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Fighting Saboteurs
Episode 3

Fighting Saboteurs

CI to Eye with Jennifer Zaslow

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

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Erik and Jennifer talk about the importance of strong values in the workplace, fighting saboteurs, and how leaders are not supposed to know everything.

Erik Gensler: Jennifer, thank you so much for being here. I’m so excited for this conversation. So, for the folks that don’t know you. Can you give us a quick professional bio?

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah! I have had a kind of career path. Graduated from Wesleyan, came to New York to be an opera singer, that lasted about 5 minutes. Then I found my way to the William Morris Agency, where I worked for a theater agent who represented play writers and directors, including Terence McNally and Pete Gurney, and that was amazing, but that was also swimming with sharks and I hated it. Then I found myself at City Opera in the artistic department and about a month after I landed there, the development director came up to me and told me I was in the wrong job, and that I as meant to be a development professional. I had no idea what that meant. Then I went on essentially to do most of the jobs in development department at New York City Opera. And then I left to become head of development at Manhattan Theater Club. But then City Opera wooed me back, and I came back to City Opera to run development at that tortured time, which is when I met you. And then I went on to be a VP of development at the New York Public Library, which was an incredible experience, and I was there for 5 and a half years, but as I looked ahead to the rest of my life as a fundraiser, I felt that there was something more for me. So, I started seeing a coach to try to figure out what I might like to do next. And I went far down the road on another job, a really big job, and he was helping me in my search for that job, and every time I thought about taking that job I got nauseous. And then I thought, you know what? I love what I’m doing with this coach. Maybe I should try this. So, I dipped my toe in the water, and I started a certification class in coaching, and I immediately knew that was the right thing and here I am coaching fabulous people, like you. Largely in non-profit in the arts but also in the private sector, and I work with some wonderful partners and this is my present, and my future.

Erik Gensler: That’s amazing. So, for the folks that don’t know what coaching is, can you give us just a brief understanding of what coaching is? How people work with a coach? Who should work with a coach? I feel like that term in thrown around a lot and a lot of people call them coaching. What is coaching and what makes a good coach?

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah, yeah. There’s a lot of questioning about what is a coach. Is a coach a therapist? Is a coach a mentor? So, coaching kind of in the most general terms is about trying to get from good to great. Finding a partner, or a coach as partner, who goes through a process with you to help you reach your professional or personal goals. Some people ask me what’s the difference between therapy and coaching and my answer is something like, if you went to your therapist and said, “I feel sad”, your therapist might say, “Okay lets explore the origins of that and then”…

Erik Gensler: Let’s talk about your mother.

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah exactly! You know, then you might have kind of an open ended process of exploring your sadness. Going back to maybe feelings in the womb. I mean I had seven years of therapy, which I loved so …

Erik Gensler: I had 6. So…

Jennifer Zaslow: Not to denigrate it. As a coach if you came to me and said, “I feel sad”, I might say, “Okay, let’s accept that as fact, and what would you like to do about that?”. So, it’s a little more present and future focused. Who needs a coach? Anyone who has a goal to reach. You want to improve your over all health or feelings of well being, you want to get to the next level in your job, you’ve taken on a new and demanding role at your company and you’re a little nervous you don’t actually have the skills to do it, or your organizations feels you’re a high potential and they want more for you but they want to build our skills and confidence. All of these are examples of people who could benefit from coaching.

Erik Gensler: I think having gone through years of therapy and reaching a point that I felt like I wasn’t growing anymore and I was repeatedly going back to the same things. When I found coaching it was so eye opening and so helpful because it gave actionable ways of dealing with things and I felt like at some point in my therapy, it was just I actually felt bad for the therapist cause he had to just hear me wallow over and over and over.

Jennifer Zaslow: That’s funny.

Erik Gensler: And coaching over the past few years, I feel like every time I just leave so enthusiastic and actively working through interpersonal challenges and it’s just been wonderful for me. I wonder do you see more results or more embraced by people who have been through therapy?

Jennifer Zaslow: Therapy is a good grounding for people who come to coaching. One, just because they have experience exposing themselves in front of other people. I mean for the coaching relationship to work you really do have to open the kimono a little bit. One thing I talk about a lot is, coaching is about creating a space, and that space should be both safe, and courageous. So, you as the client need to be able to trust that you will be treated with kindness, compassion, respect, so that you can be yourself in that space but there’s also an expectation. Your coach holds your agenda for you, believes in you, sees the potential that you may not be able to see in yourself, and if your coach is doing his or her job, is envisioning for you a future that goes beyond what you think is possible.

Erik Gensler: I have to say, you’re amazing at that and I just …

Jennifer Zaslow: Thank you.

Erik Gensler: I really think working with you has been one the most beneficial things I have ever done in my career, which is why I wanted to have you, and have this conversation with you so people can learn more about this.

Jennifer Zaslow: I would just add one thing, which is that another thing I often say is that we all have blind spots about ourselves. So the value of working with a coach is that, your coach will see what you don’t see about yourself. That is both about your potential and about yourself limiting behaviors. A good coach will also call you out on where holding yourself back.

Erik Gensler: I felt like I went through my 20’s wanting praise for everything I do. Like if someone evaluated something I did and said this is not good or this redid something, I used to take that very personally but now, I want people to tell me where my limitations are. I want people to tell me where I could improve

Jennifer Zaslow: Right.

Erik Gensler: Because, for me, that’s how I think I get better.

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: To have a coach do that. So, what are some of the lesson from your background working in the arts and non-profit organizations that you take with you as a coach?

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah. So, I’ve worked in more than one dysfunctional environment. I’m not saying that’s unique to non-profit but because I worked with both clients in the private sector and in non-profit, I do think non-profit is lagging behind in terms of thinking about organizational culture and professional development. So, one thing I’ve seen in non-profit is great people, talented, smart people, staying for way to long in their jobs. Being willing to be underpaid maybe even mistreated, underappreciated, and I’ve started calling that non-profit Stockholm syndrome, where really good, talented professionals start substituting the mission for their organization, for their own personal fulfillment, that people are willing to put up with a lot more working for a mission driven organization because they feel that they are doing good, which is noble I guess in someway, but it’s misguided. Because in the end, as we all know if you’re …

Erik Gensler: It’s misguided, because in the end, as we all know, if you’re not personally fulfilled, you’re not going to be bringing your best to your organization. It’s pretty simple. Somehow your personal dissatisfaction is going to leak out into your interactions with your team, with your board members, with your donors, and you’re not going to be doing your best. Yeah, when you’re working in a mission-driven organization, you still have the right to expect to be in a professional environment, to work for a decent boss, to have professional development, and all the things you would expect in the private sector.

Jennifer Zaslow: Right. I’ve heard somebody, actually Jill Robinson, who I’m planning to interview for this podcast, calls it a crisis, where non-profits’ lack of investment in personal development is a crisis that then leads to things like people leaving and going somewhere else and then these long gaps exist where major jobs are not filled because people aren’t treated with the equity and capital that many for-profit organizations have figured out, and so by not investing in people, their people aren’t communicating with them, they’re leaving.

Erik Gensler: I agree with that completely. I agree with that completely. I do a lot of work with executive search people, and often I find myself recommending the same four people for the 100 top level jobs around town, because either the best people get out of the business because they are so disillusioned about what they’re seeing. The expectations are unreasonable, boards and executive leadership can’t work together constructively, and leaders don’t feel they have the resources they need to do the job that’s expected of them, and good professionals won’t work under conditions like that.

Jennifer Zaslow: So how do we fix that?

Erik Gensler: Yeah. You and I talk about a very famous coach by the name of Marshall Goldsmith, who says what got you here won’t get you there. Look at what’s happening at the Met Museum. Look at what happened to Carnegie Hall and, heartbreakingly, look at what happened to the City Opera, right? It’s not enough just to have been a fantastic curator or a superb first violinist. These are incredible talents that make you great in your role in the orchestra or in the museum, but they do not qualify you to lead a multi-hundred million dollar organization. So, if you, as the board chair, are dying to hire that curator as the CEO of the museum, get the person some professional development. Get the person some coaching. Learn what it takes to run an organization. Really dig into what the expectations are and provide your candidate with the resources they need to be successful.

Jennifer Zaslow: That’s right. I would also say have two people, because having artistic vision and artistic leadership is very different than running a corporation, which is essentially what you’re doing. Non-profit is a tax status, it’s not a way of operating a business. You’re still operating a business. You still have to make budget. You still need to make revenue. It’s a full-time job to be responsible for that. It’s also a full-time job to run the artistic vision. I saw that when I was at City Opera. You can’t do both at the level they need to be done, so why are we are staffing ourselves for failure?

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. Well, I remember, I think it was Korn Ferry who did the search, and I remember their gathering together, the senior people at City Opera, to ask what qualities would you like to see in the next director, and I remember my answer to that question, which was, “Two people.” Yeah. So, agreed 100 percent.

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah. I want to talk about some of the really valuable things that I’ve learned and that stick with me from our coaching, and one that we talk a lot about is cultivating a mindset of non-attachment, which is very Buddhist. What do you mean by that, and why is that important for someone in the workplace?

Erik Gensler: Yeah, so, you and I talk a lot about cultivating a mindfulness practice, so what mindfulness can give you, for instance, is a way of seeing the world increasingly with less judgment and more observation. That’s what is supposed to happen in meditation, that you sit with your thoughts. We know that thoughts will come through our minds, but we set them aside, we come to notice them without judgment, we aren’t hard on ourselves, as we know that our meditation is interrupted by the inevitable thinking brain, and by doing this, we start to change our outlook on ourselves and the world. So, this idea of a mindset of non-attachment is exactly this, where you are beginning to observe your environment without the churn of emotion that can often happen, where we become reactive to things. Things happen in our workplace on an hourly basis that drive us bananas, right? So, how do we not be reactive to that? If we are living in more of a mindset of non-attachment, we can respond, not react. We can separate ourselves from the emotional churn and improve our decision-making. I get asked a lot about, especially from people in the arts, who often think of themselves as passionate, and, of course, they worked in the opera for a long time. There’s a lot of passion there. “Won’t this turn me into a pod? I don’t want to not be a caring person. I don’t want to not be a passionate person.” No. That is not what this is about. You can still maintain your passion and your caring and also improve your decision-making capability by creating a little space between yourself and a situation, which I think people are longing for. I hate to use the word control, but be the masters of our decision-making and not have our emotions rule us.

Jennifer Zaslow: Right, right. It’s the sense of the being calm within the storm, because you can’t control the chaos around you. You can try to, but there’s only so much you can do. What you can control is your reaction to it.

Erik Gensler: That’s right. You can manage yourself. You can’t manage external circumstances.

Jennifer Zaslow: It’s so hard. I think it’s one of my life’s work to be mindful, to be aware, and just bring myself back. Same with meditation, where you’re bringing yourself back to the breath and letting thoughts pass through. Krista Tippett from “On Being” talks about how we’re such delicate sensitive souls, everyone, and people can so easily get hooked on the smallest things and it can throw you off for the rest of your day. Knowing that you’re a flawed human is helpful to start, that you’re flawed, everyone’s flawed, we’re all flawed. We’re lucky that there’s any order considering that we’re all human, but this idea of getting triggered, and Pema Chodron talks about that, too. She calls it shenpa, that trigger that then sets you off can ruin your day, can ruin your week, if you let it.

Erik Gensler: That’s right. You get carried away on that flow of emotion, which takes you out of the present moment, which is where decisions get made. That’s where clarity is, in that present moment, and you lose time. You’re somewhere else, and that, I think, is what we’re trying to counteract. On the topic of how hard it is, yeah, I hear that from everybody, and I certainly feel that myself, and that’s why we call it a practice, because it takes practice, and we’re letting-

Jennifer Zaslow: We call it a practice because it takes practice. We’re letting ourselves off the hook. We just have to practice it every day. That is not going to change. Right?

Erik Gensler: Right.

Jennifer Zaslow: We know that that’s part of the activity itself is that we are not going to judge ourselves because we know that we suck at it. As “10% Happier” Dan Harris-

Erik Gensler: Dan Harris, the book you recommended.

Jennifer Zaslow:. Dan Harris has a fantastic three minute meditation on the “10% Happiness” app, which is something like why I suck at meditation.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. I think Tim Ferriss says that he’ll meditate for 21 minutes and the majority of that is just getting to the place where you can actually meditate. Where it’s like if you have a 20 minute practice even if one minute of that is you’re truly in a place where you are non-attached then it’s worth that 21 minutes.

Jennifer Zaslow: Right.

Erik Gensler: When people say, “I can’t meditate,” he says start with taking one mindful breathe in a day, one mindful breathe is the place to start.

Jennifer Zaslow: Right. Yeah.

Erik Gensler: I thought that was really interesting.

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah. That’s great.

Erik Gensler: One thing that you’ve said to me that has also stuck is about feedback. We have a culture here that we try to be quick with feedback. We have radical candor where we give feedback in the moment and in person if we can. But one thing we’ve talked about is feedback is often about the person giving feedback, both praise and criticism, and having non-attachment to both.

Jennifer Zaslow: Right.

Erik Gensler: Can you talk a little bit about that?

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah. Yeah. So I mean I think in a way you’ve said it. One reason we do 360s in coaching for people who may not know what that is, it’s where you interview a cross section of people’s teams, both vertically and horizontally to get feedback as part of a coaching process. Then the feedback you get gets aggregated and anonymized. The idea being that the most valuable feedback is consensus feedback. Why is that? Because any individual feedback you give typically has as much to do or more to do with the single person giving the feedback than the person receiving the feedback, which doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. But if you get feedback from ten people and eight of them say the same thing then you’re getting to something that you could benefit from looking at. I think the key to using feedback in a constructive way is one, understanding the source and not taking it too literally on a case by case basis. I mean there are constructive frameworks like the 360 that can be very valuable in giving feedback. Now I’m really just talking about taking feedback. I’m not talking about giving feedback in a review situation, which maybe you want me to say something about. Let’s see.

Erik Gensler: Well, it’s interesting that I think for me as the owner of this business, I don’t get as much feedback from my team, which I’m somebody who likes feedback but I feel like, oftentimes, people don’t feel like they can give the boss feedback. I don’t even call myself the boss. But it’s my company so I think it’s hard for people. One of the things that I really like about coaching is you can give me feedback and you can make me look at things that are tough to look at and allows me to work on those things. Occasionally, I will get feedback, which I think is where you gave me the note that feedback is about the person giving feedback. It’s the whole thing about where we’re so delicate. If you hear something that you don’t like it can trigger things, which goes back to mindfulness. But I also think this sort of takes us to my next question, which is about saboteurs, which is something we also talk a lot about. Tell us what is a saboteur and talk about some of them because I think it’s a fascinating framework.

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah. I mean understanding the idea of the saboteur was a gigantic revelation for me personally because I suffered for a long, long time from that inner voice, that undermines you. Some people call it an inner critic. Some people call it a saboteur. The power of that voice is that most of us who have it think we’re the only ones who have it. So there’s the one, two punch. One the sound of that voice and two the shame of feeling like, “Oh my God. I have to hide from other people all the ways that I’m inadequate.” So this is part of coaching training is to learn how to tackle the saboteur or the inner critic and give clients tools to be able to do this. I did a lot of research into this through the work of Shirzad Chamine who wrote a book called “Positive Intelligence”. So his framework around saboteurs includes naming a number of different lanes that the saboteurs drive in. The most powerful one he calls the judge saboteur, which you and I have talked about a lot. That’s my saboteur. That judge voice sounds like, “Who do you think you are? You’re not ready to take this job.” Or, “You’re going to make an ass of yourself if you speak up in this meeting so better to just keep quiet.”

Erik Gensler: I don’t suffer from that saboteur.

Jennifer Zaslow: You do not suffer from that. Right. We’ve talked about that a lot. Then there’s the pleaser saboteur.

Erik Gensler: I suffer from that one.

Jennifer Zaslow: Okay. So the pleaser saboteur is rather self explanatory but, “Oh my God, people won’t like me if I do this.” Or, “Oh so and so will be mad at me.” A real deep anxiety about not being liked or someone being angry at you for something you do. So what do these voices do? They quietly and secretly undermine us. Over time, they become very convincing because, of course, we’re the creator of those voices. So this voice learns how to speak to us in a way that’s convincing uniquely to us. Right? We come to buy in to that critique. The result of that is that options slowly over time get taken off the table by the saboteur. So not only do you not go for things, you don’t even know that those things are options. So again going back to the value of coaching, the value of professional development, the value of even networking with your colleagues in a way that’s really honest and transparent is really learning that most of us suffer from a saboteur. I mean Shirzad Chamine famously coaches lots of Fortune 500 CEOs. Will get all these CEOs in a room and ask them to write down their biggest fear on a 3 by 5 card and pass that to the front. Then he reads all these fears to the front of the room. It’s anonymous. They’re not attributed to people. But all of these people sitting around this room are looking at one another thinking who was the person who said, “I’m the CEO of a company, but I don’t know anything about sales.” Or all of these which largely are irrational. But it’s such an aha moment for these people to see that actually we all have these inner voices that are undermining us.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Jennifer Zaslow: So one thing that you and I have talked about a lot and I talk about with lots of my clients is how do we sideline that voice? The first step is acknowledging that it exists. Just like everything in coaching, it’s just getting it out there on the table in a safe space and then starting to document how often that happens and what it sounds like and creating a strategy to sideline it.

Erik Gensler: When you first explained this to me, one thing that really helped me understand the concept was that you said, “The saboteur is not you. It’s a separate entity.”

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah. Yeah. Being able to externalize it I think is really important. Often, I think is really important. And often I will ask clients, “Well, what is this voice saying?” And, to a person, they’ll say, “Oh it’s saying ‘You are no good at this,’ or ‘You shouldn’t do this.'” It’s never “I.” It’s always “You.” So it’s always in the second person. So it really isn’t us talking to ourselves. Yes, maybe we’ve had a hand in creating the strategy for this voice, but the more we can start to think of it as an external, undermining force that, frankly, if we’re gonna try to be nice to it, to say, “It’s just not useful.” It’s not useful.

Erik Gensler: Right. And oftentimes, your favorite question to me is, “What is this about?” And then it’ll be followed up with, “I think I hear the pleaser saboteur.”

Jennifer Zaslow: Again, this is what the coaching space is for. This is likely not the conversation you’re gonna be having with a team member, or a spouse, or a boss. The coaching space is unique, in this way. It’s where someone is gonna talk turkey with you, about what they’re hearing.

Erik Gensler: Right. I know, I’m happy to, like you said, open the kimono and talk about the things I’m working on, because you’re right. It’s about acknowledging things is so powerful, and making them real, and it’s amazing, where I will have a week where I’m feeling pent up, or anxious about something, and then having a coaching session, I will leave like I just dropped off a 500 pound backpack full of rocks that I just left. And it’s just so freeing. And it’s not even necessarily about having a breakthrough every time, it’s just about putting these things on the table.

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah, it’s perspective.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely. Another valuable saying we often come back to, that I repeat to myself quite a bit, and I am working on, is this concept of people are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. What does that mean, and give me an example of how that’s useful?

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah. So this is kind of a tent pole of coaching. And what it means is that, in our coaching relationship, I see you as naturally creative, resourceful, and whole, which means that you are a being fully capable of coming up with your own solutions, switching gears, solving problems, moving yourself to the next level. My job, as a coach, is to be a partner, a prod, a witness, a support. It’s not my job to solve your problems, or give you advice. That’s not what a coach is. It’s not my job to get in there and look at the value proposition of your business, or the margin. It’s my job to elicit from you what you think are the core issues, and support you, and be a witness to you, as you think through, and come up with the solutions to those issues. Where that intersects, maybe, we talked, earlier, about the pleaser saboteur. Pleasers often worry a lot about people on their team who are unhappy, or who may be suffering, or not doing well in their jobs, and there’s a real urge to kind of leap in, and try to fix that. So, in the context of that, you and I have talked about seeing team members as naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. Giving them the space to solve those problems on their own, what is the value of that, I would ask you.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Jennifer Zaslow: What is the value of that?

Erik Gensler: Well, you can fish for somebody, or you could teach them to fish.

Jennifer Zaslow: Exactly.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. And that’s been a big learning for me, and I’ve gotten the feedback, before, that, “Just listen, don’t try to solve this for me. I just need you to listen, not solve it.” And I think my tendency is to jump in, and I’m very impatient, and I’m very future looking, and I move at a very fast pace. And so sometimes I’m just like, “Let me just fix this for you, and move on to the ten next things I need to work on.” But I think it is and I think that’s growing into leadership, which is the outcomes are not about your work, but about enabling your team to do great work.

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: Which goes into the leader as facilitator, and you talk about Alan Mulally at Ford, who oversaw the real turnaround at Ford.

Jennifer Zaslow: That’s right, that’s right.

Erik Gensler: And he uses the mentality of leader as facilitator. What does that mean?

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah. So facilitative leadership is something that’s getting talked about a lot, now. And so what does that mean? It’s a movement away from the idea of the very hierarchical top down kind of leadership, where a CEO sees him or herself as the answerer of all questions. What happened at Ford was that, at a very dark time, Alan Mulally came in. He had formerly been with Boeing. And kind of immediately instituted this new system where he would bring his senior leaders together, on a regular basis, to report on their objectives, with a very simple system. You code your objectives as red means there’s a problem, and I don’t know what to do about it. Yellow means there’s a problem, but I’ve got a strategy to fix it. And green means I’m good to go. In the beginning, when I think they were maybe facing bankruptcy, everyone came together and reported all greens. And I think his question was, “How is this possible? Why is everyone reporting that they’re good to go, when we’re facing bankruptcy?” And so, what immediately got revealed, was that people were afraid to tell the truth, because they were afraid of repercussions. That they couldn’t be honest in front of the CEO, or in front of one another, about what their problems were. So in short order, he made it crystal clear that you had to be honest about what was happening. And soon, people started reporting reds and yellows. And the idea was that, once you start surfacing your problems, you can begin solving them. He was clear that he might not have the answers to all those problems. But that, at a place like Ford, there were highly qualified people around the table, who could participate in solving those problems, or who would know someone who could participate in solving those problems. And by doing that, what he did was take out the element of shame. You know, there’s this common idea that supervisors don’t want you to come to them, “Don’t come to me with a problem, only come to me with a solution.” That is the opposite of facilitative leadership. Mulally’s feeling was that that creates a culture of fear, and shame. And by doing that, everybody shuts down, becomes territorial, goes into their silos. It increases the politics of the environment, and you can’t come together as a team to solve big problems. And this was how he turned things around.

Erik Gensler: And what that really comes down to is culture.

Jennifer Zaslow: Yes, that’s right.

Erik Gensler: It comes down to values. It comes down to creating a space where people can be successful. And we talked, very early, about a values driven organization, and really reinforcing a values driven organization.

Jennifer Zaslow: That’s right.

Erik Gensler: And I, with your inspiration, along with the leadership team here, have built a company that’s very grounded in core values. And when we face a conflict, or we face a challenge, we often lean on the values to help solve it. And what you said, that really stuck with me, was that the tasks, the work, the goals, even, will change, but the values are evergreen, the values should remain the same. Can you explain why this is such an important concept?

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah. Well I’ve mentioned to you, years ago, a management consultant who was working with us, at City Opera, showed me this matrix that Jack Welch used to use. And it was a very, very simple, four quadrant matrix that mapped values to goals. So, in these four quadrants, quadrant one is, if you meet the values, and you meet the goals- Quadrant one is, if you meet the values, and you meet the goals, great! Fantastic! You get a promotion. Quadrant two, if you don’t meet the values, and don’t meet the goals, bye-bye. You’re gone. Quadrant three, if you meet the values, but you don’t make the goals, okay, you get another chance, or another chance or two. Maybe you get some coaching, maybe you get some training. Quadrant four is the challenging quadrant. This is the manager who makes the goals, but doesn’t meet the values. And what Jack Welch saw, as the problem here, was that companies are so compelled to keep on people who make their goals. They’re making their revenue goal, it’s so compelling to keep these people one, but they’re maybe abusive to their staff, or maybe they’re talking behind people’s backs, or maybe they’re only working half-time, and having their teams do all the work, and they’re taking all the credit. They’re not upholding the values of the company. And what he realized is that, over time, single-handedly, they could destroy the culture of a company. Ruin morale, undermine people’s willingness to work there, so his view was, you cannot keep people who are not on values.

Erik Gensler: I think yeah that’s-

Jennifer Zaslow: That was a huge aha for me.

Erik Gensler: Yeah, that was aha for me, too. I actually learned that through Cameron Herold, who is a business strategy coach. And he says the four quadrants, and he says, right, the person who is high values, not making goals, they need mentorship, they need coaching, they need support.

Jennifer Zaslow: Maybe they’re in the wrong job.

Erik Gensler: Right, or they move jobs, exactly.

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah, I mean they’re already values-aligned. They already understand the mission. They’re on board. Maybe they’re just in the wrong job. Maybe they can be retooled.

Erik Gensler: And we’ve moved, here, completely to hiring for values. Which, for us, it’s our passion value, which is passion about the arts, and passion about what the arts mean, and what the arts mean to somebody. And we found, luckily, that a love of arts is often a proxy for a lot of other things. Being open minded, being curious, being open to being interacted with, and those are great qualities, as an employee, as well. So we’re very lucky to work and I think that’s, when you’re working at arts organizations, some of the most talented, passionate people you come across, but often they’re in organizations that aren’t values driven. They’re values-arbitrary. There’s no articulation of values. So you have these very talented people that are sort of rudderless, and they’re meeting goals, but I think, without values, you don’t know your lane. You don’t know what the boundaries are.

Jennifer Zaslow: Well right. If the values are not clearly articulated, then how do you know whether you’re supporting them, or not. I mean, all of us, I think, have worked in environments where it was crystal clear that there were people who were meeting goals, and being kept on because of that, but who were horrific to work with. And often that’s invisible to the CEO, or the manager, but it’s completely visible to the people who work for that person. But if the values aren’t stated, then there’s no measure by which to evaluate them. So that is an egregious error, from a management perspective, I think.

Erik Gensler: Are you hearing, more and more in work, about workplaces in the arts, and the nonprofit, or even a for profit, moving to more clear articulation of values?

Jennifer Zaslow: No. I mean, I’m not, but I would welcome hearing from other people. In my private sector work, there’s a lot of work going on this front. I mean, there are very clear articulation of values, and startups I’ve worked with. You can go on their website, and find their deck, and Netflix, famously, has a very clear articulation of their values, and organizational culture. Their principles. So I think this is another example of how nonprofits could benefit from looking to the private sector.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely, absolutely. So you spend a lot of time helping other people get inspired, and focused, and talk through their challenges. I’m curious, where do you look for inspiration?

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah. Not to sound hokey, but I get a lot of inspiration from my clients. And that, for me, is like the great revelation of this work. I had really no idea what it was gonna be like. And I may have said to you, I’m an I, in the Myers-Briggs, I’m an introvert, which lots of people don’t believe, about me. But that means that I derive my energy from being alone. And then, once I’m recharged, I can do lots of interaction. But that also means that, late at night, it’s hard for me to find energy. And, in the beginning, I found myself doing some coachings, late at night, and I was very concerned about that. But it turns out that I love it, because I derive so much energy from the coaching work itself, that I had plenty of energy to be able to coach at night. But, beyond that, music is a huge source of energy, and inspiration for me. Opera is still one of my first loves. And I wrote a blog post, after the election, which seemed almost immediately obsolete, but it was all about kind of how we can rejuvenate ourselves by digging into our own creative impulses. So I’ve been singing again, just to try to take the edge off of the political situation.

Erik Gensler: Absolutely, yeah. It’s a hard one. I’ve been-

Jennifer Zaslow: We don’t need to go there.

Erik Gensler: No, we don’t have to go there. Cause that could be a whole separate podcast. So let’s, last question, we call this the CI to Eye moment. If you could broadcast to the executive directors, leadership teams, and boards of 1,000 arts organization, what advice would you provide them, to improve their business?

Jennifer Zaslow: Yeah. Invest in professional development. We really kind of already touched on this, but I absolutely agree with Jill. We are in a crisis of leadership, in nonprofit right now. We don’t have appropriate leaders to step into the top positions at all these major arts institutions. And some of them have budgets of a decent sized company in the private sector. Boards need to have a better understanding of what their roles are. When you look at the conflict that happened at Carnegie Hall, which I saw as just a misunderstanding about where a board’s role begins and ends, and how boards work constructively with executive directors. Investing in professional development, both for boards, and executive leaders, is critical. And through that, I think, coming up with a better governing structure, that allow boards to be boards, and bring their expertise, and for executive leaders to have all the training they need to lead with authority.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. I wonder if some of the boards, it’s often with the best intentions, but it’s so, from my experience, I see people get so thrown off, and so unfocused, because someone on the board has an idea. And because it came from the person on the board, it’s a priority. But yet, when you look at that in the larger scope of what should be important, it really, it could take a week, and it can distract from things that are actually moving the business. And, because it came from the board, it becomes the priority.

Jennifer Zaslow: So I see this as a failure of leadership. A leader with a good coach, not to be self-referential, would be working on how to say no to a person of authority, in a compassionate, professional, non-attached away. That’s what that issue is. I mean, remember, I worked in fundraising for 20 years. I mean I saw a lot of saying yes to donors, when the answer should have been no. But there’s a way to say no that sounds kind of like yes. This is about having the courage of your convictions, and some experience under your belt.

Erik Gensler: Right. I mean, and I think professional development can be defined in a lot of ways, it can be defined in, even if your organization is not giving it to you, you can seek it out. It’s even like free online resources, or finding ways, and I think one thing that, and this is a bit off track, here, but in terms of budgets for professional development, one way that boards and leadership can help solve this is give people the budget to go to more than one conference in a year. I remember, and we’ve talked about this before, that many times, people who come to our conference, there’s so much pressure for them to make it meaningful, because it’s their only chance. And-

Jennifer Zaslow: So sad.

Erik Gensler: It’s sad!

Jennifer Zaslow: It is sad.

Erik Gensler: Because that’s where you’re gonna grow, and that’s where you’re gonna learn, and I mean I feel like a foundation could really come in and even help solve this problem, of like, “We’re a foundation, and we’re gonna support professional development, in the arts field.” So any funders out there listening, reach out.

Jennifer Zaslow: Absolutely.

Erik Gensler: Help us solve this. This was a really interesting conversation, I always so enjoy my time with you, so thank you so much for taking the time.

Jennifer Zaslow: You too, thank you.

About Our Guests
Jennifer Zaslow
Jennifer Zaslow
Executive Coach

Jennifer Zaslow is an Executive Coach who believes that power begins with finding your voice. She began her professional life in New York as an aspiring opera singer, an experience that led to a twenty-year career as a leader and senior fundraiser in the non-profit sector.

Read more

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