Deliver Gratitude Inside and Outside Your Organization. The more you are grateful for — your colleagues, vendors, customers and peers- the more for which you get to be grateful. What is the easiest way to show gratitude? Just say “thank you.” To make this concept even clearer let me say this, whatever you appreciate, appreciates with a greater return.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Keesa Schreane (pronounced Key-sa Schreen). Keesa is host and executive producer of You’ve Been Served Podcast ™ where she interviews visionaries such as Soledad O’Brien, Seth Godin, Laila Ali and Lisa Nichols on how they increase revenues, improve communities and impact lives through compassion, generosity and service in business. She is a featured columnist in publications such as American Marketing Association, hosts corporate training and participates as a panelist on the subject of compassionate leadership at events including Women in Business and Digital Summit. Keesa served as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Ambassador and chair of the Women’s Business Resource Group, both at Thomson Reuters; in 2018 she was honored by HubSpot as a “Top Female Marketing and Growth Expert”.; and in 2017, was featured in “Masonry’s 18 Content Marketing Bloggers to Follow on Twitter” along with thought leaders such as Gary Vaynerchuk.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Compassionate leadership is the power source of a healthy business. The absolute power source. When practicing compassionate leadership in a company, several things happen: employees are excited and innovative, suppliers give us their highest quality goods and products, investors see returns and customers move from loyalty to advocacy.
As a branding and partnership executive, a business resource network chairperson, a boardmember supporting start-ups and show host (interviewing dozens of people on this topic), I see this virtuous cycle, first hand, all the time.
Compassion for me is an action word! I act in it by serving each of my stakeholders- from team members, to suppliers, to customers. Compassion and service do not stop in a company, by their nature they expand; it is paid forward. Compassion and service move beyond the walls of a business to do the work of creating social impact externally by advocating for causes we as an organization believe in and support.
For example, I’ve worked across businesses to increase numbers of volunteers and funding dollars to deliver a much higher impact community service campaign than I would have as one individual. I’ve partnered with other executives to engage customers on financial education efforts that are important to us, and again we were much stronger together.
Leadership- with compassion and service at its core- promises success. There is no way to fail when you’re supporting your team members, showing graciousness to suppliers, demonstrating gratitude to customers and shareholders. You may have short-term rough patches, but you win in the end.
Market cycles change, trends shift, skills need improvement, but when I make service to others a part of my business and career strategy, I’m always coming out on top! I chose compassionate leadership because it’s the best win-win formula I’ve seen in business.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?
I was attending a leadership event, and a woman at the front of the room was asked to speak briefly by the facilitator. She looked familiar to me. Then, a young man shouted “KD” from the back of the room. The woman waved at the young man and the whole audience cheered. My sister’s eyes shot wide open as she gasped, and whispered excitedly “I knew it! That’s Kevin Durant’s mom, Wanda!”
Meeting Wanda, mother of NBA legend Kevin Durant, was a joy! We exchanged information to stay in touch. About six months later, I brainstormed with my business resource group on how we could generate enthusiasm among Wall Street influencers to engage in financial education programs for underestimated/underrepresented groups.
Then, I remembered a snippet of a recent movie about Wanda Durant’s economic struggles: She sacrificed meals so sons Kevin and Tony could have enough for dinner; she found herself divorced, a single mom and among the “working poor; and she managed to take what little she had to help other neighborhood children who had even less.
We ended up inviting Wanda Durant to speak in Times Square in front of an audience of hundreds of financial services executives, and we raised funds to donate to the Girls & Boys Club. She was gracious, authentic and full of laughs.
Her recommendation around how financial services leaders can uplift financially strapped individuals and families in the immediate-term was simple, yet direct. “You have to meet people where they are. You may need to start off by buying them groceries if they’re hungry.”
This was interesting because it is an example of a woman who emerged from financial devastation and uses her platform tirelessly to help others. Also, it I appreciate the passion of my team members- and the organization that empowered, entrusted and equipped us- to get the right people in the room at the right time so we can have the greatest impact.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Let me start by saying that if I weren’t doing what I’m doing, I’d probably be a trainer. For our podcast, I interviewed a personal trainer who is hugely insightful and clear in connecting the power of our minds and the power of our bodies. So we’re in the middle of discussing centenarians; my mom’s church member lived until 102, his grandmom lived about that long. Then we go into this dialogue about growing vegetables — in New York City- and making fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible and affordable.
In the middle of all of this podcast goodness, I look at my laptop, and realize I didn’t press “record” on my laptop software.
We were exactly 17-minutes into the interview! I immediately stopped him and told him about my error and he was so amazingly gracious and kind. He gave me the time for us to start from scratch.
I pressed “record” and we moved forward.
I learned the importance of creating a checklist. No matter how exceptional the interviewee, how our interview flows, how we’ve managed to excavate the unsaid, in this medium I need to ensure I go in with my intention and my checklist.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the core focus of our interview. Can you describe to our readers how you are using your platform to make a significant social impact?
A goal of You’ve Been Served Podcast was to hear views from leaders in corporates, not-for-profits and start-ups to discuss this notion of compassionate leadership and service. How do they lead with compassion? What is their purpose? What are the challenges? What are tips for doing this?
Bringing this insight to millions through stories of simple kindness, compassion and service in our businesses and in our everyday lives with the podcast is how I’m making a social impact.
I have amazing peers in this space who are creating content around purpose-driven business, green enterprises and sustainability.
We are creating a narrative around how to do things a different way. I’m using the podcast to share good news about how we can create better businesses and lives through compassion.
Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this cause?
I mentioned bringing Wanda Durant to speak to a group of business leaders in New York City about financial education.
During her talk about her struggles with financial literacy, a young man in the audience raised his hand to ask a question. He was an associate with one of the firm’s in attendance. He stood up and shared that he was homeless as a young adult, and experienced tremendous poverty. He was recently out of college and wanted her opinion on how to remove the mindset of poverty he held previously.
Silence and deep compassion enveloped the room, and the colleagues he sat with were a bit misty-eyed. She told him to come to her after the session so they could talk. It was such a beautiful moment because we allowed vulnerable and openness into the space.
Was there a tipping point that made you decide to focus on this particular area? Can you share a story about that?
When I arrived at a huge investment bank as a marketing VP, I felt luckier than ever. I was a couple of months into a new lateral-move role, and was excited about my future. Bringing both my enthusiasm and my well-rehearsed pitch, I sat across from a woman with whom I was developing a relationship with and who I fully expected to mentor me toward being a more impactful marketer and evangelist for the firm. The lateral role would help me learn another customer segment. Also, I was invited to participate in the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion roundtable. After the mortgage crisis and the market crash of 2008, many people didn’t see banking as the most compassionate industry. My own friends gave me a double take when I would tell them about my latest career move in the field. Serving in the roundtable was an exciting way to change this perception.
Armed with knowledge of how financial services can positively impact communities they serve- particularly through financial literacy and professional readiness — I was prepared to share the impact our company could have on our neighborhoods and the people in them.
However, the purpose of this meeting on this particular day was to get her thoughts on producing great work, getting to know business stakeholders and outlining what excellence looked like to her, so I could deliver it. Once I achieved professional success in her eyes, I would then share plans for my D&I work. My intention was for her to be my mentor, my advocate.
She listened intently and peered at me rather expressionless. After I gave my request for her thoughts on this, she leaned in across her desk and said “Keesa, I just really feel your brain synapses don’t connect with each other.” Explaining further, she added I’m incapable of outstanding work because I just don’t understand certain concepts intellectually. My brain simply could not grasp it.
The woman who shared this was neither a neurosurgeon, nor a neuroscientist. She wasn’t a brain activity expert of any sort. She was my SVP of marketing. She was my manager. As a new VP to her team, I went into her office for insight on what she needed me to deliver and her words of wisdom on how I might ascend to higher levels in my career. This is what I left out with: an assessment on my brain function.
Her pronouncement of mental deficiency, shared in private, began to have cutting public consequences. The group of about six women who worked with me and who had known her for years, began having less and less to say to me on elevators, in the ladies room, in the hallways and all other places where speaking and being spoken to were — as I came to understand- privileges, not necessities. Psychologists refer to this as “microagression” or everyday workplace slights usually toward marginalized community members. It was just hostile enough to bring about discomfort on an everyday basis. When I walked down the hall and said “Good Morning” only to be utterly ignored by a once friendly senior vice president, I realized I was considered an outsider.
I started meditating on my manager’s words. Every morning on the way to work and in the evenings- sometimes during the day- what she said and how I felt as a result looped around in my head like a YouTube video on repeat. After several weeks, my energy and productivity decreased. I began making errors I never made before. I began to feel lethargic frequently, even after getting eight hours of sleep. I didn’t like to “complete” assignments for fear something would be incorrect. This was not me. She sold me an identity. It took every ounce of concentrated effort I could muster to not buy it, believe in it and adopt it as my own.
The downward spiral in my work, depleted energy and knowledge that I was vaguely tolerated at the office was too much for me to carry. I took my interpretation of what she said and the isolation I felt and I went for a walk at 5am one March morning. I laced up my sneakers, grabbed my phone and earbuds and set out for Central Park. Blending in with other walkers, bikers and joggers, walking up the ramp, I found a YouTube audiobook of a familiar Napoleon Hill work (my parents have had the book on our bookshelf for over 20 years), and I listened. Then, I prayed. Raised on prayer and dabbling in mindfulness, developing a daily walking, praying and listening routine was comforting. After a few weeks, I started to feel differently. I chose to reject that false identity. I was more enthusiastic about my future, and less prone to feeling powerless. I stopped seeing myself as a victim and started believing I had the ability to redirect my path. I started recognizing that my view of Keesa was much more important than someone else’s view. I was kinder and more compassionate towards myself. What followed was not only a new job and a new manager, but also a new intention toward generosity and compassion toward my peers, my customers and myself. I committed to seeing the best in my colleagues, to serve them and practice compassion toward them.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Here is what business leaders can do to help deliver compassion and increase their social impact outside company walls:
Know Your Purpose
The first move is to understand what your purpose is as an individual. I’ve always been drawn to communicating important concepts to audiences through education and awareness. My interests range from financial empowerment to developing programs that demonstrate compassion and service in workplace environments. Whenever I align myself with firms, teams or other individuals with a strong desire to improve our organizations and people, it always results in a powerful community development or employee engagement program.
I serve as chairperson of a women’s business resource network where our aim is to embrace empowering and collaborative behavior patterns and create an environment where contributions are celebrated.
We shifted our energy and resources to girls in STEM and I used my connections as an advisory board member at the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York to determine the best programming to impact girls in our organization. After researching the technical skills and confidence-boosting environments that would best serve teenagers, I sought out relevant colleagues who were interested in helping young people. Many of them had never participated in social impact programs, but they wanted to make a positive difference and were on board with actively creating and implementing the program. We pulled together women from our firm who were data scientists, product managers and technologists. This months-long mentorship program for young women in our Girl Scout Leadership Institute became a superb corporate social responsibility case study. It started with individuals who shared a common purpose.
Know Why You’re in Business
Shawn Askinosie, CEO of Askinosie Chocolate, says getting rich as a chocolate maker is not his focus. His focus is making the best chocolate possible, while contributing to the needs of those in communities where he does business. I recently spoke with Askinosie on an episode of the “You’ve Been Served” podcast, during which he told me that delivering fair and equitable pay to farmers in his supply chain — from Kenya to Ecuador — is his primary objective. He says Askinosie Chocolate also contributes to childhood education in the communities where it does business.
For example, the company’s experiential learning program, Chocolate University, provided laptops to students in a Tanzanian school and funded the school’s first computer teacher. The company has also sponsored school trips from its Missouri home base to visit farms in various countries, where students taste chocolate and get an inside look at the business.
These initiatives may sound overwhelming if you’re an entrepreneur, and probably sound downright impossible if you’re a manager trying to positively impact your team members. But it starts by understanding why you’re in business, producing an excellent product and clarity on how you can leverage resources from your product and service to impact others in society.
Deliver Gratitude Inside and Outside Your Organization
The more you are grateful for — your colleagues, vendors, customers and peers- the more for which you get to be grateful. What is the easiest way to show gratitude? Just say “thank you.” To make this concept even clearer let me say this, whatever you appreciate, appreciates with a greater return.
In a 2018 CNBC article, Deepak Chopra recommends we give a “daily gift” to customers, colleagues and others in our ecosystem. “Be kind, considerate and deliberate in thanks to not short circuit that loop of generosity.”
Sending out an email of thanks, with specifics on how your project was enhanced, or catastrophe averted, due to your colleague’s diplomacy, keen judgement or business savvy, is a simple way to give thanks. An added bonus would be to cc their management team.
Some firms even give the opportunity to send small gifts and tokens of appreciation for a peer who has done outstanding work. It’s worth it to take time out at the end of each week, review your workflows and get a sense of who provided insight, or a helping hand in serving you. When I acknowledge a team member and show gratitude, it always results in a deeper relationship that yields even greater value. Setting an intention to thank others for positive work they’ve done is a way to make them feel supported and a great way to serve the relationship. This creates even greater levels of harmony within the organization.
Making others feel celebrated and appreciated, not just tolerated is another way to retain valuable talent. This elevates the levels of morale, which results in people staying with the firm or, if they leave, they serve as credible evangelists for the firm with future, prospective talent.
Thank you for all of these great insights!