Your transformation PODCAST

Creating Synergy Podcast

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Ep. 1 – Leadership 2020 and beyond

Intro:

Welcome to Creating Synergy where we explore what it takes to transform, whether you are transforming yourself, your team, your business, or your community. We’ll connect you with insightful and challenging leaders who share their stories of successful transformations to give you practical ideas for your own journey. Join us for another insightful episode of Creating Synergy.

Daniel Franco:

Welcome to Creating Synergy, podcast number one of many. Today we have Michelle Holland, serial entrepreneur, director of SynergyIQ, the culture and strategy department I guess you would say. She is a co-founder of online music program called SAMii, and also the author of three amazing books, one being her very, very latest, Culture Inc, which is… normally there’s a banner of Culture Inc, and there it is. Beautiful, right in front of me.

Michelle Holland:

There’s the book, that’s right.

Daniel Franco:

So welcome, Michelle. Thank you-

Michelle Holland:

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Daniel Franco:

You had no choice. So first and foremost we’ll start off with being director of strategy and culture. How did you get into this world of culture and leadership strategy?

Michelle Holland:

I’ve had a very long journey in that space. Actually, I started as an accountant, funnily enough, in my career, but quickly decided that numbers were not my thing. But I really liked problem solving, so I started in human resources. I transitioned over to human resources and after many years of being in human resources and discovering all of the things that kept going wrong in human resources, like getting into conflicts and all the rest of it and helping managers deal with issues and deal with their culture and whatnot, I recognized that there’s only so much you can do when you feel like you’re putting Band Aid’s on all the time, taking people to the Commission and fixing problems after the fact. I really recognized that actually the real work is in the setup work, so in culture and in leadership.

Michelle Holland:

So I focused most of my career in that space. So even when I was working as a senior HR strategist and manager in a number of organizations, my focus was always on the culture. It was always on supporting the leadership, it was always on working with the executive to ensure that their business was set up to enable the people to do their jobs.

Michelle Holland:

I still managed the HR departments in those roles as well. So we had people who were going around and fixing the problems as they needed to be fixed, but my world was very much on that strategic HR, looking at the workforce overall, looking at the culture overall. And I quickly, or not so quickly, it took me quite some time, but eventually I gathered my courage up and decided to start SynergyIQ. And at that time I was just, this was six years ago now, was working as a freelancer, working with business around the place just doing some leadership coaching and working with them on their culture as well and doing some consulting in that space. After a few years recognized that there was a real need in this area, that businesses were asking for help all the time, so decided that SynergyIQ needed to be a little bit bigger.

Michelle Holland:

Which brings us to today, which is we focus on culture, leadership and change. We have a number of people that are supporting businesses across Australia, which is really exciting, that the business has grown to where it has grown so fast and so far.

Michelle Holland:

So that’s been exciting for me and it’s enabled me as well to be able to focus even more strongly in the culture and the leadership space.

Daniel Franco:

Beautiful. How’s the business going?

Michelle Holland:

It seems to be going pretty well, thanks Dan.

Daniel Franco:

Yeah. Yeah. Just get a plug-in there.

Michelle Holland:

Yeah, that’s-

Daniel Franco:

Forgot to introduce myself at the start, so-

Michelle Holland:

Yes, that’s right. I’ve got some great business partners, so yeah, it’s really good.

Daniel Franco:

Yes, it seems to be growing quite quickly.

Michelle Holland:

Yeah.

Daniel Franco:

Some bit of traction, it’s been doing some good work.

Michelle Holland:

Absolutely.

Daniel Franco:

Especially culture and change.

Michelle Holland:

Yes. Yeah, culture and change and the leadership space as well. We’ve got projects going on in all those different areas in different businesses around the place. So yeah, the business is going very well and growing and growing and growing.

Daniel Franco:

Beautiful.

Michelle Holland:

Yeah. Yeah, I’m pleased. I’m happy.

Daniel Franco:

So being an author of Culture Inc and obviously knowing a lot about the industry, you would see some pretty fantastic leaders out in the world, and you would also see some quite-

Michelle Holland:

Not so?

Daniel Franco:

… indifferent leaders, I guess. Tell me, what do you believe is a great characteristic, or great characteristics, of leadership?

Michelle Holland:

Great characteristics of leadership. Well, to be honest, it actually depends on the day of what I focus on, because there’s a number of things to being a great leader. Fundamentally however, it’s about being a good human. If you’re a good human, you can be a great leader, and that’s, I think, where it starts.

Michelle Holland:

I’ve seen a lot of really, really good people and good leaders really beat themselves up, because they feel like they have to measure up to this caricature of leadership that authors, and I’m one of those people as well, we put out there into the world almost this unrealistic version of what a leader should and could be. For me it’s always just be human first. So we recognize that as a leader we are human and we are dealing with people, and that, I think, is fundamental, the fundamental characteristic.

Daniel Franco:

I heard a saying once, actually I saw it somewhere. I’m walking down the street and they had Humankind on their T-shirt and then underneath it said “Be both”.

Michelle Holland:

Yeah.

Daniel Franco:

That was brilliant.

Michelle Holland:

Yeah, yeah.

Daniel Franco:

Absolutely brilliant. This is pretty much along what we’re saying.

Michelle Holland:

Absolutely, yeah. We should get some of those T-shirts printed. That’s great. It is really. I mean, it’s not about not managing things the way they need to be managed. There’s leadership and then there’s management, and great businesses need both. So they need people who are going to be able to manage the stuff, they need to manage the projects, they need to manage the outcome, they have to manage the finances. They have to manage those things. They have to be able to manage and they need people who are going to lead that they’re going to have the vision, they’re going to have the direction. They’re going to see the bigger picture, they’re going to be able to inspire people and create an environment where people can feel motivated and ready to work and give their best.

Daniel Franco:

Is that something you see happen quite often where a leader will be promoted, I guess, purely based on their technical skills and then fall short on their leadership ability?

Michelle Holland:

Yeah. I think it’s happening less and less. Well, when I say it’s happening less and less I think the desire to just promote based on technical is happening less and less. People recognize that to move into a leadership position or to promote someone to a leadership position they need to have not just management skills but also leadership skills. I still don’t see it happening as often as it could. If there is a choice between are you a great manager of budget over are you a great leader, the manager of budget still seems to be winning. You know, what is the technical element? So we still have the “to lead an engineering team you have to be an engineer.” So it’s the technical that’s being prioritized over the leadership, whereas leadership is actually a transferrable skill because it’s about who you are and not just about what you’re doing.

Michelle Holland:

And yeah, to manage an engineering team you might have to have that understanding of how to manage an engineering team. But whether you need to be an engineer to be the leader of that team, to be the CEO of an engineering company, I would challenge that.

Daniel Franco:

Yeah, absolutely. What was Steve Jobs’ famous quote, “Don’t hire great people and tell them what to do”?

Michelle Holland:

Absolutely, that’s right.

Daniel Franco:

They have to tell you what to do.

Michelle Holland:

Totally. Totally.

Daniel Franco:

[crosstalk 00:08:17]

Michelle Holland:

You hire people to do their job and allow them to do it. Give them guidance, give them boundaries, give them all of those things that they need to have.

Michelle Holland:

So I guess going back to your question about the characteristics of great leaders, it really is about being able to create an inspirational vision for the future, which helps people to get inspired about where they’re going. That to me is probably the fundamental of great leadership.

Michelle Holland:

When we start breaking it down into people leadership and technical leadership, functional leadership, all of those sort of things, then there’s other characteristics that we could talk about. But fundamentally it’s really be a good human. Treat people like they’re human, in a nice way. In a kind way. Not nice, in a kind way. Clear is kind. And think about yourself in that position. That’s, I think, the fundamental really, is what do I need to feel inspired to do my job. If you can answer that question, it’s generally similar for others around you.

Daniel Franco:

How do you take into account being nice and kind when pressure’s on from above? Is that when true leadership is shown, in those situations?

Michelle Holland:

Well, I think it’s definitely where the leadership rubber hits the road so to speak. When things are not going well in businesses, that’s when the challenge of leadership really starts. You can still be kind even when you’re going through a really difficult period. If anything, it’s even more important to be kind. You don’t necessarily have to be nice. So nice, kind of get rid of that word. It’s about being kind. Because if an organization is going through significant change, and obviously this is part of what we do on a daily basis, is work with businesses that are going through massive amounts of change, there might be redundancies, there might be a complete shift in the way people are working, people are scared. To be able to be kind in that space, being able to be really clear about the communication, being clear about what’s happening, being as transparent as possible as early as possible, these are the things that actually make great leadership.

Daniel Franco:

Yeah.

Michelle Holland:

You know?

Daniel Franco:

Is kind another word for constructive?

Michelle Holland:

I think kind is definitely part of constructive, yeah. Yeah, it could be. I’d have to think about that, whether they are interchangeable. But yeah, pretty close to being interchangeable. I mean, constructive is… Yeah, I have to think about that one I think. Might have to park that one for the next podcast.

Daniel Franco:

Well, you often hear giving constructive feedback, I guess, is a true mark of a leader.

Michelle Holland:

Yes.

Daniel Franco:

When you say clear is kind, and we’ll touch on Brené Brown a bit later, we love Brené here at SynergyIQ, clear is kind meaning-

Michelle Holland:

In feedback?

Daniel Franco:

… yeah, quality feedback, transparency, constructive. Does that word come into it or not?

Michelle Holland:

Yeah it does, it does. Definitely transparent and definitely constructive comes into it. I think you can be kind without being constructive.

Daniel Franco:

Yeah.

Michelle Holland:

Because otherwise you’re dropping into that nice place instead of the kind place. So when we talk about clear is kind, and we do use that in our own culture obviously, as well as when I’m teaching people leadership and doing different programs, we use clear is kind a lot. And it really is about transparency. It’s about what do they need to know to be able to get their job done? What do they need to know so that they’re not sitting there fearful about what’s happening? Because if I’m keeping stuff to myself that I know is actually making somebody nervous out there, then that’s not very kind, is it?

Daniel Franco:

No.

Michelle Holland:

If I’m not giving feedback to somebody because I’m afraid of how they’d react, I’m actually holding back an opportunity for them to get better. That’s not kind.

Daniel Franco:

No.

Michelle Holland:

So, being able to be kind, I think it’s more of a motivation thing. Constructive is probably the way in which you do it.

Daniel Franco:

Okay.

Michelle Holland:

Yeah.

Daniel Franco:

Yeah, fair.

Michelle Holland:

That’s probably the way I would put it.

Daniel Franco:

Thanks for clearing that up.

Michelle Holland:

That’s quite all right. Clear is kind.

Daniel Franco:

So given that, leaders today in pressure environments, I want to just unpack this a little bit more, often turn to old habits.

Michelle Holland:

Oh yeah.

Daniel Franco:

So how do we, as a leadership conglomerate, get better at managing some of those old behaviors that come out to play when the pressure is on?

Michelle Holland:

Yeah. And it is classic. It’s absolutely classic that when the heat is on we’ll default to whatever our default position usually is. So it might be that we default to being a people pleaser because that keeps us safe. Whatever keeps us safe really is what we tend to default to in situations of pressure. So if we have a very, I guess, well practiced leadership position of being constructive and open and transparent and kind, if it’s well practiced, that actually could be our default position when we’re going through pressure.

Michelle Holland:

However, if it’s not well practiced, it might be a new position. Because the people that we work with, we’re introducing them to new concepts. They’re trying their hardest, they’re trying to flip their behavior from being defensive into constructive behavior-

Daniel Franco:

So well practiced, awareness comes first.

Michelle Holland:

Absolutely. Absolutely, yeah. So any time we’re trying to shift a behavior, shift anything, awareness has to come first. So I need to be aware of what I’m doing before I can actually change anything.

Daniel Franco:

The way it makes the other people feel.

Michelle Holland:

Absolutely. And it’s about acceptance as well, right? So I need to be able to go, “I’m aware that by holding back information it’s detrimental to the people that I’m working with.” And I need to accept that it’s my job to make sure they’re not uncomfortable in this situation. So what then, action, do I need to do to create something different? And that might be really uncomfortable for me to do, because normally I’m like, “I keep things close to my chest. I don’t want to share, because knowledge is power.” It might be that I don’t want to say anything because I don’t want to hurt their feelings and I don’t want them to be upset with me, particularly if I’m delivering bad news.

Michelle Holland:

Nobody likes to deliver bad news. I don’t think there’s one person on this planet that would say they enjoy having a tough performance conversation with someone, or a redundancy conversation with someone, or a “this has to change, you can’t do that anymore” conversation. They’re not fun conversations. Nobody loves to do them. But it is part of that role that you take on. It’s the obligation, what I call the obligation and the privilege of leadership.

Daniel Franco:

We did a couple of workshops together a few times before.

Michelle Holland:

We did. A couple of workshops a few times.

Daniel Franco:

A couple meaning many.

Michelle Holland:

We sure did.

Daniel Franco:

And one of the ways we described that was leaning into discomfort.

Michelle Holland:

Yes. Yes, very much so.

Daniel Franco:

Will you expand on that a bit?

Michelle Holland:

Yes. Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny, I was having a conversation with a group of leaders this morning about this exact thing, because we quite often say we need to lean into that discomfort, or great leaders are comfortable being uncomfortable. And I don’t necessarily believe that we ever get comfortable being uncomfortable, because there’s always a level of uncertainty that we’re in. But what we can do is we feel it and we do it anyway. So the definition of courage is not that I’m a superhero and I’m going to fly in and save the day. The definition of courage is I feel the fear and I do it anyway.

Michelle Holland:

So that’s leadership, leaning into the discomfort. I know that having that conversation’s going to make me uncomfortable and I need to actually lean into that. I need to be okay with the fact that I’m uncomfortable. I also need to be okay, so this is the acceptance part, be okay that you’re going to be uncomfortable when we’re having this conversation as well. Because if I can’t be okay with that, I’m then going to go, “Oh-

Daniel Franco:

Find ways to avoid-

Michelle Holland:

… if Dan’s not going to be comfortable then I can’t have that conversation.”

Daniel Franco:

You change your language almost to suit the-

Michelle Holland:

You totally change your language.

Daniel Franco:

Which is sometimes good, but it can be an opportunity lost, isn’t it?

Michelle Holland:

Look, as soon as you try to please somebody else and try to change your behavior and your language because you think that’s what they expect of you? You’re done there and then. You need to be.

Michelle Holland:

This is where that authenticity comes into as well. You need to be able to be authentic in yourself, utilize your own style. Not everybody’s the same, not all leaders are the same. So when we go back to that conversation about characteristics of great leaders, when you look at great leaders, yeah you could probably pull out things that are very similar. And there’s a million blogs. You Google “characteristics of great leadership” on Google and you’ll get eight million hits, right?

Daniel Franco:

Yeah.

Michelle Holland:

So people do that, but fundamentally it’s about who am I? How am I turning up? What’s my style of leadership and how can I get the best out of the people around me and myself so that we can actually deliver what we’re promising to deliver?

Daniel Franco:

So personal values become-

Michelle Holland:

Absolutely.

Daniel Franco:

… quite a big part of it?

Michelle Holland:

Yes. Yes, yeah. Fundamentally your values are what’s going to guide you. So-

Daniel Franco:

That’s that “who am I” piece, isn’t it?

Michelle Holland:

Yeah. Yeah, yeah. I mean, one of the other Brené Brown quotes that I love to spruik is, “Who you are is how you lead.”

Michelle Holland:

I was delivering a workshop in Sydney just before Christmas and we were doing a values work with this group of I think it was 45 leaders in the room. And we walked in, I said I’m going to do some values work, and we started doing this personal values work. And as they’re doing it I was listening and I could hear on one table there was a conversation about, “Ugh, why are we doing this? Why are we doing my values? It’s go nothing to do with it. Shouldn’t we be exploring the company values?” Because they’re a company of leaders, right?

Michelle Holland:

So I was listening to that and so I brought the group back together and said, “Hey, just want to have a check-in. I’ve just overheard somebody say,” I didn’t point them out, “but somebody say, ‘Why are we doing this as a personal basis, on a personal values?'” And my response to them was, “Because who we are is how we lead.” If we are not clear about our own personal values, about who we are deep inside, then we’re not going to make clear, kind decisions for ourselves or others. You know?

Michelle Holland:

Our values is what guides us. It’s not just something that we put on little pieces of paper and stick on a wall. They will guide us through our decision making. So personal values are essential, and understanding your personal values, understanding your triggers, what puts you into your values, what puts you out of your values, people who start to step out of their values, that’s when discomfort happens.

Daniel Franco:

Yeah.

Michelle Holland:

Real discomfort.

Daniel Franco:

Yeah. And when the level of self awareness increases you can almost call yourself out.

Michelle Holland:

Absolutely.

Daniel Franco:

When you are playing, I guess, your own values.

Michelle Holland:

Yeah. Yeah. And you make decision based on these things as well. So the same as companies use their company values to make decisions… well that’s the intent anyway. It doesn’t always happen that way. But the intent is that we have a set of company values so that when we are faced with a decision then we have a guide for decision making.

Michelle Holland:

It’s the same as personal values. If your personal values are respect let’s say, it’s respect for self, respect for others, respect for the situation, whatever it might be. If I’m making a decision which is not respectful, then I need to really charge myself to think about whether that’s going to be the right decision to make or not.

Daniel Franco:

Yeah. Absolutely.

Michelle Holland:

So it’s about accountability.

Daniel Franco:

So all that being said, is there a shortage of great leaders in today’s society? From what we see out in the world, some of the clients and people and what we see on TV, some leaders that are leading countries, is there a shortage of great leaders?

Michelle Holland:

Oh God. Yeah, well let’s not go into politics, because I think the strong answer would be yes there. But I actually believe that we do have a bit of a leadership crisis. And it’s not that there is not enough leaders out there, and there are some really, really good leaders and there’s some really, really great leaders, there’s a real inconsistency with leadership. And I think there is an element of fear around being a great leader as well. So there’s that fear around it. And also because of that thing that I mentioned earlier, that we’ve got this caricature of this great leader, everybody’s so focused on trying to be that caricature they’re not actually being a good leader. Because they’re going, “oh no, I have to do this, I have to do that,” and it doesn’t feel right to them and they’re spreading themselves too thin or they’re trying something. It looks like they’re trying too hard with what they’re doing.

Michelle Holland:

So look, there are some really good leaders out there, there are some really poor managers and lack of leadership. I don’t know if you can be a bad leader, because you’re either a leader or you’re not a leader. You could be someone who doesn’t demonstrate leadership. But yeah, recently I had a situation where a very senior person told me about their manager, senior global company, doing some really terrible, terrible things that I thought left us in the ’80s but are still happening today.

Michelle Holland:

So that to me is the challenge. That’s is a challenge. When I’m still seeing in 2020 behavior that should’ve been gone. I’m sure there’s a four letter word. That we shouldn’t be seeing in 2020.

Daniel Franco:

No. It’s pretty remarkable.

Michelle Holland:

But we still are.

Daniel Franco:

I do know that story. We won’t go into that one, but it was pretty-

Michelle Holland:

No we won’t. No we won’t. But it does, it was a jaw dropper. But it’s still happening, you know?

Daniel Franco:

Yeah.

Michelle Holland:

We still get phone calls about behaviors at work. We still get phone calls about managers and leaders, so called leaders, yelling at people in the workplace today.

Daniel Franco:

Yes.

Michelle Holland:

And if that stuff is still happening, that’s telling me that there is a big leadership gap. Because if that can happen within a business, there’s something wrong going on at the top.

Daniel Franco:

Yeah.

Michelle Holland:

And I don’t want to bash the CEO and the executive team, that’s not what this is about, but if that’s happening within your business you need to pull your socks up and do something about it.

Daniel Franco:

There’s lack of alignment to the values, isn’t it?

Michelle Holland:

There’s definitely a lack, yeah.

Daniel Franco:

Lack of holding people accountable to their values as well.

Michelle Holland:

Yes. Yes, absolutely.

Daniel Franco:

So just while we’re talking about great leaders-

Michelle Holland:

Great leaders!

Daniel Franco:

… and not so great leaders, one of the greatest I guess and the greatest researchers would be one of your biggest influences, Brené Brown. We’ve dropped her name a few times-

Michelle Holland:

We have. We love Brené.

Daniel Franco:

… along with J.K. Rowling. [crosstalk 00:24:09] J.K.-

Michelle Holland:

Oh wow, yeah. Yeah, don’t get me started on Harry Potter. We’ll be here all day.

Daniel Franco:

We won’t, no. So just tell us a little bit more about Brené, I guess, and the work that she does that really inspires you and the work that you bring to your clients and just people around you.

Michelle Holland:

Yeah, yeah, great. Yes, I’ve been a big fan of Brené Brown for a really long time. I was introduced to her work back in 2013. Funnily enough at that time I actually rejected her, because she was talking about vulnerability and I was not ready to walk into that space. But a number of years later and a lot more study in the work that Brené has done, I essentially, for the last probably two or three years, have embedded a lot of the principles of her work into the work that I do. Whether it’s one-on-one coaching or whether it’s leadership programs, I’ve always embedded her work.

Michelle Holland:

If people don’t know who Brené is, I would be surprised, because most people do. But there are still one or two people that don’t know who Brené Brown is. She is probably the world’s most renowned expert in vulnerability, shame and belonging. And last year… not last year. What are we in now, 2020? So in 2018 it would’ve been now, she released a book called Dare To Lead. And Dare To Lead was her work, which was very much based in a one-on-one, individual social work counseling kind of space. It was very much about the individual person, who I am as a person. She took that work and did some research around how that work actually impacts in the workplace and how leaders can embody this work and become better leaders. She spent about seven years doing this research. So she took her social work, who I am kind of work, and put it into workplaces.

Michelle Holland:

Now the reason she did that was because she was getting phone calls from Google and Pixar and Nike and all the rest of it going, “Hey, we’ve read all your work. This is awesome, it’s changing my life. How can I bring this to my team? How can I bring this to the workplace?” So she wrote Dare To Lead to enable that work to be brought to the workplace.

Daniel Franco:

So is it a step by step guide on how to become a better leader? Or is it stepping into the vulnerability that you said?

Michelle Holland:

Yeah, it is. It is a guide, definitely. I don’t know if it’s a step by step guide, because it’s all about personal leadership journey. It’s a personal leadership journey and it’s very hard to do it step by step, because what it’s all about is it is accepting vulnerability. Accepting that we’re all vulnerable and what does that mean for us. So there’s four key skill sets in Dare To Lead which teaches courageous leadership. So that what the book is all about.

Michelle Holland:

So when I read that book I was so excited, because I was already embedding a lot of her work into the leadership work that I was doing, and I know a number of other people have been doing that as well. Vulnerability is talked about, I swear, at every conference nowadays.

Daniel Franco:

Especially after her TED talk.

Michelle Holland:

Especially after her TED talk, yeah.

Daniel Franco:

And Netflix special as well.

Michelle Holland:

Absolutely, and everything else. So when I read Dare To Lead I was like, “This is awesome. This is exactly the sort of stuff I want to be teaching the people that we work with in leadership.” And I just had this kind of, “Wouldn’t it be great if she just developed a leadership program and I could go off and learn her leadership program and bring that back and put it into place?” Well, about a month later she released to her network, “Hey, we’re going to be doing Dare To Lead facilitation training. Apply now.”

Daniel Franco:

And you were one of the lucky ones to be selected.

Michelle Holland:

I was, in the very first cohort of the Dare To Lead program.

Daniel Franco:

Well done. So you met Brené Brown.

Michelle Holland:

I did meet Brené Brown.

Daniel Franco:

I do know this, I’m just-

Michelle Holland:

I know you know this.

Daniel Franco:

… putting a show on for [crosstalk 00:28:13].

Michelle Holland:

I did meet Brené.

Daniel Franco:

So tell, what’s she like? Was she tall, was she short?

Michelle Holland:

She’s shorter than me.

Daniel Franco:

Is she shorter than you?

Michelle Holland:

She’s shorter than me. I couldn’t believe it. She seems a lot taller, but I think that’s just her presence. She’s an amazing person and she’s a very authentic leader in herself. She practices what she preaches. That’s part of the fundamental things that I learned being in the room with her.

Michelle Holland:

But yeah, I was lucky enough to be in the room with her for three days learning the Dare To Lead program that she’d created with her team, which essentially takes the Dare To Lead book and embeds it for people within the workplace. Which is amazing. So yeah, I got to be one of the first facilitators to go through that program with Brené. So I flew over to San Antonio, Texas. Never been to Texas before. Was expecting a bunch of cowboys to be walking down the street, but there wasn’t. It was a very, very lovely, lovely town.

 

Michelle Holland:

Yeah, spent three days with Brené and she facilitated the full three days as well.

Daniel Franco:

Great.

Michelle Holland:

Her team was around her. It was just amazing, her facilitation skills are astounding as well. So I was very fortunate. The cool thing was that we actually went through the program ourselves at the same time as her teaching us about the research that sat behind it. So it was a real deep dive for me. And I’d been working with Brené’s work personally for about two years, and sitting in that room, that was the first time that vulnerability… because remember, I got introduced in 2013, so this was 2018. This was the first time that the vulnerability thing sunk in for me and I went, “Oh my God. Yes, vulnerability is freaking essential to be a leader. You have to be able to embrace-

 

Daniel Franco:

That’s the discomfort thing, or-

Michelle Holland:

Total discomfort, yeah. Yeah. So the definitely of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. So you name me a time-

Daniel Franco:

So uncertainty, risk, emotional exposure.

Michelle Holland:

Emotional exposure, yeah. So any time you feel a sense of risk, you feel a sense of uncertainty, you feel a sense of emotional exposure, you’re in vulnerability.

Michelle Holland:

Now, I would challenge any manager, people manager, or leader to tell me a time where they haven’t walked into a room with one of their people and not felt those three things. So it is an essential part of being a leader. The real key to that is acceptance of vulnerability as part of leadership. That’s where that leaning into discomfort really comes into play. So yeah. And these are the things that we teach in the Dare To Lead program.

Daniel Franco:

That you teach. So you came back and we were very lucky as a team at SynergyIQ to go through the program ourself. And I think for us, we went from strength to strength purely not because we deep dived into our own psyche, I guess, and behaviors, however we got to know the people in the room and what, not made them tick, but where their values laid and what meant a lot to them.

Michelle Holland:

Yeah. Yeah.

Daniel Franco:

So just with that, you offer programs publicly and-

Michelle Holland:

Yeah, yeah. So last year I think we put through about 65 people through the Dare To Lead program, either internal or external. Every time I run this program I feel humbled and privileged by the sharing that people do in the room, because it’s a true inside out leadership program. So there’s programs out there that’ll teach you the step by step guide to having a performance conversation. This program actually teaches you and helps you to prepare yourself to get the most out of that conversation, to prepare yourself to be able to walk into that discomfort and enable somebody else to feel uncomfortable so that you can get the best result for those people. Because if you’re unable to let them feel uncomfortable, then they’re not going to get the best out of it either.

Michelle Holland:

So Brené actually calls it a primer course, which I quite love. You put the primer on before you paint the wall.

Daniel Franco:

Paint the wall.

Michelle Holland:

So this sits under every single program that you could run in a business. If you want to run a bullying and harassment course for example, you have to have leaders that are actually willing to have the courageous conversation around that. If you’re doing diversity and inclusion programs in your workplace, you have to have daring leaders having conversations that are really uncomfortable and saying, “You know what? We want to have a diverse workforce, yet every single person that’s sitting around this executive team and this senior management team has a white face and we need to do something different here.” You know? And they’re uncomfortable conversations to have, and if you don’t have the skills of being a daring and courageous leader, then it’s hard. Because you might get kicked, you might fall down, and if you don’t have the skills to get yourself back up again, that’s tough.

Daniel Franco:

Yeah.

Michelle Holland:

That’s a tough place to be. It is an amazing program, I can’t say enough about it. And every time I run it as a facilitator, it’s like a little mini therapy session for me too. So I’m like, “Oh my God, I thought I’d worked that one out. I’ll just write than down and talk about that later.”

Daniel Franco:

Seeing your book, it’s got 20,000 Post-it notes [crosstalk 00:33:54]

Michelle Holland:

It does.

Daniel Franco:

Moving onto 2020.

Michelle Holland:

2020.

Daniel Franco:

So we’re in 2020 now.

Michelle Holland:

I know. Can you believe it?

Daniel Franco:

Which is pretty good.

Michelle Holland:

I can’t believe it.

Daniel Franco:

The large scale change that is happening across all industries at the moment, specifically digital but all industries are going through radical amounts of change. What type of leader will take us through the next decade? What are some tips and tricks, I guess, or some starting points for businesses to start thinking, “All right. We need to handle change better, deal with change on a different level to what we did before”?

Michelle Holland:

Yeah, absolutely. Look, we’ve been going through quite a significant change. They call it the digital era. The last 10 years have pretty much been the digital era. So that’s not stopping any time soon. The transition to more automation, the transition to more technological advancements, the ability to do most things online, the communication challenges that we have as well, the new generations coming into the workforce that are very much communicating with their phones. They communicate by looking down, not looking into other people’s eyes. That’s just how they communicate.

Daniel Franco:

That’s worrying.

Michelle Holland:

It is a bit of a worry. So the socialization skills that are going to be needed when this next generation goes into the workplace is really important, and I think for leaders into the future that’s one element that they’re going to have to deal with. So it’s not just this whole “we’re going to transition into a digital age and I have to get all the baby boomers to understand that the computers are now ruling the world.” The next generation, they’re not going to have that challenge. The challenge they’re going to have is actually teaching them socialization skills. That ability to walk across the office and interact with another human being in a way that’s actually constructive and kind. That’s going to be the things that they’re going to have to be teaching.

Daniel Franco:

Is another expectation of this new breed, I guess, the expectation that things should just work?

Michelle Holland:

Totally. I mean, technology is their world nowadays, right? So if I’m walking into a workplace and the tech is really old, they’re going to be frustrated and challenged by that. But-

Daniel Franco:

Yeah. So is that an issue around staff retention then?

Michelle Holland:

It could be. It could be. I mean, they are brand new going into the workplace right now. The other thing that they’re looking for is a bigger sense of purpose. You know, we’ve seen that with what we call the Millennials, which seems to be getting bigger and bigger and bigger as a generation. It used to be the 30s and whatnot, but now it’s like 40 to 15 I think. It just keeps growing and growing. But the group of people that we call the Millennials have been coming into to workplace looking for more meaning in their work, more purpose.

Michelle Holland:

And it’s really interesting, because actually some people, when you talk about these young people coming into the workplace, they say, “They’re not loyal. They don’t stick around.” They are really loyal. When they find a business that provides them with that purpose, that innate purpose, that they feel like they’re doing something meaningful, they feel like they’re doing something good, they feel like they’re able to grow and change and contribute, they will stay. They will absolutely stay. It’s when they can’t feel that stuff, and the technology’s crappy, but when they can’t feel that stuff, that’s when they’ll go, “You know what? I actually don’t have to stay.” Whereas in the ’50s and ’40s and whatnot, yes you had to go get a job and you had to stay in that job because it wasn’t the dumb thing to move around. Now it’s like you’re in a job for two to three years and people are like, “Whoa! You’ve been there so long!” You know? It’s just the way it is.

Daniel Franco:

So that ties in with the culture of the business then and the leadership really drive that culture?

Michelle Holland:

Oh absolutely. That’s right. And look, when we go back to thinking about the leader’s role in all of that, it’s very much about those true, authentic leadership skills that they need, which is that setting the vision, making sure the environment is set up so that the people that you’re hiring in, they can actually just get on with things and they can get on and do their job. They’re not going to know everything. There are still things that we have to teach them. They’re not going to walk out of university into a job and know exactly how you run your business. They’re not going to know exactly how to deal with your customers. They’re not going to know exactly how to interact in a work based environment. That’s stuff that we have to teach.

Michelle Holland:

And I think the sooner that leaders and others within the workplace get that the new people coming in are not work ready. But guess what? Neither were you when you started, right? You had to-

Daniel Franco:

I’m still not ready.

Michelle Holland:

That’s right. You think about in the ’60s, ’70s, whatever, a lot of the time people walked into the workplace and they had what was called a foreman. And the foreman was the mentor. They were the person that took care of the new people coming in and taught them the ways of being. Why would we think that anything’s different now?

Michelle Holland:

So our job as a leader, and this is probably the fundamental job, is to set up the environment of the workplace to enable people to be able to perform at their best. That’s it.

Daniel Franco:

Say that again. Enable people…

Michelle Holland:

To enable people… so to create the environment to enable people to perform at their best.

Daniel Franco:

Brilliant.

Michelle Holland:

So there’s lots in that, obviously, about how you create that environment.

Daniel Franco:

That’s why I wanted you to say it again.

Michelle Holland:

But that is fundamental what it is. That’s my job as a leader, is to create the environment. It’s not to inspire you, it’s not to motivate you, it’s not to change you, it’s not to make you happy. It’s to create an environment where you can be inspired, you can be motivated, and you can be happy. That’s my job as a leader, create the environment.

Daniel Franco:

Good stuff. Right. Now part of the podcast-

Michelle Holland:

Uh oh. I don’t think I signed up for this. I’m out.

Daniel Franco:

We’re going to just shoot off. So we try to keep these things around half an hour and I’m probably guaranteed we’ve gone over that.

Michelle Holland:

Way over.

Daniel Franco:

Is to just ask some quick fire questions, put you on the spot.

Michelle Holland:

Okay.

Daniel Franco:

Test your leadership skills. No. No, no, no.

Michelle Holland:

Test my thinking skills.

Daniel Franco:

So if you could put something on a bumper sticker, what would it say?

Michelle Holland:

Well there’s many things. I mean, clear is kind is already on a bumper sticker, so I can’t use that one.

Daniel Franco:

You’ve got it on your mug as well.

Michelle Holland:

Yeah, I do. I think something that I say quite a lot, which taps into my curiosity, is the question not asked is the question unanswered.

Daniel Franco:

The question-

Michelle Holland:

Not asked-

Daniel Franco:

… not asked-

Michelle Holland:

… is the question left unanswered.

Daniel Franco:

Yeah, I like that.

Michelle Holland:

So that’s going on my T-shirt.

Daniel Franco:

I said bumper sticker, but that’s good.

Michelle Holland:

Well, my bumper sticker as well.

Daniel Franco:

So if you had a sound track of your life, give me one song that would be on that soundtrack.

Michelle Holland:

They’re all ’80s songs, much to your distress.

Daniel Franco:

No, I was born in the ’80s.

Michelle Holland:

Yeah, no. I know. Probably something like Walking On Sunshine or Wake Me Up Before You Go Go.

Daniel Franco:

We Built This City?

Michelle Holland:

We Built This City. That’s exactly right. That’s eighty… I think that’s ’80s. Late ’80s.

Daniel Franco:

Yeah.

Michelle Holland:

Yes. Well, it depends. Or if I’m feeling a little dark and depressed, it’s Bring Me To Life by Evanescence.

Daniel Franco:

Oh okay.

Michelle Holland:

That would be my other-

Daniel Franco:

That is a ripper. She is an amazing woman.

Michelle Holland:

She has an amazing voice. Yeah.

Daniel Franco:

So you mentioned earlier… This is quick fire questions, but I’m [crosstalk 00:41:32]

Michelle Holland:

Yeah, quick fire. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Daniel Franco:

I’m going to just… okay. What’s the lesson that’s taking the longest to learn?

Michelle Holland:

The acceptance of vulnerability is probably-

Daniel Franco:

Yes, I was going to go-

Michelle Holland:

Yeah, acceptance of vulnerability-

Daniel Franco:

That’s where I was going in you mentioned earlier.

Michelle Holland:

… is the one that’s taking me the longest. Yeah.

Daniel Franco:

I do listen.

Michelle Holland:

Yeah.

Daniel Franco:

Okay, so finish this sentence: Leadership is…?

Michelle Holland:

Leadership is essential.

Daniel Franco:

Essential.

Michelle Holland:

It’s essential, yeah.

Daniel Franco:

It is really.

Michelle Holland:

I think without leadership that businesses come to a halt. And leadership is whatever the person makes it into, because it’s a personal journey.

Daniel Franco:

It is. What are you reading right now?

Michelle Holland:

What am I reading right now? I actually listen to a lot of audio books and-

Daniel Franco:

Or what are you audiobooking right now?

Michelle Holland:

My audiobooking. So the audiobook that I’m listening to right now, actually I’m listening to two. One is Quiet by Susan Cain.

Daniel Franco:

Susan? Yeah.

Michelle Holland:

Which is all about introverts and stuff. I’m about halfway through that one. And I got a bit distracted into an audio, it’s not necessarily a book but it’s a lecture series by Pema Chödrön who’s a Buddhist, which is awesome.

Daniel Franco:

Brilliant. People can look into that.

Michelle Holland:

Yes, they can.

Daniel Franco:

On the reading, what is one of the best, other than Brené’s, leadership program series?

Michelle Holland:

Yeah.

Daniel Franco:

All her books are amazing by the way, so start there.

Michelle Holland:

Oh yeah.

Daniel Franco:

But what’s another leadership book that you would recommend to people if they’ve read all the Brené stuff?

Michelle Holland:

If they’ve read all the Brené stuff and they really like Brené’s kind of writing style, then anything by Simon Sinek is good as well. Leaders Eat Last is great. His latest one is awesome. And also Daniel Pink. Daniel Pink is very underrated. He doesn’t have the same celebrity status that some of them do, but his work he researched quite deeply. His latest book, which is called When I think it is, is all about timing.

Daniel Franco:

Okay.

Michelle Holland:

Timing of life. So when’s the right thing to do during the day, during your life. What happens when.

Daniel Franco:

Yeah, wow.

Michelle Holland:

It’s a really interesting book, particularly if you are more advanced, let’s say, in your career and life.

Daniel Franco:

So Simon Sinek for the starters?

Michelle Holland:

Simon Sinek for the starters, yeah.

Daniel Franco:

And then for the more advanced, Daniel Pink as well.

Michelle Holland:

Yeah, Daniel Pink. And he’s a really accessible writer as well. He writes beautifully.

Daniel Franco:

I’ve read a few of his books.

Michelle Holland:

Yes. Yeah.

Daniel Franco:

To Sell Is Human was one of my favorites [crosstalk 00:43:57]

Michelle Holland:

Yes, To Sell Is Human’s excellent. Yeah. And A Whole New Mind is one of my favorite books.

Daniel Franco:

So what do you do for fun?

Michelle Holland:

What do I do for fun. Write books. Well, I actually do. I write.

Daniel Franco:

Yeah.

Michelle Holland:

Yeah. That’s one of the things I do for fun. I’m working on a fantasy novel at the moment.

Daniel Franco:

Oh, there you go.

Michelle Holland:

Yeah, I’m creating a whole new world.

Daniel Franco:

I’ll be the first to read that.

Michelle Holland:

So that I do for fun.

Daniel Franco:

Excellent. And what’s your best dad joke?

Michelle Holland:

This is the one that I use all the time. I love this one. Two elephants fall off a cliff. Boom, boom.

Daniel Franco:

That’s horrible. And that’s why it’s good.

Michelle Holland:

It’s a dad joke, it’s supposed to be.

Daniel Franco:

Yeah. As a dad, I can appreciate that.

Michelle Holland:

That’s exactly right. It’s supposed to be terrible.

Daniel Franco:

Brilliant. Well done. Thank you very much, Michelle.

Michelle Holland:

No problem. Thank you.

Daniel Franco:

That is the end of it. Thank you for me asking you all the hard questions, I guess, and what leadership means to you and to the rest of the world.

Michelle Holland:

Yes, no worries.

Daniel Franco:

So very insightful, thank you.

Michelle Holland:

No worries, thank you. Glad to be here to have a chat.

Daniel Franco:

We’re going to be continuing on with the Creating Synergy journey.

Michelle Holland:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Daniel Franco:

It’ll be myself mainly, but you will be joining in-

Michelle Holland:

Every so often.

Daniel Franco:

… every so often.

Michelle Holland:

Absolutely. Hold me back.

Daniel Franco:

Asking all the hard questions with me.

Michelle Holland:

Yes. That’s right, yeah.

Daniel Franco:

So looking forward to where this might take us and some of the people that we can speak to.

Michelle Holland:

Yeah. I can’t wait, because we’re going to be talking about, I think in the next few episodes, coaching, both on an individual basis and a team basis, and looking at a few other things like storytelling at work and what that means.

Daniel Franco:

So the flavor of the podcast will be leadership, culture, change, all things-

Michelle Holland:

Transformation.

Daniel Franco:

Transformation from a personal level to a business level. Yeah.

Michelle Holland:

Absolutely.

Daniel Franco:

It sounds pretty exciting.

Michelle Holland:

It’s pretty good. I can’t wait to listen to them.

Daniel Franco:

Well I think we’re going to go on a bit of a transformation journey ourself while we’re listening to all these great speakers.

Michelle Holland:

I think we will.

Daniel Franco:

So thanks again.

Michelle Holland:

Totally. No worries, thank you.

Daniel Franco:

Over and out. Cheers.

Outro:

Thank you once again for joining us here at Creating Synergy. It’s been great spending this time with you. Please jump onto the SynergyIQ Facebook page where the discussion continues after the show. Join our mailing list so you’ll know what’s happening next at synergyiq.com.au. And of course, don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast and if you really enjoyed it, please share it with your friends.

Meet our Host

Daniel Franco

Daniel Franco

Daniel has a passion to help people shift their lives and businesses to another level, regardless of their current success. His pure enthusiasm and joy for creating long lasting relationships is paramount to the success of our Clients and SynergyIQ.

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