Podcast: Leadership – Balancing the Act of Doing and the Art of Being

In this episode, Kate Gerasimova, Senior Associate at gothamCulture talks with Kimberly Penharlow, Certified Leadership & Performance Coach and Organization Psychologist, about leadership which is a delicate balance between the act of doing and the art of being. The act of getting things done is very transactional. This year’s focus should be the art of being. The art of being a leader, in relationship with your team and culture, and understanding the importance of resilience.

Released: November 29, 2022

Kate Gerasimova:

I’m happy to present to you a series of episodes about culture gathered over the past year asking experts in the industry for their advice and recommendations for leaders of organizations in this always-changing environment. The three episodes touch on how organizations need to be resilient in these vulnerable times. Each guest has a unique background and brings their own expertise and experience to what organizations, leaders, and employees need to do to be successful.

I’m Kate Gerasimova and I’m joined here by Kimberly Penharlow, who is a certified leadership and performance coach and organizational psychologist. She brings 20 years of professional experience as a trusted advisor for C-suite executives and non-profit startups and Fortune 500 companies. Kimberly is also on the board of directors for the award-winning creative network, SheSays, which helps women to achieve personal and professional success. Welcome, Kimberly.

Kimberly Penharlow:

Hi Kate. Thank you for having me today. I’m thrilled to be here.

Kate Gerasimova:

Thank you for being here. I’m so curious to learn more from you about what would you recommend for leaders in 2022.

Kimberly Penharlow:

That’s a beautiful question. It’s so juicy. So I think about this quote, which is, “Leadership is the delicate balance between the act of doing and the art of being.” So as I coach leaders, the act often is how you get things done. And it could be anything from how fast, how under budget, how many people were involved, so it’s very transactional. When I think about the new year, I think about the focus on the art of being. The art of being a leader. The art of being in relationship with your team. The art of being in relationship with culture and the importance of resilience. So it’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality. I don’t actually think there’s ever going to be a new now. I think the reality is we are going to continue to be in a VUCA world, in which leaders are going to be challenged to figure out if and when, and hybrid here and there, and this VUCA environment, which is Volatile, Uncertain, Complicated, and Ambiguous also just means it’s a time of constant change.

So the art of being, I want to give a couple of tips because most staff, most leaders that I’ve worked with in the past year and a half through COVID have not seen many of their teams. Maybe people have been hired, maybe people have transitioned out, but maybe they’ve never gathered. So with this art of being, a couple of things that I think about is resilience, and as you think about resilience, there can be four kinds of resilience muscles that leaders can build for themselves, but also for their teams. Part of it is psychological, part of it is emotional, physical, and community. And when I think about the emotional piece, that’s like how are you as a leader handling stress? How’s your team handling stress?

So tactically, right? Who wants to be on Zooms all week long? A tactical change for a leader to do is to look at the number of Zooms that they have. If it’s a 60-minute Zoom, cut it down to 45. Ask the critical question, is this actually a Zoom video needed conversation or can I make a call? So I’m encouraging leaders to do 25% less of meeting time, whether it’s on video or whether it’s on the telephone, to restore and to kind of start to recover. Some other pieces that I like, I think it’s important is this physicality, right? So if people are still working from home, it’s looking at their home setup and maybe moving a light, moving where your desk is facing, maybe moving a picture so you’re looking at something different. Maybe it’s doing walking telephone meetings with your staff. Again, building that kind of physical resilience.

And then this art of being is also so connected to relationships and culture, right? And community. So when I think about culture, there’s work by Daniel Coyle around safety, vulnerability, and purpose. And when leaders slow down and allow themselves to be open in different ways, whether it’s doing open office hours, knowing people can just drop in. Or whether it’s a leader making a list of people that actually inspire them because leaders are burnt out just like their staffs are tired, but if you create a list of 10 people that inspire you and then take half an hour every single week and have those calls, you’re going to show up with a tighter community, a sense of community outside of your organization. You’re going to show up inspired and invigorated for your teams.

I think there’s also ways to encourage that with your staff, right? Where I’ve been using a lot of Brene Brown’s work with Dare to Lead, and one of the two tools that I use a lot is this idea of permission slips. So what permission slip, I’ll use myself, do I need to give to myself today in order to show up for my clients? And maybe it’s not having all the answers, maybe it’s asking a challenging question, or maybe it’s realizing that I’m tired and I’m going to tell my client that I’m tired and we’re going to be real with each other. So what are those permission slips that can often be a way for staff to feel less stressed, which is I’m going to be on this Zoom. I’m not going to feel forced that I have to contribute during the call.

Those are some of the things that I think about. I think that culture is critically important, relationship is critically important, and focusing less on what is getting done, but how it’s getting done and what is that art of relationship and that art of culture that leaders can really focus on. And part of that is really slowing down and taking care of themselves and restoring themselves.

Kate Gerasimova:

That’s so beautiful. I love how we say do less, take more walks and your mention of art of being and slowing down. This is beautiful. I wish we can all do that.

Kimberly Penharlow:

I wish we all could too. I think it’s really challenging and I wish that leaders could turn down their expectations on themselves a bit more, knowing that there is an immense amount of stress that they’re experiencing, that their teens are experiencing, and so much of it is out of all of our control, right? So I think there is a real need for leaders to be graceful with themselves and graceful with their teams and having one or two things that they do new this year to allow this art of being could be sufficient, right? I think leaders who approach this year as I have to reinvent everything, most likely they are going to fail, right? There are things that people … That they’ve been doing really well and making some minor changes in the area of culture and restoring and resilience can have a huge impact, right?

And I think the other thing that I would … The other advice is this is a perfect time for leaders to slow down and ask their staff what’s bringing them joy? What’s bringing them happiness? Why are they still in the organization? Because as we know, about 33% of people are actually looking for a different job. So if you have people that you want to make sure are staying with your organization, it’s time to ask them directly what’s keeping you here? And that’s the role of a leader, right? And then to hold onto those gems and to honor those gems in the culture.

Kate Gerasimova:

Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s a great question to ask and know what people want and help them to be inspired. As you mentioned, be inspired more yourself and inspire others.

Kimberly Penharlow:

Yeah, that inspiration piece is so important, especially when most of us are not roaming around the world in a way that we might have two years ago, right? So that connection to people at different points in your life, whether it’s professional or not, those people who inspire you are important to reach back out to.

Kate Gerasimova:

Yeah, absolutely. And then one more thing that I wanted to ask you more about, you mentioned something about the culture. So why is it still critical to focus? We keep talking culture, culture, but why now again?

Kimberly Penharlow:

Yeah, why now? Because they’re still creating their virtual culture, right? And most organizations and leaders have led through all of COVID virtually, and this is again, a great time to punctuate what has been working really well in the virtual world and what are some … What’s one change that maybe the leaders want to see, maybe the staff want to see, in order to stay more connected to the purpose of your organization? We know through research that most people are driven by being connected to whatever the mission of the organization is. And by the sheer nature of working remotely, oftentimes that connection can get deteriorate … Can begin to deteriorate, right?

So culture and mission and purpose is part of those leadership skills around safety, purpose, and vulnerability that if leaders focus on, it increases retention, increases engagement. So you can build an inclusive, safe, innovative culture virtually. It takes as much attention, if not slightly more than if you were in the office. It cannot be overlooked. And the impact of doing it is about keeping the people in your organization that are inspiring, that are innovating, that are producing, and that are connecting with each other.

Kate Gerasimova:

Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for providing those tips.

Kimberly Penharlow:

You’re welcome.

Kate Gerasimova:

And hopefully, it will definitely help all our readers and listeners.

Forgiveness: Forgiving the Bad Boss

In a recent blog, I related the story of discovery about what was causing a client to be “stuck” in his career.  It concerned an incident with a boss whose actions had severely impacted the client and his sense of value as a person and a professional.

A number of readers rightly responded that the client’s recognition was a critical first step – but only the beginning of that particular part of his personal journey.

By way of explanation, I had the opportunity recently to speak to another client about a similar situation which had occurred some years before. The client spoke about how recognizing the cause of the pain he had experienced with a boss had made him feel liberated.

I asked what “liberated” meant.

“Over the years, I’ve realized that that particular boss might well have made mistakes and might still be doing so. I almost feel sorry for him.”

 “What else?” I asked.

“Well, I’ve long since left the company, but my colleagues back there tell me he hasn’t changed. I’m not sure, but maybe it’s in his DNA.”

“And what has changed for you?”

“My perspective for one thing. I now know that you can’t change how people act, but you can indeed change how you respond and react to them. And you can look at them with a sense of gratitude for what you learned from them. I am not just more resilient after that experience with that particular guy – I am actually stronger as a person and wiser as a servant leader. I have a real awareness that all of my actions as a leader impact the people who work with me far more than I imagined. Being emotionally aware of the “wake” I make is one of the most important pieces of self-awareness for me. And knowing that I can make mistakes and must make amends – that serves me every day.” 

 Then his voice trailed off and became quieter…. “And there’s something else and it’s the most important thing…”

I leaned forward: “What else?”

Forgiveness. I am truly liberated when I can forgive someone else. It is an essential part of who I am and a fundamental part of my spiritual beliefs. I can have a spirit of forgiveness in prayer, in meditation, or in times of quiet reflection. Everyone deserves forgiveness, no matter what they have done. Even me.”

After our call, I sat in quiet reflection for longer than I usually do when I finish a session. I realized then that many of us spend considerable time and energy building awareness of what we have done, or what has happened to us. And that can help us stop the covering up of the pain and bad memories.

But the key for me is this: What we then choose to do with that knowledge is a critical part of the “meaning-making” we humans share on this incredible journey called life.

Forgiving others for perceived or actual bad behavior is a gift bigger than any of us realize. It is not part of our nature – it transcends our natural human reactions in a beautiful and poetic way. I saw that in my client. And I hope for each of us who at times has been a “less than good” or even a “bad” boss, that we can seek forgiveness in our own ways as well.

For me, that is the most liberating part of the story.

The Bad Bosses We Carry With Us

I was working with a client one day, appreciating the self-discovery that was taking place for him. He spoke about the ways he had been shaped professionally and how he had been able to function and succeed in the workplace.

The client was focusing on very real strengths and capabilities. A litany of successful teams and projects flowed from his mouth as his eyes lit up and he recalled advancing from a junior position in the company to a senior leadership role; a role he had assumed a number of years before.

Unfortunately, even with all of that, the client then related to me that he felt he had somehow hit a plateau and was stuck in a job and didn’t see a path to advancement.

“What do you think gets in your way?” I asked.

The client sat in silence for a long minute and I waited. He began to speak haltingly and then stopped speaking altogether. A frown came over his face. Then I noticed some emotions emerge. I sensed that it had been triggered by something deep inside of him and I paused for a while and then gently asked:

“Please tell me what you are experiencing right now.”

Some tears welled up in the client’s eyes and the answer came in a slower cadence: “I remember a time a few years ago…”

I waited.

“I had worked for months as a project lead. We had created a product that was leading edge for our industry and we were all so proud of what we had accomplished.”

 “Please tell me more,” I said.

“And then the week came when we were to present to the CEO. We were ready, and we were so excited. Our vice president asked us to give him a pre-brief the day before. He gave us an hour and we nailed the presentation.”

“What happened then?” I asked

“After we finished, the boss sat with a sour look on his face and then told everyone but me to leave the room. Then he started berating me – yelling at times. He told me that the project was a ‘disaster’ and that I should be ashamed of my work in leading it. He said he was going to cancel the project and tell the CEO we weren’t ready.”

I paused and then pressed further, “Something else must have happened. At least that’s what I am experiencing by your body language and your facial expressions.”

After a look away and another deep sigh: “Yeah,” he said ruefully. “He waited two months and then presented the project as his own. Shortly afterward, he got promoted. I’ve been bitter ever since and I swore back then that I’d never do anything more than what I was told.”

“That’s a lot to carry,” I said, then waited a long minute and asked: “Would it be okay if we pursue it a bit further?”

He nodded and continued to speak – slowly at first and then it came as a flood of words.

What emerged was a theme that I have heard from many clients during the ten years I have been coaching professionally. A boss – and I don’t use the word “leader” here intentionally – broke a bond of trust, was belittling or had made someone feel smaller or diminished as a person. My client, like so many others, had submerged that memory, yet carried it inside of him. When he spoke about that particular event (He told me I was the first person to hear the story in its entirety), it was incredibly powerful for him to juxtapose that past experience with his current (and very real) well-developed capabilities and desire to grow in the organization.

I often explain to clients that it helps to “Name It” so they can “Tame It.” For my client working through these memories and their attendant emotions was a breakthrough for him. Over the next several sessions I saw his confidence grow as he explored more choices with intention and enthusiasm. He did the hard work of realizing that one bad boss need not derail a successful trajectory. He learned he may carry that boss with him but that that boss no longer controls him. It turns out this was just the perspective he needed to get back on track to re-energize his own continued sense of success.

Do I Talk Too Much?

Talk too much

One day during a coaching session, an executive asked me, “How do I know if I’m talking too much?”

The question had emerged from the results of confidential interviews I had conducted at the executive’s request.  I had created a document which included de-identified “themes” which emerged during my interaction with his colleagues. One tiny piece of feedback included this thought: “I wish he could listen a bit more and talk a bit less.” The thought had struck a nerve with my client.

My response was a bit of a paradox: “Tell me more.”

Initially, he laughed, and then he took a deep breath and paused, followed by: “I know that I can talk a lot – it’s part of the job as the boss, I guess.”

“And how has talking helped serve you in your role as a leader?” I queried. Read More…

Take a Walk on the Beach

Ever do some deep and reflective thinking while you were walking or hiking?

It happened to me one day some years back when my best friend invited me to walk the beach near our home. It was a Sunday and I had just finished a few hours of catch-up on emails left over from a work week.  I felt relieved that I had at least 20 hours before going back to work in New York City, to which I commuted nearly two hours each way from Long Island.

My schedule was hectic, but I had convinced myself that it was manageable.  After all, I had invested nearly three years into a start-up and I was still relatively young. Investing 60-70 hours into a workweek seemed reasonable enough. And there was the sheer excitement of being with a new company, opening up new locations, and creating a new approach to customer service.

Everything seemed so manageable.

We headed to a beautiful beach near Northport, New York and stepped out onto the sand on a beautiful sunlit day. The temperature was just right, and walking together seemed nearly perfect. For a while, my friend walked with me silently, as we both noticed the shimmering water and gulls flying by the shore.

Then it came. My friend asked, “How do you think things are going?”

 I readily answered: “It’s going great – work is keeping me engaged and I think I’ve got just the right work-life balance.”

“And what does that mean to you?” came the reply.

 “Well,” I said, “I’m taking Sunday afternoons off and I try to be helpful when I’m home.  And I keep up with friendships as best I can.”

“And what about your personal relationships?”

My answer: “They’re working.”

Her response shook me: “It’s hard for me to say this to you.  Actually. I feel very sad saying it, but it’s not working for me.”

I looked at my wife, my best friend, and partner of more than 25 years. I didn’t answer for more than a minute. My reply was measured, and yet it still did not quite hit the mark: “What isn’t working?”

She looked into my eyes and said, “You’ve got everything under control at work, don’t you? She paused and motioned to each of us and then both of us together and slowly said with her eyes, her heart, and her hands, “This – this ‘us’ is not working – not in the way that you think it is.”

That conversation sits with me still and I am so thankful that the person closest to me had the courage to help me open my eyes. That walk was the catalyst for a change in my perspective and a dramatic shift in my behavior. It emerged from a courageous conversation – one that was perhaps the most timely and meaningful I have ever experienced.

Everyone deserves a walk on the beach.

While it isn’t always about a job change or a new career pathway, it is always about perspective and linking the heart with the mind. And it can be done by asking yourself questions or being fortunate enough—and open enough—to have someone ask a few questions of you.

To experience a courageous conversation. With a business colleague, a dear friend, or a partner in life.

It might just provide a shift in perspective that changes you.

Diversity of Thought: Café Culture Podcast

Diversity Of Thought

Diversity of thought, also known as cognitive diversity, refers to the notion that each of us is unique; that we are raised and brought up differently, and we have different personal and professional experiences which influence how we think and interpret information. And this acknowledgment has become a core part of many companies’ efforts to drive innovation in their organizations and industries.

gothamCulture’s Kate Gerasimova, author of the article, “3 Powerful Ways to Improve Diversity of Thought On Your Team,”  discusses strategies that every organization can use to bring a thought-diverse culture to their organization, including hiring outside the box and how to brainstorm differently. Listen to more on this Café Culture Podcast episode.