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Nurture a soulful workplace: Jardena London

Michael Hunter


Welcome to Uncommon Leadership.

I’m Michael Hunter with Uncommon Teams.

Today I’m talking with Jardena London.

Jardena is an author, speaker, community leader, and business transformation consultant who helps businesses thrive by using a soulful lens.

Welcome, Jardena.

Jardena London

Thank you. I’m happy to be here, Michael.


I’m so happy to have you here today.

In your journey to seeing people as people and learning to leverage their unique gifts to best accomplish your goals, what has been your biggest struggle?


It’s funny, it’s ironic that you would phrase it that way, because that is actually my biggest struggle right there: not getting distracted by all of the system.

I do love the system.

Everybody loves it.

Not everybody, but people who do improvement work tend to love the system.

So, not getting distracted by the complexities and the intricacies of the system and really pulling it back to focus on the interactions between people.

That’s both a struggle and a strength for me.

It’s a struggle because, listen, I started as a programmer, and the reason I wanted to be a programmer was because I didn’t want to deal with people.

I wanted to just sit in a cubicle and code.

That is really what I wanted.

It just didn’t accomplish the things I wanted to accomplish.

So I had to look beyond what’s inside that screen.

But it’s been a strength for me because I feel like, as a person who that doesn’t come naturally for, I’m better able to explain it for people who it doesn’t come naturally for.


I hear that all the time: “The reason I got into software was so I wouldn’t have to deal with emotions.”


Well, there’s emotions in software, and then what do those people say that they then couldn’t avoid it, which is what I found out.


Yeah, it always shows up in some way.


Exactly. So, that’s my struggle. It’s a good struggle.


And what you said about it being a struggle and a strength, I find, is often also the case: that what we are best at is what comes hardest for us. Because; actually, I don’t know why.


Well, it’s sort of like the caterpillar coming out of the cocoon.

There’s transformation in the struggle.

 Either it’s a shaping process versus something that’s too easy, and maybe there’s nothing really left behind.

There’s nothing learned.


I definitely find for myself that I learn the most when I fail, because when I succeed, I don’t know what I did.


You don’t know what you did.

So those people who are naturally good at with people skills, how could they explain it?

They have no idea what they did to do that.

It’s too natural.

That’s good for them, that it’s natural, but you can’t really teach anyone.


How do you help people on both ends of that spectrum of, “I’m just great with people and I don’t know why,” and, “I am not great with people and I don’t know how to change it,” how do you help both of them get better?


Let’s start with the people who are already good with people.

Again, a wonderful skill, which I envy.

What they may not be able to do is, I hate the word scale, but scale that into a system.

They have to be there because they’re the one with the charisma, they’re the one who is compelling, but when they’re not there, it doesn’t work.

So the learning there is, “How do I systematize the things that I’m doing?”

Not just systematize being charming, but being able to connect people.

If I have to be in the room in order to connect everybody, it doesn’t really scale because I have to be in the room.

But there’s other ways to connect people that doesn’t require charisma.

That’s the learning for folks who are good with people: how to extend that beyond yourself.

In terms of the people who aren’t good with people, there’s a lot of inner work there.

Everyone can do inner work, even if you’re good with people.

There was some inner work there to understand how to connect with people, and why, and what is authentic for you.

I’m an introvert.

As an introvert, and I just said person who wasn’t always good with people, I really dug deep into what does connect me with people, what is my authentic self.

Peeling back all of that armor of not wanting to be with people allowed me to connect in ways that was more fulfilling.

I actually found that the way to do that, not the way that that other person at the other end of the spectrum that you just described, not going to do it that same way, but I’m going to do it my way.


How did you find, how are you finding your way?


A lot of introspection, which is what those of us who are introverts are good at.

Understanding what drives me, what my authentic self is.

Also understanding it’s confusing at first, because you might think that some of your armor that you have that’s protecting you is your authentic self.

So, trying to distinguish between what’s inside and what’s protecting, and peel back those layers that are protecting you.

I always tell this story about when I first learned the word armor, which Brene Brown uses a lot.

I heard it from a friend of mine, and I was like, “Wow, armor.”

I didn’t even know that was a thing.

She said to me, “Oh, it’s a thing, honey, and you have a ton of it.”

So I was like, “Okay, thank you for that insight.”

Then I went through the process of peeling it back.


That can be so confusing.

Because some of that armor we put on ourselves, some of it has been placed on us by other people not meaning it to be armor or meaning it to be armor in a well-meaning way.

And some of that armor resonates or dovetails in with who we are.

Distinguishing all these fine details of, “This came from someone else, and this part of it is actually who I am, and maybe this is why I’ve held on to it for so long,” can be really challenging.


It’s so challenging and also so fulfilling that it, for a little while, for me, became addictive to want to just; people get addicted to self help.

Because every time you get some new self awareness, then there’s something so beautiful on the other side that it’s like, “I want more of that.”

But then you have to really get on with your life at some point.

But always be open to learning new things about yourself.

Like I told you, that friend told.

That was a lot of self awareness for me to learn that I had a ton of armor.

The interesting thing here, is when we talk about organizations and leadership, is as a leader, of course you want to be peeling back your armor and not doing things that are ego-driven so that your people who are, I guess if we say leaders, the opposite of that is followers, right?

So that your followers or people that you’re working with are not following your ego-driven direction, your ego-driven leadership.

The super interesting thing to me is, so what armor do organizations have?

What armor do teams have that they’ve built collectively?

It’s one thing to go through and remove your armor as an individual, but to remove a corporation’s armor is an interesting process.


How do you bring this up with teams and companies?


This is one of those things just like it is with an individual.

It’s a peeling back of what is no longer serving you here. Is it a process? Is it a culture? Is it a belief? A lot of times, it’s culture.

For example, you might find some big corporations that are very risk averse because at some point in the company’s history, they got bitten or they were in a different regulatory environment that has changed.

Now they haven’t shifted the culture of having to have everything be perfect.

Or so risk-averse to change with the changing environment.

It’s looking at and even having the conversations about, as a leader, what elements of our culture are no longer serving us? What elements of our process are no longer serving us?


I like that question because it brings in all of the introspection without saying, “Now we’re going to do some squishy people, introspective, scary-look-inside-ourselves stuff” that isn’t necessarily obvious to many people of why that’s useful in a work context.


There’s a lot of red herrings or false practices in corporations. That’s one of them.

One of the false beliefs in organizations is that if we can fix every individual or change every individual, even in a specific way, not generically.

If we said we need each individual to be able to remove their armor, and then that’s going to make us a less armored company.

Well, no, that math does not work.

Or another one that was popular two years ago was, we need to make each person resilient so that we can have resilient organization.

That is not the math for that.

You can have a bunch of armored people in a resilient organization or vice versa.



That’s kind of like saying, if we can make each ingredient in my pie a little more sweet, then the pie is going to be so much more sweet and better.

So not the case.


Wait, is that not the case with pie? Actually, I don’t know.


I’m trying to imagine what, like sweet flour or sweet cinnamon, what that would do to the pie. I don’t think it would end up being a tasty pie.


It wouldn’t be tasty, that’s for sure. It’d be too sweet, maybe.

This whole belief that we can sort, it’s the Taylorism, right? “We can fix each tiny part and the sum of that will be a better whole.”It just doesn’t work that way.


And each person may not want to come along on that journey, and may not need to come along on that journey, or may not want to come along as far as you or someone else does.



So when we think about something like, let’s take resiliency, because that was so popular recently and still is, I guess.

Creating a resilient company has nothing to do with creating resilient individuals, first of all.

Second of all, creating conditions for individuals to be able to be resilient, there maybe is value to that, but it still doesn’t add up to a resilient company.

There might be value.

But it is creating conditions to allow that rather than to go and impose resiliency on each individual.


Yes. A difference between allowing, encouraging, and inflicting.



That’s the word.

That’s a good word.

A lot of what I think about when I say businesses thrive when we use a soulful lens is looking at the business, the process, whatever it is, through this lens of, how can we be more soulful but also successful, not just touchy feely.

That is about creating those conditions.

When you look through a soulful lens, it tends to always result in creating conditions and not an imposing, inflicting process framework.

There’s a lot of false beliefs out there, and one of them is we can transform our business through a framework or through a process methodology.

That’s just not; we’ve seen it for years. That’s just not how it works.


The transformation that will take place is not automatically the transformation that framework promises.


Isn’t that the truth?


The company is going to change in some way, but it’s unlikely to be the way that the people driving the transformation desire if it’s entirely focused on implementing that process.

Missing out all the squishy people stuff that that process runs into and squishes around.


Exactly. That’s a really good point.


So how can we, as leaders, start to move in these directions of bringing more of ourselves into our work, encouraging our team to do this, without requiring that everyone comes along with us, and while still honoring those who don’t want to come on the journey with us?


That’s a loaded, complex question there.

We can break it down.

The biggest thing there in your question about how can we actually allow people to bring themselves and be themselves, the thing there is about being in service to really the business.

I know that people always say business is made up of people. It is.

We talked about individuals and that trap.

But being of service to the actual business and not to my agenda, my career, your agenda, your career.

People always ask me, “How can I make this group happy and this group happy?”

You need to make the company happy.

That’s who you need to make happy.

If some folks don’t want to be along on the journey of your company or your organization, maybe this isn’t the place for them. That’s a self selection thing there.

Once you’re clear on what the company’s purpose is, people can make that decision.

Now, creating a space where everyone can be themselves is different.


If you’re sort of against what the company’s mission is, really, don’t work there.

Creating a space for people to bring their full selves, I don’t think it needs to be about placating everybody.

It is about creating conditions where people can thrive and flourish.

What I mean by that, it sounds very abstract, but it’s really not, is looking at where your processes and practices and structures are preventing that from happening.

It’s removing obstacles is the way.

When I talk about soulful lens, what’s the opposite?

The opposite of that is soul crushing lens.

That resonates.

I say, “soulful,” people say, “What does that mean?”

Do you know what soul crushing means? It’s the opposite of that.

You look at, “What do we have in place that’s most soul crushing here?”

Well, it’s our yearly budgeting process.

Okay, let’s start there.

How can we not crush people with that and still have thriving financials?


Do you have a specific example of that? In particular of how that worked?


That’s my bonus download for your listeners.

Also, funny you should ask.

If you look at the Five Steps to Soul, which I don’t have in front of me here; but I’m not going to go through this because I don’t have it in front of me. I should, though.

If you think about that, you take yourself through that process.

What is the original soulful purpose of why we put a funding and budgeting process in place in the first place?

It wasn’t to torture people.

It was so that we can make the best investments of our time and energy in this company, to keep this company alive, so that we can all keep working here.

That is the soulful purpose of budgeting.

And then you go through and ask yourself, “What makes it soul crushing? What makes it soul crushing?”

Because I have to be pitted against my peers and because it takes forever and it’s one thousand meetings and it’s taking me away from the work that’s helping the company thrive.

There’s a lot of things that you could talk about that are soul crushing.

Then you unpack that.

How did we get here?

And then you move into, what would it take to make it soulful?

It’s not to say we’re not going to do the work.

We’re going to still do the work.

People think, the false dichotomy is, it’s a choice between either soulfulness and financial viability.

It’s not.

What would make it soulful and also financially viable?

Maybe we can shorten the process.

Maybe we can have collaboration instead of competition for funding.

Different things like that.

Then you take that forward and say, “What would it take to alter this process? We don’t have to revamp it, but can we tweak it to make it more soulful?”

That’s the process that you can go through with funding in particular, which is a big one; performance management; status meetings.

There’s a lot of soul crushing things that happen.


This brings us back to what we were talking about at the beginning, that it all comes down to, what is the best way to achieve the company’s goals. It’s almost always not be soul crushing, but be soul uplifting.


I love that.

Thank you for bringing me back to that.

If you think about what we were talking about, like your yearly budgeting process or even whatever your frequency is, by having to fight my peers for budget, I am not looking at what’s in the best interest of the company.

I’m looking at what’s in the best interest of my team.

I need to be able to do that in a way that’s not a zero sum game with my peers.

There are leaders out there, uncommon leaders, who say, “The stuff my team works on is not the best thing for us to put our energy into this year.”

I’ve seen this happen.

It was amazing.

“I’m going to give my funding to the group that is working on the most strategic thing. We’re going to go over there and help them.”


It’s amazing.



I was in a room once where that happened.

There was silence for a minute.

Like no one could believe it.


I feel happy knowing that we have people in business like this.


It’s a beautiful thing.


This is what I help my clients do. I do this because the more I can help the people around me and the people building the world that we’re going into be happy, and the more that that happiness infuses everything that they’re building.

Eventually, through people and their people and their people and their people, we get out to the customers who are taking the products that we’re taking, and we’re helping them be happy.

So, eventually, by me helping one leader be more happy and more of themselves into everything that they do into the work, then the whole world gets better.


I love that.

Thank you. Michael.

I want to talk for a second about the word “soulful,” because I noticed you use the word “happy.”

When I was first starting in this work, I went around with, “Is it joyful? Is it happy? Is it soulful?”

I chose the word soulful because it’s not always happy.

Things happen in life that are not happy.

Pets die.

People die.

Things happen.

What I would like is a work environment that allows for that.

I say it’s soulfulness because it’s all emotions that are welcome.

Happiness is, of course, wonderful.

But also, if I’m sad about something, I’d like to allow for that, too, because that’s real.


Yes. Thank you for that reminder that it’s in an encouraging and encompassing environment, not a, “This is the one way that we must all be.”


Right. Because then you end up with the false happiness.




But happiness, we can have a bigger percentage.

That would be wonderful.

I think frustration is one of the killers of, that’s an emotion that maybe we don’t want to welcome or as much, because when you have processes that are frustrating people, and that’s so common, that’s a soul crusher.


I like the soul crushing—soulful spectrum, because, as you said, everyone understands what soul crushing feels like, and I don’t know anyone who truly wants more soul crushing. So that’s something that is probably pretty easy to get agreement on in even the most antagonistic environments of. “Would we like things to be at least a little less soul crushing around here?”




And then all the questions that you were mentioning before on how to make that happen.


Oh, thank you. That’s actually very helpful for me and my messaging, that that is a resonant point.


What else should I ask you today, Jardena?


You’ve asked me so many. We’ve had such good.

How do I phrase this in a form of a question? Can I just give it as a sentence?

The one thing that we alluded to but didn’t hit head on, that I want to make sure I mention is, as a transformational leader, I do like to look through the three lenses: the me, the we, and the system.

We talked in the beginning about the introspection of me as a leader, and then we talked about how to extend it to the system.In between there, there’s the we.

How do we connect people with each other and create that force of that collective force?

I don’t know if; that’s not a question, Michael. Is there a question in there?


Is there a simple way that you found tends to work to help start forging that connection?


A simple way?

There’s lots of standard ways out there; lots of icebreaker and tons of team forming activities.

The one I like to do that I feel like sort of pulls some stuff to the surface, is when you do a simple role and responsibility.

We were just doing this with a client yesterday, activity, where it’s.

“What do you need from me? What can I offer? What are the things I’m offering to you?”

I might do a lot of work inside my box here, but the edges of my box, the boundaries, basically, where you can actually, like an API, where you can actually get things from me.”

Here’s the things I’m offering, and what do I need from all of you?”

Having that exercise where we all talk about….

Just about everyone wants to talk about what they’re doing.

We don’t care about what you’re doing.

We trust that you’re working hard.

What are you putting out to the group?

What do you need as intake from the group? T

hat is where it leads to a lot of good bonding opportunities.

Because then you find out, “Here’s what I need from you.

“Well, I’m not giving you that. I have no intention of giving you that.”

When you have the friction, and maybe that’s the answer to your question, creating opportunities for conflict to work through.

Conflict is where teams bond.

Avoiding conflict, then you have these teams that are sort of always surface.

If you can create those opportunities to surface the disagreement, that’s where the bonding really happens.


If I don’t know where else to start, start with the conflict and help that conflict arise in a productive fashion, that we can get into the nitty gritty of where that’s coming from and how we can usefully resolve that.


Yes, that’s the meat of it.

You probably want to start with something a little lighter.

I used to do a great exercise on conflict where; I did it at a workshop once, and then I started to use it.

Have people stand in a line. Or you could do it on Miro, too, if you’re remote.

Put yourself on this continuum between “I love conflict” and “I hate conflict.”

It’s pretty eye opening if you do that with a team.

Those people who you’re always fighting with might be the ones who love conflict.

Which is me, by the way.

I’m at that end.

It opened up some of my team members’ eyes as to why I like conflict and that I wasn’t just doing it to be a jerk.

I’m actually interested in the details of why we disagree, and I want to go there.

They saw that as a negative thing.

I saw it as a fun thing.


Because for you, it’s, “This is how I understand where you and I differ and where I can learn,” where other people might have been seeing it as, “This is how we make things not work.”


They saw it as me not trusting them.

Or they thought I should just trust them and not ask questions that they saw as credibilities they’re at.

I just saw it as interesting.

So that’s when you get into the deep stuff.

For the lighter stuff, in terms of connecting teams, I will share improv.

I’ve done whole workshops on improv because improv techniques bring a couple of interesting things besides fun.

Fun is always good.

They help the team get highly attuned to each other, because you can’t do improv—and simple improv, like throwing an imaginary ball around, but I can’t throw an imaginary ball to you and have you catch it if we are not completely attuned to each other.

So it gets them used to being attuned to each other, moving together.

All of that stuff gets people really jiving.

Not all improv.

You have to pick the right activity for the group that has those benefits.

That’s a really fun thing to do before you get into the deep stuff, like conflict.


Thank you.

We touched a little bit on your gift for our listeners, our audience, today, your Five Steps to Soul. Is there anything more you’d like to say about that?


You’ll put the link in the?


I’ll have the link in the show notes.


I kind of brushed through it today on this podcast.

That gives you more details of those five steps to turning a soul crushing process into a soul fulfilling process.

Go check that out.

That’s a little short guide to the five steps to applying soul.

The book to transformational leadership, which is called Cultivating Transformations: A Leader’s Guide to Connecting the Soulful and Practical, which is all what it’s all about.

That’s another message I’ll leave you with, which is, businesses thrive when they use a soulful lens.

Not two separate things.

For too long we’ve had HR (human resources) doing soulful team building things here and then finance doing financials over here.

It’s not different.


It’s all one holistic piece, isn’t it?


It really is.


What is the best way for our audience to connect with you if they’d like to learn more about connecting that soulful and practical or any of the other things we talked about?


You can find me on LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is probably the best way because I post lots of content there.

I have a few websites that I know you’ll put in the link, which I have tons of blogs and free resources and things there for you besides the free download.

I also have, if you are a transformational leader, and I use that term very broadly, if you identify with the term “transformational leader” in any way, it doesn’t have to be in your title, we do have the transformational leadership community that’s kicked off.

You can come in there and you can interact with other transformational leaders.

We have live sessions on Wednesdays.

I just came from there, where we can go through a lot of the topics that are relevant to success as a transformational leader.


Great. Thank you so much.

What would you like to leave our audience with today, Jardena?


The biggest thing that I want to leave folks with is what I’ve been saying: businesses thrive when you use a soulful lens.

Look for opportunities to bring a little soulfulness into the work you do.

Just a little bit.

Just a little seed of soul.

That’s all you need.


That sounds like a song title. Well, we’ll have to find seed of soul.


Yes. You’ll find someone else to sing that one. But I can write the lyrics, maybe.


That sounds great. Thank you so much, Jardena, for being with us today.


It was a pleasure.


And thank you, audience, for being with us today.

And please let Jardena and I know: how do you bring a little more soul into your workplace and your life today? We want to know.

Thanks so much.

Have a great day.


Thank you.

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