Stepping Into Leadership Roles with Terri Wolfe
Updated: Nov 18, 2019
This week on the podcast we are thrilled to be joined by Terri Wolfe, president and owner of Wolfe Mining, who asked us to work with her and her company as she transitioned into leadership.
Terri is a phenomenal example of how we can use the exercises, tools, and ideas that we share to create an open and innovative workplace that finds the beauty in conflict.
We think her story is especially impactful because despite the preconceived notions we may have in our heads about how conflict is just part of some workplaces, we find that regardless of industry, all companies can find the beauty of conflict.
We want to thank Terri for taking the time to speak with us and share how our work together has helped her in business and life.
And we hope you will enjoy all she shares will us and that her story shows you some ways you can find the beauty of conflict, even in places where you didn’t think it was possible.
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CrisMarie: So on today's episode we have Terri Wolfe visiting us and she is the president and owner of Wolfe Mining, which is a family owned magnesium mine in British Columbia, Canada. And we've known Terri for a long time, I think at least 10 years.
Terri Wolfe: A long time.
CrisMarie: Yeah. And we've worked with you, you and your company for the past five years. And so it might really help our listeners to know more about your role at the company, even your transition from when we met you to where you are now, and your team.
Terri Wolfe: Okay. Let's see. So I mean, I've been working in the organization since 1991 I started from data entry into, five years ago, purchasing the company. So I have the workings of the company. What I was looking to thrive! to do was help support me in the ownership and president role. So that's been interesting for me. So that's been my transition with them.
Susan: Mmhmm. So I mean I'm guessing, and you didn't say this, but you know, it was a family owned business, but it's a mining business. So, which usually there's not women who are the owners or the presidents of mining companies. I'm not saying that you're the only one, but it's not the most common thing. And you started in data entry. So you, how much mining, actual mining experience did you have at that point?
Terri Wolfe: I had zero experience. I had no idea about production and how that works. So my primary role in the organization was doing accounting. So to step into production was a big chance for me. It felt pretty risky and it was definitely in an unknown place.
Terri Wolfe: Also, I began working with men in leadership. So I'd not been in a place where, not only did I not have the information around production, I was in a place of leadership. I was leading these men without the knowledge that they had
CrisMarie: And tell me where I'm wrong, but you know, it was your grandfather's, then your father's and then your brother took over and then you transitioned. So tell me where I'm wrong, but previous leaders in the company had very different styles of dealing with the men, predominantly in production. I think you have one woman in production.
Terri Wolfe: Yes. So yeah, I mean this was quite a bit of an old boys school and I say that liberally. So watching this go down through my family, and I had watched it go down through the family, and understanding that my style of leadership was quite different. This was a top-down organization and my style is more inclusive and conversation, a conversational relational style, which I think has helped me grow the business.
CrisMarie: And sounds like when you did bring us in, you were trying to step into that role of leadership. What did you find that really helped bridge the gap and gain the respect of your workforce, which I believe you have.
Terri Wolfe: Yeah. So I think there was a couple of things for me stepping in and having you guys come in and support me. It helped me step into leadership. But with that support came structure, the ability to have critical conversations, to be in conflict, to understand what it meant to be in conflict, to help support my people. So thrive! Really helped support me, support my people. Also educate them on how to communicate and what we actually wanted as a team moving into how to grow the company.
CrisMarie: Yeah. I think when we first came in we were working with your leadership team, which is a group of six of you and then we were also doing full scale, all employee events to have them learn some of these communication skills, teaming skills. But the real lever point I think was the rhythm that we, and continue to this day in different forms, work with your leadership team to help keep you clear and have those tough conversations. Because often everybody's off doing what they're doing, blasting or the foreman or whatever, fixing stuff in the shop, and rarely do you take time in a regular production day to have those tougher conversations. But issues do come up. Tell me where I'm wrong.
Terri Wolfe: Yeah. I think one part of what thrive! did for us was help us to understand our own styles first of all. And with that, how we work as a team with our styles. And I think our pinch point has been being relational. So that's, I mean that's really the foundation of what thrive! has taught us as a leadership team was we all know our jobs well, it's how we communicate to each other and what that looks like, and teaching all of us that it's okay to have conflict, that we all have different ideas and we all can share those ideas even when they don't always match.
Susan: Yeah. Terri, I mean, this is Susan and tell me where I'm wrong, it's not, I believe one of the big turning points for you was actually when we did some work, some eques work with you, with the horses. You came down and did some, here in white fish, and my memory of that was you really had a pretty profound experiencing in recognizing how sometimes you'd be going around in your head and maybe not even saying what was happening out loud. I don't know if you'd describe it like that, but I remember it was something along those lines. Can you tell us about that?
Terri Wolfe: Sure, I'm smiling as you guys are reminding me and I think it really was a turning point for me. A lot of my problem solving, or what I thought was my problem solving, was done in isolation, you know, place of constriction. So the more things I had to problem solve around, the tighter I got and the less I actually accessed my resources, which in the end did not serve me well. So understanding that about myself actually changed not only how I function in a business and team, it's about how I am in the world rather than looking down at my feet and moving in these tight circles. It was about looking up and opening to other things.
CrisMarie: I love that Terri, because it was so evident when you were in the arena with the horse and you did, your head went down, the circles got smaller and smaller, then the horse was like, what are we doing? It was so obvious and it seemed like because it was that experiential learning with the horse, it had such a profound impact. You really took that away and made more of it. Tell me where I'm wrong.
Terri Wolfe: Yeah. Even my walking is different now, so I'll notice the eagles flying and all of the things that before in this driven, you know, kind of, I always think of myself like a horse who has these blinders on, right? Just down. I don't see anything else. So this was really, it was a truly a physical experience of opening to the sky and to so many other things, which meant people around me when I was willing to open to them
CrisMarie: And it seemed like it was equally profound- so that's when we were doing work with just you as the leader and you had come down a few times, and then we had to bring in your next layer, or your next to kind of right and left hand people. And that even seemed profound for the conversations. It seemed to create, open a door for deeper conversations for you and your foreman and some other things that your office...
Susan: I think both of them. With each of them, you had a pretty profound experience. Our conversation, they came forward in a way that they hadn't about something that was up for them. And in that situation you were able to also hear what they had to say. And, and the horse, I think, you know, I believe the horses probably assisted in that, you know, what would you say about that?
Terri Wolfe: I do remember two specific instances and I think what the team has learned in particular is that through this process with the horses being out in nature, it's been a calming place where they now feel or think they're safe and that they can come to me with anything. Prior to that, even in this conflict when they're in conflict with me, it's been a challenge for them to come to me with whatever they are not feeling settled with. So this really facilitated movement in their own space. Energy to come to me and be okay with whatever it is they had to say. Yeah, it had a huge impact.
CrisMarie: Yeah, and this year we're working with your entire team. That'll be even different, we'll see how that works as we expand the conversation using the horses to create that relaxed environment so people could show up, because that's really what we feel like is often missing in business environments is people are managing their behavior or they don't even think about bringing things up. And this is during meetings and this is when crucial decisions are being made. And so the more you can help people bring more of who they are to the job, the more insights. It's like the team, the team IQ grows because people are willing to speak up and say what they really think. And that often means I'm having an issue with you or I disagree with what you said, Terri, or I'm uncomfortable with the decision you made. But hashing that out goes a long way towards seaming that gap and leveraging people's knowledge, ideas, experience and heart.
Terri Wolfe: Mmhmm. Bob, my shift boss, my primary, he's my primary leader. I was up at the mine yesterday and we were sitting in the truck having a conversation. It wasn't an easy conversation. He's, you know, there was a few things going on that he wanted to talk to me about and he'd kind of left it, which sometimes he can do. And through it we were able to come to some resolution. And what he said to me was, I so appreciate the work that we've done with thrive! and the horses. I'm able to have these conversations. He said, I still overthink them a little. And he said, I'm able to come to you and have them. He said, I'm a better person at work. I'm a better person at home. And he said, I'm far more aware of who I am and how I lead as a result of this. So it was really heartwarming for me to hear him say that.
CrisMarie: Wow, I'm impressed Bob said that. That's great.
Susan: Well, I know, I sort of recall you saying, because you have quite a drive from where your office is out to the mine. And I remember you talking at some points about how you and Bob could get in that truck and maybe not say a word the entire way out there. So, you know, I do think, I mean your mine is a beautiful location and sometimes I, you know, that's another point of nature to go sometimes and just walk in to remind you of that experience I would guess with the horses. I know Bob has said, sometimes he walks up the hill or, and you know, we're just encouraging him to walk up the hill with somebody else sometimes.
Terri Wolfe: It was lovely and I think Barb, who is my, you know, second in command in the office has the same experience. Now when they're struggling belt tell me, you know, there's less of a gap when they are struggling. And even if it's something they disagree with me, they don't have an idea what the solution is and they disagree with whatever my thoughts are, they're more far more willing to come to me now than they've ever been.
CrisMarie: I think when you were here with the horses down here in White Fish with us, you had Barb and Bob with you, I think at different times, I think they might've been different events, each of them went out with you and a horse and for whatever reason, that connection with the horse, let them drop in and tell you, really for Bob, I think it was festering on an issue for months. And I think even Barb too. Yeah,
Terri Wolfe: Yeah, yeah. I think both of them on separate occasions have, you know, they, I think what happens is they discount themselves and it builds and builds and builds and then finally, boom, they kinda like bomb it out on me.
CrisMarie: Well at least it was out. A lot of the work we've done is helping supporting, you know, the team, you being relational and stepping into your leadership role and also kind of giving you tools like check out your story. How have these tools that we've worked with you in the team, how have they shown up on the team? How have they even shown up in your personal life?
Terri Wolfe: So I'll speak about the team first. I think the team now when we do meetings are far more settled and willing to check anything out. And they out themselves now, even when they're, you know, in a place of being fearful, they'll say, hmm, I got something to check out. I'm not sure if I want to do it here. So they actually set themselves up to check it out. Like they name it. So I'm really pleased about that.
How it is in my personal life. I think as a result of checking things out, I take very things personally, because nothing really is about me. So that's helpful. Especially when I'm making decisions and I have to think about how we're moving forward, whatever it is in my personal relationship and checking out anything that I have, I'm going to call it niggling with, because I can do that and hang on to it, has been freeing for me. It opens up dialogue because they're surprised at what I actually was thinking. So it really does open the space to be more connected for me being vulnerable and being more connected
CrisMarie: Now when we first met you, you were married and now you're not, and there's been a big transition, which I imagine wasn't, well I know, it wasn't an easy process, but you seem quite happy in your life now. Can you talk a little bit about how that has been for you, that transition?
Terri Wolfe: Sure. I'd never lived alone in my life. And I remember calling on you guys when a whole bunch of things had kind of gone sideways in my personal life. My relationship was ending. I'd never lived alone in my life. And I remember the two of you saying to me, Terri, maybe it's time to live alone. I couldn't even imagine it at the time. Here I am probably close to five years later, still living alone and I love it. So this relationship I'm in right now is long distance and I love the space between us. I love coming together and I love the space between us. So I've learned to be on my own, to enjoy that time, and also to be in a relationship and move back and forth. So it's been lovely for me.
CrisMarie: And it sounds like in this newer relationship, you don't hold anything back. Tell me where I'm wrong. It sounds like you put things on the table and engage.
Terri Wolfe: Oh, I would call them spirited discussions in our relationship. They definitely are. I'm not quite as energetic and he meets me in all of those places. We have conversations I never thought we'd have, I never thought I'd have conversations about. So me being able to be open and honest and him with the knowledge that this is a self-responsible conversation, what I'm saying is about me. What you're saying is about you. So really understanding that and being able to walk away after an energetic exchange and feel peaceful that we can have different ideas and be able to be together in our different ideas.
CrisMarie: Yeah. I can't wait until we get you and Toro up here working with the horses. I was thinking about that.
Terri Wolfe: You know, he's accomplished a lot and there's a saying in Nigerian, in a Nigerian culture, a woman gives you ginger, you hang onto her. He said, you give me ginger, which ginger is spicy and all of those things. The other day you can meet ginger, like I'm pushing and he said, I want to do the work that you do though. I said, and here's how it's done. So he, he's in once he's, you know, being able to travel, we can actually schedule it anytime cause it's in Montana.
CrisMarie: Yeah, that's right. Yeah. Thinking about that, bring out, come out for some Couples Mojo. I love it. What was your view of conflict before and what is it now after all this work we've done with you, all the work you have done with your team, with your relationship?
Terri Wolfe: I think back in the day my idea was conflict was avoidant. Avoid conflict at all costs, to be seen and not heard was a big message in my family. So it took a lot of courage through this understanding of self responsibility that I can hold my own point of view and it may be different than someone else's and we can still honor each other with respect and with curiosity. So those things shifted my whole view about the world and being with people
CrisMarie: Say more. What do you mean? Being with people?
Terri Wolfe: To be able to hold space.That I have the capacity to hold someone else's other ideas, their values and be with them and I don't have to challenge them. I don't have to do anything, just be with them. So it's freeing. It's peaceful in that place. There's nothing to come up against, so it's, yeah, it's just a lovely space to be in.
CrisMarie: I think about who you are now as a leader and you're so much more courageous, confident, able to bring things up and hold, I agree, hold for a different opinion. For somebody who's, kind of, quite passionate in their different opinion and be able to reflect back what you're hearing and hang in for that peace.
Terri Wolfe: And you know, I would really say it's been the support and the reiteration of those concepts for me that have, you know, for me to continue to grow and expand and hold more people in this view. What I've, what was really a challenge for me was how many points of view I'm holding. Do I have, you know, do I have the capacity to hold 50 points of view because everyone doesn't think the way I do and expanding, you know what I would call a container, to hold the tension of other ideas and disagreements, all of those for me. I finally believe I can do that. I can hold the space for these people and whoever, each one of them, whatever they bring to the organization because they bring some really wonderful things.
Susan: I want to say Terri, one of the things I've really appreciated too is I don't think this is common in business in general and definitely, maybe not in mining, is your commitment to not just make this about mining, but about the community and who these people are in their lives beyond just the work they come in and do. And I think that, I mean you were committed to that when you brought us in to work with the larger organization. I think sometimes it's a different dynamic for them and yet, you know, they show up and sometimes in larger numbers than others, but they keep, you know, I see you committed to that and that is something that not all, not all businesses do. So, you know, I think that, and especially not in the field you're in. So yeah.
Terri Wolfe: I appreciate that. I think what, for me, doing this, they want to work harder. They want to show me how much value there is in being relational because it's a new experience for them. So it bumpy at first and then from bumpy to wobbly to now I can be away two weeks and show up in one day and I have people come to me and talk to me about what's going on in their lives. So for me it's a way of honoring who they are and they really want to show up for me. I show up for them, they show up for me.
CrisMarie: Yeah, I do think you help make them better people. Help make them better in their lives and on the job. Certainly you give them the opportunity to step up by the way that you model what you're doing. Yes, and I do think even what you were saying before about being able to hold the 50 different points of view, that is not an easy process for any of us. We like to go to right, wrong, let's make the decision, because that tension is so uncomfortable. So I really appreciate your growing capacity to hold for differences. If you were to leave the of our listeners with one piece of advice around conflict or kind of leadership, what you've learned, what would it be?
Terri Wolfe: I would say to not be afraid of conflict. That it generates energy and ideas that will propel a business to move forward. We've gotten some great ideas out of different points of view when everyone's willing to show up and say what's true and the ideas that they have. So it is, it's an energetic experience. It lifts the group, it bonds the group. Because once we know that we have the ability to tolerate each other's different opinions that we can create so much more from that space.
CrisMarie: Excellent. I love it. The beauty of conflict. Well, it's a treat to have you on the show, Terri. We, so appreciate working with you and our relationship that we have with you and your willingness to share with our listeners your experience. So thank you for being here.
Terri Wolfe: I'm thrilled to be involved in this and anything I can do to help and support you as much as you've helped and support me. I'm in.
CrisMarie: Well, that was fun with Terri.
Susan: Yes. Just even reflecting back on some of the experiences we've had with her over the years. And this is really the first time we've had a chance to talk about the Leadership Mojo eques work that we get to do, because we've done a lot of that with her and her team and it really was quite profound.
CrisMarie: I love how open she was. One to use it to help her develop as a leader, which it clearly had a huge impact. That was just one example she gave us, but also helping the team dynamics using the horses, which you know has just been, she's been doing this work with us, the horse work, probably the last three years I think. And I've seen giant shifts in her team and in her confidence, it's been amazing.
Susan: And it has, I mean her commitment to go into a field, mining, that is kind of male dominated for sure. And take over a role where she's the president and owner of the mining company and go out there with the guys. She really took it to heart that she needed to gain their respect through developing relationship with them, with her leadership team and making, their, not just their work matter, but their lives and their personal lives matter.
CrisMarie: And she's really been committed to that. And it was such a big culture shift because it was kind of command and control and intimidation prior to her, just old school leadership. And she has definitely taken a different tactic and made huge inroads to that company. And their growth, we didn't say this on the call, but they have almost doubled in revenue. I mean since she's taken over in the last five years, it's been amazing how her style of leadership has led to bottom line results.
Susan: Yes. So she's a great example of someone who stepped into her role that probably no one thought she was going to be able to fill and filled them in her own style with her own personality. And it's quite something. Her team is also equally interesting and maybe we'll have a chance to interview a couple of them at some point.
CrisMarie: Yeah. And having it land at bottom line results and people wouldn't think more women or relational approach would work and it's proven to dramatically work. So snaps for Terri.
Susan: Yes. I love that she brought in her relationship and how she's using it now as well. Adding her ginger to the relationship. Okay. Hope you enjoy. Take care.
Well thank you for listening to the beauty of conflict podcast. If you're dealing with a difficult situation in your life or work remember, every conflict is a chance for you to be vulnerable and curious and find creative solutions that you hadn't considered before and make your situation even better. Beautiful breakthroughs can be born out of conflict. We've seen this happen thousands of times over the last 20 years and we know this is possible for everyone, including you. We're grateful you listened to this show and we're rooting for you.
CrisMarie: And if you enjoyed this show, please tell a few friends and or post a five star review on iTunes. Your review helps new listeners discover this show. More people listening to this show means less friction and arguing and suffering out in the world. So that's a great thing for everyone. Also, visit our website to read our articles, join our newsletter by our books and learn more about the services that we offer.
Thanks again for listening. We hope you have a peaceful, productive, and beautiful day.
CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke
Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict
CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.
They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.
Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn.
Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It!
Pre-order their new book The Beauty of Conflict for Couples: Igniting Passion, Intimacy, and Connection in Your Relationship.