The Seismic Shift in Leadership with Michelle Johnston

Reading Time: 18 Minutes

In this episode with Michelle Johnston, we discuss her new book, The Seismic Shift in Leadership.

Takeaways We Learned From Michelle:

Connection is key.

Meaningful connections with people, both in professional and personal settings, are essential for driving business results and overall satisfaction and happiness.

Connection starts with self-awareness.

Before connecting with others, it’s important to first connect with yourself. Understanding your strengths, weaknesses, voice, and story allows you to show up authentically and effectively in your leadership role.

Authenticity at work.

Authenticity is a buzzword, but it’s important to strike a balance between being authentic and maintaining emotional intelligence in the workplace. Finding the right level of authenticity and knowing when and how much to share requires self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Connection with team.

Connection with your team is crucial for effective leadership. If you’re not connected with yourself, it’s challenging to connect with your team. Building meaningful connections with your team members helps foster trust, collaboration, and better performance.

Let go of perfection.

Perfectionism can hinder connection and leadership effectiveness. Embracing your journey, being vulnerable, and giving up the need to be perfect allows you to connect with others on a deeper level and create a more inclusive and supportive work environment.

Connection is a continuous process.

Building and maintaining connections is an ongoing process that requires intentional effort. It’s not a one-time task, but rather a mindset and skill that needs to be nurtured and developed continuously to drive positive results in your business and personal relationships.

Embrace change and reimagine work processes.

Michelle advises her clients to blow everything up and reimagine everything, including work processes, work formats, meetings, and company events. This is especially important in light of the seismic shift in leadership and the changing needs of employees during the pandemic.

Create opportunities for connection and dialogue.

Michelle encourages CEOs and leaders to focus on creating more conversations and dialogue in company events, rather than one-way, transactional communication. Employees crave connection, especially in remote work environments, and leaders should prioritize creating opportunities for meaningful connection among employees.

Traditions and events are important for connection.

Michelle highlights the importance of traditions and events that are bigger than individual jobs in creating a sense of connection and commitment among employees. Even if revenues are down, it’s important to maintain traditions such as Christmas parties as a way to bring people together and build a sense of community.

Emphasize creativity and innovation.

Michelle cites examples of companies like Qualcomm that prioritize face-to-face meetings and encourage creativity and innovation in their approach to fostering connection among employees. Leaders should be open to disrupting traditional ways of doing things and come up with creative solutions to foster connection in remote work environments.

About Michelle Johnston

Our guest today is Dr. Michelle K. Johnston who is the Gaston Chair of Business at Loyola University New Orleans’ College of Business. Dr. Johnston is an executive coach with over 20 years’ experience, and she was named to the prestigious 100 Coaches Group which consists of the top executive coaches around the world.

Michelle has a Ph.D in Communication from Louisiana State University, and her new book shares what she has learned in her years as an executive coach: primarily that connection drives results and is the key to a leader’s success.

Read the Transcript

Allison: Welcome back to the Deliberate Leaders podcast. I am your Host and Executive Business Coach Allison Dunn. Our topic today is the seismic shift in leadership. Our guest is Dr. Michelle Johnston. She is an executive coach who holds her PhD in communications from Louisiana State University, and is the author of The Seismic Shift and Amazon Best Seller. Michelle, thank you so much for joining us here today on Deliberate Leaders.

Michelle: Oh, thank you so much, Ali. I was really looking forward to coming on to your Deliberate Leaders podcast. Thank you.

Allison: Fantastic. I so love to kick these off with a deliberate conversation. What would be your number one leadership tip for our listeners today?

Michelle: Yeah, so all of my research is, has been finding that that old command and control leading with Power Authority is just not effective anymore.

The number one tip I can give your listeners is really make those connections deliberate. Now, I’m not talking about networking, like how many connections you have, I’m talking about truly meaningfully connecting with your people first, in an intentional way, that’s what drives business results.

Allison: Yeah. I love that tip. Because I think, you know, when we think about it, from a leadership perspective, it’s not just as a leader of people in the people that we’re connected to on our teams. But that’s a great way to just run our businesses with our clients, or customers, or vendors or partners. And you know what I mean, like, your neighbors, your family, you know, just driving great connections.

Michelle: First you are so right, all of us coming out of this pandemic, and still not really understanding how the extent that it affected us. But we do know that as humans, we need each other. And we’ve learned that and we do know that true connection drives satisfaction, and drives happiness.

If we can just apply that lens, kind of, if I can lean into when you’re thinking about your community, your neighbors, particularly over the holidays, and really first focus on connection, then everything else is going to fall in line.

Allison: Yeah, absolutely. Connection is definitely one of my core values. So when you came up as an author who’s written leadership around connection, it’s super resonated with me. So thank you, your book centers around like the concept of connection and the essential skills that leaders need to have today, can you can you kind of expand on that and just share the focus points that you provide in your book to home that connection?

Michelle: Yeah, and so I do want your listeners, your listeners to know also that I am not a person who came out of the womb, who was really brilliant at this concept at all. As a matter of fact, I stumbled a lot in my first probably decade of being a professor, and really trying to connect with my students. But I was trying to do it through that old command and control model, you know, and I really struggled.

I am also an achievement junkie, and was all about just tasks, task accomplishment, accomplishment, achievement, achievement, and that didn’t drive connection.

So when I first really had that aha moment, as coming out of kind of my experiences, like whoa, that took me a while to really learn that it really is about connection, if I want to get what I want, whatever my goals and results look like. And then as an executive coach, I was seeing those old style leaders no longer effective at all, losing trust with their teams. And so that’s when I had that big aha moment that it is all about connection. And this is right before the pandemic. And so because I am not, because connection was not one of my superpowers.

I went and interviewed 18 global leaders to try to deconstruct what that looked like, what strategies what I could offer, what does connection look like feel like sound like from a leadership perspective.

And that’s what that’s how I learned that, to me, it’s at three levels. And the foundational level is connection with yourself. And that in figuring out what your superpowers are, what your strengths are, what your blind spots are, what your voice is, what your story is, what’s your personality and communication style, really understanding the full use so that you can show up in a way that is authentic, but also effective and there’s been a lot of interesting discussion, discussions around authenticity at work.

You know, when that is one of my chapters is really just owning your journey and giving up perfection and finding your voice and bringing that all to the office.

But in order to be successful, you do have to have some emotional intelligence right to figure out how authentic and when should you be authentic, and how much should you share and it is kind of a, it’s a definitely a dance.

And that does take just a lot of that foundational work of connecting with yourself. And then you can go to that next level, which I call Level Two connection, which is connection with your team.

You lose connection with your team, if you’re not connected with yourself.

And one of the things that I learned through all these interviews is that if you’re somebody and I was, I don’t know if you ever were ally, but I was somebody who just, I tried to be perfect. And when I say that, I what I mean is I just wanted to be successful. And so I was going to emulate what success look like. So perfection is you know, means different things to different people. But I definitely fell prey to that. And what I’ve found is that leaders now today, who tried to show up perfect, try to be the perfect boss, whatever that looks like, that drives disconnection. So perfection equals disconnection. So a lot of how you connect with your team really, again, goes back to that foundational level of owning your journey, owning your voice giving up perfection so that you can be show compassion and kindness and you know, in show people that you care about them as a full human, and then you kind of go to that member in psychology 101 Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when you’re trying to self actualize and get to that pinnacle. Well, to me, the pinnacle is level three connection. And that’s true connection with your organization, that’s when you are just, you know, it’s just smooth, you’re in the zone, because you’re connected with yourself, you’re showing compassion and kindness, and you’re a great listener with your team, they know you care about them. And then you’re fully aligned and connected with the organization.

Allison: I love the fact that you kind of drive home often what executive coaching is about is getting the connection with yourself first, and that is the starting point. Are you willing to share some stories? I mean, you spoke of your own? I mean, I could probably share my own story as well. But could you highlight a couple of stories of people you’ve coached through that are on level one? And how did they get to level two? And then maybe even people who are naturally at level one and two are ready? How did they get to level three? And what how did that change their business?

Michelle: Oh, my gosh, I just had my end of the year, you know, coaching calls with all of the executives that I coach, and one of them stands out to me, and I won’t use his name, but he’s a high level executive for a big company. And he said, you know, Michelle, he said, I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I’ve got to admit it to you. He said this year working together, he said, I honestly don’t think that I don’t think I truly cared about connecting with my people. Before he said I was driving business results. And to me, that looked a certain way. And it wasn’t about truly showing, you know, showing up for my people and really showing them that I value them. And I listening to them, he said, especially during the pandemic, I mean, not just show up on the Zoom calls and just get to business.

He said, but you’ve really shown me and taught me and mentored me of how if you just put those relationships first, then everything else will fall into place. And he said, and the only metric we have in the company is the engagement score. And he said and my engagement score has gone up significantly. Because I’ve you know, I’m deliberate using your word I’m deliberate with connecting with my people, I embed it into my meetings, I embed it into my operating rhythm. I’m intentional with it, and it’s changed everything. So that was I mean, talk about music to my ears, right? Because as, as we both are executive coaches, and we truly believe in what we do, and we’re here to help. And we’re all about growth and helping others and, and to really to realize that he and for him to be so honest and say I honestly didn’t think that caring about my team mattered.

Allison: Yeah. Wow. That’s a great AHA growth moment for you know, hater to accomplish.

Michelle: Yeah. And to have them that metric at the end of the year, which is engagement scores go up and how powerful Yeah,

Allison: Fantastic. When would someone recognize that they have reached level three? And when do when can you recognize what’s over? Over bat, like over too far, I think is where they want to position that as well.

Michelle: Yeah, so I’ve had when I was interviewing the 18 leaders for the book, I had a lot of stories. They shared a lot of stories with me As early on in their careers of true misalignment, where they just were not at level three. So to me level three connection, that connection with your organization that you work with work for, is about making sure kind of going back to, again, psychology Alley is cognitive dissonance. A lot of people work for companies, and this happened over the pandemic. And because of as a result of the pandemic, they had an opportunity to rethink, because they realized that they were not happy, and they weren’t proud of the company that they worked for. And so they really got to examine is this is this aligned with my core values.

So that alignment is key. And there was one in particular, David Callicott, who was working for a for profit hospital system. And he was really relatively young, I think he might have been 30 years old. And he was traveling over the country and this big company was buying other smaller companies, and he had to go and get the trust with all these people as representing this new company who had just bought them. And yet, then he knew in his heart that he was going to have to go after that, after he built that trust. And he made all these speeches and try to, you know, make them feel okay, that he was going to have to lay off a significant part in order, you know, a significant part of the word, their workforce in order to make the numbers work. So he ended up in the air on an airplane going to yet another one of these, you know, talks he had to give of this new acquisition, and it was 911. And he was on the airplane. And then the pilot came on, and he said that 737 became like a fighter jet.

He said, it felt like the pilot was now flying a fighter jet trying to get that airplane on the ground, because all planes were told they had to land immediately at the closest airport. And so they touchdown, and he said at that moment, he realized that he could no longer work for that type of company. It was just not aligned for his with his values. And so then he went into nonprofit health care. And he ended up becoming a CEO of a hospital and recently retiring. But that’s a pretty powerful story.

So I heard a lot of stories of misalignment. I then did speaking of healthcare, one of my neighbors, really great guy. He’s the CEO of a children’s hospital here in New Orleans. His name is John Nickens. And he’s the CEO of Children’s Hospital. And he said, at a very young age, he was with a different system. And he was in invoicing, he was on the true business side of collecting payments, you know, making sure the hospital got paid. And he just so happened to be on the elevator with the president who was like, Oh, tell me, you know, John, what do you do? And John said, Whoa, I’m in the collections. And he said, it’s about to be the end of the year, you better bring me my money. And John said, Well, what tell me about what that means to you and why and the president CEO walked him into the NICU. And they’re, you know, the tiny little, tiny, tiny little babies who are barely hanging on trying to survive, and the presidency of took off his wedding band, and put it on the little baby’s leg. And he said, we are keeping this baby alive. And we’re one of the very few places that can keep this baby alive. You collecting that money helps us keep babies alive.

Allison: That’s an amazing tie back.

Michelle: Right? And he was young, too. He might have been he was in his 20s and a new wife and a new baby. And you said, Michelle, everything changed. Because I realized that day I was going to do whatever it took to get the money to keep that baby alive and that I was going to be CEO one day of a children’s hospital. That’s alignment.

Allison: That’s incredible. Two great stories. You’ve kind of brushed on it a little bit about the fact that we have had a seismic shift to just generally in leadership and then obviously compounded by just the needs of our people through the pandemic. What do you see as a crystal ball the future of the way we will do work going forward?

Michelle: Yeah.

I’m telling all of my clients to blow everything up to reimagine everything, your work processes, how you work, who you work with your meetings, where they should be how they should look at the format’s the big company events.

If you really sat down and looked at if you work for a big company, and you look at the annual We’ll operating rhythm, those big leadership events, all the way down to the HR evaluation process, all the way down to the morning, huddles with your leadership team, look at how they’ve been in the past. And they typically have been from the top one way down, and transactional and much more in a in a transactional, one way versus a dialogue in a conversation.

So, I coach a bunch of CEOs, and I’m telling them that their goal for 2023 is to create more conversations and more dialogue around those events. So people would much rather than being one of 5000 people at a convention center hearing from the CEO, right, you can have that message, and then create opportunities for connection amongst each other. That’s what we’re craving. If you are in this remote workforce, like the majority of us are, and you do go to in person events, you don’t want to sit there and be spoken to, you want beautiful connection.

And so it’s up to the leadership of that company, to create those opportunities for connection and dialogue around the company purpose around the mission around the strategic goals. I’ll give you another example. I was having a glass of wine with my girlfriend, and her husband came home and I adore him. And he runs a fairly large seafood company.

And he goes, I’m so glad you’re here, Michelle, he pours himself a glass of wine, he sits down. He said, and this is probably two months ago. And he said, you know our revenues have been down this year. He said we did pretty well during the pandemic, but this year they’ve been down. He said, Do we have to have the Christmas party. And I said, You know what I have found about level three connection. I said, in order for people to really feel connected with the organization, which drives commitment, loyalty, retention, you do need those traditions and events that are bigger than their individual jobs. So I know it’s expensive. But I would say yeah, you need to have that Christmas party, especially now bring people together because in the past two years, we couldn’t even have a Christmas party.

So have the Christmas party, even though your numbers are down as a way to bring people together something that’s bigger than themselves. So that’s what I really mean about how important traditions are. And at the same time executives Look at that. And I even said, I said, so if you don’t want to throw your big, you know, rowdy, rowdy lots of drinking at your house and things get broken? It’s not if that’s the now’s the time to reimagine what should a Christmas party look like? So that you really can build those beautiful connections, maybe it’s a lunch and maybe it’s a service day, maybe you go build a house, maybe you help out and a place you know, in our neighborhood that was just hit by a tornado last week, you know, the Christmas thing might be something different. It’s time to reimagine.

Allison: We, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how to create the connection when people are working hybrid, they’re not in the office, there’s in a video cameras may be off, there’s that disconnect that has been forged through maybe not doing the transition to work from work from home or work from anywhere very easily. And so the bad habits you start with are the ones that continue, I think, what strategies would you suggest that organizations who are probably not realizing that they may never be able to bring their workforce back? And they’ve lost the connection and downward bad habits?

Michelle: Yeah. And so the first thing I say when I when I hear and I hear from a lot of people who say yeah, but our employee surveys are still saying that they want flexibility. But they get but that they feel disconnected exactly what you just said. So they still want to work from home.

And so what I’m advocating as the company as the leadership in a company is to say okay, absolutely can work from home, but I do need you at least once a month, all hands on deck, and we’re gonna have a whole day, face to face.

Companies that really their employees are scattered all over the place like Qualcomm who’s acquired a client of mine, they will fly everybody in once a quarter, just to have that face to face meeting. And Don McGuire is fantastic. He’s the chief marketing officer and he was just named by Forbes as one of the best chief marketing officers and he’s always trying to disrupt he’s so creative and so innovative. And when we work together, I said, Okay, I know you’re spending a lot of money to bring all these people in and you want to get to business really fast, but a lot of them really don’t know each other. So we’ve got to spend, give me an entire day. And I’ll facilitate exercises where they own their journeys. And they share them with one another, where we go through personality tests together. And we have common language, where we go in and like Salesforce will say, Let’s go to a retreat center together. And but before we start work tomorrow, we’re going to do yoga together, we’re going to go on a hike together, do things together, but then also do work together. And so I’m advocating, at least sometimes monthly, or at least quarterly face to face on.

Allison: So bringing everyone together as mandatory, right? Mandatory and at every level, yes, at every level. Okay. Cool. I think that’s a great tip. Are there any other strategies such as that, that you are encouraging?

Michelle: Yeah, I’m finding that people on Zoom, the leaders think that they’re just going to do business as normal. So they hop on Zoom, and they just direct and transact. And it’s just one way. And I was just on a six hour was it knows a four hour zoom. And somebody finally had to say, could you please, I need to, I need a bio break. Like there wasn’t even a bio break. And there wasn’t anything visual, we all just sat and stared at each other. And they expected us either to print everything out. And to have it, you’ve got to think about a we’re in a visual society, B, you shouldn’t be on a zoom for four hours. See, you should use the features, like the breakout groups. So if we’re, you know, this, this big call was on, we are in a search for a new executive position. So break us into breakout groups and have us introduce each other in small groups and talk about what we really want. Are any of you know, any rock stars emerge for you and have little conversations, and then come back to the big group. And if you’re in charge of facilitating that meeting, have some visuals say I’m going to share my screen? Here’s what I’m looking at. Right? You just can’t show up and do it. It’s not business as usual. I’ve done work. Okay.

Allison: Great additional tips. I’m super curious in the research and the conversations that you had with those 18 executives, was there a common theme that we maybe as leaders don’t talk about that we need to maybe self recognize from an emotional intelligence level that kind of percolated to the surface of a common theme?

Michelle: So in interviewing my leaders on connection, if there was something percolating that emerged? Yeah, I would say that what surprised me is listen to listening emerge as one of the biggest characteristics of a true leader who’s connected. What surprised me was not that that emerge, is that so many leaders come into a new job and immediately want to make changes without going on a listening tour. And so I made one of the chapters in the book all about as a new leader, your job first and foremost, first and foremost, is to just listen, to go on a listening tour connect, put together a little task forces that they can do the work for you to even go and go all the way down to the front line, and bring what you’re hearing, what are the things that we do really well, what needs to be tweaked? You know, what’s the customer experience look like?

As a new leader, you shouldn’t come in and just make those fast changes, it should all be about listening. Another thing that emerged with regard to listening is, is this seismic shift that is moving towards meaningful connection first, in order to drive results, what we’re finding is, in these meetings that we’re talking about ally, what used to be the 8020 was 80% talking as the leader because the leader was it of course, you know, the leader thinks I’m supposed to know everything I’m gonna get on I’m gonna do 80% of the talking that the end I’ll do 20% of the listing. And we’re advocating to flip flop that. And so pull out and just listen from your entire team 80% of the time, and then at the end, right, then 20% of the time you can come in and give your opinion but as leaders, your whisper is a shout and I’ll say that again as leaders your whispers a shot. So if you begin by saying I’m wondering if we should do the following that becomes an order. Right? Right. And so at 20 with 80% of really listening to your people in these meetings on Zoom, and then 20% sharing your opinion and just being very aware that your whispers a shout your power comes with a whole people in turn but it is a marching order.

Allison: Yeah, that’s a great tip. I am I want to make sure that our listeners have an opportunity to either follow you or connect with you, what would what would be the best way for them to do that?

Michelle: Awesome. Yes, thank you, you can go to my website, Michelle cay And it’s got my book, and it has my bio, it has all the podcasts that I’ve been on. And it also has recordings of my own podcast called The seismic shift. And I just did the first season of the seismic shift. And I took all of the leaders I interviewed and went for a deep dive really, because you know, when you write a book, so much gets edited out, and I really wanted listeners to learn more about these incredible leaders. And so I just learned today, one of the leaders in the book one Martine, he’s the global president of kinda snacks, the Kind bars and nature’s bakery, and they just acquired true fru, which I had been hearing about, but I had I needed to go to the store and buy true fruit. And that’s an exciting acquisition, because one is one of the most compassionate and kindness leaders and Mars, a privately held company of the candy and the pet food, they went around when they acquired kind, from Daniel, Daniel Labette.

Ski the founder, they went around their entire company around the world to find a leader who really represented kindness, because they believe that if you’re kind to yourself, and what you eat, and if you’re kind to each other, and spreading kindness every day, if you’re kind to your community, and if you’re kind to the planet, they really believe that their job is to make the world a kinder place. And so it’s stories like that, that just really inspire you, I think, and he and I had such interesting discussions about the correlations between kindness and connection. Because in order to drive kindness, you have to lean in and connect, right? I mean, kindness is driven by connection. And so let’s all lean in and connect particularly over the holidays. We’re in the middle of Hanukkah and Christmas right around the corner, and let’s lean in and really find commonality and show caring compassion to our fellow humans and make the world a kinder place. Yeah.

Allison: Thank you so much for joining us here today. And I just want to encourage our listeners to pick up Dr. Michelle Johnson’s book. Congratulations on its bestseller status on Amazon and I appreciate your time here today.

Michelle: Oh, thank you so much. I really love being there. Thank you listeners for tuning in. And hope that you all have a beautiful holiday and we’ll see you soon.

Allison: You as well.

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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