Dr. Wanda Wallace, President and CEO, Leadership Forum, Inc.

Dr. Wanda Wallace and I have a lot in common – we’re both authors, we both devote our time to helping organizations succeed, and, perhaps most importantly, we both care deeply about establishing and maintaining productive relationships.

Dr. Wallace does this as President and CEO of Leadership Forum, Inc., where her focus is to enable leaders to deliver better results through better leadership, better teams and better diversity.

If you like what you read in this week’s Q&A installment, please check out her book – Reaching the Top – and also her VoiceAmerica show called Out of the Comfort Zone. In fact, an interview with me can be found here.

Paul: Wanda, I know that you’ve worked with individuals and groups from around the world. What three to five things should American coaches and managers know about working with colleagues from other countries?

Wanda: The first thing Americans should do is get a clock. There is nothing worse than having someone schedule a call or initiate a late-night call without any idea what time it is for you. Second, turn down the volume and get comfortable with more silence. People in other parts of the world often need a bit of time to think. They don’t believe talking over someone is acceptable. And they need time to process a different language. Give a bit of space before you jump in. Third, ask for others’ opinions – particularly if they are on a call and have not spoken. Fourth, gentle curiosity goes a long way. Just being interested in customs, holidays, routines, weather, or hobbies helps build connections. Fifth, connecting with people is not different anywhere around the world. The how may vary, but the act of connecting is the secret sauce of work.

Paul: I know that one of your areas of expertise is diversity. What does it take to create an inclusive culture?

Wanda: Companies talk a lot about diversity and inclusion. But what they’re really doing is diversity. Diversity is more of a counting exercise in that we take action to increase the number of people in diverse categories. There is nothing wrong with those efforts. However, the real prize comes from having an inclusive culture. By that I mean a culture where individuals who are not part of the dominant coalition feel included, feel they belong as much as anyone else, feel they can bring their unique perspective to bear on any issue, feel their voice matters as much as anyone else’s and feel they have as many opportunities as anyone else. An inclusive culture occurs because of how managers and team members treat each other every day. It’s both the subtle things way beyond unconscious bias and the processes around performance and talent. It’s how you make that joke about weekend plans, who gets invited to lunch, what explanations are given when there is a subgroup going off for a golf weekend, how policies like flex time are applied in reality, who gets picked for new opportunities as well as where, who and how you ask for opinions on what to do.

We know that diverse teams bring greater results, but that only happens if the diverse team members feel comfortable being open with their perspective. That only occurs when there is an inclusive culture on the team.

Paul: Why do you think women are not advancing to senior roles after decades of focus on diversity? Is it the same with other minority groups?

Wanda: There is no single simple answer. It’s complex, and until we understand the complexity, we won’t make progress on this issue at all. I believe the following combination of factors result in women not being adequately prepared for senior roles, and as a result aren’t being seen as credible to the organization.

  1. Too little time in the core part of the business – the largest clients, the biggest revenue production area, the heart of how the company makes money. Without adequate time in central roles, she isn’t credible to sit at the senior table.
  2. Too much time in expertise roles where her work speaks for itself, she is in control of her area, she gains confidence because she knows all the details. In expertise roles, she doesn’t develop the confidence to make a decision without all the facts, to trust her team to deliver, to show confidence without having done the details herself.
  3. Too little feedback, particularly on style. It’s tough to give anyone feedback, and it’s far tougher to give feedback to someone who isn’t like you. Yet without the feedback and the coaching to address issues, careers stall. This isn’t about turning women into men or adopting a male style. Rather, it’s about learning how to navigate disagreement, how to negotiate and persuade, and how to deal with politics, to name a few core capabilities.
  4. Not enough visibility. She has to create some of this for herself, and her manager has to help create it as well.
  5. Trying to go it alone. As you rise in the organization, there are fewer and fewer people you can talk candidly with. Imagine trying to navigate any large organization without allies. Yet most women operate relatively alone because finding the handful of female colleagues is next to impossible and forging trusting relationships with male colleagues isn’t as easy for women as it is for men.

Paul: You mention that women are still not getting the feedback they need to be successful. Would you share your thinking with us on this?

Wanda: Very few people get good feedback – male or female. Add difference to that and the candidness of the feedback diminishes substantially. Say you wanted to give a direct report feedback that his/her approach was undermining trust. The better you understand the direct report (e.g., thinking, preferences, style, emotions, etc.), the more confidence you will have in your ability to deliver a message in a way the direct report can hear and the greater the chances that you will deliver that message. Now with the same scenario, image that you don’t know the employee very well – you seem to speak different languages, have different experiences, get emotional about different things. In that case, most managers side-step the feedback message. They don’t deliver it at all or they make it so subtle it’s missed all together.

Paul: What do you feel new college graduates need to learn about working in the organizational world?

Wanda: Here’s my bucket list for new employees:

  • Work on your communication every day. The single biggest complaint I hear from managers is about communication – being concise, knowing what information will matter to the listener and what isn’t so relevant, conveying the message with presence and gravitas. As good as you are in communication, you can get better. The more you do this, the better your career will go.
  • Develop your emotional intelligence. Being able to understand what others feel, how they might react, what emotions are likely to be at play in a situation is the heart of being persuasive. Learn to tune in to the emotions that are present in every situation. Learn to read the room.
  • Patience. Your career is a long-term effort. I hope you don’t achieve your ideal role in one to two years because if you do, you didn’t aim very high and you are going to be bored for the next 40 years. Don’t rush. When you think you have mastered the technical part of the role, turn your attention to the emotional/relational aspects of the role.
  • Manage your own career. It’s what you hear from everyone, and it’s true. That said, you need to learn the rules of the road when it comes to managing your career. What does that actually mean you should be doing at different stages of your career? What seems to work in your organization and what doesn’t? What are the typical patterns? So not only do you have to manage your career, you have to figure out for yourself what that means.

Paul: What else strikes you about the current generation entering the workforce?

Wanda: The willingness to ask who knows something, to put requests about anything out for crowd sourcing and to tap the extended network for information, advice and help. Information for this generation has always been readily available and easily searchable. They have a completely different perspective on knowledge. I find that fascinating. It leads to a whole different set of behaviors.

I also find their view of ownership to be unique. The younger generation is much more comfortable with collective ownership than I recall other generations being. By collective ownership I mean all the business models for co-owning, buying a share of, renting, and leasing. Think about cars and the more recent models of buying into a club that provides you a car when you need it.

Finally, I find there is a lot I take for granted that everyone already understands. I am often wrong with the younger generation – what they know and what they don’t know is a continual surprise. So the lesson from my experience is not to assume you know what the younger generation needs to know.

Paul: What is the biggest challenge you see for leaders in leading effectively?

Wanda: Managing all that is expected of them. There is a lot on every leader’s plate and not enough time to take stock, reflect and make adjustments. Setting priorities is harder and harder to do, particularly in a matrixed organization when things change all the time. There is enormous pressure on time. Leaders are out of capacity. Learning to manage in this environment is really challenging.

Second, there is no one way to lead effectively – I believe it’s about balancing one way as opposed to another. For example, as a leader you sometimes have to push people hard, but if you do that too much, there is a problem. Equally, sometimes as a leader you need to do the polar opposite – not push, let people do what they want to do. If you do that too often, it becomes a problem. So it’s a matter of balance, and how can you hope to get balance without space to think occasionally?

Paul: What is the difference between leading as an expert vs. non-expert and why does it matter?

Wanda: As an expert, you know more than the those around you and your credibility comes from your knowledge of the facts, the practices and the potential problems. As a non-expert, neither of those is true. Your team knows more than you do, leaving you feeling vulnerable. And your credibility comes from personality and style instead of your knowledge – from your ability to inspire others, your ability to communicate persuasively, the quality of the relationships you have, how much people like you and trust you, your ability to understand many different styles.

Paul: I know you are a fan of lifelong learning. What are you currently working to learn or practicing to master?

Wanda: There is always a long list. At the moment there are three things I am learning:

  • Using social media to get out a message to a larger audience. I am experimenting, making progress – but I am far from having mastered the best format for me and my work.
  • Inclusive culture. I think it’s an incredibly important concept and many agree with me. But I am regularly surprised at how little we can articulate the behaviors that define an inclusive culture. That’s true for scholars, consultants and professionals.
  • Emotions and their impact on individuals. This is not a new topic to me. Each year I strive to get better at how I help people understand the emotions they are experiencing and use those emotions to guide growth. It will be a lifelong journey – probably one I will never master.