Building leaders that lead with clarity and confidence is one of the challenges that has come to the fore during this era of remote work and virtual teams. It is now that Tara Powers’ expertise is needed the most. Tara is the founder of Powers Resource Center, an award-winning firm that has developed corporate training programs to Fortune 500 and mid-market companies for more than 20 years. Having worked with leaders and leadership things for most of her career, Tara has observed essential principles of audaciously confident leadership in action. Listen in as she shares some of these with Alicia Couri.
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Building & Training Leaders With Confidence With Tara Powers
With me is Tara Powers, I am super excited to have her. I met Tara in Charlotte, North Carolina, where we were both speaking at an event and she is the most phenomenal, fantastic person and businesswoman. I needed to have her on this, especially with what we’re dealing with working from home. Tara Powers is a speaker, author and CEO. She’s the Founder of Powers Resource Center, a nationally recognized and award-winning firm that has developed and delivered corporate training programs to the Fortune 500 and mid-market space for more than two decades. Her client list includes McDonald’s, the World Bank, Aflac, Virgin America, Caterpillar, Western Union, Mrs. Fields’ Cookies, Philips, Dish Network, Crocs and many more. In fact, Tara is so good at developing training programs for big companies that for four years running, her firm has been a Top Ten Leadership 500 Award winner by HR.com. Congratulations.
Right next to big brand names like Hilton, Honda and MIT, Tara is also a judge for one of the biggest corporate training award competitions in the world, the coveted Brandon Hall Excellence Awards. On top of all of that, Wiley tapped her to write two books in their infamous For Dummies series, Virtual Teams For Dummies and Working From Home For Dummies. Welcome, Tara Powers.
We met in Charlotte, North Carolina. I knew you did training programs, but I didn’t know the extent of your resume doing training programs. I’m going to break from tradition and ask you what got you started in training programs, and then I’m going to ask you what my number one question usually is, but what got you started?
My undergrad degree was in Finance and Accounting, which a lot of people don’t know. I was working in an organization in their Accounting Department for a while. I think one of the HR leaders came into the Accounting Department and said, “We need someone to build a training program for managers on how to read budgets because they are not doing a good job. They’re making mistakes. They’re spending money they shouldn’t be, etc.” I was like, “That sounds like something I might like to do.” I took a stab at it. I put together this training program, I went around and trained small groups of managers on how to read budgets. It was like the gates opened for me. I loved it, I loved the energy of it. I loved helping people learn and teaching and guiding. I immediately was like, “I’ve got to get into this field.” I went back to school and got a Master’s Degree in Organizational Development, and then I moved into the Human Resources field, ran some training departments, and built training and a training organization from the ground up at the company I was in, which was a small startup, a fast-growing company. That was how I got my start. It was luck, and I’ve been on that career path now for over twenty years.
I wouldn’t say it was luck. I would say it was destiny. It’s like when that tuning fork goes off inside of you, it’s like, “I was meant to do this.” When you step on the stage and you’re like, “This is where I was supposed to be,” that is excellent. What my number one question usually is when I put people on the spot, I ask them what their leadership philosophy is, so I’m going to ask you that.
I don’t know if anybody’s ever asked it that way exactly. I would say my leadership philosophy is to know thyself and know your opportunities, your vulnerabilities and your strengths. Then surround yourself with people who complement those strengths and help address some of the vulnerabilities that you have. I never assume that one person can be great at everything, and I certainly am not. Finding that team to surround yourself with is absolutely what is going to make you a great leader, and letting them do their best work. Not micromanaging them, but being clear. Clarity is a gift. Being clear, setting clear expectations, agreeing on clear success, and clear measurable deliverables, all of those things, and then letting people who you have brought on board, who have the expertise and the knowledge and the skillset do what they’re meant to do, where their tuning fork is tuned in to their strengths, and let them do it.As a leader, you need to know your strengths and vulnerabilities and surround yourself with people who complement you. Click To Tweet
We were talking about the challenge that both of us are in trying to find someone to be that support, to complement us. It’s not just the finding the right person, but also then finding the time because we are busy with everything else going on to train them in what they need to do. The training, as I’m talking to the training guru here, the training is not so much how to do their job, but what is it giving that clarity of what do I need? Having the time to set aside, “What do I need this person to do for me?” There is some aspect of training because they have to know what your system is and all of that. How do we navigate that minefield as a leader? We’re both challenged with that now.
First of all, I think the first step is that you need to get clear on what you should be doing and what you shouldn’t be doing, making sure that you are trying to operate from a place of your strengths. Many of you that are reading this, may not know where your strengths are. I encourage you to do some assessment or soul searching. Go out there and take StrengthsFinder or Kolbe, some of those assessments that build your self-awareness of what your strengths are, that’s number one. When you know what your strengths are, then take stock over a day or a week, “How much time am I spending doing work that is leveraging those strengths? How much time am I spending on tasks that are not my area of strength or not allowing me to focus on what I’m brilliant at?” I will tell you if I did that now, and this is partially because of the pandemic, working from home and things being like up and down, all over the place, I’ve had to take on some tasks that I used to not do. I’m doing them now for a little bit but looking to outsource them again. I would say probably 50% of my day right now is spent on things I shouldn’t be doing.
I agree 100% with you. That’s something that I just should not be doing and I know it. I say, “I’ve got to find somebody to do this.”
You know how you know? You’re not in the flow. It’s painful, difficult. It takes forever. You start it and you don’t finish it.
You are finding reasons to do something else. When that happens, you’re not focused on building the business that you’re in. You’re focusing on all the other little tasks. It’s funny that we have this mindset that, “We don’t have time to train anybody. I don’t have time to find anybody or train anybody,” but that’s what we need to find the time to do, so that we’re not spending time doing all this other stuff that we should not be doing.
In companies, let’s say we have a bunch of leaders in an organization who most likely are spending time doing things they shouldn’t be doing. As a consultant and a facilitator, one of the things that we need to do to help those leaders is go in and do a needs assessment. Many times, we need to look at what are your high-value tasks that you should be focused on? We can do this even from a larger perspective. We can do it through surveys, to a whole leadership group, and that gives people and organizations some good sense of, “We have 30 leaders and we just got this survey data back, and 90% of them said they’re spending only 20% of their week on high-value items. That’s a problem.” We’re losing money. We’re losing potential opportunities. We’re not building the business. You need to make sure that your managers are spending time on leading their teams, growing their teams, setting clear deliverables, expectations, measurement, guiding, crafting a vision, getting people excited to move forward, tracking progress, all of these things.
What I find is managers spend 80% of their time during the week, focusing on doing tasks that they should not be doing. They should be delegated. They should be possibly even removed from their plate completely, or it’s something that they like to do and they have attached some level of ego to it, “I’m good at. I’m known for this. Everybody knows I’m the best at this, so I don’t want to let it go.” We have to look at all of those things in terms of where we’re spending our time and, “Am I holding onto something that I shouldn’t be?”
I know that for me one of my vulnerabilities is details. I knew that, but I still try to get involved in the details of things that I had to do, but it just drives me nuts when I have to do that. In doing a bunch of these assessments, they keep telling me, “You need to delegate details. You need to delegate your high level, your dream cast. You’re the visionary. You’re the one that’s going to bring in the business.” I cannot spend a lot of time on all the detail things that I have to do in order to make this business run, but I find I spend a lot of time doing that stuff.
It’s a problem.
I could see that as you go up in higher organizations and bigger businesses how that becomes a real productivity challenge, and it starts sucking away at your money-making opportunities in your business.
I work with a lot of marketing agencies, and it’s amazing. When I work with leaders, I can see the return on investment with those types of businesses because every single person that works there, whether you’re a manager or employee is tracking their time, and their time is usually billable. If the manager is spending time doing tasks that are only billable at a certain amount, then the margin of profit that the company makes is like this. We did a leadership program that we won an award for because of the return on investment, and it is exactly what we’re talking about. We shifted that mindset of all of those leaders. We help them learn where they should be delegating. We help them learn how to set better expectations, goals, craft a vision, recognize what they should and should not be doing.
At the end of that program, we had them fill out a Return on Investment sheet and said, “What have you changed? Have you changed the way you work? What are the tasks that you no longer do?” Many of them said, and there are twenty of them, “I’ve delegated these tasks that are now being done by a team member, and the margin of profit has gone up 70% or 50% or whatever it is.” You add up maybe 7 managers out the 20 that did that. We had over a year’s time because we said, “How much would this annually be a return on investment for this company?” It was 22 times what they paid for the actual leadership they did. We submitted that for an award and won because the ROI was so impressive. It’s exactly what we’re talking about.
It’s how much time we lose, and that is part of leading with audacious confidence. When you can understand what your role is and what you’re there to do as a leader, you have more confidence in not just what you’re doing, you have that clarity and that confidence to do what you’re there to do, and then you know that you’re being a benefit to the business.
One of the mottos that I’ve embraced over a couple of years, we’re talking about our business is, we focus on creating a culture of connection because I believe authentic connection at work can produce amazing results. However, what I also say is we are helping leaders and teams do the best work of their lives. That is aligned with what we’re talking about is that if I’m not focused on my strengths, on my gifts, on what I’m here to do, I’m not doing the best work of my life. I’m not helping my team and I’m not happy
You’ll be stressed out and all this stuff. You want to operate in that zone where you are functioning at your highest level, but you’re doing it with so much joy and fulfillment at the same time. If you’re functioning at a high level but you’re stressed out, it’s not a win.
There is one thing, Alicia, that I talk about which is, “How do I know if I’m operating in my strength area?” A couple of tips for people is number one, time goes at the blink of an eye. You lose track of time and all of a sudden you go, “I’ve been working on this and five hours went by, I didn’t eat. I forgot to eat.”Authentic connection at work produces amazing results. Click To Tweet
For me, that’s a big one. If I ever forget to eat, that’s huge.
The second thing is you pick it up fast. You are in the flow. Let’s say you’re learning something new, you’ll know it’s a strength if you pick it up quickly. That doesn’t mean we don’t have to develop our strengths, we do, but if you get it like it connects with you on a mental and even emotional level, then that may be identified as a strength. The other piece is that I feel like I’m in the flow.
Grace and ease.
Those are some great tips in terms of recognizing, “When am I doing work that is the best work I can be doing?”
The opposite to that of course is if it’s hard, if you’re checking your watch every minute, “I’ve spent ten minutes on this, it feels like an hour. It feels like ten hours.” The opposite of that is if you’re struggling with something, and that’s an opportunity to also let your leaders know, “I’m struggling with this.” Good leaders will want you to say, because they don’t want you, number one, to struggle with it. Number two, they know that they’re losing productivity if you’re spending hours and hours doing something that you hate because someone else could do it in so much less time if it’s in their flow. If you’re struggling with something, notify somebody. I think a lot of people might be afraid of losing their jobs or they don’t say anything, so they stick with doing something that they shouldn’t necessarily be doing. If we work in team, team is like everybody needs to succeed.
I’d love to say something about that because this just came up for me. I’m working with a lot of virtual teams. One of the things that I am helping them do is recognize what are the strengths across this team and how do we leverage them? Just getting people to have the conversation that you’re talking about, which is, “Where am I doing a lot of work that isn’t in my zone of genius?” That doesn’t mean we’re all not going to have to do work. We all have to step up to the plate.
We all have to do our taxes.
For example, I worked with an HR business partner who was at a company that has been a customer of mine for several years. She was a very supportive style. She’s an HR business partner. She appreciated and supported her teams, coaching them, giving them the tools that they needed to be successful, making sure that she is supporting her manager. She loved that style and approach. Her leader left and a new leader came on board. They assigned her to some different work as an HR business partner, which required her to be very direct, demanding and goal-oriented at all costs. She had been with that organization for nine years. Within eight months of putting her in that different position, she quit. She left, and that to me was such a big miss. They put her in a position that was not succeeding.
That’s one of the reasons too why I’m not just Kolbe Certified, but also Predictive Index Certified so that we can find those alignments for people and work that needs to be done. I know you do a lot of training around that too because it’s important if you want to be a successful company on that form. You work with Fortune 500 companies, eight fastest-growing companies, 5,000 fastest growing companies, you need to be aligned with the people and the work that needs to be done. Ms. Tara, I think we covered our challenges, but do you have any big ones? Something that in your leadership journey you had to learn, and it was a really hard lesson to learn but that maybe it shook your confidence.
There are many.
I know, that’s what I hear from everybody, “There are so many.” Something that may have shaken your confidence in your ability to lead, and then you had to build back up from that? If you can think of anything like that.
It’s interesting because I teach what I have to learn, so what I’m about to tell you are things I teach all the time. I think I have not done a great job with my own team over the years, recognizing that each person needs something very different from me, and that includes my time. My time needs to look differently. My connection with them needs to look differently. I think because I tend to operate under tight deadlines, a lot of stress and I put it on myself, I create the chaos sometimes.
As the leader, we didn’t necessarily do that.
I realized one or two of my team members needed more connection with me. I waited too long to meet that need for them, and it caused our relationship to erode over time. It was because I wasn’t meeting their need for connection. They didn’t feel as connected as they should have to the business, to our goals, to the vision of what we’re trying to create here. This is something I talk about all the time. We create a culture and connection. I think it’s because it’s a lesson I need to learn as well. It’s recognizing different needs. I think that is my hardest lesson and unfortunately, it may have cost me some good people. That would be the big one for me.
Charity starts at home. We have to learn it at home and do it instead of just doing it outside and expecting it to happen naturally or organically. This is what I teach, so of course, it has to happen naturally here, “Look at me, I’m incredible, so everything should fall in alignment.” I can use many different parallels to that, but I won’t because I want to ask you another question. You’re a mom, you have two daughters. What do you teach your daughters about leadership?
We just had this conversation. I am always looking for opportunities for them to develop their voice. To me, that is the biggest gift that we can give our children, and in particular from my experience my daughters, because I was not taught to use my voice. I had to find it the hard way. I still struggle with it sometimes, “Should I speak up? Should I say something right now? I don’t know.” In the election season, my girls are both learning about our electoral college and politics, and then they’re coming home and their teachers want them to debate it with us. My husband and I have been open arms like, “This is amazing.” They’re coming up with great topics and debating with us on our decisions, how we voted and they’re different than how we voted. I will tell you, my thirteen-year-old swayed me. I said, “If I still had my ballot here, I think I might have changed my vote,” because of her debate.
What was interesting though, my parents came over to do some socially distant pumpkin carving. I said, “Dad, you should listen to my daughter’s debate on the electoral college.” It was such an interesting shift in terms of how I grew up. As soon as it came out of my daughter’s mouth, and I love my father, but different generations, completely different, “That’s not true. What you’re saying is malarkey,” and taking her voice. She’s 13 and she’s developing it. My husband and I are constantly looking for opportunities for them to develop the voice. Then that was an opportunity for us to circle back and say, “How did that feel? This is how I felt watching it and I want you to know that every time you do put a thought out there, or you put one of your ideas out there, you’re always going to have someone.”Teaching our children how to use their voice is the biggest gift that we can give to them. Click To Tweet
You’ve got to be open. You’re opening yourself up to that.
You always are but that doesn’t mean you should stop because your ideas are valid and important. We use that as an opportunity to hit home. Your voice matters. Recognize that you will, by family members, try to be squashed or told that’s crazy, but you have to stand true.
If they don’t want to live here, move with someone, “Let’s go over here and you can hear my voice over here.” I love that. That is excellent. Even though this is airing way past the election, it’s still a great lesson for our children to learn about expressing themselves and giving them that room to grow and have an opinion. I was always told what my opinion should be. Our generation was told what our opinion needed to be in. There was no arguing or debate about it, “No, this is it. This is the way. This is what we do here.”
How are they ever going to be able to do the best work of their life, whatever that might be, if they’re not willing to express themselves? What they like and don’t like? What they need and don’t need? The sooner they feel comfortable doing that, the sooner they will find their gifts. I don’t feel like I found mine until long after I was in my 40s. I wish I found them in my 20s. I could have been so much farther along.
We’re right where we need to be right at that moment. I try not to because it just makes you sad.
I know but I am teaching the next generation how to do it better and quicker than I did.
I think that’s the best gift. Having that struggle that we had to endure is the best gift we can give our children, because we’re giving them now that opportunity to open up a lot faster than we did. I know you have some tools and some things that you might also want to share. I’m going to open the floor for you to share some of those things.
I know right now, a lot of companies are still working remotely and I’m certain when this airs, we will still be doing so. We have built a website called VirtualTeamSchool.com to help leaders and teams manage this new reality of how we work, how we stay connected, collaborate and help people do the best work of their lives, even though we are remote. There are a lot of free videos, tools and infographics that I encourage leaders and teams to use to help build that connection. I do believe authentic connection is where it’s at. You can do amazing things as a team if you are truly connected. That’s where they can find some of those free resources. If they’re more interested in the consulting and other leadership work that we do, PowersResourceCenter.com is where they can find more info.
Who would’ve thought I would’ve ever written a book? Not me. That necessarily was not in my zone of genius. It took a long time and it was hard, but I’m so grateful. That’s a great note to end on is sometimes, we can do things that are difficult and it doesn’t come easy to us, but the end result is maybe something pretty amazing. I would also encourage people to recognize that sometimes if it’s difficult, you think about the goal, the vision and the outcome of actually seeing something difficult through. It has helped me grow into being an expert on this topic that I do love. It was just a path of getting to where I needed to go, even though it wasn’t easy.
I always like to help people expand their minds for what’s possible. I love that you said that because everything is possible for you if you can believe it. Thank you so much, Tara. I appreciate your time. Stay safe and we’ll connect again soon.
Thank you so much.
You’re welcome. For all of you who are reading, I encourage you to step out bold and brave, and lead your team, your organization and your life with audacious confidence. Until next time, I’ll talk to you soon.
- Virtual Teams For Dummies
- Working From Home For Dummies
About Tara Powers
Tara Powers is a speaker, author and CEO and Founder of Powers Resource Center — a nationally recognized and award-winning firm that has developed and delivered corporate training programs to the FORTUNE 500 and mid-market space for more than two decades. Her client list includes McDonald’s, The World Bank, Aflac, Virgin America, Caterpillar, Western Union, Mrs. Fields Cookies, Philips, DISH Network, Crocs and many more.
In fact, Tara is so good at developing training programs for big companies, that for 4 years running, her firm has been a Top 10 Leadership 500 Award winner by HR.com — right next to big brand names like Hilton, Honda and MIT. Tara is also a judge for one of the biggest corporate training award competitions in the world: the coveted Brandon Hall Excellence Awards. AND on top of all of that, Wiley tapped her to write one-two books in their infamous “For Dummies” series: Virtual Team for Dummies and Working From Home for Dummies.