Our 12 Questions series takes you into the minds of influential leaders to discuss today’s hot topics. Read their fresh views on leadership, managing through change, and the ins and outs of modern work. Think of it as your office hours with some of the most innovative people in business.
We wrap up this series on resilience with Tiffany Dufu. Named to Fast Company’s League of Extraordinary Women, Tiffany is Founder and CEO of The Cru, a peer coaching platform for women looking to accelerate their professional and personal growth. She was a launch team member to Lean In and was Chief Leadership Officer at Levo, one of the fastest growing millennial professional networks. Prior to that, Tiffany served as President of The White House Project, as a Major Gifts Officer at Simmons College in Boston, and as Associate Director of Development at Seattle Girls’ School.
Thanks for joining us, Tiffany! Can you describe your career in 12 words or less?
Advancing women and girls.
What does being resilient mean to you?
To me, resilience is a sense of clarity. Understanding that if I want to create an impact in the world, I'm going to have a lot to push against, but that's often the thing that will lift me and others.
How has your thinking about resilience changed in 2020?
This year has tested my resilience more than ever before. But it's also tested our nation's resilience. Personally, I've been able to draw on the resiliency of my ancestors to get me through this time, especially as an African American woman. I know my heritage—being the descendant of enslaved people in America—and I know that my success as a founder, a leader, and a mother has been paid for by their blood, sweat, and flesh.
So, when I start to feel like I'm not quite sure I can do this, I call on them and remember their sacrifice and what they were able to do. I'm reminded, "you're their wildest dream." And that's where I draw much of my resiliency from during this challenging time.
How have you come to understand the importance of resilience in your career?
It's caused me to be more purposeful. Because I'm not just here for myself—I'm here for a community. I'm a representative of that community. So I use everything available to me, from my education to my communication skills, to advance women and girls—the answer to the first question. Resilience has manifested itself in my career through a sense of clarity in my passion and commitment to using my gifts to create social impact.
What role would you say leadership plays in someone's ability to be resilient?
Marshall Ganz, a lecturer at Harvard, has this definition of leadership that stuck with me. He says it's taking responsibility for enabling others to achieve a shared purpose in the face of uncertainty. And for me as a leader, that rings true right now—we're in more uncertain times than I could have imagined. And the way I've been able to enable others is by being someone they know they can trust—someone who will be there with them on their journey.
When was the last time you had to check in with yourself?
An hour ago. Every hour.
I need to ensure that I remain present at this moment, and not get distracted by what I couldn't raise or what I couldn't do. To not get distracted by the firehose that's in front of us, all the potential, and all the other things on my plate. There are so many Slack messages, emails, phone calls, and Zoom calls. We're all feeling a lot of pressure right now, and it stops us from being present. So I'll take some lavender oil between Zoom calls, rub it on my wrist, take a few deep breaths, and remind myself that I can do this.
What's one big mistake you made, and how did you bounce back?
We all make mistakes. So we should lean into them. And so the question becomes, "what did you learn from that mistake?" How we move forward is more important than past actions themselves.
What's something people get wrong about resilience?
It's often a collective experience instead of an individual one.
How can companies be more resilient?
It's one thing to create a scalable company; it's another to create a sustainable one. The difference between the two requires maturity and intentionality and sometimes sacrifice for that community's well-being. So, being clear about what resilience is and is not is essential.
Vulnerability plays a critical role in building trust among teams. How much does showing humanity help in creating a resilient team?
For me, it's everything. In my best selling memoir, Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less, I put all of my business out on the pages.
It's important because most of my employees, most of my consumers, most of my audience are all women. And for them to buy into what I'm selling—whether it's a strategy or framework for creating a life you're passionate about or trying to get you to join and be a member of The Cru—they have to believe me. They have to know that I have their best interest at heart.
Like in any relationship, I have to put my cards on the table before asking another person for anything. So, before I invite you to dig deep, and before I ask you to be vulnerable, I'm going to let you know who I am and why I'm here. And most importantly, why you should trust me.
If you could leave people with one piece of advice about dealing with what's happening right now in the world, what would it be?
There's so many. What I inevitably say is what I need to hear myself right now. So what I'd leave people with is to be gentle with yourself. I think many of us are pushing ourselves past the boundary of our well-being to drive change. And I think it's so important that we each focus on our best use to respond to this moment. Not everyone has to do all of it for us to move forward.
Once you get clarity on what you can do and what feels right, you can be gentle with yourself for not doing all the other things you may feel pressured to do. I think that's a manifestation of resiliency as well.
What books or resources would you recommend people read on this topic?
Since we don't have all day, I'll recommend just a few: 😉
A book by Tasha Eurich called Insight: The Power of Self-Awareness in a Self-Deluded World. It's an incredible book about self-awareness and how you get the insight you need about yourself to be productive.
My dear friend, Reshma Saujani wrote this book that I think it's so appropriate right now, especially for many women in the context of being gentle with ourselves, called Brave, Not Perfect.
There's another book by my friend, Amy Cuddy, called Presence. And the subtitle of this one is crucial here. It's Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. We're experiencing unprecedented challenges, and having a sense of who you are is vital right now to stay centered.
And the last book I'll recommend is one called You Deserve the Truth by Erica Williams Simon. I love this book because it teaches you how to change the stories you tell yourself about yourself. The stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves have way more impact on our lives than almost anything else.