The New Portrait Of Leadership: Kim Baker Of Vivid Performance Group On Strategies to Shape Yourself Into A Modern Masterpiece

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Karen Mangia
Authority Magazine

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Leaders must become learners. That is to acquire the knowledge to reflect and process on experiences, draw insights, and apply them moving forward. A great example of this is using BAR-Before Action Reviews and AAR-After Action Reviews. In my own experience, running training and development, we used BAR/AAR for large training events. It enabled us to upfront align on goals and metrics, identify and mitigate risks, and, after the event, evaluate our performance. We also distilled and extracted key learnings to apply to planning and execution of future events. This approach can be used at the kick-off of any project.

We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kim Baker.

Kim Baker is Founder/CEO of Vivid Performance Group, a human performance improvement company, which she started after years in corporate America. Drawing from her background in management and training, she has helped develop medical device sales reps, sales leaders, and those in marketing and scientific roles. She applies her passion for human performance to helping employees, teams and leaders work better, together™.

Her mission is to help employees, teams and leaders work better together in what she calls the business sandbox…because to quote Kim, “Employees get hired for what they know and can do and fired for who they are and how they act”. Her vision is a world where managers and leaders can create effective teams and coach them to greatness.

Vivid Performance Group utilizes proven assessment, training, coaching and facilitation methods that reveal and develop individual and team abilities. Employees are better able to communicate, solve, team-up, lead and manage, so that the business mission becomes their business focus.

Clients have included companies in entertainment, technology, marketing/creative, financial services, real estate, construction, engineering, nonprofit, manufacturing, private equity/M&A, pharmaceutical, agriculture, professional services, medical device, and medical diagnostics.

Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?

The aftermath of the pandemic and the related remote work unfortunately have increased unhealthy, even toxic behaviors, such as bullying in the workplace. This is due to an alarming uptick in which employee and team relationships have devolved to such a degree that typical HR interventions aren’t working. Therefore, I am preparing to become a Certified Workplace Mediator and Trainer (CMT) in Conflict Resolution. This will help add value to our work with corporate workplaces as they continue to transition to a more hybrid approach.

We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?

Sadly, with a few exceptions, I was heavily influenced by those I didn’t want to emulate. I saw leaders fight for territory, hire, and promote those who would protect them, resist feedback. The one leader who has been the greatest leadership role model for me is Darren Miller of Allergan. He impressed me with his calmness and fight for fairness. He had my back and that of our team when it wasn’t easy. He championed doing the right thing and he’s influenced me to do the same whether I am working with my internal team or client teams.

Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?

Leaders are taught to be optimistic and possess the ability to calmly adjust in challenging situations. This includes maintaining a high level of self-acceptance versus the other end of the spectrum of being tense, pessimistic, or self-critical. I found I was far too optimistic and calm, not recognizing when others in my team needed me to take a different more urgent approach. My lack of action was causing stress in the team. Sometimes optimism and calmness can become an “over strength” which then turns into weakness. I’ve learned to slow down and analyze if I am being too optimistic, or not accurately assessing a situation. Then I determine if so, what impact this is having. I then adjust accordingly to meet the needs of the individuals involved.

How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?

I once thought leaders had to be more authoritarian and had to have all or most of the answers. Over time I realized the best leaders influence and activate others so the organization can share in discovery and create the answers together. Today leadership not only involves decision making but also includes serving as a facilitator to help their team maintain stability, pull in the same direction, and ready others for advancement. It all results in a workplace that is healthy and productive.

Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?

As I mentioned earlier, I stopped presenting myself as overly calm and optimistic no matter the situation. While certainly important they can be overplayed, and often a more urgent approach can work for the betterment of the team.

What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?

The behavior is called polarity thinking. In the course of being a human we often face choosing between seeming opposite states, yet neither one seems right. For instance, candor vs diplomacy in our communication or structure vs flexibility in decision making or driving revenue and minimizing expenses to impact the bottom line. We feel caught between the either/or when what is needed is both. In business, polarities can be reconciled, and opposite ends brought together in a balanced way. This is “both-and” thinking as opposed to “either-or”. High performing organizations and effective leaders perform well with a mindset and processes that do an excellent job of managing these polarities.

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?

Honestly evaluate how your strengths and past successes apply in today’s business environment. Misapplied strengths can become a weakness. An executive coach can assist with sorting through who you are, how you got to where you are, and how you need to evolve to in the future.

Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?

According to the data 40–60% of all leadership transitions fail. There are a handful of critical factors that up the chances of making this transition successful. My advice would be to include these five tips…

1. Get clarity and alignment with your direct leader/s on your goals and their performance expectations of you.

2. Assess and get a clear success profile on what’s needed for you to be successful in the role- be sure to include the knowledge, skills, abilities etc. and the timeframe for effectiveness.

3. Address any gaps with a minimum start of obtaining an internal or external transition coach.

4. Assess and intervene when your team’s current abilities to meet performance standards, including stakeholder expectations, are below requirement. This assessment should also include evaluating how well the team’s structure and available resources meets the most basic tenets for team effectiveness.

5. Develop and communicate upward and downward a plan depicting tangible outcomes and timeframes to meet your goals and expectations. It is crucial to identify the resources needed to accomplish these goals. Leave nothing to chance and identify any resource constrictions that could cause you to miss your goal.

Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. As mentioned earlier a key is polarity thinking. We frequently see opposite yet, interdependent states aka poles, as a binary choice, but a combination of both may well work better. It’s astounding how we lock ourselves into either/or thinking and then lock ourselves into a certain position which then can escalate into conflict. By going through this exercise, we see that we are stuck and begin to understand why and how that is limiting us. I recently worked with two individuals on opposite ends of the structure/flexibility spectrum. They had to work together to achieve a shared goal. Each believed their way/pole was the right way. One believed they needed maximum structure, process, organization, and standards to achieve their goals. The other believed they needed to have maximum flexibility to adapt and move quickly based upon the dynamics of a situation. I facilitated them through the navigating polarities exercise that enabled them to move from their individual poles to a jointly agreed upon third way forward. They have gone from a dysfunctional duo to a dynamic team, with stronger trust, more effective collaboration, and improved work outcomes. As important, they now have the capabilities to self-coach using the polarities exercise.

2. Another is the ability to design and launch effective teams. It’s so much more than hiring for culture and getting the right people in the right seats. Teams are the engines that run our organizations (yes, it’s not leaders or leadership). We’ve known for 30+ years that teams vs the hero or command and control leader, are what will drive organizational results in the future. Despite this, billions are spent every year in leadership development in which leaders are trained how to hire an individual, appraise or coach an individual. Yet teams are what deliver results. A team’s results aren’t the sum of the individuals, rather it is the sum of how they perform together. We find, even in the Fortune 100, how little focus is placed on training or coaching managers on how to assemble a high performing team. There are affordable, easy to adopt, well researched and real-world proven models for creating a high performing team. Highlighted are 6 root causes that account for up to 80% of a team’s success or failure. Design, crafting and launching a team with these factors in mind, sets the team on the trajectory for greatness. One of my personal experiences is using this model with a digital service provider. In this scenario we created a standardized, reproducible team structure as a way for the owner to scale the business by creating Pods which consist of a revenue generator and project managers. We believe this will be his secret weapon in both attracting and retaining top talent and in driving higher revenues, customer satisfaction and retention.

3. Leaders must realize they have human blind spots in believing everyone thinks just like them. We hold others to our standards until we realize they aren’t aware of them and certainly didn’t agree to them. It’s very common that a co-worker is frustrated, hurt, or disappointed that another co-worker did or didn’t do a certain task. One example we see is when a co-worker gets behind in a task and expects another co-worker to jump in to help, even though it is not the second co-worker’s responsibility. The one behind on the project forms a standard that every team member should pitch in and, in their mind, the one who didn’t is wrong. In this case a standard has mistakenly been created.

4. Leaders must become learners. That is to acquire the knowledge to reflect and process on experiences, draw insights, and apply them moving forward. A great example of this is using BAR-Before Action Reviews and AAR-After Action Reviews. In my own experience, running training and development, we used BAR/AAR for large training events. It enabled us to upfront align on goals and metrics, identify and mitigate risks, and, after the event, evaluate our performance. We also distilled and extracted key learnings to apply to planning and execution of future events. This approach can be used at the kick-off of any project.

In fact, I have even modified the tools we use for external teams. For instance, a marketing agency can use these at project kick off with the client to fully align on what is to be accomplished, who has what roles, what success is and how it’s measured, and what risks might they encounter and how they will be mitigated. Then, at the conclusion of the event, they can use the AAR to conduct a retrospective analysis. The previous example is of teams; however, I use BAR/AAR on my own projects where I am working without a team or when I am evaluating myself as team or project lead.

5. Finally, leaders need to become feedback foragers. Typically, leader ascension and the volume of feedback and willingness to incorporate it are generally inverse. The need for feedback may seem counterintuitive given a leader’s career trajectory. The assumption tends to be ‘Hey, if I wasn’t performing, I’d hear about it.” The reality is one may or may not hear the negative feedback before it’s too late to save a relationship and/or career. In a leader’s career there are numerous opportunities for feedback, training, and coaching. A new role or facing an especially challenging time are two examples. Here leaders face what we call inflection points. These are times of dramatic change. It is here that the leader will either rise to the occasion which we call adaptive change or decompensate (deteriorate in function due to an inability to invoke normal defense mechanisms) under the weight of the demands. Developing a habit of seeking and incorporating feedback enables one to continue to evolve and grow, and that in turn fortifies a leader to successfully navigate any headwinds they face.

American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.

I start my day in a very intentioned way. I use the MAXOUT Planner and set my three absolutes, what I am grateful for, identify what would make the day great and my affirmations for the day. Each day I also identify the tangible actions I am taking that directly link to my 5-year goal. At the end of the day, I review what I set out to accomplish and identify the successes and lessons learned, and what could have gone better. I use that to adjust accordingly.

What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?

That I helped others evolve into the next best version of the highest vision they held for themselves.

How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?

kbaker@vividperformancegroup.com and my website is https://vividperformancegroup.com

Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.

About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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