The Human Side of Leadership

Season 3,
Episode 24
(50 mins)
The Human Side of Leadership
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The Human Side of Leadership

Summary

Another crack in the system that is being exposed right now is that the Great Person Theory of leadership — the command and control model in a nicer suit — is way too rigid. To be great leaders we need to cultivate our emotional intelligence and ability to flex and be collaborative. 

According to Elaine Broe, the trick is learning how to let go of the death grip we all default to, especially when we’re in crisis, and to learn to hold on lightly. Easier said than done. Elaine offers us a fresh take on holding on lightly that is sprinkled with humor and humility.

For anyone working on a team that’s not working so well, or as a leader, managing when you really should be leading, or frustrated that your leader is not leading well, listen up, Elaine shares some deep wisdom.

Transcript

The Human Side of Leadership

Rob Brodnick:
Welcome to the positive turbulence podcast stories from the periphery here, we journey to the edge to talk to turbulators about their experiences creating positive change. Hi, I’m Rob Rodnick.

Karyn Zuidinga:
And I’m Karen Zuidinga by sharing these stories, these perspectives on innovation, creativity, leadership, and change. We hope to generate some positive turbulence for you. Thank you for joining us.

Rob Brodnick:
The old model of leadership, let’s call it The Great Person Theory, doesn’t work well in today’s environment. There’s simply too much rigidity in the command and control model. But so many of our leaders at work, in government, in our education system still behave that way. The question we’ll explore in this episode is how do you shift from that old model to a new one?

Karyn Zuidinga:
Meet Elaine Broe, leadership designer, facilitator, executive coach and consultant. Elaine works with organizations and individuals to help them become the modern leaders we need today. Elaine designs experiences by listening, asking, playing, and believing in everyone’s desire to develop themselves so that their life can impact the world. She is focused on the human side of leadership.

Rob Brodnick:
Elaine is part designer, part storyteller, part improv comic, part coach, part facilitator. She balances all of these roles with grounded humility and an extraordinary sense of emotional intelligence.

Karyn Zuidinga:
Our conversation with Elaine covers the gamut from what is leadership, how is that different from management, to design thinking and how to navigate these highly turbulent times. 

Sit back. It’s going to be a great ride with some terrific learnings for both the experienced as well as emerging leaders.

Before we launch in, let’s take a moment to acknowledge our supporting organizations.

Sponsor Message
The positive turbulence podcast is brought to you by AMI and innovation learning community that is celebrating 40 years of supporting innovation and creativity for organizations and individuals learn more aminnovation.org.

Also we’d like to thank Mac Avenue music group as a contributing sponsor to hear our theme song late night, sunrise and other great music. Visit Mack avenue.com.

Karyn Zuidinga:
Elaine I have to confess, I have no idea. If was going to introduce you to somebody, what would I tell them you do? 

Elaine Broe:
I’ll share with you what I normally say because I do a lot of things and I’m really lucky to love what I do. But I used to be, pre-pandemic, in taxis a lot. As I travel for my work. And a taxi driver would ask me what I do. And my response would be, I work with people and I teach people not to be assholes. 

And so that seemed to be the most simplest way to explain what I do.

Karyn Zuidinga:
Not to be assholes at work? Not to be assholes at home? Not to be assholes in life?

Elaine Broe:
Karyn. I feel like this should apply to all areas of life. I don’t feel like I don’t feel like we go in one room and then out the other.

Karyn Zuidinga:
Agreed. But is there a particular focus for the work? Do you begin with a, say a corporate engagement to teach people not to be assholes at work and hopefully they translate that non asshole behavior to home?

Elaine Broe:
I would say I work with people around their leadership. And I think that leadership lives in all areas of their lives. As a facilitator and a designer, my work yes is in, an organizational environment where I’m coming in and working with teams and individuals. But I also do executive coaching and team coaching.

And really, I think if anything, At this point in time, now we realize that there is no separation between home and work. There never was really, but literally there is very little separation. Now when you’ve got kids and dogs and cats popping up on Zoom calls and parents working from home. And so I really still would say from a holistic point of view, my work is in leadership with people in the world.

And, from its simplest, most humorous point is to teach people not to be assholes because we all have that ability, especially when things aren’t going the way that we want them to go.

Karyn Zuidinga:
Wait a minute. You’ve been an asshole before?

Elaine Broe:
Oh, probably even yesterday, it’s early today. So maybe even yesterday, it’s definitely a possibility.

Karyn Zuidinga:
 What does that look like?  How does someone decide? Okay, we’re going to bring Elaine in, then she’s going to work with us in the leadership capacity. What is the question they’re asking even. What do they want to know? How do they want to fix things?

Elaine Broe:
It’s why I love my work, because the breadth with which I can approach, opportunities in organizations and with people is quite vast. I’ve had organizations reach out to say,  right now we’re going through massive amounts of change and it’s not going to stop. We can’t even give people a deadline. We don’t even know what next week holds. And so we want you to work with them as individuals around what that means for them as leaders in their life, how to support them through learning and leadership skillsets, their emotional intelligence, all of those pieces of the puzzle.

I’ve also had organizations call me and say, we want to be able to respond in an innovative way to this challenge. And we find, we keep doing the same things and we’re getting the same results.

What people are looking for, what organizations and really organizations are made up of people, what they’re looking for are solutions, support and insight that maybe they don’t see. And that’s the work that I do, whether that’s in a very specific area of change, which a lot of organizations, a lot of people are going through right now. Or from a perspective of innovation. We actually have a lot of opportunity with the change that’s occurring right now.

We want to innovate, but we keep doing the same thing and we’re getting the same results. So having an outsider join. It’s like feeling like I’m an outsider, but I’m on the inside. And that’s a big part of the work that I do is connecting in a way with organizations, especially from a human perspective, to be able to support them.

Karyn Zuidinga:
Sorry, Rob, if you had a question you’re just going to have to wait.

Rob Brodnick:
No I’m along for the ride here. This is fantastic.

Karyn Zuidinga:
There are a couple things that have been bubbling around in my head actually for the last little while. Leadership is so big. Everybody’s talking about leadership, very senior levels leadership at micro local levels.

But even the word.  What is leadership after all? What are these people hoping to learn from you? What kind of insight do you hope to give them that makes them leaders?

Elaine Broe:
We’re diving into the existential question right off the bat here, Karyn.

Karyn Zuidinga:
That’s what I do, that’s my role here.

Elaine Broe:
I call it the human side of leadership. I believe that it starts with yourself. I believe that, the work that Daniel Goldman has done on emotional intelligence really, to me, helps to define a leader. I think you can have someone who’s skilled at strategy. Who’s skilled at operations and systems, but if they don’t know how to model what they want to see in others, and if they don’t know how to connect and engage with others, their work is going to be a lot harder.

I think the idea that there’s a perfect leader Is a myth. I believe that the more you have a sense of who you are and how you are in the world and the choices that you’re making is what makes a really good leader. And then that connection to others as well. So emotional intelligence at its core when it comes to leadership is about self awareness, the tricky part self-management, and then you move into social awareness and relationship skills. And so to me, if someone was really pushing me on, what makes for a great leader, it’s that human side. It’s also what makes for a great learner. And it makes for a great listener. Even in my career, and I’ve been in leadership development and adult learning for over 20 years, the model of leadership has evolved thankfully, a lot significantly, but also just that idea that there’s one savior that’s going to fix everything is just a fallacy.

And it’s been putting people in really poor positions as leaders for a long time. 

Karyn Zuidinga:
It’s a lot of pressure. You got to do it all.  

Elaine Broe:
And then also you’re taking away other people actually having ownership and empowerment and success themselves. So it’s a very archaic way of leading, I think really based on the seventies and the eighties.  

Rob Brodnick:
I would imagine probably four out of five organizations I work with subscribe to that model, the great person theory. That there is this person at the top of the 

Elaine Broe:
Oh yeah, it’s very popular.

Rob Brodnick:
And even if you’re not that leader, you’ve come into an organization and they’re looking for that person, it’s really challenging.

It’s paradoxical. And so how do you deal with that? Because you’ve got not just the couple of people that you’re coaching and maybe it’s through coaching, but then you’ve got the whole culture that what’s, that. how do you disrupt something like that?

Elaine Broe:
To me, leadership is about who you are, the choices you get to make and where you do have control. And yes, that’s going to be very different from a VP to a frontline service worker. Most definitely. But you still have choices. Leadership for me is not about a role. It is about actions and behaviors and accountability. And I’ve seen better leaders at a frontline level than I have sometimes in the boardroom.

That’s why that idea of the savior really it, it takes me off because it puts that, that myth upfront and it also disengages and disempowers all these other people. So that’s the first thing I’ll say, I’ll have a group of people complaining about a culture and I stop and I say, so let’s just take a moment, cause the culture is here.

You have a culture of victimization and you’re playing the victim. 

How’s that going?

Rob Brodnick:
Let’s wake up! 

Elaine Broe:
Leadership, isn’t a role, it’s so much more. And if we all took responsibility within ourselves, there’s just a lot more opportunity.

Rob Brodnick:
It bottlenecks because everything  has to pass through the mindset of that assumed great person. And so it’s like people are giving away control and I love that victim mentality, because it’s really accurate.

Karyn Zuidinga:
What I’m hearing is that there’s a big difference between leadership and management. In the absence of leadership we fall to management. And then rather than an emotional connection, it becomes an intellectual exercise. And then you fail to connect with people around you. And people start feeling crazy. I don’t know. Yes, no? 

Elaine Broe:
I think language is such a fascinating thing to begin with because when I first started doing this work, it was management. You were a manager and you were managing people and you were managing relationships. And, it was management skills. And now I think you manage a problem. You manage a situation. 

Whereas with people it is around leading so that they become capable as well. And I think that’s a big part of those social skills and those relationship skills is creating leaders through the way you work with others. And in a way that does create more management of a situation because you’ve got people that are more capable than they even knew was possible. yeah, it’s hard because I don’t want to decrease the importance of management. I think management, speaks to structure. It speaks to expectation and it speaks to holding people accountable. But I think if you really lead with leadership, there’s more opportunity there.

Karyn Zuidinga:
 There’s someone listening to this and they’re listening and they’re going, Oh man, I’m a manager, but am I a leader? Where’s the gut check? What signs are you looking for to say, yeah, the leadership’s good or the leadership needs improvement.  How do you see it yourself in yourself? Oh yeah. I’m being a good leader or, Ooh, boy, I need to take a step back and figure this out. What are the common signals that someone could look for?

Elaine Broe:
There was two questions in there. One was if I’m a manager, if I’m perhaps in a position where I’m not the leader, with quotations around a capital L leader and when I’m coaching people that are in those types of situations, my first question is what would you do if you were the leader? And then the next question is, why can’t you do that anyways? what’s in your way. From doing that. So I think it’s just no matter what your position is trying to look at the situation and think what is capable for me here.

Rob Brodnick:
The aspect of leading from a position of inferiority or lowness in the hierarchy gives opportunity because the eyes aren’t on you. You can be an agent in the system from the periphery in a sense, and actually sometimes create more impact and change than someone who’s the designated capital L leader.

Elaine Broe:
Oh, if you’re lucky. Your organization has more underground leaders than you know  It’s just, hopefully they’re aligned with the culture you want to create.

Going back to your question, Karyn, that first part of your question asked about the idea of what if I’m a manager or I’m not, a formal leader, capital L leader. The first question I ask them is what would you do if you were the leader?  And then we move into, what can you do if that is what you would do? What are the barriers that are getting in your way from doing that? Because we’re going back to that idea of this perception of what the role is. We’re letting roles get in the way of good leadership.  And the second half of your question around, if I’m a leader, when do I know when I’m doing it well or not?  In the last couple of years, I’ve worked with some leaders that come from a place of fear.  They’re on their back foot and they’re coming at decision making and leading from a defensive perspective.  And it shows.  People can feel it. They may not be able to pinpoint what it is, but they know something’s not working.

Karyn Zuidinga:
Can you describe for me what that looks like? I have a sense. I think I’ve been there before actually. I’ve led from a defensive position. 

Elaine Broe:
I do have an example. I heard a story about an organization during the pandemic that did temporarily lay off people. They had a group call with all of the temporarily laid off people. They came in talking about how hard it is to still be working at the organization that they’re in. So they lost sight of their audience. They lost sight of the purpose of the call. Which was, at its core, my hope would be we miss you. This sucks. How are you? Whereas when you come from that place of fear or defense, which, a lot of us have been there. We’ll be there again. We’re not seeking perfection. We start to defend. We start to lose sight of the bigger picture and the impact that our words have and how we’re modeling a culture. We probably wouldn’t really want to work for either.

Karyn Zuidinga:
Yeah. Yeah. I can totally feel that, sense of,  

Elaine Broe:
Totally. And I’ve absolutely been there! 

Right now I’m working with teams on transformation and change and what it looks like for them as teams to be navigating this much change. We’ve got to get into some of those tough conversations. Which is right now, we don’t feel like a team.

We’re a group of people and we’re running a mile a minute and it’s not going well.  Imagine what that’s like for a leader to hear that and not take that personally. When really it is about the team. It’s not just that one individual that’s responsible for it. 

Karyn Zuidinga:
Very difficult because  in these times of crisis, that leader is also in crisis. 

Elaine Broe:
Absolutely, absolutely.

Karyn Zuidinga:
So how do you find that balance? It’s a very challenging place to be.

Elaine Broe:
When you go back to what Rob was saying, that myth of the individual leader and this way that we shaped organizations in the past, I think we’re changing the structure of organizations, but we’re not always changing the way, the hierarchy of decision making and how we actually support our people to be leaders at all levels.

And that’s not easy because that relinquishes control and consistency. And it also opens up turbulence that people can’t always feel positive about. Turbulence doesn’t always start positive or routine positivity. It’s bumpy for a reason.

Rob Brodnick:
I hit this image of you as a person with a one foot on each of two skateboards. One is leadership and one is design thinking and the design process. Let your mind, let your mind go for a minute and what that looks like, but Elaine makes it look like it an art.

Okay. So she really does. But how do you keep your balance? Because the design process is a little different than the coaching and leadership process, but yet, you do both. But really I think there’s something that’s the same happening there. Can you talk about that or what insights you’ve gotten from the different parts of the consulting work that you’ve done with organizations and how they might inform each other?

Elaine Broe:
I’m smiling because, one of my favorite quotes is the most important design project you’ll ever have  is your life.  Think about how much time we spend in our workplace with our teams in roles, where we’re serving our customers or our clients are trying to find success and validation through our work.

It’s there. When you think about at home in your life with your families or your friends or your plants, how you design the way you are in the world shows up in all of those arenas. And so to me, they’re all intimately interconnected and my work just like my clients work. And what I think is at the core of design thinking is that idea of being open.

I used to teach a program called Design Thinking at the Banff Centre. And one of the things that we’d always say, and my colleague and I, Jenny and myself, we would say be a seeker, not a solver. Design thinking is about not having the answers. Or having the answers and parking them in a far away parking lot that you’ve forgotten where you’ve put the car. You are not an expert. We think we have the answers at work at home, in innovation and that’s, what’s going to just create the same. Whereas the turbulence of being a seeker and not a solver is in the unknown. And that’s what I love about all of my work.  For me, it’s actually very uncomfortable to not know. I like to know. I like to fix things, Rob. It’s what I’m good at. It’s what people pay me to do. I feel the pain of leaders and human beings in general, when we’re supposed to just sit with not knowing. And I think that’s what a lot of us are doing right now in this time and space is we’re uncomforatble becasue we fully know and we can’t control it.

Karyn Zuidinga:
And we jump to the first idea that comes up and we hang onto that one.

Elaine Broe:
Because it’s safety. It’s like a lifesaver.  And also we’re smart. I’ve got the answer. I know it! 

I had a client just yesterday say, I think once things get stable  then I’ll be able to make that decision. And I  started to smile. We were on zoom and I just started to tilt my head said, may I offer  the question of what will you do if instability continues, because it will. 

That’s this unknown, this de-centering of certainty, which, whether you’re a leader or a parent, trying to decide whether your kids go to school or someone who’s used to having habits that have suddenly been broken apart that’s really challenging. And I think that’s the beauty of design thinking is sitting in that discomfort to find new ways of being.

Karyn Zuidinga:
But it’s so hard. 

Rob Brodnick:
What I found is that, even in times of stability, I’m looking for a little bit of a way to just make it a little less comfortable purposely so that I can see new opportunity. And, when I work with organizations and they see me doing that for the first time that they usually freak out at first because wait a second, this guy’s a destabilizer. What’s going on here? But there’s intentionality in that. And it’s the moment that you get the most comfortable that you’re giving up something. And you can sit in that comfort for awhile and relax recharge, [00:20:00] but you’ve got to get back out into that little bit of that crunchy zone. In terms of creativity in terms of leadership, in terms of culture, all of that stuff.

Elaine Broe:
It’s fascinating to me, I think because of the industries I work in mostly, technology cannabis, the airline sector, there’s so much destabilization that’s been going on. I don’t need to show, go up and shake things up. That is not my job. I was listening to a rendition of a poem, by Naomi Shahib Nye about kindness. Something that I know you’re very connected in your work, Karyn and one of the lines just was perfect for this point in time.  You feel the future dissolve like salt in a weakened broth. Just take a moment. You feel the future dissolve like salt in a weakened broth.

And I feel like the destabilization’s already there, Rob. We are watching it dissolve and [00:21:00] we have to hold things in different ways now to be able to work through them. So whether I think people lent themselves to the skill, like you said, was something you could bring. Or not, it’s been left on their front doorstep. And so we’ve now got to step into it even more. 

Karyn Zuidinga:
There’s a theme in here around kindness. Around being kind with yourself. When you just need a break. I was wondering about balancing that, that need to shake things up a little bit, that need to sit with the uncertainty, with the need to, I’m feeling it quite acutely right now, actually. It’s I just need things to be quiet for a little bit and just have a reflective moment or 10. And so there’s that withdrawal that happens. And I’m wondering about how you in this practice, you’re trying to try to move people forward to it, to get a place where they’re not assholes. Thank you. But also give them space  to catch their breath in it because it’s right now, particularly, it’s hard.  How do you balance that one?

Elaine Broe:
When you think about turbulence and that question of kindness and kindness to self, I’m laughing because my month of April, I called it my pissy and petulant and month. Because I was very aware of what was happening. I knew what I needed to do, but I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to, shift the business. 

If I heard the word pivot one more time, I was going to kill someone. I refuse to use it. I used evolve. I’d use shift. I’d use anything, blow it up like anything but pivot. And I really did. I crossed my hands and I stopped my feet and I was not engaging because I needed time to grieve and I needed time to process.

From a turbulence perspective, It is so layered right now for so many people, emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Recognizing that idea of a big vision or a big shift, yes. Some people are fueled by this. They are absolutely fueled by it and I watched them and I’m like, you go, you do it.

And many of us are trying to figure out why we’re in fog or why it’s harder to move things forward. What’s changed. And so that patience and kindness towards ourselves, as much as towards others is going to be integral to being able to sustain the changes that we want to create. And so identifying, yeah maybe emotionally the turbulence is a bit high today, but what I can do physically is go for a walk. So really determining, what those micro shifts are because some of my clients to gain control right now are coming back with a long list of to-dos, and we just, once we work through them, we’re smiling because it’s like, how about you just pick one.

What would be one win this week? So there is that interesting tension between control, wanting to fill the space and also recognizing that things aren’t the same. And that doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it does mean that you need to take different perspective in how you’re processing things and  how you’re approaching them. 

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Rob Brodnick:
It sounds like, like fatigue is, in different kinds of ways, whether it’s physical, emotional, or change fatigue. And after months now of just constant turbulence, I think people are starting to wear out. You do the basic stuff, you do the short thing, you don’t think stuff through, you definitely have shut down the empathy. How do you refresh and renew in a time of constant change? When you’re living in continual whitewater,  where do you find those spaces and how do you help an organization find those spaces, especially.

Elaine Broe:
When it comes to the worn down feeling or kind of that we’re in it. I just keep saying we’re in it, whatever it is because it’s different for everyone. You’ve probably seen that meme of, we all might be in a similar ocean, but our boats are different and the weather we’re experiencing is different.

And again, some people are thriving in this. Some people are finally, just released out into the world while others. Yeah. it’s actually quite terrifying when some people are going through, with their jobs, with their lives, with their families. And because of that breadth of experience, I go back to what we talked about at the start, which is the human side of leadership.

And I think it is through connection, through kindness and through generosity of spirit and seeing each other as human that we will get reenergized. And I know the introverts are like lady, you know what? You can just you go give that advice elsewhere. But that connection can look very different for different people and using the word connection in the middle of a social distancing pandemic is not ideal either when it comes down to it, it is from a leadership perspective.

Your people are completely unable now to separate work from home and home from work and emotions from getting the job done. They’re all interconnected. So the more we can share our stories and be human with one another and talk about what we’re afraid of or what we’re hopeful for, or what a win was for the day that will energize us.

But that requires new skills and competencies. So I go back to the baby steps because for some of us that comes easily and for others, not as much. 

Rob Brodnick:
You used a word that is something I had in mind for our conversation today, because I’ve experienced you using the power of story in so many different kinds of ways. I think you’ve coached the coaches around how to build a story, the structure of a story, the power of a story. [00:28:00] What’s been going on lately with the power of story and particularly in these turbulent times, what are you doing with that lately? I’m curious.

Elaine Broe:
Honestly, it’s humanizing leaders. It’s taking the time for people to share where they’re at. When you think from an organizational perspective, let’s just say with your teams, with your people, but it’s also at home. One of the foundations to being able to support one another and create innovation in turbulent times and be creative is trust.

You can’t buy trust. You’ve got to earn it. And you do that through connection. And you connect through stories. I’m preaching to the choir here with you two. We’re telling stories right now. I had this really interesting conversation with a colleague of mine the other day, because we spoke about a times like these people are negative and down and traumatized and losing their jobs.

And there’s a lot of stuff going on. And so what is the role of positivity, of flipping the script, of leading with the positive, of trying to find the good in all of the stuff that isn’t so great. But I also spoke about the importance of recognizing and leaving room for feelings of despair and of loss and of uncertainty, because those also matter.

And I think that’s where storytelling is really beautiful. There’s an article by a consultancy group called On Your Feet . And they talk about storytelling from four different perspectives. And I think that’s, what’s really important when we’re going through what we’re going through right now that there’s stories of possibility and revolution.

And a lot of companies are going there. They’re trying to push people forward and keep the energy going and saying, this is what we’re going to do. There’s stories of celebration. So these are positive stories, about the future. What if, but we also need to talk about the stories of contradiction and the stories of anxiety, those matter.

What do we need to stop doing? What do we need to acknowledge? When you look at all of the work that’s surfaced and especially to those of us with privilege, or with those of us that present 

with our white skin, when you look at how Black Lives Matter has become more of a conversation, because we finally been sitting still long enough to listen.

I’ll just speak for myself. Those stories of contradiction really important right now, what do we need to stop doing? That’s not in service of what we say we’re a part of, but we’re not really a part of. And then what are the things that we need to acknowledge when it comes to the stories of anxiety around our fears and worries.

Yeah, to me, Rob, I get so excited about the possibility of what if we actually engage with each other emotionally. Led with stories and connected in ways that energized ourselves, even if it is through our inconsistencies and our feelings what could be possible? 

Karyn Zuidinga:
I’m wondering if there’s a story you want to share Elaine. I was going to ask, maybe a positive story, a story of a win that you have recently experienced, but then, making space for other kinds of stories too.   

Elaine Broe:
The story that comes to mind is back to that word pivot or evolution or evolve with everything that’s been happening. I mentioned taxi cab drivers. I mentioned traveling for my work. I traveled mostly cross North America, working with organizations, all over the place and leaders all over the place.

It energized me and I love my work and I love connecting with people. And I love being in front of a room, feeling the energy as much as I do those side one-on-one chats during breaks. I was made for it built for it. I’m really good at it. 

My story is about the idea of redefining what success looks like for me right now. I would be at home maybe three days out of a month. And I traveled every other day and I met new people every three days. My whole life came to a screeching halt on March 13th and I woke up thinking I’m so grateful that I don’t have to get on a plane again. I’m so grateful to live in the mountains and have this view. And that first week I just rested. And I started cooking. I never cook. I cooked!

By the second week I started to really settle with the idea that intellectually this was going to be around for a long time. My whole business needed to change. And that there wasn’t going to be a quick answer. I was the doomsday person, any colleague I spoke to that was like, I can make it till May, I’m good. I would be the person that’s yeah, how’s 2021 looking? I had to mitigate and manage how I spoke to people because intellectually I really had understood what was happening and that everything was about to change for the work that I did. 

Fast forward, about two months and it was really fascinating to watch emotionally. How I absorbed it. Because intellectually it made sense, but emotionally I woke up not knowing what to do with myself. I was getting ghosted by clients, because they’re trying to just get their people set up at home with laptops and computers and the security system.

And I’d just think, we were supposed to have a session in a week, but I’m guessing it’s not happening. That idea of narrative and storytelling became really important because I recognize that I really define myself and my success through the work that I did in the world. I loved it. It was wonderful. And so really, reevaluating, reestablishing, how I define success. And what that looks like. And it was never, yeah, monetary was some of it, but a lot of it was the relationships and the impact on leaders and what I learned from them. 

So what’s my narrative now? What’s the metaphor that fits for me. What’s the shift that I’m open to and it is turbulent. It does go back, Rob, in the article that you shared to talked about receptivity. And that idea of integrating and being open and taking in. And I guess my story is just that offer to other people where if you’re still not feeling quite receptive, if you’re still not quite feeling ready and open that’s okay. It takes some time. Intellectually I had it all figured out, but when it came to that and emotional understanding, whoo, I got knocked on my ass. 

So what’s my new narrative? What does it look like?

Rob Brodnick:
Do you have that resolved yet? Or is it in process or are you just going to kick the, can down the road a little bit and see what happens?

Elaine Broe:
The metaphor I’m working on I’m still not sure if it’s the one, but I’ll share it with you. We’ll see. I was a Michelin star restaurant before. I would go into organizations and spend months at a time with teams and working with their culture. And, and I was, again, really good at it. And now I’m more of a really high end food truck. 

I’m not doing three day sessions anymore. No one wants to be on Zoom for three days. I’m good. I’m not that good. So what does it look like to teach leadership, to engage in leadership conversations, to seek, to build trust in a team?

What does it look like to do that in shorter periods of time, over time? What does it look like to connect with people in different ways? In bite-size ways? So the metaphor isn’t quite there yet, but it is, it’s a pretty significant shift. And it’s one that I think creates a lot of opportunity, but to be able to see the opportunity I need to be receptive.

Rob Brodnick:
Yeah, I know one of your secret weapons. Karyn might not know that I know. But one of your secret weapons Elaine is improv and the mindset around creativity in the moment and what that can do. And in reflecting back on what you just said about the shift from being there immersed, in the spot where you can give the hug where now in Zoom, even the virtual hug just doesn’t quite cut it. So how has that secret weapon of yours, improv, shifted in the transition from where you were to where you are?

Elaine Broe:
Yeah, it’s a great question. It’s funny because even though I use improv and experiential learning in the way that I facilitate and design programs for people. I always think of it as actually more just humor and holding things lightly. And so while improv is a very specific technical skill that you’re helping people to relax and engage with things and look at things through different perspectives. I think my humor is just built in. 

Improv really engages in that idea of possibility, again, of openness and a flexibility. and that’s always going to be in my work, whether it’s on a screen or in person because of the people. You’ll hear me say it a thousand times over  the genius is in the room. I definitely do the work I guide, I support, but it’s the people that make it.

And so if you don’t create space for the people, whether you’re a leader or a facilitator like me, you’re missing out on it.

Karyn Zuidinga:
That idea about making space for humor and I was also thinking how that, of that idea about holding lightly. Don’t hold on so tight. That personally has been a big lesson to learn. I can think of examples my own life in the past, or in client situations where holding on lightly is just not possible. It doesn’t feel like, right? Hey, we’re in a stressful situation. We have to turn this ship around. We need to start, making money. We need to start selling more or whatever, the urgent question is can make us feel like we want to hold tighter. Because it’s like, Holy shit! We’re going down hill now! So how do you guide somebody into that letting go, into that openness, into that holding lightly moment? How do you help someone who is scared? Because this is fear. How do you help someone get past the fear into just, okay we’re not going to ignore the problem. We’re just going to hold it lightly. How do you get from AAAH to ..?.

Elaine Broe:
It’s a moment by moment process. I’m pretty sure. And the best thing is that, when we hold things really tightly, when we’re, when we’ve got that death grip, it’s an illusion of control, right? For the most part. And yes, there are times when we need someone to step up and say, Hey, we’ve been talking about this for four hours. We actually have to do something now. We need to move this forward and we need to embrace the risk of making a choice and moving it forward. And I think along those lines, with that illusion of control of holding things tightly, there is that opportunity of, opening up and being curious, which are very much design thinking, approaches to leadership. And with everything changing as constantly as it has that’s part of being in the unknown. It makes me think of the HBR article by, David Snow and Mary Boone around the Cynefin Model. And they talk about all these different types of decision, making scenarios, simple, complicated, complex, and chaos. And right now, for many of us, we’re in a lot of arenas of our lives and our work dancing in spaces between chaos and complexity and holding on tightly is grasping the first answer that we see, or, what I wanted to do in March, which was stay the course intellectually. I knew it was wrong, but emotionally I was like, I am not changing my website. I’m just going to wait the year out. It’s Nope. And that’s me holding tightly. So when you’re in complex situations, they’re always changing. Even as you’re inquiring within them, your inquiry creates a change. It’s a system. So holding lightly allows you to see the multitude of opportunities and options. And eventually you need to then make a choice or make multiple choices, but it takes a certain amount of grace and intention and comfort with the uncomfortable to be a seeker. And you can’t be a seeker if you’re holding on tight, if you’ve got that death grip.

Rob Brodnick:
I love that.True words of wisdom, without a doubt, I reflect on, rule systems and large organizations and societies and change . One thing we know is that, in order to create complexity you reduce the number of rules there are. And the less bounded the system is, the more free it is to take it on different forms. And it’s actually the most tightly run rule-bound bureaucracies that have the least amount of freedom and therefore the least amount of complexity. And I think that the least amount of hope for the future, because they’re just always going to be what they were. Because they’re so wound tight. It’s hard to shed because we’re somehow we’re taught or trained to add rules if you want to create the future. And I always find that to be the paradox of the future. Release rules. Hold lightly and things are gonna come to you. It’s a hard lesson and especially when times get tough or you’re under a lot of stress. It’s not a natural reaction to hold lightly, but there’s so much more potential in it. I love that. 

Elaine Broe:
It makes me think of what Mary was talking to you in the previous podcast around that idea of, Instead of sense-making of meaning making. And when we talk about simplicity, one of my favorite designers, Oh, he’s just, I have such a crush on him. John Maeda he wrote a book called the Laws of Simplicity.

Yeah, right? Yes. I absolutely adore the man. And he wrote a book around the laws of simplicity and I found a quote that simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, wait for it, and adding the meaningful. 

Rob Brodnick:
Yeah, I just got chills. I think. I really did. 

Elaine Broe:
Yeah, meaning making, like it’s all there. It’s all there. People, we have the instructions, we just need to let go of our death grip, just a tiny bit to actually be in the conversation. And that’s what it is. A system is a conversation. We’re not in a conversation if we’re holding on tight. Have you ever tried to take a deep breath when you’re holding every piece of your body really tight? So just clench everything in your body and then try to take a deep breath. It’s almost impossible. 

Karyn Zuidinga:
I’m just trying it. I can’t do it.

Elaine Broe:
It’s really hard. Try it. Like it’s 

Karyn Zuidinga:
I can get it a little bit in my mouth but that’s it.

Elaine Broe:
My head levitates off my shoulders. It’s not a good look. I’ve got four chins. It’s not good. So like just, Oh my God. Even as you’re listening to this, just breathe a little bit. What happens if we breathe a little bit and just start to really deepen our awareness around the meaning?

Karyn Zuidinga:
Wow. Chills right? That’s so cool. 

Rob Brodnick:
Yeah. Isn’t that great?  

Elaine Broe:
In the end It does all come back down to that idea of the human side of leadership. And even when you look at it through the lens of storytelling, you need to connect to emotion. You want to provide context and you want to be building trust. And, it was funny because one of the quotes in the turbulent article that I read, accelerated change is the destiny, the leaders of the future.

It will not be an easy role to fill. Finding their way through complexity and making decisions along the way will require access to information which comes through open channels of turbulence. The leader’s function will be to make difficult yet correct choices. And I thought it was interesting that it spoke about information because I think now, what we’re seeing is a lack of information. People keep looking to their leaders saying, give us information. And the leaders are like, got nothing. Like I have nothing for you. I have no idea what’s going on. And tomorrow’s another day. And all I can hope is in this next meeting, something doesn’t blow up. So to me, that idea of storytelling and human leadership. Is about providing context over clarity. Right now. We don’t have the information. We don’t have all the answers and we have to stop expecting people above us, that aren’t us, to have the answers. And to do that we need to be in different conversations. And it’s a skill that all of us have the opportunity to develop. Because what’s on the other side is amazing.

Karyn Zuidinga:
Wow. Mic drop. Boom. Right there.

Rob Brodnick:
Indeed. Yeah.

Karyn Zuidinga:
If you had, one word of wisdom or one phrase of wisdom, let’s say, to share going forward, for our listeners who are having that Oh shit moment. Oh, damn, I got to do something. I’m either in a. In a, not leadership role, but I can affect change or I’m in a leadership role and I realizing I’m holding on. Do you have something you could pass on just to help someone get on the path? 

Elaine Broe:
I think it very much goes back to that idea of where do you have choice and what can you control? And it might be as small as I need a glass of water, I’ve been dehydrated for a week. That could be the first step. I need to get more sleep. Like what it might be the base of Maslow’s hierarchy right there. Or it could be with my team. What’s the vulnerable question I’m going to ask of people. What’s the conversation I need to have with my leader or my leader’s leader. What’s the conversation we’re not having, but it comes down to what’s possible. Where do you have choice and where do you have control. Those are the things that when I feel like everything’s slip sliding underneath me and it feels like water, I can’t quite catch it all. That’s where I start. Where do I have choice and where do I have control? And then the other piece, which I think we’re all in the work of is what am I grateful for?

Karyn Zuidinga:
Absolutely. Wow, Elaine, I have had shivers several times while we’ve been talking. And again, just now, Poof. Beautiful. Thank you so much for taking time with us today. It was like I say, it would pass so quickly. It was such a beautiful conversation. Thank you again.

Rob Brodnick:
Yeah!

Elaine Broe:
It’s been great. Thank you both for all the great questions and just reconnect me back to those things. 

Karyn Zuidinga:
Hey, lovely listeners stay tuned for this episode’s positive turbulence moment coming right up. First, though, a huge thank you to AMI who have nurtured us in developing this podcast is the source of so many of our guests. And of course the founder, Stan Gryskiewicz is also the author of the original book, and dare I say…the Angela Merkel of positive turbulence.

Sponsor Message:
AMI is a pioneering nonprofit organization comprised of committed individuals who foster and leverage creativity and innovation in organizations in society. AMI identifies as leading edge innovation shares, experiences, sponsors, research and recognizes innovation and creative processes. Find out more at aaminnovation.org.

And thank you to Mack Avenue Music Group, our contributing sponsor for providing our podcast soundtrack late night, sunrise.

And here’s our positive turbulence moment.

Rob Brodnick:
you shared with us some great, pieces of turbulence that you’ve been reading or looking at, you shared some quotes and some of your favorite authors. Is there anything else that you’re looking at or listening to these days to create a little turbulence for yourself, or to shift your perspective?

Elaine Broe:
I’m actually rereading one of my favorite books called Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott and it’s instructions on writing, but it’s actually also instructions on life. The title of the book comes from, a time when her younger brother, when she was little, he had procrastinated, I think something like three months on doing this report on birds, it was this massive thing he had to do. A significant part of the grade effected his school. And he was of course doing it the night before. And he was just almost in tears, surrounded by bird books everywhere Trying to write the report and, Anne’s dad walked by and grabbed his shoulder and just said, I’ll be okay buddy,   just take it bird by bird. ” and  and that’s what I doing. There’s these moments, that’s where I’m like, there’s 4,000 things you should be doing. And I just say, you know what, Elaine take it bird by bird.

Karyn Zuidinga:
If you want to share a positive turbulence moment or otherwise comment on what you’re hearing, please drop us a line at podcast [at] positiveturbulence.com. We welcome your thoughts.

Rob Brodnick:
Be sure to tune in next episode, when we’ll be exploring innovation in small towns with Chad Shipmaker, who is leveraging his international development experience with organizations like the bill and Melinda Gates foundation, the UN World Food Programme and the Howard G Buffett foundation to a small town in British Columbia and having an out-sized impact.

Karyn Zuidinga:
You can head over to positiveturbulence.com to find out more about us, get a transcript of this episode, get links to find out more about our guests and learn about our wonderful sponsors. Until next time, keep the turbulence positive.

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