How to Disrupt Traditional Leadership Models with Brigette Iarrusso
On this episode, Jen visits with Brigette Iarrusso. She’s passionate about transforming how people and organizations approach leadership so it better reflects the collaborative environment we find outside of business. There are a lot of gems in here from a couple of leadership geeks – I think you’re going to love it!
Brigette is fired up about connecting and accelerating diverse purpose-driven entrepreneurs, business leaders, and change agents to make an impact and make a living while remaining in balance and in service to people and planet.
She’s a curator of deep connections, networking opportunities and safe spaces to have authentic conversations about how to accelerate one another’s careers and projects.
Some of her favorite projects have included leading initiatives to promote civil society and economic development from the ground up in the developing world.
Working with local leaders to empower them to shift the social and economic condition of their communities. Recruiting and mentoring leaders from diverse sectors for multi-stakeholder change management initiatives that address the negative impacts of mining and extractive industries. And, building programs that support educators in helping children learn a second language and becoming global citizens that care about people beyond their borders.
Her work is grounded in emotional intelligence, a strong lens around equity and inclusivity and a deep commitment to intercultural communication and collaboration.
Sally is a dynamic and interactive presenter, MC, and much sought after facilitator and executive coach. Sally’s clients rave about her because she leaves the audience equipped to take immediate positive action.
Jen: Hello and welcome to the Third Paddle podcast. I’m your host, your Jen McFarland. On this episode, I visit with Brigette Iarrusso. She’s passionate about transforming how people and organizations approach leadership, so it better reflects the collaborative environment we find outside of business. There are so many gems in here from a couple of total leadership geeks. I think you’re absolutely going to love it.
Announcer: Welcome to the Third Paddle podcast, recorded at the Vandal Lounge, in beautiful Southeast Portland, Oregon. Why the Third Paddle? Because even the most bad-ass entrepreneurs get stuck up in business shit creek. Management Consultant Jennifer McFarland is your third paddle, helping you get unstuck.
Jen: Hello. Welcome back to the Third Paddle. I’m joined today by Brigette Iarrusso. Let me just tell you a little bit about this amazing woman. Brigette is fired up about connecting and accelerating diverse, purpose-driven entrepreneurs, business leaders, and change agents to make an impact and make a living while remaining in balance and in service to people and the planet. She’s a curator of deep connections, networking opportunities, and safe spaces to have authentic conversations about how to accelerate one another’s careers and projects.
Some of her favorite projects have included leading initiatives to promote civil society and economic development, from the ground up in the developing world. Working with local leaders to empower them to shift the social and economic condition of their communities. Recruiting and mentoring leaders from diverse sectors for multi-stakeholder change, management initiatives that address the negative impacts of mining and extractive industries. And, building programs that support educators in helping children learn a second language and becoming global citizens that care about people beyond their borders.
Her work is grounded in emotional intelligence, a strong lens around equity and inclusivity, and a deep commitment to intercultural communication and collaboration. Brigette, welcome. It’s such a pleasure to have you on here.
Brigette: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Jen.
Jen: Yeah, it’s awesome. I think about it every once in a while how we met each other. We were at a conference, and I’m just sitting there. I’m like working and doing my thing. Then all of a sudden this person is sitting across from me, and I’m like, “I think I’m going to talk to her,” and you’re like, “I think I’m going to talk to her.”
Brigette: That’s right. You were the very, very first person I talked to on that day.
Jen: I know.
Brigette: Had a instant draw to you. I don’t know why. You looked like a rebel sitting there with your laptop doing your own thing.
Jen: I know, and it’s mostly that I’m just shy. Sometimes, it’s a coping mechanism to just bury my head in the computer a little bit instead of talk to a bunch of people I don’t know. But I’m so glad that we did talk because we found right away that we had a lot of connections and that we share a same values, especially around equity and inclusion. As somebody who’s served overseas in the Peace Corps, I just really admire the work that you’ve done overseas and continue to do overseas, helping people just get better in this world, right?
Brigette: Yes, that’s what we’re all about here, empowering and accelerating other people so they can do their best work and be fulfilled and happy with themselves, too.
Jen: One of the things that we’re going to talk about today is disrupting traditional leadership models and what is on the horizon in terms of leadership today and how to reach diverse communities and also younger people who have a different idea about leadership than the traditional model. First things first, before we can disrupt something, we need to define what we’re disrupting. So what are some of the traditional leadership models that we have?
Brigette: Yeah, that’s a great question and certainly not a simple one. It’s a complex question. I like to think of traditional leadership as one that is about dominance and power and ensuring that people comply with you because they know that they need to that there’s a potential consequence or a bad outcome that would come from not following what you have to offer them to do. Traditional leadership relies on a lot of firm, direct supervision and management of people. It’s a mindset and a belief system that says that if people are left to their own devices, they are not necessarily going to be efficient or productive or engaged.
And so, traditional leadership requires a firm hand and a strong level of control to ensure that people do what needs to get done. You’ll see these traditional leadership models still in many types of industries and in many places. Some of the places that I think of, historically, when I think of leadership and this authoritarian model, which is very different than authoritative, which we can speak to later, which is you can still be strong and clear as a leader without being authoritarian. But I think of things like government, military, most traditional education systems, religious structures, which is essentially we are those that hold the power, make the rules, and call the shots.
The rest of you are beneath us and should follow what we have to say because you’re not necessarily capable of much without our guidance and direction. If left alone, chaos will ensue. So that’s a very broad brushstroke. Then in the corporate world, there is still a very traditional dominant culture of male leadership in terms of those that are in positions of greatest authority, the top-tier managers and leaders and CEOs and CFOs are overwhelmingly male. While I’m an advocate for gender fluidity, there are certain types of styles that you could categorize as more male or female just because those are the terms that we’re relegated to use.
And so, male dominant leadership is often analytical and pragmatic and all about outcomes and data and numbers and performance and not necessarily as focused on processes, feelings, and social interaction, and relationships. So for me, it’s about, how do we move into a paradigm where we can start to shift some of those paradigms, narratives around leadership and styles that don’t actually match what the average diverse workforce or organizational makeup looks like anymore? So I think that’s the biggest thing that I see when I think about the old traditional paradigm of leadership is that, quite frankly, people of power are often white, privileged, and male, and that is who is typically the dominant class and those that hold those positions of leadership.
That’s not what our world looks like anymore. It’s not to say that those people can’t lead or be effective leaders. But there is a shift that needs to happen in understanding how to engage with and motivate and work with diverse groups of individuals, which is what the average organization or company looks like nowadays.
Jen: Absolutely, absolutely. As somebody who worked in government and studied government, we have the same degree. We both have a master’s in public administration, and I know you do a lot of work with government. We both know a lot of those systems and processes, they have a lot of implicit bias, built in, baked in because it was all created in the ’50s, and that’s why it’s so much bureaucracy and so much of that top-down, a lot of sticks and carrots, like motivating people with a little reward and then punishing them terribly when they step out of line. There’s not a lot of collaboration.
And so, I view the traditional leadership model as particularly beneficial to older generations because so much of this is born out of the ’50s. So people, like the baby boomers who’ve had honestly a stranglehold on corporate, political, and bureaucratic power for 50-plus years. So the question I have is, do you see a correlation between generational cohorts and the leadership models that they prefer?
Brigette: Yeah, absolutely. I think that the average leader in a position, again, of higher power and higher levels of authority, tends to be of an older generation. There is a certain resistance and sense of threat with the shift in the working demographic becoming younger, more women, more diverse. I think people, in general, we’re creatures of comfort and familiarity. And so, it’s not necessarily again that these types of older generations or older leaders can’t make a change. But they’re not necessarily given the toolkit to do so, and they lead from often a place of fear of changing things. They’re used to doing business as usual.
I think that the ways that they lead in the past perhaps generated results. They had some measure of business success, were able to generate revenue, and considered themselves somewhat successful. So to really lead from a place of empathy toward this paradigm, one needs to think about how this generation might actually be feeling threatened or themselves less valuable in this new, globalized, multi-ethnic, more gender-balanced … We’re getting there. We’re not there. But there’s definitely a shift that’s happened in, again, the average workforce how might some of these leaders actually feel even not prepared to adapt to what is needed of them.
And in that lack of self-confidence and preparedness, how might they fall back on old ways of leading that again, it just creates this vicious cycle of doing what they know. Not getting the results they want with their people, getting frustrated, and then maybe even feeling bad or self-critical. But that’s not necessarily what gets expressed. What gets expressed is dominance and the top-down managerial mindset of like, “You all are not doing what you’re supposed to do, and so, I’m going to push down harder.” You know, you spoke to government, and I can’t really name names, but I have some clients right now that are at the higher levels of the cities that I live in here in the Bay Area.
They are really given the task of managing and leading some huge agencies that are with social services for young people and seniors and adults, and these are incredibly complex roles. And again, I see people overwhelmed, frustrated, and stressed, and doing what they think needs to get done to make stuff happen, but it’s not producing the results. So in many ways they’re trapped in their own paradigm of the old ways of doing things. And so, for me, it’s about how can I myself lead from a space of empathy and try to listen to those people without judgment and help them to articulate the challenges that they’re facing in their role.
And then work with them to get curious and creative around what might actually be driving some of those challenges, and see if I can support them in getting to a place of self-awareness and ownership around the fact that they may very well have something to do with the challenges that are happening. But some traditional types of organizations don’t necessarily have that practice of reflection and self-awareness and thinking, “Are those of us at the top in some way responsible for the climate and the outcomes that this organization is having?” Or it’s just those people. They’re not doing what they’re supposed to do, and that’s why it’s not working.
So it’s how do we move away from blame and shame to a paradigm of curiosity of like, “What’s going to fix this? What’s going to make this work better?”
Jen: Exactly, and I think that having worked in government and understanding the complexity within a system where it’s typically underfunded, understaffed, and you’re bound by all of these rules that honestly make no freaking sense. Then somebody’s coming in and saying, “We could do it this way,” and it’s a threat. Not only that than in as someone who worked in tech in government. Then it’s a place where you’re actually at times depositioning the people in power because they don’t understand technology. They don’t understand these new models of leadership, like what you are speaking to, and they don’t understand the power around things like collaboration and leading from a different model.
So it’s like you’re shaking up the snow globe, and they’re freaking out, and it’s hard to navigate in that as a consultant or as an employee, especially when there’s this big world out there that you see everywhere as soon as you leave the four walls of your office. But there’s a lot of complexity inside that office as well, and I think that one of the things I would like you to explain for our listeners is how the complexity of why these traditional leadership models no longer work when we look not only at age but also at things like gender and race.
Brigette: Yes. I think part of the what’s missing from that old paradigm of leadership is a real understanding and a real commitment to what actually motivates people in a place of work to contribute their full value, to contribute their full worth. And so, we’re often given a very limited box within which we’re expected to operate. So again, those at the top in a position of leadership create roles and responsibilities and positions for people, and they often mandate what your role is. Now, I think when you’re dealing with a large organization, a lot of moving parts, that makes sense to some degree. You’ve got to create some structures and some order. But often, people are capable of far more than what their job description says, and they have a lot of other ideas. They can be more innovative.
Often people that are the greatest innovators are those that are seen as disruptive troublemakers. I am going to guess that you were a troublemaker. I am a troublemaker, and what I’ve learned about myself is the things that I did internally in more traditional organizations that were seen as problematic or disruptive are the very things that helped me succeed as an entrepreneur on the outside of those institutions because I see that the things that I strive for, like constantly getting curious about how to solve problems better, how to work together better, how to create more shared value, how to get people to contribute their full value more is actually what’s needed.
And again, it’s about folks may have a sense of that, but they don’t know how to do it. There’s a specific toolkit that is required to support diverse people in collaborating. And so, I have probably three or four frameworks that I support people, but I think the first one, and you mentioned it in my bio, is this idea of emotional and social intelligence. Everyone’s familiar with Daniel Goleman’s writing and his work, but what the hell does that actually mean? What does that translate to in a practical sense for a leader? This is this idea of just having a sense of your own energy, mood, language, how you speak to things has a real impact on how others experience those things.
So I’m a leader that is lacking in self-awareness, that comes to work frustrated or upset or brings my own drama into the workplace. Whether it’s related to the work or external to it, I’m creating a real impact. My reports, my team is going to take on what I’m feeling and how I’m speaking to things. So if everything is a crisis and everything is a big problem and everything is frustrating and exhausting and challenging, then that’s the reality I make for others and even for myself. So I’m also really thinking about this from a neuroscientific perspective, and this is where we get a little geeky here.
We actually have the power as human beings to create a record, a narrative around what we’re experiencing, and it actually influences how we experience it. So to give an example, I’m a busy mom. I’ve had craziness in my life. I have a disabled mom, and I had a narrative of chaos in my life that I had normalized. Being in a state of constant agitation and chaos for me was okay. It’s just what it was, and I thought that that was the way to narrate my experience. Now, four years after, I’ve learned through some of the coaching tools that I’ve used myself or have had others use with me. I’ve actually learned to create a narrative of resilience, of perseverance, of resourcefulness, of my capacity to solve and multitask.
So the chaos, it’s still chaos, but my response to it and how I navigate it is empowered and shifted. And so, for me, one of the biggest tools that a leader can really adapt and learn is how do you shift the narrative around the chaos and the challenges because guess what? Nobody is showing up tomorrow with a magic wand, and when they wave it, everything is going to calm down and work out, and there’s not going to be any issues or challenges. That’s just not how it works, especially again, going back to these complex businesses and agencies and a lot of moving parts and a lot of pressures. So knowing that that stuff exists, how do we get really skillful at understanding our response to that and looking at alternative ways to respond to that?
Within that structure of being self-aware and understanding our mood and how it relates to how we talk about what we’re feeling, there’s this aspect of taking care of ourselves and showing up for our people as a leader from a place that is not depleted, overwhelmed, exhausted, and frustrated. If we feel that way, what do we need to do to shift so we can come into the space of working with others from a place that is renewed, that is constructive, that is positive, and that is affirmative? That’s not to mean we’re like all day, every day, sprinkling fairy dust. We’re human.
So it’s we can speak to challenges and issues, but then how do we move from the complaining and the focusing on the problem and the naming all the issues, which we’re all experts at, and most of us revel in that, and focus on the affirmative outcome we desire? So again, this is fundamental stuff but we all forget to do it. So often we talk about what we don’t want as leaders. You’re not doing a good job around this. These are the problems. This is where you’re not hitting the mark. These are all the limitations. That serves a purpose to some degree. But it’s not what motivates people.
What we really need to spend our energy talking about is what is the outcome that we desire, what is the affirmative constructive end goal that we want, because when we learn how to speak to that, then we can actually bring forth resources, intention, energy, and focus to the positive constructive outcome. So there’s a whole bunch wrapped up in that. But I would say learning how to use constructive language, learning how to reframe problems and issues into opportunities, to create solutions into opportunities, to get collaborative, and to get innovative, and to get resourceful, that is a mindset and a language that really serves a model of leadership that supports people in being valued and seen.
So then getting to those underlying, deeper needs to address people from diverse backgrounds and diverse perspectives because culturally or ethnically they’re different, they may have views that are extremely valuable. They may have life experiences that are really relevant and may resonate or relate to other people you serve with your business or your organization. But because the box you’ve given them is so slim, they don’t necessarily feel empowered or safe in speaking up and sharing all of their ideas, because we often as leaders get fearful and triggered when we hear too many ideas.
We’re married to the fact that we think we may have a great idea or it’s the best idea. How do we let go of that? Like, let go of the resistance, and let people actually bring forth all of their rich ideas, and then learn how to help those people determine which of those strategies are the best. Give them the criteria. Facilitate support, absolutely. As a leader, you’re there to connect the dots. Help people make those connections. But what would happen if you created a space for fertile, constant, energized conversations where people felt safe to bring all their thoughts and their ideas? I mean, this is where the magic happens.
But again, it’s not necessarily how things are done, and it can feel messy or not feel as easy. It’s really easy to tell people how to do things and what to do. But it doesn’t mean it yields the best results, and it doesn’t mean people actually feel valued and-
PART 1 OF 3 ENDS [00:22:04]
Brigette: . . . it yields the best results, and it doesn’t mean people actually feel valued and want to continue working there or working for you.
Jen: Yeah, I mean I think a big part of retaining employees and keeping people energized has to do with acknowledging that there’s more than one right way, more than one solution available, and people communicate differently. When we’re talking about people from another culture or another gender. There’s linear and nonlinear communication, and leaders need to practice patience if they’re very linear and they’re talking to somebody who likes to tell the story before they introduce an idea, which is a nonlinear approach.
I’ve been over here giggling thinking about whether or not I was a troublemaker in government, and I guess I was. I never thought of it that way. I mostly spent the better part of 10 years being incredibly frustrated because it was either that my idea would only be considered a good idea if a man said it. Like I’d say it five times and then a man would say it once, and then, “Oh my God, like this is the best idea ever.”
Then it was also I was always in a position of influence, but it was influence that I had to make other people think it was their idea, which is a very difficult place to always be. Because I believe that there are a lot of possible solutions, if it conflicted with my supervisor, that didn’t always go over well. Bear in mind that my supervisor didn’t know . . . he didn’t understand technology at all.
There were a lot of conflicts, and I guess I was a troublemaker. I’ve just never considered it that way because I was serving the public. I’m a very public service-oriented person. I’m looking at the end customer, which is the public, and not really considering whether or not my boss is going to like my idea.
Brigette: I wanted to speak to one of the things you said there, because it’s really important, which is this . . . I want to speak to what you said last, but what you said earlier is around the differences in how we communicate depending on our culture or where we were raised, who we are. There’s this idea of the linear, and then there’s this idea of like the direct versus the indirect communication style.
I think we joked about this the other day, but I’m from New York. I don’t know if anybody could pick up on that little accent there. As a result of being from New York and being half Puerto Rican and half Italian and from families and communities where direct communication is the norm, I tend to say what I mean, and I tend to be really explicit and fearless in how I share my views, and this is not how everyone communicates, obviously. In different cultures, being indirect, or polite, or saving face, or not being explicit in how you give feedback or give your opinion is the cultural norm.
Part of a really sophisticated transformational leadership toolkit for a leader that really wants people to understand each other and engage with each other in ways that are really productive, there is a level of sophistication that needs to be arrived at around how do you support people with those different communication styles in really hearing one another and understanding one another.
There’s an aspect of leadership that has to do with facilitation. I think, for me, I would say that that’s the next rung in this ladder of toolkits that I think are so essential for great leadership is how do you ask powerful questions that don’t put people on the defensive, that help people feel that you have authentic curiosity and want to know more? Also, if you have someone that’s direct or dominant, how do you support that person, again, maybe with a different set of powerful questions in understanding how they might adapt in their team to make space for others? Being a great leader for me has to do with being a team facilitator and a group coach.
To give an example, I teach in a course at UC Berkeley called Entrepreneurial Leadership. It’s for students that are from all around the world. I have Asian. I have Latin American. I have European students, and they all have different ways of communicating. I purposefully put them in diverse groups and teams, and I trained them around how to draw out and ask questions of those that are less direct, those that are more introverted that may light up in smaller groups. How do you create intentional spaces and groupings of people that make them feel safe? When they feel more confident and more valued and more heard, how do you build people up so that they can contribute more? This is, again, an actual skill.
I think this misconception, and you even spoke to yourself earlier about being a little bit more introverted, being on your laptop, is this idea that if someone’s a bit of an introvert, they have less to offer, they have fewer ideas, and this couldn’t be further from the truth. Often introverts are brimming with amazing ideas and so much value to offer, but they’re misunderstood or people think they don’t like other people. Just because someone’s an introvert, or they take longer to warm up, or it takes a little more time to feel comfortable doesn’t mean they don’t like working with others.
Again, it’s understanding these nuances of individuals’ different behaviors, communication styles, how they engage with one another. The whole distinction and the range of those things as you move into the complexity of people being from different ethnicities and cultures. It’s how do we help equip leaders with that sophisticated toolkit around intercultural communication, facilitating collaboration around diverse teams, and using a coaching toolkit to stay away from judgment, and keeping curious around what else could there be here. What if there’s more here than meets the eye? That’s just a little bit around that piece that I wanted to kind of highlight, because I think it’s so, so critical.
Jen: No, thank you for that. I want to say that part of my struggle I honestly think was as a woman in tech kind of struggle. On earlier episodes, I’ve talked about how when you look up leadership quotes, images, anything. It’s really hard to find a lot of women leaders in these areas in images or quotes beyond Eleanor Roosevelt, which I’m sorry, that was a really long time ago, and Sheryl Sandberg, which is not a long time ago, but it’s just one perspective. There’s still a stigma about leadership and power and how these concepts are masculine characteristics. How do we begin to shift and maybe unlearn some of this ideology?
Brigette: Ew, you used a big, good word there. That’s a word that I actually became familiar with through my own mentor coach. I’m going to give him a shout out because I know he’s often really humble, but Hans Kurdi of Elevate Institute was my own coach and he helped me understand this really power concept of unlearning the stories or the narratives that we have around things. We have so many stories around power and leadership, and that it’s this masculine form. What I’ve come to realize on the inside of working in leadership and leadership development is that so much of what is quote “powerful or effective” in leadership is more feminine in energy and approach.
When we say feminine, what the hell do we mean by this? Again, we use these labels. This idea of leadership that is inclusive, where we create space for people to be heard. If they’re not being heard, how can we assert ourselves and still be authentic to who we are as women? We all know the sort of ridiculous ’80s kind of power woman caricature of the bitch, the Chrystal or whatever these women from Dynasty and Dallas, like when women were really breaking the glass ceiling, all these kind of ’80s . . . Melanie. What was that lady, the Melanie lady?
Jen: Melanie Griffith?
Brigette: Melanie Griffith, yeah. Like you’ve got to get in there with your shoulder pads and you got to act like a man to make it happen. You got to be heard above the bustle of all the men dominating in the space, and that was our narrative for a while. Enough of us, I think, have gotten into places of some level of authority and leadership in organizations to realize that the way we are authentically as women in terms of being nurturers, in terms of being caring and having an affiliative approach to people where we care about how they feel and what they’re experience is, is exactly what’s needed for organizations, corporations, and businesses to thrive.
Empathy and social skills are the cornerstone of good business, and it’s the thing that often is the footnote, but for me it’s like the meat of the platter. It’s like empathy is something that allows you to identify with your target audience, understand the problem from someone else’s perspective, really listen to every aspect of every dimension, every layer of something, and then think strategically about how to respond to that. These more feminine ways of leading are often exactly what companies need, but it becomes this sort of narrative where those things are belittled or taken down to a level of, “Well, that’s nice. That’s a sort of an add on thing, but that’s not how business is done.” I’m seeing that that narrative is gradually shifting.
I also am seeing that consumers are becoming more critical and more specific and clear about who they want to do business with, where they want to spend their money, the kinds of companies or businesses that they want to work with. I think there’s a level of competition out there where companies that really know how to put people first and walk the talk internally and externally are the ones that are really doing well. Those are the businesses that are having employees that are retained, that are engaged, that want to stay with the business, that care about the company’s mission and vision. They feel aligned with it, and they feel like they can bring their full value. Those are the places that have some people that are really high performing.
Other companies are not concerned with that, and they’re okay with being a mill for people coming and going, but frankly with Glassdoor and now social media where a lot of the company’s inter dirty laundry is getting aired, the era of that stuff happening behind closed doors is kind of over. The gig is up, folks. If you have an organizational culture where people are not happy after a few months or they’re constantly leaving, you’re going to gain a reputation for that.
There are enough companies now that actually do want to create a people first organizational culture and climate that’s safe for women, that’s inclusive of women’s perspective, that’s inclusive of people of color, that’s inclusive of people with different orientations and gender expressions. That guess what, employees also can be savvy consumers and choose where to go, and you might be losing some really amazing talent and great people that you’re not going to even know because you’re closed in your insular perspective of what people can offer your business. It’s a real win-win framework when you think about creating space for all people to bring their full value.
Jen: Absolutely, and I think that one of the things that we forget. For people who are in that top down, rule bound, traditional leadership model, that really are embracing the model from the ’50s, I think that what gets forgotten when they’re seeking out talent is that people are interviewing you just as much as you’re interviewing them. They’re going to ask questions, and they’re kind of testing you out. People complain a lot about the Millennials, but they’ve got it right. THey’re like, “I don’t need to be some place for 40 years and be ground up and be spit out. That’s just not the way things are being done anymore.”
I think that that’s true of everybody. With social media and all of this technology available to people and all of the things like Glassdoor and everything, you realize how many choices that you have out there. If you’re a top talent, you don’t have to stay someplace that is just shitty, you really don’t. With that in mind, what’s the alternative to this top down, rule bound? YOu’ve talked about it a little bit, but let’s just really dig into this alternative model, this other way of being?
Brigette: Yeah, I think for me, again, it goes back to this . . . For me, there’s a sort of framework that I like to call the coaching triangle. It’s a framework that’s easy to wrap your head around. Again, it sounds super straightforward, but there’s three aspects of this framework when you’re thinking about leading as a coaching leader, a leader that is there to empower. It’s what I mentioned earlier, which is how do you stay away from judgment and assuming you understand something, you have the answer based on what you can see? How do you get infinitely curious and teach the people in your company to get curious and ask a lot of questions and dig out more possibilities and more options before you move forward, so that’s one aspect of it.
The other is how do you empower people to take initiative and get resourceful and move away from the broken CEO story of, “I’m so stressed and overwhelmed because I’ve got so much stuff on my plate and I can’t do it all. It’s all on me and I’m responsible for everyone and everything in this company. If the stuff is falling apart, it’s my fault.” Yes, that’s true to some degree, but if you’re that overwhelmed and there’s that much on your plate, then you’re not doing a good enough job delegating and empowering people to take ownership over those parts of your business.
For me, great leadership is really about understanding who else in your company can do certain things even better than you can, letting go of control, and allowing those people to go and do. They’re going to go fuck up sometimes. That’s just the reality. Part of being a great leader is giving people enough space to fuck up and allowing them space to learn from those mistakes and coaching them through the mistakes, because we learn experientially.
This is one of those things that great leaders often lose sight of. We are experiential learners. We always were. We were born that way. Then we were denatured from how we are taught to do things like study and read theories and then go practice it and copy. No. The way we learn is we do, we fail, we learn what we did wrong, we do it again. We get slightly better at it. As a leader, you got to create space for failure. You got to embrace the fuck ups, and you got to empower people to let go of the criticism and the judgment when they screw up.
Stop worrying about who made this mistake, why did it happen, how did you all fuck this up again, and focus on what did we learn, what can we do better next time, how does lead to something better. Because for me, this is the way I live my life. It’s how I live my business. It’s how I coach people. There are always going to be mishaps, and if we can embrace the lesson in the mishaps, we can continue to get better, but we caught up in criticism. That’s, I would say, the second pillar of that coaching framework.
Then the third one is really being forward action oriented. Again, moving away from the frittering around with endless meetings, talking about all the challenges and what we’re going to do, and the this . . . If I could pinpoint the one thing that continually comes up when I’m out there doing executive coaching or coaching for teams in an organization is we waste so much time in meetings. Then in the same breath those same people will say, “We don’t have enough time to get stuff done in this company.”
We are time monsters. We can have 12 hours in a workday, and we will find a way to gobble up and fritter away that time talking about stuff, analyzing stuff, worrying about stuff. How do we create an action oriented mindset and pattern in our company where people are crystal clear on what needs to happen, who needs to do it, what’s the best way to do it, let’s get going. If it’s not happening, what would help us make it happen? What do we need? That’s being a coach. It’s literally like shit needs to happen. What do we got to do to make it happen? Again, that sounds really pedestrian, it sounds really common sense, but it’s literally not how business is done as usual.
People love two-hour meetings, team meetings, people checking in, sharing stories. All that stuff is great, but does it drive the results you need and what does? Again, it’s not about there’s no space for that stuff, but do you have that on a Friday? Is it informal? Is it people come and share wins and tell stories, and then you get down to business other days of the week and you have powwows and laser meetings, laser sessions where you’re really facilitative and you help people think about where do we want to move the ball? How do we get it there? If the ball is stuck, find another way to move it.
Jen: Yeah, I’m a big fan of like stand up meeting that are very laser. The reason it’s a stand up meeting is you’re literally standing, which I think makes people be a little more brief.
Brigette: Yeah, and then there’s this idea of like what’s most important? How do you help people really get clear on priorities? In most businesses, priorities are things like delivering your value, really communicating your value to your ideal audience and your ideal clients, understanding if your marketing strategy is a match for the people you want to work with, understanding if you’re getting the results for the people that you want to serve. This is the stuff that matters, so how do you really prioritize and focus on that? There’s a lot of noise and a lot of details going on, and how do you help your people cut through the noise and do what really matters and focus on what’s really important?
I think that, for me, is a huge part of this leadership model. Again, sometimes other people will see things that you don’t see. You have blind spots. How do you keep it moving, keep the questions agile, keep really powerful questions going? Listen to your people. They might see a better way out that you’re not seeing. Part of this is, yeah, creating an environment of coming forth with innovative ideas and not being afraid. Like in your case, should I pipe down? Should I just do the normal? If I’m a squeaky wheel because I’m a woman, am I going to be seen as the person that’s always pushing for something?
How do you create a climate where people feel safe to push for things to be better, and they are rewarded in ways that are authentic, that help them see that what they contributed is really valuable to the company? Bonuses and raises, of course, are great, and they are welcome. People always appreciate additional income, but often people want to move up professionally. They want to stretch. They want to be challenged. They want to achieve more and have a greater impact. How do you build into your organization a culture of continuous learning and professional development and goal setting so that people are motivated to show up and they’re not just doing the same old same old?
Jen: Exactly. Most people don’t leave a job because of money. They don’t. Usually it has nothing to do with money. It has to do more with am I continuing to learn? Am I respected in my job? What’s the leadership like? People just leave.
Jen: If it’s not working, they’re going to leave. It doesn’t matter how much money you throw at them. I think there’s really something to creating safe spaces that are not HR related, nontraditional places. A lot of it does start with that leader. If they’re not interested in continuing to learn, if they’re not interested in embracing other ideas, a lot of this stuff is a nonstarter. I think that’s why your work is so important is to get people to that place where they can say, “Oh yeah, if we want to be a healthy organization, if we want to be an organization that continues to grow and is truly reflective of the world out there, we need to start doing things differently.”
When we talk about transformational leadership, that’s something you’ve talked about a couple times, what is that? What is transformational leadership?
Brigette: The fundamental principle of transformational leadership, and there’s a great quote that I’m going to forget who said it, but it’s an idea that leadership is an art form. It’s a way of understanding that leadership is situational. It’s complex. There’s not one way or one style. That a truly transformational leader is someone that can empower and inspire other people to do great things on their behalf, not because the leader told them to or wants them to, because those people feel inspired and empowered to do the work that the leader has laid out for them. A transformational leader is about building leadership in others. They’re not afraid to share . . .
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Brigette: [inaudible [00:44:00] leadership in others. They’re not afraid to share space and empower other people to go beyond maybe where they are. Again, moving back to that traditional masculine model, the leader has to be the smartest, the best, the person at the top who has all the great ideas. A transformational leader is someone that believes in a powerful, facilitative model.
If my people excel and even surpass me, I’m doing my job. If I’m building a whole other generation of great leaders in my company, so what if they’re younger or women or people of other ethnicities? What world would we live in if every single person felt empowered to fulfill their fullest potential, to reach the pinnacle of their particular area of genius, their zone of expertise, and could go and inspire and lead themselves?
When I get into an organization that has a mindset that they’re ready to take this work on with me, I’ve got a potential client in Brazil right now, they want every person in that organization to feel that they’re a leader, that they can bring forth their ideas, that they can inspire.
Again, there’s this old school mentality of feel. Too many cooks in the kitchen, or I mean, there’s all this old school sayings, and yeah, if everyone’s trying to be an old school leader and control and tell everyone what to do, then yeah, that’s sucky. You don’t want a lot of those. But if you’re inspiring a tribe of people to be transformational leaders in your organization and everyone’s being inspired with this coaching toolkit to go out and get resourceful, and help get collaborative and find solutions, the more the merrier.
Brigette: And building out this framework where you’re taking pressure off yourself. You go from being the poor me, the suffering person at the top, that it’s so overwhelming, to this is a shared ship. The stuff is distributed out amongst us, we’re all in this together, we’re clear and of course, there’s strategy behind this too. This is not all this woo-woo Kumbaya stuff. You need to have your shit in order to do this well.
You need to have a clear organizational strategic plan. Where are you going? What are your five outcomes in five years? What are your revenue goals? What are your sales goals? What are your marketing goals? Everybody in every team needs to know those goals and then what are their own goals? Their own clear key performance indicators. How am I succeeding in my role? What am I trying to get done? How do I know that I’m getting it done? What are those markers of success?
When you have that clarity and the strategy and the alignment, and everybody knows what the bigger overarching goals of the organization is, everyone’s clear on their role, they’re clear on their group’s role, then they can be empowered and released. Go get there as you will. We all know where we’re going. You may take a different path, but we know what the outcome is that we desire.
Getting to some of the business underneath this, I’m not just like, again, I believe in mindful leadership, I believe in self-care. There’s some spiritual jazzy stuff that I bring to my toolkit, but I’m also deeply pragmatic and strategic, and if you don’t have your house in order with your organization, this transformational leadership model is not going to be easy or doable.
If you do, and everyone is clear on the vision, they’re all on the same page, everyone’s crystal on the outcomes they’re moving toward, you can get a lot done with a lot less handholding and management.
Jen: Absolutely. I mean, this is about empowering people to lead from where they’re at. This is about telling people, “We’re all on this ship, this is the way that we’re rowing, let’s all row together.” Then you don’t have top-down. You have top-down, bottom-up, and then across the organization, people leading and taking initiatives, because they’re clear about the goals, they’re clear about the revenue, they’re clear about everything that they’re supposed to do, but there’s not that fear there of what will happen if I take an action that I view is best for the organization, that is clearly within my scope of work, and what I am empowered to do.
I think that’s where you see the true transformational leadership happening, is when it’s that, in the MPA program, my husband always makes fun of this book, but it’s about servant leadership, it’s about leading from where you’re at, and realizing that everybody in an organization has a part to play and a leadership role, and being of service to others.
But that doesn’t exist a lot in organizations. It does take a lot of work and it does take a lot of effort, and you have to try and fail, but it’s all possible. I mean, that’s what’s so exciting about it, and that’s what a lot of your results have been around, is seeing this transformation, but before we get into that, how do we apply this to small businesses or even a solopreneur?
Brigette: Yeah, that’s such a good question. I was thinking about that this morning, and I think that toxic, dominant, overly masculine leadership approach often is in the mix in how we lead ourselves as entrepreneurs and how we are in our small business. Often with my clients, I work both with solo entrepreneurs and small businesses and then I work with larger organizations.
I see some parallels there where my clients will talk to themselves, tell me about themselves as the one in the business doing the work, in ways that are so critical, so judgmental, and so harsh, that I will literally stop them and be like, “Hold up a second. You’re saying that you are unfocused, you can’t get your shit together, you’re so lazy, you’re not good enough at this. If you had someone working for you and they were doing that work that way, would you tell them like that?”
They’re like, “Oh no, I would never talk to someone else like that” and yet, that’s how they treat themselves as an employee. Their own employee. They put massive pressure on themselves. I was just speaking with a young woman yesterday who she might hear this and know who she is. She wanted to launch her mastermind in two weeks. She gave herself no lead time. She’s like, “‘Cause I’m a high performance coach, I’m all about getting stuff done. I’m going to give myself a few weeks, I’m going to put this thing out there, and if it fails, it’s ’cause I’m not high performing enough.
And I’m going, “Whoa. Was that fair to you? Do you really think you’ve set yourself up for success? What are the rules and the pressures that you’re putting yourself through? What are you putting on yourself as an entrepreneur? Is that yielding the results? Is being really hard on ourselves, really critical, really judgmental, ‘That’s not good enough. That looks shitty. You’re not doing it well. Don’t put it out there it looks like crap.’ Would you ever talk to someone on your team that was a designer?”
Then, if a person on your team was like you and they were literally drowning, they were like doing the sales, and the marketing, and the technology, and the product development, and the market research, and the coaching, and they were like, “I can’t breathe. I’m stressed out. I can’t sleep,” would you be like, “Shut up. Do your job. It’s your business?” This is literally what my clients are doing to themselves, and I’m thinking, “That’s an interesting leadership model.” What if you actually listened to yourself and thought about what you needed? Like, do you need to delegate? Do you need to hire someone to do your technology? Like I hired you to do my website, and take care of things that my brain doesn’t really know how to wrap itself around.
Do you hire a few people to do your bookkeeping? Do you hire a woman to clean your house without feeling guilty?
Jen: Or a man.
Brigette: Or a man, because it’s overwhelming to try to be a solopreneur, work from a home office, and go out and have dishes and laundry piled up that block your creativity, and your productivity. Taking that model of if you’re a leader of an organization and you see your people are overworked and under resourced, and not being valued, or being treated with respect, are you doing those things to yourself in your small business? How can you notice how you treat yourself and make a shift?
Part of it, and this is the scary part, has to do with spending money that you may not have yet. Then, it’s going to back to this idea of do businesses need to spend money to make money? Big businesses get this. They have financial resources, they’re willing to spend them, and yes, they can make more money with the money they spend.
Often solopreneurs and startups and small businesses are terrified, and they keep their purse strings really so tight that they actually can’t grow. They can’t meet the goals that they want to meet, and so for me, part of the work is helping those people understand that you may need to take a leap and invest money that you may not have yet, so that you can empower your business model to grow to where it needs to be.
So yeah, you may need to hire a tech coach. Because if you spend eight hours a day crying and ripping your hair out, because you cannot set up your website, and your rate is $200 an hour, you just lost an opportunity of $1600 of your own time to work, working on your website. What if you hired someone for $200 a day to fix it? A lot of times, we have stories about finances and how we lead in our business, that are totally not reality.
We’ve created an illusion and we need to get down underneath that illusion and think about I’m leading myself. If I were leading myself as an outside person, what would I ask that person? What do they need to succeed? What’s supporting them? What’s overwhelming them? Are they working in this business, contributing what they’re good at, and giving their full value? Or are they doing 10,000 other crappy things that they don’t want to do, that’s not in their zone of expertise?
Like, I suck at billing, and finally I had to just be like, “Girl, you’ve got to stop doing your own billing. This is terrible. I need to have someone else do my invoicing and my billing because I suck at it, I take way longer than someone else,” and yeah, there is an opportunity cost and a soul cost with me doing something that I hate that depletes me and exhausts me. I guess that’s just one of the ways I think of-
Jen: Can I get an amen?
Brigette: Yes. I don’t know if you can tell from the passion in my voice, but I’m really passionate about helping entrepreneurs break that pattern. Because there are some really amazing people out there that can change the world through what they have to offer in their business, and they’re afraid to take the leap. They’re afraid to build a team, hire people, outsource things, do less to earn more. They have these broken stories that are old school, old fashioned masculine work stories. “You’ve got to work hard, put in a lot of hours. Don’t be lazy.”
I’m like, “Um, that’s actually not always true.” You have to work smart, you have to work strategically, you have to deliver … There’s a lot of have tos in business. You have to deliver something valuable, and you have to solve a problem for someone. But working a lot of hours and getting burned out is not necessarily something you have to do. And so that’s a narrative that we need to disrupt and unlearn, both at the level of startups and independent entrepreneurs, and within big companies.
We’ve got to disrupt the narrative that people need to be burned out, overworked, and put in a lot of time to produce results. Because that is absolutely the exact opposite of what people need to produce. In order for people to be productive, high performing, engaged, and give serious output, people need to be relaxed, supported, happy, balanced, well cared for. That’s why companies that are killing it have massage rooms and have a pool, and have a place where your kids are taken care of, so you’re not a mom crying and sniffing your baby’s fucking onesie at your desk and pumping and freaking out about the fact that you’re not going to see your baby child for the whole 10 hour damn workday, or more, depending on your commute time.
Companies that get that a mommy that can go and breast feed her kid, or check in on them at the nursery are going to be lit up and happy and grounded at work to do their job because they know their kid is well cared for and they can go check in on them. Again, big scary leap. “You’re going to do what? Create a nursery at your company? Have a daycare?” Guess what, Pixar has the dopest daycare nursery preschool in all of the East Bay of the Bay Area.
I have been there, I have gone to their site, and people at Pixar are happy ’cause they know where their kids are. They can go have lunch with them on the Pixar playground.
Jen: But you know, that’s not even just for really big places like Pixar. A few weeks ago, we talked to Tim McCain, he was the entrepreneur who spent some time in prison and now runs three different software companies. He spoke about the need to have a gym. He has 20 employees. This is not a huge … I mean, this is a big business, but it’s not a huge business, and he put in a gym, and when kids are sick, they can come in so that people can be near their kids.
Daycare, all of that kind of thing, because he wants to create a family environment and he wants to create an environment where people feel comfortable and happy and safe, and he has created an environment. I saw it firsthand, where he’s admitting mistakes, or if he makes an answer and then he’s like, “I don’t think I approached that right,” he’ll go back to the employee and say, “I’m sorry I didn’t handle that right. Let me talk to you in about 10 minutes, after I have some time to think about this a little bit differently.”
Then he’ll go back and approach things differently. This is not big, big California, big company stuff, this is not Silicon Valley. This is like you can do this anywhere. You can treat yourself better. Now that I know that my hot tub is a business expensive, I’m going to talk to the husband about that. I want one. Yeah, I think so. I think it’s a business meeting room. When I get my hot tub, you’ll have to come up and we’ll have a meeting.
Brigette: A hot tub meeting.
Jen: A hot tub meeting.
Brigette: Yeah, but I love this point that you’re making that yes, we all use these case studies of the Pixars and the Googles and the bicycles and all this stuff, but there are small companies, in fact I work with some small companies in Brazil in particular, in São Paulo, where the economy is very different from here. It costs a lot of money to get whiteboards and IKEA furniture and toys in your office, but even a small firm in Brazil that is 20-25 people can create a break room or a creative innovation lab room in their company with comfortable chairs, colorful resources, a whiteboard, space for people to play, innovate, stretch, lay down.
I mean, there’s ways to do this that are not really costly and maybe there’s a little bit of a cost, but what’s the return on that investment if you spend a couple of thousand dollars on a space for your people? Or, just a policy that let’s them take a break to go stretch and do yoga, or a class that one of your own employees can put on for other … I mean, what are the unlimited, once again, limitless possibilities of ways that you can bring value and create intentional, inclusive, playful, fun activities and spaces for your people in your company to feel better, to be reenergized, to tap into flow and feel good? What are the results?
Again, we get caught up in the, “I don’t have the time, I don’t have the money, we don’t have the resources, we don’t have the space for it.” Break the narrative. Get creative. You can do a lot with a little. Ask your people in your company what they want, and how we can co-create it.
Jen: I guess the last question I had is, if there’s one thing, one thing every leader needs to have in their toolkit, what would it be and why?
Brigette: I haven’t talked about this yet, but I think they need a support group. I know that’s going to sound like a departure from what we’ve been talking about, but I think leaders have a lot on their shoulders and they’re dealing with a lot, and they are talking about what they deal with in the work context, or maybe with their spouse, but do they have a peer coaching relationship, a peer group, a mentorship group, a space where they can talk about the challenges that they’re facing as a leader, get advice and support and get mirrored back from other leaders, that are perhaps implementing these tools or strategies in different ways or experiencing success in other ways? How can they be plugged into a community of successful leaders that they can learn from and get support from?
Because I think again, a lot of leaders are overwhelmed. They do feel like an island, and they feel like they have to be, because they’re at the top. They’re visible, and they can’t be vulnerable or show that they’ve got any challenges going on. Maybe you can’t do that with your reports in your team meetings, but you do have a space as a leader to talk with someone about the challenges you’re facing?
Of course, a coach is an option. Do you have a mentor? A coach? A peer group? Something where you have a sounding board, and also again, a mirror to reflect back to whether the stories that you’re telling about your business and the challenges facing are true stories. Are there other ways to see that? For me, it would be as a leader, what’s your support system? How do you take care of yourself along with that? Do you take a break yourself? Do you model self-care if you want to create a company of intentional, mindful people that take care of themselves and don’t burn out and get overwhelmed?
Are you walking the talk? Are you walking into work each day revived, energized, and feeling good? If you’re not, then what are the hard questions you need to ask yourself right now? Like, what do you need? What do you really-
Jen: Right. I think that that’s why I absolutely think that this group and the mentor, it needs to be outside of your organization. It needs to be in a non-competitive place where you feel safe and you can talk and just really unwind and get a lot of ideas, and be really honest and real about whether or not you are modeling these things, how you’re taking care of yourself and getting ideas about that. If you’re talking to reports or even to your peers in a larger company that have a similar role, you’re always going to have that, “But I’m okay.” It’s the fallback when you don’t want to-
Brigette: Veneer over it.
Jen: Exactly. Well, we could be talking all day I think, and I’m going to have to cut you off, Brigette. You’re cut off.
Brigette: It’s all good, it’s all good.
Jen: As we go, I just want to say thank you so much for being on the show, and what are the best ways to reach you?
Brigette: Yeah, thank you so much for that, Jen. I really enjoyed this conversation and the places that you can find me are on my Facebook page, which is my full name, Brigette Iarrusso-Soto. My website is EmbraceChange.us, or EmbraceChange.us, which actually helps me remember it better, and I like the connotation there.
And if you’re interested in having a chat with me, feel free to reach out. I’d love to talk to you, if you are a solopreneur or in an organization where you want to put people first.
Jen: Absolutely. Can they connect with you on LinkedIn as well? You’re very active on LinkedIn.
Brigette: I am, yes. I am on LinkedIn. You can message me through LinkedIn, and I’d love to connect with you and hear your thoughts, and your own leadership stories. I always love hearing from other transformational leaders or people that are really striving for this leadership model, and I’m always looking for success stories. If you’ve got a success story, please reach out and share it with me.
Jen: That is so awesome, and we will put all of the links in the show notes on the website. So, ThirdPaddle.com, and when you look for how to disrupt traditional leadership models, we will have all the information that you need to contact Brigette. Brigette, thank you so much for joining me today and-
Brigette: Jen, I have really enjoyed it, as always.
Jen: You’re awesome.
Brigette: I love talking to you.
Jen: And that’s a wrap for the show. Thanks.
Announcer: Thank you for listening to the Third Paddle Podcast. Be sure to catch every episode by subscribing on iTunes. To learn more, check out our website at www.ThirdPaddle.com. The Third Paddle Podcast is sponsored by Foster Growth LLC, online at www.FosterGrowth.tech.
PART 3 OF 3 ENDS [01:05:05]