Welcome to building better managers, the better manager podcast with Wendy Hanson, where we talk with top leadership professionals about strategies you can use today to create a happier, highly engaged and more productive workplace. Now, here's your host better manage your co founder Wendy Hanson.
Welcome everybody, greetings. Wherever you are in the world, I hope you are enjoying your work, because then you're enjoying your life. The better manager podcast is designed to allow you to listen to many leaders in the field of learning and development. We it's a really important action to be able to listen to great ideas and take time to reflect. Today, we're going to take time to reflect on what leadership vulnerability means to you. I'm very excited, I will introduce my guests in a moment. I have a request though. As you all know, feedback is a gift. We talk about that a lot of better manager when we coach folks, and we get feedback so we can adjust. Giving positive and constructive feedback to your team members is major giving feedback to your team members is really a marvelous thing to do to keep everybody connected and moving in the same direction. My podcast team and I would love your feedback on the podcast, to get your ideas and partner with you. Can you complete a short survey. And I promise you it's not one of those, it'll take two to three minutes. I hate when you go in and it's 12 pages long. So we promise that we're not going to do that. Please go to better manager.co/podcast-feedback. Again, better manager.co/podcast-feedback We'd love to hear your thoughts. And we'll put links in the show notes. Also, if you didn't catch that in case you're driving. So, a little bit more about today, we're gonna explore vulnerability and leaders Brene Brown brought the word vulnerability to the global stage in her TEDx talk, and Euston in 2010. The power of vulnerabilities one of the five most viewed TED Talks. Today we will hear stories and examples from a senior people officer and think about the impact on people when a leader models vulnerability. So let me introduce Meg Donovan. Meg is the Chief People Officer at next thing with over 15 years of experience in high growth, technology oriented publicly traded and pre IPO businesses. Next, think the is the global leader in digital employee experience management. Their products allow enterprises to create highly productive digital workplaces for their employees by delivering optimal and end user experiences. Full disclosure here, I'm happy to say that next thing partners with better manager to provide coaching and professional development for their managers and team members. If you want to learn more about partnering with better manager, just go to better manager.co. And now that I've spent all that time, Meg, welcome. I'm so happy to have you here. Thanks, Wendy. I'm
happy to be here.
We got to have a conversation the other day, we talked about vulnerability and your passion for leaders that show that and was such a rich discussion. I said, I think we should have a podcast on this. So thank you for agreeing to. Yes, yes. Well, we want people to have a little context. It's a good thing. So what happened in your career that made this whole thing come alive for you?
Yeah, um, well, two things. One thing happened to me personally in my in my personal life, and we have been so conditioned to not really have a strong separation between work and life. And the fact of the matter is, you're never separate. Work and Life is never separate. And when the situation was happening in, in my personal life, and it was a health situation, my mental and physical health was not good. And it was not something that I wanted to bring to work. But I didn't really have a choice because it was impacting my ability to be good at my job. And I was lucky enough to have a leader that I reported to that was super empathetic and allowed me to be Be vulnerable. And it was a blessing, it was probably one of the most impactful things that had ever been done for me in my career. And not long after, something happened to my boss, and she's a very private person. And, you know, she had to be, shouldn't have to be vulnerable, but she was, um, and I remembered how empathetic she was to me. And that kind of made me want to be really empathetic for her. But I wouldn't have been able to do that, unless I wouldn't have been probably as empathetic if I had not felt that empathy. So you know, the, there's a strong connection between empathy and vulnerability, and you have to have empathy in order to allow your teams to be vulnerable. And that also allows you to be vulnerable. So it's like a, kind of a, what do you call it? A loop,
a loop, a cycle that goes through, but people,
you need to have both. But I noticed that when she was, she had to be vulnerable, because she had demonstrated empathy with me, like, all I wanted to do was, like, help her as much as I could protect her as much as I could jump in where I could. And really, like the team came together to make sure things didn't drop. And I think that's where, you know, you build that kind of trust and motivation, and dedication and loyalty and commitment within your teams, is by demonstrating a little bit like you need help. And I come to work every day. And I tell my team, like, I'm not the smartest person in the room, I hired all of you because I need help. Like, I don't know everything about everything. And, you know, it's I feel my team support, I feel my team, you know, dig in when they need to dig in. And when I need help, I feel like I have a huge amount of support from the people that, you know, work for me and my team. And I think that's part of it is, you know, letting them know that they're needed, and that you can rely on them. And you can, you know, share failures. Because we all we all have them, we all make mistakes. And showing that you can make them and of course correct and the willingness, the willingness that your team ends up. Just displaying to help get things back on track is super inspiring. And it really makes a great workplace. Yeah,
I love that. Because so many senior leaders, in my experience, keep a little bit of a distance, you know, they they feel like that's part of their job to to kind of be up here provide the vision, the leadership, but may not always and as you move down, maybe you have a good manager that does that. But maybe the senior team doesn't feel like that can be part of their role. And I think Go ahead. No, I
was just gonna say, I think that, you know, we're conditioned to have to have the answers. And, frankly, you know, I will, I'll say a little secret, the executive team does not have all the answers. We're figuring it out just like everybody else. And we're not infallible, for sure. And I think it's important to recognize that because we do make mistakes, and other people see them every day. And I think if you're open enough to let people know that you have, you know, you have room for error, you know, you make mistakes, people can be a little bit more forgiving, and say, All right, well, you know, when you recognize a mistake has been made, hey, we made a decision that was bad. And now we have to fix it. Acknowledging that, you know, that was a mistake. And we know we have to fix it, I think goes a long way to getting people throughout the organization to say, all right, like, yeah, we can fix this. Because if you're not acknowledging that a mistake was made it just, you know, people see that as arrogance or you know, not caring or whatever it is, but so that's I think, acknowledging mistakes and saying, Hey, like, yeah, that was a bad decision. And now we we gotta go fix it. You'll get a lot more support to go on, you know, rework, do rework by acknowledging that things might not have been perfect.
Yes. And it models for managers what they need to do with their team. You know, that people if the team looks up and people, the the staff see that, wow, the leaders are saying this and, and also leaders asking for help. I love that that's part of that vulnerability. And I say, I don't know everything, you know,
I wish I did, it would make my job easier, you know. Um, but we hire people because they're smart. We hire people with specific skill sets. And I want to take
those. Yeah. And, and our role as managers and leaders is to guide and put up the Northstar. And but people might have different ways of getting there. So we need to allow that to happen. Now, for a leader who's vulnerable. What are some of the traits like how would you you gave some good stories here of, of what that would look like to admit, when you don't know things? If a leadership team says, Yeah, we kind of screwed this one up, or asking for more feedback. What else do we need to do? What are some of the other traits of a leader who's vulnerable make?
I mean, I think humility goes a long way. Humility, for sure. I'm being curious. Yeah, yeah. Serious about like, what did I not say? What did i What did I miss? What did I not say? Why, why? Why did we make this decision without looking all the places that we needed to look before we made it? Think humility and curiosity are probably the two most important things that we can do for ourselves and for our teams.
Yeah. Curiosity, of course, is something we use in coaching all the time. And we always tell people you can start a sentence with I'm curious, instead of a question that begins with a why, like, why did you do that? Which sounds very judgmental. So I'm curious, what was that decision? Like? Yeah. And then always doing post mortems, you know, at the end to be able to look and say, What did our team do? What would we do differently?
And retrospective ism is important. Yes,
really. Now, you talked a little bit about empathy already. But empathy fits with vulnerability, their, their, maybe their cousins,
their sisters, twins, my sister, twin
sisters, say a little bit more about empathy and how that has shown up and how you've used it with not used it, but been empathetic with your team?
Well, like I said, Before, I think you have to have empathy. You cannot show vulnerability, unless you've already demonstrated empathy. So, you know, starting with vulnerability might not get you the results that you want. If you haven't really been super empathetic, because I think the empathy has to come first, you have to recognize people as people. And they have to feel like you recognize them as people before you can be vulnerable. Otherwise, I think people don't have a lot of empathy for you, you know, as as a leader. So I think, you know, you have to be an empathetic leader before you can be a vulnerable leader on but those two things when use in the right order, really create a high sense of trust, and a high sense of loyalty and commitment and the bonds to want to, like you're in a symbiotic relationship. And I think that comes most true for me is when you have employees that you know, are smart, you know, are capable, have been successful, have been high performers. And things happen in their life, things happen in their lives, they get divorced, they have sick children, they have sick parents, and giving them space and grace, during those times to, you know, flex in and do what they need to do and know that their loyalty, commitment and engagement is going to come back in spades. That that's a beautiful thing. And I I never want to not do that. I like really try to be empathetic with my team's understanding that life happens. And, you know, it's not always the same level of commitment. We have peaks and valleys and giving people the opportunity, the space and I think the grace to be human is incredibly important.
Yeah. I loved your example earlier about your boss and when she was able to lean in because you had she had so taken care of you and allowed you to be vulnerable, that when it was her turn that something happened and this will happen for every manager and leader who will come and they will be there to assist because you They have felt what that is like when their leader took care of them.
Yes, absolutely. I also think there's this, like very traditional attitude that, you know, you have to be 100% professional at work, like those two things can't mix. And I just don't think for I don't think it's healthy for most people. Some people need to keep those things 100 per separate in some people want to come to work. And like, you know, this is how I forget about the things that are going on outside of work. And I think that's okay, too. But not everybody has the ability to carp compartmentalised like that, and I think that there's room for it to be a little bit more gray. I think for some people, it works, and they can do that for other people. They can't, and I think both ways are okay, depending on what what you need as a human. But I, I am one of those people who cannot completely compartmentalize these things. And I want to be able to provide that space for my team, if I find if I need to, I can.
Yeah, if a company or if at least not the company, but a team has that kind of culture, that how we do that together. It makes it makes a huge difference. And I love that, you know, bring your one of one of our cultural expressions that we have a better manager is to be playful. So when when you have an opportunity, be playful, and don't take everything so seriously. We always say if something goes wrong in this, you're not saving babies. Yeah, I
have to laugh. Like what I always say we're not doing brain surgery. No matter what mistake, somebody makes very unlikely that somebody's going to die in it, or HR for that matter. So really putting things in perspective, and giving people the opportunity, like, mistakes are gonna happen. We're all gonna make mistakes. They happen every day. I just, I'm right. I'm happy to move on from a mistake, fix it, and try to prevent it from not happening again. But it's okay that the mistakes gonna happen didn't work. Were completely fallible people.
Yeah. And if you have been good at connecting with your team and understanding who they are as people, like you mentioned, when people might have a new baby or an ill parent, that they're taking care of some, some managers that we have coached that Oh, that's too personal, because we ask that question on a 360. Oh, I shouldn't dig into that. But then when you see a change of behavior, that somebody all of a sudden, isn't there, their self? You don't have any context to check in? And then that doesn't work
becomes another stressor. Yeah, right. Yeah. And everything compounds, I think it's, it's stinks. It's,
it's very unfair. It's very unfair. Now, one of the things when we talked you, you may have had a quote, that just I was just blown away. So we talked about vulnerable leaders aren't afraid to cry. And that a manager had said, quote, tears are words you can't express Yes, yes. Wow. I'm gonna say it again. Tears are words you can't express. So tell me a little bit about that.
Yeah. So for I'm going to in full disclosure, I'm a crier. I shudder to think of how many people have seen me cry. I don't think I've ever had a boss who hasn't seen me cry. And I think some people will be completely shocked by that. I always tell my team like you know, when I've inherited new teams or joined companies with you will see me cry. So I'm just telling you right now, my heart is very close to my sleeve. When I'm happy when I'm frustrated when I'm disappointed. Like I probably am going to cry and and you know, I let people know that apart because I can't help it. But one of my one of my previous roles I used to facilitate a leadership development program. And we used to talk with directors and VPs about how do you deal with difficult emotions. And when you have an employee who, you know, is emotional and going through something, how, you know, how do you deal with it? How do you deal with an employee that starts crying and being one of those employees who starts crying? The person that I co facilitated the class with I used to say, when if you see somebody start crying, picture their tears as words that they're just, they are having a really hard time expressing. And for me, I was like, yes, that's exactly what it is, you know, I just can't even get the words out. Because there's so much going on in my head. And, you know, we used to talk about how do you defuse that situation, and even saying something so simple, like, I can see that you're really upset by this converse, you know, this conversation is really upsetting you, um, and in letting them know that it's okay, because the worst thing that can happen is to, you know, you're trying to have a really challenging conversation with an employee that you want to result in a behavior change, most likely, like, you know, people don't cry when you're talking about giving them a raise, well, sometimes they do. But, you know, usually people are crying, because you're talking to them about something that really gets at their core, and they're, they're feeling some level of injustice or frustration. And if you're gonna have a really productive conversation with them, you have to acknowledge that they're feeling some type of way, it's hard. being somebody who is, you know, the crier, and actually facilitating meant leadership sessions about how do you deal with emotional plays? It really, that story really resonated with me that those tears are words that people are having a hard time expressing, and being really open to allowing for a little bit of that, in the opportunity to say, this seems really difficult for you to discuss right now. Should we come back and do it another day, because sometimes people need to gather their thoughts, and they can't respond in the moment. And we all have different ways of like processing information, and you might not be able to finish the conversation that day. But not shaming the person for, you know, having a strong emotional reaction, and giving them the opportunity to reconvene when it they might be more prepared to do so I think is really kind and probably will have a better end result than if you shut them down completely. And, you know, just say, your piece and the meeting. Because I think, ideally, when you have those conversations, you're looking for some kind of behavior change, you want to motivate somebody to make a behavior change, and shutting them down and not making them feel like a person or not giving them the opportunity to communicate isn't going to result in that behavioral change you're looking for.
No. And I think one other option, too, is some, you know, saying to someone, I love that like, take, you want to take some time, and we can come back and talk about this. But then also, I think we tend to rush things so much. Let's just take a moment, you know, and be with this. And you know it, you have some options, we could come back? Or are there one or two words that come to your head about what's going on right now for you. And please don't rush that we're here to be able to figure out what's happening, and I want to be there for you. So you may think it's important,
you know, you're scheduling these conversations, don't do it when you have 20 minutes. Right? Exactly. You need time and space to get through some of these conversations. And trying to do it in like a drive by way is not good. And no end up, give you the results you're really
looking for with people. When when someone's going at all times. But especially when someone's going through this, they need that full listening. They don't need you to be thinking in your head. This next
time is a miss, can you move your
emotional breakdown a little quicker because
I got things to do. And really just take that I love schedule it. So you do have time. But really just pause, pause and be there and let them regain composure. Yes. You know, and maybe even modeled depending on who the person is a few breaths. You know, let's breathe on this Gosh, because I can feel what's the that there's something really tough year for you. Yes, just
that those words alone are so validating. Like, I can see that you're really this is really upsetting to you. Tell me, like, talk to me about it. Why why is this why is this really bothering you? I think that goes a long way in in having people feel heard. And it also gives them the space to like Maybe step outside of their own perspective. But if you don't hear them, they're never gonna step out of that space.
Right? Right. And they have to get off, you know, our goal would be that they would get off and feel safe, that they were just in a very safe space, then met, they will in turn do this for others. You know, that's how we learn our behavior at work is by modeling other people. Wow, that made me feel heard that made me feel like I could tell tell the truth, I could share my tears. Next time I see this with somebody that may be working on my team or even appear. Yeah, I want to do that. Because that's, that's how you got to this place is somebody did it with you.
100%. I will be the first one to say that. I probably don't do it as much as I should, you know, where we're all I'm human. And and there are things going on in my brain too. And definitely things happen. I'm like, dang, I wish I would have like, dealt with that a different way or said something different. And I think it's okay to go back to people and say, Hey, I when we were speaking the other day, maybe I maybe I wasn't doing what I should have done. And that can go a long way to
Yeah, but that's vulnerability. Yeah, do that to go back and say, when you reflect, and I'm sure some people reflect and say, oh, that didn't go like I wanted, but they just step over it. But if you go back and admit that, I just I don't think I dealt with that the right way. What let's Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, that's real vulnerability.
And I think that that that goes a long way to building trust with your team. And, you know, we all have conversations with our with our Boston, like, he was such a jerk, or she was such a jerk. Like, and you walk away with a sour taste in your mouth. And it happens to all of us. It happens to all of us as employees. And as leaders, I'm sure many people think I'm a jerk, many times, probably once a day, maybe more. But I try not to be. Yeah, try not to be.
And I love what your example, when you do, sometimes you have to go back and fix it. And then I think your the way you talk about your team is so lovely. You know, when you've talked to your trust in them? Yeah, you're smart people. I don't need to micromanage them, I just got to get the things out of the way so they can do their work. Yeah,
I have a great team. I have had many great teams, I've been part of many great teams. I've also been part of really dysfunctional ones on and it's work is so much more fun with an amazing team. And I think the people that are on my team today, they have each other's backs. They are super empathetic to each other, they really lean in. And you know, pick up slack when people need help. And I, I couldn't ask for a better like group of people, like just good humans all around them. I'm super pumped to have them all together. And I tell them all the time. It's a it's a it feels good to feel supported. And I think they do that for each other to us.
That's awesome. Another good thing, tell them all the time. Yeah, they're amazing people. Yeah. So that's another thing some leaders don't take the opportunity to do, you know, be grateful, and then appreciate people for who they are not only for what they got done, what they bring to the table.
I had a boss a long time ago. And I've worked for this person for two years. And in two years, I never had a performance review. And I really never got any feedback ever. And after the second year, I was like, I'm gonna ask for feedback. I was really early on in my career, and I went to my boss, I said, Hey, you know, it's been a couple of years, I haven't had a review, I got haven't gotten any feedback. And there was the head of HR. And the response was, if you were doing something wrong, I would have told you like that was the end of the conversation. Okay, that I started looking for a new job the next day. I was like, What am I doing here?
Yeah, it's such opportunities that we miss at telling people how much we appreciate them. Yeah, and they maybe
wanted me to leave that's okay. But I wouldn't have known why did the right thing. If he wanted me to leave he did a good job.
gotta hear ya. Thank you for being so vulnerable and, and sharing this because our conversation had so moved me that I said, other people need to hear this. This is you know, sometimes People get very theoretical about things. But when we can speak from our heart, other people really hear it, listen and reflect on it, we all need more time to sit back and reflect, get off of our to do list and say, what's the impact I'm having in the, in the world, in my life and at work? For sure. So I'm gonna ask you a question, I asked your permission to do this, because we work together, our companies, you know, better manager provide support to next thing, and you have been such a great supporter, and you want to talk a little bit about your experience and why this partnership works.
So I have been with next thing for three years. And internally, we were, we have a lot of people who have grown up in the company, you know, from individual contributors, rising through the ranks over the years. And, you know, they have learned by doing which is amazing, and, but we started thinking about how we want to have some common language and common concepts and common expectations across our leadership teams about what leadership looks like, at NEC second, we started building our own internal program, and quickly realized that my staff is not large enough to deliver programs like this at scale. And from a cost effectiveness standpoint, like I cannot afford to do it internally, so we started like looking for an external partner, and we found a better manager, and they really just had exactly what we were looking for, from, you know, essential conversations and coaching and getting people to learn how to be coaches. And then we we started with a pilot around leadership, essential conversations, and you know, just basic core management, management leadership skills that you need, no matter your function, no matter your level in the organization, you know, just things that we should all be doing well, and we got a lot of really great feedback. And then we started a pilot with one on one coaching and 360s, which, again, I don't I have the physical ability to do but not at scale. And another thing that's really interesting about our organization is that we're super global, less than a, like a quarter, maybe 20% of our organization is in the US. And the rest is spread out all over India, Europe, Middle East, Asia, and we don't like doing a 360, I had this experience myself, because we're European founded company. We did executive 360s with a European provider. And for me, it was actually kind of hard because we weren't speaking the same language as our mother tongue. And there were some concepts that when I was getting the feedback, I was like, I don't really know what this person is saying. It wasn't resonating with me as much. And I felt like it would be better if I had somebody who was speaking to me in my mother tongue. And I thought about how important that would be for if we were going to do one on ones and one on one coaching for the rest of the organization for them to have somebody who speaks their language, their native tongue that they could really self reflect and be vulnerable with. And I think it's really important to have somebody do it for outside the company. So there's, you know, no judgment, there's no, it's not getting back to their boss, like it's a very freeing experience for an employee or a leader to go through a 360 have the feedback and experience some one on one executive coaching external to the company. And we have gotten such amazing feedback. You know, people getting local coaches in their region and their timezone, getting amazing feedback that they feel is super practical and actionable and they feel people are really empathetic and want to help them and can pivot easily, like really good quality coaching. The biggest complaint that I get from my employees that not long enough, they want more sessions, they want more, more one on one coaching in for many people, we actually extend it for, you know, two or three sessions if they want it, and I think it's been a really nice partnership, the, you know, helping set the base language for how we talk about leadership and what leadership expectations are. And then for our more senior leaders, having that one on one executive coaching, the experience has been, I think people feel really invested in they feel like they're able to kind of expand their leadership skills. And we get, like I said, really amazing feedback from around the world. And I, it's been a blessing.
Well, thank you. Thank you. It's, it's, it's such a privilege to work with companies like yours that believe in we need to keep growing people and there are many ways to be able to do it.
I would love to like give everybody as many sessions as they wanted. Because I think there are some people who would do it for years. And they really get a lot out of it.
Yeah, yeah. We love our coaches, a lot of the models are if you do six sessions, and then maybe you want somebody once a month, like I always say, I keep meaning a tune up. I miss that. So many ways to do it. So we all won the lottery. Yes. All coaching for everybody
coaching for everyone.
That's a good thing. Yes, yes. Well, thank you, Meg. That's so kind. And if anybody else wants to learn more about better Manager Go to better manager.co. And this has been a pleasure. If people have questions for you make or want to connect, what's the best way for them to do that?
Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. I believe that's LinkedIn. Dot I am Meg Donovan. At next. I'm happy to connect with anybody professionally. I love having a network of people in different different areas that I can lean on. And I offer that up mutually right. So great.
Good, I will put that in the show notes. A link to your LinkedIn. So that's the best way to to connect with Meg and thank her for sharing her vulnerability today. That would be great. No, it's, it's it's really something this is the kind of leader I think we need. Really. So yeah, it's a privilege. So thank you all for listening today. I hope you can take time to reflect on this conversation. And think about your own vulnerability and empathy. And I love how Meg made the distinction. You have to be empathetic before you're vulnerable. You know, they might be twin sisters, but one was born first. Thank you all have a marvelous day and go out and enjoy and enjoy your work so you enjoy your life. It all fits together. So thank you so much. Thank you.
For more information, show notes and any downloads for today's podcast. Please visit us at better manager.us/podcast Be sure to join us again and help us continue to build better managers with another insightful interview.