A Welcoming Culture Begins with You!

I’m a big fan of the 2014 film, The Hundred-Foot Journey. In fact, I’ve watched it several times. The film tells the story of an Indian family who flees their homeland and settles in a small town in France, setting up a restaurant 100 feet across from a traditional French cuisine restaurant. What ensues next is a culinary and ideological battle between the two cultures, as the Indian family faces discrimination and hatred from the local townspeople. However, after the French employees try to burn down the competing restaurant in an attempted hate crime, the conservative French owner realizes her own role in inciting violence and bias, and commits to making amends.

She helps clean up the Indian restaurant, and even employs the Indian son who is a burgeoning chef of immense potential. After he eventually rises to fame in the Paris restaurant scene, he returns to the small town where the two restaurants begin a collaborative partnership, and connect through intercultural exchange.

In my opinion, the movie is an inspiring story about the value of belonging, and how each and every one of us plays a role in creating cultures of inclusion. It’s a demonstration of what hatred can do, but an even more compelling demonstration of the healing love can achieve in its wake.

So how does this apply to the workplace? As caring leaders, we can all learn from the film’s message of personal responsibility in welcoming others.

Take for example the French restaurant owner, who had to overcome her own biases against the Indian family. She had to work through her own feelings of fear and doubt, and lack of information about their culture. But as she sees her impact on the people around her, she reconciles with her power and uses it for good, ultimately helping to change public perception.

Her journey can describe many of us who strive to be allies to others, and act as a case study of what to do when confronting our own judgments. 

If you as a leader recognize that others value your opinion, take advantage of that power to combat stigma and bias. Organizational morals are established from the top down, so start with yourself if you aim to change the culture of your workplace. 

If you can visibly signal that you prioritize inclusion, belonging, and open-mindedness, others will follow suit and engage in productive introspection.

To be clear, The Hundred-Foot Journey is after all still a movie, and not every interaction between disparate groups will be as picture-perfect as the film might have you believe. 

But, we still need to wrestle with our individual roles in systems of bias at work:

How do we, as individuals, create welcoming environments? 

Are there other champions of inclusion in our workplace that we can team up with? 

How do we consciously choose to rise above hatred and lead from a place of love instead? 

How can we use our privilege to change the minds of those that look and think like we do? 

These are the questions we need to be asking ourselves, even if we’re unsure of how to answer them. 

The caring leader makes an effort to reflect on their own preconceived notions, deconstruct them, and think in a judgment-free manner moving forward. If we can find the common ground between us, I believe we’ll discover that even less than 100 feet separate our individual journeys.

Aligning With Your Aspirational Leadership Identity

As humans, most of us are naturally inclined to dream big. We’re always searching for a bigger house, a better job, a greater salary—we’re constantly thinking about the next step in our personal or professional lives. Oftentimes, these aspirations can motivate us to work harder and smarter to achieve them, but I find that the majority of us are confused about how to make that jump from the present state of things to the more idealized future.

Our leadership identities are no different—we all want to be better, more effective leaders in the workplace, capable of inspiring anyone and everyone. With that in mind, it’s crucial you regularly ask yourself the following question: who do I want to be, who am I currently, and how do I close that gap?

In a past article, I spoke about the importance of aligning organizational values to avoid miscommunication and organizational incongruence. But that’s on the structural level; what I’m referring to now is on the micro, or individual level. Is there congruence between who you think you are and how you’re actually perceived by others? Do your leadership actions parallel your leadership philosophy? What steps can you take to align your present self with your future, more enhanced self?

When I work out in my house, I usually exercise in front of a window. The other day, I noticed myself fixating on my reflection, and how I could see two versions of myself represented. On the one hand, I saw the Heather I currently am. On the other hand, I saw the Heather I strive to be: she’s more content, healthier, and a little more in shape. I wondered what types of choices I could make to move myself closer to that idealized sense of self. Working out was a step in the right direction, but I realized I needed to go deeper than that.

This is the kind of introspection caring leaders should be engaging in on a regular basis. It requires examining your personal history, critical incidents in your life, your personality, your communication style, and everything else that impacts how you interact with others, and determining what about those influences is preventing you from doing and being better. I also recommend soliciting feedback from those who look to you for guidance, and learning how you’re perceived from an outside perspective. You can use 360-degree feedback assessments, performance reviews, or even one-on-one conversations with your peers or managers. However you choose to connect with constructive criticism, it’s a pivotal part of aligning with your aspirational leadership identity.

For caring leaders, it is an intentional choice to say, “I want my people to know I care for them, so I’m going to take specific actions to make sure they know.” When we think about who we want to be, it’s easy to get paralyzed with fear, uncertainty, or harmful self-judgment. But making that intentional choice to reflect and recalibrate is a valid and necessary first step towards self-improvement. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and give yourself the space to make internal improvements over time. Whoever you strive to be as a leader, know that one day you will get there, and that you (and perhaps you alone) have the most agency in seizing that future.

Choose to See the Light in Others.

Light in others

I had an interesting relationship with my grandmother. On one hand, she worked hard to keep me hidden from her friends in her Orthodox Jewish community given my brown skin. On the other hand, she was my biggest advocate, always pushing me to go to law school and be a strong and confident person. I was never allowed to go to family gatherings, but she and I enjoyed visiting the kosher deli when she visited me in Colorado. No photos of me lined the walls of her home, but mine were the only ones to be seen in her bedroom after her death. No matter her shortcomings, I could always see the light in her.

My best friend in college would always ask me how I could love my mother’s side of the family. Not surprisingly, she never understood my very complicated relationship with them. How could I expect her to? Her experience was different than mine. Her frame was not filled with as much rejection, feelings of being unworthy and a deep desire to belong.

After a lifetime of living inside that complexity, I found myself in a gifted position; I could see people as multi-dimensional and forgive their imperfections in a way that others could not. Thankfully, I had this way of seeing the smallest of positive changes even in the most broken people. I had a deep belief that people could be good, wanted to be better, needed to fight harder to get there, but they needed help.

After introspection, I think this belief is what made me a caring manager, makes me an empathetic coach, and helps me meet my clients where they are when partnering with them for cultural change. I can’t help myself in seeing the light in others!

This frame, or way of walking through the world, is not always easy, because people often disappoint. I know I disappoint as well. Sometimes, I am more disappointed in their disappointment in themselves. I hope so much for their fruitful growth. I think that I see my hope as an elixir to uplift others. It’s worked before. Maybe, it can work next time too?

This might all sound like a naïve way to live, but it is my way. I could have chosen to be an unforgiving pessimist who mistrusted everyone and fell victim to my circumstances. I chose a different path. As such, today and every day, I choose to see the light in everyone who comes my way. I watch for it! I don’t ignore the darkness, but I don’t rest in it, and I intentionally switch my lens. By doing so, I find the most fascinating truths in the most unlikely places. It also allows me to truly be a catalyst for deep transformation.

I hope the same for you as well.

With fondness, I still hear my grandmother’s voice calling me, “Hedda Hoppa”, which was just a loving nickname she would call me. In my heart, I will never forget her telling me to, “Keep your chin up and never let’em see you sweat!”.  Yes, I choose to focus on those memories.

I choose to see the light.

62: Leaders With Heart Understand That Leadership Is An Iterative Process


In this episode, Heather speaks with Carey Jenkins, CEO of Substantial. Carey shares her unique outlook on her leadership journey, her leadership style, her refreshing outlook on the evolution of leadership and the power of mindset.

Key takeaways:

  • Be a continuous learner and seek fresh start in your leadership.
  • Be intentional in your leadership.
  • Be clear about your organization’s purpose.
  • A leader’s job is to serve the people he/she leads.
  • Leaders don’t need to be the hero, but to work with their team to be the hero.
  • Leaders need time to recharge.

Carey Jenkin’s Full BIO

Carey Jenkins believes in the power of transparent, empathic and direct communication in making stronger relationships in and out of the workplace. That’s why as a CEO of Substantial, she makes sure that more women seize more leadership opportunities and their strong connections with each other impact overall workforce growth in the company. She brings expertise in client relationship management, delivery management and business development. Carey is also passionate in building mutually beneficial partnerships with clients and team members. 

While not at work, she is deeply fond of staying at home with her husband and her five-year-old daughter. 

Massive Growth Opportunity

Nine months ago, I became the CEO of Substantial and it started my leadership journey afresh. I feel like a newbie, again, in a good way mostly. It was a huge moment for me, stepping into a lot of really uncomfortable places. 

I’ve never been a CEO before, so the entire role for me was new even though as a leader of the company, I have been doing many of the things that I still do now. But stepping into something that high-profile, with that much responsibility, looks tops for me. 

Sometimes it’s overwhelming but it’s just this massive growth opportunity and it’s really energizing for me. 

I am a big learner. I want to grow like I want to be a better leader today than I was yesterday. Although I make lots of mistakes, wins and things I am proud of, it’s a new day every single day, so I just try to be better and learn something. 

Create an atmosphere where people know how to progress. - Carey Jenkins, @Substantial #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Iteration, Improvement and Grace

When you have a bad day, you go, “How do I wipe that off the slate and start new?” 

I am big believer of new beginnings. I am one of those people who strongly believe in the new year, in birthdays, or these milestones that give you a moment to start fresh. And so doing it day to day is just a much smaller increment where you can iterate and improve.

A couple of years into my tenure year, I was really struggling in my career. I had my baby and I was coming back from maternity leave. That was incredibly challenging. Since my whole company is around iterations and continuous improvement, it’s very ingrained in the way we create and launch products. 

At some point, I connected this approach we take to digital products to who I am as a person and what my career is, and that’s what started this mindset. I can grow myself. I can iterate on myself. I can learn from one mistake or setback and it will actually make me stronger rather than weaker. 

Also, I started connecting the two things much more intentionally: this approach that’s broadly accepted as the best way to create and launch amazing products and to use that mindset to think about myself and my career. It was a real watershed moment for me.

I love that word grace because it gives you some breathing room. I will say that it’s a mindset I have to remind myself of. Even though I do it by route in product development, transitioning that mindset to your career, in your personal life, and in your own personal growth, I have to remind myself. That’s a journey I take every day.

Incredibly Intentional

I am incredibly intentional with the conversations I have about the way I support and mentor people and my expectations for what we are trying to do at the company and how people contribute to that.

I am a challenging CEO to work for, just like others. I challenge people and I expect a lot from them, so I don’t know that intentional always feels positive to them. But, it is the way, I think, you can create an intentional atmosphere where people know how to progress.

How can I develop empathy and emotional intelligence in the people I work with in their own way? - Carey Jenkins, @Substantial #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet

Things are changing so quickly in our space so it’s really about taking the moment to say, “Hey, who we thought we were and who we’ve been for over a decade is great. It has been successful and we have these phenomenal human beings who work here. But let’s think about the next three years, and I mean three years.” 

It’s because I don’t think the pace of change, thinking about who we are in five or ten years, is actually worth our time in this moment. I’m thinking in the three-year time frame because things change that quickly.

I was handed a change, an opportunity, and a moment to step up. - Carey Jenkins, @Substantial #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet
Companies and teams don’t need a hero. They need a leader. - Carey Jenkins, @Substantial #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet
Give yourself time to recharge. You should take a break. - Carey Jenkins, @Substantial #leadershipwithheart Click To Tweet


Connect with Carey on LinkedIn and Twitter

Subscribe, rate and review the podcast on iTunes!

Listen to the podcast on Spotify