Welcome to Powerful Leaders, No Apologies.
Beth and Debbie talk with LJ Finney, founder of N18 LLC, about her passion for using golf as a medium for team building and connecting on a deeper level. They discuss challenges faced by women in negotiation, communication, and embracing leadership roles unapologetically. LJ’s insights empower women to be more confident, authentic, and assertive in various professional settings.
[4:53] The definition of great
[7:06] Taking course lessons back to the office
[16:40] Legacy culture
[27:06] Listening and hearing what is not being said
Debbie Foster (00:03):
Welcome to the Powerful Leaders. No apologies podcast, a show about women who are ready to own their power and change the world. My name is Debbie Foster.
Beth Thompson (00:12):
And I’m Beth Thompson. Our guests are fierce and fabulous women who are making a difference in their personal and professional communities. Are you ready to be inspired? If so, stay tuned and also check out our firstname.lastname@example.org slash powerful leaders. Here’s the show.
Debbie Foster (00:34):
Well, Beth, here we are for another fantastic episode of our podcast. How are you doing?
Beth Thompson (00:41):
I’m doing great. I was thinking last night that we have been at this now for half a year.
Debbie Foster (00:45):
Beth Thompson (00:46):
It’s pretty amazing. Pretty incredible. Yeah, we’ve been going strong now for almost right at half a year.
Debbie Foster (00:52):
We have been at this for six months, and something really exciting happened. The last episode that dropped before at just the beginning of July, it was a bonus episode with Michael Cohen. It was the first time we had a male guest and Michael Cohen, or Coach Mike, as we called him, is raising two amazing females, is a volunteer soccer coach for an association, has impacted hundreds of young women’s lives as a coach and a mentor, and it was really cool to do a bonus episode with him.
Beth Thompson (01:27):
Yes, that was a lot of fun, and we’ve certainly gotten a lot of great feedback from folks that have listened to the episode, so I’m excited that we did that.
Debbie Foster (01:34):
Yeah, me too. But onto this week’s episode. So Beth and I had the privilege to attend a conference in New York a few months ago called Women Who Lead Put on by ILTA, the International Legal Technology Association. And it was spectacular. It was so amazing. We were both just blown away by how awesome all the people and the speakers, the attendees. It was so good. But there was a moment when our guest today was up on the stage talking, and Beth and I were texting each other. You can see the three little dots, like I was texting Beth and she was texting me and we were texting with the same thing. Where did LJ Finney come from and how do we get her on our podcast? So we went back and forth about just how impressed we were your organization, and we’re super excited to have you. So welcome to our podcast.
LJ Finney (02:28):
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Debbie Foster (02:30):
So tell us a little about yourself. Give us your background, give us your story, and I especially want to know how you got to women who lead at ILTA. What was the background story there?
LJ Finney (02:40):
Oh, absolutely. So hello everyone. My name is LJ Finney. My company is N 18 L L C, and the reason it’s called N 18 is because in 18 holes of golf you can learn a lot about yourself and others. A little bit about my background, I actually started my career in technology and finance and one of my technology projects was a legal billing platform. So that’s kind of the connection to elta, but generally I’m certified project manager. I am also a certified career coach, and that would be a C C I C F certification. And some of the things that I really have been focusing on, our company focuses on team building, using golf as a medium to help connect and bridge the gap between people in cross-functional roles like lateral and siloed organizations, and really looking at how do we connect on a deeper level to one another. We also focus on coaching because as a result of team building, you also identify areas where people need to work on different skills. And then we do a lot of business development through golf. So our passion is around getting people to break out of their shell and really using golf as the medium. It’s more so about the experience and less about the game.
Debbie Foster (03:51):
So why golf? How did that come about?
LJ Finney (03:54):
Yeah, that’s a great question. So I actually needed one credit to graduate from college, and that’s how I ended up learning to play golf and what I found throughout my career, so for all the time that I’ve worked in finance and technology, golf has been the one game changer for me because it’s allowed me to connect deeper with myself. It’s been a tool for mental health and wellness, and it’s allowed me to connect with people that I normally wouldn’t have had access to. I mean, I literally connected with a man who was on a cruise ship in Portofino. Now I’ve never been to Portofino, but I connected with him because one of my golf friends was on the ship and introduced me through email because she had met him and she said, I think you guys should meet. So golf has just been a great tool for networking for me. It’s allowed me to learn more about myself. I didn’t realize that I am slightly impatient sometimes, and golf really highlighted that. So it really uncovers your own personal challenges as well as getting to know others.
Debbie Foster (04:51):
So are you a great golfer?
LJ Finney (04:53):
No, I’m a great networker though because I think it depends on what you define as great. So am I a highly competitive golfer? No. Do I play well? Yes. But I think when I look at the definition of great, for me, it’s not being under par necessarily. It is being more connected to the people I’m playing with. So for me, golf is a great social activity and a networking activity and an outlet, a personal outlet for me.
Beth Thompson (05:22):
So I won’t ask you your handicap, but I bet it’s pretty low.
LJ Finney (05:26):
Wait, I tell everyone my handicap is F U N because that’s our goal.
Debbie Foster (05:30):
Oh, perfect answer.
Beth Thompson (05:32):
Nice. Perfect answer. I didn’t know where you were going to go with that F U and then you added the N in there. So
LJ Finney (05:38):
Redemption, I guess depending on who you, well, it depends on who you’re playing with. You might want to just leave the N off sometimes. You never know.
Beth Thompson (05:46):
This is true. This is true.
Debbie Foster (05:48):
That’s funny. I have no actual successful golf stories, but one time I did play in a, I think it’s called a, where everybody hits and then whoever got the best hit, you go to that place and you hit again. I never ever one time had the best hit of the whole time and I kept saying, can I just drive the golf cart? Cause I, like you, if it’s not August in Florida, golfing in August in Florida, I quite enjoy being outside looking at the beautiful scenery, but my preference is can I be on the golf cart and I’ll run and get drinks for people and that kind of stuff. Same kind of networking and doing all of the things. But I was not successful in ever winning the best ball in our little scramble thing.
LJ Finney (06:34):
But you kept everyone motivated. We lose the opportunity to look at the highlight, the highlights. You kept everyone motivated. Even if we weren’t using your shot, now we’re going to use someone. So they were motivated to move forward.
Debbie Foster (06:46):
For sure. I was totally cheering the people on because I wanted them to do better because the better they did, the less whatever the score was better even I shouldn’t even be talking about golf. I should stop here. Beth, what do you have to say?
Beth Thompson (07:01):
I’m just thrilled that this is the one sport I know more than you about.
Debbie Foster (07:06):
Perfect. Perfect. So LJ, you said your company focuses on team building. Obviously Covid 19 has made things challenging when it comes to team building, and even though we all feel like we’re kind of on the other side of it, some of the challenges that were presented during the pandemic have carried on to after the pandemic around being intentional, building culture, connecting people together, even just on a team inside of a law firm. And I would imagine that you have been instrumental, your company has been instrumental in helping people connect back together. I’d love to hear a story or a team building exercise activity that you did with a law firm where you saw a big change in how people interacted and they took some lessons off of the course back into the office with them.
LJ Finney (08:02):
So I think the bigger question is around what are the challenges you’re facing in your organization? And so what we find is communication is one of the bigger challenges, and then people being able to show up as the authentic self, who is that person? And I’d say the best outcomes or the best scenario that I’ve seen is that people got to know one another in a more organic way. So conversations about family were able to happen in a more organic way and conversations about what did you do this weekend, they had to occur because what are you talking about for, well, our team building or not the four hours that an actual round would take. So it’s usually about two hours, but the conversation around weather can only last for about five to 10 minutes, two hours of that is not going to work. So really the team building questions and the way that we’ve phrased and positioned it with law firms and with any client is really more around getting people out of their comfort zones so that when they go back into the office, they’re able to see the human that they’re working with versus just the point of contact on this particular brief or the point of contact on this particular matter.
And I think that that’s been helpful. The other side of it is also being able to know what some of your team’s strengths are. So being able to see, wow, that person is really good at bringing people together. We’re not often given opportunities to demonstrate who we are outside of our workplace. And so I think that for the clients that the one story that I’m thinking of is more the fact that they were able to keep golfing after. So they decided that they were going to form their own women’s golf group at the office and they would go out once a week and just catch up. Those are the stories I love. I love when people, even if you’re not going to like the game, I say in the beginning, you may not love this game, that’s fine, but if it is a necessary tool in your toolbox, at least know how to use it. I
Beth Thompson (09:54):
Love that you inspired them to start their own weekly golf group. That’s great. Speaking of inspiring, what or who inspires you? Are there podcasts that you’re listening to, books that you’re reading, people that inspire you?
LJ Finney (10:08):
Yeah, that’s a great question. So I most recently read this book, and I might be saying her name wrong, Taha Pure. She wrote, bring Yourself How to Negotiate Fearlessly. And I thought it was an interesting book because it talked about the mindset that we often have around negotiation, and I think we often look at salespeople as negative things, but as entrepreneurs we’re always required to sell. So that’s probably been the hardest part of any business, or at least for me, it’s been one of the more difficult things. Knowing that you can do something, but how do you communicate that and how do you communicate your value? I mean, I love the title of this podcast, no apologies, because are we not always apologizing about how much we’re worth or how much we think we’re worth or how much we think we should get? And I feel like that book forced me to take a very introspective look at how do I demand or ask for or require or request value the value that I deliver.
Debbie Foster (11:05):
I love that. And it reminds me of, I don’t think it was on this podcast, I think it was something that I read or a conversation that I had with someone. They were talking about when a woman looks at the qualifications for a job or something that a woman wants to go after and a woman reads it and is like, oh, I’m really only 70% qualified, I guess I won’t do it. Whereas a man looks at it and is like, I got 50% of those skills. I’m just going to go ahead and apply and sign right up. And the power of negotiation and how we proceed through those conversations is so different for women than it is for men. Painting with a broad brushstroke. I’m sure there are some women who are phenomenal at it and some men who are maybe not so great at it, but the general consensus, the way that a woman is going to negotiate whether that is salary or position or title is going to be different than how Amanda does. So I love the idea of reading a book about how to stand up for yourself and get what you deserve through the power of negotiation.
LJ Finney (12:10):
Yeah, it’s totally mindset as well. It’s knowing what the thing is worth actually doing the research and understanding what is the market value of the service I provide or what is the market value of this thing? And being able to ask for what you believe it’s worth, but putting some strategy, what’s your best offer versus what your lowest possible, what is the lowest that you’re willing to take and where is the middle? And being able to kind of work through that. And you know how that looks on the golf course. It’s like when you go to those scramble events and the men are all on their tee box and there’s never a marking for the ladies or the forward tees, and then you’re apologizing that you need to go up to your tee box, why are we apologizing? Why don’t you come meet me at the forward tee? Because we’re probably going to play at the same skill level usually.
Debbie Foster (12:54):
Right, right. That’s funny. Okay. How about obstacles and challenges? It’s hard for me to believe that somebody counted you out somewhere along the way, but it probably happened at least once or twice. But tell us a little bit about the obstacles that you have overcome to get where you are.
LJ Finney (13:10):
My goodness, I don’t know if we have enough time for that, but I’ll say that I think the biggest obstacle was when I first entered into technology, being able to explain technology in layman’s terms was not difficult for me. And I think that the biggest obstacle was helping people understand that there is a way to translate that this can be done, this work can be, it’s possible. And I think the obstacle for me was I had to really believe in myself greater than others would because I knew that we could get the work done. So I feel like one of the bigger challenges was in knowing my worth, but then also knowing that I could actually get this done. I had tremendous faith around the work and I could see how it would end. I think that when I look back at just different superpowers, we’re going to talk about that in a moment. One of them is being able to see the big picture, but then also see all the little details that help you get to the bigger picture. And I realized that everyone doesn’t look at a problem from that perspective. And it was my job to help people understand that it is possible and help see that. And so the obstacle was getting people on the same page, and I think that’s what made me project management so much.
Debbie Foster (14:24):
That can be a real challenge, especially in a law firm. Definitely something that when we work with our clients, project management and also just managing the change, getting people to believe that where we’re going is better than where we are in the long run can be really challenging.
LJ Finney (14:42):
Yeah, absolutely. Just think about e-billing and the way that discovery is transforming and way AI is impacting discovery and being open to the idea that the computer might be able to find the words faster than our eyes. It’s just difficult for people to accept. Now we have more use cases and more examples of where it’s working, but I think in the past maybe five to six years, that’s only started to be more popular.
Debbie Foster (15:07):
And it’s hard to imagine it too if that isn’t how you spent the first part of your career. The transition to depending on technology more than you did previously, can be tough for some people.
LJ Finney (15:21):
Yeah, definitely. I think that also a lot of the work you’re doing, a lot of the work that I do, it’s all about the mindset and helping people shift their perspective and looking at what does growth look like and what does change look like and how can we be more effective and impactful with the work that we’re doing? Even looking at golf, you’re playing 18 holes of golf and each hole has a different setup. There’s always a tee box, there’s always a hole. Those are the only consistent variables, but our strategy is going to change to accomplish and play our best. And so how do we take that back into the office? How do we look at our business? Or if you’re at a law firm where you are doing all of the business development, what are new approaches to attract new clients? What are approaches to keep those clients that you like engaged?
And if you’re at a firm and it’s a larger firm, how are you connecting with the up and coming talent? How are you helping to develop them? And what ways are skills changing? Because honestly, I have interns right now, and I don’t think we speak the same language, and I’m still trying to find where the commonality is around being able to get work done. We’re talking about integrity this week. Why are we talking about integrity? Because I’ve come to the realization that it’s defined differently depending on the person. And so now I have a generation that social media is how they define everything and I’m still learning this part.
Debbie Foster (16:40):
Yeah. Well, and I mean you describe a really common challenge in law firms. We have five generations of people in many law firms and the way that they grew up and the things that informed their perspective are so very different from the traditionalists to the boomers all the way down to a 20 something year old entering the workforce now it’s just different. And I talk about behavioral adaptability all the time. How do you understand what you’re trying to accomplish, what your goal is for whatever it is that you’re doing, and then who are the people in the room and how do you need to best connect with them? And it’s important for all of us to be able to do that based on who is in the room and not necessarily how we see the world.
LJ Finney (17:26):
Yeah, I mean you’re also dealing with, as I think about team building and coaching, you’re also thinking or looking at the legacy culture that exists within an organization. So it’s transforming and looking at what does transformation look like. But what I find exciting is that when you have groups and organizations that are open to new ideas, it can be life-changing. I really feel like the way in which this generation looks at social media, the way they use it, the way they’re actually leveraging it to communicate message concepts and theories is very different than how we would communicate concepts.
Debbie Foster (18:02):
It is for sure. It is for sure. So let’s move on and talk about apologizing. You already mentioned that you love the title of our show. We love that part. And it’s actually, as we thought about putting this podcast together way back when, the no apologies part and the work that we did to understand all of the reasons around women apologizing more than men, that it’s just a fact that that’s happening. And then listening to you earlier just talking about something so simple as, sorry, I’ve just got to go up to that forward tee box, such a time that we should not be apologizing. We should just be storming the forward tee box. I’d love to hear any other thoughts that you have around apologizing and how women can unapologetically claim their seat at the table or their tea on the golf course.
LJ Finney (18:53):
I love that. I think self-awareness is the first step. I’ll never forget the first time I realized how many times I apologized in email, sorry to bother you. Sorry for this, sorry for that. And then I got more elaborate and I said, my apologies. I’m like, oh my God, you’re just saying I’m sorry. In another way you keep saying, sorry, you’re just making it sound better. It’s just still sorry. And I think that self-awareness is probably the first step. And when you have heightened self-awareness, making sure that you’re paying attention to when you’re trying to trick yourself into saying sorry in a different way. So now it’s No, I’m sorry to bother you. No apologies. My apologies. I hope this finds you well. Do I really? I don’t know. I feel like I just need to tell you what it is that we need, and I probably should get to the point faster.
So sorry for wasting your time with all of these lead in email statements. So I realized that for me, and for anyone listening, self-awareness is the first step. And then also understanding that what are we really saying when we’re sorry, I realize I do it also, excuse me, is a good way to walk into a room. But I’m sorry. Excuse me. Why do we say I’m sorry and excuse me, at the same time. So even in our physical presence, so our emails, our physical presence, we’re apologizing for taking up space, we’re apologizing for getting onto the train or self-awareness I think is the first step. Claim that first.
Debbie Foster (20:18):
Yeah. Beth and I have joked about this before about going back and counting how many times we’ve apologized. It can be a real challenge and it’s a hard habit to break sometimes. I’m just too tired to take the, I’m sorry, out of my email. I just leave it there. I’m not really sorry necessarily, but it seemed like just the best and easiest way to start the conversation. But it is being aware and it is not minimizing. One thing that I think, and love to hear your thoughts about this, it’s one thing to apologize for not responding to an email for three or four days, but it’s a whole nother thing to apologize for sharing an idea or sharing something that you believe in or sharing something that you think is going off the tracks. That’s a whole different thing, right? There’s the casual filler word. I’m sorry, but how do we get more confident in saying what we think, saying what we believe, sharing an idea without minimizing it by apologizing,
LJ Finney (21:21):
It’s making yourself uncomfortable. And just now I pause because one of the things I realized I needed to remove, and we could debate this because I feel like it’s a good conversation, leading things, what I think and I believe are like a form of, sorry, but not sorry. It falls into the same category of I’m sorry. I think I believe. Why can’t it just be factual? This is, or we’ve seen evidence because it’s more than you thought. I think what women, we also, we apologize in ways that don’t necessarily look like apologies. I think we’re not saying that from arbitrary spaces. We’ve probably done a tremendous amount of research before we even made that recommendation. So why not just lead with what we believe based on this fact or after researching this or in my observation of X, Y, and Z, these are the next steps we should take. There’s such a tendency to use, I think, I believe, I feel when the reality is those are also, not necessarily apologies, but lead-ins that diminish our value or diminish our authority in a space that we probably know better than everyone that we’re speaking to. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t have made the recommendation.
Beth Thompson (22:27):
That’s a really good point. I feel like I feel, there I go. I just did it. It’s soft. Soft stepping into the idea because you’re afraid at least this is your cushion. Well, if they don’t like it, I wasn’t really committed to it. Good
Debbie Foster (22:42):
Point. That’s good.
LJ Finney (22:44):
That’s a good point.
Beth Thompson (22:46):
I speak from experience, obviously.
LJ Finney (22:49):
Right? But you speak from experience and that’s exactly the point. I speak from experience. This is not something that we should do as a community as well. And even in the title, no apologies. How difficult is it for us to say no, no, with no excuses either, just no, no, that’s not the best option. It’s also getting comfortable around saying no. I think Oprah said that no was a full sentence. Or maybe Shonda Rhimes, someone said, no, I think it was Oprah. No, was a full sentence. But it’s also looking at other ways that our language is impacting our ability to be viewed as an authority in a space. So for all of the attorneys, I challenge you to say no, and just walk away, drop the mic and see what happens.
Beth Thompson (23:34):
I agree with you. I think there is a gender difference here as well. Women tend to to provide an explanation for the no. Men will just say no and move on more readily than women will.
LJ Finney (23:49):
Yeah, wow. It’s also around the perception. So Debbie, if you said no, say, oh, she’s so mean. Oh, she’s so curt. Oh, she’s so this and so that. And how do we get comfortable with even those judgments?
Debbie Foster (24:03):
I’ll have to find this article. Chelsea, I’m sure will remind me. So we can link it in the show notes. But I read something about, it was on the topic of No, and it was about ways to, some people are uncomfortable with just no drop the mic. But there is, there’s a middle ground between no, drop the mic and no. And let me tell you why I’m saying no. And one of the suggestions was, no, that doesn’t work in my schedule this week. So you still could say something, but it wasn’t like, sorry, I’m so busy. I’m just back from vacation. I’m really sorry that I can’t fit you in. And then we smash all of those soft things together.
LJ Finney (24:42):
Yeah, I love that.
Debbie Foster (24:44):
Yeah, no, that’s such a really great point that I think that I believe, I feel like I just said it is another one. Now we’re bringing feelings in, and I don’t know about you all, but very recently I got called out by a male colleague saying that my emails are too emotional very recently in the last 30 or 60 days. And I have yet to deal with that because I don’t know exactly what words I want to say. And when I’m ready to say it, I want to say it really tactfully. But the truth is, an email is words on a page. The only emotion that is in the email is the emotion that the reader assigns to it. Right? Very true. If I want to give you emotion, I’m going to call you and you’re going to hear it in my voice what the emotion is. It’s never going to come from the black words on the white piece of paper, or if you’re in dark mode, the white words on the black piece of paper in Outlook, that’s not where emotion comes from. So I think you’re right in using the, I feel just as much as the, I think or the, I believe
Beth Thompson (26:03):
When you respond to that email, Debbie, make sure you use lots of emojis. I think that would be appropriate.
Debbie Foster (26:11):
Right, right, right. Well, the other
LJ Finney (26:14):
Question I have for you, Debbie, even in that case, look at scenarios where we’ve shown up and whatever you stated, what was the meat of the message? Because to be able to push it back to emotion is what about my email made you uncomfortable? It made you emotional. Really, my question, it sounds like you’ve gotten emotional from what I stated, what’s coming up for you, because maybe he’s the one that’s emotional. And so when we are uncomfortable with our feelings, isn’t it funny how it’s easier to project that back?
Debbie Foster (26:43):
Ooh, that’s a really good one. That’s a really good one. And I think the only thing I would add to it is if that email came from Bob Foster, there is a 0% chance that that man would have said, your emails sound very emotional.
LJ Finney (26:58):
Beth Thompson (26:59):
Debbie Foster (27:01):
So, alright, Beth, onto our last segment.
Beth Thompson (27:06):
I was going to say, this is the perfect segue into your leadership superpowers. You mentioned earlier the ability to be able to look at the big picture as well as all the details, which I agree that is a superpower because you’re usually either one or the other. It’s rare to find someone who is skilled at both, so that’s amazing. But what else would you consider to be a leadership superpower of yours?
LJ Finney (27:28):
Yeah, that’s a great question. Listening, hearing what’s not being said. Based on what I’ve observed, people are not as comfortable communicating as we think we are saying things word our mouth, but maybe there are other things that we want to communicate and whether it’s confidence, whether it’s comfort, there are other things that are sometimes underlying. And I find that having sat in the project management role for so long in my career and trying to really focus around that change management, there are things that people are uncomfortable with but they’re not going to be able to articulate. So being able to listen to what’s not being said, I think that’s been a superpower. Now, whether or not I’ve managed to figure out how to deal with those things, not always the case, but in most cases, in most scenarios, that has been a differentiator in getting people to move forward on projects, getting people to work together in different ways, just sharing those unspoken desires even on projects.
I think one of the bigger ones that I’ve seen for me was people that are overworked, never want to complain about being overworked. And as a project manager, or even in these team building scenarios, there are frustrations that people are experiencing that they just never want to complain about. And instead of talking about it, they just leave and go find a new job. And there’s so many other ways to really dig deeper. Some things are going to be cultural. You may not be a good fit for the temperament of a particular company. If you are more of a creative, and this is a straight laid square organization, that might be frustrating. You’re going against your natural grain. But these team building activities are a great way for me to see what’s happening in our organization. And then the coaching recommendations that come as a result of that, whether we recommend it for them to bring in other experts, whether we recommend other ways for individuals to work on their own personal goals and skills. Being able to listen deeper has been helpful for me.
Beth Thompson (29:28):
Lj, thank you so much for being a guest today. It’s been our pleasure to have a conversation with you. The 30 minutes has flown by. I feel like we could continue on for another couple of hours, so we may have to have you back, but we appreciate you joining us today.
Debbie Foster (29:42):
Absolutely. We do.
LJ Finney (29:44):
I love it. Thank you. Thank you, thank you. Thank you for having me. This was amazing. And yeah, no more apologies for everyone listening.
Beth Thompson (29:54):
And that’s a wrap. Thanks for listening to Powerful Leaders. No apologies. Be sure and subscribe to our show and help us spread the word by sharing our show with your network.
Debbie Foster (30:04):
And check out our show email@example.com slash powerful leaders for resources and ways to connect with us. See you next time.