Podcast S1. Ep.29: The #1 Problem for Professionals in Positions of Leadership - Dr. Jennifer Macaulay

John Norlin · May 30, 2019

Dr. Jennifer Macaulay has a PhD in Organizational Psychology from the University of Washington. She has over 30 years experience coaching, teaching, researching and consulting in organizational and leadership effectiveness. Her clients have ranged from school districts to governmental agencies, Fortune 500 companies, hospitals, small start-ups and not-for profits.

We talk with Dr. Macaulay on the importance of leaders helping others around them, and she gives some tips on how to understand and develop others.

“I think that if leaders spent more time thinking about their team as their outcome, as their task, as opposed to the work that their team is doing ... not to to be ignoring the work that their team is doing, but that their number one priority is helping those people to grow and be better than when they got them.”

— Dr. Jennifer Macaulay

Episode Transcript:

  • John: Welcome to the Character Strong Podcast where we have conversations on school culture and leadership. Today, we're talking with Dr. Jen Macaulay, who has a Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Washington. She has over 30 years experience in coaching, teaching, researching and consulting in Organizational and Leadership Effectiveness. Her clients have ranged from school districts to government agencies, Fortune 500 companies, hospitals, small start-ups, and not for profits. Are you ready? Let's get Character Strong with Dr. Jen Macaulay.

  • John: Dr. Macaulay, as an Organizational Psychologist and Leadership Development Consultant, what is the number one problem that you see working with professionals in positions of leadership in the work that you do?

  • Dr. Jen: I think the number one problem that I see, I title ego management and that is that people, it's not about you, but too many managers want to be the center of things. They feel like they need to be doing it themselves, they need to be controlling it themselves, and they don't recognize that probably the most important role that they play is helping the people who are actually doing the work to grow and get better.

  • John: Yeah.

  • Dr. Jen: I’m sure you’ve talked with your group about the idea that servant leadership is all about whether or not the group and the organization is better than when you leave it than when you joined it. I think that if leaders spent more time thinking about their team as their outcome, as their task, as opposed to the work that their team is doing ... not to to be ignoring the work that their team is doing, but that their number one priority is helping those people to grow and be better than when they got them.

  • John: Yeah. That's so true. I love that idea and well, one, just the overarching leadership philosophy of it's not about you, something I need to be speaking to myself on a regular basis-

  • Dr. Jen: Me too.

  • John: But also, yeah, that idea of when you get your people, what they need, those legitimate needs are being met than they'll get you what you need.

  • Dr. Jen: Sometimes what you need is to be held responsible or sometimes what they need is more training. But there are ways to help them to grow and to become more effective and better professionals and then when they do leave you, they're in a much better place as well as the work that they've been doing.

  • John: Yeah and my guess is that in many of the cases, that ego piece or that feeling of need to be in control, my guess is it's not always coming from a negative place. That probably this is what I know and I do what I know and I'm trying to do a good job so I think that I need to, right, fill in the blank. I think that I'm supposed to be, fill in the blank ... do you find that a lot of times? My guess is sometimes it maybe the case where someone is coming from not a good motive but in some cases, do you find that the motives are good it's just that the actual effectiveness as a leader is just not there because of the way that they are going about it?

  • Dr. Jen: Absolutely. And by the way, nobody thinks they're coming from a place of bad motive. We all think we're coming from a place of good motive!

  • John: Good point.

  • Dr. Jen: But the idea that in the past, before I was a leader, I, my being a control freak and I will label myself that, being a control freak about making sure that the outcomes that I was creating were really good, really high quality, I could control that. That was within my scope and if I did that, that was good. That means that I was producing stuff on time and high quality and I was being rewarded for that.

  • Dr. Jen: But your job is not about that. Its to think of your team as your outcome. I always say, you know, when you're doing it right, you're to do list should be a list of people's names.

  • John: That's so good. Yeah. We lead people, we manage things.

  • Dr. Jen: Yeah.

  • John: Distinguishing between the two is important. That we could be really excellent at the management side of things but maybe really struggling with the leadership side of things. If we want to be effective leaders, we need to put that focus on the people. That's so good.

  • John: So, then, in this kind of shorter vision of this, of the podcast and these short, digestible pieces, what would you, would someone working through that, being maybe one of the number one problems that you see, how do you ... what are a couple practical things that you incorporate with leaders that you're working with, that you consult with, right, to help them? What are some things that knowing that this is more of a broad, but what are some things that you use with leaders to help them to work through that issue?

  • Dr. Jen: First off, start by really spending some quality time with each person to understand how you can help them grow. People dread and hate things like annual performance reviews and if you're only doing it once a year then I can see why you dread it, but, spend some quality tine with that person and help them understand and you understand what are these person's strengths? Where are some important development areas for this person and where do they want to go and grow? Have a negotiation so that by the time you leave that person, it's really clear what you all need to be working on. Then it's a lot easier because you have a defined "task" about developing that person.

“Carve out 15 minutes a day from your calendar and go walk around and just talk to your people and you probably won’t get to talk to 15 of them in 15 minutes, but hopefully you’ll talk to three and hopefully those three you can have a meaningful conversation with, not just the hey, how’s it going?”

— Dr. Jennifer Macaulay


  • John: Good. That's good.

  • John: Anything else in terms of strategies that you would use?

  • Dr. Jen: I love to use my calendar for things. It forces me to do the stuff that I otherwise wouldn't think about. So, even putting a persons name on your calendar and saying okay, today, I need to really be thinking about ways that I can help Person X grow. Three days later, you've got somebody else's name on your calendar and really, really good people may not everyday but we don't start there.

  • John: Yeah, we make time for that which is most important. I love the idea, the very practical nature of using our calendar, which usually is just filled with our to do list items, and even though that is still a to do, it is almost more of the who I want to be list of who I want to be as leader, and making that a part of your "to do list", that putting something on that calender because so many times our calendar drives our life, in that area, is very practical in nature and a lot of times, what we don't put on our calendar.

  • Dr. Jen: And many managers meet with their, one on one meetings with their team members every day, every, you know, once a week, once every other week, and that's also a great way to drive this because those conversations can become very much about how are we doing on helping you grow towards your goals? As well as and did you get that report done for me?

  • John: That's good. That's really good. And you, my guess is over your years, you've worked, even, with school leaders at times. A lot of times your work might be in business or organizations, but have you had some experience in working with schools and obviously I know you can't talk about specific clients, but, have you worked with principals before?

  • Dr. Jen: Yes, and with teachers and with groups of teachers. Often times, thinking about how to work toward more improved cultures in their organizations. I think the teacher is the great example here because although, when you walk into class, you know you have to teach X today. You know, I'm going to teach about this particular aspect of the Civil War today. But you also know that you're job is to be developing those kids in your class, and to be reaching certain kids in your class and you know when you walk in, today I really want to try to pull aside such and so.

  • Dr. Jen: I think the same thing applies to managers in business, but we often times don't define for business managers that same relationship of developing your people that we do for teachers.

  • John: Yeah, I ... the things that are resonating with me in this, in the conversation today, well, one, going back to it, the idea that it's not about me. That if I'm not first, understanding that it's going to be very hard to then when everything else that is coming at us in today's day and age with how frantic and fast paced things are, that the first thing that seems to get forgotten, or to get left off, are then these practical strategies that you're sharing.

  • John: I love just that simple idea, that mentality of we've got to connect with our people and that doesn't always have to be hour long meetings, would you say? A lot of times is it just working with your, with the leaders that you're connecting with and supporting? Is it just helping them define little ways and to connect daily and or weekly, and using that calendar to do so, so that that's not getting forgotten? Is that kind of how you would explain that? Is it more in those little chunks that by putting the focus on those little things, that big, overarching thing is more likely to be accomplished?

  • Dr. Jen: Absolutely. Carve out 15 minutes a day from your calendar and go walk around and just talk to your people and you probably won't get to talk to 15 of them in 15 minutes, but hopefully you'll talk to three and hopefully those three you can have a meaningful conversation with, not just the hey, how's it going?

  • John: That's good.

  • Dr. Jen: You need to know in your brain what the goals are for each of those people so that in real time you can say hey, I was thinking about this as an opportunity for you to work on, whatever it is that your goal is.

  • John: Yeah, that's great. I love the idea of, you know, if I'm a principal and it's having those goals or those priorities or where that teacher's wanting to go, so that you have that as a place to go for more meaningful conversation and if it's a student, do you know things about that student, either their hopes and or dreams, or things about them, one of the character dares we use with students or a staff character dare, is the student becomes the master and it's a simple, practical strategy of asking students to write down one thing that they could teach you as the teacher and usually what they're going to put down on that card is something that they're good at, something that they're passionate about, and even just having that thing that you could come back to and talk about is very practical and powerful when it comes to that connection.

  • John: Well, I appreciate you coming on, Dr. Macaulay, and talking. I'd love to be able to have another conversation with you and digging into kind of conversations on leadership because it applies in any setting, whether that be my work life or my personal life. Would you be willing to come on again and speak with us on some different topics?

  • Dr. Jen: Absolutely, I love it.

  • John: Awesome. And how can we connect with you? I mean, you're out there doing the work all the time. If someone wanted to learn more, is there a place that they could go to learn more?

  • Dr. Jen: You can either go to macaulayconsulting.com or you can email me at jennifer@mnmacaulay.com.

  • John: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being with us today and happy new year to you!

  • Dr. Jen: Happy new year! Thanks.

  • John: All right. Take care.

  • John: Thank you for listening to the Character Strong Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, feel free to share on your social media. Please rate, review, and make sure to subscribe for future episodes on Spotify and iTunes. Thanks for listening. Make it a great day.

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John Norlin

John is the Program Administrator for Student Leadership & Community Involvement for the Sumner School District, a Servant Leadership trainer, and motivational speaker. He was Washington Advisor of the Year and taught 5 leadership classes per semester for 10 years at Sumner High School.