COVID-19’s Silver Lining: The Chance to Reinvent the Workplace with Alise Cortez
Dr. Alise Cortez is affectionately referred to as “The Anti-Undertaker” as she catalyzes the often otherwise “walking dead” to discover and grow their passion, inspiration, and purpose in life and at work. She is a Chief Purpose Officer, Management Consultant, Inspirational Speaker, Author, Radio Host, and Social Scientist based in Dallas, Texas. Having developed her expertise within the Human Capital / Organizational Excellence industry over the last 20 years, today she is focused on enabling organizations to lead from purpose and create cultures of meaning that inspire impassioned performance, meaningful engagement and fulfillment, while encouraging a devoted stay within the organization. For individuals, she also facilitates an online Catch Fire global community and various retreats to enable people hungry for a more meaningful and purposeful life to discover and create it for themselves.
The forced reboot that has come with sheltering in place and working remotely has opened a space to reconsider everything that has been assumed about work and your staff’s relationship to it. Low levels of employee engagement has been an issue requiring leadership’s focus for decades. And yet the workplace, especially inside non profit organizations that are so often cause driven, holds such promise for fulfillment in the lives of employees. The pause in workplace “normal” ushers in the opportunity to take serious stock of operational practices that have likely evolved to a level of bureaucracy which dehumanizes the workplace, preventing employees to bring their very best. The workplace interruption that has accompanied the pandemic containment is a perfect opportunity to reevaluate traditional human capital and operational practices and redesign the workplace more optimally for increased engagement, fulfillment, and productivity.
Read the Interview
Hugh Ballou: Welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange. Every episode is packed with adventure, with creative thoughts. If you’re stuck, we will help you get unstuck. If you’re thinking, “It’s the end of the world, there’s no hope,” there is always a silver lining. Our guest today is Alise Cortez. She will talk about the silver lining, the chance to reinvent the workplace. This probably applies to anybody who leads anywhere, but there is a unique opportunity right now for those of us in the social benefit space. We’re doing the work that’s important today. Alise, welcome. Please take a minute to tell people a little bit about you and why you do what you’re doing.
Alise: Thank you for having me. Why the nonprofit space? First, let me say that I have spent close to 10 years serving on various nonprofit boards here in Dallas to support those initiatives. I got to serve as the president of our organization called the Lakewood Service League, which has 125 East Dallas woman supporting 36 nonprofits in the area. Then I was the chairman of the board of the YMCA here at White Rock, when we were raising $14 million for a new building. Just got the love of the nonprofit space. That service gave me the opportunity to stand in a place where I could consult with other nonprofits as clients.
The easiest way to think of me is a management consultant who specializes in meaning and purpose. I have been doing that kind of work for about 20 years. What I love about it is it’s a pure joy and a privilege to, when I am working with someone, a leader or an organization, watch them grow. That is the most amazing thing to get to behold. The work entails doing leadership development, employee engagement, culture work. I created my own leadership program called Vitally Inspired – Living and Leading with Purpose. That’s a little of what I do professionally and why I love nonprofits.
Hugh: Your banner on your website, “Live with passion. Work on purpose.” That’s lovely. I couldn’t fit it into the space on my site. She’s at AliseCortez.com. You’re a unique individual. The first time I met you, the passion for what you do really comes through your being. You’re focused. How did you come about this tagline?
Alise: The tagline is “Live with passion. Work on purpose. Lead with inspiration.” It’s evolved over the years, like so many things have. As I picked up more and more steam, one of the great things that happened, and I’ll say it’s nice to be on the other side of the mic, because one of the things I have been doing to develop myself is hosting my weekly Work on Purpose radio show, which I’m looking forward to having you on as a guest shortly. That program for me is a catalyzing force. As of today, it’s 281 episodes I have created and hosted. The preparation for those shows usually entails reading a book and preparing for the conversation. I get to bake into my being the knowledge that comes from preparation and the conversation I have with the guest.
Over the years, when I first started that program in February 2015, what I wanted to do on the heels of having finished big post-doc research on the meaning of work in identity, what I wanted to do, and did for about a year and a half, was showcase guests who were working with passion. I brought on guests who loved what they did, and it was dripping from the walls. It was inspiring to hear about how they persevered to stay doing what they did.
Over time, it became more about showcasing inspiration: how to showcase what I think is inspiring that might be inspiring to somebody else.
Most recently, the last year has been focused on the purpose space. Having people who are talking about doing their work from purpose or on purpose, and how organizations increasingly are executing and operating from their purpose in a way that allows their employees to align with that purpose. It’s such a dynamic force when everyone is aligned and working from the same trajectory.
It started 20 years ago when I began researching the meaning of work, and it continued to evolve and grow. I do believe I am living my purpose. The divining rod kept me going all those years, and I kept opting into specific work. There were times where I felt it didn’t make sense for me to do this, but I am going to obey and do it anyway. That is how the space of meaning, purpose, and inspiration has unfolded for me today.
Hugh: Ah. On the homepage of your site, there is this graphic. A lot of people do quotes from everyone else, and they never quote themselves. I do that in my blog posts and articles. You have smack-dab on your site with a picture of you in some fancy place having a tea party, “Do what you love” on the cup. Your quote there, you call yourself a speaker and purpose engagement catalyst. I love that. Here’s what you say: “The key to long-term productivity, fulfillment, and success in today’s competitive marketplace is to embrace a lifelong habit of learning, inquiry, and growth that accentuates and challenges the way you think, approach life and work, and ultimately act.” That’s a mouthful, but it’s complex. It would take me a while to unpack that.
We are recording this in 2020 at the beginning of the summer, before official summer. Next week is summer. We are in the last part of this COVID-19, and we are coming out of it, we hope. We pray we put our feet on the ground and do something. What have you seen companies grapple with during the pandemic and the sheltering that went with that?
Alise: I want to answer that, but I want to go back to that quote because that will undergird what I want to say. Part of that quote, which speaks to the need for ongoing learning and development, especially now in today’s workplace, which is so incredibly competitive and driven by technology: artificial intelligence, robotics. Now more than ever, people need to continually retool and develop new skills and talents.
I wanted to position that first because 1) I do work in the learning space, so obviously I believe in that. I do that for myself every single week, if not daily. 2) That is an important premise to stand on. In this pandemic, we’ve learned an awful lot, and we will learn more as we go as organizations and individuals. I still do programs, but mostly virtually. Still doing executive coaching. A finger on the pulse for what is going on.
What is going well for organizations is they have discovered that people can work remotely pretty handily. A lot of organizations were very resistant to that because they felt they couldn’t control or monitor the output of work by employees. During the pandemic, they had no other choice but to do so. What’s been working well is that organizations have discovered how to better utilize technology to keep their employees productive and keep the wheels moving on the bus down the road.
It’s been an interesting observation from my vantage point as a social scientist and a philosopher. Perhaps the unintended outcome that has come from that is people who are working from home have rediscovered those individual human beings who occupy their house who they didn’t otherwise know before. Their significant other, their children, their dog. Who are these beings? That’s established in a different way.
I love beyond measure sitting here in my office area looking out my front window, and I watch parades of families going by, walking, riding their bikes, kids on their scooters. It’s delightful to see that reconnection of a family unit that wasn’t present before. I think that’s working toward helping some of the social disconnection and malaise that’s happened.
On the other side of that, I do recognize there are unions of people who are terribly fragmented. Being in close proximity to the other person who you weren’t sure you liked before the pandemic, and now you’re stuck with them, is a little bit of a different matter. I want to recognize that’s no small thing.
I also think we have recognized there are more organizations who realize and begin to get present on what I call work/life harmony. Because kids are being schooled from home virtually while their parents work alongside them to be in the office, what was discovered is conference calls naturally entail the sounds of children laughing and people moving through the house and dogs barking, whereas before, those were supposed to be separate elements in life. You work, and you live someplace else. The pandemic allowed us to, because we were all forced at home, thread those elements in a much more harmonious, productive, peaceful way. Organizations had to recognize that was what was going to have to take place to keep things moving.
Before I go on to what I don’t think is working, any comments?
Hugh: There is a pivot. This is where effective leadership makes a difference. Leaders who were capable and flexible adapted right away. There is this thing going around called adaptive leadership. An effective leader does adapt to the situation. My idea of leadership coaching is transformational leadership, which is about a culture of high performance. The pivot must happen from the leader. The Fortune 500, there is only 53 of the original 500 still there because those leaders didn’t adapt to what the current situation was. They just ran into the wall because they were doing things the way they always did them.
In what you’re talking about, I have seen higher levels of productivity, higher levels of employee satisfaction when we don’t have to do so many in-person meetings and we are not wasting time traveling. We have discovered which meetings could have been held by email anyway. The Gallup surveys have shown for years that 70% of the work force is either disengaged or actively disengaged. Employers were pretending they had control over people in the space when they really didn’t. There was $500 billion of waste in the productive part, not the leadership.
As we are talking to those who are leading charitable organizations, some are large and some small, the burnout rate is huge because we are trying to cover so many bases. This is a good chance to reset the bar. It really means that we as leaders need to step up and say, “This is what we’re doing.” It’s equipping ourselves. I’m loving what you’re saying. We’re in a pivot point. It’s important for leaders to step up.
Alise: I started off by talking about the world of technology. The other thing that I’m finding through talking to my clients and the reading I’m doing to keep myself informed is a major problem that’s happening is employees, even despite all the available technology, do not feel connected to one another. That is such a crucial thing: to feel connected to your fellow teammates and workers, and to be a part of an organization that you are proud of and you can align your purpose through. Because people’s routines have been changed through sheltering in place, they don’t get the benefit of those meetings that can be incredibly interesting, meaningful interactions for them. The eyeball exchange, being able to laugh with someone, looking across the table at your teammate understanding what someone is thinking. The joy you can see in the other person or the nerves that you can help them through.
Even though we are doing video calls, the human connection element is terribly missing. It is contributing to well-being demise. There are greater instances of depression, anxiety, and stress among people, both because they can’t touch each other and work with each other, but they are also dealing with other issues in the pandemic that have compounded on them. It’s important for organizations to recognize how stressful and anxiety-inducing this time is for their employees and get them some help. A lot of organizations are doing amazing work. A couple I’ve had on my radio show recently talk about how they address employees’ well-being and mental health. That is the first big one. That lack of meaningful connection. In fact, one of my clients just reached out recently and said, “Alise, we’re dying. Can you do something for a team-building virtual meeting? We’re so lost without each other.” That is one thing to talk about.
I would also say that organizations are grappling with the reduced demand for their goods and services. What does that do for the bottom line? Let’s think back to pivoting. We have a severe reduction of revenue. What do we do to divert our energies to produce other income? That’s fantastic, and it’s so exciting to see organizations innovate.
Let’s not forget that’s also really trying and challenging for the people set to the task of pulling that off. Many organizations have employees working around the clock to handle the pivot. From a human vantage point of workload and stress and emotional anxiety, I would put those two things as important items that need addressing by organizations and their leaders.
Hugh: How often do you find that some of the major issues are visible to leaders, like blind spots? How often do you find there is something significant that leaders don’t see?
Alise: I appreciate that question so much. In all candor, if that phenomenon weren’t epidemic, I wouldn’t have the work that I do. You wouldn’t either. To be human is to have an inordinate number of blind spots all the time. We all have them. No one is immune to them. The opportunity is to find consistent ways to be present to them and understand their impact and how you could replace the blind spots and behaviors that come with them with something much more effective and productive. I think that for a lot of organizations, they discovered the blind spot of, “Oh, we really can be productive working remotely. Good to know.” And also, organizations, even if you work hard at your culture to create a space where employees feel empowered to speak their mind honestly, it’s incredibly difficult to say something that may be perceived as hard news to a leader above you or to someone you respect and admire. There is a concern about hurting their feelings. Finding ways to open that dialogue so people can learn about their blind spots is difficult. It helps sometimes to have a third party like you and I to hold up the mirror and show what’s going on. Blind spots are real.
I don’t want to add any negative charge to them because they are what they are. The opportunity is to keep looking for them and keep getting present with what you can do about them.
Hugh: Yes. The mistake I hear is people say, “I will deal with it,” which means I won’t deal with it. That’s one thing. They don’t have the ability to say, “Okay, I need to learn something.” Or the willingness to be vulnerable and say, “What do I need to change?” They maybe don’t have the awareness that there is something to change. I find the top leaders I work with are vulnerable, aware, and willing. Those are necessary prerequisites. The burnout in the workplace has been excessive. We have a lot of people who are displaced right now. I see the job numbers are coming back. That gap may close. They will go back to a different kind of workspace.
Like you said, there are some opportunities for improvement here. The statistics for nonprofit leaders who overfunction drastically, the burnout rate is 45% according to the Meyer Foundation study a few years ago. 45% with burnout leave. 5% are so stressed they are looking at the door to get out. One out of ten clergy make it to retirement. Very stressful job. Right now, when people are wanting different things and they can’t meet, there is a lot of stress for clergy. Centering, being focused on principles, and moving into the conflict with meaningful conversation, and also being decisive.
Let’s talk about the traits that a leader needs to have to be able to embrace some of these new ideas, to embrace some transformation of themselves. If we will transform systems, we have to start with ourselves. What does a leader need to be able to make a change and take advantage of this unique time in history?
Alise: Great question. Thoughtful. There is so much we could say to that. We could probably host another 10 episodes talking about what a leader needs in a time like this. Let me start with a few things that come to mind.
One is they need a tremendous amount of empathy to recognize this is a very demanding time for their employees. Being mindful and present to there is so much chaos happening for people. The thinking that puts their employees into, the community they serve, their customers, their investors, everybody. All of the stakeholders. I’d say first a strong amount of empathy. I have seen some fantastic displays of this.
Earlier on in the pandemic, it was Bank of America who had to lay off a bunch of their employees. The way their CEO messaged that was so real and authentic and with tremendous concern. If there was any way we could avoid doing this, we would. That goes such a long way in this time. That speaks to emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence has been identified as one of the critical factors that leaders need to continue to stoke and develop over the course of their lives to be effective. Empathy and emotional intelligence would be top of the list.
I would also have to throw in there a profound sense of curiosity. What do we have on our hands? What’s working? What’s not? That means setting aside predisposed ideas about what they think they know about a situation. Being ferociously curious is important.
I also think leaders have a tough job. A leader is someone who is depending on that person to set the direction and help them through this terrible mess. A leader needs other support. They need a team of people to hold them up and keep them well-conditioned for the cause they have found themselves in in this pandemic. I’m working with several CEOs for that very reason. This is hard work to lead through something like this. You know that, Hugh.
Top of mind, those are a few of the things I would say. I would also say that thinking strategically is important. I had a gentleman on my show a couple weeks ago called Patrick Bet-David, who has a book out that speaks to the importance of businesspeople, including nonprofits and clergy, thinking five moves ahead. Thinking about where is this going. If we take the next step, what are the ramifications? And the next six steps. Strategic thinking is hugely important. What do you think?
Hugh: It has been said that leaders live in the future. We see possibilities. We have a vision of what can be. We move toward that vision. In Napoleon Hill’s work, he interviewed 500 of the most successful leaders in the United States. Every one of them had definiteness of purpose: something good for humankind. They surrounded themselves with very successful people. Last but not least, they always had a positive mental attitude. Failure was not an option.
We can walk into the walls. We can walk off a cliff when we are not skilled. Let’s speak of the skillset. Some people kick around, “Oh, that person is a born leader.” No, they’re just bossy. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t found anyone who is born with leadership skills. Some people are born with musical skills, but I have education. It took some money and time for me to build out my education so I could apply and grow my skills. I had some education in coaching, leadership, meeting facilitation. There are a lot of areas where I said, “I want to learn.” You spoke earlier about keeping yourself prepared.
You talked about emotional intelligence. That does not mean emotional decision-making. You still want to make rational, thoughtful decisions. Talk about how we apply that emotional intelligence to leadership, how we build relationships. The foundation of any leadership is relationship.
Alise: I just pulled up a document. It’s so timely. One of the things that will come from me out of the pandemic is my first full-length book. I had it sent to the publisher, and I am incorporating feedback. The other thing is an elevated business model. Those are my pandemic gifts.
In the book I am writing, which is called Purpose Unleashed: How Inspirational Leaders are Made, Inspire, and Elevate Passionate Cause. I have a section on purpose-inspired leadership. What I say specifically is I am out to help create inspired leaders. What do I mean by inspirational leaders? There are about seven characteristics that come with that particular model I am out to create.
The first thing is they express unnerving or unending positivity.
They express and demonstrate gratitude for their team on a regular, ongoing, specific basis.
They have a crystal clear vision for the future.
They listen powerfully and generously.
They communicate impeccably and are wonderful storytellers. Those storytellers are people who can really convey the quality and impact and purpose of the organization and the contribution of each team member. That is profoundly important.
Six is they are trustworthy. We know who they are. They are authentic to us. They let us see they are a real person, so we trust that.
Last is they are passionate. They believe in what they are doing. This is something that they love doing. It’s not just, “I’m here to collect large amounts of stock options and an amazing paycheck to tell people what to do.” It’s, “I’m here because this is the greatest thing I have ever been involved in.”
Those seven characteristics are what I’m out to help create in leaders.
Hugh: Awesome. Uniquely enough, I have ten points of what transformational leadership is. Every one of those is on my list. With the addition of getting things off your plate. We don’t know how to delegate. It’s so essential to be clear on articulating your vision. I can’t tell you how many leaders, both in the nonprofit space and business space, do not have a plan of action. They don’t have a strategy. How will people be engaged without a road map and assignments?
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The title Alise chose today is “COVID-19: Silver Lining: The chance to Reinvent the Workplace.” Alise, what was the inspiration that led you to that title? You and I talked a few weeks ago, and you were thinking about that. When I saw that title, I thought that was spot-on. What was the inspiration behind creating that title for today?
Alise: From the very beginning, when this thing first hit the United States in March, I got, “Wow, this is a major reboot, a forced restart. The earth has turned on its axis, and it’s not going to go back.” That means we all need to respond to this in the most productive, effective way that we can. Individually, as an organization, a community, a country, and the world. As you said, only 53 of the initial Fortune 500 companies were still on the list. What does that speak to? You said how the other 400+ didn’t evolve. All of life requires ongoing change and development. Those quick to adapt are those who survive, survive well, and thrive. Those who are slow don’t make it or are at the bottom of the heap.
I look at this pandemic as if you miss the opportunity now as an organization to take stock of what’s gone on for you, what’s been going well, and what needs to change, you have missed the boat. You have missed an incredible silver lining to look at various ways you can take your organization forward in a much more robust, productive, effective way that might make you even more viable than before the pandemic hit us. That’s where it came from. I looked at my own life and the people around me. Immediately, because I saw it as a forced reboot, rebooting oftentimes makes things better.
Hugh: It’s a chance for people who want to step up to actually do that. You may know that I served 40 years in different sized churches as a music director. The last three, I went there knowing that they were in crisis. The last one, the bishop sent the preacher there to close down the church. Here he is hiring a high-functioning staff. We doubled attendance at three services, built a 100,000 square-foot state of the art auditorium, and had a concert series with who’s who entertainers who could have been in New York or LA in Huntsville, Alabama. It was a challenge to step up to who we were called to be.
We all have a calling. There are some things that are working well, and some things don’t work. One of the people Napoleon Hill interviewed was Thomas Edison, who said 9,999 things didn’t work, but on the 10,000th try, he invented the lightbulb because he knew he could do it. He was relentless. Many of us don’t have that kind of stamina. He didn’t sleep. He just took cat naps. That’s real dedication to purpose and wanting to achieve something.
There are people who are ordinary people who stepped up to do something really well and made a difference just because they weren’t willing to cave in. 100 people have an idea, and only three people do it. Not all of those will succeed. What do you think leaders need to embrace to say, “I’m going to do something, and I will do it differently.” We are primarily talking to people in the nonprofit space. That’s a unique place to lead, and in many aspects, it’s a lot more difficult than leading in corporate America when you have the leverage of a paycheck. You have so many volunteers who want to find a passion, but we get in the way. What keeps us from stepping into what we see?
Alise: I’m dealing with this right now with some of my coaching clients. I am speaking to this generically, to everyone who has a breath in their lungs right now. What I stand for is to encourage and inspire people to speak their mind, use their voice, ask for what they want, and take presence of what they see, especially if there is a solution attached to that. Very often, I don’t care if you’re the leader or if you just started last week as a volunteer, there is a reticence to speak up. You can see what’s happening here. There is such a reticence to share what you’re seeing and why you think it’s important and what can be done about it if it’s wrong.
Some of the people I’m coaching talk about what they are starting to see. What I have been telling them is, “Yes, guess what? You’re part of the reinvention strategy. You need to speak that observation and that set of ideological operatives back into the organization and make it become the future.” In that case, you can reinvent the workplace with that knowledge. You need the whole organization weighing in on what they are seeing that would make a difference and create a more positive, effective, thriving future for the organization.
What leaders can do to encourage that is to ask for that. “I’m so clear that we can reinvent this organization to be more vibrant than it was before the pandemic. I need every single one of you to weigh in with your thoughts and observations on how we can do this together.” An organization is now built by the team who is there to power it. Because they helped create and build it, they’re in. They’re engaged, they’re involved, they want to see this thing through. That is the most amazing way to steward through this pandemic, coming through the other side so much stronger. But it does require that solicitation from the leader to reach among their team and volunteers to get that information.
They have to be careful about this. If they already have an idea of how they think things should go, and the team doesn’t provide input that aligns with that, there is a strong tendency not to listen to that. Now you have disempowered the workforce more.
Those employees and volunteers do know what needs to be done. They know what’s working and what’s not working. The opportunity is for them to feel safe to be able to share their perspective and what they’d like to see going forward. That’s vastly missing for a lot of organizations.
Hugh: As I understand, Steve Jobs’ work style was always wandering around, touching things, talking to people, engaging people. that was a relationship-building. He may have been a hard person to work for, but he was active and engaging. We tend to want to be behind closed doors and send emails when really we should be interfacing with people.
You have often spoken about coaching leaders. One thing that comes to mind is a necessary pre-requisite. When I was studying conducting with some of the best conductors in the world, I went to Princeton and worked with a conductor there. I read his book, and he talked about being vulnerable. When you are on the podium—a podium is what you stand on, not behind—you cannot make effective music unless you are vulnerable. It doesn’t mean you are wimpy and crying. One of your principles was authentic, transparent, vulnerable. Brene Brown talks a lot about being vulnerable. Talk about vulnerability in coaching.
I find that a lot of people want to figure it out themselves. But what I notice is the most successful people in any industry have a coach. Some have multiple in different areas. It’s those who will figure it out that are still trying to get ahead. The value of a coach. Do you have to be vulnerable? Is it painful? Why do people need a coach?
Alise: I think every single human being on the planet needs a coach. You especially need one or more if you’re up to something. I have two, and I could probably use another seven. I’m a firm believer in that approach to constantly telling yourself. That goes back to your blind spots. Every one of us have blind spots, and they run us without us even knowing it. A coach is someone who can first and foremost help put up the mirror as to how your blind spots and your mindset are running you. Is that what you want? Most of the time, there are aspects of that that are not working well, and we are not at all conscious to that. Having a coach at any level, especially as a leader in charge of an organization or a department, is a must. You might change them over time, but someone to help grow you and challenge you and keep you conditioned for leadership.
That goes back to the importance of ever-continuous learning and growing. There is no resting in today’s world. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I would encourage people to embrace the fact that taking any kind of ongoing learning or professional development is part of the world we live in today. It should live on the level of taking vitamins, eating, and sleeping.
For me, I consider the show I host every week a mini series of coaching for me because the kind of people I have on the show, when you come on the show, I will extract as much from you as I possibly can and share with my listeners. I’m consuming as well. I have had some amazing conversations on air.
One in particular that I want to share was Marcus Buckingham back in early May. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he spent about 25 years working for Gallup, starting at 16 years old. He started some other ventures of his own. He is all about today stewarding a future inside organizations where everyone is seen for their individual, unique specialness versus the bureaucratic way that so many organizations are run today.
The only way to start to distinguish what that looks like is to get some perspective from someone else. It’s easy to default to what has worked for us in the past. That isn’t necessarily going to take us into the future. A coach or some kind of reference set to continually get you to think about yourself and what’s next is imperative.
Hugh: The equality myth. We keep saying we have people who are not old white guys in business. Women want equality. You don’t want to dumb down to what old white men have done. What you want is equity. What you want is an opportunity to use your stuff, not copy what we’ve done. There is an opportunity for all of us to come in with our unique skills and talents and make a difference. It’s screwed up; that’s my generation. There is a unique opportunity here for leaders to take hold of this and do something unique. You look different than me? That’s a good thing. It’s a chance for all of God’s people to do what they are created to do and be what they were created to be.
You talked about what we do well and what we don’t do well. Give a couple summary points on both sides of that.
Alise: That could be another show. It depends. There is a spectrum of leadership effectiveness. I have had the privilege of working with brand-spanking-new people that were leading their individual contributor role to step into the supervisor/manager role. That is one end. The other end is I’ve had the wonderful privilege of working with seasoned, tenured CEOs who have been leading organizations with millions of dollars for a budget for several years. There is a huge spectrum there. I can’t say they have all something in common.
Some of the things that I think leaders would be served to do well goes back again to employing emotional intelligence and empathy, being effective communicators in that they know how to articulate the purpose and direction of the organization. That is so important today.
Of course, being able to listen and gather ongoing intelligence, and to be willing to continually learn and grow, getting constructive feedback from everyone and anyone. Very important.
It’s amazing how leaders don’t recognize how intimidating they are. That intimidation factor can intervene in their effectiveness and connection with their people. Being present on how to eradicate or diminish that is important. Those are some of the things leaders should do well.
What they don’t do well, or what I would like them to stop doing and consider exchanging for more productive behaviors, it’s scary. There are a lot of leaders who go into their offices and shut their doors and send emails because it’s overwhelming. I respect, appreciate, and empathize with that, which is why you need help. You can’t do this by yourself. The leaders who get themselves in trouble think they can do it by themselves and are probably doing it very badly or could do it much better.
I suppose another thing about the leaders not behaving or performing well would be they are really considering a short-term game. If I whack off 25% of my employees or team or the volunteers, that’s going to serve today’s short-term dilemma, but it might cut off your nose to spite your face six months down the road. Is there another way to achieve the same revenue or cost reduction plan? Short-term thinking is something that I see that is a negative and a pull-down feature of some leaders I have been witnessing.
I guess I would say a lack of creativity and strategy. We talked about this before. Not being creative enough or soliciting enough feedback or input about the direction of the organization and where it could actually go. Being mired in, “This is who we are. This is what we do.” Today is the new normal. That means whatever mentality you stepped in the room with before the pandemic hit will not serve you on the other side. You have to come up with something different. I think those would be the two sides that I would offer as a start.
Hugh: Good list. I’ve heard the term kicked around that we will be in the new normal. I think we will be in the new radical. I just thought of that.
You were talking about vulnerability. I work with a lot of power leaders. This guy said, “I’m going to my executive team and board. There are some things I don’t do well. How do I say that to them?” I said, “Well, just tell them.” He said, “I can’t tell them I have weaknesses.” Part of coaching is silence. I paused and said, “You think they don’t already know?” The next week, he said, “I told them this. Everyone said I could do it.” We’re not transparent. We’re not honest. We’re not authentic. We don’t say, “I have the vision. You have the skills. We’re doing this together.” If organizations succeed, who looks good? Not only the leader, but everyone else. We have a lot of celebration.
Alise, as we’re winding down, what do you want to leave people with?
Alise: You asked for me to give them a challenge. What I would challenge all listeners on this call, if you are leading a nonprofit, I would encourage you to do an audit of all of your practices. You do that yourself, or you get someone to donate their services to you. I can help a few of you certainly.
This is an opportunity for you to audit the operation of your organization. I mean that is how you recruit, onboard, bring employees on, develop them, recognize them, teach them. When they move out on the back side, how do you move them on? That is just the human capital side of things. That is where I know how to help. Operationally, look at how you acquire customers. How do you care for them? How do you solicit referrals? Especially from a people vantage point, doing an audit of your whole process end to end is essential. I have been offering this now and am in conversation about starting that very work with a few organizations next week. This is your prime time to do this. That is my challenge: do an audit.
Hugh: Alise Cortez, it’s been wonderful. Thank you for being here today.
Alise: I loved every moment of it, Hugh. Thank you.