Charlotte Allen is the Founder and CEO of Rebel Success for Leaders. In today’s turbulent environment that demands new levels of collaboration, Charlotte works to create a world where change is fun and innovations are successful. She has over 20 years of leadership experience and is a best-selling author. Her latest book is “Rebel Success for Leaders: Lead, Grow, and Sell Fearlessly.” Charlotte brings clarity to topics including change, project failure, competing priorities, customer-centricity, and what being a rebel brings to leadership. Listen in for insights about STEM experts, influence, collaboration, and success.
[1:49] Charlotte tore her ACL in a ski accident a year ago in 2022. After a lot of physical therapy, she got back on the slopes a year later, to the day.
[3:01] Charlotte explains why 70% of business change and innovation projects fail. People tend to have an aversion to change of any kind. We power through it, hoping it’ll be over soon, without focusing on the vision of what we want it to be and how to get there.
[4:39] Change and innovation each bring something new into the world but innovation has a positive aura around it. It’s the warm, fuzzy bunny version of change. But the number of innovation projects that get to market is not that different from the number of successful change projects.
[6:11] Failure is an important thing to describe. When we launch an initiative within a corporation, we often have organizational fallout. Parts of the organization did not get the communication. Parts are not happy. Some employees are asked to leave as a result of the change initiative. The failed initiative may get repeated. KPIs for initiatives need to be set up in a way we can measure them.
[8:46] If the leadership is not clear on where the team is going, there will be a challenge to success. If there is no clarity within the team about how to operate, communicate, and work together, there’s going to be a problem with success. We are extremely driven by tools, metrics, and the latest model, without looking at how people are unable to deliver their best work within the boundaries leaders put them in.
[10:10] Competing priorities, the squirrel syndrome, and siloed departments lead to failed projects.
[11:21] Charlotte discusses the problems that complexity brings. Complexity is not a friend of successful change.
[12:53] STEM people in an organization are not getting the same amount of training and leadership development as the sales team, but they are the experts expected to lead change initiatives. They need to learn two languages, the language of deep experts and the language of change, leadership, and development. But not everybody wants to be in every chair on an org chart.
[17:45] There is a large predisposition in STEM workers to get into their work, which they are very good at. They come to a time in their career when they wish they had had more exposure to business elements. Folks that can do the translation between deep expertise and business are unique. We need to be searching for them, training them, and putting them into positions where they can lead.
[19:58] Publicly-traded companies have to report out; metrics, KPIs, and spreadsheets are a required part of business.
[20:26] In 2023, Charlotte believes leaders will spend more time with, invest in, and develop their people. These efforts can result in fewer people leaving and have positive effects on efficiency and employee satisfaction and engagement. Leaders are seeing that, partly because of changes during the pandemic. There is a large social movement for building community. You don’t build community with spreadsheets.
[23:01] Comfort is the enemy of progress. People stay in a toxic environment because it’s a known job, and change is more frightening. There are so many other options out there. You, as a person, have gifts beyond what you are currently delivering. If you are in a toxic environment, there is no way that you can perform at your best.
[24:53] About being a rebel: if not doing something will not get you fired, then consider it. If not doing something, or doing something, is going to get you fired, think hard about that particular action. Charlotte chose the book title Rebel Success For Leaders for a reason. She has always been able to do two important things: drive a path out of complexity and translate among dissimilar groups, such as silos.
[25:47] Charlotte learned that you need to be unique, having the thing that only you can deliver to your business or your professional life. That is your rebel. You need to connect that with market success, timeline success, or the solution you need to deliver to the bottom line. In business, we spend most of the time on the success part, little time on the rebel part, and almost no time on connecting the two parts.
[27:38] Success comes from a framework more than a recipe. A recipe is a precise pattern. A framework includes the key parts of a structure that allows you to change and operate within with enough of a scaffolding that you’re not going to freefall. The Forbes HR Council published an article in 2022 that said we are at a global deficit of leaders in every area who are good at change leadership.
[29:00] Forbes identified five abilities leaders need to excel at — adaptability, agility, innovation, collaboration, and customer-centricity. Think of these five skills as the scaffolding. How do you have enough mobility within that to move forward and be good at change regardless of the situation?
[30:42] Charlotte discusses customer-centricity in the area of STEM. She tells STEM technical experts that every person they interact with is their customer. “You are trying to influence them with your expertise and you are trying to change their behavior because of the advice and expertise you are giving them. So they are your customer. I am your customer because I am your boss, your leader, your manager.”
[31:55] That was effective because deep experts tend to speak a lot of “deep expert.” They are used to being the ones that everyone turns to for the answer. They give details. What they rarely do is build a relationship, ask what your problems are, or try to understand your position. When you get an expert to think in a customer-centric way, it tweaks their brain just enough to think in terms of the relationship.
[32:54] This gets them listening, looking for common ground, and communicating. They will deliver their expertise in a customer-centric framework. Customer-centricity is the human connection.
[35:59] Collaboration is when two people decide to work together for a common goal to achieve a certain output. That is another word that is tossed around by organizations all the time. Not all group activity is collaboration. You must be working for a common goal and a certain output.
[37:59] The curiosity of a technical person, when not guided appropriately in interpersonal interactions, tends to be off-putting and feels like an interrogation. When you put the seed in their brain that this is a customer, it starts to affect that conversation in a more positive way.
[39:18] Charlotte’s challenge: “My challenge this year to everyone that I connect with is to think about how change can be fun. … I don’t always want it when it shows up at my door but I usually am very excited about it from that space of curiosity. And change can be a lot of fun once you have that framework that helps you guide your actions and your stability and that sense of comfort that you need a little bit of.”
[40:28] Closing quote: Remember, “We will always have STEM with us. Some things will drop out of the public eye and will go away, but there will always be science, engineering, and technology. And there will always, always be mathematics.” — Katherine Johnson