Laura A. Davis is the CEO and Founder of Laura A. Davis & Associates, Inc., an Atlanta-based transformational executive coaching, leadership and team development, and DiSC assessment training firm.
Since 1998, Laura has been coaching leaders at all levels of Fortune 500 and mid-sized companies to become more emotionally intelligent, agile, and aware of their role in creating a healthy, engaged corporate culture. Organizations must become agile in today’s world of disruption and agile organizations are made up of agile, emotionally intelligent people.
Laura and her associates also focus on assisting teams within organizations to become more cohesive by building cultures of high trust, productivity, accountability, and collective results. Laura and her team offer leading-edge mindsets, skillsets, and toolsets needed to create high performance and inspired success.
Prior to starting her business, Laura held both line and staff marketing management positions at Exxon, Equifax, and UPS. She was an Adjunct Professor of Business Studies at Mercer University and holds an MBA in Marketing from Emory University. Laura earned the coveted Master Certified Coaching designation through the ICF in 1998 and maintains that credential through her ongoing study and dedication to the profession.
Her ongoing thought leadership is demonstrated in the talks she gives at professional industry conferences around the country. She is a contributing author to “A Guide to Getting It: Self-Esteem” and has published articles in leading industry publications such as Choice magazine, ATD newsletters, and more.
She has appeared on “Good Day Atlanta” and numerous internet radio shows to talk about emerging organizational leadership best practices. Laura A. Davis and Associates, Inc. is also a certified woman-owned business through WBENC.
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, it’s time for GWBC Radio’s Open for Business. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:18] Lee Kantor here. Another episode of GWBC Open for Business, and this is going to be a good one. Today, we have with us Laura A. Davis with Laura A. Davis and Associates. Welcome, Laura.
Laura A. Davis: [00:00:28] Thank you, Lee. Great to be with you again.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:30] I’m excited to catch up. And for the listeners who aren’t aware, can you tell us about your work? How are you serving folks?
Laura A. Davis: [00:00:37] Absolutely. Well, we have been in business for 25 years. And my team and I help organizations strive through change. We help people to be more emotionally intelligent and more agile. And we do that by helping them understand how to really leverage their strengths and learn social and emotional skills to survive in today’s ever changing world of work. We work frequently with cohesive teams as well. Help make virtual teams more successful.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:12] Now, in today’s world, I guess, there’s a few different schools of thought when it comes to strengths. Is it better to kind of lean in and get the most out of your strengths? Or, is it better to shore up your weaknesses? Can you talk about the kind of the pros and cons of each?
Laura A. Davis: [00:01:31] Sure. I am of the camp that believes in capitalizing on your strengths. That said, we all have blind spots in areas for growth and development. So, you need to be aware of those. And that’s where emotional intelligence comes in. And a lot of people have heard of emotional intelligence, but they’re not really clear what that means precisely. And I would define it as, people really understanding how they react to situations, what their strengths are, what their blind spots are. And beyond just being aware of your own strengths and challenges, it’s extremely important to understand the strengths and needs of the people that you work with, so that you can adapt your behavior to meet the needs of the other person or persons if it’s a team, which generally is, as well as the needs of the situation.
Laura A. Davis: [00:02:28] And, too often, leaders and teams have been promoted or trained to only look at technical or functional skills. And where the rubber really meets the road or where people are successful or not is how well they can really relate to people. Do they have a high level of emotional intelligence, particularly in today’s virtual and remote environment more important than ever, to have these skills? So, that’s what we help people to develop.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:59] And aren’t these skills, even if you were great at in-person, maybe emotional intelligence, when you’re doing things virtually, that’s a kind of a slightly different skill set, right? Because you have to pick up cues in ways that maybe you hadn’t been able to rely on previously.
Laura A. Davis: [00:03:16] That’s very true. And most of us now are becoming very familiar with all the online platforms. And I happen to use Zoom in the virtual trainings and the executive coaching that my team and I does. But, really, there are ways you can leverage the tools to be more successful. I’ll give you one quick example, when you’re trying to create a psychologically safe environment – and by that, I mean an environment where people feel they can raise questions and concerns, and share dissenting opinions and have, what I call, productive conflict – sometimes you need to think about how are you phrasing the question. A poll, for example, can be a nice way to get candid feedback.
Laura A. Davis: [00:04:00] I’m doing some work right now with Habitat for Humanity International, and it’s a real privilege. We’re working through the five behaviors of a cohesive team, which is based on Pat Lencioni’s famous book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. And they have a beautiful concept called graceful candor. And what that really means is, it’s the intersection or balance of two mindsets, candor and grace. So, candor, of course, is being clear and direct and truthful in calling out critical matters. Sometimes that is hard to do. Virtually, it can be facilitated. And, again, the team leader or whomever is running the meeting, ideally, everyone on the team, helps to manage that by being graceful, by having kindness and respect, and listening intentionally. But those skills are hard. People are not often trained in how to give and receive feedback.
Laura A. Davis: [00:04:56] People, again, have challenges sometimes having an open mind and looking at diverse perspectives. If it’s not our own, it’s a very human tendency to look for data or evidence that supports our existing beliefs. So, all of these skills can be learned. That’s the good news. But there’s a level of finesse that needs to happen in a virtual environment. You’re absolutely right.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:22] And the level of nuance becomes extremely challenging, I would imagine, for those folks that aren’t trained or at least kind of aware that even these biases can exist in themselves and in others. And then, you multiply that by with, you know, kind of this world is flat, especially now with remote, where you’re having global conversations, and you’re dealing with cultural issues, and you’re dealing with gender and age, and all of these things coming into play. There’s, like, landmines everywhere.
Laura A. Davis: [00:05:56] Well, all is not lost. And, in fact, you bring up a great point, everything that we do in my company is about creating an emotionally intelligent, agile culture. And we start with the Everything DiSC assessment, so people see their interpersonal style, what their strengths are, and challenges, what motivates them, and what stresses them. And we do some facilitated sessions where people learn that, not only about themselves, but about their team members. And then, there’s a number of suggestions and concrete behavioral ways that you can adapt to meet the other person where they are and speak to them in their language, if you want to use that particular metaphor.
Laura A. Davis: [00:06:40] And it’s magic, you develop a lot more trust and teamwork. You can have more effective, productive conflict about the issues and not the personalities. And you get buy-in and clarity towards collective results. And I mentioned previously, the importance of peer-to-peer feedback. All of those things certainly can be taught. And when people practice them and experience the benefits, they’re sold. And we’re just delighted to introduce those skills to people because, again, often, as you say, they have not been exposed to them. And it makes such a difference in terms of their satisfaction and performance at work. So, all of the CFOs are happy too.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:27] Well, I’m sure they are.
Laura A. Davis: [00:07:28] Business case for social intelligence.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:30] Yeah. Because it, probably, becomes obvious pretty quickly. And this is one of those things where it might have been considered nice to have, you know, when we were all meeting in person and seeing each other day-to-day. And we can kind of get a feel just through body language and these other ways to see how people are doing. And, now, it gets that much more difficult. And if you’re not kind of on top of this stuff, bad situation and a bad culture can spread pretty rapidly, I would imagine.
Laura A. Davis: [00:07:59] Yes. And even in-person, sadly, the bias in many companies is on technical skills or on traditional performance measures, and all of that is important. That said, there’s a very clear connection between return on investment by investing in people, developing emotional intelligence, and understanding their behavioral personality style that we do with DiSC and so forth. It creates business results, and people are more engaged and more committed to the organization than ever before. And we’re seeing now a fair amount of attrition even in this job market. People have choices and they are moving to different opportunities. If the culture doesn’t support them, particularly millennials, then they will not stay with an organization. Perhaps, their parents did or their parent’s parents in many cases.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:03] And then, this is one of those things where people say, “Well, what if I train them and they go? And then, worse is, what if I don’t train them and they stay?” And if they’re not learning these skills, you’re hurting your organization, number one. But number two, if you’re training them on these skills, this is a gift to them where they’re going to appreciate it because this bleeds into their real life, too, not just their work life. These are skills that can affect their parenting, their being a good sibling, a good child. This stuff is important work foundational, I would think, for just human to human interaction.
Laura A. Davis: [00:09:41] Absolutely. And we take a whole person approach. And, in fact, when we conduct or have an engagement around an executive coaching initiative, we will ask people for a brief life history so that we understand their values and their beliefs and the context in which they work, because you do bring your whole self to work.
Laura A. Davis: [00:10:02] But, you know, I wanted to comment on what you said, Lee. Even beyond being a gift to them, if they leave, “Oh, well.” They’re going to leave comments on Glassdoor, and your reputation as a company certainly is more transparent than ever before with social media. We see that, there are multiple examples of that that I could cite. But they will become customers and they will become advocates for your brand even if they are not employees anymore. So, I think it’s important to recognize that as well.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:36] Now, can you share a story about maybe an impact you made in an organization? Maybe they came in, maybe, somewhat skeptical. And then, you went through this training and they got a result that was kind of more than they anticipated.
Laura A. Davis: [00:10:50] Oh, I’d love to. Yes. Fortunately, there are many such examples, and I’m thinking of an example with Dupont actually, where they were looking at trying to be more innovative. And, certainly, that’s a critical need that many organizations have today. And we worked with a team of life scientists and a team of material scientists. So, basically biologists and chemists. And this is just one example of many. But the people that were charged with working together and creating new products or services, they have very different backgrounds. They have very different worldviews, very different biases. And we introduced them to the personality assessment that I mentioned earlier, the Everything DiSC. We talked about collaboration skills, communication skills, set them up to really understand one another, and have more productive, real, candid conversations. And that was very, very powerful. I don’t have it off the top of my head, but they increased the number of new ideas that were brought to the pipeline to market, which was the intent of this, is to come up with a better generation of viable ideas that could be put into the new product development pipeline.
Laura A. Davis: [00:12:18] But we worked with many different industries. We did some work with top [indiscernible] last year, and Habitat, as I mentioned. Many, and they’re all mentioned on my website, which is lauraadavis.com.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:34] Now, Laura, you mentioned the importance of kind of creating this environment of trust and safety in order to be vulnerable to share. And I think that that’s critically important, because if you’re not feeling that level of trust and vulnerability and safety, you’re less apt to share ideas. And the ideas are the ones that matter for the organization to grow. Because if you can be getting ideas from your personnel reliably and predictably, some of those ideas are going to be good. I mean, you don’t know which ones are going to be good. The only way to get the good ones are to get the bad ones, so you’ve got to get all of them. So, if you don’t have an environment that lets those ideas happen, you’re never going to get the good ones that can really create exponential growth in your organization. You have the resources. You might as well do what you can do to get the most out of them.
Laura A. Davis: [00:13:28] Beautifully said. And these resources, the people who are closest to the work often really know what’s going on. They have the best ideas. So, one of the challenges, however, in hierarchies, is it’s not natural to speak up. Sometimes we’ve spoken up and perhaps the manager didn’t seem receptive or seemed to get angry that their position was challenged. And so, that can really dampen people’s candor. It’s important, not only for good ideas, it can be a safety issue.
Laura A. Davis: [00:14:02] Think about in a hospital – actually, I will mention one of my favorite resources is Amy Edmondson. She’s a professor at Harvard and she’s written a number of wonderful books. But her book, The Fearless Organization, cites a number of examples in various industries, health care, nuclear plants, mining, et cetera, where, because people didn’t speak up, they had a terrible accident or fatality. Where, that could have easily have been avoided. And, often, in the five behaviors programs that we run, we talk about the Challenger accident, and many of the challenges that NASA had with [indiscernible] psychological safety. It’s a cultural issue many times.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:54] Now, this show is GWBC’s Open for Business, can you talk about the impact being a member of GWBC has meant to you, maybe personally and your organization?
Laura A. Davis: [00:15:05] Yes. Absolutely. I have been a member for three years now. And every year, I think, my participation grows. GWBC has wonderful educational programs, networking opportunities, opportunities like this for me to talk with you and highlight some of the things I’m passionate about and the results that we create for our clients. So, it’s a wonderful organization. And I think that I would encourage anyone new to business or even experienced in business that hasn’t participated in the past to participate.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:39] Now, in your work with leaders or people who are trying to train leaders, can you share, maybe, that pain that they’re having where it might be a good idea to call you or somebody on your team to help them. Like, what are some symptoms of maybe problems or things that maybe they can get better or maybe not, and maybe not even necessarily problems, but just areas that could have an impact down the road that the result is to call you or somebody on your team?
Laura A. Davis: [00:16:09] Yes. That’s a great question. What are the catalyzing events? Well, often, when a leader is promoted, as I mentioned before, too often people have been promoted because they have the technical skills, but they don’t necessarily have the leadership skills and the teaming skills through no fault of their own. There is an art and science to that. So, transitions in leadership would be one. When teams are not as effective as they’d like to be, and that can take a variety of forms. People are coming on and off the team or the team is not getting the results. There are delays of time. Deadlines are not being met. Budgeting deadlines are not being met. When you’re trying to hire the right person for the right role. We also do selection and succession planning and hiring and so forth.
Laura A. Davis: [00:17:07] But, you know, many times leaders may experience attrition and they think they have the right product, they have the right people. What’s missing many times is an understanding of the interpersonal dynamics. And that’s what we can really help leaders and teams do, promote truly collaborative interactions – and as you mentioned, whether that’s virtual or in-person, either one – so that you have top performing individuals and great leaders of cohesive teams. And you reduce all the unnecessary politics, and the waste of time meetings, and all the pain and angst of people on a team not getting along with one another or passive aggressive behaviors. I could go on, Lee, but you get the gist.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:56] Absolutely.
Laura A. Davis: [00:17:58] That common everyday challenges that people have in communication and collaboration are what we help with to achieve those results.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:05] Well, Laura, if somebody wanted to learn more, have a more substantive conversation with you or a member your team, what’s the website again?
Laura A. Davis: [00:18:12] Yes. It’s www.lauraadavis.com. That’s L-A-U-R-A-A-D-A-V-I-S.com. Or you can email me, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. And the mobile phone for the office is 678-637-8977. And we’d be delighted to see if it’s a match, if we can help. And I’m very passionate about this work, as are my associates, because it does make a difference to your whole life, as you said. When you are happy at work and bringing your best self to the table, everyone benefits personally and professionally.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:53] Well, thank you again for sharing your story, Laura.
Laura A. Davis: [00:18:59] My pleasure. Thank you so much, Lee.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:00] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We will see you all next time on GWBC Open for Business.
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