Stop Keeping Your Head Down and Continue Being Curious – An Interview with Nikki Heise, Chief Learning Officer at Ridgeline Coaching

NHeiseNikki Heise, Chief Learning Officer, Ridgeline Coaching, Atlanta, GA

With 20 years of experience in corporate information technology (IT) leadership positions, Nikki Heise understands the language and challenges of both business and technology leaders. She thrives on building connections between leaders at any level and their teams, customers and partners. Creating workplace environments where people enjoy coming to work, are productive and feel like they are making a difference is her passion. She wants people to have more of what they want in their careers.

To help kick this interview off, what are three easy ways someone can identify their strengths?

  1. Ask somebody close to you. People around you see things that you’re awesome at, that you probably take for granted, as superpowers.
  2. Think about what you love to do. When you get lost in an activity or when you are doing something that feels really meaningful to you, what are some of the talents or strengths that you’re using in those moments?
  3. Take an assessment. This will help put language around your strengths and help see them from a slightly different way.

Can you share the best and worst pieces of advice you’ve received?

The best piece of advice I’ve received is to be curious – have a beginner’s mindset about everything and continue to learn. If you’re willing to see things from a different point of view it can open so many doors and help you gain a new understanding on any situation.

Opposite of that, the worst piece of advice I’ve received is to keep your head down, continue working and don’t speak up. I think it’s well-intentioned advice and I don’t disagree that you should do a good job. However, when people see you’re doing good things with your head down, you risk being so good at that thing that they won’t promote you because they can’t imagine anybody else doing it as well. If you keep your head down and assume that what you’re doing is the right thing, you’re not looking around and learning something new. Often this is when people get stuck and when they finally do look up, it’s twenty years later and their life doesn’t look anything like they were hoping it was going to.

What’s the most common thing you see people not doing, that you think they should be?

Too often, people don’t test their assumptions and interpretations about situations and don’t ask for clarity. We are storytelling machines and make up stories about what that tone just meant or what the comment at the meeting meant or what the people across the room from us are saying about us. So, especially in situations where there are miscommunications or when there’s tension at work, I wish people would ask for clarity or see if there’s a more generous interpretation of the exchange.

What are the benefits of having a professional coach?

As far as benefits, it is having a safe place to work out your thoughts, have a really good sounding board and support. There’s a lot of power in having a conversation that is just about you, where somebody is holding a safe space for you to think about your life and your career and is only focused on you. In most conversations when you’re talking with a good friend or a colleague you’ll start to talk about something and then you hear, “Oh yeah, me too. I had that happen” and the conversation shifts. But a coaching conversation is special because that doesn’t happen. A coach holds that space for it to be about you. So, whether I’ve had the exact same experience that you’ve had, as your coach you won’t know that because this is not about me. This time is about you. That kind of conversation is rare, and it is powerful.

At what level in your career should you engage a professional coach?

Typically, in larger organizations it seems to be, reserved for upper levels of management, but I don’t think that necessarily needs to be the case. The closer you are to the front line the more people you’re impacting in their day to day. Working with a coach to improve yourself and how you communicate and how you work with other people can have a pretty big impact on the front line. I don’t know that you have to cross a threshold at a certain level, but you have to cross a threshold of mindset to be open to learning more about yourself and willing to shift and work on some things and to be open to change.

This year’s WICT theme is “Be a Catalyst.” Why do you think being a catalyst is so important?

You can’t even anticipate the benefit and the ripple effect that can happen from you taking the step and being a catalyst for somebody, but there will be one.

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