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“Woke Leadership” with Priscilla Douglas

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This week I sat down with my friend Priscilla Douglas to discuss her new book Woke Leadership: Profits, Prophets and Purpose. 

Priscilla believes that great leadership doesn’t just inspire. It inspires action. Action that advances careers, transforms organizations, makes a lasting impact, and changes society for the better.

Coaching and consulting to leaders around the globe, action catalyst Priscilla H. Douglas engages and energizes audiences, driving collaboration, contribution and innovative ideas. Drawing from her decades-long career as an executive in government, academia, and business, she shares her unique, holistic perspective on the challenges of today. A true trailblazer, Priscilla ignites conversations and sparks transformation across all types of organizations and industries.

It was a fun and enlightening conversation, and her book is a fabulous and uplifting read. We need more “woke” leaders like Priscilla Douglas. 

Topics discussed in this episode include:

  • Jimmy and Priscilla discuss family backgrounds (01:55)
  • The importance of supporting independent bookstores (04:45)
  • Priscilla’s upbringing on a farm in Bedford, Massachusetts (05:40)
  • The origin of the term “Woke” (07:30)
  • How the term “Woke” has been weaponized (11:56)
  • Priscilla’s hopeful beliefs on us all building a better society (15:08)
  • Jimmy and Priscilla discuss the important voices in the media, such as Colin Kaepernick, Simone Biles, and Taylor Swift (19:24)
  • Priscilla explains PLORK (21:51)

Priscilla’s choice for this week’s Humor for Humanity nonprofit beneficiary is the Boston Public Library Fund. (Donations gratefully accepted).

Connect with Priscilla Douglas

For more information on all things Jimmy Tingle

Transcript – Please note, this Transcript is AI Generated. It has not had the discerning ears of a real human to edit it, as such, there are bound to be a few errors.

Jimmy Tingle 0:05
Hello, everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Jimmy cengel Show. I am Jimmy and I am really thrilled to have my guests here with us today. Priscilla H Douglas is an executive coach, author and moderator 1000s of leaders in Fortune 500 companies have profited from our insights, empathy and catalyzing energy to adapt and transform their business landscape. That’s what I need somebody to transform the tinggal business landscape. Absolutely.

Priscilla Douglas 0:35
Everybody needs that. Jimmy. Yes.

Jimmy Tingle 0:39
Priscilla is the chair of the Boston Public Library’s Board of Trustees, a panelist for the President’s Commission on White House fellowships. I love that and on the board of the American Repertory Theatre, the Boston Museum of Science Leader Bank and the International Women’s Forum of Massachusetts, she was appointed by Governor William F. Weld, she was the first black woman to serve in the cabinet as Secretary of Consumer Affairs and business regulation. And that’s another thing I need business regulation. She speaks on innovation, leadership, organizational behavior at institutions and conferences around the world. And she is the recipient of Wellesley Center for Research on women’s Distinguished Service Award and the Abigail Adams Award given by the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus in recognition of outstanding women leaders who have worked to achieve gender parity, her latest book, ladies and gentlemen, and that’s what we’re here to talk about today. Woke, leadership, profits, profits and purpose. Let us and gentlemen, please welcome to the show, my friend, Priscilla Douglas. Hello, Priscilla.

Priscilla Douglas 1:44
Hi, Jimmy. I am so thrilled to be here side by side versus sitting in one of your audiences. And looking forward to this conversation today.

Jimmy Tingle 1:55
Well, thank you so much, Priscilla, it’s great to see you. It’s great to have you on the show. We’re really proud of you. And thank you so much for your personal support. Over the years, you’ve come to many, many shows. And not only do I know Priscilla from the shows, I also know from church. Yes. Priscilla knows my mother. And Priscilla asked me the last show if my mother’s sense of humor rubbed off on me. And I would say absolutely. My mother was the funniest one in the family. And she was funny when she wasn’t even trying to be funny. And she was so supportive. And I’ll give his what just one example, when I first started doing the one person shows it started at a little theater in Edmond square, Cambridge, called the back alley theatre. It held like 40 people and this is like 1990 and 10 minutes before the show started. I looked through the curtain to see how many people showed up in the audience. In my old neighborhood. There was one person in the audience, my mother. I looked at her she looked at me we both burst out laughing. I said, Mom, I can’t believe you the only person that showed up. Oh, don’t worry, your father’s pocket on the car.

Priscilla Douglas 3:06
She was just the best. And the downside of course, is here we are at mass. And she’d have been cracking up.

Jimmy Tingle 3:13
Yeah. She would talk Oh, during Mass. Yes. I have to tell you, Priscilla, she like you was very woke. Yes. It was very, very woke. And so uh, you and thank you so much for joining us today. It’s a real honor to have you. I know you used to work for Governor weld. Tell me was governor weld a good example of a woke leader?

Priscilla Douglas 3:38
Yes, absolutely. And here’s why I was the first and I think I’m still the only black woman to be in the cabinet in the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And when Governor wells swore me in as Secretary of Consumer Affairs and business regulation, I said, I’m not the first black woman with the talent. I’m the first black woman to be given the opportunity. And our cabinet. You know, we had six women. We had three people of color. Governor wells Chief of Staff was was gay. He appointed the first woman, Margaret Marshall, to the Supreme Court. So yes, definitely good. Oh, Governor weld.

Jimmy Tingle 4:22
Good. Well, that’s really uplifting to hear. We’re very proud of our governor’s here in Massachusetts, on both sides of the aisle. We’ve been we’ve been very fortunate to have sophisticated forward thinking progressive leadership. And we’re lucky to live in Massachusetts, and you remind us of that today. So again, thank you so much for being on the show. I got your book. I got it at the Harvard bookstore legend DOMA. By the way, you can get it at Amazon Kindle and through your favorite independent bookstore, and be sure to visit Priscilla and follow Priscilla on social media. I got it at the Harvard bookstore Priscilla I ordered it I said I need woke Leadership, please. And they said we’ll have a for you in two days.

Priscilla Douglas 5:03
Yes, supporting our independent bookstores is really, really important to me, particularly during this pandemic. So just go to your local bookstore and they will get the book in for you. This thing was what leadership now during COVID seems to be one of the most timely topics. I have no idea when I started writing this back in 2018, that who would think we would be in the middle of of this pandemic? And one of the things that’s obvious is that we’re all connected, and what leaders are particularly attuned and attended to that connected this

Jimmy Tingle 5:40
will Priscilla what I loved about the book, it starts off with your personal story, just for the purpose of our viewing audience. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. You’re from the area born and raised here in Massachusetts.

Priscilla Douglas 5:52
Yes, thank you. I grew up in Bedford, Massachusetts, on a pig farm. And one of the things of growing up on a pig farm is the rules are quite simple. You don’t work, you don’t eat. And it’s a it’s a 24/7 type of environment, and that you have to take care of the pigs every single day. They need to be fed they need to be taken care of. And that’s a 24/7 365 I don’t think I even knew that people took weekends off until I was in my 30s. I thought people work seven days a week.

Jimmy Tingle 6:31
Well, no one do you have such a great work ethic. My dad was raised on a farm in North Carolina, and he was one of nine children. And he said we didn’t buy anything at the store everything we got except I think sugar or salt, or maybe both sugar and salt. Maybe they got from the store. But everything else they grew on the farm. Was that your experience as well?

Priscilla Douglas 6:49
Absolutely. And one of the things my mother would always say is, you know, we everything on the pig, except for the oink. And, you know, when you grow up on a farm, you’re automatically connected to nature, you’re connected to the seasons, you have a temporality which differs significantly from people that are not connected with nature. And one of the characteristics of these world leaders is that they see themselves in that particular context. They see the interconnection with things, and they’re able to live in this kind of multiplicity of environments.

Jimmy Tingle 7:30
When did you first hear the term woke because it’s everywhere now.

Priscilla Douglas 7:35
So when I started thinking about what are the characteristics, what is it that makes these leaders who are innovative, they’re able to pivot, they’re empathetic, they’re compassionate, they had, they have something special about them. And the only term that seemed to fit that was Wulc. The term came from the blue singer, Lead Belly, really, in 1938, he used the term woke, he said, When you go through the South, you need to be woke, obviously. So the Klan if you’re black, and you’re traveling through, so you need to be aware of your context, you need to be alert and attentive, so that the Ku Klux Klan doesn’t get Yeah,

Jimmy Tingle 8:18
so it’s really a term that goes back quite a ways. But it meant to be alert, to be aware, to be on guard, shall we say?

Priscilla Douglas 8:27
Yes, absolutely on guard, but woke leaders are not just on guard, they are open to opportunities. You know, they see things that other people don’t see

Jimmy Tingle 8:37
the contemporary term. And the way everybody talks about it now is very politicized. It implies political correctness and implies different forms of speech and different definitions. But the examples that you use are not political people in this book initially, well, some of them are I mean, you have Marty Walsh as a woke leader, but you also have Henry Ford, you have Howard Schultz, you have Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Airlines, Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, first woman to lead an American auto mobile company. What do these people have in common that makes them woke, what

Priscilla Douglas 9:16
they have in common is that most have had what I call an outsider experience. They’ve been on the outside looking in. So remember, I was saying that if you’re woke, you have this ability to interact it with your context, you’re alert to your context, not just on guard, you’re also open to opportunities. You’re somebody who’s been on the margins, and therefore can look into the main stream. So when I think about you, Jimmy, and I think about you driving around with your dad in the taxi, and going to all these different places around Cambridge, you are on the outside looking in. I was on the pig firm looking in Marty Walsh. As a kid who suffered from Burkitt lymphoma, he was almost died as a child suffering for that being in children’s hospital. And from that outside of experiments, he developed compassion. And he developed a way of interacting with people. And that got doubled down when he overcame alcoholism and the 12 steps. And so Marty Walsh is a good example of somebody who navigates on the outside and is very inclusive.

Jimmy Tingle 10:32
When you talk about growing up in Bedford on a pig farm. There weren’t a lot of pig farms, I take it in Bedford, Massachusetts, and there probably weren’t a lot of black family. So is that an example of being on the outside looking in?

Priscilla Douglas 10:45
Yes, it is. Yes, we were the only black family in the first black family in Bedford, the outsider experience, though, doesn’t have to be one in terms of being the only one. But there’s almost always something about a person, they could be too tall, they can be too short, they could be gay, they could have a physical challenge, they could stutter, almost everybody has had an experience of being an outsider. And the way that they navigate that the way that they make it part of themselves meaning in a holistic in a healing way. They take that sensibility, and are able to connect with other people that kind of say, Wow, I had that experience about being excluded. So now I’m going to be an inclusive person.

Jimmy Tingle 11:35
So there’s an element of empathy. When it comes to wokeness, then,

Priscilla Douglas 11:39
yes, empathy is at the heart of it, it’s not sympathy is being able to see yourself and another person, and people have compassion as a result of that. And yes, that’s at the heart of being a woke leader is empathy and compassion.

Jimmy Tingle 11:56
So why do you think right now that this very general term that seems very mainstream, why do you think that’s gone to a level of weather is a very loaded term now being woke?

Priscilla Douglas 12:10
It is a loaded term. And it’s been weaponized. And it’s been taken out of its context. It’s been separated from the origin story that I told you about what would lead belly and I’ll be straight with you. The right is very, very good at taking words and weaponizing them. Newt Gingrich wrote in his manifesto in I think it was 1978, about the fact that the Republican Party needed to capture language, capture words capture language. And so let’s say Ku Klux Klan, right, they took the term Ku Klux Klan and turn that into white nationalism. They turned back into alt right, they turn that into patriots, right. So the other side is very, very good at taking words and weaponizing them. And I’m sorry to say that the folks on the left led by James Carville have run away from the term, they’ve run away from the term saying, Oh, those are just a bunch of professors thinking about being woke. I’ve held fast, because that term is owned by people of color, it lives in a context, you have to be woke awake, there is no substitute for the word woke. And I’m hoping that when people really take a look at its meaning, being attentive, and being alert, and being aware, and being inclusive, that we will go back to its original meaning.

Jimmy Tingle 13:48
So there’s been a demonization of the term woke. So the only way to counteract that is through action, and just reinforcing what the true meaning of it is, and what the purpose of it is.

Priscilla Douglas 14:02
And that’s why I tell people, even though this whole demonization happened right around when I published the book in April, and people say, Oh, no, you picked a terrible title. And I said, Wait, and let’s take a look at who really owns this language. We own this language. This is what it means to be attentive, to be alert, to be aware of your context, to be open to opportunities to be inclusive. And woke leadership is something that has been around for a very, very long time, and it’s going to continue to be around because the qualities of it the qualities of what leadership is the style that’s needed to take us into the 21st century and beyond.

Jimmy Tingle 14:50
Right now we’re obviously in a time of new awareness, especially around racial justice, and equity and income inequality. So in sense woke would mean to wake up to be aware of what’s happening in our society and how we can build a better society. Yes.

Priscilla Douglas 15:08
And partly that better society is recognizing that everything is connected to everything which is connected to everything. That’s why I have the title, woke leadership, profit, profits and purpose. We’re in a new economy, we’re in an equity economy. And this equity economy really mirrors the change in global demographics, things are changing. And in 2019, the Business Roundtable, that’s an association of CEOs of America’s leading companies, they pivoted and they moved away from Milton Friedman’s free market to shareholder takes everything to saying that we care about the health and sustainability of the communities in which we operate. That was huge.

Jimmy Tingle 15:58
Yeah, the triple bottom line, yes. For companies, what are you doing for your employees? What are you doing for your customers? And what are you doing for the environment? Where the business operates? Do you think that’s going to take hold and be more of the public dialogue moving forward?

Priscilla Douglas 16:15
It’s already taken hold. And it’s been taken hold because of people’s purchasing habits. You can look at what are people buying, people are moving away from animal products, right? And when people make a decision about where they want to work, they want to work in an organization that’s doing good things that’s really cares about the planet regeneration is part of that virtuous cycle.

Jimmy Tingle 16:42
And in terms of regeneration, are you talking environmentally? Are you talking about democracy, freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of expression,

Priscilla Douglas 16:51
all of that, because the companies that care about a regenerative environment, know that you can separate people, prosperity from the planet. They’re all related. We’re in this global equity economy. And it ties back to the United Nations, the Sustainable Development Goals. This was really a surprise to me. When I started looking at this, these leaders, I realized that almost all of them were following the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which have to do with making certain that women have education, that making certain that people have health care, all those things in place. So we’re in that economy right now.

Jimmy Tingle 17:36
And people are voting with their pocketbooks as much as they are with the ballots, correct?

Priscilla Douglas 17:41
Yes, they are making decisions about where am I going to purchase this, and it gets into I know, that you’ve been tracking this to Jimmy is, are we paying people the right amount of money? You know, that was a big thing that we discovered with COVID is that the people, the essential workers are getting paid nothing, people should be getting 20 $30 an hour so that they have a true living wage,

Jimmy Tingle 18:08
especially the people on the front line, who didn’t have the opportunity to work from home, for example, a cashier at 711 or Cumberland Farms, they’re on the front lines, they’re dealing with the public every day, they didn’t have a choice whether or not they went to work. And you’re right, the lowest wage workers were some of the most essential people in the whole society.

Priscilla Douglas 18:28
And that’s what people are saying COVID has really pulled back the curtain. And we are an ecosystem. And I use that term in my book ecosystem. And I don’t mean environment, I mean, ecosystem is organic. In the beginning of my book, I am going to read this because I begin with this, Desmond Tutu, and I know you know him, a person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good for he or she has a proper self assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated, or diminished when others are tortured or oppress. That’s an ecosystem. We’re all connected. That makes sense.

Jimmy Tingle 19:24
Yes, it does. And it’s more true now than ever, in terms of messaging. Who do you think of the most important messages that we have out there in our society now?

Priscilla Douglas 19:35
I’m really excited about that. Because now that we have many channels, we can have many voices. And instead of people looking to the top of an organization for the leader, and I talk a lot about this in my book, leaders and followers are interchangeable. So you might be the leader one day and a follower the next. The other thing is that we’re participating in movements. and people who are at the head of a movement might trade off with somebody based on their expertise, Colin Kaepernick. Right. He’s leader. I mean, I think about Simone Biles, when she decided not to compete and talked about her mental health issue that changes everything. So leadership and these voices about the kind of world that we want to live in, which is more humane and more caring and more compassionate and more fair and more equitable. These leaders can come from anywhere. I mean, I’m a big fan of Taylor Swift.

Jimmy Tingle 20:40
Right. I mean, you have the cultural phenomena that’s going on where entertainers are becoming voices. I mean, look at all the brouhaha now about Joe Rogan and his influence and the influences of podcasts and the influences of the tingle show on the world economy. It’s, it’s going to be remarkable.

Priscilla Douglas 21:00
Yes. And your voice Jimmy, you know, one of the things that I really appreciate is the work that you’ve done humor for humanity. And that really ties in I mean, I’ve been watching and following you, and I definitely consider you a woke leader. Because we need humor for helping, right we need humor for healing. And we need humor for hope. Ha, ha, ha,

Jimmy Tingle 21:29
that’s right. Thank you. You remember, you have a good memory for Scylla humor and helping humor and healing humor and hope Ha ha ha. Priscilla, it’s also really important to have fun, right. And there’s a term you use in your book called pluck. Please explain to the audience what exactly is pork?

Priscilla Douglas 21:51
Pork, p l o rk is a term that was created by sister Korea that can and you know, we love the sisters we love. So if you go up the expressway and you see the Boston gas tank, that painting that was by cert sister Caretta Kinte, and she is the person who said that, you know, when you have play and work, and they come together, there’s an ecstasy in that when people are really working and playing as part of it. It doesn’t feel like work. And that’s the characteristic of these world leaders. They’re not really working. It’s not working meaning hard. They’re working with passion and purpose.

Jimmy Tingle 22:35
Right? They’re in the zone. They’re in the flow. Yes. Tell me when you were writing this book for Silla? I mean, of course it’s work. But was it gratifying? And did you feel like you were in the zone? And did you feel like you were in the flow of something greater than yourself, bringing these truths to the page, and then to the public?

Priscilla Douglas 22:55
I do. It’s a blessing to be able to write and to share this message. And it’s been so well received.

Jimmy Tingle 23:03
It’s very inspiring. I love reading about these examples that you given the Book of people who made a difference, think outside the box are concerned about the community, and they’re creating Win Win Win situations. That’s what it is. It’s not just a winner take all that creating Win Win Win situations, whether it’s in business, or politics or social justice. It’s uplifting, and it’s right on time. And I couldn’t recommend the book highly enough. It’s woke leadership by Priscilla Douglas. Priscilla, what else can you tell us about this book? What else? Can you tell us about where we can get it? And where can we find Priscilla Douglas?

Priscilla Douglas 23:42
Thank you. Thank you very much. The format of the book is one in which you can really see in the stories of the people that are profiled, whether it’s Mary Barra, or Elon Musk, or Howard Schultz, or my favorite, Charlie Munger, and Warren Buffett, from Berkshire Hathaway, you’ll get a sense from the book of how things work and why these individuals are world leaders and how they’ve been able to pivot their organizations in disruptive times. You can get the book on Amazon or at your any of your favorite bookstores. Coming by the end of the month will be an audio version, and you can find me on Priscilla

Jimmy Tingle 24:23
Priscilla For Scylla we wish you all the best. And please, folks, you want a little bit of uplifting reading. It’s only about 90 pages this whole book woke leadership, profits, profits and purpose. Ladies and gentlemen, Priscilla Douglas. Thank you Priscilla.

Priscilla Douglas 24:43
Thank you woke on.

Jimmy Tingle 24:47
Woke on SR

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