A Gift:  The Lessons in How Leaders can Create Scrumptious Cultures

Speaker Member Spotlight:  Sarah McVanel 

Every now and again, we turn a corner in life and discover a wonderful gift.  It shows up in a lesson, experience, moment, song, or word.  When we are given that gift, especially when there is a profound lesson, we often feel like it is selfish to hold onto and not to share with others.  

I spoke with author, speaker, and business coach Sarah McVanel who shared the gifts life has given her as she pursued her education, career, and happiness.  This conversation is so timely as many people in organizations are feeling disconnected and siloed due to restriction from COVID-19.  There were so many nuggets I took away from our conversation.  

Here are 5 lessons for leaders Sarah shared with me.

  • Your purpose always aligns with who you are.

I probably was always meant to be a recognition expert.  It’s not one of those fields you discover in university.  In addition, I love speaking and didn’t know that you could get paid to speak.  My parents always paid me not to talk. Seriously, I loved serving people, being able to help others and make the world better.  I thought the way to do this was to become a psychologist.  So I completed my Undergrad in Psychology and my Masters in Family Therapy all the while going about speaking on topics that were important and of interest to me, such as Consent and well-being.  One day I realized I need to stop talking long enough to listen to my patient while practising as a therapist.  So, clearly I needed to make a change there.  What I uncovered along the way is I absolutely loved teaching motivated adults.   This evolved into a corporate leader. 

One day I came home after a later meeting, which was often required in this type of role, and my husband asked if I would go check on our son upstairs.  When I went into his room I discovered that something was really wrong.  My 10 year old son revealed that he had an awful bullied day and he had started self harm.  “I felt like a total failure and wondered how I could have missed this.”.  This was when I decided we are making a change.  I quit my corporate job, we moved to the country, and totally changed our lifestyle. That led me to my passion Recognizing the Greatness in others, and this was the beginning of a career as a speaker, author, coach, and entrepreneur.

  • FROG:  Forever Recognize Others Greatness 

Through my journey I learned that we can always short circuit the challenges if we first recognize ourselves in each other.  It saved my family and it is the thing I am most passionate about is that recognition of others, I work with organizations and live it everyday. Our biggest task as leaders is to create scrumptious cultures where everyone can belong and grow.  Recognition is the engine that keeps that scrumptious culture yummy, delicious, we can add layers and flavours.  And if people feel like it’s just another thing on your list, or a flavour of the month, and seems disingenuous, it won’t stick and these become toxic cultures.  But the companies that are thriving right now not only create scrumptious cultures but also have leaders who believe it is their role to inspire their people to find their own way of connecting.  They support and empower people to really feel like they belong.  They build a sense of acceptance and respect regardless of what is going on in the world.  There has been great creativity about how people are connecting. Your recognition culture needs to be nutritious, delicious, and lucious.  People want to work in a nutritious environment, do work that is delicious that is meaningful and has value, and lucious in that we can refine our culture to the things that really matter and our core values.  

  • We are FANTASTIC when we are Elastic!

COVID has lowered the waterline on the actual truth of your culture.  Now that people are not passing each other in the hall anymore, what is that connection looking like?  There is a gap that is now exposed.  This also has lowered the waterline on how people are actually doing that maybe was hidden by the busy lifestyle before.  According to work surveys, people in their mid-careers are the least satisfied.  My big “bugaboo” is that organizations run the surveys and discover this truth and do nothing about it.  They don’t know how to fix it.  Organizations spend their money on dinners, teams celebrations, programs, etc to get the “Great Place to Work” award.  In the meantime people are rolling their eyes.  These efforts are actually having the opposite effect and reducing trust. I like to tell organizations to look at your data, whether people or voting with their feet or in the engagement surveys, to get clear on your gaps.

Many organizations that never would have had people work from home are now having people work from home since COVID.  One attendee I spoke to who worked at an organization that was resistant to the idea of people working from home said to me, “ My organization is ready to embrace how effective, helpful, and resilient we all are when we work from home even a little bit because once you go elastic life is fantastic.”. What? Yes!!! Life is so much more fantastic when we are elastic.  That is their team mantra and measure.

  • Failure is the true connector in the human experience.  

Number one topic people are asking for this year is from my book “The Flipside of Failing” book.  Why? People are looking in the mirror and they don’t know what to do. We are in a storm of people not feeling they are enough.  There is a fear of what is on the flipside of this and we need to build a greater resiliency. I wrote this book and it was supposed to be about greatness.  But the only theme that was consistent in all of the stories from 30 great Canadians interviewed from Peter Mansbridge, to olympias, to everest climbers, and many more, was failure.  Failure was their biggest teacher and their equalizer.  Failure is the true connector of the human, and organizational, experience.  We just don’t like to talk about it. But when we can unconditionally recognize ourselves then we can honestly and authentically look at some of the truths when we are struggling.  Then we can learn, fix what is broken, be better and more resilient.  These are the great opportunities to discover who we are.  That is when connection can really happen. 

  • We are the author of our own story.  

The gift of being able to meet each other in a space of shared humanity allows us to be honest with ourselves and make the changes we need to make in our lives.  In the coaching I have been doing, it has been wonderful to witness the changes people have made in their lives to who they want to be in the world right now.  We are living in a story right now and we get to choose the character we get to be in this story.  You get to change characters, setting, scene, tone, mood, and it can just be an infinitesimal shift.  Like when you are having a really bad day and you just say “That’s it.  I am taking myself out for a walk.”  and you do what my grandma used to say, “You brush off the stink.”.  You changed the scene and tone, you come back as the same person dealing with the same issues, but a new perspective.  

Thank you Sarah for sharing your brilliant insights.  Check out more about what Sarah can share with your organization and help you create a scrumptious culture.  

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