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Did I get your attention? I hope so.

DISCLAIMER: This isn’t a political rant or a debate about #BlackLivesMatter.

I am a global executive coach. I was also a global executive human resources leader for many years.
It is a lonely, often unappreciated, negatively perceived role. Let’s talk about that.

A decade, or so, ago I was sitting in a board room in an executive strategy meeting. We had been there a number of hours meticulously walking through each area of the business, each budget category, each sales strategy and reviewing all of our resources – people, dollars, clients, opportunities, risks, challenges. It was both exciting and uncertain at the same time. An opportunity to grow the business, make a difference in the world and the responsibility to balance all of that with the needs of our employee base, our communities, our impact on the world. The fate of this company was in our hands.

There were seven of us.

There were seven of us making these final decisions. Seven of us representing thousands of employees. Seven of us taking our years of experience, our proven results, our professional and personal opinions and values and applying them as best we knew how to the facts at hand. There were seven of us in the present moment doing what we were being paid to do. The seven of us were doing the best we could.

Once after one of these long meetings we all emerged from the closed door executive board room and filed out into the hallways of our six story building, one of dozens of buildings around the world.
An employee stopped me and jokingly said, “So, what were you all talking about in there for so long? Trying to figure out another way to screw us little guys?” followed by nervous laughter.


I remember that often overwhelming feeling of responsibility as a leader of others – it was a bundle of emotions: pride, confidence, empathy, optimism, uncertainty as well as significant amounts of collective, and personal, fear which all together drove my decision making and my behaviors as an executive. But let’s be clear, these are emotions and feelings that drive EVERYONE’s decision making and behaviors no matter what job they are in! Everyone is doing the best they can within the game they choose to play.

This game? This was the publicly traded corporate game.

I remember often working 12-14 hour days, traveling for weeks, sometimes only seeing my three children in their pajamas for days on end. Being so sleep deprived that once I awoke in Germany after arriving from India the night before and it literally took me over 60 seconds to remember where I was and why. (Pause for a moment and imagine not know where you are for the next 60-seconds…terrifying). I am not kidding you. Stress and fatigue in the corporate world is an issue…for EVERYONE!

Everyone is doing the best they can.

This isn’t a pity party. This isn’t justification for a broken system, unbalanced priorities in our world’s economy or validation of current corporate practices. This is simply a reality ALL humans are facing in one form or another. Let’s be clear, I wasn’t forced to work that way and YES, I was very well compensated. I CHOSE those jobs and believed wholeheartedly I was making a difference in the world. I know I did! It was all I could do to ensure everyone I represented understood this intention as well. It was important to me that employees knew that their best interest was at the heart of our conversations…even when the outcome didn’t look like it.

I feel compelled, obviously with this post, to remind the world that I, even when I was an executive, am also human just like every human being in every role in every corporation. As everyone else, I did the best I could with what I had at the time. Good decisions and bad ones were made. But to be clear, I was not scheming in those meetings, not conspiring with my peers trying to take more than the rest, not coordinating new and innovative ways to screw employees out of deserved income or recognition and not figuring out the absolute best way to make as much money as possible at the expense of all of those involved!

If anything, my role as a human resources leader was to champion and do the exact opposite of what is commonly stereotyped of executives in the corner office. My job was to represent the best interest of ALL employees, executives included. And that is what I thought I was doing day, after day, after day, hour after hour, flight after flight … often at the expense of my own well being and life balance.
Don’t get me started about those 6am Sunday morning phone calls…

You see, that is what EVERY Executive is doing day after day, hour after endless hour, flight after delayed flight. The common stereotyping is only hurting the cause!

I can hear you now, “Yes, Nicoa, but you’re different. You’re not like those greedy SOBs running most corporations!” Um, yes I am. I am just like them. And all of them are just like me! We are all connected. We are all humans driven by the same emotions. We are ALL doing the best we can.

Of course, this point, for many of you, may get lost in the judgment tied to a broken system. And, yes, there are many reasons that this system of publicly traded companies is so insanely out of balance. But doesn’t that system start and end with a human being? The point is WE must work TOGETHER to be the change we wish to experience in the corporate world …and perhaps it begins with recognizing that #ExecutiveLivesMatter, too.

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” ― Maya Angelou

The point is if we could see ourselves in another, we wouldn’t assume we are being taken advantage of in this life. I woke up the other day thinking about all the executives I coach who are working day in and day out trying to do the very best they can in corporate roles around the world. The hashtag #ExecutiveLivesMatter popped into my mind and has been stuck in my thinking ever since. I know that the work I do is based on this belief that every one matters and yet, just like #BlackLivesMatter, we often need to highlight where the discrepancies are becoming prejudice and therefore a barrier and deterrent to what really matters. I also know that we can not see in another what is not also in ourselves! Once we increase our awareness and gain that ability to see another, truly…then change for the better can happen.

Look at every person you encounter, every person with whom you work with this filter, that they matter, that they are human beings just like yourself and stop judging first without compassion and conscious inquiry…then, and only then, will you be a part of improving relationships, increasing collaboration and truly working together to fix the imbalanced corporate system.

It starts with you. My role as an executive coach is to help executives, help people help themselves, see themselves. To create a safe space to recognize where stress is clouding their sound judgment and to co-create and implement practices and self-awareness techniques with them that guarantees their behavior will align with their values and what matters most to them going forward…AND the values of those they represent. Once this awareness is learned – yes it is learned – it can not be unlearned.

I repeat the quote,
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” ― Maya Angelou

Do you feel like you are doing the best you can for those YOU serve? You are. Do you align your decision making with what matters most to you and your personal & organizational values? Of course. Does this apply not only to your peers and to your direct reports but also to your leadership? Think about that. How willing are you to let go of the old story of “executives are out to get the little guy” to do better?
It was, and will always be, a privilege to serve with gratitude.


Your friend,


nicoa dunne
coach, consultant, confidante

(919) 835-3522

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