Serving on Boards: Adam Smith, GUAA Coaching Partner

There are many types of boards including corporate, private company, advisory, nonprofit, and community, and there are many factors that come into play in terms of what might motivate professionals to consider joining one. According to a Russell Reynolds Board Survey, top motivators include serving an organization, contributing to society, and advancing personal and professional interests. Not only could you make new friends, develop new areas of expertise, and contribute, but you would also be supporting Georgetown University’s founding principles of promoting intellectual and
ethical understanding, lifelong learning, and responsible and active participation in civic life.

There are many positive and encouraging trends that support pursuing a board appointment. Historically, the target has been retired CEOs and other senior executives with similar profiles including prior public company boardroom experience, lawyers, audit partners and top scientists. All boards are seeking relevant experience in leadership, strategy, finance, M&A, technology, as well as regulatory,
science, and international perspectives. Today, particularly after some highly publicized board upheavals associated with diversity, governance, board performance, and activist investor sieges, there is a greater interest in promoting diversity, younger perspectives, and seeking out a wider range of professional expertise including tech/digital/social media, and new perspectives across geographies, and social and economic backgrounds.

First you must ask yourself some basic questions:
1. Do I have any restrictions or potential conflicts?
2. What are the expectations?
3. What are the risks?
4. Am I up to the demands of the role?
5. Can I make a difference?
6. Am I willing to invest the time and dedication to develop myself as a board director?
7. Have I developed and defined myself enough to rise to the top of the pool?

Whether it is a public or a private company, or a nonprofit, you must identify what makes you unique and valuable, be a constant learner, continue to develop your knowledge base, and make sure that you understand the commitment, the organization that you seek to serve, and the challenges. Serving on a nonprofit board is often the first step in developing board experience; you learn how boards work, you advance to run a committee or become a board chair, and then perhaps you move to a private company
board or serve on an advisory board, and then the large public corporate board often represents a career capstone experience for many professionals.

I encourage to pursue board service. It has been incredibly rewarding for me in my personal and professional growth, and I have made many amazing friendships along the way that endure and I have been repaid for my hard board work many times over.
Evaluate your knowledge, skills, abilities and experience, conduct research to identify possible board opportunities, develop a board bio/resume, continue to develop yourself, consider affiliating with a board focused-organization like NACD or Board Source, and let everyone know that you are pursuing this great opportunity to give back and contribute.

T.I.A.R.A.: 5 Points to Keep Your Cool — GUAA Career Coaching Partner, Theresa Garcia


Many of my mid-career coaching clients identify a desire to show up in business meetings more powerfully and confident, while quickly establishing warmth and authenticity.  They are often the youngest leader in the room.  They know their content cold and their expertise is unquestioned.

Just as they stand to speak, close the sale, or question the viability of a proposed action, something terrible happens. They may go week in the knees, feel their heart racing or break out in a sweat.  Their mouth may inexplicably go dry, and they report that momentarily, they forgot what they were going to say.  What happened?  They were caught in an emotional hijack.

When asked, “what can I do in the moment to regain my composure and stay focused?” My counsel is to “put on your T.I.A.R.A.”.

The T.I.A.R.A. framework represents five actions to regulate emotions to regulate the brain’s immediate, unconscious, protective response to a perceived “social threat” – like public disapproval and rejection (Eisenberger, Lieberman & Williams 2003).  The 5-point framework includes:

  1. Take an alternative approach
  2. Improve the situation
  3. Attention- selectively focus
  4. Reappraise the situation
  5. Adopt a positive expression

Take an alternative approach
The simplest action to regulate emotion is to not take the anxiety-ridden approach in the first place. What approach would feel more comfortable, cause less stress and better utilize your skills and strengths? Applying your strengths successfully results in increased confidence which releases brain chemicals including serotonin, endorphins, oxytocin and dopamine. These chemicals influence the feeling of safety, calmness, and happiness which keep you centered.

Improve the situation
To reduce anxiety, you can improve the situation by taking actions like arriving at the meeting room in advance to get a lay of the land, testing the sound and projection equipment, and placing an extra bottle of water strategically near your selected seat. Prior to giving a presentation, you can learn something about the other participants and call on them by name. This encourages greater interest and participation.

Attention – selectively focus
What grabs your attention and takes you off point may be an unexpected interruption or reaction, like seeing your boss looking down at his/her phone. By quickly refocusing your attention away from the distraction to someone familiar, or simply concentrating on your breathing will slow your heart rate and reduce anxiety which will provide your brain the necessary moment to regain composure and focus.

Reappraise the situation
Often our fears cause us to tell ourselves a negative story about the situation. In a split-second, we decide whether another is friend or foe, and whether the situation is to be feared or desired. You can regulate your emotions by thinking about the situation in a way that makes you feel less negative or shift the story in your head to one more positive like, “she’s just tired.” Reappraisal is a powerful way to regulate emotion.

Adopt a positive expression

Fake it to make it.  Deciding to adopt a positive outlook and employing one of the emotional regulation techniques described above will help you to get through the emotional hijack.  Most important, do not suppress your emotions.  Suppression increases your negative emotion, increases stress, and puts you on the defensive, which reduces cognitive function. Name it to tame it. Acknowledging the emotion,
reduces its power over you.

Now, adjust your T.I.A.R.A. and get back to business!

(Butler, et al. 2003, Gross & John, 2003)

Leaders Must Practice Servant-Leadership, Not Expect Others to Serve Them

The term “servant-leadership” was initially coined by Robert Greenleaf, an executive for 40 years with AT&T.  Greenleaf was originally inspired by Herman Hesse’s novel “Journey to the East,” which Greenleaf read in 1958.

As Greenleaf wrote: “In this story, we see a band of men on a mythical journey…The central figure of the story is Leo, who accompanies the party as the servant who does their menial chores, but who also sustains them with his spirit and his song.  He is a person of extraordinary presence.  All goes well until Leo disappears.  Then the group falls into disarray and the journey is abandoned.  They cannot make it without the servant Leo.  The narrator, one of the party, after some years of wandering, finds Leo and is taken into the Order that had sponsored the journey.  There he discovers that Leo, whom he had known first as a servant, was in fact the titular head of the Order, its guiding spirit, a great and noble leader.”

For many years, Greenleaf researched management, professional development and education.  As he read and wrote, Greenleaf developed a suspicion that the authoritarian leadership style prominent among major American companies was not successful.  In 1964, he took early retirement from AT&T to found the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.

Greenleaf’s approach has been characterized by others as embodying 10 characteristics:

  • Listening
  • Empathy
  • Healing
  • Awareness
  • Persuasion
  • Conceptualization
  • Foresight
  • Stewardship
  • Commitment to the Growth of People
  • Building Community

Greenleaf’s idea was not that all people who possess each of these traits are automatically excellent leaders, but that leaders must consistently practice and demonstrate each of these traits in an ethical manner to create a lasting framework for a true leadership culture.

Servant-leadership means the leaders are always in service to the people they lead.  This concept is challenging to model because it runs counter to so many traditional views of leadership.  To practice true servant-leadership, we must get to know the people we lead as human beings and not merely as employees.  We should know their professional and personal goals, be cognizant of their family situations, be familiar with their backgrounds, and understand what motivates them.

To get to this level of familiarity with our people, we must do the one thing that is guaranteed to take us away from our phones, our computers and our desks – spend quality time with them over breakfast, lunch, coffee, dinner, after-work drinks or at a professional event.  We do not have to become friends with our colleagues or socialize with them; in fact, many leadership experts would label such behavior a mistake.

However, if we want our people to go the extra mile for us or for our office, we must show them that we are invested in their personal and professional growth, that we “get” them and that we will support them in pursuing their dreams.  The old statement is still valid in 2018 – and I have seen it play out at law firms, government agencies and corporations during my past 40 years in the legal profession: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Hoya Highlight: Luisa Santos (C’14)

Luisa Santos (C’14) is the Founder of Lulu’s Ice Cream, and was the recipient of the 2018 GEA Entrepreneurial Excellence Award for Rising Star. Luisa’s liquid nitrogen ice cream business is based in Miami, FL.

What is the best career advice you have ever received?

I received a lot of great advice from my many mentors over time. The best piece of advice, and one that I apply every single day, came from Alyssa Lovegrove, Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship in the MSB. She said, “Problems are going to seem insurmountable if you try to tackle them all at once. Think about the absolute smallest step you could take to solve the problem in front of you, and break the problem apart into small steps to work toward a solution.” Anytime I have something huge to figure out, I think through what is the absolute smallest thing to do to start to figure out how to solve problem. In business, this usually means doing the least costly thing you can to test out how to solve the issue you’re facing.

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?

Seeing my team achieve their own financial goals through the jobs they had at Lulu’s and through our financial literacy training program. We’ve set up a network of financial literacy advisors for our staff members to learn from, and the results have been incredible. One of our team members was able to pay off a pile of debt; another team member started saving for retirement. This program has helped to de-stigmatize issues around financial literacy and has given my team confidence and tools to plan for the future.

What is the hardest thing you have ever had to do professionally?

Having to close a shop in December 2016. This was really hard because it was the first time I had to objectively look at my business and make decisions based on numbers without emotion. People lost their jobs. It was really scary. And there were difficult consequences to navigate. At the end of the day, I realized if I didn’t make hard decisions early on, I could ruin everything else I’d worked so hard to build.

Who or what was your favorite professor or class at Georgetown?

Professor Michael Ryan who teaches Personal Finance in the Business School. His classes were incredibly impactful at Georgetown and beyond. He’s a genuinely caring human who values his students, and he teaches from a values standpoint on the subject of finance. This is hard to do, and it made his classes super interesting and relevant. I also loved the entrepreneurship classes I took. I started Lulu’s as a project for one of those classes!

What is your favorite Georgetown memory?

The first time I made ice cream! It felt like every single person on campus somehow contributed to allowing me to make my ice cream on campus.

How has Georgetown shaped you?

I don’t think I could have done what I’m doing without Georgetown. The competitions I participated in gave me my initial capital for starting Lulu’s; the unparalleled access to mentors in the startup world gave me a support system; and the classes I took gave me the ability to learn the basics of starting and managing a business. My debut ice cream making happened at Georgetown events…Georgetown laid the groundwork for where I am now.

Who is a source of inspiration and strength to you in your life and why?

My mentors are a source of inspiration for me, and so I want to be able to give what I got from my mentors back out into the world. I’m a mentor for everything! From the startup club at Florida International University to women’s college groups, I want to be a mentor and a source of advice to as many people as possible.

What is one part of your daily routine you could not live without?

Personally: journaling and working out. Professionally: I look at our cash flows Every. Single. Day.

Who is your favorite author?

Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl was incredibly impactful to me.

What are your words to live by?

Every day, I ask myself “How can I do the most good today?”

View Luisa’s story and other alumni stories on the Hoya Highlights page of the ACS Website