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The Most Successful Ways To Align Your Leadership Team, with Guest Claire Chandler

Claire Chandler is an Executive Leadership Advisor and Founder of Talent Boost. Using her 25 years of experience in people leadership, human resources, and business ownership, she helps leadership teams work together more effectively in less time and with less cultural resistance, to accelerate business growth.



Claire Chandler


Executive Leadership Advisor

and Founder


TALENT BOOST








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Graham: Hello everybody and welcome to this edition of The Coaching Conversation. I'm pleased to say that I'm joined by my guest this week, Claire Chandler, who's joining us from New Jersey, USA, and is the founder of Talent Boost. Our conversation this time is going to be all about the most successful ways to align your leadership team - and crikey, that's a challenge and a half! So, Claire, you've got all the answers! Welcome to The Coaching Conversation - could you please tell our audience more about you, what being a talent therapist is all about and how you help your clients deal with their challenges?


Claire: Sure. The title of Leadership Therapist or Talent Therapist is a bit tongue-in-cheek. It has stemmed from my deep work with my clients. I'll tell you a little bit of my history, but I will be brief about it. I spent the first two decades or so of my career within corporate America as a full-time employee, most recently as an HR executive leader, and I formed my company, Talent Boost a little bit over 10 years ago now in late 2013 so I could help those executive leaders - in particular, HR leaders - in having faced the problems and the challenges that they continue to face and knowing through my own experience and through my own best practices, that there is a way out. There is a way toward an easier method of attracting, retaining and accelerating the right talent. So that is my speciality and through that work, I work with teams of leaders across organisations that are big and growing, it's my 1:1 work with executive HR leaders that I find quite rewarding.


And it's where the term Leadership Therapist stemmed from. I often find that HR leaders, like most leaders, find themselves as they ascend through the corporate ladder feeling more and more isolated to feel as if they cannot be truly themselves, fully vulnerable, fully authentic. And so I create a space for them through our work together where it's not quite coaching, but it's more of a sounding board where they can unload and be completely themselves and unpack the challenges they're facing without putting a varnish on it of trying to project this persona that they have all the answers and they have all the confidence and invariably through those conversations, my clients will say to me "Why does this always feel like a therapy session?" It feels so good to unload and sort of speak freely without worrying. Am I on message? Am I speaking to the right talking points? So that's really where that title, although tongue-in-cheek, came about.


Graham: I might steal it! Talking of titles, Talent Boost is a really interesting name for a business, particularly focused exclusively towards HR leaders. What made you concentrate on that? Where did that come from?


Claire: I ended up focusing my niche around HR leaders in particular, although I do counsel other operational and business leaders, because my corporate experience culminated in an executive HR position, it is the position that I understand the most deeply. And it is the one that gravitates toward me in terms of looking for that type of help. When I founded the company in 2013, I didn't set out to focus solely on HR or just on the large corporate audience. That's morphed and has evolved. I knew from the beginning that the term Talent Boost when I was coming up with a name for the company, and I kept coming back to that.


There was this mantra in my head that has become the talent of the tagline for the company from the very beginning. Which is talent isn't born, it's boosted. I truly do believe that everyone has it within them, both individually and organisationally, to be amazing. And the work that I do is not about implanting in them something that they don't already possess. It's about shining a light on that and helping them to bring it out in more unique and full ways.


Graham: That's interesting and in these days where the talent market is short of talent, the ability to acquire skilled people is a challenge and therefore it turns on itself to develop from within, to attain from within. It's a real problem of the moment that I think most Western societies are experiencing quite hard at the moment


Claire: Without question. I think it is very much a talent market right now. It is a candidates market. I think 10, 20, 30 years ago, we were warned about this. We were warned that the war for talent would be coming and I think the global pandemic accelerated a bit. That sense of urgency around all organisations to take better care of the talent that they have, and to your point to nurture the raw materials that are within their organisation that are perhaps not performing at an optimal level, or behaving completely in alignment with the core values. But when the raw materials are there, you have a good opportunity to help build that from within to your point. And I think that is where more organisations need to be focusing their efforts.


Graham: I see that in my practice. There's, there's no doubt our client base is much more in tune with recognising they can't just hire what they want. They've either got to grow it or they've got to look hard and be a destination of choice for people who want to work in their space. So it's not an easy challenge at all.


Coming on to your clients - you mentioned that your clients are HR executives. We talk about the search for talent being one of their challenges. What were the other kinds of challenges you find they are most frequently faced with?


Claire: I would say there are four main challenges that they face or four main symptoms of that larger problem around talent, and it's all related to talent and culture. I think those main challenges, the way that they show up are what I would call low attraction. So, to your earlier point, the inability of an organisation, and this is not just unique to each of our leaders, but they tend to be at the forefront of trying to face the problem but of low attraction and getting the right talent into the door lined up and ready to work for that organisation. So that's problem one.


I think problem two is very keenly felt by all organisations, which is low retention. The flip side of that is high turnover, obviously, but the inability of organisations to retain talent for a longer period. Because I think the generations in the workforce have changed, or the newer entrance into the workforce are not looking for a cradle-to-grave career experience. They are looking for somewhere to spend their time around a mission, a culture and a team environment that pulls them in and gives them energy, but also gives them the freedom and the flexibility to pursue their other passions. And so that's a real challenge for organizations.


I think the third problem or challenge that HR executives in particular are facing is around low engagement. I know that the word engagement sounds like such an HR cliche, but it is truly a problem across organisations when people do not feel compelled or driven, or even incentivized internally to lean in and go above and beyond with their job description dictates that they should do that is when organisations lose competitive advantage. They lose market share. They lose customers and they ultimately lose more employees.


And fourth challenge, which is the culmination of these first 3, is what I call a low or internal higher rate. So, coming back to your earlier point about this, this challenge that to this point has not been sufficiently addressed building talent within the way that is showing up is in key succession gaps. Throughout an organisation, the leaders at the top of the hierarchy are starting to move on, because, by the way, their tenure is shorter and shorter. They are no longer staying in a CEO or even chief HR officer role. For 30 years anymore, they're staying for 3 to 5. If they don't have people behind them, ready to step in and continue the momentum and continue that legacy. They're facing a real problem, so I think all 4 of those challenges. come together to create not just a big problem for organisations, but a key opportunity if they choose to seize it and to see it in that, in that light.


Graham: Yeah. The difference is between success and failure, isn't it? If you seize the opportunity, if you deal with it constructively and effectively, you have a competitive edge.

If you don't, you're giving that competitive edge to somebody else. It really is that uncomplicated. Looking specifically at your client base, are they typically larger corporates or are they small to medium-sized enterprises? What would a typical client for you be?


Claire: My clients do run the gamut from startup companies that are in that next period of evolution where they're trying to evolve to a more mature, more structured, more professional way of operating, all the way through to global organisations. But I would say the sweet spot in terms of my client work is a large growing organisation. Large can be anything from 3500 employees to 100,000 employees. But it's those organisations that are growing and are starting to seize on more volume, I would say growth. So, whether that's mergers and acquisitions, whether that's expansion into a new region or a new line of business. More organisations are trying to set themselves apart or understand that they can't grow one new hire at a time. They have to grow in a much more intentional and exponential way.


Graham: One of the aspects that interests me around this, particularly sharing your experience before we delve deep into how to align leadership teams, the kind of internal cultures that you find, how do they play into the kinds of challenges that your HR clients are facing?


Claire: Culture to me is foundational to business success. There is scarcely an HR executive who fails to understand that at this point, and I think the good news is more operational leaders, COOs, and CEOs are starting to understand that culture is not nice to have, it's a business imperative. Culture can make or break your business. And what do we mean by that? The culture is the fabric, the tapestry of your organisation, it is the way that your workforce shows up. It is the reason that they believe it's the reason they feel they belong, and it is mostly impacted by the leadership at the top.


I think one of the myths of culture is that it grows organically from the bottom or just sort of forms naturally over time. The organisations that have differentiated themselves do truly understand and embrace that the leadership at the top has the biggest impact on the culture of a company, and that culture again can make or break the business.


So, leaders need to understand that we no longer live in an environment where they can walk into a room and say, do as I say, not as I do, they are starting to get the fact that their employees are watching. I was joking yesterday about if you have young children, you learn the hard way that they are always listening, even if they're 3 rooms away, and you have to be very mindful of not just the words that you say, but the behaviour that you model for them.

And it's the same with leadership in a culture if the way that they are showing up in an organisation. is disconnected from the values and the standards that they are trying to hold other people to account, then that disconnect is going to result in a lot of these problems that I talked about earlier.


Graham: There is no way of abdicating responsibility for the way things get done around here. If you are the leader, if you're the chief exec, chairman, whatever the title is, if you're the head honcho person in that organisation, it sits with you, the way you behave drives everything else and you can't hide behind anything, unfortunately.


So, turn to the most successful ways to align your leadership team. Tell me more. What have you learned in this area and what techniques have you developed?


Claire: Again, it starts with, and this is going to this is going to sound like a nice to have, or almost squishy, but it has to start from the inside out. It has to start with leaders being of the mindset that they are culture shapers. They are no longer just the leaders of an empire, the builders of an organisation, the value of the business is far more driven now by those intangible assets lurking within an organisation, everything from your talent and your culture to the intellectual property and institutional knowledge, all of those things either feed or dilute your brand - the brand that you project out to the market, to prospective clients and prospective employees. Leaders need to understand first and foremost, that their role is as culture shapers, but more than that, to get them aligned across a leadership team from the executive level on down, they have to have full clarity around what they're in business to accomplish.


Simon Sinek - I'm sure, you know, the name - is a huge thought leader in this concept of starting with why. And his premise, which I deeply believe in is that the companies, the organisations set themselves apart, understand not just what they do and how they do it, but why they are in business in the first place. And it's that clarity around the aspiration of a company that has to start with the leaders. The leaders have to be able to not just believe in the aspiration of their company, their mission, their vision, and their values, but go out and stand in this place of deep conviction around why that is their purpose, why it is so unique and why they deeply believe in it.


I think too often executive leaders, especially CEOs rise to that level because they happen to be quite charismatic and what ends up happening is when that is a tool that is misused. They go out and they try to sell the workforce on the mission. They try to sell prospective clients on why you should do business with us rather than standing in that place of deep conviction. This is why we are here. This is why I believe in that, and this is why I come back and continue to give my all every day. So, aspirational clarity, if you will, is the first step toward alignment.


I think the second piece of that, and again, if we think of this concept of growing and working on leadership alignment from the inside out, is around self-awareness. A lot of leaders, when we hear this phrase, this narcissistic leader challenge bandied about far too often - and I am not a licensed therapist, nor am I a licensed organizational psychologist - but I know plenty of folks in that space who are doing a lot of really great work. It is not that they have all the answers. It is that they are confident enough in what they know, and they don't know to be able to say, I don't know the answer to that. And that's the reason I have surrounded myself with a team who thinks differently than I do and maybe knows a few things that I certainly don't. And so that self-awareness around what are your strengths, what are your internal motivations, and equally importantly, what are your blind spots, what are the gaps that you need to fill in with the right team? So self-awareness, I think, is that second piece.


I would say the third piece - and this is not in descending order - these are equally important. So, alongside aspirational clarity and self-awareness is this idea of trust. And trust is a relatively small word for a very big element of cultures that get it versus cultures that don't. It takes a while to build up trust within teams and across teams, especially at the leadership level. And once it's broken, it takes even longer to rebuild it. But trust is essential to positive cultures that will put their shoulder to the wheel and help you collectively achieve your mission. The right leaders, the self-aware leaders, the ones who are clear and send their deep conviction around why they're in that role, to begin with. What they bring to the table and what they lack. And then, how do they empower through delegation, transparency through vulnerability? Their teams do more than perhaps they could have done alone and in ways that they can impart trust, nurture, trust and be authentic around demanding trust. I think those three are the critical fundamental building blocks for aligning the leadership team.


Graham: When you're working with that HR executive, and you're looking to help them start their journey towards a more aligned leadership team. And you've talked about the background of these key elements. Are there tools, or techniques that you use to help them to develop trust, to develop self-awareness, to encourage the alignment that you're looking for? How do you go about doing that?


Claire: The short answer to that is there's no one magic pill. If there were, I would be a billionaire by now, right? I can't just go into an organisation, say, "Take this pill with some water, and then you will instantly be aligned and trustworthy" and, and all those sorts of things. It does take time. We're planting seeds, right? But absolutely, there are tools. I am a very big advocate of assessment tools when used in the right way and are used to open up conversations, not standalone tools that are going to fix everything. What often ends up happening is a new client will reach out to me and say, whether it's the HR executive or an operational executive, "we're reporting this in January, we're embarking on a new performance year and we want to get everybody aligned on our strategic plan. We want to build out the roadmap for getting there over the next 3 to 5 years". And invariably, that's where they want me to start and I will always say to them, I'm happy to come in and facilitate a strategic planning session with your leadership team, but that has to be day-to-day. We have to work on the dynamics within your team.


Some business leaders, HR leaders kind of get that they say, okay, yeah, we've got it. We've got a sort of forum before we can brainstorm and all of that sort of thing. Operational leaders need a little bit more. It doesn't matter how brilliant your growth strategy is. Might be your strategic plan it doesn't matter how clearly you might outline your milestones for how you're going to get there over the next 3 to 5 years. If you have not worked on forming and strengthening the dynamics within that leadership team from the top down first, you're never going to get them to cooperate to the level that they're going to need, to achieve that strategy. Because we all know from experience, no strategy goes off without a hitch every time, unless it's a 1-day strategy and, you know, exactly what the weather's going to be 8 hours from now, every strategic plan has the potential to go off the rails, or at least to meet with unforeseen obstacles and challenges.


If the team does not trust each other or if the team does not understand at least a little bit of the humanity in the room, if they don't start from a place of common ground with humanity first, they're not going to know how to navigate these course corrections. They're not going to know how to put down their turf wars and their defensiveness around their little empire or force them into let's cooperate. Let's maybe sacrifice a little bit of gain here so that we can come together and coalesce around this.


So, it is really important on that first day that we kind of work through whether it's a half day or a full day, aided by some assessment tools, like I mentioned earlier, but really to open up a conversation to get people to understand where is their place of common ground first. If we don't do that groundwork of helping people understand how they can deeply connect on a human level, they're not going to know how to work together or even be willing to work together when the stuff hits the fan.


Graham: It's interesting because the parallel is very direct with one-to-one executive coaching in the sense that you've got to open the mind to change, haven't you? You've got to open your mind to accepting that the journey's about to start. So where are we now? What's good about now? What's not so good about now? What's working well and what's not working so well? And what do I need to work on to move to where I want to get to?

And it's the same, but on a team basis where you mentioned alignment, but you also mentioned trust. And trust is a very difficult word when you're dealing with the C suite.


Claire: And it's also why it's important. I think you're touching upon this, when I work with teams and I'm sure you do the same, that one one-on-one dynamic between myself and, that client, whether it's the HR executive or someone on their team or one of their peers, for that very reason, you can't necessarily bring all of them together, especially when they are in the executive level and expect them to demonstrate vulnerability right out of the gate.


The first person to do that is always the hardest one. it's always the bravest one right? And so I tend to do a lot of 1:1 work with each person before they walk into that room. Firstly, so they're a little bit more warmed up to what is going to unfold through the day as a group and secondly so that they trust me. They understand that my job is not to give them the answers but to create an environment where they can pull them out of themselves and out of each other in a way that is productive and in a way that's going to move the needle so that when they then tackle that strategic plan the next day, they can do it from a place of collaboration. They can do it from a place of negotiation versus defending their turf. And it's, so it's important to do that, that work one on one, which is part of where that, that concept of leadership therapy comes in, because you have to get them to, to be vulnerable, to be self-aware, to admit to what they don't know. And if they've never practised that and you don't give them that space to do that one-on-one, they're going to be far more reticent doing that in a group setting.


Graham: Yeah. And obviously, different members of the C suite have different responsibilities and different priorities. Different everything really, both personal genders as well as professional genders. And for me, the trust element that you're just describing doesn't replace the fact that they're going to receive a challenge. It doesn't replace the fact that they're going to be in an environment where they're tested and got to come up to the mark, we're not talking about making life easy, we're just saying that where that challenge comes from is a good place, it's designed to support the organisation, not pick on an individual, and it's very difficult to create that where there has been a history of all sorts of challenge that's not been well motivated, that's been confusing, or been very self-centred. So, there is a strong foundation, but it's a big, big piece if you are going to get people aligned because they're, they're going to look forward in the same direction, they don't want to be looking over their shoulder. At the same time, right?


Claire: I find that it is challenging both for teams that have leadership teams that have worked together for a long period, because to your point, there is a history that builds up from working together, but there is also a history of slights. There's a history of interactions that did not go well, there's a history of non-cooperation that you have to help them overcome by stripping that away and helping them reconnect as humans. The other challenge, though, is with newly formed teams.


As I mentioned earlier, a lot of organisations are growing through mergers and acquisitions and these are the types of companies that will call me and say, we've got this newly combined executive leadership team, they're coming from each of the legacy companies and then we've got, some brand new leaders from the outside and we need them all to get on the same page in terms of our strategy. And it is just as important in that environment to do that work around team dynamics first, because if they walk in cold, they're not going to buy into the strategy. They're not going to know how to work with each other. And more importantly, they're not going to be willing to try.


Graham: Do you use any other techniques like psychometric profiling or 360s?


Claire: The assessment tools that I use are psychometric assessments. They're a combination of DISC, and a value index, to measure what intrinsically or internally motivates a unique individual. And then the index of an attribute. What's interesting is. A lot of people use DISC as a standalone, and I think DISC is interesting, but it's not terribly actionable. It kind of measures the degree, the tendencies, and how people prefer to show up in different environments. The values index is very interesting because it then helps people understand what uniquely motivates them what drives them and what re-energizes them so they can be more mindful about refilling that cup.


But the attributes index to me is the most interesting because it is the tool that I happen to use to evaluate the way that we take in information about the world around us. And there are three main lenses for that. There's 1, that's sort of this big-picture strategic mindset. There's one, that's more practical, really focusing on solving the immediate problem in the moment. And then there's this empathy filter, this natural ability to read the room and understand how things are landing on the people there and. Everyone approaches a situation differently and makes decisions unconsciously. An overwhelming majority of the time, and if we don't unpack that, and if we don't understand how we specifically and instinctively.


Process a scene and how that may be different from other people in the room that we are trying to get along with or, you know, a shared mission. Then we're missing that groundwork, and we're finding that we're meeting resistance on that day, too, when we're talking about strategic planning because we didn't do the work to understand that they may be looking at the scene that the same scene, the same variables, the same circumstances, the same people who are going to be impacted, but from very different lenses. So people need to understand. The way that I take in a situation is unique to me. What drives me and what motivates me in that situation is unique to me. And the more dialled in I am to that, and the more that I understand that if I play in my areas of strength and help you to play in yours, we're not going to be competing with each other. We're going to complement each other. And so that's where the fun begins.


Graham: What kind of role do you think diversity plays in this? When you've got a team of people that are perhaps. all the same, or people who are different ages, sexes, ethnic minorities, whatever, how do you think that plays out?


Claire: I love a diverse group, not because diversity is the buzzword, but because I truly believe that the more variety you can bring into the room in terms of frames of reference in terms of past experiences in terms of the life lessons and the, the career trajectories that have imprinted on us before we walk into the room. I think makes for a richer conversation if people are willing to go there and that's where that facilitation, something that I can bring to the table is so important because if you just sort of throw a whole bunch of very different, very diverse people into a room and expect them to just break down walls and have a deeper conversation. You're missing an opportunity, right? It often does take somebody from the outside to again, create an environment where they don't feel threatened to share that. They feel invited and they're immediately rewarded. By doing that, I believe that diversity of thought, and experience of opinion makes for a richer decision-making process, it makes for a more actionable plan and it makes for a more innovative company. When we hire people who all look like us, think like us, and believe what we do, you may get to consensus faster, but you're going to play it safe. You're not going to see other angles and you're certainly not going to be as innovative as your competitors.


Graham: And by definition, you must be limiting your opportunities. One of the interesting summary aspects of the approach is it reinforces the importance of emotional intelligence as a management and leadership skill. The more you know yourself, the better you can manage yourself, but also the more you understand everybody around you the more you can improve your influence over them. And everything you've just described, just reinforces that the leaders of tomorrow do need to be highly skilled with emotional intelligence. It's a priority these days. I've found in my coaching practice, as well as management leadership practice, that the younger generation is often more socially aware, but not necessarily emotionally intelligent. And whilst they're aware of themselves, they're not necessarily aware of other people, which is a challenge for them in their personal development. So as we were talking earlier about Boosting Talent - I think that's an area that could be of use to everybody going forward.


Claire, is there anything that we've not touched on in terms of the way you work with your clients that you'd like to make sure we highlight?


Claire: I just want to touch upon what you just said because I think it is such a keen observation and this challenge is only going to get compounded over time. This is where we get into the kids today portion of the conversation, right? But the generations that are entering the workforce now are indeed diverse, they have a completely different worldview than we did. And they have been aided from the jump by technology by automation, by ways to do the grunt work that you and I did earlier in our career to pay our dues that now is automated for them.


We have ALEXA to fulfil my every wish which is wonderful, and it's interesting because, as you say, they are more socially aware than the generations that came before them. But are not as emotionally intelligent, I think. They have a real opportunity to help us, the rest of us who have blazed the trail ahead of them to become more efficient in how we get work done. But they need to leverage that as a means of creating capacity, not as a substitute for interaction in the real world. Right? I think it is true.


And I don't want to oversimplify this because I don't want to do a disservice to the generations coming behind us. But it is almost too easy to just let automation create this perception that we have deeper relationships than we do. The rise of Facebook taught us that the number of friends we have on Facebook must be some sort of direct reflection of how popular we are or how deep those relationships go. And actually, the opposite is true. It has created this false perception that we have deeper ties in the world than we really do.


So I would challenge those younger generations to truly leverage technology, the automation in ways in which it was intended, which is to create the capacity for you to go out, find your passion, interact with other people and impact the world on a global scale.


Graham: Well, this is a subject we could pick up on, which wasn't what we intended to do when we started this coaching conversation! Thank you for your time. I enjoyed chatting with you and for our audience, how could they find you?


Claire: Thank you for the opportunity to come onto your stage. I've thoroughly enjoyed the conversation as well. People can reach me on my business website talentboost.net or my personal branded site, which is ClaireChandler.net I am also on LinkedIn. So I invite anyone to reach out and say hello. If you like what you've heard, I am working on a new book that deeply explores the framework that I've used to help align leadership teams and align talent strategies and business strategies. It's called Growth On Purpose. I am aiming to get it out early in Q1 of this year, and if you're interested in getting on the waiting list for that, just go to growthonpurpose.com


Graham: Thank you, Claire and Goodbye.

 

Connect with Claire: Website: talentboost.net/claire LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/clairechandlersphr

 

That was the latest edition of The Coaching Conversation.

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