Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Celebrating #NationalUnicornDay with Caroline Stokes

Do you know what today is? Celebrated each year on April 9th, National Unicorn Day celebrates the mythical horse-like creature with a single, pointed horn growing from the center of its forehead.

According to National Day Calendar, "Unicorns have been a popular mythical creature since Ancient Greek times...Many now see them as a symbol of love, purity, enchantment, and magic. They also continue to find their way into fantasy novels alongside other mythical creatures."

Over the last 15 years, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege of meeting inspiring marketing, branding, customer experience, leadership, and social media experts. One of these experts is Caroline Stokes, a leadership expert based in Vancouver, Canada. Due to the alignment between the title of Caroline's book and today's holiday, she is an excellent choice to appear on my blog today. Highlights from our conversation about leadership follow a brief introduction.

But first, here's a quick description of Caroline's book, ELEPHANTS BEFORE UNICORNS: "Learn how to identify your elephants, the obstacles getting in the way of your success, before focusing on your unicorns, the key employees who will help move your business forward."

Caroline Stokes is an executive coach who helps leaders to stay a step ahead in an uncertain future. She helps leaders understand how their team or organization needs to adapt to remain creative and competitive across business innovation, talent attraction, retention, and growth to meet evolving employee, customer and stakeholder expectations.

Caroline spent more than 20 years working for corporations, such as, PlayStation, Virgin, and Nokia in Europe and Australia, and went on to run two public relations agencies in England and Canada. Since 2008, Caroline has led global executive search and talent development strategies for Real Networks, Autodesk, Microsoft, Amazon, Electronic Arts, and Disney; and spurred on by her international experiences, in 2014, she launched FORWARD with a vision to create a constantly-evolving human capital solutions company with an ethical and humanist foundation. She is regularly called upon to share her expertise in the Harvard Business Review, Newsweek, Fast Company and more.

QUESTION: My favorite quote from your book ELEPHANTS BEFORE UNICORNS was, "I define people leaders as anyone who manages people in any capacity. If you have even one direct report, you're a people leader!...Whether or not you realize it, you have a tremendous impact on the direction and success of your organization." What are three take-aways you hope all readers will have upon reading your book?

CAROLINE STOKES: Three takeaways I hope readers will learn:

(1) That leaders are not born, they're made.

(2) To create an environment where people can trust each other, which enables everyone to do the work they signed up for in the first place. You've got to constantly work on the frameworks in the book or work with a coach to get there. It's not a one and done box-ticking situation. Like a diet or an exercise regimen, put the program in place and stick to it, evolve with it, stretch yourself. See all the growth in your mind, with your team, and with the results.

(3) Always work on your EQ. It's not easy to be wrong. It's not easy to make mistakes. What we do with EQ is by having awareness that we have done what we have done and to adjust. It's a life-long journey, and the book helps. (Note: Emotional intelligence (or EQ) is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.)

SHARE THIS: I define people leaders as anyone who manages people in any capacity. ~@ocarolinestokes #NationalUnicornDay #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: How can members of the C-Suite and HR teams learn the importance of "Employer Branding?"

CAROLINE STOKES: I wrote ELEPHANTS BEFORE UNICORNS primarily for the C-Suite to wake up and see that their organizations were not  operating according to their mission statements - that future employees and customers had bought into. Since the book was published in 2019, we are acutely aware of many organizations that continue to say that their employer brand is one thing, but the exit interviews and Glassdoor reviews say another. 

Culture takes time to adapt. Start now with the human first methodologies and start to see the needle shift on employer brand sentiment, which comes from an engaged workforce and lower rates of attrition.

QUESTION: What three things should be part of every organization's onboarding process?

CAROLINE STOKES: Here are three:

Goal #1: The first 100-days coaching program that every hiring manager uses with new hires, which includes goals, vision, what good looks like on a quarter-by-quarter basis. Then do all of that again at the 100-days mark because economic, societal, environmental, and personnel factors will have changed, which means that the goals will have shifted.

Goal #2: OKRs relate to everyone. (Note: Generally attributed to Andy Grove, who introduced the approach to Intel in the 1970's, OBJECTIVES AND KEY RESULTS, or OKRs, is a goal-setting framework used by individuals, teams, and organizations to define measurable goals and track their outcomes.)

Goal #3: Agreement that 1:1s should happen every week to focus on growth to reach Goal #1.

QUESTION: What's your favorite interview question, and why?

CAROLINE STOKES: I don't have a favourite interview question, as it comes off as a trap. The person being interviewed instinctively knows deep inside that it's planted to see how they will behave. I wrote for HBR that interviewing is a two-way street. The power dynamics are all wrong in an interview, and it's unattractive. (Link to article at end of Q&A.) 

I prefer an environment where the hiring manager and the hiring team huddle in realistic environments - like a 1:1 - to discuss the challenges, opportunities, areas for development, goals, and how to get through them collectively to innovate and problem-solve.

QUESTION: A well-known quote is, "People don't quit companies, they quit managers." What are some actions that employees can take, and what are some actions that leaders/managers/ supervisors/bosses can take to reverse this from happening?

CAROLINE STOKES: Everyone needs to do the self-work and the team-work. Expecting offsites or individual training isn't enough. The collective need to get together, people need leadership coaches, team coaches, strategic workshops. 

Marriage is hard where it requires constant communication, clarification, and calibration to reach goals. It comes to the power dynamic again - without collaboration, insight, everyone going down the road as a collective, people quit and people fire those people that go off track. It's a cycle that can shift at the blink of an eye with some economic disturbance or power imbalance. Nurture it, or expect some style of professional divorce.

QUESTION: Despite the findings detailed in an article published by Harvard Business Review entitled, "Research: Women Score Higher Than Men in Most Leadership Skills," the percentage of women in senior leadership roles is declining. (Link to article at end of Q&A.) How can we change this?

CAROLINE STOKES: We all know why. This is the elephant in the room. I outline it in an interview with a CEO for an article published in Business in Vancouver (link at end of Q&A), where even men knew how important women were, yet patriarchal models weren't evolving fast enough to bring in diversity of thought and processes to achieve the results many people were looking for. Systems require assessment and BRAVE leaders to change the status quo.

QUESTION: If you could dine with five leaders from history or modern corporate America, who would you choose, and why?

CAROLINE STOKES: Here are my five: Robin Williams (leader in comedy), Barack Obama (leader of the people), Elon Musk (leader of moonshot ideas), Oprah Winfey (leader of empowerment), and Nicolas Thompson (leader of The Atlantic). Imagine the enthralling, enthusiastic, and boundary-less energy they would bring and the deep pockets of reality they would share!

My gratitude to Caroline for appearing on my blog and sharing her inspiring thoughts about leadership and the employee experience!

Image Credit: Meritt Thomas via WordSwag.

Connect with Caroline at these links:

Website: https://www.theforward.co

Twitter/X: https://twitter.com/ocarolinestokes

LinkedIn: https://ca.linkedin.com/in/ocarolinestokes

Blog: https://www.theforward.co/blog

Book: https://www.theforward.co/elephants-before-unicorns

TEDx: Why an emotionally intelligent company impacts growth: 


Here are the links to referenced articles from this Q&A:

National Unicorn Day


How to Tactfully Disagree in a Job Interview


Opinion: Why Boards and C-Suite Leaders Must Cultivate a Sustainability Culture


Research: Women Score Higher Than Men in Most Leadership Skills


Inspiration for final question: Debbie's Amazing Dinner Party of 15


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