Tesse Talks with Laura Gates
Tesse Akpeki and co host Paula Okonneh talk with Laura Gates about Leading with Purpose, Collective Genius in teams, finding our zone of genius, and leading through chaos and crisis. CLICK ON THE PICTURE TO HEAR MORE
The founder of Gates Group LLC, Laura Gates coaches and facilitates teams . Three of the Top Silicon valley are her clients where she works alongside them to harness inspiration, imagination, ingenuity, innovation and creativity. Featured as a top executive coach, Laura works with Stanford University, promotes women’s initiatives globally and works assiduously with homeless organizations, prisons and government agencies.
Paula: 00:00:00 Welcome to Tesse Talks with your host, Tesse Akpeki, and cohost 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 in this adventure. Our guest today is Laura Gates, and we will be talking about leading with purpose, collective genius, and teams, finding our zone of genius, as well as leading through chaos and crisis. How apt that? Let me tell you a bit about Laura. As an executive coach( ICF, PCC )for over 25 years, Laura is the founder of Gates Group LLC where she coaches and facilitates teams mentoring some of Silicon Valley’s top tech talent to harness creativity and innovation.
She also speaks on inclusive leadership. Laura’s prestigious client roster includes three of the top tech companies in Silicon Valley and Stanford University, among others. She has worked at government agencies as well as prisons, homeless organizations, and global women’s initiatives. Welcome Laura to Tesse Talks. We are really blessed to have you as a guest today.
Laura Gates: 00:01:39 Thank you so much, Paula. And thank you, Tesse, for inviting me here. I’m looking forward to our conversation today.
Tesse: 00:01:45 Lovely. The pleasure is really mine Laura. We’re delighted to have you. And I looked at the topic that you selected to talk about in this podcast.
And I was very intrigued and really curious and I’m really curious, and Paula, I’m sure you are curious as well
Paula: 00:02:01 Very much.
Tesse: 00:02:02 And our viewers yeah, about what, what does leading with purpose…. what does it mean?
Laura Gates: 00:02:07 It’s so funny, you ask that question because for me, it’s something that I feel like I live every day, which is partially about leading with purpose. It’s…. some people think it’s things that you do. And I feel like it’s more who we are being on a daily basis. And for me, that means waking up in the morning and asking to be guided to how to be of service, where I can make the most impact where I can make the most difference. And also, as as Paula mentioned in the introduction, this concept of connecting with my zone of genius.
I read a book by Gay Hendricks, many years, about where he talks about this concept of your zone of genius, which is really around identifying where do I feel alive in my work? Where do I feel like I can make a contribution? And then how do I build my time around living from that most highest purposeful place?
For me, it’s a lot about. Where to make an impact, where to be of service and how to make a difference.
Paula: 00:03:08 Wow. That’s fascinating. One of the things I had mentioned when reading your bio was collective genius. That’s new to me. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? How does it work? How does it work in teams?
For example, how do we know we’re operating with collective genius in our teams? Clarify that for me, please Laura.
Laura Gates: 00:03:28 Sure. It’s one thing to work individually in our genius. It’s one thing for us to individually be working in our purpose. And as you can imagine, as an executive coach, I help a lot of leaders be better at what they do and be more effective and more impactful.
And yet what I’ve seen is that when we then bring those individuals into a team setting that kind of sometimes falls apart, I’m sure you’ve been parts of teams that did not function well. That got into conflicts that weren’t collaborating, that were competitive with each other. And we come from a society, most of us, where you get ahead by getting the best grades, by competing against your colleagues. You two mentioned that you went to school together. Perhaps you were in schools where your grades were competing against each other and then competing to get into the best industries, the best jobs. And then we put two people together in a team and we say now playing nicely together and create something together.
And so taking our individual genius and making that into collective genius is not always an easy task. I like this idea of collective genius, more than comments around like the high performing team, because to me, a high-performance team is more about a team that is again, competing and being better than the rest.
I’ve been studying team building and coaching with David Clutterbuck and Peter Hawkins, who are part of the global team coaching Institute. And they talk about adding value to our stakeholders and making an impact for those around us, not just our own success. So for me, this idea of both value adding and being of service to all of our stakeholders, in addition to how do we unlock our collective genius is a very pressing question; I think, especially right now.
And also, that sometimes means having hard conversations. That sometime means being okay with conflict. So that’s also something I’m not afraid of getting into a hard conversation, getting people to talk to each other and getting people to get along more effectively.
Tesse: 00:05:31 Oh, that’s absolutely brilliant. Just gets me in my heart here, Laura. I just, I think we need this right now. We need to unlock this collective genius. Unlock our own, and collectively if everybody unlocks, so many things will happen. I would like you please, to see a bit more, maybe give an example of a team that you worked with or that you coached through and journeyed with, and that genius was unlocked.
And what was the result of that happen? Named what was different as a result of them unlocking that genius.
Laura Gates: 00:06:00 One of the teams that I worked with were delivering, as you mentioned, the bio global leadership development programs around the world. And when we first started, they were having some challenges in their communication and their collaboration.
And by having a series of meetings and conversations, we were able to build greater trust, greater communication, people were able to talk about things that they weren’t comfortable talking about previously. And then this year, when the pandemic hit and they had to put a stop to all of their travel and all of their programs being out in the world, they had to really gather as a team and make that pivot to virtually offering all of their programs.
They were able to make that pivot in a very short period of time. And I think that is really a tribute to their ability to gather their genius, have hard conversations. And apply a lot of the things that we had talked about in theory to a real-life crisis situation. And I think a lot of teams right now are facing that, right?
The world has handed us this disruptive experiment of now everybody works from home and everybody works remotely and watching teams and leaders and how they’re able to navigate that change has been a fascinating experiment for me. To see who is able to navigate change and who’s really falling apart right now.
And a lot of that has to do with how we are able to rise above the chaos and not get caught into the drama of it. Also not wishing that we can go backwards and change the way things are. So many people are like “when things get back to normal.” This is the new normal, and we’re only going forward to new and different things.
We’re not going to go back to the way things were. Uh, I just talked to someone yesterday who they’ve let go of all their offices. And they said, we’re going to go to more of a, we work working model. And this is a global company with thousands of employees around the world made that decision to go remote now.
So I think that ability to collaborate, the ability to communicate the ability to have trusting relationships is what’s going to really help people navigate the much choppier waters I think that are ahead for all of us.
Paula: 00:08:09 How does that work with leadership? Because every team has to have a leader. How do they go hand in hand? How does that work?
Laura Gates: 00:08:17 When I’m coaching a leader, I’m also coaching the team in some regards. I even had a leader say to… a CEO, said to me the other day, he said, you’ve been so helpful to my team because in essence, I’m working with the team every time I’m working with the leader. And I think that’s the one thing that I see with leaders as they rise up in responsibility or as they… let’s say they have an acquisition of a company, or let’s say they get a bunch of funding and they hire a bunch of people; oftentimes I see this experience of, “Oh, why is everybody looking at me? Why is everybody listening to me? I’m just this guy or this woman who’s running this company.” And they realized the level of responsibility that holds, the level of accountability that holds.
Yes, it’s a lot of pressure, but it’s also, how am I being a role model? How am I walking my talk? How am I matching my words with my actions? And so, what leaders of teams have to understand is that everything they do impacts the team. Even if it’s, there’s been phases of self-directed teams or flat teams where there’s no hierarchy.
Unfortunately, we are in a society and a culture and a world where we compare ourselves to each other and we notice who’s on what rung of the ladder. And we still have a very authoritarian, structured society where we do look to the person leading to model for us and be an example for us. So, I think that’s part of the role of the leader is to recognize that their behavior has an impact.
Their behavior makes a difference and really doing the work of that consciousness of a leader to look at yourself in the mirror and to ask yourself hard questions and to hold yourself to a certain standard of how you want to think and act and behave in terms of the people’s lives, who you impact.
Paula: 00:10:07 Wow.
Tesse: 00:10:08 That is really fantastic. That thing about looking to the leader and people think, “Oh, the Holy grail, the solution to all our problems lies in these people.” This person is thinking about Forrest Gump many years ago. For those I age myself, but he’s going on this walk for so many years. And then he just turns back, and people say, what do we do?
And he says, I don’t know. At that point, I thought there needs to be a different model than that, but I think what you’re speaking to is this thing about leadership through crisis and through chaos; leadership through the not knowing. Can you say a little bit about this? Not knowing piece, and crisis and chaos.
Laura Gates: 00:10:45 It’s so hard, right? We all want to know; we all want the answers. We all want the solution. How are we going to get through this? What’s it going to look like? We don’t know. We don’t know. And I think one of the things that this pandemic has taught us is that we are not in control and as humans, we want to know, we want to have the answer. We want to see a path forward. And I feel like this is such a beautiful time as frustrating and painful as it is for some, it’s also an opportunity for us to sit in the unknown and see what wants to emerge. We talked about when we were talking earlier about emerging cultures, right? And emerging technologies.
And these are the times where solutions come that no one anticipated, no one could have planned for it because this thing is happening to us. But if we can step back from feeling victimized by it and really embrace this moment of change and chaos, I think we’re going to find some pretty incredible things coming out of it.
Tesse: 00:11:47 Wow. Incredible opportunities and things coming out of this kind of chaos. What I’m hearing is creating something new, creating something different.
Paula: 00:11:58 Absolutely. And we are seeing it daily, as you mentioned, Laura, just realizing or not realizing, but coming to terms with the fact that we don’t know what’s going to happen next. So we might as well continue working virtually for as long as possible because it’s working. There’s a lot of pivoting going on. I never would have thought that I would sit on my computer and order my groceries and not even go to the, store.
Laura Gates: 00:12:21 I don’t think I’m ever going to go to the grocery store again.
Paula: 00:12:25 Me too. I don’t like grocery shopping. I’m like, wow. Yeah. I heard of Instacart. My daughter told me about it two years ago, but that was something she spoke about. And now they’re part and parcel of my life. And everything else, I’m like, what else can be delivered? Can I get my plants delivered? Can they even plan them for me? That’s the new world we’re living in. Everybody has to pivot. And though with me and the podcast. Podcastst are audio but we’ve learned as podcasters well we’ve got to go to Zoom and connect with people because we can’t go to the pub that studios anymore. It’s not advisable. So this has been. Uh, a time of looking at where I am, what do I, how do I want to get there? And what can I do with what I have?
Tesse: 00:13:05 Yeah, this is such a powerful stuff. And we were looking at your bio, which I have to say is pretty impressive. I’m not worthy. One of the things that jumped out at me was inclusion. And it was really interesting, Laura, that talking about your purposeful leadership and talking about collective genius inclusion was alongside that. And we know that this is a time when the highlights have been inclusive leadership. Is that something that you can. Uh, to what you’ve shared already around this thing about inclusion, leadership, and how that resonates with purposeful leadership?
Laura Gates: 00:13:39 Absolutely. Again, words matter. Actions matter. People are watching, and we’ve seen this in the last few years in particular, around gender inequity in some of the bigger companies in the U S… some exposure of inequities there that have been very damaging for leaders who have not gotten with the program on that. And I see that now with the racial crisis happening. In our country in the U S but also around the globe, another raising of awareness of systemic issues that have been plaguing our society and our culture for centuries.
And I feel like a leader who is inclusive may not have, again, back to what we were talking about it in a crisis, it’s not that we’re expecting leaders to have all the answers or know exactly what to do. Sometimes the best thing a leader can do is come forward and say, yeah, it’s broken. I don’t know how to fix it, but I am committed to finding a way. And not either shying away from the conversation because what I see a lot of people doing is they won’t enter into the dialogue because they don’t know how, or they’re afraid, or they don’t want to say the wrong word or use a wrong term.
And so then they bring in a DEI expert to be able to have that conversation. And sometimes it’s really just about being human and seeing each other, as humans and entering into a conversation to say, tell me about your experience here. Tell me about your experience out in the world. What can I learn from you?
Because there’s a lot of fear and there’s a lot of, yeah, like unknown-ness and being willing to just wait into those waters. And I’ve had experiences where I will call someone and say, how are you doing? And they’ll say, you’re the only white person to ask me this question and check in on me. And it’s because I’m not sitting there by the phone thinking, should I call, should I not call?
What do I say? Do I not say, will it be appropriate or not appropriate? I’m just coming from a place of love of like, how’s it going? How are you doing? I’m looking at the news. It’s disturbing. How is your family? I know you have a teenage son, how are you doing?
Paula: 00:15:40 And sometimes that’s all somebody needs to hear… just that.
Tesse: 00:15:45 Paula can actually say from the bottom of my heart, that I was one of the recipients of Laura’s like, how you doing? Cause I got locked down in Lagos, during the COVID and I’d just come back. The foreign office repatriated me back on my birthday. And Laura sent a message. She posted a message to my LinkedIn page and she wished me happy birthday.
And I’m getting very emotional now because that meant so much because I was in Wembley by myself, on my birthday and Laura’s message came through. But the most powerful thing that happened after that was that I got about 49 other messages after Laura’s happy, how are you doing? So, there is something about inclusive leadership, which is about ownership, which is about walking with people because Laura was the first person who walked with me that day. And it just took the one.
And I think inclusion, inclusive leadership and purposeful leadership; it sounds, Laura, that what you’re saying is it’s a bridge. They’re not different. They’re the same. They’re different maybe lenses to look at the world, but having a purposeful leadership, which is inclusive is more powerful than having one that is not. And actually, unlocking the genius within that brings everything together. The collective genius and the individual genius. Is that is…have I gathered together…
Laura Gates: 00:17:02 Yeah. I love how you integrated all of those. And you add to that to the fact studies have shown that diverse teams are more effective and high-performing teams. So this idea of inclusivity in terms of race and gender and personality styles, even; if we’re a super extroverted team of salespeople, are we listening to the one introvert who’s sitting in the corner hiding out? So, looking for these levels of diversity and inclusion that bring more richness to the dialogue and not simply just hoping that people will assimilate to the dominant culture. But really, how is our culture preventing us from being more creative and more innovative.
Tesse: 00:17:45 You’ve journeyed quite a bit and covered a lot of linked and also different issues. If you were to mention your top three kind of learning points for people listening into this, what would you say? What would your takeaways for this be?
Laura Gates: 00:18:02 I would say be okay to not know, be okay to be a learner.
Be okay to be a beginner. No, one’s expecting you to solve world problems by in the next 90 days, some companies, many companies are saying they won’t be going back to work until next year. Some won’t be going back to their headquarters ever again. So really seeing this as an opportunity versus a downfall.
And then finally, I would say your words and your actions matter. So, choosing how you want to show up and who you want to be during this time is essential.
Paula: 00:18:40 I love that. So in other words, be vulnerable, be human.
Laura Gates: 00:18:44 Exactly and be empathetic and put yourself in other people’s shoes. How is the mom with three kids on my team doing today; who has been juggling Zoom calls with three different grade levels and trying to get her own Job done? How is my client, whose family is in the South and African American? And maybe they’re all struggling with the race issues or the COVID issues that are happening. Having a wider view of seeing people as humans. And I think that’s part of what this zoom culture has done; is enabled us to look into people’s lives and see the children toddling around in the background.
And. Seeing how people’s lives are unfolding, has blurred the lines between work and home in a way that we’ve never seen before.
Paula: 00:19:29 Yes
Tesse: 00:19:30 I say in the UK as well here, we need to be doing more of that. We need to be seeing each other as humans and we need to not be doing that othering. It’s just, we’re all together. We’re all connected. Which, talking about touch points, Paula, you are, you’re very interested in Laura’s touch points. Aren’t you?
Paula: 00:19:48 Yeah, I’m listening to her and I’m blown over by so many things that she’s saying and how relevant they are today, but also how relevant they are to… how relevant they must’ve been to like when we had the financial crisis in 2008; and how businesses kind of stopped and pivoted and realize that look, all businesses are run by humans. And so we need to put some personality, we need to put some humanity or humanness, if there’s a word like that, back into businesses, because then people realize it’s not all about the money. You can be a big firm to down and you’re gone tomorrow. We really need touch points… we need to touch base with people. And so, using the word touch, as I said, listening to Laura, I’m like, What has been your biggest career moment? How do you think you’re just listening to you here? You have said, such impactful things to me, and I know possibly the listeners.
But that, I know, has also been something that has driven you or something that probably you have experience. And sometimes our biggest career moments are not the moments that we see on our websites or people talk about but what has impacted you personally in your career as you moved up the ladder? If that’s the word, or that’s probably not even the word, but just as you’ve grown in what you’re doing.
Tesse: 00:21:06 I’m curious too, Laura, I’m curious. Come on. Tell us.
Laura Gates: 00:21:11 This was, I was speaking to someone yesterday and I sent her a follow-up email and I said as much as I’ve tried to plan and strategize my next steps of my career, it has always surprised me what I ended up doing next. And a lot of it has emerged from crisis.
I was studying for the series seven to be a stockbroker in 1987, when the market crashed.
Tesse: 00:21:34 Wow.
Laura Gates: 00:21:35 I was working on Wall Street and I was planning on working in London. That was my goal was to work for Citibank on the London… and trade on the London stock exchange. That was my mission in life. And I ended up traveling South America after that and having a very different life and then moving to California.
So I would say nothing I’ve done is planned. I have never tried to go up the rung of the ladder. I seem to have made crazy choices where I start at the bottom all over again. And yet it’s gotten me exactly where I need to be. And that’s where I say, letting go of this time of What am I going to do? And Where am I going to be and Where…even I who has gone through so many career transitions; I’m remaining curious in this time of What is the world evolving into and How do I need to show up for that? Which is it’s different than, Oh my God, am I having a job? Am I not going to have a job? Am I gonna… What is needed now? Because what’s needed today is not what was needed three months ago.
Paula: 00:22:33 True.
Tesse: 00:22:35 That’s powerful.
You have some more touch points, don’t you Paula?
Paula: 00:22:40 One is a fun one. Like what’s…what’s your (laughing)
Tesse: 00:22:44 Laura watch out.
Ah…this one I love like. What’s your favorite emoji? Laura?
Laura Gates: 00:22:53 Oh, I like that new, the new care one. The one with the little hearts and the hug.
Paula: 00:22:58 I love it too. Yeah. I love it too. I look at my screen and it warms my heart.
Laura Gates: 00:23:03 Yes. Yeah.
Paula: 00:23:05 Yes, yes.
Laura Gates: 00:23:05 Um….
Tesse: 00:23:06 But what does it say to you Laura? That one that you… (crosstalk)
Laura Gates: 00:23:08 Yes because I used to put parentheses virtual hug. And now I can just put that emoji. So, it also saves me time. I like efficiency, keystrokes. Exactly.
Paula: 00:23:20 Tesse?
Tesse: 00:23:21 Yeah. And, and it’s, it’s, it’s again, there might be aspiring leaders listening to this. What’s your shout-out to them. They’re not quite, they are leaders like emerging and some of them are eleven, twelve. What, what, what would your shout out to them right now?
Laura Gates: 00:23:40 My niece is 18. She’s an emerging leader. And what I love about her, she’s very strong, very fierce, very independent. And I just try to encourage her to do what she loves and pay attention to what she’s interested in. So many leaders that I work with decades later, talk about one teacher or one conversation that either made or broke the next 20, 30 years of their life and their career.
The person who said, You’ll never do this, and then they said, I’ll prove you wrong. Or the person who said, You’ll never do this, and they went off into the corner. So I think listening to your own intuition, following your own instincts, paying attention to the signs, the universe is sending you versus the rational, this is what you should do, this is who you should be advice.
Tesse: 00:24:26 I can take that. Aspiring leaders will take, that you would take that Paula.
Laura Gates: 00:24:30 [My] career did not exist when I was in college and coaching was, was a sport thing, not a, an Executive Leadership thing. When I was in college, I was studying psychology. I was studying business, but my sister for many years ran a yoga studio. Now she’s a mindfulness teacher. Those weren’t jobs when we were growing up. Nobody got paid to do that stuff. So also for young people, don’t be stuck with what exists today. Be open to what you’re interested in. You never know how that’s going to evolve to a career.
Paula: 00:24:59 Wow. I love that. That’s powerful. We live in an evolving world literally and otherwise. Yeah…
Tesse: 00:25:06 No, I was just gonna, I love what you’re saying Laura. As we’re talking, what came into my mind was that Chinese symbol, that the same sign, it can mean two different things. It can mean opportunity, but it can mean crises and it’s about which one we choose. Whether in a crisis, we can see an opportunity. I love the fact it’s the same sign, and it’s about our choice. It’s about what we’re choosing.
Laura Gates: 00:25:29 Yes. And I referenced that many times a day because that is exactly the time that we’re in. It’s all about: Do you want to see the glass half empty or the glass half full? What perspective do you want to take right now? And I recognize not everyone is even in a place in their lives, either they’ve lost their job or they’re short on food or… not everyone is in a place to feel glass half full. But. I’ve met people in prison who seemed more alive than people outside of prison. So, I think there is ways that we can take advantage of our situation and make the most of it as opposed to feeling put down by it.
Paula: 00:26:05 Yeah. We are almost coming to the end of Tesse Talks, but before we do that, Laura is there anything, any gift that you think you’d like to share with the listening audience? Something that you have that you feel would help them if they learn it, if they get access to it or whatever?
Laura Gates: 00:26:25 Yeah, I am a constant learner. I am constantly looking for the best articles, the best books to read, Ted talks… and I’ve curated all of that into a space on my website called the Leadership Toolkit, and that is available to anyone who goes to my website. There’s no fee for that. It’s https://gatesgroupllc.com/. I’m also going to be a practicum facilitator for a coaching training this fall with The World Business Executive Coaching Program with Marcia Reynolds and people are welcome to sign up for that. If you’re a coach and you want to gain more skills, she’s a fantastic teacher.
Tesse: 00:27:00 You are so generous. I’m sure that will all be benefiting from your gift. Laura. I’ve not said this before, and we haven’t practiced this today, but you are the gift that just keeps on giving. So thank you so much. Thank you.
Laura Gates: 00:27:15 Thank you.
Paula: 00:27:16 Thank you, Laura, for this amazing conversation, I’ve learned a lot. I know Tessie who has known you. She looks like. I’ve seen her nodding her head… for you listeners, this is a Zoom call. And so she’s gained a lot. Learning never ends. And at my age, I realized there’s something new that I can discover daily. Sometimes it’s every hour. Is there any way that our listeners can find you online? LinkedIn? YouTube?
Laura Gates: 00:27:46 I’m very present on LinkedIn. I’m on Twitter, Laura FG on Twitter. Also, my website is: https://gatesgroupllc.com/. Please feel free to come on over and send a note or send a chat. I’m happy to connect.
Thank you, Laura. This has been amazing.
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