64. Lisa Marie Platske: Courageous leadership

Sue Stockdale talks to Lisa Marie Platske, President/CEO, Upside Thinking, Inc. about what courageous leadership means and how she found courage to move on after she was impacted by 9/11.  The conversation touches on how vulnerability, forgiveness and the willingness to step out of one’s comfort zone can help leaders be of greater service to their people.

An award-winning leadership expert in human behaviour, Lisa Marie Platske has received accolades from the White House, the United States Small Business Administration and The International Alliance for Women, recognised as one of the Top 100 women making a difference in the world. She left her Federal law enforcement career after 9/11 to be the CEO of Upside Thinking. Lisa Marie delivers presentations worldwide sharing research on how vulnerability and forgiveness are critical to exceptional leadership as well as her proven 7-step leadership model centered on connection, positioning, and executive presence.

An international best-selling author in five countries, Lisa Marie has written or co-authored seven books. A member of the Forbes Coaches Council and a regular contributor to Forbes.com, she has trained or coached over 100,000 leaders around the globe to make a bigger positive impact on the planet. Past clients include Honeywell, Santander Bank, Aflac, and Perry Ellis International.

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Key Quotes

‘9/11 was a time of great upheaval and learning about myself.’ 

‘If I don’t find a way to see the good in humanity or to see the good in others, then it will be a really lonely existence.’ 

‘It’s not fearless leadership. It’s courageous. It means that the fear is still there.’ 

‘I was spending so much energy, trying to do it all alone. it isn’t one to do alone, you need other people.’ 

‘I came up with three components that were always present and it was vision, voice, and vulnerability.’ 

‘The first to forgive is the bravest, the first to forget is the happiest.’

‘Rather than looking at option A or option B my idea, your idea, what’s the third one that we don’t see. And the only way for us to see it is for you and I to co-create something together.’

‘Competition when it gets in the way of the highest and best good for all becomes dangerous to humanity.’

‘The world needs you and your brilliance.’

Lisa Marie Platske Transcription

Sue: Welcome Lisa Marie to the podcast. It’s great to have you here.

Lisa-Marie: Thanks so much, Sue. I’m excited about our time today.

Sue: Well, it’s lovely also to speak to a fellow coach and we both been in this for a long time, many years, and I’m particularly interested in the topic of making an impact and having an impact on others as part of our conversation today. Perhaps I can invite you to take yourself right back to the start of your career. Because I think you started out working in the US Customs Service and maybe not making the impact that you wanted to have. Tell us about what happened then.

Lisa-Marie: Thank you. Yes, I did. I started off in the United States, Federal Law Enforcement in the US Customs Service. And I was so excited because I was a criminal justice degree major, and I had gotten an opportunity to be in a career in something that I had gone to school for. And I can’t tell you how many times I talked to people who actually go to school and never end up going and getting a job in that particular area. I thought it was gonna be like, TV is the truth. You know, I thought I was gonna be one of Charlie’s Angels.

I thought it was going to be something where I had the opportunity to, make this, positive impact and this difference. I found that the government and working for the government and the job that I was going to be doing was very different. I ended up in piers with little rats running around them and shipping containers and I expected the mahogany desk with my name on it, and that didn’t come either. They were sort of metal desks that had three legs instead of four. And just a whole lot of things that were not what I had in my mind and the impact that I was going to make in putting on the uniform. What I will say is that over time I did learn how to make an impact in the government. It’s just that. There was such a disconnect early on between what that looked like.

Sue: And despite the reality, not living up to your expectations in the early stages and what made you persevere then and continue on working in that space.

Lisa-Marie: I suppose, as a kid, I loved superheroes and I love the idea of truth and justice and my heart virtues, are mercy and justice and protection, and so this idea of strapping on the wonder woman cape if you will, there was something about it that felt like. Law enforcement was a way to make a difference, to be a good guy in air quotes. And so I stayed because I really did believe in the badge and what it stood for. And I had these credential Sue that said this officer possesses integrity. And I thought isn’t that fascinating that like this body, this agency certifies people to have integrity. I mean, there was something mind blowing about it to me. So there was this larger than life mission. It seems in saying yes to, to that and wanting to make an impact, not just externally, but also internally within the people that I met in the agency. And so I stayed the course and over the time that I was in there, which was a little over a decade, I feel that I was able to do that in different ways.

Sue: So, in, staying the course, Lisa Marie, I know that you were working during 9-11 and I’m wondering during that time, what did you learn about. courage and vulnerability?

Lisa-Marie: Yeah, 9/11 was a time of great upheaval and learning about myself. I lost my mentor. I lost my relationship and it was like standing at at at a crossroads. Like if you can imagine just literally standing there and going in one direction to a place of anger and resentment and fear for a very long time or taking the road perhaps less traveled and finding a place of forgiveness and peace. And so I worked 16 hour shifts I remember her working three weeks solid in a row, you know, 21 days. And sending employees to look for remains at the site. I remember conversations that I had that were filled with  a lot of emotion. And so standing at that crossroads and recognizing that if I don’t find a way to see the good in humanity. If I don’t find a way to see the good in others then it will be a really lonely existence. But that alone took a great deal of courage because what if I was wrong? What, if really at the core human beings really weren’t all that good. What if, what if me sharing things about myself and being open and vulnerable, created more harm or got me hurt.

There were a lot of questions in that time that felt monumental. And I am so deeply grateful that I took that road less traveled and it’s actually work that I’ve been able to bring into companies and into my one-on-one coaching because I discovered at that moment, how important courageous leadership is, and it’s a whole other brand of leadership not one that doesn’t have fear. It’s not fearless leadership. It’s courageous. It means that the fear is still there. You just simply have the ability to continue walking the path to, to the final destination, to, to making the impact and being a force for good on the planet. So that, was for me. The elements that I really scooped from 9/11 and found that it was the gold that allowed me to transmute into who I am today.

Sue: And I can sense by just the way you’re describing the experience, and the learning that you gained from it. that it isn’t an easy path to take. What helped you to find the courage? Was it something that you did, were there other people there to support you? Because I observe that many people these days are faced with difficult situations where courage is really what’s required and sometimes they shy away from moving forward and utilising that courage.

Lisa-Marie: Yeah. That’s a great question. I don’t know that I’ve ever shared this Sue like this, this piece I had had been somebody who relied very heavily on my faith and my belief in , a force greater than me and I had gotten away from any sort of beliefs because of some of the things that I saw, and there was something that I saw, I’m sure it was placed there for me. Right. Like, it’s not like it was happenstance or something, but something that I read and it was an invitation to attend a retreat. And I thought I really need this. Like, there’s just so much that I’m giving and I feel depleted and I’m going to sign up for this. And at that retreat, there was this recognition that I was trying so hard. It would make me cry. It’s moving me to tears that I was spending so much energy, trying to do it all alone. And that on this journey that it’s just, isn’t one to do alone, that you need other people. So I didn’t necessarily have people who walked the journey with me to get to that place. What I had was a very large epiphany at that retreat that allowed me to make different choices in how I saw the world and the willingness that I had to open myself back up again, after seeing such trauma and anger and hatred.

And what’s been interesting is when I opened my business I didn’t have a business degree but a criminal justice degree. And so I was like, well, how, what, what do people in business do to be successful? Like how do they do? And so I started interviewing people and I came up with seven pillars of leadership. Cause I was always involved in leadership development, taught at the federal law enforcement training centre, developed curriculum post 9/ 11 for future leaders of Homeland security that’s still being taught today. So leadership was my thing. When I got into leadership though, after doing this in my own business for about, I don’t know, maybe it was probably around year 12 or so. I went there’s a whole other level, like outside of those seven pillars. And it’s what I call courageous leadership. And it happened at that moment after 9/11, that peace that you speak about. And so I started to do additional research, like, what is it? What do those people have that stayed the course? Like what you had said, like, some people don’t do that. So what, what is it because not everybody is going to get the retreat like me. And not, everybody’s going to get that message. So what is it. And I came up with three components that were always present and it was vision, voice, and vulnerability, and so vision was like this idea around clarity. And vulnerability was that component of forgiveness and, and voice was around generosity. And so it was very interesting, when I looked for myself that there was this catalyst, and also there were deepening levels of how to be able to utilise the unique gifts, talents, skills, and abilities that I have.

Sue: Well, I. love that three, a V’s vision, voice, and vulnerability that you talk about Lisa Marie, as you go into organizations and work with leaders and speak at conferences and so on. I’m wondering whether you have a sense of which of those characteristics is easier or more difficult for people to adopt.

Lisa-Marie: Well, you know, I don’t think that any of them are easy. I honestly don’t. They’re simple, but simple is not easy as you and I both understand. Right. And so the vision part I hear people talk about vision all the time, and, and even when you share it, it sounds so flipping simple yet vision means you’ve got to be really clear on who you are on what you want and why it matters to you. And too often, In organizations, people are concerned about what somebody else wants or what they’re supposed to do, or what they in air quotes should be doing that to truly get to the heart of what’s yours to do. And what’s yours to be called to do and who you are based on that and why that matters to you means there are a lot of people walking around doing things they really have no business doing. In organisations. And I just had a client yesterday on a group coaching call and she said, I got this opportunity and it came from my bosses boss and it was like, you know, we want to promote you. And she said, and I’m already doing part of the work, but when I got really clear on from doing coaching with you is that’s not my next step. And if if this were two years ago, I would have been like, well, of course, cause they offer it and it’s more money and it’s the next thing, but it’s not my next thing. There’s something else for me. And I don’t know that to have that clarity of vision that most people really do what they want to do. And then with vulnerability its like truly allowing your vision to come to life. That’s what vulnerability is, so that you forgive yourself for anything you’ve done and you’re able to forgive others. So there’s no attachments that you have. I read something the other day that said, the. first to forgive is the bravest, the first to forget is the happiest. And I thought, yeah, it’s exactly like, you’re not carrying this stuff. And so that’s not easy. And then, when you look at the, the last one voice. People get behind where your heart lies, not your knowledge. They, if they don’t believe that you’re somebody that cares about them, most people aren’t going to give you their very best.

What does research show in the Gallup poll? People give you about 80% and that’s been pretty standard research over the last, I don’t know, maybe 20, 30 years. So if that’s the case and people are not willing to give you all of you because they don’t believe what does that take? Well, it takes being wildly generous. And I’d say that even for myself, there’ve been times in my life where I’ve thought I was generous, but I was only generous up to a point so that’s not real generosity. So none of these are easy. sue.

Sue: Well, you’re making that really clear by how you’re describing what those things are and a little bit more detailed, Lisa Marie. So it’s making me think then about how, how do you evaluate your impact if you’re working with leaders on these things, what’s your measure of success?

Lisa-Marie: Measure of success for me? I believe in, health, happiness success and meaning. I like to do things, both the art and science, I’ll say, I like the fact that there’s an art to how things get done. And yet at the same time, what you’re asking is people want metrics, how are you measuring it? Like they want to see it. And when you’re talking about things as nebulous about vision, and when you’re talking about. Things that are not a quantifiable measurable, like money in the pocket, or then, then how do you do that? And so there’s a chart that I use that I’ll have clients go through and it is exactly what you’re talking about. When you look at your own health, your own happiness, your success, and your meaning. Being able to measure that from a scale of one to five in how it’s increased over the past three months, six months year, and then to be able to identify what that is. I have clients look at that. I myself, look at that for me at at a bigger scale level, the fourth pillar in my seven pillars of leadership has seven areas of wellbeing. And those are physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, financial, relational and working creativity. And what I find is that when you have people start off and you ask them to give themselves a grade, I do this for myself, ABCDEFG whatever, to be in that space and go, how am I performing? What is my performance? And what I find interesting is that. Often times when I go into an organisation and I ask questions people will, when they’re comparing themselves to the team will often score themselves higher than the team as a whole, like, as an individual, which is fascinating. Cause I always say, how would the team be failing? But you’re succeeding. Like how, how is that happening yet? When I ask people like in a one-on-one coaching session that is often times more. Self-flagellation and more, seeing themselves as really seeing all the things that they’re not doing well. So I like the idea of whatever system you look at, whether it’s areas of wellbeing, whether it’s health, happiness, success, and meaning whether it’s influence impact and, income, looking at it and saying from where I’ve been yesterday, am I 1%? Am I am I just 1% better in those areas?

And so that’s what I do. And sometimes the answer is no sometimes.  I didn’t walk. I did not, you know, honor yesterday’s learnings and sometimes it’s yeah.  And, that’s the, the greatest accomplishment like sometimes the celebration that people want in the impact that they want is a lot simpler than they realise Ralph Waldo, Emerson wrote a poem called what is success? And the last sentence of the poem says to know, one life has breathed easier because I have lived, this is to have succeeded. So that’s impact to me.

Sue: Where my thinking is going with what you said, was around the variation in people’s perception when they’re doing in a group versus doing it individually, which then led me to think about competition and how people perceive themselves. So, we have that dynamic of competition that you often find that a team and a group, and then. that you described is about servant leadership, and perhaps there’s not an element of competition if you’re being a servant leader. So how do you encourage leaders to let go of that competitiveness, and truly embrace this idea of servant leadership.

Lisa-Marie: So, what I speak about is co-creation. So can you be in the co-creation of something and rather than looking at option a or option B my idea, your idea, looking at what’s the third option. What’s the third one that we don’t see. What’s the one that you don’t see. And I don’t see. And the only way for us to see it is for you and I to co-create something together. And so that is interesting because when I was in the government, I remember that my boss and I were working on something and we created a system that I thought was brilliant and it was going to affect another department. So my boss meets the other department and they sit down and they share their idea and their ideas terrible. Okay. Terrible. And it’s not going to work. And I’m like, this is crazy. So my boss starts talking and talking about our idea. What happens is they go, Hey, I’ve got an idea and they give us our idea. And my boss says, that’s brilliant. And I walk away. And I said, like, that was our idea. And he goes, did you get what you wanted?

And I said, yes. And he goes, what do you care about? Where it came from? If it’s truly what’s best for the organization. And I went, I got it. Like, what we’re looking for is what’s the greatest service for all. And so competition is a great thing. I love competition. You wouldn’t have business, you wouldn’t have small businesses. You wouldn’t have individual rights and freedoms without it. Competition is brilliant. Competition when it gets in the way of the highest and best good for all becomes dangerous to humanity. And so that’s what we’re speaking about with servant leadership. And I know that in your heart, from the, all the work that you’ve done in companies, that that’s what you’re speaking about.

And so to get people to look at, is there a third option on the table? Am I really in a space of looking at what’s best for all? Am I somebody who’s truly willing to ensure that no one gets left behind. Am I doing that? And so that takes a bit more energy. It takes a bit more work. It takes a bit more of a willingness to look at different perspectives. Sometimes I have to pull people in who think completely different than me and I’m sitting there going, this is ridiculous. These people are crazy. And yet what comes out of it by my willingness to be in that discomfort is magical.

Sue: So here’s the thing then Lisa Marie, rather than me ask you the questions I’m wondering what is the third space here? What is it that we’re not talking about or exploring that would really enrich this podcast conversation?

Lisa-Marie: Yeah, look at you Sue. And that’s really, the inquiry is constantly being in that inquiry. Like, what is it like, what’s not being said what’s being hidden. What, what else is there that is important to be, to be heard and to be noticed and to be seen. And I think that you just did it. I think you just did it beautifully, which is by you going, okay. So like I’m the host of the podcast, but I’m taking off my podcast, host hat right now, and I’m going, what do we do to be of the greatest service? And I’m taking off my, hat here, as, a leadership expert and going, what is it that I can do to be a greater service and just simply. be student instead of teacher. And what does that look like? And by modeling that I believe that we give people an example of, Hey, what if you’re in a situation? And you’re the one that’s the in-charge person and you made the decision, the conscious choice. To go, okay, I’m going to take that hat off. And right now I’m just going to operate as, oh, I’m getting goosebumps, like as peer, you know, as, and so what would that do in organizations if people did that, especially when the stakes were high and when emotions were high and you and I are doing it as fun. Right. But, but to, to do that in situations where it would be just so deeply honouring.

Sue: Well, I think I ought to fess up to the listener as well, that it wasn’t comfortable for me to even ask that question. So I felt the goosebumps, the butterflies in my stomach thinking, Ooh, this is a bit sort of out of the norm. And yet I trusted the process. It would take us to a different level of conversation. So I acknowledge, even in this moment, it’s not an easy thing to do. And yet I hope that’s a value that we even go down this road in the conversation.

Lisa-Marie: Yeah, the courage, right? The courage that it took to even go there. Yeah. Thank you.

Sue: So as, as we kind of wind up the conversation, Lisa Marie, if there was one hope that you would offer to our listener, that they could take away with them and reflect upon what, what would be the hope that you would have for them?

Lisa-Marie: The saying that I use often is the world needs you and your brilliance. And I have people ask me, knows that you’re like marketing slogan. Is that your tagline? And it’s it’s no, the world needs you and your brilliance came from this recognition that everyone has gifts and abilities and talents and experiences that the world needs. And if everybody went out and did what they were called to do, then the world would be very different. And so. The world needs you. The world needs me. The world needs every single person listening to do their part in order for something new to be created, something better than what is regardless of how good something is. And so, so that’s my hope

Sue: well, there’s not much to say following on from that Lisa Marie, I think, I’ve got goosebumps, just listening to you, express that hope for everyone listening. If they do want to find out. You and the work that you do, how might our listener do that?.

Lisa-Marie: Best place to find me is upside. U P S I D E. And the word thinking T H I N K I N g.com.

Sue: Fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation together. Lisa Marie., I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone. We’ve explored some new things together and you’ve shared a lot of really valuable and insightful wisdom with us today. So thank you so much for your time.

Lisa-Marie: Thanks Sue. This has been a lot of fun. Thank you.

Sound Editor: Matias de Ezcurra (he/him)
Producer: Sue Stockdale (she/her)