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Launa Lawhorn: “Very or extremely stressful”

Adequate training for managers and leaders in the organization — This is a major problem in the business culture, especially at the frontline level of management. If an individual contributor is promoted to manage people and do not receive training, it can have an impact on their career until the alignment occurs. As I stated earlier, emotional […]

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Adequate training for managers and leaders in the organization — This is a major problem in the business culture, especially at the frontline level of management. If an individual contributor is promoted to manage people and do not receive training, it can have an impact on their career until the alignment occurs. As I stated earlier, emotional intelligence is the hardest skill to train, which is why more specialists, trainers and facilitators are needed. Many trainers offer emotional intelligence training, but the question is, do they have the emotional intelligence to be able to deliver it? Emotional intelligence can be practiced. It can be developed through learning. Based on my research, emotional intelligence is not the sole predictor of human performance and development potential, but its known to be a key indicator in many areas.


As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Launa Lawhorn of The Impact Leadership Institute.

Companies need employee engagement in order to pivot and survive in these challenging times. Launa has held various leadership roles over the past 25+ years building teams and transforming cultures in corporate and small business. During this time, she’s studied behaviors, actions and results of businesses with diverse workforces. Her experience with both toxic and impactful work environments led her to build a powerful set of tools to create and sustain change so workers can learn, grow and thrive.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My story starts back in my senior year of high school. I had all the required credits going into my senior year to graduate but my parents would not sign for me to graduate early because they feared I would get married. The principal did not know what to do with me. He said I was too smart to just sit in a study hall all day or be a helper in the cafeteria. Eventually, he decided I would assist in the office in the morning, and after lunch I went and worked at a nearby department store making signs that advertised products. I started the work co-op program at my high school. After graduation I worked in our neighborhood bank as a teller, I was the first African American to work as a teller in that branch. Later during my career in technology, I started the tuition reimbursement program at a major corporation in the mid-nineties. I was the first employee to earn a degree paid for by the company. Those experiences were the start of my leadership journey. Leadership is a career path that was given to me. I say it was given to me because having a career and holding leadership positions was not what I dreamed of but is what I have done over the past 20+ years. Today I run and lead the Impact Leadership Institute.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The most interesting thing that has happened to me is the internal growth and development that I have gone through. Through the programs and lectures I have implemented with clients; I learn and benefit from them as well. It is as though the more I give the more I receive. As I help other leaders develop and grow, I have grown two-fold. It has been a transformation in every aspect of my life. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time conducting free workshops and lectures to make people aware of the services we provide. I refined my presentations, but I also built some of the most fabulous relationships with smart, focused and successful people. I learned patience, perseverance, focus, and deep faith. When I initially started the business, I only thought about making money. What I learned was conquering fear, learning from mistakes and then having the courage to get up and keep going through the growth zone of life that comes before, during and after making money. The key to leadership and business is to add value within so you can multiply value to others.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am aligning my business with Shift/Co. Shift/Co is a business growth community for conscious entrepreneurs who want to both elevate business success and make the world better. As a Co-Founder of Shift/Co, I am collaborating to build something that is more than just a business. Collectively, Shift/Co members work together to make the world better for others. We understand that business is an instrument for meaningful change. We want our legacy to live beyond the wall of our businesses.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

The first bullet in the study by CareerBuilder.com — companies are not providing adequate training to their managers and leaders. Training is essential not only on how to lead others, but how leaders lead and develop themselves. Emotional intelligence is the way leaders can combine their thinking with their feelings in order to make quality decision and build authentic relationships. Successful leaders can be an

organization’s most powerful resource for increasing productivity, performance and profitability when provided adequate training and coaching.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

Let me start with some statistics from my research over the years that are still relevant today.

7 out of every 10 workers are not working at their full potential and it affects American businesses more than they realize. 70% of U.S. workers are disengaged:

  • Disengaged workers cost the U.S. between 450–550 billion each year in lost productivity
  • 46% of new hires fail within 18 months — 89% is due to poor culture fit
  • Turnover costs are often estimated to be 100–300% of base salary of a replaced employee
  • 80% of people who were dissatisfied within their direct manager are disengaged

Now let’s look at what happens in companies who choose to invest in their culture for change:

  • Performance — 20% perform better than their disengaged counterparts
  • Companies with engaged employees outperform up to 202% better

Companies with a highly engaged workforce improved operating income by 19.2% and 147% higher earnings per share compared with their competition

Companies with low engagement scores saw operating income decline by 32.7% and 2% lower-earning per share compared with their competition.

Turnover — Engaged employees are 87% less likely to leave the organization than the disengaged.

Health/Safety — In comparing the top 25% best managed and engaged teams versus the bottom 25% in any workplace, Gallup discovered that the top 25% add nearly 50% fewer accidents and have 41% fewer quality defects and incur far less health care costs than the bottom 25%.

Employees are experiencing high levels of stress and unhappiness — 40% surveyed in an Inc.com study showed 40% of employees say their job is “very or extremely stressful”.

Based on this information, investing in employee’s happiness is essential to having a workforce that is engaged and motivated. Data shows there is a direct correlation to driving success in the company and the bottom line. As the pace of change increases and adaptation become even more critical, an engaged workforce can be a company’s most valuable asset.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

Be intentional and disruptive for “change”. Let’s start at the very beginning of the onboarding process — set expectations with employees on how they will be supported, valued and developed based on the company’s culture.

  1. Diversity & Inclusion — People need to see themselves at every level in the organization. I am a big believer in companies’ leadership from the board down to the cleaning crew should reflect the customers served and employees. If employees do not see themselves represented in all levels

of leadership, subconsciously it sends a message of limitations and closes the door of hope, which starts the cycle of disengagement and lack of trust. I was working for a company and one day the new CEO did a townhall presentation. He put up a slide and the board of directors were all men and Caucasian; the executive leadership team were all Caucasian — all men one woman over Human Resources. I immediately started looking for another job. I did not feel my voice would be hear or understood. This experience makes me think of one of my favorite quotes: “Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door” … Coco Chanel

2. Focus on individuals’ “strengths” — Get to know your employees. Talk with them about what they enjoy doing, what’s important to them, what they are like when they are at their best — then align their work as much as possible to their strengths. Don’t rob people of their autonomy. One of the best managers I have worked for would delegate assignments to me that aligned with my

strengths and what I enjoyed doing. He encouraged me and gradually increased the scope and complexity of my assignments and I felt I developed naturally with his coaching and advising along the way. Employees want to grow and develop, but it must be done authentically by starting with leveraging their strengths as the foundation for the learning.

3. Adequate training for managers and leaders in the organization — This is a major problem in the business culture, especially at the frontline level of management. If an individual contributor is promoted to manage people and do not receive training, it can have an impact on their career until the alignment occurs. As I stated earlier, emotional intelligence is the hardest skill to train, which is why more specialists, trainers and facilitators are needed. Many trainers offer emotional intelligence training, but the question is, do they have the emotional intelligence to be able to deliver it? Emotional intelligence can be practiced. It can be developed through learning. Based on my research, emotional intelligence is not the sole predictor of human performance and development potential, but its known to be a key indicator in many areas:

  1. Higher job performance
  2. Greater job satisfaction
  3. Better psychological well-being
  4. Better physical health
  5. Positive impact within relationships

4. Always look for the best in people — Treat people with respect. This one is so basic I hesitate to mention it but because it is absent in so many work environments, I would like to discuss it as an option for improvement. Leaders improve their work culture when they take time to do small things to respect the teams.

  1. Smile — Say “hello” — acknowledge everyone equally
  2. Take time and talk to people — move through the crowds slowly
  3. Ask versus giving orders

People want to do what is asked of them but the way it is asked could cause resentment if someone feels they are being bossed around or ordered to do something.

5. Positive reinforcement — Going as far back as 1946, there is ample evidence supporting the motivating impact of simply feeling appreciated for a job well done (Wiley, 1997). Employees must see that all behaviors are taken seriously. Positive behavior is rewarded. Negative behavior is corrected. Here are some examples that can used to reinforce positive behaviors in the work culture:

  1. Saying “Thank You”
  2. A written letter of praise
  3. Time off
  4. Job rotation

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

Great question — I would say adopt the creation of more conscious businesses and leadership.

The 4 principles of conscious capitalism are:

  1. Conscious leadership — Organizations mirror the action and personality of the individual at the top (authentic, open person).
  2. Stakeholder orientation — Conscious leaders know the importance of taking account of all their stakeholders.
  3. Conscious culture — A values-based culture is one that is intentional about how people act and perform.
  4. Higher purpose — A company should be in business to do more than just make monthly goals. Great leaders realize that in order to become successful over the long term, you must provide true value.

This is applicable to businesses and all areas of leadership. Example — the famous and admired coach John Wooden never talked about winning. He talked about doing your best, and you know what? He won — more than anyone!

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

As a leader, it is important to me to make people feel included, valued and respected. I want them to feel that they are treated fairly and have a sense of belonging. When leaders learn to do this well, I believe it creates a collaborative environment, people will speak up more, go the extra mile and all this ultimately increases performance and trust.

I have always described my leadership stay as “inclusive”. A few years back I underwent a 360 assessment. During the feedback session with my HR business partner my scores and comments were remarkably high on the behaviors of an inclusive leader. People felt when they interact with me, I was very approachable, trustworthy and showed an eagerness to work and support them. Others stated I created a safe environment for them and help to expand their horizons and constantly challenged the status quo. Other traits were humility, curiosity towards others, strong awareness of bias/blind spots and I worked hard to ensure a meritocracy.

I have a passion for making people’s lives better through good leadership. I have learned and continue to learn each day, how to implement the tools and techniques to get better (consciously).

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are three — but the one that is constant over the longest period of time is my husband Milton.

Milton and I got married shortly after I graduated from high school. Milton has always supported anything and everything I wanted to do. When I think back, I realize he made so many sacrifices personally for me, and because I was so focused on what I wanted it never dawned on me until recent years. If I could describe our story, I would use two analogies — Milton has been the rock of the foundation I stood on and the wind beneath my wings that helped lift me up and helped me soar like an eagle.

I would not be where I am today without his unconditional love, consistent support, encouragement, patience, and sacrifices. All over more time than my adult life. We have been friends and together for 49 years and married for 42. I have been a trailblazer all my life. I worked and went to school over my entire career (including when I received my undergraduate and graduate degree), traveled all around the world, held technical and senior leadership roles in corporate, started several businesses, raised a daughter and

managed to stay married to my childhood sweetheart. So much has been given to me and now my focus and mission is to give back through teaching and showing leaders how to implement the tools and techniques to develop themselves and others around them and create engaged workforces. It is a win-win!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Here are a few things I have participated in and shared from the gifts I have been blessed with to give back to the world.

Selected as a delegate to participate in the US-China conference on Women’s Issues in Beijing China sponsored by the All-Women’s China Federation — visited, studied and participated in discussions on rural/urban life, education, health, and business.

Visited and participated in interfaith and business dialog in Rome/Italy with Focolare Movement.

Their goal is to contribute to building a more united world in which people value and respect diversity.

The visit included a trip and tour of the town of Loppiano, the first of the 33 “little towns of the Focolari” which have sprung up on all five continents. Situated in the Tuscan hills, it has around 1,000 inhabitants from 70 countries, as well as schools, business enterprises and art centers. Its inhabitants come from Russia, Portugal, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Burundi, the Congo, South Africa, the United States, Mexico, Patagonia, Japan, China, Korea, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. This experience changed my whole perspectives on global partnerships and sustaining conscious business for the good of humanity. I witnessed people of all nationalities and faith live, work and do business together in harmony as one. It is great model for the world.

Served as President of CERWIS — Committee to Enhance the Women in Society.

Community Outreach — offered free Business and Financial Management training.

Serve as mentor/coach for aspiring you women who completed the DFW*ATW Leadership Development Program.

The Impact Leadership Institute is my most treasured vehicle to bring goodness to the world. The institute provides conscious, authentic leadership training, coaching, workshops and speaking engagements. We partner with CEOs and business leaders who want to make a difference in the world by “doing the right thing” and leading consciously and authentically.

Conscious leaders focus on the “we” rather than the “me” and realize that our role is to create a culture of trust, care and expansive influence. Through the programs offered by the institute, companies and their leadership teams develop within and grow others around them, as well as create engaging and fulfilling cultures. We assist them with attracting, hiring and developing leaders as they scale and grow their business.

Our vision is to change the world one leader at a time.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel — Maya Angelou (1928–2014)

Unfortunately, I learned this late in life, but now it is a cherished reminder that I use in every encounter I have. This quote has changed my life and perspective on how what I do or say impacts others — I am a better person after not just reading the quote but living the words in the quote.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A movement of conscious business and leadership. A world of respect, love and acceptance of all people equally. No superiority over human beings due to difference of gender, race, thought, wealth, etc.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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