Feb. 24, 2022

Creating A Culture of Belonging by Leading Below the Surface with LaTonya Wilkins | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

Creating A Culture of Belonging by Leading Below the Surface with LaTonya Wilkins | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with LaTonya Wilkins. LaTonya Wilkins is the founder of The Change Coaches. She works with C-suite/executive leaders and their teams where human connection and cultural change happen: below the surface. LaTonya Wilkins is also the author of Leading Below The Surface: How To Build Real and Psychologically Safe Relationships With People Who Are Different From You. In this conversation, LaTonya shares how leaders can become more inclusive by creating cultures of belonging in the workplace. LaTonya Wilkins also shares concrete examples of how leaders can go below the surface to achieve a psychologically safe environment.


Some Highlights:

- LaTonya Wilkins on what leading below the surface is all about

- Why people have a hard time getting below the surface, and why leaders need to become below the surface leaders

- LaTonya Wilkins on questioning the way the world operates and challenging the dominant leadership standard 

- How creating a culture of belonging helps in promoting psychological safety

- Understanding the difference between Person to Person Listening and Person to Belonging Listening

- LaTonya Wilkins on how to effectively approach diversity and inclusion in the organization


Also mentioned in this episode:

Amy Edmondson - The Importance of Psychological Safety; author and current Novartis Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School



Books Mentioned:

Leading Below the surface: How to Lead Real and Psychologically Safe Relationships with People who are Different from You by LaTonya Wilkins

- You Have More Influence Than You Think: How We Underestimate Our Power of Persuasion, and Why It Matters by Vanessa Bohns (Listen to Vanessa Bohn’s episode on Partnering Leadership)

- Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation by Jasmine Syedullah, Lama Rod Owens, and Angel Kyodo Williams



Connect with LaTonya Wilkins:

Website: https://latonyawilkins.com/leading-below-the-surface/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/latonyawilkins/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/latonyacoaching/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LaTonyaWilkins



Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:

MahanTavakoli.com



More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website: 

PartneringLeadership.com




Transcript

Mahan Tavakoli:

Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I am really excited this week to be welcoming LaTonya Wilkins. LaTonya is founder of change coaches and author of "Leading Below the Surface." How to build real and psychologically safe relationships with people who are different from you. I really enjoyed this conversation because we need to be able to connect with people's experiences and go below the surface, if we want to have a psychologically safe environment. Which is something I believe is critical as we lead our teams and organizations to higher levels of impact. 

 

I also enjoy hearing from you. Keep your comments coming, mahan@mahantavakoli.com. There's a microphone icon on partneringleadership.com. Really enjoy getting those voice messages. Don't forget to follow the podcast that way you'll be sure to be notified of new releases. Tuesday's with magnificent Changemakers from the greater Washington DC DMV region and Thursdays with brilliant global thought leaders, primarily leadership book authors, like LaTonya Wilkins.

 

And when you get a chance, leave a rating and review, you can do that at the bottom of the apple podcasts and Spotify has added ratings also, you can do that on top of the feed for Spotify podcasts. Now here's my conversation with LaTonya Wilkins.

 

LaTonya Wilkins. Welcome to partnering leadership. I am thrilled to have you in this conversation with me. 

LaTonya Wilkins: 
Oh, yeah. I'm so happy to be here. I'm so excited.

Mahan Tavakoli: 
I love Leading Below the Surface: How to Build Real and Psychologically Safe Relationships with People who are different from you psychological safety. Is a favorite of mine, but before we get to that, LaTonya would love to know whereabouts did you grow up and how did your upbringing helped you become the kind of leader and person you've become? 

LaTonya Wilkins: 
So this is an interesting question. And when I answer it, people are really surprised. But I was born and raised in a small town in Iowa. I'm in Chicago now and so it's a state over for those of you that don't know it's not Ohio. It's Iowa, I get that a lot. And actually my grandma migrated to the Midwest from the south, so from Jackson, Mississippi, and I was doing the Jim Crow era and my mom didn't want to drink from a colored fountain. So she took the kids up north, started into Topeka Kansas, and then ended up into my Iowa. So that's why I ended up there and started off in Marshalltown Iowa. Grew up across the street from a golf course, and my dad was a big golfer. My dad was a very hard worker. He was a blue collar worker and he worked in a meat packing plant. And my mom worked also in manufacturing, And how was I raised? Well, I was raised in a small town, I lived there till I was 10 and then we moved to Des Moines and my parents divorced and So how did this affect me? I would say that my small town life. There's a little disrupted when I had to move to Des Moines. And I didn't really feel like I fit in there as much as I did. And that's what leading below the surface all about, I never fit in anywhere and started when my parents divorced that I was in this town. Like all the kids would make fun of me and I didn't fit into any group. And I talk all about this in my book. And so it's real, real stories. I think when did things that did teach me, so my dad, Kenny was colored. I always tell people he was one of the smartest men I've ever known. Cause he would read, he was a really diligent reader and he was smart, but he didn't have a college degree. And so I always valued that I valued education, even though my parents didn't force it on me. It was something like, I was just assume that I would go to college like, they weren't going to do anything if I didn't. Right? Do you know what I mean? But it was just like I was the smart kid. So I was the first one to get a bachelor's degree in my family. I think my work ethic has been really good, and strong because of that. And I would also say that's, because of my upbringing and having that experience early in my life again, where my parents divorced. And the small town was kind of taken from beneath me. I have resilience and I hate that word sometimes, but that's what it's called today. At a young age, I had to adjust in figure out what life was going to be like for me, since I didn't fit in.

Mahan Tavakoli:
LaTonya what a beautiful way of describing your upbringing and a below the surface way, one of the things you talk about in terms of leadership is a need for that authenticity and you have that ability to be your authentic self and share your authentic self. So why is it that we have so much difficulty. I ask, every one of the leaders and authors that have conversations with their upbringing, and some are willing like you to go below the surface. And many are used through above the surface canned responses. What is it that it takes for leaders to be able to like you go below the surface and be able to show some authenticity and vulnerability? 

LaTonya Wilkins: 
That's really interesting you asked that question, and it's a multitude of things. it's all about navigating the surface world, in the book. And I talk about how the world is surface and what that means is that, I spent a lot of time in corporations where I was always given this statistic around. Hey! It takes people five seconds to decide whether or not you're worth it to them in a job interview where, it's a first impression and you only have 30 seconds and they would say this, like it was giving me advice and it was like, this is gonna be just an enlightening thing. And I was like, wait, why is that? That's just kind of gross. It's like, I don't want to conform to that. Like, that's bizarre. Like you have problems if you're gonna tell me, like, you're not going to give me a chance after five seconds, that's really ridiculous. The thing is like, just in that there was this kind of corporate way of like corporate norms and corporate way of life. Right? And I call that the dominant leadership standard where we're okay with that stuff. We're like, okay, well, our values, our competition and being relentless. We are going to be what's obsessive that's a new thing, right? And they come at you with these values. That's what's accepted, that's what's socially accepted. And I talk about this dominant usually standards so much because it was so prominent. And that's why people have a hard time getting below the surface because they've been in these companies and these environments where everything is surface. And so they're trying to navigate a surface environment and accepted as a surface environment and navigate it instead of challenging themselves to get below the surface. And so, there's a lot of bragging in that. I mean, you can tell when people hide behind the words or they're bragging or like when they introduce themselves, they're probably telling you the surface things, like maybe the words they want but that doesn't really matter. Like you've talked to people around the world with time, nobody cares. What does that even mean? If you were 30 under 30, nobody knows what it means and that's what I think it's, we've just been so socialized in this social world. I mean in the surface world, and we think that's what we were talking about.

Mahan Tavakoli: 
And a lot of times LaTonya, what I find is we don't ask questions about the systems and the environments of around us. One of the things that I find interesting is that you challenge those assumptions. And you asked questions about the so-called norms that many people in business operate under. What is it with you and why did you challenge in your mind? The way things operate in a world around you?

LaTonya Wilkins:
I didn't have a choice. So many of you probably are going to read my book or read my book you'll feel my pain. Like one of the executives, I coached a couple of them actually said, I feel like I was walking through this with you. 

Mahan Tavakoli: 
One of the things that I like about you telling your story LaTonya. Is that you are willing and you're able to question the way the world around you operates and the frameworks that people accept by default. What is it in you that has caused you in the business world to question that way of operating, which is very much a surface level relationship that leaders have with people. 

LaTonya Wilkins: 
So why have I questioned it? And when you’re reading my book, you're probably thinking, wow, Tanya is able to do this so well, she's able to do this so easily. Even though I read her book I could sense there's a lot of pain in this process. Like with LaTonya was able to do this, but it wasn't an easy thing. I had to start with just sitting in meandering in the muck. And I talk about this a lot in the book and what that means sitting with the discomforts of the world and how it is without trying to solve it. You know, when I was at the Gies counter Business and Arts, for those of you that don't know my career. So I spent a lot of time. And in fortune 500 leadership development talent rules. And then I moved to the Gies College of Business and some teaching. It's a culture work there, that I did my coach training and the coaching and change coaches speaking all that. And it wasn't until I was at the Gies College Business and I was getting into the research. And the evidence-based pieces of this. A lot of the stuff is some of it's almost laser eye drop book around neuroscience and psychology. And I wasn't able to feel confident, challenging all this until I read that research until I could see, hey! There's some explanation behind why we're this way. And I didn't want to come at it like some people do and that's okay. But I wanted to come at it in a way that is a coach like way not like aggressive advising way cause that hasn't worked. That's when, why I started challenging as when at first had to see some of the research behind it, and then understand how I was going to challenge it, which took a long time to figure out.

Mahan Tavakoli: 
You have challenged that by a lot of your own great storytelling. And as you say, the evidence that you back it up with and a research you back it up with. You talk a lot about being a below the surface leader, as opposed to above the surface leader. What is a below the surface leader? 

LaTonya Wilkins: 
First off, let me tell you how many lower surface leaders are each one rule. I think this is anecdotal in my experience. 80% are surface and 20% are below surface. Both surface leaders, there's three prongs and there's more than this. But there's three cons that are probably dominant in every below surface layer. First, they practice real leadership, so which is relatable leaders, equitable, aware, and loyal. I spent so much time building competency models and companies, and those models were based around very competitive value. The real model or the real purchase based on how we lead, not what we're producing. It's all how we lead. The second thing below the surface leaders do well, is they're empathetic listeners. They practice empathy, and I have a whole chapter called living on the edge with empathy. Everybody can access them to be, but only a few of us choose to do it. And I talk about how to access empathy through two different types of listening, which is active listening, person to person, below the surface listening and a person to belonging where you’re actually listening on purpose senses, so I talk about that. A third one is, below the surface leaders are psychologically safe, and they create psychologically safe relationships in teams. And what that means is they allow people to bring their entire selves to work if they choose. They don't punch people for thinking differently. They don't punch people for having constructive feedback. But these are the three things, again, real leadership, empathy, and also creating psychologically safe relationships. Below the surface leaders, you know who they are because the minute you walk into a room you feel seen, and I want everyone to take a minute, I think about those leaders in your life, because there's probably two or three that come to mind right away. And those are where the leaders that people probably said that you probably described them as good people, but they're below surface leaders. And they are people that, they want to do this and with a pride in doing, and that's what below surface leaders do.

Mahan Tavakoli: 
I would love to touch on each one of the elements that you mentioned LaTonya. But before we get to it, though, one of the challenges that I see in leadership is that oftentimes, whether it's a podcast listeners who have a leg up because they are the kind of people that are looking to improve or leaders in general that I coach and guide. They nod and see themselves as being the kind of leaders who are empathetic and are part of that 20%. However many of them have extremely big blind spots. How is it that leaders can reduce those blind spots and truly embrace that below the surface, leadership that you talk about?

 LaTonya Wilkins: 
That's an interesting one because a lot of what I do and change coaches as I coach executive teams to create cultures of belonging. And I do a coaching approach because I don't tell people what to do, I kind of let them make the connections themselves. I enable them to do that. And so how can you see your blind spots? I have a lot of activities in the book, and that's the reason why I wrote it that way. There is a chapter in the book, chapter six, it's called becoming a below the surface leader. And I talk a lot about the notion of becoming and what you're becoming as you're going through this process. I strongly suggest to adjust that, if you buy the book, spend a lot of time on those assessments and just be really, really honest with yourself. And do it come back to those every six months or whatever, but that's how you do it. It's through this is also the a and real aware. She can be very aware of what you are and what you do. It's also becoming aware and accepting that you live in a surface world. We can break the system, the surface system that's out there, but we all have to come to terms with ourselves that we're part of it. I was part of it. I tell stories about how I ran talent review meetings and I'm almost embarrassed of that today. Like the way that I talked about people, like they were cons in the machine. If they didn't function like a machine, then they would be derailed right?. And so that's the thing I would say is go through those exercises, do a lot there, look inside yourself first. So let's start there and then practice the forgiveness of yourself. Because again, we all live in suspicious world. Start with what we need to do to get by, and so how can you change the track going forward.

Mahan Tavakoli: 
It's interesting that you mentioned that because, from what I hear from you, there are a couple of elements to a certain extent. We are swimming upstream in that it is a surface world, and therefore we need to constantly be aware of it to try to stick to being below the surface. Otherwise the world around us, whether it's social media or the relationships or the work practices bring us and pull us back up to the surface. And there's an element of a growth mindset in there. We aren't there yet, none of us are there yet. And therefore we need that greater awareness in order to maintain and be in a below the surface level. 

 LaTonya Wilkins:
I absolutely agree and again, I'm going to go back to my leadership development days because it's still relevant in the way that people are doing it is still very similar. The corporate values that are the ones I mentioned in the book and when I'm talking about awareness and stuff that you don't want to touch. If that's stuff that you don't think you need to touch, it's stuff that you think, it's like better left to a therapist and you don't want to see a therapist, so I'm not going to do that. That's the stuff we're talking about. And none of that stuff is true. And if you have to meet people where they are today and the world is changing, especially after coming out of this pandemic and people's values are changing and people are getting enlightened. They're figuring out what those are and there, If you can't look inward, you're not going to keep your people.

Mahan Tavakoli: 
You can't LaTonya have above the surface, simplistic tools and systems. If you want to go below the surface with your own understanding. There are times where, for example, three sixties are applied effectively when used appropriately with a coach. In most instances, love the way Tom Peters puts it. He says you give a blunt tool to a bunch of people with biases and they hammer away at the individual with their individual biases. We are very well aware and I'm sure you've seen it in your own experience that when a 360 is done on a female leader, Versus a person of color versus a person that typically practices leadership the way it was traditionally done. The responses are very different. So many of the individual's biases contribute to that 360. We don't want to use blunt tools and objects with surface questions. If we want to go below the surface in understanding our own leadership and becoming a below the surface leader. 

LaTonya Wilkins: 
Oh, yes. Don't even get me started on that. This reminds me of when, cause I you know, teach college classes when we give students questionnaires to evaluate us. And this has been found that instructors of color get lower scores on average. So why are we still using that fly when evaluation, there's gotta be another way and whenever I ask about that, it's like well you know, If the Wells and I talk about those in the book. Well, you know, this is all we have right now and now we take that in consideration. There's an issue with bias and bias people evaluating people that they are biased against that they don't admit.

Mahan Tavakoli: 
LaTonya, you mentioned psychological safety and, Amy Edmondson wrote the forward to your book, which is outstanding. Love her work on psychological safety. What is the importance of psychological safety? And how does, creating a culture of belonging interplay with psychological safety in organizations? 

LaTonya Wilkins: 
I knew that I wanted Amy to write my board from day one. And I was so honored that she did it and she endorsed the book in that way. I knew because of a couple things. Number one, because when I read first Amy's work and I came across it. I was like, wow!, this is brilliant. This is like my entire life. I was one of those people in these large companies that were stocked full of “DEI” people, and nothing ever helped me. When I read Amy's work, I'm like, wow, this is like next level. Like, people need to hear this and so why is that so important? Why is it next level? it's because, it's not about just the representation, which is what a lot of words go. It's about a lot of the issues that I had my own career. And when I coach people, everyone's at work in a career it's psychological safety. It's like being the only one at work and not feeling like you can challenge, not feeling like you can be different. I coach a lot of black women who are the only ones on the executive team. And just the way they operate or approach their work is not safe. And so that's, when we go back to that dominant leadership standard. And how has this skip over, over so many years, like, just to be able to talk about this in those terms, or like when your boss asks you for feedback and giving them feedback and then all of a sudden. Your review as well, that's not psychologically safe or, you know, being able to do your best work and you make a little bit of a mistake, not even a mistake. But something the company didn't want, that psychological safety. And so it's really paramount right now to the future of belonging. And how does it fit in? Well, it fits into belonging because if you can't bring your unique skills to the workplace without criticism, but if it's like a lot of what I went through was like, this is not the conventional way to think. You have to think this way. This is like the wrong way. That's not psychologically safe. So then I just wanna to put my ideas forward. And so when you feel like you belong which I had a couple of workplaces that one or two in my entire life where I felt like a completely belong, that's what I had. You know, and it wasn't even, it's interesting because yeah, it's great when you can look around and see people that look like you. But it is like a different level. When you go in and people accept your ideas because of you and because of what you bring to the table and that's psychological safety.

Mahan Tavakoli: 
That's really important and you do emphasize the importance of it in creating that culture of belonging. The other thing I love is that with respect to belonging, you talk about person to person listening and person to belonging listening. What is that?. 

LaTonya Wilkins: 
I talk about a below the surface listening as a way to access, and anyone can access empathy, you just have to practice and commit to it. And so there's two different ways I talk about. Primarily to access it to be one is P2P listening, which is person to person listening. And what that is a person to person below the surface listening, and it's active listening. So it's kind of like what we're doing today. When you're interviewing me, you are playing things back. I'm the only one in the room. You're not checking your phone. You aren't topping everything that I say. You're not saying, oh, that happened to me too. It's not saying that's bad, but that's not listening. That's when you're focused on yourself. And so with P2P was focused on the other person and what they're saying, not what's in your own head. And then personal belonging listening is, something that's really resonated with a lot of different teams I work with now. What it is that you're listening with multiple senses and people have a really hard time with this. It sounds like a simple concept in the book, but people have a very hard time. I tell a couple of examples of the book and two people are like. Wow, that happened like this leader did this. Yes, cause we can all do it. Because you're there to empower the team as a leader. You're not there to be the best at something. In order to make them the best, your're not there for yourself. It's being able to take a step out of yourself and look around the room, listen to the room and observe the extent to which people fit into an environment. Well, I won't say easy, I'll say assessable, when you can do that is if you're someone that leads teams in your next team meeting, I want you to not be the team leader. And I want you to just sit and observe your team and observe how they're interacting. Observe who's talking the most observe like people that look this contented. Do that at least once a month, maybe twice a month, that's personal belonging listening. You're going to get insights from people that you've never seen before. And I will tell you happens like that every single time. So try it this week, but that's person belongingness.

Mahan Tavakoli:
On both levels, they're extremely hard. As you said, with a person to person listening or person to belonging listening. And they are critical in all kinds of relationships. I find LaTonya that even in personal relationships oftentimes, we don't honor the other person enough by allowing them to put a period at the end, that their sentence. And in most instances, when we ask questions, they're not questions where we intend to hear a full answer from the other person. It is one of those, skills that sounds simple, but it's extremely hard for us truly to be able to do it well and essential, if we want to connect with the humanity of the other person. 

LaTonya Wilkins: 
Absolutely, that's surface listening. What you just described. And sometimes we need to surface listen. Right? It's transactional listening, and sometimes we don't need to get it right? As you said, it's going back and making sure that you are adapting to the kind of listening that you need to the situation. Unfortunately, many people default is surface listening. Where they ask you how you're doing, and then they're already tuned out. And again, if you don't answer the question now they want, then they're gonna tuned out. It's gotta be something that connects them to you. And again it's about them, not you.

Mahan Tavakoli:
And LaTonya in your own coaching practice, you also coach a lot of only once within teams and organizations. And I know you've been, involved in diversity, equity and inclusion. You talk about the fact that, the EI initiatives have failed in making lasting change happen. And I agree with you. Why is it that many of the initiatives have failed at best and have been counterproductive at worse. And what can teams and organizations that truly want to do something with respect to having greater equity within their teams do differently than what has been done in the past. 

aTonya Wilkins: 
It's really sad, honestly. What that industry has become. I mean, again, 80, 20 rule, it's probably 20% of folks that do it well, and I notice most companies and 80% don't the 80%, again, it comes back to being surfaced. I think Surface DEI. the surface DEI as the, I that's like, okay, we're going to look at dashboards. We're going to hire 10 black people. We're going to do all the things that make us look great on paper. We're going to win the most diverse company of the year. We're going to apply. I mean, I worked for companies and that was their departments that existed just to submit to these surveys. And so that's why it hasn't worked, you know and how can it work? the first thing I'll tell you and my clients sweat, when I told them this, I say, don't hire a chief diversity officer. What are you crazy? I what? No, I okay. You could hire one, but if you do wait a couple of years. Like get everything together first and house, get the structures in place for this person as a team. Figuring out what you want them to do. But at the end of the day, a chief diversity officer, I don't want to go out on a limb and say this, and some people might be upset with me for saying this, but what they should be doing, is project managing, right? They should be project managing. They should be, kind of being like there should be a C-suite level. They should be the face of DEI. They should be leading a team. That's doing this work, but a lot of it's project managing and stakeholder management. That's pretty much what the heads of DEI do. What happens is when you hire this person right away, you're just not ready. You don't know what you want them to do. You're just hiring them because you need to focus on this area, but you have no idea what that, I mean, would you hire a head of innovation without having any idea what they're going to innovate? I mean, no, think about it. Would you, I mean, you wouldn't, you wouldn't hire like CSRO without having things for them to actually do or knowing what they gonna actually do. Right. And so like, you hire a CHR when you're ready. That's what people say. Like, I don't like startups. I work with, a lot of startups. They'll start with hiring a bunch of recruiters. And then when they're ready for that CSRO, when I'm ready to have an HR structure and that there's a place for them on a team. Then they hire that person. Same thing is, has to be with a chief diversity officer. And typically what that means is like having the leadership team figure out what that role is over time and do that with a coach. Don't just do that on your own. Do that with a coach and really make room for that person, for them to succeed for your organization to succeed because I've seen so much, especially last year. It's going to be interesting to see how this all shakes out in a year or two, but there's this hiring spree for chief diversity officers. And it's going to be interesting to see in a year or two, like you didn't change? And I'm sorry, but I don't think anything well, which is really crazy. And so if you are a chief diversity officer get leading below the surface and have your leaders read it, I know as chief diversity officers are always looking for stuff, to make, to push your leaders. And this is a way that you can. And to take your work to the next level, especially here at DEI officer that has no support and you hate your job and you want to leave and go somewhere else.

Mahan Tavakoli:
It does take a lot of, effort on behalf of the people that are given that responsibility, because in many instances. LaTonya, what I find is organizations are putting out press releases or taking actions to show they are doing something rather than a true intention to have the kind of conversations that it takes. One of the things I love that you say is diversity and inclusion doesn't start with training the way to do it right. Is real listening sessions. How can organizations use those conversations to increase the understanding of the teams and have people embrace that value of diversity and inclusion rather than the standard training people go through. 

LaTonya Wilkins: 
Yeah. So listening sessions are interesting. I do a lot of those, with clients. You know, it's interesting. I'll do it with clients ranging from clients that have all white workplaces to, clients that want to target, BiPAP or queer employees in these listening sessions. I would say the there's a common thread and what it is these are listening sessions are not focus groups. They are an opportunity to hear what's going on non-judgmentally and in a plot way that you were practicing PVP and PVE listening. And I'll have people read those chapters on empathy, so they understand I'll have leaders sit in on these. I always think you should hire a outside person to run HR. Why? I've worked inside, I've worked in house. No one trusts HR. I'm sorry. They don't, they don't trust HR. And if you're, diversity folks are spending time facilitating listening sessions. I don't know if that's the right thing, should they be a part of it? Yeah, for sure. But again, I don't have anything I can say concretely that this works, and this is anecdotal. But it's just much better to have someone outside that doesn't know any of the past or drama or, it's a new face. You want it to be a face that, looks like the people or that is a trained coach and knows how to listen deeply and not judge. And it's really hard to do that in house. I've had some clients ask me to do them and then do a train the trainer. And again, I get really nervous about that because who's going to run these and it's not you gotta be trained pretty deeply to be able to run these pretty successfully. I think we're so used to surface practices and organizations that a lot of people, when they're running these it's really a focus group and it's not a listening session. And one of the first things that, you know, how you know, it's different is that, we do empathy setting upfront and we do psychological safety setting up front. And a lot of people who still know how to do that, if they're not trained like a trained coach, that's done this. So yeah, I would access them that way, bringing in outside people probably do them. Regularly, you could do them more around different topics. I've done them around everything from, anti-racism, racism in companies to inclusive culture, to making things a better workplace, also hybrid work environments, like what are people's concerns with coming back to work. You can't really overdo listening sessions. You can't. it's just being very clear about what to use them for and bringing in the right people to do it. This is not a huge undertaking, if you bring in someone to do on every single time. And it's probably better, cause then if it's like your BI folks that are in it with the coach. Then they can kind of focus on the listening part of it instead of trying to take notes and do all that stuff.

Mahan Tavakoli: 
As you say, LaTonya, the intentionality behind why it is that your doing. It makes a difference if you're doing it just as a hoop, some people to jump through to say we've done it. We've held listening sessions at the lowest expense. Most efficiently scheduled, maybe they internal resources will suffice. If you're doing it because you want to listen and listen at a much deeper level. Then it's worthwhile having someone who is a professional with an outside perspective, bringing that, listening to it. But I love how you go into that, partly because I think that level of deep listening is critical and is missing. I had a conversation with Vanessa Bonds love her book. It's on, you have more influence than you think. And one of the examples she gives is that oftentimes we assume, because we know someone with a similar experience that we understand their experience. As she gives the example of divorce, if someone has been divorced, the other person has been divorced. They say, well, I already know what they've been through. Not at all, because two people that have been divorced can have drastically different experiences. Same thing with the experiences of people within your organization. The experiences of two people of color with similar backgrounds are not the same. They each have individual experiences, therefore adding real value to those listening sessions and understanding and connecting with the individuality and the individual humanity of each one of those team members. 

LaTonya Wilkins: 
Absolutely. And I love that you send that because. I gotta check this book out because it's so, different. And when I talk about this, it's like microaggressions, right? you could microaggressed one person and they might be like, whatever, and the next person might be the worst thing ever and eventually pushed them out the door. That's why it's so important to demiss and to find someone that can facilitate effectively so your folks can listen and really truly know what's going on.

Mahan Tavakoli:
I love the book leading below the surface LaTonya. So in addition to your book, are there any other leadership practices or leadership books or resources that you typically find yourself recommending to others? 

LaTonya Wilkins:
As far as practices, I think anything that has to do with embodiments, anything that has to do with somatic work or embodiment, I highly recommend it. I think a lot of this is getting deep and so that would be my thing. There's also a book called a Radical Dharma that I'm really like you to get it in site. It's all getting deep into yourself and more self-awareness. Anything that is more focused. I know this is not going to be a conventional answer. But anything that's more focused on you getting deep in a tool for that is what I would recommend and I have, you could see my bookshelf as we're talking. I read a lot of books and I think that there's so many books that are focused on the surface things in life. Try to find some unconventional ways to get deeper in yourself first then go from there. If that makes sense and pick whatever you want, whatever you like. Some people like things from, Buddhist influence of people, like things from Christian influence. Some people like things that are non-SEC, you know, like more secular and in somatic, it's more just embodiments and there's so many books out there. I wouldn't say there's one I would recommend. I love the integral, leadership stuff too. That's a whole, I'm sure you've heard of it. I love my body spirit, like everything's together. That's the kind of stuff I know. It might sound hippy kind of stuff to you, but that's the kind of stuff that, you have to do in order to get deeper in yourself.

Mahan Tavakoli: 
And that depth is important as we try to understand ourselves and lead more effectively. LaTonya, how best would the audience find out more about you, your work and your book? 

LaTonya Wilkins: 
Yeah. leadingbelowthesurface.com is my site. So that's the story, and then you can order the book from many different places on that page. There's also tools and resources. I'm also active on Instagram @lantonyacoaching. And then Twitter, tweet me there. They'll see me on there sometimes, but don't get mad if I'm late responding to you. That's oh, LaTonya Wilkins and then in LinkedIn. I'm very active on, and that's just LaTonya Wilkins. Definitely LinkedIn's probably the best place, if you're social or Instagram. I know people, some people like Instagram better.

Mahan Tavakoli: 
Outstanding. I appreciate, both the book LaTonya, and the conversation for the partnering leadership podcast. 

LaTonya Wilkins: 
Yeah, it was an honor to be here. I really enjoyed talking to you.