Gail Rudolph is the USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-selling author of Power Up Power Down, How to Reclaim Control and Make Every Situation a Win/Win. Her years as an executive maneuvering power dynamics has transformed her into the international go-to expert on how to harness interpersonal power and create win/win outcomes.
Gail is one of 13 people globally —one of two women, and the only woman in the United States credentialed to teach the six universal Principles of Persuasion based on the research of the “Godfather of Influence,” Dr. Robert Cialdini.
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Table of Contents
Welcome to your ValiantCEO exclusive interview! Let’s start with a little introduction. Tell us about yourself.
Gail Rudolph: As a young woman starting out in the workforce, I was clueless. I’d accepted a position at a community foundation where I was the only full-time employee and my boss, who was gone more often than he was in the office, was part-time. Basically, I did the majority of the work while he took the majority of the credit.
I worked hard, and was able to complete goals that should’ve taken three years in a little over one year. So, I thought it was the perfect time to ask for a raise. To this day, I remember my boss shaking his head and saying, “You get child support, don’t you?”
I was shocked. I didn’t know how to respond or what to do. I tried asking what child support had to do with my accomplishments for the foundation, but that didn’t change his mind. Then I discovered that the foundation board approved a salary increase – for my boss. I felt completely devalued, frustrated, and powerless.
Finally, I resigned and moved on. But I learned that I had been unknowingly giving my power away. The trouble was, even in subsequent roles, I still didn’t have a grasp of how to claim my power and use it effectively. As a young, ambitious woman in the workplace, I wasn’t always aware of power dynamics, and I didn’t always use power properly. Power wasn’t something I thought I had at my disposal,
especially early on. Looking back, I now know I made many mistakes trying to navigate my role with power and figure out where I fell on the power continuum. But I began my journey to become aware of, and begin to understand, power. Ultimately after years of struggling, I realized that the proper use of power can be learned. Once I mastered it myself, I set out to help others do the same. Out of this quest my upcoming book, Power Up, Power Down: How to Reclaim Control and Make Every Situation a Win/Win was created.
NO child ever says I want to be a CEO when I grow up. What did you want to be and how did you get to where you are today? Give us some lessons you learned along the way.
Gail Rudolph: When I was very young I wanted to be a writer and public speaker. When I was younger, I was told that because I was not a good speller (auto check was not invented yet) that meant I wasn’t a good writer. For many years, that story played over and over in my head. And I believed it.
So I decided in my teens that I wanted to be a teacher or nurse when I headed off to college I had decided on teaching because that is what a lot of my family members did as a vocation. However, when I got to college I fell in love with Psychology and how people thought and learned. It fascinated me how I had stopped myself so many times from chasing my dreams because I was scared, though I was not good enough or had someone else tell me I couldn’t.
So I changed my major to Psychology and remember being sat down and told I would never make a living. This time I had learned the lesson of visualizing your dream and going after it. Through the course of the years my working in psychology moved to marketing and eventually into philanthropy. I worked for 25 years as a C-Suite executive for major health care institutions. All the time fascinated on how people make decisions and shape their own lives.
After watching healthcare organizations spend millions on consulting and training that never changed the people involved, I set out to make a difference and start a company that actually gave lasting results. Throughout the course of my career, one thing was always consistent: we only have the power to change ourselves. However, if we can change how we interact with others we can change the experience and many times the outcomes.
So I set out to write what I refer to as a guidebook for handling power dynamics to help each of us be the best-empowered person we can be.
Tell us about your business, what does the company do? What is unique about the company?
Gail Rudolph: Gail Rudolph Collaborative believes behavior, human behavior, is the root of all business activity – successes, failures, wins, losses, sales – you name it. Business is a human endeavor, and without mastery of self and proficiency in understanding how other people communicate and make decisions, we are just guessing.
We are the best kept secret in the training and consulting space. Not only do we help our clients see what often goes unseen in their organization, like the inclusion piece of diversity, equity and inclusion and culture issues but we teach lasting solutions based in research and time tested proven methods that deliver results
Our clients find working with us is an active experience-not passive learning. We help companies and their team take action, surpassing their goals to achieve more than they ever thought possible.
How to become a CEO? Some will focus on qualities, others on degrees, how would you answer that question?
Gail Rudolph: Whether we are in a face-to face meeting, on a video call, or at a conference with 5,000 people, one thing remains consistent: Power is at play in every situation.
Success at its very core relies on the effective and ethical use of power dynamics. The ability to harness that mysterious energy that ebbs and flows in every interaction is what creates a culture of mutual empowerment. And, let’s face it, that is how great things get accomplished.
Stepping into power is both a form of verbal and nonverbal communication and typically there are two ways to respond. Powering Up is the choice you make to step into a fuller presence, such as making direct eye contact and taking up space. Powering Down is intentionally changing your stance, expressing empathy, giving others a chance to talk/interrupt, and using a softer volume when speaking. “Powering Down” is an intentional way to hold power while making people feel more at ease.
In business, in every interaction we can claim the personal power at hand or relinquish it – the choice is ours. Success in business is maximized when every individual, no matter their role, is able to effectively harness their power and influence to advance the organization’s goal and mission. This ability to properly step into the power role at hand enhances communication, collaboration, innovation, and ultimately, accomplishment.
What are the secrets to becoming a successful CEO? Who inspires you, who are your role models and why? Illustrate your choices.
Gail Rudolph: As John Maxwell says, leadership is influence, nothing more nothing else. As leaders we have to advance a team while at the same time helping each member reach their highest potential. Not an easy task. However, empowering others is the only way to reach new levels of success.
Every leader I know will tell you that the most frustrating and time consuming part of their job revolves around HR issues. The majority of those issues revolve around power dynamic either caused by leadership or among the team members themselves.
An effective leader addresses any imbalance in power and ethically uses the tools of Powering Up and Powering Down as appropriate. This is the only way to create a truly inclusive and productive team. And let’s face it, your people are a direct link to the bottom line.
Sheryl Sandberg is a female leader that I greatly admire. As an executive and philanthropist, she is working to make inroads for women and those who are marginalized to rise to leadership positions, which entails creating a cultural inclusivity shift both at home and in business.
Many CEOs fall into the trap of being all over the place. What are the top activities a CEO should focus on to be the best leader the company needs? Explain.
Gail Rudolph: Learn the tools available around power dynamics and begin to respond instead of reacting. This is especially needed when we find ourselves in situations where who is the most powerful is more important than being Power-Full.
Quite often the true subject at hand never gets solved and many times it is never even addressed due to leaders employing the wrong kind of power. If we look at the great leaders of the world, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King and RGB, they got things done by Powering Down and empowering others.
Build, lead and Manage your team.: Inclusivity is the key. Many leaders focus on diversity, but I can tell you as a woman, there were many times I was at the table but was invisible. Teams thrive and excel on every member feeling valued and appreciated. Without creating an authentic environment where every person feels welcome, seen, and accepted for their uniqueness, we are unable to bring our best selves to any group or organization.
Success at its very core relies on the effective and ethical use of power dynamics. The ability to harness that mysterious energy that ebbs and flows in every interaction is what creates a culture of mutual empowerment.
Acknowledge your mistakes, learn the lesson, make the necessary corrections – then move on.
The Covid-19 Pandemic put the leadership skills of many to the test, what were some of the most difficult challenges that you faced as a CEO/Leader in the past year? Please list and explain in detail.
Gail Rudolph: The biggest challenge was the change between in-person power dynamics and online power dynamics. As a leader being aware of culture and how it changed once everyone was remote was hard at first because it had never been done before. However, if you understand power and team dynamics it was the same only manifest differently.
What are some of the greatest mistakes you’ve noticed some business leaders made during these unprecedented times? What are the takeaways you gleaned from those mistakes?
Gail Rudolph: The biggest mistake I see is leaders not having knowledge around power dynamics. Typically, when we hear the words “power dynamics” we think of someone “in power” and a group of those without it. The truth is, everyone has power. Not just the people at the top, the ones with seniority, or who are the loudest. Power is defined simply as “the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.”
It’s that mysterious energy that ebbs and flows as we interact with others. We can embrace it by making a conscious choice to either Power Up or Power Down. Think of these two types of power like a peacock. Powering Up is when the bird displays its impressive tail feathers to step into a fuller power presence. Powering Down is when the peacock folds its train, making an intentional choice to retract and disarm.
The biggest misconception about power is that leaders always need to have the upper hand and exert control. But real power is when you calmly hold your power while allowing others to also retain theirs. Balancing the two sides of the power coin harnesses the energy that makes people effective in using their true power.
Real power works by energizing us from a place of stability and self-worth, not by demanding control.
In your opinion, what changes played the most critical role in enabling your business to survive/remain profitable, or maybe even thrive? What lessons did all this teach you?
Gail Rudolph: Through understanding and responding effectively to interpersonal power dynamics
To survive in today’s environment, leaders must know how to handle power differences effectively. Power is at play in every situation and as leaders, we must possess the ability to create mutually beneficial outcomes for all involved – no matter who they are or what the power dynamic is. The proper harnessing of power is achieved by how we control ourselves and how we present ourselves by choosing intentional verbal and non-verbal responses to make the most of potential influence in every situation.
What is the #1 most pressing challenge you’re trying to solve in your business right now?
Gail Rudolph: We are growing at a fast pace and managing growth and culture can be a challenge at times. We absolutely will not hire someone even if they have great skills if they are not a good culture fit.
You already shared a lot of insights with our readers and we thank you for your generosity. Normally, leaders are asked about their most useful qualities but let’s change things up a bit. What is the most useless skill you have learned, at school or during your career?
Gail Rudolph: All the numerous computer programs I stayed late to learn. I wish I had not felt I needed to know them all so well and relied just asked for the reports.
Thank you so much for your time but before we finish things off, we do have one more question. We will select these answers for our ValiantCEO Award 2021 edition. The best answers will be selected to challenge the award.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make, this past year 2021, for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Gail Rudolph: The most difficult decision I had to make was letting some people and programs go due to the decrease in business. However, it caused me to look at the team members and their skills. I let people go that were good at what they did but not a good culture fit. I then moved people around so their skills were more aligned with their talents. This energized them and their productivity increased.
This is why I am so careful that when I add people that they are the right culture fix because none of us want to go back to spending our time and energy dealing with culture/power dynamics that do not work.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Gail Rudolph for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Gail Rudolph or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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