Your digital journey starts here
Book a free one-to-one consultation to discuss the current status of your digital workplace. Each consultation is followed up with a bundle of useful resources to help get you started.
- Debra King, Leadership Solutionist
Moving mountains in our communities
For the first time, the digital workplace has become the essential workplace and community in many organizations. It is now a strategic asset, just like human capital. So how can leaders think about their own attitudes to hybrid working and make choices around how they show up in this arena?
In this episode, Nancy Goebel is joined by leadership solutionist and author, Debra King, along with Dr Jesse Tyson, retired President and CEO of the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA). Debra’s recent book, Dare to climb: Your journey can move mountains, is an autobiographically inspired workbook that challenges readers to develop a game plan for their lives, and this provides a backdrop for a warm and open discussion.
As trailblazers and go-givers, the two leaders’ careers intertwined at ExxonMobil, where they both rose to senior executive posts. Together they share enlightening insights as role models and digital advocates in the evolving hybrid workplace and in communities beyond.
Recorded during Black History month in the US, they also share their commitment to outreach and mentoring; leveraging their depth of personal experience to give back and pull others along.
Join us to hear more on their thoughtful ideas and experiences on tackling many of today’s challenges – ideas which can help us to move mountains in our own workplaces and communities.
[00:00:00.370] – Debra D King
It is important for use to be role models because quite frankly, when it comes to Black History Month and every month in the year, often times people get inspiration because they see people like me or Jesse or me and Jesse in specific roles and that they can see themselves in it. So it’s important for us to be out and about and sharing our history, sharing our experiences with them.
[00:00:31.960] – Jesse J Tyson
I have made a commitment to twelve months out of year, but particularly in the month of February, to try to give back because so much was given to me at a time when I desperately needed the guidance and advice of others.
[00:00:46.070] – Nancy Goebel
Both Deb, as I know her, and Jesse are former executives from ExxonMobil who are both part trailblazer, part go giver and exceptional leaders. Deb is also DWG’s longtime sponsor of ExxonMobil’s membership in the Digital Workplace Group. The backdrop for today’s discussion was actually Deb’s new book called Dare to Climb the foreword was written by Jesse, and at a time of lots of uncertainty and change. I thought it would be timely to leverage this thought provoking handbook to frame a conversation about the two sides of digital workplace leadership, those leading the digital workplace and those leading via the digital workplace. I should also mention that it is Black History Month in the United States, and I wanted to fold in some calls to action as suggested by both Deb and Jesse. All I can say is that they are a powerhouse duo, and they offered both an enjoyable and insightful conversation. Now on to today’s episode. Happy listening.
[00:02:06.570] – Nancy Goebel
Deb, for many years, you sponsored ExxonMobil’s membership to the Digital Workplace Group, and we started as colleagues and over time became friends. And I’m just delighted to welcome you to the Digital Workplace Impact studio for what I think is going to be a fascinating chat about digital leadership, both from the perspective of leading the digital workplace and leading in the digital workplace
[00:02:34.610] – Debra D King
Nancy, thank you for inviting us to the Digital Workplace Impact Studio. It’s a pleasure and an honor to be with you. We work together. Your knowledge helped our digital footprint go from good to great at ExxonMobil, and I’ve always admired you and appreciated the way we work together. So thanks for having us today.
[00:02:57.410] – Nancy Goebel
It’s such a great pleasure for me and an honor. And, of course, an important framing point for this conversation is your new book, Dare to Climb. And I needless to say, I devoured it. But before we launch into conversation about it, I know you’ve brought along someone very special, Dr. Jesse Tyson, to be part of this conversation. And Jesse, of course, you wrote the foreword to this book. And I want to pause for a moment to welcome you and to thank you for joining us today.
[00:03:29.670] – Jesse J Tyson
Good afternoon, and thank you, Nancy and Deb, for allowing me to join in on the conversation. And congratulations, Deb, on your long awaited Masters. You’ve been a walking book for many years, and thank you for finally taking the time to share it with us.
[00:03:46.000] – Debra D King
Thank you Jess/
[00:03:47.530] – Nancy Goebel
Here here. So Deb. Please. Let’s start with the question around what inspired a former Exxon Mobile executive to sit down and write a book called Dare to Climb. And, of course, why now?
[00:04:01.120] – Debra D King
Well, Nancy, ‘Dare to Climb – Your journey can move mountains’ is a different kind of a book, and probably most authors say that. But I wanted to thank those who shared their time, their talents and their treasures with me over the years. The book in and of itself is an easy read, and it really is a workbook. Nancy, the hard part comes in answering the questions that I ask at the end of each chapter. I want my readers, regardless of their age or their stage, to really dig deep and develop a game plan for their lives. Whether they’re climbing the corporate mountain or the entrepreneurial mountain or the digital workplace mountain or physical mountains like Mount Kilimanjaro, I wanted this book to really be an inspiration to them. So why now at 60? Nancy, I just really wanted to put on paper some wisdom nuggets to pour into the lives of others. And, if this dyslexic little black girl from the ghettos of Philadelphia can do it, anybody can do it.
[00:05:14.170] – Nancy Goebel
Well, that’s an inspiring start to this conversation. And I guess if I had to add to the why now when I think about the fact that there’s just so much uncertainty around us and it’s giving pause to many people to think about what’s needed next in their lives, I think not only this book, but the workbook components that go along with it can unlock some powerful introspection and action.
[00:05:48.510] – Debra D King
And you know, Nancy, the stories we tell ourselves or the things that have happened to us when we were younger, we give it meaning then. But as we grow older, this is an opportunity for us to look at those things and decide what they mean for us now. And the meaning we gave it then doesn’t have to be the same meaning for now.
[00:06:11.170] – Nancy Goebel
And certainly our frame of mind at any moment in time changes how we consume, react to react upon content like this. And so you read it today, you may take one thing away, you read it tomorrow. It may be something completely different, but it’s what you need in that moment.
[00:06:31.540] – Debra D King
[00:06:32.550] – Nancy Goebel
And so I have to ask what made Jess a natural choice to write the foreword for this book?
[00:06:38.810] – Debra D King
Nancy, I’ve known Jesse since 1991. He has been my boss, my mentor, my teacher, a sounding board, a shoulder to lean on. He has connected me to new experiences, new people that have changed the trajectory of my life. He and his wife, Cheryl, Cheryls, like my big sister, have literally been a bridge over troubled water for me. Jesse is my friend and he’s family, so it was a natural choice for me to ask him to write the foreword.
[00:07:19.170] – Nancy Goebel
And Jesse, of course, now I have to bring you in to add another layer to this. Writing a foreword sets a tone for a book. And what made you decide to take that on? And what were some of the most important takeaways from the book for you and why?
[00:07:36.860] – Jesse J Tyson
Well, Nancy, when Deb asked me to write the foreword, my only hesitation was, am I worthy? I knew this book was a big deal for Deb because she is a big deal and I really didn’t want to let her down. But even though we may have our own struggles and challenges, we must be mindful of the opportunities we have to lift others up. And this was one of those opportunities, and that was really my motivation for doing it. As Deb mentioned, we met at the early parts of her corporate career over 30 years ago, and I have known her to be an authentic person who always took what I call a community view of things, a person of the highest integrity and a person who always sought to help others. And the book ‘Dare to climb’ provided me some personal insight on, say, how the first 20 years of her life shaped her corporate life in terms of her work ethic, her views, her drive to lift others up especially women. It also confirmed in my mind that Deb truly feels that there is no mountain or challenge that she can’t conquer. At the same time, she knows she is far from perfect and she’s okay with that.
[00:08:59.010] – Jesse J Tyson
And for me, I’d like to see her. I call her a masterpiece and a work in progress at the same time.
[00:09:08.710] – Nancy Goebel
Hopefully we all are in some shape or form can model both of those components in our lives. And I guess when I look at the first chapter of the book, which is called Odd Girl Out, I think of it as a coming of age story, one that’s laced with lots of character building challenges. And when I think about where we’ve come from in the last 24 months in the wake of a pandemic that has been a coming of age story for the digital workplace, sitting inside of major organizations like ExxonMobil and others, and that too has had its own unique set of challenges. And for the first time, the digital workplace has really become the essential workplace inside of many organizations. Think of it another way. It’s now a strategic asset, just like human capital, just like people are inside of Fortune 1000 or equivalent organizations. And the reality around us now is that hybrid leadership is an area that many organizations have and continue to need to scale up on. And that had to happen at a very steep climb. And now there’s a level of recognition that dynamic working is here to say we have a level of pandemic working that has emerged where large groups of people had to just suddenly shift to working from home.
[00:10:58.570] – Nancy Goebel
There are some who, of course, never left their work sites. And I’m sure you can think of many colleagues and many functions across the likes of an ExxonMobil or other organizations where that was true. There are still others who are going to work from home permanently. I think it was Ford Motor Company announced that they wanted 37,000 people to raise their hands, to stay at home forever, to work from home forever. And then, of course, there are going to be people who slide across the spectrum and may be in the office one day, on the road the next, or in the office on yet a different day. So the level of complexity, the level of variability for leaders is kind of unprecedented now and then when you start to overlay things like the pace of technological change on top of external factors like weather events, political events, pandemics. Jesse, I’m curious as to your thoughts on best advice to unlock our hybrid leadership capability in organizations like these.
[00:12:09.890] – Jesse J Tyson
Well, I think that’s a great question and very relevant for the time. While the office landscape changed significantly in 2020 and 2021, productivity, in my opinion, actually increased, especially for high potential individuals. As commuting times were reduced or eliminated, there were fewer interruptions and time to actually do some strategic thinking. I would think that we’re going to see some of what we have seen in the last couple of years here to stay. And I would actually say we don’t want to lose some of that because there were some positives that came out of it. For the most part, the office will not go away as we embrace working from home more, but it depends on the industry. It also depends on the organizational culture as well as some time zone differences. In the end, it will really depend on the attitude of leadership, attitude to a hybrid style, and their willingness to be a champion for looking at their own culture, their own processes, as well as technology infrastructure. So I think there will be some clear winners here. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be the leadership and their ability to rise above the rest of the pack and see how they can position themselves to be at the front of the pack.
[00:13:37.080] – Nancy Goebel
And Deb, what would you like to add to that?
[00:13:38.880] – Debra D King
I fully agree with what Jesse has highlighted, and I think it’s an opportunity for us as leaders to truly stand up. Jesse and I were global leaders at ExxonMobil, and back then we did a lot of conference calls. I can’t tell you, Nancy, the number of times I picked up the phone after a conference call because I detected something was off in a team member’s voice. And I just say, hey, just checking in. Sometimes it was nothing and sometimes it was something. And those small actions, let that team member know that I cared about them today with the video conferencing, we need to be more aware of body language and being bold enough to check in with someone privately if you see something is off. And as Jesse mentioned, with this hybrid nature of our workplace today, we as leaders must demonstrate how to build rapport with those that we work with, providing assurance and diversity and relationship and significance when needed. And quite frankly, I think it’s appreciated when we show how we lead ourselves being authentic, being transparent, being vulnerable, showing our humanity, our ethics, our integrity. I think that these things go forward in building trust.
[00:15:07.760] – Debra D King
And when you have trust with peers and with your team members, I think you can push the corporate envelope or the business envelope forward even more.
[00:15:19.440] – Nancy Goebel
So that’s thinking about hybrid leadership. Let’s talk about digital workplace leadership next. So, Deb, very early on in our working relationship, it became very clear to me that you were an exceptional leader, that you were also a go giver and rather a trailblazer, too. And looking back on your experiences at ExxonMobil, what would be your best advice to digital workplace leaders in particular at a time of loss of uncertainty, rapid change? And I’m hoping you’ll tie it into some of the key tenants of your book.
[00:16:03.760] – Debra D King
Thank you, Nancy. I could spend all day talking about this one question. In my book, I talk about what I call the Dadini method of self leadership when we step back and think about the world, how we see the world changes depending on how we experience the world. So knowing your personal values and beliefs can make a huge difference. So I would encourage folks to really explore and write down their values and their belief. Who are you and what do you stand for personally and professionally amid everything that’s going on? Take care of yourself. I wish someone would have told me this when I was just starting out in my 20s in corporate America. But I wish someone would have said Deb, just constantly make time to take care of yourself. Get good sleep at night. Keep your body hydrated. Eat good stuff. You can take some of the process and refined foods here and there, but eat well the majority of the time. Move your body. Get at least 20 minutes of exercise in the daytime. Go get some sun, because burning the candle at both ends just is not healthy. If you will recognize self talk, most people don’t want to admit it that we have conversations in our heads.
[00:17:42.340] – Debra D King
But pay close attention to your inner thoughts and the stories we tell ourselves. You know, another mentor of mine shared this little chant with me, and I often find myself repeating it as you think, so you feel, as you feel, so you do, as you do so you have, think, feel, do have. Remember that thoughts are thigs and they can be empowering or disempowering, but we get to choose what they are. Elevate the definition of your language. So, Nancy, you mentioned that this is a time of uncertainty and rapid change. Well, guess what? It is. But for some, that sounds really scary. But to me, it sounds like opportunity and fortune because fortune favors the bold. How I define uncertainty can be in my favor. How I define rapid change can be in my favor. And I can share that with others. As leaders, as people, we just need to be mindful of our friend groups. Are we hanging around people that are pulling us down and telling us what can’t be done? Or are you with people like Jesse who are encouraging and helping you to think through the pathways and the possibilities? So, Nancy, I’m going to stop myself here because I can keep going and going, and I want Jesse to add on to this.
[00:19:30.350] – Debra D King
Jess, what do you think?
[00:19:31.870] – Jesse J Tyson
Well, yeah, I was sitting back listening to you and I said that’s the Deb I know I don’t dare try to add too much to that. But what I will say, Nancy, and remember that I mentioned in the Foreword that the book is about excellence, whether in the moment or preparing for the moment. And it’s about navigating circumstances and maintaining their authentic self, during good as well as challenging circumstances. Deb also writes about forming meaningful partnerships because I think she knew one must be relevant in the moment even when we were focused on the future. And so I think the environment we find ourselves in today is that moment. But we have to prepare ourselves for the time we’re going to get beyond this time frame and the circumstances we find ourselves in and we have to be ready. But Deb has always been I always said she thought she could save everybody, and she made every attempt to do so. That’s what I love about it. That’s also one of my blind spots, by the way. But you can’t help for embracing her because she truly has a vision of where the world needs to be.
[00:20:52.050] – Jesse J Tyson
And she actually can see us on the journey to get there. We’re just not moving nearly as fast as she would like for us to go.
[00:20:58.920] – Nancy Goebel
And thankfully, there’s a little bit of added insight around some thought provoking questions to figure out how to get from here to there. And so I’m going to change our direction just a little bit. Of course, February marks Black History Month in the United States, and there are different ways to honor the moment, to celebrate accomplishment, to instigate new thought, discussion, dialogue. And I know that the two of you are always in the middle of outreach and mentoring activities, but I’m quite interested to hear a little bit about what’s on your respective agendas, given the months that we’re in.
[00:21:50.620] – Jesse J Tyson
You’re right. There is no shortage of demand for the time of those who over time have demonstrated a willingness to get involved. And it’s primarily driven by our backgrounds. We know what was needed when we were coming along, and so we now know what’s needed for those coming behind us. For me personally, next Friday, I have agreed to a one on one hour interview with the National Black MBA association on lessons in black leadership as part of their racial inclusion social equity efforts. And on March the third because I couldn’t get it in in the month of February. But it’s also part of Black History Month program. I am on a three and a half hour forum sponsored by Teach for America on the future of Education 2040 and beyond, where we will get into restructuring education to align what we need our children to be taught to make sure that it’s aligned with what the workforce of tomorrow will demand in terms of skill set. So you’re right. I have made a commitment to twelve months out of the year, but particularly in the month of February, to try to give back because so much was given to me at a time when I desperately needed the guidance and advice of others
[00:23:17.470] – Nancy Goebel
Well, Jessie, thank you for sharing that. Deb, anything you’d like to share?
[00:23:22.750] – Debra D King
Yes. Similar to Jesse, on the 24th of this month, I have a speaking engagement with Parkland Oil Company speaking about mentoring and the importance of mentoring with their western hemisphere organization. And I’m also doing a speaking engagement with Jesse again with Class Bookstore. It’s a digital bookstore, and that will probably be at the end of this month or early in March. Similarly, trying to fit everything in, it is important for us to be role models because quite frankly, when it comes to Black History Month and every month in the year, oftentimes people get inspiration because they see people like me or Jesse or me and Jesse in specific roles and so that they can see themselves in it. So it’s important for us to be out and about and sharing our history, sharing our experiences with them. I’m also doing something a little different this month. I recently learned about an African American documentary filmmaker by the name of Dawn Porter, and she has directed several films. And I’m going to spend the month looking at those films. One’s called The Way I See It. Another is John Lewis’s Good Trouble, Gideon’s Army, Trapped, and Then Rise Again, Tulsa and The Red Summer.
[00:25:05.800] – Debra D King
So I’m going to spend the month making it educational for me.
[00:25:11.580] – Nancy Goebel
One of the things I always try to think about in moments like this during conversations like this is how do we bring it back to our listeners? And so if you could put a call to action out to digital workplace leaders and their teams to help extend such efforts, what would you ask be maybe Jesse, we could start with you and then on to Deb.
[00:25:39.800] – Jesse J Tyson
When I was penning the foreword to dare to climb. I started with the question, and that question was, what would corporate C suites and boardrooms look like had racism and sexism not existed and hindered the development of future leaders over the years? As I paused and thought about that question, I realized now we have an opportunity to get it right. And so my ask of our current leaders is, let us not miss another opportunity. And so that would be the ask because we know that sum of the parts make the whole better. So we now have to put into action the fact that we know that the sum of the parts make the whole better.
[00:26:28.150] – Nancy Goebel
That’s beautifully put. Thank you, Jesse Deb?
[00:26:30.710] – Debra D King
In addition to what Jesse has just articulated, I would ask our leaders to commit to being lifelong learners and commit to sharing what you learn. It will serve them well, personally and professionally. I would also ask them and this is going to sound like it’s out of leftfield, Nancy. But to look at their friend groups have friends in every decade, teens, 20 somethings, because you never will stop learning. And having a broad friend group that is ethnically, racially, gender diverse helps you in the long run. When things go wrong and they will, be curious and remember that curiosity and judgment cannot occupy the same space at the same time. And in the midst of it all breathe. And this too shall pass.
[00:27:29.890] – Nancy Goebel
There’s so much to unpack there. But one thread that I’ll pull on just a little bit is this idea of really looking at your friend group. And I would extend that to include your colleague group as well. Because typically, digital workplace leaders are not necessarily individuals who come into a world where teams are fully baked. They are leaders who have to work cross functionally across geographies and all the rest. And so often, digital workplace leaders are pioneering new territory inside of many organizations because they’re introducing new technologies and so crossing generations and everything that you’ve just framed in terms of diversity. To which I would add, even the notion of cognitive diversity is also an important part of the mix because how we all think and consume information is influenced by how we’re educated, how we’re hardwired, and then as we learn and evolve, that changes. But ultimately, digital workplace leaders are thinking about the employee experience. And that experience is not only about enabling people to get things done, to be better informed in their organizations, but also to connect with people. And so creating those bridging opportunities, you have to surround yourself with individuals that represent the real life mix of our world today.
[00:29:18.060] – Nancy Goebel
And that was my one stop there.
[00:29:20.760] – Debra D King
And you’re right, Nancy, in the sense that building rapport with one another is so important. And when you build rapport, you’re really trying to connect with the person and where they are, not where you are. So if you take that time to make that connection. It will make all of the difference in the world, that’s for sure.
[00:29:44.210] – Nancy Goebel
We’re down to our final moments together. And so I have to open it up perhaps to you first, Deb then Jesse, is there anything you were hoping I’d ask and I didn’t as part of this conversation.
[00:29:58.210] – Debra D King
You know final thoughts. Regardless of your age, stage or position, recognize that you do have a lot to contribute. There is someone and you may not know who that person is, and you may not be aware of that person, who is looking to you as a role model. So be mindful of your interactions and the lasting impressions that you make with all of the people that you come in contact with and make time to give back.
[00:30:29.240] – Nancy Goebel
Beautifully put. Jesse, what would you like to add or any final thoughts on something you would like to share?
[00:30:39.670] – Jesse J Tyson
Yes, Nancy. There are a couple of things. I’d like to say to those individuals who might be experiencing some success. And what I would like to say to them is they should feel good about that success. But I also say to them as they climb and actually get to or near the top, it’s not just to admire the view they are required, in my opnion, to give back by pulling others along with them, because that’s what authentic leaders do. The second part of that is to care about how they achieve results. And this gets into ethical behavior because how we achieve results are as important as the results themselves. And sometimes successful people early on will focus too much on achieving the result versus how they achieve the result. And in doing so, sometimes we lose our moral compass. And if we ever do that, it’s hard to find our way back to reality.
[00:31:54.260] – Nancy Goebel
So I’m thinking about both the what and the how at an individual level, a team level and organizational level. And when I look at the work that we do day to day with DWG members, even when we venture into our benchmarking work, we’re looking at both the what and the how. So that it’s not only the point on the horizon that you’re trying to get to, but the path you’re taking to get there and the impact, the legacy that you forge along that journey. Wow. This has been a fascinating conversation, Deb and Jesse, I can’t thank you enough for taking time out of not only a busy month, but an ongoing state of busy to join us in the studio today for conversation. I certainly look forward to staying connected with you both as you venture into whatever’s next and hope that you’ll come back at a later point to continue to share some insights and inspiration and advice that can apply to not only those who lead the digital workplace, but those who lead via the digital workplace. Thanks again for joining me today.
[00:33:21.750] – Jesse J Tyson
[00:33:22.470] – Debra D King
Thank you, Nancy. Remember, leaders create leaders so we should all look up and walk worthy.
[00:33:27.930] – Nancy Goebel
Digital workplace impact is brought to you by the Digital Workplace Group. DWG is a strategic partner covering all aspects of the evolving digital workplace industry not only through membership, but also benchmarking and boutique consulting services. For more information visit digitalworkplacegroup.com.
[00:33:47.810] – Debra D King
Remember that thoughts are things and they can be empowering or disempowering, but we get to choose what they are.
Learn more about DWG and our history, and the benefits of working with us.Read More
Book a free one-to-one consultation to discuss the current status of your digital workplace. Each consultation is followed up with a bundle of useful resources to help get you started.