Diversity And Inclusion In The Workplace With Dr. Tiffany Jana And The True Meaning Of Leadership With Mike Figliuolo

Cultural and gender diversity in many spaces, especially in workplaces, have always been challenging in term of acceptance and educating about the realities of this era. Dr. Diane Hamilton interviews Dr. Tiffany Jana about this sensitive subject of diversity and inclusion. Dr. Jana is an Inclusion Innovator, non-binary blue-haired maverick, and the Founder of TMI Consulting Inc. Today, she differentiates sexual orientation and gender identity, and shows how we can navigate spaces with cultural fluency. At the end of the day, our gender identities shouldn’t be an obstacle to our success, and every person has the distinct right to be the human being that they are.
If you want your idea to move forward, you’ve got to make that offer. Today, Dr. Hamilton talks to Mike Figliuolo, the Founder and Managing Director of Thought Leaders, LLC, a professional services training firm, and the author of Lead Inside The Box and many other notable books. Mike talks about his leadership program, crafting decks and stories, and developing pitches that sell. He also tackles how one can handle objections as well as identifying those who will most likely ask questions and object. Learn how Mike helps in the goal advancement of leaders and how self-perception and the awareness of others is crucial in understanding the true meaning of leadership.

TTL 679 | Diversity And Inclusion


I’m glad you joined us because we have Dr. Tiffany Jana and Mike Figliuolo. Dr. Tiffany is an Inclusion Innovator, a TEDx speaker and an author. Mike is a Managing Director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC. We’re going to talk about inclusion and leadership.

Watch the episode here

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Diversity And Inclusion In The Workplace With Dr. Tiffany Jana

I am with Dr. Tiffany Jana. They are the Founder of TMI Consulting Inc., a diversity and inclusion management consulting firm founded in 2003 and headquartered in Richmond, Virginia. They have helped orchestrate the venture’s tremendous growth over the years, establishing a national network of consultants. She spearheaded the company’s transition into the world’s first certified benefit corporation with a diversity and inclusion focus. Dr. Tiffany is the author of Overcoming Bias: Building Authentic Relationships Across Differences, Erasing Institutional Bias: How to Create Systemic Change for Organizational Inclusion and the second edition of The B Corp Handbook. She’s also a TEDx presenter titled, The Power of Privilege. It’s nice to have you, Dr. Tiffany.

Thank you. My other book is the Subtle Acts of Exclusion: How to Understand, Identify, and Stop Microaggressions.

I loved your TEDx Talk. I came out and it’s such a great introduction. Everybody gets introduced with all these glowing things and then you start right off the bat saying, “What if I was introduced in this X way?” You brought up all the things that maybe don’t sound so great about you. That ties into my work in perception. I’m interested in knowing more about your background and how you got interested in talking about privilege, bias and all the things that I find fascinating.

I’m doing what most people on the planet are doing and that’s what their parents do. While we don’t look at that in the Western world as much of a construct, but when we look at the rest of the world and in the course of human history, many people did what their parents did. My mother is a pioneer in the diversity, equity and inclusion space. She came up post-civil rights and I followed around behind her in high school when she was administering assessments at universities and standing up offices of multicultural affairs across the country. She was an early practitioner of this craft and I came to it by way of a family business and then branched out on my own.

In your talk, you talked about how you got married young, had children young and ended up being married more than once. You talked about how you looked at things as being failures maybe but you say you’re nothing without your failures. I love how you used the words invisible diversity. Do you think a lot of people don’t recognize that invisible diversity? If you’re being discriminated against, you feel it as the person. Do you think a lot of people that discriminate don’t even realize it?

Yes, absolutely. People do. That’s where the levels of unconscious and implicit bias come in. Most of us identify as good people or at least aspiring to be good people. By virtue of our exposure to culture, religion and upbringing, the people around us that have influenced us, we’ve internalized a plethora of messages about people and stereotypes about groups. We ultimately do act on that without even realizing that we’re doing it. We often base those biases on things that we see and perceive about people. Visible diversity is about the dimensions of identity and the dimensions of diversity that people can’t see. There are aspects of our own diversity that are both visible and invisible. I’m visibly disabled, for instance. I have a couple of disabilities that nobody can see but then there’s the implicit bias that people have when they see my identities that they can experience without asking any questions that they may or may not have biases against. They behave and act in accordance with those biases.

It’s such a hot topic and it shouldn’t be just a topic. It should be something that everybody’s dealing with their culture and organizations. The tension that’s coming to the pronoun used, you prefer the they, them, their to the he or she pronouns. I’m curious about what made you desire to be recognized in that way? What can we learn from this movement to get away from the he and she?

[bctt tweet=”We as human beings are somehow uncomfortable if we don’t know the gender of the person we’re talking about. ” username=””]

Honestly, it was the conversation that started happening socially. I realized that the younger generation put in front of all of us the option of pronouns on a silver platter. I realized, “If I was presented with pronouns on a silver platter and asked to choose, I realized that I wouldn’t choose he or she as my pronouns,” because we don’t get asked to choose them. They are thrust upon us at birth when given the option to choose. I’m like, “I was assigned to female at birth. I’m largely female-presenting but I’m much and always have been in touch with my masculine energies.”

In fact, our patriarchal society has been privileged in my masculine aspects and that’s part of why I’ve been able to be successful in life and business. I’m also connected to the feminine aspects of myself and I’m comfortable with them. I would identify as non-binary or gender fluid. Being connected to both of those aspects strongly and having no desire to sideline or privilege either of them, they/them pronouns were appropriate for me. I grew up Roman Catholic so the idea of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, being one thing is easy for me. I am masculine, feminine and neutral all in one and they/them pronouns honestly connect me to the fact that I’m a body moving around in a spirit. The God presence and the energy of life flow through me and is always part of me is part of the reason that I chose the they/them pronouns.

Many people are confused. They look at it as how you identify sexually sometimes. Don’t you think people put it into that light?

They do.

In the show Billionaire, one actor relates to they, them or their on that show and did a great job of bringing it to light but you don’t see that as much in too many shows. Are you seeing more of it?

I started writing my own show. I’ve prominently featured a gender non-binary person and we’re going to absolutely begin seeing it more. Gender identity has never had anything to do with sexual orientation. The interesting thing about being non-binary is that the identification of sexual orientation is predicated on knowing the gender or gender identity of the individual that you aspire to be a sexual orientation too. If gender doesn’t factor in and I’m gender neutral, gender non-binary or gender fluid, then you can’t pinpoint my sexual orientation. I identify as pansexual. When I was coming up, it was bisexual because it was both. As I went overtime and looked, all of the assigned females at birth people that I dated in my dating history would identify either as non-binary or transgender. They were masculine-presenting females.

Who you are attracted to is your sexual orientation. The gender that you feel like or choose to express is your gender identity and that doesn’t have anything to do with your genitalia or your assigned sex at birth. It is how do you feel and cisgender is another term people struggle with. Cisgender means that it’s the vast majority of the population of earth. Essentially, if you’re assigned one gender at birth, you identify strongly with that, and you’re totally cool with that, then you are cisgender. If you’re born assigned female and you identify as female, you are a cisgender person and it has nothing to do with your sexual orientation.

TTL 679 | Diversity And Inclusion
Diversity And Inclusion: Who you are attracted to is your sexual orientation. The gender that you feel like or choose to express is your gender identity.


I’ve been reading a little of people not saying, “We had a boy. We had a girl,” when they have babies. They’re almost letting them decide how they feel. Do you see more of that?

I am definitely saying that. People are doing less of the gender reveal parties. Why does my child’s genitalia have to do with any of your business? The interesting thing I’m seeing is that adults have a hard time getting accustomed to the taste of new pronouns in their mouth like, “How do you conjugate them?” They/them pronouns still conjugate. As a plural, it sounds like regular English but the challenge is it’s harder. It’s the old dog, new tricks kind of things. Young people have got this down and in fact, what I’m seeing in my communications with younger people is that they are apt to use they/them pronouns regardless of people’s gender identity. If my sex or my genitalia is not germane to the conversation, then there’s no need to do that. We have put a lot of weight on.

We, as human beings, are somehow uncomfortable if we don’t know the gender of the person you’re talking about. When people started referring to their spouses or their lovers as their partners, for a while, we were all assuming that the people who said partner was gay. People were saying, “No, it’s a partner. It’s the human that I love. It’s the human that I’m with.” You don’t need to know their gender. There are a lot of heterosexual people who identify their partner as their partner and that is a way of blowing up this gender binary construct that is limiting and erases a whole lot of people who don’t identify on that binary spectrum.

When you’re talking about older people having a hard time with plural, that was hardest for me was because I’m having this grammared thought process dug into my head my whole life. When you say they, I’m thinking multiple in my mind and then you’re saying they are but you’re referring to one person. It was interesting that they would pick plural. Are there any other options that made it any more sense?

There are a lot of people who identify with new pronouns, the neopronouns, which are even harder to integrate because people aren’t used to them. There are zi and zhe. There are a whole lot of different ones that people choose and that’s their freedom to do so. That makes it a little more difficult for people that aren’t exposed to that. They didn’t know how to relate to that but we’ve always had a singular they. There’s always been a construct if I’m talking about somebody and I’m like, “I have no idea what they were thinking.” We’ve used they in the singular but it wasn’t emphasized as the primary pronoun and that there’s a spotlight on it, we got uncomfortable.

I’ve seen a lot more HR people put they, them, their after their name on LinkedIn. Does it get to the point where everybody’s going to be they, them, their or is this to indicate that you definitely aren’t a she or aren’t a he?

The they/them pronouns indicate some identification with non-binary or gender fluidity and some gender non-conforming status. My company’s diversity company and when I changed my pronouns, I had conversations with my children and with my staff. I said, “I’m interested. I’m doing this and I’m seeing a trend worldwide. Certainly, out west where people are adding their pronouns to their business cards and their signatures.” I asked my team, “Are you okay with that? What do you think about doing that?” They’re like, “We want to add our pronouns as well.” I was like, “Really?” They said, “Yes.” One of my employees is half Polish and half Sudanese. Her name is an African name and people don’t know her gender. She has a deep voice and people call her “he” quite frequently.

[bctt tweet=”Our identities shouldn’t be an obstacle to our success. ” username=””]

One of my associates’ names is Skylar and Skylar is a man. Skylar gets called she after emails and the people who are emailing assume that Skylar is a she. They’re like, “We would love to do that.” I never thought about how that could create greater inclusion. When a cisgender person identifies their pronouns as well, what you’re communicating to the transgender and gender non-conforming people is that it’s a safe place for them to be who they are. Whether it’s your name tag or putting on that sticker that says, “Hello, my name is,” we’re not going to assume genders and your presence because you’re going to state yours, which leaves room for other people to state theirs.

My daughter’s name is Toni so she gets to be called he a lot. People say, “Yes, sir,” to me a lot on the phone because my voice is low. It’s an interesting time to see how everybody’s adjusting to the changes because people can be more comfortable in their skin than when I was growing up and I love seeing that. There was so much bias and stereotyping. The Millennials are definitely changing things in a good way. A discussion of perception comes up a lot in my work since I write about curiosity and perception. I see perception more than just overcoming bias in some ways, it’s understanding your IQ, EQ, cultural quotient, and curiosity quotient. It all combines so that you’re able to see outside of yourself not just how you perceive yourself, but how others could perceive you, which is the emotional intelligence aspect. We’re able to have that empathy, another part of emotional intelligence, and understanding other people. It all ties into this cultural discussion we’re having but many people still struggle with this. Is that what people hire you to talk about?

That is among other things, so yes. What people are attempting to do is create a sense of inclusion and a sense of belonging for all kinds of identities. What people are recognizing for the first time in my career is that this conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion is no longer optional. Individuals within the context of organizations, people, not necessarily in leadership are aware of the fact that they do have a distinct right to be the human beings that they are. Regardless of how they show up or choose to identify, they should be treated with respect and their identities shouldn’t be an obstacle to their success.

What organizational leadership is starting to recognize is these are cultural competencies. There’s a certain amount of cultural fluency that’s required to navigate these spaces. My theory is the workplace is the biggest learning laboratory we have outside of structured education and we haven’t been leveraging that well. We hire and promote people based on their technical competencies and not based on their ability to create a sense of belonging and their interpersonal skills, also known as soft skills. We have to start privileging those aspects of human interaction that create a healthier and more welcoming workplace for everyone.

We hear that a lot. They’re hired for their abilities and they’re fired for their behaviors. It’s huge and that’s why my work as a behavioral expert has been focused on some of these questioning things that we could do to find out more about each other and be more curious. The problem I found when I was writing my book was that there was no way to determine what kept people from being curious from the assessments they had. That’s why I created one because once you find out what keeps people from being curious, you can help them move forward. A lot of it is that fear of asking questions and that voice in our head that tells us, “We shouldn’t do this. You can’t explore that because look what happened in the past. All these people around me have always treated me this way so I probably shouldn’t explore that.” Are you working with developing that ability on how we can ask things and having a safe environment? How are leaders handling that part of it?

That’s precisely why I’ve written the four books. They are written from the perspective, “All work dealing with diversity, equity and inclusion necessarily should start with the individual.” My books are all written from the perspective of, “How do I look at myself, my behavior, understand how people are experiencing me, and identify my unconscious biases? How do I address my contribution to the culture?” Each of the books scales that out either to the organizational, institutional or systemic, and global economy that goes out infinitely. That’s what I’ve created and allowed that methodology to be accessible to people.

The other thing that we’ve done is I’ve launched a tech company in 2017 and the flagship product is called Loom The Culture Map. We’re measuring, mapping and improving organizational culture. We’re moving into the beginning as machine learning but essentially, we’re able to assess, pinpoint, diagnose and address these interpersonal competencies. We’re able to see when emotional intelligence is lagging behind and which departments, divisions, and leaders are creating a sense of belonging. We’re able to leverage these strengths and proliferate throughout the organization. I like to lead with an aspirational approach. We find what’s going well and we spread that. When we find areas where there are equity gaps and inclusion gaps, we’re able to pinpoint that with granular specificity and then target the resources in the direction of closing those gaps. TMI Consulting has become a leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion ROI and accountability metrics for long-term sustainable cultural change.

TTL 679 | Diversity And Inclusion
Diversity And Inclusion: When people get called out for micro-aggressions or subtle acts of exclusion, their first defense is, “I didn’t mean anything by it.”


It’s awesome that you’re able to track all that. Having written my dissertation on emotional intelligence, I’m still surprised by how far we still need to go many years ago writing that. There’s so much room for improvement and we don’t even know what that is still. To recognize how some of those interpersonal skills, empathy and some of the things that fall into that area need to be developed. As I was thinking about your TEDx Talk that you gave, The Power of Privilege, you were talking about how some people are perceived as better based on height or gender and all these things. It made me think of my childhood and the things your parents tell you to make you feel good about yourself sometimes, like, “You’re so tall. It’s nice to be tall,” or whatever it is they tell you. You don’t want to be tall if you weren’t tall. How much of what’s in our head was put in there to make us feel good about ourselves, but then makes us feel bad about other people?

That’s where biases come from. We’re programmed and we’re taking in more information on a daily basis than arguably, the human brain and the guard capacity was even built to do. Depending on the status and influence of the people, it could be your pastor, favorite teacher, and parents. We’re getting these messages about ourselves and about others. It is absolutely shaping the way that we interact with ourselves. I have three children, two adults, and one tween. The way that I raised them is I give them space to show me who they are. I hold on to those things that they show me lightly and I support them and let them know that I love them. I expect them to live their truth.

My mother is a behavioral psychologist and she noticed my masculine outlook. She made me aware of it and she said, “You have a masculine way of looking at things.” That was said with no judgment. She said, “It’s a useful thing for you to know.” She didn’t say it was bad. She saw and identified with all of my various ways of being and she didn’t privilege any of them. She didn’t encourage me more when I was dressing femme or showing up in traditionally gendered roles. She just noticed what she noticed out loud and in a good way and said, “This is you and that’s awesome.” I was never in the closet because I know what made me feel for being who I was is a problem in any way.

Unfortunately, I’m hardwired to not care what people think about me. It’s more important for me to be authentic and it always has been, but I was raised in an environment where love was a given. I knew that I was loved, accepted and encouraged to be honest and authentic about who I was. Not everyone is raised that way. Even in that environment, I still had to go through and check out my hard drive and see what was on there and what messages that I got from growing up in a Catholic religious school from K through thirteen. There are lots of messaging, guilt, and other things. We all have a responsibility as human beings to understand what are the perceptions that we have and what are the agreements that we have with ourselves and about people. We need to decide whether or not those messages and those perceptions are still valid and useful.

In the Subtle Acts of Exclusion, you talked about going to the airport and they search your hair and different things that you have to go through. My son in law’s name is Habib. He gets searched every time he goes through the airport just from his name. What kinds of things are you saying are the subtle acts of exclusion? Is it that type of thing? Can you give me some examples?

In Subtle Acts of Exclusion, we’re trying to rebrand the term microaggressions. Subtle acts of exclusion are shortened to SAE. Microaggression is like calling someone racist. When you name microaggression, people immediately get on the defensive because people don’t think that they’re being aggressive, like people don’t think necessarily that they’re behaving in a manner that’s racist. What we want to do is take some of the blame and shame out of the conversation. One of the things that we promote in the book is an SAE accountability system. We want to help organizations create an environment where the expectation is not that you’re going to sit and just take it or watch someone offend someone else in a subtle manner. We have the tools and the skills to be able to speak up. Have some SAE accountability and be able to say in a good way that’s not shaming or belittling, “We need to stop here because this particular thing that was said maybe perceived as hurtful. Let’s find a better way to do that and ways to move forward.”

Subtle acts of exclusion are everything from talking over people in meetings that happens often to two women where you’re asking the woman to get the coffee or be the secretary. I’ve had lots of people over the course of my life and career that have said, “Tiffany, I don’t think of you as a black person.” I don’t conform to the stereotype. What does that even mean? When people get called out for microaggressions or subtle acts of exclusion, the first defense is, “I didn’t mean anything by it. My intention was good. That’s not what I was trying to say.” It’s great that you’re starting from a place of good intention but that’s not the thing that needs to be privileged. What needs to be privileged is the fact that harm has been caused and we need to find a way to repair that harm and move forward in a good way. Ouch then educate essentially.

[bctt tweet=”The workplace is the biggest learning laboratory we have outside of structured education. ” username=””]

Let people know, “What’s problematic?” The whole idea of calling black people articulate. We don’t do that because if you call a black person articulate, you’re what you’re saying. It’s a word and a construct. It’s been used so much and it says, “We expect for black people to speak in a way that doesn’t conform to the delusion of white supremacy model of how people should speak.” The rest of the world has different ways of speaking that are common through aspects of culture that are considered dialects. They’re considered a cultural vernacular. In our culture, this particular one and then the other cultures, particular ones are associated with a class and race, and they’re considered less than. It’s not. This is a linguistic structure that is inherent to a group of people and there is nothing wrong with the way that people speak.

People say things without understanding the ramifications of what they’re saying at times. I had a friend who was promoted to the level of leadership and someone called her and said, “Congratulations. I’m surprised because you’re bad with people that they put you there.” She goes, “I’m going to try not to take offense to that.” She goes, “I didn’t mean to be offensive. I just meant that you don’t get along with people well.” It is something as equally as bad. She never saw that what she said was bad. People don’t recognize some of that stuff unless you call them out on it and then you get all these conflict situations. It’s challenging. I love that you’re talking about all this stuff because the things that I study and research ties into everything we need to be talking about in the workplace. I’m sure a lot of people reading this will want to know more about you, how they can get your books, have you speak and that type of thing. Is there some website you’d like to share?

If you go to the TMIConsultingInc.com website, all of my publications are listed there. I’m also a good Googleable person, Tiffany Jana and I’m the only one on the earth. That’s a long story on how I got that name. On social media, I’m @TiffanyJana everywhere except Twitter. I’m @TwiffanyJana.

It was nice to have you on the show. Tiffany, thank you so much for being here.

No problem. Thank you for having me.

You’re welcome.

The True Meaning Of Leadership With Mike Figliuolo

TTL 679 | Diversity And Inclusion
Diversity And Inclusion: Everybody makes the mistakes of starting to write the deck first; it’s the last thing you need to do.


I am with Mike Figliuolo who is the Founder and Managing Director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC, a professional service training firm. He’s the author of several books, One Piece of Paper, Lead Inside the Box and The Elegant Pitch. It’s nice to have you here, Mike.

It’s great to be here. Thank you so much.

I was looking forward to this. You have an interesting background and you do a lot of things that fascinate me in terms of your training programs. I was on Lynda.com going, “He taught that.” I’m going through the list. You’re quite an expert in leadership and different aspects of leadership. I know you have a military background. Thank you for your service. I would like to hear more about you. Can you give a little background for everybody who may not be familiar with your work?

I went to West Point. I graduated and spent some time in the US Army as an army officer. The only fighting I did was in a bar and it was justified at the time. After the army, I was at McKinsey & Company. I serve clients in healthcare, banking, retail, internet startups, and everything from corporate strategy to ugly cost-cutting and everything in between. After McKinsey, I had a couple of corporate roles. I was at Capital One Financial running a large operational group then I went to ScottsMiracle-Gro where I was VP of corporate strategy doing a lot of M&A work and long-term strategic planning. I started thoughtLEADERS back in ‘04 and went full-time with it in 2008. We’re leadership development training and most of what we do is instructor-led in classroom training, and work with most large corporations like Google, Abbott, AbbVie, Ford, Oracle, Federal Reserve, etc. That’s me and my professional career.

You’re a busy guy and you have a great background of what types of topics you teach. I was writing down some of the courses you teach like strategic planning, decision-making, accountability, navigating politics, solving problems, high-performance teams, and mergers and acquisitions. Also, leadership, philosophy, consulting goals, and measuring performance. I’m looking at this going, “That’s a wealth of knowledge.” Do you personally teach those on Lynda?

Yes. Lynda has become LinkedIn Learning. LinkedIn purchased them a few years ago and they’ve migrated the library there. I’ve got 30 courses on LinkedIn Learning, including all the ones you mentioned. I teach those. We do have classroom versions of some of those programs and others are more takers of the topic area I found interesting and have some approaches that people might find helpful.

I’m curious, what’s the most problematic thing for people? What do they navigate towards in terms of these lessons? What’s your most popular?

[bctt tweet=”Dealing with diversity, equity, and inclusion should start with the individuals. ” username=””]

From a classroom training standpoint, the most popular is our structured thought and communications course. That course is the basis for my book, The Elegant Pitch. The course is about how to go from an idea to a fact-based data-driven ten-page or less presentation that people care about. What the course solves for are those massive decks that don’t say anything, the meetings that are thrown on and on, and the speakers who are out there who don’t have a clear story or clear message. What the course teaches is a straightforward methodology for crafting those messages and delivering those recommendations.

I had Guy Kawasaki on the show and he’s known for not being thrilled by the overlay long decks and small fonts and things. He was saying something about how people who come up to him say they’re big fans, but then they show them their pitch and it’s got tiny fonts and it’s 100 pages. What’s the biggest mistake people make when they’re creating an elegant pitch?

They start with Excel or spreadsheet, or they start with PowerPoint or slides. That’s the problem. They start cobbling things together and they say, “I’ve got all these slides so let me just boil it down to the essential ones.” That’s the root of all evil. You’ve got to start with what’s the question that the stakeholder is asking and why does the stakeholder care. Understand what your recommendation is and how you can push that stakeholder’s button. What’s the one metric they care about to the exclusion of all others? How does your idea drive that metric? From there, build a logical argument and craft a story. Once you do that, it’s clear what analysis you need to do and what pages should go into the presentation. The mistake everybody makes is, “I’m going to start writing the deck.” That’s the last thing you need to do.

From having worked as a doctoral chair, a lot of people think they know how things should end up so they try to guide things in a certain direction instead of asking questions. That’s probably why my research is strong in the area of curiosity because people need to ask more questions. Who do they ask those questions? How do they do their research? What do you tell them to do in that respect?

I’m a simple guy. If I’m pitching to you and I’m trying to get something approved by you, I’m going to knock on your door, pick up the phone and say, “What’s most important to you? Is it revenue, profit or market share? What’s the objective that you’re trying to drive?” If I can’t get to you, I’m going to one of your direct reports and say, “What does she care about? Is it revenue, profit or market share?” If all your direct reports are busy, I’ll ask the person who presented to you, “What did she ask you for? Did she ask for revenue, profit or market share?” I’m doing that digging to understand who that stakeholder is and what motivates them. Get a copy of their goals and their function’s strategic plan for the year. Understand what the objectives are that they’re trying to hit. Once you know that, you can then walk in and say, “Here’s how my ideas are going to advance your agenda.” It’s easy to get it approved.

If you’re going to multiple VCs, they might have different ideas and different hot points. Do you have different decks or is it always the same ten pages or less?

It’s got to be different decks and granted, several of the pages will be the same, like, “Here’s my pitch. Here’s my recommendation and what we should do.” The way it gets crafted and the way it gets sequenced needs to be different for everybody that you’re pitching to. If you think about how companies go to the market and they sell to consumers, they don’t go out and say, “You should get our latest product because it tastes great.” They don’t go to every single segment with the same message. They go one segment and say, “It tastes great,” and other, “It’s healthy,” and other, “It’s inexpensive. It’s convenient.” It’s still the same recommendation, which is, “Buy our product,” but they’re pushing different objective statements. When you think about making a pitch, you have the same product, whatever it is you’re pitching, but you have to push different objective functions if you want to get a response. It’s marketing an idea.

TTL 679 | Diversity And Inclusion
Diversity And Inclusion: If you’re pitching a sponsorship, there should be some benefit to the people who are sponsoring; otherwise, it’s not going to happen.


Do you give examples of different decks in these courses or on your websites or on different things? Is it hard to do because they have to be unique?

What we do in the courses is we teach people the method for crafting those decks. We walk them through a bunch of exercises and they get to apply each step of the process. We also enable participants to bring in problems that they’re personally working on like real business problems. We work with them in class on crafting those decks and crafting those stories. I’m big on the applicability of training. I’m not big on, “Here’s some theory,” but I don’t know how it works. It’s, “Here’s something that you can start using in your decks.”

I was teaching this course for a major tech company. About an hour and a half into class, this guy busts out his laptop and he starts typing. I’m like, “I’m teaching here, but that’s okay.” He grabs me on the break and he says, “I’m sorry that I pulled on my laptop but I have a meeting at lunchtime and what you’re teaching us, I realized we weren’t doing it in the presentation so I needed those making changes to the presentation for my meeting at lunch.” If you want to talk about applicable training, I don’t know how you get more applicable than that.

It’s hard for people to create a pitch. I’ve had to deliver different types of pitches, not maybe necessarily starting a new company as much as maybe I want to get people involved in an activity that I’m discussing or putting together an event. When you’re talking about pitches, are you talking about all different types of things?

No. I know when people hear a pitch, they think, “It’s my investment pitch to a VC,” but you’re pitching ideas like, “I’m pitching for a new phone system. I want to hire five people and I want to change the process.” These are all ideas that you’re pitching to the stakeholder. It is broader than just, “Let’s pitch an idea to a VC.”

A pitch that I’ve been dealing with was an event that you wanted to have somebody sponsor but they wouldn’t be able to put their name in sponsorship on things, which is unique when you’re trying to get sponsors for an event. How do you go about the impossible pitch? Do you have those kinds of stories in your training?

There’s got to be something in it for them. Whether you’re pitching that sponsorship, you’re going to have attendees that can show up at the event and network with people. Also, it will give you a mailing list afterward or it’s just goodwill and it’s good for the community. You’re going to be teaching people and it’s outsourced. There’s some reason, hopefully, that there’s some benefit to the people who are sponsoring. If there’s no benefit, then good luck. It’s not going to happen. If there’s a benefit, and let’s say that benefit is you’re going to be able to have your people there, they can be in the program, and they can learn and network. Ultimately, let’s say they’re trying to drive revenue and they’re trying to generate customers out of this event. It’s like, “You should sponsor this event and send your people to it because it’s going to enable you to build new relationships with people who could become customers of yours.” The way that you’re going to build those relationships is having your people there and they’re going to learn the content. “Here are the types of participants that are going to be there. You’re going to want to get from me.” You’ve linked whatever it is they’re trying to drive, which is revenue and even though it’s not the way they would normally participate, you’re showing them, “Here’s how your participation and sponsorship is going to drive your objectives.”

[bctt tweet=”Whatever it is you’re pitching, you have to push different objective functions if you want to get a response. ” username=””]

You’re bringing in the great difference of features versus benefits. All the years I was in sales, that was such a hot discussion. A lot of people focus on features more than benefits and we got to tie it down to what’s in it for me for the customer. A lot of things that you deal with in sales are also overcoming objections. A lot of times, the cost is an objection or whatever it is. Do you deal with that a lot?

A lot of the courses like stakeholder management and building stakeholder buy-in, you’ve got to understand, is your idea running across purposes to them and how to deal with that objection. One example I would share is I was trying to make an investment of some marketing dollars at one point. I had a colleague who’s on the hook for a $20 million cost reduction across the company. He would not be too happy if he found out I wanted to spend $1 million. The payback online was going to be $5 million or $10 million. He’s still not going to be in favor of it because he had a $20 million target.

I approached them and I said, “I know you’re trying to cut costs and I’m trying to spend money. We’re across purposes here. Would you be okay if we go to your manager and get you $1 million relief on your $20 million goal?” He said, “What?” I said, “If I’m trying to spend $1 million, you shouldn’t be accountable for trying to save it. I’m hampering for your goal. I’m happy to go to your manager and see if he’ll be able to get you a $1 million relief on your goal so that I can spend it.” If you’ve ever been cost-cutting, it wasn’t just $1 million that he was giving him in terms of relief because the first $10 million is easy to get like, “Stop doing this stupid stuff.” The next $5 million is like, “This is hard but we can figure out how to get there. It will take some work.” The last $5 million is like, “This is going to be painful and we have no idea where it’s going to come from.”

I was alleviating $1 million of that last $5 million worth of pressure. Needless to say, he was like, “Let’s talk to my manager. Let’s get this done getting that relief.” If you understand what their goals are, you can usually find that middle ground for overcoming that objection. It’s like, “You’re not going to get relief. If you want to save $20 million and I want to spend $1 million, we’ve got to kick it up to the next stakeholder and say, ‘What’s more important to you, the cost savings or the incremental profit?’” Let them make the call.

It’s interesting that you brought this up because I was watching New Amsterdam. It’s a television show that constantly has such great examples of ways that these people have thought outside the status quo way of doing things since I’m a curiosity expert. When I watched the show, it was almost the exact same example as what you said of how they were trying to cut costs. Instead, they ended up spending to save in the end. Anybody who’s trying to think in a curiosity based inside the box way, there is a lot to be learned from this television show. I’m stunned by it because I don’t see it often. It’s interesting to look at what some of the strongest objections are. Are they always financial?

No. Usually, there are two biggest objections you’re going to get. People always identify the first level stakeholders like, “I still have to do this and finance that.” It’s easy to identify the first order stakeholders but those aren’t the ones you have trouble with. It’s the second-order people that you haven’t thought of that have agendas that you’re not aware of. I always tell people, “Ask yourself, if your idea gets approved and implemented, who is going to either have to do more work or change the way they do things?” Those are the things people who are going to object because if you’re putting more work on their plate and not giving them resources or you’re asking them to change what they’re comfortable with doing, they’re going to scream and that’s how you find them.

What do you do about that?

TTL 679 | Diversity And Inclusion
Diversity And Inclusion: If you understand what the stakeholders’ goals are, you can usually find that middle ground for overcoming that objection.


It’s that conversation to say, “Here’s my recommendation. Here’s how it’s going to change your life. I know change is uncomfortable but the benefits of making this change are you’re not going to have to do this manual process anymore and it’s going to end up saving you time. The transition is going to be painful. It will take two months and then we’ll be through it. By the way, what can I do to help support you during that transition?” It’s back to your point of features versus benefits. You’ve got to make that offer if you want your idea to move forward. Even if they say, “There’s nothing you can do,” at least it was in a good state that you’re trying to help advance in their goals as well as your own.

I see a lot of people who are impacted and working situations like that, where they’re given more responsibility without any reward and that can be frustrating. I can see that that would be a problem. I like that you go and you ask questions and you think in a curious way. I mentioned leading inside the box and I want to go back to that because you have a book called Lead Inside the Box. I want to know what you mean by that because we are always thinking outside the box and you hear that thing. What’s your focus on that book?

I’ll be candid. I’m a little bit cheeky and that title is a bit of a thumb in the eye to the phrase, think outside the box because it’s so worn out and we wanted to poke a little bit of fun. One, that book is about how you interact with the members of your team. As a leader, we call it leadership capital. What are you investing in your team? It’s time, energy, effort and guidance. You’re making an investment in every member of your team, then you’ve got to look at what’s the return you get for that investment. That return comes in the form of their performance, the quality of their work, the quantity of work, the timeliness of it, and how well they work with others. That creates what we call the leadership matrix, which is the box.

We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve been a high performer. We usually sit there and say, “It’s because I’m an awesome performer.” We’ve been low performers at times in our careers and say, “It’s because my boss is bad.” It’s like, “I’m sure your boss had something to do with both of those situations.” Conversely, as managers, we look and say, “I have this person on my team and they’re awesome. That’s because I’m an awesome leader.” When you tell the person they’re terrible, it’s because they’re a terrible person. It’s like, “No, it has something to do with the way you’re interacting with your people.” What we’ve done is we’ve looked at the investment of leadership capital and the return you get.

We’re ex-consultants and when I say we, I co-authored it with a colleague of mine, Victor Prince. Victor was a pain guy and he’s one of the instructors on the team. It’s a 2×2 because we’re former consultants. In each of the quadrants of the 2×2, you end up with a different performance pattern. You don’t have to invest a lot in but you get great results. Those are your rising stars and your domain masters. Conversely, the people you have to invest a ton of time and energy in but get no results, those are either your slackers or your square pegs. They’re not the right fit for the role. The book is not about putting people in boxes. It’s about recognizing the performance pattern and dynamic between you as the leader and as the team member. Ask them an important question and say, “What do you have to do differently as a leader with how you’re interacting with this person to get them to a different box and get them to change their performance?”

A lot of what you’re talking about interactions goes back to communications and soft skills. Travis Bradberry posts information on CEOs having some of the lowest levels of emotional intelligence and some of this stuff. I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence and I’m fascinated with anything that deals with personality and communications. How much do you get into soft skills, emotional intelligence, and that type of thing in your training?

A ton. A lot of our courses are about how you are showing up as a leader, how are you interacting with the members of your team, how are you telling your personal story as a leader so people understand you, trust you and see you as somebody who’s predictable. They understand your values and what’s important to you. Those are some of my favorite topics because a lot of people look at them and say, “They’re not technical skills and they can’t add value.” Every once in a while, I get that cheeky personal say, “What’s the value? What’s the ROI of leadership training?” I’m like, “Did you seriously just ask me that question?” A lot of times, I’ll ask them back, “What’s the value of leadership? What’s the market capitalization of your company?” They look at me like I have two heads. I’m like, “If you didn’t have good leadership, would your company be worth what it is? They’re like, “No.” I said, “The value of good leadership and leadership training is whatever your market cap is.” They sit there scratching their heads because they know I’m right but they’re not satisfied with the answer. It’s one of those things that’s critical and that’s the differentiator.

[bctt tweet=”The value of good leadership and leadership training is whatever your market cap is. ” username=””]

In my conversations on the show, I’ve had Francesca Gino from Harvard and a lot of people. We’ve talked about curiosity, leadership and some of this stuff that falls into this soft skills area. I thought it was interesting that most leaders believe they instill curiosity, they expect it and want it from their employees, but only about half of employees believe they do. Do you deal at all with curiosity and how they can help improve that?

Some of the stuff we teach is around leading the thinking and some breakthrough innovation and strategy work. It’s questioning, “Why do we do things the way we do? What can we be doing differently? What are the things that are going on in the market that we can learn from?” I’m personally a huge proponent of curiosity. If you went through my browser history, you would be like, “Why?” Not for bad reasons, but there’s the most random stuff in there. I do get sucked down the black hole of the internet but it’s like, “This is interesting. I’ve never understood oil features and the way they work. Let me think about how that’s going to impact one of my clients.” The next time, I’m reading about knitting and it’s like, “Seriously, knitting?” There are stress relief benefits to that. I love new topic areas and we encourage our clients and our course participants to look at things differently on what you learn every day. Every single day, you should learn something.

We know Steve Jobs’ calligraphy class changed the world that he happened to drop it on. You don’t know what’s going to happen. What I found was there are four things that keep people from being curious. They’re fear, assumptions, which is the voice in their head and what they tell themselves, technology and environment. In the working world, a lot of these leaders are inadvertently causing fear in their teams because they don’t know what their employee’s past leaders might have done and they’re not addressing some of these issues. Talk about some of these things on how to get people to feel more confident to ask questions and provide input.

I probably deal with a lot of that more in my executive coaching work. In the executive coaching stuff, it’s helping that leader have some awareness about the environment that they’ve created for their team. I’ll do the 360 and I’ll talk to their team members. I’m not a fan of sending out the email 360 surveys that they click some links and then they get a score because people, first of all, have to say about the scores. They’re like, “I got a 6.72. Why isn’t it 6.8? It’s low.” They are obsessed with it. I’d rather talk to each of their direct reports and their peers for 30 or 45 minutes because that’s where I can pick up on themes and trends. That’s been the route of the coaching to say, “I know you think people believe they can be innovative on your team but let’s talk a little bit about the environment you’ve got.”

Every single one of your status meetings is about the results. Every single one of your ideation sessions is about how to drive the latest initiative and pointing out. You’ve created an environment where new ideas aren’t valued or there’s no time for new ideas. Help them understand how they may be stifling that. That’s where some of those issues come up for me. I enjoy those conversations with people because once you create awareness, they can catch themselves in the moment and say, “I’m doing it again. Sorry. Let me back up,” and then they can create that space. Awareness is 70% of the self.

That’s what I’m trying to do working with perception with people. If you can understand how you view yourself, how others view you, how you view others and all the self-perception and awareness of others, it comes back to a lot of emotional intelligence issues. It also comes in with curiosity, cultural quotients, and IQ. It all ties together for me. I was fascinated by your work and all this. You’re all over LinkedIn Learning and everywhere else on the internet. I thought you’d be fun to chat with about all this. I enjoyed our conversation. A lot of people are going to want to know how they can reach you and find out more.

The best way to reach me is through our website and it’s thoughtLEADERSLLC.com. On there, you can get access to the blog that’s got 1,200 or 1,400 articles. I’ve written a bunch and my other instructors have written a bunch. There are links to all the books, descriptions of our courses, and links to a bunch of my LinkedIn Learning videos. The best place to find me is on the company’s website.

Thank you, Mike. This has been interesting. A lot of what you do ties into what I do. I appreciate you being on the show.

Thanks for taking the time to have me on.

-I’d like to thank both Tiffany and Mike for being my guests. We get many great guests. If you’re looking for more information about Cracking the Curiosity Code book and the Curiosity Code Index, it’s all on that site as well or you can go straight to CuriosityCode.com. I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.

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About Dr. Tiffany Jana

TTL 679 | Diversity And InclusionDr. Tiffany Jana (They/Them/Their) is the founder of TMI Consulting Inc., a diversity and inclusion management consulting firm founded in 2003 and headquartered in Richmond, Virginia. They have helped orchestrate the venture’s tremendous growth over the years, establishing a national network of consultants and spearheading the company’s transition into the world’s first Certified Benefit Corporation with a diversity and inclusion focus. With Jana at its helm, TMI Consulting has become a global leader in social enterprise and values-based engagement that nurtures and supports talent while making a positive impact in the world.

About Mike Figliuolo

TTL 679 | Diversity And InclusionMike Figliuolo is founder and managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC, a professional services training firm. Mike is the author of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. The book is designed to help leaders define who they are and what their personal leadership philosophy is. He’s also the co-author of Lead Inside the Box: How Smart Leaders Guide Their Teams to Exceptional Results. His latest book, The Elegant Pitch: Create a Compelling Recommendation, Build Broad Support, and Get it Approved covers a method for crafting stories that get your audience to say “yes” to your idea. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1993 where he was an honor graduate (top 5% of his class) and a distinguished cadet. He was an officer in the U.S. Army. He spent five years as an Armor officer in roles including Platoon Leader, Executive Officer, Personnel Officer and ROTC Instructor at Duke University.

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