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And I got really fascinated by this whole idea of, okay, we’re all leading in times of… in a really intense time of crisis. What are people doing? Like, what… what’s working? What’s not working?
Welcome to The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, where we help HR and business leaders embrace joy in the workplace. I’m JoDee Curtis, owner of Purple Ink and Powered by Purple Ink, and with me is my friend and co-host Susan White, owner of Susan Tinder White Consulting, an HR consulting practice. Our topic today is crisis proof leadership.
I’ll be listening to Doris Kearns Goodwin speak at HR Indiana this month. Many of you will recognize her as a regular on the Today Show or on NBC News, but she is also considered a presidential historian. She will speak on her most recent book, “Leadership in Turbulent Times.” When I think of turbulent times, I feel like we have been through some of those recently – an increase in gun violence and school shootings, COVID, political crises. And in these past few years, we’ve heard people talk about the state of the world or the US and all of the crisis or turbulence that has happened, and we hear questions like, “This is the worst it’s ever been,” or “How did we get here?” or “How can this be happening in the 21st century?” Yet, when we look back at history, like Ms. Goodwin does, there’s a lot of events that have occurred that have been much worse than what we’re going through now. Yet, we tend to focus on our curtain state, which I suspect is normal, right? We’re living it. So Ms. Goodwin’s book digs into the leadership styles of presidents Lincoln, Johnson, and Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt. Each of them did, in fact, lead through turbulent or crisis times. They had wars, the depression, civil rights, and slavery. Ms. Goodwin says that each of these presidents had very different leadership styles, but yet have all been long recognized as strong leaders. They had very different abilities, backgrounds, and temperaments, but they also each had a deep seed of resilience that enabled them to surmount uncommon adversity and were guided strongly by a sense of moral purpose. I haven’t finished the book…
…but I’m looking forward to reading more and learning more about this.
I’m glad – it sounds like a page turner.
Yeah. [Laughs] And certainly, as we look at our own organizations, what we consider to be turbulent times might be very unique for us. It could be a change in leadership, venture capital, mergers and acquisition, or impacts of new technologies, to name a few. They may also be common to other organizations, like going through a recession or high inflation rates like we have right now.
Well, my friend and our Powered by Purple Ink partner Beth Rashleigh also recently wrote a book – her first one – called “Crisis Proof Leadership,” and I wanted to explore more about what she describes as a crisis and how leaders perform. Beth is the owner of Rashleigh Consulting and as I mentioned, the author of her book, “Crisis Proof Leadership: Where Opportunity Meets Preparation.” Beth has worked in talent and organizational development for almost 20 years in healthcare, corporate America, and for the CIA.
Oh, that’s interesting.
I know. I want to get some scoop on that one. And Beth lives here in Indianapolis.
So Beth, I’m excited to hear more about your book, but, you know, I feel compelled to ask you a question about working for the CIA. Were you able to tell people that you were employed by the CIA?
Yeah, you know, it’s a strange thing because I was never, you know… never encouraged to lie about where I worked or anything like that. But just from a safety perspective, it’s something they encourage you not to broadcast. Like, you don’t necessarily want to walk up to every person, you know, and be like, “Hey, I work at the CIA,” because it may… it is… it is a safety concern. That was something that I was incredibly naive about when I started. I had no concept of that I was putting myself in any sort of danger by working there until my first day. [Laughs] Like, you go to… because I’m… you know, I was 27 when I started working there, this Midwest girl from Indianapolis, you know, like, I didn’t know.
I didn’t know. I thought it was gonna be fun. They recruited me, the job seemed cool, I went. You know, like I didn’t… I didn’t think through, like, the ramifications of it. But, like, in orientation, one of the things they teach you is that there was actually a shooting in the 90s at headquarters. So basically what somebody did, there’s like a main road and you turn into, you know, headquarters, and then there’s a gate, and somebody actually stood at the road, and anybody who was turning left, they started shooting.
Oh, my gosh.
And something like 12 or 13 people got shot, most of them…like, there were a couple of doctors that got shot. You know, it wasn’t people with operations backgrounds, it’s just, they were a target because they were CIA employees. And so one of the things they teach you is just, you know, you want to be mellow about it. You don’t know how people are going to react, and you know, you’re just putting yourself at some risk. And so I only worked at actual headquarters for a year of my eight years. Most of the time, I was in an off-campus building, and I thought about that all the time when I was at headquarters. I hated working at headquarters. I hated walking into headquarters on 9/11 every year, you know, like…
That was incredibly… like, the whole day, you know, you would just be eerie. And I… I remember even thinking when I first started working at headquarters, I had an office that was really close to a main door on the first floor, and then I ended up getting moved down to the basement, like, the middle of the basement. You know, and CIA headquarters was just this massive building, you know, almost as big as the Pentagon. It’s this massive space. So I remember when we moved down there, I was like… it used to make me so uncomfortable, because it would be so hard to get out. We were so far away from an exit. Like, if something happened, you know?
But those are the kinds of things you think about. But again, I had no concept. I was going there to be a trainer. [Laughs] You know, like I…
I was going to ask you what type of work you did. You were, like, a human resource trainer?
Yeah. So when I very first started, I did… I always tell people I did the most boring types of training that you can possibly do at one of the most interesting jobs you can have. And I taught people how to do things like classified documents. So, how do you know when something’s top secret? How do you mark it correctly so that it’s, you know, discoverable in the right ways? And all those kinds of things. I taught people how to properly file their electronic records so that they could be, you know, discoverable for FOIA and things like that. So that’s the kind of things I taught people when I very first started. That was just my first couple of years, and pretty quickly, I moved into the leadership realm, in that realm of that… that space, which I loved, but I always tell people like that’s how I got good. That’s how I got funny, because if you couldn’t, you know, keep a group engaged, like…
…you were gonna have a bunch of sleeping people because it was really dense, boring stuff. [Laughs] So.
Good skill sets to learn.
Maybe a little orientation tip in there that organizations might not want to talk about mass shootings at your location…
…on an employee’s first day of work.
Or maybe they do, but like, you know, it was terrifying. It was absolutely terrifying. It was probably good thing for me to know. It was good for them to, like, you know, knock… knock down the naive girl a couple of notches, probably. [Laughs]
Right. That could be, too.
So Beth, let’s talk about you, let’s talk about your book, and let’s talk about your perspective on crisis proof leaders. What is it that crisis proof leaders do that other leaders don’t do?
Yeah, I think this is such a great, great question. Really interesting. When I started writing the book… So, I wrote the book in 2021. Gosh, that seems like 20 years ago, doesn’t it?
It was just last year, but just so much happens. These pandemic years, they’re like dog years. But I started kind of researching late 2020 and then really started writing in 2021, and I got really fascinated by this whole idea of, okay, we’re all leading in times of… in a really intense time of crisis. What are people doing? Like, what… what’s working? What’s not working? And I really expected… Honestly, when I started researching it, I thought, you know, there’s going to be some silver bullet. [Laughs] There’s going to be this one thing that if we’re all doing it, it’s going to be the difference maker. And that couldn’t have been further from what I found. What I found instead is that… which, again, you know, I’ve been in leadership long enough, it probably should have occurred to me that this is the case. But really, what I found is the leaders who were already doing the basics, who were already had engaged employees, knew how to connect with people, knew how to build trust, knew the importance of regular communication, they did dramatically better than leaders who were struggling with the basics walking into the crisis. So I think the lesson point for all of us as leaders there is, how much time are you spending on those things? Like, have you really invested time and development into what I would call, like, the leadership basics? And unfortunately, I think too many people haven’t. You know, a lot of people find themselves in leadership jobs by accident. You don’t kind of pull back and say, ooh, you know, why am I doing what I’m doing and what’s working and what’s not. And that’s really, you know, a recipe for going down a path of… of having some potential issues down the road.
You know, even I personally felt like during the pandemic, which became a crisis to the Purple Ink organization, made me realize that looking back on my career… not that, you know, there weren’t some struggles along the way or issues, but that really at no point in my career had I been through a major crisis or upheaval, and that every place I had worked, which was not that many places, but we were every time in a period of growth, my career was in a period of growth, and then all of a sudden, March 2020. And it was like, bam.
I don’t have experience with this. Right? I’ve never been trained to deal with this before. So.
Yeah, yeah, I think that’s incredibly true. And I think that was incredibly true for a lot of leaders. It… you know, the pandemic required a set of skills that nobody was prepared for. If you were managing a 100% in-person team, you’re suddenly… most people are managing virtually, what’s different about that? What do we need to be focused on? So that’s just one issue. Plus, you’ve got a bunch of people who potentially have kids at home, and you’ve got, you know, work life balance issues that are insane. Natural stress and anxiety levels went up, because it was scary, you know, like, just… it was thing after thing after thing that, you know, amounted to a whole heck of a lot of challenges for leaders.
Right. But how does crisis leadership look different than everyday leadership?
You know, I think, like, the real biggest part of it that shifts, in my opinion, is the speed and amount of decisions that you’re making. Right? So if you think about, again, if you go back to, like, early 2020, you’re suddenly making 100 different decisions about really big things incredibly quickly. And that’s actually one of the things that I did when I was trying to dig into the work was, okay, let’s really define it. Like, what is crisis? Like, what… again, what’s the, like, kicking point? Like, when do we add the crisis label? And I found there were three things that really happen, the first being some sort of threat to the organization, which again, put yourself in 2020 shoes. There wasn’t an organization on the planet that wasn’t under threat, right? You’ve got massively different economic conditions, you’ve got massively different workforce conditions, lots and lots of threat. The second thing was that it’s a surprise. There’s an element of surprise. You didn’t see it coming. Nobody saw the pandemic coming in the way that it came. You know, certainly we got some early warning signs that things were going to be different, but I remember my husband being like, you know, we should really stock up on groceries, and I called him a crazy person.
I remember being like, I think you’re being a little bit, like, alarmist about this, I think it’s all going to be fine. And I look – [laughs] – at those early days, and I’m like, oh, dang it, he was right. Like, we should have gone to Costco and bought a bunch of toilet paper, right?
Like, but, you know, we didn’t know what we didn’t know at that point. So, so many surprises. And then again, that third factor is the short decision time. So crisis is really defined by that. And one of the things that I’ve really dug into, even since writing the book, is really trying to understand from a leadership style perspective, what does that mean? Like, okay, what leadership styles are really going to thrive in that and what makes somebody a truly crisis proof leader? And in my opinion, it is the intersection of how fast can you make a decision – like, an effective decision – and how deeply connected can you stay to the humans? Right? Lots of people can do one or the other of those. But to do both of those well, that’s really the magic point. So if you think about somebody who’s really good on the connection side, but not so great at the decision making side, you’ve got someone who’s a fantastic cheerleader, but nobody knows what the heck to do. [Laughs] Right? Like, they haven’t made a decision. Cheerleading is great, but it’s not gonna get you through those types of situations. If they’re bad at connection and decision making, then you’ve got somebody who’s basically in denial. You’re just…[laughs] I’m just… if I just sit here and keep doing what I’m doing, it’s all going to end and it’s going to be fine. Right? [Laughs] Also not gonna work. And then if you’ve got somebody who’s low on the connection side, but maybe still doing okay on the decision point, you’ve got somebody who’s very reactionary, who isn’t bringing anybody along with them. Right? There’s nobody behind them, but man, they’re moving. [Laughs] They’re moving all over the place. So again, it’s… I think it’s the intersection of both of those things that we have to keep our eye on when we’re in a crisis.
I love that. Very insightful.
You know, I had a boss that had said to me, “Susan, never let a good crisis go to waste.” You can learn so much about yourself, about your organization during times of crisis that you can leverage for the good times. So I’d love to hear your thoughts about self-awareness. How do leaders really figure out, do I have those competencies, and do they intersect? And how do we as… as business owners look at our leaders and say, do they have the right stuff to help us get through the next crisis?
Yeah, I think self-awareness, again, I talked about this, first of all the competencies that I kind of identified as “these are really important,” I talked about this one first, and I actually titled it extreme self-awareness. It’s not, like, a little self-awareness. [Laughs] It’s like, how do you get to the highest level of self-awareness that you can? And again, when you really dig into that, like, what does somebody who’s highly self-aware do? What do they know about themselves? Part of it really starts with why the heck are you even a leader? Like, again, did this happen to you accidentally? [Laughs]
Are you just showing… which, again, I’ve been there. I was… at my very first leadership job, I have a very clear memory of when I interviewed for the job. They didn’t even talk about that I was gonna have a direct report. I showed up and suddenly I had somebody reporting to… I was 23. You know, what the heck did I know? And this poor woman who was, like, end of career, she was like 60, 65 ish. I remember my first day, she was like, do you want me to grab some coffee? I was like, no, I don’t drink coffee. [Laughs]
Like, at that point, I didn’t, I was 23. So anyway, like, it happens to people accidentally all the time. So, like, really backtracking. And I remember, even in my own leadership journey, when I got really clear about why I was in the job, what my job really was, it dramatically changed my ability to lead, because I got so much clearer about my role of service to the people that were working for me. And I think there’s, again, we often are ingrained, and we absorb a lot of things as we watch other leaders that maybe aren’t ideal. And if you don’t stop and go, wait, why… why am I in this? Ugh, you know, that can that can really be a disaster. One of my favorite books on that topic is Patrick Lencioni. His book called “Motive,” which I think for some reason, it’s like a sleeper. Not very many people read it. [Laughs] I don’t know if the timing of when it came out… but it’s not one people talk about a lot.
I’m a huge Patrick Lencioni fan, and I’m not sure I’ve even heard of that one.
Yeah, I think it came out, like, maybe 2019, like right before… like, late 2019. So I think it just got caught up in the pandemic machine. But it’s great. And basically, what he talks about in this book is if… if you’re not getting into it with a service-oriented heart, don’t bother. Like, it’s not going to work out. Like, that is the job of a leader, to be in service of others. So I think it starts there. Like, getting really clear about that why. Identifying it, being able to state it, being able to express it clearly to the people who work for you, the people that you work for. Really, really important. And I think part of that understanding is also being really clear about what’s most important to you. What do you value in others and yourself? And again, that helps with things like work life balance, it helps with things like transparency, even. Really, really important to understand those things. And then there’s the things that we always think of when it comes to self-awareness. Like, do you know what your strengths and weaknesses are? Do you know what you’re really great at and what you’re terrible at, and do you account for that in some way? You know, the biggest thing and the biggest hurdle I see there with leaders that always ends up in a bad place is if you’re out there faking it. You know, you’ve got some real weakness and you’re trying to pretend that strength. That will always catch up with leaders. I’ve never seen that not eventually catch up with a leader. So getting really clear about those things or trying to account for them, leaning into what you’re really great at, and understanding that, planning your work around that – really game changers on this one.
Why is continuous leadership development important? Beth, I know that’s been a part of your career entire career, right? Why is it important for others?
Again, I think that when I really started digging into this topic, that was also a difference maker with, you know, the leaders who really, you know, maybe they weren’t thriving, but they weren’t experiencing the same decline as others. And it’s that they know there are things they don’t know still and they’re willing to continue to grow. This is a thing that I saw happen all the time at the CIA. There’s… there’s actually a career path at the CIA that… that you become a subject matter expert at your job. You know, like that… that there’s that path, and then you can become a leader. You know, like, those are the two paths. And I saw it happen time and time again, to the point where we started calling it the… the curse of the subject matter expert. Like, the second you say I’m a subject matter expert, what do you do? Like, you stop learning. You’re like, I don’t have to learn anything. I’m the expert, everybody should come to me for this topic. And I think that’s true of anything, especially leadership. And this is something I used to run into in my corporate days all the time as well. You know, you… you get called in to consult on a job, they want to run the entire company through some really extensive training program, but not the executives, because they’re fine, they’ve got it figured out.
They don’t need that training. That’s always a red flag. [Laughs] You know, like, there isn’t anything in this whole day? Like, even if you feel like you do those things really well, you should want to see it so that you can support the leaders who work for you. Right? Like, that… that is always a red flag for me. And, you know, any… anytime somebody says they’re done learning, that’s just a recipe for, I think, again, a decline in skill.
Yeah, great point. I used to do… well, I still do it some, but earlier in my business, I did a lot… spent a lot of time training people who were, like, new managers or new leaders in different organizations. And I would say the most common comment I would get, either verbally or on the evaluation sheets at the end, is they would say, this was great, but why can’t our leaders go through this too?
[Laughs] Yeah, I’ve gotten that one a lot, too.
I think it was like, the more they learned about what it took to be a good leader, the more they could see in other people where they weren’t doing well.
Like, oh, I didn’t know before that that’s how you should delegate or give feedback to other people, and now that I do, why is that not happening?
Yeah, I think that’s incredibly true, and again, I think that’s a risk for executives. Like, if you’re not spending that time, again, that if I’m a leader, and I’m in your class, and that’s how I feel, am I going to be super engaged, go back to work, and… and apply what I learned? No. Like… and again, if the culture is fighting those messages, the culture is going to win every single time. If the executive culture doesn’t match, doesn’t matter what we do as trainers. It’s got to be, you know, lived and… and shown every day.
So Beth, we’re The JoyPowered® Workspace Podcast, so we’ve got a question for you on that front. What’s one small step or change you made during your career that boosted your joy at work?
Oh, my gosh. So I saw this question… that you guys were going to ask this question, and I was really thinking about it, and it actually made me think back to my early HR days. So when I very first started in HR, you know, I did the standard things you did. I was a nurse recruiter for a while, I was a more of a generalist for a while, and honestly, I hated it, because I would get mired down in the employee relations side of things. So like, once something is so far gone that it’s not fixable anymore, and now you’re exiting somebody from the organization. And I remember, like, having this really conscious moment of, like, no, I don’t want to do that. I want to fix it before they get fired. [Laughs] Let’s get in ahead of it. And the second I stepped more into training, the training side of things, the happier I got, because I liked that proactive side of it. It doesn’t have to get that bad. We can get in with small interventions ahead of that, and really avoid that icky side of HR in my opinion. [Laughs] When we can.
I like it. And once again, that’s great self-awareness on your part to sort of see, well, how can I best fit into this? Where can I shake up the bottleneck or prevent the problems from happening in the in the first place? So.
Yeah, and I think I also realized pretty early, you know, JoDee and I are both strengths nerds, and I know you are too, Susan, but you know I have high empathy. High empathy and, you know, firing people – not a good set of skills. I remember specifically I was, like, consulting on a firing that was happening and I was crying during the thing, because I hired the person, I thought she was great. I didn’t love the circumstances. I wasn’t really behind the firing, but she started to tear up and then, like, tears started rolling down. I was like, yeah, this is probably not…
…my best fit role, right? This is not going to work for me. [Laughs]
That’s funny. So, well, Beth, so fun to talk to you today and I know our listeners are loving it, as well. Good to get some inside scoop on the CIA…
…and learn more about crisis proof leaders. So where can our listeners, number one, contact you if they’re interested in learning more about this and/or two, where can they buy your book?
Yeah, so first, you know, I love it when people connect. I’m on LinkedIn and very active, you can just search by my name, which is Beth Rashleigh, spelled like Ashleigh with an R in front of it, so not as complicated as it seems like. And then I’m also active on Instagram… ish. You can find me there at Beth underscore Rashleigh underscore author. And as far as where you can find the book, wherever books are sold, so it’s on amazon.com in ebook form, paperback form, audible form, all available through Amazon, also on Barnes and Noble, all the big booksellers, and I’d love for you to grab a copy and check it out. Let me know what you think.
All right. Thanks so much, Beth.
Thank you, Beth.
No, thanks for having me. It was so much fun.
JoDee, our listener question today comes from one of our listeners of our one of our April podcasts. You know, we welcome questions from any of our listeners. Here’s the question. “What are practical tips to increase the level of engagement of a remote team?”
You know, first off, I think we’re all still… as long as now many of us have been working remotely, we’re still continuing to look for ideas – right? – and magic bullets and whatever people are doing. But I thought this question was so timely, because literally, I just, about a week and a half ago, I sent out in our weekly newsletter at Purple Ink some ideas for things that I was encouraging our team to do. So we do lots of different things, but… but these were some of the ones I mentioned. Now, we are fortunate that we do have an office. It’s not convenient or available to everyone, but I encourage the ones who could to work in the office maybe one or two days a week. I think just even if you’re in an office with the door shut, just visibly seeing people in between or taking the opportunity to go out to lunch, you certainly will have more interaction than you will working from home all day, right? I also encourage them to invite team members to go out to lunch. Now, once again, some teams this won’t be an option, and we have pockets of people who are close to each other but not close to others, but some of them could meet for lunch very easily. I suggested that they talk business or just talk personally with each other and learn more about the other person. I also recommended that they pick up the phone and call them, not just… you know, I feel like sometimes that I’m interacting with my team all the time, and then I sit back and look, like, oh, well really, I was emailing and texting them most of that time.
So… and you know, a Zoom call can be awesome, too, but we can get weary of being on Zoom calls all day, so maybe just pick up the phone and find out more about them, as well. Maybe, once again, finding out more about what they’re doing in your business, what that role is, or just making it a completely personal time, as well, too. Once again, if you have anyone close to you at all, think about scheduling a walk talk where you can get out and get some physical fitness to meet with them, also. But I don’t really think… there’s no… there’s not a magic bullet. We’ve done things like we’ve had cocktail hours – right? – where people are home, but on a zoom call where we just schedule and talk and eat chips and salsa. We’ve had lunches, we’ve played games that we’ve talked about before on this podcast where we have facilitated games by outside vendors, as well, too. Any other ideas that you have, Susan, that we haven’t talked about?
I participated in one of your events where you had nachos and chips, kind of a happy hour, and what really threw… took it to the next level is you had the chips and salsa delivered all simultaneously, and that must have been, I want to say 10 or 12 people.
It was fabulous. So I think people are gonna remember how you make them feel, and I don’t know how much you spent on that, but I felt like a million bucks.
It was really… So I just think, what can you do? And I know that people are… this is… I hear from my clients all the time, you know, we’re hiring people all across the nation and some overseas, and we’re… the chances of us getting together annually aren’t… is not… we think about what is it going to take to make people feel part of a community? So I love all these ideas, but I also would ask my staff members. I’d say, what do you… what would you like? How could you feel more connected? And really listen and try to respond.
Right. I love it. In our in the news section today, I thought we’d add a little bit of levity. Hangover leave is the new job perk that workers would most like to see employers start offering, according to a new poll, but millions would also welcome such other new benefits as breakup leave and houseplant bereavement leave. [Laughs]
These statistics are from a poll of 1,200 Americans conducted by YouGov for Trusaic, a provider of equal pay, compliance software, and consulting. The war for talent and the great resignation and the challenge of compensating staff all mean that employers are now offering even more lavish benefits in kind of a perks arm race, right? We’re all looking for that. You know, what can we offer that no one else is offering? Matt Gotchy, who’s the Executive VP of Marketing for Trusaic said that some employers already have “pawternity leave,” to bond with your new pet. I know you like that one, Susan.
[Laughs] I gotta tell you, I’m just thinking about this houseplant bereavement one.
I would be off all the time. I kill every houseplant. [Laughs]
[Laughs] So do I. So do I. We are… we are kindred spirits. And of course, that he’s from a compensation firm, says that employer emphasis on fair pay and pay equity might be way more effective than worrying about…
…houseplant leaves. But paid celebration recovery leaves, otherwise known as hangover leave, does top America’s wish list of new fantasy job perks, with 23% of poll respondents backing the idea. Now personally, Susan, for me, I think it really emphasizes the need to offer PTO and allow people to take off time for whatever they need. I just might not want to know why they’re off work. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Great point. I think with a generous PTO, let people decide how they’re going to use those days.
Very, very wise.
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