Will Bachman: Hey there podcast listeners, welcome to Unleashed. The show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is sponsored by Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top tier independent management consultants. I’m your host Will Bachman.
Valia Glytsis: So, how you actually help people qualify strengths is a brilliant way to connect, go deeper, and I think at a tremendous amount of value to clients.
Will Bachman: Our guest today is Valia Glytsis, who runs The Paradox of Leadership. A leadership education firm based in New York and San Francisco. Valia works with leaders and organizations that yearn for a more meaningful and impactful way of working, communicating and leading. She has a blue chip list of clients that includes HBO, McKinsey and Company, Digitos, Soul Cycle, New York City Economic Development Corporation, NYU, Georgetown University and many other impressive clients.
In our wide ranging conversation we talk about the ways that Valia builds her firms visibility through writing, hosting invitation only events which sound awesome, and her speaking engagements. We also talked about the three main revenue lines of her firm and how those work together, which are executive coaching, her training seminars, and keynote speeches.
She reveals her morning routine and I have already adopted some of her recommendations. She discusses her three core values and how Valia choose them and what role they play. On her website, theparadoxofleadership.com, Valia has some audio products for sale and she was kind enough to offer listeners an I’m unleashed, a promo code, inspire I-N-S-P-I-R-E the way it’s normally spelled. Good for 20% off her audio program or her private coaching program.
The code is appropriate because I was truly inspired by our conversation, and I hope you are as well. Valia, I am so excited to have you on the show. Thank you so much for joining.
Valia Glytsis: I’m thrilled to be here. Thanks.
Will Bachman: Valia, we’ve worked together in the past and collaborated on a few projects, and I’ve attended one of your presentations on personal branding, which was awesome at Columbia University. Just to kind of get us started, instead of me bungling an intro, tell us a little bit about your practice.
Valia Glytsis: Sure. My business is called The Paradox of Leadership. It’s essentially a progressive boutique leadership development company. What I mean by that is we do leadership development, training, programming, seminars, coaching, but the philosophy that drives what we do is progressive. By that I mean from the inside out, so very much rooted in who are the individuals, what matters to them what’s meaningful, and allowing that to drive how they’re showing up as leaders, managers. Whether they’re leading just themselves or an entire organization.
We also work quite a bit from the top down. So, starting with executive off sites, retreats, seminars to shift behavior at that level, to then have a ripple effect down to different levels of management and eventually individual contributors. So, from soup to nuts, bespoke training, coaching across industries.
Will Bachman: We can spend a whole hour unpacking that because there’s so much bundled in there. Maybe we can start by walking through the different types of activities that you and your firm do. I went to one of your seminars, I know you do executive coaching, that you do larger programs. Could you walk through each of the major, your revenue lines, if you will? The types of services that your firm offers?
Valia Glytsis: Absolutely. So, it’s three major buckets; executive coaching which ranges across all levels of the organization, but usually senior managers, and above where we’d be doing a six to nine months engagement. The second bucket is trainings and seminars. That might be anything from a half day workshop to a series of trainings that happen over the course of time when a firm really wants to shift behavior in a certain level group, and where there’s some type of common pain point or some type of high potentials, trying to get them to another level.
Finally, the third bucket is more speaking, events, experiences. This might be taking a group, a leadership team, for example, off site for a week, and having much more of an immersive leadership experience where it’s both content, its strategy building, and it’s also having team building experiences, dinners, interacting with the environment wherever we find ourselves and so on. So, those are the three pillars that we work on.
Will Bachman: Wow, where would you do some of these off sites? I’m curious to hear about these experiences.
Valia Glytsis: These can be anything from … I always encourage them never do these on site at your company, because there’s something about getting them away. So, depending on budget, of course, we could stay in the same city and be going to a hotel location. I’ve had clients rent out entire bed and breakfasts in completely remote locations where it’s just us and the woods for a week. I have clients who really want to do something more luxury. So we go away to an island and have something there where it’s a little bit of business, a little bit of pleasure, more like a sales retreat, what used to be incentive trips, but now they’re teaching meets experiences. I’m actually off to Key Largo, Florida next week for one of those.
It really depends on the vision that the CEO or leadership team have in terms of what they want people to walk away with. Is it inspiration, is it learning, is it self reflection, and then we’ll pick a location according-
Will Bachman: Wow. All right. Key Largo, tough work, if you can get it.
Valia Glytsis: Yeah.
Will Bachman: I want to spend time and dive into each of those. Maybe we could first start though by love to hear about how you do visibility raising for your firm. Because I know you’re active at writing and blogging and giving talks. Talk us through the different pillars of that and how you think about allocating your time and the types of activities you’re doing to raise awareness of your practice?
Valia Glytsis: Sure. I think it’s such a good question for all of us who are entrepreneurs. It’s so important, and it’s the thing that we either love or we hate. I never felt a sales person per se. So, cold calling, knocking on doors, trading business cards, going to networking events was never for me. I’m very introverted in that way. I prefer deep relationships. That’s actually how you and I met and, sticking with companies over time.
Its been very much a word of mouth business like many of us. The things I do, which feel authentic in that marketing scope are a couple fold. One is, I write. This is, as I see people at events, as I see former clients, I send a bi-monthly reflections on leadership, where it’s not a sales pitch, it’s really adding value. So, I will give leadership tools, techniques, thoughts, articles, for those who are ready to dive into this inside out leadership work. So that’s one avenue.
The second thing I do is we host actual Paradox of Leadership, private events where we bring together former clients, potential clients, industry partners, fellow coaches. It really feels added value from a networking perspective, but we are the host and delivering content. That also allows us to be creating warm relationships with people. And quite frankly, well, giving people a taste of this is what we do. So, now you know if this is too much for you and your business or if this is exactly the type of shift you’re looking for.
I’m very clear that I use that as a heightened filter because I don’t want to waste our time or a client’s time, if the work that we do is too much leadership. We’re not for the faint at heart. The third thing we do is I do a ton of speaking engagements. This I would say, has been my primary mode of building a business. Lunch and learns, women’s leadership programs, speaking at conferences, going back to alumni events throughout a variety of universities, always asking clients, “Hey, if you’re doing anything, and you need a speaker, let me know.” That has been the core of how we build what we build because then they know us, they trust us, they like us. I find that it actually sells itself at that point. So, I’m doing very little sales even though I would say that’s probably one of the big hats of being a CEO.
Will Bachman: Sure. But I’d like to get into a couple of these. So, speaking engagements, any tips on … It sounds like some of these are internal company events, and some might be broader ones. Any tips on how you maybe capture people’s contact info, or how do you follow up with people after the speech?
Valia Glytsis: What I do, at first I was lousy at it. I was just so happy. It’s my happy place when I’m delivering a speech. So, I was just, “Yay, thank you for coming.” And then off I go until I got a little bit smarter and said, “Wait, now I’m actually not giving these people anything.” So, a few tips is there’s going to be different price sensitivities in terms of who can and wants to do more with you or those who don’t, or those who want to but don’t have the funding for it.
What I did was actually create an abridged audio product. So, for those who can’t get executive coaching fully sponsored by their company, there’s something that is a continuation. What I’ll do at the end of a speech is say for those interested here is a discount code specifically for you. Take, $200, $500 whatever it is off of the program as a thank you for being here.
That allows a continuation of service with us. I’ll also then say, to become part of our trusted leadership network, where we do events and send the newsletter and all of that good stuff, please sign this. I’ll just, very old fashioned. But just send a signing sheet around the room and I ended up getting well over 80% of people signing up every talk.
I think it’s just being very warm and authentic, rather than feeling salesy and pushy. Because I feel really confident that the stuff we do adds value and it’s not give me, give me, give me. I think once the content feels right, it’s actually quite an authentic ask to sign up, give us your contact information, and by the way, here’s an audio product. So, I would recommend that to everyone if there’s something you can package into a bite sized chunk that allows you to add even more value after.
Will Bachman: Yeah. That audio product, on just a real, practical level, how does that work? Do you host it on your own website technically? How do people buy it and pay for it and do the discount code? I’m curious to the details on that.
Valia Glytsis: Yes, I have it right on the website. So, they basically go to the product section of the website, they click on it, there’s an area for a promo code and then it’s a simple download. My current audio product happens to be seven mini bite size teachings with a downloadable workbook that they follow along and do all the exercises. So, it’s a mini description, you click on it, you put your promo code and within seconds, you’re able to start the-
Will Bachman: Wow. Before I forget, where can people go and find your website and these products?
Valia Glytsis: I appreciate that. The website is theparadoxofleadership.com, all one word, theparadoxofLeadership.com, and it’s right on our products page.
Will Bachman: All right, great. So, it’s giving people something of value. Asking, “Hey, sign up, and you’ll get this bi-weekly newsletter and access to some cool stuff.
Valia Glytsis: Yes. The other thing I do is, and this is more … My target demographic is very much small to medium sized company, some large companies, but who are really invested again in leadership development and management development, in diversity and inclusion initiatives, in women’s leadership initiative. It’s a bigger fish that I’m after. What I’ll also do at the end of a talk is say my mission is to get this worked with as many human beings as possible. These are the types of organizations that we really look to work with, et cetera.
So, I paint a very clear picture and then just simply ask, and that has been a really genuine way of then following up the next day, setting up a coffee chat. So, I would say my ‘business development’ takes time, but I find it’s very effective because once they want to have a coffee chat with me, we’re scheduling for a program a month or two-
Will Bachman: Wow, that’s great. I’m curious to hear about these events that you run. Paint a picture for me of what kind of room and facility you’re using and is it you interviewing someone up front or delivering some content and networking afterwards, or cocktails. Paint a picture for us?
Valia Glytsis: Yeah. My favorite thing is to deliver content. Right now, it has been paradox content heavy. What we’re moving towards is more of a facilitation model. But up to now, it has been someone sponsors our space, I typically cap them at 25 people, because I find that’s enough to be warm and intimate and feel like a workshop but large enough that you get to network across industry. So, that’s my sweet spot number. Anywhere between 20 and 25 always have wine and cheese. Part of my gene is hospitality. I don’t know if it’s the Greek in me. I know it’s because my husband is in the luxury hospitality field, but that really matters.
So, wine cheese. Branding really matters to me. It’s one of our specialties. So, I’ll always have things printed on a nice card. Even though people want things digitally, I think those little touches matter. It feels like you’re coming and spending an evening in our home, even if we might be in a different space.
So, I cap it at 20, 25 people, and I’ll usually run them for about two hours. It’ll be welcome, have a drink network, about an hour and 15 of content, and then break up again with an exercise to make the networking more purposeful. Again, the model we’re moving towards is more facilitation to have panels of people where we are sponsored by a company, they provide space once again, which is typically informal, a bunch of chairs or round tables, and then we are doing a little bit of content but more shepherding of ideas on leadership across[inaudible 00:14:56]
Will Bachman: So, what kind of firm would be sponsoring this? Like a law firm or something?
Valia Glytsis: Could be. Our most recent one was sponsored by a bank which was a client of ours. The one we’re about to, a huge technology company is going to sponsor our next one. So , it’s usually people that we’ve done some type of business with that believe in the work, and quite frankly, have boatloads of faith and are happy to be generous with it after hours. Sometimes we need to get scrappy.
Will Bachman: And then, who gets invited to these? Is this general public or you go out and proactively targeting and inviting specific people?
Valia Glytsis: We proactively target. It’s the best of the best of our clients because we want to have folks in the room who can speak powerfully to what we do; networkers, influencers, industry partners that we like, respect. Of course, I’ve got my eye on you, I want to get into that firm. Let’s come and meet and see what we do live before we have a coffee chat. It usually works really well and again, just with a lot of integrity for how our brand wants to communicate.
Will Bachman: That’s cool. A full range of pretty active investment and building visibility and doing outreach.
Valia Glytsis: I think that that’s my number one job right now as CEO. Sometimes I’m the intern and packing boxes. I feel like at this stage in the business it feels like a visibility game for sure. We’re working to expand by [inaudible 00:16:24] right now. So, I ended up spending this winter doing the same thing. Is hitting the ground running, lunch and learns. Hi, how are you? I’m happy to do something for your firm, where do you have a pain point, what can we speak on, and that’s what it is. It’s just I think being generous with your time and your knowledge at first to really get them [inaudible 00:16:43]
Will Bachman: Yeah. You mentioned that you’re expanding. Tell me a little bit about the structure and nature of your firm. I know that you’ve had some work done where you’re maybe doing a program for a company, give a speech and then perhaps they have a request for coach 40 people. So, you bring in some subcontractors. Could talk a little bit about how you’re building out your team with both either full-time or subcontractors?
Valia Glytsis: It’s exactly the way you mentioned the model. I might do a one day leadership team session, and then we make a lot of traction. They say, “Hey, now we’ve got our next level of managers, let’s just say 40 people, come in and coach them.” That’s where I had to make a choice in the business. Do I want to be a solopreneur? I could take on the 40 but that of course, would exclude other projects, or do I need to stay at this level of visibility, of business development, doing high profile projects to then allow others to come in.
I made the choice to scale. I think it’s a tough choice because there’s a bit of letting go, there’s a lot of mindset shifts that happen. But I really again, wanted to reach as many human beings as possible and I know that I can’t do that as a one woman show. So, the model I’m using right now is subcontractors. I don’t have any employees. I like the subcontractor model because I think you’re able to cherry pick and really hone in on unique skill sets, on unique offerings, background industry knowledge.
Across the 12 coaches that I have active right now, we have depth and breadth, whether you need a specific assessment, whether you need something on crucial conversations, whether you need something focused on mindfulness and business, I’m able to pick and choose and make a pretty compelling offering to our client.
Of course, my work now is how do I keep all those people busy? That’s the joy now of being at the helm is to continue to give work appropriately. I’ve spent the past year really trying to operationalize that. How do we price, what our margins look like, how do I get our subcontractors busy trained on brands. That’s extremely important to me. So, not just a good coach, but a good coach that can coach from a paradox [inaudible 00:19:00]
Will Bachman: I’ve been holding off on asking until now. I’m sure it’s maybe one of the top three questions you get. You invite the question, paradox of leadership. Tell me a little bit about what that means.
Valia Glytsis: It’s based on my story. It’s based on me thinking that leadership was something out there, if you will, right? That we try and find and ends up on a business card or happens when you’re running a big thing. Just through my own journey in coaching, in being very successful corporately and realizing that that was suffocating me and going back to nothing, not knowing how bills were going to be paid, but then finding the heart and soul of what I thought, and what I think I meant to do. I realized leadership is completely a state of mind, and it’s something that comes from within. Whether you are a janitor, a waitress, a CEO, a lawyer, a doctor, it’s about how you show up in the world.
The paradox to me is continuing to unfold and find or contradictions and to see that all of those together is what makes someone’s leadership distinctive from someone else’s. So, that’s the work that we do behind closed doors is help people discover that paradox within.
Will Bachman: I love that explanation. It reminds me a little bit of the Art Of Possibility by Ben Zander, where he talks about leading from the back of the orchestra.
Valia Glytsis: Yes, love that. It’s a shepherding, right? It’s servant leadership. I think that’s exactly-
Will Bachman: Talk to me about the executive coaching piece of the delivery and of the execution of the work of your firm. I only have the vaguest experience with executive coaching and what that entails. Could you talk a little bit about what that looks like from the inside when you’re in the room? What are you dealing with clients? I know you do these six to nine month engagements. So, maybe you can walk us through a sanitized six to nine month engagement, what that would look like.
Valia Glytsis: Yeah, of course. Basically, we get brought in … There’s two types of coaching. There’s remedial coaching where something is broken or bad or this person is going to be fired unless. Then there’s more high potential development coaching. We specialize in the latter. Someone might bring us in that, hey, this leader was fabulous as an individual performer or even as a manager, but now they are leading a really big scope. So, how do you help them on board, elevate their presence, really become an influencer in the organization, for example?
We’re typically called when someone is asked to stretch and needs that objective support. The way we work is quite integrated. So, there would be a manager sponsoring a partner in HR, sponsoring … Then of course the buy in and excitement of the individual, the clients. We don’t coach unless the client is fully vested in what it is that they’re doing and what they want. So, the six to nine months looks like a discovery period upfront where we are picking, prodding really getting to understand their world, their pain points, what they think they need versus what HR thought they need, versus what their manager thinks they need. Then we go into our fourth phase approach.
The first of the four phases is called excavation. Excavation is the heart of the work, and I think what makes us distinct from any other coaching agency. It’s the digging, it’s the discomfort of, where is my mental chatter? Where do I stand in my own way? How do I experience imposter syndrome? Where do I shrink, and what are the old expired habits, beliefs mindsets that have gotten me here, but are not going to get me to the next level?
So, we do a lot of digging behind closed doors to understand fear, again, lack of confidence, where do you shrink? That’s typically the first month or two of an engagement. From very moved to phase two, and that phase is called foundation. Foundation is all about setting a new rule. Now that we’ve dug up the junk, what do you want this new foundation to look like? This is where we do work like values? What matters to you above anything else, and how you distill that? How do you actively use values to make decisions each day? How could I watch you activating your values? This is where we do things like strength. So, not just functional strength, but what are your unique value strengths?
We’re doing a lot of core foundation, how I think of you as a leader, what is your leadership vision. From there, we moved to phase three. We’re now probably middle of the engagement where we do a 360. For those who aren’t familiar, basically a 360 we’re interviewing like a circle, 360 degrees of that clients life, their manager, their direct reports, some peers and getting a whole bunch of data. Now, what do you think of this person?
While we are working from the inside out with a client, we’re also gathering external data and then revealing that to the client and saying, “Great, so where’s the divide? Where are the gaps? What do we need to bridge?” That all molds itself so we’re about halfway through the engagement. That molds itself now into personal leadership plan, which is essentially a development plan, where we get buy in from manager in HR once again, and then we move to second half of the engagement which could last anywhere from the remaining three, four months to years.
We have clients that just work with us in a trusted advisor capacity where we’re meeting them once a month for a check in just to be accountability partners and thought partners. That phase is essentially, the last two are called developments, which is essentially working through the development plan and attaining goals, and transformation. Transformation is when we start going into the advanced leadership work of mindfulness conscious choices, how are you inspiring rather than motivating? So, that’s some pretty advanced stuff once someone has turned the corner and really feel like they’re owning their role.
That’s typically the experience and again, it renews over time and we also want to make sure we’re always creating capacity rather than dependency. So, we want to make sure the person is able to work without their coach at the end of the engagement and then reengage, where it’s more touch base, and thought part.
Will Bachman: Valia, For the extreme, junior varsity version of something like this. For someone who’s trained more as a management consultant, working with clients as an independent professional, is there a slimmed down version of something like this that independent management consultants might think about doing with their clients or ways to help clients? Is there a set of questions that that folks like myself or more like management consultants should be asking? What would the starting point be for someone like myself who came out of McKinsey to pick up some of the best practices from the executive coaching world?
Valia Glytsis: Such a great question because I think coaching is so much a mindset and it does not need to be going to school for a year, and then coaching hundreds of people to be certified as a coach. I do think it’s a mindset. So, the first thing I would say is understanding the difference, or rather, the relationship between curiosity and judgment. It’s very bizarre, but the brain can’t handle curiosity and judgment at the same time, those energies end up diluting each other.
When you find yourself in judgment, which we all do, right? I’m right, the client’s wrong, or what are they talking about, or I’m so frustrated. Get yourself into deep curiosity. A simple question like, “What am I not seeing here? What else could be going on that’s underneath the surface of this person, right?” If I fully trusted this person, how would I find good intent in what’s happening in front of me?”
So, deep curiosity to dispel judgment. I would say in coaching, we call it go in without an agenda. But essentially go in without an agenda, how do you come to neutral when you’re dealing with people? That’s the first pillar of coaching I would share. The second is just asking good questions. Move beyond information gathering questions. That’s where I see I do a lot of coaching with McKinsey, and that’s where I see them go south is they stay oftentimes, especially at the JV level, like you said, in transactional questions, data gathering, information gathering. I know that that’s part of the work of a management consultant, but if we can’t be thinking more provocatively? What’s the one thing you guys haven’t tried? How would we spin this up to look completely different? If we lifted this one parameter, then what would it look like?
Challenge the person not just the business, challenge the person who is explaining the business to you to think through so that you can observe their thought process, their motivations, what scares the out of them. You get so much by what is not being said in the world of coaching more so than what is being said. So, moving to motivation rooted questions rather than just information gathering questions.
Finally, the third pillar I’ll share, which is a non-negotiable of coaching, how do you acknowledge? What I mean by that, when you hear an answer, do you take the time to play it back to say, “All right, so let me just make sure I got this.” How do you mirror or parrot it or play back? Acknowledge is the word I like to use, but basically say, “I heard you and here’s what I heard.” Because that allows the person to either correct you, which is helpful or just to say, “Wow, this person actually listened.” Which builds trust. Then once you build trust, you’re able to just loop back and then ask an amazing question and then go deeper into what’s going on for them.
So, those are the three things I would say would be a great, amazing place and a gift to someone that we don’t often give.
Will Bachman: Wow, I love that. The curiosity versus judgment. I guess I had never thought about that before. I think I’ve heard before that you can’t be anxious and completely out of breath at the same time. If you’re going aerobic and exercise, and you can’t … but this dichotomy, curiosity and judgment is for me. Wow, that’s a lightning bolt to think about shifting from judgment to curiosity and moving to that mode. And then asking-
Valia Glytsis: It works at home too. You can try it with everyone. I tried a lot of my husband and it works like a charm.
Will Bachman: That was on my mind as well. Then asking good questions around … For that one, could you just go a little bit deeper on that? This is sort of going against the philosophy of it, but is there a list of good questions or how do we know what’s good question? You talked about motivation, but how do we learn to ask really good questions here?
Valia Glytsis: It’s a good question. Part of it is getting past the obvious. If you’re just asking, “Well, when did this happen or what did you do yesterday?” If it’s things that you could probably find out from somebody else, don’t ask it, or don’t ask so many of them that it gets dry. In terms of how to ask a good question, I always picture in my head right now, as you asked that question is an iceberg. What I see above the iceberg is people’s actions, behaviors, what it is that we observe in them. Then underneath is basically the whole world of coaching; what they fear, their thoughts, their values, belief systems.
I always ask under the iceberg. It might be a question like, “Well, you know what, what if you tried something different?” That right there is going to pressure test how important is this to someone, right? Or, “You know what, I’m curious. I heard that you’re doing that, well, why was that so important to you?” Then, all of a sudden, I understand the value of that person. I always, when I’m asking a question, I ask, is this something somebody else could have easily given me or did I just allow that person to think out loud about something that perhaps they haven’t thought out loud about before?
I don’t have necessarily a list because it’s so situation specific, but I think more the intention of what are you trying to get from your question will allow you to go deeper? So, beyond those transactional questions. If you want depth, then I think actually asking things that you’re curious about. “Why was that so hard for you? I got to be honest, that that happened to you last week, are you nervous that that’s going to happen again?”
If we want to go really kind of one on one JV questions, three simple things, ask clearly open ended questions. Do not allow them to answer yes or no. Make sure they are open, allow the other person to give you an actual answer, not just a yes or no, ask future oriented questions. A lot of questions get stuck in the past. “Well, what did we do last time? Why did we do that last time?” How can we take what we did yesterday and move that forward to next week’s meeting? Allow them to think future because that’s going to reveal a lot more for you.
Then third, open ended, future focused. I would also go strength based. People are going to give you a lot more when they feel comfortable with a question. So, “Hey, you were incredible at the way you navigated that client thing last week, I’m curious why was that so important to you? or how did you prepare for that? I really would love to know.” I don’t mean false flattery, I mean acknowledge a strength will give you a lot more than you normally would have gotten if you just flat out asked the question.
Those are kind of three basic coaching things when I’m teaching new coaches that’s where-
Will Bachman: I got to say, you’re making my consultant heart just so warm and fuzzy with your three points answers to every question. This is just awesome. This is great. That was helpful but, the open ended one, I’m pretty mindful of that, but the idea around asking future oriented questions and strengths based are helpful for me as I’m clearly at the JV level, but those are great.
Valia Glytsis: You know what Will, the strength based question too, I think, sadly, I see so many people blind to their strengths. Clearly, we all have them, but we’re so taught to be gap oriented, rather than strength oriented, that it’s very uncomfortable for us to talk about strengths. So, even asking someone, “Hey, what would you say distinguishes you from another management consultant?” Oh, interesting. Well, I don’t know.” Because you have to move beyond problem solver. You have to move beyond, I drive projects, I create insights, I’m creative because everyone could say the same darn thing, right?
So, how do you actually help people qualify strength is a brilliant way to connect, go deeper and add a tremendous amount of value.
Will Bachman: Three helpful things to keep in mind there. We talked about the executive coaching some, let’s talk a little about the training and the seminars, and what that space is like as an independent professional or, you’re really running a boutique firm with subcontractors. Talk to me about the types of seminars that you offer. I imagine that you probably have some pre-packaged ones or some ones that you will customize for clients. I’d love to hear about the range of those and how that typically works.
Valia Glytsis: Sure. That’s exactly it. We have our core wheelhouse of content, which is typically around personal branding, inside out leadership. By that I mean, who are you? What do you stand for, and how does that become your mode of leading? Again, whether you’re leading no-one or leading an entire organization. There’s a lot of stuff we do around courageous conversations. I find so many companies right now, just culture wise, “Oh, we’re so nice. Oh, we don’t want to insult each other. Oh, well, we’re not really going to talk about that, we’ll just say it’s okay.”
So, how do we help them find a way to move beyond nice for the sake of nice, and get much more into this realm of kindness, if you will, and essentially distilling our short term discomfort with having a tough conversation into the long term health of that relationship. So, that’s typically where our entry-
Will Bachman: Can I ask you about that a little bit? At McKinsey, that you come in and the first week and they give you this training on how to get feedback, right?
Valia Glytsis: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Will Bachman: The standard three part model, and it’s like, “I noticed that you did this, the impact on me was this. So in the future, I suggest you do X.” Actually, everybody does it. It’s totally adopted pretty much. That’s largely because not just because you got the training but it’s the culture and everybody’s doing that.
So, one question I have about something like this is, what do you think it really takes to get those kind of courageous conversations happening in a company? I can imagine some people pushing back and saying, “Hey, one training session is not going to do it.” People come in, yes, you learn it and then you walk back. If the whole chicken and egg, if the whole culture doesn’t start doing that, it’s really tough to say, “Well, I went to this training, let’s have a tough conversation now.”
How do you actually transform the culture and embed those kind of courageous conversations after the seminar?
Valia Glytsis: Yes, such a good question. Another coaching nugget, organizations and people in general, we don’t change unless the current state is associated with so much pain or the future state is associated with so much pleasure. Because that middle ground of, you know what, it’s fine, it’s working, we’re comfortable is way too compelling. Typically, when I’m brought in to do these conversations, there has been enough pain to make something break. Whether it is a relationship, whether it is a series of managers who have gotten promoted into management positions and have never managed a day in their life, and they don’t know when people are leaving. Whether it is really low employee engagement surveys.
So, there’s got to be some metric of pain that creates the need for it. From there, quite practically I never do one off sessions. I shouldn’t say never, I will do a lunch and learn or more of an informational session. I want to track a group of people over a series of sessions, over a course of time to ensure that we’ve got behavior change. A lot of what we do in a room is not just present the model. It is practice, practice, again, get in front of the room and practice because giving feedback in front of 20 people while everyone’s watching and judging you is going to be much scarier than doing it with the one person who actually have to do it with.
We get manager buy in so that managers are then reporting back to how they are seeing you giving feedback, and then we see you again a month later, three months later, whatever it is to try again, try again and then do surveys before and after. So, I am pretty much, I’m a stickler at making sure that we are tracking this, but there needs to be enough of a pain point because I have honestly Will, to your question, I have seen organizations work, “Well, that would be nice. We should do that, and it doesn’t move the needle.
So, there’s got to be enough of a sticky point to want to do that. I completely agree that feedback needs to be normalized from the top down. If we are not exiting every meeting, or every client interaction saying, “Great, what worked? What didn’t? What can we do different next time? Simple practice of just normalizing it makes it part of how we do what we do, it makes us better, it makes us have a purpose behind doing it, not just to hurt each other’s feelings. We need to give it a deeper-
Will Bachman: What sort of homework or assignments would you give after the session? It sounds like you’ve done a series of these. To what degree would you give some kind of homework assignment that people have to go and practice a courageous conversation and report back to each other or some kind of commitment so that sticks?
Valia Glytsis: That’s it. During session, we would actually have them walk through who are all their direct reports. What are strengths, what are gaps, what do they want to say that they wish they would have said, but they have been avoiding saying, and actually carve it out through the methodology that we’re teaching them to use. At that point, they’re practicing in the room several times. I also do something called a reverse role play, which is they get to play the other person and one of their colleagues is playing them, so they can hear it from a whole different perspective. And they can be in the person shoes and feel that, “Wow, it’s not so bad. Wow, I appreciated how direct that was.”
We get very creative in how we role play to elicit emotions, to also shift some mindset around the fear, and quite frankly, just to practice so much of it that it feels second nature by the time they actually have to do it. And then yes, that’s exactly it, they’re making commitments. They are paired up either in partners or small teams where they are meeting between our formal sessions, and then coming back and reporting to the larger group. Not only how it went, what was the outcome, what did they learn about themselves, what did they learn about the other person, and a larger debrief.
Will Bachman: You’re putting them on the hook to actually go do some work and report back?
Valia Glytsis: Oh, yes.
Will Bachman: Okay. I can see how we would-
Valia Glytsis: If we want to change behavior, right? Otherwise, I think it’s just skill building in a vacuum. So, that’s really what we hope.
Will Bachman: That role playing is just so powerful. I think back to business school, which was 15 years ago, a long time ago, and the stuff that really sticks in your gut was Mike Finer’s leadership class where he wouldn’t let you just say, “Okay, this is what I would say to the general manager, this is what I would say to my head of sales.” He said, “No, no, no, I’m the head of sales, you’re the general manager. Now, tell it to me as if you’re having the real conversation right there in front of the room.” The negotiations class where you actually played the role and did the negotiation. You just learn it in a different way than talking about a case study or discussing … It’s just something that I think role playing should be a technique that should be used much more generally, much more broadly. Because it’s something so powerful.
Valia Glytsis: Well, because even in a simulation, you’re still eliciting the emotions of fear, or dread or anxiety. It’s coming up, right? The brain doesn’t know the difference if this is real, or if this is the pretend scenario. You’re able to emotionally engage, which is now creating a new pattern, so when you actually do it, you’re going to remember your role play versus how scared you were of doing the role play.
So, you’re right, it’s a brilliant thing that we do not do enough of because we use the excuse, there’s no time. My answer to that is make time. That’s actually an energy priority.
Will Bachman: It’s such a powerful technique. I would love to hear a little bit about, you’re such a thoughtful person, so grounded. A little bit about your own routines. Your morning routine, your mindfulness practices. Talk to me a little bit about your own personal practices around those issues.
Valia Glytsis: Sure. Appreciate that. In full transparency, my practices have come out of a place of going way overboard and hitting burnout several times. So, life is a good lesson to remind us that how we manage our energy is extremely important. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of morning priming. Priming our life, priming our day, actually putting a fresh coat on and saying, “Who do I want to be today?”
A couple things I do, one is actually asked that question. I’m very clear on setting an intention of, you know what, how do I want to show up today? Simple. On my way to the bathroom or to make a cup of coffee, who do I want to be today? Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it’s creative, sometimes it’s grounded, sometimes is productive, focused. Actually choosing that word of the day when I get lost and distracted, it helps me re-anchor When I say, “Great, how can I bring focus? How can I bring fun? How can I bring creativity to this moment right now when it’s 4:00 PM in the afternoon and I start wandering?
That’s a very helpful anchor. The other thing I do, I don’t know if you’re all familiar with the artist’s way by Julia Cameron. I do artist pages. For those of you who haven’t read, I highly recommend it. Essentially, she says, roll out of bed and hand write three pages. No content, no flow, no grammar, nothing just dump whatever has been living in your brain onto a piece of paper. I find that the most cathartic process. It allows me to refocus, recalibrate and remind myself why I do what I do.
So, I set an intention, I just dumped my pages. Literally, just grab a pen, write in my favorite chair. Then the third thing I do is read my top three values with my definition of them. That serves as my funnel, my filter before any emails open. I am very clear that what I stand for right now, not forever, but for right now in my life, I stand for freedom, for experience and for impact in the way I’ve defined those three things, and then I open up and start my day. And I am clear on what comes into that filter and what comes out.
Honestly Will, it takes no more than 10, 15 minutes. So, it’s not a time excuse for any of us. It’s just setting the-
Will Bachman: That is awesome. First of all, I love The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I have to say I’m off the bandwagon currently, but you’re motivated me to get back on it with the morning pages. That’s a great, great exercise. When I have done, it makes such a difference. I also love the fact that you just gave me another three things. That just makes my day, and that you have three values. I love the threes. Can you just go through those a little bit one more time, because you sped through them, and it’s a really cool idea. Talk to me a little bit about how you came up with those three values and why you picked them, and what it means to pick three values.
Valia Glytsis: Oh, I could talk about values for a week with you. First of all, it’s at the core of what we do in our practice. So, values based leadership is really the heart and soul of why I started this business. So what I do is I take a piece of my own medicine, and I work through the same processes that we teach our clients. What I’ll have someone do in session is take a list of 100 values and start choicing them into several buckets. So, this one is non-negotiable. This one, now, that’s important, but less so. This one’s actually really important.
I have people just dump them into categories. Don’t overthink it, just force them into categories. Then we got to keep distilling. Let’s say that we now have 20 values in the non-negotiable column, at that point, we’re going to filter again. So, then I say force rank those. From one to 20, which is the absolute absolute non-negotiable and which one, in the past two weeks, I kind of haven’t been walking the talk of this one.
Eventually, the goal is through this process of filtering and re-filtering you get to your top three to five. It’s a painful process, because I’m asking you to choose amongst really good things. The art of choosing of course, to me is the art of leadership. You can’t stand for 500 things, you need to stand for two or three things because then you also know what is noise in your life and what is not noise in your life, and what’s actually really important.
The other thing where people get tripped up with values is for right now. People think, oh, aspirational values. This has to be across my entire life. No, it doesn’t. Because if you just had a health scare, versus you just got into business school versus you just had a baby, those values better be reflecting that chapter of your life or else you’re feeling like a failure and a fraud every day. Oh, I’m not living up to my values, oh, I’m not living up to my values.
Long story short, what I stand for right now, I went through this whole process is freedom. I mean that in terms of time freedom, space freedom, where am I living freedom, I mentioned we’re working to become bi-coastal with my husband and for the business. So, freedom. Impact is my second one. Impact is all about, quite frankly, how many human beings can I touch in a given day, in a given week, in a given month. That, to me is about running around the world and igniting sparks. Whether it’s someone I’m sitting next to on a subway, or whether it’s IBM, and I’m delivering a program for 1000 people.
My last one is experience. I believe in extraordinary experiences. My husband and I travel, that’s a complete non-negotiable. We like to see, experience, culture, food. That’s why we do what we do to live the richest life. I’ve defined those for myself, I read them first thing in the morning, and then the minute someone has a request on email, of which there’ll be 500 first thing on a Monday morning, I know what to say yes or no to. Because something’s filter into that and some things filter out.
That’s an abridged version of the process and I think the output is invaluable. If I could have everyone do one exercise once a year this is the one-
Will Bachman: Wow, our time here is getting towards the end of the hour. But I am just so fired up from our conversation. I feel that I’ve been through one of your one of your coaching programs. I’m excited to do this values exercise, and I’m going to do my Artist Way morning pages tomorrow. I’m fired up and ready to go.
Valia Glytsis: Good.
Will Bachman: This has been really awesome, and I can tell just from this conversation, why you’re beloved by so many of your clients. Any parting thoughts that you have folks about how to transform their own practices and take things to the next level.
Valia Glytsis: Usually, I would offer something very 30000 feet, but in the spirit of how much you love my rare practicality today, I’m just going to give you just a nugget. I believe that all of these leadership practices, I believe in the philosophy of no extra time. So, don’t make this hard. This is about rather than just riding the subway and being on your phone and checking emails, use that as your journaling time. Rather than having your brain wander when you’re brushing your teeth, do your gratitude list and just list five things that day that we’re particularly amazing.
I am a big believer to get these things up and running, where they’re actually serving you and energizing you, start doing them in things that you are already doing. Because then there’s no excuse, and then you actually look forward to doing them. Then of course, it’ll build into some type of larger practice.
I think that’s the nugget that came up asked.
Will Bachman: Fantastic. Well, Valia, we already talked about your website paradoxofleadership.com. People can check it out and read some of your blog posts, find your stuff and perhaps call you up for a session. This has been absolutely fabulous speaking with you. Thank you so much for joining.
Valia Glytsis: Thank you for having me. I’m wishing really everyone all the very best on their own journey. So, thank you Will.
Will Bachman: Thanks for listening to this episode of Unleashed. The show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is sponsored Umbrex, the world’s first global community of top tier independent management consultants. The mission of Umbrex is to create opportunities for independent management consultants to meet, share lessons learned and collaborate. I’d love to get your feedback and hear any questions that you’d like to see us answer on this show. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s U-M-B-R-E-X.com.
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