Christina Sass

We talk with Christina Sass about experiences with coaching on both sides of the equation, seeking out inherent blind spots in the corporate world, and relating lessons she's taken from her personal experiences as a founder and activist to the ways we can invest in people and handle growth, both personally and as a nation.

Christina Sass:
Yes, coaching is hard, but if you're coming to coaching with real shit, it's already hard. You know, like you're already not loving the situation and so you can do it feeling like you're developing new tools with which to do it. Or you can, you know, give up or decide that those are the only tools you want to use.

Jeff Hunter:
Hi and welcome. I'm Jeff Hunter and you are listening to coaching in the clear, the podcast committed to help you learn about coaching. We're going to help you better understand the value and application of coaching by having in-depth conversations with the people who use coaches to unleash their potential; The founders, leaders and managers who are shaping our world. Coaching is more popular than ever. And we believe that sharing in-depth personal conversations about coaching experiences is the best way for you to learn whether coaching is for you and how you can get the most out of your coaching practice. We are especially interested in how people use coaching to unleash their potential while creating market-leading big change businesses. Coaching in the clear is a production of Talentism, a business dedicated to helping the world's most ambitious leaders achieve their ultimate goals by systematically turning confusion into clarity.

We send out a weekly newsletter called the Sensemaker where we offer our latest thinking about issues affecting big change companies and their leaders, as well as provide other helpful content, to enable you to unleash your potential, learn more and sign up at Today I'm speaking with Christina Sass. I think Christina stands as a shining example of someone turning their compulsion into a lifelong career, into someone finding their calling. She held high ranks at some of the largest global nonprofits and worked closely with Hillary Clinton's office as an advisor, helping build solutions to some of the most pressing challenges in international relations. After amassing nearly 15 years of experience in those fields, she co founded in Andela, a company dedicated to the proposition that brilliance is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. And Andela has trained and placed thousands of software engineers from Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Egypt, and Ghana. We're going to talk about her personal experiences with coaching on both sides of the equation, seeking out inherent blind spots in the corporate world and relating lessons she's taken from her experiences as a founder and activist and how we should be investing in people and handling growth both personally and as a nation.

Christina, thank you so very much for being a part of this experiment, not just the whole experiment, but also this more free flowing dynamic that we're going to try today. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you being here.

Christina Sass:
Well, thank you. It's an honor to be here and I'm delighted to try it this way. It's what our conversations have always felt like and have yielded so much, so I'm looking forward to it.

Jeff Hunter:
Well, thank you. So Christina, you are the co founder of Andela and I’ve had the great good fortune, Talentisms had the great good fortune over the last four years of working with Andela, a company that I've been truly inspired by across the board, not only your mission, but also the benefit you're bringing to the world and just what you're putting into practice. I thought that just before we get into the coaching conversation, if you'd be willing to reflect a little bit on Andela a little bit on how you started Andela and also a little bit about how we met I'd really appreciate it.

Christina Sass:
Absolutely. Well, we started Andela in 2014 looking at how to get talent globally, to recognize brilliance, in particular brilliance among software engineers, which are so desperately needed by startups all over the world. At the time I'd been working across the African continent for about the last five years and knew the incredible depth of the talent pool and really the excitement and energy around tech careers. And so my co founder Jeremy, and another group of entrepreneurs, and I got together to kind of put this experiment out, to see if we could attract really extraordinary tech talent and then match it with the needs of employers everywhere that needed great software developers. The world was getting accustomed to remote and distributed teams at the time. And so we were kind of part of this wave to really bring that about and what an incredible six-year journey the company has now taken kind of many different shifts and turns and pivots as, as startups do.

For the first, probably three to four years, we were really focused on finding raw talent that had all the indicators of a great engineer and then honing them and really placing them in environments where they could succeed. Today Andela is more focused on big pockets of mid level and senior level developers and being an on demand marketplace for what other companies need. And so that entire journey I think, has been... I really can't, it's hard to, it's hard to state the value that you, Jeff, have brought to me and my co founder and the senior team, and Andela on our self awareness and big changes that we needed to make to move the business forward. So, how did we meet? I think this is a great story. So I worked with one of your colleagues at Talentism on a smaller project.

And one where candidly, I wasn't thrilled about the end. I think the gentleman I was working with was like on his way to I forgot what the circumstances were, but anyway, he was transitioning from Talentism to a full time role elsewhere and wasn't able to make a trip where he was supposed to facilitate a big conversation. And so in Talentisms IP had added a ton of value and then kind of the end of this thing, didn't go well. And so I got the final bill and I wrote you all and said, I will pay this. I'm happy to pay it, but can we get on the phone and can we talk and can I give you some feedback? And to my surprise the CEO of the company, you Jeff undertook the call and listened very carefully.

And you explained that you kind of knew that this younger employee who had a lot of promise, but that you're going to have to entrust them with some things, and they may not always go right. That you had been also experimenting and that you took full responsibility for that, that I indeed would not be paying that bill. And could you have dinner with our entire senior team and give feedback on what you thought, what your learnings were from the scope of work that Talentism had done. And so suffice to say I was blown away by that. And that was certainly the kind of leader that I hoped to be. That had the courage and strength to give my team members, my leaders rope to do an experiment. And then when it didn't go well to really take responsibility and make that relationship right.

And that's what I witnessed that you did. We had a phenomenal dinner with the C suite of the company at the time, and everyone was very impressed. And then I think I called you the next day. It'd be like you’ve got to coach us. You have to coach us. We know we have gaps in our self awareness and our knowledge and where we want to take the company. And to our great surprise and delight, you said yes. And that's been the beginning of a many year, very fruitful, painful at times, but overall incredibly rewarding relationship.

Jeff Hunter:
Well, thank you. Thank you very much. I like any human being enjoys caring how great I am, but I can assure you that in the mountain of my mistakes, that was a small nugget of success. So I appreciate you saying all those nice things. I can imagine a lot of people know me, listening to this and going aha. So, but pretty much Christine, and I appreciate that. Okay. So let's talk a little bit about coaching. That's why we're here. You, as you just said, you know, you and I have worked together for awhile, I've worked with other members of your team, Talentism has coached a number of people at Andela, we've done off-sites with you, etcetera. So you have a real exposure to how we think about things and how we try to coach.

In addition, as you know, I've told you multiple times, I think that you have a real talent for coaching yourself, at least the kind of coaching that we think about, clarity coaching. I think you've seen it from every side. You've seen it as an executive. You've seen it as a person who receives it as a person who offers coaching as an investor etcetera. Tell me a little bit about how you think about coaching and how you think about the value of coaching importance. And in that, if you could tell me a little bit, what did you think was going to happen when we started coaching and what did you actually experience and how has that thinking about coaching evolved over time?

Christina Sass:
So when we first started out, I think I knew that we had some, you know, pretty typical barriers to success in the company and that, you know, some outside counsel would help. We had tried a couple of things before, but I definitely didn't have a set definition of, Oh, this is the exact kind of coaching that I wanted. I did know that I wanted a coach that had a strong opinion about working with founders and that had been in a high growth, you know, kind of tech startup world. And this is an interesting comment to make with all that you know, of me, but I did, I wanted a male coach that had immediate gravitas because that was sort of the C suite that I was operating in and I needed to understand and be more well versed in that in a safe space and environment.

And so I don't think I had that in mind when we went to that team dinner, but after listening to you and being around you, it was like, I feel like, you know, this person is immediately adding value and can, you know, push back on kind of the heaviest hitter at the table and also feels very safe. And so I kind of just opened up to whatever your type of coaching was. It definitely wasn't seeking out or didn't know or have any idea what clarity coaching was at the time. Now, looking back on clarity coaching, the analogy that I would give is like, it's like being in the matrix where Neo is offered, like the red pill or the green pill and when you actually take the red pill, it's brutally painful and you go through this journey of seeing the world exactly as it is.

But that is really the only way to get through to where you want to be. And so that's what that experience was like for me, I learned that I didn't, I certainly was open to self exploration. I knew that was going to be a hard part of it. But it was way harder and more fulfilling than I thought. And I think in my hardest darkest moments, I felt as if I had a real partner where I was just able to learn about myself, even if it took hearing the same thing, five or six times to unlock whatever slight piece of information it was to be aware of a blind spot or be aware of a pattern. And so being able to work together over years, I have now gotten, I think, a heck of a lot better at seeing those and being open to other ones.

And so, that process of seeing the world as it clearly is, not jumping to any assumptions about your colleagues and what's happening became a framework that I got to apply any time I felt the common things we all feel in difficult work situations and they're very human. It's not like, Oh, I had trouble with the same budget meeting. It's like, whatever that thing was really pissed me off. And I wasn't able to think straight, or I feel my heart rate rising again. It was kind of those individual triggers that it was like, it didn't matter what the trigger was, but I recognized it. I recognized a pattern and was like, now we seek clarity and we have a lot of different tools to be able to seek clarity. And I think it was so successful for me that I wanted to take a step back and look at coaching from a different viewpoint and look at your IP.

You know, so it certainly has benefited me most as a struggling leader who deeply wanted to fulfill the mission of an organization and was willing to change to do that. But then the next level out is exactly what you've said, which is learning to become a coach and I'm still very much, you know, new on my journey, but being able to seeing how powerful that is, and then looking at the tools and the IP and practice that Talentism might give me, be able to do that for others I think is one of the greatest gifts I could give other founders leaders that I respect. So that's been my journey.

Jeff Hunter:
Thank you very much. You know, you said something at the very beginning that frankly I was a little bit, I was a little bit shocked to hear, you wanted a male coach, you've never told me that before. And so that inspired me, I just wanna, let's just take this somewhere, cause I think it would be super cool to try this. So in the spirit of total vulnerability, one of the things that I often question, because I work with a lot of female founders, a lot of female executives I work with people of color. I work with transgender people. I work with a lot of different people and I always worry that given my inherent blind spots as a straight white guy, that I'm not going to be an effective coach because I just can't no matter how desperately I want to, or no matter how much I want to try.

And no matter how much I do try to open myself and be authentic to the fact that I've had so much privilege and I just can't experience, I just can't see, I can't experience what others have experienced and I take the responsibility of coaching so seriously as almost a sacred duty. That can I in fact be effective, working with somebody who I can't understand their experience like truly, truly understand. I can be open to it, but I can't truly understand it. And so that's always been a fear of mine and frankly, I don't know that I've ever articulated that. So why the hell not articulate that to a public audience, but I would love the…  

Christina Sass:
Coaching qua coaching  

Jeff Hunter:
Yeah, exactly. So, yeah. So tell me a little bit about how you thought about that. And also I have experienced you as somebody who gives me such incredible feedback, but you hit me when I need to be hit, which is just awesome.

I love the nature of our relationship that way. And so I trust you to tell me like, what blind spots do you think I do bring to it? And how can I be even more aware in my desire to unleash human potential and not just for people like me, but to unleash the potential of everybody, what are things you think I might've missed? What are things that I could get better at? What are things that I should be more aware of? I would just love to, you know, get your feedback and coaching in this moment on that.

Christina Sass:
Give me a moment to think about that, but first I want to tell you why I think it's, it is actually highly effective that you are a white male in certain situations. I think a lot of women leaders, transgender leaders, like I think that we are frustrated by all the typical things that you hear. Hey, I just said that three minutes ago and no one listened to it. And then someone else says it and you know, it's repeated and sounds great. Or I don't feel as if I have the, I feel like what I'm saying is like fully grounded and well- researched and is somehow not getting heard. And so I have to say that the power for me was that the Andela leadership team and my partner, we gave you permission, we gave you the power to be a broker, to kind of really hear each other's perspectives.

And it's sad for me that is the world we live in, but, you know, there are benevolent and, you know, other actors and so to find a philosopher King or find, however you think of yourself, Jeff, but find someone who like truly wants the company to do well and to succeed in its mission and its purest mission. I felt like I got an honest court for lack of a better analogy, like to be heard for both sides to be heard. And I do think that requires a certain kind of gravitas and whether that was like board members or our senior team or you know, it's kind of the toughest personalities where I feel like you recognized my strengths, you recognize my challenges. One of my strengths is absolutely vulnerability that did not give me strength and courage in male dominated situations.

And so to really have an arbitrator that was in the middle that would present both sides and give equal air was like immensely comforting. Even if I didn't get the outcome that I wanted, I felt understood and heard and could really rationalize. I could grapple with the logic of the moment. Hey, it's not just a no, because you're not being heard. It's a no, because you know, you can understand where all the parts are, it's clarity, right? It's from confusion to clarity. So that's the opposite of what you asked, but I do think if there's other leaders out there who feel the same way, I think that's like a superpower, it's a superpower to feel like over and over again, I don't feel heard and understood. And all of a sudden I can create an environment where I can break out of a pattern. I can break out of an unhelpful pattern and have a person in the middle to help us both hear each other was just immensely helpful. Okay. So the question that you asked

So I think It's hard to add in all of these extras, as I said, you would definitely be aware when I would come to you with a problem that I was triggered, that I was not thinking clearly, etcetera. I think it's impossible, as you said, to step into anyone's shoes and think of all the complex reasons why that might be, even if it's, you know, perceived gender or not an equal playing field or others. And so there's part of just being a white male coach that isn't, you know, that you're not going to be able to change. But I think, you know the places where I have given you feedback is where maybe you're in situations where for whatever reason, it's mostly males around the table and that, you can control. That, you can find situations where it's easier to to make all voices be heard and ensure that even in your desire to seek out the best opinion or the purest version of something that you're really aware of what might be going on in people's heads and hearts that's preventing them from being their best selves in that situation.

And then think about not just as a coach, but as a CEO of Talentism too, what does a real level playing field look like through putting that into practice? I think it will help in the situations that you're hearing from any of your coachees. Does that make sense?

Jeff Hunter:
Thank you. Yeah. Yeah, it does. And thank you so much for that. I want to share a specific example where you were especially powerful with me and I just so much appreciate it, but I would just want to take the audience through that experience. So we have this thing called the executive clarity forum. It's where we bring CEOs together, CEOs and founders together to first of all, learn about clarity, clarity, methodology, principles, etcetera, and then start to really form a community with each other to gain support and strength from each other and help from each other as you navigate very difficult situations. And so we did the first cohort. You were in the first cohort, our inaugural kickoff. And I was taking a lot of the airtime. The talentism airtime and I was doing this.

I was co-creating this and leading this with Sharon billings, who's our head of coaching, sorry, head of training. And after one of the sessions you came back to me and you said, yeah, you talk way too much. Like you have this incredibly powerful, amazing woman in the room and you're sucking up all the oxygen with your ego. You were kinder than that. But that was the gist of it. And so my experience when I heard that is of course defensiveness, cause I'm just like everyone else. I'm like, Oh, I'm not doing that. And then of course, I've tried to habituate this process of, Oh, I'm triggered. Okay, that's interesting. Why am I triggered? What, where do I feel at risk or under threat? And then of course I realized that I have a stat, what we call a status trigger.

I want to be seen as good. I felt like you were telling me I wasn't good. So that's where the nature of the defensiveness I was able to then go through it and say, that's not what Christina is saying. She's, she's actually giving me something so precious, real feedback. You know, when you're a CEO, people just don't do it, right? I just wish people would tell me how crappy I am more often. But anyway, just to be clear to everybody, I get a lot of that, but it's a, I need more of it. And then I couldn't stop thinking about it about that failure of mine. I just couldn't stop thinking about it. Stayed up most of that night, next morning, I went to Sharon, I talked to her, I apologized and I said, listen, from now on I shouldn't be talking.

You should be talking. They need to hear from you. They can care for me all the time. Like I'm a total blow hard. You need to get up there. And since that point, I hope and you know, hope you've experienced this as she's very much taken the lead and shined in that. And just done an amazing job. And so I just wanted to bring everybody through that full journey, because I think that's in a lot of ways, what we aspire to with clarity coaching. It's not just about, you know, I'm a coach and you're a client or whatever, it's that people come to each other and share something about, I know you aspire to greatness or to excellence. You're falling short in this way. I want to help you by showing you the specific problem and that even if that's difficult to hear, even if that it just feels terrible to feel like you're failing.

That's such an incredible gift, especially from somebody who you love and cherish because it's helping you actually get better. And through that, I believe Talentism is a better organization. You know, it was something I think that executives all the time, it's crazy and we can go into why this is, but they separate the world into the soft stuff and the hard stuff, right? Like the hard stuff is how are you going to build market cap and enterprise value? All of which is super cool, but all of which are lagging indicators of excellence, not leading indicators of excellence and the leading indicators of excellence are how you are showing up as a leader and as a contributor every day. And that's what builds the infrastructure of excellence within your organization. And that starts with the kinds of interactions you and I had in that case. So I was just so deeply grateful for that. And I'm glad you shared it. Thank you. And I'm very excited about continuing to have this relationship because I am going to make a lot more mistakes and you can really help me with that. So thank you.

Christina Sass:
Well, you're most welcome. And that's kind of what I mean by the red pill analogy. And I I think I feel safe to say anything like that to you because you've said it, you've done it for me so many times that, that process of getting real feedback, feeling super defensive and hurt, and then being able to like take a deep breath, take a lap and be like, I really trust that this person wants me to succeed. Like they have no reason to be telling me this. They don't want me to stay up all night and agonize. They want me to be the best at what I'm doing. And so seeing that purity of intentions and then you open up just enough of a crack to see what your blind spot is or what your failure is. And I just, I've experienced this more times than I can count in our sessions.

But I remember coming to you one distinct time and saying, you know, like this person that I'm working with, he's done this thing. He's done it four times now. I know he's done it to other people and it's just like, it's malicious. Like, there's no other explanation for it. And you, you know, calmly talking me through how like that, you know, the certainty with which I decided it was malicious. It was, you know, a failure all in itself and what could be the other explanations for it. And basically walking me through not making it so personal and seeing just a glimpse enough to be like, that's, that person's blind spot. And for sure, it's not helpful that they're telling you or other people, you know, that they're in a pattern of giving people unhelpful feedback. But what you've noticed is not that, that's a bad person, but that person has a blind spot.

And now you have a choice to make, you can help them see that blind spot and help them through that blind spot. Or you can decide that they're bad. But you know, I definitely had to go through all of the, he doesn't believe me, and that's not the point of coaching and why am I doing this? And then enough of a, I really think, I really believe that Jeff wants me to succeed, and that is the point of this feedback. And so how do I just sit with it for long enough to open up some space in my head to be like, okay, what would it be like to get on that person's side when you notice that they're in there, as personal as it is, but when you notice that they're operating from a blind spot, it actually opens you up to all this other information and all these other choices and how to act.

And so I found it like at the end of the day, super empowering, that doesn't mean it's not painful every time, but it really does, when you feel when you immediately, when you have a pattern of feeling trapped and helpless, and like, you can't get out of it. All of a sudden you have a painful period, but then you have a period of feeling multiple options and feeling supported in testing out different roads. And that was so, so, so useful. And so I'm delighted and thrilled to be able to give the same back.

Jeff Hunter:
Well, as I've said, many times, I think you're an excellent coach. So, and I think this is an example that proves it, but you just said something that I want to sort of highlight. I think it's sort of indicative of how we think about things, but it is interesting if you think just about helping others. So we start with this premise that human beings are wired for confusion, that they've evolved that way, that confusion isn't a bad thing. It's just a thing the brain does when it's trying to navigate reality. And for millions of years, it was a feature and now it's a bug. But it's something you gotta deal with, right? Because we all have it inside of us to believe things that aren't true to bias information, etcetera. And one of the things that's been fascinating is we started with that, then built out coaching and did all the other things we do, is to come to a very simple realization that if you're coaching someone and you believe they're confused, that you're completely and totally committed to helping them, and you can't believe much of what's coming out of their mouth.

And it's a weird phenomenon, right? Like you're sitting there saying, Oh, I'm going to do or give whatever it takes to try to help you get to unleash your potential, to see reality, clearly, see yourself clearly see the connection between yourself and reality clearly. But you're about to tell me a bunch of bologna and not because you're bad, not because you're not smart, it’s just because your brains’ messing with you. And one of the things I loved about our work together is when I would say that to you, cause one of the things about you is you can really come across as fierce. You'll be like, this is happening. Just so you know, I'm not asking, I'm telling this is happening. And I'd be like, okay, yep. Got it. I understand that you're very confident in this moment, that, that's true.

But you didn't ask me to help you to validate your certainty. You asked me to help you turn confusion into clarity. So let's work through that. And in my experience has been, is some people, nobody loves that process, right? The human mind is like, no, hold on. I feel really good about my certainty right now. And you're taking me back to confusion and that's painful. So could we just stop this and stick with the I'm right narrative? But there are some people who go back into that journey of confusion to get to clarity and process it well, no matter how competently they come to their initial conclusion, they work through that pain, they process it well and then some people are just like, nah, I'm out. I'd much rather talk to somebody who told me I was great.

So how do you think you came to the point of like, okay, this is painful, I don't always enjoy this, but this is the kind of thing I was looking for as you described it, wasn't where you started with our, with our coaching, but it is over time how that developed. And I saw the biggest of all the people I work with, like going most from certainty to clarity, with the greatest sort of commitment to the truth about yourself. I saw you deal with that with more courage, in more consistency than frankly, most people, I have the good fortune to work with. What do you think it was that kept you driving through that, that kept you determined and compulsive through that process?

Christina Sass:
Well, I think at first it just yielded better results than anything else that I'd tried. Like I think some of the most painful things to hear was, you know, Hey  Christina, you're, you're ultimately fighting for this cause for the software developers in your company and you're not able to get there because you're in these, you know, tough situations with your colleagues. Like what do you want, like stare down that, you know, ultimate objective, what do you want if it really is to unlock the potential for these software developers in this specific way, then you gotta get better at these conversations. So it was, to me that worked, it was like, you are getting in your own way. Can you see that you're getting in your own way? And I wasn't, you know, it wasn't feeling effective in those conversations.

And I'd certainly tried, you know, two or three different ways, but it was centering on the purpose, centering on the main goal. And so I think it's, yes, coaching is hard, but if you're coming to coaching with real shit, it's already hard, you know, like you're already not loving the situation. And so you can do it feeling like you're developing new tools with which to do it. You know, or you can, you know, give up and or decide that those are the only tools you want to use. So for me, it was just seeing my experimenting with different difficult conversations and seeing them go differently and seeing a couple of things go my way or seeing a couple of things, not go my way, but it'd be less painful. And I was like, okay, I'm going to lose this battle to win the larger war.

And I can start to put those pieces together. I started to feel less panicky when I was triggered and I had a series of mental exercises that I would go through when I was triggered. That made me feel like I handled the situation better. And that's one thing you really worked with me on Jeff is that fierceness is like, it's one tool, but it's like, it was very off putting to many of my peers. It was not off putting to my team when deployed in the right way, but off putting to my peers. And so to rein that in, you know, to really learn when to use it and not, and learn that just like digging in and fighting with that for us it often didn't really get the end goal. And so it was that I think that's part of why Talentism is so effective to me, it's about unlocking human potential in people that are really deeply dedicated to that will listen.

So part of being a startup founder is like this brutal process of being good at a couple of things. And then having your situation change every, what, six to nine months I'd say is, you know, was kind of what I experienced. And so just when you would start to get the ropes and feel good about something, your whole world would be turned upside down and like that’s scale, that's what it is. And so the founders and leaders that I love to work with in that startup phase have to be really open to what they're good at and what they're not good at and how to love something to be so attached to it, and then let it go and why they have to let it go. And so that's just a common pattern. So recognizing that that's the work pattern you're going through and that your parallel personal process is about being confused over and over again, and getting out of that confusion and doing it in a way that's healthier for you. Like there's a world of discomfort in there and learning for that to not be totally miserable, that you have support. You've got tools to live in that discomfort and to actually get better at it is very, very freeing and comforting to me.

Jeff Hunter:
Yeah. That's awesome. Thank you. Okay. So we're coming to the end of our time, but I have one big question for you. I've been dying to ask you this question. So you have been for a long time at the frontlines of social justice, economic justice and change. You've also been a startup founder and I maintain in the, you know, the relationships I have with CEOs, founders, etcetera. One of the things I talked to them about is how the nature and role of the organization, the corporation, the enterprise is changing in the midst of social change. That there, if you were a white dude, 40 years ago, who was a CEO, you had a pretty limited set of rules and you were in the power position and you just had to do certain things relatively okay and it probably would work out okay for you. Now, the power of the consumer, the power of the voice of the previously disenfranchised, the people who I think are starting to finally come into their own and wield economic influence in the center of the founder and the CEO and the executives in the center of that, and trying to make sense of that, navigate it.

What would you tell those founders, those CEOs about what they should be looking out for, what they should be thinking about, and that's A and B, Then how as coaches can we help those people achieve that? Because I do believe they will be at the center of a lot of change. The government institutions, etcetera, are really struggling to take on their proper role and that corporations are increasingly stepping in and trying to make positive change because it's good business and also it's the right thing to do. You have a unique perspective in the midst of that. Tell me a little bit about first, what you think is going to happen, what's required. And then secondly, like what does coaching need to bring to that?

Christina Sass:
Yeah, it is a great question. And it is a moment for all leaders to be thinking about that, you know, Jeff I think at the heart of it, every leader has got to drill down to the purpose and meaning of their work and really face the things that come up about how that work may or may not be contributing to, you know, to a very problematic system. And if it is, if indeed it is that they are taking concrete steps to change it for the right reason, I don't think leaders today can get around that and they have to, and there's, there's sort of no way, but through. And so there are, I think there are social businesses out there or businesses that are somewhat neutral, but they're still existing in these, what they're going to hear from their team members or from their clients may seem like it's at the periphery at the edges, but it is contributing to, you know, a racist system or a system that, that continues to keep power where it is.

And so I think it's going to be very hard to say, but that's not what we do or that's not, you know, and to be able to be open, to hear that, I think what they could do that's most important for their leadership path forward is be really authentic about their journey, be really genuine about it. And then have really excellent feedback and safe space. Because it's not a moment to share all of one's feelings. Like you need to really, you know, think through it in a safe space and get your thinking right no matter what it is, but then to share authentically what it is that your company is doing, what it seeks to do, if it has, you know, been part of a problematic system, why, how you see that clearly and and sort of what changes that, you know,  you’re gonna make to be able to do that in a in a clear and thoughtful way, if it's the case that there really isn't, you know, that the companies are really, you know, really doing great work, then I think it's getting every single person in that company clear and aligned as to the, you know, not the day in, day out KPIs, but that much larger picture and getting every employee to feel like they can really directly connect to it.

I don't think that comes often from, it could come from an inspiring line manager, but I think it often comes from the CEO. And so gone are the days where, you know, a lot of our colleagues in Africa experienced that leadership was on the 16th floor and you never saw them. And it was very hard to push back. And now we're on systems where like everyone's on a Slack channel, anybody can Slack anybody and that is jarring and it also opens up the psych, you know, kind of amazing feedback loop. And so how to deal with kind of a barrage of everyone's opinions. I don't believe that it's the CEO's job to weigh those opinions evenly but to be open with them and come back to a very sincere, authentic message about why they do, what they do and if they're part of causing problems, how they intend to to move forward with that. I think that would be my advice. And then I'll continue to think on it. It's a great question.

Jeff Hunter:
Yeah. Thank you. One of the things that really strikes me and after I just said, we're near the end of our time, but I just want to bring this up. The entire system of how we think about business really lends itself to reinforcing privilege and human blindness. And one of the ways that I think about that is the numbers, the KPIs, the metrics that most business people are obsessed with are all lagging indicators, which to me is pretty fascinating. They're obsessed with things that measure what has already happened.

Christina Sass: 

Jeff Hunter:
And so when that number you expect your growth to be a hundred percent and it's 80% you freak because you think, Oh my gosh, we're going down, but you don't really step back and say, you know, the reason we only achieved 80%, not a hundred percent was because of something we did six months ago. And how could I have known six months ago that we were going to be on this path rather than waiting for six months to figure out, and then having a reaction to it. And the reason I say this as I work with so many incredible people who are really genuinely want to bring about change, they want to be a part of that change. They want to follow the advice, but they're measuring themselves against the lagging indicators and then having to respond to things that have already taken place. And it puts them in a perpetual loop where they can't get better because they're always running to catch up to something that they set before they were fully aware of what the new world was like. So anyway, just something that's sort of struck me.

Christina Sass:
You know, you and the Talentism team have mentioned many times, like even at the beginning of the COVID crisis, somebody in your organization right now is super forward- thinking and has a path to, you know, how, what the silver lining here is and how the company can thrive through this. And if you don't have it surround yourself, you know, surround yourself with those people. I think that also takes self-awareness. But, you know, I think one of the things that drew me to Talentism and that I completely share is that every CEO, every leader in a company is in a position to, is in an awesome position and has the honor of thinking about unlocking the potential of all of those people within their company. Yes, you need to delight your clients and you need to do all these other things, but you have this amazing group of people that you're trying to get the fall into a complex, you know, line that achieves certain goals and thinking about them and yourself, like your most complicated employee.

Okay. Well, you're twice as complicated as that. Because you have all the shit that you grew up with. And so just thinking, you know, being able to move away from, okay, the KPIs that I've always looked at and being like, if I could make life, you know, if I can unlock the potential of this one group, that's going through a super complicated time. If I can listen and hear and, you know, get these people to feel free enough with all the insanity going on in the world, just to unlock their brains enough, to be like, it's gonna feel good for all moving towards the same thing and you'll feel safe about it. I think that's a real achievement in the midst of the moment that we're going through. And, you know, I can't imagine a better thing to spend your day doing than trying to unlock the human potential of the people that are hustling for you, of hustling for you day in, day out and know that is not deeply analyzing the KPIs. And I'm not saying that we can forget that. But improving on KPIs is an exercise in how people learn and they’ve got to have part of their brain free to be able to learn. And our brains are grappling with a lot of noise right now. So for a CEO to work backwards and help to make people feel safe and make people feel productive during this time, I think is massive.

Jeff Hunter:
Yeah, I agree. All right. So let's end on that note of brilliance. Thank you, Christina. You are the very best, I can't tell you how grateful I am that you were willing to take some time on the Saturday and speak with me. Thank you.

Christina Sass: 
Thank you for all the years of brutal honesty.

Jeff Hunter:
Of course you can always count on me for brutal honesty. Well, thank you very much. And thank you to everybody who is listening and Christina, I'm hoping that we can catch up again at some point in the future.

Christina Sass:

Jeff Hunter:
Great. Thank you very much. Coaching in the clear has been a production of Talentism. It was recorded, mixed and edited by 46 ad studios, original music by John Hunter. If you found this podcast valuable, please share on social media and make sure to leave a review to support this podcast. Please sign up at There you will find important content and UpToDate insights about how to unleash your potential. Thank you so much for listening.

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