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Transcript: Interview With Ace Callwood

August 5, 2021

In our latest Leading Forward podcast episode, Maureen talks with Ace Callwood, facilitator and director at Envoy, about finding our place in a post-pandemic world, leading with your head, heart and hands and getting reacquainted with ourselves and our colleagues. Listen to the full podcast here, and now you can watch the podcast recording here. 

 

Maureen:
All right. Welcome everyone to leading forward. I am Maureen Dingus and today I am here with ACE Callwood. He is a facilitator and director at Envoy, a group here in Richmond that works internationally, but we're lucky enough to have them locally, to lean on for some great conversations. UACE has been with us for two events recently and, we're pulling him in for a third, a third conversation because, the, our, our members have really, really enjoyed, uwhat you've had to bring to the table with your peers. You kind of team up with some folks, some of your great folks at Envoy. So, first of all, thank you for all of that and thank you for being here today. So welcome.

Ace:
No, thank you for having me really excited to jump into this conversation. As you mentioned, I've got, I've had the privilege of hanging out with via CPA a couple of times now, and well, let's call this our third combo. I'm really excited to get kicked off.

Maureen:
Great, great. So ACE, before we jump into the meat of our conversation, could you give us a little bit of a sense of your leadership journey? How did you get to where you are with the brick wall behind you and, and the big headphones on today?

Ace:
Yeah, yeah. So I am sitting at canvas our leadership event and studio space. And so we host folks here to have really grounded conversations and move issues forward, which is a part of our work at Envoy. I ended up sitting in this chair with the brick back, walk around and headphones on kind of a culmination of, of so many things. So as Maureen said, I'm a facilitator. My job is to help folks have sometimes difficult, but often very important conversations and make optimal decisions. And that's really as a firm, what we do, we like to say we're private diplomats in the same way, a diplomat across the world really helps influence optimal outcomes for their country or stakeholders. We do that on kind of a private scale, which is a really fascinating world to live in. My background, interestingly enough, is tech entrepreneurship.

Ace:
So I have a degree in entrepreneurship. Check back in, I don't know, 20 years I'll tell you if that was a, a reasonable, invaluable investment or not. But I started building companies right out of the gate. I kind of had three parallel tracks. One was like an operator. So started building tech companies. My first from when I was in college I've built some high growth, some that have scaled across the globe. Some that have crashed and burned and that is just kind of the occupational hazard of being an entrepreneur, I suppose. The second track was academia. So right out of my undergraduate VCU hired me and my long time collaborator and business partner to help redevelop curriculum. I ended up stepping onto the faculty and I was teaching there for a bit, which was a blast. It was the entrepreneur in residence at the school of business.

Ace:
And most recently spent time teaching at the DaVinci center for innovation and lecturing, kind of across the state, which is always a blast. And then lastly, I stepped into the DEI world, like right out of school as well. And so I've done a fair amount of diversity equity and inclusion consulting anywhere from like tiny startups all the way up to forty-five hundreds. But interestingly for me, all of that kind of culminated in, or, or tracked to taking big ideas and simplifying them. So an audience can, can grasp some of the really important pieces that we've pulled together. And so that's kind of different from dumbing things down. The simplification just makes big concepts, sometimes uncomfortable concepts palatable so we can grasp them and then put those kind of terms or tools into action and make for better collaboration with colleagues, with family, with friends, with our community and ultimately do great work. So that's a long answer to a short question, but kind of been in a couple of different worlds, all that track to help big folks have those combos and move issues forward here. And,

Maureen:
Right, right. So one of the things that really interested me from your your conversation with Scott at our business and industry Cdonference was related to how we are showing up kind of post pandemic with the people that we work with and, you know, layer that with what we're hearing in the news of they calling it the, the great resignation of people, really making life changes and changing careers just pausing talk a little bit about how you think or how you're seeing maybe employers or employees just grapple with this conversation, or maybe not, they're not grappling with it. How do you think we need to start approaching this?

Ace:
Yeah, yeah. I think the first question is why we're here, right? Like we just have this globally traumatic experience. You know, we've had a couple major movements in the last four or five years. I think me too, I think black lives matter. I think the summer of racial reckoning, particularly with statues coming down here in Richmond. And then we had a global pandemic on top of that. And so I think folks are taking stock of what's important to them. Who's important to them and how they want to show up, like in the world that certainly tracks their professional bent, but, but really it's like, who are we as humans, which is where we start, as we think about kind of influencing human decision making or at least investigating it as a part of my work. So yeah, there's, there's just a lot of trauma, quite frankly, societaly that we've experienced.

Ace:
And yeah, I think when you come out of trauma, you either kind of, there are a couple of ways that trauma manifests, but one of those ways, and I think the great resignation is kind of a, a function or an outcome of this is, you know, you take stock and where you spend time and why you do that and who you kinda choose to affiliate with. So yeah, I think folks are, I have this phrase that I was using throughout the pandemic. I hope our memory is long. You know, we had some really inner goal societal conversations about how we think about work, how we think about capitalism, how we think about all of those things. You know, we, we, the folks who kept society running throughout the last year and a half, a lot of them were hourly or wage workers. And we're thinking very seriously about how we compensate them if they're actually frontline workers, if they're heroes, but we're kind of reverting back to, okay, you're still at the bottom of the totem pole and we're moving forward from that.

Ace:
So memory long is an important thing. I think folks across the board are taking stock of where they fit and saying, Hey, working at home was really interesting. And we've been saying in industry for years that, you know, there's no accountability and there's no opportunity to do that. And we're just like having some real conversations about how we orient to work. And if that's the thing, like, are we working to live or living to work, right. Like that conversation. So a long way of saying, I think folks were kind of forced into some introspection spending a lot of time cooped up alone at some points and thinking about what they want to do when we reemerge. I think now we're seeing kind of some, some outcomes or, or I guess

Maureen:
A lot of us are figuring out who, who am I? So if I'm figuring out who I am, then you need, we need to figure out who each other are. So it's, it's, it's a lot of a lot of reacquainting

Ace:
Or rebating people. We thought we knew we're repeating ourselves in a lot of respects. You know, you get X amount of time at home by yourself for surrounded by family. And it, it forces you into, like I said, that introspection. And so I, the, the result of that is I think folks are, are really reassessing how, where with whom they work. And if that fits for not necessarily who they were a year and a half ago, but who they were today, now that they've learned some things and had some kind of time to chew on whether that fits still or not.

Maureen:
Yeah. How are employers even starting those conversations?

Ace:
That's tough. Some are doing it well, some are doing it poorly. Some aren't doing it at all, which I would put in the poorly bucket. But I, you know, I see quite a few organizations saying, Hey, our productivity didn't dip when we were remote, for instance, and we can allow people to do that, or, Hey, there's this hybrid model that might work for us. And so, you know, I think organizations very similar to individuals, although they are separate, they are different. I know we like to think of organizations is as individuals with, you know, hopes and fears and feelings and stuff. But, you know, I think orcs are taking stock of who they are culturally and saying, does this fit for us? Why doesn't it, if it doesn't. You know, as we think about leadership folks who grew up in a certain era and have come to help, their organizations are having to really pause and say, Hey, is the world that I learned how to lead, how to be at the helm, how to be successful that world that I was taught in, is that the same world that we're living in today?

Ace:
And, you know, I think for the vast majority, the answer ought to be no. If, if folks are reaching that conclusion is a big question. And I think that is very much driving how those organizations are pivoting are shifting, are changing or are staying the same as a result.

Maureen:
How are leaders even starting to, I mean, I, I I'd have to imagine that it's smacking them in the face, so there's no pretending it's not there, but then, you know, then stepping into it or stepping into that conversation. How, how are people doing that?

Ace:
Yeah as I've talked with HR leaders and kind of operations leaders and like different sides of leadership, I think folks are having the internal conversations typically with management teams that says, Hey, you know, is there something good that came out of this pandemic? And I use that word good, very loosely. Right. is there something valuable that came out of this experience? And, you know, if, if there's a solid team in the room being really intentional about answering that question, the answer is probably, yeah. And that's not to say there's a value judgment on coming back to the office or staying away from the office. Like, I can't say that for any one organization. What I can say is having a crop of a group of good people in the room to answer that is where I've seen a lot of folks start.

Ace:
Some folks have gone directly to employees across large organizations and said, Hey, what do we want to do as we think about re-emerging from a pandemic, not necessarily coming back to work. And so, you know, given structures and hierarchies of organizations, sometimes that can be made unilaterally. Sometimes that's by committee. There are a lot of different parameters by which we're making those decisions. But I think it's talking to our people right at the management level, at a tenant tier below, and then across the org and considering the pros and cons of the world that we have inherited over the last year and a half. And so that's, that's where I see a lot of folks starting is just like with the data sometimes, where are we productive? Did we continue to accomplish our mission? But very close. Second, if we've started with data is just talking to the people and kind of doing that customer development that, that we'd call it in the startup world.

Maureen:
Right? Right. It's the productivity is, to me is such an interesting conversation because you know, many companies would say they were successful before the pandemic they maintained or they were successful. So it's hard. You don't want to go back to the pre pandemic. So, you know, there has to be maybe there's this third way, because if you were successful at both of those, maybe you can be more successful in this third way. So it is really just like you said, there is not a right way to do this, but it's, it's really kind of digging in there and, and thinking, how can it look?

Ace:
Okay. I think it comes down to, in a lot of respects, empowering your people, right. As a leader, the people that it's funny, being the CEO of tech companies, et cetera, people are like, oh my God, you have just so much autonomy and you get to choose what you do. And I will say, as a leader, it was readily apparent that I actually had the most amount of bosses about largest number of folks to whom I answered. And that's real as leaders, we are in servant servitude to the people that we lead. And, and I think with that in mind, we can reorient a little bit and say, Hey, what are my people need? You know, there's, there's this very real world where being at home allows us to live more fulfilled, enriched lives. And yeah, there was a time where we want to get out of our basement or living room or office or den, if we're fortunate enough to have the space, to do that and get back to the office where we can have water cooler conversations on lunch, et cetera.

Ace:
I know a lot of us don't miss the commute to work. And some of us do because it gives us quiet time to think, or what's the Joe podcast and not have, you know, our kids screaming in our ear, like whatever that is, that varies by individual, but getting a pulse, getting a reading on, on what was good. It, wasn't nice to be able to take a break between zoom meetings and pop laundry in. So we don't have to be up until 1130 or midnight doing that. So our family's ready the next day. I mean, the little things that are seemingly intangible and seemingly unrelated to work, you know, are very much related to, if I don't have time to do this during the day, I have to do it after hours. And that affects how I start the next day. If I can integrate that or pop a couple errands through my lunch block, you know, is that making me more productive, more fulfilled and more inclined to do great work in my office? All of those, I think, ought to be factored in to some extent.

Maureen:
Right. Right. One of the things you also talked about at our conference in may was the the idea of looking at your, or thinking through your head, your heart and your hands. And I love that as far as you know, moving away from the employer more to the individual and us figuring out, you know, where is our place right now? What, where do, what are we bringing? What really is fulfilling. Can you talk a little bit about that concept?

Ace:
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Head heart. Hands is an exercise that I use in a couple of my worlds and it all tracks too, I think, as you just said, right? Like who are we as individuals? I want to kind of put some structure around who are we as individuals and why that's important. Right. And this isn't a, you know, rage against the machine moment, but it's something that I think I've been fortunate to just have grasped over the course of what feels like a short career for me. Is that the employment contract that we have is, is I think that's part of what we're, re-evaluating, you know, this idea that I can be unfulfilled and that's not saying, you know, we need to be passionate about what we do, but it like, we, we could care. We could be enthralled by the work that we do if we give ourselves permission to do so.

Ace:
And I think a lot of times we orient to work right at a school it's like get the most money and the best title. And like, if you care about your work, that doesn't matter. And I think as a millennial or our parents kind of lived in that world, or it was just like, you go to work to go to work and that's what you do. And it doesn't matter if you enjoy what you do, like enjoy what you do on the weekend. Right. And so there's this idea of, if I'm unfulfilled, it doesn't matter. And I have to stay here. And if I push where, if I ask for what I need, somebody might fire me and like, sure, there's family and responsibilities and financial or monetary kind of things that we have to take care of that might dictate whether we stay in a role.

Ace:
But I think we're now kind of considering that there are other things out there that might be more fulfilling if this isn't the thing for me. And like, that's okay, that's good to explore to say, Hey, where do I fit? Where can I add most value? And then where can I like, feel good about doing work and having some balance outside of that. And so I, you know, the head heart hands exercise gets us to considering that both outside of our work and as we orient to it. So head heart, hands is really easy. It's a three bucket or three circle Venn diagram that says the head for one of those circles. And what head means is what knowledge do I have? What what knowledge do I bring to the table? Sometimes that's from school. Sometimes that's from, you know post-graduate degrees. Sometimes that's just the, on the job knowledge that we've gathered over the years.

Ace:
I'm like what is in my head? And I encourage folks to jot that down in that circle. The second circle is heart and it's, what do I care about? What am I passionate about? And again, passion is not the end all be all. And I think millennials, we've driven that into the ground. Maybe not even for the best, but you know, passion can be one of the things in the heart. What do I care about, what am I passionate about? What do I want to put energy toward, or what fills me up energetically, and then hands is what skills do I have so different from knowledge, right? Knowledge might be for me entrepreneurship and startups and, you know, building tech companies my hands on the other hand, the skills that I have might be pitch or presentation is a thing that I've always done well, public speaking.

Ace:
And so like, that is my skill. My knowledge is the mechanics of that as well as mechanics of building a company and my heart might be teaching, right? It's like passing on information, being able to simplify big ideas and making them palatable to an audience. And so as I think about head heart and hands, then I get to see what ends up in the middle of those three buckets. And for me, teaching entrepreneurship and pitch or presentation seems like a very natural fit. And it's something that I get to do day in and day out. And I love that. What I, what I kind of challenge folks to do is not just look at that middle bucket, right? And as we're leaders, as we're thinking about managing, if we have our people go through that exercise, it puts us in this interesting position to say, Hey, I've got Joe and I've got Sally and Sally's head and hands overlap, but I don't see her job tracking to anything that's in her heart bucket.

Ace:
And so she's got institutional knowledge and she has a skill set to deliver on her job description, but it's not actually giving her energy in doing that. And I need to make sure not to shift shut Sally out of her role, but to create space for Sally to find some heart-related activities to do either at work or make space for her to do that outside of work, you know, Joe and the other hand might have a really good match between heart, the things that he's passionate about and hands. So things that can be skillful in, but, you know, as an organization, we're missing Joe's knowledge in this area because it's not related to his job, but he's got deep industry expertise in this one kind of corner of the world. And we ought to be like intentional about pulling Joe into some projects that might overlap with that because it's good for us as an organization. So it's a good way for us as individuals to kind of orient to where we could be spending our time a for doing that. And it's a great way as leaders, as managers to look at our people and see if we're using them appropriately in our organization in pursuit of our mission. So I think a worthwhile exercise across the board for folks. And if it's helpful, I'm happy to pass a link onto that for you.

Maureen:
It really goes kind of in two directions, it gives you, it could give you some personal insight of, oh, I hadn't really connected those dots, but then as the organization, you know, I, I guess I had thought more about it just as an individual exercise, but it sounds very powerful when you're taking it into your, your organization and connecting those.

Ace:
Yeah. We've encouraged folks to use it around, you know reviews you know, as you're kind of looking at the past year of work and just again, it's kind of level setting and it's teaching us about the people we work with around for, or who work for us. So again, a powerful tool on both sides, the introspective, and kind of from a managerial perspective, I I've seen that it works wonders and we've even played with it here around the shop to make sure we're, we've got a good baseline for the people that we send a lot of that.

Maureen:
Yeah. And I, and just when we're talking about the reacquainting ourselves with each other, that's a great tool. Are there any other tools that you've seen that work well for just the, the getting to know each other again?

Ace:
Yeah. Yeah. So we we have a game that we play similar, but we facilitate a lot of workshops and ended up in the room. So we have a game called the dice game that we love. And I'm, I'm happy to send you a copy of that as well. But basically we've designed a couple of cards of prompted questions. And we give you a dye with it and say, you roll the die and, you know, card a has a couple kind of personal questions. Card B has some worker, industry related questions. Card C has some more introspective you know, like esoteric type questions, but it does two things. I think the di allows you to listen like that deep, active listening is really important. It allows you to listen because you're not choosing the question. You don't have to read the card and figure out which question you want to answer, how you're going to answer each.

Ace:
You have no idea what your question you're going to answer. And so as you kind of sit, we, we put folks in groups of four or five and give them the dice game to play with. You know, we find that they get to actually hear what folks are sharing with them. And you get to, we've got questions. Like w what's the thing you're most looking forward to as this pandemic wraps. What did you learn most about yourself during the pandemic? So on and so forth, where are you going to travel first? And so you get to like, listen to folks without thinking about how you might answer a question and that, that it's like many improv, if you will, it just makes you respond on the fly, but gives you space to hear what folks are saying. And I think we miss that. Now that we're back in person, we can, we can start listening again, which is really cool.

Maureen:
So you're not waiting for that awkward. When is it coming to me to answer, what is the interesting thing about me?

Speaker 4:
People have been doing

Maureen:
It, you're going, wow. I'm not really,

Ace:
Or I got to find something really cool to say, because everybody else has said something really cool. It's like, no, you know, just listen just inside. I find that a lot of folks elaborate on what they heard when they're answering, because actually listened. And now it's, it's like meeting somebody and thinking about whether you say your name well, while you shake their hand and have to multitask through that process, and you just immediately forget their name, and now you get to listen to somebody's name and then you get to say yours. And, you know, you just spend more time on the former than typically as humans. We orient kind of to ourselves, we focus on the latter, which is, did I shake the hand? Well, did I say my name? Right? you know, it forces you out of that, which is really cool.

Maureen:
You were saying that you all do this and your organization to you. You're doing this types of these types of getting to know each other, even you're the teachers that have to are

Ace:
A dog food. Absolutely. I mean, it's, it's a great thing. The we, we have a tool called the life mapping tool that really helps us orient a personal motive and why we do what we do. You know, we, we revisit these tools. And so I think there's this kitschy, you know, we've got this tool, everybody should use it. But you know, for us, w there are tools that we use their tools that we believe in they're tools that we've found to be really valuable for us and for organizations we work with. And so, yeah, we absolutely eat our own dog food, as they say. And, and it's important to do that, to recalibrate for ourselves. So we work better as a team, as we go out to help other teams make decisions and have conversations.

Maureen:
Right. Well, AC I know we could talk all day, but this is just a little snippet of some of the great things that you all have brought to the table already. So I really appreciate you taking some time, but before we wrap up, I wanted to ask you one last question. So what have you been doing for fun this summer?

Ace:
What have I been doing for fun this summer? Oh we have a whole fleet of paddle boards here at canvas, our a meeting space and we are on them pretty frequently. So I've been on the river, floats, paddleboarding. I have a bad habit of buying vehicles significantly older than I am and, and trying to fix them at least. So I just got a vintage truck and I've got a couple of motorcycles I've been working on this summer. And of course, now that we can be back on the road, to some extent we've been traveling for work, but you know, just getting on the road and seeing new places or old places that I haven't seen in awhile has been really enjoyable. So trying to stay active, trying to stay busy. And I think I'm doing a decent job of both.

Maureen:
Yeah. Great, great. That I would love to see some of these old vehicles you're working on.

Ace:
All right. I've got a 78, F-150 called juice box that if you see a big red Ford around town with me in it, that is me. That's the newest toy. It is running. It is running most of the time. So if you see me on a motorcycle, that means I've made significant progress from this conversation because none of them are running currently. I'm working on it.

Maureen:
All right. Well, thank you, ACE. I appreciate your time and I hope you have a great rest of your day.

Ace:
Likewise. And thank you. It's always a pleasure hanging out with you all and hope to do it again soon.

Maureen:
[Inaudible].