We are “allowed” to be more human at work.


Raphael (Raff) Louis Vitón
7 min readMay 4, 2020


Whole Foods HQ’s Journey through COVID-19 with Jess Kolko - podcast "Allowed" #24 by Dr. Caneel Joyce

ULTRA-RUNNER + TOUGH + CARING + TRAINING = MASSIVE ACTION & ADAPTIVE INSPIRATION... that is what I took away after listening to Jess Kolko talk about her experience at Whole Foods Market HQ and the moment (on 3/13/20) when the news of dramatc change hit her and her team — POW.

Dr. Caneel Joyce (coach) & Jess (coachee) explore the real-life internal and external challenges of leadership inside of a big, complex company, operating in the face of crisis. I recommend listening to the entire Dr. Caneel Joyce "Allowed" podcast (see video below). Here are the highlights that stood out for me...


12:00 "I would have not known what my first steps were going to be. I would have started spinning, spinning in victimhood, not understanding what needed to happen, what I needed to mobilize, who I needed to talk to. And I probably would also have been very scared that I was going to fail. And that would have been a huge disappointment to the company because there's a lot riding on that transition.....and at times in the past, I would not have been proud of the way I would have responded. I would have probably responded in a way that was not sensitive to their needs, and not in a way that I would have been an exemplary leader.”

“For a long, long time, I struggled with perfectionism. And I think that a lot of the work that I have been doing for personal growth and professional growth has been around that or something somehow tangentially related to that struggle with perfectionism, and just being a human and it being okay to be vulnerable and acknowledge that vulnerability is a huge step for me in the right direction... I'm human and sometimes I'm going to mess up."

20:00 - There is a need for emotions when we lead. Caneel and Jess talk about working with emotions and using them to your advantage including the concept of intelligent fear. "Over a year ago I got a coach to stop being so emotional at work."


Raff's editorial: the story I'm telling myself (& others when I share this particular podcast) is that Jess' story links "vulnerability" to transparency and clarity.

The way I heard Jess tell her story to Caneel, made that word ("vulnerability") make more sense to me than ever before. I think the vulnerability word is being used a lot more nowadays (a la Dr. Brene Brown, Daniel Coyle and Dr. Carol Dweck) but when people tell me to "be vulnerable about vulnerability" it often creates a vulnerabackfire effect. "Vulnerability" (the word) is still very unappealing if you ask me.

I really appreciated the link to transparency and clarity that I got from Jess' story. Jess's story felt like a useful way to invite me into the concept/impact/opportunity of vulnerability.

  • Vulnerability = transparency, clarity and humility
  • Transparency & clarity = expressed openness in the context of work relationships (intimacy)
  • Intimacy = applied empathy + mutual transparency/clarity

The reciprocity of mutual transparency/clarity is what delivers more trust & psychological safety. In order to "be" more transparent and have/give more clarity, I have to be a more conscious leader first.


26:00 "Okay, I need to get this done and I need to be in a state where I can be the best leader that I can in this situation. Because if I stay below the line, I'm not going to be that exemplary leader and I am going to fracture my team. I'm going to drive a wedge in some of the folks and drive them away from me perhaps permanently if I don't be my genuine authentic leader self. If I grab on to that emotion of being the victim or being below the line, that's not going to help anybody. Even if that's the way I feel…my leadership needs to be above the line in this situation no matter what."

"There were times when I had to drop off a phone call over that weekend and get myself together and be like, okay, coach myself out of the spin and then get back on say, 'Sorry, I needed to take a minute or whatever,' and get back on to my train tracks of being the leader that I want to be. Take a deep breath... long, deep breath in and blow out, just re-center,count to 10, do it again, until you know you get that emotion in the right spot for what it is you need to move forward or do."


33:00 "There was also a lot of committed action. So who does what by when? I was making sure that every communication to my individual team members, I always got, okay so what is your committed action? What can you commit to by end of day today? by noon? That committed action was very necessary in this time of crisis. And if I was asking for a deadline that couldn't be met, I made it very clear, you need to renegotiate that deadline with me. I'm okay with renegotiating the deadline, but I need to run that renegotiated deadline to my leadership and make sure that that was an acceptable renegotiation. (OTHERWISE) It would have been a mess. I wouldn't have known what was going on. I wouldn't have known if we could commit to certain deadlines that I was being asked to respond to. I wouldn't know what had been done, and that would have caused me to spin and become frantic and have to dig and dig and dig and dig and dig. And I can dig in certain places now but I'm, again, as a leader moved away from the day to day work of what my team members do. I definitely have been in the trenches with them, but I don't do it anymore. And that's one of the things that's difficult as a leader to embrace is that as a leader, you need to be a leader....you have to be okay with that."


36:00 (my summary - not a quote) Jess was transparent with her team about learning to be a better leader and trying out/experimenting with new things and sucking; Jess enrolled the team in giving her feedback on "how I’m doing? what's working & not working?"


50:00 "I'm going to take more time in really just making sure that I continue that connection with people. Also, my tolerance for bad behavior from other people is really low now and I am okay with being one to call them out on it. And I'm also okay if someone calls me out on my bad behavior to recognize it, acknowledge it, apologize for it and move forward from that. Whereas before, I might have gotten defensive.

Three times today, I apologized for things that came off wrong, but I don't think I ever would have done that to the extent that I did it today. Obviously, if I do something that really offend somebody, of course, I'm going to apologize but to just be in that space of, I'm human, you're human. We screw up, we try our best, let's continue to be humans and be real with each other."

Dr. Caneel Joyce is an executive coach, mom, wife, podcaster, speaker, former professor, and start-upper. https://caneel.com


I aspire to be more self-aware like Jess, because I think that conscious leaders are more effective leaders, especially under stress. They outperform less conscious/reactive leaders. Growing a more conscious, constructive culture, where the kind of "next-level" performance like Jess describes, is easier to build when we embrace a lifestyle of training together - expert deliberate practice. Pre-crisis and post-crisis...always be ready to pursue a new master plan. More change is coming. d3&t.




Raphael (Raff) Louis Vitón

We're always building something - let's focus on building what matters most. First things first, Build U. #iamaninnovationproject