Guest

22

“You have to invest in communities, you just can't show up and hire people. So, maybe you just stop investing in your own communities and take that money and invest in communities that don't look like you.”

In this episode

In episode 22, Leslie Miley asks us to rethink how we invest in inclusion and uplift our teams. 

Leslie Miley has an impressive career history leading Engineering teams at Slack, Google, Twitter and Apple… as well as being the first Chief Technology Officer with the Obama Foundation.  

Tune in to this episode to learn why as leaders, we must move away from performative allyship, and instead… rebuild the trust that has been broken due to racism that is built into systems, processes, and workplace culture.

Leslie also shares how important culture is and why learning and respecting the culture of those we work with, creates strong relationships. 

Press play and let us know your biggest takeaways from this episode!

Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.


04:24

Leslie’s first job and first big lessons

06:18

Taking ownership of our mistakes at work

07:18

Our challenges teach us more than our wins

08:00

Are the people we respect good leaders?

09:58

Make your own mistakes, not somebody else’s

11:46

Star Trek, culture and inclusion

12:32

Being culture informed to be a great leader for distanced, remote teams

12:38

What Leslie did to build trust with team members around the world 

16:10

Ask questions about culture, don’t assume you know

18:08

Companies need to stop being performative, and do repairative work

21:15

Why recognizing the harm that has been caused by racism isn’t enough and what to do instead

26:12

Charity versus investment and why investment matters more

32:07

The importance of getting out of your bubble and hearing and listening to other people’s stories

35:59

Leslie’s experience working with President Barack Obama

37:00

The importance of making people feel included, as well as including them

39:21

Promoting and uplifting the people in your organization


Resources


Episode Transcript

Aydin Mirzaee  

Leslie, welcome to the show.

Leslie Miley  2:10  

Thank you for having me. It’s an honor, I looked at some of the previous people you’ve had, and I think I’m in good company.

Aydin Mirzaee 2:19  

Yeah, no, we’re very excited to have you and definitely appreciate you doing this. I know you were just telling me right before that. Amongst all the things happening in 2020. And the pandemic, you’ve had to move houses to?

Leslie Miley  2:33  

Yeah, I live in California, and we have fires in California. And this one came very, very close to to where I live and, you know, fortunate to have a place to go in the midst of a pandemic, I’m in the midst of of fires in California, affecting areas the size of Rhode Island, which is which comes mind boggling the state here in the United States. And, you know, it’s just found out the evacuation order was lifted, so I can return home. But it’s still a very, it’s, it’s a reminder of what’s important. And, and a reminder that, you know, we live in times when these events are just going to become more, more frequent and more extreme.

Aydin Mirzaee 3:14  

Yeah, no, it’s a crazy time. So thank you for doing this. I wanted to start out, you know, obviously, looking at your background, you’ve had an extensive leadership career. You’ve worked at a bunch of different companies, Twitter’s Slack, Google venture for America, and you even did a stint as the CTO of the Obama foundation. But before we dive into a lot of the things and lessons you’ve learned, all these different companies, I just wanted to start out, rewind and ask you who is your favorite or most memorable boss throughout your career?

Leslie Miley  3:49  

That that’s a great question. My most favorable and my most memorable would maybe be to two or two different people. And that’s that, you know, and it’s weird, right? Because it’s like, like, do we define bosses? The person you reported to the CEO of the company, I mean, who is it but but for for this, I think my favorite is probably my first boss’s boss in tech. You know, it was my first real job in tech. And I’m, I think I was 21 years old, and barely 21 years old. We were doing a program where we were distributing, you know, our antivirus application to fortune 500 companies. And I was in charge of this program. And in during the course of this program, I mistakenly infected one of the diskette as a back in the days of floppy disk corrected one of the disks with a virus incident up to about 250 of the Fortune 500. Crazy. It’s, it’s crazy, right? And then here’s the bad part and it was a virus that our application did not find. We wasn’t able to detect this So, so anyway, um, so that, you know, and I found out about it. Um, and, and this was like one of those moments where I think you you have that growth that just happens because I saw what happened, and realize that I had done this. And you know, I’m 21 years old and my first instinct is just a running high, but it was able to, I was able to kind of just overcome that initial instinct and go to my boss’s boss, I went to my boss first. And then we went to his boss with my boss’s boss, and told him what happened and said, this is probably in 250 companies hands right now. And the moment you put it in your computer is going to infect your computer, there’s no way to stop it unless your computer is off. So we’re like, This is crazy. So my boss’s boss actually laughs And then, you know, he does his job, you know, talking to the comms people, CEO, you know, we come up with a plan to notify everybody, you know, do a build of the application that will find the virus and do all the things. But then the CEO of the company comes down, literally comes down comes to me and fires me on the spot, like you are fired. You are liability, get out of here. I’m like, and you know, and I was just getting up and leaving. I’m like, Yeah, I totally agree. I messed up, I will leave, right. So so I’m getting ready to leave. And then my boss’s boss comes in and says, No, no, let me talk to him. You sit here and wait. And he essentially saved my job. He went back and we talk later. He’s like, this is what I told him. I told him, y’all are young, you’re new, you’re moving really, really fast. We’re doing things that people have not done before. We’re going to make mistakes. It’s not about making a mistake, it’s how we respond to those mistakes. So I let him know that you discovered it immediately with your boss, you immediately came to me, there was no, you know, there was no hiding. So it was just like, soon as we found that we acted on it. And and he he remains my favorite boss, because he he put himself out there. He advocated for me very, very early on in my career. And I could have just gone and ended up selling cars after that, because I was 20 years old. 21 years old. I didn’t I didn’t know what tech was, I was just doing something. I thought it was really fun, exciting, and I was passionate about and, and he allowed me to continue to do that and learn learned a lot. And it was a big leadership lesson early in my career.

Aydin Mirzaee  7:08  

Wow, what a story that is definitely very dramatic and feels like it should be like a scene from a movie. That’s, that’s super interesting.

Leslie Miley  7:18  

Yeah. Yeah. You know, it’s these are these are the, I think those are the moments that we learned the most from, we don’t learn the most from success, we learned the most from our challenges.

Aydin Mirzaee 7:29  

Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. So I have to ask you that. And so you know, obviously working at that first company, and what was the first time that you started to lead a team yourself? And what were some of the early mistakes that you might have made as a leader back then,

Leslie Miley  7:46  

wow, um, some of the early mistakes I made, all all, all, everything I did, as a leader early on was you emulate people you respect, and people who you think are doing a good job. And frequently, they’re not always going to be the best people to emulate. And their style is their style, and you need to find your own. I mean, some of the mistakes, I just think about not having the patience and tolerance that I have today, not having a level of understanding of what people are, are experiencing. And it’s really hard to like, nail one or two things down. But if there’s, if there’s any one thing that I would talk about it was it would be not respecting differing views of a large team of people that I was managing, and, and really putting people in uncomfortable positions that way, you know, maybe some people learn the lesson differently. But I kind of learned it in a room full of people where I made a joke about, you know, either a politician or a public figure, and someone in the room was related to that figure, who was in my organization, and they were offended. And they, they were they were, they were very upset. And you know, and they you know, the comedian said, you have to know your audience. And I think this is true, but you just also have to be respectful and considerate. And I think, you know, we can make jokes about public figures, we can make jokes about people, but when you, I think, go beyond that. And I totally think I went beyond that. I think I really just did not live up to my own values or my own principles at that time.

Aydin Mirzaee  9:21  

Yeah, no, that’s, I mean, that that’s very interesting on several fronts. I mean, obviously, the know your audience, but also just just being, I guess, you just have to know that. Like, you don’t know what values or opinions other people hold and just being considerate of that. But you know, the other thing that you said, I really thought was very interesting as well, which was for a lot of us when we’re starting out, obviously, it’s like, who are the leaders that we respect and the natural thing to do is to emulate them. And so it’s really interesting that you said actually, one of the most important things was to figure out what my own style was, and to basically double down on that.

Leslie Miley  9:58  

Or, just make your own mistake. Don’t make someone else’s. That was my lesson. And, and I do I look back on some of the people, I got lucky and I had great bosses and, and, you know, just recently I was having a conversation with someone, I stopped, and I said, I’m just repeating crap I’ve heard from other leaders, and this may not necessarily be the best for our conversation. So let’s rewind and start over. It’s amazing just how ingrained that is. I mean, I, I think the a lot of the good leaders I’ve worked with the good managers I’ve had over the years have worked very hard to be good managers, bad managers, I’ve had have just emulated other bad managers. And they and they, and sometimes you just don’t know, because you think, Oh, this person is successful, they must be good. No, they can be successful and be very, very bad. A very bad manager, they may be good leaders, but they could be terrible managers. 

Aydin Mirzaee 10:53  

Yeah, that’s really interesting. It’s very interesting that you said that they were actively working hard on being a good manager. And that’s not something that everybody does, I wanted to dive in on something that I know that you are passionate about, and spent a lot of time on, which is this concept of managing both distributed teams, especially obviously, given everything that’s going on, a lot of people are managing distributed teams today, but also managing people in different cultural backgrounds. I’m just curious of, you know, what are some of the things that you’ve learned and for people who are being thrown into this right now, both from distributed perspective and you know, managing from a different cultural perspective? What tips and advice would you have for them, managing different people from different cultures? 

Leslie Miley  11:46  

I’m a very big proponent of like, the Star Trek way of doing things. And by that, I mean, taking time to learn about where people are from, personally and and also just like, geographically, and geopolitically learning a little bit about their culture or subcultures. And I’ve managed teams in India, and you know, India is so diverse, from the north to the south east to west central India as well and really trying to to have a greater understanding and, and and I bring up the Star Trek as an example because it’s something that runs through almost every series of Star Trek is characters from very different places, and how leadership in particular has to make a point to learn about those cultures in order to effectively lead this person. And and that I think, is what we all need to spend a little bit of time doing is learning just a little bit not a lot, but just a little bit so that we have some common ground so that there are some common references so that you’re not surprised or shocked or you know, or your your, your how you present yourself isn’t isn’t someone who hasn’t done that work. And, and I think it just smooths a lot of the wrinkles out of managing remote teams and remote teams in places that you know, may not be culturally similar to your own the time I’ve spent going to India it’s funny because I I don’t know how but I went down this Bollywood maze where I started watching bollywood movies reading Bollywood gossip, you know learning the people and so when I would go you know, and you know, you’re talking and you know, they’re you talk to people and then you just like brick a ball I really big fan of Sanjay work and they’re just floating. I’m like, I really like like, watch this movie called Sholay, which was one of the first big indian bollywood movies and you know, people hear that and, and they appreciate it, they appreciate it, because I’m terrible at languages. So I’m not going to try to learn Marathi, or indie or anything like that, I would just totally insult them, but I can’t learn about their popular culture which unites a lot of people in India so so that’s something that I do, I also try to do is make myself a little more available. So not to say, Hey, you know, let’s do pacific standard time or Pacific Daylight Time on everything it really is about if you’re in you know, India or South Asia, I will find some time you know, on your hour, so you’d have to stay up late or get up early. And and then also understand, it’s kind of also goes back to understanding culture and family, many men will stay late in an office in India to do a call or come in early, many women can’t, because of their particular roles and not understanding that and making sure you don’t like do that to say we’re gonna have this meeting, it’s gonna be nine o’clock at night. And you know, if you just need to respect that people may not be able to do that.

Aydin Mirzaee  14:29  

That makes a lot of sense. I mean, I was gonna, when you first set it, I was gonna say, Okay, well, what are the things that you know, people can practically do? And it’s very interesting that again, going above and beyond learning about Bollywood so that you can have more commonality with people. I mean, I thought that was incredible. But the other thing is like something like what you just said, whereas men might be more okay with saying lay versus like women might not. My question is how do you figure something like that out? Like, how do you know what the cultural norms are if you’re kind of just like thrown into a situation, or do you just make mistakes? And then learn not to do that?

Leslie Miley  15:07  

Yes. answer that question is yes, I think you do all of it, I think you can do research. And there’s, there’s so much out there now. I first started doing remote work in 2006. And there wasn’t a lot of information available online, you’d have to talk to people and think that’s extremely important as well. What so maybe, to give an example, I was a team I was managing in India, and we were sitting down talking about how to work together how to make the relationship work. And, and something I found out was that everyone who worked with us, when I was with Apple, everyone who worked with us went through, like a training program on on Americans, and American culture and American, you know, United States. And when I say America, and United States, culture, United States, language, you know, you just to get them some cultural understanding of what’s happening. And, and, and that, like, opened my eyes, like, I need to do the same thing. So I talked, I was like, what are some of the things I need to know? So I would talk to my counterparts in like, Puna, or Chennai, or Mumbai, and one of the cities Bangalore, one of the cities we were in? And I would ask, what are some of the things I need to be aware of? What are some of the things I need to be aware of culturally? What are some of the things I need to be aware of socially? How do I interact with people? You know, I guess these are things I don’t know. And, and so that they can help me navigate because they want you to be successful as well. They don’t want you to come there and create an international incident. I love the the playbook nature of go, it’s okay to go ask out and say, you know, what do I need to be aware of what are some mistakes that typically people from North America make when they first come here and start working with your teams? Like, tell me so I don’t do the same things. But

Aydin Mirzaee  16:55  

I love that and and you’re right, like, they want you to succeed? So you know, why not?

Leslie Miley  16:59  

It’s Yeah, no, it’s it’s I mean, it’s great. And it’s, it’s fun. It’s I enjoy learning about new culture, I enjoy respecting new cultures, I think it’s extremely important, you know, and to this may tie in to something we talked about later, but it’s also part of it as being African American in the United States and not getting that here. Personally, I think it’s more important to to show that to other people, because I know what it feels like. And I don’t want other people to have to experience that.

Aydin Mirzaee 17:26  

Yeah, no, that’s, that’s probably a good segway for us to talk about diversity in general, you know, a lot of the managing cultural norms and things like that assumes that you have a more diverse teams, you know, I think in tech, a lot of people, you know, start talking about their diversity stats. And, you know, obviously, things are not changing, but apparently people are trying, one of the things that you say is that, obviously, you can’t keep doing the same things and expecting different results. What do you think is the problem with the way that most companies are going about trying to create a more diverse workforce? And like, what can they do differently?

Leslie Miley  18:08  

Oh, some of the problems, they’re performative. And by that I mean, is another friend of mine calls it diversity theater, and I think it’s trying to just put out a good story or a story as opposed to doing the work, the work is hard. The work to build an inclusive workplace is not easy, and you have to be intentional about it. And you have to have a shared understanding of what systemic racism and discrimination, and many people don’t have that and they think they’re there. They’re non racist, which is a problem. They think that they are that because they’re liberal or because, you know, they have friends who identify as different ethnicities that, that they’re good, and they’re okay. And the fact of the matter is, that’s not what it takes what it takes two, there is an understanding of the systems, the structures that you benefit from, that are negatively impacting other people, and, and the hard work of dismantling those and something that I don’t think enough people think of, and then figuring out how to do the reparative work, because it’s just not good enough to say, we recognize this is harming you. So we’re going to stop I think that’s great. But what about everyone who’s been harmed by it? How are you repairing them? How are you making them whole? And and I’ve posed this question, both in a professional setting and when I’ve been impacted personally, and I’ve asked how are you going to help repair me and no one can give me an answer to that question. Very few people can give me an answer. And and it’s not about you know, write me a check or give me a promotion or something like that. It’s more like just recognizing that I’ve been harmed, that I’ve been damaged and and and that you have allowed this damage to continue and that now we have an opportunity to work to fix it, but you have to take not into just let’s fix the system. Let’s repair the damage that was done as well. And and so I think that’s what a lot of companies, a lot of organization Don’t fundamentally understand. And and a lot of people are just to be honest philosophically against it because they’re like, Well, I didn’t do it. So why should I have to repair it because you’ve benefited from it. And this is this is why you should if you want to have that type of organization that is inclusive, that respects people that that lifts everyone up, you really have to have that lens on it as well.

Aydin Mirzaee  20:25  

(AD BREAK) 

Hey there before moving to the next part of the interview, quick interjection to tell you about one of the internet’s best kept secrets, the Manager TLDR newsletter. So every two weeks, we read the best content out there, the greatest articles, the advice, the case studies, whatever the latest and greatest is, we summarize it, and we send it to your inbox, we know you don’t have the time to read everything. But because we’re doing the work, we’ll summarize it and send it to your inbox once every two weeks. And the best news is completely free. So go on over to fellow.app/newsletter, and sign up today. And with that said, let’s go back to the interview. 

If you were to give an example of something that, you know, could be more repetitive, like what are some things that companies could do? Or teams could do it?

Leslie Miley  21:15  

Wow, this is a really good question. It’s an intersectional question as well, maybe we’ll take it this way. With a fairly large organization, it gets harder because you don’t have the data in small organizations. But when you are at the scale of Google, or Twitter or Facebook, apple, it becomes a little bit easier, which is, if you look and see that African Americans look, for example, are promoted at a lower rate. And you see that African Americans are paid less and have less compensation increases. And you see this across the board. The answer to your question is, is this the systemic? Yes. So and then the next question is, what do you do about it? I think what you can do about it is that you can say how do we a fix the compensation problem immediately be? How do we factor in how this has impacted people’s careers here? And what can we put in place to help accelerate them, right. So for example, if you have this, and it’s systemic, you can’t do onesies and twosies, you have to go to everybody and say, we understand this, here, we’re going to make this up from a compensation standpoint. But we’re also going to give you resources to go get coaching. And these are things that should be provided by organizations that have these type of problems. And, and they shouldn’t just be, we’re just going to put a wiki page out there, a web page out there, and you go and find it. People need to be shepherded through because repairing the damage means you have to rebuild trust, and for many African Americans in this country. And for a lot of African Americans in tech, I’m only speaking for myself. But you know, from people I’ve talked to, there is a distinct lack of trust with companies are going to follow through on what they say, and you have to build that trust up. It’s a long road. And that is part of the reparative process companies make and I’ll give you an example from my time at Google not being able to get into the door Google literally having Google employees stop me from coming in. And and, you know, I’ve spoke to everyone all the way up to VPS of HR about this, you know, they’re like, we’re going to stop the practice, we’re going to stop the practice, they finally stopped the practice a year after I reported it four years after it was first brought to their attention. So So now you have four years of four or five years of African Americans predominantly being harassed by other Google employees under the guise of Google authority, by the way, and and so they’ve stopped that. But when they said they were going to stop it, I asked him, How are you going to fix this for me? How are you going to fix this for all the people who, who were going to an interview, and all of a sudden they have someone batch checking them or not letting them into a building? And they’re trying to go to an interview for another group? How do you think that impacted them? How do you repair them, and they were at a loss. And I was like, you’ve got 100,000 people here who you have weaponized, you know, inadvertently, but nevertheless, against people of color, you have to fix that, and you have to fix the people, it’s damage. And I don’t know what all we need to do. But this is this is part of the reparative work that will help build trust, you know, when you just go and say you’re going to fix the problem. That’s not building trust. You know, Malcolm X said it the best if I have a nine inch knife in my back, and you pull it out three inches, that’s not progress. Even just acknowledging the knife is in progress, though, it’s at least acknowledging that harm has been done. So I think many organizations have acknowledged that harm has been done, they may have stopped doing that harm, but the knife, you know, effectively is still in the backs of many people hasn’t been taken out. And and only when you do that, can you start to prepare? And I think organizations need to understand it’s not just about fixing the immediate problem. It’s making amends to the people, you know, in the past who were oppressed by those systems and structures started just drone on about that.

Aydin Mirzaee  24:48  

Yeah, no, it makes sense. I think, you know, what’s interesting about you know, something that you said is, you know, one thing to look at data and say here’s this type of disparity between compensation or opportunities or anything like Like that, but it’s also another thing to say, well, maybe some of this is systemic in the sense that the same opportunities have not been available. And so maybe we invest in coaching programs and actually shepherding people through processes. Not saying there’s a wiki, like you said, but proactively going and providing more opportunities and ways for people to progress. I think you know, that that’s really interesting. And that doesn’t need to be just a big company thing. I mean, you know, even at a couple of hundred people, we have a lot of managers and leaders who are in like, the SMB space. And yeah, I mean, even at that level, you can kind of tell for your team or for your organization, if you’re a director or VP, just going out of your way to create those types of opportunities for underrepresented groups is probably a good first course of action.

Leslie Miley  25:51  

And I really want to this is something that I it’s odd the journey that we all go on, and what the journey that I’ve been on is, as I’ve been watching this racial awakening, if you will, United States on the surface of awakening, more like people are just a little more groggy than being fully asleep. I’ve asked I don’t want, I don’t want this moment to be about charity, I want this moment to be about investment. You know, charity is like one and done. Oh, yeah, we gave 10 million here, we gave 5 million we gave 100,000. Here we gave 50,000. Here, I want to continue to investment at equivalent levels that majority groups get, and I don’t want it couched as a giveaway or charity or an aside. It has to be investment. And and this is part of the issue as well. When you give to charity. It’s almost like you’re you know, you’re it’s like well, they can’t fend for themselves. So we’re going to give the charity and and i think in the back of people’s minds, that is still happening. But when you give investment, it’s different. Right investment is I’m going I’m invested in this person, not just financial, but I’m invested in their future. And those two differences. Those two words are so are missing from this conversation. Many companies are like we gave here we gave here we get here. Why don’t you say we invested? No, where’s the investment in the companies, when Coronavirus kicked off? And to companies were like, oh, what do we do? We’re all remote now. And you know, Facebook, which is just a terrible example for everything. Facebook gets up there and says, Mark Zuckerberg says, Well, this will allow us to go and hire people in more diverse cities now. And and so first of all, you could have done that, a year ago, five years ago, 10 years ago, you could have done that. But it’s not a panacea. You have to invest in communities, you just can’t show up and hire people. But that is what they will do, they will show up in heartbeat. Or they will show up and do what they did in Pittsburgh and Boulder, and the outskirts of Seattle, which is they will invest in communities that look like that. And you have to stop saying we’re giving charity to people of color and investing in our own community. Maybe Maybe you just stop investing in your own communities and take that money and invest in communities that don’t look like you. I think I think that’s really, really important. And that’s part of the reparative work. Yeah,

Aydin Mirzaee  28:03  

it’s it’s very interesting to look at it, like you said, from an investment perspective, because at the end of the day, what’s nice about an investment is it does pay dividends. And so it just makes business sense as well. And, and again, I think like for a lot of these companies, this isn’t a This isn’t a five year, you know, 10 year type thing. I mean, they’re looking to build generational companies that hopefully will be around for hundreds of years. And when you think of it from that perspective, like why not invest?

Leslie Miley  28:31  

I love I love quoting presidents that I people don’t expect me to quote or politicians people expected to quote George W. Bush said, it’s the soft bigotry of low expectations. That that is a lot of what happens, I think with communities of color here in the United States. It’s the soft bigotry of low expectations. And and this is why there’s such little investment. Because people are, are their expectations are really, really low. And because they’ve not and this goes back to what we were talking about earlier, because they’ve not done the work. They’ve not done the work to understand the community. They’ve not done the work to understand the culture. And And to me, that’s just crazy. Like I wouldn’t I wouldn’t throw that even the type of money that’s being thrown around right now, which is a pittance compared to what is going you know, around elsewhere without doing that homework and doing that diligence is one of those things that perplexes me.

Aydin Mirzaee  29:26  

Yeah, you know, one thing that I wanted to talk about, and I think again, a good segue here going to talk about different types of communities. You had a at what I think at least looking at it as an outsider, a very fun 12 months, having the opportunity to team up with Venture For America. And it sounds like you basically got to travel all throughout the US and engage with different communities and startup ecosystems and trying to spur more activity there. I’m very curious about you know, some of the lessons that you learned In going and seeing all the different types of places, and what kind of takeaways Did you have from from that process?

Leslie Miley  30:06  

That was that was really interesting. So Venture For America, if you recall, was founded by Andrew Yang. So  the former presidential candidate, I just kind of people I think about America, I think about Andrew Yang strangely enough, like That’s the America I want to live in is Andrew Yang’s America which is, which is, you know, somebody who is about learning about people and going into their communities and doing work in those communities and building with those communities, to to create something from nothing. And, and and this is, what community organizing is and what community building is, is, is going into communities that aren’t like yours, and working towards a common goal. And those goals generally, are a political or not political. And, and they allow you to learn to to understand or respect people who do not share the same views, and accomplish something with someone who doesn’t share the same views with you. And I think that’s that, to me, was extremely important. I mean, from Birmingham to Chattanooga, to Nashville, to Memphis, Detroit, Columbus, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, you know, these places that I never thought I’d spend any time at, that I spent time in and met people from so many different backgrounds, so many different political affiliations, who were about building up their communities, and who are about building rebuilding their communities, St. Louis, you know, has this amazing program in in where they’re taking former brownfield sites and creating innovation centers out of them, and just working with people like that. And even though they may be politically up, you know, diametrically opposed from where I am, we have this opportunity to build together and you build respect as well. And you built admiration for people because they care about the community as much like you care about your community. And that is one of the bigger lessons I learned. I also got a lot of playing time. But But I learned those lessons, and I can’t, I can’t stress enough how important it is to get out of your bubble. And to talk with other people and to listen with other people. Sometimes it’s more important to listen then to talk there, and, and then maybe try to try to build something with someone who’s not like you and see where you go.

Aydin Mirzaee 32:24  

So I’m curious. I mean, this was a very interesting opportunity that you had, but for someone that wants to do that wants to get out of their bubble, build something or do something with people not like them, what are some things that you would recommend, you know, obviously, if you travel somewhere, maybe do something a little out of the norm, but um, anything else that you would recommend people do on that front? 

Leslie Miley  32:47  

Yes, it was, I was extremely fortunate to get out and do that. And pretty with somebody who’s dynamic as Andrew Yang. It doesn’t have to be you don’t have to travel 1000 miles, 1500 miles, sometimes just traveling home for Thanksgiving, sometimes it’s the conversations that you have on Facebook, it’s about recognizing what your bubble is and getting out of that bubble and not not trying to have an argument. But But doing the mental work to see why someone would do something. I mean, I have friends who are conservative, I have friends who, who voted for Donald Trump, though that group is getting much smaller, because because they’re not voting for Donald Trump. And then number two, it’s you have to talk to people and understand why they’re doing why they’re voting a certain way or why they have a certain view. A friend of mine just recently said he’s like, if I were he’s from, from India, he’s like, if I were in India, I would be voting BJP is that but then I realized BJP in India is equivalent to the republicans in the United States. And I would never vote Republican in the United States. It’s like so I’m trying to figure that out. And and that was a very, very, you know, just a moment of clarity. It’s like people have reasons and history to believe and vote a certain way. And you may not fully understand it, because they not may not fully understand it. But we should hold a little bit of space for it to at least hear it and understand it. Now. Certain things I think are non negotiable, you know, Nazis are non negotiable. We know where that leads right out, not racism is totally non negotiable, you know, but some people don’t even know what they say is racist. I had someone recently make the remark that this African American Scott, I think the republican senator from South Carolina, who’s African American first response to his speech was, he’s so well spoken. He’s so articulate, which is a dog whistle for black people. I’ve heard that in my entire life. And so I call this out to her, you know, she kind of just doubled down on police educated like, well, you don’t understand, here’s the Wikipedia article. Here’s some more articles on why this is racist. You know, and just on and on and on and on until finally I said you are more concerned about how you’re being perceived than any, any damage to me and how I may be feeling and that stopped her attract. And she’s like, you’re right. And I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize that. It’s learning about that she wasn’t trying to be racist, she was just parroting what she always does. But it’s at late. And these are the things that I think we want to be, it’s about investing the time and the energy in learning that. And you also have to know when to just, you know, cut bait and get out of there, because some people just are not worth the time because they’re there, they may be overtly racist, or they just may be so close minded, or you just may be so far apart and can’t cross that bridge.

Aydin Mirzaee 35:31  

Yeah, that’s definitely something to very valuable for us to all consider. Things that we may not be aware of, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about your time at the Obama foundation. You know, we talked a lot about presidential candidates and presidents and quoted some, but I have to ask you being up close, and, you know, really getting to know President Obama. I’m curious, what leadership lessons did you did you learn from him in the process,

Leslie Miley  35:59  

President Obama is much like anyone who’s like complex person, and I’m sure he only scratched the surface, there’s also a lot of bias on my part, because he is a president who looks like me. And the power of that is amazing. And, and I bring that up, because we all you know, particularly people of color do suffer from imposter syndrome. You know, many of us, I know, I, I you, I used to not as much anymore, and President Obama actually helped with that. Not insane, this is how you deal with if I can do it. I’m not gonna do an impersonation. But he’s like, this is how you deal with imposter syndrome. But realizing that I’m in a room with like, eight people, and I’m sitting next to President Obama, like literally like he’s sitting right next to me. And it’s like, this is kind of amazing. I’m trying not to be a fanboy here. And then realizing I’m in the room with the president, United States, who’s African American. And I belong here. I worked, I did the work. I put in the effort. And I haven’t seen at the table because I worked my way into the seat of the table. Nobody gave this to me. This is something that I’ve done. And there’s no other person alive today. I would rather be sitting next to you could there’s not any person, you could say who would you rather sit next to right now? Who’s a lot? Like, yeah, President Obama. So I don’t care if it’s jack Dorsey, I don’t care if it’s Reed Hoffman, I don’t care if it’s any of the tech billionaires, that that imposter syndrome went away, because it’s like, I’m sitting next to someone who is actually accomplished for who and what they are, and I’m accomplished for him. And nothing you can do or say, will ever take that away. And that was that was a leadership lesson that I learned just just being in the room. The other leadership lesson I learned from example, is just how amazingly inclusive he is. And it is, it was shocking to me to watch it in action and watch him go around the room and pull people into the conversation in ways that we still are struggling with, I think in the business world, particularly in tech. And, he does it in such a way that he makes you feel like, like you’re dying makes you feel, but the way he does it is that you will feel like your input is wanted, and that he is listening intently. And and that he is taking that information. And I try to emulate that. And I gotta tell you, it’s hard, because we are stuck in our bubbles. And we want to like say the right thing. And we want to be smart. And we want people to be a certain way. But he just spends his time making sure that people are included. And and that that to me was was a lesson I continue to draw upon. And and I think fall short in but I’m going to keep drawing

Aydin Mirzaee  38:51  

Great lessons. Thank you so much for sharing that. I know we’re running out of time. We have just a few minutes left and so I wanted to just end on a final question that we ask all of our guests, which is, you know, for all the managers and leaders out there that are continuously like you said, actually working hard to become better managers at the beginning of our chat, what is something that you would recommend that they do a resource, a book or practice or just a mentality, any advice that parting advice that you would have for them?

Leslie Miley  39:21  

That’s so many, so many good things to that and I’m thinking and I may rattle off a couple being inclusive as part of them. Part of that also is really figuring out how to promote and uplift the people in your organization who have traditionally been left behind or marginalized and whether your organization is five people or 5000 people because I do believe that if you help out the most marginalized you do help everyone out and and and it’s not charity, once again, it’s invested and learn that people every everywhere, everywhere in your organization, people are trying to be the best that they can be. And that’s not up necessarily for you to decide. It is sometimes up for where they’re at in their life, people’s lives are happening behind us all the time that they’re happening on the screen in front of us all the time. And I think it’s important that we give the space that’s needed for that previously to this pandemic, we could we could make up stories in the office about how it’s a level playing field, and this person is not performing this person is the person. But when you see it in the background, I think you hold a little more space for it. And I think doing that, and helping people just be the best that they can be given the conditions that we’re all working under that have always been here, we’re just now seeing them. And it’s not that different than what’s happening in the United States. As far as racial awakening is concerned. This time, you know, people ask what’s different about George Floyd this time? What’s different with George Floyd? Why is it a big thing now. And I think it’s a big thing now, because people saw it over and over again, they didn’t have sports to distract, distract them, they didn’t have the normal, you know, daily ins and outgoings and come into life to distract them. And it was played over and over and over again. And they saw that, and I think they started to internalize it. You’re seeing that every day. Now, when you work with people, many people are, and you’re and you’re not just seeing like people running around, you’re seeing the tension. When you interact with people at stores, you interact with people on the street, and it’s all around us. And some someone said, I read this somewhere, perhaps for the majority group in the United States, they are now understanding what it’s a little bit of what it’s like to be black in the United States. Because when they walk out the door, they don’t know if they’re going to be hurt. That’s a black person’s experience. Every every time I go outside, I’m like, if I have contact with the police, I could end up dead and it could just be a traffic stop. Right? And now you go outside, you don’t know if you’re going to get sick. You don’t know who has what you don’t know who’s a threat. That is that is what people of color have lived under in this country from day one. And and I think understanding that has helped open up a lot of people’s minds to the systemic issues that we’ve had. And I really do think that having that understanding, as a leader, and building your empathy, as a leader, not sympathy, empathy for what people experience is, is what’s going to make you the next level leader. That’s incredible advice, and a great place to end our conversation. Leslie, thank you so much for for doing this. Thank you.

Aydin Mirzaee  42:25  

And that’s it for today. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of the super managers podcast. You can find the show notes and transcript at www dot tanahoy dot app slash super managers. If you like the content, be sure to rate review and subscribe so you can get notified when we post the next episode. And please tell your friends and fellow managers about it. It’d be awesome if you can help us spread the word about the show. See you next time.

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