Ep 226 Leadership Change and Individual Empowerment with Melynda Benlemlih

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Episode Notes:

Today I have the privilege of sharing a recent conversation with Melynda Benlemlih who is a coach, facilitator, speaker, trainer, consultant for organizations and Founder and President of Cognitive Agility LLC. 

She has over 20 years of experience in organizational development in the private and federal sectors applying solutions across the workforce development spectrum.  She has built programs in higher education, International business, and federal human capital management and shared so many great tips and techniques on leadership change and what you can do to feel more empowered in your role – at any level. 

She shared so many great ideas around change management, controlling your life, your time, your habits and how to gain clarity in your life.  She has a free resource for you as well so be sure to listen all the way through.

In This Episode: 

  • Change Management 
  • The importance of gaining clarity in your life
  • Stakeholder influencer map
  • Human capital management 
  • Empowerment at any level in your career
  • The importance of knowing what you control in your life
  • cognitiveagilityllc.com – free guide:


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Episode Transcript (Transcribed by OtterAI with minimal edits)

You are listening to the it’s your time podcast and I’m your host certified life coach Michelle Arnold Bourque, and today’s episode I’m discussing leadership change and individual empowerment with Melynda Benlemlih. Welcome to the It’s Your Time Podcast, the podcast where busy professionals like you get the practical solutions and support you need to gain control of your schedule so you can strive to be the best in your career, but without the stress and overwhelm. If you’re looking to increase your energy and decrease your stress, you are in the right place.

Michelle Bourque 0:37 Hello, hello. Hello. Welcome back to the podcast friends. I mentioned at the start of the new year that my intention was to bring you more strong female voices with knowledge that can help you as a complete human. And today, I have the privilege of sharing a recent conversation with Melinda bend Lemley who is a coach, facilitator, speaker, trainer, consultant for organizations and the founder and president of cognitive agility, LLC. Melinda has over 20 years of experience in organizational development, and both the private and federal sectors applying solutions across the Workforce Development spectrum. She has built Programs in Higher Education, international business, and federal human capital management. And she shared so many great tips and techniques on leadership change and what you can do to feel more empowered in your role at any level. She also shared a lot of great ideas around change management, controlling your life, your time, your habits and how to gain clarity in your life. And I love her idea of the stakeholder influencer map, she is sharing a free resource for you as well. So be sure to listen all the way through. And without further ado, take a listen. Okay, I am so excited to get started today, you have quite an extensive background, can you maybe share with the listeners a little bit about who you help, but you do all of the goodness that you see fit?

2:09 Yeah, absolutely. Michelle, thank you for having me. It’s such a pleasure to be here. You know, my background is in human capital and organizational development, over 25 years. And I’ve done things from helping organizations set up the whole HR wheel, right, you’re what’s the job, post the job, hire for the job, train the job, get the folks in, what’s their career path, professional development, you know, all the things. So that’s kind of my core background, and doing research, qualitative kind of research, you know, focus groups and interviews to figure out what we need to train to figure out what the next thing is in the organization. And over the years, you know, I just started saying, Give me all the people problems. Whether it’s been workforce planning projects, like we’re launching a new product, how many people do we need in a certain role, right, in order to make this launch happen. And over the years, I just started working more and more in the strategic planning area with the C suite of the organization or the company, trying to figure out some of the larger issues like growth and change and mergers and acquisitions and some of those reorganizations, right, thinking that that’s going to solve whatever the problem is. And when I started doing more of the strategy and change management work, it opened my eyes to the individual, and how all of these things that we’re talking about are impacting people at work, because at the end of the day, that’s where my heart is, and with people. And so I’ve worked in companies, I had my own company, went to work for a client company for a few years back out on my own several years ago. And so I kind of seen both sides of the dynamic, right? When we make policy and we make change in organizations, and how that impacts people. And so, in the last few years, I just got into coaching and training and facilitation and decided that’s where I want to be. Yeah, that’s where I can have the biggest impact on people. We spend so much time at work. I think we should thrive because of each other at work. But sometimes it feels like it’s in spite of each other at work.

Michelle Bourque 4:25 I love that I literally just had this conversation with a co worker yesterday because we were having some inventory issues. And we were saying like, do the people in corporate understand what is going on? And I’m sure like I’m in the field, right? I’m kind of, you know, low person, whatever you want to say on the totem pole. I don’t have insight to the larger decisions that are going on. So I think that’s so important what you’re talking about. And is that what you mean when you say that you’re a strategic human capital consultant. I love that. Like is that for the people?

4:56 Yes. So when you have human capital folks within an ER organization, they’re often looking at the system in an organization and how that system impacts people or how people engage with the system. So it’s everything from, you know, a job and task analysis, what is the job that we do, and then that can be used for the training that you want to develop? Or the career paths that you want to develop? So it’s everything around that human capital. You know, it’s, it’s a little broader than HR HR kind of falls within that really big umbrella. Oh, yeah, Michelle Bourque 5:33 that is so interesting. And you talk about change, and I think people are often resistant to change. So can you maybe talk a little bit about what some of the tools or the concepts are that you use with your clients to maybe help the listeners? 

5:47 Yeah, absolutely. You know, I mentioned just a few. But let’s talk about what change is, right? There’s the big capital C change that we might feel that we’re impacted by, which could be a reorg, or something big that’s happening with the organization, right? A new product launch, it could also be at the team level, you know, maybe you have a new tool, a new software in his system, maybe a new leader that wants to do things differently. That’s where I kind of come in and see where people are in the middle, like you kind of alluded to, I’m not the bottom of the totem pole. But I have folks that are depending on me, I have folks above me, who are dependent on me, and I have to figure all this stuff out. Right. And so I think in that really big middle of an organization, there’s a lot of change going on. And we’re constantly in this, you know, how does this impact me? Right? And what’s that saying? The only thing that’s constant is change. Yeah,

Michelle Bourque 6:47 I was going to say that is exactly what I say about my company. The one thing that is constant is change. Absolutely,

 6:53 absolutely. Absolutely. So one of the first things I think we can do is identify what we can control. And what we can’t control. And I’m sure you’ve seen, you know, or use those graphics of, you know, here’s what’s in the circle, which is what I can control, here’s what’s outside the circle, what I can’t control, right? And so let me just kind of put it out there. What can you control? Michelle? Michelle Bourque 7:18 I can control how I react to everything. I think so many people right? Want to control? Listen, I try it. I try to control others, but I am never very successful. So I’ll work on myself.

7:29 Right? We know. And as coaches, we know, we can control our own thoughts, actually, our feelings and like you said, our actions. And then it’s what can’t be control. And for so many people, it’s really hard to identify what we can let go of. And what we can let go of when things are changing around us are other people’s thoughts, their judgments, their opinions, right? And so we really need to get clarity around what we can control. And I’ll often have clients tell me yes, but Melinda, I don’t control those decisions. I don’t have responsibility for that. And I see them kind of deflecting authority, right? And what we need to discover is where do we have influence? Now, we may not have control for a final decision. But I find a lot of people, especially in that middle swath in an organization have a lot more influence than they think. So it’s What can I influence? Right out of that, when we think about what we can influence, you know, coming from kind of a organizational systems perspective, I’m always thinking about things at the organizational level, at the team level, and at the individual level. Right. And so an easy way, when it gets complex like this is to just kind of draw it out. I’m a very visual person, I love speaking in metaphors. So I’ll offer this tool. And that’s to create I call it a stakeholder influence map. Now, if you’re familiar with project management, PMP kind of training, strategic communications, change management, we often do this exercise is one of the first things to identify, Okay, what’s the playing field really look like? I call it a stakeholder influence map and it really just looks like a big bullseye. So the first thing to do and you know, if your listeners if you’re in a place where you can get a piece of paper out, do this exercise, if you’re driving or walking, which is when I often listen to podcasts, just imagine in your mind’s eye, this really big bullseye. Okay, so you’ve got a big circle, and then you draw another circle in the center, and then you draw a smaller circle in the middle, in the middle, draw stick figure and that’s you. And so one of the things we help clients do is identify their perspective and really lean into their role and their perspective and who We’re all the players right around on the stakeholder map. So the second step is to identify who are the people, or maybe the roles that have the biggest influence on you, and your day to day operations. So you might have a team leader, you might have a project manager, right? Who influences you, you can look at this two way, who do you influence as well, and start writing those names and those roles around you as the center, what we oftentimes forget is they also have stakeholders that they’re accountable to. And so this helps us broaden our perspective. Well, who are the other stakeholders in this complex dynamic, that might be influencing me, but a little more indirectly. So maybe there’s a program manager, or a vice president or a client, if you’re providing a product or service, and start to map them out on the outer rings, and this just gives us pause to reflect and identify, Okay, I think I might have a little more influence here than what I first imagined. So that’s a really good exercise to just, you know, in 10, or 15 minutes, get it all out, and it starts to make sense visually for you.

Michelle Bourque 11:17 Oh, I love that. I think that makes such sense. And will bring such awareness. Because I know sometimes, I will often say like, If only I knew what the bigger picture was, I would probably have more buy in. But instead of like taking the time to think about like, I feel like your exercise can help give that pause to kind of look at that bigger picture, not necessarily be so dependent on others to tell me, and then I will feel more in control. And I feel like what you’re saying is exactly that. Like it’s so much more empowering to know how much influence you actually do have? 

11:47 Absolutely, absolutely. And I can share a story, I just had a client last week work through this. And I’ll just kind of set up this scenario. And maybe you’re familiar with it in kind of product development, you know, sales types, environments, I work a lot with software development companies who worked for larger federal agencies. Okay, so they’re providing a software as a service or a product. And I had a team lead, reach out to me, and she said, Melinda, I’m a new team lead, I have six people working for me, our client is a federal agency. And the problem is, we’re over running our budget, because the client keeps changing the requirements. And I keep talking to my project manager, and they’re telling me it’s okay, just do what the client wants. And then I go to my program manager, and I found out that they have a long standing relationship with the client. And I want to get in their meetings, and they say, No, we don’t have the budget for you and your team to attend the meetings, just do what the client asks. But I see that I’m over running. And now I don’t feel like a good leader, because I’m telling my team to do different things. And there’s this churn in the spin, right? And so we identified what the problem was. And I’ll just pause and ask you, how many stakeholders Did you hear in that scenario? Michelle Bourque 13:11 Oh, my gosh, it sounds like there’s a lot because it’s like our worker, right? If it’s all around the circles, like the program manager, the other boss, the client, like, yeah, multiple salutely. 

13:20 Absolutely. So doing this exercise, she was able to just map out, okay, I have my team, I have a project manager, I have a program manager, and I have a client. And what we identified was the dynamic of the communication, right? Was going from client to her team, client to program manager. And it seemed like the client was in control. And so she had to reflect on that. And the next step after your stakeholder map, once you map it out, is really to reflect and ask yourself, Okay, in this scenario, what’s working? Well, she said, my team, my team is great, though, you know, we want to make the client happy. And I said, Well, what do you want more of? And she said, I need to attend those meetings. I’m a technical expert, I need to be in the conversations where the requirements development is happening. And I said, Well, what do you want less of, she said, feeling frustrated, going over budget and being left out? That reflection exercise then led her to some action. And you know, our clients can discover the best action for themselves. We give them roadmaps and tools, right and encouragement, and she came up with her next best step, which is having a meeting with the program manager and articulating why if she’s in the meeting, they will have less burn rate on the budget because she can articulate the requirements changes with the client in the room and start to develop trust with that. program manager who has the relationship with the client. And she had to kind of script out what she was going to say, to pitch this to the program manager because she’s new on the project, and they have an existing relationship. So we scripted it out, she actually wanted to practice the conversation, she got into the meeting, and now is on the pathway of influencing those decisions that the client wants.

Michelle Bourque 15:24 I think that is so important. You mentioned a couple of things. So the questions like What do you want to change? What do you want more of what do you want less of and like, then what are the action steps I’ll take, and I think even at like a rep level of somebody’s in sales, maybe not the project manager or the manager, that’s important to really consider, because when you can come to your leader, or whoever your you know, your strategic circles are, you can come with something that is practiced in place, and not just like venting, right, it just seems much more appropriate and able to actually take action on.

15:58 Absolutely. Hmm, Michelle Bourque 16:00 that’s so good. What do you see? Because you do work with a lot of leaders as maybe one of the biggest challenges that they have, and how do you help overcome it for them? 

16:09 You know, it’s interesting that you just mentioned coming up with a solution, right? Like we always hear leaders say, Well, don’t come to me with a problem come to me with the solution. And sometimes we feel like, well, I don’t know the solution, because they don’t have all the context. Right. So once these activities get you into that context, you’re better prepared. And we often work with the with the folks needing to go to the leader, my advice to the leaders from what I’ve seen, over just patterns of behavior, and how organized they were humans in organizations, and so organizations aren’t perfect. I have found a pattern of leaders saying, Oh, I have an open door policy, oh, just come to me and tell me, but not really setting up the dynamics that that conversation feel safe for employees. So my advice to leaders more recently has been? How can you create a safe space to really listen? And what do you need to set up in your own mindset to listen to what people have to say? So for example, the open door policy traditionally is, you know, come on in anytime, you know, let me know. Well, you already have a power dynamic of your in your office, right, and we’ve all gotten called into the office. Office, right? So that doesn’t really feel safe. Right. And so some leaders will say, you know, you said this in a meeting, I was really curious, you sounded frustrated, you know, let’s go for a coffee, or let’s go for a walk. So something where you can shift the power dynamic a little bit, to create an opportunity for someone to open up. And there are a lot of tips and techniques to create that dynamic. But the self awareness of leaders, I think, is really important. And we have labels, right, that we put on ourselves, and that we put on others. And oftentimes I deal with senior leaders who think that they’re just showing up as the person, you know, Mary Jane says, you know, so how was your weekend? What did you think about this, but the employees are still looking at you as Mary Jane with the Vice President hat on. So it takes some level of self awareness of the authority that you carry with you just by nature of your title, then we have labels of ethnicity and race and gender and age, right, and I do some unconscious bias training in dei work. And I find that this is a thread that, that hits so many elements in organizations is that self awareness of, you know, how we show up and how others perceive us. So I think it’s really important for leaders to kind of pause and look at, you know, what those dynamics are that they’re bringing in? And how might they create an opportunity to really hear the hard truth?

Michelle Bourque 19:10 That is so good. I was just talking to a colleague earlier this week, and she was talking about how, in their meetings, she’s able to talk, but she rarely feels like anybody listens to her. Like they don’t take her feedback as far as messaging. And it’s just interesting to that point, like, how can we listen better? And also the self awareness, right? Because my guess is the leaders probably think like, we’re giving her a chance to talk. And that’s what they are, but they’re not listening. Right? 

19:37 And don’t you know, in communications, I think we’re all guilty of this. We judge our own abilities and communication based off our intention behind the communication, but we judge others communications based on their behavior. And so the blind spot that we might have is we’re not really assessing our behavior. We’re blinded by but I I admit my all my intention is there, but my delivery might have a different impact. And that’s the gap where we need to help people understand their delivery and the perception of others. And that’s all about self awareness.

Michelle Bourque 20:15 Oh my gosh, I love that. Yes. Intention versus behavior when it’s the oh, gosh, yes, that was definitely a good reminder. Oh, my gosh. And we are both passionate about gaining clarity. And I think a lot of times, especially in this job, it’s this like, busy badge of honor that people are just always going going going. So can you maybe talk a little bit about why it’s important for us to have clarity on our lives? And maybe any tools if you can share? 

20:42 Sure. So one of the things I love to remind people is don’t believe everything you think, right? We create these stories, we tell ourselves stories about circumstances. And we often pause and have to say, is that true? Right. And one of the activities to do that is, you know, what I call the brain dump, right? And I don’t know, if you have a journaling habit or don’t like to journal, give yourself a text message, whatever method to get what’s in your head out, so that you can see what you’re thinking? Right and frightening sometimes. Absolutely. And I think that’s why a lot of people are hesitant to journal is because they’re afraid of what they’re going to see. Right. And so we need to coach folks to understand that that’s just the unconscious brain doing its job. It’s okay. Right? The judgment and the shame and the guilt and all those things, those are the feelings we might be afraid of, to even start getting this out on paper. So working with the coach can give you a safe place to go ahead and examine what’s out there. And what we often do. And I think you do this to Michelle is challenged the client to ask themselves, is this true? What and all of that is true? And what is it that we can help shift your thinking about so that you can feel some relief, and gain some clarity about what’s really going on. So journaling is a great tool, I have a reflection exercise a free mini course with a workbook. So it’s a little more guided exercises and prompts for people to just get into this habit. Oh, perfect.

Michelle Bourque 22:22 We’ll put the link in the notes for that too. And I think, to your point, you know, don’t believe everything you think and the way you get the relief is by seeing it like even though you don’t want to put it out on paper or journal it because you’re afraid of what’s in there. It’s still in there, like that is why you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed or stressed or whatever it is.

22:41 Absolutely. And and when you realize that you actually can control the stories going on in your brain. And you can shift over into the conscious part of the brain where you’re gonna say, No, I think I’m gonna pick a thought that serves me better. You have the power? Michelle Bourque 23:00 Yeah, I think for me, one of the biggest changes when I started coaching was I always thought my story was I have no control over my time, because I don’t know my schedule until the day before, and then it changes day off. And I have no control over my time. And I fought for that story through coach after coach. And finally, I really saw the importance of planning and being able to implement new habits. And I know that’s a big thing for you, too. Can you maybe talk a little bit about both of those topics? Absolutely.

23:31 Absolutely. You know, before kind of developing the habit of habit tracking, I think it’s important to get that new thought. So if I could ask you, when you shifted in the storytelling from I can’t control my time. Was there a thought? Or how did you shift that story? What’s the thought that you were like, no, no, that doesn’t work for me. I’m going to tell myself something better.

Michelle Bourque 23:56 Yeah. Finally, what happened was a coach said to me stop saying you don’t have control of your time, you could actually leave your job. And it was just like, Oh, right. The control is that I I’m already doing what she’s suggesting. I just didn’t see it. Because she said if you have, you know, if something is delayed, you bring extra work or you and like, Oh yeah, well, that’s what I do. And she’s like, then you have control over your time. So it was like, You’re right. And for me, because I know not for all of the things that I get coached on. And it felt like in that moment, it was just a snap of the fingers. But it took me how long to get there. Right. But then it was like, Oh, I’m totally in control of my time. Unknown Speaker 24:31 Yes, absolutely. I think that’s a great spot to get to. And oftentimes where we feel overwhelmed and burnout is because we’re not spending time on the things that really matter to us. Right is that Stephen Covey is four quadrants time management. There’s one that’s it’s important to me, but it might not be urgent, so I never get around to it right your self care, your strategic planning your goal setting all of those things, we can feel that they’re missing. If they don’t show up in our calendar every week, and so identifying habits that maybe come out of quadrant two, or maybe even help with your team, it could be something as simple as I had a client say, you know, she wants to check in with her team once a week and start having these team meetings. And I said, put it on the habit tracker, you know, meet with team for one hour? And what if you just started it three times a week, or three weeks, a month? Or two weeks a month? You know, don’t make it hard, make it easy. You know, there are a lot of self care habits, where if we can just identify something small, right? I’m standing up at my desk right now talking to you. Right, one of my habits is that I need to use my standing desk for 30 minutes a day, oh, friend, as small as we can make them the better. Right? I know you and I both love James clear the author of atomic habits, let’s make them small and easy. And when we tell ourselves, well, that’s not going to make a difference. Good. That’s the level we want to start 100% and then track them. And the reason I created a habit tracker for four habits over a month is so that you can I love checking off the boxes, I will make a list just so that I can check off that I did it. Right. So I love the dopamine hits a habit tracker and give your brain some data that you actually can do these things. So when that voice starts kicking up the story, you can say, No, that’s not true. Michelle Bourque 26:35 Yes, that I think is so important for a few things to challenge our brain to see what it is that we have done, because it’s so easy for us to tell ourselves that we haven’t done that. And the self care piece. I feel like I say this all the time. Because I think as females also, we’re always like going, going going and we think self care selfish, or it has to be something more grandiose, but it can literally just be your activity of dumping your brain and listening to how you talk to yourself and changing that. 

27:02 Absolutely. Absolutely, we can find the right ones that feel doable, and help our clients achieve success in those areas. And then they build the confidence to maybe do a little bit more.

Michelle Bourque 27:18 And I think what you’re talking about about starting small is also so important because you’re right, I think a lot of people think it’s all or nothing. And then we do nothing like no just get started. Even Darren Hardy talks about this in the compound effect, like as we go. Or if you have I was just doing a peloton workout and they’re talking about Keystone Habits and find the one habit that will then have the ripple effect on other areas of your life. So maybe it is exercise, and then you show up more patient for your kids, or your partner, whatever that looks like. Right?

27:47 It’s it’s what’s that phrase, the rising tide lifts many boats. Right? Like, let’s narrow it in. Right? We’re all really busy. We work with high performers, right? High achievers, overachievers. So it’s hard to get folks to just narrow down right to just one thing. And that that feels like it’s enough. Yes, we can leverage what that one thing is, to your point, it can, you know, be the tide that lifts many boats. Michelle Bourque 28:13 Oh, I love that. So good. We’ve had so many things. Have we missed anything? 

28:18 Oh, gosh, I’m just really curious about, you know, the people that you serve, and what you found effective in, in the sales game. You know, I work with a lot of folks in business development and growth. And I myself, you know, just share a personal story about being in a private company where I was responsible for growth and business development. And it’s never ending. It was one of the reasons I quit and went out on my own, you know, and I’ll be doing it for myself. That’s a whole other story. But what are some of the dynamics and maybe tips that you’ve found for folks who are in any kind of position where it just feels like it’s never ending?

Michelle Bourque 29:01 Yes. And it’s perfect timing, because we just closed our quarter yesterday. And so I was on a call and someone was like, I’m feeling the pressure of the quarter. I’m like, oh, it’s not the pressure of the quarter. It’s like the pressure we put on ourselves, right? Because a lot of the clients I end up working with are the ones that were the busy badge of honor, like I have been that person too. So I’m not that’s just the way it often is, and will often always be going, going going and doing everything to try to get the sale or make the sale, helping others. So in my particular field, we work with patients doctors accounts, like it’s it’s very matrix oriented, but to be able to plan your time strategically, and really look at what is actually important because in the moment, everything feels urgent and important, and then nothing gets done. And that’s why we feel so overwhelmed. So it’s like taking back that control of being able to do so much of what you’ve talked about today. Unknown Speaker 30:00 Love that that’s really important. Thanks for sharing that. Absolutely.

Michelle Bourque 30:03 And I also think, sometimes in sales, and this might be like a little bit of another rabbit hole or whatever, but that a lot of the women I work with tie their self worth to the number. And that can be weight loss too, right, like self worth and numbers and weight loss. But it’s really being able to see if you take the time to reflect back and to look at what you have done that it’s enough that it does not mean like you determine your success and what that looks like. That’s wonderful. Absolutely. And how can people find you? We’ll put the link in for the reflection guide. Thank you. Yes.

30:37 So everything’s available on my website. My company name is cognitiveagilityllc.com. Everything’s there. My main social is on LinkedIn.

Michelle Bourque 30:48 And you can find everything there as well. Yeah, you share a lot of great information there on LinkedIn. Unknown Speaker 30:53 I see you. I see. That’s our space.

Michelle Bourque 30:57 That’s right. Excellent. Thank you so much. This has been such a great conversation 

31:02 and a pleasure talking with you.

Michelle Bourque 31:04 Well, isn’t that great? I love the idea of the stakeholder influencer map to just allow you to take a pause to see the big picture and then decide what the next best decision is for you. Be sure to check malenda out the course link is in the notes. But again, it’s www.cognitiveagility.com/claritycourse. And hey, please share this podcast and tag me @Michellebouruqecoaching so we can hear how it helps you. Okay, that’s what I have for you today. Take what works leave what doesn’t and tune in next week for another opportunity to transform your life. Make it a great day. Take care

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