Episode 104

November 26, 2023


Episode 104 - DEI and More with Brenda Harrington

Hosted by

Patrick Jinks, PhD, BCC
Episode 104 - DEI and More with Brenda Harrington
The Leadership Window
Episode 104 - DEI and More with Brenda Harrington

Nov 26 2023 | 01:08:21


Show Notes

Patrick chats with executive coach and author Brenda Harrington to discuss workplace discrimination, the power of personal stories, authentic leadership, and more.

Brenda is the founder and CEO of Adaptive Leadership Strategies, LLC. She is the author of Access Denied: Addressing Workplace Disparities and Discrimination

Brenda offers coaching and consulting solutions to help companies develop and grow top talent. She has helped a range of clients from around the world successfully increase influence across their organizations by boosting productivity and engagement, developing creative solutions to complex challenges, aligning their vision among stakeholders, and developing effective expatriate and reintegration strategies to mitigate business disruption.


View Full Transcript

Episode Transcript

PATRICK: I love the holiday season, but I don't love the cold weather. Just going to put it out there, just say it. But it's all right. I'm indoors. I'm just an outdoors person and I just love being outside. So I spend a lot of time, for example, on my back porch and fortunately I've got a heater out there and I try to stay out there all year, but sometimes it just, it's still too cold. I don't like it anyway. I'm in Columbia, South Carolina. I shouldn't be complaining, but I don't miss the harsh winters. I just don't. I've seen enough. Felt it was great. It was great. I love it. Snow for a day and then go away and leave me alone. It's all good anyway. Hey, welcome to Episode 104 of the Leadership Window. My guest today is we've connected now offline for a little while and just had these conversations and I love these because these are the kinds of conversations I know we can just have and not worry about the scripting and all of that. We've got some topics and I have some questions I definitely want to ask Brenda, but you're just, I think, going to get to just sit in on a couple of coaches talking about our experiences and what we're finding out there and we're both still kind of just living and learning it ourselves, too. But Brenda Harrington is the founder and CEO of Adaptive Leadership Strategies and I'm going to make this brief, but basically Brenda coaches and consults organizations, helping them grow top talent. She helps with succession planning, she helps with leadership coaching, all things about boosting productivity in organizations, engagement, developing creative solutions to complex challenges, all those things that the listeners of our show are, yeah, give me that. That's what Brenda does and she is certified to do so. She's a credentialed member of the International Coach Federation and she's a graduate of Virginia Tech. So I love her already. And in addition to her work as the CEO and founder of her consulting company, she's also an author. And her book access denied goes in depth on the countless issues surrounding the diversity, equity and inclusion space, particularly in the workplace, and the disparities and discrimination that occur in the workplace. And we're going to talk a little bit about that. This probably is a little bit of a potpourri, a little bit of a hodgepodge of different leadership topics that I want to get to with Brenda. But Brenda, man, I've been excited about this. Thank you so much. Up in Northern Virginia right now. But thanks for joining us on the program. We are so glad to have you. [00:03:22] BRENDA: Not as happy as I am to be. [00:03:25] PATRICK: I don't know. I don't. Just, I know you're going to add just tremendous value to all of us and our listeners. Brenda, I'm going to start just by letting you do a better job of introducing yourself than I just did. Just let us know who you are a little bit. Who are we talking with? How did you get into this space? What led you to this space here? Just tell us briefly who you are and what you're doing in the world. [00:03:52] BRENDA: Thank you for that. Well, when I think back over the arc of my career, more than 35 years, I know that I've always been a people first person. I haven't always been able to honor that. But in 2007, 2008, as the executive vice president of a regionally held firm, I was in the middle of a pretty challenging acquisition. And it was focusing on my executive team and people that saved me and saved those who were going to land on their feet. And that's when I really discovered the power of coaching and other personal interventions. I always knew it was there, but that's when I got clarity around it. And so I decided that's the way I wanted to spend the balance of my career. And that's when I started to focus on developing a practice. Everybody gives me a hard time because my URL, adaptive leadership strategies are so long. But it was important to me that the name of the company communicated what we were doing. And so I spent a couple of years earning certifications for coaching and psychometric assessments and the things that I needed to get started. And I hung out my shingle, if you will, in 2011. And it's just been a very rewarding and gratifying twelve years so far. [00:05:14] PATRICK: Wow. Well, it is. And I'm curious, you mentioned that sort of transition period out of that company when you realized the value of coaching. Was that because you were getting coaching from someone who was effective at it and it was helpful or you were finding that you had an innate coaching ability and you were coaching at that time? [00:05:35] BRENDA: All of the above. Okay, all of the above. Many of the people in that organization had literally grown up there professionally. And so they were just blindsided by what was happening to them. And it's nothing that they anticipated. They didn't see it coming. It coincided with the financial crisis. Right. The meltdown. And a lot of things were going on at one time. And I found that if we were able to kind of Zoom out and take a different approach and really get them to focus more on themselves and what they could do, we were in a better position to emerge successfully, as successfully as possible under those circumstances, at least. [00:06:17] PATRICK: Yeah. Now, I know that your profile of work as a coach and consultant is pretty widespread. I mean, from engagement to productivity to culture building, leadership, probably strategy, probably all those things. But your book is focused on, your book is access denied, and it is looking at the disparities and discrimination that occurs, particularly in the workplace. But I will tell you, this is a different kind of book on this topic because it's so based in stories. But I guess my first question for you on that is, is the DEI space, as we call it, where you spend a majority of your coaching and consulting, or is it just a fabric that's woven into all of it? How does that space fit in for you? [00:07:08] BRENDA: My wheelhouse really is leadership development. I work a lot with global leaders. I believe if you get the people part right, the rest will happen. The rest will come here. So I really focus on kind of a top down approach. What's the culture that's being cultivated, honored, rewarded, all those things. I don't hold myself out as a DEI expert, but for my life experience and the experiences that I've had with clients, the book is not something that was ever on my bucket list. The book was inspired, sadly, by the events of 2020. That hit me as a call to action like nothing had before. And so I just wanted a way to get into the conversation, to create awareness, to provide a mechanism, perhaps a resource for people who were experiencing some of the types of things I talk about in the book, but also, perhaps even more so, to create awareness for people who just weren't getting it and who aren't getting it. As far as I'm concerned, inclusion is not discretionary. It's a leadership imperative. That's kind of where the book came from. I wasn't sure how it would be received, but that's the beginning. [00:08:38] PATRICK: Well, I mentioned that it has a tone and a flavor that's a little bit different from some of the other books I've read in this space. And I guess for me, the lever or the mechanism that's used so powerfully there is that you open up with your, you know, I've got a friend and colleague here in South Carolina that talks at length about, look, you can argue with tenets, you can argue with politics, you can argue with whatever, but you can't argue with my story, listen to my story, acknowledge my story. This is me. This is my life. This is what has happened. This is what I've seen and experienced. And you open up in your book. I don't want to give too much. I want people to buy this book and we're going to direct them to it, but we'll tease them a little bit here. I was immediately struck at the beginning of this book. I could almost see like the beginning of a movie. Like you can see it on screen. How you describe, I think you're six years old. You're not quite at your 7th birthday, and you lived next door. You lived in Mount Vernon, New York, your family there proudly in a mixed neighborhood. And you're living there as an African American family in a mixed neighborhood in New York in the. Don't think I need to say more about that. We know all the things that are going on in the 60s, right. And you live next door to a synagogue, and these Hebrew children who are in school there would come out during recess and invite you over to play with them. And there was never any question about it. You didn't have it. Yeah, these are kids, I'm going to go play. And you were welcomed and accepted, and you welcomed and accepted them and you didn't see things any differently. And a lot of this had to do with how your parents taught you to see and not see things and that you can be anything you want to be, do anything you want to do in your life. And that led you into a story then about you've fast forwarded to your 7th birthday when you just by chance asked your mom that day if you could wear your hair out. And you can describe what that means. You describe a little bit in the book and explain what that means for people who might not understand. I didn't, but not in braids and just not the typical way that a young black girl might have worn her hair to school in the. Your mother obliged and you didn't describe it, but she didn't have any question about it. Yeah. And you did. And then you come home with a note for your mother from the teacher or the principal saying, let's not do that. That's distracting, right. That story, I'm going to stop there and I'm going to let you kind of take us through the key drivers from there in your life that started to reveal to you what was really happening out there and where you fit into the world because you tell so many stories and about your sister in that same community. I just don't even know where to go from there because we don't have time to just talk about the whole book and your whole life. But that immediately I was drawn in instantly. I want to know more about this story, and I can't relate to that. I can't imagine what that would feel like. There's no way I can relate to that today. I think for most people, we go, really? But, yeah, really? That really happened. Take it from there a little bit about what the rest of the book really is about. I guess maybe that would be the way to do it. How do you go from that story to what your point is in the book? And, again, sort of how you got to where you are today, certainly. [00:12:38] BRENDA: And I want to touch on something that you said. You did such a beautiful job of setting that up. You say today, really? I don't want anyone to lose sight of the fact that just within the last few years, something called the Crown act has been passed. Are you familiar with the Crown Act? [00:12:57] PATRICK: Yeah. [00:12:57] BRENDA: Okay. That makes it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their hairstyle. [00:13:05] PATRICK: Yeah. We're still having to legislate. Yeah. [00:13:08] BRENDA: Yes, exactly. Metaphorically. Speaks very much to why I wrote the book. So the book is a compilation of stories. I had some wonderfully generous contributors share their stories, most in the first person. A couple. We had to be a little bit more discreet, but I wanted each story to serve as an archetype for the things that have happened and are happening just based on bias, judgment, misunderstanding. I hate to use the term prejudice, but because of the differences and because we focus so much more on differences than we do on likeness. And I certainly don't believe that that's always malicious. But I think that people can be pretty cavalier about the impact that that has on the people who are the subject of that type of treatment. Dismissiveness, disrespect. And as you saw, each story, each chapter in each chapter, I've included reflection, questions, and just things for people to help people process, because I really want people to pause and think about some of these things differently. [00:14:33] PATRICK: Well, it absolutely makes you do that. [00:14:37] BRENDA: Thank you. [00:14:39] PATRICK: You said something just now that I think I want to go ahead and touch on and get your view on this. I say this as a white man in the world. You said, the focus more on differences than likenesses. I am finding that an interesting dynamic because from my seat, it sometimes appears that we're getting in our own way with this DeI work. I've mentioned it several times with several different guests on this show, so this isn't new for our listeners. It almost seems to me sometimes, like in our passionate effort to move to end racism and prejudice and biases and discrimination and all those things, it almost seems we're focusing more on the differences, like you call it identity politics or whatever, but there are so many different focus now on this group and that group. And I just wonder sometimes if DEi work and approaches sometimes gets in its own way from what it's actually purporting, intending, trying to do. I don't know if I can explain it any better than that, but it just seems that way to me. And I wonder, from your perspective, if you see any alignment with that in your work, and that sometimes is an inhibitor, actually, to what we're trying to do. What are your thoughts on that? Honestly? [00:16:21] BRENDA: I understand what you're saying totally. And the challenge is that I think the intent behind terms like Dei is to call attention to things. And then once you begin to do that, then it seems like it's divisive. Right, divisive. But if you don't do that, then these blind spots remain. Then these things become invisible. So you hear terms like microaggressions and things like that. So it's a challenge. It's difficult, because on the one hand, you want to create awareness. You want to call these things out, and you want to make others aware of the impact that they have, the triggers. Because if it's not your walk, Patrick, there's no way that you would understand the impact of certain things on me. [00:17:15] PATRICK: Absolutely. [00:17:16] BRENDA: And so how do I effectively and constructively make you aware of it? I'm not asking you to. I say all the time, hearts and minds can change, but you cannot change someone else's heart or someone else's mind. Right. You can create awareness, and then it's up to them. It's up to them. Well said. Yeah. And so that's the challenge. But I agree with you. And then, like anything else, everybody clams on to the term and turns into all the things it's not supposed to be. [00:17:48] PATRICK: Yeah, that's right. That's true. So let me ask you this. You mentioned, yeah, just recently, the Crown act, for example, this stuff is still here. And even the more visible, historically documented, the civil rights movement. I mean, heck, slavery, for that matter was not that long ago. We act like this was thousands of years ago. It wasn't. It is an issue. Well, it is a culture and a dynamic and a norm in life that has carried over in ways we just don't even. I just don't think we can begin to grasp and acknowledge. It drives me nuts when I hear people say, get over it. We've moved past that. We don't have slaves anymore. Of course we don't. Thankfully, we've addressed it to the degree that we've addressed it, obviously. But you can't deny what that does today for humans. Our entire view of the world is shaped by things that didn't happen that long ago right here in this country. [00:19:03] BRENDA: No, that's right. And I don't mean to cut you up, but the vestiges of slavery are alive and well when you talk about things like generational wealth and just, there are so many fractures in our social system, in our political system and society that are drawn directly from slavery and the Jim Crow era that still have profound impact on people today. [00:19:27] PATRICK: So this leads to my question. If I think about your story that we just told, six year old Brenda Harrington, Mount Vernon, New York, in a mixed neighborhood next to a synagogue in the all the things that have transpired since then that have shaped your worldview, I wonder, how similar do you think black kids growing up today, what's changed and what hAsn't changed? Do you think, if you think about black kids growing up today, what do you think's changed for them? What would you imagine is different for them than was for you? And what would you imagine is probably the same? [00:20:15] BRENDA: Unfortunately, the same is being subjected to attitudes that are not supportive of them. I think it depends on where they are. We didn't cast as wide a net back in those days in terms of where we lived. We were much more community based. Now people are things. There's a lot more diversity in communities. But I can think of circumstances, countless circumstances right here in the area where I live. When I think about friends raising children in black children, minority children in a predominantly white suburb, in a predominantly white school system, being just immediately discounted, not being supported and things like that. Oh, he's just whatever. And just being marginalized. And so even getting a child through the public school system can be like a full time vocation, especially if a child has some challenges. Right. And you hold that up to the experience of a white counterpart. Unfortunately, in many cases, it's very different. We don't always have the resources for interventions such as tutoring and special, you know, services and education and things like that, ancillary services. So then the disparities begin to grow. What really concerned me, and I don't know that this is as prevalent now, but if we go back 1015 years, we went through this whole period where I heard young people saying, well, I don't see color. Everybody's the same, right? Yes, everybody's the same. Perhaps when you're at school, you're playing your teammates in sports, but sometimes things change when you go home with your classmate to visit or when you're invited to the prom or whatever happens, right? And then you begin to live the reality of how people feel. It's not universal, nothing is, but it's still pretty prevalent and I would say pervasive. [00:22:29] PATRICK: I've had a similar conversation with others where I remember, so I went to high school in the early eighty s and in a very tiny rural deep south community in Ringold, Louisiana. And I have often talked about how I didn't like truly, 100% truly, I didn't really see, we had a very mixed population in the school. And I don't remember ever feeling like seeing the black students, my black fellow students, any differently. We were friends with them, we hung out with them, we laughed with them. We, I think, respected each other. I never felt that. I'm sure it existed. Probably maybe some around the older kids, actually. But then a black friend of mine reminded me, and he asked me this. He said, did you go to their house after school? Did you spend the night with them? Did they ever spend the night with you? Do you ever have a black friend spend the night with you? I went, oh no. And he goes, why not? I have no idea why not. I know that it wasn't because I would never have a black. It wasn't that, but yet we didn't do it. I think you're spot on with the relationships we had were limited and we were fine if it was compartmentalized to that. But I don't know if it was that we didn't know how to expand those relationships or somewhere deep in our heads we believed we're not supposed to or what that was. But I found that an interesting dynamic when you ask that question, did you go to their home for dinner? Did you spend the night? Did you go camping together? The answer was no for most people, I think. [00:24:34] BRENDA: And it's that deep in your head right there thing that is it right there that you weren't supposed to. It was just common practice. It's fine to socialize on the playground and do all those things, but when the sun goes down, everybody retreats to their respective corners of the world. Right? And it's that deep down idea that's embedded. And so when you go back to what we talked about a few minutes ago about the purpose and perhaps efficacy of Dei, that's what you got to crack. Okay, so when you look at me, when you look at someone who looks like me, do you automatically assume because of my skin tone that I am less intelligent or literate? Do you automatically assume when you look at me that I am of a particular profession? That story you referred to, the story about my sister, and, okay, no, spoiler alert. But that's an example of that, right? This guidance counselor that she was relying on to help with career development told her to forget about nursing. If she liked the white uniform, she could be a caterer or a hairdresser. Right? So that kind of thing. Do you make judgments about me on site? And that's what we've got to break apart. So when someone comes to me at this stage of my life and whether they know about my educational background and what I've accomplished or not, and they say things to me like, oh, you are so articulate. You speak so well. It's not a compliment. Why wouldn't I? Why shouldn't I? Right? And those are the kinds of things that are hard to penetrate. [00:26:32] PATRICK: Yeah, I totally get that. And it is scary, I think, for people to face the potential of shining a light on some of those deep mind things, like, I don't know if I want to know. I don't know if I want to know what's really in there, because you asked me, when I look at you, do I see? I can categorically say, absolutely not. And I think that's true. But is it? Are there things in me that I don't even wear? There was a term I used, you mentioned microaggressions a while ago, and it was in a workshop where we were talking about microaggressions, and I just thought there was something about the term that was bugging me, and I'll get your take on this. I sometimes think that a more accurate word might be micro ignorance, that microaggression implies it's intentional because it's aggressive. It's small. It's a tiny little passive aggressive, maybe, but microaggression sounds intentional to me, whereas micro ignorance is, I don't even know what I'm saying or how it comes off or how you might hear, hey, you're articulate and bright and intelligent. Sometimes I might be meaning that condescendingly, and sometimes I might not even Realize what that is and what that would sound like to you. I've said articulate and bright about white people, too. Is it there? And I don't know it. That to me is, and to me, it's a little more palpable for someone who's trying to find awareness in themselves is instead of being sort of accused of, you're being aggressive. It's being illuminated as a blind spot and a place of ignorance. So I don't know. Micro ignorance is not a term that's out there in the lexicon, but it just seems maybe more often than not, I don't know from my view that that's what we're really dealing with here. [00:28:34] BRENDA: How does that hit let's create it? No, I agree with you because in many cases I think it is, in earnest, meant as a compliment. Somebody saying, wow, I didn't know. I didn't know black people could speak this way. [00:28:49] PATRICK: I didn't even mean that either. [00:28:51] BRENDA: But no. Right, exactly. So I like that. And I'm going to respectfully ask your permission to borrow it. [00:28:57] PATRICK: It's not mine. Yeah. [00:29:00] BRENDA: We do have to coin new terms and terminology if you reflect on the beautiful foreword that was written for the book by Dr. Christy Picicaro. Christy coined the term gaslighting. Discriminatory gaslighting. I'd never heard that until her NPR interview talking about that. So please feel free. We need more language and more descriptors. [00:29:25] PATRICK: I love your response to that. Let's create it. That's a good coach right there. I love it. Let's shift for a minute toward the workplace because I know that the book does deal a lot with the disparities and discrimination that happens regarding the workplace. Now, it turns out that our work is part of our lives. It's not separate from our lives. So we're talking about some of the same stuff. But this can get institutionalized inside the workplace. And here's my question for you. It's a very specific question, and I'm going to preface it with what's the word? An opinion of mine. My opinion is that for us to really take the next step toward what we're trying to achieve with diversity, equity, inclusion, respect, all of that, is that at some point we've got to move from preaching it to teaching it. And I think that there's a lot of still preaching it that is dogmatic and it feels to some People still accusatory or the preaching of DEI itself can come off as condescending to people. I'm interested, always interested, always inspired and illuminated when someone is teaching me some principles of it rather than preaching at me about it. So what I like to know for. And I've talked about this a lot because it struck me so well. We had Dr. Sean Edwards on our show who does a lot of. She is a DEI expert, and she was at the Citadel at the time. She was their chief diversity officer at the Citadel. And I asked, you know, tell me, what does a DEI officer, what. What is the work? I get the concept, but what are you actually doing? And she gave an example from some of the curriculum about the narratives, the stories, the case studies they would use. Read this story and tell me, who do you see? What do you see? Who can relate to this and who cannot maybe relate to this? And where is the balance in that? And so, looking literally at the content of the textbooks, are we talking about Becky? Are we talking about Shamika? Are we talking about Ahmad? And I thought, well, see, now that's what I want to hear. That's what I want to learn more of, is let's uncover those practical things that we can actually go and do. So here's my question. As you have consulted and worked within workplaces, can you share what examples come to mind of Success, like where you found an organization or an individual went, oh, you're right. There it is. Man, I missed this opportunity. And they changed a practice, they advanced something. They institutionalized a new mindset and became more aware of it. Do you have examples of what you could point to, specifically, of Organizations that have applied practical things and gained toward this aspiration? [00:32:45] BRENDA: Yeah, I wish I could. I will say that what I've heard you say, what you just shared is affirming, because that is the exact approach that I take with the course that we've developed around the book, just using the stories as cases and say, okay, what does this sound like to you? Have you seen this? And what can you do? Really focusing on senior leadership. And so some of the initiatives over the last couple of years, in particular, focused on inclusion. Diversity is one thing. You can make the numbers look great. [00:33:18] PATRICK: That's right. [00:33:19] BRENDA: We've got this percentage, that percentage. But it's inclusion, in my mind, where the rubber meets the road. And what I see in many cases is that we get to the edge of the cliff, and it's like, oh, wait a minute. So you mean in order for this to happen, we have to do this, or we have to do that or we have to change that. Well, I don't know. And they dial back a bit because unfortunately, the general sentiment, and I don't like to categorize, but it's rinse and repeat. The general sentiment seems to be, if I give you something, then I lose something. Right. And so it's a question around the value proposition. I do see intention around bringing people into bigger conversations and decision making and things like that, but I also see a resistance to really let go of the reins. Right. It's monitored, it's measured, and that's what we've got to really focus on. [00:34:28] PATRICK: Yeah. So where do you think the blind spots mostly show up in organizations, then? I realize it's difficult to kind of find those specific successes of where things were implemented, integrated that led to some metric. But where do you find the most common challenges showing up repeatedly. [00:34:57] BRENDA: I think it goes back to what you said about just beliefs that are embedded deeply. Right. It's how we think. Okay. Oh, look, there's a dog. So I know I've got to walk him two or three times a day. We function. And in the book I talk about, and in my course, I go into more detail about schemas, the shortcuts we use to make our way to make meaning of the world. Right. To interpret our environment. And so when those things show up in the workplace and they're at the discretion of a team leader or a manager, then what do you do with it? And this is where accountability is so important. So you cannot change the way a person feels or thinks or a person's beliefs, but you can hold them accountable for their behavior as it relates to their obligation to an organization. So what I see showing up is people not being included in client facing meetings and activities and presentations and whatever. Right. Not being given the same visibility. So what are we doing with that? Are we looking any other way, or are we holding the manager accountable for that? Why is everybody there but Brenda? What is Brenda's role in this project and things like that? And so that's where I think that's a starting point. [00:36:32] PATRICK: Yeah. And it isn't always related to race either. I mean, this whole inclusion thing, someone, and I don't remember if it was Sean or this might have been Raven Solomon, who shared this with me. She said, what about the front desk receptionist? Regardless of what her race and ethnicity is. But let's take the front desk receptionist, he or her, and how often do we ask them? So when we make decisions about how we deal with customer facing interactions, are we actually asking the receptionist, are we actually bringing them into the conversation, the first person they see when they come in? Are we spending time connecting with the receptionist when we walk into work each day making the same kind of connections with them as we are with our vice president posse down the hall? And you think about those things as a leadership tenet. You said inclusion is really the leadership Tenet part of this. It's not just about race and ethnicity that most undoubtedly does show up there a lot, but that's not the only place it shows up. So it's blind spots behind blind spots. [00:37:45] BRENDA: Right. They're deep. [00:37:47] PATRICK: Yeah. Every organization I'm working with, Brenda, and I do a lot of my work in the nonprofit sector, leadership coaching, and what I call strategy coaching, because I apply a coaching approach to all the work. But when I'm working with a board on strategy for an organization, literally, I don't think there's an organization I've worked with over well since 2020 that doesn't have DEI on their radar. Where does Dei fit into our strategic plan? We got to have that in there, and some of them want it authentically, and some of them want it superficially. If I'm being honest and if they're being honest, and I've had some of them be honest and say, yeah, I know. We kind of got to figure out what we're really trying to do here versus putting it on our website. Here's a question for you. I have a bent on this, but I'll reserve it for a minute. Do you see Dei work with organizations? Does the work fall under strategic framework? Do you put Dei in your strategic plan as strategy, or is Dei more the fabric, the value part of the organization? And I get asked that a lot in strategic planning. Hey, does this belong here in our strategic plan? Do we need strategy carved out around Dei? Because we got to get intentional about it, right? Or should this be more of a value statement? And I'll just stop there and let you just respond to that. And I'm happy to share some of my experiences on it and my bent on it, but I'm curious as to where your head goes on that question. [00:39:37] BRENDA: To the latter, I really think it should be part of the fabric and value statement, but that goes back to the culture that leadership is cultivating. Right. And you took me right back into a retreat that I facilitated about three months ago, where this came up as part of the strategy conversation, and the designated DEI officer was visibly shaken and emotional because it's like, what are you talking about? Right. Is this who we are? Or is this just something we're trying to do? And I think that initially you have to be intentional about helping people to see what that means and what the expectation is and how it relates to who, what the organization wants to be, what they want to bring to the world, all of those things. But I would think that ideally, you'd grow out of that, right. Once people begin to get on board, it's kind of like training wheels, if you will, on a bicycle. But I definitely, and it's maybe just too idealistic, but culture and fabric, for sure. [00:40:52] PATRICK: So I tend to lean in that direction as well. With a caveat. I think the DEI needs to be a part of the fabric, the DNA, the culture. It's a value. It's not just a value statement. It has to be an actual behavior parameter and values parameter. But there are times when specifically it is appropriate to bring it into strategic work. For example, if one of my primary methods and approaches, which is how I define strategies, if one of my primary methods and approaches for expanding our donor base is to reach into untapped markets and draw in a more diverse, like, if there's a data point somewhere that says, man, our donor base, our board. Your board matrix is a data point. It tells you who's on your board, what the composition is. If my data tells me my board is not very diverse, well, okay, then I have a strategy that now there's something specific to say. Let's intentionally. Yes. Go about diversifying our board, diversifying our donor base, organizations that are trying to make social impact. And they're seeing a third grade reading gap among white kids, brown kids, black kids. That's stark. They might strategically say, we got to narrow that gap. And that means getting at some inclusive and equitable practices in how we're bringing. So in those cases, the data informs strategy. [00:42:32] BRENDA: Yes. [00:42:33] PATRICK: But just to put it in your strategic. I'll be honest with you, I had a potential client. We put a proposal in, and I got a response saying, we loved your proposal, but it didn't have anything about equity in it. And so we're going to go with a different consultant. The word equity wasn't in my proposal to help them articulate their strategy. And my take was, if equity needs to be a part of your work, then we'll facilitate that process and let's uncover that. But the idea for them was that I didn't use the word in my proposal. And I just thought, well, I don't know how much more superficial you can be than that, but from my standpoint, they might have completely just. I think their intentions were probably good, but have a conversation with me. Let's talk about how we get at equity and diversity and inclusion. So, yeah, I agree with you. I think it's more value based. But what does the data tell us in terms of where our work can actually be applied and where it's needed. [00:43:40] BRENDA: The most, and in a situation like that? Listen, what's the lost leader, if you will? What gets me in? Right. And then what gives me access to begin to do what really needs to. [00:43:55] PATRICK: Good question. Good question. Yeah. Wow. All right, let's shift gears just a little bit. I could talk all day with you about this. It's always just so we need to have these conversations. We really do. I want to ask you about a couple of more general leadership terms or different dimensions of leadership. Your company is called adaptive leadership strategies, and that term means different things to different people. And adaptive leadership is in and of itself a body of work and leadership. I'm curious as to how did you arrive at that title? What does it actually mean for you? [00:44:34] BRENDA: How did I arrive? When I was on the beach in 2008 or nine, trying to come up with a name and see what URLs were available. [00:44:45] PATRICK: Oh, I can relate. [00:44:47] BRENDA: It's like, okay, here's one that's available. It's long, but it says what I want it to say. Right? But what it means to me is the ability to be nimble, the ability to really be present and in the moment and not be over committed to any one way of doing or being, which is the way I've led my life. And it's what I see. The absence of that is what I see that holds so many people back. Well, we've got to do it this way. And we said we want to do it that way, and now we're going to. And I didn't have any idea at the time how relevant that would be. Fast forward ten years. My God. I talk to clients now about post COVID circumstances and how it's influenced or impacted their leadership. And I hit all best practices. I said, stop saying that. Stop saying that because it is the first day on the job for all of us. Okay? We are charting a new course. And the ability to be, the willingness to be curious and the ability to be innovative and just open your mind to thinking differently is what will save you. Right. [00:46:07] PATRICK: So, by the way, the word best practice, I have other issues with it. Someone runs a program in their organization and they like it, and so they call it a best practice. And suddenly it becomes a best practice, like, well, what makes that a best practice? And why would that be a best practice for us, even if it worked for you? So, Leah, let's explore it. But, yeah, I like the term promising practice, which I think is more adaptive. And does this have promise? Does this have potential? How could we make this work kind of thing? I love it. Nimble. I love the present in the moment. [00:46:46] BRENDA: Yeah. Got to be. [00:46:49] PATRICK: And that's adaptive. I'm just thinking out loud here. That's adaptive because the next moment will be different. The last moment was different. [00:47:03] BRENDA: Absolutely. [00:47:06] PATRICK: My son shared a quote with me from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. A man cannot step in the same river twice because he's not the same man. And it is not the same river. [00:47:20] BRENDA: Not the same river. [00:47:22] PATRICK: And that's adaptive leadership in a nutshell, isn't it? I mean, being present right now. [00:47:27] BRENDA: Yeah. [00:47:28] PATRICK: Wow. I love that. So another term that I know comes up for you a lot and for a lot of other leaders is the term authentic leadership. And that's one of those buzzwords, right? Oh, authentic leadership. Let's be authentic leaders. And that just sounds right, right? It does. It sounds right. Yeah, it makes sense. Let's be authentic. Let's be real. I guess that's what that means. But what does it really mean? What is authentic leadership? How's that any different from any other kind of leadership? [00:48:01] BRENDA: I laugh at these terms that have become almost pop culture and jargon, aren't they? [00:48:07] PATRICK: Yeah, but they're real. They mean real. [00:48:11] BRENDA: I don't know if we called it authenticity way back when, but it's always been so much a part of me. And it goes back to those stories that we talked about. We're moving away from that. But it's just like, okay, so if you're not going to accept me because of this, because of that, then why should I even try to get in character? I'm just going to be who I am because I want to know who I am to you. I think that that really took hold of me. In my first job out of undergrad school, I was with mobile Oil. In those days. I was young because I was a 16 year old high school graduate. So I graduated from college, I was 20 years old, and I was in one of those management development programs or whatever we call them back then. And I was supervising people who had been with the company longer than I had walked this earth. It wasn't pretty. And I'm trying to emulate behavior. There was no real training. Right. I was trying to. Okay, I guess I should say this. I should look like this, all this. And when I just shook all that off and allowed those people, it didn't work all the time. But when I allowed people to get to know me and we were able to connect personally, things shifted. All right? And that's why authenticity is so important to me. I'm not into code switching, for sure, to reach back to our previous conversation, but I'm just not into being anyone other than who I am. And I think that when people allow others to get to know them as individuals, there's more of an opportunity to develop trust and to build meaningful relationships and to develop a capacity for influence. Leadership is not about authority and me telling you what to do, hiding behind my title. Right. It's about whatever belief you may have in what I'm here doing and here to do that enables us to work together effectively. [00:50:28] PATRICK: Yeah, that's. The other half of it isn't of authenticity. Like the first half is be yourself. Yeah, but the goal is influence. There's an executive coach and author that I got to spend some time with back in the early 2000s named Kevin Cashman, and one of the best books I've ever read on leadership, I'll refer it for you. It's called leadership from the inside out. And it takes a very psychological look at who we are as leaders, our shadow beliefs, as he calls them, in these things. But he defined leadership at the time as authentic self expression that creates value. And so he talked about the three legged stool. One, it has to be authentic, because eventually your people will see through superficial, and they won't follow you. Second, it has to get expressed. That's what leadership is. It's that influence. You're not going to influence somebody without somehow expressing the aspiration, the vision, the path, the belief. You got to express it. But the third thing is where we often miss it. It has to add value. [00:51:37] BRENDA: All right? [00:51:37] PATRICK: So we know a lot of authentic self expressors. I'm myself. Hey, if it comes in my head, it comes out of my mouth. That's just who I am. You're just going to have to deal with it. Okay, great. That's authentic. Yeah, that's authentic. And it's expressed, but it doesn't necessarily create value. In fact, sometimes that can be destructive. So I love you said it, but you said it differently. It's about being myself, but then it's also about the goal of influencing and working together. [00:52:05] BRENDA: Right. And people don't realize. Thank you. People don't realize how important it is to allow other people in. I've had so many people say to me, well, I keep my personal life separate from my professional life. And I said, well, then you're just going to be an icon. You're just going to be an email address, because people have got to know who you are as a person if you want to get anything out of them. I said, surely. So I use this metaphor of a house. Think of just a small here, we call them split hall colonials. They come in different names, but basically you walk into the front door of a home within your line of sight, you may see a living room, dining room, maybe part of a kitchen, a little bit of a family room, and then perhaps stairs going upstairs. So just up to the second floor. So just imagine a velvet rope across that staircase. WhaT is it that you don't mind? People having access to anything they can see from the front door and what's off limits up those stairs. Okay. [00:53:09] PATRICK: Wow. [00:53:12] BRENDA: I like to cook. Golf is my favorite sport. My son plays soccer. What's the harm? And just having. Just letting people. And when you find that commonality with people, it's like, oh, okay, he is human. He's not a droid, he's not a bot. Right. He has a life. Then you have an opportunity to develop. [00:53:31] PATRICK: Something meaningful that is especially profound in today's work environment, isn't it? Where we're remote, our meetings are on Zoom from our homes. I mean, I'm coaching people who find it an incredible freedom, but others who are finding it really difficult because my home is sacred, and a lot of people keep their screens black on Zoom because they don't want people seeing, this is my home. And yet, yeah, we're humans before we're employees. [00:54:14] BRENDA: That's right. Wow. [00:54:17] PATRICK: Yeah. See, you're throwing stuff at me that we can't even. There's stuff we have to go, and I'm just going to have to noodle on it. Wow, that's deep stuff. Let me ask you this in the nonprofit space, and I'm asking this question because I know most of our listeners are in the nonprofit space. This is a podcast about leadership, so we have others, but it's through a social sector lens. And I know you spend a lot of time with nonprofits. What are you seeing over and over? What are the top two or three challenges as a coach and consultant that keep popping up for you in organizations? [00:54:57] BRENDA: Most people who find their way to the nonprofit, humanitarian, economic development, social space. I'm trying to think of another term. Anyway, most people are mission driven. They're there because they believe in the purpose. They're there because they want to address a cause, some more personal than others. But they are emphatic about not being business people. Philanthropic is what I was trying to find. They were emphatic about not being business people. They don't want to be one of those people who's trying to increase shareholder value, and they don't want to be one of those people who's. So they set all of that aside, okay, and they just show up and they go to work. They don't take any time to think about how they're going to be together, how they're going to work together, how they're going to function as a unit, as an organ, as a team. And that's a problem. Do you fold your towels in half or in thirds? I mean, we need to know if we're going to share this space. So that is one of the simplest problems, if you will, to address. But it's the problem that causes the most, that creates the most noise and friction, because we don't ever take the time to focus on structure and policy and process and accountability. And accountability. Oh, well, no, I can't tell. I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, so I'll just do it. No. Right. And so it's that it's just being so averse to borrowing a little bit from business process. Right. And process improvement to build a better mousetrap. [00:56:57] PATRICK: I couldn't. Man, that is spot on. Exactly what I would have probably put up as at least one of my top two things I'm seeing, too. And to piggyback on it just a little bit, we often do a motivators assessment, one of the psychometrics, measuring dimensions of motivation across seven different elements. Am I motivated by altruism? Am I motivated by power, individualism, theoretics, regulatory, aesthetic, or. I forgot what the 7th one is. It probably would not surprise you that most of the nonprofit leaders I coach, particularly the CEOs, have high altruistic motivation and low economic motivation. [00:57:43] BRENDA: Yeah. [00:57:43] PATRICK: And one of the biggest challenge, or biggest sort of AHA for many of them, is your board members might well be the opposite. Just because you're not motivated by the economic factors, and that doesn't just mean the money, but it means the structure. And are we measurably advancing our mission in some way? What are those indicators? And just because that doesn't drive me and motivate me doesn't mean it's not important to do you still have to do it. So I see that all the time. The altruism, or what Kim Scott sometimes calls ruinous, know in her book Radical Candor. Yeah, I agree. I'm going to wind this down a little bit, but there was one other thing I wanted to ask you about, and that is the sort of psychology that happens in coaching, because I think you are a coach. You strike me as a coach who understands probably more than the average coach, about where psychology fits in. We're humans and we have stories, as you have very eloquently demonstrated. But unless I missed something, you're not a therapist or a licensed counselor. [00:59:03] BRENDA: I'm not. [00:59:04] PATRICK: And yet it can feel that way sometimes when you're coaching individuals. And we just talked about the work life balance, for example, and how our personal lives are a part of who we are. And our stories have made up our biases, our ignorances, our prejudices, our approach to leadership, whatever those might be. And I know that I've come home sometimes and told my wife, well, I had four really good therapy sessions today. And I'm joking, of course, but because it feels that way sometimes with the people we coach, because succeeding in leadership requires our personal selves. And when our personal selves have issues that we're trying to address, overcome whatever they can get in the way. And those have to be a part of those coaching conversations. However, we say in coaching, consulting is more a focus on the past and uncovering and revealing maybe why something is the way it is today. Coaching is more about what's next, what do we do from here, and what's the future look like. So just because of kind of how I've come to know you thus far, I know that the psychology fits in a lot. How do you draw that line? How do you balance that sometimes gray line? When you're coaching your individuals and teams. [01:00:28] BRENDA: We definitely have to dip into what is influencing behavior, what brings you to this place, how did you develop this habit? Right? But then we've got to acknowledge that, be able and willing to hold that as a data point and move forward if they are not able to. If we keep going deeper into that and we keep going back and we keep going back, and when I was twelve and when I was in all these, then I pause and I ask them to consider a different resource. And in some cases people are already engaged with a therapist or a counselor, right? And I'm very clear, I try not to make it about them and say I am not qualified. I'm not a counselor, I'm not a licensed therapist. Okay, so I'm really not qualified to pursue this conversation at a deeper level. It would be irresponsible of me to do that. And so if it really is something that we can't move away from, I just kind of put the brakes on. [01:01:47] PATRICK: I think that's good. Any of our listeners who happen to also be coaches, particularly if they've gone through a credentialing process that's been drilled into us, that we got to know when to refer and when something is out of our zone, I mean, it's an ethical decision. I can't pretend to be a therapist and play counselor with you. That's not something to play around with. But it is a fine line because you do have to get personal and you want to get personal. You want that openness and that trust to be able to acknowledge those things. And yeah, let's maybe remind ourselves every once in a while of that thing, but then now, how do we press forward one of the things that we do, and I don't know why I'm saying this, but just on my mind, since we're talking about it in counseling and therapy, the word triggers is used a lot. We say something triggers a thought or a mindset or a behavior. We use it in coaching, too, but we use it differently. We use triggers as intentional. Let's create some triggers, not triggers that remind us of the past, but triggers that make us aware in a moment to behave differently, to behave the way we're aspiring to behave and do what we're wanting to do. And so we'll set intentional triggers to create that sort of micro awareness. People we coach are macro aware. They know. Yeah, I'm too passive in meetings. I don't speak my mind. I want to change that. Okay, then what trigger can we create that will alert you when you're in the next moment where you have a chance to do it the way you want to do it? I don't know if you use that term, but that's maybe the difference between coaching and consulting, the way that we try to structure it in our work. [01:03:33] BRENDA: I don't use the term triggers in that way, but I think in terms of signaling system, but just something to. Because I'm not going to be there to say, hey, did you see that? Okay, now this is what we're talking about. [01:03:46] PATRICK: That's right. [01:03:47] BRENDA: Yeah, they've got to come up with something on their own. And we do try to co create something that will help them to really pause and think about taking a different approach to begin developing new habits talk a lot about what habit do we need to develop around this? What will get you moving in a different direction? [01:04:08] PATRICK: Yeah. Man, oh, man, this is so good. So rich. Well, let's wind this down. There's a couple of questions, Brenda, that I like to ask all my guests, because I love the stories that come with these and the different perspectives. Who comes to mind for you as that leader in your life, who you would say has had dramatic impact on who you are today and how you approach leadership today? Who's that person, and why? Not that there's just one, but who immediately comes to mind? [01:04:43] BRENDA: His name was Dr. Michael Olson. He was a professor that I had at Virginia Tech when I was in grad school. But more than just a professor, he was an industry consultant. So he brought real world experiences into the classroom, which I appreciated, many others feared. But you hear a lot about the teacher that made a difference and all that. I was an adult before I got to that person. It was Dr. Olsen. We became good friends and stayed in touch until the time of his death about ten years ago. But I so admired his approach, not just to how he functioned in academia, which can be somewhat limiting, and I'll stop there on that, but also in his role in the department, as a department head, and just some of the things that he was able to bring about at that time in the program to meet the needs of the day. When I talk about being nimble and really being present and bringing things forward, that's all of who he was. And he was one of the first people professionally that I encountered that really made me feel. It was almost like an affirmation. It was like, oh, okay. It's all right to think about things a little bit differently. It's all right to be committed to your approach and take risks and chances. [01:06:27] PATRICK: Wow. What a tribute. Yeah, that's awesome. Last question. You got 15 seconds from the mountaintop with a megaphone, and all the leaders of the world are listening. What's your message for all the leaders of the world? What's the Brenda Harrington 15, 2nd sound bite of leadership. That's no small question, right? Just give me 15 seconds of the essence of leadership from your point of view. But, yeah, what would that be? What's that number one tenet for all leaders? [01:06:57] BRENDA: I don't need 15 seconds. It's very simple. Humanity first. [01:07:03] PATRICK: You started out our conversation with that. People first. [01:07:07] BRENDA: People first. [01:07:08] PATRICK: Yeah. Just had a conversation recently with a consultant from the Netherlands named Paul Turwall. We were having this conversation about if you put the employees first. They'll take care of the customers. That's exactly, companies say our customer comes first. Should they? I don't know. They're people, too, I guess. Right? I love it. Brenda, thank you. Thank you. Thank you for the generosity of your time, your talent, your wisdom, your insight on this stuff. You've made me richer for this conversation. I know you've done the same for our listeners. Thank you for joining us. I really do appreciate it. [01:07:53] BRENDA: Thank you for having. I've enjoyed the conversation, folks. [01:07:57] PATRICK: This is one, I would encourage you to go back, listen to it again with a pen in your hand and take some good notes. Lead on.

Other Episodes