How One Company Is Using Science To Train Better Leaders


This past March, Noirefy attended HR Transform, a conference that brought together the world’s most prominent HR executives and the innovators. It was three-days of panel discussions, workshops and insight about how leaders can create organizations that will thrive in the days to come.

We met the LifeLabs Learning team who had a booth and an interactive game for attendee which made us reflect on one simple question: do you give constructive feedback?

It got us thinking, employees can only thrive when they are in a nurturing environment. How effective is your organization’s leadership? Do they know how to critique and inspire? Or do they ridicule and demean? Well, LifeLabs was created to help leaders lead more effectively with the help of science.

We were excited to talk to Dr. Vaneeta Sandhu from LifeLabs Learning about how they train employees to be better leaders, how employees can ask for more from C-Suite and how leaders can effectively integrate inclusion into their organizations.

Credit: Dr. Vaneeta Sandhu

Title, Company: Facilitator at LifeLabs Learning

Location: San Francisco, CA

Instagram: TheMillennialPsychologist

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vaneetasandhu/


  1. How does LifeLabs work? Who is it for? Who does it impact?


LifeLabs Learning specializes in leadership training for managers, execs, teams, and individual contributors – I like to say we help people be more awesome at what they do! We also hold and participate in events that support the work of Human Resources or People Operations teams.


We’re called LifeLabs because we focus on life’s most useful skills, and we follow a lab format.  The lab format means we combine science, simple tools, and practices activities to maximize learning stickiness and to create rapid habit change.


We have worked with over 500 companies (like Warby Parker, Reddit, Sony Music, GoPro, etc.), so while there is a direct impact with our clients that has been measured, there are other impacts we have not formally measured.  For example, I recently had a participant in my Strategic Thinking workshop share that she used the tools for wedding planning decision making! What can I say? Life’s most useful skills!


  1. Tell us a bit about your background and how you decided LifeLabs was the place for you?


Well, I am a licensed clinical psychologist and academic, and as a result, passions of mine have always been facilitating connection with people as well as learning, scientific knowledge, and theory.  I honestly think teaching is one of the best ways we can ally with the communities we live in; if I know from research and practice that particular skill or way of thinking may help those around me, why not teach it to them?  Thus, I started to explore ways that my love for teaching, my thirst for sharing knowledge, and my desire to connect with even more people could intersect.  


Enter: LifeLabs. Our training integrate scientific knowledge, are served in bite-size portions (easier to digest the learning), and are very playful – if you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has ever had to draw a bunny rabbit in our sessions.  Plus, the team at LifeLabs is so incredibly impressive – they made geeking outlook really cool.


  1. As a facilitator at LifeLabs, what’s one of the most rewarding things that have happened after a workshop?


Anytime a client follows up after a workshop to share that they applied the skills is a win!  However, one particular rewarding experience was when I trained a manager at Yelp. He attended a series of leadership workshops, and I saw him a few months later where he shared he was recently promoted to a more senior role and he fully believed this happened because of the skills he learned from our sessions. Helping someone get a promotion? Nothing beats that!


But as I’ve shared before, it is also rewarding when participants apply these skills in their personal lives. One participant specifically shared that he and his wife were going through a rough patch and he believed that using the feedback skills opened up a larger and more important conversation they needed to have as a couple. Let’s be honest, even I use these skills with my husband without him even knowing it! (Although, this blog may blow my cover).  


  1. Turnover is a really big deal within companies right now. Lack of cultural inclusion has a huge role in that but also, employees quit because of poor leadership. From your experience at LifeLabs, in what ways is leadership failing their workforce?


You know, I truly believe that leadership doesn’t intend to fail their workforce, but it may be a case where they don’t know what they don’t know, or they’re not sure how and don’t have the skills or competencies.


When I think about the discussions I’ve had with leadership teams, there is an incredible focus on diversity, which means inclusion is forgotten. They will focus on hiring goals to boost numbers and employee pipelines but forget about the overall employee experience including team-building, feedback processes, and mentoring. If we encourage leaders to build daily habits of inclusion, and be role models them for others, the research shows how this impacts productivity, performance, and retention.


Further, diversity tends to only be thought of as gender and race.  So when leaders are asked if they believe they value diversity, they say yes!  And other folks will question this, say things like “leaders just don’t get it”, or employees will just downright leave an organization. While we know gender and race are visible differences folks can have, it excludes considerations of a diversity of thought, learning styles, ideas, education, and many other less visible factors that can be just as impactful, if not more, for inclusion. For example, to be intentionally inclusive of diversity of thought and learning styles, leaders can engage in turn-taking behaviors in meetings, such allowing people thinking time (“Let’s all take two minutes to jot down our thoughts before diving into brainstorming”).


  1. Is there anything employees can do to advocate for better leadership within the workplace?


I love this question because there’s nothing more frustrating than feeling like you are stuck!  In terms of advocacy, I’d encourage trying one of these steps depending on the situation:

  1. Double check your perceptions. Have discussions with folks you feel comfortable with to understand how other people are seeing and understanding things.
  2. Know what you need. If you are going to give feedback or communicate ideas, know what your definition of success is  – what are the outcomes you are looking for? What kind of progress are you looking for?
  3. Connect with your manager. One of the responsibilities of a manager is to be an advocate. We find that managers are hotspots in terms of effecting change and having influence in organizations. Ask your manager what would be helpful in terms of giving them feedback – how do they prefer to receive it? In a 1-1 meeting? Both written and discussion? Can they be a megaphone for you?
  4. When giving feedback, share what you’ve seen or heard and the impact of this occurrence.  For example, if you’re a woman and were asked to take the notes for the meeting, you can later give feedback: “Can we check in about this morning’s meeting? I noticed that I was asked to take notes for the meeting. I’m bringing it up because this task does not allow me to participate in the meeting fully, is a task that often does not get recognized, and is not one being delegated to men in the room. I want to make sure my voice is heard in the meeting and that there is a fair distribution of the notetaking responsibilities in our meeting. How can we put together a plan for these two things?”
  5. Leaders can also hold AMA (‘Ask Me Anything’) sessions with their org. We’ve seen these sessions be successful for leaders to become aware of where exclusion may be happening, and have also received great ideas from these sessions on possible next steps.


  1. What’s one resource you love that you can share? For job-seekers or employers.


Diversity Advocates has been an amazing group to be a part of. It’s based out of Oakland and led by a group of women dedicated to inclusion. You apply to become part of the group (sharing what your role is, what you are looking for, what you can offer the group) and, once approved, are involved in discussions, ideas exchange, and overall support.


  1. What’s one of the most valuable pieces of advice you’ve ever gotten?


I’ve been lucky to get so many! One piece of advice around career growth that I’ve gotten was ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know that knows what you know’. This has motivated me to broadcast more of my successes!





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