Teresa Mitrovic shares her experience of how leadership is not a natural skill one inherently possesses but something that must be learned and developed. Teresa discovered this while working on a team that struggled to trust one another, where she realized that leadership was not a technical game but rather a people game. After her boss enrolled her in a coaching course, Teresa realized how important it was to create a genuinely human workplace that values both performance and human connection equally. In addition, she learned that psychological safety is about paying attention to others and responding to their concerns, which helps create a high-performing team. Since then, Teresa has shifted her career into coaching other professionals, helping them build highly effective teams by focusing on connection and building trust. Listen to her inspiring story on Search and Replace.
More about today’s guest:
- Get to know Teresa Mitrovic at orocollective.space.
- Connect with Teresa via her Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.
Explore these related stories:
- Special offer for Search and Replace listeners: $50 discount code for the website and a free book, Self-Trust. Building Trust From the Inside Out.
- Check out Teresa Mitrovic’s newsletter “The Psych Safety Project.”
- Free chapter available from The Currency of Connection, focusing on four key things to consider as a leader.
- More information on psychological safety and performance.
- How leaders can build psychologically safe workplaces.
- Tips to foster psychological safety in the workplace.
- Find out why psychological safety matters in class.
[00:00:00] Announcer: Support for the following podcast is provided by the user experience specialist at Johns and Taylor. More information follows this episode.
[00:00:10] Joe Taylor Jr.: What if everything you thought you knew about how to lead your team turned out to be wrong? I’m Joe Taylor, Jr. This is Search and Replace.
Teresa Mitrovic has worked all over the world, and she says that people everywhere often assume that leadership just comes naturally. Instead, like most skills, it’s really something that you have to learn to develop. And Teresa says she didn’t realize this until she found herself on a team that struggled to trust one another.
[00:00:45] Teresa Mitrovic: The really tough thing is, as a leader, one thing you recognize when you’re working in corporate environments especially, is that leadership is hard. No one teaches you how to be a leader. No one teaches you how to be a manager unless you are one of the few elite who get leadership coaching, leadership development.
I ended up in my first management position at Hasbro, not because I wanted it, but because it was the next logical career move. But no one teaches you how to be a good leader, actually knowing how to manage people, because leadership, it’s not a technical game. It’s a people game, and so we have to learn those people skills.
There’s no one out there talking to us about how to actually create genuinely human workplaces that kind of hold the performance piece and the human piece equally valuably. So we’re experiencing the impact of not having trust, but we don’t recognize it as being that.
Although the team and I were struggling, I didn’t really appreciate the degree to which we were struggling because for me, that just felt like what work was like. I just thought leadership was hard. I just thought managing people was hard, and so I didn’t appreciate how much simpler it could be.
[00:01:41] Joe Taylor Jr.: Teresa’s boss took some decisive action that would change the course of her career and her life.
[00:01:47] Teresa Mitrovic: Our general manager at the time, he put the senior leadership team on a Coaching As Manager course. That really turned things around for me because I was so reluctant to go on the course.
I was such an A type manager, and I was like, you know, I don’t have time to take three days out. Coaching sounds ridiculous. It sounds really pedestrian.
So I very reluctantly went on the course very reluctantly. We end up with all these workplaces around the world where we’ve got leaders who don’t understand that are missing piece around how do we manage people well.
Well, we listen to them, we understand, and we work together. We create these, kind of, performance partnership style relationships rather than command and control. Most of us have grown up under command and control style leaders. Right? So we do what we’ve learned through other people, rather than being able to step back and say, actually, we’re humans first. Let’s connect there, and then work outwards from that point.
[00:02:35] Joe Taylor Jr.: After letting go of the misconception that she already had to know all the answers, Teresa embarked on a journey of discovery.
[00:02:42] Teresa Mitrovic: Going through that experience with coaching as a manager, I realized we don’t know what we don’t know. So we’re experiencing the impact of not having trust, but we don’t recognize it as being that.
So to be able to take a step back and say, actually all of these changes became possible because we figured out how to listen to each other well, how to connect well and how to create psychological safety.
And psychological safety is really just about being really present in the moment, paying attention to other people and recognizing when people are pulling back or when they’re leaning in. And then making sure that if they’re pulling back, you are responding to that and drawing out what their concerns are so they do feel safe enough to lean back in.
And so we wanna push the envelope and go really fast. So the thought of actually slowing down to have these, you know, conversations with people and listen and be present and all that kinda stuff. A, it sounds like woowoo stuff, and B, it takes time that we feel like we don’t have. Right? Cuz we’re so busy.
So the really amazing thing that’s quite paradoxical is when you actually do stop and slow down and have this conversation, the clarity that you get about what it is you are focusing on, what great looks like, how you’re gonna actually be able to do the work together. It unlocks so much more in terms of not just the creativity that people bring and the relationships that people build when they start to actually understand and appreciate each other better, and all the different and diverse skills that each other’s has.
But it also means that people’s commitment and contribution is so much more powerful. When you’re experiencing that change, it kind of feels quite magical.
[00:04:08] Joe Taylor Jr.: Since going through that very first leadership coaching program and then shifting her own career into coaching other professionals, Teresa now understands what motivates us to seek out and to stay part of highly effective teams.
[00:04:23] Teresa Mitrovic: We wanna be surrounded by people who actually love what they do. And easier to love what you do when you know that you’re working with a team who are equally committed and who all have your back. The crazy thing is it’s not rocket science. That’s what all of us seek as human beings, connection first and foremost. You know? So I kind of feel like there’s this incredible asset, this incredible gift that we’ve all been given that none of us know how to unwrap as humans, and least of all as leaders.
Over the course of the nine months that followed what tripled our profit, our head office pays attention and that was amazing. But actually, in real terms, that was the least impressive thing that we did, because I was a single parent at the time and I started working two hours of this every day. So that’s two hours back with my son, my team members were going home an hour and a half earlier every day, which was amazing.
There was no weekend working. You know those times when you’ve got a deadline coming up and people have to work late or come in on the weekend, there was none of that. And so the impact that it had on giving people back their lives and giving people the sense of not only are you safe and secure in your role, because we know the value that you bring to the business and you know the value that you bring to the business. But everyone around her has got your back as well. Because the team really understood who each other was and what each other’s roles were and how they each added value. Morale had improved, the quality of work had improved. We were all just so much happier.
[00:05:42] Joe Taylor Jr.: If you are trying to grow your own ability to lead teams or if you just want to strengthen the relationships in your life, Teresa’s got some advice.
[00:05:50] Teresa Mitrovic: Practice being present. We spend so much time being distracted and, kind of, multitasking that we forget when we’re in conversation with people who really matter to pause and really give them a full attention. And doing that is the first step in building psychological safety. Being really present with someone and actually listening to them and asking questions to follow up instead of listening to reload, listening to understand so that you can make a few more questions to make sure that you understand their perspective and what is they that they’re trying to achieve, and then working with them to figure that out.
Because communication is a bedrock of everything that we do in our lives with other people. And be curious. Just be curious. As Walt Whitman said, be curious not judgmental. It’s easy to be judgmental, but it locks people in and it creates division between people.
If you’re curious, then you get to have these incredible conversations with people, and when people feel heard, they just open up and all of us wanna be seen and heard.
[00:06:44] Joe Taylor Jr.: That’s author and leadership Coach Teresa Mitrovic. We’ve got links to Teresa’s work and to her organization, the Oro Collective, in our show notes and on our website at searchandreplace.show.
Today’s episode was produced by Nicole Hubbard with help from the entire Podcast Taxi team. I’m Joe Taylor, Jr.
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