Feb 9, 2023
Using your voice with Dr Randal Pinkett and Dr Jeffrey Robinson, authors of Black Faces in High Places
In this episode, I am once again joined by two guests as I speak to Dr Randal Pinkett and Dr Jeffrey Robisnon, the authors of Black Faces in High Places. Published a decade after their first book, Black Faces in White Places, their latest work looks at how people must not only fight for their place at the table, but use it to the benefit of others once they are there. Drawing on the examples of Carol Dweck and Barack Obama, among others, the authors talk to me about their experiences of academia, their careers and how they went about writing their newest book.
[Ann 00:00:00] Welcome to this week's episode of the Bet on Yourself podcast, where we speak to some of the world's most inspirational people who have all, at some point in their careers, taken a huge bet on themselves, transforming them personally and professionally. This week, I'm joined now by one but two guests, Dr. Randal Pinkett and Dr. Jeffrey Robinson, the authors of Black Faces in High Places Ten Strategic Actions for Black Professionals to Reach the Top and Stay There. Today's focus is on the importance of mentorship, black faces and high Places explores the importance of mentorship, identity and representing your true self in order to create a pathway for other black professionals to make it to the top. From selling lemonade as kids to analyzing and unpacking the Obama mindset, Dr. Pinkett and Dr. Robinson's stories are a must read for anyone in the business world and there's so much actionable advice packed in it that I barely put my highlighter down. With two guests on the podcast this week. We've got a lot in store for you. If you enjoy this episode as much as I think you will, then be sure to let me know in all the usual places such as a review on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube or wherever you happen to be listening right now.
[Ann 00:01:10] Randal Pinkett and Jeffrey Robinson, thank you so much for being on the Bet on Yourself podcast today. I'm beyond excited for our conversation.
[Jeffrey 00:01:17] Hey, thanks for having us.
[Randal 00:01:19] We're excited too.
[Ann 00:01:20] So I'd like to start in the very beginning here and to say that the two of you accomplish would be a massive understatement. And we're going to get into the details of that very shortly. But I'm curious, was that nature or nurture? Can we go all the way back to when you were a kids? I'm imagining the two of you, little Randal, a little Jeffrey. What did you imagine you were going to be when you grow up Let's start there.
[Jeffrey 00:01:44] Oh, that's. Yeah, that's a long time ago, I think speaking for myself here, Jeff, the the thing about things I was thinking about were in, in science, maybe engineering. My dad was an electrician, so a kind of thought about building trades and things along those lines. But by the time I got to high school, my interests were in, in building things. So I had wanted to take up civil engineering, but also a really interested in cities and urban areas and the economic and sort of the development of cities. So those are some of my first loves. I wasn't as much as I like cities, I wasn't artistic, so I wasn't thinking about architecture. But I figured if I could be involved in like urban planning and things along those lines, I could do some, some good work. That was a lot at the time.
[Ann 00:02:36] It sounds like you were a serious kid. I, too, was a serious kid. Like I took academics very seriously. I put way more pressure on myself than my parents ever did. Where, I mean, it sounds like you set your sights on what you ended up doing pretty early.
[Jeffrey 00:02:48] Yeah. I think that's right. I think that Dr. Pinkett who I've known for a long, long time. He has a different story.
[Ann 00:02:57] Okay, that's the other side.
[Randal 00:02:57] Well, there's definitely some similarities in our stories there were two, two passions that emerged for me at a very young age. One was technology, computers. My brother and I'm older brother and I. When we were young, we asked for a video game and our parents gave us a computer and we were very in grateful, were like, what is this with you? Ask for a computer. But remember what they said was, if you want to play video games, you have to make the video games. Oh, I love your play. Like, oh, we like is he really that serious? So we started designing software in like middle school and got hooked on coding and all of the things that we computers could allow you to do. But interestingly, growing up, I also showed early signs of entrepreneurship. I sold lemonade literally. I tried to sell my toys to other kids in my neighborhood. I sold candy in the halls of my high school. Like I was always hustling. So to speak. And it wasn't until Jeffrey and I got to Rutgers that one of our friends and role models, Wayne Abbott, to make a long story short, started his own business while he was a student. And seeing Wayne running a business literally inspired Jeffrey and myself and our other two business partners, Lawrence and doubts to say if he can do it, why can't we do it? And that's how many of us who never imagined ourselves owning a business ended up having a vision for being business owners.
[Ann 00:04:38] I love that early inspiration, a love that your parents taught you, that kind of work ethic behind it. Also, I want to point out for those who are just listening and not watching this, both of you are in full suits right now. I love that you showed up to a podcast really in style. I am very honored, but I think I too had a a great upbringing. I really relate to that. My parents really encouraged academic excellence and setting goals and dreams. But really a lot of that is who's around you, what inspires you, and if you can see it, you can be it. And that is a large premise of your book in your your incredible book, which I have my very worn out copy here. I have literally look at all these. This is just what I hope to cover in the podcast conversations, not everything that I've highlighted, but in your incredible book, Black Faces in High Places, you really explore that. You show so many examples of entrepreneurs of black faces in high places that can inspire us. And I just a I was a my I started my career in tech in very unintentionally. In 2002, I got my very first job working directly for Jeff Bezos at Amazon. That was like deep into the ocean, like as my first job. And for most of my career, for the first 15 years of my career, I was in tech both at Amazon and Google, and for most of that time I was the only woman in the room. So that's my frame of reference. That's kind of my part of the experience. But I so I think that's why I dog eared half your book because I this so resonated with my experience and you've got incredible kids, which I can't wait to dove into. But I'm curious. So this isn't your first book together? You wrote one before ten years ago. I'm I'm curious, why was now the right moment to write this continuation was inspired by a pandemic times. And all of these transition periods we're having right now was in the works before that like mine was. And then it's coming out now at a very opportune moment as I said, the stage for me of the two of you having a conversation about writing number two.
[Randal 00:06:45] Yes. So our first book, Black Faces and White Places, was we wrote in 2010 and you you typified the ethos of that book. When you're the only one, when you're one of the few, when you see very few reflections of yourself and there can be this proclivity to adopt the majority culture. And in our first book argued quite the contrary. No, actually, what makes you an unique and what is your unique contribution? And it's for you to hold on to all of who you are and not give up anything of who you are as the only woman in the room. Fast forward ten years later, 2020. We had we had a lot of material on the cutting room floor from that first book, a lot of material. And we didn't quite know when or what to do with it. But 2020 pandemic, George Floyd's murder, a heightened conversation about equity or rather inequities in our society. And we were just lamenting this is probably the right time for us to weigh in and to weigh in specifically on what is the role of black leadership in this moment, arguably in the midst of this movement. And so we took some of that legacy content. We introduce new voices, new interviews, new research, new data and black faces in High Places was essentially born as our 2022 message to other black faces in high places of what is your responsibility? Not just to get to the top and stay at the top, but to make a difference in our society.
[Ann 00:08:32] And the two of you are extremely accomplished. You're you are this Avatar mentor, as I like to call it, for people around you who haven't seen someone who looks like them sitting in these high places. Dr. Pinker, you have five academic degrees from electrical engineering, computer science, business administration. You were a Rhodes Scholar. And not only that, but also an academic all-American Hall of Fame member. Okay. And then Jeffrey, you also have five degrees. You two are making me look bad. Five degrees! in urban studies, in civil engineering, a master's in civil engineering management and a Ph.D. in management organizations. How did this roadmap come to be? Because I what I loved about your book so much is that it's not only theoretical, it's not only sharing inspirational stories from people that we know or leaders that we want to get to know who are examples of black faces in high places. But it's literally like, you give us the checklist. Now, I love that this is part of what was on the cutting room floor for your first book, because I'm I want all your tips of how you put that together, because I also have a full book from writing my first one that will become my second one. So I want to know how you did that, but I wonder how can you give us a little bit of a teaser of the framework of how how you structured this book? We've got ten areas of focus, right, where you're outlining exactly how to kind of replicate these models of success. Can you can we talk me through these ten strategic actions that you've outlined in the book? This checklist for success?
[Jeffrey 00:10:06] Sure. So let me take a stab at that. The you know, the interesting thing is we talked to a lot of folks. We had these interviews. We profiled folks who, you know, you could find your public information on. And it's all the notables. But we were we were interested to see if there were patterns, patterns, things that they did that mapped on to the strategic actions that, you know, we were thinking about. And we, you know, it was kind of a push and pull. We saw what they did. They all mentioned, for example, mentors. And so okay, it's interesting. It makes sense that all of these successful, highly successful people, these black professionals, have made it to the top, had mentors. But what did they say about mentors? What did they say about, as we call it, maximizing mentors? And so then we would go deeper to figure out what some of those lessons were and then also complement that with some of the latest research that has been done by you, by scholars in the area. So that's that's that's how we approached it. We wanted to know what made these folks successful, but we also wanted to to blend in a little bit of our own experiences, but a whole lot of of research that's already been done because there's there are lots of folks who are looking into these these issues. So there are ten there are ten strategic actions. And then we even split those ten into into four different levels. All right. So I will I will tell you that, yes, both of us have five degrees, and that's not an accident. It's probably because I said to myself, well, he can get five, I'll get five to speaks to, you know, having a, you know, a circle of friends who are encouraging you and pushing you. And sometimes, you know, you're slightly competing with one another, but in a good way. But but we also are engineers. And so that's we were very deliberate about how we present information and, you know, it has to have a logical sequence so that maybe that sets an overview for these ten strategic actions.
[Ann 00:12:15] It absolutely does. I was going to say your data analytics side definitely is coming out in the way you presented the book, and that's probably a big reason why it resonated with me so much, because I love a list. I love like the data behind it. I love to find common denominators, especially among high performers, and figure out how to replicate their playbooks for the rest of us. Normal people, because from the outside it can seem so unapproachable. You know, for example, you start your book with this incredible I love this section of outlining the Obama mindset and we'll get into that in a second. But sometimes people like Obama or the people I work for, Jeff Bezos, Eric Schmidt, like these super performers can feel unattainable. So we don't even try to replicate their models. But what I love about the way you've outlined your book is it gives me the list. It breaks it down into bite sized pieces. And I know exactly where to start and how to invest my time and energy. So let's dove into that. I really love that you started at the beginning of the book with really framing your why. Why are you writing this? And if I can quote you back to yourselves, which is always so weird when people do it to me. But for the context of our listeners in the introduction, you, you really I think this is your wise statement. You can correct me if I'm wrong, but you said we firmly believe that being a black face in a high place means achieving a certain level of power and influence while giving back to the community. You must be part of a larger agenda. We wrote this book to share the journey of black leaders who fit this mold and based on their lessons learned, outline a roadmap for others who endeavor to do the same. I just got goosebumps when I read it the first time. That's when I pulled out the highlighter. I was like, This is going to be good. Is that accurate? That that was your why? This is this is what you're really trying to give to the world.
[Randal 00:13:55] That that is spot on. And it was weird to hear our words reflected back to us, but I must say, I like our words. That sounds good. It sounds good. Together. And then when we started writing this book. Yeah, and I'm. And to that that, that, that excerpt when you are in a high place, you have these levers of power at your disposal that perhaps you did not have at your disposal or in fact that you likely did not have at your disposal before you were in a high place. And and it speaks to this dichotomy of the challenges of getting to the top and the challenges once you arrive at the top and all eyes are on you and you're the one making the final decision, in the end, you're in the seats of power and there's somethingwe really wanted to make clear to the reader, is that you should be unapologetic about pulling the levers available to you for the benefit of the black community. And that's not to say you only pull those levers for the black community, but do not shy away from the opportunity to pull those levers for the benefit of the black community. And then and then secondly, know that if you haven't done the inner work to know who you are, it gets back to our earlier conversation to define your purpose and these deeper penetrating ideas that govern how we show up and how we understand. So if you haven't done that inner work before you get to the high place, it's too late. Like the journey begins long before you get there, that when you are there, you're prepared for the pressures and the expectations that could ultimately derail you if you didn't do the work before.
[Ann 00:15:44] I couldn't agree more. In fact, most of my questions are centered around the first three chapters and principles that you present in this book, because without that we cannot move on to the next. So I so appreciate you started there and we did start with this very powerful example that you call the Obama mindset, skill set and toolset. And I'd love to quote you again to yourself, I'm going to be doing this a lot because your book just speaks for itself. But you say the first asset, your mindset is how you see, perceive and view the world around you. Your beliefs and the way of thinking that determine your behavior and outlook and how you interpret and respond to those situations. And so you give this beautiful example of Obama and then also you cite a book that literally changed my entire life, which is Carol Dweck book Mindset The Psychology, The New Psychology of Success, literally. That was the sliding door moment for me in my life when I read her work about growth mindset and learning mindset. So talk me through this foundational issue of how we think about ourselves and the possibilities of what we're able to accomplish in the work this world and why you think that's the foundation upon which all these other ten principles are built.
[Jeffrey 00:16:51] Well, I'll start on this one, and I'm sure Randal will chime in the it's it's so it's so foundational that you have some agency about who you are and what you believe. You can do. Because when we when we take that away from people, that's when people go spiral down into the depths of despair. You hear it all the time about how people who are, you know, in all kinds of situations, they say things like, when I decided to get out of the situation, when I, you know, took ownership of who I am, when I decided that or changed my mind about the situation, all of a sudden there are lots of lot more possibilities for me to move forward. So that's why it's right at the beginning of the book and that's why it's it's foundational. In fact, the you talked about the first three strategic actions which represent that first level. They are foundational because they are foundation, though they've set the stage for everything else. You can't you can't get to these other things without thinking about, you know, doing some kind of self-determination or, as we say, exercise self-determination without really understanding or exploring the world around you, and then figuring out ways to find meaning and have self-mastery. Those are all important. But maybe Dr. Pinkett would say some more about the mindset because he and when I remember us having a long conversation about this and he made a passionate plea about how this needed to be in the book, and he was right. It's hard for me to say, but he was right.
[Randal 00:18:36] Let's get back to thinking that's... now I have record that Jeffrey once said I was right. You hear it in your head. Thank you Ann for this gift that you get. And to your point and to Jeffrey's point, and we used I said that respectfully, President Obama, because he's such a prominent figure to play out these ideas of mindset. And we take the reader deep into his journey with black nationalism and having a black father and a white mother and a Kenyan father who didn't raise him. And being in Hawaii and this wonderful story of him being at the foot of this mango tree where he's still wrestling with his father's relationship to him or lack thereof, and his black identity and his white identity. But he walked away from that mango tree with this this sense of purposefulness and this sense of understanding of and I quote him, he says, My identity might begin with the fact of my race, but it didn't. Could it end there? And he paints this picture of having a greater resolve of who he was and who he wanted to be in this world, in the mindset that could propel him. And that's not to say that, you know, that we're all aspiring to walk in the footsteps of Obama, but rather to say he understood his path, he understood his calling and our responsibility is to do the same for ourselves. And that mindset determines your actions, and your actions determine your outcomes if you don't begin with Carol Dweck and these other thought leaders around how you think, then you've missed the foundational concepts that ultimately shape your future.
[Ann 00:20:31] I want to quote you to yourself yet again, and then Dr. Pinkett, I'm wondering if you can share, because in the book you share a beautiful example of how you walked a similar path, a journey of discovering who you are. But first, I want to quote because I think you were did this so powerfully in the book. You say identity is the story. You tell yourself about yourself. Identity is the narrative you've built up around yourself. Your personal identity that society has built around you, which is your social identity, is the thing you pride yourself in being, aspire to be, or believe you are destined to become identity. I love this part. Identity can be a very powerful construct as it can sustain you or derail you once you make it to the top. Oh, that last part is I've seen the top, top, top, top. And I absolutely understand what you meant by it could potentially derail you if you don't have it right. Dr. Pinkett, you share your personal journey in finding your own identity. That was crystalized for you through results of your AfricanAncestry.com test. I wonder if you'd mind sharing that story again, because I found a very powerful personal example.
[Randal 00:21:34] And I appreciate the question and I talk about these these three defining moments for me. And I often say that the most important of your the two most important days of your life, the day you were born, and then the day you figure out why you were born. And when I took the Ancestry DNA test, which traced my lineage back to West Africa, that was a defining moment for me, because particularly as African-Americans and then for others, you had this this decontextualized sense of history. And so it situated me in this global society that then when I went to Africa and landed on the shores of West Africa, the second moment was when the very first thing someone said to me at the airport was welcome home, and I could've shed a tear in that moment. The third moment for me was when I got baptized and I gave my life to Christ. And so this cultural and spiritual identity that I formed situates how I ended, how I, how I wrestled with two concepts identity which I see as one's anchor. Its your roots of the tree and purpose is your compass. It's, it's. It's what guides you. And it gives you wings to fly and so it's that identity and that purpose that comprised that first strategic action of exercising self-determination that begins the journey of the ten strategic actions.
[Ann 00:23:07] I love this foundation. I feel like not enough people do this self-exploration work, and that's where you're second. In the second chapter, you get into value exploration where you I love how you put it. You called it a you called it investing in broadening activities. And this list of of activities you encourage, which is global travel, staying up in current events, reading histories, understanding different cultures, participating in programs and organizations. I myself that changed my life. The fact that I've lived abroad in multiple countries, that I speak foreign languages that I have, I have experienced people whose religions or language or culture are completely different from mine, changed the course of my life. And I love these examples. And Dr. Robinson, you share an experience in the book about where you had this. You don't have to travel to the other side of the world to have these broadening activities. You share this beautiful, seemingly simple but profound experience where you were volunteering at Elijah's Promise, a soup kitchen near Brunswick. Can you talk about that experience and how that was a big part of your broadening experience?
[Jeffrey 00:24:10] Yeah, well, you're absolutely right. You don't have to travel. Although I have done a lot of traveling to get that and to understand a bit more about what's happening around you and around the world. But you know, that experience of being your first year or second year student at Rutgers University in the city where you're getting your education, but also realizing that in the same city there were people who were food insecure. So going there, working, realizing that, you know, there's an expression people use there, but by the grace of God go that there's nothing that separates, you know, me from from the people who are on the other side of the table that I'm serving. They've had some different experiences and had and taken some different path for all kinds of different reasons. But it could very easily be me. I don't I can't look down on somebody just because we have different circumstances. And and what what it taught me was, you know, it was that we we all have something we can contribute to one another. I learned from from, you know, there were mostly men, older men who were at the soup kitchen. I learned from them and hopefully they took a little something from me that we all have something that we can learn from one another. It was a little bit out of my comfort zone. It was a little bit more of something that perhaps you say to yourself, Oh, I don't want to do that. I don't have to do that. But by doing so, it grounded me in a different way. Just put a little more dimension to, to my life and, and to who I am. And that's where there was so much value. You know, I actually still live in that same area. And so now I have my my children going to the same place and doing volunteer work and hopefully gaining some of those same things from the experience.
[Ann 00:26:03] That cued up exactly what I was going to ask about next, which is this principle in under a value exploration where you introduce the concepts of the growth zone, the comfort zone and the fear zone, each of those have a purpose. Each of those have things we should seek out and or avoid. And each of you have experienced these in your career progressions, but I love how proactive it seems you both have been in this area. And Dr. Pinkett, at your share, an example of when you went to a Native American sweat ceremony and in the book you describe it as you were scared to death. So I'm curious about these things because I have worked among some of the most influential, innovative, creative, impactful leaders in the world. And one of the common denominators among them is their insatiable curiosity. In fact, Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, had a plaque on his desk during his entire 19 year tenure at Google that said, if at all possible, say yes and if at all possible, say yes does not mean like not delegating or micromanaging actually means the opposite. It means freeing yourself up to say yes to an opportunity to learn something new. And I think your experience of saying yes to that sweat ceremony and leaning into something that literally scared you to death is a great example of that. Would you mind sharing that experience?
[Randal 00:27:19] Yeah, I was in a leadership development program sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation called Next Generation Leadership and my 39 fellow fellows. We remain in touch to this day, partly because we have of these bonding experiences like that Native American sweat lodge. And I. And so to set the stage for this, it's like this hut where they're burning coals and they keep it enclosed that the temperature rises to this nearly unbearable level. And it's this this spiritual cleansing experience. And as we entered the lodge that the heat was, was, was, was, was massive. But but what was the part that scared me to death was when we entered the lodge. I'm thinking this is this is this is unbearable. They closed they closed the door, and then they poured water. On the coals. In the. Coals, the entire lodge went black because the steam subsumed every crevice of your body water was coming out of my eyes. I'm going to die in this sweat lodge. But clearly I was a bit comforted by that. They must know what they're doing and that. But I walked away from that experience with this fuller appreciation for this this this lifelong principle that I've adopted of of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. That life when we seize the opportunity is nothing but a series of opportunities to get uncomfortable, because it is discomfort that takes you out of your comfort zone into your gross own discomfort and growth must go hand in hand. You can't have one without the other. And that was an experience of extreme discomfort that led to extreme growth for me.
[Ann 00:29:17] I think that's such a crazy example and one that really resonates. While I've never been in a sweat lodge, I have had those moments where I was like, I am at the extent of my abilities and then something insane happens. And then you realize like, okay, no, I've got another gear, I've got another place I can go for this right now I'm training for a half marathon. This will be my fourth, but my last one was very long ago, like at least six years ago. And I'm listening. I have this I've been listening to this Peloton trainer to kind of get myself back up to that ability. And she said something on a run a couple of weeks ago that just keeps repeating in my brain where she says, You can't push yourself until you trust yourself. Oh, my gosh. Right. And these moments getting out, it's so powerful, these moments where you get out of your comfort zone, you face your fear zone and realize, I have another gear. This isn't the extent of my abilities and I can survive. This is an unlocking moment which leads so beautifully into the next concepts you introduce in the book, which is about developing self-mastery and finding meaning. I could talk to you for hours about this chapter. I probably every single like line in that chapter I think is highlighted in Green because this really resonated with me, not only with my experiences, but what I'm trying to push myself into at this phase of my career. Also. And you start off by talking about moving into excellent from excellent into Ikigai. I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly. That's very good. Okay, great. So this is a Japanese concept that I have heard before, but I just love how you explain it. And this is a Japanese concept that is your reason for being. And I think every single one of our listeners right now is probably, regardless of where they're at in their career or their life path. All of us, this is what makes us human, I think is seeking out this meaning. So you define this in the book as discovering one's ikigai brings the kind of profound satisfaction of finding meaning in your own life. One Ikigai connects one's personal choices and actions to community and social level outcomes which I can see is so aligned with your ys. I see why this concept resonates with you. And then second ikigai places these search of meaning into the center of the self-mastery process. Ikigai is not given to you. It is something that must be discovered through your life experiences. I mean, this is why I think this is why this chapter felt so impactful. I had to put the book down after reading this one because there's so much to unpack in this. And for listeners, if you don't, if you feel like this is what you're seeking right now, at the end of this chapter, you have this beautiful callout box at the end of chapter three that is called What if you haven't found your Ikigai yet? It is a very powerful checklist of how to set yourself up for this. So, Dr. Robinson, you share in the book you how you explain to your students how you leapt from a student of civil engineering to becoming award winning business school professor. And I think it's such a beautiful encapsulation of this process. Can you walk us through that? Because I get very excited when I see Nonlinear Paths to Success. And yours kind of did jump around a bit. I love.
[Jeffrey 00:32:29] Oh, yeah, it definitely did. It wasn't a linear well, and I think I'm so glad that you resonate with this chapter because, you know, the eco guy concept is, is, is an answer to a question that we get so many times or when we, we talk to folks who aren't happy in their jobs, aren't happy with their life, you know, feel like their energy is being dispersed in 12 different directions. And and that's how I felt at a certain point in my life that you know, I was had a nice job. I had a great job with lots of great people who were around me, but I didn't feel fulfilled in it. And so what did I do? Well, I spent a little time doing some things that I cherish. I did some things with the community, with some schools and mentoring kids. And I did some work. You know, I could probably name another four or five things of activities and entrepreneurship and everything that were all part of what I was doing. But I didn't feel as if I was putting all my energy towards the things that mattered. I did something that allowed me to eat and, you know, pay the bills. I did something else that was fulfilling in other ways. And the reason that you could guy concept is so such a beautiful one is, you know, the way that it's represented in our book and others, other people who who also talk about it, it's these concentric circles that have this sort of sweet spot in the middle. But the the circles, you know, are represented by for for ideas. What what are the things that you love to do? What are the things that you're good at? What are the things you can get paid and what does the world need? So make the long story short for me, I had the all these skills and abilities, but were being dispersed across all these the different aspects of my lives. And I needed to find a way to bring some congruence to all of this. Now you get the fancy word, right? You know, the the the mathematician, I guess in me thinking about geometry, it's something that's congruent when it overlaps. It overlaps on in the same way so that you don't have to look at two different pictures. You're looking at one, and in my case, finding out that there was this other career path that brought more of these things in alignment for me was was a godsend because I was on a great path. But that path was in engineering. It was in a pharmaceutical industry. It was, you know, in a different path. But when I looked at myself and the things I like to do, I found out that there may be another path that would, you know, take me a little journey away from what I wanted to do or what I thought I was going to be doing and put me on a to a whole different path that I haven't looked back on. And, you know, in the book, I talk in more detail about something called the Ph.D. Project, which was a a great organization that's looking to diversify the business school for professor population. And it is, you know, wonderful organization. I could talk all day about them, but it was it was a pathway exposed me to a path that I had not known about before. And that path was right where I wanted to be. And I've, I've it's been very fulfilling. So, so that's what I'm looking for, hoping that everybody else is trying to find as well a path. On their journey that allows them to bring these things into alignment. You have less stress and will have more fulfillment and it allows you to make decisions about where are you going to go next because you have meaning and purpose of coming into you, into your life.
[Ann 00:36:19] I love that example for many reasons, but one of the top ones is there's a lot of bravery in making that kind of decision because sometimes you have to let go of something that has this semblance of prestige or you get to go home before Thanksgiving and brag about it.And it sounds, but it might be this prestigious thing that is making you miserable and being brave to let go of that and seek out these this concentric moment where all these different elements are in place sometimes feels like taking a step or two back in order to really step into your zone of genius.
[Jeffrey 00:36:50] And and that's what happened. Yeah. I mean, you know, going to grad school, you know, being in your mid twenties, I was to be able to make this, these, some of these pivots and changes early on in my life. And for some folks these are things they don't realize until their thirties and forties. And that's, you know, it's more challenging then because you get so many other things going on. But for me to take it back, to leave a great paying job, go back to school and to live, you know now it was a it was one of those experiences, like I'm going back to college at the age of 28. [Really?] Yeah. And so you take a couple of steps back, but you catch up later on because you catch up in and feeling fulfilled and having more purpose in your life that leads you to a better life.
[Ann 00:37:38] So powerful. As I said, I could talk for hours about just this part of the book because it really resonates with me, and it's also something I've seen in action so much. I've had the privilege of being around some of the most successful people in the world that in no way necessarily corresponds their happiness. Those who are truly happy and truly impactful are those who are fully aligned with their purpose and passion of what they want to put out into this world. And that has nothing to do with money, really. I've met, you know, there's no correlation between that. So I just thought that was very powerful. But building on this, I do I want to do some justice to the segment and third and fourth parts of the book. So we move on into level two. You have interdependent action and a chapter in this that really stood out to me was about the benefits of personal diversity. Now, this was a I haven't heard it framed this way before. I found this very powerful the way you framed it. So you're talking about how corporations, not only you know, are financially more profitable, the more diversity and inclusion they have in their workforce. We've all heard those statistics before, but I love that the personal element that you point out in this chapter where you say your personal benefits of embracing diversity have to do with cultivating your best talent and generating your best ideas and understanding the different cultures you engage. So, Dr. Pinkett, you share such a nice example of this from when you were a Rhodes Scholar and you had this bit of a culture shock even among other black students here in this program. Would you mind walking through that? Because I thought it was such a beautiful expression of this context. Yes.
[Randal 00:39:12] So let me also go on record that Dr. Robinson was the one who lobbied for Ikigai and he was right. Oh, thank you for going on the record. Oh. I think you two are a great team. I love this. Yes. Yes. You now have your evidence to Dr. Robinson. So the culture shock for me was, with all due respect to with any connection to the United Kingdom, I did not like the food that I own, that that was my problem, not their problem. I grew up with a certain palate, a certain culinary repertoire, and it just was not aligned with what had been my lived experience. And so I came home, I had lost weight. Lord knows I didn't need to lose weight. And so my mother said, you looked like you had pinstriped pajamas with one pinstripe. And so she said, Mom is the food. She said, Well, here's my suggestion so I can teach you how to cook the dishes that you grew up on. But what's your living overseas? You have this wonderful opportunity to broaden your horizon. To our earlier conversation. You said, here's my advice and you go back next semester, ask someone to teach you a dish from their country. Because Oxford is this, as we all know, there's this international, you know, environment of learning. And so I did exactly what you recommended. I went back and I, I asked someone from China to teach me how to cook a dish from China. And then I asked someone from Jamaica to teach me a Jamaican dish. And then from there, I went on to France and to to Germany and to all these places that I hadn't even visited. And when I learned was two things. First, I learned how to put the weight back on. I learned. And then second, in addition to learning how to cook, because I hadn't learned how to cook prior to that, I learned about their culture. And and it it it prepared me in ways that perhaps my my mom had imagined, but I had not imagined to operate in this global society as a person and as a professional. So now when I'm doing business overseas, I have a I have something I can draw upon this reservoir of experience that allows me to function and navigate more effectively. And when I'm just traveling or meeting people in the U.S. or abroad, I've got this reservoir again that I can draw upon to better understand, to better relate, and to better lead. And so this idea of personal diversity is this argument that there are benefits to you personally and professionally when you in gender diverse experiences, connect with diverse people and embrace these tenets of of of broadening that we touched upon in strategic action number two.
[Ann 00:42:16] Where's the time gone? We only have a few minutes left and I have so much more I want to ask you all. So we're going to do a little bit of a lightning round to build on what you just presented there. I think it's a beautiful lead into. And later in the book, you discuss entrepreneurialism and entrepreneurial mindsets. I'm obsessed with this. This is not a concept that existed early in my career, I think this is a modern thing. And I didn't realize at the time, but I was very much being an entrepreneur. I worked at major global organizations that scaled very, very rapidly. And in order to rise in that, I realized that I had to take some responsibility in knowing what I wanted, when to ask for it, how to get it. But that was up to me. There was I've shared many times on this podcast like there is never a moment where my a manager or a leader has ever come to me and said, Oh, and I've noticed this untapped talent of yours. I was thinking about how to apply that. Like that will never happen. That is my job. So I really loved this part of the book where you you really introduce five principles that you call voice, vision, opportunity, innovation, capital and entrepreneurial networks. We could talk about each of those in a full episode, each. But I, to quote you back to yourselves yet again, you say, If black professionals can learn how to navigate the organization, more of us can rise to the top. This requires making some strategic moves early in one's career that will set you up for success later in your career. This is the advice I feel like I did not get, and thankfully I kind of stumbled backwards into creating this pathway for myself. I'm curious, what did the two of you see as a common mistake that young black interpreters or entrepreneurs are making? And what is your advice to them to really put themselves in the driver's seat of success not only now, but setting themselves up for those high places?
[Jeffrey 00:43:58] Oh, yeah. I'll take the first quick stab at that one. The networks and mentorship. All right. And I'll say it this way, that sometimes we can be very insular. You know, you get comfortable with certain people. You get comfortable with people who just like you and you don't extend out from that network to make a diverse network that can be helpful and supporting what you're trying to do. And that includes mentors. You mentors don't always have to look exactly like you or act exactly like you mean. You want to learn from a portfolio or a board of directors of of of of mentors and those two without taking care to really develop both the network and mentors. You know, you're limiting your potential. And I think that's a mistake that some folks will make. And I would I would add in this lightning round is taking promotions over passion.
[Randal 00:44:57] And it gets back to your point a moment ago and that the research shows that even those who make it to the top have fewer promotions than those who plateau in their careers, which is contradictory. But the reason being those who plateau say yes to everything. And in doing so, they're not looking for opportunities to shine their brightest light, whereas those who reach the top are much more discerning. Is that the right opportunity for me? And if not, I'll decline it. Gets back to your point a moment ago about how finding this alignment ultimately allows you to be your best and do your best.
[Ann 00:45:38] I love that. I often call this the win win win win. First, you have to have clarity of what you want, where you're going, then recognize how can where I want to go solve a problem for someone else. If my manager delegate that to me and free themselves up for where they are most impactful, I win. They win. And then if those two things are aligned with the organization, you're on a rocket ship. And I, I don't think especially people young in their career, are given that advice that you just pointed out where saying no can be such a power move. I think especially for underrepresented entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs, we can often find ourselves feeling like we have to say yes. It's like, well, this is this is an opportunity, they say, but no, that can hold you down. So freeing yourself up to say yes to the right things is seemingly counterintuitive. But looking back, I can see that made all difference for me. I am remiss that we only have a few minutes left, but I wanted to let you know that something that really stood out to me at the end of the book, which I found so powerful, was this single sentence. It says, Being a black face in a high place is not just about getting a seat at the table, it is about having a voice. Once you're at the table, I would love to hear your thoughts on that. For me, that was just a summary of everything I had learned through the book. And I, I as a woman, only woman at the table so much sometimes felt like it was just a privilege to be sitting there. And so I kind of like blended into the background for a little bit too long. And then once I finally used my voice, I realized the power of not just being in the room but having a voice in that room. I wonder, with the just minutes that we have left, is there anything you want to share with with listeners who might have had some spark of an idea or something awoken in themselves of a challenge they want to take on right now? How can they not only get a seat at the table, but use their voice very effectively?
[Jeffrey 00:47:29] Yeah, I'll just jump in quickly that the that's in the chapter we call Seek Significance. So it's not just about being successful, it's also about being significant that people will remember you or the legacy that you can you can leave. And so being in the room is, is important. But when you're in that room, again, being the person who who makes a difference and an impact for others, once you're at that table, you said it very well. And you can't just be thinking about yourself and you can't and you can't just be satisfied to be in the room. And that's one of the things I love about young people we've talked to have asked is that we see a lot of people make it to the top, but they all seem to quote unquote, sell out. And I'll translate that to say they all get to get into that room and then they become very quiet. And that's not a great strategy that that helps helps others. And we certainly point to examples of people who have made a difference and made an impact once they've gotten there.
[Randal 00:48:34] And since the release of the book, we've we've embraced an acronym that encapsulates the answer. We call it the secret sauce now essay. You see that is B strategic. You can't fight every battle there are times where you don't want to say something and there are times when you absolutely must say something. Be authentic, true to yourself, be unapologetic. And then lastly, be community engaged that you don't forget where you came from and who shoulders you stand on. Because we don't just stand on the shoulders of giants. We have a responsibility to be giants so others can stand on our shoulders to.
[Ann 00:49:17] I don't want to end this conversation, but that is a beautiful mic drop moment that I was looking. For that that's. Powerful stuff. I give that 5 a.m. and I really appreciate you saying that. So this is just the tip of the iceberg of the incredible valuable lessons that are jam packed into this book. I mean, just look at all my notes. Where can listeners connect with you? Follow along by the book. What are all the best ways to connect with you?
[Randal 00:49:45] Yes. So we're both available at our websites. I'm at Randal Pinkett (with one L).com. He is at Jeffrey Robinson PhD.com. You can follow me and I'll let Dr. Robinson follow at Randal Pinkett with one L that's Twitter, that's Instagram, that's Facebook, that's LinkedIn. And you can also follow the book at BFHP book – Black Faces High Places book – on all social media platforms. Dr. Robinson
[Jeffrey 00:50:17] And you can follow me at JRobinsonPHD on all those platforms as well.
[Ann 00:50:23] This is has been an incredible conversation. I look forward to continuing it. This shouldn't be the end and to have a lot of our listeners connect and follow and be inspired and empowered by your work and this book. So thank you for sharing your wisdom today with everyone here at the Bet on Yourself podcast and I look forward to much, much more.
[Randal 00:50:43] Thank you.
[Jeffrey 00:50:43] Thanks and take care.
About my guest
Dr Randal Pinkett & Dr Jeffrey Robinson
10 years after the publication of their first book together, Black Faces in White Places, Dr Randal Pinkett and Dr Jeffrey Robinson went back to the writers’ room to pen their follow up. Black Faces in High Places delves into how people must not only fight for their place at the table, but use it to the benefit of others once they are there by drawing on the examples of Carol Dweck and Barack Obama, among others.