Mary: It is with such honor that in this episode of Authoritti5.0, I get to talk about my favorite topic: being your unique self. And there aren’t many people that dig deep when it comes to topics of the heart. except one: Gina Riley. You may not know Gina, but she has a reputation for extracting every ounce of information from her clients who are in transition and turning it into unforgettable stories that literally win the job. Put it this way. If you are a CEO. you want Gina’s number in your mobile phone.
Gina Riley is a human resource professional who sits at the powerful convergence between career coaching. executive search, and interview skills training. She’s an Authoritti5.0 in career transition and is the creator of the Career Velocity System, a comprehensive solution that helps leaders and executives map out their transition strategy to last throughout their career.
She has 25 years of experience from small business to Fortune 50 companies. She has a master’s degree in whole systems design and has held positions in recruitment management of a 500-student intern program, has worked on M and A initiatives, and has served as an HR business consultant to several executive teams. She has developed, designed, and delivered training programs on a wide variety of topics. She’s a sought-after speaker for her thought leadership and expertise in the area of professional networking and career development, and is becoming a household personal brand on LinkedIn.
Let’s get straight into this interview because I know there are so many questions I want to ask. I want to start by asking you, Gina, how did you become a serial storyteller?
I’ve seen you in action and this truly is an art form. You’re a content contributor, obviously, to Authoritti5.0 magazine, and your articles are outstanding. Where did the origin of your storytelling gift start?
Gina: Oh goodness. Where did it start? I would say I’ve always been an orator. I’ve always liked to hone the art of speaking. My career journey began when I was in high school. I was 15 or 16 years old, and I had opportunities to go to leadership development programs and really start to have my mind awakened by the idea of effective communication. That led me to choosing organizational communication as my major in college. I have always felt that honing the message is one of the most important parts of getting people’s attention, and I’ve always liked to get that attention and grab it and keep it. And the best way to do that is to provide a succinct story that takes people on a journey and gets there quickly.
Mary: Yes, I agree. You know, as a career transition coach, you’ve clearly got a specific model and a methodology to help people uncover their unique value proposition. So I’m guessing that, as part of that storytelling, your zoning in on somebody’s story is actually understanding what their uniqueness is. You know, I come from a world of sales and marketing, where it’s vital to clarify the value proposition with absolute precision and integrity to send a clear message out into the world. I think it’s similar when any leader is in career transition. So in your mind’s eye, based on the angle of storytelling, what does this proposition include and why do you believe so strongly in this specific process?
Gina: That’s a great question because what you’re tying this to directly is how a business is going to position itself through its marketing strategies, and how it’s going to connect with a consumer of that product or service.
And I treat each of my clients in the same way. I help them construct their storytelling so they can get from point A to point B in a quick manner in telling that story and explaining the unique value proposition. What are those components you have to fill in: how you do what you, why you do what you do, and how that connects with your target audience. And if you’re a job seeker, who’s your target? Your target is the decision makers, and they come at a variety of different levels. And so what I’m training my clients to do is think about what each layer of the decision makers looks like.
Some are gatekeeping decision makers, a first-line recruiter with maybe a little less experience who is still a decision maker. What stories do those people need to hear? That’s different from the next level of decision maker, and then potentially an executive team or board of directors is different. You have to be able to take your story and use it like an accordion, just stretch it out and tell the story and breathe life into it in different ways so that you can connect with the people who are going to make that decision about you.
Mary: You know, I love that analogy of the accordion, because I immediately thought of the saying “knowledge is power when applied,” right? It made me wonder just for that very moment, how many people in the world actually understand the power of storytelling in our past, present, and future? How many have used it to their advantage, leaving other people wondering “How do they always get that job, but I never do?” Have they actually understood that particular knowledge that you are an expert in, have they applied it, and actually gotten the result that they wanted?
So this is strategic and deliberate, right?
Gina: This is very strategic and deliberate. You’re making me think of two different pieces of this. One is you absolutely need to own your story. By that I mean, your career story – how did you get from point A to point B to point C? Can you communicate it clearly? And not only are you telling your career journey, but you are talking about the key results that you delivered along the way. The most important thing that you need to be doing next is asking the right questions of your key decision makers. What problems are they trying to solve? What are you most curious about when you’re asking those questions? You’re uncovering and tapping into the real issue, so that you can go back and pull the right stories out that will land with that key decision maker. And unless you feel rock solid on your stories, you get locked up into the question of “What am I going to say next?” But if you’re curious, you don’t have to worry anymore because now you’re thinking, “I can get the right questions out there, so I can get the right information, and I’ll pull the right stories that will land with these decision makers.”
Mary: I just love that! You know, what I’ve never understood is the notion of a résumé, which essentially is transactional. I think people approach their résumé as a transaction, but that black printed white paper is not me. Why haven’t corporations embraced, for example, video résumés? Wouldn’t it make more sense to get a feeling of how a person is able to articulate themselves or talk about their specialization or how they believe they can solve a problem within an organization? Is this just wishful thinking, or will it have to happen moving forward, now that working from home is normal?
Gina: That’s a really interesting question that I haven’t thought of. Because I sit sort of at that convergence of executive search career coaching and teaching interview skills training inside of corporate, when I go to market and I put a job out there, I could have as many as 800 applicants for one COO job.
That is not humanly possible with that many. I have to be able to quickly skim something and put people in a bucket. These are the people I’m going to call first out of 800 people. Can we possibly create a funnel to effectively put the people in that bucket that might get a call, have them on standby with some kind of a link that takes me to a résumé that’s a video?
I could see that happening, but the reality is there are too many applicants for many of the job postings that are out there. And part of it is because it’s so easy to apply that everyone thinks that maybe they’ll have a shot at that. But there’s somebody on the other end, a human, doing their best to put the people that they need to call in that “to call” pile. And I think watching a video might actually take too much time on the front end.
Mary: There are so many senior executives unemployed at the moment on a global scale, and that means that they may end up having a very long gap of unemployment. I think this is a really big problem. And you just sort of supported that by saying that you’ve had as many as 800 applicants for one job. I think that that will almost double moving forward, because of this vulnerable situation that every country, every industry, and every silo is facing at the moment. So what advice would you give these senior-level people? How should they be filling up their time and keeping their skills sharp in the meantime?
Gina: Well, keeping skills sharp is one aspect, but which skills are you going to keep sharp? If you’re relatively okay, treading water in your job, things are all right, that’s the time to actually start laying out a strategy and a plan for what your future could look like. In that case, I would start with mentors and sponsors.
What kind of support network can you build around you to advise you in different functional areas of expertise? From there, you can start to figure out and map out what those target roles are for your future. And it shouldn’t just be one target role; it should be probably a couple of different kinds of roles and then have your support team help you figure out where your gaps are. If you have few technical or functional gaps in your areas of expertise as a marketing leader, but you’re missing one or two components, that might shut you out from a senior leadership process.
What do you need to do to fill in that gap? Or there could be behavioral aspects or leadership aspects that you have a gap in, and you need to have honest people around you who are willing to tell you and speak the truth so that you can go and fill in those gaps because senior leaders have to have leadership skills.
Mary: The World Economic Forum has actually stated that, “On average, employees will need 101 days of retraining and upskilling in the period up to 2022. Emerging skills gaps – both among individual workers and among companies’ senior leadership may significantly obstruct organizations’ transformation management.” My question to you, as an expert in this space, is how do employees find 101 days within the next 19 months? What has to happen in 101 days when you consider that there are only 365 days in a year?
Gina: Yes. Correct. I want to break this down because it’s applicable to everybody, regardless of whether they’re a CEO or a business owner. This is where upskilling comes into play. Remember that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If you want a different outcome in life, you have to upskill, you have to learn something different, challenge your paradigm, do something different to see a new reality or be challenged by a new reality. And I think what happens for most of us is that we stay in our comfort zone because it’s organized and comfortable.
If things don’t go well, we start to blame or point the finger. We deny our responsibility because how dare something being wrong with us? So I look at that quote and that revelation from the World Economic Forum, not as an actual 101 days. To me, it speaks volumes saying you have to change within the next 19 months in order to be relevant. What are you going to do to upskill? Which is exactly what you were just saying, but it’s understanding what skills, right?
And you understand the skills by talking to the people who are in the jobs. Now, what you’re also saying is those jobs are incrementally getting more challenging or different and have differentiating aspects to them even as we speak. But your best shot is to talk to the people who are in the roles now.
Mary: Let’s talk about leadership. You help a lot of leaders at that C-suite level. I’m sure you see a lot of patterns and behaviors, common denominators, etc. But from your standpoint, what makes an absolute kick-ass leader, somebody who will leave a legacy that will be talked about for years to come?
Gina: I’m really passionate about helping people find that place where they can leave the legacy that they’re meant to leave behind.
That part of it is aligning who they are and how they do what they do with the opportunity that they really want and feeling very clear on that because of the storytelling that we help build together. As they’re creating those targets for themselves, they will uncover the right kinds of opportunities because they’re aligning their true self, their uniqueness with what that target actually is needing in them as a leader. We also talk about the flip side, which is Nirvana, when one of my clients has more than one offer at the same time. It’s very stressful, but it’s Nirvana because now we can take out their assessments that we do together, look at their values, and look at whether their top three values align with where they are. And if they can’t answer “Yes, my values are going to align there,” I know they’ll be unhappy; they won’t be able to live out their best leadership experience there.
Mary: And this comes back to being your authentic, unique self, doesn’t it? Because it’s at that core level that you understand what your true core values are and ensure that you live by those 24/7, 365. That to me is the impetus. That’s the transition of somebody becoming a leader, right?
Gina: It’s true. And when I’m working with people, sometimes we’re into the second month or so working together, and I’m continually mirroring their story back to them. I’m continually reminding them “That’s why you do what you do. Remember, that’s how you do what you do. This is why you’re such a great leader.” Suddenly it clicks.
Mary: How is leadership changing? Are we talking adaptive leadership? What type of leadership are you seeing is necessary in the corporate landscape?
Gina: I love using the adaptive leadership model with my clients, because what I’m doing is helping them draw out language of where they excel within that model, so they can communicate how they show up adaptively when they lead people.
And this is the perfect time because we’re still experiencing a pandemic. And so the leaders that I’m coaching now, whether they’ve been out of work for a while, or they’re transitioning through from another corporation, they must have an awareness about how they’re going to lead people through change and transition. And what’s at the root of change and transition? People’s emotions and values. So if you know how to tap into and uncover where people start from to help them move from one place to another safely, to keep and retain them, that’s the leader of the future, because it’s all going to be about change and transition going forward.
Mary: I have to ask you a question about personal branding, you know, specifically in the space that you work in. Should CEOs have an active voice on social media to build their brand presence?
Gina: Short answer is yes. I do believe the CEOs have a place on social media. They can create a strategy, especially in conjunction with their marketing or communications teams that strike a balance between the authentic self and the social self. They don’t have to overstretch or over-communicate, or be really flashy. I work with my clients on building a strategy that makes them feel comfortable yet showcases their thought leadership. I ask them to create three different buckets about what the three things that they most want to be known for. So we start with one aspect, which is their functional area of expertise and their special spin on that area of expertise. What do they have to say about it now that they’ve had more than 20 or 30 years of experience?
What do people come to you for? Think about the kinds of content you would create or put out based on that. Then the second bucket might be, “What is your leadership approach? What are you going to tell people out there about your philosophies for leading people and teams, growing and mentoring people, creating pipelines, and succession-planning programs? What does that look like under your leadership?” And then we create another category. And usually once we get to that point, the leaders that I’m working with know what that category is. And they’ve got something special that they really want to talk about it.
Mary: You actually have a systems approach and, you know, I’m the systems queen. Why do I love the systems? Because they work. They’re outcome-driven. And, as I said at the beginning of this interview, every CEO needs to have Gina Riley’s number in their mobile phone.
Why? Because your success rate is quite high. You have a waiting list, which speaks volumes in itself. But having a systems approach, Gina, is a methodology. It’s based on your 25 years of experience collating all of this information that you’ve turned into that data. You’ve consolidated all the trials and tribulations, the learnings, the understanding, the feedback loop, and turned that into a system that actually works. So as a career transition coach who has a systems approach, how has that changed you as a coach and a leader, and also being able to get the outcome that you do for all of your clients?
Gina: I would say that my approach starts from the place of where I got my master’s degree in whole systems design. Like you mentioned at the beginning, the way that my brain automatically thinks is about all of the things that are spinning at the same time. And how do you take all of that and converge it into a very streamlined story at the end of the day? What I truly care about is that streamlined story for the leaders that I’m working with.
I have a system to go from point A to point B to point C. I have nine steps in my model, but we get thrown curve balls. I’ll have someone part way through, and they’ll say, “I’ve got an interview coming up.” Okay, well, we’re not on step six yet, but that’s okay.
We’re going to pivot. I’m going to take everything I know about that person. I’m going to use my techniques for interviews, interview skills, and interview prep, and we’re going to fold it in all at the same time. So having a systems approach is having that mental agility to keep folding things in as they come and hit the fan and still keep everything going, keeping their momentum going, keeping their confidence up, and keeping them forward thinking. And a lot of times when I’m working with folks, there will be a messy part where they start to freak out a little. They see their 30 years of experience, and they’re wondering, “How am I going to communicate this?” And then within a few weeks, they start to see it iron out as I reflect it back to them. A calm comes over them, where they’re able to really confidently let go of me and the work that we’ve done together. So they can go off and just do the interviews as they know that they’re able to do.
Mary: That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to feature you in this magazine and this particular issue, talking about your unique self, rather than coming from a self-help perspective. I wanted to come from a systems perspective to actually show the readers and the listeners to the podcast that when you have a systems approach, there’s some mathematics behind it. But as you say, you can bend the rules because the system doesn’t break. You can go from step one to step six, but you’re still within the system. And also it allows for a feedback loop. So I think the message here is very clear. If you want outcomes and you want results, and you want to dive deeper into your unique self and understand what that looks like on paper, in an interview situation, as a leader or on social media, there is a systems approach to actually achieving that succinctly and cohesively with what you stand for, your values, and everything around that. Would you agree with that?
Gina: I not only agree with that, what I would say is some of the leaders I’m working with already understand and buy into the aspect of, “I need to communicate my leadership approach,” but not everyone starts in that place. They’re thinking “I need a great résumé. I have to be able to talk about it, and have some of those optics handy.” The real magic is in marrying the leadership approach and who they actually are with their career story, all the high points of the things that happened along their career journey. And you asked me earlier, what makes us stand out as a leader? It’s the leader who can communicate that succinctly in a way that showcases their humility, showcases EQ, and showcases their ability to get business results.
Mary: I want to end this interview with a question that I ask every person I interview, and that is if you could meet someone who is no longer living, who would it be and what would you ask or what would you want to know?
Gina: I know that I should probably share somebody in history. That seems like it should be in the right lane or somebody famous or somebody from politics, but I would choose my grandma. I would love to be able to sit back down with her and talk to her about her journey because her journey was not easy. She had a lot of medical issues, including Addison’s disease caused her to have many difficulties in her lifetime. She was just amazing with the physical challenges that she overcame and the positive attitude she had till the very last day.
Mary: Wow. And what parting tips could you leave our listeners and our readers?
Just give us three things that you think that they really need to think about after they’ve read this article or listened to this interview.
Gina: I would really want people to walk away knowing that they tap into their knowledge of who they are, how they do what they do, and why they do what they do, because that is the foundation of giving yourself confidence in any area of your life.
Then I would say, if you’re looking at career transition, build up a support team, build up people around you who are honest and truthful and can give you advice and support because we don’t walk through this life alone. And the chances I’ve had in my life are all on the shoulders of other people who have helped get me there. So I would say understand who you are and be confident about it, build up a support team, and then start making a strategic plan for your future.