“I always say leadership is picking up clues along the way; as you are engaging with people and you see traits that you admire or that you see are really effective, you just are kind of picking those up and re-taking all of that and molding it into who you authentically are.”
0:00:16.4 S1:Welcome to the Leadership 360 podcasts where we interview real people with real stories of all aspects of leadership. I’m your host, Chris Moore, thank you for joining us today, Jen. My guest is Jennifer Thornton. Jennifer has developed her expertise in the talent strategy and leadership professional development over her exciting 20-plus year career as an HR professional. She has led international teams across Greater China, Mexico, the UK, in the US, to expand into new markets, managing franchise retailers, and developing key strategic partnerships, all while exceeding and business objectives and financial results, the rapid growth of her consulting firm, 304 Coaching has been largely due to Jennifer’s unconventional approach to building innovative workforce development solutions for companies who are facing breakthrough growth and accelerated hiring patterns. She is a sought after business strategist, specializing in startups and large value-based organization, she assisted her clients and building talent strategies that complement their business strategies to ensure exponential growth. She lives in Texas with her family and rescues. In her free time, she enjoys reading, historic preservation, remodeling her lake home and spending time with friends. Jennifer, welcome to the Leadership 360 podcast.
0:01:29.9 S2: Thank you so much for having me.
0:01:32.0 S1: So I’m always interested in what people do now for work, but the other interesting thing is what they do in their spare time or their free time, so I understand pretty much everything… What is historic preservation?
0:01:45.6 S2: So I actually live in a historic home. Now in Texas, historic isn’t actually all that old. My house was built in 34, and when I bought my house… Oh gosh, almost 20 years ago, I was young. I bought this house, I really didn’t know what that meant. When I bought in his story house, I didn’t know that, and that the city gets to decide what color I paint it, and all those types of things. Sure, and so over time, I’ve really learned about it, but what I also learned over time is how important it is to preserve our history of structures because they tell a story about how people lived it, and so I’ve really started to enjoy learning about history from an architectural standpoint, in helping Dallas where I live, continue to preserve our history, it’s not always easy, a lot of people don’t see it as saving history, they see it as building a new shiny building and knocking one down, but we do our best and we help property owners see the value of keeping their structure so that they can be a part of the history.
0:02:48.7 S1: Well, that’s amazing and I probably… It’s a whole new world that you got into, and there’s all kinds of people who are in that space, but I’m fascinated when I travel around the world, so many places that are so much older than the places we live, you countries come and go, but city stay and buildings, as long as you preserve them, then you can enjoy that history and like you said, what people did and how they lived at the time that they were built, so… Good for you. That’s a fantastic, fantastic opportunity and probably a great project as well. I’m sure. So talking about leadership, and I’m sure you’ve been exposed to many different styles and pros, cons, everything from a leadership perspective, but when you think about great leaders, what do you think some of the attributes are of a great leader?
0:03:43.1 S2: Oh, it’s so many. I think when… Gosh, when I look at leaders who are able to take their team along with them, and sometimes you can stand beside them, sometimes lead them, sometimes follow them, because as leaders, a lot of times we have to follow our experts that are on the team. I think a lot of it comes from curiosity and the willingness to accept someone else’s viewpoint, and I think great leaders are willing to hear someone else’s experiences and views and appreciate them and honor them. They may not agree with them, and that’s okay, that’s what we do in business. We look for best case scenarios and solutions and ideas, but great leaders are willing to hear those without judgement. Yeah.
0:04:31.9 S1: That’s a fantastic point. And I learned not as early in my career as I would have appreciated, but the fact that as a leader, you’re one person, you have one set of ideas, one set of experience, but if you can benefit from the collective… It’s so important, and like you say, to listen to people, but what I learned was listening is important, but then actually choosing to change your plans based on the feedback and the ideas, and then the next step for me was making sure you let people know that Hey, because of your idea or your influence or your input, I adjusted what I was gonna do. I think it’s so important for people to have that feedback that they’re making a difference too, so what have you learned from some of the great leaders that you’ve worked with, it are worked for…
0:05:22.2 S2: I think of one leader that I worked for many years and worked with him internationally, and one of the challenges working internationally is the person who answers your question might be asleep, right, and you don’t wanna call someone at 2 o’clock in the morning and go, Hey, what do you think about this? So one of the things I learned is how to really get comfortable making difficult decisions without approval, and that takes some time to get used to when you’re making really big decisions, but I was able to do that because my leader was incredibly consistent in his views and the way he made decisions, and that was a moment where I really started to appreciate consistency, so if if I was in Hong Kong, in whatever country he was in and working at that time, it might have been 1 o’clock in the morning, I felt comfortable and having his proxy, I knew how to make a decision based on how consistent he was and how he responded, and so when we would connect and I would say, Here are the things that have been going on. Here are some of the decisions I made.
0:06:29.3 S2: Even if he would have made a different decision, he was consistent in the way he would respond, he would say, Yes, yes, yes, this one, let’s work through it because I have some different views on it, but I didn’t get in trouble, I didn’t get shamed or judged, we talked through it and I learned. And so I think that consistency and allowing people to make decisions in their day-to-day so they can be more productive as an incredible leadership quality… Yeah, absolutely, being consistent is important at any time, but like you say, if you’re making decisions on behalf for somebody or for a line of business, and the people working for you are looking for that consistency too, so… It’s extremely important. Anything else that you’ve learned from some of the other great leaders that you’ve worked with… Oh gosh, so much. I think that some of the other things that I’ve learned that have carried on or is how to work functionally, and I don’t think we always… We talk a lot about leading our team, but we don’t talk as often about leading cross-functionally, and very few organizations have a singular team, and even if you have a singular team, you have vendors and you have other maybe partners or platforms, all types of different things so I think…
0:07:53.5 S2: And I really look at older of old school 20th century leadership, and that was that mindset, if I know everything, ’cause I’m the boss, and in today’s world, I think our best leaders and some of the ones I’ve worked for have really been fantastic at not knowing, but bringing the people in that now and creating a path for those people to do their best work, and if you’re a leader who sets around and thinks, I have to know the answers, and I’m gonna tell you what to do, even though I don’t know how to do your job, your team will struggle because they won’t be doing their job, they’ll just be doing what you tell them to do.
0:08:30.9 S1: Yeah, absolutely, there’s times when I’ve referred to people that have worked for me is telling managers, it’s just like they feel their job is to tell everybody what to do, but if I look at any of the teams that I’ve managed to… I don’t have enough time in my day to tell everybody what to do and people need to be independent, especially when you’ve got leaders reporting to you, and like you said, if you’re clear in your expectations, you give people the space, I think supporting people is important too, like you said, not getting in trouble or being shamed, the key thing is to let people do what they need to do, make some mistakes, have the conversation, but make sure that they’re supported most of all, so it’s extremely… I’ve worked for a lot of great people who have through the years, ended up being kind of coaches and mentors to me, and I’ve had mentors who I haven’t reported to ’cause they were in another organization that you’re talking about partners and some of those things. And I had somebody who… I chose them as a mentor, I don’t think I ever told him that they were my mentor ’cause I was just observing them…
0:09:44.9 S1: Right, and I should probably do that some plant some point, but it was fascinating because in a meeting or a heated conversation, this person would… When she was speaking and if people weren’t listening, she would just kind of get more quiet, more quiet, and people would have to lean in and listen, and it was fascinating just to watch how she operated make mental notes and then try some of those things myself, so… You can learn from the people that you work for or report directly too, but you can just learn from great people around you to…
0:10:25.1 S2: Yeah, I always say leadership is picking up clues along the way, and as you are engaging with people and you see traits that you admire or that you see they’re really effective, you just are kind of picking those up and re-taking all of that and molding you into who you authentically are, but you do always… Those clues from leaders, and it sometimes our worst leaders are good teachers too.
0:10:52.0 S1: Yeah, absolutely. You can learn something from everybody. And when you do that too, it creates a better self-awareness. I’ve seen people who are in situations that they allow other people to kinda trigger them or push their buttons or set them off, and I’ve coached so many people who have reported to me to say, Hey, next time… You’re in a conversation with that person or that group of people. Try to just observe yourself like you’re sitting beside yourself watching yourself, and it’s hard for people to do, but it’s… Once you do that as well, then you start to understand yourself better and see people, the people around you differently to us, so… What have you learned about yourself, lady?
0:11:37.2 S2: Oh gosh. In the year in 2020, I think we all learned a lot about herself. Right, yeah, that’s right. How long is this show? Now, so I think what I learned about myself when this started in 1220 took off and to all of its, Coram was reading articles that said, you know, when you go into difficult times as a business, if you’re strong, you’ll likely come out stronger, and if you were… Then you’re going to struggle. And it really get home with me and I thought, Wow, where am I strong at, and how do I really get into that so that I can take advantage of where I’m strong and not struggle as much? And the other thing I really started to think about is How can I impact… And I don’t have any medical training, so you certainly don’t want me doing anything like that, I can’t do a make medical mask or anything. And so I started giving back, I had open free time, and so I started conducting free leadership training classes for communities, and I learned so much through giving… All of those classes, and I met so many incredible people, and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other.
0:12:57.8 S2: And so I think what I learned about myself is that if I’m backed into a corner, I can figure it out, there is something, there’s always some type of solution, it may not be a perfect solution, but right now, there’s something you can do and just make one step. So I think that’s what I learned about myself is I’ll figure it out.
0:13:19.0 S1: Let’s create… And so you sound like the kind of person who looks for a good challenge and enjoys problem solving, but like you said, when you do what you do and people pay you, that’s one thing, but when you do that and you give it away, there’s… As much as the people who receive the coaching and some of the development that you’re doing, probably really appreciated it, but I would imagine for you it was probably more enjoyable just being able to do that because it’s what you do well and what you enjoy as much as they enjoyed receiving it.
0:13:54.1 S2: Yeah, and what’s interesting is you, I was like, How in the world can I help? And it was really easy for me at first to respond with, Well, there’s nothing I can do. I’m stuck in my house, I don’t have this or I don’t have that. And I just went back to, What do I do best? Let’s do more of that. And that’s how I decided to… Because you know, we have Zoom and all kinds of technology, if we’re stuck in our house, let’s use it. Right. And so, yeah, so it was an interesting challenge. But we figured it out. Yeah.
0:14:25.4 S1: Great. Yeah, there was a point in time where I was kinda counting the days that we were in isolation, to the point that I thought, Okay, I gotta stop doing this. When the county gonna stop, right. And everybody talks about getting back to normal or… And a lot of the people I’ve talked to is forget, forget the old normal we had that’s not coming back, let’s figure out how to function and how to adapt and that… And you’ve been in HR, you work with people you… You know, I’m not a doctor, a psychologist or a lawyer, but one thing I have observed with human beings is they are extremely resilient, and they figure out a new way to do things, it might take a bit of time, but… It absolutely does happen. Yeah, absolutely. So what leadership advice would you give your younger self, all the things that you’ve learned over the years that people back and tell yourself…
0:15:25.8 S2: A lot there would be a long list. I think, especially starting out, I grew up in the retail industry, and I grew up front line working in the role teams at 20 years old, making hiring decisions, waking up to my KPIS every morning at 20 and 21 years old. And I don’t think I appreciated what I was learning at the time. Because you just get off and you just get up and do it. And so I think I would first to myself really absorb what you’re doing, because this is powerful stuff, not every 22-year-old, 21-year-old gets to make hiring decisions and interview people or just the basic stuff that we learned. And then I think the second thing is, is to have confidence in yourself and be confident, being unique, one of the things I struggled with only early in my career as I did things differently, and I still was a top performer, I hit all my numbers, everything was always great, but I knew I did it differently, and because I did it differently, I always kinda carried this uncomfortable ease ’cause I wasn’t… So still not, I’m not a high competitor, I will help someone win before I went, right.
0:16:34.0 S2: And when you’re in the world of retail, waking up to your KPIS every morning, that is not your peers, your peers are there, I can beat you to be the best, right? And so, I mean, that’s the other thing, is just get really comfortable in your own skin and lead in a way that makes you feel good because you’ll be the most effective…
0:16:50.8 S1: Right, I think that’s a fantastic point. The fact, I mean, everybody is unique, we know that, but we don’t think about that in terms of school or work, we expect people to align and comply, and who you are is a function of kind of family of origin, where you grew up, what you learned, and I appreciate what you’re saying about retail, I spent a number of years in retail in my late teens, and to me, it’s one of those things that everybody should do, and it’s not for everybody, of course, but just having to be customer service dealing with… Learning how to sell or solve, take returns and all of the other things that you don’t understand about large corporations like supply chain and warehousing and all of those things, so it’s good for you that probably great opportunity that you started out there as well.
0:17:48.1 S2: Yeah, retail definitely formed my early leadership years an ice tainan retail, most of my career up until opening my own business now, did a lot of different jobs inside of that and a lot of different things, and did it all over the world, but… I’ll never forget some of those early days…
0:18:03.4 S1: Yeah, for sure. And you’ve had that whole experience of being on the front line too, right? Which is huge when you’re in the context of being in the corporate office, if they… If people haven’t worked on the front lines, they just don’t have that perspective, so a little broader question, and maybe drawing on some of the things that you do kind of day-to-day, but what leadership advice would you give our audience today?
0:18:25.8 S2: So when I think about what’s going on in the world today, I think that we have to create environments where innovation is celebrated and appreciated, and that is easier said than dams things, and to create innovation, we have to create trust and psychological safety and some of those buzz words that we’re all hearing these days, right, but we really have to think about our actions as leaders and our words and our actions, they impact someone’s chemical responses in their brain, and when we instill fear in someone… And it’s very easy to do that. We move someone to their permanent brain, which closes down their prefrontal cortex was just where innovation happens. You yell, someone, Hey, I need you to figure this out. Well, you’ve just shut down the part of the brain, it figures it out. So you’re not gonna get what you want. So I think really thinking about how to create trust and safety so that we can have more innovative conversations and more innovation in the business…
0:19:30.1 S1: That’s fantastic. You’re talking about the brain there, and I was wondering if you know my friend Roger duly, ’cause he’s down in your area, I’ll send you a link, he’s written a book called Brain fluent a number of other books, but he used a into neuro marketing.
0:19:44.6 S2: Oh, fantastic. I studied under an amazing woman, her name is Judith Glaser, and she spent 40 years studying the neuroscience of the mind, how it took in conversations in the workplace, and how did that impact business decisions. And I studied directly underneath her for about a year and a half… Brilliant. She was so… Her husband actually was a neuroscientist, and so together they did incredible studies and work, and after working with her and studying underneath her and going through her certification program, I was like, Man, the whole world needs to know this because it would have made my life a lot better, and I understood how my language was influencing responses in the workplace.
0:20:23.4 S1: Yeah, it is so true. And like when you’re talking about what people say and do and how other people respond, I always think of that image of a boat and the week that it leaves behind, and What do you want your week to be as you’re interacting with people and you need to be, you need to do your job, get your work done, all of those things, but yeah, absolutely. Have to be thoughtful about the people around you, not just because they’re gonna do stuff with you for you, but because they are just like you in terms of individuals who are trying to contribute and be successful, and they’ve got families and other pressures on their lives, so… There’s a little more thought that needs to go into what everybody does every day, and like you’re talking about competition and helping somebody before you wanna win yourself, there’s so much more of that that people need to be doing, for sure. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for your time and your insight. I really do appreciate it, and I really enjoyed our conversation today.
0:21:30.2 S2: It was fantastic, I really enjoyed it too.
0:21:33.0 S1: This has been Leadership 360 with my guests, Jennifer Thornton. Join me again for more inspiring stories about leadership from real people. The Leadership 360 podcast is sponsored by not a leadership academy, you are a trusted partner in leadership development from coaching to consulting an onsite facilitation. Please visit our website, the Leadership Academy.