Episode 385: Lead Through Change and Leave a Legacy with Julie Noonan

Episode Summary

This week, we’re joined by the inspiring Julie Noonan; she is an Executive and Leadership Coach, Change Strategist, Speaker, Founder, and CEO. After decades of success in Corporate America, Julie became her own boss. She founded Julie Noonan Consulting to coach leaders to legacies of success. Using her proven coaching method, The RIDE Method, Julie helps mid and late-career leaders remain relevant in this ever-changing business climate.

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. I am so excited, we have a special guest with us today. She helps corporate executives lead and succeed at transformational change. She is an Executive Coach and Strategic Change Consultant specializing in helping mid to senior-level leaders remain relevant in today’s constantly changing business environment. Welcome, Julie Noonan. 

Julie Noonan: Thank you, Steve, I really appreciate your having me. 

Steve Shallenberger: We’re delighted to have you. Before we get started, I’d like to tell you just a couple of more things about Julie. She believes that change is the new norm—and of course, it is—and to leave a strong legacy, leaders must reconcile their personal and professional values with today’s norms, and further engage with the new generations to both mentor and learn from them. And I’m excited to talk about this. Julie talks about not four, but five generations in the workplace. So we’re going to have the opportunity to think about what that means. What’s the impact? And certainly, that’s a big change. But to get us going, Julie, please tell us about your background including any turning points in your life that’s had a significant impact on you and does that had an impact on what you’re doing today.  

Julie Noonan: Well, interestingly enough, I started out as an English major. A lot of people ask me, “Well, what does that have to do with change management?” Or in my early career, I was an instructional designer and trainer, I fell into the corporate world of training and leadership development and that sort of thing. And it took me quite a while to determine why I absolutely fell in love with change management and organizational development. And one of the things I realized, and this was one of the turning points in my career is when I realized that the study of English literature is really the study of humans in a system under stress. And what I loved about English literature was actually taking a look at and studying an ecosystem of human behavior, and how human behavior morphs and changes based on motivation, based on the situations that were occurring around the happenstance or semi-happenstance that happens. And I was looking around in the different organizations in which I was working. And I would intuitively see patterns. I would intuitively predict outcomes. And that was when I first was introduced to change management and understood that it really brought a lot of joy to me to be able to get in and help people really embrace things that were changing and actually contribute to those changes so that it wasn’t a big deal, that they could be productive throughout the change experience. So, that was probably my first turning point. The second was when I was laid off at 55 and hit ageism right in its face. And the third time was when I was 57 and got laid off again and decided, “Okay, now I have about had this whole corporate consulting situation charted by other people being in charge of my life. I’m gonna go do this for myself.” And that’s when I started my own company. 

Steve Shallenberger: So, how’s it been? Tell us about that. 

Julie Noonan: Oh, my goodness! I kicked myself every time I think why did I not do this to begin with? I definitely learned a lot during my career, working for very large companies, very large consultancies, and middle-sized consultancies. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the biggest and smallest companies in the world. So I am very privileged to have had that experience and I’ve met tons and tons of people, lots of exposure to a lot of different things that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. But man, I love working for myself. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s great. Well, talk about change, if you get laid off at 55, that’s a change. We’re going to talk about all that and what that means. But I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met, very successful individuals and leaders that were either laid off, fired, or terminated, and it was such a wake-up call. And their very best work was after that. 

Julie Noonan: Absolutely. It really lights a fire. It almost wakes you up again. One of the things that I personally experienced was how burnout I was. Not that I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing, but it seemed that I had gotten to the point that I had done it so long that I was almost on autopilot. And that’s a scary place to be, that’s a scary place for anyone to find themselves in. I was almost to that point where I was “set in my ways.” That right there is one of the first red flags that I counsel my clients against. As soon as you start feeling like you can’t remain open to new ideas, that you automatically shut down any new idea because it comes from a younger person, or it’s brand new and you’re not at least sitting and listening for what might be a nugget of value that you can get out of it; you are likely stuck in your ways. And when you get stuck in your ways, that’s when you probably need to seek something new, seek something to wake yourself up, because that means you’re probably not learning. And when you stop learning, you die. 

Steve Shallenberger: That is so true. I’m glad you mentioned that as a red flag. We need to kind of be introspective and examine ourselves and look for those red flags: becoming impatient with others, not listening, thinking we’ve pretty well got it all dialed in. Those are scary, scary things because the world will leave you in the dust. 

Julie Noonan: Absolutely. And the other thing is it’s okay to feel afraid. I have two daughters who are in their late 20s, and they’ll come and we’ll be having a conversation, they’ll mention something like a piece of technology or a new thing in popular culture, and I’ll say, “Well, what is that?” And they’ll say, “You don’t know about whatever it is?” And I’ll say, “No, tell me about it.” And it’s okay for me to feel like, “Okay, well, that one passed me by. But it’s not a big deal, just telling me about it.” It’s a little harder to do in a corporation when you’re supposed to be the leader. So, there are ways within a corporation, when you are a senior leader, to surround yourself with people whom you can continue to learn from without feeling threatened by that. 

Steve Shallenberger: I love your approach to that, Julie. It applies not only to us as individuals, but certainly, as the leader of any size organization to be vulnerable and say, “I’m not sure I get that one. Can you help me understand it better?” It’s okay. But if you’re doing that every day, you’re not going to be left in the dust; you’re going to be staying out there because you’re curious, inquisitive, and trying to understand people and things. Well, I love this because it helps mediate a little bit and mitigate change. Well, let’s just talk about this and dive right into it because you’ve been just talking about some of these differences. As the last of the boomers, meaning individuals born before or between 1946 and 1964, prepare to leave the workforce, what specific challenges are they facing? And how are they overcoming these kinds of challenges? I’m in that but I’m way in the workforce. I love working. I’m just not ready to retire. 

Julie Noonan: Speaking of, what you just said is probably the number one thing that we’re struggling with. Number one, there is no such thing as retirement anymore. Our generation, at least the last 9-10 years of the boomers is redefining retirement because we are not interested necessarily in riding off into the sunset and playing golf — I mean, we might want to play golf, but we’re not necessarily interested in riding off with our gold watch and our separation package. We feel more healthy, more vibrant, more intelligent, and more able to give than we ever have in history. We are not necessarily reluctant to give up power as much as we’re reluctant to give up purpose. And we are keeping up technologically, as evidenced by the number of individuals in our age bracket that are turning around and starting their own companies after the age of 55-60, starting podcasts like yourself, investing in new startups, volunteering and/or starting nonprofits. We have a lot more to give. So retirement doesn’t mean the same thing as it used to. So that’s one thing. Another thing that we’re struggling with is staying technologically relevant. So unless you have direct access or a direct need for technology, it’s very, very easy to get left behind with the latest and greatest. It’s hard to even know with the amount of technology that is barreling down upon us what to pay attention to and what to not pay attention to. So, it’s not even time anymore, it’s our attention; where we allocate our attention is very difficult to prioritize. So, not having someone that you can trust to say, “Okay, dude, I don’t personally have an interest in artificial intelligence, machine learning, etc. I don’t personally have an interest in going down deep and getting into the weeds of this thing. I need someone who has that interest, who understands where my interest lie, where my business wants to go, who can advise me, ‘Okay, this you need to pay attention to; this is just blah, blah, blah, you don’t need to pay attention to that.’” So, that’s another thing that this generation is struggling with.  

Julie Noonan: A third is a tremendous clash in values, culturally, as well as in business that we’re dealing with. One of the things I do for individuals that I coach is sometimes I will put them into a program of reverse mentoring, where I will put a boomer with a Gen Z or a late millennial, and call it a reverse mentoring relationship. To set up that relationship, I will say, “Let’s both of you take a values assessment.” That sets the stage for “What values do we actually have in common?” Because that is where we need to find common ground. And nine times out of 10 values, we will have in common: family, life purpose, etc. And it’s only just a couple of things that we probably would not have in common. So, when we build those kinds of relationships, the mentoring and the coaching that can go back and forth between them actually makes it a lot easier to bridge those gaps. So, those are my top three, actually. 

Steve Shallenberger: Excellent suggestions, I love them, they’re very specific. So, we’ve heard for years, Julie, about the conflicts issues, and I might add, opportunities specific to what we’ve talked about for generations in the past, now five, in the workforce, and a lot has changed in the last few years with COVID and remote workers, and now people getting back together; what thoughts do you have about how to maximize collaborating and being effective together and creating intergenerational organizations that are highly successful. 

Julie Noonan: What I have seen in a couple of the companies that I consult with, as the change leader, the hybrid working model is really in its infancy. I’ve seen some missteps, as well as I’ve seen some really good models working with. When they give the employees the opportunity to make choices, it has worked very well. However, there are choices within guidelines and choices within boundaries. So, there is the acknowledgment that there has to be some in-person interaction in order to create the sparks of innovation, the sparks of networking, togetherness, creativity, and innovation that come just along with “Hey, I hear you like old cars and vintage. Me too!” Those kinds of conversations that build relationships, that form on a personal level, but then grow into professional-level, discussions and knowledge sharing. There needs to be a place for that. So, a couple of things that the companies that I work with are doing is they are creating weeks in which an entire division or an entire group gets together. And during those weeks, there are specific events that are happening, like town halls, focus groups, and employee resource group meetings, if there are specific division-wide projects that need to happen, those are held there, coaching. For instance, one of the companies that I work with, I’m coaching two high-potential people within that group. So we do face-to-face coaching during that week. I’m working on two other projects with that organization. So I meet face to face with the business owners of those projects. It just gives that face-to-face time that builds the relationship and the trust that you don’t necessarily get over Zoom, Teams, or whatever medium that you have. When it comes to the generations getting together, one of the things that I have observed is that the companies that I’m working with, they have switched it up in these events so that it’s not one generation. For instance, it’s not the senior most people doing all of the presentations, it is a mixture of. So, there may be a senior most person and a junior person together giving a demonstration about a project that is ongoing or they have a win, or it might be a brand new person or an intern who comes in and does a presentation to give them some exposure and that sort of thing. I have also observed more formal mentoring programs that have come out of COVID because the younger generations are almost demanding those. 

Steve Shallenberger: They have that kind of sense to seek help and mentoring. Good for them. We all need it. 

Julie Noonan: It’s really cool, too, because the older generations seem to be the ones that really crave that in-person feel more than the younger generations. And they’re more open now, it feels like, than they were in the past, to doing the mentoring. So, it worked both ways. 

Steve Shallenberger: Let’s shift gears here a little bit. Good ideas on that, on ways to knit and maximize the opportunity together and minimize the conflicts. We’re all in this together. So those kinds of recommendations of building relationships and trust, discussing, and knowing each other’s backgrounds. We have and are living in an extraordinary time — an absolute explosion of technology. In 1984, when I was a young man, there was no internet, of course, and I remember buying a Compaq computer, which was like a sewing machine kit. And I actually would take it on the plane with me and the keyboard would fall down to the bottom, and it had this little teeny screen with a floppy disk. Now, look at what we have, with the devices we all have, we can communicate around the world instantly. How do people stay up with all the changes? I think I downloaded three new apps yesterday, alone. So how do people stay up with this explosion of technology, this change that’s going on? I mean, today, Julie and I are using a new platform for podcasts. It’s fun. How do we stay ahead of all this and use it to our advantage and not spin our wheels? 

Julie Noonan: So, let me ask you this: How did you hear about this new platform? How did you learn it? Did you have eight hours of training? Or did you go to YouTube and look it up? 

Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, you bet. Well, that’s a great question. Well, Ginni Media, our support system for doing podcasts, who are amazing. We had our annual review, and they said, “You really ought to try Riverside; a different platform from what we were using, Zoom, which has its applications, of course.” So, I looked at YouTube. I set it up and went over it. And then I practiced it last night with my daughter, and I was mentioning this to Julie, just a few minutes ago. I did a podcast for my four-year-old granddaughter, Remy, and seven-year-old granddaughter, Jocelyn. So I interviewed them. It was so fun. It was a six-minute show. I sent them the recording and it worked great. So, good question. It was recommended, went to YouTube, and looked at their stuff. 

Julie Noonan: Absolutely. And I think for the vast majority of individuals who want to stay up to speed, it’s not the actual technology that we’re staying up to speed with, what is the most critical element is our sense of curiosity and our sense of “what do I need?” So, for instance, I’m not a podcaster, so I’m not going to go look for a podcasting software. But I am someone who is creating a new community within an organization that it needs a cool new startup, it needs a hangout space, it needs a way to encourage and entice a new generation of people of data scientists, actually, to come and give ideas for this new community. So, I experienced, in another group that I’m part of, a technology called Toucan which is easy peasy to set up. So I tested it with my colleague, and we’re going to host a hangout. So, how did I learn about it? I experienced it somewhere else. I looked it up on YouTube. I had my assistant go out, buy it for 50 bucks, and test it. We tested it on our phone call and now I’m going to launch it within this company next week, get approval, and we’re going to see what happens. The thing about it is I’m going to have an open mind about it. My business client is very curious. I know he’s going to be all over it, he likes new shiny things, and we’re going to get some value out of it. If he was set in his ways, he would not allow that kind of experimentation. So he would be missing out on an opportunity to engage more than 400 data scientists in a networking experience that would lead to furthering his program. That’s how you do it. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, let’s just think about this. One of the things I know you have a passion for, and I do too happen to share it, we do I’d say, is leaving a legacy, a lasting positive legacy for themselves and for their organization. So, as we wrap up today, what are some tips that you can give that help leaders of anything; a sports team, a business entity, an organization, or even a family? What can they do to leaders to leave a lasting legacy?  

Julie Noonan: Number one is to define what that means to you because legacy can mean different things to different people. For some, it could mean leaving enough wealth for generations of their family to have an easy life. For others, it could mean leaving a business that could self-sustain for years to come. For others, it could mean leaving an impact on a group of people for a long period of time. For others, it could mean simply leaving an impact on their family or on their community, as in, “I want to leave a library in my name,” or something like that. So, determine what that is for yourself, number one. And then number two, decide what are those steps you need to take to make that happen. And then take a look at “How am I being now and is my being and acting now going to fulfill that legacy?” So, if I’m doing or being something now, that is in direct opposition; for instance, if I’m being too controlling, if I’m fighting against social media marketing, my business is going to die. That’s just the bottom line of it. If I’m fighting that, am I getting in the way of leaving my own legacy? If I am resistant to hand off responsibility to the next generation or my successor, am I getting in the way of leaving my legacy? If I’m an entrepreneur and I’m not considering selling my business, I’m considering that I am my business, and I’m determined that I’m going to close my business; am I leaving money on the table, essentially? Am I letting my business die with me? And is that the right choice to make for my children, my family, my successor, or my community? Am I leaving a hole in my community? Because my community depends on the revenue from my business. A lot of people don’t think about that because they identify too closely with the business being themselves. So, those are the kinds of questions that I like to reflect on with my clients as they’re considering these things. It’s not just about you, it’s about everything surrounding that business; the business is separate from you. And then if you are leaving a corporation, obviously, it’s “What has your impact been on your customers? What impact have you had on the world? Or what impact have you had on your profession?” So, for instance, if you’re a finance professional, an HR professional, or an IT professional, have you had an impact in your chosen profession even? Is there something that you want to leave there as well? Do you want to write a book? Do you want to do some research? Consider what it is that you want to leave as part of that legacy, and then look at your list and determine if you’re making the right choices and you have the right things on your task list to get this done. If not, what do we need to clear? 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s excellent. Good job. Well, it’s been so fun. We’re at the end of our interview. Julie, how can people find out about what you’re doing? 

Julie Noonan: Via LinkedIn, for sure. All you have to do is search for me, Julie Noonan, you’ll find me. And then I have a website,  

Steve Shallenberger: Oh, perfect. It’s been so fun having you with us. Thanks for your ideas. I love the fact that there’s a transcript that goes with this interview because Julie has really given us today, our wonderful listeners, a number of really fantastic ideas that can be used. So, we wish you the best and all that you’re doing, Julie. 

Julie Noonan: Thank you, Steve. I really appreciate you having me on. 

Steve Shallenberger: You bet. To all of our listeners, we honor you, we’re grateful for you, and we wish you all the best as you’re making a difference every single day and leaving the world a better place. This is Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, wishing you a great day.  

Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best

CEO, Executive, Corporate Trainer, and Community Leader

Julie Noonan

Founder and CEO at Julie Noonan Consulting, LLC

Executive & Leadership Coach, Change Strategist, Founder and CEO

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