Top Ways to Impact Your Company Culture

Kristen McAlister virtually sits down with Carol Marzouk, Executive Lion Tamer, to discuss how she coaches leaders to be a positive influence on company their culture. 


[00:00:00] Kristen McAlister: Hello, this is Kristen McAlister with Cerius Executives and welcome to Cerius Business Today. I’m joined by Carol Marzouk, also known as the Executive Lion Tamer. Now, before we go any further, Carol, I have to stop right there. I don’t know anyone else who calls themselves an Executive Lion Tamer. 

Carol Marzouk: You know, that came about because, well I work with big egos.

I work with the lions in the workplace, if you will. And my clients see me as the executive lion tamer. The one that gets in there and tames those executives that nobody else could. And that actually came about because it was an attorney who was referred me into another attorney that really needed my help.

He was a rainmaker of the firm and, I met with him and he said, Carol, thank you very much. [00:01:00] But I don’t need your help. I make the money for this firm. And so honestly, they kind of have to figure it out and work around me and he was extremely toxic to the firm. And so I gave him my card and I said, okay, I only work with coachable people, I’m not in the business of miracles.

So here’s my card. I said it nicely, of course. So, here’s my card and I thought he’d throw it away. But a month and a week later, he calls me and he said to me, “ I just threw a chair across the room and almost hit an associate.” And this woman was somebody that already had it in for him.

And he almost hit her, he missed her just by a hair. And so I said, so are you calling me because you need better aim.

He said, no, you said you only work with coachable people. And now I’ve got a lawsuit and now I’m coachable. [00:02:00] So when I was telling the story, people were like, you really are the executive lion tamer. So now I’m still working with the law firm and him and it’s going really well.

Then the lawsuit, evaporated, I worked with the woman as well and everything’s good. So that’s how that came about. 

Kristen McAlister: I love that you work with the leadership because the leadership does set the tone for any organization. And I do hope that most of your clients don’t wait until there is a lawsuit, and they’re being a little more proactive about that.

And given the importance of leadership in a company’s culture, you often state that in most organizations, only 30% of employees are engaged. That means that 70% of payroll is just being thrown in the trash because the employees are not engaged. They’re not productive and lending towards the vision and the goals that the company. I’d love to hear why you say that, what’s the [00:03:00] story behind it. 

Carol Marzouk: Yeah. Isn’t that crazy Kristen? That means that out of 10 people in the room or around the table, only three people truly care about your company. These are numbers that have come out of Gallup and, and the worst part is that the numbers are not getting better.

And even worse than that is that only 35% of people managers are engaged. So can you imagine the waterfall effect of that and what it means for the teams? So a lot of that engagement, I mean, it has a lot to do with many factors. One of them being that the engagement surveys that people use are not actionable.

So we do a lot of actionable surveys here, but the other big piece is that many leaders are conflict averse. When there’s something to be addressed, they pretend that it doesn’t exist. [00:04:00] And if they pretend it doesn’t exist, they feel like it’ll go away. But as you and I know, and every listener knows because of life experience, it never goes away.

It just gets worse. And one of the reasons that this happens is because they’re unaware that they can actually have constructive conflict and they can say no and still build the relationship instead of destroy it. They can say no without even using the word no. And being helpful instead of not helpful.

Kristen McAlister: Hey, where were you when my son was three. I really would like to have learned a new word other than no.

In a business sense. How do you say no without saying no? How do you do that in a constructive way? [00:05:00] Because that’s challenging. 

Carol Marzouk: Yes. Yeah. So the first step is really figuring out why you tend to say no.

Why you don’t want to say no. Right. What is it that prevents you from saying no? Is it because you don’t want to ruin the relationship? And of course it’s going to be different. For different people or in different instances. Is it that you don’t want to disappoint? Is it that you’re a people pleaser?

What is it, right, you’re concerned about your job. That’s a big one that I hear about all the time. Is it that you seek approval and validation? That’s the first step is we really want to understand why is it that you’re afraid? And I will use the term afraid to say no, because really you’re in a victim space instead of a power space.

And then once we know that, [00:06:00] then we can start to talk about what your fears are. And the fears are the most common fears in leadership. Afraid that they will see the real me. That’s a big fear, especially my CEOs. my attorneys. They’re afraid that their staff and the other executives or other attorneys or other surgeons, if they are surgeons, that they will see that vulnerable, insecure part of them.

If they’re not amicable and if they say no to something, the other piece is, maybe their afraid of being rejected by them. Maybe you’re afraid that you won’t be seen as good enough if you say no or maybe you’ll be seen as weak. And what if it’s your boss?

One of the HR executives that I worked with, [00:07:00] she said to me, “Carol, are you crazy? How could I say no to my boss”, when I told her, how did you just say yes to him for another five priorities? When you have 30 priorities for today? I’ve worked with her on how to make sure that his priorities get done, but she also gets out in time to get her little son right from school.

So, making sure that the other person doesn’t react badly or feel bad and all of those things, I get it. They’re all real fears, but they don’t serve us. So let’s figure out what those are. And then let’s set aside side with those fears and really talk through them and see how rational they are.

And once you know what those fears now, it’s just a matter of shifting your mindset. And this is the biggest key Kristen, [00:08:00] the mind shift is just that, instead of saying, ‘no’, what you’re doing is you’re actually helping the other person by saying no. And again, we’re not even using the word.

I’m just saying no right now to illustrate the point. Right? So let’s take that person, that executive in HR, when the CEO came to give her five more things to her already huge pile of priorities. He came in and he said, I need these five things done today. And she, of course nodded because she’s doesn’t want to say no to her boss.

And you would never know that inside she was fuming because she’s been late to pick up her son already the last two weeks. So you’re helping him by saying no. Right. So how did I help her shift her mindset? I asked her – Do you know for sure, right out of these 30 things, do you know for sure that these five things are the things he needs done? Because you’ve got another 30 things that he also needs done and how do you know what you’re going to get done today? 

And so I had her going back and ask him, you know, look, I’ve got these 30 things and these new five things, so which three things, and I kept it to three, which three things are the priority. And Kristen, I kid you not, I was standing there and he said to her, “You have these things on your plate?”

I wasn’t even aware of that. Right? So the five things I gave you are definitely not priority for today. [00:10:00] You know, these other things are priority. And the five things I gave you, they could wait until the end of the week or even a couple of weeks. But these other three things are really the top three things that you can get done today.

So we make assumptions and we make up stories in our head about what other people want. And usually it’s all about our communication style, right? That CEO, his communication style is a very direct style of just get it done. So that’s how he speaks. It’s just get it done when Oh, today he doesn’t really want it done today, he doesn’t really care, but that’s just his style was just get it done today. 

So that mind shift of, well, if I actually ask him to prioritize and ask him for the three priorities, that’s really saying no, without saying no. It’s saying yes to the things that matter. And guess who [00:11:00] benefits, the CEO, right.

And the way you do that is you say your priorities are my priorities and I want to make sure I got them. Right. So now she’s able to say no without saying no. So that’s a really great example. The other thing is that you want to stop apologizing, do not say, Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t do this. Or I’m sorry. Or over explain why you can’t do something. 

What you want to do is get into the shoes of the other person and think about the win for them. If we don’t do what they’re asking, just like the example that I shared with you. 

, Kristen, do you have an example that we can go through where we can, you know, show how to say no, without saying no.

Kristen McAlister: I think one of the things that I notice on a day to [00:12:00] day basis, and as you’re talking about, there’s the answer of, yes, I can do it or no, I can’t do it, and that you’re giving an alternative path and you’re saying, rather than there only being a right or a left, there’s a middle, one of let’s slow it down and start asking clarifying questions.

And I’ve noticed a big shift once we start asking clarifying question of what is your priority or what is the outcome of what you’re asking me to do? What’s the outcome that you want? What’s the purpose of what we’re looking to accomplish here? And through that now we’re getting more dialogue and maybe taking a shortcut to that end that you want versus me just accepting it or me disagreeing with what you just asked me to do.

And I walk away furious because I disagree and I know I can’t disagree to your face, but now I’m asking some clarifying questions [00:13:00] to get there. 

Carol Marzouk: Yes, yes, yes. It is all about how do you redirect to a better yes. Instead of how do you say no? You want to be honest and really you want to help. It’s not that you want to say no, it’s that you actually want to help because saying no is not helpful.

Cool. And so it’s saying yes to a better solution. That would be more helpful. And so it’s finding that yes Together and the way that you do that, the roadmap if you will, is to [00:14:00] first of all, find the facts, right? So in this case, we find out what the priorities are. Somebody asked in one of my seminars tried to stump me, “I bet you, you can’t do this one.” 

And so, it was a great, great exercise. And one of them was, I’ll never forget this one. She said, well, you know, one of our employees wants benefits that we don’t offer. And so I said, okay, well, think of this roadmap? The first part is getting the facts. So get curious, ask her why she needs those benefits.

They offer the normal benefits, but she wants extra benefits. So tell me about, tell me what those benefits would allow you to do. [00:15:00] And so she, went ahead and asked her then she got back to me. She went ahead and asked her, and it turns out that they can actually fulfill those requirements or those needs in another way, if she can’t then if it’s still a no, then what we do is we state the impact to the business.

We state the consequences and we provide another alternative that would work for both of us. Basically what we want to do is end up with some sort of a, win-win and there is always a win-win. And that is what I always tell my people it’s there is always a win-win, and that’s why we play that game of, stump Carol, right?

Because I am telling you, there is always a win-win, and it is our responsibility as leaders, to help them as the as the asker’s, whoever’s [00:16:00] asking for something that you can give, help them understand why they are asking by asking the right questions, help them figure out why do they need that? Understand what is their point of view?

All right. What is their perception of reality? Maybe asking what they’re asking for. And then the last thing is it’s your responsibility to figure out how you can best help them without hurting yourself or your company. That’s the most important thing. So that’s really key.

And so you can relax and you can stop pretending to have it all under control. the world is too complicated and [00:17:00] burdensome to not ask for help. And whenever anyone needs to understand how to say no without saying no or yourself. I’m happy to take your call. I won’t charge you my coaching fee. You just say Kristen McAlister and you are in.

Kristen McAlister: How to, how to say no, without saying no and get to an alternative. So we’re getting to the reason why the request is being made and finding a solution to it rather than the initial solution of their initial request that’s asked. That’s a very challenging thing to be able to step back out of that CEO or that owner, that CFO role, and step out of that when things are moving so fast and right now it feels like lightning speed and to slow it [00:18:00] down. And I love what you said. Be curious, just start on a fact-finding mission and ask questions because the conversation will go in a totally different direction. And you mentioned about, as leaders, you do work with some egos. You mentioned law firms, surgeons, CEOs. 

But you also talk about that a lot of times that ego is just a front and there’s a lot of fear behind it. What are some of the common fears. I think just giving you an idea, so many listeners, so many executives listening will say, gosh, I’m not alone. So I’m not the only one who wakes up every norm morning wondering if someone is going to realize what a fraud I am this morning.

Carol Marzouk: Yes. Yes. And every one of my clients by the way, are very successful, as I’m sure all of your clients are too, they’re very successful, but they all have fears because they’re all human. The [00:19:00] pretending is what messes everybody up. The pretending is what causes them to lose sight of being that vulnerable and authentic leader that everybody needs at work.

So some of the common fears. Some of the common fears are let’s see, money, right? So the strategy has gone out the window. These are the things that I’ve been hearing the last five months, not even three months, but about five months. The strategy has gone out the window and we need a new source of revenue.

The field leadership is disconnected. We have talent that is leaving or is gone, since the covid stuff. I’ve heard, you know, we have to lay off good people. The teams have shrunk. We have to do more with less. Those are huge fears and not only their fears, but they’re hearing it from their [00:20:00] people managers, which is stressing them out because they don’t know how to respond.

Hiring, you know, there’s a lot of fear around hiring, which you would think they should be excited about, but there’s a lot of fear around that because, we tend to hire for skills and not for attitude, and we tend to fire for attitude and not skills.

And so teams are expanding and they’re worried about getting the wrong people in the wrong seats. So that’s another big area that they’re concerned with. The culture, you know, the good culture is in danger, because people are now working from home. Some people are working from home, some people are working in the office.

Some people don’t want to come back to work and now our culture is in danger, and some people are disengaging when we have [00:21:00] folks that have young kids, we’re worried about them because they have a lot of, competing responsibilities and priorities. We don’t know how to bring the people together.

We don’t know how to develop them and engage them when they’re all in different places. Right? These are all fears that come out. And then the biggest one, here’s the biggest one that I hear across the board, even with my manufacturers and construction distributors, all the people that have stayed open this whole time. They are saying to me, “Carol, I have to say we are tired and we’re worried about what’s going to happen because we just don’t have the energy anymore.” And so this whole situation that’s happening [00:22:00] is just tiring people out, regardless of what space they’re in. If their business has been thriving or if their business has been in jeopardy or even shut down.

So those are the fears that I’m hearing about. What have you been hearing?

Kristen McAlister: A lot of the same. I was just with my CEO group. And one of the biggest things they’re saying is the numbers are dropping, but I’ve never worked so hard in my life. I’m tired. And there’s you just listed off a lot of fears with big one being the unknown. And as leaders, we carry a lot of the fears. How do we not pass them onto the rest of our team, because as you mentioned, that disengages them and we’ve already got 30% that are engaged.

How do we engage them more? And we can’t necessarily always change our circumstances [00:23:00] overnight. But we can change our perspective. 

Kristen McAlister: How do you coach leaders on addressing those fears so they are not that weight around the neck dragging us down? 

Carol Marzouk: Excellent question. So the first thing that I tell my leaders is first, you have to understand the needs, your needs and the needs of your folks.

And you have to understand that the leadership is like a chocolate fountain. We were talking about the waterfall before. It’s like a chocolate fountain. And so if you don’t take care of your needs first, kind of like the airplane, you know, the mask, right. If you don’t take care of your needs first, and if you don’t understand them, then how can you help your executive team?

How can they help their people managers? You’ve got to understand that. So let’s talk about that for a second. The first thing you need to make sure of is that your health and wellness are taken care of [00:24:00]. Because that’s the first thing that all of your employees need to know – that you’re taking care of for them.

The second thing is the safety and security of your employees. And of course, you know, again, it all starts with you, right? I’m not going to keep saying that, but you need to take care of these things for yourself first. The third thing is the connectedness, the need to belong to some sort of social group and need to feel like you’re part of something bigger.

That’s why I keep telling my CEOs, you’ve got to reach out to your executives. You’ve got to make sure they reach out to their people. Managers, those people managers have to make sure that even though they say to themselves, ‘Oh, I’m bothering my staff. If they’re working at home, I don’t want to reach out to them to see how they’re doing today.’

That’s a story we tell ourselves because we don’t want to do it. They’ve got to reach out to them and just make sure that they’re [00:25:00] connecting to their folks every single day. Even if it’s for a few minutes, the next one, number four is. The need to contribute. They want to make sure that we’re making a difference.

So this is where I tell my CEOs that expectations are very different. Need to be in agreement. So if we’re expecting our people to deliver something and they’re not delivering it, and then we say, they suck. Have they actually agreed to deliver that? Or is that something we have in our head because they have a certain role that they should just know that. You can imagine how many times I hear that. Well, you’re the director. They should know that they’re the VP. They should know to give me that. 

Then lastly is inspiration. Inspiration is the last meat. They need to be inspired. [00:26:00] And that piece is huge and that’s where the engagement comes in.

That’s where the engagement surveys come in. And one of the biggest mistakes that we make as leaders is we throw out this engagement survey maybe every year when we say, Oh yeah, we do this engagement survey. We’re so awesome. And we get all this data and we might even report out on the data. And we look at the net promoter score to see if our staff would recommend us.

And we do nothing on the things that we should take action on. And so then the next year we send it out again and the employees are like, seriously, we’re going to spend time on this, but they do it again. And may again, we don’t take action. And then this happens, and this happens. And by the third or fourth year, the employees are literally just filling it out and not even paying attention to it.

So the biggest mistake we can make there is having an inactionable employee [00:27:00] engagement survey. So that’s a big one that I helped my clients with. That’s huge. So that’s the first step Kristen is understanding your needs and your employee employee’s needs. The second piece is helping them understand that resilience is a muscle.

And so they’re going to be knocked down. And, you know, you’ve got to get back up and the more you get knocked down, you’ve just got to receive that with grace because it’s almost like a free workout for your resilience muscle. Because then you have to get back up and now you have more muscle for next time.

And so you have to say, thank you and you get back up because at the end of the day, you’ve got to inspire your leaders. You’ve got to say to them, this is your time. This is your moment to [00:28:00] shine. This is your time to show your people, managers that you are a real leader. And so, that’s how you started off.

It’s just by helping them understand that, helping them understand the difference between change and transition, which is the psychological part of change. Helping them understand also that although changes are external happening, which we can’t control. And boy, have we seen a lot of that in 2020.

We’ve got to meet people where they are psychologically.

Kristen McAlister: I love what you’re talking about and the engaging employees, you hit on something right there, when you ask them to do something like a survey, there [00:29:00] needs to be a result.

Let them know, what was the result. What was the score. How and what are we going to do about it or the attaboy? Because when you look at employee engagement, there is very little that is more frustrating than being asked to do something or comply with something or we’re changing. And here’s why, and not circling back and letting them know, and here’s what happened. Then here’s the results of it. Letting it just pitter, patter out, because then the next time you ask them to do something it’s well, ‘Why, nothing happened last time.’ And with all the change that’s going on, that is one of the top things that is so easily missed is the circling back and letting them know the results, the outcome of that, of any initiative that we’re doing.

Put it up. You don’t have to put it in a sky in sky writing or put it up on the marquee, but simply that communication and [00:30:00] letting them know and letting them feel part of it. I will say, Carol, you talk about inspiring leadership. You always inspire me. No question about it. We get together and I feel like we could spend the entire podcast just giggling and laughing.

I’m having fun and circling back to some of the key takeaways here that I wrote down is being able to say no. Without saying no or not being a yes person. Is that being curious, asking questions, finding out the, why are they asking this or what’s really needed and working together and you want to see an employee engagement jump is being asked. Well, why are you requesting this? Tell me about it. Tell me more. I want to really understand

And I will forever have the airline mask in my head because as parents we’re terrible at that too, we will run ourselves [00:31:00] exhausted. Taking care of everyone else before ourselves and almost make I’m a list-maker, I am.

And I wrote down make a list of my needs, write them down and start having those conversations with employees and the leadership team. What do you need? How can we, how can I help fulfill and even asking, and how can I help fulfill that need so that I’m not wasting energy doing something that you don’t want, or you don’t need.

I appreciate Carol everything that you’ve offered today. And I’ve no doubt that anyone listening has a whole other list of takeaways from it. We will absolutely have to do this again. But for today, we have Carol Marzouk, Executive Lion Tamer, and available for consultation. 

Thank you so much for joining us today, Carol. 

Carol Marzouk: Thank you, [00:32:00] Kristen. And it was such a pleasure. It’s so much fun.

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