Inspiring leaders focus on what is important.
The incredible Carmen Spencer is Sr Director in People Experience at Sony Music Entertainment and last week she shared her perspective about what makes a leader inspirational.
A few years ago Carmen worked with an inspirational leader, Richard Lan, who she says inspired who she is as a leader today. Early in Carmen’s career she had the impression that work was about the hours you put in. She assumed that if she logged off for 2 hours mid day, she must let her boss know she was going to log back on 2 hours that evening to make up for it. Fortunately when working with Richard he told her, “As long as you’re getting your job done, I don’t care how many hours you’re logged on for”.
This stuck with Carmen, because she realized Richard had a mindset that focused on what was important and got the most out of his people. He realized that everyone works a little differently and that it wasn’t about the hours someone put in, and instead it was about the quality of work they could deliver. To Carmen this was inspirational because it showed her Richard truly listened to his team members and saw them as individuals, he empowered them to get their job done in the way that works best for them, and he knew that what was best for the company was to focus on the output and the goal, not micromanage how they got there.
Sarah: Hello, Carmen. Thank you so much for being here. I am super pumped to chat with you about inspirational leadership. I had the pleasure of meeting you at a panel event that Believe hosted, and your words of wisdom were always on fire. Just so succinct, so eloquently said, and so I am really looking forward to this conversation. Welcome.
Carmen: Thank you so much, Sarah. Thanks for having me again. Always excited to be able to partner with organizations such as yours.
Sarah: Yeah. So I’ve been so fortunate to have a few of these conversations now, really exploring about the many ways people can identify or see someone as inspirational. And so I’m very curious to know what is your definition of inspirational leadership?
Carmen: Yeah, I think that’s such a great question. A lot of the things in the work I do and the way in which I engage with individuals, it goes back to the fundamentals. And I often say that people are probably tired of me saying the same things over and over again, but they really are the basics. And it’s having respect for those people around you. At a very early age, we’re taught to respect our peers and respect our friends and respect our family members, and there’s something to be said about it. It’s so important. And so I think that is a big thing. I think having some kind of value system is also important and that value system aligning to the organization and aligning to the people that you work with. It’s important to have diverse individuals that you bring into your teams. It’s important from a thought perspective as well as from their experience and things like that. But it’s also important to share some values across the board.
Sarah: And when you say respect, how does respect show up? How do you identify respect?
Carmen: Yeah, I think that’s an awesome question because I think respect is an interesting thing, because a lot of people think it’s just, I respect something that someone says, or I respect the way in which somebody works. But respect is it leads to you having an understanding with that individual and understanding that I respect your thought process. I respect the way that you work. I respect the way that you interact with others. And some people might think this is a little bit old school, but often we interact with people that we don’t like or that we don’t get along with. But in corporate or when you’re working, it’s important to still maintain a certain level of respect in your interactions because the world is so small. You’re going to see that person again.
Carmen: Or somebody might have seen how you interacted with them and said, “You really didn’t treat that person right.” And I understand that maybe your interactions haven’t been great, but it’s a direct reflection of you. And we talk about social media and how nothing is ever lost. You put a picture on social media and it remains there. You can search it and you can find it. Well, your interactions and the way that you interact with people? Very much the same way. It’s a stored memory for people. And so people remember how you interacted with perhaps it is the environmental engineer or it’s how you interacted with the president or how you interacted with that child. People keep that memory.
Sarah: If your definition of inspirational leadership is that inspiring leaders respect others, and that shows up in coming from a place of understanding, if I’m capturing this appropriately, and recognizing that people are going to be different and that is okay.
Carmen: Yes. Definitely. Definitely. People have different communication styles. People have different learning styles. People react differently, but as a leader, as long as you can respect those differences, and like I said, it’s not just a minute difference, it’s differences across the board. And respecting that everyone brings something different to the table.
Sarah: Mm, interesting. And you said something earlier about tying it back to the value system, whether that’s yours or the organization’s, how might someone identify that value system or where do they look for it?
Carmen: Yeah. Well, we’re born with the value system. It is entrenched through whatever parental unit that we have. Whether it’s your mother and father, a traditional unit, or maybe you are raised by your grandparents or adopted. Very much like how the soil absorbs water, we absorb those values. And so we take those values and they become ours. And we try to mold them into, as we grow, our values might shift or might change, but that’s how you develop your values. It’s very fundamental.
Sarah: What I love about the two things you’ve said here about both respect and then leaning on your value system to find the way respect might show up, is that it’s almost like an inspiring leader must lead by example. Show respect, because that’s how they’re going to create the value system and the culture of their team and that organization that they’re working within. And the metaphor of like soil absorbs water, I was like, “Oh, mic drop moment right there.”
Carmen: Thank you. Thank you. You always have to link it back to something. And maybe that’s my learning and development background, is that every time I’m sharing an idea with someone, I’m thinking, “Well, wait a second, they might not think like me. So how do I set it up so that it makes sense? It is something that they can relate to.”
Sarah: I think it’s brilliant. I love that very much. Whether it’s this definition, or like I said, inspirational leadership can show up in so many different ways, what is an experience that you’ve had… And I know with your background in leadership and development, you’re a storyteller. Walk us through a moment that you’ve experienced that led you to reflect and be like, “That’s a very inspiring leader,” and you can use their name or not, but who was that? What happened? And what was the result?
Carmen: Yeah, this is a story that I tell all the time. It was probably 10 years into my career or maybe a little less working for Maple Leaf Foods. I transitioned from being a very systems and IT based individual to a role that was a learning and development role. And I reported into the chief operating officer at the time, Richard Land. And he’s such an amazing individual. Well, I was used to when I come in, I’m like, “Oh, I came in late today, but I’m going to work a little bit later. Oh, I’m leaving early today, but I’ll make sure to make up the time when I log back in tonight.” And he looked at me, he said, “Kid, I don’t care what time you come in.” He’s like, “As long as you get your work done.”
Carmen: And that was the point that I realized that this individual was looking at me not as a worker bee. Looking at me as one of 1000 bees that were in their ecosystem. He was looking at me as an individual that he realizes contributes to the organization. I use that all the time even with my teams now. I say, “I don’t care how many hours you work, as long as you’re getting your job done. It’s if you’re not getting your job done that I see an issue.” And so that’s one of the nuggets or life lessons that Richard taught me.
Sarah: I love that. And he gave you that respect to know that my work day hours isn’t necessarily the most practical workday hours for you in your environment and what’s going on in your life. And I’m sure brought a lot out of you and your team members.
Carmen: Yeah. Completely. It really shifted me. It caused a huge shift in the way that I worked and the way that I interacted with my leaders going forward, because he empowered me in a way that I had never been empowered before in any role that I had held. And so going forward, any leader that I had, I would challenge them and be like, “So why do I have to work these prescribed hours that you’re giving me? I’m delivering the work that you need. And so if I need to leave early, because I have this to do, or I need to come in late, or I’m not working this day. As long as I get my job done or my work that’s been assigned, then what’s the problem?” And so going forward, it’s always been this mindset. People are like, “Carmen, but you’re so progressive. Why are you not following up on where I am? Or why are you not doing this?”
And I’m like, “Because I trust you. I trust you until…” And my dad used to say this all the time. “I trust you until you give me a reason not to.” And I think employees need that level of trust and accountability. And there’s old school mentality of managing by walking around. And that just needs to go away altogether. We need to trust our employees until they give us a reason not to. And then that’s when you step in and determine, is it a performance management issue or is it a behavior issue? And then rectify it.
Sarah: That’s amazing. Yeah, absolutely. And I think it all blends together. This trust, this respect. It allows people the freedom required for them to be the best version of themselves. We want to make sure people have something actionable as something to take away from this already amazing conversation. What is a tactic or something that someone could act on today or walk into the office tomorrow and do to be a more inspiring leader?
Carmen: Honestly, it’s listen to your teams. We’re given two ears and one mouth for a reason. And I think a lot of time as leaders, we feel like we have to spout all these words of wisdom and go in and tell people what to do and make change, because we’ve been put into these positions of leadership. And in fact, that’s not the case. As leaders, we build teams of individuals who are subject to matter experts and the best at what they do so that we can learn from them. And I think as a leader, once we’re able to switch that mentality, that we’re supposed to be driving our people and not our people driving us, we’re setting up ourselves for success.
Sarah: Absolutely. So it’s listen to what your team needs, then respect, whether it’s resources or environmental conditions they require to be their best selves, and then align that to the value system that your team and your organization stand for.
Sarah: Absolutely brilliant. I love it, Carmen.
Carmen: Thank you.
Sarah: You are such a wise lady. I am so lucky to know you. And I just really appreciate you providing us your insights. I know that you do a lot of work in this space of both building and inspiring teams. And so we appreciate you sharing your wisdom with us, and I’m looking forward to everyone else getting to know a little bit more about the way that you inspire.
Carmen: Thank you so much. Always a pleasure. I love what you’re doing and this work that you’re doing. Especially with the youth, I think it’s so important. So anytime you need me to come and speak about soil and water absorbing, then I am definitely here for you.
Sarah: Thank you so much, Carmen.