Susan Kavanaugh of KavCom Conscious Communications: “Be authentic”

Be authentic. Be yourself as often as possible. If you have a goofy side, express it. If you love to discuss botany, share those thoughts. If you are extra sensitive, don’t try to hold back emotions. In other words, offer up as much of your authentic self to the people who report to you as possible […]

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Be authentic. Be yourself as often as possible. If you have a goofy side, express it. If you love to discuss botany, share those thoughts. If you are extra sensitive, don’t try to hold back emotions. In other words, offer up as much of your authentic self to the people who report to you as possible

As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan Kavanaugh.

Susan Kavanaugh founded KavCom: Conscious Communications, LLC in 1997. She and her team serve companies who believe in “Work as a Force for Good” by providing conscious marketing content, articles, blogs, grant requests and financial growth consultation. One-time executive director for Conscious Capitalism Arizona and a co-founder for Shift/Co, a global movement elevating business and shifting humanity, Kavanaugh regularly teaches sustainability workshops at Arizona State University. She is a professional certified coach assisting business executives and leaders who want to overcome core obstacles and embrace mindful, fearless living.

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

I’m delighted to spend time with you! I’ve looked forward to this conversation.

From a very young age, I aligned with God. My dream was to create peace, by living it and modeling it for others — allowing it to begin with me (as per the lyrics in “Let There Be Peace on Earth”).

During the course of a long career in journalism and publishing, I developed a plan to provide writing and marketing services for “conscious” companies. I was in Denver at the 1996 International New Age Convention promoting new books and music CDs I’d produced through Unity Publishing. While visiting the many exhibitors, I recognized there was a chasm between standard marketing and marketing for holistic, sustainable, green and conscious companies.

One day at the event, I was way laid by a migraine and returned to my hotel room to take medication and sleep. I averted the headache, but instead of sleeping I was unexpectedly provided with ideas for a company of my own. And, the truth is, my mind was flooding with explicit, well-laid business plans that seemingly came from a power outside of myself. I believe it was my Higher Power, God. I heard no voice, or saw visions, but I felt like I was doing something akin to automatic writing as I fervently scribbled on the hotel’s only notepad the steps to take to build the business. I do not want to sound odd, but it was a mystical experience for me. I left that trade show knowing what my next venture would be and how to make it succeed.

Once I founded KavCom: Conscious Communications, I relocated to Phoenix from my home in the Midwest and brought five clients with me. My company had launched!

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

Ohio State Representative Dennis Kucinich, often referred to as a peace-seeking idealist and former Mayor of Cleveland, introduced a bill in Congress in 2001 asking to create a Department of Peace (since we had a Department of Defense). His advocacy for the Department of Peace engaged ambassadors from various states. Terri Mansfield co-founded the Arizona Department of Peace Campaign and our paths crossed as I worked for a client trying to raise awareness about preventative medical care for the underserved.

Terri and I created PeaceLinks™ a statewide neighborhood project utilizing the Synergistic Convergence model (SynCon) created by futurist Barbara Marx-Hubbard. Barbara and I had met and become acquaintances in the early ’90s. PeaceLinks™ was a tremendous success around the state. Leadership from various sectors of the economy would gather and have conversations on what peace “looked like to them” in their neighborhoods. They would strategize on how to build greater community and communication to reach peaceful resolutions.

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

I do have one amazing project for a client currently. In the State of Arizona there are between 15,000 and 16,000 children who fall into a gap and are unable to receive early intervention programs for their intellectual and physical disabilities. These youngsters, aged birth to five, will soon receive services because my team and I have led my client in the creation of a nonprofit that has partnered with a local healthcare organization.

Another exciting project is an online curriculum on workplace productivity and conscious communications. Dr. Tamara Torres, a partner of mine, joined me to teach this topic in November and now we are working again to present another series of webinars on the topic to be held in early 2021. Our audience is national and very appreciative of our courses because of the highly interactive opportunities we offer.

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?

Before reading that article, I know that the answer is a lack of authenticity in communication between leadership and valued employees. Employees are unhappy because of a lack of transparency on the part of management, their frustration toward feeling they are not heard, their experience of not being valued and, finally, their experience of helplessness in directing their careers.

After reading the article, it drives all of my points home. I find it very unsettling because for the majority of our adult years we are in the “work force.” A bit sad, isn’t it?

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?

My research has primarily been with conscious business models versus traditional capitalism. Unhappy employees can bring a company to their knees if they are not prepared and not listening to their most valued asset — the people who create the end product and ensure customer satisfaction. These same ignorant (not a derogatory reference in this case, but one that simply implies a lack of information) organizations impact our national and global economy due to their actions.

Their employees are racked with stress and a variety of “dis”-eases that accompany it. There is greater absenteeism and far less successful research and development, and more importantly — sales.

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?

Before a manager or executive tries any of the five suggestions I make here, they need to (first and foremost) check their ego at the door.

  1. Be authentic. Be yourself as often as possible. If you have a goofy side, express it. If you love to discuss botany, share those thoughts. If you are extra sensitive, don’t try to hold back emotions. In other words, offer up as much of your authentic self to the people who report to you as possible. You will automatically become more approachable. You’ll come out of the ivory tower. You’ll be respected in ways you never imagined were possible. After leaving a higher education management role, I went to work for a small nonprofit as their executive director. The higher education role had been highly corporate and highly structured. With the smaller organization I took time to develop relationships and reveal parts of myself I had never done until that time. My staff related, felt less judged and developed a hope for the future not yet seen at the company.
  2. Express light-heartedness. Find as many methods as possible to help people laugh. Perhaps you have a latent trickster in you…let it out. Maybe you’ve recognized groups of employees that resonate with each other. Create opportunities for these specific employees to share collegial time together doing something other than work. Send them to a miniature golf outing for half a day. Let them create their own event. Simply give them paid time for comradery. One client of mine saw an intense overwhelm from their employees due to the workload one particular time of the year. I recommended one Friday a month for team building. The employees could not wait for those Fridays. They were allowed to plan the outings, given a small budget and took most of the work day to enjoy some fun activity such as bowling. The relief this time provided helped balance the workload for them.
  3. Ask for input. No one is perfect and stellar on their own, no matter what you want to think about yourself. This truly reminds me of a book I published recently. At least three people reviewed it carefully before it was printed, and there were still typos even after three people diligently proofread it. When the company has an important decision to make, it is often critical that you ask for input from as many employees as possible. You will find a pearl each time you do that. You will personally not need to dive as deep because your team will do it for you. 
    In one of my clients’ workplaces there was a significant age gap between two senior leaders and most of the staff. There was an impasse with one particular project that the senior leaders felt in need of a younger person’s perspective. Allowing for their junior staff to brainstorm, a unique and highly practical solution was found.
  4. Hear. Demonstrate that you are not only listening to a colleague or employee, but that you hear what they are saying. Recognition is one of the most important things human beings seek. To them, it becomes a form of love and sustenance. If you are listening, repeat back to them what you heard them say, so they know you really heard it. If you think one of their ideas is workable, give the person the chance to be project manager on it and execute the idea. I had a blog writer who was quite good at generating content based on my very specific direction. However, she was ready for more self-expression. At first, I was uncertain because I wanted the content to take my direction and ideas. We discussed the situation. I repeated back to her most of what I was listening to and what I felt I had truly heard. She was deeply moved by my understanding. I gave her a few opportunities to go it on her own, and eventually let her drive topics and content because she was very good. She loved that I gave her the additional responsibility.
  5. Offer a flexible workplace environment. Allow for diverse work environments. Build areas within your primary facility for small group conversation, or quiet meeting areas for two to four people from various departments. Allow for comfort by placing small loveseats or oversized comfy chairs with a coffee table and music that can be wired in. Place these environments near the coffee machine or kitchen.
    Outside of the immediate facility, offer the flexibility to work from home either full time or half-time, or something in between. Let your employees know you trust them (you’ll overcome your fears once they produce consistent, quality work). The more flexibility you offer, the more comfortable the workplace, the more committed your employees.
    With KavCom, I elected to never have a storefront. Over the last twenty years, my many staff members have always been able to work from home, but the nature of KavCom projects allows for this approach. I took advantage of co-working spaces when these facilities became popular. These spaces offer all that I described as an ideal work environment. When we need to meet as a team, or one on one, a co-working space is ideal.

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?

I so agree with the need to change work culture! This past year as millions of people have lost jobs due to illness or economic losses, everyone has learned to “pivot.” Though KavCom has not been hit hard yet, I have changed to all online communication utilizing video software systems and other interactive software. It’s been an emotional drain on many of us because the focus on conscious communications thrives when we are able to meet in person and exchange energy as well as have a better perspective on subtle body language cues.

For the overall US workforce culture, some organizations have been forced to modify operations to keep their proverbial heads above water. We are poised, as a nation, to deconstruct all of the past methods of working and embrace a new culture. To allow for this change, the movement for conscious business models is beginning to pique. So many members of our US workforce have been forced to reexamine what is most important in their lives. Relationships and health top the list. With this change in mass consciousness, there is no way we can return to the earlier workforce culture. It is fast disappearing by circumstance, but I believe that the workforce will gravitate toward taking the reins and push for changes from a grass roots level. It will no longer be a top-down culture.

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

I am a servant leader. I’m deeply compassionate and respectful. I utilize the Conscious Capitalism model of operation. Everyone working with KavCom and everyone served by KavCom is a stakeholder. If my stakeholders are not happy, then I’m doing something wrong.

When KavCom has a client come to us with a particular project, I try to delegate according to staff personality and preferences, as well as skill. Through this technique I, and the clients, receive exceptional execution of the work. For instance, our organization needed to submit a white paper on trauma-informed approaches to working with autistic youth. I selected one of our researchers with a teaching background. She also had worked with nonprofit groups helping provide quality education to underserved children. It was a perfect fit! Though I wrote the paper, she came up with the most innovative research possible. She loved working on the project, and I loved the results.

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 a multitude of people who have passed through my life (and who are still in my life) supporting my growth. Without question that has been the greatest blessing in my life.

I do have to recognize a former employer, Reverend William Dale, who at the time was one of the top leaders in the Unity Church movement. I was in my late 20s and early 30s. I had a multitude of business ideas the Rev. Dale encouraged me to implement. He stood behind me in a way that allowed me to flourish as a businessperson. Some of my ideas were novel and untried, but I felt passionate about them. I saved that organization more than a half a million in operational costs (if not more) by receiving permission to make important changes.

During those thirteen years, I gained a business confidence that I value and retain today. It was built on the unshakable belief and compassion that Rev. Dale had for me.

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

My success as a businessperson has been demonstrated in the millions of dollars I have helped nonprofit organizations obtain and put to work for the sick, the impoverished, the underprivileged, the homeless, and those with mental or physical health needs. My influence on “Work as a Force for Good” companies and on individuals, through my personal coaching, is tangible and rewarding.

Through access to basic needs and through an understanding of conscious communications I have no idea how many lives I’ve touched or changed. And the number is not so important. Even if it is only one person whose life I may have helped change for the better, it is enough. I believe that each person for whom I have modeled peace or ignited hope will do the same for another. I’m hinging my hopes on a domino effect.

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

I have always adored the quote from “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” This holds tremendous meaning for me. I believe we must look through the eyes of love, always.

In my lifetime, I learned that real treasure is in a person’s feelings, even if those feelings are the result of a thought. I know we must often dig deep to determine our true feelings, but once we acknowledge them, we are more empowered than ever.

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. 🙂

If I had the wherewithal, I would reintroduce the concept of creating a Department of Peace that is as equally funded as is the Department of Defense. My goal would be to not only see the United States establish such a department but that other countries around the world would create similar governmental groups.

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

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