heermann: Oh, way harder. And I think it's not just the intellectual, like it's hard, you know, it's hard to, to actually write. It was more the emotional challenge that surprised me, the ups and downs and as you're kind of reliving all your own stories and you know, you dig deep in like, why do I think this way wasn't my childhood, what bad bosses have I had? What critical moments have I had? So it was very, very emotional. And then it happened during the pandemic. So that was a whole time in life for everyone. That was tough.
Stephen Matini: Do you feel that you have become somehow a different person, a different professional as a result of going through the process or writing your book?
Tammy Heermann: I think it just solidified for me, you know, I have some insights to share, some wisdom. I, I think it just gave me confidence that, you know, my experience is valuable.
Stephen Matini: You know, a lot of people would love to write a book. A lot of people would like to start businesses. A lot of people have all kinds of dreams, you know, in the drawer. And somehow for whatever the reason they, they stay there for the longest time. What made you finally hop and do it?
Tammy Heermann: <Laugh>. I think it was a challenge. So Leanne and my other boss, they really believed in me. So apparently I can write, well, I don't enjoy it, but you know, it was something that I was fairly good at. And she said, I'm taking one of your articles and I'm gonna give it to publisher. She was working with. She said, can I do that? I said, sure. And they gave it and they said, do you think there's something here? And they're like, absolutely. And then, then it was just up to me to say yes or no, okay, am I doing this or not? She kept saying, Tammy, you have things to share with the world. Like, like you kind of owe it to people to share it. And, and so I was like, okay, I'm doing this.
Stephen Matini: How did you come up with a title? Because the title is such an important thing.
Tammy Heermann: Yeah. And so that's where it really helped to work with an editor. And so part of my process was with the editor, my whole philosophy on learning and, and everything is about our mindset first and we have to dig into that. And so I knew it was always going to be something around mindset or reframing or rethinking or rewriting our story, whatever it is. So, you know, we had the, what the concept was, but then landing on it is just a whole lot of brainstorming, trial and error, living with it, testing it out with people saying it, here's my book I'm writing, here's what it's called. How does it feel? Do they get it? So you kind of almost do a lot of testing as well. I think in the nonfiction space, that's an important thing to do. I think in, in fiction it's probably less relevant to test it with other people.
Stephen Matini: I have the same thoughts that you have only God knows if I can write. The process is enjoyable for the vast majority. And it, and it gets really enjoyable when I stop thinking about it has to work, you know, someone has to like it, it has to be perfect because that would dampen the whole thing will really ruin the whole thing. And so I learned that this is my journey, you know, for this to be anything, it has to be something that I personally enjoy. And then we'll see.
Tammy Heermann: Yes, I'm an author but I'm not a writer. I wouldn't, I don't get up and love and write and love to write. They who are writers would say is just get it out, start writing. Don't edit yourself. Don't like just go with with the flow. That's exactly what what they say to do. And the most prolific famous authors, they have editors like that's their job. Like no one writes something perfectly and it's ready to go. You get your brain on paper and then there's other experts who help shape it. That's their job, right? That's their expertise. So you're doing exactly the right thing and just get it out.
Stephen Matini: Have you always known that at some point you would've written a book?
Tammy Heermann: No, definitely. It was never a goal of mine. You know, I grew up in a, a rural part of Canada. I wasn't that kid who said I always wanna do this or be this and I experimented with a lot of things. I wanted to do something creative, hairdressing, makeup, fashion. And then I was playing working in a bank and a teacher. And as you know a lot of kids do. Now that I reflect back is I love learning, I love new, I love change. Like literally I love throwing myself as we were talking about in the middle of a random country or area and just going, okay, let's figure this out. So I think I was kind of destined to work in terms of helping others learn and accept change and growth. And I'd say some pivotal moments. The first time I had been to Italy and it was in grade 12 and high school, my senior year of high school.
Tammy Heermann: And I remembered not just being blown away with being in Europe but with just seeing that there was this vast world, it opened my eyes cuz you know, so many people don't leave their areas <laugh> and I come from a very large family and very few people have kind of left the area and I was just in intrigued by this wide, wide world. And so that was certainly an event. And then later on in graduate school, again I returned to the UK and and did my graduate studies and I was just surrounded by people from all over the world learning. When I think about what shaped me and when I was destined, it's like how do I help other people love learning and growth and change and do that with a global lens.
Stephen Matini: When you say learning and learning, curiosity, those are words that resonate very, very strongly with me. And so I would say that's my personal mindset. And hearing you, it seems to be your case as well. You talked about before the importance of mindset. When you say mindset, do you mean a specific mindset or the mindset changes from person to person?
Tammy Heermann: So I think it changes. So, so here's how I think about it and it even goes before mindset. And this is, you know, well documented with psychologists. And so our values and our beliefs, those things that we're kind of indoctrinated with shape our mindsets kind of how we walk into situations and then it shapes the behaviors that we engage in. And then of course that reinforces the values. You know, beliefs, mindsets, there's this cycle and sometimes that cycle helps us and sometimes it doesn't. So I grew up in this family very hardworking with a, you know, the strong work ethic of a farmer and that is fantastic. Like who would say that's a bad thing? And and I remember hearing my dad say, okay, you know, if you're gonna do something, do it once and do it right. And I remember him spending hours on things and perfecting it and it sounds great, doesn't it?
Tammy Heermann: And you probably know where this is going until I get into this office environment and you're leading these huge teams and you have 80 projects happening simultaneously, <laugh>. And you can't do that. You can't have that mindset of touch, everything, make it perfect, touch it once, you know, do the the best you can on everything. You just can't. And I remember a critical moment where my boss at the time took me and he said, Tammy, he said, you can't keep going like this. You can't do everything perfect. You have to understand when good is good enough. And he said, by the way, your good is most people's excellent. So he, he taught me that I really had to learn discernment when to kind of give a hundred percent, when to give 110 and when to give 60 because it's so in that, in that moment.
Tammy Heermann: And so that gets back to, you know, my values and beliefs kind of shaped this hardworking ethic which got me very far in life. But that mindset of always doing it perfect, I had to say, okay, when does that serve me and when does it not? And how do I adjust those behaviors? So that's kind of the loop. And I think what most training and development and leadership and learning does today is we put people in a classroom and we give them these skills training and we check the box and we think it's all good. Meanwhile people are sitting there going, I'd never do that, I'd never do it like that. I could never do that. And all these stories are going around in their brains and they leave the classroom and they check the box cuz they did the training. They'll do nothing different with it. And, and so for me the approach is always we have to start with the mindset first.
Stephen Matini: It seems that discernment is the recipe to defeat perfectionism.
Tammy Heermann: I think so, yeah. And of course perfectionism comes in various flavors. There's people who you know, again will just give a hundred percent and over invest when it's not required. There's people who won't start something and unless they can do it perfectly. So sometimes I tease my husband, he's like, well I'm not doing this workout cuz if I can't get in, you know, my warmup, the actual workout and then the cool down, then it's not worth it cuz I don't have two hours to do this. Versus any health expert would tell you 20 minutes a day is better than not doing it at all. But to get the, you know, so that that notion of if I can't do it perfectly, I won't do it at all. So again, discernment comes in, in all these places is how do I calculate where do I spend my time? What's the payoff, what's the value to me and others? Absolutely.
Stephen Matini: How did you develop your discernment? Because as I think of this word, it makes total sense and as I stay with the word, I think in order for me to discern, I will need to be more mindful. I need to take a step back to maybe to have a better analytical skill. So for you, how did you develop that so you knew how far to push yourself? 60%, 80% or whatever there was.
Tammy Heermann: The first thing is to understand what's the vision for yourself. And so that's what I do with all leaders, especially women. What's the impact I wanna have? What's the legacy I wanna leave? What does my best self look like? And that's different than setting goals cuz every organization will say, oh, set your goals for the year, right? And this is the higher level than that.
And then once I have that criteria and I have sure my organization makes me have some development goals, then I can sit in that situation and exactly to your point and say, okay, is that helping me get closer to these things or is it distracting and taking me farther apart? And I think most people know the answer to that question, Stephen. I think they're too scared to have the conversation that says, I don't think I should be doing this. That's the thing they, they know they shouldn't be. They know they don't want to be. It's the conversation I think that scares most people.
Stephen Matini: I think you said that your soft spot is to work with people, leadership potential that is on the cusp of making the big jump, right? A lot of women. What are some of the biases, conscious or unconscious that you have seen more frequently working with people?
Tammy Heermann: Yeah, well there is with that group, and I'll tell you why I love it so much, is because it's usually an age and stage conversation. Meaning if they're just on the cusp of whether it's like director or you know, beginning of executive or partner in a firm, whatever the structure is, they're usually at that age where they're either starting to have a family, you know, got little ones at home or maybe decide not to or cannot. And so they're in this really sticky stage of life where there is added pressure, I mean really, really added pressure, especially if you've got little ones at home or you're, you know, getting pregnant in between you're trying to get promoted, all of that.
And what also happens simultaneously is a lot of organizations aren't supportive of that. A lot of countries don't have a lot of support for families and they start to question, am I good enough? Can I really do this? Does it make sense? And it's really hard to just get beyond the hours of day-to-day and kind of look out into the long-term. It's this time where they just, they need a big, and then say, okay, what are you gonna do about this? And so I just love working with this stage because they're on the cusp of greatness in their career these moments. But it can go downhill very fast because they're, they're just questioning everything.
Stephen Matini: When you say that, you mean both regardless of gender or do you see them more prominent in certain type of people?
Tammy Heermann: Definitely more prominent with females and that's where I spend a lot of my time working now with women because you know, for the most part women still do have primary caretaking responsibilities in the home. And then I'd say more generally, cuz you asked, and again I've worked with a lot of high potentials, it's that shift between moving from tactical to strategic. It's how do I get known for not doing everything but to kind of seeing the more strategic picture and leading. And there's that moment where it's so hard you have to work so hard to both build your team and gain your own visibility so that you can let go and kind of move into that more strategic realm. That is a tough, tough jump for anyone. And again, if you layer on kind of the age and stage with women, that tends to be right in the childbearing years.
Stephen Matini: Working with women, what has been in your experience as some of the most effective ways for new female leaders to legitimize their position in a company, to be seen a more as a strategic contributor, better than being a doer?
Tammy Heermann: Yeah, and and gosh, the word, so I'm, I'm triggered by the word when you said legitimize because I'm like, oh they shouldn't have to, and yet you're onto something Stephen. So in my research what I found is when I looked at 360 research, women tend to score higher on most leadership competencies except for one.
And it's that strategic, they are perceived, so to your legitimize, I talk about changing perceptions of our strategic capability. So it's not that I don't think women don't have those skills or can't have those skills, it's that we get so mired in the execution and doing and not carving the boundaries and checking off the to-do list at home and at work and we just get stuck and there's a pride in execution, give it to me, I'll get it done. There's the multitasking that that women are, you know, so great at.
Tammy Heermann: All of these things keep us stuck in the weeds. For me it's about helping them understand, okay, how do you change perceptions of this skillset I know you have and get out of that kind of doing trap and, and more into that strategic realm. And it's how you communicate, it's how you say yes and no to things. It's how you, you know, where you spend your time, how you kind of beef up your team so you can kind of get up into the higher level. It's, it's a whole bunch of things but I'll tell you, when I started working on all of that stuff Stephen, I was promoted four times in six years when I made the deliberate decision to say I gotta get out of the weeds.
Stephen Matini: So which one was the first skill that you started doing differently? Were you more assertive? Was communication, what was it?
Tammy Heermann: I think I wrote this in the book and I had done my own 360 and that's what I had gotten back is my feedback as well. That's what made me curious to kind of look into it. The coach I was working with said, I want you to start by asking different questions and meetings.
And I laughed. I said, how can something so simple like are you kidding me <laugh>? And of course all these things are little simple steps that you have to put into place. And so I started by showing up differently by asking strategic questions. So first of all, I'm getting my voice in the room to your point, but second I was showing my strategic capabilities. So for example, rather than just saying why don't we do this or why aren't we doing this? I said something like, given what we know about the environment and our current customers, you know, if they're asking about new solutions in this new place, how about we look at this solution and its impact on X, Y, and Z?
Tammy Heermann: So all of a sudden now they're seeing, oh my gosh, she's thinking about environment, she's taking trends into account, she knows our customers and she's proposing a solution, but understanding that it's gonna have various impacts. That's a very strategic question that shows how my brain works. And I remember the first time I did it, the room just looked at me and stared, there was like silence for a few seconds and I was so uncomfortable. And I think it's because they're like, well A, she's talking and B wow, that was very astute of her right? And guess what I was asked back to the next meeting and the next meeting. And so that's where I started was just showing people I had that capability and bringing my voice into the conversations.
Stephen Matini: I love that. When I said the word legitimate is a word that comes out a lot, particularly with professionals that belong to specific functions. You know, if you're in finance, it's if you're in sales, that's something, you know, if you are into marketing much, much harder to prove that the budget that you are asking is going to produce those results. You know, if you're in human resources. So I think there are some functions that sometimes seem to struggle a little bit more to have that to be seen, you know, as strategic partner, you know, HR being a, a typical thing. I love what you said about asking questions and I was thinking probably feeling comfortable with silence to stay there, to be silent and to listen and to make people feel their presence. When people have to learn how to be more assertive. If I don't say no, then I'm going to continue being this busy, be in operational doing a million things. But if I start saying no to things, how am I going to be perceived? Will I be perceived as someone who doesn't collaborate? You know, am I going to upset someone? What would you suggest to someone that wants to say no, that wants to set boundaries but still struggles with them?
Tammy Heermann: Yeah, absolutely. And I agree it, I think so many people struggle with this. So a couple things going through my mind is first of all we can't just say no. We have to talk about, you know, what it is that that we're saying yes to. And so most people will just say, I'm too busy. I can't take that on my plate, cell overflowing, whatever analogy you use. And that's more of a help me prioritize sometimes even a mental health conversation around overwhelm versus saying, here's what I'm on the hook for with my boss for example. Here's what you're, you know, evaluating me on, here's the new thing that have come. Here's where I plan to spend my time to accomplish X, y and Z. Here's what's coming in. And really think about it as influencing and negotiation to say this isn't possible and, and if you're telling me I can't work, we'll then know that, you know, what are the implications of that Quality's gonna slip here.
Tammy Heermann: This person's on the verge of quitting, da da da da da da. So we have to make these conversations a business conversation. I was also very appointed when I said at that time, you're telling me that I need to be more strategic and then be seen as a, as a broader leader. So expect that I'm going to have these conversations with you. I'm gonna come to you from time to time and I'm gonna say no, I need you to hear me. And then we need to talk it out. And I know I'm not gonna win every time, but I also know that if I lose every time there's gonna be an impact to that. These are the things that I had to dial up to make it known. I, I think we have all these conversations inside our brains and we get so overwhelmed and we don't have them outward with other people and then they just explode as an overwhelmed conversation.
Tammy Heermann: And then the other thing I think we, we go back to kind of having that vision for yourself is, is so for me if at one point I was the global practice leader for women in leadership, so that's a big role and part of my vision for it was that I wanted to be a role model because how could I go out and tell women carved boundaries, but I'm not carving them myself. I'm not trying to say no myself. Like I couldn't do that. I couldn't be a hypocrite. And so I would state that, I would say part of my role is to be a role model and lead the way. So I'm not gonna jump on a plane tomorrow to go there. I will come over by Zoom because it's important for me to da da da da da. And so I think part of it is goes back to that you know, what's the vision for ourselves and how do we have a business conversation.
Stephen Matini: Do you have a sense of where this leadership development is going to? Do you have a sense of patterns or what may be relevant in five years or even longer than that?
Tammy Heermann: So not really. It's so funny because when I did work in a big consulting firm and we'd talk about this and most people would equate, you know, innovation or or advancement and it's always technology driven. That's great. But really like does anyone even do the self-paced learning anymore? Like it's been relegated to the closet where people have to do their compliance training every year in organizations or their health and safety. Like that's where that's ended up. It's good for that. And that's it. For me, it always comes back to instead of getting more distributed, how do we get more human and more together and intense? And so I am seeing a lot more organizations invest in coaching thankfully. And I think a lot of the big firms have kind of tried to democratize coaching through different platforms, but we'll still having, you know, a human on the other end.
Tammy Heermann: So, you know, I guess that's kind of good. And I have seen organizations say, okay, we do realize that being in person together, creating community, like I joke I say like it is not a good workshop of mine unless someone cries because, cause we know that we've hit something really important to them and the room and you just, you can't do that in other ways. So I think it's a long way of saying, you know, I don't know where the industry is headed, but I hope it's less to how do we use technology <laugh>, you know, and more about how do we start talking about the things that make us human because of the last few years have brought anything to us. It's, it's, we know that we can't separate work and home and that what drives us at work is the very human things that drive us anywhere. And so really understanding that I think is important and, and I think we'll continue on the diversity, inclusion and equity and belonging and, and the name keeps getting longer and longer, which is good. I am seeing a lot more organizations realize that that's something that they have to pay attention to. So that's good.
Stephen Matini: Funny that we have to remind ourselves of the basic way of being a human <laugh>. We spend so much time anything else, you know, we talking about conversations, being a person, treat people like a person, you know, which you would think, you know, that should come pretty easy to us, you know, but we have to constantly remind ourselves to do the things that make us deliciously human, you know?
Tammy Heermann: Just think back to, you know, when work started coming in all the office jobs, I mean, what was it? It was you typically the man left the home and it was a very separate, like we learned, even I was told to separate and I'm not that old <laugh> to separate myself, to not bring my home crap into the office. I was told that. And so we were conditioned to separate ourselves to be, you know, one person here and another person there. And we just know thankfully that that just doesn't work.
Stephen Matini: It does not. One thing that I read that you use, but we didn't talk about it before. You use mantras. I love that. So I don't use mantras, but I use mindfulness, you know, in my trainings and the way that I introduce is always okay, can we breathe? And then people usually are open to it, you know, most people are open to it, but it's a bit odd, you know, so I have to be careful how I introduce it. How do you bring such an important piece, you know, to a training, to anything, to any learning experience?
Tammy Heermann: It took me a long time to really accept the word even mantra cuz to your part, and I don't care what people call it, whether it's a talk track or a phrase or a slogan for themselves, whatever. What I want them to think about is, what is the word or phrase usually pretty short that you can repeat over and over to stalk or reverse that cycle I talked about, you know, when we get into those situations where we start saying really horrible things to ourselves and so we create them and you can have as many as you need for whatever situation. But the, you know, ones that I talk about as an example is I remember speaking on a stage and too was a couple thousand people and there were really famous people speaking, like everyone knew who those four people were. And then there was me, it's like, who's that?
Tammy Heermann: You know, who's that person? So of course I'm standing backstage and I'm like telling myself all like, what am I doing here? No one's gonna listen to me. And then I brought out my mantra, you belong here, you belong here, you belong here. Because what did anyone else on stage know about my topic? Like either nothing or very little. I don't know anything about their topic. Why would they know anything about my topic? Right? <Laugh>. And so you belong here, you belong here, you have an important message and it just kind of buoys you and stops that horrible voice in your head. And so that's my example. So it's amazing. I've had women who post them on the screen or I'm actually hearing a lot more about this. So in Michelle Obama's recent book, the Light We Carry and I just saw an interview on TV this week with Mary J. Blige and both of them talked about in the mornings, you know, when conventionally you kind of look your worst, you're just outta bed looking in the mirror and saying, hello, gorgeous, or hello beautiful or whatever it is because it helps rewire our brain because what do we do?
Tammy Heermann: We go in and we go, oh my God, I look, I didn't get any sleep, those bags or wrinkles or blah blah, my hair's a desire. It's like, hello, gorgeous. And I love that. So that's a, a mantra again to rewire our brain to see the beauty within and the strength and, and that's why I think it's so powerful.
Stephen Matini: When you teach people how to use mantra, you let them pick the word or are there words that you suggest to them? How does it work?
Tammy Heermann: No, it has to come from them. It has to, if I tell them to say something and it might not mean anything to them and it'll be very unique to their situation. So for some it's yes, when I'm in that meeting with that person who just, no, you, we all know that that person, right? Okay, how do I walk in? What do I need to say to myself in those moments where I know they're gonna say something that riles me up? That could be one situation. Another is before I give a presentation or before I do this or that. And so it is for them very specific for their context.
Stephen Matini: Which one was more stressful to you release your baby, your book to the world, or given a presentation to you know, 2000 people knowing that other famous speakers, which one was more nerve wracking?
Tammy Heermann: Oh, a hundred percent. The book, I've done a lot of kind of being on stage my whole life. I used to remember I'd played the saxophone at the concert or the organ in church or whatever. So I've always enjoyed being in front of an audience, so that's fine. But once you release that book into the world and there's no taking it back, at least those other things, it ends, it ends in 30 minutes, 60 minutes, whatever it's done with putting your thoughts. And I think for most people they're really personal stories in there. It's very vulnerable.
Stephen Matini: When you have really difficult time for whatever the reason and you find yourself in an odd spot. Is there anything that you normally do to get out of it or it depends. What do you do?
Tammy Heermann: Oh God. And this is so hard, isn't it? And I have a teenage daughter, so of course there's lots of times where you're just like, oh my God, I don't dunno what to do. Yeah, I'd say there's kinda three steps. So one is I remind myself that it's a point in time because of course we've all gone through difficult things many times and we will continue to. So if my first is deep breath, this is the point in time, this is a point in time, I will get through it. So I think that's one thing. The next is kind of perspective taking. So whether it involves another person or myself is like how do I either put in perspective what I'm thinking or I think they're where they're coming from. So I try to do perspective taking. And then the third, I call it learn and let go. But I think your tagline for your podcast is pause, learn, and move on. So that's exactly it. The the third is like, okay, what am I learning? And let go learn, let go, learn, let go.
Stephen Matini: One of mine, one of the many, it is pity party over. I mean, it has become some sort of personal mantra. When I am stuck in the place, there's always a moment that that comes in my mind, you know, like, okay, enough is enough pity party over, you cannot stay here forever. There's just, it's unproductive. It's, it's boring. It's pointless. So one question that like to ask at the end of our chitchat is this one we talked about different things, but there had to be something, some sort of takeaway that you would like listeners to focus on based on anything that we said. What would you highlight?
Tammy Heermann: We know the importance of stories, right? They, they're literally everywhere and they're the main way we communicate in the world, but we don't pay attention to the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. And for me, that is the most important thing to pay attention to. And so many studies have shown, you know, self-compassion and, and what we say to ourselves is the biggest tip for relieving stress, for building resilience. It really is, right? That, that piece. And so I would say for, for anyone who hasn't kind of done that type of reflection before that, it's, it's life changing in the world of sports and performance, they've known that forever. They know their head game is what actually makes them win, not their physical performance. And yet why do we not think that all the rest of us and in our offices and homes and wherever we work. So yeah, I'd say the, the stories we tell ourselves are critical.
Stephen Matini: Is this something that you learned as a musician?
Tammy Heermann: No, I've always kind of played with this notion of, of mindset early days in working in training and development and leadership. But where it really struck me is I was watching a marathon and where I live, I'm right at the turnaround point for the runners. And so I get to see the runners twice because they go by me and then they turn around and they come back. And so I always, I watch it and in the paper I remember seeing an interview the next day with the winner of the marathon. And when they said, you know, how do you do that to the winner? Like, he was like, just over two hours I think was his, his race. And he said, it's easy. He said, I only have to run for two hours and whatever. He said, I don't know how those other runners do it that are there for four hours, six hours, eight hours.
Tammy Heermann: He goes, how did they do it? And I thought, wow, what an interesting mindset shift. And it just, it blew my head because we're all so in awe of him and he is like, we run for two hours. That's it. That really got me seeing the parallels between this whole world of sports and performing arts. Like they get it, they get it led to performance coaches and thankfully psychologists being put with all of these high performing people. Why do we think we're any different? That was kinda when it really hit me that we can borrow from this world that really understands the nature of mindset.
Stephen Matini: It's all about the story that we tell ourselves. True. Ms. Tammy, thank you so much for these important insights. That was really a lovely conversation. I've learned a lot from you today.
Tammy Heermann: Thank you. I've enjoyed it so much too. Stephen.
Monday Sep 25, 2023
Monday Sep 25, 2023
Self-discovery is one of the most exciting and scary journeys, where we navigate through self-doubts and societal expectations to unveil the best in ourselves.
Our guest today is Dr. Helen Rothberg, a renowned Professor of Strategic Management and author of the book “The Perfect Mix,” in which she shares valuable lessons about management and leadership she learned while bartending.
Dr. Rothberg states that only after mastering the art of self-leadership can we authentically connect with and uplift those around us, fostering an environment of trust, growth, and collective success.
Join us in this episode of Pity Party Over to learn how leading ourselves is the first step toward leading others through change.
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Stephen Matini: You know, I'm curious to ask you something. Why did you get four different degrees? That's a lot!
Helen Rothberg: Oh, and nobody should do that. It's like a letter of salad. When I was coming up in the field of business, it was a time when there were really not many women at all in senior suite. There were almost no women in strategy at all. So there's two reasons. So I felt I needed more credibility than perhaps my male counterparts would need to prove that I was worthy of working at that upper echelon of management.
I also found the whole education process patriarchal and very Darwinian. I went to all public institutions so they were kind of survival of the fittest. And most of my mentors were much older, cranky, older men. And I just didn't know if I'd be able to stomach it <laugh>, you know?
So if I couldn't finish, I at least wanted something along the way that I could use that would help me do what I wanted to do. But luckily, you know, Nietzsche says that which does not kill you makes you stronger. I got to the end of that rainbow and it's really been a golden career for me. So no complaints. But yeah, no one should ever get four graduate degrees. It's just, yeah.
Stephen Matini: So you did not have any female professors, just guys?
Helen Rothberg: In all of graduate school, I had one female professor. The majority of business faculty were men. Strategy wasn't even an area. That's one of my terminal degrees really until that time, you know. Michael Porter's book came out in 1980, “Competitive Strategy” and that became all their age. So I was kind of that first prop of strategy. PhDs. There was only one female, she didn't get tenure, so she left.
Stephen Matini: When did you decide what you wanna pursue professionally?
Helen Rothberg: That's a loaded question, right? So it sort of found me, but I kind of understood the kind of life I wanted to have when I was really young. Here's what I learned about myself. When it's 75 and sunny, I have to be outside. So I needed summers off.
I also am the kind of person, I learned something pretty quickly and then I get bored and I need to learn something else. So when you put together what can you do that will give you freedom and the ability to always do new things? My two choices were consulting or academia and consulting had a lot more money attached to it. Really as a consultant, you make 10 x of what you make as a professor. But I realized two things about consulting. One, the consulting agency owns you, which means your clients own your time. Clients tend to believe everything is in emergency, so they don't care if it's at night or a weekend or a holiday.
I also wanted to do something bigger. I wanted to do something. I think it's important to help companies operate better. I've been a consultant and professor simultaneously for over three decades. I wound up doing both, but I chose being an academic as my full-time, not only because I could then have my summers, but because I could really influence the future. And to me the future is working with young minds.
So that's how I kind of chose that. And business, I never took a business class until I got to graduate school and I fell into it by accident. I was pre-med as an undergraduate, I realized I didn't wanna do medicine, so I went into psychology and then I realized psychology had the same kind of chains on you, on your heart, you know, trying to help people who aren't getting better. And then I fell into something called industrial psychology, which I got bored with in about six seconds.
And then I found organizational behavior and that was really interesting to me because it was the same thing I did when I was a bartender. You're managing people and groups of people and all of their different needs. And then I found strategies. So, and I found it because it was one person I was working with as part of my fellowship for my doctorate who loved Michael Porter's book. And he said, read this, it'll change everything. And it did.
So then I did a dual pathway of both behavioral science and strategy. So the strategy thing found me, but the decision to go into academia was about working with people who had hope in their eyes and believed the world would be a better place as opposed to only working with executives who were pretty whiny. And having my freedom and always having it change. Every a hundred days my life changes cuz the semester's over. And even if you teach the same course, the personalities are different. You know, the world is different. So I feel very blessed. It's been a great ride.
Stephen Matini: A friend of mine told me that years ago she said, I think you would like teaching. You know, teaching is for losers. That's what <laugh>, that's what I said, you know? And then she said, no, no, no, no, I think you're gonna like this. And so she said gimme your resume. And she gave it to someone who administered the department, business department in a university here in Florence. And then after, I don't know, eight months, they called me and I taught the first class. And I remember the first second the students came, I fell in love with the whole thing. And I did not expect, you know, to feel the way. But there's something really genuine, open, you know, very vivacious about students that you do not find, you know, working with with all the people, you know.
Helen Rothberg: I agree a hundred percent. There's something magical that happens when people ask me, what do I do for my living? You know, what's my profession? I tell people, I help young people find what's magnificent in themselves.
Because if they could find what's magnificent in themselves, they'll know they could do anything.
And there's that moment, and I'm sure you've experienced this, you can have 30 60 students, it doesn't matter. But there's a moment where some of them get this like in their eye, something clicks into place, everything changes in their outlook. And to me, this is the most addictive drug watching somebody wake up. You're right. And it keeps us vibrant and young. It makes sure we don't get stale. We always have to be contemporary. And I mean I learn as much from my students as they learn from me. I think.
Stephen Matini: Have you always known what is magnificent in you?
Helen Rothberg: No, I did not always know that. That's such a good question. You know, now there's a language for it. They call it imposter syndrome. But I always was very competent, go-getter happy go-lucky on the outside. And on the inside I always had self-doubt. I doubted my intelligence, I doubted my worthiness, you know, and that comes from a lot of our histories. I'm sure you know, I'm not the first person to talk about something like this.
And even as I became more and more successful, you know, I was once accused by a student in my graduate program of you know, you get what you get because you're charming. It really smacked me between the eyes and you know, yeah, I was a bartender for 10 years and I know how to work with people, but I also, I don't think I got what I got cuz I was charming.
But it always was like that little voice you wanna smack but comes back. And to be honest with you, it wasn't until could tell you the exact moment. 2005 after my co-author and I, Scott Erickson published our first book called “Knowledge to Intelligence” and Harvard reviewed it and I got an email from somebody that Harvard, they have an online like subscription service also that, oh my God, Harvard just reviewed your book and I stared at that link for 20 minutes.
I was so afraid to open it because even though I was a tenured professor and you know, I was going up for full professor, here it is, I'm gonna be exposed now. Right? And I opened the link and I cried because they liked the book. They thought the book was smart. I called my co-author who goes to bed early, oh my. And I'm crying hysterically thought like my cat died or something.
I'm like, they like the book. And it was the first moment I really understood that, yeah, I do know things and it's not just because I could be charming and it really helped me grow in every way professionally, spiritually, personally.
I was confident in kind of a bullheaded way, but now I could have a soft confidence that I didn't have before. And it shifted how I taught a little bit. It shifted how I consulted. It made me feel more willing to try things I never did before. So I am the fearful strategy person in my school. You know, the kids who take me know they're gonna work really hard and that I'm tough. But I started reading a poem every Monday just because strategy, just like everything in life is art and science. You gotta open up your whole brain, your whole self. And I started taking completely different kind of risks that have paid off because that day I knew that maybe I knew something
Stephen Matini: Last time when we talked and I'm getting the same feeling this time. You gimme the feeling of someone who is at the beginning considering all the stuff that you have done. You will have all the rights to be a little bit pretentious considering your background, all the stuff that you accomplished. Instead, when you speak everything sounds like you're at the beginning. It sounds fresh, it sounds curious.
Helen Rothberg: I feel like you're looking into my solar right now. It's, I wish you were in America. Or maybe I'll have to come to Italy and we'll spend an entire weekend at the same cafe table talking.
I'm just at the beginning of everything, right? There's so much to learn and understand about myself, about people, about nature, about how we can help people grow and find and come from what's best in themselves instead of always focusing on what's worst about themselves, right? That's the poison of social media, this compare and despair. I want people to always come from what they're best at.
I feel like I'm still learning that even about every new thing I do, every new book I pick up, every new person I meet, there's something else there. So, you know, I don't know if we're reincarnated or not, I'd like to believe that your spirit comes back, but we don't remember anything.
So if we're not gonna remember anything and there's this big world to be part of and to see and to learn from, I wanna experience all of it. So I'm in my sixth decade, but to me, I'm like a child of the universe. So you're right.
And I'm not naive at all. I think it's because I've been through hard knocks that I understand the beauty and wonder of what this life brings us. You know, people always say to me, well do you see the glass is half empty or half full? And I always say, wrong question, where's the new glass? That's how I wanna look at it.
So yeah, I feel the world, it's filled with wonder and sometimes it's hard to hold that. I mean, right now the world is really crazy. It's, you know, my country is nuts. Europe is a little nutty right now. You know, I, I've been through my some pretty hard knocks and I'm still here and I can breathe and I can tell if it's raining or sunny. Well I now have one good leg, I'll have two good legs soon cuz I have a foot injury. But I could stand on my own feet and make things happen. Everything else is manageable. So I think you're the same way though. I think you see the world as a big ball of wonder. So ...
Stephen Matini: A lot of things you're saying resonate with me, including the imposter syndrome. To give an example, when I graduated in Italy, back at the time, we had to write this long thesis, you know, so it took a couple of years to write the thesis and then here comes the day that you have to present the thesis in front of a committee. I presented it.
Then they ask you to leave the room and they ring a bell. You come in and I remember everyone rose. I said, what's happening? And they gave me the the maximum grade. And at the moment, the first thought that I had in my head, I swear to God was, there must have been a mistake! <laugh>. I fooled them, you know, there must have been a mistake. I must have been charming. I must have said things a certain way, whatever, whatever. It was never because I may have done something right, you know, somehow.
So for the longest time I was always very doubtful of myself. And the blessing of age, you know, I am in my fifth decade is the fact that now I think things have unfolded the way they were supposed to. It is supposed to be a messy path. You know, you're not supposed to know everything all at once. It's about really trial and error and hopefully learning something from it. So I think now I'm just, I'm trying to enjoy the ride.
Helen Rothberg: I think that's beautiful language. I always say actually the world unfolds as it should. You might not choose what happens to you, but you choose how to respond. And you could choose to respond with wonder and joy and a little bit of oh. Or you could choose to feel beaten by it. And I'm glad you and I both have outgrown this self-doubt of, you know, why me? How could I be good? That whole imposter piece doesn't serve us well.
If we're the role models for those that we guide, you know, we have to show them what's possible. And what's possible is believing in yourself. You know, none of us are perfect. And in a way that's what's perfect. There's this brilliant song master, he's since passed Leonard Cohen from Canada, I'll paraphrase from his song Anthem. He says, nothing is perfect, everything is cracked, but that's what lets the light in.
And I know for myself, I have grown the most from the things I tried that didn't work than the things that did. Because look what happened. You know, something didn't work. I failed at something. I didn't die. I didn't lose my kidney, you know, I felt bad. I cried a little, I took my , brushed myself off, got up and did other, you know, stupid things, but never that one again, right? So we learn and we grow and, and how lucky are we that we live in a time and a place and a nation that gives us those opportunities to succeed and fail and move on. Really very fortunate. I think.
Stephen Matini: If someone said to you, I don't think I have a choice, you know that also we know it's part of how people view the world. You know, some people simply do not believe if they have control over what happens, how would you respond to them?
Helen Rothberg: I would take them in my arms and I would hug them very tightly. Just guarantee them that you have a choice. I didn't grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth. I grew up in a very, in America we have ways of grading, if you will, people's neighborhoods. So I was in a very lower, lower, lower working class neighborhood at a very dangerous time when there were race riots in New York. So we're talking about in the sixties and the seventies.
I grew up to parents who never went to college, who never graduated high school, who really did, I'll call it menial, some menial work. We had no money, we didn't go hungry. You know, we had clothing, I had hand me downs for my cousins. It was clothing, you know, we didn't wear hungry. We had medical care, but not a lot else. My dad made a very deliberate decision.
He grew up in the mountains of New York. People think of New York as only a city, but we have gorgeous mountains. Not like your Dolomites, but pretty. And he decided no matter what, his kids were gonna grow up in the city because there were more opportunities. You know, there were a lot of choices along the way from me. A lot of my friends chose to become drug addicts. You know, some of my friends went to jail, some of my friends died of an overdose.
Some of my friends were like me and decided that we were gonna just put our heads into education because the only way to get out of that neighborhood was going to be to get to better schools. You know, luckily growing up in New York, New York City has some schools where if you show potential you can test into them so you get a better education.
And then in my day, you could go to university for free if you were poor and smart. And it was always a choice. So when my friends were choosing to go out and party on the weekends, you know, I would study and get a job. Even as I got older in college, when people were going out and partying, I would save all my money so I could backpack through Europe in the summer because I felt I'd learned more living in different cultures.
I know I scrubbed toilets and made beds all over Europe, you know, with let's go Europe and my backpack and I slept in people's vineyards and I slept in, you wouldn't believe some of my experiences. But the bottom line of it was, it was all a choice. You know, it's whether or not you want something bad enough that you can taste it.
And I wanted freedom. And to me, freedom wasn't wealth. Freedom was choosing how to use my time and what I was gonna do. So it is a choice. You could be very rich, you could be very poor, you can have good parents, you can have bad parents. I was lucky, my parents weren’t crazy. They weren't educated, they were nutty, but they loved us. And that was winning the lottery right there. I had two loving parents. I think it's always a choice.
You know, I think I said to you the first time, you know, you could look at things as shit or fertilizer and to me it's always fertilizer, even bad things that happened to me and some really bad things happened along the way. It's part of life. It was like, what can I take from this? And whether it gave me my warrior spirits or whether it gave me compassion, I'll share a tough story.
So going through this graduate program, on one of the qualifying exams, one of the professors failed me and everybody has to agree to pass you. You know, it was the same thing, you walk out, you come back and the professor who failed me was the professor whose class I was in. So I had this choice, right? I had to show up to class, everybody knowing he failed me.
I had to live that humiliation. But I also knew part of it was my own stupidity because I decided to take a qualifying exam before I finished this man's class. So, you know, that was not smart. That was kind of naive and young. But I also had to make sure everybody wasn't gonna hate him because in the end I still had to pass this class. And if you fail anything twice, you're out of the program.
You could never get your PhD from that school. And I looked at that as, you know what in this is mine. Why did this man really fail me? I did I earn it? Yeah, I deserved it. Could I have avoided it? Yeah, I could have been smarter. I also could have been advised better. I could have approached it differently.
But I came back and over the years I wound up winning the award for the best dissertation in my whole university. And it was named for the man who failed me. And he gave me the award and he put it at me at my PhD. So you could take that battering and lie down and cry, or you could say F you man, I'm gonna show you what I'm made of. I'm gonna show you I'm better than you even understand. Was that a choice? Total choice.
A total choice. And maybe somewhere this older man who I hated understood that's what I needed to smack me into, Hey, think about what you're doing. It was a choice. And everybody wanted to hate this guy. And he gave me the lowest grade I ever got in graduate school out of my four graduate degrees. The lowest grade was from this man whose award I want. At the end, we all make choices. And you know, sometimes those tough things are put in front of you to help you grow. Nietzsche says that which does not kill you makes you stronger, right?
Stephen Matini: It seems to me that you're talking about we have a choice and the notion of freedom and they go hand in hand. And then as you were talking, it seems that everything is about really being accountable to yourself.
Helen Rothberg: And being honest. And that's hard. It's hard to look yourself in the mirror and say, this bad thing just happened to me. And it's very easy to blame somebody else and it's really hard to say what in this is mine. But not always. When a bad thing happens to you is a piece of it yours. Like sometimes you just have bad luck, right? Or you're in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But sometimes there's an element in there that's yours. And if you could own that and live through the pain of that, you learn from it and you don't do that again. And you can grow from that. So I think once we accept the fact that we're not perfect and that's what's perfect, right? All the cracks are to help us become better if we choose. It's never easy to swallow bad things, but it can help you really grow in a different way.
And I think we have so much power Stephen, in that we don't even realize we're such powerful creatures. You know, throughout evolution, you know, here we are, we're the ones who can walk and breathe and see and sing and dance and love and hate. And that if we could just have more gratitude for the power that we have and use it in more positive ways, I think it's amazing what we can accomplish. I think a lot of the bad stuff we see around us as people acting out about thinking they don't have control, violence is an act because you don't think you have control when you really do. And I think sometimes people are more afraid of embracing their power than they are of not being powerful.
Stephen Matini: Is it difficult or easier than you thought to discover what makes you magnificent?
Helen Rothberg: For the first three decades or me, it was difficult cuz it was trial after trial after trial. But at some point I think I surrendered, I surrendered to it. And that's when I really think I started understanding how much of it was really me, almost subconsciously sometimes creating things so that I could either test myself or I didn't think I was doing the same stupid thing, but I was, I used to call it same ice cream, new flavor.
You know, at some point you decide I'm gonna just eat gelato, I'm not gonna eat ice cream anymore. You know, I'm gonna, I'm gonna have Italian ices, I'm not eating the ice cream anymore. Because if you keep walking down the same road that has potholes, you're gonna fall in them. So sometimes you choose a new road and I think it took me a while, I had success after success, but you know, that nagging feeling of one day they'll find out about us.
I think I just had to choose to do things differently and to embrace what was in my control, to be able to live life a little differently and begin to find that magnificence and to really own what was my magnificence. And I think what I discovered it was the ability to talk to people and help them understand, to help people learn. And as an educator, you know this, you have to understand something so well that you could make it simple. You can't say say things simply or teach it, you know, in a component way until you really understand. Once I got to that point of, oh, I get this, I get what I'm doing and why I'm doing it, I get what I need to take from this, I get that what I do best is not giving people 48 references for the same thing. It's about making it so simple that they can hold it in their hands and then I could pile on the references as we go and show them how that works. That everything just started turning around. Once I let go, once I surrendered, I found what it was in me and I found them how I could take what's in me and help others find what's in themselves.
Stephen Matini: Has this changed the way that you see strategy?
Helen Rothberg: Yeah, it has. I used to see strategy as a way of, and I still see it this way a bit, but you know, helping an organization or a person create something better for the future. But now I also see it as a way of managing complexity and uncertainty. We invent this thing called reality. We take all of this uncertainty and give it labels and pictures and schedule things because we're trying to create some certainty.
We're trying to create an illusion of control in our lives.
But what strategy taught me to do is take very complex situations and identify those areas of complexity and handle them one at a time and see what they're really about. And then once I understand all those different components, weave them together like a fabric to try to understand what's possible. So it really taught me how to critically think in a different way. And when I try to teach students and when I do this in, in organizations, that's really what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to help people take this complex thing, break it apart in manageable bites, but understand the essence of what's in each bite so that you could put that together and try to create some kind of certainty so you can plan and you know, use your resources in as best way as you can.
Stephen Matini: I do not know if I do what you are saying, I just want to see if I do. Meaning, based on everything you said, there are two words that stood out, which is surrendering, and then the other one is simplifying. And for me, surrendering for instance, the way that I manage my business is understanding that although business oftentimes is seen as a bunch of frameworks, everything very rational.
Somehow the best insights is when I take a walk in the park, you know, I really, when I let it go, like I don't seek a solution. I'm not there on a table thinking super hard, collecting data. I mean I need that obviously, but then I let it go. I just simply completely let it go. And in the moment I get this amazing insight and it really feels like some sort of surrendering, you know, type of thing.
And the other one simplifying is that for the longest time I thought that I could control my business somehow. And now instead I've noticed that it is shit path of trial and error. And oftentimes the right answer is the simplest. It's not necessarily the most complicated, but it is the one that is the simplest, am I going the right direction with my thinking?
Helen Rothberg: 100%. And you said something really important about, you know, you live in these frameworks and then you go to take a walk in the park and you get an insight that's about getting out of your own way. The frameworks are trying to force something. You need that to help you organize the data. But the insight is gonna come when you take what you need from the frameworks, put it aside and then say, okay, what matters most? And that can only come to you when you clear your minds and you let go. And yeah, that's where that all comes from. So I agree, you totally have the essence of what I'm talking about.
I also ask students often and my clients like, what is your deep motivation in life? What really drives you? For me it's joy. I saw enough ugliness and I went through enough turmoil in my life to understand really the value of joy. And if I can't find some joy in what I'm doing, I don't wanna do it anymore. And can you beat joyous all the time? Of course not. But can you seek it and make it your end game for most things, absolutely. And for some people it's peace and for some people it's harmony.
I just wanna be joyous. I just wanna get out there like you and take that walk in the park and notice, you know, the birds that are singing and that the sun is shining and take a deep breath and say, wow, how lucky am I? And you know, it's spring here in New York, upstate New York, you probably, you know, you might be a little ahead of us weather-wise, but right now we have these lilly of the valley that are blooming everywhere and they're these very small little white flowers.
They look like bells it, if there is a heaven, it smells like li of the valley and you just have to open your window and you take a breath and all of a sudden this beautiful fragrance comes into your home. What's better than that? So here I am, the last two weeks grading 86, not masterpieces, okay to finish my semester and I could have been wallowing in, oh my God, I'm wasting what's left of my brain on this.
Or wow the lily of the valley are coming into the room and it smells great. I'm gonna stick with that one as much as I can because you're not gonna get the time back that you sit there suffering, you know? So I graded a bunch of papers and it helps me understand that I have one more year of doing this and then I'm moving on to the next chapter of my life where I'm gonna put my energy in a different place.
Everything has, its, its space and time. And if we could keep our perspective and understand what wants to motivate us. Here's my true secret Stephen. I'm really a 12 year old in an older woman's body. I wanna learn and read and play with my friends and climb mountains and skin my knees and you know, go swimming and get on my bicycle. I just wanna enjoy that simpler time when you just feel joyous.
I'm a grownup. I mean I own a house and I've gotta keep it going. And I have a business like as do you, I'm also an entrepreneur and but you know what, if I can't do it with joy, I'm gonna do something else. And I think that's what we all have to discover is you know what matters most to us. And for some people it's security and some people are in love with money.
It's interesting, these people in love with money, cuz I work with a bunch of 'em. Here's what I discovered about them and some of them are really rich. I mean, I'll just tell you, there's one person I know, his wife doesn't like to drive backwards, so she pulls into the garage and in the garage there's a turntable to turn the car around for her so she won't have to back out. This is crazy wealth. Right?
And are these the happiest people I know? No, I think these people who are in love with money are trying to fill a hole in themselves that you can't fill with the money. So the more things they buy, the bigger the hole gets. So they buy more things and they're happy for six seconds and the hole gets bigger because there's something deeper that's hungry, right? That's not being fulfilled.
Having money is nice, it's nice to not worry about money, it's, you know, but after a certain point, do you really need more? Who needs five televisions and four homes and you know, you gotta mow the grass everywhere. It's like work. You know, just the pursuit of that to me makes me feel sad for some of these people that they're not feeling that thing in themselves, whatever it is that could help them feel fulfilled. Right.
Stephen Matini: Pretend that you and I now are in a room with, I don't know, 15 different managers, right? Or different ages. Some of them nod as you're talking because they've been there, they relate to you a hundred percent. But then some of the younger managers may be, you know, 30 years old, look at you like whatever.
Helen Rothberg: They roll their eyes.
Stephen Matini: Yes. <laugh>. <Laugh>. How could you verbalize this to them in a way? No, no, no, no, no. What I'm telling you it is the truth. You're going to find out one day. What would you tell them?
Helen Rothberg: You know what I like to do with the younger crowd is I like to ask them, I always start with what do they think they're best at and they're achieving well And then what's giving them struggle? I kind of read the room a little when I do it, but as they talk about what they struggle with, I then ask them, what is the ultimate thing you're looking to get at the bottom of that struggle? What are you trying to get out of what you're struggling with? What are you you hoping for?
And I try to help through a very circuitous maze, but focusing totally on them and their needs, help them identify that thing that matters most to them. And then they're like, oh I get it. You know? And I think sometimes the things that motivate you change over time, right? So when I was much younger, you know, coming from a a less advantage to background financially I wanted security and I was motivated by security and I would sometimes, you know, the way I invested my money, even for my retirement was very secure.
I knew this is all I'm gonna have. I don't take big risks, you know, I think we understand what motivates us as we go if we're asked the right questions. So I help them understand what's driving them in that moment and what their ultimate is.
Ask them, if you had a crystal ball, what exactly would you be doing? How would you invest your time? What would you be doing if you could do anything? And what does that make you feel like? And I help them back their way into, oh, so there is this thing that matters a lot to me that I should always have in my mind that I'm trying to achieve for myself. Because I think sometimes the younger generation gets lost and we're supposed to, right when we were younger, come on, you and I, I rebelled against everything and everyone on the planet, you know, from my parents to the Vietnam War, to whoever, you know, it was just part of how you're supposed to mature.
And at some point, even in all of that rebellion, you've gotta understand a little bit of what you are moving toward. And I think social media has made that very hard for younger people to understand because they think what they see is real and it's not a lot of what you see even on reality. TV is scripted, it's not real.
You know, I always tell my students, this might be a very American reference, but there's this family called the Kardashians. I don't know if you have this garbage in Europe too. These people aren't real. They're put together with money, you know, they're not real and their lives aren't real and, and you shouldn't aspire to that cuz it's not real. So at some point I think it's our job as let's say the Yodas, cuz you are one, two my friend, cuz you have this wonderful podcast.
We have to help people understand what's real and it's different for each person. But I think social media has blurred that boundary. We had the luxury of not being polluted in that way. There was no 24 hour news cycle and there was no social media. Boy we're we lucky. And I think that 30 year old manager who's rolling their eyes, I think some of them look at us and say, you're so outdated, you don't understand. And some of them are rolling their eyes because they're insecure, because they know they don't understand. So we help them find their way. That's our job.
Stephen Matini: And sometimes I wish to make them understand that you know what, it was yesterday that I was 40, it was yesterday that I was 30. I mean that time goes by so fast. And I know it's such a cliche to say that ,you know, I'm still the same person, I'm still the same person who actually thinks like you, but I have this extra benefit of experience on time. They gave me the perspective. Last time you said something that it got stuck in my head and you said that for you, leadership and management are different.
Helen Rothberg: So management is about getting things done and planning, organizing, controlling, getting things done, and getting things done through people. Leadership is about providing a vision. So people want to get those things done with you. It's really very different. I always say a manager could get things done in the dark, but a leader turns on the light. And what leadership does, in addition to providing vision, is it provides people an emotional connection to what they're trying to do. Even if you're a person on an assembly line, all you're doing is tightening the rivet on a tire in a car that gets built over and over and over again.
If you have a leader who helps you understand the role that tire plays in the future of that car and the role that car will play in somebody's life and how important it is for it to be safe and make sure that you understand the entire line and what the product looks like at the end and who buys it and takes the time to help you understand how you contribute to a greater good.
To me, that's leadership, as opposed to get it done my way, now <laugh>. That's management and that's poor management sometimes, right? Because sometimes the people doing the work understand a lot more about the work than the person above them cuz they don't do the work, they just tell them to do the work.
And leadership, you know, it's interesting, we have all these training programs to train leaders. I'm not sure that's what we do. I think we train people to be better managers. You know, I think we train people how to work with people better and how to manage time better and how to manage difficult conversations better. But I think leadership is a very different thing.
I think it's about being able to touch people's hearts and desire to be part of something bigger than themselves. I'm not saying leaders are born and they are good and bad, but I think that as we can unlock what's inside people themselves, right in that driver for themselves and what they think is possible, what we were talking about before, I think that helps the leadership in them come out.
Because if you don't know where you are going and what you want, it's very hard to bring anybody else along with you, right? So you need to have some of that self-knowledge and self-belief and then we could give you the tools about maybe how to deliver that better and work with that better.
I'm a big believer in leadership. You have to lead yourself before you could lead anybody else. So you have to be really awaken and open to who you are and what you wanna achieve and why and how before you can even simplify that so that you can bring people along with you.
Stephen Matini: Everything that you have said, you know today really is about leadership from accountability, the joy discovering what's magnificent in you. It's interesting when I do leadership development path, the most terrifying thing that people go through, you know they look at me, is now the first step to become a good leader is to spend some time with yourself. So you cannot just simply jump from activity to another and busy, busy, busy, busy, but you need to declutter and to start spending some time with you because that relationship, as you said, is going to become the one that hopefully other people are going to mirror. And that's a really a scary thought for a lot of people.
Helen Rothberg: It is because they don't know who they are and they don't know what they're capable of and they're afraid of disappointing themselves. You know, my next chapter are creating, I call them gateways to human potential. Helping people find the “IT” in themselves, whether they call it spiritual, career path, personal path, I don't care, it doesn't matter.
Because once you help people get out of their own way and face their fear, fear creates control. And control is what holds you back. Once you can show them that you can put your foot in the water and it might be really cold, but you're not gonna drown, maybe they'll go swimming the next time, then they're gonna find that magnificence and go forward. So it's really a tough thing because sometimes for people to see who they really are and what their potential really is, they have to let go of all of these old scripts they had about themselves.
And even if the old scripts are wrong, it created certainty. It created what they knew and they knew how to behave when they're that person. And maybe it was successful to hear, but if they're gonna really climb that mountain and get to see the beautiful view on the top, they gotta start shedding those scripts and that could be very painful. It's scary.
So ... as you guide them, which I'm sure you are a very empathetic and skillful guide, it's letting them feel their pain and letting them know that there'll be a sunny day on the other side of it. And what more opens to them when they let go of that script about themselves. And that's really, really hard to do. But boy is it the good work.
Stephen Matini: It's really interesting that you're saying multiple times getting out of the way. Because I said the same thing this morning to a group, I did a training this morning, we were talking about how you connect with people, you know, how you connect with people when you present, when you train and when you're a manager. What I was trying to say is, and actually I gave this example of a good actor, I asked, you know, what would you consider to be a good actor? They said, well Tom Hanks, they said, yes, that's a phenomenal actor with the tremendous technical skills, but a good actor knows to get out of the way so that the character, the story shines through it. You know, the same thing. Although you're very central, although you have the authority, you have the position, but at some point you really, it's about people connecting with the story and with the vision, you know? And that to me, really that's what a leader does essentially.
Helen Rothberg: Yeah. So you just opened up another door because that's also about allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Because when you start to get out of the way and you start to strip off those scripts and you start to reveal yourself to others, maybe even share their stories and share their failures and tell them about your own, you become more believable to them and more real to them.
But it's risky cuz now you're vulnerable, you've shown your soft side and it takes a lot of trust, not just in those people, but really in the process to be able to do that. And I think the reason you're able to do this with people, you do have a vulnerable side to yourself and I think you're willing to share you and your experiences and that's what people learn the most from. They wanna hear what happened to you and how did you manage that?
How did you make it happen? That's why I shared my story even just before about, you know, failing that first qualifying, you have to be willing to reveal all the parts of what it takes to make leadership of yourself happen.
I've been talking a lot with a very, very successful, more senior than me person who's trying to, you know, write a book and train people. And although his organization was magnificent, he's having a hard time. People aren't connecting to him. And I keep telling him, you're not sharing your stories.
You have to share more about you and how you made this work. And he just refuses and it doesn't work. And it's very different than this other brilliant leader I know his name is Doug Connan. He was the CEO of Campbell Soup for many, many years. This is a man who I admire so much.
He would write personal notes to people, you know, thanking them. And even if he had to lay people off, he would bring them together and help them understand why. And that it wasn't them, it was the business. And he'd explain things and he would explain some of the things that happened to him in his life that were not pleasant, but how it helped him move to other places. He would always make sure the people he laid off had services to find their next job and they had support and he was vulnerable and powerful at the same time. This other leader who's more Machiavelli, if you will, is afraid to let go of any of that outward mask of power. And that's why nobody connects to him. So you have to have that soft and strong balance to help people feel that you're credible in helping guide them in how they could get outta their own way. Right.
Stephen Matini: We talked about a lot of different things. They all interconnected. Is there something that you believe it would be important for our listeners to take away from this? There's a lot to take away, but if you have to point out one thing that you deem to be really crucial, what would that be?
Helen Rothberg: I'm gonna paraphrase Oscar Wild. Might as well be who you really are because everybody else is already taken. Don't be afraid of who you are and what you believe you're good at and what you believe you can accomplish. It's not conceit, it's confidence.
And confidence is very different except what you're good at. And always work from your strength. You know the things you're really not good at. If someone else can do, hire them. Let it go. Don't keep training yourself. That's what I do.
I think the best leaders know what they're good at and hire the people who are really good at what they're not good at. And then they create a smart team. Right? I would say embrace who you really are. Don't be afraid to take risks with who you really are. Enjoy the ride.
Stephen Matini: I'm happy that I met you at the beginning of your ride. Thank you Helen.
Helen Rothberg: Thank you. And likewise, likewise.
Stephen Matini: Thank you. This is fantastic. I'm really, really happy to have had the the time to hear you.
Helen Rothberg: And thank you for being so insightful. What I talk about is only as good as the questions you ask and the way you drive the boat.
Monday Sep 18, 2023
Monday Sep 18, 2023
In today's episode, we'll be shining a light on ableism, a form of discrimination faced by people with disabilities, whether physical, mental, or cognitive.
Our special guest is Caroline Vernon, a business coach and diversity, equity, and inclusion champion. Caroline opens up about her connection to ableism, sparked by her sister with Down syndrome.
Caroline highlights the importance of creating inclusive environments where individuals with disabilities are empowered to thrive.
Listen to this episode of Pity Party Over to learn how, by advocating for accessibility and fostering empathy, we can build a more equitable and compassionate world.
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Stephen Matini: So professionally, how did you get interested in what you do today? Have you always been in this line of work, or is this something that has evolved?
Caroline Vernon: You know, I've been in the world of work in regards to employee engagement and coaching, and so it was just kind of what I'm doing now as practice leader of a coaching organization. It just made sense. It, it was a natural progression, natural transition to focusing on something else.
You know, within the world of work, I've always had an interest in coaching and I've always believed in the power of coaching. So it was a natural transition to go from employee engagement and selection and talent acquisition and career development into career transition and more into leadership development as well.
Stephen Matini: And I wanna ask you, as someone who does also coaching in the whole field, let's call it learning and development. I've done training, I've done different aspects, but then I've noticed that the only thing that still gives me a tremendous amount of satisfaction is coaching. What are you find in coaching that maybe you haven't found in other aspect of our field?
Caroline Vernon: Just that authentic relationship, those authentic conversations. They can be raw and I really like to help people and empower people to find their authentic voice because, you know, a lot of people never go there <laugh>. They don't explore that side of themselves. They don't take control of their own destiny as far as their careers are concerned.
So being in career coaching specifically really has been a really powerful experience in my career. To see people that have never even spent time developing themselves or even thinking about their path or their career journeys to where they end up after coaching and how they see their careers differently and how they plan to empower or advocate for themselves in the workplace. I just, it's a really powerful experience to me.
Stephen Matini: The one thing that I love the most about coaching, it is probably the same reason you pointed out it, just the genuine conversation. And I love the fact that in that relationship we can be ourselves. That can be very transparent and open, and I really love the fact that I can provide that space for people which often they cannot find in other parts of the job. You become a brilliant advocate of people and their singularities and anything that they stand for. And how did you get interested in, in ableism, which is basically, you know, the first topic that you and I talked and when we met,
Caroline Vernon: I have a sister with Down syndrome and I have always been her interpreter throughout her life. So when I heard about the concept of ableism, and it just was something I was naturally drawn to, and I really sunk time into learning what ableism actually is, how it shows up in our daily lives, how it shows up in the workplace. So that's my experience with learning about ableism.
I read an article one time, that's really where it started, is this article, I know there was no malice of forethought and it was supposed to be a beautiful, joyful experience. In the article, the gentleman that wrote the article expressed this joyful experience or shared this joyful experience about his brother, but he shared the words, my brother is a low functioning downsy. A lot of people call people with down syndrome, Downsy. They say this down syndrome person or not person with down syndrome.
That's where the first vision of ableism came to life for me. It's like the slow functioning downsy. There was a picture of him holding a baby and the quote was something like, nobody has ever let this boy hold our family's babies. This gentleman goes on to say, I did and it was a joyful experience and he's a low functioning downsy, and it really stuck with me for a long period of time.
And so I wrote a long article and posted it on LinkedIn about ableism and how just those words, how they impact people with Downs syndrome, how those, how labeling them as a low functioning downsy continues to perpetuate the stigma and continues to marginalize this group of individuals. And that's really where I vowed to never use language like that about my sister and to educate people around me to never use language like that. And the reasons why, you know, how hurtful that is to that community,
Stephen Matini: You know, in the fight, you know, for diversity and becoming aware that we all come in different ships and size, oftentimes language become this displaced that some people perceive to be some sort of a battlefield. You know? And now I cannot say this term, I cannot say that term. I get censored if I, if I use it. So, and I, and, and I agree that it's really important to be sensitive to the words that we use. In your experience, ableism can be combated purely based on being aware of language or what else has worked in your experience?
Caroline Vernon: Being aware of how the language actually impacts the people that it's referring to or that's it's speaking about, but also how it impacts people around you. I've heard the word, this is a terrible word and I, I only use it in this, the R word.
So I'll, I'll use it once and then I'll refer to it as the R word. Yes, retard. I've heard that used still today in the workplace as far as we've come, we haven't come as far as we need to. And I don't care actually who uses it. I will always speak up and say, that word offends me. That is a hurtful word that we used in, in our modern language for many years to actually describe somebody, you know, with down syndrome or rather neurodiverse with other neurodiverse conditions. And it's a hurtful word. And it, like I said before, it further marginalizes this certain group of community or or certain group of people, you need to get away from further marginalizing this group.
Stephen Matini: You know, I wanna ask you ableism and this is something that I'm asking you out of sheer ignorance. Is ableism connected also to ageism or other type of issues or, or specifically is connected to neurodiversity?
Caroline Vernon: It's specifically connected to neurodiversity, typically. Ageism is its own beast, just like racism is its own. And ableism refers to those that have diverse abilities. So not necessarily ageism or racism.
Stephen Matini: You know why I'm asking you this? Because recently I got trained by this phenomenal woman who focuses on ageism. We are supposed to deliver a training in fall about this one. There's a client, there's a company that essentially has a difficult time attracting younger people and keeping them, you know, she's gonna be one who provides some basics about ageism, how that works. And so she explained to me all the, you know, psychological, sociological ramification on that. And then eventually we have to come up basically with a plan, you know, with the participants to start slowly changing the culture so that can be more inclusive. And a lot of the things that she covered somehow reminded me of the same challenges that I've seen you know, for racial discrimination or even things that, that you share with me.
Caroline Vernon: I don't think it matters if it's racism, ageism, or ableism. It's any of those situations are like a dark cloud. You know, they cast a shadow that can never be escaped from unless we educate one another and we advocate for those that this language or this discrimination is targeting its impact, whether it's ableism or ageism or racism or sexism. Its impact is relentless and it's deeply emotional. So it's one of those situations that even though it has its own word, the impact is the same.
Stephen Matini: To make things even worse, <laugh> and more complicated is the fact that this conversation has taken epic proportion. You know, particularly in some countries like the US has become very polarized around the notion of what is freedom of speech? The fact that a certain words, it should not be used that way or should not be used at all. As some people feel that just censorship. What are your thoughts about, you know, what about really freedom of speech, this ridiculous conversation that is happening?
Caroline Vernon: There is a fine line between freedom of speech and using ableist or racist or, you know, sexist language. It's about respect. It's about fighting for dignity, and it's about not further stigmatizing that community. It has turned in very political. I'm not not sure why it's been associated with woke culture. It's not a political issue. It's about respecting one another. Each of us have a diverse ability. It's about empowering each other and lifting each other rather than using language that tears each other down. The awareness of it is the most important aspect of it. It has nothing to do with, you know, whether you're on the left or the right. It has everything to do with being a decent, respectful human being.
Stephen Matini: You know, this polarity happens all the time. You read it on the news in the us it's almost like witnessing the existence of to different countries. So in your job, in your work as a person who leverages neurodiversity, combating ableism, when you were faced with the hostility of, let's say, with some people that somehow could not quite grasp it, what has been like a successful strategy in order to reconcile these two opposite positions?
Caroline Vernon: More inclusive education is the best way to kind of reconcile that. Educating those that are just not aware of even what ableism is. You know, it's not a word that's thrown around a lot, even when I go looking for it, you know, I don't see that word used a lot yet. Any opportunities I have to educate people that don't understand the impact of ableist language. You know, I think that's been the most successful way.
But also being respectful about that are unaware, I think is very important. It's not the immediate fire back. Don't say that. That's ridiculous. You shouldn't use that language. It's also being respectful in my approach to educating people that are unaware of what ableist language even is.
Stephen Matini: If someone is the target of the language, whichever type of neurodiversity the person can experience based on your experience, what would you say to those people? Maybe they could be listeners of this episode in the future. What would it be the best way they could do? How should they react to the attack?
Caroline Vernon: I'm thinking of my sister, for example. We've always taught her just to ignore, so ignore ableist language, ignore comments that don't necessarily align with her abilities and don't empower her to believe in herself. What I would suggest is exactly what I do, and that is respectful education. That is important for them to feel empowered, to be able to defend unquote themselves against language that is disrespectful.
Yeah, I think that's probably the best way to do that, is to continue to educate and to continue to advocate for themselves and for those that have diverse abilities like them, but in a respectful way. I don't think lashing out ever helps a situation. It's not who these individuals are. However, you know, respectful education, I think is the best way to combat further ableism in their relationships with people.
Stephen Matini: Have you ever organized maybe for a client or for a company, you were working for a program actually to create greater awareness around ableism? And I'm asking you this question just in case someone will listen to this episode and maybe they could be interested in, in structuring, you know, th this education you're talking about in their workplace. I don't know if you've ever done that before.
Caroline Vernon: I have. It's been years and years ago I worked for an organization that we used an assessment that focuses on the individual's strengths. And we provided that assessment to individuals that were a part of a leadership program within the Special Olympics. We started with this assessment and they learned what their strengths were. And from there it was such a natural progression from this specific group of people who have always been told that once you overcome this obstacle, you will get better at this.
And once you overcome this weakness, you will be able to do this. We never spoke those words. We said, here's what you're great at. Here's what you should really lean into as far as your strengths are concerned. And with that information we advocated and empowered these individuals to learn how to be leaders in their communities. And there was a graduation ceremony where they got to show off a, a talent or a skills.
It was beautiful, it was at least a 12 week cohort type of program. And at graduation, I've never seen so many smiles. And even throughout the whole program, like I said, we were focused on what they do well and what they do right, instead of the things that they can't exactly master or haven't been able to do. It was such a beautiful program, it made such a lasting impact on me. I think about it, I think about those individuals that were in the program program. My sister actually graduated from that program as well. Yeah, it's definitely one of the highlights of my career.
Stephen Matini: Has your sister ever told you what it means to experience ableism? I don't know if she ever experienced it.
Caroline Vernon: No. She's never told me what it feels like to experience ableism. She has been pretty sheltered. We've kept her pretty sheltered as a way to protect her. You know, my mom has kept her very sheltered <laugh>, she's almost 50. And for the first time in her life, she will live independently starting this summer. She will live in a community for people with neurodiversity. It's a beautiful, very protected communities.
So she's never specifically addressed that ableism. I actually shared what ableism meant with her. You know, I've never, never sat down and asked her, cuz I know I've seen it throughout the years. I've seen that she's experienced it. We just didn't have a name for it. We didn't have a label for it. We just called it people that were rude to her or people that disrespected her to make a very long answer. No, she's really never told me what it felt like to be disrespected in that way.
Stephen Matini: As you're talking, there are so many thoughts, so many feelings that come to mind, you know, because a, as you pointed out, ableism is something very, very specific. Discrimination. It really shows up in so many different ways. And so it could be, as we said based on your ethnicity. It could be around a sexual orientation, the fact that gender, whatever that is, you know, and every single aspect is very different. They had different fights to fight. And somehow, in some ways there are certain, I think commonalities.
Caroline Vernon: It's not your burden to bear, you know, how other people think and how their beliefs aren't your burden to bear. That's the exact same way I feel about people who are thoughtless when it comes to the language that they use or their actions against a specific group of individuals. It's not for me to wage some kind of war.
I'm a peaceful human being. <Laugh>, my approach has always been to never just shove it down anybody's throat. I don't think it helps. I think it further marginalizes people, groups of people, you know, diverse groups of people. I think that approach doesn't help. And you're absolutely right. It's what's in your backpack that you have to carry.
Stephen Matini: I think that you know, being okay with whichever life has given you, I think is such an important thing. And it's interesting because the other day, as I was talking to the woman that I mentioned before who focuses on ageism, she says something really interesting. She said when I started training, one of the first exercises I asked people is, how old do you think I am <laugh>? And she's in her fifties and she's like, you have no idea people's reaction. It's like, you know, you exploded a bomb and what people do you order to dodge the connection <laugh>. And at the end she said, you know, the, the first step towards fighting that is actually you being okay with the fact that you are aging. You know, and it's okay and all that comes with it, you know, but it becomes painful, hurtful instead of when you yourself, you're not okay with the whole notion of time going by. So she really made me think a lot because all these forms that we're talking about are so pervasive and they're so imbued in our cultures. You know, the language that we use and the stuff that we say, you are the culprit. You're not aware of that. And I agree with you. The first step is to be aware. So your sister is going to move out. Are you sad about it?
Caroline Vernon: In the back of my mind, I'm slightly worried in my heart, which I think is where it matters most, is I'm happy for her. She needs to have her own life. She has has been a very beautiful and loyal, steadfast companion to my mother, who is 92 her entire life. She has been her caregiver, she's been her confidant, she's been her just all around pal. But she needs her own life. And so, you know, she's approaching her 50th birthday coming up and it's very symbolic to me that it, she is approaching this milestone birthday and moving out independently for the first time in her life. I think it's going to be something that she really enjoys. They are very attuned to the needs of this particular group of individuals. You know, I, I have to keep telling myself, it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be fine.
Will I miss her? Yes, she lives with me. Both my mom and my sister live with me and they've lived with me for the past six months. And it'll be strange for a little bit. There will be a little bit of emptiness in this house, but I have to keep reminding myself, you know, it's time for her to fly. I know that she will be really happy once she gets used to it. So we're gonna start slow. It's gonna be a couple of days a week versus, you know, just from here to there. So that slow process will be exciting to set up her new place and decorate and everything. So that part is really exciting and I'm excited for her mostly, but I'm a little sad for myself.
Stephen Matini: Yeah. Also a conversation that I've had countless of times in the past with people, and I hadn't mostly believe it or not, around, well sometimes when we talked about LGBTQ rights, you know, and sometimes women's rights and whatever they might be. People naturally they try to understand something by using their own experiences. And that's normal to do that. This is my life, these are my experiences, and I compare it to what I'm hearing just to get a sense of how I should orient myself. And that's fine. But what I say to people is, you know, that's okay. But then you have to stop because you will never live that life. You will never know how it feels to be someone who experiences neurodiversity or to be a woman. So realistically, all that you can do is just learn. You have to shut up <laugh>. You have to listen and try as best as you can to understand that. Because no matter how much you try, you will never know how it feels to be someone of a different hue. You know, I say shut up, but like, you know, just be humble and listen and grow and to appreciate that experience that will never be yours. I think it's the best way. Definitely for me.
Caroline Vernon: That is the best approach in my, my opinion as well. It's just, you know, you know, that's the old adage of walking a mile in someone else's shoes. You know, you don't know what those shoes feel like. I'll never know what Chrissy has experienced. I'll never know what people that are on the autism spectrum experience in the world, in the workplace. I do know that people, at least in the United States, neurodiverse individuals in the workplace have experienced layoffs more than neurotypical individuals. Especially as of late, you know, it's estimated that 30 to 40% of neurodiverse individuals are now unemployed, which is a significant increase over those that are neurotypical. I don't walk in their shoes. I don't know how it feels to be in a workplace that sometimes doesn't understand the differences that they have inside the workplace. I don't understand how it, they feel being impacted by so many layout. That's a big percentage of individuals that are experiencing, you know, joblessness right now. It's important to be respectful and to just be humble and learn.
Stephen Matini: Knowing anything, everything you know today, you know about neurodiversity. Do you think that the term neurodiversity in neurotypical are, are they still the right terms?
Caroline Vernon: As far as I'm concerned, I believe they're the right terms. I'm not the governing body on what terms are correct. I believe they are <laugh>, that's a good question. If I'm incorrect, I hope what somebody would respectfully correct me on that language, but as far as I'm concerned, I believe neurodiverse and neurotypical are still the correct terms to use. In all my readings and things, those are the, the words that are used.
Yeah. It's like the word disability. I prefer the word diverse ability. I prefer those words over disability. However, some of the diverse ability community say that disability is the word that they use, I wanna use whatever y they use, I want to address them in the way that they want to be addressed. You know, it just varies so much that I, I feel exactly the same way. Neurodiverse to me sounds better, but it is it to comfort myself. You know, it's saying that's not right, that's not, it's not about me, it's, it's about how they want to be referred to, you know? Because neurodiverse includes things like a DHD and dyslexic. So maybe if you are autistic, you want to be known as autistic, not neurodiverse, because that includes more different conditions in, in that word.
Stephen Matini: Another simple rule that I gave myself is that whatever makes the person happy, I'm going to use it. Once again, I know if it's at the right parallel, probably not, but like the whole conversation now about gender fluidity, you know, some people want to be called they and have plenty of people that say, oh my God, this is ridiculous, this. And then I said, listen, it's not that hard. If someone enjoys that, how difficult can it be for you to adopt that word? I mean, I don't see the point, you know, if someone gives someone else happiness, why does it matter that that's only matters really just to be happy and just use it. I mean, it just, you don't have to become a different person. Just simply be aware of what makes someone else happy and just go with the flow. I mean whatever, you know?
Caroline Vernon: Agreed. And that I think a lot of the time is fear of that, of just not understanding that point of view. And you're right, it is absolutely not hard. It is not difficult to be kind and to use language that people want to have used about them, or words that they want to be used to describe them or called, you know, if somebody wants to be called they, it's not hard to say they <laugh>, you know, it's really not difficult and you're exactly right. If it makes them happy and it makes them feel seen and heard, then it's not up to me to decide what other people wanna be called.
Stephen Matini: Caroline, we touched different points. One question that I'd like to ask, you know, at the end of our chat, is there anything specific that would be important for our listeners to take away from this conversation? Because we touched different things, but based on anything we said, I don't know, is anything that you would like to emphasize?
Caroline Vernon: I believe in the power of educating, educating yourself, educating others around you. I really believe in respectfully educating those that don't understand how powerful words are. I believe that that is important. Employment opportunities, I believe are so important or just any other opportunities for those that are in the neurodiverse community. There is a glaring lack of opportunity in the workplace right now. And if this can change the mind of one person that's recruiting or hiring right now for a job and they are considering, or they're really teetering on whether to hire somebody with the neurodiversity, I encourage that person, that one person, if even if it's just one, to give tho that person a chance to educate themselves in their abilities rather than their disabilities and people would be pleasantly surprised.
Stephen Matini: Thank you so much for spending time with me. I send all my love to you and to Krissy for the moving out to be as painless as possible.
Caroline Vernon: <Laugh>. Thank you. I really appreciate that. It's coming up a lot sooner than I know my mother is ready for as well. But it's time.
Monday Sep 11, 2023
Monday Sep 11, 2023
Monday Sep 11, 2023
The guest of this episode of Pity Party Over is Simona Curci, an organizational development practitioner who has honed a practical approach to managing change from many years of helping people, teams, and organizations.
Simona believes that change is a dynamic process that resembles a dance requiring forward and backward movements. Sometimes, the best option is to stay still and let things be as they are so people can adjust.
Simona points out that you can’t force everyone to move in the same direction with the same tempo. If you push too hard, you may end up creating more resistance.
Listen to this episode of Pity Party Over to learn how to find the perfect rhythm to navigate change successfully.
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