When Sarah speaks, she’s often confronted with hard-to ask questions – questions that seek specific direction and that could leave the “asker” open to attack or ridicule for asking or not knowing. “Getting these questions signals to me that I’ve created the environment I want – one in which we can ask the questions that move us to effective, sustainable change.” Some of these questions get asked repeatedly. Some seem isolated. All feel relevant. So, we thought we’d provide a place where you can read some of the questions & answers, as part of your exploration. Feel free to submit your own question if you like. Sarah often answers questions on leadership, corporate governance and workplace inclusion but feel free to ask whatever is on your mind. We only post a handful of the questions that get asked. Others we respond to directly. And of course, as the demand continues to increase, we may not be able to answer or it might be some time before we do.
On this page Sarah invites you to submit your questions. She understands how hard these questions are to ask, and she delights in giving people a place where they can be candid, receive a suggested way to proceed, and hopefully spark the insight they need to create meaningful change in their work and personal lives around these issues.
I’d suggest seven things based upon: (A) the assumption that you are consistently submitting or presenting high-quality work product, on time, that meets the desired goal and that you are responsive, proactive and strategic—I say that to all leaders who ask for advice, and (B) the fact that ALL personnel decisions regarding advancing leaders to senior levels in law departments are made by human beings:
Yes, being authentic has been used against me and has created additional challenges—I’ve felt attacked and mistreated because of who I am, and felt as if others were making decisions that limited my options for career success. I’ve realized two things in this regard that have been helpful for me to advance and succeed while maintaining my authenticity:
If I’m in an environment where I’m being attacked and the system allows for that and doesn’t engage to protect me, or if I’m being undervalued and I can’t get anyone in power to best utilize me, I am not going to excel. I can only change how I behave and respond. I’m human. I’m messy. I’m also super skilled, engaging, feminine and brown-skinned. I’m absolutely going to make some people uncomfortable. I used to explain how people didn’t like me and I had a trusted friend reject that phrase and explain that I may intimidate them, invoke jealousy or trigger some other reaction, but it wasn’t about whether or not they “liked” me.
For the most part, I have demonstrated the ability to engage and enroll others in various ways. Although I think people underestimate the skill of staying open, curious and nonjudgmental as the first step of a discussion, that is exactly why I believe I’ve had the success I’ve had in enrolling/engaging others. Rarely is my first move to persuade you of something, especially of something that is contrary to or not consistent with what you currently believe. I can’t think of it now but I recall seeing an article on social media earlier that explained how using hostage negotiation techniques was effective in difficult conversations around politics and other controversial issues. I’ve had more success getting others to concede a bit or even begin to want to hear a different perspective after I’ve created an environment where they aren’t so poised to defend their position. For me, it helps to stop thinking “right versus wrong” and instead I imagine we are sitting across a table from each other with a “9” draw on the table – I see a “9”; the other person sees a “6”. I can argue all day, trying to convince them, probably without success and most likely deteriorating the relationship. Instead, if the relationship is important to me, I focus on getting to a spot where we can each feel safe enough to actually hear each other’s points, then leave it at that, hoping that might be enough of a seed planted that the next interaction may water that seed. Sometimes, that’s the most I can hope for and I sure don’t want to miss that opportunity of planting the seed.
Initially it was getting myself and others to believe that we could still continue on effectively with business, “pivoting” as so many had to do. I saw organizations that didn’t pivot but instead canceled or put things on hold, believing/hoping the challenge would be very short term. This was true both organizationally and individually. As is often the case in life, it’s been more helpful to attempt to adapt and keep going than it would have been to push back & put things on hold. I recall over 10 years ago in my initial coach training, I pushed back on the idea that I could coach executives as effectively via the phone as I could in person. Yet, I adapted to do so for some executives, and I was shocked and pleased at how effective I could be by relying on other methods of “paying attention”. Being willing to adapt and try things has often proven useful. I always give myself a pat on the back when I’m willing to say: “you might be right”, or “I’ll give it a try”, and a double pat if I’m inside shaking my head but I’m willing to try.