Listening — especially when you think you have all of the answers or already know the best path forward, without listening you won’t learn new ways to do things or other people’s perspectives.
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 Dr. Alyson Goldstein.
Dr. Aly Goldstein, PsyD, MBA is the Chief Operating Officer and Co-Founder at On The Goga. As a licensed Organizational Psychologist trained in business management, she leads On The Goga’s organizational development initiatives, with a core focus on customer experience, product development, and team growth. She has been an adjunct professor of Organizational Psychology for doctorate students at Widener University. Prior to entering the world of organizational and leadership development, Aly held positions as a public school teacher, school psychologist, and clinical psychologist.
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?
Thank you so much for having me! I’m really excited to share a little more about what we’re up to. On the Goga was just accepted to Techstars Anywhere, which is an amazing accelerator program, and we’re joined by an incredible cohort of other founders and companies. While the next few months will be particularly busy, we are going to be building our networks, continuing to grow our team, and taking our business to totally new heights that we couldn’t have even imagined!
Personally, my husband and I are starting a farming incubator in Maine — we’ll be leasing out land in an accessible way and providing access to resources to farmers who want to start their own operations. We’re really excited to be contributing to our local community in this way!
We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?
Honestly, the leader that influenced me the most is my mom. She is now retired, but spent her career as a cardiologist and ultimately became the CEO of Temple University Hospital Faculty due to her incredible leadership and care for patients. I remember walking through the hospital with her throughout my life, and people were always so excited to talk with her, and more often than I can count, women physicians, nurses, techs, PAs, would pull me aside and say — you know your mom is a rockstar mentor for women in the hospital, right? She has influenced me to lead with empathy, make sure all voices are included, and be both steady and supportive in the workplace, no matter what the issue or task at hand is.
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?
As an early leader, I noticed that my desire for all team members to have a wonderful work experience was getting in my way of delegating various responsibilities and letting people try new things. I found myself being worried that if they felt they didn’t have enough resources or context to do something, they would become frustrated and leave the workplace. I very quickly learned that one of the most effective ways to delegate is to provide the context you have around a project, create a clear path of communication should any questions or obstacles arise for that individual, and trust that the individual will let you know if or when they need support. People are typically much more empowered and engaged when they are able to be independent, and this also is essential to building trust.
How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?
In the workforce as a whole, we’ve seen this shift away from micro management, and the idea of a leader as a manager, towards the idea of a leader. My leadership style has evolved from hyper-structured to a focus on coordination. I used to view a leaders’ essential role as being the one to establish the structure and parameters for which all work will be done so that direct reports and team members only had to do the work. However, my shift towards coordination has been essential — focusing more on ensuring that all team members are working in alignment and in a way that reduces potential barriers, while being available whenever support or brainstorming is needed, has created a much more collaborative and warm team environment. Each person has more ownership for their work, which has led to team members producing amazing results using strengths they wouldn’t have been able to demonstrate.
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?
That’s a great question! You know, one unique dynamic I had to think through as a leader was my training as a psychologist and the transition I made into organizational psychology. In my clinical experience, I had a unique type of relationship with people one on one, offering deep support in particularly difficult times. As I transitioned to workplace environments, I was naturally focused on the people-oriented aspects of leadership, but found myself trying to overly anticipate others’ needs. As I started to experience the different types of needs and difficulties humans bring to the workplace, I was able to move away from a feelings-first instinct towards a supportive focus on needs and outcomes in the work setting. For example, if my team member is clearly having a tough day, I now know and trust that they will let me know if they just want to acknowledge the difficulty they are having and move on, or if they want to talk and work through it together. Ultimately it was this process that made me realize one of my core strengths as a leader: navigating both difficult conversations and real human feelings that show up in the workplace.
What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?
For a little while, I’ve been practicing the art of not being the first one to speak up in a meeting, unless it’s relevant to my core focus or someone directly asks me a question. If there is a possibility that a team member or someone else in the room can speak to this or offer insight or perspective, it not only drives home the idea of ownership, but it makes work more interesting for the person doing the work. Furthermore, I have learned something new in many meetings, just by having a team member share first!
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?
I think in the past, there was a tendency or a need to assert yourself as the ultimate expert, and the driving force behind the big project or department accomplishment. This is based on an old ideology that the person who is best in their craft, and the most demonstrative about it, will be promoted and ultimately ‘lead the pack.’ Behaviors and impulses like this can lead to hyper-structured teams, a fear of delegating, and the desire to ‘hold on’ to as much responsibility (and therefore glory) as possible.
In my coaching with new managers, for example, I see a tendency to hold on to projects because the manager feels that they could do it better or more quickly. That is not giving your team members any confidence in their abilities or, in the end, any opportunity to prove that they have the skills to complete the project. This can seed self-doubt, resentment and a tough dynamic between team members. Letting go of the need to hold everything so tightly is incredibly difficult, but imperative to successful leadership, especially in this modern, human-centered workplace where we know that no one truly succeeds alone.
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?
It’s funny, I was just talking about how new leaders can have trouble delegating, and can hold things really close in an effort to prove themselves in a few ways. First, being promoted to a management role and second, with that, cultivating that skill of identifying people’s strengths and capabilities. On the other hand, I see that some new leaders lack self-confidence in their leadership abilities and as a result can become overly-collaborative. Above all, teams need guidance, encouragement, and access to resources. Finding that ‘sweet spot’ or middle ground can be tough, but it pays off in the end.
Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now?
The top 5 traits of effective leaders are:
- Listening — especially when you think you have all of the answers or already know the best path forward, without listening you won’t learn new ways to do things or other people’s perspectives. Here’s an example: I know that when I’m especially busy, I have trouble listening during meetings. At times, when no one is directly talking to me, I’m trying to do work on the side. When I’m incredibly busy and I notice that happening more often, I’ve just asked my team members, “Hey, I’m feeling extra distracted with so much going on. If you’re noticing that I’m not listening, I could really use a reminder or call-out.” I think team members really appreciated this because, as the leader, I’m the one acknowledging my own struggles and asking for support.
- Perspective — we know that diverse perspectives and collaboration lead to the best outcomes. Considering multiple perspectives, especially those that you did not originally hold or those that were not your default perspective is really important for the health of your team and for effective decision making. Feedback that I get probably the most often from my team members is that I am able to bring in a lot of different perspectives, whether or not I have my own opinion. I think that comes certainly from my training as a psychologist, the idea of applying all possible contexts. If you don’t seek out different perspectives, you’ll never be able to truly innovate. and that’s essential creating the vision and path for your team.
- Individualized Support — leaders’ core focus is on their team, but it is essential to also offer individual focus and support when needed and on an ongoing basis. While people are motivated to work on a team towards a common goal, individuals also need to know how their work directly helps the team achieve those goals. I personally think that 1:1 meetings aren’t necessarily where you get collaborative work done. One to one meetings should be where the leaders, checking in with the direct report with the team member, are saying things like: How are things going? How are you feeling about work? Do you have the resources you need? What’s working? What’s not working? Let’s check in on your progress. While people are motivated to work as a team towards a common goal, it’s imperative that individuals know how their work, how their work directly helps the team achieve a goal.
- Acknowledgement — I didn’t use the word praise here, because it is so important that we acknowledge individuals for their contributions in a way that is beyond simple praise or telling them they did a “good job.”
- Humility — It’s completely okay to be wrong, and it’s alright if there are better ideas out there than the one you came up with. Your job as a leader isn’t to always be right, but to make sure that your team is right together. I think one of the most important jobs as a leader is to model being a human being. One thing I love about my team is that when something goes wrong everybody is owning even the smallest piece that they could have played. To me, that shows that everyone understands that we’re a team, and we’re in this together. When you don’t model that ownership, it can create funky dynamics, resentment, and the need to be right instead of accountable. Remember: it’s okay to be wrong!
American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.
I love this quote because I try to bring an element of joy and excitement into every day of work. By starting from that foundation, it’s easy, then, to put an emphasis on excellent team communication and listening skills, understanding others’ perspectives and working collaboratively. Every meeting is a chance to work together toward a common goal and have a little joy in the process.
What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?
For me personally, I’d like to be seen as human first, leader second. Someone who really took the time to support the individuals on my team in their work, career path and journey. I want to be known as someone who built people up and never broke them down, gave them opportunities wherever possible to show their best work. Of course, at the end of the day we are all at work, but ultimately I want our work to be as joyful and human-centered as possible. People aren’t employees, they’re humans, and I want the humanization of work to be my legacy.
How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?
I’m challenging myself to be more active on LinkedIn in 2023, so please connect there and feel free to send me a message to continue the conversation:
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!