Inside Out Leadership with Dr Laura Gallaher

Dr. Laura Gallaher is a keynote speaker, a leadership coach and Organizational Psychologist. She is also the CEO at GALLAHER EDGE.

Transcript:Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

The Leadership Hacker News

Steve Rush: If you’re a regular listener of the show, you will know that we love diversity and difference on this show. One the news today we explore what leaders can learn about mindfulness and entrepreneurship from Bhutan of all places. So where is Bhutan? Well, it’s a small kingdom located deep in the Himalayas and native of Bhutan Dr. Karma Phuntsho who’s an Oxford educated founder of the Loden Foundation believes that leadership lessons from Bhutan can lead anyone to success in life and in business. Dr. Phuntsho first discovered the benefits of mindful leadership after studying as a Buddhist monk for over 10 years, he then obtained his PhD at Oxford, completed some research at Cambridge and was the first Bhutanese Oxbridge fellow.

As self-described go-between linking Western business philosophies with Buddhist traditions, Dr. Phuntsho contains fascinating insights on humanity, culture, business, and how leadership ties it all together. Perhaps nothing demonstrates this more than the Loden Foundation. His non-for-profit organization for aspiring Bhutanese entrepreneurs built on mindfulness, innovation and tradition. At the Lowden Foundation, Dr. Phuntsho, whose mission isn’t only to create a thriving network of Bhutanese businesses, but it’s also to shape tomorrow’s entrepreneurs as a force of good within their communities throughout the world. In 2008, Dr. Phuntsho, along with a small group of colleagues launched the Lowden Foundation to face the growing challenge of high unemployment in Bhutan, along with a lack of entrepreneurial spirit, largely caused by the tradition of hand-me-down farming, the non-for-profits supports entrepreneurship in Bhutan through education, inspiration, and outreach. They also offer interest free collateral free loans through the Lowden Entrepreneurship Program, which ties the repayment plans to the businesses strategy and structure. 

To date they’ve supported over 5,000 aspiring entrepreneurs and funded over 200 businesses in Bhutan, 72 which are run by women, the Lowden Foundations dedicated to preservation of Bhutan’s culture and deeply rooted in its Buddha beliefs. And with this comes the intrinsic tie to being mindful, compassionate business leaders. And of course, demonstrating those mindful and compassionate leadership practices, cornerstones of course of the Buddhist philosophy. What Dr Phuntsho believes should be the cornerstones of every leader’s philosophy, no matter where they live on the planet, he says it’s important for us to bring prosperity, to improve people’s ordinary standard of living, but we have to seek that without losing the overall meaning of life. And one wonderful way to never forget the joys of life is, been remembered that every human, every organization is somehow interconnected. And there’s a great leadership lesson here. Of course, mindfulness and compassion are given these days, but the role that habits, rituals and mindsets play in communities is still rife and it sometimes takes a bold leader to disrupt that status quo. So, the next time you notice rituals or habits that may be holding your community or team back, will you be that disruptor? That’s been The Leadership Hacker News. We’d love to hear your stories, insights from wherever you are in the world. Bring difference to our difference. So please get in touch with us. 

Start of Podcast

Steve Rush: Our special guest on today’s show is Dr. Laura Gallaher. She is a keynote speaker, a leadership coach and Organizational Psychologist, is also the CEO at GALLAHER EDGE. Laura, welcome to the leadership hacker podcast.

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Thank you so much for having me, Steve.

Steve Rush: So, I’m really keen to find out how you ended up leading GALLAHER EDGE and what happened beforehand. So just give us a bit of a potted history of your kind of early career and some of the passions that led you to do what you do?

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Absolutely, I started looking at psychology in college and thought I would go the route of being a therapist, something kind of, you know, traditional psychology starter type. And then I realized how interested I was in social psychology. What happens when we get groups of people together? And what are the ways that we form impressions and how does that affect the way we treat each other? And then I realized there’s this whole field called Industrial Organizational Psychology, where we can look at those kinds of dynamics in the context of the workplace. So, I came from Phoenix, Arizona over to Orlando, Florida, and I studied Organizational Psychology for another five or six years after undergrad and got the chance to work for NASA. So, I was working for NASA while I was finishing up my PhD. And after about seven years there, I started this business GALLAHER EDGE on the side of the NASA job. And after about 10 months of that, I was like, you know what? Let me try this full time. And after about six months of that, I was like, Ooh, I don’t know about this. And I went back to a nine to five role with Disney and 10 months later, I was like, you know what, I’m going to try this again. And so ever since 2015, I have been running GALLAHER EDGE as my full-time role. 

Steve Rush: Excellent, and it was really interesting from the notes I made when we spoke first, you joined NASA at a real kind of pivotal moment in their history, and it was not long after the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy back in 2003. And you were called in to help transform and enhance the culture at the space center in Kennedy Space Center. What was it you noticed about what was happening at NASA at the time and what did you learn from that time?

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, so it was a really somber way to get things started my in my career, you know, and I obviously believed in the importance of psychology and organizational psychology, but to have the chance to come in and work for NASA. When they did the investigation about the accident, the investigation board report said that NASA’s culture was as much to blame for the accident is the actual piece of foam that struck the orbiter during the launch. 

Steve Rush: Wow.

Dr. Laura Gallaher: So, yeah, it was a pretty strong indictment of the culture and what I find so incredibly remarkable about this. And you know, I worked very closely with my now business partner, Dr. Phillip Meade. He had been out at the Space Center. He was working there for many years before the accident occurred. Was that just months before the accident happened, NASA was rated the number one place in the Federal Government by its employees. So, when they surveyed all of the employees and every agency of the Federal Government about their workplace and how engaged they were and how motivated they were and how much they had job satisfaction, NASA was number one. So, I don’t know about you use Steve, but when I hear like, oh, culture was to blame for this tragedy, I’m like, Ooh, man, that must’ve been a, what a mess, you know. 

Steve Rush: That’s right, not aligned is it?

Dr. Laura Gallaher: It must’ve been just awful, people not getting along, like overbearing managers. Like this must be a terrible place to work and that wasn’t the case. And so, what evolved in the work? I mean, I learned so much in my time there was understanding that there’s a difference between having a quote, good culture and a quote, effective culture. So, it’s really important to be able to say, what is it that we’re actually wanting to achieve and accomplish in terms of results and how we truly designed the culture in a way that we will get those results versus just, hey, do people like working here?

Steve Rush: That’s a really interesting dichotomy, isn’t it? 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah.

Steve Rush: As you’re saying it, I’m trying to kind of frame it almost as in so much as good cultures don’t necessarily give you great performance. So, what was the gap if you like between the two?

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Of course, as you can imagine, you know, culture. So, we described cultures as emergent property. It’s based on the interactions of the common behaviors and beliefs with the employees and organizations are complex adaptive systems. So, I definitely won’t have time during our conversation today to get into all of the details about it, right. And the reason I qualify it so much is because I think it’s really easy for anybody to be outside of a situation and look in and go, how could they be so stupid? So, some of what I want to describe an point out, it’s easy for somebody to fall into altruism and go, oh, well, I would never do that, right? Or that would never happen here. And when you do that, that’s a deep form of defensiveness that stops us from learning from the mistakes of other people.

Steve Rush: It does, yeah. 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: So, my invitation to everybody listening is, you know, see how you can actually take some lessons away from some of what I can share about NASA history and find out when might that also be true for me, right. Rather than going like, man, how did they miss that or whatever. So, there’s really three levels that I can talk about when I explain what was happening in NASA culture, leading up to the accident. This is based on our inside out model. We have self at the core, everything comes back to self, and then we have team as the middle layer. And then we have the organizational level at the broadest layer. So, these like three concentric circles. So, at the organizational layer, one of the biggest challenges is they had the program manager for shuttle in charge of everything from safety and technical concerns, but also programmatic concerns like budget and schedule.

So, when it comes down to it, you’re looking to one person to try to effectively balance all of those things at the same time, that’s just an organizational design flaw. You don’t have people sitting around the table with an equal level of leadership, voicing their opinions when it comes to, well, what does technical say? What does safety say? Okay, what does the program say? It was all falling on one person. And so, they were essentially unknowingly creating a virtually impossible situation for this person to actually make good decisions, right? So, a big piece of what we looked at was how can we design the organization differently so that we’re not asking people to fight against the system and ask an engineer who’s two or three or four or five levels down from the program manager and say, yeah, stand up in a meeting and say, hey, I don’t have a lot of data, but I’m really worried about the shuttle. Even though y’all have made a bunch of decisions in the past to say that we don’t need to worry about this during flight, like, wow, like that’s really challenging. So, at the org level, work design matters a ton, you really want to pay attention to how the design of the organization affects the culture.

Steve Rush: My experience, having worked in lots of different organizations is often they try to fit org design to fit the team and the individual into the organization and not the other way around. 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, we work with our clients and organizational design, it’s so funny because I’m a psychologist and more so human centric. And when we go into that process, we’re like, okay, we really want you to not think about people. Like don’t think about human beings. Don’t think about who you have right now. We really want you to think about the organization as a system, the organization as a machine. And we want to design it optimally to get the results you want to get and not design it around the specific humans, right. Because then you kind of end up like duct taping things together. Like, oh, well this person, I don’t know if we have right now a right person to play a chief revenue officer role. So, let’s not do that. Let’s just go ahead and, you know, keep this kind of biz-dev over here and this kind of sales here, or like, oh, you know what? I don’t know if these two people really get along very well. So even though it makes sense for them to be in the same department, let’s just break those up. They’re doing the best they can, and sometimes they make very flawed decisions for org design because they’re trying to base it around those specific people. 

Steve Rush: Yeah, I can see that.

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, so that was the org design, one of the biggest org design pieces. And that was one of the biggest initiatives that I supported when I first started my work there. At the team level, there were some things happening with communication. So, one of the findings that just, it actually got a lot of attention at the time was the phone strike. And so, for anybody who doesn’t know, just briefly during the final launch of Columbia, a piece of foam fell off of the external tank, which is the large orange structure on the shuttle system.

And it struck the orbiter, which is the part that looks like the plane. And they didn’t know exactly where it hit. They could see that it hit, they could see it and make contact. They could estimate the general size of the foam, but they just weren’t sure. And foam had been hitting the orbiter. Unfortunately, it happened numerous times before and it had never been dangerous. It was always something that they had to deal with when they check the orbiter back and processed it to get ready for the next flight. They would need to change out some of the tiles for the heat shield, you know, so they previously made a decision like, hey, when foam strikes happen, we don’t have to worry about it in flight. It’s something that we’ll deal with during processing. So, this was something that they thought they decide and the foam strike, and because they didn’t know exactly where it hit.

And it looked quite large. It was some conversation, but it was like a third sub bullet, on a PowerPoint slide or something like that. And, you know, a presentation to the decision makers. And so that was one of the things that got a lot of attention was, hey, like what’s happening with our team communication here and are we over-relying on trying to make things really brief and succinct and not giving things enough airtime to really understand what it is that we’re deciding. So that’s one of the things that I really invite leaders to do is, we’re all so busy, right? And we all feel so stretched for time. And it’s so tempting to just want to push through decisions really quickly and not give them enough airtime. But, in some cases, unfortunately in this case potentially catastrophic.

Steve Rush: Yeah, sometimes you just got to go slow to go fast, haven’t you?

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Absolutely, I slow down to speed up is one of our favorite mantras. We’re always inviting our clients to do it. And do you know what? We work on it too. It’s something that we feel is vital, so I can understand the difficulty. And the other piece that I want to share, it just always stood out the most to me as a psychologist, was that the self-level. So, at the self-level, when it comes to culture, there were numerous people, numerous little groups, little teams, actually around NASA that were looking deeply into this issue of the foam hitting the orbiter, and they were really concerned. They were really concerned, but they didn’t have a lot of data. And NASA is very data-driven. And so, like I was starting to allude to earlier, it’s really difficult. It was difficult to NASA culture at the time to say, hey, I know we’ve made a decision in the past.

That foam is not something to worry about in flight, but let’s just pretend that’s not true. And also, I don’t have any data to actually tell me that this is going to be a catastrophe, but it might be. So can we talk about it and spend some more money to get some imagery so we can just determine better. That was a request that actually was made, but it was being made in all of these indirect ways, all these indirect channels and because of the interrupt, personal fear to like really stand up and say, you know, hey, I’m actually terrified about this. And I don’t have data to back me up. Every time the request to get more imagery, was shut down. It wasn’t well understood. And at a certain point, people stopped fighting for it because they just didn’t know. 

Steve Rush: Yeah, and as a result, a catastrophic event happened, it could have been prevented. Had somebody been a bit more forthright or had communicated more effectively?

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, I mean, there’s probably numerous conversations, right? That could have gone differently. 

Steve Rush: Yeah.

Dr. Laura Gallaher: And one of the additional challenges is, if they did in fact get the imagery and discover, oh no, this is quite a large hole that the foam has created in the orbiters wing. They actually didn’t know what they would do about it. There was no clear path or plan to fix that problem. And so, part of what we believe is that, if I don’t think that I know how to solve a problem, or if I don’t think that there’s anything that I can do about it, then subconsciously I might actually convince myself that it’s not really a problem. And then not even allow myself to be fully aware of it. And that’s a big part of what we think was happening when it came to the decision making of the shuttle program manager at the time, just, you know what, it’s not an issue. There’s nothing we can do about it, so it’s not an issue. There’s actually a quote in the Columbia accident, investigation board, almost exactly to that effect.

Steve Rush: That’s really fascinating. We could spend loads more time on that, I’m sure. But culturally, that kind of three layers that inside out model you just described, all played out here, you can still have a good culture, but that’s where performance problems can happen. 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah.

Steve Rush: Yeah. 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, it’s, you know, there are so many things that unfortunately ended up working against the intention. Like one of the key things that was also happening for the agency was there was a lot of pressure, mean the shuttle program at this point was over 20 years old, it was constantly considered to be on the chopping block in terms of budget. Maybe they were afraid the program could be canceled. Everything that they were doing to build a space station would potentially be canceled. They had huge schedule pressure to get the international space station finished by a certain date. So, this whole like save the program mentality, led people to subconsciously make much more risky decisions than they would have otherwise. And we equate it to, you know, if there’s a large beam, just going 50 feet off of, you know, the Sears Tower and I put a hundred-dollar bill at the end, are you going to walk out and get it? Most people would say, no, I’m going to pass. But if I put your child out at the end of that beam, are you going to go and get your child?

Steve Rush: Yeah, it changes the dynamic somewhat, doesn’t it? Yeah.

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Absolutely, so when it’s like save the program, saves the baby. Because that’s how the program, the shuttle program felt for a lot of people, they would subconsciously start making riskier and riskier decisions to save the program. So riskier decisions to try to maintain schedule, riskier decisions to say, oh, we don’t have to worry about that right now because we need to keep moving forward. And so those were a lot of the things that we helped leaders pay attention to and take a look into.

Steve Rush: Some great lessons too. 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Absolutely. 

Steve Rush: So, you were then hired by Walt Disney to help with their brand. And this is another interesting dynamic in so much as that when people think of Walt Disney they think of this high energy, positive culture. Tell us a little bit about what your experience was like with Walt Disney and then how that might have changed their perspectives around what culture meant for them?

Dr. Laura Gallaher: When, I was working for Disney. I was really excited about what they were focusing on because the big culture change, they were wanting to bring was around changing how I did performance management. And if you think about performance management in any organization, if you ask people like, hey, how do you like it your performance management process and system? It tends to just get met with groans, right? Leaders start to look at those conversations as like performance rating, justification conversations, employees tend to feel, you know, demoralized and frustrated and judged. They feel like they ended up trying to defend their own performance. Like almost nobody likes them. And the worst part is they don’t actually tend to improve performance, which is the whole point. They’re supposed to help improve performance. And so, what I loved about what they were doing was they wanted to get away from this whole idea of, you know, judging the people and saying, here’s your rating, right?

We’re going to grade you now to say, no, we want to train leaders how to coach. It’s a totally different part of the brain. It’s a different way to show up, it requires growth mindset, right? And not just for oneself, but a belief that this person I’m talking to can and absolutely will grow. And we’re in it together kind of thing. And so, I thought that was a really exciting project that they were doing and huge because it changes so much of what people are comfortable with. This idea of like, it’s so much, we just kind of give people a grade and then move forward. And so, I was working with them primarily on that project. And it was actually still an ongoing project when I made the decision to leave and focus full-time with GALLAHER EDGE. 

Steve Rush: It’s a massive mindset shift though, isn’t it? 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yes.

Steve Rush: Moving away from self-justification of here’s what I’ve done versus here’s how I’m helping the future evolve, which is what that coaching culture will create, right?

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, part of what I took from that, and I have continued to build on with the clients I work with now is a paradigm chapter, I mention model chapter around, what does it mean to look at your employee’s performance? Stop thinking about your employee’s performance as a result of, you know, your employee’s competence, right? It’s their performance is actually a result of their performance and your performance and the relationship the two of you have together. And when you start to think about your employee’s performance in that way, then it really makes it feel in these conversations like this is you and me on the same side, working toward a solution together versus that you versus me thing that happens with those performance justification conversations, right? Of the more traditional style.

Steve Rush: Exactly, and the other really strange notion I’ve found is that you actually can’t manage performance when it’s done, it’s done. When you have achieved a result, it’s done, it’s locked in time and history from that point onwards and therefore spending time over analyzing that is almost counter-intuitive, isn’t it?

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, it can take people backwards. You may remember where this came from Steve. I can’t remember the attribution, but feed forward instead of feedback.

Steve Rush: Yeah, it’s something I deployed all the time,

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Love it. It’s such a powerful concept and it starts to become like we use this communication framework. It’s an acronym, Fric. It’s FRIC. And so, you know, useful, especially when you think about this whole paradigm is shifting performance management away from rating and judging and more into just regular coaching conversations. We want it to be regular. We want it to be timely. We want it to happen in the moment. And so sometimes that it’s hard. People are like, Ooh, these are hard conversations. So go ahead and start with the fear of the feeling. Get that out of the way, acknowledge if there is any emotion that you’re noticing within yourself as your parts of the conversation, just lead with vulnerability. The R is for request, what do you want? And this is an example of feed forward.

So, I’m not harping on somebody for something that like you’ve said, Steve is done. It’s in the past, it’s over, it cannot be managed, but I can make a request of what I would like from you in the future. And it’s not a demand, it’s a request. And then the, I is for inquiry, which is essentially, you know, what can I do to make it easier for you to honor my request? And this is recognizing that whole co-creation idea, this recognizes like, hey, whatever’s happening with us, whatever’s happening with the performance. We’re both creating it. We’re both contributing to it. And I think I see something that I’d like from you, that’s my request. What do you see within me? What would you like for me? How can I also participate and move together with you towards a solution? And then you want to get to at least one commitment, maybe two. And sometimes it’s more, sometimes people have some communication debt and they don’t really talk openly for a while. And so, they actually want to go back and forth to make multiple requests. And what they’re doing is they’re designing how they want to work together. And it’s very, very effective at getting people past some of these conversations that they normally avoid, whether it comes to improving performance or improving team dynamics or anything like that.

Steve Rush: I love the simplicity of that little model and you can actually help just frame the conversation as well if you use that simple process as well. And one of the other things I also noticed that kind of is aligned to that almost is the principle. When people talk about performance, I get people to talk about the performer rather than performance, because the performer drags their performance, between better and different. 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yes, very true. Yeah, I keep the focus on the person.

Steve Rush: Love it. What are the things that you’re working on with GALLAHER EDGE and blending that psychology and industrial psychology together?

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, so this is really fun. So, I mentioned Dr. Phillip Meade is my business partner and he and I worked at a closely at NASA following the Space Shuttle Columbia accident. So, we’ve worked together now for, I guess, about maybe 15, 16 years, something like that. And so, he’s got this industrial engineering background and I’ve got this industrial organizational psychology background. And so, when we bring that together, it’s been for me at least, it’s been really cool because I get to stay really focused on the psychological elements. I get to stay deep within the human issues that are going on because humans within ourselves, we are these complex adaptive systems, right. But then at the organizational level, there’s this whole macro, you know, systems, theory, systems thinking, and how can we really make sure that we’re fully designing everything, so we use metaphors of like, you know, designing a car, like, what are the design requirements of a vehicle?

Are you trying to create like a dump truck that can carry heavy loads? Are you trying to design a race car that can turn really quickly around a corner? Like there’s no good or bad, but let’s just be really intentional. So, he’s brought so much of that macro, like organizational level thinking and allowing me to stay really focused on the human side. And we’ve built this model that really connects all of that, where we focus on these cultural traits, these things that emerge, you know, maturity, diversity, community, and unity, but we tie it deep into human motivation, like fundamental human motivation. We cause that there are four key drivers within us. And this gets you away from carrots and sticks, right? This is just human staff. We are all driven for growth, for belonging, for connection and for identity. And so, you know, these are like the missing links. We talk about linking the human beings together in a way that we can tap into these drivers, these fundamental motivations, and then what we get are these emergent traits. And so that’s been a really exciting process. We’ve writing a book about that and tying in all the work that we did with NASA’s culture, following the accident, what we’ve learned and how we’ve continued to apply that throughout working with different clients throughout different industries over the years.

Steve Rush: It’d be great to get you and Phillip back on a later show when the books out and really get into some of that together. 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: That will be fantastic. 

Steve Rush: So, from the last time we met, which is you present as a really confident, successful individual, who’s got a huge track record of success and cultural shifting and changing behind you, but it hasn’t always been that way for you. And I remember from the last time we met; you had this real problem with imposter syndrome for some time until you had this aha moment. And I wonder if he might be able to tell us a little bit about that.

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah absolutely. Gosh, imposter syndrome. Well, I mean the first time, the first time that I really felt imposter syndrome was certainly when I began my work with NASA, I was actually 24 years old when I was hired. And I was asked to consult directly with the senior executive service director of engineering, which was this new organization that was being formed, right. As we were reorganizing the space center. I’m like, okay. Now what is it you’re going to be able to share with him that he’s going to look at me as this 24-year-old kid and go, okay, great, thanks so much. 

Steve Rush: Right.

Dr. Laura Gallaher: So, I really struggled with that when I very first started and I noticed that in this technique, this took me many years to figure out. That it really came down to a lack of genuine self-acceptance, right. Which means being fully okay with myself. Exactly

as I was in the moment, all my flaws, all my imperfections, all the things I didn’t know, and also being okay with my talents and my strengths. So, in the beginning, the imposter syndrome hit me super hard and it would result in a lot of like, I would end up being rigid sometimes, right. So instead of being more flexible and co-creating with the people that I was working with, I was really just wanting to be right. And what that meant is I was focusing too much of my energy on trying to prove that I was right, rather than focusing on getting it right. And, you know, working with them and where I really saw that affect my performance was actually with my peers. So, the crazy irony about my early career, you know, I was brought in to NASA to really help them focus on psychological safety.

How can we help leaders create psychological safety so that people are no longer afraid to say, hey, I don’t have any data, but I’m really afraid about this. Can we please have an open conversation or whatever it is, raise a dissenting opinion, champion a dissenting opinion. And so that’s what I was working on with my internal customers and that was working out reasonably well. But I went through this experience. It was a five-day workshop called the Human Element just a couple of years into my career. Threw out that week, I got all kinds of feedback just as we were going through. And it was a lot of stuff that felt really weird at the time. But the short version is, I found out that I was actually engaging in a lot of the same exact behaviors with my team, that I was asking the leaders in my personal organizations to not do. So, I wasn’t creating psychological safety within my team.

I was shutting people down without realizing it. And that realization like shook me to my core. I mean, I didn’t even realize up to that point that I had low self-acceptance or lower self-acceptance. I mean, it’s not dichotomous obviously, but it really made me take a much deeper look at things. And so, it took me still a couple more years to really figure it out and recognize that, you know, being competent isn’t about knowing stuff. That’s a very, you know, like grade school kind of mentality that children are taught, you know, learn this stuff, memorize it, take a test and then it’s right or wrong. It’s very binary, very black and white, but competence isn’t knowing stuff. Competence is the ability to learn, grow, adapt, figure things out. 

Steve Rush: Yeah. 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: And I can do that with other people and I don’t have to be right. And so, I understood my own defense mechanisms to a much greater degree. And once I got there, I realized that this idea of imposter syndrome, Steve, it’s actually very like arrogant and judgmental because if I have imposter syndrome, part of what I’m saying is, oh my gosh, these people around me are so stupid. I have fooled all of them into thinking that I actually know what I’m doing.

And I was like, whoa, like I thought imposter syndrome was kind of this like internally, like, oh, you know, I’m just, I’m insecure. And yes, it is. And insecurity leads us to not only judge ourselves, but judge other people. And so, it just started to completely shift my whole lens as I looked at what this meant. It’s like, you know what, do I know everything? Not even close, right. The more I learned, the more I realized, I don’t know, but my value isn’t just in knowing stuff. My value is in being able to work with other people and continue to learn and grow and adapt and even whatever it is that I think, I know, I don’t know anything, like were all wrong all the time. And so, if we can just shift the lens and get away from binary thinking, I think a lot of imposter syndrome will start to fall away from people.

Steve Rush: Yeah, and by asking more questions and learning more things, not only do we get richer, but we actually create more aha moments in other people as well. 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Absolutely, yeah. Asking questions and really listening are two of the most powerful and sometimes underutilized behaviors and skills. 

Steve Rush: Yeah, so I if our listeners are listening to us talk about imposter syndrome and they have a perception that that could be them. What would be your counsel to them to maybe go about dealing with that?

Dr. Laura Gallaher: So anytime we can develop a practice of self-acceptance, it’s going to significantly reduce this feeling of imposter syndrome. And so, I define self-acceptance as being fully okay with yourself. Exactly as you are right now, that includes your flaws and imperfections as well as your talents and strengths. So, I’ll give you a couple really tangible things that listeners can do to develop a practice of self-acceptance. And it’s a practice you can think about it, like something you want to do on a daily basis, brushing your teeth, for example, or, you know, moving your body, some kind of physical exercise. It’s not a light switch you just get to flip on and off. Okay, I’ve accepted myself. It’s a practice, it’s a rewiring of your brain. So, one way to practice higher self-acceptance is, we call it taking credit. Another way to frame it is like, what am I proud of myself for?

So, let’s say for example, I want to start running. And I’m like, I’m going to run three miles and I get all my gear on and I go out there and I run and maybe I’m like not quite a mile in, and I’m starting to cram and I can hardly breathe and my legs are on fire. And I’m like, oh my gosh, I don’t think I can do this. And so, I might have this raging imposter syndrome in the moment and I’m like, oh my God, like, I want to be a runner. Who am I kidding? I can’t possibly be a runner. So, taking credit would be, instead of focusing on the gap of, oh my gosh, I wanted to run three miles. I only ran one. What is wrong with me? So, embarrassing. Like I’m an idiot, why did I think I could do that? Right. All that really negative self-talk the inner critic. Taking credit is saying, you know what? I am proud of myself for getting out there and running a mile because that was a mile more than I ran yesterday, or I’m proud of myself for getting out there and giving it a shot because that was a kind of a tough step for me. And I want to allow myself to feel good about that as an incremental step. So, taking credit or being proud of yourself for things that represent courage, represent progress, doing that regularly will actually accelerate your whole journey of growth and make it much easier for you to get over this whole idea of like, oh my gosh, I’m a phony and they’re all going to figure me out. 

Steve Rush: I love that. 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: So that’s one tip. And then I’ll give one more tip too, which is around forgiving yourself. So, we’re really trying to quiet the inner critic with a lot of these and like give more volume to the champion voice. So, forgiving yourself, it’s so easy for us to fall into a pattern of beating ourselves up. Most people actually, at some point in their lives, they believed that they have to beat themselves up or they won’t learn, grow, improve. They think that they need that really mean voice in order to actually get their button gear. And until you can truly experiment with quieting that voice and leaning just in the champion voice, you’ll never learn that there are so many other things that still motivate you to move forward because it’s something that we’re just fundamentally wired to do is grow as humans. So, find the things that you want to forgive yourself for and forgive yourself as quickly as you can, even if it doesn’t feel totally real, like let’s say that I miss a meeting with a client, you know, something happened with my schedule or just, I don’t know, I dropped the ball and I missed a meeting with a client.

I could beat myself up. I could get all mired down in all of the ways that you know, oh my gosh, who are thinking, I’m kidding. Trying to, run this business, trying to be a consultant. I can’t even show up to a meeting on time. That’s my inner critic, right? And she can be really brutal or I can say, okay, you know what? You actually did have a lot going on. And you know, that you would never intentionally miss a meeting. So, let’s make sure that we learned from this and, you know, whatever it was that caused me to miss the meeting, I’m going to make sure that I always have a reminder set for myself. So that doesn’t happen again. And it’s okay. And so, it’s this combination of having self-compassion while also recognizing that, you know, I’m not living up to my current standard. And so, when you can bring in that balance of holding a boundary for yourself while also having self-compassion, when you fail to meet it, that’s you forgiving yourself. And these are practices that when you do them every day, your self-acceptance will get higher and higher and higher. And not only will you end up defeating these imposter syndrome moments, but you’ll just be able to work so much better with other people. You’ll be able to laugh at yourself. You’ll be more attentive to other people, and you’ll be able to emphasize more easily. You’re going to basically have a deeper trust in your underlying ability to cope with whatever the world throws at you, because it’s always going to throw things at you.

Steve Rush: Exactly, right. And what you’ve just described is almost a rewiring of that neurological pathways that we’ve created those previously bad habits. 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yes.

Steve Rush: With replacing them with positive rituals and positive behaviors. And I love the fact that you call it self-acceptance practice because exactly that’s what it is. You’ll continually have the practice at it until it becomes second nature, right? 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yes, absolutely. It’s a practice and it gets really metta to Steve because if I find myself falling away from my self-acceptance practice, I can actually practice self-acceptance around that. 

Steve Rush: Yeah, your right.

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, so, you know what, I have actually been really hard on myself lately and I haven’t been using some of these tools and that’s okay. It’s a lot of wiring I’m working against and I am committed to bringing in that practice back. 

Steve Rush: Excellent, brilliant. Okay, so this part show, we close out on three things, and the first thing we’re going to close out on is to tap into the leadership aspects of your work in your career. And I’ll ask you to narrow down some of those things that you’ve been working on, but to call that, perhaps your top three leadership hacks or your top tips or ideas, what would the top three be?

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Top three, okay. The first one we’ve alluded to a little bit when we talked about slow down to speed up, so, pause. The power of pause, you know, I think that when leaders are really struggling, it’s usually because things are moving so fast and in the moment their energy is not leaving enough space, for other people to truly be who they are and sort of this angsty energy can spread throughout. And it ends up stifling conversation and decreasing the effectiveness of decision making. So, taking more moments of pause in conversation, I think significantly improves the quality of those conversations. And that’s another practice that leaders can bring into their daily lives. I invite my clients to do like an eight second pause between every meeting, between sending an email, literally just eight seconds of breath in and out, and then onto the next task. And it just sort of brings a calmer energy to the whole thing, which I believe is much needed. 

Steve Rush: Yeah, it’s almost a little bit of a reboot, isn’t it? 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yes, oh, I love that framing of it. Yeah, that’s really good. Another one is listening, listening, listening, listening, and I know that Steve, you do a lot of working in change and I’m sure you’ve heard this too. I work with so many leaders who, when they’re wanting to bring about a change and they’re feeling resistance, either passive or active, but the people just aren’t, they’re not doing it. They’re not stepping in line. They tend to focus on, I guess I have to tell them again, I guess I have to tell them differently. I guess I have to tell them louder, right. And what I want them to do instead is, like you were saying, ask questions and listen, listen, they may not even know themselves.

Why they’re resisting the change or whatever it is that you’re asking them to do. They may not be self-aware enough, but when you can ask those questions and really hold space and truly listen, not only to what they’re saying, but listen for how they’re feeling. Listened to the things they’re not actually saying out loud, you will increase their self-awareness as well as your own. And then you’re going to actually know, oh, okay, this is the true problem for us to solve here so that we can get back on the same page. So, listening, very powerful. And then the third one I would say is openness, which another way you can talk about that is vulnerability, I think. 

I think this is becoming something that leaders are understanding more and more, but too many leaders I think still believe that they’re supposed to know, or they’re supposed to be able to figure things out. And their lack of vulnerability in conversation leads them to actually show up with more rigidity, which again, stifles communication, it can shut down conversation and it can harm trust actually. So, when leaders can go first with vulnerability, go first with being open about what they’re really thinking and feeling, being open about you know, what they’d liked. We use that Fric acronym again, here to invite leaders to be more open, then others tend to also be more open. And that’s where we get more information flowing back and forth. Trust increases, collaboration increases and performance, super

Steve Rush: Super lessons. Thank you. Next part of the show we call it Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something in your work or your life hasn’t worked out. Could even screwed up, but as a result of the experience you’ve learned from it, and it’s now serving you well, what would your Hack to Attack be? 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Hmm, well, I think, you know, the biggest one for me for sure, was what I had described earlier with, you know, my experience finding out that I was actually stifling the people that I worked with without even realizing it. But I’ll go a little bit deeper into that whole recovery process because once I became more self-aware and I realized that I was not actually creating psychological safety within my team, my immediate go-to response was to try to imitate other people who seemed like they were doing it well. And it seemed, you know, I think I was still like mid-twenties at that point. So, I was like, oh, this is great, you know, I can just watch behavior and I can model that behavior. I even had like acting experience as a kid. I was like, oh, I can totally nailed this.

I can behave like this. I can act this way. And I came to learn, unfortunately in the first several months of trying this approach, that trying to only shift my behavior only shift how I was showing up on the outside without actually believing anything differently about the world, or really just sort of being in a lot of inner turmoil. I was actually still hurting trust. So, people were noticing that I was showing up differently, so totally know how to be around me because they could feel that I wasn’t being myself. And so, you know, I think the Hack to Attack would be to don’t think that you can just focus on shifting behavior and think that all the rest will follow, really see what the belief is underneath. How can you rewire your brain? That’s driving the behavior. So, the behavior changes is a more natural, more emergent reality. So, focus on what is it that I believe about myself and the people around me, because that’s, what’s driving my behavior. How can I shift those beliefs around? Because you know that at least some of those beliefs are wrong, right? So much of what we believe is wrong. So, if I can shift my beliefs and allow the behavior change to follow, that’s going to be a much more genuine way to approach growth.

Steve Rush: And ironically, you know, from a psychology perspective, you know, this more than most being an organizational psychologist, we have as human beings in innate BS monitor through our neuro transmitters. 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yes.

Steve Rush: Whereas we listing and smelling it and sussing this out straight away that it’s not congruent. And then straight away we can recognize that it doesn’t feel right.

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Absolutely. Even if we’re not totally sure what it is, we’re like that conversation did not feel good.

Steve Rush: Exactly, exactly. And the last thing we’re going to do is ask you to do a bit of time travel bump into Laura at 21. And you now get to give us some advice, what would it be?

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Oh, I would want her to recognize as early as possible that she does have very strong perfectionist tendencies and that this drive with perfectionist tendencies is actually working against her. So, I would want her to lean into being messy and recognize that, you know, you go forward even five or six years in your life and nobody gives a crap about your grades. So, like there were so many things that I was so focused on that just didn’t matter. And of course, you know, getting good grades in college helped me get into grad school and that’s great, but I literally will tell students now, especially those who are in grad school and like, you know what, just learn, focus on learning. I’m like, I don’t know if I would’ve listened to this advice myself, but I was so focused on the evaluative component of it. And any advice that I could have given to Laura at 21 to encourage her to instead focus on the journey and focus on the learning and growth that’s occurring rather than this sort of, how do I look to other people?

Steve Rush: Fantastic advice, really good stuff. So, we’re going to have to find some way of working together, you and I, because we’ve got lots of parallels and lots of commonalities in terms of the work that we do. 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: I would love that. 

Steve Rush: We have to do that. 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yes.

Steve Rush: But outside of today, our listeners are probably wanting to learn how they can get to know a bit more about you, GALLAHER EDGE, when the book comes out, how can they find him? Where’s the best place for us to send them? 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Best place to find me is at I know a lot of people think it’s Gallagher, because that’s way more common, but it’s actually GALLAHER. So, and there you can you can email me and you can see our phone number there, or you can just see the different ways that we work with people.

Steve Rush: We will make also, they’re in our show notes so that people can go straight away from listening to this and connect with you. 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Thank you.

Steve Rush: Laura, I love talking with you. It’s been a few months since we met last and every time, I do speak with you, I get this real sense of desire for more learning. You spark things in me. So that’s been great and I hope our listeners have got that out of our show today. And I just want to say thank you for coming on and being part of our community and wish you every success with the book launch. And we’ll have to get you back on the show in the future. 

Dr. Laura Gallaher: Thank you so much, Steve. 

Steve Rush: Thank you, Laura.


Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers. 

Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

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