146 : Black Women in Leadership (w/ Alicia Wade)

Zach sits down with Alicia Wade, a results-driven leader who works as a district manager at Banana Republic, to speak about black female leadership. Alicia shares her career journey with us and offers some advice for young black and brown women entering the professional space. She and Zach also discuss the concept of proactive feedback and how to effectively solicit it at work.

Alicia is the CEO of The HR Source – check it out!

Connect with Alicia on LinkedIn and Twitter!

TRANSCRIPT

Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate. Now, listen, you know what we do. We come to y’all and we bring to y’all, you know, some type of, you know, fire for your head top, right? We have some type of creative, executive leader, public servant, you know, public speaker, educator, entrepreneur, artist. You know, we have somebody, typically of the, you know, melanated variety, but sometimes not. Sometimes we’ve got some Winter Soldiers, or some Buckys, if you will. Some aspirational allies. But we’re having real conversations that center black and brown experiences, and today is no different. Today we have the Alicia Wade. [air horns sfx] Now, listen here, for those who don’t know, Alicia Wade actually was one of my first bosses. I’ma say bosses ’cause she is a boss, but she was one of the first people at my first job, when I worked at Target, that was in a leadership position that I had ever seen a black person in a leadership position–actually, the first time I had ever seen a black woman in a leadership position. But I don’t want to go ahead and take away from her thunder, so I’ma go ahead and introduce her right now. Alicia, welcome to the show. How are you doing?

Alicia: I am amazing. How are you doing today?

Zach: I’m doing really, really well. Now, look, I gave a very, like, non-intro intro for you, so why don’t you go ahead and tell us a little bit about yourself?

Alicia: Okay. Where do you want me to start? 1980? [laughs]

Zach: You know what? 1980 would not be that bad. Was it the day time or was it late at night?

Alicia: It was the morning in the spring.

Zach: Okay, okay.

Alicia: Yes, for sure. [laughs] But no, I was–you know, I started–you know, to your point around starting as a boss, I really wasn’t always a boss. Maybe bossy, but for sure. You know, I–kind of just giving a background of education and then really where I started my career, but, you know, I went to the University of Oklahoma, so I have to shout that out because, you know, the amazing Boomer Sooner, and I actually did–

Zach: Okay, okay.

Alicia: Yeah, my undergrad degree there, political science, communication, and then went straight to grad school. So for me I share that background because I just really, you know, was one of those black girls that had a list. I knew what I was gonna be. If you asked me when I was growing up, I just knew I was gonna be a lawyer, and then all that changed when I went to school and I was like, “I don’t really wanna go to school for, like, three more years and, like, read and do all of that.” So I went to grad school at Baldwin-Wallace. It’s actually a university now. It was a college then. It is in Berea, Ohio. Do you know where Berea is?

Zach: No, where is that?

Alicia: So it is actually, you know, the campgrounds for the Cleveland Browns. So it is right outside of Cleveland in Ohio.

Zach: Oh, okay, okay.

Alicia: Yes, so if you fly into Cleveland, you’re technically in Berea. So I was there, I did my MBA there, and I think through that journey I really realized that I had just a knack for wanting to be on teams, obviously being a student athlete and an athlete my whole life. I think that’s really where I kind of moved into HR. So starting to your point around being one of your first bosses, I actually started with Target in their training program and did several roles there. So I had an opportunity to be at the store level, district and regional level in HR, and then actually–I was actually there for about 9 years and then moved onto Ross Dress for Less in an HR capacity and did that and then moved over to operations and did that for probably–well, how long when I was in operations there? For two years. So the total time I was there for 5 years, if you’re following, and then now–

Zach: I am.

Alicia: Yeah. And then now currently I’m actually with Gap, Inc., with the Banana Republic division [“ow” sfx] as a district manager. So yeah, that’s kind of where I am now.

Zach: So that’s incredible, and it’s interesting. So today we’re really talking about black female leadership, right? So you talked about this path that you went on, and then there were points in time where you kind of had to pivot, right? ‘Cause you had this very clear plan. Can we talk about, like, what was the cause–what was the cause, like, for you to say, “Look, I don’t want to do this particularly.” ‘Cause you said that you were drawn to being on teams, but, you know, you can be a team and still be a lawyer. So, like, what was the moment that made you say, “You know what? I need to do something different.”?

Alicia: Well, you know what? I think what I realized in being on teams is that, you know, kind of–I mean, I probably wouldn’t say I had the words for it then or the language or even had done the discovery for my own, like, strength and [?] of what that really was, but I did realize that I was really good at making other people better. So to your point, being a track athlete. It could be, like, individual, right? You could do your thing and then also [?] relays, but I felt like at that point I did know that I was really good around motivating other people and that I had an energy that other people fed off of, and I don’t know if that was necessarily–would have been [conveyed?] for me. Some people would have through a book or through research. So I just felt like, you know, that leadership role, I was always pushed in those roles. So, like, even when I was at OU, I was a black student president. I was in leadership roles through my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. If you have sound effects, it would be a good time to add that right there.

Zach: You want, like, a skee-wee or something? I don’t have anything like that. Aren’t y’all–wait, y’all be suing people. I’m not messing with you on this. [both laugh]

Alicia: It could just be an amazing, like, “Alpha! Kappa! Alpha!” So anyway–[both laugh]–you heard that? Like, that little echo? It was amazing.

Zach: I did.

Alicia: Yes, and you had a picture in your mind of it being magnified, right? [Zach laughing] But we digress. So, you know, through those experiences in college, I think that’s where that discovery came for me.

Zach: Okay. Okay, cool. No, no, no. Listen, I’ma tell you something, ’cause y’all do be suing people, ’cause I saw somebody was making a joke–somebody made a joke about Kamala Harris and they put that AKA symbol on there, and it was on Twitter, and all the reactions on Twitter was [Law and Order sfx]. I said, “Wait a second. Relax, everybody.” [Alicia laughing]

Alicia: Well, you know what? Well, at least that sound effects knows–I think all of us through our childhood know that something epic was about to happen. So at the very least it’s like, “Wait a minute,” and we got their attention, right? And we’re compliant. We’re compliant, so we’re good.

Zach: [ow sfx, laughing] All right, so let’s talk about this, because you’re–when you talk about the roles that you’ve had and kind of going through the leader–you went through a training program, right? So you went through, like, an actual development program when you started at Target. Can we talk a little bit about what are some of the core things you learned through that program and what are some pieces that you feel like you picked up through that program that you wouldn’t have otherwise?

Alicia: Oh, my gosh. You know, it was so interesting. I talked–it’s funny, you know, looking at what you do now, right, and where I am, and how that all started there, right? And I see that a lot. So I talk to a lot of peers that are in so many different capacities now in their career, and we all talk about the commonality with this, right? So I think for me–the good part is when you work for a company that has very structured development, or I should say an expectation that a supervisor shows up a certain way. Even if somebody doesn’t have the capability or even the want to do it, it happens. So with that being said, I didn’t always have supervisors that were able to show up in that way for me, but I would say the biggest thing I’ve learned, and it’s a life lesson, is how I manage my expectations of other people, right? And I share that because I hear that a lot, especially as I even mentor, you know, younger, to your point, black and brown people today. If they’re entering to the workforce and they have this expectation because of someone’s title or their age or, you know, maybe their past experiences, and when they don’t get that they are very discouraged. So that was a big lesson for me because I just came in and–you know, being from Houston, I think, you know, when you think about, like, a Southern culture, you really, you know, have a lot of respect, you know, for people. So I was like, “Yes, ma’am,” “No, sir,” and then when I realized people didn’t show up very professional in some cases, I had to–to your point through this program–really position myself to not let that be a distraction, and I share that background because I think one of the biggest things that I had to learn, particularly around communication, is I showed up very rigid in a lot of those environments, whether it was, you know, day-to-day, whether it was in a mixer or things–and there was a lot of promotional opportunities that passed me because people just didn’t know who I was, you know? It was just kind of like–you know, it was–I showed up in the workplace thinking, “You just don’t share those kind of things,” right? Like, they don’t need to know what I do at home. And people wanted to, and it was important. So it’s interesting, even as you do the intro today to say I was the first person that you saw, right? A person of color that related to you. That was a journey for me to get there, to realize that, and that was a big learning. And even today, you know? Like, obviously with Coco, you know, in the tennis championships now and seeing her and all this conversation about how animated she is, and, you know, just–it’s so raw. Like, that is kind of how I showed up, you know what I mean? And being an athlete, being an aggressive, being this–and that didn’t always translate into positive for me. [laughs]

Zach: No, no, I hear you. But this is the thing about that though, right? I think that we’ve also been–so I’ma speak for myself, and I’ve also seen, like, my peers, is black folks, you know, it’s–there’s a certain level of guardedness that we’re taught to have just because, like, you know, “Look, there’s only a few of us. Don’t mess anything up. Don’t put yourself out there too far.” And I also think culturally we just have this thing around, like, sharing our personal business in ways that, like–there are things we just don’t talk about at work, you know what I’m saying? And so there’s this–but to your point though, there’s this challenge of, like, “Okay, well, what’s the line? How vulnerable can you make yourself?” Because people aren’t gonna want to promote or work with somebody that they don’t know. Like, most people anyway. I don’t–I don’t care. Listen, I just want to do the job. It’s fine. But I’m learning, and I’ve learned, that, you know, people just feel more comfortable if they know you a little bit. And so my question is how did you create that cocktail for yourself? Like, how did you come into–you know, what is it that I really want to share? What will I still kind of hold back? Like, how did you kind of give yourself permission to be a bit more vulnerable at your job?

Alicia: Yeah, for sure. So I can think of a couple of things. So I can think of an experience where I was actually interviewing, and I was pregnant at the time, and we were doing, like, a Skype, like, interview, because, you know, the actual people that were doing the mock interviews were in other locations, and it was an African-American female. She was in a supervisor position. And we’re going through, and I’m thinking–and I share this story often–like, you know, I’m prepared. I’ve got all my notes. And the message I was trying to convey was someone who was reliable, right, and qualified. So I had all of that to the–you know, bringing that to the table, and I just remember her, like, cutting me off mid-sentence. Like, ugh. Who are you? I’m not feeling you right now, and you need to get it together. And, like, inside–you know, like, we all–we’ve done so much, particularly as African-American females, to pull it all together and present this package, and when someone is unraveling that it’s like, “Wait a minute,” right? And that’s what happened in that moment for me. But to your point around creating that cocktail, that, like, having her say it’s okay and seeing her show up as herself and still be professional, you know, and great at her job, like it wasn’t this caricature, right? She was herself. She was professional. She was someone I looked up to, and she was still herself. She didn’t become anybody else. It helped give me that courage. But I think for me, like, the steps towards that was me finding things that I was okay to share, right? Like, so to kind of, like, put a little, like, pinky toe in the water. So it’s like, “Okay, I like to work out,” you know? “So let me talk about that, and then maybe I’ll build a connection,” and then I just continued to build upon that, about things that, you know, I feel comfortable with, but then I think I learned in that is that that’s what motivates people. And then I thought about–I made it personal. Like, I want to know what’s important to my boss, right? Like, I want to know them as a person, and then when I started to meet with people and I started to, you know, move up in my career in multi-unit positions and interacted, to your point, at so many different levels with people, I was able to meet people at their level and then also connect at that level.

Zach: So then what advice would you have, right, for the young black woman, young brown woman, coming into the professional space who does have it all together? ‘Cause you’re absolutely right, like, there is–and I believe this translates to black men as well. Like, you know, we try to come with, like, “Look, I got this, I got this. I’m tight. Like, I’ve got all of these different things. If they ask me this, I’ma say that. If they ask me this, I’ma say that.” When you don’t have someone who is gonna kind of give you the assurance that it’s okay to be yourself and who isn’t maybe, you know, guiding you along, what advice would you give to someone who is trying to break out of their shell a little bit?

Alicia: Yeah. You know what? I would share–I guess this is where, like, the academic in me comes out, because I also teach at the University of Houston. So it’s a great opportunity [ow sfx] as an adjunct professor–aye, let’s go. I [?] from OU to our great Cougars here. 

Zach: To UH. Uh.

Alicia: Yes, there we go. H-Town in the house. [both laugh] But one of the things that I share there with the students all of the time is around, like, the dialogue, right? And you have internal dialogue in yourself that you’re having, and you can get distracted about maybe, you know, cues that you’re not getting from people, right? So even in this conversation, there’s things that you’re doing that are affirming me that we’re on track, right? And vice versa, and sometimes we don’t get that, not because we’re wrong–it’s because you may be the first person that this, you know, particular person has interacted with like you, if that makes sense, right? So just because you may be sharing, right, about whatever that may be that’s very personal or maybe you think is cultural and they’re looking at you a certain way, that doesn’t mean that that’s wrong, right? Or that you shouldn’t share it. It just may be a new experience, and you can’t let those external things go along. Then it starts to spiral and you’re not showing up as your authentic self. So I think you have to get to a place where “Hey, this is who I am,” you know? And continue to show up that way, because any time I feel like you’re–you feel like you are a fraud or you are trying to act like other people, you’re never gonna come across as someone that other people want to be around anyway – in my opinion. So that would be my advice.

Zach: No, you’re absolutely right. Now, you know, you talked a little bit about your sorority, but, you know, everybody, Alicia, is not blessed to don the pink and green and wear the pearls and toss the [?] hair, right? Everybody don’t have a community that they come into. So for the folks that are kind of doing [?], what does it look like–what would you suggest that they do to kind of build those networks in those kind of, like, trusted spaces?

Alicia: Absolutely, and I think that is definitely something along the journey that I had to learn, even though I was in those environments, because no one in my family really has worked–like, most of–particularly the women are in education, right, and I was kind of brought up that if you weren’t a teacher or a nurse, what do you do? Right? So I totally can relate to someone who maybe is not even able to go home or, especially as a new professional, being able to talk to your parents about your experiences, but I would say you have to be very intentional around finding–and not necessarily somebody that looks like you, but maybe they are–whether it’s a position or they have the characteristics that you want to possess, that could be a star for you. I think the other piece is maybe somebody that’s maybe struggling in the same area as you are, right? So let’s say you see someone that is in a position that you want to be in, and let’s say communication is your opportunity–it’s, like, you’re not necessarily the most articulate person, right, but you aspire to do, but you see that person is maybe in a certain role, connecting with them to ask, like, how did they work around that, right? And maybe you don’t feel comfortable going straight to them. Maybe you’re in an environment that that’s not appropriate and you don’t have that access to that person, but what events can you go to, right? Like, can you be intentional to say, “Hey, my work schedule doesn’t necessarily afford me to do A, B, and C, but there is this networking opportunity at this time through my church,” right? Look around you, and I think if you approach it, your development or an area of growth around the abundance as opposed to the limitations, you will find somebody that is gonna be willing to help you or even–they may not even realize they’re helping you and you know you’re going with that very intentional question and they can answer it for you and you get that nugget, right? [ow sfx] And then you just start believing it. Yes.

Zach: No, you’re absolutely right. And you know what? I just–I appreciate this because, you know, it’s about being resourceful, right? Like, you’ve got to reach out and use and just think beyond, you know, your initial, you know, four corners or whatever and just reach out a bit, because there are resources available. You’ve got Google, which is, like, this huge thing where you can, like, type in things into this, like, little square, and then when you press Enter then a bunch of things pop up. You know, there’s just all types of resources out there, so you gotta get busy. You gotta get out there.

Alicia: Right. But I think to your exact question, even though we have so much information, people are not necessarily more informed per se about specific things when it comes to their career, and I challenge people, particularly to your point minorities a lot and people in my circle where, you know what, their Instagram is popping, their Facebook, like, you have all the great pictures, angles, but then you don’t have a LinkedIn account or you don’t have an updated resume or you don’t have a CV. So it’s like you’ve invested all of this time of creating and crafting this image but not necessarily the same for your professional, right?

Zach: Wait a minute. [Flex bomb sfx] What you talking about? You’re dropping these bombs over here talking about–so wait a second though, and I know you’re church, so you’re over here talking about “so you’ve crafted this image.”

Alicia: Yes, Jesus. We’ve got one of them anointed words right there, right? Yes, hallelujah. 

Zach: “But it’s not real!” Then part of me, I was like [“and i oop” sfx]. You know what I’m saying? I was like, “Oh, my gosh.” Like, that’s real though. 

Alicia: Yes, wave your hands in there.

Zach: No, that’s true though.

Alicia: Yes, it is, and it’s just–recently I had a mentee that I was talking to, and she was preparing for an interview, but she’d post every day on, like, her Insta story, right? Like, videos. She looks beautiful in these videos. And I said, “Well, why don’t you use something you do every day?” Like, you want to convey this message. Like, have you ever looked at yourself when you’re trying to talk about your career? And she’s like, “I never thought about that,” and I said, “Well, you clearly like looking at yourself, right? So why don’t you start there?” Like, it is around you. So that’s what I would say. I think it’s kind of step back, realize what you do have, and just start somewhere small, right? Like, it doesn’t have to be a program that costs thousands of dollars. It doesn’t have to be dropping the name of, you know, this person is my mentor or, you know, they have this title. It really may be the secretary in, you know, your particular office that is someone that is warm, that may be older than you that can give you some advice around navigating that environment that you can learn from at the level you’re at right now.

Zach: No, I love that. 100%. And I’m curious, you know, we talked a little bit about–again, we started off talking about leadership, and we talked about you coming into yourself. So that was self-management. Let’s talk about what does it look like for you to manage others. Particularly what I’d like to talk about is, like, the art of influence, as well as really giving effective feedback. So you and I both–well, so you started at Target, I also started at Target, and I think a large part of the element of Target, the culture at the time was really about, like, you know, positive feedback, public praise, and I’ve seen that you’ve carried that forward in your positions with Gap, specifically Banana Republic, and how you give feedback. So can we talk a little bit about that and, like, your theory or your philosophy around feedback and, like, your practices on how you give it to your team?

Alicia: Yeah, for sure. You know, I think feedback is something that I value, and I think it starts–you know, my brother and I talk about this all the time because he plays sports, actually football, and is currently still in the field with athletics, and we talk about how that shows up in the workplace of people that are used to being coached, right? Like, you’re used to looking at a video and a group of people sitting around critiquing it, right? And really understanding that there’s a moment that you have to capture right now. Like, you don’t have another day or a week to wait. So I think that kind of shaped my philosophy per se, if there is one, is that you have to [?] find and be aware as a boss, right, or a manager of those coachable moments and not wait. You know, I think we’ve all been in situations where somebody sat us down and they had a list, and you think, like, “Wow.” You know, like, all of these things that they’re telling you that you need to get better at, or examples, and you’re sitting there, and at a point you just look around like, “Wow, why didn’t they tell me then?” Like, “I had no clue,” right? So I think that’s what I never want to be as a supervisor. I never want somebody to be shocked, right? And I also want them to know, like, “I’m giving you this feedback because I believe you can improve,” right? ‘Cause I think a lot of times, particularly–if I bring this to your point of our audience here of, like, black and brown people, particularly for black women, when I mentor them there’s a lot of times the absence of feedback means that there’s an absence of a problem. “Oh. Well, nobody told me that.” It’s like, “That does not mean that you didn’t need to get better.” And I think–I share that because the next part of it is, even in my self-journey and things like that or my own development, there’s a lot of times I would get feedback and I would want to make it about the other person. Like, “Well, if they just got to know me, then they would know that’s not really how I am.” Like, “I’m not really like that,” right? Or “If they gave me a chance to do it, then they would just know,” opposed to thinking, “No, we’re talking about this specific instance.”

Zach: Right now.

Alicia: “Right now. Can you understand how you’re showing up, how it could be–just the possibility of how it could be perceived this way?” And in that space, what can you control and move forward with? So I think with my team, I try to make sure that I create that–like, we create that as an agreed-upon communication from the beginning, right? Like, so they’re not shocked, ’cause I don’t want to assume that you’ve gotten this before, right? And I want you to also understand my intent. So we talked about in the beginning, like, “Hey, here’s how I communicate. Here’s what I do, and let me know if that works for you,” and a lot of times I found that people don’t really know how they like to get feedback until they get it. [laughs] ‘Cause it’s like, “Actually, I don’t really want–” You know, they think that they don’t like it or it’s gonna be odd or it’s, like, gonna be breaking them down, and then once they realize, like, this is gonna be a feedback-rich environment, then I think people buy in, but I also feel like it’s a great way–I’m in a, you know, environment particularly in retail that moves very fast, right? And it is very results-driven. So if you are in an environment where productivity or–it’s high-functioning, then I think it’s very rewarding. I am aware that there are environments, right, like, when I go into, like, an educational space, where it’s not as frequent, right? And you don’t have–it’s like an event when you get feedback. I think you really have to meet the person where they are, and I think you have to make sure that they understand where it’s coming from, and that’s my thoughts about it. 

Zach: No, I love that. And, you know, this is the thing, because–you know, background and upbringing is all very important, because I would just–for me, it was primarily my mom and I growing up, and my mom would just tell me all of the time, like, you know, “Hey, you need to do this better. You need to change da-da-da-da.” Like, “You need to clean it up, boy. You’re looking crazy out here.” So it’s not–it wasn’t odd to me to get, like, direct feedback at work. I think it was reinforced by Target too ’cause Target was such a feedback–and I think retail is like that in general, as an industry, right? Because, like you said, it’s results-driven, it’s very action-oriented, and it’s execution-focused and execution-oriented that you’re gonna have to get this feedback ’cause we gotta get this stuff done, and so what has been a challenge for me though, Alicia, has been, like, transitioning outside of retail and just realizing, like, the–I don’t know, like, just the fragility of folks. So, like, have you ever had a situation as a black person, as a black woman, giving feedback to a non-black person, and they, like, crumble like you’ve just destroyed them?

Alicia: I have, yeah.

Zach: Okay. Can we talk about it?

Alicia: Yeah. You know, I can think of several. You know, there’s one that’s coming up, like, top of mind, but I probably would say it’s pretty common, and this is how it happened. And to your point, you know, the person reacted very emotionally, and in that moment I had to pause and ask, like, “What are these tears about right now? Because what I’m saying shouldn’t be causing tears,” right? Like, I’m sharing an observation about something we already have–you know, sometimes you may have something that’s very specific, right, that you can measure it, but I also find, particularly in being in the HR space, right, that it’s very hard to coach people or for people to give feedback on something they can’t measure. So to your point, you start having this very what feels like abstract conversation, like “What are we really talking about?” And then the person can become defensive if you don’t have measurables to say, “Hey, look. See, this is what I mean.” And in that particular conversation, that’s what the person was–I would use the word argued. Maybe argued is not the right word, but they were, you know, disagreeing, right? Like, “Well, I don’t see it that way,” and I think we had to disagree in that space of “It is okay for you not to agree. However, what we have to agree upon is that you do have to value my opinion as your supervisor,” right? “And let’s also agree that we don’t have to.” Right? Like, we can be in this space and see this totally different–

Zach: And it still be okay.

Alicia: And it still be okay, you know? And I’m not asking you to change your perspective. I’m just putting you on notice, right, like, that this is the way that it looks to me and this is how I would like us to move forward, and in this particular conversation, the person was not ready to talk about the path forward. They weren’t, because they were still stuck and just kind of thinking around, and I think you have to know, like, not to overbear–you know what I mean? Like, be overbearing.

Zach: Yeah, overwhelming.

Alicia: Yeah, overwhelming, ’cause this may be truly–regardless of their age, regardless of the position that they’re in, this may be the first time that they’ve heard this, and you have to respect that, right? So to your point, you’ve grown up being told, like, “You’re not all that. Okay, no, you need to go change,” or, like, “Ugh,” and that’s not something that’s crumbling for you, right? But someone that’s never gotten honest feedback from someone that loves them, you don’t know what that background is in the workplace, right? So somebody shows–

Zach: That’s real.

Alicia: You know, somebody shows up, and then once again going back to that us being comfortable, right, and us being–like, you can’t take that as that you did something wrong, because now you can retreat and not be operating in a space that you need to. So yeah, I’ve absolutely had that, and, you know, what I’ve done for me is that follow-up is really important. So comment back, like, “Let’s agree upon a time on when it’ll be good to revisit this,” ’cause I find a lot of times for certain people avoidance is a tactic that they use, right, when it comes to conflict, and that’s the most ineffective thing that you can do, right? Like, time does not cure all, right? In fact, it makes it worse, because we had this conversation 6 months ago and we still said nothing, right? Or that was last year during your annual review that we talked about it, or as a peer we worked on this project together, but that was–we only do that once a quarter, right? And I didn’t really like working with you, and you had an attitude, or you were late, or I didn’t really like the quality of your work, but we never really got to the root cause for us to move forward. So I come back to “Okay, you know, last time we spoke this is where we landed. How are you feeling today?” You know? And not let people off the hook with making it about you.

Zach: You know, that’s just a really good point. That last part is huge, because it is easy for me–’cause I’m a bit of a narcissist, so–[both laugh] 

Alicia: It’s something you–right, but you can internalize it, right? 

Zach: Right, absolutely. Like, and so it’s like, “Okay, well, then, clearly this is something I did wrong. Okay, how can I improve?” And, like, you know, a part of you thinks, like, “Oh, well, this is me being accountable.” It’s like, “Yeah, but you’re being accountable at a toxic–at a point that’s not even accurate or helpful,” because you’re centering yourself and internalizing to the point that we’re not actually getting to a solution, you know what I mean?

Alicia: Yeah. But I think too to your point around accountability, and this is something that I’ve, you know, from a learning–you know, to your question initially, that’s an area where, like, accountability overused has gotten in the way, right, for me of, like, working too much or, you know, it could come across as aggressive, or–you know, those things, and you’re really overly accountable, and I think that’s where understanding what accountability and responsibility looks like, right? So you may be in that environment. You’re accountable for whatever that project, and that’s why you’re giving this feedback, but that person is responsible as well, you know, to show up a certain way or deliver in those areas, and how do you balance that, you know, so it doesn’t–like, obviously you gotta work on, maybe in that space, what you need to do, but there’s also something that they needed to work on, and we can’t be distracted about how it came across to them, per se.

Zach: No, you’re absolutely right, and you’re right, like, we do overuse that word, and, you know, I think–again, like, it’s an old phrase, but, like, accountability is a two-way street. Like, it’s not–because if one person is always accountable and the other person is never accountable, then that’s–that’s toxic. Like, that doesn’t make sense.

Alicia: Yes, and I think if you become–like, especially when we think about giving feedback, right, and we’re thinking about whether that’s from a generational or we think about from a cultural standpoint, we have to make sure that that’s a two-way street, and if you’re the only person trying to work through this relationship, then you really aren’t growing in how to manage and work with people that don’t look like you.

Zach: You know, I just–[straight up sfx] I mean, you’re right. What can I say?

Alicia: Hol’ up! [both laugh]

Zach: Man. Okay, so this has been a great conversation. So, you know, there are times for me where–you talked earlier about, like, people giving you feedback and, like, sitting you down with a laundry list of feedback. We also just talked about accountability and responsibility. For me, I really enjoy the idea of soliciting feedback, because I’m trying to–like, you know, in the idea of you trying to sit me down and have some laundry list of stuff, I’m just over here like [“stupid, i’m not gonna let you get the chance” sfx] You know what I’m saying? I’m just trying to, like, make sure I’m proactive, okay? 

Alicia: [both laughing] Right, right. Like it’s above me now, right?

Zach: Listen. Okay, so my question to you is what are your thoughts on proactive feedback? And what are ways that you solicit feedback from your team and from your leadership?

Alicia: Yeah. So this is–oh, my gosh, this is definitely a gem for me when I think about just development for myself. I think I’ve been in situations where I’ve had supervisors that weren’t able to give me feedback, right, because I was meeting goals, I was doing a really good job, and it was meeting their expectations, right? So you go and you ask and you solicit and it’s like, “Oh, it’s great.” Like, “There’s nothing you can do better,” and that’s never worked for me, you know? And maybe because the way that I’m wired, you know? Like, I really want to even get feedback around, like, what did you like? Like, what am I doing well so I can know what to repeat, right? Or even how I got the result, and I find often that people may achieve a goal, right, or whatever it may be, and it’s kind of like, “Okay, we’re so excited,” but they cannot articulate how, right? And for me I feel like that’s kind of–there’s a silver bullet or a magic sauce, a cocktail, right, that you’re creating on how to repeat success. You have to know what you did, right? Because it may be a different environment. So for me, that’s really important for personal feedback for me, whether it be from a supervisor, a peer, or even my direct reports. Like, if we feel like we’re in a good space, right–and I would start with direct reports–that I manage, I want to know what you like, right? So if you feel like, “Hey, communication is great,” I want them to be very specific, but that’s just how I’m wired, right? Like, I want to know – do you prefer this type of communication? Do you prefer this type of recognition? Okay, when we’re working on a project, what level of autonomy do you like? So I ask, you know? I think there’s some people that it’s really easy for them and those that aren’t, so I’ll set it up. If we’re gonna have, for instance, a touch-base, or we know we’re gonna have a formal sitting down, [I] say, “Hey, when we connect, I want to give some feedback on how that went,” and I’ll put it out there, right, whether that’s in a conversation or even written, for them to prepare their thoughts. So that’s something that’s worked for me. I think with peers, I have something that’s helped me, particularly around communication and working on how I come across, ’cause that was something early in my career and I think still today. Like, my non-verbals. You know, like, that face? Like, okay. Like, having somebody in the room, you know, or your tone to say, “Okay, hey, you know, yeah, you did come across this way.” I’ve always tried to solicit people that can help me in that area, and if they aren’t there someone that I’ve seen that is an expert in the area or better than me. I go to them to say, “Hey, do you mind if I reach out to you, like, once a month just to get your ideas? It doesn’t have to be long. Would it be okay if I maybe text you or shoot this over to you and you give me some feedback?” That’s really helped also break down, you know, some barriers where–I don’t want to say competition per se, right, but it’s helped people also give [me] more feedback that maybe they wouldn’t before, right? Because I’ve already put out there, “Hey, I’m trying to get better here. You’ve already got this locked down. I’m trying to learn. Do you mind if I just–you know, if I send this to you and ask questions?” Most people are gonna be very open. So that’s something that I do a lot, and that’s how I would say I solicit feedback or try to.

Zach: No, that’s–no, no, no, that’s great, and I think, again, to your point around, like, “Well, no one told me anything so it must be fine,” it’s like the only time that I–the only time I take that attitude where “nobody told me anything, it must be fine” is if I ask you for feedback and you say, “I don’t have any feedback,” and then you come back later with something, then I’m like, “Hey, wait a second. You big buggin’ now.”

Alicia: And you know what? Here’s one thing. And, you know, I think we learn a lot from also bad supervisors or people we didn’t like working for, and that was one. I had a supervisor that comes to mind, and that’s–this is why I would say I take the approach now, because she didn’t necessarily know what she wanted things to look like, but she did–she was very good at critiquing what you put forward, and that was SO demotivating for me. In fact, it was–like, it was emotional, you know what I mean? Like, I would just be, like, hurt by it, because it was like–to your point–I went to you, asked you for feedback–“Hey, here’s my plan. This is what I’m thinking. This is the approach I want to take.” And they would be like, “Oh, yeah. Check, check. Great.” And then I [?]–you know, I felt [I?] was taking huge leaps or a risk in some cases, right, and we agreed upon this is what we were gonna do going forward, and then she would come back if maybe there were other partners that felt a certain way or it didn’t resonate with them or she saw it and then would, like, kind of break me down, you know what I mean? That list would come out of “Okay, well, you could’ve did this, and you could’ve did that,” and in that–at that time, I shut down. You know? So it became–I won’t say angry, but the hurt became–I just took a list, and then I thought, “I’m never gonna do that again,” and that didn’t help anybody, particularly me. So I think that’s when I–to your point, trying to get ahead of it now, like, not letting somebody that says, “Oh, I don’t have anything to share,” get in the way–get in the way of me moving forward.

Zach: No, you’re 100% right, and I think–so it’s both and, right? It’s you were looking for the feedback. You were soliciting it, and then you–not using that as a blocker, right? No matter what you get. So if you don’t get anything, don’t use it as a blocker. If you get something that doesn’t really align with what you think it is, then don’t use it as a blocker either. Just make sure that it’s something that you’re taking the time to do, but it shouldn’t impede you from moving forward towards whatever goals that you have. I think–like, a mentor that I have who–she’s told me this a few different times. Shout-out to you, Liz. I see you. What’s up?

Alicia: Hey.

Zach: Hey. Come on. So Liz was like “Look–” And Liz is a mentor of mine. She’s a great friend, and she was also on the show a few episodes back, actually during Pride Month, but anyway, so look. Liz said–she said, “Look, Zach, you know, the beauty of feedback is you don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to take all of it.” 

Alicia: [laughs] Right.

Zach: She was like, “You know, Zach, I think you’re burdening yourself with every time someone gives you feedback, you take that as, like, a mandate that you need to change something.” Like, that’s not–that’s not what feedback is. Feedback is something for you to consider. So the best thing you can say to someone giving you feedback? “Hey, thank you for your feedback.” That’s it. [laughs] That’s it.

Alicia: For sure, and that’s so important to your point. It’s like, there’s–if you can compartmentalize things, right, then you can do something with it later, because that feedback may be relevant at another time, and then you can see it, right? When it shows up again, but today I don’t necessarily have to create a plan based on what you said. I can just put there and say, “Oh, okay. That’s Zach’s feedback that he gave me today. Okay. All right. Hm. I don’t necessarily see it, but thank you.” And it stays right there. Yeah, I think that’s awesome.

Zach: And that’s it. But I think some of the challenge when it comes to just, like, bias in the workplace, and, like, there’s also, like, this underlying and sometimes overlying expectation that women, particularly black women, are just, like, the workhorses of whatever. So, you know, sometimes I’ve been told–you tell me if I’m right or wrong, but, like, sometimes people give you feedback with the expectation that you’re just gonna do what they say, and it’s like… that’s not necessarily the case. Like, I’m just gonna take this feedback, and I will–I will make a determination as to how, or if, I implement it into what I’m doing.

Alicia: Yes, for sure. I think–no, I agree, I think that is true for me and what I’ve seen. And even more, to take it a step further–’cause I know we’ve talked through a lot of tips on this podcast around, you know, how–you know, interviewing tips and moving forward, right? I see this a lot in interviewing people and them not being able to explain why they haven’t moved forward, right? They feel like it’s someone else’s–you know, someone else’s… I don’t know even the word. Like, it’s their responsibility or their fault. We’ll use the word fault, right? Of “Okay, I’m here,” and they can’t say why, and to me it’s like, “Okay, you’ve never gotten any feedback or no one’s ever told you or you’re not able to look at this job or see someone in that role and see what they do better than you and what–maybe even the one thing they do better than you–and what’s held you back?” And that’s the approach I take for feedback. Like, if you can think about it in that way opposed to, to your point, something that you have to change or take on or feel like you’ve got to bow down or become someone different, but really as a lens for you to see things that you may not be seeing. So that’s what I see often, particularly for black women.

Zach: Man, this has been great. Alicia, before we let you go, any parting words or shout-outs?

Alicia: Shout–I mean, when you say let you go, I feel like we’ve got to queue that Beyonce, and that has to be in the background that we have here, but–

Zach: Again, I don’t know what you don’t understand about [Law and Order sfx]. We can’t do that. I don’t own Roc-a-Fella or whoever she–or whatever she signed that thing through, or House of Dereon, LLC. I don’t know. Listen, we’re gonna have that nice, you know what I’m saying, copyright-free jazz music that you hear in the background. Trying to get us in trouble. We already said AKA a few times. They’re gonna be knocking on my door. Now you’re talking about–

Alicia: No, they’re not. They’re gonna be looking at this. We’re gonna be–they’re gonna be helping with [?] mass media, passing it out here. But no, seriously–

Zach: Come on, now.

Alicia: You know what I mean? But no, seriously, I want to–you know, if there’s a recognition, I want to recognize you, because I think, you know, creating this space, A. to have conversation, is one thing, right? But I think you being very intentional around making sure that the conversation has different perspectives, whether that be from industry, you know, whatever, right? I think that this is just very phenomenal, and I’ve seen, like I’ve said, from the beginning when you first sent out this podcast to where you are now. So I just want to, you know, tip my hat to you, brother, and really seeing how you brought also other people in to expand–it’s just fantastic. While keeping your full-time job. So round of applause. I’m super excited and just happy to be a part [kids cheering sfx]–yes. So anything, you know, that we can do in the future, any way I can continue to add to the conversation, would be the shout-out. So thank you as well. 

Zach: Oh, my goodness. Well, first of all, you’ve got me blushing. I’m turning purple. I appreciate this. And you know what? Shout-out to you, okay? ‘Cause, like I said, you were one of the first people, and, you know, the thing about it–see, the thing about Alicia–now, look, I know we have this natural hair movement now and everything. Let me tell you something. Back in, like, 2011, I walked into Target doing my thing, Alicia came through edges LAID, okay?

Alicia: All the time.

Zach: Okay? Pearls. Pearls thick, y’all. Don’t play. And she had heels on, and she was moving. She was working the floor. I was like, “Oh, my gosh. This is incredible.” So shout-out to Alicia and your whole brand, everything that you do, everything that you’ve done. Shout-out to of course, you know what I’m saying, 1906, you know what I’m saying? I got y’all. Pink and green. I respect y’all. Please do not come for my neck. Please. I appreciate y’all. I did not put no logos on this stuff. 

Alicia: There will be a logo though, in the show notes.

Zach: Oh, my gosh. Okay, yes, so we will put a logo in the show notes. It will show all of the legal information and that we are not indemnified by anything–[both laugh]

Alicia: You are so silly, for sure.

Zach: [laughs] Okay, but look, final air horns for you–[air horns sfx]–and you know what? This has been it, y’all. Thank y’all for listening to the Living Corporate podcast. Of course this has been Zach. You’ve been listening to Alicia Wade. Now, look, I usually say all of the little Twitter stuff, but look, we brolic now, okay? So I don’t have to say “follow us on this.” Just Google Living Corporate, okay? Google me. What was that–oh, yeah, Teyana Taylor I think made that song called Google Me. But no, for real, shout-out to Teyana Taylor too, but look, Google me. Just Google Living Corporate. Living–L-I-V-I-N-G–Corporate. I’m not gonna spell out corporate. I don’t have the time. But check us out. We’re everywhere. Appreciate y’all. We’ll talk to y’all soon. Peace.

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