Welcome back to my June blog series on “Cultivating Growth and Building Community.” When we left off last week, I’d shared some of the inspiring things I learned during my first day at the Black Woman Leading LIVE Retreat + Conference that I attended in Florida last month, and all that was only the morning of the first day of the conference! I remember heading out to the beach for our lunch and thinking that I’d already absorbed so much that I was excited to apply in both my professional and personal lives–and we were only just getting started!
After lunch, we got right back a full afternoon with a session on: “Leading from the Inside-Out: Growing Your Emotional Intelligence” with Black Women Leading Coach Sunnette Thompson. Sunnette defined Emotional Intelligence as: 1) the ability to recognize our feelings and those of others; 2) the capacity to motivate self; and 3) the ability to manage emotions in ourselves and relationships. Key elements of Emotional Intelligence include self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and relationship management; and we discussed the importance of “leading from within” with self-awareness and self-regulation.
I left the session with some powerful reflections on how this discussion applied to me and my leadership style, both in my full-time job and in my coaching and facilitation practice. How am I using emotional intelligence as I am leading? Am I using it? How can I do better? How can I exercise, build and grow this muscle?
For my readers who attend conferences or all-day work meetings regularly, you might be like me: every time I’m at a conference, I feel that post-lunch energy slump coming on mid-afternoon, like clockwork. However, at this conference, I quickly realized there was no danger of that happening! Black Women Leading founder Laura Knights took the stage for the next session, on relationship management, and she kept the energy level at 100%! Laura talked about the concept of “influence” and how influence really means driving action and results. We can build our influence through relationship management, personal branding, a visibility strategy, and self-advocacy. Managing relationships is about intentionally building connections with others, learning how to positively influence interactions, navigating through difficult situations, and actively monitoring them for mutual benefit to both parties. Laura also talked about self-awareness about adaptations like code switching, the mirroring danger and belonging.
I really appreciated that Laura built time into her session for small-group discussion among our tables. She asked us to consider and share with our table-mates some of the following questions:
- How are you currently using your influence at work?
- How are you utilizing the relationships within your reach to achieve your professional goals?
- How can I create win-win relationships that will benefit me as well as them?
I’ll admit, heading into this particular session, I wasn’t sure at first what new things I might learn–even though I was confident that I would hear something thought-provoking, since I always do when Laura presents! Relationship management is an ever-present topic for me. You could even say that I live and breathe relationship management in my full-time job. On an almost daily basis, it’s critical to the success of my community economic development work that I build and maintain relationships with a diverse range of collaborators: staff who I supervise, executive leadership who supervise me, external parties like funders of our work, and both senior leadership and frontline staff at our community-based nonprofit partners.
My business wouldn’t be successful without relationship management, either. Trust and strong relationships are absolutely fundamental to a productive coaching dynamic, and it’s of utmost importance to me that I maintain solid relationships with my consulting, facilitation, and training clients too. But I hadn’t thought much about how relationship management connected to influence or what it means to cultivate influence. I realized I’d always thought of “influence” as the domain of powerful people in high-profile roles, like CEOs and politicians–but Laura’s session made the light bulb go off in my head that we all have opportunities to cultivate influence each and every day. This quote that Laura shared especially resonated with me, and it’s something I’m still sitting with now that I’m back home:
“Influencing is everything we say or don’t say, do or don’t do, are or are not, that modifies, affects, or changes someone else’s behavior, thoughts or actions, consciously, or unconsciously, for good or ill”. –Anonymous
Of course, while on-site at Black Women Leading LIVE, I didn’t have much time to sit with that quote or my thoughts because we rolled straight into the next session on “ Being on Brand: Personal Branding for Career Growth,” led by none other than my coach from my time in the Black Women Leading leadership development program, Summer Alexander. It was great to connect with Summer again, and to know that the entire summit audience would have the opportunity to benefit from some of the knowledge and wisdom that I knew she would share. Some of the gems that Summer dropped included:
- As it relates to the workplace, your personal brand is the external perception of how your peers and leaders view you, based on how you consistently present yourself.
- Benefits of building your brand include differentiation, influence, career development and strong reputation.
- Four pillars of a personal brand are implementation, strategy, self-management, and self-awareness.
- Strategy without implementation is a waste of time, energy and the piece of paper you wrote it on. (Having spent most of my career in the nonprofit sector where we can sometimes get bogged down in studies and strategic plans, I felt this takeaway in my soul! 😆)
- Consistency is key when it comes to your personal brand.
- You have to know what the core of you is and know your brand.
- We have to own our own narrative.
- Brand components include values & beliefs, skills & expertise, personality & style and strengths & opportunities.
- Be so good that they can’t ignore you.
I’ll confess, this is a topic where I am definitely still growing! My mindset through much of my nonprofit career has been to stay behind the scenes, in service of elevating our community partners and not myself. I had to make a major shift when I became an entrepreneur and realized that my personal brand would be critical to my success in my business–and ultimately to expanding my ability to transform organizations and change lives through my work with my clients. I’m still a work in progress here, but Summer left us with four actions to develop a brand that positions you to accomplish your career goals: assess your brand, boost your brand, consistency is key, and decide your journey.
Winding Down An Inspiring Day
The day ended with a session called “Lessons from the C-Suite” with Janara Jones (Vice President – Global Taxes and Chief Tax Officer at Albemarle Corporation) and Dorri McWhorter (President & CEO of YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago). I didn’t take notes, just listened and absorbed as these incredibly accomplished women shared about their journeys to the C-Suite. It reminded me that our career journeys are not linear: we get to choose which path we want to take and there’s nothing wrong with going after what you want for yourself and your career.
True to Laura Knights’ promise that we’d have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of the “retreat” portion of the retreat and conference, our evening activity was a Dinner Cruise and we absolutely made the most of it. Perfect weather, good food, good company, a little dancing–what more could a group of powerful, creative, energized women ask for? We even sang a bit of Mary J. Blige in unison!
As you can see, it was a jam-packed day of knowledge, growth, and building community with my fellow summit participants! There’s so much to share that I have yet more to write about in next week’s blog. But for now, I want to conclude by giving a HUGE shout-out to Sandria Washington, who served as the emcee for the entire conference. It’s a more nuanced and involved role than many people think it might be. The emcee has to provide the transition between sessions, confidently speak before an audience of hundreds, introduce other high-powered speakers and session leaders, and share important “housekeeping” information about the agenda and conference logistics like break times and restroom location. A truly great emcee also finds a way to keep the audience energized and engaged throughout. Sandria had such an incredible way of connecting with the audience and getting us into the right mindset to receive what was in store for each day and each session.
I’m definitely going to draw inspiration from Sandria’s energy in some of my future training and facilitation gigs! Until next week, I’ll leave you with a little “insider” clip of our impromptu singing during the dinner cruise and hope it brings you some of the joy we were all channeling that evening. (And none other than Dorri McWhorter from the afternoon’s “C-Suite” panel joined right in–talk about a CEO who’s driving impact in her community, inspiring the next generation of Black women leaders, and having fun while doing it!)