[00:00:34] Chicago Camps: How does your new book guide leaders in assessing and improving their impact? Can you share a key insight from the book that’s particularly transformative?
[00:00:43] Donna Lichaw: I am someone who works with a lot of founders, CEOs, and senior leaders who are in high growth situations where typically their team has doubled in size over, you know, the last year.
[00:01:01] And when I say team, it’s team, organization, or often the company when I’m coaching the CEO, which is most of who I work with these days. The scenario is the same, which is they’re in this position where suddenly something feels a little off, even though they have so much potential to make an impact. And they start blaming other people for a performance not being where they want it to be.
[00:01:27] So, ah, my team never listens to me, or they’re so slow, or this new executive I hired, they promised X, Y, and Z, and they’re not doing this, and when, especially senior folks come to me, and they’re in this pressure cooker of, oh my god, people are not doing what I want them to do, what’s going on, the answer inevitably starts with you, which is, there’s something that you are doing to enable this system to be performing in this way, like it or not.
[00:02:03] One of the first things I do with anyone I work with is we go out and we find out, all right, how are you doing? And it’s as simple as talking to people. And so if it’s a CEO I’m working with, I’ll go out and talk to people.
[00:02:20] They’re busy. They don’t have time to do it. So I’ll talk to five to eight, sometimes dozen, although you don’t need that many. It’s assuming this audience is a tech audience and you’ll know that notion of qualitative five to eight people, you get enough of the data. You hear the same things after three interviews, five, you feel good about it.
[00:02:44] Cemented your insights in a way, as long as. The segment you’re talking to is the right segment of people. And so typically I’ll go out and talk to folks. If it’s someone maybe on the team who’s not in a super senior level, there are ways that I can coach them to go out and talk to people. And whether it’s me or someone else, the key is that you have to find out how you’re doing.
[00:03:08] Not. Your guesses, not your fears, not your insecurities, not your imposter syndrome, not your blame game. They didn’t do this and X, Y, and Z, but how are you really doing? And when you find this out, inevitably, you’re gonna be surprised. Most people I work with think they know exactly how they’re doing, and then when they actually find out, they’re shocked, especially because most people don’t know the good things about how they’re doing and when you figure out the good things with what you’re doing and learn how to amplify those and figure out how to manage, that’s when you can really, it’s going to sound so cheesy, but this is what my book is about. It’s what my entire business is about. That’s when you can really own your power and use it for good, just like a superhero and help turn everyone else you work with into heroes.
[00:04:01] Yeah, this assessment is so key, but it’s not what you typically think of an assessment, which is you work at a large company. It’s not like survey is rank them on a scale of one to 10, but how awful are they and how, what do you want them to change? It’s not like that. It’s, it’s more like a user customer research project.
[00:04:19] You want to find out what’s working, what could be better. There’s so much evidence behind this idea of first identifying and then amplifying your strengths versus trying to minimize them. And there’s evidence behind it. I see it work. Cause this is what I. Live and breathe every day with my clients. And also when in doubt, you can think of the superhero, that’s a metaphor, which is every superhero at one point in their journey and tries to be something that they’re not, and they spend a lot of.
[00:04:50] Time early in their stories early in their journeys fighting their powers And it’s only once they learn what their power really is and how powerful it really is that they can embrace it and then Use it for good but in the business world is especially true the more time You try to minimize things that you’re ashamed of, or you’re embarrassed of, or that people hate, or complain about you, or you don’t want to be doing, the more time you’re going to spend focusing on that thing, or those things, and that’s a waste of energy.
[00:05:26] And that energy could be better spent focusing on what is working. Doing more of that and figuring out again, how to manage the rest or just let it go. Like you’ll be amazed at what’s possible then, but harness the good stuff.
[00:05:46] Chicago Camps: Can you describe what leadership impact means and why it’s vital for leaders to assess it?
[00:05:51] Donna Lichaw: That’s the leadership impact. It really is as actually, I want to say it’s simple, but I know a lot of us have a hard time measuring impact when it’s in an official systematized form. Take for example, OKR’s objectives and key results. Everyone in tech’s favorite system they love to hate because I don’t know, a lot of folks I work with just infuriated, trying to figure out, I don’t know what’s an objective, what’s a result.
[00:06:22] The easiest way to think about impact is when you do something or you do things, what are the result, what happens afterwards? So let’s say I’ll start with something you don’t want to happen. This is all anonymous, but this happens all the time, which is a CEO I worked with recently, had this uncanny ability to run his meetings in a way that he was the only one talking and no one else contributed. And yet he came to me frustrated and thinking, why is my team not stepping up and doing the job that they said they’re going to do, what’s going on? And so that’s one way to measure impact, which is, I like to think in terms of sports metaphors.
[00:07:21] Hey, when you hit the ball this way, I noticed when your wrist did this, let’s say your tennis coach, you wristed this as you hit the ball and the ball went here. So that’s simple behavior impact. Leadership is much the same. So when you were at the meeting today. And you were checking your phone the entire time.
[00:07:43] And let’s say it was a Zoom meeting, which a lot are these days. And it was clear that your eyes were looking at the cloth the rest of the time. And you were typing. While facilitating this meeting, the team didn’t contribute a lot. You spent most of the time talking and pausing and checking texts and emails.
[00:08:05] Simple behavior impact. So. That’s a negative impact, and that’s easy for us to assess in a way. If anything, we’re, there’s something called a negativity bias, which is we as humans are always looking for the bad things. Your team is seeing that behavior, they’re frustrated, they shut down, they’re annoyed, and then they behave in a way that you don’t want them to.
[00:08:27] So you could try to fix broken things like a, and it becomes like a game of whack a mole and it’s really hard to do. Or you can start, and I’m going to use a product design and product management metaphor, like paving the cow path, like paving the path of what is working, you first have to be able to see it.
[00:08:48] So positive impact is, hey, when you opened the meeting today and you paused, you put your phone down, you breathe and you smile and pause again. People started chatting and asking one another how they were doing. Did you notice that? So that’s a simple impact. Okay. Hey, did you notice later on in the meeting when someone came to you with an idea and you asked them questions, you seemed curious.
[00:09:27] And then everyone started conversing. And then in the end, they were able to come to a conclusion and have next steps. Did you notice that? What was going on? Oh yeah, I’m generally a curious person if I’m not tearing their ideas down. It could be simple little behaviors on the micro level. So in a meeting, let’s say.
[00:09:49] It can be macro as well. If you go out, interview enough people and do a qualitative research study, I’ll call it. Again, a simply just talk to a handful of people. They can tell you What the impact is, and you can pull out the themes. So, hey, when on Mondays you, I’m going to totally make this up, you bring cookies, people get really excited and then they talk more or something like that.
[00:10:23] And it could be even on the bigger level. When you bring excitement for the vision you have, the vision that helps you create your company. And McFruit top class people from around the world. When you bring that vision, people get excited. And it’s simple as that. You can focus on, hey, do you notice when you change your goals 20 times a quarter that people are extremely frustrated?
[00:10:51] Or you can focus on when you bring the vision and it’s clear and crisp and people have bought in. You notice how by the end of the quarter, you’re closer to realizing it. That’s what I’m talking about when it’s look at what’s working rather than focus on what’s broken and do more of that. Do more of that.
[00:11:09] I promise you, if you just do more of that, you’ll be wildly successful.
[00:11:13] I work with a lot of founders and a lot of founders are very ADHD, but not a little distracted, like actually ADHD.
[00:11:23] And it’s part of what makes founders amazing and helps them create companies and do wild outrageous things like creating companies in the first place. And it can also lead to certain behavior that is tough for a lot of people to manage. And so I’m not talking about a contract. I’m ADHD, so I have to check my texts all the time.
[00:11:41] Oh, hey, I’m going to turn my phone off. Or this happened to me once. I had someone coming from the airport. Once I was working with the CEO, he kept checking his texts and during a coaching session and kept doing all these things. And it was, it drove me nuts. And so at some point I let him know, hey, when you’re like, checking text and email and all this stuff during the meeting, every time my heart starts racing and I feel like I’m doing something wrong. What’s up? And he told me, Oh, my fiance is like about to land. I need to pick her up from the airport. I just want to know when she lands. Oh, then fine. Then I didn’t care if he had his phone out.
[00:12:20] Then I knew he needed to pick her up right after our call. That’s a contract. So anything you ever need people to agree to, you could do it. But if you don’t have that agreement, that climate, then know that the impact you will have is not always what you want it to be.
[00:12:36] Chicago Camps: What are some essential skills or attributes that contribute to positive leadership impact and how can aspiring leaders develop them?
[00:12:43] Donna Lichaw: Positive skills, self awareness. I just want to keep coming back to this impact thing. Self awareness is key. If you’re not aware of the. Impact you’re having on people. Ideally, the good impact, it’s a lot harder to do your job. And that’s, I would say, actually, I guess it’s, I was gonna say it’s not a skill, it’s more of a, a stance or a way of being, but self-awareness is definitely a skill that you can master that takes a lot of.
[00:13:08] Thought and energy per se, but mindfulness to, to master. So, you know, in the case of you checking your watch and that person making a joke with you about it, it’s great that he did that. Imagine if you kept checking your watch. And instead, the other person in the meeting kept getting disengaged because they were offended by you checking their watch and then they’re pulling away.
[00:13:32] And then you’re like, what the hell? They’re so, why are they so checked out? Oh my God. They’re awful. I can’t believe I just hired them. And here I go again. And every time I hire someone new, they’re like not performing. Why does this keep happening to me? The opposite is. Self awareness, and then I would extend to that just general awareness.
[00:13:54] Hey, I noticed he got really quiet. What’s up? So it’s really simple. You have to know the impact you’re having on people because people are, unless you’re like, and it happens, but unless you are some kind of lone ranger who is doing everything on your own. Which, cause I wouldn’t really call that leadership per se.
[00:14:18] If you’re okay doing everything on your own, then it doesn’t matter. But, and at the point that you need to lean to others. It’s, it is more like a, I want to say like a dance. I don’t know anything about dance. So I guess I know more about sports. It’s like a sport, which is you need to be working with other people.
[00:14:34] You need to be doing that, connecting, making that eye contact, just knowing what’s going on. You can’t be a Lone Ranger on a basketball team.
[00:14:44] Anything you do with the team that involves a team, which is all business leadership, you have to have self awareness and what that requires you to do is if it’s skill, you pause, you notice, and you look at the impact. One thing I want to add to that, however, I didn’t mention earlier, I think is really important is so far I’m talking about interpersonal dynamics and interpersonal impact on one on one that you have on people and with your team. And more broadly with the business, because that, that, that feedback of like when they bring, when the CEO brings the vision, we get excited. That I hear from entire companies, not just teams. So the whole company feeds off of that type of energy, whatever you’re doing networking.
[00:15:31] Impact is not just the impact you have on people, but. Because people are the ones who get work done at your companies, and this is the same, I work with non profit executives as well. So people get the work done, whether it’s for profit or non profit. Impact ultimately has numbers attached to it, whether it’s recruitment, attrition, internal performance metrics, any kind of productivity metrics you have, or, ultimately, The key metrics that matter for your business, whatever it is, sales or engagement, whatever your business does, ultimately you measure the impact you have by how your system is performing and that requires awareness too, because if you are the most self aware leader on the planet and you have no idea how your business is doing, all pretty pointless because you cannot connect the dots and you cannot continue to improve.
[00:16:38] So self awareness, it’s everything. I will say that I’ll qualify this too, which is my own worst claims in a way, which is why all coaches need to have a coach as well. I’m the worst at this. I’m always a work in progress. My background in coaching is what’s called gestalt coaching. I trained with a whole bunch of gestalt therapists and gestalt coaches. It’s a type of therapy that I’m not gonna even try to explain it all Here right now or ever. This is why there’s so few books on it, although my book, The Leader’s Journey, I think is probably the closest to some kind of Gestalt primer on what Gestalt is, but it means in German, it means the whole.
[00:17:26] And so the idea is that you look at everything, good, bad, all of it. And one of the philosophical underpinnings that I think is key is that it’s this idea of appreciation, which is when you develop self awareness. And awareness in general of others, of the system, of your impact. It’s very easy to get negative about what you learn and that’s just ’cause you’re human.
[00:17:55] Some of us more than others. I think Russ, you and I probably the crankier of the, the bunch perhaps, but you can look at the negative and very easily jump into embarrassment, shame, guilt, and all those things. You can also. Just appreciate good, bad, whatever.
[00:18:17] And so one of my mentors has this saying that I have a post it note on my monitor. That’s what I’m looking at right now and it just says, isn’t that interesting? And so anytime you bring anything to her, isn’t that interesting.
[00:18:33] So if you can treat yourself the way, I’m going to say the way you should treat a toddler, not everyone treats toddlers this way, but when you learn to treat a toddler in a way that’s productive, it’s like, wow, you really want that candy. I see how much you want that candy. I know you really love candy. I wish I could give you candy. Candy all the time. And this is hard for me too. So you can appreciate all the things then you can often just float away. It’s so it’s, we’re all toddlers at work. Everyone we work with is toddlers at work, but yeah, really that appreciation.
[00:19:12] Less judgment, more appreciation. I think that’s the way to do awareness. Otherwise you’ll drive yourself nuts. So yeah, I hope you’re putting that post it note on your monitor. Isn’t that interesting?
[00:19:23] I am really good at bringing out the dark side of everything. This is for anyone listening on audio, The Upside of Your Dark Side is one of my favorite books written by a bunch of psychologists.
[00:19:34] It can be a superpower to be negative. You just don’t want to do it all the time because it will drive you nuts. But forcing ourselves to be assertive is never going to work.
[00:19:42] Chicago Camps: What advice would you give to emerging leaders or those looking to take on more significant leadership roles regarding assessing and improving their impact?
[00:19:51] Donna Lichaw: Ask. Develop that, that awareness muscle as soon as you can. See who needs your help. See what impact you have on people. Find out what impact people want you to have. See what you can do. Be curious. And the other part I would say, make sure that you are in a system that supports you to grow.
[00:20:19] Don’t think like a lone wolf or a lone ranger or any of that. It just doesn’t work. I know that’s a thing in the tech world that has come up as a theme of you’re supposed to do X, Y, and Z as a leader. You’re supposed to do, no, you’re supposed to do whatever lights you up, whatever excites you and whatever the system in which you want to have an impact, whatever that system needs and it lights you up, then that’s what you do.
[00:20:47] Yeah. Make sure. You’re clear on that if you’re early on in your career that I would say the best thing you can do is build your alliances as early as possible and become best friends with everyone you work with across departments, high up, anywhere you can. That’s how you’re going to build a system in which you can thrive that’s going to support you or get out as soon as possible and find a system in which you can thrive.
[00:21:15] So yeah, I think that’s. For emerging folks, I think showing up with people internally or externally who you admire and want to learn from and grow with showing up as a helpful human is key. They might not always ask. And if anything, working with so many founders, CEOs, and executives, I will say they’re probably too scared to ask.
[00:21:42] You would never think, but most people I work with are terrified of asking for help. They’re so used to doing everything for themselves. So don’t expect everyone to be asking for your help early on, but show up and be curious, be interested. That’s how the world goes around and eventually if they trust you, they’ll ask you for help or you can just learn from them, but yeah, show up, be curious and helpful when you can.