Episode 325: Shawna Schuh – How Finishing School Can Help Leadership Thinking!

Episode Summary

In this episode, we dive deep into Shawna’s unique and infectious view on leadership. We talk about her upbringing, the influence finishing school had on her life, her thoughts on what makes a good leader, and why she believes leaders should become masterful questioners. Shawna also shared the three things most leaders do that limit their possibilities and the massive importance for leaders of having a clear intent guiding their actions. 

Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger. And we have a fun guest with us today. I’m looking forward to our visit together, having worked with organizations like Nike, Columbia Sportswear, to associations such as Fashion Group International and the National Speakers Association. She shares a unique perspective so that the information ideas that she talks about actually stick and work. And she has two TEDx talks to her credit, as well as three decades of experience. And you will be enlightened as well as challenged while shifting from the less stellar things most leaders do, the focus on only what the best leaders do. And so that’s why I’m excited to have Shawna Schuh with us today. Welcome, Shawna. 

Shawna Schuh: Woohoo! What an introduction. Enthusiasm is what makes the world go – so, bravo, Steve. 

Steve Shallenberger: You’re talking my language, Shawna, when you talk about what the best leaders do, so we’re going to have fun together.  

Shawna Schuh: Yes, we are.  

Steve Shallenberger: Now, before we get started, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about Shawna. She is a lifetime adventure, entertainer, and leadership expert. And she is an innovative thought leader who can help you unpack the pesky problems you encounter when you lead people – I love it. And with a curious mind herself and a master certificate to Neuro-Linguistic Programming, she is exceptionally skilled in the art of uncovering leadership blind spots through coaching, facilitating leadership groups, and really catapulting leaders out of the leadership weeds and into the leading teams effectively. So, we’re going to have a great time talking about these things. The first question I’d like to layout for you, Shawna, is just tell us about your background and include any turning points in your life that’s had a significant impact on you and what you’re doing today. 

Shawna Schuh: Thank you. I always think to myself, your question is very sound because people were like, “Well, who is this? And what has she done?” Of course, somebody trusted me, Columbia Sportswear or Nike, and my clients trust me. And I’ve had some of my clients for decades, which is amazing. And then you would think to yourself, and you and I both know this, people who are on a quest of continual learning; once they understand something, they do stay, they want more. I don’t know if it’s something you’re born with – maybe – or something that you’re just encouraged. But learning and being a lifelong learner is something that I think I have, but the leaders that I work with, that are actually the most effective are the ones that are curious or seeking or want to figure out something that would work better. So, I’ve been this girl. I was raised in a modest home. We had a small farm. I call it a gentleman’s farm because it was just enough acres for my dad, who was the gentleman, not to be seen when he goes to the bathroom off the back porch. And that’s why my mother sent me to finishing school. And I went to finishing school three times, but that’s a different story. I also taught it for over 20 years. And so within that, I started learning. And it was really interesting, I was teaching teenagers a lot – young women who wanted to be models or whatnot. But I thought the most important class was the preview to modeling where it was about finishing, where we were talking about how they were thinking and how they put themselves together. I felt like I was making a gigantic difference in these people’s lives because I was helping them get any job. Because many of them were coming in, and they didn’t have the stuff to become a model, but they have the stuff to become great at whatever they chose to do.  

Shawna Schuh: And I spent 25 years of my life, writing the programs and developing things that would help these people. And then it occurred to me as I was doing this, that, really, I needed to talk to the parents. And then it equated to who is leading people. So, if leaders really were the models, if leaders were the ones that were the curious people, the ones that were doing the work – then their teams would take care of themselves. It was always interesting to me, as I started my business and I was doing this, I’d meet leaders and they would go, “Oh, you need to come in and talk to my team.“ So, I did, and then the team was like, “Oh, it’s the leader.” And I was like, “Oh, it’s the leader.” Then, as I started leading groups and organizations of my own, I started to really get into studying what makes certain leaders super effective. And then I was a speaker for many years. I was working on communication and mindset. And then companies would come and go, you think differently. And I also use other species, animals, a lot in my analogies. And they were like, “Could you come and talk to our company?” And next thing I know I’m facilitating groups. So, then I continued my education. And I think that when I see natural leaders or people who earned a leadership position, many of them are humble enough or understand that they don’t know what they don’t know. So, then they seek people like you or me, and they want more help, and they are reading the books, or they need an advocate. So, I now am a leadership or executive coach.  

Steve Shallenberger: Awesome. What a great background. I’ve got so many questions for you. Tell us about finishing school. What do you tell these people, these ladies – primarily, I guess, the young ladies? How did you prepare them? How did you teach them the good finished? 

Shawna Schuh: Well, thanks. It’s really interesting. I think that the reason that I have been successful is I think differently – it wasn’t about the rules. Even though I understand all the rules. I went through finishing school three times, taught it for 25 years. But I really came to the conclusion that you want to know the rules. It’s the same with leadership; you want to know some things so that you’re not inadvertently offending people, you’re not making mistakes out of ignorance. But if you stick too hard to the rules, you’re losing the relationship. So, I’m a person who believes if we do our work, our internal work, then we’re going to have the elements, the traits that will help us understand when to break those rules, when to give a little concession so that we build the relationship. So, that’s kind of the philosophy I came out – let’s learn the rules. 

Steve Shallenberger: The rules were etiquettes? 

Shawna Schuh: Yes, etiquette, communication. There are ways to put on a coat, interestingly enough. And really, the reason to do it properly is so that you’re not swinging it around and whacking somebody in the face. So, even etiquette is really, from the very beginning, you would shake hands with the right hand because if you had your hand connected to another person, you could not draw a sword. So, there are so many ways. And people put their nametag on the left side because they’re right-handed, so they write with their right hand and it’s easier for them to put it on their left side. But if you are really putting on a nametag for other people, you will put it on your right side, so when you extend your hand, they can glance at your hand, glance at the nametag and your face without having to rake their eyes across your chest. So, most etiquette, most of the things that, back in those days, was really about how to make it easier for someone else. And isn’t this what leadership is? My definition of leadership is really to help your team, to help others uncover and discover it for themselves. We’re the catalysts, not the teller, not the delegator. Although we do those things, really we’re there to help others come up to their brilliance. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, Shawna and I had the chance to visit briefly before we started this show today, this interview, and I indicated that we talked about the 40 years of research that I’ve done. It started with interviewing leaders from all over the world. And I thought it wouldn’t take very long. It took over 40 years as I was going through my career of being an entrepreneur, buying and selling businesses. And I ended up interviewing over 175 CEOs around the world. And what I was looking for is what set apart high-performing individuals from everybody else, and high-performing teams from everybody else. And what we discovered is none were perfect. None of these leaders were perfect. But what we saw over and over again were 12 things that they did. And that’s what we put in the book, Becoming Your Best: The 12 Principles of Highly Successful Leaders. So, when I saw about Shawna’s background, one of the things I’ve discovered is we know all those 12 principles of highly successful leaders. They’re evident and you practice them, you have observed them. But you may describe them, what you see a little bit different. And that’ll help all of our listeners. It’ll help me. So, I am so excited to have you with us today, and let’s just dive into the leadership part. From your point of view, Shawna, what are the best leaders do with their teams? 

Shawna Schuh: This is going to sound almost too simple. And yet, it is what I have found to be the most imperative way for them to be successful. And that’s to be a person who asks questions. So, when I’m working with my leaders individually, they’ll complain: “My team is not doing what they’re saying –” or one particular person – “And I’ve told him 100 times,” or “I’ve told him this.” But they didn’t ask them that. And I’m like, “Well, what did you ask them?” They didn’t. They told them how important it was, they told them they needed it right away. But they didn’t ask them, “What is it that’s preventing you from getting this to me?” They didn’t ask them, “Do you understand the importance of this?” Because maybe they don’t get any of it. And so when a leader becomes a much better questioner, they get better results. Now, there’s a caveat to that, Steve. And one of it is that after I’m working with some leaders, and I’m like, “Well, what did you ask them? What did you ask them?” And they’ll go, “Oh, Shawna, you would have been so proud of me. I asked them questions right off the bat.” I go, “Tell me what you ask them.” They go. “Yeah, I asked them, ‘What were you thinking?’” And I’m like, “Not a good question.” We think we’re pretty good questioners, or we think we ask some questions. But we really ask questions to make them feel stupid or not – like, “Really, you were thinking this?” Or “Who told you to do that?” Those are all questions, but they make somebody feel less than or they make them feel stupid. So, what I’ve really uncovered is not just the simplicity of being a leader that asks questions, but being a masterful questioner where you’re really asking them a question to say, “Do you agree?” Or “Is this something that you thought of?” Or “Walk me through your thought process here.” And ultimately, then they’ll learn things that they never knew. And more importantly, the person walking them through will uncover where their mistakes were, right by saying it out loud. So, that’s what I think the most effective do is that they ask masterful questions. 

Steve Shallenberger: One of the things that we’ve observed together is the best leaders can’t lead unless they understand; they understand what the situation is; they understand what the story is; the people they work with so that they can bring out the best in them. So, one way to gain this knowledge is to listen and to bring the best in people. So, let’s go a little deeper into that, Shawna. By the way, this has already been worth our session talking about finishing. Put on your nametag on the right side so that when they shake hands they look right there. See, this is worth it already. So, let’s get into the questions. What are some of the best questions that you found that are ways to ask so leaders can bring the best out than others, but they also can understand the situation which then allows them to lead, to be a great leader? 

Shawna Schuh: Great question. And there are, what I consider, a few leading lines that I share with my coaches, my leaders, and it depends on what you’re attempting. So, before any question, Steve, if we move backward and say, “What’s my intent here?” So, if we look and said, “Is my intent to make them wrong? Is my intent to get it my way? Or is my intent to really understand your point? Or is my intent to help them understand themselves?” If I understand my intent, same with rules – do I want to keep the rules? Or do I want a good relationship? When I know my intent, the questions are easier to decipher. So, before any question, ask yourself, “What do I want from this exchange?” That’s huge. Because when I’m angry, or something went wrong, or a leader is confronted with a dilemma or an angry customer, sometimes we go into a fixer mode, or our questions are very blunt or pointed, instead of seeking to understand. So, if my intent is to uncover what’s going on, some of the leading questions would be, “Help me understand.” And then whatever just happened. You could also use a lead-in, like, “Just so we’re clear… please describe to me what went on.” Or “So there’s no confusion… let’s go through.” And when you ease in, when you preface your question with the reason that you’re asking or digging is not to make you wrong, and not to fix this right away, but just to elaborate on how did this occur – suddenly, people are like, “Oh, okay.” So, there are a variety of leading questions like those that help leaders soften it, and also then get to the actual crux of what went on. 

Steve Shallenberger: So, there’s an events and they’re trying to facilitate get into a better place than just really say, “Help me understand this. I’d like to get the full picture.” And I love the fact about the intent. I’ve been reading a book recently by John Gottman, Eight Dates. It’s magnificent. He’s up in your area, I think Seattle or certainly up in the northwest. But it’s eight dates for married couples or new couples or whatever. But it’s about how to develop a strong relationship. 

Shawna Schuh: And it’s about the question. By the way, I have to tell a funny story on myself. I am single. I love the love labs, really brilliant work. So, I saw this book called Eight Dates to a good relationship, and I went, “Oh, I go on dates all the time. I could go on eight dates.” And so I ordered the book. And then, of course, it’s eight dates with the same person. Anyway, but when you read the book, there’s all these series of questions. So, let’s look at that relationship – this is the question – how do you deal with conflict? Well, if you don’t ask a question, you don’t know.” So, I agree with you, I think it’s brilliant. But it’s the intent that I want a relationship with this person. I believe if I’m married to this person, we could work these things out by asking each other things that maybe we just assumed. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, I’m so glad you’re familiar with the book because it is marvelous. And I’m glad that you took a few moments to really expand a little bit on the fact that that’s what it’s based on – it’s on questions, listening, understanding. This is leadership. Leadership is what each person can do to get to a better place. Well, here’s the one sentence in that book that just rocked my world. I loved it and it gets back to your intent. And it was this one line: “When you feel pain –” whether it’s anger or hurt or sadness – “my world stops and I want to be of help.”  

Shawna Schuh: For the couple, the other couple.  

Steve Shallenberger: For that person, for my partner. “When you feel pain, my world stops so I can be of help.” I thought, “Well, okay, this is good for any leader anytime. And If you’re feeling something, that’s how I can bring out the best.” 

Shawna Schuh: Somebody sent me this earlier. Richard Rohr his book, Immortal Diamond, wrote this: “I want you to be you, all of you, your best you. That’s what true lovers say to one another, not just, ‘I do not like this about you,’ or ‘why don’t you change that?’ Sincerely caring for another person before trying to change him or her is the only way that person will change anyway.” And think about that as a leader. If you were to say, “I want you, teammate, the person I hired, because of your skills, your expertise, your abilities, your talents. I want you to be you, all of you, your best you.” If you apply that to your team right there, versus “I don’t like your” whatever it is. Think of what can happen in every relationship. 

Steve Shallenberger: I love it. I’m glad we had that wonderful, spontaneous discussion. We’ve got so much more to cover, so let’s keep going. What are some of the limiting things leaders do? Things they do that hold other people’s back, really? 

Shawna Schuh: There are three that I focus on with my clients. And the three are: Leaders tell – they tell people what to do, they tell what they think, they’re always telling. And when they’re telling people, that doesn’t mean that they heard it. So, we spend a lot of time telling everybody what to do or telling everybody what we think. And the next thing that they do is a lot of leaders sell, they’re selling their ideas; “Oh, I’ve got this great idea, I want your input.” And I always laugh because the leaders I work with, nearly all of them will say, “My team tells me the truth.” So you think. It’s just not true. Their job is tied into you. So, if you come in as a leader and say, “I’ve got this great idea and I want you to poke holes in or whatever it is.” You’ve already ruined it because you just said you thought it was a good idea. That’s the sell part; you’re selling your mission.  

Steve Shallenberger: Just pause on that for a second. I love it. I mean if you should put your name tag on the right side, what you don’t do is start a conversation by saying, “I’ve had this good idea.” Well, that’s a real habit to get out of. It’s changing that – so, amen. 

Shawna Schuh: And this is a stopping. Because one of the things I’m uncovering, and I help my clients with this is the inconsistency of leaders – they’re really unclear and inconsistent because what we said was so great about them is their curiosity, and they’re out there learning. So, the leader is moving along down the line, and then they just read the new book – it could be your book – and they come in and they go, “We need to work on this!” And everybody’s rolling their eyes, and it’s like, “Ugh, one more book that this guy just read.” Where do we hold our consistency of what’s the most important thing in this culture? And I find that many leaders don’t have that because they’re so excited about what they learn, or they want to share it with their team. So, number one, don’t start with “I have a good idea.” Actually, what they do is they tell, they sell their ideas, their current initiatives. And the last thing, which is one of the ones that hurts them more than they even know is they allow. They are allowing and tolerating things that are hurting their team that they have no idea about. And I use a lot of animal analogies. If you heard the little bumble behind me, I’ve got dogs in my office. And there are guidelines to this culture I live in. So, the dogs are not allowed in the house unless I invite them in. It’s not a demand, it’s not dictatorship; it is absolutely rules that we’ve agreed to. Now, I’m the leader, so I agree to those rules, they’re my rules. However, if the dogs are outside, then I have a towel and I can wipe their feet when they come in. But the one day that they’re nice and clean, and it’s summer, there’s nothing, and everybody runs into the house – the dogs then will think that now it’s always that way. If the dogs aren’t allowed on the couch, but the day they’re clean, they’re on the couch; the rest of their life, they’re on the couch, dirty or clean.  

Shawna Schuh: So, when we allow bad behavior with our teams. I’m working with a company right now, I’m doing facilitation with their top leaders, as well as their entire culture. The way that team feels about it is you’re allowing somebody to come in late every day, so why should I be here on time? They’re making the same amount I’m making. I guess it’s okay. And that’s the allowing. Or when someone’s rude, there’s this fine line you dance as a leader because if you call someone out for rudeness and you embarrassed them publicly, then you could do more damage to them, as well as the rest of the team could be fearful. However, here we go, Steve, if my intent is love, if my intent is to just ask the question. Recently, I was with a group, there was 20 of them, one was sidetalking and he was being somewhat rude to me. So, instead of calling them out in a bad way, I simply stopped and said, “Something’s happening and I just need to ask a question.” And every I went to me, and I said, “The side conversation seems disrespectful. Would you respect me enough to stop that?” That’s a question mark. And he looked up at me, he went, “Yeah, I will.” And I’m going to tell you, the entire room shifted. And when I did my reviews at the end, I said, “Please rate this meeting.” He had not been giving me great reviews. But on that day, I got a 10. So, now think about this for a moment. My intent was not to embarrass; my intent, though, was not to allow because once somebody gets out of control or they take over the meeting, then if you stop and say, “Let me just stop for a second and ask you a question. Could we put this on a parking lot for later and stay to our agenda?” Are they going to say, “No, I have to do it my way”? You’ve gently gratefully and graciously said, “Can we put this on the parking lot?” Did that help at all, Steve? 

Steve Shallenberger: Of course. And I love on the tell, sell, and what you allow. That’s pretty profound stuff. I have good ideas, there are so many other ways you can do that that’s productive. I’ve been thinking about something, and I read into this new book, and I’d like to get your thoughts on it. How could it be helpful to us? Do you see challenges with it? What could the benefit be for us? What are your thoughts? How do you see it? So, there are different ways to put it that, again, brings the best out in people. I love the idea on what’s allowed and what’s not. And it’s got to be crystal clear in an organization: “Here are some of the values of how we do things. We don’t discriminate. We don’t harass. We’re not dishonest. We’re straightforward. There are boundaries of how we treat one another.”  

Shawna Schuh: And Steve, if I may be so bold, one of the things I work with my leaders is because what we focus on we get. So, I usually will ask my leaders not to use the word “don’t” with their teams. When we say ‘we don’t’, then we’re focused on that negative. It’s like when you say, “Don’t drop that glass.” The only thing that brain hears is “Drop the glass.” So, they say, “Watch out!” And you’re, “Aah!” So, instead, think about your intent. And the opposite of ‘don’t drop the glass’ is ‘hold on tight’. So, if you were to say that we don’t discriminate, we don’t do this, we don’t do that – we say, instead, “Our culture is inclusive, our culture is honest, our culture is gentle, our culture is questioning.” And suddenly people are thinking of inclusion and questioning. And they’re thinking of all the good things about the culture instead of “We’re gonna stay outside until the feet get cleaned.” Well, the dogs don’t. They’re like, “Whatever you tell me to do.” But if I were to say that this is how we work, we’re going to be an on-time culture, “Does that sound agreeable to everybody?” And suddenly, it’s an on-time culture, not a ‘we’re never late’. 

Steve Shallenberger: So, in other words, to shift that and make it a positive focus. Have you found, for example, let’s just take that – and I can’t believe we’re already getting to the end of our interview, we’re almost done for heaven’s sakes – take something like discrimination that you feel so strongly about and want to be sure it’s not taking place. You could say inclusive but I’m just saying, I’m just discussing this out loud, but sometimes the ‘do not’ make it very clear. But I liked the idea, “We are inclusive. Our employees deserve the right to come and be safe.” 

Shawna Schuh: Yes. And Steve, one of the things that help is a question behind that. So, I just worked with a company. I’d been working with the leaders for quite some time. There are six main leaders. So, we brought in different groups, and we worked on what professionalism meant to them. And we ultimately let them design what professionalism looked like. That was facilitated, so we really got where they needed. And so if you were to say, “We are inclusive.” Then when somebody could be rude or could show either favoritism or some sort of intolerance, instead of saying, “We don’t allow that.” We instead ask this amazing question, “Was your action inclusive?” That’s a yes or no. If we just worked on what is professionalism for this culture. So, then if somebody’s late. Once you’ve made this agreement, then it’s a yes or no; “Were you inclusive? Were you on time?” This is a yes or no. Now, if they say, “No, I wasn’t.” Then the next question is, “What are you going to do about that? How are you going to fix what just happened?” And suddenly, your team is empowered. It’s really about questions and brilliance and I love what I do. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s great. Well, we’re done for him. It’s just gone like that. So, let’s hit any final tips you’d like to leave with our listeners today. 

Shawna Schuh: I think probably the intent piece. If you actually think to yourself, “What do I want with my team?” And I find that when I talk to many of my clients, they really don’t know what they want. They’re in this role, maybe they were put in this role, and they’re just trying to do their best, or their intent is not to foul up – wrong intent. If it really is, and here’s the nugget, “To help people uncover and discover things themselves.” Your job will get easier and you’ll get out of the weeds. 

Steve Shallenberger: Leadership applies in the home, with your teams, and your whole company. So, thanks, it’s been a total delight. How can people find out about what you’re doing, Shawna? 

Shawna Schuh: Thank you, Steve. Everything is on my website. Of course, I have a LinkedIn profile as well. It’s my name, which is, Shawna Schuh, it’s spelled the German way. If someone wants just to talk with me, they can just schedule through my website. And I do this for two reasons: Number one, I just love to give. Why I’m on your show is because I think I’ve got some things to say that are valuable. And number two, it keeps me in the pulse of what’s happening with people. So, anyway, they can do that on my website, 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, it’s been so fun having you with us today. And congratulations on the good work you’re doing, Shawna.  

Shawna Schuh: Thank you so much. It’s been an honor to work with you, with all that you’ve done. I just am thrilled. Thank you from my heart. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, it’s been a delight to have you. And we wish all of our listeners the very best as you too are implementing these things, hungry to learn, and making a difference in so many people’s lives. It’s been a thrill to have you all with us today. This is Steve Shallenberger, signing off, wishing you a great day, today and always.

Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best
CEO, executive, corporate trainer, and community leader.

Shawna Schuh

President at Shawna Schuh - Schuh Biz Inc

Innovative Thought-Leader, Leadership Skill Coach.

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