I met Halelly Azulay about five years ago in Washington and we've been friends since. She is a leadership development strategist, author, and the founder of TalentGrow. Halelly describes her work as improving "the human side of work," which is exactly what CEO 1-2-3 wants to highlight. It's regrettable that this is a print interview, because Halelly's warmth and exuberance is really special, as anyone who's worked with her, knows.
Hello, Halelly! Tell us about yourself.
First, thanks for the invitation to be part of this great new column, kudos on your success with Allied Talent, and for saying such kind things about me. Life is great! I've been in leader and employee development training for twenty years and am beginning my tenth year running TalentGrow, and am busy doing what I love: helping self-motivated, growth-oriented leaders grow their talent.
How'd you get to starting TalentGrow?
Well, I was happily working within corporate organizations doing employee and leader development as a training department manager and an internal practitioner, but I discovered that I had a very entrepreneurial spirit. The idea of building a business that allowed me to help a variety of clients and maximize my strengths sounded like an exhilarating challenge that suited my nature. So I decided to take the leap.
In your work, you see a lot of different workplaces in different industries and sectors. Do you see any themes that recur and create a challenge for today's leaders?
Yes! It's amazing how similar many of the workplace challenges are when it comes to people leadership. I find that a lot of people are still trying to operate in an Industrial Age mindset in the workplace. What that means is that they still think and say things like, "leave your emotions at the door" or try to deal with humans as if they're some kind of worker-bee robots. What I try to show these leaders is the amazing insights we now have from science-especially neuroscience and social science research--that shows us what really happens when we come to work: we bring our whole brain and our whole body and there's no way to leave anything at the door. In fact, our brains are designed to decipher all data in the emotional "processing" center first before we can experience any rational thoughts about it. From an evolutionary standpoint, our brains operate very similarly to our ancestors in that we are rigged to scan our environment for threats five times per second. But what many in 21st century workplaces don't realize is that what is perceived as a threat by our brains in today's workplace is a surprisingly wide array of behaviors, not just tigers and lions and bears. So if you ignore someone in the meeting, or you roll your eyes when a colleague speaks, you're very likely activating their brain's threat response. What this means is that you're triggering them into becoming more emotional and less rational, more narrow-minded and less creative, more defensive and less solution-focused. We have to stop pretending that this doesn't happen and start integrating this insight into our strategies for leading so that we can minimize the negative results of this kind of workplace dynamic and help people operate at their best to produce great results.
What really excites you about your work?
I enjoy creating engaging, high-trust, high-energy "light-bulb" moments for leaders. They get insights and find new and improved ways to communicate, lead, and work with others, to practice new skills and succeed, and to seek more ways to grow their talent and use their strengths at work. I love helping people at all levels be the kind of leaders others love to follow, increase their influence and satisfaction at work, and create an upward spiral of growth for themselves and those around them. And, I'm often able to help teams and organizations expand their view of what it means to develop employees to include many easily available, low-cost, and simple-to-start informal learning options. That means more people will get to grow their skills and employee engagement will also grow!
What is especially interesting to me is that in your thinking about work at TalentGrow, you include your studies in neuroscience and positive psychology. Would you give your readers a primer on these topics?
Each of those fields is so dynamic and rich that I'll probably do it a big a disservice with this primer, but here are some highlights. Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system and the brain. It's an extremely broad and fast-growing field of inquiry and I'm most interested in cognitive and behavioral neuroscience and its application to the workplace and interpersonal communication. With technology like fMRI machines, scientists can now study the triggers and reactions in the brain that help explain human behaviors and tendencies. In the past, people like the brilliant Dale Carnegie would make observations about human nature and suggest ways to improve our leadership and communication that stemmed from those observations or their intuition. But now science helps us actually know what triggers certain reactions or alleviates certain misunderstandings with much greater accuracy and the scientific 'proof' to back it up. This helps us either reaffirm the usefulness of certain leadership advice and debunk the veracity of other, long-standing myths about what works and doesn't in interpersonal interactions. How amazing is that? The field of Positive Psychology was launched in the late 90s to study human flourishing and to help mentally healthy people increase their level of wellbeing and happiness as opposed to 'fix' what's 'wrong' with them, as is the focus of so much of the field of psychology. This positive, future-focused aspiration is uplifting and motivating to me. Again, the research in this field is based on science and scientific inquiry, not voodoo and 'Law of Attraction' nonsense. This is very helpful to people in business settings and I love learning about this research and helping leaders and employees apply its teachings.
Whose work do you like most in each of those fields?
In neuroscience, I really enjoy learning from David Rock, who coined the term NeuroLeadership, because he helps me translate research into business-actionable lessons. And in Positive Psychology, I love the work of Drs. Martin Seligman (considered the "Father of PosPsych"), Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and Chris Peterson, who are some of the founding fathers, and a huge new generation of both researchers and practitioners who have followed and added to their writing.
What are the three things you know that CEOs need to know?
#1. Incorporate insights from the fields of neuroscience and positive psychology into your people strategy. We can't run our 21st Century organizations with Industrial Age policies and approaches.
#2. People thrive when their job allows them to use their strengths every day. Encourage your people managers to be insatiably curious about what lights up your people and give them more opportunities to do those things. Shape jobs toward talent rather than shoving talent into pre-defined jobs.
#3. People want continual learning and development opportunities. Expand your possibilities by embracing both formal and informal learning opportunities.