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Why Your Authenticity Is Needed In The World Now More Than Ever
Interview with Sandra Dee Robinson
True authenticity as a leader takes courage, but only initially. Once achieved the results show an exponential increase. Decision-making is more clear. For those who feel a higher calling ( not only clergy) remembering the authentic self provides an ROI that sometimes cannot even be measured. Peace of mind and a stronger sense of self in your Design can magnetize others to you and your purpose. There are three things that create the environment for this to happen: Your CORE, your actions, and your language. Let’s take a look at what the alignment of these can create in the world that you experience.
Sandra Dee Robinson’s mission is to help move people from where they are, to where they are Designed to be. She is a known television actress (former soap opera star), author, international speaker, TV and radio host, and a trusted advisor to gifted leaders and influencers who feel pulled to create an impact in the world.
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Hugh Ballou: Hello, this is Hugh Ballou, founder and president of SynerVision Leadership Foundation. We have guests every week who share their wisdom, joy, and stories, and influence us to learn. Sometimes we have people who tell us about the structure of what we do. Sometimes people tell us stories of their organization and progress they have made. Sometimes people have other stories and other things we can learn. Today, we have Sandra Dee Robinson here. Sandra, can I show a little video clip?
Sandra Dee Robinson: Uh oh. Is this like The Tonight Show where you show me something I should be embarrassed by?
That was my smallest role I ever did, and you found a clip of that? Secret Life of the American Teenager? Where did that get pulled from the ether?
Hugh: Tell us a little bit about who you are and what is that stuff we can find on YouTube about? Sandra, welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange.
Sandra: Good heavens. I’ve been in front of the camera since I was 11. I think you found the one most obscure thing I’ve ever done. Hopefully, the most obscure. I’m from the Midwest, and I have been in front of the camera since I was 11. I grew up in TV. Most of my background was working in daytime soaps. I started on a show called Another World, and I played that role for a total of nine years. But as it is in the daytime world, we hop from show to show and keep reoccurring and becoming our own ghosts and coming back and being a twin and all of those funny things that we do. That’s what I did for many years. I did nighttime things, too. For real, I thought you were going to pull the Two and a Half Men, or the CSI Miami where I got my face ripped off, or one of those things.
Hugh: Those are not as much fun.
Sandra: Yeah. At one point, my sister says of all the nighttime stuff I’ve done, I had a series of stuff where I was killed in each one. I was the guest star who got killed. She said, “You keep getting killed.” I said, “I guess I die really well. I don’t know.” Then I had a series where I played homicidal doctors. I don’t know what they saw in me that I was always a psychologist with a needle in her hand who was going to kill somebody. It’s been an interesting ride. None of it like me, which is interesting that you mentioned authenticity. I spent most of my life and making my fortune being completely inauthentic to who I actually was.
Hugh: Talk about today now. You’ve done a lot of different roles and things. Now you’re doing some different things. Who we are is a culmination of many things we’ve done in the past. I call myself an expert because I’ve learned a lot in the past.
Sandra: You have. You’ve got an amazing performance background as well. I moved into coaching in 2010. My initial venture into solopreneurship in that way was moving from coaching television hosts, where I had been employed, because my journey was an arduous one to finding my own voice. I was hiding behind my characters. That was my safe space. I didn’t know anything about finding out who I was. I didn’t know anything about understanding that I had an issue with self-doubt, as most individuals do with some level of it. I would say all of us as humans do. But mine was really in the way. I had believed a lot of bad programming about myself growing up, and it was really in the way of my having a happy and abundant life even though I was looking like I was successful. I had nice things. I was on TV every day. But I couldn’t have a conversation with somebody I didn’t know, let alone go and sell myself.
So my first venture into being a solopreneur was once I had overcome quite a bit of that, and I was teaching TV hosts how to find their authentic voice. I realize it’s the same thing I am doing now. They were going from trying out all the time to actually booking and making money. The difference was I realized I was working from the inside out. That was 2010. The company was called Charisma on Camera; I still have programs underneath that umbrella.
I morphed into something more broad. I have been nicknamed the Charisma Coach by media. I tend to work now with influencers and C-suite people, leaders, thought leaders, people who are making a difference in the world. They have in their heart to be able to change things for the better, and the only thing that is holding them back is a lot of times we get reprogrammed. We, meaning most of us humans who are striving to find our way closer to where we are Designed to be, as I say it with a capital D. As we are making that journey, we have some of the programming that has hit us along the way that we have to get rid of.
I mentioned I had some bad programming growing up. I had a mother that really enforced that life would be better if I hadn’t been born. I’m not the only one who had that kind of lie that I believed. I know I’m not alone in that. Sometimes we can think, “I’ve moved past that,” but that piece is still there and is keeping us from owning who we are designed to be.
My pleasure now is actually working with leaders, whether it’s a leader of a company or someone who is leading a mass following on social media or someone who is leading a nonprofit. I do quite a bit of work with leaders in the nonprofit world. Sometimes it’s because their belief is “I don’t really have to be seen; I just want to bring attention to the cause.” The reality is they are the one that has to be seen. There are some things that have to be rectified with that. It’s the same journey that I had where I had to attach to who God designed me to be and not just accept it, but love it, forgive myself for a lot of things, and start to change the language I was using as well on myself so I could better empower other people.
Hugh: That’s a lot of good stuff.
Sandra: It’s been a journey.
Hugh: You’re authentic because you’re dealing with it straight up and telling the truth like it is.
Sandra: The truth is simple, but simple can be very deep.
Hugh: Realizing, putting your feet on the ground, and saying, “This is who I am. This is who God created.” I heard that come through. That is powerful. It’s transparency and authenticity to who you have been created to be.
We in the nonprofit world, and I’m going to include clergy of all faiths in that, have these myths that we’ve inherited about how we’re supposed to be, how we’re supposed to act, what we’re supposed to do. That’s inauthentic to me. We are trying to emulate someone else or something somebody else that told us. As you work with thought leaders in the realm—we are talking to nonprofit leaders and clergy, but many people have feet in both camps—what’s the common myth that you see that you help people deal with?
Sandra: Let’s be real. I’m in the church community; I’m on the launch committee for a church as well, so I recognize that church is still a business. You have to have a mind of business to keep the doors open and reach everybody. To me, it’s a combination of both.
It’s interesting. I caught something that you said, and I would like to address it. The feeling that we, meaning the people who are watching this show as well as you, I am going to speak as if it’s me, and hopefully you can identify. I had the feeling that as you were saying “supposed to be” a certain way in whatever role I was playing, and I don’t mean the acting roles, but once I moved into the real world, the real-life role of girlfriend, wife, leader of my company, speaker. I thought I have to be a certain way. I must appear a certain way. If I am not this way, I am wrong.
The problem with thinking you are supposed to be one or the other encourages binary choices, binary thinking. You’re either good or bad. It’s right or wrong. Especially I find in the nonprofit world, where the hearts are big and the clergy’s hearts are big, the need to be right is very much something that can actually hold people back. Because what is the definition of right? The real effort for me is to help people understand who they authentically are.
I’ll give you a perfect example that happened today. I am upgrading my calendar system. I am upgrading a lot of things I am doing so I can end up serving people better. Like when you upgrade your Apple computer, it doesn’t always go well. You come back six hours later and don’t know what’s going on. It’s not working! Something isn’t connected to that! You’re finding errors because you’re upgrading.
I have the gift, the blessing of errors today. I had to reach out to a client of all things, and this is so against, this is the wrong thing for me to do, and ask, “May we reschedule?” I made that a policy that I don’t do that. I’ll tell you something. I called up the client and said, “I have the gift of an error today, as I’m upgrading my system. Would it be possible to reschedule for this time?” I sent it off and it didn’t feel so good. I was so disappointed in myself. I stopped myself and said, “No, it’s not wrong. Errors happen. It’s the way that you look at the way you’re designed to that error.” Errors happen.
It was pointed out to me that golf is a game of errors. The wealthiest people, the biggest thought leaders in the world, what’s the game that they play? A game of errors. They keep track of the errors. They walk around with a piece of paper happily marking off the errors. It’s all about the errors. The game is peaceful, beautiful. You spend a lot of money to go out there and make errors all day long. It’s not usually met with self-judgment.
Yet when we make an error, like I made today, and even when I sent off the email, I had this feeling of, Ugh. Yes, I don’t want it to happen again. The amazing thing was I was perfectly open about it. I said I was upgrading. There are some issues. I am working on them. His answer was, “Great.” As a matter of fact, it worked out better when we rescheduled, both for him and for me. Worked out better than having it today.
The alternative to that is what a lot of people do, which is what I had previously done. I made a mistake. I should be this person. I should be perfect. It’s not going to happen. We upgrade. We uplevel. We get better. We learn from every error. You can see memes that say that all day long, but how do you really treat yourself? How do you really honor who you’re designed to be?
I was talking to a friend of mine, and I use the equivalent of queen because she was a dancer who had danced in front of queens and kings around the world. I said that she emanates queenness to me. She says, “Well, I’ve heard that before.” Sometimes we do. We get the feedback for who we actually are from other people, but we just dismiss it and treat ourselves like the slaves instead of the royalty that God designed us to be. And it’s fine to think that because we are made in His image. That is something I had to come to grips with and understand.
When I said to this woman, who people were stepping all over, as she has a wonderful heart, and she was starting to feel this burden, which I am sure a lot of people in this audience have felt, when demands get high and you think you should be able to handle this, I’m supposed to be able to handle this, she was starting to feel resentment for the situation. I said, “Do you think the queen would let that happen?” She stopped and said, “No.” I said, “Do you think the queen would ever let anybody who was pulling from her near her?” “No.” “Do you think the queen would let people be 35-45 minutes late for a meeting?” That was part of the issue, as she was organizing a meeting, and people were showing up 30 minutes late. She said, “No, you have to be on time. When they want you to dance, you start dancing.” I said, “So, expect people to dance.” She was like, “Oh.” I said, “Haven’t you felt like royalty at times? This is what I see in you.” I tell her what I see, this eminence. She said, “Yes, I’ve heard that. Yes, I identify with that.” That’s her design.
I do more than talking woo like that. I have an assessment that I do. I have personal branding assessments and ways of letting people see that for themselves rather than just me pontificating. But it was interesting because when I said to her, “You’ve already been told that’s who you are.” The next meeting, I was there. Here’s the funny thing. When I was talking to her, the meeting was still on. She was waiting for people to show up. I told her to shut the meeting down because they were 45 minutes late. She shut it down. I asked her how it felt. She said, “So good.” Yes. Guess what? Today, we have another meeting. I will guarantee you they are going to show up on time. I know they will because of how she handled it. What she had been doing was in so many ways letting that programming of, “I should be a good girl. I should wait. I should be polite.” We do that so often that we aren’t serving other people. She wasn’t serving the team by letting them be late.
Hugh: That’s a great story. That is an impactful story. We don’t respect people when we allow that to happen.
Sandra: It’s true. We’re not on purpose. Things don’t get done. You can’t start a meeting 30 minutes late because you’re afraid someone will get mad at you and allow it. Even looking at the church, it’s a business. You have to show up on time. I hate the phrase, “have to,” but getting things done, showing up on time, understanding the gifts of those on the team, finding that authentic piece is helping people. You should hold people to a higher standard. Then you lift everybody. We’ve all heard that analogy before.
Hugh: Writer/author/speaker/priest Richard Rohr writes about dualistic thinking. It’s either black or white, good or bad, left or right, up or down. We get into that trap. It’s either/or thinking. Sometimes it’s both/and. I picked a fun clip from years ago, but you’re Sandra. You’ve had a transition through life. You’ve experienced a lot of people and situations. It’s helped shape who you are, but you’ve paid attention to all of those learning opportunities.
Sandra: All the errors.
Hugh: They’re learning opportunities. Let’s frame it into that space.
Sandra: I look at it honestly as God’s learning tool. I had a coach who shared that with me, and I went, “Okay. It is. It’s part of creation. When things don’t go right, it’s an opportunity to sit back, take a look at it, and go ‘Huh’ instead of getting all worked up and working past it. Let’s look at that.”
Hugh: You and I have both experienced some important people in our careers. I had the best conductors in the world come to my very good facility at my church in Florida. Inviting competent choirs and conductors was not a problem because it was a good place to make music. I invited them to come in January when they were somewhere cold.
Sandra: I see what you did there.
Hugh: They were real people. They did something really well. But they were authentic. They were sincere. They were serving the purpose. Despite the public persona, there was this sincerity to serve underneath. I worked with some powerful preachers in my 40 years. One of them who built this 12,000-member church in Atlanta that I served, he was waiting with the groom to go in for a wedding, who happened to be an important person. The groom had not been to church. This preacher was a salesman. He said, “When are you going to join the church?” The guy said to his very legendary pastor, “Sometimes, I doubt my faith.” The reply was, “So do I.” When he got back home from his honeymoon, he came to church. Who have you worked with in your career that has had an impact on this authenticity and transparency that you are talking about? Any particular person who has had a big impact on your life?
Sandra: Wow. There are so many I could choose from. I’ve got a whole slew, an Excel spreadsheet going through my head. I was going to say rolodex, but people don’t know what that is anymore. Let me think about that.
Hugh: I’m going off script here.
Sandra: It’s an awesome question. Wow. There are directors. There are casting directors. Some actors. Actors tend to morph. People ask, “Do you stay in touch with a lot of actors?” I don’t. They morph their personality and their lifestyle with what’s going on in their work lives. I was always drawn to people who were a little bit more steady, probably because up until I started doing the work on myself emotionally, I wasn’t steady. So I wanted to be around people who were steady. Isn’t that interesting?
Hugh: Absolutely. While you’re picking one of those many people, there is an authenticity of who we are versus what we do. We tend to confuse those. You’re on stage. I want to talk about presentation. But you’re on stage. That’s your work. But you’re still you. How do you maintain the you when you have to present?
Sandra: That is my specialty. Someone did come to me rather recently, in fact. You know her. She just joined an organization that we’re in. I had a wonderful talk with a woman known as Grandma Sparky. She is on my mind because it was recent. Older woman. International exposure with what she’s doing. She does this wonderful thing to empower children and people around the world about handing out blue ribbons and inspiring them to hand out ribbons to other people and build people up worldwide. It’s an amazing thing. It’s had incredible outreach.
I sat on a phone call with her. What I loved is her saying that at one point, she had everything. Very wealthy, beautiful home. She told me where the home was; I could envision it on the water in California. The car she was driving. She said, “I considered taking that beautiful car and driving it off the cliff. I knew exactly where the cliff was going to be. I knew exactly how far the fall was. I knew that it would kill me.” To look at what she was able to accomplish because she got the download one day, “No, you can’t do that.” When you become suicidal, you get pragmatic about it. Taking that road every day in this beautiful car, considering doing this. There was something that was missing.
I love the fact that she told this story because she listened to the voice. Being inauthentic can appear very successful. Meghan and Harry had their interview with Oprah not long ago. Meghan said, “Never assume someone else’s position or what they are going through in their life is what they seem. You never know what is going on underneath.” Helice’s story is exactly that. Grandma Sparky’s name is Helice. Helice was sharing this with me. She said, “That voice came and said, ‘You can’t drive your car off because you’re going to be empowering millions of people around the world, especially children.’” She was like, “I don’t have any way of doing that.” But the how isn’t our job. That’s His job. Our job is to listen and identify how He programmed us. Just like a lovely Apple computer, we are going to have errors every once in a while.
I don’t say I teach people how to perform. I help people remember who they are so when they are speaking, whether it’s leading a boardroom meeting or raising funds from the stage for their nonprofit or teaching from their pulpit or leading their company or doing a video or getting in the media, they are coming from a place that not only are they comfortable in, but they also know inside out. Are you comfortable in your favorite room of your house? If you want to feel good, to relax, do you go into that favorite chair? That’s how I want people to feel in their skin because I know what it’s like not to feel that way. The more you appreciate what you’ve been given, even if it has errors once in a while, like me having to reschedule today, it’s an opportunity to upgrade every time. Every time we upgrade, we step closer into what we were designed to be.
I said to the woman, “You seem like a queen today. Have you ever been told that?” She said yes. I could probably go back and ask her, as she is one of my favorite questions to ask. When I am from the stage, I love to ask this question because I would not be surprised if I knew the answer of the woman to whom I said, “You seem like royalty.” I bet when she was little, she was doing something related to that sense of what I get from her. I’ll ask somebody, “When you were six years old, and time stood still, what were you doing?” I’m asking you, Hugh.
Hugh: I lived in Tallahassee, Florida, and it snowed.
Sandra: Were you playing in the snow? You remember that was a day that it snowed. What did you do?
Hugh: I went out with a jacket. Usually people in Florida don’t wear jackets. I went and played in the snow because it was a one time in forever occurrence, almost.
Sandra: Interesting. Did you go out and play by yourself, or did you get other people?
Hugh: Just me. And my mom. She wanted to make sure I didn’t get in trouble because I didn’t know what this was.
Sandra: That’s really sweet. What I see from that is you take opportunity when it shows up. You like to have a good time. When I was watching you sign onto this and get people excited about being here with you, that is the feeling I got from you. This wonderful, child-like joy of life. It makes sense that that would be a memory that comes up for you.
When I ask most people that question, I’ve had for instance one woman say to me very clearly. She was one of the few who actually came to tears. She said, “I was dancing.” Along the way, somebody said to her that she wasn’t good, so she quit. Even though she was winning competitions, something in her believed that, and she quit. Then she got married and had kids. I asked her if she was still dancing, and she started to cry.
I’ve had people do that with singing. It doesn’t have to be a creative thing, but I notice that when creatives stifle that, it’s not that you have to have a job in the creative world, but you have it as a passion. The singer also started to cry when I asked her if she was still singing. My recommendation to this singer was, “Sweetie, may I recommend, to raise your happiness level in your life and your feeling of abundance, would you go find a choir?” She said, “My church has been asking me.” I went, “Would you go and say yes?” That will remind her of who she was when she was six years old and bring some of that back so that she can remember her design, at least a piece of it. Then it’s a puzzle. You put the other stuff together and realize it all reinforces one another. Who doesn’t make junk?
Hugh: You started with the word “authenticity” and suggested transparency is also part of the mix. As you’re speaking, awareness. You were aware of yourself and what was going on and what you needed to do to transpose what you call errors.
Sandra: I had outside help. I’m not going to lie. To step into my faith a little bit, I had help from God when I was a child. Something in me didn’t feel right when I was with my mom. That was my actual design, how we all came into the world, perfect, fighting back and going, “This doesn’t feel good.” As a kid, all I did was went outside. Nature is truth. That’s where a lot of people find God. They feel connection there. So I did. I communicated there. I learned there. I felt good there. Because of that, whenever I would hear those words from my mother, there was always that, “I don’t know.” I did end up at one point really owning it when I got bullied in school, when I started modeling in commercials and things. It did get to be too much, and it did overwhelm me for a while. My reaction was creating an eating disorder. I’ve not always been great. There was in the beginning something inside of me that was looking out for me. At some point, I had outside help.
I had several coaches. I really believe in having coaches or advisors or someone who can step in, even if it’s a member of your church. Even if you are the pastor of your church, you still have to have someone who is going to be the person to speak into you and call you to sit and look at the errors and to recognize the things that are your amazing gifts and the strengths that sometimes go dormant. Make sure you’re using them all.
Hugh: Give yourself credit for having one mouth, two ears, and two eyes. You were listening. You paid attention. I want to delve into the sphere of influence of a leader. You have an ensemble theater company. I have musical ensembles. Each of us is influencing others.
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Sandra, we both experienced ensembles. What I know about leaders, and what I teach about leaders, is we influence others. Even if you are in the middle, I worked with mega-churches and influenced them from middle management. I wasn’t the preacher, but I impacted others around me. Talk about leading from your position of influence.
Sandra: I have a talk I did for quite a while. I’d still do it if somebody wanted it. I thought it was interesting, the power of influence. It was entitled, “How to Be the Most Influential Person in the Room Even If You’re Not the Wealthiest.” Even if you’re not in a leadership position, you have influence. You have influence when you step out into the world and go into a store. The difference that somebody can make.
Joel Osteen’s wife influenced somebody without even knowing it. She walked by a woman who was exiting the church. She took a look at her and said, “You’re so pretty” and kept walking. She later found out that that girl was actually suicidal. The fact that someone saw her was influential enough in her life that she was still there to tell Ms. Osteen the story when she came back to the church years later. Influence can happen no matter where you are.
If you’re working in the mailroom, if you’re getting coffee for a company, and you do it to the best of your ability, and you do it authentically. If you’re curious, be curious. If you’re funny, be funny. Find a way to bring who you actually are to whatever task you’re doing. Ms. Osteen’s gift is recognizing beauty. That’s one thing she just does, and she seems to do all the time. It’s natural for her. Living in her authentic space, she walked by and acknowledged someone. If you were to do that for someone on your team, you’re making a huge influence, even if it’s someone above you on the ranking.
Being influential as a leader, coming from that space. Listening is important. Find out where they’re coming from. Find out what lights them up. Be influential enough to raise them up if you see something in their design that they don’t see, or move them toward somewhere they may better use those gifts that you see or feel aren’t being used. Sometimes when you do the listening, they’ll hear it. You can go, “Okay, you know what? We can use that. It will work out.” Kind of like my schedule worked out, where it worked better for my client. Sometimes if you stay in the “I should push this person to do well in this position,” that’s not being authentic to who you are if you’re holding a safe space for them. When I work with a lot of folks in the nonprofit world, that is their gift. They all seem to say across the board, “I create safe space.” I have helped them understand that that is one of the most powerful leadership qualities you can have.
Hugh: We have powerful qualities that we don’t recognize. The awareness is important here. I worked with many nonprofit leaders doing all kinds of stuff. They’re all dedicated to their cause. There is a common trait that people have a passion for creating impact in the lives of others. They start this leadership position without being a leader, or at least perceiving themselves to be a leader. Sometimes people feel like they’re faking it when really nobody knows how to do it because you’re probably doing something that nobody has ever done before.
Sandra: You’d better be. That’s what a leader does.
Hugh: I started directing choirs when I was 18. I was nothing but potential. I studied music, piano. I knew what it was about, but I’d never been in a choir. I believed I could do it, so I just proceeded and knew what to do. When I got my Masters at 48, a few years later and determined all of the things I didn’t know, it was quite embarrassing.
Sandra: Let me guess: You made a lot of errors.
Hugh: Yes, ma’am.
Sandra: Do you keep track of that?
Sandra: These are good things.
Hugh: You have to let it go because it’s on you. What would you say to people who don’t feel authentic when they are really doing the work they have been called to do and are doing the best they can? What would you say to people to encourage them to keep going?
Sandra: What you’re talking about is the impostor syndrome for some people.
Hugh: You feel that way.
Sandra: There is a time that that has served me to be able to- That was my dog moaning. That wasn’t me. I do worry about that because she sounds like a man moaning. It’s just my German Shepherd, I swear.
Hugh: We believe you.
Sandra: Welcome to the Zoom world. You never know what’s actually going on.
That impostor thing, I definitely understand that and know there have been times where I have gone, “I may not be feeling this 100%, but I’m just going to go in and act as if.” Sometimes that’s what you have to do. It works out okay. I wouldn’t rely on it, but I wouldn’t be afraid of it. If it’s what it comes down to, then do it. Here’s the thing. When it works out, your body goes, “Yeah, that felt good.” Kinesthetically, you can do it again. It’s like riding a bike. It’s shaky at first, but then you step into it. There’s nothing wrong necessarily with acting as if you’re totally in control. Just make sure there is that sense of personal forgiveness if an error occurs.
Hugh: It’s hard to forgive ourselves, isn’t it?
Sandra: It’s very hard. We can say it, but do we really do it? I will actually write down what I’m forgiving myself for if I’m having a difficult time. I’ll say the lesson I learned from this error is, and I am grateful for this lesson, thank you, God. Moving forward. Then it’s out of me. I’m not holding on to it anymore. It’s out of me. It’s kind of like saying, “Sure, I forgive that person,” and then having to forgive them again and again and again. We do that. Making a decision is part of really strong leadership. That decision is for us as well as for everybody else. Deciding that I am really going to forgive myself and accept the blessing instead of the shame, the guilt, whatever is attaching to you, just release it and say, “There is a blessing here. I see the blessing in the error. I forgive myself and am moving on.”
Hugh: You have extraordinary communication skills because you focus on relationship.
Hugh: I do believe, and I teach, that the foundation for leadership, the foundation for communication, and the foundation of our success in our enterprise, be it for-profit or for-purpose, is based in relationship. You also work with people and horses. You do this communication thing with horses, right?
Sandra: Yes, I do. It’s interesting. As you were saying relationship, for some reason, I pictured you in front of the orchestra and realizing that’s relationship, too. If one instrument is off, the choice is to match that instrument or pull them back into alignment. A lot of relationship goes on with what you have done for all of your life as well.
The horses are interesting. Remember I said nature felt like truth to me? I didn’t understand it at the time. It was more of a subconscious attraction to it. I do think there is something about horses in particular. Some people have this romantic vision of them. Some people are slightly afraid of them. Some people think they are sexy. Or they had a history of them when they were little.
I find they are a great introduction to helping people take a breath, get out in nature, get away from the phone, the rings, the dings, all the things that distract us, and just be. A horse expects you to be present, which is very difficult for a lot of us, especially leaders, people who have that drive, people who have things pulled from them right and left all the time. Being present is a luxury. I wish it wasn’t so elusive for many people. To have them remember what it’s like just to be. A horse has no story. They don’t live in story like we do.
In order to communicate, the work I do is equine assisted learning. It’s not therapy. I say that because I have the ultimate respect for people who do equine assisted therapy. What I do is a lesser version of it, but I do equine assisted learning. The same modality as therapy, but if somebody poses trauma or something they really need to deal with emotionally, I send them off to my associates.
For this, it’s just clarity in appreciation of self, clarity in communication. The role is to be on the ground with the horse—we don’t ride—and build a relationship with them. In order to do that, they don’t speak the same language. That horse is not buying any story they walk in with. They don’t care if you pulled up in a Range Rover or a Honda. What are you energetically being right now? If you ask a horse what time it is, it’s now. If you can’t be that energy now, that animal is going to walk away from you.
Or if you act as if, the horse will walk away from you. I’ve seen it so many times. If someone says, “I am a confident leader,” and they try to lead the horse, the horse will ignore them. if they say, I am doing my best to be confident and be a good leader. I am learning to be a good leader,” their energy suddenly shifts. It doesn’t matter what they’ve said. It’s the energy that comes from the thought and what they’ve actually spoken and how their cells receive that. All of a sudden, that horse will turn around and walk up to them.
I’m not saying it’s going to happen every time. I’m not saying if you try that with a random horse, it’s going to happen. There is an environment and state of mind I have helped to put people in before we actually attack this. It happens quite often. It’s the power of our thoughts. It’s the power of what we walk in with. It’s the difference of walking in thinking I should be this way and instead walking in, going, “This is how I’m designed. I may make mistakes. Things may not always go well. Let’s make this thing happen.” As opposed to, “I should be able to lead this and make this happen.” Very different energy. The horses pick up on it. It’s a very deep transformation that happens very quickly.
It’s one of the reasons I like it. I do exclusive retreats for women four times a year. COVID of course upheaved all of that stuff. We’ll see how many we get in. We only got two in last year.
Hugh: You need to be on the right end of the horse.
Sandra: Yes, I am responsible for your safety as well. I do keep an eye on that. I’ve done work with teams as well. I’ve had organizations and small companies ask to do a group and do that same retreat. I do those kinds of things as well.
Hugh: There is a saying that if the orchestra respects the conductor, they play as the conductor intends. If they don’t, they play exactly as you direct. The relationship piece, there is a relationship between the players and the conductor. They can treat you like the back end of a horse if you don’t treat them right. It’s not a pretty picture. I’ve seen famous conductors really beat up on orchestras in rehearsal and then in concert they get even. They play poorly. Who looks bad? It’s the leader. That happens to the best of us when we’re not authentic and don’t work on, these are people we’re leading. We’re not subjects.
Sandra: I love that you used the word “intention.” Intention is everything. Looking back at the woman leader who says, “I am a confident leader,” it’s a little muddled because she’s not believing it. But if she says, “I am learning to be a confident leader,” the intention is much clearer. There is no gunk in the way. The horse will turn and react. To be very clear in our intention helps us in our language. We’ll have cleaner language and be more efficient in the words that we choose if we start a sentence with “My intention is.” Suddenly, we won’t be using disempowering words, like “don’t, can’t, should,” the word we have been going back to. Those don’t really pop up if we say, “My intention is.” You’ll find support. It’s a very interesting way to start even a difficult conversation. Start with, “My intention is.” Great word.
Hugh: You were aware earlier in this conversation when you said, “Have to.”
Sandra: When I stopped myself.
Hugh: It didn’t sound right, and you reframed because it didn’t sound right to you.
Sandra: That was an error.
Hugh: We are influencers. I think I shared with you that I started speaking at CEO Space in May 200y in front of 1,000 people with big cameras and screens. I don’t think the founder understood that I’d been on stage all my life, but I’d had my back to the audience. There is a presentation skill now. The authenticity, we are presenting. We are sharing with people our vision. We are influencers. We want people to respond not only to our words but to us and to the message. We do stupid things. We don’t rehearse. We show up fragmented. You’ve been on camera and on stage. You are a performer. I am aware that I am interviewing a professional interviewer because you’ve had an interview show.
Sandra: And doing more. The podcast is starting. I’ve done radio shows and interviewed doctors and lawyers and biologists. I had a wildlife radio show for a while. I have interviewed all kinds of people, yes. I love it. It’s fun.
Hugh: It didn’t stop me. I am not being self-aware. I am doing it. I am not a professional.
Sandra: Which is great.
Hugh: What do we need to be aware of when we are presenting, even to one person?
Sandra: If I could boil it down to one thing, and I have been teaching this since I was teaching television hosts way back when, when I was still working in soap operas and starting my company at the same time, the #1 thing is somebody said to me- Let’s talk about stage fright. “I am in my head. I have the monkey mind. I can’t remember my talk. I can’t remember the things I am supposed to say. I am so afraid I am going to mess it up. I am afraid they won’t like me. I hate public speaking.” I for one would back out if someone handed me a microphone and told me to be me. Tell me to be a homicidal doctor. I could do that. Don’t hand me a microphone in the beginning of my career and say, “Just be yourself.” I would literally block it out and not have any idea what I was saying. I would get rid of the microphone as quickly as possible and run off in tears.
The #1 thing I would say is whether it’s a presentation to one person, or your first speech was to 1,000 people, really understand to your core who you’re there to serve. What is it that you want to leave them with? When I first started speaking, I was selling from the stage. That’s how I fell into it. I would give information and then serve them by offering them a training I was doing. At first, I felt so sleazy selling from the stage. I had to reverse that and go, “No, I’m up there. Not only do I have to present value by seeing their heads going, ‘Yes, I get it,’ but show them by offering them further training how they can implement it. I am not serving them if I don’t offer them more.” My fear of sales went away. Any fear of asking for money went away because I am actually serving something way bigger than me. It’s not about me when I’m up there. That’s the thing to remember. It’s not about me.
I have a wonderful exercise I do mentally that helps open up your awareness and center you and bring everybody into your peripheral. Everything that you can sense, you are sending love to and bringing them into your embrace and serving them. It sounds woo, but it works. If you have a real heart to serve and a cause that you are really deeply ingrained and something in the world to change, that is the reason you’re there. It’s not about you. When you realize that it’s not about you, the second you start thinking, “Are they looking at my outfit? Am I sounding okay? Am I going?” the second the words “Am I” come up in your thoughts, reframe. I am here for this purpose. I am here to deliver this. It’s about what you’re giving. That helps immensely. It comes back to the intention. My intention is. You can say that to yourself as you are walking up. What is your intention? That’s the reason you’re there.
It sounds funny to say, “Love yourself. Love your design. Love your authentic self.” Then, “It’s not about you.” But it’s not.
Hugh: What is your final shot, your challenge to all of us who are leaders?
Sandra: I’m going to leave you with the story at the beginning of my book. I’ll tell it quickly. It’s horse-related of course.
We moved here to Austin, and we only had two horses. Bob alluded to the fact that you start and don’t just keep one horse for very long. We have five now. We came with two. My goal was to be able to leave our ranch, which was less than an acre in California, and give them land to run. I was super excited. Once the gate was up, the trucks were done moving, and I could take the horses from the barn to the open field. I put the halters on and led them out. I am expecting them to do what God had designed them to do. It’s the romantic version of the horse running through the rain, and they are running free, which is what I really wanted. I had an older horse who I loved to death. She loved to run. I take her to the edge of the field. I take off her halter and his halter. I stand there, and they run five steps and turn around and haul their butts back to the barn. Not once, not twice, but three times.
It’s kind of like they didn’t want the gift I was giving them. Don’t they see that this is what they’re designed to do? I’m moping and grumbling on my way back to the barn for the third time. I hear this download. I swear it was God’s voice: “When have you done this to me?” When have I been designed to do something and instead listened to the bad programming and not being authentic, stepped away from the opportunity, and didn’t go into the field, even though I was designed to do it? The next time you think, “I don’t know if this is right,” tap in, and do it. Take the opportunity.
By the way, it took four days. Then I have a very shaky video of my horse who was 20 at the time, kicking her feet up in happiness over her head, and both of them ran around the field two or three times in full gallops. It was great. I got my payoff in the end.
Hugh: SandraDeeRobinson.com is where you can find more about Sandra and her work. Sandra, you are an inspiration by just showing up. Then you start adding to that. You have given us so much to think about.
Sandra: Thank you. I loved your energy. It was so much fun.