Learning Leadership, Connecting the Dots

February 19, 2021
Written by: Tiffany English, 2021 CREW Network President

India 1991

Growing up as a third culture kid, I traveled extensively and experienced many places, people and cultures before I was even 15. One of my favorite memories is when my younger sister Crystal and I traveled by train all around India. At 17 and 16, we felt grown up and adventurous. 

At that point in life, I was seriously considering a career in photography. Appreciating and sharing the beauty of the places I had seen seemed like a great path forward in life. Right about now, you are asking yourself how I ended up in commercial real estate design, right? Well, it wasn’t that much of a reach. I loved unique and beautiful places, so adapting that to designing environments for diverse clients was an easy transition. 

CREW Network’s Winter Leadership Summit, held virtually last week, reminded me of my early career dream, and how those qualities I appreciated about my upbringing and photography contribute to my leadership now. 

I realize that my desire to become a photographer was driven by my curiosity. I recall asking myself a lot of questions while growing up in Vietnam, Africa, Japan and India. I remember always asking my mother, “But why mom? Why do they do that? Why does it work that way?” This talent—curiosity—I now know is a key to leadership success according to our instructor for the Crucial Conversations session. 

L: Riding a camel in Africa – early 1980s R: Taking photographs in San Diego

The instructor recommended that rather than let yourself get derailed in a meeting by a colleague, client or your team members’ comments—get curious. By asking powerful questions, you open up the dialogue in new and different ways—tell me more. Those in the meeting will appreciate your invitation to explain further, which gives you the opportunity understand more. Total gamechanger!

She also provided additional tips that seem like a given, but sometimes we do not embrace them as we should: Be prepared. Be clear. Keep statements short and simple. Avoid reacting to emotions with emotion. Don’t be afraid to share how you feel and ask others how they feel. And most important when having crucial conversations, be complete—state everything that needs to be said. The instructor recommended a terrific tool for communication, the Complete Communication Wheel, designed by Alan Gilburg.

Tracing my leadership skills today back to my upbringing is not a reach for me. The more I observe my skills and capabilities today, the more I see the connection between being exposed to diverse and unique cultures as a child. There is no doubt that the Winter Leadership Summit content and programs opened the minds of many of our leaders. Each of us has a glimmer of our style and skill we developed during childhood. Connecting those dots enables us to see the value of our past, while also embracing what we need to learn moving into the future as leaders.

Our year has just begun, yet already I see the value and benefit of our journey together through this very first summit. While I am not a photographer, I do believe this snapshot of our leadership training moves each of us forward, develops a greater sense of self and provides the tools we need to increase our success. Now isn’t that a Kodak moment? 

Tiffany English

Tiffany English is Principal at the San Diego office for Ware Malcomb and 2021 CREW Network President.

Twitter: @tslipka

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