Debra Allcock Tyler – It’s A Battle on the Board

Debra Allcock Tyler talks about her new book ” It’s a Battle On the Board: The No Fibbing Guide for Trustees “. Tesse and Paula ask Debra about understanding the trustee role, working with fellow trustees, working with the CEO, dealing with information and finance, the psychology of decision-making, managing risk and handling crisis.

Debra mentions why being knowledgeable and experienced as a trustee is important

as well as  why effective governance matters. Debra offers all listeners  a sample copy to ” It’s a Battle on the Board “. The  book is also available for purchase.

Read Full Transcript

Paula: 00:00:00 Welcome to Tesse talks with your host Tesse Akpeki, and co-host Paula Okonneh,  where we share with you top leadership and management strategies. This is a journey of discovery. We are learning that leadership is personal and professional, and we hope you will walk with us on this journey.

Our guest today is Debra Allcock Tyler, who will be talking about her new book that she authored. “It’s a Battle on the Board: The no-fibbing guide for trustees.” Thank you so much Debra, for coming on. Tesse Talks.

Debra: 00:00:37 You’re so welcome. I’m really happy to be here and incredibly honored that you asked me.

Paula: 00:00:42 Absolutely. So now, I’m going to tell you a little bit more about Debra. Debra has worked in the charitable and voluntary sector for over 30 years. She’s a renowned public speaker with many years experience of training and coaching and internationally published several books on management and leadership, including “It’s Tough At the Top.” She’s the Chief Executive Officer for The Directory of Social Change. Also known as DSC. Am I correct?

Debra: 00:01:12 That’s right.

Paula: 00:01:13 And she’s our guest. We are truly honored to have you here, Debra. So I’m going to ask you a question. Having authored the brand new book. Tell me if I get it right, “It’s A Battle on the Boards,” or of the Boards?

Debra: 00:01:25 Yes, “It’s A Battle on the Board.”

Paula: 00:01:26 It’s a Battle on the Boards. So what highlighted the need for this book?

Debra: 00:01:31 Well I’ve been, as you’ve said  Paula, working in the volunary sector for a very long time, and I’ve sat on boards, I’ve guided boards. I’ve advised them, I’ve mentored them. I’ve done training with them. And one of the things I realized was that an awful lot of the written literature that’s out there for trustees is very technical.

It’s about the laws and the technicalities and the rules. And actually my experiences is that most of the time. The, the, the problems that happen on boards are about human relationships. It’s about human beings. It’s about trustees, not properly understanding what’s expected of them as a human being in their behavior.

And that very often relationships fall apart or things break down because they haven’t got those relationships right. So I wanted to write something that addressed that side of governance of being on the board that it, you know, it’s not just about here’s the law here’s  charities, or you’ve got to apply it.

Have you read your memo and arts? You know, it’s very much about, do you know how to engage in conversation with your trustees? Do you know what the difference is between the  governance  side and executive side and where not to tread the line? Do you know how to have conversations with trustees who aren’t performing their jobs?

Well, do you know how to create a meeting space so that everybody feels welcome and able to engage, which typically hasn’t been in most of the books out there. And also really if I’m honest, because trustees are very, very reluctant to take training themselves. But actually, you know, often good reasons. I mean, sometimes it’s because they’re arrogant or they think they know what they’re doing, but actually more often it’s because they’re really reluctant to spend the charities money on what they see as themselves.

Of course,  Tesse and I would both say, that’s ridiculous.

Tesse: 00:02:58 Yes.

Debra: 00:02:58 It’s a good use of the charities money to train yourselves, but they find themselves reluctant to do that. So one of the ways of getting this kind of message across about how to be more effective of a board is through books, which are much, much cheaper obviously than training.

Paula: 00:03:10 And they’re much more likely to access, particularly the smaller charities.

Oh, fascinating. So I’m just blown over, you know, this is a new field for me. I, I say everyday I learn something new. So listening to you talk about what has inspired you to write that book is fascinating.

Debra: 00:03:26 Well, you know, Paula governance is so important. Like, you know, I’m passionate, as Tesse will tell you about the work of charities because. Charities are more than the cause. Charities are much more than, you know, finding a cure for cancer or helping someone with an addiction or being a refuge for a victim of domestic violence. Charities do so much more than that.

They bring together human beings in common cause. They bring together human beings who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily think beyond their own small worlds. They gather people together to volunteer, to give, they get people to think beyond their own needs and their own  wants and their own desires. So, you know, charities do so much more than support the immediate people that they support.

They’re about building strong societies. And if we get charities, right, if we get the governance, right, if they’re succeeding at what they do, we get a society of people who are kinder. And more committed and more engaged and actually healthier and happier because they’re helping each other.

So it, for me, it’s, it’s, it’s my job. Isn’t a job. Writing the book wasn’t a task. It’s more like a vacation. It’s a calling it’s, you know, this stuff really, really matters. And you try living in a world without charities and you’ll pretty soon find, you know,  it’s a pretty bleak and grim world without people stepping up and helping each other.

Tesse: 00:04:41 For me Debra, every time I meet you and I’ve met you for the years, I never ceased to be inspired.  I mean, I’m inspired all the time and this time is no exception. I mean, I, I, you kind of invited me to write the foreword to a book and I could not think of. Any greater honor than to do that. And, you know,  first and foremost, I thought, ok I’ll peep in, and I read every page to the back and made notes. And so, you know, it covers so many things you’re covering understanding of the trustee role.

You cover working with fellow trustees. And you talk about working with the Chief Executive. You deal with information and finance. You talk about the psychology of decision-making. You talk about managing risks and handling crises. Very, very rich content. Now, if you were to  kind of to summarize the key messages, having covered all this, and I must say my favorite bit, you did all of them linked to Abba tunes. I mean, you had me there. That was it. That would have been itself a gift. But to do the two, I was just over the moon. What are your key message there?

Debra: 00:05:42 Well, super grateful to Abba for allowing us to use this because you have to ask permission. And they said they were very happy too. So that was very nice. You know, the key message is that every trustee is a human being. Every trustee walks into any engagement or meeting with the Board, bringing their whole selves with them. Their difficult day they’ve had at work, their argument they had with their spouse, their worries about their kids or their parents, whatever. And then if we forget that, if we forget that we’re dealing with human beings, we make it much, much harder to work together in concert. So that’s one of the key messages.

The other key message really is communication. You know, when you’re a trustee on a board, very often, you’re probably meeting maybe, four times a year, maybe eight times a year. If you’re doing it every couple of months, you’re meeting for a couple of hours. If that it’s all incredibly structured, it’s not enough time to kind of build that sort of sense of teamness.

So it’s very easy to feel isolated as a trustee because you’re not, if you’re not getting to know your fellow trustees in the same way that you are. In the workplace, for example, when you get to know the people you see every single day. And so in order to compensate for that, you’ve got to communicate. And I found often in Boards where things have gone wrong, it’s when there is very little communication. You know, the Chair doesn’t really drop a little note, all the communications formal. Here’s the minutes, here’s the agenda. Here’s the next meeting. And you’ve done that kind of informal stuff. So I would say absolutely communicate, communicate, communicate.

And then finally it’s about being honest. Honest about the organization, honest about the charity, honest about what’s going on in your head in relation to things, honest about your views about things. So really I’d say being human, communicating and recognizing the need for honesty.

Tesse: 00:07:21 These are so wonderful key nuggets. And I would say diamonds rather than gold, because for me, diamonds, uh, you know, every woman’s best friend and I’m no exception, but there’s some things that I’ve kind of like want to drill in and link into these key messages.

So some of the questions that you get, um, sometimes about how you people, your fellow trustees, listen to each other and listen to staff and listen to volunteers. From your kind of writing this book. What are the top tips you would give to people about getting fellow trustees to listen to the chief executive for instance?

Debra: 00:07:54 Yeah, I think again, it’s, it’s actually to do with how you communicate. So trustees typically are, well their almost always doing it in a voluntary capacity. They very often have other roles, either paid roles or unpaid roles outside of the charity that they’re serving. And so they’re very busy people typically.

And so what you’ll find is if you send a trustee a paper, let’s say before a board meeting, let’s say you’ve got 10 trustees. Some of the trustees will read that paper well in advance, they’ll make notes on it.  They’ll, they’ll red pen it. Tesse, you will recognize these days. They will, they will read it thoroughly inside out and they’ll make up their mind what they think. Some trustees will skim it in the taxi on the way to the meeting quickly because they haven’t got time. And some trustees will just wing it in the  meeting because they haven’t had time to read it. And so they’ll just like take the cue from everybody else.

Now, the problem with, so the problem with sending papers and advance is, is that you therefore give the advantage to the people who’ve read it, who have come already with their minds made up and that the others are kind of hard to keep up. So I always say rather than send papers to the Board and advance, although I may…very often Board members will say, “send me a paper, I need time to think.”

I think it’s much better to present the idea, the concept, you know, even if you’re doing it with PowerPoint at the meeting so that everybody hears the same information, they hear you speaking to the information because obviously how we write and how  we speak are two very different things and people interpret words very differently. And also what you do as a chief executive, when you’re presenting a talking to them about this idea, this proposal, this panel, or whatever it is, you’re able to put into it, your passion, your voice, your energy, your meaning, your, your context for them.

And I think that on the whole, that makes them much, much, much. Better quality of discussions in the group. Cause every trustee hears everybody else’s reaction. They hear all the questions when they hear the answers to the questions and therefore nobody’s coming in with an advantage. And also if a trustee has already walked in with their mind made up before you even have the discussion that then the discussion becomes about changing their mind.

And that’s not a healthy way to plan or future of the charity. It’s so much better for everybody to come to the same place. So I would say things like  that. I would also say that, that Chief  Executives often say to me that they feel that, that they’re attacked for being defensive. And a lot of that’s to do with the way trustees say things, because we don’t train trustees in how to use communication.

Very often a Board member will say, “Why don’t we do X, Y, Zed?” And then the Chief Executive  will say, “We do do X, Y Zed.” And then the trustee will say, “Well, you’re just being defensive.” You know what I mean? So I think it’s also about how working with your Chair to work with your Board, to get them to think about how questions are asked and also for you as the Chie Exec. not to react to it in that way?

You know? So is it that, so one of the things I say in the book is, you know, when you’re asking questions as trustees, don’t say, “Why don’t we?” Say, “Do we?”, “Have we?”, “Can we?” , which is a much, much better way. Cause then cause then the Chief Executive…Because  if you say, do we do X, Y, Z, the Chief Executive can say, actually, yes, you’ll be a reassured to know, yes we do. Rather than why don’t we, which sounds so acusatory.

So I think there’s a really important thing about. Language. And I honestly think it’s worth having a  session in a board meeting talking about how you speak to each other. You know, again, we can’t restict board meeting to the you know, the, the minutes of the last meeting let’s look at the management accounts. Don’t even get me started on that. You know.

But we have these board meetings… Paula I swear you’d laugh. We have these board meetings only last two hours and four times a year. And you spend like half an hour, three course of now with the board meeting trolling over the management accounts from the previous month or the previous quarter about which you can do nothing because it’s already happened.

And I asked him questions about that thousand pounds in the stationery line, and you’re like, This is not a good use of your time people, you know? So, so yeah. So it’s about structuring conversations so that you’re talking about the right strategic things and making time or board meetings to talk about relationship, to talk about how do you speak to each other and what’s working and to do it regularly.

Tesse: 00:11:45 You know, I, it’s something  that’s popped into my head from what you’re saying, which is CST and there’s the C being communication, the S being structure and the T being trust, you know? And that’s just from what you’re saying, that’s what came, to to me CST in…

Debra: 00:11:59 Well that’s clever.

Tesse: 00:12:01 I mean, it’s just what you’re saying, but what it leads me to, and it segueways into a bit about the CEO working with the board and how to get the board be more effective.

And more strategic. So what would you say, you know, from your perspective, again, from a CEO’s perspective, I know you wear other hats. What can help that kind of getting the board more effective, more strategic? We’ve actually established from your previous answer that is not going through all the things that everybody falls asleep.

It’s not about bringing boredom into the boardroom. So what is it about?

Debra: 00:12:35 Yes. Tesse.  Do you know, I would say to you that we have so much power because we control the information, we’re the ones who drive the agenda. I would say  if your board is having conversations about the wrong stuff, you’ve got to look to yourself as the Chief  Exec first. So when you structured your, your agenda,  do you make sure that there’s a, that, that you’re not like people aren’t  reporting back on meetings that they’ve had with people who have read the minutes?

Do you make sure that there’s a structured bit, which is about discussion about the future or strategic priorities or things like that? Do you make sure that…like, the thing is, if you give people pages and pages of numbers, people are going to look at pages and pages of numbers, and they’re going to get distracted by little detail, things that you don’t want.

So, in other words, do you take the time to, for example, don’t give them spreadsheets about the accounts, get them graphs which show patterns and structures and things like that…way, because so much… you have a much more strategic conversation if you’re looking at a graph of what the income has been like for the last six months. You know, what’s the flow? Rather than you’re giving them the whole load of numbers.

When they go down on this spot, you know, the a hundred quid difference and all the rest of it. So it’s. Think about how you present information to them will help them to have a better level of strategic conversation. I think Trustees, uh Chief Execs give far too much detail in reports and in presentations to the board and, you know, and then they wonder why a particular Trustee has gotten distracted by one particular thing.

I’ve always said Tesse, you know this, that lots of data is not information. You know, it’s not. And if you want your board to be informed, it isn’t about the detail of exactly what’s been spent on what, or, you know, it’s about, what’s the broad structures. Are we in line with what we plan to do? What do we need to do differently?

So, yeah, I would say to chiefs execs you’ve got masses of control over it because you control the information flow. So spend the time to get that information flow right and at the right sort of level,

Tesse: 00:14:20 I love it. That’s the kind of the, an analysis synthesis and, you know, make sure that it’s information, not data.

Debra: 00:14:29 Yes,

Love it.

Paula: 00:14:31 So of listening to you, as I said, I’m learning so much from just the two of you being the chief executive, you must run into all types of personalities. When you have a difficult trustee, how do you go about that? I mean, I don’t want to say, getting rid, but encouraging them to no longer be part of the board.

Debra: 00:14:49 Yeah. Well, you know, so I think the first thing is we always have to ask ourselves is a difficult trustee difficult because they’re just difficult, which in all honesty, there are some people like that. Or are they difficult because we haven’t supported them properly? You know, are they difficult because we’re not giving them the right information or we haven’t really listened to what their concerns are, or we haven’t paid attention to what their worries are, you know? So I would always start by saying, are we sure they’re difficult? And it’s not that we’ve made it so that they are difficult, But then the reality is we can’t afford to carry people on our board, who aren’t serving our cause. And so there are times when you do have to have those difficult conversations, you know, it’s actually incredibly easy to get rid of trustees and boards because they have no rights in law

at all, as a volunteer on a board. You know, all there ever is, is what’s in your memo and arts and what’s in your, you know, your constitution. And even then, even if it’s the charity itself gets rid of you against this constitution, what you’re going to do? An employment tribunal isn’t going to hear you cause there’s no recompense.

So it’s not that hard. What prevents us doing it very often is fear and embarrassment. Like being afraid of the emotional reaction when we say to somebody, look, you’re a great person, but this just is not working out for us. We think, you know, can we find a way for you to stand down gracefully? For me, that would be, what is this about the honest conversation that says, look, you’re fabulous Tesse, you know, and there are many things, but actually,

or we don’t think you’re really contributing to this board in the way that we most need. And so we need to have a conversation about how you step down gracefully. And then if they don’t step down gracefully, just make sure you follow your constitution and get rid of them in accordance with those rules.

It’s, it’s really not, it’s not technically difficult to do. It’s emotionally very, very difficult to do. Because people get upset understandably. They’re embarrassed if they’re asked to be stepped down from a board. You know, but there are ways of doing it, but honestly, being truthful about it is, has got to be truth, truth with kindness, of course not like you’re absolutely rubbish, you know, bug off. You know, it’s, it’s much, much better to, you know, to sort of say you have value, however, You know, you haven’t got the time to commit or whatever, so, yeah. But so I’m not saying it’s easy in the sense it’s emotionally very difficult to have those conversations.

And I have had them and they’re not easy. However, Um, it’s harder to keep somebody on the board who isn’t contributing or, or who’s hijacking everything, or actually who’s toxic and dragging, you know, the, sort of the energy of the organization down. It’s worse to have that, to have to deal with that all the time than it is to have an open conversation that says it’s just not working.

Paula: 00:17:12 Yeah, I see that. So now in your book, um, are these suggestions, are there suggestions to, you know, trustees, to chief executives, to the staff on how to go about things like that? I mean, how can your book help?

Debra: 00:17:27 Yes, of course. So it’s full of practical advice about how to go about having those conversations.

So like, for example, in the, in the section on, um,  uh board effectiveness, we talk about how, how you, how do you get the board to review how good it is, honestly, as opposed to, you know, like, of course we’re fabulous. There’s also a whole section about how to have conversations with trustees. So I’ve, for example, I talk about, I’ve  give advice about saying if you’re a chair of a board, make sure you have one-to-ones with every one of your board members, at least once a year.

Getting into the habit of it so that you will, and in those conversations, say to them, how you doing? Are you getting enough support from us? Do you feel you’re being able to contribute enough to the charity? Cause if you begin by having those conversations, if you then have to have a difficult conversation, it’s easier because you’re then able to look at, you know, you said to me at at our last meeting that you were struggling to find the time, you know?

So in other words, you’re building up those relationships to make it easy to have those conversations. So yeah, there’s masses of really, really, really practical ideas and tips about how to have conversations, you know, even to the extent there’s a whole page on how to organize the room when you’re having a meeting.

Oh, Paula, I tell you, it drives me mad when people don’t pay attention to the ergonomics, you know, and they don’t realize that if you’re sat …because I’m a very short woman, as Tesse will tell you,

Paula: 00:18:37 You can never tell.

Debra: 00:18:38 And if I’m …well, Big personality. But if I’m sat on a chair where my legs are dangling and I’m uncomfortable, I find it really difficult to concentrate. You know what I mean? It’s like, and things like, for example, you know, at DSC when we have our board meetings with our trustees, all about trustees have a name card. Before we go into the meeting, we go and we put the name cards, we spread them around the room and, and we. We mix up our trustees with our senior team because they come to our meetings.

And what we do is we make sure that we don’t put two trustees next to each other who don’t get on. No, actually it’s the other way round. If two trustees don’t get on, don’t put them up to see each other. Cause they will inevitably clash put them next to each other because it’s really difficult to fall out with somebody you’re sat next to here… really difficult.

So all of those, and there’s loads of tips like that, about how to make, you know, how to manage it when they’re being difficult, when they’re hijacking and you know, that sort of thing. So, yeah, it’s full of lots and lots of practical ideas, all I have to confess stolen, but all of which I’ve serving people, getting it right and, you know, experimenting myself and stuff like that. So probably nothing original, but lots of stuff that is good for you. I call them. BFO’s…blinding flashes of the obvious. Blinding flashes of the obvious.

Tesse: 00:19:57 You know, you know, Debra, I’m laughing so much. In fact, I’m actually controlling my laughter and I’m so happy because I already had my copy of my book and I’m calling it my book is your book because your book, but because it’s flashing blinding, obvious things in here. I’m thinking this is the book for me. And for me, it’s that bit about, um, you taught me over the years about the importance of measuring impact. What difference does a difference make? And, you know, you’ve said what you see as key messages. And what I’d like to know from your perspective is how having read this book will we know the impact the book has had if it’s had the results you want?

So. Measuring impact, what would be different as a result of boards, reading this book as a result of CEOs, having this book in their hand, and as a result of people like myself, who are thought leaders and Paula, who’s curious, we read this book? What would be different as a result of this?

Debra: 00:20:52 Ultimately  Tesse,  the charity will be run so that it’sbeneficial that service users, its clients are served well  because all of this is about… is I don’t care if trustees don’t get on with each other. I can’t guarantee they don’t fall out. Who cares? That’s just people. What I  care about is that charities are run well so that the people they serve benefit from it. So we’ll say it because there will be more people who are being supported. There’ll be more money coming into the charity.  I mean how do people have better relationships than I love them. and they get on better. But all of that is not the purpose of this. This is actually not about really getting people on better just for the sake of it. This is about getting them to work more effectively so that they serve their cause better. Because actually we’re not there for us. We’re not there to be respected and admired and loved by our fellow trustees or by the people that we serve in the charity.

We’re not there for the chief executive to think we’re the best trustee ever. We’re there to work together cohesively so that we can make a profound and deep difference to the people in the communities that we serve. That’s how we’ll  know, Tesse.

Tesse: 00:21:54 Yeah. I mean, that, that really gets to my, my heart because, you know, that’s what it is. It’s in all the years that we’ve been working this sector it’s so easy to think that this, this charity is there for the staff. And that this charity is there for, you know, um, other kinds of, am I not a good person kind of thin? But really it’s there to make a difference in the world. And that’s really what I, you know, I I’m touched.

You can tell that I’ve got really emotional because that’s what, knowing that we make a difference is what makes a difference.

Paula: 00:22:28 So well said, um,  with mental health awareness on the rise, these,  days , these are things that we didn’t talk about being a chief executive. I know you probably have had to encounter that with your trustees among your staff members, et cetera, or even probably personally, because I know like in my life, for example, I’ve become a lot more mental health awareness with, um, my son who, after my husband passed, my son was just not doing well. So is that something that you, I mean, you’re more aware of now and you discuss more openly within the boards? Or you know,  I’m just curious.

Debra: 00:23:03 No, no, no, that’s a good question. So the answer is I’ve suffered from quite a chronic mental health condition for most of my life. So I wasn’t properly diagnosed until I was in my early thirties. Now I look back here in like times when I ran away and, you know, times when I didn’t get out of bed and all the rest of it. And I look back at those now and I, and I now understand what that was about. Um, but I wasn’t properly diagnosed when I was in my thirties when I had a massive, full on proper breakdown, you know, when I had to be signed off work and I was in therapy twice a week.

And you know, I was having to live with my parents cause I wasn’t allowed to be on supervise and things like that. So having experienced it, I was very aware of it anyway. I’ve honestly never felt particularly embarrassed or ashamed of it. Interestingly, I’ve always felt it’s a bit like some people get arthritis.

Some people have diabetes, some people have mental health issues. I’ve never thought that mental health is about self control because it isn’t, you know, clearly there are things that one can do in order to help to keep oneself mentally healthy. And you know, those are mind activities, very often, you know, active discussion, things like that.  But I’ve never felt that it’s, I felt it’s just like a medical thing like anything else, really? Although mine is a clinical depression, not a situational one so, and mostly mine has a medication, but because of that, I’ve always been pretty aware of it. And I’m quite sensitive to people around me who are in those sorts of situations, trying to support them. I think it’s really at the fall right now.

Um, partly because of the nature of our society is such that you know, people who wouldn’t necessarily typically have  been thrown into depression or getting into depression because it’s relentless. Nevermind when the pandemic came, you know, just general state of the world, like, you know, the people running it, for example, I mean, you just got to look, look, even just looking at photos of them and I can feel myself, you know, spiraling into a decline of mind, anything else, and we’re fighting so many battles, you know, so, and of course with the pandemic is really highlighted.

People are absolutely struggling with their mental health because it’s exhausting. And it’s frightening and we’re tired and we’re trying to cope with unusual ways of working, like all the Zoom business, you know, it’s, we’re missing the contact with people that we’d normally have. You know, it’s lovely to see your faces and I  love that, but it’s not the same as being in the same room together.

We’re not, we’re not able to pick up the verbal cues that we used to be able to when we’re actually in the same physical space. So it’s really tough. Um, but I, I also think there’s something incredibly important about perspective. I’ve often found that when you, if you allow people to spiral. You know, if you sort of, if you let them fall into a thing without actually bringing them back into this is, this is not all of life. This is part of life. This will end. We will get through this. You know, you’re not the only one in this space. Talk to others who feel the same way. It’s that, I think it comes back to not being frightened of it, but just talking about it and sharing it and saying, lots of people are crying a lot at the moment.

They’re crying in my organization, they crying in other organizations, you know, of course they’re crying. And to be honest, it’s healthy to cry, healthy, to have those downloads. And it’s healthy to say, do you know what today? I’m not dealing with the world. I can’t, I need to go and like, you know, wrap myself up and do that and not speak to anybody today.

All of that stuff, we kind of taught that we shouldn’t do. We got to plow on. And I think no, it’s about giving yourself permission. And I suppose the final thing I say about it is about when we’re working  with each other remotely and we’re losing those normal attractions, we’ve kind of fallen into this habit. I think like every interaction we have with colleagues at work  is almost semi-formal, it’s a Zoom call, let’s say, and then we all have to mute. And if you want to say anything, you put your hands  up  and you don’t, you’re not supposed to chat in the chat and things like that. And what we’ve done is we’ve taken away the relationship building.

And actually, so, so for example, I say to my team at DRC, I want you to spend some of the day gossiping. I want you to use the working hours talking about what you watched on telly last night, or what you think about Donald Trump, or who’s going to win strictly. I want you to have a good moan in the wind about your partner or your kids or your dog or whatever.

I actually actively want you to do that. Because it’s healthy. And because that’s a way of building relationship, because if you get on with somebody, because you know them personally a bit better when it comes to talking about work, that whole conversation is made easier by the fact that you’ve, you’ve created relationships by having those casual things.

So, yeah. You know, I’m always telling if we’re going to say, and I try to do it myself, we do a morning. Check-in at DSC. 9:30, everybody like logs in just to say hello. And it’s really it’s just so we make sure nobody died in the night you know? So we can make sure we see everybody.  everybody checks in. and there’ is nothing formal about it.

It’s just morning, morning, is everybody here? Who’s missing?  You know, where’s so-and-so today? And then I’ll have a little trunch about, usually at the moment I’m moaning about the American election, but you know, I’ll talk about what I think about what’s been on telly and, you know, things like that. Just to model the behavior that I want them to do. I want them to talk about these sorts of things. So, yeah. Yeah. I,don’t know if i’ve answered the question though.

Tesse: 00:27:46 I love it. I love your breed of leadership. I mean, it’s so dynamic and it’s such, it’s such a productive way of leading. In fact, you would, you you’d love this piece of evidence. You know, I’ve been reading a lot of stuff about leadership and productivity and they said, you know, even with remote working the teams that laugh together, Or the most productive.

And I read it and I could have not said that. And Paula, we could have said this years ago, but it’s taken covered and other things for us to begin to look at leadership. And we imagine what becomes possible because we’ve been through such a terrible time and then tick going through such a terrible time. It’s a time an emergence crises, chaos, confusion, lack of clarity.  Debra from your kind of life experience and, you know, writing this lovely book, what would you say to leaders at this time leading in this environment? Because we don’t, there’s no certainty really.

Debra: 00:28:43 I would say our job is to be purveyors of hope. WIthout hope the situation is hopeless and there is always hope as long as you’re breathing there is. So our job is to make sure that people don’t feel that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. You know, or the light at the end of the tunnel is a bloke with a torch coming the other way. You know, there actually genuinely is light at the end of the tunnel? So there’s always to talk about, we can get through this and we will, even if we’d let know how. I was hosting a leadership or chairing a leadership conference yesterday, and our first speaker was, ???..who, I think, you know, Tesse , he’s the Chief Exec of Modo’s.

And he was saying leadership at the moment like we, before the pandemic we were used to, to leadership being more structured. Like we sort of knew what was going to come. We know we had our budgets, and our plans. We had a sense of, you know, the strategic direction. We understood the political environment to operating all the rest of it. And so leadership, you know, was, it was hard work and it was quite stressful, but it was, you know, you knew your roadmap and you might digress from it a but you all knew where you’re going. He said now, right in the middle of this crisis of this pandemic, he says for him, leadership is a bit like driving the car whilst blindfolded. He said the car is going. There’s a driver joining it, but the driver cannot actually see the environment.

He said so almost all of the leadership decisions we’re making now are based on instinct and experience and kind of like staying in touch with what’s going on. I thought that was such a powerful analogy. It really, really resonated with me is that so when my staff say what we’re going to do. I’m honest. I have absolutely no idea.

My darlings, I don’t know. I do know is we’ve got the skills and the talent, the ability to get through this. And let’s just focus on this thing right now and deal with that. And then all the other stuff we’re scared about. We’ll deal with that when we get to it right now, let’s just get through this week today, this next bit of the challenge.

So, yeah, so I would, yeah, so I think I would say that.

Tesse: 00:30:39 You know I, I’m loving this.

Paula: 00:30:41 I am too

Tesse: 00:30:42 I think for me, yeah. You know, the Franklin Covey actually  did a whole series, which has just finished called “Navigating in the Hallway.” And they talk about one door closing in the hallway, another door opens.  And what you’ve said, driving blindfolded, if it’s not, a self-driving car is not, so that’s scary.

Debra: 00:31:06 Yeah. Yeah, but we’ll be fine. You know, we will get through it. We will. This is the, you know, this is only part of life. It’s not all of life. I remember years and years and years ago when I had it, I had a really bad time , I though I was going to lose my job. And I was talking to my father and I said to him, dad, you know, there’s a very good possibility I’m going to lose my job.

And if I lose my job in the sector, I lose my reputation. I, I, you know, I lose any other possibility of actually working in the sector. It would be a dreadful thing. And I always remember my father said to me, he said, darling, all the skills and abilities that got you to where you are now, you will still have those. You will still have all of those. So even if you do lose your job and you do your repu tation does get charged, you just take your skills and abilities and you start again. And again, that’s a piece of advice that I’ve never forgotten. I think it’s the same right now. So even if our charities fail, even if, even if we find ywe’re unable to serve in the way we want to, that doesn’t mean that we’ve lost our energy, our ability, our understanding of compassion, our experience with those that we serve. And so we just stop and we start again with exactly the same skills and experience that got us to where we are now.

Paula: 00:32:13 That’s why we need more matured, I don’t want to use the word elderly. My sister told me stop using that with elderly. So more mature minds say such great things. I mean, it’s almost like in America, I’ve heard this phrase” rinse and repeat.” So almost, so you rinse off and you just go back using the skills, but then, you know, you tweak it, or you pivot based on what those intrinsic things are still in you, you know?

Lovely, lovely, lovely. So I’m going to change the tune a little bit. I wanted to ask you what was your biggest career moment, but I think you answered it all with just that question. You have those skills in you, so you can you know,  go and reapply it in another job setting. But I’m going to change the tune and ask  you something fun.

Like, what is your favorite emoji? Have you ever thought of that? Has anyone easked you that?

Debra: 00:33:04 My Favorite emoji? I can tell you my least favorite one.

Paula: 00:33:07 All right, let’s go with that.

My least favorite one is that sarcastic one? You know, the one with the raised eyebrow and the finger on the chin. I, when people use that emoji it, I actually literally want to leap down the thing and like, you know, commit violence upon their person.

Debra: 00:33:21 I can’t stand that sarcasm. They shouldn’t have that stuff. I, honest I think my two favorite emojis are the little devil one. You know, cause like, you know, cause that’s kind of about naughtiness and the vomiting one. So when somebody says something really stupid, I love that like blah. you know, if you’re sick. I mean, I know I should say the love hearts and the flowers, but no, I like the little devil and the one where they’re throwing up on these really stupid,

Paula: 00:33:49 All I think of those answers, our listeners  have heard the real Deborah; which we want.

Tesse: 00:33:54 And we’re only getting started.

Debra: 00:33:58 When people talk about being kind, I worry a bit about the kinds of thing. I mean, I, I sort of get it, but I think sometimes. People use kindness as a, as an excuse not to tell the truth. And I think often relationships can get quite toxic, both in the workplace on boards and actually in, even in relationships, because we think we’re being kind by not saying the truth and actually we’re being more unkind by not being truthful.

You know? So I, I, I think, you know, people say we must be kind. It’s like, well, yes, but that doesn’t mean don’t be truthful. You know, there’s, there’s a way of telling the truth. I always think it’s much unkinder to have people going along in blissful ignorance of how much you hate them.

I’m joking. I don’t hate anybody, of course. But you know what I mean, don’t you? You know it’s like, when you have an issue with somebody it’s so much better to front it? And say I find you grating.  I mean, I, there’s a board that I sit on and one of the new trustees we’ve been working together for about six months. And it just so happened with like, we were at a dinner and we  happen  to be stood together having a glass of wine.

And she said to me, I, we were talking about an issue at the board and I said, well, you know what? You say things like that. You know, if you feel that sort of thing you might say. And she said, I can’t Debra because I find you really intimidating and I’m a little bit afraid of you. And, you know, I was like, so taken aback by that.

I was so glad she said it. Cause if she hadn’t have told me, and the minute she said it, I recognize myself straight away. I was like, I can absolutely see why because I’m a terrible, know it all. You know, I’m really opinionated. And if you ask me how I am, I tell you. I’m never one of those people who’s polite about it. And I suddenly thought, gosh, that’s one of the most powerful pieces of feedback she could have given me because I now need, now I now know I need to, you know, like not be inauthentic, but just be much more conscious of how I might be closing people down.

So, you know, it’s…and some people might’ve said that’s quite hurtful, but actually. Only if you allow it to be hurtful or you take it as god, that’s really useful feedback. I’m so glad you told me that, you know, let me get it right in a future for goodness sake. I don’t think, take things personally, tell me. I can handle it.

Honestly, I’d rather you told me, you know, so yeah. I really think it’s, you can, you can tell people the truth with kindness, of course, but don’t confuse being kind with not being truthful.

Paula: 00:36:15 Wow.

Tesse: 00:36:16 That’s powerful.

Paula: 00:36:17 That’s powerful. That is powerful. It’s so powerful, I’m almost speechless. Um, well, that’s not too difficult for me.

I think it’s more difficult for  Tesse to be speechless. Right Tesse?

Debra: 00:36:30 We’re sisters of the mouth. When we get together, we both basically talk at the same time at each other, and we both understand exactly what the other person’s saying. There’s no taking turns. Yeah we talk at the same time, like we’re doing now.

Tesse: 00:36:46 We’re sisters by another mother. And I think for me,

Awe.

when we talk about inclusive leadership, this is what it is. That we are sisters and I’ve never known, never been sisters. If anything, we have cemented our connection as the years go on. And I think that’s, that’s, this is inclusion . We’re, we’re sisters.

Debra: 00:37:03 I love you Tesse. It’s simple. Easy, easy.

Tesse: 00:37:08 So thank you. I mean, Paula, I’m kind of like a, in your hands right now.

Paula: 00:37:13 I’m, speechless. It’s been so good, but I want to say thank you, Deborah, for this amazing, amazing conversation. It’s been so authentic. It’s just flowed. Um, I’m not surprised because I have two very articulate women talking about passionate. I mean, passionately about things that they’re passionate about.

So I shouldn’t be surprised. But anyway, where can our listeners find you online? Debra?

Debra: 00:37:39 So you can find me on Twitter @deballcocktyler. That’s D E B A double L C O C K T Y L E R @deballcocktyler, all one word. Happy to, uh, you know, if you, if you follow me, I’ll follow you back. Um, so you find me on Twitter.

You can find me on LinkedIn. I can’t remember my LinkedIn name is, but if you put Debra Allcock Tyler, you’ll find me. And obviously at DSC. So you know, easy to contact me by DSC. So the website is www.dsc.org.uk…UK. Yeah. So, um, I’m actually quite easy to track down and if you lose all of that. Just Google Debra Allcock Tyler and it, it’ll find me.

That’s the joy about technology, right? You can’t hide.

You can’t hide.

Paula: 00:38:23 Not that you have anything to hide.

Tesse: 00:38:26 It’s all out there.

Paula: 00:38:29 It’s all out there.

Tesse: 00:38:31 If, when you think about Deborah and transparency, they go together. It’s out, out.

Debra: 00:38:37 Let me tell you this Zoom situation is really suiting me. I was saying to my partner, Randy, the other day, it’s like, because of course you can only see me from the shoulders up. From like the shoulders down underneath what I call the Zoom line, I’m basically a big triangle that sort of goes out like that. And I’ve got more and more triangular over the months of the pandemic. Also, I’ve had problems with my hip. And uh so I have to have, you know, like steroid injections and possibly surgery. So I’ve been quite immobile for months. So you, so not only have I been, you know, we all been sat at home eating.

I’ve also not moved very much. But I said to Randy, once we get out of this and we’re able to go back into the real world again, I wanted to make me one of those sandwich boards. You know the ones that say Gulf Sail? And I want one that’s like reflects the Zoom line, with physical pictures of my colleagues faces on it, so nobody actually sees me from the shoulders down. Cause that’s what you’re used to.

Tesse: 00:39:36 Oh my …

Debra: 00:39:36 The Zoom line…

Paula: 00:39:37 We may start a movement.

Actually, it reminds me a bit about my partner and I would cause I’m very, I’m really, really not very, um, physically capable. I mean, I can’t cook. I can’t, sew.  I can’t, I’m just not creative physically with my hands. I’m quite good with words, but that’s where it’s limited to. And we were laughing about the fact that, you know, he was saying that if we had, if there was a zombie apocalypse, you can guarantee he and I would be the first to become zombies.

Debra: 00:39:59 We wouldn’t be the brave survivors, you know, battling on, we’d be the first to go down. Because we have absolutely no survival skills.  One, one of my colleagues in the sector said, “Ah, but Deborah, you’d be the first person to set up a trade union for zombies. You’d be marching the streets with banners saying ‘Zombie Lives Matter.’ You’d be like marhsalling all the zombies in order to make, you know, we have rights and you know, our voice needs to be heard too. That we’d have a zombie MP in Parliament.” That’s uh, that’s my skill. That’s my skill

Paula: 00:40:29 And you do it well.

But I will be fighting for the rights of the zombies.

Tesse: 00:40:35 There’s no comeback on that one… zombies… and zombie trade unions. I mean, how can we beat that?

Paula: 00:40:45 Oh, my word.

Tesse: 00:40:47 That’s fantastic. Oh gosh, that is brilliant.

Paula: 00:40:51 This has been amazing. So…

Debra: 00:40:54 I’ve loved it. It’s been joyous.

So much fun just to like chat and laugh and spout. and you know.

Paula: 00:41:00 Absolutely. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Debra: 00:41:02 It’s been Lovely.

Paula: 00:41:02 That’s what I like about, I mean, in spite of the pandemic, I’ve seen more people, spoken to more people intercontinentally than I’ve done, and people are more comfortable with it now, you know. It’s like, Let’s talk on Zoom. I mean, Zoom has become a verb, a noun?

Tesse: 00:41:18 Verbal, verbal noun, it’s, called.

Debra: 00:41:19 Yeah…

Paula: 00:41:19 Yep. It’s like Google. When you Google things, you Zoom. Now we, we Zoom.

Debra: 00:41:24 Yeah exactly.

Paula: 00:41:24 That was an amazing talk with Debra. I have, I have goosebumps just thinking about it.

Tesse: 00:41:30 It’s amazing you should say that because she thought it was great as well. She really enjoyed it. She enjoyed being able to talk about her book, “It’s a Battle on the Board.” But you guess what, Paula, she’s actually being so generous to say that anyone who come to www.tesseakpeki.com/tessetalks/ will be able to download a chapter of her new book. How cool is that?

Paula: 00:41:56 That’s amazing. Wow. That’s so nice of her. Awesome. Make sure you head over to Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify, or anywhere else where you listen to your podcasts and click subscribe.

If you like what you’re hearing, please write a raving review. And if you have questions or topics you want us to cover related to leadership and governance, send us a note. Remember the note can be personal as well as professional.  And if you want to be a guest on Tesse Talks, head over to tesseakpeki.com/tessetalks/ to apply.