In the corporate world, a lot of people can be leaders. But not everyone practices authentic leadership. It’s more than just telling people what to do. In today’s episode, executive coach Miki Feldman Simon joins Alicia Couri to talk about leading with authenticity, intention, and integrity. Miki is a Certified Executive Coach and the founder of IAmBackatWork, an organization dedicated to helping women advance in their careers. Tune in as Miki shares her insight into the value of feedback, reflection, understanding others, and having self-awareness in becoming the best leader that you can be.
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Live & Lead With Intention, Authenticity & Integrity With Miki Feldman Simon
My guest is Miki Feldman Simon. Let me share a little bit about Miki, and we’re going to have this rich and incredible conversation. She is a certified executive coach, CPC with many years of corporate experience in the United States, Israel, and Australia. She enjoys the fast-paced environment of startups and scale-ups where she has spent most of her career. During her tenure in HR, marketing, and executive leadership, she has led multiple companies to successful exits and has gained a deep understanding of the challenges executives face.
She brings this expertise into coaching where she partners with her clients to overcome the obstacles and challenges in leading and growing organizations. Miki has an MS in Organizational Behavior and a Bachelor’s in Psychology and Educational Counseling. Her mission is to help people become their best selves personally and professionally and to help them live and lead with intention, authenticity, and integrity. She shares tried and tested tools to help people become the leaders that they aspire to be. I’m excited to have Miki on the show. Welcome.
Thank you. I’m excited to be here with you here. It sounds like quite a mouthful about me.
You’re welcome. I only bring the best of the best, only the best. Miki and I met on this women’s speaker platform. I’m excited to get to know her. When she talked impassionately about the work she does around authenticity, integrity, and leadership, I wanted to have her talk about that because that’s something that impacts your confidence when you’re not leading authentically. When you’re not being authentic, it impacts your confidence in a negative way.
When you are aligned, then you can come, talk and show up as your true self, and then you’re showing up with confidence because you’re centered.
When you start working with a client, what does it look like when they’re misaligned or they’re not showing up as their authentic selves?
It can show up in different ways when they’re not showing up as their authentic selves. For some people, it’s, “What are they standing up for? What are their values? What is important for them?” This is where I’m often brought in. For a lot of them, it is when their behaviors have not aligned with what they want and how they want to show up. They’re not showing up at their best and are sometimes not quite aware of how they’re showing up.
That’s a big one. People are sometimes not even aware of how they’re showing up to others. One of the areas that I had to work on was people-pleasing. It’s when you’re a leader, but you’re still trying to lead from this place of making sure everyone is in agreement with you or likes you and the direction that you’re going in. You’re not being your authentic self if you’re trying to please everybody because you can’t please everybody.
If you’re showing up and trying to smooth all the ruffles and make sure everybody’s okay, something’s not connected on the inside of you because you’re wanting that adulation. You want people to like you instead of doing what’s right for the organization, the business, the project, and what’s moving forward. Even the team that you’re on, you’re not doing them favors by capitulating or appeasing everything.
It shows up in a few other ways as well that often with burnout. Since we are trying to please everybody, usually, we struggle with saying no. You’re taking on more projects and things that are not necessarily aligned with your priorities, and then we see burnout. I’ve seen with some of my clients where it’s important for them that they’re liked by everybody. They tend not to have difficult conversations. They avoid them because with difficult conversations, often the worries are, “They’re not going to like me if I tell them that.”
I found that what helps with that is diffusing this idea of a difficult conversation. Feedback is something that we often talk about and executives sees it as a difficult conversation. If we think about it as we are taking away an opportunity from the other side to grow because if it’s a blind spot if they don’t know that other people think they talk too much or they’re rude. We’re preventing them from growing.
We have to start helping them see or at least facilitating the opportunity for them to see how their avoidance is hurting the issue instead of getting the result that they want. Showing up with your authentic self is important in leadership. How did you come to that conclusion that this is what you wanted to do? You wanted to coach leaders to show up authentically and with integrity. How did that come about for you?
I’m going to go way back to my undergrad degree because I studied Psychology and Educational Counseling. In the last year of my degree, we had a practicum. In that practicum, we worked with mentally ill people. I realized then that I’m not going to be a therapist.
I love when that happens. I’ll tell you my own story in college, when I shifted, but go ahead.
It was a bit overwhelming at some point in the last year of my degree, but I realized that I took everybody’s problems on me. It weighed on me. It was depressing. Also, I could not take responsibility for people’s lives. I shifted the same passion that I had for understanding and helping people into the business world. I got my Master’s in Organizational Behavior.
Throughout the years, most of my career was in HR. I held other executive roles, but people would often come and ask for my advice, whether it’s career or how you handle different situations, and I loved it. I enjoyed. I thrived when I was helping other people. At some point, I realized that coaching is exactly what I was looking for. It is working with healthy people. It’s very forward-looking. It’s very practical often, and I’m a practical person. I feel like I found my flow. I love what I’m doing.
You’re making the difference you wanted to make and why you went to school in the first place, but it’s on such a different level. I went to school for fashion. I wanted to be a fashion buyer. That was my dream and all I thought about.
The first thing I started to study was fashion as well. Right out of high school, I was like, “I love fashion.” I still love those things, but I realized it’s not for me.
I was excited about all the courses, but then I saw in the second year, we were going to do the Fashion Buying course. I couldn’t wait to start it. When I started the Fashion Buying course and I realized how much Math was involved in it, I was out. Math and me were like sworn enemies at the time. We were like, “I don’t want to have to do Mathematics anymore, equations, calculations and all of that.” I realized that the majority of Fashion Buying was Mathematical equations. You were dealing with the numbers.
You got to go to all the glamorous fashion shows and all the different things, but at the end of the day, most of your day is spent crunching the numbers. I knew I would be miserable doing that job. Right there in college, I had to pivot what I had dreamed of for the last seven years of my life and worked towards it. I was like, “We got to change this. This is not going to happen.” I did marketing from there.
It’s amazing how much we have in common. The first thing I started to study was Fashion Design. I realized how so much drawing was involved. I wasn’t too good at drawing. I loved it. I made my own clothes throughout high school. The next thing I studied studying was Business and Economics. I started studying Calculus and took high-level Math at school, but I was like, “I hate this. This is not what I want to do in my life.” I found the next thing, and Psychology was my thing.
I love brain science tools. I did not do a Psychology degree, but I think I have an honorary degree in Psychology with all the reading of Psychology stuff I’ve done since. I love that you’ve had the experience of finding who you are in your journey. As a coach now, helping leaders find that authenticity, who are you? What are you passionate about?
How can we incorporate this into your leadership so that you are leading from a place of, “I love this and I’m showing up to work every day because this is what I love to do?” That’s important you’re helping leaders find that and be able to lead from that place. Have you had any clients that you’ve worked with where it’s like, “It’s not for me,” but you’ve worked with them and they realize, “I’m in the wrong place?” Has that ever happened to you?
It has. I want to talk to you a little bit about the framework of how I work with clients.
I was going to get to that a little bit later, but you could talk about it now if you want to.
It’s exactly what you were saying. Let’s go back to what’s important to you. What are you passionate about? What are your values? What are your priorities? Think about, “Who do I want to be?” That’s the first part of the question, which you stated that and then you connected with the second part, “What is that going to mean?”Go back to what's important to you. What are you passionate about? What are your values? What are your priorities? Click To Tweet
How do you put that into action? If you want to be a caring, empathetic leader, how are you going to show up? What behaviors are going to mean that? If you want to be a better listener, what does that mean? It’s like, “Who do I want to be?” it’s getting clarity on that, then getting clarity of how you’re going to put it into action.
The third part is this reality check of how you are showing up. In executive coaching, we often do this in a 360 interview. If you want, I can give some tools for people of what they can do without this 360 interview, but you’re identifying the gaps here. The gaps are, “My intention is to be caring.” I can give you here a great example from a client. She cared about her employees, but her way of showing them that is when they had any personal and family challenge, she would reach out and she’d be the first to say, “What can I take off your plate?”
For her, that was showing that she cared. They interpreted it as, “She cares about this work.” They wanted her to ask, “How are you doing? How are you coping?” There was this gap of like, “This is what I mean,” like this disconnect. When you create this clarity of, “Who do I want to be? How should I be behaving? How am I going to demonstrate that?” This self-reflection and self-awareness of how am I showing up is when people sometimes also have this a-ha moment that you asked about like, “I’m not in the right place” because it’s creating clarity around all these things.
You studied this, but there’s so much happening in the subconscious mind that our conscious mind isn’t picking up. When we’re unhappy a lot of times, we don’t even know why or what it is. We’re in such a treadmill of going through the motions of everyday life and doing it until someone like a coach stops and asks us the question that allows our brain to slow down enough to access the subconscious and say, “It’s because of this. I never connected it.”
You said an important thing about how that gap and that disconnect can happen easily because of the way we are presenting something. We have total clarity in our minds about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. When I say total clarity, it is the intention of the client that you talk about and how she was showing up. She had told clarity and I’m doing this to help them without ever asking the question even to herself, “Is this helping them? How is this being perceived by them?” Ask them, “How can I help you?”
I spoke with someone who does grief counseling because I never know how to approach someone who is grieving. I’m like, “I don’t know what to do or say.” I said, “Ask them what they need.” Many times, we come up with our own idea of what they need, how they need help, or they try to help without asking them. A lot of times don’t ask, “What can I do for you?”
It’s like, “What do you need at this moment now that I can help you with? If you need peace and quiet, let me get everybody out of the room. I could do that.” Find out what it is they need to help, and then, that would help you understand, “How do I need to show up for them to be the person I want to be?” That’s vital. Can you outline the steps?
Can I comment on the few things that you said? 1) You talked about a very important thing of understanding that not everybody’s like us. If you’re grieving or going through something, you may want one thing. Somebody else may want something else. It’s coming in with this awareness of curiosity that there can be more than one answer. The other thing is that when you talked about taking that pause, that’s important to pause to reflect.
I’m going to go back to something you said earlier in the conversation about people-pleasing and people liking you. That’s when you took a pause most likely, and you suddenly realized it’s what Marshall Goldsmith calls What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Maybe this people-pleasing worked for you. It got you to where you are now but you need to make a change to get to the next step or to be happy to do things without having resentment and everything else. That pause and understanding is like, “What broke me here are not necessarily what’s going to get me there.”
The three steps of the framework are, first of all, you’re trying to work out who do you want to be. You are asking yourself questions about what your values are and the, “You are here,” is important because we don’t put but into it. We’re operating from our parents’ and partners’ values. Maybe it’s our values from years ago, but things change. When you are young at college, you may have different priorities and values. When you’re a younger mother or older, your priorities and values change. Another thing about your values, you can also try and think, “If this is the person I want to be, what values should I have?”
Understand that it’s a process. It’s something that can be changing and it’s about who you want to be. That’s the first part. I call the second part creating an action plan. How are you going to show up as that person that you want to be? What behaviors are you going to behave? Do you want to empower your employees? What are you going to? Do you want to be a present leader, manager, or parent? What is that going to look like?
One of the biggest disconnects is that we don’t connect it to what that practically looks like in steps.
Sometimes we skip. When everything’s going well, we’re having a wonderful conversation. It’s easy to behave in that intentional way but when things start going wrong, when there’s conflict, if we haven’t thought about how we are going to show up, you’re likely not going to show up at your best.
You’re going to avoid and run away.
The third part is creating that self-awareness and walking the talk. You can call it a reality check of how you are showing up. It’s knowing more about what are your strengths, weaknesses, and triggers. When do you show up as your best? When do you not? It’s a cycle because if you get feedback that you are not showing up as your best and you’re not a good listener, you might want to go back and think of your values. Is listening part of your values? Maybe you don’t care. If you want to build better relationships and listen to people, then go back and add that as part of your values, then think how you are going to show up.
Get some skills training. Maybe you’ve never been taught how to be a listener. I’ve had many people say, “I’m a great listener,” then you get a conversation with them and they didn’t hear one thing you said. “Are you really listening?” “I don’t know.”
I’ve seen this framework with my clients. One was an entrepreneur, a woman. With her own business, she was torn between the time she was spending at work, feeling guilty she was not with her kids, then when she was spending time with her kids, she was feeling guilty about not spending time at work. A lot of us have been there. When we back went back to her values and priorities, everything became clear that then setting up a schedule that worked with her values was simple. We got rid of all these guilt feelings that kept on getting her stuck.
There are a couple of things that I wanted to reference in what you were talking about. First of all, when you’re getting feedback, I love to follow the four agreements in thinking about how you get feedback because the send of the four agreements is, “Don’t take offense. Don’t get offended. Don’t take things personally.” Many times, people take things personally quickly and they get offended that they don’t hear what’s being shared with them. I usually tell people, “Look at it as data. Don’t let it get personal, and then be able to evaluate the data that someone’s sharing with you.”
In taking feedback, there are ways that you can accept feedback without getting offended or making it personal. Now, we have a whole lot of other situations we have to unpack before you can even get back to how we change that behavior. Feedback is important in not just how to receive it, but how you give feedback to others. If you’re that kind of leader that was the people pleaser, how do you learn to give feedback? These are all learnable skills. One thing that I want to highlight is a lot of these things are learnable skills that you can develop, and working with someone like Miki can help you develop those things.
Feedback is such an important tool for people to grow. It’s the best way for us to identify our blind spots and where we are not showing up is our best. From the giving perspective, I often talk to my clients as well as like, “You have to have a certain trust between the giver and the receiver.” My job as an executive coach, I’m constantly giving people feedback that I gather.Feedback is such an important tool for you to grow. It’s the best way to identify your blind spots and where you’re not showing your best. Click To Tweet
They say, “How do you do it?” I create trust with the client. They know that I’m there for their development. As the giver, if you have this trust and you are coming not from blaming or from making a point and I’m right, but from the pace of helping people grow, then it’s much easier for the other person to receive feedback. I’m in the receiving side. I love the fact that you said, “Take it as a data point,” and often say thank you. Thank the other person. See it as a gift. Feedback is a gift. Evaluate it. See if it makes sense. Gather more feedback. Other people think the same way.
Ask other people, “Do you see this? Are you experiencing this?” I did a workshop on personal branding. That’s part of some of the work that I do. We talked about a couple of things that you mentioned, belief systems, but also how you’re showing up because your brand is your reputation. It’s who you are and who people believe that you are or that they see that you are.
If there’s that gap in people’s perception of you and what you think you’re projecting, then that’s a problem, especially in leadership. You’re not being authentic to your brand in the way people are receiving you. You need to get that feedback. If the people around you are not giving you that feedback, then you need someone with an objective eye because we do have blind spots.
We have these areas that we don’t see for ourselves. It’s important that you’re able to get in there and help leaders see those blind spots and address them in a very trusting, kind, and consistent way with a lot of integrity. As you’re a coach, you’re not coming in there to people please with them either. You’re not coming in there to tell them what they want to hear. You’re here to affect change because something’s not working. When you say, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, that’s what it’s all about. If you’re someone who’s looking to grow or get to the next level, you can’t keep doing thing business as usual. It’s not going to work that way.
I love the brand part because if you think about it, the first part of the framework is, “Who do you want to be? What’s your brand?”
“Who do you want to show up as?” Every leader has a responsibility to build their own personal brand to understand who they are as they step into leadership and how people are going to receive them. It’s how are people going to receive you and your message. That builds trust when you build your brand. You’re in the brand-building business because you’re building their brand for them. You’re building trust with their reports and with the rest of the organization helping them get to the next level.
This is how you show up. How do people see you? That’s what we’re working on. How you want people to see you is a big part of it because you are designing your brand. Are you showing up as your brand?
It’s exactly right because as you’re talking, I’m like, “She’s building brands. She’s building their personal brand as a leader.” That’s exactly what you’re doing as you’re coaching them through this process. It’s what we were talking about earlier about belief systems. I love this quote by Leland Val Van De Wall, “Our belief system is based upon our evaluation of something. Frequently, if we reevaluate it, our belief about it will change.”
A lot of times we don’t reevaluate. You were saying a lot of our values and beliefs come from our parents or our environment. It’s the people that we grew up around, our teachers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, or whoever the authority was in our lives growing up. We adopt their belief systems, but if we don’t take the time to question or evaluate, “Is this true for me now?”
It’s challenging assumptions. I was doing a workshop exactly on this. One of the women said that she grew up evaluating her house and that you have to be nice. The most important thing was to be nice. That impacted her. Wanting to be liked by people, it created this persona and value in her life. When she sat down and thought to herself, “What’s important to me?” that was not necessarily the right thing and the right way she wanted to show up always.
That is powerful because in that, too, a lot of times we don’t realize that some of the values that we’re holding onto tightly are holding us back. We’re not evaluating whether or not this value is a hindrance to us now. Growing up with this value of being nice, you reach a point in your life, especially as a leader where you’re not always going to be nice.Some of the values you’re holding onto tightly are actually holding you back. Click To Tweet
You’re talking about authenticity. That creates what a double-binding message. It creates friction and actual mental pain because it’s like, “How do I do this thing?” If you have to fire somebody, “How do I fire this person for the good of the organization and be nice?” They’re at conflict with each other. Now you have all this internal conflict. Your stomach’s churning. You’re avoiding it and all these things are happening.
It gets worse because of that one value data point that you had, that you never questioned or even were aware of in that subconscious belief system, unless someone pulls it out of you in a conversation, a workshop, or in doing some activity to help you connect those two. Those things can be gaps that you’re not seeing in your own development in your career.
One question that I like to ask people for this specific thing is, “What sayings did you hear at home when you grew up?” That takes the, “Be nice.” In some people, it’s like, “Don’t cry over spilled milk.” What does that mean? How has that affected you?
Instead of getting into the conversation, you avoid it because I don’t have anything nice to say, but what does nice mean to you?
In giving somebody constructive feedback, is that being nice?
Is that not being nice? Now you’re like in this loop of, “I don’t have anything glowing or happy to say. It’s all negative. I’m not going to say anything.” That’s holding you back. I love all the exercises that you do to help pull because unless we have awareness around it, we can’t do anything about it.
Can I give a couple of questions people can ask?
If you want to get feedback from people, don’t just wait for them to give it to you. You can ask a couple of simple questions. The first one is, “How can I be a better,” and then you can fill in the blank. “How can I be a better partner, leader, managerm or parent?” That’s the first one. The second one is, “What can I do more of? What can I do less of?”If you want to get feedback from people, don't just wait for them to give it to you. Ask them questions to get that feedback. Click To Tweet
You could ask that to your employees, manager, and all the people around you. That question will help you understand things you need to grow at and stop doing because a lot of it is new behaviors you need to gain and that you need to get rid of. It’s simple questions that you can make a habit of, “How can I be a better partner leader? What can I do more of? What can I do less of?”
That is powerful and simple. It’s profound and simple. The most profound things are simple. It’s the simplicity of it. As a leader, if you adopt that as a way of doing your job with your team and how you interact with people, that’s showing up powerfully because it’s also showing vulnerability, integrity, that you care, and that I’m here for you. It’s showing many areas of building trust in leadership by asking those simple questions.
It creates an organizational culture that supports these things.
This has been such a great conversation. I want to jump into the rapid-fire, but before I do that, is there anything else that you wanted to share? We did talk about the framework.
We talked about many important things. You had great questions. I think we’re good.
My first question is, think back to a time when you were a leader. What was the biggest leadership mistake that you think you ever made or were a victim of?
The first thing that comes to mind is I was in an executive role and had been working with my team for a long time on getting a special grant. The grant wasn’t for a greater amount of money, but it was a very prestigious grant. Getting that grant would’ve been very helpful and useful. We worked for a long time on putting it together. It was with a partnership with another company. We get the grant.
We are excited. The press release goes on, and everything. We then hear back from the company that was giving out the grant that they changed their mind. They went back and looked at everything that we submitted. We submitted everything and they didn’t like something in the structure of the relationship that we had with the other company. After months of hard work and them saying that we got it, my mindset was like, “It’s your problem. You did this wrong all on them.”
You went into blaming.
I wrote a nasty email. Luckily, I decided to share it with my CEO before sending it out. They were way more removed from the whole situation.
Don’t take things personally.
The zooming out and being solution-focused, I learned to take a good breath and be solution-focused even in situations where it’s like, “They made a mistake, but how is that going to help me going forward?”
Good thing you got that advice and you had the presence of mind to ask somebody higher than you who wasn’t removed from it because we do take things personally. It’s like, “I did all this work and what did they do? They shut me down.” It may be different, but what is the best leadership advice that you ever got that you still implement?
Be a good listener, ask good questions, and learn to shut up sometimes. That’s something, as an Israeli and somebody who’s quite direct, I tend to say my mind. To be more of a listener, ask questions, and be curious.Be a good listener, ask good questions, and learn to shut up sometimes. Click To Tweet
This is a fun one. If you were a castaway on a deserted island and you can wish three things were airdropped to you or washed up a shore, what would those three things be? One cannot be a cell phone.
I would want somebody to talk with. I’m a people person. The first person of that would be, for least, my husband, my partner. I would want somebody to be with. I’d want my Kindle. I’d want to be able to read. The Kindle has endless possibilities for reading and maybe some matches so I can have fire and warm up some food. Those three things would be good.
If you were a song that’s out there in the world, what would that song be or a title that speaks to you and why?
The first thing that came to my mind was this song, “Oh, Mickey, you’re so fine.” I like songs that are upbeat. Also, I love deep meaningful songs that talk to my soul. I’m not sure what the title of the song would be, but I think it would be a combination. It would have these parts that I have high beat and deep meaning words that I could connect it.
What are you reading now or you can give me your top three favorite books of all time?
I mentioned What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith. That’s a book I would recommend for any executive. Anything that Marshall wrote is wonderful. That’s one of my favorites. The other one is The Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck. That is a must-read book for parents and professionals. How do we embrace challenges? The third book is Lessons in Chemistry. I love that book. It’s about a woman scientist in the US in the 1950s. It is witty and funny. I learned so much about what life for women in the science field was like. I love it. I recommend that one.
This has been a great conversation. I enjoyed it immensely. Thank you for sharing. If anyone wants to get ahold of you or get in touch with you, who do you work with? Where do you work and how can they get in touch with you?
The best way to get in touch with me is on LinkedIn, Miki Feldman-Simon. I am also going to have a website very soon under that name, but that’s being constructed. You can reach me also at Miki@IAmBackAtWork.com. That’s a company I started. I work with high-potential employees. They’re usually director-level and above CEOs within a variety of industries and companies. Most of my career was in high tech, but I work with pharma, architecture firms, high-tech, and a variety of different industries as well.
Thank you so much.
Thank you. It was such a pleasure to talk to you.
As someone who grew up in Australia as well, where were you in Australia?
I grew up in Brisbane.
I didn’t know that. We’ve got much in common.
As you’re telling me your story, I’m like, “We got a lot in common.” Thank you. For all the leaders out there, be bold, brave, and lead yourself, your teams, and your organization with audacious confidence. Until next time, bye.
- Miki Feldman Simon
- What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
- The Growth Mindset
- Lessons in Chemistry
About Miki Feldman Simon
Miki is a Certified Executive Coach (CPC) with over 25 years of corporate experience in the United States, Israel, Australia. She enjoys the fast-paced environment of start-ups and scale-ups, where she has spent most of her career. Under her tenure in HR, marketing, and executive leadership, she has led multiple companies to successful exits and has gained deep understanding of the challenges executives face. She brings this expertise into coaching, where she partners with her clients to overcome the obstacles and challenges in leading and growing organizations. Miki has an M.S. in Organizational Behavior, and a B.A. in Psychology and Educational Counseling.
My mission is to help people become their best selves, personally and professionally, help them live and lead with intention, authenticity and integrity. I share tried and tested tools to help people become the leaders they aspire to be.
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