Dr Lizette Warner: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulen

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Dr. Lizette Warner: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times

Silence Kills: Leaders often fail to communicate effectively with their employees, customers, and stakeholders during difficult times. You want to relay the right message so you may say nothing. Maybe your message has to go through legal so you say nothing. As a leader you have to understand silence during difficult times kills or weakens your leadership. Other voices will fill that gap, and if it’s not your voice giving clear and informed guidance even during uncertainty, you will lose your leadership role in the minds of your team and come across as weak.

As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Lizette Warner, PhD.

Lizette Warner, Ph.D., is a Healthcare executive, author, speaker, and leadership coach who turned her skills to developing leaders after discovering a passion for helping struggling professionals through leadership crisis and renewal. Power, Poise, and Presence is her debut non-fiction book and her mission.

Outside of her healthcare leadership duties, Lizette shows her clients how to embrace “Perfect Poise isn’t perfect.” Lizette lives in the DFW area with her husband, a spastic Irish Wolfhound, narcoleptic Mastweiller, goes tactical thrifting with her daughter and always hits the gym with her son when he visits in between semesters at Oklahoma University. You’ll find her swimming with her team or screeching in her church choir when she isn’t advising, coaching, speaking, writing, or reading.

Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I used to take apart things as long as I can remember. As a young kid I took apart a thermos trying to figure out how it worked. That’s when I discovered thermoses have this cool and fragile glass envelope and that gravity works.

Gravity isn’t something you want to discover with fragile glass when you’re barefoot standing on the tile floor in your parents kitchen.

In school I gravitated to math and science, super curious about each. It wasn’t enough to finish the problem, I discovered several ways to find the same answer.

That curiosity got me in trouble with my peers when I studied at Mayo Clinic because I was the odd one that asked for extra homework on top of our already demanding load.

Heavy loads were something I naturally was skilled at handling even as a youngster. That’s how I made it through my PhD career with a husband, two kids and managing a household while my colleagues were at best managing themselves and their single household.

My curiosity, insatiable learning, and ability to carry heavy loads, is what helped me work as a healthcare scientist, leaders, leadership coach and author. With my life experiences, desire to help others and coaching prowess, I found a solution to client’s problems by fusing my healthcare biomarker background and leadership development knowledge by discovering and teaching others about the biomarkers we each have at our disposal.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Aside from my curiosity getting me into trouble with gravity and glass, a huge mistake I made was as a graduate student at the Mayo Clinic.

I was having trouble understanding a concept because I’m an experiential learner — that means I have to experience it somehow. In an AI and Fuzzy Logic class I asked for extra homework.

Every single one of my classmates turned to look at me — perplexed, furious and bewildered, I would ask for extra on top of the heavy workload.

I quickly noticed the daggers in the expressions everyone was shooting me so I quickly added, “For me. I’d like to work on another one or two problems.”

Crisis averted but boy did I hear it after class.

Funny that I learned three things:

  • I really am different from others
  • I don’t mind heavy loads.
  • Others see the world differently than I do.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

When I was studying for my PhD, I was in the unenviable or perhaps unbelievable position from the eyes of my peers. I had quit my full time, well paying job with a husband and family (two toddlers) to move halfway across the country to pursue my PhD. My peers had graduated college and many of them had gone straight into the PhD program so they couldn’t believe and further couldn’t understand how I managed to give it all up to scrape by as a graduate student.

A couple years into the program, my husband lost his job so I found myself with a family, in a state where we didn’t have relatives, without income, uncertain of our future without a net. I could have quit school, moved us back home, gotten a job to help the family but I did the opposite. I looked for help. Everything changed. My mentor’s collaborator, Dr. Lilach Lerman, hired me on the spot to work in her lab. So there I was working, studying and doing my work to finish my PhD so I could graduate and get a job to support my family. Our church and school community came to our aid to help with anything we lacked and my husband put on his apron to take care of everything at home so I could dedicate myself to working and finishing up. When I graduated I was invited to give the commencement speech.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

When I started my boutique coaching and leadership development company, Optimum Vobis, the mission was to help people find their “best you.” Your best you is what Optimum Vobis means in latin. My purpose was to help my clients find their best. What I discovered as I wrote my book, from the discoveries my clients made, was that my purpose changed to helping my clients find their Power, Poise, and Presence, their authentic selves and how to lead themselves and others.

Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

Building up an organization with an incredible team of leaders and sitting on the executive team was a dream come true. We were breaking barriers and bringing new products to market to improve patients’ lives. We found the work rewarding and our organization was breaking sales and order records when we got the news that the bigger business had decided to pivot.

Our leadership team was in the unenviable position to have to tell that news to our people. It was raw. We didn’t have answers and we were as gutted as our people were. Fortunately we had a strong leadership team and we shut the business down with the same flare and gusto that marked our building the business up. We ensured our people had safe landing spots and then ensured we had places to land. We even celebrated a “funeral” together with our teams, bringing back folks who had already left and found their next roles. Uncertainty can be tough but when you have a community, and a strong leadership team around you, it’s not so bad.

Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

I work a full time job, wrote a book, which in itself is a full time job, coach and speak and I have hobbies. The single most often asked question I get is how do you do it all so I created a course to teach other people how to get sh*t done.

My motivation is born from not doing all the things I do all the time, but from all the breaks and down time I take. I sleep 7–8 hours a night. I go to the gym daily, walk the dogs and sometimes I do nothing. It’s in these moments that I find the inspiration and sometimes the solutions to getting some of my tasks done, by not doing them all the time.

I considered giving up writing my book, Power, Poise, and Presence, when I got to the revising the citations phase. I was a hairline away from ditching it all because the revisions got too hard for me. The details of getting the citations correct with apostrophes, commas, bold, not bold, italicized created by some evil sick editor were swallowing me whole. I had a major temper tantrum and walked away from my desk. I told myself, “I’ve had enough. This f-ing book doesn’t need to see the light of day!”

I walked away from my desk remembering the countless people who would be helped by my book and my heart rate slowed down. I took a break and went for a walk. When I returned I got some help and got through the worst of those revisions with the help of others and breaks.

I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?

I read J.R.R. Tolkien daily. Well, I have an audiobook that I tune into daily and hear The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Hobbit. It’s perhaps weird to look at it as a leadership book(s) but my favorite is The Fellowship of the Rings.

When I was first introduced to Tolkien, I was in high school. My boyfriend tried to get me to read The Hobbit. I read a page or two and said, “It’s not for me.” Imagine my surprise when years later I listen to this book at least 2x a year.

There is a character in The Fellowship of the Rings that you will never see in the movie versions. He is my favorite leadership character. He is such an authentic leader because he knows what he likes, and he’s not afraid to be whimsical, seem foolish, be bold, and call out bad behavior. He knows his worth and he does things that matter to him with joy. His name is Tom Bombadill, the most powerful character in the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy. He’s in the other books, but his character is referenced rather than making an appearance himself.

What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

During challenging times it’s critical for leaders to be authentic. That may involve vulnerability and transparency. Leaders are often in the position to know more than their teams or know confidential information that cannot be shared but that doesn’t mean they have to hide or shield the team from hard truths because the team may have additional information that could help leaders be in a better position to make their decisions.

Involving others in the decision making process aids leaders with additional perspectives they might have missed and also gives team members insight into the challenges their leaders face. Team members may feel invested because their leader thought to come for them for their perspective and they also learn how to be a leader themselves.

When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

Uncertainty is a funny beast because we each navigate uncertainty every day. When I wake up in the morning I don’t really know what awaits me. Even after I do my daily strategic planning, anything can and does happen. Uncertainty is a constant and we forget about it.

Leaders can model how to work with the certainty of uncertainty. That means make clear what is certain. What are the certainties we do know? What are our capabilities? What have we (as a team or organization) already gotten through that has been hairy, sticky or thorny? Remind your team how capable they are and that you will navigate the uncertainty together.

What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

My dad used to get so wound up by a crying baby that he would step in to calm the crying baby. He’d beg my mother to help make the baby stop crying. He’d tell the parents to feed the baby. Stick something in the baby’s mouth. Now he didn’t do that to be mean to the baby. He was uncomfortable with the screeching. Many of us can relate to that if not a screeching baby, then a situation that went bad, a deal that went under, a job that turned sour.

I’ve seen leaders trying to deliver hard news dispassionately as if certain emotions don’t belong in the workplace. What ends up happening is they fumble around, and wind up exhausted from the emotional toll of fumbling. I know because I’ve been one of those leaders.

We want out of those uncomfortable situations so badly that we’ll do just about anything to make it stop. What we fail to do is the one thing that can make it stop.

Listen and pay attention to the signs and signals you are getting and respond accordingly. The crying baby may be overstimulated and need a nap, not a bottle.

You can deliver your difficult news only after getting into the mind of your team or your customer. Put yourself in their shoes. What are they experiencing? What might they be feeling? Acknowledge that experience. Acknowledge your own experience. For example a leader knowing a business is being shut down may say to her team, “I don’t have all the answers. If you’re feeling gutted and shocked, that’s normal. I feel gutted that this is happening to our team.”

Simply acknowledging what your team or customers are experiencing connects you together in this shared experience and you demonstrate a level of vulnerability that you too are human with the full range of human emotional experiences. You’re one of us. You’ve flipped the script of you vs them to us and us.

How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

My mother had this uncanny ability to whip up a meal in no time for guests that arrived unannounced so they could feel welcomed in our home. She didn’t know when people would show up but she planned for the unexpected. We all have various types of “unpredictables” in our leadership lives.

There are known unpredictables — the quarterly sales report will be published. We may not know what the report contains but we know with certainty it will be published.

There are unknown unpredictables — the contents of the quarterly sales report might be unpredictable.

Leaders can and should identify their known unpredictables from their unknown unpredictables and plan accordingly. For the known unpredictables, what ‘ingredients’ does your team need to stock or prepare so they are ready to whip up that deliverable when it’s needed.

For the unknown unpredictables, what are they? Simply identifying them and placing them on the leadership table gives visibility to that unknown. The next step would be to be flexible with your plans or make sprint plans with a horizon goal, a goal that you nail down the closer you get to it.

Along the way communicate with your team, over communicate. Communication is a two way street. Leaders should listen more than they speak.

Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

You aren’t alone.

Doesn’t everything seem manageable when you have friends around you? In a company you have a community gathered around you, but rarely do we look at our companies as communities of support but leaders have entire communities of support in their people. Granted there are confidential matters that can’t be divulged but that doesn’t mean you can’t share something to get the dialogue going.

Recognize you aren’t alone and if you don’t have a leadership team around you, get one. Others are navigating the same or similar ups and downs as you.

Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

Silence Kills: Leaders often fail to communicate effectively with their employees, customers, and stakeholders during difficult times. You want to relay the right message so you may say nothing. Maybe your message has to go through legal so you say nothing. As a leader you have to understand silence during difficult times kills or weakens your leadership. Other voices will fill that gap, and if it’s not your voice giving clear and informed guidance even during uncertainty, you will lose your leadership role in the minds of your team and come across as weak.

Leaders fail to get the right help and as a result end up cutting costs indiscriminately: It’s understandable that during difficult times you’ll want to cut costs indiscriminately. When I was starting my coaching business, I knew I needed to get clients but being new I didn’t want to spend money, when spending the right money in the right places was the exact cure I needed to run a profitable business. I’m happy to say the investment dry spell didn’t last very long. I learned to get the right help, which involved investing in my business and my craft in tactical ways.

When you cut costs willy-nilly that can lead to a dip in service or product quality and do long term damage to your company’s brand and reputation. To avoid this mistake, focus on cutting costs in a strategic and targeted manner, while preserving your key money-making investments in your business. You will want to get help, outside perspectives, perspectives other than your own or that of the leadership team to ensure all your bases are covered.

Failing to adapt to the conditions sank the Titanic: We all know the story. Eager to make record time, the Titanic’s leaders failed to listen to the reports, their people, the conditions and course corrected far too late. Scientists say even if the Titanic would have slowed down and made direct impact with the iceberg, people would have survived, but the boat would have likely been totaled. Many businesses fail to adapt to changing market conditions or shifts in customer demand during difficult times. To avoid this mistake, companies should be willing to experiment with new business models, products, and services, and be eager for feedback and input from customers, employees, and other stakeholders. Even amid difficult or turbulent times leaders have more than one option, which leads to the next tip.

Poor crisis management plans: Professional sports teams have playbooks. They develop and practice the moves in the playbook with their teams. They practice special moves, unexpected moves so the players know exactly what to do when the unexpected happens to turn the situation into their favor. Businesses that lack a crisis management plan may struggle to respond effectively to unexpected events or challenges. Not only should companies have and regularly update a crisis management plan, outlining how to respond to various types of emergencies or disruptions, they should practice it with their teams.

Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

Communicate transparently and frequently: Business leaders should establish clear and regular communication channels with employees, customers, and stakeholders, providing them with accurate and timely information about the company’s situation and plans.

  • Be clear. Don’t word salad your communication.
  • Be complete.
  • Be brief.

This will help to build trust and confidence in the company’s ability to navigate difficult times.

Be decisive: Business leaders should make decisions quickly and confidently, even in the face of uncertainty. There are two types of decisions

  • Two way door decisions — You can walk back through the door at any time.
  • One way door decisions — There isn’t going back from a decision to amputate an appendage. Get help for making these decisions.

Know the difference between the two different types of decisions. This will help to keep the company moving forward and prevent it from getting bogged down in indecision.

Be adaptable: Business leaders should be open to change and willing to adapt to new market conditions or shifts in customer demand. This may involve experimenting with new business models, products, or services, or making other strategic adjustments. Think of two-way doors.

Prioritize long-term success: Business leaders should keep a long-term perspective and make decisions that will help to ensure the company’s long-term success, even if they may be difficult or unpopular in the short-term.

Lead by example: Business leaders should set the tone for the company by modeling the behavior and attitude they expect from their employees. This includes working collaboratively, being accountable, and showing resilience.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

You need to remember your role as a leader is to lead the organization to do great things. Leaders have to keep shedding the skills that made them great in their last role and giving those skills away to others, otherwise they’ll never turn into the leader they were meant to be.

‘The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things, but the one that gets people to do the greatest things.’

You can’t get people to do the greatest things if you keep doing those things.

That’s why I love this paraphrased quote from Ronald Regan. I’m reminded that to elevate what I do in the world, I constantly need to give away my skills, which is in part why I wrote my book, Power, Poise, and Presence: A New Approach to Authentic Leadership.

How can our readers further follow your work?

They can get the book here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BRYP18PJ or connect with me on my website, www.lizettewarner.com.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

Dr Lizette Warner: Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulen was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.