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Podcast Transcript

A Safety Net

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:10  
Welcome to "Your Authentic Path to Powerful Leadership" with Marsha Clark. Join us on this journey where we're uncovering what it takes to be a powerful woman leader. So Marsha, welcome back.

Marsha Clark  0:24  
Thank you.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:24  
Yes. All right. Today's conversation is about a topic that we really haven't talked about specifically in any way in any of our previous episodes although we talk about it a little bit tangentially, I think, a lot of the time.

Marsha Clark  0:39  
Thank you, Wendi. And you're right, we haven't talked about this topic, specifically. But today we're going to explore the importance of building and maintaining a larger support system. Another way to think about that is, as our title says, "Safety Net", that we all need when we're traveling along our journeys, life's journey, leadership journey, or whatever journey it may be that we're on.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  1:01  
Right, right. I know, personally, I've benefited immensely from building my own strategic support system, both personal and professional. And so I'm excited that you're going to share the benefits of this experience with our listeners.

Marsha Clark  1:16  
Well, me too. I'm excited. And let's dive in.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  1:18  
And yes, okay, so in Chapter Four, for those of you who are reading along, Chapter Four of "Embracing Your Power", you focus on women supporting women. And within that chapter you provide some great content and how to's for building a strong support system. So I'd love to start with your definition of a support system.

Marsha Clark  1:41  
Yeah, and I think it is important to start with a definition. So how I describe it is is a resource pool drawn on selectively to support you in moving in a direction of your choice. And ideally, the connections from your support system are relationships that leave you stronger. And I'm going to break down, you know, each of those elements like I do in the book because I think it's helpful to understand how each of the aspects of a strong safety net work together for your benefit.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  2:14  
Okay, I love this idea of a resource pool.

Marsha Clark  2:19  
Yeah, so a resource pool consists of people, things, environments, and beliefs. So for our discussion today, we're going to focus primarily on issues concerning people in relationships.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  2:31  
Okay, so how do we start building this resource pool for our safety net?

Marsha Clark  2:36  
Yes. So you start by scanning your world, right, and keeping an open mind about the possibility that any given person (and I think this is a really important point), that any given person may be a relevant resource. And, you know, I often say, well, I need a mentor. And I just want to offer to people, you need multiple mentors because it's rare that one mentor is going to give you everything you need. So I am a firm believer we have an opportunity to learn something from everyone. So look for people who may have a skill or you know, something that you think you can learn from them and have multiple people. So I just want to say that quickly. So as you're scanning, it broadens the pool of possibilities. So you want to be proactive in reaching out to both identify and locate those people. Because it's unlikely that they're going to come to you and say, Hi, can I be a part of...

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  3:27  
How can I be a part of your support system?

Marsha Clark  3:30  
So if we think about it almost as if we're curating a list of people who can serve as our own personal board of directors, in a way.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  3:38  
I love that idea, a personal board of directors. So you include this idea of drawing on people selectively as a part of your definition. What do you mean by selectively?

Marsha Clark  3:49  
Well, what that means is you're choosing appropriate people who are willing and available to support you, but really, however long you may need it. So it's not like six months, or 12 months, or an engagement of some sort. It's even this is the first step in the process, can start to feel vulnerable. And that's why I also point out that, you know, asking others to support us can be difficult. So, you know, for example, it may arouse some feelings of guilt where we think we're imposing on another person, and how dare I, you know, do that? (Right) And asking may feel like an expression of weakness or an admission of failure. And it also opens up the fear that we may become dependent on another person rather than being that self sufficient, independent self we want to be. And we do need to be open to help from others and willing to make demands on other people and get clear about what expectations we have of them. So those are all a part of drawing on people selectively but also some of the fears associated with asking others to support us.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  4:56  
Yeah, such a great point and probably one of the main reasons why people don't have strong safety nets, they hesitate to even ask. So another point that you bring up in your definition of a support system is the idea of keeping other people out of your safety net, or at least keeping them from interfering. And I thought that was fascinating as well.

Marsha Clark  5:21  
Yeah, a lot of people never really consider this. But it's important to your success. And you need to be mindful. And I know this is going to sound harsh to some, but there are potential saboteurs out there, people who might intentionally or unintentionally get in the way of your success. And that could be colleagues, friends, and even family who aren't on board with your vision and your goals. And it can also include people who demonstrate jealousy, and maybe some feel competitive when it comes to you, or is feeling rejected if you haven't invited them in when you've invited others and people who would like to be asked for assistance and then feel left out when you actually call upon someone else.

And I also want to say, you know, this idea of when we think bigger than sometimes maybe others in our family have ever dreamed, or, you know that phrase, you're getting too big for your britches? And who do you think you are, right? What makes you so special? I mean, there are those people in our lives. And it's been fascinating to me. Even some of the women in our programs, after we've taught some of this and we come back and then we check in at the next session, they spoke about taking some people out of their, and they described them often as toxic people, out of their support system or their safety net, or the people they connect with. And they talk about what a different mindset they have about, it's like the Debbie Downers, or the woe is me people, or the, you know, who do you think you are people. And when we remove those from our lives, boy, do some things just get lighter.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  6:56  
Right, right. And another thing that I just want to drop in here very quickly is that some of these people, especially family, and since probably the majority of our listeners to this podcast are women, the impact of our fathers, and if we've had fathers who have come from a place of fear and over protected us, tried to make everything perfect, loved us unconditionally. Like if we, like I had a completely idyllic, wonderful childhood. That also makes it very difficult to have other relationships measure up to that. So there's that. And then there's also if my dad is coming from a place of fear about, you know, finances or job or you shouldn't aim so high, and, you know, that's not your responsibility, like you're a perpetual little girl to them. I'm sure there's some, I mean, I'm not the only one I know, I'm sure there's some listeners who are going ah, okay, so Daddy is wonderful, but maybe he isn't, he shouldn't be considered a part of the safety net that we're talking about in this episode. Like love him, let him love you, all of that. But his fear can be a potential saboteur to your greatness.

Marsha Clark  8:16  
And, and a limitation.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  8:18  
A limitation. Yeah!

Marsha Clark  8:20  
You know, the need to over protect or, you know, I don't want  want to see her hurt, and the  best of intentions. And that's some of that unconscious stuff that can go on. Yeah, that's a lot. That's a lot. You know, if you're really focused on enhancing your own success, growth and overall happiness, and remembering that that's what a support system is intended to do, we've got to be really clear about who those toxic people are, and the people who are bringing toxic energy and really think about how we want to include and even exclude them and have hard conversations.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  8:57  
But yeah, it doesn't make sense to have or invite toxic people into your personal board of directors.

Marsha Clark  9:04  
Yeah. And one other point that I want to make on this one is that you may ask people to join your support system and ... not everyone's going to accept your invitation. And so building your safety net does involve taking the risk of asking for support and possibly being rejected or let down.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  9:23  
Yeah, it's unfortunately, yet another reason not to bother. Who needs more rejection?

Marsha Clark  9:31  
That's true. And, you know, there are people that feel that way. And it's understandable because none of us like to invite, you know, fear and rejection into our lives. But, you know, there's a quote, you know I've got to have a sports quote, from the Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky when he said this, and I just want to say this to our listeners, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." (Absolutely.) So get that. If you never take a shot, you're never going to make a goal. (Exactly.) You've got to, you've got to put yourself out there.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  9:59  
Yep, yep. Yeah, I can't believe we've gotten this far in the episode without a sports quote.

Marsha Clark  10:06  
True, though. So I, you know, will never will, I will never build a solid reliable support system if I'm afraid to ask people in case they're gonna say no. And really be prepared going into this process knowing that some people will pass on the invitation, and that's okay. That's the part I want our listeners to hear, too. You know, you're better off having people say no up front with no guilt or criticism or blame or judgment or hard feelings. Because you want people who can fully engage and you know, with zero strings to say yes, yes, yes because otherwise you're, if they say yes, when they really want to say no, or they don't have time, or you know, they're not really in your court, or whatever that might be, you're going to have pain, a lot more painful... (Oh, yeah) because they're not going to meet your expectations and they're going to shoot you down. And so just get that out of the way right up front.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  11:00  
Absolutely. So what else was a part of your definition of a support system? It seems like there's quite a few other elements.

Marsha Clark  11:08  
There are. So another is that the support system helps you move in a direction of your choice and leaves you stronger. And so what I mean by that is to move in a direction of your choice requires you to be able to distinguish your goals from those of other people and the organization's goals as well. Because you can move towards achieving that clarity so you're in a position to make a declaration of that direction, and that others can understand that. So you've got to make a commitment, and even if only for a short time, you know, or somewhat tentatively, but you've got to put that stake in the ground.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  11:45  
Right, which is motivating right there.

Marsha Clark  11:48  
Yeah. Yeah. And it's intended to be. So your support system is built to help you move towards your goals. So, you know, we've talked before about big rocks, are thinking about that in terms. So ideally, a good support system is also going to leave you stronger. So it might confront you with your own ambivalence about growth and often generate some new demands as others perceive your strengths and want to put you in new opportunities. You know, if based on the support you've received, you're now clearer and you can act with more confidence, that's always going to be a big boost for you, and may get you to the point where you have to rely on others less or not at all. And so you won't need to have them, you know, for example, review your slide deck presentation to the board. You feel like I've done this enough and I've learned enough at this point that I'm gonna go on my own on this one. And that, you know, recognizing too that that self assurance, especially in women, because you know, a confident woman can, an assertive woman can annoy a lot of people. And so that could negatively impact some of those relationships as well. So, I mean, this is not fraught with, you know, without some things to consider.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  13:02  
Absolutely. So just a quick review of the definition of a support system -  a resource pool that consists of people, things, environments, and beliefs drawn on selectively to support you moving in a direction of your choice. Ideally, these connections in your support system are relationships that leave you stronger.

Marsha Clark  13:02  
That's exactly right.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  13:04  
So what else or who else should I be considering as I create my safety net?

Marsha Clark  13:37  
Yeah so a truly well developed support system is going to include a variety of types of individuals. And it's not limited to people who are, you know, physically close or geographically close, or they're good at listening or good at giving advice - it's, it's more than that, you know. Support system members can function really in a number of different ways. So some people can fill a variety of roles while others may offer only a single type of support. And I offer a list in the book that illustrates, you know, some of the different functions of a support system. So let me kind of review those with you as we go through this. So they're going to include who are some people that are role models and, you know, I would ask myself, why are they role models? What is it that I can learn from them? People who may have common interest and be on a similar path to me, that could be close friends who know me well and can challenge me in my thinking in various ways. They can be helpers in a variety of ways as well, who can do things.

My first helper that I always think about is a housekeeper, right, so that I can spend quality time with my children because that's a direction that I want to move in and I don't want to spend every moment that I'm not working or whatever, you know, cleaning and cleaning and doing things, and those whose competence I respect, right? So they have a skill, they're a subject matter expert in something. Another kind is a referral agent. So they're to me are connectors and I love playing this role for somebody, do you know someone who can help me with this? Or who does this service or who provides this kind of expertise. And as I said earlier, the challenge or the person who's going to bring me a different point of view, a different perspective, play devil's advocate with me.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  15:31  
Okay, so you're reminding me of a couple of episodes ago, the Big Rocks episode. And where I said that I go back and that I have a list of like 25 friends and that I make it a habit to connect with, so that I'm maintaining those relationships. I'm now looking at all of these, these six different descriptors. And now I'm going to start rotating through like one of each. I'm loving this idea. I love the the idea of challengers versus friends versus those who are role models versus those who you respect their competence. Like, these are all different layers of people in your life. I just love that. So will you go a little deeper with our listeners and give descriptions of each of these different roles and functions within our support system?

Marsha Clark  16:25  
Yeah. And I also want to just say that something that you just said strikes true for me or holds true for me, is this idea of when I recognize what role they're playing in my support system, I can be more specific in what I'm asking for from them. And so that really, is another level of clarity.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  16:46  
Right. Not that you can't be social or friendly with all of these people but you, having this kind of framework and lens that you're looking at them through, I think helps refine that relationship.

Marsha Clark  17:00  
Yeah. So so let's start at the top of the list. So role models was one of the first ones and those are people who can help define goals for positions that you might assume in the future. So it could be the next level in the hierarchical, you know, framework. And they not only show us what's possible, I mean, they're there. So it's possible, right? And they're also a source of valuable information about how they got there, the opportunities and problems associated with that given role. So they're like, they're almost like a guide on the journey, if you will. (Right). And when I think about those as well you know, in the world of diversity, one of the premises is, if people can look up in the organization, so on that chart or that hierarchical chain, and see people who look like them, then there's a possibility they can too.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  17:55  
If you can see it, you can be it.

Marsha Clark  17:56  
That's exactly right. So that's the importance of not only seeking out a role model for ourselves, but you know, there's people in the organization looking at us in that same way and that's a reminder for all of us. So then the second is, who are those people who have common interest. And this is people who share your interests, your concerns, and they're really important in helping keep us motivated for whatever direction we're trying to move in. So they can help you sort out problems, and they're primarily those, you know, the individual from problems imposed by the larger system. So it's not I'm having trouble with John or, you know, Susie, or whatever. It's the, you know, here are the practices, here are the policies, here's what just happened to me at work. And it requires a collective activity to potentially bring about change in a system. So they can be almost like, you know, a bloc, a b-l-o-c, they can be a part of a bloc of people who might challenge the system, because you're all working towards, this is a person who wants what you want in a larger system as well.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  18:05  
Right. So can you provide an example of that one, especially the part about sorting out individual problems versus systemic problems.

Marsha Clark  19:07  
Yeah. And so individual problems are those that are generally of my own making. So I'm not setting boundaries and saying yes to too many things. And so that's an example of a an individual problem that I have my own making. A system problem is an organizational policy or practice that creates problems for a group of people not just me, something like disparate or inequitable pay practices that result in women making less than men because we know that's true in you know, 99.9% of the organizations. And the reason, it's important to know the difference because each would require a different response. Right. So if it's me, I gotta go work on me, if it's an individual. If it's a systemic thing, I'm going to need some help. I'm going to need some allies, and that's where that bloc comes in, and having a group of people who have had similar experiences or are reacting to a policy or practice in a certain way and want to see something collectively changed in the system.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  20:10  
Right. Okay, so all of that helps. So who are some of the other people we need in our safety net?

Marsha Clark  20:16  
Okay, so the next one we'll talk about is close friends. And we all want and need some of those. And I love that I have so many close friends who helped me in a variety of ways, and these are the people who are going to help nurture and care for me, you know. They may help me from becoming isolated, or alienated or out of date, or, you know, just helping me see myself in ways I can't see, (Right) but they know me, they've known me in many cases for years, and they can see growth, they can see a possibility, they can also see you're doing it again, whatever it may be, you know, and helping prevent those things from recurring. And then, as I mentioned before, there are helpers. And these are people who can be depended upon in a crisis to provide assistance, they're often experts who can solve particular kinds of problems. And they may or may not be people that you would choose to have a closer personal relationship. So you're not going to go, you know, say let's go grab a drink, or whatever it might b, but you're glad you have them when you need them. And so, again, I think about these as housekeepers and baby sitters, right, you know. I want to have a date night, or something, I need advice. And there, you know, I also put them into the category. And again, anybody who knows me knows I have lots of these that deliver groceries, meals, packages. I mean, those are all helpers in my life that make my life easier, that give me the ability to redirect energy and time that would be required to fulfill those responsibilities with things that help me achieve those big rocks.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  22:03  
Right, right. Okay, who else do we need in our net?

Marsha Clark  22:06  
All right. So the next are the people whose competence we really respect and admire and want. Right? Right. So they've already developed, and you know, they can value the contributions we're making, but I'm also valuing the contributions they're making, and particularly helpful in times of transition. So maybe it's a person who is really good at customer relations. Well, now my job is going to require me to have more interface with the paying customer. So I want to, you know, learn from and watch and notice and emulate and talk about and dissect and why did you say it that way? And I loved your strategy, you know, in this area with the customer. So beginning to really take that on and be able to know and understand that about myself as well.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  23:02  
Right. Definitely need those in the safety nets.

Marsha Clark  23:06  
Well we do because, I mean, anytime we look at our development plans, who are the people who can help us tick off the things that we're trying to do? (Exactly.) So I agree with you need those people. So and then the second to last group are what I call the referral agents. And these are people who can connect you with resources where you can obtain any kind of assistance you need. So I bet in a given week, I do a dozen, I play referral agent. Do you know somebody who... I need, you know, I need to get my LinkedIn page updated. I need to get my resume redone, okay. I got people I can talk to you about. You know, I want someone who can help me as like an image consultant. I, you know, I'm horrible at putting things together, clothing together, jewelry together, whatever it may be. Yep, got one of those, you know, so I got a list of headhunters, I got a list of female doctors, accountants, lawyers, and even people from company to company who want to meet each other. So that's the role the referral agent plays. And then the last one is our challengers. And you might say, well why do I want a challenger? That's not a safety net, they're a thorn in my side. And yet, those are the people who can help really motivate is another word for challenge to explore new ways of doing things or to develop new school skills, and and even to work, you know, to build some capabilities inside ourselves that we didn't realize we had. So kind of unearthing those capabilities. And they're often the people that you're not, you don't necessarily love working with them and that kind of thing, and yet they're still useful for your development. I often have said, the way I think about this one, one way many ways, but one way is I've learned as much from bad bosses as I have from good bosses. You know, they've challenged my patience by what, you know, moments and yet, if I'm looking at it, I can say, I don't want that. And how do I manage that inside myself?

Okay, so I'm gonna list them off here - role models, common interests, close friends, helpers, respect competence, referral agents, and challengers. We've got seven different groups to pull from as I'm building and weaving my safety net. That feels like a lot.

Yeah, it does. And yet we're complicated human beings. We do a lot of stuff. So, you know, and I will tell you that if this is the first time you've actually sat down to really ponder, 'what does my support system look like' and considering all these different aspects of building this system, it can be a bit overwhelming or daunting. And yet, I also want to say, in some ways, part of it's just going to grow organically, you know. There may be affiliations that you have, or an existing relationship that you have and you might just say, "You know what, that person falls into that category". It's like your 20 friends that you're doing, if I'm getting conscious about that. So it's not like I've got to go start with a blank sheet of paper, all of a sudden build this, who's in my world right now, scanning, who's playing some of these roles for me right now. And I hope that makes it less daunting and less overwhelming. So it's, you know, the point of today's discussion is not to have this random, out of control, I must build a list kind of thing. It's something that you develop over time. And I also want to remind our listeners that keeping your support system up to date, relevant to your current goals, really is going to require an ongoing assessment of the kinds of people that are available to you and as we said earlier, letting go of those who are not as relevant or helpful. And, you know, building a new people who could be of assistance because we're meeting new people in the workplace, we're meeting new people in our neighborhoods, at our churches, at our children's schools. I mean, there's lots of different places that we're meeting new people, and we want to be on the lookout for that.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  27:19  
Right. One thing you say in the book that I hadn't ever really considered before, is that and now I'm going to quote from the book, "Supportive people may or may not be aware that they are a part of your system. And they may or may not be aware of the other people who are important in your life." And then you also add that the relationship may be close and personal, or quite distant and impersonal, but it's important that they be useful and that the relationship be equitable and fair.

Marsha Clark  27:55  
Yeah. And I think this idea of when people are part of our support system and they don't know it, that that's a real missed opportunity.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  28:03  
Yeah, right.

Marsha Clark  28:04  
So I appreciate your pointing out. And there are two key messages in there is that our natural organic relationships, they may be operating almost as a de facto support system so that they're out there and we just haven't thought about them in that way. And it's great to take that into consideration as you take steps to, I'm going to use 'formalize', but it's more about just clarity, getting clear about and activating the system. And I also want to say thanking people, letting people know they're a part of your system and thanking them for being a part of your system. Because just think about this yourself. If someone told you that you were part of their support system, the next time, and how much they appreciated you playing that role, the next time they called you, wouldn't you make an extra effort to take that call?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  28:56  
Of course. Absolutely.

Marsha Clark  28:57  
Yes because now I understand what role I'm playing in your life. (Right.) I think that's a really important point to make in this. And then the second point is that the relationship, you want the relationship to be equitable and fair. So it's really important to be clear that your support system - it's not necessary that it be reciprocal -and yet, in other words, you don't have to do everything tit for tat kind of, and, but what many of us function as parts of other people's support system and it's an important skill to know how to provide support in a variety of ways. Like, I may come to you three times for something. But if you come to me only one time, the value of that can be just as great as the reason I came to you. So it to me that's not the tit for tat... equitable and fair, and, you know, mutual. We're supporting. And so analyzing how one becomes part of another's support system and how one leaves that support relationship, you know, coming and going, provides a basis for increasing our own interpersonal competence. How do I know how to engage with you? How do I know how to disengage with you, and really describe what we're getting from each other in a way that is clear. And you know, we're not going to be best friends, I mean, and yet I respect you professionionally, I respect your competence in this area, your expertise in this area, you're a role model for me. By being able even to use the language of this is really important.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  30:41  
Absolutely. You mentioned interpersonal competence a couple of different times in chapter four as it relates to having a support network. What do you mean by that and why is it so relevant here?

Marsha Clark  30:55  
Well, you know, we've got to have relationships. This is one of those for me, it's like, why are you even asking that question? Isn't it clear that, you know, the idea that none of us works on an island, is an island, none of us work in a silo, we're either receiving information or work from a work product from someone, we're doing something with it, we're handing it off to someone else, we have a boss, we have family members, you know, we have neighbors. We have all of that. So, you know, and we know that our best relationships are based on a foundation of mutual trust. So I want to have that kind of mutual trust in my support system, and I trust that you're going to, that you have my best interests at heart. I want to trust that you'll be there when I need you. I want to trust that you're going to tell me your truth even if it's painful for me to hear. (Right.) So that's the interpersonal aspect of this.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  31:53  
Right. And it's also as we're talking about this, it's reminding me of Episode 40, Old Dog, like having the self awareness and then moving that through to self determination is a part of those interpersonal relationships and the impact. Okay, so we've covered the definition of a support system, the types of people you should include. Now, let's move on to some of the uses or functions of a strong support system. Sometimes it's not always obvious why we need them so it could be helpful to explore a few of these non obvious reasons to be so intentional about having a safety net.

Marsha Clark  32:34  
Yes, you'd be surprised to know how many people, and I will tell you especially women, not only don't have a deliberate support system in place, they don't even recognize the professional value of having one or building it, maintaining it, and that sort of thing. And, you know, I just want to say to you, it is a sobering moment when you ask people to make that list and they don't have names  to write down or whether you call it role model, you know, someone whose competence I respect or helper or challenger or whatever, the same name goes in every box, (Right) and you realize how small and narrow your support system is. And so I just have women, it's, it's like, there's, it brings a tear to their eye when they realize how isolated that really creates. Or it's the two by four upside down...mirror of...(wow, yeah). And so, you know, my top reasons for building a strong support system, and they're situational and they're based on the timeliness and needs of the individual. So one, is when I have specific objectives that I want to achieve. So many of the goals that we set for ourselves, or strive to achieve, can't be met without collaboration and, you know, requires the contributions from a number of people. And often people who have skills and resources that I don't have, and that I may or may not wish to develop.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  34:04  

Marsha Clark  34:04  
So I'm gonna go build on the uniqueness and strengths of another person, not try to just be everything, you know, be all things to all people myself, right? So relating to that  specific objective is also maintaining high performance overall. And I think it's equally important to have access to resourceful people when you're doing well, not just when I need something, but doing well in order to maintain that level of activity. You know, it comes and it goes. So it may be easier to use assistance when you're performing at a high level but many people tend to neglect their support systems at such times -  I'm doing just fine, thank you very much, don't need you. And then when they, and they might find it difficult to ask for it because again, I'm doing well I don't want you to think I'm not or thinking there is arrogantly that they don't need them anymore. And then something happens and you go, oh no, this is, I haven't updated my resume for 22 years and now I have to. Or I haven't even talked to anybody in the marketplace because I've been heads down focused, trying to do my best job here. And all of a sudden now things have changed, and I need someone.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  35:17  
Um hmm. So if I'm needing help to level up my performance or knock out a specific project, I most definitely will reach out to collaborate or get advice, feedback from others. And it's really not fun to reach out to people and then hear crickets, you know, when I'm asking for input or support, especially if it's a crucial project or I'm in a time crunch.

Marsha Clark  35:43  
Well that's exactly right. And I just have to tell you, there are a few people that are in my life that the only time I hear from them is when they want a job. (Exactly.) And they rarely ever reciprocate. (Yep.) And you know, they get the next job and then I don't hear from them until it's time to do it again. But here's what I, you know, like to offer our listeners. There's the saying or the question of when is the best time to plant a tree? So have you heard this?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  36:14  
Yep. Yep. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, or right now. You know what? I'd like to augment that, you know. The best time is yes, you should have done it 20 years ago, but if you didn't, do it now.

Marsha Clark  36:27  
And think about that for ourselves, right? You know, the best answer is 20 years ago, but you know what? You can't reverse time, and you can't go back and make that happen. This is the people asking me where were you when I was 25? Well, I wasn't there when you were 25 but I'm here now! You know, it's that same kind of thing. And I think recognizing rather than, yes we can lament for a moment, but then we go, okay, haven't done it yet. Here's where we start.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  36:52  
Right. So you shared that two primary reasons to reach out and use our support systems is for achieving specific objectives and maintaining high performance. In the book, you also mentioned building new competencies as another reason.

Marsha Clark  37:10  
Yes so another major benefit for cultivating this strong support system is this gaining new competency. So you know, if you're making a list of categories it's - 1) achieving specific objectives 2) maintaining high performance and 3) gaining new competencies. And it's a somewhat different function to assist in developing these new skills. What's needed here are people who can challenge, who can serve as teachers and models, and I think this is an important one, provide emotional support during those periods when you are feeling awkward or inept, and you know, thinking, oh my gosh I screwed that up today, or I'm just clumsy. It's like you know, a toddler who's trying to learn to walk. A tot will take a step and fall down and you know, giggle or cry and then get up and try it again and that's kind of where we are as we're, you know, taking on and building new competencies. And so related to that is the need to re-establish competence.

And this is the last one that I include in the book. And this is true particularly in times of high stress or major transition. So you might find yourself functioning at a lower level of competence, maybe because I needed it a long time ago and haven't used it in a while. And it could also be because of the anxiety or the energy it takes to cope with a crisis, physical or emotional difficulties, or really even overloaded demands. And I don't know anybody who doesn't have an overload of demands. And a good support system can help you cope and return to your previous level of functioning. And I want to call out on this one. When you think about the world that we've lived in for the last two and a half years or so with COVID pandemic, with, you know, racial tensions, with, you know, a war in Ukraine, all of those things are creating fatigue, stress, mental health issues. This idea of having a support system that helps us move through some of that and acknowledge that we're not alone in it. And I would tell our listeners that I do have a white paper out on my website for that because it talks about the mental fatigue, the emotional fatigue, the psychological fatigue, the physical fatigue, and even something called compassion fatigue. Think about all the compassion we have for people who have lost loved ones in COVID, who, you know, are dealing with playing multiple roles in people's lives. When I think about health care workers and teachers and educators and all the stuff they're having to go through right now, I mean, that's helping them get through those crisis times, anxious times, overwhelming times.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  40:06  
Absolutely. I mean, those are the opportunities to lean in to our support systems.

Marsha Clark  40:11  
Yes, yes. And, you know, I do want to add one more important function of a support system and another reason for why we need them. They are particularly helpful in coping with stress that might accompany you know, me in transition, whether it be in a personal transition, or a professional transition, taking on new roles and positions or, you know, advancing in my career to the next level with all eyes on me. And, you know, the skills in establishing new support systems are really important and essential for, you know, transitioning into these new environments. And our listeners, or any one of us can find ourselves in a situation where you need support. And you want to make sure that you're living out your values and principles, not only your personal ones, but those of the organization. And you also have customers that you've got to make sure you're taking care of, and you know, that you're also treating all of your team members and colleagues with dignity and respect. And that just requires a constant heavy lifting. Yes. I mean, you know, even as I speak about it here, my shoulders drop and I get a little, you know, heavy moments. And, you know, in other situations, it might be support to challenge some directives or decisions that others are imposing and that you might perceive are contrary to doing the right thing, or in service to the larger good, some of those kinds of things. So, you know, I think about the many conversations I read about and have conversations with clients around our allowing people to work from home more frequently, because they've got to provide care for an aging parent, or, you know, giving someone extra time off beyond the policy because, you know, the employees put in so many extra hours and now they need a reprieve, they need a respite, they need a moment, they need, you know, and just a few extra days can make a world of difference.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  42:03  
Absolutely. I see this going on with a lot of my friends who work at large corporations. You know, they're sharing that company ABC, and it's across a lot of the big ones, are now, you know, permanently implementing noon Friday. It's four and a half days or it's five days of, you know, you time, and it's paid and it's not taken out of their PTO bucket. It's additional time. Companies are recognizing, especially all of their employees who are, you know, maybe immuno deficient in some way, or have family members that they are close to a lot. You know if you're working from home, chances are you're sitting in front of a screen from 8 am to 5-6 pm. And it's, okay do I seriously have to tell you people that I need to schedule 15 minutes in between here for a bio break, grab a coffee, brush my teeth,  manage the dog for two seconds, you know, whatever that is. And so, yeah.

Marsha Clark  43:17  
You know Wendi, I just think it's companies, the best companies, the smartest companies, the most effectively-led companies are going to be the ones that realize we're people, we're human beings, (right), and that we're not just automaton machines. And you can't just plug us in and expect us to run run, run, run, run, run, run. And I think that the last few years that that is a bit of a silver lining and a gift in all of that. And yet, I also know there are companies who want to take it right back to where it was and I just think that's a disaster.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  43:50  
What a loss. What a loss. So one of the things that I find most interesting in this section of your book are the questions that you offer to help people assess the makeup of their own support system. And I think our listeners would really benefit from hearing those questions from you.

Marsha Clark  44:07  
So it's a good idea and I'll ask those questions and offer up a couple of other considerations at the at the end of the list. So, again, I want to encourage our listeners to sit down and write out their list of who fits the different qualities for their support system. And remember that's role model, common interests, close friends, helpers, people whose competence I respect, referral agents and challengers. And then as you write down the names in each of those categories, and oh, by the way, if you don't have people that you can name today, pick some targets, scan your, you know...

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  44:42  
Right, your second degree.

Marsha Clark  44:46  
So, you want to ask the following five questions. Do you have the right mix, right? So are they like you or different from you? So this idea of, you can look at that from the standpoint of gender, age, race, function, industry, company size, you know, for profit, not for profit, education, health care, government, whatever all those may be. The second is do you see repetition? And this is the one that, as I mentioned earlier, oh the same name is in every box. And then I ask women oftentimes, is it your significant other, is it your mother or is it a sister because those are the common ones. We rely on them again and again and again. So you might want to, again, come up with some new and different names. The third question is, what roles do these people play? So are they in the traditional roles of, you know, you have to be my friend in order to be in the close friends category. You know, so I know that sounds obvious, but you know, and maybe even friends in the common interests. Well, what if I expanded my definition of what that might look like? So I might be limiting my options in that regard. And so maybe some reorganizing of who supports you in which category might also benefit you. And then question number four is are women in your support system because sometimes it'll be all men, because like you a father who was very instrumental in your life, or a male boss, or you know, a male mentor, or whatever it might be. And so, we, I encourage you to have a mix of men and women because men can teach us certain things, and women can teach us certain things. And I'm going to also offer about as women, we often don't see those roles that we can play in a formalized way. And that we can say, well, I don't have time for that.

And I just want us to rethink that, because women supporting women is all about making time for that, seeing the importance of that. So too few women, too many, right number, you know, and the size of the resource pool, I want to make this point too, is important. So the larger and more complicated, I'll say, systems require a lot of energy to really maintain and sustain those. And that, you know, systems may not have, it can also be too small and not have the range of resources that you need. So the composition, or the variety of people becomes an important criterion in building an effective system. And then the last one, number five is, geography is the category. So, you know, it used to be that somebody did have to be close, physically close - sit in the cube next to me, have the office next to me, live across the street, you know, whatever. In today's world, that's just not right, you know, you can do virtual platforms, you can do FaceTime, you can do whatever. People can be anywhere around the world so that can really open up, you know, the pool of possibilities of people that you can consider as a part of your support system and I think that's important. And then finally, if you don't have the mix and the need of what you want based on these questions, what do you need to do to change it and so how do you begin to reach out? So I encourage you to think about all of these as you move through and build your own support system.

So I'm seeing a note here about this relates to the five C's. Do you want to talk about that here?

Well we're going to do another episode on it.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  48:29  
Okay. Teaser!

Marsha Clark  48:30  
So it is related. Teaser, that's right. So you know, there's five C's. I'm not gonna tell you what they are but we're gonna build a very specific, do an episode on building a very specific support system on those.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  48:45  
Okay, so the main point at this juncture is we need to make sure there's not just one, two, three people to fit all these roles, to expand your network to include people who are skilled and valuable in each of those seven categories. Yes. So you know, these questions are, they're insightful. They're really going to help you gain some clarity around how to build your safety net. (Yeah.) So as we wrap up today, I know you have some cautionary advice you offer when it comes to building a safety net. So please share that.

Marsha Clark  49:20  
Yes. And I think it's important again,  for each and every one of us to realize that, as with all relationships, support systems can be difficult to establish. They can sometimes, if we've got the wrong people in there, can become counterproductive. That can be disappointing at times, and quite honestly, because we can't control what everybody else, how they choose to respond, and that kind of thing can be a bit unpredictable. And they do take some energy to maintain them. And you've got to be on the watch out that we don't use them as crutches so that we feel helpless in making our own decisions and we're more dependent than really using them as a resource. And so I want our listeners to know that everything that's related to building their safety nets, you know, isn't all rainbows and unicorns and bubblegum, you know. It is challenging to set it up. And yet I think, as with every choice we make, we're gonna get something and we're gonna give something up. And so I think you get a whole lot more than maybe the potential downside or negative side of this. I think the being able to have a strong useful support system far outweighs, you know, some of the difficulty.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  50:34  
Right, right. Okay. So as we start to close out here, Marsha, what final thoughts would you like to share with our listeners today regarding our safety net?

Marsha Clark  50:43  
So the final thoughts I want to share are these. One, let people know they're an important part of your support system and thank them for that situationally, collectively .You know again, in programs I've had women come back after we've talked about this on day two, and now we're in day three, and they say, 'You know what I did last night? I sent notes and you can't, you would not believe what a great conversation or a great response I got from that'. Because most people that I know consider it an honor and a privilege to be considered, and then take that responsibility very seriously. So that's one thing. Two is keep the system simple. It should increase your energy and not drain it. (Right). And that includes having some difficult conversations, perhaps, or making some difficult decisions about who's in your system and who's not, maintaining the system, keep in touch with people so that they're there when you need them. Don't just contact people when you need something, develop a strong overall relationship. And then the fourth thing is keep the relation equitable, you know, give and take in the relationship without feeling like tit for tat or that indebtedness. You know that this next one is develop backup resources. So if you've only got one name on the list for, you know, whatever that might be, you might want to look at adding a couple of names, because not everybody can be available at the drop of a hat, and you still will need the resource and need the support. And finally, invite feedback. And, you know, how am I doing in support of you? Here's some thoughts about ways that you could be more effective in helping me. Is there a way that I can engage with you that is more in alignment with how you operate, or, you know, whatever those kinds of things might be.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  52:32  
Yes, well, Marsha, this has been a very rich and relevant episode - a lot here to digest, think about, work through. Thank you so much.

Well you know, I love sharing this information, Wendi, so the pleasure is mine. But and I also want to acknowledge it is a lot to digest for sure. And, you know, even as we were writing through these production notes, it feels like a lot. And, you know, when I think about dense content like this, and I ask our listeners, I invite, I guess, our listeners to take time to work through the process step by step. And if you are feeling overwhelmed by it, just do it a bit at a time, take a step at a time and make your support system solid and strong. It's not about just getting names on a piece of paper. (Right.) It's about being thoughtful about who and how and when, and for what and, you know, so don't try to skimp on it or try to rush through it. It really is not an academic exercise. And if we get thoughtful and intentional about it, and that's how I define if it's done well, it really can be a powerful, really profoundly important, you know, to have this kind of support system as it relates to each and every one of our own success and well being. So it is hard work, again I don't want to downplay that at all, and yet it is so worth it in the end.

Yep, absolutely. So I just want to offer our listeners just very quickly because as we're talking through this whole episode, I was thinking about how different... I went through Marsha's class Power of Self class 2017 to 2018. So now here we are in 2022 four years later. At the time that I went through her program, I had probably two or three names that I was writing down over and over and over again. And now today, it's been over the last four years that I have been involved in activities, been a part of projects, been a part of different, you know, closing out a business, starting a new business, having to rely on other people that it's become, I've become aware of the other people in my life and then worked towards building those relationships in the seven categories. So I just wanted to close out this episode to offer our listeners to think about, think about those things in your life. Think about what's the really awesome project that you worked on? Who were those awesome team members? Have you, you know, and probably it was a tiger team, they came together, they did the project, and now they're all back in their other corners of the world. Who were the amazing people? Have you maintained relationship with them? Have you worked on something else? Or have you been a part of you know, that Girl Scout Cookie fundraising thing you know, with the other moms. Was there another mom that you really clicked with and now that fundraising project is six months to a year old or three years or whatever. Reach back out to that woman. I just wanted to offer a few things to get women thinking about this is how I start if they only have two or three names on their list like I did.

Marsha Clark  55:59  
Yeah. And you know, I also would encourage, just because let's say you had a mentor at Company A and you leave company A and you go to Company B, hang on to the mentor at Company A. It's another way to think about it because if they cared about you, they cared about you as a person not just an employee of the company. And so I think, but we've got to maintain those, right?  So it is sending a note periodically, or let's get together for coffee or lunch or something. And we've got to make time for it. So I go back to prioritizing those kinds of things, and what does our calendar reflect?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  56:33  
That's right, so maybe it's a big rock or maybe it's gravel, but you know, it's not sand or water.

Marsha Clark  56:38  
Or maybe it's glue or another, you know, synthetic element. But it's what keeps a lot of things connected together that can help us.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  56:49  
I love that analogy. Well, Marsha, thank you so much for today's episode. And thank you, listeners, for joining us today on this journey of authentic, powerful leadership. Please download, subscribe and share this podcast wherever you're listening and visit Marsha's website at for links to all the tools that we talked about today, and get her book "Embracing Your Power". Today we were all in chapter four so connect with Marsha by buying her book, connect with her on social media. And Marsha I'm gonna let you close it out.

Marsha Clark  57:22  
Yeah, you know, a phrase just came flying through my head as we're wrapping this up. And, you know, we've talked a lot about creating a support system for ourselves. And I do want to also, you know, sort of throw down the challenge of how do we be a part of another woman's support system as well. And I'm reminded of a quote by Rosalind Dawson Thompson, she's the retiring executive from the Texas Women's Foundation and she says, "When you get a seat at the table, scoot over and pull up another chair and invite another woman in." and, and I think that's another way in which we can support each other and lends itself very well to how we always close out these podcasts because having a support system to support our needs, and us being there and making it truly mutually respectful and reciprocal is all about "Here's to women supporting women!"

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