How to Empower Staff with Dr. Carrie Graham

In our 30th episode, Sofie is joined by Dr. Carrie Graham, an Adult Learning Consultant, Learning Strategist, and owner of Carrie O. Graham Learning & Solution, to explore staff empowerment. Dr. Carrie underscores that empathetic leaders practicing effective communication foster trust, positioning supervisors and managers as pivotal in nurturing positive work environments. Throughout the episode, she highlights the significance of constructive feedback, offering valuable insights for managers and supervisors aiming to improve workplace relationships and leadership skills.

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About the Guest

Dr. Carrie Graham

Carrie’s mom always told her, “Take one step at a time and do your best.” As an African American woman, she didn’t fit into the traditional box, no matter how hard she tried. Carrie found herself at a professional crossroads, lacking the necessary skills for her work. These experiences drove her to become an adult learning consultant and learning strategist.

She is on a mission to establish a world where workplace trainings are both captivating and effective. Her vision includes engaged learners, retained information, and applied skills, ultimately enabling employees to perform at their best. Achieving this dream was no simple feat, but Carrie is turning it into reality.

Resources: ⁠



Sofie: Hello everyone and welcome back to Claim Your Potential, the empowerment podcast. I’m your host, Sofie, and for this episode, we are joined by Dr. Carrie Graham to discuss how to empower your staff and why it’s crucial. 

Dr. Carrie Graham, an esteemed Adult Learning Consultant and Learning Strategist, and owner of Carrie O. Graham Learning & Solutions, has been on a mission to create a world where workplace training is engaging and tailored to the needs of each learner. 

Throughout her career, Dr. Carrie Graham has championed the principles of Adult Learning Theory, demonstrating its indispensable role in achieving learner engagement, practical applications of skills, and knowledge retention. 

Today we have the privilege of delving into Dr. Graham’s invaluable insights on how to empower staff. From building trust and providing growth opportunities to encouraging autonomy and problem-solving, her expertise will guide us toward empowering our organizations. 

Please welcome, Dr. Carrie Graham. Thank you so much for being with us today.

Dr. Carrie Graham: Oh, my goodness Sofie. Thank you so much for having me. It’s quite an honor. I always love the opportunity to engage in conversation with other women about women and girls and all things to support women achieving the life that they want. So thank you for having me.

Sofie: It is such an honor to have you on as well and I’m so happy to hear that there. It’s always such an excitement to be able to bring a guest on, especially around that common goal of empowering young women to just achieve their full potential in every area of life. And so speaking of – of empowerment, what does empowerment mean to you especially in that context of staff engagement and management and why is it essential for a thriving workplace?

Dr. Carrie Graham: Yeah. Well, I would say I always advocate for the individual. So when I think about the concept of empowerment of an individual, I would define it or describe it as the individual understands what it is that they need to do to achieve whatever the desire is. So I should back up and say they have the desire and then they know what to do to achieve what it is that they’re desiring and that they have capacity to do that thing. So it really goes beyond what people are telling you, but rather it is an internal level of motivation, an internal self-awareness and a level of confidence for the individual. Now when we think about the organization, if we have a number of individuals who are functioning from that place, they have goals, they understand what it takes to achieve those goals. So the how and the why and then they feel that they have the confidence, the self-confidence to actually do it. Those are the things that make for a thriving – in my opinion, a thriving organization.

Sofie: Absolutely and I’d love to shift that context there to how can leaders create a culture of empowerment within an organization? What are some perhaps steps to promote this type of culture because it’s so crucial to having just an engaged workforce?

Dr. Carrie Graham: Yeah, absolutely. I would say that first and foremost the individual who is placed in a leadership role hopefully they understand that – that leadership is not solely about holding a position but rather it’s about their behavior. So, you know, that’s the first starting place is that the individual has some leadership development and has some – some skills around empathy and effective communication. And to that end, in order to empower your team or your staff or the those in which you are attempting to lead, it is most important from a learning perspective that you build trust and that you help them grow in the ways in which we talked about. Right? So identifying their desire or their passion, helping them develop the skills so that they can achieve whatever the goal is. Those are some of the ways in which we empower our team and our workforce.

Sofie: Absolutely and thinking about that culture of empowerment there something that’s already coming to my mind is feedback and the power of feedback and that constructive feedback to, you know, improve your maybe not just performance to – but to improve, you know, who you are as a leader who you are in that position your expertise. And so how can feedback be used to help improve that workplace or even individual performance or – or strengths?

Dr. Carrie Graham: Yeah. You know, Sofie I’m so happy you asked about feedback. It’s one of those things that many people are afraid of but feedback it’s – it’s a two-way street. It is the – the individual who is presenting the feedback and so that should be done with again, empathy and compassion, clarity, and the ability to stick to the facts when providing feedback and to – to not make it about the individual’s character. So that’s one side of feedback, the other side of feedback focuses – is from the perspective of the individual receiving the information and that’s where we’re having a leader who builds trust is really important because it supports the recipient in their ability, their capacity, to hear what is being shared with them or offered to them as well as understand and process it all while taking it in context and not becoming distracted by the emotion of the feedback and yes, feedback can stir some level of emotion in all of us. However, the – the main goal and the way to ensure that feedback is constructive is that if it’s presented in a way that is palatable, I’ll say for the recipient, and for the recipient that it is – it is received from a place of learning. Right? This is an opportunity for me to learn and grow and that only happens when a leader has established not only a relationship of trust, but an organization and culture of trust.

Sofie: Oh, my goodness. Yes. I’m thinking about some of the previous positions that I’ve been in where that wasn’t the case, where there wasn’t that culture of trust. And there’s such a monumental difference between having no trust instilled in the culture and the feedback structure is such a very different beast, so to speak, when you’re working in those organizations because the feedback is a lot more based on, here’s your performance, you know, it’s either, you fix this or you ship out.

And it’s – it’s very much that mindset versus when I’ve been in organizations that have that culture of trust and that culture of, we want to make sure that you’re – you are growing in this organization as we’re growing. You get the opposite side of that coin where it’s not just feedback on your work but it’s feedback on perhaps your level of engagement in the work or your level of engagement with staff or the decisions that you make with your work. Are you taking risks? Are you doing something different or are you just kind of keeping whatever the last person was doing going? And I’ve found that type of feedback is a lot more helpful when it comes to developing as a whole person in an organization. And for all of the young women out there, I would love to hear from you Dr. Graham, if you have any advice for these young women that are perhaps starting their – their first job or maybe they’re entering their first internship? And I’m curious as to how can young women especially take this feedback, apply it, or how can young women give feedback? Because I think that’s even scarier sometimes is giving that feedback to your manager.

Dr. Carrie Graham: Oh my goodness. Sofie, you – you ask such great questions as it relates to the role of feedback and trust in an organization first and foremost when I think about young women, my younger self, my heart melts for that stage of life as an intern or entering your first job and first and foremost what I want to say is, pay attention to the culture. It’s incredibly easy not only in the hiring and job searching phase of life to ignore what an organization’s culture is and – and only be focused on what is the work. What is the salary? But you know if you take the time to one, consider what the organizational culture is that is really important because it sets you up for success. If you are choosing an organization that everyone engages in learning with a level of enthusiasm, if the organization provides professional development opportunities, career development opportunities, as well as some personal development opportunities, that’s the type of place where you want to work because it’s going to provide you the skills that you need to to be successful at your job but it will also provide you with fundamental skills for your career. That’s the critical part is – is planning for your future.  

So my young friends as you all are getting started, I would encourage you to think about that and then once you’re in an organization when it comes to receiving feedback, I encourage you to always remember that the feedback is about the work. It is not a judgment of your character and if the person who is providing the feedback makes it about your character, that says more about them than it does about you. So again, use feedback as a learning opportunity to make improvements or to choose not to make a change because I’m a firm believer that we all have choice. We all have choice but I do want to share, I do want to share something that I learned a little bit later in life and I wish, I don’t have a lot of regrets Sofie, but I wish I’d learned this one earlier on but I’m going to gladly pass them along. And that is sometimes when you are receiving feedback, because it has the capacity to one, be overwhelming because it’s a lot to process or it stirs up some level of emotion take a deep breath and take a step back. So if you are provided written feedback and it’s either a lot of information or you disagree with it – whatever the case may be. If it’s stirring up some level of emotion, I strongly encourage you to take a deep breath, set it aside, process not only the information – so what was written, but also process your emotions in response to what you’ve read. 

So that’s the first thing and then revisit, you know, meet with whomever and then attend to the feedback. If you are in fact meeting with someone and they are providing you with feedback, I would encourage you to ask if at all you can say, you know, say thank you for the feedback and that you’d like some time to process all that has been shared with you and reflect and then follow up at a later time, you know, not too far off but twenty four, forty eight hours later to provide you an opportunity to process the information so that when you are given the feedback, your response is not based in emotion but it’s based in the facts, it’s based on objectivity and – and you are actually more clear about what you’ve heard, what you understand that you were told and then how you respond. That’s the insight that I would offer others. I don’t even want to say just young women and middle – mid career women, but for all women. I think that’s really important to recognize where we are emotionally in response to feedback.

Sofie: Yes, as you were talking about just taking time to really process that feedback, what someone is saying and reflecting on that emotion, I’m thinking back to oh so many moments where I wish that I had – had that advice. I’ve had feedback given and I didn’t agree with the feedback and my gut reaction was, oh that hurt because I don’t agree with that. I thought I was doing my very best, oh my gosh that makes me feel awful. Why do I feel so awful about this? And rather than, you know, taking time to think through those emotions. Right? You’re going to get that gut reaction out of me. That’s what that person got was a gut reaction from me and it was a very visible change in my face of oh I don’t think that I agree with that. And I think that’s such valuable advice there because when we get feedback and I think something that’s a big part of – of current working culture is that when we get feedback, we’re supposed to, you know, take it and immediately apply it and be thankful for every single piece of feedback that we get and I think feedback is great one hundred percent but there are sometimes where someone does give a piece of feedback and it almost feels like they don’t fully know us or they don’t fully understand perhaps the situation that we were in when that was happening or they don’t fully understand the big picture. And it can be hard to sit in those settings and to get feedback and so absolutely, taking time to say, “hey let me come back to you twenty-four hours later, I’d love to share my thoughts on this feedback but I need a data process. Such a fantastic piece of advice there.

Dr. Carrie Graham: Yeah, you know Sofie I want to – I also want to add to that is my work is on adult learning and so if we look at feedback not only as a technical responsibility of a manager. Right? I have to provide my team with feedback as part of their annual review. Right? If we move beyond feedback from that perspective, feedback is an amazing way to learn. It’s an amazing resource for learning and workplace learning. Now one of the benefits of taking time and coming back to the conversation is you’re – you’re able to more clearly pose critical questions to help expand your learning. And I say that because I think about you in the example that you just shared is, you know – and we’ve all been in this so please know I’m not singling you out, but when we have an opportunity when we are provided with feedback that we disagree with and the expectation is that we respond in that moment, you are correct the response that people often get is the emotional response and there’s really minimal time for a critical critique of the opposing views.  

If we are all provided time and space to – to process the information and then reflect, that’s a wonderful opportunity for someone to ask the question later, “you know, can you share the context in which you make that, you know, you offer that level of feedback because I disagree and I disagree because…” And you’re able to have a conversation and the conversation ultimately should support people’s level of learning and if it supports their learning, it’s going to support their confidence in the work, hopefully it improves trust. And ultimately people, you know, my – my desire is that people can walk away from those conversations able to do their job better but more importantly, be the person that they truly want to be because of the feedback.

Sofie: Yeah, and I think that part of this is just an ongoing learning process and, you know, how can leaders be part of this ongoing process, you know, and sustain a stable work environment over time that adapts their approaches as the organization grows?

Dr. Carrie Graham: Yeah, I have found in my experience is that when those individuals who are in leadership positions stop making it about themselves and make the priority their team, their staff, their workforce – whomever it is that they are supervising, managing, leading. When you look beyond yourself, you look beyond your need – your own personal needs and focus on why is our production low or why is our customer service – why are we getting complaints. It could potentially be like you’re now not making it about yourself, you’re focusing on the individuals and – and – and there’s an opportunity for leaders to say, “is it that we need more staff to help with production, to help with customer service?” Is it that it’s a period of time where the holidays let’s just say, for example, everyone is stress thin and it’s an incredibly stressful time of year and so if we’re working in a customer service environment, attending to the experiences of your staff, getting to that, focusing on that, is how you are one, able to make effective changes but more importantly, your team feels seen and heard because you are trying to solve a problem for them that they literally have no control over. 

And so, you know, first and foremost I would say when – when leaders put their own self-interest aside and focus on the heart of the individuals, the heart of their team, the heart of their staff and be open to conversation, open to suggestions, that’s how you build trust a culture of trust. That’s how you build a culture of open and effective communication and that is how you build a culture of empowerment. If I’m struggling, if I’m on the staff and I’m struggling and I know that I can go to my – my supervisor and share with them that, “hey, I’m struggling because it’s the beginning of like the school year is about to start and my children are all going to new schools and it’s very stressful at home. I need some extra support and I’m unable to focus.” And to have – know that you can take that to your manager or your supervisor and have it be respected and get their level of support, that is how you build an empowered or one way in which you can build an empowered culture.

Sofie: Yes. Oh, my goodness. Yes. There are so many pieces from – from that there that are resonating with me that I’m thinking through just previous leadership positions and I love that you mentioned, you know, really understanding the things that are not in the control of staff members. And that a lot of the time, people make it about them, people make feedback about them. And as you said it’s really about looking at what the whole picture is, what the big picture is, and thinking about and trying to understand where they’re coming from and having that – that culture of just being able to go to your supervisor, to your manager to say, “hey, you know, there’s a lot going on at home right now. Can I maybe shift my work to someone else or can I perhaps have some more flexibility because there’s just a lot going on and I just need a day or two to really, you know, get all this sorted out in my – in my personal life.”  

Dr. Carrie Graham: Yeah. 

Sofie: And I think that – that is so helpful when you have those cultures because people aren’t falling behind on work. If anything, it’s that open communication that keeps the process going, that keeps the flow of work going even if it, you know, means taking a step back for a little bit. It’s still that open communication makes it a lot easier to adjust and to make changes there and so such a great piece of advice there and to really tie everything together, what is one thing that our listeners should take away from this episode?

Dr. Carrie Graham: You know, I – I would say just that Sofie honestly just that for individuals who are leaders or find themselves in themselves and in leadership positions, I encourage you to think about the – think about your team or your staff as just that – as individuals. Have trust in them if you hired them. You hired them for a reason and – and if, you know, I always cringe when I hear leaders say, “I don’t trust my team.” That – that’s a sad situation. It’s just a sad situation. So I would encourage leaders to focus on the individual as a human being, as a person. Get to know them. Get to know, you know, their strengths, their – their likes, their passions. Those things that they’re committed to because we all are so much more than the work that we do and that is really important. I think oftentimes companies and organizations lose sight of that when it comes to their workforce. They look at the work – view the workforce as a commodity for productivity or service but we all are individuals and so that should be the focus. And for those individuals who are part of the team and staff, I encourage you, I invite you actually to be reflective. Employ your voice and employ your capacity for choice if there is a burning desire inside of you. I encourage you to explore it. Hopefully you can explore it at your current place of work and can weave the two together and if not, I still encourage you to explore it in some capacity. But those – those things that we need, all of us have them within us. It is – it is our responsibility to be reflective and find the power and strength that we need from within.

Sofie: Thank you for sharing that wonderful piece of wisdom. And for our listeners that do not want to stop hearing all of the wonderful wisdom you have to share, how can our listeners connect with you?

Dr. Carrie Graham: Oh, my goodness. Well, thank you. I would love to hear from your listeners. I would say the best place to connect with me is on my website. My website is and, you know, for those individuals that would like to see more of my work or speak with me, that’s the place to do it. And for those of you that are on social media and love all things social media, you can find me on LinkedIn, also Dr. Carrie Graham.

Sofie: Wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing that Dr. Carrie Graham. For all of our listeners out there that would like to get in contact, please do. I’ve had such a wonderful conversation today. So I’m hoping that our listeners, fingers crossed, you know, connect with you because these – these conversations are always not just fun for me to have with people but especially all – all of the wisdom that you shared today. Lots of points that really hit home with me where I’m thinking back to some of the experiences that I’ve had in my career. And I’m now going, yep that makes sense, that’s why I probably left that organization. Yep, did not have that culture there, all right. I’m going to stand by that decision right now. And also thinking back to those – those happy great moments where I had supervisors that were fantastic at creating that culture. So thank you for speaking with me today and for sharing your experiences, for sharing the work that – that you are accomplishing, for all of the work that you do to really help empower women in their career and in life in general.

Dr. Carrie Graham: Oh, Sofie such kind words. Thank you, thank you, thank you and – and I truly appreciate your audience listening in and reflecting more than anything. I appreciate you – you all taking a moment to reflect on what I’ve shared with you today. So I am honored. I’m honored to share space with you.

Sofie: I’m honored to have you on. It’s been such a pleasure, Dr. Graham.

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