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Building a Culture of Respect: Strategies for Leaders

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Welcome to the Executive Connect Podcast, where modern leaders find inspiration and guidance. In today’s episode, host Melissa Aarskaug welcomes her friend Nicole Pletka, a trailblazer in technology and community activism. Nicole shares insights from her roles at Zeitcode and her work with Austin Women in Technology, highlighting the importance of respect in the workplace. Join us for a candid conversation on fostering respect, addressing challenges, and empowering others to thrive.

Topics include:

00:00 – Introductions and overview

05:00 – Understanding Individual Communication Preferences – Effective communication is crucial in any workplace environment. Understanding individual communication preferences ensures that messages are conveyed clearly and respectfully, fostering better relationships and collaboration.

09:26 – Addressing Disrespectful Behavior Promptly – Allowing disrespectful behavior to persist can negatively impact team morale and productivity. Addressing it promptly sends a message that such behavior is not tolerated, setting clear expectations for respectful conduct.

15:14 – Advocating for Change and Leading by Example – Leaders play a crucial role in shaping workplace culture. By advocating for respect and leading by example, they inspire others to follow suit, creating a positive and supportive work environment.

26:13 – Fostering Open Communication within Teams – Open communication encourages transparency, trust, and collaboration within teams. It allows individuals to express concerns, provide feedback, and address issues effectively, leading to improved team dynamics and performance.

31:40 – Prioritizing Self-Respect and Self-Care – Self-respect is the foundation for advocating for respect in all aspects of life. Prioritizing self-care and positive self-talk enables individuals to set boundaries, maintain confidence, and navigate challenging situations with resilience.

As we come to the end of another insightful episode of the Executive Connect Podcast, we want to give a big thanks to Nicole Pletka for sharing her valuable insights with us today. Her down-to-earth approach to fostering respect in the workplace reminds us that simple acts of kindness and understanding can go a long way. Remember, respect starts with each one of us. So, let’s continue to uplift and support one another on our journey towards success. Thanks for tuning in, and until next time, keep connecting and growing!

Guest Bio:

Starting her career in anthropology and environmental science, Nicole Pletka found her passion for tech by using GIS to answer archaeological hypotheses in her Master’s research.

Nicole currently serves as the Director of Operations and Project Management at Zeitcode, an Austin, Texas based software development firm focused on creating custom applications for a variety of clients. In this role, she not only creates the project delivery process for Zeitcode, but she also provides consultation and software solutions in support of a few large, corporate Project Management Offices.

Among several professional affiliations, Nicole is the Programs Director and President elect for Austin Women in Technology where she organizes monthly networking events. She has also volunteered her time at several professional conferences by moderating expert panels on topics including diversification of employment practices, corporate culture, data privacy, and Web3.

Nicole believes in strengths-based leadership, and she is intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. Outside of work, Nicole finds joy playing with her dog, dancing, spending time with her family, and supporting her close friends.

About Melissa Aarskaug:

I’m an energetic executive with 15+ years of experience steering companies to new heights of growth and scale. An engineer at heart (I started my career as an engineering manager on one of the world’s largest concrete bridges), I’ve become a trusted leader and business builder in the technology and cybersecurity space.

Transcript

Nicole Pletka 00:00
I was standing in line in the cafeteria at a big company. I was the only woman probably in a line of 30 men or so. And the guy serving food, just, you know, just the cook. Every every personnel come up, he’d say, “What can I get you, boss?” Does this probably 10 times. And I come up there and he’s like, “And what would you like?” And I said, “What? I don’t get to be a boss today?” “Because well, you’re a lady”. And then the guy behind me goes, which was the best, the best thing that could happen is the guy behind me goes, “Dude, she’s the only person in this whole room was actually a boss. Like a lot of us report to her!”

Narrator 00:52
Welcome to the Executive Connect Podcast, a show for the new generation of leaders. Join Melissa Aarskaug as she speaks to a wide variety of guests that bring new insights into leadership, prosperity, and personal growth. While no one has all the answers, by building a community of open minded and engaged leaders, we hope to give you the tools you need to help you find your own path to success.

Melissa Aarskaug 01:21
Welcome to Executive Connect, I’m so excited to have my friend Nicole Pletka here today. Welcome, Nicole. Can you introduce yourself to our listeners today?

Nicole Pletka 01:33
Sure. Thanks for having me, Melissa, I really appreciate you thinking of me for your podcast. As you know, you and I met through Austin Women in Technology. It’s one of my passions in life. In my job that I get paid for, I’m actually the Director of Operations and Project Management for Zeitcode, which is an Austin based consulting company where we do custom applications for some large corporations. And when I don’t get paid, I spend a lot of my time working for Austin Women In Technology. I am currently their Programs Director, and I am President elect. So learning the President job while putting on monthly networking events

Melissa Aarskaug 02:17
I’m so excited to have you here today. And I know we’re going to talk a little bit about respect in the workplace and how to deal with it. So just jumping right in. From your perspective Nicole, why do you think it’s important to treat people with respect?

Nicole Pletka 02:36
That’s, I mean, it seems like it should be an obvious answer, right? Like, why wouldn’t you treat people with respect, but the reality is people perform better, I think, when they’re happier and less stressed, and when they feel appreciated for the work that they do. And I want to be clear that respect to me is very different from politeness, right? Everyone learns how to be polite, act professional, that kind of thing. But respect is a lot more respect is really learning the individual and what they respond to. Right. It’s, it’s not like, you know, equity in that in a certain sense that people talk about a lot. But for me, it’s very important to know that each person is unique, in what is special to them, and what their values are, and respecting them is learning what will really resonate with them in a way of showing them that you care, showing them that you appreciate them, showing them that you understand the work that they do and why it’s important. So the bottom line is, why is it, why is it important to have respect in any aspect of your life is it’s going to make you a better person, it’s going to give you better self esteem, it’s going to make you feel good about yourself, it’s going to make you feel good about the work you’re doing. And the more you enjoy what you’re doing, the better job you’re going to do.

Melissa Aarskaug 03:58
Well said I love it. I absolutely agree with respect to it seems easy. But a lot of times when we are going through our day to day and we’re rushing from one place to another, we’re not mindful about our interactions with people because we’re focused on the task or the to do versus focus on the, you know, emotional, let’s say the emotional intelligence of how we’re interacting with people. And I think it really shows up in the workplace a lot when we’re pressured to get things done quickly. So as it relates to work, how do you how should people deal with disrespect in the workplace or people that aren’t getting respect, like you mentioned at work? And then maybe, secondly, a second piece to that, what have you found are the most effective strategies and why do those work?

Nicole Pletka 04:53
Okay, that’s, that’s a lot of questions and one sentence that but they’re, they’re really good ones. It’s really important because, you know, as I mentioned, it’s a very individual endeavor. So showing respect to one person may look very different than showing respect to another person. So for instance, a lot of times the way people like I’m a very direct person, very to the point just get get things done. And so I tend to send emails and do communication and that’s just like, hey, Melissa, did you do that say and you’re like, oh, yeah, I’m like, love it great. Whereas somebody else would want to hear. Hey, Melissa, how’s your day? That’s good. Are you ready to talk about this task? Because it’s important, you know? And like some people need more pleasantries. They need more niceties. Some people feel like that’s a waste of their time, right. And so at work, understanding the communication preferences of the people you’re talking to, is a really, really important way of showing respect, and showing if they respect you as well, right? And some ways of like, how do you deal with it and specific strategies and things that I’ve come across all those kinds of things. You really have to use what works for you. For one thing, like I use humor a lot when I feel like I’m being disrespected, which can be I’m trying to use like a really blatant example, like if somebody calls me honey, or something ridiculous at work a pet name, for instance, maybe they think they’re being funny. Well, I’ll call them an even more absurd pet name back, right? And just go on about like, oh, sweetie, darling, love you. So excited to be here. Right? And they’re like, why are you talking like that? And I’m like, I thought we were using pet names. Isn’t that funny? Right. But other people, you know, can’t necessarily pull that off quite as well, you know. And I think the best way to deal with it, first of all, is if you think somebody is treating you disrespectfully, you need to nip it in the bud as soon as possible, right? Because as long as soon as somebody thinks you’re okay with being treated a certain way, if you allow it to go on, you’re essentially validating that is an okay way to treat you. Right. So as soon as you feel like I don’t think this person is understanding what works for me. It can be, you know, like I said, a funny quip. Or you may need to have a private conversation with them that says, hey, I know your intentions are good. Hopefully, their intentions are good. But it would really make me feel better if you talk this way, or you acted this way. And you could give some examples. And no real thing that happened to me in my life. When I was younger, and earlier in my career, is I had a boss, a leader in the organization, who was always trying to support me by sitting next to be in meetings, by putting his you know, leaning in to me when I would be speaking and trying to really show like extra engagement in the things that I was doing. And I had to take him outside and be like, I know you’re trying the best you can to be supportive. And it’s coming across as kind of fatherly. And it’s honestly, as much as you’re trying to help, you’re actually making other people in the room think that you like me for the wrong reasons. I need you to show more, you know, concurrence with my ideas in a less touchy feely way. And, you know, he just he just never thought that it could have been taken the wrong way. Being able to have that candid conversation to be like I’m, you know, I think your intentions are good, I really do think your intentions are the best and your heart is in the right place. And I’m like, but from my shoes as the youngest person in the room as new to this position. And I’m like, I need to be treated more like your peer and less like your child.

Melissa Aarskaug 08:57
And I think you explained it really well, in the sense that you told him that you weren’t interested in the way he was engaging you. And other ways. I think that’s the other side of it is not just saying no to the behavior or the action, but explaining how it would be better to engage you and support you. And I think that’s the other side of it telling someone no or it’s not appreciated it is one thing, but say what I prefer would be this.

Nicole Pletka 09:24
Right. Right. Right. And then that also, it’s almost like raising children too, you know, where you want to give a warning before you give a punishment. Right. And that’s a lot of how, you know, I deal with people at work, too. If I if I tell them very, in a very clear way that I’d like a different kind of behavior, and then I continue to get the behavior I don’t want, then it’s a much it’s a much more direct sign of disrespect.

Melissa Aarskaug 09:55
Right, exactly. Right. They’re mindfully doing it despite your ask, right, right and right.

Nicole Pletka 10:01
But if I never say I didn’t really like that, and I’m just seething under the surface, I didn’t ever give them a chance to correct themselves. And I never got the chance to discover what their intentions really were.

Melissa Aarskaug 10:15
Right 100%. And I think that’s a good point. And I think you know, coming a lot on my career, it’s been in the technical fields, I’ve had technical roles. So being a very high energy bubbly person, when I engage technical introverted people, a lot of times on my personality is way too much, right? So I’ve had a couple of them say, hey, Melissa, your energy is so high, I can’t keep up with your speed, can you bring it down, and I absolutely appreciated that person coming to me and sharing that. And it really helped when I was working as an engineer engaging the engineers in that capacity, and it helped communication all around. And but it took that person courage to come up to me, I think it also takes courage to say, hey, I don’t like this, can you do that? And I think that’s the other key piece of it is being, you know, confident to share that.

Nicole Pletka 11:21
Right. And I do think a lot of people get they lacked that confidence. And unfortunately, I think a lot of women, especially, you know, were taught at a very, very young age, and not even in an intentional way of being polite, smiling when people speak to you laughing at people’s jokes, not wanting to offend people. But I think you have to be really careful because showing acceptance of certain things and not being clear. What you do and don’t like, is that can actually be propagating bad behavior. So and I think, if so what you’re saying like Brene Brown has a very, very clear or very, very nice quote, that is clear, is kind. And I very firmly believe that clear is kind. I think most people in this world, have a good heart, like they really are trying to, we’re all trying to survive in this crazy world in this crazy planet, and everything we have to go through, you got to give people the benefit of the doubt. And you have to really hope that the way they’re treating you is because that’s been successful for them in the past. Right. But the way things worked in the past is not necessarily how we want things to work in the future. And the more we can advocate for how we want things to be in the future, the more we can empower other people to have the confidence to be like, Hey, I saw Nicole stick up for herself in a really polite, nice way. That made a big difference. Maybe I can do that, too. And so that’s one of the things that being part of you know, Austin Women In Tech that has been nice has been so many younger women saying things like, Hey, I’m really glad you reminded us that we shouldn’t let ourselves be talked over, you know, I forget that I allowed that to happen. Or people emailing me saying, you’re gonna be proud of me. I didn’t laugh at a dirty joke. I told them, I didn’t like it. And I think being that example, for people being that person, you can be like, you’ll be proud of me. Because, you know, give some gives people more like reason to do it, and reason to help make that change of how people want to be.

Melissa Aarskaug 13:38
And it’s a muscle, right? It’s something you got to practice. And the first time it’s really uncomfortable. I remember when I was in a similar situation, and I went back the other direction. And I was a very uncomfortable saying, and I don’t even think I got the words out correctly. And I did it and I and and then I was it was easy to do it again and again and again. And just be honest with people and I think you nailed it Nicole people want to do right and do good and meet you where you are. I think we have personalities that clash as we come from different backgrounds and cultures. And, and that doesn’t mean that because you don’t necessarily get along with people you work with, but that you don’t respect them and value them as a professional. So I think you very much nailed it. And I think we got to work together to exercise those muscles. And you know, I received a gift years ago that at the time I was under age, so I received alcohol from somebody that was giving me a gift. I was under 21. And they they weren’t really aware that they were giving me you know, alcohol and I had to tell them hey I’m under aged and so I think I had to learn very young to share. The point is I had learned very young to share and put my needs and feelings out there. And that person was like, Oh my gosh, I didn’t even realize that you weren’t of age so they were equally uncomfortable in not knowing that so I think it goes both ways. And you know as it ties in to kind of, you know, I think it kind of ties into self advocacy. So what role does that play in self advocacy and advocating for fair treatment for yourself for your role at your company, so maybe any personal experiences where you can share where you were able to lead positive change in a company, you work for sharing, you know, feedback or respect.

Nicole Pletka 15:39
Yeah, it was, I’m trying to think of some good examples. And I’ve worked in such a strange variety of places from, you know, like military bases, to gaming companies to, you know, semiconductors, like all over the place. And honestly, I really believe that making even one person see things a little bit differently, or even realizing they have a systemic bias, making them see that and realize that any one person like, it makes a change, it makes a difference, it makes them think differently. And I think that all just like spreads out. A really kind of funny example. And this is an example of self advocacy with that, and I have to be really clear about when you feel disrespected, it’s very easy to get angry. But it’s really important that you that you don’t right that you that you handle it, and that you will always keep in the back of your own mind, that there may be a reason that person is either having a bad day, or that they think that’s appropriate, you know, you don’t know what happened in their background, just like they don’t know what happened in your years. But the story I want to get to is I was standing in line in the cafeteria at a big company. And I was the only woman probably in a line of 30 men or so. And the guy serving food, it’s just that, you know, just the cook. Hey, every every person, they’ll come up and say, What can I get your boss? And they’d say what they want to give the food does this probably 10 times and I come up there and he’s like, and what would you like? And I said, what? I don’t get to be a boss today. And he says, Well, you’re a lady. I was like, Yeah, I know. And then the guy behind me, goes, which was the best, the best thing that could happen is the guy behind me goes, Dude, she’s the only person in this whole room was actually a boss. That’s great. Because like, a lot of us report to her. He’s like, Oh, I’m so sorry. You know, and that’s the kind of thing like, if I hadn’t said, you know, in a nice way, like, why don’t I get to be a boss? You know, it’s not advocating, like, how dare you call everyone a boss except for me? You know, but just kind of having that like, you know, making them go like, I don’t know, why did I change my choice of words when a woman came up to me? I think is important, right? But generally, generally speaking, I don’t do public displays of shaming like that, you know, general philosophy is you want to praise in public and you want to punish in private. And I think when you advocate for yourself, for yourself, it can feel like punishment to the other person, they can feel bad for what they did or what they said. I may think, like you were talking about what the alcohol you were like, as opposed to like, oh my god, you guys, can you believe it? She thinks I’m older than I am or whatever. It’s it’s important to give people an opportunity to explain themselves. I’m not sure if I’m getting back to the original question.

Melissa Aarskaug 19:09
No, I think just how can you I think you mentioned it is sharing with others behind the scenes, like you don’t have to embarrass the person you don’t have to make a big ordeal about it. But I think mindfully taking time away and saying hey, this is the situation and I had a similar situation with the we you know, we went out as a team and we went to a steakhouse. But several people that were attending the dinner were vegetarians. So it’s it’s things like that right? And I just, you know, called the organizer the dinner and said, Hey, we have a number of people that are vegetarian, we want to make sure that they have vegetarian offerings. So respect isn’t just words, right? It’s it’s its actions. It’s being thoughtful, it’s respecting other people’s feelings and how they’re engaging in situations. So all around just you know, rolling your eyes or, you know, somebody walks up and you roll your eyes. You’re not saying anything, but you’re surely clearly with body language being disrespectful and how people might feel. So I think you hit on it and I think back you know, these situations are, you know, very clear and basic, but it comes across in multiple different ways. It’s just, it’s not just hey, you know, these situations are, you know, very clear and basic, but it comes across in multiple different ways. It’s just, it’s not just, hey, you know, right, What do you want to eat? It’s, it’s all around respect. So it’s really drives behavioral change in a company and even, you know, societal changes, right? With organizations, like you mentioned, with Austin Women In Technology, there’s, the membership is a lot younger, and they’re looking up to us to how we talk about things and engage. It, it gives them the confidence to make some changes at work, or whatever they’re dealing with.

Nicole Pletka 21:00
Yeah and I just think treating people respectfully and, and showing that you expect to be treated respectfully, like as, as a leader is so important, because you really are making an example of how you want the world to be right how you want people to treat each other. And it’s just, there’s different cultures, different ages, all sorts of different things. Right, that, that, and it’s, it’s, I think, a lot of people, you know, we talked about respect, you know, they think about big things, you know, like sexual harassment or age discrimination, or you know, but a lot of times, it’s really not as blatant as that right? In like, you’re saying, it can be something as easy as knowing people’s food preferences, or even asking them. But I do think, as a manager, that it’s interesting, because there’s this trend right now, where a lot of younger people don’t want to be managers, because they think managing and leading people is some kind of glorified babysitting. And I honestly think that I feel sad that that’s what they think, because it makes me think they haven’t had good managers and bosses in their lives, right? Because being an effective manager, and really, really advocating for people, and how people should be and how things should change requires so much knowledge of the individual and knowing your staff and knowing what makes sense for them. You know we’re planning a company outing or team outing. It seems like, oh, it’s mandatory, fun time. But a good manager really looks at the personalities of their team and goes what would truly be fun for all of them. Right? Not just what would be fun for me. You know, like you said, like, you know, I think you and I are probably very energetic people, compared to a lot of the people we work with, right? But I’m not gonna put all my highly introverted, you know, engineers into an improv class, right? You have to think about what are things that they enjoy what makes them feel good and special, where they can still connect to each other.

Melissa Aarskaug 23:25
Being thoughtful of of people’s feelings, and showing up in a way that when everybody’s feeling appreciated, and respected and cared about and thought about, I think it drives overall productivity, people are more motivated, they do more they go the extra mile, they put the extra energy in, if you’re not respected and you’re not treated with, you know, again, it seems so so basic, but it’s not that these these are when you’re not respected, your morale is goes down. And when your morale goes down, you’re not likely to.

Nicole Pletka 24:06
Your productivity goes way down.

Melissa Aarskaug 24:08
Exactly.

Nicole Pletka 24:09
I know. And I’ve had other managers asked me, there’s a you know, I hear some of the things that you’ve told your team and how your team is changing. And I like it seems like you give them really kind of negative feedback or things that they’re doing wrong and things that they need to change in their life, but they love you, like, how do you get to be so mean am so loved? And I’m like, Well, the thing is, I’m giving them information that they need to hear. But because I respect them, they know I’m doing it for their success. I’m helping them become more successful. And that’s how I can give them very direct critiques on how they need to change. Because they know that I know them and I, I want them to be successful. And it’s that creating that underlying level of respect for one another, and knowing them as a person and knowing their background and what they’re going through and what they need. That allows them to know that if I’m telling them that they need to change in any way, it’s because I’m looking out for their future, and I want them to do well.

Melissa Aarskaug 25:21
And I, you know, the negative side of it too is sometimes you can give a bunch of respect to people, and you’re very thoughtful, and you’re very helpful and they may not reciprocate. And and it’s okay, if you’ve put your needs out there and you ask for things. I think sometimes it’s timing and people, like you said earlier there, they don’t have experience in dealing with things and they’re, and they’re uncomfortable and, but continue to remind them remember we talked, we talked a couple of weeks ago, and I prefer to be addressed this way instead of that way. And, you know, I feel like you’re talking down to me not, you know, and so it’s just being honest and having dialogue, and, and people may meet you there, and they may not, and I think being okay, that they’re not going to meet you make forces your hand and make a decision. So if they’re not respecting you and not treating you the way you want to be treated do you really want to be involved in that environment, whether it’s personally or professionally? And that that gives you the clarity on how to make decisions for yourself

Nicole Pletka 26:28
FAbsolutely, yeah. And that’s where, you know, giving people opportunities, like, this is why having one on ones I think with your staff is so incredibly important. Because you need to give them that space to be be vulnerable, and criticize up and criticize down, right? Like they need to be able to tell you and in a constructive way, if like, you know, I don’t like the way you lead our meetings, like you’re really kind of bossy or whatever, you know, whatever they think needs to be done differently. But a lot of times, like you need to give as the leader, you need to give them the space to be vulnerable, so that they can say the things they might otherwise be a little bit scared to say. And because there are a lot of places, places being companies or places being countries and different cultures, where you’re really not supposed to speak up about wanting to be treated differently or not liking how your boss is treating you, you’re supposed to just like suck it up and take it and if you don’t like it leave. And I feel fortunate that we’re in a culture that is not like that. Because I think our culture kind of was like that maybe 50 years ago or so. But I think we’re getting a lot, a lot better. Yeah, and I just, it’s just I’m so happy for things like, you know, the Me Too Movement and all the the punk rockers out there who are you know, always stand up for things that need to change? Because I do think everyone needs to figure out what is their best forum for advocating for change, right? Like, if I was a singer, maybe I’d write songs about it. I’m not, you never want to hear me sing, believe me. Right? But, but as you know, a leader in Austin Women In Tech, I can remind women and men of how things are changing and how we’ve been taught to behave and how that doesn’t necessarily need to be how we should behave anymore.

Melissa Aarskaug 28:35
Yep, we’re all learning and growing as the world learns and grows, right? It growing living beings, so we’re developing and changing our views, right, people are changing. They’re all around views about everything. And I think we just meet them where they are.

Nicole Pletka 28:52
Yeah, absolutely.

Melissa Aarskaug 28:54
You know, just final thoughts, any maybe top three things that you can share with our listeners or key takeaways doesn’t have to be three that, you know, they could put to practice today, in their work at their work or in their social circles, or in their personal lives?

Nicole Pletka 29:15
Sure. I think number one, is, if you feel like you’re be if if you feel like a guttural reaction to something that somebody says or does, try not to react until you know where that’s coming from for you. Right? Why is that giving me a visceral reaction? You know, because sometimes, you know, when you look a little bit deeper it can be your own history makes you triggered by that. And it’s important that you think about how you react and how you want to react before you say anything. I definitely think the whole you know, golden rule, treating others the way you want to be treated is exceptionally important. But also, knowing that how you want to be treated may not be exactly how they want to be treated right, and so, learning the individual, learning what people like in terms of, you know, compliments, rewards, accolades, how they like to receive those, how they like to receive criticisms as well. is important so that individualization is critical in being respectful person. I’m trying to think of I have a good third if you want to experience a lot of disrespect, definitely have teenagers be around teenagers all the time. And then you learn how to suck it up when you’re disrespected all the freaking time.

Melissa Aarskaug 30:57
It’s funny, you’re the first one reminds me of I forget who says the saying, but it’s people will might forget what you say. But they won’t forget how you made them feel in a situation. So, the more you make people feel respected, and appreciated and valued, the farther you’re gonna get in your not only just personal life, your professional life, you’ll have more rewarding relationships with people, you’ll have better intimate relationships. It goes all across the board. We’re not just talking professional.

Nicole Pletka 31:34
Right? Right. And it starts with self respect. Right?

Melissa Aarskaug 31:40
And that’s really, really where where it starts if you don’t respect yourself, you’re never gonna stand up for it. And so, you know, one of my one of my closest friends, when I was really down on myself about some things said to me, she said, don’t talk to my friend that way. Meaning I shouldn’t talk to me that way. Yeah, yeah. And it really stuck with me. Because, because I thought about like, if, you know, if someone talked to my friend like that, I would stick up for them to the end of the world, right. And yet, I’m saying all those things to myself. So start with yourself.

Melissa Aarskaug 32:16
Self care, self love. I love it. Yeah. Nicole. I’m so glad to have you on. I can’t wait to see you again soon you’re a world of wisdom. Oh, I love the energy. Thank you so much for being on the call today.

Nicole Pletka 32:30
I’m sure I will see you soon. We have other cybersecurity conferences, Logic Day, all sorts of great stuff. I’m sure we’ll meet again.

Melissa Aarskaug 32:39
Absolutely. Thank you so much.

Nicole Pletka 32:42
All right. Thank you!

Narrator 32:45
You’ve been listening to the Executive Connect Podcast. If you have questions or ideas on how to bring leadership to a next level. Email us at executiveconnectpodcast@gmail.com And don’t forget to subscribe so you can catch every new episode. Until next time.

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Bryan Hancock Headshot — Founder of Integrity Development

Bryan Hancock

Founder of Integrity Development

Integrity Development

Executive Biography

Bryan Hancock has been managing real estate investments—and overseeing development and construction projects—for nearly two decades. He has deep roots in Austin, Texas, and comprehensive knowledge of the opportunities and challenges in this fast-growing market.

Through his development and syndication companies, which he built from the ground up, Bryan has developed 50+ urban infill projects and managed $25M in real estate sales with approximately 35% return on investment at the project level. He also co-founded two private equity funds.

Bryan brings in-depth industry awareness, sharp business acumen, and extensive in-the-trenches experience to his work as co-founder and principal of Integrity Development. He partners with a team of professionals and industry experts (many have been involved in Austin real estate for 40+ years) to identify value-added and opportunistic investments that protect capital and reduce risk for lenders—while delivering outsized returns for investors.

Earlier, Bryan founded and directed Inner 10 Development, a residential development firm focused on Austin’s top zip codes and surrounding communities, and H2i, LLC, a real estate syndication company. He steered these organizations for 17+ years, overseeing the acquisition, buildout, and sale of single-family and multifamily properties, including a 350-unit urban infill joint-venture project.

Bryan was successful in delivering strong returns while minimizing risk for bankers and investors by taking a targeted, data-driven approach to opportunity analysis, due diligence, and strategic decision-making. He zeroed in on potential risks and developed proactive mitigation strategies to protect and grow investments.

Concurrent with his work at Inner 10 Development and H2i, Bryan established Gentry Lending Group, a private-equity debt fund. He also served on the board of Bullseye Capital Real Property Opportunity Fund. These experiences provided Bryan with a grasp of both investor and banker viewpoints, including an understanding of risk and liability on the lending side. This aspect of his background continues to shape his real estate decisions to this day.

There is another unique aspect to Bryan’s career—a corporate history that differentiates him from other investors and developers in this field. Bryan has built organizations, controlled multimillion-dollar projects, and supported billion-dollar programs for some of the world’s largest companies: Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Dell, CACI, and Charles Schwab. He managed teams and vendors in the US, China, France, and India, and often balanced up to 10 projects at a time. He was trusted with a Top Secret Security Clearance from the United States government.

A business-savvy leader and lifelong learner, Bryan holds an MBA in Finance and Entrepreneurship from Texas Christian University and a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

Bryan founded the Wealth Investment Network, co-founded RealStarter (a crowdfunding platform for real estate investors), and was a member of the Urban Land Institute and Central Texas Angel Network. He has been a guest speaker at 20+ national events, including conferences and meetups through the Information Management Network (IMN), SXSW, Rice University, Bay Area Real Estate Summit, Soho Loft Conference, Texas Entrepreneur Network, and many others.

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Melissa Aarskaug Headshot — Founder of Executive Connect

Melissa Aarskaug

Founder of Executive Connect

Senior Executive, Board Member & Advisor

Vice President of Business Development
Bulletproof, a GLI company

Executive Biography

Melissa Aarskaug is a global executive and business leader at the forefront of the technology/cybersecurity industry. She shapes strategy, leads teams, and partners with Fortune 500 companies and other enterprise clients to protect their organizations from risk and noncompliance—while improving operations and accelerating growth.

For 15+ years, Melissa has taken the reins to propel organizations to the next level of performance. By combining business acumen and revenue optimization with the sharp mind of an engineer, she uncovers and seizes opportunities for profitable growth in the US and around the world.

Melissa has established a distinguished career with Gaming Laboratories International (GLI), where she is a key member of the senior executive team. Throughout her tenure, she has assembled teams, developed new markets, and influenced P&L impact, ultimately positioning GLI as the #1 provider of testing, certification, and cybersecurity services to the global gaming and lottery space.

After achieving this feat—a big win for GLI and game-changer for clients worldwide—Melissa steered both GLI and Bulletproof (acquired by GLI in 2016) into untapped verticals: finance, government, healthcare, higher education, hospitality, and retail. An enthusiastic, knowledgeable growth driver who cultivates partnerships and rallies teams, she led GLI/Bulletproof to dominate these markets as well.

Before joining GLI, Melissa shaped and executed strategy as Vice President of Business Operations for LV Investments, where she built and optimized a portfolio of commercial and industrial properties. Earlier, in a very different role as Project Engineering Manager for Fisher Industries, she directed and mobilized a team of 550 employees and contractors to develop the world’s largest concrete bridge. Previously, she headed a major engineering project for Pacific Mechanical Corporation.

A curious, lifelong learner, Melissa holds dual Bachelor of Science degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering with minors including Business and Mathematics. She is a Karrass Master Negotiator and C4 Executive Coach who actively pursues ongoing education and inspiration as a member of Chief, Austin Technology Council, Austin Women in Technology, and Toastmasters International. In addition to her own personal and professional development, Melissa is committed to helping other people thrive both inside and outside of the workplace. She actively mentors and empowers team members at GLI/Bulletproof, and is an executive leader and coach for Global Gaming Women. She founded Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) Austin and is a current or past board member of many organizations, including Emerging Leaders in Gaming, Ballet Austin, Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, the Society of Women Engineers, and the American Society of Civil Engineers. She has been a Junior League volunteer in Austin, Las Vegas, and Reno for 15+ years.

Throughout her career, Melissa has inspired individuals, teams, and entire organizations to think differently about innovation, cybersecurity, leadership, and business development. She was honored as one of the “Emerging Leaders in Gaming: 40 Under 40” and she continues to share her ideas and expertise through publications, podcasts, webinars, and presentations.

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This is the Executive Connect

A show for the new generation of leaders. Join us as we discover unconventional leadership strategies not traditionally associated with executive roles. Our guests include upper-level C-Suite executives charting new ways to grow their organizations, successful entrepreneurs changing the way the world does business, and experts and thought leaders from fields outside of Corporate America that can bring new insights into leadership, prosperity, and personal growth – all while connecting on a human level. No one has all the answers – but by building a community of open-minded and engaged leaders we hope to give you the tools you need to help you find your own path to success.