Continuing our I-Suite® series, Rockridge Venture Law® spoke with Laura Huckabee-Jennings, CEO of Transcend, The Fearless Company. Laura’s wide-ranging career path includes 20+ years of managing businesses through extraordinary growth in markets around the world. Now, she’s back in her home state of Alabama advising executives, senior-level teams, and entrepreneurial organizations to help them achieve their ambitious goals. We caught up with Laura this week to share some of her thoughts on business, leadership, and emotional intelligence.

Let’s talk about change. In 2020, leaders are being forced to adapt at an unprecedented pace. What advice do you have for leaders and organizations who must adapt while also ensuring that they stay true to their core values?

The first thing is to be very clear about your personal values.  Write them down, and let those be your guide.  One of the most challenging aspects of our current reality is that each of us is making more decisions each day than we are used to, as many of our habits are disrupted.  Can I meet this person or do I need to set up a call?  Do I have a mask with me?  How do I build relationship over video chat?  Do I need to put pants on today?  Most of these are not questions we had to ask ourselves before, and now they are a daily occurrence and that is exhausting on a mental and emotional level.  Knowing your own personal values and what you want to stand for helps simplify this process by eliminating some of the choices you could make.  If they don’t fit your top 3 values, then they are off the table.

On the theme of change, how has leadership evolved since you founded Transcend? What things are you seeing nowadays that were less common or unheard of in your early days as a leadership consultant?

Since we founded Transcend, the Fearless Company 18 years ago, leadership has continued to evolve, both in terms of the science of human behavior, neuroscience and behavioral economics, but also in terms of the ethos of leadership, and what it means to lead others and where you should lead them.  Although we are in a very challenging time for many leaders in both the political and business realms, we are seeing more than ever leaders emerge with strong messages about the importance of taking broader responsibility for the state of our planet, of our communities, and of our fellow humans.

This is tremendously exciting for us, as we pursue our mission and work to help organizations build workplaces where people and communities thrive. Just last summer the Business Roundtable, with 181 CEO members from companies including 3M, HP, Microsoft and Walmart, adopted a new statement on the purpose of a corporation, including improving the lives of employees and their communities, rather than just increasing shareholder value.  This represents a fundamental shift in the way leaders are thinking about their purpose and where they must lead their organizations.  They are being put to the test this year with the pandemic pushing them to find ways to contribute to the health of both employees and broader communities.  Many organizations have risen to the challenge, recognizing and supporting the unique challenges employees are facing with work from home or physically distanced work and making new commitments to address racial inequality in their communities as well as within their own companies.

This level of public leadership to address the “common good” is a major step forward in advancing the ethics of leadership.

What is the best method for thoughtfully disagreeing with someone in the workplace?

If you want to disagree and maintain the relationship or at least respect, which is the most effective way to disagree in the long term, you need to first acknowledge what the other person has said or is expressing, making sure you understand their point of view.  They are more likely to hear you and really listen if they feel heard first.

Be curious, ask questions about their thinking, their approach, and how they arrived at their position. Then understand if they are open to conversation on the topic.  You might say something like, “I have a different perspective on that.” or “I see this differently from you”… and if they appear interested, you can start with a soft opener like, “Would you be interested in hearing my point of view?” or “Can I share an alternative?”

Of course, it all depends on the context of the conversation. Sometimes you will decide to be more forceful or withdraw from a confrontation, and those are sometimes the best choices, but if you want to thoughtfully disagree, listen first, acknowledge the other person’s point of view, then ask for permission to share yours and then do so.  Don’t try to refute their arguments point by point, or insult their intelligence or motives.  Look for ways in which you want the same end goal, and point out specific challenges you address with your approach.

What is one mistake you see leaders make more frequently than others? In your opinion, is it different for women leaders?

I see leaders often assume they need to have all the answers, and work hard to defend the answers they do have. This lack of reflection on my own knowledge/expertise/reasoning and the inability to take in alternative points of view or new data leads to some of the most tragic outcomes for leaders. And while I wouldn’t paint any characteristic as a purely gendered challenge, this does appear to be more common among men, who often equate the appearance of competence with confidence, even arrogance.  It’s not effective to be too indecisive or take too much input either, so there is a balance to strike here, and these nuanced approaches require a mature perspective on one’s own place in the world, worthy risks, and the impact leader decision-making has on the ecosystem of an organization.  Women sometimes have this same challenge, but more often I see them second-guessing themselves or “negotiating against themselves” instead of being bolder in stepping forward and taking a few more career and business risks to have greater impact.

How do you effectively self-assess your own leadership performance?

It is definitely hard to self-assess accurately. One of the most important practices is to ask for and receive regular feedback.  I like to practice a form of feedback coined “feed forward” by Marshall Goldsmith, where you ask others “what’s one thing I could do to get better in this area?” and pick a specific area that you’ve been given feedback on, or you know you need to improve.  I also measure my results versus my expected results in any given interaction and reflect on what went well, and what seemed to not go well and then decide what I want to modify going forward.  I look at conversations as “little experiments” that can give me great information about the kind of impact I am having on people, and whether that aligns to my intentions or not.

About Laura Huckabee-Jennings

Laura Huckabee-Jennings is the founder of Transcend, which has been serving executives, senior-level teams and promising entrepreneurial organizations since 2002.  Transcend’s objective is to bring world-class tools and the latest scientific knowledge about business and human development into your business to achieve your ambitious goals.

Laura’s 20+ years of experience include line management roles in top tier consumer goods such as Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola, as well as technology and consumer start-ups.  She has managed businesses through extraordinary growth in markets around the world, including Japan, China, Israel, Poland and the US. She has used her results-oriented strategic approach to grow revenues and profits through driving new business and marketing models and executing with excellence and determination.

Laura holds degrees in Physical Chemistry from Princeton University, in Comparative Culture from Jochi (Sophia) University in Japan, and an MBA from INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France.  She speaks Japanese fluently and has a good knowledge of French and a smattering of other languages.  She is actively involved in the business community, as President of the Board of the Women’s Economic Development Council, with the Partnership for Biotechnology Research, Women’s Business Center and Leadership Huntsville/Madison County (Class 22) as well as Board Development Chair for Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama.  She is a Professional Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation, the largest internationally recognized certifying body for coaches, and is a Certified Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner through the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). A sought-after and engaging keynote speaker, Laura speaks about Leadership and the Fearless Organization, as well as Change Resilience, Engagement, Emotional Intelligence, Style and Strategic Thinking. Learn more.

About Transcend, The Fearless Company

Our real-world experience from across the globe and across industries helps us build stronger leaders. Relentless focus on improvement is in our DNA, as we continue to spend time refining our knowledge, experience base and toolkit to better serve our clients. We deliver practical solutions to help make each business owner, leader or executive a better leader which, in turn, helps build our community, our country and a better global community. This big picture view drives the company. In a nutshell: our team has the chops to drive results for your business. Learn more.