Abbie Mirata On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent…

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Abbie Mirata On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times

Deploy change management. You can change and change fast but have a thoughtful plan behind it. Communicate properly and never announce something to a customer base BEFORE you’ve alerted your employees and given them the proper tools to handle changes and messaging.

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 Abbie Mirata.

Abbie Mirata is a Sr. Corporate Director of Learning & Operational Performance at a public organization. She’s also a business owner, speaker, joy coach, mom, and wife. She has over 20 years of sales, marketing, training, and people operations experience. Abbie draws from those professional and personal experiences to teach and empower others to shift their perspective so they can respond to day-to-day life differently and adapt an inherent value of joy, maintaining their sanity while keeping their humanity. She is now focused on the Intrapreneur Project, a professional development and success strategy to guide driven humans in business to be professionally fulfilled, grow their personal brands, and create inspired impact inside and outside of their organization.

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?

When I was 19 years old, I found myself pregnant — I was in the midst of chasing a dream of being a musician, no college education, living at home, no plan. Becoming a young mother truly shaped the woman I am today as a leader, a coach and a business owner. While I didn’t know it at the time — the resilience I was building along with other skills were crucial to my later professional growth. I spent 5 years fighting stereotypes around my lack of education, being a woman and being the youngest in the room. While my professional career began in sales, I learned quickly that I was more passionate about the people I served with than the people we served. Helping others reach their highest potential and creating space for employees to learn and grow became my defined path. After almost 20 years in corporate America, I left to start my own business and begin consulting. A year later, I came back to corporate. I became an Intrapreneur. Applying the skills I learned as an entrepreneur and pairing those with a new mindset, I created a space where I could lead others, build my personal brand, explore my passions and serve my organization.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

This took a lot of reflection and remembering. I’m not sure I’ve ever categorized a mistake as funny. I don’t know that I’ve had any crazy faux pas — or if I did, I’ve totally blocked them out. But I do dumb silly things every day. Sometimes, I read into things a whole lot deeper than I need too. My boss will send me a note asking a question on a program or project or even my opinion on something and I’ll jump into action mode, do research, pull people in, write a report and be fully prepared for anything assuming I need to take action — only to have him look at me and say, “that’s great, I just really wanted to know because I was curious — no action needed on your part”. Don’t make assumptions — ask questions. Not everything is a test.

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?

I have been blessed to have so many incredible mentors in my life. One of the most impactful though was my boss of 10 years in one of my corporate roles. Graham believed in me when others didn’t. He saw something in me that was worth saving, worth building and worth investing in. I could write paragraphs about the impact he had on my life and my career. One example is the “growth” or “perceived growth” I had within the organization in a short period of time. There was a joke about how often my title changed. But every time I would come to him and say, we have a gap — I want to fill it, I want to do more, he’d tell me to write the job description, make the case, prove it out, and then — he gave me the new title. He put me in the driver’s seat of my own career pathing. He made me think about the value I wanted to create, he made me put on paper what was next and what I needed to do to get there. He encouraged me to ask for what I wanted and think outside the box rather than waiting for someone else to notice me or to try and fit into a typical role or growth pattern that I didn’t feel fit.

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?

As a coach, my purpose is to help you maintain your sanity, while keeping your humanity. Encouraging my clients to develop joy, empathy and compassion as a habit. Helping them understand that this doesn’t mean you are weak and that honestly, it’s not about being “nice” to the other person. When we react poorly in a tough situation — we are giving away our power to someone else. When we hold a grudge — we are saying your opinion is that important to me. The ability to step away, display empathy and choose joy is HARD. Being reactive and flying off the handle is easy. If you want to be in control of your emotions, your time and your mindset — empathy is the quickest way towards that and it has great side effects to those around you. As a business owner of an Italian Ice store — my purpose in starting that business was to work with and develop young adults. Show them what is and is not acceptable as an employee. Give them the skills and the resilience to move out into the world knowing what is possible and what you should expect from your employer.

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?

Back in 2008, when the real estate market was taking a huge hit, my company was making tough decisions around market consolidation, role elimination and large layoffs. As the leader of the sales organization, my team was highly affected by not just market conditions and a decrease in sales revenue, but the decrease of support of the sales team and having the hardest job — being the one to deliver bad news and manage the customer experience around decisions they had no control over. During this time, I made it a point to ensure that there was a focus on our team and their mental state, not just on our customers. We had daily huddles where I overcommunicated, showed transparency and I never sugar coated anything for them. I gave them opportunities to express their fear and frustration and be heard as well as encouraging breaks, mindfulness and other activities to keep them focused and in the right mindset. Too often during hard times we focus so much on preserving our customers and our bottom line and not enough on the people who have to execute and have real human feelings around what’s happening at their organization!

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

I think about giving up all the time. People should know it’s ok to consider giving up and sometimes, it’s ok to actually give up. Giving up doesn’t always equate to failure — sometimes we must walk away from something so we can walk towards something else. Just be sure you’re learning along the way and not repeating bad decisions. When I chose to go back to a corporate role, some could interpret that as me giving up on being an entrepreneur and not sticking with it. But that wasn’t the case at all. By taking a risk and trying something, even if it didn’t work — is how I learned who I am and what I really want. I sustain my drive by being self-accountable. Having hard conversations with myself. Being able to have objectivity so that I can determine when working through a challenge is what’s needed because otherwise, I’m just being lazy OR when it is time to change directions and telling myself that’s ok.

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 have two. Robert Fulghum’s All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten and Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I read both these books at a very young age and they are always where I can readily pick them up. They are simple but human concepts. I don’t have a particular story, but I can tell you that a quote from one of these books has found it’s way into every meaningful conversation, training, or keynote I’ve ever led including those around the dinner table with my husband and children. We overcomplicate everything as humans. And there’s a tipping point somewhere along the way where we become adults who no longer employ the simple elements of human kindness, communication, sharing and working through issues together that we did when we were younger. And unfortunately, that tipping point is coming earlier and earlier in our young people. If you stay true to these basic concepts in both these books, I promise you — you’ll not only find your true version of success but you’ll have a positive impact on almost everyone you meet along the way.

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

Listen. Most likely, if you are in a position of leadership you have grown somewhat disconnected from the reality of the day to day. When times are challenging, we need to ask questions and listen more to our people. It doesn’t mean we have to take their advice or question our own instinct. It does mean that we make decisions and guide people through a lens that includes their voice. When you listen, truly listen, even if you have to make a decision your people aren’t happy about, you do it through understanding how it will affect them. You can better speak to the why and validate what they may be going through because you heard them in the first place.

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?

Focus on something other than the issues, the fear and the uncertainty. Work hard, play hard and practice what you preach. Don’t just tell your team to take time for themselves — give them the time. Don’t just talk about ways to increase emotional intelligence and mindfulness, carve out 10 minutes a week for them to do it. Celebrate even the smallest wins with your team. Even if it’s a normal everyday accomplishment that’s simply part of your job — remind them that the little things they do every day add up to the big things. Create opportunities to communicate more with your team — town halls, Q&A, slack/teams chats. Stay engaged as the leader — stay in front of them. Smile.

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

Honesty and transparency. And don’t over sympathize or over apologize. The reality is we have to make hard decisions and we aren’t going to make everyone happy. Don’t allow yourself to go down rabbit holes and don’t take on too much of an emotional burden yourself. Communicate clearly and ensure understanding. Validate how a customer or team member may feel, but don’t try and over explain or over complicate. People appreciate someone who is clear and transparent and most importantly stands behind and believes in their decisions.

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

Wow. This is a hard one. A leader needs to prepare for the future and we still need to plan. What we need to do is not box ourselves in to the plan. Not always tie our own or our teams value and worth to the results of the plan or the successful execution of it in the end. Make plans, but go in knowing that you’ll need to be flexible and pivot. Build multiple scenarios into the plan in the first place. And when things go off the rails, be able to control how you react, respond and move forward in a way that keeps people wanting to follow you — no matter the twists and turns in the path.

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

Honestly, no. If I had that boiled down to one thing and bottled, right! If I had to narrow it down though — I’d go back to my prior answer — honesty and transparency. During turbulent times we can want to create messaging that makes people feel like things aren’t as bad as they seem, we want to defend our actions or keep things close to the vest only telling people “what they need to know”. Do not silo during hard times — bring your teams together. Ensure clear and consistent communication across the board. People will be more confident in leadership that is vulnerable and honest then if they feel like they aren’t being told the whole story. In the absence of information, people make up their own truths and that can take a company sideways.

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?

Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. Too often, business make short term decisions without thinking of the long-term impact. We want instant gratification today — but sometimes that hurts us down the road.

Do not cut learning/training during hard times, invest in it. Now more than ever people need help building both functional and soft skills. Make sure you continue training top performers or during profitable times. Be honest as to whether it’s market conditions or your team is truly that skilled. We think everything is great so we stop developing skills our people will need when things aren’t so great.

Deploy change management. You can change and change fast but have a thoughtful plan behind it. Communicate properly and never announce something to a customer base BEFORE you’ve alerted your employees and given them the proper tools to handle changes and messaging.

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.

  1. Resilience — You need to be able to fall, fail and bounce back — publicly. People need to see your resilience before they can employ their own. In turbulent times and through change, do not come down too hard on your people or play the blame game. Own it, try again, try something different — let them see you.
  2. Patience — We are a society of instant gratification, but somethings need more time. If something doesn’t work as quickly as you’d like — don’t change again. You’ll give yourself and your team whiplash and you’ll never really know why things are or aren’t working. Give it time. Take a deep breath and leave space for others. Don’t snap to judgement or snap at people.
  3. Empathy — You need to have it and you need to develop it in others. I’ve listened to people lose their cool with their customers because they think the customer is being unreasonable, and perhaps they are, but in times like these, they are scared too. You have no idea what someone is going through, and they shouldn’t always have to explain it. When we let the customer set us off, then we bring that energy to a team meeting, and it continues to affect everyone. Yes, you must make the best decision for the greater good, but really feel and understand how that affects your team and why they may or may not display the urgency or attention you feel is needed.
  4. Creativity — This is one of the most important things a highly effective leader needs during turbulent times. This is when we have to think out of the box, when we have to try things we’ve never tried, when we have to find solutions, inspire or people and figure out new ways to look at things.
  5. Humor — Don’t take it all too seriously. Don’t forget to laugh. Your stressed, your team is stressed, your customers are stressed — lighten the mood. Make sure you are always focused on the things that really matter, no, like really matter. Don’t forget to have fun and encourage your teams that it’s ok to have a sense of humor about it all

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

“In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart” — Anne Frank

I have to believe this. The only way I know how to keep going, stay motivated and maneuver in a society both professionally and personally, that feels divided, like an uphill battle and where people are constantly trying to push you down as a way for them to stand taller is by believing that at our core — we are good. We want good things, and we believe in others. We just aren’t always able to control HOW we communicate our feelings, wants and needs. We aren’t always capable of seeing compromise or how we can not get or way but still find success. I can’t walk around thinking that everyone has an agenda and people are out to get me. I choose to believe that you care. I choose to believe in humanity.

How can our readers further follow your work?

I love to share tips and articles on joy, leadership and all things connection on my social media!

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

Abbie Mirata On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.