The art of leadership can be indeed complicated. A blend of intuition, listening and holding steady to convictions play various roles in the intricate management ecosystem needed to grow businesses and oversee talent.
Serial entrepreneur and educator Karen Gordon saw a better way to support leaders in the workplace navigating this journey, and in 2010 founded her company 5 Dynamics, which offers digital ways to maximize human potential. Gordon's team works with Fortune 500 companies, top universities, and nonprofits creating cultures that allow people to do their best work by understanding how others work.
“The biggest reason I was so drawn to this field as a young entrepreneur is that I realized many first-time leaders don't really understand what's going on with the dynamics of their team," says Gordon. “People who report to you end up listening to other people, mostly men who are saying 'you need to be harder, tougher,' this was one of the mistakes I made."
A serial entrepreneur and former educator, Gordon ran a successful business in data and telecommunications called GTCI before founding 5 Dynamics. After coming across the methodology now at the center of the company, Gordon realized she had on her hands "a game changing human performance system" that helps make the work environment more productive and fun. “I felt it had the potential to change people's lives," says Gordon. “It had the impact to help people understand what they do and why and how can they be more successful. It's about being the best version of yourself as a leader and a team member."
Using a backend that measures users' abilities to see, think, learn and collaborate, 5 Dynamics then offers a process model to show how to get things done. The company's 2.5-minute online assessment (which took 10 years to perfect) collects the data points needed to start the process.
“We want to get to the core of the dynamics of what is going on in a room, the insights and the factors we maybe didn't notice," explains Gordon. “Because we all have preferences in what we focus on, there's a psychology of experience. With our methodology, we look at the innate preferences, which is the first step to awareness."
When asked what is the most common question she is asked, Gordon answered quickly; “The number one question I've heard is, 'How do I manage my people?," she says. “All teams have people problems. It's such a simple, elegant, respectful way to understand people. The problem isn't people's differences, it's that we need to better understand what we need for each other, then find a way to compromise, and be satisfied while doing so."
Throughout her journey through the world of leadership, Gordon has learned that it's not always an even playing field. “I think women are judged more harshly for doing the same things that men do, even though those were the traits that made them successful," says Gordon, adding that her ultimate goal, beyond growing her company, is to even the playing field, bringing more diverse voices to the forefront of leadership. Here, we ask Gordon more about her game-changing technology and its implications for the workplace.
1. Can you share what the biggest issues are in today's corporate culture landscape?
People problems are some of the most costly and detrimental issues for organizations, and what's included in the broad-ranging “people problems" bucket can be a range of issues—employee conflict, dissatisfaction, burnout, biases, miscommunication, and more.
Human capital is one of the most valuable resources an organization can invest in, but important considerations are often overlooked when building teams, managing individuals, and scaling out, simply due to uninformed processes for recruitment, project management, and team development. Hiring and fostering talent whose minds will shape the future of a company – and even an industry – is an expensive endeavor, but current practices do not take into consideration a person's natural working style and preferences. Because so much of a typical job description is set in stone based on company needs and structure, conflict often arises when employees are given tasks that don't jive with the way their brains naturally function, putting conflict and burnout on the fast track.
2. What about women in tech/ finance and other male-dominated fields? What are the specific issues there?
There are unique challenges for women in leadership roles in male-dominated fields. Often times, the very traits that catapulted women to the top are the ones that lead to their ultimate demise. Those who have success in male-dominated organizations are often the hard drivers – the ones who portray traits typically viewed as male, but they are neither male nor female. They are simply a person's way of approaching any task. We expect female leaders to be more people focused on the mere fact that they are females, but this characteristic has nothing to do with gender. It is based on the way your brain is wired, which leads to the way you naturally accomplish any project or process.
3. What about the startup culture? How is that influencing workplace dynamics? Can you share positive and negative effects of the startup world?
It's a common adage in Silicon Valley that 90 percent of startups fail. A recent study from CB Insights revealed that incompatible team makeups and disharmony among co-founders were the third and twelfth leading causes of startup failures respectively. This means that roughly 37 percent of respondents felt that people problems were the cause of failure for their companies. Human capital opportunities (and challenges) go all the way to the top.
In the same CB Insights study, 13 percent of startups blamed disharmony of co-founders for their failure – and this is just the percentage of people who noted this disharmony as the number one reason for the failure. Think about it this way: You can bring two or three brilliant minds together to form an equally brilliant idea, but what if those minds ultimately end up not working well together? What if their work styles are too similar or different to be effective together? Often the failure isn't in the idea – it's in the execution and collaboration behind it. Even the most groundbreaking ideas will fail if the minds driving it forward remain ignorant to the flaws in the people processes.
People are a company's square one. Startups that realize from day one that human capital is a significant operating expense and that preservation of company culture is vital will have invested in tools and programs that facilitate one-on-one relationships among team members and support the development of their most valuable assets: you.
4. Can you explain the '5 Dynamics' ?
Psychologist/psychometrician W. Michael Sturm spent over half of his career developing the tools and methodology that form the heart and soul of the 5 Dynamics products. Mike developed this methodology with over 25 years of research and testing on well over 10,000 subjects, combining counseling, Gestalt Therapy/process thinking, learning and educational psychology sciences. This enabled him to create an assessment and related applications that are beneficial in virtually every conceivable business and personal situation. It draws from Gestalt's orientation toward perception, action, energy and goal completion, and maps individuals to a five-phase process that explains many of the business results companies achieve.
I came across this methodology and fell in love with it. The knowledge of this science really had the potential to change people's lives and have a significant impact on helping people understand what they do, how they do it, and how to be more successful. I often refer to it as the best version of yourself, an employee, a team member, a leader, an entrepreneur. Whatever the case, there's value in the content and knowledge shared from that methodology, and so I decided to build 5 Dynamics around it.
The energy you have to spend in the five different dynamics is not mutually exclusive - you are not just considered energy efficient in one dynamic. Everyone has a capacity for each of the five workflows, and the varying degrees to which you have the energy to work in each of those is what makes up your unique profile. The five dynamics/phases are Explore, Excite, Examine, Execute, and Evaluate.
- Explore – This phase revolves around understanding the complete situation, seeing relationships, and developing creative solutions.
- Excite – In this phase, energy must be invested to excite others about an idea, break down silos, develop internal support, and build a team.
- Examine – This is where an implementation plan is developed using data. Creating schedules, budgets, timetables, clear roles, and rules are also found in this phase, as well as attempting to predict problems and find faults in the plan.
- Execute – Aggressive implementation of the plan happens in this phase, and people need to be held accountable. Performance is measured, there's an intense focus on completion, and individuals may even compete at various levels in this phase.
- Evaluate – Everyone has energy in this phase, as it assesses the preceding four dynamics with a two-pronged test: external success (cost, time, quality, profit) and internal satisfaction (engagement, absence of stress). Then, iterations are made to adapt the process to increase success and satisfaction in the next cycle.
5. Please tell us about your online assessment tool. How does it work?
In a nutshell, Sturm looked at assessments in terms of inputs and outputs based on neural pathway efficiency. The brain comprises only 4 percent of body mass but consumes 20 percent or more of blood glucose, the compound that the body converts to create muscular and mental activity. In this sense, the brain is inherently inefficient, so it seeks to conserve energy through the principle of synaptic efficiency, routing neural messages along the most efficient (electrically least resistive) pathways.
Skills or tasks that you are “naturally good at" follow these least resistive neural pathways in your brain, making it a fairly easy, and in many cases enjoyable, task. If you find yourself struggling to complete a certain project or focus on the specific goals you're trying to accomplish, that might mean you're forcing your brain to follow a neural pathway that is resistant.
For these reasons, cognitive and behavioral theory, rather than personality, were used to design the 5 Dynamics assessment. Personality is highly context-sensitive, where in some situations people might be introverted, but not in others.
Armed with this research and science behind its assessment and collaboration features, the 5 Dynamics methodology directly addresses people problems and everyday team management and collaboration by providing individuals the knowledge and understanding of how they work effectively and how to best engage with team members based on their unique learning, working, and collaboration styles. Using a quick 2-minute online assessment completed via survey, responses are designed to reveal the brain's most efficient neural pathways. Each person's results are then compiled into an interactive online tool that teams can use to get personalized information about themselves and their team members so they can (1) build a team that consists of diverse workflow energies, (2) learn how to work with each team member based on their work preferences to mitigate unproductivity and miscommunication, (3) provide feedback and have difficult conversations with guidance from the tool to circumvent conflict, and 4) establish a foundation for team performance and culture that supports the extended growth and success of startups from day one.
6. What are the most effective types of leaders? Are there specific shared traits that they have?
I think there's a common misconception that there's a picturesque profile of the character traits needed to be a successful and effective business leader. But stereotyping anyone is dangerous. Many effective business leaders may have common traits, but they also have unique attributes that aren't stereotypically associated with the textbook definition of a leader. Some are very focused on people and tend to build happy and productive teams as a top priority. Others are focused on details in the data and keep a sharp eye on metrics. All need to understand their unique gifts and how to lead from those gifts and all need to understand their potential blind spots, but there is no one-size-fits-all profile that people can or should compare themselves to.
7 . How do you work with organizations? Have you seen proof that the method is working?
Our most successful clients are utilizing the 5 Dynamics software in a strategic way. They give all of their employee's access to the software, which creates a unified language and a unifying methodology to build upon. We see proof every day that our methodology is working. Barriers are broken down. Hierarchical organizations move from command and control to cooperate and collaborate.
People are valued for their unique gifts, and development shifts to focus more on moving people from good to great instead of from poor to mediocre. If you let people focus on aspects of business they love, you and they will be more successful and more satisfied.
8. Do you have any quick tips or tricks for managing workplace stress?
Understand your working preferences and the preferences of your teammates. Have open and honest conversations about what you are trying to accomplish together and devise a plan that allows you to work from your strengths. Ask for support and give support to others. The biggest mistake I see people make is acting like they have to know it all and can do it all. We all have areas of strengths where we are able to operate in a state of flow, and no one finds all phases of work effortless. The best piece of advice I can offer is to get comfortable with that fact and find a way to align your daily activities with your greatest gifts.
9. What do you foresee as the most important issues that will be affecting Millennials entering the workforce?
Honestly, I think their greatest challenge is overcoming the negative rhetoric that has been so prevalent in the media over the past several years. They think and act differently than generations before them, but I love the fact that doing meaningful work is more important to them than making obscene amounts of money. They want to leave the world a better place than they found it, and we need to give them the tools that will help them to do just that. Part of that support happens by building work environments that allow them to be their best selves at work.
10. What is the biggest mistake you see corporations making today?
I think that the most successful organizations will be the ones who stop creating a department to focus on “people development," and instead give all employees access to the tools and support that will enable them to optimize their performance and enhance their lives. Spend money on your people, but stop spending on week-long leadership programs or other event-based activities. Instead, give them tools that will allow ongoing development and will enhance communication and collaboration.
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."