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What Sets Great Leaders Apart
Interview with Leadership Coach Lisa Anna Palmer
“Progressive leaders realize that to build high-performing teams and achieve the success they need to live and work based on fundamental business principles that flow from a love for humanity and the desire for human connection. It is compassion, courage, and competence as a leader that inspires employees to do their very best and give the company a competitive edge. It is profundity, passion, purpose, and perseverance that helps leaders and employees to tap into what is important to them and to pursue their vision regardless of the obstacles they may encounter along the way. It is professionalism, play, philanthropy, and prosperity that engages people to push their limits and to give their very best at work for one another, for clients, and for society. These are the secrets to attracting, retaining, and motivating a talented workforce in the twenty-first century – This is the wisdom that sets great leaders apart.” Excerpt from Light A Fire In Their Hearts by Lisa Anna Palmer
Lisa Anna Palmer, with over 25 years of experience in human resources, organizational development, and executive leadership training, is the international best-selling author of Light A Fire In Their Hearts: The Truth About Leadership (Morgan James Publishing).
A decade ago she founded Cattelan Palmer Consulting. She is now the founder and CEO of the Light Your Leadership Inc., which serves leaders and employees of organizations within the private, public, and non-profit sectors.
Palmer started her career as a consultant for PwC, as part of the Organizational Renewal Group, where she led reengineering teams and conducted international best practices research on HR policies, teams, communications, and other related topics. For nearly 14 years, Palmer worked with government employers, including Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation, and the Royal Canadian Mint.
Based in Ottawa, Ontario, she consults with companies and individuals in both Canada and the United States. Palmer has shared the stage with globally renowned speakers and has presented to high-ranking dignitaries. She was selected as one of the Top 100 Canadian Professionals for 2020. A highly-requested speaker, she recently spoke at Canadian National Convention for Junior Chamber International, Extreme Leadership Conference in San Diego, Distinctive Women in Canada Conference (GTA), and Canadian Pakistani Affiliate Chamber of Trade.
With a B.A. in Psychology, she is a Certified Extreme Leadership Facilitator, Certified Pro-Active Coach, Certified Passion Test Facilitator, and Cross-Cultural Competencies Facilitator. Fluent in three languages, she trains and leads teams responsible for HR Management, Talent Acquisition, Talent Management, and HR Strategy & Policy.
Palmer, who has contributed chapters to four best-selling books in the 365 Days series, by Jodi Chapman and Dan Teck, has been interviewed by television and radio shows, and podcasts, based in Canada and the United States.
Lisa Is also a proud Ambassador of the “She Did It!” Movement and a C-Suite Executive.
For more about Lisa Anna Palmer go to https://lightyourleadership.com/
Read the Interview Transcript
NPE Lisa Anna Palmer
Hugh Ballou: Greetings, everyone. This is Hugh Ballou with The Nonprofit Exchange. We interview people who have done some remarkable things. They have studied. Most of us have done things we wish we hadn’t, but we have learned from those, and we get to share that wisdom as well.
We have a really good guest today, Lisa Anna Palmer, who is coming in from Ottawa, Canada. Lisa is an author and a coach and consultant. Her topic area is leadership. Lisa, one of my favorite quotes is from the British conductor/composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. He is quoted as saying, “Music did not reveal all of its secrets to just one person.” You could change that word to leadership. You could put a lot of things there. I find it fascinating that other people have different perspectives. It’s a composite of a lot of things when we come up to the center that means something to us. Lisa, tell us a little bit about yourself and why you have this passion for leadership.
Lisa Anna Palmer: Thank you so much for inviting me on your show. I’m so excited. Since you asked me, because we met on The C-Suite, I am doing some research on the topics you are talking about. I love that you are a conductor and use that analogy for leadership because it’s so true. It’s how leaders are able to engage people to work together toward a common goal. There is something that happens that makes us greater than ourselves when we come into synergy.
A little bit about my background. I have worked for over 28 years in the field. I started at the young age of 22, working as Coopers & Lybrand at the time, now PricewaterhouseCooper. I had the joy of working on larger engineering projects as part of the organizational renewal group. I began looking at the importance of human experiences at work. My undergrad was in psychology, so that is where it really started in terms of having a passion for understanding what motivates people, what gets people going, and all the different aspects of human emotion. Relating that back to the workplace, what I found is it’s a huge laboratory for how people interact with one another.
Since then, I went from working within a consulting firm to trying to implement some of the solutions we were developing in human resources. I went to work at the World Canadian Mint for a few years as an HR officer. Then I worked in the Mortgage and Housing Corporation. These are federal employers within the government of Canada.
In 2011, after I had a really interesting career, I had some great times. Excellent leaders. I also had some difficult times. I had some burnouts. I had difficulty saying no when work was brought my way. Also, having to learn to lead others. I had been a high performer. All of a sudden, I got promoted to leadership roles and had to bring people together. Different kinds of experience.
That is a very common experience in leadership. People are high performers. They are good at what they do, be it finance, marketing, you name it. Suddenly you get rewarded with promotions in the form of leadership roles. It’s a completely new experience that many aren’t exposed to until they get the title of manager or executive. There is a struggle in the transition that takes place that people are not prepared for. I believe that is at the heart of a lot of toxicity we are seeing in workplaces.
Hugh: Oh my word. There is this thing in the military where if your platoon doesn’t respect you as a platoon leader, they are likely to shoot you in the back in combat. I know there are corporate leaders all over who get shot in the back every day, but they don’t even know it. There is this self-awareness thing that is lacking. The fact that you say, “Oh, I’m a leader now,” there is the beginning of discovery that there is something we need to learn. In my short life of 74 and ¾ years, I have discovered that one of the most misunderstood words in our language is leadership.
Lisa: Absolutely. When I was trying to write my book Light a Fire in Their Hearts: The Truth About Leadership, and I mean “truth” in terms of how we live it, not necessarily absolute truth, I was trying to find a definition, just like any good author. I couldn’t find one single definition other than leadership is to lead. That’s not helpful. Then I found there was a study done. They found that there were 91 factors of leadership. I said, “No wonder it’s so difficult to describe.” I believe that leadership is one of those concepts, just like love and energy, that we really need to understand what it means for us, the people around us, and how we want to interact with that energy of leadership.
Hugh: That’s a really good explanation. I see behind you a book. Talk about that book.
Lisa: How many times have we heard—I know I heard this lots of times working in human resources and as I was becoming a formal leader in different situations—the old adage, “In order to motivate people, you need to light a fire under…” Where? We know where we’re told to light those fires.
In years of observation and working with leaders on all levels, from frontline to CEOs, also counseling employees who are coming to me with their challenges, what I learned that we need to light a fire in people’s hearts to create that burning desire to want to do good things at work, and to treat each other and connect at the human level. That is what lighting a fire in their hearts means. It’s to be able to help unleash people’s potential by igniting their engagement, by igniting their desire to want to do and be their best, at work and otherwise.
Hugh: I started conducting a long time ago. I was 18. I was nothing but potential. I had studied music theory and piano. I knew the rubrics of music, not anything about choral conducting. I stated directing a choir. I focused and learned that. I look back on some of those probably embarrassing times where I didn’t know any better. There is this thing of recognizing potential. I guess people think that some people who are bossy are leaders when we aren’t really born as leaders, are we?
Lisa: Here’s an interesting thing. There is an author here in Canada named Francoise Morissette. She wrote a book called Made in Canada Leadership. She went into the aspect of innate versus accidental leader. Innate are the typical behaviors that we assign to someone who may be on the playground, telling everybody what to do. People say, “They are born or natural leaders.” Accidental leaders are people who step up when they feel the strong desire to address a certain situation or standing up for the cause. I’m sure because you work with clergy and nonprofits, people who really step up because they believe in something is common and important.
When I was looking at those two concepts, innate versus accidental, some of us may be born with certain tendencies to gather people around and get them to work on our objective or vision. However, there is growth opportunities for both.
Take your innate leader for example. Innate leaders tend to be more extroverted. They are the ones who are stepping up into the limelight. What about listening? What about being thoughtful? Those are growth areas for people who are considered “innate leaders.” There is a growth that needs to happen for them.
At the same time, an accidental leader tends to be more introverted. Perhaps they are good listeners and are thoughtful and are helping others to shine, but they need to learn to step up and help share the spotlight. Sometimes people need to look to you for guidance, so you need to be up front.
It’s interesting to me that these concepts created around leadership need to converge. Someone who is a great people leader is someone who has grown, be they innate and have grown more of the accidental leadership qualities like learning to listen, learning to share the spotlight, giving recognition to others; and someone who is more of an accidental leader stepping up and gaining the courage to step out of their comfort zone.
Hugh: According to the statistics, this is old stuff, the Myers-Briggs people, you mentioned clergy, and I do work some with clergy. It’s the minority of who we work with. Certainly there is a need for potential for growth there. 75% of clergy identify as introverts. I would guess church musicians, the large majority of them would also identify as introverts. This doesn’t say you’re shy or not; it is how you generate your energy. I am an extrovert. I get out there and get my energy from interfacing with people. That’s fascinating. I do agree with you on the fire, the passion, the purpose, the focus.
Let me give you four points of leadership and let you respond to them in your words. I have these four principles that we teach in SynerVision and from a conductor’s standpoint. Since you mentioned my being a conductor, that is an important leadership model. We can’t make anybody do anything. We can’t bark and tell people. We pull out of people and create the space for people to use their own abilities.
Let me give you to them briefly. The first one is, I am on the podium. I am ready to go. Say it’s rehearsal. This is a meeting by the way. I have to know the score. I have to know where I am going. I have to be clear about expressing it. I have to have the skill to express it. I call that first one foundations. I triggered the being very clear on where you want to go. Talk about that some.
Lisa: Having the vision and being clear. Also, engaging others in it. Having recognition. Particularly overlaying it to what is going on today. Organizations are struggling to figure out how to bring people back into the workplace, or what that is going to look like. No one knows. One of the first questions I have for leaders is, “Have you asked your team?”
Hugh: Good question.
Lisa: It’s important to hold that vision. I can’t recall their name, but someone was talking about being a chief vision officer. You need to create that vision. Also, to inspire others and see it and make it their own. Having that open spirit to the fact that others want to contribute to that or want to be inspired by it. Let’s create something together. That’s what I love about you being a conductor and seeing that beautiful orchestra. They are looking to you for the vision, that foundational piece. Then they are bringing themselves into it so it becomes this beautiful shared piece of music.
Hugh: Love it. You noticed on my music stand there is a piece of music, which is actually the equivalent of a strategic plan. It’s an engagement tool. That is all part of foundation: direction and process.
The second one is when I hire a contract orchestra, I hire the best. The first one is know the score. The second one is hire the best. It’s about relationships. Why are relationships important in leadership?
Lisa: Relationships are so important. The best leaders know how to connect at the human level, to transcend this external face we all put forward. How to get past that. How to connect with the human being behind it. How to see the potential and unleash it. Unless you create a safe space within a relationship that is not based on fear but mutual respect, caring, love, the agape love that we have for one another, compassion, unless we are able to create that space, people will not bring their best. They will hold back because they will not be vulnerable. They are going to hold back and not put their all into it.
When we are leaders who care and want to connect at the human level and unleash potential, we work at creating that safe space where people feel like they are in a relationship that is mutually beneficial, where people feel comfortable and are able to take little risks and be their best selves. Maybe if it doesn’t work out, guess what? They will learn from it. You will support them and help them take it to the next level. Attracting the best is people with high potential who are also heart-inspired.
Hugh: Love it. James Allen wrote that little book As a Man Thinketh. He said, “We don’t attract what we need; we attract what we are.” You just echoed that. I just had this conversation with my wife on the balcony an hour ago. Were you listening?
Lisa: I promise no.
Hugh: You mentioned earlier, this is one thing that I put front and center as a conductor is the listening skills, one of the most under-utilized skills a leader employs, needs to employ, or should employ. There is a quote I can’t trace down that says, “Listening is so close to loving you can hardly tell the difference.” There is a relationship piece of listening, but you pointed out a lot of dynamics. Do you want to say more about listening and why it’s so important?
Lisa: For sure. Listening is key. I think it’s the most important and most difficult leadership skill. It’s lifelong learning to listen. Listening is not just about being present and hearing what the person says. It’s actually working on ourselves to be present, having our mind wander or guessing what we are going to say next. It’s creating and holding that space for that person to be themselves and be vulnerable.
A fun story: I’m sure you are familiar with Sir Richard Branson. He was at a conference here in Ottawa. I was in the audience, and I really liked the focus on people that he has for his group of companies. I asked him, “What would you advise new entrepreneurs who are trying to grow their companies to make sure people stay passionate about their work?” He said, “You gotta listen, listen, listen, listen.” That was his response. In fact, I love what came next. He said, “You gotta listen. You gotta act on what you’re hearing. If there are things you can’t, you explain and give rationale. Then you look for the best in people.” Listening helps you to hear and see the best in people.
Hugh: Earlier you talked about trust and creating a safe culture and allowing vulnerability. Brene Brown speaks on vulnerability. Where does this vulnerability come in? It’s not whining. It’s not complaining. How does vulnerability show up in leadership? Why is that so important?
Lisa: Part of the approach in my book is that great leaders connect at the human level through compassion, courage, and competence. We can add creativity to that. That courage piece is actually really interesting when we look at vulnerability. Being vulnerable is the scariest thing on Earth. I know this for a fact. I worked with so many managers and leaders in one-on-one meetings, which are different than meetings in a boardroom.
Some of the things that keep them from doing what they need to do to be great leaders is that fear of exposing their vulnerability and to be seen as weak. When you are able to show your humanity and share it in a professional, authentic manner, you give permission to do the same to others. That is when you get to the truth. That is when you are dealing with truth. You are not dealing with people’s personas, with the masks they are wearing. You are dealing with actual human connection that is so necessary for high performance. Having the courage to be vulnerable means you have the courage to be yourself, not this superhuman robot who walks around with this mask of so-called professionalism. To me, professionalism is being able to be our very best, respect others, create stability and inclusion.
Hugh: It’s authenticity, isn’t it?
Hugh: That’s super. The first pillar is foundations. Where are you going? Can you lead it? The second one is about relationships. The third one is in music, rests are important. There is a purpose. It’s about balance. If we are working all the time, we are out of balance. We are worn out. We’re no good. Why is balance important? Caring for self, managing all the parts of ourselves, physical, mental, spiritual, etc.
Lisa: I’m so glad you brought that up. Certainly one of the gaps that we see all the time in working with leaders, and self-leadership is an important part of it. We are all leaders. Some of us have formal titles. We all need to lead in our lives. We need to make decisions.
I know for sure that I had a huge gap when it came to self-care. I didn’t know how to set boundaries and say no at work. I used to joke I was the HR drivethrough. All of the big files that were too complex, or nobody wanted to work on, or needed to be handled at the last minute were dropped in my office on my desk, and I would say yes. I was 33 at the time; I didn’t know how to say no. I thought it was my duty to be able to complete my work. It didn’t matter that the mountain kept getting taller. Even though I was delivering, so I thought I would get to the end of it, another pile would get dumped on me. It was a never-ending thing.
There are two aspects to it. One is self-leadership. I got a coach. After I burned out, I wanted to figure out what was going on. He told me, “You don’t know how to say no. You’re saying yes to everything. You don’t know how to manage your priorities. You are making everything your #1 priority except for your health.” He taught me how to set those healthy boundaries.
At the same time, not only do I need to set an example, but I need to care enough to notice. Let me notice if I have someone who is burning out. Let me notice if I am assigning too much work. Let me invite them as part of the planning process so that we are creating reasonable timelines and goals where we are putting people first instead of trying to create these deadlines which aren’t reasonable and trying to push everything through the system.
Hugh: You’re sure you weren’t listening to my conversation before?
Lisa: There is a wavelength thing going on.
Hugh: The balance makes everything else work. If we don’t show up for self, we burn out.
Lisa: We burn out, and we burn others out.
Hugh: In the nonprofit sector, the burnout rate is almost 50%. It’s higher for clergy. We do it to ourselves. That thing of delegating, caring for others, burning the synergy of the teams, creating a safe place where people can step up to be vulnerable, all of those are important in creating a high-functioning culture.
The balance piece is what makes everything else work. The rests in music are dramatic. They are not absence of sound. It’s punctuation.
The final one is we rehearse for success. Every musical group rehearses for every performance. We have worthy work. We have developed the skills to lead. We have good people around us. We come to the workplace feeling refreshed and prepared, but we put people into a system where they can’t function. For instance, boring, unproductive meetings. The annual review. A lot of these things that are low-functioning that we go into as habit. How do you see setting up effective systems as engaging the whole culture in high performance?
Lisa: It comes back to trust. When you have a high trust organization, leaders are more likely to delegate. If they are not able to delegate, they will ask why. Maybe I need to talk to my people and make sure they are trained. Maybe I need to do my own mindfulness practices. Being able to rehearse for success, you need to be able to create the conditions for that.
Part of that is also making sure that you’re not just creating echo chambers. Jodie Bock and I were having a talk. That is the name of my podcast, Leadership Talks. It comes back to that idea of fear to be vulnerable. I want everybody to agree with me, so I am going to create an echo chamber where no one steps up when things are derailing or need to be flagged. What am I going to do? I am going to create meetings to share information and make sure others are repeating it back to me. Not having those fundamental relationships in place where people feel comfortable enough to flag something to you. Then you have meetings to fix the problems because people didn’t want to flag things to you in the first place. It is this big cycle of processes that are breaking down because there are bottlenecks. Often those bottlenecks could be removed with trust. If we empower people, they will be able to create good processes.
Here is listening again. Listen to the frontlines who are actually doing the work, and not try to impose our perspectives on everybody in the organization by having cycles of meetings. Help people to communicate with one another. Empower them with the ability to communicate with one another. Don’t be that person who says, “Don’t talk to that manager. You have to go through me first.” Don’t be the one who prevents people from sharing a cross teams and to create an us and them culture.
My view is too many meetings. Some meetings are important. Make them meaningful. This is where we are sharing values, celebrating people, gathering ideas, or brainstorming. It’s a reciprocal situation. It’s not just the leader talking, talking, talking. Then they are not being a leader. They are creating an echo chamber. The idea is to have meetings that are meaningful. Make them interesting, fun, and creative so we leave with a clear sense of what everybody will be doing until we next meet. Set the foundations people are interacting with each other between meetings. When we meet again, we will do a status update. Does anyone need help? Does anyone have blocks? Does anyone need support? Then your meetings become meaningful. They are not just leader imposing whatever credo or doctrine on the people who are attending.
Hugh: It’s not your pulpit to preach.
Lisa: Thank you.
Hugh: I’m in your fan club now. A lot of good sound bites.
*Sponsored by Wordsprint*
Can I ask you to talk more about your book? What inspired you? What happened as a result of writing that book? It’s an experience, isn’t it? I have written 10 of them.
Lisa: Oh my goodness. This is my first book. I have a couple of others on the way. It’s called Light a Fire in Their Hearts: The Truth About Leadership. It’s available at all kinds of online stores. Pick your favorite one.
What inspired me to write was experiencing life in HR, organizational renewal, transformational leadership for such a long time. When I started my business in 2011, I decided to do HR consulting. That was too broad. I was getting all kinds of requests for all kinds of work. My heart was really in coaching, training, developing leaders. Because I found that at the heart of a great deal of suffering in workplaces, there is a lot of suffering in workplaces, there was always leadership behind it. A question of self-leadership or incompetent leadership by others. It happens, right? It’s no wonder engagement levels are 15% of engagement, and 85% of people are disengaged globally.
It took me a while to get from being judgey about it to being more compassionate about it. Look at the way people are promoted. They go from being good, excellent high performers at whatever they do. They are rewarded with a promotion. They are now in charge of a group. They have spent 5-10 years developing their craft and profession and zero time developing their leadership of others. We expect them to succeed? Promoting them before they are ready or before they are mentored and able to learn about the art and science of leadership can hurt them and by extension hurt their team and organization. That is one of the key themes of the book: prepare leader.
Start early. Don’t start the day you are going to promote them to manage a role. Start early. Early leadership development.
Understanding the transition can be painful. Like you said earlier, you need the respect of your team. If you were on their colleague on Friday, and you come in on Monday as their team leader, what happens? I was coaching managers, and that is one of the most surprising things they experience. They say, “Lisa, I don’t understand. Last Friday, I was having nachos and beer with them. Here comes Monday. Nobody wants to talk to me anymore. I am not one of the guys anymore.” Understanding that leadership growth can be painful. We need to support our leaders when they make that shift from being an individual contributor to being a manager or executive. That is one piece.
The other fundamental piece is what are the messages we are giving to the next generation of leaders? I am their coach, so I hear this. “Lisa, today I went to my director and asked them what I need to do to be able to advance in the organization. I have a dream of becoming a VP.” What do you think the advice was? Rather than saying, “Well, learn to engage people. Develop yourself,” the advice is, “In order to get ahead, you need to learn to play the game.” What is that game? It’s not a nice game that they’re being advised to play.
I say those are two silent killers in organizations. Promoting people without offering them the opportunity to learn about leadership first. Secondly, when they come for advice, tell them to be mean or play games to get ahead.
Hugh: Games are so destructive. They exist in corporate American and institutions in higher learning. A lot of times, they are invisible because they have been there for so long we no longer see them. Part of the balance of my four principles is having a coach. Leaders need people like you and me. We do have what are called blind spots. We see it, but we don’t see it. It’s invisible in plain sight.
Lisa: Or we don’t name it.
Hugh: The elephant in the room.
Lisa: It’s hurting organizations.
Hugh: We’re deadly polite, and we walk around it. We set up unintended consequences, don’t we?
Lisa: Absolutely. It’s burning people out. People are suffering because of this. Leaders, their teams. When we tell people that they need to play games, that means don’t be yourself. Imagine you hire someone into the team who is a nice person, a good leader, has integrity, and is great at what they do. You promote them, and all of a sudden, you are telling them, “Well, forget the integrity. You need to play games to get ahead. You need to step on other people’s toes and try to orchestrate these ambushes of your colleagues.” Come on.
Hugh: Some of the corporate models, I won’t mention any, but when you fire the bottom 10%, that’s a fear. That’s the dynamic that would set up.
Lisa: You know what I call that? The school of monstrous management.
Hugh: I love that. I haven’t read your book. My excuse, and I’ll stick with it, is I don’t have time to get a copy. I believe you offer advice modeled after 30 great leaders. What do they have in common? How do you extract the essences of best leadership practices today?
Lisa: I didn’t want this book to be academic. I wanted it to be told through stories and workplaces and leaders. I interviewed over 30 leaders. What I found they have in common is that ability to connect at the human level. That was #1. That was the most important piece because leadership is being able to connect at the human level. Great leadership. We won’t talk about bad leadership. To be able to connect at the human level.
I identified through compassion, which is the empathy plus the desire to help. it goes further than empathy. To be able to see when others are going through struggles or need help. Having that ability to see that and notice and listen.
Having courage. The courage to be vulnerable. The courage to stand up. The courage to manage upwards. What I found in doing workplace assessments is people are overworked because their manager didn’t have the ability to manage upwards, to manage the expectations of senior leadership, to manage the workload that was coming down. Kind of like my story at the beginning before I learned how to do it. I would say yes to everything except I’d end up doing it myself and burning out. Or you pass it on. Having the courage to be able to stand up for what is right and manage expectations and flag things when they are not reasonable, even if it means taking a bit of a risk.
The third piece is competence. That covers all the different horizontal skills to be able to learn communication, performance management, processes. Whatever you are working on, you become good at it and can inspire others and encourage them to continue to grow. It’s lifelong learning.
Those are the key things. Plus creativity, of course.
Hugh: Absolutely. When I speak to groups, when people are questioning whether they are a leader or not, I say my three simple definitions of a leader. You get things done, you know how things get done, and you influence people positively. You can certainly be a bummer and influence them negatively.
I want to touch on something we have moved around. The foundation of leadership I believe is relationships. We talked about that and building trust. Communication has the same basis in relationship. Someone famous said, “The biggest illusion about communication is it actually has taken place.” We think we have communicated because we sent an email.
Lisa: Right. And we forget that a major part of communication is listening. We forget that part. It’s the most important part.
Hugh: Yeah. When there is a dialogue. Probably what leaders need to get ahold of is that it’s not a monologue. What you are talking about earlier about meetings, it’s a delivery system for people when it actually should be an engagement tool. We define this process as creating a new architecture of engagement. People have an opinion and get to voice it and see how it works out inside the group.
Lisa: Absolutely. It has to be part of a process that there is more than one person involved to be communication. You want to check back and make sure that people understand what you are saying. You need that dialogue. If you are not having a dialogue, how are you going to see if people actually got what you had to say? Also, are you hearing what they are saying back?
Hugh: What’s the saying? “I’m not sure what you thought you said is what I thought I understood.”
Lisa: Right. Check it out.
Hugh: Would you like to take a few audience questions?
Hugh: We have some great young leaders with good, sharp minds and a good professor in Dallas. They are in class right now. Bob, I’m traveling, so I don’t have your book, but he is a great teacher of philanthropy and an inspiring leader of young leaders. Bob, do you have any questions boiling up from the group?
Bob Hopkins: The group is silent today. We are listening though. I am taking notes because I think this is an important topic for everybody to understand. Everybody wants to be a leader. Everybody wants their child to be a leader. How do you do that? I have circled here, “Arrive early. Dress up. Show up.” Those are the first three things for an introvert. If you want to be recognized, go early and meet those in control.
We have a question from Carmen. “How do international students transfer and get into the communities of America? How do they become leaders in organizations or in groups that don’t represent who they are?” Carmen is one of those people. English is not her first language. This is not her country. It is now. She is married and has children. She is not middle-aged; she is not a teenaged student.
Hugh: Or Canada. Our guest is in Canada. It would apply to Canada as well as the United States.
Lisa: Carmen, I’m so glad you asked that question. I work quite a bit with a wonderful nonprofit called World Skills Employment Center. They are launching an initiative called Empowering Newcomer Women. We help them to land work in Canada. I’m sure a lot of the same opportunities would relate to the United States.
A key part of that is we talk about self-leadership. Leadership is from the inside out. We always start with us first and then radiate that outwards to engage others in it. Some of the things that Hugh and I have been talking about are key. Leadership is not about necessarily telling others what to do. It’s about asking and listening and then being able to see how we can be of service to others. How can we inspire to engage others to be and do their very best? I think that would be a great place to start. Start developing your own leadership abilities. Do mindfulness. If you have a faith-based practice, work on yourself in terms of building your compassion, your courage, your competence in whatever areas you’re in.
Start engaging with people. Reach out to them. Connect at the human level. When you connect at the human level and establish that, and you have people’s ears, you first listen to them. Think about leadership as not only guiding, coaching, etc. but as engaging with. Sometimes, we worry about engaging with others because it feels uncomfortable or we have to get out of our comfort zone. That is an area to work on: that courage to reach out to others. I hope that helps.
Carmen: Thank you.
Lisa: Go and shine. Shine your light.
Carmen: All my life, I worked as a sales associate. Now I am trying to be a teacher. I am working as a Montessori teacher right now. I have 22 students. Other teachers always tell me, “I don’t know how to manage those 20 children sometimes. It’s crazy.” I ask the teacher how to manage the children. They say it comes with experience. What do you suggest for me?
Lisa: Carmen, you’re asking how to lead a group of children?
Lisa: Good question. Let me know when you get the answer. One thing I can say fundamentally is children are a reflection of our truth and humanity. Children want to be seen and heard, just like adults do, except adults hide it better. When you are able to show children that they are being seen and heard, and you connect with them, and they feel like they are valued and important, guess what? They start to calm down. This happens in workplaces as well. Sometimes you see there is conflict in workplaces. People are upset and getting louder, especially when doing major transitions. People want to be seen, heard, and validated. When we see their humanity at any age, things start to get better. Also, show them yours.
Carmen: Beautiful. Thank you so much.
Hugh: That is a really good laboratory for learning leadership. If you can do it there, you can probably do it anywhere.
Lisa: Yes, for sure.
Hugh: Bob, do you have another one?
Bob: Yes. This is Tori. She has a question.
Tori: Hi, Lisa. What advice do you have for leaders that maybe want to write a book? Where would you advise them to start?
Lisa: I love that question. If someone has a desire to write a book, I encourage them to just start. Hugh has written 10. I am on my second one now. It’s to answer that calling to write that book. I like to think of books as souls born in a different format. I learned so much just writing my book because of the experience. You need to enjoy the journey. I would ask: What is inspiring you to write that book? We hear a lot about people writing books because it’s their business calling card. That’s fair enough. But when it’s a book that comes from the heart, and it’s profound, know that you are going to learn from that book. You are going to grow from that experience. Even if you never finish it, which I hope you do, just the gifts that come along the way.
I will give you an example. I have written corporate reports since I was 22. I am 50 now, so that’s a long time. I thought, “I’ll bang out this book in a year. No problem.” I was used to writing long reports. It took me five years to write it. You know what? The first two years, I was getting mad because I couldn’t write it faster. By the next two years, I thought, “Look at all the blessings that came because I didn’t write it faster.” I got to meet Richard Branson. I got to meet these 30 leaders I wouldn’t have known two years before. I got to experience new things and projects through my work. I got to do this amazing project with Indigenous leaders. A big part of that is when you are starting to write your book, trust and have faith. This is a good place to have faith. Have faith that it will guide you where you need to go to learn and experience things you will get to share in your book. Trust that it will happen in the right time.
Hugh: Thank you so much for that question. Bob, we have time for one more question.
Bob: I would prefer my students to ask the questions even though I have one, too. This is McKenna.
McKenna: I have a question. What are your thoughts about leaders who are having to congregate in undergrad churches, especially when they are going up against the law?
Lisa: Maybe if you could give a little bit more- This might be something happening in the U.S.
McKenna: This was in your homeland in Canada. But also overseas internationally, in China especially.
Lisa: I’m not really sure I can comment on that per se other than to say from a leadership perspective, I believe that people need to do what they feel is right in their hearts. Connect with the truth. Be guided by that. Make clear decisions. Getting clarity is important. If I am going to make a decision on how to show up in the world, first I need to have clarity around what I want to put out there. What is it that I am trying to accomplish and create with the impact I want to make? Get clarity on what that means. Then I can make informed decisions about whether I need to demonstrate courage, manage risk, connect with and bring into the movement. That applies to many situations, especially difficult situations we are encountering these days. We need to make decisions on when you are going to step up, when you are going to decide to take a different way of doing things, or stop and try to understand more about others’ perspectives. That comes back to that self-leadership piece. Figure out how you want to show up in the situation.
Hugh: Bob, you said you had a question.
Bob: I’d like an opinion on leadership and philanthropy. To me, a leader can be one unless they are a communal servant, giving back to the community.
Hugh: Thank you.
Bob: I don’t see any list of people with words that describe leadership including compassion or giving back or philanthropy or empathy or anything like that.
Lisa: I’m so glad you brought that up. In addition to the three C’s of connection, which are compassion, courage, and competence, in the book, you will also see there is a list of the eight P’s of ignition. That includes profundity, going within, getting clear on what’s important to you; passion; purpose; perseverance; professionalism; play; philanthropy; and prosperity. Those eight P’s can be connected with and help find meaning in their work. Meaning is important. That is what is missing from a lot of roles and jobs. People don’t understand how they are making a positive impact in the lives of others.
Hugh: Thank you, Bob. Really good as usual. Lisa, you have given us a whole bunch of stuff to think about. She has some great answers to some relevant questions. We are coming out of a difficult time, we hope. You may have heard of this pandemic thing we’ve had. I have seen in the last year some leaders stepping up and doing amazing things. They are leading in a stronger way, and the organizations are stronger. What is your advice for people in this next step of how to enable and empower the organizations we lead?
Lisa: Great question. First, how do you continue to keep that human connection virtually or in person? Secondly, involve your teams in determining how you will go back to work. Be inclusive about it. It doesn’t need to be a one size fits all, provided everyone does their best and are in good faith able to set up a mix of virtual work with in-person work and see what can accommodate the various people on the team, all with the focus of commitment to doing and being their best. A great leader knows how to harvest those ideas and inspire people and engage them to be the best versions they can be. That means there needs to be more focus on that human leadership development piece, leadership from the inside out, working on mindsets, working on what my collaborator calls vertical leadership. Thinking about how we can be of service to others in organizations as well as our clients and colleagues.
Hugh: Outstanding. Aware leaders figured out what we shouldn’t have been doing. It’s been a good time to make the adjustment. In the last minute, what is a final thought you’d like to leave people with today?
Lisa: Learn how to light a fire in their hearts. Think about how you ignite yourself to ignite others.
Hugh: Great advice. You can find Lisa at LightYourLeadership.com. Lisa Anna Palmer, thank you for being our guest today.
Lisa: Thank you, Hugh. It’s been a pleasure. I am so glad we got to meet, and I look forward to chatting again soon.