What does it mean to be a firebrand? It goes beyond being a rabble-rouser and speaks to a commitment to fight for positive change.
In this episode of the Leadercast Podcast, we chat with Mikaela Kiner—founder and CEO of Reverb and author of Female Firebrands: Stories and Techniques to Ignite Change, Take Control, and Succeed in the Workplace—about the driving forces behind her book and what it means to be a firebrand.
“My personal definition of a firebrand is mission-driven, successful women who are also fighting for gender equality in the workplace and are staunch advocates for other women,” says Mikaela. Read on for a look inside the episode, and listen to it in its entirety above or via the links at the bottom of this page.
Mikaela’s book features 13 leaders, ranging from founders and CEOs to nonprofit and social impact leaders, with unique missions. The biggest takeaway from her journey of interviewing these leaders is that everyone, including her, benefits from diversity.
“It was very obvious to me that I needed to speak to a diverse group of women—including people from different backgrounds, race and ethnicities, sexual orientation, immigrant status—because they would tell the broadest stories that would appeal to other women,” she says.
What she didn’t expect? The personal learning that she herself would undergo through these conversations. For instance, a woman of color gave Mikaela the insight that she never dresses down on casual Friday because she didn’t feel she could give up the respect that accompanied that. After 15 years in the corporate world, Mikaela says that knowledge and perspective helped deepen her empathy and understanding of what challenges female firebrands face.
The Importance of Diversity
Diversity matters at work for two reasons: business and altruism. “There's so much research about the overall better performance of teams, companies and boards when there is diversity,” says Mikaela. Studies show companies with a certain number of women are more profitable.
“If I look at it from more of a people standpoint, I personally believe that there isn't really any healthy company culture that isn't also inclusive,” Mikaela adds.
This stands to reason, if people with different backgrounds can't join and participate in an organization, then voices aren’t getting heard equally. Plus, it’s creating discomfort and stress for individuals associated with the organization.
The way to incorporate diversity is to think of it as an investment. “Another way to invest in your talent is to spend the time and energy that's needed to seek out those groups and find top talent by connecting with different communities,” she says. “It will certainly be better for your company in the long run.”
Mikaela’s 3 Lessons for Everyday Leaders:
1. Leaders are loyal. Mikaela shares a story about a leader in a technology industry who said one of the most important things you need to know about your employees is whether or not they're married—not because it mattered whether they were married, but because it showed that managers had made connections with their employees. “At the end of the day, if you think about the leaders that you've been most committed to, loyal to, the people who you'll go the extra mile for, it's very likely that that is because of who they are as a person and their leadership style,” Mikaela points out.
2. Leaders improve company culture. Mikaela started her HR career at Microsoft, where she learned that company philosophy informs company values. “I was really lucky to work with some absolutely fantastic leaders who just put a great focus on people,” she says. Leaders who improve company culture focus on employee engagement scores and feedback, as well as practices that put employees first. She mentions Microsoft as a workplace that pioneered part-time work policies that especially benefited a woman who was returning from maternity leave.
3. Leaders speak up. Mikaela’s book mentions two specific techniques for how to respond during difficult situations: 1) “I’m going to give you 20 seconds to take that back.” This is a response someone can give when being hit on by a co-worker, for example. It puts the person on notice that they’ve done something inappropriate. And 2) “I don’t think she was quite finished. I’d love to hear her complete her thought.” This is a response for when you witness someone being interrupted (it happens to women twice as often than it does to men). “Many people are looking for solutions where they don't have to make a big deal out of something,” explains Mikaela. “They just want to fix the problem.”
What Makes a Leader Worth Following?
“There are some table stakes around integrity, honesty, trust,” shares Mikaela. “To me, there's also that empathy, caring and kindness. I really do appreciate people who care about me as a person. It doesn't take a lot to show or express that, but it goes a really long way. I love the leaders who have both challenged me and told me that I'm giving this work to you because I believe in you and I know you can do a great job.”
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