The Human Centered Design Podcast with Gerry Scullion

Sasja Nieukerk-Chomos 'Organisational Toxicity - Understanding and navigating trauma-inducing workplaces'

John Carter
April 20, 2022
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Sasja Nieukerk-Chomos 'Organisational Toxicity - Understanding and navigating trauma-inducing workplaces'

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Episode shownotes

Today on the show we have Sasja Nieukerk-Chomos - President of Dynamic Achievement based in Canada. I recently stumbled on Sasja profile on LinkedIn after reading a remarkable post about her father, Nick. In this episode we hear more about Nick’s story and the impact it had on Sasja’s life.

We speak about Leadership and learn more about toxicity within organisations, how we manage this from an executive perspective but also from someone who might find themselves working alongside people who play roles in compounding the behaviours associated to toxicity.

It’s a brilliant conversation - and know you will love it..

Episode Transcript

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S1: Hello and welcome to another episode of Bringing Design Closer to Podcast, focused on discussing Design's role in tackling complex societal issues. Our goal is to have conversations that inspire and help move the ball forward for organizations to become more human centered in their approach to solving complex business and societal problems. My name is Gerry Scullion and I'm the founder of the Human Centered Design Network and CEO. This is doing become home to many of the world's best design and changemaker courses online. Today in the show we are Sasha Newkirk Show Moss, president of Dynamic Achievement, based in Canada. Now, I recently stumbled on Sasha's profile on LinkedIn after reading a remarkable post about her father, Nick. And in this episode, we hear more about Nick's story and the impact that that had on Sasha's life. When we speak about leadership and learn more about the toxicity within organizations and how we manage this from an executive perspective, but also from someone who might find themselves working alongside people who play roles in compounding the behaviors associated to toxicity. It's a brilliant conversation, and I know you're going to love it. So let's jump straight in. Sasha Newkirk, Shoma, I am delighted to welcome you to this society day and also to bring design closer. I'm delighted to have you on the show today. How are you doing?


S2: I'm good, thank you. Is it really great to be here? Thanks for having me.


S1: So, Sasha, maybe start off and tell us a little bit where you're from, what you do, and maybe how you describe what you do. If you're a imagine, you are at a dinner party and yet to tell people what you do for a living.


S2: Yeah, for sure. Well, I'm based in North Vancouver, Canada. I didn't grow up here. I grew up in Alberta, in Canada, but and I've lived a few places, but for the last, I guess, 12 or 13 years, Vancouver has now been home. And the work that I do, what do I do if I'm at a dinner party with you and I've just met for the first time? I would tell you that I'm going to get inside your head and I'm going to mess around with it a bit.


S1: Oh.


S2: Very. That's what I yeah. What I what I do fundamentally is I work with with leaders and with teams and organizations to really help disrupt their thinking and to really start looking at what are different ways of how you can live your life, how you can work, how you can lead in ways that will be much more effective and much more fulfilling.


S1: So in terms of getting inside my head and messing around a little bit, tell me a little bit more about what that means. Like, what's your background?


S2: Yeah, my background. My background is actually in a host of different ways. My background has been in leadership development for the last couple of decades. And that really evolved from the fact that, like most people, I work in a frontline job and I became promoted into a manager and I had no clue what I was doing because I was not prepared for what it actually means to manage and lead people. And so I got really curious about this thing called leadership and decided to start studying that, which as people who are in leadership quickly start to figure out what it really means is you need a whole background in psychology. Yeah. So I'm not a psychologist by profession, but I've really dived into that work with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and curiosity because I want to understand what drives human behaviours. I want to understand what drives me first and foremost and my motivations. But that's really led into wanting to understand other people. And that's really what informs my work, is wanting to know what makes people tick, what drives us the way that it does, and how do we use that to our advantage as opposed to it using us?


S1: Yeah. Okay. We're definitely on the right page. We're going have a good conversation. I can already feel it, but I want to preface a little bit more around how we've managed to connect. Okay. And like a number of weeks ago, maybe, maybe two months ago, I saw a post on LinkedIn where you spoke about your dad. Okay. And it was it was a lovely photograph of you and your dad. So maybe tell our listeners a little bit more around that post because the post blew up. I know lots of my people in my network had seen it at the same time. I guess a lot of my networking into the same sort of stuff. But tell us tell us about the story.


S2: Yeah. So yeah, I certainly was not prepared for the reaction that that post got. And I'm pleased in one way and saddened in another, which I'll talk about, but. My father was a heavy duty mechanic. He was originally from the Netherlands and had immigrated to to Canada and worked as a heavy duty mechanic for quite a number of years. I was probably about maybe 5 to 7 years away from from retirement and the environment he was in. I mean, it's a rough male dominated environment. And this is this is already 20 years ago. So I'm never going to say it was the healthiest type of workplace. But there was a period of time where there was a new manager brought in and and things went from bad to really, really bad. And this manager was was quite toxic, was a bit of a bully. And my father, being the type of person that he was, was not the sort of person who would stay quiet. He didn't like to take anything from anyone, so to speak. And he certainly didn't like, you know, any of the other guys being picked on. So my dad was never really the one who would end up speaking up, arguing, voicing a contrary opinion, etc.. But this made him quite a target for this manager. And, and so things got quite, quite awful for him in his work environment where he gave and I don't know all the specifics of what happened because obviously I wasn't privy to it, but I just know that he was treated horribly and this led to a number of issues for him, the main one being that he started having trouble sleeping. And I'm sure most of us can all relate to what it's like to have a bad night's sleep or a couple of bad night's sleep. But this started going on for weeks and months and it became a really chronic insomniac problem. And and this went on at least for about seven or eight months, by which point my dad then had to go off on short term disability because there was so much cortisol and adrenaline in his system. He was having a hard time functioning literally like he would just be shaking from the amount of cortisol. However, going off work I think made that even worse because now not only was he not sleeping at night, but he was spending the whole day at home without this sense of purpose, without having something to do, and yet being unable to rest in the way that he would have wanted to rest. And so in that period of time, I would say my father really started to spiral. And now he was seeking a lot of answers from the medical community. They were giving him all types of sleeping pills. They were giving him all types of antidepressants. They were saying, you know, go to counseling and trying whatever they could. And none of it was was working, frankly. And I think my father had also penned a lot of hope on the medical community at that point and was, in fact, going to a sleep institute. And at one point and this was just before Christmas, he had had all these tests and was going back to the Sleep Institute for some answers. And the doctor just said to him, Look, we can't find anything wrong with you. This is all in your head.


S1: Okay?


S2: And that I am pretty sure that that is the day that my father lost all sense of hope. And I had gone back home that year for Christmas. We had spent Christmas together. I could see my dad was in a really tough spot. I was about 30 years old at the time, and after I left and went back, I was living in Ottawa at the time I went back, was off at work, and two weeks later, my father took his own life.


S1: Right. It's it's such a hard story to even process as you're going through that. I'm I'm trying to try to listen to it and and comprehend what that must have been like for for you and your family. So. Yeah, but just talking about that stuff and I can already see like we're, we're getting close to some, you know, personal territory here for you. So I want to be very cautious of this. That's okay. What when you when you when this happened. Okay. Obviously, it's catapulted you into an area of your career that you've you've turned that that experience a trauma into your life. And you're obviously working with the leadership and understanding that and trying to unpack that, presumably as well what happened. But just looking at the scenario from what happened to your dad and what what that person did would be fair to call that toxic. That's that's part of the toxicity kind of that that we're going to be speaking a bit more around in this episode. Was anything done after that? Like was have you explored that with the with the business afterwards?


S2: No. I mean, at the time, again, I wasn't even living in the same city as my parents anymore. I didn't know then what I know now. I mean, ironically so at that stage of my life, I had just recently become a manager a couple of years prior myself for the first time, and I learned very quickly that I didn't know anything about management and leadership. So I had decided. You to do some graduate studies in leadership. And ironically, the last conversation I had with my father was I called to tell him that I'd been accepted into a master's program in leadership. And then a few days later, he was gone. So it did completely shift everything for me. I mean, I don't know exactly what I would have studied in leadership had this not happened. But because of what happened to my dad, I took that leadership program and I turned it into this very clear focus on what is it that leaders do that impacts the health and well-being of their people? Because at the time and this was all so this was about 2004. And at the time, the big thing, at least here in North America, was workplace wellness. And companies were doing things like, oh, we'll have a yoga class at lunchtime and we'll have a, you know, pedometer club, etc.. And I don't want to knock that. Those are that's great. But what no one was talking about really at the time was what about the mental health of people who aren't treated well if there isn't trust and respect and fairness and, you know, and treating each other like human beings, it doesn't matter if they go to a yoga class at lunchtime, if the rest of their day is quite you know D you absolutely. And toxic. So that's really what what what prompted me or catapulted me into the field that I went into in a very specific focus around how do we create workplaces and leaders who have this awareness of what is it like to create a healthy environment versus an unhealthy one?


S1: So toxicity is kind of it's fair to say we understand kind of bad behavior and we know it's probably part and parcel of most businesses around the world. I think we'd be foolish to say that it's not in every business. But I'd like to get your understand your your perspective on some of the the origins of toxicity and what contributes to toxicity in the workplace. One of my theories is trying to understand and unpack power and understand the different types of power within the workplace and how that can contribute to toxicity. But I'd like to get your thoughts on what are the contributing factors to creating a toxic environment.


S2: Yeah, yeah. Well, you're certainly right about the power piece. I mean, that definitely shows that power and control are just some real issues for us as human beings, without question. And one of the biggest challenges and that is also I mean, it's all rooted in ego in some way, shape or form, whether that shows up as power and control or it shows up with a tremendous amount of fear and all kinds of interesting behaviors that get driven by that fundamentally. I mean, I think at the end of the day, it comes down to the fact that when I am no longer able to see you and relate to you as another human being, and I and I, so I start not only behaving in a way, but I even have the mindset of this person I don't see as a person. I see them as an employee, I see them as a number. I see them in some way, shape or form where we now start dehumanizing each other. Oh, that's just, you know, that that's just the union or that's just, you know, that department or that's just that, you know, again, or the employee number, whatever. We don't see each other as human beings. And as soon as that happens in the ego and in the mind, we don't treat each other very well. And it's that it's when we disconnect from others. I mean, there's a really big root around that. I mean, we see it in the world, never mind just in workplaces. As soon as I have literally made that other person them and to them that I don't even that I somehow see as inferior or not as certainly not as competent as me, as smart as me, as whatever as me. It allows me to start treating them in a way like they don't matter that they don't they don't they don't exist at the same level that I would exist as a human being.


S1: Yeah, I tend to agree like it's something I've seen and I've researched for businesses before. Some of the the bits like it said back to me, it's like I feel like a number or people reference their, their employee numbers whenever they go to do certain tasks and they don't speak to them in terms of their first names and stuff. But I guess understanding in the context of the organization, right, so power in terms of hierarchy is up. Is that what you're talking about there? When you mentioned. Yeah, so if you were in organizations, I'd say you're about 20 to 40 people. Okay. And the reason I say 20 to 40 people, because I remember a number of years ago when I was doing work for a business, they said once we moved from 20 and 40 and beyond that space, when I started to lose sight of who was who in the zoo and didn't understand what people were doing, it shifted. The culture completely shifted. Yeah. So what can people do to and it's easy for us to say, like, oh, just learn everyone's names and, you know, learn what they do and stuff. But it gets very difficult when you start moving into hundreds. And what ways are they? What do you recommend to people to to navigate around this?


S2: Yeah, and it's true. It is complex, right? Yeah. And there are no easy answers. And I agree with you, the larger organizations get the more complex it becomes. Because, I mean, as human beings, again, we just can't really operate in large groups of people. It's too impossible to know each other, know each other's names, you know, details about that person's life, etc.. But so one of the ways in organizations is no matter what the size or scale, there have to be smaller units within that size and scale. So when I talk to managers or leaders, for example, who tell me they have, you know, dozens of reports, I know already there's going to be a problem because that's not manageable. It means people don't aren't getting potentially the support and attention that they might need to thrive in their roles. And it means as a manager or a leader, you can't you cannot possibly be effectively leading that many people. Like I don't it's just not going to happen. So so one of the things is making sure that teams are still kept in a smaller container like ideally I think less than ten. But at least whether it's with team leads or however you structure it, but create something where there's still small enough pockets of people, so to speak, that that connection is really alive and create small enough numbers of direct reports so that people are in fact able to build quality relationships as opposed to it's just a line on a chart.


S1: Hmm. One of the things that you mentioned right back there at the start was when you became a manager and you kind of had to learn on the job. Yeah, something that I saw years and years ago when I used to work as a UI developer and designer and the best developer in the team became a manager and they were the best developer. And suddenly they we'd lost the best developer and we'd inherited someone who was learning on the job to become a manager. Now, when an organization goes through that kind of transformation where people are being elevated into managerial or leadership roles, what responsibility is this for the organization to look beyond the daily tasks and into the the behavioral aspects that sometimes people can just carry forward from their own day to day lives? Because it seems to me that you can conform in an organization and ticks all the boxes, but for want of a better word, still be an asshole and still try to.


S2: Yeah. Yeah. And, and it shows up in all different ways. There's, you know, the asshole type, frankly, there's the I'm too nice type, which I'll be honest. That's how I was initially as a manager. I just I wanted to be liked. I wanted I mean, it was important to me to be kind, but that also isn't terribly effective as a manager either, in the sense of in this sense of I was so nice. I wasn't dealing with problems when they showed up. I wasn't being direct with people when there were performance issues or, you know, they weren't they weren't doing, you know, things that they were meant to be doing in their job. So it can actually show up in different ways. And I think too much of anything can create some kind of toxicity in one way, shape or form. But I yeah, I fully agree. One of the big challenges and what organizations have a hard time getting right and again, I understand it, I understand why it happens this way, but they take people who are good at that frontline role, interview them. But we're not looking for the skills of what does it actually take to be a manager behaviorally in terms of your your mindset, your skills, etc.? And then even once they're in that role, how much are they supported in terms of learning and development? And I mean like real learning and development not I get sent off to a course, hopefully learn a couple of skills and hopefully, you know, figure out how to change them myself and apply them. Like one of the challenges in leadership development, I think, is it's also not done in a really systemic and sustainable way, and that makes it hard for people when the onus is just on them, become a leader. You know, you take this course, become a leader, do it all. But but we're not working in a way that's systemic that actually helps you do that. We're counting on individuals to change their own habits and behaviors and mindsets, and we just hope they're going to be successful. And unfortunately, a lot of the time it doesn't work out that way.


S1: Yeah, and it seems that a lot of organizations tend to just look at the business objectives and they kind of look, okay, are we making profit or are we getting more work done or whatever it is. And the the leadership factor that goes into it contributes to the efficiency gains that tends to happen to the manager like, okay, well, yeah, we do this, we, we get more output and they're using the terminology of almost like engines and cars as opposed to thinking in terms of the impact on the people that are doing the work. Like some of the things that I'm seeing at the moment is and it's not too far from home. So we speak in my own life, the shift in the pandemic for people to be at their desks doing Zoom calls nonstop all day and being completely burnt out by 5:00, maybe not even leaving their desk for a quick walk or a breath of fresh air. There's there's an awful lot of that stuff that has crept into our lives over the last couple of years. And it's almost like the the boiling pot of water has got even hotter over the last number of years. And people are burning out like the efficiencies and the goals. The business, everything is is, you know, under pressure. We all know that. But I think the human aspect is often forgotten about, like, what does that look like from the people doing the work? So how can someone who's in that role at the moment who feels like the water is boiling and it's overflowing, how can they challenge this? Because it looks like it's not just going to be at their leaders level. It's going to be at the leaders. Leaders, leaders level potentially. Yeah. About reforming what it means to be a good leader.


S2: Yeah. Yeah, it's an interesting question because the pandemic has changed a lot of things and I think it's accelerated a lot of things, especially in terms of burnout, mental health challenges, etc.. And what I find is particularly unique about this now is it isn't just employees who are experiencing this, it's leaders at all levels. The number of leaders that I work with now who are telling me they're completely burnt out, that they're considering resigning. Right. And being part of this great resignation that we're seeing. So we've got additional challenges because now we've also got leaders who are just as exhausted, just as burnt out on these endless virtual meetings and and and having to deal with things that, frankly, most of them have never wanted to deal with it like dealing with, you know, the pandemic itself and work from home protocols and diversity and inclusion. And like all the complexity of what it means to be a leader today, a lot of them are like, I don't even have time to talk about developing my people and checking in on how they're doing. So so this it all gets really, really complicated. However, in many cases at least, the work that I'm doing with people is about let's come back to basics, which I think is important for all of us to revisit from time to time in terms of what do you really want your life to look like? And and that's an individual question. But then it also becomes a question for. Senior leaders in the organization and as well as teams is what do you really want this to look like in our new reality, whether that has been all remote now with a lot of companies starting to transition to some kind of hybrid or potentially fully back to the office, it's these ongoing conversations of what do we want this to look like and what does that mean for each of us? Or if anything else? What the pandemic, I think, has done in a good way is it's made more of those conversations possible and in fact important to have because things have shifted so dramatically for everyone. So I think we're seeing at least some of that where, you know, companies and teams are starting to talk about what do we want things to look like in this new world? But of course, we have to remember that's an ongoing conversation because it's things are constantly shifting underneath us.


S1: Yeah, it's hard because those things that you just mentioned, they're having people focus on them and doing them well whilst exhausted is is like a cycle. Yeah. It's it's almost a case for this. What I was saying to somebody earlier on today, we need to pause, stop and reflect. And it's yeah, I think a lot of a lot of my peers are at that point now were like, okay, we've we've been on this wheel for two years and I can't imagine what it'd be like working in a huge organization where everyone is exhausted across the board. I'm sure there's lots of snippy emails being bounced back and forth and a lot of people kind of dodging kind of work and so forth, and someone is going to get the brunt of us. So yeah, how how can you frame this? I mean, like, you know. We're at that point and trying to say to people who are so kind of charged and probably so sort of entrenched in that kind of mindset, what can you do to to encourage this time to step back and pause and knock knock with their jobs? I'm not saying that, but take a step back.


S2: Cause yeah, and that's part of it. When I said to come back to basics to again on an individual level, it's helping people get back to whatever healthy really means for them. Because some people some people may have thrived during the pandemic or like, Oh, because I'm working at home, I have more time to take care of myself or more family time. But for some people, it's become I'm more isolated. I'm on these virtual meetings all day and then I'm just scrolling on my cell phone or YouTube until like the wee hours of the morning. So it depends where people are at. But back to basics also means coming back to what does it mean to be a healthy human being? Because I can't even begin to be part of a healthy workplace if I'm not a healthy individual physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually for whatever, whatever that means for people. So that's like a core piece for individuals that I work with. And then it also becomes it began part of the team. So it's also how can we be healthy as a team in terms of how we do the work, how much we're working, how are we treating each other? Because one of the things I am seeing for sure in the pandemic, to your point about, you know, the snippy emails, etc., I've had to do more conflict resolution and more, you know, investigations and more work with really high dysfunction in the last two years than I've seen in a very long time. And I believe, you know, at least just from my experience, that a lot of this is due to the fact that people are suffering more individually at, you know, having a harder time, obviously, dealing with everything that that's been thrown at us. But that's all showing up, of course, and now how they treat each other. And now we have much bigger problems. So it's also getting back to again, remember, this is a human being on the other side of the screen from you. Yeah, this is a human being, you know, and human beings that you are having these meetings with and the remote world, especially, I find, can make it feel even less human to a degree because we don't have to sit there and actually look each other in the eyes. I just have to look at a computer screen and a camera. But I'm not actually looking you in the eyes, and I find it's easier to be much more impersonal with people in this in this environment.


S1: Yeah, absolutely. And one of the things you mentioned there a few minutes ago around leadership, I want to play a bit of a scenario here for you. Okay. So if you imagine you are you are an employee and you are part of a business. And we were working together, the dream team, Sasha. We were together. We had to hire. We had to hire a leader. Okay? We had to hire somebody to join the team. Okay? Like, and they were going to be a peer of ours. What does a good leader look like and what are you looking for in those interviews?


S2: Mm, that's a great question. Yeah. And I and by the way, I think it's a great thing when people get to be part of the interviews for their peers and even their leaders, etc.. I think that's a win win all the way around for people to have a much better idea of what they're getting into, including the person being interviewed. But in terms of, I mean, what to look for in a great leader and sometimes this might depend, of course, on the context of the organization in terms of certain skills, but in general. In general. Yes, I get I look, I get the business piece of you want to look for somebody that you believe can create the results you want. I understand that that is important. There's a reason that you want someone in that position. And fundamentally and of course, this is the piece that often gets missed is you're also looking for somebody who really has the skills to build strong relationships with people, not just upwards, not just with customers or clients, but do they have the skills to build relationships so that people would actually want to engage with them, actually want to follow them as a leader. So I want to look at things like, do they have the ability to even have not only self-awareness but other awareness or certainly some of the emotional intelligence skills, right. That you would want to be looking for? I think those things are particularly key. And, you know, in this day and age, you know, for sure, I want to look at what's their ability to adapt, be flexible and resilient, and can they do that in a way that they not only for themselves, but will they have the awareness and the ability to be able to do that for a team of people?


S1: Yeah.


S2: So it's also fundamentally that strong ability to be a mentor and a coach for people as well, and not just coming from tell all the time, but can you truly coach your people, help bring out the best in them? So that takes a lot of skill and a lot of self-awareness in any individual.


S1: It's funny, the trust thing is something that I was hoping you would say because I wanted to get your perspective on. How can you explore that? How can you how do you know if somebody is good at building trust?


S2: Yeah. Yeah. Well, you learn by experience. Unfortunately. Well, fortunately and unfortunately and this is the hard part with interviews, right, is. Yeah, there's only so much we can really tell in an interview. The truth is where we really see it is once people are on the job, I mean, hence why they we have, I guess probationary periods in the first place. But I mean, an interview can just only tell us so much because trust is built through interaction after interaction after interaction, but within the interview context, I mean, you know, I certainly want to be looking at what is their track record, show me what are their reference. You know, I think reference is maybe underutilized or too often that check the box thing as opposed to really trying to understand what this person's past behavior and experiences has taught us. That's certainly one way. But the truth is, when we get into an interview, we're also making our best guess, as in terms of our experience of that particular candidate. And then, you know, really it's about let's pay very close attention in those first few months because, you know, if if we don't and it turns out this person is not the right fit and we don't catch that early on, we are setting ourselves up for something, you know, potentially, obviously, you know, anywhere from mildly dysfunctional to highly dysfunctional or toxic down the line.


S1: So now now we're getting to a nice point in the conversation because say that person is a is a relatively dysfunctional character and they're able to play the game and they assimilate into the organization behaviors of what yeah. What works for them and how they're able to enable their own professional development. And they slip through the cracks. And within that world employees are getting punished and they can see that that person is a manipulator and is able to work their way upwards very nicely. And the feedback loop is something that I'm really interested in, in particular within organizations, because what I've seen is not always the employees feel confident enough to go above the head of the person that they're reporting into. How can they how can they challenge that without seeming like they're they're disrespecting hierarchy.


S2: Yeah. Are ironically I actually just finished helping a client with a harassment investigation. And the accused in this case or the alleged harasser was the manager. It's been going on for years, years. And the people above had no clue because it was exactly the scenario you're describing where this person was so good at conveying upwards that they were doing this great job and everything was going well, there were some problem employees, etc., etc., you know, and they're in different locations. This is a branch compared to head office. So there wasn't even the physical oversight, especially in the pandemic. So long story short, again, this had been going on for years. Upper management had absolutely no idea until one employee decided to call. And it was an employee who had just given their notice and called because this person had been with the company for 30 years and she's and decided that they were going to tell them why I'm actually leaving. Partly because of that call that the light bulbs went on of, oh, like this. This doesn't match what we thought was happening. We better we better look into this further. And so they asked for my help with that. And we just I mean, we just opened up Pandora's box, quite frankly, and found like a host of all this bad behavior happening. And and and and it's unfortunate that it went on so long. Would it have changed earlier? I don't know. I just know this is how it happened. But what I do know is why doesn't upper management do something? And sometimes they're right. Sometimes upper management turns a blind eye because I have seen those scenarios too. But in a number of cases, I've also seen the fact that upper management had no clue, and it was because of the bravery of one employee that the whole situation was able to be turned around. So I would say to anyone in these types of situations, if you've got to test it, at least to find out, is there going to be a response and is there help out there? Because unfortunately, if no one gets told we can't deal with the problem we don't know about. Yeah. So it's a tricky one for sure, that feedback loop because I appreciate it's not always safe. And in a case like this one, the manager had convinced the team that there was no point in saying anything to upper management because they would always have their back, which wasn't actually true. But of course you don't know that when you're the person on the front lines.


S1: Yeah. In your experience, when leadership have been alerted to this scenario and you may have to coach that person who is the offender in this instance, you know, is there hope? Is there hope for that person to make the leap? And if so, let's talk about the mindset and the kind of work that you do to improve that person.


S2: Yeah, there is hope. There's there's not always, you know, for sure. But but in a number of cases, there is hope. Because one of the things I've seen over the years is it's surprising in one way how many offenders and I like your word on that offender is bullies, whatever you want to call them, the bad behaviors, how many of them are actually clueless about their behavior and the impact? And that might seem odd to to a some of us who are like, I don't understand how that's even possible. But people learn they learn it from somewhere, whether they learned it in their families growing up, whether they learned it in the workplaces that they were in. I mean, in some cases, we're still seeing the legacy of errors of management, of command and control, etc., that don't fit in our world anymore. But some people grew up in that and that's what they knew. So that's how they behave. And as an example, I mean, I worked with a leader many years ago. We did an employee engagement survey and the results were vicious, like this person is a bully, you know, I mean, it was and it all came out in the survey because it was anonymous, which, again, I always think is a good thing if this stuff is going to come out. The leader and the manager in this case was absolutely stunned, thought he had truly believed. I thought that's how you did things. Like that's how I you know, that was the type of leadership I had. It was very like, yeah, you know, tear you apart, too. But the idea being that if I tear you apart, it'll make you work harder, so to speak. So if I criticized you, belittled you, it would make it would push you harder. That's what he had learned. And it had worked for him because he responded to that. And so he just thought that was how he was supposed to lead. So it was a very hard weekend for him looking at those survey results. And his ego, of course, certainly got highly defensive, reactive, etc., and he did consider quitting. Then he called me back and he said, I'm ready to do the work that it takes because I don't want to be that person that they see. I want to be somebody who's actually seen as a leader in this in this case and many cases since. But but I think of him as a prime example, because it was the first time for me where I went, Oh, if the person really wants to change, they can absolutely change and add on. I mean, I'm pleased to say he's a brilliant success story because he's gone on to become someone who is beloved by his team and is completely shifted. And I've seen various iterations of that over the years as well. Where people really come to understand and own is the big part. In the hardest part for the ego is with my own taking responsibility for my actions and my impact, then I can change them as long as I stay in denial and deflection and blame and pointing the finger elsewhere in justification, it's impossible to change. So that for me becomes. The. The. The. He is that if I if the manager or whatever position they're in, if they're willing to take responsibility, then anything is possible in terms of being able to change that.


S1: Absolutely. On the blame thing, I remember a great piece of advice being given to me many years ago when I worked at MySpace and wrote way back in the day and I was young and I was relatively immature. And I was I was promoted to a head of role at 29. That was the days, the heady days of early tech. And I was blaming I was blaming people and I was, you know, naive. And my then boss, Nick, was a remarkable guy. He said, be careful. He said, you point the finger and five or come back from from that moment it stuck with me. And it's one of the things that I carried with me through it. So I was like, Oh, yeah, that's a really good point. You know, so blame or one of the factors that I'm always looking for whenever I'm coaching, I'm saying, okay, are they accepting responsibility or how do they handle the finger pointing thing? Because it's very easy to do, but it's also very dangerous in my experience.


S2: Yeah, yeah. Big time. And that's usually one of the key indicators that someone is not taking responsibility is when they're busy blaming other people. Yeah. And, and I get it. It's a completely normal human behaviour and a natural instinct to want to make the problem outside of ourselves. And I'm not saying that the problem doesn't exist outside of us sometimes. Of course it does. But we all have a part to play in it. Sometimes my part is I stay silent and I don't speak up for myself. Sometimes my part is I get defensive. My part might also be again in this case, if I especially my part is I don't accept responsibility for my part of the problem, well then we can't fix it. And that's especially true because the longer we wait for somebody else to change or the situation to change, we can be waiting forever. Whereas if I take responsibility for my part in it and the choices that I have available to me, I can change it really quickly because we're always at choice. And I think as humans, we tend to forget that.


S1: Absolutely. It's it's a really important point you're making. And I want to talk a little bit more before we we start moving on. In your work that you do okay. And I know you're extremely busy, so I'm I'm conscious of your time today. But we mentioned about the role of mindset and how this is doing my, my other business that we, we teach me, we train, we work with organisations, we teach them new skills, many around design and innovation. But when we originally connected, we were talking a lot more around the development of mindset and the right mindset and a lot of this falls down to the poor behaviours that we're discussing there. The work that needs to go into the mindset can't happen in a short space of time. It happens a on a longitudinal space. I want to get your understanding about how you approach these behaviors and why would a typical kind of I wouldn't say I don't like saying the word solution, but it responds probably. How would you respond to an organisation when you were being brought in? What does that look like?


S2: Yeah, yeah. In the work that I do and again is because I've been doing leadership development for many years and I would say I started, like a lot of people in leadership development do, which is I'll run some workshops and teach some people some skills and they'll just naturally become better leaders. And then I was surprised to find out that that didn't always play out very well because again, it was the model of go to a course. I hope they learn they take it all in and then hope they can actually apply it. And there are two big things that have really shifted for me and how I do that work now. One is the mindset, and two is setting up a structure that actually helps support that behaviour and that mindset change in a sustainable way. So the mindset piece first and foremost really came to light for me because I would do these, you know, these workshops, these training sessions, etc. leaders would learn some skills. And then I was seeing all different versions of how those skills were applied, which led me to get really curious about. Well, to me, I thought that was straightforward. Why is it not being used this way? But it was. I started exploring that. It also came down to what's the mindset of the leader in the first place. So, for example, take a leader who has a mindset of. I know more. I'm more competent. I'm better at this. This is why, therefore, why I'm a manager. Take that mindset. Let's call it a superiority mindset. Give that person some more skills, let's say around conflict or communication, etc. Those skills start becoming highly manipulative. Yeah. Where I'm now literally using that skill on people to get more of what I want to show, even more so how superior I am, etc.. That's just an example of the mindset. If that doesn't shift, the behaviors show up in all kinds of interesting ways. Whereas instead I'm looking for the mindset of and the work that I do with people is developing the mindset of. And it's not only growth mindset because I know that that's really well known and and understood in a lot of cases. So growth mindset is a piece of it in terms of understanding that I can continue to grow and evolve and learn anything. But even beyond that, I'm actually looking for what I call the transformer mindset, which is I get that what I'm doing has meaning and it has impact. And I also understand that everything I do and say is interconnected with other human beings. There's no such thing as it's just me. And and there's a there's a very big contrast in those mindsets, as opposed to the mindset that's constantly looking at what's in it for me, what am I going to get out of this? The much more individualistic mindset that doesn't work. It doesn't work in general for us as humans, but it definitely doesn't work for leaders. And so part of that work is helping people become highly self aware of what mindsets are actually driving them. And when people don't know, the best way you can tell is what results are you getting? Because the results will always indicate what are the what is the mindset that created it in the first place. So I'm having trouble in all my relationships or a good chunk of them. I can tell you full on, I don't have a connected or a transforming mindset. I have a highly individualistic, you know, potentially superior mindset, victim mindset, you name it. But you can always tell by what the results are.


S1: We're coming towards the end of the episode. Sasha, if people want to reach out to you, connect with you. Because I know what we've discussed here is it's highly informative, but it's also people might want to follow up with you and ask you questions yourself. I know you're popular on LinkedIn at the moment.


S2: Yes.


S1: You cover that one off already. So I'll put a link to your your LinkedIn anyway. So for people to follow along and maybe connect you there, but if they want to check out your website and stuff, what's the website to check out?


S2: Yeah, absolutely. The website is dynamic achievement dot com. And and that gives a flavour of all the work that we do with organizations, especially around mindset, around culture at an organisational level. If people really want to get a sense of because we talk about what we call cultures of excellence and mindsets of excellence, if people want to get a sense of where do I think my culture is at? We do have a free scorecard, takes only a minute or two to complete, which allows you to do that and then have a complimentary conversation with us. Just to get a sense of what do we think would be important for your organisation to take a look at and for individuals as well, whether it's around executive coaching, leadership coaching, they're welcome to check that out as well and reach out any time.


S1: I'll definitely put links to those in the show notes, but thanks so much for your time. So I really thoroughly enjoyed speaking this way, so take care. So there you have it. That's all for this episode of Bringing Design Closer. If you like this episode, feel free to visit this excited e-comm where you can access our back catalogue of over a hundred episodes with episodes related to service design, product management, design, research, and much, much more. If you're interested in design and innovation training, feel free to check out our business. This is doing dotcom where you can join online classrooms and learn from the world's best design and innovation leaders. Join that. This is eight city newsletter where you receive updates from the network and also, if you're interested, apply to join the Slack community. And this is AECOM. Stay safe and until next time, take care.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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