Great leaders are developed, not born. Anyone can improve their leadership effectiveness by learning and practicing proven principles of success. Pam Fox Rollin shares what the most effective leaders in Silicon Valley have learned.
In this episode you’ll learn:
- Why connecting with who you are is so important
- How to create a future that compels others to follow
- The relationship between good self-care and leadership effectiveness
- How personal development impacts leadership development
- Why focusing on culture first is so valuable
Brad Wolff 00:02
Welcome to “It Is About You”. Today’s guest is Pam Fox Rollin. She coaches executives and top teams in Silicon Valley and globally. Many of her clients have been rock stars in their functions, areas such as marketing, technology, operations, and finance.
These people are now stepping up to lead more broadly often at the C-levels. Pam’s corporate and conference keynotes ignite the room and give people at all levels, tools and inspiration to lead and to collaborate. Her company “Idea Shape” also facilitates strategy sessions business design and innovation retreats, culture development leadership development cohorts and team effectiveness programs, sometimes with Myers Briggs and Enneagram. Clients of Pam include Cisco, Genentech Roche, Accenture, Charles Schwab, Stanford Medicine, and many Fast Growth Companies
Pam’s a Stanford MBA Alum and she comes back to facilitate Leadership Programs and Coach Executive Education. So, Pam. Welcome to the show.
Pam Fox Rollin 01:25
Thank you so much, Brad. I’m glad to be on with you.
Brad Wolff 01:28
Absolutely! It’s an honor to have you here out in the West Coast, out in the Silicon Valley area.
Don’t have a lot of guests on from the Silicon Valley, so this is a nice little change of pace.
Pam Fox Rollin 01:43
We’ll keep it moving for you.
Brad Wolff 01:45
Absolutely! So, you know, you’ve a very successful Executive Coach;
Tell me a little bit about your origin story that brought you were where you are today.
Pam Fox Rollin 01:56
Yeah, so I sort of grew up in strategy consulting, starting at 21 as main when my mom said, how can you be a consultant? You don’t know anything you’re 21 and learned a lot. And then I met somebody through a friend of a friend over dinner 20 some years ago and she said, you’d be a great executive coach and I kind of filed that away. It wasn’t something I thought about.
But later that year for lifestyle reasons I decided that I wanted to get off the road met the man I wanted to marry wanted to have choices about when I got on an airplane. And I talked with the partnership. They said, you’re just about to make partner, you know, this is a crazy time. And they said, no, I really think I can go out on my own. And just as I made that decision, this woman who suggested I become an executive coach. She called me back and she said.
To remember me asking you about becoming an executive coach, did you do that? And she said, great.
I just became Chief Marketing Officer of this big company in San Francisco where I live.
And she said, will you come work with me and my team?
And so immediately I had that client Accenture who I was working for at the time and their strategy.
One of my favorite partners became global head of partner development asked me to come back and work with their partners and their leadership.
And another client and that was 20 years ago this September.
Brad Wolff 03:34
Wow! That’s amazing. And you know what, like many things in life.
It’s a path you wouldn’t have predicted it wouldn’t be the script that you would have written.
But it’s a more interesting script and what you would have written right?
Pam Fox Rollin 03:48
Right! And she was right for meeting me for an hour at that dinner.
I love this work. I love supporting bright people in dealing with their hardest problems and growing in the process.
Brad Wolff 04:01
So, what is it about your role as a coach that you love the most?
Pam Fox Rollin 04:12
It is helping people see more possibilities than they see right now. Brad.
And my clients are. I just feel so fortunate to work with them, they’re incredibly bright, they see a lot of possibilities, but sometimes it’s hard when it’s us like I didn’t see a possibility for me to be an executive coach would never have occurred to me.
And there is a way in which we can be mirrors for each other, be people who see possibilities that other people don’t see, be people who see; you know rough spots ahead that others might not see.
And when we approach them with a lot of care and a lot of respect for what they can go do in the world.
I find that people they want a thought partner. They want somebody to lay it out with who doesn’t have an agenda other than helping them and I love to be that
Brad Wolff 05:10
That’s quite an honor to have that role.
So, as a coach, what do you believe are the key things you do to help people develop into better leaders?
Pam Fox Rollin 05:24
So, from the conversation you and I had at national speakers Association.
I know how committed you are in your work to Personal Development in your work and in your life.
So, one is we help them connect with themselves as people and some people who come to me for executive coaching are already there.
They’ve been tending to that part of their lives. They knew who they are; they know what they stand for.
They know how to take care of themselves. Many people have forgotten along the way and that is frequently a place to start.
Brad Wolff 06:07
Connecting with themselves is always the starting place.
Because you you’re not connected yourself, whatever you say you don’t know how accurate is for yourself.
Pam Fox Rollin 06:16
Right! And it’s hard to help other people connect with what they care about, which to me is a fundamental aspect of leadership if they can see that you as a leader distracted, disconnected with things you care about, not taking care of yourself, vacillating from day to day because you’re not clear on what you’re committed to and what can fall by the wayside.
So, a fundamental starting place is checking in with yourself. Then we can look at, why are you leading, what is the future you’re looking to create with other people?
And how can you be clear about that future in a way that engages the right people to go there with you? Now, why should we follow you?
Brad Wolff 07:11
Know what that’s always a relevant question to ask.
Pam Fox Rollin 07:18
And then once we’ve talked about shared future. We’ve talked about the kind of team that it needs to get there. And if you’re not part of the top leadership of the organization you were still creating a future.
That frontline manager in customer service is creating a future for their customers and for their customer service employees.
This chief technology officer is creating a future, everyone in their role is helping create a future and can lead by helping people see that future and collaborate to create it. So, we look at what is that future? Who needs to be involved? And then what are their moves and by moves. I mean, you can almost think of it like a dance, Brad, Right? Like, do you know the Rumba? Do you know the salsa? Do you know classical ballet? Right? You wouldn’t want to show up on the salsa dance floor, doing classical ballet.
And you can imagine there are people who they had either only worked for one company or one person or got some guidance and took it very strictly or were not tremendously adaptable in earlier parts of their career and they know one way of leading. And that may work when the organization has some stability.
But these days, as we all know, it’s dynamic. So, we’ve got to find other parts of themselves.
We’ve got to say what dance moves do you need to know. Now, do you need to know the moves of doing an international partnership? Do you need to know the moves of developing a junior team?
Do you need to know the moves of really listening to big customers that are going to drive the future of your business?
Brad Wolff 08:56
Great point! And that’s very much in line with what we see in the world of constant change because it’s being effective with what you need to deal with now which will not be effective in a different situation.
So, it’s you know it’s picking the right moves for that dance as opposed to this is the right moves for all dance.
Pam Fox Rollin 09:19
Just want to win for the thought and that bread is, there’s things we can do to be an all-around athlete.
Whatever the dance moves for today, it will go better if you’ve slept well, eating well, feel comfortable in your body, done whatever you need to do to take care of yourself are in integrity with what you care about, are in good relationships with other people, like all of that is like you know, kind of.
I don’t know if you ever see, so you think you can see thinking a dance. It’s what’s another dance show? I don’t watch it very often.
Brad Wolff 09:54
Dancing with the Stars? I don’t watch any of them. I don’t watch any of them.
But I didn’t you know you can’t like not to hear about it somewhere, Right?
Pam Fox Rollin 10:01
So, Dancing with the Stars, they have people from all different walks of life who pair up. We don’t have a TV anymore. But I remember seeing it and they pair up with these great dancers.
And the ones who tend to do well, it seems, are those who are already in touch with their bodies and know what to do. And then they just must learn this dance.
So, I think there’s an analogy with leadership.
Leadership is a performance art we bring ourselves as humans to it.
So, help yourself be as we started with a strong human and then learn the moves of the dance that your organization needs now.
Brad Wolff 10:41
So, what’s your definition of Leadership Development?
Pam Fox Rollin 10:48
Is helping people grow to do the Fundamental Work of Leadership, which is to articulate a shared future and engage other people in creating it.
Brad Wolff 11:03
That’s the simpler and clearer, the better.
So, what do you see as the role of Personal Development in the success of leaders?
Pam Fox Rollin 11:14
Yeah! It’s huge. It makes such a big difference but I’m sure you’ve seen this too. I have some CEO clients who, you know, have had a meditation practice for years. Some even a yoga practice for years, or their runners’ athletes. Who connect with themselves who do a little bit of meditation, whether they call it meditation or not they sell some reflection time they go for a walk, they think about things, who have habits of managing their capacity so that they don’t get overwhelmed and all of that.
And I find that those people are more available to the people in their organization because they’ve got themselves handled. And so, the role of Personal Development and Leadership Development is to notice what’s next for you as a person who’s developing your leadership. What is next for you to develop as a person that will enable you to do that dance well?
Brad Wolff 12:19
Right! So, it’s fundamental because whatever challenges you have as a person and your personal life is going to bleed over into your leadership effectiveness.
So, you really, it’s going to limit your leadership effectiveness whatever challenges in your personal development exist.
Pam Fox Rollin 12:38
Yes! And draw a little distinction. What I’m not saying, and I don’t think you’re saying either is that only perfect people with Perfect Lives get to lead. That’s not right.
Brad Wolff 12:50
There wouldn’t be a leader. Where would you find them?
Pam Fox Rollin 12:55
Yeah! Where would you go find this person?
Brad Wolff 12:56
Right! If we were perfect, we wouldn’t need …there would be nothing for us to do.
Pam Fox Rollin 13:01
Yeah! So, it’s not about do they have any challenges in their lives? It’s about in general, have they developed the capacities personally internally and in their networks and relationships to be able to weather those challenges? So, give you an example, you know as comes up. I had a leader that I worked with whose partner had cancer and very, very serious cancer.
So, there were a lot of choices at that point and, and, sadly, it’s a common thing.
So, the choices could be to step out of the organization for a while, to stay in and do something accommodating, or to do with some people I see try to do is to do absolutely everything at full pace.
And that person had practices, they had routines, they took care of themselves, they manage their calendar, they had an assistant who they could partner with, they have resources.
So, it’s easier for them, it was easier to be flexible to choose a middle path, to be very clear about what they can commit to, and what at this point in their life they cannot commit to.
The better and better you are at being clear, making clear requests making clear promises, saying, I wish I could do that, but that won’t happen right now. All those skills become so useful when people have a crisis. So, it’s not like we’re not going to have crises. And I was talking with a newer CEO client of mine, and it’s his first CEO role.
And he kept trying to get everything set okay, “As soon as we get this thing done that’ll be like.”
That’s not what I see, what I see is the OC this week, they’ve got a problem with, you know the trade war and the next week, they’ve got a problem with their head of sales leaving and the week after that they have a problem with this and that going on in their organization.
And then the big lake It is crisis after crisis.
Brad Wolff 15:28
And unpredictable! In fact! The question I asked when someone says that is, what planet have you been living on?
Because the planet I’ve been living on, I’ve never seen that be a consistent way thing happen.
Maybe we are on a different planet?
Pam Fox Rollin 15:49
Brad Wolff 15:50
That maybe the case
Pam Fox Rollin 15:51
Yeah, you know, we aim to get as much prepared as possible so that we can be available to whatever is needed now.
Brad Wolff 16:02
And whatever is needed now is often not something you would have predicted, you can plan to be flexible plan to adjust, but the specifics. I don’t know, you know what percentage of time is it things happened the way that you would have scripted it?
Pam Fox Rollin 16:19
Yeah! Very seldom and that’s where that Personal Development that people have done over the years every year really pays off.
Brad Wolff 16:28
Pam, what story of your personal experience, would you like to share that demonstrates a big success that you were part of as a coach?
Pam Fox Rollin 16:41
So, I will refer to a culture team, I’m not going to say much about the organization, just to respect their privacy. But there was a new leader coming in. And he knew that the organization was going to grow extremely rapidly from 150 to 450 people over the course of a year. And he said, yes! I hear what you’re all saying that we’re too busy to talk about culture if we do not become intentional about our culture now.
How much harder that will be, maybe nearly impossible when we’re at 450 people instead of 100
So, he said, Okay, we’re taking a day. And let’s think through What are our cultural guidelines right now? Like, what are they? If you were to whisper to a new person who you really want it to succeed, hey, in this organization do this, don’t do this. What would those guidelines be? Do we think those are the guidelines that are going to take us to the future? No, we don’t.
Okay! So, what do we want to whisper to people to create the organization that we want to have right?
22 months in. We had six cultural pillars, each cultural pillar, will we had that two months and each cultural pillar had behaviors that are signature behaviors of that pillar, they’re not the only things you do, But If we’re really living that pillar, then we are doing these behaviors. So, for example, one pillar was that we succeed, together with our partners.
That means we don’t get to blame outside vendors when things go wrong because and I worked with the leadership team to recast their verbal practices. So, when somebody said, oh, no, it’s his fault, but it’s this fault it’s their fault to say. What can we do now and in the future to make our partnership successful?
Brad Wolff 18:59
Absolutely! And I want to highlight something you said, Pam that really sticks out to me
22 months in that this is an Iterative Evolutionary Process. It’s not a one-time event, it grows over time.
Culture is developed over time; it isn’t a quick fix.
So, I wanted to highlight that as something that’s so important for everyone to really be aware of that that’s the truth of anything that’s lasting value.
Pam Fox Rollin 19:33
Completely! And two months, we spent not even putting it out anything to the rest of the organization about the culture.
But just letting the leaders live it and seeing what they would need to tweak and literally my assistant may plasticize place mats with the pillars in the behaviors for their Monday morning meeting that their coffee could go on.
Brad Wolff 20:06
That’s a great idea.
It’s not funny and silly, it wouldn’t work.
It’s got to be
Pam Fox Rollin 20:12
In their face! And so, the leader would say, in the meeting every week on Monday. Oh wait, how does that work with our pillar of 16 together with our partners? And we were find some of the behaviors, we kept all six pillars, we made a few language changes, we refined, some of the behaviors, but the leadership team had to lead it first because the head of the organization, said I, I am wondering, what’s my role and leading the culture? and I said not to screw it up.
Because the first time that somebody needs your help with a hard decision and you say, Oh, yeah. That stuff about partnership doesn’t matter, the culture is over every investment that you made with that doesn’t matter anymore.
Brad Wolff 20:59
You know what? I want to highlight this and I’m not gonna or we’re not gonna have enough time for me to highlight everything you say but this point is also huge leaders need to live the example.
What you say is if it isn’t in line with what you do, it’s going to be worse and then just not saying anything at all.
If you’re not going to live it, you’re better off not saying it because you do a lot more damage it.
You’ve got to be the change you want to see otherwise just admit that you’re not going to do it and just tell everyone look we’re not doing that.
Pam Fox Rollin 21:33
I absolutely agree. Brad. And one of the things that I would follow that up with is when there’s not that match between say and do It damage is trust. And nothing slows change like low trust, low change.
Because in change, you are asking people to do scary things! You’re asking them to lead things they haven’t done before you’re asking them to do things that some people will like, you’re asking them to do something that nobody knows how it’s going to turn out.
And so, they need to know that they can trust, you to have them back to be honest with them about feedback, to care and notice if they’re drowning and pull them back in the boat.
So, if you damage your trust with that lack of match between saying do, your next change efforts predictively will be slower.
Brad Wolff 22:36
Absolutely! And we can talk for days about that and not run out of things to say. Because you’d be hard pressed to find an example that would that would contradict that statement.
So, I think it’s worth just saying, that’s just a fundamental truth at the absolute top of importance of leadership effectiveness period.
Is it fair to say that build?
Pam Fox Rollin 23:01
Build trust and build it through clear honest in integrity communications.
Brad Wolff 23:09
And that your actions back that are backed up by your actions.
Pam Fox Rollin 23:13
Brad Wolff 26:37
What’s a funny entertaining or crazy story you’d like to share that illustrates a point you want to make about leadership and being successful?
Certainly, have you been a coach, you’ve had some funny crazy entertaining things.
Pam Fox Rollin 27:00
Yeah! Well, I don’t want that all cracked me up the most our leadership team meetings of any sort and usually when I work with the leadership team I will work with them for three to six months, In some cases, multiple years we’re all do different off sides or go to some of their team meetings or whatever.
And I have a huge heart for these people who are aiming to lead this organization to some level of success together many of them grew up playing solo so they got the grades on their own right through grade school and high school, they were star athletes, not necessarily in team sports, they were the star salesperson where the stars software engineer or the whatever it was, and the finance whiz kid, and they moved up and up and up and now they’re at this place where they can get nothing done except through people. And seeing a room of these people aim to coordinate is sometimes hilarious.
Brad Wolff 28:13
Right! It’s like learning how to walk when you’ve never walked, it’s a whole new skill and it’s not your own greatness that you’re drawing on anymore, it’s helping to build to bring out the greatness and others.
Pam Fox Rollin 28:26
If you talk to somebody who’s never seen a good game of basketball, you spent hours and hours and hours, teaching them how to dunk the ball, they really knew how to dunk the ball and then you put a bunch of these people together and you’re like, Okay, go and play ball there’s tons of moves that just aren’t apparent and it’s not because they’re not great at dunking the ball.
They just don’t know what the possibilities are so that’s what’s fun is to help them see what the possibilities are, and all these people are right capable ambitious wants their organizations to strive and succeed and really make a dent in the world. So, they learned very quickly.
Brad Wolff 29:16
Yeah! That’s a fun and funny part of your job; it seems like when you get those meetings with the new leaders that now must go from being the star to be a leader.
Who’s bringing out the best in others and is stepping back from their star hood in order to make them more effective contribution.
Pam Fox Rollin 29:35
Because I’m sure you’ve seen this Brad.
If they hold on to, I’m the smartest marketing mind around and that’s why I’m Chief Marketing Officer and I’m going to decide what the pitches arm is like it just doesn’t scale.
Brad Wolff 29:48
Don’t want to be the smartest person in the room, if you, if you want to be a great leader.
You can’t. You do not want to be the smartest person in the room…
Pam Fox Rollin 29:57
Your job is to bring out the smartness and everybody else.
Brad Wolff 30:00
Absolutely! And that is a big shift from what gave them accolades and success earlier on.
So, what advice would you give to people and maybe you haven’t dealt with this when they’re just feeling down and bombed and they just really don’t want to move forward and act.
What will help?
Pam Fox Rollin 30:23
Yeah! Thanks for asking, because it does it shows up in every leadership role some version of that shows up. And in fact, it was on with a guy yesterday who I’m working with him and he was straight up like I’m at the low part of my motivation cycle, it all feels so hard and I don’t know how it ever gets cleaned up and whatever.
So, one thing that can help is a little humor and space!
As one of my very dear mentors Bob Dunham at Institute for generative leadership.
He says, you know, see if you can be bigger than the breakdown.
See if you can step back from the break down and one great way to laugh at it.
And we literally visualize you know those lists like stick on like window cling on things that make it look like they’re worth shots or make it look like there was a cannonball fired and there’s fire all around the edges like we just imagine putting those clean on things all over the ceiling of his office because that was the cannon balls got fired into his office, Right? Like, that’s kind of how it was feeling to him. Um,
And it gave him some space to laugh at it to laugh at himself.
And then what I suggest is that people reconnect with what they care about, why are you here in this world? What’s the point of playing this game for you? Is it, whatever it is, is it to really learn how to do this kind of role? So you can take it to someplace that you want to go is the point of playing that you prove that you’re kind of company can actually succeed in this industry or you prove that an American company can really compete in manufacturing or you prove that, whatever it is there’s the startup.
I work with in in Asia that is proving that it can, you know, combine the best of all the worlds and bring real innovation to their markets and so why do you care what is the point of playing for you. What do you want from this? And then the other people that you need to collaborate with me, care about, how can you help them get that? How can you blend that so that you have A TEAM THAT IS ON PURPOSE, on fire, knows why you’re there, and is excited to go get it?
Brad Wolff 32:47
Absolutely right! Because that engagement doesn’t come from giving out special awards and benefits and bonuses gains you got it from. It comes from engaging the heart of what really matters to a person and that that person feels like they matter.
And they’re valued and that’s it sounds like as what you’re saying.
One other thing I picked up from this is if someone doesn’t want to have fun, you would not be a good coach for them.
Pam Fox Rollin 33:14
It’s possible. I mean, I’ve had some clients. But yeah, sometimes just being able to laugh at a little bit, being able to, do something just different. I had a boss once early in my career when I still had bosses who hated delivering difficult messages.
So, she got a shark on a stick, you know, like the little shark head that when you press the bottom of the stick, it opens and closes. She got a shock of mystic and held up the shark in the stick to deliver bad message. We are going to have to cut our staffing says the shark in this deck.
Brad Wolff 34:02
Right! The shark did it not me!
Pam Fox Rollin 34:05
Like what is, whatever…
Brad Wolff 34:06
That is brilliant. That is absolutely but I’m gonna consider that when I must do something unpleasant now a shark attack! There was a shark, a land shark.
Okay, So Pam, as we wrap this up. What URLs. Would you like to promote for our listeners?
Pam Fox Rollin 34:25
Sure. Well, if you come to my website, which is “Idea Shape” those two words together, IDEASHAPE.com
There is a bunch of resources, blogs, things about leadership, and things about Myers Briggs, whatever there’s also a link that you can set up a time on my calendar, don’t talk to me for 30 minutes
If you’re a leader in an organization, want to talk about a breakdown in your organization or how you want to step up to lead it. If I have capacity to do that? I’m glad to have that conversation with your listeners.
Brad Wolff 35:01
Absolutely! And finally, are there any books, publications, or events that you’d like to promote for the leaders of the listeners to be aware of?
Pam Fox Rollin 35:11
Sure, there’s a couple things. One is I do have a book on starting new leadership roles and you can find that on my website and then go to book and then you can either click from there to go to Amazon and Kindle copy or get a paperback copy whenever you whenever you want.
But if you are starting a new leadership role, I highly recommend it.
Brad Wolff 35:33
Do you have any advice on where to buy those little sharks on a stick?
I was gonna say you can make a fortune selling those I think I think that’s gonna fly off the shelves, after people hear this.
Pam Fox Rollin 35:45
Yeah! Totally! I think there’s a lot to be said for fun and toys. Sometimes when the senior teams are just, they’re so serious with each other. Once I passed out crayons, unlike let’s collect it depends.
Let’s handout crayons Can we stop using words like align and empower and go back to simple words like I want this to happen.
Brad Wolff 36:08
Pam Fox Rollin 36:10
Sometimes that can help and the best leadership program that I know is Foundations of Generative Leadership and sometimes I’m involved with that, sometimes I’m not. But if people are interested, they can go to generateleadership.co and find out about the foundations program.
And if they want to just contact me about it, I can put them in touch, it may be one that I have a relationship with or maybe when that other people are doing. But that is the best three-day leadership programs that I’ve ever seen.
Brad Wolff 36:46
Wow! Well, Pam. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to share wisdom, stories, humor, and other things that I think every human being can relate to and benefit from
Pam Fox Rollin 36:59
This was so much fun Brad and it was really a treat to meet you, to hear your passion, and depth of knowledge on these topics, and I look forward to continuing the conversation.
Brad Wolff 37:09
Absolutely! Thank you!