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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Women in Sales virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on November 16 2021. It featured an interview with leadership consultant and coach Christa Davis.]
Find Christa on LinkedIn.
CHRISTA’S TIP: “I always say this, “I can’t help a leader who doesn’t care about people.” You have to generally have a desire that you want to do good, even if maybe you’re maybe not achieving that level of good that you want to be doing. Not being in integrity, that is a huge cost. Being honest with yourself like I mentioned with myself, where I wasn’t being in integrity. I was saying, “These things are important to me, but I’m living in this way.” Being honest, looking at that, and making a commitment to integrity, and yes, people might not like you. When you say no, people might not like you. I can promise you that. You might piss some people off. But what’s more important at the end of the day, to be liked or to have integrity? That’s just something else to bite off on and think about leaving this conversation.
THE PODCAST BEGINS HERE
Gina Stracuzzi: I would like to introduce my guest, Christa Davis. Christa is an executive leadership coach and career coach. She and I are going to be talking about something that is near and dear to my heart, and that is leadership, and making sure you don’t get lost in the opportunity to be a leader, putting your own personal stamp on it, and rebooting it to make it what you need it to be. Anyone who’s listened to our sessions in the forum, who’s participated in it, they know that this comes up a lot. Women tend to get a little bit lost in the journey to leadership because we don’t say no enough. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes you need to say no. Christa, welcome.
Christa Davis: Hi, Gina. Thank you so much for having me here today and to be a part of the incredible work you’re doing, investing in sales leaders and people who work in the industry.
Gina Stracuzzi: Well, thank you very much. As I always like to do, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are now, and talking about the topic of leadership.
Christa Davis: I started my career in the nonprofit space working in fundraising and marketing communications. I have a very long journey, like everyone else. I’m going to try to keep this as concise and relevant as possible. What led me to coaching was that my favorite part of my job was actually giving advice to the executives, giving advice to my bosses on how to lead more effectively. That led me to getting my coaching certification, getting my master’s in organizational leadership and learning. In 2018, I took the leap to work for myself. This would be a time where you feel free, you’re working for yourself, I was finally doing the things that I got to do.
But what ended up happening is something that I see with a lot of my clients today, is that I found myself, even though I had all of this freedom, I was working harder than I ever had before. I had taken a lot of the corporate conditioning with me. I always resented having a limited number of vacation days. I didn’t want to work 9:00 to 5:00, 9:00 to 8:00, whatever. We usually work a lot more than 9:00 to 5:00, but I found myself bringing a lot of those habits with me, resenting not wanting to ask for help, being slow to hire people.
What I realized is that even though my work was so much more meaningful and I loved what I was doing, I still wasn’t setting the right boundaries. I really wasn’t owning who I were wanted to be in my work. Interesting enough, as I start going through this journey myself, which really took a few things, I’m sure we’ll talk about this today, but reshifting my priorities and seeing that I was treating my work as my first priority. Even though I said, and I think a lot of us, we give lip service to it, not intentionally. We say our well-being is important, our faith, our family’s most important to us, but we’re not necessarily acting in that way, so really aligning what I said was important to me and making that a priority. Also we’re looking at the idea of working hard. Well, I’m sure we’ll talk about this today, leadership is hard work. I’m not going to say it doesn’t come with challenges, but so many times we’re making it so much harder for ourselves and we’re actually less productive as a result. Those are just a couple of things I started to relearn.
What I also found with my coaching clients was while I started out doing more career transition coaching, I found that as I evolved, my clients evolved as well. Now I work with corporate leaders as well as company founders who, like I described with myself, they want to lead, they care about others, their hearts are in the right place, but they’re finding that they’re giving too much of themselves. Helping them create the results that they want, create that big impact that they want to see without losing themselves in the process. That’s my story in a nutshell.
Gina Stracuzzi: Well, that is a really great story. Not just because you’ve grown so much in that story, but it really depicts what a lot of women go through. Well, a lot of people go through, to be honest. The difference being, between men and women, is that men are better at establishing boundaries when it comes to their time, and women not so much. It carries over when you become a mother too, if you decide to go that route, because husbands are very good at going, “No.” Moms are like, “What do you need?” It really shows up at work.
I really love all that you’ve learned and how you’ve learned to apply it to your life and your company. Now, I’m sure you’re passing that knowledge onto your clients, which makes that really valuable. When we are walking the walk and talking the talk, it’s because we’ve earned it. It’s it’s good that you’ve turned this into a business and you’re helping other leaders. Let’s talk a little bit about some of what you see in your work, and some of the myths and misconceptions that you’ve observed in leaders, and things that are holding them back.
Christa Davis: The first thing that I mentioned, even with myself, is this notion of working hard. Again, I always like to emphasize, you need to put in hard work. You have to be committed to get to where you want to go, but it’s looking at where that narrative turns from taking committed action and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to get results, to complete self-sabotage. This idea of hard work, and we hear this a lot, working hard versus working smart, some of us have been told that the only way we’re going to get ahead, the only way we’re going to get to where we want to go, is if we put our heads down and we work really, really hard.
What we know, and I’ve seen this sometimes with clients who are maybe trying to get to that next level role, and sometimes that holds them back from getting there. But let’s say you do end up in that leadership role and your head is down, you’re not really doing what you’re supposed to be doing as a leader. Going into a second myth here, is that leadership is less about the doing as much as the being, and actually being that person that can take that step up, that sees that bigger vision, that’s able to influence and inspire others and coach others to become leaders. Great leaders create other leaders. You can’t do that if your head is down and you’re like a hamster on a wheel working, working, working, not to mention the personal costs that come from that.
Another myth that comes from that as well is busyness versus productivity, and measuring the time we spend doing things as what makes us productive. We know this. You can work 70 hours in a week, that doesn’t mean that the work that you’re doing is actually getting you to where you want to be. Relooking at time, how much time we’re spending working. Someone in the 1930s, an economist, predicted that with the rise of technology, we’d be working 15 hours a week. The opposite has happened. We have these phones, we’re more plugged in. Rather than looking at technology, like, “How can we use technology to work less?” In a way we’ve done the opposite. It’s like, “How can we work more?”
At the root of these things are some deeper issues that come up around how we see ourselves, how we look at our self-worth and work, how we see where we get our value from. Underneath all these myths are also some of these deeper things that we all need to look at, not just as individuals, but as society as a whole.
Gina Stracuzzi: I couldn’t agree more. There’s so much in what you just said. Because this is the Women in Sales learning session, I always like to bring it back to how these things affect women. Going back to the very beginning, women are notorious for adopting that, “If I keep my head down and work hard, I’m going to get noticed.” Well, keeping your head down doesn’t work for all the reasons you just mentioned, but it also doesn’t get you the visibility that you need to go on to the next step. If you’re not out there letting people know what your aspirations are and talking about your ambition and where you want to go, you are missing the big picture as you mentioned, but you’re also expecting people to mind-read. “This is what Christa wants to do. Yes, I know that.” Well, how are they going to know if Christa doesn’t tell them?
I really love all that you were saying, that it’s inherent on us, male or female, or otherwise, that we look up as leaders, and what is happening, and what is the bigger picture, and what are the needs? I love what you and I were talking offline a little bit, and you were talking about bringing in a copywriter. You’re really good at writing technical papers. That really goes to a big piece of things, understanding what your strengths are and delegating the rest of it to somebody else. That’s a hard thing to do I think as a new leader, is to say, “I’m not really great at this.” You don’t have to say it that way. You can just say, “I think you’re really strong in this. Why don’t you take over?” That’s a great leadership quality to bring into the situation, and it takes it off your plate and you’ve got a win-win there.
Christa Davis: Yes. Something else I’ve seen before is the, I call it lone wolf leader syndrome, where you think you have to do all the things. One of the greatest things I’ve done in my business is hiring people that can do certain things better than me so I can be where I thrive and actually be a leader. Because when you’re doing all the things, you can’t really lead effectively. I think that there is this pressure sometimes we put on ourselves, like, “If I can’t do all the things, for some reason, I’m not good enough, or I’m not doing what I should be doing.” We say it out loud, it’s ridiculous. You can’t do all the things. Part of being a leader is having the right support around you and giving them the support they need to do their best and also support you and the greater collective in achieving whatever it is you’re setting out to achieve.
Gina Stracuzzi: I think a lot of us, male and female, get caught up in the idea that, “It’s just easier for me to do it because it’s too complicated to explain.” Or, “I’ve got the background and you don’t. Let me just handle this.” Well, if you do that enough, one, people stop asking for opportunities, and two, you get weighed down with all the stuff that someone else could be doing that sets you up to be a really great leader. Because now you’ve empowered people, you’ve taken things off your plate, and the creative juices that you need to really lead well are free to get you where you want to be.
Christa Davis: Even taking that a step further, what you said, I’ve said that to myself many times, “It’s easier if I do it.” It’s actually not. It’s actually a real pain in the butt when I do the things I’m not supposed to do. It’s that story we tell ourselves, and really being able to take that step back and also realizing that when you invest in your team, not only through delegation, but empowering them with the skills to be leaders themselves, things can run so much more smoothly. Being on the other side of it, obviously there’s always going to be challenges, that’s why you’re a leader. You’re there to solve problems. That’s why you go into business.
But when you really give other people, you take that time to invest in others, it’s going to help you, because you can let your organization run with a little less interference from you, but it’s also going to help you reach your goals so much more productively. Like we were saying, being busy versus being productive, or people probably talk about urgent tasks versus important tasks. While maybe investing in your team and having them do those tasks that feel easier for you to do, that’s the important stuff. Focusing on what’s important versus what’s urgent, that’s going to create more long-term success versus just short-term ticking the checks in the box.
Gina Stracuzzi: Let me ask you a question. If someone’s listening to this and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, they’re absolutely right. What Christa says is spot on. But now I’m mired in this reputation of not needing any help.” I can imagine that people who find themselves in this situation have conditioned people to think that, “Well, we’ll just give it to Gina. She’ll do everything, and she’s a great leader and she just wants to do everything herself.” Now you’ve got a reputation of not needing any help. Who knows? You might have even annoyed a number of people that you didn’t let them have an opportunity to do a certain thing. How do you get out of that? How do you change the direction of that ship and start delegating or asking for help, or whatever the situation is that you find yourself in?
Christa Davis: Definitely retraining others and creating a new way forward. The first thing I would say is a little bit of vulnerability and being honest with your team as a leader. Like, “Hey, I know this is how we’ve done things so far, but this isn’t working.” Taking responsibility for the role that you’ve played in it, and saying, “This is how we’re going to be doing things moving forward.” Of course, framing it in a way that’s empowering to your team members, but to your point, a lot of times, people do end up getting frustrated. They feel like, “Well, I’m not needed.” This can unintentionally create disengagement as well. Obviously, every situation’s different, but being honest, looking at your team members and meeting with them one to one. Reestablishing that rapport, that trust, investing in the relationships with everyone. Then being vulnerable and having that honest conversation about what hasn’t been working and how things are going to change moving forward, “This is what I’m going to do to do better, and this is what I ask of all of you.”
Gina Stracuzzi: What do you think is at the root of the challenges? Can you elaborate and share more on how organizations and teams can change the dynamic? I think a little bit about what you just said on a personal level, but what if you organizationally see that there are these kinds of issues, where certain people are doing all the work, let’s say, or they’re not being effective leaders because they’re not delegating properly? How do you work with teams and what would your advice be to someone who perhaps either leads a team or, and this is the harder part, is when you see these things happening within your own organization, and you don’t know how you might be able to help change the dynamic?
Christa Davis: The first thing I do want to comment on, which continues to boggle my mind, is how we take physics, we take calculus in school, but we don’t take a class on leadership. I think this is starting to shift a bit more. We don’t know how to manage our own feelings, but we can do a physics equation. It’s on organization. I think this is a great time, this Great Resignation stuff, I get fired up about it, you can probably tell, because prior to shifting more on this direction, I was coaching people to quit their jobs left and right. I’ve worked with the high performers and the executives who have had enough at organizations. Now I’m also on the other side of it, helping executive who don’t want that to happen. A big part of it is support. Leaders need support. You have to invest in your leaders. There’s a few ways this shows up.
First, as the individual, we also have to take accountability. Are we giving ourselves the support we need? When we were talking earlier, you mentioned this, like recognizing our needs. Sometimes we operate from who we think we should be, or what’s expected of us. To give a very broad example, maybe we think that we should operate on six hours of sleep a night, do all the things, be super mom, and still be happy at the end of the day. What’s the reality? The reality is that you probably need eight hours of sleep a night and you do great working in this way, whatever that is. So really being honest with yourself about what you need, what’s the reality, who are you as a person, and how can you give yourself that support? What does that look like?
The second piece there is then, “As a leader, what’s the support I need around me?” Like we talked about earlier. “Do I have the right support? Am I leveraging the support?” You could have the best people around you, but how are you leveraging that? Then the third piece that ensure a personal-ish area there is, “How am I supporting them as a leader and giving them what they need?” If you’re in that third, let’s say you’re running your organization, and you’re noticing like, “Okay, my leaders, they’re doing too much. They’re not empowering their teams.” Well, how are they getting the support they need? Does this look like investing in coaching, mentoring? I have to put my two cents here, not some surface level corporate training.
I think we talked about this earlier, how your programs that you offer at the Institute for Excellence in Sales get also to the personal side of leadership. Because I think we can agree, I’m tired of this, not to say Myers-Briggs isn’t effective, but a surface level Myers-Briggs assessment, you get your results and the trainer leaves and that’s it. What do you do with that? Looking at investing in your leaders, how can you change perspectives and habits, build relationships and build trust in your organization? Asking yourself if you’re running an organization, those types of questions, and looking for ways to invest in that.
Gina Stracuzzi: This is an area, as we talked about a little bit offline, that it’s really hard for women to do. That asking for help, there’s fear. Fear is something that holds women back a lot. It’s not something very pleasant to talk about, but we are under the misconception that if we ask for help, we’re going to appear weak or incapable, which is just not the case. We’re also not very good at saying, “I appreciate your faith in me, but I cannot take on anything else right now.” Because, “Oh my gosh, we might not get that opportunity again.” Or, “It just looks like I can’t handle anything more than what I’m handling.” That is just not the case.
It’s actually a sign of a strong worker and leader who can say, “I will not give you my best if I take this on. Let’s figure out another solution.” That is the stuff of leadership. Learning to do those things and say those things, it takes practice, as you say, and it takes changing people’s mindsets, and it’s work to be sure. It goes back to what we were talking about a few minutes ago. It’s easier just to keep doing things the way you’re doing them, or so you think, rather than change the direction of things. I love your advice, Christa. Is there anything else that you would advise that leaders can do differently to increase their performance and help those that they lead increase theirs?
Christa Davis: Yes. Going back to actually what I said about support, that if you’re a leader, what I just said before about, “Okay, am I supporting myself? Do I have the right support around me? How am I supporting others?” Take out a pen and paper and reflect on these areas. Another reflection prompt that can help you with that, a little homework, is reflecting on, “Okay, what are three things that are going super well right now in my leadership career in business?” Second question, “What are three things that are creating the most stress and pressure right now?” Do those things, because you want to look at what’s going well, and see what are the themes there? We always want to look at what’s working. How can we continue to maximize what’s working, and what’s not working? What’s the support challenge there, and the things that aren’t working?
I’m telling you, nine times out of ten, there’s a support challenge. Either you’re not being honest with yourself about the support you need, you’re not asking for it, or you’re not giving your team the support they need. Be honest, and remember, progress, not perfection. It’s okay. Like we’ve said, it’s work. I make mistakes all the time with this stuff. Giving yourself that grace and giving yourself one solid action item. What are you going to do to better support yourself or your team? It might just be as simple as, “You know what? I need more sleep because I’m turning into a crazy person, because I’m not getting enough sleep.” It can be that. Maybe you have to have an honest conversation with one of your team members, whatever that is, commit to that action, celebrate that, and then, “Okay. Where do I go from here?” That’s how you start to create those new habits.
Gina Stracuzzi: Look at what’s working and then you can look at what’s not working.
Christa Davis: Yes, because so many times us women, we look at the negative, all the things that aren’t working. But we don’t take time to say, “Wow. Things are going pretty well,” and to celebrate those things.
Gina Stracuzzi: Celebrate those wins. Let’s figure out what else you would like our audience to know. Then I would like you to talk about some piece of action, and perhaps it’s that list that you just outlined, but a piece of actionable advice that you can give people that they can put into place today, they can start working on that today, that can help them think about their leadership in a different fashion.
Christa Davis: I will say that’s my homework assignment, what I shared there, but I have something else to think about that I’ll add here. It’s something that came into my mind when you were saying, “Sometimes we say yes when we want to say no, or we’re doing all the things.” It embraces a greater issue of integrity, because what’s the cost of these things? “Okay. I might not feel great, people aren’t performing well,” but what I find, with the people that I work with… For those of you who are listening who are like, “I actually care about leadership.” I always say this, “I can’t help a leader who doesn’t care about people.” You got to go somewhere else. You have to generally have a desire that you want to do good, even if maybe you’re maybe not achieving that level of good that you want to be doing. Integrity’s important to you.
Not being in integrity, that is a huge cost. Being honest with yourself like I mentioned with myself, where I wasn’t being in integrity. I was saying, “These things are important to me, but I’m living in this way.” Being honest, looking at that, and making a commitment to integrity, and yes, people might not like you. When you say no, people might not like you. I can promise you that. You might piss some people off. But what’s more important at the end of the day, to be liked or to have integrity? That’s just something else to bite off on and think about leaving this conversation.
Gina Stracuzzi: I think people could add that to their list that you suggested they make. “Is the way that I am leading in tandem with what’s important to me? Is the language I’m using synonymous with what is actually important to me?” If it’s not, then that’s where the lack of integrity comes in. We don’t tend to think of ourselves, like the lack of integrity in how we speak to ourselves, and between what we say and how we do it. I actually really like that way of looking at it, Christa, “Are we being honest and do we have integrity with ourselves about what’s important, and what we’re doing, and how we’re leading, and how we’re showing up?”
Christa Davis: I also want to add, if it’s a no, skip the pity party, the shame. Don’t beat yourself up over it. It’s a journey. Just remembering that, because I know we probably have a lot of women on here who are tough on themselves. I know I’m tough on myself as well. It’s okay. There’s room to grow. You have a whole journey ahead of you.
Gina Stracuzzi: Nobody needs to know about that.
Christa Davis: No one needs to know [laughs].
Gina Stracuzzi: You just need to go, “Hold on. I need to fix this.” That’ll be the start of your journey, as you say. This has been an absolute delight, Christa. I hope that you will come back in 2022 and talk to us again about your journey and the new things that you’re learning and how people can put this into place. Because I have found that it’s so interesting when you talk to people who are on the verge of big changes, which I know you just got married and you’re changing your company a little bit. Those are all big things, and they’re part of that journey, and you learn new things. I hope you’ll come back and share those aha moments that you’ve had along the way. I hope to see you at IES programs in the future. I’d like to talk to you actually about speaking with the forum alumni about a lot of what you do. Lots of things possible in the future. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and the same to everyone that’s listening to this. Be well, be safe, be thankful. We will see you the last week in November. Bye, everyone.
Transcribed by Mariana Badillo