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.

Organizational Prestidigitation

Sleight of Hand

The concept of prestidigitation is central to magic shows.  It can involve a sleight of hand or the ability to distract a person while they are looking at a trick, using misdirection.

Increasingly, the concept of prestidigitation is being employed by social engineers aimed at scamming others, most especially in cybersecurity attacks. Michael Solomon describes it well in an article about the subject.

In working with clients in dozens of companies, I’ve learned that the use of prestidigitation is not limited to magic shows or cybercrime. Leaders in organizations can use the concept, oftentimes without others even knowing how effectively it is being employed.

A client spoke to me a few weeks ago about a project that had taken on what appeared to be undue prominence within the organization. The individual who was promoting it had been highlighted as a “Shiny Penny,” and his work was seen as the cutting edge for the future. I asked my client what they were seeing and then transitioned to what they were not noticing.

“I think there is a larger game afoot,” my client perceptively commented. “And that is to drive the agenda for a fundamental shift in the business.”

My client had noticed something that was not readily apparent – they had seen and recognized the prestidigitation of an organization.

Sometimes it is relatively easy to see, but only if you can allow your focus and perceptions to change. Answering questions like “Why am I so concerned about this one thing?” Or, “Is there something I’m missing?” can shift the perspective and allow you to see something that has not been in your view previously.

I worked for a Fortune 50 company as a senior executive. I would spend weeks preparing to pitch my $3 Billion budget, trying to anticipate every nuance and question that would be asked. One of my counterparts, with a budget of almost equal size, would often ask me why I was working so hard. Then he would walk into the senior meeting and wait for the right moment and ask a seemingly innocent question like, “Why are all of the shipping costs in my budget when all of our departments ship items?  It doesn’t seem fair that I have to swallow the $75,000 in my annual budget.” He’d pause and look plaintively, knowing he’d thrown out some bait.

It didn’t take long to elicit a response. Senior executives who were used to knowing every answer would look at each other and immediately spring into discussion and problem-solving – they did not want to look unknowledgeable or stupid. My colleague would step back and watch the show, maintaining a neutral and understanding stance. Oftentimes 20-30 minutes of discussion would ensue and invariably there would be less time for questions about his $3B budget. Fewer barbs came his way and frequently his budget would survive intact. And the next year he would find a different tack to derive a similar outcome. It never ceased to amaze me.

He was an expert in organizational prestidigitation.

Some of us are so transparent that we do not have the ability to be like my former colleague.  But all of us have the ability to heed our own intuitions, like my client did, and step back, slow down, and assess if the organization has been overtaken by a sleight of hand.

The hand might be quicker than the eye for a magician, but that is not always true for perceptive leaders.

Podcast: Values and Organizational Justice at Work

gothamCulture podcast

In this episode, Kate Gerasimova talks with Conrad Moore, Owner of Maius Learning, about values and organizational justice at work. They discuss the impact of values pushed down from top leadership to the workforce and whether those values are reflected in employees’ daily work and personal lives. They also talk about how to spot an alignment or a disconnect between the lived and existing values and things leaders can do to close that gap. Moore emphasizes the importance of having an ongoing, cross-organizational discussion around what it is like to work at the company and how it connects to daily work.

Moore defines organizational justice as feeling like you are treated fairly and are valued in the organization. He says that decision-making is a big part of organizational justice and warns that there could be trouble if decisions are made by leaders in a vacuum and are imposed on the organization without context. One suggestion to remedy this is to include individuals in the decision-making process early on, even when onboarding. Also, provide resources to employees to help them express their experience at work.

Released: September 3, 2021

Chris Cancialosi:
Welcome to the gothamCulture Podcast where we talk about any topic you’d like so long as those topics are organizational culture, leadership or people strategy. Each week we talk with industry leaders and discuss cultural opportunities and challenges in the workplace, providing you with actionable tips and strategies that you can implement in your organizations.

Kate Gerasimova:
Hi, my name is Kate Gerasimova. I’m a senior associate at Gotham culture and I have a pleasure today, Conrad Moore is joining us. Hi, Conrad.

Conrad Moore:
Nice to see you and hear you.

Kate Gerasimova:
Nice to see you too. Conrad Moore, he’s an owner of Maius Learning and he had a career that exposed him to different workplaces’ styles and structures and beginning first as educator in San Francisco before cofounding a nonprofit and eventually moving to adult learning organizational development. He worked with a variety of organizations from nonprofit to governmental agencies and Fortune 500 companies with very different places and industries. He’s focusing on enhancing community connection and culture at work. So I have a pleasure speaking with you today, and I’m very curious to learn more about your work. And can you tell me in our listeners what excites you the most about the work you do?

Conrad Moore:
Thank you for that lovely introduction. I think the thing that excites me about the work that I do is connecting with people. The story you told about my career is very winding. So I’ve been in a lot of different workplaces, work environments and taken on a lot of different roles. I’ve been a frontline worker. I’ve had some VP roles. I’ve started a couple companies by now. And so it’s really interesting to hear the different stories and where people are at work with culture, with connection with community and then to reach into my grab bag and think about, “Which of these experiences that I’ve had helps me relate to where they’re at and do I have anything in my grab bag that might help them move beyond any places that they’re stuck?”

But also, it’s a great way for me to connect to them and take learnings from them. Every client that I’ve worked with gives me a story that I can then learn from and tell to future folks that I work with. So I think the people in the end really make the work, fun and exciting and always new and interesting.

Kate Gerasimova:
That’s great. Absolutely. I can relate to that as well. And I know when we met and we were talking about some of the work that you do, specifically two topics were brought to my attention, were the values, the work that you do around the values and organizational justice. I thought it would be really great to talk more about both.

Conrad Moore:

Kate Gerasimova:
Well, let’s start with values and I think it ties in back into organizational justice. Starting thinking about the work, do organizational values define what’s really important in the organization?

Conrad Moore:
Yeah, and I’ve experienced that in a few different ways and I think a lot of places … You can feel the values in a work environment come through one way or another and sometimes you’ll see them on the wall. These are maybe top down values that were bestowed upon the people. And they may or may not be reflected in the work that people do. So there’s that value set that I think, especially in enterprise-size organizations and agencies, there is these marching orders that are values. And then there’s the lived values that we express every day. It’s the personal values that people bring to work, how those interact and overlap with other values and value systems that people have.

And so the workplaces that I’ve seen where values are really core to the identity of that place, that really shows up positively everywhere in the relationships, of course, in the ways that people communicate and connect to each other, but also the bottom line. When people really see a part of themselves in the work that they’re doing, I think it’s a lot easier for them to commit and really give their all towards producing. And so I think that that’s always to me when I think about doing values work like, “What am I dealing with? Is it a gap between the expressed values of the organization and the live values of the people working there or is there a more harmonious connection between the two?” And so I’m always looking for that first. It’s like, “What do you say you do and how are you actually feeling that?”

Kate Gerasimova:
What happens if you see a disconnect?

Conrad Moore:
Then we have to talk and those conversations are tough. The place says where I see, so I can even tell a story from my own personal working experience. I used to work for an organization where we did this whole month-long exercise as an organization that involves both facilitated conversations between leadership and frontline staff and then also a leadership retreat where we were really trying to focus on, “What are the values of this organization?” So it was fun. We did a trip to Vegas and Zappos was there and they’re very famous for their culture and how they think about their core values and that was supposed to inspire us.

And so we went in toward Zappos and learned about their culture and how they produced their core values and the way that they did that was they talked to everybody there and said, “Well, what do you think it’s like to work here? What are the best parts of what we do?” And that informed ultimately what became their core values. And so we were supposed to be taking a page out of that book, but what I experienced in my own story with this was there were folks on the leadership team, in frontline staff who were really committed and really inspired by that thought like, “Well, can we cocreate our values together and really create an identity together as an organization?”

And then there was a certain layer in the leadership team that it seemed like was just maybe checking some boxes here like, “Well, if we give them the chance to write the values, then maybe things will be okay,” but there wasn’t really any buy in from them. So that’s what I mean by hard conversations because I think that what they were really hearing were values that they didn’t feel represented their own. And so that’s where and that created a huge disconnect. In that moment. And ongoing in that company was there was one set of values that the top brass lived and worked by and those seem to cascade down from the top in ways that the folks who were living and breathing the rest of the work couldn’t identify with, didn’t understand and seemed to be in competition with the values they all cocreated together.

And so to me, when you have that disconnect, we need to have a cross organization discussion about, “What does it really like to work here and what do we want it to be like? And the values shouldn’t just be things that we put on the wall. It should be ways that we connect to the work and find it to be important to us.” Usually, those conversations can be a little prickly, but also if people come in with good intentions and openness and vulnerability, then you really can create values that are meaningful and actually impact the work, I think.

Kate Gerasimova:
Absolutely. There’s definitely evolution of values as well. So sometimes what I’ve seen in the work that we do, companies started long, long time ago was a certain set of values and then grow, evolve from a small startup to large corporations. And sometimes when you see the values that the founder created, let’s say 10, 15, 30 years ago no longer work because it’s a different work environment. And the follow-up question would be like, “At what point would you recommend them refreshing those values or what point do you know that they’re no longer working what they have?

Conrad Moore:
That’s an excellent question. I personally feel, and this is something I’ve practiced in my own organizations, that that needs to be just an ongoing conversation. That doesn’t even mean we need to every month come up with a new set of core values necessarily, but we do need to have an ongoing discussion about the work experience, “What is it like here? What are the stress points that people run into and where do those come from? And are we doing the work the way that we say that we’re