As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Jonni Redick.
In a multi-billion-dollar law enforcement organization, Jonni Redick oversaw large-scale civil disturbance, natural disaster response coordination, and oversight, and managed thousands of personnel within daily operations. A 29-year veteran, rising through the ranks of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) from county clerical worker to breaking through the “less-than-one-percent” ceiling for women of color in executive leadership in law enforcement.
Her progression from front-line police work to executive leadership generated her passion for cultivating trust and legitimacy in organizational cultures. She now builds 21st Century leaders as the founder and CEO of JLConsulting Solutions (JLCS) where she works with police executives in law enforcement and public safety, CEOs in corporate, government, and nonprofit businesses.
She is a thought leader in law enforcement and educates public safety and law enforcement leaders across the country. Jonni Redick is also the author of “Survival Guide” to Law Enforcement Promotional Preparation and the forthcoming book “Black, White & Blue: Surviving the Sifting.”
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Growing up raised by a single mother as a biracial child, I learned the value of service, resilience, and mental toughness. Born in southern California, but growing up across the country from Texas, Idaho, Arizona, North Dakota and back to California off and on was a pattern until I was thirteen. Our life was not always easy and intermittently we would have to live with family, friends, and even sometimes in shelters. Although my mother was a registered nurse, she struggled off and on financially.
As our lives gained some stability, I noticed the level of dedication and commitment she had for her work, employees, and patients. Her days were long, hard, and often, heartbreaking. When I was around my sophomore year of high school, she was offered an opportunity to oversee a senior living facility for eldercare. It was during those moments when I’d visit, I was able to witness her leadership, compassion, and her strength. When I chose to leave my clerical job with the county to join a nontraditional profession for women in policing at 21 years old with the CHP, my mother was my strongest supporter.
Over the next 29 years in the CHP, I had the opportunity to accumulate exponential knowledge, skills, and experiences shaping my leadership paradigm through a lens of successes, tragedies, and barriers. When I retired, I wanted to continue to contribute to the profession.
Within a year after retiring, I began adjunct teaching for both new police cadets at the local junior college to executive law enforcement and public safety leaders through the graduate program at the University of San Diego. The following year I started JLConsulting Solutions. When asked what gets me out of bed in the morning, it’s the privilege of being able to build better leaders and create a “pay it forward” mindset.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Funny? Let’s see…there are so many funny mistakes, more interestingly funny than “ha-ha” funny. One such instance was lesson learned in humility. A dear friend and colleague, who I thought was my mentee but after this discussion, became the mentor.
He was sharing his latest project with me over the phone, and I was reciprocating. As we were talking, he was struck by a personal story I was sharing about being relatively introverted with a bit of anxiety when it came to public speaking. I was sharing that although I’ve always had to publicly speak in my executive leadership roles, whether at a large conference, addressing hundreds of personnel, or speaking to one lone news reporter, I would get anxious. However, for me to “show up” in the moments, I would have to be intentional with my mindset. In those leadership moments embrace it and step into what I discovered was my superpower of communication and connection.
He was a bit stunned as he said, “I just would never even imagine you deal with anxiety, you’re always so confident and deliver everything you do so powerfully.” Humbled by his kind words, he went on to say, “But, you also have a message that needs to be shared. Women who get to where you have been, it’s not easy, it’s sometimes impossible. But for them to know what you overcome daily, personally, that resonates, and it changes people’s lives.”
He then challenged me to participate in a five-day boot camp hosted by Chris Winfield and Jen Gottlieb. Saying, “You have to be on tv. People need to hear your story, all of it!” I laughed and thought what an absurd notion. What was initially laughing together became more me laughing at him. My law enforcement lens had been tainted with cynicism from all the years, so I was highly skeptical. As he reassured me it was “legit” and that he had even tried it, reluctantly I decided to give it a try.
The boot camp experience was indescribable in the transformative process of shattering old paradigms and leaning into discoveries for me personally and professionally. If had not stopped to humble myself, I would have missed the value of what my friend was sharing with me was more than “being on tv,” but more about changing my old mindset of “guarded cynicism.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’ve always found my success has been derived through the sifting that has taken place over my life. As I share in my memoir that will be released this Spring 2021, Black, White, and Blue: Surviving the Sifting, we all need champions who are transcendental to our journey. Early in my law enforcement career, I had a desire to promote. Having a desire and an actual plan are two vastly different things. When I initially came across her, she was a lieutenant in our department. Always very upbeat, full of energy, and genuinely believed in helping people, all people. Many times, in organizations, when it comes to promoting and preparing for testing, people get very reclusive and not helpful to others. It’s like having a private room in Clubhouse, you only get in with a special invitation. She wasn’t like that.
Her promotional study sessions were concise, systematic, and effective. Not wanting to suffer through a promotional process the way I had for the first one I had taken for a sergeant, three times, I decided to jump into her study group for my promotional process for the next rank of lieutenant. Over the next three promotions and the next decade, she was a mentor, coach, and became a friend. As she was helping me navigate understanding how to “study” for promotions, she was also showing me how to be a leader on the way to them.
Due to her influence on my leadership ascension, I picked up the mantle of helping others promote and build their leadership. I created the “Survival Guide” to Law Enforcement Promotional Preparation. It is a resource to share what was always so secretly coveted in those private study groups…knowledge, understanding, championing.
I am grateful to her for helping me find greater purpose in those promotions.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Indoctrinated in 29 years of policing, grounded in the mission, vision, and purpose of the organization was initially going to be my default model for my business. My model would then be driven by a strategic plan which is a blueprint of metrics and action steps for how to achieve my goals, objectives, purpose, aligning with my vision. However, it felt too rigid, filled with metrics on performance over purpose.
With a vision of building better 21st Century leaders, it became clear it was not all about metrics in a tactile way, but metrics in transformative behaviors that manifest into authentic, compassionate, and servant leadership. In a Forbes article, Purpose-Driven Companies Evolve Faster Than Others, the value of how purpose can deepen the impact to customers and clients is more of the approach and feel I genuinely want. This will allow the business to truly be transformative, evolutionary, creating a “blue ocean” for the niche work I do in coaching and consulting.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Unfortunately, in policing, there are far more uncertain and difficult times than I’d care to even remember. However, what is profoundly important is remembering that no matter what the crisis may be, you and your personnel are always the common denominators.
California has a history of having incredibly devastating wildfires. During one of the larger wildfires in northern California a few years ago, my responsibility as incident commander was an experience involving multilayers of uncertainty. To give context, the fire grew quickly to over 75,000 acres, threatening 6,500 structures and over 10,000 residents had to be evacuated, including some of our personnel who lived in the fire zone. The level of resource management and operational incident management was extensive involving multiple jurisdictions and allied partners.
The fire was ravishing the landscape at a record’s pace and the fire behavior was erratic at best. As we know, fires are not put out overnight, so the days and weeks were exhausting for everyone. There was no certainty I could provide about what I could not control or foresee, but what I could provide was consistent, competent, authentic servant leadership while we endured the crisis together.
During this time, what I found essential during the chaos, was how I showed up every day. Showing up is important, but how I showed up spoke volumes to my personnel. Also, permitting myself to absorb the magnitude of the incident, but not lingering in how overwhelming it was so I could lead with confidence. Just as important was creating reasonable expectations of myself, so I could meet those of others was relieving.
My daily focus was making sure to engage authentically with my staff daily, checking in on their well-being, and allowing flexibility where possible for them to experience their own emotions and tend to their families was a game-changer. Not only ensuring their safety as much as possible while they had appropriate resources for the mission of the work daily but also access to assistance for their emotional and personal needs.
Despite any crisis, or difficult time, wholehearted and holistic leadership can create the resolve needed to endure the situation.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
There have been those times I’ve truly questioned my “why.” And without a long pause of consideration, I’m always drawn back to the essence of the reason I chose to be in leadership, to be of service. Leadership is selflessness and sacrificial while you strive to be of service to others in a greater capacity. With the choice of leadership, truly stepping into the role, position, authority, or calling, it must be about something other than yourself. If not, you set yourself up to be disappointed, unprepared, and undeserving of the opportunity to lead. When I’m in those moments of pressure, I remember my chosen desire to lead and allow myself the grace to be vulnerable and imperfect. When I do this, it creates growth and resilience in my capacity to lead better in the moment and for those to come.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Understanding in leadership you don’t have the luxury of turning away during difficult times. Leading others requires you to lean into the discomfort of the moment and face adversity with courage, competence, and conviction. It doesn’t mean you’re not afraid, unsure, or hurting like everyone else, but your role, the one you chose, requires you to rise above those feelings and emotions to meet the moments of pressure to perform.
Those who are following your leadership look to you as the guidepost, barometer, the steady voice that will give them the piece of calm in the storm. And remember, in the most challenging of times, you don’t have to be perfect, just work to be your best and lead.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate, and engage their team?
Instead of shying away from the uncertainty, acknowledge it for yourself and your staff. It’s so important to create what Simon Sinek calls “circles of safety” for your employees in the work environment for a multitude of reasons. What you can provide is stability, consistency, information sharing, connectivity, and transparency.
Being able to inspire or motivate others is about time spent wisely with them. Most people we engage with whether we lead them or follow them, what matters is the robust and rich interactions we create. Our teams are made up of people who are seeking to be seen, acknowledged for their contributions, supported in their work environments, and allowed to be a part of something greater than themselves.
How often do you include your entire team to become a part of the conversations? Not the confidential executive only ones, but the 90% of other conversations that would break down barriers and open innovative and healthy engagement. The decision to include, versus exclude, will begin to build trust relationships individually and organizationally.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Depending on the type of difficult news delivery, it may take nuanced situational approaches. There are several times I’ve had to deliver difficult news and it never gets easier. Whether it’s employee counseling, large staff meetings on change, or critical incidents, it all comes with weight. But keep in mind, to be professional, thoughtful, and honest. In feedback from those receiving the news the importance of compassion, empathy, and being straightforward are often common threads. Provide information to help explain what happened and why and be transparent when possible. Informational transparency is the new trust quotient for building legitimacy in your leadership.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
This is where consistency in the processes, systems, and communication you’ve been using becomes so important. Ensuring you have a good policy, procedures, training, and audits in place to leverage in times of uncertainty will be become critical. Although you cannot predict disruption, you can work to prevent and be prepared.
Prevention is about risk management and forecasting for long-term planning which are mitigating contingency strategies organizations should have in place. Organizational systems, processes, and policies, along with creating a lens of forecasting are critical. Forecasting can help build the capacity to see early implications in the social, technological, environmental, economic, and political landscape that might have future adverse influences on your organization.
Additionally, communication internally and externally will be vital. Developing communication tiers for sharing with staff will create broader awareness and innovative ways to plan and navigate those moments when they arise. Externally, building communication channels with key stakeholders and having a timely response will help shape organizational narratives and provide clarity on factual information disseminated.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Humility. I’ve had several experiences with leaders who when facing adversity have no humility in their approach to the challenges or the solutions. They will fall into a pattern of “past practices” or become resistant to the idea the company cannot recover from whatever they are facing. Which may or may not be true. However, if leaders take the approach of being open to leaning into what they don’t know so they can learn more about it, gain better counsel and make better decisions, they will be better positioned. And having a 360-degree internal and external perspective on the impacts of the challenges not just focus on the “bottom line,” but more on how to both survive the moment and build resilience in all staff in the process.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Understanding data drives decisions.
Many businesses operate with data analytics but as we know, data can be used to misrepresent and manipulate interpretations that drive decisions. Understanding data includes substantive evidence to build an argument or support for business decisions. Often the data can be isolated from broader implications whether within the industry or even geographically. For example, I was working with a small business owner and as we had the conversation, I asked the question, “What are your competitors doing on the East Coast and how are things trending?” The response is not as important but the reaction to my question was enlightening. He hadn’t considered his competitors in that region. Implications don’t have to be global; they can be very localized within the same state, city, or community.
Minimizing blind spots.
Identifying blind spots becomes a buzz word and companies often overlook the problematic nature of the importance of blind spots. Conducting a thorough SWOT analysis and including stakeholders not normally in those conversations will bring a new set of eyes and minds to change the aperture on the lens of problem-solving. A good process will afford greater understanding of the importance of addressing blind spots versus experiencing unintended consequences due to failure to address them.
Forgetting the force multiplier in strong diversified partnerships.
Businesses can inadvertently overlook the power in the diversity of partnerships. It’s a basic understanding that partnerships help with strategic positioning and planning for better business outcomes. However, where is the effort place in identified partnerships that cultivate and enrich company culture over driving sales? With the recent social unrest, communities, consumers, and employees want to know what “your” corporate response is to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Leaders need to find solutions and actional steps to demonstrate commitment and change. There is exponential value in breaking out of “traditional” past partnerships to include forging new ones to build your corporate case for change.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Lean into the pressure and not away from it. With the pandemic, companies didn’t have the luxury of planning long-term for this disruption. Yet, many companies have provided the “pivot” for 2020–2021 to remain solvent and others are shattering records. With these new changes in the economics and business global landscape, organizational leadership need amplify how they leverage knowledge, data, and resources through corporate partnership and community support. Building coalitions or initiatives to restructure your brand and commitment will reposition companies over competitors. Reimagining business models was almost mandatory this past year to enhance service delivery and create new engagement platforms to reach clients and consumers. Growth and forging ahead is about staying a continual learner of your industry and finding ways to stay innovative.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
Be Mindset-Aware. When you are competent, it makes you capable and confident.
In a crisis, leaders don’t have time to become one suddenly. Practice your profession and become knowledgeable in policy, procedures, and regulatory and statutory requirements. Get experience through exposure to build your capabilities which will give you the confidence to rise to the moment.
Be Situationally-Aware. It’s not if, but when. Be prepared for the moment.
Do not be naïve to think while you are at the helm things will be smooth sailing. Stay vigilant always assessing risk, forecast implications in your industry and broader, and build in preparedness training, communications, and contingencies.
Be Critic-Aware. Critics come from internal, external, and you.
There will always be someone who will be a “Monday morning quarterback.” Staying ahead of the narratives will help you build better responses for clarity and transparency. Understanding your stakeholders in those interactions, establishing relationships, and diplomatically being responsive will strengthen your brand and cultivate champions to stand in the gap for you and your organization.
Be Compassion-Aware. People are a priority, your priority.
Making your personnel a priority needs to happen with intentionality. During uncertainty, disruption, and crisis, they need to be seen and heard. Creating space to share vulnerabilities with leadership will create balance, connectivity, and reassurance. Recognizing their needs is a step in deepening the trust relationships within your staff to bolster their resilience.
Be Self-Care Aware. If you are not able to lead, then who will?
Even though you should have mental toughness, allowing grace to be vulnerable will permit you to care for yourself. After a significant critical incident in my command, I was devasted by the traumatic loss. After taking care of all the operational, personnel, and a multitude of other aspects lasting several months, I never stopped long enough to build in self-care daily or for long-term recovery. Leading while in denial of your own response to uncertainty, disruption, or devastating incidents, is detrimental to your ability to lead effectively. As a leader, we are people, and as stated in #4 above, people are a priority, therefore, you are also a priority.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my very favorite quotes is from Brene Brown, Gifts of Imperfection, “We all have gifts and talents. When we cultivate those gifts and share them with the world, we create a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives.” The emphasis in this quote is quintessential to how I engage life and leadership, with purpose.
How can our readers further follow your work?
A connection is such an amazing way to collaborate professionally, so here are the ways to reach me:
On the web: www.jlconsultingsolutions.com
On LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jonni-redick-fenner-a0016a29
On Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jlconsultingsolutions
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/jonniredick