In this episode, Dr. Linda Ashar talks with career coach Maisha Christian about the challenges of mid-career changes brought about by COVID and fast-moving technological advancements such as artificial intelligence (AI). Learn how to navigate these career changes by recognizing and leveraging your own leadership style.
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Linda Ashar: Hello everyone, I’m Linda Ashar. Welcome to my podcast today. Our topic, finding your own leadership style, and leading yourself to success. It is my pleasure to be speaking about this today with Maisha Christian. Maisha is a talented career coach and a keynote speaker who heads up her own consulting business called Beauty & the Boss, which I love.
Maisha’s special focus is helping women bridge the gap in the professional and working environment. I guarantee you all our listeners of all identity will find her wisdom has a universal application for overcoming barriers to success in the workplace, in the professional environment, whatever your goals may be.
Maisha, thank you for joining me today.
Maisha Christian: Thanks for having me, Linda. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Linda Ashar: In your work, you have a lot of experience with many types of people and environments. I’d like our listeners to know a little more about you before we get into talking nuts and bolts about our topic. Could you explain a little bit about the kind of coaching that you provide, and maybe share a little bit about how that works?
Maisha Christian: So, most of my coaching is one-on-one, it’s individualized. And I describe it as organized, but organic. That’s really important because I believe every person has a unique landscape. They’re dealing with a unique set of cards, right? I’m from Las Vegas originally. My mom’s a blackjack dealer, so, you may get some gambling references. But everybody has a different hand to play. And I believe that with an investment of coaching, both financially and time, people deserve to have a very custom approach.
I also do a lot of idea sharing in spaces like this, podcasting, and from stages and webinars, and things like that. But those are vehicles for the work that I’m really doing, which is tying back to that advocacy. I was talking to someone today, and I said, “I’m like a career doula. I love that people have support from their companies, from their employers, from their universities, but I think sometimes you need a person who is going to be ruthlessly for you.” And so that’s really what I do as a career coach.
Linda Ashar: I love the term “doula;” it works perfectly. I love the gambling reference too, because I’m sure somebody famous or many famous somebodies, have remarked that, “Life itself is a gamble.” And so I think that’s very apt analogy right out of the box. In your work with people, is there a typical or constant thread that you see today defining… maybe defining is not the best word, ……but for want of a better one, defining the kinds of barriers people are encountering in their professional aspirations?
Maisha Christian: Yes. I’m trying not to stand on my soapbox, but I’ll hop on real quickly.
Linda Ashar: By all means, yeah. Here, let me push it a little closer for you.
Maisha Christian: I think that employers are their own worst enemies sometimes. The majority of the people that I work with, through coaching, want to stay where they are. They love the people they work with. They know the systems. They like their commute. They know where the bathrooms are, they know how to order pens. They are comfortable with the familiar, and they have invested a lot of time, and see so many ways to improve processes, and efficiencies, and the experience. And it amazes me that an individual will go to their direct manager and express an interest in being promoted, basically wanting to do more work, right? Wanting to have opportunities to share more of that experience, that information, and all of the obstacles that are put in their way to be able to do that.
And then, many, many employers will say, “Well, we can’t find anyone. Or, we are short-staffed. Or we’re just having a hard time growing our teams.” And I think the challenge is really because we are in the middle. Right now, we’re living it live and in color. We’re in the middle of a work revolution, and we can’t see it because we’re in it. And so I think some of the obstacles are historical. I think some of them are institutional. I think some of them are just personal. And so we’re navigating a lot both as employees and as employers.
Linda Ashar: I’d like to follow up with the term “work revolution.” Can you expand on that from your view from your soapbox?
Maisha Christian: When you think about the history of work, we can look historically into lots of different milestones of how people related to and how they were pulled into the workforce. So, you can look at this from the beginning of time of colonization, then into collective agriculture. Then we hit the Industrial Revolution, which shifts everything.
There are things that we do right now in our work, that had their roots and starts in the Industrial Revolution. Then we kind of fast-forward to The Roaring Fifties, where there’s another kind of consumerism boom, World War II. I mean, there’s so many different aspects that have shifted what work has looked like. And certainly the one that we are all still living and experiencing is the results from COVID. And I think also we can see the evidence of that, in that the people are rioting. The people are not having the foolishness anymore.
And so whether you are talking about quiet quitting, or at this time, at the time of this recording, writers and actors are on strike. UPS said, “We will not deliver a single Amazon package unless you get your act together,” through their union. And so this is the revolution, is you’re seeing this across lots of different industries. You’re seeing people grapple with the shifting of the sand. And it’s happening so quickly that it’s throwing everybody into a little bit of a whirlwind. But, to me, it’s very exciting, because what I hope is there will be some really positive innovations and institutional changes that are going to benefit not just how people work, but also how people live.
Linda Ashar: Something else popped into my mind for these innovations that you’ve been listing. And by the way, I agree, they’ve happened very fast. When you think of what you just described as affecting and changing how we work; how people work across the board in broad terms; that’s all happened in just a little over a 100 years, most of it. That rapidity has just increased and accelerated.
Maisha Christian: And so to add to that, Linda, there are the number of generations simultaneously working in the workforce, currently five. And all of them have a certain relationship, certain set of values around work. And so that’s another reason why we are finding, I won’t say we have to, we are finding different ways of working. I mean, for people who are in their 60s, in their 70s, they have navigated an incredible amount of change. And they may still have the health and the vitality to keep working, right? They have value to contribute in the same way that 19, 20, 21-year-olds do. And so this is another part of that complexity. Throw on top of that, things like AI, things like that device in your pocket is not a phone, it is a computer with an app for a phone. All of these are things that are just happening so quickly. We are trying to figure them out because we can’t afford to land the plane, change the tires, and then take off again. We are in the air. We’re in the air, and we’re fixing it as we go.
Linda Ashar: Well, let me ask you this question because you mentioned AI, and you actually kind of anticipated me a little bit there. The recent highly publicized layoff of the company that laid off so many employees to replace them with AI. Are you familiar with that in the news, I imagine, aren’t you?
I’m not asking you to comment about that particular employer, but that’s an example of the kind of changes we’re talking about. Let’s talk about those people that are laid off, not knowing their ages. It seems from the way it was reported, that many of them might’ve been in that younger generation you were just referring to, but it doesn’t really matter. My question for you as a career coach consultant is, let’s say one of those people finds themselves, so to speak, on the street from that type of an unexpected event, and needs to figure out, “What’s going to happen to me now? Where do I go? What do I do?” How do you handle that person? What would be your initial advice? Where would you start with somebody like that today?
Maisha Christian: Great question. I think the first place to start is with empathy, and with dignity. Because when we talk about employees, sometimes we dehumanize them. We talk about them like they are robots, right? Like they are replaceable. And I think remembering and really recognizing that people have bills; people have families; people have their own health and wellbeing that they’re trying to maintain. They have goals and aspirations. They have desires and passions. And so when a person loses their job, all of that is really what’s rushing to the forefront of their mind. And so in coaching sometimes, it’s a space to just let a person mourn and grieve. Because a dream or an expectation that they had from a relationship, even though that relationship is with an employer, that relationship has died. It’s ended very catastrophically, and they need to process that. So, I think that’s kind of number one.
But then number two, we got to find a horse. We got to ride it. And so, certainly there’s an assessment of what are your skills; what are your strengths; where are there opportunities? I think the challenge in the tech space is, there’s so many people available who have very specialized experience. And so that’s another thing that we see in the history of work is moving from general to specific. General ability to specialty, general to specialty. And so that’s another dynamic that we’re also navigating. I think the third thing is, and this might be just an overarching thing in general, there’s a lot of fear. I want to take the fear about AI, and robotics, and technology of, like, blowing up the planet and taking over humanity. I just want to set that aside for now.
Linda Ashar: Oh, good. Good. That’s fine.
Maisha Christian: Yeah, that, I cannot speak to. What I can speak to is having these tools of innovation, and the reality that there are always going to be casualties. So, when you think about the car; we think about Henry Ford. Oh, it was such innovation. And well, yeah, we look at it that way now because everyone has a car and a half. But back then, it was replacing horses and buggies. And so horse drivers and buggy makers were freaking out. And there’s so many other examples. If you think about there’re things that we use today that are just easy-peasy for us. Look at email, and its effect on the U.S. Postal Service. What happened? An innovation stepped in, and there were casualties.
And so this is something that I think we have to be prepared for. And having a mindset that you are going to be open to re-engineering your skills, repackaging your skills, learning something new and different that may be outside of the realm of what you’ve done before. So, I have a great friend who was a sound engineer, and this person worked in studios recording records. Well, everyone needed to record a record at the time, right? Well, now, that person helps set up sound for podcasts, same skills, same abilities, different application. And so I think that is going to be very, very important in general. The good news is, we now live in a world where in one lifetime you may have two, three, four careers, and it’s acceptable; it’s okay. It’s actually encouraged and good. So, don’t get defeated or discouraged. Process what you need to process emotionally, but then let’s get to work.
Linda Ashar: Excellent. So, part of that process is revisiting a lot about yourself that you’ve been taking for granted, that has something to offer.
Maisha Christian: Yeah, because no one thinks their superpowers are super. Superman was like, “I fly. What is so special about that? Everybody flies where I’m from.” “Well, not here. We don’t fly over here. That’s amazing to us.” And so sometimes people do need help seeing that the thing they do so naturally is actually extraordinary and needed.
Linda Ashar: And just because one employer takes a dramatic step, like the employer that hit the news with the massive layoff in a department for AI; it doesn’t mean all employers are going to take the same view that that’s the way to go, overnight. And you alluded to that at the beginning of our discussion, where you talked about employers being their own worst enemy. We’re focusing for a minute here on the individual regrouping to move forward. But it seems to me that businesses should be doing the same thing in a positive way, because we’re always going to need manpower unless we’re going to completely dehumanize society. And if that’s the case, nobody’s going to be listening to podcasts.
Maisha Christian: Well, here’s why I can sleep at night. Because I don’t know that AI can do what humanity can do, which is create. I think it can process information and there’s trillions and trillions and trillions of bits and bytes of information on the internet, but I don’t think that it can see what it cannot see. And that is a unique gift of mankind, for good or for evil. And so I don’t think we’re entering a stage where we’re all just going to be plugged in, like The Matrix, where we’re just being used for heat and generating power. But I do think that it’s a telltale sign that people have to kind of come up for air, and check the landscape around them. And, I would also say, take that into consideration with where you are in life and what you need. I very specifically and purposefully work with people in mid-career, because I recognize and respect, and I can identify with: we’ve got bills, we need health insurance, we have a mortgage.
Sometimes, we’re caring for children and parents. And so that stage of life is really unique, very different from a person who maybe is four years from retiring. They’re thinking they have different priorities. Or someone who’s new entering the workforce, they also have different priorities. So, I think taking all of this into consideration, it is in the context of, who are you, where are you, what are your priorities right now, next five years? And what are the things that you can be doing to stay in your rhythm, and to stay in place of where you need to be, as much as is within your own control?
Linda Ashar: Very well stated. Maisha, we have been talking in kind of broad terms about finding a pathway to success, dealing with changes in the workplace, maybe even in our own lives. Along that pathway, a couple of sure things are going to happen, unless we’re not getting out of bed, and that may be a phase of dealing with things. But once we’re out of bed and moving forward, a couple of things are going to happen. Either we’re returning to an employer we’re still working with, and looking ahead to performance review, or a meeting with the boss about planning. Or, as the case may be, it could be strategic planning, or it could be how a department team is going to be organized. But there’s all kinds of meetings like that, that you could be having with a supervisor or a boss that’s going to have an effect on your employment and your own status. That’s one scenario.
Another is you might be one of those employees that has been riffed due to downsizing, replacement, whatever the cause of that might’ve been. So, you’re looking forward to a job interview, and needing to prepare for that. In our second half of our podcast, I thought we might talk a little bit about the preparation and logistics of those two really stressful events. They’re positive events, but they’re stressful. What’s your insight about those events, Maisha?
Maisha Christian: I think both of them are great information-finding opportunities. I think a lot of times, we approach both of those as, “I need to sell and tell.” I need to tell them how great I am, show everything I’ve been doing, get that validation, get that kind of second date, third date, especially when you’re interviewing. But it’s a two-way street. Whether you are job searching or whether you are in a firm, in an organization, in a team, and you’re wanting to grow your career there. Those meetings are really important for you to also get information. And so I think learning how to prepare in advance, which there’s tons of information on the internet of how to prepare. I think also doing your own personal research to come to some clarity around where are the gaps, what is the information that you need to shake out to see how this fits into your own career plan?
And then knowing how to sit in that meeting, and navigate it logistically. So, using time and timing, using silence and space, being very comfortable with silence. Allowing people time to think, knowing how to reply when you need some time to think. All of these are some skills that we don’t often talk about, but they make those interactions much more meaningful. And honestly, they make them a lot more enjoyable for everyone. Not just you, but also the person on the other side of the table is engaged at a much higher level when you show up like that.
Linda Ashar: Do you have any tips for… Speaking of logistics, this just came to mind. It seems to me that there are many recruiters, at least, probably employers too, who are now using Zoom and Teams meetings in lieu of the in-person interview. Is there a difference in that dynamic that people should be thinking about?
Maisha Christian: Absolutely. Something as simple as looking at the camera, as opposed to looking at the person. When we’re in-person, I can look at you as I’m speaking, and we connect with our eyes, and I’m taking in so much information. But once we put this barrier up, there’s this weird dynamic of, “Do I look at you? Do I look at the camera hole? Right? Where do I look?” And it’s so weird, it’s so odd. But I think people have to take into consideration, you want that other person to feel like they are present with you. And so how can you minimize those barriers? Certainly looking at the camera. I think simple things like having your lighting well done, having your background. I like having a background that isn’t blurred out, that weird blur around people like they’re floating in air is very distracting to me.
I understand it’s necessary sometimes, but I think just having where they’re seeing through the camera what they would see if they were sitting with you in person, you don’t have a Gaussian blur around you in real life. And I think it also changes the pace of the conversation, because people are having to really hone in what they’re hearing only. Even though they see you on a screen, it’s still they’re not getting all of the natural information they would get, and it becomes a barrier. So, slowing things down, I think to a level that’s appropriate, so that people can truly hear. They can write notes.
I think also being comfortable with saying, “That’s a great question, may I have just 20 seconds to think about it?” And letting someone know we’re going to sit in silence and it’s okay, and then hit them with some magic. Those are some things that I feel like are often helpful. The worst ones though, I will tell you, is when it’s a panel Zoom interview, I mean, it just stinks. It’s not fun. I have seen though something that I think is awesome, and I can’t recall what the technology is. But, the employer records a quick introduction video, sends you a link that has some prompts. And you are able to record your answer to those questions and prompts.
And I really thought that that was a great use of technology, but also it allowed the person to show up very authentically. So, if you talk with your hands, you can talk with your hands, right? If you’re a little bit more methodical and slower, it gives you time to think about it before you’re on the spot. And in the particular example I saw, you could rerecord it as many times as you want, as long as you recorded everything by the deadline. So, I think if companies are looking for ways to screen, there are some cool tools out there where they’re not just throwing everyone into Zoom rooms.
Linda Ashar: Well, that is an awesome approach for an employer to use. It’s not only efficient, but it’s better than just looking at paper resumes. I mean, a resume review or the equivalent might still be the first weeding out, but that’s an excellent next step, because it allows the applicant to give their best foot forward that they can do. And the employer gets to see that, and then they can take it from there, if there’s another round.
Maisha Christian: Well, what I thought was really smart and efficient was, you skip over needing to coordinate five schedules. Because I’m working. Do you know how hard it is for people to come up with an excuse to not be at work to interview for a job they want? That’s a barrier that exists. And so this is an example of how you can minimize that barrier for someone who is interested in you.
Linda Ashar: Well, that kind of takes me to the next question. When you’re having a discussion with someone, maybe the job that you are specifically interviewing for, either isn’t going to be a good fit, and you’re sensing that from the way the interview’s going, I’m going to assume that you’re sensing that. But something in the conversation or in your research leading up to the interview, allows you to think that there might be other opportunities that aren’t currently being advertised by this employer, that you may fit well for. And you’d like to try to find a way to bring that up.
Maisha Christian: Sometimes, in the conversation, there may not be the opportunity without sounding salesy. You have to read the room, consider the context of the conversation, and then decide, take the risk or, “Nope, this isn’t the right time,” and leave it alone. But I think one thing that I always encourage people to do is to remember that you are approaching a person. Yes, you are interviewing for a job at a company, but this is a person. And so how can you connect with this person in a genuine and a respectful way? So, here’s some strategies. This is free coaching, this is free advice, so you should write these things down. Number one, if you are interviewing at a place and you just feel like this role isn’t the right thing, but I’m really liking what I’m hearing about the company, you can shift the conversation to that. So, get the other person talking.
Tell me what it was like when you joined this company. What are the things that you see are opportunities? What are some things you think will be important to your business in the next six to 12 months? People love talking. And so if you can shift, and you get them open up, now we’re back to you on an information. You’re on a fact-finding mission at that point, and you’ve gotten some quality information that could be useful over that time period, over that six to 12 months. One thing I always kind of encourage people to do, especially if they’re in a long job search, if you apply for a job you interview, you get to round one, round two, you don’t get selected, and you have a name of someone. You have a name and an email, follow up with them in 90 days; follow up with them 120 days.
And the follow-up could be, “Hey, it was nice meeting you. We interviewed a couple of months ago for X, Y, Z position. I wanted to know how things are going with your new hire.” Here’s why. Research shows that within the first 90 days, most fits will either prove themselves to be successful, or they will already be writing on the wall, “that is not a good fit.” And so for an employer, in some cases, and this is probably more relevant if you are in the private sector, having to go back to the general public and repost. And rehire is very expensive. But if they already have someone that they’ve already had a resume, two conversations, and now you’re initiating, you’re showing your interest, this is a faster procurement for them. Those are things you can actually do if you find yourself interested in a company, and they don’t necessarily have the role that you’re looking for.
Linda Ashar: Those are excellent suggestions. Because what you’re talking about now, is gentle networking. It’s not overly intrusive, but you’re maintaining a presence with that person.
Maisha Christian: And it’s manageable. I don’t know about you, but I just can’t go to all the things, and shake all the hands, and kiss all the babies. I’m exhausted, I’m tired. It’s currently 115 degrees where I live. I don’t want to do it; but I can follow up, and be genuine and sincere. And, “Hey, how are you? Are you staying hydrated? Are you getting out of here? Wanted to just know how things are going.” And I can tell you I have personal experience with this. I followed-up with someone. He said to me, “Oh, actually I left that company before that person came on, so I don’t know how it’s going. But I’ve started my own recruiting firm. We should talk.” So, there was still value from the relationship, the person that’s been professionally but… I like what you said, “Gently nurtured and cultivated.”
Linda Ashar: A lot of the things that we’ve been talking about sounds like common sense. But we as individual humans are the worst at applying common sense to our own situations, especially when we’re in a heightened stress level, like needing to get a certain job because we don’t have one. Or hating where we’re at and wanting to get out. Those are two biggies right there. I would suggest that hating where you’re at and wanting to get out is the worst of the two. But it depends on, I suppose, the bills, that are the most pressing, hard to compare those.
But the advantage of having someone like you, people we need a sounding board. You hit the very first word, almost the first word you spoke today was the word empathy. And wouldn’t this be a better world if everybody had more of that? But the empathy, the understanding, and sometimes the hard down-to-earth advice a mentor and a coach can bring to a situation, is very helpful. I really appreciate the advice you’ve given everybody today, because that’s an example of just in less than 30 minutes, what some coaching can do for people.
The very last thought I had on all this as we’ve been talking is that, flexibility might be an overused word, and we’re certainly advising employers to have it. But I think we as individuals need to have it too, to pursue goals and try to find a way to overcome barriers. Is that too simplistic a statement, Maisha?
Maisha Christian: I don’t think so. I think that statement is at the core of why I started coaching, because I think no one is more invested in your wellbeing than you. And what we have disregarded or minimized is the incredible capacity and the brilliance that exists within people. And the ability to solve problems, the ability to navigate, to bounce back, to be resilient. And also the responsibility to tap into that. It’s not like “leaders” are the only ones, and I’m putting leaders in quotes because I think we have this very Grecian view of what leaders are. But every person is a leader because you have the responsibility and the capability to lead your own life, and your career is part of that. And so starting coaching, for me, was to show people, encourage them, but also help them to tap into the fact that you do not have to wait.
You do not have to wait for someone to give you the opportunity. You do not have to wait for someone to validate you or see your value, that there are things you can do that shake out, does it exist in your current atmosphere and your current landscape? And if it doesn’t, you also have the choice to go and find a place that connects with you, not only in the work that you do, but the person that you are. So, through those values, through those experiences, through the benefits that that company offers, through the contributions that you’re able to make. And I just believe, I truly, truly believe that a lot of the changes that we’re wanting to see that are going to benefit people are going to come from the people engaging, and not us waiting for institutions that have no incentive.
Here’s the example, right? Here’s the example. I can tell you something that has never happened in the history of humankind. No one has ever gone to Target seen that little yellow sticker, that little discount sticker, which makes us so happy, tells us how much discount it is, and then they went back to the counter and said, “I would like to pay full price for this.” That has never happened. And if it has happened, guess what? That company does not have a mechanism to charge you more. They can’t do it.
And so I think that’s the picture when we sit back and we’re waiting. We’re waiting for someone, an organization, an entity, an enterprise, an industry, an institution that has been getting discounted services to come to our counter and say, “I would like to pay full price for this,” and it’s not going to happen. We as individuals have to advocate for ourselves. And what I tell people is, “I think if enough individuals get the exception, the exception becomes the rule, instead of waiting for the rules to change. There’s no motivation from organizations to change the rules.”
Linda Ashar: And that’s what’s finding your own leadership style is all about.
Maisha Christian: 100%.
Linda Ashar: Be your own best advocate.
Maisha Christian: 100%.
Linda Ashar: The art of it is to be your own best advocate, and that’s different than, say, being the bull that drives through the China shop, and causes damage and disarray along the way. That’s not being a best advocate.
Maisha Christian: It’s not, because you can’t set your own house on fire. We live here. We are active participants in this economy, so we can’t set it on fire. We can’t dismantle the whole doggone thing, but I think what we can do is lead the way towards those innovations. Because one thing I know is, I think what’s underlining a lot of the resistance is actually fear, right? And so if there are enough examples that we can pass over this bridge, and it not collapse, then I think there will be swell and momentum, and then we’ll see those changes happening. I actually appreciate that we’re in an era where we’re iterating very quickly. Because I think that as much as that we can look at failures, we can also look at the successes. And when companies succeed, when individuals succeed, I believe our communities succeed, our economy succeeds, everybody wins. But I think my part of that is helping the individual start that journey, or go further in the journey that they’re already on.
Linda Ashar: Maisha, that’s a beautiful closing for this podcast.
Maisha Christian: Thank you, Linda. It’s good chatting with you.
Linda Ashar: There isn’t another word I could add, except to say, thank you everyone. This is Linda Ashar, we’ve been talking today with Maisha Christian about finding your own leadership style, and leading yourself to success. Maisha, you are awesome. Thank you.