Transcript: The Culture of Lifelong Learning (EP51)
Brendan: Hello and welcome to the Culture of Things Podcast. I’m your host, Brendan Rogers, and this is episode 51.
Today I’m talking with Dr. Wilma Slenders. Wilma is a highly skilled executive coach and strategic advisor with a proven record of success in helping leaders transform themselves and their organizations.
A change catalyst, Wilma challenges leaders to break through the status quo to transcend to higher levels of performance. Her blend of academic background with studies in executive coaching, trust, advising, and leadership combined with over 25 years business and consulting experience gives her a unique perspective on the business world and the challenges that leaders face.
Her leading-edge research exploring CEOs and their trusted advisor relationships provides insights that she applies to leaders at all levels of the organization. Wilma has worked and traveled globally, lives in Calgary, Canada, enjoys nature and the outdoors, and is passionate about leadership. The focus of our conversation today is the concept of lifetime employability versus lifelong employment.
Wilma, welcome to the Culture of Things Podcast.
Wilma: Thanks so much. I’m so happy to be here.
Brendan: We’ve got to let our listeners know. This is take two. You and I got together on Monday this week. Through my own technical incompetence, we weren’t able to do the interview. As a true leader, you were very, very patient with me so I have to thank you for that.
Wilma: My pleasure. Those things happen, right? Technology is our friend when it works.
Brendan: Absolutely. It’s even better when there’s someone competent behind the technology to make it work, right?
Anyway, what I want to ask you first before we get into our topic today is I love understanding people's backgrounds and what drove them into their space. You've been in the leadership space for many, many years. I mentioned your passion for leadership in the introduction. Can you just give us a bit of background about how this eventuated for you and what took you into this space?
Wilma: Well, do you have about an hour to listen to this part of it?
Brendan: Well, if it goes for that long. I’ll make that into part two.
Wilma: Okay, all right. I’ll try and keep it short. One thing I realized when I was growing up is that I was a leader. I was a sports leader, vice-captain of the volleyball and basketball teams. I was a leader in terms of being the yearbook editor and advocated for girls and women already when I was in high school.
That's an interesting story where there was an athlete of the year award, but for every year before, it had always been awarded to a boy. I noticed that and I thought, well, last year, the year before, a girl actually was really the best athlete at school. I had noticed this and I talked with the administration. I said, she should have gotten this so we need to have a male athlete of the year and a female athlete of the year so we can have some balance.
The administration went ahead with it and they adopted that. What they did do though is then put an absolute athlete of the year award above the male and female athlete of the year, so it kind of defeated the initial intent. The irony of it is that I won the female athlete of the year and the overall athlete of the year award in my final year in high school. Anyway, it was interesting.
Looking back, I already was a leader then. I believe that I’ve been a leader throughout my life in many different ways. Part of my personality is that I’m a disrupter. I’m a change catalyst. It took me a while to accept that that's what I am. It hasn't always been accepted or embraced in the companies that I’ve worked in, but it does make me a really good consultant and coach.
I grew up in a Dutch household. I don't know if you know a lot about Dutch people, but they tend to be very frank and honest. They also ask you the questions that no one else would. That didn't serve me too well in high school or in university, but it has served me really well in my career. I think that's really where some of that leadership comes in.
I was a leader with the 1980 Winter Olympics here in Calgary. I’ve been a board member, board chair of sports, not-for-profit, and provincial organizations so shall my leadership in those ways as well.
Brendan: Well done, and I can second your ability to ask questions or to cut through things I think, which you and I have had various conversations on LinkedIn. You've contributed to various posts that I’ve made, I’ve contributed to some on yours, and I can see that coming through. I can absolutely have no doubt at all that you would know what questions to ask to disrupt people, and to use those skills in consulting is very, very powerful. It's good to see you've aligned everything that maybe some people didn't value so much and you put it into the right channels.
Wilma: Thank you.
Brendan: Let's go into our topic, Wilma. This topic about lifetime employability versus lifelong employment, for myself and our listeners, can you just define what's the difference between those two terms?
Wilma: Lifelong employment I see as a very outdated notion that people are going to have lifetime employment either with one company or that the skills that they gained at the formative stages of their career—perhaps in the university or at their first jobs—are going to be enough to keep them employed lifelong.
When we think about the meaning of the term lifelong, the dictionary defines it as being lasting or remaining in a particular state throughout a person's life. Inherent to that is that there isn't a lot of change happening. Lifetime employability is having the knowledge, understanding, and skills that are necessary to gain employment and participate effectively in the workplace throughout an employee's lifetime or however long they want to be in the workforce. This requires acquiring new skills that are going to keep individuals current, available for new assignments and new roles.
If we look at the definition of lifetime, it's the duration of one's life. There's no implied or inherent meaning there that things are going to stay the same, that it's a status quo, right? There can be that dynamicism in one's lifetime in terms of growing.
I say this a lot and some people don't like this phrase, but to me, either you're growing or you're dying, there's no in-between. The lifetime employability is that constant growth and development no matter how fast or slow it is, but it's that constant movement. The lifelong employment concept to me is more like the growth and fixed mindset differences. With a fixed mindset, I have the skills, I have the experience, this is what I’ve got, and that's not going to change but it's still going to be enough. In reality, it's not going to be enough anymore.
Brendan: Based on what you’ve just shared with me, I get the perspective that lifelong employment is not the preferred way to go. It's really lifetime employability. But is there any particular situation, industry, or space in your own experience where lifelong employment might be an acceptable approach for a person to take?
Wilma: In my own personal values, system, and model, I would say no. However, in reality, it would indicate that there are some sectors where the concept of lifelong employment seems to be more acceptable. I’ll give you an example.
I think sometimes in government where you have career civil servants. I used to work for the city of Calgary many years ago. When I started, I started with the number of people who spent their whole career there. For them, lifelong employment actually meant staying at that organization. But I would suggest even in those instances that they adopted the idea of lifetime employability by changing roles on a fairly regular basis, by taking advantage of training and development opportunities, by certainly trying to expand their skill set.
I think that the idea that we don't need to grow and develop to stay employed is a fallacy. We have to. Things are changing so quickly there are jobs now that didn't exist five years ago. I think about the term data scientist, I didn't hear anything about that job five years ago, maybe not even three years ago. Now, all of a sudden, companies are hiring for them.
Today, I was on a webinar about the impact of the pandemic on women and employment. One of the panelists said that 25 of the jobs that exist now probably aren't going to exist in another three years. What does that mean? If your mindset is, well, I went to university and I did this training, and now I’m set for the rest of my life. That's probably not the best mindset to have because your job might not be there anymore.
Brendan: Yeah. I guess the takeaway for me just in that piece is that there may be some organizations or some industries where it's acceptable, but it doesn't mean it's right.
Wilma: Yeah. Good summary.
Brendan: You've touched on it a little bit when you're defining and then you've just answered that question, but I want to specifically find out from you. What do you see as the benefits? And let's talk about the notion of a leadership hat—people leading people. What are the benefits of having this lifetime of employability mindset and this growth mindset for leaders that you've seen?
Wilma: First is that ability to stay employed throughout a person's lifetime, so if you're constantly growing and developing, then you're going to be much more attracted to a new employer, an employer in a different sector, and to move up the organization. The reality is that when people move up the organization, they need to learn to do the next-level job. It's not just more of what they did before.
The opportunities to advance, achieving accelerated growth, navigating complexities about the workplace. The workplace isn't anything like it was 20 years ago, and certainly, there are commonalities, but things have really changed in terms of certainly the recent COVID crisis or the current COVID crisis depending on where you are.
The fact that people are working remotely. Leaders need to learn how to lead people remotely, lead their teams remotely. How do you do that? It requires a somewhat different skill set—more caring, more compassion, more communication—and that doesn't come naturally to a lot of leaders. I think honing entrepreneurial skills in terms of that growth piece, we know that a lot of people are planning to leave the workforce, planning to change occupations, or leave their employers after the COVID crisis is over.
I saw a McKinsey study from February that said that 1 in 16 employees are going to need to find a different occupation by 2030 in our post COVID-19 scenario. That's pretty sobering. As a leader and as an employee, if you learn how to adapt and embrace change, if you keep your skills sharp, you're looking towards the future and you have some foresight in terms of what's going to be required. You are going to be a lot more successful in your employment journey than if really you just keep doing what you're doing.
Brendan: That leads really well into us talking about some of the skills that fall into this lifetime employability bucket. Based on your own experience, what will be the most important skill that falls into that lifetime employability bucket that people need to get good at?
Wilma: I think the number one skill will be change agility. The piece of change will never be slower than it is today, so every day the pace of change is increasing. The structures, the frameworks, the organizations, the systems that are in place are not equipped to handle the kind of change that we're going to continue to experience.
As soon as you put a structure in place, it's already outdated. As soon as someone goes to university and they learn what they learn, which is always outdated anyway—we know because the research has to be done—it's outdated. People are graduating with outdated knowledge. I feel free to say that because I had quite a lot of education and that's certainly how I felt. That change agility, being able to change speeds, change direction, and have foresight is going to be incredibly important.
Those days where nothing changes for two years in an organization are over. I would argue they've been over for a long time, but certainly, in the future, change will move a lot faster. I think that will be the number one skill.
I think the number two skill is going to be people skills. The advent of AI and technology. I heard a stat that in the past year, we progressed 10 years of what would have been anticipated to be where we would be 10 years from now, we've done that in a year. Think about the change. Technology, I think, is going to take away managerial jobs because the managerial aspect of being a leader, which is directing, monitoring, planning, scheduling, budgeting can all be done by technology.
What's left in that leadership role? The people part, that's what's left. Actually being change and people managers and leaders are going to be critical. Understanding that balance between where technology is the best solution versus where people are the best solution. Integrating that technology into the workplace, maintaining, and respecting the people that are there.
I hate the term soft sales, I just absolutely hate it, but people tend to know what that means. It's that communication, it's compassion, it's helping, it's caring, it's all those things that every human need and certainly more so in times of change and in times of crisis. I think that's the second piece. I would call it a humane approach to the humans that are in the workplace.
Brendan: Yeah, I like that. But you are going to dislike me for saying soft skills because that's what was repeating in my head. Again, reinforcing what you're saying and you can correct me if I’m wrong, but really those soft skills are the underpinning of lifetime employability. As you said, automation is taking away some of the processing stuff, some of the technical side of things. As a leader especially, if you're spending too much time on your technical side and you think that's going to underpin your future, then I guess you're kidding yourself, right?
Wilma: Yeah. If you think about it, there's a lot of occupations that really tend to subject matter expertise. We think about engineers, geoscientists, anyone in that technical world, they're very focused on their subject matter. It's a huge generalization, I totally get that, but many of those people, those leaders are not well equipped or experienced in the people's side of management. That's where that change is going to need to take place is for them to really start embracing the people management, change management piece of leadership.
Brendan: Let's loop that around a bit because the number one lifetime employability skill you referred to was is change agility. That comes in various forms. We hear about change management, change fitness, and all that sort of stuff. But if leaders are spending their time and their head space is focused on the technical side of things, then they need to go through a change and they need to have some change agility. How do you propose that they start that process for themselves? Because if they can't do that for themselves, how are they going to guide that process with their teams?
Wilma: Absolutely correct that it's very challenging. You need to be able to do it for yourself before you can do it for other people. Of course, we have the change curve, we start with awareness, and then we move to knowledge, understanding, and how it impacts the positive perception, internalizations. I think there are lots of different ways for organizations to support those kinds of skill sets.
One is certainly through training and development. That can be through creating awareness, through change management courses and training. I’ve done quite a lot of that myself so helping people understand how people progress through change. There is a process, not everybody follows it in the same way. What the impact is of multiple people going through the change process on the organization, what kind of behavior you're going to see. So increasing that understanding of what to expect, number one.
Two is actually having role models who show the way. Certainly, what I’ve seen in organizations, the challenge is does your leader role model good behavior, the right behavior, or the behavior that you expect to see? If that person doesn't, you're probably not going to do it yourself because people look to their leaders for cues on how to behave. If they don't behave that way, then it makes it okay for me not to behave that way.
I think that in terms of performance appraisal processes, this is something that can be incorporated. I’ve seen too many of those performance frameworks that focus purely on results and not on how you got the results. This is about how you actually work with your team, how do you get the results that you get? The journey is as important as the destination, and most companies still don’t get that. It’s results, results, results.
Recently, there's a group of 200 CEOs in the US have signed a declaration saying that creating shareholder value is not just their only goal, which is a huge step. Milton Friedman, of course, said basically it's all about the shareholders, creating shareholder value. That's a very outdated notion.
These CEOs are looking more at corporate social responsibility, how they get their results, how they treat their people? There are systems and processes that can be built in that are going to more actively promote the kind of behavior that's going to be required to be successful in the future.
Brendan: In the work that you do, what value do you put on things like the quality of relationships around change and the quality of relationships leads to a level of trust and having conversations around that? Can you give us some thoughts on that aspect?
Wilma: Well, it's interesting that you should manage relationships. My view is that relationships are the foundation for everything. Everything we do is relationship-based and I think it's something we just cannot forget.
Funny that you should mention trust because I studied trust as part of my doctoral dissertation—CEOs and their trusted advisor relationships. Absolutely, trust is critical to any kind of relationship. When you look at the model that I like to use for trust, there are three components: integrity, caring or benevolence, and ability.
To have trust, you have to have all three of those and if one is missing, then the relationship is lacking. If you think about that in terms of a leadership perspective—integrity, some person's going to do what they say they're going to do. Ability, they actually have the ability to do what they say they're going to do. And then caring and benevolence is that they actually care about you and don't have a hidden agenda that's going to benefit them.
To me, that trust piece is so critical. We talk a lot about trust, people talk a lot about trust. Most people haven't studied like I have, I must admit, but we know if it's there or if it's not. Do you want to follow someone that you don't trust? Will you follow someone who you don't respect? Chances are not so much. The trust piece I think absolutely is critical, and it's critical in peer-to-peer relationships, manager-subordinate relationships within the corporation itself, within society.
I really like the Edelman Global Trust Barometer. I’m not sure if you've heard that, but they study trust every single year across the globe and the results are often fascinating. They look at trust with the informed public and uninformed public. They have definitions for that. Is trust greater for corporations, NGOs, media, government, et cetera? It might be worthwhile to have a look at it if you're interested in trust because it does break it down by country and which are the truster nations, which aren't.
Some of the information that came out this past year is that people in society are looking for CEOs to start making changes in society, that they have a role to play, and it's not just up to the government. I think that's really interesting and plays in really well with the 200 CEOs that are going to focus not just on shareholder value.
How does it link back to our topic? Well, I think it looks back really well because leaders in organizations are also expected to create that change, and how do you create it if you don't have a growth mindset? How do you create it if you haven't constantly developed yourself and exposed yourself to new challenges and new experiences? It's really, really difficult.
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Thanks, Wilma, for letting me know about that trust barometer. I hadn't heard of that so I’ll certainly look forward to taking a look and your model around trust. With that view, and it was a bit of a leading question I have to confess because I do know a bit of your background and your research around trust.
But with that trust hat on (and again, linking back to the change agility) why is it do you think that as leaders and as organizations is that the whole relationship and the development of trust seem to be overlooked quite a lot in the foundation of making progress in organizations and actually then therefore having the focus on the people to provide shareholder value? It just seems to be such a simple, powerful. It takes discipline in applying, but it just seems to be commonly overlooked across the globe.
Wilma: Partly, I believe, it's that sometimes organizations focus on the wrong thing. As I’ve mentioned before, they focus on getting results but the how you get the results are maybe not quite as important.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s say a leader in an organization is getting fantastic results. However, there’s a great deal of turnover on his or her team. The people are scared of the leader. They’re afraid to speak out. They might have complained to HR and HR hasn’t done anything. The organization is basically sanctioning and supporting the behavior of that leader. It’s hard to have a relationship and trust your leader in those kinds of instances. When the organization doesn’t support the employees and potentially supports the poor behavior of the leader, I don’t see how people are going to really build relationships and build trust.
Why is that? I think the organization is sending a message that we value results over how people are treated. We’re going to support that belief. It happens all the time. I hear about it all the time. I have clients who’ve been in those kinds of situations where poor behavior was reported to HR and nothing was done. Basically, HR and the senior executives look the other way because they were too focused on the results. What they didn’t realize, though, is that those leaders are toxic to their culture. In the end, the organization pays a huge price, but they might not pay it for three, four, or five years. The leader may never end up leaving.
I’m not sure that answers your question, but I think that is definitely a part of it. What are the values that the organization upholds, and what’s the culture? I’ve heard this brilliant definition of culture is essentially what you tolerate. If you tolerate that kind of behavior, that’s what you’re going to get. That’s your culture, even though you have beautiful signs on the wall saying respect for the individual, honesty, trustworthiness, and all of that.
There are still lots of baby boomers in the workplace, certainly in leadership roles (I think). The baby boomers grew up in a different world than subsequent generations. They had to compete for everything they got. That meant stepping on people. I think it cultivates in some ways poor behavior, so there’s still a lot of people like that who say, I managed to make it up to the top. I’m doing okay. The attitude is we don’t really need to focus too much on the people.
As a change manager, there were a few times in the past where you would say what we need to put in place, when you put in place engagement and involvement activities, communication, brown paper bag sessions, get people involved in creating processes that they’re going to use, get their feedback, and the response from senior executives and leaders was they can suck it up. They’ve done it before and they’ll be able to do it again.
If we go back to the trust model, I think there’s a distinct lack of caring about your people. People are asked to just accept it. Productivity goes down, morale goes down, and then the leaders aren’t happy. Sometimes, there’s a requirement to look in the mirror and say how did I contribute to this versus they’re doing it wrong or they should’ve done it better—the blame game.
Brendan: Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Wilma. I have to show huge restraint and not unpacked that even further because there are so many questions I love to ask you. But it’s a different topic; we don’t want to stray too far. I love the definition you share around culture. I’ve heard that and used that a bit before. But there’s one that I love even more now. Do you know Norman Wolf?
Brendan: Norman’s pretty prolific on LinkedIn as well, and he’s in your neck of the woods, actually, or in Canada anyway. I interviewed him recently. It’s not released yet but coming up very soon. He talked about culture being the personality of the organization. I just love that definition. I think it just fits and fits really well with his whole living organization, and the organization being like a human being. Anyway, there are great ones out there, but the simple definitions are always the best, I think.
Wilma: I agree.
Brendan: Let’s talk about the second skill set, which is quite a big bucket as well. People skills. You can unpack that a bit, but what are people skills and why are they so important? Because you got it down as number two in the whole process of lifetime employability.
Wilma: It is a really big bucket. For me, some of the things that fit into the market are emotional intelligence, so understanding yourself, understanding your own reactions, understanding how you impact other people. I find that particular aspect a lot of times is missing in leaders. Maybe they understand themselves, but they don’t necessarily understand how their actions and behaviors impact other people.
If you don’t, it makes it really hard to pick the right kind of communication messages. It makes it hard to think about what the other person is going through. That empathy then sometimes is missing. There are so many different factors that play into this.
What I discovered in all the work that I’ve done is that people will go through school, they go to university, they graduate, and they have this skill set or this functional area skill set; let’s call it the law. They know everything about the law or a lot about the law, but they never learned how to really interact with people.
I say this having experienced working with lawyers, in particular, litigators. They’re excellent at the law. But that whole people management and people interaction part sometimes are not that good. We know that, in terms of emotional intelligence, certain professions attract people with certain characteristics. Typically, lawyers score lower on empathy.
One of my clients, we did an emotional intelligence assessment. Sure enough, his empathy was quite low. In some ways, that’s really good because he’s a litigator. You don’t want to empathize or sympathize with the opposition. But where it became a hindrance is when he was dealing with his own clients who needed more care and attention, where they needed more “hand-holding,” that they needed certainty and reassurance that the path they were taking was the right one.
I think it’s like that not just with lawyers, but I think it’s like that with leaders in any organization. The people aspect hasn’t (I think) been given enough attention in school, in university, in professions that tend to be more technical.
In recalling a conversation with this particular lawyer-client, his friend who had taken an MBA were talking both about what they’re learning in school, at university. What the gentleman who was taking the MBA was learning had a lot more relevance to interactions in the workplace than what the lawyer was studying.
It comes back to some of those elements of trust, in terms of that caring piece. I think the ability piece. Do you have the ability to interact in a meaningful way with people? So not just in the workplace but even in your personal life. What does that take and why is that so important? It is because people are still doing a lot of the working organizations. The expectation can’t be that technology can replace all of the work because it won’t. But that human piece will be more and more critical.
Brendan: I really like your reference to empathy. That really resonates with me because I strongly believe that being empathetic and the ability to have empathy drive so many more good decisions around people, as opposed to not being empathetic and therefore making sometimes logical decisions which are not always the way to go. In your own experience, how do you coach empathy?
Wilma: That’s a secret I can’t tell.
Brendan: This is my one-million-dollar-question, Wilma.
Wilma: I know. That’s why I’m not going to tell you. I want people to come to me and learn how to do that. All kidding aside, I don’t know if you can teach empathy. I think you can create awareness about empathy. I think you can have conversations about situations that the individual has been in, and then relate it back to that person.
If I may, I’ll give you an example. I’m in a writers group and there was a gentleman who indicated that he was the only male on an all-female board, which is highly unusual. He was there and thought he wasn’t heard. He talked but the other board members didn’t really listen. Then he talked louder. That really didn’t make an impact and he was getting quite frustrated.
In that conversation, I turned my back on him in a kind way, in a nice way, and it was an aha moment for him because he realized that women often feel that way when they’re in a room full of men. Not being heard, speaking louder, trying to get traction, trying to get room, trying to have your voice heard. It had never occurred to him that his experience as a man, actually it was an experience that women have a lot. I think that’s one way.
It’s okay for me to say to somebody, as the only woman in a room full of men, while I didn’t hear my voice being heard (and people can be sympathetic but maybe not that empathetic), when you’ve experienced it yourself in a different context, it hits you and hard. It’s not just a story that someone’s telling you. It does that internalization piece. It’s that living along that’s part of empathy. It’s so deep [...]. I don’t think so. But I think you can create awareness. You can create understanding. It’s not about preaching.
It’s interesting. Adam Grant talks about three different kinds of roles in terms of how we convince people. I don’t think it’s about convincing people that it’s important to be empathetic because I think it kind of falls on deaf ears. We all know that. So what does it mean? It’s really being able to have that lived experience in some way, so relating back to a time in the past where you felt this way and what did that mean for you. That may be the secret, not sure.
Brendan: Once again, I really like that. In my head it comes back to that trust word again because I like what you say about maybe not coaching ability; it’s experiencing it. It’s sharing situations where it might have happened, maybe where it’s not happened. In order to do that, you have to have genuine conversations. In order to have genuine conversations, it links back to (once again) your favorite word, which is one of my favorite words of all—trust. if you don’t have that, then the ability to have the conversations and even to be empathetic in the conversations you need to have when maybe people aren’t being so empathetic, that would be very tough without trust.
Wilma: I agree. Again, if I can provide an example of a company that was laying off employees. Some employees were concerned about how they’re going to pay their mortgage, how they’re going to send their kids to school, all those kinds of things, all the normal concerns that people have. In talking with the senior executives, they could not relate at any level to what their employees were going through. Potentially sympathy but certainly not empathy because they were still getting paid their multi-million-dollar salaries, still have their benefits, their pension plans, still have their job, still have the perks, and if they were going to get laid off they were going to get a big package. They were fine.
Sometimes, people in leadership roles are really out of touch with their own people and what’s going on for them. I think in times like that, empathy is just so much more important. But there has to be some kind of ability to relate.
It’s kind of like me relating to Bill Gates. I have no conception of what his life is like, the amounts of money, and his lifestyle. I don’t know if Bill would have a conception of my lifestyle, probably not, but it’s the huge disconnect, this huge chasm. Again, in leaders, that need to be able to understand and have empathy for the other person, I think is just so critical.
Brendan: I have to admit that I have a personality flaw. One of many is that I find it really difficult to accept and tolerate. I’m not saying Bill Gates is this person but people that are in that (I guess) level of the world in earning capacity where they proceed to lecture us normal folk on all sorts of things. That’s very hard to take for me.
Wilma: Me, too. I hate that. We have it here with our resource industry. We have people flying in their private jets up to the oil sands in Fort McMurray. Alberta has the highest level of safety and environmental standards of anywhere around the globe in terms of the oil and gas industry. They come up and they lecture our industry about the evil of fossil fuels, et cetera.
It’s ironic in a lot of ways. They’re flying a private jet which consumes fossil fuels. The private jet is made of fossil fuels. The clothes they’re wearing are made partly of fossil fuels. The glasses they’re wearing are petroleum products. I just have no tolerance for that.
Brendan: Wilma, it sounds like I need to get you back and we can have maybe a bit more of a political conversation at some point. I think I really would enjoy that.
Wilma: I love that. We can have an offline conversation, too.
Brendan: Absolutely. I feel that you’ve provided some unbelievable powerful points tonight. I’m going to take you into your last bit of advice that you’d really like to give leaders around this lifetime employability piece. One thing I would love you to share is, you mentioned to me off-the-air that you’re going to be writing a book at some point in the future. You’re going to start spinning it. Tell us a little about what is that going to be about? You’ve heard it today, ladies and gentleman, a hot-off-the-press Wilma’s book is a work-in-progress. What’s it about?
Wilma: My book, which I’ve just started, is about women in the workplace, exploring visibility and invisibility. How I came to this is partly we talked a little bit earlier about being the only female in a room of men in a boardroom, and wondering if I actually really existed in that room because I felt invisible. I think society has opposed in many ways this cloak of invisibility on women, especially in the workplace. There’s certainly in society, in general.
COVID-19, by many accounts, has set back gender equity by 20–30 years. Twenty to 30 years—think about that—in one year. There’s something wrong with that. There’s absolutely something wrong. I think the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted what already existed, what we already knew about, and that we hopefully were making some progress on. [...] back. That’s reality.
Going in, the premise originally was that women need to be more visible. The more that I looked at this, actually, I’ve come to the notion or way of thinking at this moment—which still could change—that is about choice. It’s partly about choice. Some women choose to remain invisible for many different reasons. And others choose to be visible by acting more like men.
A very interesting article that I read today about Silicon Valley. Female leader who basically harass women, bully them, and really didn’t help them. Sometimes, women are their own worst enemies. I want to draw attention to what is going on. There are positive examples, too. I don’t want to make this all biased towards the negative. There are positive examples, too, but they are fewer.
So, what does that mean when 51% of the world’s population is female, but less than 20% of women in companies are in senior leadership executive or board roles? In fact, in Canada the numbers are going down, so we’re not making progress. What does that mean? We’re losing skills that women bring, experiences that women bring, qualities that women bring to leadership roles by somewhat keeping them invisible.
It’s interesting to note when you look at COVID-19 response around the world, government response, that many of the countries that have done the best are led by women. Certainly, Canada’s not done all that well. We’re not led by women. I find that fascinating as well, so what does that mean? I honestly don’t know but I would’ve found out.
I want to say that it’s geared towards women but it always sits on the side of the gender-agnostic view because there are lots of men that are invisible in the workplace too. I want it to be something that creates awareness because a lot of men are not aware, as I mentioned in my example, the man who was the only male board member. A lot of men aren’t aware of what really happens.
I find that the 30–50-year-old age cohort is a lot more open to equity and equality issues, and particularly men who have daughters because they don’t want their daughters to be treated differently than their sons. They want them to have the same opportunities. I’m hoping that through this process—so partly telling my story, partly interviewing other women, bringing in some research and some other report findings—that there are some suggestions for how we can actually move forward with this. It’s not a male versus female issue. Some people want to make it that, so yay women and that man. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about moving forward together.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic wrote a book, Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?: (And How to Fix It). It’s a fascinating book, and that’s a key question. His premise is we don’t need to elevate incompetent women. We just need to make the standards for leadership higher for everybody.
Brendan: That is a great comment, absolutely. Unfortunately, incompetence is not gender-specific.
Wilma: It is not, absolutely.
Brendan: Wilma, it is a fantastic and absolutely fascinating topic. The thing is, though, that it’s such a broad one and it’s such a fast-moving topic, and so many areas to unpack. I feel that you could be writing that book for many years.
Wilma: I hope not. Some will get bored by then. I think it’s timely and relevant now. so I will definitely need to focus on it. I’m going to spend a lot of my time this coming year actively working on it because I think it needs to be discussed now, and looking at it from different angles it can always be updated in the future, write a subsequent book, what-have-you.
I’m talking about it a lot. I’m posting about it on LinkedIn because I know myself really well. I tend to be a bit of a ‘bright shiny object’ kind of person, so this is not going to be a bright shiny object. This is going to be something that I am holding myself accountable to. The more people that know about it—like you and now the people listening to your podcast—will hold me accountable to that. I think that accountability is so important, certainly to me, and I think these stories do need to be told.
Brendan: Absolutely. I feel like I’m going to be setting myself a reminder every month just to send you a message to say, hey, how are you going? Hey are you tracking?
Wilma: Sounds good. People have asked me to write some posts on LinkedIn, kind of updating them on my progress, so I might do that.
Brendan: I think that’s a fantastic idea. Wilma, back to lifetime employability. I want to finish off with what would be your advice to leaders out there to help them focus on lifetime employability, and what they can do to upskill themselves, whether it be around change agility, people skills, or other things?
Wilma: Number one, keep growing and developing. Growth and development is a lifetime process, so going back to if you’re not growing you’re dying. Second, be curious. Try new things that scare you. I’m starting this book, kind of talking about it for years. It scares me a lot. I might not sound like I’m scared but I am. I’m speaking a lot more, doing podcasts. These things scare me. But it’s important for me to keep doing them, so that helps me grow and develop. So being curious about different topics, exploring things that you haven’t tried before.
One of the things that I’d like to do is attend or listen to podcasts, webinars, and go to conferences on topics that are not in my field. I know a lot about trust and leadership. I don’t know everything because nobody can. But I like to go to real estate conferences, architecture conferences, and listen to art topics because there’s sometimes a lot of really great takeaways that I can pull back into my own field. Some architectures about structures, well, we all live and work within structures. Art is about creativity and curiosity. How can I take something, repurpose it, and fit it into my own work?
Have people challenge your thinking and be open to that. That is going to be a critical skill in the future; people not supporting the status quo. It’s kind of hard to believe because we still like people that support the status quo, but I do believe that disruptive thinking is the way of the future.
And finding different ways to contribute. We all have something to offer. Offer it. Put it out there. Be visible. Claim what you can offer and who you can be. We all have a contribution to make, and I think it’s so important to make it.
Brendan: Absolutely and great gold nuggets of advice there. I have to say, in the relationship that I’ve built with you and some of that communication, I think I can probably tick all of those boxes for you living and breathing that stuff. As any true leader, you’re not just speaking it, you’re actually doing it, so well done.
Wilma: Thank you.
Brendan: Wilma, we mentioned LinkedIn a few times, so we know we can get through LinkedIn. What are some of the channels we can get a hold of you?
Wilma: I also have the Transcend Management Advisors page on Facebook. My website is transcendmgt.com. I’ve got blogs that have all kinds of information on that. If you want to send me an email and have a conversation, I’m definitely open to that as well. It’s email@example.com.
I’m always interested in growing my network and meeting new people. You and I met on LinkedIn and I personally feel like we’re friends. This is the first time—except for that Sunday night—that we talked for a few minutes, that you want to have the opportunity to have a conversation, and it’s been fabulous. I really do believe that you’re a fabulous supporter and friend.
I think LinkedIn’s been a really great way for people to connect, and I’m so grateful that we have. You’re in a totally different part of the world. We would not have met at a local networking event. I’m finding the beauty actually now in LinkedIn with more connections. I’m finding so many more people that are like-minded, that want to achieve the same kinds of things, that want to change the world. It’s so exciting because now, the world is a potential networking event. I just so love that.
Brendan: Absolutely, Wilma. Indeed you certainly are a friend and very, very well said. I want to say once again a massive, massive thank you. Thanks for your patience. Again, this is take two, but I’m so glad that we had this conversation today, a fantastic topic around lifetime employability.
Definitely, people really need to listen to that subject matter, and picking out some of those nuggets of gold you shared at the end but really taking action on those things because it can be a massive catalyst for changing your whole mindset and changing (I guess) the story that you’re creating in life.
Wilma, well-done on the work you’re doing. Good luck on the book. I am certainly going to keep you accountable. I hope our listeners keep you accountable. Keep us updated through LinkedIn, and thank you very much for being a guest on The Culture of Things podcast.
Wilma: Thank you so much. I am so grateful.
Brendan: Wilma’s another example where an online connection has become an offline friend. She says the most valuable thing she gives her clients is honesty. Her honesty is what creates trust, which turns relationships into friendships. There was one particular statement that Wilma said during our chat, which for me was so impactful. She said we need to make the standard for leadership higher. I’ve never thought about it in those words, but it’s exactly what we are going to do through our work at The Culture of Things.
These were my three key takeaways from my conversation with Wilma. My first key takeaway: Leaders are always growing and developing. Being a lifelong learner is a key foundation for leadership. As Wilma said, you’re either growing or you’re dying. Dying is the ‘I’m the boss’ mentality. Growing is a leader mentality. To be a leader you must always be growing and developing.
My second key takeaway: The most important skills for leaders are change agility and people skills. The pace of change is not stopping. In fact, it’s increasing. Good leaders keep up. Great leaders have foresight and stay ahead of it. This leads on to the other important skill—people skills. The best leaders know technology is replacing technical ability, which means people skills is what’s left. Develop your change agility and people skills, and you achieve lifelong employability.
My third key takeaway: Leaders focus on building trust. Wilma studied trust extensively and shared the three components of trust: integrity, meaning you do what you say you will do; ability, meaning you have the ability to do what you said you’ll do; and caring, meaning you don’t have a hidden agenda. A leader builds trust in your relationships, and together you will achieve anything.
In summary, my three key takeaways were: Leaders are always growing and developing. The most important skills for leaders are change agility and people skills. Leaders focus on building trust.
To another one of our listeners who left a review and comment saying, great interviewing style. Easy to listen to. Really enjoyed the podcast. Keep up the great work. Unfortunately, their name wasn’t recognizable but you know who you are. Thank you very much.
If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to leave a comment on the socials or send me a message at brendanrogers.com.au. Thank you for listening. Stay safe until next time.
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