by Heidi Smith | Photos by Jena Stagner, One Beautiful Life Photography
During one day in March, Amy Leneker did a keynote presentation for a conference in Minnesota in the morning, facilitated a lunch-and-learn with a team in California at noon, and spent the afternoon with an executive leadership group in Oregon. At the end, she still had time to have dinner with her two children.
“That’s only possible because of the shift to remote work,” says Leneker, founder and owner of The Leneker Team, an organizational leadership services company based in Olympia. The Leneker Team offers workshops, one-on-one coaching, group coaching and speaking engagements. Leneker is also a certified trainer of Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead workshops.
“The primary way I help organizations thrive is by helping people in those organizations thrive,” Leneker explains. “I spend the majority of my professional life helping leaders and teams work well together so they can accomplish their mission. When you have a high-trust, mission-focused team, you are unstoppable.”
Her own mission is to create happier, healthier workplaces that support people in leaving work at the end of the day invigorated and inspired rather than the opposite. “If you’ve ever been in a toxic work environment, you know firsthand that it takes a toll on your mind, your body and your spirit,” she points out. “You might come home from work exhausted and not your best self for the people who love you the most. I want to change that.”
The heart of that change is developing trust among colleagues and those in leadership positions. Lack of trust and fear of retaliation for honest feedback has been shown to negatively impact motivation, creativity and in the long term, productivity. “You can hire the best and brightest team in the world, but without trust, they will never reach their full potential,” says Leneker. “When I help teams build and mend trust, it is almost as if the team resets and moves forward in a new way.”
Change usually starts at the top, with leaders who are willing to make the necessary shifts to develop inclusive environments. The process often requires the willingness to have hard conversations, and that won’t happen if the workplace isn’t safe. “I can give you the skillset to have those conversations, but what if it’s not safe to tell the truth on your team?” she asks. “What if you’ve seen others face repercussions for sharing feedback? Now more than ever, we need to choose courage over comfort and be willing to have hard conversations. I help organizations create safe, inclusive environments where those can happen.”
Leneker has direct experience with the toll a workplace environment can take. After 22 years in the corporate world pursuing an executive leadership position, her career took an abrupt turn once she had achieved her goal. “I’d finally gotten the job I’d worked so hard for, so why was I so miserable?” she says. “I was overwhelmed, exhausted and confused.”
She took the opportunity to re-examine her priorities in a bout of soul-searching that she describes as ‘gut-wrenching’ but that was ultimately productive. “It made me question what I really wanted to do,” she says, “and more importantly who I wanted to be. Those were the questions I had been afraid to ask because deep down, I knew the answers. I had always known.” The result was that she left her corporate job, took a leap of faith and started her leadership consulting firm in 2018. “I haven’t looked back!” she notes.
The pandemic has created fundamental shifts in how organizations function, especially when it comes to communication and connection. Before 2020 Leneker was traveling extensively and had to occasionally turn down work because of logistical issues. Now she can work with teams and leadership groups all over the world without leaving her Olympia home.
What teams are looking for has also changed. “A lot of organizations are reaching out for help in supporting their employees during this stressful time,” she says. “At the beginning of the pandemic, it was in my heart to create relevant courses and provide hope for those who were stressed or feeling burnout. The great news from the research is that burnout is entirely preventable and if you’re already there, it’s reversible. I’m really proud that since the start of the pandemic, over 5,000 people have taken our course.”
As she continues to provide services for organizations locally, nationally and around the world, Leneker sees the changes that unfold as a result. “The most satisfying part of my job is being able to make a difference,” she says. “I’m on a mission to create happier, healthier workplaces because what happens at work carries over into our lives outside of work. I want to be part of a change so we can all be our best selves for our families, our communities and each other. When that happens, it’s about as good as it gets.”