The Power Shift Podcast

The Power Shift Podcast – The Power to Dismantle Hierarchies in Healthcare with Dr. Eva Balint

Sharon:

Dr. Eva Balint, welcome to the Power Shift Podcast. So, just to begin, help us understand. You’re a physician and you work in a large public health care system?

Eva Balint:

Yes.

Sharon:

So, just to set a foundation, what does power have to do with being a doctor in a health care system?

Eva Balint:

Thank you, Sharon. It is such a pleasure to be here. Physicians, we have a lot of power. The moment we finish medical school we are leading others. It just comes with the territory and we don’t always use it right. One of the issues is that we are here to serve the patients, and yet they’re at the bottom of the hierarchy. Even the name patient, if you think about it, it’s like you just sit in the corner and wait until you get something. I would love to change that name. I was thinking, client is not perfect, but if we put the patient first, if we really think about it why we are here, it would really change the health care system.

Eva Balint:

So, what is power? I feel that power is to use everything at our disposal to really advance the health of others and help with the patients that… If you look at health care systems, or if you look at just health care in general, there’s so much power out there that is focused on profits or jockeying for positions. I feel that this is one of the reasons why there is so much distrust in health care currently.

Sharon:

Oh, I am so excited because I can feel that I am in the presence of a change agent, and that’s very inspiring to me. So, maybe to start with, let’s hear a little bit more just about you and how you’ve come into your power. Then, we can be talking about some of the changes that you’d like to see in the system.

Eva Balint:

It was a process for me to learn how to use my power wisely. I was born in Hungary behind the Iron Curtain, and when I came to the US it was difficult to fit in because of the language barrier, because I have an accent, and it was challenging for me first. When I took my first Medical Director position, it was challenging to use my power wisely. I only had this very rigid top-down system. If you think about medical training, medical school or residency, the pimping, the rigid hierarchical system, it took me a while to learn to be including others, to have lateral leadership skills, to inspire instead of giving orders.

Eva Balint:

But I feel that this is, in terms of being powerful, I feel that when we can walk together, that’s the real power. There’s this African proverb that, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. So I learned to shift the traditional position of power into the power of inspiring others and going together.-

Sharon:

Beautiful. So, tell us a little bit about that journey of like, what was your experience then going through medical training? What did you internalize from that? What did you take on from that? Then, how did you come to be the kind of inspiring leader that you’re talking about?

Eva Balint:

It was an interesting transition. Before going to residency, I did a few years of research and I did basic science, and I worked with big and famous people, Nobel laureates, or to-be Nobel laureates, who would want to be called first name basis. Imagine, I’m a first-year intern and I called one of my attendings by his first name, and that didn’t go very well. It was very interesting to move from a very collaborative environment to a truly top-down environment. So that was a rude awakening. I didn’t want to insult the person, but I actually did. We were about the same age, and that made me really think about how we relate to each other and how can we really serve the purpose that we are here to serve the patients? That started me on my journey.

Sharon:

Beautiful. So, from those early experiences, tell us a little bit more about how you proceeded through the medical system, or in the health care system, having learned some of these lessons?

Eva Balint:

When I was in my first Medical Director position, I made all those mistakes and I was stumbling along. Then someone had the bright idea to send me for a leadership course, especially for physicians. It was the UCSF program at the time, and it really opened up my eyes in terms of how I come across and how I am perceived in a way that I really didn’t want to be perceived. So it opened up a long journey of personal work, and it helped me realize that what I truly care about is to be in community and to be in partnership. Slowly but surely, I changed my leadership style. It opened up avenues to much larger positions and to really help others and lead in a much larger scale. I had Chief Medical Officer positions and also VP level positions in health care systems where I was able to exert influence in a way that I never imagined was possible.

Sharon:

I want to hear about those. And I just want to give a shout out and score one for leadership development, training and coaching. Score one for self-awareness and personal development. I love the way that you said that, that it really opened up opportunities for you to have a much bigger impact. Tell us about that then. And then, how did you proceed? It sounds like you have observations about the health care system. I want to hear some more of those and then how you’ve taken on the system.

Eva Balint:

Yeah. I feel that this is about small victories and it is about maintaining the long view. There are certain things we are working towards changing, but we are not going to change tomorrow. So there is a lot of, as I mentioned, hierarchical thinking, top-down, and all the isms, the racism, sexism, ageism. I think health care systems and health care in general, unfortunately, carries a lot of that history that we need to dismantle and we need to move forward with. There are certain things. I’m thinking of sometimes the feedback women leaders get that you’re not assertive or you’re too assertive. Sometimes in the same session you get both feedbacks. It’s an interesting conundrum to sit with, that, “Okay, how am I going to do that? How am I going to walk in that very narrow tightrope?”

Eva Balint:

I got feedback at some point that I was very capable, but the organization wanted an older, white and bald and fat man in the top position. It’s something that I never… It’s not something to try for. I’m never going to be that person. So, part of it is, really pick the battles that I can, and what I feel is that, change what I can. I feel that I mentor like crazy, and one way to change the system is have other women in those positions. It’s a sad state when I’m the only woman in the room.

Sharon:

Right.

Eva Balint:

So, I feel that the way to change it is to mentor and mentor and help others and support each other. It is a change. It is really… I feel like it’s radical to women to support each other because it’s not how it’s been. And we can… Yeah. Go ahead.

Sharon:

So, your experience unfortunately is universal. It’s not uncommon, right? So, just to point out some of the things that you have been facing. So, the feedback that you got, just a few things here. So, one is that research shows that women tend to get feedback that is more about their communication, more about their personality and social style, and less constructive about outcomes or health outcomes or business outcomes. So it sounds like you faced that. Also, the scrutiny and what we call the double bind, right?

Eva Balint:

Yes.

Sharon:

That kind of tightrope that this is a very well-known gender and intersectional bias where women are told to act as leaders so that they could be leading people at a higher level. And then when they do act agentic, they’re given the feedback that they’re “too bossy, or, too arrogant, or too much,” or whatever the feedback is, and that they’re “not a good fit for our culture.” The implication of this is that women like yourself, whether physicians or leaders in any other sector are coming in every day, giving 150% of their effort to try to serve patients and clients and move the good work forward.

Sharon:

Then they have a whole extra layer of energy and drained focus, which is that scrutiny. Like, “Am I enough of this? Am I too much of that? How is this going to be perceived? Should I say it? Should I not? What’s really authentic to me? Can I really show up that way?” And I call this the swirl.

Eva Balint:

Yes.

Sharon:

… this is all that…

Eva Balint:

[crosstalk 00:19:09]

Sharon:

… in return, and I think… Actually, look, it’s universal these days that we all are kind of up to here. We all have too much to do. But I think it’s really the emotional exhaustion that leads to burnout. I think it really comes from this inner swirl that you were saying. Here we are, and we’re asking you to be making life and death decisions as women physicians to be treating us. The most important thing to us is on the line when we come to you and ask for your advisement, and you have to be thinking about these things in the background? Really?

Eva Balint:

Yes.

Sharon:

So, just to give some perspective and context to this. Also, I want to thank you, Dr. Balint, for being a woman who raises other women and sends down the ladder and brings up women. We had a chance to meet after I gave that talk at the World Business & Executive Coaching Summit. It was on this topic of working all-female. Loved that you reached out and we had a chance to connect. I could hear what an amazing change agent you are, and you shared some things with me about, it’s isolating, and that if there’s one woman at the top, just like you were saying, that she might be what we call the queen bee. So, let me hear from you about your observations, your experience, and I loved your antidote for it.

Eva Balint:

Thank you. I think it’s deeply rooted in patriarchy that women, we fight for the token position, and it has been like that for generations, I would say. I think this is the biggest shift that we can bring to start supporting each other. A very big change that happened to my life was a few months ago when I joined Chief. It was amazing to be in the company of other women, not all in health care, but other women who just support each other. They give advice, they are available for consult. It really made me think about a world where we could do this. Regardless of this role and regardless of the internalized expectations, if we would just support each other, I’m thinking that we… I often feel that we are the enforcers of patriarchy, women. Because-

Sharon:

Okay, slow this down, because this is going to be good, I think. People are going to be very interested in what you have to say here. Say more about this.

Eva Balint:

I feel that women have the power to raise children in any way they please, but the way children are raised, they are, with the best intention, they’re raised to fit in. I’m thinking of the next generation that they see, and I’m thinking of my nieces and nephews. I don’t have children on my own, which is also a huge other topic of having it all and the pressure to have children. But I don’t want to digress. I feel that some experiences, when women silence other women, like someone trolled me a few months ago, and it was shocking that it was another woman. Like, “Hey, we don’t need to fight here. There’s so much to fight. We don’t need to fight each other.”

Eva Balint:

And so many times I’m thinking of that double bind where we are not assertive, or too assertive. I got feedback from women that when I was too assertive, I made them feel uncomfortable. And, yes, we make each other feel uncomfortable because when we speak up, we challenge each other’s internalized assumptions of, we should stay quiet, we should be just in the corner, we should observe. When we see other women speak up, we either get drawn to and follow, or we just get very scared. I think this is the internal work that we all need to do in order to support each other. It’s really challenging all the assumptions. Some of these are unexamined truths that we take on as we internalize a lot of the expectations about gender roles. So I feel that this is the biggest revolution. If we women start to support each other, pull each other up, there is no patriarchy that can hold us back at that point.

Sharon:

Boom. That’s absolutely really inspiring. How have you done that? How have you examined your own assumptions? Even before you became a part of Chief, which I can hear has really expanded your sense of feeling supported, how did you make a policy before that? How did you examine some of these internalized expectations and negative messages?

Eva Balint:

I remember it was part of the personal work that I started several years ago. I participated in a workshop for women which was really gearing towards that. I remember sitting in a room with other women and first really nothing came, but then somebody started to share the expectations to be pretty, and what pretty means, like the only body type that is fashionable or that is expected. One after the other, things came up. Like in high school I heard this a lot, that you can be pretty but not smart, because…

Eva Balint:

And it was something that we sort of took in, but a lot of these type of things started to come up. And then I started to see it on billboards. I mean, recently I saw an advertisement, Louis Vuitton bags, and it’s a woman in the bed between sheets. Like, you really need to advertise bags that way? The everyday sexism that is always in our face. So it was a long and painful process, but once you start see it, you cannot ever unsee it. So it’s really everywhere.

Sharon:

That’s absolutely right, and I love that you’re fomenting revolution of the kind of women supporting one another to not believe these things about ourselves and to support one another. Sign me up for that, a sisterhood of revolution. Talk to me about health care systems and what is it like to be a doctor? A woman doctor? What’s it like to work in a health care system? You have an insider perspective, what do you observe?

Eva Balint:

In my current role, I am on the administration side, which is especially working for a health plan, even though it is a public health plan for Medi-Cal. For a lot of doctors to be on the health plan side is to be on the dark side. Health plans, I mean, they don’t always do the right thing, for sure, but I also feel that there’s a lot of good things that health plans can do. So when I talk about my role to doctors who practice, there’s always a power dynamic that, “Hmm, you don’t know what’s happening because you’re on the other side.” I feel that we are all in the same boat, and one of my dreams is to include how the health care system works in medical education, because that’s a conflict right away, and it doesn’t need to be.

Eva Balint:

If we all understand how the system works and what are the dysfunctions and how we can work together to dismantle it, it would really bring us… We could really walk hand-in-hand and make a change. But we currently waste time of pulling rank. Like, “You see patients and I don’t,” and, “You don’t know this.” I think it goes down, again, to culture change. The female part of it is, there is a hierarchy, and female doctors, we come after the male doctors. I was called a nurse more time than I care to count. The assumption is that the doctor is as a man and it’s slowly changing. Even in surgical specialties there are more and more women, but it’s going to take time. It’s going to take time before we get to a point that it’s not automatically assumed that the woman is the nurse.

Sharon:

Yeah. I’m sorry that you’ve faced that oversight of your true experience. Where do women physicians have power in a hospital, a health care system, a medical practice, a health plan? Where do women have power?

Eva Balint:

I think women, a physician, have more power than they realize.

Sharon:

I wholly agree with that. My next book is on that. Talk to me.

Eva Balint:

Oh, I can’t wait to read your next book. I have to share that in order to be successful in the current system, women absolutely must learn how to inspire and how to flex the leadership style, and not just lead from the position of power, but really bring in inspiration and not just to push, but a pull of others. I feel that in the current environment, a lot of men can just sit in and lead from their position of power and they don’t have to learn all these extra skills. So women… And then this whole other thing of raising the next generation, motherhood, which is the multitasking, the taking a lot on in the household.

Eva Balint:

Those are skills that are currently not recognized, but these are skills that really, I believe, they are superpowers, because women can… We are constantly working under pressure, even if we don’t realize. So to stay calm under pressure, to multitask, it is something that just comes with the territory. I feel that women have a lot of power in that. They don’t realize, and society tells us to be quiet and to make ourselves small, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Sharon:

Absolutely right. Could you give us an example of how you’ve been a change agent? Maybe how you’ve been successful at making some kind of a change in the culture or the practice of any of the organizations that you’ve been in, because clearly you stand for this and have studied how to have influence.

Eva Balint:

I mean, I feel that I could talk about the times when we started a small… Not an experiment, but a pilot study that changed how patients received care. So what I’m talking about is in a previous position, we started a small pilot in acupuncture for pain management, and then for successful, it became a benefit for our health plan. Then, later it became a benefit for Medi-Cal in California. So it is something that we created this possibility for our patients. But I feel that the biggest wins are when I can support other women. I’m thinking of someone that I’ve been talking with the mentoring, a very challenging environment, and that just a few days ago she told me that she feels that she found her footing at the eye of the storm.

Eva Balint:

This took a few months, but this is a woman who found her way, who found her power. I feel that it’s little by little, one by one, but we can elevate each other, and I know that she is going to be one day a powerful leader. She already is, but she’s going to increase her sphere of influence because she was able to find her footing and she’s able to stand up. She was telling me that, “Dr. Balint, you’ve been telling me this all along, but now I know what you mean.” I feel those are the real victories, that elevating each other and helping each other really become our own and our own authentic selves. I feel that that’s the best. I was so excited when I heard that.

Sharon:

We can feel the joy and the delight and how reenergizing it is for you, right? And the renewable energy that you feel when you raise other women. That’s really a universal that I’ve experienced in coaching so many women leaders. This example of the woman that you mentored, it’s like every woman in her power is a change agent, right? Simply by being who she is, you know what I mean, and the way that she shows up or the things that she asks for, or what she advocates for and successfully influences, she creates that ripple. Every woman, no matter whether you’re the head of the health care system, you’re a doctor in it, you’re a nurse, you’re a patient, you’re an administrative person in the system, from right where you are now, that being in your power has a reverberative effect on the people around you.

Sharon:

When you do that, you get that glow and that being lit up in the way that you just did, and you impact the people around you. And just like you were saying, whether it’s a mother or someone who’s in a position to be mentoring or caregiving the next generation, that moral authority, that inspiration to help people see how it could be, what the culture could be like, all of these are just the beginning of a long list of a way that any woman, every woman, no matter where you are, right here, right now, in your life circumstances, to be in your power and to be that change agent.

Eva Balint:

Yes.

Sharon:

So, let me ask you then, just by way of closing, what is your vision of the health care system? Or this whole new idea about how health plans could be educating medical students and it all could be integrated, instead of at war with one another, which every person in their own health care journey experiences, like, “Dr. Balint, you have a solution. Please tell us what it is.”

Eva Balint:

I feel that the most fundamental shift that needs to happen is empowering patients. I talked about that very name of patient and how patients are at the very bottom of the hierarchy, that the current system is very doctor-centric. From the scheduling to everything is to improve the efficiency of doctors, and I think that’s important, but I think it’s overdone, and it’s overdone at the expense of patients. So I feel that the biggest shift that needs to happen is to level the playing field because we have this gigantic power differential. Informed consent, for example, when the doctors sit down with the patient and discusses the next step, it is very challenging to really do it in a truly co-creative way because of the immense power differential.

Eva Balint:

So, if we were to change that, I think we would improve health care outcomes and we would be able to truly be in partnership with the patients. I know it sounds Pollyannaish, but I feel that it needs to happen. Again, a Pollyannaish thought, but I’m standing for it, it is that if you think of health care, care is such a big part of it. If we care, we really care for each other. It brings in all the soft skills we talked about, the love, the caring, the nurturing. If you think about a very hierarchical top-down system that we currently operate, it just makes it very, very difficult or almost impossible to do.

Eva Balint:

So I feel that that that type of revolution is ripe. I don’t think that patients will march on the street and demand to be treated equally, but I think it needs to happen. And I think that doctors are in a very unique position to advocate for patients, and we need to examine our status and whether the current power that is given is really helping or hindering us. In some situations it’s important, but I feel that we need to come down from our pedestal and we need to walk together with the patients.

Sharon:

I am so excited to see that TED talk come to life. Will that come to life in a TED talk? Judging from just the one example that you gave from starting a pilot with acupuncture to getting that formalized into a policy and a benefit, I hope that that is only one of the very beginning ways that you are able to create change and make an impact on our systems. I look forward to seeing you testifying in Congress, being a change agent at your current and many future health care organizations, teaching in medical schools. You are thoughtful, you are wise, you are a visionary, and it’s been such a delight for you to share your contagion of joy and inspiration on the Power Shift podcast. Thank you, Dr. Eva Balint.

Eva Balint:

Thank you, Sharon. It was a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you.

The Power Shift podcast is all about redefining the idea of “power” and how women use it for good, not with the traditional idea of force. Listen to thought-provoking and practical interviews to help listeners understand power from every angle– how a person gets ‘in her power’, how power works in the workplace, and how power can shift.
Host Dr. Sharon Melnick is a business psychologist who’s a best-selling author, speaker, and sought-after executive coach who helps women executives be an intentional Culture Carrier in their organizations and helps women get promoted to next level opportunities. Because every woman in her power is a Change Agent!
You can listen to The Power Shift Podcast with Dr. Sharon Melnick here at these links:

The Power Shift Podcast – The Power of Alignment with Shahana Banerjee

Sharon:

My guest today is Shahana Banerjee. She is the founder of Just Human, Not Resources. She’s an inclusive leadership expert, business leadership and career coach and an avid writer. She’s got 23 years of experience across business contexts. Whether business transformation, accelerated growth startups across the pharma, medical devices, consumer products, and tech industries. She has seen it all and grown multibillion dollar businesses. Most of these across Fortune 500 companies. Shahana has lived and worked, lead and managed diverse teams internationally. I’m so excited to have you on the Power Shift Podcast. Shahana, just get us started here. You have been in a corporate context for many years. Just tell us to begin, like how did you come into your power?

Shahana:

Thank you so much, Sharon. It’s a pleasure to be with you. It’s an honor and a privilege to be with you and your listeners today. It’s a great question. As I think of my journey of coming into power, I think it begins actually with being powerless. I lost my father very early in life and if you talk to anyone who’s ever lost a parent, I think it comes with this feeling of powerlessness, but also a feeling of insecurity. You’re always almost afraid to be happy. You’re almost waiting for the other shoe to drop. That feeling of insecurity is a difficult one to handle. My mother actually is the one who is a force of nature, I have to say. In many ways she is relentless, but as exhausting as she is relentless.

Shahana:

I think she is the one who instilled hope and courage in us. I think hope is about being able to go on when the things are at the worst possible point, but you sort of still cling onto the fact that it can be better. Courage is about saying that you have urgency, you can actually make a difference. You can stand up for yourself, and that’s critical. I think the third piece that she taught us, which is perhaps even more important is the fact that you have a choice. She gave us the gift of choice. Through our entire life she never made a single decision for us. She actually empowered us to make our own decisions no matter what age we were.

Shahana:

I remember as a kid, once during an exam, I was like, “Oh my God, I can’t. I absolutely cannot go for this exam. I’m not prepared.” So I told her, “Look, I have this stomachache, I cannot go for this exam.” And she was like, “Okay, don’t go. It’s fine. As long as you’ve thought through the consequences of not going, you are free to make the decision.” That was horrible because it would be so much easier to put it on her rather than to take ownership and face the consequences of my own decision.

Sharon:

Yeah, I hear that [crosstalk 00:14:00] a lot. That, that’s really a theme, actually, of being in your power and you really recognize where that came from, from your early experience.

Shahana:

She gave me the gift of urgency. The fact that I can determine my own destiny. Of course there is luck and all of that, but I have the power to actually do something positive to make a change, which I think is really what has shaped my career over the years. There have been millions of moments where I’ve had to make a decision on, do I pursue the path of least resistance or do I question status quo? That’s really what power is at the end of the day. Which is that being able to make that choice and being able to live with the choice that you made in terms of whether or not you sort of stand up and make your voice heard, give your ideas of oxygen and really pull it through or not.

Shahana:

Even very early in my career, I remember this. This is an embarrassing story. Very early in my career, I entered the corporate world naive and starry-eyed. I had never [inaudible 00:15:13] at an organization before.

Sharon:

We’ve all been there.

Shahana:

I saw possibilities wherever I went. I was like, “Oh my God we can change this and we can change this. And why don’t we do this, this way?” So, I created this 36-page document, very dramatically called [inaudible 00:15:34] which I said to our CHRO, saying that, “Look, there are all of these things which we need to improve, and here’s what we need to do about it.” Thankfully, he was the kind of leader who… He could have chosen to be dismissive or patronizing or just discount the ideas, but he was somebody who chose to see potential, not arrogance. He said, “Okay, you have so many ideas. Why don’t you do something about it?”

Shahana:

He asked me to create this rewards and recognition program as somebody fresh out of college for an entire organization. I was so excited. I don’t think I realized it by then, but worked day and night, read everything I could, talked to every person I possibly could, to be able to do something like that, which was so inspiring to me. It also gave me a view of how, as a leader, you can help somebody blossom versus be soul-crushing and not give any oxygen to their ideas. So that was an interesting sort of… And I think it shaped me in my career as I have gone on to be a leader myself.

Sharon:

What an inspiring story. So how did it shape you? As a lesson of how maybe a young person full of vision and enthusiasm can see that, actually, they have so much more power than they think?

Shahana:

Yes. That’s exactly what my takeaway was. Even though I don’t think I realized it quite then, I just took it for granted at that point that, “Of course, [inaudible 00:17:21],” but he had no reason to. I think it just showed me how differently you can impact as a leader. Actually, finally I did create this entire program, which by the way, exists even now, 23 years later in some shape or form, still with the organization. I think it just helped me realize that when you question status quo and you are doing it from a place where you’re thinking, not of yourself, but of others. You’re trying to lift others, you’re trying something to do something good for everyone, that it’s something everyone can benefit from, I think that’s where you make the biggest difference. I think that’s why, in so many situations, people give you a chance because they see that what you’re trying to do is not just in service of yourself, but it’s in service of others.

Sharon:

Yeah. That’s beautiful. That’s so in alignment with the kind of work that I’m doing in the world, helping women executives to be change agents and it’s very much a theme, what we’ve talked about on the Power Shift Podcast. It sounds like in your example, you said that people gave you a chance and they encouraged you. I think that’s right that, that does happen sometimes. Especially when you can make the business case for it, or when you’re a passionate advocate and know how to enroll people in your vision. But let’s get into it because many of the clients that come to me are executives who have a vision that would be in the best interest of all. And they’re trying to propose this within their companies or their communities, but they’re getting that resistance from the “powers that be.”

Sharon:

So my sense is that it was so much success in the corporate world for so many years. You’ve been there, done that many times. So, I’d love to hear, first, how does power work in an organization? What should somebody know when they’re approaching to try to make a change? Then, maybe we can hear from some of your stories about what worked and what didn’t.

Shahana:

I think power is the ability to drive positive change. It’s like positive impact and change, I would say. But it can be a double-edged sword. Because when used well you can do incredible things when you merge individual and collective power. But it can also be extremely polarizing and politics and paralyzing and debilitating when power is used adversely in so many situations. I think what happens is that which end of the spectrum you land on depends really on who has power? Why did they want power? What, or how they choose to use it? Do they use it for uplifting themselves or do they use it to lift up others? I think that makes a big difference in essentially how… And this is like, if you peel away all the layers of the idea, I think that’s the core of what you finally get to.

Shahana:

When you use it to uplift yourself, I think it leads to a lot of, often leads to, I think politics. If you think about politics, politics is all about how do we retain power in the hands of those who have it, bottom line. If you look at the other side of the spectrum, when you use power to uplift others, I think it really can transform an organization. Think of any organization that’s gone through a mega turnaround that has accelerated growth. These are the places where you see that people are pulling together despite all of their individual differences, because they are bound together, for example, by power of purpose, and they are able to really merge their individual bar and bring it into a collective sort of a way as a force to bear on what they want to impact.

Shahana:

So I think that’s really the dynamics at play, but as you then look at… So, the question really becomes, “How do you therefore, or can you even harness power at different levels?” So, if you look at an individual level, for example, or team level or a leader level, or for that matter, organizational level, what are the ways that power comes into play? Because power’s an interplay of many, many, many factors in an organization. From market dynamics to policies, systems, procedures, organization structures, the way roles and responsibilities are decided and fixed, the kind of matrix you have. So, many other factors actually determine the interplay of power in every organization. It leads to so many different permutations and combinations that are possible.

Sharon:

Think about it like that actually across the different levels, like you’re saying. So could you give us an example, maybe, of how you used power and leveraged the energies and buy-in of people at any one of those levels. And then if you’re willing to share another embarrassing story, but not so embarrassing, but just a learning opportunity, maybe, of how it did or how didn’t work. [inaudible 00:23:16] story.

Shahana:

I might have to be a little foggy on the details but I [inaudible 00:23:26]

Sharon:

Oh, sure. Absolutely.

Shahana:

A few years ago, we had an interesting situation where essentially, I think, the organization was really struggling to work together in a seamless way. The original hypothesis was, “Look, we have a culture thing. Let’s go figure out what the full culture issue is.” As we started looking at what is the culture issue, basically people told us, “Look, we have way too many meetings and these meetings are really ineffective.” In the past, a lot of work had been done around just trying to figure out how to make meetings more effective. But as I came into this particular project, I was like, “Look, is meetings the issue? Why are we having these meetings?”

Shahana:

I think the question why leads to a very different sort of analysis as compared to how do we improve the productivity of meetings, because that just presupposes that you need to have all of these meetings. When you look at why you need to have meetings, you realize that perhaps you need way too many levels of approvals. Why do you need too many approvals? Is it because we don’t trust each other? Is it because our goals are not aligned? So then as you peel the onion you sort of realize that the core of the problem is something else. What I did was pull together a group of very senior leaders and we had this group that created a movement. Because I think change can’t happen by one person trying to do something small in a contained environment. I think change has to be a movement that touches everyone.

Shahana:

What we essentially, we analyzed in terms of what were the three biggest things that would move the needle. We went after it with all our might and that really led to a significant transformation in the organization. But it was this core group of leaders coming together from different walks of life and a diverse set of leaders as well representing different functions, different kinds of roles in the organization that came together, and because they were tied by this common goal or a common purpose of really landing on the root cause of what would really have the biggest impact, we were able to get to that core and then create the right kind of processes, systems that would help the organization move forward with this mindset of being able to work end to end, being able to see the impact of the work that you’re doing. Being able to work towards common goals rather than all of our self-serving goals and objectives in the organization.

Sharon:

What’s very empowering, so to speak, about this story is that you came into the situation and one of the ways that you have power from the very beginning was your perspective. And interestingly enough, you actually had an outsider perspective because you sort of came into the project. I want our listeners to really get that because an outsider perspective is really helpful. Actually, you sort of brought that beginner’s mind, that fresh perspective, and were able to ask why. You were able to see beyond business as usual. You shared a powerful truth from your perspective and that set up what later became an influencing process and you got buy-in from across leaders. But I think I want listeners to really get that actually, that it really came from your own smarts and your own strategic perception and your own outsider perspective.

Shahana:

To add to what you said, I think there’s also the power of obvious questions. I think we really underestimate the power of obvious questions sometimes. It’s almost like we all operate saying that, “Okay, this is the paradigm, and how do we move forward?” Without often questioning some of the foundational realities that we take for granted. It’s almost like we have to be questioning really fundamentals to get to the root causes, to get to the truth often. Your earlier question on resistance, we had a lot of resistance initially, especially from, like you said, the powers that be. I think the question for us is, why is there resistance? I think without understanding why there is a resistance… Because it’s not that people mean bad, right? It’s not that people don’t want to do what’s right. It’s that they have a lot of worries, insecurities, fears and concerns about the work that we are trying to undertake.

Shahana:

So it’s about finding ways to understand why they have a concern and then addressing that head on, because ultimately we all want the same thing, which is we want the organization to be successful. We want it to grow. We want to do meaningful work and be able to contribute towards consumers’ lives in a positive way.

Sharon:

So again, this is kind of fun to even ask you this, but you’ve been at quite senior levels of Fortune 500 organizations along the way. So, we could even consider that some people have considered you a “powers that be.” Or you worked with other people who… You probably never thought about it that way. You worked with people who were really at senior levels and who were setting policies forth. So, I’m just kind of curious, what have you observed? Because you were just sharing, I think a very important observation. It’s not like people are deliberately trying to be defiant of your ideas, but is that what you’ve observed that maybe there’s a personal insecurity or… if so, what is that? I know this is a generalization, but maybe just think of an example or two that you think is really common or is it that they’re just not aware of kind of the benefit of this change that will take place or they don’t see that they have the power to do anything about it? What have you observed? You’ve been on the inside.

Shahana:

I think the most important thing is the why, which is that I don’t think people align on the why. That I think is probably the one that is the biggest one to get right. Solutioning comes later, otherwise we’ll end up creating solutions, looking for problems. But we have to have clarity around, “Is there an issue?” Then, what is the issue? I think the difference of opinion is usually on, “Is there an issue? What is the issue?” Then, how urgent or how imminent is the problem. Should we be investing our resources right now in trying to fix it or do we just kick the can down the road for a little bit and wait? I think those are the three things that you have to… I often think that the difference of opinion between leaders and their teams are on these three things.

Shahana:

Once you have an ability to show to the leader that, “Look, here is what the issue is that we are seeing. Here is why, we have talk to all these people in the organization. We have conducted surveys, focus groups. This is what people are telling us.” That you think the strategy is all set and perfect, they don’t know what it is, for example. They don’t know how their work ties into the strategy that we have. There are so many layers of that we could perhaps be. Then the second is, if people don’t know what they’re supposed to do in order to really achieve the strategy, then is it not urgent? Of course it is urgent. So, I think when you’re able to really explain to the leader, who may not always have a feel for the conversations at the ground level. I think it really helps them to understand the seriousness of the issue, why it is an issue. Because I think what happens in a lot of cases is that leaders take some things for granted. Take it for granted that my team is going to work together. Why? They may or they may not depending or various factors.

Shahana:

I think as a leader, you’ve got to understand whether they are actually indeed working together. Whether they are truly pulling their might towards common goals or are they pulling their might towards self-serving goals. So I think we have to be able to help the leader to really get an insight into some of these areas. That helps you get them on the same page, because change really isn’t possible unless your top management is truly behind it 100% and they’re active sponsors of the change.

Sharon:

So that’s really helpful advice for someone who’s trying to make change or get buy-in in a company. I think it’s really valuable insight what you shared because I would say most of the women executives who I work with, when I first meet them or getting some form of a no, or a non-response or non buy-in, which is frustrating for them when they feel that they have a vision that would be in the best interest of all. So, what we’re saying here is that you have to be really effective in your influencing approach. Then, this is a lot of what goes on in our coaching is to help change agents be strategic and to really think about that alignment. To really take off your own head and think about it from the point of view of the executive. I think your advisement on that is really valuable.

Shahana:

I think the other piece of it is that the leaders or the powers that be, need to know why this is so important to you. Often, I think we don’t necessarily always talk about it in terms of why is it important. I used to work with a leader, with a CEO, many, many years ago now. But his first 20 responses would be no, no matter what you went to him with, his responses would be no and he would ask you a hundred questions. And I think part of it was to just test how strongly do you feel about this. How strongly do you feel? Are you giving up or are you willing to fight for it because you truly believe that this is the thing that will make the most difference? I think that was his way of testing. I would not recommend it but it was certainly his way of testing as to whether someone was truly passionate about this topic and whether it was important enough for them to keep going back to him because they felt that it was the right thing to do.

Sharon:

How did you ultimately have power with him, which is, I would have bet on you. How did you ultimately have power with him?

Shahana:

Oh, I convinced him of a whole lot of things, but I think part of it was just learning how his mind works. He was one of those ridiculously smart individuals and it always felt like he knew more about the topic than anyone else did, no matter what the topic was. Which was then, I think, more of an indication to me that the kind of prep that I needed to be able to talk to him was a different level. I would think of all kinds of variables. I think we do this often, where our frame is so small that we are only looking at the problem and the solution. We are not looking, we are not widening our aperture to be able to look at all of the variables that impact a particular decision and what kind of an interplay of factors could there be. What scenarios could emerge?

Shahana:

So just being able to think through all of it. Actually, I think I learned a lot from that particular experience which was just being able to expand thinking in terms of making sure that you’re going through with the most robust proposal. I think the number of no’s started reducing over time, and certainly his questions reduced over time because the answers were already there.

Sharon:

Right. He really came to trust you. In hindsight, what incredible training. He really put you through your paces. Now, it probably comes as second nature to you when you are coming to get buy-in.

Shahana:

Yeah.

Sharon:

Is there anything that you’ve observed in your experiences about how different people use power or come into power? There’s one thing I was just following up on, something you said earlier, kind of having that outsider status. I know that my very first podcast, actually, the Power Shift Podcast, we were talking with two women who are helping to get more women into the electoral process around the world. They were saying that women often bring an outsider perspective. That as an outsider, they said that they have less to lose when it comes to the status quo. They’re not as “attached” to it. I thought something that you said a few minutes ago just sort of reminded me of that. So, I’m just wondering, is anything in your experience, if someone is underrepresented on the leadership team or like you yourself here in the United States are a woman of color. Is there anything that you’ve seen about how different people have a different approach to coming into power? Or whether you’re already in power or whether you’re underrepresented, just anything that you’ve observed.

Shahana:

That’s a good question. I think there are some small differences in when you look at gender or when you look at representation and different ethnicities, different races, etc. But I think the bigger issue often is that we all work towards a certain norm afar. That norm is defined, it’s like a mental framework. It is defined by those who were in those particular situations and roles before. That, unfortunately, in many, many, many, many, many cases is a single demographic. So, what happens is that our norms are often defined by a single demographic. What does leadership mean? What are the leadership qualities that are really critical in organizations? All of that, I think, is really a difficult piece because whether men, women, whatever your race might be, whatever your ethnicity might be, you end up having to conform to some of those norms in order to get ahead. Which is a challenge because are you really leaning on your natural style or are you really changing your style in order to be able to move forward in the organization? Is that doing you justice as a leader?

Sharon:

So anything [crosstalk 00:40:26] your own experiences of that?

Shahana:

I’ve had coping mechanisms, but I think early in life… Maybe I’ll share one. So pretty early in life, like I said, I made a decision that I would sort of question status quo and that would be, I think, my… I think there’s a lot that my brand is about, which is about unconventional thinking and sort of bringing in perspectives that are often not main stream into a conversation. In the initial years, I remember being in this one meeting where I brought up this idea and it was completely glossed over. When a male colleague made the same idea, everyone was like, “Oh my God, what a brilliant idea.” I’m sitting there went, “Hey, didn’t I just say that?” But that happens often. So my way of coping with it was that I would be the ideas person. I would come up with so many ideas that you would not be able to ignore me. Each of those ideas would be equally implementable, equally transformational and they would be equally out of the box.

Shahana:

It’s almost like I started to work on a brand, which I think has perhaps helped me in my career. Because then you start becoming known as the ideas person, as the person to go to for various things because people see that you are the one bringing… And even now there might be ideas that I raised which other people are credited for, but you can’t ignore the fact that there are so many ideas coming that at the end of the day, you will sort of get credit for some of it for sure. But I think what happens is that it happens often in organizations that, especially, whether it is women, whether it is underrepresented folks, minorities when there is ideas, those ideas aren’t heard in the same manner as the dominant groups often. How do we amplify those ideas? How do we make sure that they are heard?

Shahana:

If you’re getting credit for somebody else’s idea, it’s okay to say that, “Hey, it was not my idea, it was Shahana’s.” Or Sharon’s for that matter. I think people feel really awkward about doing it, but the more you do it, the more you ensure that people are not getting glossed over. Their ideas are being heard and they have a voice.

Sharon:

So I definitely want to just reiterate what you said about amplifying voices, because that’s a way of sharing power. I love your story about how you just kind of… That’s a way of being in your power. You kind of took control over your brand and I love it. It’s like you were so abundant and valuable with your ideas that you couldn’t be ignored. I just love that. I want everyone to aspire to that. You’ve shared a thousand reasons already in this podcast interview of why I could see how you’ve been successful and gotten so much buy-in and brought so many people along with you. I want to hear about your latest idea. Another one that you’re taking action on and showing courage around. You’re the founder of Just Human, Not Resources. Okay, so this is like too good of a statement as a moniker and as a movement. So tell us what you’re up to now.

Shahana:

I think in my 23 years, I’ve worked with some of the greatest organizations, but the one thing that I’ve realized is that we often talk about people being our greatest asset, but we rarely act like it. We rarely act like it in so many different ways. If you look at global engagement surveys, whether it is Gallup, whether it is ADPRI, depending on what report you’re looking at, people who are fully engaged range between 14 to 20% of the population, that’s terrible. When you look at resilience, 15% of people are highly resilient in the last survey that came out in 2020. If you look at levels of stress, when you look at between 40 and 60%, again, depending on which report you’re looking at, people have experienced daily stress. Which means that it’s not the one-time stress of having a big project come out or anything like that. It is the fact that you’re experiencing stress on a daily basis.

Shahana:

When you look at what people think in terms of leadership, on one hand leadership can surely help you blossom and come into your own as a person and be effective and be meaningfully contributing. On the other hand, you look at all of these survey data, whether it is you look at the Monster survey in 2018 that talks about how over 75% of people either currently have, or have recently had a toxic boss, that’s just terrible. Whether you look at other surveys that talk about some 84% of people saying that their people managers are poorly trained and therefore cause unnecessary work and stress.

Shahana:

Half of them feel that they would be more effective in their performance if they had a better leader or their leader was better trained. So the world of work is a little broken. It is not sustainable what we are doing to ourselves. So, I think it all started with saying, “Look, we’ve got to do something about this.” it is hard to do something about this. Can we do something about this at a larger scale, is really what we started with. Now, obviously there is so much to do and so little time. So we said, “Alone, we cannot create a movement but this has to be a movement at the end of the day.”

Sharon:

A lot of listeners are saying Amen as they’re listening to you so keep going. Amen.

Shahana:

The first two things, and this is just been two months, we left two months ago. So this has been two months in the making. Our first thing that we are working on is that we realize that there’s actually a dearth of resources which are practical, actionable, and simple for people to use on a variety of topics related to people at work. Whether it is DNI, whether it is change management, whatever you call it. Whether it is how do you transition into a new workplace? There is a real dearth of resources which are really practical and useful. We have realized that over the years, we’ve created a lot of those things for our own use because we did not find what we were looking for.

Shahana:

So, we want to be in a place where we can share some of these practical tools, techniques, playbooks, tool kits with people for free. Use it as you will, of course don’t plagiarize, give us credit but use it with your teams for educational purposes, for yourselves, as you sort of are looking for some of these things. So I think that’s one thing that we are doing. The first one of that, which is coming out soon is going to be our DEI, so our diversity, equity, and inclusion playbook, which is about how to be an inclusive leader. Simple, actionable things that we can do. The second one is this whole thing…

Sharon:

[inaudible 00:48:44] every day. Very good.

Shahana:

Yeah. Because being inclusive is a choice. You make that choice every day in terms of whether to be inclusive or not. Our conversation around diversity and inclusion has been really hijacked by targets and unconscious bias. This is a classic example of power actually, if you look at it. Consolidated power versus dispersed power. The reason why we have really not made as much progress as we could have on the DNI is simply because the power is so concentrated in terms of organizations, 20 years ago deciding that unconscious biases that they were going to focus on and targets.

Shahana:

The thing is individual diversity happens one decision, one moment, one conversation at a time. How are we empowering our leaders to be able to move the needle? What happens to someone who chooses not to? In most organizations today, nothing. So I think it’s really about shifting that focus from just power being concentrated and these mega organizational mandates to really focusing on our frontline people leaders. Empowering them with clear, simple tools, techniques, and actions that they can do to be able to move the needle forward. That’s kind of what we want to do.

Shahana:

The second part of it is this whole conversation around return to work. Companies and employees are on two different pages of two completely different books when it comes to return to work post pandemic. When I say return to work, I mean return to the physical location of work as if work is something that we are present in a location for. It’s not where you work, it’s what you do. Unfortunately, we are getting all of those mixed up a little bit. So there have been a million surveys whether it is surveys that say 95% of the people want to work hybrid and this and that. But the surveys are so myopic because they are focused on really asking questions that are in the narrow scope of flexibility. Whereas what employees want their organizations to do is reimagine how work is done. How does work fit into my life? How can it fit in better? How can I be the best I can be at work and at home?

Shahana:

Those are a different set of questions compared to how many days do you want to come into office? So, we want to really have conversations. So, we are creating sessions where we will talk to people and just understand how they want work to be re-imagined. Hopefully, we can bring some of those conversations back to leaders and see if we can open up a few minds.

Sharon:

That’s fantastic. So when you said that power is concentrated in the hands of a few and we should be bringing it to the front lines, anything, any elaboration that you’d like to make? Because I’m sure there’s listeners who are like, “Yes, yes, yes. How do we do that?”

Shahana:

Yeah. I think he DEI conversation is a perfect one. The diversity, inclusion, and equity conversation is a perfect one for that. It’s not that companies did not recognize that we needed to do more on diversity and equity and inclusion. But the part they choose to go down was a very narrow path because they chose to do unconscious bias training, which really, I think, has limited success across the organization, one size fits all. Then, they chose to really put targets to how many people should you have at a certain level. I want to be 50% women, or I want to be whatever percentage African-American and things like that. That’s a very narrow way. Many companies, I think left it at that. Now, it’s not a surprise that 20 years later we haven’t really moved the needle any, because ultimately how does diversity actually work with every new hire, with every promotion that happens, with every decision that we make in terms of how that moves forward.

Shahana:

Those decisions are not all concentrated at the top, the decisions are everywhere, but we are not empowering people to make those decisions in a way that makes sense. So, simple things, for example, how do you eliminate bias in hiring? Or are you an inclusive leader? Actually, your calendar shows you if you’re inclusive or not. Do you know how it shows you if you’re inclusive or not? So some of those things are just insights that help open up people’s minds to seeing and looking in words at themselves and saying, “Okay, am I inclusive? I think I’m inclusive but am I really? I think I have a diversity mindset but do I really?” And just trying to look at, “Are these the actions that I’m taking?” If I’m not, then I know that I’m not very inclusive and I need to do more of it.

Shahana:

When I am empowered to do more of it, then I can make those decisions. Then that, I think, drives diversity and inclusion forward much more than only looking at these two factors, which haven’t really contributed to moving the needle.

Sharon:

Right. The way that you’re talking about it is like then each person in an organization feels a sense of ownership. They’re “empowered.” Shahana, you are a fountain of insights, of ideas, of inspiration. If listeners want to learn more or see how you can help their organizations, what would be the best way for them to follow up with you?

Shahana:

So, my website is called justhumannotresources.com. Reach out to me at the website, connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m more than happy to help.

Sharon:

Just human, not resources. Love it. Thank you so much for being a guest on the Power Shift Podcast.

Shahana:

Thank you so much, Sharon. Thank you for having me.

The Power Shift podcast is all about redefining the idea of “power” and how women use it for good, not with the traditional idea of force. Listen to thought-provoking and practical interviews to help listeners understand power from every angle– how a person gets ‘in her power’, how power works in the workplace, and how power can shift.
Host Dr. Sharon Melnick is a business psychologist who’s a best-selling author, speaker, and sought-after executive coach who helps women executives be an intentional Culture Carrier in their organizations and helps women get promoted to next level opportunities. Because every woman in her power is a Change Agent!
You can listen to The Power Shift Podcast with Dr. Sharon Melnick here at these links:

The Power Shift Podcast – The Power of Noble Work with Anne Gotte

Sharon Melnick:

Welcome Anne, to the Power Shift Podcast. Let’s just start with a little bit of context here. You have a vision of the workplace, and how employees could be treated. When I first heard you talk about this, I thought it was so beautiful and inspiring. Could you start off just helping our listeners hear directly from you?

Anne Gotte:

Yeah, absolutely. First, thank you so much for having me and thank you for your really kind words. It’s a funny way to open a story, but I always tease and kid a little, although I’m serious that I knew I wanted to study organizational behavior, organizational psychology, human resources. Before I knew what any of that was called. Probably by the age of seven, or eight, I knew that I wanted to do this kind of work, and so well my peers in second grade were thinking about their lives as astronauts or rock stars, I was really already thinking about the workplace.

While I didn’t have the tools or the maturity to really understand what that would look like, I knew that I wanted to work to make work better. It was a fundamental belief in my little body, even then. The reason I came to this conclusion so young in life has a lot to do with how I experienced the workplace as a child. By that, I mean to tell you about my mom and how I was raised. My mother had me when she was young, very young, she was uneducated, unskilled and poor. That makes life a lot more difficult than it could otherwise be, as you can imagine, particularly with a young child until.

For my mom, work was less about finding her purpose, or being able to enjoy a meaningful career. She was often really struggling to find sufficient employment to cover our living expenses and to provide for myself, her and soon thereafter, my young sister. I experienced directly the impact of someone who doesn’t find joy or purpose or meaning in their work, and how much that affects their wholeness. I think that as leaders or as employers, we may underestimate the impact that we have on really the full human experience that we contribute to.

I saw my mother who is brilliant, and creative, and funny, and earnest feel smaller because of her work. Work for her was often an experience that was depleting. Seeing that and experiencing the consequences of that helped me understand how pivotal work is as a relationship or as part of shaping a person’s identity. I really think it’s that foundational to how we think of ourselves, how we shape our own self-concept. Ultimately, for companies to get this right, how you can win by really harnessing people’s energy and power and commitment to a greater purpose. That’s been my whole life’s perspective on how we can think about work, how we can bring nobility to work, and how when we do that, really special things can happen. Then the absence of doing so, really significant consequences can occur as well.

Sharon Melnick:

That’s profound when you really look at the true opportunity that we have, in terms of creating culture in our workplaces, in our society. Tell us, how did this feed your sense of mission?

Anne Gotte:

Well, for me, it became really clear that I wanted to contribute to making work noble. I believe that work has this inherent nobility to it. I mean, this idea of work, if we really break it down, whether it’s paid work or unpaid work. The work we do in our households, the work we do for organizations, it is about an earnest an active effort to contribute to something outside of yourself. It’s really noble in and of itself. We only cease to experience with nobility if we destroy it. Work inherently begins as noble. I think about this a lot. I think that fundamentally, maintaining or revealing its nobility lives in thinking about work through three lenses.

The first is meaning, I think that we have to work to endeavor ensuring that all employees or workers around the world understand that their work is meaningful. That doesn’t necessarily have to be as lofty as having an articulate personal purpose that’s fully fleshed out. I think a lot of us are still looking for that. I do think the idea of, I do work that is important. I know if I’m doing it well, I can understand the impact of my work and why it matters, is foundational to work feeling noble. I think the second around-

Sharon Melnick:

We’ll get to the second and third, but I’d love to ask you a question about that. Where do you think that sense of nobility comes from? Does that come from the person who is the worker bringing that, and or does that come from the environment or the valuing that occurs in the workplace?

Anne Gotte:

I think it’s both, Sharon. I think that fundamentally, the connection between those two is what allows the nobility to really take place. I think it’s this idea that if you believe that fundamentally, people want to contribute and want to do well.

Sharon Melnick:

I believe that.

Anne Gotte:

I do too. There’s this inherent element of people seeking meaning in their work and seeking to create meaning in their work. I think the conditions need to be in place, whether those are cultural, whether they’re based on management systems. In manufacturing, for example, there are all sorts of systems you see in plants that are fundamentally based on creating meaning at that shop floor level. I think it’s the connection between the two. Then I think it gets to the second piece really, which is around dignity and community is the third.

Anne Gotte:

I think having an environment that is full of respect and learning and curiosity and listening and empathy, really nesting under dignity. Community is working with and for people who make you feel as though you belong, who give you the opportunities to learn and who challenge you to become better. When you have those three pieces, meaning, dignity and community, I think that those are the building blocks for noble work. I think that they live almost 50/50 with the individual and the context that the individual works in. Where you don’t have both participating, that’s when you can run into trouble, I think.

Sharon Melnick:

I think that’s right. When it comes to culture change, I do think of it as like, that is the full solution that each individual has to take responsibility for his or her part, what each of us bring to it. My mantra is like, “Be impeccable for your 50%.” Like, what you bring, and as well, and it’s always an interaction with the culture that is creating, or that the environment within which you are operating. I’m so excited to hear your ideas on how we can actually bring this to life in the workplace. Before we do that, I’m just curious, is there a difference for people who are knowledge workers and people who are hourly workers when it comes to this sense of nobility?

Anne Gotte:

No, not at all. In that it is necessary and deserved, and in that organizations can create it. There’s no difference at all. What might be adaptive is how you need to work to create the conditions for nobility across worker types. That is an operational reality or an organizational reality that may shift based on the kinds of work or the kinds of work environments that workers find themselves in. I would offer that where it is harder to create, we have to work harder to create it. The idea that it’s optional, or that some populations are perhaps more amenable to noble work, I fundamentally disagree with, I think that all work is noble. Back to our earlier conversations, so long as we don’t adulterate it, so long as we don’t destroy its nobility through a lack of insuring and furnishing those pieces around dignity and community and meaning, then it’s inherently noble.

Sharon Melnick:

I love that, work is inherently noble. Thank you for saying that, and thank you for saying that companies that are getting it right are being thoughtful about how to bring this experience to all of their workers. Thank you for that. We’re here on the Power Shift Podcast, so what does a sense of nobility in the workplace have to do with power?

Anne Gotte:

I think a number of things. The first thing I would mention is that work for many has been a place where they feel powerless. I think that an absence of nobility creates a dynamic and a belief in workers that they have no power. I think fundamentally, enabling the conditions for noble work, by definition, enable associates, workers to embrace and embody the power that they possess and contribute that power toward a shared outcome. I think that there’s a tremendous connection there.

I also think that there are a lot of misconceptions about power. I think sometimes we think about power the same way we think about energy, that it’s fixed, that it can be transferred or changed, but that it’s ultimately finite. When we think about power that way, you see structures that can live within organizations that are distributive by nature. I have power, you have none. I have control and authority. I have ideas and currency and influence in an organization. That has to come at the expense of your power. Of course, that’s not true. Power isn’t finite. In fact, it’s the very opposite of that, it’s generative. When we’re intentional about it, using power thoughtfully in organizations, creates more power.

Sharon Melnick:

Amen. Yes. I’m singing along with that one. Did you see that personally in your mom? Because if she was a worker who didn’t have a lot of a sense of control, what was the effect on her? Then what is the opposite that if her company could have brought more of a sense of nobility?

Anne Gotte:

Well, she cycled through a lot of companies, I should start by saying. I do think that for people who are underemployed or who don’t experience nobility and work, you do see chronic unemployment, high turnover, absenteeism all of those things we read about I experienced in my household directly. My mother worked for more companies than I can count with both of my hands. Here’s what I would offer, work made her feel small. Work with not a place where she brought her power, nor does she see it as a place where she could flourish and grow and evolve her gifts. Instead, it was something to be endured. Work was something to be enjoyed. I always thought that that was such a shame.

Sharon Melnick:

Squandered opportunity.

Anne Gotte:

Such a squandered opportunity, it’s a beautiful way of putting it. We spend so much of our creative energy as workers, we give so much to our work, regardless of what kind of work we do. To think about a lifetime of power, of creativity, of contribution, of impact, somehow sub-optimized. To me, it was an unacceptable outcome.

Sharon Melnick:

How did that reverberate, just in terms of how she was as a woman, as a parent and your family? How did that reverberate?

Anne Gotte:

Well, a couple of different ways. I think that it had significant impact for many years on her self-concept. I’m very proud to share that when I was in graduate school, actually, my mother went back to school and earned her college degree. I remember tutoring her.

Sharon Melnick:

Wow, what a story.

Anne Gotte:

It’s a story with a really happy ending. It took a long time. For many in her case, there are millions that were similar to hers. It takes years to be able to climb out of that. I would say, the first thing that it did was it definitely impacted her self-concept. Her sense of what she could do and what she could be, was largely shaped by her experience as a worker. The second thing it did, was changed how she showed up as a parent. She spent a lot of time with my sister and me making sure that we were incredibly intentional about our own dreams, and our own intentions.

 

Frankly, the work that was necessary to be able to achieve those. I think she wanted to make sure that we had a really different experience with work, and emphasized things like choice, pursuing passions, working really hard, education as foundational. I mean, these are all values that were part of our household. I think, in part because they were values that she didn’t get to experience herself. She did the very next best thing, which was put conditions in place for her children too.

Sharon Melnick:

That is an incredible story of resilience. Because she wasn’t empowered in her work life, so many hours of her day, you can only imagine what was going through her mind for hours and hours a day as she was working to support you. Yet, she was able to alchemize that. She was able to be “in her power” in terms of how she showed up for you and the values that she nurtured you with. Well, now I know, now I understand how you have become the leader that you’ve become today. That’s really an incredible tale when you think about it and the resourcefulness that she had, that she could keep her sights on the long-term vision of who she wanted you to be in the world. Amazing.

Anne Gotte:

I think that too. I’m pretty lucky.

Sharon Melnick:

Talk to us about that idea of being in your power, and what do you see in the workplace when it comes to employees? Or do you see people being in their power? How can we leverage more power or empower people in the workplace?

Anne Gotte:

I think that the way that I would think about people being in their power at work is feeling and being aware of the fact that they’re doing work that is noble. I think in terms of how we can do more. There are a few things I would talk about, the first is the role of managers. I think managers play such a tremendous role. We make this sometimes so grandiose and unapproachable, that managers don’t always see themselves as capable agents of change. Really, so much of creating nobility at work and power and nobility is about the small things that any one of us are equipped to do, so long as we choose to. What are easy things that a manager can do to create meaning? Well, they can help employees on their team, in small waves, understand how the work that they do contributes to something that’s important.

That’s the first thing, and it’s not hard. If they can’t do that, the question should be, why is anyone doing this work? That’s pretty straightforward. The second thing they can do is understand what the employees care about, what the employees care about. They may be doing this body of work now, do they always want to do that body of work? Are there other things that they hope to connect to over time? What are the different ways that an employee can grow on their team or in a different team in the same organization? How can the manager be a steward and really feel part of that journey with the employee, instead of feeling threatened by that? I think sometimes that, that happens.

Sharon Melnick:

That is so right. Even just a couple of points that you’re giving there. It’s like the example that we were talking about with your mom, it’s like she had an ability to think through, process and be resilient to what she was experienced, so that she can bring you a different environment or inspiration. What you’re saying there is like, a manager has an opportunity, a manager creates the weather on the team. They can create noble weather or ennoble weather. It all has to do really with the way that they manage themselves, because they have to be inspired and really connected to the mission in order to inspire others.

Sharon Melnick:

They have to be able to lift up from the bottom-line pressures of the work themselves, so that they can actually see another human, and what that human wants, in terms of their development for their career, or just to connect on an emotional level. I see this again, and again in my work, and when I’m coaching clients, it’s really helping them to be in their own power, so that they can then use that power to spark a result, an outcome, getting things done, and to create a culture in which everyone can find. If you can’t do that inside of yourself, you can’t bring that to other people. It’s not the only step, but it’s the first step. I really appreciate you bringing that to light.

Anne Gotte:

Absolutely. It’s fundamentally important. Most employees experience the company through the weather, as you just talked about, that their manager creates. They have no idea how decisions are being made, or what things look like five, or six layers up in a really up close and personal way. The manager plays such a fundamental role. Other things do too, the company’s purpose and culture is certainly bigger than a single manager. You’re right, a single leader has a huge opportunity to elevate the work, to inspire their teams, to create a sense of meaning, of dignity and of community. They can do all of those things. They can do that as a first line supervisor, they can do that as a chief executive officer. They all have the same tools. How that comes to life exactly, of course, looks different. Those mechanisms are the same. They are the same.

Sharon Melnick:

Meaning, dignity, community. Love that. You’re in a leadership position. You’re talking about the manager that’s directly interacting with the rest of their team. What about at a leadership level? If you are Queen for the day, which I would vote for, what would you do with your magic wand? What could leaders get started with and then maybe what’s the bigger picture vision to move workplaces towards a sense of nobility?

Anne Gotte:

I love this question. I’m going to start with the easier ones. Then I’ll give you some harder ones. Because if I had a wand for a day, I would use it to solve some pretty tough problems. I’ll talk to you a little bit about that, but some easy ones. I talked to you a little bit about the role that managers can play around meaning. Around dignity, a couple of things. How can employees receive a clear sense of what’s expected? How do you win in this role? Really know the rules of this game. Am I clear on how to be successful and a high performer? Or do I feel like I’m figuring it out? Thinking about how people use that energy, and whether it’s used for things that are productive, and generative, or whether it’s really dysfunctional is important.

Sharon Melnick:

Yeah, where are your 60,000 thoughts a day going to? That’s right. Want to figure it out or actually doing it?

Anne Gotte:

That’s right. Exactly. Let’s remove as much of that noise as we can. Managers play a tremendous role. I do think that, that is a respectful and dignified way to treat people. This is how you win here. This is what we need from you. I also think that we shouldn’t underestimate the conditions that managers and frankly, organizations can create for the work environment. I know that, that’s different now during COVID. Not all employees have the benefit of working from home in this environment, and even those that do experience some work environment.

What are we doing to create a work environment that is safe, both physically and psychologically, that is respectful? That really honors the worker’s physical and emotional experience at work, that is so crucial. I like to think about this idea of, what if we treated workers the way that we treat guests coming into our home? That we centered around their feeling of comfort and belonging so that they’re not distracted by those things. They can really reveal the best of their talents to us.

Sharon Melnick:

That’s a big idea for a TED Talk right there. What if we treated our workers the same way we do guests coming into our home? That inherent nobility, that’s absolutely beautiful. I want to start getting into the accountability part of it. Here it is, why isn’t this happening already?

Anne Gotte:

I think there are some little reasons why it doesn’t happen, and I think there are some bigger reasons. I think sometimes managers don’t do this because they’re concerned that they’re going to get it wrong. Some of these things I’m talking about require risk taking, they require vulnerability. A manager has to be willing to engage in a conversation about which they don’t control the outcome. That’s really hard. I think there’s a familiarity and a comfort and a control and a power, of both power, I would argue, but a power a sense of power in being directive and ignoring the context of work, or the broader lens of how your worker is experiencing their work. It’s scary. That would be the first one. I think the second one is-

Sharon Melnick:

What’s scary about it? I understand what you’re saying, you have to be vulnerable, you can’t control the outcome. Just break that down a little bit. What’s scary? Is that the thing that is holding us back from having this enormous benefit of nobility in the workplace?

Anne Gotte:

In part, and I think I’ve had conversations with hundreds of managers over the course of my career who-

Sharon Melnick:

Yeah, share with us.

Anne Gotte:

… felt as though conversations like this could get them in over their head. I don’t know how to talk to employees about connecting the purpose of their work, because when I try to do so, I may reveal my own lack of understanding about what we’re trying to do as a company. I haven’t taken the time to tell my manager that I need more clarity. There’s a vulnerability in revealing that they themselves, and you talked about this a moment ago, how can you give what you don’t have? You can’t pour from an empty cup. There’s a piece there that’s really important. We shouldn’t underestimate that. The second thing, though, that I think is maybe as important, it’s this distorted sense of humility. This, “Surely I don’t play that big of a role in how the employee experiences their workplace. I’m just a supervisor.” Or, “I only speak to them a few times a week. Do they really even care what I think?”

It’s this idea of, I call it distorted humility, because I actually think that it is benevolent. I think that people are just, they have a smaller self-view around the role that they play as a leader. They don’t feel as comfortable stepping into that space. That in and of itself feels maybe too powerful, and it makes them uncomfortable. I’ve seen this with many leaders, they’re more comfortable saying, “No, this team, I mean, they’re fine. They’re running themselves, they know what they need. I don’t need to get into the mix. I don’t need to really interfere and I don’t know that I can add a lot of value here.”

Sharon Melnick:

That’s just so interesting. I want to harken back, actually I think it was the second episode of the Power Shift Podcast when we had Ron Carucci who’s also a fellow member of the Marshall Goldsmith Top 100 Coaches Community. He did a 10-year study on power, how executives use power in the workplace. You know what the number one abuse of power is?

Anne Gotte:

No.

Sharon Melnick:

When executives don’t use the power they do have.

Anne Gotte:

Yes.

Sharon Melnick:

Isn’t that interesting? That’s exactly what you were saying. Of course, that’s counterintuitive, not what we would have expected. I’m sure we have a litany of examples of abuse of power. It’s exactly what you’re saying right there is that, that we have this enormous missed opportunity. I think what you’re saying is, it’s really because people are not connecting to their own effect on people, or just there’s something in themselves. Like you said, they’re not sure of the purpose, or they’re afraid of too much of that sense of connection, and whatever it means for them.

I just want us to really get this, it’s like, because of our concerns inside of us that are all our own personal limitations, that it’s keeping us from this sense of nobility that has all of these downstream effects, financial, bottom-line for the company, the health and well-being, the discretionary effort of your employees, innovation. Community health mesh, I mean, it’s like every important metric could be traced, if what you’re saying is true, and I believe it is, to the inside workings from our own limited human shell.

Anne Gotte:

Yes. I completely agree. It’s interesting, it’s definitely counterintuitive that, that would be the number one abuse of power. Is neglect not a form of abuse? It’s very intuitive to hear you say it, I go, “Yeah, of course, of course.”

Sharon Melnick:

Because of my own avoidance of something.

Anne Gotte:

Am I willing to step in? Am I, as a manager, willing to step into the power that I possess, or something getting in my way? Whether it’s fear or discomfort, or, again, this distorted sense of humility. The third thing that comes up for me at times is, and you just set it beautifully, I think that we sometimes fail to acknowledge the expensive cost of not doing this. I think that sometimes people fail to realize, if you only get a fraction of what your employee is capable of giving, that’s really costly to the organization’s growth objectives. Whether that’s top or bottom-line, whether that’s longer-term metrics around innovation, pipeline, etc. It’s such a costly error.

I’ve used that to refrain with managers. Here’s the opportunity cost of your choices. Do those feel like the right ones? The other thing I talk about a lot with first line managers is how frequently they are part of dinnertime conversation. I think it’s a visual that helps people understand the role that they play in the families and friendships and relationships of the people on their team. We’re so quick to assume that there are these artificial barriers between who we are at work and who we are at other times. The reality is, we have one soul, we have one body, we are one person at a time.

To think that work and all of the impact that it has on us ends at 5:00 or whenever your shift is over is ridiculous. I always know the names of my mother’s supervisors. My children know the name of my supervisor today. Of course, we talk about this. It’s helping managers realize, whether you step into it or not, it’s there. It’s like when little ones close their eyes when they’re playing hide and seek and they’re standing in the middle of the road, but they can see you so they assume they’re safely hidden. That’s this, it doesn’t work when you’re little and it doesn’t work when you’re a leader either.

Sharon Melnick:

Oh, my God. Anne, that is brilliant, we don’t have object constancy about power in every interaction. That is absolutely brilliant. What a wise mentor and advocate you must be for all of the people in your company and within your network. Now we’ve come to the moment that I’ve been waiting for, which is, so you’re the head of Talent in your organization. You’re very, very experienced. What can we do? What are you doing to instill in the talent that you are developing this power that we’ve been talking about?

Anne Gotte:

This is where my magic wand is.

Sharon Melnick:

Why don’t we do it?

Anne Gotte:

Exactly. I don’t know. In some cases, there’s no good reason why we’re not doing it. In some cases, we are doing it, we just need to do it more and we need to get it done more broadly and we need to go faster. If I had a magic wand, and I start with a magic wand, because then I’ll build it into where the magic wand has been used for good within my company, within Ecolab and where we have maybe some room to go. I would do three things. The first is that I would create equitable access to opportunities. People can find noble work more easily and more readily if there is equitable access to opportunities in order to prepare and become qualified for those experiences.

I think part of why so many people around the world don’t love their work is because they’ve fallen into something that they did out of necessity versus choice. I think a world where people have more choice over how they work, and what they work on is a world that’s worth pursuing. I would love to think about how to create more equitable access for the experiences that prepare one to do noble work. I think the second is, and it’s related, but it’s different, is how do we remove perceived and real? I think both are there, perceived and real barriers to changing one’s mind.

I think it’s a strange life where we are educated for the first 22 or 23 years of our lives, only to be followed by 50 years of work in that field. This paradigm that when you’re your youngest, we invest in you. Then you have to use that investment for the duration of your life to do whatever that work is. Not have the opportunity to experiment and try new things and put something down that doesn’t fit anymore and pursue something that you think you’ll like more. I think there are real barriers to doing that. I think that there are barriers that we create for ourselves. If we make work sticky, and that gets in the way of I think pursuing nobility in work.

The third thing and it gets closer to the work I do at Ecolab is, if I had a magic wand, I would use it to reveal and uncover the latent talent that exists in so many people. We have such imperfect ways to examine or judge or select talent in the world. That’s not a commentary on my organization, it’s a commentary on all organizations. We have imperfect information. There’s such a symmetry between what is knowable, and what is known about an employee or about a candidate, talents, interests, background. I’d love to find ways, and technology is helping us with this already, to get closer to those latent skills and be able to architect solutions that better position people to do work that is noble for them.

At Ecolab, one of the things that we’re spending a lot of time on is around building out technology, processes and cultural elements that really create visibility and access for 44,000 employees around the world. How do we know them well, how are we clear on what they’re good at, what they are aspired to do, what experiences and talents they have that we may not be using in their current work? Which are nonetheless incredibly valuable and could be used in other ways. We have a promise at our organization that says, we believe a world of opportunity exists within our growing company. We believe a world of opportunity exists within our growing company.

The work then is to figure out how to make that true. How do we create a world of opportunity for anyone worker that can look different based on what that world should be for them? We spend a lot of time there. There’s a couple of other things we do that I could talk about, as well. I’ll pause for a moment.

Sharon Melnick:

Sure. I’m sure listeners are interested. You’re a leader, I want to bring this home in terms of like, let’s make it real. You’re a leader in this company, you have these ideas where you totally have your finger on the pulse of what needs to be done. Tell us, how are you using your power? Or what does a leader come up against as she tries to use her power for the good of all?

Anne Gotte:

I think there’s lots of ways that I’m lucky enough to be able to use my power and that’s, by the way, something I don’t take for granted. I feel a real sense of obligation and a real luxury to be able to do the kind of work that I do. I feel really blessed to be able to do work that I care deeply about. Because I know that, that’s not true for everyone. I feel the way someone with a full tummy feels thinking about people who haven’t had enough to eat. I feel really, really blessed and want to help fill other tummies. One of the things that I spend a lot of time doing at Ecolab is creating better pathways for people to move into different roles. How do we make sure that if they are ready for a change, it’s a change within and not outside our company? That’s one thing.

Perhaps another I’ll mention is, we spend a ton of time not only training managers on the fundamentals of people management, but how we deliver training to managers and to individual contributors is foundationally grounded in the idea that people can learn from one another. It’s not only what you teach in an organization, my team owns learning and development for the company. It’s how you teach them to learn. We’ve really busted the idea that you learn from an expert only or you learn from someone who is senior to you positionally, you learn from all sources.

 

Much of our learning is designed to take place in community, learning across boundaries for people with really different perspectives. That’s a design principle that we take really seriously and that anyone could replicate. Frankly, it makes the work easier. We have a management course that we call Manager Central at Ecolab, and they are literally sharing over 200 instructors around the world that make that class come to life. It’s the only class they teach. They’re not professional trainers. They’re sales leaders, they’re finance leaders, they run businesses. They also know a whole lot about the fundamentals of being a manager and they share those lessons with others around the world. When you do that, you elevate the role of the teacher because you create access. You tell your employees by your actions that all of us have something to share and teach, as well as, all of us has something to learn.

We take that really seriously as well. The third thing we spend a lot of time doing is listening. It’s really hard to know how to solve a problem if you don’t know what the problem is. I think sometimes leaders at all companies are eager to make progress and seem decisive. Really diagnosing what’s going on in your organization where things are getting stuck is really important. I think if managers or leaders are listening to this, and they don’t already have really active tools and processes in place to listen to their people, then that should be really the first place they start.

Another thing I would mention is how important it is to create an inclusive work environment, the idea that meaning and dignity and community, for me are the same as they would be for everyone. It’s just a false premise. You have to really understand what’s the plurality and the diversity of our organization? How does that affect the myriad of needs that we should be thinking about, and working to honor?

The last thing I’ll say, and I saved it for last, because I think it’s most important, and I’m lucky enough to work for a company where it’s very compelling. We have to make sure that people understand the why of their work. They have to feel really connected to the purpose, if not their own purpose, let them find meaning purpose over time, but absolutely connected to the purpose of their organization. I work for an organization that I feel good about, that I’m proud of, that does things that I feel are in line with my own values as a human being. We have lots of programs, initiatives, cultural expectations, tools that work to support those things. Those are a few that I’d offer.

Sharon Melnick:

Fantastic. I know our listeners are probably just thinking to themselves like, “I’ll have what she’s having.” You know what I mean? Like, “I want to be able to bring this to my organization.” My final question to you is, I imagine that it hasn’t been just smooth sailing and green lights all the way every day or trying to make some of these changes in your organization. What enables you to show up in your power?

Anne Gotte:

That’s a great question. I think the humble acknowledgement that not showing up in my power has consequences for stakeholders I deeply care about.

Sharon Melnick:

It’s always connecting it to your bigger sense of purpose, which is exactly where we started. Anne Gotte, I thank you so much. You walk the walk of bringing nobility. You have given us such an inspiring roadmap and created a vision, at least for me, of the ideal of what really we could and should be working toward. Thank you for joining us on the Power Shift Podcast.

Anne Gotte:

That’s my sincere pleasure. Thank you so much for the conversation, Sharon. It’s a lot of fun to talk with you.

Sharon Melnick:

Is there a gender element to this?

Anne Gotte:

I think in some cases, there can be. Particularly when we think about the manager side, the barriers that one may encounter in stepping into their power. We know because research tells us that this can be harder for women than it is for men. It can also be harder for people of color than it is for people who are white. It can be harder for any number of reasons. We know that those in the workplace that are marginalized do experience more difficulty owning some of the elements that we’re talking around leadership and feeling as though they can assume that power that’s necessary to have the impact that they need on their team.

Paradoxically, we know that it is those very same groups that are more effective in building empathic relationships and creating conditions of inclusion. Yet, I do think that it’s a bit more uncomfortable or clumsy for women, especially, to step into their power. I think on the associate side, or on the worker side, there can also be a reluctance to step up or self-advocate. We’ve seen the research and read the articles that talk about a man being willing to apply for a role, if you meet some of the qualifications. Where women, needing to meet 90 to 100% of the qualifications before they would consider submitting for a role or applying for a role.

We know about organizations that have experimented with self-promotion practices where they say, “When you’re ready to be promoted, you put yourself forward and we’ll evaluate you.” Thinking that, that was empowering, thinking it would create more inclusive outcomes. To the exact opposite, their promotion rates for women and people of color plummeted in those cases, because it was more likely that a man or a white majority employee would be more confident putting themselves forward for a consideration to promotion. We’ve got to think about how we support and enable leaders and workers being in their power, regardless of how they might come to that naturally. What are the extra reinforcements, encouragements, systems and processes that we can design to really ensure that regardless of your difference, and in fact, because of your difference, you’re able to be wildly powerful and successful in your work?

Sharon Melnick:

It’s the grand irony of everything that we’ve been talking about today is that, if you’re a human, if you’re a leader, if you’re a manager, you inherently have that nobility. You can create that nobility around you and contribute it from yourself.

Anne Gotte:

Yes, I completely agree. I think we have an obligation to make sure that, that feels true for everyone. That they see themselves in that story, even if that story may feel less familiar to them because of their background or circumstances.

The Power Shift podcast is all about redefining the idea of “power” and how women use it for good, not with the traditional idea of force. Listen to thought-provoking and practical interviews to help listeners understand power from every angle– how a person gets ‘in her power’, how power works in the workplace, and how power can shift.
Host Dr. Sharon Melnick is a business psychologist who’s a best-selling author, speaker, and sought-after executive coach who helps women executives be an intentional Culture Carrier in their organizations and helps women get promoted to next level opportunities. Because every woman in her power is a Change Agent!
You can listen to The Power Shift Podcast with Dr. Sharon Melnick here at these links:

The Power Shift Podcast – Access Your Power to Serve Others with Renata Sprironello

Sharon Melnick:

So, talk to us about what does power mean to you?

Renata Spironello:

First, I want to give you a big, big thank you for having me here. It’s a pleasure to serve and by the grace of God, inspire anybody that will listen to this later.

 

Power, it’s a very interesting word and has different connotations for many, many people. For me personally, it’s the life that is breathing through me right now. That is breathing through you. That is breathing through anyone that is alive on this planet earth. It’s something that we have access just when we connect to it, like when you take a conscious breath, you’re accessing that power. When you’re connecting with this energy that makes you wake up in the morning, you’re connecting to that power. So, power is really something that, in the most harmonious and ideal world, it’s something that we use to help other people. So, every time when you wake up in the morning and you access that power that you’re awake and that you’re alive, that you take that breath, it’s like, “What am I going to do with this power?” Because it’s the power of life.

Sharon Melnick:

Yes. I love that. The life force. That’s how I think about it.

Renata Spironello:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sharon Melnick:

So, tell us a little bit more about how does one access this life force, this power that we have within us?

Renata Spironello:

Even though it may seem very simple and people think like, “Ugh, she’s BSing.” It’s as easy as you sit and then connect with your breath. Because breath is power. People don’t think like that because most people are breathing just automatically. They are not conscious of how many breath they’re taking per minute. They are not aware how the breath is coming in. Is it coming in through my nose? Is it coming in through my mouth? Is it coming in a very shallow way? Am I taking deeper breaths? People are not aware and this is part of what we at Naam like to teach and share with people, that it’s not something that you get from outside.

 

 

Yes, sometimes people have that belief system. It is a false belief system and I pray that with time now and this transformation that the world is undergoing at this very moment, people realize that the power is contained within us. So how to access it? It’s as simple as you sitting and doing a conscious breath or it’s a ding a practice that is known as Sukshma Vyayama. That you have a lot of very powerful form of breathing that has different patterns that access that power. We all come from our mother’s womb, right? There is nobody… It doesn’t matter who you are. If you’re the pope, if you’re the Dalai Lama, if you’re the worst person in the world, everybody came from the mother’s womb. That means that in that center of each one of us, we have so much power. In the navel area there is a lot, a lot, a lot of power.

 

That’s the power that if you think about a mother, okay. I like to give the examples about the women that is seeing perhaps their child under a car. They don’t think they have the power but somehow… I even get goosebumps when I say this, because somehow, contained within each one of us with no exception, there is that power of life. That woman is able to, with her own bare hands, able to…

Sharon Melnick:

Lift a car. Yeah. Uh-huh (affirmative).

Renata Spironello:

Then, you think like, “Hello. I didn’t think I was that strong.” That power is in each one of us. We just have it snoring all day long, it’s sleeping and we’re not paying attention because we think its outside of us. So I want to invite everybody this year to, number one, know. It’s like a knowing that you have to have that the power is within you. It’s within you and it’s here and you can access it right now. You just have to basically make up your mind and then have the right tool and the right guidance to do it. And that’s where we come in to help and support you.

Sharon Melnick:

That’s what we’re here for. Okay. So, let’s just let that thought linger there so that everyone can kind of take that in. The powers within you and you can access it at any time as long as you have the right tools to do so. Okay. I want to go back.

Renata Spironello:

You have to want it, right?

Sharon Melnick:

Okay. Tell us more about that and then there were like so many things in what you just said. I want to take all the tributaries of the river. We’ll come back to that but tell us about that. You have to want it.

Renata Spironello:

Yes. Well, basically in life, everything you need the want. You want the burning desire to make anything happen. So, the same way… and I give this example very often. If you want to develop… depending if I’m talking to men or women, but if you want to have a six pack or if you want to have a nice arm or if you want to have a shining glowing face, you need to work for it. It doesn’t come just out of nowhere. So, if you really think about it, it’s like, “This is what I want. This is my goal,” because life and the energy that we have needs a direction. So, your goal is the direction. So, you have to kind of find yourself in a place that you really want that power but when it comes to this very, very strong power that we’re referring here. We’re talking about the power of life. It’s a power that creates life. So, it’s a massive amount of power.

 

It’s a power that gets a sperm and an ovum and then mix it together and then turn into another being. So, if you really only think about this part, you think there is massive amount of power. So, if you want to access that power you have to have a good purpose because then the entire force of all your electromagnetic field in the universe. For those of you that maybe are skeptical and not spiritual, I don’t really care because everything is energy. It’s energy in motion. How you’re putting that energy to move, to put it in motion in the direction you want. So, the one thing, the one thing is the main secret because I can just say like, “Oh, universe, do this. Universe do that,” but if I don’t really, really want it I’m not going to take the action to do it. To go after it.

Sharon Melnick:

So, it’s the emotion that you’re saying? It’s our intention? It’s our desire, our wanting it and then channeling that powerful life force through our emotions? Is that what you’re saying?

Renata Spironello:

Yeah. We’re directing the energy towards what we want, right? And because everything is energy, everything is energy. It’s just that they’re vibrating in different rates and maybe some of them are not even aware of it. We need to give the direction and energy is emotion. It’s energy in movement, right? So, you’re trying to create movement. So, we are working… The best fuel for you to go where you want to go is to use your emotions in the right way because we have a bunch of emotions that is kind of here and there. And there’s a difference between emotions and feelings that maybe it’s not for this podcast or for this very moment that we are here but there is a difference. But for generic terms we can talk about emotions as this kind of fuel that get us where we want to go. It’s that desire, right?

Sharon Melnick:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right. So many of us, I mean, I know this because I’m talking about this in my work all day long with clients where we react. We take something personally. We get hijacked and then we’re in that kind of swirl of emotions but it’s like a negative emotion. And always talking with people about how to kind of direct your emotions like sort of back with intention. So, it’s in the service of who you want to be and like you’re saying, in the service of the outcome that you want to create. So, tell us a little bit about how you do this or how you understand as humans we can do this.

Renata Spironello:

Okay. I just want to talk to what you just said before that, since we’re talking about power, that’s where our power is. Our power lies in us deciding what is going to happen because we are controlling the seeding process based on how we react or how we respond to things. So, the best, best way to control is to control yourself. So, when you control yourself, and you control the emotions, then you’re able to control the result. You’re able to control, am I planting bananas? Am I planting apples? What am I plating? Because in the end you’re going to get the fruit of what you’re planting. So, the power that is within us is basically controllable by us. How am I using this power to create what I want to create?

Sharon Melnick:

I love that. What fruit are you planting? Yeah, keep going. Uh-huh (affirmative).

Renata Spironello:

Let’s say, for me personally, my goal and my desire is to spread divine spiritual wisdom. Why I want that? I want that so then we can create better human beings. I work with women because I understand that women are the ones that control the seeding process. We receive the seed. It doesn’t matter if you’re getting a baby or not because we’re mothers of projects. No matter… women have that power. So what am I planting because the harvest will come? So, every day you have to realize what you want.

 

So, I’m saying, I want divine spiritual wisdom in every home. I want people to be conscious. I want to work with women so we can have a better world because it’s not just the children. The children were already cooked. When they come out, they’re already cooked for nine months, absorbing all of the goodies and the crap of their mothers and the environment, and the father and everything that is in there. So, working from the seed and in that sense, the power is always in the seed. So as mistakes, as practical people, even if you’re an entrepreneur. I’m an entrepreneur, we are always trying to see what is the fruit in the seed. So, it’s consciousness, and for you to be there, you have to have a daily practice.

 

You need that emotional hygiene. People think of washing their armpits, their intimate areas and you know, whatever, taking the stuff out of their eyes when they wake up in the morning, brushing their teeth. You have to brush your brain from all of the crap and all of the patterns that is going on there. We have to clean that. We’re talking about having emotional and mental hygiene. Sometimes we’re going through feelings and emotions that we’re not aware of. Maybe it’s ours, maybe it’s from past lives, maybe it’s form inter-generation, maybe it’s from my great grandma that I never even met or maybe we’re picking up on other people’s emotions. So, you need a daily, a daily… I’m not saying every 15 days or only when you’re desperate, when you’re going through some health issues or emotional issues. You need a daily emotional and mental hygiene. That’s very, very important for us to be able to tap into the power and have a power that is pure and is free from all of these things. We want to the power to be pure because there is a bigger purpose always for what you want that power, otherwise why do you want that power?

Sharon Melnick:

Right, and that’s something that I learned from you and the spiritual practice that you’ve taught me is to connect my own desires to kind of the bigger picture desires of the world, and then there’s so much more power, right? There’s so much more wind behind the sails. So, we’re going to come back to what that daily hygiene practice can be but before we do that, I really want to have you reinforce the point that you made about, women have so much power. We have that creative power, that power of life force. We go through our days and we both hear this, where we feel like, “Oh, my manager doesn’t listen to me,” or, “my kids, can’t get them to do what it is that I want,” or, “I’m not able to get to that next level,” et cetera.

It feels like we’re not seen and it feels like we’re not heard. Maybe there’s violence against women and we really feel like our well-being is not being seen and cared for. What you’re saying is that as all humans and particularly as women, we have so much power. We’re just not seeing it. We’re not accessing it and using it in the moment. Tell us more.

Renata Spironello:

I think that the most important thing is to put into action because there’re so many people… I was saying yesterday in a live that I was on Instagram, people are now searching for more spirituality. They’re going to events. They’re going to spiritual talks. There’re motivational talks. We need a tool. So, we need the same way… and it links back to the emotional and mental diet, that you need to have a consistent practice. The problems of us humans, men and women is that we only look for help when we need help but having a strong practice, a strong spiritual practice, which includes breath work, meditation, it’s not something you do seasonally. You have to do it every day because the days that maybe you’re going to be facing something, you already buffer by it before it happens. So, you’re not going through the victimizing of like, “Oh yes, emotional or physical abuse,” or whatever the situation is. You have to maintain yourself in a certain vibration. And the higher your vibration is on a continuous basis, you’re automatically protected by different circumstances in life.

Sharon Melnick:

Truth bomb. Uh-huh (affirmative). Keep it coming.

Renata Spironello:

It doesn’t matter what the situation is. It may be a car accident. It may be a confrontation. It may be an assault. It doesn’t matter what it is. You’re trying to get your vibration always in a level that you’re not around that frequency because everything happens according to time and space. So what I want you and everybody that is listening and including myself, is for us to commit to ourselves. Commit for us to access this power so we can help other people. Part of a commitment is sacrifice. It means that you’re going to have to maybe sacrifice 30 minutes of your sleep because you have to wake up earlier to do your practice, to do your emotional or your mental hygiene. Because you don’t want to have power and then not know what to do with it. You want to be… because as your vibration increases, your perception increases too.

 

It’s like in New York, we are in like 15, 16, 40th floor. It’s different view if you’re in the 1st floor and you can hear all the people walking down the basement. So, you’re trying to continuously have a higher perception of reality so you’re not getting yourself entangled to it and then you can use this power that we’re talking about for good. Because what happens to many people, somehow, their karma take them into places of power but they’re so gullible in a way, that whatever hits them, they kind of moves with it. And then they forget that, that power was given to them in the first place to serve people. Because when we’re serving other people, we are really ultimately serving ourselves and we’re helping the planet. It’s not me, Renata, with super powers and it doesn’t matter how much I meditate, that’s why I want people to meditate. That’s why I want people to do their practice, because I am not alone. I [crosstalk 00:27:36]-

Sharon Melnick:

It create a ripple effect. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Renata Spironello:

Yeah. What I do affects you, what you do affects me. The air, the oxygen that I’m breathing in here, the carbon dioxide is going to come out of me. It’s going to be transmuted and then somebody is going to use it next. So we’re all interconnected. And the problem of humanity is that we’re so blinded by thinking that it’s me and me alone that they disconnect from this truth and then when they get into that power, they don’t really… they don’t use it properly and then it can create chaos and problems and devastating effects.

 

So, the point is, we want to have an emotional diet or a mental diet so that we can access the power, we can use the power in the right way. It depends on your desire to really wanting to do it, and start and finish and then have a community, have a support system that helps you follow through. Just like a boss sometimes micromanaging that helps you or a coach or what you do, what I do, helping people until their muscle get developed and strong enough so they can do it on their own.

 

It’s like a baby. You help them walk in the beginning and then eventually the muscles develop, the balance develops and they can walk alone. That’s what we are here for, and it’s okay. It doesn’t matter how much power anybody that is listening or watching this may think, like, “Oh no. I cannot make myself vulnerable to have this type of help.” We need to help each other so then we can help the bigger picture. We can help the future generations and do something good with this life. So when we’re at the end of life and we’re saying goodbye to life, everything stays behind because including that power that many people are confused about, that they think it’s power because they’re a president or because they are this or their title or they’re famous. When we exhale our last breath, all of that stays behind.

Sharon Melnick:

[crosstalk 00:29:34] with us. Yeah.

Renata Spironello:

Why do we want the power in the first place? We have to associate it with the greater good. So then you’re using that power with a purpose. It’s not just independently because as soon as you die and it can happen tomorrow, we don’t know. You cannot count that you’re going to be president 10 years and then you’re going to use your power… I don’t know. I come from Brazil originally, even though I have triple nationality, and I feel like I’m a cosmopolitan. I understand power in many different ways. and people use it in a corrupted way. So, how can we use in a way that is going to help people and then you’re going to get the joy in the process. Because the more people you help, that’s what really gives us joy.

Sharon Melnick:

I think that’s absolutely right and the more you can share and interconnect and kind of exchange that power, you’re saying the more impact it can give you. I’m kind of curious. So much truth and wisdom in what you just said. It’s so inspiring. You said that when you have power, it gives you a greater perception. Can you say a little bit more about that? What is it that gives you that power to have a greater perception? Because then I think that you can, sort of like you said, be above the fray and contribute in this way, that is more pure.

Renata Spironello:

Well, when you have power, you have a greater perception depending what type of power, right?

Sharon Melnick:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Renata Spironello:

I’m talking about this internal divine power that is the power of life as you well said. That is the power that women have to get a seed and transform into a human being. It’s not the power of being, like, yes when you’re president, when you’re on top of the world.

Sharon Melnick:

Positional power. Right.

Renata Spironello:

Yes. You also have a different perception but it doesn’t necessarily means that you have a better perception. you have a different perception but it doesn’t mean it’s better, right?

Sharon Melnick:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Renata Spironello:

Because people get entangled in the power. So, the idea is that as we acquire this power that is coming progressively, as you’re working on yourself and you’re purifying yourself… because really, it’s not foreign to us. It is within us. As we get to clean the karma, to clean the intergenerational thing, to clean even patterns that we have that we were developing throughout the time and years because of maybe something traumatic that happened to you when you were a child and even in the mother’s womb, as we start to clean all of this, we’re able to see from that place that gives you a better perspective.

 

That’s why the relationship with the building because even in LA here that I am. I live in a 1st floor but when I go to the office, I go into a 15th floor, so I have a better perspective. I can see the ocean from the top. I can see it’s a different perspective and as you have a better perception and perspective, you’re able to see what is true from what is not true. And then you’re able to act accordingly, not based on false perceptions. Because people normally see things the way they are. They see things the way they are. So, if you’re able to clean the things and really getting to the essence of you, of us, as this divine being, this child of the light, if you will, then we’re going to see more like that. Instead of seeing with the layer of trauma, the layer of conditioning because of society, depending on the color of your skin, all of these other things that you start seeing things like that, but it’s not who you truly are. But temporarily, many people think they are that because that’s how they are seeing. They’re seeing through those veils and the more you are able to work on yourself and clear… Excuse my word, the crap out of you.

Sharon Melnick:

Yeah.

Renata Spironello:

You need to act in the same way because you’re seeing with those same lenses. So, you have to [crosstalk 00:33:37]-

Sharon Melnick:

So that’s what you mean, yeah, by lifting the veil. Mm-hmm (affirmative). So give us an example of maybe a practice that you might teach that would help someone to clear, maybe like a breathing technique we could even demonstrate now.

Renata Spironello:

Yeah. I mean, we have millions and thousands and thousands of combinations of breath, mantra, sound vibration, hand posture but something that is very simple and you’re going to see me saying this in many different interviews is a simple three-point breath. Inhale, hold the breath and then exhale. Inhale, hold the breath and exhale. Basically, what you’re doing and for people that goes to the gym and they understand a little bit of even how the muscle work because I’m also… I love that part of the physical body and the physiology, you have to do certain repetition depending if you want to be strong or you want to have a volume on your muscles, you use different techniques, right? So, we’re creating a pattern because the mind always follows the breath.

 

So, this is something for everybody to know. Your mind follows your breath. What is my breath doing? My mind is going to do it. If I’m breathing… because I’m anxious, my mind is going to do the same thing. If I’m breathing calmly and not calmly alone, but calmly but with a pattern where I’m taking a breath and it maybe takes 10 seconds or 10 counts, I hold that breath for 10 seconds or 10 counts and exhale for 10 either seconds or counts. You’re creating a rhythm in the brain. Your rhythm, the mind is following that rhythm. As you create the rhythm, you have that perspective. You have more clarity. So, a person can just… the easiest thing is either bring your hands in prayer pose or they can bring their hands in Gyan Mudra, thumb into the index finger. You can just rest your hand and then ideally you close your eyes and I’ll guide you for a couple of breaths in here. I’m just going to get my timer, and we can just do that everyday.

 

The point is that whatever you choose to do from the many, many tools you do it consistently because it’s like money. Especially people here that are into money. You don’t go to the bank… now cryptocurrency happens a little faster but normal investments, you put the money in there and you have to wait until you actually get the benefits. So, think of you working on yourself gradually and consistently so then you can actually get results. It’s not going to come overnight. Yes, you may get a relief of a temporary situation, like say you’re stressed out because you got a phone call that maybe somebody got fired or they have to fire somebody. That creates anxiety. You can calm that immediately but what we’re talking about, the deeper layers it takes deeper work, okay? Alright. So, close your eyes, keep your spine straight, keep your tongue touching the upper [crosstalk 00:36:38]-

Sharon Melnick003A

Yeah. Let’s all do it now. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Renata Spironello:

Yeah. Let’s do it together because the time is now. We’re creating the future in the present. So, with eyes closed and the spine, straight, feel a little pull in your belly so many people in the offices are leaving their belly hanging all day long because they’re sitting, so create a little pull to help lengthen the spine. Then gently, just exhale. Let air out of you through your nostrils. Everything is going to happen through the nostrils. And then very gently and slowly start inhaling through the nose. So you feel the air coming in. Feel oxygen coming in, bringing into your brain, inhaling a little more, expanding the belly, hoping that everything is expanding. You hold the breath now. Hold the breath in there. Keep your shoulders relaxed.

 

If you can, smile so your brain is receiving signal that it’s time to release good hormones. Then, you start gently and very slowly exhaling out of your nose. So, everything is coming out. You keep pressing the belly in so that all that is going out. This is difficult for so many people to let go and release just a few more seconds and then you again, start inhaling now gently. It’s slow in, in, in, in. So, it’s a continuous inhale, inhale. Then you hold the breath again, keeping the smile. If you want to pull the pelvic floor, for women it’s the vagina and the rectum, pulling it in.

 

Keeping the spine straight and the shoulders relaxed. Then very gently, out of your nose again, you start exhaling. And it’s like you’re emptying a balloon and you want it to be fully empty, empty, empty, empty, empty. The belly goes in to push the last drop out and then you take one breath in here. Deep one… Suspend the breath and then reach your hands above your head, stretch and then shake it off. Shake, shake, shake, shake.

Sharon Melnick:

When you laugh it disperses all that good energy throughout your body. I can’t tell you how much fun that was for me because usually I’m the one sort of giving trainings on dealing with stress and avoiding burnouts. So, I’m doing it and to be given to with your nurturing voice and knowledgeable approach, that really… and what you just demonstrated here is literally within 60 seconds, right? So we just did two kind of rounds of breath and how much of a difference it can make in accessing that power that we have within.

Renata Spironello:

Exactly. This is what people under estimate. People think that they have to go in a 20 days, a month vacation to get that. You can do the… we call the little Shabbat during the day. So, it’s not only Friday. You start during the day creating little two, three minutes during every hour maybe or every two hours. Put an alarm. It’s going to go long ways and people don’t believe it. So, for those of you that are skeptical, I’m a skeptical, just do it. If you don’t do it, you will never know. So, the worst thing to do is to try it and then you see what is going to happen. But I basically guarantee because it’s a physiology thing. It’s not even spiritual. Even though, yes, breath is life and life is connected to the creator, et cetera, et cetera, we are depending on the air.

 

We’re depending on the breath, and the mind is following that. So just few minutes, literally as you said, one minute because we took two rounds of 10 seconds of a three-point breath. So, it’s literally 60 seconds. You feel already much better. You can do throughout the times during the day and if there is a situation that happens immediately that takes you off your balance, instead of freaking out or going off on somebody, just lock yourself in the bathroom or somewhere you have privacy and then just stop for a minute. This is what is the most difficult thing for humans to really kind of apply something that is going to be good for them. They prefer being like, “Ahh, I feel like a…” Am I paying, am I pissed off with this whatever it is instead of taking a minute. If everybody understood that when they get upset, that when they’re angry, they’re basically injecting venom. You’re polluting your blood every time you get upset.

Sometimes it’s unavoidable but how fast do you bounce back into your center? So, it’s not about blaming people not being able to control themselves but let’s use our intention to bounce back quicker so that thing is not boiling in your blood and literally creating cancer cells, making your glow disappear because that’s what it does. When you’re upset, you’re angry, you lose that brightness. You lose that glow. And you can recover it very fast.

Sharon Melnick:

It’s just brilliant and it’s all about what you can do in the heat of the moment. That’s where you can find your power and in every new second that occurs, you can find it again. And you again [crosstalk 00:41:38]-

Renata Spironello:

Yeah. Your power is in controlling yourself. That’s your power. Your power is not controlling other people. It’s in controlling yourself. Because what you do is going to impact the other people. Maybe people will be even more kind of thrown off because they’re like, “Oh my gosh, this person is dealing with it so well,” that’s it’s going to make them think. So actually, your power is in controlling yourself.

Sharon Melnick:

And we say that when a woman is in her power, an executive is in his or her power, she raises everyone around her. This is such a good example of that because you’re sort of saying you raise your vibration and it sort of lifts everyone. One thing that I was really curious about connecting something that you said earlier is, you said something about power being in the navel and then when we were doing that breathing you said to really expand from your belly and to really expand, kind of letting all of that air, and you’re going to exhale, literally to exhale and to access kind of a next level vibration, you’re saying a higher level.

 

Can you tell us, because I want to start having you introduce to us the kind of practice that you do? I’ll let you tell us the name and tell us about it. Maybe tell us about the importance of the navel or how it connects to, whether it’s the divine, whether it’s the other parts of the body because what you’re talking about, it’s physical, it’s emotional, it’s spiritual and you’re talking about a practice that connects all of these. So, you practice a form of yoga called Naam yoga. So, it’s N-A-A-M. Naam yoga. It’s vast and it brings together all of these different dimensions, right? into an understanding and practices that you can have kind of across all of these levels. So, help us understand more about that.

Renata Spironello:

Yes. Well, Naam yoga as you said, N-A-A-M, means the word. We work with so many pillars within this practice. It’s not the yoga that people know, that is everywhere now in every corner and every gym. It’s a yoga that has a combination of divine spiritual wisdom, sound vibration, breath work and movement, all combined. So, you’re creating a platform for the person to stay in the present moment without having any second to go elsewhere. Particularly within the yogic practice of these very vast teachings, it’s something that is called Sukshma Vyayama.

 

Sukshma Vyayama is the practice that works in the subtle body. There is a body that you see, that we’re seeing here and then there is an invisible body that is nourishing the physical body. When you work in the invisible body, you’re strengthening your physical body to your maximum. If somebody really wants to experience their own power they have to come and practice with me. Anybody that is teaching Sukshma because I tell that it gives that power of lifting the car, a power that you don’t even… You feel like you’re going to take off because there is so, so much energy in this practice. We combine with sound vibration because the ear is connected to the nervous systems so you’re receiving vibrations, that is getting to your nervous system and anybody that is… It doesn’t matter how much they know about physiology, they know of fight and flight and rest and digest. Sympathetic nervous system, parasympathetic nervous system.

 

Constantly, most kind of trigger one is the sympathetic. It’s the fight and flight. We’re going. We’re going. We’re going. We’re going. We’re not giving that time for the body to relax. Our body only heals in a state of parasympathetic activation, like mode. You’re in the rest and digest. So, it doesn’t matter who you are and how much power you have, how much money you want or you already have, if you don’t work on those little Shabbats to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, you’re going to burn out, which is what you do, right? You’re talking to the people that are burning out. We need to continuously activate that, the same way we’re in automatic activation of the sympathetic nervous system. So having a continuously practice of Naam, of either meditating with sound, with breath or both. All combined. Breath, sound and movement, which is what we’re really promoting here, it will make it easier for you to go on those states of relaxation that is going to bring healing to you.

 

I remember when I first moved to New York and everybody is so busy, so busy, so busy. Then you’re getting into that mode of being so busy, so busy and that’s the normal. If you’re not so busy, it’s not a good reputation. I’m like, “No. We have to realize that eventually the body is going to stop you. It’s just a matter of time.” It’s just like a car. You keep pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing, eventually it’s going to create chaos. So, the Naam, Naam yoga, Sukshma Vyayama, these practices are practices that are working in the subtle part of you to sustain the physical part of you. To sustain this physical body. To give you the strength that you need, not just physical strength, but to give you the mental strength. The development of strength to be able to handle pressure because you’re able to handle inner pressure by some of the breaths we’re doing.

 

So, as I said in the beginning with the gym, you’re going to get your biceps, your buttocks, whatever you want it to be nice and hard and toned, you have to do the same with your breath so that you can train the mind and train the nervous system and train your entire being to sustain yourself and be able to face everything we’re facing, the pandemic, people that are having to deal with post-COVID or people that try not to get COVID. You need to do something about it. So, I highly, highly recommend this practice has kept me, my clients and many people… I actually had a couple of trainings, we had during the pandemic. So, we graduated a lot of teachers to be able to offer these in different parts of the world. So we are blessed to share this technique that is not known in the Western world.

 

People only know the yoga that you get your feet up, you do downward-facing dog, you do planks. This is something beyond and it’s something that the whole world should know because once you know, it’s yours. Once it’s yours you’re able to apply it every time you need in every different circumstances of life, from physical problem, from business problem, for all areas of life. The way he talks about the navel power that we’re just… to link it back to the beginning of your question, specifically this class, it is called Sukshma Vyayama, we’re tapping into the navel power doing a lot during the class because you do a lot of pumping in that area. So, you’re continuously kind of… When you’re knocking, knocking, knocking somebody, eventually when they’re there, they’re going to come out and say, “What’s up?” Right?

 

So, as we practice Sukshma Vyayama, we’re accessing that power and developing the access to it, which means that the more I train to it, it’s easier for me to reach it. It’s like one knock and then it’s out instead of having to knock it a million times. Because of the times that we’re living, you need to have that ready. You can’t go training for ten hours or…

Sharon Melnick:

Be able to access your power. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Renata Spironello:

You’re not going to be ready the first knock, it should be there. Yeah, I mean, I can speak about it for hours because it’s something that if it hadn’t sustained me, I wouldn’t be able to talk the way I talk because I talk with caution, because I know it works. I know, in my body, I’ve seen my clients and students around the world. It doesn’t matter the culture. If they’re from Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, all over the world, and it doesn’t matter the culture, the language, the level of money and power that they have, it works across the board because everybody has a subtle body that needs to be worked on.

Sharon Melnick:

If you’re human, Naam yoga can help you to access that power. So, can you just tell us, if I’m listening and I’m like, “I’ve got to access my power through Naam yoga,” how can I find this online or locally for me? Tell us more.

Renata Spironello:

Yes. I think the easiest thing is if you follow… There are several things. Of course, Dr. Levry is the founder of Naam yoga. He is an amazing, amazing individual to get to meet one day. So, for sure, I would follow Dr. Levry’s work. He’s on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn. He’s everywhere.

Sharon Melnick:

That’s Dr. Joseph Michael Levry. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Renata Spironello:

Yes. So, it’s Joseph Michael and then Levry is L-E-V-R-Y. That’s where you get the direct link for that and there’s so many, many tools that is open, is out there for people to access. He has several books that is highly recommended from Alchemy of Love Relationships, for health, for physical strength. He has it all.

Sharon Melnick:

And online courses.

Renata Spironello:

We have online courses, yes. We have a wealth, a wealth of courses. We have over 40 different trainings that people can take for themselves, to help other people. There is the healing aspect of it. So content wealth of wisdom, if you’re looking for authentic wisdom and this is something that I want to clarify. It’s not the new age things. It’s not all of these courses that people take on the weekend and next weekend they’re so connected that there’re millions of followers but they don’t really have the real authentic thing. If you’re looking for superficial, go to those people but if you’re looking for authentic teachings, this is it. This is it and I’ve been around for 20 years now and I’ve seen all sort of things and people always ended up coming and then… We call it the last stop.

Sharon Melnick:

Right. Change and power at the level of your souls, at the level of your DNA, at the level of kind of your karma from intergenerational to what you’re carrying forward. So those resources can be accessed at www.naamyoga.com. N-A-A-Myoga.com. That’s where many of those resources that Renata was talking about. I want to end similarly with a kind of a “testimonial,” if you will, which is the very, very first time that I walked into a Naam yoga class, which was had to be almost 15 years ago, in New York City, like you were referencing and it was literally the first day that Naam yoga was being offered in the studio, I was being called at the very first Wednesday night class and I walked in and I sat down. I’d just moved to New York and I knew that I needed something that was going to ground me and give me power to be intentional in who I wanted to be, just like you were saying, that the attendees were doing some kind of energy movements and flailing their arms around and doing breathe work, I looked around and I… true story, and I said to myself like, “If my friends could see me now, this is kind of weird looking, not my everyday yoga class.” Then true, no joke, I looked at you Renata and I saw Courtney Miller sitting right near to you and I said to myself, “I’ll have what she’s having.” And I said, “If I have to do this kind of breathing in and out or whatever it takes in order to look like that and radiate like that, count me in,” and I’ve been counted in for all these years since then.

 

That’s why it was so important to have you sharing your wisdom. Renata, you are a master teacher. You are an inspiration. You embody the mission and the beauty and the power. Thank you so much for being a guest on the Power Shift Podcast.

Renata Spironello:

You are beautiful and bright and radiating love and I know you’re helping so many people. Thank you for having me here. Continue to do the great work. We’re here to serve you and to serve everybody that wants to be served because you can’t… I can only take the donkey to the water but you can’t-

Sharon Melnick:

You have to want the power. Someone wise said that today on the Power Shift Podcast.

Renata Spironello:

Yes. So come and join us and we’re here to serve you. Thank you so much. It was an honor to be here and serve you and I pray it helps you and everybody that listens to us.

Sharon Melnick:

I’ll see you in class. Thank you, Renata.

Renata Spironello:

Thank you.

The Power Shift podcast is all about redefining the idea of “power” and how women use it for good, not with the traditional idea of force. Listen to thought-provoking and practical interviews to help listeners understand power from every angle– how a person gets ‘in her power’, how power works in the workplace, and how power can shift.
Host Dr. Sharon Melnick is a business psychologist who’s a best-selling author, speaker, and sought-after executive coach who helps women executives be an intentional Culture Carrier in their organizations and helps women get promoted to next level opportunities. Because every woman in her power is a Change Agent!
You can listen to The Power Shift Podcast with Dr. Sharon Melnick here at these links:

The Power Shift Podcast – The Power of Women in Technology with David Leighton

Sharon Melnick:

Welcome, David Leighton to The Power Shift Podcast. I want to get started by really understanding how you came to be on here today. You are a pioneer in the field of women’s quality and equity. Tell us the story of how it started for you. It’s personal for you.

David Leighton:

Thank you. I was born into it because when I was first year in college, my mom had a research company. She got a big contract at the same time I got offered a job in Downtown LA and it was to do research for her. So that’s how I started working in this space, that eventually led to WITI. We were doing at the time, research for companies to identify people with core competencies in different areas and then they wanted you to build business partnership with them, hire them, buy their companies, that type of thing.

In ’89 when the term glass ceiling was first coined in the U.S. News & World Report magazine, the conversation at the time, they were talking about women approaching 50% of the workforce yet such a small fraction of management and upper management positions. Many of the women, my mom had been dealing with Carolyn and our clients would just share some of the challenges they were having or just some of the frustrations.

A lot of our clients, they were more tech leaders so they were just disappointed because they wanted to work on the cool technology they had been studying for years. At the same time, the companies were having trouble finding people so it just didn’t make sense. So really what we felt we wanted to do and really what Carolyn’s vision was just to open up the conversations.

We saw because HP Labs was an early company client of us before we started WITI and one thing that always impressed us when you’d go through the halls of HP Labs, they’d have focus groups, they’d have different people of different colors and genders and some were doctors looking at technology and how they were going to use it for the next five years or five, 10 years. That’s really what we wanted to bring into WITI. It’s about diversity of thought. It’s not about helping the poor women, it’s about understanding that this is a value to your business when you can create a culture that works for everybody, the company is going to win.

Yeah, so WITI started out very grassroots. I landed a client for us, a company called Borland that was a small software company in the Santa Cruz mountains and I worked with Philippe to help build Borland right when they bought Quattro Pro or Surpass became the Quattro Pro Spreadsheet. Grew Borland till ’95 when Philippe left. We used that to fund WITI for the first five years when we had our own conference and there was a business model themselves. I went on, I worked with Marc Benioff then when he was at Oracle still in his last project there and helped with some of the search. I helped my mom grow WITI and my brother was involved too. Had been at CNET at the time and learned how to build distributed databases and contact management systems. So that’s how things evolved into WITI.

Sharon Melnick:

Powerful mom made it a family affair. Inspired her two sons, let alone lots of people in the Valley.

David Leighton:

Exactly. I always helped and supported her. As things built up, the dot-com growth happened and WITI grew. There were a couple of CEOs brought into WITI right when things were peaking but then the downturn happened and then the next one with 9/11. So we were at a point then of rebuilding and looking at what some of the deeper things were in infrastructure and business models that we could create were. So we just continued to grow and fast forward to last year once COVID happened, that really made a big shift in our business which we’re pretty excited about. It enabled us to step back for a minute, really give support to our members around the world and have close contact to find out what they needed.

I think by mid-May, we had our Wellbeing Center up, we had different programs to connect our members. Just started working with a new partner, Salesforce and that forced us to really look at our business, look at what companies needed as a lot of the things that happened over the summer with George Floyd and some of the social issues. I think companies now are really looking at how can they authentically shift to support the next generation of people in the world. I think the next generation, the Gen-Zers, they’re not going to want to work for companies, do business with companies that aren’t aligning with their core values. I think when we can create that and have alignment with core values with our team, we’re going to get the most out of our people and we’ll have effective businesses.

Sharon Melnick:

Yeah. And accountability. So you have a vantage point from being involved so early in this conversation. We’d love to hear from you what’s been the evolution in the conversation that you’re saying now it’s more the input of the Gen-Z’s, you’re saying it’s holding companies accountable and really being able to make an impact with their values. But what’s evolved overtime and what’s interesting to be on the lookout for going forward?

David Leighton:

Yeah. I think that we started WITI, our first conference in ’95. Everybody said, “Oh, you’ll have a couple 100 people.” We had a few thousand, right?

At that point too, technology was the big equalizer. As long as you knew your tech, you were good and we had built up the conference. In the late 90s, I saw a shift where a lot of the tech companies started bringing in more of these administrators to oversee some of the diversity goals but more from a numbers administrative standpoint. The big companies, many of them who would have a 45, 40 booth, showing off their technology, building relationships with our community would then just have a table with two recruiters there collecting resumes.

I think that whole shift where it was the tech industry was growing up, they felt maybe that some of these things, there were certainly government regulations where they have to talk to a certain amount of people, blah, blah, blah. That’s I think what shifted to the in late 90s, early 2000s and had continued till still goes on in a lot of places. I think as the data improves, I mentioned we’re having Michelle Bailey as the new CEO of WITI by the time, I think anybody listens to this. She is a research fellow in GVP and IDC. We feel that we’ve done a lot with the data, we started working with René Redwood when she was the executive director of the Glass Ceiling Commission under President Clinton in the mid-90s. We worked with her to write the technology piece of that and get the technology companies involved.

Sharon Melnick:

Amazing. What is the data showing you? What is the conclusion?

David Leighton:

Well it shows us a lot. It shows us that one of the key findings was that women will stay at their job 1.4 years longer than their male counterparts. You look at that just from a monetary standpoint, that’s a huge opportunity for companies to have longevity with their employees. I think we’re seeing movement with Nasdaq with their announcement December first that they’re going to want every Nasdaq listed company to have at least one woman and another diverse candidate on their board. If not, they just need to write a letter explaining why that’s not appropriate for them but again, this about Nasdaq put that in place because they get that companies with diversity of thought are going to be good investments in longevity for companies and for their investors.

Sharon Melnick:

Right, research shows that.

David Leighton:

Instead, they’re helping the women and if you go to the SEC page, there’s all these negative things about the disasters that are going to happen. Again, it’s really about creating a more effective, more diversity of thought so you can have more innovation with your products, delivery, supply chain, et cetera.

Sharon Melnick:

Yeah, and match products to your consumer base. Right. Has the nature of the conversation changed? Are the levers different now because now you’re saying, “So this has changed, it’s coming from the top, it’s coming from the regulators, it’s coming from public opinion.” Is that having a difference? You are in such a valuable position to share with us and to make an impact because you’re really in there talking with leaders of companies and you’re talking to the women who are in the companies, on the front lines. What’s the nature of the conversation, how has it been shifting?

David Leighton:

I still think there’s a lot of lip service out there.

Sharon Melnick:

Yeah.

David Leighton:

I think companies are trying to shift. I think a lot don’t know what to do. We’re committed to no lip service, no window dressing and if companies are interested in working with us or in any of these things, let’s see how much money they’re investing in it. You have many of these companies saying, “Oh, let’s give 10 grand to this group and 10,000 to that group.” When it’s a joke when you look at the size of these billion dollar corporations and they’re just trying to help out the groups and show that they’re… I don’t know what they’re trying to show.

Sharon Melnick:

Right, check a box but not real commitment.

David Leighton:

Right. When in fact, when I was doing my searches for Borland and for all my clients, I’d go out and find the people I wanted. For our members, I try to show them and Sharon, since our last clubhouse show, we have a new rule. No one’s allowed to justify why they’re a tech innovator because that’s what we hear, I think. I remember we could have two people with the same skillset, a man and a woman. The man saying they’re a tech savvy blah, blah, blah. Many of the women that we hear, “Oh, I’m not really too technical.” We have to change that vernacular, we have to give them the confidence and the language to use because I think a lot of this is just-

Sharon Melnick:

And really own their talents

David Leighton:

Yeah.

Sharon Melnick:

Is that what you mean by that?

David Leighton:

Yes. Look, where tech is now, it’s not necessarily if I can’t do it with tech, is it my fault or did the tech companies, have they not created something that’s allowing to express myself, right?

Sharon Melnick:

Well let’s get into that a little bit actually because this is something that I’m sure you hear amongst your membership. I’m a member as well so I hear this amongst my fellow members and I hear this from my clients all the time. I think there’s a little bit of a vicious cycle. You know I’m a business psychologist so I think about it this way. I think we internalize the projections onto us which is maybe that we don’t belong or we know that blind ratings of women coding for example is that their coding is qualitatively better. Let’s just say that in men, it’s not needing to be better but just that it’s excellent but when women come to rating themselves and when others rate them, lower quality even though objectively speaking.

So, it’s just an example of the way that women have internalized this projection and then we can show up is what you’re saying. Not owning it, not going for that next level role, not maybe presenting ourselves in that way and then we might not get that next opportunity or make the impact or get the buy in. Then it’s like, there’s not enough of those women who can do that or “she needs to step up in terms of her competence.” I just think it’s a snarl, and it’s a vicious cycle. What do you hear and what’s the conversation in the companies? Are they aware of this, are you helping them do something about it?

David Leighton:

Yeah. I think a lot of them are in denial. We’re trying to help them shift. Some want to go this some of this technology where you don’t see the other person.

Sharon Melnick:

Right. Like an orchestra tryout study. Right.

David Leighton:

Right. There’s advantages to hiring a woman, why aren’t you looking at that? Who’s your market? I think we’re starting to see a shift. I think communities like WITI and the many others around the world to give people the support. I coach many of our members just on their job search strategies and our game plan with my people that I coach are let’s figure out what companies you’re interested in working for and then let’s find out who the person is to talk to there and then let’s have a conversation. So, it’s not this put in a resume, an application process.

Right now, you can get with anybody to build relationships. We use the power of WITI to then they’ll answer a call. We have an intern program too, I work with our interns. If they’re interested in working at Microsoft, I have them in charge of the Microsoft speaker for our summit so they can build a relationship.

Sharon Melnick:

Amazing. What a competitive advantage to be a member of WITI. This is a perk that you get so listen up here. I want to go back to something that you said when you said, “Well they’re in denial.” I’m just curious, can we slow that down a little bit and just understand what really is the conversation that you’re having with leaders. I presume corporate members or prospective members or maybe just hearing from your individual members. What is actually said? What is the code, what does it mean, what do you say in response, how does that go because you’re in the room. You’re in the room where it happens so tell us more about that so we really understand this phenomenon because it’s at the moment of when minds meet hearts that we’re open to change. So tell us more.

David Leighton:

Yeah. Look, my mom turned 80 a couple of weeks ago. Just with all the data, with Michelle coming on, with all the things that we’ve looked at. With these companies, I just can’t have them wasting our time anymore. Chris Voss is a friend in a men’s group I’m in. So I don’t know if you’re familiar with Chris.

Sharon Melnick:

Yeah, sure. The negotiator, yeah.

David Leighton:

Yeah. So his thing is as soon as possible, figure out if you can do business or not do business. Get rid of them. So I used to listen to these companies go on and on about how much they want to do this and how much they want to do that. We have a $10,000 cheque or something. I know what they’re paying the useless recruiting firms, the Randstad’s, these others. So either they’re going to be serious about it, look at it strategically or they’re just spinning their wheels and eventually their competitors will catch up, companies that get it will take them on. I don’t know, time will tell.

Sharon Melnick:

Got it. So the conversation is back to the lip service but then the actual actions don’t match that.

David Leighton:

Right. I mean we’re starting to see it now. Like Salesforce, we have our she.WITI.com hub in five languages. We have Hebrew, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and English. They get and Salesforce is an amazing leader. They want to build. We’re working with them to get more women and underrepresented groups familiar with their technology so that their customer base will have a great, diverse group of candidates to go into, to join them and that we can help them get into those companies. For Salesforce itself, we work with them on some hiring level things around the globe.

Sharon Melnick:

Amazing. And enjoy pay equity once they’re at Salesforce because they’ve been a leader in that. Absolutely amazing. Can I go a little bit deeper with this because you’re able to have an experience that I for example, am not able to have. You can be in those rooms and it can be mano a mano or maybe you’re dealing with a woman leader but you’re in that. You bring that experience and perspective into those conversations. Can you help me understand something that I might not have visibility into. What is the mindset, what is the understanding, the assumptions, the unwritten pressures that men might experience and you’re one of them yourself so anything that you want to share that you are aware of.

David Leighton:

I think it’s comfort, people being around each other, hiring friends, right? That’s what we do, we have our communities. I think if companies are interested. So, from a white man perspective, I guess I see that. Growing up in LA with my mom who had worked, and my mom and dad got divorced early in my life. So just the fact that women couldn’t do something, I was on the first school year that was bust in LA in the different community. I guess a lot of this stuff is so foreign to me and then as I started working with the Borland’s of the world, we didn’t care if they were a man, woman, green, brown, if they could code Windows 3.0, we’re getting them.

So, it wasn’t really till I saw I feel a lot of these numbers driven programs going in. We continued to see the high growth of women owned businesses and startup, right? Not because they’re flying here from Mars because this is human capital that if the companies don’t shift, these are amazing people. They could be hiring but then there’s issues in the companies, they don’t have the right culture, the hit manager, director and bail.

Sharon Melnick:

Right. And actually, you’re probably familiar with this but Working Mother had this report that came out in summer of 2020. They found that 50% of multicultural women report that they want to leave their company within two years. So yeah, that’s a serious statistic about attrition.

David Leighton:

Yeah it is. So, I think companies have to look at it because again, this is just talent they are losing and if they want to shift it. Men, me and people that look like me started the corporate structure. It was all built on how we work and compete. Fast forward then it was 50/50, I’m expecting you to excel in how I work. So now I’m stifling your growth and as a company, I’m getting 70% of half of my people because I’m not allowing them to be fully self-expressed in how they work. If we can remove that, it’s like they’re getting an extra 100 employees or whatever, right? So yeah, I think is we can show them the data, get them to start understanding the bottom-line value, we go to a lot of the industries. We haven’t even talked about who’s buying the cars or who’s opening the bank accounts, right? It’s a no brainer.

Sharon Melnick:

That seems to be the default argument and I don’t mean default in a critical or weak way because it is a powerful business case, right? When you think about who the buyer is and we know that the ROI increases, the more a certain threshold of number of women leaders in companies. So it’s certainly grow the pie, there’s something in it for everyone. So we go to this argument but is there any other lens on this, is there any other way to approach the conversation because I know plenty of leaders who have tried to make this business case and it seems to get caught in that trap of the lip service to good intentions cliff. So is there anything just from your own experience because you’re working with corporate members and you’re really making a dent in the industry. So, is there any other approach that our listeners learn from your experience?

David Leighton:

Well yeah. Look, don’t let anything stop you. I could go through a million times where like, “Forget WITI or it’s whatever.” Get past it. We’re in our virtual world, you could do a lot with a little, right? ‘I can’t’ is a statement not a fact. So, think about how you’re using that, think about how you’re using ‘because’ to justify what you just said because you’re not confident about it, right? So I think for entrepreneurs, it’s a golden time. There’s a lot of things changing with the new climate, the new environment just around the human capital issues. A lot of the companies may not be around and I think it’s going to create some new opportunity. So it’s an exciting time.

Just back to the earlier question, I’m going to go on a little tangent. I think data. We need to show them data. Having Michelle come on, I think it’s going to help us be taken more seriously, help companies really see we don’t want them to help the poor women, we want to help them make more money, have happier, more engaged employees.

Sharon Melnick:

Right. Always big picture, what’s in it for everyone.

David Leighton:

Yeah. And then I think-

Sharon Melnick:

And then you take it out of the zero sum game arena, yeah.

David Leighton:

Yeah. Because as we’ve been looking at a lot of these things with a lot of our new enterprise clients, they’re spending all the money anyway. They can spend less if they look at a strategic plan. They’re having these diversity consultants. Many of them could be part of the problem but is the right hand know what the left hand’s doing? There’s so many women leading technology efforts that are buyers of technology. Well if the VP of sales is doing that and wants to create a program to engage them and then the company is also trying to hire more women, what if we could wrap it into a program that gets their brand out there and helps them build relationships with the community, right? Because I look at everything we do, I don’t look at it as a recruiting thing or a sales pitch. All we are is conduits for relationship building.

Sharon Melnick:

Yeah.

David Leighton:

One of the relationship step, whether you want to work there now as we work with the companies to say who’s not going to want to go to this company when they have all these programs in place, the employees are inspired, everybody is engaged. For the companies, “There’s not enough women, I can’t get them.” Then they’re basically putting the job postings on job boards and then hoping things come through. You’re not serious, right? I’m sure, right? Whatever-

Sharon Melnick:

Okay.

David Leighton:

Yeah.

Sharon Melnick:

This is so good. This is juicy because I think that this an observation of what’s really going on and what needs to be said. So I want you to go into that a little bit deeper and I just want to say that we’re here on the Power Shift Podcast and I think what you’re talking about, this is what power is. The power to go and start your own company and get funding and bring something disruptive to the market. Power is when you can create a culture where your people are inspired at every step of the way and where you are not operating in silos and there’s a coordinated strategic effort in wanting to create a culture in which people bring their discretionary effort and innovate. It seems to me like that’s power, right? When you’re talking about how you’re helping companies to tap into that.

So can you say a little bit more about that because you’re talking about a paradigm shift. It’s not a program here, a program there that’s all fragmented but that companies really have to understand the opportunity here. So what is the opportunity as you see it and as you provide with WITI.

David Leighton:

I think the ultimate opportunity is to make the world a better place, have corporate environments that celebrate, create a sense of belonging for everybody.

Sharon Melnick:

Amen to all of that.

David Leighton:

That translates and everybody sees the stock going up, right?

Sharon Melnick:

Amen.

David Leighton:

If they’re a public company, they shouldn’t be hiring women if it’s not good for the business. They’re public companies, they need to do what’s good for the shareholders, right? I think that’s power, I think it’s confidence, it’s being true to your core values and it’s really inspiring those that you lead to get rid of anything that them telling themselves that they’re not a leader and they don’t need to have power.

Sharon Melnick:

I love that and you’re saying that’s what leadership is, is to get other people to believe in themselves because they’re inspired by the vision and they want to climb the hill with you and they want to bring their best and it makes them believe and you’re helping them to believe in themselves to do it. That’s optimism and we know certainly during this time when everyone’s worn out, right? That actually and research showed this. I know because I did a lot of training on this for teens during this whole time of trauma and stress is that realistic optimism is the frame of mind that actually helps people the most to access that positive state of mind, that can do spirit, believing in themselves and then they can innovate and connect and all the things that you’re talking about. You’re saying that leaders have enough power. Leaders have the power to create that weather on the team.

David Leighton:

Yes, definitely.

Sharon Melnick:

Go ahead. This is a little bit my premise actually. Power can be anywhere or everywhere, right? Not in the hands of other people at the top. Go ahead.

David Leighton:

I’m a big believer in you choose what you get. So, choose powerfully and all this ‘I can’t’ and everything else. That’s all just the doubt and ways that you’re holding yourself back, right? I think power is definitely something you want to empower our community into having so that they know they’re going to go in with confidence whether it’s the deal they want to get, the job they want to get. They’re going to have another person from our community that has their back to mentor them or connect with them or that type of thing.

Sharon Melnick:

Great to do it in sisterhood, it’s so important these days. Tell us a little bit more about WITI. What are you hearing from your members? What’s the buzz on the street for Women In Technology these days.

David Leighton:

Yeah, I don’t know if I can. I’ll tell you what I hear. I think people are definitely getting a little zoomed out with events. We’re definitely trying to create more interaction, give people opportunities to connect and get away from Zoom. We have a coaching leadership walk, I think twice a month where you’re not allowed to be on Zoom, right? I think it’s an exciting time. I think shifting a lot of new technologies we’re starting to get involved with WITI. We just launched our agriculture technology, Ag-tech community and Ag-bio and food tech. There’s a ton of opportunity there for tech companies for our members that work in analytics or other areas for people that want to learn those things. So, with home gardenings and things too, a lot of that increased during the pandemic.

Sharon Melnick:

Yes, I’m in for that one. I did.

David Leighton:

You did? Yeah. Look, for us it’s really been reset. How can we now look at the future and give everybody the best information, the best opportunities, the best connections and relationships so they can get whatever they want.

Sharon Melnick:

What’s really amazing is that your community is vast and international. You’re around the world. Tell us about that and what are you hearing from your chapters abroad and is there connections between people domestically and internationally? What an incredible opportunity for members.

David Leighton:

No, it’s great. We’ve been doing some pretty cool things. So WITI Egypt, Marianne… Her name jumped out of my head. She’s Egyptian and part of our WITI. Kirkland, sorry, Marianne Kirkland. She’s Egyptian and part of our WITI Tampa Bay team and then she’s also helping WITI Egypt get their network going. So we’re doing a lot of connections like that especially like mentoring with India and some of the smaller villages. They’re having a tough time now so we’re also with them.

Sharon Melnick:

Yeah, definitely a tragedy there.

David Leighton:

Yeah. So people that came out, how can we connect them now with these virtual environments? Yeah, I think if we ever had to have a pandemic, it was a good time for it with Zoom, Netflix, a lot of the things that we take for granted now and just using that to how can we strategically use this time to get who we want whether it’s a speaker for a conference, somebody I wanted to get connected to whose usually always traveling, right?

Sharon Melnick:

Right.

David Leighton:

So we’re trying to just do skillsets. We’re working with some digital marketing, how can we train our members so they can always work.

Sharon Melnick:

Great.

David Leighton:

On the Central Coast where I live, there’s the Digital NEST. How can we bring technology to some of these areas? Yeah, I think it’s just an exciting time now. We’re coming out of it, we lost so many people. It’s horrible but we’ve got to move forward.

Sharon Melnick:

Yeah, absolutely. Really exciting all these initiatives that you’re talking about and women are centrally involved and leading some of these initiatives and learning the tech and you’re creating a future there.

David Leighton:

Yeah, no. It’s good. Sorry, I came away from what you’d originally asked. When we’re doing these Japan events or WITI Australia, it’s usually about 50% people in that country now, 25% of expats from the country and then another 25% from around the world. We do a lot of just Zoom networking events where you just get tossed in a room with three people you may not have walked up to at an event.

Sharon Melnick:

Right.

David Leighton:

Right? So yeah, there’s some interesting new things. I think you just have to have a positive attitude and leverage it as best as you can.

Sharon Melnick:

I could see positive innovation coming just from those forced hallway chats that you’re creating in those Zoom rooms. That’s amazing and people are looking for that new and that inspiration so I love for you to tell me more about where I can participate in those. Really, you’ve been visionary as a leader of WITI. I think it’s amazing how vast your reach is literally around the world and how you have so many talented and enthusiastic women coming together in sisterhood. You and the corporate development at the leadership level talking to leaders in companies and really helping them to understand the power that they have access to by partnering with WITI.

David Leighton:

Yes, thank you. We’re working hard to make it happen.

Sharon Melnick:

David Leighton, thank you so much for coming as a guest on the Power Shift Podcast.

David Leighton:

Thank you Sharon, it was great to be here and great to see you and I appreciate it. If anything WITI can do for you or any of your community, please don’t hesitate to check us out.

Sharon Melnick:

Thank you so much. Tell us for existing WITI members or people who are in the field who want to learn more and be a part of this excitement. What’s coming up with WITI?

David Leighton:

We are having our 27th annual Women in Technology Summit June 22nd through the 24th. We’ll be virtual for the 2nd year. We are going to have the Hall of Fame this year and the 25th Anniversary Hall of Fame virtually. One really cool thing we’re excited about for this year’s summit is first of all, we’re going to have an amazing conversation about equity and data, and how data affects a lot of the decisions companies are making and how we’re transforming data.

We’re also having an APAC part of the summit. So the APAC part’s going to happen for two hours then they’ll be an hour of networking that’s going to be a post APAC and pre-North America. So there’s going to be just you’re going to be Zoom networking with people from around the world and getting thrown into random rooms. So they’ll be an hour of that and then we get into the summit. So yeah, just really excited.

This will be the third virtual summit we’ve done and it’s good, we’re getting pretty creative and everybody seems to be learning a lot, making great connections and having a great time.

Sharon Melnick:

Count me in, I’ll be there. WITI women creating the future. Thank you so much.

David Leighton:

Thanks so much Sharon. Have a great rest of your evening.

Sharon Melnick:

Yeah. I really, really appreciate your perspective. So you’re really doing great things. Thanks for taking us into the room with you and telling us about those conversations because those conversations with leaders is where real change can happen.

David Leighton:

Definitely.

Sharon Melnick:

Thank you so much.

 

The Power Shift podcast is all about redefining the idea of “power” and how women use it for good, not with the traditional idea of force. Listen to thought-provoking and practical interviews to help listeners understand power from every angle– how a person gets ‘in her power’, how power works in the workplace, and how power can shift.
Host Dr. Sharon Melnick is a business psychologist who’s a best-selling author, speaker, and sought-after executive coach who helps women executives be an intentional Culture Carrier in their organizations and helps women get promoted to next level opportunities. Because every woman in her power is a Change Agent!
You can listen to The Power Shift Podcast with Dr. Sharon Melnick here at these links:

The Power Shift Podcast – The Power of Creatives in Tech with Julie Bonner

Dr. Sharon Melnick

Julie Bonner is the Marketing Director for FreeFall Aerospace, which develops intelligent antenna systems for space and 5G. She’s currently active as the Co-Chair of the Arizona Technology Council’s Women in the Workforce. She’s also a fine artist and helps organize Creative Mornings Tucson. Julie Bonner, welcome to the Power Shift Podcast.

Julie Bonner:

Thank you, Sharon, for having me today. I’m excited to talk with you more.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

So, let’s just kind of get started with some context here. So, you’re a woman leader and as we’re going to talk about in a pretty male dominated environment, so what does it mean to you to be in your power? Like what does power mean to you?

Julie Bonner:

Power, to me, means when I am performing or speaking or communicating and it feels effortless almost. I think of it also, I’m an athlete. I play tennis. So, I think of it is feeling as like in the zone. So, I feel the most powerful when I am using my strengths and it feels not like work. It feels really good and it also actually inspires others.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

You know, it’s a really good definition of being in your power, and I hear that from a lot of professionals. It’s like that flow, that effortlessness, and it gives you a sense of energy. Love that.

Julie Bonner:

Yes, and it always feels good to be in your power.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

Right. That’s what we’re here for. Right? Is to kind of redefine power because a lot of times, and in particular if I talk to women leaders about power, sometimes one of the first things I hear is like, “Oh, I don’t want power.” We think of it as that kind of forcing other people. It’s something that like a few people have at the top of the organization and everyone else is sort of disgruntled facing it. So, what are the experiences that you have coming up through the ladder or maybe in your organizations around like power and your experience of it?

Julie Bonner:

I feel like I have a pretty diverse career where I’ve worked in-house as an art director for two different national chains, but I also went back and got my Master’s in Business and had my own business for 10 years. Then a few years ago went back in-house again. So, I can relate to I’m sure many of your listeners, whether they work in-house or have their own business. There’s different feelings of power. But one thing that I bring to organizations now through my experience, I think, of almost running my own business is that I am very self-motivated. I figure out what I’m going to do that day, what our goals are, and that makes me feel powerful. I also believe in my abilities, and at the end of the day, I feel really good about what I accomplished. So, to me, it’s a very powerful feeling. Then, what I’m doing on a daily basis helps the companies I’m working for. So, whether it’s in-house for that big chain, or it was all of my clients when I had my own graphic design business. Using my power the right way, not only made me happy, but it made them happy.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

Yeah.

Julie Bonner:

Win-win. Yeah.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

Absolutely. It’s been a theme that we’ve talked about on the Power Shift Podcast, and especially last week’s episode where what you’re talking about is like that motivation, that pride that you bring to it. It’s like every one of your employees potentially, like there’s such a, kind of a massive collective source of power. When leaders think of it in terms of like, “I’m the one who has power and I have to do the thinking for everyone.” It’s like your choice, like a total missed opportunity, right? When you have people like you, who are kind of ready to bring all of you. One thing that you just talked about here is being a creative and now you’re in a very technical…  We’re going to talk about that in a minute. You’re literally like at an engineering role putting antennas in space. What is it like being a creative maybe when you’re kind of not a part of the majority culture let’s say, and it’s just another form of diversity dimension?

Julie Bonner:

Definitely. So, I can for a fact say that if FreeFall Aerospace when I started, not only was I the only female, but also, I’m the only one with a creative background. So basically, everyone else at my company is an engineer. So, you’d think that that would be so different, but one thing I can tell you, because my background is as a graphic designer. Graphic designers are problem-solvers, just like engineers are, and we want to communicate things in a better way. So visually, verbally, we want things to be clear and you hone that down. It reminds me of the engineering process, having a prototype and a concept, and then working it and then having a mock two version and then testing it. So, there actually is more similarities than you’d realize between kind of these engineers, and then me than I would have known. I didn’t know that coming in.

You don’t know exactly what to expect, but I was lucky because Doug Stetson, who’s the CEO of FreeFall Aerospace, I actually worked with him as a contractor in the beginning. That is a fantastic way to see if you like working with someone, and I did. Because he was really good at communicating what their needs were, and I was really good at taking that and using my business background along with my design background and helping them rebrand and then create new marketing materials. Fast forward when he brought up, “Hey, I really value how you helped us. You went above and beyond what I had asked you to do. Would you ever think of coming to work for FreeFall?” I just hadn’t even thought about it, and then I was like, “Wow, like here’s a client, he was a client, that I really enjoyed working with values what I do.” He is the reason that I went in-house with FreeFall Aerospace, for feeling valued, and then I could help what they were trying to do.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

So, what you’re saying there is that the way that he interacted with you actually enabled you to bring forth all of that power that you have to bring. Right? All that creative juice, and all of that motivation. Like I’m sure listeners are just nodding their heads saying what an interesting pathway to get to where you are to be in a company. So, we want to hear more about that. I just wanted to ask you before you maybe talk about your role as an engineer and as a woman leader, you were the Innovator of the Year Startup Company in 2019, and out of curiosity, what do you do?

Julie Bonner:

What does FreeFall Aerospace do? FreeFall is developing new antenna technology for space and also ground and terrestrial communications. So that basically means it’s a new hardware that’s being developed. It actually came out of the University of Arizona and they went through a incubator program, and that’s when I got connected. They knew about my branding background, and then I connected with them to help get the word out about what they’re doing. Fast forward, this telecommunication technology will help move data quicker. So, from space back to earth and back, and then also we have a branch called FreeFall 5G that is developing new antennas for 5G. So, for cell servicing, and speeding up that more data, that’s the name of the game right now. So, it’s new technology developing right here in Tucson, Arizona.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

Wow. Mind blowing. Okay. Well, that’s just helpful as context. So, we have a good understanding how you came into the company. So, you said then you were the only woman. Yes? Is that right when you came into the company?

Julie Bonner:

Yes.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

So, what was that like? I mean, there’s many women who even to this day are still the only, whether they’re the only woman or maybe the only woman of color on teams. We probably know many women including yourself who are in that situation and the sense of isolation and the sense of how you can second guess yourself. We know from the McKinsey Report year after year that this is stressful and puts an extra kind of burden on the woman to create those teachable moments. We’ll talk about that. So just, what was it like for you? Then we’ll hear your journey.

Julie Bonner:

I think I was fortunate that I had the experience of working with Doug solely for a while, as a contractor, and realizing that if I were to work with them, he would be the one I would be working with. So, I feel like a head start that sometimes women don’t always have when they’re applying to a new job and they look on the team page and there’s no other women that would be daunting. But I think I had already built a good communicative relationship with him. So, I feel like I was fortunate to start that way, and then through team meetings, I got to know the other engineers. I’d have to say, I’m not a very shy person. So, I feel that I exerted myself pretty quickly and I ask a lot of questions and I wanted to learn because I don’t come from the science and engineering background.

You know, I come from a creative graphic design and business background. So, I think a tip would be for anyone coming in is something like that though is just start asking questions and talking to them. They quickly realize that I was there to help the company to communicate this really technical stuff they’re doing. But to make it in an easier… How would I say this? I don’t want to say dumb it down, but make it so the general population could understand a little bit better about what we’re doing and for whom and why. So, we became a team very quickly so I feel fortunate. I do want to bring up prior, I had worked for a different company for a short period. It was actually, I had a female boss and I thought that was going to be fantastic, and you just, that’s the thing you never know.

One thing I realized, and I think it helped me appreciate what happened with Doug even more was that she just couldn’t relate to my creative background. So, I remember helping a company with a logo and I was at my desk sketching, which is, my background is also fine artist. So, I was sketching first before I go to the computer. That’s how my best ideas come out. She walked by and she’s like, “What are you doodling?” and I was like, “No, I’m helping brand this company that reached out to us that they need all this, dah, dah, dah.” You know, and it was just such to me, it was just kind of deflating. That the person that hired me to help with marketing and all these things literally kind of put down one of my skills, one of my really good skills.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

Yeah. I love that. It’s just a really good reminder that sometimes we use these terms of kind of more masculine forms of leadership or “feminine” forms of leadership, but they are really meant to, I think we need to find better words that it’s really not about men bosses or women bosses, per se. It’s really about the quality of the person’s leadership. I think that we see this is kind of the new model of leadership and we sort of call it a more “feminine” style of leadership. We’ve seen this especially during the pandemic where leaders really need to be, as I say, kind of combining both completion of the work with compassion for their people. That’s just the new skillset for being a leader and an effective leader and a leader that can create engagement amongst your people. That’s sort of a good story to illustrate that. She just wasn’t someone who could have empathy or understanding for other people regardless of her gender.

Julie Bonner:

Yes, and I think it’s important in leadership in general to lift people up and to support them, but be lifting them up and not the taking down or that wears down on people in general. You eventually don’t want to come into work, like not, not coming in to work, but it just kind of tears away and like, and so that’s a great thing is I was lucky, but Hey, starting as a contractor somewhere, I think that’s a great idea. That’s a great way to really work with someone before you take the full plunge into full-time, like working with somebody.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

Yeah. That’s great advice. Burnout of course is kind of the number one issue that people are facing these days, and I agree with you. My background is as being a stress expert as part of it, and I think it’s definitely from the too much to do, not enough time. Of course, we’re all kind of overwhelmed, but I think it’s this kind of churn that people face inside where they don’t feel valued or they’re questioning if their value is understood and there’s just a lot of kind of misunderstandings and then all of that inner reactivity, that inner noise that happens. I just call it churn because I don’t know what else to call it, but I think that that’s really what it is that burns people out. It’s that emotional wear and tear, and just the way that you talked about made you less and less motivated, someone who’s full of self-motivation to be engaged and bring your best. This is, I think, happening on a mass scale.

Julie Bonner:

Yeah. I bet many people listening can relate to that.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

Yeah. So, there you were. You integrated yourself well because of your proactive efforts and it sounds like you had air cover from the head of the company, which is terrific. So, you were integrated into the company, but it still sounds like, so you realize you were the only woman. Okay? So, tell us where you went with that because I heard a good success story from you.

Julie Bonner:

Sure. So as a small startup in the beginning, a few people then eventually get to grow and we had investor funding. Then as you grow, one of the roles that was needed was a systems engineer. My background is not as a recruiter, but in my town, I tend to know a lot of people. So, basically it was like, okay, let me see if I can help find someone to fulfill this role. So, I ended up using actually LinkedIn’s tools, but was looking for, and I had the background of what we’re looking for, like a systems engineer, at least 10 years of experience, didn’t have to be local, but that’s always great if, you know, it’s someone in Tucson already. I went through and I was specifically hoping to bring some diversity in too.

So, I was looking people and then narrowed it down to a few people. We had some interviews and then I am so excited, but we hired Manet last summer as our Systems Engineer. She was previously working at Raytheon, a talented person, communicative, and is now doing a great job for our company, and the unfortunate part is this all happened during a pandemic. So, it was just, I feel bad. We finally, we both been vaccine now. We’ve gotten our second vaccine, and so we’ve gotten to hang out socially now, which is really exciting. So, but I would check in with her throughout the time we, you know, we’ve all been working from home, but I’m so excited that she’s a part of our team. She’s doing a great job and I will help continue to help diversify our company along with the support of Doug and Chris who are our two co-founders. They believe in that as well. So, I’m excited as we grow, have more funding and opportunities, we will bring more diversity to our team.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

Yeah. So, it’s interesting. So, you sort of just took it on and sourced candidates and it was a small company, so it was different from having to go through a whole bureaucracy so that was different. It enabled you to just be proactive and roll up your sleeves and say, well, I’m going to be able to have a say in this by just kind of taking the charge. I love that.

Julie Bonner:

Yes. Yes. I’m sure that Doug and Chris appreciated I was basically doing the intro kind of work and emailing with them and talking to them ahead of time. I was kind of like, I don’t know that the intro basically, and I was kind of weeding out, like do I think they seem experienced in this and do I think they would fit well into our company culture, like all that. I was trying to do that all ahead of time. So, by the time they finally had a meeting with Doug and Chris, I felt confident in like, oh yeah, I want them to be a part of our team.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

Fantastic.

Julie Bonner:

Yeah.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

So, tell us how you’re now doing this at a broader scale, kind of with women in STEM.

Julie Bonner:

Yes. Yes. So, I’m excited. So, one of my goals for working at FreeFall Aerospace is to bring help. We’re going to support the community in general. So, we’re supporting the community, but I’m focusing on education, and education of the youth about science. Especially females, exposing them to the really cool opportunities in the science and engineering and technical fields. By doing that, we are working with events coming up, for example, SheTech is coming up, actually it’s next week. And it’s high school female students. This year will be virtual, but it’s for one day, and so we’re exposing them to all these interesting jobs and opportunities in the STEM fields.

Doug is speaking about space. His background is at NASA. He was at NASA JPL for almost 30 years. We’re talking about space. We’re relating it to how our cell phones are connected, and we use all these things in space without even realizing it. Then I’m focusing on talking about art, but digital design for art. So, if any of these students have an artistic sense about them, creative sense, there’s ways they can channel that and use the technology of today to create new media, animations, you name it, that can help any company in the future.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

Yeah. I love that. Thank you for being a role model. Thank you for giving back and creating that continuity of bringing up the next generation in STEM. I think a great message as well, that you really embody is that there are many different skills and passions and interests that you can have that can bring you into a technology field. Right? So here you are combining your really ultra-creative abilities and passions, and bringing it to bear on the most technological of products that you could get.

Julie Bonner:

Yeah. Who would have thought, I never would have guessed. At the age of three, I said, I wanted to be an artist and some of my jobs relate more closely with that, but who would have thought in the future that I would be working for this tech company talking about space. Our technology is actually going up next April on a rocket. So, it’s a really exciting thing, and I’m so curious. I love learning about what we’re doing and why, but I never would have guessed this for myself, but it’s fun. I’m happy to be a part of it.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

And I just want to highlight there what it is that you say that you are bringing is creativity and communication and curiosity. Right? And so that those are really fertile. That’s really fertile soil for someone to go into whether it’s a creative field or even for young women who are in STEM. If you think that that’s going to exclude you from having a technology career, then Julie Bonner is here in the flesh to be an example that that is not the case for you, and there could be a path for you.

Julie Bonner:

Yes. A hundred percent. I think we don’t even know all the opportunities that are happening right now and are going to be coming. There’s so many new jobs, new technologies that need creative thinkers, that need different perspectives to bring to the table, because that’s how sometimes you solve problems. You get new out of the box solutions. So, I think it’s a strength. It’s a strength to come into something with a little bit of a different perspective than maybe the norm.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

I think that that’s so important for young people, I mean, I guess, especially for women, just because we’re trying to get more women into STEM so that products can reflect how women think, and move, and what their needs are. And I think it’s really important what you say, because we could be tempted to say to ourselves, “Oh, I don’t have that background.” Right? Or I’m not smart enough or whatever we might say to ourselves, and what you’re saying is you’re totally flipping that on its head. You’re saying, actually, it’s good for you to have an outsider perspective or to have a creative lens, and that this is very valued in a technology field.

Julie Bonner:

Yes. In fact, I was speaking about our exciting news about finally our technology going up on the rocket next April on a radio show coming up. One of the things I want to do is explain CubeSats, what a CubeSat is to the general public listening to this radio show. Now my background, like I said, is not in space. It’s not in science, but I love to learn.

Through research, I found out that a CubeSat which is basically the small box that you put your technology in and it goes up on a, you know, it’s a small satellite, goes into space, was actually developed by a professor in California that wanted his students to be able to complete a one-to-two-year project of actually developing antenna and get a satellite and actually getting it into orbit while they’re in college, and he was like, “How can we make this affordable?”

Because this was in the late nineties when antennas were three meters, or sorry, eight meters long and like three tons. And he came up with the idea because he saw a beanie baby box and was like, let’s make this small. Let’s have the students develop something that actually fits in a small little package. It’s going to weigh less. It’s going to cost less. And we’re going to get that in this space. So, I brought that up on the show and my boss who’s worked for NASA JPL for 30 years. He’s like, “I didn’t know that.”

Then later, he’s like, asking me about it. I was like, “Yeah, here’s all my references.” Like I even found an interview with the professor that talking about how this came up. So, I didn’t have to know all this from college or like birth or anything, but I cared enough to research it, and want to explain it to others. So, I think if anyone can, if you have that drive and you’re interested in something, I mean, I think you can learn anything. You know? Especially, obviously your company will be happy if it’s something that benefits them. So, it’s once again a win-win situation.

Dr. Sharon Melnick:

I think that’s absolutely right, and you have more power than you think, or there are things about you that are just natural to you that are your sources of power. Right? So, like for you, it was this curiosity. It was self-motivation. This is your power, and also this has been a source of a company’s power. Right? To leverage that, to grow that in you, to bring that out and unleash it and tap that potential in you. So, it’s such a great example of how power can be kind of grown and can be used in the services of something that’s greater than you, and will benefit all of us. That’s when I say it’s like, “When a woman is in her power, she raises everyone around her.” You have done that, Julie Bonner, in your company. It’s really been great to learn about your story, and thank you for appearing on the Power Shift Podcast.

Julie Bonner:

Thank you for having me be a part of it, and I really appreciate your podcast. I think it’s very inspiring and empowering to other people. So, thanks, Sharon. I appreciate talking with you today.

The Power Shift podcast is all about redefining the idea of “power” and how women use it for good, not with the traditional idea of force. Listen to thought-provoking and practical interviews to help listeners understand power from every angle– how a person gets ‘in her power’, how power works in the workplace, and how power can shift.
Host Dr. Sharon Melnick is a business psychologist who’s a best-selling author, speaker, and sought-after executive coach who helps women executives be an intentional Culture Carrier in their organizations and helps women get promoted to next level opportunities. Because every woman in her power is a Change Agent!
You can listen to The Power Shift Podcast with Dr. Sharon Melnick here at these links: