As you broaden your career, different situations require different outcomes. This means that you will need to learn different capacities for each context. But how do you respond to new challenges? In this episode, Alicia Jabbar, executive leadership coach, shares her concept of respond-ability in leadership. She also dives into social conditioning and how it stops women from stretching themselves or striving to reach a higher level in the organization. You can waste years waiting for someone else to acknowledge the good work you’ve done. Dare to step up and claim your territory. To learn more, pause, think, and tune in to this episode with Elizabeth Bachman and Alicia Jabbar.
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Respond-Ability And Leadership
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My guest is Alicia Jabbar. She has designed and delivered more than 100 women’s leadership programs in over 25 organizations. She has an unconventional approach to women’s leadership, which acknowledges the impacts of systemic oppression in its design. What I particularly like about Alicia is that she talks about how we can recognize what’s authentic for us and what isn’t, and where we need to pay attention and then make a choice to have a different response. It was a very interesting conversation. I know you’ll enjoy it. Onto the interview with Alicia Jabbar.
Alicia Jabbar, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me.
I’m delighted to have you here. We have lots of things to talk about. Before I get started, let me ask you, who would be your dream interview? If you could interview someone who’s no longer with us, whom would it be, what would you ask them, and who should be listening?
My dream interview would be with Rachel Carson. She was an author who wrote a book called Silent Spring. Essentially, that book revealed a lot of what was going on with pesticides in the agriculture industry. I would want to interview her because she intersects with a lot of my passions. She puts herself on a stand against a mega industry, which was a vulnerable act. I would want to understand from her what led her to make that decision and make a name for herself in that way, and how she handled the very large backlash that came as a result of what she wrote and put out into the world.
This was in the ’70s, right?
She was one of the early environmental voices against pesticides. I read it many years ago. If I remember, the title, Silent Spring refers to what happens when spring comes and there are no insects and birds.
In some regards, we’re living out what she had said would occur.
That would be fun. I do remember I learned all about her as a high school student when we were first talking about Oregon. It was the first state that had a bottle bill. You had to pay to recycle bottles. That was one of the cool things. We all read Rachel Carson. Thanks for reminding me about it. I have to go reread the book.
Alicia, you work with leadership. What I like about learning about you is that you talk about women expanding their leadership capacity. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you mean by that?
One of the things that I heard early on in working with women was this idea of not wanting to do something inauthentic. The notion is that if I stretch myself differently or show up differently than I would want to in an ideal scenario, then in some ways, I’m being inauthentic to myself. Part of what I help women understand is reframing that fear or notion that something would be inauthentic. Not that there are not inauthentic things. As you broaden your career, work in different contexts, and have different outcomes for those different contexts, you’re going to need to use yourself in different capacities.
I have a concept I call respond-ability or the ability to respond. Respond-ability is about being able to show up differently depending on what the circumstances require that is beyond your reaction or go-to worn well path that may work 70% of the time but you’re going to need an additional 30% to expand your skillset for new scenarios and contexts.Respond-ability means, when faced with a challenge, pause; then consider alternate responses. Click To Tweet
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about authenticity. It’s a word that is bandied around a lot. What does that mean to you, to be authentic or not be authentic?
I would say that authenticity is bringing more of yourself to more of your life. That more of yourself is tricky territory. Throughout our lives, we get boxed in by ourselves and other people. We carry more multitudes than we see at any given point in time. Part of authenticity is acknowledging the breadth or depth that you’re holding within yourself.
Bringing different parts of you, maybe stretching. What do you do if something does not feel authentic? How can you react or cope when you feel like you’re not being authentic?
When somebody says they don’t feel like they’re being authentic, I have a bit of a pause there. In a lot of my work on body signals, more than our logical brain would have us know. I want the women I work with to understand the difference between something that feels inauthentic in their body and feels a little dis-easeful because it’s in new territory.
For our international audience, you mean lack of ease and not feeling comfortable.
Tension, buzzy, or doesn’t quite sit right. It feels like there’s more energy coursing through you, which a lot of people associate with inauthenticity. It can be nerves because you’re in new territory or discomfort because you’re doing something for the first time. I always want to get a little clearer on what exactly feels inauthentic and hold back the tendency to say something’s inauthentic the first time you do it.
Tell me more about that.
You have to do something initially, learn a little bit, refine, and try it again. You may end up with, “That’s outside of who I am. I don’t want to operate like that. I’m not going to be in the context of this.” That’s an okay decision to make for yourself but I find that women tend to make that decision a little too early on.
One of the things that I kept saying over and over again is that the voices in your head will speak up anytime you’re stretching and trying something new. I have to say it to myself and take my advice because I’m a fairly flawed human being. I’m doing the best I can. The art of being an adult is to recognize the voices and then recognize that they’re there and get out the other side.
I was thinking about many years ago when I was in a dark time in my life. I called a friend and said, “Does it ever get any better?” He said, “It doesn’t get better but it gets faster.” You’ve got the tools, especially if you’re working with a coach. The coach is there to give you tools to recognize those voices and then move through them.
Your problems get better. The same thing that would cause those voices to flare up are things that are much greater scale than maybe would’ve caused it to flare up for me years ago. The voice still exists because I’m stretching but what I’m stretching into is a lot larger. There’s a little bit of an appreciation for the journey where I can say, “This voice is always here.” Maybe that’s true but the context in which it’s showing up is way greater.
It’s to recognize how far you’ve come. The voices will probably always be there. It’s my mother in the back of my head.
For most of us, that’s true.
I don’t know who else it is but often it’s my mother. Alicia, expand a little bit more on respond-ability and the skill that is.
The skill is a pause in a different response. Let me give a concrete example. I’ll use a client that I’m working with. I have a client who is the first function that a business needs. She is holding a dual role as many of my clients do, based on whom I serve. Educating on a specific function that the organization needs to adopt to get to where they want to go and executing against the vision. There’s an education and an execution perspective.
For her, there is something that she has worn in her leadership around not wanting to explain herself. She came in with this point of view like, “If I was in a situation where I needed to explain myself, then I was doing myself a disservice. I was working with people I shouldn’t trust.” That’s the story that she comes in with. She’s in the straddling context of educating and executing against a vision.
For her, respond-ability is viewing behavior that she would’ve said not to as 100% necessary to do what the organization has her in charge of doing. There are contexts in her world where she may not want to leverage the behavior of what she calls explaining herself. Just because she has to do it in this context, doesn’t say anything about those previous ground rules that she’s set for herself. She is being a respondable leader by making that choice differently.
It’s all about the listener and what they need. In marketing, you would say it’s all about the clients. Who’s your employer? What do they need? Can we talk a little bit about the way social conditioning stops us from stretching as women?
This comes into play as women grow into higher levels of the organization. For example, if you were anything like me and this is pretty prominent even for an international audience, a woman is conditioned when she’s younger to have her role be to take care of the needs of other people. This serves women in their careers in a lot of ways. Research shows all of the ways that it serves us.
As you level up, one of the places that this gets in the way is if you are truly being a visionary leader, your signals for what other people want is not necessarily going to be as clear. To take on that role in an organization, it’s going to feel off to you. It has you be in the territory of value that your conditioning suggests against.
Tell me more about that.
If you have operated and used yourself to satisfy what other people need and then you are in a position to identify what that is in realms where it is not as clear, you are going to feel very wobbly. It’s because the signal is not as strong. You are both creating the signal and then delivering against the signal. Nobody is offering that reflection of, “Is this what we want or is this what we don’t want?” In the same capacity, it’s where we’re used to understanding.
It’s the sort of thing that gets many women to sublimate what they want for the sake of getting the project done. It means that the people who didn’t do all the work can still go off and claim credit for it. It is a big part of what both you and I do. Make sure that women get the credit for what we want when our whole society teaches us not to, even if taking care of people is important.
To feel like the job is done when others have gotten the credit. If I’m conditioned to have my value when other people are satisfied and those other people’s dreams, desires, values, whatever are satisfied, it can feel like my job’s done here. We then leave ourselves in the background and forget to pull ourselves forward because that’s not how we’re taught to relate to ourselves or other people.
Talk a little bit more about how it feels then. How do you come up with the courage to stretch and reach for something greater?
You do it with the anticipated value of how stretching into that territory may serve you to get toward what you’re wanting. There’s an analogy that I like to use a lot in this realm, especially around giving voice or showmanship of your work. It’s a little bit of a reframe where most women I know have worked with somebody who does this in a version that we would label obnoxious.
Meaning, talking about their work and taking credit for things that aren’t theirs. No matter what conversation you’re in, they’re always highlighting themselves. Most of us have had the experience of working with somebody like that. When we think about stretching into a territory and being more vocal about our contributions, we always have that version of somebody in our minds.
It feels like we’re shoulder to shoulder with that person and if we say anything, we’re going to become that person. I like to have women understand that there is a spectrum. You are pointing yourself to that type of person. There is a great distance between you getting a little bit clearer or more vocal and that worried version of whom you will turn into if you dare to step into this territory.
That’s an objection I hear a lot. A huge part of my work is to get women to acknowledge what they’re good at and talk about it. I wasted years waiting to be recognized for the good work I was doing and watching other people get the jobs I wanted. I didn’t realize until considerably later when I started doing this work. I didn’t get the credit because I never asked for it and I didn’t tell people how I could solve their problems.
Even in my career, I spent a long time in strategic partnerships with the revenue number attached to me. I thought, “As long as I’m hitting the target and the work is visible, we’re all good here.” I’ve come to realize in my work, the way that I view it is there are two sides to leadership, what you’re doing and who you’re being.There are two sides to leadership: what you are doing and who you are being. Click To Tweet
Even if it was clear that I was “doing my job” by hitting my revenue targets or exceeding them, what I failed to highlight for myself and be vocal about is who I was being when I was doing that work. How was I showing up? What skills was I bringing forward? What were the unique characteristics that allowed me to get the job done? Having women look at it, you could take an inventory of the ten most pivotal moments in your life and say, “Whom did you have to be in each of those moments?” You’re starting to uncover or discover your leadership strengths.
How does somebody know that it’s time to reach out to someone like you or me?
It’s in the best-case scenario with a proactive decision because you’re stepping into new territory that you know is going to require a different orientation to your work. You’ve got a clearer vision for a new territory that’s going to be different. That’s the best-case scenario you can be proactive. Secondary to that is when you feel like you’re banging your head against the wall. Feeling like you’re doing everything right or that you’re supposed to be doing and it’s not leading you to where you want to go, that would be an excellent secondary time.
It’s a lot of what moves people to call me up for sure. You said once that women don’t need more skills. That sounds like heresy. Tell me what you mean by that.
There is this idea or operating viewpoint that in some way, the reason why women are not getting ahead or getting to higher echelons within organizations is that they lack skills. For me, that holds a narrative that women are broken in some way. What’s most needed is a complete paradigm shift from that. What I was saying more about authenticity is we need to get comfortable bringing more of ourselves into our work in more robust ways. It’s not a matter of brokenness. It’s operating from a set of wholeness that you might not be able to feel or appreciate within yourself.
I also think that a lot of it comes from our definition of business. Fair enough, Western Business was built by men on the principles that work for men. Part of what’s been happening in the last few years but not nearly enough is how to value women for what women bring like the ability to manage a team, see the issue before it crops up, and solve it in advance so that you don’t have a problem. How can we educate the world to value what women are good at? Bearing in mind, this is a huge generality.
I appreciate that disclaimer. I have to say that all the time. I will say that my work is more on getting women to recognize that value.
Say more about that.
If enough women start to collude with the storyline that those things are not valuable, then we will eliminate those tools from how we show up, thus eliminating ourselves.
What you mean is if enough women buy into the old narrative, the things that men value are the things that we should be able to do. I think about the 1980s and the early women in business who had to be like men.
That gets perpetuated because of the sacrifice those women made to be like men. I want to believe that the system needs to change. The view of what’s acceptable needs to expand. You pointed to the ’80s. Women have been waiting a very long time for that to happen. The best strategy is not to keep waiting. It’s on an individual level to start debunking some of that narrative for ourselves about what’s valued. Get grounded and confident in ourselves and what we bring that may not be valued yet systemically but if we can hold onto it and I know that takes a ton of work but we’re causing tension in the system that is going to be harder to continue to uphold the same paradigm.
The whole movement about valuing emotional intelligence in some ways is trying to teach men to think like women because women often value emotional intelligence too much. One of the things I had to learn as a boss was to keep my eye on the bigger picture instead of worrying about the one unhappy person. Recognize the 90% who were very happy and not obsess over the 10% who were perhaps not happy for reasons of their own and had nothing to do with me. Tell us a little bit more about when somebody comes to you, how do you start? What’s your process for working with a new client?
I see my view as a coach to get into the client’s world. Who are they? What is their life like? My job is to embed myself in their paradigm, be in it with them and understand where they are and what’s going on. I have a process for getting there quickly because I like efficiency. I don’t want to waste somebody’s precious time. From there, I’m helping them see more than they can see from where they sit. Once that view is expanded, then what they’re able to create, initiate, do and behave, all comes from a wider range of what’s available to them and who they are in the world.
When someone begins to notice, what are the tendencies that you notice when someone starts to go, “I see what’s going on here?” Describe to us a couple of a-ha moments you’ve had with clients.
This is my favorite way of being with clients. I call it a 10-degree turn. We think that transformation is like a 180-degree shift. It happens more in a 10-degree turn, integrate that learning. I love my sessions with clients to be about identifying something that is a 10-degree turn. An example of that is I have a client who was feeling like she wasn’t able to achieve what she wanted to achieve. She was in that stuck place, the frustrated place. It’s leading to, “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do this?” That whole narrative that I’m sure many audiences can relate to, myself included.
What was happening is this person was bored with their work. A 10-degree shift is reframing it from, “This isn’t working,” to, “I’m bored and I don’t want it to work.” It’s a total shift in viewing what your circumstances are. The question shifts from, “How do I get more successful,” to, “How do I get more energized? What do I need to shift to get engaged with my work again?” It’s a different question than, “What do I need to do to get this done?”
Did she change her position? Did she add something? Did she come up with different ways of viewing her work? What happened?
From there, we looked at what type of work has engaged historically. What are the threads within that? How can you go identify opportunities within your organization that will create the spark that you need to stay engaged in your work?
Did it work?
It did work. There is this major reframe away from the orientation, “What’s wrong,” to, “What information is true for me? What does that make possible for me?”
That makes me think of one of the things that the great Kimmy Avery taught me. Men will treat failure or reverse as information. Girls will say that it’s personal, “It’s not that the project didn’t work. I failed. I couldn’t get that appointment so that means they hate me.” Making it personal. It reminds me of the movie, You’ve Got Mail, where Tom Hanks says to Meg Ryan, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” When I first saw that, I said, “Yes, it is personal. It’s her beloved store and memories.” It was not sustainable so the company went out of business. I go back to that and think, “How can I treat this as information?” instead of, “There’s something wrong with me.”
I see that same paradigm a lot with women who reach some level of success and they’re not very satisfied because what they were getting towards wasn’t interesting to them. At some point, they left behind some idea of what they wanted. Laser-focused as we all do on something specific and then when they get there, it’s not working for them or not what they thought it would be, all of these different things. I find that for women especially, it’s hard to then listen to that and make a different choice.
It’s all about the choices you make. Alicia Jabbar, this has been fascinating. It seems to me we’ve talked a lot about awareness. If somebody’s reading this and thinks, “That’s me they’re talking about,” what is the first question you could ask yourself to become more aware of how you might be limiting or fooling yourself?
I do this in my programs. I would have women take an inventory of what they’ve been told is appropriate for a woman in life or work. Look at that rule book and take inventory of how that served you and where it may be limiting you. Both are always true but that creates enough context for you to make choices that maybe stretch into that discomfort zone or reevaluate whether or not following a certain set of rules is the same set you want to be following in as many contexts as you.
This is where I always think that nobody actively trains us to limit ourselves. It’s just hundreds of years of social expectations. We are socialized to do this or that. That’s a wonderful place to end. Thank you, Alicia. This has been interesting and so much fun to have you on the show. I’m sure I will think about fifteen more questions after we hang up, but thank you so much for having been a guest here.
Thank you so much for having me, Elizabeth.
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About Alicia Jabbar
Alicia Jabbar, CPCC, PCC is an executive leadership coach who partners with individuals that sit on the outside of what is known, valued, or understood in the places they live and work. Through their work together, clients uncover how to increase their leadership capacity without sacrificing who they are.