Kofi Darku: In this episode of the Skill Up Build Up podcast, we feature Sarah K. Robinson, who lets us know that in the last 25 years, the workforce has changed a lot, and we need to evolve the way we engage with people and the workforce. Let's jump in!
Kofi Darku: Welcome back to the Skill Up Build Up podcast where we are leading talent to thrive. On this episode, we will have Sarah Robinson, owner of Fresh Concepts and Gallup-certified Strengths Coach. Welcome Sarah.
Sarah Robinson: Oh, thanks so much for having me. I love being here.
Kofi Darku: This is going to be fun because we're thinking about ways that not only entrepreneurs or workers in companies, but leaders of companies themselves can rethink how they're approaching their business. And so we're going to dig into that. But before we do, you know, we often like to understand who is on this episode. And I think this is really unique because we all get to a certain point in our education whether it's high school, whether it's college, where you realize you're about to jump off the education ship and where are you actually going? What are you going to do? Is it something that you thought you would be doing? Are you really surprised by what it's going to be? Or like many people, are you still uncertain as to what it is? Sarah, when you graduated from college, what were your aspirations and how did you get into your first job?
Sarah Robinson: Great question. So I really loved psychology and so I was actually a psychology and philosophy major in college. There is no job that you can get that's going to go anywhere with those two undergraduate degrees. So I had to go on and I knew that, and my mom was a therapist and actually had a PhD in clinical psychology and I knew I didn't want to do that. Like the idea of doing therapy all day sounded like pins in my eyes. So I was like, "Ooh, hm." But there's a new discipline opening up. And actually industrial organizational psychology was that new discipline. So I was like, "okay, I think that's my choice. The idea of trying to apply some of these concepts to work is really fascinating to me." And I think both my parents kind of had, angst, about work and so it was something they talked about all the time. The things that were going wrong, the people that were bugging them.
Kofi Darku: It's true.
Sarah Robinson: So I was kind of fascinated with this idea of well, what happens if we make work more, you know, enjoyable, really? And so that's where I really took off. I, so I got my master's degree in IO Psychology is what people call it, industrial organizational psychology. And when I was in that field, when I really kind of was into, was the idea of employee satisfaction surveys. And it'll date me a little bit, but I graduated in 1991, and that was kind of cutting edge stuff. Like there weren't that many places that were really looking at employee satisfaction. So I was out there trying to connect with organizations that cared about that and was lucky enough to find one while I was still in grad school, they hired me to start doing their employee satisfaction survey and then they hired me on full time as soon as I graduated. So that was, you know, kind of nice, and that was found because I had a friend, actually a family member or soon-to-be family member. I was about to get married and one of my new brother-in-laws kinda connected me to the right kind of organization. So always having your, your ears up for people that know cool companies that are into your stuff, would be like advice number one of one. You know what I mean?
Kofi Darku: I was going to comment, I was like, "wow, this story is actually kind of phenomenal" because you knew the ways that you're kind of supposed to go, but they weren't the ways that you wanted to go in. Like there's this new area here, and you happen to find someone who helps you get to that new area. That is very unique and very fortunate.
Sarah Robinson: It is, but you have to keep your eyes open. Right? And you also have to be describing to people... People didn't know. What I would have kept referring to my degree is IO Psychology, I promise you in 1990 nobody knew what I was talking about. They're like, "what is that?" And so also I had to learn, my husband, almost husband at that time, was like, "honey, you got to explain what that is. Nobody knows what you're talking about." And it was like this dawning. Sometimes we use language that is so familiar in my world, in my little industrial organizational psychology world, that that word made sense. Out in the real world at that time, it did not. And so sometimes we use language that actually confuses people. That was actually great feedback from my husband, right? Like "honey, you're messing up here. Like you got to explain to people with this really about, and because every instance when someone says, what are you doing? What are you getting your master's in, whatever, is your opportunity to really open their eyes to this new area." That was something that I was really kind of blind to. I would have said that was a big blind spot for me. At any rate, I worked for, internally for awhile, and I was doing that employee satisfaction survey and loved that kind of work. But really decided I want to take this show on the road, I'm happiest, I'm most engaged at this organization when we have, when we're really dealing with the results, I'm able to be thinking about the reports, what do we need to work on in the following year, the training that's going to be connected to that. That's what really made me come alive. There's other stuff that I was doing like compensation work and writing performance reviews or coming up with job descriptions, and I have to say, not my favorite stuff. So I was like, "okay, let's, let's maybe try to take the show on the road." The company I was working for, actually lots of people had recently left. So I had contacts, even though, you know, it was really kind of my, my very first real intro to the business world, and that helped me a ton. So I did employee satisfaction survey work for about 20 years, and I also started teaching a course because, I don't know, again, a friend just recommended me at IUPUI. So I was doing a course for SPEA, the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. It was really an organizational behavior class, which means it's how do people work together? And it's really about individual learning, teamwork and organizational learning. And it was all my favorite stuff, very nerdy of me, but I loved it. And it was like, "Ooh, this whole textbook is my favorite things." And so it was my opportunity to really connect with young adults that were interested. Okay, it was a required course, so maybe not so interested sometime, but that, that, you know, we're, you know, having to learn these new concepts at work.
Kofi Darku: Yeah. See, so, okay. A lot of things to dig into with this story because as much as you summarized it, the part of, "okay, I know I want to do industrial organizational psychology," and you get the degree, and you're creating opportunities to use it. There, there are, I'm sure that there are some barriers or some obstacles, some, some moments of, of struggle that you went through that we just didn't really cover, you know?
Sarah Robinson: So true, so true.
Kofi Darku: And so, so the reason, the reason why I want to go there is that I know that I had a certain aspiration for myself upon leaving college. And actually this route that I'm on, which is more focused on workforce development and education, is very different from the engineering route that I thought I would be on. However, there were things that I would do, due to being so focused on that engineering, that I was ignoring sometimes the joy I would be getting from an education... engagement... workforce development, not so much. In fact, it's so funny that you mentioned industrial organization psychology not being something that people understood because I think sometimes workforce development, though a simple statement, is really confusing to people, you know? And so I have found that I often, I often have to explain what workforce development means. So I'm glad your soon-to-be husband, now husband, gave you that advice like, "Hey, you got to explain it to people." But back to this thing that I think is really interesting in your story, is sometimes we compete against ourselves. I gave that explanation about, even though I thought engineering was what I was supposed to do, it took me some time to understand the direction I had been going in with education and then realizing, "oh, that's really my calling." Can we dig into how competing against yourself may have factored into your history and into getting to where you are right now?
Sarah Robinson: Oh, wow. That's a great question. So, a big part of my own personal development was coming across a book, probably lots of people have heard of, "Strengthfinder 2.0," and it's a book that actually at the end of it has an assessment that you can take. There's a code, and it's called the, the Clifton Strengths Assessment. So I have, I'll just be honest, I've always been really skeptical of personality assessments in the workplace. I've always been worried that businesses would use them to kind of put people in corners and actually prevent their development, instead of making them, helping them develop. And, and in fact, I'd had seen people at work say, "Oh, you can't be in sales because you know, this is what your personality profile says." And it just broke my heart for that person. It wasn't me. I didn't want to be in sales, but it was also like, "how do you know that? I mean, they, maybe they would rock it, right? Maybe they would just totally shine as a salesperson, but you want to kind of collapse them into just their personality profile." So I was worried that most personality tests in the workplace were a little dangerous. And so I, that "StrengthsFinder 2.0," I don't know how many people know about it, but it's been a number one bestseller on the New York Times list for more than 10 years, so more than a decade. And so kind of towards the beginning of that, I felt kind of beaten down. Like, "oh, I should be knowledgeable about this. Like, I have clients, and I have students, and I should be able to speak intelligently about whatever this, you know, new craze is." So I, I bought, I bought the book and I, I took the assessment and, but you know, as you can tell I had very low expectations. I thought it would just, you know, kind of be, you know how some personality tests are just kind of platitudes? It's like, it's like a horoscope that could really be for anyone, and says like, yeah, yeah, yeah, you know, whatever. That was what I expected from my results. And instead I was blown away and I was like, "oh, oh, Oh I, I, yes, this is exactly like how I actually think. It's not how I would've described myself, but it is the way I think and it is, you know, kind of does touch on really... what was interesting is it touched on some of the high points of my life that I hadn't really assessed as being high points." Right? So interestingly that you talking about competition, competition's my number one. But I really thought that that competitive women were friendless snakes in the grass that, that, you know, were stomping on other women to get to the top. It was really a loaded word for me. And so when I read that in my report, I was a little bit horrified. Like, "Ooh, so they're telling me I have no friends. That's kind of a bad deal." And, but then when I really read the description in the assessment, it was like, "oh no, I, I'm always comparing myself, whether that's against myself or against somebody else, my progress and continual growth and development and, and, and in some ways, yes, winning, is really important to me, but it doesn't really mean winning at the cost of somebody else losing. It's really about my feeling of success." And so, that's actually why, creating my own business was actually probably a really positive thing for me because what we know about business is, you gotta be out there finding new people. Right? And it's about, those successes are very rewarding for me. You know, nurturing those relationships and growing those, those connections are super rewarding for me. Whereas, being an internal person was less rewarding because... Many people probably know in the HR world, sometimes people kind of like, are, not "scared" of the HR person, but it's kind of like, "oh, you're just going to kind of drain my time." You know what I mean? "You're going to like want to, you know, talk to me about some management thing, and I don't have time for that right now."
Kofi Darku: I understand that perception, it's true.
Sarah Robinson: They'll kind of like, you know, scurry away from you in the building. And so I went from really feeling like, "oh now now the only time I get to deal with anybody is they've hired me. They actually want to see me. They're excited about what I have to talk about." And so that was why like, "Oh yeah, that's why this works for me." You know, cause this is so much more what I like. The, the interaction. Instead of someone kind of like bowing their head, "Oh Sarah, I didn't do the performance appraisal." "I'm so sorry." "I'm late again." And like having that kind of guilt relationship with somebody at work. I had this, "oh we want you to come in and we want you to, you know, help us" with whatever it is. Usually satisfaction surveys and training. But more recently I'm having helping people learn their strengths and do lots of of development related to leadership and and individuals working together in teams.
Kofi Darku: This is good stuff. It's, it's true when there is that understanding that okay, this way that I kind of felt in my old work world, it's not going to continue on in this new role. The fact that they really wanted to engage with you and work with you simply because they hired you, I think would help you have a more dynamic edge in your daily sort of tasks with them. How you're probably approaching your job every day. And as the owner of Fresh Concepts, I find what your focus is with FRESH to be really a good way to continue to think about having your edge. You know? So I wanted to unpack FRESH cause FRESH is an acronym that I think many people should understand, especially, you know, I'm, I'm giving a teaser here. Sarah has a book, "Fresh Leadership." And as we talk about this acronym, each letter in the word FRESH stands for something, something I think is going to resonate in terms of how we should be thinking about ourselves as we lead. But I don't want to steal too much of the thunder. I'm excited in talking about it. So how, how do you want to introduce the "fresh leadership" to this audience?
Sarah Robinson: So, okay, so I've already mentioned that that I taught at IUPUI, actually for 17 years. I'm just kinda newly retired. So I did that for a long, long time, and I got to see lots of students, who were trying to get their degree in nonprofit management probably, right? So a lot of SPEA majors are in that area, and that's why they would have taken the course that I taught: V-366, Managing Behavior in Public Organizations. So very sweetly -- and, you know, I'm not totally naive, they might've been kind of trying to butter me up for a good grade -- but people would say, "oh, I really wish my manager could take this course." And you know, of course that makes me feel fantastic. And I was like, "Oh, you are so nice". But I was also a little bit like, "hmm, I think you're maybe pulling my chain, right? I think maybe you're just trying to sweeten me up here a little bit." But then I kept hearing it and I was like, "hey, there might be something to this, you know?" And so what happens? What would I teach managers or would-be managers if I had to distill this class, right? If I had to boil down the semester-long class, we're meeting twice a week for an hour and 15 minutes, right? What would I actually put out there that is like, "these are the golden nuggets"?
Kofi Darku: Awesome.
Sarah Robinson: And so that's really where FRESH came from. And, and so the, the, the subtitle to the book is "Five Skills to Transform You and Your Team." So FRESH are those five skills. The first one is Feedback. The second one is Rewards, the third one's Engagement, the fourth one is Service, the fifth one is Human Connection. And so there are organizational behavior topics that fit into each one of those. But they're also just ways to be. And what I was really seeing, and I think that many organizations struggle with, "well, we've, the workforce has changed a lot. How have we kept up with that? What have we done to modernize the way we lead and manage people?" And that's really a big part of this book. And I, and I really think that these five skills, using them more intentionally, whether you're in a leadership role or not, makes you a leader at work.
Kofi Darku: Well, we're really big on leading talent to thrive. And often, I mean, we've definitely at least five times, touched on how are you engaging your workforce? What communications are you sending to them? How do you know they're effective? These are concepts that I, I'm happy we're talking about more and more because it is making a difference in terms of which people are going to what companies and for what reasons. And if we're not helping leaders, people in a leadership position, either understand that there are strategies they could use, or they're not far from resources that will help them develop the skills they need to be successful, then we're not taking advantage of this platform. And so I'm very happy that we can dig into how the skills of how you receive feedback, what you do with rewards, how rewards you use, engagement, what service means, and then also human connections. I think those are really, really important things. So let's, let's talk about what type of feedback or how feedback is focused on in "Fresh Leadership"?
Sarah Robinson: So, great question. So I really kind of start the whole intro with something I think everybody -- "Fresh Leadership," not the whole book, but, sorry, FRESH in that, that chapter -- but what happens there, is schools. Okay. We all went to school someplace, right, okay? Even in kindergarten, we were getting feedback right. And pretty frequently. And so we'd get, we'd do little papers, you know, it'd get a star on it. As we got further and further along, and into high school, or post high school, you're getting grades, and you're getting comments written in the side of, you know, papers or exams and that tells you, that tells you, okay, did I show up for this or not? Right? How did I do? And I was a pretty conscientious student. I'm not going to lie to you. And I was always really interested to get that feedback. And I think actually most people are pretty interested, right? Especially if you put a lot of work into something. If you blew it off, you're like, "hey, I know I bombed that, whatever." But if you studied, you're like, "hey, I want to see the results." Well, think about how all of us completely de-accelerate from that. We have been basically templated, right? To, to be looking and searching for feedback in our educational system. And then the heartbreak comes on, we start our first job and we're told, and "you'll get an annual review." And that's the best some companies do.
Kofi Darku: That's true.
Sarah Robinson: Right? That is the best. They, it's not like they're giving you more feedback than that. They are giving you one annual review for sure, right? Maybe, maybe little bits and pieces, but not a time maybe where your boss is thinking, "I got to really, you know, sit down and, and, and, you know, kind of go through the highs and lows and the goods and bads." And so we're all deprived of feedback in a way that we try to normalize, right? Once we get our first real job at a school, we're like, "okay, you know, maybe it's good, you know," but I think most of us really want to know. And you know, there's a lot of research out there about positive and negative feedback and which is better for you. And I think that many managers, leaders misread how that works, and they only want to get positive feedback, right? We all know that there's some only want to give negative feedback, right? And that was kind of the old way to manage people is "if I'm a manager, I'm supposed to tell you everything you're doing wrong." I think almost anybody who's listening knows that does not work. Okay. That does not work. I'll just say it one more time. Well, okay, one more time. That does not work.
Kofi Darku: That's the old guard. The old guard has retired. No more just bad news, bad feedback.
Sarah Robinson: Because, and but what's interesting, is that we really want kind of a three-to-one ratio. So for me to really believe that you support me and understand the things I do well, but you're not a total pushover, right? What we want is three good things to one bad, right? Or better. So six-to-one still kind of works, right? But, every once in a while you can sprinkle in a little constructive, or all of a sudden I start kind of questioning, you know, "are you even looking? Because I'm not perfect." We all, I think all of us kind of know no, there's some things I could be doing better. If you never get any constructive feedback, one, you're kind of not growing. But also you start questioning the person that you're communicating with, right? Are they really seeing the full me? Kind of thing. So I, I actually had a great conversation with a coaching client recently. And this is somebody who actually was giving upward feedback. So you know what that is? It's really hard to do. Giving feedback to your boss.
Kofi Darku: Yeah. "Managing up," I've heard of this.
Sarah Robinson: Okay. So it wasn't a direct boss. Okay. But it was someone higher in the organization than this person. And they were at a meeting together and what he noticed was when this leader was presenting, he, when he asked the tough questions of the team and nobody responded, he quickly moved on when he really needed to do is accept the silence and press back. Right? And so this individual came in to this high, high leader in the organization, a CFO position, and said, "listen, I think you had some really good questions, but I think two of them that were especially important for this team, you dropped because it was going to be too difficult." And that is, and he really accepted the feedback and understood like, "hey, you know, it was relevant." It was, it was a half hour after the meeting ended. So that's what most of us want. What we want is "most of the meeting went really well. Here are the areas where you could have improved, and this is what you should have done." Right? And being brave enough to do that with a peer, with even with somebody that you oversee and lead but especially upward, is hard to do, but is a huge part of what it really means to be a leader. When we have people that can help us see a better way and and get us there and we know that they're only doing this to improve us, that's when real trust is built.
Kofi Darku: Yeah. No, wow, this is really good about feedback, because I was as I, I covered that part in the book, I stayed kind of shallow and I didn't think about or get to the part of, you know, the ratio and making sure that there's the negative or the more constructive in there and because I think that does create more validity and that "you are truly engaged with me." I do feel that in thinking about engagement and how your workforce is connecting with you, there was some data point that came from a Gallup poll where roughly 66% or two thirds of the people in, in the workforce are not engaged right now, and I'm making that point to say there's a majority of people that are just drifting through their jobs, just making it so that they can either get their check or get to the next level. And I find that when that's the case, you may have a lot of internal leadership that's also just going through the motions as well.
Sarah Robinson: It's really dangerous. It's really, really dangerous to have a not-engaged leader because that actually penetrates all the layers. It's very hard to be engaged if your leader is not, and you're, you're totally on track with that.
Kofi Darku: And I think there's a lot of, and I hate to pull back the curtain, but this is me having that tough feedback about what I see in this current workforce in the work world that we are in. And because of that lack of connection and inability to engage in a way where you can give that more constructive feedback, I feel like there are a lot of supervisors that are being quit or fired because of that lack-of. So I really want to say the positive is when you're at a place and a supervisor does give you that three to one or six to one, think real hard in terms of whether or not it's not a good workspace because you, you have a leader that's actually stepping up and starting to do something that I think is more important, and I like that this chapter really focuses on. When you're trying to lead more effectively, feedback is going to be critical. So think about that. And I do feel that I've been in companies where we are, we're meeting on a weekly basis and that supervisor's created sort of an open door to -- it's not necessarily opportunities to manage up, but it is an opportunity to share things that I may have concerns about and vice versa. That makes it more easy for me to hear the things that they may have concerned about too. And, and it's interesting in terms of your breakdown. "Tell us it went mostly right, but here's where you probably had some hiccups and here's what you could've done to solve it." I think is a really good format to help any leader start to think of how to yes, continue to share the positive things that are happening, but make sure you're keeping it real in terms of where the growth can happen, too.
Sarah Robinson: Think about talking to our kids. Same thing, right? If, if you just come to your child with negative, negative, negative, are they going to listen to you? Right? If you say, "oh my gosh, you know, so much of what you did. And you know, talking with these friends of mine that, you know, I really wanted them to be impressed with you. It was great. I just, you know, wish you hadn't been smacking your gum." I mean, you know what I mean? Like, and sometimes that you got, you gotta play it all right, you gotta like, you know, put it in the right place. But it's the, the bottom line, usually takeaway needs to be, "I'm proud of of many of the things that you've done. These certain things my, you know, make you come off a little bit better, a little bit smoother."
Kofi Darku: Let's dig into rewards cause I think based on this feedback, I think oftentimes I would say leaders that are not really going in-depth with staying at a surface level, they're probably using positive feedback as rewards, you know, like "this is how I'll cheat the system. I'll just tell you all nice things about yourself and we won't really celebrate you." But, let's dig into how are rewards used in leadership effectively?
Sarah Robinson: Okay. So traditionally, I think what we've really thought about in terms of rewards is pay, benefits, vacation. Okay.
Kofi Darku: And I like pay, you know, I'm not going to deny that.
Sarah Robinson: No one's going to show up if you don't pay them. Right? Everyone's going to be really upset if you don't get vacation. So you better do that, right? No, no business is going to stay open if you say, "you know what, we're just going to give you really good feedback." Right? No, that's not it. But what we know in the field of organizational behavior is that there are lots of different ways to motivate people, and we really kind of split those things into the internal motivators and the external motivators. And external motivators are the things like pay, right? It's the outside things. Even, you know, you want people to obviously come to work because they're getting paid. But that's just that we're kind of like just scratching the surface. What we really want is to tap into what internally motivates people. And so, that's different for everybody. And that's what's so tricky about it. Right? Is that, do you remember like as kids, many of us probably were lucky enough to have a parent that got us our favorite birthday cake on our birthday. Right? And so for instance, my sister liked the yellow cake with chocolate frosting. My other sister liked -- gross but true -- rhubarb pie. I'm so sorry if that's offending anyone. And then, and I liked pineapple upside down cake. And I haven't had that in years, but I could go for a piece right now. At any rate, there's something to really having people at the workplace know what motivates you, right? Rhubarb pie was never going to motivate me as a child on my birthday. I would feel misunderstood. Right? Like disgusting. Why did my mom get me that? And similarly, we want our leaders at work, the people that are overseeing us to really feel connected and like, "I know that for you right now, the most, you know, important thing is your flex time. You want to be able to, you know, pick up your child from school or take them to their doctor's appointment," et cetera. Right? Or somebody else at the beginning of their career is saying, all this person really wants is to be developed, right? So for them, sending them on a week-long training would be like putting major fertilizer in a pot. Whereas the person that is, you know, trying to take care of a couple of children as a single parent would be like, "you've gotta be kidding me. I'm going to, I'm going to have a nervous breakdown thinking about how I'm going to get this done." So really trying to go after, what is it about you that makes you - you, where are you in your life? Where are you in what you really want? What are the things that really spark you? And tapping into that, I think is a huge part of real rewards. And so that you're, you're rewarding the right thing and you're not saying, "oh yeah, everyone gets the same stuff" right? Now, on the one hand, we want fairness, right? But we also want our leaders, our managers, to really have insight into us and our soul. You know, I know that's a tall order. I get it. But it's true. You really want that connection. Like "Ah, they thought of this for me." Just the same way as a parent giving you the right, you know, birthday cake. "Oh they thought of this for me, this is really like for me it's not just like this kind of template that everyone gets the same," you know, kind of, you know, nice words. Now these are words that are really about me, this, this reward is really for me. And that builds both trust and authenticity in the workplace, which is I think what we all kind of crave.
Kofi Darku: This is awesome. I think this insight is phenomenal. We are now going to go into engagement. Let's enlighten the audience in terms of the type of engagement you're referring to.
Sarah Robinson: So you know, we all talk about engagement now, but it's so funny because I don't think most people really have a clear definition. So one thing that's kinda been interesting in my career. I think for sure, I mentioned that I was doing employee satisfaction survey work. And we've kind of gone away from that. So we're not really tracking employee satisfaction as much as engagement now. Most businesses, and there's a reason for that. And the reason is that if you just track out employee satisfaction, that will really just tell you whether or not somebody is gonna leave or not. Yes. Okay. It's not necessarily letting you know what they're getting done all day. If you're engaged at work, you just get more done. And, and so for instance, an engaged person at work, if they were walking in just at the beginning of the day, and they saw let's say a McDonald's bag on the ground, that engaged person would be like, "oh darn it. You know, there's some trash on the ground. I better pick this up". They throw it away. If the unengaged person pulled up, they would look at that trash bag and say, "oh shoot, there is trash on the ground. I think the maintenance person's going to be here any second. So they'll get that." Yeah. Right? What's the actively disengaged person doing? They pull up, they don't see the bag because they're actually the one that tries to hit the basket of the wastebin. They don't make it. And they say, "oh shoot, I hope I'd not just destined to have a bad day to day cause I didn't make the basket." They don't pick up the trash. They're actually the litterer. So as you already pointed out, two thirds of all people are either unengaged, disengaged, or actively disengaged. The actively disengaged, right? They are the thorn in the organization's side. They are, they're causing you problems. But you can tell that that that other person that isn't engaged isn't gonna go out of their way. Right? They're not gonna see something that needs to be done and just say, "oh yeah, I care about my workplace and I don't want it to look dirty. Or this isn't in my job description. But I can easily do this to help somebody out." And if you can imagine being, you know, your own business owner, that doesn't really work very well. What we want is the engaged person. We want the person that says, "oh, no big deal. I'm happy to do that because I care about this place and it doesn't really make any difference if my boss sees it or if I get credit for doing this or that. It's not my job description. I want to do this because I care about my workplace." And what's fascinating is that there are a host of great things that happen for the business if you're engaged at work, but they're also great things that happened for the individual. And one of those is that they are much more likely to have to report having a highly satisfactory life. So they're just happy in general. And part of that is because they're getting meaning at work. Right? They feel like they're part of something instead of, you know, the people, that are not as engaged, they don't feel like, they're just kind of biding their time every day for their paycheck.
Kofi Darku: Yeah, I mean, I really love that concept. I think, similar to how, just only focusing on the negative feedback and giving negative feedback only, is outdated. So I really like this trend that companies are trying to think of, "well I want to make you want to be happy here. I want this place to help you extend your sense of purpose, help you find meaning for yourself. We can do that at this company." I think the old thought is "this is just a job. You don't need to find meaning here. This is just a way for you to make income for your family." And we have found that back to thinking about how much time we spend in school and how we're hardwired for that feedback. Now we're in this mostly work life and we obviously spent a lot of time at our jobs. Those companies that are going to help us find meaning in what we do, will help you wake up easier, will help you end the day feeling much better. Like "I'm looking forward to doing this, this and that" as opposed to the older way where we were not concerned with your emotional, you know, connection to your job. And so I just feel like it's, it's the only way, especially with the trends that our younger generations are showing us. It means something to them.
Sarah Robinson: And that's so true. But I do think we're all in it together. We all want meaningful work on some level. I think the older way to think, even, you know, people my age, when I first came out of school 25 years ago or so, I wouldn't have asked for the things that maybe millennials are asking for, but I wanted them. Right? The millennials have given us permission to be like, "yeah, I'm holding up my hand. I want that too. I just didn't want to be bossy about it." Like I didn't feel like I could really voice that opinion early in my career. And I think that it's really healthy that now we're all on the same page. And if you think about some of the most well-respected organizations, Southwest Airlines, Zappos, Facebook, Google, Dreamworks, Virgin, those are the companies that are tracking engagement. Okay. They are doing really, really cool stuff and we all know those names as like, "Ooh, wow." You know, what are they doing? Well, they care. And they are going above and beyond thinking you're here for a paycheck. And quite frankly, they don't want people in their organization that are only showing up for a paycheck. So it works both ways. I think that's what really is important is you have to find the right organization and the right organization has to find you.
Kofi Darku: Yeah, knock, knock knock! Employers, if you're listening, we're trying to help you out! In a similar thought, servant leadership, service. This is also part of a FRESH approach to helping leaders think about how they can help transform themselves and their team going forward. And, and Morales Group does a great job in, in terms of providing many opportunities for us to serve, but it's through a model of the leaders actually serving, which then helps us feel really good about the type of service that we get to be a part of. How can service affect or make a positive impact for leaders who are trying to take their team to the next level?
Sarah Robinson: So there are a couple of different ways that we can think about service. And so I'm going to just, for a sense of simplicity, break it into two different categories. There is a leader needing to actually serve the people that he or she leads. And there's also a service to our community and having an organization that's known to be out there in the community doing good work. And both of those are really important. Robert Greenleaf is the one that really actually coined the term "servant leadership" and he actually was an Indiana guy. He was at Rose Hulman.
Kofi Darku: Indiana! Yeah!
Sarah Robinson: And, he actually had kind of 10 ideas about what was, should be connected to service -- or I'm sorry, to servant leadership. And those things really still apply. And I think that it's kind of mis--, the term is sometimes misunderstood. People think that a servant leader at work is someone who's kind of bending over and doing back handsprings for their people. And it's not really about that. It's about, I think many of the things that we've touched on before, but, but mostly how are you developing people? You know, your job is what could this person be? See, what all of us really want, is kind of that fairy godmother or father, right? That's going to say, "Oh, you are a diamond in the rough. Let me sparkle you up," and what can the leader do to help you shine? And we all want that. We all want that person who is in our court, who is seeing the good in us and is helping us, you know, accentuate that. And so that really is a big part of, of what service is, but I do think it's also connected to another train of thought that we've had here, which is "what's your why? What's your meaning? Why are you here?" And, and Simon Sinek, you know, talks about that in his book. But we know that, that, you know, that's been a lot around for a long time. Martin Luther King Jr talked about that. What have you done for somebody else? Those are critical people in history, right, that have helped us really think about,"why am I on this planet and how is my livelihood connected to that?" And most of us really want to see that connection. So for me it's, "I want people to really understand their unique qualities," right? Most of us were told as children "you're unique and special, you'll figure out your gifts one day." Then we start, you know, we start getting to be, you know, 18 or 20 or whatever and we heard very different message, which is "you're not that special. Go get a real job." And what, what I really loved about working with strengths, being able to coach people and help people in management, is that when people can tap into what makes them unique and special and really harness those things, then they have kind of the tools that unlock a lot of these answers. And when you feel special, you act special,right? So many of us think we all think the same way, but quite frankly, we don't. You do have special gifts and just because those thoughts are in your brain every day doesn't mean that everybody else is having them. And when you're, you're able to be in an environment that really celebrates you as being special and having a unique contribution, that's when we feel valued. So service can be tied in, I really think, to the workplace in two ways. How are we serving each other internally? How are we serving our customers? But also how are we engaged in our community, right? Are we-- I, I work with a wonderful furniture company that has just found a way to donate the old furniture to needy places, and their workforce is so excited about this. Right? How obvious, right? Why haven't they been doing that for forever? Right? What they do is clear out old, people are like, "please take it. We don't, you know, we don't know what to do with it," and to be able to, you know, recycle, reuse, you know, that -- hello, everyone feels good about that. Especially if it's, it's put in places that really wouldn't have that opportunity. So finding something, you know, for individually that really matches up with your organization as a way to serve the community, also can really bring meaning.
Kofi Darku: I really love that you did break it down into the internal and external. Obviously I think when an employer, the leadership of a company is really helping you invest in yourself, that does speak volumes to that individual employer, employee. So I think that's really wise. But to, to help communities shine, I think is, is a, a trend that's also gaining momentum in that, you know, "we can be a company that does well and has a good bottom line and helps fill the pockets of the, the workers." But there are some things, as you referenced, this furniture company, that may be missed opportunities that we can also help other people do well with. So, hey, how do we help that community do better? Oh wow, this is a way. And I do feel like going to the letter H in FRESH and talking about human connections, more and more of our workforce, the younger generations that are going to soon hold the majority in our workforce, are more interested in companies that have those type of altruistic thoughts. And, and so it's just going to put pressure on the older companies that want to, just, -- unless they're super, super lucrative and they've, you know, invested in other ways that they just don't have to have that identity -- but it's just going to be the trend in my opinion. And I welcome it. I welcome it.
Sarah Robinson: I do too. I do too. I think that it is the, the path of the future. And I think that our-- the, the resources that organizations, and the goodwill of the people within those organizations, need to be combined. Right? We all have goodwill and, but when it's collective, we're really powerful.
Kofi Darku: Yeah. It sure is. Well, let's talk about the human connection in leadership.
Sarah Robinson: So, okay. I gotta talk about Vulcans before I can talk about human connection.
Kofi Darku: Oh, go forth and prosper?
Sarah Robinson: Yeah. So do you remember being a Vulcan, you know, that the split V in your hand? We're all doing it.
Kofi Darku: We're all doing it. It's not made for radio, but we're doing it.
Sarah Robinson: You got to get the visual. So, on Star Trek, we, we were, you know, so--
Kofi Darku: "Live long and prosper."
Sarah Robinson: "Live long and prosper"?
Kofi Darku: Yeah. I think maybe I'm confusing sayings for the Vulcans.
Sarah Robinson: I don't know. I don't remember that one. I don't-- but we know that Dr. Spock right, was a Vulcan, and I was, you know, grew up on Star Trek and remember just wanting him to fall in love with somebody. Right? Wanting him to get angry, wanting the tear to shed. You know, I was like looking.
Kofi Darku: Someone engage him emotionally!
Sarah Robinson: "It's gonna happen. It's gonna happen this time." No, no, it didn't. And what's funny, is that when I got, you know, into the workforce 25 years ago, I really felt like the Vulcan vibe was still going strong in management. And, and at that point there were still a lot of "women are emotional at work, and that they need to really control that, and they need to be more like men who are non-emotional." So there was a little bit of that kind of vibe in the workplace. I think that what we're seeing now, is that people want to be connected, and people want to know more than just the bio that they can read on the website about you. They want to know more about your personal history and who you are as a human being. And creating those connections is actually so much simpler than anyone, you know, can believe. But because we haven't seen a lot of that modeled, we don't know how to do it. And some people are just naturally better at it than others. But for instance, somebody can, an administrative person can say to their boss, "so how was your weekend?" And the boss can say, "Oh yeah, it was good. I yeah, I taught my son how to ride a bike. I'm exhausted now." That's not horrible, right? A little personal, but, but what about better? Right? How do we go better? What we do is, "hey, how was your weekend?" He says, "yeah, you know, I taught my son, you know, how to ride a bike. And you really made me think of my dad, and I just, I'm exhausted. I think I'm both physically and mentally exhausted, honestly." Right. That's a whole new level of connection. And I think that even talking about emotions -- not emotionally, right, we don't need to be crying while we're talking about our emotions -- but actually describing our emotions about certain things and it, and being transparent about, "hey, I'm just letting you know I am under so much stress right now, so I hope I am not snappy with you." Right? "I hope that I am not short tempered. But you know, we got this big project and I'm just feeling a little cranky," right? Being somebody that can use those types of descriptors, right? And share that way and also lifts the, the, kind of pulls back the veil of "everybody can do that," right? It's that "I'm not 100% right now." Being able to share that with people in different instances, and also apologizing for our transgressions when they're human. Right? All of those things are, I think much more needed today than ever before. I think that the, certainly the lack of apologizing was something that is an old way to do things and doesn't really fit anymore. If a leader has done something that isn't, is even just 90%, I would say apologize, right? If you're not 100%, you can kind of say, "you know what, I wasn't my best self. This is what I wish I would have said to you." And those are the types of, that's how you actually can create an emotionally intelligent team is, is when you let down some of those barriers, you have that, that trust. And that is vulnerability in a, in a nutshell, right? It's "I wasn't 100%. This is what I wish I had done. Can you accept my apology?" You know, or you know, "Please know, I'm sorry about that. I wish I'd done better." Right? Those things are, are, that's, that's high caliber leadership in my mind because we are all connected to our emotions, whether or not we are really thinking about them or not, and if we don't start talking about them and deal with them, they're going to bubble up someplace else. I think that when we don't know what to do, what most people do is look at their phone, right? Our phone is like our security blanket when we want just that mask of "I'm not going to look like anything. I'm going to look busy. I'm not going to say anything." And it's killing our ability to really connect with people. So again, I would say, try to resist your own temptation as both a leader or just as a worker to go there because we all know it's our security blanket. I do it too, right? But it's that idea of how can I really address this in a way that's human? How can I talk about what's going on instead of masking it by, usually looking at technology, right? Staring at my computer screen, not looking you in the eye, looking at my phone. And we need more real personal connections. You know, I read a great article that had to do with the, you know, dopamine is that good feeling that you get when you have good social connections? Well, we're kind of using our social media to get that dopamine feeling, but it's fake. So when we post something to Instagram, or you know, Facebook or LinkedIn or whatever it is, and we have likes or we have people looking at it, that usually makes most of us feel pretty good, but it's really hollow, right? It's not really improving true relationships the way, say, going out to lunch with somebody, or send, making a phone call, or walking down to somebody's office and giving them a compliment. Those are, in those instances, your dopamine should also be rising and in, in my, from my perspective, that's real dopamine, right? That's the dopamine we want. We want the real live connections, not the fake technology connections because those aren't really the people that you can call at one in the morning, or that will really help you out when you're in a bind at work. Right? So so the human connection piece, I think we are again, kind of opening our eyes to it that like, "okay, how do we, how do we be more connected? How do we really become a true support system for people?" And what we see is that some businesses just do it much better than others. And when people say, "this is like my second family," I think that's pretty powerful. And, and so what are you doing as a organization to to foster that? And, and the leader's role really needs to be kind of in tune with "what am I doing right?" Because it, it, it modeling the right behaviors makes a big difference.
Kofi Darku: Yeah. I think this element, the human connection is probably the most evasive. I feel like if we think about "two thirds of the workforce is not engaged," and we're thinking, "okay, wow, there's, there's a lot of areas that we could focus on." But this human connection I think is drastic, really because of how you've explained it. I think the evolution of our modern work world has been devoid of emotion and, and, and it's, it's been one where that's been the embraced way of conducting business for obvious reasons, that the work world has been dominated by men. And I think that was an approach that they preferred. Now here we are in 2019, and I think we're realizing, "whoa, there is tremendous benefit for engagement, if I can connect with you as a human, if I can be vulnerable in a moment, I stand to win something. If, if that shows you that I can connect as a human." However, there's been so little modeling of how to do that effectively, I feel like this is one of the biggest hurdles right now for a lot of companies is like "how can I authentically model how we can engage and use our emotions in the workspace?" So you said something that I think is, is critical and maybe if we can create time for a second episode, we can dig into it deeper. What are those companies that are successfully paying attention to and honoring emotions in the workspace? How did it get to that level? What skills and resources did they happen to employ? Or what was it about those companies that made them have this ability moreso than the other companies? It's something that I think we really need to consider and dig into.
Sarah Robinson: I think for sure, I would say in a nutshell, this companies are hiring the right kind of people. They're up to be in leadership positions because if you hire somebody that you already know isn't really connected to other people, to be a leader, you're going to get more of the same. If you hire somebody who has the heartbeat, everyone, that person's going to spread that, right? That's a person that just intuitively understands, and I'm not saying you have to be this, you know, big-hearted, you know, kind of furball of a teddy bear, you know, at work, where everyone's kind of crying on your shoulder. It's not really about that. It's like understanding emotions, and there's some people that can can do that a lot better than others. And I do think it's a, a big part of hiring.
Kofi Darku: Yeah, I really like that. We've had an episode, a couple of episodes, where we touched on emotional intelligence, and we just need to be saying that word more, making sure other people understand what that definition means and how it takes place or how it plays out in the work world. We're getting close to the end of this episode, and I want to make sure that if people want to know more about FRESH Leadership, also learn more about your first book, "Unstuck at Last," how would they connect with you? How do they get in touch with you, Sarah?
Sarah Robinson: So I would love to hear from anybody. And that would probably, just the easiest way would be to go to my website or just to go to Amazon and check out my books. But we've, we've mentioned the name of my first book quite a bit. "Fresh Leadership," and even my business is Fresh Concepts, but my, my website is freshconceptsonline.com. So freshconceptsonline.com and "Fresh Leadership: Five skills to transform you and your team" is on Amazon. And under my name, Sarah K. Robinson and "Unstuck at Last: using your strengths to get what you want" is also on Amazon. And that's more of a book that really talks about, it's like an individual coaching book. It's a, "so you know the things you're good at. Now what, what do you do?" So I published that about five years ago.
Kofi Darku: This conversation, especially our focus on the rewards area, where we were talking about cakes, also led to another connection, that we did a little research. I can tell how you have a sweet tooth for cakes, maybe fruits... Was it not too long ago? Maybe a little more than 10 years ago? That you had a banana bread that won an award here in Indiana?
Sarah Robinson: Kofi! Thank you for mentioning this. It was a high point for me. It was kind of a turning point for me. In fact, I did win the blue ribbon at the Indiana State Fair, and the banana bread competition. So, I don't know how many of you Hoosiers out there have been to the culinary arts building, but that is, that's one building you don't want to miss at the State Fair. Okay? And so I have not entered, I did not actually have the time to reenter this year. I was really thinking about doing that.
Kofi Darku: Boo!
Sarah Robinson: But yes, it was, it was my-- really, when I started realizing I am high competition, and I realized just exactly how fulfilling that was to me. I mean, I really felt quite magical upon learning. And yeah, my husband encouraged me to do that. I was cursing him at the time, but it's all worked out.
Kofi Darku: Was that the first year you entered into the competition?
Sarah Robinson: The very first time.
Kofi Darku: Are you kidding me?
Sarah Robinson: I'm not, I'm not! I would have never gone back had I, had I not won. I would've just slunk out and probably cried in my bed for a week. But, and I didn't, but it's also, I didn't really expect to win because I thought my banana bread was just like something my family liked. And you know, they were just kind of being nice and whatever. But no. It won. It won big.
Kofi Darku: This is really interesting. I guess there's more to uncover here. In fact, I feel that this episode, it didn't, it didn't touch on the ultimatum that I think all businesses need to bow down to, which is... Well, I think we're going to have to record another episode to touch on what that second thing is, that thing, that ultimatum, that all businesses need to listen to. So if you would like to stay involved with this conversation, please continue to check us out at the SkillUpBuildUp.com, our website, or go to wherever you get your podcasts so that you can stay in tune with this conversation. Sarah, I look forward to talking to you again real soon.
Kofi Darku: Thanks so much. I do too.
Kofi Darku: Man! So many takeaways in this episode. Let's start with, in 2019, 66% of our U.S. workforce is disengaged. How do we change this for the better? We got to mention the Vulcan vibe. Vulcan vibes from employers is still making its way in our world. However, it's an old way of thinking. So, it is on the decline. Connecting with emotions at work is important. In fact, high caliber leadership makes way for emotionally intelligent teams. Now, this isn't the norm, but we need to start thinking about how this can be modeled so more teams can become emotionally intelligent. Loved that takeaway. And then finally, we've learned that strengths can pop out in unexpected ways. One example that I love from this episode, is discovering that Sarah has some culinary skills and her banana bread got first place at the 2008 Indiana State Fair. And it was on her first try. Unbelievable. Again, thanks for checking out this podcast. Continue to check out the Skill Up Build Up podcast wherever you get your podcasts.