In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Wendy Ryan. Wendy Ryan is the CEO of Kadabra, an interdisciplinary team of leadership and organizational change experts based in Silicon Valley, California. Wendy Ryan shares leadership lessons from her consulting experience and her book, Learn Lead Lift: How to Think, Act, and Inspire Your Way to Greatness.
- Wendy Ryan shares how we can develop greater self-awareness.
- Why leaders need to start with "Who" then consider the "What" "When" "Where" and "How."
- Why a growth mindset is necessary for leading change in the organization.
- Wendy Ryan shares how leaders can encourage people to take risks and hold their team members accountable.
- Wendy Ryan on the need for greater equity and inclusion.
Partnering Leadership Conversation with Nadya Zhexembayeva
Partnering Leadership Conversation with Bob Johansen
Connect with Wendy Ryan:
Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:
More information and resources available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website:
[00:00:00] Mahan Tavakoli: Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited this week to be welcoming, Wendy Ryan Wendy is the CEO of Kadabra, an interdisciplinary team of leadership and organizational change experts based in Silicon valley, California. We spend most of our time talking about her book, Learn Lead, Lift: How to Think, Act, and Inspire Your Way to Greatness.
And I thoroughly enjoyed this conversation with a lot of takeaways and I'm sure you will too. I also love hearing from you. Keep your comments coming. Mahan@mahantavakoli.com, there's a microphone icon on partnering leadership.com. You can leave voice messages for me there. Don't forget to follow the podcast.
So you're notified of new releases. Every Tuesday, change-makers from the greater Washington DC DMV region and every Thursday global thought leaders, primarily leadership book authors like Wendy. And those of you that enjoy these on apple, leave a rating and review. When you get a chance that will help more people find and benefit from these conversations.
Now here's my conversation with Wendy Ryan.
[00:00:00] Mahan Tavakoli: Wendy, Ryan, Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I am thrilled to have you in this conversation with me.
[00:00:05] Wendy Ryan: I am thrilled to be here. Thanks for having me.
[00:00:08] Mahan Tavakoli: Wendy, I would love to know a little bit about whereabouts you grew up and how your upbringing impacted the kind of person and leader you've become.
[00:00:17] Wendy Ryan: I love that. We're starting with this question because it's always one of the first things I want to know about my coaching clients, for example. So in my case, I don't get to tell my story as often. So this is fun, but I am by birth about as U S middle Western, heart beat of America as you can be.
I was born in Wichita, Kansas, and I was fortunate enough to no offense to Wichita, but to actually get to then go on And live a bunch of other places. So I think one thing that shed some light on my view of leadership is when people find out, oh, you've lived in Kansas and Wisconsin and LA and Silicon valley and Boston and Spain, and you've traveled to a lot of places.
It starts to make more sense of how certain things come together for me and why I look at things the way that I do. I was really fortunate to be the child of a nurse anesthetist, so I have that influence of the healer that's very strong in me from her. And my stepdad was a public company, CEO.
And I learned a ton from both of them about leadership, about having a meaningful vocation in life, and some of the challenges that go along with trying to do that and sustain that over a long period of time. So really thankful that those were some of the ingredients for me that went into the mix.
[00:01:55] Mahan Tavakoli: So you built on that and you've had extensive experience also in human resources before then starting your own consulting firm back in 2014, what drew you to human resources and then eventually to starting a consulting firm?
[00:02:13] Wendy Ryan: I was one of those kids in high school who really did not know what she wanted to do with herself and her life. I ended up going to UC Davis in part, because I just liked it there. I liked the vibe and I honestly didn't know what I wanted to study. Once I was there. I changed my major three times.
And so I finally graduated after almost five years with a double major in psychology and Spanish. Great. And I had in my mind, okay. The next step for me is to go and be a therapist. I'm going to go get my PhD. I'm going to be a marriage, family, child, counselor, and it's going to be great. But I had this nagging voice in my head that said what do you know about helping people with their issues and problems and challenges in life? You're 21. You've only got so much life experience. And even though some of it has been hard and difficult and you've had to overcome some things, you still have a lot to learn and you really like business. So how about you go out and do some things in the business world first and live a little bit more and then go back and get your PhD.
So that was my next plan. I did that. I said HR, human resources is the closest thing to therapy that I could find in business that might be related because I was young and naive. And so that's what I did. And I tried to get a job in HR and I've never looked back since then. I've never gone back to get my PhD and become a therapist because I realized that I was probably on the right path, even though it took a few more twists and turns after that
[00:04:05] Mahan Tavakoli: Wendy, I laugh when you say that, because as a consultant and coach to clients, I also, there are days when I feel like I'm being a therapist and that you do have to have some of those same skills,
[00:04:19] Wendy Ryan: for sure.
[00:04:20] Mahan Tavakoli: elevate people and helping them reach the answers and conclusions that they need to reach in order to elevate themselves and their organizations.
And that's a big part of what your book is all about. You talk about mindsets, skill sets and behaviors that are really important. Because you say how we've led in the past no longer works. Those models of leadership, no longer work. Why is there a change in the way we need to lead now? As opposed to the way we used to lead before.
[00:04:58] Wendy Ryan: That's really the question of our time in many ways, at least in the world of business and organizations. It's very much the question of our time. To me, it boils down to what I call a new leadership calculus. So I thought to myself, if I could put together a formula that made it really easy for people to understand this, it would be something like depth creates a VUCA, which requires I E leadership.
So remember depth, VUCA and I eat so depth is an acronym and it stands for five different factors that are mega trends. We can see going on changes in D demographics. We can see P pandemics, we can see H health and how we're viewing health in a more holistic way. How are we thinking about wellbeing as a part of health?
Not just our physical health, for example. And VUCA is a term that the us military came up with a while back. And they really were thinking about what's the difference between leadership on the battlefield versus a leadership in the back office, so to speak. And they observed that when you get on the battlefield, you can have your game plan dialed in. You can have your strategy. You can have a whole sense of who's supposed to be where, when, and then you get into the field and all hell breaks loose, right? So the kind of leadership you need that is able to adapt in very volatile circumstances when there's a lot of uncertainty about what's going to happen next when things are complex. And it's very ambiguous as to what is the right decision at any point in time.
So we find ourselves. In a time in history where we can really see those VUCA dynamics very clearly in action. And I think to a greater extent than many of us recognize them before. And so that's where I say we really need to rethink leadership and look at the models that we had that were not based on a VUCA reality.
We're not based on depth and we need to talk about leadership and I EAT terms. So I EAT stands for Inclusive Equity minded, Authentic, and Trauma informed. So I think the quick and easy way to think about learn lead, lift, and about how we need to think differently about leadership is say, how am I going to eat my leadership today?
And then when we go to bed at night, How did I eat my leadership today? And if we remember that we are a long way toward where we need to be.
[00:07:51] Mahan Tavakoli: I love the, how do I eat my leadership today? So we'll get to eating leadership in a minute because each one of the elements that you mentioned are important for us to understand even more. Now you mentioned a VUCA and I had a great conversation with Bob Johansen. He's a futurist and works with a army war college, and one of the first people to use the terminology VUCA.
And part of the point he makes is the fact that this is not a function of what we've been going through over the past couple of years with the pandemic. Some elements of it have been accelerated, however, That acceleration of VUCA environment. Therefore the kind of leadership you talk about is something that was happening before and would have happened regardless.
As I talked to leaders also, I want them to understand that this is not leadership because of, or based on the crisis that we've experienced. It is the way to lead. Now it might have been accelerated to a certain extent of this.
[00:08:59] Wendy Ryan: I agree. I use the analogy of the frog in the boiling water. I think the water has been heating slowly for some period of time. Somebody cranked it up with the pandemic to the highest setting on the stove, and now we're starting to really feel the heat, but the pandemic didn't cause that our political unrest didn't cause that our racial reckoning didn't cause that there accelerants for things that were already in motion.
[00:09:29] Mahan Tavakoli: One of the things, when do you mention, is that you say self-awareness is the meta skill of the 21st century. And if leaders listening to this conversation, walk away with just one point, from my perspective, that would be it because I see so many of us having a lot less self-awareness than we need to.
It's one of those challenges where the less self-awareness you have the less you think you need greater self-awareness. So being that you say it's a meta skill of the 21st century, how do you guide leaders to develop greater self-awareness?
[00:10:10] Wendy Ryan: So there are more than one great tool out there or more than one great approach. So my first answer would be, it depends. The most important thing is for people to keep self-awareness front and center as a goal, and to be committed to a practice that continues to advance that. And so I have worked with people who found it really helpful to do things like journal, to become more self-aware one person I worked with, he just started a habit and a practice of regular journaling.
I got him started by saying, I just want you to write down the answer to one question every day. And I gave him the question and it was very relevant to the particular business challenge that he was trying to lead with. he got started that way and he found that discipline around personal reflection really helped him get started.
And once he got started, it was like a snowball effect. It got easier and easier. Other people do things like they listen to music and we talk about I've had people go to a museum. For example, I had one client who was really struggling with right. Lorraine thinking, and we were trying to help him access something other than linear thinking to help him become more strategic.
So I gave him the homework assignment of go to a museum art museum of your choice in your city. And then at our next session, we're going to talk about it. And when you're there, I don't want you to analyze the art. I just want you to tell me what your five senses told you about that. So the experience of being there, what did you see?
What did you smell? What did you feel? And it was really hard for him. It was not something he was real comfortable with. He wasn't used to doing it. But it was the catalyst that got him to a point where he could finally understand that there's more to self-awareness than just thinking about how we're showing up or thinking about how we're feeling.
It's being aware of what our senses are telling us, what our body is telling us. So self-awareness is a huge concept and there are a lot of facets to it. And depending on who we are and how we're used to thinking we want to tap into the part that we're not as comfortable with. So whatever that is for you as a leader, that's where I like people to start, but start small and be consistent and keep it going.
[00:12:57] Mahan Tavakoli: I love the way you started it windy because there is an element of mindfulness that is married with that self-awareness there's an intentionality behind self-awareness internally, and then there can be external input also to help increase self-awareness.
So you also say that successful leaders focus in on and start with the who then consider the what, when, where, how all of those other factors, what do you mean by that? And why is that even more important now Wendy than ever before.
[00:13:38] Wendy Ryan: I think there was a long time that we subscribed to a very mechanistic view of people and people in organizations in the workplace. And so the whole idea behind putting people first and focusing on who ahead of everything else is in part designed to disrupt that paradigm. So the idea is that if we don't think about things as a machine and people as parts in the machine, what's another way for us to think about it.
And what I like to suggest is that. It's more like a biological system, human systems behave more like a living organism and the inputs do not always yield the same outputs on the other end because the person that you're giving that input to is a unique individual and their own unique system. So we have systems within systems they're biologically based.
So prediction is very hard. And so when we talk about things like putting people first and thinking about the who, it really helps us to recognize, okay, if I am going to launch a new product and entrepreneurs do this every day, businesses do this every day rather than just go right to what is it that has to get done.
What is the minimum viable product need to look like? How many subscribers do we need to have each month and how much recurring revenue do we need to generate in 12 months starting with, huh? Let me look around and see who I have here that I'm already working with. And who's not here that I might need, because there's probably something missing in this system that I have now if we're going to try to do something new maybe not. But what that does is it helps us recognize some of the latent genius and the people around us. Sometimes leaders are really bad at that because we notice people do something well. And then we stopped looking at all the other things they're doing.
And it also reminds us that people are individuals. So even if I ask you Mahan to do some piece of this project for me, and I know that you're going to perform flawlessly. If I'm not also aware of what's going on in your life and how that impacts how you show up at work. And as part of my team, then again, I have much less ability to predict what the outcome is going to be, how much time you need to perform well.
If there are any adjustments I can make as a leader to make that a more success inducing condition for you, right? So it's really being strategic as a leader in terms of giving yourself permission to look beyond the obvious. And I think that's the essence of look at the who first, then the what then how.
[00:16:51] Mahan Tavakoli: Wendy, now we need more of the creativity and the abilities of the individuals operating with each other in a much more complex system, as opposed to a structured network that could have operated well 20, 30 years ago.
So there are those shifts in terms of the value that the humans on the team are bringing to the team, which is also why you point this out, that it makes change a lot more difficult in organizations you say nowhere is working with human systems more challenging than in the context of change. So how can leaders think about change with respect to their organizations
[00:17:40] Wendy Ryan: I think change is something that we all think we're better at than we actually are. So I have met very few leaders who ever attempted to drive massive organizational change or massive social change or any massive family change. And weren't somehow surprised somewhere along the line that it didn't go easily or that there was a notion that they could have done something differently to, to make it better.
So I think the first thing around leadership change is we really have to stop thinking we're all really good at it because most of us really aren't. So we start there and we put on a learner mind. And then we say, okay, so if I assume that maybe I'm not as great at this as I think I am, what are some things that we know actually help make this work better?
And let me review that and let me think about how can I put that in place. So that would be step one, put on the learner mindset. Number two, let's look at the things that we know work for an organization like prosy international. For example, just released last year I think it was the 11th round of longitudinal survey they've been doing every four years.
They survey organizations about organizational change and they have a heck of a data set now about what works and what doesn't work. They look at things like sponsorship. So one of the roles that top leaders often have, whether they realize it or not is that they have a job to do and change. That's called change sponsor, and they have particular things that they need to communicate about to the organization and it can make or break a change if they are actually doing that or not.
And how frequently they're doing that. And if they're staying visible or not, for example, Those things are basic. And then I think layered on top of that now, and getting back to the concept of I EAT leadership, it's recognizing that people are very saturated with change in the current climate.
They're having to deal with changes in many different domains. And so if we come in as a leader and say, guess what, everybody, I'm so excited to announce that we're making this massive change and it's going to completely change the way we do business in six months. And you hear crickets. You should not be surprised by that.
People are not going to jump up and cheer that we have yet another change. So this is a great time for leaders to cultivate patience, understanding empathy, and really think about your stakeholders for that change and what are their needs. What's their reality again who and what are they dealing with?
So you can communicate in a way that meets them where they are and speaks to those concerns. It's not about how exciting this new change is going to be. That's probably going to fall flat.
[00:20:56] Mahan Tavakoli: And in both bringing about the change, Wendy, and also just in terms of one of the capabilities that leaders need to have you also go pretty deep into growth mindset. Why is the leader embodying growth mindset important, both for them and for being able to lead change and others in the organization.
[00:21:20] Wendy Ryan: I think growth mindset is huge in terms of our ability to maximize talent, both in ourselves and in other people. Growth mindset is all about saying that failure is not a sign posts that says dead end, stop here, make a, U-turn go the other direction, which is how many of us deal with that. And we maybe are self-aware or not, but that's how we deal with that.
Instead, when we think about getting a sign posts that says danger or curvy road ahead, we say, okay, I'm going to try this out. And if I struggle, can I pull over? Can I adjust my speed and try again? So it's all about the ability to be aware of what's happening, adjust and keep going. And I just think we'll never reach our full potential as individuals, and we're never going to be able to help other people reach their potential. If we aren't really committed to that growth mindset and cultivating It And it's not always easy.
[00:22:30] Mahan Tavakoli: It is really hard windy. I was just talking to a president CEO of an organization and he was saying Mahan, all of this sounds good. Especially for Silicon valley companies or startups. I have a board of directors that I have to report to, and I don't know if they're going to like this thought of we are learning, we've made a lot of, we've had a lot of issues, but what we are learning with the risk-taking.
So when it's implemented in organizations, how do you see that growth mindset implemented in a way that also acknowledges some of the pressures, that leaders have systemically whether reporting to a board of directors or the fact that they're going to be reviewed at the end of the quarter of the year.
So how can the growth mindset be actually implemented in the organization rather than a nice thing that people talk about and then go back to the way they were doing things before.
[00:23:40] Wendy Ryan: One of the best tangible examples I've seen from this comes from someone that I interviewed for the book. Who's a good friend of mine. Her name is Stacy Porter and she's the. VP of people and operations at Outset Medical and what they did. I think it started in 2019 or early 2020, but they actually put in their signature lines instead of putting the company motto.
For example, they put what their individual learning goal is for the year. So if you receive an email from Stacy, you'll see that it says I'm working to get better at X, Y, Z. And most of those goals are around what we traditionally called soft skills right there. I'm working on being a better listener.
I'm working on remembering to be more inclusive. I love that because it's really a strong example of role modeling, having a growth mindset, having a learner mindset and inviting other people to hold you accountable, which I think is the second part of your question, which is okay. If we want to build this wonderful culture of tolerance for learning together and failure and course correction and all of those things, what are we going to do when it's time to file the annual report?
What are we going to do when it's the quarterly earnings call? Those are real things. So I think we can talk a lot about what are some of the longer term systemic fixes for that. But if we want to focus on what can we do today right now? And I'm a CEO, I think it comes down to one, taking a look at your annual objectives or quarterly objectives and recognizing, is there a gap.
Is there a space for having an organizational learning goal? Is there a way we can start to integrate this into our, what we're reporting out on and start that conversation with the board or start that conversation with your owners because you've got to start somewhere and unfortunately it might have to be in addition to things you're already doing, but anytime you write it down, you share it with others, it instantly becomes much more likely to happen. So I really encourage leaders to do at least that.
[00:26:08] Mahan Tavakoli: That's part of the reason I like the way you start the book, Wendy, with a focus on those mindsets, because oftentimes we go to skillsets, which are really important and we will touch on them in a minute. However, a lot of times it's the mindsets in the organization and the mindsets exhibited by leadership that get in the way of true organizational change. So those mindsets that you go through, whether from self-awareness to onto growth mindset are really important.
Now you also move on to skillsets. And one of the ones I found really interesting is that you classify emotional intelligence as a skillset. So therefore, I imagine you believe we can develop greater emotional intelligence.
[00:26:57] Wendy Ryan: Absolutely I do. And we also benefit when we recognize that it's a four-part skillset. Really one part is self-regulation right. So it's being able to understand what we're feeling and adjust how we're showing up. One part of it is social awareness what's happening with that interaction and that dialogue over there, it feels like sparks are flying. What does that mean? What's that about? Other parts have to do with other contexts where emotions are really important data that we want to be paying attention to and gathering.
So I think that even if it's daunting to think that I can go from level two at emotional intelligence to a level nine the reality is that I can almost always make progress on at least one of those dimensions and we may or may not think that's sufficient or admirable, but if you stop and ask the people in your life who have to interact with you regularly, like your family, or like people in your household or in your work group, I think people are often surprised, and this comes up all the time with 360 feedback, how small little changes along any of those four emotional intelligence domains people notice, and they appreciate, and you are perceived to be a better leader as a result.
So it's high leverage for your time to work on that.
[00:28:37] Mahan Tavakoli: And it ties back to a certain extent to that growth mindset. You either have a fixed mindset saying that emotional intelligence, you either have it, or you don't, or the level that you have it, or you have a growth mindset with the belief that the right kind of effort, kind of work, you can improve in it.
And that's part of the goal and should be part of the goal for leaders also because you do again with emotional intelligence, say it begins and ends with self-awareness. And I really think and I want to underline a lot of us have lower self-awareness than we think we do. Because I tend to find that the higher up we move in organizations and the more experience we have and the more success we have, actually, our self-awareness goes down because people become more mindful of the kind of feedback they give to us.
[00:29:35] Wendy Ryan: For sure. We are very sensitive as humans to perceptions of status. And this is really deeply ingrained in us.
So when we perceive that we're in a group of people, we often subconsciously look for signs and signals that someone has a higher social status than we do. And then we reinforce that through our corporate structure, through our titles, through our organization charts.
And we typically start to really edit ourselves. We do, as you've described, we start to say that person's the CEO or that person is the VP of product. I'm not sure that it's good for me to say this particular thing. It could be something we perceive to be helpful to us in the short term, but for that leader, it's the cumulative impact of that is very negative over the long term because you're right.
You're not getting all the information you need on how to really lead best. And you're reinforcing a structure that we know does not necessarily encourage great innovation and creativity and psychological safety over time. So we can and need to do better.
[00:30:51] Mahan Tavakoli: The best leaders that I interact with actively encourage that descent and getting that feedback, understanding that there is a tendency for people to moderate the feedback that they give. So it's not that our jokes become funnier. The higher up we move in the organization it's that people tend to laugh at them even when they are not funny.
So the best leaders are the ones that actively encourage that dissent and that pushed back . So that self-awareness is really important. Another side of it that you mentioned yes, we do need to work on ourselves. We do need to work on the mindsets and skills eventually behaviors.
You also say that holding people accountable is a leadership skill that's critical. You say one of the quickest ways for leaders to kill a high performing team is to fail, to hold people accountable. So how can we combine, the emotional intelligent leadership with a growth mindset, wanting people to risk with then holding our team members and people accountable.
[00:32:01] Wendy Ryan: Yeah. it's that is such a magical combination when we can get enough of that skill developed in all of those areas concurrently. I think it really makes magic when it comes to leadership. I have a saying that is kindness without candor is not really kind. And I think that sums up the idea of why it's so important for leaders to hold people on their teams, their peers, their bosses, other people outside of the organization, accountable, and obviously to different degrees and with different amounts of leverage, but it is possible to be both kind and candid.
It is possible to have very high standards for delivery and performance and still be a human being that appreciates other people as human beings. It starts with putting people first in terms of our mindset, which we talked about earlier. Another way that I like to work with leaders around this is, think of this as you have someone on your team, who's just really brilliant at coding Python or whatever technical skill it is. And they're the world's best python coder and you absolutely need and want them on your team because you want to be the first mover in this particular new release. And this happens every day, but this person's behavior is absolutely toxic.
They make racist comments. They routinely forget that there's a meeting. They overreact. Anytime someone gives them feedback. If you, as a leader, permit that to continue, then what's going to happen is it's like this warp field, I'm a star Trek fan. So I think of it as like this dysfunction occurs and it's like a bubble.
It's like a force field that grows around this person. And it literally warps the paths that everyone else takes to interact with collaborate with, and get work done. People start to create all of these work arounds to avoid this person or all of these, do all of these mental and emotional gymnastics to gear up, to meet with this person.
Or, and it takes so much energy and so much productivity out of the room that I have not yet met a leader where we sat down and did a math together and they said, oh yeah, I can really afford this.
[00:34:44] Mahan Tavakoli: Now you do mention leadership behaviors. You have acronym, FIDAH, focus, integrity, decisiveness, authenticity, and humility. We'd love to touch on a couple of them.
Leadership authenticity has. In conversation quite a bit. How do you encourage leaders to be more authentic themselves as they look to lead their organizations?
[00:35:11] Wendy Ryan: I think authenticity is a double sided coin. So a lot of people talk about authenticity And in very superficial terms, right? Are they think about it as, okay. I'm showing up as authentic because I've got five peer scenes and a very unusual hairstyle. And I only wear shorts to work. And all of that, again, those are similar to the trappings of leadership that we just discussed.
Those are like the trappings of authenticity. So we have to be careful that we're not thinking about it just in those terms. I think when it comes to leadership, authenticity is owning who you really are. So it is having some sense of self-awareness around who are you and who are you not? And that has to do with what are our values?
What is it that we want to stand for? So what is it we want to be known for? Not in terms of accomplishment, but in terms of character, that's really what we're talking about with authenticity. So it's who am I? That's one side of the coin. And then the other side of the coin is, recognizing that the more we expect conformity in the world, the more we expect everybody to be like us or to fit a certain mode, the more energy we're asking people to spend on doing just that, as opposed to the other things that we might prefer, that they be doing, like creating the next amazing service for the world or finding a cure to cancer or something like that.
So it doesn't mean that we shouldn't have rules. We shouldn't have standards. We shouldn't have expectations for how people behave in our system together, but we need to realize that conformity takes energy. And if we, as leaders want to really get the best out of the talent we have, we need to have as little of that expectation as we possibly can.
So I think we got to stretch ourselves beyond what is typically comfortable and accept that people showing up as they are, as different as it may be, is different than how we might have been taught. Do we really want to ask them to reign that in? Because when we do that, they're dropping something else off and we might really feel that loss at some point.
[00:37:41] Mahan Tavakoli: And actually that leadership authenticity Windy helps attract some people to us and repel others. I don't know if I share this with you or not. When your agent had reached out for us to have a conversation on the podcast. The first thing I did even before reading the book is I went on your LinkedIn profile and I saw an authentic Windy advocating for equity, a lot of issues around equity, which are very important to my heart. And I said, yes, I do want to talk to Wendy and I want to read her book and I'm sure others might see that and say, you know what? I don't want to go there, which is fine. So part of authenticity is being your true self, which will attract and motivate some and we'll turn off others, but it is being that true self and leading that way.
[00:38:38] Wendy Ryan: Absolutely. And thank you so much for that. That was beautiful. What you just relayed. And I appreciate that. So much for leaders. When we think about the analogy of flapping in the wind, we want to be flexible, but we don't want to show up as a completely different person.
When I work with clients, I am absolutely for some people and not for others. And I've learned over the years that A that's okay. And B that's about as much what they're bringing into the room with them as what I'm bringing into the room. And as long as there is a sense of mutual respect and how can we be successful together or apart, that's what we need to work toward.
And it's okay with me at this point. If some people say I'm not sure this Learn Lead Lift stuff is for me, I think I'm more drawn to this leadership model or this framework. I want people to be in the game, ultimately of thinking about leadership as important And working to get better at it. And I think that the more we all advanced in that direction, the better off we will be for sure.
[00:40:03] Mahan Tavakoli: And also in the book you address our need for and resetting our own privilege. You also give a couple of examples. One of them I had never read before you say women applying for funding have 33% less chance of getting funding and get 20% less money than their male counterparts. And I'm sure if he did this study with people of color would be even less than that.
So you do say we do need to understand our privilege and equity and inclusion becomes a key role for leaders.
[00:40:42] Wendy Ryan: Yes, I think it was very important for me, certainly in the process of writing the book. And in the last, I would say 10 years, especially it's very important for me to get in touch with my own assumptions when it comes to identity and privilege and then understand how the models and the tools and the ways that I was used to thinking about leadership were informed by that, or not informed by that.
So I, so starting there, I think it's important to acknowledge that a lot of things that I would say now, Are not the things that I was taught. For example, I was taught coming up in HR. Oh no, we never talk about the fact that someone is black or gay, or we didn't even have an idea that there was gender nonconforming was a possibility at that time.
We didn't even have the language for that. We were taught to turn a blind eye to all of that. So many of us and who have been in this work for a while have had to really unlearn some of the things we were taught and relearn new ways of going forward. And I think an important part of that journey for me is recognizing that yes, as a white woman, as a heterosexual woman, as cis-gendered able-bodied neuro-typical, I hold a ton of privilege and the minute you say privilege, that's an example of one of those words that just will instantly clear a room, right? So I know I'm in the right room. If I say privilege or either right. Listening or listening to this podcast, if they hear this conversation and they're still with us now, thank you very much, but rather than be defensive about that, I always tell people, let's get curious about it. The bottom line with privilege for leadership is that to me, it's the quickest way for leaders to understand that why people who are sitting right next to us are having a totally different experience than we are in a meeting or in a particular situation or in a change effort.
So if you just work with it in that context, it's still incredibly helpful because it really helps us understand again, that human system And why the same inputs to me, absolutely affect me differently than it does my black coworker. So if you smile at me in a room and you're a white male, I have a different experience of that then does my black coworker sitting next to me. And if I don't take the time to dig into privilege and understand that and understand our history, then I'm missing something.
I am missing a really vital set of data that should be informing my leadership.
[00:43:43] Mahan Tavakoli: And it is through that kind of discovery windy that leaders can constantly become better leaders. It requires empathy, it requires, as you say, humility for us to constantly look to learn, I love a couple of other points that you made in your book because they resonated with me. One of the areas that I've shifted my thinking on over the past couple of years, if you watch any of the talks I did up to maybe four or five years ago, I was a very big advocate for meritocracy.
And would say that the best type of organization is one that has the meritocratic approach and so on and so forth. I have since understood. There are a lot of flaws in the way a meritocratic system is implemented in an organization. Had a great conversation with Nadya Zhexembayeva. And she was saying, guests meritocracy is good, but meritocracy and merit as defined by whom and how.
And a lot of those things become systemic issues that need to be addressed. So it's with that sense of humility that we all need to learn. And your book gives some great frameworks and asks some of the questions that we need as we go on our own journey of self-discovery learning and becoming more effective leaders.
Wendy you do address leading through trauma how should leaders reflect on leading more effectively people that have experienced trauma.
[00:45:23] Wendy Ryan: I so appreciate you raising this question because I agree with you a hundred percent that the incidents of trauma is broad and pervasive relative to what we might've said. Even a couple of years ago, part of that is there's more awareness. And you tend to see diagnoses increase when there is actually a diagnosis out there that people talk about and we have the language.
But part of it is I think for sure, a real recognition that is in fact, what a lot of people have and are experiencing in the world. And so for leadership, again, many of us were taught that. If you're having a bad day, you'd leave that at home. The workplace you come here, you need to be fully focused.
You need to be not thinking about your personal life at all or any that was, there was just a very hard, bright line. And we've really seen that line soften and dissolve completely in some cases and leaders, unfortunately were not routinely given the tools to manage that. So for a lot of leaders, it feels wow, the rules of the game changed here and nobody sent me the kit I was supposed to get so I could retrofit my self here.
So let me acknowledge that. It's hard. It's hard to feel like holy cow, now I've got to figure out this trauma thing and I do not feel equipped for this. So you're not alone if you're feeling that way. I think what you can do about it immediately is first of all, recognize that. If you feel like you've been traumatized or someone else has been traumatized, you might be using the same language to describe things that to you seem not at all equivalent. So for example, you might say, Trauma to me is I've had five loved ones die in the last year.
I've had, this has happened. My house burned down really big, catastrophic, highly visible events. Some other person might also be experiencing trauma, but theirs is I didn't get the person I really wanted. I got dumped by my girlfriend or something like that. And so we have to be really careful because it's so tempting to play the one-up game with trauma and get hooked into who has it harder.
And that does not serve us well as leaders. So we have to be conscious of that. And we need to just understand that people process in different ways. And so sometimes with trauma, again, just putting the source aside, if someone's showing the symptoms of trauma, believe them. And make space for that. So one thing that I really encourage leaders to do now, for example, is every team meeting, you start with a check-in, and don't just say, how are you doing?
Because people are going to say, I'm fine because that's conditioned into us or I'm not fine, maybe. And then everyone's oh no, what do we do now? So instead I love to see leaders say what is it that you are focused on this week and what intention can we hold for you as a team? And that is a really gentle way of giving people the space to say I'm struggling with my middle-schooler because the internet went out three times this week and they're doing online school and that was really disruptive.
Or someone can say I'm struggling because I think I'm going to get a divorce. So if you do that every week and you repeat that, or every month, whenever your check-ins are, it starts to build that muscle as a team. And it normalizes that people start to talk about things outside of work that are impacting how they're showing up at work.
And that's the goal it's not to solve people's problems. It's not for you, the leader to become their therapist. It's simply to say, I want to know what's really going on with people that's impacting the way they show up. And I want them to acknowledge it. So then we can move on to the business of the day.
So sometimes it's just as simple as that. And I think a lot of leaders get hung up with, if I open the door a crack, then the, then there's going to be a flood that comes in the door and I'm going to have to fix everybody's problems. And I really want to dissuade people from from that thinking,
[00:50:07] Mahan Tavakoli: And that is the old leadership mindset that when people bring problems to me, I need to solve it as opposed to, in this instance, as you said, Wendy it is allowing for the humanity of people to share it, it is not to be solved by the manager or in the work environment, however, it allows for their humanity to come in.
Wendy, in addition to your book, learn lead, lift how to think act and inspire your way to greatness. I truly appreciate you sharing some of your thoughts and perspectives with a partner in leadership podcast, community. Thank you so much for joining me, Wendy Ryan.
[00:50:47] Wendy Ryan: It was a great pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.