No one thrives in a toxic environment. In the workplace, this can manifest in the culture, employee motivation and retention, and in the organization’s growth. It is time to remove this toxicity and start championing for personal empowerment in the workplace. In this episode, guest Amadea Sanchez joins our host Margaret Graziano. Amadea has worked in Business Banking for over 15 years, helping local businesses navigate the financial aspects of starting, growing and operating a business. Throughout her career journey, she has learned to navigate the challenges of toxic leadership, management behavior, and even employee behavior. She describes what a flat culture is as well as unconscious bias and how she learned to recognize that. When all is said and done, what Amadea discovered is the importance of connection and personal responsibility in the workplace. It is how respect, trust, and communication continue to grow. Tune in to this conversation and discover more wisdom about the workplace!
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Championing For Personal Empowerment In The Workplace With Amadea Sanchez
Our guest is Amadea Sanchez, who comes to us as a soon-to-be graduate with a Master's in Leadership from?
Purdue in Indiana.
She's coming from the perspective of an emerging leader and also being an employee for years in the financial services industry. This show is about work liberated, finding and leading an organization where people can be fully self-expressed, experience agency, autonomy, freedom, and empowerment, and do the kind of work they love doing. Amadea, why did you decide to go back to school? You're certainly not old, but you're not twenty. Why did you decide to go back to school after a decade and a half of being in the working world?
It's so good to be here with you. I've been in the financial sector for about fifteen years now in 2023. I've lived in Silicon Valley and Santa Cruz County. I will be graduating with a Master's in Organizational Leadership. For me, it was going through a lot of challenges that I couldn't overcome. I didn't know what I was doing wrong. I felt like I was a little marginalized, and being in an industry that is so heavily male, it's dominant in that way. I needed some help. I started looking at how can I have more of a voice with my leaders when I have instincts that something is wrong. How do I build my own empowerment? How do I get more knowledge in order to be able to describe what I'm going through to my leaders?
You've been at the same company for a decade?
You were there for fifteen years in a producer role, so sales. You're generating revenue. You are an individual contributor. You didn't say being held back. You said you felt like you were not holding yourself back but there was something in the way for you, so you took it upon yourself to go back to school. Share what the moment in time was when you looked in the mirror and said, “If this is to be, it's up to me.” It’s interesting because the last woman I interviewed for the show before is an executive, and she said the same thing to herself. What was the moment that you said, “I’ve got to do something to help myself here?”
It was during the pandemic. A lot of people were feeling that they needed a change. I was feeling like I wanted to quit my job. I knew others were feeling lonely. There was a lack of community and communication. It felt like we were all on an island, to be honest. I wasn't getting further in my career the way that I wanted to, so I decided to enroll in a leadership program to take the next step to decide how I wanted to have a future, “Was this going to be the right step for me or was I going to make a change?”
I was always very passionate about leadership and working with business owners in this community. I'm so passionate about that. I see how hard business owners work. My mom and dad were business owners, so my passion for making an impact was strong. I loved my job, and I still do, but then, I had the opportunity to go to school. It was empowering to make the commitment because I had some great tools that I could use to use my voice.
You took the initiative. You registered yourself. What did you learn about yourself? It's interesting because this episode sounds like it's going to be more around personal empowerment and personal responsibility, but maybe not. Maybe it'll go somewhere else. What did you first learn? How were you holding yourself back?
You don't know what you don't know. I wasn't using my voice. When I became empowered, when I enrolled, and when I committed, there are a lot of different ways we can empower ourselves and knowledge is one of them. As soon as I did that, I noticed that people around me were respectful immediately. I noticed that I believed in myself and my own voice. I noticed that I started sharing my learnings and I saw changes around me.
There are a lot of different ways we can empower ourselves, and knowledge is one of them.
You suddenly noticed that? You were more self-aware or you were more definitive in your communication?
The tools that we were learning in the program were the building blocks of culture. What I realized is that we and a lot of companies have a flat culture.
What does flat culture mean?
As you said in your book, 78% of employees post-pandemic still want to make a change. It's because 15% of leaders have the skills that we need to build a culture and lead.
Nobody has been training. They talk about training, but they don't offer it. People have to be like you and get themselves a Master's degree program in order to learn.
First, I had to realize what was going on. I had experienced unconscious bias. I had experienced that maybe others were being recognized and I wasn't. I was being told I was doing things too much. We have great leaders. It's not a unique problem. It's happening everywhere.
What do you mean you were told you were doing things too much? Was it like you were too much?
It was more like when others are recognized, like your male counterparts, for doing something you've been doing for six months to a year and never getting recognition, then asking why. It's because you do it too much. It's little idiosyncrasies. It's based on communication. Leaders don't necessarily understand how to motivate their employees and they aren't sure how to ask. When I talk about a flat culture, it's more about you might have a beautiful house on the water, but unless you have the lights on and maybe you come in and put a little music on, you can share best practices. If you translate that to the workplace, flat meant there was no connection. We weren't sharing best practices.
You said lack of connection and feeling like you're part of something. It’s a lack of affiliation. It's, “You come here, get your job done, and make it through the day.” Is it still that way or have you changed?
As I have changed, the experience has been transformational for me. That means I take accountability. There are so many different resources out there that when I have a question about retention, psychological safety, or toxic leader behaviors, we have great leaders out there. They need the tools. I'm sharing what I've learned and I see people light up. I see people change. I was able to have a collaborative partnership with my manager where I shared this. He was thirsty for the tools as well. It was taking his great leadership skills and turning them into something that benefited the whole team.
Your curiosity made him get more curious and more open. Everyone is throwing around this toxic leadership. In your opinion, as a fifteen-year person with the same company and highly successful, what is toxic leadership? There's also toxic employee behavior. I'm sure you've seen people come into a sales job and don't produce, and they blame the company.
One is dependent on the other. You can fully come to your job, have the best intentions, and your leader can have the best intentions, but then, some of the things that happen on both sides can end up in miscommunication and frustration. Keeping that inside and then not knowing how to fix it can lead to retention issues.
Let's talk about toxic. Give me some examples. Without any names, what are some examples of toxic employee behavior, in your opinion, and then toxic management behavior? It’s so that we're not using jargon and communication. A lot of us are talking clichés and business jargon, like thinking out of the box or something like that. Toxic has become a cliché.
For example, if you set a meeting with your manager and set 30 minutes aside, and then your manager ends up taking an hour or an hour and a half, that's a sign of disrespect.
Is it because the manager was late or because you went over because you talked too much?
It’s because you're both not respecting that time or one of you didn't. I can be that way on my part and so can the leader. We have to respect each other's boundaries because then, that could end up stressing out the leader or the employee. You respect each other and then communicate if someone makes a mistake. A lot of times, people don't go back and have the conversation, “What do you need?”
That's my fault for not saying what I need, but it's also something that the leader can control because you can build activities to build trust with your employees and as a manager. If there's something wrong, a lot of times, it boils down to trust. If you've built more trust, you could say it safely. There's that silence factor. Safely, you could say, “Last week, this was a little stressful,” or he could say, “We have this and that that needs to get done by this day or time. Can you help me?”
It sounds like it's safety, but even before safety is baseline trust. Even before baseline trust is communication. If you are not going to be able to get something done, then respect is communicating proactively to the boss, “I told you I'd get this done. I'm not going to be able to get it done.” What the boss can do is build in proactive follow-through like, “How are you doing on that project? Are we going to get it on time?”
What it sounds like you are saying, and correct me if I'm wrong, is it's a two-way of both people being 100% responsible for a healthy relationship. It's not just the boss and the person. You learned about yourself that maybe you were not being as communicative or were you were taking things personally. You said unconscious bias. I didn't understand what you were unconsciously biased to.
Everyone is unconsciously biased. I'm not speaking of my unconscious bias because I wasn't able to define the term before I went to school. I didn't understand what it was about. When I understood and can identify when unconscious bias was happening, I recognized it in myself and others.
What is unconscious bias?
For example, it is the way that we put people in a quick box to be able to understand if they're a threat. We sum them up when we don't know what we don't know. We might have a feeling about this person because there is fear or whatever our body does to help defend that. We have to be aware of it so we can move past that feeling and look at people for who they are and what they have to offer.It happens with women. It happens with minorities and everybody.
It sounds like it happens in every area of life. There's a great book. They don't call it unconscious bias. It's called Leadership and Self-Deception. It's about putting people in the box. Amadea is coming over for this interview. It’s quarter-of and she’s not here. I'm going, “Where is Amadea?” I haven't even given her a chance to be late.
This didn't happen. I was wondering, but I didn't go in and start texting. The thought could have been had you been a person who'd been late with me before, I would be like, “Is she going to be late? Am I going to be worried about it?” It's like something happens, and maybe something doesn't even happen. She's a woman or she's Latino, or she's Italian and talks a lot with her hands. It could be a man.
We have an already always preconceived notion, put them in the box, and don't ever give them a chance to get out of the box. It's a great book, Leadership and Self-Deception. It was a required reading for my leadership one-year-long immersion program. It’s not that I led that I took. Do you have some unconscious bias about yourself at all? Was there anything anywhere?
Something that I did maybe was I realized that in a position where I'm making sales calls, I was calling business owners. I'd see a husband and wife maybe, and I'd ask for the husband. This is something I picked up on years ago. That's an example of an unconscious bias. The woman might be the one who's running everything, which I've found to be true many times. You have to realize it, check yourself, move forward, and be better.
You've uncovered your own unconscious bias. How when you uncovered a boss’? This is good for managing up. How would you tell a boss because they're your authority figure? It’s like, “You got an unconscious bias. You're treating me differently because I'm a woman or I'm a Latina.” How would you say that, or would you not even say it? What have you experienced with that, if you feel safe to say?
I did have that conversation. It was scary. One of the things I told you that I got was that self-efficacy. It’s that confidence in myself because I felt like I had the keys and I had to share them. What my intention was once the communication opened up and both myself and my leader began to trust each other, we realized that we were a dynamic duo. Coaching up is sharing what you're learning. He was so inspired that he'd take it, make it his own, and be even better than my idea. We all benefited. Our team turned around 180.
Be specific. What was the coaching up that you did with regard to unconscious bias? This is to give maybe somebody in the audience that's reading hope. A lot of people like you think, “Should I leave? How can I fix this place? How can I be better so that we're better, and then all of us can be better together?” What I've seen with the thousands of companies that I've worked with is often, we quit the job and think it's going to be different at the next place, but we still show up with the same behaviors. We have the same behaviors at every company and think it's our bosses. There's always a different boss who's a lot like the last boss.
Face-to-face works well for me. We had a visit and I took the opportunity to have a discussion about a way that I felt I was wounded or hurt.
You really said that? You were like, “You hurt me.”
Yeah. When in doubt, a heart-to-heart is a great way to go.
There you are with your boss and you say something to the order of, “When you did this, I got hurt.”
When we had an instance where I felt like he wasn't respecting me, then I had to say, “I felt like this was unconscious. We all have it, but here is where we could work on this.” His response was, “What do you mean by unconscious bias?” There's so much of that. I had a leader at another company. This isn't unique to one company. This is everywhere. That's why everybody wants to learn more about the leadership piece because it's so empowering.
We're all ready for the same kind of respect and boundaries we have at home. We want that in the workplace on both sides. We have to take accountability, share, open up channels of communication, and build that trust. It was the work that I did pre to get me to being able to have that conversation and saying, “It's microaggressions.” They were like, “What's a microaggression?” We talked about it.
How did he not get defensive? There must have been something that you did or said that had him not get defensive. It sounds like he was curious about you but not defensive. Was he defensive?
No, because we had worked on building trust. I started telling him, “I’m feeling a little lonely on the team. Do you mind if I call and check in on others?” He was all for that because I cared about myself him, and the team. I'd come back with feedback. I'd say, “This person is usually jovial. She's saying she's depressed and doesn't know why. Can we have a Zoom happy hour? Can we have a morning coffee where we connect virtually?”
Here's what I hear you did. You weren't just complaining. You were contributing. You were offering solutions to the disengagement and disconnection challenge. It wasn't like you were going there and saying, “You have unconscious bias. You are not being fair to me.” You are being vulnerable. You were talking about how you felt. You were talking about ideas of how to bring people together. 1 of the 4 components of a healthy culture is people need to feel connected. People need to feel on the human side that there is a connection on the team and that people care about each other.
We were having these team meetings, but people were afraid to contribute. You can't see each other's faces. It was on a phone call. Through my learnings, I have done this research about how people need to trust one another. To do that, you have to do things like icebreakers or feel psychologically safe on camera. You got to get to know each other's skills. It then becomes a richer, less flat culture. You have friends. You know what they do. They own other businesses. They do something besides work for that institution. You feel fulfilled. You have connections. You want to come to work.
It's the humanistic side. When you say flat, what you're meaning is superficial. It’s all, “Let’s get some work done.” What you want and what you're saying that you're contributing to is not this humanistic connection and affiliation but, “We're part of something and we're part of something together.” We've talked about trust, communication, unconscious bias, authenticity, courage, and managing upward. You called it coaching up. We've talked about personal accountability and respect. Is there anything else that has made a difference for you in being this individual contributor who's also taking responsibility for your experience of work and the quality of life at work?
Communication is a big one. It could be as simple as you asking your leader how they're doing and what they need help with. It's also the leader taking that time to build rapport with their investment. You're an employee. Your culture is going to be what you and your boss make it, and that can be great. It could be fulfilling. When I have a good relationship with my leader and I have good communication, there is trust, and I have to spend time working on that, then I was able to bloom in my career. I was like, “I can create my environment. I can start posting on LinkedIn. I can work with companies that I'm passionate about. I can make sure that I'm focusing on diversity and inclusion and making sure that women, minorities, and all businesses have a seat at the table.”
When I was supported in an environment where I'm able to thrive, it is the same team. It’s that we did different things to build trust and communication and I'm empowered. I realized that I wasn't a bad person and that my manager wasn't a bad person. We had a little resentment toward one another because we weren't communicating.
It also sounds like you did take ownership of your experience. You took risks. You had the courage to have those conversations. In the purest sense of personal responsibility, you took personal responsibility for the quality of your experience at work. I suppose if he wasn't responsive and was pacifying, you are saying, “Thank you for sharing, but we're not doing any of that,” you probably wouldn't have stayed.
That's correct. I was already evaluating my other options. I had been tapped by other companies and by their leaders within the company. I had been kicking around my own business. Leaders want and crave the tools. Typically, a leader gets promoted because they're good at what they do, but then, how did they get there? How is their process? Is it something they can duplicate?
Not everybody is cut out to manage people. Some people are better at being visionaries. Some people are better at being individual contributors. Some people are talented at cultivating and leading other people. A lot of organizations get confused about that. They reward people by giving them more people, but not everybody is cut out.
Our process is we assess the leader in 79 dimensions of leadership and emotional intelligence. All the time, we interview them about, “Why do you want to get better?” Sometimes, people will say, “To be honest, I don't want to manage people. The only reason I said yes is because it meant more money.” We tell them like, “You should have an enrollment conversation with your company that there are other better jobs for you. You shouldn't be managing people if you don't want to.”
The role of a leader is very challenging if you don't have the map. Many times, companies are working on, “Here are our goals. Here's what we need to tell our employees.” We're not having a conversation about, “Let's take some time to work. Focus on the leader. Let's work on who you are as a leader. What's your leadership style? Are you a servant leader? Are you totalitarian? Are you the one that says this job might not be for you? Get out if you're not going to get on the rollercoaster ride.” That doesn't help. You wanted to know the toxic leader behaviors. It’s telling people that they may not be the ones for the job, I feel like. You could give people hope. You could give them coaching and the tools. I bet you they would be better for the job.
The role of a leader is very challenging if you don't have the map.
There are some jobs like banking, sales, finance, real estate, or recruiting. Recruiting was my industry. 1 out of 100 people succeeded. We always told people, “If you don't like getting hit in the head with a hammer, you probably won't want this job.” There's a happy world of integration. It’s like, “Here are all the reasons you might want this job. Here are the reasons you might not want this job. Here's what it takes to succeed.” With leadership, I do think there are some people who are cut for that and want it badly. There are other people who take the job because they think it's a way to make more money. Their heart is not in it. It's hard for them and everybody that they work with.
There's something that you said of many companies go with, “Here's everything you need to do. Here's our vision, here's where we're going. This is how to execute on the strategy,” which is the doing. It's all about the doing. There's another piece, and that's the being. In KeenAlignment, we follow the Co-Active Leadership model. It's where I got my coaching training. It used to be called the Co-Active Training Institute or Coaches Training Institute. It's all about the integration of the doing and the being or the left hemisphere and the right hemisphere. It is how we get our strategy accomplished by who are we being when we get our strategy accomplished.
If you're like, “What does she mean doing and being?” The being is how we inspire people. The doing is the Monday morning meeting that we do it at. The being is who we be in a conversation for accountability and building trust and rapport. The doing is having the one-on-one, what I say, and what the right thing is to say.
With every leadership activity, there is a way of being. For example, if you were to do a performance review and somebody isn't going to get a good review or you're going to talk about some critical feedback and you're in a bad mood, we say, “Don't give it. Reschedule.” It’s because if you are frustrated and agitated, I don't care what comes out of your mouth. That person is going to pick up on frustration and agitation. You're going to be done with school.I'm going to ask you three questions to close. One is your biggest personal learning, what's next for you on your journey, and then I'll say the last one. What's been your biggest personal learning in going back to school for this Master's in Leadership from Purdue?
First of all, when you are in a high-pressure role like sales in Silicon Valley and the financial industry, and you have a high-pressure role like a lot of us do everywhere, resources are more than money. Resources are transparency, communication, flexibility, and information.
I'm hearing support systems.
Yes. It’s high demand, high support.
That's interesting that you say that. I talk about that in the book, too. When you have a high challenge, which Silicon Valley is a big high challenge, you have to give support. What Amadea is talking about is training, support systems, and better communication. It is things that maybe people take for granted, but we can't take them for granted. We need to provide it.
Those are the building blocks of culture. There’s pay equity. If somebody is outperforming and they're not getting the same basic pay as their counterpart, it's not something that's hidden anymore. It could erode the culture, trust, and everything. That's how you lose people. The old way the group thinks and the way that people always do it and have done it, as leaders and as employees, we need to challenge each other. You don't want to lose your great employees or good talent. It's too hard to find that knowledge that they've gained over the years. They're valuable. They're inspiring your team. You're inspiring one another. That was a big learning for me. I see that as we have more resources than we think.
You're talking about how we have our own internal resources and we can ask for what we want. We can communicate. What's next for you in your education or career? What do you see as your path? I understand you're employed. You're not saying you're leaving, but what is next for you? Education or career, or both?
I've been thinking about it a lot as I'm going to be graduating in June 2023. One of my professors said towards the end of the Capstone class, “You guys are graduating as scientists. You've spent two years researching society, organizations, and what helps motivate people. You've got a lot of keys.” I've designed programs for coaching and mentoring. I've designed programs for leadership where managers have those things. They learn communication and their own leadership skills. They put more effort into feeding the heart. Rewards and team building has gone away a lot because of the virtual environment.
Everybody is in survival mode. They don't think the people's side is as important as it is, and it is. It's super important.
You'll read case after case that the high performers that aren't keeping up with the culture are going to get left behind. The answer is impacting culture. It's that side that's missing. For me, I want to find a way to share it. Uniquely, I love finance and working with business owners. I'm so fortunate to work in the Bay Area. With everyone I talk to, an opportunity comes up. People light on fire when you talk about how you want to be treated on the job, how you want to treat yourself, what tools you can do to empower yourself, and what conversations you can have with your boss and feel safe and comfortable.
Have you thought about going to get a certification in coaching?
I have decided I was going to start my own corporation and look into consulting. One of the things I loved about meeting you is that you were so inspiring. I love when other women can lift up other women. You were like, “You should do a blog.” I'm sharing by word of mouth. One of the great parts about my job is I meet leaders in the community and business owners all the time. What's nice about having a culture that you love at work, which I can say, is that you can do both. You can have multiple streams of income. You can talk about leadership on LinkedIn. You can talk about it at every event that you go to.
As soon as you say, “Where do you work? How do you like working there?” People always have a story. Sometimes it's great, and I love learning from that. Sometimes, there are challenges. People have the right gist, but they don't have confidence in themselves because they don't know what they don't know. What's wonderful about studying leadership is that I know there’s good stuff, and I want to share it. I want to help people.
Best of success to you.
If you decide to get your coaching certification, go over to CTI. I know your company. They pay for people. I've met many people from that company. They sponsored them to get their coaching certification.
Thank you. Thanks for the invite.
Thank you. Bye, everybody, and work liberated.
About Amadea Sanchez
Amadea Sanchez has worked in Business Banking at for over 15 years, helping local businesses navigate the financial aspects of starting, growing and operating a business. She led the implementation of a financial wellness program at no cost for business owners and their employees in Silicon Valley. Born in San Jose, Amadea is passionate about the responsibility and impact finances can have in our community. She is dedicated to supporting women and minority owned businesses thrive. She currently sits on the senior advisory board of Manufacture San Jose, helping to support local manufactures continue to operate in Santa Clara County. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and Economics from The University of Santa Cruz and will graduate with a Masters of Science from University of Purdue in Indiana, for Organizational Leadership and Management this June.