In this competitive world, it can be so easy to drown ourselves in what others are doing. As a result, we lose who we really are trying to fit into their kind of success. This episode’s guest, Lisa Nichols, encourages you to be different! We don’t have to copy others because we have our strengths. Most importantly, we all have something extra to give. Lisa is the CEO and co-founder of Technology Partners and the host of the Something Extra podcast. Inspired by her daughter, Ally, who has Down syndrome, Lisa’s leadership podcast is where she interviews leaders from all walks of life to learn what it takes to be a leader in today’s marketplace. In this conversation, she sits down with Darrin Tulley to inspire us to tap into our many “something extras.” Lisa shares leadership lessons from her daughter that are helping her structure a culture of trust that allows everyone to thrive. She also gives her perspective on engaging more women in the underrepresented technology space. Tune in and gain powerful insights on seeing beyond barriers, tapping into who we really are and the light and possibilities within ourselves and others. We all have something extra to give. Let Lisa’s wisdom guide you to find it and flourish in all areas of your lives.
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Be You, Be Different: We All Have Something Extra To Give With Lisa Nichols
It is my honor and pleasure to welcome Lisa Nichols to the show. Lisa is the CEO and co-founder of Technology Partners, a Women-Business Enterprise and provider of premier IT staffing, solutions, and IT leadership development. Named among the Most Influential Business Women, Lisa’s influence continues to be recognized by her peers in the greater St. Louis community.
Lisa and her husband, Greg, founded Technology Partners in 1994, driven by their passion for revolutionizing the staffing industry with their transparent business model. Greg and Lisa have prioritized creating mutual wins for their employees, clients, and community. Lisa is also the host of the Something Extra podcast, inspired by her daughter, Ally, who has Down syndrome. She scientifically has an extra 21st chromosome but has many something extras. Lisa interviews leaders from all walks of life to learn what it takes to be a leader in today’s marketplace.
Let’s tune in today to learn more about all that, along with some other items like leadership lessons from her seven-year-old self and her daughter, Ally, that are helping her structure a culture of trust that allows everyone to thrive. Lisa also gives her perspective on engaging more women back in the underrepresented technology space. She leads by example by sharing how possibilities are endless when we let our guard down and connect with a greater purpose and that something extra that defines us. Lisa is a storyteller and connects with all of us on so many levels. Stay tuned to find the spark in you and enjoy the show.
Welcome, Lisa. I’m so excited to talk with you.
I am so excited to be here, Darrin. You and I have just had a little sidebar conversation and I already feel like my cup is filled up for the day. It’s great to be with you. Thank you for having me.
I’m glad you’re here. We had a wonderful conversation on your podcast, Something Extra. One of the things we talked about after that show is adapting one word at the beginning of the year with purpose. Something that shows up that we look forward to every year. I actually read an article that was on your website and you do a great job writing too. In 2021, you used the phrase, “Love more.” In 2022, you used the phrase, “Be still.” What did you use for 2023? I didn’t see that. I didn’t know what you were using for this year. I’d love to know why do you choose the one-word phrase and what does 2023 look like?
I broke the rules in 2023 because I’ve got many words. It’s not just one word. I actually adopted a mantra for 2023, and it’s the relentless and consistent focus on the things that matter most.
Perfect. I love it.
It’s not necessarily doing more things. It’s not necessarily being busy, but it’s being relentlessly focused on the things that matter most. The next question you would ask yourself is, “What matters most?” You and I have talked about it. It’s awesome to ask yourself these questions.
As you’re going through the day, is that something that you will often remind yourself of as you think about this mantra?
Absolutely. There are so many good things that we can be doing with our time. We all have 168 hours a week of time. There are so many good things, but I don’t want just the good things. I want the best things. I want to be doing the best things with my time. If I’m spending time at a networking event when I should be with my family, I haven’t consistently focused on the things that matter most.
That’s beautiful. One of the things that you do that is pretty incredible is your podcast, Something Extra. I know that’s a special one for you. If you don’t mind, for my audience, briefly describe what it is. I need to ask you too what your something extra is. I don’t know if you share that with your audience, but I’d love for you to share it with mine.
Interestingly enough, we did that as a family and said, “What do you think my something extra is?” We had some discourse over that, our family which is special, and just knowing what you see in your children and your spouse. We started Something Extra in 2018. We have in the precipice for it and the inspiration for it is our daughter, Ally. She is our youngest child with Down Syndrome. Scientifically, Ally has an extra 21st chromosome as all Down Syndrome children do. When you get to know her, she got so many something extras. If you’ve ever known somebody with Down Syndrome, you know how loving they can be, how compassionate, and how accepting they can be. Ally does not see skin color. She does not see size. She sees people.
I’ve got beautiful stories of how she has demonstrated that over the years. We don’t have time for it but years ago, when the kids were about 13, 14, and 15, we were in El Salvador for a mission trip. We went into a prison with gang members. We had guards in there, but these gang members had tattoos all over their faces. Ally started conversing with these guys. Here’s the funny thing about this whole thing, she does not speak Spanish and they did not speak English. We had a translator that was helping us communicate with these guys, but she was having a real conversation. She saw a soul. She saw a person and not necessarily the tattoos on their faces. She demonstrates all these something extras all the time.
We started thinking in 2018 and there will be a book. I pray that I don’t die before the book gets done because there needs to be a Something Extra book. I said, “We got to do something with this. What is the something extra that every leader needs?” Our marketing department came up with that. They said, “If you would start podcasting, you can interview leaders and we can use that as our title for the podcast.” That was the precipice for the podcast. Now, we’re probably close to 250 episodes. It has just been such an amazing journey. I feel like every time I have a guest on, I come away a richer person. I hope that’s the case for our listeners.
A beautiful story. Ally is making such an impact in the world and is far-reaching. Isn’t that special too about seeing people for who they are in front of us and not having any biases or any barriers, and just seeing the love and the beauty in front of us? Imagine that.
I know. Imagine how our world would be different if that was the case. That is the honest truth. She doesn’t care if you’re tall, short, large, small, or the color of your skin. It does not matter to her. She sees a person. She sees a human being. It’s like, “Here’s someone I need to interact with.”
What would be your something extra that you bring out or maybe your family had chosen for you?
I’ll tell you what my family has said. I’m a good listener. That is what my family says. I’m a very connected person. I see connections with people and I love to connect people. I’m very relational. I think I get that from my dad. We would be on a trip somewhere. My mom and I would go shopping and come out, and my dad is talking to this man on a bench. I’m like, “Do you know that guy?” He goes, “Never met him before, but now I do.” He was able to strike up a conversation and find commonality and common ground with everyone, but very relational. I think I’m a pretty empathic person. A lot of that truly comes from having a child with special needs and seeing how she navigates the world. Those are a few of mine, I would say.
Some of those that you mentioned, even relating to Ally again, are about how we look through life with our children’s eyes or even our own child-like eyes that are within us that we’ve outgrown. Allowing ourselves to slow down and be empathic, loving, and relational. That’s what we were born to do. We come out looking for acceptance and empathy when we’re looking for connections, and then what happens?
I don’t know. We do get preconceived notions and even sometimes unconscious biases toward other people. If we could look at people differently through that human being or another human being. I’m going to pivot here for a minute. You’d ask me about light-up moments. What are those light-up moments that are giving you clarity? I would say to you, seriously, just about every day I have some sort of light-up moment in Ally’s eyes. It can be the most non-special ordinary day. She’ll be like, “It’s a good day.” There’s been nothing special about the day. For her, it’s a good day if she gets to be with her family.
The only time that may not be the case is if she didn’t get her Starbucks and she wants her Starbucks, and we don’t have time for that. She sees the simple gifts in each day. I’ve come to believe too that there are silver linings in every day and every circumstance. It’s our ability to recognize it if we will take the time to acknowledge it. One of the big a-has for me is when I realized I could be that silver lining for someone else. It doesn’t need to be a huge thing. It can be a word of encouragement. It can be a simple nod of the head to say, “I see you,” or a smile.There are silver linings in every circumstance; it's our ability to recognize it if we take the time to acknowledge it. Click To Tweet
When I have that kind of perspective, that brings me great joy because I know that’s going back. Not to get too much off-topic here, but you had mentioned love more. That was an epiphany for me in 2018. I think you and I have talked about this, but I’m a Jesus follower and I follow the Bible. In the Bible, in Matthew, Jesus said, “The two greatest commandments are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. The second one is to love your neighbor as yourself.
My epiphany was if those are the two greatest commandments, I probably should focus on that. I probably should figure out how I can love more. That’s where the whole “love more” came from. It’s not just words that we say, but it’s the actions that we take every day. It could be a note of encouragement. It could be a word of encouragement.
It’s tying back to what you started with too about focusing on what matters. That’s loving more, and loving our neighbors and people we work with. I remember in our interview on your podcast, we talked about this light that’s inside everybody and the possibilities that are there. You mentioned, and I will never forget it. I loved what you said. It’s not exactly what you said but similar in the sense of it. You said, “It’s almost like there are clouds in the way at times. We need to help part those clouds for people so they can actually feel it, believe it, and see it themselves. See the light so they can turn it up or do the things they didn’t think they could do or believe, and all those fun things.” I appreciate that inspiration as you continue to give that out.
What other challenges have you had to overcome that maybe you’re still thinking about now? It seems like you’re rather busy. You’re giving back in so many ways. You’re connected in the community of St. Louis and internationally. What are some of the things that maybe you’ve overcome that you’re trying to give back in different ways?
Overcoming things. I don’t know how much time we have here. I don’t think this is a long enough show to go through all of that. You and I talked in a sidebar conversation about this, and I’ll explain myself. My husband and I co-founded our company 29 years ago, IT staffing solution and leadership development. We’ve been doing this for a long time. There was a period of time when I especially would chase our competition. Here’s what I mean by that. I would be looking at what all of our competition was doing. “Our competition’s at this networking event. I got to be at that networking event. Our competition does this conference every year. We got to be at that conference.”
There were many years where we spent $50,000-plus going to this one conference every year because our competition was there. There’s a fine balance there because you need to show up to stay top of mind for the business. I feel like that’s part of my chief job for the entire organization. It’s to make sure that I’m in those rooms. We don’t chase our competition anymore. We just try to be the best. They may be doing something else, but we are doing other things. I would say that as an organization, it can be a challenge, and also as an individual sometimes.
People try to be someone else, “That person is out there doing this, I need to be doing that too.” My joy comes when I am using the God-given gifts that I’ve been given to serve other people. My gifts may look different than yours. My something extras are probably different than yours. That’s one of the things that’s a challenge I had to overcome. There are so many more. When we first started the business, I’m not a huge process person. My husband was a software engineer, very methodical, and very systems-oriented. I’m more of a free spirit. I was in sales as part of my career. The processes felt stifling. They felt like, “Why do we have to always define our processes?”
After many mistakes that I made by not following processes, I’m a believer now. That’s where you get your consistency of quality. That’s where every day doesn’t feel like Groundhog Day because you’re repeating the same mistakes. That was a big one for me. Literally, the list could go on and on. I remember when it changed. It used to be in hiring, we would hire someone. I let people who are non-performers linger too long because I would think, “If we could give them a little bit more time and coaching, they’ll get it.” Sometimes they do, but in many cases, it doesn’t happen that way. They were not cut for that particular role.
What I realized that I’ll never forget, Greg and I were on a trip. We were driving on this trip and we were listening to John Maxwell and a bunch of John Maxwell podcasts, and some of his audio clips. I’ll never forget him talking about when you allow the non-performers to linger around, the top performers will resent that. They will see that as unfair to them because it’s bringing down the whole organization. There’s a major cost to a mishire. The hard costs are the things that you paid them. Maybe you used a search firm, but then the morale cost, the onboarding, and the training. There’s a huge cost. That is an area and a challenge I’ve had to grow in. Now, when we hire, our vetting process is very stringent. Hire slow.
Get the right talent in there. To your point, folks that want to learn continue to expand and continue to contribute back in. You have such a wonderful team in your organization now. How many people are you up to now?
We’ve got 450.
That’s wonderful. Twenty-nine years in business. To your point, you don’t want to be like everybody else. What you’ve been saying all along is to be different. Be authentic. Accept our differences. Accept that we do have strengths. We don’t have to copy other folks. Be who we are. That’s something that is important for us to remind ourselves, and then look for those differences in other people too. Collectively, that’s the difference maker. I think you have a tagline or a purpose where you talk about, “Together, we are improving our world.” What does that mean to you at Technology Partners?
We see ourselves partnering with our clients. To name a few, Bayer is a client of ours. MasterCard International is a client of ours. We’re partnering with other organizations that are doing amazing things out there in the world. Bayer acquired Monsanto. We were a partner for Monsanto for 26 of our 29 years. Their mission is to feed the world. That’s a great mission. That’s what they’re doing. They’re doing research on roots that can grow in arid places to feed the world. When our team comes along beside an organization that’s doing meaningful things, we’re part of that equation too. We’re part of the story.
That’s just one example, but our clients are doing wonderful things. Panera is a client of ours, and they’re improving the efficiency of people getting the Fuji apple salads that they want or the Cuban chickens, clean ingredients. We’ve got clients that are doing amazing things. We’re part of that equation. As a technology partner of that organization, we’re part of the story.
That’s good to sync up with other people’s purposes or greater aspirations that are going to be. Helping that further along or executing it together is powerful. You’re talking about fighting joy along the way. You’re not having to be everywhere. You’re finding joy here where it matters, which is cool. I have to joke a little bit. I think you got your Accounting degree at Murray State. I have an Accounting major, but I’m not doing any of that work anymore as you can tell. How did you get to this place? You got to this place of this greater purpose with Technology Partners and connection with the world differently. How did you go from accounting to now being the CEO of this wonderful company?
Sometimes I scratch my head and wonder the same thing. One of the huge influences in my life, I met my husband, Greg, at a very early age in church. When we started dating. We’re from Kentucky and I always jokingly say, “I promise we’re not kissing cousins,” no matter what you’ve heard sometimes about Kentucky, but we grew up together. It was like 3 and 5 is when we met. We started going to the same church. We dated all the way through high school and college.
We’ve both had entrepreneurial bends. I started my first business when I was seven. If we have time to talk about that, I’ll tell you a little bit about that little business that my dad taught me some good leadership lessons through that. We both have always had this entrepreneurial bend. Even in high school when we were dating, Greg would talk and he goes, “One day, if we can build a company that can do well as an organization, we can do a lot of good in the world.” That was his dream, and then that influenced my aspirations. I’m like, “That’s a train I want to be on.” I yelled at him. I’m like, “That’s the guy that I want to attach my train to.”
Greg is a couple of years older than me. When he went to college, he decided he was going to be an accountant. Two years later, here I come along as a freshman. He’s like, “You should be in accounting.” I’m like, “I thought I was going to go into medicine or something.” That’s what I had prepared for in high school. He goes, “Go into accounting, and then when we graduate, we’ll start a company. We’ll start a firm,” so I did.
I decided I would do that, but he ended up getting a double major. He got a degree in computers because that was emerging and he just loved it. He went on and finished his degree in Accounting. I went on and said, “I will go and do corporate accounting.” I did that for five and a half years at McDonnell Douglass, which was a phenomenal company. Greg and I both started our careers there. We point back to that experience all the time as teaching us discipline. It wasn’t willy-nilly. It was very methodical. It was very good. They’re building planes.
Anyway, after about five years, I said, “I think I could do this.” I was actually in a management training program. If I’d stayed, I would’ve possibly risen through the ranks, but I’m like, “I don’t enjoy this.” When I was a senior in college, I thought I want to do sales. That’s what I want to do. You’d already gone through all of this. I made it through Advanced Theory and Cost Accounting, so I’m like, “I got to stay that course.” I did end up leaving McDonnell and going into corporate sales for another Fortune 500 company.
Greg and I both spent the first ten years in Corporate America and then we said, “Let’s build a company. It’s time.” On a Saturday, we went down to our basement and said, “Let’s start a company.” It was and it wasn’t. We had that idea when we were in high school, but I didn’t know exactly what that was going to look like because it certainly wasn’t computers at that time.
Congratulations. Twenty-nine years later, talking about leadership ideas. We definitely have to hear about those seven-year-old leadership ideas you earned and learned out of that business. Also, translate that to today. How is that showing up and what other leadership ideas do you have for folks out there?
That’s a loaded question. My growing up, I love that. I love that you asked me that question, “What kinds of things growing up have influenced you today?” It made me dig deep. Real quickly, that leadership story, I was seven and I always was looking for how I can build something. I love flowers. I still do. I’ll have fresh flowers in our house all the time. Even if somebody doesn’t buy them for me, I’ll go buy them for myself because I love them so much, but I love them even then.
One day I had this idea, I’m like, “You know what, I can build a flower business.” We didn’t have flowers. I always asked my parents for flowers. They had a humongous garden. We had several acres in Kentucky. My dad had every vegetable known to man, but we didn’t have flowers, but our neighbors had tons of flowers. You know where this is going, don’t you? One day, I took my red wagon over there and I started picking the blooms off of their flowers. I would stick pins in them and I went around and sold them as corsages for $0.25.
It wasn’t a neighborhood, so I had to walk a couple of houses down. My leadership lesson was when my dad found out that I had stolen these flowers. He said, “You have to go back to every person that you sold a corsage to and you need to give them their money back. You have to go over to the Smith’s house and tell them that you apologize for stealing their flowers.” Here’s the thing. I’m seven. He could have gone over to Mr. Smith’s house and said, “I am so sorry for my daughter. You see all of those stems that are sticking out of your yard with no bloom, that was my daughter, that was not the rabbits.” He could have so easily done that for me, but he made me go and he made me own that mistake.
Big leadership lesson, don’t steal your goods. My cost of goods sold was zero. My profit was 100% of the revenue. Anyway, Dad was amazing. Owning your mistakes, saying sorry, and apologizing when you make the mistakes, that’s a great leadership lesson. As a leader, I make mistakes every day. Don’t try to push that off on somebody else, “If this person had done their job, then.” Don’t play the blame game. Own it. I still do that to this day. We had a situation not too long ago with a client and there was a process that was missed that wasn’t my responsibility, but I took the fall for that. I said, “I’m so sorry. That was on me. We didn’t do a proper handoff in this case.” Own your mistakes.
The other thing that I think about is I started assuming leadership roles in school when I was in third grade, and then continued to do it. If there was a club, I’ll be like, “I’ll be the president of the club.” In high school, I was the president of our junior and senior class. Back in that time, I had to learn how to communicate, not only with the student body but with the administrators in the school. A lot of times, I was the face of our school and promoted our school with community leaders like Kiwanis and those types of things. I learned a lot about communication. Obviously, communication is key. We can always get better at communicating. Communicating is not always talking.Communicating is not always talking. Click To Tweet
Part of it is the actions we take. It’s holding ourselves accountable and being vulnerable at times. As you said, we’re going to own our stuff. We made a mistake. We’re going to learn from it. We’re going to get better, and not blame others. We’re almost taught over time not to ask for help or say, “I don’t know.”
I know one of the things I’ve heard about Technology Partners, I think I’ve read it on your website too, is that you’re building a structured culture that’s filled with trust. I think that’s helping your teams and your people to thrive. That’s not exactly how it’s said, but essentially it’s the trust element that’s enabling people to thrive. A lot of that comes from the fact that you’re willing to own your own stuff and be transparent and be communicating. Is there more there to it that you’re all doing to make sure that element of trust is present every day?
Trust and transparency. One thing I’ll tell you about Technology Partners from the get-go, we have been very transparent with our business model. I’ll educate your audience a little bit. When you’re talking about contingent labor, a lot of companies will augment their staff with contingent labor. When we started 29 years ago, firms out there would never tell you what they were paying the talent because they would try to maximize the margin, between the bill rate to the client and what they were paying the talent.
From day one, we’ve had a transparent model. We said, “It’s a $13 margin.” It’s a little bit higher than that now because of inflation, but we’ve never hidden that. Our clients know for equal money, our clients are getting higher and better talents. It’s not like we are bringing a junior person on for $20 an hour and charging the client like it would be a senior person that’s $80 an hour.
That transparency is big. It doesn’t allow people to create their own stories and it allows people to actually get connected to say, “You’re willing to share that with me? You’re probably straightforward and straight shooter.” Also, as you think about technology, there are always conversations about women in technology. You’re the CEO of this company. You’re sourcing folks and partnering with different folks. There continues to be what seems to be an under-representation of women in technology. From your perspective, I’d love to know, has there been progress made? If so, what’s working, or what else needs to be done to help get more women in the industry? It seems like some of the stats I’ve seen have gone backward in the last couple of years.
Since 2020, a lot of women have left the marketplace because of having to juggle so many balls. It’s not worth it anymore, but we’ve made progress. There’s a lot of progress to be made. I’m going to be getting this stat wrong, but I think in terms of leadership for technology, less than 25% actually make it to leadership roles. When you add ethnicity in there, it goes even further down. There are a few things that we can do. I thank those women who are in technology now. I’ve got friends that are doing this and doing an amazing job. I’ve got a whole cadre of women in tech at MasterCard that are going in and they’re mentoring other women. Even starting young like middle school, going in and doing STEM programs.
Any time that Technology Partners has a chance to be a part of something like that, we’ve done a lot of that kind of thing. Introducing young women earlier to the tech fields and the STEM fields is one of the things that we can do. I think too that what has happened is people identify early, “I’m not good at math, so I could never do that.”
We need to change that narrative. We need to speak to young women saying, “You can do this. You have an agility to learn and recognize.” See them and recognize in them the possibilities. There’s a lot that we can do, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Another company, Bayer, is huge on this. They’ll go to schools and middle schools and talk to young women. It’s all of our responsibility to be a part of the solution.
I agree. I’ve seen certain universities even change the naming convention of the technology platforms to be more current-based, getting into more of the data analytics side and people analytics, getting into business intelligence, and changing some of the conversations. Folks are saying, “Wait a minute, I am interested in that work. I can have an impact.” In some of the work that you’re doing, you’re working alongside your clients. It is definitely aligned with folks that actually want to make a greater impact. I hope it will invite more equality into this workspace because we need creative mindsets from every angle. Maybe we need different perspectives. The more we have, the better.
When you said the word possibilities, obviously, Live Your Possible is the name of the show. You have something on your website. You’re the CEO of this company. You probably know the stats. It’s something like 10% of Fortune 500 CEOs are females now. It’s pretty low. You’re the CEO of your company which is wonderful, and I appreciate that. I have two questions related to that. I’m going to read something from your website, which is a note.
You say, “We are thankful for the endless possibilities that are continuously making us all better because after all, what is possible if we only believe? What are you and I missing out on will allow fear or excuses to rob us of possibility. Let us hold each other to the standard of living each day fully by embracing the possibilities.” Tell me more about what that means to you.
That particular blog or article that I wrote, you found that on LinkedIn probably. I will tell you what it was related to. Again, Ally has Down Syndrome. I’ll try to shorten this story, but there is an organization here in St. Louis called The Independent Center that helps people with mental illness. Great organization. It helps people with mental illness get up on their feet, find jobs and supports their families because it impacts families too. Every year in St. Louis, there is Dancing with the St. Louis Stars. This is where community leaders dance with a professional and we raise a lot of money every year. They had asked me for a number of years to come and dance and to be one of the community people to come and do this ballroom dancing evening.
I love the organization but I don’t feel like right now is the time in my life that I had the margin because there it’s a lot. You practice and all of this. I just don’t have the margin. They’re like, “Okay, that’s fine.” This would’ve been in 2018. They said, “We know that you don’t have the margin to dance and do all the practice, but would you please come be a judge for the evening?” I said, “I can do that.” It’s a few phrases. Nice lyrical moves. I’m just like, “I have to have a few phrases down in my mind. I can definitely do that. It’d be fun to go judge.” That’s a one-evening commitment.
Come the weekend of the Dancing with St. Louis Stars on Friday. Before Saturday evening, my husband Greg gets the flu. He’s in bed all weekend. It comes Saturday and I’m like, “I have to go to this black tie event all by myself.” I ask Ally. I’m like, “Ally, I’ve got this Dancing with the St. Louis Stars thing that I’ve got to go to. Would you want to go with me to that?” She goes, “Yes, I love Dancing with the Stars.” She loves to get dressed up. She gets her little beautiful ballgown on. We go to this and I do my thing. It only takes Ally about five seconds to have people wrapped right here. She is fun. She’s out there dancing and having a blast. She brings so much joy to the evening.
A few weeks later, the chair of the board goes, “Lisa, I have an idea for you.” I said, “What’s your idea?” He said, “Next year, let Ally dance so she can go to all the practices and you raise the money.” I’m like, “Are you sure? Are you serious? Ally has a developmental disability. How does it work?” Our marketing department stepped forward and said, “Let Ally be the something extra in the evening for Dancing with the Stars.”
She’d never ballroom danced before but she started practicing. We got her an instructor and she started practicing in the fall of 2018. She goes in 2019 in January and ends up winning the whole thing. This is her, little special needs girl with typical developing community leaders. There were four awards and she won all of them, but one. There were some rules around that particular one. We ended up raising $140,000 for the evening. I think they raised $700,000 in total, but she was $140,000 of that. She crushed it. My whole idea behind that is that sometimes we may think, “I could never do that. She may never could do that. How could she learn to dance?” Look at the possibilities.
Since that time, she has gone on to compete in a national competition. She ended up placing first and show tunes. If I had said, “Bill, that’s ridiculous. I’m sorry. I’m not going to risk her not being able to do it and then feeling like a failure.” We can make up all these excuses, but it’s a possibility. Now, she discovered something that she absolutely loves that we didn’t even know was a thing for her.
That’s a beautiful lovely story. It’s incredible. It is more than just believing. She took the steps, started to embrace it, and now she’s shining all around.
It’s incredible. It inspires me. Six months ago, I started taking ballroom dancing. It’s a lot of fun.
Just quickly too, my daughter started to dance and there was a call for dancing dads, and she asked me if I would do it. Reluctantly, I said yes. There were a bunch of dancing dads that would get together and practice and perform one routine. I remember the day she realized that she had to go on stage, she was like 3 or 4. She’s like, “Daddy, I don’t think I could do it.” I’m like, “I’ll be there with you. If you go up, I’ll go up” type of thing. I was nervous too. I can’t dance. At least I could dance to be free and have fun.
We both did it. She’s done dance now for twelve years, and I did that program for ten years. It was incredible. I’ve learned so much through her eyes, her courage, and her willingness to get on stage. It put me on stage. It put us both out there and we’re both beaming from it. It’s wonderful allowing our kids to show us what we’re all capable of.
I was just laughing. Sometimes we think, “I could never do that.” Here’s what you do. You do it. You get out of your comfort zone. You be courageous. You go do it. What you realize is, “I did not die. I can do this again.” One thing, it’s a stepping stone for something else, because you’re like, “I did that. I can do this.” Guess what? Sometimes we’re going to fail. Failure is part of life. Frame it however you want. I don’t like the word failure, but it’s an opportunity to learn. It’s an opportunity to learn. Sometimes you don’t win, but if you’ve learned something, then you’ve won.
That ties into one of the talks that you give. You talk about growth mindsets. You talk about Something Extra in some of your speaking engagements when you’re out there. Do you have a favorite talk that you give and what that’s about?
I’ve got so many that I love and just stories of vision and courage. I guess I would have to say Something Extra because I tell a lot of fun stories about Ally and how she has shown up. Now, I’ve got almost 250 episodes on Something Extra with amazing people like you that I’ve learned from. I like to weave some of those lessons in there when I’m talking to people. I’ve learned so much from doing the podcast. You hope that you’re sharing that with the listeners. If there’s one or two nuggets that they can take with them and put in their own tool belt for their own leadership trajectory, then it’s worth it.
I agree. Especially with Something Extra as you ask your guests, “What defines us? What’s that one word? What’s that something extra?” I think we should all do that if they’re on your show or not. If you’re tuning in, what’s that one word that excites you, empowers you, and shows up for you that helps you be different and accept who you are, your authentic self, and allows you to shine and make an impact?
Embrace it. I’ll give one little tidbit for your audience. I will have some people say, “I don’t know what my something extra is.” I’ll always say, “Take five people that know you well and ask them. Ask your family, “What do you believe is my something extra?” Hopefully, you’ll start to get some clarity and crystallize. Here’s the bow on the whole thing. You are not given these gifts to keep them to yourself. You were given these gifts so that you could make a difference for somebody else and make an impact on the world. We were given gifts to share the gifts. They weren’t meant for you alone. They were meant so that you can go out and make your dent in the world, as Steve Jobs said.
Give out to the world with what you have. Don’t be selfish.
Don’t be selfish. That’s right.
You give so much back. I often talk to folks about the joy, the love, and the power we get from giving back, not just the sense of doing it. It’s just watching and experiencing it. You do so many things. You’re on that mission that you mentioned in El Salvador. It looks like you’re part of a group called Opportunity International. What are some of the things that you’re doing and how does that pick you up? How does that energize you? What do you feel as you’re going through that work?
It all comes back to purpose. It starts at that and having a very clear vision of what your purpose is. Not to continue to reiterate this, but if the two greatest commandments are, “Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, mind, and soul” and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” loving people is part of my purpose. I know that my greatest joy comes from living my purpose. When I’ve lost my joy, oftentimes when I take a step back, I can recognize and say, “I’m too self-focused.” If you’re too self-focused or if you’re just thinking about yourself and what brings you happiness, you’re never going to have true joy, because it’s never enough. It’s not fulfilling to know that you’re just filling up your own bucket.If you're just thinking about yourself and what brings you happiness, you're never going to have true joy, because it's never enough. Click To Tweet
I’m always looking at things through that filter. We’re helping a young school right now in North St. Louis. It’s almost a 24/7 daycare. Yonnick Jones is the founder of this school. It is in one of the most impoverished areas in St. Louis. For parents to go to a job, before a child is in formal school, they’ve got to have some sort of childcare. Yonnick saw the gap there. They founded the Williams Academy. They opened at 6:00 AM, and they’re open until midnight because some of these parents have to work two jobs. It’s not a babysitting thing. They are teaching these kids with a STEAM curriculum which is amazing.
Jenny, my EA, took twenty iPads up there yesterday for these children to start learning. That gives me joy. We can be part of that story. We won’t be the whole answer for Williams Academy, but if we can be a piece of that story, there is no greater joy than knowing that you’re making an impact there. We’re on the board of governors for Opportunity International. OI is a microfinance organization that is working in developing countries. Lots of work in Africa, Colombia, and very impoverished places. Amazing story.There is no greater joy than knowing you're making an impact. Click To Tweet
If your audience wants to go and learn more, Atul Tandon, the CEO was on my podcast. He was probably 1 of the first 20 amazing stories of what they’re doing and the genesis of that. Sometimes what happens is there’s an entrepreneur that has an idea, but what do they need? They need a little capital to get started. There is story after story of OI going in there and making a microloan to an individual, and then that individual ended up growing their business and employing a whole village. Incredible impact. To be a little part of those kinds of stories, at the end of the day, that’s when I can lay my head on the pillow at night and say, “I’ve lived my purpose today.”
You’re loving people in many different ways. Helping people get a spark to overcome maybe their troubles that day or maybe getting them the energy to build out a business, which is so amazing. I think I read something about it. It’s not a handout. I think it’s a hand-up. There’s trust built within the community. They’re going to help each other pay it back.
It’s incredible. Do you know what they do? They have a microloan. Usually, these microloans average about $150. Maybe ten entrepreneurs are put in what they call trust groups. You and I are in a trust group. We’re helping one another with our business. We’re keeping one another accountable. We’re learning from one another. If I renege on my loan, you pay my loan back. That’s positive peer pressure because I don’t want you to have to pay my loan back. That would be an embarrassment to me. It’s not meant to be an embarrassment, but there’s accountability there. It’s like 97% of those loans that are made are paid back because there is this interwoven accountability in these trust groups.
We could learn some things from that, but I am telling you, the impact that they are making is just tremendous, and the stories. Going back to even what I was talking about when you asked me about together we are improving our world, we’re big on storytelling. We want to tell the stories about what Bayer, MasterCard, Panera, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and the other organizations that we work with are doing to improve the world.
We want to tell those positive stories because people in your team hear those positive stories. Even if you’re so far removed from those stories. Maybe if you’re in the accounting function, you may not always hear those stories, but we are very big on pulling those stories forward and showcasing those stories because it helps people to go, “I can see my piece in this whole thing” and mapping it back to these amazing stories. OI has hundreds and thousands of those kind of stories which are incredible.
The stories are making emotional connections. Emotional connections allow us to truly feel like we are making a greater impact. What greater gift is that? I’m working with a group that manufactures beeswax (Koster Keunen). They started a program out in Africa where they’re helping to source and teach women how to be beekeepers. They have different livelihoods. They could take care of themselves and their families. They have a tagline that says, “We are all one hive.” It’s beautiful because it’s doing exactly what you’re saying.
It’s telling a story about helping people across the world, giving people a livelihood that’s helping our sustainability and our environment. Helping the bees continue to do what they do to help us grow more flowers for you, Lisa, and do many other things. Before we sign off, I’d love to hear if there’s anything else that you want to share with our audience, and to finish up with, what do you do for fun?
What do I do for fun? Our family just got back from a few weeks in Naples, Florida. We love the beach. We have a ten-year-old grandson that loves amusement parks, and Ally does too. She would say, “Going to Disney is my dream.” In the last 4 or 5 years, we’ve done at least one big amusement park every year. We’ve done Lego Land. We’ve done Silver Dollar City. We’ve just got back and did Universal in SeaWorld. That’s fun. Our family, we love being together.
I do some gardening. We’ve got eighteen raised vegetable beds. Not quite as big as what my dad had, but we do some gardening, which is a lot of fun. Greg and I love to bike. We love to bike. That’s a lot of fun. Anything that we can do as a family, we’re all in for that. Our grandson plays soccer. He plays competitive soccer. We’re at every soccer game. As I know, your audience all have kids that are in sports. It’s a lot but it’s fun. Now, I’m ballroom dancing with Ally, which is fun. My instructor, I absolutely adore him. He’s like, “Let’s get ready for a competition.” I’m like, “David, I am just doing this for fun. If you start wanting me to compete and stuff like that, it’s not going to be fun for me anymore,” but Ally can do the competitions.
I’m just doing it. It’s great exercise. I am perspiring at the end of that hour. It’s hard. Dancing is hard. Physically, and then the mental capacity that it takes to remember steps. It’s good. Tim Wentworth and Robin Wentworth are good friends. Tim was the CEO of Express Scripts, and then Cigna bought Express Scripts. Robin and Tim dance. They are ballroom dancers and they compete. What did Tim say? He said, “When you step out there on the dance floor when you’re competing in ballroom dancing, it’s the same feeling as it would be like jumping out of a plane.” Your heart comes up into your throat and it’s a little bit unnerving, but it’s stepping out of your comfort zone. Courage over comfort.
We get stronger that way. We appreciate things differently when we step in and realize, “We’re going to get vulnerable here for a second and we’re going to get our heart pumping and try new things. To me, that’s growth. Any final comments as far as helping our audience to live their possible, to overcome challenges, to be them themselves, and to help us light up the world differently?
The only thing I’m going to reiterate is to be you. Don’t waste your energy trying to be somebody else. Figure out who you are. Figure out those God-given something extras and go share it with the world. Go make a difference in the world. There’s a multiplicity thing. As we figured that out ourselves, what I always hope as leaders, and I challenge leaders, sometimes it’s difficult for people to see those things in themselves. As a leader, be that person that’s calling something out in one of your team members. Anytime you see that special something that they’ve got, say, “I notice in that meeting how you’re an encourager.” Call it out in that person. That’s what I would say.
I appreciate you being on this show. I admire all the giving and the love you’re bringing out to the world. Please give Ally an extra hug. She seems quite special along with the rest of your family. You’re an inspiration. I’m honored to be a friend of yours. I look forward to our next chat.
I do too. It’s been a lot of fun. I always feel like I come away richer after we’ve spoken. Thank you so much for what you’re doing.
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Lisa, for joining us on the show. I am sitting here in awe of how much you and your daughter Ally are doing to spark possibilities around the world. Some of the life lessons we could all grow from are as follows. Lisa learned at an early age to own her mistakes and be sorry when she needed to. Lisa went on to share how she grows in these situations. As a leader, is there something you should take responsibility for? Not only admit but you have to communicate with people about how you will be better or grow from it. This level of transparency builds trust and credibility even though we are vulnerable for the betterment of the collective team. Try it out or be ready the next time you make a mistake that impacts others.
Relentless consistent focus on the things that matter is the mantra that she shared with us that she’s living by in 2023. Do you have one word or a mantra that you’re living intentionally by every day? Adopt one or think of a few words that will empower you so you could experience the power of focus and what matters most to you. She’s giving back in so many ways, feeling part of her purpose to love more and fill herself with joy. Giving and helping others is a two-way street, so connect with something to give back to. I promise you it’ll light you up too.
What is your something extra? If unsure, follow the tips that Lisa gave us and ask others to give you their perspective on what your something extra is. For me, I believe living with wonderment is a game changer. To see the good and the beauty in people in the world to bind us rather than the darkness that separates us. I appreciate you tuning in to the end and taking these steps to heart as you pursue being your happiest authentic self to help others live their possible, and be rewarded for living your possible too.
- Lisa Nichols
- Technology Partners
- Something Extra
- The Independent Center
- Opportunity International
- Williams Academy
About Lisa Nichols
Lisa Nichols is the CEO and co-founder of Technology Partners, a Women-Business Enterprise and provider of premier IT staffing, solutions, and IT leadership development. Named among the Most Influential Business Women (by St. Louis Business Journal), Lisa’s influence continues to be recognized by her peers and greater St. Louis community.
Lisa and her husband, Greg, founded Technology Partners in 1994, driven by their passion for revolutionizing the staffing industry with their transparent business model. Greg and Lisa have prioritized creating mutual wins for their employees, clients, and community.
Lisa is also the host of The Something Extra podcast, inspired by her daughter, Ally, who has Down syndrome. She scientifically has an extra 21st chromosome but has many “something extras.” In this leadership podcast, Lisa interviews leaders from all walks of life to learn what it takes to be a leader in today’s marketplace.