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Podcast Transcript

Creating Safe Spaces

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  0:11  
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. Well, Marsha, welcome back. We've been building up some excitement over the past couple of episodes between celebrating our 100th and then doing the sneak peek of your new book, "Expanding Your Power: A Woman's Opportunity to Inspire Teams and Influence Organizations". So today, we're settling in and exploring one of your first chapters on creating safe spaces for teams.

Marsha Clark  0:49  
Yes, it has been an exciting time, hasn't it? So, I keep pinching myself every once in a while just to remind myself that this is all really happening. It's one of those things where you plan and plan and plan and plan and then all of a sudden, it's here.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  1:01  
Yep, here it is. And so you know, in our last episode, when you introduced one of the tools coming up in the book about ending well and new beginnings, it made me realize that we've done a pretty good job of celebrating milestones and ending one chapter of our progress well before simply just jumping into the next chapter, so to speak.

Marsha Clark  1:26  
Yeah, I think you're right, Wendi. And, and I hadn't really thought of it in that way. I just think it's so important to acknowledge and celebrate achievements and endings, to give everyone a sense of accomplishment and closure, before we just fall into automatic pilot, you know, and rush into the next project. So, I think pausing and taking that time to reflect and recognize our milestone moments, you know, and in our case, it was natural for us. And we had a chance to close one book before opening a new one. And I love both the literal and the figurative metaphor on that.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  1:58  
Exactly. And Marsha, I know there are some overlaps across all three books that you've written between "Choose" with Dottie Gandy, "Embracing Your Power", and now "Expanding Your Power". So, I don't want our listeners to worry that we won't ever end up referencing tools or concepts from the other books as we launch into this third one.

Marsha Clark  2:20  
Well, absolutely, Wendi, and in fact, even in today's episode on creating safe spaces, I'll be calling back one of my favorite models on building psychological safety. And the first time I ever used that term in my work was from Sue Hammond and a group trust model. And we introduced that in "Embracing Your Power". So, there are definitely connections across all the books, the white papers, the workbooks, and so on.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  2:47  
That's what I thought. So, thank you for clarifying that. And that leads me into my first question for today's episode. So this is actually more of a transition question before we jump into the specific content on creating safe spaces. So, can you share with our listeners the philosophy or the logic behind the order of your content, specifically, why did "Embracing Your Power" start with a lot of self awareness types of tools and relationship building content and now "Expanding Your Power" shifts to inspiring teams and influencing organizations? What's your strategy behind that structure?

Marsha Clark  3:28  
Well, Wendi, when I open my workshops, and this is whether they're one day or a year long cohort type program, I start with the explanation that leadership, at least in the way that I think about it and teach it, is an inside out job. And that for us to be our most authentic, effective selves, we have to have self awareness. So, that's why we start there. And, you know, I imagine many of our listeners are familiar with Socrates' quote of "Know thyself", right. But they may not recall the entire quote, which is "To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom". Isn't that great? I love that. I firmly believe that and I found it to be critical in any successful leadership development journey. And I want to say journey, not just program because I think it's a lifelong journey to be our best selves. And so the research also tells us that our lack of self awareness is often found to be the primary derailer or impediment in the effectiveness of our leadership. So, in lay terms, the way I always think about it is we think the world is seeing us in one way and in fact, they're seeing us very differently. And, you know, I think of my work as as helping people to close that gap. And so that's part of why my work is what I call deep work. We start by peeling back the onion on self, and that's understanding our strengths, clarifying our values, exploring those areas where we've built up walls around trust, or how we handle conflict. All of it's about getting to know ourselves well enough, honestly enough, to be able to then lead with integrity and confidence.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  5:21  
Well, and I love the image of concentric circles that you use to describe this build or layering that you follow starting with the self in the center of the circle.

Marsha Clark  5:32  
That's right. And I'm glad you like that because it's been very deliberate. It's a simple, but I think an effective visual to represent this approach that I take. And the center of the circle, as you mentioned, is self or self awareness which is the will and the skill to understand yourself and how others see you and it keeps building. And we expand on how we relate to others on an individual basis, so, building relationships. And those two things, the self awareness, building relationships or interpersonal skills, was the focus of the first book, "Embracing Your Power". And then the other layers or rings of the image, move out as our own leadership journey expands from building relationships with others to leading teams and understanding group dynamics so that we can ultimately recognize our role and impact on the larger organization that's operating around us, our professional environments as well as our communities and even our families or, you know, organizations of sorts. So we touched on this last week in the sneak preview, but that's basically how the circles build out.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  6:42  
Well, thank you for reviewing that content and setting the context. You know, I think it's easy to assume that our listeners have been with us from the beginning and have all of that backstory, but we know that that's not the case. So, I wanted to give everyone kind of a level set before we dive into this first major content area from "Expanding Your Power".

Marsha Clark  7:04  
I think it was a great idea, Wendi, and thank you for helping to set that stage. You know, it reminds me that I wanted to share a quote from one of my favorite mentors, and his name is Dr. Peter Koestenbaum and really this quote is a way to set us up for today. Peter, or Dr. K, has been one of my most influential mentors in this area of leadership. And so here's a quote from him: "Unless the distant goals of meaning, greatness and destiny are addressed, we can't make an intelligent decision about what to do tomorrow morning much less set a strategy for a company or for human life. Nothing is more practical than for people to deepen themselves. The more you understand the human condition, the more effective you are as a business person. Human depth makes business sense." And his message in his words just resonates so strongly for me.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  8:08  
Yeah, human depth makes business sense. That's thought provoking.

Marsha Clark  8:15  
Yeah, I mean, it's not just altruistic or goody two shoes or those things. So, I do want to take a moment to acknowledge Peter's influence not only on me, but also on the organizational system at EDS that I was a part of for so long. He was someone who was so strongly committed to this notion of building deep, really almost uncomfortable awareness of self before trying to tackle the leadership challenges and complexities of organizational life whatever kind of organization or industry we're in. So, for me, it's a perfect segue into this next chapter, so to speak, of our podcast and this next book.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  8:54  
I so agree. So, let's use Dr. Koestenbaum's words to open up this conversation about creating safe spaces. So this whole idea of the more you understand the human condition, the more effective you are as a business person and this idea that human depth makes business sense. That's really a powerful transition.

Marsha Clark  9:18  
Yeah, I agree. And I'd like to expand his quote beyond being a business person but to include being a leader in general, no matter it doesn't have to be in a business, it can be in any kind of leader. We have many listeners who are leading nonprofits or educational institutions and working in the government. And this notion is just as relevant for them as it is for those in the for profit business environment.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  9:40  
Great point. Okay, then, so I'm going to just jump into the deep end here. And since we're talking about human depth and say that you really don't hold back any punches in this section of your book, do you?

Marsha Clark  9:53  
I don't. You're right. I go all in and I even comment on that in the opening of the first paragraph of the chapter, and even the chapter title, "Life Traumas and Their Impact on Who We Are". And over my career as a leader and coach, I've had come to see the powerful impact that trauma has on our ability to thrive or sometimes simply survive in our organizational systems. And this understanding of trauma affects us not just personally as human beings trying to lead others, but also obviously affects people we're leading and working with. They have their version, too, right, of whatever their traumas might be. And I think being effective and inspiring teams and influencing organizations requires you to understand what I think of as the residual impact of the traumas that have occurred in one's life.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  10:48  
Yeah, you open that chapter with a quote from "Memoirs of a Geisha", which is a pretty unsettling or at least, untraditional source of inspiration in a leadership book. Will you share that quote and then why it spoke to you for this chapter on trauma?

Marsha Clark  11:07  
So, the quote is, "After all, when a stone is dropped into a pond, the water continues quivering even after the stone has sunk to the bottom." And that's by Arthur Golden. And I think it visually represents the ripple effects of our life experiences which makes us who we are. We're just a combination and culmination of those life experiences - the good, the bad, and the traumatic, which I might add, is often very ugly.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  11:41  
Yes, well, and how those ripple effects, obviously we're gonna go into this, affect not only you but the fact that you've experienced them, it then ripples out to others.

Marsha Clark  11:53  
Absolutely. And I'm going to be honest here and share that this intersection of leading well and understanding trauma is a relatively new focus for me in some ways. I knew about my own, but I, you know, we often get caught up in our own and don't always recognize what others can have. And, I think at an intuitive level, many of us doing this work recognized when the impact of people's life histories had on how they showed up at work, or in the community or in school, or whatever. And we understood at that fundamental level, what was going on outside dare we say the gilded doors of the office, and that people had lives and they had stuff, right, I use the word "stuff" in quotes going on, and that undoubtedly affected their work self and organizations had recognized it, too, and established, supportive systems like employee assistance programs to help people deal with any of the stuff that might be interfering with or distracting people from fully engaging at work. But that was all handled in a way that was rather, I would describe it as clinical and almost external to the responsibilities of the day to day leader. And we, all of us, as leaders certainly weren't taught or encouraged to dig into our own personal histories to figure out how any of our traumas or triggers might be affecting our ability to lead well. And so we learned to just push all that down, pack it away, pretend all was well every time we stepped into the office. And I remember being told check your personal stuff at the door when you came into the business office. And, the way that I keep it present in my mind is to share with my clients that everybody's got a story and everybody's working on something. And that is the sentiment that helps me see others through a more human lens.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  13:47  
Something else that I try to keep in mind every time I leave my own house is you never know what somebody else is going through because we all put on the face, the mask, the thing, and you just never know what somebody else is carrying.

Marsha Clark  14:03  
That's right. That's right. And that's behind those gilded doors or behind the smile on the face. Yes. And I'll say that just when I thought we've made some tremendous strides in building, you know, organizational empathy. You know, I can read on a daily basis, the stories of companies that are hardening their approaches with their employees and implementing the 'my way or the highway' types of policies that in my mind are more reminiscent of the 80's and 90's rather than being here in 2023. And it's all part of the never ending challenge of balancing the needs and concerns of the people with the business reality and profits and losses.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  14:40  
Yeah, I can see why understanding the impact of trauma in terms of developing leaders has taken on even more importance for you. It's a harsh reality that everybody is trying to work through right now. And I think even more than ever now.

Marsha Clark  14:56  
I think you're right. Absolutely, Wendi, and I don't want to downplay the traumatic events that have happened over the past 30 plus years that leaders have had to process in their own lives, as well as support their team members. I mean, think about it. Events like the Oklahoma City bombing, you know, 9/11, the financial crashes that we experienced through the first decade of this this century. These examples are very real events that created deep and lasting trauma in people all over the world. And then you add to that the rising awareness of social injustices and violence in our own communities and around the world, the political instability and outright wars, and of course, the pandemic, the thing we all know, all in the past five or six years, and it's a pretty sobering reminder that our world is fraught with traumatic situations that affect us all. And, I share this story in the book, but I'm reminded, once again, of the people who say in my programs that they've never experienced any trauma in their lives. And I'm always caught off guard by that declaration or proclamation, and I genuinely wonder how that's possible. And then I remind myself that their story of their experience is THEIR truth (in all caps, you know, bold faced, italicized), not mine.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  16:19  
You acknowledge in your book that you've had a great partner to walk alongside you as you've explored this intersection of trauma and leadership. Would you say a little bit about that partnership?

Marsha Clark  16:31  
I'd love to. So, Mia Mbroh is an author, facilitator and licensed trauma therapist. So, I mean, she's legit and a subject matter expert, for sure. And I was introduced to Mia by Christina Clark, and Christina is a Power of Self graduate. And Mia had spoken at her company and used a phrase that I often use and teach with, which is quote unquote, "What else could be true?". And when Mia said that it was in that moment that Christina committed to making the introduction. And when Mia and I met, we connected on so many levels. She's absolutely amazing. And so, subsequent to that, she and I've co facilitated a Women's Leadership Program. And she's such a competent and compassionate colleague. She supported others through some of the most extreme traumatic events such as the Oklahoma City bombing, school shootings, and various forms of abuse. And in the recent years of her profession, she also focuses her time and efforts working on creating and nurturing healthy organizations as well as healthy individuals. And I've learned a great deal from her. And my motivation for introducing this content is to help our listeners to better understand how trauma has or may be impacting them in the context of authentic, powerful leadership, as well as supporting them in their leadership journey to create conditions in their teams, in their organizations, their families, their communities to recognize, acknowledge and reduce, what can be considered trauma inducing conditions.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  18:14  
Now, Marsha, we've already used the word trauma quite a bit in this episode, and I know you like to offer clear definitions on words like that. So would you do that for everyone here?

Marsha Clark  18:26  
Yes. That's a great prompt. So, in the book, I use Dr. Bruce Perry's definition of trauma. And here it is: "Experiences, events and effects that undermine our personal sense of safety as we move within our context of the world; an inability to reconcile some form of suffering." And I explained that this concept of suffering is broad sweeping. It can include bullying, being physically, emotionally or verbally abused, sexual abuse, being the parent of a child who is struggling, not feeling seen, heard or valued, or consistently being marginalized as a woman, a person of color, a person practicing a certain religion or doctrine, and even through the lens of generational or ethnicity bias.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  19:27  
This description of suffering covers so much of what people experience and sometimes on a daily basis. But it also gives us some contextual clues on what we can do as leaders to reduce or even eliminate that suffering, especially at the hands of our organizations.

Marsha Clark  19:46  
Yeah, exactly. And if all one did was break down that list of ways people suffer, and work to eliminate that from the systems - again, work, community, family systems that you're a part of - you'll be a champion of safe places.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  20:02  
Exactly. So, now I want you to re-read that list of the ways that people suffer and slow it down so that we can pay closer attention to it, since it really is a call to action in some ways.

Marsha Clark  20:15  
I will. So, suffering can include bullying, being physically, emotionally or verbally abused. Sexual abuse, being the parent of a child who is struggling, not feeling seen, heard or valued, or being consistently marginalized as a woman, a person of color, a person practicing a certain religion or doctrine , and even through the lens of generational or ethnicity bias.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  20:54  
Marsha, I'm struck by what my immediate thought was, Wow, I'm so glad I'm not dealing with any of these issues in my own life. And then I immediately also caught myself wondering, Well, is that really true? Are there examples where I'm not being fully seen or heard or valued or where there might be some marginalization of what's happening? And then, where's this true for the people around me and I'm not aware of it?

Marsha Clark  21:25  
Yeah, you bring up a really good point. You know, I'm not advocating that people go out looking for reasons to suffer. Please know that, listeners. So if your environment or systems are working for you and you're not experiencing any of these situations where you're suffering, then good for you. Count those blessings, you know, celebrate how you've created and protected a space where you're safe and thriving. And you're also right that there are definitely people around you who are suffering and you're not aware, and primarily because most people suffer in silence.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  21:59  
Yes, you're so right. So what's your line again? Everybody's got a story and everybody's going through something.

Marsha Clark  22:06  
Exactly. And just because you're not experiencing something on that previous list, doesn't mean you might not be suffering. That list doesn't include suffering due to health issues, or financial stress or dealing with aging parents. I don't want to diminish all the very real ways that people can and do suffer.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  22:22  
Right. Great point, because when you broaden the definition, I can definitely start building my list.

Marsha Clark  22:28  
We all can. Yeah, it's called the human condition and why we're right back to Dr. K's reminder that it's the essence of leadership.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  22:36  
Yeah, I think we could do an entire episode just on the topic of trauma. You know, you offer some really helpful reflection questions and examples in the book around the signs of unhealed trauma, and how we respond to stress, especially as women. So, I know our leaders are going to be very excited to dig into the rest of the chapter. And please look out for that content. I know, though, that you want to dive in a little further into some of the ways that we as leaders can create safe spaces for our teams. So let's shift our attention to that content for the remainder of the episode.

Marsha Clark  23:16  
You're right. And I have been hoping to lock Mia in for an interview. So maybe this is just the catalyst to work there.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  23:22  
That would be great. I mean, so as we move from talking about the impact of trauma to looking for ways that we can create those safe spaces for our teams, this is where are you bring back Sue Hammond's model for psychological safety, right?

Marsha Clark  23:40  
Yes, it's the model that I often refer to as the flower petal model. And I think it provides great clarity around what we need to do as leaders to support our people through through these challenging situations. So in Hammond's model, psychological safety represents the environment that makes group members feel safe enough to be vulnerable to take interpersonal risks with one another in order to achieve group goals or team goals, family goals. As a leader of a group or team, you're responsible for creating these safe spaces. And in the context of trauma, psychological safety is the absence of trauma. So you want to create the conditions for your team, your family and your friends to feel psychologically safe. So, let me say that again because I think this is a really important point. As a leader of a group, or team, or family, or community or classroom, you are responsible for creating safe spaces. In the context of trauma, psychological safety is the absence of trauma. And you want to create the conditions for your team, your family and your friends to feel psychologically safe. And I think it goes without saying that as a leader, the last thing you want to do is create or perpetuate a traumatic environment.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  25:08  
Well, I also found it powerful the way you said that, quote, "Psychological safety represents the environment that makes group members feel safe enough to be vulnerable and take interpersonal risks with one another in order to achieve group goals." That idea comes back to the vulnerability based trust that both Brene Brown and Patrick Lencioni talk about in their work that we've referred to in the past. And as a leader, I need to build trust with my team members and within my team with each other, so it's not just enough for me to worry about what my relationships are like with my team members, I also need to be on the lookout for the quality of the relationships across the organization.

Marsha Clark  25:58  
100% right and now you're really getting to the heart of what expanding your power is all about, looking beyond your immediate circle of influence to seeing how the overall systems are working, and what you can do to make an impact at those levels.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  26:12  
Right. So, in this section of your book, you offer 11 recommendations for creating safe spaces. And then you break down each one with some specific pointers. Will you share those 11 at a high level here and then dive down into a couple of your favorite?

Marsha Clark  26:30  
I will, I will, I'd like to do that. So, again, for our listeners, if you don't want to stop and take notes on this, they'll be listed in the transcript for this episode. And the suggestions that we're going to cover are all in the book. So, the first of the 11: Suspend judgment and make room for others. And what we mean by that is others' thoughts, others' ideas and others' perspectives. Number two, share your truth without fear of harmful consequences. Number three, be okay with not being right. Or having that insatiable desire or need to be right. Four, understand that just because it's not your truth, doesn't mean it isn't someone else's truth. The next one, everyone feels welcome to be vulnerable, open and honest. Number six, listen to each other in order to understand rather than responding or imposing your own thoughts and feelings. Number seven, encourage everyone to speak up. Number eight, assume positive intent. Number nine, give everyone permission to learn, grow and change. Number 10, encourage and enable honest conversations. And last number 11, create an environment where everyone can be themselves.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  28:11  
Wow, Marsha. Okay, so now that I've heard this list, I know I asked you to share your favorites but can I now pick one that I'd like to hear more about first? (Of course.) Wonderful. Okay, the second one, share your truth without harmful consequences, is really intriguing to me. So please say more about that one.

Marsha Clark  28:32  
Yes, so, this one is really a companion in my mind to the first one about suspending judgment and making room for other's thoughts, ideas and perspectives. So you know, it's gonna make more sense if I kind of cover both of these together, you know, the two for one deal. So, with the first one suspending judgment and making room for others thoughts, ideas and perspective. What we're  really addressing, the natural and almost immediate reaction we have to judge, criticize, blame or refute what others have to say, especially when what they're saying is different from what we're thinking or saying, right. So, you're not repeating my stuff back to me, you're not my echo chamber, oh, you have a different point of view, kind of thing. And if we're really being honest, and we haven't completely erased all of our, you know, controversial friends from whatever our friendship circles, Facebook, social media, whatever, this is going to happen to us on a daily basis. We're reading someone's comments. We don't agree with their particular opinion. And we immediately jump to judgment, criticism or whatever. In those cases, it's so easy for us just to move on and ignore them. It's not so easy when this happens at work or in circles where we actually want to collaborate. We need to collaborate and produce results together day in and day out.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  29:52  
Yeah, so true. I can roll my eyes all day long at some of my friends' Facebook posts but it's not socially acceptable to do that in business meetings.

Marsha Clark  30:04  
We might call those career limiting. Yeah. So the recommendation I offer in the book to help with us suspending judgment is when you find yourself moving to judgment, retrain your brain, basically, to give you a cue. And my favorite judgment diversion is to say to myself, isn't that fascinating? That diverting phrase moves me to move away from judging, blaming, criticizing refuting, and so on to re-engage with that person more thoughtfully and deliberately. I get curious and I'll say something like, 'Tell me more'. Or I ask clarifying questions so that I'm actually learning something. And that's my goal is to learn. So this often provides or yields thoughts and experiences that expand my horizons and broaden my perspective. And I think it can do the same for our listeners.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  30:57  
I love your phrase, 'Isn't that fascinating?' I just, it also, I hear my grandmother in my head, 'bless her heart' at the same time, but not in a condescending way. Or even the one with what else could be true? Yeah, you know, when I'm thinking my own strong opinions that I might be trying to push on someone which might be triggering their need to suspend judgment. So these mental and verbal prompts are not only helpful for our own internal monitoring, but as a leader we can teach them to our team members and colleagues so that we can help each other create those safe spaces where they too are suspending judgment and opening up the dialog for more input and diverse ideas.

Marsha Clark  31:43  
Exactly right. And you as the leader are really modeling that behavior which then when you do teach it or share it or encourage others, you're not asking them to do something that you're not doing, which is the modeling behavior at its finest. So, it's virtually impossible to hold other people accountable for behaviors that you're not demonstrating. So, the 'be one then teach one' is the leadership principle there.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  32:13  
I love that. And, you know, I can now see why you wanted to set the stage with that first recommendation before unpacking the idea of how can you share your truth without harmful consequences.

Marsha Clark  32:27  
In my mind, they are a package deal. So, it's far riskier to share your truth in a space where people are jumping to criticism or being judgmental. And that's when those harmful consequences are most likely to show up. And really impact not only your effectiveness, but everyone's.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  32:43  
So, give us some examples of those harmful consequences.

Marsha Clark  32:48  
Here's just a few. But you know, they can include others seeing you or treating you as quote, unquote, "less than". You're not as smart as me, you're not as hierarchically powerful as me, you're not as much of a subject matter expert as me, or whatever. You're young, you know, think about generations and so on. It can also include second guessing, or questioning yourself. And then such harmful consequences can then prevent you from speaking your truth in the future. It can certainly contribute to a loss of confidence and in a world where we want everyone's best thinking and ideas, your loss of confidence in the quieting of your voice serves no one.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  33:30  
Exactly. You also include in that section of the book the warning that harmful consequences can include responses that might damage your reputation. Will you elaborate on that?

Marsha Clark  33:43  
So bottom line, as a leader, you want to create a space where your people not only see you sharing your thoughts, ideas, concerns, and feelings in a candid and transparent way, but that you're also encouraging and reinforcing the space where they too can share their thoughts, ideas, recommendations and perspectives without the fear of being criticized, judged, embarrassed, ridiculed, or even ignored. And the damaging your reputation, if one gets quieted in a meeting, everyone in that meeting, the person that got quieted now has a perspective about that person. What they have to say is not important. What they have to say is not relevant, what they have to say, we just shushed them, right. We quieted them, because we did not want to hear from them or care. And so that then gets brought into every aspect of the reputation.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  34:38  
Right. So my next question is as a leader, especially if you're not the top leader organizationally, what can you do if you're in an organization where it's not safe to speak your truth? I mean, there's only so much that you can do at the level you're at sometimes.

Marsha Clark  34:56  
My initial response to that question, Wendi, is choose wisely. We've all heard the phrase pick your battles. If it's a matter of human safety or human dignity, here's what you can do. You have to find the courage and the perseverance to speak up. And in my opinion, that is the true leadership response. Maybe you speak up in the moment, or maybe you have a follow on conversation.The timing of it, there's some discretion to be had. But the courage and the will to speak up when there is either human safety or human dignity at risk, you have to speak up.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  35:38  
Well, and I think that I, you know, I'm imagining a conference room filled with 18 people. I don't think human safety is so much, you know, that big issue. That's where my mind is going right now. But human dignity. Wow, that's, that's...

Marsha Clark  35:57  
Yeah, I agree with you in a conference room, it's not. But if you're out in a restaurant, and some I mean, think about that. You know, I just came back from vacation and was sitting in the lobby waiting to meet some friends and a young man robbed the gift shop store right in front of us.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  36:15  
Oh, my goodness. Okay.

Marsha Clark  36:18  
I mean, so and there were people much closer to it than we were, (We were watching it from afar) but who made it a point to help apprehend this kid, right. And I mean, I can make up all kinds of stories about he was hungry, and he stole something to eat. And that was true. And yet here it was. So, that's the safety issue of it, too. And we can often just step away from that. And so, you know, it's learning the signs of people who are transporting children in sex trafficking. There are things out there we can do when that is also in play.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  36:54  
Right. Well, okay, so we managed to cover two of the recommendations already. And I want to make sure that we cover at least one that you find particularly compelling. So, which one do you want to explore further?

Marsha Clark  37:07  
Yeah, so, that's the just because it's not your truth doesn't mean it's not the other person's truth. S, I want to share a story and this is a real story that happened to me. We had developed a very transformational different than anything we'd ever done at EDS at the time. And it was different from most corporate kinds of leadership development programs. And we had run this pilot and we'd had certain participants from different industry groups inside the company. And we're now going back after the program and the participants for each respective group were giving their feedback on the program at the the staff meeting, the group leader staff meeting. And so this particular gentleman made the comment that the program had been a life changing experience for him. And I'm, you know, I'm there and because I'm attending all of these feedback sessions, and I'm feeling pretty good at that moment, right. And so, this gentleman across the table from me put a damper on it very quickly. He said, and I'm going to do his voice here, because it adds to the reality of it all. "I was in Vietnam, I had a gun held to my head. That's a life changing experience. No training program can be a life changing experience." So my heart dropped. And I say, absolutely divine intervention, I said to him, "I would not wish that experience on anyone. I'm so sorry that happened to you. And I can't imagine how awful that would be. And I've had a baby. And that was a life changing experience. And I don't want your life changing experience and you can't have my life changing experience. And yet both were life changing. We do not get to define what is life changing for anyone else", or diminish or diminish it. Right. And that's, when I first started learning about this, that was the story that immediately popped into my head even though it happened 40 or 35 years ago and yet it was so real and he was denying, diminishing another person's truth. And we all have that in various varying degrees along some spectrum. So, I just want to offer that as my best example of just because it's not your truth doesn't mean it's not someone's truth.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  39:52  
Well, that's a very vivid example and you know what I think, even vivid maybe the wrong word. It's an extreme example. That's the word I'm looking for. But yet, I know that all of us do that on a daily basis. We do it all the time. If we don't say it out loud, we mentally do it to others. And so thank you for that lesson and that specific recommendation on creating a safe space.

Marsha Clark  40:26  
Well, I just want to add one other point. It's like how many times have I heard 'well, you just got to pull yourself up by the bootstraps.'  'I did it, you can do it'. Well, some of us have headwinds and some of us have tailwinds. And when you've got tailwinds, you use less energy and you get there faster. When you have headwinds, and headwinds can be a variety of things that make it harder. And when I think about women, people of color, the generational, the ethnicity, the religious beliefs, all of those things, because they're different from the other person can be headwinds. And that takes a lot longer and a lot more energy. And that, to me, is very closely tied to this as well.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  41:15  
So Marsha, would you like to hear from our listeners on their feelings around this topic?

Marsha Clark  41:22  
I would love that. I'm happy to share with them, you know, other experiences and I would love to hear from them on their own examples and strategies for creating these safe spaces in their again, family systems, community systems, educational systems, and so on. For me, it's about creating spaces where our voices are heard, where what we have to say and contribute in our case what we focus on as women and girls, that what we have to say and contribute is considered and valued. And this work is going to go a long way toward changing the almost automatic conditions of girls being born into an environment of trauma just because they're girls. I want to also add that we can all strive for well being and create safe spaces for others to do the same. And in this case, well being is defined as the state of being comfortable, healthy and consistently capable of feeling an internal joy unprompted by mandatory external stimulus. And those who experience high levels of well being are oftentimes described as flourishing. And I love that word. I love to say flourishing. And again, in this case, flourishing is described as a global assessment of a person's determined quality of life according to the healthiness of their relationships, their established perspective on life, and a perceived sense of purpose. It's as if you have peace in every direction. Your life's not free of conflict or hardships or drama, let's be clear about that. You see those things for what they are, and you work your way through them, and you help others do the same.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  43:18  
Wow. That's a lot of power in those last few sentences, Marsha. This idea of striving for well being where people can flourish. What if that was the mission statement for some organizations, you know, where people have healthy relationships with themselves and others and a perceived sense of purpose. And what is it, peace in every direction? I mean, even in the midst of inevitable hardships. I mean, wow, that right there is enough to chew on for the next week or two, for sure.

Marsha Clark  43:53  
Well, I think you're right, Wendi, and I love your question. Or maybe it's even a challenge for organizations to have mission statements that are more about people flourishing and a focus on  well being. How would our world be different if that were the case?

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  44:07  
No kidding, no kidding. I mean, especially as we consider, you know, how we begin expanding our power, right?

Marsha Clark  44:14  
That's exactly right.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  44:15  
So, we're ready to wrap up this episode, Marsha, and I feel like we just got started. But as we tie this up, what final thoughts do you have for our listeners today?

Marsha Clark  44:26  
Well, Wendi, I say this in the book, but it's just as relevant, obviously, for our listeners here today. So, I want to close with this invitation. I encourage you to practice safe behaviors. This embodies understanding that just because it's not your truth doesn't mean it isn't someone else's truth. And that requires compassion. You may not be able to empathize or put yourself into someone else's shoes. You can have compassion for the pain and trauma of another human being and what is trauma to another person might not be trauma to you and vice versa. Also, keep in mind that some traumas are a single event or experience. In other cases, it's a steady dose of trauma inducing behavior and accumulates to become unreconciled trauma. I think of that old saying 'death by 1,000 cuts'. So, be patient with others and yourself and if you, too, have some unreconciled trauma that is holding you back from fully and freely enjoying your life. As a leader be deliberate and determined in your efforts to create safe spaces for others. This process is one where we're going to go slow to go fast. There's no rushing here. It's a marathon and not a sprint. Now that I'm using that metaphor, I'm not even sure it's a marathon because at least those have a defined ending point. Creating safe spaces is a never ending journey that we take one step at a time. And we can do more when we're doing that together.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  46:13  
Oh, more goosebumps. And Marsha, you're so right. There's no finishing line on this. Something you just said reminded me of the quote from Meg Wheatley. "We were together. I forget the rest."  That's such a beautiful quote. And sometimes really, it is just about being together and being supported and supportive along the way that builds the safe space for us as we go.

Marsha Clark  46:39  
That's exactly right. And, you know, dare I say it this way, it's the secret sauce of living life together on this planet with 8 billion other people.

Wendi McGowan-Ellis  46:49  
Wow, okay, well, that's something to think about. I remember that number being 5 billion when I was in elementary school. Okay, so, anyway. Well, listeners, thank you for joining us today on our journey of creating safe spaces and authentic and powerful leadership. Please continue to download, subscribe and share this podcast from wherever you like to listen. And hopefully, we will have another update soon on a launch date for the book where you can actually follow along on this tool. And I know Marsha's super excited about the book date coming out as well.

Marsha Clark  47:27  
Well, I am and, listeners, I also want you to hear building safe spaces is really hard work and it requires each of us to be transparent. I'm not saying you have to give away all your deep, dark secrets. I don't want to imply that. But what I have found is that others are not going to share with you unless you're willing to share with them. You've got to give it to get it, so to speak. It's just like trust, respect and everything else. And I'm also not suggesting that you dwell on this as a topic. But I think understanding what people's lives have gone through, and we've got, I think, some amazing questions in the book to help you understand how to do that in professional, respectful, dignified ways. And I hope you'll take a look at that. But this you know, leadership is not for the weak and it takes a lot of courage, but you've got to start with clarity around your own stuff. So, if we can help you in any way to find a resource to help you in those things, we want to be able to do that. And this is a serious topic. And I know my voice probably implies the seriousness of it and I do that very deliberately. So, thank you for listening. Thank you for pondering this information and thinking about it in useful ways for yourself and let us know if we can help you in any way in that regard. And as we said, we can do it all together. We were together. I forget the rest. So, "Here's to women supporting women!"

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