April 5, 2023

Episode 2: Going from Good Intent to Greater Impact with Dina Denham Smith

Dina Denham Smith, certified executive coach and seasoned leader, unpacks common internal conflicts experienced by leaders, and offers practical advice to get clear alignment between your intent and your impact.

Picture of By Stuart Paap

By Stuart Paap

Never Miss an Article or Podcast - Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Going from Good Intent to Greater Impact with Dina Denham Smith

What’s the one thing you must do if you want to build influence with others? What is emotional labor? Why does it matter? Where can you find more opportunities to lead even if you’re brand new? On today’s show we hear from Dina Denham Smith, a certified executive coach and author of an upcoming book on science backed principles for effective modern leadership. Together we talk about why leadership is so much more than your title, what you need to do to bond with your team and develop authenticity, and why deeper connections drive better outcomes.

Episode Guest

Dina Denham Smith Episode: Good Intent to Greater Impact

Dina Denham Smith is a seasoned leader and certified executive coach to Fortune 500 companies and premier brands such as Adobe, PwC, Gap, Goldman Sachs and Netflix. In addition to owning her own executive and team coaching company Cognitas, she’s a regular contributor to HBR, Fast Company and Forbes. She is also the author of a forthcoming book for Oxford University Press that translates cutting-edge science into practical strategies and tools leaders can use to address the uncertainties and increased emotional demands of the modern work world.

Podcast Host

How to be a Better Leader on the Stand Up to Stand Out Podcast by Stuart Paap

Stuart Paap is laser focused on helping more people unlock brilliant and bold ideas. He works with pioneering biotechs and healthcare companies, and regularly presents at universities and tech incubators like the Harvard Innovation Lab. He’s also a former stand-up comedian and is a yellow belt in Judo, which strikes fear into no one.

Podcast Transcription

Stuart Paap:


Where can you find more opportunities to lead, even if you’re brand new? What is emotional labor? Why does it matter? And what is the one thing that you must do if you want to build influence with others? On today’s show, I speak with Dina Denham Smith. She’s an executive coach and author of an upcoming book on science backed principles for effective modern leadership. Today we talk about why leadership is so much more than your title, what you need to do to bond with your team and develop authenticity and why deeper connections drive better outcomes. Now let’s get to the show.

Welcome to Stand Up To Stand Out, the podcast. I’m your host, Stuart Paap. And for the last decade plus, I’ve been working with innovators and leaders, inspire others to take action. My goal with this podcast is to give you practical, tactical advice that you can use now. Whether you’re scaling a company, leading a new team, or advocating for meaningful change, this show is designed to help you make a positive impact with those who count. So let’s learn together and have some fun along the way. Let’s get to it. I am so delighted to have my guest today. Her name is Dina Denham Smith and she has Cognitas Consulting. Did I get that right, Dina?

Dina Denham Smith:


You sure did.

Stuart Paap:


Okay, good. Whew. One thing off the list. So Dina has worked in many rapidly scaling environments, both as a leader and an executive coach. Some clients include, oh, some small companies like Dropbox, Lyft, DocuSign, Kite, Stripe, and many other private equity backed startups and some biotechs as well. She just signed a book contract with Oxford University Press Applause. And this book I cannot wait to read, is going to translate cutting edge science into practical strategies for leaders to address the modern work world’s uncertainties and increased emotional demands. We’re going to get into that. She writes for Harvard Business Review Fast Company and Forbes, and you can find everything a Dina D Smith, that’s D-I-N-A, letter D smith.com. Welcome to Stand Up to Stand Out, the podcast. Dina.

Dina Denham Smith:


Hello. Thank you for the invitation to be here.

What is Leadership?

Stuart Paap:


Well, I’m delighted to have you. There is a lot to dive into. So congratulations on the book deal and you have excellent articles. If you’re listening to this, I encourage you to look at her site. But one of the first things I want to get into is this concept of leadership and the emotional components of it. How do you define leadership or how do you think of leadership?

Dina Denham Smith:


I think about leadership as it’s a title, but I think of it more as a stance and it’s really that willingness to put other people the greater good and the business ahead of any of your own personal agendas. And so I think when you do those things, the results follow.

Flexing Your Leadership Skills

Stuart Paap:


How do you start to become a leader if you don’t know where to begin?

Dina Denham Smith:


Yeah, I would say look for the voids, there’s always voids a project that’s withering on the vine and needs someone to take charge of it. A colleague who maybe is having a hard time in some way, performance or otherwise. Just see how you can step into places where you can start to flex some of these skills of leadership. So I think there’s always opportunity. You don’t need to be, to use your words Stuart, anointed to start to flex leadership skills.

Why You Should Take Notes

Stuart Paap:


I love that phrase, look for the voids or find the voids. And one of the things I encourage anyone to do is when you’re new, raise your hand to be the chief note taker in a meeting or because I say another way of thinking about note-taking is not administrative, but you’re the knowledge keeper that gives you permission to summarize, to echo back what you’re hearing, to share with others, to be in contact with them for clarification. And while it’s not an exciting role, it’s an incredibly valuable one and one that people don’t typically raise their hand for. Can someone be too vulnerable at work? I mean, we want people who show empathy, they sympathize. Is there such a thing?

Vulnerability vs. Credibility

Dina Denham Smith:


Yeah, it’s actually a great question and I would say yes, there is a place where if you are too vulnerable, especially in a leadership position where unfortunately you can still lose credibility. And that’s this authenticity paradox where we want our leaders to be authentic, bring your whole self to work, all of that. But then sometimes when people do that, others lose faith in them. This last article that I wrote, you don’t get to own your title when you publish for HBR. And so my proposed title was Walking the Authenticity Tightrope as a Leader because you do really have to balance both of these forces and it’s just yet one more way that there’s these invisible tacks on leaders. And so I hope as we continue, sort of evolving, that there’s more and more space for leaders especially to not have to pretend to be superhuman, but there’s still a little bit of that today. We’ve come a long way, but I think there’s still more room before a leader can say, “I’m really super unsure of myself here, and there won’t be a ripple effect.”

Stuart Paap:


So it’s interesting, I’m thinking of this tightrope where if you toggle too far in one way where you’re being vulnerable and authentic, maybe you crumble and people think, “Is this someone I want to follow?” On the flip side, if you’re too stoic and reserved and you don’t show an emotional component. There’s a professor at Brigham Young University who’s written a bunch on this concept of humble narcissism, and when I first heard that term, have you heard that before?

Dina Denham Smith:


I’ve heard all sorts of things come after humble, but not narcissism yet.

Stuart Paap:


When I read the article and when I understood it was sort of toggling between having the humility to know that you don’t know everything and you can’t. But also having the self-confidence to know that this is the direction we’re going to choose. Unpack that for me in your lens between toggling between those worlds. And then I also want to understand sequence of toggling. Do you show strength first, then vulnerability, but let’s talk about toggling those two and sequence Dina.

Dina Denham Smith:


Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s a broader lens here, which is leaders need to be constantly balancing what we might call polarities. So these are two things that are seemingly in opposition of each other, but both are necessary. And so it is a matter of that balance. So if you think about humility and confidence, or task and relationship. Individual work, teamwork, there’s a lot of things where especially in leadership positions, they need to be balancing these things that you’re not solving for one or the other, you actually need both. And so I would say that same thing is true with leaders. You do need to be authentic primarily, but you also need to manage yourself and always be thinking about what is going to be the impact of this.

Stuart Paap:


So let’s say that there’s a new manager who has a chance to address the team and they want to show some vulnerability or authenticity by sharing some personal or sharing some professional challenges. Is there a best practice in first indicating strength and courage of convictions and then indicating where someone is unsure or showing some uncertainty and then bringing it back?

Dina Denham Smith:


In general, I say lead with warmth. We know from all of the research on influence that ultimately if you’re going to lead with something, lead, lead with that. Some amount of strength is also necessary, like when you have to make the hard calls. When you have to do things that, they’re called necessary evils and leaders need to deal with a lot of them. Like firing someone who’s not performing, conducting layoffs, all of that. And there is strength necessary for doing those things. You could still do them warmly, but then when it comes to the, I almost think of it more as a soup as opposed to a big toggle, bring in the authenticity, bring in, sort of be relatable. We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses. And so I think you can accomplish all of that, but it is, it’s more of a mix of, gosh, just a bunch of qualities. I have so much empathy for leaders because I think when you step back from the role and you think about what does it actually take to perform, it’s really quite substantial.

Stuart Paap:


I’m going to ask a question that I can’t believe I’m putting into the English language, but can you fake authenticity?

Dina Denham Smith:


There’s so many ways I want to answer this. You may be able to pull the shade over some people’s eyes by faking. I don’t actually think it will last for long. And I think most people have a pretty good BS radar. Other thing that I think of when you ask that question is this whole topic of emotional labor where we are to conform with the implicit rules of our workplace and our role. We show emotions, we work to display the correct emotions. So it definitely makes me start thinking about that and the costs to really individual from having to do that sort of burdensome emotional labor.

The “Why” Behind Your Decisions

Stuart Paap:


One of the things I hear all the time from my clients is, “I’d be okay with the decision if I could understand why and not in a protected, redacted, this is just what we do, type of way.” But understanding the logic, what does it have to do with strategy?

Dina Denham Smith:


I think oftentimes we do so much work in our heads and then we forget that not everybody’s been along for that cognitive ride. And so oftentimes leaders are aware of the why, they’re aware of the backstory. They’ve done a lot of thinking about things and they simply forget to catch other people up on what has been a lengthy and involved and rigorous thought process. And so forgetting to explain the why and then just expecting people to fall in line oftentimes leads to sort of less harmony.

Stuart Paap:


Well, I remember reading a story where a leader of a company, I think this was somewhere in the Midwest, they had, it was a long-standing family business, but they basically used an economic downturn and wage cuts and it strengthened the culture and made people more loyal. And it went like this, leader comes out and said, “Look, there are conditions beyond our control economic downturn, and we know what that can spell, but I’m here to tell you emphatically no one here is losing their job first and foremost. Second of all, the way we’re going to handle this is I’m going to slash my pay, freeze all benefits and then we’re going to offer people who need more work, more work.

And people who can afford to take a day off here, keep it, but at the bottom line, no one’s losing their job.” Well, what happened was people bonded more strongly because then they started trading hours. I know you have kids or you have no care, and they just wove together. And even though they had less revenue, the values and the culture strengthened and people have stayed loyal to this company because the leadership showed vulnerability and strength of their convictions in the same event. And it was profound.

Dina Denham Smith:


And also the leader demonstrated so much care and he also provided people with autonomy. You do, you need it, keep it. If you have flexibility, great-

Stuart Paap:


Use it.

Dina Denham Smith:


And autonomy is just so woven into all of our DNA, when it’s taken away, just the outcomes are worse.

Emotional Labor and Leadership

Stuart Paap:


To another big topic is emotional labor. So I’d never actually seen those two concepts together. And so maybe we could just explain to people what is emotional labor?

Dina Denham Smith:


So emotional labor is the work that we do to display what feel like the right emotions for our role or our workplace. And so all workplaces, all roles have these implicit feeling rules and oftentimes there’s so in the background that we don’t really notice them, but they very much exist. And so emotional labor is when those expectations are part of our role. We work to regulate our emotion internally and then there is some sort of display. Sometimes all of these things can match, the expectations of the role match how you feel. So for example, leaders are expected to demonstrate empathy. Maybe you actually feel a lot of empathy for one of your team members, and so then you are able to actually display that emotion genuinely. Where things get dicey is when how we actually feel and how we’re expected to show up conflict. And so emotional labor, I’m just going to back up and give a little bit of history because I think it can be helpful for understanding it like a weirdly complicated concept.

But the research around this began almost 50 years ago and it was really concentrated on customer service roles. So think about service with a smile. And I believe the first target of research was actually flight attendants. So you’re getting on the plane and the flight, “Welcome aboard, welcome aboard,” 300 times. They’re fully expected in their roles to ensure that you are feeling good about coming onto that plane. And so there are roles, any customer service role where there is a lot of emotional labor. Service with a smile, you can think that. Where people are expected to almost be more nicer than natural or sometimes harsher than natural. Think about a bill collector, you might actually not feel that like that, but he needs to come across as harsh. So it’s really about working to display what those right emotions are. And all of the research around emotional labor really focused on this customer service sector for decades.

It wasn’t until close to 2010 that it started to get expanded into other domains and research around emotional labor and leadership began. There’s still so much to be understood there, but what’s led to some of my last articles on HBR is seeing how much more emotional labor my clients are doing right now than they have in the past. And so I started really digging into it. And one of the things that I learned, which I think is surprising at first is that the data shows that leaders do just as much emotional labor as people in the customer service sector who need to deliver service with a smile. But if you actually think about a leader’s role, it starts to make sense. First off, they’ve got multiple interpersonal interactions all day long. Then there’s multiple stakeholder groups.

I think is surprising at first is that the data shows that leaders do just as much emotional labor as people in the customer service sector who need to deliver service with a smile. But if you actually think about a leader's role, it starts to make sense.

You’ve got your team, maybe you’ve got the board, you’ve got your executive peers, you have external stakeholders, you have all of these different groups, and each of the display rules might be slightly different. Like how you need to show up with your team is a little bit different than how you show up at the board. So you’re kind of rejiggering how you show up. And versus customer service people where it’s when the customer says they want something, you smile and you give it to them. When the customer says you’re wrong, you say, I’m sorry and you fixed it. These are very, very scripted in general for a leader, it is constantly figuring it out in terms of like, “How do I need to show up here to be most effective?” And sometimes there’s a match between internal feelings and external and sometimes there’s not.

Stuart Paap:


I understand emotional labor that it’s something that you’re expected to do and demonstrate that is implicit in you doing an excellent job. So being aware of people’s emotional state, how they want to receive information. How do you think about developing a real connection between your team individually versus a group setting? How does one optimize for that?

Dina Denham Smith:


I think you’re right with your instinct that you can connect at a different level one-on-one than in a larger group. In a larger group. I always start to think about, it takes me into influence, which is not just having an excellent sort of communication style, but really thinking about what do I need to accomplish here and what’s the best way to do that? So if you need to inspire your team of however many people 10 to 100 sort of go bravely in a new direction, you need to be able to grab them in the heart. Facts and figures will only get you so far. And so I really think about once you are doing communications at a group level, you really need to be thinking like, “What is the goal of this broader communication? And how do I address not just the communication needs of all of these diverse people but their interests?” Some people need to know the what, some people want the big why, some people need to know more the how. And so there’s just a lot of different channels of thinking about how to communicate most effectively.

Stuart Paap:


Yeah, I’ll share a personal story from a decade ago. So I was starting a networking group that’s now 700 people. And I had a chapter that I was running of about 40 people. And there was one sort of rogue member, always late, never really contributing. And I was sort of at my wits end with him and one last grasp, I said, let’s just go out for a beer and I’ll chat him up a bit and just see if I can get to the bottom of it. So 30, 40 minutes of tortured conversation, it wasn’t going anywhere.

And then I asked him, and he founded a pretty successful law firm, and I said, “What inspired you to found this?” And all of a sudden he lit up and he talked about how he had been trained in one domain and had seen people being treated unfairly and wanted to change that narrative and founded it. And ever since that, he became one of the best members. And to this day, I consider him a friend and a superstar and went out of his way to be a part of the culture. And I thought, “Wow, it really decoded that through his why.” And I thought that was the most useful investment of an hour because now it changed the dynamic in a group setting.

Dina Denham Smith:


Yeah, absolutely. And ultimately, this is what people are pulled by, they’re pulled by their why. They’re pulled by a better vision of themselves and their lives and their work. People don’t reject changing, they just reject sort of getting changed, especially in directions that are not the ones they’ve set for themselves.

The Power of 1:1 Connections

Stuart Paap:


We were giving a miniature playbook to a new manager. Do you think that they should spend a few weeks or months getting to know people one-on-one and really understanding what’s driving them, their motivation, and then using that information to weave together this team culture within a larger organization?

Dina Denham Smith:


Yeah, absolutely. I think all the time that you spend, whether you’re a new manager or a much more senior leader, one-on-one establishing strong relationships. It not only makes every day more pleasant when you’ve got deep connections and sort of insight into the people you work with, but ultimately you unlock better outcomes. One of the interesting things I’ve found too in these relationships, the higher you ascend, the more that they matter. And I find that there’s these interesting, as leaders sort of ascend through the ranks where they’ve come from individual contributor and then maybe they manage a small team of individual contributors and then they become a manager of managers and then so on and so on. There’s always a new mindset that’s required for each of these transitions to unlock the behaviors that are going to be most successful. And one of them is simply connecting with people is part of my job. Like, “I don’t need to, I’m not the workhorse. This is a legitimate way for me to spend my time.” It’s almost like many of them need permission to do that because it feels like not work.

It not only makes every day more pleasant when you've got deep connections and sort of insight into the people you work with, but ultimately you unlock better outcomes.

Stuart Paap:


It’s funny you say that because Harry Kraemer said that in his role as CEO 55,000 person organization, and he said, “I knew coming up as an individual contributor, I could work as hard as I could, but some people could do me times three in terms of workload. But when I got to a level where I was managing tens, hundreds, thousands of people, those skills don’t necessarily apply. It’s not about grinding out the number and the data. It’s about connecting people towards that greater purpose.” And I always tell people, and I’m paraphrasing what Chip Heath said in an excellent book called Making Numbers Count, that I recommend everybody read. He’s a Stanford professor, but he talks about the distinction of when you first start, you might be in an analytical role, you might be a financial analysis or running engineering models, it’s models, it’s ones and zeros. But as you sort of move up the chain, the questions become more complicated. Should we go there or not? What’s the best strategy? How do we best approach this? And you need different skills to do that.

Dina Denham Smith:


Absolutely. One of the most amazing things about evolving as a leader is you’re really evolving as a human. And certainly every time you have more scope, it’s going to require a shift in terms of how you think about your time. Breadth versus depth, how you show up, the expectations that other people have for you and what skill sets are most necessary and impactful. And so it can just be this amazing learning journey. So for people who love to learn, it’s like, “Gosh, it’s just an invitation to a life of it.”

How to Delegate Better

Stuart Paap:


So we’re going to pivot to our last big topic. If somebody wants to grow and scale and evolve, is delegating just a part of it that we have to delegate or it’s in our best interest to delegate? How do you think about that, Dina?

Dina Denham Smith:


Yeah, I think if you want to lead a team, it’s a must. It’s an absolute must. Delegating is such an interesting thing, I think, because on the surface of it seems really simple. Like, “I think about the skills on my team and people’s interests, and then I think about the work and I do my best matching possible. And then I assign the work and discuss the work, arrive on a desired outcome, and I hand it off and check in and then it’s all going to be fine.” So mechanically speaking, delegating is not complicated, it’s just not. But it is incredibly difficult for people to do it sometimes at all, much less really well. And so it really leads you to this question, “What the heck is going on here?” And it’s because there is so much that is happening under the hood, so to speak, when it comes to delegating.

So for people to really truly develop into great delegators, they need to let go of exactly some of what you referred to. Like, “Okay, I know I can do it more quickly, but instead, I’m going to invest in showing my son how to tie his shoe so that over the long run it pays multiple dividends, so I can do it more quickly.” Tends to be an obstacle that gets in the way of people who are having trouble with delegating. Another one is, “My way is the right way.” And feeling as though there’s only one way for this to get done. And this has worked in the past, and that can lead to struggles around delegating, just general needing to control stands in the way of delegating effectively, poor levels of trust.

I mean, it just worried about, “God, what value will I have if I delegate away this work?” There is so much that’s happening that makes delegating trickier than it seems like it should be. And so when you’re thinking about, “Gosh, well, because I’ve helped so many different leaders become more effective in terms of delegating, the first thing you need to understand is what is getting in the way here?” And only by understanding what is getting in the way here, can you then create an approach that allows that person to move past that obstacle, which tends to be in their mind and actually succeed at delegating?

Stuart Paap:


I remember hearing an early story about subway sandwich chain in the late or early 1990s where the founder was spending all day Friday signing checks to all the franchisees, and eventually they were like, “This is madness. You shouldn’t spend an eight-hour day doing something that should be delegated to someone else. I know you’re trying to stay in touch. What’s the issue there?” So when you encounter someone who’s having trouble delegating, Dina, what’s your process to understand what’s in their way and then you frame up your solution through that lens?

Dina Denham Smith:


So the approach in general, I actually just worked with a founder who she had created a very successful company. Had strong PE backing, several hundred people. She would work until two, three in the morning taking on so many things that were really for other people to own. And so there’s so many habits we can fall into, habits of behavior, habits of emotion, habits of thinking and so on. And so when I was working with her, the approach started with understanding what was her vision of leadership, what did she really want? So that we could, I’m thinking to myself, “Only if she wants something, will we be able to make any progress.” And so I’m always thinking about, “What is it that you want to have three to five years from now? What’s the impact you want to have? What’s your vision of your company? What’s your vision of your leadership so that we can attach the hard work of changing oneself to something that really, really matters, per our conversation not too long ago.”

Then we look at, “Okay, well what’s getting in the way of you offloading some of this work?” And she was actually one of the inspirations for that article around Stop Feeling Guilty about Delegating. That was the main thing for her was feeling so guilty when she knew her team was already struggling of putting more work on their plates. She had also just gotten into a habit of doing everything. She was scrappy, resourceful, just kind like, “Get it done.” And so there was that happening, and then she was just sort of unsure of even, “How do I start going about this?” And so once we unpacked that guilt was one of the major things, the habits, and I collected feedback for her and what she learned through this feedback, which for leaders who have not received 360 feedback, high quality, 360 feedback. I highly recommend you do it because understanding your impact on other people so paramount to your success.

But one of the things that she learned is her team felt completely disempowered because she was trying to protect them, and meanwhile they felt disempowered. They felt their growth was stymied. They didn’t feel trusted. They worried about her because they knew she got zero sleep. And she was like, “Oh my God, I had no idea. I was just trying to help.” And so it’s like there’s a moment of reckoning when you realize, “Oh God, all my best intentions.” But that feedback can be very helpful in terms of the case for change. And so she was like, “I’m all over this.” And we just buckled in. And most change, that we just take small steps because if you try to do something where you’re completely over face, you’re like, “Oh my God, it’s so stressful. I can’t possibly give up that whole project.”

Well then you won’t. So we started little chunks here and there, and she started to grow her confidence, not just in the skillset, but in the abilities of people. And then simultaneously we were running little sort of thought experiments to help her develop new. We all have assumptions and we act as though our assumptions about the world and people and situations are true. It’s just the way we get through most days. But lots of times those assumptions are not entirely right, or they’re only partially right or they’re true with somebody and not with somebody else. And we need to really reveal those assumptions and then question them. So anyhow, we started running little thought experiments to see how true are some of the assumptions I hold. And she learned some of them were just not right. And that allowed her to rejigger her mindset.

Stuart Paap:


Well, I love that. And I’m sure it had an immediate impact on team morale and productivity and all of that. It shows you the two belief systems. I’m protecting you and they’re saying she doesn’t trust us. And I love in your article called Stop Feeling Guilty about Delegating. One was about reframing, and I’m just going to paraphrase, but consider rather than burdening your team, you’re giving them a chance to grow. Instead of believing that not delegating will promote team happiness, understand that people love feeling trusted and allow greater contributions, more meaningful work. It boosts engagement. And so immediately when I read that, I thought, I’m guilty of some of this as well, and what I think about is I am protecting people, but forgetting that you could delegate and these will show up as prizes to people really that reframe, Dina is a powerful tool.

Dina Denham Smith:


And I honestly think the leaders can… There’s a lot of ways to get at delegating and empowering your team, but one is simply in your one-on-one, ask each team member repeatedly, “Where do you need my help?” And that’s a great question. That’s an important question. “Where do you need me to get more involved?” Another question is, “Where am I more involved than you either want or need me to be?” Because people tend to want to… That we have internal drives, we want a master, we want to learn, we want to grow. And just having that conversation, “Where am I too involved?” You may find that people are like, “I want to own this. Let me drive it.” And how wonderful for you too.

The Art of Self Promotion

Stuart Paap:


Oftentimes I meet such wonderful people and they’re bright and driven and hardworking and all the things, but they feel shy about self-promotion at work because they don’t want to be seen as selfish or self-centered or not being a team player. It’s a delicate balance. Do you have any tips for how people can promote their ideas at work but not come across in an unlikeable way and not warm, as you said, one of those qualities we’re looking for?

Dina Denham Smith:


Yeah. Yeah. I run across this all the time too. People who feel like, “I don’t want to be like that guy.” Because there’s always people in offices who gladly toot their own horn and they are this extreme version of it. And one of the things I point out to my clients, the fact that you are even concerned about this tells me you could never be that person. So let’s not just think in terms of black and white, like I either don’t self promote or I do, and I’m that. You can think of it as a dial. And inevitably the people who are disinclined or worried about doing it can certainly turn up their dial a little bit without becoming that sort of blowhard, noxious person in the office. When I think about this and how people can do this in ways that are effective, the first thing I like to think about is the notion that work hard and people, whatever, it’ll pay off.

It’s just a fallacy. You do actually need to point out some of your accomplishments and achievements for other people to even know that they’ve happened. It is actually good for other people to know that, this is another flipping of the script. If people don’t know what you are capable of and what you are achieving, how can your boss or your company put all that you bring to the table to its best use? You’re limiting others in terms of accessing your strengths and your skills and all that you offer. And so I think that it’s actually for other people that we should self-promote. And the fact is, other people won’t notice unless we point it out, that said, stick to the facts, this can be helpful. Rather than saying, well, I just did the most phenomenal job use data.

If people don't know what you are capable of and what you are achieving, how can your boss or your company put all that you bring to the table to its best use? You're limiting others in terms of accessing your strengths and your skills and all that you offer.

It’s much more comfortable to communicate with data around things like this. So work to collect data and speak in terms of outcomes and data. I think another thing that can be very powerful is to use the word we. So when you have collaborated with other people, when your team has contributed, lift everybody. First off, it acknowledges and recognizes other contributions. There’s so little we do truly all by ourselves. And that recognition’s so important for other people, but it also makes it more comfortable for you to highlight things because you’re not putting just yourself into that spotlight. So those are two things just sort of off the top of my head that I’d recommend.

Stuart Paap:


I love it. So sharing data, speaking to outcomes, as well as using we to have inclusive language. And there’s another benefit that I read in an article about just reducing work overwhelm when people keep assigning people other tasks, to actually put it down on a piece of paper or an app. Write down all the projects you’re working on because not only this dispassionate way of showing people what you’re doing is actually a way to have them reprioritize if they keep loading your plate up, you can just go back and say, “As look at the whiteboard or look at this document, here’s the five things I’m working on, the business outcomes, how we’re progressing.” And it’s a gentle reminder in a dispassionate way to say, “This is serving the greater goal goals and here’s what I’m working on.” And they can say, “Wow, that person has a lot on their plate. They’re really pushing the rock forward. Good job.”

Dina Denham Smith:


And not to be too full circle, but it brings me back to one of the things that you mentioned right at the beginning about raise your hand, be the note taker or whatever. Gosh, there’s all the priorities that have been sort of handed to you, but then there are these other places where you’re doing work that might be invisible or unnoticed. It’s helpful to point that out too.

Stuart Paap:


So my two final questions are, what one thing would you leave people with? And then if you’d want to share a personal story or a challenge of growth that you’ve experienced in your career. So those are the two. You can take one, both or neither.

Dina Denham Smith:


I’ll try to hit them both. I’ll try to hit them both.

Stuart Paap:


Okay, thanks.

Intent vs. Impact

Dina Denham Smith:


So one of the most profound lessons that I experienced sort of earlier in my leadership journey was finding out via an exit interview unfortunately, that a direct report had found me scary. And I can tell you that I have never in my life thought of myself as a scary person. To this day, that word scary, it breaks my heart that her experience of me was somehow that it created some level of fear in her. But what I took away from that, and what I realized is this fundamental need to think not just about our intent, but the impact. So that was my impact on her. It was never my intent. And oftentimes there can be a gap between those two things. And this is where, again, this is not my final point for leaders, the takeaway, but I really strongly feel that leaders need high quality feedback. Because I had no idea that that’s how I was getting experienced by this one person.

...what I realized is this fundamental need to think not just about our intent, but the impact... And oftentimes there can be a gap between those two things.

And had I known that I could have worked to change it. And so getting feedback in terms of your impact on others is so important so that you can align your intent with that or align your impact with your intent. And it’s just fundamental to your success. So I wish I’d found that out months and months and months in advance, and I could have, maybe this wasn’t the place for her, but I could have at least left her with a better experience. And then the thing I would leave leaders with from all of this is have self-compassion. Leadership is just an absolutely demanding role, and the impact that you can have is so profound. It can be really beautiful, and it’s not an easy journey. There are so many different expectations on you. The learning curve is always steep. The world is uncertain and fast changing, and it’s such a privilege and it’s also a lot of responsibility and just holds yourself gently through the process.

Stuart Paap:


Yeah, I love it. There’s two just pearls of wisdom there. With the feedback, I think you’re allowing other people to make a contribution to you in a way that will deepen everyone’s impact. And it’s a beautiful thing to really allow for it, and it’s something that everyone can do. And then I love the self-compassion piece because it is about caring for yourself and being nice to yourself. I believe that everyone’s job is hard. The parable of this story is just soften your heart a bit to understand other people’s position, including the people who are leading you and those you’re leading.

Dina Denham Smith:


Absolutely, absolutely. Couldn’t have said it better.

Stuart Paap:


All right. Well, Dina Denham Smith, it was an absolute pleasure to speak with you, and I cannot wait to read your new book, tons of articles online. What’s the best way for people to reach out to you to see what you’re doing? Where should people go to find more about you and your work, Dina?

Dina Denham Smith:


Thank you. My website, which you spelled out earlier, it’s dinadsmith.com. I’d love if you joined me on LinkedIn. So every day I curate and put out what feels to me to be very high quality content, especially targeted towards leaders because that’s my population and sort of a big soft spot in my heart. I think it’s all information that can be useful for just navigating today’s world of work.

Stuart Paap:


Well, thank you so much for being on Stand Up to Stand Out, the podcast. And we’ll see you in the next one. Thanks, Dina.

Dina Denham Smith:


Thank you.

Stuart Paap:


Thanks for listening to the Stand Up to Stand Out, the podcasts. If you’re enjoying the show, I urge you to check out out influencedna.co and find the podcast page where you can find show notes, links to the guest, extra resources and a whole lot more. Also, you can subscribe on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Podcast, and make sure to sign up for our mailing list. If you have questions about the show or comments about how we can improve it, drop us a line. I will read every single message. That’s [email protected]. If you like what you heard, I’d say leave us a five star review. And if you hated what you heard, leave us a six star review. Either way, we’re not stopping. See you on the next show.

Inside the Influence Lab

Additional Reading: