Podcast: Leadership – Balancing the Act of Doing and the Art of Being


Kate Gerasimova:

I’m happy to present to you a series of episodes about culture gathered over the past year asking experts in the industry for their advice and recommendations for leaders of organizations in this always-changing environment. The three episodes touch on how organizations need to be resilient in these vulnerable times. Each guest has a unique background and brings their own expertise and experience to what organizations, leaders, and employees need to do to be successful.

I’m Kate Gerasimova and I’m joined here by Kimberly Penharlow, who is a certified leadership and performance coach and organizational psychologist. She brings 20 years of professional experience as a trusted advisor for C-suite executives and non-profit startups and Fortune 500 companies. Kimberly is also on the board of directors for the award-winning creative network, SheSays, which helps women to achieve personal and professional success. Welcome, Kimberly.

Kimberly Penharlow:

Hi Kate. Thank you for having me today. I’m thrilled to be here.

Kate Gerasimova:

Thank you for being here. I’m so curious to learn more from you about what would you recommend for leaders in 2022.

Kimberly Penharlow:

That’s a beautiful question. It’s so juicy. So I think about this quote, which is, “Leadership is the delicate balance between the act of doing and the art of being.” So as I coach leaders, the act often is how you get things done. And it could be anything from how fast, how under budget, how many people were involved, so it’s very transactional. When I think about the new year, I think about the focus on the art of being. The art of being a leader. The art of being in relationship with your team. The art of being in relationship with culture and the importance of resilience. So it’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality. I don’t actually think there’s ever going to be a new now. I think the reality is we are going to continue to be in a VUCA world, in which leaders are going to be challenged to figure out if and when, and hybrid here and there, and this VUCA environment, which is Volatile, Uncertain, Complicated, and Ambiguous also just means it’s a time of constant change.

So the art of being, I want to give a couple of tips because most staff, most leaders that I’ve worked with in the past year and a half through COVID have not seen many of their teams. Maybe people have been hired, maybe people have transitioned out, but maybe they’ve never gathered. So with this art of being, a couple of things that I think about is resilience, and as you think about resilience, there can be four kinds of resilience muscles that leaders can build for themselves, but also for their teams. Part of it is psychological, part of it is emotional, physical, and community. And when I think about the emotional piece, that’s like how are you as a leader handling stress? How’s your team handling stress?

So tactically, right? Who wants to be on Zooms all week long? A tactical change for a leader to do is to look at the number of Zooms that they have. If it’s a 60-minute Zoom, cut it down to 45. Ask the critical question, is this actually a Zoom video needed conversation or can I make a call? So I’m encouraging leaders to do 25% less of meeting time, whether it’s on video or whether it’s on the telephone, to restore and to kind of start to recover. Some other pieces that I like, I think it’s important is this physicality, right? So if people are still working from home, it’s looking at their home setup and maybe moving a light, moving where your desk is facing, maybe moving a picture so you’re looking at something different. Maybe it’s doing walking telephone meetings with your staff. Again, building that kind of physical resilience.

And then this art of being is also so connected to relationships and culture, right? And community. So when I think about culture, there’s work by Daniel Coyle around safety, vulnerability, and purpose. And when leaders slow down and allow themselves to be open in different ways, whether it’s doing open office hours, knowing people can just drop in. Or whether it’s a leader making a list of people that actually inspire them because leaders are burnt out just like their staffs are tired, but if you create a list of 10 people that inspire you and then take half an hour every single week and have those calls, you’re going to show up with a tighter community, a sense of community outside of your organization. You’re going to show up inspired and invigorated for your teams.

I think there’s also ways to encourage that with your staff, right? Where I’ve been using a lot of Brene Brown’s work with Dare to Lead, and one of the two tools that I use a lot is this idea of permission slips. So what permission slip, I’ll use myself, do I need to give to myself today in order to show up for my clients? And maybe it’s not having all the answers, maybe it’s asking a challenging question, or maybe it’s realizing that I’m tired and I’m going to tell my client that I’m tired and we’re going to be real with each other. So what are those permission slips that can often be a way for staff to feel less stressed, which is I’m going to be on this Zoom. I’m not going to feel forced that I have to contribute during the call.

Those are some of the things that I think about. I think that culture is critically important, relationship is critically important, and focusing less on what is getting done, but how it’s getting done and what is that art of relationship and that art of culture that leaders can really focus on. And part of that is really slowing down and taking care of themselves and restoring themselves.

Kate Gerasimova:

That’s so beautiful. I love how we say do less, take more walks and your mention of art of being and slowing down. This is beautiful. I wish we can all do that.

Kimberly Penharlow:

I wish we all could too. I think it’s really challenging and I wish that leaders could turn down their expectations on themselves a bit more, knowing that there is an immense amount of stress that they’re experiencing, that their teens are experiencing, and so much of it is out of all of our control, right? So I think there is a real need for leaders to be graceful with themselves and graceful with their teams and having one or two things that they do new this year to allow this art of being could be sufficient, right? I think leaders who approach this year as I have to reinvent everything, most likely they are going to fail, right? There are things that people … That they’ve been doing really well and making some minor changes in the area of culture and restoring and resilience can have a huge impact, right?

And I think the other thing that I would … The other advice is this is a perfect time for leaders to slow down and ask their staff what’s bringing them joy? What’s bringing them happiness? Why are they still in the organization? Because as we know, about 33% of people are actually looking for a different job. So if you have people that you want to make sure are staying with your organization, it’s time to ask them directly what’s keeping you here? And that’s the role of a leader, right? And then to hold onto those gems and to honor those gems in the culture.

Kate Gerasimova:

Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s a great question to ask and know what people want and help them to be inspired. As you mentioned, be inspired more yourself and inspire others.

Kimberly Penharlow:

Yeah, that inspiration piece is so important, especially when most of us are not roaming around the world in a way that we might have two years ago, right? So that connection to people at different points in your life, whether it’s professional or not, those people who inspire you are important to reach back out to.

Kate Gerasimova:

Yeah, absolutely. And then one more thing that I wanted to ask you more about, you mentioned something about the culture. So why is it still critical to focus? We keep talking culture, culture, but why now again?

Kimberly Penharlow:

Yeah, why now? Because they’re still creating their virtual culture, right? And most organizations and leaders have led through all of COVID virtually, and this is again, a great time to punctuate what has been working really well in the virtual world and what are some … What’s one change that maybe the leaders want to see, maybe the staff want to see, in order to stay more connected to the purpose of your organization? We know through research that most people are driven by being connected to whatever the mission of the organization is. And by the sheer nature of working remotely, oftentimes that connection can get deteriorate … Can begin to deteriorate, right?

So culture and mission and purpose is part of those leadership skills around safety, purpose, and vulnerability that if leaders focus on, it increases retention, increases engagement. So you can build an inclusive, safe, innovative culture virtually. It takes as much attention, if not slightly more than if you were in the office. It cannot be overlooked. And the impact of doing it is about keeping the people in your organization that are inspiring, that are innovating, that are producing, and that are connecting with each other.

Kate Gerasimova:

Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for providing those tips.

Kimberly Penharlow:

You’re welcome.

Kate Gerasimova:

And hopefully, it will definitely help all our readers and listeners.



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