APU Business Careers & Learning Leading Forward Podcast

Podcast: Pandemic Highlights the Value of Soft Skills for Leaders

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Podcast featuring Cynthia Gentile, Faculty Member, School of Business and
Dr. Charlene Glenn, international Smart Advancing Women (iSAW)

More than ever, business leaders must be agile, flexible, innovative, and focused on building authentic relationships with employees. In this episode, APU business professor Cynthia Gentile talks to Dr. Charlene Glenn about how she applied these critical soft skills to her own life as she undertook completing a Fulbright scholarship in the midst of a pandemic. Also hear about the challenges and benefits of working remotely, how the pandemic has changed how she teaches soft skills, and why she thinks success is so dependent on innovation and developing an innovative mindset.

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Read the Transcript:

Cynthia Gentile: Welcome to the podcast, Leading Forward. I’m your host Cynthia Gentile. Today’s episode is the next in a series of conversations with women leaders on the personal and professional effects of the pandemic. We’ve been fortunate to speak with leaders from across the professional spectrum and this episode is no different.

Today, my guest is Dr. Charlene Glenn, a professor in the Peirce College business division and a 2020-2021 Fulbright Scholarship recipient. Dr. Glenn is a highly regarded faculty member with more than 20 years of dedicated, passionate, and impactful service to her students. She instructs business courses, mentors students and creates programming focused on preparing students for the competitive business landscape.

Based on her years of experience teaching and counseling students, Dr. Glenn saw a need to develop students’ business acumen and prepare them for long-term success in the work environment. To meet that need, she launched a series of auxiliary activities focused on soft skill development to strengthen the skills needed to advance in the corporate sector.

Among those activities were a one-day business conference with workshops that included professionalism, networking, business dress, developing authentic leadership skills, and emotional and social intelligence. She’s also developed a professional enrichment series with similar topics, a hands-on golf instruction workshop, and the Power of Grit event to acknowledged students’ tenacity and dedication in their academic studies.

In this academic year, she will be facilitating the Level-Up Business Etiquette series designed to strengthen workplace etiquette skills and to help participants develop a personal brand that will make them stand out from the crowd.

As a 2020-2021 Fulbright Scholarship recipient, Dr. Glenn will facilitate a number of scholarly initiatives with Barbados Community College. She will oversee and teach a professional development series entitled, Developing an Agile Mindset for the Competitive Business Landscape, for employees of various companies in Barbados. And will co-teach a hybrid course with a BCC faculty member on creativity and innovation for small business development and entrepreneurship.

While she originally planned to teach these courses in person, she will now practice the agility and adaptability that she teaches and facilitate via Zoom. Dr. Glenn, welcome to Leading Forward. Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me today.

Dr. Charlene Glenn: Thank you, Cyndi. I appreciate you extending the invitation and I’m excited to share my story with the listeners of your podcast.

Cynthia Gentile: That’s great. I am excited to get started talking a little bit about the impact of the pandemic on your students and subsequently on your approach to teaching, as well as your recent Fulbright Award which is very exciting. But before I dig in, can you share a little bit about Peirce College, about the students you work with? Just a little bit about your background?

Dr. Charlene Glenn: Okay. Well, I have worked with Peirce for over 20 years and I’ve taught within the business division. Prior to teaching in the business division, I oversaw the Walker Center, which provides academic advising and student support services for students.

So I’ve served in an administrative role as well as a faculty role. And one of my passions and you can tell that in reading my bio that I really like to work with students outside of the classroom because I really believe that we have to develop them, their skills, beyond the classroom knowledge but to also give them those skills that will help them to be successful.

Cyndi, as you know, most of our students are adult learners and many of them bring a lot of valuable and insightful experience to the educational environment. And so really makes for a robust discussion.

Cynthia Gentile: We’re so lucky to work with students that do bring that wealth of information and background into our courses. It, it really does make such a fulfilling academic environment. So how did you teach leadership skills before the pandemic?

[Podcast: Empowering Women to Build Skills Needed for the New Economy]

Dr. Charlene Glenn: In terms of my experience and my reading and the literature that I’ve come across, the skills that I believe and that I’ve taught many of my students is that it is important to be an authentic leader and be someone who is genuine, who can develop relationships with your employees. I think that really does make a difference.

And those are the skills that I have worked at teaching many of the students that I come across because I think you have to recognize, one, who are you working with and that it is a human relationship when you’re involved in leadership. There must be a connection with your employees and really spend time knowing them and understanding them, to be able to motivate and lead them to accomplish the goal, whatever that goal is, within your organization.

So it’s all about relationships. It’s also about communication skills, and it’s also about leading by example. Because I really believe that employees look to their leaders to serve as examples and they look to see if they can jump in and help out with projects. And so those are some of the key points that I’ve kind of really pushed and explored more with the students that I work with.

Cynthia Gentile: And think that some of those points that you highlighted really became even more important in the face of the pandemic, especially with remote work, with a lot of personal challenges that individuals have to deal with in terms of childcare or other adult or dependent care. So have you changed any of your approaches to either information delivery or focus in light of the pandemic?

Dr. Charlene Glenn: That really is the question of the moment. I’ve actually lost three family members to the pandemic. It really did touch me and it really led me to be very empathetic with my students.

Many of them were experiencing issues, of course, with working from home, making sure that their children are set up to study at home. To really oversee, as you mentioned, their parents. So I was very empathetic with working with my students. I understood their concerns.

When we’re on Zoom sometimes and you hear the children in the background or you hear the pets, you have to be flexible right now. Because this was not what people expected that they were going to have to be dealing with, but we have to be understanding that these are some issues that may come up and I found myself being very empathetic and understanding. Sometimes they couldn’t finish the assignments in time, I would grant extensions.

And I think that that was what they needed. They needed to have kind of like that human touch and understand that someone is really committed to working with them and recognizing that, yes, this is different and that we’re all going to get through this. But it’s a matter of being flexible and understanding and sometimes granting some extensions when it was needed.

Cynthia Gentile: It’s interesting when you think about the ways that your own approach to leadership has to changed in this environment because I second everything that you’re saying in terms of granting an extension where I may not have done that before or even just having more of a human one-on-one connection with the students.

When you hear the puppy barking in the background or the kid who walked in the middle of the Zoom frame. We have a different relationship with our students and it changes, I think, the way that we become leaders in their view and what we expect from them and in terms of how they show their own leadership skills.

Dr. Charlene Glenn: Can I add a point to that, Cyndi. We are required to have Zoom meetings with our students each week. And I have to say the Zoom meetings have helped to develop a stronger relationship with our students. And I’m finding that many students are attending the Zooms because they want that connection, they want the interaction with their peers, and they want the interaction with the instructor.

And I’ve found that the relationships are really developing to be some stronger relationships versus being in the classroom when someone’s sitting in the back, they might not be speaking up. But in Zoom you have to be on and participating and I’ve actually found that I’m developing some really strong relationships with students as a result of it.

Cynthia Gentile: Yeah, I completely agree. And I think that it’s interesting to think about the skills they’re developing here in our classroom in terms of proper Zoom etiquette and just the ability to connect in that virtual environment and what they’ll be able to do with those skills when they go out into the business world. I’m really enjoying this conversation. So shifting gears a little bit, I’m really excited to talk about your Fulbright Award. How did you become aware of this opportunity?

Dr. Charlene Glenn: Well, one of my colleagues within the grant division at Peirce, she shared the application with me. I believe she may have been a reviewer in a previous year and during the summer she said, “You know, do you think you want to apply?” She said, “I think that you have got a good chance of getting it.” And I said, “Okay I’ll give it a try.”

It definitely was not something that I was originally thinking about doing but I have the summers off my job and I said, “Well, you know what, this summer I can work on this. This is something that I’d like to pursue and it’s something I haven’t achieved,” then I said, “let me give it a go.” And I really spent the summer before submitting the application in 2019. I spent June, July and August working on the application to submit it in September.

Cynthia Gentile: So this was pre-pandemic?

Dr. Charlene Glenn: Yes.

Cynthia Gentile: Okay. So, with that in mind, what was the original intention or plan for your proposal and how did it change obviously in light of our situation, our global pandemic?

Dr. Charlene Glenn: So I wrote an application to teach business innovation in Barbados and I was scheduled to travel to Barbados January of 2020. And the goal was to spend six months there teaching a course that I had developed, Business Innovation, to their undergraduate students in the commerce division. The goal was to work with the students, work with local entrepreneurs, and to help develop entrepreneurial skills as well as innovativeness in terms of developing a final entrepreneurial project. So that was my original plan pre-COVID.

Cynthia Gentile: And obviously that needed to change. So you’re working on this year, correct? This academic year. So how has that plan changed?

Dr. Charlene Glenn: Well, I’ll tell you it changed drastically.

Cynthia Gentile: How hasn’t it changed is, is a better question?

Dr. Charlene Glenn: I know. Oh boy, it was drastic. Okay. So first, in order to really receive the Fulbright funding you have to travel to the country in order to receive the Fulbright funding. So that was the first issue that I was dealing with because I was concerned about traveling and that was something and I just was not going to do.

So I met with the president of the college and I met with the faculty chair of the business program. And I said, “You know, I was awarded this Fulbright, I’m going to do this work and I’m going to do this work despite the pandemic. And I would hope that you could work with me to get this accomplished even without having to travel there.” And I guess my thoughts and my ideas were received well from the president and the faculty chair of the business division.

And they said, “If you want to do it, you go right ahead. We welcome you, and we are here to support you in any way that you can.” And I said, “Well, I’m going to do it.” And I said I’m going to do it virtually and we’re going to work out a plan so that I could do this via Zoom. And then I can also work with the faculty members to develop an interactive session to accomplish the work that I was going to do even if I was not there.

Cynthia Gentile: So, it sounds like you were able to draw on your previous experience using hybrid technology to still bring your expertise to this college. Talk a little bit about maybe your personal disappointment around that and how you navigated your own feelings about changing up your plan.

Dr. Charlene Glenn: I was disappointed that I was unable to travel there and I had some really great plans around it, but I did not let that disappointment stop me from really getting involved in the work that I wanted to do.

I actually saw this still as an opportunity. Because in my mind, I was granted this opportunity to do the work and at that point I had to really develop some perseverance, some agility, and some grit to say you’re going to get this done. And if you are working with the individuals there at the college who are willing to allow you to do this virtually, it can be done. And, and the point that I wanted to highlight was that I just said, “This has got to get done this year, I’m not putting this off into next year.”

I’ve taught online instruction for the past 10 or 15 years for Peirce and I saw that that was a possibility that it could be done. And I guess not having any shortcomings that it couldn’t be accomplished probably didn’t stop me. It didn’t get in my way.

Cynthia Gentile: The technology piece wasn’t intimidating, so that’s wonderful. Are you teaching that class now?

Dr. Charlene Glenn: So here’s how the plan worked out. The plan was to go there in January. But what I was able to do was to create a project that I completed this past fall and then I’m going to be working with them in the spring.

So myself, too and the faculty chair and another faculty member within Barbados Community College worked with me to develop an agility series, to teach and to facilitate for various professionals in industry in Barbados. So I spent about the past three months facilitating a session on developing an agile mindset and actually facilitating various sessions on how to approach a change project or approach an improvement project to help them improve their organizations.

So we did that over the past four months. It went over very well and I have to say, I’m an example of agility in many ways, and I was able to facilitate the session and help those professionals develop projects so that they could present to their senior management about how they wanted to change and improve the organizations that they work in.

So that was the first part. Then the second part, I am going to be co-facilitating a virtual class with a faculty member at Barbados Community College on small business and entrepreneurship. And so that will begin in another two weeks and we will be sort of going back and forth. I’m going to be facilitating some Zoom sessions. I’m going to be creating a few videos.

And the mindset is to develop innovative and creative thinking with the students to help them develop their entrepreneurial projects. They have a final project in the entrepreneurial class and to help them develop projects that they would consider as new business ideas.

Cynthia Gentile: That’s really, really cool and really timely in terms of that idea of being agile in your approach to success. So how are you measuring or thinking about your own definition of success on this project in light of all of the changes that you’ve had to implement?

Dr. Charlene Glenn: When I think about success, I’m thinking about one, the connections that I’m making with the various professionals, their students there. I’m thinking about the impact that I’m making with them and how they see benefit in the work.

I have to say that my comfort level with technology and with Zoom has really made the difference. So I think that that really is a success factor. And I think it really is just about perseverance. And again, this whole idea of being innovative. When you think about success now, success is about being innovative.

It’s about persevering through obstacles and I would use those words to describe success for me now. Being able to be creative, being able to be agile, and then also having the ability to just to persevere and to be resilient and not give up. And I think I had to say that not giving up was something that really resonated with me with pushing forward on this Fulbright.

Cynthia Gentile: Yeah. I can see where the temptation would be to have just let the circumstances, especially with as far reaching as they are, to have taken over and just limited your options but you didn’t let that happen which is really great.

And I’m sure you’re going to be able to bring a lot of this back to your students at Peirce College as you continue in your role at Peirce as a full-time faculty member. Are there specific things that you want to bring back to those students?

Dr. Charlene Glenn: My plan is to be able to share with the community at Peirce what I’ve done as well as share with the students, some of the experiences that I had working with the professionals at Barbados Community College.

I also plan at looking at how we can incorporate some of the content or some of the information that I developed at Barbados Community College. I’m looking to also incorporate that and some of my classes in Peirce. So yes, there is definitely a benefit to having this at Barbados Community College because I could clearly see how I can bring some additional content to my courses at Peirce College.

Cynthia Gentile: I’m confident that there’s a ton of information for you to bring back about your learnings during this challenging time. I really enjoyed catching up with you, Charlene. Thanks so much for taking time to talk with me today and for sharing your experiences and perspectives on this episode of Leading Forward.

Dr. Charlene Glenn: Thank you, Cyndi. Thank you for inviting me.

Cynthia Gentile: And thank you to our listeners for joining us. Be well and be safe.

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