Having the power to command a room should not be limited to stereotypes. Unfortunately, harnessing that executive presence for women, especially minority women, demands more strategic action. Sharon Wamble-King, President of The WambleKing Group, is a certified change management leader and has served in executive leadership roles at several management consulting firms. Sharon has a passion for equality and inclusion and a hefty educational background along with it. In this episode, she joins Elizabeth Bachman to share her thoughts on multicultural and cross-cultural leadership and how women of color can harness their executive presence in a room where they are the minority. Be enlightened by her discussion on cultural awareness and the value of identifying effective communication strategies to suit your audience. Start driving change by understanding the value you hold and the right ways to express it.
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Sharon Wamble-King On Cultivating Executive Presence In A Multicultural Setting
This is the show where we interview experts from around the world on subjects such as leadership, visibility, presentation skills, diversity and communication challenges. Before I move into the introduction for my fascinating guest, I’d like to remind you that if you are curious about how your presentation skills are working and are they working to get you the results that you want, you could take our free four-minute quiz at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong and where perhaps a little support could get you better results and the recognition you deserve.
My guest is Sharon Wamble-King. It’s interesting because we threw this conversation together at the last minute. She’s going to be interviewing me and I thought, “She’s so interesting.” In our preliminary conversation, I said, “I have to interview you.” Let me read the official introduction, then you can see where our conversation took us. Sharon Wamble-King creates an inclusive space for people to soar to the zenith of their potential through communication and change leadership. She’s a native of Berkeley, California with several decades of experience in corporate consulting and non-profit settings. She purposely stimulates a-ha moments and relishes interpersonal reactions that can uncover nuanced layers of situations to promote personal and organizational transformations.
As the president of The WambleKing Group, Sharon has brought her keen insights and knowledge about organizational effectiveness and cultural transformation to establish organizations as thought leaders and industry leaders to develop and implement large scale change management strategies and to execute internal, external and multicultural communication solutions related to mergers, acquisitions and divestitures. She’s a certified change management leader, an experienced teacher, speaker and coach. She served in executive leadership roles at several management consulting firms, healthcare insurance companies, health plans, provider delivery systems, and medical groups. Her focus on leadership and government has also led her to serve as the Vice-chair of the board of trustees for the University of North Florida, the board of trustees for Florida Memorial University, and the trustee for the Foundation Board of Florida State University.
Sharon is passionate about equity and inclusion and is augmenting her professional experience by pursuing a doctorate in the Leadership and Change Program at Antioch University. Her scholarship and expertise are focused on African-American women’s unique leadership enactment shaped by traditional African ethos and contemporary socialization processes. Sharon Wamble-King is fascinating. She has a great deal to say about leadership. We had an interesting conversation about multicultural leadership, cross-cultural leadership, leading as a woman, leading as a woman of color and some practical suggestions and strategies for what you can do to elevate your executive presence.
Sharon Wamble-King, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much.Executive presence is the ability to enact influence in an environment where decisions are being made. Click To Tweet
I’m so glad to have you. We put this together at the last minute because we had a conversation that was so interesting. I said, “I have to record this. Let’s do this.” Both of us are good talkers, so this is going to be fun. Before we get into the meat of the conversation, I’d like to ask you who would be your dream interview. If you could interview somebody who’s no longer with us, who would it be? What would you ask them? Who should be listening?
My dream interview would be with the Honorable Congresswoman Barbara Jordan who was the first African-American person to be elected to the Texas Legislature, and the first African-American woman from Texas to be elected to Congress since reconstruction. I would want to ask her about her struggle to achieve what she did in very difficult political, social times. I would want to talk to her about the community of support she had to leverage her brilliance. I would want to talk to her about how she embodied the values and virtues that she communicated so clearly during the Watergate hearings that galvanized the entire country in less than eight minutes that timed around the entire hearing resulting in President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
Who do you think should be in the audience?
Everyone who has a zeal for social justice, who understands the destructive force of a polarized environment, which is what she lived in. The destructive force of a polarized environment and how to speak truth to power in such a way that it can be heard and put upon not only from the cognitive sense but from the heart.
I would be in that audience. I would want to hear that. We were talking about executive presence because you’re going to be interviewing me and I want to interview you too so we have this conversation. My first question for you is how do you define executive presence?
Executive presence is the ability to enact influence in an environment where decisions are being made. You are being experienced as providing value, as providing the type of input that everyone in the room needs in order to move forward in a positive way. Executive presence for me is the ability to shift the energy in a room in such a way that people will be galvanized to move in the direction that is the most powerful and aligned to the mission at hand.
That is a marvelous definition. We all know, you and I, particularly know that executive presence also reflects a cultural expectation. You see somebody walk in as a silver-haired white man in a good suit and you’re going to assume that he’s got executive presence. It’s different for women and it’s different for minoritized women. Can you talk a little bit about how executive presence can be defined or experienced for minoritized women who are not part of the dominant culture?
It says we’re having a conversation. We also need to define for people what minoritized women are. In my parlance, I believe minoritized women are those that don’t represent the dominant culture of a particular organization. Those that don’t represent the dominant culture within that setting. Within the setting, you can have a board of directors that is very different from the composition of the company. Minoritized women are those that don’t represent the dominant of the room that you’re in. If I walked into a room with all able-bodied individuals and I am physically disabled, I am minoritized in that sense. We have to broaden the sense of being minoritized. We always think of it as ethnicity and it is. We think of it as gender and it is, but there are a number of intersections we need to think about when we think about minoritized women.
It’s been minoritized men as well but in this episode, let’s keep it to women. Otherwise, it becomes such an enormous subject. As we’re talking about minoritized women, it sounds to me like a cultural recognition. Noticing how someone might feel like the minority when there’s a whole bunch of assumptions that the majority will be operating from, that the minority is not part of. Talk a little bit about how the definition of executive presence is influenced by culture.
I will use myself as an example for a moment. As someone who identifies as an African-American woman, educated and American in that respect, socialized in the United States. If I walk into a room where everyone visibly is Caucasian-American, understanding that everyone there is diverse. They all have different intersections, but if I walk in and look at everyone there, my immediate question as they look at me is, am I being perceived through stereotypes? Am I being perceived through misperceptions? How are people experiencing me even before I opened my mouth?
Which everybody will anyway. We all do have biases.
We all have implicit bias but I can’t assume what those biases are. I have to walk in with the flexibility and the ability to think through that room very quickly in a bi-cultural way. That’s the way that minoritized women have been socialized. We think within the dominant culture, the expectation may be ABC. I may not as naturally exhibit those behaviors. How must I adjust? Here’s an example that I learned early in my career. I tend to think and process in a circular manner. That is because of the way I was socialized and the communication style within my community.
Within the dominant culture, we tend to process in a linear form. It’s 1 + 2 + 3 + 4. It’s extremely linear, very rational, objective and scientific. I have to know that when I walk in because my presence can diminish by my speaking in a way that cannot be heard. Not because I’m not speaking standard English, but the way I’m processing information. I need to understand when I walk into the room as a minoritized woman, what are the expectations of the dominant coalition and how it might impact me because of misperceptions of she’s there because she’s a token. She’s there because of a form of action. She’s here because of our diversity initiative. She’s not really here because we expect her to add the same value. That may not be the expectation, but I have to think through all of those things.
Let me go back to linear and circular for a minute because that is a huge part of the work that I do. I think of it as single focus versus multi-focus. If you are a multi-focused person and you can notice lots of things, and you think circularly, as you were saying, then the advantage you bring to a team is that you’re going to notice things that the single focus people aren’t going to notice. The Western business is built on single-focus people who can get things done in a hurry. They may not notice the side issues.You have to adjust your communication style for them to hear the value you bring to the table. Click To Tweet
I had a client who said, “I sat in that room and I said, ‘Does anybody ever ask the client if they want this before we’re investing hundreds and thousands of dollars to create this new feature?'” No, they hadn’t. They all got excited about this cool idea and they were focused on getting it done. When you are walking in as a minoritized woman, how much do you think you need to adapt your style to the way they are ready to hear you? How much can you influence the other people in the room so that they can stretch their thinking?
I think there are two answers to your question. The way you heard my answer was a focus, singular versus multiple. The way I was thinking about it was I am trained in my community milieu to tell stories. Historically, I tell stories. Everyone in my community tells stories. In the African-American community, you’re used to hearing ministers like Martin Luther King who told stories. He may have been singularly focused but his communication style was circular. It’s both. It is how do you maintain a singular focus so that you can engage those in the room, and using the singular focus, be able to tell the story so that you’re doing both? You’re leveraging a communication style. You’re also honoring the way people think, cognitively approaching a problem. I can ask questions. I can ensure that they know I have the singular focus required, but I have a communication style that is going to approach conveying that information in a different way. This is why storytelling now is so popular inside organizations.
I want to engage their heads and their hearts, but executive presence from a cultural intelligence perspective means that I need to understand what do I need to do to hook them such as then I can be myself. Being myself in that respect is, what is the communication style that I can use for them to come alongside me? To your point, I also need to understand the singular versus the multiple focus. I’ll have to adjust the communication style for them to hear the value that I bring to the table for their singular focus.
Singular-focused people need to learn to adjust to the way they listen. Multiple-focused people need to learn to adapt the way they speak and think, for them to connect with each other.
Isn’t the question, how does one engage those who are different from you? That is the fundamental question. How do we engage the hearts and the minds of those who are different? That’s why Howard Gardner talks about the eight bits of intelligence. Cultural intelligence is required for executive superior. Culture is not just about ethnicity and gender, and those things that we tend to think about socially. Culture is around the ways of thinking, values, behaviors and patterns that occur in that room. I don’t think of it as I’m adapting necessarily. Sometimes in talking about adaptation, it may sound like assimilation. That may feel bad but I’m thinking about, how do I engage in a way that opens the door for all of us to provide value to get to the solution? It’s then an engagement issue and understanding the beliefs, values and behavior patterns in this room. How do I leverage those to be able to tell the story that needs to be heard so we can have a multiple dimension answer?
This is where I tend to turn to allies. Recruiting your allies because it’s what they call third-party endorsements. If you are a minority, people are going to be judging you. They’re going to be trying not to but there is some sort of implicit bias. They are hiding underneath there. Having somebody else back you up can make a huge difference. One thing I’ve heard from my colleagues who work full-time on helping women get onto corporate boards is that three is the magic number. If you have three women, then it’s not just only one. It’s gotten us those two over there. If you get three, you’re suddenly more a part of the group and you can back each other up as well as bringing in your own relationships and values so you’re not so much of an exception.
I think that is true of particular populations because you may not be able to get an ally within the company. I remember very early in my career, a senior vice president was pulling us all together in an inclusion kind of conversation saying, “Allies are important.” Many times, your allies are not going to be in the company. Your allies and your mentors may be executives who work in other companies where you can feel emotionally safe and vulnerable to be able to have that ally conversation. It’s an assumption that minoritized women can easily get allies in organizations. Not to say that they can’t. That’s why I’m saying it’s the flexibility.
If you can’t get an ally inside where you feel safe and you can be vulnerable for that allyship to occur because going back to culture, some cultures are not context within the growth mindset where people are not competitive. If you’re in a culture where competition and individual effort are valued, it’s challenging to get an ally. In order to get someone who can coach you to success, don’t give up. You may be able to find someone in the organization but if you can’t, there are certainly people outside the organization who can serve as allies for you. All of us know that and do that. If your culture promotes allyship, that works. If your culture does not promote allyship, you need a different set of solutions.
That’s a very good point. If it’s a culture where the strongest win is for competition, there are a lot of those. It’s true.
It’s a scarcity mindset, “If you get something, then I won’t.” That breeds competition amongst everyone. It makes allyship of any kind a challenge. You have to understand the culture.
That’s a very good point. What filter are people listening through? How can you work within that framework? If you’re going to look for allies, you need to be an ally without sacrificing yourself if it’s one of those competitive cultures.
Let me also say, Elizabeth, many of us talk about allyship in the inclusion space. What I hear from many women of color is that allyship, mentorship or even this whole notion of executive presence comes with the baggage of not just how I behave in the room, not just being in the room but it is my clothing. It is the car that I drive. It’s the whole package. For some minoritized women, that’s a very different space to be in. Again, walking in where people may assume that everybody understands that cultural milieu. I remember someone telling me. I was promoted to vice president and I’m sitting there with a number of other women who were saying, “We’re going to brunch tomorrow.” There’s an assumption that you can, that you have a babysitter, etc. “We’re going to lunch tomorrow. Don’t you want to come? We’re going to XYZ restaurant. We’ve been there millions of times. It’s great.” There’s an assumption there.
Afterwards, we’re going to such and such boutique. We go there every week to shop. All of those lived experiences are different for different people but that is also the infrastructure for allyship. All people are understanding that this infrastructure may be different for different people, therefore, the notion of I need an ally becomes slightly more complicated or more colorful to be an ally and obtain an ally. There are a lot of assumptions that someone needs to be able to have the comfort and the vulnerability to have the conversation. Unfortunately, so many people have never had these conversations with people who are different.
What I have heard many times is, “I don’t want to offend you. I don’t want to say anything that is going to be insulting.” There are all of these fears also in having conversations with people who are different because many of us don’t live in communities where there are different people or have social lives. Even the notion of allyship means we have to have cultures that are inviting to have the kind of open and vulnerable conversations over time. It doesn’t happen immediately. To have those conversations where different is not fear-inducing. It’s not intimidating.Understand who you are. Cultivating the internal executive first allows you to have the presence of the executive in the room. Click To Tweet
Thank you for going there in the conversation. How can we approach without offending? How can we open a channel of communication and say, “I really do want to know? I recognize I’m part of the dominant culture so I don’t know how to do it without offense.” How does one approach that?
I have a lot of friends who are different from what I am. I try to be open around that. Many times, I have made that invitation, “Want to go to lunch? Let’s just talk.” We aren’t talking about our differences. We’re talking about life. As things come up, I’m comfortable talking about, “That’s a little bit different than what I’ve seen before, can you explain that?” Having a great conversation around life and over time, people get more comfortable. You avoid the tough conversations initially, needless to say.
I always say to people, “We’re getting to know each other. I may say something offensive to you. I apologize upfront. That’s not my intent. You may say something that I don’t agree with. Can we now have some ground rules for our conversation where if I say something disagreeable, you can tell me? If I say something questionable, you could ask me. Do I have permission with you to do the same thing? Can we walk down this road together understanding that the onus is not on you and the onus is not on me, it’s on both of us? How do we have this conversation such that we can feel safe because that’s what we’re trying to build?” I’ve had this conversation many times where the safety issue has to come up soon. I want you to feel safe with me. If you say something biased or offensive, I need to have permission to say that to you. We can agree to disagree or we can agree to have other solutions at the end of this. There has to be a mutual agreement around emotional safety to have those conversations.
That’s great. Let’s apply this to the executive presence and line this up with being different, knowing that you’re different. How can you elevate your executive presence in a culturally aware and conscious fashion? Can you?
Sure, you can but I think that it takes understanding who you are. It takes understanding your strengths, how you will react positively and negatively, and being very clear about the boundaries you have set for compromise, assimilation and acculturation. Most importantly, for me, it is understanding the value I have inside me. If I do not share that in the room, the room has lost a great opportunity. I don’t walk into the room thinking, “They’re not going to accept me.” I don’t think of all the barriers when I walk into the room.
For most minoritized individuals, you have fought the good fight to get there. I am put into this room for a reason. I am enthusiastic and excited about the ability to do that. I believe that if you have a presence aesthetically, that there is a value that I bring to you, that if I don’t share it, the solution will not be as complete as it should be. The solution may not be as innovative or it may not approach the market and be aligned to the market. There’s going to be something terribly missing. If all of us don’t share that. That’s the way I walk into the room.
Many times, the elevation of executive presence is understanding that the behaviors are the table stakes. You’ve got to know those behaviors walking into the room. How do you manage to be bicultural as we have to be? I am a woman. I am a person of color. I am in organizational and leadership culture, and a culture of this leadership team. How do I operate expertly, as a person who is managing multiple cultures at the same time, knowing that the value that I bring is so important? That to me elevates my presence. It’s not that I want to be there. It is that I believe that I am going to add value. That’s what’s critical to this firm.
It’s being grounded in who you are and owning your own value. Another thing as you were talking, it makes me think that the more people know you as a person, instead of that different person. The more they know and they say, “That’s Sharon. Sharon does this and she brings this value, etc.,” the more they will listen. It’s getting past the first barriers of, “You look different.” The more people recognize that, “This is Sharon and who she is.” I think getting in the door is the key. Showing people what you have to offer and how you can do that is a dance. It is a tight rope that we all walk, but it is a tight rope that can take you somewhere where suddenly you become Sharon the person instead of Sharon the other.
That is a long and tough journey. People have said to me, “Sharon, I’m colorblind,” which is ridiculous because you’re not. Many times, that phrase is added to the conversation in order not to have the confrontation. What I say to them always is that if I looked at a garden and all of the yellow daisies said, “I’m a daisy but don’t pay attention to this color because I’m just a daisy,” that wouldn’t make any sense. The reason the garden is so beautiful is because the yellow daisy is there. I want them to pay attention to Sharon but Sharon brings a set of lived experiences and lived perceptions that may be different. That’s okay. The men in the room had those two together. I always use the metaphor together. It’s like a pizza. If the pepperoni isn’t there, it doesn’t taste good. No one says, “Please don’t recognize that pepperoni.” I want them to accept me for me, but I want them to accept all of me. The difference doesn’t have to be part of the conversation.
For example, some people are good at math. I’m not. I want that difference to be elevated. That’s no different than my difference as an ethnic minority in the room. All of us bring so much in. Let’s leverage all of it. I want them to see me as valuable through their implicit biases. Those don’t get in the way but I may have an implicit bias against an attorney. I don’t like attorneys. All of us are learning how to navigate and negotiate differences, and it’s not bad. We’ve got to get to the place of being comfortable with sameness and homogeneity, as well as with the diversity of thought experiences and all that. We wouldn’t be in the room together if we’re all brilliant but we’ve got to leverage that. I do want them to get to know Sharon but I want them to know the whole of Sharon and not ignore that. I want to get to know the whole of them and not ignore that because together, they can be ideas that come up because of it.
Sharon Wamble-King, I could talk to you for the next five hours, but that’s going to make this way too long. I’d like to wind this up. Do you have one tip for someone who’s trying to cultivate executive presence? One thing to start with.
The one thing that I would start with is to know yourself. Understand who you are and cultivate the internal executive first. It allows you to have the presence of the executive in the room.
Sharon Wamble-King, thank you so much for having been a guest on the show. Let me remind you that if you’re curious about how your presentation skills are helping you or maybe not, you can take our free four-minute quiz at SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. In four minutes, you can see where you are strong as a presenter and where perhaps a little bit of support could help you get the results and the recognition you want and that you deserve. I’ll see you at the next one.
- The WambleKing Group
- Sharon Wamble-King – LinkedIn
- Honorable Congresswoman Barbara Jordan
- @Kingwam – Twitter
About Sharon Wamble-King
Sharon Wamble-King creates an inclusive space for people to soar to the zenith of their potential through communication and change leadership. A Berkeley native with several decades of experience in corporate, consulting and non-profit settings, she purposefully stimulates “A-ha” moments and relishes interpersonal interactions that uncover nuanced layers of situations to promote personal and organizational transformations.
As President of The WambleKing Group, Sharon has brought her keen insights and knowledge about organizational effectiveness and cultural transformation to establish organizations as thought and industry leaders, develop and implement large-scale change management strategies, and execute internal, external and multicultural communication solutions related to mergers, acquisitions and divestitures. She is a certified change management leader, an experienced teacher, speaker and coach.
Sharon served in executive leadership roles at several management consulting firms, health care insurance companies, health plans, provider delivery systems, and medical groups. She provided leadership development and coaching solutions in addition to leading diverse teams of staff and consultants developing strategic communications, marketing, and change leadership processes and programs.
Her focus on leadership and governance has led to serving as the Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees for the University of North Florida, Board Trustee for Florida Memorial University, and the Trustee for Foundation Board of Florida State University.
Sharon is passionate about equity and inclusion and is augmenting her professional experience by pursuing a doctorate in the Leadership and Change program at Antioch University. Her scholarship is focused on African American women’s unique leadership enactment shaped by the traditional African ethos and contemporary socialization processes.
She is the author of “The Journey of Faith in the Impossible” in Women in Leadership, “The Outcomes of Influence” in The ABCs of Influence and “Engaging Communication: Key to Earning Commitment”. She has been a featured speaker for the Conference Board, the American Marketing Association, the International Association of Business Communicators, and Edelman’s Change and Internal Communications Summit.