Meeting Leaders Where They Are

Laurie Sudbrink a leadership development coach, trainer and author of a book called Leading with GRIT came in to talk to me about her framework and how to apply it in your inclusive leadership development journey and organisation.

My guest this week is Laurie Sudbrink, who has written a fantastic book called Leading with GRIT. I came across Laurie’s book and thought the framework that she describes is particularly useful for inclusive leadership. 

We started at the beginning with Laurie telling me a bit about her background and what led to her writing this book.

‘I grew up in a very large family. I was a middle child of 14, so 13 brothers and sisters. And I don’t know how many people remember the Brady bunch, but we used to call ourselves the crazy bunch because we were a bit dysfunctional. I think it had a lot of influence on my choosing the profession that I’m in – helping people work better together and changing lives with leadership. 

In my first year in college, I had a baby, so I was a single mom and had to take a job. I took a factory job at the largest company in the area and worked full-time. I went to college part-time and worked my way through. It was probably after one or two years that I was with the company that I was offered a job in the office. I had to take a pay cut. I had to make some sacrifices. I knew that’s what I needed to do. I kept the classes going and my daughter was dragged to the classes with me many, many times. That foundation helped me. It was that GRIT. It was perseverance. It was just don’t give up and you keep going.  

I was raised that way. One thing that I did realise though, early on when I started to get more professional in my career and stuff, was that GRIT which got me so far was actually starting to get in the way. I was almost too gritty, I was sacrificing my health, my wellness, and my relationships. I probably sacrificed a lot of time with my daughter, honestly.

All of that has played into this whole concept of the acronym, GRIT, which I’ll get into shortly. I spent about 14 years with that same company and I was in management and doing all the leading and development coaching before I left. The company was literally going south and filed for bankruptcy. I wanted my destiny in my own hands. I wanted to go out and do this thing on my own. Then I chickened out, honestly and I took a job that one of my training vendors offered me right off the bat. 

Realistically, I needed to learn how to sell training because I had performed throughout the whole organisation, but I hadn’t really sold anything other than a product before. I was only there about four months before I said, “Okay, I get it. I get it” and I started my business in 1999. I built the business, organically from the ground up in Rochester, New York. and I still have many wonderful clients there.

I had built the company to six full-time employees but then I had a couple of tragedies in my personal life. I lost two brothers to suicide, just horrific… That woke me up even further. It made me question what’s important to me. 

Around 2012, I pivoted. I helped all my employees get positions and went solo. I’ve been working that way ever since. I do work in conjunction with other people but this has changed the way I feel. It’s more of a lifestyle thing. It aligns to my values. It gives me more freedom and flexibility, and I can live the life that I want to live. So that’s a little bit of my background and how I got to where I am and a little bit of a hint on GRIT.’

I like how Laurie’s experiences have shaped her approach to leadership. When I saw her book, Leading with GRIT, I must admit the first thing that came to mind was that resilience Laurie’s mentioned, but it’s quite clever because GRIT is actually an acronym for generosity, respect, integrity and truth. Laurie recommends that people work their way back through the process. We started at the end with truth, which is at the core. I asked Laurie, ‘What are some of the key principles that an inclusive leader should be considering to get to their truth?’

‘For a powerful roadmap, we invert that GRIT acronym. I start with truth because everything begins inside. It’s self-awareness and acceptance that is key because everything inside of us is driving every other part of our life. It’s about working on being objective and genuinely curious about yourself, your emotions, your thoughts and beliefs, because your thoughts and beliefs are driving your actions. It’s about getting to know yourself better. 

We don’t spend the time doing that. We’re constantly just reacting to everything around us. A good leader, a great leader, needs to really know themselves. They need to understand the good, the bad the ugly and know their strengths and limitations. 

We use DISC in the workplace just to help people with a safe, fun way to understand differences: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness. Those characteristics are based on a model that was developed back in the 1920s by Professor William Moulton. A 360-degree tool is a wonderful tool when implemented properly. However, there are some things that people need to be cautious about when implementing them. 360-degree feedback is for a leader to get an idea of what they perceive as their strengths and limitations, and then get the perspectives of their peers, their direct reports and the people they’re accountable to. It helps leaders discover things that they’re not aware of.

With these approaches, it helps leaders to look at their truth. Journal, get a coach, find a great mentor. Understand who you are and accept who you are. It’s not about judging yourself. It’s about accepting that. When we can accept ourselves and be objective in that way, then we can move forward. Otherwise, we’re not moving forward, we’re going to be stuck.’

What Laurie says is very much in alignment with Deloitte’s six signature traits of inclusive leadership. Inclusive leaders have that self-awareness; they’re humble about their strengths and they address the areas that need improvement. We moved on to the next element in the GRIT model which is integrity. Laurie talks about this being when a leader is aligned with their truth. I asked her what behaviours should an inclusive leader demonstrate to lead with integrity? 

‘Yes, it’s about aligning with your truth. It’s doing what you say you’re going to do which builds trust. It’s making sure that if you say that you believe in inclusion, for example, how are you showing that? In your behaviours? Are you really doing those things? Are you involving different types of people on the team and in the decisions? 

Taking action on your truth is what this is. If we’re inclusive leaders, then we’re looking at people as human beings, not as colours or genders or anything else like that. Our actions are a direct reflection of our thoughts and beliefs. That’s why the truth is so important. Knowing what those thoughts and beliefs are because you can be told by HR or diversity and inclusion in your company that this is what you need to do, but if you don’t believe it, then it’s going to take a lot of effort and you’re not going to sustain that behaviour. That’s why it’s so important to work on that first part because if you do, aligning your actions to that is going to take less effort. It’s not going to be as difficult to do.

It’s important to remember it’s not about being perfect. We’re all human. We’re going to slip up at times.  I talk about this in the book. Quite frankly, I think we’re all perfect just the way we are. Think about how we look at plants and animals. We accept and don’t try to change them or anything, but when it comes to human beings, we reject ourselves. We try to change others too. 

Integrity is being authentic. It’s being you, but it’s looking inside at a human being which leads to respect as well. These are not separate linear concepts, truth, integrity, respect and generosity. Of course, they’re intertwined, but it is a bit of a road map since those thoughts and beliefs drive actions. It’s so important to get to the core of those in order to impact your behaviour, which is your integrity.’

The third element of GRIT is respect, which is a two-way street. We often talk about respect as being one of the cornerstones of inclusion along with belonging, empowerment and progression. I asked Laurie for her opinion, based on what’s in her book, on how an inclusive leader can lead with that respect.

‘When you look at the foundations, it’s so important that we respect ourselves first. If you know your truth and you’re aligning to it, you’re showing yourself respect. When you do that, then you’re in a better frame of mind to be able to respect others. It’s very hard if you’re rejecting yourself, not respecting yourself, not taking care of yourself it’s like that biblical phrase, “When your cup is full it runneth over” so to speak.

So, respect and generosity come more easily when you’re taking care of yourself and you’re full. That’s important to remember about the two-way street, but another aspect of the two-way street is, you can respect others. To do things it’s important to align your behaviour, the integrity piece, so that they can respect you too. 

Self-respect and respecting others are a two-way street. It’s in conjunction with each other and it’s hard sometimes because it’s so subconscious, the behaviour for some people. They’re not aware of how they’re coming across. That’s why I keep coming back to truth because it’s so important to get to the core of that. Sometimes it’s the way people were raised and they don’t even realise some of the things they’re saying. A lot of people don’t realise that they hire and hang out with people that are just like them because they feel more comfortable with that. I’ve worked with so many people over the past 25 years and most of what I’ve seen is a lack of awareness around this. It’s a lack of understanding of what they’re doing, how this is coming across to other people and how it’s not inclusive of other people.’

I was glad Laurie touched on this as it’s what I teach in my conscious inclusion training. This is the similarity bias, the fact that we like to hang out with people like ourselves, or that we hire in our own image or that we hire for culture fit rather than culture contribution. 

Laurie agreed. ‘The more that we can become aware of that and respect that everyone is different and everyone has a value to bring, the better we can create that environment where people feel safe to contribute. Their true colours will come out instead of when they’re worried or tip-toeing around. It all impacts each other, of course. When we start to respect other people and ask for their opinion, truly listen, acknowledge what they have to say, follow through with them that shows respect. That’s an acronym I actually use in my book, LAF with your team, listen, acknowledge, follow through. It encourages people, no matter what colour, gender, or any of those things, to feel like they belong – like they’re part of this. You’ll get the best out of everyone. You’ll get ideas and thoughts and contributions like you never could have imagined. That’s the real benefit of this.’

I love it so far and Laurie hadn’t even got to the end, which is the final G for generosity. Laurie says, ‘The more you give, the more you get.’ I asked Laurie what’s covered in generosity. 

‘You can see the flow? You know yourself; you accept yourself. You align your behaviours. That’s showing your self-respect. Other people can respect you because you’re doing what you say you’re going to do, and then you feel more abundant. It comes naturally to give. You give because you want to, not because you have to. You’ve aligned yourself appropriately with these behaviours and pay it forward is the essence of generosity. It’s giving without expecting anything in return. In fact, if you do it anonymously, it’s even better because you aren’t going to get anything in return. You’re doing it because it’s in your heart, it’s in your soul, it’s in your spirit and you want to.

You’re giving people the time and resources to be as successful as they can. You’re not feeling like, “Oh, I have to do those one-on-ones every week.” You want to do those one-on-ones every week. It’s an awesome quality time with that person and you know that it’s going to only benefit everyone around them and in the organisation, so it’s a different feeling. It’s a feeling of abundance instead of scarcity, and so the more you give, the more you get.

You don’t do it because you think, “Oh, I’m going to get something out of these people.” Although, I will say, if that’s where somebody is, right now, it’s better to meet them there and say, “Hey, you know what, John, you start doing this. You start giving. You start respecting people and you’re going to see things change. You’re going to see them step in, be more proactive and want to do this work.”

 I would rather meet someone there and then help them to get to that next level of just doing it from their heart and soul. To find somebody that can meet you where you are and take you to that next level is the best thing for a leader when they’re looking for development in themselves.’

I’m developing some inclusive leadership training with a client at the moment. One of the principles is that we want to meet leaders where they’re at and then take them on a journey. Hopefully, everyone will get to the end and they’ll all arrive in the same place. But you have to begin by meeting that leader where they’re currently at. This particular organisation’s got 150 leaders that we’re working with and they’re all going to be at different points on their leadership development journey. I think it’s spot on when Laurie says you need to meet leaders where they are at. 

So that’s the GRIT model, generosity, respect, integrity, and truth – great foundations to increase inclusive leadership abilities. Laurie also writes about impact. A lot of people that I work with find one of their biggest frustrations is the lack of impact they feel they’re making around diversity and inclusion. 

I wondered what Laurie’s advice would be for how somebody could increase their impact? 

‘First of all, it’s hard to see results as fast as we want to. Be patient and believe that what we do is having an impact internally in someone. It’s going to take time to change habits and we have to be willing to help people stay on track instead of holding them accountable.

The energy behind that is completely different when we’re all working toward this collective goal, and we want to bring everyone into that so they feel a part of it. With the GRIT model, you think about the ripple effect and you think about truth in the organisation. It’s the vision, the values and it’s the culture that we are striving for. That’s the truth of it. 

It’s asking, “Where are we right now with it? Where are the gaps? What do we need to do?” The integrity part is asking are you really aligning all of your systems, measurements, processes, conversations around what you say is important. Are people being measured on this? Can they see what they need to do more of or less of in these areas? Because we all know people are going to focus their attention and energy on what they’re measured on. Of course, they are, it’s a human natural kind of thing.

It’s so important for diversity and inclusion organisations to work with HR and work with the C-suite and make sure that all of this is combined because creates the ripple effect. It starts with every leader, of course. But if we don’t have those systems to support that, to help with that and if people aren’t going to be measured on that in any way, and there’s no way to help them stay on track, well then, it’s going to be at the very least way harder and way slower to make this happen.’

In my own book, Inclusive Growth, I initially talk about, clarity, which is understanding why diversity and inclusion are important for your business. Then I go on and talk about culture, i.e. The behaviours that your senior leaders need to be developing. I always say to my clients that it starts at the top of the organisation, unless your chief exec and your senior leadership team are fully on board with this, then you aren’t going to make progress in diversity and inclusion. This is something that you can’t delegate to your employee resource groups or to your head of HR. Accountability sits right at the top. When Laurie talks about keeping things on track and the ripple effect it strongly resonates with me. 

Now, a question that I ask everybody when they come on this podcast is what does inclusive growth mean to you? 

Laurie replied, ‘I think we’re all focused on a collective goal; we all grow together, we value and celebrate diversity. With the diversity inclusion team, what they can start to think about is, how do we help the C-suite? How do we help everyone at HR, or at all levels of the organisation, see what’s in it for them to do this and see the value of it? Not everybody is going to just do it because they think it’s the right thing to do. 

We need to connect those dots for people. We need to help them to see. As they start to see things change, then they’ll realise this is amazing. When we do it from our heart and soul, from that right area, I believe we get exponential results from that.’

To get in touch with Laurie, pop over to her LinkedIn page where she’s very active, posting content regularly including valuable tips and polls. Alternatively, visit her website and there’s a contact form there. The website also has a free GRIT assessment which provides a score in each of the areas of generosity, respect, integrity and truth. For those who want to get Laurie’s book the self-assessment on the website provides useful signposts into the book to help readers develop further. The best way to get to Laurie’s book in all its formats is by visiting

Meeting Leaders Where They Are - Mildon