Here at Sounding Board, we just did that research, so I can tell you: pattern recognition, having an internal compass, self-regulation, flexibility — and that’s emotional and intellectual flexibility — and courage/confidence. Conviction, focus, intensity, whatever you want to call all of these things together. We called it velocity.

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 Lori Mazan.

Lori Mazan is the co-founder, president, and chief coaching officer for Sounding Board, the first Leader Development Platform designed to bridge the leadership gap. One of the first 250 ICF certified coaches globally, she has spent more than 25 years coaching executives to develop critical leadership capabilities that have immediate and positive business outcomes.

In 2016, Lori partnered with Christine Tao to launch Sounding Board as a feedback-driven, cloud-based leadership coaching platform that could deliver best-in-class leadership coaching, while lowering costs to make coaching affordable and scalable for leaders at every level of their careers.

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?

I’m always working on Sounding Board, and I’m super-proud of that. One of the things I love about our company is the culture we’ve created. For example, we’ve implemented manager alignment meetings as an alternative to performance evaluation conversations with the idea that the manager and employee are jointly responsible for the employee’s performance. It’s a different way of thinking about performance conversations.

The second thing I’m excited about is the new leadership success index we’re working on — it’s an extension of our capability model. We coach to a set of leadership capabilities; however, even with that, there’s still the question of what makes the difference between a good leader and an exceptional leader? Through our behavioral science approach, we’re starting to identify some approaches that would expand leaders’ capacity to have the highest level impact and then look at some new ways to measure this capacity. It will be much more up to date and usable than the old-fashioned 360-degree feedback approach that was developed long ago.

There’s one more thing that I’m really excited about — I’m writing a book that examines how a lot of the ways that we develop leaders are still based in the last century, and why we need to find new ways to grow leaders who work better in the current environment. “Leadership Revolution” will be published in fall 2023.

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

I’m a big fan of Martin Luther King, Jr. He said, “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” I so appreciated that he came from a position of love. I think people feel like they can’t be that way in business, attributing love to being sappy or too feminine. Nothing is further from the truth. Love is super powerful, challenging, and passionate. When you bring that commitment to work, it’s pretty profound. My first coaching company was named “7th Wave Coaching” From the Sting song “Love is the Seventh Wave.” I think one of the reasons I’m a successful coach is because I “fell in love” with my clients. Not from a romantic perspective but from a point of view that helped me champion them and hold their potential bigger than they could hold it for themselves. It’s also one of the reasons Sounding Board is successful. I fell in love with the company and the work we do. When you love something, you are willing to do just about anything to help it grow.

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?

I’d say, learning how to define and maintain your internal compass. I’ve seen so many coaching clients get yanked around by whatever is going on in the current moment. Think of the levels: If you have a team of five, you’re getting yanked by those five; if you’re an individual contributor, you’re getting yanked by bosses and whoever. But if you’re the CEO, everyone has something they want from you! If you don’t have an internal compass, you will be off balance all of the time. This is a number one thing I worked on, and I always termed it the eye of the storm.

As the leader, you have to be the eye of the storm. All this stuff’s swirling around you there, but inside the center of the storm, it’s completely calm. You’re able to just look out there neutrally, and see everything that’s going on, but not get hit in the head by different things all the time. Being a passionate person, I have not always been good at this. It led to exhaustion for me and some poor decisions when I got pulled in the wrong direction. It has taken consistent work over 30 years for me to fully trust my internal compass, and stay tuned into it most of the time. It’s been well worth the work though. I had a few experiences where I let an influential person talk me into something I internally knew was wrong. It wasn’t pretty when it became clear I had made the wrong choice and especially humiliating as I knew inside what the right choice was all along, but I didn’t trust myself.

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

Well, I started my career in the eighties. So, to me, everything is fundamentally different than it was back then. For one thing, in the ’80s and ’90s, and even 2000s, I would be the only female in the room. Everybody would be (mostly) white males. Just the fact that we have more gender diversity, more ethnic diversity — more diversity period — is very different. Back then the workforce was much more homogenous. For example, when I used to go to coach corporate executives, I’d be the only female on the executive floor who was not a secretary.

Today, we’re still struggling to get women into the executive ranks. The number of female CEOs in the Fortune 500 has actually gone down. It’s still primarily men at that level. However, the rest of the workforce has become more diverse. Managers — as well as executives — need to know how to deal with the needs of a diverse workforce, as well as the accelerated business pace, and the role of technology.

The economic situation has added complexity, especially in contrast to the prior century. The models created from that century are designed for that style work environment — which heavily favored onsite work — not this current workplace that includes remote and hybrid environments.

As a leader, context is really important now. You have to understand the world you’re operating in. You can’t just make rote decisions; every decision is a new decision now. You can’t fall back on, “Oh, last time we did that.” Because so much has changed since the last time.

When each decision really is a new decision, it’s very taxing on leaders. Decision fatigue sets in. Some days I make so many decisions that when it comes time for me to decide what’s for dinner, I can’t! Plus, in addition to the complexity, the level of sophistication has really gone up. Correspondingly, the sophistication of the leader has to go up.

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?

Simply put, thinking I could do it myself better than anybody else. That’s the death of new managers who refuse to delegate because they think they know better. And it tends to go up through the ranks. Entrepreneurs have a particularly tough time with this. When we started Sounding Board, we did everything ourselves because we didn’t have a team. Letting go of that and passing it on to others was challenging. But if you don’t delegate to others, and motivate other people to do great things, you’ll have a lack of diversity of ideas, approaches, and ways to do things. And you can’t grow the company. Plus you get burnt out, or no one wants to work for you since you don’t let them have ownership and agency for the work.

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

Be present in the moment of what’s going on in front of you right now — especially given that the work environment now requires so much context-switching. It’s really easy to have your mind on the last thing that you did, or on the thing that’s coming up next, instead of on the thing that you’re actually doing right then, or the person directly in front of you, or the task in front of you. Being present in the moment is a massive time saver and has the impact of helping others be their best because they know you are listening, thinking, and engaged. You know the impact if you’ve been presenting an idea and folks in the audience are multitasking and not paying attention.

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?

It’s human nature to have difficulty letting go of the things that made you successful in the first place. But remember, those things got you to a certain level. If you want to advance to the next level, you need to do new things. Take training as a tennis player. If you still want to serve the ball using the tactics you deployed in your high school gym class because you were successful, that’s not going to support your goal of getting into the national championships. For leaders to be successful, they have to be constantly learning new thinking and approaches.

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?

Shake off your role as an individual contributor in the organization, and embrace your new role as a leader in the organization. Realize that whatever’s going on, it’s no longer about you. You’re now a leader; it is always about your team, your deliverables, the organization, the industry, the market. It’s no longer about you. Leadership is a service art, and as soon as you choose to be a leader, you will put yourself in service of others. That shift can be a very hard mental shift.

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.

Here at Sounding Board, we just did that research, so I can tell you: pattern recognition, having an internal compass, self-regulation, flexibility — and that’s emotional and intellectual flexibility — and courage/confidence. Conviction, focus, intensity, whatever you want to call all of these things together. We called it velocity.

I didn’t realize pattern recognition was so important until AI came out. Then we did a little study at Sounding Board where we recorded some coaching conversations and used AI tools with it, and it showed the person had said the word ownership 20 times in this conversation. I realized that as a coach, you learn that pattern recognition. I would’ve known that the client was repeating a word and asked, “Hey, what’s going on with you about ownership? You said that five times today. It’s obviously top of mind. What’s happening with that?”

So, being able to pattern recognize is actually a coaching trait that serves leaders really well. You can see what the patterns are around you, you can name them, you can enhance them, you can break them, you can create new patterning, but none of that’s possible unless you can see the pattern. So, part of coaching is the coach naming: “Oh, I noticed you’re having this pattern, and every time this happens, you think this. So, is that the pattern you want to have? What’s another way you could react to that situation? Ok, let’s cultivate a new pattern then.” Being able to develop requires noticing the patterns, identifying them, and then being willing to change those patterns and create new ones. Without pattern recognition, you really can’t have this kind of development. Imagine the impact for a leader who can identify their own patterns, those of the people around them, the organizational patterns, and work to enhance or change them. That would have a profound impact!

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

That’s a lot of pressure to make every day a masterpiece. I would say it differently. I would say, if we’re talking about painting, paint every day. Paint every day, the best way you can paint that day. Some of those paintings will be masterpieces, and some of them will not be, but it won’t matter because you’ll be painting every day. If you paint every day, you’re going to get at least some masterpieces in a year. I had a client who told me, “I am a father, a husband, a writer, and an athlete. So, I do those four activities every day. Otherwise, how can I identify myself as that role when I am not doing it regularly? This kind of persistence over time isn’t flashy, but it is a consistent movement forward that becomes an ongoing pattern that leads to masterpieces.

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

I am always about people reaching their highest potential, and my experience is that most people really underestimate their potential. So, I would say my legacy would be having people operate at a higher level than they think they can, so that they go beyond their own self-limiting beliefs.

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

I’d love to connect with your readers on LinkedIn, which you can find me by searching for Lori Mazan of Sounding Board.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!