The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast

68 Leading with Gratitude and Grit: Insights from Dr Sarah Ratekin

June 17, 2024 Dr Nia D Thomas Episode 68
68 Leading with Gratitude and Grit: Insights from Dr Sarah Ratekin
The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast
More Info
The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast
68 Leading with Gratitude and Grit: Insights from Dr Sarah Ratekin
Jun 17, 2024 Episode 68
Dr Nia D Thomas

Welcome to The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast, where we explore self-aware leadership with global thought leaders. In today's episode, our host Nia Thomas sits down with Dr Sarah Ratekin, 

Sarah grew up in the Midwest and quickly realized the toll that an unhappy work life can take on a person. She experienced first-hand how a negative workplace environment can impact every aspect of a person's life. This led her to challenge the notion of work-life balance and instead focus on the idea that life encompasses everything, including work. She believes in creating a sustainable and enjoyable work experience, rather than adhering to the belief that work should be miserable. This realization sparked her passion for advocating for healthier workplace environments and work culture.

With a focus on people as the heart of any organization, Sarah shares her journey of founding Happiness is Courage to promote positivity in the workplace.  During their conversation, Sarah discusses her inspirational journey from unenjoyable workplace experiences to becoming a chief happiness officer trained by the Woohoo Academy. She emphasizes the importance of gratitude in balancing our natural inclination towards negativity and combating the epidemic of isolation, while also delving into the concept of grit and the lack of emotional literacy in the English language.

The discussion extends to the crucial aspect of self-awareness in leadership, the impact of workplace stress, and strategies for fostering a positive workplace culture. From the need for transparency and trust to addressing organizational inflammation, Sarah and Nia provide valuable insights for nurturing kinder, more respectful, and creative working relationships.

So, join us as we embark on a journey of reflection, recognition, and regulation, aiming to develop self-aware leaders and promote a positive, healthy workplace culture.

Connect with Sarah here

Support the Show.

Find Out More
Thanks for joining me on my learning journey! Until next time...


Rate and Review
Once you've taken a listen please leave a rate and review on your favourite podcast player. A little word from you means a big deal to me!

The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast +
Become a supporter of the show!
Starting at $3/month
Support
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast, where we explore self-aware leadership with global thought leaders. In today's episode, our host Nia Thomas sits down with Dr Sarah Ratekin, 

Sarah grew up in the Midwest and quickly realized the toll that an unhappy work life can take on a person. She experienced first-hand how a negative workplace environment can impact every aspect of a person's life. This led her to challenge the notion of work-life balance and instead focus on the idea that life encompasses everything, including work. She believes in creating a sustainable and enjoyable work experience, rather than adhering to the belief that work should be miserable. This realization sparked her passion for advocating for healthier workplace environments and work culture.

With a focus on people as the heart of any organization, Sarah shares her journey of founding Happiness is Courage to promote positivity in the workplace.  During their conversation, Sarah discusses her inspirational journey from unenjoyable workplace experiences to becoming a chief happiness officer trained by the Woohoo Academy. She emphasizes the importance of gratitude in balancing our natural inclination towards negativity and combating the epidemic of isolation, while also delving into the concept of grit and the lack of emotional literacy in the English language.

The discussion extends to the crucial aspect of self-awareness in leadership, the impact of workplace stress, and strategies for fostering a positive workplace culture. From the need for transparency and trust to addressing organizational inflammation, Sarah and Nia provide valuable insights for nurturing kinder, more respectful, and creative working relationships.

So, join us as we embark on a journey of reflection, recognition, and regulation, aiming to develop self-aware leaders and promote a positive, healthy workplace culture.

Connect with Sarah here

Support the Show.

Find Out More
Thanks for joining me on my learning journey! Until next time...


Rate and Review
Once you've taken a listen please leave a rate and review on your favourite podcast player. A little word from you means a big deal to me!

Nia Thomas [00:00:06]:
Hello and welcome to the Knowing Self Knowing Others podcast where we discuss self aware leadership with thinkers from around the globe. I'm your host, Nia Thomas. Join me as we talk to today's guest. A very big welcome today to Sarah Ratekin, doctor Sarah Ratekin. Sarah, welcome to the show.

Sarah Ratekin [00:00:25]:
It's a pleasure to be here, Nia.

Nia Thomas [00:00:27]:
So Sara is a navy veteran, and now she's a workplace culture enthusiast. Sarah's journey spans various industries from government to non profit and corporate sectors, always focusing on people as the heart of any organization. And she's got a knack for simplifying the complex systems and processes, making the impossible seem doable. She founded her business, Happiness is Courage, to promote joy and positivity in the workplace. She has degrees in business administration, management, and Leadership. And Sarah blends her scientific insight with her practical strategies to enhance workplace dynamics. She also loves spreading laughter with her partner, Chris, through activities like laughter yoga. She's based in Indiana, and Sarah is on a mission to inspire and transform workplaces everywhere.

Nia Thomas [00:01:21]:
How good it is to have this conversation with you, Sarah?

Sarah Ratekin [00:01:25]:
Oh, I'm just so excited to have this conversation. I think we're gonna have a tremendous amount of fun together.

Nia Thomas [00:01:31]:
So tell us a little bit about your background. How how did you get to the position of being interested in happiness specifically and being a chief happiness officer trained? How did all that come together especially since your beginning as a navy operative?

Sarah Ratekin [00:01:47]:
Well, my early career was certainly not one that was conducive popular. And it really gave me a strong insight into how your workplace experience really infuses itself in to everything else about your life. I think we hear a lot about work life balance, but I'm not sure that's really the best paradigm. I think life exists, and we carry ourselves through our workplaces and the rest of our life, and the 2 interact quite deeply. And so that was sort of the the first hint in my head that there was something was not great. Right? This was not a great, sustainable, enjoyable activity. And I did grow up in the Midwest where there is sort of that paradigm that it's work is supposed to be miserable. That's how you know it's work.

Sarah Ratekin [00:02:46]:
And Right. And I always rejected that. And so fast forward many decades of professional experience and life experience, and I had been practicing gratitude as a personal practice really out of necessity, and I've written and blogged about that. So I don't wanna spend a tremendous amount of time on that here today. But I found for myself, gratitude was just a really useful practice in mitigating the challenges that came from life as a human. And then I was working on my first master's degree, and I was studying corporate ethics, which is not necessarily a super positive joy filled space. Right? And sheerly by luck or perhaps divine intervention, I stumbled across Shawn Achor's TED talk on the happiness advantage. And it was almost like being in a movie where the the fireworks go off and the universe sparkles and something just said, this is where you are supposed to be.

Sarah Ratekin [00:03:41]:
So I went down the research rabbit hole of trying to figure out what what was this happiness thing. Is was there something to it? Was there some way I could infuse this into my professional experience or my personal life? And my dad's a behavioral psychologist, and he was very strongly opposed to positive psychology. And to be fair, I think the early days of positive psychology were a little bit of pixie dust and and hopefulness, not a lot of research based. Right? But it's not that way anymore. And so the more I dug, the more I found that there was an incredible amount of really good science behind what creates environments where happiness can find a foothold. So I convinced my employer to send me to Europe to study with the WooHoo Academy people and to really dig deep into the science behind positive, happy, happy workplaces. And from there, it was game on. Right? There are Uh-huh.

Sarah Ratekin [00:04:35]:
There are many good reasons to create happier spaces and zero good reasons not to. And so that was that was really the the foundation of my direct focus on positivity as a professional practice.

Nia Thomas [00:04:50]:
Oh, fascinating. And I'll probably come back to you outside of this podcast because I've I've been promising myself that I'm gonna do the chief happiness officer training with the Woohoo team within the next 2 or 3 years certainly. So, yeah, that's something I'm really interested in. You've written 2 books. One is about gratitude that you that you've already mentioned and one is about, grit, resilience, and well-being. So tell us more about gratitude and and your particular interest in it.

Sarah Ratekin [00:05:19]:
Well, gratitude is a really interesting experience. So the world is a hard place. It's hard for everybody. There are lots of challenges that we face on a regular basis, and biologically, we are just wired to survive. And that means being hyper aware of all of the scary bad stuff that's coming at us, and that's fair. I mean, for the species to continue, we do need to stay alive long enough to have children and raise them to be able to continue the process. So I appreciate the instinct to lean into the negativity bias and all of that. And that's a pretty miserable way to to inf to infuse our perspective with balance.

Sarah Ratekin [00:06:04]:
And I think that's that's something that's really important to understand. When I say that happiness is important, I'm not suggesting that we should always be happy. I'm not advocating for some kind of Stepford Wife experience where everything's perfect all the time. That's not real, but it's also not real that we have to be miserable all the time. So I really find that gratitude acts as an automatic antidote to the isolation that so many of us are feeling. And it's not just the pandemic and it's not social media. I think there has been a decline in interconnectivity for people generally over the last decade or so. The pandemic certainly exacerbated that for very obvious reasons, and social media can influence that in some ways if we let it.

Sarah Ratekin [00:06:55]:
But gratitude at its core says that we acknowledge that something outside of ourselves had a positive impact on us. And so it gives us a chance to reconnect with people, places, things that bring joy and positive experiences into our world. There's a a very interesting publication that was put out by the US Surgeon General on the epidemic of isolation, and it's a it's a pretty stark look at the dangers that come from this tendency for us to withdraw into our private caves. Humans are not meant to be lone soldiers, you know, fighting the forces of the world alone. We're meant to be in community. And gratitude is both the lubricant that makes that easier because there will always be friction and the the connection that reminds us that we're not really on our own. We actually do have people around us who are actively or passively making our worlds better.

Nia Thomas [00:07:53]:
As you're talking, I'm thinking exactly as you said, doctor, Vivek Murthy in the World Happiness Summit talked about this idea of loneliness and how damaging it is both mentally and physically for people's health. And you were also talking about the idea of be grateful for what you have, and and doctor Fred Luskin at the end of the Wohashi summit did talk about, you know, the this idea of forgiveness and leaving our baggage behind us and and being grateful for what we have, which brings us right back to what you're talking about, which is this this idea of being grateful, which isn't the same as this, nonsensical, happy, smiling all the time. It's something quite different to that.

Sarah Ratekin [00:08:34]:
Absolutely. Absolutely.

Nia Thomas [00:08:36]:
Your second book, which talks about grit, resilience, how do those two things fit together, particularly when we're talking about happiness? How how does all of that play out?

Sarah Ratekin [00:08:48]:
So there is a time and there are experiences in which we simply have to survive through the experience to to the other side. And that is where grit the concept of grit is incredibly beneficial. There is no guarantee that we will ever survive any experience. However, when we can dig in and just sort of muscle through or, you know, soldier on as as we say, then that lets us survive through a really difficult time. And that's true for people in the military. It's also true for people in in just life. You know? I think about, like I have 4 kids and so there's a a moment or sometimes a couple of hours during the process of giving birth that are sheerly miserable. There is nothing beautiful about transition in childbirth.

Sarah Ratekin [00:09:34]:
It is difficult, painful, hard. On the other side of that for the vast majority of us is the amazing experience of of a child that we have brought into this world. Those moments require us to just sort of buckle down, get through it, and then pick up the pieces and move forward. The challenge I see is that the concept of gritting our teeth and bearing through it has been applied to just about every experience that we have, and it is not always the right tool for the job. So, you know, if you're in a car accident, we see these stories. Mother picks car up off of child or man fights off bear with a stick. I mean, there are all these experiences where people lean into adrenaline and cortisol and the the instincts that we have to survive. And in those moments, cool.

Sarah Ratekin [00:10:25]:
In an interaction with our partner or in the workplace, it is perhaps not ideal to lean on those those motivators to get us through. And I think resilience is simply the ability to bounce back from an experience with as little damage as possible. Sometimes we can have challenging experiences that do not leave lingering scars, emotional or otherwise, on us, and that's wonderful. Sometimes we can't. Sometimes things will leave their imprint on us, and we just have to adapt and move on with our lives. Gratitude and positivity are a different type of motivation in those spaces. They, they provide I like to think of it as a deep wellspring of strength, emotional and otherwise. Optimism is what fuels that, and it's a different emotional state to be in.

Sarah Ratekin [00:11:19]:
It's still incredibly powerful. What it doesn't do is leave us with that sort of adrenaline hangover that we get after one of those intense experiences like an automobile accident or something of that nature. I think humans are prone to wanting to distill everything into a binary experience. You know, we wanna make it as simple as possible, and I appreciate that. Our emotions are much more complex than that, and I believe that we are better off when we tap into the right tool for the job. So having the emotional intelligence to understand when grit is the right tool and when gratitude is the right tool. A great way to leverage all or more of the the resilient factors that allow us to live happier, more fulfilling, more sustainably amazing lives.

Nia Thomas [00:12:10]:
Well, that's very helpful to hear you talk through that because all of the concepts that we've talked about, I'm aware of them, but hearing you explain that pathway of how they link, really does make sense. And I think you're right. We do sometimes lean the wrong way or lean into the wrong fixer for the problem that we're in. And and you're right. It's that grit your teeth and get on with it. And if you're if you're in hell, as they say, go keep going. But sometimes, what I was thinking of if we are in a situation where we maybe have a colleague who is going through, a mental health crisis or they're having difficulty at home and that's impacting their work, this idea of grit your teeth and get on with it is really unhelpful, isn't it? So that's really the wrong pathway.

Sarah Ratekin [00:12:59]:
I mean, I think the same is true for the you know, what we hear referred to as toxic positivity. There is there is also very little value in just slapping a smile on your face, pretending everything is okay when it isn't. That is dismissive. That is, I would argue, just as damaging as the other extreme because it's not it's not an authentic experience that we're leaning into. And and so I always caution people, you can be civil. You can have a good reframing, but you do not have to always put a happy smile on on a situation. Sometimes things are just hard, and that's okay to acknowledge that. It's far more authentic and you're gonna have a better you're gonna be working from a better position if you come from a place of authenticity than if you create this house of cards that you're now standing on.

Nia Thomas [00:13:43]:
Yeah. I agree. You talk about organizational inflammation and, and I think that's a the the description, it's it's this visceral description of an organization under duress. But tell us a little bit more about organizational inflammation. What what's your definition, and how do you describe it?

Sarah Ratekin [00:14:02]:
This concept was born when I worked for an animal health company, and my colleagues were all research scientists who were brilliant, brilliant humans who were deeply aware of the way that various mammalian organisms work. Right? So if you think about an animal, human or otherwise, the the the organism is made up of multiple systems that work theoretically in harmony but have very specialized roles. So you have the circulatory system, the respiratory system, etcetera, etcetera. And when one of those systems is out of whack, you get inflammation in that area and that diverts energy and it it wastes resources and the organism is less efficient at doing whatever it's supposed to do, like walk or live. So companies are exactly the same at a metaphorical perspective. You have your human resources department, logistics, accounting, finance, operations. And, again, when one of those systems gets out of whack through overengineered processes or outdated protocols or personality conflicts or whatever. Again, we see that same concept of inflammation.

Sarah Ratekin [00:15:11]:
Energy gets diverted from fulfilling the mission of the organization into dealing with whatever shenanigans are So we So we can approach the diagnosis of the inflammation much as we would if we were doing a diagnosis on our own health. Like, what are the pain points? What are the symptoms? What are what is causing that? What might work? Because I think that's the other piece of this. In much like going to the doctor for, knee pain or shoulder pain or a backache, the first thing you try might not work because it's not actually getting to the root cause or because your organization or your body are a little bit unique. So it gives us a better way of approaching diagnostics and treatment for the things that are just creating headaches for us in our business world. When I when I shared this concept with my scientist friends, they the light you see the light bulbs going off. It was it's actually pretty beautiful. And people who really didn't think about business most of the time could start to see a different way of approaching making business related decisions. And I think it's helpful for any of us because we all have, you know, knee pain or shoulder pain at some point in our life, and we can say, oh, sure.

Sarah Ratekin [00:16:28]:
Sure. That makes a little bit more sense than, oh, that's just how HR is or whatever.

Nia Thomas [00:16:34]:
Yeah. It feels like I don't have very much experience of it, but there's lean thinking and 6 sigma, and it almost feels like 6 sigma for the soul of an organization.

Sarah Ratekin [00:16:46]:
I think that's a perfectly good way of putting it.

Nia Thomas [00:16:49]:
So how do we start to go about healing organizational inflammation?

Sarah Ratekin [00:16:54]:
Well, it requires a little bit of transparency and a whole lot of trust, both of which are frequently in short supply in organizations, sometimes for the best of intentions. I think we have to recognize that you can't just treat the symptoms of of inefficiency or friction in an organization. You know? That is a common shortcut people try to take, especially leaders who just wanna make it better, but don't really understand what's causing the problem. You will never get to the root cause, however, if people don't trust you enough to be honest about what's going on. I know that, there is quite a bit of negative perception of employee surveys, for example. And with good cause, too many companies, if they take surveys, do absolutely nothing with the results or they wait too long to take action, and they aren't transparent about what they're doing. And people who took the risk of being maybe honest with their feedback feel disenfranchised, and and the cycle becomes pretty detrimental as we repeat it. I know people who have been with organizations, you know, 10, 15 years.

Sarah Ratekin [00:18:07]:
And when the survey comes around, they roll their eyes and they say, I'm not doing it, or I don't dare be honest on it. So Right. Then you're Yeah. Making garbage decisions on garbage data. So I think you have to really recognize if you have a trust problem, you have to fix it and that depend how you do that depends on why it's broken and the people involved. But without that, you're probably not going to fix the friction. You might get it smoothed over, but it's kind of like putting a Band Aid on a bad wound. It's only gonna fester underneath and get worse even if you don't see it until the damage is too bad to fix.

Nia Thomas [00:18:41]:
So there's something about triage analysis assessment as you would. So if you've got somebody who's got inflation and they go to the the general practitioner

Sarah Ratekin [00:18:51]:
Mhmm.

Nia Thomas [00:18:51]:
That's the assessment. So and I think what you're saying is that you need to do same kind of assessment on an organization. Think of it as an organism.

Sarah Ratekin [00:18:59]:
Absolutely. And if the first fix doesn't work, don't just throw in the towel and say, well, I guess you're gonna die. Right? You say, let's try something else, and you build that trusting relationship. So, hopefully, over time, even if the fix the attempted fixes don't work, people see that you're trying, and that's often more important in the short term than actually fixing whatever it is that's creating the the chaos.

Nia Thomas [00:19:22]:
Yes. I can see that. Yes. Definitely. I can I I agree with that? Tell me about your your company. So your company is called Happiness is Courage. How does happiness underpin courage?

Sarah Ratekin [00:19:35]:
Well, it goes back to a little bit what we talked about earlier. Right? I think courage comes from many, many sources, and it can come from that fear or that that crisis intervention sort of adrenaline spike that happens, and that's perfectly valid some of the time. The reality is most of the time we are not in situations that require us to tap into that fear response. We do it, but it's not necessary. I see happiness. Well, first of all, I should say that I don't think that happiness is the goal. I think happiness is the way we measure how things are going. So if I stop and say to myself, hey, Sarah.

Sarah Ratekin [00:20:09]:
On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you? And more often than not, my answers are a 7, 8, 9, maybe a 10 every once in a while that I'm on the right track because our emotions are there's no value associated no no moral value associated with emotional experiences. They simply are. I like to think of emotions as the dashboard that tell us how things are going internally and externally. And so happiness then becomes that gauge of how things are going. When we create environments where happiness can exist because it's going to be unique for each of us what what actually sparks joy, but But when those environments are conducive to that, when the optimism can can flourish, we have, we're we're less stressed out. We have less cortisol in our systems biologically. We feel more empowered. We feel more hopeful.

Sarah Ratekin [00:21:00]:
We have a more stable source of the motivation that we need to tackle the challenges that come from being human, whether that's in our personal lives or in our professional endeavors. When people lose hope, that's when they stop trying. But if you can genuinely have a source of optimism and that, you know, that's a slightly complex conversation. But if you can find a source of optimism, then you are in a much better position to tackle the really longitudinal challenges like a large merger or a massive cultural shift in an organization or what have you.

Nia Thomas [00:21:37]:
I spoke to Matthew Phelan in one of my early episodes and, and he runs an organization called the Happiness Index which is all about measuring. As you've said, happiness isn't the goal. Happiness is what we measure to see what's going on in an organization. And I had a recent conversation with Richard Clark on this podcast, and he said, I think, something very similar in terms of leaders can't make people happy in organizations, but they can create the environments to allow people to develop their happiness in organizations. And I think that's there's definitely similarities to what you were saying there.

Sarah Ratekin [00:22:15]:
I mean, I'll I'll steal a little bit, out of the woohoo playbook. The research is really strong. So I did my own research on gratitude and well-being, my doctoral research and ongoing. And there are really only two factors that drive satisfaction. Do we see value in the work that we're doing? How however we measure that. And do we have good relationships with the people that we spend time with? In a workplace, I think many companies do a really stellar job of helping the sales team understand how their work aligns to organizational success. Most of the rest of the company does not have a straight line that allows them to understand how their day to day has a positive impact or negative impact on organizational performance. So that's one thing that companies can really do differently is, it's a little bit messier.

Sarah Ratekin [00:23:02]:
There's it could be a little more complicated to show the impact, like accounting. You know, accounting accountants are one of the least happy professions out there because they don't see that that, automatic connection. But I think the other piece of that that relationships piece is crucial and that is not to say that I necessarily endorse everybody being shoved back into an office 5 days a week or 4 days a week in in some countries, face to face with their with their peers. I don't think that's necessary, but I think for organizations to survive in a hybrid environment where people aren't having organic opportunities to interconnect as humans, there has to be an intentionality behind developing relationships among team members. And that is not happy hours. That is for sure not pizza parties. There are ways to do it and they can be much more successful. And as a result, people are happier and then the magic happens.

Nia Thomas [00:23:54]:
Lovely. I talk a lot to people about self awareness, as you know. And we often come around to this idea that self awareness is a foundational element of of whatever we're having the conversation about. Where does self awareness fit in your discussion about grit, resilience, organizational inflammation, happiness? Where where is it in that conversation?

Sarah Ratekin [00:24:21]:
It is, as you said, truly, truly foundational. I think of self awareness kind of as the bedrock for all of these concepts. When we have self awareness, we can understand our own strengths, our weaknesses, our triggers for both good and bad emotional responses. We can practice gratitude genuinely, which is crucial. People can smell inauthentic pseudo gratitude a mile away or a kilometer away. We can really build our resilience by acknowledging and addressing those stressors and recognizing our own role in either contributing to or alleviating organizational inflammation. I think without self awareness, none of that is possible. I I do a workshop on personal values because one of the things we see a lot of times is an underpinning of people's dissatisfaction is the place that they work appears to be at odds with their personal values.

Sarah Ratekin [00:25:18]:
And if you ask somebody, what are your core values? A lot of times, they'll either give you a blank stare because they don't have an answer or they'll trot out some, you know, god, country, and family or something that they've sort of picked up through social cues that they're supposed to say. Kind of like companies put their values on the wall that they may or may not actually live into. And those are not authentic. Right? So that self awareness is so crucial. Until you know who you are and who you want to be and how you walk through the world and how you want to walk through the world, Everything else is a mystery. And you might get lucky and you might accidentally stumble along a relatively peaceful path, but odds are you won't. So I think self awareness is is truly crucial. I think a piece of that self awareness is you do not all of a sudden one day unlock the decoder ring for who you are as a human.

Sarah Ratekin [00:26:14]:
We evolve over time. I do a lot of work around the 5 appreciation languages or the 5 love languages, really the same concept depending on the environment you're in. And people take a test and they say, oh, my love language or whatever is x. Cool. In 5 years, it's probably gonna be something different because you are a different person. And it might be the same, but you should probably examine all of those things periodically just to get a sense of who am I today, and how do I want to be perceived, and how can I get there? So I think I think it's absolutely crucial to be self aware.

Nia Thomas [00:26:48]:
Yeah. And I agree about the journey, which is why my book is called the self awareness superhighway charting the leadership journey. Yeah. Most definitely. I was thinking when you were saying that when people are unhappy in organizations, that we ask them the question to try and and and pick that and get underneath that. Often people don't know or aren't in a position to articulate their values, yet you have this sort of innate sense that actually this organization isn't going in the right direction for me, even if you can't articulate your values. Is that something that that you're finding is that it's it's that I can feel it, I can sense it, but I can't necessarily explain it to you?

Sarah Ratekin [00:27:31]:
Yes. And I like to use the phrase emotional literacy to describe that that friction. So I think there are 2 things that are going on there. One is the English language alone has about 3,000 words to describe emotional experiences, and we use about 7. So that's problematic. So we don't really have the nuance to even have the conversation in the first place. And then when it comes to personal values, I mean, I don't even know. I have a list of, I think, a 180 values I use in the workshop that I do with 10 empty lines because people are people.

Sarah Ratekin [00:28:05]:
We all have unique perspectives if we stop and think about it, about the things that truly, truly matter to us. But, again, I don't think that we have I I don't think we've done a good job as a culture, in any of the cultures where I've spent time. So I live in North America. I've done some work in Mexico. I have colleagues in various parts of Europe and the Middle East, and I I've yet to see anybody who has who has cracked the code on articulating personal values as a culture. I think we have things that are expected of us based on certain cultures and and heaven help the person who betrays that social norm. Like, one of the things I think is so fascinating as an example of that is I used to work for a business college here in the states, and all many, many of the students that came had a personal value of being financially stable. There is no shame in any of these values.

Sarah Ratekin [00:29:02]:
They're just statements of what's important to you. But the students had so much aim around that. They didn't wanna seem greedy. They didn't want to seem self centered. They you know? And but and the reasons for why financial stability was super important to them were as diverse as the students I met with. So we really had to disentangle that emotional shame because of the really interesting social frictions around wealth, but but not wealth. I don't I don't know why we do that to ourselves. And that was such an moment for some of these students.

Sarah Ratekin [00:29:38]:
So I like to take the the value judgment out of it. Now if one of your values is, you know, murdering people, that's a different conversation. I mean, there are some things that are just not conducive to living in community with other humans. But generally speaking, of the hundreds of personal values or professional values a company can espouse, most of them are neutral. It's what you do with them, right, that make them good, bad, or or indifferent. So that's part of the conversation too. But I think we have to start with understanding ourselves and and having a broader, more nuanced approach to that and just being willing to do a little introspection or actually a lot of introspection to get there.

Nia Thomas [00:30:17]:
Yeah. Absolutely. And sometimes you uncover stuff that you really don't want to. I'm interested in your experience particularly of senior leaders in organization because I'm I'm quite interested in what I refer to as strategic level leaders because I I have this idea that leadership can can happen at all levels of organizations, not necessarily at the top of that pyramid. What's your experience of senior level leaders and their self awareness?

Sarah Ratekin [00:30:48]:
I see a mixed bag. So I think I mean, I've worked with quite a few very experienced senior leaders, and I do see a pretty pretty big spectrum of self awareness in that capacity. And I see also an interesting a couple of interesting aspects to that. Whether or not somebody is self aware is one thing. Whether or not they are willing to acknowledge fallibility is another. Yep. There is a really weird and unhealthy paradigm that says that somebody in a senior leadership role, whether that's a CEO of a corporation or a parent of children, that that person is supposed to somehow magically be omniscient and omnipotent and never make mistakes and never not have the answers. And I I don't really I I can see how we got there with, you know, couple 1000 years ago, divine right of kings and, you know, the leader as as a god and all that kind of stuff.

Sarah Ratekin [00:31:49]:
But in the modern world, I think we need to throw away that paradigm around leadership and and just ditch it. It's so it's so unhelpful. So nobody's ever gonna know everything ever, and nobody's gonna ever not make mistakes. That's just that's silly and and super unproductive. So even if it's I've yet to see maybe maybe not yet. I can think of one leader I know that I've worked with in in the past who was very comfortable having those kinds of conversations. And that person is still deeply respected by the people that report to them. They have a highly functional department, and you can see that you can see the difference.

Sarah Ratekin [00:32:31]:
It's like night and day. They are also by far the exception. I think as we see some generational changes happening and people unwilling to continue the mistakes of prior tranches of leadership that we are seeing a a shift towards a more humanistic approach to leadership, And so that gives me quite a bit of optimism. I think the transition period's gonna be a little messy when people realize that, you know, the supervisor or the or the boss is not no longer a deity like figure, but I think it's a much healthier approach to business and life in general, quite honestly.

Nia Thomas [00:33:10]:
I agree that we're that the shift that we are seeing now is is, I think not only flattened in terms of organizational structure, but flattened in terms of the the hierarchy and and the the morality and the ethics that go with all of those things. And, Ashley, humility is one of the directions of my self awareness compass as is experience both in terms of gaining it as leaders and experiential learning and sharing that learning with others. So, yes, absolutely. I think in terms of our self awareness and our effectiveness as leaders, humility is right up there at the top of that list.

Sarah Ratekin [00:33:51]:
It is, and I think it's wonderful because I've seen, like like, the concept of servant leadership. I it's a wonderful concept, and it has been so terribly bastardized by so many people who I don't I don't know where they went astray, but it is you are not truly Jesus leading the flock. You know, that is not that is not what servant leadership means, and so that's a very interesting shift. But I, again, I see the up and coming leadership levels really taking to heart more of what it means to be a servant leader. And I also think I see, just more willingness to to, like, to the concept of reverse mentoring. I don't love the term. Honestly, I think mentoring is mentoring. But the concept that somebody who's in a senior leadership position can still learn from somebody who is junior to the in the organization is brilliant.

Sarah Ratekin [00:34:40]:
And it that to me speaks volumes to the willingness of a leader to open themselves up, be a little bit more vulnerable, and acknowledge the gaps in their experience lived or otherwise, lived or academic. You know? And and so those sorts of, practices are becoming more prevalent, and that gives me a tremendous amount of hope for many of our organizations as well.

Nia Thomas [00:35:00]:
Definitely. In my research, I identified that crises and stress, were roadblocks and trip hazards to self aware leadership. In terms of organization leaders, what are you seeing or observing in terms of how people are dealing with workplace stress and wicked problems? And I ask this on the basis that you have a a very clear interest in yoga and the benefits that that can bring. So what are we doing to manage stress and and these crises within our organizations?

Sarah Ratekin [00:35:32]:
Well, what we are doing is inadequate. That being said, I think what can be done is pretty powerful. So one of the things I'm seeing here in in many of my interactions with leaders specifically is an acknowledgment that there is a desperate need for a pause. The pandemic the immediate surge of the pandemic seems to have abated. Right? So we are in a different space now. The the situation has not completely resolved itself, so we're not back to previous, but we are in a less chaotic space in that regard. And yet, we have not given anybody professionally that I can see space to pause and process the experience. There is more of an intention to just shove it under the rug, pretend it didn't happen, and move on to the new normal.

Sarah Ratekin [00:36:24]:
So that's problematic for lots of reasons. One of which is humans don't work that way. Right? You can't just you can't just extinguish stress by wishing it away. It doesn't happen. You can make people put a nice a positive face on it, and then they die of a heart attack at 37. That that's a way to do it. Or they leave your organization because they can't handle it anymore. That is what's happening with massive turnover in many of these high stress environments.

Sarah Ratekin [00:36:48]:
So I think when leaders do it well, what they are seeing is the need to acknowledge, process, and grieve what was. So that's one thing I think is really, really important in that space. Also, I think we're also seeing an awareness that change the rate of change I don't know that the rate of change has accelerated, but I think our awareness of the rate of change is much greater than it has been in previous generations due to 247 news cycles and social media and instant access to everything. So that being said, knowing that the human body and the human brain really don't like change very much, acknowledging that and creating better scaffolding around changes where we can is super important. I mean, anybody who's been in business more than 10 minutes knows that most change initiatives fail because we do a bad job of shepherding them through the process. Yep. So let's do fewer changes. Let's do them more intentionally.

Sarah Ratekin [00:37:47]:
Let's have that strategic vision, and let's be transparent about it with our people who are involved because that that you'd need to have your team members involved on the journey or your chances of success are just trash. And why waste all that energy, effort, emotion, money on an initiative? If it's important enough to do it, it's important enough to do it well. And I think we're seeing leaders finally acknowledge that you can't just wave a magic wand and change will happen, and you can't you can no longer just blame people for the the change failing either.

Nia Thomas [00:38:20]:
I think you're right. I'm not sure whether I've worked in any organization that has said, stop. We're gonna have a reflection session opportunity where we are going to look back at where were we before COVID, how did we get through COVID, and where do we want to go now, and not in terms of organizational strategy, etcetera. It's about ways of working. And Mhmm. And and that's interesting. Yeah. You're right.

Nia Thomas [00:38:48]:
Because when we talk about humans as individuals, when you don't process stress or you don't process grief, we know that it it comes out in in somewhere else and it makes you unwell or as you say, diet, they're decently the heart stuck. And I wonder if that's part of what we're seeing in organizations now. So many I was reading in the press, I think only last week that the number of people who are currently taking sick leave and long term sick leave, the numbers have increased exponentially. I wonder if that's just part of that.

Sarah Ratekin [00:39:21]:
I think I think it definitely is. I mean, people can only hold stress for so long before it manifests in ways that are that we can't control. And we will never have perfect control over our existence as humans on this planet, but where we can manage things, I think we owe it to ourselves. And as leaders, we owe it to the people that trust us to guide Yeah. The process Yeah. To do a better job of it. I think one organization that I see doing a better job of this kind of thing than others honestly is the military. I think the military tends to have an after action review for many large experiences.

Sarah Ratekin [00:39:59]:
And they are they are not just gripe sessions. They are literally analyses of what happened, what went well, what do we want to repeat, what do we not want to repeat, how do we improve and evolve going forward within the boundaries of who we are as an organization. And I think we could learn from that and not just by using the terminology, but by actually doing the doing the work.

Nia Thomas [00:40:20]:
I'm speaking to a lot of people who are bringing up the the the things that we could learn from military practice, whether that's mission command or or all of the other practices that go around with it. And and, there is definitely something in that because there are so many people saying it. Sarah, before we go, any pearls of wisdom that you'd like to share with listeners and watchers about where we are, where we're going, and how do we get there?

Sarah Ratekin [00:40:47]:
Absolutely. Absolutely. So I think first, I would encourage people to really embrace authenticity. You know, it's only through authenticity that we can build the trust that allows us to foster the positive workplace culture that we really need as humans. So being genuine in our interactions and encouraging the people around us to to do the same, it can feel pretty scary. And I know that, for example, efforts around diversity, equity, and inclusion are getting a little bit of a black eye right now. And we still need to acknowledge that authenticity is a huge piece of building healthy relationships which are part of that life and job satisfaction. So authenticity is crucial.

Sarah Ratekin [00:41:31]:
Along with that, I think we really have to we have to to your point about people taking sick leave, we have to prioritize mental and physical well-being. And that means investing in our team's mental and emotional health. Physical well-being. I mean, it's the data is strong. A healthy and happy team is more productive and resilient and simply as humans, healthy happy humans have a better life experience. And I don't know anybody I don't know too many people who actually want to be miserable all the time. So we have to prioritize well-being. And I do appreciate that companies are starting to take a good look at that, and have those conversations if for no other reason than they're just losing too much money on sick leave.

Nia Thomas [00:42:19]:
Yeah.

Sarah Ratekin [00:42:20]:
The third thing I would say, and this is something that I really had reinforced to me after spending a couple of weeks with my 1 year old grandson is embrace continuous learning and curiosity. When we stay curious and we maintain an open mind around new ideas, that is that is an a completely different way of looking at the world. And I believe that curiosity helps us bridge many of the friction points that have historically gotten in our way. So if we can encourage a workplace and a societal culture of curiosity rather than judgment and continuous improvement with an honest intention of making things better, not just change for change's sake. That will lead us to such better productivity and, again, to just a much more pleasant way of spending our time. We're gonna spend a lot of time at work anyway. Can't it be a good time? I think the answer is yes.

Nia Thomas [00:43:20]:
And that's a brilliant way to end our podcast. Dr Sarah Ratekin, I've really enjoyed our conversation, and I'm glad we finally managed to get together and have this conversation. Sarah thank you for joining me it's been really really interesting.

Sarah Ratekin [00:43:33]:
Thank you so much Nia, pleasure's mine.

Nia Thomas [00:43:36]:
Thank you for joining me on today's episode where we aim to develop self aware leaders around the globe to generate kinder, more respectful, and creative working relationships through reflection, recognition and regulation. Head over to my website at knowingselfknowingothers.co. Uk to sign up to my newsletter to keep up to date with my blog, podcast and book. Looking forward to having you on my learning journey.

Podcasts we love