Stefanel Castro

Journey of Three - Stefanel Castro

Stefanel (R) pose

Along this journey I’ve shared many of my “aha!”… “oooh”… “aaaah” moments, but let me talk to you today about this biggest one yet…Speak to Persuade.

When I heard that our session’s name was “Speak to Persuade”, I was excited for what was coming. You see, my father – who is one of my greatest inspirations and role models – has worked on all aspects of the entertainment business for my entire life. Talk show, radio, and MCing is his forte and oh, is he good! I grew up observing and unintentionally learning how to paint pictures with words, improvise, feed off a crowd, come up with quick, witty responses, etc…in essence, how to talk my way into a desired state. As far as I knew, I was a decent public speaker and crafty persuader.

We were given 4 very simple questions. Three of these questions are part of our EDI introduction, so we say them every time we meet. We were recorded answering these 4 VERY SIMPLE questions, and then we played back the recording to assess how we did. I’ll tell you that I was disappointed at what I saw on screen. For context, the session was going great! I had been exercising my natural (inherited/learned) public speaking skills comfortably – cracking jokes and engaging in the discussion – yet what came through when I stood up to answer those questions was stiffness, over-analysis, and even defensiveness. My lively personality did not come through at all and it was not anything I said; the content was good. So…"what happened?", you may ask. My body language and tone of voice exhibited a persona that is not me. Our facilitator, Vanna Novak, looked at me and said, “I lost your personality…you were lost in your head.” Wow! This clicked in a profound way. In an instant, I started to think back at specific instances where I’ve given presentations or had to speak in public or to large groups. I was able to identify that sometimes I want to articulate ideas and thoughts so eloquently that I overthink. I was taken back to occasions where, as I talk, I am searching for fancy words to embellish my speech and end up awkwardly pausing with, I imagine, a confused look on my face until catching my train of thought. I now recognize that, in those moments, my audience did not capture the message as I intended to deliver it because I was not projecting what I wanted.  

Self-reflection on my previous experiences brought me to a bigger conclusion about public speaking and speaking to persuade. EDI’s backbone to leadership development is defined by three letters – A, E, I. Let’s talk about “A”. “A” is for authentic – a leadership characteristic that is very important to me. Whenever I don’t allow my personality to come through, it's because I’m trying to be “Mr. Eloquence” and I lose some of my authenticity. I am serious, driven, and passionate, but at the same time, I’m good humored and goofy. These sides ARE part of the PROFESSIONAL in me and need to co-exist in harmony. It does when I’m not putting extra effort into thinking about the correctness of my words; I am the most impactful because I am most comfortable, engaging, and, more importantly, genuine. I will end this with a thought/reminder mainly for myself, but I won’t be offended if you use it too: Big words don’t get the job done, connecting with people does.

Journey of Three - Stefanel Castro

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What would your personal logo be? What would your slogan be?

Our last session focused on personal branding & networking. You’ve all heard these concepts and the power they have over development and career advancement, but have you really sat down to assess what is your brand and what (or WHO) is in your network? These are the questions that lingered in my head throughout the session and the very questions I sought answers for (honestly) by the end of this experience. I specifically have given some thought to the branding portion and I would like to share my ideas with you.

When we think about the term “brand”, the immediate reaction is to associate it with products/services and the companies that provide them. I am sure as you read this and see the word “brand” pop up yet again, you are already picturing in your mind a logo...Coca Cola?! Amazon?! McDonalds?! Not only are you picturing the logo, but you are probably unconsciously repeating the words to a slogan, or some type of emotion – good or bad – has been evoked.

We have been taught to associate characteristics, words, emotions, etc. to these goods/services, yet we neglect to understand that we ARE a product and we PROVIDE services every day. This means we have been teaching our clients to associate characteristics, words, emotions, etc. to US. Perhaps you are reading this thinking “Yes…I knew that”, but have you really put some thought into what your name incites in people who know you and even those who don’t? In an era where Yelp! reviews and how many stars a place, a company, or product has, defines whether we completely ignore it or set it as a candidate. I’m surprised that we – or at least me – are not socially trained to think of our careers in the same manner. We all have a personal brand, but is it the one we want for ourselves?

My biggest takeaway from the session is that a brand needs to be strategic and intentional, so we cannot forget to market, market, market ourselves. In colloquial terms, “we gotta walk the talk” and let people know about it. The first one is the “easy” part…have the awareness to INTENTIONALLY honor your commitments, stand by what you say, deliver on promises, respect your peers, collaborate, and set the example. The trick with the second part of this – letting people know – is sending the message of how good you are, without coming across as arrogant or egocentric. I know many of you reading this will say, “I will outwork everyone and I will let my work speak for me”. My friend(s), by all means, exploit your talents and resources, but, again, think of yourself as a product. The best product out there may exist, but if the consumers do not know about it or are uneducated on it, it will not sell (or at least not to its desired extent). A piece of advice…keep a record of things you accomplish and remind yourself, your peers, and your superiors of them every so often. We sometimes focus on continuing to crank out work and do not celebrate the little accomplishments.     

Join me in this newfound endeavor of viewing myself as a product. I am aiming for a distinguished brand recognition and will settle for nothing else. This requires relentless commitment to customer service and enhanced openness to feedback. Let’s continuously capitalize on what we do right and correct what we do wrong.  I am shooting for a 5-star review from every customer…how about you? 

Journey of Three - Stefanel Castro

Gamification: the concept of including game-like elements to non-games in order to motivate participation and engagement. I know what this concept is now after having “googled” it and I have to say that I feel kind of deceived by the EDI team and the facilitators. For an entire day, I played a board game and ran around downtown Seattle (wearing a really stylish bandanna) geocaching! All fun and games…I thought! In reality, using these games as educational media, I learned about Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and was able to experience firsthand the power of behavioral adaptability for team bonding while trying to reach a goal. The audacity of these people to sneak in learning while I think I’m playing is preposterous ;)  

Now that I’m done with my rant, let’s talk about the learning…Our session started with a board game on EQ. The board game was an excellent vessel that progressively expanded on the concept of EQ and provided very helpful tools to improve our EQ. EQ has two major components to it: the “self” and the “social” sides. My main takeaway is that the key to EQ truly is knowledge, acceptance, and, more importantly, awareness of one’s thoughts, behaviors, biases, etc. Only when we truly know ourselves and understand how we think and what makes our emotions swing – self side – can we actually allow ourselves to not be reactionary but make conscious, rational decisions when interacting with others based on how a situation is developing – social side. Believe me, there are occasions where the Puerto Rican spice within me wants to come out. Having this knowledge and awareness gives me the power to control situations in a manner that leads to a more productive work environment and better relationships.   

After the board game, we went onto geocaching as a team. I will start by saying that The Lucky Siete (our team) came in second place, but the real win of the day was how much we learned through the execution of the game. If you have never geocached before, I’ll give you the scoop…You go around diverse locations looking for clues and completing challenges. Everything about the game promotes team building. Starting by defining goals, moving onto designating roles, continuing to strategic planning, and finally, when you think you have it all figured out, resorting to “on-the-spot” decision making, creates a setting where working as a team is the only option to succeed. It was amazing to witness how we fed off each other’s energy, and organically switched roles. Without knowing it, we capitalized on each other’s strengths and worked around our weaknesses. Meeting the goals we had set was the priority and we creatively came up with ways that maximized our chance of reaching them. The funny thing is that I am realizing more and more of what we actually did as I type this down, and to me, it is the perfect reminder of the following undeniable truth…When goals are clearly defined and a team is having fun, is committed and empowered, the team’s greatest potential is unleashed.

I am excited for what lies ahead and to continue to share my journey with you. Today, I’ll leave you with this final thought…let’s gamify our lives and go all in (specially our personal and professional development), new learning is at every corner waiting for OUR next move!   

Journey of Three - Stefanel Castro

I discovered that I am a dolphin in an owl costume!

You might be asking yourself right now “What does that mean?”, or you may be telling yourself “Stefanel is completely crazy”, but I want you to understand that this apparently nonsensical statement has been a great realization that is already helping me tailor my behaviors when dealing with my peers and leaders.

Before you reassure yourself that I must be crazy, please allow me to explain. During our first EDI session after kickoff, Linda Callecod came in and explained to us the concept of behaviors styles and their characteristics. How did I get to animals? Well, during our session we explored  the idea that people can be grouped into four major behavioral style profiles – controllers, persuaders, stabilizers, and analyzers -  and those profiles, in turn, can be associated with specific animals – lions, dolphins, Saint Bernards, and Owls, respectively.

It turns out that I classify myself as a dolphin (aka persuader), but the nature of the work I do forces me to be an owl – an analyzer. My natural behavior is to really care about people and who needs to be involved to successfully meet goals. However, as a manufacturing technology developer, I am driven every day to be focused on the details and the rigorousness of the information available to make decisions. I will not lie. I was taken back when the answers of my own assessment suggested me to be an owl. That did not make sense to me, but it triggered deep self-inspection that allowed me to reach the previously stated conclusion and proudly embrace it. Yes… I dance along the boundary of prioritizing sometimes answering “who?” and other times “why?” There are days where information oversharing is the norm and others where quiet overthinking dominates. In occasions, I will choose the agility of quick judgments based on hunches or, in contrast, I will sometimes slowly and intensely analyze details and facts. This paradoxical state of being is who I am and I’m glad I’ve been provided with the tools to understand it.    

This session provided me with the knowledge to develop enhanced awareness not only of my behaviors and natural tendencies but also the behaviors of my peers and leaders. This awareness gives me the power to “show up” and project myself in a manner that addresses the needs of my colleagues while always being true to myself… after all, being a dolphin in an owl costume is already pretty cool.