Bonnie Hagemann
Co-Founder and Co-Chair WomenExecs on Boards

Bonnie is co-founder and co-chair of the WomenExecs on Boards network, made up of over 190+
women from 23 countries who completed the Harvard Women on Boards program.

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On this episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William speaks with Bonnie Hagemann about real-life resilience from the world’s most successful women.

Bonnie is co-founder and co-chair at WomenExecs on Boards network, made up of over 190+ women from 23 countries who completed the Harvard Women on Boards program. She is an expert in leadership from every angle and brought an enlightening, informative conversation with her.

Tune in and let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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Listening Time: 28 minutes

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This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition each week. We take one over-complicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

William:

Ladies and gentleman, this is William Tincup, and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today, we have Bonnie on from WomenExecs On Boards, and we’re really talking about the real-life resilience from the world’s most successful women in business. Wonderful topic. Can’t wait to get into it. Bonnie, would you do us a favor and introduce yourself and WomenExecs on Boards?

Bonnie:

Absolutely. And thank you so much for having me on your podcast. I’m excited to be here. I am Bonnie Hagemann, the CEO of EDA, Inc, which is actually a 38-year-old company in the human capital space that we are transforming into a tech company. So, as I mentioned before the podcast, you have some expertise in that, I’m going to have to talk to you about it. But that’s one part of my life. And another part is this WomenExecs on Boards where I am co-founder of a network of over 195 members from 23 countries, of women who attended the Board Governance programs at Harvard Business School. And so, that is what it’s all about and that’s what the book’s about.

William:

Oh, I love it. So, let’s go into the relationship between resilience and successful women in business. So, what have you seen so far? And, and again, let’s just kind of give a primer to the audience around how these things are linked or associated with one another.

Bonnie:

Absolutely. So, just to back up a little bit, this is my third book. So, my publisher, I wanted to talk to them about a couple of ideas I had for the next book. This is all just before COVID happened. So, I thought, they weren’t interested. And then they came back and said, “Oh, nope, sorry, we were just furloughed. We’re interested.” So, anyway, we come back, we do the book, but they wanted to hear more about the stories of these women, which was one of the ideas that I shared, which was these women… A lot of people may see someone who’s been through programs at Harvard, and they immediately assume that you’re talking about a bunch of elitist. And that’s not the case at all.

Bonnie:

In fact, most of the women in this network really just worked very, very hard to get there. And as they were going through their careers, which are very impressive careers, one of the things that is extremely strong, that one of the patterns that we pull through is this idea of resiliency. And that’s just that bounced-back ability. We are all going to get knocked down. And the more we understand about bouncing back, and not only just for ourselves, but leading other people through it, the better off we’ll be, the better our organizations will be. And you give your whole team a real sense of comfort when you know how to do that. And so, it’s a huge theme. And I think you’ll see it all through the book and the stories, and, really, all through any successful person’s life, they’re going to have this resiliency.

William:

It’s interesting the way that you framed up resilience, is you’re resilience yourself, but as you help people, you also kind of learn it at a different level. When you teach resilience or when you facilitate or help somebody through something, you’ve also help yourself.

Bonnie:

Yes. Everyone’s looking at these people in leadership positions, and if something goes really wrong, and things go really wrong all the time, then we are looking at our leaders to see, “What are they going to do?” And what they do does really impact what everyone else does, whether they step in the leadership gap, whether they stay calm, whether they look at it from a holistic standpoint, not just, “Oh, my [inaudible 00:04:35].” And really, if you think about it, as parents, a lot of us are parents, and it’s sort of the same thing. When something goes really wrong, our kids are looking at us, and they’re trying to figure out, “Do you know where you’re going? And are we okay?” And so, I think that natural instinct sticks with us.

William:

100 percent. I can tell you from just… I have two boys and they’re always constantly looking at my wife and I when we have difficult conversations, just conversations that adults have. Their ears are perked up. They might not say anything, but their ears are perked up, which I find fascinating.

Bonnie:

Of course.

William:

Because that’s, I mean, that’s how I was. So, I get it. As it relates to resilience, I’m going to ask the company’s responsibility as opposed to the individual’s responsibility as resilience in a second, but in all of your research and just, kind of, as you study this, is it just something we’re born with? I’m asking a nurture-versus-nature question, of course, but how do you get to a point where you identify whether or not you have gaps in resilience and what can you do to fix those gaps?

Bonnie:

Well, it’s a great question, really, because my immediate thought is, it’s not innate in any way. It is a learned skill and any one of us can choose to be resilient. We can say, “No, I’m going to be that person who does bounce back, who does look at it from a broader perspective. And I choose to be that way.” And at the same time, there are people who are more naturally inclined. And what I mean by that is some people just have an optimistic attitude naturally, and others don’t. Two people can look at the same thing and one person sort of looks at it from the negative lens and the other one, glass half full versus glass half empty. And so, I think a lot of that has to do with how we were raised, but there are some just inborn traits that has some people sort of go down the negative bend first. So, I do think there’s some natural inclination, but don’t worry, even if you don’t have it, you can build it. You can choose.

William:

I love that. So, I’ve asked the same question of people that are leadership coaches and leadership development experts. And they’ve said kind of a very similar thing. It’s like, “Okay, a lot of this stuff can be taught, checked, covered.” But some of it is just, some people are naturally born, or are gifted, or just kind of get there faster. So, now let’s deal with kind of the organization and the companies that we all love. What’s the responsibility for the company to help people to become less on the learned side and training side, training and development side. What’s the responsibility for the company, and what do you think the responsibility for the individual is?

Bonnie:

Well, for the company, first and foremost, it’s probably just to have the right culture because culture matters so much. If I have a culture that every time somebody makes mistake, they get really beat up about that, then it’s going to be harder to bounce back. So, you’re not creating that conducive environment if you don’t have a culture that, not only accepts problems and mistakes, but understands that that is how we progress. We always learn more in the problems and the downfalls than we do when we’re succeeding. So, I think creating a culture of acceptance and beyond that, just that sort of tailgate review time where we always go back and look at the football tapes and, “Where did we miss that pass? And how did they beat us and how are we going to get it right next time?”

Bonnie:

So, companies can create that environment, then it does set the individual employees up for better resiliency. And then on the individual’s side, you have to accept it, well, either way, whether they’re creating the conducive environment or not, you can just choose and say, “I’m going to be resilient.” And what that means, really, to me is you have to turn the lens around.

Bonnie:

So, as a natural part of our limbic brain system, when we get knocked down, we are going to go into fight-or-flight mode. And our fight-or-flight mode says, “One, I’m exposed, I’m in danger. This didn’t go well, it’s public, everybody knows it didn’t go well, I’m in danger. I need to fight or flight,” which might turn into, in a negative stance, it could be, “I’m going to blame somebody. I’m going to run. I’m going to go take another job and I’m getting out here.” So, all those sort of natural instincts we have, it’s the maturity to overcome that and turn the lens around and say, “Wait a second. This is not about me. This is about this organization. And all these people who are impacted. Let me look at them and think about how can we get through this and do better next time.”

William:

Right. Examples of resilience, because I think, for the audience, first of all, the title of Real Life Resilience From The World’s Most Successful Women in Business, I think people will automatically drawn to that and to learn stories of folks that have been resilient. But we probably should have started there, but we’ll start here now. When we say resilience, what does it mean? And let’s play with a couple of examples of what you’ve seen from these successful women leaders.

Bonnie:

Absolutely. Just so you’d know, listeners, that book is available wherever books are sold, and it has 36 stories. Now we have 195 members, but we pulled 36 of the very, very interesting and compelling stories to put in the book to talk about these different topics. And we cover five competencies, resilience being the biggest theme, but the others are courage, adaptability, sense-making and vulnerability, because those were all themes that came through. But when it comes to an example of resiliency, I think, let me just use my own. My story’s in the book. But running a human capital firm, what we do is premium, top-of-the-house executive development. So, we’re working with the top 5% in medium to large companies, and we’re helping them become better leaders through, we might create a corporate university or some coaching or some succession planning. We’re doing all these things.

Bonnie:

Now we’re in the midst of transforming to more of a tech company, but that’s who we’ve been for the last 38 years. And I’ve led now, through two downturns. And what happens in a firm like ours during a downturn is, you get cut. So, if I have to decide, as a CEO of a publicly traded company, “Do I keep my executive development or do I keep my employees?” The choice has to be the employees. So, and we understand that. So, the last downturn in 2008, we lost 70% of our business, as did most people in our space. Many went out of business and it was extremely hard for a very long period of time. We had just completed an acquisition. So, we had debt from that. We were doing well, but then the downturn came and then we weren’t doing well. And we had the debt.

Bonnie:

And so, I worked three years without a paycheck and I took three days off. And the way I finally stopped working like that was, I became so sick I could not function, and I had to work my way out of it. So, when you talk about resiliency, at that moment, I honestly didn’t know if I could come back. I was so, so worn out. And when you’re in a battle for a long time, it can just wear you down. And so, all I did was keep putting one step in front of the other. I just didn’t quit. And until one day, I never thought it would happen, I actually thought I was so burned out, my heart had unplugged. And I was thinking, “I just want to paint the walls. I don’t- ”

William:

I’ll take a job at Taco Bell. Done.

Bonnie:

I’m going to stack groceries, something I can see with my eyes and move with my hand. And so, I just kept going to work, and I kept going to work with that emptiness in my heart. And I did that for, it was probably a couple of years. And then one day, I just noticed the spark was coming back. But I did have to adjust things. I had to start exercising. I had to get more rest. And then I kept showing up. And, of course, we were digging out of the problem. We eventually were completely out of debt just about a month before COVID hit. But that’s another story.

William:

And I don’t want this to be a gender-loaded question, but I do want to ask the question of, is resilience something that’s gender-neutral? And we all just need to be a bit more resilient, we need to be working on our resilience like we work on anything else? Or do you think there’s a special relationship, in some way, with successful women business leaders?

Bonnie:

Well, I haven’t researched it, so, I don’t want to say definitively. My instinct is that we all have to have it. I mean, any leader who gets into any position is going to have to have resiliency. But then, as a mother, I can tell you that there’s things you learn as a woman, especially as a mother that, it’s like, “I’m going to keep going no matter what because someone’s depending on me.” And maybe there is that instinct that we bring to the table. We bring our mother’s instinct, our motherly instinct, to the table when we’re a leader. And I like to talk to people about women in leadership, women, they bring this sort of soul to the company just like they do at home. And if we look at it like that, then I think there are some things that they bring to the table that maybe would be a little different, but I still think both have to have it.

William:

Right. Right. I think you’re right. I feel the same way. I feel, again, without generalizing too much, I think that resilience is probably defined differently, probably in different stages of one’s career. And I think if you got 100 men in one room and said, “Define resilience,” and a 100 women in a room and said, “Defined resilience,” you’d probably come up with much different definitions of resilience.

Bonnie:

Probably.

William:

So, that’d be a great experiment for us to run. You had mentioned some of the other characteristics along with resilience that the book focuses on, the stories focus on. I think one of them was courage, the other was vulnerability. Could you take us into those other aspects as well? Because I think the audience is going to find that fascinating.

Bonnie:

Yes. Because what we tried to do here is to teach some leadership competencies that are really hard to teach. It’s really hard to teach resiliency, but by reading the stories and listening, you can see it. You can say, “Oh, that’s how it’s done.” So, one of the best ways for people to learn is by seeing it done. And even though these are stories written in a book, in your mind’s eye, you can still see it.

Bonnie:

So, courage is a big one. So, what we talk about in the book and the stories that came through it, is it has do with this limbic brain system, again, that we have this fight-or-flight thing inside of ourselves. And we are actually herd animals, which became crystal clear during COVID because how depressed people were, because we couldn’t be together. But as herd animals, and I don’t mean that negative, by the way. I’m not trying to be anti-creation or anything like that. I’m just saying that this is our natural bent. We belong with herd. And the herd is each other. And so, as an individual, when you step out of the herd, you are in danger. And what every leader has to do is step out of the herd. So, we talk about that. We talk about, “It’s scary and how do you do it and then how do you lead others through?” But someone has to do it, someone has to lead. And when I’m talking to leaders, I always say, “If you see a leadership gap, step in it, because we need that.”

Bonnie:

People need leadership. And so, the courage is one of the big things that came through. That was one. Not only the courage to step out and lead, but also the courage to be vulnerable, which then we talk about vulnerability as one of them. The next one was resiliency. The third was adaptability. And with adaptability, it is what it sounds like, that we adapt. But I really try to teach that it’s bigger than that. Let’s take an adaptive stance. And so, I don’t know, did you place any sports when you were younger?

William:

I did. I played soccer.

Bonnie:

Okay. You played soccer. So, if I said to you as a soccer player to take a adaptive stance, what would that mean to you?

William:

Well, adaptive meaning I can forward or backwards or side-to- side, I guess.

Bonnie:

Yes, yes. Right. You prepared to go whichever way you need to go. And if we do that at work, if we’re prepared, it’s like you have a path that you’re planning to take. But you’re not knocked off your balance if you need to go a different way.

William:

I love that.

Bonnie:

Does that makes sense?

William:

It absolutely. It creates a free to them to it too-

Bonnie:

It does.

William:

… Which is nice. I think that’s good for people that they’re not so boxed in with, “This is the only way.” I love the phrase, “If there’s a gap, step into it,” which frees people up, again, it gives them the courage to then try something. And, again, I remember 100 years ago I worked at Walmart and I took over a department that had historically been a failure. And a friend of mine asked me after work, of course, “Why’d you do that?” I said, “Well, if I fail, I was expected to fail because everyone else had failed. And if I succeeded, I was a hero.”

Bonnie:

You were hedging.

William:

Exactly. I was completely hedging. Because they’re like, “If it doesn’t work out…” Everyone’s going to go, “Yeah. That department, it’s always been terrible. Don’t worry about it.”

Bonnie:

Right, right.

William:

No stigma attached.

Bonnie:

Oh, that’s good. But yeah, no, I love that. And you stepped in the leadership gap, which I love.

William:

Yep. So-

Bonnie:

There are two others. You want to talk about them?

William:

Yeah, no, yeah, yeah. Please, let’s go. Yeah.

Bonnie:

Okay. Because I want to cover sense-making, because a lot of people don’t talk about sense-making, and then we’ll talk about vulnerability for a second. But sense-making is when you intentionally take the time to stop and make sense of what’s going on. And most of us have gotten in this routine of do, accomplish, check the box, onto the next thing. Or don’t accomplish. We fail. And then we still go on to the next thing.

William:

Is sense-making a synonym for reflection or reflective?

Bonnie:

It is in some ways. It’s deep reflection, but usually in the context of having conversations with others as well. So, it’s-

William:

Got it, got it. It’s not individual-

Bonnie:

It’s not just you pondering. It’s really trying to break it down with others and make sense out of it. And so, I think it’s more important that we do this now than ever. We need to stop. COVID-19 gave us, we called it the sim of all sims, meaning simulation of all simulations, although it wasn’t a simulation, we hope. No. Anyway, the sim of all sims, which is that we actually got to see what we had as far as leaders. Whatever we didn’t know was exposed. So, during this process, each company found out like, “Did I have leaders who could adapt? Did I have leaders who could step in that gap? Did I have them who could turn us into a work-from-home company over the weekend, or did I have the wrong people? Or had I not developed them? They didn’t have the skills or all of that.” So, it’s crucial, this is the best time to stop and think about what we learned during this COVID experience. So, that’s an example of sense-making.

Bonnie:

And then the last competency that we cover in the book is vulnerable, and I was really trying to cover here when you’re at your most vulnerable. And that’s usually when something has happened to us that we don’t know if we can recover from. So, we have stories in there where people have lost spouses and children and one of those stories… First I did interviews, then I wrote the stories. After I wrote this one, I just sat and cried because there was one story, one of the women was a mother of a baby and had to go in and do an all-night IT integration. And the baby died of SIDS while she was at work. And so, trying to make sense of life and come back after something like that, you’re at your most vulnerable. And the support that you need to get through it. And how do we get through some of life’s most horrible events? And especially when you’re a leader, you’re still in front of everyone and you’re trying to deal with all this pain.

Bonnie:

So, we tried to cover that because the whole book is, we wanted to inspire people that no matter how bad it is, others have been there. You’re going to make it. Here’s how, and we’re here cheering you on.

William:

I love that. I mean, first of all, that story just kind of breaks my heart.

Bonnie:

I know.

William:

But at the same time, you learn from that and you get better, you become resilient.

Bonnie:

You do.

William:

Is there a part of you, as a leadership development expert, that there’s some experiential learning that can happen with resilience?

Bonnie:

Well, definitely. I mean, anytime you’re coming back… If you’re just talking about like, “What do I learn or could we create it?” Which way are you think?

William:

Both, both, both actually. Can you create it? Because people are listening to this are going to go, “This is fantastic. I want to do it.”

Bonnie:

Yes. Right.

William:

Now what?

Bonnie:

Yes. Well, of course you can create. What we would create is probably a simulation. So, you can simulate something that’s happening. For example, you could simulate that we’re trying to open up a new city. So, let’s say your business is the mosquito business, right? Like you’ve got mosquito franchises so that you have something to get rid of the mosquitoes in your yard. So, if I wanted to open a new city, so we could create a simulation of opening a new city, and then we throw in all kinds of problems. So, that would be a chance for you to one, be resilient and two, lead through it. And then we can watch how you do, and in a learning environment. All of that is just great information and really helpful for us to know what you need to know.

Bonnie:

It doesn’t mean you’re failing if you don’t get it right. I mean, we’re a learning environment. So, we’re trying-

William:

Yeah, it’s a safe environment.

Bonnie:

Yeah. It’s a safe place. It’s like you practice. The other thing you can do is get on some projects that are new and different. And we have a thing called action learning, which is where usually your leaders in the organization will choose a few projects. Let’s say three to five. And we put young, not necessarily young, we put high potentials on these projects as if they were an outside consulting firm. We’re going to need you to work on this problem for us, or some other, Accenture or somebody. But instead, we’re going to give it to our own high potentials and see how they do. We’re going to try to give them resources, some mentoring, some coaching-

William:

Oh, I love that.

Bonnie:

Help them be collaborative as a team member. We’re going to do all of that in this learning environment, but we’re giving them a real project and then they have to treat it like a business case, come back and make their case for their thing. And then the ones who do it really well, the executives will choose at least one, sometimes more, of those projects to move forward.

William:

I love that. And again, it’s such a great way to engage talent and retain some of those high potentials, high performers, top talent. Bonnie, I could talk to you all day and I wish I had time to talk to you all day. I want everyone to make sure that they find the book, and buy the book, read the book, and then consume it, and then reach out to you. And also look at WomenExecs on Boards and the work that you do there, which is really important as well. Thank you so-

Bonnie:

WEOB.org, it’s where these women are ready to be on corporate boards, and many of them are on some quite impressive boards.

William:

Thank you so much for carving out time today for us.

Bonnie:

Oh, thank you for having me. It’s been great being here.

William:

Awesome. And thanks to everyone that listens to RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.

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The RecruitingDaily Podcast

Authors
William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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