The Happy Engineer Podcast

033: Break All the Rules and Win Your Career with Tammy Alvarez

Do you follow the rules, or are the rules simply slowing you down? Who wrote these rules, anyway? Are the necessary for success as an engineering leader?

And here’s a question. How does a complete knucklehead get promoted over you?

In this episode, meet CEO and Founder of Career Winners Circle, Tammy Alvarez. Her spirited “Break all the Rules” approach blends decades of C-Suite experience on Wall Street with a pragmatic, results-based coaching style.

Tammy is a renowned business transformation and turnaround expert. She held roles as a Managing Director at AIG, First Senior Vice President at Bank Leumi USA, Chief Operating Officer at Genesis10, and Senior Vice President at Bank of America.

Now she helps professionals like you create a big impact, and LOVE every Monday morning again!

Tammy believes that at the heart of every successful business are leaders who inspire courage.

So press play and let’s chat… it’s time to conquer fear and inspire your vision!


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People don’t fear change. They fear loss. 

This is a powerful point made by our guest Tammy Alvarez. I believe it’s true. Not just of the people around you or the people who work for you, but for yourself. It’s not change that you fear, it’s loss. I’ll give you an example where this truth shows up in your life. 

My clients will enroll in our programs and soon they’ll have an opportunity in hand for a promotion. This may even be a bigger money, bigger job, just-what-they-dreamed-for situation. And yet, there’s a part of them that is afraid to take it. 

Why is that? 

Well, what if you’re not good enough? Imposter syndrome. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That is absolutely a part of it. And it’s a real thing. We have other conversations in this podcast about imposter syndrome, but here is one of those ninja things that sneaks up and derails your dream life.

It’s the fear of losing what you already have. 

Your current job, your current situation has known value in your life. You may not be getting the paycheck you want, but you’re getting a paycheck. You may not have the boss or the team that you dream about, but you do have relationships, connection and community. You may not be working on the technology of your passion, but you’re learning new things. 

Your current reality has value. It may not be the best thing you can imagine. It may not be your goal, but it has value. To change means to walk away from a known value.

Sure, the new job we hope and expect is going to be better. But what if it’s not? What if the grass isn’t greener on the other side? What if that dream job turns out to be something you don’t have as much passion for as you thought? What if your new boss turns out to be a total jerk? 

In your subconscious mind, you are trading known value today for uncertain value tomorrow.  And in fact, a lot of engineering leaders accept a new role, a promotion, or change companies in line with their dream career path and goals… and still feel signs of grief. They feel some depression or anxiety. They feel the fear. They may feel the anger. They get confused. “Why am I having these emotions? Why am I feeling this emptiness inside, when I just took a promotion? Aren’t I supposed to feel good?”

This is a really tricky part of our psychology. Even when you go to something better, you are losing something that you have now. That fear of loss is always in the back of your mind. 

One way to calm that fear is Tammy’s other major point related to change in this conversation. Nothing is permanent.

Do you ever catch yourself looking at a decision and being really afraid of making the wrong choice? I know I do. It happens to me often, and I’m a coach! What if I make the wrong decision? 

Listen. I give you permission to make a wrong decision today.

You know why? Because a wrong decision today can be course-corrected by a new right decision tomorrow. You have the opportunity to make a change again in the future. Release yourself from the “tyranny of how” and focus first on WHAT. Focus on the vision and outcome, and let that be a catalyst to overcoming your perfection paralysis. Recognize that on the long time horizon, you have the opportunity to continue to learn, to grow and to change.

I wish that somebody had come alongside me earlier in my career and said, Hey, guess what? Nothing is permanent. It’s okay to take a risk. It’s okay to fail because you can make a new decision, continue to learn and grow. Realize that instead of being afraid of the decisions, you can become a decisive action taker. The faster we get to the point of action, the faster we can learn!

You have to get moving. Once you start moving, you can course correct along the way. And at the beginning, those course corrections may be pretty major. But as you get moving toward the target, then you can begin to refine, make more minor corrections.

Your new decisions are closer to your ultimate aim, and eventually you hit that goal. You hit that target. That’s what we want to be doing. Learn through action, through forward progress, and recognizing that nothing is permanent. 

The direction you’re aiming right now probably IS wrong, but you’re going to learn and grow and make those changes along the way!

This is the journey. People don’t fear change, they fear loss. Nothing is permanent. Tammy, thank you so much for some amazing insights. And I hope that you apply this in your life today. If you need help with this, if you feel stuck in perfection paralysis, if you feel afraid of everything, about what may happen in your future, and it’s paralyzing you, then reach out. 

We help engineering leaders at all levels to break through the barriers in your mindset, the barriers in your strategies and skills and reach unprecedented results in your career and in your life. I’d love to connect with you and show you how to do that. But at a minimum, make sure that you don’t let this conversation get away from you without taking action.

Let’s do this.

Previous Episode 32: Cornerstone Habits of High Performance with Mike Szczesniak




Tammy Alvarez is a visionary who catalyzes leaders to level up their performance for themselves and their businesses. Her spirited “Break all the Rules” approach blends decades of C-Suite experience on Wall Street with a pragmatic, results-based coaching style that helps business professionals create a big impact and love every Monday morning again.

She is an inspirational coach, trainer, and epic storyteller who delivers transformational learning experiences for her global client base. Using her signature coaching programs; corporate and private clients achieve breakthrough success that produces bottom-line results quickly and sustainably.

Her unwavering commitment to advancing ambitious business leaders compelled her to create the Career Winners Circle – a comprehensive collection of coaching and training programs designed to strengthen leaders so they can grow their careers as far as their ambitions will take them; and continue to thrive once they get there.

During her 20 year corporate career Tammy became a renowned business transformation and turnaround expert. She held roles as a Managing Director at AIG, First Senior Vice President at Bank Leumi USA, Chief Operating Officer at Genesis10, and Senior Vice President at Bank of America. Each role relied upon Tammy’s vision and leadership to mobilize large, globally diverse teams to drive complex business transformation initiatives.

Tammy is a colloquium lecturer on various leadership topics at Cornell University and has delivered her woman in leadership program to Cornell’s WE Cornell Entrepreneurial Incubator program (Women in STEM) to strengthen all women with the ambition to share their brilliance with the world. She holds a degree in International Business Administration from American

Intercontinental University and serves her clients from her Stamford, CT headquarters and her satellite office in San Pedro, Belize.

Exemplifying the philosophy of work hard – play harder, Tammy is an avid scuba diver, traveler, and adventurer. Her philanthropic endeavors support the strengthening of women and children in both the United States and Belize.





Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: Welcome back. Happy engineers. It’s so good to be with you for another amazing conversation today with my new friend, Tammy Alvarez, who is very pleasantly sitting in Belize today while I’m starting to freeze here in Michigan. So Tammy, thanks so much for showing us the warm glow of the sun and your smiling face today.

[00:00:26] Really happy to have you on. 

[00:00:29] Tammy Alvarez: Zach, thanks for the invite. I am just so happy to be here and even happier to be in Belize after being away for a while. So, uh, it’s nice to be back in the sunshine. 

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:35] Zach White: So awesome. Tammy, I want to start with one of the pieces out of your mantra or the message of your amazing coaching.

[00:00:45] really caught my attention. When you said I have a break, all the rules. And I just would love for you to tell us, what does that look like? What does that mean for you to say it’s a break, all the rules approach to career growth and coaching and your.

[00:01:04] Tammy Alvarez: I’ve always been a rule breaker by nature, Even as a little girl the word, no apply to everyone, but me and I was never a very, very good rule follower. So it really came naturally to me as I became an adult and as I started my career, I started very differently.

[00:01:18] I didn’t have a college degree. My parents were very poor and I started working and I had defined success in a different way because I didn’t have the pedigree. And all the education and all the travel and all of those things. I realized that some of the things that are set up in corporate to help us grow our careers actually slow us down.

[00:01:40] And the things that people feel like they’ve got to do and play by the rules they have to play by when you do that, essentially it puts you in the pack with everybody else. And if you want to have a breakthrough for where you’ve got to do things a little bit differently now, You do have to figure out what rules to break and which ones not to break and how to do that.

[00:01:59] And that’s really where I finally figured it out. I made a lot of mistakes in my career. I had a really high risk tolerance and I just figured out, okay, this is really how people can move faster, especially when. And I was able to do that. And now I coach my clients on here are the things that you believe to be true.

[00:02:16] And the reality is they’re not, here’s how you reframe those. So you can move your career faster and really not feel constrained by all of the things that corporate puts in our way, because let’s face it as much as they need us. We’re not their first priority. And so until we make ourselves our first priority, which requires some rule-breaking, and then we’re really able to see the acceleration that we want to see for.

[00:02:40] Zach White: So I want to unpack a couple of these rules that you’re talking about, but first I cannot pass over the Tammy as a little girl, not wanting to follow the rules. If your mom were listening to this Tammy, and we said, what’s one of those stories where Tammy broke the rules. It kind of exemplifies you as a little girl.

[00:03:00] What, what comes with. 

[00:03:02] Tammy Alvarez: We’re going to know as a, as a very little girl, and I’m also a bad liar. So this always comes, you know, that’s how my mom knows about this. Right so we lived in a neighborhood that had a community pool, but it was a pretty far bike ride away. And we weren’t allowed to go without adult supervision.

[00:03:17] my mom was busy. She didn’t want to go with my girlfriend’s mom. Didn’t want to go. So we did the classic thing and said, We told each other’s parents that our other mother was going and off. We went to the pool and as we got there, we had a great time. Everything was fun to keep boys all the things.

[00:03:30] And I was, you know, home and my girlfriend, Michelle and I got into a fight at the pool and I was complaining to my mom about what a jerk she had been. And, like we, we had to pull in blah, blah, blah. So we ended up selling myself out. Which is, pretty common in my childhood.

[00:03:47] But just if the rules didn’t make sense to me, because there were lifeguards there, I could swim it. Wasn’t far. So if the rules didn’t make sense that I usually didn’t follow them and that stayed pretty consistent throughout my entire adult life as well. 

[00:04:01] Zach White: I love that. You’ve ratted yourself out, Tammy. I was the same kid.

[00:04:05] One day, I didn’t eat the healthy foods that my mom sent in my lunch box for me. And I, I didn’t even throw them away at school like, I knew throwing away good food was not a good thing to do. So I took it back home and put it in the fridge again and told my mom I didn’t. Anyway, I was that kid.

[00:04:25] Tammy Alvarez: So yeah, usually if the rules didn’t make sense, I didn’t follow them. And that really carried through in my corporate. So, you know, it got a little more tricky than. So that always made for interesting conversations when everybody felt there needs to be a certain way to do things, and I just couldn’t find the logic in it.

[00:04:39] Zach White: So a certain way to do things rules give us an example, Tammy. What’s one of these, either spoken or unspoken corporate rules. Holds us back from actually creating the results we’re capable of what comes to mind. What’s an, a good example. 

[00:04:55] Tammy Alvarez: The biggest role that I see holding people back is the rule that if you do good work and that you’re loyal and you’re engaged and you do all the things you’re supposed to do, that you will be reckless.

[00:05:11] And I got news for you. You’re not until you learn how to self promote, how to make sure that people see you for the capabilities that you have and bring your team with you. As you continue to get that exposure sitting in your seat, being patient, doing a good job and hoping that’s enough. It’s not. And, that was one of the biggest things that I was an advocate for, during talent planning, cause I don’t know how familiar you are on your career, but it was always a cage match because only certain number of people could get that exceeds rating.

[00:05:43] You had to put, a certain number of people in the bottom 10%, which drove me nuts. And so all of these things that, I use the term HR loosely it’s bigger than that, you know, put in terms of the structure we have to leave by. And when people feel like if I do the things I’m supposed to do, if I look at the career projection, cause we, all the companies have it, do this, then you’ll get this.

[00:06:07] Then you’ll get that. And they think if they follow those rules that they will be taken care of. And that just leads to a big, hot mess and people are disenfranchised and they’re really good and talented people are left on the sidelines because they’re following the right. So that’s how you know, that is the biggest thing that I see that drives me nuts and just holds people back unnecessarily.

[00:06:28] Zach White: I remember those cage matches when I was leading my engineering team at Whirlpool corporation. And you’re absolutely right. So Tammy, this rule around doing good work, do what you’re supposed to do and I’ll just get rewarded. I’ll get recognized. Where was the point in your journey where you discovered that’s not going to work?

[00:06:49] I need to have an authentic self promotion and everything you just described, you’ve spent decades in executive level leadership. So you clearly found this out early on. Tell us, like, where did you discover 

[00:07:01] Tammy Alvarez: that? I discovered it when a peer of mine got promoted and the person was a complete mess.

[00:07:10] And I was like, hang on a second. How does that happen? You know, I mean, the first person was just inferior in every possible way. And those weren’t my words. I mean, everyone was shocked. both for the promotion, he got it and I didn’t, and that was very early in my career was like my first foray into managing managers

[00:07:28] Right. I was already a people. Managers is my first shot at going to manage people who manage other people. And I just was, I couldn’t believe. And so I really spend some time watching. I’m like, how did people get there then? Because we all know that you look up at the people that are there and you’re like, Adam, get it.

[00:07:45] I have no idea how these, you know, you’ve got some good leaders and you’ve got some bad, you’ve got a lot of people that just leave you scratching your head. Like, I just can’t see this. And that’s when I’m like, there’s gotta be a different way. And I watched and paid attention and I, for one specific.

[00:08:00] So I usually have a lot to say and just listened. I’m like, ah, now I’m starting to see. And so that was the big point in my career where I was like, not again, that’s not going to happen 

[00:08:10] Zach White: again, this stop and listen point. I can relate to this. Cause a lot of goal driven goal oriented leaders who want big success.

[00:08:21] We’re always taking action. We’re always hustling. We’re always doing and to pause and listen can be a real challenge. Who or what were you listening to? So if I want to go back and learn from Tammy learned in my career, what do I need to listen to? If I actually have the awareness to slow down and turn off my mouth for a moment, what does that look like?

[00:08:46] Tammy Alvarez: so what that looks like is you identify the people that are where you want. And you’re going to have your own personal assessment on whether they should be there or not compared to your capabilities. Right. We just, we have our own biases, but when you see them in action, pay attention, what do they do in a big conference room?

[00:09:04] are they the ones that are always in the front? having something to say, or are they, I’m going to date myself because I’m a hundred years old, but like EFI and right. Where when he speaks, everybody listens. And at the end of the meeting, they throw out this really compelling. You know, thought provoking thing and just leaves everybody like walking out, scratching their head, you know, pay attention and watch.

[00:09:24] Who are they spending time with? Who do they have the best relationships with and what do people come to them for where they won’t go to any. And when you start to look at that and watch how they behave and listen to how they contribute to bigger conversations. You’re going to start to see trends and patterns, and you’re going to realize I’ve got to build up my power base, which is what I call it.

[00:09:45] Now, your infrastructure of people that are in your circle. And you’ve got to really know when it’s time. Step in and when it’s time to just let other people lead and then provide that guidance. And so those are the things that I started to pay attention to and realized I was making some big mistakes.

[00:10:03] I spent so much time making sure my work was good that I didn’t do. I didn’t spend enough time at your show building the bright network that I was building the right brand. And that I was seen as an expert in something that was in high demand. And in short supply, which I was, but no one saw me. I said, in my career I was a transformation expert.

[00:10:23] So I was a turnaround queen for all the things that were scary and big. And I love that stuff. There was an adrenaline high and I really enjoyed it, but it took a while and a purposeful approach to get people, to see me as that, versus just working the 70 hours a week to make sure that this looked easy and that, oh, this is a piece of cake.

[00:10:42] Cause you know, we didn’t hear any,collateral damage. There was no glass broken and everything was. 

[00:10:48] Zach White: The idea of which rules to break. Came up earlier and you just alluded to your outstanding career success in turnaround and transformation at the highest levels in the financial sector and just incredible, mentioned it in your bio.

[00:11:03] And I hope everybody goes and looks up Tammy’s work because there’s so much to learn from, but maybe inside of a story, we can start to tease out where does. Learn which rules to break in which ones to follow. So if you would just take us back, here you are, you’re a C-suite executive, your leading these big teams in incredibly challenging projects to turn around the business.

[00:11:26] Where would you go back to? If I just said what was one of the toughest moments Tammy faced in that journey? And in going through that. Which rules did you follow? Which rules did you break? 

[00:11:42] Tammy Alvarez: Yeah, so, I’ll talk about the one that I broke and shouldn’t.And this is how you learn.

[00:11:47] and the one rule is that you never underestimate the pack mentality, and I’ll give you a very specific example of where this bit me in the proverbial behind. I’m a New Yorker on Wall street. I was with Bank of America and it was right after they, I did a big acquisition.

[00:12:04] The corporate headquarters was moving from New York to Charlotte, North Carolina. And they relocated me and my family and all this stuff. Now I’m a wall street girl. I’m used to people throwing F-bombs and meetings, you know, strip clubs, stakes, cigars, nothing phased me. Right. Because it was just how New York was.

[00:12:22] And then I go to North Carolina. Everyone is so nice and they’re so sweet and like all these things but I was feeling a bit frustrated because people didn’t move as fast. They didn’t get it and I told my boss, you will come down with me. I’m like, I used to swim with sharks. And now I feel like I’m swimming with a bunch of.

[00:12:41] You know, and I’m like, it’s driving me nuts and he laughed. I love my boss. He was one of my, the biggest influential people in my career. He was like, you, my dear, are not swimming with minnows. You are swimming with dolphins and don’t fins can kill a shark when they’re in a pack faster than anything. And I was like, holy, I think that was just a giant eye opening moment for me.

[00:13:03] because he’s like people who don’t trust. And I’m like, what do you mean? People don’t trust me? I felt like I was the most trustworthy person on the planet without, you know, an ill 10 for anything. And it was just the fast talking, the fast thinking, the fast everything. And I didn’t adapt to the people I was with.

[00:13:20] And that was the rule. I’m like, no, I am the leader. You’ve got to follow. And I got brought down here because you guys are a hot mess and I have to be here to fix everything. And so I think, you know, that pack mentality is not to be under estimated and, you know, going in with the assumption, especially when you’re going to change something that everything is wrong and people haven’t thought about all the things that you’ve thought about is automating a giant.

[00:13:43] Um, chances are good. People are just as smart as you are, and they’ve tried the things that you think should work and for one reason or another, it did it. And so, um, you know, so I use that to not just go in and assume you guys are a bunch of knuckleheads. I’m so glad I’m here to help you and save the day to why is this broken?

[00:14:00] And if you had a magic wand, what would fix it versus coming in with all my assumptions? So those are two rules I broke and it really took me about a year to recover. Um, in terms of shining star in New York, that was struggling in a new geography. Um, just because I just assumed that people would do my things, things my way.

[00:14:18] And so that was a big lesson for me to learn, and it was hard for me to 

[00:14:20] Zach White: learn. Watch out for the dolphins. 

[00:14:25] Tammy Alvarez: I actually got dolphins like statues all over the place to resign. 

[00:14:29] Zach White: Yeah. Really powerful metaphor is super important lesson. And you said you broke two rules and I didn’t catch specifically what the second one was.

[00:14:36] Tammy. Can you repeat that? 

[00:14:38] Tammy Alvarez: Yeah, the second one was going into. Got it. And that the people that I’m with, um, hadn’t thought of the things that I thought. Um, and I don’t know why, cause I’ve never assumed that I was overly smart and anything. Um, you know, so, but you just go when you see things that are so obvious and I think that’s, that’s the frustrating part about people who are really needle movers is you get to the answer before everyone.

[00:15:00] And you’re like, come on, I’m ready. This is not that hard, but it is. And so you, you know, to slow down to go fast versus just saying, you gotta keep up. And, um, you know, so that’s really that second rule is just assimilating. You know, not assuming that you know, all the answers when you’ve been there for five minutes, but also giving people a chance to get.

[00:15:18] And bringing people with you. How does the difference between a leader and a manager? Right? Because when people are not just grinning in a conference room and then rolling their eyes, as soon as you leave second she’s out of her mind, and you’re really slowing down to give them a chance to challenge and to counter propose and to come up with something that really is a good answer for everybody.

[00:15:38] Um, and that took a lot of mistakes in a long time to learn. But so those are the rules you don’t want. Right. So watch out for those dolphins and realize that the people that you’re working with are probably twice as smart as you are. They’re just dealing, you know, they just are getting there in a different way.

[00:15:50] And your way is probably not going to work. Initially, 

[00:15:54] Zach White: a lot of engineers who I know fall into that category, super intelligent, super bright, very articulate, able to run circles around some of the other people in the room or the virtual zoom room as it were. And it’s tough, especially if it’s people outside of engineering where they just don’t want to slow down and give those people the time to understand and come with.

[00:16:19] Yeah. So, you know, and whether it’s the people I worked with in my career or, or the leaders I coach now, there’s always that point where being the smartest person in the room is no longer the role you need to play to lead to what you just described, Tammy. And. How would you advise someone? If, if, if they’re in that place of frustration, like can’t these knuckleheads around me, please understand.

[00:16:42] I’m so far ahead of everybody. If that’s what they’re feeling, what would you coach somebody on? If, if that resonates for them? 

[00:16:48] Tammy Alvarez: So when you’re, when you have the answer and people are not there with you and I’m with you, I mean, I manage technology teams a lot, you know, big financial product type things. So, you know, there were definitely everyone in the room was smarter than me.

[00:16:59] Right. So, um, but when you’ve got the answer and other people aren’t getting there, there’s usually two reasons why one is fear. Two is vision. And so the first thing you need to do is unpack. Do we agree? The ultimate strategy that the ultimate success criteria is what we should be headed. And you got to give people a chance to say, no, I think this doesn’t work.

[00:17:25] Or I don’t agree with where we’re going and the people agree on the strategy. Then you’ve got to go one step further and say, do we agree how to get. ’cause most of the time people are going to agree on a strategy. Yes. We all want to generate more revenue. Yes. We want to be more competitive. Yes. We want to be more cost efficient, all of those things, but how you do it, that’s where things go off the ramp.

[00:17:47] So an engineers and, and people, you know, that are, there’s a way there’s one way, right? Like there’s this way and realize that there may be more than one way to do that. So giving yourself the, you know, the grace to accept other things. Um, but you know, so people are slow confirm that you agree with the end result and then confirm you agree in the path forward.

[00:18:07] If those things are in sync, then you’re unpacking fear because you know, change is hard, you know? Big change is even harder. And people don’t fear change necessarily they, if your walks. And so most of the time when people are digging their heels in, I mean, if I told you you’re going to win the lottery and be a multimillionaire that doesn’t terrify anyone.

[00:18:27] Right. You know, so that’s not, that’s a change, but no one’s afraid of that. So they you’re lost. You need to figure out what do they think they’re going to lose by us doing it. And sometimes they’re right. You know, in terms of yep, absolutely. When we automate this, you know, a third of the workforce is no longer needed, right.

[00:18:42] And so there’s, there’s legit. It’s not like everything is sunshine and roses, but there’s also a lot of things that are misplaced and I’m afraid of, you know, not being able to do my job or leave my team or service our customers or whatever. And you gotta slow down and unpack that with them in a collaborative way.

[00:19:00] So you can move fast. Because if you rush through that, It’s going to bite you in the end. You might think we’re hitting deadlines. Everything is great. And then you either go to get adoption and everybody is like, you know, I call it giving a cat a bath, right. This cute little funny, fuzzy cat now has 900 legs and they’re not going in.

[00:19:19] Right. And so, you know, so it turns into that. We were like, what happened? We had a governance meeting, all these things. Why is it blowing up at the 11th hour? Because you didn’t go back and check out those. Right. And you didn’t unpack that. So typically those were the most common reasons where I got resistance and needed to learn how to 

[00:19:35] Zach White: adjust my style.

[00:19:37] I think this is an incredibly important distinction. That for one, if, the team’s not with you, look at vision and look at. That’s huge. And then people don’t fear change. They fear loss and this whole conversation, Tammy it’s, it’s really resonating for me. And it’s part of why my company and the coaching that I do is it’s Oasis of courage.

[00:20:00] The Waco is Oasis of courage because I’m such a believer. And what you just said, that fear is active in the workplace. And a lot of deceptive ways, you know, fear wears a thousand faces and courage is necessary for people to come along with a big, bold vision to make those changes. When there’s a fear of loss on the other side of that door, you clearly have been successful at this with the transformations you’ve seen.

[00:20:28] In your career. So how do you help people overcome fear and live and work from a place of courage when that’s, what they’re facing? 

[00:20:40] Tammy Alvarez: You know, it’s interesting. Cause I’ve had to eat my own dog food recently. Right. In terms of being able to do that because moving from, you know, a corporate executive to an entrepreneur three years ago, I mean, that, that was the biggest jump I’ve ever made, right.

[00:20:52] In terms of, okay, I’m going to leave the job everybody aspires to have and the giant apartment in Manhattan, all the fancy. I’m going to cash out, move to a tropical island and start my own coaching company. Right. And at 48 years old people thought I was out of my mind. And, um, and there was a lot of fear involved in, you know, I did it because I had courage and, you know, I had to eat my own dog food to do that.

[00:21:13] And then let me, 

[00:21:14] Zach White: let me just interrupt for a second. For those listening, who don’t have that experience? I just, my heart is like, yes, yes. And amen. Like it is so terrifying. Do what you did and to walk away from all that. So I just want to acknowledge you, Tammy, like tremendous courage. And you’re making a huge impact in the world as a result of it, but, 

[00:21:34] Tammy Alvarez: oh, well, thank you.

[00:21:35] And that just lights me up. You can tell it and it does you too. And I can see that. And so what I did, and there’s a very, very specific exercise I have my clients do when they’re trying to unpack her fear. Is I just, and it’s pretty simple. Just what’s the worst thing that can be. Like really, what is the absolute worst thing that can happen?

[00:21:53] And for me, you know, it was the guy that I’ve been dating for a few years. We decided that we’re going to get our act together and come down here together. So I’m like, okay. So if that blows up, cause we’ve never lived together before and this business is an ultimate disaster and everything falls apart.

[00:22:09] Okay. I’m going to end up back in Raleigh, North Carolina, sleeping on my mom’s couch until I figured out my next move. Is that something I can live with and, um, Yeah, it’s a little embarrassing, but I could totally do it. And is it likely, you know, which is the more important question and the answer of course was absolutely not.

[00:22:25] Um, you know, and so from that perspective, that’s how I help people really get to the root cause. Um, What does that monster under your bed? Cause so many times we have this idea that there’s a giant monster under our bed. And when we actually look under the bed, it’s a dust desk and we’re like, okay, I’ve been slowing myself down for years and avoiding this for way too long for this.

[00:22:46] Like, this is what I’ve been in that, you know, slowing down by. So, so when you really just look at just doomsday scenario, what’s the worst that can then. And can you do that? And if the answer is no, then you need to rethink that. And if it’s yes. Because it’s not going to happen. You’re You’re going to be, guaranteed to be better off than that.

[00:23:04] And you have nothing. Right. So, um, so I think unpacking some of that fear, um, and a lot of it too, is that inner critic and that voice, if we spoke to others, the way we speak to ourselves, we would have no friends. Um, you know, you know, not even on social media, right? So our dark, I joke around saying that, our heads can be a dark and scary place sometimes.

[00:23:21] And I have them actually write down what you’re saying to yourself through. All the things and consolidate it and then go through that and say, all right, how did this stuff, how much of it is back? How much of it is fiction? And none of the stuff that is fact how much of it is emotion and how much of it is a skill.

[00:23:40] Yeah. Right. So, um, this will probably make your audience cringe, but math is not my jam. I don’t think letters and numbers should be together. I just don’t think it’s right. And so it’s just never been 

[00:23:51] Zach White: my thing 

[00:23:53] Tammy Alvarez: none. Right. And so I would completely get overwhelmed in these metrics meetings with stats and all these things.

[00:24:00] And people are doing things you know, off the top of their head. Like, well, if we do this, then we’re going to be in this and I would just get completely overwhelmed and I I’d shut down. Cause I felt. And, but that was a skill gap. So I could actually go to someone who knew that and could help me close that gap versus the inner critic saying, I’m not good enough.

[00:24:16] I’m not strong enough. I’m not like the others. And so it’s important to break those two things down and deal with them. Very, very good. And so that’s how I had to unpack my finger. Um, and that’s how I helped. 

[00:24:27] Zach White: Yeah. These are both really great strategies. Well, I say easy to take action on capturing that worst case scenario, being honest about that, and then noticing that inner critic.

[00:24:39] Tammy you and I are lucky as coaches. Now we get to have some really powerful conversations with our clients around these exact topics to help them create, you know, forward movement and transformation in their own lives. If we go back though, I’ll be honest. When I was an engineer in my career days, I was not having these kinds of conversations with my team, you know, my direct reports.

[00:25:02] And when I was rallying people around my vision for a project or, you know, for a particular strategy, we weren’t at the conference room table saying, so what’s the worst thing that can happen. Like tell me about your deepest, darkest fears. How do you apply it in that career context? You know, just, maybe you even specifically, is there a different question, is there a different way, or what do you think about kind of the difference between coaching it and then like on the court, in your career, how to help somebody recognize fear?

[00:25:31] What do you think? Um, 

[00:25:32] Tammy Alvarez: well actually how I coach it is because of how I dealt with it on the. And I learned how to manage risk incredibly well when I became a six-month Sigma black. Or Greenbelt. I can’t give myself credit for black belt. Um, you know, but learning that FMLA right. And learning all the risk mitigation strategies.

[00:25:51] And then I kept getting moved into different risk organizations. I don’t know why I was in compliance and I was in audit and I was in all these places. Like they’re there because of me, like, what am I doing in here? Right. But they were usually messed up and that’s why I was brought in to help change their process and get them more efficient and effective.

[00:26:07] But by looking at business risk, And making big decisions, like, are we going to spend $700 million this year on this initiative? Um, that’s a high ticket. I, and those are the decisions I was making all the time. And so you, if you’re going to do that, you’ve got to make sure it works and it’s going to work and things, you know, they’re always going to be gremlins and problems.

[00:26:30] You need know what they are, how kind of strong they’re going to be, what the probability and likelihood are. And so, so looking at product. And looking at, you know, programming initiative risk is really what inspired me to coach in this way and really helping quantify what feels like the other quantifiable.

[00:26:48] Um, you know, and I think in helping people get through change, because again, you know, fear is all over the place there. It was very natural for me to help them kind of see, okay, what are the things that, you know, you’re pushing back for a reason. Chances are good, you know, way more than I do. So let’s talk about all the things that could go wrong, that you’re worrying.

[00:27:07] And then when you do that, okay, what, how are we going to prevent them or detect them or whatever. And so, so it’s that marriage of helping people move through change successfully and helping at a programmatic level, identify risks and mitigations, and doing that together all the time for 15 years, that felt very natural for me to be able to, oh, this is how we unwind this in a coaching scenario.

[00:27:30] So it was pretty fortunate. I had that experience going 

[00:27:34] Zach White: through. Yeah, I, I think that’s going to resonate, you know, with, with that engineering mindset. So well, and I’m a hundred percent aligned with that, that these tools that we master in, you know, science, technology, engineering, mathematics fields to help us do really, really well in mitigating risk on projects.

[00:27:51] And in design, we forget sometimes to take the structure of that thinking into. Our personal life and our, our goals and our, home in a way that’s constructive instead of what I see, Tammy, you tell me if you agree with this, I see if anything, it’s either forgotten that I have this amazing toolkit that I can use in other areas of life or.

[00:28:14] It’s over-indexed and it becomes a, an analysis paralysis trap that we’re always analyzing risk and never taking action. So if it’s on that side of the coin, where do you find that balance of? Okay. We’ve, we’ve written our worst case scenario. It’s time to go, like as a executive leader, how do you dance between those two?

[00:28:37] Tammy Alvarez: I think it’s easier to go when you know, nothing is. In our minds. We’re like, if I make this decision, I’m stuck with this forever and you’re really not. Um, that is, I think one of the things that garnered the most respect for me as an executive is when I made a bad call, called it out, took accountability for it.

[00:29:00] You know, I can’t, I can’t even begin to describe how many billions of dollars have been wasted over my career. Watching executives who are too afraid to say they met, uh, they made a bet. And all of their people are stuck doing all of this work that they know is just a complete waste of time because it’s never, ever going to come over the finish line.

[00:29:18] Um, and so that was something that I found, um, really strengthened my reputation as a leader. And my credibility with my team is to say based on the information I had at the time, I thought this was a good idea. And either I’m seeing the same information differently, or I’ve got a new input that I’m like, hang on a second.

[00:29:37] This is now the dumbest idea ever. And we need to stop, um, you know, and either course correct, or just kill it completely because no one’s ever perfect. And we put this pressure on ourselves that we can’t make mistake. And that we can’t make bad calls. And when we do that, every decision we make, it feels like it’s a forever decision.

[00:29:54] So no wonder people are terrified and not going to be able to. But when you realize that I can change this, you know, said, yes, I can say no. And you’re able to do that with transparency and confidence. Um, you know, there are people that are always going to be throwing darts at you Wednesday. I have told you you were wrong, but those are the ones that get left out.

[00:30:12] Right. Those are the ones that ultimately don’t make it. And, um, and so I think that’s the most important thing to help people take action is just remove the permanency and take the pressure off 

[00:30:24] Zach White: nothing. Why do we not learn that lesson in school, Tammy? And in a way I’m joking, but I’m kind of not. We really come into our careers with a lot of fear of making mistakes, especially engineers I’ve found, you know, there’s, there’s always a right answer to every, you know, math problem that we want to go solve.

[00:30:44] And there’s a fear of getting. First big mistake on a project or whatever that is. And I’m hearing you say, yeah, you want to lead at the top level of the organization, find your mistake faster because you can’t get out of it and move on. It’s just an assumption that you’re going to make a mistake along the way.

[00:31:02] Uh, if somebody’s struggling to believe that they’re really caught in that, that either perfection paralysis or the fear of making mistakes, you know, they’re hearing Tammy say nothing’s permanent, but deep down, they just don’t. Act or believe that way. How do you help somebody come into a lifestyle of action?

[00:31:20] This is it’s. Okay. Take action. Nothing’s permanent. Like what’s the catalyst to helping somebody change from perfectionist to willing to make those mistakes, um, 

[00:31:31] Tammy Alvarez: focus on outcome. Don’t focus on how you do things. Focus on what happens when you’ve done. ‘  cause if you, if you find that you’ve made a bad call, um, and you know, you’re not gonna be able to deliver that outcome.

[00:31:43] People want to know. Your shareholders want to know, um, you know, there’s nothing worse than having to go to an investor call or a board meeting. And just to be like, no, we thought this was a great idea. So you’re going to talk about high stakes. It was so not fun but necessary. And so when you’re focused on this is the outcome, we also have, you wanted this and six months ago, we thought this was the best path forward, but it’s not.

[00:32:08] you’re not saying I made a mistake. You’re saying I found a better way. I found a different way or we, you know, you’re not going to take credit for it. Usually when you’re living, working with your team. or if that end post has, if your goalposts have changed, then why would you say. That’s the solution you came up with when the goalposts let’s say, um, you know, here is the same solution when they move it on you, which happens all the time.

[00:32:31] So there are so many variables that are in a corporate environment, that there is absolutely every reason to say things are not the way they were when we thought this was a good day. So either found a faster, better, smarter way to get there, or outcome that we want has changed, which requires us to change how we get there.

[00:32:50] And so it’s less of a, I screwed up. I made a bad call and more of the field around me is changing. And we’ve got to adapt if we’re going to be. 

[00:33:00] Zach White: Yeah. Yeah. That’s beautiful. Tammy. I’m curious for people who want to achieve at the level that you have, they want to make it into executive roles. They aspire to lead big teams, maybe they’re adrenaline junkies for transformation and turnaround projects.

[00:33:14] Like what you’ve done in your career from the time that you landed your first. Executive position, you know, being in those roles to today, you know, you’ve seen a lot, you’ve experienced a lot of different organizations and different problems. Would you say that the skills and the capabilities and the personality traits and the qualities of leadership to be successful from when you started.

[00:33:39] To what it takes to be successful today at that level, are they the same or have they changed over the last, you know, decades of your time leading at that level? 

[00:33:50] Tammy Alvarez: I think the foundations have stayed the same because people are people right. And evolution doesn’t work that fast. And so, um, but I think the nuances are absolutely fluid 

[00:33:59] and, um, you know, being at the end of the day, this is all leadership is 100% about.

[00:34:05] Because without it, you’re not getting anything done. You can build the best mouse trap ever. And if you don’t have the right people to execute, implement, adopt, evangelize, whatever, it’s not going to work. And. I focus on people that are in stem for specific, especially leaders, right? New leaders at the C-suite that are in the stem because they got where they were because their technical capabilities in most cases, and then no one shows you how to lead people.

[00:34:35] And if you don’t figure it out on your own, you’re kind of on a lock, which is, you know, they’re fortunate that they have you and me in their corner when they need that. And so, so when you’re, when you continue to grow in your in your pro technical merit, and you’re really capable of to see the big picture, do all the things well, there’s the two areas where people get jammed up.

[00:34:52] One is that you still want to keep your hands in the. And when you lead, you’re leading functions that you’ve never done before. So to assume you can learn those things as fast and better than people have been doing it for their whole careers is a mistake. Um, but also you need to clear the path, not do the work.

[00:35:09] And I find people that have a technical background, you know, they have a harder time leading because they’re so used to. And that is, that’s a hard transition. But when you do that, when you figure out, when I have a team of people who can take me out in terms of the next time I got promoted, it’s not, who’s going to backfill me.

[00:35:27] Cause if you don’t have a team of ready now, people who can step into your role, you’ll never get promoted. So you want to do that. But when you do that, then the amount of time you actually spend working and I’m putting that in air quotes is so much. When I finally figured this out and I had teams that were doing stuff that I never even could begin to know how to do.

[00:35:48] Um, and you know, 56 different countries, all kinds of laws. I’m not a lawyer. Like it was ridiculous. I was on a regulatory team where we bought Merrill Lynch, so it was a hot mess. And, um, but when I had done that and just really let the experts lead, I have 2000 people in 56 countries and I felt like I was barely.

[00:36:05] It was the easiest job I ever had. It was the most stressful job I ever had because the stakes were really high, but I wasn’t trying to do all the work. And when you start to do that, then, you know, so, so I think in terms of how you lead get experts on your team, let them do it, show them how to lead, trust them, to get the work done and, you know, give them not only the room, but the mandate for them to come and tell you that your baby’s.

[00:36:29] Because the higher up you go that the bigger shadow you cast and people will never respond to you the same way. And so you think you’re good, let’s start at story, but you’re not, you know? And so you need the people that are closer to the work to have that confidence to come tell you, you think this is a good idea.

[00:36:44] Everybody’s telling you it is, but it’s really not. And you need to, you know, hold them accountable to do that because it’s going to help you move faster as a leader, 

[00:36:52] Zach White: Tammy, I really appreciate your sharing. And before we recorded today, I mentioned to you, uh, this point that I see a lot that engineering leaders, who I coach, many of them are afraid to keep moving up the ladder to those high levels because they’re in that, that doing mindset still, they take a lot of pride in their ability to, to be that technical expert and the, the the superstar on the team and, and they project that workload out over time.

[00:37:19] Like. I’ll never see my family again, if I make it to VP in this organization. And so for you to say, look, when you get out of that mindset and you really learn how to lead people, it can be easy, stressful pressure, you know, there’s, there’s tough challenge. But it’s going to feel easy when you get there that that’s super encouraging.

[00:37:41] Yeah. One of the things 

[00:37:41] Tammy Alvarez: I would always tell my newly promoted executives I’m like, and I used to complain to the break room that they did this. And they said that I’m like, well, welcome to the club. You’re now day. And that’s when the store. but you’re not doing either work anymore, you know, and you’re helping your experts grow and develop and become the leaders that they want to be.

[00:38:00] Um, and that is fun, but I think that’s important to decide. Do you want to grow your career from a leadership perspective or do you want to grow your career from a technical perspective? Right. And most companies will have both paths. Um, and you have to be really clear on where you want to go.

[00:38:14] Zach White: Tammy. I always end here. Great engineering, great leadership, great coaching. They all have in common. The reality that questions lead and answers follow, and you are the coach who believes everyone deserves to love Monday morning. And I know we didn’t talk about that much, but that, that essence of just building an amazing career with loving what you do on Monday morning, when the alarm goes off, if the engineer who’s been listening to us today wants that life.

[00:38:57] What is the best question Tammy would lead them with today? 

[00:39:02] Tammy Alvarez: So the question I lead, all of my people with, uh, leave your, you know, your audience with as well is. Energizes you not, what are you best at? Not what makes the most money, not. What do you think you’re supposed to do? Because everybody else thinks you’re supposed to do.

[00:39:19] What are the things that light you up? The things that you could do for 12 hours a day and never get tired. And how do you build a career with as much of that as you possibly can get.

[00:39:36] Zach White: Energizes you. I love that, Tammy. Thank you so much. And I hope the engineer listening really takes that question to heart and asks, how can I create even just five more minutes of that today? Start taking action on that. I love it. I know people are going to want to know more about Tammy and where to find you and the amazing coaching and work that you do to help them accelerate and build their careers.

[00:40:00] So Tammy, where can people find you to get to know. 

[00:40:03] Tammy Alvarez: Absolutely. So I’ve created, um, a group of programs called the career winners circle, and it’s really designed to be a suite of, um, coaching programs and trainings and memberships and all kinds of great things that help people and meet people where they are wherever they are in their career.

[00:40:18] So if you go to career winners,, you’ll see all the good goodies that are out there. And, um, you know, hopefully you have a chance to, to work. 

[00:40:26] Zach White: Awesome. I will put all the links to Tammy’s work and her website and places. You can find her on the show [email protected]. So go check that out.

[00:40:36] And I could tell you, Tammy has led transformation and. Change in huge organizations with thousands of people and she can absolutely help you at a personal level with transformation and turn around right where you’re at. So please check out Tammy’s work. You will not be disappointed that you did.

[00:40:54] And Tammy, thanks again for making time for us today, 

[00:40:57] Tammy Alvarez: Zach. Thanks. This has been so much fun and I’m really glad we had a chance to be, a few months ago. This has been great. Thanks.