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Conversations with the Inspiring Anita Polite-Wilson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Anita Polite-Wilson.

Dr. Anita, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I have been an external consultant off and on over the years, not by choice, but by necessity, when I was between companies, and never for more than a year. I always held out for the next right career opportunity and not just a job, which is what I encourage my clients to do: find what I call their who/do alignment that honors who they are in what they chose to do as a professional.

For example, in the field of training and development (T&D), where I began as a young professional, whenever there was a restructuring in HR, T&D professionals were usually among the first to be downsized because their value has never really been understood and appreciated. During one of my own transition periods, I was offered the opportunity to join a large insurance firm — by the owner himself — and I respectfully declined because of my love for training and development. Over the years, I have honed my craft and held progressively complementary roles from training and development to project management, to HR training manager, to Organizational Effectiveness Coach. Now, as a service provider of Executive Coaching and Team Dynamics Strategies, especially with the impacts of Covid-19, companies are beginning to value the benefits of coaching for all employees, not just those climbing the corporate ladder to the C-suite.

My challenge is that companies do not YET realize how important my services are to getting their on-site teams successfully transitioned to a virtual working environment. There are psychological factors that must be taken into consideration and leaders especially need to have their awareness raised about those factors in order to understand that being effective in the virtual workspace does not translate to either mass new hire orientations or mass firings on Zoom. People are grieving the loss of whatever they knew before Covid-19, both personally and professionally. Therefore, being grateful for a job does NOT equate to immediate productivity. My services, and my approach, are a necessity in terms of helping employees create a new normal so they can function as the vital partners they are with a company to ensure everyone can survive and thrive.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
This question is an interesting one because lately, I’ve been forced to really live out the mental processes I walk through with my clients. My business took a tremendous hit, like almost all small businesses did in Q1. It caused me to reflect a lot about my future and how my business will need to innovate.

Here is what I’ve known about other people that I’ve recently had to remind myself of: Everyone is gifted to shift into new levels of success; Everyone is packaged with potential for purpose; Everyone is experienced enough to find answers from within. I have these beliefs on my website and I believe them wholeheartedly. Just the other day, I was re-organizing my office and I found some early work of mine from 20 years ago and it reminded me that even before the formal education and technical education, I knew what I was doing because I have been blessed to strike that who/do alignment as a professional.

My dissertation was entitled, “Conversations that Matter Concerning the Career Success Factors of Young Adult African American Women” and the conversations I facilitated between young career professionals and seasoned women were enlightening, exciting, and excruciating because there is much that gets in the way. Sometimes our challenges are posed by others and sometimes our challenges are of our own making because we don’t properly value our own story and the experiences that shaped us.

With that understanding, here is what I offer to young women just starting their journey:

1) Know what motivates you — having influence, working with people, or getting things done. Each type of motivation is necessary and one is no more important than the other. Each are vital to professional satisfaction.

2) Understand and leverage your strengths — what makes us different is what makes us valuable. We are each a success partner for someone else. Own your difference and present it as the game-changer that it is.

3) Communicate your value — if you don’t know your value as a success partner, you will never be able to convey that value to decision-makers.

4) Avoid being an occupational misfit — leverage your strengths in the workplace. If you aren’t happy 80% of the time, try something else, even if it’s just a temporary project that will build your skills for your next opportunity.

5) Develop your Board of Advisors — a Coach that will ask you questions and facilitate learning from your own experiences; a Mentor that will share their experiences for your benefit; a Cheerleader who will celebrate your successes and encourage you through a lesson learned; a Sponsor to open doors for you; a Champion who will provide visibility.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
As an Executive Coach and Team Dynamics Strategist, I am helping anyone collaborate with everyone by facilitating conversations that matter, whether it’s a 1-on-1 coaching client, or a 1,000 person speaking engagement, or a virtual webinar. What I am known for is ensuring that people feel connected, are comfortable, and make a commitment to trust the learning process I designed for them to experience. I’ve been told by women and men that attending one of my workshops is almost like therapy because I remind every participant how vital they are to the process, that their voice matters, and that they are valuable just because they exist.

What I am most proud of as a brand is my ability to listen to a client and deliver after just one conversation. Many consultants reuse the same materials with each client. I customize and create for each client. And although most organizations have the same challenges, I respect their uniqueness. What sets me apart is that I focus on the people aspect of change management. I don’t think that happens enough, especially in today’s environment. I listen to first understand what my client is experiencing, both the high and the lows. Then I listen to solve their challenges based on those highs and lows. I never tell my clients what they need to do. I ask them questions to help them discover what the next step is and create a road map toward sustained success. I don’t preach to my clients. I partner with them. And we are successful together.

My education and experience are listed on my website, and here is what drives me: having spent time as a faculty member with UCI facilitating leadership development certification courses, I had seen too much corporate toxicity that looked the same from company to company. The impacts to employees are devastating. When I had the opportunity to begin my own practice in November of 2017, I decided that I no longer wanted to be on the path of corporate America. I’ve been told that it was a brave choice to make, but I saw it as choosing the path of least resistance for my soul. I wanted to be intentional about collaborating with leaders who valued the people that made up the organization, rather than try to convince another organization to value my approach that honors the people that made up the organization.

I am currently working on a suite of webinars and online learning courses that specifically address the psychological challenges facing people in the workplace today. My signature series offerings are called “Today’s Workplace Reality,” “Teaming Dynamics,” and Today’s ROI: Relationship, Opportunities, and Impacts.” I provide leadership coaching, employee engagement workshops, and career development frameworks. The value I bring to companies, especially in the midst of the pandemic, is that, regardless of the industry, audience, or number of participants, each client engagement focuses on the design and delivery of reflective learning experiences. Right now, there is a lot to reflect on.

What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to female leadership, in your industry or generally?
From my research, continued observations of the workplace, and themes I detect as an Executive Coach, I find that women still get in OUR own way, generally speaking, myself included.

In 2013 I concluded my dissertation with potential research topics I plan to address in the future, one of which is the phenomenon of masking. I wrote about my own experience with masking in an anthology that was published last December entitled “Destimony: The Journey of Me on the Road to I Am.”

My masking manifested itself in professional progress, certifications, military letters of commendation (one of my clients was the United States Air Force), awards, my ideal career trifecta, a solid marriage, my dream car, and a beautiful home. These “success symbols” were masking the self-doubt I still struggled with based on an old tape that was implanted in my mind back in the second grade by a teacher who said I wasn’t smart enough. It’s a tape that I heard in the background throughout my life that certainly wasn’t accurate, considering all that I had accomplished, but it was still there. Only recently, through experiences I talked about in the book, did I finally decide that old tape no longer served me.

Today, I’m working on my own book with plans to explore masking and other barriers to female leadership that plague women. For instance, I recall coaching a colleague of mine a couple of years ago as she decided to make a career transition that seemed completely out of her grasp. Not only did I help her realize she was more than qualified for a new career path, I also coached her about how to reposition her past accomplishments as proof-points for future success, handle a panel interview, and negotiate a salary that she never expected to receive. Studies have shown that men will go for a job even if they’re only 50% qualified, and they get it because they applied. Women can be 80% qualified for a job and NOT get it because they didn’t apply. That self-perception and self-talk among potential female leaders needs to be fixed.

Too often, women with tremendous potential to join leadership ranks are still getting in our own way and it’s not as easy to overcome as just telling ourselves, “Stop it.” It takes a lot of mental work to get there. And a support system that celebrates each other rather than competes with each other. That is still something we need to get past. The pinnacle of female leadership shouldn’t be limited to being a CEO, although that is huge. Female leadership — effective leadership — begins with how well you lead yourself to the point that others are taking notes.

Finally, we need to stop telling ourselves that we can have it all. We CANNOT have it all, at least not all at the same time. With all due respect to Sheryl Sandburg and her book, “Lean In” (about which I facilitated several leadership discussions for men and women with my last employer), I often wonder how many women have a cook, nanny, personal assistant and other people that enabled Ms. Sandburg to have it all at the same time.

When I coach clients, I make sure they are being realistic about where they are, where they are going, how they will get there, and, most importantly, what success looks like for THEM once they get there. I have found that success is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Sustainable success comes in stages, especially if you don’t have a personal team to help fill in the gaps, and what I suggest applies to men as well. I’m sure that may be considered a controversial position and I’m okay with that. It will give us something to talk about!

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Image Credit:
Family Vision Photographs
Emanuel L. Wilson, Jr.

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