Organizations in the animal protection movement are overflowing with passion, but how can they create more efficient systems and healthy workplaces? Tania Luna is here to tell us more about her organization, Scarlet Spark, which just might have the answers to make the movement more effective.
ABOUT OUR GUEST
TANIA LUNA, who is the author of LEAD TOGETHER: Stop Squirreling Away Power and Build a Better Team, is an entrepreneur, psychology researcher, and writer. She has founded and grown multiple companies, including Scarlet Spark, a nonprofit that creates human-friendly workplaces for organizations that help animals, and LifeLabs Learning, one of the fastest-growing leadership development companies in the world. Her other books include The Leader Lab and Surprise. She is also a TED speaker and lives in a micro-sanctuary with 32 rescued animals and one human partner.
Jasmin Singer: Welcome to Our Hen House, Tania..
Tania Luna: Oh my gosh, I'm so excited to be on this side. I'm usually listening. I mean, I'm always listening.
Jasmin Singer: Aww, that's so great. Well, I just want to say, I love your name, like really a lot. So is Luna the last name that you've always had or is it your partner's name? Is it a name you chose?
Tania Luna: Oh my gosh. Okay. Well, thank you, first of all. The short version of this, so it is my husband's name. However, I was confident throughout most of my life from a child that I would never take someone else's name. You know, my mother kept her name, my grandmother kept her name. So I was like, never taking a name!
And then I was like, Luna, that's really pretty. So I took that, but then I technically also changed my first name. So my given name, I'm from Ukraine originally is Tatiana. And, as a teenager, I hated people mispronouncing it. And I sort of had this like big immigrant badge that I walked around with, with that name.
So I also changed my first name legally. So I'm a whole new person.
Jasmin Singer: Wow.
Tania Luna: I kind of regret it now. I now wear my immigrant badge with pride.
Jasmin Singer: Well, I was going to say, I just wanted to take a moment to say, I just can't imagine what it must be like for you right now with everything going on in Ukraine. And how are you doing?
Tania Luna: I mean, I've moved to the U. S. such a long time ago. Obviously, I feel sadness and fear, but I don't think in a way that's different than any other feeling I have toward other crises in other parts of the world that are going on now. I think whether it's because of how much time has passed or just the fact that I see all suffering as similar within humans and all other species.
So, yeah, I appreciate that, but I think I'm probably processing it the same way that most of us are.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah. Oy vey.
Well you are doing so much good in the world. And I'm sure that just being able to focus your efforts on something that you're so passionate about, at least for me, I would assume for you too, is a way of dealing with the grief and the fear and the sadness.
Tania Luna: Oh, totally.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, I feel lucky. We're so lucky that we're able to do this and with that in mind, what is Scarlet Spark and why is it needed?
Tania Luna: Yay. Yes, Scarlet Spark, my elaborate coping mechanism slash, of course, my passion and the passion of my co founders, Brian, Alyssa, Charlene. So, Scarlet Spark exists to help animal advocacy organizations create more human friendly workplaces. And our thinking behind the organization is that there are all these incredible organizations out there doing good for animals, fighting the good fight, but most of them don't have the skill or experience of actually building an organization. Things like leadership skills or organizational design, things that you don't think to have as you're pursuing this passion in animal advocacy, or you just don't have time for.
And so the cost of that is a ton of burnout, ton of lost time, high turnover. Faunalytics found recently that people stay within an organization in animal advocacy for only about two years and then leave. Are they potentially leaving the movement? That's something that really stresses me out.
Oftentimes they cite that the reason they're leaving is because of problems with leadership. And these are fixable problems. We know how to make organizations stronger. We know how to make leaders more capable. And so Scarlet Spark exists as a free resource for organizations to be stronger as organizations so that they are more likely to achieve their mission.
Jasmin Singer: Wow, there's so many things in that that I want to talk about. So you just mentioned this. Are there workplace issues that are particular to the animal protection movement or are they mostly just the same challenges that face any organization?
Tania Luna: We did a study at the very beginning of 2023, I think we had about 60 different animal protection organizations participate, to see, are there differences and challenges? My background is in organizational psychology. Before Scarlet Spark, I had a leadership development company where we had over 2000 clients.
So we worked with probably 400,000 leaders by the time that I left as co CEO, co founder. And so I was like, okay, I've seen a lot of organizations. Are these organizations different? I will say for the most part, no, most of the challenges are quite similar. I think the thing that's different is that in the animal protection space, there tends to be less experience, people just dive straight into it without coming up through lots of other workplaces and lots of other roles. So people are coming in a little bit fresher to it, which is both good and bad. There are way fewer resources.
People are stretched more thinly than I would see in most organizations, even in other non profits. Prior to Scarlet Spark, I worked with a lot of for profits, which could still be very passionate and mission driven. But at the end of the day, you don't feel like lives are at stake.
You don't feel like if I screw up or if I make a bad decision, I'm letting billions, trillions of individuals down. So I think the pressures are higher.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, that's a really good point, I think we go into this movement or into this world of changing the world for animals from a place of passion, not necessarily from as intellectual a place as someone else might use to choose their career.
Tania Luna: Right.
Jasmin Singer: And you also mentioned that people come in fresher, I like that turn of phrase.
What I have noticed in my 20 years in the animal protection movement in various capacities is that because so many of the organizations that were so small 20 years ago have grown to be so big, there are people who, maybe they were interns or they were associates or what have you, they've become managers and might not have managerial training.
And I'm certainly not talking about any one organization. I'm talking about just anecdotally things that I have noticed and things that have come up. And that's not only hard for the subordinates, but that's also hard for the leaders, they require training, they require support, they require inner resources.
So talk to me a little bit about that and how Scarlet Spark can maybe help in that capacity.
Tania Luna: Yes. You are so spot on with that challenge. And again, that, I would say isn't that unique to the animal protection world. Like in my prior life, I've worked with a lot of tech startups. The analogous experience there was these companies were getting all of this VC money. And so they would double, triple, quadruple in size within a year or two.
And so they were just like throwing people into manager roles without even asking if they wanted the role. And so a lot of what I learned through that experience was how do you equip people with these skills quickly? And so it's really exciting to be able to do that at Scarlet Spark within the animal protection space.
I think first and foremost, it starts with role clarity, which sounds really simplistic, but at this point, so Scarlet Spark has only been working within this space for a little over a year. Our birthday was in September of 2023. We've worked with about 70 organizations at this point, which has been really amazing.
I love them all. I can't believe that I'm getting to do this, but anyway, across those organizations, one of the things that we've seen, similarly to what I've seen in my past experiences, there isn't like this clear definition of, wait, but what is a manager here? What is the purpose of a manager here?
What are the expectations of a manager here? How are we even measuring success of a manager? So oftentimes when people think about manager resources, I love what you said, you said inner resources. Oftentimes when we think about that, we think, okay, let's give them tools or let's give them skills.
And absolutely that stuff is important, but let's just start with like, what the heck is a manager? What are their responsibilities here? And there's no one right answer, and I think that's part of the reason that it's confusing is you're kind of given this title and given the job, but a manager in one organization might not be the same thing as a manager in another organization.
Some organizations don't have managers at all. They use alternate, forms of leadership. So yeah, I can definitely go into the skills, which I'd love to talk about, but I guess I'll pause to check in with you there. Is that something that you've seen as well? This sort of like ambiguity around like, who am I as a manager?
What am I supposed to be doing here?
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, not only that, but, and I'm saying what I'm about to say based on something I've noticed about myself, just to say that if I'm about to throw anyone under the bus here, it's me. I have felt like my ambition, drive and my I don't know, this sort of otherworldly desire to like keep going has, at times, pushed me to want to get higher and higher on the ladder, wherever, you know, insert the blank, in whatever capacity. And it's almost like, what is it grounded in? Am I clear about what that means? And I haven't always been, and that's resulted in a lot of painful moments.
Tania Luna: Ugh, that's such a great point. Mmhmm.
And it's not you. It's also the culture. Yes, passion is a huge driving force, but also the cultural waters we're all swimming in sort of tell you, without you even realizing that you're being told, you should go for the leader role.
You should go for the manager role. You should be responsible for a team, that kind of thing. And, that's a wonderful way to make an impact. I think of managers or leaders as catalysts. They come in and they're able to accelerate or amplify the impact that a team can have.
But it's not the only way to progress in your career or make an impact in your career. And that's something that I see all the time across all industries as people are given the role. Because they're really solid individual contributors, they're great at whatever their work is. Or they ask for the role because they assume that should be the next thing that happens in their career.
And then they're like, Oh, those skills that I had in whatever, fundraising, programming, those don't translate at all to leadership. Oftentimes it's the opposite, you have to unlearn a whole bunch of stuff. As someone who is an individual contributor, you have to be an amazing problem solver. Whereas as a leader, that's in many ways, a bad habit to try to solve everyone else's problems.
Now, you have to help other people solve their own problems. So there's a lot of unlearning that has to happen. And there's a lot of, you know, is it even right for you? Like for me, I've been in lots of leadership roles. That's not what I want to do primarily in my life. I love teaching about leadership skills, but at Scarlet Spark, I get to focus on teaching, consulting, developing curriculum.
I don't want to be in a leadership role. I know that that's not best for me, at least at this point in my life.
Jasmin Singer: I want to go back to the skills in just a second, too, but there's also this element of the kind of gender inequality that's existed, you know across the board, but I'm talking specifically in the animal protection movement. I have had and I don't mean to get too in the weeds here, but I have had two male bosses call me bossy.
And so what I have felt in the past is that they didn't really know how to manage a strong individual thinker, a strong individual leader. And it was really demoralizing when that happened. And to me, that's indicative of not only sexism, but also it's indicative of their lack of leadership skills.
Like that's just not how you manage. That's not how you deal with a strong person. When I was the senior editor at VegNews, I remember I was leading a small team of editors, and I remember having disagreements with them constantly, like creative vision. And my boss, who was the publisher, Colleen, she would be like, you want them to have different opinions.
Like, this is what editors are for. You need people to... and that always, it was a really great point that has forever changed the way I deal with that kind of thing. Like, of course I want different opinions. Of course we want to bring different layers. And that's one specific example, but you could use that example with any organization too.
Like how do we collaborate? So with that in mind, tell me more about some of the skills that you think people would benefit from focusing on.
Tania Luna: Well, I totally want to answer that question, but can I just do a quick comment on what you said in terms of gender dynamics in the workplace too?
Okay. Because I think that brings in a whole other layer of complexity that's worth at least briefly touching on. I mean, one is, again, I think some of what you're describing could be solved with a clearer definition of what does leadership look like and what are our standards or expectations of leaders? But to your point about gender and also, I think other things, race, age, ability, things like that. I know I kind of stood up on my soapbox a moment ago saying, essentially don't go into leadership if that's not your strength or if that's not what you want to be doing.
That said, I guess I will add on to that the nuance that some people don't go into those roles because we're socialized not to seek power or not to seek leadership. Some of us don't go into roles if we just don't have examples of people who have identities we could relate to that show us, oh yeah, that is possible.
And again, a lot of that is unconscious. Like I remember there's a study that looked at how women are impacted by a very kind of unconscious cue of a role model. I believe in this study, they had participants speak in front of an audience, and they either had an image of Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton behind them on the stage.
So they weren't told about it, they just kind of walked onto the stage and they unconsciously or consciously spotted that image. And when the female participants in this study were on stage with an image of Hillary Clinton, they spoke longer, and they spoke with more confidence, and they were perceived as more eloquent by their audience.
So even in these teeny tiny ways, we're cued to understand what's possible for us, and to kind of broaden our perception of who a leader might be. And so, yes, while on the one hand, it's great to not pursue management or leadership if that's not your passion or your skill set. On the other hand, it is worth kind of interrogating and checking in and going, Why am I not interested?
Is it potentially fear? Is it that I haven't had enough role models? Am I willing to go into this with some discomfort so that potentially it opens the door for others who might see themselves reflected in the identities that I hold? So, that's a nuance that I would add on
Jasmin Singer: I love, thank you. That's so cool. This is so fascinating to me. Okay. So now tell me a little bit more about the skills that, I mean, you've already mentioned quite a few of them, but... and I'm going to listen to this interview like many times, I think, but tell me more.
Tania Luna: Okay, so, we have a program at Scarlet Spark called People Skills for Animal People, and that program we really wanted to, you know, we know people are busy, we know that there's not a whole lot of time for training and for learning, so we wanted to focus on what are the most essential skills. And we have a series of skills and workshops that we focus on, but there are four skills, kind of skill buckets, that we've seen again and again make the biggest difference in your effectiveness, your capacity as a leader.
Number one is question skills. What we find is that people who are most effective as leaders, whether formal or informal leaders, ask more questions and ask a greater variety of questions than average. So, generally, you'll be in a conversation and it's like statement, statement, statement, quick little question.
Whereas when you step into a leadership role, ideally, that ratio is really swapped and you're mostly leading with questions. Those questions could be things like, tell me your perspective, right, to the point that you were making earlier. You want all those opinions, you want all of those ideas to come in and either chisel an idea or bring something new into existence.
So you want questions like, tell me about your thinking, but you also want clarifying questions. In animal protection, resources are so scarce. And oftentimes the mistake that I see is people, because they're feeling like there isn't enough time, rush to get something started, and they're thinking that that's saving them time.
And then they end up having to do a whole lot of cleanup and way more time when they realize that there was miscommunication or misalignment. So, opinion questions, clarifying questions, and coaching questions, helping people come up with solutions to their own challenges. Things like someone comes to you with a problem instead of saying, I know how to solve this.
You start with, well, tell me more about this. What are you looking to achieve? What's standing in the way? Stuff like that. So that's number one. Let me pause there to see if you have questions or reactions to that one.
Jasmin Singer: Just the idea of approaching something with curiosity and a collaborative spirit, that by itself is kind of blowing my mind, which unfortunately it shouldn't be. Like, that should just be how things are approached, but I think frequently, especially in this sort of mayhem, the insane amount of work we need to do in the animal protection movement, I think that there's this urgency that sometimes overrides humanity. And so that's my response to what you're saying is that we can take a step back. That's okay. It's not only just okay, but it probably will ultimately create a lot more change.
Tania Luna: Yes. I love that. I just think you had such a great point there about the willingness to pause and get curious and ask those questions, oftentimes I feel like at Scarlet Spark what we do is almost give people permission they didn't realize they needed to just take a breath, pause, think about things, reflect.
There's so much fascinating research on just the power of reflection. There's a relatively recent study that found that surgeons who were either asked to get more practice or reflect on their past surgeries. Turns out that the surgeons who spent time reflecting made faster progress in their skills than the surgeons who got more practice.
So oftentimes, especially in both in advocacy, I think very much in the Western world, but increasingly everywhere, pausing to just go like, what have I learned so far?
What have I experienced so far? Again, our cultural tendency is like, Action, action, action, forward, forward, forward movement, but actually so much progress and change happens if you just carve out five minutes from time to time, 15 minutes if you're feeling luxurious, an hour every month to just pause and go, what have I learned? What are my options here? Things like that.
So I think you're so right that a big part of these question skills is almost like giving yourself that permission to go from having essentially no peripheral vision to expanding what you're looking at so that you could really learn and explore and make ultimately much better decisions.
Jasmin Singer: SO, you're reminding me of something, just in case this is of interest to people, I'm a big fan of that monthly check in with myself, and one thing that I have found useful is journals that are offered from this company called Ink and Volt, that's like I N K and, like the plus sign, Volt, V O L T.
And people don't need that, you could just use like a notebook, but I like props, so just an idea to Gamify self accountability, I think, is sometimes useful. So yeah, tell me more. What other skills?
Tania Luna: Okay, so number one is question skills, and that applies in so many different situations and scenarios, but that's a first. Number two is clarity skills. I hinted at this already, but so much of resource loss, time loss, frustration gain happens because of miscommunication, misalignment.
So a lot of what we focus on throughout the People Skills for Animal People series is different degrees of clarity skills. Clarity has to do with the specificity of your communication, but also confirming understanding. So a really small thing to get in the habit of is, for example, someone asks you to do something and you reflect back and summarize what you just heard. Or someone comes to you with a massive problem and they've been talking and talking, talking before diving into trying to solve it, you pause and you go, okay, I think I just heard you say this thing, this thing, and this thing. Did I understand that correctly? Where should we start? So that's number two. Anything you'd add there or have insights about?
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, I just think that you would be fun to be in a relationship with because you know how to communicate!
Tania Luna: By fun. Do you mean not fun?
Jasmin Singer: No! I mean these are skills not only for work, but also, no offense to either of our spouses, by the way, I just mean, like, it's like, you can show up in any kind of gritty conversation that way, you know what I mean? Like, just open mindedly.
Tania Luna: I would say I agree and my spouse would disagree. I think in most contexts, question skills and clarity skills, particularly if you're aligned on the same mission. We're trying to achieve a result. These are the two most important skills you need. In a relationship context, I have definitely needed to pull back on going too intense with questions and clarity.
So, for example, let's say my husband gives me some feedback. If it was in the workplace, I would go, well, can you share an example of that? Can you tell me a little bit more about what the impact is of that? Whereas in a relationship context, I also tend to be the slightly hyper rational one.
He tends to be the hyper emotional one. He agrees with this by the way, this assessment. And so he'll be like, ah, stop doing the tools! So take what I'm saying with a grain of salt. Absolutely it applies in many contexts, but go gently and experiment before committing to any of these practices in your romantic relationships.
Jasmin Singer: Okay. Noted. Noted. That'll be for a different podcast altogether. Maybe like, the one that Esther Perel hosts or something.
Tania Luna: Yeah, but to your point about getting into gritty situations, this is why clarity, we really dig into it throughout the different workshops that we have because it's useful in so many contexts. You talked before about someone calling you bossy.
What the heck does that even mean? With question skills and clarity skills combined, you can go, okay, it sounds like you're experiencing my leadership as bossy. I'd love to understand where you're coming from so that I can understand what potentially I can change or how we could maybe align on a norm or standards of leadership around here.
Can you say more about what bossy means to you? What are some examples of that? Oh, that's interesting, that example, I've noticed that other people do this as well. Do you perceive that as bossy? You know, so that kind of conversation all of a sudden takes this potentially painful, demotivating, biased, messy situation and unravels it so that hopefully you can move forward both better for the conversation, or at least one of you.
Jasmin Singer: I love that. I love that so much. That's so great. Okay, so are there any other skills while we're on this topic?
Tania Luna: Yeah. So I'll summarize the other two briefly. So we say questions, clarity, and then we also do a deep dive into what we call Inward skills and outward skills. So inward skills are those self skills. Do I know myself? Do I understand my needs and my energizers, or my de energizers? Do I understand what I'm feeling right now?
Do I understand how to alter what I'm feeling right now? So it's a lot of like emotional intelligence. I used to study emotion regulation. I kind of hate the term regulation now. I think of it as like self collaboration or self cooperation. In animal protection, we are so mean to ourselves. I think that's a pretty common thing that isn't quite as common across other organizations that I've seen.
There's the tendency to... right? I mean, cause there's so much suffering and it's like, well, who am I to feel happy or feel good when there's so much suffering out there? I think that's maybe part of it. Part of it is an intense sense of compassion, intense empathy, for many people that we work with.
And so as a result of that, people often are kind of abusive to themselves. I think of it as like animal abuse, right? We are animals and we stand against violence toward animals, but we can be very abusive toward ourselves, whether that's saying mean things to ourselves or burning ourselves out or not having boundaries, those kinds of things.
That's the inward skills bucket.
Jasmin Singer: Love that, love that.
Tania Luna: Have you seen this? What's your experience with that bucket of skills?
Jasmin Singer: I have found that kind of self awareness, which I do think comes with age, I'm not saying it always does, you could have a very self aware young person. But, I think that kind of self awareness, that's the hard work and I just really strongly encourage anyone listening to this, especially those of you who work in some kind of service industry or in the animal protection movement. Or if you're a caretaker of any kind, a teacher, a parent, a child taking care of an older parent, something like that, that self awareness is vital because like you said, the ability to self intervene and also self soothe, to me, it's those... Tara Brock, the meditation instructor and psychologist, she calls it a U turn. By the way, she's vegan, small aside. She calls it a U turn, when can you have a U turn in what you're doing? It's those moments of recognizing the U turn before they happen that can create stronger activists and stronger leaders.
Tania Luna: Yes, I love that because again thinking about, people potentially staying within the animal protection movement for only two years, that's incredibly sad that people are drawn enough in, they're passionate, they have skills and energy and time, they're willing to dedicate, and then their experiences are so negative or they burn out and they move on elsewhere and then we lose power and momentum.
And I'm not saying that those inward skills are the only aspect of it. A huge part of it is leadership. A huge part of it is the resources that we lack within animal protection. But those inward skills for leaders and for anyone, I think are that kind of protective mechanism that allow us to stay resilient and stay present and active.
We underestimate how easy it is to burn out. I know I do. I'm always like, not me. I'm too passionate. And then later I'm like, I don't want to get out of bed today.
So yeah, those inward skills, incredibly important.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, definitely. What else? You said there was one more?
Tania Luna: Yep, one more.
So skill number four is those outward skills. So outward skills are probably what people are already quite good at within animal protection. That's things like understanding other people's perspectives, compassion, empathy, but also not just emotional empathy, but cognitive empathy. Can I understand the different needs and the different perspectives of different stakeholders, or whatever term you want to use, right?
I'm working with maybe my team, my direct reports. I'm also working with maybe my manager. I'm also working with funders. There's so many different individuals that I might be collaborating with and our movement is so international, that's another component of it. So having that skill of recognizing what are the different needs and preferences and styles of these different individuals and really important, how do I tweak my message or my work style to be able to get the best experience of working together to bring out the best in those individuals?
That's another component that we focus on a lot in those workshops.
Jasmin Singer: I love that. That goes to the ethos of animal rights because we are elevating one another and we're supporting one another in this shared world of wanting to change the world for animals. I think that's a beautiful thing. Just being able to check in with those around us and say, Hey, what do you need and how can I help you get there?
Tania Luna: Mm hmm. Yeah, absolutely. And we translate these four essential skills to other kind of broader skills, so we focus on things like coaching skills, feedback, strategic thinking, prioritization, equity and inclusion. But those four that I just talked through, they're sort of like this red thread throughout every single other workshop that we offer.
Jasmin Singer: So tell me about these workshops. I think that our listeners have a good idea of what it is you're doing now with Scarlet Spark, but how are you doing it?
Tania Luna: So workshops are just one small part of what we do. So within Scarlet Spark, we have kind of three buckets of service that we provide, all for free thanks to funders. So thank you funders and future funders, if you're listening. So bucket number 1 is what we call 1 to 1. That's when we work with 1 organization at a time.
And usually there it's not workshops. It's consulting. And so we might be focusing on things like, how do we create a really simple, scalable, equitable compensation model, or how do we improve your hiring process, or how do we make sure that your performance assessment system is working really well and is fair and is useful.
So that's the one on one. We're working with one organization at a time and really doing a deep dive on fortifying their people systems. Then Bucket number two is what we call one to many, and that's where we have these workshops, through People Skills for Animal People. Our cohort right now is wrapping up.
If you're listening and you're interested, please sign up for our newsletter. It's called the Scarlet Newsletter. And you could sign up right on our website to be alerted about future cohorts. Ongoing in that one to many track is our leadership office hours. So twice a month, we hang out in a Zoom room and invite People in the animal protection space to show up with any questions, challenges. It could be something like, I have this particular issue with my direct report, what do I do? Or it could be, we're trying to improve how we do employee onboarding. What are your suggestions?
So that's leadership office hours. And then the third bucket is what we call one to all, which are tools and templates that we have in our resource library. That's available again on our website and that's scarletspark.org. Usually what the way that that resource library is built up is we'll be working with a client one on one and they'll say, you know, we need interview questions for managers. And so we'll make that for them and then we'll share that with everyone else. Or they'll say, we need a template for how to have really good one on ones with managers and direct reports.
So we'll make them a template and then we'll post it online in that resource library. So those are the 3 kind of segments of how we do our work. One to one, one to many, one to all.
Jasmin Singer: And there was recently a survey. I think you started to allude to this earlier. Tell me more about the survey of leadership in the movement. What did you find?
Tania Luna: Yeah. So that was a survey that we did early on in the year just to see, are there any major differences? We asked, what are the biggest problems that you have as an organization? Number one, I think 60 percent of organizations said their biggest problem is lack of time. Makes sense. Totally makes sense.
Although I would argue that when you feel that your biggest problem is a lack of time, your actual biggest problem is probably something else. Most likely it's unclear priorities. When you don't have time, it just means you have to do fewer things. And it's really hard to decide what aren't we going to do when we care so much and we want to do everything.
There's a lot of research that points to the fact that organizations with a smaller number of priorities achieve more than organizations with a larger number of priorities. So, if you're feeling like you don't have time, it might be worth it to check in. Are we clear and are we realistic with our number of priorities?
You might also be feeling like you don't have enough time because you're doing a lot of cleanup of messes, miscommunication, frustration, people quitting, people underperforming, and so there things like leadership skills and better organizational systems could actually be the solution.
Most of us probably won't actually ever get more time, but we can use the time that we have better. So that was number 1 is not enough time. People also said that they struggled with strategic planning. That was one that came up again and again. People trying to figure out, like, is our process for deciding what we're gonna do good?
Is it effective? Is it inclusive? So that's something that we focus on quite a lot. Then, the third thing was communication. Conflict misalignment, miscommunication, the kind of natural stuff that happens when you're a bunch of humans, particularly a bunch of passionate humans splattered across the world, trying to achieve goals together.
So nothing shocking, but incredibly important to take seriously because it's all fixable. It's all addressable and it's beautiful what happens once those things start moving smoothly, because then it does feel like you've just won a whole bunch of time back.
Jasmin Singer: So given all of that, what would your advice be to someone who wants to find employment in the movement? What should they look for in a workplace culture?
Tania Luna: Oh my gosh. That's a really interesting question. I would say more important than any of the things that I just brought up, what you ideally want to look for is an organization that is open to feedback, has a track record and can give some examples of how they've applied employee or volunteer feedback in the past.
Do they have a track record of learning, experimenting, and evolving because we're all messy. All organizations are messy. No matter how hard we try not to be, all humans are messy, no matter how hard we try not to be. I think what tends to be a better predictor of whether you'll have a great professional experience is not how tidy and well structured is the organization, but how willing and eager are they to keep learning, to keep improving, and to make your voice part of that story and part of that journey.
Jasmin Singer: I love that. That's really beautifully said. You mentioned earlier, some of the frustrations people might have, like you said, it's a lack of time, but then you positioned it as perhaps it's about prioritization or internal communication within the organization. Would you say that those are also the main reasons for burnout in the movement?
Tania Luna: I'm hesitant to answer this with confidence because I haven't looked into this specific question, but I can say, here's my opinion based on just the conversations we've been having. So this is my non empirical perspective, and kind of probably bringing in research on what tends to cause burnout.
So yes, burnout can happen because we're doing too much or we're stretched too thin, but actually more likely burnout tends to happen because of a perceived lack of agency or power. So oftentimes we work really, really, really hard and we're tired, but if we feel like we have the power and the autonomy to make choices, we're significantly less likely to burn out.
So power is like that buffer around our tendency toward burnout. So I think within the movement, absolutely thinking about how do we make people's workload reasonable? How do we make priority super clear? Yes, really important. And also, how do we structure people's roles and people's work so that they have that appropriate amount of autonomy and power over their work.
So that could be things like flexibility in hours, but probably even more meaningful is like, can you give people voice and choice in what work they do, how they do that work, how they contribute to co creating the strategy of the organization? And then the third thing that I would throw in there is... it's really interesting.
It's been interesting to see, before working in with mostly for profits, they were really into, at least in the tech world where I spent a lot of time, making the mission of the organization front and center. They were like, we're changing the world. We're doing all this amazing stuff.
And not to diminish the perceived importance of what they were doing, but in animal protection, we're actually changing the world. We're actually saving lives, all animals, humans included. And yet, within animal protection, I rarely see that same celebration and kind of repetition of why what we're doing matters, why each role here matters.
There is often this strain feeling of we better get this done because things are only getting worse, but there isn't as much joy and celebration and reconnection to why this work is so incredibly meaningful as I think we all need to have that burnout buffer. Burnout is so often a result of a lack of meaning, a lack of connection to why this effort that we're putting in is making a difference.
Those are probably the three things is clarity of priorities, more sense of control and agency, and then a greater sense of connection, particularly in that celebratory, joyful way to the work that we're doing, the meaning of our work.
Jasmin Singer: I'm curious if you have ever felt that you were teetering on burnout?
Tania Luna: Oh my gosh. Yes. So not since Scarlet Spark, but in my last organization, Life Labs Learning, I mean, that was an interesting one because I had control, you know, I was co CEO, technically no one was my boss. I had a lot of choice and power, but it was limited in one significant way. And then the meaning bucket was probably the most important.
So the, the way that my choice and power was limited is that at the time that I stepped out of the role, we were about 150 employees. And at that point, I really didn't feel like I could do what I wanted to do. I didn't feel like I could just spend all day focusing on the things that I was best at, or most passionate about, because I was in service to the rest of the organization.
So a big lesson learned for me was that's not where I ideally want to be. I don't want to be in that kind of role. It could be a wonderful role for the right person, but it turned out it wasn't right for me because I didn't have agency over what I did that day. I had to respond to email.
I had to address concerns and issues and opportunities, but the more significant thing that led to burnout for me, which is why I'm here, where I am, is as much as the work felt meaningful, it felt like meaningful with a lowercase m versus meaningful with a capital M. We had at one point, this was years before I left, we had a company retreat, and I really wanted it to be vegan because we had food at the retreat.
And my co founder also, she was vegetarian at the time, she's now vegan, and she was like, yeah, let's just do a vegan retreat. But because we're really inclusive as an organization, and we didn't want to force this on anyone. And I think I did this really poorly, but I sent out a survey and basically was like, how open would you be to having this vegan retreat?
And about 50 percent of the organization was like, you can't tell us what to eat. You know, you can't put your morals and your values on us. And I was sobbing. I was just sitting there, we had a WeWork office at the time and we had this larger office and this one little office that was sort of like this fishbowl.
So I couldn't even hide from anyone. I was just sitting there in this all glass little container, just like sobbing because that was the moment that told me, okay, I don't think I belong here. And I was also telling myself the story that, okay, we're teaching people leadership skills, but we're also teaching them to be more compassionate.
We're also teaching them to be more open minded. And at that moment, I realized we are, but I don't think it transfers to other species. I don't think that when you are more compassionate and empathetic toward individuals, sadly, it just doesn't seem to then transfer over to non human individuals and that just shattered my heart and it was a few years before I stepped out cause I felt like I needed to build more infrastructure and kind of set it up for success, but that completely sent me down this path of burnout because I was working like 60, 80 hour weeks, which I would never, ever recommend to anyone ever, and I do not do anymore. And increasingly, I wasn't loving what I was doing as the organization grew, but again, that meaning bucket for me was just devastating.
I knew I needed to do something that more directly had an impact on animals.
Jasmin Singer: Wow. Well that's great that you were able to make this shift, truly, and also just pay it forward, in a way. I never felt like I was teetering on burnout until social media started to swallow me alive. And I realized that...
yeah, I realized that it was just destroying my mental health.
And I know that people talk about this and I've talked about it, but I can't state how important it was for me to turn the volume way down, take off all social media from my phone and only go on social media when I had to, not just to waste time or procrastinate something. But it has frankly destroyed a part of my soul to just see how...
Tania Luna: Oh gosh gosh
Jasmin Singer: It's not the movement though.
You know, I need to remind myself, that's not the animal protection movement. It's just Hashtag random vegans. Right? And it's like the vitriol...
Tania Luna: Is that a hashtag? Should I be checking that hashtag?
Jasmin Singer: I just made it up. There's probably someone who's, yeah, I just made it up. There's like vitriol and, like, I interviewed Melanie Joy.
I don't actually remember if that's going to air before this interview, but it probably is. And I feel like some of what we talked about got into that a little bit, maybe, just... it's not as though I took it personally, but I felt like I had a personal stake in it. And I felt like Mariann and I have been working on Our Hen House for 14 years.
And we've interviewed thousands of people who are just doing such incredible work. And we have had literally millions of downloads. And so it's not like I was being all self important about it. Like, why does this still happen when we're doing... it's not about us. But it saddened me to almost incomprehensible level that people just rip each other apart. And so I think that shielding myself from that, which happened in almost an emergency moment of I'm done, I'm done with all of it. Not life. Okay. I'm not getting that dark here.
Tania Luna: Social media life.
Jasmin Singer: Right. And, so it was just like, no, I'm done. And I'm still recovering from that. I'm not sure I'll ever fully recover, but that's the only time I felt potentially like I was burning out.
Tania Luna: Totally. And I think that's such an important lesson. We had this model or still have this model at Life Labs Learning, my last company, that are the five biggest drivers of engagement and desire to participate. We call it the camps model. Cause it's like, you want to be in the engaged camp versus the disengaged camp.
And the first is certainty or I also like to think of it as clarity, do I have enough of an understanding of what's going on? Do I have enough of a sense of safety? The second is autonomy, which I just talked about. The third is meaning, then progress, then social inclusion or connection. And what you just described, I think it really hits on that meaning and progress, because it's like, okay, does what I do and all of this effort that I've poured into this, does it really matter, and do we feel like we're getting closer and closer to our goal and animal protection is so hard to even gauge that because, as we all know, the number of animals consumed or dying is not going down, is increasing.
And yet social awareness, interest, passion, potentially dollars, solutions, options, things like that, those do very much seem to be increasing. So much of it has to do with what you look at, both as an individual and as a leader. How can you both acknowledge the painful and frustrating realities while at the same time, directing your energy and attention to this is where progress is happening and recognizing the progress is almost never linear.
It's often this like, you work, you work, you work. It feels like nothing's going to change. And all of a sudden the shift is exponential because you've laid the foundation for something to be built on when that thing is ready to be built. So much of staying away from burnout is being able to name and validate the pain of all of that that we're surrounded in, while being able to redirect our attention to what's meaningful and where we're making progress. And then the social inclusion piece too, is who do you surround yourself with? Are you surrounded by hashtag random vegans, or are you surrounded by a more soul soothing, soul enriching hashtag?
Jasmin Singer: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So well said. Tell us about your new book, Lead Together: Stop Squirreling Away Power, and Build a Better Team.
Tania Luna: Thank you. It's a book that just came out this year, 2023 in September. It is a story of a business squirrel. He's a branch manager. I went with a parable approach here because there's so much research that shows that we learn best through storytelling. And in particular, I really wanted to tackle the topic of power and power sharing, particularly in the workplace, but as it relates in so many other areas in life.
Sam Squirrel, who's our hero, he's very much this kind of command and control, top down leadership type of leader. That's how he was brought up. And it seems to be working until there is a crisis. So there's a forced recession happening because of a condo development that's going up, a human condo development.
And suddenly all of these top down approaches, and using punishment and reward and fear, aren't working and acorn gathering production is down. Squirrels are leaving to work in the city. And so he has a sort of crisis of leadership and goes on this journey into the forest, gets lost, finds the squirrel named Mary Parker Forrest, who's actually named after Mary Parker Follett, who's this incredible scholar in the 1800s, 1900s, who wrote about sharing power in the workplace.
And he goes on this journey to learn a different way to lead. So instead of leading more firmly, he learns to lead together. So that's the idea. 100 percent of proceeds from the sale of the book go toward helping organizations that help animals. So it's very intertwined with my work at Scarlet Spark, but it's a lesson that hopefully could be extended across...
My dream is that, yes, it helps organizations, but my biggest dream is, can it unlock our relationship to power in general? We have this power over relationship, not just in the workplace, but in our interaction with other humans, with other species, there is this tendency of creating this hierarchy of power.
What if instead we had a shared power, mutual flourishing approach to how we coexist, whether it's in the workplace or in the life place?
Jasmin Singer: I love that. Wow, that's so, so, so cool. I have a few more questions for you, so I hope you'll stay on, just for some bonus material so I can get into a few different things that we haven't touched on. But before you go, Tania, tell us about Scarlet.
Tania Luna: Oh, okay. So Scarlet Spark is actually named in honor of, my husband, Brian's and I's and my's, first dog. Her name was Scarlet. She was all scarred up. We don't know exactly what her history was. We adopted her when she was about 10 years old. She was a super scarred up, kind of scary looking pit bull.
But she just transformed our community. We were living in Harlem at the time. We would go around on these walks and we didn't know anyone. People didn't really interact with each other that much, but everyone stopped and interacted with Scarlet. And she just made people smile. I don't know what it was about her.
She's like, looked right into your eyes, made people smile. We developed all these friendships and relationships as a result of it, including Alyssa, who's our executive director at Scarlet Spark. We met because of our dogs. And she was just the spark of community, of connection. And so we decided to honor her in the name of the organization.
Our goal is to create that scarlet spark for others where through the work, hopefully, not only are we laying the groundwork for freedom and joy for animals, we're also creating more of a spark and an openness in people's hearts and minds to be able to see all other animals as worthy of love, of care, of connection.
So broadening our definition of what is community in the way that Scarlet did for us.
Jasmin Singer: Beautiful. That is so beautiful. There's nothing I love more than a pitbull, especially a pitbull who has a transformation story and a transformative vibe, which I feel like is pretty much, not pretty much, it's every pitbull. Uh, and, I'm so, so happy to hear that that is the namesake for your incredible work that you're doing.
So tell us, Tania, about how people can learn more about your work and get involved.
Tania Luna: Yeah. So our website is Scarlet, S C A R L E T, spark. org. And, again, I would really encourage signing up for our newsletter because we announce when we have new free events and resources, you can also sign up for free office hours there. Check out that resource library and just say hi, let us know that you're interested in what we're doing and let us know if we can help you in any way.
If you're interested in the book, Lead Together, it's the one with squirrels on the cover. It's available, most places books are sold, bookshop. org, Amazon, Barnes Noble. You could also check out my website, tanialuna. com, T A N I A L U N A dot com. And, if you click on lead together, you'll see lots of free resources related to the topic of shared power and shared leadership.
Jasmin Singer: Amazing. There are a shockingly lot amount of ways of spelling Tania. I know a lot of Tanyas and I think all of them spell their name differently somehow, like there's no overlap.
Tania Luna: I know. I do think I bought, I think Tanya T A N Y A redirects to my website. So I tried, I tried to buy up some of them.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah, I did that with jasminsinger. com, but with an E, like jasminesinger, just because most people spell it that way. I recently met someone whose name is Jasmin, and it's J A S M Y N, and I was like, Okay, we can be friends, I think.
Tania Luna: Now as we're saying this I feel bad toward Jasmin with an E and Tanya with a Y, that we just like bought up their domain names. So if you're listening, Tanya Luna or Jasmin Singer, let us know and we will like, at least I'll give you back that domain name if you need it.
Jasmin Singer: I'm not, I'm keeping it. I'm keeping it.
Tania Luna: keep it. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Jasmin Singer: Yeah. there is a Jasmin singer who's like a singer in Russia, I think, who is pretty popular and, and I feel like I've kind of ruined her life a little bit by just taking up all of the domains, the Gmail. She's like, who is this vegan in New york? You know, like what is happening?
Tania Luna: But how interesting that I wonder is that like nominal determinism that she's a singer who's a singer and you're a singer who spends most of your time on a microphone. So it's got to be something there.
Jasmin Singer: Maybe. I was a musical theater major 5, 000 years ago when I was,
so, hey, you never know. Anyway, Tania, I like how we started and ended this interview with talking about your name and names. And so it feels like a good moment. So stick on for a little while for the bonus material. And so much for all of your incredible work changing the world for animals and for joining us today on Our Hen House.
Tania Luna: Thank you and thank you to everyone who's listening, who's making a difference in the world and getting us closer and closer to the shared mission that we have. I'm so grateful to get to be in company with you all.
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This episode is sponsored in part by The Culture & Animals Foundation, which sponsors artists, scholars, and activists in our collective efforts to understand our fellow species more deeply and to further their rights. CAF provides annual grants, an arts prize, a lecture series, and a fellowship. Visit cultureandanimals.org for more information. The Culture & Animals Foundation: Think. Create. Explore. Celebrate.
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