Hey goal achievers, Kristin here. I recently interviewed a workplace expert on the Elite Achievement podcast who shared how companies can go beyond the buzzwords of diversity and inclusion to create collaborative, innovative and welcoming workplaces. One of the topics we explored was the return to work, as many teams have spent a year or more working from home and working off-site. So much has changed and evolved in the workplace.
My guest, AmyJo Mattheis, is the CEO of Pavo Navigation, a consulting and coaching business. AmyJo’s company is a unique resource that helps other firms and companies eliminate toxicity from the workplace. She is often described as a ‘spark plug’ and brings years of rich and varied professional experiences to all of her endeavors. AmyJo is a scholar, professor, seasoned organizational leader and executive, and a keen listener.
I’m so excited to help guide us through the important conversation of creating companies and environments that are collaborative, innovative, and welcoming. I start by asking what motivated AmyJo to start Pavo Navigation.
“That’s a great question,” says AmyJo. “Primarily because I have been in that varied, rich career that you just described. I’ve been working on trying to, and I know this sounds a little bit corny, but to make the world a better place. I’ve worked in government trying to do that, in international development, religion, and higher academia toward that end. And through all of those different areas, I experienced much of the same thing: a lot of toxicity, a lot of ugliness, a lot of pushing and shoving, and constantly proving, backstabbing, and gossiping. There was a lack of communication and a lot of fear and threats. And I wanted to get rid of that. The workplace is where we end up spending most of our time. And where we give most of our energy to. So, I decided that the workplace is where I needed to bring my wisdom, juju, and magic. The tools in the toolbox that my coaches and I use have been gleaned and honed in the fires over years of experience, from my scholarship to my work and experience. And what I have witnessed over the last three years of doing this work is that they work. My tools are effective, actionable, and directly impactful, and they equip us with the capacity to begin to address what is unhealthy in our workplaces immediately. When you think about it, whatever it is that your company is producing, whatever your product is, whether it’s a service, app, or online platform, it doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, the energy you build it in or produce it in goes out with the product. So, if we are working and creating in an unhealthy and toxic environment, it is not only bad and harmful for the people in that environment, but it also impacts the product that we send out. That energy goes out into the world. Wouldn’t we rather have an energy of creativity, collaboration, respect, dignity, and mutuality reverberating in the world?”
I notice that although AmyJo has worked in different industries, she saw toxic environments exist across them all. And I’m curious why she believes workplaces are so unhealthy.
“It’s a really important question,” AmyJo begins. “I mentioned that we have a particular methodology at Pavo Navigation. I’m going to answer your question by explaining the foundational philosophical belief that informs that methodology. I believe that the foundations of who we are as a world, how we do things like business, education, healthcare, entertainment, religion, government – all of it has been shaped and formed through three primary energies. Those energies are fear, lack, and separation. At Pavo Navigation, we call them FLS (pronounced fliss). The opposing energies to those that are the antidote are love, abundance, and unity, or LAU. The reason that workplaces are so toxic is because humans are there. And it’s not because humans are toxic. I do not believe that in any kind of doctrine. And there are plenty of them that tell us that humans are born bent toward selfishness and negativity and greed. I believe that that’s just a story. But it’s a story that has informed us and has shaped the way we understand how to interact with each other. It’s a story that has come from FLS – fear, lack, and separation. So, we have learned how to behave in a ‘FLS-ey’ manner. Because the driving energy of fear, lack, and separation is lack, it’s the story of not enough – not enough in the world, not enough time, not enough money, not enough resources, not enough of anything. So, if there’s not enough, then we have been taught to do whatever we need to do to get what we need for ourselves. And you know, for me and mine, and that leads to fear. So, we mistrust each other; we are territorial, we don’t share information, we try to push other people down so that we can get ahead. The idea of climbing that corporate ladder, you know, we’re kicking people off left and right, just so that we can get another hand up. All of that leads to separation. We don’t see the humanity. We see others as a threat. So, we build walls, and we have stereotypes. We create systems that keep people out because there’s not enough, so I need to make sure that only the right kind gets in. That is why workplaces are FLS-ey and toxic because we have been trained to behave that way. And all of us come to the workplaces with our own special stories, and they’re all FLS-ey. But we all have unique assumptions and expectations. Who’s right, who’s wrong? What is right, what is wrong? All of that. And we all bring those with us when we go to work. So, you can imagine just thinking about that you’re like, oh my gosh, yeah, I can see how workplaces then could be a cacophony of all of those FLS-ey stories that inform our behavior and blend together. That’s why they’re flimsy and toxic. And why using and learning tools from love, abundance, unity, which is where I believe we are originally from, is so important. So, it’s in us – the love and its unity are already inside of us. I believe we just have to remember it and learn how love, abundance, and unity show up. Then we can transmute that toxicity from FLS to LAU.”
As I think back to some of my experiences in corporate, there were definitely times where I was operating from the FLS standpoint, especially as a woman with leadership aspirations in a male-dominated industry. I felt a lot of fear. I came from a lot of lack because I didn’t see many women getting to where I wanted to go. And I do think that starts to create some separation. It’s almost like I had to put my armor on to go to battle to get to where it was that I wanted to go. I ask AmyJo what ideas she has to share with leaders that can promote abundance and unity and move away from a FLS-ey culture towards a culture of LAU.
AmyJo starts by confirming that how I described my experience is something she hears all the time, especially the need to do battle and protect yourself. “The first step for all of us is the same, whether you’re an individual contributor, a people manager, or a C-suite,” AmyJo says. “And that is to commit to turn up your awareness and look for evidence of the FLS – find the FLS. That’s the first step. The beautiful thing is that without judgment, we can identify the fear, lack, or separation. We don’t need to judge ourselves; we don’t need to judge each other because we have all been raised in this stuff. We’ve been trained in it, and we’re good at it. FLS-ers are every single one of us, so we can identify it and see it in our own actions and in the actions of others without judgment. Then, the second step is to decide whether or not we want to keep feeding it. And if I do want to keep feeding it, then at least we have clarity that I’m going to feed this fear because I think it will make my team work harder. Or we can say, hmm, this feels bad. I don’t like how it feels. I’m going to make an intentional choice to shift away from the fear and the lack. And I’m going to ask, how do I proceed in this situation, feeding abundance or making abundance bigger? Then listening to your own intuition. Listening to your intuition is especially important for women because women got it. We were born with it, and it’s one of our most innate and powerful superpowers. Part of the FLS-ey thing is that we’re taught not to trust it, right? Or to ignore it. The truth is when we tune in to our inner knowing, and we intentionally push pause on the noise all around us – the how you’re supposed to do things noise – and we listen to what we know is true inside of us, we will always be pointed in the direction that feeds LAU because our internal intuition is LAU-based. So, when we listen to ourselves, the answer will rise up. We ought to be not only not in judgment of ourselves and others, but also be patient. Because these LAU muscles, they’re weak. We haven’t exercised them very much. You know, we’ve been so busy learning the FLS that those muscles are dominant and we default to them. I default to them. I spend every day, every week, every year doing this stuff, practicing LAU, and I default to FLS. It is a commitment to exercise the muscles of love, abundance, and unity. And I will say, the more you do it, the easier it becomes. And it’s a little bit addicting because it works. So, when you get a response that is in love, abundance, and unity, which always feels better, you’re like, oh, I want to do this again. I need to keep doing this because it is a much healthier, joyful way to live. And it’s not like a ‘la-la land’ kind of a thing. Because we still have challenges, right? We still have difficult conversations; we still hear things that we don’t really want to hear. But if we do all of that from love, abundance, and unity, it is a much different experience than doing that from fear, lack, and separation.”
I know as I’ve started my own company, the FLS follows you. So, it’s not like it just goes away. If you leave a workplace, some of those behaviors, thoughts, and stories pop back up. I know that I have had to work hard with a morning routine, the visioning exercise, and the practice of gratitude to build my own abundant thinking. AmyJo mentioned something that fascinates me, and I want to go a bit deeper on learning to lean into your own intuition. I know for myself, I had a calling on my heart to coach for a long time before I silenced everything around me and learned to listen to what was on my heart and lean into that intuition. So, I ask AmyJo for her recommendations or advice for people who know they need to improve listening to their intuition but aren’t sure how to do it.
“Great question!” says AmyJo. “Before I answer it, I want to jump back up and grab one thing that you said about starting your own company. Congratulations, by the way – woohoo! You said that the FLS followed you. Let me be clear; this isn’t just in workplaces. Like that’s not where it lives. It lives everywhere. It lives in and through and around us because, as I said, they are the foundational energies of our society. I was a professor, and I have spent 15 years as an ordained minister. I was an executive in international development organizations, and I’ve worked for President Clinton. From religion to government to nonprofits to higher academic education, the thread that ran through all of those places is this fear, lack, and separation. So, we take it with us, wherever we go. And it is in the processes and the way we do things. So that’s why we will encounter it everywhere – in our homes, in our personal relationships, because that is also how we have been trained to behave with each other. So, before I get to hardware, the one thing I want to say is we are whole people. We’re not Kristin – the professional, and then Kristin – the personal human, which is what FLS has trained us to believe, right? We’re supposed to be two different people; be your professional person, then you go home, and you can be your other person. But the reality is, we are a whole person. We take all of ourselves with us everywhere we go. And the thing that’s happened to us with that split is that we’ve been taught to be the professional and then the personal, and the only thing that’s happened is that we have restricted ourselves. We’ve held back from bringing all of who we are to our work. And vice versa, we don’t bring all of who we are home either, because we don’t know how to be integrated people. That is part of the process of love, abundance, and unity is relearning that we are whole people. And as a result, we need to listen to all of us.”
AmyJo continues, introducing how we can listen to our intuition. “So how do we listen to our intuition? Again, one would be to set your intention, and I love that you have a morning routine. I create a ritual with and for a lot of my clients. So, an iteration of abundance is spaciousness – allowance permission. So allow yourself time, even if you take five minutes in the morning. There’s no such thing as the right way to meditate. I don’t even like to use that word because it’s so bloated. But basically, sit, walk, run, whatever. And before you do it, bring awareness to an intention that you have or a question that you’re asking, or curiosity that you are interested in following. Curiosity is one of the best tools for women, especially to get curious about what your inner knowing is saying about something. Slowing down would be another tool. There’s more than enough time. I don’t know if you remember even saying this. Or if you still say it, or if you hear others say it, but it’s phrases like, I just don’t have enough time. There’s not enough time. I have way too much on my plate. I can’t do it all – there’s no way. What if the truth was, you actually had plenty of time because we all have the same amount of time. Then the question becomes, what are my priorities? What am I committed to? And how then do I use this abundant amount of time that I have to feed my priorities? In that process, include a priority and learn how to listen to yourself again. The tools from love, abundance, and unity are always simple. I find a lot of tools and a lot of templates that come through coaching and conferences are often robust and complicated. I find that that’s the last thing we need when we commit to trailblazing a new path to profit, a new path to peacefulness, or a new path to purpose. The last thing we need is a lot more to do. That’s a story – that’s a FLS-ey story – that things have to be hard for them to be worthwhile doing. Actually, the opposite is true. So, a commitment to ease and grace is also a commitment to learning how to listen to yourself. And reminding yourself that trailblazing doesn’t have to be hard. I’m going to do this the easy way, I’m going to commit to getting back in touch with my intuition, and it’s going to be easy. And I’m going to enjoy it. That is a mantra that will help you begin to look for the easy ways as you repeat it. As I have built my company, ‘easy’ was one of my guiding values. So, if something is hard, and I realize I’m pushing, I’m striving and it’s a hard thing, I realize it, and I’m like, why is it so hard? Then I stop myself and I say, wait a minute, I don’t do things that are hard. Then I ask myself a question, do I have to do this? And if the answer to that question is yes, you have to do this thing. Then the next thing I say is, okay, show me how to do it easily. And who am I asking to show me that? I am engaging the energies of love, abundance, and unity. And I have always, in that moment of asking, received an answer. And it has always been easy. I’ve been like, oh, why didn’t I think of it this way? Because doing it the hard way, we close off; we close off creativity and we close off innovation. So, all these other ways that we could be doing something easily we don’t even see.”
I fall into that camp where I get a little rigid sometimes because commitment is a big value for me. When I commit, I’m going to grip this out. And as I am growing, I’m starting to learn that that’s not always the best mentality. It doesn’t make me feel the best. I don’t show up as the most present in both my professional and personal life. AmyJo has offered two brilliant questions. One – do I have to do this thing? And two – show me how to do it easily and engage in love, abundance, and unity. I’m curious, and ask AmyJo if she gets a no answer to the first question, does she give herself permission to stop the project or pivot, and if so, how does she do it?
“Yes,” AmyJo confirms. “When I was starting my business, I had an advisor, and they were like, you have to write a business plan, and here’s the template for you to follow. You have to have these sections, and oh my gosh, I hated this thing! I pushed and shoved, and it was so hard. But people who I was listening to at the time were saying, yes, you have to do this. You cannot start a business without a business plan. And, it has to be in this form, right? I finally got to the point where I was like, oh, yeah, this is so hard. It doesn’t bring me joy at all. I’m not good at it. I feel bad. Then I asked myself, wait a minute, do you have to do this? The people that I was listening to were telling me I had to do it. But do I really have to do it? I reflected on that, and I decided, no, I don’t, I don’t have to do it right now. That’s what he’s telling me to do. And that’s great because that’s what he knows. But actually, I’m building this business differently than the other ways of doing business. I’m not building a FLS business. I intend to build a LAU business. So maybe, in a LAU business, you don’t have to have a business plan that looks just like that. And it was the most freeing feeling. Talk about listening to your own intuition. Your body, my body, they are our biggest allies and friends. Back to the whole person. We’ve been taught not to trust our body and not to listen, but part of the intuition is our bodies that give us all kinds of physical signals, especially when things are FLS-ey and when we’re in LAU. In this case, when I finally listened to myself, because my body was screaming at me, I felt a huge weight had fallen off of me. And I felt almost giggly, you know? Like effervescent. So, one other tool to use to learn how to trust and listen to your own intuition is to get in touch with your body. Bring your awareness to how your body responds and interacts. Because what she does is she gives us clues. If we have nervous tummies or our heartbeat increases, or we get flushed with heat, or we have sweaty palms – all of those things are indicators of something FLS-ey. Something that is going on, and usually an old story that we keep repeating over and over again. It’s the most amazing thing to give yourself permission to say, I don’t have to do it, and to say no sometimes, right? Like it’s just incredible freedom.”
One of those practices that completely align with abundance is the ability to say no. A different opportunity will come around, or a different person will come around. I can start to see how FLS shows up in so many different areas of our work and our lives.
I started to pivot our conversation because before we had started, AmyJo shared that many of her clients were experiencing a pivot and shift of returning to work. I ask her to share what trends she is seeing with her clients as they begin to come back to work. Are teams needing to think through how to bond and introduce new team members who have joined while people have been working from home? How are they making sure they weave their values into their work?
“You know, it’s funny,” says AmyJo. “I was talking with one of my clients last week, and we were celebrating how things were beginning to open up. And how, at the same time, we were both feeling a little like, oh, I don’t know, I don’t really know how to do it after we have been locked in for a year and a half. There is a celebration and feeling of relief and joy that we get to go back along with that feeling of hesitancy like, how is this going to be? Can I remember how to talk to people? My client was actually saying, I felt like I had to relearn that part of my brain. Oh, this is how you do informal conversation with people. So that is part of going back to the workplace. In addition, new people have been added to the team, and nobody has met them in person. And the trauma that has been experienced over the last year and a half by everybody at some level, and others to a greater degree, from isolation to actual illness to loss. We’ve all experienced a lot. So, how do we come back together and honor that and set the vision for where we want to go and how we want to do things differently? You mentioned at the very beginning a recommitment to diversity and inclusion. I think at least here in the United States, one of the gifts that has come from the last year and a half is another reminder that we must recommit to the awareness of the racism and sexism present in our FLS-ey culture. A lot of companies have a very bold, loud commitment to do so within their company. And so, how do we do that? How do we do diversity and inclusion, and really mean it, as opposed to having it as a PR piece? I think when we look at going back to work, my team and I are doing a lot of in-person facilitation. We help companies and individual teams within companies do this kind of intentional bonding, storytelling, getting to know each other beyond the role, and then also recommitting to their values as a company and as a team within the company. Asking, what are your values? And then going further and spending focused time understanding. Okay, so these are the list of our values? How do they show up? How do we actually use them? Most of the time companies get these values, and they have nice-sounding phrases that go along with them. They paint them on the walls, and they put them on their web pages and all over. And then they think that they’re done. But the reality is that nobody really knows how they show up and how they show up for you might be different than how they show up for me. So, we need to get very clear about the expectations that go along with these values. Maybe our value is that we practice cooperation and collaboration. Okay, great. What does that look like when two teams don’t want to collaborate? How do we use these values in every situation for success? Then once we have clarity of expectations, we can hold ourselves and each other accountable. This is how we begin to cultivate true diversity and inclusion because the likelihood is that if you’re going to be committed to diversity and inclusion, it will show up in those values. And it goes beyond just talking about it or having a bunch of videos made for bias training and all those kinds of things. I’m not saying they’re not important, but what happens is, we make all these videos, people have to watch them, they sit in front of their computer and watch them by themselves. Then they go check. Okay, great, everybody’s done. But that is only the very beginning step. Because what we need to do is have this clarity for expectations, for how we behave with each other. How can we get curious with each other about being a truly diverse team? One of the primary tools that I think is critical for being authentic when creating a truly inclusive, equitable, diverse workplace is creating an environment where people get to blow it, make mistakes, say the wrong thing. Ask the silly question or the offending question. Where we need training is to learn how to interact with that in a way that creates dialogue. You can hear the abundance here, right? It creates the dialogue; it creates a spaciousness that invites us to be unified as humans instead of separated. The stereotypes that we put on each other when we say something thoughtful or something offending, creating and training so that we move beyond those stereotypes and dialogue with each other. That is where we can hear each other, see each other, respect each other, even if and when we disagree, because that is also a LAU reality, right? We are diverse. I always say diversity isn’t a choice. It is a right. We are a diverse humanity, and that is to be celebrated. It is to be respected. Sure, we’re not going to agree all the time, we’re not going to like each other all the time. But it doesn’t mean we get to disrespect or treat each other badly. Making space for that in a work environment is where I think we will truly begin to bring genuine equity, inclusion, and diversity.”
Throughout our conversation, I’ve noticed the consistent themes of the power of space and silence to allow us to listen to our intuition to get clear on our expectations. As AmyJo shared her thoughts on diversity and inclusion, I kept thinking about leaders’ intentions or expectations and desired outcomes. It sounds like there’s so much importance centered around curiosity and dialogue, not sameness, but celebrating the differences and creating an environment that allows for seeking to understand and be curious. All of the insights AmyJo shared on how we can move from fear and separation to love and abundance in unity will help us become stronger personally and professionally. I ask AmyJo to share where others can continue to explore these concepts and follow her work. She suggests her website and shares her email firstname.lastname@example.org for those that want to contact her directly.
With that goal achievers, keep focusing on your wins, learning from your lessons and identifying those key priorities so you can consistently progress in the direction of your goals.