From Crisis Management to Levity & Strategic Leadership

Listen below to Dr. Heather Walker’s conversation with Jen Thornton on:

  • how to speak to your team to get them to open up
  • how leading with levity at work can help you have a stronger home life
  • the art and science of Conversational Intelligence

0:00:01.5 S1: Welcome to the Lead with Levity podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Heather Walker. I hope wherever you’re at, you are feeling good today. One thing that I’m really, really looking forward to is sharing the new intro for the podcast with you today. One thing that is very important to me is helping leaders, helping you create the kind of work environment that your employees can get really excited about, your co-workers can get excited about… That you can get excited about. One thing that’s interesting to me is that we can talk about fun. We can talk about play, we can talk about exciting, interesting things that you can do in front of others to get them to laugh, and we do like to keep things light here on this podcast, but we also focus in on what you need to do and what you need to put in place so that when you throw that party, when you invite those people, when you tell everyone, come on, let’s go. People get excited about it, they’re not rolling their eyes, they’re not showing up just to get the cake, and then walking back to their offices… I mean, it’s covid time, so no one would fault you if that’s what you do, but we’re trying to create an environment that fosters really healthy connections between people and helps people feel like they’re valued, so a lot of this podcast has been about…

0:01:39.3 S1: Let’s talk about the things that hold us back as leaders, the things that hold our organizations back, and then what foundational elements do we need to put in place so that we can get to that… That magical mountain top land where everything is sunshine. Rainbows, free hugs, all of that. So this is still the lead with levity Podcast, and we are still gonna have a good time here, but I think that the intro for the show, the new intro, I think you’ll understand my… Switched it up a little bit, and I think it’s a little bit more in line with the direction. So anyway, without further ado, I would like to introduce our guest today, Ms. Jennifer Thornton, we share the same last name. I know it doesn’t make sense to you, but Walker is not my given name, it is my married name, so Jennifer Thornton, I’m very excited to talk to her today about leadership and for her to share her experiences with us as the leader of 304 Coaching. So stick around, check out a highlight and we’ll jump right into the episode.

0:02:55.3 S2: It’s time for a sneak peek. What I love when my team brings me the news I don’t wanna hear, because I need to hear what I don’t need to hear, so I can help us move forward when you have an idea that you think is ridiculous, that’s the idea I wanna hear, because it’s those crazy ideas that create change, and so set it up in a way that tells people, I’m open, but be brief, because again, it’s about that person and then… Yeah, ’cause we all know the executive that has a hard time with it then say to that person when you think about what it means to have a great relation with ship with your boss, explain that to me and it’s really specifically worded that way, ’cause it’s not about… What do you want from me? ’cause someone’s like, Oh, oh, what do I ask for? But just tell me what a great relationship with your boss looks like to you, ’cause then you will start to learn, and it’s a great way to open up the other thing is to start asking… Or stop asking questions like, Did you get everything? And anything else from me? ’cause everyone’s like, Oh no, no, I got it.

0:04:02.3 S2: And now on with the show. When you’re feeling the pressure, take a moment to step back, pick up your marbles and choose to lead with Leah, join us on the lead with levity podcast for fireside chats that will fill your bucket and help you get back to being the leader, you are meant to be. Now, here’s your host, Dr. Heather Walker.

0:04:25.8 S1: Welcome back to the lead with levity podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Heather Walker and I am happy to share the story of our next guest, Jennifer Thornton. Jennifer is the founder of 304 coaching. It is a talent strategy agency out in Dallas, Texas, to help you find the perfect fit. I cannot wait to learn a little bit more about the strategies that they put in place, and Jennifer is also a conversational intelligence expert. So Jennifer, welcome to the show.

0:05:02.5 S2: Thank you so much for having me, it’s a pleasure.

0:05:04.4 S1: Awesome, tell me a little bit about 304 coaching. I think that’s a really cool name, does that mean anything in particular as when I was decided to go out on my own and have my own company, I very fortunately got a call from someone I used to work with, and so I know you’re going out on your own, I need you to meet with my CEO tomorrow. And I was like, I don’t even have a name yet for my business, and she’s like, Well, figure one out tonight, and I was like, Okay. And so I’m sitting there in the middle of the night trying to figure out a name, and my lucky number has always been 30, four, it’s a combination of dates that are important to me, and so I just like, Well, why don’t we just go with my lucky number. And so that’s how it became 304 coaching. Oh, I love that, ’cause initially I thought, Well, maybe that was the time of day when she quit her job or something… It was 3-04 on a Friday, I was done.

0:05:57.0 S2: They could have gone that way ’cause that was very similar to how it did go, so… Yes, but no, that’s not it.

0:06:01.9 S1: So when you put this idea and concept together and you said, I am going to go out there and make change, what was your hope and your vision for your organization

0:06:14.9 S2: View up in the retail industry where you wake up to your score card every single morning, the half of my time in corporate America was on the operation side, and the second side was on HR, both domestically and internationally. And I used to get really frustrated with how leaders treated people because I knew they went home at the end of the night, not their best, and I’m really passionate about making a difference in communities, and so most times I spend 95% of my day talking about how to make our business goals come to live, how to build culture, and how to treat people and how to get the most out of people, how to get trust and fun and all of those things. But selfishly, it’s because I want better communities. And so if someone has a great day at work and they come home, even if they fall, but they failed well, and then you felt because I took a risk and they were applauded for that risk, when they go home, they treat those people around them better, and then those people have better experiences and they go out and treat the world better so that its surface, I love driving business through great people, but selfishly, I wanna create a better in our community.

0:07:27.5 S1: So if we’re… And I agree with you that we spend eight out… Some of us four hours, eight hours, 10 hours, 12 hours, whatever it is, on our jobs, and then we go home, which now, you may still have a commute, you may not… You may just kind of close the door and walk into the next room, but if you’re drained at the end of the day, that’s going to affect the rest of your evening, that’s gonna affect how you show up for your family or your friends or whoever else, your neighbors, your pets. So when you say you want people to be treated better, or to treat others better… What do you focus on? It was important.

0:08:09.8 S2: So for me, what’s most important is really understanding language in the workplace, because our language, when we are interacting with someone with verbal language or any type of language, we are creating chemical responses and someone else’s mind and those responses influence everything that we’re thinking about, they create those stories in our head. And so for me, I love working with leaders so that they can be honest, they can tell the truth, but they can do all of that in a way that inspires people to be innovative, create trust and excitement, and so for me, it’s really… I’m very passionate about language and how we lead with language… Where does that come from? I think there’s a couple things that comes from… I worked International for a lot of years, and I had teams around the world, and I learned really quickly that when someone learns English from as a business English standpoint, because all of our offices around the world all spoke English, how someone in Hong Kong versus China versus Mexico, they all learned English in different ways, and so I had to learn how they spoke English, so if someone was gonna go somewhere fast, they could go there fast, quickly.

0:09:32.4 S2: Now, I live in Texas, so we kinda say Pronto, and so there’s all this language involvement, so what I learned is we really had to manage that language so that we created trust and understanding, and then I also witnessed executive groups and getting an executive group on the same page, playing well together, creating great results as hard enough… You add international time zones, language barriers, culture barriers, beliefs, you had all of that to the mix. It, it’s even harder. And so I really started noticing language, and then early in the concept of 304, I came across a woman, Judah, a glacier, and she spent 40 years studying the neuroscience of the mind and conversations in the workplace and how that impacted business results. And I had the pleasure of setting underneath her for a year and a half, and so I think it was these two random kind of experiences that created this passion…

0:10:29.1 S1: That makes a lot of sense. So is that where we start to get into this concept of conversational intelligence…

0:10:36.2 S2: Yes, yes, tunics, she was a founder of it, she just provided so much goodness for the world, in her heart was amazing, and I’m just honored to carry on her legacy and her training.

0:10:48.7 S1: I would say even emergent, because we’ve got IQ… People understand IQ, that concept, and I think eat you emotional intelligence, that has gained traction and now I know I’m hearing more and more about this concept of conversational intelligence, I don’t know, I don’t think it’s shortened down to see you, but definitely I hear about it. Can you describe to us, Can you educate us about what is this concept of conversational intelligence.

0:11:21.7 S2: So conversation intelligence is understanding how the mind chemicals work, how our words in our language either creates fear, therefore we create protection in the workplace, and when we are in fear and using our pre or permitted brain, we know that that closes down the use of our prefrontal cortex, so it’s about using our language to move people to a place out of fear, but in that pre-frontal cortex so that we can learn more, we can be more innovative, we can build trust and collaboration, and really what we’re doing is building psychological safety through our language.

0:12:01.7 S1: Very cool, very cool. So what are some of the strategies? What can someone do who wants to promote levity at work, and they want to have a good time with their teams, their co-workers, but they’re not really sure I… Can I say this? Can I say that? Can I do this? Can I do that? What do you recommend? How do you get started?

0:12:24.1 S2: Yeah, so I think by the first things you can do as a leader is understand that when you are within 10 feet of someone, your chemicals start to fire off Yours towards someone on your team, that there’s towards you… Start being visually observant. And so when you walked towards someone, how does their body language change, do they get bigger and do they open up or do you see them start to shrink down a little bit, because our body is now thinking about your history, so what’s my history with my boss? And all of those chemicals start to fire off, and so start to watch your people and their body language when you enter the room, the other thing I tell executives to do is when you ask a big question… Watch response. So for example, if you have a product that all of a sudden the demographics, 20 to 35-year-olds have dropped off and you gotta figure out why you pull all your people in room, and if you say, I wanna know right here, right now, what can you do to get this back on track. And if everyone starts looking at each other and not looking up, they’re waiting for you to tell them what they’re supposed to do, you’ve not created an environment where they can tell you the truth, so the first thing you have to do is start watching those non-verbal cues, because that’s that inner voice and that’s creating that response your team has, are

0:13:46.4 S1: There certain words or phrases that we can use to take a step back and build that foundation you said, you’re not creating a situation where they trust, they have enough trust to just go out there and be themselves, and we need them to be themselves so that they can get to that place where they are enjoying work, so how do you form that foundation, let’s say I meet you, Jennifer, I just met you today. What could I say? To help you feel a little bit more comfortable.

0:14:22.1 S2: Yeah, so say you have a new person on your team and you have that first kinda get to know you meeting. How do you create trust in the beginning, and so one of the first things that you can do in that conversation is to say to that person, I wanna share with you a little bit about what I love to happen on my team, what I love when my team brings me the news I don’t wanna hear, because I need to hear what I don’t need to hear, so I can help us move forward when you have an idea that you think is ridiculous, that’s the idea I wanna hear, because it’s those crazy ideas that create change, and so set it up in a way that tells people, I’m open, but be brief, because again, it’s about that person and then… Yeah, ’cause we all know the executive that has a hard time with that then that… When you think about what it means, I have a great relationship with your boss, explain that to me, and it’s really specifically worded that way… ’cause it’s not about what do you want from me? ’cause someone’s like, Oh, what do I ask for? But just tell me what a great relationship with your boss looks like to you, ’cause then you will start to learn…

0:15:37.4 S2: And it’s a great way to open up. The other thing is to start asking or stop asking questions like, Did you get everything? And anything else from me? ’cause everyone’s like, Oh no, no, I got it, because you’re in fear that you don’t understand, your boss start saying things like.

0:15:51.3 S1: What is interesting? Just real quick, it’s interesting that you say that because I feel like just that phrase is almost like a… Get to the point. Are we done here? Are we done? That’s the message. The underlying message that I’m hearing with that.

0:16:04.8 S2: You’re exactly right, and so change that to say, out of everything we talked about, what’s the one thing you want more clarity on, ’cause it starts a conversation and they’ll say, And it’s a specific one thing, because in the brain’s like, Well, I have to give my boss something, and so they give you one thing, but what it does is it opens up the conversation. Once someone offers one thing of clarity and you create conversation around it, who knows what else will come up that needs to come up.

0:16:33.7 S1: Yeah, that’s nice, I like that. I just wrote that down. I’m gonna have to try that. So how do you prepare to teach people about conversational intelligence, is there some secret group out there, kind of like the people who go out and they learn about public speaking and they don’t feel comfortable public speaking, and so they go to Toastmasters. Is there like a meet-up group or something, like how do you get to the point where you’re there… ’cause I’m sure not everyone can sit with Judah… And soak up all of her knowledge. Yeah.

0:17:09.8 S2: She does. Had it wrote an amazing book, conversation intelligence. So that’s out there for the world, which I think is incredible. It really talks about the minds and the chemicals, but there’s a lot of different views on psychological safety, and that’s a big piece of it, because creating psychological safety in our work environment opens up trust and allows people to be off to themselves when you have the most authentic person, you’re going to get the best of them, conversation on conversational intelligence helps us understand how to create that with our language, so I totally recommend her book, if it’s something you’re interested in, there’s very few of us out there, there’s about 200 people worldwide that she has trained on this concept, but there’s some great resources out there through her writing and through some of her articles and stuff that are very cool. Very cool. So I feel really privileged then to be able to have this conversation with you, considering the billions of people on this planet, I found one of 200 that… Who knows about this? I’m actually feeling really cool about that right now.

0:18:15.4 S1: So when you go into an organization and you’re helping them kind of think about their talent strategy, and you have an organization that is a little bit more light that… It looks like they’re having a good time, it looks like they’re having fun. What kinds of organizations are you noticing any trends in that… So prior to 2020, I was noticing some trends towards being a little bit more accepted to authenticity, kind of celebrating that person for who they are and starting to remove some judgment from the workplace, but

0:18:56.5 S2: In 2020, because of the situations we’ve all out with, we’ve been in crisis management, and crisis management only works when we’re in a crisis, but what I’m seeing right now is a lot of good leaders were crisis managing at the beginning of this year, and they got in a bad habit of it, and they’re actually not even being true to who they really are as a leader, because when your crisis management… It’s very efficient, right? It’s building on a command and control on fire, get out. Easy is that right? The conversation we’re having today around better conversation, psychological safety, you have to want to be a great leader to bring that into environment, and so we have to get back to the habit of slowing down and talking to our people and kinda move out of this phase that we’re in that’s highly directive and crisis.

0:19:48.4 S1: Oh yeah, oh yeah. I can see where you’re coming from there, and I think it depends on where the leader is, right, so it took some people… Some people are in shock. There’s the common reactions to crisis somewhere in shock, it took them a long time to even recognize that we’re in a crisis, and I need to respond then… Yes, you have those who are like, Okay, command and control. And then now I’m also seeing leaders who are doing everything that they can to be as empathetic as they can with their teams, but then they’re struggling their tire, they’ve got the same challenges going on behind the scenes, and they’re trying to figure out How do I restore my energy, so that I can kinda just make it through this year… That’s the goal. Just to make it through this year.

0:20:38.7 S2: Yeah, I’m seeing a lot of that too. And I think as a leader, we have to be incredibly self-aware, but when I mean self-aware, I’m not meaning how we are actions to or others, but in our core, what kind of leader do we want to be and are we being that leader? And so some of the things I’ve been doing with clients is kind of backtracking a little bit and going back to what are your values as a leader, what’s your edge, what makes you really good? And how are you using that? So how do you think about the work? Because the work has changed and there’s new work and there’s obsolete work, and so really is a moment of reset, and I don’t necessarily know that everyone is… Because we’re in it, and when you’re in it, it’s hard to see it. So we’re in it right now. My biggest fear is we’re gonna have some leaders who get in this habit and that they’re gonna get themselves in a little bit of trouble and they’re not gonna be leading the way that feels good to that.

0:21:34.0 S1: Okay, so it sounds like the fear is that some people, some leaders are going to lose… They may be losing their sense of identity as leaders

0:21:44.7 S2: As… Right.

0:21:45.7 S1: Am I hearing that right? Yeah, I

0:21:48.5 S2: Think they’ve lost their way, and it’s not on purpose, but it’s because of the crisis management, having to think about all these different things on top of the day-to-day and when you are being in a way that feels good to you inside. So if one of your values as a leader is humanity, but for whatever reason you’re not being able to humanize people around you, you’re not gonna feel centered as a leader and it’s not gonna feel right to you, and you won’t be giving the best you…

0:22:22.7 S1: At what point is it okay for a leader to say, Okay, I know that we’re in crisis, we’ve been in crisis all year, I know the house is burning, everything is challenged, and not every company is in this position, but I’m just running with this example at what point, is it okay for them to say, Alright, today we’re going to pretend that none of that’s going on and we’re gonna do something different, we’re gonna step outside of the box today, and we’re just going to have a good time, we’re gonna remind ourselves that work can be fun. And we enjoy each other’s company.

0:23:07.2 S2: I think when you get to that place where people are short and someone who typically seems very energized by something is not, and so when you start to kind of see those clues, being a leader is about picking up clues and putting it together was all this mean to me, when I see these clues, now, a lot of times we were in crisis management, we choose to ignore those clues, so let’s open our eyes to all the clues that are in front of us, and when you start to see that happening with your team, then that’s the moment where you put the pause on and you bring them together, and you pause and say collectively, and maybe it’s something around doing a session with your team and taking the moment to do an appreciation, go around and tell us what you appreciate about the people you work with… Because you wanna kind of reset the angst, to reset the ANS, we gotta go to the opposite side, and that’s appreciation and openness and light and fun and the Levity, that’s the opposite side of the angst, and so we have to get them there to do that.

0:24:11.7 S2: We have to open up that conversation.

0:24:13.5 S1: Okay, so when we open up that conversation, are there certain… Like what not to do? Do you have anything to share with us around…

0:24:25.3 S2: I’m so glad you asked me that question. Here’s what not to do, judge. And when someone’s coming to you in this difficult time, whether it be the 2020 challenges or any challenge, ’cause that’s humans, we are faced with challenges. When they come to you with a challenge, do not judge their experience, it’s very easy to say, Well, I would never be like, That’s not a big deal. You should hear what happened to this price, no, it’s their reality to really come in and create that psychological safety and you’re trying to reset, it’s about appreciating that person’s experience for what it is to them. I

0:25:03.7 S1: Love that, I love that. Oh, that’s so awesome. So what is on the horizon for you? And for 30 for coaching.

0:25:15.5 S2: So what we’re really passionate about right now, and what we’re really focused on is creating leadership academies, and it’s important for me to make sure that we create something that is sustainable and that specifically is designed to create change. I think all of us have been to a three-day leadership training and we had made it all these commitments to ourself and then we did nothing with it. Yeah, right. Remember we’ve open to that one unfortunately. Yeah, unfortunately, and I went out to make our leadership academies, I made a list of everything I hated about traditional seminars, and I was like, I’ll just reverse engineer that, I’ll just do the office and see what happened. And so we are really focused on creating adult learning experiences and a way in which adult learners learn through learning something, applying it over time, building on that, applying over time building and going through that. So we run anywhere from seven to 12 to even 18-month programs to help people actually develop their skills, and so we’re always adding new modules to that program, we’re really working and thinking about how can we teach people to create psychological safety on top of those skills we need to know like engage teams and conversations that influence and coaching, all the stuff we need to know about, how do we think about it in a new way? And so we spend a lot of time just brainstorming on how to do that here.

0:26:42.2 S1: Very cool, very cool. And if anyone wants to know a little bit more about that work, and then you can go to 304 Coaching at our website 304 Coaching, and if you wanna connect with me, I’d love to connect on LinkedIn, and you can find me at Jen Thornton ACC. That is so awesome, Jen. I really appreciate all of the jewels that you drop today, and I hope that you all are able to take something away from this and apply it at home, at work, wherever you may be, to just transform your environment using your language. So Jen, thank you so much for joining us today.

0:27:23.4 S2: Thank you for having me and open up the conversation, I appreciate it. Thanks for tuning into the lead with levity podcast, to get resources mentioned in this episode and find out what we’re all about. Check us out at lead with lead dot-com.

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