Coach Spotlight: Dr. Barbara Reilly

leaning into inclusivity and belonging
By Jonathan Palombo
Marketing Manager, TLG  

In this edition of our Coaching Spotlight, we are highlighting Dr. Barbara Reilly. Barbara has been a part of Turknett Leadership Group for decades. She lives and breathes the Leadership Character Model, championing leadership character and helping her clients leverage the model as a guiding framework. She also dives into ways individuals and organizations can be more inclusive and help others belong.


Q: You have been a consultant at TLG for a very long time. What does TLG’s Leadership Character Model mean to you and how has it inspired you?

I’m just about to turn 60 and having a milestone birthday always causes reflection. I’ve been affiliated with TLG for almost half my life, even before Bob and Lyn had written Decent People Decent Company (2004), which is something! It’s exciting how well it has stood the test of time and is a well-respected leadership book and a tool that I’ve used for many years. When I taught executive MBA leadership courses, I often used it like a textbook for several years to teach leadership to students at Georgia State University (GSU).

I’ve grown up with leadership character to the point it’s a part of my DNA and how I think about leadership. So much so, It’s like a second language to me. You might say I speak another language like German or French; I speak leadership. The specific dialect I speak is leadership character. When people say the values that are important to them as a leader like accountability, integrity, or kindness – I will immediately dissect that and place it into the Leadership Character Model. It’s the way I frame the world as people talk about leadership and how they show up as a leader. The Leadership Character Model is a grounding framework in my life. As a kid, I grew up in a religious family where we had the ten commandments and talked about how to be a good person. I can’t really think about leadership without having leadership character around in the background of my thinking. Even when I’m learning about a new theory or how someone is approaching leadership, I’m constantly comparing that with leadership character. It’s a part of who I am!


Q: What would you say is the single most important thing that someone can learn from the Leadership Character Model?

It’s implicit in the model itself, and why Bob and Lyn were so careful about having a balance and a scale. It’s interesting that in our digital world, we are running out of people that know what balance and a scale look like. The concept of balance is so important. 50 years from now, we may have to expand the metaphor, relating it to climbing or something where you must consider multiple levels. People don’t recognize balance or a weighted scale. We’ve all met or worked for leaders who are so tilted one way or the other. Someone who is very focused on responsibility may be all about the task and getting things done. They can come across as robotic though if they lack respect.

I coached a leader once who was encouraged to reach out to people and have more genuine conversations. We developed a project plan for how he was going to do this. It backfired on him when he asked someone about their birthday. He said, “James, it’s your birthday today, what are you going to do?” He had this conversation and at the end, James saw him pull out a checklist and he checked off “talk to James about his birthday.” He missed the point. How do we make it real for people to show up with genuine respect and responsibility and how do we balance the two? It’s a constant striving of balance. I’ll give you a real example from my job. I have a colleague who reached out to me with a problem and as I started to type my response, I realized I was unable to get the tone right or properly convey empathy for this specific situation. I needed more understanding of the situation, so I decided that had to be a phone call. It is creating that balance that says ‘yes emails are expedient and get things off my plate and onto yours, but in this case, it deserves a phone call.’ It’s striking that balance of ‘when do you send an email and pick up the phone’ or, ‘when do I pick up the phone versus when I need to meet in-person?’ When do I say this is a business meeting and when is it just having lunch and being able to talk about life?

Bob Turknett is so good at this and is a role model for me. Whenever I would bring questions or concerns to Bob, I would leave the conversation feeling more equipped, smarter, better prepared, and more capable. Bob spent half the conversation telling me a couple things I needed to know and reminding me why I probably didn’t need to know those things to answer the question. He’d show me why I had it in me the whole time and why I would kill this next conversation because I had all the skills and abilities to have it. It was amazing. If you come to me and said, “I’m looking at this assessment and how can this person be both this and that. How can they be an introvert, yet highly empathetic and caring about people? Bob would take that, explain it, and then say, “you get that because that is you, and you show up like this. Look what you bring to the conversation. You may be a quiet leader, but you are a strong leader. You’re going to be able to resonate with this client.” He would explain that so beautifully and somehow, I’d leave the room feeling better than when I started.

That’s the gift of leadership character and having that balance. When you get it right and someone brings you a question that’s more on the respect side of the scale, you see the big picture. There are some components that must deal with respect, but also some that deal with the responsibility side. It’s a lovely gift to be able to give someone that perspective that fits it all together. Bob and Lyn are masters at this, and I’ve been lucky enough to train under the masters.


Q: What advice would you have for an individual who is interested in advocating for and supporting inclusiveness and belonging in the workplace. Where should they start?

It’s an interesting problem we have – what does inclusiveness look like when you aren’t necessarily all together? How do we solve this when we are physically apart? How do we make everyone understand they’re valued, needed, belong, and are central to the culture? That goes for everybody, and it must be true for everyone. I think in some organizations, people who do feel belongingness and included are not sensitized to be on the lookout for others that aren’t. They assume that because they feel included that others must feel the same way. It requires active effort to makes sure that everyone feels included. I think we fall short when we stop at ourselves. We must expand our view, look to the left and to the right, and ask ourselves, ‘does everyone feel included?’

The second piece to it is that inclusion is everyone’s job. It’s not just the CEO’s job, it’s everyone’s. If we have everyone looking out for everybody’s inclusion, we’ll be way ahead of the pack. There is a saying out there that inclusion is being invited to the dance while belonging is being asked to dance. We can feel included, but it’s that extra level of depth to feel a sense of belonging, which is even harder to do. We must be more intentional and have deeper conversations around belonging. We should remind people of their value, seek them out, bring them in and say “Patricia, I really want to white board this with you and I want to hear what you have to say.” We have to do a good job of being intentional with belonging.

When people tell us they don’t feel included or belong in the same way as others, we must listen longer and lean into that. A lot of organizations get inclusiveness, they’re focused on that. Not everyone is focused on belonging. That must change because so much time is spent at work, and we can’t be somewhere we don’t feel we belong. I’m in an interesting environment right now where I’m double the average age of someone at Slalom. We must think about belonging at Slalom across five different generations of people working together. What does belonging look like across those generations? How do we respect, admire, support, and value what each generation brings to the table? We must get comfortable with the idea that we’ll all show up a little bit differently. We need the authenticity to show up as our true selves. In my family, I’m probably the most tech savvy person, but compared to the universe, I’m far from it. I must be aware that everyone is bringing something different to the table and that everyone belongs.


Q: How has your psychology background impacted your work as an executive coach?

Being a psychologist is one of the most helpful things to being a coach because I’m trained in the study of human behavior. All psychologists have some aspect of coaching in them because they’ve been thinking deeply about the why and the how of the way people behave. When you layer in inclusion and diversity, you start to become more acutely aware that your experiences and worldview, the things you’ve participated in and even the street you grew up on, couldn’t be more different across experiences. I’m acutely sensitized to the idea that my experience is just an experience, and I want to be super curious, aware, and knowledgeable about someone else’s experience. I can’t make assumptions that everyone should know this, or be aware of this, or have a feeling for that. It’s just not true! There are so many ways to experience life and to grow up in this world. There are so many ways we show up, and I’m constantly reminded of that by my work in diversity and inclusion, as well as by my own clients.

Just when you think you’ve seen everything, someone surprises you with how they show up. Just the other day, I was talking with a client about tenacity. I thought I had my own working definition about what tenacity is, until this conversation. He says to me “I found out I didn’t get a job, and I was sad and upset. I talked the recruiter into checking out my references anyway. The recruiter had conversations with all my references, and I ended up getting the job!” That is a level of tenacity I can’t even comprehend. It would never occur to me to do that. It wouldn’t even be on my tenacity scale! When he shared that, it was a life experience that widened my circle of what it meant to be tenacious. He’s my new benchmark for tenacity, whereas two days ago it was further towards the middle. It’s what that kind of acute awareness of people coming to work with such vastly different experience does for you. It allows you to unlock what makes diversity and inclusion so great.

Everyone is bringing their different self to work, which is what makes inclusion and diversity key to success, because everyone is bringing a different piece of the puzzle. When I taught leadership courses at GSU, we did an exercise that had to do with your frames of reference, or what you brought to the table. We learned that not everyone views that world through your same rule sheet. Now my view of that has been expanded upon. Working in the healthcare industry also helped with that too. Many doctors write prescriptions knowing full well that they can’t fill them because patients don’t have the finances, or even have working electricity in their homes. There are many other reasons. Working in healthcare expanded my view of inclusion and diversity because it exposed me to many situations that I thought had easy solutions, like access to healthcare, or access to a pharmacy. That’s improved my ability to coach and see the world through different eyes.


Q: What are some simple steps organizations can take to be more inclusive and help employees feel that they belong?

The number one thing is that it’s everybody’s job. We must make sure everyone feels included and that they belong. It speaks to the idea that if you are not intentional or planful about it, it’s just not going to happen. You must have a leader that says inclusion matters, and that we’re going to have a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committee or person in the role (depending on the size of the organization). I love it when we say DEI ambassador, someone that helps every single person to make others feel included. The worse thing we can do is have a “hope for the best” model. We’d say, “yeah, people in general should be kind, nice and inclusive,” and then just hope for the best. In this model, we find that people gravitate to people who are like them. These people tend to be promoted and spend more time with those people.

Without extending our rope a little and asking people to look beyond what’s easy, we don’t get there. It must be intentional, and we can’t just hope for the best. A lot of organizations lead with diversity and then inclusion. I invert those on purpose because I think if you bring in a diverse set of people into your workforce, and you haven’t prepared an environment for those diverse people to feel included, they will leave! Sometimes we get it backwards. We should lead with inclusion and make sure that is working well, so when you bring diverse people into your organization, it works and you’re not playing catch up.

One thing that organizations can do is be very intentional about asking people about their experiences at work. This can lead to opportunities and conversations around development. if I were to just sit down and ask, “What did you think it would be like working here, and how is it different than what you expected?” Now I’m having a conversation with you about what you expected work to be like and exposing the disconnects of what that might look like. I might say at the end of the year, “Were there things that you wanted to do this year that you didn’t get to do? Are there opportunities that you hoped to have but didn’t? Were there ways you wanted to develop and grow this year that you didn’t get to do?” These are all good conversation starters for leading people to feel included and meeting people where they are. We can talk all day about products and outputs, but what about their experience of working here? I remember when I was in the office, there was an experience of entering the office. I was typically greeted warmly, and they’re excited you are there. If someone after a year at the TLG office asked me, “what’s it like working here?” That would be a meaningful conversation to have and make me feel valued and included. I think we can start there.

The second thing is, and it’s related to TLG, is being in the business of developing leaders. Sometimes we don’t ask questions around the development people are seeking and if they are getting that development at their organizations. Sometimes the organization says, “We can’t promote this person because they aren’t ready,” but then don’t offer the development that can help that person be ready!

I think when we are talking to people about their work experiences, we must take it into the development zone. Ask questions like: “What’s on your development radar? What experiences are you hoping to have and where do you want to go? Where do you need a coach, or someone who is an objective third party that can help you move from point A to point B?” Most organizations we work with are coaching minded and are having these conversations, but for many, development is lacking, and it isn’t part of the conversation. Their people are out of balance which makes the organization out of balance. These companies might be more focused on the results rather than developing their people. We want people and organizations to be balanced. They must make money and do good work, but to do that you need to develop your people, and an organization is only as good as its people. You can have the best strategy and plan in the world, but what good is that without the people to execute it?


Q: What do you enjoy most about being an executive coach and helping others/teams unleash their full potential?

I love being able to play a part as a consultant because I know I’m making a difference. There are some strategy consultants who walk into an organization with a plan that tells an organization, “Okay, you have to do these five things to be successful.” Then they walk out and say, “I don’t think they have the people to execute these five things.” The consultant knows they are important and what the company can do, but they shrug their shoulders and say, “I don’t think the company can do these five things, because they don’t have the right people.” We on the other hand, as coaches, come in and we work on the people and help develop them. It’s a great place to play because you see the value of the work immediately. You see people grow, change, develop, get promoted, take on more responsibility, and become more caring. We see those differences immediately, whereas with strategy work, if they aren’t there helping the people then they might miss the good part, which is where you get to see the differences happen.