Anne Hilb is the Founder, Lead Consultant of Graymake Consulting, LLC. She walks alongside organizational leaders as they work to build stronger teams, healthier cultures, and thriving organizations. She supports these shifts by asking thoughtful questions, offering insightful observations and utilizing data to create space for courageous conversations that ultimately allow for change to occur.
It is really important for her to remain grounded in the work she believes in to check in with herself and also so that she knows she is telling others to do something she would not do herself, or so that she can relate to the joys and struggles in a real way. This includes meditation, regularly assessing her own self-care informal inventories, engaging in circle practice in various settings, finding time in nature, journaling, and more. She volunteers with various organizations and has served on a few boards, as giving back has always been a large part of her life. Continuing education through classes and trainings as well as exploring her relationship with God and her spiritual life is important to her as well.
James Hyland: What do you feel are the biggest opportunities for collaboration across the generations in the workplace?
Anne Hilb: Just that. Collaboration. If you think about the Kilman conflict styles, collaboration is typically ideal for teams. We don’t need to compete or accommodate, avoid or compromise to work well with one another. This said, we must learn to also compete and accommodate and avoid and compromise, when appropriate. This may seem contradictory. How do we share with one another what the merits of each are and when? How does this become a collaborative exercise? In doing so, we practice knowledge sharing. Cooperativeness and assertiveness are in balance to reach collaboration. Part of our struggle with every challenge these days is not knowing how to enter into a conversation humbly with the goal of learning, rather than remaining set in what we know and believe. We debate rather than engage in open dialogue. So, what does each generation have to offer the other? My thinking is that it is not as cookie-cutter as we might like to believe. Surely there are general trends from coming of age in different eras. Still, we all want to live in accordance with our values, which may or may not be in alignment with those espoused most important as we were coming of age. Some of us rebel and some of us conform. At the end of the day, it is mostly about what we choose and not the year on our birth certificate. I welcome opportunities to provide mentoring up. When I say this, I mean that older generations may be the mentors in a traditional sense but the model I am partial to is one where the mentee takes the reins and the more “seasoned” professional learns all they can from their mentee while modeling good mentorship. In my mind, modeling this tradition of leadership- this humility- is the mark of true collaboration + community.
JH: What are some of the most influential factors from your upbringing that impacted your career path?
AH: I am the youngest daughter of three wildly different people who hold various identities. These include religious, economic, political, and personal traits. Being regularly shuffled between two infinitely contrasting ways of living, as many children of divorce may relate, I learned to hold tension early. I also learned that conflict wasn’t bad, but simply offered different ways of seeing the world; neither necessarily better. We moved around quite a bit and my overweight little self was consistently the “new girl.” Consistent newness taught me how to adapt, despite my preference for sameness and certainty. As harsh as young women can be to one another, it was through these experiences I learned to bring others in and to create community through vulnerability. The experiences of moving and of being a foster sibling 7 times over taught me at a very young age what hate and poverty, drug use and exclusion look like in even deeper ways than I could articulate then but felt even still. My family received threats in some towns and in others were simply looked upon with pity.
This was the beginning of the rise of divorce. How dare a single white woman care for her own children so publicly, nonetheless children of another race? Not understanding how to read until much later than peers and then soaring past them, I internalized so many messages about what intellect is and what it means to be normative. Messages carry weight. Messages we receive at home, in community, and from society; especially if we allow ourselves to record them and press play without closer examination. I had learned to think I was stupid because I learned differently and I wanted others to bring me in the way I had always tried to for others. I didn’t articulate this because I didn’t know how and still often feel challenged by the dynamics of belonging. When I learned the art of listening, reflecting, and holding space for others; first in college and later as a private mediator and also in Americorps Mediation Corps Program, I knew it would somehow support my vocation. And it has! It is in having learned to hold space for difference, deeply admiring those who model inclusion and true belonging, engaging with inequitable systems and still knowing so much joy that I have come to the work I hold so dear today!
JH: What does personal growth mean to you and how can a workplace support that experience?
AH: Personal growth to me is learning over perfection. Failure is a part of life. If you aren’t failing, you are not risking enough. For example, Sara Blakely is the Founder of Spanx and one of the richest self-made women in the world. Blakely’s father encouraged her to always find the hidden gems that disguise themselves as a failure. Failure became the act of not trying rather than any poor outcome. A learning organization supports personal growth by celebrating failure. They can do this by providing coaching—formally or informally. When an outcome is not what was desired, mentors and teammates can provide feedback but first, ask questions and process through this with the individual. Employees can learn techniques to enhance a growth mindset. Journaling, goal-setting, professional development, amongst others are supportive tools to enhance personal growth. These can and should be performed in ways that promote personal reflection but also allow for collective accountability in ways that work best for the individual as well as the culture of the organization. It is also smart for organizations to host forums where people within the organization can speak freely about their own journey of personal growth. This could be a lunch and learn or when recognizing an employee of the month. This continues the journey for the individuals sharing, inspires those who are on their path and continues to foster a culture of trust, learning, and comradery.
JH: What does an “inspirational leader” look like to you?
AH: An inspirational leader is willing to take out the trash. When I was in grad school, I will never forget learning this concept: Never ask your people to do anything you yourself would not be willing to. Make time, at least on occasion, to take out the trash. People don’t have to see you do this, but you should never get too far removed from the everyday tasks of the people who make the rest of the work possible.
I also have a mentor who had an electric train set in his office when he was the CEO of Apple Europe. When I asked why, he said he thought it was important as a leader to model that there should always be time for play.
Lastly, let the work be done without you. Leaders create more leaders instead of making themselves so indispensable that they leave only chaos in their absence. This seems counter-intuitive. I want a leader around who can make me a leader and who can inspire leadership. Also, I want them to inspire me – and others – to have a rich life outside of work. Inspirational leadership then means:
JH: What are three actions companies can take to compel millennials to stay longer?
1) Learn what they care about and help them get it. This means discovering their values. Do they yearn for more money, more time off, a greater challenge, to become a parent, or to volunteer? Likely, this will include some combinations that will change over time.
2) Support them in setting and reaching their goals. Provide employees with coaching, professional development, and regular feedback. Invest in your employees!
3) Engage in Fair Process. (Think: The 3 E’s). Provide Engagement, Expectation clarity and Explanation when making decisions. Whether or not they themselves win or lose by the ultimate decisions, they will be more likely to trust and cooperate freely in these systems if fair processes were utilized. Each of these actions will require remaining curious, building trust and developing meaningful personal relationships.
JH: What is one change you would like to see in today’s workplace?
AH: I would like to see today’s workplaces take responsibility for modeling and teaching civil discourse. The workplace is the last structure in which we gather across differences of all kinds in formalized ways. Though organizations are socially constructed, they are made up of people and will continue to be, despite the evolution of mechanization. Emotional Intelligence is being taught in school curricula now in the form of Social Emotional Learning. We need this now as much as ever in our workplaces; not only to reinforce what our children are learning but also to co-exist in a way that allows us all to co-create, innovate and prosper together. If we cannot communicate respectfully, what will happen to us? How will we usher in whatever comes next?