Revenue Rehab: It's like therapy, but for marketers
Oct. 5, 2022

Managing Through Rough Times: How to Lead with Vulnerability and Authenticity

This week our host Brandi Starr is joined by Max Stoddard, Chief of Staff at Tegrita. Max is passionate about enabling growth and success and loves seeing anything run more smoothly and people achieve more because of her contribution.  Throughout...


This week our host Brandi Starr is joined by Max Stoddard, Chief of Staff at Tegrita.

Max is passionate about enabling growth and success and loves seeing anything run more smoothly and people achieve more because of her contribution.  Throughout much of her career, at both start-ups and within established companies, Max has successfully flipped existing, outdated processes on their heads to streamline and add sanity to obsolete approaches.  Max has mentored many colleagues and helped others build their careers.

 On the couch, Brandi and fellow ‘Tegritan’ Max tackle Managing Through Rough Times.  Join them for real talk on How to Lead with Vulnerability and Authenticity.

Bullet Points of Key Topics + Chapter Markers:

  • Topic #1 It’s Okay to not be Okay [06:36] While it may go against the traditional work ‘rulebooks’, Max encourages leaders to be open with their team. For marketers, Max says, this skill of being able to be real about a crisis will communicate itself to not just to your team but to “potential customers, existing clients, other businesses and the world at large”.    
  • Topic #2 Managing Through a Crisis [18:18] “Be as transparent as possible,” Max says. Whether you’re responsible for those decisions or for carrying out decisions that have been made, keep the lines of communication as open as possible with your team.
  • Topic #3 Balancing Business Objectives with Team Wellbeing [26:13] Start by acknowledging to your team that the situation or change will affect them. And, whether you’ve already been able to create an environment where staff feel they can communicate concerns or not, when team members speak up, listen.  Build on or build out that trust but most importantly, listen.

So, What's the One Thing You Can Do Today?

The one thing you can do today, is use an ‘I am feeling’ statement in every meeting.  “Bring the whole person to work” Max says, “because the whole person is what makes [each of] us great”.

Buzzword Banishment:

Max's choice for Buzzword Banishment, in true Chief of Staff fashion, is applicable beyond the marketing world; Max's Buzzword to Banish is the phrase ‘work life balance’.  She dislikes the phrase because it frames work as “something separate from our lives”.  “It's a big part of our culture [at Tegrita]” Max says, “and the growing culture of companies who are exclusively remote, that we are banishing the need for those worlds to be distinct and completely separate”

Links:

Get in touch with Max Stoddard on:

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Transcript

[00:06] Intro:

Welcome to Revenue Rehab, your one stop destination for collective solutions to the biggest challenges faced by marketing leaders today. Now head on over to the couch, make yourself comfortable and get ready to change the way you approach revenue. Leading your recovery is modern marketer, author, speaker and Chief Operating Officer at Tegrita, Brandi Starr.

[0:34] Brandi Starr:  

Hello, hello, hello and welcome to another episode of Revenue Rehab. I am your host Brandi Starr and we have another amazing episode for you today. I am joined by Max Stoddard. Max is passionate about enabling growth and success. She loves seeing anything run more smoothly, and people achieve more because of her contribution. Max has spent most of her career working for startups within established companies embarking on something new, and in traditional industries in the mindset of disruption. She strives to make things better. Max has mentored many colleagues and help others to build their careers, she has flipped existing outdating processes on their heads to streamline and add sanity to obsolete approaches. Max has helped build new processes and practices from the ground up for groundbreaking services and products. And most important, it is a special treat; Max is our Chief of Staff here at Tegrita. So really excited to have you, Max, we don't get many Tegritans coming into Revenue Rehab. So welcome, your session begins now.

[1:48] Max Stoddard:  

Thanks for having me Brandi. I'm excited to be here.

[1:51] Brandi Starr:  

Yes, I am super excited to share some of what we talked about internally with the revenue rehab audience. But before we jump into that, I like to kick things off with a little woosah moment that I call buzzword. banishment. So tell me what industry buzzword would you like to banish forever.

[2:19] Max Stoddard:   

So my buzzword isn't specific only to modern marketing. I want to banish the term work life balance.

[2:28] Brandi Starr:   

Oh, that one that -- I can definitely say I am someone who overuse is that one or the more modern term work life integration. But yeah, so why do you hate that term?

 

[2:45] Max Stoddard:  

I hate that term. Because it puts work which is something all of us do for most of our days, most of our weeks as something separate from our lives. It starts to bring up those ideas of people having to decide whether they live to work or work to live. And I think it's a big part of our culture and the growing culture of companies who are exclusively remote, that we are banishing the need for those worlds to be distinct and completely separate. So finding balance in your life, that's amazing. But work life balance, I think it's too often used in industry to sell people on like we're not like other places, rather than truly caring about the lives outside of work of their teams.

[4:02] Brandi Starr:   

Well, I love that we are going to take work life balance, we will put it in the box, put the lock on it, put it up on the shelf and not use that one again. So now that we have gotten that off our chest, tell me what brings you to Revenue Rehab.

[4:20] Max Stoddard:

So I want to talk about what's happening in the world. What's been happening. We have all experienced -- maybe I should have picked unprecedented times, those are buzzwords. But we have we have been living through a particular age of disruption in our lives all around the world, events that we never expected to live through. And what does that mean for still trying to go about your daily lives in your daily business? How do you balance those things? How do you manage and hard times when there are issues of oppression showing up what's happening in Iran right now, the George Floyd protests a couple of summers ago, when there's disease around the world, or there's a global pandemic, and now everyone's awareness of diseases is different. So whether we're worried about a polio outbreak in New York, or what the next COVID variant will be. And then we have wars happening, whether it's Russia, or the, or even what is happening in parts of the former Soviet republic. There are all sorts of things that are impacting not just how we do business, but our access to groceries or access to energy. And it's a constant struggle. So how do we do that and not pretend at our work life, that nothing's that everything's fine, everything's the same?

[6:06] Brandi Starr:  

Yeah, I think that's a great point, especially for those that are leading marketing, because not only do you have to figure all of these things out for yourself, but then you have, you know, a team of varying sizes, depending on the company of people who are also figuring out how to live in these conditions and deal with their direct impact. So I think this is something that definitely hits hard, especially given that marketing are the people that have to, we have to get the message out there and we have to communicate and focus on the positive and, you know, our competitive advantage and all these sorts of things. But you've got people that are collectively not okay. And I believe in setting intentions, that gives us focus, it gives us purpose. So before we dive into the discussion, help our audience to know exactly what you would like them to get out of our discussion.

[7:06] Max Stoddard:   

I would like us to talk about some ways to help make it okay to not be okay.

[7:14] Brandi Starr:   

I love that. Make it okay to not be okay. So let's kind of dive in. I'm a part of a number of different CMO and head of marketing groups. And so there's lots of different conversations that I am privy to, and one of the things that I have seen come up repeatedly is being able to lead and manage and encourage when you are in the middle of the storm. And so any advice for those marketing leaders who have to show up and show up for their team and their organization, when they're struggling to show up for the other areas of their life as well.

[8:05] Max Stoddard:  

So what I'm going to say probably goes counter to a lot of people's instincts, and particularly for any female presenting executives and leaders, what you've been told your whole career, but that environment of it being safe to express that you're not okay to be human starts with that leader. So when you're not okay, when you're in the middle of it, the best thing you can do is be human and be transparent. If you're the first one that can say I'm not okay. That opens up the space for your team, to recognize that that's okay to say, that's okay to be, it's okay to ask for that kind of help.

[8:53] Brandi Starr:   

And it sounds so simple when you say it, but just thinking -- and I do think that this does impact female presenting leaders even more, but I think our male presenting counterparts experience it as well. It's just really hard. You are taught you have to be the leader; you have to put on a good face, you have to hold it together for the team, and all these sorts of things. And so just saying just say that. That just sounds like the simplest thing, but it can be so, so difficult. There's lots of leaders that I know don't feel like they are in a supportive environment, so it is hard to be that one to be the vulnerable person.

[9:52] Max Stoddard:  

Yeah, it's absolutely a risk. And I think that that has to do with how you choose to handle that, of course has to be within your own bounds of safety. There's a different way of handling it. Maybe it's not an exec meeting, or your whole team or department meeting where you put your hand up and say I'm not okay. Maybe it's in one-on-ones with your team, where you're able to build some individual trust and even acknowledge the environment that you're in. All of us have had -- and I know I have had experiences where you feel as though your management style doesn't suit the other leaders, or the overall management of your company, or the culture of your company. That doesn't stop us from building human connection with our team and doing our best to insulate and lead our team how we want to. So some of that takes recognizing where you have your autonomy to make decisions and insulate your team, and sometimes that's also deciding where you're willing to take risks, both for your own sake and for the sake of your team.

[11:14] Brandi Starr:  

Yeah, go ahead.

[11:16] Max Stoddard:   

The other thing I wanted to -- For marketers, this is also a big deal, because we're not just talking to each other at work, we are also communicating with our potential customers, our existing clients, other businesses and the world at large. If we are desensitized, or ignoring those things in our own interactions day to day, it's extremely difficult for us to be sensitive to the messages going out to the world. So in places where you need to make a case for I manage this way, because it makes us better, that's one of the ways that you can also help start to shift the culture at a company that doesn't otherwise tolerate it.

[12:06] Brandi Starr:

I think you hit on a good point where I was actually going to shift next is that connection between the messages that we put out there and what we know everyone is going through. I've experienced this mean, so many times in my career, but even if I just think about in the last two years when the war in Ukraine started. There were a lot of people on both sides that were really impacted, whether it was directly or indirectly. With COVID, there were so many people that were losing people and going through some major sicknesses and financial troubles because of job loss. And so, it's like, not only is our team going through, but our ICP is also living the same experiences that we are. And I think that is a place where a lot of people were really conflicted. And it was like, the human in me says, I need to stop communicating, or really only communicate where it's like necessary or expected; but then the marketer with revenue goals and objectives and KPIs that need to be hit, it's also like, but it's also putting this at risk, and we know turnover in marketing especially at the sea level is much higher than counterparts and all the statistics. So, it becomes a bit of an internal conflict around what you know is right as a person and so how do you balance that? How do you give direction to your team on what do we do here?

[14:00] Max Stoddard:  

In terms of the actual marketing strategy or...?

[14:03] Brandi Starr:

Yeah

[14:04] Max Stoddard:

So the thing that comes to mind is I know marketing and advertising are not the same, but it almost makes you want to think of that IKEA at ages ago where they there was the lamp. It's just the Swedish accented Narrator talking, the old lamp gets put out on the curb and it starts to rain and you think that it feels like the lamp is sad. Everyone's like, really... And even the narrator comes in and says, why are you feeling sad for the lamp? It's just a lamp. There is something about that where those kinds of ads and that kind of messaging, we are emotional beings. And so infusing what is happening in the world and how it feels into what we do, rather than trying to ignore it is going to resonate with your audiences because we're all experiencing it. So that was a long way of saying how, but I think that there's sometimes an assumption within us that the professional expressions we have and our messaging, how we represent our brand somehow needs to be separate from the realities of life.

[15:27] Brandi Starr:  

And I think sort of the counterpoint that I've heard from other people, is that in trying to infuse that realness into the marketing message, that it often comes across as performative or opportunistic. And it's almost worse when you come across as trying to capitalize on something negative that's happening. So how do you strike that balance? That's something that I know I, as a marketer have always struggled with because I don't want to put it out there and it just seems like, oh, I felt like this was a good message, because this is what everybody's feeling. It's like, well no, that's actually what I was feeling.

[16:15] Max Stoddard:   

I think it comes down to authenticity and intent. You've had conversations with people where you get the sense that how they meant something... Like pride month, and I'm looking at you Walmart on June teens, you're on some of these things. So it is absolutely clear to every person when those efforts are exclusively an effort to capitalize and monetize on something. So when I say authenticity and intent, if you are doing it, if you are including it, if you are messaging it, to only make a profit, to only tick a box, then you're still not doing what we talked about. What you're doing is leveraging emotions and current events, for to your own gains. You're not internalizing and then including the context of what's happening in your messages, that of course are intended to make money, and increase brand awareness. But that one -- I already talked about Walmart. What did that do for Walmart's brand? Not a lot of good things.

[17:41] Brandi Starr:  

No. And sadly, it was not at all a surprise for their brand, because they have a lot of consistencies, but I won't go into Walmart rants.

[17:55] Max Stoddard:   

Not a Walmart rant today, but the point there is that no reasonable person expects that marketing is not intended to positively impact the business that it is on behalf of. But there is still the ability to be authentic in that messaging. [Overlapping voices 18:13] that is a part of the beliefs of the company.

[18:18] Brandi Starr:   

That is very true. I think the other thing that I want to get your take on which based on some economic changes and things a lot of companies are experiencing, is having to deal with layoffs and letting their people go, or having to help to comfort those that are still there. In some cases with mergers and acquisitions there's a lot of anxiety when the company financials are not performing well. There are all these different things that are happening in the business, that are less about direct impact or less about the individuals, but managers have to manage through all of that change and make sure that their people are okay, while still attempting to again, meet objectives and get business done. So, for those leaders who are going through those tough times within their organizations, what advice do you have for them on being able to manage through a crisis or through really challenging times?

[19:31] Max Stoddard:  

That's a great question, and it's really hard to answer because I think even five years ago, my answer would have been different. I do think that there's sort of a split in how you talk about it depending on whether you are part of those decisions or whether you are having to manage decisions made by others. I think the slightly easier one is when you are having to manage decisions; not easier, this sucks regardless. No matter what, this is not a fun thing, it is not easy to manage. But when you are having to manage a smaller department because of something the shareholders or the board decided, or you're having to restructure, because of a change in direction in the company, or there's layoffs, managing when it's not your decision, the best thing that you can do is share as much information as you have available with your team and acknowledge how you feel about it, as far as you're able. Obviously, we know as managers and leaders, you can't say everything you think that's part of that's part of doing the job. Just save that for girl’s night out or family dinner, or your therapist, whichever whatever works. But I do think that acknowledging things like, I know this is scary, we don't know what's going to happen. It's stressful for me too and so I'm going to do what I can to support you and trying to get the same amount done with fewer people. Again, this is very similar to my earlier advice. It's like you lead from that human point. In my opinion, the worst thing you can do is that opposite of it's business as usual, we're just going to get it done. I don't know anyone who responds well to that. The reason I think that that helps is that there is an openness, it's easier to open the door for people to say, it's not working. I am really scared. Is there anything I can do? Do we have any idea what's coming? It does start to open a dialog that allows your team to feel like they're not going to be blindsided, that they might be able to get some support some works. The thing we have to worry about most there often is attrition and burnout. When you have been part of the decision, I feel that can be a little tougher. Because most of the time, we can't say why those decisions were made if it is on an individual personnel level. And if it's on a bigger scale, we might be able to say, but not down to why we made certain specific choices we made. When you can say why, whenever you can give a Why share it. So we talk at Tegrita a lot about transparency and integrity. Transparency as a leader is more like being a good parent. You don't tell your five-year-old when finances are tight, because they can't understand it and they can't do anything about it. But you might help them try to understand why we can't have some of the special treats this time this month, or make something fun to do instead that doesn't have this -- You find ways to help manage the overall environment without the expenses. And so some of that in transparency is also protecting people. 

[23:46] Brandi Starr:

No, it definitely makes sense and you hit on some really key things. And I think for me as a leader, not being able to just really lay it all out is probably the thing that I always struggle with because I know that I am a person, that information is what helps me be calm. It takes away my anxiety when I at least have all the information and so not that everyone's like that, but it's like I always wish. I like that example about a five-year-old of although you can't or shouldn't get to that level, that there are ways to really mitigate the feelings of what you're going to be feeling without the actual information.

[24:41] Max Stoddard:  

Yeah, and it's not that our teams are kids obviously. The point of using the five-year-old is if it's not going to help them, if it's not going to do anything except scare them, or give them information that isn't meaningful to them, isn’t impactful in their daily life, then we're giving the information for us not for them. We're giving the information because it feels good for us to tell them, it feels good for us to share that that burden. But if there's nothing they can do with the information, that to me is the line.

[25:19] Brandi Starr:   

And this has come up several times in different contexts. Even something as simple as talking about what goes on a slide, and it's like, well, why is it there? What do we want the person to take away? What is the benefit to them? And we talk about that always, when we talk about our marketing message, how is this for the client? And what I'm hearing is, this is just another reflection of that, in really applying that discernment of what information do they need that I can share? Why am I telling them this? How are they going to benefit from it? How is it going to impact them to be able to lead through that change?

[26:07] Max Stoddard:   

Yeah, absolutely. And how can I make their lives easier in a difficult time?

[26:13] Brandi Starr:   

And I think something else that it makes me think about in managing the people through change is, whether you're in control of the decision or not, but really figuring out, using your example of how do we like do something creative that doesn't require the expenses or whatever? Applying that same thought process of how do we like sort of soften the blow or help the team in a way that is meaningful for them. So if you are a leader, and you just had your resources cut, you had layoffs, how do you adjust the focus for the year? Because so many times what happens and what leads to the burnout is we had ten marketers and now we have six, but we need you six to do the job of ten. And that's how people spin their wheels, they get burnt out and then it leads to attrition. So it's even as a leader thinking about, okay, I had ten, now I have six, what does that really look like? How do we change our plans in a way that allows us to hit our objectives without wearing our resources down? Or how do I give them more flexibility? If we're in the office, tell everybody work from home so they can work their commute hours? And I'm not saying that I would tell people to do that, but just really thinking outside of the box of how do we get what we need to get accomplished, because the business objectives is what we're always thinking about as leaders, but also being good leaders in understanding that these are people, we value the people, so we have to also take care of the people.

[28:01] Max Stoddard:   

I think this circles back to my earlier point as well. If you've been even moderately successful in creating an environment where people feel it's okay to express not being okay. And that includes worried, scared, unsure, all of those things that come up, you have an opportunity to listen to your team. What is it that they're worried about? In what direction do you need to adjust and throttle. So the image that kept coming back to me while you were talking, was the idea of rowing a boat with ten people and you take four people away, you can't get to the same destination at the same speed. It's just not going to happen. But what's the adjustment? Do you re-space? Do you use different oars? Do you change your destination? Do you just change the timeline for getting there? What does that look like? And how we love to hit a metaphor over the head when we're doing [inaudible 29:06] this one it is a good it's a good image for what we're talking about. I have never been more stressed in my career than when I've received news of change, often do more with less. And there's no acknowledgement from the people giving the message that that's hard, that maybe isn't possible, that requires more than just working more hours. Even if they're willing to work those out.

[29:46] Brandi Starr:  

I think one of the other things I'm hearing from you is also around that feedback loop of, I think that is one place where I see a lot of leaders kind of going in the wrong direction, is making assumptions that they understand or that they know what their people are thinking or feeling or concerned about. Like actually opening the door, figuratively to be able to gather that feedback to hear the questions, as you said, around, what are people actually concerned about? Because I've experienced times where it's like, okay, this change is coming, let me think through all the things that I think people might be worried about, so I can address them. And then in the end, you talk to someone, and they're like super stressed out about this one thing. And it's like, I never would have thought of that. But if you don't open that door, you may feel like you're really hitting on all cylinders so to speak in managing the change, but you really haven't even address the nuance that is actually really important to that person. So talking about our challenges is just the first step and nothing changes, if nothing changes. So in traditional therapy, the therapist gives the client some homework, but here at Revenue Rehab, we like to flip that on its head and ask you to give us some homework. So Max, if you could summarize your key takeaways and give our listeners that one thing, what is the one action item that you want them to do coming out of this conversation, to help them manage through the tough times better?

[31:38] Max Stoddard:

So I would sum up what we've talked about that you can't ignore what's happening outside of work if you want to be successful at work. I would also say another way of stating the leading in the culture, leading by example, if it's okay to not be okay, is that expressing your own vulnerability in some way invites others to feel safe doing the same. And the one thing I would ask everyone to do is use one I am feeling sentence in every meeting.

[32:28] Brandi Starr:

That's a good one thing because it is so counter intuitive. If I think even back to like leadership training I had in high school, which at this point feels like an eternity ago, it was you'd leave your feelings out of the workplace, focus on the facts. You leave your feelings at home. And so what you're telling us now is bring those feelings not only to work, but every meeting.

[33:08] Max Stoddard:

Are you Are your feelings actually separate from you at work?

[33:12] Brandi Starr:

No, not at all. 

[33:15] Max Stoddard:

So it's impossible advice to leave your feelings at home. And I don't know about you, but whenever you're feeling strong things and you're trying not to express them, you're much more likely to actually lash out from the feeling.

[33:34] Brandi Starr:

This is true.

[33:36] Max Stoddard:

So, I am saying absolutely break that. And I kind of started saying this the beginning. It’s not what you've always been told to do, because I don't believe that that brings the whole person to work. And the whole person is actually what makes us great.

[33:56] Brandi Starr:

I love that. So we all have our one thing. So over the next week, whenever you are listening to this, over the next week, every meeting, try to give an I'm Feeling statement. And I'd love for anyone who tries it to come back and let me know on social. You can @revenuerehab on Instagram and Twitter, and then I'm Brandi Starr on LinkedIn. Let me know how that makes you feel. So tell me how you feel about sharing your I feel. I love breaking old leadership principles because I do think some of the leadership books that were written decades and decades ago that people still swear by are so outdated and antiquated and don't really take into account the fact that we're humans. But that's a whole different discussion for a whole different day.

[34:56] Max Stoddard:

Yes, that is a whole discussion how that those old principles contribute to lack of diversity and feelings of belonging and inclusion at work. So that's a whole other discussion. But it's important, I wanted to add that a lot of what we talked about here changes the environment from one of monoculture to inclusion.

[35:18] Brandi Starr:

Which, we talk a lot about diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging here. I mean, especially as a black woman, it's always been a key factor in my career. And it is a lot of these really subtle things that don't have the clear -- so many people focus on the initiatives for DEI&B. And then it's not always about the big initiatives, it is about these subtle things of being able to lead in a really human way allows your team of all backgrounds to bring their whole self to work.

[35:57] Max Stoddard:

Exactly.

[35:58] Brandi Starr:

Awesome. Well, Max, I have so enjoyed our discussion today, but that is our time for today. So thank you so much for joining me. We have a lot of these discussions just internally, so I'm really happy that you were able to bring some of this great insight to our Revenue Rehab audience. So thanks again.

[36:23] Max Stoddard:

Thanks for having me Brandi.

[36:25] Brandi Starr:

Awesome. And thank you, everyone for joining us today. I hope that you have enjoyed my conversation with Max. I can't believe we're already at the end. See you next time.

[36:38] Outro: 

You've been listening to Revenue rehab with your host Brandi Starr. Your session is now over but the learning has just begun. Join our mailing list and catch up on all our shows at revenuerehab.live. We're also on Twitter and Instagram at Revenue Rehab. This concludes this week's session. We'll see you next week.

 

Max Stoddard Profile Photo

Max Stoddard

Chief of Staff

I’m passionate about enabling growth & success. I love seeing anything run more smoothly and people achieve more because of my contribution. I’ve spent most of my career working for start-ups, within established companies embarking on something new and in traditional industries in the midst of disruption. I strive to make things better! I’ve mentored many colleagues and helped others build their careers. I’ve flipped existing, outdated processes on their heads to streamline and add sanity to obsolete approaches. I’ve helped build new processes and practices from the ground up for groundbreaking services and products.