Deene Morris, MA

Deene Morris

Nothing in my life has gone in a straight line and probably never will.

So here’s my story with some of the bigger twists and turns. Why I do what I do, what I love, and why it matters.

First, I’m a lifelong learner and student of leadership – servant-leadership to be specific. As much as I teach and facilitate, I spend equal time in my own learning and development.

I’m passionate about people and the potential to work better together. I’m naturally empathetic – and like all our gifts, it’s a blessing and a curse. However, it serves me well with clients. Because I’ve been there – in the good, the bad, the ugly, and the transformational.

I don’t take my clients anywhere that I haven’t been myself.

I’m a lifelong fan of Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung – and grew up in a family  where we used Psychological Type to navigate our (many) challenges.

As a result, I learned to value holistic learning systems and assessments, exactly because they don’t put me or anyone else in a box or with a label.  Because life is about learning, stretching and growing – not rigid, cookie-cutter molds.  I thrive on curiosity, possibility and opportunity.

The early entrepreneurial years

And that’s exactly how I began my first career as a co-entrepreneur.  I met Alesia while we were both waitressing while in between jobs. I thought she was a lot of fun and told dumb jokes. Bored with our potential next steps, we doodled a dream of an all-natural frozen food company on a napkin. We were both single. I owned a cat and car. She owned a dog and a baby blue Volkswagen Beetle. In other words, no bank would loan us money. “Oh, no problem,” she said casually. “We’ll ask our customers for money.”

Wait –what? How do you have customers if you don’t have the money to give them a product? (That’s another story…)  

I like to say that we were too young to know what we couldn’t do – so we just went ahead and did it. Heat’em & Eat’em wasn’t my business, or Alesia’s business. It was everyone’s business: investors, employees, customers, vendors and community alike. It was a dream fed by the passion, commitment, financial investment, dedication and support of an entire community. Heat’em and Eat’em was not any one of us, but all of us together – a third entity that pulled us to more successful communication, teamwork, collaboration and growth.

A decade later we reached a pinnacle of opportunity and were approached by a major grocery store chain to carry our product in their stores. Nearly simultaneously, I was hit by a car on a beautiful, sunny day and the enduring physical trauma forced the end of the business a year later. Leonard Cohen, poet and songwriter writes:  Ring the bells that still can ring; forget your perfect offering; There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.

And indeed the light did get in, because it was during this time I met my husband.

But it was a brutal transition. My father, an entrepreneur, reminded me that no one wants to hire an entrepreneur. He was trying to tell me not to take my job rejections personally. He knew that people thought that when you work for yourself, you answered to yourself. Therefore, you make a terrible employee because you don’t know how to collaborate.

Actually, nothing could be further than the truth. Entrepreneurship requires managing up, down and across – with your business partner. It demands rigorous interpersonal skills for success.

The corporate years

I was working in a hospital as a hospice volunteer, and this led to a job offer in the field of philanthropic development within the hospital system.

I was in for an enormous culture shock. From an interdependent to a more independent environment, from people-oriented to more task-oriented, from collaborative to more political and coalition building, from shared leadership to a more traditional command and control – it was a fascinating and confusing entry into a new world.

After what felt like a very long time, I knew I had to return to my passion of developing people and possibilities. I had a deep ache to integrate my corporate and entrepreneurial experiences, and to learn what to keep from each.

I wanted to go back to school – but not to get an MBA. I knew how to run a business. I wanted to understand how to influence and shift culture.

And I wanted to know what the thought leaders were saying.

I had almost given up when one fateful afternoon, Gonzaga University (WA) popped up in my google search. They offered an MA in Organizational Leadership, and when I saw the curriculum, I burst into tears.

OMG – I’m not alone and I’m finally going to grow in the area that really interests me.

At Gonzaga I learned about the Servant-Leadership Movement, which began with Roger Greenleaf and launched a revolution. A retired AT&T executive and then educator, he believed in developing and cultivating specific behaviors to lead as a first among equals. This requires everything that matters to me: trust, credibility, authenticity, risk, spirited debate, creativity and innovation, appreciation, emotional intelligence and empowering the experts who exist at every level in an organization.

Today servant-leadership continues to evolve and almost all of our thought leaders follow in the footsteps of Robert Greenleaf.

Fast forward to today, Inspire Leadership is my calling.

Frederick Buechner, an American philosopher and theologian writes about our calling: “Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

I’m here again, aligned with my deepest joy, and passionate about helping others to align with theirs.

Leadership is taught and caught. We are all leaders, whether formal or information. But pushing people into a position doesn’t work. Rather, we pull them to leadership by our own modeling and credibility. We inspire others through our behaviors and actions.

Interpersonal Adventure Guide

I  call myself an Interpersonal Adventure Guide because it embodies everything I do: I love going into what feels like the wilderness – guiding people up and down the mountains, through the fast waters and helping them experience life at its fullest – helping them see their potential – and experiencing the impossible as possible.

I love seeing the relief on people’s faces when they figure out how to get unstuck, how to unsnarl a grudge or a rigid dislike. I love when people discover their gifts, their core motivation, their stress triggers and supportive stress solutions.

I love the self-discovery journey – for individuals and teams. We are complex, and rich with different experiences. So often we don’t feel invited, whether accurately or not, to bring our full selves to work. I love when people on teams identify their differences in rich aha! moments, and belly laughs erupt from playful and insightful observations.

I love hearing people’s stories. I love when people really hear each other’s stories. I love being the interpersonal guide to help people go deeper, to speak up and actualize their potential.

Because I do get asked, and some people want to know – the nuts and bolts:

I work with individuals, teams and organizations from senior management to front-line staff, facilitating the behavioral practice of greater self-awareness and leadership development to support sustained results. My clients regularly experience breakthroughs in innovation, collaboration and problem solving, moving from resistance to resiliency and conflict to creative solutions.

My certifications include the EQ-i2.0 & 360©, the FIRO-B© Interpersonal Orientation, Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument©, MBTI© (Master Practitioner level), Interaction Styles® and Essential Motivator® – each offering a powerful and insightful structured learning system and shared language to my clients.

My professional background spans corporate and foundation executive leadership in healthcare and philanthropic management within the Hartford Healthcare Corporation and McLean Affiliates, and entrepreneurial leadership as co-founder and co-president of Heat’em & Eat’em, Inc., a women-owned, all-natural frozen food corporation. I began my career as a community organizer including serving as a National VISTA Volunteer with migrant farmworkers.

I’ve also held numerous volunteer leadership positions including serving on two United Way Allocation Committees, the Canton Land Conservation Trust, Charter Oak College Foundation, the Planned Giving Group of Connecticut and the New England Association for Healthcare Philanthropy.

I hold a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership and a Certificate in Servant Leadership from Gonzaga University. I also teach as adjunct faculty in the Masters of Organizational Psychology at the University of Hartford.