• Major General Robert Mixon retired from the army after over three decades of extraordinary leadership success. He’s the founder of Level Five Associates, the co-author of Cows in The Living Room and author of the Amazon bestseller, “We're All In”. So many hacks in this show it’s hard to highlight them, here’s a few:

    The Big 6 Leadership Principles to building cultureHow as leaders we can be “All in”Learn about the leadership azimuth and how we work itHow to drive successful strategies and sustain them

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Robert below:

    Robert on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/robertmixon/

    Level Five Associates on Twitter: https://twitter.com/levelfiveassoc

    Level Five Associates Website: https://www.levelfiveassociates.com

    Full Transcript Below



    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    Today's guest on the show is Major General Robert Mixon. He's a retired officer of the U.S. Army. He's a public speaker, author of a few books, and he's the co-founder of Level Five Associates. But before we get a chance to meet with Robert, it's The Leadership Hacker New.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: In the news today, we explore how many of our leadership characteristics and behaviors have changed since the global pandemic. And it turns out that empathy is the go-to leadership skill of the moment. Yes, it can be learned even if we didn't think that was the case. As a brand new fortune 500 CEO, Kirsten Peck of Zoetis, didn't have all the answers as to how a fast growing pet health company was going to survive the pandemic. She'd only ascended to the corner office in January of 2020. So when COVID 19 hit and revved up in the March of 2020, she was feeling quite nervous and anxious and frankly, little overstretched as to whether nearly 12,000 workers, I would imagine. So in one of her COVID era blogs on the company's intranet, Kristin Peck talked not about typical subjects you'd expect new CEOs to be talking around like earnings or sales projections, but something else entirely.

    The importance of listening. The first step begins with slowing down and spending a lot of time, listening to the challenges people are facing personally and professionally she wrote. Later in a LinkedIn post, she shared her own personal story of raising a child with special medical needs to show it was okay for employees to talk about the reality of what life can be like outside of a tinted glass work window and ask for help if they needed it. She goes on to say what the pandemic did was make everybody realize that we were all the same and we were all in the same storm, but our boats were quite different. We had to become very clear about the importance of listening to people and understanding their needs and being flexible, practically that meant shifting her entire workforce to a different way of working. Largely working from a home model about 70% of Zoetis global workforce actually started working from home and it meant providing beefed up benefits like health care concierge services for caregivers, a student loan repayment program and improved mental health support food services, like an employee assistance program, and Peck efforts seem to have hit the mark. The company employee engagement metrics are higher than they've ever been. Now at 88% and eclipsing the pre-pandemic levels.

    And who says being empathic is a soft measure? The hard numbers look like the stock price has done very well indeed; from the pandemic to November 8th, Zoetis stock price grew by 38% and it's currently bumping around at all-time highs. She's been recently quoted the saying, if anyone pretended they had all the answers, no one had believed it any way. Despite the crisis and the upheaval, Zoetis is an example of empathy being a core strong foundation and a real metric. And the leadership hack here is dead simple; it starts with just listening. Listen, to understand, not to que your next question. That's been The Leadership Hacker News, if you'd like to hear any interesting stories, we've got some things to share, as you've always done, please keep in touch with us.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Major General Robert Mixon is our guest on today's show. After being retired from the army, he achieved over three decades of extraordinary leadership success. Not only including the U.S. Army, where he commanded the seventh infantry division and Fort Carson Colorado, and then subsequently he served in an executive leadership position in a number of non-for-profits and for-profit organizations before starting his own organization, Level Five Associates. He's the co-author of Cows in The Living Room: Developing an Effective Strategic Plan and Sustaining it and also of the Amazon bestseller. We're All In: The Journey to World-Class Culture. Rob, welcome to the show.

    Major General Robert Mixon: Thanks, Steve. It's wonderful to be here with you and your listeners today.

    Steve Rush: I'm incredibly excited to delve into your very diverse and extensive leadership career. And I thought it would be useful really just to start off where it all began for you?

    Major General Robert Mixon: Well, it began for me, as growing up the oldest of six children in Georgia and North Carolina, and dreaming about being able to go to college. And as a result of a mediocre level of athletic ability, I was actually recruited to a couple of schools and one of those schools was the army football program at West Point. And I didn't know much about West Point and certainly didn't have any big dreams of being in the army, but I did have dreams of being a college football player. So I know football has different connotations in different audiences here, but I'm talking about the American tackle football.

    Steve Rush: Sure.

    Major General Robert Mixon: And I had good enough grades and things worked out where I got a chance to go to West Point and play football for a little while, until I got hurt to the level I couldn't play anymore, but I would entered a world that I'd never dreamed I would enter when I stood out there in the parade field at West Point in the summer of 1970 with about 1400 other young men. And, you know, in about 24 hours, we learned that our lives are going change. If we stayed with this adventure, it would change forever. And so from that experience, four year journey, about 40% of the group, didn't make it through. The 800 plus of us who did graduate in June of 1974, came into a military that was very conflicted. At the end of the Vietnam War, many Americans felt like, you know, the military was to blame for some of the policy decisions that had cause the Vietnam War to end badly. And as a result of the resources behind the military, the draft system went away and we went to a volunteer force, but we were under-resourced. And we struggle for a number of years until we came out of it in the mid-1980s and became truly a world-class military in every respect again, and because we had been before.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Major General Robert Mixon: But I stayed with that journey because I met some men and women who really changed my life because of the leadership role models they represent it, despite the hardships. In fact, I think the hardships bring out the strongest leaders, you know, when things are tough.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, develops that level of resilience as well, doesn't it?

    Major General Robert Mixon: Yeah, you know, people who could learn from mistakes, who could underwrite others, who could develop trust and bring it to life. And so I found myself, you know, as a career officer, even though I'd never planned to be, and I was privileged to spend 33 years in uniform and command soldiers, you know, up to a division installation level, which was a wonderful privilege. And then as I realized, you know, it was time for me to open the next chapter. I went into the corporate career in the middle of the depression of 2008/2009, which was another tough learning experience. But again, you know, I was able to learn from others and grow and come out of that and then realized my dream, which was to have my own company, Level Five Associates and help other companies and organizations and leaders. Perhaps not make the same mistakes that I had made. And so that's been my calling now for the last seven years.

    Steve Rush: Awesome. During your time in the military, you mentioned that there was this time where from the seventies to the mid-eighties, then there was a real shift. What role did the incumbent leadership, if you like in the military play in making that shift happen or was that more of a bottom up change?

    Major General Robert Mixon: I think it was a two-edged sword Steve, and I say that because there were senior leaders who had to underwrite some of the fundamental changes in our culture. And I think basically in the military, you know, we had a very deeply entrenched culture of compliance, you know, in that mid-seventies timeframe, you know, do what you're told. We're not going to talk about why, you know, we want you to comply. Then with the senior leadership, and I think the junior leadership sort of coming together in a common view of what we should be, we began to develop a culture of commitment where people did what was right, because they wanted to do what was right. And they believed in the leaders that they were with and who they were working for. And that takes years to do, this is not something that happens in a month or, you know, six months, it takes years to do it. But with the senior support and the junior commitment, a level of energy, we were able to move our culture from compliance to commitment. And that was a very significant change in our army.

    Steve Rush: And how would that manifest itself in today's military? Having evolved from compliance to commitment?

    Major General Robert Mixon: I think in today's military, as a father of two, in fact, three soldiers. Now one who's on the career path, I have seen that the military culture of commitment is very strong and it's in fact more dependent now on the junior leader level of commitment because the senior leaders now were the ones who were in the transformative junior ranks in the eighties and nineties. And now they're the senior leader. So it's an even stronger movement, I think now towards the importance of why, the importance of commitment, you know, the importance of being an all-in, shameless book promotion.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, we're going to get into that in the moment actually, because I love the whole philosophy of we're all in, but there is definitely something there isn't there about, if you fundamentally want to shift a culture, you do have to throw your entire self into this, don't you?

    Major General Robert Mixon: We do, and it has to be from the top down, I think, and the bottom up, it's got to be a two way street where we are all in, because we believe in who we are and what we represent. And we're going to walk the talk and if we're willing to do that, then you can have a level five culture as I call it, where people believe in who we are and what we represent and they bring it every day. They're going to give all they can give to the mission to each other. And there's an element of selflessness here that I think in the military, I learned early on. The mission first, but I think in other organizations, it's not so evident unless the leadership really embodies it and nurtures it among the other leaders in the organization so that it has an enduring quality, you know, culture is never static. It either gets better, it gets worse. And so the culture of commitment is one where you live it every day and then tomorrow we're going to live it again and we're going to keep living it because we know what right looks like. And it's going to be our legacy that we grow leaders who are better leaders than we were at their stage of life. And I think that's a real a real opportunity for us as leaders to do that.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it's also a gift, isn't it?

    Major General Robert Mixon: It's a gift.

    Steve Rush: In so much as that when you're sharing and partying, encouraging other leaders to be greater leaders, then you're not only sharing your experiences, but you're also guarding their future.

    Major General Robert Mixon: Yeah, I think so. It's really what I've seen in the companies I've been able to work with in my level five part of the journey now is that many companies and organizations don't have the persistence at the senior leadership to sustain a world-class culture. And it's important that we reinforce each other because this is hard work. Its adult work, one of my leaders used to say. The concept of creating an ecosystem where people want to belong too, takes a lot of effort. And there are sometimes, you know, you get tired. You say, well, shoot, this is too hard. Let me default back to being directive and we'll be compliant. And we'll just, you know, to quote the sort of famous guy, Larry, the cable guy, you know, we'll just get her done, right? And that defaulting back to the directive leadership framework, it causes the culture to erode and the culture can erode very quickly when that happens.

    Steve Rush: Definitely, so. Now from your corporate career, having left the military and had some senior leadership roles, what was the pivotal moment for you when you thought, right? This is more about me coaching, sharing, and teaching others to come on this journey. What was the moment that made you look to grow your own organization?

    Major General Robert Mixon: I know it's been so many years of my life working for someone that I had a lot of opportunity to learn from many wonderful people, you know, including General Colin Powell, who's one of the finest leaders I've ever known. And, we all, I think, are deeply saddened by his loss here recently.

    Steve Rush: That’s right, yeah.

    Major General Robert Mixon: But, you know, I had had the privilege of working with extraordinary men and women who helped shape me as a person and a leader. And I wanted to give back, you know, as I look towards the next chapter in my life, I said, well, where could I make a difference? Where can I give back? And I think the defining moment for me was, you know, once you've had privilege of leading executive level, a number of different organizations, you can take one to two routes in my thinking here. One is, you can sort of, you know, quietly fade away and, you know, turn the mantle over to others and wish them well. And I know a lot of people who do that, and it's a very graceful transition to do that, but I'm wrapped too tightly. And as a result, I couldn't do that easily. I wanted to still be engaged and involved in growing people in organizations. And that's why I went to the level five route, and why I come to work every day looking forward to the opportunity to help other senior leaders grow leaders.

    Steve Rush: Excellent, I love it. And the fact that you're still doing that today, and this is part of that education and evolution, isn't it? Being on the show, I guess.

    Major General Robert Mixon: Yeah, that’s great. Thanks Steve.

    Steve Rush: And one of the things that I love about your work is that your writing is really quite innovative. And I love the first book that you co-authored, Cows in The Living Room, and I'm quite a visual. So I have this picture of this huge cow sat in my living room right now. And this is about developing effective strategic plans and sustaining them, tell us a little bit about the concept of where's the Cow in The Living Room Come from?

    Major General Robert Mixon: Well, you know Steve, we had it, when we wrote the book, we were going to title it, developing effective strategies, sustaining them. And then we shared that idea with our families, you know, spouses, and we got some immediate feedback and the feedback wasn't very good. The feedback was, you got to be kidding me. You know, who's going to read that book, even mom's not going to read that book. And I said, okay, well, what else could we do? And as a result, they gave us great insight about a story about cows in living room. And essentially the story is that there was once a young farmer who wanted to find a wife. So he went to a nearby village and successfully courted a woman, married her and brought her to living home on the farm. As they began their new life together, raising dairy cows and winter began. One day, the wife came in and found that all the cows were the living room.

    Astonished, she asked why? Her husband replied, well its winter and the barn has no heat. Since we depend on these cows for our living, they need to be inside. Slowly, very slowly, she became more and more accustomed to having the cows indoors. Then after a few months, a neighbor from her village came over to see how she was doing. When she came in the living room, she was shocked to find the dairy cows there calming standing around. What are you doing with council living room she blurted out? To which the wife replied, which cows? And the story here is that most of us have cows in our living room as leaders of organizations, companies, and organizations of all types. And we become used to the cows and we don't see them anymore. So if you don't effectively address your strategic planning process, then basically you're just tolerating the cow’s living room. You're not doing anything to heat the bar. And that's really where we got the idea for the title. It wasn't an original thought. In fact, I don't think I've ever had original thought, but in any case, you know, it was catchy and a lot of people have asked about it, and hopefully they liked the book too.

    Steve Rush: It's a great metaphor, isn't it? Because particularly whether you're visual or auditory, actually in telling the story, it gets people to recognize that we're all creatures of habit actually, and it's dead easy to get used to our environment. And that's when we get comfortable. And when we get too much in control, that's probably when we don't focus on what we need to focus on.

    Major General Robert Mixon: Well, you know, Steve, 50%, I think of the fortune 500 companies of 30 or 40 years ago no longer exist. And that's because many of them were absorbed in other companies, but also they became complacent and their business model faded and their competition, you know, ate them for breakfast, if you will, because they were more innovative and more driven not to allow their cows in the living room to stay there.

    Steve Rush: And then your second book, which is not a shameless plug in any way, it's a real, it's an honor to plug it in your behalf.

    Major General Robert Mixon: Thank you.

    Steve Rush: We're All In is very much around that connect cultural habits and sustaining in the future. And I just wondered from your perspective, have you ever been party to, or observed an organization successfully lead a culture where they're not all in?

    Major General Robert Mixon: I have not. I say that because I don't think organizations are truly successful unless they have a world-class culture. They can be successful in a temporal way. They can make a profit for a period of time by just directing the activities or micromanaging the processes, but there's a tipping point. The most successful companies don't allow that directive culture to dominate their way of life. They insist on engaging in involving all the members of the team in the future of the organization. And so I don't know if I addressed the question directly, Steve, but I do believe it takes both heart and mind to create a world-class company, a world-class organization.

    Steve Rush: Totally buy it.

    Major General Robert Mixon: And those that I have seen and been part of have had both. Now there are ebbs and flows, but I think that the development of your ecosystem, your culture to a level of where people feel as though they're engaged and they're part of it, they belong. That's where a greatness, the opportunity for greatness resides.

    Steve Rush: Absolutely, and as part of that developing culture, you pull together what you call your big six leadership principles to develop that culture. And I just thought it'd be great for our listeners to maybe spin through them with you.

    Major General Robert Mixon: Oh, great. Yeah the six principles again, I learned from basically screwed them up, you know, I have scar tissue from not following these principles. So, now I really believe that we can do better, you know, if we're willing to pay attention and commit to the journey and follow the principles. The first one is set the esbit. A lot of people don't know what an azimuth is. I took it from my military career, but basically the azimuth is the Cardinal direction of your organization. What's your mission? You know, who are we? What do we do? Why do we do it? What's our intent? And then I like intent more than vision because I think vision's kind of fuzzy. Intent is, based on that mission. What's our end state in three to five years? What does success look like?

    Then what are the key tasks we have to perform to reach that end state? And then what's our purpose? What's the why? And why are we doing all this? So you have mission and the intent, then you have your values. What do we believe in? And I think you have to define those values as a team because everybody doesn't understand what they are. And then fourth, what is our culture? What are the behaviors that we are going to demonstrate and expect from all of us to bring these values to life? So, setting the esbit is the first of the big six. The second one is listen. And as my mom said, God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Major General Robert Mixon: But I rarely followed that teaching from my mother. My mom's awesome, but I wasn't a good listener and we don't teach leaders to listen very well, you know, Stephen Covey talks about, are you listening with the intent to understand? Or are you listening with the intent to reply? I would say 90% of the leaders that I've met are in the latter category. We don't really listen with the intent to understand because we don't know how, and as a result we don't demonstrate to others the kind of behavior that really represents listing leadership. And so in the workshops that I do, we we've focus a lot on practical tools for your toolbox to bring these principles to life. The third is trusted in power, you know, empowerment is the manifestation of trust, but trust I think is one of the critical factors in creating this culture where we're all in and you've got to commit to it, and you've got to be willing to do things like underwrites of mistakes or empower others.

    When the tendency, the powerful tendency is to go do it yourself. That's a learned skill, and I think the best leaders are those who can trust and empower very effectively. The fourth principle is do the right thing when no one's looking. And as we said, depending on this brief swell, but it is not easy. It's not simple and it's not easy. It takes a real commitment on the part of the leadership top to bottom that we're going to do the right thing. And whether someone's looking or not. Unfortunately, there are a lot of circumstances in instances over the past several decades, people, and most recent times when leaders in companies have not done the right thing and there've been disastrous results. The fifth principle is when in charge take charge. And that doesn't mean you have to be loud, profane, abusive. That's not what we're talking about. What we're talking about here is when you're in charge of being the calm in the chaos of having the tactical patients to understand that the first report is usually wrong. To develop others as part of that, being in charge, have that presence. And then the six principles balance the personal and professional, which is not about time. Most people think that balance is about time, a time at work, time home, not really, that's not the case. And I think balance is a battery of energy. Balancing the four battery levels we have all of inside us. The physical, the mental, the spiritual, the emotional, and there are tools. There are ways you can do that in yourself and in others to create that sense of balance, which it's a way of being healthy in a framework here, healthy personally and professionally, and really creates the opportunity for people to, as we used to say in the army, be all, they can be.

    Steve Rush: I love the six principles. They naturally feed each other as well. But the final one ironically feeds through them all and is always consistent, is that balance because without it, you end up either being overworked or stressed or not having the right levels of energy to perform sustainably for the future. And that for me is the one that kind of has the big core all the way through them. So I love the princess.

    Major General Robert Mixon: Well, thanks Steve. They all are interconnected. In fact when I conduct presentations workshops, I use a gears as the six principles that they're all interconnected, you know, and the whole mechanism of the culture turns as those gears work together with the centerpiece having the right values

    Steve Rush: And what you've described for most people listening to this would perhaps make loads of sense and be quite academically sensible, but it takes work, doesn't it? It takes real practice and lots of habit forming to make sure that this is part of everybody's routine. How might I start that journey?

    Major General Robert Mixon: Usually I will go in with the senior leadership and we'll talk about you know, whether they have specific goals in line for a certain, you know, a certain element of the team or whether they want to take the whole organization and move the needle. And most of them want to do the senior leaders upfront, then cascade the big six throughout the organization, as the mechanism to grow their culture to that level five, and I'll be upfront here. I think it takes a couple of years to do this. You know, you can't have it in 30 days. Most of us want everything in 30 days, but you can't have it. You're going to have to develop your culture in a deliberate way. And I use a series of workshops, a small group interaction, and one-on-one executive coaching with senior executives and high potential leaders to help get all these gears in place and move them forward. And specifically we use a strategic planning process to set that three to five-year goal that we want to move the organization toward. So there's an interrelated set of tools that we bring to a team or organization to help them succeed in this journey.

    Steve Rush: And I suspect the reason it takes some time is that of all of those six cogs moving at different times, we've all probably got some of them moving at different speeds and cadences than the others, right?

    Major General Robert Mixon: Yes, we do.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Major General Robert Mixon: And typically, Steve, but saying yes upfront on, some people will push back a little bit say, well, I don't have time to the esbit. Well, I don't think you have time not to set the azimuth. So we've got to get through that part and, you know, establish our mission and values culture. Then I think the next hard part of the process here is developing listening leaders who really do listen to the intent to understand.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Major General Robert Mixon: And we bring some practical tools for them to help do this. One of my favorites that I'll share with you, Steve is the back brief.

    Steve Rush: Tell us how that works? Yeah.

    Major General Robert Mixon: There's and old saying about, I don't know what I told you, until you tell me what you heard. Quite oftentimes, I have made this mistake. I get a group of soldiers together, or team members in my corporate life together and say, all right, here's what we've got to get done. But you know, everybody should know what you have to do to make that happen. All right, everybody got it? And they all say, oh yeah, we got it. And they head out and do something completely different. Well, usually you find out that they did something completely different because they didn't hear what you thought you said. And the back brief is a way where they back brief you on what they think they heard before you go out and try and accomplish great things. I think that's a way of confirming that what was said was heard and that's where communication lives, sharing information, email, texts, that's not communication, that's just sharing information. You don't get confirmation what they read was what they thought you wrote. Same with what you said and heard. So I really liked the back brief or confirmation brief as a tool for your toolbox that gives people more clarity across the team as to what are we doing and why are we doing it.

    Steve Rush: And saves huge amounts of time, retrospectively having to undo stuff that people have set off in the wrong trajectory.

    Major General Robert Mixon: Yeah. You know, manufacturing companies, I hear that saying over and over, we didn't have time to do it right the first time, but we always have time to go back and do it again.

    Steve Rush: That's true, very true indeed, yeah. So, given your experience of diverse leadership and teams, what can we really learn from the last couple of years, having gone through quite a lot of crisis, and that would be varied for different people in different organizations that will really help us be more all in.

    Major General Robert Mixon: I think what the change in our world over the last couple of years has taught us is that we need to have strong fundamentals in order to endure and succeed in crisis. You know, many leaders that I've worked with have come back to me and said, Robert, we went back to the big six when things really got off the rails. We said, okay, wait a minute, let's have a tactical balls here. Let's go back to the big six and let's check our esbit as our esbit intact. Do we have people in the right seat, in the right bus, as Jim Collins said, good, good to great, you know, let's revert back to those big six principles and reaffirm them across our team and organization. And those that did said they were absolutely game-changing and enabling them to keep their team intact, to work through the anxieties and the stress to build bore inclusivity in their teams, despite the fact that they were in many cases in a hybrid world that was all virtual than it went to somewhat virtual.

    And now, some people are back to being in person, but I don't think we'll ever go back to the way it was in terms of the overall environment. We're going to have to lead through change. We cannot prevent the changes from occurring. You know, our world has changed and it is what it is. It's up to us to effectively adapt to it. And I wrote an eBook here about a year or so ago called Who Saw This Coming? Now, What Do We Do? And you can get it on, on my website, but there I talked about what the crisis was doing to us and how the big six could be our bedrock, our touchstone to get us through it and grow and learn beyond it.

    Steve Rush: And I guess the esbit for every organization will be different now than it was two years ago, because lots of things that are impacting on all of that purpose behaviors, culture, values.

    Major General Robert Mixon: You have to check you’re esbit on a regular basis and you have to be willing to adapt it. You know, it's I was guilty as a young officer. You know, if I wrote a plan, then we were going to execute the plan. And if the truth changed, so, you know, I'm still not changing the plan. That kind of stubbornness was not healthy. My organizations did perform well when I stuck to the plan and I didn't adapt the plan to the reality that the enemy was out there and had a vote and the environment was changing and had a vote. And the characteristics of my team were changing and had a vote. And I had to be able to adapt to that framework. I was kind of stubborn, I was good at that.

    Steve Rush: Great lessons. So I get the honor now to hack into your leadership mind, having had all of these leadership experiences and many, many different environments that you've gathered insights and experience from, I'm going to try and get you to get them down to your top three. So what would be your top three leadership hacks? Robert.

    Major General Robert Mixon: I would say the first would be willing to listen to the ideas of others, try and dispense with your preconceived notions and do a lot more listening than talking. That would be my first one. And it's very difficult to do when you grow up in a world where the leader is expected to be transmitting all the time and not receiving. And I think the opposite is actually true. My second one is develop a perspective where you can have others take more ownership of the decision making. The idea here, trust and. I really had to learn to delegate, but I saw a huge return on investment when I delegated to others. One of the tools I use is called a decision tree. I write out the decisions that I must make in my position, and I tell my leadership team, then you've got the rest of them.

    So don't come in here and ask me to make decisions that are yours to make. I may challenge you on some of the decisions you make, but you made them. And my job is to help educate you and support you so that you have the tools at your toolbox to make good decisions. So delegation would be my second hack and the first two I've talked about were not easy for me. So I'm not saying this is something you get, you know, in a week or two. I've learned over my journey about them. And the third one I'd say is that, you know, caring leadership has huge second and third order effects in our organization. There's an old saying about, I don't care how much you know, until I know how much you care and that, you know, empathetic leadership is not necessarily sympathetic. There's a big difference between empathy and sympathy.

    Steve Rush: Huge, yeah.

    Major General Robert Mixon: And I talk about that in the work I do with teams on emotional intelligence, it really was important for me to develop an appreciation for the value of caring leadership. So those would be my top three leadership hacks Steve.

    Steve Rush: Great lessons. Thank you for sharing them. Next part of the show we call Hack to Attack. So this is where something in your life or work hasn't worked out as you'd planned, but as a result of the experience, you've now learned from it, and it's now force of good for you. So what would be your Hack to Attack?

    Major General Robert Mixon: I would say that my Hack to Attack is that I really was not a patient leader for many parts of my life. And I made a lot of mistakes because I acted too much on impulse and instinct, and I didn't do enough of making an assessment of what decision would be the best for the organization at this point in time. Or in my lack of patience I think I sometimes failed to be as vulnerable as I should have been. You know, people need to know when you make a mistake and you need to step up and say that, admit it. It's not weakness. You know, vulnerability is not weakness. Vulnerability is being authentic. And that's what’s the essence of Level Five Leadership is. It's being authentic.

    Steve Rush: Very powerful stuff. So the last thing we do today is give you a chance to do some time travel. So you get to go and bump into Robert at 21 and you get to toe to toe, give him some advice. What do you reckon it might be?

    Major General Robert Mixon: Ooh, oh boy. Talk about a challenge Steve. This is really awesome here. Robert at 21 was a very driven young man. I don't know where necessarily I got it from, but you know, I was wrapped pretty tightly and I think what advice I would give myself at age 21 is think before you act. Use that, you know, two second pause or ten second pause to say, hey, before I jump off of my tank and go running off into the woods here. Do I really need to get off the tank right now? Or do we all need to, you know, as everybody needs to just be moving, is all forward movement progress, no it's not. All forward moves is not progress. And I'd say, Robert, you got to, you know, mentally slow down sometimes and take a step back and say, okay, what are we doing? What's our esbit here? You know, what's our mission, what's our intent? Don't just, you know, everything has to be in motion all the time, and it's hard. It'd be hard for Robert at 21 to take that because he was a guy in motion and he felt like leadership was, you know, motion, direction, guidance. You know, I was in that seventies culture of being directive. And I thought that's what right looked like because that's what many of my leaders demonstrate it.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Major General Robert Mixon: So that's the advice I would give me, hopefully I would listen.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it's a really interesting one, isn't it? Because time and culture play out so differently based on historic events and you look at how the military has evolved. It has probably been the biggest evolution in the last 25 years that the military have ever had up until that point. It was pretty much kind of command and control, wasn’t it?

    Major General Robert Mixon: Well, yeah, the command and control discussion is interesting. Steve, because control is the allocation of resources and time and space. And many of us believe that that's what leadership is. It's really not. That's sort of bandaging in my view. Command is presence. It's establishing an environment where people can be effective because they trust you and they believe in each other. Sometimes you have to have some control. I'm not downplaying that, but you've got to figure out where the balance is to go back to the big six of command and control. And I would say the more command and less control the better, but sometimes you've got to work very hard to get to that level of commanding and control.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I have this mantra, which is, only control, only the things that you can control and everybody else has got their own.

    Major General Robert Mixon: That's good advice. That's very good advice Steve.

    Steve Rush: So Robert, how can we make sure our listeners can hook into the work that you do, maybe get a copy of the books, find out a little bit more about Level five associates.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, great. Our website is you know, HTTPS www.levelfiveassociatess spell out the five levelfiveassociates.com. I certainly invite any of our listeners to you know, come to the site and you'll learn more about me and the work that we do. And you can contact me by, through website or my email address is robert@levelfiveassociates.com. And you know, we'll circle back with you. If I don't circle back with you, you know, something seriously wrong with me,

    Steve Rush: We'll make sure that we put some of those links in our show notes as well, Robert.

    Major General Robert Mixon: Oh, thanks, Steve. It was wonderful speaking with you.

    Steve Rush: And it's been a real honor having you on the show Robert. I love that the six principles, I think there are really great philosophy for leading teams and culture. So we'll do our best to help share this message with our global audience.

    Major General Robert Mixon: Well, thanks, Steven. I wish you continued success with The Leadership Hacker program and the good work you've been doing.

    Steve Rush: Thanks very much Robert.

    Major General Robert Mixon: All right, take care.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there: @leadershiphacker, Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

  • Raj De Datta is a serial entrepreneur, he's the co-founder and CEO of the global software platform, Bloomreach. He's also the author of the book, The Digital Seeker. This show is pumped full of hacks and insights including:

    What is the seeker and why we need to focus on them?Why we would want to swap customers for seekers.How to harness Raj’s “Three A’s” to unlock creativity.What the long-term effects will be via digital experiences in the future.

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Raj below:

    Raj on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rdedatta/

    Raj on Twitter: https://twitter.com/rdedatta

    Bloomreach Website: https://www.bloomreach.com/

    Full Transcript Below:


    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    Raj De Datta is a special guest on today's show. He's a serial entrepreneur, he's the co-founder and CEO of Bloomreach, which is a leading software platform. He's now an author of the book, The Digital Seeker, which is a guide for digital teams to build winning experiences. But before we get a chance to speak to Raj, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: Have you ever tried to change anyone's behavior at work? It can be extremely frustrating. So often with great intention, it provides the opposite results ending in poor relationships, poor performance, and often causes the person to dig their heels in. Still some approaches clearly work better than others. In a study completed by the Harvard Business Review, a data sample of almost 3000 direct reports of almost 600 leaders focused on manager’s 49 sets of behaviors and assessed the leaders under, effectiveness at leading change specifically the manager's ability to influence others and move in the direction the organization wanted to go to. They then analyzed those at the highest and the lowest ratings on their ability to lead change. Then compared with the other sets of behaviors, they found that some behaviors were less helpful in changing others. And also that two had little or no impact, therefore providing useful guidance on what not to do.

    Being nice: I'm sorry, but being nice suggests that you may finish last in the game of change. It might be nice and easy, if all it took to bring about change was to have a nice, warm, positive relationship with others. Unfortunately, this research suggests that that's just not the case, and by giving others incessant requests, suggestions, and advice. I refer to this as “nagging” to be quite honest. Now, for most recipients, this is highly annoying and only serves to irritate them rather than change them, but is also often the change that most project managers adopt in the first instance and continue to do so despite their lack of success.

    But there were some indicators and some behaviors that did correlate with exceptional ability to drive change, and here are the top four. Unsurprisingly at the top of the list: Inspiring others, and there are two common approaches that most of us default to when we try and motivate to change others' behavior. Broadly, we could label them as push and pull. Some people intuitively push others, forcefully telling them what they need to change. Providing frequent reminders that sometimes following steps and stages with a warning about consequences, if they don't. But we noted earlier that push doesn't often work, if it's certainly not executed well, the alternative approach of course is pull and we can employ variety of ways, and these include working with the individual to set aspirational goals, exploring alternative avenues, to reach an objective, seeking out ideas, methods, design thinking, creativity. And of course this approach works best when you begin to identify with the other person and what they want to achieve and making the link between the goals and the change that they need to see happen.

    Providing that clear goal sits at the top of the list too. If I was a farmer attempting to plow a straight furrow, I need to select a point in the distance and then constantly aim in that direction. Change initiatives work best when everyone's site is fixed on the same goal, therefore the most productive discussions around any change being proposed, start with that end in mind. And it serves that strategy well. Challenging standard approaches, successful change often requires leaders to challenges, status quo or the standard approaches and find alternative ways of working. Leaders who excel at driving change will challenge even the rules that seem to be carved in some. And what seems academic simple to say, courage is next on the list. And it is academically simple to say, but behaviorally it takes a lot of practice. Aristotle said you'll never do anything in this world without courage. It's the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.

    Indeed, every initiative that you begin as a leader stats with that first courageous act, be that a new hire, a change in process, a new product that you decide to pursue, any changes to your team or your organization. Every speech, all of these require courage. The need for courage covers many realms. We sometimes hear people say, oh, not comfortable doing that. Well, my observation is this, great leaders get comfortable being uncomfortable, especially when they change efforts, demand the willingness to live in discomfort for longer than usual. So for those of you that are regular listeners to this podcast, you'll know that I'm a many models kind of guy. I don't believe in following one set of principles or one set of rules. But what I do know is whichever model, whichever book you read, you'll find these traits of behaviors around leading change and leadership in pretty much most of them. That's been The Leadership Hacker News. Please get in touch with us, if you have anything you want to promote through the stories that we share on the show.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Special guest on today's show is Raj De Datta. He's the co-founder and CEO of Bloomreach. Bloomreach is a leading software platform that powers over $200 billion of digital commerce experiences. And that represents over 25% of retail ecommerce in the U.S. and the UK. Raj is a multiple time entrepreneur and now written in a book The Digital Seeker. A guide for digital teams to build winning experiences. Raj, welcome to the show.

    Raj De Datta: It's great to be with you here, Steve.

    Steve Rush: So tell us a little bit about your story and how you ended up with Bloomreach.

    Raj De Datta: Yeah, for sure. You know, I grew up actually in the Philippines and back and forth between the Philippines and India for most of my life and came to the U.S. when I was 17 and went to college and then, you know, spent a number of years in Europe building my first entrepreneurial venture starting at the age of 21. Came back to the U.S. for business school, and then moved out west in 2003 to California and had been doing kind of startups and growth stage ventures really ever since. And somewhere around 2009 was when kind of the initial idea for Bloomreach came about and we were off and running.

    Steve Rush: Awesome. So at 21, you set up your first business. Tell us a little bit about that experience?

    Raj De Datta: You know, it was a crazy story. I had finished university. I had gone and worked on Wall Street for about a year and a half or so. And I was intending to go back to business school, had accepted admission to do so. And then my boss's, boss said, hey, you know, you've got a summer in between, you know, finishing up with us and going back to school, do you want to help us sort of with a business that we're getting off the ground, that it involves building high speed internet in Europe. And I said, great. That sounds like a fun way of spending a summer, I'll do them. And as I got into it, I got so passionate about working with him. And another colleague that the three of us just decided to start that business together. You know, they had families in New York. So I picked up, I had never been to Europe before, but I picked up, got on the flight and first went to Paris and then London and decided, you know, I didn't really want to go back to school at that point. I was just too passionate about the business we were looking to start and was off and running. And so it was definitely an adventure, learned a ton in that first entrepreneurial venture, but very much career shaping.

    Steve Rush: And did you notice that it was an entrepreneurial adventure that you were on at that time? Or was it just one of those things that you look back on and think, oh yeah.

    Raj De Datta: You know, I think at the time I just thought it was a ton of fun. You know, the adrenaline was definitely pumping, you know, it was it was just a crazy period of time as well, you know, perhaps dating myself, but it was, you know, in the late nine, 1990s and there was a bit of an internet bubble and telecom bubble going on. And so it was just a crazy time and I didn't really know any better either. I just found, you know, I was doing every job. I was a product manager, I was a developer, I was negotiating financing, I was raising money, I was dealing with regulatory stuff. It was just a ton of fun and much more fun than, you know, kind of the previous work experience I had both on Wall Street. And I had also been an electrical engineer. I felt like it was a very fulsome experience. That was challenging day and night. I worked 24/7, but I just loved it.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, and it's often those early career opportunities, where you have to put on all of the various hats that you sometimes later rely on in a more mature entrepreneurial life, right?

    Raj De Datta: I think so. I mean, you know, I have a blog post out on LinkedIn that talks about why I believe early career people should either start or join, you know, relatively small startups and the logic is that provided you can afford it. The learning curve, you know, for every year that you spend at one of those places is equal to seven years that you might spend at, you know, a big company. And therefore you learn very quickly whether you love it or whether you don't. And, I had a lot of friends and colleagues that I worked with in that adventure who later on went back to more traditional jobs because they just found it wasn't for them.

    Steve Rush: Right, yeah.

    Raj De Datta: And, you know, and I took the opposite course, but either way, we both found out very quickly, much earlier in life than most.

    Steve Rush: Now Bloomreach has been a massive success and it continues to grow. And when you start to think of the fact that you power a quarter of retail ecommerce across the U.S. and the UK, that is an enormous scale, where are you going next?

    Raj De Datta: Well, you know, I think there's a long run way, you know, if we look at the eCommerce market as a whole, you know, it's about a $5 trillion market and it's been growing consistently at 15% year over year. We're still in a world, believe it or not, where about 18% of retail sales happen on digital channels. So it's still really early in that adventure. So first and foremost, we're going to just ride the wave and ride the growth of e-commerce to make that happen. But it's really our belief that, you know, kind of the first 20 years of e-commerce. E-commerce is about a 20 year old industry at this point. And the first 20 years of really been about what I call standing up the store, simply being able to transact online in the same way as you could transact at a physical store, but really the next 20 years are about standing out from the crowd because now digital has become a very competitive place. Amazon is one click away, and so the question is what are you as a brand going to do to distinguish yourself so that your shoppers and your customers stay with you and come to you and prefer you? And that's what Bloomreach is focused on doing, is all the many ways we can enable those brands to compete online for scarce attention.

    Steve Rush: Time passes really quick, but when you reflect back 20 years for a whole industry to be creative, it's no time at all really, is it?

    Raj De Datta: Indeed, you know, I mean, if we think about how old retail is as an industry, well, it's actually dates back to the beginning of civilization, right? People were trading something probably, you know, the first people on earth were trading something with each other. So relative to that, e-commerce is a very young industry in many ways. And indeed, you know, like most technology trends, the level of acceleration of adoption gets faster and faster just as, you know, iPhones were adopted faster than televisions. And you know certain social media platforms were adopted faster than iPhones. So everything just gets faster and quicker.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, is it fair to say that we're all digital teams these days?

    Raj De Datta: It is fair to say that, and if we're not, then we're definitely on the losing end of the digital battlefield. We're all digital teams. Digital is at the heart of really every enterprise that's out there, every business that's out there. And in fact, you know, I think one of the key differences I'm sure we'll talk about the book that I wrote, The Digital Seeker, and one of the key sort of research outcomes of that is that, you know, in the first age of digital adoption, people thought out of digital as their marketing channel, you sort of had a business and you said, oh, you know, I sell shoes. And now I create a website to sell those shoes the same way I sell the shoes in my store. So digital was a marketing vehicle for my business. And what's true in 2021 is that view of digital is it tends to be very narrow. Indeed, digital is at the heart of everything we do. And therefore at the heart of our teams.

    Steve Rush: Do you think there's still room for businesses that don't have a digital or an e-commerce representation these days?

    Raj De Datta: I think it is extraordinarily challenging, you know, I will never say never. There's always going to be, you know, the incredible restaurant that everybody knows with word of mouth that has the amazing chef that somebody's going to, you know, that people are going to line up outside to get a reservation at that perhaps doesn't need a digital presence because that's how well known they are. But we have to say at this point, that that's very much the exception rather than the rule. And certainly wouldn't be the way forward when we're building a business.

    Steve Rush: Right, Yeah. So you have the book, The Digital Seeker. So what is The Digital Seeker?

    Raj De Datta: Well, I think it starts with really trying to ask the question, why do the winners win and why do the losers lose? And it turns out that if you look across digital winners in category, after category, we're seeing a tremendous evolution in the nature of digital experiences. And I describe that evolution as the movement from the customer to the seeker. And so, you know, to make it very real, if we think about what's happened in our own lives digitally, you know, the internet was supposed to make our life easier. And indeed it has, there's a lot of things available online that we would otherwise have difficulty procuring, but really, you know, places like Amazon have trained us to do a lot more work as consumers. So, you know, we figure out what we're interested in buying. We ask our friends, we do the research and then we just show up on Amazon and buy it.

    That isn't the way it used to work. We used to, you know, go down to the trusted store and ask them and get some consultative advice and they would do a lot of the work. So Amazon has democratized commerce, but that doesn't mean it's made it easier for consumers. And in many ways, the to-do list of all of us digitally is very, very long. We sit in front of our mobile devices or computers and have a long list of things to do. So, you know, it's our view that the winners actually, aren't just going to make customers lives easier. They're going to go to the root of why somebody's buying the product in the first place and build the experience for that. And that's what I mean by saying, build for the seeker, not the customer, figure out what they're really seeking behind the purchase. If they're buying some plywood, they're clearly not seeking plywood. Maybe they're seeking the idea of building out a deck to entertain their friends. So maybe build the website, building the app for building out the deck.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Raj De Datta: Not selling plywood. And that really is the thrust of The Digital Seeker is that all of us have something deeper we're looking for.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Raj De Datta: Build for that.

    Steve Rush: It feels to me almost like you flipped content marketing on its head somewhat, because, you know, you are looking for a transaction and event knowing that actually that's part of a much bigger picture that you can then fulfill through that experience, right?

    Raj De Datta: That's right, exactly. And indeed content is a huge part of it, right? If I was building an eCommerce experience for building a deck, I would need to have videos and links to contractors and you know, maybe virtual reality or augmented reality to place the wood in my own surroundings. There's a lot of things I would build that would go beyond, here's some plywood, check out, here's the price, you know, transact.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Raj De Datta: And indeed it turns out that is a much richer experience. It's what consumers want, and it's also the source of competitive advantage if you're an entrepreneur, because if you just put some plywood, then the consumer just says, well, where's the cheapest plywood? I'm just going to buy there. But if you build this distinguished experience, there's a good chance that you'll drive a level of loyalty that you want otherwise.

    Steve Rush: So in your book, you call this out. I think you call it by saying, putting the seeker at the center and that's real philosophy of let's forget the transaction that's just occurred. What about the seeker? And what's happening in other parts of their life and work.

    Raj De Datta: That's right, you know, and very often we've heard for 20 years or more the idea of customer centricity and often what that means is, that's code for reduce the friction for people to buy from us. And that's fine, I mean, indeed I like it too. If I have to go through two clicks rather than five clicks in order to buy something online, but that misses the boat a little bit on all the other work I did before I made those clicks in the first click.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Raj De Datta: And that's very much what putting the secret at the center means. It turns out to be, you know, everything from what products I build, how I build those product, how I construct my teams, what work they do, how I do research about their intentions. And then certainly how I scope out and build out the experiences that they have with me as a brand.

    Steve Rush: So if I was an entrepreneur or a small business owner or a leader of an organization listening to this conversation, and I start thinking about the notion of switching out my focus from my customers to my seekers, how do I start that off?

    Raj De Datta: Well, you know, I believe it starts with a lot of whys. So, you know, what you're trying to do is, you're trying to discover your seeker first. So to use, you know, some examples from the book. There's an example of a business called Hotel Tonight and Hotel Tonight, you know, today owned by Airbnb, but was originally a business that was started because the idea was that, you know, you could go to Priceline and you could go to Expedia and you could book travel really easily. But so often there's a certain percentage of travel that are looking for serendipitous travel. They're literally looking for a hotel tonight, not rather than planning a vacation. So what the entrepreneur discovered was, yeah, you could go do that on Expedia or Priceline or any other one of these travel destinations, but it's not a great experience if that's my goal, because it doesn't give me all the experiences that I would look for in terms of serendipitous travel at that moment.

    And so what the entrepreneur did is ask a bunch of why questions, why is this person looking to travel? Oh, it turns out there's a certain percentage of travelers that are looking to plan vacations and others that are looking to just book them immediately. And then by asking the why question behind the, okay, why do they want to travel serendipitously? Much of that might be dating, much of that might be last minute business travel, whatever it might be. And then why are they looking to look for a hotel? Oh, well, they're looking for a hotel that has certain character. So by asking deeper and deeper questions, you can really get to the heart of the seeker's intention and build these unique experiences. And then when you end up scoping out Hotel tonight, you find, wow, it looks pretty different than Expedia and Priceline. And now it becomes a lot harder for Expedia and Priceline to compete with the Hotel Tonight experience.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Raj De Datta: Because it's built for something deeper. So it's all about asking the deeper and deeper questions behind why a customer is buying.

    Steve Rush: Completely different experiences, aren't they? Same proposition, same product, but different proposition, different experiences.

    Raj De Datta: Exactly.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Raj De Datta: And we can find leader after leader in industry, after industry who is asked these deeper question and built profoundly different experiences, which then enable them to compete long term much better than simply I've got the same thing for a lower price and a little bit more convenience.

    Steve Rush: So I'm intrigued to learn that when you have conversations with your clients and they already have a well-established set of products and solutions and services, how do you then start journey from, I know you want to sell this stuff, but let's take a step back and look at how do we evolve that seeker intention?

    Raj De Datta: Well, it's a great question. And you know, so many brands and our customers and others are a bit in a rat race, you know, they can be chasing next quarter’s earnings or market share, you know, for e-commerce. What we find is that, you know, the wake up calls typically come from their competitors because, you know, if they are not acting in this way, there is some entrepreneur in a garage somewhere, maybe a well-funded garage these days looking to build a digital proposition in exactly this way. So very often the wake up calls tend to come from external forces like that. And then you start to ask the question, well, look, if we don't alter our own thinking, then that doesn't change the market. The market is still going to adopt.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Raj De Datta: The better experience. And that tends to be the bit of the kick in the butt, you know, to rethink this.

    Steve Rush: So in your book, you have a model that you use around helping some of this creativity flow and you call it The Three A's Model. And I just wondered if you could spin through let's know how we might harness them.

    Raj De Datta: I think the observation is that, you know, this isn't just about sort of business thinking. This has a lot to do with technology. And indeed if you're a business that has aspirations to serve thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of customers, then you can't possibly construct a proposition manually for each of them that speaks to them, because you want that experience to be deeply personalized. And so that's where technology really comes in. And, you know, the three A's are really about the three technology forces that are changing how we understand our seekers and ultimately build experiences to win them over. And those three A's are, you know, first a collection of ambient devices. These days there's more sensors on a piece of clothing than there might be, you know, in an industrial plant.

    And so, you know, there's just a lot of ways our customers are speaking to us through mobile devices and sensory devices and ambient devices. And that's the first stage is listening to the ambience. The second this AI, which these days have been, you know, very much democratized and AI is there to make sense of all this data so that it can figure out well, you're the person who's interested in, you know, this type of apparel and somebody else might be interested in a different kind of apparel. And if I'm an apparel retailer, I should construct differentiated experience on that basis. The AI can help you figure that out. And then the third A is what we call APIs, which is a bit tech speak for all right. If I want to go build a hotel tonight experience or an Uber-like experience, I can't possibly build everything required to do so, but it turns out there are services across the internet powered by APIs that I can harness to build these unique experiences. So real the three A's are a bit of the technology trends that we can harness to make our life easier to build secret centric experiences.

    Steve Rush: And API's (application program interfaces) are absolutely everywhere across the digital landscape these days, which does allow more collaboration and more effective use of technology. How's that played out for your organization?

    Raj De Datta: Well, everything Bloomreach offers is a collection of API’s. So if we think about what Bloomreach offers, we're in the business of offering what we call a commerce experience cloud. And that means, you know, if you're an e-commerce business, what do you need to build your experiences? You need smart marketing, you need content storage, you need a great search engine. You need to personalize that experience. Well, every one of those is an API from Bloomreach. So you could just plug into it and get that service and power your experience and not have to build it all yourself. And that paradigm is very much true in every aspect of so much of digital building block building. Indeed, as you say, APIs are all across the web and they're really the Lego blocks that we can harness to build the skyscrapers we're envisioning for our businesses.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, love it. So how have you seen COVID 19 pandemic impact our digital lives, as seekers?

    Raj De Datta: You know, I think the pandemic, you know in the book, we talk about how it's accelerated the notion of digital and we know are not as the rate at which COVID 19 has spread, you know, through the world and it's been really fast. But the other acceleration has been the rate of digital adoption. In one year in 2020, a five year acceleration of e-commerce and digitally adoption all happen in the same year. So it's profoundly accelerated everything about digital, whether that be an urgency. We're seeing new shoppers come online that never were before, we're seeing people spend more money digitally than they never were before. We're seeing new categories like grocery and autos, you know, arrive online. So it's just been a tremendous accelerator for digital and it's really caused organizations of all sizes to put digital at the center and then ask how they win, which then raises the question of the seeker.

    Steve Rush: And how do you see organizations taking advantage of digital in terms of, not just their e-commerce experience, but their internal experiences?

    Raj De Datta: Yeah, I think internally we're seeing a profound, you know, kind of revolution in how people work to begin with, right? So we at Bloomreach have moved to a completely work from anywhere culture where, you know, we believe that for a technology business, the scarce asset is great talent and talent is found everywhere in the world. And so why should we be limited by where we have offices? And so that mindset, you know, I think has itself been a pretty profound shift in how we work and changes everything about the resources and the planning and the hiring and the collaboration and, you know, the culture and all the questions that we previously built around physical spaces now have to be built around digital spaces. So it's changed everything about the interaction between people. Actually I think it's going to create a tremendous productivity, boom, economically, you know, for the globe.

    Steve Rush: Hmm, yeah. I agree. I often see organizations who maybe 18 months ago might have been digitally aware are now really digitally enabled. And as a result of it, it's unlocking new ways of working and new learning along the way.

    Raj De Datta: Indeed, It's really been a shift pretty dramatically in how businesses work. Now, I think to be fair, we have to be careful about leaving behind the billions of people that do work, that isn't digital. And we've seen that through the pandemic as well. All the people that kept us alive, the teachers, the healthcare workers, the food delivery people, you know, and on and on who may not have been in digital work and we've found we need them more than ever. So it raises as many questions as it answers.

    Steve Rush: Coming back to mindset. I suspect a lot of that is mindset of, I'm not in a digital world, whereas many of those careers and manufacturers are in a digital world, but may not have experienced it or felt that they were part of a digital community at that time.

    Raj De Datta: That's right, yeah. That's certainly the case. And I think we can do a lot. We have the technology and the desire I think to make lives, you know, just as effective through digital for that group of workers in our economy, as we do for many white collar jobs.

    Steve Rush: You've been in the digital e-commerce community for a number of years. And I'm just curious to find out from an innovation perspective, how on earth can you keep tabs of future emerging trends when it's moving so fast?

    Raj De Datta: You know, it's incredibly challenging to do so. But I think the benefit of the place we sit is that because we work with 1100 of the world's largest brands in the world, the data flowing in is very rich. So I try to invest in my own education. I try to invest in conversations with people that might be outside the ring of where of interaction and just keep challenging myself. And I'm constantly amazed. And so it is a rich learning experience, but that's what keeps it fun.

    Steve Rush: It's also what unlocks your next journey because it's the unknown, unknowns where the future is, of course.

    Raj De Datta: Indeed. Yeah, it's certainly true.

    Steve Rush: So we're going to turn the tables a little now, hack into your leadership thinking and experiences, having led a number of different businesses over your career arch, and I'm keen to try and get them down to your top three leadership hacks tips or ideas, what would they be?

    Raj De Datta: Yeah, you know, I think the first one is, you know, if I were sort of advising a first time entrepreneur, it would start with believe in yourself or don't start the business in the first place. Because all you have really, as an entrepreneur is your own judgment and your own wit and your own work ethic. And so very often, you know, we have these dark moments as entrepreneurs and we struggle with how to deal with situations. And ultimately, you know, the answer is in our gut, and we may as well trust it because it's ultimately what's going to either make us succeed or fail. So, I believe in belief.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Raj De Datta: Let’s start there. You know, the second is to be deeply authentic in the business you start and the people you work with. You know, of course the leadership books about how and should do things, but the most important thing is to be true to yourself and express that in every other way, because authenticity is what we all value, whether it's a customer or whether it's an employee or anywhere else. And then the third is to constantly pay attention to culture and values and how rebuild the business as much as whether the business succeeds and lots to talk about in terms of how to achieve that. But those are the three things that come to mind for me.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I love those three. They're great hacks and culture sits at the heart of everything, doesn't it? And will shift.

    Raj De Datta: It certainly will. And, you know, I think that the fundamental mistake that most organizations make is that they think that culture is a static thing. And they think that it's really about what the culture is. And you know, lots of people spend lots of time in meeting rooms, defining the culture and to tell the story of Bloomreach, you know, I wrote the document around what our culture and values should represent before I started the business, you know, before I even knew what the proposition was.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Raj De Datta: But actually I think the most important thing we did is to make it real in the everyday lives of every team member. And that means treating it as an operational priority, the same way I would treat sales as an operational priority or product development or anything else. I would say, all right, I've got this culture now, what am I practically going to do every day, every week, every quarter to advance my goals of meeting the aspiration of that culture, because it almost it's never done. And it always is a work in progress.

    Steve Rush: And I love the way you operationalize it as well. Because many people that I coach and leaders I coach, we often have the conversation around culture being this non fiscal return, but actually there's a direct return on investment on culture, isn't there?

    Raj De Datta: There totally is, and a world in which so many businesses are reliant on high quality people, you know, a culture, you know, hiring the right people and putting them in the right culture is 80% of the game.

    Steve Rush: Absolutely. Next part of the show, Raj, we call it Hack to Attack. So typically this is where something in your work or your life hasn't worked out well at all. In fact it could have been quite catastrophic, but you've learned from it. And that learning experience now serves you well in your life or work. What would be your Hack to Attack?

    Raj De Datta: The story of Bloomreach, my own business has had lots of twists and turns in the road. And I would say several near death experiences. And, you know, if I think back to where the business was, I had started it in 2009. We were somewhere around 2015, 2016. The business had been successful early on, but was definitely falling apart. And therefore, you know, by 2015, 2016, 7 years in, it was on the verge of complete failure. The initial product was no longer working as effectively as it once did. And the newer efforts were very nascent. And in the meantime, we had hundreds of people in the business. So, you know, it required a fundamental shift in mindset, in thinking and just a dogged stubbornness to continue and press forward. And I remember the meeting I had with the team members in 2016, where I said, look, we're going to have to let go of some people and that's going to be really painful. And let's face facts. It's not working. And I'm here because I want to be a fixed point in the ground. And I believe we're going to build this into the business we all aspire it to be, but we have a lot of open questions and I'm not exactly sure how and that authenticity and the culture we had built kept the team together. And seven years later, it turned out to be a much larger business than the original one that we built.

    Steve Rush: It’s fantastic, takes a lot of nerve, but most importantly takes a lot of commitment to pivot away from something when it isn't working too.

    Raj De Datta: It does, you know, and that's the quality about entrepreneurship that I think is perhaps less talked about is, it's this really narrow Venn diagram between dreaminess and reality, you know, ability to see reality and truth, because without the dreams, there's no aspirations, there's no long term goals. And you know, you don't aim for the stars, but without the reality, you never get it on, you know, you never start to build a rocket.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, in fact, most entrepreneurs who fail aren't grounded in reality at the same time.

    Raj De Datta: That's right.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Raj De Datta: Exactly.

    Steve Rush: Awesome. Last part of the show, we get to give you a chance to do some time travel. Bump into Raj at 21, and you get to give them some advice. What would those words of wisdom be?

    Raj De Datta: Yeah, 21, you know, I think I would say I had, you know, all the optimism, all the drive to go do something big. And I think I would tell myself, you know, go after it. Fortunately I feel like I did go after it in many ways, but I might have said, you know, go after it even bigger, go after it, even earlier, go after it with even less regard to whether it will work out or not. The world is an incredible place and our time is scarce. And so I would just say, you know, get after it.

    Steve Rush: Love it. What sets you apart Raj, is the fact that even though you've been Uber successful and created some superb and successful businesses, you still have this ability to be restless and not satisfied that there is something else out there that keeps you going, where does that come from do you think?

    Raj De Datta: You know, I think it probably comes from my parents more than anything else. My father is a really world renown agricultural scientist and he was unrelenting in his pursuit of, you know, what he described as feeding the world. My mother was a very well regarded, you know, actress and dancer and a consistent learner. And after never having, you know, completed high school at the time when I was born, now has a PhD and did most of that later in life. We studied together in many ways. And so, you know, both my parents have that restlessness and I think it's a good word.

    Steve Rush: That's a great story. Thank you for sharing it. So how can we connect our listeners to you? Maybe help them get a copy of The Digital Seeker and understand a bit more about Bloomreach.

    Raj De Datta: Yeah, well Bloomreach. We can go, you know, you can go to bloomreach.com B-L-O-O-M-R-E-A-C-H and you'll learn all about how we really drive business growth for e-commerce. And on The Digital Seeker, you can find it in any bookstore. You can go to Amazon and search for The Digital Seeker. You can go to Barnes & Noble or any other bookstore and it's available online.

    Steve Rush: Brilliant, we'll put some links in your show notes as well, Raj so that people can finish listening and head on over.

    Raj De Datta: Thank you very much, Steve.

    Steve Rush: Raj, it's been great chatting. I'm delighting you to see Bloomreach, grow, and continue to grow. And I'm also delighted you shared your lessons through The Digital Seeker, and thanks for being part of our community here on The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

    Raj De Datta: Absolutely, Steve, it's been a pleasure.

    Steve Rush: Thanks Raj.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there: @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

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  • Celine Williams is the Founder and Chief Strategist at reVisionary. She is an entrepreneur, coach and keynote speaker on the subjects of innovation culture and change management. Celine also hosts two podcasts: @canadaspodcast and the Leading Through Crisis Podcast. In the great show you will learn about:

    What a culture engineer does and why its central to success in any organization.The things that could hold us back from developing a great culture.What a culture of innovation is, and how to I create it.How culture has changed though the pandemic.

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Celine below:

    Celine on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/celinewilliams/

    Celine on Twitter: https://twitter.com/reVisionary_ca

    Celine’s Website: http://revisionary.ca

    Celine on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/revisionary.ca

    Full Transcript Below:


    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    Celine Williams is a special guest on today's show. She's the founder of Revisionary. She's an executive coach, culture strategist and expert in leadership development, as well as being a public speaker. But before we get a chance to speak with Celine, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: While mulling over my weekend coffee, it came to me and I wondered if we could do some research to find out which of the organizations across the globe had the most loyal and dedicated staff, and which of those that didn't. Good employees are a valuable commodity for any business. Hiring training and cultivating top-notch workers takes an investment of time and money. So a loyal workforce is a big plus for employers. So how to companies with similar lines of businesses compare when it comes to typical employee tenure? Why do employees stick around at certain companies and then jumped ship at another, is it all about pay or is it about working conditions? Well, let's dig into a few.

    In the world of finance. We're going to compare two companies, AIG and Visa. We've all seen the movie Wall Street and finance is cutthroat and fast-paced industry to work in, but even though they've had their share of bad press over the years, AIG boasts superb employee tenure, almost three times, as long as visa. The average employee tenure at AIG is five years where it's 1.8 at Visa. And even though Visa employees report higher satisfaction rates and earn significantly more than their peers at AIG. Folk at AIG have less stress and are more satisfied. So let's have a look at the healthcare sector. Tenet Healthcare Corporation, and Universal Health Services are two of biggest healthcare companies in the U.S. Each employee is around 60,000 employees, but those that work at Tenet genuinely spend 4.6 years with the company while the typical UHS employee only clocks in at around 1.8 years, stress levels at each company appear similar, but Tenet employees can earn more and report higher job satisfaction.

    When we get to technology, the global powerhouses of Microsoft and Google battle out. The software developers and engineers at tech companies rely on are really in demand and always well compensated for their skills. And many of the jobs that are around in these organizations didn't exist a handful of years ago. So it's no surprise that the techies report short 10 years across both organizations. The average Microsoft employee sticks around for four years. A lifetime when you compare that to its archrival at Google, where the typical employee stays with the company for just 1.1 years, of course, Microsoft has been around since 1975, more than twice as long as Google. So they've had time to develop more long-term employees and develop a more refined attraction strategy. And when you look at the manufacturing sector, some really interesting stats come out, Eastman Kodak, boasts the most loyal employees on our list.

    The typical worker spending 20 years on a job, given the bad press that came with Kodak's massive drop in profits and revenue, those that stuck around continue to stick around, compare that to the folks that build trucks at PACCAR Corporation, where the median employee tender is only one year, even though employees seem to earn significantly more money and report lower stress levels. And so the leadership hack here is, it's not about salary, it's not about stress, it's about your whole environment. And therefore the better the environment is, the more likely your employees will stick around and contribute to significant and better outcomes for you and your organization. That's been The Leadership Hacker News. We'd love to hear whatever it is that's on your mind. So please get in touch with us in your usual ways, by our social media channels.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Joining me on the show today is Celine Williams. She's a founder and chief strategist at reVisionary. She is an entrepreneur, coach and keynote speaker on the subjects of innovation culture and change management. And she also helps two podcasts, Canada's podcast and the Leading Through Crisis Podcast. Welcome to the other side of the mic Celine.

    Celine Williams: Thank you so much. I'm excited to be here Steve.

    Steve Rush: I'm super excited to have you on the show. I particularly love having other podcasters come and share their stories because you'll know as I, we have the beautiful gift of speaking to so many people, it just gives us more context and more stories to share. So I'm looking forward to getting into it.

    Celine Williams: Absolutely.

    Steve Rush: Tell us a little bit about you and how you ended up doing what you're doing?

    Celine Williams: So, I always say it was a long and winding road to get to what I'm doing now. I did not follow any sort of linear path, and I think it's important to acknowledge that because there are people who have a very linear path and there are those of us who don't and both are equally as valid and important and interesting as far as I'm concerned. So both of my parents were immigrants and entrepreneurs. And so I grew up with parents who ran their own businesses, very different businesses but neither of them ever worked for someone else. And so when I was very young, that was kind of part and parcel. I didn't necessarily think I had to work for someone else or be an entrepreneur. I had that kind of a lens on how life could be. And so my first job, if you like to call it outside of like teenage jobs was I actually ran my own tutoring company for a number of years. And which was fun and helped me build a business pre-internet days for those of us that remember that.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, just about.

    Celine Williams: Before all of the like internet marketing. It was such a different beast when I went back into the world of entrepreneurship. Because I did that for a few years, sold the IP that I'd created for that company. Because I created some programs and actually then went and worked in the corporate world for 11 years and stepped completely out of entrepreneurship into an organization in a very niche kind of area of focus and had a number of roles in my time there, I worked in five very different areas. So I worked in HR, I worked as a project manager, I always joke I was the world's worst project manager, but legitimately I was the world's worst project manager. I'm not detail oriented enough to be good at it. I was just good at the people side of it, like getting people to help me out.

    Steve Rush: There should be almost a role for that!

    Celine Williams: I know.

    Steve Rush: Project manager/people sidekick role.

    Celine Williams: Yup, that would have been my role because actual project management, I was not good at. And then I did change management, which I was better at because it was more people oriented. And then stakeholder engagement and communications roles. I kind of did a number of those things over the 11 years that I was in corporate. And at that time I was, you know, I was running teams and had people reporting into me and I started coach training and I was like, I like this. And I like working with people in this way and I'm fascinated by human brains and what people are up to. And I absolutely hated working in the company that I was in and the corporate environment I was in because of the culture, things that you learn in retrospect is understanding that I stayed as long as I did because I liked the managers, the leaders I had.

    And I liked the people I worked with day to day, but the overall organizational culture was really toxic. And so I left and stepped into coaching and starting my own business and figuring out being an entrepreneur when the internet was a thing and everyone was throwing all of the different ways to be an entrepreneur at you and made one thousand mistakes and also managed to have some successes along the way. And now I get to have more fun than I've ever had in my life doing the work that I do. And I work with incredible organizations and leaders and we do culture design. And so we, you know, work with organizations around being very intentional and specific with their culture and how to put it into action and make it something that is tangible and real for the people in the organizations. And I work with, very people focused organizations. And I work with leaders who are very committed to being the best leaders that they can be in a meaningful way for the people around them. And yeah, and that is the journey to why I do what I do now and how I was one of those people who was an entrepreneur before I ever thought about working in corporate, just out of the way that I was raised and what I saw around me.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, and did you realize that in your early days, that entrepreneurship was a thing or you just going with the flow of what felt right intuitively for you.

    Celine Williams: I don't think I really realized it. And parts of that is, that my parents would never have called themselves entrepreneurs. That's not language that they used. It wasn't popular language and the way we use it now in the seventies and eighties. So my parents weren't saying, you know, I'm an entrepreneur. My dad owned a business and my mom owned business. And because they both did it, I didn't really have the connection of parents who go out to an office to work every day, in that way. They both had, you know, businesses that were based in the house and went out to different. Like my dad had a very specific role in construction. And so he would go out to job sites and he would go out to other places, but his office was in the house. I didn't really have an awareness of it. And it wasn't the language that was being used. So when I started, you know, tutoring business, I'd worked for a tutoring company in University, because quite frankly, the money was better than anywhere else. So I was like, oh, I could make under $7 an hour working at any other place, or I can make 25 to $30 an hour working at a tutoring company.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, not a tough call really.

    Celine Williams: No, and then I realized that they were charging each child $50 an hour. And I was working with four kids at once and I was like, what am I doing? And that's why I started my own business. To me, it was like, well, this makes more sense. And I just knew it was an option. Because my parents, without the language were running their own thing as well.

    Steve Rush: And you share in that continued tutoring via the medium of podcasts, teaching and sharing goodwill and insights around the world, but you've run Canada's Podcasts. But also if ever there was a time for one in the last two years, Leading Through Crisis Podcast.

    Celine Williams: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: Pretty timely, right?

    Celine Williams: Yes, so Canada's podcast, there's a group of us who host for different parts of Canada because we have enough different parts of Canada that one person couldn't do it all. It's a network and I host for Ontario cause I'm based in Toronto which is a lot of fun and it's a great, you know, it's great to get to share the stories of Canadian entrepreneurs, but leading through crisis is really my baby in the sense that it started sort of at the beginning of the pandemic, unfortunately and fortunately I had another podcast idea and I kept getting requests from people I worked with or had worked with around where can we listen to conversations that, you know, are timely and about how we lead in these challenging times and what that looks like. And not just there's one way of doing it, but how people have done it and their experiences.

    And I thought, well, I know some awesome people. I'll do this, like, you know, short-lived kind of timely podcasts and have some conversations and put it out there. And it just seemed to work and it connected with, you know, an audience and I've continued to do it. And it's incredibly fun and interesting to get, to talk to people in different environments, in different ways, with different backgrounds who are sharing their stories of either how they have led through challenging moments and moments of crisis or how they have worked with people. Who've done it in different ways, and it's fascinating and its lots of overlap and lots of different perspectives.

    Steve Rush: And of course, crisis notionally is actually quite subjective, isn't it?

    Celine Williams: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: So for some people, crisis can be “every day” just dealing with simple small tasks, whereas it doesn't have to be a global pandemic.

    Celine Williams: No, and I love that you said that Steve, cause it's one of the things that I say is, that the tagline is leading, you know, leadership in challenging times because it doesn't have to be my definition of crisis. My definition of crisis is, basically change because I think that when people think about, and by the way, I'm not opposed to change. I’m actually someone who has probably more capacity for change than the average person, and I think it's great. And even with, for myself, I know that my initial reaction to change is often like, oh, what are we going to do about this? And that is that crisis moment. And I think it's important that I allow people to define it for themselves and what it means to them. And we start from there, it's not me saying it has to be one way because everyone is different and that is part and parcel of the conversation.

    Steve Rush: It is, yeah, definitely so, so I remember when you and I first met, you described yourself to me as a culture engineer, which I love the concept of engineering culture, by the way. So a lot of our work that we have to do with is going to be centered to whether a culture is going to be enabling or holding back performance on people. So how would you go about firstly, just defining culture?

    Celine Williams: So, you know, I think the briefest and most basic explanation and, you know, many people have heard this, as it's the how we do things around here. And it really is the values and norms and expectations that are in practice. And I say that in practice is really important because a lot of organizations have culture, I'm air quoting, you can't see me, air quote culture that are, you know, they're words on a wall, right? They are, here's what our values are. Here's how we do things. Here's what we think of, you know, showing up with each other, how we treat each other and that's not actually in practice. And I see that, I wish I could say, I saw that less than I do, but I see that all the time, that the minute you start to talk to people in the organization, they're like, that's not how this works.

    We don't even see the leaders doing that. And so for me, the culture is yes, those things, the values, the norms, the expectations, and the behaviors. And most importantly, the behaviors, right? How this shows up in action, because the worst behavior that an organization is willing to accept, that's the bar of their culture. If you accepted behavior, if you let it continue in one person, that's the bar you've set for your culture. And if that's not, what the words on your walls reflect, then you don't have the culture you think you have.

    Steve Rush: I love the way you call out the words on the wall, because most of us can associate when we see organizational culture in often things like Z cards or posters, things that are around us to demonstrate what the culture is. But actually there is often a lost translation between those imagery in the marketing collateral. Then the behaviors that go on inside an organization, and the wonder what you think the reason could be behind that?

    Celine Williams: Well, I think there's a few things. One, I think culture, it's a buzzword in a lot of ways. And so organizations, you know, we'll hire someone or do something themselves where it is designed to make them more appealing to potential employees, you know, in the world to competitors, whatever the case may be. And it becomes aspirational. So because it's a buzzword, there's an aspirational side to culture. And that's the words on the wall is, we're just going to put something together, that sounds good. And it's like maybe loosely based on what we hope it will be, so aspirational as well. In my opinion is a big piece of it. One of the other things is that if leadership is involved in designing the culture or putting together that language. They are often, especially executive leadership, really disconnected from the actual lived organization and the actual lived culture. So, they genuinely think that their experience with the eight people that they interact with on a regular basis is everyone's experience, and that's just not the case. And we often find that you get to, you know, middle management, whatever it is, and that's where the experience of culture shifts dramatically. So if leaders and organizations are not speaking to the people who are below, at and below that middle management level, then they don't actually know what the lived experience of the culture is. And so, it's well-meaning, it's just not accurate.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I see that too, and the other aspect of that as well, I guess, is that if it's not created bottom up, as well as meeting the top down aspirations, that's also, I guess, where it gets a little bit lost in translation.

    Celine Williams: Absolutely. It has to be, you know, when we go in and we do culture engineer, you know, engineer culture, we design a culture with a company. One of the things that I insist on, I've learned to insist on at this point is that yes, we will 100% talk to the senior leaders and get their perspective and hear what they want the culture to be, hearing what they think it is. And if there's not an appetite for us to also survey and have conversations, not just a generic survey with people in the organization, different parts of the organization at different levels of leadership, individual contributors, if they're distributed from different, you know, in office, out of office, whatever, if we are not getting an actual breadth of input, then we will not do the work because then it is words on walls. And I'm not interested in that.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, and equally nor would be ironically yeah. Vast majority of the employees in the organization.

    Celine Williams: Right.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Celine Williams: Right, and that's just it, if it's not serving them, then what is the purpose of it?

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Celine Williams: Because then it's not really about, you don't really care about culture and that's okay, but then let's just admit it.

    Steve Rush: So what are the things, the traps if you like? That hold back organizations from truly developing a great culture that they seek?

    Celine Williams: Well, I would say, I think one of the biggest ones, there's two, I'm laughing because there's two that immediately came to mind. One of the biggest ones is looking at a different organization and saying, we're just going to copy their culture. You can't copy another organization's culture. And so that holds us back from actually designing a culture and creating a culture that works for our organization, our people, our team. Every organization's culture is different because there are different people in every organization. So to look at, you know, in North America, it's often Zappos or Google or Facebook, or, you know, one of many other big names that are known for their culture and companies say, I want to do that. And they try and copy it. You can't copy it. And that really is a big detriment.

    And it holds the leaders, the organization and the people back from stepping into what their culture could be because they get stuck in someone else's idea of culture. And then it never is that, and they, you know, kind of spin out on the fact that they're not getting what they want to get, or it's not looking the way they think it should look because it looked that way for Google. The second thing I would say that's really big is that people think that culture is events or a ping pong table or lunches or whatever. And they get stuck in the, these are the fun things we do that mean we have a great culture and miss entirely the day to day importance of how culture shows up. And that happens again, way more consistently than I wish I saw happening. But it's real, right? People think it's the fun stuff. It's the event. It's those moments that make the culture and it's like, well, your culture is actually your day to day. And shows up when things go wrong. If when things go wrong, people aren't behaving the way you want them to behave, things aren't going the way you want, you know, you think you want them to go, then that ping pong table doesn't make a difference.

    Steve Rush: And I've been party to a number of different change programs where ping pong tables and other fun stuff were introduced, but it isn't the materials or the processes that change culture, it's behaviors, isn't it?

    Celine Williams: A hundred percent, but it's a lot easier and a lot faster to buy a ping pong table or to have Friday lunches or, you know, whatever the case may be than it is to do the work on the behaviors.

    Steve Rush: Particularly, if you buy a ping pong table and then shout at the people playing ping pong, because they're making too much noise, that kind of stuff doesn't work, does it?

    Celine Williams: No, and it's real. It's definitely real.

    Steve Rush: It's happened in my space. Let's put it that way.

    Celine Williams: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: So having some of those quirky themes and designing new ways of working are all part of innovation. And that's definitely something that we need to tap into. Because actually that can sometimes change behaviors. But when it comes to innovation culture, how would you go about creating the space so that people can be innovative, that then can then inform the culture?

    Celine Williams: So I think the two most important things are vulnerability and failure. You have to create space for people to be vulnerable and to be okay with them. And this is like, I'm going to use Brene Brown's language for this, but that messy middle where it's not going to be perfect. People are going to say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing sometimes, step into awkward conversations, not know the results. That level of vulnerability has to be encouraged because without that, we can't be comfortable failing. And the way that we step into cultures of innovation is being vulnerable with each other so that we are okay with failing and that we embrace those failures and failures, bigger or small, mistakes, missteps, all of that. That's what I'm putting in the language of failure, but we have to talk about it. And we have to be very open about it, many, many individuals, but also organizations have a lot of shame around making mistakes and we try and cover them up and we try and hide them away.

    And we try and, you know, blame other people, you know, we get defensive about them, whatever the case may be. Individually teams, cultures that is built into many, many, many organizations and without the encouragement of vulnerability and the ability to step into that meaningfully, that doesn't change. And it's not one or the other, because we can sit at a table and say, failure's great. Let's share failures and let's be as open as possible. But if we haven't created a safe space for people to be vulnerable and to really open up about it, it doesn't happen. Or they bring things that aren't the real failures and the real mistakes that matter. And, or they struggle to learn from it. And they struggle to reframe it into what the lesson is and what the possibility is. And they get stuck in the actual mistake or thing that hasn't worked out the way they want it to work out.

    And so I think those are the two most important things that organizations need to work on when it comes to creating cultures of innovation and in some parts of the world, as an example, in some parts of the world, some pieces of those are easier and some of them are harder and that's real. And so it's starting from where you are, where your organization is, where your leaders are and moving and taking the steps forward. You don't have to go from an organization where no one's connected to each other and no one's open, and it's very formal to, you know, everyone is weeping on each other's shoulder and knows everything about each other overnight because now we've embraced vulnerability. There are steps to take along the way, and those steps move all of the innovation forward and they move everything forward and in a meaningful way, when we're on that journey

    Steve Rush: Can we go there, and how about explore around some of those steps? Because as you were talking, what I was thinking to myself was, “vulnerability is an integral part of shifting the culture”, but if the culture isn't right, that doesn’t allow me to be vulnerable. How do I break that cycle?

    Celine Williams: Well, I'm going to become….

    Steve Rush: A bit of a deep question, right?

    Celine Williams: No, it's great. I'm going to be a bit of a Brene Brown pusher right now. Because I think this a lot of what she talks about is exactly in this space and that is, you know, it takes courage. It takes courage to be vulnerable. And I think the challenge or the struggle can be that courage, that vulnerability in a larger setting in bigger groups is what holds people back from doing it at all. And I think that the more we can create spaces of safety, spaces of vulnerability, even if it's with one other person at a time, the more we can start to step into the vulnerability and the courage that it takes to be vulnerable. And it is a lot easier for senior leaders for executives to lead that charge and model it. I recognize that than it is for other people. So for any senior leaders and executives who are in organizations or in cultures, that don't really feel that safe or don't have that level of vulnerability, you know, this is a call to arms to be courageous and open it up and make that space for your people because it is a lot scarier for individual contributors or middle management to start and lead that charge.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, you also need fast followers behind you, don't you? So behind you is probably the wrong word, “with you” is probably the right word. So you demonstrate vulnerability. You want other people to do it super quick. So you create a movement of people that are helping others.

    Celine Williams: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: Feels safe.

    Celine Williams: And I think that when we lead by example, we find that faster than we think we are going to. And the scary part is the stepping into leading by example when no one else is doing it.

    Steve Rush: Right, yeah. So how do you think culture might have changed generally? And this is a big generalization through the pandemic and over there the kind of last 18 months, two years?

    Celine Williams: Well, I think there's a lot more awareness of the fact that the things that we thought were culture, a lot of things that a lot of people thought were culture like the ping pong tables don't matter nearly as much as they thought they did.

    Steve Rush: Or at all.

    Celine Williams: Or, at all, exactly. And I think a lot of people and organizations and leaders realize that the realities. I'm going to put it this way. What they thought was their culture was not actually their culture because the minute that people were not in the same space, day to day, everything went awry to put it that way. And so I think that there is a, I think people are more interested in the realities of culture now, and they're thinking about it in meaningful ways. I think that people realize that even the non-event parts of their culture was really dependent on being in person.

    And the hybrid way of working where, you know, distributed, some people are remote. Some people are in office. So, you know, whatever the specific cases may be is here to stay. And I think that the idea of culture has changed dramatically because of that, because what you would do in person doesn't necessarily work with people who are at home. So how do we help people feel connected and safe and like they belong when we're all in different places. I think that the idea of belonging has become, you know, a much bigger topic of conversation in the past 18 months inside of the culture conversation, belonging and safety, because especially in North America, there has been, you know, if you remember to a year, last summer. Not the summer that just passed, but the previous summer, there was a lot that happened culturally.

    And you know, in various parts of the United States and Canada, and that changed the conversation dramatically because it affected people at work. And so I think that the realities of mental health have become a bigger part of the conversation around culture. And I think that what people are willing to accept in the ways they work and in the cultures they're looking for has changed. And it's why, you know, people are talking about the great resignation, the language all over, you know, HBR and whatever you're reading right now.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Celine Williams: Because people want to work for organizations that care, people want to feel like they matter, people want flexibility. And that is part of culture, your culture can enable that, or disable that.

    Steve Rush: And I suspect if we did a survey in a year or two's time, and look back on the organizations who did not suffer as a result of the great resignation, they would have strong foundations of belonging as part of their culture.

    Celine Williams: Absolutely, I would completely agree with that, and it's belonging and flexibility where there meeting people, where they're at and people know that they matter. And that they're cared for. That is huge right now.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it certainly is. So I'm going to change tact a little bit now.

    Celine Williams: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: Going to hack into your leadership brain. So having led startups and other organizations, as well as the firm that you run now and having opportunities to hack into other's minds, I'm going to try and distill your top three leadership tips now. So what would be your top three leadership hacks Celine?

    Celine Williams: So I already said this one, I'm going to repeat it because it bears repeating. Lead by example, so it sounds so, so basic. And it's so challenging when things are hard to actually lead by example. But I think a lot of people, and a lot of us do this, we read books, we consume information, we listen to podcasts. We think about the ways things should be, but we don't actually put them into action and we don't try them. So leading by example to me is probably the number one leadership hack. And that means you're embracing failure. I joke all the time that I am the master of trying things out and they don't work and being like, well, I did a thing. It didn't work. Here's what I learned from it. Let's move on. And I share it because I think it's really important to put things into action and to try and to lead by example, you can't expect the people around you to do it if you're not doing it.

    So that would be my number one thing. The second thing I would say is to be positive, but not be toxic, not be toxically. I'm making a word up for you, positive, so avoid toxic positivity. Seeing the potential in things, seeing the lesson and things stepping into that space is really important. And we know that it matters for cultures, that there is a real lens of positivity in the leadership and in the culture itself. And let's not overcompensate and not be real and vulnerable by being toxic about the positivity. Everything is not fine all the time. It's not going to be fine all the time. It doesn't have to be perfect. It is okay to acknowledge the reality of things while still holding in your mind, the potential that this could work out in all of these ways. And here's the lessons inside of it.

    So, you know, being positive, but not toxic about it would be my second thing. And the third thing, and this is the thing that has probably made the biggest difference to me over my life and is probably the thing that the leaders that, you know, the executives I coach now, they come to me for more than anything. And that is get perspectives that are not the same as yours and work those perspectives into your decisions and how you show up. It doesn't mean you have to agree with them when you get other people's perspectives. Understanding another person's perspective does not mean you agree with it. The more we can get different perspectives. The more we can think about how other people are thinking, how things are going to land differently, the better and more effective we are as leaders. And unfortunately, many of us who are leaders are surrounded by people who think the same way we do, and we create a confirmation bias and we create a cycle that is not actually balanced and is one perspective over and over again.

    Steve Rush: I love that last hack. Confirmation bias plays out so much, I’ve heard it called confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, we're actually unconsciously just looking for endorsing our own mindset rather than flipping it and taking it other's perspectives. Because that's what we really learn and grow, isn’t it?

    Celine Williams: Absolutely. And, that's, you know, it's really easy to work with people who think the same as us. To be surrounded by people who think the same of us, same as us to not be challenged about the things that we're saying. So we look for it and healthy discomfort, healthy tension is where we often learn and where all the growth is.

    Steve Rush: Right. Next part of the show, we call it Hack to Attack. This is typically where someone hasn't worked out at all, maybe have gone wrong, but there is some learning there. And it's now a positive in your life and work. If you had to call out one event, what would be your Hack to Attack?

    Celine Williams: I have so many of these. I have so many of these, but here's the one that I would say. And this is kind of an entrepreneurship and you know, questioning assumptions one. When I stepped back into the world of entrepreneurship and I left corporate and I started coaching, I was very focused. So I worked in healthcare slightly more technical than that, but I worked in version of health technology for 11 years. So when I left that world and I started coaching, I was like, well, I'm going to coach people who work in health care or health technology, because that's where all my experiences is, and I know that world and that's going to make sense. That did not go as planned. I hated every minute of it. I struggled to get clients to keep clients.

    I was absolutely miserable and it wasn't until I really, first of all, burned through all my savings. When I tell you, I have made every mistake in the book, I promise you I've made every mistake in the book. It wasn't until I had burned through all my savings. And you know, was like, I just hate every minute of this, that I took a step back and was like, oh, I assumed that I needed to be doing it in this way. Cause I had all this experience. I assumed these are the only people who would actually work with me. I assumed all of these things. And when I reframed that and started differently and approach things differently and, you know, got rid of what I thought it should be and how it should look. And these were the steps I should take and did it differently. That's where I found success. And that's what I've learned from is that, leaving the shoulds behind, leaving what I assumed things were or what I think they should be. That holds me back, and there's no lesson in that when I discard that, that's where the opportunities have come from. And I continue to remind myself of that constantly.

    Steve Rush: Brilliant. “Should”, really toxic word, isn't it?

    Celine Williams: Yep. Very, much so.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, last part of the show is we get you to do a bit of time travel and you able to bump into Celine at 21 and give her some words of wisdom. What would your advice be do?

    Celine Williams: Stop caring so much about what other people think.

    Steve Rush: Nice.

    Celine Williams: First and foremost cause that was definitely it. I'm going to go back to the shoulds, that things don't have to look the way you think they should look in order to get you where you want to be and embracing the differences and embracing the unknown as early as possible is going to serve you well, because that was a challenge for me. Now, it feels easy because I have many years on that 21 year old. But at that point, you know, caring what people think and the shoulds has really held me back.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, great advice. So Celine, if folk wanted to get hold of information and insights about the work you're doing, maybe tap into your podcast, what's the best for us to send them?

    Celine Williams: Absolutely, reVisionary.ca is my website. It will be updated at some point soon. It's a little out of date, but it's a great place to connect with me or leadingthroughcrisis.ca you can message me there and that's where my podcast is hosted.

    Steve Rush: You do quite a lot of promotion via LinkedIn as well. So we'll make sure that those links as well as your podcast links are all in our show notes.

    Celine Williams: Thank you. That would be perfect.

    Steve Rush: I always enjoy chatting with you and you know, we share a lot of common interests around the whole concept of change in culture. And thank you for sharing some of your stories and some of your wisdom as part of The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

    Celine Williams: Thank you for having me, Steve. It was great chatting with you.

    Steve Rush: Thanks Celine.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there: @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

  • Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze is an internationally recognized coach, leadership development expert, and author of The Unexpected Gift. In this really authentic and wonderful conversation, you can learn:

    What is the unexpected gift?The 7 steps to the gift.Why when Barbara starts coaching, people have been known to do crazy things.How to find inner focus and inner leadership.

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Barbara below:

    Barbara on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/barbara-dalle-pezze/

    Barbara on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DPBarbaraHK

    Barbara’s Website: https://www.barbaradallepezze.com

    Barbara on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/barbara.dallepezze/

    Full Transcript Below:


    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze is a special guest on today's show. She's an internationally recognized coach leadership development expert, an author of The Unexpected Gift. Before we get a chance to speak with Barbara, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: In the news today, we explore the notion of productivity and how you can knock out those two minute tasks super quick. In a super busy world, we all have to pay attention to getting the right things done at the right times. Blocking out time in our calendar is great for deep dives and specific tasks, but you might be thinking what about the many tasks that are on our plates each day? The ones that require a few minutes, the ones you can get the quickly done and put to bed. How do we focus on making sure that we prioritize him the right way? Author and productivity consultant David Allen is famous for his Two Minute Rule.

    And the rule is, if it takes less than two minutes, then do it now. And the reason for this is dead simple, many of these tasks like replying to an email or calling someone back. The effort needed to keep remembering them is even harder and takes up more time. Just think about it for a minute. How many times have you thought about that quick to do, but I'll get round to it moment and then you get distracted or carried away only to find by the end of the day, it's turning to a number of tasks that might take a lot of time. And there are other benefits of knocking out this two minute task rule. One reason is it helps you build momentum while you've enhancing your mood. And studies have shown that crossing off even small tasks from your to-do list or to don't list gives you a boost of momentum and boosts your mood.

    So by simply recognizing it is a two minute task that we can get done quickly, we stop planning. We engage in the activity and it's gone and we're training our brains to think less and do more, but in a responsible and focused way. The two minute rule is also helpful to declutter your mind as well as your workspace. So instead of holding onto those potential tasks that you might need to do at some point, you clear them out the way so you can focus on what really matters, which is helpful to stop procrastination and improve productivity. Sounds simple enough, but there's one obvious problem. What if the two minute task is completely unrelated to what I need to be doing right now? Worse if something interrupts you or you simply choose to attack it and it takes longer than two minutes. So for Allen two minute rules to work, we need to set some limits.

    Number one, only work on two minute tasks if they relate to a larger assignment, you are working on, not distracting you. Number two, set aside larger time blocks in your calendar for your two minute tasks, which might be a half an hour section in a day where you can bundle your or two minute tasks together. Number three, immediately decide on your next steps. This might include designing a time in your calendar to do those tasks, or is it something you do now? And my leadership hack on this is dead simple. We all know every day, there are things that we don't know are going to happen, but do. So plan for it, plan for the unexpected and plan for your two minute tasks. So the response is, do it now or do it in my two minute task window. That's been The Leadership Hacker News. We'd love to hear any quirky stories, insights, or news you have from around the world, so please get in touch.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Joining me on the show today is Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze. She's an international recognized coach, leadership development expert and author of her book, The Unexpected Gift, Barbara, welcome to The Leadership Podcast.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Thank you, Steve. It is an honor to be here with you today.

    Steve Rush: It's my pleasure, and hey, how was my Italian pronunciation of your name?

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: That was awesome. You could be Italian.

    Steve Rush: Right?

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Yes

    Steve Rush: Good. So how's Verona today?

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: It's beautiful, it’s sunny, we have autumn coming in and the colors are amazing. So I would say perfect day to day.

    Steve Rush: Great. And as our audience listening from around the world, I can imagine that there is a bit of envy to want to be in Italy with you today.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: It is indeed beautiful these days, so I have to admit.

    Steve Rush: So we'd love to get into a little bit about your back story, because you came from a very academic perspective and then turned that on its head to do what you do now, but just tell us a little bit about the story.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Yes, so I am Italian and as you say, I do have a background in academia and I have it also in business and actually the two path kind of went together because I started by loving doing research and it was research into understanding more the dynamics that are between human beings and behaviors and understanding more what the human being is about. And while I was doing these, I was researching, I was studying at the same time. I was passionate about crossing over to the corporate world and do training and coaching in corporations because it seemed to me that what I was researching and discovering within my university and academic world could have benefited so much. The business world, and at the time I was in Hong Kong, so a melting pot in a very eclectic place. And it was the perfect situation where I could tap into both worlds.

    And so, and so I did. And so I did, and it seems strange, but my research was in in philosophy and was also in what is called medical humanities researching on pain and suffering and what I was discovering actually it seems very appropriate to bridge into the corporate world where there were a lot of frustration, difficulties, in managing relationship and managing themselves and sometimes very demanding and painful situation. So I love mix and match. And so I tried to bring everything together and it worked.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, awesome. And I love the fact that what you studied from an academic perspective is actually the kind of foundations for what you do now in the work that you do now. But I also know from having met with you before that the learning that you were experiencing, the research you were gathering and the work that you were doing was all also going to have to be a really foundational crutch in your personal life, which kind of created that bit of a pivot for you. Just tell us a little bit about that journey.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Yes, you’re absolutely right because when all of the above what was happening, I actually moved from my country to Asian, particularly to Hong Kong and at the same time it just happened that my marriage collapsed. And so I found myself in a position where I had to rebuild basically everything, my sense of identity and my future. And I had to do it by being in the midst of a different culture in a different country with different culture. And really what I needed to find out is how can I rebuild myself? How do I find myself again? And how do I imagine my future again? And that was a call to be leader of myself and leading myself into a new territory that was unknown. And I untapped into, I didn't know what I was going towards.

    And so I decided that I needed tools that at the time I knew I did not have. And so I started studying counseling. I dug deep into psychology and the branch of philosophy that actually helps you to clarify concept, like, what does it mean to be? What does it mean to become? What are the structures of the human being? And by I doing that, that helped me actually to find a way for me to reinvent myself and my life, a new beyond. What I have always believed in and what the culture I was brought in, the frame of references I had, everything was new and I needed to find a way to navigate that newness with new tools. And so that's why I decided, you know what, let's me get some tools and learn.

    Steve Rush: Do you know what? I particularly like though, is that you actually used yourself as the research method at the time. So you were using your own experiences to kind of heal and to rebuild, and now all of those experiences, you reframe it as an unexpected gift.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Absolutely. Absolutely.

    Steve Rush: So, as people are listening to this, I suspect they might be thinking. Here's a strong, independent woman who's great in her career. And then she goes to all of this personal tragedy and learning, how do you end up calling it a gift?

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Well, you know, at the beginning it was not at all a gift. At the beginning actually, as you probably imagine, they tell you, well, you will see that this is for your own good. And you are better off like this. I used to get very angry because at the time I did not want at all, [laugh] the divorce to happen. I wanted my marriage to work and I still wanted to be in that marriage. So didn't feel like a gift at all. And however, because my decision was to face what was happening to me and to my life. And as I just said before, trying to find a way to move forward, I allowed for new perspectives, new way feelings, new people coming into my life, new opportunities. And actually in time, I discovered that actually, and that's why I called my book The Unexpected Gift.

    The Unexpected Gift actually was not the divorce, [Laugh] the unexpected gift was the journey that single event took me on. And the path I walked that was actually paved with what at the time I did not recognize as gifts, but as my emotional state got better, as I quieted down from the inside, as I got back a little bit of peace and harmony, and I was able to kind of turn and look back a little bit on this new path, I could see that actually so many gifts were there and they were in the form of people that I barely knew offering me opportunities. Situation that were created and that were independent. From me, it was not my doing and yet they were there and they gave me opportunities. It was in the form of being in a country like it was at the time Hong Kong that presented lots of opportunities and many, many unexpected situations.

    People circumstances that in time showed up and became actual gifts and opportunities. Let me give you a very simple example. When this happened, I just finished my PhD and literally it happened the same day I was awarded my PhD that my husband delivered the news, and so that was a shock. And I was in no position to find a job or cultivate my career at the University because I was heartbroken. And what happened is that a person that I just met and then knew about my situation and what happened, introduced to me what I call three angels, because they were three ladies from the British Aristocracy that in order to help me, and look, I did not know these ladies, but wanted to help me. And so they kind of invented that they wanted to learn and speak about Italian culture and philosophy and doing it in Italian.

    And so they offered to pay me to entertain conversations them about art, politics, culture, all these kind of things in Italian. And so they were like angels because I was like, is it even real that you have people that wants to pay and offer you a job for speaking about these things? And it did happen to me. And so they were my first three angel that helped me to get back on my feet. I had people that I barely know that offered me to stay in their apartment in the center of Hong Kong. And just because they could do that and they had that apartment available. So I didn't have to make an immediate decision on where to move in or where to stay when at a time that I had no clue. So tiny little things like this, they just kept happening. And so if in time I could see how many of these expression I now say of love, and they are those invisible gifts that happen. And you don't recognize them that they are gift when they happen, but then if you pay attention, they are really there. And they are always going on. They are constantly happening. And so that's, why there was a gift, that there was a long answer.

    Steve Rush: That's a great answer. The thing that's really quite nice is that the whole human spirit can always kick in, in adversity, can’t it? And there's always great stories of that. And I wonder how much of that experience early experience for you kind of set you again on that path discovery?

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: If you mean the attitude and the disposition I learned to have towards what was happening.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Definitely it has been the greatest discovery and the greatest gift because it really created disposition so that you are open to receiving. And you really never know what is coming your way. And it is my experience that often what we expect is so much smaller than what actually happens and comes your way.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: And so I think it was for me a great lesson to always be open to what's seemingly impossible because that actually can happen in both ways, right?

    Steve Rush: Sure.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: In a positive sense and in a negative sense, but yeah.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, and as a result of that, do you think that, and I'm generalizing here across the global population, as a species, how much of that lack of awareness or lack of opportunity is because we've just got comfortable and in control?

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: I think that a large of it comes down to what you just said. We tend to choose to be comfortable, and we forget that, yes, that comfort is the one that we have managed to achieve to the point where we are comfortable, but there is so much more than what we have experienced already. There is so much more about us, about our life, about possibilities and opportunities. And it is really, I think it really depends on what you eventually want and how ready. And I would say open you are to actually explore and expand yours sense of who you are, and therefore the reality you can create and can be open to.

    Steve Rush: Whole notion, isn't it? Of the more open you are to opportunities and coincidences, the more coincidences happen.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Yes, and let's say the most difficult part is probably to learn, how do I open up to possibilities? What do I need to transform about myself? What do I need to change in order to allow for opportunities to actually show up? And I say show up, but in fact, they are already there and they are already shining in front of us. It's us that hope, and often we are not refined enough in our ability to be aware of those opportunities, because as we just said, we tend to protect yourself and look for safety instead of actually look closely and be more attentive to what is already there.

    Steve Rush: And you chronicled all of your experiences into your book, The Unexpected Gift, and you actually created seven steps to the gift to help people on that journey. And I thought it would be really great for us to just spin through those seven steps and maybe get into a few of them.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Absolutely, absolutely. These seven steps are those that actually allowed me to overcome and transform my situation. And very briefly, the first step is of course, to awaken to your own story and actually owning your story. Because as you just said, I was very comfortable [laugh], it was out of a blue that this situation happened. I thought that I was on top of my game. And so it was a shock and clearly I was not really conscious of what was going on in my life and in my then husband's life. So be really conscious in making an effort to be honest, as much as possible as to what is going on in your life and what your reality is about, because then you can expand as we just said before, right.

    And you can notice what's at the edge and that maybe is not just in front of you, but nonetheless it's there and needs to be taken into account. I am a philosopher and I was a philosopher. And so, my inclination is to be curious and ask questions, somehow that was not enough because clearly there was something that I was not.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Paying enough attention too, right. Those things at the edge. So first step, be conscious and own your own story. So the second step is building radical relationships. And that was for me, was a key element in the experience and in the traumatic experience I went through. And first of all, radical relationships, when I say radical, I mean, those relationships that actually are solid and grounded, and they are unshakable, they can be relationship that you have built in time.

    I was blessed with very long time relationship of more than 30, 40 years, even which dates me a little bit [laugh], but could be also relationship that you have built in the past year, just one year old relationship. But those people with whom you'd really connect, you are aligned and they actually care and build radical relationship are those is key because when these events traumatic difficult happens and they always happen sometimes. And at the certain point in our life, for me, the key of this radical relationship was that they were able to remind me of who I was and what I was about when I was in no position to remind for myself.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: And that for me was key. And it was key in this very difficult moment. And it was also key when I succeeded and I needed somebody to celebrate with it that I actually was going to be happy for me. So spending time, energy resources to look for relationship that can be transforming to radical relationships and actually build those relationships. It's like really putting a treasure into a bank. And then when the time comes, you can go and get your resources out as radical relationship.

    Steve Rush: Love it.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: The third step that was for me, very important was finding clarity of mind because when situations like the one I experienced happened to me, there was a lot of confusion in me because what I felt, the way I have thought till that moment, my thoughts. They did not make sense and did not match reality at all in that very moment. And so for me, it was very important to clarify what is actually is going on here, where do I stand? And what can I believe? What can I trust? Because all of these became confused and reality did not make sense for me. I did take a lot of time to find a new level of clarity. That was actually just up to me because in my particular story, unfortunately, then my still husband was not offering me any perspective or any clarity, any reasons for what was happening. And so I had to find somehow clarity within myself. And so I discovered that there is a level of depth at which we can have clarity, no matter what's going on around us. And I have learned to live my life at that level of depth, where clarity was up to me and when it came to others that would bring their elements if they were not willing to do that, that I needed to be okay with that. And so, the third step is finding clarity and distinctions about what was going on that worked for me at the time. And that gave me the minimum level of peace of mind really. The fourth step is what I call enlisting the body.

    Steve Rush: That sounds nice and deep. Enlist the body.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Yes, it is. And that was an amazing discovery, Steve, because my mind was racing to find a truth that was nowhere to be found. And so the clarity was just talking about, and my body became kind of a night for me because I realized that I needed energy. I needed positive energy, and my mind was not able to provide that. And so in the very difficult situation where I was in this traumatic experience, I did not have a full-time job, that was difficult, but it was also a blessing because I had lots of time to take care of my health and mental health and also physical health.

    So my body, I actually decided to literally leverage my body and the energy could produce. So I would spend hours hiking because I realized that the more I was hiking, the more I was sweating, the more the pain was residing a little bit and the endorphins were produced. And so a sense of normalcy started to appear again within me. And it was amazing because, as an author would say, traditionally built. So I'm not a petite woman. And so I do have a lot of energy and using the energy of my body and my muscles to actually work for me in this case. It was amazing, and just to give you an example. I would really walk for four to five hours a day. That was how much I needed to walk in order to get a sense of a relief a little bit.

    And I had found a job after the three angels experience ended, in the evening, teaching in the evening. And so during day I would walk, in the evening, I would go and teach for three or four hours. And by the time I would go home, that was the most painful time when you are alone and you go back into an empty apartment and you realize the life you had is no more there. And every night was a reminder of it. The fact that I used my body so much, I worked out so much and it kept me awake all day. At night, basically the body will drag all of us to sleep. My mind wanted to still ask the questions. No, the body's too tired. Let's go to sleep. My heart was in pain, no way, the body would drag us to sleep. And so it was an amazing blessing to discover this body of mine. And still to today, I keep going with this routine, not five hours a day, but keep the body in the picture is very important.

    Steve Rush: It fuels so much other things as well, like sleep. So you just said that, you know, rather than having those things stew over, your body goes now is time to sleep and therefore you get double recovery don't you from that?

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Absolutely. Absolutely. And there was no way that my mind could contradict the body. No, we are going to sleep. The body would say.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: [laugh] and I would just collapse because I was too tired. So that was a blessing in itself.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: [Laugh], so at the last three steps, I will be quick. So the number five is partnering with mentors. Mentors to me, they were unexpected mentors and they are what I called the giant of the soul. And I found mentors in books and the books that tell the story of survivors and particularly survivors of the Second World War in concentration camps. And the reason I found in them, my mentors is, because people around me, my friends, my families, my colleagues, although they wanted to be close to me and help me, they did not go through such a profound painful situation.

    And so somehow they could not reach me and help me and be close to me at that level of depth. And I needed to feel like I belonged to a group of people that actually understood really what I was going through because I felt I was at war when all of these happened. And so I discovered that reading about the story of people at survive, the atrocity of war or genocides in Africa, for example, those were the people that were actually helping me a lot. And so I started reading all those kinds of books and I started learning from them. How they were they thinking during their experiences were? What did they do? What did they rely upon? And I learned from them and I felt that I belong to that community. Not that I am comparing my painful situation with theirs, not at all, but exactly because theirs was so much more painful and more tragic and more difficult if they made it, if they succeeded, they were the voice from the future I wanted to listen to and I wanted to learn from, and so I did. In fact, after going through their stories and reading and learning from them, that's when then eventually the shift happened in me because I was looking at their stories as voices from the future.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: And I was learning and they taught me how to look differently at my life and myself and the future. And that was an authoritative voice, [laugh]. It was great, I was so grateful that I was able to learn from that in that manner. Giant, giant of the soul.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: That's what they were. Number six is forward in the future because at that point I was free to look at a future that I did not want at first, I did not know what it was. It was completely different from what I've always imagined and until that point, it was very scary for me to look at my future and imagine what it could have been like, because I had no clue what it could look like. I've always thought I will be married, I will have kids, I will have my career, and that would be it. And now, here I am, not married, I don't have kids. And my career is in the making. And so I needed to learn how to be in a new world as a new person. But by then, I was able to make the step into that new future. And I started to imagine in a new way. And therefore I started to forward the future and started to make it happen and bring it to life because then I was ready and step seven, which is a crown to all of these is what I call paying it forward to complete a healing process. To complete this path of renewal and transformation essential is that I could pay it forward.

    So all people that have helped me throughout this journey, and they have done it just out of share love and willingness to make me feel better or contribute. I needed to pay it back. And so part of what I do now, and my life is always having this very clear in front of me that I need to pay it forward. And so when the opportunity comes, I want to do it. So, what these people have done for me, I am going to do it to somebody else that it might be in need, and there is something I can do to help. And that is actually the crown, as I said, of these path and all of this become a gift.

    Steve Rush: And you're paying it forward that gift, by the way, you're paying forward by just sharing that story with us today. So it's just amazing. And I love the way that you've kind of been able to create that almost flow of activity to get you to the state and space you're in now. So well then you

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Thank you so much. Thank you so much. I could not, not do it,


    Steve Rush: Yeah, and that paying forward is also now a huge part of the work that you do through coaching and supporting other people. And ironically, I remember when we spoke last, you were telling me that you often come with a bit of a health warning when people get to coach with you, because, you know, I remember you telling me that one person said to you at one stage. When Barbara starts coaching, people start resigning, be careful. Is that part of that kind of unlocking people? And is that part of that process?

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Actually, I think it is because after going through my story actually, [laugh], and my story made me who I am. For me, it is essential that the people I work with, in order for them to fulfill and to feel that they are living their purpose, they do need to be aligning. They need to own their stories. They need to be connected to who they are at that moment in time when I meet them and be authentically who they are and align with their core values. And often if this is not the case, and for example, in the situation they are in, and the job they are in, they are not aligned. Then they are not in alignment with who they are really. And that's also what caused them to be frustrated or not being fulfilled or being actually in pain, because it often happens.

    If you want to regain efficiency, a level of wellbeing that you do need to function and to be creative and generative in your work and the people you lead, you do need to be connected with who you are at a very deep level. And when these happens, situation shifts and change. I don’t know if I mentioned to you, but I mention it now because it is a beautiful story. I was working in China with a top executive. She was heading the sales of a big chain company in China. And she has been doing that for many years. She was financially free by then and still very young, but she was not happy, she was a woman. And we started working together and we worked together for one year, bit less than one year.

    And eventually what ended up being for her is that I don't to work in this position in this company anymore. What I actually I want to do, that I've always postponed it. And that is something that I really care about. And now I am in a position of doing, but she didn't have the courage to do. She wanted to go and spend time with penguin and research on penguin in Antarctica. And so, that's what she decided to, that it was time to do. And so she decided to quit her job and to transform completely her life following what she did not have the courage to follow with before. And that was the result of just helping her reconnect with what she really wanted to do and who she really wanted to be.

    Steve Rush: Awesome.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: And that she did not have the opportunity, the courage, and it was perhaps not the right moment before, but it became the right moment. So this is kind of an extreme situation. Not saying that it's always happening

    Steve Rush: Just for anybody who's considering hiring Barbara as a coach, your team are safe. Nobody's going to be, you know, leaving in droves.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Thank you, Steve.

    Steve Rush: You're welcome. I just thought it was worthwhile putting a little bit of a public warning message out there just in case everybody's thinking, blimey, I'm not hiring Barbara. On the contrary, what you are talking about with Barbara is purpose, right. Finding people's purpose, and we all need that in our lives and our work.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Yes.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Absolutely, that is what motivates us, right?

    Steve Rush: Absolutely.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: And even if we are not connected with our purpose, we can push our self. We can strive to obtain results and we do, but the cost and the energy and actual, the actual results are not as well rounded and as great as they could be if we were connected to our purpose.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: So, yeah.

    Steve Rush: So you've been doing some traveling, taking some time out, but what's next for you and your work?

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Well more and more, well, hopefully I will resume the traveling as soon as the situation settles a little bit more. And that continues to be important because for me is a source of creativity and learning from diversity for me, it's key. So I always am in a curious and in a learning. I want to help the other, you wanted to keep learning from others, right? So traveling is there for me and more and more working to help people and my client overcome and transform relationship conflict. And when I say relationship conflict is also because what I mean, and I tell you in a minute. Due to the fact that the situation we have been living has put a lot of pressure into relationships, all kinds of relationship. Relationship that we have at work, relationship that we have at home and in family and all relationship become core in the way we live our life and we can achieve results. So more and more, even because of my experience, I want to help people overcome and transform relationship conflicts into opportunities, opportunities for change, to reconnect with a purpose that people might be scared to look at. And from there actually working towards developing the leadership, I don't know even makes sense all of this, but starting from a relationship.

    Steve Rush: Everything is a relationship, isn’t it? Whether you're at work or at home. And they're so connected that if your relationships at home are not great, then you are not going to perform at work. If your relationships are home are great, but they're not at work. You're going to take that back. And then one in impacts the other, doesn't it?

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Yes, and particularly now that, the hybrid kind of working, right, we might be working remotely more than before. We don't go to the office as we used to before. Become expert and capable of mastering, actually relationship at a distance. It is an art and we need to learn it more and more because it is too important. As you say, everything is relationship, and the means to which we relate to each other and connect, and the way we interact has changed. And we need to learn the art of relating to ourselves and others, I believe.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I concur. So, you know, Barbara, at this stage, the cadences of the show is, we get to turn the lens a little bit, and I'm going to tap into your leadership mind and try and get all of the life's lessons and work lessons into your top three leadership hacks. What would they be?

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Wow, condensing it into three.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it’s a tough gig. I know that.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: So I would say, first, do the inner work, do really the inner work and discover all that influences who you are and how you behave and how you feel. I call it the inner work of leadership. The second is collaboration, collaboration beyond differences. So cultural differences, gender differences, age differences, learn to collaborate in all kinds of possible directions, because I believe that's the future as well. Given that differences are many and are there, and at the same time it is as if they're are, the differences are, don't play a role because we need to connect and relate beyond differences and collaborate beyond differences. And the third, I would say humility, we need to relearn to be humble. And by saying humble, I don't mean that we need to be hesitant in doing things or don't need to be aggressive or this kind of thing. When I say humility and learn to be humble, it means to recognize that in order to move forward, in order to make situations better, we do need the help of others and from many different others. And so we cannot be arrogant anymore and pretend that's all up to me, but become aware and conscious that actually everything I do is supported and is made possible, but the contribution of others even if I'm not aware of it. So I think that these three, inner work, collaboration beyond differences and humility would be the three top tips ideas.

    Steve Rush: So next part share, we call it Hack to Attack. Now you've already had the head start on this one because your unexpected gift is undoubtedly a Hack to Attack, but we kind of frame this in where something in our life and work hasn't worked out well, but that event has now created a positive in our life and our work. So outside of your unexpected gift, there any other gifts that have become Hack to Attack for you?

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: I don't know if this is a gift, but I think it's a funny story, [Laugh] that I like to say. When I was deciding what I would become, right. And starting at the university and what would I be? Architect was a possibility because my family business, my father is an architect and he has always had a very, successful practice. And so I was supposed to become an architect. And at a certain point, I started for a couple of years, architecture. And then I decided, you know what? I cannot build houses and studying the materials, the mathematics of building houses or buildings, if I don't know how a human being is built. So the people that will inhabits the house [laugh]. And so, I just decided to leave the studies I was doing at the university. So I stopped studying architecture and I moved to philosophy. And when that happened, it was kind of a tragedy because [laugh], what would Barbara do given that the business here was already set up and successful and the rest was to be built and fast forward. Now everybody is saying, we are so lucky that Barbara didn't study architecture [laugh] because the houses that would come up will be very strange because my sense of the measurement are really funny. And so now it is a joke around here that luckily Barbara stand up for what she believed in, [laugh].

    Steve Rush: Managed to preserve the architecture of her own.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: [Laugh] exactly. It would've been at risk, so [laugh].

    Steve Rush: Awesome.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: And I say this, which means that I learned that really what you need to stand up for, what you believe in, and trust your intuition, even if people around you are against you and don't understand it because eventually time [laugh] showed me that was the right thing to do.

    Steve Rush: And that's the hack right there, isn't it? Listen to that intuition.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Exactly.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, and the last part of the show, we get to give you an opportunity to do some time travel and you can bump in to Barbara at 21 and give her any advice in the world. What would it be?

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Wow, I think that it goes back to what I said at the beginning of this conversation. I would tell Barbara at 21 to be open to the seemingly impossible because it does happen. It can happen and you better be open to it both in the positive sense as well as in the negative, but be open to what is seemingly impossible and don't limit yourself to what you can imagine, but really learn to go beyond your imagination. I think that I would say that to Barbara at 21.

    Steve Rush: And I think she would think that would be great advice as well. So how can we connect our audience with the work you are doing? And maybe let them get a copy of The Unexpected Gift. Where's the best place to send them?

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: They can connect with me on LinkedIn. I am quite active there and they can write to me and I will be happy to send them my book or if they prefer the Kindle version it is available on Amazon, the Kindle version, or they can connect with me through my website, my name, barbaradallepezze.com

    Steve Rush: You sound so much better than when I pronounced it earlier.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Oh, no, you pronounce it very well actually, Steve.

    Steve Rush: And we’ll make sure that we put those links in our show notes as well for you.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Thank you very much

    Steve Rush: Barbara, it's been wonderful talking to you. I love the fact that you've taken your life's lessons and it is now created a great and successful future for you. And I just wanted to say grazie for being on our show.

    Dr. Barbara Dalle Pezze: Oh, that's amazing, prego. It was really an honor and a pleasure, Steve. Thank you for having me and really you have a great show here.

    Steve Rush: Thanks Barbara.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there: @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

  • Kevin McCarney is a successful entrepreneur, owner of the restaurant chain, Poquito Mas, public speaker, and mentor. He's also the author of Big Brain Little Brain. Kevin has managed to flip neuroscience into easy to digest language. You can learn about:

    Neurological responses in our big brain and little brain.What the Little Brain Activators and Big Brain Boosters are and how we could use them.How to “find neutral” and execute awesome communication.How to avoid little brain baggage words and make sure every day is a big brain day.

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Kevin below:

    Kevin on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevin-mccarney-5989a92b/

    Kevin on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bigbrainlegacy

    Big Brain Little Brain Website: https://bigbrainlittlebrain.com

    Kevin on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bigbrainlittlebrain/

    Keving on FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/BigBrainLegacy

    Full Transcript Below


    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    Today's special guest is Kevin McCarney. He's a successful entrepreneur, restaurant chain owner, speaker, and mentor. He's also the author of Big Brain Little Brain, but before we get a chance to speak with Kevin, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: There's a communications theme in today's show. So having spoken to hundreds and hundreds of leaders around the world, we've distilled the top five communication hacks to get us going. For many of us and for many companies and industries around the world, communication has changed drastically. And for many of us, our tried and tested communications methods may no longer work as they used to. Now, this might not seem like a big deal, right? But considering how many online collaboration tools there are available, even the choice of your online tool can make a difference to how you are communicating based on quality and experience. And when we change our communications channels, we fundamentally change how we also communicate whether that's conscious or unconscious.

    So, in the transit to remote working, we all knew video would be an important thing. And a lot of us still try to avoid using video. If we've had a bad hair day or feeling lousy, or we just want to put some really casual clothes on, but think of how many video conference calls you've had, where most of the participants have kept the camera off, what's happening for you unconsciously? Well, Tracy Brower, author of The Secrets to Happiness at work says it's a mistake to avoid using video. And she outlines those reasons as. Video demonstrates responsibility, communicates confidence, will help build trust and rapport, will help you engage, and video can make you memorable to other people. And Tracy goes on to explain, of course, video may not be appropriate all of the time, but situations where it's preferable, take the advantage of making yourself known.

    When we start skipping into writing, many of our in-person conversations have turned into emails, Ms Teams messages, texts, notes, and project management apps, and intuitively we tend to send simple texts or messages. But the problem is, that you lose a lot of contexts when you turn your verbal words into text. Business Communications Expert, James Chapman explains what this means. And he says, we can't see smiles or friend expressions. We can't hear a person's voice when we read an email, we're missing the details that help us perceive the mood of the moment. All we see are blunt words, black and white. Lacking is an important visual and audrey cues, makes us fill in the gaps. So, hacks when writing? Ask don't tell, direct instructions can often seem as demands, try and avoid using exclamation points or overusing them. But if you do want to make a sentence sound upbeat or happy, then that's the right time to make a statement appear less flat, start your message with a disclaimer.

    If you're given feedback or addressing a difficult topic, start with a sentence that says you are writing with kindness and a smile, positivity helps. When you're communicating, explain your intent. And it might seem obvious, but there is a real short of digital body language when you were online and on our Teams or Zoom or Slack meetings. And because there are less physical cues to clarify our intent, people assign meaning to all sorts of non-verbal things that we are trying to say, but do so unconsciously. So, the hack here is by stating intent early, people understand where this comes from, where the message comes from, and it removes the ability for them to start deciphering their own meaning of what you're trying to say.

    Use storytelling to make your message more engaging, think of how many dull meetings you been into it where just didn't really get to understand what the desired outcome would be. The hack here is to zoom out, to think bigger before we go deeper. And sometimes we get so enamored in the deliverable. We lose sight of the larger story or the larger strategy, and we focus too much on the detail and sure detail is incredibly important, but if people understand how it connects to a bigger story, they're more likely to pay attention and more likely to take action. And finally focus on your communications by creating an experience. Jennifer McClure, CEO of UN Bridal Talent and disrupt HR said, that the adoption of a new communication tech wasn't always a strategic, it could have been. Jennifer says that a major failure of adding in new communication technologies is they're often implemented without a clear goal, which leaves holes in our internal communications and other communications tools get added to patch these up and in turn, it makes a mess of the whole communication system, but as communicators, we own it. It's up to us to create an experience that unifies the people that are paying attention. So, use one platform, but use other tools if they add value, if they don't, ditched them. That's been The Leadership Hacker news today. We always love hearing your stories. So please continue to get in touch.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Kevin McCarney is our special guest on today's show. He's a successful entrepreneur, founder and CEO of Poquito Mas chain of restaurants. He's a speaker, mentor and author, and his latest book is called Big Brain Little Brain. Kevin, we'd delighted to have you on the show.

    Kevin McCarney: Pleasure to be here Steve. Thank you so much for your time.

    Steve Rush: So, you have a really great story to tell, and I'd love to kind of get to a little bit about how you arrived and what you're doing today, because it's not a traditional route that you took and actually involved a little bit of an epiphany along the way. So maybe tell us a little bit about the backstory?

    Kevin McCarney: Yeah, thank you very much. Well, I grew up with a very, very big family where winning the argument was the right of passage. I had four older brothers, two younger sisters and my parents and we we're constantly arguing about different things. And I learned how to win the argument. I learned how to deal with lots of different situations because we moved so much. I think we moved eight times before it was eleven. And so, I got used to reading people before I could even read a book. And I went to work early and I got a job at Universal Studios when I was about 19 and I became a tour guide there and I thought, oh, this is really cool. All I have to do is say the same thing every day, and I'm good, right?

    And I don't really have to pivot very much. I don't have to think really. And so, it's like, it was fun for me, but then, it was one particular day, you know, I'm this 19-year-old snarky kid. And there was a really hot day. The trams were breaking down because it was over 110 degrees. And all of a sudden, I got a call over the speaker, Kevin, tram on the right. They're all yours. It's a group from Europe, they are not happy, good luck. So, with that, I walk down the tram and I try to make smiles and say hello to people. And they are arms crossed, brow furrow, they were just not going to look at me at all. I get to the front and the leader of the group grabs my arm. He said, take us back to the bus. We don't want to do this anymore. You can't do this to us, and I looked at him. I said, sir, that's way above my pay grade, but you're going to have to sit down because we're moving. And the driver heard me, immediately started moving the van, and this is a three-car tram. So, I have 128 people on this thing. And they're all looking at me like they're angry at me. Like I'm the one who's responsible. And so, my immediate snarky, 19-year-old self-asked the gentleman to sit down, he did, but he looked at me. He says, well fine, but we are not going to have a good time. You cannot make us laugh. We will not enjoy this. And so, I looked at this and I said, okay, in my mind, my snarky 19-year-old says, oh, this is just another argument to win.

    Right? I'm going to win this argument. I'm just not going to give them a good tour. I'm not going to point things out. I'm not going to show them different things that they've paid to see. I'm not going to do that. And then in the front row of the second car was a family from the Midwest who was completely sunburn like everybody else because of the time in the sun. And they had big smiles on their face and they had t-shirts from the football team that they liked. So, I could see where they were from, but they were smiling at me. And I looked at them and I didn't realize that in a split second, I just made a decision like, wow. Instead of giving a really snarky tour, I'm going to give this family the best tour I can because they're there to have a good time.

    And so that's what I did. And I began to give that tour to them slowly but surely the people around them came along on the tour and they all started laughing by the end of the tour. Everybody was having a good time and laughing except for the grumpy leader. But it was amazing to me that I didn't even know I had that in me. I didn't know that in a pressure situation, I pivoted from being this kid who wanted to get back at this group to somebody who wanted to make these four people happy because they were smiling. And so, the group said goodbye to me. They were very friendly. But the family waited to speak to me. The father looked at me, said, son, you really turned that group around. Because they were not happy. And I looked at the family and I said, no, you turned them around you. Your smiles gave me permission to switch completely, to a different attitude. And I said, I was going to give completely different tour. It was not going to be friendly. It was not going to be nice. But instead, I gave that tour and the mother of, I can feel her hand to this day, puts her hand on my shoulder. She said, well, I want to thank you for choosing to give us that tour because, we can never were afforded to be in California again. This is the only time and this just made our vacation. Wow, so, I had no idea the power that I had, even as a tour guide, doing my job on these people's life.

    Steve Rush: It's an amazing story, Kevin, isn't it? You think about the whole principle behind what makes people tick? You could have changed and made a bad day for dozens of people, right?

    Kevin McCarney: Oh, so many and myself included because what I didn't see until the end, there was one of my supervisors getting off the back row of the tram, because he was auditing me to see how well I was doing. So, you can imagine where my career would've gone and it's a good idea for everything in life, you know, you don't know who's listening sometimes, but in this case, it was a lesson to me. She said chose, that stuck with me for a long time. I'm trying to understand what's happening in pressure situations where you can pivot from one attitude to another one in a split second under pressure. And what I realized and I started doing so much more research on this, which was one of the Genesis of the book, I started making notes on throughout my entire career is how people handle different situations.

    Steve Rush: What I particularly love about the story, because you tell it in the book is, you've described throughout the book, actually this whole kind of neurological response to how people deal with communication, except you've done it from a non-medical, non textbook perspective and used your own life choices and experiences in playing it back for people to understand in simple terms, right?

    Kevin McCarney: Yes, absolutely. I started my own restaurant company after that, did a bunch of stuff, then started my company and I realized, okay, I'm learning this stuff myself, how I can manage any particular situation, I can handle pressure. Now, how do I teach my team how to do that? How do I teach other people how to handle these situations? And use a really important segment there, a non-medical, a non-academic language. So, it was easy for people to grasp and they could see it, rather than sounding like, oh, I'm going to use these fancy words. I want to use everyday language so that it made sense in everyday situation.

    Steve Rush: And I guess that's where the whole notion of Big Brain Little Brain comes from, right?

    Kevin McCarney: Exactly, and I did enough research to where I started asking everybody and friends of mine, physicians and stuff like that, and you know, it really comes down too, you know, when people drink, their big brain gets cut off from their little brain. The little brain is that reptilian fight or flight brain. And the big brain is that neocortex, all the smart stuff that we know, we know what the right thing is. And what you realize is do different influences, whether they're chemical or environmental have an impact on the way we communicate. Our communication is in constant state of evolution. We're learning from the people around us, but one of the things I noticed and I started really understanding is that the big brain is that brain that's in control. It's genuine, it's thoughtful, its kind, it’s a good listener, and it builds trust when you communicate with the big brain. The little brain is that impulsive, sarcastic, snarky, selfish. The brain that snaps back, just a slightest provocation and a really poor listener, and it creates mistrust. And the difference between these two worlds is you're going to have a peaceful life or you're going to have a life that's going to have a lot of bumps of chaos in it. And little brain will create chaos, where big brain will try to come in and clean it up. But if you use your big brain to begin with, you have a much smoother path ahead.

    Steve Rush: One of the things you said at the top of the show really interested me actually, and it plays on that whole notion of how you read people before you read books. And that's kind of ironic because it turns out that you are dyslexic, and therefore actually you had to rely more on your unconscious behaviors playing out and reading people than you would've done, perhaps working around text and stuff. How much of that did you notice was developing into something over time?

    Kevin McCarney: You know, so much in growing up. That's exactly what I did. And one of the things that I got really good at reading and again, I didn't read my first book until I was 21. And I was convincing from a friend of mine because I was just so frustrated with the words and everything. But what I got really good was reading tone and I realized how important tone was to every communication. And tone's very difficult in a digital age because I don't think emojis quite give you the tone that they're intended. And so, what I really got to learn was, how much the tone is the message of what you're saying, because you can say the same words in a different tone and they mean something completely different.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Kevin McCarney: I walked into my house one time, 19-hour day. I just want to get in there, sit down and grab some water and relax. And there's 25 choir kids jumping up and down and singing at the top of their lungs. I hadn’t known about this meeting, but I opened the door and it's like, okay, what have we got going here? Right. That's what I said, because I had trained myself in situations. But can you imagine if I walked in and went, okay, what do we have going here? Same exact words, but the message to the audience is completely different. And I can tell you, my daughters appreciated the first tone because that's the one I used. And what you really understand, especially as a parent, but also with employees. The tone is the message. And if you can control your tone, you can control the conversation. You can maneuver any conversation. And the most important part of that is that tone is usually the first thing that begins to escalate in a conversation that turns it into a confrontation.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Kevin McCarney: I had four, older brothers, I had to get good at this, right. So, I got really good at managing my tone and pulling other people into my tone instead of following them into their little brain tone.

    Steve Rush: And you call out in the book actually, little brain activators and big brain boosters, right?

    Kevin McCarney: Yes, that's correct, yeah.

    Steve Rush: Got it. So, what are they and how would we use them?

    Kevin McCarney: Little brain and in the book, we have the little brain words in that, but it really comes down too, what people think about you is the last impression that you made on them. So, if you're thinking about, oh, I want to use this company for doing some editing or something and you're thinking, oh, you know what, let me think about which company, and you go to that company and your first thought is going to be the last impression that person made on you, not the first impression, but the last impression.

    So, if the last impression was that person's rude or disrespectful or abrasive, you're going to be switching to, you know what, let me look at somebody else because what happens is, when we get activated and it could be something as minor as somebody disrespecting our favorite football team and all of a sudden, we think, well, I have to fight for my football team and I have to say something back or it could be cutting off in traffic. Somebody cuts you off and I have to go after them or just somebody being loud in a movie theater. And I think that these are all little everyday situations that if we allow them to annoy us, it gives little brain a lot of power over what we're going to say. So, the idea is, yes, there's going to be things that annoy you and bother you every day. And it could be all these little things. It could be anything at work. It could be things that have been piling up. But if you allow any of these everyday situations to turn that annoyance into a confrontation, then it's because you haven't taken control of that moment. And that's the whole idea buying Big Brain, Little Brain is keep Big Brain in control. Keep Little Brain out of the conversation.

    Steve Rush: I remember when we first met Kevin, we talked about this whole notion. One of the things that I found really inspirational is your ability to what you call finding neutral. And often that's the bit between where people are activated, triggered, other language in other walks of life. And that emotional response kicks in, is often then too late to tap into your big brain. But you find this bit in the middle called neutral. And I think that's a really essential part, then isn't it, how we then learn how to respond, right?

    Kevin McCarney: Exactly. And as we mature, we get better at it. And the more we use neutral, the more natural it becomes for us in these situations like where, you know, I walked in and I got surprised, or you get surprised at work with somebody ambushed you with a report. They want you to do anything. But if you can get to neutral and you know, Victor Frankl who survive four different concentration camp, wrote 29 books on human behavior. He had the best line on that. She said between stimulus and response, there's a space. And in that space is our power to choose our response.

    Steve Rush: Right, yeah.

    Kevin McCarney: Very much like I chose to give a better tour. And I didn't even know about Victor Frankl at the time. We have a choice, no matter what pressure we're under, whatever somebody has done, somebody's poking us or prorogating us. We still have a choice. And we talk about the fight or flight brain all the time and media and stuff like that. Oh, it's fight or flight, but it's much deeper than that. There's another part of that whole idea is neutral between fight and flight, there is neutral and between and neutral is where you get to pivot and decide where you're going to go. And flight doesn't always mean running away. Sometimes it means stepping out of the way of a problem and fighting doesn't mean you're always going to be confrontational as much as you're going to stand up for yourself if you need to. But the idea behind getting to neutral and having a neutral word and my neutral word as you heard is okay, right.

    I practice saying, okay, in a very positive tone of voice, because even if, no matter when I'm surprised, I'm going to use my neutral word or my neutral phrase, and we give a whole example in the book. People keep sending me their neutral words. One of them is already or oh really, or interesting, or gosh. Any of these phrases or whatever one people have. And I believe everybody has their own neutral word already. They just don't see it as a tool, and it’s a wonderful tool because if you can get to neutral under pressure, it's an immediate awareness that, oh, I had better not let my little brain finish this conversation because it's going to create a problem for me that I got to clean up. That's I got to bring my big brain into here to finish this off. That's what neutral is. And more you use neutral. The more you use that neutral word, the better you're going to be, because it's going to make you stronger and stronger.

    Steve Rush: So, the Importance of having a neutral word is really essential, isn't it? Cause without it, I guess you would then trigger more little brain activators.

    Kevin McCarney: Yes, exactly. And I think that what will happen is, you fall into a little brain cycle of, oh, what's the next little brain thing I can use or say, if you don't realize, because the neutral gives you the awareness that you need in that moment. You use your little brain, somebody else is going to respond with their little brain and you just get into a little brain cliche war of talking back and forth and you're get completely off top and you get away from even the conversation you were in, you get more into a reactionary comment.

    Steve Rush: And without that, can you still get into neutral or does access to big brain become really difficult?

    Kevin McCarney: No, you can get into neutral at any point. Let's say you've gone down the road a little bit and you may one or two little snarky comments, as soon as you become aware of that, you can go, oh, you know, I probably shouldn't have said it like that. Let me rephrase that. Let me go back. And that's where big brain takes over because it really does. You're constantly evolving in that conversation. You're constantly going to have different moments of awareness, but if you can know that your neutral word is, I see, or oh really? Or you want to take some time and let's say somebody pushed pressure on you. Well, what do you think right now? And in the book, we have a section where we talk about time parachute. Giving you a little time before you answer a question.

    And, you know, one of the things that I don't like to do is when somebody pushes me, answer this now, right? I go, you know what, I need a little more time to ponder that. That's a really interesting thing. Let me think about that. Let me give that some more thought, let me give it the thought it deserves. Something like a time parachute, gets you out of a lot of sticky situations when you get into them. And I think it's one of those graceful exits that keeps you out of little brain.

    Steve Rush: It's also gets you straight to neutral.

    Kevin McCarney: Yes, exactly. And it's a tone of voice. As I never realized how critical it was, but if you watch any movie or any TV, you'll see how manipulative tone can be.

    Steve Rush: So, in the virtual world, how have you seen this change? So obviously you can hear tone, but I wondered if you could see tone through the way people are typing or the way that they are using emojis in the digital world.

    Kevin McCarney: Great question. It's more to difficult now than ever because tone is usually decided by the person reading the message, right? So whatever mood they're in, they're going to decide the tone that you wrote that in, whether it is not that tone or not, which is why I always tell people if they get a little brain email from somebody or the little bring text from somebody, instead of trying to out little brain them or out comment them in a text, pick up the phone and just say you know what, or say just say, you know what, can we talk? You know, can we have a conversation? Break away from that medium into a different medium? So, you can really have the time because it's hard to read tone in text, it's just almost impossible, but some people are really good at it.

    But most people, when it comes to the quickness of communication today, I think the internet has made everybody so fast and impulsive and how quick they think they need to respond. And one of the things we discuss is, no. You don't need to respond right away, give yourself some time, process some of the comments, especially in a business environment or even a family environment where you get an email where somebody was obviously upset or frustrated, you know, it's a good idea to ponder for a little bit before you respond to that. And it really is, go to neutral and think what's the best response I can have for this person in this moment, in this particular communication.

    Steve Rush: I'd never really joined the dots together actually in so much as when you receive written word, you read it in your own emotive state. Of course, you do. But actually, now you've said it out loud, it makes loads of sense. And that's why lots of people read same text and get a different message, right?

    Kevin McCarney: Yes, absolutely. And I've been the guilty party on several of those over the years. And I think that one of the things, and I've also been a receiver of so many where I look at something now and I really train myself. And I think that when it comes to communication, we have to constantly being the state of improving, evolving, and training ourselves to get better. We have to practice our verbal muscle memory really to get better at how we respond to different things. And I'm grateful that I've had the time to sort of focus on this for the last several years.

    Steve Rush: And to help that muscle memory as well in the book you call out some little brain baggage words. I just wonder if you could share to our listeners what they are and how we could maybe use them to help our communication?

    Kevin McCarney: Yeah, what we call out in the book, there's seven different areas of communication where all these different principles show up that I talk about, whether it's control, tone, words, time, responsibility, power, and awareness. These are the seven areas where all these things can show up, but little brain, again, little brain. These baggage words is the last impression you made. And it's the last thing you said, or the last interaction you had with that person. And so, if your little brain you're going to have under control, you're going to rude. And, you may have under tone, you may have disrespectful and words, abrasive. People know this stuff, they remember this, they remember the little brain component of your last communication, more than they remember the big brain component, because they'll remember if you were immature or snarky, they'll remember that, and a big brain, you know, legacy words, you know, you've got to work harder to make people remember those, whether it's sincerity or trusting or welcoming, considerate, it is two different worlds when it comes to what people think about you. And it really is, you know, essentially your reputation is online with every communication that you do

    Steve Rush: To your knowledge and experience, is the reason why we can remember little brain words more because it sits in the emotional part of our brain rather than the logical part of our brain?

    Kevin McCarney: Absolutely, and again, with tone, but a lot of these words are how they make us feel. And the negative feelings are definitely more prominent and it sits there a little bit longer. And, you know, I think that you can erase these words by the way, you can get rid of the negative little brain baggage words by recognizing, oh, with this person. The last time I talked to them, I think I was a little bit rude. So next time I talked to them, I'm going to start off with, you know what, hey, by the way, apologize for last time, I think I was a little snarky or something. You can just take it away. And that's the beautiful thing about, anybody that you've had a difficult communication with. You can go back and look where you may have made a mistake and you can undo it. You can erase it by, going in and literally addressing it and dealing with it so they can say, oh yeah, okay. I remember that, but he said something and he's he apologized or they said, oh yeah, it was for a different reason. The idea is, you always have control over this communication. Even if you said something wrong, you can go back and fix it.

    Steve Rush: So, I guess falling into the trap of little brain language, little brain words, and baggage words, that's natural behavior because we've learned that way of doing things. And we've learned a response set in response to different emotions or events. So how can we make sure that we are spending more time in the big brain?

    Kevin McCarney: Well, I think the first thing you can do is, every day you can take a look at where you're at and recognize it. You get up in the morning, you go, okay, what's going on today? Is anything wrong physically? Is there anything bothering you emotionally? What are some of the outside influences that might be controlling you today? And so, if you go through that and go, yeah, you know what? I got this report due and I'm of anxiety. Just go through, and there's a whole list in the book, check them off. There’re eight little areas, check them off to make sure that if you know, you've got something, a situation that's going to go into little brain, you know, that going in, which means you can stay in big brain much longer. And it really is a daily checklist of making sure you can do that. The other thing I think is the most important thing is every day, wake up with the idea that if you control your tone, you control your life.

    Steve Rush: I like that, very powerful, the same words, different tone, different outcome.

    Kevin McCarney: Yeah, different outcome completely. And that's the greatest lesson, because you know, I've seen it so many times and I've given so many presentations to different groups and you watch sometimes when you talk about neutral, you see light bulbs go off. I have people practice their tones. I go, okay, say this word in an angry tone. Now say this word in a pleasant tone. And when you really use a little bit of tone training, all of a sudden you get people immediately to become aware, oh, and it's because we're not taught this in school or when we are growing up, we gather our information on communication by the environments we're in. And if the environment doesn't teach us, then we've got to go out and find it somewhere else.

    Steve Rush: So, here's the thing. It's a really interesting point you just come across. Actually, I've had this conversation with a number of people over time. What's the reason we don't teach this stuff at school?

    Kevin McCarney: You know, I think interpersonal communication is sometimes seen as it's not academic. And it's not something that people have paid attention too. My local school, just beginning to pay attention, because you know, everybody's talking about mindfulness, right? Well, mindfulness begins with the way you communicate. And I'm pushing them to do something along the lines of getting people to communicate. And again, not just about, you know, how to handle confrontations or things like that, but really how to communicate more effectively. And I think from an academic standpoint, they're looking at curriculum and that's all they have time to deal with. So, it's outside the curriculum, and I've spoken at a school every year, locally here to this group of kids because they want this message for that group. And it's outside the curriculum, but it's inside the school.

    And it's really beginning to help. I think it would be wonderful if more people could do this because you're right. I just think that the academic world is not their fault as much as they're not necessarily aware of this. And even my book, isn't going to be seen by an academic culture as, oh yeah. Even though it's laid out where you can teach this, it's going to be, they have to understand it's not based upon some academic school, this is street psychology. This is observational life psychology. And it's not about white coats and animals testing or putting wires on people. This is everyday life and it's more difficult for people to accept.

    Steve Rush: And ironically, the more academia we have it's put into work in everyday life, which is the, where the rubber really hits the road. So actually, what you have in absolute terms is the effect of all of that psychology going on, which I think is why it plays out so well.

    Kevin McCarney: Yeah, I think it does. We have to always understand that we're evolving in our communication every day and every situation and every environment we're in and we can get better at it. And I think that everybody has the ability to get at communicating. And I think that's going to be the challenge. I think that one of my favorite stories is my own story where, you know, I got much better at tone after my five-year-old daughter taught me a lesson when I was under a Christmas tree, trying to put up some lights. And I saw her walking up the steps of a ladder, and I said, Caitlyn, get down from there, right. And then she did, she kept walking up and I yelled again. Caitlyn, get down from there, raise my voice, right. And I get out from the tree and I'm about to launch a very louder, angry tone. And she looks at me and she's got an angel in her hand. She wants to put it on top of the tree. I did not see that, which is a metaphor for life. We don't see everything, you know, that we react to. And I looked at her and she looks at me and I said, Caitlyn, it's dangerous. You've got to get down from there. And this five-year-old looks at me, she goes, I like that tone better daddy.

    Steve Rush: Wow.

    Kevin McCarney: Wow.

    Steve Rush: How interesting is that?

    Kevin McCarney: Yeah, because if we're tuning into our kids, they're much more pure in their communication. They're much cleaner in their communication. They're not muddled, by all the other extra words, they know what they're reading, they're reading tone. So, it's a wonderful lesson for me. It was a wonderful lesson and it still is.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Kevin McCarney: But it really comes down to, we're constantly evolving and don't ever think that we've learned enough to where we don't have to learn anymore about communicating. This is everyday communication. We still have to get better at it.

    Steve Rush: And it'll always be evolving because the world's changing. The way we communicate changes, the medium in which we do so changes and in therefore our response to it. So, it'll always be something that's new and fresh for us to get into, right.

    Kevin McCarney: Exactly, and I'm grateful. We got podcasts like yours, that are out there to get the word out to more people. Because I think podcasts have been one of the greatest things that the digital generation has created. More information, more sources of good information where people want to take the time to listen. The idea that there's taking the time to listen to a podcast. They're not just looking at something on a screen, but they're listening is fantastic because we have to train people to listen more. Because that's when they start thinking things through when they're listening.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, superb and thanks for endorsing our podcast as well. And the genre, because I'm with you, right. This is a means to help people and grow people's awareness. And actually, the more we can do that collectively as an entire community, then the better.

    Kevin McCarney: Yeah, absolutely. My goal is to get the entire world to neutral for a while.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Kevin McCarney: You know, so we can pivot and be more productive.

    Steve Rush: So, I'm going to ask a step into neutral as we now pivot into the next part of our show.

    Kevin McCarney: Okay.

    Steve Rush: So, this is part of the show where we start to tap into your broad and extensive leadership career and I'm looking for you to kind of tap into all of that experience and think about, what would be the top three leadership hacks you could share with our audience?

    Kevin McCarney: Probably one of the most important is something that came out of a situation again where I had employees not talking to each other and they were grunting. And I finally sat one of them down and said, listen, there's a meeting coming up. The other, person's not going to be here. I want you to say three things that person does really well at the end of the meeting, and then end the meeting. And he did a wonderful job of doing that. And the next day after that meeting where the person who he wasn't speaking to wasn't there, but the next day he walked in and all of a sudden that person was speaking to him and being very friendly. And what we noticed is that, without her being there, he used what we now have labeled as good gossip.

    Good gossip is one of the greatest leadership hacks ever because you can strategically use it. It has to be honest, otherwise it won't work, but it's strategically talking nice about somebody or saying nice about somebody behind their back, because it does multiple things. In today's world, it gets back to everybody, there are no secrets anymore. You can't whisper, that doesn't make a different. People just turn up the sound. And when it comes to that internal communication of a company. Gossip is a cancer where good gossip is a cure.

    Steve Rush: Fantastic.

    Kevin McCarney: Because if you can say nice things about people behind their back, it not only makes that person to feel good, because they'll hear it, but it makes the people that are listening to you, trust you because now they're getting, oh, that's really cool that they're saying something nice about somebody because that elevates their trust level in that person.

    So, I would say, definitely say one of my hacks would be good gossip because it's absolutely incredibly powerful and incredibly useful. The next thing I would say is, control your tone. You know, it is probably the most important thing and practice your tone. And I think that, you know, realize that no matter what situation you're in, you always have a choice. You always have a choice. You don't have to do or say anything. You always have a choice. It's going to be to understand and really use these words, say it to yourself. How I can communicate is who I am. And how you communicate is who you are. And if you can understand it, how you communicate and that the words you use today are going to be with you forever. Especially in this environment, we're in where everybody's got a recording device on their hip. The words you use today will follow you forever. So, choose the words you want to follow you.

    Steve Rush: I love those. I particularly love the good gossip. I think it's just a great notion and would drive so many positive outcomes.

    Kevin McCarney: I saw it work and we still see it work so often. And again, watch it even amongst your own friends and watch how they respond when you're talking good about somebody who's not there. And it's a way we can train people to use good gossip because it travels the same path as gossip, exactly. But it has completely different and much more productive results.

    Steve Rush: So, the next part of the show, we call it Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something hasn't worked out as well as you'd thought and would work out or maybe it's quite catastrophic, but as a result of it, there is a learning experience for you. And it's now a positive in your life or work. So, what would be your Hack to Attack Kevin?

    Kevin McCarney: Well, I think that the thing that has taught me the most is standing behind the counter at the restaurant for the first seven years and realizing because I was so good at winning arguments, you know, customers would come in and they would say something and I know I'm right, right. I knew that they ordered the food wrong or something. And I kept trying to win the argument with the customer. And only realize is it's not that the customer's always right. They're not, and I don't want to throw employees under the bus. Oh, the customer's always right. The customers not always right. But in the pressure of the moment, customer actually believes that they're right. And I learned that lesson a couple times when I was trying to win the argument and I saw people storm out and I realized, gosh, how do I get that person back?

    I don't want to win the argument. I want to win that moment. I want to win that person back. So that was part of the Genesis of what we're talking about is that, I had to learn that winning the argument is sometimes losing. And it's not that the customer's always right. Again, they're not. The customer believes though in that moment that they're right. And you have to bring them back. You have to bring them back to your reality because we're in the hospitality business, we're in the business of bringing people back to life. I realized when I was behind the counter that I'm in the business of serving people with low blood sugar.

    Steve Rush: Yes, it's true actually, right.

    Kevin McCarney: So, they walk in, they're hungry. So, they're not necessarily mentally exactly who they normally want to be. And so, if you get anything wrong, it's physiological. They're hungry. So, what I learned is, oh, okay. There's a physiological state here that I'm dealing with. I have to train all my people, how to deal with people in this age, because our job is to bring people back. I want to bring as many people back, you know, there was situation in a restaurant where a customer got completely out of control, and we were able to bring her back and to the point where she apologized. And when I tell my employees right now, I said, look, the word restaurant comes from the word restaurant it's a French word, right? And it comes from a 1765. A guy named Boulangers in Paris is the story that Marion Webster puts out there.

    Couldn't get into any of the food union. So, he created his own little soup and stews place, and he put a sign, at his window, come in you weary traveler. And my stews will restore you. And it's the perfect idea of what the restaurant business is all about. And I think any business, really. People are looking to be restored. They're looking for something to make them feel good, whether it's listening or whether it's eating, they’re looking for something and make them feel good. So, they're going to come back to something that makes them feel good. I’m in the business of restoring people. They come in, they're hungry. Somebody was angry at work. Our job is to send them back out restored. My employees have done a wonderful job of doing that for 37 years.

    Steve Rush: And what's made Poquito Mas so successful Kevin? If you put communication at the heart of all of that, right?

    Kevin McCarney: Absolutely, communication and honesty and freshness. And just knowing that your customers are human and your employees are human and you know what? You're going to work with whatever situation comes up, it will be fine. I can't say I'm not surprised, but I'm not shocked by many things anymore.

    Steve Rush: Now the last part of the show. We get to give you a chance to do some time travel. You get to bump into Kevin at 21, and you get to give him some advice. So, what would it be?

    Kevin McCarney: Listen more than you speak, because you will learn so much more and you will know what to say when you do speak. Because my 21-year-olds self was not a great listener. And I think that listening was probably the one lesson that I learned gave me the most insight. Do that, listen, and don't be in a hurry.

    Steve Rush: Really powerful words, really powerful. Love it. Now, having listened to you today and knowing all the great work you do, Big Brain Little Brain, by the way, is a great read. It's packed of tools and traps you call it. So, if folks will listen to this, I wanted to copy of the book or wanted to learn a little bit more about your work Kevin, where's the best place for us to send them

    Kevin McCarney: bigbrainlittlebrain.com. And you can go to kevin@bigbrainlittlebrain.com. And I return all my emails and you can click on the link and get to Amazon to buy a book and please leave a review, good or bad, leave a review, whatever you feel about it. I think it's the most important thing right now is to get the word out to people.

    Steve Rush: And of course, unless you're in California, you're unlikely to bump into Paquito Mas.

    Kevin McCarney: Yes, absolutely. Paquito Mas is in LA. We've got eight locations. We've been around, like I said, 37 years and we make everything from scratch every day. Every tortilla, everything. So, it's good food. And you know, we're still in business and I feel grateful that we've survived this last year and a half. And I know that no matter what's ahead of us, we'll deal with it.

    Steve Rush: Yeah. Kevin, thank you ever so much for sharing your stories and helping us all find our neutral word. I think that's the goal for the day and sharing your wider experience with us and just thanks of being part of our community on The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

    Kevin McCarney: Well, Steve, I can't thank you enough for doing this. I listen to your stuff and it's just such so healthy to listen to a program like this. It's healthy, and I appreciate you're here

    Steve Rush: And I appreciate you too. Thanks, Kevin.

    Kevin McCarney: All right, sir.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there: @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there: @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

  • Crystal Robinson is a retired professional Basketball player and coach who's played the highest level in the Women's NBA. Today, she's a thought leader in the space of conscious leadership, mental health, and diversity. In sharing her life and professional lessons Chrystal talks about:

    Growing up in poverty in rural Oklahoma and learning to deal with poverty and racism while dealing with her own sexual identity.How Basketball became her coping mechanism.How learning to deal with life’s challenges helped build resilience in her career.After writing her book, “Finding Myself”, she admits she still hasn’t found herself and continues to learn.

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Chrystal below:

    Finding Myself Book: https://www.amazon.com/Finding-Myself-Crystal-Robinson/dp/1777573726

    Full Transcript Below

    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    And a special guest on today's show is Crystal Robinson. She's an American basketball coach and former Women's NBA, All-Star. And she was the first black woman to be inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. Now, after chronicling her life's lessons in her book, Finding Myself, she's now an ambassador for the LGBTQ Community, but before we get a chance to meet with Crystal, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: In the news today, we explore how diversity and inclusion has evolved and diversity education started in the sixties, so it's nothing new to us. And over time we would have all become aware of how it's evolved to take into consideration inclusion. And while many think that diversity and inclusion are the same thing, they're not. Diversity is the act of creating community, comprised of people with varying backgrounds, creeds, ages, differences, and inclusion is finding a way of making sure that all of those people feel really valued in what they do and how they behave.

    Wait, where did equity come from? Well, it's always been there. In recent years, diversity and inclusion issues have been bolstered by the addition of the concept of equity and unlike equality, which focused on providing equal resources, regardless of context. Equity actually focuses on the process of just being fair. Equality is treating everyone the same. Whereas equity is about achieving the same benefits, even if it means that everyone receives different, there's still fair and justified treatment and experiences. Regular listeners will know that we love the difference that makes the difference. And that's because all humans are different. We all have components of our identities that are both seen like race, gender, identity. And then there are hidden things like our mental health or disability or sexual orientation, and whether you're willing to admit it or not, we all come from different backgrounds and we hold multiple interconnecting identities and biases that show up in our relationships and our workplace. Research also shows that higher levels of diversity may lead to increase conflict and misunderstanding. And often because we struggled with accepting and celebrating our differences. Inclusion doesn't mean that we can just pretend those differences don't exist. It means that we can acknowledge those differences and take advantages of differences to create diverse, equitable, and inclusive communities that we work and live in.

    And therefore, we now arrived at our current incarnation, this essential tool that features equal and equitable attention on diversity, equity and inclusion. And as I reflect on this, a single piece of the puzzle missing could create an incomplete picture. Diversity is the heart of different voices in any conversation. Inclusion is uplifting, validating and hearing each and every voice and equity as a manner in which we amplify those voices. So, the leadership hack is dead simple. When you're thinking diversity and inclusion, think everyone everywhere, and do you have equity? Not equality. Making sure the right treatment for the right people, the right places at the right times means that we all get to benefit from diverse and inclusive behaviors and diverse and inclusive communities. That's been The Leadership Hacker News, I would love for you to share anything that's on the top of your agenda, so get in touch.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Crystal Robinson is a special guest on today's show. She's a retired professional athlete and coach who's played the highest level of basketball in the Women's NBA. Today, she's a thought leader in the space of conscious leadership, mental health, and diversity. Crystal, welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

    Crystal Robinson: Thank you for having me.

    Steve Rush: So, let's just start by calling out a few of your kind of credits to your name. So former WNBA player and coach, named an all American by the WBCA, you earn a rookie of the year award and an ABL All-Star, you've been indicted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, indicted into the NAIA Hall of Fame, drafted overall sixth by the Women's NBA. Now author, coach, and ambassador for the LGBTQ community. Wow, that's not a bad backstory.

    Crystal Robinson: Yeah, I've had a pretty fun and exciting life.

    Steve Rush: Now, it hasn't been always that smooth sailing to be fair, has it? So, I know from the last time that we met, you grew up in rural Oklahoma. Having had a really kind of tough upbringing, having to navigate some poverty, a lot of racism issues, and then having to deal with and come to terms with your own sexual identity along that, on the journey, I guess. So just tell us a little bit about how early life really was for you.

    Crystal Robinson: Overall, I guess, at some point in life, you know, I was just a poor kid growing up happy, you know, you don't know you're poor until you learn you're poor, but lots of struggles, but I think everybody in life has struggles. I think in my book, I write about them, but that's really, for me not wasn't the focus of my life. I think I wrote about those struggles basically for people to understand that that are commonalities with all of us. We all have struggles, but just kind of how we end up dealing with them, determines where we end up in life.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, wise words, is often the case, isn't it?

    Crystal Robinson: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: You know, often, most people are faced with adversity of some kind, but it's a reaction to that adversity that makes the difference. And clearly, you know, you face into those really well because you ended up as a professional athlete. So, tell us a bit about the journey of how you ended up in baskets ball?

    Crystal Robinson: Both my parents were college basketball players. I was just something, they were both all Americans that I was an innate. I was born with a great ability and five years old; they gave me a basketball goal and I started playing on it and fell in love with it. Then the rest was kind of history after that. So, I just excelled, I played basketball all the time. Basketball became a place for me to take out my anger and anything that I wasn't feeling good about. It was a place for me to, you know, just release all of the negative feelings that any negative feelings that I had.

    Steve Rush: And having the foundations of using basketball if you like as a bit of a coping mechanism, most people will use some form of coping mechanism to deal with some adversity, but there is a different level of coping when you turn into being so good at it. You become recognized in your country as being the elite in your sport. Tell us a little bit about when that kind of pivotal moment happened for you when you became a pro basketball player?

    Crystal Robinson: It's so funny, you know, there was no professional women's basketball whenever I started playing basketball, you know, we were young girls. We didn't have the ability to look and say, hey, I wanted to be in the WNBA one day. So, you know, I just played all the time. I play with my guy cousins and overall goal was to be as good as my best cousin and things just kind of snowballed from there. Then I ended up being recruited by every college in the country. The town I grew up in, it's a population of about 400 people. It's called Stringtown, Oklahoma. So, you start having people from all over the United States coming to watch you play basketball and offering you scholarships. I'd say at that point, I thought I was pretty good and believe, but I don't think it wasn't until, you know, hindsight after your career, you kind of evaluate and see where your skillset fit in to your professional career.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, and you've told the story through your book, which is just an amazing read, called Finding Myself and tell us a little bit about how you decided to put your stories down into pages for others to read about?

    Crystal Robinson: I wanted it to be interesting, one, because, even though I've been a basketball player, I'm not Kevin Duran or Stephan Curry or no one with a big name like that, putting your story down for other people. It was about, you know, helping people, helping people see that. One thing, there's few things that we all have in common. Like it doesn’t matter what color you are, what race you are or how rich you are, nothing matters. We're all going to encounter obstacles. Some of them make us stronger. Why does it make some of us stronger, and some of us not? You know, some of us suffer. So, I think that lots of people that are suffering feel alone, but just putting those stories out there that we all suffer at times. It's just about, you know, figuring it out. The perspective on how to navigate it.

    Steve Rush: Was there an element for you as well, as you wrote the book and you put all the stories down and into kind of words and stories, was there a little bit around another bit of therapy going on there for you at the time as well?

    Crystal Robinson: Honestly, it was all therapy going on there.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Crystal Robinson: Honestly, to tell you the truth, I went to therapy and I was told to journal and I didn't set out and write a book like, oh, I'm going to write a book. I started journaling and just writing things that bother me, things that made me feel good, things that just, I don't know, things. And after seven or eight journals later, I felt better. And I sent and all of it to one of my friends that writes for the Amsterdam News in New York. And she said, this would be a really good book. You should organize it. So that's kind of how the book journey started. It wasn't that I just sat down to write a book. It just kind of happened. I probably have stories together and then put it in book form.

    Steve Rush: I would love to get into some of the stories if you are okay with that, because there were some really inspirational things that happen to you that we can all get some life lessons from. I remember the time that you talk about it in your book, when you were playing little league baseball, your dad turned up at a game to watch you, he was blind drunk. And despite that, you kind of played a brilliant game. What happened for you in that process and how did you use that as a positive?

    Crystal Robinson: I think in those moments, you don't ever feel like it's a positive, I think, but for me, I think that it taught me perseverance, you know, and at an early age, I had to figure out how to, you know, really just walk with my head, held high, even though everybody in the town knew that my dad was a big drunk. But my dad was a very functioning drunk. He worked, he went to work at times, you know? I think that taught me, first off, you know, the people who are going to care are going to care. At that point, I think I started to learn to not care about what other people thought, you know, some circumstances we were put under, we don't ask for them. We just have to learn how to deal with them and cope with them.

    Steve Rush: I would imagine that taught you a huge amount of resilience.

    Crystal Robinson: Yes.

    Steve Rush: Not just that occasion, but many occasions like it, I guess.

    Crystal Robinson: Definitely resilience. And I think that just in life, anybody who wants to make it, or just to be successful in life, it takes resilience. I'm sure when you started this podcast, it wasn't easy. You have to get people to come on, you know, you have to get all this things together, and I'm sure there's many, a times that you go through things you might want to quit, but you're resilient enough to know the benefits of it down the road, or you have a foresight to keep going. That's the best way to say.

    Steve Rush: Absolutely, yeah. And some of that kind of resilience, I guess, was also born about, through your experiences in high school. And I also remember reading in the book that when you were playing high school basketball, you came acquire a bit of, you know, racial slurs and verbal abuse. In that environment, you know, how do you deal with that when you're trying to focus on playing a game?

    Crystal Robinson: Oh, man. My stance on this has changed so much over the years, just recently in my hometown, I was racially profiled and pulled over, basically taking the jail for no reason until they realized who I was. Then they tried to let me go after like six hours of wasting my time. And I said, no, so they trumped up a charge. And it was just a lot, like, it just kind of changed my stance on just how I am. I think that the racial environment in the world right now has everybody on edge. And I think that I find myself having to go back to a lot of that stuff and a lot of the teachings and a lot of the way that I used to feel, just because of the place that the world is in now and the experiences that I've had.

    Steve Rush: That's really interesting. You you're most talking as if at one stage in your life or your career, you thought you'd got through that, but it seems to almost have another resurgence.

    Crystal Robinson: Well, I would say that, I would probably say that I didn't experience a lot of racism as a young kid. I did once or twice in my life, but I live in rural Oklahoma where there's no, we still bury people in black cemeteries and white cemetery. So, racism is definitely alive and well.

    Steve Rush: Wow.

    Crystal Robinson: You're really good at sports and you really good at things. You know how it is, people overlook that. And then at the back end of my career, you know, people change, times change and some young cops pull me over and don't know who I am and they just proceed to search, the car, I'll all this stuff because I have my dreads down. And then when the speaker of the house representatives and the judges are called in, like, what are you doing? And at this point I'm a voice. I'm a voice that can bring some attention to it. And it was just a lot, so my stance on that, I find myself, I won't say in prayer, but really having to check myself and think about that a lot more now, just because I feel the world is racially charged right now.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it is. I sense that as well, right. And here I sit as a white caucasian guy who has had no racial issues to deal with per se, right? Yet, I still feel there is that racially charged tendencies. In fact, there is this terminology, isn't there? For people who are of my ethnicity called white fragility, where, you know, we're not having the conversation because we're almost afraid to. What's your spin on that?

    Crystal Robinson: For me, the people who are on that side, people like you, you shouldn't have to carry that burden, it's just like the Taliban. There's a certain amount of people with money that are racist, but everybody has to pay the price for that. Do you understand what I'm saying?

    Steve Rush: Absolutely.

    Crystal Robinson: Just like certain amount of my population that might be thugs. That might be certain things, but all of us have to pay the price for that. But those people are louder than people like you.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Crystal Robinson: Heard more, and I think that when people stop having that fear and stop feeling guilty, you have nothing to feel guilty about, you know, but I think a lot of Caucasian people have a feeling of guilt and stand on the sidelines because I've had to really reconcile some of my friendships because I feel like some really powerful people stood on the sidelines and are standing on the sidelines that could expose this. And it would stop, but they have no interest in that because they're not boat rockers. They keep going the way it is, it doesn't matter that they hurt my career for no reason.

    Steve Rush: The whole kind of racial tension that exists today seems to be far louder than it ever has been. And I remember, so I grew up in the outskirts of London, very diverse community, lots of different ethnicities in my community. I didn't even know there was a racial issue until I probably hit high school, right. So, at what point do you think we're going to actually have a face into this and deal with it or do you think we could ever deal with it?

    Crystal Robinson: I think that there's a group of people that doesn't want it to change. It'll take a lot of bravery on a lot of people's parts for it to change. For some reason in society, there always has to be someone getting stepped on. I don't know why that is. I saw something on the news the other day, not the other day. I saw it maybe today scrolling through on Instagram. And I saw where Mexicans were showing up down there, given the Haitian people water and food, lots of things that they were providing for those people. And I was just thinking it's always the downtrodden that show up first because, no one's more, you know, trying to cross the border or get into the United States or do, you know, more than Mexican people. So, for them to be down there helping the Haitians, it was amazing to me.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, awesome. I think the more we can celebrate that and promote that, then the better it will be, right?

    Crystal Robinson: You’re saying it so good. What you just said, what you said was basically, media publicizes the bad things. There's not enough said about things like.

    Steve Rush: That’s very true.

    Crystal Robinson: They keep us at odds because that's what you see. And I shared that story simply because, you know, I said, it's not enough good things being shown in the world today. There are good things happening, so.

    Steve Rush: Hallelujah to that, yeah. So, as you were growing your career in basketball, and as you becoming more successful, not only had to deal with the racial slurs, but internally there's stuff going on for you, as you were trying to work out your own sexuality and having feelings for the same sex. Tell us a little bit about how you dealt with that kind of confusion and managed to come to terms with that and move forward in your life?

    Crystal Robinson: Very sloppily, to able to figure those things out. I knew I was different; I knew it wasn't accepted. I knew I lived in the Bible bell. I did go to church, and how are you supposed to be when everyone tells you your whole identity is something that you're going to hell for? I mean, you know, it was a lot at that time. That's all I could say. I didn't really have anybody to talk to. I just went with it. But at a certain point, I just, you know, I think that you get to the point to where either I have one life to live, I'm going to live at the best way I possibly can. And the people who want to be friends with me will be friends with me and the people who won't want. And that's just life in general.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Crystal Robinson: I think that once you break it down to, you know, that simplicity of that, no one likes anybody a hundred percent of the time and no matter how good you are, some people are still not going to like you.

    Steve Rush: It got so bad for you at one state though, you were seriously thinking about taking your own life, right?

    Crystal Robinson: Oh, yeah.

    Steve Rush: That doesn't get any deeper than that, does it?

    Crystal Robinson: On more than one occasion, I felt like that, you know, but I won't say it's because of the way people treated me, it's because I just wanted to fit in. I didn't want it to be different. I didn't want this; I didn't ask for it. It's just who I was.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Crystal Robinson: I was born this way.

    Steve Rush: And you still live-in rural Oklahoma. How have things changed for you? Are you more accepted by those same people? Have they become less bigoted and more educated? Tell us what that fell like for you now?

    Crystal Robinson: I wouldn't say that. Oklahoma is still about 25 years behind the rest of the world, you know, I have a group of people that are very educated. They travel, they do a lot of things and they don't have no problems with it, but there's always going to be a group of people who will have a problem with it, but won't say it out loud. They might talk behind their back and stuff like that, but I don't spend any energy worried about those people.

    Steve Rush: Good, and also you can see it and spot it, can’t you? Because there'll be little micro behaviors and micro language you'd spot, perhaps because you've had more experience of it than some. And therefore, you can make those choices, right?

    Crystal Robinson: I think that for me, you know, being a professional athlete people that don't even like you, still will come up to you and ask you for an autograph, you know, that's just a kind of a part of the thing. I just kind of take it for what it's worth, you know? And I think that's one of the strengths that people should work on building is not really caring what other people think, you know, and living your life to the best of your ability for you.

    Steve Rush: That's really that easy to say though, right. But you've been in the public eye, you've been featured on TV. You've been, you know, press would have followed you. And that's got to take some toll when that's adverse commentary, right?

    Crystal Robinson: Yes, it's different. I tell you; I really took a completely different stance and approach as a pro athlete. I kind of immersed myself with the fans. They all knew who I was. They spent time with me. If they saw me, be like, oh, hey Crystal, I was around so much that they left me alone. I didn't put a barricade between me and them to set myself apart to where they wanted to be around me. If you understand what I'm saying.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, definitely, so, yeah.

    Crystal Robinson: I gave them access, like after games, I might stay two hours and sign everybody's autograph. And that way, when they see me with my family, it's just, hey Crystal and they keep going. You know, I think that that's one of the things that was just different about me. I love basketball. I love what I did. I was blessed to be able to do it, but that's just what it was. It was a great talent. It doesn’t really change or sets me apart from people, on the fact that I had some really great experiences.

    Steve Rush: I love the way you've approached that, by the way, because many people in the public eye aren't accessible and actually become less accessible because of their publicity and their public figure. Whereas actually, I wonder if some of our pro sports people and actors and other people in the public eye, if they gave more of themselves to their fans and their public, whether or not they'd actually have much more of a peaceful life anyway.

    Crystal Robinson: Well, you know, that is true. I agree with that. But at some point, some of these fans are not normal, right? I mean, I had a teammate named Debbie Black, this man had a whole sex change and change his name to Debbie White and sat outside and he stopped her.

    Steve Rush: Oh dear.

    Crystal Robinson: There is some danger to it.

    Steve Rush: Sure.

    Crystal Robinson: Oh, and you know, when you get a certain level, like I'm not a star to that point to where people are wanting anything like that, other than the autograph. But, you know, for some people, it is definitely dangerous. As little as I am, I just was, you know, it was inducted into the New York Liberty Ring of Honor. And a media person made up a bunch of lies and tried hard to tell me they wanted me to be in a documentary and all this stuff. My publicists kept telling me this stuff, but she didn't have no credentials. So, a lot of the big things that she should have, so it just didn't make sense to me. And she was not legit. So, stuff like that definitely happen.

    Steve Rush: So, when I read your book, one of the things that struck me was there were, you know, paragraph after paragraph, there was real crappy experiences, lots of abusive relationships, lots of adversity, but on every occasion, you managed to find it in yourself to kind of lift above that and keep positive. Just for those listening to this who maybe are struggling to find themselves like you did. How did you manage to just keep that positivity?

    Crystal Robinson: I think it's probably sheer, what's the word I'm looking for? Just the fact that I don't ever like to give other people control over me. I can't be anybody's victim. So, I had to figure out a way to persevere and persevere in a way that I was still whole. I wouldn't say that I found myself. I think I'm still finding myself every day; we grow and we change, but, you know, I didn't want those experiences to control my life. And I think that when you get stuck in places, those experiences control your life.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I love that. Was there a particular time though for you, as you were coming to terms with who you are today and the great work that you do now, where you thought, yeah, I'm happy, I'm content. I've found myself for now. When was that moment?

    Crystal Robinson: I would say I haven't.

    Steve Rush: Oh, great.

    Crystal Robinson: I definitely different. There’re people who have the same jobs for 50 years. And I applaud them to be able to do that, but I'm not that kind of person. I'm the kind of person who I was great at sports. I mastered something in the business world, thought leadership world now, and I'm trying to master that. I'm pretty comfortable being uncomfortable. And for me, the experiences in life is not, I don't want to be at the same job for 30 years. I want to experience as much as I can. So, lots of people look at that and they say, oh, you're not settled, or you don't do this, or you don't do that. But you know for me, that's how I choose to experience life.

    Steve Rush: That's fabulous, and the reality is of course, for those people who are comfortable and aren't in control, probably aren't actually growing as much as those that are restless and are comfortable being uncomfortable.

    Crystal Robinson: I would really agree with that statement. I think that, you know, young ages at sports, I went away from my parents and stayed for long periods of time to be able to play basketball. And then I went to Europe, I played in Europe for eight years. I have had so many different kinds of experiences in so many different countries. And to me, that's what life's about. Like, I don't have no opinion about Italy. If I can't go there, I spent four years there. I live like the people, you know? And to me that's where I found value in life.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, can you knock up a great Italian pasta dish though?

    Crystal Robinson: Oh, I can make, pasta, actually my own tomato sauce.

    Steve Rush: Awesome.

    Crystal Robinson: So, I lived in Italy. I actually had a translator my first year. And then the second year I was there, I stayed in that country for four years. One of my teammates was going to college to learn English. So, I helped her with English. I had a Spanish background, so it just kind of came together. And then by the end of that year, I was completely fluent. So, I loved Italy and most countries that I did play in, I just really tried to understand their culture and at least learn enough words to be able to live like them.

    Steve Rush: Empathy is everything. So, you had a super pro career, then you coached pro basketball. So how much of that experience in your sporting life is now shaping your approach when you coach others?

    Crystal Robinson: Well, I think that leadership is leadership. Like as a player, I was a leader on the team and I think that as a coach, I have the opportunity, you know, we kind of were trailblazers. There was no WNBA. We started something and these young players are figuring it out, you know. When I played, there was no free agency. Now there's free agency. True free agency, where girls can go out and get their own endorsement deals. The league owned all our likenesses. So, we couldn't shop our names around. So, there's so many things that I still have a hand in with the younger generation, helping usher this end for them and help them make decisions that I still am highly involved in, in basketball.

    Steve Rush: That's great. So, on the basis, you're still finding yourself, which I love by the way, what's next for you?

    Crystal Robinson: What’s next for you? We will see, I took a year off of work to promote this for basketball. To promote my book and who knows next year, I could end up back in basketball. But I only want to be back in basketball in an head coaching basis, just because it's a lot of work at the pro level. You don't really have a life; coach has a life because the assistants do all the work.

    Steve Rush: But you've earned that even the ability to be able to pass on that knowledge and to help guide, and actually also helps other people lead in that space as well, doesn't it?

    Crystal Robinson: How much public speaking as I can possibly do. I like to influence, so those are probably the two things that I would end up in. I'm already public speaking. I do a lot of that. Next month, I'll start doing a lot more of it. But eventually I'm sure basketball would probably call me back into it.

    Steve Rush: Is it a bit of a drug for your, basketball?

    Crystal Robinson: It used to be. Now is a completely different challenge. Now it's a challenge of convincing people. As the head coaches about psychology, you have all these great players. Convincing them to give up seven shots and give up a $50,000 potential bonus to help your team win. Like it's all psychology of moving people. And to me, that's a great challenge. It's easier to do things than it is to get people to do them. So, I'm still very driven towards perfection and figuring that out. And I think that, you know, as an assistant coach, most of the time I've been hired, it's been because of my ability to problem solve and my ability to keep the locker room good. So, I'd like to try that from a head coaching angle.

    Steve Rush: Cool, look forward to seeing you on the WNBA circuit soon then.

    Crystal Robinson: Yes.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, awesome. So now I'm going to turn the lens a little bit.

    Crystal Robinson: Okay.

    Steve Rush: Now you talked about leadership as a player and as a coach and having been a thought leader in your space as well. I'm going to ask you to try and think of, to distill all of those great leadership learnings that you have. And to narrow those down into your top three leadership hacks, what would they be?

    Crystal Robinson: My top three leadership hacks. The first one, probably be, treat people how you want to be treated, you know, being relatable. I think that one of the things that I've learned as a leader now with this younger generation, if they don't relate to you, you can't convince them to do anything you want them to do. It's going to be a fight and struggle with everything, you know, being relatable. Second thing I would say is, I was recently told by someone that I went into business with, you know, I'm a partial owner of a business and he told me, you can't tell people what to do if you don't know what to do. So, I suggest you get down there on the bottom level and learn what to do. So, I think, know what your employees are, what the people you're leading have to do. So, you can go back to relate to them, to help them along to be able to do it a better way. And then I would say, make sure everyone, it’s not input. Everyone has to feel valued, you know, as a head coach in sports, you have this always a balancing act, you know, of treating everybody the same, but then you have players that score 30 points and you have player the score, no points, being able to make them feel important, no matter what their role is, I think is something that a leader should be able to do.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, that’s great advice. It's not all about scoring goals, isn’t it?

    Crystal Robinson: Yes, not all about that. I'm telling you, the best teams I've ever played on. It was a bunch of mediocre players who completely knew their roles and work together to make it happen. And it takes good leadership, and for me, I was in college, I could average 65 points a game, but in games where I could score 10 points and we could still win, I'd give my teammates their opportunities to shine. So, when I take over games, they, got out the way and they were very conducive to what we were trying to do.

    Steve Rush: The next part of the show Crystal, we call it Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something in your life hasn't worked out well. And we know already having learned some of the stories from you already in this short conversation and having read your book, you've had a bunch to choose from, but maybe if there was one experience in your life that was perhaps at adversity, but you now use that specific advent for something that's positive in your life or work, what would be your Hack to Attack?

    Crystal Robinson: I was drafted into the American Basketball League and I was almost the last pick taken because I ended up leaving the NCAA school and going to a really low-level school, but I was still beating everybody at a high level. The American Basketball League where I was rookie of the year, and I was first team, all everything, it folded after two years. And I had no idea what I was going to do with my life at that point. I had a teaching degree, but I didn't know exactly what I was going to do. And then I got drafted in the sixth overall pick in the WNBA. Through that time period before that happened, I had gained some weight. I've kind of given up and whenever the WNBA came into play and I was the sixth overall draft, it just changed my life and my outlook on everything. And in terms of, you know, I almost given up hope, like I had been given this gift of basketball, and it would just snatch from me. I just made up my mind that, no matter what happened to WNBA, if anything ever happened, I was going to land on my feet and have a plan and be ready to go.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, and sometimes it's just being available and open to coincidence as well, isn't it?

    Crystal Robinson: Yeah, it is.

    Steve Rush: Sometimes when you're driving so hard to achieve things, you don't often see what else is going on around you.

    Crystal Robinson: And not being prepared for it.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Crystal Robinson: You know, I just thought it was going to last, you get caught up in that euphoria, just wasn't prepared for it. When I retired from basketball, I retired at a very early age. I retired at the age of 34. I probably could have still played for four more years. But I knew basketball wasn't what I was going to do forever. I'd done everything I could possibly do in it. And my body was sore, so I retired.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, get out of the top. That's what it's about, right. So, if you could go back and meet Crystal at 21 and give her some advice, what would be your words of wisdom to her then?

    Crystal Robinson: I think my words of wisdom would be, always be kind and never give up, even when you don't see a way, don't stop. That would be my advice to my young self.

    Steve Rush: very profound, and indeed your pussy cat like that.

    Crystal Robinson: She just got closed and now she's making noise to get out.

    Steve Rush: So, Crystal. Your book by the way, is a fantastic read. So, any of our listeners who want to get their hands on a copy of Finding Myself, where's the best place for us to send them to? Not only get a copy of your book, but to learn a little bit more about the work you do now?

    Crystal Robinson: Amazon.com or go to susanhum.com. It's a thought leadership platform where I speak for a foundation called Still Rose. I'm also on the board of a foundation called Code Red, it's a foundation. It's a lot to that foundation. One of them is sex trafficking. And one of them is school shootings. We designed an app that schools don't have surveillance systems in them, but this app goes on teacher's phones. And if in a situation like that, it turns into a surveillance system, it’s route it to a private company. And then I'm on a foundation of a board of Go Friends. You can also go to gofriends.com and read things about me. And basically, we go into prison systems, female prison systems, and we teach goal setting to try to help them when they get out of prison, hopefully they can stay out of prisons.

    Steve Rush: You’re doing some fantastic work, honestly, from the journey you've been on, the adversity you've been through to now still being in the service of others. I just wanted to drop my hat and say, thank you. And thank you for being part of our community here on The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

    Crystal Robinson: No, thank you so much for having me. These are the podcasts that I love. I would much rather prefer to talk about this stuff than basketball in general. So, thank you for having me.

    Steve Rush: It’s our pleasure. Thanks Crystal.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there: @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the Leadership Hacker.

  • Matt Phelan is an entrepreneur, the Co-Founder and CEO of The Happiness Index. He's also the author of Freedom To Be Happy: The Business Case for Happiness. In the superb episode you can learn from Matt:

    How to turn emotions like happiness into business metrics.What the business case for happiness is.The role neuroscience plays in happiness.Why happy people are also the most productive.

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Matt below:

    Matt on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthewphelan/

    Happiness Index Website: https://thehappinessindex.com

    Matt on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Matthewphelan

    Join the humans and happiness community: https://thehappinessindex.com/join-happiness-community/

    Full Transcript Below

    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    On the show today, we have Matt Phelan. He's the Co-Founder and CEO of The Happiness Index. And he's the author of Freedom To Be Happy: The Business Case for Happiness. Before we get a chance to speak with Matt, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: On today's show, we explore the notion of, “is crisis caused by communication?” And the reason we're focusing on this today is there are a number of different things happening globally, where because of communication; situations have arisen that might not have existed in the first place. Here's a few examples. There was a chip shortage around the world. Now, not a potato crisp or a bag of chips if you're in the UK, but the electronic chip come under great shortage due to supply and demand issues. And the reason that's happened is due to supply and demand due to supply chains, and of course, the COVID pandemic has massively impacted on it. But because of the hype that's been caused by the communication, It has caused manufacturers to overbuy, also causing big motor engineering companies and electronic manufacturers to grab hold of every supply they can. Therefore, rocketing price and reducing the market flow that would ordinarily be there.

    Early in the pandemic we saw the same thing happen with supermarkets, where we were told that there would be a shortage of supply. Of course, it wasn't. Yet many people still bought toilet rolls to fill spare rooms and pasta that would last a year. Most recently in the UK, we have a driver shortage for haulage firms and lorry drivers. Taking our fuel and our goods and services around the country. And as such, the media said there might be a fuel shortage. And guess what? You're right. Panic buying at the pumps, people filling up cans and cans of petrol, diesel and fuel. Supermarkets going bare, why? Because the media is driving something that perhaps wouldn't be there had we just carry on our day-to-day life and routines.

    So, what's the leadership hack? Well, if we think about how people respond to communication, if we have a perceived problem or a perceived threat that may not be true, and communicate it early, we could reinforce behaviors that could actually make that problem become a reality much sooner. And it may be the problem that wouldn't have arrived. Had we rethought our communication strategy and approach. So, the leadership lesson here is, if we think there may be a problem, be sure that there is a problem before you communicate it. Have foundations, have evidence because unintentional communication can send people down a rabbit hole and lead to challenge and adversity. Thank you for those have raised this through our social media platforms with us this week, so that we could bring it to the attention of our listeners. If you also have some stories or insights that you want us to hear, let's get in touch. In the meantime, let's get on with the show.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Matt Phelan is the Co-Founder and CEO of The Happiness Index. He's also the author of Freedom To Be Happy: The Business Case for Happiness, Matt, welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

    Matt Phelan: Thanks for inviting me on.

    Steve Rush: Delighted you're here too. So, tell us, how did you end up running and leading The Happiness Index and what is it?

    Matt Phelan: So as with most of these good stories, complete accident, so when I was twenty-five, I started a marketing agency and we used to have a saying that employees come first, not the customer. So, we were the opposite. We didn't believe the customer came first. And over a ten-year period, we delivered something like thirty-three quarters of growth. I'm a data geek, and I started to wonder whether that was true, because it sounds good, doesn't it? Your customers will be happy and the business will grow. But as a geek, I've got a very inquisitive mind that I wanted to find out if it was true. So, we built a piece of code to correlate at the beginning. Just to understand the correlation. Is there a correlation between employee happiness and customer happiness? And then our customers of our marketing agency started asking for the code. And we said, you can't have it. It's a rubbish, rubbish piece of code. We'd be ashamed to show at twenty-one, but like most entrepreneurs we saw more and more phone calls came in. So eventually we realized that there was probably a business here called The Happiness Index. And it went from being an internal tool to being a business entity in its own rights.

    Steve Rush: So as an organization, how might I use it?

    Matt Phelan: So, you would use it, I would say to start off with, to visualize your culture, to figure out where you are. And once you know where you are, you can start to plot where you want to go. So, we say, it's an upgrade on employee engagement. It does measure employee engagement, but also includes employee happiness, which we think is subtly and importantly different.

    Steve Rush: So, how would you describe happiness, Matt? Somebody asked you over a beer, what is happiness? How do you response?

    Matt Phelan: Yeah, there's technical scientific answer, isn't there? I love your question, Steve. And this is why I'm sort of filling to try and answer, which is, I would say, it's your happiness of how you experience it is just a window into everything else. Like your wellbeing, how you are in life? I see it as a data point. I know that's a very geeky way of seeing happiness, but I think your own happiness can be a way of understanding how the rest of your life is. That could be in your personal life. That could be in your career. That could be in your relationship.

    Steve Rush: And your hesitance was because you were going down that kind of geeky data space, right?

    Matt Phelan: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: Tell us a bit about what's the flip side of that kind of emotional response then?

    Matt Phelan: Yeah, so the reason I hesitated is because we collect this information in over a hundred countries. So, I'm in the spreadsheets every day, but what I can share with you is like, everyone's different, right? So, my happiness is different to your happiness and so on and so on. But there are huge trends that we have that are similar and also different. But if I give you the top four which is, we define happiness as what the heart needs. So, to give the analogy, if you were thinking of a car, we say engagement is the sat nav. So, it's like the direction. So, it's the clear direction where you're going, what the route is going to be. Whereas happiness is that energy that you need to get there. I used to say, it's the petrol in the car, but it's, I think it's electric vehicle week Steve.

    Steve Rush: It is indeed, yeah.

    Matt Phelan: I have moved to electric. So, I'm trying to find a new, so let's say it's the electric in the car. The sat nav is the engagement and the happiness is the electric, is that energy, but the top four are psychological safety, positive relationships, freedom to take opportunities and feelings of acknowledgement.

    Steve Rush: And are they consistent in all of the teams that you work with and the organizations you work with? Do you see that those manifest themselves in positive score?

    Matt Phelan: So, relationships is always number one. But what is number two, changes per person, per company, per country or region?

    Steve Rush: Interesting, yeah.

    Matt Phelan: I know you have a lot of North American listeners, Steve. I pulled out an example from the data for you. So, European companies often lumped together. The United States of America and Canada, which we shouldn't for many reasons, but in our head, we see this kind of like geographical mass. If you take all the American data and all the Canada data. In America that the second most important thing, and I'm going to add engagement now and happiness together. The second most important thing in America is actually an engagement metric, which is a clear direction. In Canada, it's acknowledgement. So, you could look from over from Europe, you could look over the pond and think they're very similar in terms of their culture and so on and so on, but there's a clear difference every time we run that data, I've got some views and why I think that is and feel free to jump in Steve and why you think that might be, but that's what we see in the data, very clear different. So, if you're an HR Director that indicates that you need a different strategy for the different locations.

    Steve Rush: I think it's probably a few things that kick around there, isn't there? You have some cultural differences between Canada and the rest of the U.S.

    Matt Phelan: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: Which could present itself in the results you get. But also, I would imagine that even within Inter-country and inter-regions, there are nuances that are also different, right?

    Matt Phelan: Yeah, absolutely. And I don't want to get political, but I think in America, in the United States of America, your employment is very much tied to also things like your healthcare.

    Steve Rush: Of course, yeah.

    Matt Phelan: If you think about that, if you think about, I'm in London, if the happiness index failed and I lost my job and my family would still retain their health care. So, acknowledgement can be higher. It's a bit like the Maslow's hierarchy of needs. But if you know that if you were to lose your job and you would lose your health care. Clear clarity on what your role is, is hyper important, Isn't it?

    Steve Rush: Absolutely.

    Matt Phelan: So, you think it would be the same for everyone, but we're human beings and those underlining elements change how we are in the workforce.

    Steve Rush: That's really fascinating. And I guess also organizations make assumptions about what makes people happy, right?

    Matt Phelan: Yes, every single day. And we all do it consciously and subconsciously.

    Steve Rush: So, what would be some of those assumptions and how right or wrong are they?

    Matt Phelan: So, let me run a live case study for you in a real life. There European pan wide retailer, they were focused. The HR team said to us when they briefed us before they did their cultural assessment, that the number one priority is staff retention. Which is a normal thing to hear.

    Steve Rush: Yep.

    Matt Phelan: When we ran their first cultural assessment. And we cross-reference that with their financial performance data, we found that the managers of the stores that had the highest performing stores financially had been in the business the shortest amount of time.

    Steve Rush: Fascinating, yeah.

    Matt Phelan: So, the reason that is an important assumption is, the assumption is, retain staff things will be better if we retain our staff. What they found is, the newer managers had happier teams and were performing financially better. So, this is where it's important to not make an assumption again, the second assumption. So, the first assumption was staff retention was the most important thing. The second assumption, and then the next bit is where you can easily lump into assumptions again, which is, for example, you could think, okay, after five years, the employees get bored or lazy, or you could make an assumption actually after five years, we've we just left people alone and actually they need training. So maybe they need to call Steve Rush and think about how they can develop people over the entire employee experience. So that's where data just gets rid of the assumptions, because you could make so many assumptions on those two things, we've discussed there Steve.

    Steve Rush: I’d love to get into that whole notion of how you take all of these data points and map that into something that is typically been described as something pink and fluffy. Happiness, it's an emotion, right? So, how do you shift from taking an emotion and turning into a business metric?

    Matt Phelan: Yeah, it's really hard for me to answer that because I'm so converted the other way, and I deal with this every day, but I'm going to go out and try and take a step back. So, I think the first stumbling block and the first change in people's mind is a business term called, if you can measure it, you can manage it.

    Steve Rush: You hear it a lot, don’t you?

    Matt Phelan: You hear it a lot. I believe that to be wildly untrue. And what I would change it for is, and I say this as a measurement company, if you can measure it, you can better understand it, which is a subtle change, right, Steve. But I think we've gone down this road where we almost view people as robots. And we think, oh, if we can measure it, we can manage it. But I think, and this is quite a big concept to put out there. But I think the entire idea of management is flawed.

    Steve Rush: It’s Ironically made up too. We created management in the last hundred years, it didn't happen before that.

    Matt Phelan: Exactly, and it goes back, this is sort of taylorism and the factory floor stuff, isn't it?

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Matt Phelan: So, I think trying to see data as better understand, lead you to seeing data is helping you make better decisions. If we go back to your original question, how is this helping? And this is the second change that I would like to leave people. So, the first is not to use data to manage, but to better understand. The second one is, if we take a piece of data like revenue, generally, if revenue goes up, it's good, and if it goes down, it's bad. Emotions are supposed to fluctuate. It's normal for you to feel happier at one stage in the day and feel unhappy at the other, that's normal, right? So, trying to artificially get people to be happy all the time is actually not a good strategy. So, the second thing I want to leave your listeners with is to see emotional data, more like a weather report.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, and can you forecast it?

    Matt Phelan: You can certainly start to, we say, today's emotions are an indicator of tomorrow's performance, and that's why we call it the happiness index, right? So, the reason I think this is useful is that if you're a board and you're looking at this data is giving you an indicator of what your future performance may look like. There are subtle shifts, but I think once you start to do that, you start to realize that actually these are important business metrics. They're not the only business metric. They all have to work together. Just like you have revenue in your P&L. We now have companies as big as half a million employees that are measuring happiness in their board report.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Matt Phelan: Times are changing, but it takes time to take people on that journey from the sort of taylorism that you say, like we've made up in the last a hundred years through to seeing happiness is a really important business metric.

    Steve Rush: I totally agree, and productivity is a sidekick for happiness. Happy people are more productive than less happy people. You don't need data to see that, you can see that around you in any store, in any factory, in any office location, happy people are more productive.

    Matt Phelan: Yeah, and one of the things that we plot. We're doing this on the modern version of radio. So, I'm going to try and draw it in your head for you. Happiness without engagement is unfocused. So, we see this in a lot of charities where they have happy staff, but not engaged.

    Steve Rush: Yeah

    Matt Phelan: But we also see the flip, which is highly engaged and unhappy, which is, you get this in a lot of organizations where they think they have a thriving culture when really what they have is a competitive culture which can show up some good metrics. But under the surface, lots of nasty little things are happening. It's going to eventually hold back the growth. So yeah, if you imagine it as a full box quadrant, we want the top right box to be where people are happy and engage is what we're trying to work towards.

    Steve Rush: And you also, I know from the time that we've met before, you apply a lot of neurosciences, so this isn't just about data, we're talking about data and science and the people skills coming to this. So, what role does neuroscience play when we look at happiness?

    Matt Phelan: Neuroscience is massive for us because if we think again, we've sort of looked at the history or business and taylorism, and so on and so on. If we look at the history of psychology, a lot of psychology is based on observation. Sorry if people eating their breakfast, but also dead brains. That's where we got a lot of our understanding of the body and how we work, observing people in the workplace and also dissecting their bodies, which, sorry, if you are eating a breakfast that I've really offended you.

    Steve Rush: Or any of the meal at any of the time, of course, being a globally diverse podcast.

    Matt Phelan: Really good point, isn't it? You should be allowed to be upset while eating your dinner as well. But I think what neuroscience just from a technical perspective is, it allows us to go under the hood and see what's happening in a body in real time. So that a huge leap forward, but before everyone turns off the podcast. The reason I love it so much, let's say you're, let's keep with a car, let's say you in a car later, there's a road rage incident, what neuroscience does is it helps you question why you acted in that way? Like, why did that person make me feel angry? Or when I had my meeting with my boss, why did I feel unsafe? Neuroscience is really just helping us understand the emotions. We divide it into four, how you instinctively feel, how you emotionally feel, how you actually feel and how you feel in a reflective basis. Which we think is really important. Businesses tend to be bad, understanding emotions and the instinctive behavior and focus on rational and reflective. But I think it goes back to that. If you can measure it, you can manage it quiet. It's easier to measure and manage rational and reflective beings, but guess what, Steve, there's no human beings out there that are holy. We're all emotional and we're all instinctive. And personally, that's what I think makes us beautiful.

    Steve Rush: Well, the emotion reaction comes first anyway from a neuroscience perspective, we'll have an emotional reaction, which we either then can rationalize or not rationalize. And that's where we hit that kind of fight, flight, freeze or appease moment.

    Matt Phelan: Yeah, and that's why we say from a neuroscience perspective, there's no such thing as too emotional. So, if your boss made you angry, your emotional responses is how that makes you feel. Anger is just something you're feeling. What you do with that anger is like the good or the bad thing. Because if you feel angry at your boss and then you punch them in the face, that's illegal, right? In most countries. If there is country where it's not, please tell me, Steve, that's bad behavior, right? Punching your boss in the face is bad behavior, but it doesn't change the fact that you instinctively and emotionally felt like that. And that's why we see emotions like happiness as a data point. Because if your boss makes you feel unsafe, it's important to step back and think, why does my boss make me feel unsafe? Maybe this is time to get out of here or speak to someone else or change role. But from a neuroscience perspective, telling someone they're too emotional is like telling a parent that they love their children too much.

    Steve Rush: That a great analogy. Yeah, love it. So, here's the thing. Can you ever be

    Too happy?

    Matt Phelan: Yes, the answer Steve.

    Steve Rush: Oh Okay!

    Matt Phelan: To be happy all the time is a mental health issue as severe, as being unhappy all the time, which people are often shocked when they hear that. But our emotions are supposed to fluctuate and the fluctuation is what is important. This is kind of why I wrote my book. Self-help books, good to a certain degree, right? But if you have a chemical imbalance, which means you're unhappy all the time. You need to go and get help to get out of that. And it would be the same if you were happy all the time, that would be a condition there that you would need help with. We took a lot at the moment about incongruous, did I said it right?

    Steve Rush: Yeah, yeah, you nailed it.

    Matt Phelan: Incongruous emotion. So, and incongruous emotion could be your mother dies, but you feel happy. So, you feel happy because she was in pain for five years. And you feel that she has had a release, but you feel guilty that you feel happy. The emotion that you feel happy, you can't help how you are feeling in that moment. But what happens is, you can then end up feeling bad. Your rational brain can tell you to feel bad because you think you should be unhappy because your mother just died. So, these are all complex subjects, but it's important to know that it will fluctuate. And the reason I bring up the incongruous bit, sometimes people end up on a downward spiral because they feel unhappy and they get annoyed that they're not happy.

    Steve Rush: And it makes it worse.

    Matt Phelan: Yeah, certain event. The other way can happen as well. So, to answer your question. Yes, you can be too happy, which I think does surprise a few people when they hear that.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it does. And, I guess the reason that might surprise people is, because it's easy to notice when people are less happy than when they are happy, right?

    Matt Phelan: Yeah, and I think we need to bring up an elephant in the room on this one, Steve.

    Steve Rush: Let’s do it.

    Matt Phelan: Which is toxic positivity.

    Steve Rush: Oh, go on…

    Matt Phelan: We made this mistake when we first started The Happiness Index, which is, as soon as we built that software in our old company, we made happiness a target. As in, we said, we want our staff to be on average eight out of ten or above happiness. What I learned from doing that is, it's a terrible idea and don't do it. And the reasons it’s terrible idea, and don't do it, is that if you saw someone in the office or down the pub, and they looked unhappy, it's the equivalent of telling them to cheer up. If you tell somebody who's unhappy to cheer up, the only thing that's ever going to happen is, they're going to get unhappy.

    Steve Rush: That's true, isn't it? Very true.

    Matt Phelan: Yeah, and it goes back to that, seeing it like a weather report, you can't tell the rain not to rain and the sun not to shine. It's just natural, this is what's happening. So, all you can do, if you see someone unhappy is to be there and try and understand what's driving that emotion. And if you can help then great. But if you can't, your job, like we've all learned is to be there to listen. And actually, just the process of listening could actually really help people. But you need to get permission before you go into fixed mode because I think it's an entrepreneurship thing and there's also gender differences in this element, but I'm definitely somebody who likes to jump into fixing.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Matt Phelan: Before I've been given permission that this person actually wants me to help. That's definitely one of my own developments as leader that I've had to work on.

    Steve Rush: And in terms of getting balance over the last eight months, two years, where we've gone through this crazy world, that we've been all experiencing, how has that kind of presented itself in terms of people's happiness during and through the pandemic?

    Matt Phelan: So, I'm going to use a word from the island in geography back in the day, which it's been a kaleidoscope. I've just been waiting to get that word in really.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I think it's the first time anybody use that word on our podcast. So, congratulations, well done.

    Matt Phelan: Thanks Steve, I'm going to send it to my mom. So, she's proud of me, but I think in reality, it's just been different. It's been different for everyone, but there's huge themes again. So, similar to what I was saying about global emotions, some people are happier. For example, introverts many introverts have preferred working from home. Because they don't have people like me walking around the office, asking them how they are.

    Steve Rush: Of course, they get their energy internally. So, they don't need to be surrounded by other people to get their energy and focus.

    Matt Phelan: Absolutely, some people have really struggled. I've really missed human connection myself. The relationships bit is definitely key, really important for me. The top level, the world was way unhappier in the last two years than it's ever been recognized of unhappiness, just to get that on record. But where we've seen is, we've seen people want to communicate times for the normal amount.

    Steve Rush: Wow, that's a lot, isn't it?

    Matt Phelan: Yeah, which shows that the digital world is great. But it leaves you with what we call an emotional deficit. So, I think the digital world, I don't want to get too much into hormones today, but I think the digital world really drives your dopamine. Like that reward signal thing that you get from all the social.

    Steve Rush: Instant gratification.

    Matt Phelan: Yeah, I think we get that a lot from tech and that's not by accident. The Mark Zuckerberg of the world know how to design platforms to do that for us. But there's a huge piece missing on connection there that sitting around the fire, having a chat, all that sort of stuff, you can get bits of it from the digital world. But ultimately, I do think there's a real-world stuff that we need.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I agree. And given all the research and data points, you get, you've gathered data from all over the world. Has there been any pockets of happiness or sadness that spikes, or where's the kind of happiest place to live right now and where would be the place that we might want to avoid?

    Matt Phelan: So, this comes up a lot because the nordics always come out as the happiest place. But actually, I think if I’m really brutal with the analysis, I think all human beings, I don't think there's a happier country and a less happy country. There are facts that do come into it that we can't ignore like war and famine.

    Steve Rush: Of course, yeah.

    Matt Phelan: There is no doubt that if you're in Afghanistan at the moment; that it's going to be impacting how you feel. But if we just take a normal situation, I think in reality, there's measurement differences on it. So, I really encourage everyone to go back to what is important to you and your environment and what's around you because. Denmark and so on, always come out really high, but guess what, Steve, I have to deal with the situation that I have in front of me, which is what I always encourage people to do. So, it's great to be inspired by other countries and other locations, but I think it's more important to look internally and look around you in your own facility. Otherwise, if you heard of that Roosevelt quote, it's like comparison is the thief of joy.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Matt Phelan: And you can easily do that. Like when I went out to Copenhagen, I loved going for a swim in the harvest that they have there. But I can't do that.

    Steve Rush: And here's the other thing that was really interesting bit of a data point overlay on that. Denmark the highest taxed country in Europe, you pay more tax out of your earned income than in any other country in Europe. And in fact, I think in the Northern hemisphere.

    Matt Phelan: And I think we talk about that a lot. I talk about that with Jens Nelson. Who's our representative in Denmark and there's a mindset shift. They don't see tax as the thing that's being stolen out of your back pocket after you've done your work.

    Steve Rush: Interesting, yeah.

    Matt Phelan: There is something that is contributing to society and good. They see it as good; we would need a podcast just to get into the cultural.

    Steve Rush: Oh gosh, that's a whole other show, right?

    Matt Phelan: Yeah, we'd be back to King John and the Magna Carta to understand that from a UK perspective, maybe that's the follow-up Steve would do King John and the Magna Carta and happiness.

    Steve Rush: And then we'll have to of course involve the Romans who started all the thing.

    Matt Phelan: Totally.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, so you created a fantastic community by the way, called happiness and humans community.

    Matt Phelan: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: And you always have this question that you'd like to pose and it's what makes you happy. So, I'm going to ask you the same question. So, what makes you happy Matt?

    Matt Phelan: Oh, thanks for asking me, Steve. It's where I got the title for my book, which is Freedom To Be Happy. So, freedom was in those top four that I mentioned earlier on happiness, but for me, it's by far the number one thing. like for me, I see life as an adventure. I didn't come from a wealthy family or anything. So, I do have to earn money to pay the mortgage and stuff like that. I do have that side to me, but I can't work anywhere for a second if I don't have freedom to be myself. And it's really higher in that perspective. So, that's all parts of life. That's in my relationships with friends, with my family, with my work colleagues, like I need to know that I can leave at any point. If I was told to come on this podcast, it's very childish. I wouldn't have come on, but because you invited me, I came on. I know it's a very subtle difference.

    Steve Rush: It is.

    Matt Phelan: I probably need some therapy to work through it, but for me, it's freedom.

    Steve Rush: Lovely, awesome.

    Matt Phelan: And you, I have to ask?

    Steve Rush: Oh, I knew you would do that. So, I'm trying to just articulate this because I've not thought about it and I should have done so it's kind of schoolboy error. I think it's around environment for me. So having happy and calm people around me makes me happy. When there is anger and disruption and chaos, that makes me really unhappy. And I react emotionally in those environments differently.

    Matt Phelan: Can you feel that, Steve?

    Steve Rush: Oh, hugely. I can feel it even before it happens, so I can sense in a room or in an environment, mood shift and change very, very quickly before it presents itself in the either physical or verbal way.

    Matt Phelan: I think that's one of the most important aspects of the COO role. I think a lot of people, when I think about the COO in an organization, I think that person is one of the most organized people in the business, which is also true. But I don't think you can have a COO that can't sense that because the COO has so many interactions with all the different teams.

    Steve Rush: Well, actually, I coined the phrase, my Leadership Barometer, right? So that's kind of how it feels for me. You've made the correlation with weather earlier with happiness, didn't you?

    Matt Phelan: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: So, it's ironic that even without having this conversation before or even connecting the dots, that's exactly what happens with me. I get a sense, a barometer of mood shift, energy shift, culture shift, and I migrate towards it and can energize it and make it better. And I avoid it when it's not or tackle it to re-engineer it, so that it is.

    Matt Phelan: And I'm just going to get a bit of free consultancy from you for all your listeners quickly, Steve, with one more question, and then I will stop questioning. I get the sense that you intuitively do that, right?

    Steve Rush: It is an intuitively.

    Matt Phelan: But if you get people that are not as natural at doing that, right. If you went into an organization and they were low on that skill, do you think you can coach and help people improve that? Or do you think you're just born with it?

    Steve Rush: No, I totally believe you can coach it and have done because it's around awareness. So, starts with yourself, and are you paying attention? Are you noticing? And then secondly, it's around, how do you notice? So, what are the clues, the cues, the things that happening around us that make us open to those coincidences. Open to observing those behaviors. So, it's definitely a learned behavior. It might be an intuition for me now, but it probably wasn't twenty-five years ago.

    Matt Phelan: That's brilliant Steve and I'm thinking about lots of clients and stuff now where I know that's a challenge they've got.

    Steve Rush: Anyway, back to me, it's my show, [laughter] I'm going to spin the lens now and we're going to hack into your leadership mind. So, you've led some really successful businesses and still do, and therefore want to get your leadership spin on how you might do that and what's going to set you and others apart. So, first thing I want to ask you is, if you think about all of the experiences you had, what would be your top three leadership hacks Matt?

    Matt Phelan: I think the number one is, I love from my granddad who I never met. So, I learned something from my granddad that I never met, but I learned it through stories passed on to me. This leadership lesson sounds a little bit outdated, because we're probably talking about it from like the forties and fifties. But the thing that I learned from my granddad is that as a leader, your job is to help someone. I'm trying to think of the exact phrase, but it's help someone improve. And I think when you look at it, forties and fifties, it was more like, like my family were immigrants. So, it's about like working your way up and all that kind of stuff. But in a modern world, I see it as personal development. I think if you look at all your employees and think, how do you help them improve? Ultimately that's going to help your organization improve as well. But the massive caveat that I would add to it. For it to really work, you have to be able to have an honest conversation with someone when you think that improvement will be better served outside your current organization.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Matt Phelan: Which is tough, and you have to park your ego to do that and you to have open lines of communication. But if you've worked with someone for example, five years and you both think, you know, what the best thing this person could do is go and work at this other organization. You have to have a relationship where you could have that conversation with that person. So, I think it's focusing on their improvement, but the caveat that you would be aware that sometimes that improvement might not come from in your organization.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Matt Phelan: So, we've got number one. And number two, I think is, we've mentioned it before Steve, which is listen. And again, the caveat is not jumping into problem solving. So, it's really listening to your team. But waiting to be invited on the fixed part. And I've learned that the hard way.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, easy done though.

    Matt Phelan: Yeah, and I think the third point, and this is why I think this is why your podcast has done so amazing Steve is, the power of storytelling. Because I'm a geek, right? And ideal in data, but unless you can turn that data into a story, it just sits in a spreadsheet, isn't it?

    Steve Rush: It does, yeah.

    Matt Phelan: They're just numbers, aren’t they? But until you start looking at trends and then once you turn them into trends, you start saying the stories, that's how other human beings learn. So, when you're looking at your cultural data, then taking out those little nuggets and stories, that's how we share it. And we learn and we improve as an organization. So, to recap that I would say self-improvement for the team, really proper listening. And the third point which I just mentioned.

    Steve Rush: Love it, really great advice. So, the next part of the show, we call it Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something in your life or work has not worked out at all well. Could have even been quite catastrophic, but it created a learning experience for you that you now use as a positive in your life and work. What would be your Hack to Attack Matt?

    Matt Phelan: I think my Hack to Attack was where you were going to Steve, a bit with like listening to your own body. So, I learned through coaching, my coaches is a neuroscience coach that the most important thing I could do is listen to my body. And the reason that was important was when I first started, I was twenty-five and, you know, what’s it like, we took an off the record about how tough the last year has been for both our businesses. But like, you can hit these big moments, can't you? People resign, you lose clients, cashflow is tough. What I used to do to deal with tough experiences. Like when I came home, I found it hard to switch off. So, I would drink red wine to sort of like, get that nice hazy feel.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Matt Phelan: But what I learned from listening to my body is that it would give me that hazy feel and it would push back the negative thoughts, like, oh my God, we've lost this client or this has happened. But then those thoughts would come back to me at three o'clock in the morning which was a downward cycle because then I couldn't sleep. And then I was getting less sleep, which was negatively impacting my wellbeing. So, Hack to Attack, now I look at my wellbeing as I know that if I'm going to turn up for a meeting or a podcast, my wellbeing and foundation to be myself, needs to be there. So, I've learned that I just need to keep feeding that in. So that led me to doing a year off alcohol. I came back drinking for my brother stag do which I felt like I obliged to him because he drank on my stag do and so on and so on.

    And I want it to be part of that, but actually, I don't know if I'll drink again. Now, I've came back for that social event. And I definitely think that I'm a better leader. And the other thing I've learned from it is that there are non-drinkers within the happiness index that have gravitated to me towards me socially.

    Steve Rush: It's very interesting.

    Matt Phelan: Because in the media world, drinking is part of the world. And that was my old world.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Matt Phelan: Actually, it's like a diversity thing, isn't it? Which is, drinkers socially gravitated towards me. And my co-founders drink, but actually as a diversity perspective, the fact that I'm a non-drink is actually quite useful. So other people would come to me and say, Matt, we're doing this event, it's got drinking involved. Maybe we could do a different type of activity. Whereas I don't think they would've come to me if I hadn't like explained why it cut down on drinking.

    Steve Rush: And we avoid the rabbit hole that says also there's a chemical reaction that gives you an instant high when you drink alcohol, but then it also impacts you negatively after the event.

    Matt Phelan: I would recommend to read Alcohol Explained. And for any level of drinker, I wouldn't say I was someone who was a huge drinker, but I was someone who became aware that, I looked at it like a loan in the end, which is, I reckon I had one day up for two days down. And I thought, you know what? This is like a high interest loan that I don't want to keep paying off with interest.

    Steve Rush: Like you currently can.

    Matt Phelan: But that book alcohol explained, especially if you're into neuroscience and stuff, it explains why that high comes and so on. And I don't want to preach because I've many years of actually really enjoying drinking and lots of friends and families do drink, but I would recommend people to read Alcohol Explained whatever your level of drinking from. Problem drinker to one a month.

    Steve Rush: Great stuff. Now, the very last thing we get to do is we get to give you a chance to do some time travel, bump into Matt at twenty-one. And you can get to give him some advice Matt, what would it be?

    Matt Phelan: You don't realize how much opportunity you've got. And I would say, go and work in other countries. Like right now, obviously we're in the middle of the pandemic, well, we're not hopefully we're at the beginning of the end, but again, like maybe I'm saying this because our freedoms been locked down and stuff, but I think you can learn a lot from travel, right. But imagine how much you can learn by going and working in another country.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Matt Phelan: It's been good for me because I've become very ingrained in London. So, anything I need or speak too, like my network in London is huge and London's a global city. So, I've benefited from that perspective. But actually, if I were speaking to twenty-one-year-old Matt, I'd probably say, go and work in Shanghai for a couple of years.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I didn't start working my professional career abroad until in my late twenties and then only really in the last kind of ten or fifteen years, if I had the opportunity to travel the world and see and experience those, and you do get much of a richer experience and diversity of thinking and behaviors, is really powerful, isn't it?

    Matt Phelan: Yeah, it would be as simple as that.

    Steve Rush: So beyond today, if folk wanted to continue the conversation with you, stay connected with you, where's the best place for us to send them?

    Matt Phelan: Yeah, at the moment we realized that moving from engagement to happiness for some can be scary. So, any company in the world of any size can go to the happinessindex.com and they can do a free trial for three months of our entire platform. So that's it on a product perspective. From a keeping in touch perspective, the happiness and humans community, you can find that on the happinessindex.com as well, the test is, do you want to positively shape the future of work. If you are thinking, yes, that's what I want to do, Matt and Steve, then please join that community is people from all around the world. People pose questions, challenges. But most importantly, people connect up and there's been people that have become friends, business partners, they've hired on there. So, yeah, please join the happiness in humans community if you want to positively shape the future of work.

    Steve Rush: And we but a little join here button on our show notes as well. So, people can do that as soon as they started listening with us.

    Matt Phelan: Thanks Steve.

    Steve Rush: Matt, I love chatting with you. You bring a really great perspective to something that is an emotional subject, and you have given us that business case. So, thanks for being part of our community and thanks for being on the podcast.

    Matt Phelan: Thanks for having me, Steve.

    Steve Rush: Thanks, Matt.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there: @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

  • David Wheatly is the Principal and Chief Question Asker at Humanergy, he's the author of “What Great Teams Do Great” and “50 Dos For Everyday Leadership.” You’ll love listening to David talk about his journey from England to the USA with lessons including:

    The components and elements of leadership choicesThe common themes that set great teams apartThe red path and green path (which one are you on?)What makes great questions “great.”

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about David below:

    David on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/humanergy/

    Humanergy Website: https://humanergy.com

    David on Twitter: https://twitter.com/davidwheatley1

    Full Transcript Below


    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    Joining me on the show today is David Wheatly. He's the Principal and Chief Question Asker, Humanergy, leadership development consultancy. He's the author of What Great Teams Do Great and 50 Dos For Everyday Leadership. Before we get a chance to speak with David, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: When the chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi was asked by Fortune magazine, what's the most important leadership advice she's been given. She said, whatever anybody does or says assume positive intent. And when you follow this advice, your approach to a personal problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you're often angry or annoyed. If you let go of this anger or annoyance and assume positive intent, you'll be able to listen generously and speak straight and more effectively. And this advice is not insignificant from a leader who has made one of the boldest moves in their industry in recent years.

    Nooyi was featured in 2015 issue of Fortune for her bold move of taking PepsiCo in an audacious strategy shift beyond unhealthy snacks and drinks. Despite her critics at the time, PepsiCo has had positive year on year organic growth and has crushed the shares of rival Coke. Assuming positive intent is clearly a powerful leadership move. However, to get good at it, you must first recognize your automatic tendency to sometimes see the negative intentions in people. And then you must deliberately practice looking for positive intent. When you look for positive intent, you automatically give people the benefit of the doubt, and you give yourself a chance to learn about what could have caused the situation you find yourselves in. In fact, you might even be surprised something you hadn't expected might come out of the woodwork. Maybe in a few cases, you'll learn that the person had positive intent, but it just landed negatively.

    Allow yourself to learn this rather than jumping to conclusions without clear information and doing so you can take action. And of course, by assuming positive intent, you're also practicing great leadership. You'd like to avoid many of the embarrassing situations that come with having negative connotation. So, the leadership lesson here is when you hear or see something that feels negative, reframe it and ask yourself what could have been the reasons behind the action behind the event. And you'll find some positivity in there somewhere. That's been The Leadership Hacker News. We'd love to hear your stories and insights. So please get in touch.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: David Wheatley is a special guest on today's show. He's the Principal and Chief Question Asker at Humanergy, a leadership development consultancy focused on helping people transform themselves along with those who work with them. David's a co-author of What Great Teams Do Great and 50s Dos For everyday leadership. David, welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

    David Wheatley: Thanks for having me on.

    Steve Rush: So really keen to get into your backstory that helps send us down a little bit about why you do what you do now. So how did that go from Leeds end up working for The Met Police in London?

    David Wheatley: I'll try and give you the short story of this, but I put it all down to whitewater kayaking and I taught whitewater kayaking when I was a kid, I'd spent most of my summers in the lake district. And I was looking at different times to go in the Navy. I thought about Dartmouth. And then I'd always said, well, I don't get in there, then maybe the police. And I saw an advert for the police in London that had a guy kayaking on the front of it. And I thought that's the one for me. And so, I applied and got in and spent five years with what's known in England as the met, which is the police force for greater London. And so that was the easy story of how I ended up moving 200 miles south of my hometown to go seek my fortune in the Capitol.

    Steve Rush: So how long were you at the met police?

    David Wheatley: I was there for five years in the eighties, which was an interesting time to be in London.

    Steve Rush: Because London bit like most cities, if you look back in history and certainly some of the big cities in the U.S. and around the around Europe and the world actually. The eighties was kind of their revolving or revolutionary years where they went from what they were to where they are now. And London was definitely one of those cities, wasn't it?

    David Wheatley: Yeah, it was definitely in transition. So, there were places that you would feel safer than not. And there were definitely communities that were in transition at the same time. So, and now a few riots thrown in during my time too.

    Steve Rush: And when you look back on your time with the metropolitan police, were there lessons that you learned then that you now carry forward to the work that you do now?

    David Wheatley: If you look at anything, right. There should be a lesson that you can take out of it. And there were thousands of when I was in that place and I was a cop on the streets of London at twenty-one. And the advice I'd give myself is to stop being so fully yourself and arrogant and being an ass, start growing up a bit quicker and paying attention to what's going on around you. And I think that's one of those things, isn't it? That the great quote says when I was eighteen, I couldn't believe how stupid my dad was. And when I was twenty-one, I was surprised at what you'd learned in three years.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it’s a great quote, isn't it?

    David Wheatley: I wish I had the thought and the calm, the willingness to stay calm and question back then, rather than the energy and enthusiasm and excitement and arrogance of a twenty-one-year-old.

    Steve Rush: So how did you end up then becoming from a place officer to leading a great leadership consultancy in the U.S.?

    David Wheatley: Again, I put that back to whitewater kayaking, because I got to place in my police career where my colleagues were saying that's five down, only twenty-five to go, and then I can buy a house in the national park and a sports car and do all my hobbies and my hobbies, where, like I say, whitewater kayaking and a bit of climbing. And I thought, well, 30 years’ time and a career of thirty years, maybe I won't be able to do those things. So perhaps now's the time to go. And I left the police and moved to the lake district of England, which is a national park in the Northwest. I went to a college in the heart of the lake district to get an education degree while I could still continue my kayaking. And across the lake from the college, I went to was another college that was doing management training using the outdoors. And they needed people with the right bits of paper. And so, I would quite literally paddle from one college across lake Windermere to the other college to go and work with these leadership teams whether it was building a raft or out kayaking, getting to know each other that way. And it evolved from there. We came away from the outdoors and it becomes much more about asking questions that people in their own settings these days. And I've been in the states now for twenty-five years and with Humanergy for twenty-one.

    Steve Rush: So, what was the pivotal moment for you then to leave blighty and move to the U.S.?

    David Wheatley: Well, it's part of that college course. I did a six-month exchange to the U.S. and I went back with a wife and a three-year-old. And so, my wife spent five years living in Kendall in Cumbria and decided that she'd love to move back to the states. And so, I looked for some work over here and got a job here in 1996, or as someone told me the other day, the late nineteen hundred which makes me sound really old. And I was working with my now business partner and that company folded in 2000 and we started our own company, Humanergy, which has been around since.

    Steve Rush: Awesome. Are you still Kayaking?

    David Wheatley: I was kayaking this last weekend, although the water's a lot less white around here.

    Steve Rush: Yes, indeed. Unfortunately, I have the Thames, so I'm able to jump on my kayak and shoot up the Thames as long as it's not going upstream after heavy rainfall.

    David Wheatley: Yeah, so we have the Kalamazoo River just on our doorstep here and it's a beautiful river, goes through the nature center. So, it's all very wilderness, but it's quite flattened, slow moving. So, my whitewater kayak looks a little out of place on it.

    Steve Rush: I bet it does, yeah. You co-wrote the book, What Great teams Do Great. And in the book, you talk about leadership choices. I fundamentally believe that there are loads of those, but from your experience, what are the kind of key components and elements of leadership choice?

    David Wheatley: Yeah, I appreciate you bringing that up because that's fundamental to our philosophy of leadership. We believe that leadership is not about your title or your rank or the size of your office, the brass plaque on your desk or any of those things. It's about the choices you make that influence the people around you. And if you think about it that way, then everybody, every day is making leadership choices. They're making choices that influence those around them. And you break it down into that level of simplicity. I'm making a choice, that's influencing you. Then I have some level of leadership and then we broke it into a couple of areas that we could focus on. One is, that choice focused on me or the greater good? And you can kind of draw a line between those two. So, if it's a self-focused choice, then it's about me at the cost of everybody else.

    If it's a great good choice, it's about me and everybody else that I'm naturally connected to. And we believe that as a leader, you want to be closer to that greater good choice and of that continuum. The other continuum we identified as one of the levels of commitment, which kind of goes from a place of comfort to a place of impact. So, am I committed to my comfort or my committed to impact? And when you plot those two continuums, you end up with, what we've identified as four leadership choices that kind of show the different styles that go from destructive, which is I'm committed to impact, but it's all about me. Passive, which is I'm committed to comfort, and it's still all about me or the better choices which hit that greater good end of the continuum, which is a productive choice, which may be that I'm still committed to my comfort little bit, but I'm willing to help. And then a transformative choice, which is when I'm committed to impact. And I see the greater good and all the work that we do is trying to get people to make more choices in what we would call a top half of those four, which is the productive and transformative quadrants.

    Steve Rush: When you hear people talk about choices, often that comes with a connotation that people have made a deliberate decision, but I'm looking at your research. Often, the choices that they've made are contributory to where they end up, right?

    David Wheatley: I think that's just one of the questions we ask is, are your choices yours to make? And when people say yes, most of the time. Although I had a class this week and somebody said no, not really. If I'm told I have to do this by my boss, I don't have a choice. And then somebody else in the room said, yes, you do. You don't have to work there. And she said, yes, I do. I have to work here because I have bills. And then they got into the discussion about how they were all choices.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    David Wheatley: And even the decision to choose, to work there, to choose, to continue to work there after a boss mandated, we're all their choices. And it's kind of interesting at the moment, especially in the states, we're seeing a lot of people see that and make the choice to leave companies. There's a bit of an exodus of companies because people are saying, I don't have to put up with this anymore. There's opportunities and I'm going to choose to leave and choose to go find somewhere that fits a little better with my values.

    Steve Rush: In the U.S. actually, there's this great resignation that's going on at the moment where there is a bunch of people leaving in droves, their organizations.

    David Wheatley: Yep, and in some cases, they're not finding a role elsewhere. They're doing something on their own and other cases that lost to the ether somewhere. But yes, that's this mass exodus that people are making the choice to say, I don't have to put up with this. And I think it's interesting. I was just in a meeting before we came in here and people were talking about, they don't have people, which means that the people they do have are being pushed to do twice as much work as they would do in the past.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    David Wheatley: And the result of that is some of them are leaving.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    David Wheatley: So, that's a choice. It's been interesting to see that that's seems to be more comfortable choice for people at the moment.

    Steve Rush: What'd you think the reason is that some people, even though they are making choices, don't perceive them to be choices?

    David Wheatley: I think people get stuck, don't they? Especially over here, we could get a bit philosophical that if you're motivated externally, then the choices you make are about how you look and what you have. And I see that the most centered, balanced leaders are motivated internally and it's about who they are and doing the right thing and making sure they're constantly on the journey inwards. And I think it was Dag Hammarskjold who said, “The longest journey of them all is the journey inwards.” I think half of my work are leadership coach is helping people take that journey inwards rather than to take the journey outwards. Because if you're on that outward journey where it's about how I look, how I'm perceived and the stuff I've got, then that can make us feel like we can't make choices.

    Steve Rush: All right, that's back to that continuum of comfort and impact people feel comfortable. It comes with another load of emotions that make them feel secure or safe, but actually that sometimes can be holding them back, right?

    David Wheatley: Yeah, over here in Michigan. It's not unusual for families to have a cottage up north, on a lake somewhere. And you hear people say, oh yeah, I've got a cottage, but I've not been there this year because I've been so busy working. It's like, so why have the cottage?

    Steve Rush: Yeah, why not work from the cottage?

    David Wheatley: Yeah, exactly. And these days you can, of course, but it seems like it, but then people get locked into this. I have to go and work here. I have to make this much money. I have to do this stuff in order to have the things that I perceive, but I don't actually make the time to use them. It's one of the things I try to do in my work is keep as much balance as possible. So, I take a lot of Fridays off in the summer so we can hit the water. My vacation for next year is already scheduled. I don't know whether it'll happen at precisely that way or not, but that's important time to get, so I put that in first, before I start filling in the work around it, because it's those experiences that happen on my vacation that are important. And the bigger question is, are you living to work or working to live?

    Steve Rush: All of which, are your choices, of course.

    David Wheatley: Exactly.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, so you've done a lot of work with teams throughout your career and focusing on helping team performance as well. And I thought, what would be helpful is digging into the whole notion then that says, you know, what great teams do Great. Well, what are those things that set great teams apart?

    David Wheatley: Funnily enough, I have a book on this. It's available all at all good book store. There's a couple of things that we've identified that really work for the book, if I break it into two things. One of them is what we call the set-up box and teams tend to skip around the setup to get straight into the plan. And when we talk about the setup, it's about getting to know each other. So, who do we actually have on the team and what do they bring? Making sure we understand the environment that we're in at the moment and what that impact is on us. Getting clarity as to what we're trying to achieve and then establishing our non-negotiables. So, what are the small number of things that really, we want as our values or our non-negotiables, our behavioral expectations of each other, build that team. And the more time we spend there, the more we're setting ourselves up for a successful experience. And folks can often jump through that because they think, oh, let's just take that as read and we'll get straight into what we're going to do. And then they find issues occur later that require them to come back and spend the time though. So, it's another one of those things that I know of find that time to do it right by always make time to do it over.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, exactly.

    David Wheatley: And teams that spend the time in that set up box will save lots of time later on because they did the work. The second piece is that comes back to the choices we make and we break it into green path and red path choices. So that productive and transformative choices I talked about earlier will be green path. The passive and destructive will be what we call red path choices. And it's when we have issues and red path choices, or when we see people be defensive, attack, avoid, accommodate, make excuses, whine, all of those things make the team worse. And we actually put them up there and labeled them so people can see if you're doing any of these, your part of the problem. The flip side of that of course, is the green path is, means I have to be caring, honest and direct. I have to be willing to listen. I have to take in all the perspectives and engage people in a way that drives us forward to a solution. And if I'm doing that, I'm part of the solution. And now that's significantly harder than the whining or the excuses or the attacking, avoid, but it builds the team and it builds the credibility of the team.

    And it sounds simple but putting it out in front of people and saying, you know, is this a green path or a red path choice, or in other words, is this building us or is this degrading us over time? Is the other thing that all too often, we see teams that have got problems and that could have been resolved six weeks ago if they had just had a good conversation about it, but they didn't. And then, it started to fester and they neglected things. And next thing, the teams falling apart and the results, aren't where they need to be.

    Steve Rush: So, for those teams who do follow the green path, what's the reason that they're able to keep laser focused and follow the green path and not be distracted?

    David Wheatley: And the reality is we're all human. So, we all make choices on the red and the green path consistently. The better leaders make more choices on the green, but they don't necessarily make none on the red. What I find is that people are making more green path choices, it encourages and emboldens more green patch choices. So, if you come back from lunch and there's a piece of lettuce between your teeth, and I tell you, there's a piece of lettuce between the teeth in a way that's caring, then you will appreciate that. You might be slightly embarrassed, but you'll appreciate it. And then when you see me with something so good like that, you're more likely to let me know that so that I'm not as embarrassed later on, those are simple green path choices that help us build the relationship. But then that relationship helps us deliver the results that we need when we need it. Because when we build that relationship, we have that level of trust. We're more willing to do what it takes to get us to that that result. And if it means digging in a bit deeper, I've been a bit more creative or working on some things, I'm willing to do that because we built that connection. As simple as you were willing to tell me, I had a piece of lettuce between my teeth.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it's the small things that make the big differences, right?

    David Wheatley: Yeah, and if I don't do that and you get home five o'clock tonight, and you're looking in the mirror and you say, wow, I've still got a piece of lunchtime lettuce in my teeth. How many people have I passed that didn't tell me that?

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    David Wheatley: And then you go in tomorrow morning with a completely different attitude about those people, and you're right. I just was in a meeting where I said, I think I used the phrase, it's driving me crazy. And someone put it in the chat box, but we're really trying to lean away from using the word crazy because it cannot not always be inclusive to people with mental health issues. And I thought, wow, that's kind of cool. And, but rather than have the conversation in the chat box, let's have the conversation in the meeting so that we can get this out here and understand what you're saying. And I can learn from it as well as everybody else can learn from it. And if that's turning some people off, then we need to know it, but we need to be willing to have those conversations so that we can align and make it better as we move forward.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I love that. Now, all teams, including high-performing teams have an achilleas heel, having your experience of working with many teams, what do you see as the biggest achilleas heel for teams?

    David Wheatley: Ego.

    Steve Rush: Okay, tell me more?

    David Wheatley: I wanted to see what would happen if I just said that and nothing else afterwards, but I think ego gets in the way, because we're not willing to see ourselves as being wrong or not perfect. And all too often that trips teams up when somebody or some people in that team let their egos get the best of them. If you think about my continuum going from self to greater good, in some ways I have to manage that ego to be part of the greater good, because if it takes over then that drives me back to the self and of the continuum and makes my choice more red path than green path. And that's when senior leaders don't want to be told that they might be wrong. When people aren't open to feedback, when people aren't learning from the folks who are operating machinery, for example, and I was talking to a client this week and the folks who operate the machines, keep telling the engineers that there's some better ways of doing it, but the engineers aren't interested because the folks who operate the machines don't have engineering degrees. In my mind, that's an ego issue that is negatively impacting that team.

    Steve Rush: Agreed. And it happens in every business, right?

    David Wheatley: Yeah, it does. If those engineers actually got on the floor and talk to those folks, they'd probably find out there as smart, if not smarter as their engineering degree, because they'd been operating that machine for twenty years. Now, they may not have the ability to draw it or to capture or do all the technical stuff they learned in college, but they know what that machine is doing and they know how to get the most out of it. And yet it's ego that gets in the way of that.

    Steve Rush: Agree. So, one of the things I wanted to kick around with you is this whole notion of failure versus success. So many teams that I've worked with or work for often spend quite a bit of time debriefing what went wrong and getting stuck in the moment of failure versus elevating themselves into success. What's the reason that that happens typically?

    David Wheatley: I think that's fits with the red path, green path idea because when we're looking at failure, we're really looking to blame and we're looking backwards. I think that failure can drive opportunity. The American army have a process called the after-action review. And it's a simple learning cycle, you know, what did we say we were going to do? What did we do? What did we learn from this? How can we apply it next time? And so, you could pull that out. And so that's a simple learning cycle. One of the key differences is, the attitude they want, when you go in, this is not about blame, this is about learning. This is not about rank. This is about what we did. And if you had a part in this, you've got an equal say in this conversation. And again, that comes back to our ego conversation, doesn’t it? If I'm willing to say all of this could have been wrong, but we're going to learn from it and apply it next time, then people are more likely to follow you then if I'm trying to scapegoat and looking backwards at failure, and I don't know why people spend so much time on yesterday because they can't do anything about it.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it's interesting. I had this the same conversation, not so long ago about performance management in so much, as many people get stuck in looking at historic data and past performance. And actually, you can't manage performance because it's happened. You can do is manage the performer when it's going forward, which is your green path way path.

    David Wheatley: Yeah, and the green path said, we're forward focused on a solution. And that should be the attitude all the time. I might use yesterday to help educate me, but I'm educating myself to make tomorrow better. And leaders who drive that way, are a lot easier to follow than those who want to spend a lot of time on failure.

    Steve Rush: Aren’t they just, yeah. Now you'll known at Humanergy as the Chief Question Asker. So where did the Moniker come from first of all? And then let's get into the concept of asking some questions.

    David Wheatley: Because some of your listeners are in the UK. I probably say this a little bit easier. We've never had titles in our organization. We've always said to people use the title that will get the job done, whatever title you need, you have that title if you needed to get the job done. And a few years ago, my business partner, I noticed on his LinkedIn, it said chief insight officer. And I thought, that actually fits with him. He's the kind of deep thinking one on the team. And so that fits, but what am I going to put now? Because if we're going to this, I should have something. And my first thought was chief humility officer, but I figured I might be the only person that thought that was funny.

    Steve Rush: That’s right, yeah.

    David Wheatley: And then I started thinking about, when I'm doing my best work, what am I doing? And it keeps coming down to this. I ask a good question. And if I can ask a good question that unlocks that thinking of other people, then that's where, you know, where I have my value. And so, this idea of being the chief question asker was just a different way of looking at how I want to lead and the work I do at Humanergy.

    Steve Rush: So, if you ask a good question, how do you know if that's a good question or not?

    David Wheatley: Usually because people stop and you can see the cogs whirring as they think. And the key to a good question as well in my mind is to leave a lot of space afterwards, because if it is a good question, you can literally see it having its impact. And as people stop and think and their eyes, you can see them adjusting as they going inside their brain. And they're applying that straightaway. It's literally unlocking their head. You can see it happen in front of you. And when that happens you can just sit back as a coach and that warm feeling and say, I probably don't need to talk much for the rest of this meeting because they're going to come up with everything. I just had the question that unlocked their thinking, and now they're ready to go and primed. In a good coaching session, the less I say probably the better the coaching sessions been.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, and great questions also should be informed by the conversation not pre-ordained, or I see some sales teams having the top fifty questions to ask clients. And, you know, for me, if you're pre-loading your questions like that, you can't be then listening to your responses because listening is a sidekick to great communication when you ask great question, right?

    David Wheatley: Yeah, in my mind, that's the foundation for a great question, is the listening piece and not only the listening, but also being able to summarize what you're hearing. And sometimes you don't need to go to a great question. You just simply summarize what you just heard and that's enough for the person to say, oh, I guess that is what I said. And now I hear it back to me, this is what I'm thinking. And you've unlocked their thinking again, but absolutely it's in that order, you first have to listen, then you summarize well, and then potentially you ask a good question that unlocks their thinking. And so absolutely you're right. It's all part of a set.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, so this is the part of the show where we get a flip a little bit. So, I'm going to think about your leadership experiences, leading others and coaching many, many leaders throughout your career and ask you to try and distill them down into the top three. So, if you could, what would be your top three leadership hacks?

    David Wheatley: One of them we've already talked, about the powerful question and knowing what makes a powerful question. And it's quite often, it's usually a question that can't be answered yes or no. And it's not a question that's advice, disguised as a question. So, if you can stay away from those things, then you're probably leaning closer to a powerful question. The second thing that goes with that, and I've already alluded to this too, is what a friend of mine shared. This comes from some of the work of Humble Inquiry. There should be ten seconds that you leave after a question, because most people's thinking doesn't really kick in until about second seven. And I actually have a group that I'm working with at the moment, and they have a lawyer in the group and I have to wait till twelve or thirteen seconds for them because that's when his question kicks in, but it's kind of funny to literally count.

    And I count to ten and there's silence for ten seconds. And then I keep a little bit longer just for this one individual. And his question usually comes at twelve seconds after, or his thought comes twelve seconds after my question, because he wants to think about it. All too often, we're not comfortable with that silence for that length of time. But if I ask a question, I should give the space and the time for people to truly think about it before they respond. And then the third one in my mind would be assume positive intent. And this is something we use quite a lot in our work that all too often people's problems are because they assumed that somebody had ill intent about it. And if I go through life, assuming that people don't mean me ill, then my life will be so much more fruitful, better and enjoyable than if I worry about all the possibilities that could be happening when I see two people in the distance talking, or they're talking about me? I assume positive intent. And if they are talking about me, it's for good reasons. So, then I can let it go and not have to worry about it anymore. So those are my three, the powerful questions, leave ten seconds, at least after your question and then assume positive intent,

    Steve Rush: Great hacks, great advice. Interestingly, the last one. There's been some scientific research done quite a few years back. That's actually proven that 99.9% of our actions are with a positive intent. They might not often land positively and they may have a different impact, but the intent is positive. And I think just reframing that even when people screw up and do horrible things and you feel bad about it, if you can reframe that and allow yourself to recognize that it started out with a positive intent, it can often help you deal with different, right?

    David Wheatley: Absolutely, yeah. And that's green path thinking in my mind, I'd love to see that research too, because that's been my intuitive assumption. And yet half the time we're working with people who see something and they do what I call conspiracy theory thinking. Where they think about every bad possibility that could be going on in that world, and then life gets depressing. And just switching that off and saying, well, if we assume a positive intent, what could be going on? And you start to see them say, well, I guess they could be thinking this way or that way. And night and day switch people's perspective on a situation.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, you're right.

    David Wheatley: But it’s hard.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, next part of the show, David, we call Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something hasn't gone well. It could be that we've royally screwed up at work, whatever the case may be. But as a result of it, we've learned from that experience that we now use it as a positive in our life or our work. What would be your Hack to Attack?

    David Wheatley: Well, it's to take feedback. And I think when you're younger and people give you feedback about how you could be better or something that's going on or something that you haven't done quite as well, it can be very easy to resist that feedback and for your ego to get in the way. I've found that the more open I am to feedback, the more life is enjoyable and I get better at what I'm doing. It doesn't mean that I have to agree with it, but at least about process it, then there's usually something valuable comes out of it. And that, you know, I can be mad about it for a while and I can be frustrated by the fact that I got the feedback, but usually that frustration is based on the fact that I didn't like my performance and the feedback is accurate, but I don't necessarily get there straight away.

    And there's a great English comedian, Sarah Millican, who has a rule that she calls the 11 o'clock rule that applies to her comic stand-up that if you had a bad stand-up gig on the night before. She has till 11, o'clock the following day to whine and mope about it, and then she has to stop and let it go and move to the next one. And the same goes for when she has a great stand-up gig. She has till 11:00 AM the following day to celebrate it. And then she has to stop and get on with the next one. And I've actually used that a lot with people that are in leadership roles. If you get feedback, if somebody didn't go right, if something's really making you mad, then you've got till 11 o'clock the following morning to fester on it and then stop and move on.

    Steve Rush: I think it gives you some boundaries, doesn’t it?

    David Wheatley: Yeah, I like that fact that it's saying, yes, you can mope about it, but only for a very limited time. And so that's the Millican rule or the Millican war is my Hack to Attack.

    Steve Rush: Awesome, and I never realized that we'd ever get Sarah Millican even by reference on the show, on a Leadership Hacker Podcast.

    David Wheatley: There you go.

    Steve Rush: So, you alluded a little bit to this earlier on in the conversation, when you were reflecting back on your days in the Met, we kind of always close out around giving some advice at twenty-one, but thinking back on all of your experiences, if there was just one kind of opportunity to bump into yourself and say, right. It's just this one thing, David, what would it be? What would you change?

    David Wheatley: I said some of it earlier, but I guess it can be summarized in don't take yourself too seriously.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it's easy said than done that, right? So, it's an academic. You don't take yourself too seriously. I think has been said to me many times. And I have also probably said it to many associates, children, the family, right?

    David Wheatley: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: How do you go about doing that though? Because it's easier said than done.

    David Wheatley: I think it's one of those things that we again get stuck in ourselves, especially when we're younger that, you know, the world revolves around us, whoever you are, the world revolves around you. Someone once told me that we're all extras in everybody else's movie. And so that sense of, you know, you Steve sees the world revolving around you because you can't suddenly step out of your body and be somebody else. And it's that realization that everybody else is in that same spot. And the older you get, the more you realize that everybody has a backstory, everybody has issues that they're dealing with. Everybody has a broader sense of life that you're not aware of. And it's getting out of that that place that said the whole world revolves around me and understanding that everybody's got a little piece of it, which, you know, don't take yourself too seriously. Because we're all in this together kind of thing, is easy to say.

    The recognition, the realization that everybody is in the same boat and they have their issues and a backstory is the difference maker in my mind. And so, getting people to think about that and explore other people's perspectives can sometimes get you out of everything's about me.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I like it. So, what's next for you and the folk of Humanergy?

    David Wheatley: Well, I continue a book, What Great Teams Do Great, which was released just in time for the pandemic. And so, we couldn't get out and physically advertise it. So that's still ongoing and we're constantly looking for what's next. At the moment, we've got some training that we call our high-impact leadership training, which is a twelve-month leadership adventure which takes four hours of classroom time a month. We used to do that. Face-To-Face in different locales, but COVID took it virtual. And there's been some fun doing that on Zoom with people that are coming in from all over the country, in some cases, all over the world to participate in a leadership journey that lasts for twelve months and continues to build, that's the fun project that we've got expanding at the moment.

    Steve Rush: Awesome, and wish you every success with it too.

    David Wheatley: Well, thank you.

    Steve Rush: So, our listeners might want to get hold of a copy of What Great Teams Do Great, and some of your other work and indeed find out a little bit more about what you and the firm are doing. Where's the best place for us to send them?

    David Wheatley: Well, humanergy.com and that's humanergy.com is where you can find everything about us and contact us and What Great Teams Do Great is available. All good bookstores and Amazon.

    Steve Rush: Awesome. We'll make sure those links are in our show notes as well for you.

    David Wheatley: What I'm encouraging folks to do. When you think about that greater good continuum is, if you can hold off a little bit, then go and order a book from your local bookstore that's been struggling for the last eight-teen months. It might take a little longer to get to you. It might be a little bit more expensive than it is on Amazon, but at least we're sharing some of the wealth with some people who've been struggling. And Jeff doesn't need any more money.

    Steve Rush: That's a great, call, love it. David, thanks ever so much for coming on the show, loved talking about the journey. I can really see the value that you talk about from red path, green path. I can see how teams can adopt that language super quick to really help them focus on the right things and thanks ever so much for being part of our community on the podcast.

    David Wheatley: Well Thanks, Steve. And I look forward to continuing listening to this journey.

    Steve Rush: Thanks very much David.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there: @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

  • Dr Jeffrey Hull is an author, educator, and consultant with more than twenty years’ experience partnering with C-suite executives on issues of high-performance leadership, change management, organizational strategy, structure, and culture. He’s the CEO of LeaderShift Inc and also a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School. In this inspiring show you can learn about:

    What is organizational anthropology?Why leadership really is an art and a science.Learn about the age of the post-heroic leader.Jeffrey’s F.I.E.R.C.E. leadership model.

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Jeff below:

    Jeff on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeffrey-hull-ph-d-bcc-062b09/

    Jeffrey Hull Website: https://www.jeffreyhull.com

    Jeff on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JeffreyHullPhD

    Jeff on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/drjeffreyhullphd/

    Full Transcript Below


    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    Joining me on the show today is Dr. Jeffrey Hull. He's the bestselling author of the book Flex, he's in Harvard faculty member, a C-suite coach and CEO and founder of LeaderShift, Inc. But before we get a chance to speak with Jeff, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: As generations as pass through the workforce, they become more transient and no more so than Gen Z. Gen Z has had enough, according to a recent Adobe survey, 5,500 workers found that 56% of those aged between 18 and 24 in the workplace say they're planning to switch jobs within the next year. Research from Microsoft and Bankrate back this up reporting that 54% and 77% of Gen Zs respectively are thinking about quitting in their organizations. Sometimes these statements don't always line up with actions, but across the globe, a record number of Gen Z quit their job in April equivalent to twice the number of the previous April.

    Anthony Klotz, a business professor at Texas A&M University has deemed as the great resignation. The term that's caught fire in recent months, Klotz explained that many employees only stay at their jobs because the cost of leaving is higher than the cost of staying. And this ratio has shifted for many workers in the past year. He goes on to say, “The costs of staying have risen due to burnout while the costs of quitting have decreased due to unexpected pandemic savings.” So how as leaders, can we avoid this Exodus? Here's a few ideas that will get our Gen Z workers wanting to stay. Ignite their passion. We all have differences and gap have recently concluded that the great resignation is actually just a great disconnect. So rather than being an issue with pay or industry or working conditions, the pandemic has changed the way people work and how they behave. So, reversing the tide in any team or organization requires leaders who care, who engage and who give our workers a sense of purpose. Really find what it is that turns them on and makes them successful and energetic and aligned their work to that Passion.

    Banished the busy-ness syndrome. One of the real issues ushered by the pandemic was a need for newly remote workers to look busy, particularly for those who were young and relatively unproven in their careers, trying to make a name for themselves. Half of remote workers in a recent study showed they were worried that their manager had doubts about their productivity leading to 44% to work longer hours and 37% even skip breaks, which of course naturally is going to impact on productivity negatively. In the Adobe research suggested that 86% said that their task would now becoming more mundane and repetitive. And therefore, as leaders, we've got a real opportunity to strive to banish the busy-ness syndrome and find things that are purposeful, meaningful, and give people the opportunity to be creative.

    And the last thing that comes out in this survey is get rid of the nine to five mentality. Of the workers in the Adobe study, who planned to switch jobs in the next year, 61% said they wanted more control over their schedule. And this applies particularly to Gen Zs as only 62% say their most productive hours fell between nine and six. It's time for our leaders to banish the idea of that mandatory nine to five, just exploring why people can be more productive outside those hours can really unlock talent, unlock ideas and creativity. The rules for leading people have changed. Even in turbulent times. The key particularly to retaining Gen Z employees is not a mystery. Retention requires an intentional commitment as leaders to understand to their unique needs and demands. We can't expect Gen Z to behave like Gen X, Gen Y, Baby Boomers.

    They've been born into a different world and have different perspectives. And the war for talent is definitely putting pressure on organizations and teams to provide the next gen employees, the opportunity to be successful. So, the leadership lesson here is create some awareness here and understand how our Gen Zs are thinking, feeling, and behaving and make sure that you can adapt and provide them with the opportunities to grow, notwithstanding, maintaining great standards and expectations. That's been The Leadership News. We'd love to hear from you, if you have any insights, stories, or quirk things that we'd love to get on the show. So please get in touch.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Joining me on the show today is Dr. Jeffrey Hull, he's the CEO and founder of LeaderShift, Inc. He's a Director of Global Development at Harvard Institute of Coaching, and he's also a faculty member of Harvard Medical School. He's a speaker and the author of the book Flex. Jeff, welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Good to be here. Thank you for having me.

    Steve Rush: So, you really have a fascinating story and loads of experience, and I'd love to just start with a bit of a summary if you like, of how you've arrived at leading the organization you do now?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Well, I think it's probably the easiest way to sum up my career is in three phases. Early phase after college, in graduate school, was in HR working for the consultancy based in New York. Global strategy firm called Booz Allen Hamilton that many people know. I worked my way up early in my career to a director of HR role where at that point I discovered my favorite part of that job was mentoring and coaching the up-and-coming leaders. And it was really kind of early in the coaching profession. So, I don't know that I had the option to become a professional coach at that point, but I knew I liked that part of my work. So, when I had an opportunity in the second phase of these three to jump into an entrepreneurial stage of career, a good friend of mine who was an investment banker, we were in New York.

    At the time we got together, we started a company to do leadership development consulting. And over the next five to seven years, built a pretty successful practice with leadership training, customized seminars and retreats, and with financial organizations, software companies you know, we worked back and forth between Europe and New York. And over that time, I've kind of honed my training and development skills, but also started doing more coaching. And that led to the third phase, which I guess I'm still in, which is eventually really kind of honing in on executive coaching. And so, for the last 15 years or so, I've really developed a pretty wide-ranging practice of executive coaching in all different industries, whether it's still in the financial space, but also software, tech, pharma. And then more recently doing a lot of work in healthcare where I got connected to Harvard medical school and the folks at the Harvard Institute of coaching. And that's kind of where I kind of give back, give back in my career. I work part time as one of the leaders of the Institute. And it's really an opportunity for me to get involved with research and education around scientific or evidence-based underpinnings of this profession that we call coaching, which these days, I think it's safe to say as a profession, but, you know, it's still, it's still the growth phase. I mean, it hasn't been around that long.

    It's still quite a relatively new notion, isn't it? In an organizational sense. Of course. Exactly.


    And you've also as part of your work and your studies as an organizational psychologist over the last 20 years have kind of really developed an interesting spin on things. And you have this notion of organizational anthropology and I'd love to learn a little bit more about what that means and how it differs.

    I think that that's just my euphemism for going below the surface and being a bit of a detective of what is going on within an organization that may not be explicit and may not be visible. It may not be seen, but may actually be having a huge influence or impact on the organizational success or on the leaderships way of interacting with their people. So, I was trained originally in my doctoral program in Jungian psychology. There's another quick phase I went through earlier where I want it to be a psychotherapist. That's a long story we'll do for another day. But out of that training came my recognition that a lot of the time, the way things are really happening in organizations are sort of implicit or unvisible or invisible. And so, the anthropological part of me is looking at my coaching opportunities with clients to dig under the surface.

    Like what's not so obvious that's going on in the dynamic with the team or the way you interact with your people as a leader and having an opportunity for people to feel safe in a coaching dynamic, then they can reflect on some of these blind spots where they're not even aware of the way they're coming across or the way they're interacting with their people. And that can be helpful I think in two ways. One it can help the leader become more self-aware and then secondly, it can also help with the culture building aspects of organizations.

    Steve Rush: Right?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Because a lot of the aspects of culture, as you know, are more implicit, they're more kind of the way things we do around here. And, you know, this is the way we put our offices, or this is how we operate in virtual calls these days or whatever it is, but there's sort of the unwritten rules. So that's what I mean by kind of the anthropological lens, like looking under the surface and getting into the shadows, so to speak.

    Steve Rush: And that's a skill, and a massive skill to get below those couple of layers because we all come with our lenses and we all come with our layers. What are the things that you've noticed that really help you to be able to get really deep and underneath those kinds of layers?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Well, I think a lot of it is being an observer of the dynamics between individuals and their teams that they don't even notice. You know, I look for, and I wrote about this in my book as an example, I look for the somatic or the energetic dynamic that's going on between a leader and their people, not just what they say by that, I mean, you know, in live space and example would be how they handle the energy of the team dynamic in terms of where they sit, how they set up their office, the timing, who participates and who doesn't, power seats and, you know, presence, you know, how do they hold their body as a leader? Do they lean in or do they lean back? Do they look at people directly or do they often kind of look distracted are they on their cell phone being, you know, texting and things like that. So, some of the more subtle physical elements are ways to detect kind of what's really going on underneath the surface, despite what people may be saying. And I would add that that shows up even more, or explicitly, in these virtual situations where we're now like on Zoom calls or Microsoft teams or whatever, and all of those things, my clients are often surprised when they hear from me that some of the more non-verbal physical presence dynamics are actually even exaggerated in the virtual space.

    Steve Rush: That's really fascinating, most writing or articles I've certainly read in the last 18 months to two years as we’ve been going through this crazy world, suggest the opposite. How have you managed to fine tune your skills and your acuity to find that in what you do?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Well, it's a great question, but it starts with some of the basic scientific principles. And I mentioned, I wrote about some of this in my book too, which is, you know, we're learning more and more about how people operate when they feel a sense of psychological safety or how they build trust or what it takes to operate at high performing levels. And these things often trace back to physical or somatic energy issues such as eye contact and feeling like your being listened to, you know, this sort of a subtle thing. Like when you ask someone, how do you know when you're being heard? You know, that's kind of a subtle question. How do you know? Right. So, when you think about that question in the virtual space, it becomes quite granular. And the studies have shown that things like direct eye contact and smiling and on a virtual call showing, your hands occasionally. Not just being, you know, the talking head from the neck up, those small gestures, those small things actually make a lot of difference. People feel more connected. They feel more heard when you look directly into your camera, rather than looking distracted. Now that's true in the real world, but it's even more exaggerated in the virtual space.

    Steve Rush: Right., yeah.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: So, a lot of what I do for my coaching around how to become more effective in those Zoom calls or those Microsoft team calls is to pay attention to the way you’re paying attention, right?

    Steve Rush: Conscious, consciousness

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Exactly, and know your habits. We all have our little bad habits, you know, like looking down and taking notes or occasionally glancing at my cell phone or, oops, I got a text message better read it. That's all, you know, even in the real world, that's a little bit distracting, but in the virtual space, it can come across as downright rude.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it can, can’t it?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Yeah, exactly.

    Steve Rush: The book that you've written, Flex: The Art and Science of Leadership in a Changing World, if ever there was a time to have written a book, right? now, is it. Tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind the book and maybe some of the key themes it covers?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Well, the inspiration for the book was really more on a sort of macro level, which is that in my executive coaching practice and in my work with the Harvard Institute where I get to interact as part of a community of hundreds of coaches around the world, you know, there was a sense that the demographics and the dynamics of what it takes to be successful in a leadership context were changing rapidly in the last few years. And I think it's now become pretty well known that organizations are becoming flatter, more networked, more democratic, more interconnected, more multicultural, more multi-national. I mean, the whole thing with the pandemic and virtual work is just exaggerated all of that. But what that leads to of course is you have a new generation of leaders stepping up that don't always come the same way as the ones that I coached early in my career.

    For example, they're not all white men and they're not all charismatic and they're not all authoritative leaders. So, there's a lot more variety than there used to be. And what I'm called on to coach around. Things like emotional intelligence and building trust and getting high performing teams to be cohesive and work together in alignment with a vision, you know, these things are more complex and the good news is there's some good research on how to make that happen. And so, what led to the book was basically my recognition that, you know, we needed to kind of move on from what I considered to be the paradigm of, you know, probably 2000 years of leadership, you know, the white guy coming in on the horse to lead the troops with the vision and the directive style. Not that that's really not appropriate when I'm under the surgeon's knife, I definitely hope he's a nice authoritative directive person, or when I'm sitting on an airplane, I expect my pilot to be authoritative and directive. But, you know, in most situations these days, there's room for a lot more variety. And sometimes in fact, there's a benefit to bringing in the more consensus driven collaborative maybe the leader who leads by following or building a coalition. And so that's really what led me to want to describe in the book, case studies and coaching examples of a really much wider, diverse range of what I considered to be sort of the next generation of leadership.

    Steve Rush: Definitely, so. You state actually in the book that we're in this age of the post heroic leader.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Right.

    Steve Rush: So how might that have looked and what would be the stark differences?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Well, I think the fundamental theme is that the traditional archetype is that heroic leader, right? So, as I mentioned before, you know, the Knight that comes in on the horse to save the world, and that is a very individualistic definition of leadership, that it's a particular person with a particular personality that shows talent, that has high potential. And they, you know, they need to be groom and then they run off and lead the world. And, you know, as you're getting back to your question about anthropology, you know, that's an archetype, it's not a fact.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: And so, in today's world, there's much more space for a whole broad range of leaders to be impactful. And some of the most influential leaders that I work with are not like that at all. They're actually more introverted. They're actually more consensus building. They're actually good listeners. They actually create an environment that more and more people can lead as a team. So, the fundamental shift is from an individualistic approach to leadership, to a team or community, or a group focused way of leading, and that sort of collective approach can be equally effective. So, I consider that to be post heroic in the sense that there's no longer always just one singular individual leading the charge. And the best leaders, and I think I dig into this in the book are those that really understand the benefits of both ends of the spectrum, what I call the alpha, which is the heroic type, and then the beta, which is really more of a consensus builder.

    Steve Rush: And equally they bring different skills and attributes to a team. I guess the key here is finding others around you that have different perspectives and more diversity, right?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Absolutely, and that's probably where you're pointing there is one of the fundamental themes of my book, which is this adage, that there are only a few people in any organization that are considered the high potentials that we should, you know, give extra training or extra focus. I really think that's an outdated meme, that the best teams these days recognize that there's leadership potential in everyone.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: So as a leader, your job is to uncover that talent and nurture and exploit or take advantage, or leverage the talent and all of your people.

    Steve Rush: And that's really massive for me when you played that back, because I instantaneously think back to when I was in leading businesses and I was working in HR. You have a typical talent grid, maybe a nine-box grid, and you identify those who are talent, and who's not. I wonder how different the world would be today if all of those nine boxes were classed as talent, yet we just reframed it in a different way.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Well, you know, it's so interesting you mentioned that because I too have come full circle around that dynamic. And one of the things that I do with my clients now that are like heads of HR or chief operating officers, or even CEOs, is I will support them to go through that exercise to identify those individuals in their organization, that show, you know, really what I would consider to be evident talent. Like they're sort of a natural born leader, right? So, oh, those are the superstars. So, we create our nine box or whatever it is that we're doing to evaluate for succession plan. And we create our list of the top tier of the next generation of talent, so that's cool. But then what I do is, I throw a wrench in the mix, when I say, okay, I want you to go through your talent pool.

    And I want you to pull out all the people you think are not high potential, top 10, top 50, you know, what are those people that you think are real questionable? And so we go through that exercise, and then I throw the second wrench, which is, okay, I want you to reflect on whether or not the people you just threw on the dust pile or on the trash bin are the most talented people in the organization.

    Steve Rush: Interesting.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: What if you think of the people who have the least potential as the ones who have the untapped most potential, how would that change the way you operate?

    Steve Rush: Really neat. I'm literally playing it through, in my mind as you're describing it. What it really tells us is that there are lots that we just don't know about people. There are lots that we just don't understand about that capability. And ironically, we might never know if we exclude them from some of those conversations.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Yeah, and I'll give you two examples. I mean, what you're really pointing to too when you go through that exercise is number one. If you're in a leadership seat and you're going through the list of potentials, you know, all the people on your team that have been working for you. Let's say for a year, two years, three years, and you pick out the ones you think are obviously high potential. Well, guess what? They're all going to be just like you, that's the stereotype.

    Steve Rush: Right?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Our affinity is for people who are like us, oh, I love Mary. She does a lot of the same things that I used to do when I was a child. Like, great, okay. So that's just keeping the stream moving of everybody being the same, but the other side of the coin is the people that your kind of frustrated by, or, oh God, that guy, he doesn't have a lot of potential. He works in the middle of the night. He never shows up at 9:00 AM like everybody. He has no potential, but he's a maverick. Oh, maybe he's super creative. Maybe he's very, very innovative, but doesn't toe the line. So, the people at the other end of the spectrum, as I said, that you, as a leader are kind of dismissing because they don't fall into your stereotype of towing the line, the way you do to become a leader. May actually be the most creative, innovative, talented maverick folks in your whole organization. They may be secretly working at two o'clock in the morning on solving the problem that will make you millions.

    Steve Rush: That's right, yeah.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: So, it's worth taking a second look, I guess, is the bottom line, right?

    Steve Rush: Definitely, so now you call the book, Flex: The Art and Science of Leadership. And I wonder for most people listening to this, they'll get the science because it's prevalent and we talk about Neuroscience; we talk about some of the tools and techniques and Jungian approach you talked about earlier, but what about art? Is leadership really an art?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Yes, because I think there's an intuitive, creative, almost really hard to put your finger on a piece of interconnectivity with people that is kind of poetic or musical, or if you think of the works of art that stand the test of time, they would be hard pressed to be created through scientific means.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Right? They're special, they're unique. And, so I think that's what I'm pointing at when I say, you know, the good news is we have more evidence about what it takes to lead a group, to build trust, to build alignment, to share a vision with communication strategies that really connect the dots for people. So that they'll follow. I mean, we do know what it takes to do that. We've done studies, but on the other end of the spectrum, if you run your team all through data, all through science, you know, people are not robots.

    People are creative, intuitive beings, and you want to tap into the imagination. You want to tap into that sort of unspoken, intuitive side. And as I said earlier, sort of learn to nurture the Mavericks. If people are acting a little crazy. And I gave you that example where I did have a statistics guy who was refusing to work during the day, because he was just super creative, late at night. And his boss was frustrated with him. And you know, I had a counterintuitive coaching discussion with my client because I said, instead of being mad at this guy, why don't you dig underneath, what's that creative impulse that shows up in him at 2:00 AM? How do you nurture that?

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: So that's the art side of it.

    Steve Rush: I buy that and I wonder how much mindset plays into this whole principle of me being a leader and thinking of myself as “artistic” in my trade.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Oh, absolutely. I mean, that's kind of what I get into when I talk about the anthropologic. I asked my clients, you know, when you think about blind spots, that's sort of a paradox, right? Because a blind spot is something you can't see. So therefore, how could you know what it is? And that is often an opening for a conversation with my clients around the benefit of, first of all, being open to feedback. And second of all, to see that the people that you're getting feedback from, if they have your best interests at heart, are going to point out things to you that are going to be super supportive in expanding your skills, expanding your repertoire and that, you know, everything that you think you're doing is great is not necessarily seen, not necessarily what's you know. I mean, it may be some of your hidden talents that are showing up that people are taking advantage of or aware of. And so, learning about those sorts of unseen gifts, I think is a really important element of being an effective leader and doing the same thing with your folks.

    Steve Rush: I love the way you framed that by the way, unseen gifts. Just allows us to receive it in a way of a gift, doesn't it?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Because again, going back to the science, we now know that if you frame things positively, as opposed to problematically, then people can look at something that appears to be negative and reframe it with a mindset that turns it into an opportunity.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, love it. And you have a model that you help your leaders with called Fierce, F-I-E-R-C-E. Love you just to spin through how we might use that as leaders in our work?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Well, that was simply a distillation of a lot of the research and interviews and focus groups that I did with my clients and with many, many coaches that I work with to discover what are the areas that leaders need to really hone in on and today's world to be effective. So, there are six dimensions that just keep coming up over and over again, one is decision-making and developing a flexible style. So that gets back to the core of what we talked about before, which was, you know, are you authoritative and indecisive or are you flexible and being more democratic and consensus building and both are valuable, but they're two ends of a spectrum. The second is the acronym and fierce is the letter I, which is intentional. So being more intentional in your communication style, and we've already talked a little bit about that. Looking really closely at not just the words you use, but the way you communicate. The tone, the eye contact, the gestures, the use of humor, all the different components of effective persuasion and influence. The third, the letter E is emotional intelligence and becoming aware of the key side of human beings, which is emotions is crucial, you know, developing your own emotional intelligence is like a muscle that leaders these days cannot avoid developing. The next one is R in the acronym, and that's building up your integrity and your credibility through authenticity or what I call realness. And that connects to being more humble and knowing when to be transparent and open and vulnerable. So, a lot of leaders tend to focus on competencies and strengths, which is great, but at the other end of the spectrum, you also need to be humble and vulnerable and connect to your people as a human being. And that's kind of the other end of the spectrum. So, all of the different components of being an authentic leader are absolutely crucial today.

    And then the final two components have to do with collaboration. You know, the letter C for me, I started to dig into how do we effectively become coaches for our people? You know, it's great to have a coach, but you also need to become a coach. So, I dug into some of the science that we use at the Institute of Coaching around becoming an effective coach for your people. Listening, asking good questions, creating a sense of safety, confidentiality, knowing the difference, for example, between mentoring and coaching, because they're not the same thing. And then finally the letter E is about how to engage with your team. And we spoke a little bit about that in terms of how to create an environment that gets the best out of everyone, whether you're in a virtual space or in a real office or in a hybrid. And that focuses on the energy that you exude as a leader, your nonverbal communication, how you create the space for people to show up, how you facilitate introverts and extroverts. So, it's really sort of stepping back and looking at some of the key principles of creating and motivating an environment where everyone can operate at their best.

    Steve Rush: I love the model; I love the framework. It really helps people get into that space of ask yourself some questions around each of those six acronyms.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Right, exactly. That was my intent.

    Steve Rush: And yeah, you'll start to find out then what you need to. kind of pull the leavers on, right?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Exactly.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: And, you know, and what I did is, then I brought a lot of case studies in, so that as you're reading through some of the science or some of the themes, there are lots of different examples of people sort of at different ends of the spectrum in all those categories. And so, the idea was to be able to reflect on your own leadership style, whether you're early in your career or whether you're the CEO and say to yourself, oh, I recognize myself.

    Steve Rush: Exactly, yeah. It starts with us as leaders. Doesn't it?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Exactly.

    Steve Rush: It starts with us. And in terms of leadership, I'm going to spin the tone a little now. Trying and hack into your leadership brain.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Okay.

    Steve Rush: Having led businesses and teams over a number of different years, I'm going to try and ask you now to take all of that learning and distill it into your top three leadership hacks, what would they be?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Top three? Well, my top one is to own your blind spots. Like as a leader, one of the most humbling aspects is to even recognize that you might have blind spots. So, if you have a starting point from saying to yourself, okay, I'm a human being. I must have a blind spot. What is it? So go on, you know, like almost an architect, what would be the word? Archetype dig into your own blind spots, ask your friends, ask your spouse. Don't be afraid to find out what it is that gets in the way of your operating at your finest, that's number one.

    Steve Rush: That’s a big one too. And I'll tell you, I have a funny story about this. When I was coached by my coach a couple of years back, and we were talking about blind spots and I had this really crazy moment of going. No, I just don't see it. I just don't recognize it. It's a blind spot.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Yeah, oh yeah. Okay. Just starting point of being aware that you might have a blind spot is a really important step as a leader because it's humbling and it gets you going onto an investigation where you may be open to feedback.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Number two hack is kind of along those lines. And I call that to know the strengths list of your people. Because if we're going to move from this heroic style of leadership to a more group or post heroic style, then what you need to do is to know your people. And the best way to do that is to put together a short list of their strengths. So, I make all of my clients do this exercise, which is if you have 10 people reporting to you, or you have five people reporting to you, get out a notebook and write down the top three strengths of every single person on your team.

    Because if you have that as a handy dandy available note, you'll be able to use that when things get tight or there's a crisis, or there's an upset, because you'll be able to say, oh, but Mary you're so good at X, Y, and Z. I need to know what happened when this didn't happen, right? So, knowing the strengths of your people is really important and you'd be surprised how many leaders don't take the time. They're like, oh yeah, I like Mary and Suzie's good. I'm not so sure about Peter, but then when I dig one level below that, and I say, yeah, but what's Peter's number one strength. They're like never thought about that question.

    Steve Rush: It's a great situational hack, isn’t?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Exactly.

    Steve Rush: It looking for those opportunities? Yeah.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Yep, know your top three. No, the top three strengths of all your people. And then the hack number three, which I think is the real punchline of this whole line of questioning is know how the strength becomes a liability.

    Steve Rush: Would that be an overplayed strength?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Yep.

    Steve Rush: Yep.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Exactly, know the strengths of your people and yourself, so know your own strengths and then ask yourself, when does that strength get me into trouble?

    Steve Rush: Love that.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Because 90% of the coaching I've done in my life, we have ended up somewhere where wherever the big talent is of my client is also their liability. They overuse it. They rely on it too much. One trick pony, whatever way you want to articulate it. It's incredibly common that the thing that we do super well often becomes the thing that trip us up when we want to go to the next level. It goes back to Marshall Goldsmith, who I'm a big fan. One of his 100 coaches. What got you here won't get you there, right?

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: His best-selling book. And the theme of that book is really whatever it was that got you to where you are, is probably going to get in the way of getting you to the next place.

    Steve Rush: Very, very good. Like that a lot. Next part we'll show Jeff, we call Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something in your work or life hasn't worked out as you'd planned, may have been even that we've screwed up in the process, but as a result of the process. We've learned from it, and it's now serving us well in our life or our work. So, what would be your Hack to Attack?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Oh, well that one is, I love that question because it's actually really easy, but embarrassing, but hey, you know, that's life, it's a humble.

    Steve Rush: Let’s do it.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: No, but the truth is I was very fortunate that I screwed up very early in my career, right out of college. I was hired as a recruiter for a tech company and I was only in my early twenties and, you know, got a fancy cube. I didn't get an office, but I got a very fancy cube. And I got a secretary, I had an admin and within the very first few weeks of my job, what did I do? I asked my secretary to get coffee for me. I was like, oh, can you do this? Can you do that? I was like, oh my God, I have my secretary. She's going to do things for me. And about a month later, my boss came to me and he was like Jeff, I have to sit you down and just discuss the way we work around here.

    Because this was a tech company. And then even though it was quite a few years ago, even back then, it was really a more egalitarian invite environment. And he said, you know what Jeff, you really should learn to get your own coffee. And I looked at him and I was like, what? He goes, your administrative assistant is really there to support you to do your job better. Not just to be your lackey. Like, you know, she can get coffee. It's not really a problem, but is that really the best way to treat people? And so, it wasn't so much the getting the coffee that was the issue. It was my attitude, and that was humbling. And I was young and I was immature. But I have to tell you that advice treat people well, realize that even the person who takes your coat or the receptionist who welcomes you in the door or the administrative assistant, who's just setting up the coffee and the bagels for the meeting. Those are human beings. And not only are they deserving of respect, but as I've learned over the years, they also have a lot of inside information.

    Steve Rush: They do, don't they?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Yeah, exactly. Like 10 years later, when I was the director of HR and I had learned my lesson and I learned to be respectful. I remember we were interviewing MBA candidates and what I would do at the end of the day, they would come in from Harvard and Northwestern and Stanford and Yale, and be very arrogant. And, you know, just as I probably was back when I was in that age bracket and I would say to the receptionist, okay. So, tell me who should I hire and who should I not hire

    Steve Rush: First impressions?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Yeah, exactly. Her name was Irene. And she said to me, you know, Jeff don't that guy. And I'm like, yeah, but he came across really smart in the interviews. She goes, yeah, but he was really rude to me when he first came in, he basically threw his coat at me to hang up and, you know, that's the fundamental lesson, treat people with respect no matter where they are in the organization, because they are part of the fabric of the team. And not only do they deserve to be treated well, deserve to be treated with respect, but they also have a lot of insights. So that was my big learning. And, you know, I'm not perfect. I probably still snap at someone once in a while, but I really took it to heart that, you know, it's the people at the lower end of the totem poles that really, not only do they do the yeoman's work in an organization to keep things humming, but they also have incredible deep insight into what's really going on in the C-Suite or behind the scenes. And you can learn from them those people.

    Steve Rush: Super lesson, yeah.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: The last thing we want to do today, Jeff is give you a chance to do some time travel. So, you get a chance to go and bump into Jeff at 21 and give them some advice. What would your advice to him be then?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: My advice would be to learn from everyone. Don't get into the habit of just being funding with the ones that have big titles or big paychecks, you know, look at every single person that you interact with in your community or organization, your network, and think of them as being able to offer you something

    Steve Rush: Awesome advice. Every day's a school day.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Exactly, you know, and I hopefully learned how to be a student along the way and I'll never stop.

    Steve Rush: Great stuff. So, what is it you're working on next, Jeff?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: The things that most interest me now are taking leaders from sort of more traditional environments like finance and software and integrating them into the more eco sustainable world organizations that are environmentally more attuned to what's going on with our climate change and the planet and all, you know, we need to integrate these things. And so, one of my passions is helping my leaders that I work with, get more in tune with broader impact that their organizations are having on the planet. Like if we look at, you know, all the crazy stuff that's happening with the climate.

    Steve Rush: Exactly, yeah.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: And we just don't have the luxury anymore of saying, oh, well, that's all in the energy department, you know, I'm in finance. I don't have anything to do with that. Well, you know, downstream, it's all one stream, right? So, my passion is trying to get my leaders in all these different places to become more in tune with how they have impacts in the world. Not just impacts inside their organization.

    Steve Rush: Love it, yeah.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: You know, and it's a challenge, but we coaches we have a role to play. So, hopefully going to do my part.

    Steve Rush: Good for you. So, if our listeners want to get hold of a copy of Flex, or they wanted to learn a bit more about the work that you do, Jeff, where's the best place for us to send them?

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: My own website under my name, Jeffrey Hull, H-U-L-L, jeffreyhull.com. We'll have a lot of information and access to the book. Obviously, the book is available on Amazon and all the other, you know, outlets that we find our books these days. And then I would also encourage folks to look up the instituteofcoaching.org. I'm there as part of the leadership team. There's a lot of interesting resources. So those are probably the best places to go.

    Steve Rush: Wonderful, and we'll make sure that those links are in our show notes as well.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Great, appreciate that.

    Steve Rush: Jeff, I've really enjoyed talking with you. I love the energy that you bring to the subject and I love the work that you're doing. And I just wanted to say, thank you for being part of our community.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: Well, it's my pleasure. It's always good to spread the word on what kind of leaders we all want to develop into and develop into the world, bring into the world these days. because there's a certain amount of urgency, I think.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, definitely so.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: If we are going to save the planet and ourselves along the way.

    Steve Rush: Well said - Thanks for coming on the show Jeff.

    Dr. Jeffery Hull: My pleasure. Thanks Steve


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there: @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

  • Lisa Marie Platske is the President and CEO of Upside Thinking, a leadership coach and speaker, she’s also an international best-selling author, In this intimate show we explore some amazing leadership lessons including:

    How being in New York at 9/11 in law enforcement became a turning point in her careerHow self-examination can help with forgivenessThe 3 steps and 7 pillars to unlock courageous leadershipHow can we remain relevant as leaders in such a dynamic and changing world?

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Lisa below:

    Lisa on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lisamarieplatske/

    Upside Thinking Website: https://upsidethinking.com

    Lisa on Twitter: https://twitter.com/UpsideThinking

    Lisa on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UpsideThinking

    Full Transcript Below


    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    Lisa Marie Platske is our special guest on today's show. She's an award-winning leadership expert and number one, international bestselling author of Designing Your Destiny.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: In the news today, we explore the notion of the law of attraction or LOA, as it's often known. Simply put, the law of attraction is the ability to attract into our lives, whatever we're focusing on. And it's believed regardless of age, nationality, religious belief, we all susceptible to the laws which govern the universe, including the law of attraction. And it's a law of attraction that uses the power of the mind to translate what is ever in our thoughts and to materialize them into reality. And here's the thing, in basic terms, all thoughts turn into things Eventually. If you focus on negative doom and gloom, you remain and direct cloud and be pretty grumpy and miserable. If you focus on positive thoughts and have goals and ambitions and aim to achieve them, you'll find ways to do so.

    The law of attraction is one of life's biggest mysteries. Very few people are fully aware of how much the impact of law of attraction has on their day-to-day life. Whether we're doing it knowingly or unknowingly. Every second of our existence, we are acting as a human magnet, sending out our thoughts and emotions and attracting back more of what we put out. Unfortunately, so many of us are still blind to the potential that is locked deep within us. Consequently, it's all way too easy to leave your thoughts and emotions unchecked. And this sends out the wrong thoughts and attracts more of an unwanted emotion and event into your life. And unfortunately, because it comes with a bit of a stigma because people have this perception that it is pink and fluffy, and it's not particularly real, people often don't pay attention and don't focus on it enough.

    The law of attraction stems back to mystical and historical claims haven't been first thought of by the immortal Buddha. It's believed he wanted to be known that what you have become is what you have thought. And this is the belief that's intrinsically deep within the law of attraction. So is the law of attraction pink and fluffy, or is there science behind it? Well, the work of quantum physics during recent years has helped really shine, greater light on the incredible impact and the power of the mind has on our lives and the universe in general, some would argue it's actually just a mindset. As physicists and neuroscientists come to supply us with more and more information regarding our brains. The law of attraction simply becomes more logical and the more we can rejoice in truly liberating impairing the realization that we are, the creators and the controllers of our life and the energy that we give out and attract the more successful we become.

    The best description I've heard or seen about the law of attraction is thinking of ourselves as we were artists with a blank canvas, creating pictures of our intended life and making the choices and actions to make that happen. So, what if you don't like the picture? Well, you can change it because life is a blank canvas of possibility. We're in control of what that finished picture could look like. And the law of attraction is just that. And it's just that simple. There's no catches. The laws of nature are completely imperfect and the law of attraction is no different, no matter what you're looking for, what you want to achieve in your life. If you can hold on to an idea and see it for yourself in your mind's eye, then you can make it yours because you'll start to find and look and notice for the opportunity, the natural caring coincidences that help you fulfill that picture in your mind.

    So, the leadership lesson is here. How much of our work as leaders is about helping people realize that mind's eye view, helping them articulate, helping them paint that picture and helping them on the journey to attracting the right energy, the right behaviors and people around them to be successful. That's been The Leadership Hacker News. As always, we're delighted when you nudge us comment and share our stories. So please get in touch if there's anything specific you want us to feature on the show.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Our special guest on today's show is Lisa Marie Platske. She is the President and CEO of Upside Thinking. She's a leadership coach and a speaker. She's also the international best-selling author of a number of books. You want to hang on to the end of the show today because there's a special gift that you can get hold of later on, and it is the “Influential Leadership Blueprint” from Lisa. Lisa welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

    Lisa Marie Platske: Thanks Steve. So excited to be here.

    Steve Rush: Me too.

    Lisa Marie Platske: Thanks for having me.

    Steve Rush: So, you had a really fascinating meander to get to where you get to. Started out, your early career in law enforcement, and now leading Upside Thinking, tell us a little bit about how your journey evolved?

    Lisa Marie Platske: Well, I can honestly share that I was never looking to be an entrepreneur or run a leadership development organization. I started off in law enforcement because I just loved the work. And back then, when I was looking for career paths after college, there was no internet to go researching. There was a library and lots of little books and file folders, and it sounded really exciting to be working in international trade and travel. And so, I took my criminal justice degree and went into law enforcement. And on that journey, loved leadership, was passionate about leadership and was fortunate to have the opportunity to develop leadership curriculum, both at The Leadership Development Center in Dallas, Texas after 9/11, and also to teach at The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in the United States. So, for me, this was something that I just was loved and I was getting to utilize the leadership pieces. However, I was faced with an opportunity and that opportunity was marriage Steve. So, I couldn't figure out how I could both be good at a 24/7 career and have a husband who also was going to have a 24/7 career in law enforcement and how we could both do this. And so, I just figured I keep doing it and live in a different state and just continue moving forward. And it actually was a friend who said, you know, people who get married, usually live in the same household.

    Steve Rush: That’s right, yeah.

    Lisa Marie Platske: And I said, all right, so then what will I do? And the love of leadership is one of the reasons why I opened up side thinking was I believe that leadership affects every single decision and every facet of our life. And so, to be able to do this and take what I learned in law enforcement and look at what the world's best leaders do differently has been just such an incredible journey. Although, you know, if you also understand owning a business has its unique pieces to it, for me, has been the greatest personal development journey of a lifetime.

    Steve Rush: And I bet it hasn't stopped either?

    Lisa Marie Platske: No, No.

    Steve Rush: Exactly, and that's the gift that we have, I think in doing the work that we do in terms of coaching and helping leaders on their journey is that every single time I have a conversation with a podcast guest or I learned some new content, I'm just constantly learning.

    Lisa Marie Platske: Yes. Yes. And there are more opportunities to be filled up if you're open, I believe on this journey than I could have imagined. And I thought that every day was a new day when I was in law enforcement and truly the entrepreneurial journey is a very unique animal.

    Steve Rush: So, an interesting notion I wanted to share with you, and that's while hearing you talk about your career in law enforcement and then leadership in law enforcement. Often people have this perception of those who work in public office or in the military or law enforcement that they can see visibly people's leadership progressions because of the stripes on their shirts or the pips on their shoulders, and they often don't recognize that does come with a completely different set of skills. That is that leadership responsibility. How do you notice the difference between what you learned in law enforcement and what you see externally now?

    Lisa Marie Platske: You just said something that I believe is so brilliant. So, I really want to reflect and say, thank you! Is that what I walked away with in law enforcement was understanding human behavior. And when you put on a uniform, there's the expectation that you have certain qualities or characteristics, integrity, is one of them. I remember getting my credentials that said, you know, this officer possesses integrity. And I thought, wow, this is like almost like a seal of approval or a stamp. And it was so interesting, you know, to think about that in terms of how we look at leadership. And if we could only walk into an organization and see somebody's credentials to have that stamp, where were all of their qualities and characteristics were listed. And you know, when I look at human behavior and the little nuances of what I learned then even from micro-expressions or how people show us who they are just by little movements. In business, it's been just critical to take those skills. There's something I'll do at my annual conference. And it's in reflecting back to the use of force continuum and how the use of force continuum started with officer presence and then went to verbal commands, soft techniques, hard techniques, and deadly force. And it's something that no officer ever wishes they're going to ever get to deadly force. And yet in business, it's interesting because those same use of force continuum. And I see forces as really more of a power move.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Lisa Marie Platske: And that is how you show up, the words that you speak, the techniques that you use and how you knock somebody out with your presence, your executive presence. It actually translates really quite beautifully.

    Steve Rush: There is a lot of parallels, isn’t there?

    Lisa Marie Platske: Yes.

    Steve Rush: So, remember when we met first, you talked about this kind of quite pivotal moment in your career when you were in law enforcement and 9/11 happened. And not only did it change law enforcement and probably the careers for all of us actually in hindsight, but there was a real kind of big turning point for you at that time. Tell us a little bit about that moment?

    Lisa Marie Platske: Well, with law enforcement, I was stationed in New York and over 9/11. And so, I was in the height of, in the midst of everything and working sixteen-hour days, twenty-one days, straight, very little sleep, and just the entire country was on high alert. So, a lot of angst, just the feeling when you walked out of your house, you could feel the heaviness and the stress. And what I realized after sending employees to funeral after funeral, after funeral for honor guard, losing my mentor and sending employees to look for what would be remains at the site. I recognize that there was this level of anger that was growing inside me, and it wasn't good, Steve, like it was not, it was a mixture of tiredness and sadness and grief and frustration and helplessness, just all rolled into one where, you know, the human body, it's made to rest. It needs a certain amount of rest.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Lisa Marie Platske: And so, I got to a piece when I recognize what was going to be, what would open that and change that and shift that and keep me from being a really angry person was forgiveness. And so, I went down a journey of learning about forgiveness, what it is, and really being willing to forgive self, forgive others so that I could lead unencumbered without any judgment, without any negativity. And it has been one of the best decisions. And it's been something that in bringing it into organizations in business, recognizing that sometimes there are actions that are holding organizations back in their leaders for years, for decades, because of a lack of forgiveness.

    Steve Rush: Definitely, so. And as you speak, you can hear in your voice, by the way that kind of, the resonance that comes with that. So, as you're recalling that moment, I can sense in your tone that it's still real for you. How did you use that as a positive and how did you flip from anger to forgiveness? What was kind of the trigger moment?

    Lisa Marie Platske: It's interesting that you can hear it because it's one where I can feel my body be moved to tears, and yet it's been, you know, many decades and yet that lives within you, that moment, that experience still lives inside me. And so, I just really appreciate your acknowledgement of it because it was such a painful time. And, and that, I don't know that going back to that moment, that doesn't go away. The moment that, you know, if I could sum it up in one moment, it was a situation where and perhaps you've experienced this or maybe not. It was a situation where I was going to be spending time with somebody that I actually really liked, okay. It was a friend that I enjoyed spending time with and I was out, you know, its good time. I'm outside having something to eat.

    And there was just a small little something that should have been a small upset that I recognized an incredibly irrational reaction of mine. And so, I understood at that moment that I wasn't angry at what was going on. I was just simply angry and that anger was not directed at a person or a place or, you know, not getting my food. That anger was just an internal rage over the injustices that I saw were going on at families, losing loved ones for no reason. The sense of stress that my colleagues were experiencing, just many things, that for me, I no longer had joy being around people that I loved. I no longer had a, you know, a sense of, you know, life is good and the world is a safe place. And recognizing that in that moment, that if I did not do something, that the people that I was with, the people that I was leading at work, you know, that would carry through in every interaction and just simply would poison. The organization would poison the team, would poison my family relationships. So, it wasn't like it was this big aha moment that came down from the sky. It was a simple outing that with an irrational response that had me look at who I was becoming

    Steve Rush: Really profound, and what you described is academically dead simple. I just forgive everybody and cleanse myself and it'll be fine. Academically sounds simple, behaviorally though, that comes with a whole set of processes and systems that need learning. So how did you go about that?

    Lisa Marie Platske: You're you are so right. Like it's not just well, we had the awareness and then the next day everything was wonderful. One of the pieces on the journey was extending grace. And so, I say that the forgiveness had to start with myself because oftentimes when leaders will see themselves or see a response, they will, you know, be angry. Like why did I respond that way? And that doesn't help the situation. So there had to be self-forgiveness. And so, I began identifying not just in this situation, but what were the times when my responses were not ideal and began doing a journey of self-examination. And so, to dive into various principles, I went into the process in emotional intelligence and the research that was there around, you know, self-examination.

    And I took myself on retreat. I went and was quiet and reflective. I began researching instead of reading books that were on law enforcement or on criminal behavior. I began reading books that were more about the mind and human behavior in the sense of empathy and compassionate leadership and changed what it is that I was putting into my mind, into my body. And I also focused on my health. And one of the things that I recognized is that when you're angry and then when you're stressed and even if you want to be in forgiveness, it's really hard to do so. So, taking better care of me, allowed me to then better care for others around me, whether that was the guys that I worked with, or whether it was family members that I went to visit. And it was a journey, it was a journey of forgiveness. Forgiving me first, and then forgiving others for perhaps their own limited views or their own paradigms in the world versus being angry.

    Steve Rush: I love the way you considered the whole approach by the way, because it does start with self-assessment. It starts with the self-actualization; and again, it's one of those things it's dead easy to say, but putting yourself first can often be seen as quite selfish or self-centered, but in my experience, if you don't do that, then everybody else suffers, right?

    Lisa Marie Platske: Yes. Yes. It's interesting. When I opened my business sixteen years ago, that was one of my, you know, core pieces that I would teach is, self-first, family second and work third. And when I would go into organizations, they would say, you can't teach that. And I said, if you really want employees that are going to perform and research shows that you don't get the best out of your employees, the best you get is 80%. And if you, and that's like the best of the best. So, on average, you're getting between 40 to 60% output on an employee. And if you really want that to increase so that your bottom line increases and your operational effectiveness increases, then you will invest in your employees the way that you invest in your innovation and new ideas, because they are the ones that are going to implement.

    That doesn't mean that you're not looking at. It's not important to just give people whatever they want. That's not what it's about. It's about understanding that we're humans in this experience, in this leadership experience, and as human beings, we require different things in order to have optimal results to produce, to thrive. And so, you know, I had focused so much in the past on the human doing this, that I forgot the human beingness part and getting back to the being it's really difficult when you're in the doing, and that's your sole focus to enter into the forgiveness journey, but the health part and sort of the putting self-first piece and all of the people who said that was, you know, crazy or frivolous or selfish, you know, it's what led me.

    You know, now I have seven pillars of leadership that I've researched over the years. And in pillar, number four, there are seven areas of wellbeing and wellbeing is simply a word for wealth. And what I found in those seven areas of wellbeing is that too often individual leaders and top contributors would tell themselves that once I do well at work, then I'll be able to take care of my physical health or that's when I'll be able to take care of my financial health. That's when things will fall into place. And I found that that's not true, that you've got to start with the physical, you've got to start with you in that area and your emotional wellbeing and your intellectual wellbeing and your spiritual wellbeing and your relational wellbeing before you can truly thrive and be wealthy at work.

    Steve Rush: A hundred percent agree with that, a hundred percent. You've taken to writing, you've written three books. Connection, Design Your Destiny, Turn Possibilities into Realities. What was it that drove you to put pen to paper and share some of your stories and learnings?

    Lisa Marie Platske: Like I said, with the entrepreneurial journey, so much of it has been this, you know, well, what's put in front of me and that's why I say it's somewhat accidental. There's intention in it, and there's also sort of surprise. And so, my first book in 2007, the reason why I wrote it was not because I had this idea that it was going to be great to write a book. It was because I was going into organizations and Steve, I would ask three questions. Who are you? What do you want? And why does it matter? So, I would be in these coaching sessions and these trainings and ask those questions and get this blank stare. And I found it fascinating because the answer of who I am was generally titles. And what do I want was generally, well, I'm supposed to want the next promotion or the next opportunity. And when I would really dive in and say, why does that matter? And like, what do you really want? What I found was that the overwhelming majority. Over the 80th percentile truly didn't want what the next opportunity was that was in front of them. And if they could have had it all their way, they would have been doing something different. And that for me was just so mind-boggling.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, right.

    Lisa Marie Platske: How could this be?

    Steve Rush: And what did you find the answers were?

    Lisa Marie Platske: Well, it was more giving people permission, permission to be in that conversation. I remember a woman who was chief counsel in an organization and her saying to me, and I believe at the time she was forty-two years old and she said, no one has ever asked me that question. What do I want? I was sad. I was sad. I thought, how could this be? And so, here's someone who has a family and children and people that are watching you and role model, and you've got a position and the position is something that's well-respected and you had to go to school and operate in choice, and you're ending up here. And now we're having this conversation. And you tell me that no one has ever asked you that in four plus decades of your life, like, it was just heartbreaking.

    Steve Rush: I bet, yeah.

    Lisa Marie Platske: I thought, so if I could write a book that would give people permission to ask that question and to sit down and have some thought and intention around what that would be, wouldn't that make the world a little bit better?

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it sure would.

    Lisa Marie Platske: And so that was the impetus, you know, for that, and for the last fourteen years, I've done an annual three-day conference called, the same name as the book, Design Your Destiny Live, or similar name, we go through my seven pillars of leadership. And in the end, it's about, like who are you? What do you want? And why does it matter? Because I believe everyone's got something. I mean, that's one of the things I loved about your story, Steve, you know, you're someone who went, well, like, who am I? And like, what am I doing here? Like this isn't what I'm called to do. This is not what I'm hardwired for. Like, I could stay here and, you know, I'm probably being paid pretty well. However, I making a contribution? Am I a force for good on the planet? And you know, from our conversation, it was, you know, it's what really inspired me to want to be in deeper conversation with you.

    Steve Rush: Sure, I appreciate That. Thank you. So, of your three books, do you have a favorite child?

    Lisa Marie Platske: Do I have a favorite? I actually can say that every book, every article, everything that I've ever written, there's no favorite. They're just a series of lessons learned that allow me to relive them.

    Steve Rush: Said like a true parent and any custodian of work!

    Lisa Marie Platske: Yes, yes.

    Steve Rush: Brilliant.

    Lisa Marie Platske: Like, oh yeah. I remember that.

    Steve Rush: So, your seven pillars then. You have three steps and seven pillars, and I wondered if it would be worthwhile, if we could just spin through them?

    Lisa Marie Platske: Sure, sure. So, the seven pillars came from research. So, I wanted a shortcut, you know, here I am, I'm a criminal justice major. I had my career in law enforcement. I loved it. And now I'm opening up a leadership development company. And so, it's like, well, what do leaders do? The best ones? What do they do differently? So, I just began interviewing people and I got seven themes and the seven themes are. I had them all magically start with a P isn't that great?

    Steve Rush: That’s very innovative!

    Lisa Marie Platske: So, and then they have phrases. So, the number one is plan. And it's start with a written plan. Begin with the end in mind. I found that all the leaders I researched did that. Number two was understand your personality, be clear who you're not and who you are. And I found the best leaders really understood their strengths and delegated the rest. Number three is partnerships, create partnerships, create powerful partnerships. And this was all around the essence of connection. They had networks and really understood that you could make life easier by being deeply connected to others. And they weren't formal partnerships. And then number four is priority, not priorities. And it was understanding what matters most. So, live your priority. And regardless of whether or not other people look at it, and it makes sense to them. That's where those seven areas of wellbeing live.

    And it's where that idea of putting yourself first lives too. And then number five is all about presence, creating a meaningful and memorable presence in three areas. By what people see, by what you say, and by being in the moment. And so, there's gratitude. There's positioning that is all in this element. It's a very, very robust pillar. And then number six is progress, and this is evaluate your progress. It's also the pillar of profit. With this pillar I find that in organizations, sometimes people will talk about the annual performance review and performance is something to be evaluated daily. It's to be evaluated moment by moment. What do you want? You're either moving further away or closer to it by every action and every word that you speak. So, I'm in self-examination and reflection daily and evaluating my progress, whether I'm on track. That was a hard one for me, Steve, because I was really hard for me to get rid of ideas that I created.

    Steve Rush: It's unlearning some of the stuff that you'd learned, right?

    Lisa Marie Platske: Right, yeah. Exactly, exactly. So, that's just so true. And then number, number seven is professional development and personal development. And that's investing in personal and professional development. And I found that the leaders I spoke to who really were just so far ahead and the best of the best, they took time off. They had these circles, mastermind circles and peer connections and coaches and people they learned from. And so, it was amazing how intentional there were about where they went and how they were some were industry specific and some were that had nothing to do with their industry. And just who was the next person for me to learn from.

    Steve Rush: I love those, they’re really succinct. And if people are listening to this for the first time, just having those seven pillars to go through is a great blueprint to kind of set you up for success. So, thank you for sharing them.

    Lisa Marie Platske: You’re welcome. You’re welcome. I want everybody to dive in and I share that, you know, sometimes it's just a small tweak. You might do really well in five of them or six of them. And there might be a small tweak that can just make a huge, huge difference. So, they're important. And those three elements came from, well, what are the seven pillars rest on? Like, what's the foundation for them? And the three elements are really all about courageous leadership. And those three elements are vision, vulnerability and voice. And vision is having that clear vision, the key or the hidden key that unlocks it is clarity. Vulnerability is not a marketing tactic. It's a way of being, and it's how you live out your vision and the hidden key to unlock that is forgiveness. You can't be vulnerable and have it really be authentic and transparent unless you've done your own forgiveness work

    Steve Rush: Wow that’s really quite powerful. Yet, I've not actually thought of it in that way, but your so, so accurate in the that you reflect that because vulnerability means that he can't be carrying any baggage, can you?

    Lisa Marie Platske: Exactly.

    Steve Rush: In order to be vulnerable, you have to get rid of that.

    Lisa Marie Platske: Otherwise, it comes out really weird and that's when it sounds judgmental.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Lisa Marie Platske: And you go, huh? I can't figure that out. Like, what is it? It seems like they're being vulnerable, but something not right there.

    Steve Rush: And we're built intuitively, and you would have been taught this in your law enforcement days, to spot that disingenuous behavior. We're trained unconsciously to notice when it doesn't feel and look right.

    Lisa Marie Platske: Exactly, that's is so true, which is the reason why you and I can be an ocean away and still, you can feel what I felt when we were talking about 9/11. Like as if you were looking at me as if you were, absolutely.

    Steve Rush: Yeah. So we've been in a bit of a crazy world in the last couple of years, and you know, as every decade goes on, there are events that come and shape the way that we work and the way that we live. And certainly, the pandemic is one of those. How do we as leaders keep and remain relevant when the world is changing such a lot?

    Lisa Marie Platske: You know, when I look at how the world has changed, there for me is, I go back to a story and an experience that I had, and that is a business coach who said to me several years ago, Lisa you're one disaster from going out of business. And I said, how could this be? Like, I have, you know, all of these clients and all of this. And he said, yes. And he laid out, you know, the vulnerabilities in my business. And so, I went on this journey to, I didn't know at the time, but to pandemic proof my business in the sense of who, is it that has all of the information in the organization, what are the activities that I'm doing? Who is it that I'm investing my time with? What's my most precious commodity? And, you know, when you speak about how the world has changed and how do you remain relevant? As humans, we're often creatures of habit and being comfortable for many people is a high value and comfort doesn't change the world, vulnerability really opens doors.

    And so, it goes back to what you and I have had many conversations, have brought up in conversation many times is the idea of the self-reflection. Remaining relevant means looking in the mirror and asking the question over and over again about where have I gotten comfortable? Where have I gotten stagnant? Where have I gotten, dare I say lazy? And where have I gotten entitled? And when I looked at my business several years ago and was really honest with myself, I had a mentor at the time that I had a conversation with. And he said to me, you know, Lisa, here's what happens when there's too much sizzle and not enough stake. And I understood what he meant, right? And so sometimes when things are looking good or things are running smoothly, even if someone has fared really well like myself through the pandemic, there's still the need for examination, examination, examination in order to remain relevant. And when you're busy or there's additional work that's coming in, I find that organizations and leaders often put that on the back burner. They take care of what's urgent and self-examination and organizational analysis and assessment falls under that important category and important in the long run is always more valuable than urgent.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, definitely. Love that, thank you. So, this part of the show is where we're going to turn the lens and we're going to focus on your leadership career and over all of the experiences I'm going to ask you to try and distill them into your top three leadership hacks or tools or tips that you would like to share. What would be your top three?

    Lisa Marie Platske: Top three hacks to share. One schedule, schedule, schedule yourself in your calendar, put yourself in there as the most important meeting of the week and just get quiet. That's so important because there will always be people and situations pulling at you. And if you don't do that, it's not possible for you to truly be in the vision, vulnerability and voice courageous leadership conversation. Number two hack would be invest in what you do best and network the rest.

    Steve Rush: Nice.

    Lisa Marie Platske: Spend time using your gifts and do not, do not invest time in learning something that's just not yours to learn. Time is your most precious commodity. And number three, the third leadership Hack. Steve, I can't say enough about the who versus the how. Focus on the who on your journey, not the how. There have been so many things that have happened that I have no idea how they've happened. How many doors in organizations? I have no idea how they open. And it always came from who was in my circle and who I invested time with and the who always matters more than the how.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, very powerful. Like it a lot, thank you. So, the next part of the show, we call it Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something in your life and work hasn't particularly worked out as you'd planned, but as a result of that experience, you now use it as a positive in your life. So, what would be your Hack to Attack Lisa?

    Lisa Marie Platske: When you talk about things that didn't work out, it's like that is, I have learned to become friends with failure. Like that's truly like a superpower.

    Steve Rush: In fact, I've become so friendly with failure. I actually just now call them learning.

    Lisa Marie Platske: Oh, there you go. There you go. Yes, it's just one where I go, you know, I didn't see that. And so, one of the pieces to share with this is I trusted somebody. It's a good example. I just trusted somebody, ended up hiring, actually it was more of an investment. An opportunity that someone was having an event. And the person took my money and it was ten thousand dollars, and they said, sorry, I'm not giving it back. And I'm not honoring the commitment either and your choices to come after me or, you know, or not, but I'm not honoring the commitment. I'm not honoring the contract and I'm not giving you your money.

    Steve Rush: Wow.

    Lisa Marie Platske: So, it was one of those pieces where at first, I was really embarrassed and really like, how could you not have known better, Lisa? How did you not do all the research? You know, you were, how could you trust this person? Just a thousand and one things. And then there was this part of me that was like, okay, so what's going to come out of this because I could take lots of money and lots of, excuse me, lots of time and chase after this. And I could go after this person or I could see what else to create. And what ended up happening was my decision to forgive and let go. And just say, there must have been a reason that this showed up me. And as you said, it's not a failure, it's a lesson learned. What happened was over the next six months. My business literally quadrupled. I'm sorry, not quadrupled, tripled. It was three times. Had I invested energy and chasing after an air quotes, missed opportunity, I would have failed to have put the time and energy into what was right in front of me and what was for me all along.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, really powerful stuff. And you know, what goes around, comes around. Doesn't it?

    Lisa Marie Platske: Absolutely, and I'm not tracking it.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I'm fairly certain karma, call it what you will, it catches people up eventually.

    Lisa Marie Platske: Yes, yes, yes.

    Steve Rush: So, the last part of the show, Lisa, is we get a chance to do some time travel. You get to bump into Lisa at twenty-one and give her some advice. What would be your words of wisdom to her then?

    Lisa Marie Platske: Everything happens in divine right timing. Everything happens in divine, right timing. Trust the journey and enjoy it.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, very powerful stuff. I wish we had some more time to talk, but unfortunately, we're coming to the of top of our show. And I just want to say, thank you. I really loved talking with you. I get a real sense of some commonalities and some shared passions that we both have. So, I think that helps in extract some great conversation. So, our learners and our listeners can be connected to you. Where is the best place for us to send them?

    Lisa Marie Platske: My website is upsidethinking.com, U-P-S-I-D-E, and the word thinking T- H-I-N-K-I-N-G.com. And if you do “backslash” stay-dash-connected, you'll get access to my influential leadership blueprint as well as I have an upside thought, which speaks about lots of lessons learned and one action to take each week,

    Steve Rush: Brilliant stuff. We'll make sure that we'll put the links in so that people can get hold of the influential leadership blueprint, as well as all your social media and other links as well. So, we can continue the journey beyond today.

    Lisa Marie Platske: Thank you. Thanks so much, Steve. You pulled things out of me that I've never shared, and I just feel as if we've known each other for a very long time.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, feelings mutual. And Lisa, thank you for being part of the community and we'll have to do this again sometime.

    Lisa Marie Platske: I would welcome that. Thank you. It's been an honor.

    Steve Rush: Thanks Lisa.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there: @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

  • Dr Jeffrey Magee is a Chief Culture and Learning Officer, Editor in Chief at Professional Performance Magazine, author of 31 books, he’s also a speaker and board adviser. In this really inspiring show you can learn about:

    The importance of investing into Human CapitalHow to become part of the Top 1% high achieversWhy settling for a “B” grade will stimulate mediocrityHow to find your X Factor and trajectory

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Jeffrey below:

    Jeffrey on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drjeffspeaks/

    Jeffrey Magee Website: https://www.jeffreymagee.com

    Professional Performance Magazine: https://professionalperformancemagazine.com

    Jeffrey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/drjeffspeaks

    Full Transcript Below


    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee is a special guest on today's show. He's a human capital developer and chief culture and learning officer. He's also a multiple author and editor-in-chief at Professional Performance Magazine. But before we get a chance to meet with Jeff, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: In years in the news today, we explore some research completed by Boyden, a premier leadership and talent advisory firm, who's completed the study on talent led transformation in a post pandemic world. The global study explores the business outlook among CEOs, boards and other senior leaders, talent trends, priorities, and investment in the wake of the pandemic throughout 2022. Studies finding show that while seventy-seven percentage of respondents are extremely confident or confident in their organizations, growth potential just forty-seven percentage are extremely confident or confident in having the right talent to align to that strategy. Half of all respondents describe their business approach in 2022 as one of growth or expansion.

    And just over a quarter twenty-six percentage as a learning or transformation opportunity, this bullish approach versus a lack of talent alignment, jeopardizes post pandemic growth. And this lack of alignment goes up to board level with fifty-two percentage respondents saying that the different mix of skills is needed at the board. And despite this only thirty-eight percentage of respondents are likely to conduct a board assessment or review over the next two years. The findings do show that respondents are reinventing talent. Seventy-four percentage are extremely likely or likely to invest in leadership development for high potential employees, sixty-six percentage to hire new leadership talent and six five percentage to redeploy or retrain existing people. The research shows a number of trends that are looking at talent, and it reveals a lack of alignment across the leadership team, particularly around things like diversity, only forty-seven percentage of HR leaders think that it's extremely likely that their organization will hire talent into diversity roles.

    Sustainability, forty-two percentage of marketing leaders think is extremely likely or likely that their organization will hire talent into sustainability roles compared to thirty-one percentage of CEOs and supply chain. Thirty-seven percentage of finance leaders think is extremely likely their organization will hire talent into supply chain roles compared to twenty percentage of CEOs. In submarine attracting talent respondents consider the two top drivers to be a strong overall company's reputation, fifty-seven percentage and a purpose driven organization fifty-two percentage. Followed by the workplace of the future with a hybrid working arrangements come in at thirty-eight percentage. And the leadership lesson here is, however big organizational team is. There's never a wrong time to start reassessing how you go about nurturing and growing your talent. It's our future. That's been The Leadership Hacker News. If you have any insights, news or stories? Get in touch.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Dr. Jeffrey McGee is a special guest on today's show. He's chief culture and learning officer, editor-in-chief at Professional Performance Magazine. He's the author of 31 books, a speaker, and a board advisor. Jeff, welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Thanks for your time, Steven.

    Steve Rush: No worries. Listen, let's get into it, but before we do, it'd be really great for you to give a bit of a sense to our audience about your backstory and how you've arrived at being a multiple author and as well as a speaker and a board advisor. just give us that backstory if you could?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Great question, dangerous question. We could go on forever. So, I'll try to make it really concise. I grew up in the Midwest USA on a farm. Went to college on an athletic scholarship and journalism scholarships. Running and running, I've always been passions. And after college I spent some time in Midwest USA as a journalist doing broadcast news and print and kind of fixated in the area of business and found that to be fascinating area. But very quickly also became discouraged with the state of journalism in the eighties and nineties as a very negative caustic and toxic industry. It's obviously not that way today at all. And that caused me to kind of leave that the industry. And as I tell people in my audiences and just in conversations, if you're ever discouraged with what you're doing professionally or you're unemployed, there's always a job anywhere in the world, but especially in America. And it's called the sales job.

    Now, if you're not good at sales, you may not keep it, but there's always a hunger for the person who generates the revenue for an organization. So that took me into sales very quickly and in a trajectory, I had not planned on. And I had the opportunity to spend a little time with a fortune 100 company in the United States in sales. They introduced me to adult learning, which I didn't know existed as an industry where you would go, you know. To advance training or education at the college level or business development programs at a local hotel that might be a day or two-day long program. And I was doing that after hours and found that to be fascinating. To jump forward over the past thirty years, that evolved me into training and development, which led me into management roles and leadership roles into owning a business.

    And along the way, I started writing some books. Those books caught traction here in the U.S. and globally became a couple of bestsellers. And that led me to designing and creating a training and development company. While I worked with business leaders around the world from Berlin to Vermont wherever. Helping them to basically leverage their human capital as I have come to learn and even you and your business, I would believe you would agree. You can get a building, I can get a building, you can get equipment, I can get equipment, you can buy vehicles, I can buy vehicles. But the one thing that really makes us different at the day is the human equation. The people that work for you don't work for me and vice versa. And that's what led me to where I am today in terms of working with business owners and leaders, to accelerate their growth and success through leveraging their human capital and creating a culture and environment by which great want to come and be a part of you and stay with you.

    Steve Rush: Awesome. Now the interesting thing here, right, is the whole notion of human capital. It's something that's been recently reintroduced into our vernacular almost, but from your perspective, having worked with organizations where they are investing in their people, their human teams, is there a real return on investment to be had in your experience?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: It's a great question. So, one of the training companies, I was a part of for many years and sold my stake in here in the U.S. at least for our global listeners today, if you're a CPA in the financial accounting world, or you're an attorney in the legal world, you have to have ongoing educational credits every year to keep your license and certificate, to be able to professionally do your practice. And in that space, I started learning many years ago that we spent a tremendous amount of time in every business. White collar, blue collar, labor intense, automation, doesn't matter. Training and investing money into equipment and assets and tangibles and buildings where we typically say, okay, what's the ROI on that going to be?

    And then we do a lot of technician training, you know. How to work the machines? Or et cetera.

    And a lot of, you know. Return on that investment through efficiencies and productivity and profitability. One of the elements I have been using, even at the title on my business card for decades, even though you just made comment, it's come back and it's fashionable today, but people like you and I have known it for many years, and that is human capital. So, one, what is human capital? We spend a tremendous amount of time talking about that. Two, how do you develop that human capital on talent pathways, career expectations, market needs, business needs? And is there then an ROI on that? Absolutely yes. And I believe there's a greater and a more lasting ROI on human capital than any other capital you can have because almost any other measurement of capital, which is around tangibles depreciates very quickly. You buy a new car soon as you drive it off the lot there in London, or you drive it off the lot here in Las Vegas. It depreciates tremendously, as soon as you leave the parking lot. Human capital depreciates, if you don't challenge it. It depreciates if you don't hold it accountable. It depreciates if you're not growing and developing and feeding what individuals goals needs and purposes are. But if you can align all of that, the ROI is massive.

    Steve Rush: And you can see on the balance sheet as well, can't you? So, if you look at the organizations who do invest in their people and have strong engagement scores, low attrition, holding onto that talent, then there's a direct correlation of those businesses returns in real sense, too, isn't there?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Absolutely, you can see from the, you know. The boardroom conversations to the executive suite, to frontline, you know. Leads supervisors, managers, directors, whatever the title is that an organization may have for its first level, and then, you know. Sending upward of leadership, absolutely. And, individuals, you know. They come to an organization where they see an organization best in their people and provide multiple for development and growth and development of those people, not just in the job, but development of them in terms of promotability, sustainability, longevity, absolute, it's a massive recruitment tool as well as a retention tool. And then again, think about the turnover. There's a hard HR statistic that's used globally, and you can debate the number, but even if you debated it, doesn't change the output. And it says, basically, let's take an administrative job and a business, a white-collar job.

    I hate the labels, but it gives us some point of reference. And they talk about the amount of financial attached to the turnover. Let's say Steve's working in our business and an administrative role, white collar role, the amount of money attached to losing you, advertising, promoting, interviewing, hiring, and onboarding someone to get them up to baseline functionality of what Steven was doing is any work between one point five and three times what your annual paycheck was. So, it's very expensive.

    And then you add on additional, such as again, what are the relationships that Steve had before he left? And if those were good, both with vendors, suppliers, coworkers, colleagues, employees. It could take a long time to rebuild those relationships. So, can you start to put some numbers to it? Absolutely. The institutional knowledge that someone has to know how to finesse relationships or situations to be more productive and profitable, if I'm in a client relationship role, development role, again. Knowing how to cross sell, upsell. Knowing what a client's long-term goals are and how we can align those with our own organizational goals? Yeah, the conversations can just go on endlessly, but the finances attached to it are staggering.

    Steve Rush: Yes, there are some big numbers there, aren't there? And if you think, even small organizations, that's a massive number relative to the operating cycle of a business.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Absolutely.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, so you develop the principle and notion of Talentification, which is also you wrote book about, so what is Talentification?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Great question, so looking at the concept of talent, and you can finish that statement for our listeners today, a lot of ways, whether you call it talent management, talent development, talent acquisition, and I started recognizing working in this space over the last thirty years, both with fortune 100 global clients to individual industry, rockstar businesses that the common person on the street would never know the name of that business, unless you're in that space, whether it's agriculture or manufacturing or high-tech, or what have you. So, to me, Talentification that concept in the word deals with what I've identified to be the eleven elements to execution and achievement. I used the word achievement as capital letters. There's, you know? Those letters stand for each of the eleven phases of what talent life cycles are about. So, it's eleven elements of execution and achievement of the talent management model that I've identified for basically healthy and sustained and engage organizations. And how do you create that culture where everyone, not just the leaders, not just the talent management team understands what their role in stake is in health and wealth of an organization? Again, if you're my supervisor or you're my peer, you're my subordinate, doesn't matter. All of us have to understand when it comes to talent, what really are all those key aspects we're talking about? So that's what the book deals with, those eleven phases. It talks a little bit strategically, tactically about what each looks like from anyone in organizations perspective. And we can look at high growth organizations, again, just as you said, whether they're a small family business, a sole proprietor, or whether there are mid-size or large going concern, you know? Those eleven phases are critically important. And as you get people engaged at their capacities, eleven different areas, it also becomes a massive retention tool. Your entrepreneurial energy becomes organic to some of the questions you and I were just visiting around.

    Steve Rush: So, if I was a leader, listening to the eleven phases and thinking about my talent and my talent strategy, is there a, maybe a golden starting place or a golden end, is there maybe one place that you think that has to be part of my talent strategy?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Absolutely. So, you know? In the human relations world, HR Management. There are different models that are used. One of the models that kind of has grabbed the globe in the last decade is, using stars as a metaphor for your employees. And so, to answer that, let me share, teach a model real quickly, because I think it absolutely is explosive in answering your question. It also answers the questions of how you can guard against making sure you don't have a toxic cancerous person in your team that’s going to be working actively or passive aggressively against you and take you down. So, to me, there's different sort of stars. You have a rock star in your company, rockstars are from an aptitude and a level very high on the scale and from an attitudinal level, very high on the scale.

    So, they're, you know? They know what they're doing. They're your subject matter experts, are always looking to grow and develop themselves, but they're always willing to push and achieve more. So, you have your rock stars, then you have developing stars. These are people that have good attitudes. They need knowledge and attitudinal growth, which could take time. And some people are not patient for the amount of time it may take to grow their brain in any sort of a job or vocation. You have, you know? Emerging stars, these are people that that know how to do the job, but they've got a chip on their shoulder, or they're not as motivated or they're somewhat discouraged. We have to know how to engage them. You have your problem players, which I call those, your crashing stars. You have employees that maybe you don't know very much about. Those would be your unknown stars. And then you've just got your work horses. You know? Basically, you're contributing stars. And lot of times contributing stars want to be a part of organization, but they don't really want to ascend upward into, you know? Any sort of job role with this lot of spotlights. They don't want to be a leader, a boss. So, you need the whole mix’s. To answer your question. What I've recognized, you know? In working with global talents. also from my media company, Performance Professional Performance Magazine. Interviewing phenomenal people all over the planet, is that the real secret to your question is the rock star population, that rockstar demographic, knowing that if I've got a rock star at any job, sit down and do some character analysis and say, okay, what are the quantifiable that makes Stephen my rock star at job ABC?

    And when I can start to write down those characteristics of Stephen as a rockstar in his job, I now have a benchmark template. I can use the interview to find another rock star. I could use it and kind of put it up on a wall for anyone else who wants to become a rock star like Stephen and said, okay, these are the traits or characteristics or skills or behaviors or actions that you need to exhibit or master. And I think that's how you start to answer your question is to clearly focus on the rockstars. See the reason I go off on that tirade is that what we've done for the last twenty to thirty years, and we were not paying attention on the planet is, we actually started lowering the performance bar where mediocrity is actually seen as rock stars today in most places on the planet that I go.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: And if mediocrity, as soon as the rock star, then you can see how pathetic and how bad it gets real quick. Here in the United States, Gallup Organization did a massive research project right before COVID. And so, it got lost in the noise. The challenge to the research project model, Steve is, I think the numbers are worse today than what they said before, but basically said this. They surveyed thousands of American and global businesses based in U.S. And they found that fifty-six percentage of the respondents. So, thousands of businesses mean tens, if not hundreds of thousands of individuals participated in the survey, but fifty-six percentage of responders said they're disengaged or complacent in the workplace, so fifty-six percentage basically saying, hey, I'm going through the motions. I realized I don't have to kill myself. So, it's kind of like, you know? If I'm doing some tough love here, what's the minimum I have to do for maximum paycheck? Then fifteen percentage identified as actively disengaged. These are people that wake up every morning, look for something new to complain about, which leaves you mathematically with twenty-nine percentage leftover that are engaged. So, let's call those engaged, you know? Some of the rock stars or developing stars or emerging stars. And that's what you realize. If you want to have a successful business, you build it around the star metaphor, but you build it around rock stars, because if Steven's a rock star and you hire me, then I know where the performance bar is set and I'm going to step up. And as consumers, you and I, and the listeners today can validate what I've just shared as consumers is, look at the places you go and ask yourself, are you really getting rockstar level service, or are you really getting mediocre service that people are calling rockstar level? And so that's a series of answers to your powerful question,

    Steve Rush: That’s a great response too, and it's interesting that the whole mediocrity can be really cancerous in an organization, can’t it? Because if you allow your average to be sub average, than your average, occasionally we'll just continue the slit versus your average should be your rock stars of now.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Absolutely.

    Steve Rush: It should be your average is in the future, right?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Yeah, I coach people that if you have, again, we can call them whatever you want. So, I don't want anybody to get hung up on labels here, but as a reference point, if you have a job description or a job profile that says I'm hiring Geoffrey McGee to do job ABC, I'm going to hire Steven to do job XYZ. So obviously we're both going to ask our boss the same question, which is, okay, great. What's this job responsible for? What do I do? What are the expectations? So, when you start to identify the work product and then how does it need to be accomplished or how often, or how much? We have clarity to our job and everything's built around it. But with that, what I coach is, if someone is doing one hundred percentage of the job you've hired them to do so, first thing I just said is 100 hundred percentage of the job you've been hired to do, then that means they're meeting expectations.

    Meeting expectations would be like, you're going to school and you're getting grades. And again, we use different scorecards around the globe. So, in the United States, if you're going to kindergarten to high school and into college. The grading system we use is A, B, C, D F. Well, I always tell people, if you want to get clarity, get rid of letter B for boy and get rid of letter D for dog. And all you should have is either an F, C, or an A, you're doing a hundred percent of the job expected. Then that's a C, you're meeting expectations, you're average, but that scares people. Therefore, any part of your job description, you're not doing, you have to get an F. I mean, we're not going to give any wiggle rooms for B's and D's. So, someone says, well, how do I get to be an A? Then I say go right back to your job description.

    And in any one of those areas that you exceed, that I, as the organization amount, obligated to give you an A in that area. So, if you take that metaphor and you use it to any sort of a job we have, I mean, everything has been degraded down. I mean, if you're a rock star player and you wake up tomorrow morning and you're not motivated, and you're just, you know? Not highly excited, we've all had those days. I tell people and ask people, well, what do you bring to the office? Do you bring you’re A game and your B? Well, most of the answer is B. Well, if you go home within that day and reflect on, I brought my B game to the office and I'm still a rock star by a mile. Well, what do you bring back on the subsequent day?

    You can bring back you’re A, or do you calibrate down to B? And most of us, we calibrate young to B, and then someday in the future, you wake up, not motivated. Do you bring your, A, B or C? Well, we know A is not in the game anymore. So, you bring your C and that's how we've done things, we make an exception. We elect people that are mediocre, and then we make excuses when they're pathetic. We hire people that are mediocre, and then we make excuses when they're pathetic. And that's, what's sad about the model, instead of all of us trying to be the best we can be and raised the bar, we've actually made it globally convenient to lower the bar.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Spot on. I love the concept that you've applied to the kind of ACF, because it removes the opportunity to sit in some middle ground, doesn't it?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: You hit it dead center, and that's the element. I mean, if I am going to traditional college that are traditional age, we have all those wiggle grades, and it's amazing how we, our faculty, our parents, we justify those wiggled grades. But now, if you and I are business people, as we are here today and majority of our listeners, and you were paying out of your own pocket to go to a developmental program to get more education, so you can become better. It's amazing, we're paying it. We don't want the wiggle grade. We want the best grade possible. Well, imagine if the B and a Ds off the table, it either is your understanding the topic, so that's C. There's nothing wrong with that, where you're not understanding it. So, we're not going to pass you. You're going to get an F. I mean, you go in for brain surgery. Do you want your surgeon to be an F, an D, an C or an B surgeon for med school? Would you prefer they be an A?

    Steve Rush: Exactly, you don't want your brain surgeons to be a B on any type of surgery, do you?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Your parents, you’re taking your child for heart surgery, I changed the model, and I say, a parent, you're taking your child and you want your surgeon to be an F, D, C or B or an A? I mean, so if you change the dynamic, everyone kind of like raised their eyebrows. Like it's obvious A, but then in other professions, we accept C's and D's and F’s all day long.

    Steve Rush: And did this thinking set you on your trajectory? I'm going to use the word Jeff, to when you wrote your Trajectory Code. So, this is a book that you wrote around how to change your decisions, actions, and directions, and to become part of that top one percentage of high achievers, right?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Absolutely.

    Steve Rush: So, you've got within that, your mental DNA, just tell us a little bit about what that is and how we could get into that top one percent?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Great question. So, a couple of models, it's a really easy book. I tell people it's not going to be difficult. I spent two years in first grade as a child. So, nothing I do is hard. It's pretty simple, but what I identified of the thirty-one books, I've written, twenty-one languages, four bestsellers, and four graduate management textbooks. Your Trajectory Code is the only book, so people can buy it online, or they can buy the audio book. The only book I've written, it's about personal success. And it primarily draws upon one business model I've used for years called the trajectory code, the trajectory code models, like a letter V for victory. And that that diagram helps us to recognize what actions, behaviors, and mindsets take you to derailment and failure. And what are the actions, mindset, and behaviors that take us to success. Within that,

    there's a concept called your mental DNA, and it plays off of a formula. So, it's chapter five in the book that talks about your player capability index. And so, I'm a formula kind of a person. So, what I recognize, if I look at Stephen and Stephen comes to Jeff Magee and said, I like you to be my performance coach and helped me to accelerate my successes. Here's the goal of where I want to go. Well, I'm going to have to do some diagnostics, whether it's an online platform or just you and I are visiting via video call. Because I prefer video calls versus to telephone that way, we can see each other. Because a lot of visual communication takes place. It's very insightful. But what I've recognized in that formula, Stephen, is that there's very specific variables that make up a human being such as knowledge.

    So that's one of the letters in the formula. So, whether it's formal or informal education, technical, non-technical, certification, non-certification. Another part of it, it's going to be our life experiences. How does one life experience build and set the stage for the next? And how do we leverage those to be better? You know, the next time we do something. How about the culture we were raised in, or the cultures we've been a part of or, you know? Ebbed and flowed in and out of. That influences how our thinking styles and belief systems and confidential, we lack thereof. So, there's a lot more to the formula and it's very easy to read and understand, but that becomes the DNA. So, if I want to grow someone in, let's say between today and in the future, we don't know what the future date is, to be the new CEO of a business.

    Family owned a global international business, a local mom and pop shop. Then I would first, okay. So, to be a great executive, I use the same DNA model and you and I, or whoever the appropriate stakeholders would be, we would sit down and say okay. For us to have a great CEO, what would we like them to possess in terms of knowledge or skills or education or degrees or certifications? You know, some, none, what are they? What sort of attitude, mindsets? What sort of passion? What sort of experiences do we want them to have? What sort of a relationships? People that we want them to have interacted with, grown with? Network with or known? So, this formula also gives us a great DNA chart to scope out how do you build a great leader. Leader of nations, leader of communities, leaders of business, leaders of our ourselves.

    So, the DNA concept has multiple applications, personal development, career development of someone, creating, you know? Job descriptions that client says, hey, I need something, listen to what the client says they need. They'll tell you exactly where you need to go. But the last way of answering your question is that part of this model, Steve is very objective and that's the real power behind it. It gives you the objective template to assess yourself or someone else and pull all of the emotion and ego and personalization out of it to see exactly what we need to do to be smart at the end of the day,

    Steve Rush: Laser focus.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: You got it.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, and in the book also, you talk about having the opportunity to understand your X factor when you're on your trajectory. Does that form part of this?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: It is exactly. So, the X factor is the first side of this equation. I know I'm talking to a global audience here and we have, you know? fortyish percent of your listeners are in the U.S. and forty to forty five percent might be in the UK and the others are global. So, this X factor concept is not like the entertainment show from the great British businessman, Simon Cowell.

    Steve Rush: He has a lot of answer for X-Factor now, doesn’t he?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Exactly, so I've been using my X-Factor longer than he as, of course, he's richer than both of us, bam, he wins.

    Steve Rush: Exactly.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: But the X-Factor represents any thing you're measuring is what X represents in this formula. So, if we're measuring, you know? How fast can you run? That's an X-Factor or how fast can you compute some mathematical questions? That's an X-Factor, you know? How good are you at wood crafting? I mean, so whatever it is you're measuring, that's X. So, to answer, let me use this example. So, let's say we go on to any school campus around the world of, you know? Kindergarten, to primary, to high school grade. And you were to say on that campus, there's a range of athletic sports that are offered. Well, the varsity sport, the highest level of proficiency that high school, I'd say. Of a hundred percent of the kids on that campus.

    If we're measuring athletics as our X-Factor, of a hundred percent of the kids on any campus, X percent would actually be good enough to make the varsity team of any sport. So, if you ask that question to a group of people, it's always going to be a small number. Of a hundred percent of kids on the campus. You might hear someone say twenty percent, or ten percent or five percent, then I said, okay, so let's track it two more times. Of a hundred percent, then of those high school, varsity athletes, X percent would be good enough to go play it at a collegiate level, at a college level. Get a scholarship to go to the advanced level, what percent? And it's always a smaller number that migrates and said, okay, so final question. So, we started with a hundred percent mass at a high school, and we saw that how many kids are were good enough to be on the varsity sport at a high school level, smaller number, go play at the college collegiate level, smaller number. So, what percentage would be drafted from a college level to go play at the professional ranks? Whether it's, you know? Football, rugby, whether it's, you know? Basketball, football, hockey, whatever, it's always a really small number. So, get people to recognize whatever you're tracking is an X-Factor and whatever that smallest finite number you just came up with using athletics is what we tracked. We're all professionals, so if you really want to see where you should be focusing your energy or how to grow and develop yourself, what are you really proficient in as an X-Factor? So, let's do the math. Let's say high school is twenty percent, would be at the high school team. How many go to college? Let's say it's five percent. How many go on and play at the pros? Point zero, zero, zero, whatever percent. Oh, okay. So that point zero, zero, zero, that's you and I, as professionals, we're not competing on a planet about the twenty percentiles, because this is not high school.

    Real life is not high school. It's not college, it's pros. So, if you really want to be successful, then you've got to identify, what is your X-Factor. For me, growing up in primary school from kindergarten to high school, I was not a great writer. I thought I was, I mean, teachers were very critical of my writing. Well, maybe it's because I wanted to be a writer and they were giving me additional attention. I didn't really like to read books in high school or college. So, it's fascinating, you know? Forty years later, I love to read, I love to write, I love to do research. And all of that forms a basis of my ability to coach executives and businesses to be in hyper-growth faster, quicker And sustained.

    Steve Rush: It's a really, yeah, lovely way of thinking about it, this whole kind of one percent or zero, zero, zero, point one percent of professionals. I wonder how many people actually can even associate that in their profession today, they're already there? And that's a lot to do with mindset, I suspect.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Absolutely, you know? It is. And there's actually some quantifiable ways to answer that because you've posed a great question. Someone says, okay, how do I know if I'm in the top percentage of my industry? Or how do I know if I'm starting to rest on my morals and accomplishments? Or how do I push myself? So, I always tell people, in your job and your profession, is there another formal educational degree you could achieve? And if yes, then you're not at the top of the list, pull yourself down at least one notch on any scale, because there's something there you can quantify that you could go after that you're not, or are there certifications in your industry? And if that's a yes and you don't have them, then bring yourself down another notch, you know? Have you written any papers or are you asked to speak on this?

    Are you asked to be the trainer in your business on these topics? So that's a great question. You've posed for our listeners. How do you know when you're at the top of the game? There are ways of knowing it. And if you study another way of looking at this one percent factors, I've interviewed, you know? World leaders from your country, Tony Blair, to Richard Branson, Richard Branson, I've written three books together, whatever you look at incredibly successful people. What you'll recognize is that they associate with and typically hang out with, from their view, their vision, other phenomenally successful people, whether it's in their industry or not, you don't see a great athlete typically hanging out with losers. I mean, there might be, you know? A phenomenal singer. It might be a phenomenal artist and maybe a phenomenal business leader. You know? So again, successful people typically associate with other successful people. Because that's one of the ways they benchmark themselves to always be being pushed because great successful people in any capacity can call you out on whether or not you're truly working or you’re coasting.

    Steve Rush: It's interesting, as you were saying that Jeff, I was thinking about sports people. Perhaps are easy to quantify because they've got measures, personal bests, they've got fastest times, greatest passes. All of those things are quantifiable, but in business they're perhaps around us yet we don't spend as much time quantifying it. And I think that's a really key message for me.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Huge, you just said something massive for the listeners, thank you. A pro athletes live for quantifiable performance feedback in real time when they're practicing, they have videotapes. They can go back and study. They have coaches and sub coaches that are always, you know? Measuring them, pushing them, tracking them. And so, it's interesting in what I call the real business world where you and I live, it's amazing how the mindset of most people is, we resist performance feedbacks. We resist performance reviews. We don't like quantifiable data. Because sometimes, you know? It's misused against this instead of being used to help to grow us, we need to create that pro athlete mindset around performance execution, and then we'll become much more successful in any capacity.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, definitely so. So, in your experience Jeff, has human capital, the world of talent management changed over the last couple of craziest through COVID?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: It has, you know? And it's interesting. I find myself posing the question just this recent weekend. I was here in Las Vegas on the strip speaking to a large convention. And, I posed a question that, if you and I were sitting in a large business audience conference, whatever topic, doesn't matter, and it was January of 2020, and the person in front was asking the audience questions like how many of you have a business plan, a game plan for 2020, almost every hand would go up. You know? How many of you are optimistic for 2020? Everyone's hands probably would go up. From a sales standpoint, maybe the more specific question then. How many of you have a sales plan or strategy for 2020? Almost every hand would go up. What about your talent management, your human capital, you looking at your key employees in your organization?

    You feel comfortable with that team? A lot of hands would go up. Are you looking to hire hands would go up? Have you thought about flight risk and anyone leaving you? Probably hands wouldn't go up. No one thought that way. If we would have posed the last question in January, 2020 to a large business audience, you know? What about letting a lot of your employees work remotely or virtually, you know? How many of you are open to that idea? Very few hands would have went up, but if we would have had that same conversation in June, just three or four months into COVID. In June of 2020, I said, well, you know? How many of you are working remotely or have a lot of your employees working remotely or, you know, virtual? Tons of hands would have went up.

    So, we jumped into 2021. We're recording this here in, in August, September of 2021. And what I'm finding is that a massive number of businesses that have had to make massive changes in 2020 to stay sustainable, or that have actually been in thriving mode, have embraced looking at how they do their businesses differently. So COVID has pushed our business models easily ten years into the future, just in the past year. They've pushed businesses to actually operate the way that we were only considering a year ago. And so, from a human capital standpoint, it's also pushed us to recognize where are some of our hidden jewels that maybe we were smothering and didn't realize we had phenomenal talent before COVID that is actually stood up in shined. And it's caused us to recognize how do we keep people engaged? How do we maintain our culture? When we have pockets of people working together and some are distant. And how do we grow and develop our people to keep them at peak performance? So, has it changed in some ways? Absolutely, no. Because how to be successful in a position? A lot of similarities. The other way of answering it, has it changed? Absolutely, yes. I think, looking at how we are more mindful of our people equation, our human capital has really become more front and center today than where it was a year ago. So yes and no to that question

    Steve Rush: And many different rockstars now than perhaps two years ago.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Absolutely.

    Steve Rush: But equally as important of course, is to make sure that rewriting that DNA of what the rock star is today in today's world, right?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Exactly right. A hundred percent correct.

    Steve Rush: Love it. So, this is part of the show now where we get to flip the leadership lens on you. I'm going to hack into your great years of experience of leadership development and leading others. And ask you to try and distill down, if you can, your top three leadership hacks, what would they be Jeff?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: I think one, that we have actually touched on and that is to player capability and next model. Really recognizing what's the unique talent that you can possess, that I can possess that can allow me to be competitive with the market space of today and tomorrow. Anticipate where the market's going, so I can be not just competitive, but I can set the bar of what competition looks like. That's one, two is accountability. I've really have learned that people fall into very distinct camps when it comes to accountability and reliability and trustworthiness and integrity. And so, number two is not a very, a fashionable conversation. Going to make people feel uncomfortable, but the reality is, there are a lot of disingenuous people on the planet and you just have to be conscious of that and put your big, you know? Your big adult armor on. So, they don't penetrate you and kill you because everyone has an agenda and that'll be the third answer. And once you recognize everyone has an agenda and it's not necessarily right or wrong, just everyone has an agenda. Then the real mastery is to find ways to align your agenda, personally, your agenda professionally with others agendas. And when you can find places of alignment, then great success can happen forever everybody.

    Steve Rush: Alignment is just massive, isn't it?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Absolutely.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, and it's really interesting. The whole accountability thing in my experience as a coach, when you use just simply use the word accountability, you can almost see people think that means I have to deliver on something. Yes, that's right. And that's no different, isn’t it?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: It is.

    Steve Rush: To any other day of the week, but by just simply raising its awareness.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: And that's what scares people. And again, if an organization supports its people to be the best, they can be. Then within that are going to be layers of accountability, whether there, you know? Obvious or not obvious. And again, if people want to be the best they can be, then there's going to be accountability. And their businesses around the globe that really demonstrate, you know? Accountability. And so, when I look at successful businesses, I've identified accountability happens on five levels. And so, here's another teaching moment for our listeners and business leaders. You know? First of all, the way, you know? You have a truly engaged workforce organization that is going to be in survival mode on its worst day. And there'll be in thriving mode on almost every day, is accountability level one is self.

    People hold themselves accountable. So, if I'm looking to interview or hire someone, I should incorporate accountability questions to vet and find out, is this person hold themselves accountable? Yes or no. And again, you can still hire someone if they fail the first question, at least now, you know what you're in for. Accountability starts with self. Then it goes to number two is going to be systems, what systems or processes or checklists, or, you know? What do we have out there that we can put our arms around, they help to hold us accountable so that we can go back to default number one? So, one is self, two systems. Three is going to be peer. Do we have peer to peer accountability? Do we work in an environment where no one's trying to play I gotcha? No, one's trying to toss you under the bus. But it's, you know? We're all here because we all have skin in the game. We all want to help each other to be vessels or peer accountability.

    And then four is going to be an essence customer. If that's an external constituent, what mechanisms do we have in place? Our customers can give us feedback, help us to be more successful every day. And so, they hold us accountable. And if we ask for customer feedback, we really listened to it. And do we really respond to it? Or is it just a game we're playing? And you have these layers of accountability. So again, one is self, two is system, three is peer, fours is customer. You'll five is going to be boss. You know? Whatever you define boss to be. Supervisor, leader, executive team, ownership, the board of directors, mom, and dad at home. You know? The boss should always be last. So, in any organization where you have the paradigm flip, the other direction, where you have accountability, it's driven by bosses first.

    You're never going to have a culture that's going to allow people to be truly successful because there's going to be questions of, does the organization trust me? Do they believe in me? Do they support me? Will they empower me? If the boss is always having to be there with their thumb on everything? So, accountability is scary. And that’s problem we have in the world, I mean, I grew up to be a journalist and I love to write articles on successful people in organizations and share that story. So, people could replicate success, but here in the us, I mean, those articles are settlement ever written. And that's why I love your podcast because it's always about success. Just like my magazine, Professional Performance Magazine. It's always evergreen content, and it's about success from other people's lenses.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: But journalism is, should be holding all political people accountable. Don't have an agenda in A and B playing favorites. Don't be a journalist and like one political party over the other because you're not doing your job of accountability. And that's what we see happening on the planet is, all of these mechanisms for accountability have been bastardized, polluted, degraded or just imploded. And that's why, you know? Sometimes when we find a great person or a business that blows our brain up. Because, oh my gosh, that's what success looks like.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: That should be norm.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it's a great, great reframe, love it. So, the next part of the show, we call it Hack to Attack. So typically, this is where something in your life or your work hasn't worked out well, but as a result, you've got some learning from it. And you now use it as a positive in what you do, what would be your Hack to Attack?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Woo, there's a loaded question. So, I merged my business years ago with another business. It doesn't need to be named. And what I learned is that when you work with someone for a number of years and you decide to align yourself with them and go into business, it's a completely different mindset you take in that relationship. Then if Stephen and I, you're in the UK, I’m in United States of America, we know of each other. We don't really know each other. We've never really worked with each other. If you and I were to merge our businesses, we would ask a lot of forensic questions, not to be mean and rude and disrespectful. We'd ask a lot of forensic questions to make sure that this merger of human capital and minds and product and deliver and businesses make sense. And if it does, we would have a great relationship. So, what I learned is that whenever you're you go to work with someone, you need to look at it from an objective lens as if you've never met them and really do the discovery questions. So, it's like when I worked with an organization, if I have any prior knowledge of them. I've learned to not bring that to the table in the beginning, backup and ask all of the questions you should be asking if you didn't know them to really vet and find out, are you in alignment? Are you both being transparent? Does the data add up? Make sure you're not about to get scammed. And that probably has been my number one lesson learned for the past decade plus. Matter of fact, I wrote an executive article on it with thirteen questions I didn't know to ask that I learned afterwards and it was saved me a lot of pain so that the hack that really has caused me more success. And sometimes I'm still guilty of violating it because when you're romanced in your head and you like someone, or you like the thought of doing something, you sometimes are not as objective as you could be a need to be. So, I go back to those thirteen questions in an article I wrote years ago. So, it really is be more objective and you will have more success.

    Steve Rush: And I love that because most people, whether they own a business or whether they work for an organization often just have too much emotion in the game.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Absolutely.

    Steve Rush: And therefore, won't allow themselves to be as objective as they could be.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: You got it.

    Steve Rush: So that forensic look, I think it’s really key.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: That's the way I lived.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Absolutely, it will save and your listeners, a lot of pain, grief and that loss of money. Let's say it that way.

    Steve Rush: Indeed. So that last bit the show Jeff, were we get to give you a chance to do some time travel and bump into yourself at twenty-one, toe to toe and give them some advice. What would your advice Jeff be at twenty-one?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Great question. And you have stolen a page right from me, Steve. I use that same question when I get a chance to interview phenomenal people for my magazine. So, I love that question. It's fair turnaround, right?

    Steve Rush: Yeah, absolutely.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: You know? At age fifty-seven today, I don't see myself at fifty-seven. I always thought that was an older person's number. Now that I'm there, it's like, oh my gosh, it's pretty doggone young. So, the question, if I went back to twenty-one, I would think I would share a couple of pieces of information. Number one, I might've shared, get serious and focused faster and find a way to do a career that twenty to twenty-five years from age twenty-one. You could retire out of and have a base income, base benefits to rest on for the rest of your life and use that first career to gain and learn as much as you can, that you could then leverage in your second career in your mid-forties to go on and have a phenomenal life. And I say that because as I look over the horizon and see people that have done just that, you know? The ability to be in your fifties and sixties and have a base retirement paycheck for the rest of your life and a base, you know? Health benefits to have for the rest of your life. It twenty-one, you don't understand the magnitude of what that means, but at fifty-seven, looking at that as massive, because now you could do your second career in a lot of ways and not have the stress of, I've got to make a paycheck, I have to, and you finish that have to in a zillion way.

    And one is, I would say get serious. I see a lot of successful people today. They're successful because they have that base set up. If you're in your mid-forties and you've changed jobs, many times, as a lot of your listeners have, and maybe you've not doubled down and really got a lot of good advanced education because you started your family and had jobs that you just didn't make the time happen. You really find yourself in a challenged position of having to work really hard next twenty years, if not the rest of your life. And that's the norm on the planet today. And that's also the norm I see with a lot of young people today in their twenties that are not hearing this advice that I'd give back to myself for your question you've posed. And they're setting themselves up thinking that they're magically going to be wealthy, whatever that means and not have to work the rest of their life, whatever that means. And I think they're setting themselves up for a massively rude awakening.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, here, here, I agreed. So, Jeff, listen, I always love chatting to you. You create some great content, both verbally through your talks and speeches, but also through your written work. How can we make sure our listeners can keep connected with you?

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Great question, I appreciate it. There's three ways that we can stay connected. One, we should definitely be connected on LinkedIn. So go LinkedIn, again Jeffrey Magee, Dr. Jeff speaks, we need to be connected, follow me. I don't sell anything on LinkedIn, but in the spirit and thing of what we've just been visiting with here, I post on LinkedIn every day, some sort of mental piece of information, whether it's a quote, whether it's an article, whether it's a video, whether it's a blog to cause people to think at a higher, deeper, faster level. So that's one, if you want to find out more about, you know? Products, deliverables, how I do what I do, then obviously you can go to jeffreymagee.com, that's my website, jeffreymagee.com. It's J-E-F-F-R-E-Y. So, it's the non-British spelling and McGee is M-A-G-G-E and then my media company is professionalperformancemagazine.com. So those would be the three places, professional performance magazine.com, jeffreymagee.com or go to LinkedIn, and then we can stay connected and keep the brain going.

    Steve Rush: And we'll shoot those links into our show notes as well.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: You're awesome. Thank you so much, Steve. Thank you very much opportunity to share information ideas with your listeners and anything I can do for you and them, just let me know.

    Steve Rush: Jeff, it's been amazing to talk, take care of yourself and thanks being part of The Leadership Hacker community.

    Dr. Jeffrey McGee: Thank you so much.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handle there: @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

  • Brandon Smith is, "The Workplace Therapist.” He's the Founder and President of The Worksmiths, an Executive Coach, Speaker and Author of the book, The Hot Sauce Principle. In this fascinating conversation you can learn about:

    The reason there is so much dysfunction in the workplace.The best survival tactics for eliminating dysfunction.How to stimulate urgency and avoid panic when driving performance.What the Host Sauce Principle is, and why getting balance is essential.

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Brandon below:

    Brandon on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/brandonsmithtwpt/

    The Workplace Therapist Website: https://theworkplacetherapist.com

    Brandon on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheWPTherapist

    Brandon on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thewptherapist/

    Full Transcript Below

    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    On The Leadership Hacker Podcast today, we have Brandon Smith, the workplace therapist. He's a founder and president of Worksmiths, executive coach and speaker and author of the book, The Hot Sauce Principle. But before we do sound speaker Brandon, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: Have you ever avoided just putting stuff off that you know, that you should be doing. Well, procrastination could be the most expensive cost in life and business. Leading to stress, misunderstandings and missed opportunities. Many people put off task until the last minute. And according to psychology today, twenty percent of people are chronic procrastinators. More than ever people are getting pulled in different directions and demands on time, schedules and energy are increasing. So, in order to cope with the pressures of life and work, many spend excessive time tuning out non-work activities, scrolling on social media, engaging in group gossip, reading blogs, watching TV. The activities that make us feel better in the moment yet prevent us from taking the action on our tasks.

    So how can we perform at peak performance levels? When our self sabotage can often hold us back. According to an article by Balkis & Duru, procrastination occurs because of a number of things, including poor time management. I like to call that self-management by the way, lack of motivational skills, organizational skills, inability to concentrate, unrealistic expectations and personal problems, a fixation on negative thinking or negative beliefs about one's capabilities, perfectionism and anxiety, and fear related. Also contribute to procrastination. So here are five tips for peak performance and to bust through procrastination. Number one, question yourself like you've never questioned anybody else. The voice in your head is the one voice you wake up to in the morning, but it can be questioned. So, have you asked that voice in your head questions like? Are you setting and realistic expectations for yourself? Am I putting pressure on myself?

    What types of things are you hearing? What's the why behind what I need to do today? What are the consequences and what are the rewards of getting this done? Take time to just keep asking those questions. Two, you might be familiar with the Eisenhower Matrix often called urgent and important matrix. In a time where everything is urgent and important. The reality isn't really that true. So many of our tasks and deadlines can be adjusted or renegotiated and a powerful strategy that can help us do that is the Eisenhower Matrix. There are four quadrants that help label tasks, urgent and important, urgent and less important, less important and urgent and less urgent and less important. So, identify which of the task go into which quadrant which will help focus your energy time and attention. Number three is called the one-minute method. Start something for one minute.

    All it takes to get into action and get moving is one minute, sixty seconds. Jump in regardless of how you're feeling. Start that task before you're ready. Many people think too much, take too little action. Set your timer for sixty seconds and take action. And before I call the bracelet technique. And I learned this technique while studying neuro-linguistic programming. Start out by getting an elastic or rubber band and wear on your wrist like a bracelet. And every time you find yourself putting something off or thinking negative thoughts, snap that elastic rubber band on your wrist. This act associates, physical pain with negative thoughts and procrastination. It can be an effective way to overcome procrastination and the negative thoughts that sometimes come along with it. And number five, the timeline. Can setting deadlines and timelines really help when overcoming procrastination. Well, according to a study mentioned in the psychological science journal, it's been reported that setting deadlines does in fact, improve the ability to complete your task.

    Self-Imposed external deadlines, really quite effective. Play a game with yourself, run an experiment and set a small internal deadline to see if you can complete it in a specific amount of time, a little competition between you and your internal voice in your head and your words and actions can be fun. And it also turns out the procrastination is actually a mindset. So, if we think we can do it in the time we have, and we can do it now, and it won't cause us discomfort, we're more likely to do it. And if we think we can't, guess what? You're probably right. So, the leadership lesson here is when you're engaging with your team and the people that work with you. Think about and observe, are they holding back something? Are they're procrastinating? And if so, how can you help them engage the voice in their head? How through the power of questions, can you help them unlock their thinking? So, they can really hit peak performance. That's been The Leadership Hacker News. If you have any news, stories, insights, you know where to find us through our social media, we look forward to hearing from you.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Our special guest on today's show is Brandon Smith. He's the founder and president of The Worksmiths. He's an executive coach, speaker and author of the book, The Hot Sauce Principle, Brandon, welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

    Brandon Smith: Steve, I am thrilled to be on the show today.

    Steve Rush: Me too. It's been a real challenge for us to get our calendars to connect since the last time we spoke. But the world's a very different place too, to be fair, right?

    Brandon Smith: That's absolutely right. That's absolutely right. You know, it's funny. I used to think to myself. Oh yeah, I'm pretty good about predicting what's going to happen.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Brandon Smith: The last eighteen months has been very humbling for me indeed. So, I've thrown my crystal ball and it's just, you know, take it as it come.

    Steve Rush: Exactly right. Now I remember from the first time we've met; you have a really kind of tragic slash challenging kind of upbringing that really kind of led you on the path to what you're doing now. For the listeners that haven't had the chance to meet with you perhaps, can you just give them a little bit of that backstory?

    Brandon Smith: Sure, sure. So, I was the youngest of three boys. Both my older brothers were adopted. My parents were told they couldn't have children and surprise I showed up. And so, both my older brothers were twelve and eleven years older than me. So, I would always tell folks, you know, if you've ever had older brothers like that, you know what the inside of a dryer it looks like, you know, it's like someone say, don't ask questions, just drink it. That's what older brothers do to little brothers. And my life was, you know, when I look back on it, I would say generally, I feel grateful, but there was some times in my life where it's was very dysfunctional as hell. My older oldest brother, Chris, he was in and out of either jail or rehab centers, my entire life growing up.

    And when he was home, it was a lot of yelling and screaming in my house. And so, when I was ten, he ran away from a rehab center and he was living with us and he just decided life was too hard. And he took his life one night and it was very, very tragic and very, very challenging for all of us. In fact, it was so challenging for me that within about six months of that happening, I came down with an uncontrollable stutter. So, I couldn't speak in public at all. And so, every day before school, I would go in and see my speech therapist early in the morning. I'd work on my Bs, my Ps, and my Ts, the letters that would always trip me up, and then I'd go on to the school day.

    So, between growing up with that dysfunction of my house, and then the way kids with stutters are treated at school. I made a kind of a conscious or unconscious decision that I just wanted to distance myself from people. They were just way too dysfunctional. And so that's kind of how I went through high school all the way to college and university. I just kind of kept myself kind of arms distance. Well, ironically enough, I ended up majoring in communications at university. And like most communication majors. I couldn't find a job after graduation. And I took a job in a small chain of retail stores. It was a family-owned business. The woman who started the business had fifteen stores. And I was going to be the assistant manager at one of these stores. And my boss was the son-in-law of the owner.

    So, her daughter marries this guy, he’s, my boss. So, on my first day of real work, so I'd worked other jobs before, but this was my first day post university full-time job. I show up at the store, he greets me at the door and he says, I'm so glad you're here, before you get started, I have task for you. Waiting for you in the back room is the current assistant manager of the store, but he does not know you're coming. So, your job is to go back there and fire him and you get his job.

    Steve Rush: Wow.

    Brandon Smith: That was my first task on my first day of work. And that was how my manager rolled. He loved to do everything that we know as kind of really followers and lovers of leadership. He would do everything that's opposite of what we believe to be true and good about leadership. He loves to do surprise visits, to try and catch people doing the wrong thing. I had to do more layoffs of people in that first six months of that job than any other time in my career. That kind of experience really woke me up, made me really realized three things about my life. First, work should not have to suck. It should be a place for fulfillment and purpose and meaning for all of us. It shouldn't be a place of anxiety and depression and worry. I mean, it is work, it's not perfect, but it should have all those positive things. Not those negative things. We can't always choose the families we get, but we could choose our workplaces. We have a lot more control over that. Second, if my boss was any indication of the state of leadership in the world, I really want to change that. I want to improve how we lead other people and the impact we can have on workplaces. And third, that was where my purpose was born. I decided at that moment, I want to eliminate all workplace dysfunction everywhere, forever. Having no idea what I signed up for Steve.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Brandon Smith: So, I went on and pursued a clinical therapy degree and practice in the clinical world for many years. And then also then got my MBA to kind of balance those two things. So, my version of kind of chocolate and peanut butter combined, somehow it works. And that was where my handle of kind of the workplace therapist was born. So that's a little bit of my journey that kind of got me on the path that I've been on.

    Steve Rush: And having met with you and looked at some of the work and spend some time looking at your book. There is a real purpose behind this. This is not something that somebody is doing for a job. You are doing this because intrinsically it's something that you want to eradicate, right?

    Brandon Smith: Absolutely. Absolutely. We have enough challenges in life, you know, if we can make work, not one of them, that would be a really great thing.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, so what do you think the reason is that there is so much then dysfunction in the workplace today?

    Brandon Smith: There's always been dysfunction in the workplace for one primary reason. We bring our own stories to work. We bring our own histories; we bring our own family dramas and family place to work. And so, you know, we put that on other people. So that's always been true about us as human beings. So that's always going to be a challenge, but you used an interesting word in that. You said, why is so challenging today? So, today's a little different time in the workplace. So, what I've experienced and you've experienced is, it doesn't matter where in the world we meet somebody. There are two things that are true about our workplace today. Time is our most precious resource. It's not money, it's time and everything feels urgent all the time. And that creates a whole other set of distinctions to fall along with that, because we're rushing and everything feels urgent, we don't spend time giving positive feedback to our team members. We don't get to know them or look to align with other leaders in the organization. It causes a lot more challenges particularly with communication. So, there are some interesting challenges, we can even go further down the rabbit hole of working remotely on some of the challenges there, but there's a real interesting opportunity let's say, for our workplaces today.

    Steve Rush: And the world has changed as we've moved to more of a hybrid world working from either our desks or our homes, or a combination of both. Have you seen the change to how people are responding in that environment?

    Brandon Smith: Yes, absolutely. So, in the first six weeks, two months of this event, everyone around the world probably said something to this effect. Well, you know, this isn't so bad. I just picked up two or three hours in my day. I'm not commuting, so I can kind of wake up in the morning, have some coffee, maybe have a little bit of breakfast and then hop on my first meeting at nine am. At some point around that six-week mark, eight-week mark. Everyone realized, everyone wasn't commuting and they start scheduling meetings at eight thirty in the morning, eight in the morning, seven thirty in the morning, six o'clock at night, six thirty at night.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Brandon Smith: So now when I talk to my clients, one of the challenges they say, they say, I don't know how I'm going to go back to the office because I have staying meetings at seven thirty in the morning. That's when I'd be commuting. And I have meetings during lunch. So, we we've packed our days, even more full with all these meetings, and so that's the first one. Second, I hear constant kind of complaints from folks about being on camera all day long and the strain that's putting on them. I think that's the second one. The third one is people just aren't able to really fully connect. It's hard to build relationships over zoom or teams or whatever platform you use. Those meetings tend to default to more task, operational things. Let's catch up about how your weekend was. We often do those over meals and we haven't been able to do that. So, it's hard to build those relationships. I met a lot of people. I know you have two that have started with a new employer within the last year, and they have not even ever met their coworkers yet.

    Steve Rush: Right, exactly.

    Brandon Smith: Let alone go into an office. So, I would say those three at least would apply to everybody that's been working remotely. There's been some real challenges around that.

    Steve Rush: And the principle of everything being urgent all of the time has been expedited because of that, right?

    Brandon Smith: That's right. It's very difficult to tell what really matters and what doesn't matter. And because there's constant change. And we could attribute some of this to technology, we're always available, on call all the time. We could also attribute some of this to general global media. There definitely a frenzy regardless of what media you listen. It definitely heightens that sense of anxiety and urgency really is that. Urgency is anxiety, so we're living in a very anxious time right now.

    Steve Rush: Of course, the only one person that can control it, is ourselves.

    Brandon Smith: Well said, well said

    Steve Rush: You wrote the book, The Hot Sauce Principle, how to live and lead in a world where everything is urgent all of the time. So, what is The Hot Sauce Principle?

    Brandon Smith: So, it's a really simple analogy. From now on, for everyone listening to this. When you think of urgency, I want you to think of hot sauce. And why that analogy works so well is because, you know, I love hot sauce personally. I really do. I put a little bit hot sauce on something and that's flavor, it adds focus, it adds spice. It really makes it stand out. And so, urgency by itself is not a bad thing. It's really preps prioritize things. But if everything that's coming out of the leadership kitchen is covered in hot sauce. The appetizer, the salad, the entree, the brownie, the iced tea that you're drinking, at least in the U.S. we drink a lot of iced tea here. If all that's covered in hot sauce, your mouth is going to be on fire. You're not going to be able to taste anything and you're going to be overwhelmed.

    And so that's really why the idea is so sticky because we want to make sure we're very thoughtful and intentional about what we're putting hot sauce on for our teams, but also pushing back if our leaders are putting hot sauce on everything, because it makes everything a priority, which then means nothing's a priority. The other reason why this is also such a great analogy is, you know, we know our teams, some members of our team just need to drop or two hot sauce and they they've got it. They know what they need to do. And often running, we've got other members of our team that need a bottle or two to really get them moving. So, knowing your people and knowing how much urgency they need is another kind of important element around that analogy.

    Steve Rush: I love it. It's really, I'm quite a visual guy and therefore, and olfactory. So, I can see this and taste this and smell it. And therefore, it's a really great analogy tip to let leaders know that actually you're holding the hot sauce bottle most of the time as well, right?

    Brandon Smith: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. And what you choose to put hot sauce on and how much you choose to use is going to either create an amazing, wonderful dish, or you're absolutely going to ruin the whole lot. So, it's a good image for leaders.

    Steve Rush: So, here's the thing. It's a really fine line between urgency and panic. How do you differentiate the two and maybe how do you recognize it even?

    Brandon Smith: So, I'll tell you a story to illustrate that point. So, I was having a conversation with a client of mine some years ago around this idea, this analogy, and he was an entrepreneur. He owned a marketing business and he was probably one of the most anxious guys I've ever met. And so, kind of unusual to be an entrepreneur. I mean, he was almost shaking when I'd meet him. He was just so wound up. And when I spoke to the folks in his organization, they said, you know, we really like it. He's a really nice guy, but he makes everything urgent all the time. And it's really creating burnout around here. To your point, it's like panic. So, I told him this analogy, well, on his own, after our conversation, he went to the grocery store and he bought three bottles of hot sauce. And he put them on his desk, one, two, three, and whenever there was a new project or initiative, when he was assigned that to a member of his team, he would hand them one of the bottles of hot sauce.

    And he instructs them to keep the bottle of hot sauce on their desk, representing the importance and urgency of that initiative. And until the project was done, they had to keep a hot sauce bottle there. But once it was done, they had to return the hot sauce bottle to him. Here was the beautiful thing that kind of gets to your question. He only had three bottles he could give out. So, because he only had three bottles, that was like a forcing mechanism for him. So, he was able to prioritize, but he couldn't create panic because he didn't have an infinite number of bottles. So, any way you can limit the number of bottles you put out, or the number of hot sauce items you create, that will help to keep it on the urgency side and not tip the panic.

    Steve Rush: And what do you notice in people's response? Either through their verbal and nonverbal communication that might help you recognize as a leader, if you've gone too far, you've nudged into the panic zone?

    Brandon Smith: So, the panic zone by itself is not as concerning as the apathy zone. That's where you get past panic. So, we pass panic and now we're into full on burnout. And that's when the people are just apathetic. So, no matter how much hot sauce you put on them, they just respond to the same way. That's when you know, you've gone too far. And so, another way analogy around this is, I've often heard working today in our workplaces, it's almost like you have to think about like interval training, high intensity interval training. So, you're running or pushing or exercising at a high intensity, but then you need to take time to rest and then do it again, time to rest and then do it again, and time to rest. And of course, the challenge with our workplaces today is there there's no time to rest. So, another way that we can manage panic is make sure that, you know, if you are pushing your team really hard on something that's urgent, give them a little bit of a pause before you immediately throw another urgent item on them.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I want to go back to the apathy bit. Because something you said that really struck a chord with me, most people, when they hear apathy would maybe have a thought process or a connotation of somebody who is lazy, disengaged and not the opposite, which you described as going past panic. And I wondered what you'd noticed and how that might've played out for you when you've coached your clients?

    Brandon Smith: So, when we think about love, the opposite of love is not hated. The opposite of love is apathy. We were no longer invested. So that's why when you get to that place, it's a really dangerous place to be because you've lost your people. They're no longer invested. They're no longer committed; they've got nothing left. They feel like, it doesn't matter how hard they try. It's never enough. They've almost given up at least emotionally and maybe even mentally. So that's a real, real, a dangerous spot to be because when I see clients get to that place, really the best antidote for them is to take a vacation or holiday. They need to take some time away to reset and recharge it. Often it takes at least two weeks. And the more time they can take off the better. Because it takes at least week to get that apathy out of your system and start to really reconnect to what's important to you in life and what really matters to you, but you need that space. So, my hope would be that leaders don't push their folks that far because it takes time to recover from that.

    Steve Rush: And most of it, of course, from a leadership perspective, in my observation, in any case, is this, isn't an intentional thing that leaders do. It's often very unintentional as a byproduct of bad behavior or too much urgency, right?

    Brandon Smith: That's exactly right. And I'd say that the biggest culprits in this would be your publicly traded companies, because what they do is, because of the way the markets move, the markets put pressure on them to change quickly and transform. So, then those C-level executives make everything urgent all the time and pat themselves on the back and say, I'm a great leader. I just pushed lots of urgency into the system. And all they've done is just given the organization an overdose of anxiety. And so, then that goes down to the next level of leaders who push it down to the next level of leaders who push you down to the next level of leaders. And it just kind of funnels all the way through. And so, it's a real dangerous place for us to be. And so, if more leaders can be conscious of how much they're doing of this, it can be good for not only performance because it creates more focus, but the overall health and wellbeing of everyone in that organization.

    Steve Rush: And I suspect that also then contributes to more dysfunction in the workplace?

    Brandon Smith: Absolutely. Absolutely. Funny when you said dysfunction, the first word that came to mind for me was kind of a close synonym to that, which was chaos. A lot of chaos, a lot of chaos, because again, if everything's urgent, nothing's urgent, it's just chaos. There's no focus. And then it becomes really hard to know what to work on, to align, and do all the other things that we need to do.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, indeed. And in your book, I love the fact that you call this out, you have an emotional booster shot. Love you to share with our listeners what an emotional booster shot is and how might they want to go ahead and get one?

    Brandon Smith: So, let's think about how you can do it for yourself. So, when we talk about an emotional booster shot. Think of it as resilience, we really want to try and help ourselves have more resilience, be kind of stronger, almost more flexible, like almost like stretching. We're going to stretch if we use the analogy again of, you know, a workout, okay. So, there's a couple of ways we can do that. First, we can reframe the situation. So, when people are pushing down more urgency on you, you can reframe the situation as this is not a crisis, we're going to get through this. And you do that with your teams, communicate that, we can overcome this. Second one is, think of it as a learning opportunity. I'm going to learn and grow through this.

    It may be really hard and challenging, but I'm going to get stronger. And it's going to help me, help me grow. And the third way we could look at this is kind of how can we maintain kind of hope that things are going to turn out better on the other end of this, that everything's going to kind of work out for a reason. There was a famous theologian at Emory University name James Fowler, and he used to have this beautiful saying, he would say. As leaders, we want to give people hope and handles. And I just think that's so beautiful, hope and handles.

    Steve Rush: Love it, yeah.

    Brandon Smith: What's the future going to look like? And what can we do right now to move kind of further down that path. So those are all ways that you can reframe it for yourself. But also think about how you can use those same techniques, with your team.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I love it. I love the principle of the hope and handles and hope is a word that we sometimes quite uncomfortable in business using because it has this notion of being not grounded in purpose and not grounded in something, because it's hopeful, but actually that's where most vision and purpose drives from, right?

    Brandon Smith: I agree with you, hundred percent. Hope feels like it's out of our control, but if anything, over the last eighteen months as taught us, there's a lot of things out of our control. And so, it's okay to be helpful. We're hopeful that we can meet our teams again, by the first of the year, we're hopeful that, you know, life will start to resume some sense of normal by 2022. Hope is a good thing.

    Steve Rush: So how do you see the future of work playing out as the workplace therapist and in the work that you do with organizations with Worksmiths, what do you think the future of work will look like for us? And how might we want to adapt for that?

    Brandon Smith: Here is what I hope it's going to look like. I hope that we we've learned a lot from how we've learned to work together over the last eighteen months, and we carry that with us into the new future. So, I think hybrid workplaces are very healthy things. That said, I still think we need that time with each other. So, I'm really worried about the organizations that say, oh, we're going to go virtual from now on. I've worked with fully virtual organizations before that were virtual, even before the pandemic. And they have a whole set of dysfunctions that are very difficult to cure. Then there's largely two of them. One they really struggle with alignment because they don't ever get in the same room with each other, they're virtual. And two, they struggle with giving each positive intent, assuming positive intent. So, they give each other feedback, some of the feedback in those organizations is absolutely brutal because they just don't know each other. So, I still think we need those times and moments to meet each other in person for collaboration, innovation, and frankly, just connecting over a meal. That's always been important to us as human beings. So, I wouldn't want to lose that, but if we can bring in technology, I think it can allow people to have better work-life balance, a better wellbeing and a lot more care and compassion each other.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I agree. It comes back down to compassion a massive driver here, isn't it? More we understand about people, the more we can empathize, the more we can adapt ourselves.

    Brandon Smith: Absolutely, and just hearing you say that Steve reminds me, you know, now we've been given the gift of being invited into a lot of our coworker’s homes, at least virtually. We may see their children; we may see their pets on camera. We may be talking to them in their kitchen and they're dressed more casually. And so, we've learned more about their lives, and I think that's a really good thing.

    Steve Rush: Do you think we'll have a return to the future moment at some point in the future where we become more connected and go back to being more office and location focused?

    Brandon Smith: I do think so, but I think that is going to be not nine to five, Monday through Friday. I don't see that for most workers that are able to work virtually. Now, there's always going to be jobs out there where you don't have the opportunity to work virtually, you're a frontline worker, so you've got to be onsite, but for those jobs that allow for virtual work and collaboration, I think a hybrid is likely, I don't think there's going to be a lot of organizations that are going to require everyone to be back in the office nine to five, if there's options.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it's interesting, isn't it? That for so many decades, we got into a routine of doing things and within eighteen months, the whole work environment has completely changed.

    Brandon Smith: Absolutely. Absolutely. And most organizations that were really nervous about that change. Their fear was, I won't be able to see my people working. Therefore, they won't be working there. It's going to lower productivity. And all the research that has come out has actually shown increase in productivity with people working from home. So, the good news is that fear wasn't valid. But again, how we carry that forward is going to be the real challenge.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it's going to be the game changer, isn't it? So that we don't move beyond urgency into panic and we maintain that trust and work-life balance as you called it. Absolutely. So, so what's the focus of the work with Worksmiths and for you now, Brandon?

    Brandon Smith: Yeah, thanks for asking. So, I've always still had my practice, which is the Worksmith, probably is very similar to you. I'm an executive coach and I work with individual clients as well as teams and also teach and facilitate sessions on helping people become better leaders. And that work really hasn't gone away, even through the pandemic. There's still been a lot of leaders and teams that have needed that extra support and counsel. The one additional change is I co-founded another business this past year called The Leadership Foundry and what we do there is we do leadership development, all virtual, but with cohorts of leaders. So that's been a big change because a lot of organizations still want to develop their leaders, but by necessity, it's going to have to be done virtually.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Brandon Smith: But without it, it's actually a lot easier to coordinate. You can easily schedule a two-hour session. You don't have to find a big meeting room or a hotel ballroom or whatever happens to be location, to get everyone in. And you can give people kind of small doses of leadership tools and training to kind of keep them nourished and supported. So that's been a new evolution that I've really enjoyed, kind of exploring over the last year.

    Steve Rush: Great stuff and congratulations on the new venture as well.

    Brandon Smith: Thank you. Thank you.

    Steve Rush: So, there's a subtle shift to the tone now is we're going to start to hack into your leadership brain. And my job as a leadership hacker is to grab hold of those great ideas, tips, tools, or ideas. So, if you had to wrap your arms around your extensive career and narrow that down to be your top three leadership hacks, what would they be?

    Brandon Smith: So, the first one, and this is order of priority. First one is, drive clarity. You can prevent fifty percent of dysfunction in your workplace by setting clear expectations, not only of yours, but also of the person that you're working with. What do they expect of you? Whether it's your boss, your customer, you're a direct report. So, clarity from my perspective, it's the first job of any leader is for her or him to drive clarity. Second, I think it's really important that leaders look to continue to find opportunities to connect and spend time with their people. That consistency is really, really important. So, we've got another kind of letter C here. Consistency is really important. So, making sure that you're consistent in your rhythm and your meetings with people, that's really important. And that goes out the window when everything feels urgent all the time. There was a group of researchers and they did work on studying kind of what's the most dysfunctional kind of leader to work for.

    And I expected them to come back with angry, yelling and screaming boss or the micromanager. None of those were the worst. The number one worst was the one who is highly inconsistent because you don't know what you're going to get. So, the more we can be consistent with our messaging and consistent with our meetings, the better. And the third is just probably a really simple, easy tactical thing that all leaders can do, all individual contributors can do. Be highly, highly responsive. There was a piece of research that found that the thing that separated the best managers from everyone else is they were highly responsive to all of their people on their team and that communicated that they valued their people and respect to their people. So, if we drive clarity, we're very, very consistent and highly responsive, it's going to really create a strong team environment. And it's going to prevent a lot of dysfunctions.

    Steve Rush: I love It. It's really simple, but very, very effective advice. Thank you for sharing that, Brandon.

    Brandon Smith: Of course, of course.

    Steve Rush: Next on the show we call Hack to Attack. So, in essence, this is where something hasn't worked out well, might've even been quite catastrophic, but as a result from that experience, it's now a learning and a positive in your life or work. So, what would be your Hack to Attack?

    Brandon Smith: So, I would say probably the number one for me, you know, thinking about the way you say that, there so many Steve, gosh. Things I learned from, miss steps that I've made along the journey. I would say there was one. And this was probably more driven out of fear. So early in my career as workplace therapist, I kind of straddle the fence. I taught part-time and multiple universities. And then of course, I also did my coaching and leadership development practice. So, I kind of lived in both worlds. And what I found was the university world was a very political world. And it actually limited a lot of my other opportunities because it was one that consumed a lot of my time. But there was fear of leaving that because not only would I maybe lose some of the credential, I lose some of that stability. And ultimately, I made the decision to it. And it was scary. It ended up working out for the best, but I would say the learning in that was, I probably waited a good five to ten years too long to do that. So, if I could go back in time, I would probably say, wow, Brandon, you should have probably done that a little bit differently.

    Steve Rush: That's really interesting. You're not the first person on this show. And certainly, the many leaders I've worked in coached over the past ten or fifteen years have also said that it's sometimes the fear that holds us back and the stability and not being comfortable with discomfort that stops us moving forward, right?

    Brandon Smith: That exactly right. I've always heard this adage that, you know, when you say yes to something, you're saying no to something else.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Brandon Smith: And the opposite was true in this situation. If I say no to that, that means I can say yes to a lot of other things, but the scary thing was, I didn't see what those things were. It wasn't like I had a whole bunch of things I could choose from. I had nothing to choose from. So, I was kind of creating this vacuum where this void hoping that it would be filled. So, there's that word hope again, and luckily it did.

    Steve Rush: And of course, you can't sometimes even see those things until you've said no. And the yes appears, right?

    Brandon Smith: That's exactly right. That's exactly right.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, really fascinating. Love it. So last thing we get to do today is give you an opportunity to do some time travel and you get to bump into Brandon at twenty-one and give them some advice. What would be your words of wisdom?

    Brandon Smith: Okay, here's probably, gosh, I have a couple. One, here's what I would tell the younger Brandon. Younger Brandon really watches the relationships that you're in, personal and professional and make sure you don't stay in some of them too long. So that's been a big learning I had. I had a business partner for some years that I worked with, wonderful man, wonderful guy, brilliant man, not a very good business partner. I stayed in that too long. I've had some other folks along the way that I've been, you know, stayed in too long, that ended up limiting. So, I would say, you know, make sure that all the relationships you're in, are always healthy and are getting you what you need and you're giving them what they need. The second one I would say is, write your book sooner, Brandon, you don't need to wait until you're forty-six to write it. You can write it sooner, it's okay.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, there's this strange notion, isn't there? About putting pen to paper. That you have to have this inordinate legacy of a career behind you to share your lessons. Whereas when I coach some very young leaders now, they already have some fantastic lessons that need to be shared. And that comes back, I think, to your point around fear saying no, opening another yes, and vice versa, right?

    Brandon Smith: Right, exactly, exactly. And then of course, with something like a book, a bigger project like, that no one else is putting on your plate, you're putting on your own plate. You've got to be really intentional with your time and block that off and, you know, manage that. Which was a hard thing for me. I struggled with that for many years until I finally hired a book coach to hold me accountable.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, right.

    Brandon Smith: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: So, is there a book two?

    Brandon Smith: There is a book two, I'm working on a second one right now. It'll be out at the end of the year. I'm really, really excited about it. I won't spoil it yet, but I think it's going to be so incredibly helpful for leaders. Very practical, easy to use, help them learn how to sit in the right seats with their leader and with their team. So ultimately, it'll get them using their time in the way they should be.

    Steve Rush: Awesome. We'll make sure we get you back on the show so you can tell us a little bit more about it another time.

    Brandon Smith: That sounds fantastic.

    Steve Rush: So beyond today, we want to make sure our listeners can stay connected with you. Where's the best place for us to send them?

    Brandon Smith: The best place frankly is, just go to theworkplacetherapist. I'm the only one, so if you just google the workplace therapist, you'll naturally go to me. And so that's a site, it's got free resources, it's got blogs and articles and podcasts for my show that folks can listen too to help their workplaces become smoother and better and less bumpy. And then of course, if they're interested in anything beyond that, then there's links on that site that will take them to either the Worksmiths or The Leadership Foundry. But the workplace therapist is the best place to start. And if you haven't bought a copy of the book, The Hot Sauce Principle, how to live and lead in a world where everything is urgent all the time. You can find that on Amazon and lots of other places as well. So that's another option.

    Steve Rush: Awesome, we make sure they're in our show notes as well.

    Brandon Smith: Okay, thank you.

    Steve Rush: And I'd just like to say, thanks, Brandon. I think we've had just enough hot sauce today to get everything to spice up. So, you've done a brilliant job in the time that we've had together. I've always enjoyed talking with you and just thanks for being part of our community at The Leadership Podcast.

    Brandon Smith: Steve, this has been absolutely fantastic. Please keep up the great work. I know you're doing so much good in the world.

    Steve Rush: Thank you very much, Brandon.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there: @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

  • Jeremy Snape is an ex-England International Cricketer, since retiring from playing internationally, he studied a master’s degree in sports psychology and has been a coach and advisor to business leaders, premier league football clubs, other international cricket teams as well as the England Rugby Team. Now he is the CEO and Founder of Sporting Edge. In this amazing show you can learn about:

    What does make a champion?The valuable role mindset plays in performance.The common parallels in sporting champions that also are present in Business Leaders?How neuroscience helps us and holds us back.

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Jeremy below:

    Jeremy on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeremysnape/

    Sporting Edge Website: https://www.sportingedge.com

    Jeremy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/thesportingedge

    Jeremy on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jeremy.snape/

    Full Transcript Below


    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    Jeremy Snape is our special guess on today show. He is a ex international cricketer. Since retiring from playing cricket, he’s studied is Master’s Degree in sports psychology, and now coaches and advisors, business leaders and sports teams around the world. He's the founder and CEO of Sporting Edge, and now hosts podcast Inside the Mind of Champions. But before we get a chance to speak with Jeremy, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: There's a mindset theme in today's show. We're going to explore to be a great leader you need the right mindset. So, the question, do organizations get the best bang for their buck from their leaders because mindset can sometimes hold them back. Well, research suggests that it's likely because most organizations overlook the specific attribute that's foundational to how leaders think and behave, which of course is our mindset. In some research conducted by a friend of the show Ryan Gottfredson, and if you missed our show is episode twenty-three, Success Mindsets. Well, he identified four distinct sets of mindsets that have been found to affect leader's ability to engage with others. To navigate change and to perform in their roles more effectively.

    So, we're going to summarize those four different characteristics of mindsets to help you think and consider how you might rethink and reframe your own. Growth and fixed mindsets. Well decades of research have found, those with the growth mindset are more mentally prime to approach and take on challenges, take advantage of feedback and adopt the most effective problem-solving strategies and provide developmental feedback to those around them.

    Learning and performance mindsets. Compared to those with a performance mindset. Leaders with a learning mindset are more mentally primed to increase their competence, engaging deep level learning strategies and seek out feedback to exert more effort. Deliberate and incremental mindsets. Leaders with a deliberate mindset of heightened perceptiveness, to change. Do you recognize it? And can you help them rethink and reframe how their mindsets either helping them or holding them back? Please keep sending in your stories, insights or nudges of ideas that you'd like us to talk about on the show. That's been The Leadership Hacker News.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Our special guest on today's show is Jeremy Snape. He's an ex-England international cricketer, and since retiring from playing international cricket, he studied a Master's Degree in Sports Psychology, has been a coach and advisor to business leaders, premier league football clubs, or international cricket teams, as well as the England Rugby Team. Now he's the CEO and founder of Sporting Edge and hosts a superb podcast Inside the Mind of Champions. Now you'll want to stick around to the end of the show to find out how you can get a special discounted membership to the Sporting Edge members club, Jeremy, welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

    Jeremy Snape: Hi Steve.

    Steve Rush: So, you have an amazing sporting career, that for those outside of the UK might not have had an opportunity to see, unless of course, you're in the Indian Premier League or South African Cricket, but for those that don't really understand your backstory, perhaps you can give us a little bit of a potted history around, you know, how you got into cricket and how you ended up pivoting into what you do today.

    Jeremy Snape: Sure. Well, that's very kind, to say it's an amazing career. I think I was the journeymen pro pretty much, but yeah, I suppose growing up sport was always something that we did on holiday and in the back garden, I've got an older brother, so grew up pretty competitive trying to keep up with him. He was taller and stronger all the way, and that probably forced me to be more competitive, but got into a cricket, sort of early teams and actually got into the system. And I think once you get into the under eleven, under twelves, under thirteens for your province or your county in the UK, then you get into that conveyor belt, if you like. And, that led me through to captain England under fifteens team, which was a huge surprise to my parents. Because we were planning to go on holiday and completely the other direction to where the tournament was heading the next day.

    So, we have to cancel our holiday. And I took on the role as England captain, which is a great thrill. At sixteen, I started as a professional cricketer and went through the ranks with North Hants with some stellar names that were incredibly talented individually, but never really won anything as a group. I moved then to Gloucestershire with the journeymen team, but actually we won and dominated English cricket in the one-day format for about three or four years. That was incredible, and that springboard it'd be really in the England team because coming from that successful county set up, it gave me a chance to play eleven times for England. Test myself against the very best in the world. Sometimes it worked, many times it didn't, but I learned a huge amount about, you know, performing under pressure. And then I went on to Leicestershire, finally I was doing my Master’s Degree in Sports Psychology at Loughborough, which is nearby. Captain Leicester, we won a few trophies there in this new innovative tournament, the 20/20 version, which was much shorter and forced us to rethink our strategy.

    So, I guess, yeah, innovation, mindset, strategic leadership were all the sort of threads that have woven together into my second career after the Master's Degree, which was working with elite sports teams and business leaders. So, I now spend my time interviewing elite performers or coaching elite performance on mindset and team culture and leadership, or actually you know, working with corporate leaders around the world as well, because for me, you know, getting the best out of ourselves and getting the best out of our talent, you know, is exactly the same in sport and business.

    Steve Rush: So, for those listeners who are in North America, who perhaps don't really understand the game of cricket or don't get an opportunity to see and experience it, like we do, it's really quite a strategic game. And there's lots of parallels. isn't there? between the teaming in a cricket team, as you would expect to see in a boardroom or a business team, perhaps just give us your perspective on that?

    Jeremy Snape: Well, we'd need hours I think to explain the rules of cricket our North American colleagues. I'm not even going to go there with that one, but imagine it's like baseball but more fun. So, I think, you know, just like baseball, it's incredibly statistical, you know, the transparency around individual’s performance is really that, you know, and also the collective, you know, teamwork, it's a great game, you know, full of psychological pressure, full of strategy. You know, lots of cat and mouse that goes on within the game. And, you know, certainly, you know, it was a thrill to me to be able to play for nineteen years and again, you know, play against, with some of the best players in the world and, you know, moving into my second career in psychology and leadership development, you know, getting a chance to, you know, study the mechanics and the theory. But actually, I did that on the back of seeing these brilliant leaders and captains and coaches delivering it in person. So yeah, a real privilege for me to play at that level for so long

    Steve Rush: Now, having worked with champions and indeed coaching champions, your podcast by the way is just amazing. It's one of the very few that I get an opportunity to listen to and absorb myself into. So, Inside the Mind of Champions Podcast, let's talk about the notion, first of all, of what really is a champion, how would you define that?

    Jeremy Snape: Well, it's a great question. And I think a lot of these definitions are being reflected on at the moment. I don't know whether it's the sort of the great pause that we've just been through with the pandemic and everyone's reflecting on what success really looks like in our lives or whether it's the Olympics that we're seeing recently. I think obviously a champion by definition is somebody who overcomes the odds and beats their rivals to get to the pinnacle. So, you imagine a, you know, somebody with ripped muscles, standing on a mountain top, you know, holding a loft, some kind of trophy or metal, but I think that's a metaphor really for me, you know, I think everyone has the opportunity to be a champion every day. I think the way I sometimes look at this is, we get two versions of ourselves, one wakes up a little bit sluggish, pulls the duvet over, you know, switches the alarm on to snooze, the duvet beats them.

    They have an extra 40 minutes in bed. You know, they have a sort of not particularly healthy breakfast or they skip breakfast, they don’t have a very productive morning. They get a bit grumpy; they don't have any water, they fall out with a few colleagues, don't do that to do list, get annoyed, get frustrated, no exercise, you know, eat unhealthily, have too many drinks and then their sleeps compromised the next day. And that's contrasted with the sort of champion version of ourselves, which is, you know, getting up early and doing something that feels good to us, whether that's meditation or mindfulness or yoga or running, or a dog walk or whatever that might be just to get our heads straight for the day, really zero in on those priorities of what's going to be a gold medal day for us. And that can be two or three key things.

    And again, this isn't, you know, for somebody who's been struggling with depression or with anxiety or whatever, you know, even just getting out of the front door and going to the shop could be part of that gold medal plan for the day. So, I think for me being a champion is doing the difficult things, you know, on hard days when you're not naturally motivated to do it. And of course, what we see with the Olympians or with the elite performers in sports and in business is they aggregate those days, almost like they're linking, you know, links in a chain together. And that chain of good days connecting together actually has transformational impact. Whether it's about our mindset, our savings, our business strategy, or our, you know, health and wellbeing. If we have two hundred good days in a row or twenty good days in a row, then we're in much better shape than if the chain had been broken, you know, every second day. So, I think that the champions idea is a metaphor. And I think what I'm trying to do with the podcast is translate the lessons from the elite performers that I've worked with and met, and actually translate them into everyday strategies that we can all use in our teams and business, so, yeah,

    Steve Rush: And I love the reframe you have on it. From the last time we met, I remember you reframe it, almost personal mastery, whereas it doesn't matter where you start from, having a champion outcome day by day is what's most important. And that does definitely start with that mindset, doesn't it?

    Jeremy Snape: Yeah, and I think we're so, you know, we have to make everything competitive and we celebrate these icons, what they look like and how much money they've got and what house they live in. And, you know, this world of comparison and individual icons is the world we live in. That's the story our media gives us. But, you know, I think as you say, we've all got our own personal quest that we've got to define. And I almost think we've got to turn the volume down on the outside on what everyone else is doing, you know, normally that's a eighty percent and the volumes twenty percent on ourselves, it feels selfish to be thinking about our own goals and what we want to do, but actually it takes real discipline to turn down the noise and you know, just focus on what's going to make us happy and successful.

    And actually, it's irrelevant what anyone else is doing because they've got different resources, you know, different networks, different timing, you know, and that can just be demoralized. And of course, use it occasionally to give you a, you know, a kick up the bum and a bit of motivation if you want to chase somebody down, of course, but we shouldn't be living our life in other people's shadows. I think part of being a champion is, you know, carving your own path and you know, chasing it down every day, inch by inch, day by day. And actually, it's the striving where the great thrill and fulfillment comes from, not the achieving, you know, many people who've won the lotto or the lottery, you know, they're not any happier than they were, but people who sort of building a business and you know, building a network and building content and those kinds of things, or learning new skills, that's where we tend to see people in their element. So, we shouldn't be too quick to get to the destination and we should enjoy that process of chasing mastery and excellence in our everyday life.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I agree. And one of the things that's really interesting is, there's lots of science behind this as well, isn’t there? it's not just, you know, observed behavior. There are some scientific evidences to suggest that if we don't put ourselves first, then the people around us don't become better and healthier and fitter physically and mentally as well. What's your spin on that kind of whole self-discipline before others?

    Jeremy Snape: Well, you know, we hear on the airplanes when we used to travel, make sure when the oxygen masks drop down, put your own on first, before you sort of look after your kids or the people around you. And I think, you know, that's more than a survival mechanism. That's a thriving mechanism really, because, you know, I've been a brilliant selfless team player, and I've also been a destructive, selfish force in a team. And I think when I'm investing in myself, when I'm healthy, when I'm doing lots of exercise, when I've got my goals clear, then I'm a pretty good person, because I feel like I'm balanced. If I'm not being disciplined with myself, then I can take that out on other people. It's just my frustration. It's not that they've done anything wrong.

    So, I think the first step always has to be for us to take accountability. I like to think of it, like I'm the CEO of my own performance company, and I've got a share price that goes up and down through the day and through the week and the better choices that I make around my exercise, my prioritization, my communication, you know, my health eating or whatever it might be. Those things affect my share price. Now it's not always going from bottom left to top right. Of course, I'm human like anyone else. But I think when we take control and accountability for the choices that we make, a we start to build some momentum around them, then that can have transformational effects on our energy and our focus and that then cascades into other people, our relationships, our teams and our leadership. And I think that's why starting with yourself and your own mindset is actually not a selfish thing to do. It's a great thing today, if you're trying to develop a high-performance environment for everyone else.

    Steve Rush: So how much of that high-performance mindset is learned versus inherited through our DNA?

    Jeremy Snape: Well, that's a very good question. I think some of it's probably inherited and, you know, nature without a doubt. But you know, there's that whole field of epigenetics as well, isn't there? Where whatever you've got in your DNA and your genes gets activated by the environment that you find yourself in. And, you know, to me, again, part of this champion mindset and this growth mindset for me is that you take accountability. You don't make excuses, you drive, you know yourself to get into these positions. So, I'd love to think that we can learn these new skills. If we look at, you know, the work of Carol Dweck with the growth mindset, it's been very, very popular around the world. And then if you look at the neuroscience behind the back of that, around neuroplasticity, that people's brains actually changed shape and form, the dendrites and these connections between different pathways in the brain actually strengthened when people learn a new skill and got to have the discipline to start learning a foreign language or learning the piano or whatever.

    So, our brains are adaptable. And when our brains adapt, obviously that gives us that foundation to be able to build those skills and build those instincts on the top of it. So, I'd like to think that we are twenty percent set, and eighty percent is in our control. That's just the way I look at things. I'm sure it's probably not quite like that, but I think it's incredibly liberating, no matter how many challenges or whatever difficult situation you've been in to see that you can sort of champion your way out. You can find a way to win from any position. And I think that's incredibly liberating.

    Steve Rush: It isn’t? Yeah. And also, if you consider that the notion that everybody has the opportunity to grow and develop, then everybody has the opportunity to become their own champion in their own world, right?

    Jeremy Snape: Yeah, and I think that's really important and I think there's so much satisfaction and pride that comes from growth. I think, you know, we're actually built for safety. We're built to park in the same place that we've always parked. We drive the same way to work. We try and eat the same foods each week. So, so we're built for habits and to dumb down everything into its simplest form for the brain, so that we free up as much of our energy for that threat that might come around the hill, you know, in the form of a saber tooth tiger or a, you know, nasty email from the boss or whatever it might be. So, we tend to prioritize short term survival and safety and routine. Whereas our most fulfilling moments usually come from stretching ourselves, achieving something we never thought was possible and doing it with people that are different to us.

    You know, so it's a really strange situation that our proudest moments are achieved in diverse teams, doing things we never thought we could achieve, and we've been stretched. Yet our personal instinct is to stay safe, stay on our own and do what we always used to do. So that's where the role of leadership and coaching comes in, to help people to sort of make that step change into that new future and help them to stretch and have the confidence to make that change. And I think it's, you know, I've seen lots of people that are, you know, you would think have everything, but are actually quite unhappy. And it's because they've stalled in their progress. They've achieved everything they thought they could. And actually, if you can keep continuing and keep growing and keep pushing yourselves, then I think it's, you know, that's where the pride and the satisfaction comes from.

    Steve Rush: Perfect example actually of a fixed mindset, isn't it? So, people have this perception that people with fixed mindsets, don't excel, don't get on in their lives and work, but actually they do, but hit a plateau at some point where they've self-actualized what they think they can achieve. And that's when you notice a fixed mindset play out for those kinds of people, right?

    Jeremy Snape: Yeah, and it's a little bit like, I suppose, you know, I work with smaller businesses and massive corporations and lots of the big corporations that I'm working with at the moment are really struggling to transform their business model because of, you know, digitization or, you know, the COVID epidemic or whatever it might be that the consumer has completely changed their behavior of the last few years, but small businesses have lots of flexibility. And as the business matures and scales, we need more systems and processes, which actually become more like the scaffolding. And then they become more like the concrete. So, before you know it, you've built, you know, a ten-story building that can't shift anywhere. Whereas, you know, previously that the sort of young, small supple businesses, more like a, I don't know, bamboo tree, you know, that can flex a little bit in the environment.

    So, I think we're the same when we're young and, you know, entering a new sport or scale or whatever it might be. We're open-minded, and we'll explore different avenues and possibilities. But then as we prove ourselves, actually we become more about preserving that pride and that achievement, rather than almost breaking down the building and starting again, which I think feels like a massive risk when you're a high achiever. And that's why some people that have achieved incredible success in business and sport actually find it the hardest to adapt and to make that transition away from their first career or for something that they've been renowned for, because it's so entrenched and sort of interwoven into their identity that they sort of can't see themselves being anything else or doing anything else. And that can be a stressful place to be.

    Steve Rush: I guess some of that is also about unlearning what you've learned to be able to relearn thinking new ways.

    Jeremy Snape: It's just about courage I think, you know, curiosity, you know, what else is out there? What else would I like to do? What else could I be? You know, where else could I take this? That's a really exciting set of questions and mindset to have, and then just having the courage to sort of fail forwards into that and say, well, I'm not going to be a concert pianist, you know, after ten days. So let me just make a few bum notes and, you know, it'll sound a bit squeaky to start with, but, you know, I'm enjoying learning, you know, again, we're trying to compare ourselves to other people who can play the piano brilliantly and have everyone round for a dinner party and play Tchaikovsky or whatever.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Jeremy Snape: But actually, you know, enjoy the learning and enjoy the process, enjoy the development because, you know, I've met lots of people that have achieved their dream and they're now happier than when they were striving.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it was the old attitude that the journey is more alluring than the destination sometimes.

    Jeremy Snape: Absolutely.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, so what would you say would be the common parallels that you've observed in your sporting career as well as now, coaching business leaders that present themselves in both situations? So, sporting champions and business champions, what would be those kinds of common things that are present in both?

    Jeremy Snape: Well, I think, they have to have a goal. I think there's an ambition statements and the champions in sport can do something very special. They can almost visualize what that's going to feel and look like. It's almost like they can see themselves lifting the World Cup or lifting, you know, having the medal around their neck and seeing their family and friends talk about them. They can almost read the articles of how the characters shone through. So, they've got that ability to, you know, jump forward in the timeline and really immerse themselves in what that change will bring to them. It'll be a change in the way people perceive them and the way they perceive themselves when they've achieved that goal. I don't think business does that so well, I think business just sets a financial target. So, I think there's the ambition. Then I think there's the focus to say, well, we are going to do this, but we're not going to do that. And I think the second one of those of what you're not going to do is important because we can say yes to everything and that just slows us down. I think there's that courage element and confidence to be able to take risks and be bold in those situations. And then I think there's the resilience to handle the setbacks and just keep going, you know, so few days have your name in sort of head lights and spotlights. It's all about what you do in the shadows. I think that's what I've seen, you know, that daily grind and that process, and just stick into those almost like the gold medal behaviors that you're doing in the gym for four years are the thing that present the gold medal opportunity for you, you know, in the Olympics. And I think that the leaders in business that are disciplined enough to stay on that track and keep doing the reps, that's, you know, transformational over time.

    And then of course you bring in the coaching and leadership elements of where you need to inspire the people to be the best they can be and be aligned to what you're trying to achieve. I think it's easy to micromanage when your name's on the top of the, you know, the business, or, you know, you're solely responsible for the sales figure at the end of the year. It's easy to micromanage everything, to take control, but actually if you can coach people and unlock there potential and get them to strive and improve and get on that sort of growth journey, then you can achieve exponential success. Because now you've got, ten, twenty, thirty people that are all flying and, you know, moving the business forward. Whereas it's very heavy lifting if you're trying to do all that yourself. So, I think being able to let go a little bit and become more of a coach rather than a dictator is a critical thing that translates and unlocking that diversity in the teams, you know, new starters, people from different businesses, people from different backgrounds, you know, unlock all of those ideas and those silly questions because there might be absolute gold in it. You know, our consumer base is incredibly diverse. So why shouldn't our teams be diverse in openness to create the best solution,

    Steve Rush: Some great parallels there, really good stuff. Thank you for that. So, when was it that you first noticed that mindset and you paying attention to your mindset was going to be something that you needed to spend more time on? Was there a moment perhaps in your international playing time or your county cricket time where you thought my mindset is not helping me here, or my mindset is helping me here?

    Jeremy Snape: Well, it's a good question. And I don't think, you know, the sort of, I retired in two thousand and eight and obviously things have moved on significantly in the last decade or so. So, I think there was one particular moment when my mindset seemed to be, some days I felt bulletproof confidence, in control. I was going to dominate the game and I did, you know, there were rare occasions, but that was the case. I actually felt like I could win the game for my team. I got man of the match on my England debut and, you know, there was some great performances where I was absolutely, you know, in the moment and absolutely loving in my element. And then there was a moment in India. I think it was two thousand and one, two, where I played a previous tour in Zimbabwe and smaller team and smaller crowds.

    And then India, for those that don't follow cricket is the powerhouse of international cricket. So, there are one and a half billion people, and they either like Bollywood films, or they like cricket, and they probably liked both. And I think half of them were packed into the Eden Gardens Stadium in Kolkata back on this balmy night where England were desperate to win this game of cricket. There were hundred and twenty thousand people in the stadium, which is just massive. I mean, I played at Lord’s and other big stadiums around the world, and there were usually about twenty-five, twenty-eight thousand people. And that was all, you know, got the nerves jangling, but you're sort of used to that, but a hundred and twenty thousand people, it was incredible. I made a bit of a mistake. I sort of run out one of my team mates, which wasn't great, Freddie Flintoff.

    To be fair, He was the only person he could have won this game for England. So, it was down to me. So, I was left in the middle of this massive stadium, like a cauldron of noise. And there was just this, you know, despite there being a hundred and twenty thousand people screaming, the loudest voice was the one that was in my head that was saying, what have you done? You know, you're not good enough to be here. What do you think you're doing? You know, it's all on you now, what are the press going to say tomorrow after that? You know, and basically, I was so focused on, you know, nerves and failure and what the consequences of my actions were going to be. The critique of the media the next day, but I forgot to watch the next ball and I missed it and got out myself.

    And I was walking back to the pavilion, just thinking that was just like the craziest minute of my life, because I felt like I'd been emotionally hijacked and sort of carried into this false hostage situation where I couldn't move my arms and legs. And couldn't think straight, my heart was racing. My eyes were flickering around the place, and I wasn't even thinking straight. So, I think we all write these plans on a flip chart or in our diary, but unless we can deliver them under pressure, we're never going to be able to progress. And that moment for me was, you know, a bit of an epiphany really, because I realized that if my mindset's not right, then I'm not going to be able to deliver what I want to do. So that's when I started my Master's Degree and actually came to the back end of my career and used some of those strategies in some games. I've learned about focus, I've learned about taking my mind off the outcomes and, you know, the score board and that kind of stuff. And actually, focusing on controlling my mind, controlling my breathing, controlling my posture, because if I can control those things, then I can actually control the way I respond to the way the bowl pitches or throws the balls. I've been using some of these techniques and training as I've done my Master’s Degree, and I was in this massive final. So again, I was, you know, in a high-pressure situation, a few balls, we needed four runs to win, you know, one of the best one-day bowlers in the world, Azhar Mahmood running into bowl, you know, my brain could easily have taken me away to that place of, here we go again, you're going to fail. But actually, I started to refocus back on my breathing and my posture and my game plan and where my strongest shots were coming from.

    And in that moment, when I was thinking about my breath, believe it or not, I played one of the best instinctive shots I've ever played, hit the ball for a four, time it perfectly. And the players run on the pitch and carried me off. And we got sprayed in champagne. And it's one of those moments where you think I just played one of my best shots ever. And I wasn't thinking about cricket, because I think your muscle memory, you know what to do, what you've got, what you've actually got to do is get out of your own way, get out of your own head sometimes and let that instinct and let your flare come through. So, again, that sort of transformation moment for me that I know the power of our mindset, because it's so intangible, we don't know how to invest in it.

    Everyone says mental health is critical. So, I've made a real concerted effort through Sporting Edge to try and create a framework for mental health. Because when we say mental health, we often talk about mental ill health, which is sort of depression, massive anxiety attacks, and suicide potentially, but mental health should be like our normal health. It should be eating healthily, exercising, you know, socializing, those things affect our normal mental health, but then we've got confidence. Then we've got, you know, our focus, we've got our ability to think clearly under pressure. We've got, you know, all of those different elements, our ability to reframe setbacks, these are life skills that help us to keep a healthy mindset so that we never have to worry about mental ill health. We've built a sort of a six-factor model at Sporting Edge around the winning mindset. And we've got a thirty-day course that's helped thousands of people to develop the skills because I think they're fundamental. And if we can get our mindset right, we can achieve everything, you know, whatever we want to, that's not to say we're all going to be you know, billionaires or NBA stars. But I think if we all set goals and feel like we're making progress towards, that's liberating in itself.

    Steve Rush: They're great lessons to look back on. And I remember specifically, you shared the whole principle of emotional hijack at that moment in India. Well, actually that's neuroscience playing out. Because technically that's exactly what was happening. You were cognitively impaired because your focus was elsewhere, right?

    Jeremy Snape: Of course, the amygdala was trying to play the shot for me.

    Steve Rush: Yeah. yeah.

    Jeremy Snape: You know, the amygdala takes you higher cognitive function and executive function offline. And, you know, interestingly through our research at Sporting, I have interviewed neuroscientists talking through that process, but no one had ever told me that could happen. They would just say things like, oh, he choked under pressure, or we lost this head under pressure, well, that's not particularly helpful. Because I don't know what that means. And I certainly don't know how to retrain myself. And I get it a little bit now speaking at conferences around the world, you know, there might be a thousand people in an audience and I still get those butterflies and these sweaty palms and my brain starts to spin a bit, but I've now got strategies to understand that, that's just my body preparing for performance. So now I go through a little routine that helps me to stay calm and focus so that my, you know, first line comes out okay. And from then on, it's fine. Whereas I think, you know, we've all got a brain and we should understand how to use it. And I'm amazed this isn't part of our school curriculum to be honest.

    Steve Rush: I had many conversations with academics and people in education with exactly the same principle, the sooner in life, we can allow people to know that these things naturally happen for us. And there are ways to control them from a very young age, the more advanced, I think people will be in their own mental health. And you rightly called this out around when people perceive this to be mental ill health, I call it mental wealth because actually the more you invest in your thinking, your strategies and understanding about how you react to certain situations, the less likely that you're going to get adverse reactions.

    Jeremy Snape: Absolutely, and I think one of the transformational huffs of comments is that, you know, that voice that we all are have in our head, that's the voice of our parent, a teacher, an early coach, the media, a critic, it's somebody who got in there early and we've never argued with it. We think that's the truth just because it's the same voice that we carried around for fifty years. You know, it's almost like being in a courtroom where you've got the prosecution and the judge, but no defense. So, it basically says you're not good enough and I can prove it. And there's no defense to say, well, hang on a minute. I've done this before. And I have played well here and I do care about people and I have practiced. And you know, I've got a track record here, you know, because that would be quite an interesting debate, but we tend to just take that negative voice, which bear in mind is trying to keep us safe. It's trying to keep us away from anything that's threatening our ego, like playing in front of a hundred and twenty thousand live on television or standing up at a conference and making a speech, that threatens our ego and our pride and our self-esteem. So, it wants us to stay sitting down. That's why it tries to hijackers, but if you sort of speak gently to it and say, well, yeah, thanks very much for the warning signs, heart rates and sweaty palms and vision getting a bit blurred. But I'm just going to take a couple of deep breaths here and, you know, focus on my first line because I want to do this because I know I'm going to feel better for it. And I've got lots of people that I need to help here. So, thanks for the warning, but I'm carrying on anyway. I think that's an important lesson for us.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it is. Yeah, It's great. So, you've had the opportunity to interview some real global superstars and really get inside their champion mindsets from the people that you've interviewed met and work with. Who'd be maybe the kind of top two or three that have been real outstanding and memorable experiences for you?

    Jeremy Snape: Well, I think there's lots of different people. And if I had to build a perfect composite, that's probably what I'll attempt to do. Some of the coaches, Eddie Jones from England rugby, incredibly restless. He almost this T shape of the leader where he can skim across the, you know, the forwards, the backs, the nutritionists, the strength and conditioning, the people that are organizing their schedule and he can drop down at any point into the weeds, into the detail and forensically examine. It's almost like he's got this whole system mapped out and he's on it. So, here's sort of ruthless around discipline and standards across the whole matrix of a high-performance environment, I find incredible. So, Dave Brailsford from team sky, team cycling, I think his ability to translate, you know, things down into simple solutions and processes when they're incredibly complex was fascinating.

    And then there are people like, I met two of the guys actually that were in prison with Nelson Mandela for twenty-six years, Ahmed Kathrada and Denis Goldberg. And they feature in one of my podcast episodes, which is really about, it's called Lessons from Isolation. And you know, two of them, they didn't need to go to prison. And this is the thing I find remarkable, but they knew that if they went to prison alongside Nelson Mandela, they had more chance of him staying alive and being protected for as long as he was there. So, they gave up their lives to stay alongside their team mates. You know, they had all sorts of things done to them on Robben Island, in prison for 20 odd years, all their privileges were taken away. And they stayed resilient because they had a deep burning purpose that they wanted to overthrow the Apartheid regime. So again, you know, people with a purpose, people that want to make a difference can do incredible things. Those guys, I think there was eight of them in this particular group. Never break ranks, never snitched on each other, never broke the chain in this team. And they stood together strong for twenty-six years and walked out of prison together. And when they came out, because of their solidarity and their personal resilience, they changed South Africa, and over throw the Apartheid regime and they changed the history of the world and, you know, that was from isolation and I'm sure they all had negative thoughts and incredibly low moments, but they stayed together and did incredible things. So yes, some of the insights and lessons have come from sport, but equally they've come from some of these other, you know, academics or incredible, you know, characters that I've met along the way as well.

    Steve Rush: It's an amazing story of resilience and mindset playing out in real time for us to all observe as well, great lessons. So, I'm not going to flip a little and tap into your leadership thinking and your leadership mind and ask you to think about all of your experiences and studies and try and distill in if you could, into your top three leadership hacks. So, if you could call out the kind of two or three things that really drive and guide you, what would they be?

    Jeremy Snape: That's a good question. I think one of the first principles would be, everyone's so focused on the outcome. Everyone wants the gold medal. Everyone wants the billion-dollar turnover, you know, and most of the clients I work with, that's how they set their goals, but we have to use those almost like a north star to look up at them and think, yep, that's where I want to get to. But then we need to say, right, if I want to win, w-i-n, if I want those billion dollars or that gold medal, I need to look down now and say, what's important now? Or what's important next? that's what winning looks like on the day. So being able to translate our long-term goals into short term controllable behaviors and habits that we can build discipline around is transformational. And none of the media are interested in the swimmer getting up at six o'clock, five o'clock every morning and swimming five miles because it's not sexy.

    They want the outcomes and the times and the gold medals, but actually that's where they won in the shadows of the process. So, process against the outcome and also not comparing yourself to other people's outcomes. I think that can be, you know, debilitating. I think probably the second thing is about lead the ship and that's definitely to create a high-performance group around you, a talented group of individuals and empower them. You know, don't stifle them, don't direct them too much. Give them that intent to say, we need to solve this problem over here. Here's the commercial lens. Here's the ethical lens. Here's the method, you know, that's been tried before and discuss it a bit, but then set them free and let them go and do it for themselves because when people feel like they can own the sort of tactics and the strategy, then that can be incredible. So, I've seen that, you know, make a massive difference, empowerment.

    And then probably the third thing is about, you know, our hunger to keep learning and that can be following people on social media, listening to podcasts, and it can also be surrounding yourself with a, you know, almost like a virtual board. Maybe there are five or six people in different industries that you can get hold of that you can just catch up with once a quarter for half an hour, just to pick their brains and maybe can meet them once a year or whatever it might be, but have these industry leaders, all these thought leaders, all these culturally leaders, you know, at arm’s length. So, you can dive into them and pick their brains because if we're continually stretching ourselves and we've got the confidence that our ideas are on the right track from these mentors, then we can really commit to our skills and, you know, do special thing,

    Steve Rush: Thanks for sharing those Jeremy, there amazing hacks. Thank you. Next part of the show, we call it Hack to Attack. So quite simply, this is where something hasn't worked out well. It may have been quite a catastrophic event, or it might not have worked out in the way that you wanted it to, but as a result of the event, you've learned from it. And it's now a force of good in your life and work. What would be your Hack to Attack?

    Jeremy Snape: Well, big failures, there's been many. I think one formative one for me actually was failing, an eleven plus exam to go to the same school that my brother was at. So, I was eight, eleven, three papers, messed one of them up and didn't get into this school. And actually, it scared me a little bit, I felt like a real failure to my family and, and myself, you know, I'd let myself down really with it. And that really gave me the drive then to say, I'm not going to fail again. You know, I'm not going to feel that embarrassment and that shame again. So, I think that spurred my work ethic on for any setback that I've had, you know, since then, I tend to look at them in the moment and say, okay, you failed that because you didn't do this and didn't do that. That's on me, next time I can make it better. So, I don't see myself as a failure. I see myself as somebody who's failed in these moments with specific skills. And I can transcend that if I keep working hard and, you know, testing my ideas with other people. So that would probably be, sort of overcome setbacks with a bit less emotion and to sort of skip through them as learning experiences.

    Steve Rush: Brilliant reframe of mindset as well, because as you use the word failure, what you actually described was learning.

    Jeremy Snape: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, great. The next part of the show is to give you a bit of an opportunity to do some time travel. So, you get to bump into Jeremy at twenty-one and give him some advice and some words of wisdom. What do you think it might have been?

    Jeremy Snape: Twenty-one, well, I was playing professional cricket then, I'd just finished my first degree. I was sort of bursting into the first team, I suppose, of my first professional county and I probably got some doubts. So, at twenty-one, I'd probably say I was traveling the world, which was great, so that was fun. But I'd say you're good enough. I probably, you know, whisk myself away from the crowd. I'd probably be having a few beers with teammates after the game or whatever, and I'd just pull myself to the side and say, you're good enough at this. You're going to be good enough. You'll find a way to be successful, but you got to be courageous. You've got to take some risks. When somebody coaches you and gives you these different strategies, it might feel like you're going backwards for the first few days, but stick with it and try it because you're in the experimental phase. And if you have courage, you could be, you know, twice the play you are. So that's probably the advice I'd give myself.

    Steve Rush: Powerful advice as well. As we've kind of get into the end of our show together today. It's not going to be the end of our listeners, hooking in with the work that you do. And we want to make sure that we can connect our listeners to you and vice versa. So, where's the best place for us to send them?

    Jeremy Snape: Well, my Twitter is at @sportingedge. LinkedIn is where I post most of my, you know, thoughts. So that's Jeremy Snape on LinkedIn, but also sportingedge.com. So, the podcast Inside the Mind of Champions features all the interviews that I've done and breaks it down into a toolkit. And then we've also got access to our video library. So about thousand, two-minute videos across eighty different business themes and leadership themes. So, we've got a community called our members club and that gives people access to our events and our digital content. So, they can kick off a zoom meeting or just a, you know, keep your own learning going and trying to accelerate your own quest to mastery. So, over a hundred experts have been interviewed there and every one of the videos has got little practical toolkit for you to use in your career. So, yeah, sportingedge.com, and LinkedIn are the best places, but it'd be great to connect with your network as well Steve.

    Steve Rush: and also, our listeners get an opportunity to get a discount. So, you've got a special discount code that they can use to get some access to sportedge.com.

    Jeremy Snape: Absolutely, yes. The membership is normally, twenty-five pounds per month, but, if you use the code podcast fifty in the checkout, then you get that half price for that first month to have a good look around. So, it will be great to introduce some of your network.

    Steve Rush: We will make sure they're in our show notes as well. Jeremy, I just want to say thank you. I know you're incredibly busy guy and I do love listening to your podcast and it's just a great honor and a privilege to have you on our show. So, thanks for being part of our Leadership Hacker Community

    Jeremy Snape: Thanks so much for the invitation and good luck to everyone listening.

    Jeremy Snape: Thank you.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

  • John Warrillow is an entrepreneur, author, podcast host as well as being the CEO and Founder of the Value Builder System. In this super conversation you can learn:

    Why he coaches entrepreneurs to consider selling from the outsetMaking yourself dispensable - your ultimate poker hand - so what is that?Why we should focus on value above all else“Parenting” your team and business can deliver great value

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about John below:

    John on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnwarrillow/

    Value Builder System Website: https://valuebuilder.com

    John on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JohnWarrillow

    Full Transcript Below

    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    Our special guest on today's show is John Warrillow. He's the founder of The Value Builder System, a practice management software for business advisors. His best-selling book, Built to Sell has been internationally recognized as one of the best business books. He's also the host of the Built to Sell Radio. But before we get a chance to meet with John, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    So, as we head towards the end of the summer holidays, business leaders and team leaders are going to start thinking about how to get ready for 2022. Although we can't predict a future, we can say that next year will not be returned to business as usual. The pandemic, social unrest, cultural divisions, new remote, or hybrid working, schooling possibilities, all but guarantee that leading teams of businesses in the coming year will be anything but business as usual. The technological trends in which workers will need to learn new skill sets outside of their roles, combined with new ways of working. Remote, in person, or hybrid of the two, would require leaders to be nimble, empathetic, and inclusive as well as strategically focused.

    So how do we get ready for 2022 and beyond? Use technology in human ways and for human reasons, when it comes to even the near future, the ability to adapt to new technology is always going to be a priority. And the question often in its minds of its workforce, is this tool a force of good or the enemy? Professor Roshni Raveendran research explores the integration of novel technologies into the workplace and where those technologies intersect with the psychology of human behavior. With studies include an examination of monitoring technology and the use of virtual and augmented reality. Raveendran keeps focus on the use of new systems to augment human life and how to use those new technologies responsibly. For example, the use of avatars may relieve a sense of social threat through psychological distance or an organization's behavior tracking application may be used for better.

    If it's for the information for its employees to self-analyze, rather than making them feel monitored constantly, as companies start thinking about making remote work a long-term reality, one key challenge pertains to the missing social connection, the feeling of being part of the same group, said Raveendran. So, there'll be a lot more demand for immersive technologies like virtual reality. That's why it's important for us to understand the psychology that drives people to adopt some of those technologies. Let's look at maintaining and improving company culture. If a company does maintain remote work as a status quo, how can leaders nurture a sense of teamwork and company culture across a distance and the difference that might exist? Well, Darden Professor Laura Morgan Roberts is an expert in human potential, diversity and leadership development. She knows compassionate, responsive leadership is what every organization needs, whether it's face-to-face or screen to screen, because learning needs to happen so rapidly.

    The fastest route is often peer to peer through nonlinear ways of thinking. Even after a crisis, there will be a normal, normality and leaders need to map out old values and behaviors and norms, even especially the unspoken ones. And then contrast them with what we now know to be the normal as it is today, or as we'd like it to be. As companies compete and grow, the successful ones will emphasize with a culture of inclusivity, authentic ways of developing and retaining their talent. And the last thing I want to call out for how organizations and teams can get set up for 2022 is advance your diversity efforts and intelligent inclusion as we move forward next year or any year for that matter. Successful leaders will forge beyond diversity efforts and developing minority talent, pushing their organizations to embrace the importance of intelligent inclusion, ultimately the impact of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

    However well-meaning will depend on how they're viewed. Professor Martin Davidson, who also serves as Darden's senior associate Dean and global chief diversity officer, said, create an inclusion climate is inherently ambiguous task, how organizations and to take inclusion matters is key. Decades of research in social psychology and organizational behavior show us that when individuals questioned the value of group identity, the social identity threats they register are massively damaging, not just to the individual, but to the individual's relationship with the organization they work in. Davidson and explores how those organizations can design and Institute programs and policies that work to eliminate racial inequality by reducing that psychological reactivity that arises in response to any racial friction. While Davidson's research was focused on racial equality. For me, intelligent inclusion is about any minority. Age, race, religion, sexuality, cultures. The more we can recognize that we're all in the same boat, heading in the same direction, the better we can serve each other. That's been The Leadership Hacker News. If you have any news, insights or any information that you'd like us to showcase on the show? Please get in touch.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Our special guest on today's show is John Warrillow. He's an entrepreneur, a writer, he's a podcast host, and he's also the founder and CEO of The Value Builder System. John, welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

    John Warrillow: Hey, good to be with you Steve.

    Steve Rush: So, delighted to have a fellow podcaster and an entrepreneur on the show today. But for the folks that listening for the first time that may not have heard a little bit about your backstory, let's just give us a little flavor of how you ended up creating The Value Builder System and doing what you're doing now?

    John Warrillow: Oh man, it goes back 25 years ago. I had a market research business where we did quantitative market research for big companies. We had a decent sized company. I think we were five or six million in revenue, 20, 30% profit margin. So, it was a good business. I thought I was sitting on a gold mine and I went to see an M&A professional guy named Harry Mielly in Toronto. And I said, you know, what do you think it's worth? And I was kind of rubbing my hands together, waiting for his number. And he said, well, it kind of depends on the answer to a couple of questions and I said, shoot. He said, all right. So, like, you do research? And I’m like yep. He said who does the research. And at the time we worked with these massive companies, Bank of America, Apple and JP Morgan Chase.

    And so, I was involved. So, I said, well, I'm involved in the research. He said, all right, who does the selling? And I'm like, we're working with these giant companies. Of course, I'm doing some of the selling, right? He says, okay, well John, there is nothing here I could sell, your company is worthless.

    Steve Rush: Wow.

    John Warrillow: And man, that was tough to hear for me, especially going into that meeting, thinking, I was sort of sitting on this goldmine, kind of counting my shekels, so to speak. And leaving, realizing that I had built this business that was effectively unsellable. And I spent the better part of, I guess, three years, really trying to listen to what Perry had to say and others frankly, and transform that business, made much change we create. It’s a subscription model I got out of doing the selling out doing research. Long story short, it was acquired by a New York stock exchange listed company in 2009.

    So, it had a happy ending, I think kicked off for me to sort of lifelong journey that I'm on to this day, which is to really discover what drives the value of a business. And hopefully, you know, you talking about purpose-driven leadership, hopefully helping other entrepreneurs you know, not have to experience what I felt and maybe save them some years off their lives by building a business from the start that's valuable. So, I've written a few books on that topic and of course, Value Builder is a software platform that advisors use to help their clients sort of understand some of these principles. So that's me in a kind of nut shell.

    Steve Rush: Was that kind of an epiphany for you at the time where you had a perception there was valuing the business because of its turnover, yet when it comes down to its underlying asset value, there was a real mismatch. Was that the kind of defining moment to set you on this path I guess?

    John Warrillow: Yeah, I walked around thinking my business is going to be valuable because it's profitable. And because we have great clients and people would say to me, they would say, wow, you work with Bank of America, you work with IBM, you know, fill in the blank, large enterprise organization. You're going to be, you know, this business is going to be valuable. And, I was under the impression that an acquirer would buy us for our client list. So, my focus for many years was to really win clients that were prestigious clients, right. We worked with British Telecom, biggest Telecom company in Europe at the time. And that was an aspiration for us. Not because they were necessarily great clients or the biggest revenue, but because we could put that logo on our PowerPoint slide deck to say, hey, we worked with British Telecom, and I was chasing the wrong stuff. What I came to learn was that clients are great and having kind of blue-chip clients can help the value of your company, but they're not going to make the value of your company. They're instiller tertiary to the overall value. So, it was a real learning experience for me.

    Steve Rush: What's your experience then John, in helping other entrepreneurs on this path, when they start to think and realize that value isn't derived from turnover?

    John Warrillow: Yeah, it can be a bit difficult, right? Because again, we have these yardsticks, I think as entrepreneurs. As a society, we celebrate top-line turnover, right? Like that's all the newspaper articles and the magazine articles are like this company's growing this quickly. And their top line revenue is this amount of money, yet it's generally not necessarily the most important driver for value. You mentioned Built to Sell radio in the intro of podcasts, where I interviewed different entrepreneurs. I did two interviews kind of back-to-back a few months ago. And one guy distributed a product and distribution companies by their nature, terrible businesses to sell, they're really difficult to sell. And he distributed product, built it up to $15 million in revenue turnover, and ultimately sold it for 25% of one year's revenue.

    Well, literally the next day I did an interview with a guy named Rob Walling who built a company called drip, which was a SAS product software and service product. And he focused exclusively on this one product, focused a hundred percent on recurring revenue and built it to just two million dollars of turnover. So, the day before I'd talked to the guy who had a business with fifteen million turn over, sold for twenty five percent of one year revenue. The next day I learned from Rob Walling that he sold his two-million-dollar turnover business for somewhere between nine- and thirteen-times top line revenue. He didn’t show the exact number, it was a multiple of revenue, not a multiple of profits. And it was a large, high multiple of revenue. And it was just such a black and white contrast for me, of here's two companies.

    One is a fraction of the size of another. Yet the tiny company is trading at a much, much higher value than the large company. And so, I think we boast about and kind put out our chest and say, yeah, we get a million in turnover a week. You know, we got ten employees or we're at five million or whatever the boast is, but oftentimes it's kind of revenue sort of vanity, I think for a lot of entrepreneurs. And yet the real value oftentimes is not in the revenue, in the other elements of your business.

    Steve Rush: So, what are they John? What are the other elements that you would really drive conversations to focus on value?

    John Warrillow: Probably the biggest one, I think is finding something, an area where you can absolutely dominate. One feature, one product, one offering where you can be the dominant provider. Because again, when you look at an acquire, if you put your acquire hat on for a second, they've got generally tons of money. They've got tons of resources. If you're just selling a commoditized product, if you are offering something where you're competing on price, you're responding to RFP’S, you're selling by ounce or pound or whatever. That large enterprise organization is just going to basically come to the conclusion that it's a lot cheaper to compete with you than it would be to buy you. So, this is going to lower the price in the market for that service or product.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    John Warrillow: Get in a bidding war with you, and basically pick up your business. Whereas if you do something really unique, they're going to draw the conclusion that it would take years to replicate what they have bill. You know, if you go back to Rob Walling and Drip, he had a really beautiful, elegant email marketing software, which lead pages, which was ultimately his acquire didn't have. And he had some features that would have taken years to build out. And he had a two- or three-year head start, could lead pages with enough developers have replicated Drip, of course, but for lead pages where time was money, they thought, you know what, this is too unique. We can just acquire this. And I think, again, going back to distribution companies and why that fifteen-million-dollar distribution company was so difficult to sell and ultimately got such a huge discount is they're not selling anything unique. They're basically taking someone else's product and selling it. And again, if you're a fortune 500 or a large enterprise organization, you can simply do that without buying the company.

    Steve Rush: Right? Yeah. It's a pretty interesting perspective, isn't it? And also, there's been some recent articles around the human capital element that plays into that value stream. So that's the people on your balance sheet versus the assets on your balance sheet. How do you frame that in?

    John Warrillow: Yeah, look, the people on your team, again, a lot of acquirers will look at that and say, could we recruit all these people with some unique skillset? Yes, of course is yes. With enough money and time could, in many cases acquire will look at that and say, you know what, it's just going to be a lot cheaper rather than spent two years and many hundreds of thousands or millions of pounds on a recruiter. Why don't I just buy this company? Now, those valuations are referred to as acquihires in the industry, those generally are much lower than you would expect from a acquire who is placing value on other elements of what you do. So, I don't think you're going to get the highest valuation for your business if you're just looking at an acquihires, okay, effectively, you're selling your team. But you will get some value for that in particular, if they have some unique skill set that that is, you know, obviously if you have a bunch of people who are doing AI right now, or even people who have a real skillset in the area of digital marketing, those are very hard to come by. And so, someone might value that team of yours, but generally that's not going to be an astronomical multiple relative to having some sort of unique product that is more valuable.

    Steve Rush: Sure, is there anything in the value set that you look at that should be avoided by potential entrepreneurs?

    John Warrillow: Interesting, yeah. I mean, I think cross selling is probably one of the biggest mistake’s entrepreneurs make and they come by it, honestly, because if you listen and talk to virtually any sales and marketing guru that gets the stage or writes a book, they'll tell you that cross selling an existing customer is like eight or nine times cheaper than going and winning a new customer. And so most entrepreneurs here that, they're focused on scale and growing and top line revenue and they say great, we've got a few customers, let's cross them. And by doing that, they're ultimately diluting their value proposition and ultimately making the business less sellable, certainly less valuable than it would be if they stuck to their knitting. I'll give you an example. There's a woman I interviewed on Built to Sell Radio named Stephanie Breedlove. She built up a payroll company and they had a special niche where they did payroll for parents who had a nanny, an HomePay to pay.

    And her niche was very small. And she reached a point at three hundred thousand dollars in revenue where it started to become harder for her to get new parents who had a nanny to pay. She was based in Texas. She was focused mostly locally. She reached three hundred thousand dollars in revenue, so tiny business, was just her and one employee. And she had this kind of fork in the road. She could go, and although it would be hard, find new parents who had a nanny to pay, or she could do what everybody else was telling her to do, which was to cross sell other services to her existing customers, right? So, what else did busy parents have a nanny need? They need, you know, lawn care services and meal deliveries, and you could go on and kind of brainstorm what busy parents need? And Breedlove was being told at the time that that's how you grow your business.

    Yet to her credit, she did not do that. She instead took the much harder road. She went and said, I'm going to double down and go find more parents who have a nanny to pay. Twenty-five years later, she built her business up to nine million dollars in revenue, ten thousand parents who have nannies to pay. Nine million in revenue over twenty-five years. It's not liked the next Tesla, right? Like it's not a super-fast growth company. It's a kind of twenty-five-year overnight success, it's a slow burn.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    John Warrillow: And she goes to sell it. She sells it to care.com, care.com, I'm not sure if they have it in the UK, but basically if you plug in your postal code and it will render babysitters and Au Pairs in your local market, that all be five stars rated. Have you seen that, Steve?

    Steve Rush: Yeah, yeah. Right.

    John Warrillow: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So, she finds care.com and care.com at the time of the acquisition had seven million subscribers. So, she made the case, look, with just one percent of your seven million subscribers by my payroll service. That's seventy thousand customers. We're a nine-million-dollar company on the back of ten thousand customers. Long story short, Stephanie sold her nine million business for fifty-four million dollars.

    Steve Rush: Wow.

    John Warrillow: That's like six times revenue. That's like unbelief. It doesn't make any sense on any valuation table you could possibly conceive of. And it would never have happened, had she done what ninety five percent of gurus would have told her to do at a time, which was to go cross sell her existing customers because care.com wanted a very elegant solution to provide payroll to their seven million subscribers. They didn't want meal delivery services or lawn care services, right? Like they had a very specific need. And that's really were understanding what a strategic acquires looking for and sticking to your knitting. Doing one thing is where I think so much value can be added, but also undermined and lost if you sort of follow the mantra of growth is good. Top line revenue is our number one goal. I think you can, many cases hurt you more than it can help you.

    Steve Rush: That's super fascinating. Almost contradictory to what certainly I've heard. And most people have muted along the way because you build up a client base to cross sell more revenue. So, but I get the whole focus on the whole be great at your niche or your niche. And most importantly, be super, super good at that. And therefore, it just grows and develops and its strength and capability, right?

    John Warrillow: Yeah, and again, put your acquirer hat on for a second. And when you're looking at company, they closed the boardroom door, you're not invited to the meeting. And the head of corporate development sits down with the CEO and says, why are we buying this company again? And why don't we just compete with them? Are they doing something that unique, that's special that we need to acquire them because it'll be a lot cheaper and a lot less disruptive if we just get in a price war with them and for six months drop our price, ten percent below them, we can sustain that way better than they can? Why don't we just do it and get in a price war? And then the corporate development head as to fight back to the CEO and say, no, but you don't get it. They got something really unique that would take us years to build, you know, many millions of dollars to replicate. And that's the conversation that happens when you're not in the room.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    John Warrillow: And so, if you're just selling a bunch of, I mean, like, I don't know what it's like in the UK, but in North America, the cable providers had a monopoly and they would package up their television programming so that if you wanted like one or two channels, you couldn't buy the one or two channels, you'd have to buy like two hundred channels. And it was the most frustrating thing on earth, right. Because all you wanted was a couple of channels and you're paying for something you really don't need.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    John Warrillow: And then along comes Netflix and now Disney and all these discreet channels where you don't need cable anymore. And they're obviously losing customers in droves because people are like, all I want is ESPN, Disney and Netflix, and I'm good. And I don't two hundred channels.

    Steve Rush: It's exactly the same in Europe.

    John Warrillow: The Acquiror of a business makes the same.

    Steve Rush: Exactly the same. You have written the book Built to Sell. And it comes from that mindset of how you encourage entrepreneurs to consider building their business with the intention to sell at some point in the future. Tell us a little bit about what that mindset is and how we might need to reframe some of that thinking along the way.

    John Warrillow: Yeah, I mean, the essence of building to sell is you're creating a company that can thrive without you, the entrepreneur, founder, doing all the work. And when you've created a business that can succeed without you personally doing the work, you've got all of the options, like think of the poker player who gets like a royal flush. I mean, you can't lose basically. So, you can run your business without having to do the hard lifting, right? The hard yards, as they say. You can just simply be the CEO and letting your teams sort of run the business and take lots of time away from the company. You could bring in a manager and literally leave and have the manager run the business. While you kind of think of it as a passive asset, as it works, you could bring in a private equity group and sell sixty percent of the company, put some cash in your jeans and then continue to run and get a sort of second traunche of equity.

    When the private equity group sells, you can sell to a strategic. I mean, you've got every option available to you. If it can succeed without you personally doing the work and the inversus is not true. If the business is deeply dependent on you showing up for work, you've got very few options. You've got effectively a job, not to put too fine point on it, where you can't really get out of it. And then you're in this weird position where you got into business for the freedom, right. Freedom to do what you want, when you want, financial freedom, et cetera. Those were all, and for many of the entrepreneurs I speak with the aspirations. And yet, if the business is dependent on you, you actually have less freedom than most employed people.

    Steve Rush: That's very true.

    John Warrillow: Like if you go to work for Proctor & Gamble and you put in your fifty hours a week, and you're a good corporate citizen, you can have your weekends, you can have your evenings to do the things that you want to do with your family, et cetera. If you run a company that's dependent on you, your life sucks. You're not only putting in your fifty hours, but you're working all the hours in the evening, the weekends, you're on call for your customers, you’re thinking about it constantly in your back of your mind, worried that this is going to happen, that's going to happen. So, you have none of the freedom and none of the benefits. So, for me, I think if you're going to create a business, really the aspiration should be, if freedom is your goal, to get it to survive without you. And that gives you the ultimate program.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, so you hold all the next play, don't you? And of course, if you are part of the play, so your part of that key human capital, then actually you could be at risk financially and probably the value of the business will be less, I guess.

    John Warrillow: Absolutely.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    John Warrillow: The other piece of this is, that you can get out more cleanly if and when you decided, just did an interview with a woman based in the UK, your name's Jodie Cook, she started a social media company and the beginning, it was her. It was actually JC Social Media or something. It was her initials in the name of the company. So, it was totally dependent on her. And over time she realized that really what she wanted to build was something that didn't actually depend on her. And she ultimately came a decision that she wanted to sell the business and what she did not want to do, which is what most, every entrepreneur in the marketing services industry has to do, was to sign up for an earn-out. An earn-out is when you have a portion of the proceeds of the sale of your company at risk in the future.

    And you've got to reach some certain goals that the acquire puts in place, and Jodie is an independent woman, and she just had no interest in that, right. Of kind of working for a company for three, five years and have some goals out there that she had. So, she said, I'm going to create a business, that's not dependent on me. And she focused on building out her standard operating procedures. These are like the processes that people need to follow to do the work. And she spent months building out these SOPs. I said but Jodie. I mean, for a young entrepreneur, like you, that must have been torture to spend all that time kind of systematizing your business and thinking about all the processes and so forth, Yeah, John think about this way, if you're going to go to jail, would you rather go to jail for four months or four years?

    Steve Rush: It’s an Interesting philosophy, isn’t it?

    John Warrillow: And her point was, I could sell the company, but then I'm going to have to be in a four, five year earn-out, while I’m working for some middle manager who reports to some senior manager, who reports to some division for some giant conglomerate and have no control over my destiny. Whereas if I do this work in creating standard operating procedures now, yeah It sucks for a few months, but man I'm much better off. And so, she sold her company, She left two weeks later and that's almost unheard of in marketing services, almost all marketing services deals have some sort of burnout, but good for her for doing the work.

    Steve Rush: Totally, right. Yeah. So, what's the reason you think then John, that entrepreneurs fall into this trap?

    John Warrillow: You know, I think there's an element of ego to it, if I'm honest, I was just, you know, the same as I think many entrepreneurs. It feels good to be wanted, right? It feels good to be the Knight in shining armor, you know, that swoops in and saves the day and fixes the customer problem. And this, you know, this happens in virtually every industry where you, as the owner gets brought in to some really technical challenge or some difficult customer relationship, and you solve the issue. And for a few months or years, or a few weeks, probably. It feels good to be there and be the Rainmaker for your company. I got a chance; this goes back twenty years. So, bear with me, Steven. It was a while ago, but I got a chance to go to something called the birthing of giants.

    It's simply, it's been renamed, something different these days, but it was a group of sixty entrepreneurs who were invited to MIT's executive education center for a three-year program of entrepreneurship, it’s called the birthing of giants. And we got to hear from these amazing speakers, like Patrick Lencioni who wrote The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and lots of other books in the area of leadership. He came in and spoke, and there's lots of speakers that came in. One day, this guy came in towards the end who just sold his company. And he started off the conversation with a ploy. Okay, raise your hand if you're involved in selling your product or service. And like every one of our hands went up. This is like sixty eager young entrepreneurs, we were all kind of, you know, the fourth grader got with the answer to the question when the teacher asks, like, we were all sort of like proud of that.

    And he said, all right, put your hands down. He says, here's the deal. You've all got the right skills. You're selling the wrong product, hire salespeople to sell your product. Your job is to use those same skills to sell your company. And it was like, for me, it was an epiphany. Like I felt like an amateur who had just seen a professional game for the first time. Like I actually saw that my job was not to do the work. It was actually to sell the company and I don't mean sell it transactionally. I mean, to promote it, to be having conversations with strategic investors, people who might one day want to buy the company, that's the job of the CEO. I'll never forget that meeting again. It goes back twenty or so years now, but it was a real light bulb for me.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it's interesting that a lot of the principles that you've created within your writing and your books are all around that kind of take stock and be thoughtful about your role as the business owner, the CEO, rather than being the practitioner inside the business, right?

    John Warrillow: Absolutely. I think one of the things that helps people get their head around that, or start the journey down the road of getting it to not be so dependent on them is this concept of recurring revenue, because for a lot of businesses, there are some transactional business models, right? So, you kind of run around bidding on jobs, finding clients, responding to RFP’s to win the project, and then it takes it two or three months to delivery. And then you kind of wake up, you delivery the project and then you've got nothing on top to follow and you're on this kind of hamster wheel that gets really frustrating over time. Because you kind of have the sense, I think, at least I did at the time when I was in a kind of a business transaction model where you just not making any progress. Every month, you kind of dread the beginning of the month. Because you know, you have to go create the magic again next month, right. And, you know, sell everybody. And so, I think one of the things in addition to finding one thing that you're really good at, Stephanie Breedlove did, I think the other thing is, is to create some recurrent revenue, put your company as much as possible on an annuity stream where customers have to opt out versus opting in.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    John Warrillow: And I don't mean that in a nefarious way, but I do mean, like if you're a carpet cleaning company, you know, don't wait for your customer to call you to come in and clean their carpets. Most customers frankly have better things to do, then think about how clean their carpets are. And most people only remember to clean their carpets well past the date where they should've had them cleaned, right. Whereas if you say, look, once a month, we'll come in on the third Tuesday of every month and clean your carpet, let us know, if you ever don’t want us to, but we'll be here on the third Tuesday of every month. And all of a sudden, first of all, taken something off your clients or customers to-do list to remember, to have the carpet clean and come in every period of time. And number two, you've got recurring revenue. Now you can decide how many people you need? How many trucks you need on the road? et cetera. It creates this sort of domino effect where it makes a much more predictable business and ultimately a whole lot more valuable. So, I'm a big believer in this notion of recurring revenue as an important element to building a valuable company.

    Steve Rush: Of course, if it's recurring revenue, it's also bottom-line value on the balance sheets as well.

    John Warrillow: Absolutely. I mean, I just looked at this recently, the security companies, you know, the folks we use to secure our homes and offices, you come in and they put together the sensors on the windows and they call the fire brigade if there's a fire. Those companies have two forms of revenue. They've got their installation revenue where they come in and do the initial setup for the system. And then they had their monitoring revenue. And you have the kind of thirty, forty, fifty-dollar revenue a month, they charge us to come on the system. Those companies, when they go to sell a typical acquire will pay about 75 cents for every dollar of installation revenue, because it's kind of one and done transactional, not very valuable. They'll pay between two and three dollars for every single dollar of monitoring revenue. Another way your recurring revenue is worth like kind of three, four dollars for every dollar of installation revenue you have.

    Steve Rush: That’s really fascinating, yeah.

    John Warrillow: We see it in virtually every industry. Carpet cleaning, you can look at HVAC, you know, heating and air condition, any industry. Your recurring revenue is going to be what acquirers place the highest value on.

    Steve Rush: You know, it's just struck me actually, there are a number of different businesses taking the same approach. I have the same now with coffee beans. So, I have a coffee machine. It knows broadly that every two months, I need another three kilograms of coffee beans. And every three months I get a box of coffee beans. So same principle, right?

    John Warrillow: Absolutely. Think about? For that coffee company, how much more valuable you are then sitting around, waiting for the phone to ring or buying Google ad words, trying to get you to stimulate your purchase because that's what most people do. They effectively manufactured demand through advertising. Whereas you're locking in, actively demand by subscribing. It makes it easy for you. You don't have to worry about that, you know, the morning you wake up and there's no coffee beans, it's like the dreaded morning of my life.

    Steve Rush: Absolutely right.

    John Warrillow: And so, knowing that you're going to get that order every two months or whatever preemptively allows you to just kind of sit back and relax and know what's coming. So, it's good for the customer. It's not something nefarious thing. It's good for the customer. Not only that, it makes it way, way easier for the coffee company, because they're probably not, you know, they're probably not growing their own coffee beans. They're probably buying them from a supplier. And when you're at the mercy of a transaction business module, you never know how many coffee beans to buy. I reminded of a company I wrote about in the automatic customer called H. Bloom, and they do flowers on subscription. They focus on hotels that want to have like a fresh cut bouquet of flowers on their reception table. Typical flower store, at least in North America. I'm sure it's the same in the UK or similar. Typical flower store in north America, will throw out sixty percent of its inventory every single month. Why? Because it's dead, rotting in your refrigerator, right? Like you guess wrong, you guess how many people are going to come in and want gerbera daisies, verses roses, verses daisies or whatever. And so, you've got a bunch of inventories you can't sell and you throw it out. 60% of the inventory, a typical flower store is thrown out. H. Bloom comes along and says, we're not going to sell flowers in some retail shop. We're going to sell flowers on subscription, were going to focus on hotels, four- or five-star hotels that just want that bouquet of flowers fresh cut every two weeks on the reception table. There spoilage rate, in other words, the percentage of their flowers they throw out every month is less than 2%.

    Steve Rush: Wow, that's amazing.

    John Warrillow: I mean, if you think about, which company would you rather own? Which company would you rather invest in? I mean, it's not even an argument. A company have a predictable revenue where you only buy the number of flowers you need to fulfill the subscribers you have is a much different model than worrying about guessing how much you need every month. And again, for your example, same thing. They're probably buying their beans from a third-party provider and beans have a shelf life. And if they guess wrong, they've got a bunch of beans that can't sell. Whereas if they get guys like Steve to subscribe, they only buy the coffee beans they have for subscribers, they need to fulfill. And it just changes the business entire.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it really does, yeah. So, when it comes to that moment where I'm now going to sell my business, walk away and leave it, is there ever a perfect time to sell it out?

    John Warrillow: Well, you might make the case that right now is pretty good. I mean, I think, you know, interest rates are very low and of course, acquirers, in many cases in particular, private equity groups are one of those common acquires for SMEs right now. They make their business model work on debt. Like it doesn't work without debt. So, they take on a bunch of debt to buy a business and they try to sell it later on for higher multiple. And they put a little bit of equity in, but they give a lot of debt and that allows them to choose their return on investment for their investors. Private equity is fuel on interest rates. And right now, we're at a point in the history of our world where interest rates are still very, very low. And so that's creating an enormous sort of volume of sort of acquisitions.

    I think on the flip side of that. I think we're also in a point where a lot of SME owners have come through the worst of the pandemic, I realized as we record this, the pandemic is not over, but there is a lot of entrepreneurs that have kind of come through the worst of it and said, enough is enough. I can't do this anymore. And they're willing to leave their company for less than they might have prior to the pandemic. And, I see that again, I do this Built to Sell Radio episode or Podcast. And in the last few weeks I've had that sediment two or three times where people said, yeah, you know, I was just at my wit's end. I wanted out and, you know, almost at any price. And so, I think those two things are off setting one on the right now. On one hand, you've got a lot of demands. On the other hand, you've got a lot of really burnt-out owners who are effectively willing to sell for lower prices. So, I think they're balancing right now, but you might make the case, at least economically that right now is a pretty good time.

    Steve Rush: So, as we start to transition into me hacking into your leadership brain, the last time you and I met, we had a really fascinating conversation around Fortnite and how kids were getting dragged into Fortnite and consumed by video games. And that you had a great parallel to this, which is this whole concept of leadership being a bit like a parent. There's tell our listeners a little bit about that.

    John Warrillow: Well, I think a lot of SME owners, small business owners, think of their role as being the leader of their company, the CEO, oftentimes they're involved in doing some of the selling, the rainmaker, the driver of their company, right. And that's all fine. I think a lot of us would be better served thinking of ourselves, not as the CEO of our company, but as the parent of our company. And again, I'm sure a lot of your listeners are parents. And if you think about your job as a parent, it's, you know, some people want their kids to go to Oxford or Harvard or some fancy school, but for most of us, we would be happy if our kids got out of the basement. They went into the world as adults and they were happy functioning, independent adults and like box check that as a parent, if you're able to succeed and do that.

    And so, you know, despite the fact that many parents are sitting there with their, you know, kids play a lot of Fortnite and wondering, will they ever sort of get out of the house? I think that's the job as a parent is to kind of nudge them and cajole them and teach them to be independent functioning adults. And if we're successful in that, then we've done our job. And again, I think if we go back to our job as the owner of a company, I think if you can get your business to thrive without you, to be independent of you, it is the most rewarding thing in the world psychologically, but it also gives you all the cards when it comes to the value of your company. So, I think we'd be better served in a lot of ways, not thinking of ourselves as a rainmaker, as the CEO, but more as the parent of our business. And our main goal is to get it to become an independent thriving adult.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it’s a really great reframe. I love it. So, we're going to now start to tap into your leadership brain, having led and run businesses and coached other businesses for over twenty years, I want to hack into that leadership brain of yours. So, if you had to distill your top three leadership hacks or tips, what would they be John?

    John Warrillow: I'm a big believer in journaling and really reflecting on what's working and what's not. And whether you do that in a sort of formalized program or just a white paper or white board every week or so. So, I'm a big believer in journaling and having the people you're leading also journal, I think is big win. So, I think it helps you, one for yourself personally. And two, for the people you're leading. I guess, you know, to take that hack to another level. I think there are some really good journaling tools out there. I know I'm a user of the high-performance planner, I this its Brendon Burchard product. I mean, there's nothing magical about it per se, but it's a good journal. And I think having some sort of system around that can be super helpful. So, I'm a big journaling guy.

    Steve Rush: Me too. So, the next part of the show we call it Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something has gone wrong and as a result of it going wrong or not working out well, you've now used the experience as a driver and a positive force in your life and work. What would be your Hack to Attack?

    John Warrillow: You know, I would actually go back to the very beginning of our conversation. And I think my hack was when I really got punched in the nose by a Perry figuratively. And he told me in no uncertain terms, that what I built was not a successful, not a valuable company. And so, I take that, although it was really strong cheese for me to hear at the time and very, you know, difficult, frankly for me to hear, I have now taken that. And also, you know, it's really informed everything that we do professionally, out the books and so forth. So, I think that's been super helpful and I'm also maybe inspired a little bit by that fairly straightforward with business owners, probably it's sometimes offensive at times where, you know, I make the case hopefully gently that a business isn't as valuable as they perceive it to be because it's too dependent on them personally. So, I think I've tried to sort of to honor that as time has gone on.

    Steve Rush: Awesome. Last thing we want to do, give you some time travel. So, if you could go and meet John at twenty-one and give them some words of wisdom, what would your advice to him at twenty be?

    John Warrillow: Stop chasing other people's approval. At twenty-one, I had graduated, I'd left university early because I hated university and I was trying to get a job. And I was in this funny zone where, you know, my father had worked for company all his life and I thought, okay, that's what I should do. I should go get a job and climb the corporate ladder. And so, I also knew at the time that I wanted to do my own thing, be an entrepreneur. And I was in this kind of really conflicted zone where I wasn't sure which path to take. And I spent a couple of years working for a company and probably three years actually. And I wish I had, if I can rewind the tape basically just started as an entrepreneur at twenty-one. I think I would have learned more.

    And I think I would have, you know, in retrospect gotten as much, if not more experience just doing it. So, if I was twenty-one again, I would say, look, this one time in your life where you don't have dependents. You don't have stresses; you can live on a couch. That's the time to start something and really go all in.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, isn’t it?

    John Warrillow: Some people have the opinion, oh, you should work for a company for 10 years, get experience, understand the corporate world and then start a business. Well, good luck doing that when you've got, you know, a spouse, a mortgage, kids on the way, the whole idea just seems so much less attractive. But at twenty-one, I think that's a great time to start something.

    Steve Rush: That’s great words of wisdom. Thank you for sharing that, John. So, we're very fortunate, in the fact that in order to keep our conversation going and keep our listeners connected with your work, you’re going to create a URL for us. So, we can get some free resources to share with us a little bit about how our listeners can get hold of some of that stuff.

    John Warrillow: Yeah, just builttosell.com/hacker. We put together a landing page where you can get free video series on the eight key drivers of value in a company. We've also put the nine Subscription Models at the whole recurring revenue theme was sort of resonated with you. We've got a checklist that you could identify, which of the nine models might work for you. And then the art of selling your business workbook, which again is a digital workbook. You can work through to help you think about what you need to do to get prepared to sell your company. So, it's all free and it's builttosell.com/hacker.

    Steve Rush: Thank you for doing that, John. And that's some great resources and we'll make sure that, they in our show next too, and of course, outside of the corporate arena, you blog, you're regularly quoted in lots of different articles. So, we'll make sure that your social media links are in our show notes as well.

    John Warrillow: Thanks Steve. It was fun being with you.

    Steve Rush: Love chatting, John. Good luck with the new book. Good luck with The Valuable Builder System continuous growth and thanks for being on the community.

    John Warrillow: It's my pleasure.

    Steve Rush: Thanks John.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

  • Dr Alise Cortez is the Chief Ignition Officer at Gusto, Now! A management consultant who ignites passion and purpose. She’s the author of the book Purpose Ignited and the host of her weekly radio show; Working on Purpose Radio. In this show you can learn about:

    How Alise found her purpose and how she ignites othersWhy in finding our true passion, it will help us contribute to the worldHow conscious capitalism is full of purposeThe steps and stages to ignite our passion

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Alise below:

    Alise on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alisecortez/

    Gusto Now Website: https://www.gusto-now.com

    Alise Website: https://alisecortez.com

    Alise on Twitter: https://twitter.com/alisecortez

    Alise on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alisecortez/

    Full Transcript Below:


    Dr. Alise Cortez is a special guest on today's show. She's a management consultant, radio show host and Organizational Logotherapist. But before we get a chance to speak with Alise, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: We've recently had International Friendship Day. So, in the show today, we explored the notion around should leaders be friends with their coworkers and teammates. So can you be properly friends with somebody you work with? While some will say yes and others will say no, yet there's plenty of research to suggest that generally speaking, we highly value workplace friendships and having these friendships positively impacts on the work that we do and our approach to our jobs. A study of thousands of employees by UK based team building company, Wildgoose found that more than half. In fact, it's 57% of workers said that having a work best friend made their work more enjoyable while 22% argue, it makes them as or more productive.

    What's more, it seems that many workers who don't have strong relationships in the workplace may be struggling with things like loneliness, since 15% of those who were surveyed don't have a work best friend, but would ideally like one. All of us appreciate having good friends in our lives says Nic Marks, happiness expert, statistician and CEO of the Friday Pulse. Nick's also a good friend and was the guest on show 18, hacking happiness. Nic said, it's good to have people whom care about us and who care for us. Why should work be any different? Especially when we consider how rational the world of work is. Nic explains, we have a thick core relationship within our team, as well as a thinner, more peripheral relationship with other colleagues and customers and suppliers. The quality of these relationships is not only affects our own experience at work, but work is indisputably better when we get along with people, it's also business critical, but workplace friendships remain a controversial topic for a number of reasons, not least because they're associated with the formation of cliques and friendships can also be potentially undermining effectiveness of teams.

    Some of the worst performing teams, I know are great friends, but they can't get anything done said Pam Hilton, a collaboration expert and author of Supercharged Teams - 30 Tools of Great Teamwork. Collective intelligence research tells us that teams who avoid constructive conflict in favor of consensus make fewer successful decisions because they don't challenge each other enough. Hamilton believes that while it's easy to assume that friendship is the first step towards team ship, it's really the other way around. We need to come to work to achieve something, whether it's to launch a new product or to serve our customers and putting friendship before team ship means that we might launch an inferior product because we don't want to hurt someone's feelings or to forget to serve our customers because we're too busy having a good time. So regardless of whether leaders promote or frown upon workplace friendships, they'll continue to exist.

    Humans are hardwired to form connections with others, and we're likely to form especially strong bonds with those that we have something in common with. Inevitably, we're likely to find more of those people at work. So, the leadership lesson here is awareness. If we're aware of friendships that are productive and helping us as a business move forward, we should encourage and promote it. But where we recognize their clique and holding back performance of productivity, we should challenge it. That's been The Leadership Hacker News. We're looking forward to hearing from you, interesting stories and any insights that you might have. So please get in touch.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Our special guest on today's show is Dr. Alise Cortez. She is the Chief Ignition Officer at Gusto Now. A management consultant who ignites the passion and purpose in her clients. She's the author of the book, Purpose Ignited and the host of a weekly radio show Working on Purpose. Alise, welcome to the show, my friend.

    Alise Cortez: Thank you so much for having me, Steve. It's so great to be on your show.

    Steve Rush: It's great to have you on our show too. And we've had the opportunity to have met a few times over the last year or so. Really looking forward to getting into the whole principle of purpose and passion. But before we do that, maybe just for the folks that are listening for the first time and haven't met yet, be great to give us a little bit of a backstory as to your early life and passions.

    Alise Cortez: Well, I grew up in a small town in Oregon and literally it was a great place to grow up Steve, but honestly, I couldn't get out of there fast enough. And in my late teens, I found myself in Portland and then finally found my way into college at about age 24 after bottling around for a bit and made myself a promise when I got into college, Steve, and that was, I needed to learn French and play the piano. So, I did those things going through my first two years of college. And then I found myself with my boyfriend. And when I was 26 years old, he got moved to Madrid, Spain for his company. And I came with him. I was just a college student. I didn't have a career. And so now here I am, mind you, small town girl from Oregon.

    I've landed in Madrid, Spain. I can speak French. And I learned some Spanish in the restaurant I worked at when I was waiting tables to get through college so I could speak the Spanish. And so, I'm going to Madrid and I'm like, oh my gosh, this place is amazing. Everybody is kissing, there's amazing communication. So, I went all over Western Europe on my French and my Spanish for about six months. And then they moved us to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where then learned Portuguese and went all over South America for two years. And so, Steve, I just couldn't get that out of my system, right.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Alise Cortez: Once that had been imprinted for like almost three years, there was no going back. So that's where the passion for language and travel started.

    Steve Rush: And you still have that passion for language and travel now.

    Alise Cortez: Absolutely, I do in fact, I still use Spanish. I do Spanish programs and I do some Portuguese programs and yes, I keep traveling, absolutely.

    Steve Rush: What do you think it is that creates that Alise in you? Where does that come from?

    Alise Cortez: Yeah, good question. So, you know, I remember distinctly when I was growing up in school, my parents had a big restaurant. Breakfast, lunch and dinner place. And I worked there when I was in high school and waited tables. I was the oldest of four siblings and my parents expected, being the oldest that I would take over the restaurant, but what they didn't know, Steve was that all those years that I was waiting tables in the small little town with 4,800 people. And it was that people from really exotic places like Portland, Oregon would pass through and I would learn from them and hear about these outside world experiences. And I just was drawn to what what's out there. What could there be?

    Steve Rush: You got a really curious mindset as well, haven't you? Which I suspect is why you've ended up doing what you're doing now. Tell us a little bit about how that epiphany came about?

    Alise Cortez: I do have a curious mindset. I'm learning that more and more as I go through life. You know, I have to say, one of the paths to purpose I should say, Steve is paying attention to and learning from what's ailed us in life. And so, you would think that amazing experiences that I had living in Spain and Brazil, where incredibly phenomenally positive, and they were, but at the same time here I was 26 years old living in Brazil. I had a maid, chauffeur and a gardener. I had the world by the tail, you would think, but there was just one problem. And I problem was that I was miserable in many ways, because what I really wanted to do was to matter.

    I wanted to make a difference in the world somehow. And all I was doing was consuming a beautiful life. And what we know about meaning and purposes is, when you're serving other people, that's when you're most fulfilled. So actually, had a meaning crisis back in my mid-twenties. And then later on in my early thirties, when I came back to the states, it manifested into what I would call a sort of an early midlife crisis. And so that my friend is when I found my way into getting a PhD. I didn't have an affair, buy a sports car, no. My answer to a midlife crisis was to get my PhD. So that defining rod that I like to say was working its magic. And then just literally over time, I just kept paying attention to, trying to literally, you know, feel my way to what that dividing rod was trying to tell me to do.

    And that's when I found my way into the human capital industry, some 20 years ago. I began studying meaning and work and identity for my research and PhD, consultant along, engagement performance, leadership, et cetera. And then I have to say, I found myself just this incredible internal force of, you know, replicate that research, at least make it bigger and make it deeper. And I did that in 2014 and I got published by going to a business conference there. And of course, I was in India. So, I have three weeks in India. And I had that experience, right? The experience people talk about going to India, totally stepped into my soul and really realized this is where I need to be. I need to be doing this meaningful purpose stuff really more on a full-time basis. And lo and behold, Steve, right around in there is when VoiceAmerica called me and said, hey, do you want to host your own radio show? Oh my God, this is all connected, right? So that's were working with purpose radio was born. And that's really how it all started for me Steve. It was this ongoing, unfolding, unveiling of like literally my soul emerging from myself, I would say

    Steve Rush: The one thing I noticed about you Alise is, I still don't think you found the end game for you. I know from our conversations that we've had together, that, you know, every day is a school day for you and you're continually learning and continually evolving your thinking and continue looking for new ways to ignite not only other’s purpose, but also finding new elements of purpose for you.

    Alise Cortez: Oh my gosh, thank you for seeing that. I agree with you. And it's so amazing to be seen like that Steve, thank you for that beautiful gift. Yeah, every day is a learning day for me. And I can't wait to see what's around the corner. I have no idea what I'm doing next in terms of how I use this meaning and purpose work in my life and for my clients, but I love it.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, and we'll come back to mindset, which I think determines whether you see things as really exciting and alluring versus scary and doubtful. We'll come back to that in a moment because I want to kind of get into the premise of when you started to do your studies, you bumped into the notion of logotherapy, and that really was quite an inspirational guide for you, wasn't it? In terms of how you evolved and developed your own thinking?

    Alise Cortez: Yeah, you know, I really ran into when I started my PhD studies in my early thirties. And of course, you know, here I was doing a PhD in Human Development. So, I was studying Lifespan Human Development Psychology. Of course, I ran into Viktor Frankl work, he's written like 22 books or something, but logotherapy became really sort of a way of life if you will, for me. And what I was drawn to is that it's really a therapeutic approach that helps people find meaning in life. And the whole premise is that our primary motivational force in life is to find meaning. And so that just made a lot of sense to me. And of course, what did I do? I went off and studied me needing work and identity, but today, why is that one of my two main anchors? It's because that local therapy is really an optimistic approach that teaches that there are no negative or traumatic aspects of life that via the stand we take to them, which is also about mindset. They can't be transmuted into positive achievements. And I find that so empowering.

    Steve Rush: Yes, yes.

    Alise Cortez: Why wouldn't I want to stand in that space.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, so thinking about its linked then to mindset, so you call it your governing star. So, what do you mean by that?

    Alise Cortez: Well, you know, I love that question. Thank you for that. And so, when we think about mindset, it's really our internal operating system, right. It orients where we put our attention and how we interpret the world. And really frankly, it dictates our success and failure. If we think we can? We can. If we think we can't? We can't. It's just so deciding, right? It's so definitive. So that's why I call it your governing star.

    Steve Rush: That’s quite neat, isn't it? And I suspect that's the reason why when you frame it, as it's exciting, I'm really excited about what's coming around the corner. However, perhaps with a different mindset could feel in fear of that?

    Alise Cortez: No doubt about that, absolutely right. And thank you for that. That is such a really important point to make for our listeners because how we orient ourselves to the world. In fact, I was just listening to a podcast this morning when I was getting ready. When we say things like, well, I have a terrible memory. Guess what? You're going to forget things. If you say things like, I remember people's names like nobody's business, guess what? You do. It's just so definitive. So, when you think, what's this great beautiful life that I'm going to go live today versus, oh, what am I dragging myself through today? You can see the difference in the energy right there.

    Steve Rush: And people often say to me, you know, Steve, this is a little bit kind of pink and fluffy, but actually it's based in science. It's neuro-plasticity, it's creating new layers of memory that are either going to help us or hold us back. And I wonder what your experience of that was with perhaps your clients?

    Alise Cortez: Oh gosh, no question about it. You know, one of the greatest things speaking, neuroplasticity. One of the greatest things that I get to do my work, and I think we talked about this when you were on my show is, I have never replicated the positive feeling of witnessing someone, literally their molecules change in front of my very eyes as they transform themselves, right.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Alise Cortez: I don't know of a better feeling than that. And the work that you and I get to do allows us to do that. So, we literally are witnessing that neuroplasticity in the works as we watch them grow. So yeah, and teaching them away. And that's why like therapy so much Steve is because logotherapy teaches them a way to be able to achieve this for themselves every day of their lives. And therefore, I'm empowering them. They don't need me after we work together. If I do my job right, I've empowered them.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, and the empowerment creates habits and positive rituals, and eventually it becomes the way we do things, right?

    Alise Cortez: Yeah, and then it's got infinity to it, right. And magnitude to it, and who knows where that goes.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, exactly. In your book, one of the things that I read that I really loved, and I want us to explore and share with our listeners is the fact that you encourage people to be moment hunters. So, if I'm listening into this today, how do I become a moment hunter?

    Alise Cortez: That's such a delicious question. And thank you again for such a lovely read of my book. So, you're the one who read my book. It's so good to know. So, where I got the whole moment hunter idea Steve, as you know, I've been hosting my radio show, Working on Purpose for six years, and generally speaking, the last two or three years of that has really been interviewing subject matter experts and authors and business leaders. And so, I happened to come across a book called Ichigo Ichie and it's by two authors name, Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. And essentially what they are talking about is this Japanese concept Ichigo Ichie, which means something like what we are experiencing right now will never happen again. And so therefore we have to evaluate each moment like a beautiful treasure, and that takes being present and mindful and grateful for the moments and cherishing them as part of our one precious life.

    And so, when you realized that you literally can be, at least if you allow yourself. A child skipping through life, really enjoying and savoring the moment, what a difference that is again, then dragging yourself through a day, right? So, if I teach you to become a moment hunter and I I empower you and you learn a lifelong habit of doing that, that is a night and day difference to the way that most people tend to go about living. And that's where I want to be. I want to be at moment hunter.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, definitely. It's one of those things it's academically very easy to say, but it's quite difficult to practice to into a habit of doing so. So where would I start with that?

    Alise Cortez: Well, it's first it's mindset and I will tell you the first thing, this is a great story actually, the very first thing you can do is literally I kid you not just at the end of your day, just write down, maybe in a journal, three things you're grateful for. And what that starts to do, is it starts having you look for what's good and right in your life. And the story that I want to tell is one of my clients actually started reading my book and he got to the bit that we're talking about here, a gratitude and writing it down. He said, I got through that in my day. And I realized, I couldn't find three things to say that I was grateful for. This is a very successful man, runs an engineering practice. And he said, that's when I realized I need to fire one of my clients, they are just making me miserable.

    Right? And so, he said, as soon as I got present to that reality, and I then realized what I needed to do, I began to see that there were things to be grateful for. And then I could actually enjoy more moments, but it took him getting present to being miserable with this one particular client and then firing them literally. And what a difference in the lift he got. So again, if you start with what you're grateful for, you'll start to be able to step into the place where you can experience being a moment hunter, and more of that Ichigo Ichie.

    Steve Rush: And in your experience, the more you do that, does that present itself to be more natural in the future?

    Alise Cortez: Absolutely, it's a habit so many things in life, right? It becomes a habit, a way of being, right. I bet you I've gone through this, just like any one of us have, if we really think about it. Moments in time where we are more high on life, right? Then other times when we're a bit more low, but there is a way to cultivate that high. And it centered on mindfulness and centered and that's why mindset is so important, right.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Alise Cortez: And you know that in your work that you do, right? If we're in charge of our mindset, we don't let it govern us. We have a much better chance of being able to be an ongoing moment hunter versus someone who's literally either auditing life or worse yet, walking through life dead.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, definitely so, and much of your work is focused on igniting purpose in others now, and you call out that relationships are a massive part of that. Just tell us about your experience? And also, maybe we can get into some of the techniques that you call out in your book.

    Alise Cortez: Yeah. Yeah, so in my book, I talk about this notion of in terms of wellbeing informed by what Dr. Martin Seligman refers to as the PERMA Model, which of course is an acronym and the R is for relationships. So, what we know about relationships is, we as human beings, we really are, you know, created as a social being, I don't care how introverted you might be or extrovert you might be. We still really do need meaningful relationships in our life to be mentally well and healthy. And so, what we find is that it's the lack of meaningful connection with other people that often contributes to mental and physical demise and where we get into depression and isolation, et cetera. So, finding a way to stoke relationships in a way, the ones that are important to you, not everywhere all the time, but the ones that you choose so that they're healthy and mature and reciprocal is really, really important.

    And let's take it one step further, right? So, when we're working from the place of purpose, the reason that purpose works so well is that it requires us to be serving other people. So therefore, it got a self-transcendent quality to it. And the moment we step out of being absorbed in our own life and our world, and we focus on serving and helping others, we're already in a better place. We're already in a much more healthy place.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Alise Cortez: So that's two reasons why relationships are so important.

    Steve Rush: And you've got a technique called lifeline that you call out in your work, tell us how you would use it?

    Alise Cortez: Yes. So, lifeline refers absolutely to those meaningful connections that you have in your life, whoever they might be. Maybe it's your best friend, maybe it's your partner, maybe it's a child, but the lifeline is really about being, again, mindful and present to that relationship. What are you doing to nurture that relationship? What are you doing to really go looking for and see that other person? And I know that you know this too, because of the work that you do, developing leaders, right, Steve, right. So, to me, what's a great leader? It's the same sort of technique that you would use in the lifeline approach. And that is a great leader of goes looking for what's great and fantastic about the person on their team. And then they look to see how can I lead them to a greater sense of themselves? How can I bring them to see and realize, and go after what I know is even a greater aspect of who they could become? So, to me, a lifeline as you're practicing that sort of set of behaviors in those close relationships in your life.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, the one thing that struck me in reading that as well was we all have choices about our relationships, but we often don't bring that to our conscience enough and that helps us do that, right?

    Alise Cortez: Absolutely, exactly right. And again, that's why, you know, it's so important to have silence in our life too. We are the ones in charge here, not the rest of the world. So as fast as the world moves today, right. If we can come back to hold on just a second, I always have one thing under my domain, and that is my mindset.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, definitely. And it starts there, doesn't it? It literally starts there.

    Alise Cortez: Literally, yes. And ends there. I would say.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, definitely so, yeah, I agree with that. Now, true passion. You've called out in your radio show and the work that you do and it's in your book, you call it out as it being a real contributor to the world. Where have you may be seen that play out the most, or maybe some experiences where you've really seen that work?

    Alise Cortez: This is just where it gets really yummy. How much time did we get to talk about this Steve? That's so awesome, right. Okay, so I want to distinguish two things. So, passion is absolutely a mechanism to be able to contribute to the world meaningfully. So, what I say about passion, and this is absolutely explicated in the book is, passion is really one of our three sources of meaning through energy. I do this through for my local therapy sort of work. So, what passion really is, it's the creative value of what we give of ourselves to the world. It's something only we can uniquely give through our being, right? And so, the more we give of ourselves our passions, the more energy we have, right. And everybody understands the importance of energy, right? So, when we show up and we really channel our passions, what happens there is that can then lead us to our purpose.

    Not always, but it can, it's one path to our purpose. And when we serve from our purpose, of course, now that's where the real magic happens. And this is where it gets really interesting from my perspective, Steve. So, purpose acts as a unique filter through which each of us sees the world. And then when we look through that lens, we see possibilities, or we do something that no one else we've seen or done. And that is the source of innovation impact that we all aspire for. So, you know, that notion of people confuse passionate and purpose. They're not the same thing, right? Passion is really a way of being in the world. It's really sort of anchored in meaning and the expression of what it is that you find meaningful of yourself and purpose of course, is your north star, why? Which orients all of your activities and why you're doing something and the difference that you hope to leave in the world. So that's how I like to see those two together. It's profoundly important to be able to go after passion and purpose.

    Steve Rush: And they're not mutually exclusive, are they?

    Alise Cortez: No, not at all.

    Steve Rush: And people often get them confused. What causes that?

    Alise Cortez: That's a great question, you know, one is, we can't go through a day to day, I don't think Steve, without encountering, at least the words, meaning and purpose. People confuse those two words as well. And so, I think the reason people confuse them is because that word, passion, purpose, and even meaning has become so overly utilized and therefore it diminishes its utility. And it just becomes part of the parlance almost like saying things like yeah and huh.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, indeed.

    Alise Cortez: It delude it.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I can see that. And unconsciously then by just merely saying, I have purpose, doesn't actually mean that you have purpose. It needs to be backed up by lots of other evidence and actions.

    Alise Cortez: Boy, now you're getting at one of my major pet peeves, Steve. So, when people say things like, you know, if I see another sign that says muffin on purpose, tires on purpose, I'm going to go ballistic, right? So, people say things like, well, you know, I do this on purpose or such is my purpose. Well, just because you declare something which becomes like a goal for you, does not make it purpose. The only thing that makes something purpose is that one, it literally is that which is called from within you and the service through that you’re channeling for, makes a difference to the world and is in service of other people. Very often when people say things like, well, such and such is my purpose, engineering is my business or my purpose or whatever. Developing people, even as my purpose, if you just declaring it as something that you do or a goal, it's not your purpose, it's not the same thing at all.

    Steve Rush: Totally agree with that, totally.

    Alise Cortez: Right.

    Steve Rush: So, one of the things that struck me and I've never come across this notion before of conscious capitalism, but underpinning that is all of those things around passion and purpose. But I wondered if you could share with the listeners, what your view of conscious capitalism is and how we might want to use them in our roles as leaders?

    Alise Cortez: Another yummy topic for me, I actually devoted the last chapter of my book, as you probably know, because you read it, too the idea of conscious capitalism, that's chapter nine. And I have recently joined the board of Conscious Capitalism here in Dallas as well. To me, it makes so much sense. So let me share, there's four tenets actually of a conscious capitalism that will help our listeners really understand how it works and why they might want to be involved. So, the first tenets is just higher purpose. And so, this really gets to knowing your company's why and doing business beyond profit. If you're just in business to make money, that's one is going to get empty pretty fast. And two, you're not going to distinguish yourself in the marketplace among others that have elevated their gaze above just profit.

    So hard purposes is the first tenant, the second tenant is stakeholder orientation. And what that is, Steve is that's really a recognition that a business has an interdependence on the ecosystem in which it operates. And so, it's important that a business is focused on serving its employees, its customers, its suppliers, investors, the community, and the planet. Those are all part of the ecosystem in which it operates. And too often, what happens is we're focused on investors at the expense of everything else. And that's where the train falls off the tracks. So, the third tenet is conscious leadership. And so, this is the notion really that, you know, the human social organization, right? And so, it's guided by leaders who understand that they need to inspire others to travel along the same path of consciousness and purpose with them. To raise them along the way like I've been saying, and then the fourth tenet is conscious culture, right?

    So that's the FOS, the values, the principles, the practical’s that underlie that social fabric of the business and connects the stakeholders to each other, united in their purpose and their processes. And of course, there people, so those are the four tenets. And if you listen to those, I can't imagine that you go, heck, I don't want to do that, right.

    Steve Rush: Exactly, yeah.

    Alise Cortez: What about any of that would make you say that you don't want to play with that? I don't understand. So, to me it's such a natural obvious path that unites the best of what we've been doing together as humanity to bring us forward. So, I think for me, it's a no brainer and it's important that listeners also know that conscious capitalism is only one of like 20 different organizations that are stewarding a similar mindset like this in business. So, this is becoming much more ubiquitous.

    Steve Rush: And its okay, to make money and be a capitalist underpinning all of the service to other people, if it's purposeful, right?

    Alise Cortez: Absolutely, in fact, you know, that's the thing about it is, what I appreciate about conscious capitalism is it celebrates capitalism as the best system that we found so far in the world. And frankly extends and expands it so that it actually serves even more interest to lift more boats. So yes, absolutely, profit is fantastic.

    Steve Rush: There's almost a mystique around the word capitalism because it has a different connotation in people's minds, but actually as you've described it with those principles, it becomes a really honorable and emotive thing to be thinking about as a leader, right.

    Alise Cortez: Oh, I liked the way you said that, Steve. Yeah, so to me what that is, is why would you get out of bed in the morning and go, you know, I think I just kind of want to fly under the radar and just do the minimum that it takes to get by. Why would you do that? When you could lift your gaze just a little and say, hmm, who could I help today? Who else could I help today? What else could I do to make the world slightly better today?

    Steve Rush: Yeah, and suppose if there were people listening in today who maybe don't naturally have that passion or still haven't yet found their purpose, maybe having a mindset that says, you know, it's too late for me to change. What would you say to ignite that passion today?

    Alise Cortez: Oh, well you're not going to like the first thing that I would probably say to them, let me say it anyway. So, if somebody said to me, you know what, it's too late for me to change. I can't find my passion. What I would say to them Steve is, get your shovel. Let's go ahead, you and I both start digging your grave because you're practicing death right now. And that's what I would say. So, it's never too late to work on passion. I don't care if you're in your nineties or a hundred, you know, I will tell you, Steve definitively, both of my parents died 28 days apart in January of 2019 and I'm firmly and all the more affirm in my logotherapy work. My mother was 73 years old. Yes, she had suffered a long time from COPD and she was tired of the suffering. She was ready to leave, but I am absolutely 185% convinced that if she had done something, than sit and watch the TV all day, she got out and even volunteer one hour, a week of her beautiful mind and given to the community. Gave her humor, which is part of her passion. She would still be with us today. That's how important passion and meaning are today. They actually literally can save your life, do save your life.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I agree. And it, again comes back down to mindset because if you think you can’t, when you think you can, you probably, right,

    Alise Cortez: You are right, yeah.

    Steve Rush: So, the next part of the show we get to do is spin around a little and I'm getting now tap into your awesome leadership brain. And the first thing I'm going to do is try and distill your experiences and ideas into your top three. So, if you had to do that, what would they be?

    Alise Cortez: My top three are, just coming off the last question that you asked. The first and foremost, find and plug into your passion. And the reason why is, just I've shared, when you live and work from it, you're irresistible, you're magnetic. People want to follow people on fire in their own life, right? So that's the first thing. Find and plug in your passion. The second thing which I've already alluded to is become an inspirational leader. And the way you do that is first you're on fire for your own life. And then you go looking for what's amazing and different about each team member that you have and you help them lead them into their greater self. That's how you become an inspirational leader. And then third go looking for and articulate to each of your team members, how their work threads up into the company's overall purpose. So, it's really important. What this does is it helps that individual person recognize just how important the work that they're doing is, and therefore it gives them meaning. And so, when we feel like we're connected to something bigger than ourselves, it's incredibly motivating. So go help them understand how the work they're doing, connects to the company's larger whole and purpose.

    Steve Rush: I love that, and also connecting those dots will create that higher purpose, which will lead to yes conscious.

    Alise Cortez: Yes, if we do it right, exactly.

    Steve Rush: So, the next part of the show, we call it Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something in your life or work hasn't worked out. Could have been catastrophic or you screwed up. But as a result of the experience, you've learned from it and is now a positive in your life or work. So, what would your Hack to Attack be Alise?

    Alise Cortez: Well, I'm not recommending this for everyone or anyone for that matter, but this really worked well for me. And it's this little called divorce.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, little thing, right.

    Alise Cortez: It was not my idea to get a divorce. I'd been together with my ex-husband for 18 years, but it was a very good idea as it turns out and what it did was it forced me out of a certain apathy that I had fallen into in life. And it forced me to catalyze into a higher being and to grow and to learn from the pain and, you know, starting off in a different place in life. And I needed that. In fact, I will tell you that in my view, we all need this agitation catalyst in our life to grow and change. And I'm not saying it needs to be divorced, but usually it needs to be something pretty hard.

    Steve Rush: A disruptor.

    Alise Cortez: A disruptor, yes. Thank you.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Alise Cortez: And so that was a huge disruptor for me. And what it did Steve, was it gave me this fantastic clearing that I could pursue, whatever I saw in front of my path that I wanted for myself. There were no more excuses for myself. And that was one of the best Hack to Attacks for me in my life to date so far.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, do you think you would have found your purpose had that not happened?

    Alise Cortez: I already had found my purpose. Here's the amazing thing. I was not living not living Steve and you know what? I hated myself for it. I hated myself for it.

    Steve Rush: Interesting, Isn't it? Yeah, it was always there, but you were probably suppressing a lot of it?

    Alise Cortez: Yeah, the worst thing is, is that when you're aware of it and you're not doing something about it, I will tell you that it's hell on earth. It really is.

    Steve Rush: I can see that. The last part of the show, we give you the opportunity to go back and meet Alise and do some time travel and you get to bump into her at 21. And give her some of your words of wisdom. What would your advice to her be?

    Alise Cortez: Oh gosh, you know, I would tell her to listen to the wisdom emanating from within. So, Steve, when I was about 21 years old, I did know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was one of those people that felt like to your point, I'd always been very curious. I'd done a lot of reading. I found all of this self-help literature in Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled. And you know, I was reading all those kinds of books and I came running to my mother one day and I said, mom, I know exactly what I want to do when I grow up. And I said, I want to lead success seminars. And she burst out laughing. She said, you can't do that. You are not successful. And then of course the little dream in me shriveled up and died.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Alise Cortez: Well, what am I doing today essentially is, I'm helping people to really discover that which ignites them and helping them steward their field of human growth and transformation. And I didn't know how to call it anything else back then, except for success, which she was right. I wasn't successful back then. But what I would tell my 21-year-old self is listen to that just because you didn't quite get the words, right. There is a wisdom in there that when you listen to that, which is emanating from within you, it's trying to tell you something. Now the divining rod ultimately came around and took me there, but it took me 20 some years later to get back on that track.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, indeed. Good words of wisdom to have had at the time, maybe.

    Alise Cortez: Exactly.

    Steve Rush: And of course, everything happens for a reason, doesn't it? So, the other kind of, part of your evaluation that you take us on through your book is that it's kind of, everything is a learn. Everything is a lesson. If you choose to have that thought process around it, right?

    Alise Cortez: Yeah, absolutely, I love that. Everything is a lesson, there's so much to learn and enjoy and appreciate in this wonderful thing called life.

    Steve Rush: So, what's next for Alise, what are you working on?

    Alise Cortez: Yeah, gosh, what am I not working on? So, I've got my next a women's anthology book is coming out as being published next month, where I found 25 women from across the world to tell their stories, it's coming out in a book called Passionately Striving and Why. So that's one thing, I'm also working on the men's anthology as well. Looking for stories of men who are working from purpose from around the world, would love to hear from someone if they are. And then the other thing that I'm working on, that's really got my attention. You know, when we were going through the pandemic, I was trying to figure out how can I help? What can I do, right? How can I help more people, especially get out of any kind of a mental or wellbeing, demise or malaise? And I discovered that I could actually take the first part of my book which is really about how to develop passion and purpose within yourself and create that as a wellbeing, subscription, mini model for employees inside companies. So, they get literally a wellbeing, drip of content, of exercises and listening to something for a podcast every week. So, what I'm doing now is bringing that into companies as a subscription model. So that's what it's really got my gaze and my focus right now.

    Steve Rush: Excellent stuff. Good luck with that. Both projects or good luck with all three projects.

    Alise Cortez: Thank you. Yes, I told you, I’m having more fun than I'm supposed to have, so don't tell anybody.

    Steve Rush: I know, it's too late now. It’s all out there.

    Alise Cortez: The cat's out of the bag, is it okay?

    Steve Rush: Exactly, yeah. So, if folks wanted to find out a little bit more about your work, where's the best place for us to send them?

    Alise Cortez: Easy to go to my website, alisecortez.com, that's the easiest place to go.

    Steve Rush: And there's a bunch of resources on there. There's links to your other social media that you're active on as well. And of course, you can get hold of a copy of Purpose Ignited, can’t they?

    Alise Cortez: Absolutely, and please do.

    Steve Rush: So, I always love chatting to you. There's never a time where we've spoken, where I haven't felt juiced up as a result of it. And that's no exception today. So, I just want to say thank you for unlocking purpose in our lives.

    Alise Cortez: oh, thank you so much for having me Steve, it's been a delight.

    Steve Rush: Love chatting to you.

    Alise Cortez: Likewise.

    Steve Rush: Thanks, Alise.

    Alise Cortez: Likewise, thank you.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handle there @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

  • Dr. Laura Gallaher is a keynote speaker, a leadership coach and Organizational Psychologist. She is also the CEO at GALLAHER EDGE. In this super interesting conversation, you can learn about:

    How she leads culture change using a blend of org’ psychology and industrial engineering.Learn about the “inside out” model and that is all starts with self.Why changing culture, you can influence positive outcomes and performance.How to recognise if you have imposter syndrome, how you can go about dealing with that.

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Laura below:

    Laura on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/laura-gallaher-phd/

    Gallaher Edge Website: https://www.gallaheredge.com

    Laura on Twitter: https://twitter.com/drlauragallaher

    Laura on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/drlauragallaher/

    You can get Laura’s new book here

    Full Transcript Below:


    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    Our special guest on today's show is Dr. Laura Gallaher. She's an Organizational Psychologist. Who's worked with Walt Disney and NASA to help transform culture. She's now a speaker and the CEO of GALLAHER EDGE, but before we get a chance to speak with Laura, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: If you're a regular listener of the show, you will know that we love diversity and difference on this show. One the news today we explore what leaders can learn about mindfulness and entrepreneurship from Bhutan of all places. So where is Bhutan? Well, it's a small kingdom located deep in the Himalayas and native of Bhutan Dr. Karma Phuntsho who's an Oxford educated founder of the Loden Foundation believes that leadership lessons from Bhutan can lead anyone to success in life and in business. Dr. Phuntsho first discovered the benefits of mindful leadership after studying as a Buddhist monk for over 10 years, he then obtained his PhD at Oxford, completed some research at Cambridge and was the first Bhutanese Oxbridge fellow.

    As self-described go-between linking Western business philosophies with Buddhist traditions, Dr. Phuntsho contains fascinating insights on humanity, culture, business, and how leadership ties it all together. Perhaps nothing demonstrates this more than the Loden Foundation. His non-for-profit organization for aspiring Bhutanese entrepreneurs built on mindfulness, innovation and tradition. At the Lowden Foundation, Dr. Phuntsho, whose mission isn't only to create a thriving network of Bhutanese businesses, but it's also to shape tomorrow's entrepreneurs as a force of good within their communities throughout the world. In 2008, Dr. Phuntsho, along with a small group of colleagues launched the Lowden Foundation to face the growing challenge of high unemployment in Bhutan, along with a lack of entrepreneurial spirit, largely caused by the tradition of hand-me-down farming, the non-for-profits supports entrepreneurship in Bhutan through education, inspiration, and outreach. They also offer interest free collateral free loans through the Lowden Entrepreneurship Program, which ties the repayment plans to the businesses strategy and structure.

    To date they've supported over 5,000 aspiring entrepreneurs and funded over 200 businesses in Bhutan, 72 which are run by women, the Lowden Foundations dedicated to preservation of Bhutan's culture and deeply rooted in its Buddha beliefs. And with this comes the intrinsic tie to being mindful, compassionate business leaders. And of course, demonstrating those mindful and compassionate leadership practices, cornerstones of course of the Buddhist philosophy. What Dr Phuntsho believes should be the cornerstones of every leader's philosophy, no matter where they live on the planet, he says it's important for us to bring prosperity, to improve people's ordinary standard of living, but we have to seek that without losing the overall meaning of life. And one wonderful way to never forget the joys of life is, been remembered that every human, every organization is somehow interconnected. And there's a great leadership lesson here. Of course, mindfulness and compassion are given these days, but the role that habits, rituals and mindsets play in communities is still rife and it sometimes takes a bold leader to disrupt that status quo. So, the next time you notice rituals or habits that may be holding your community or team back, will you be that disruptor? That's been The Leadership Hacker News. We'd love to hear your stories, insights from wherever you are in the world. Bring difference to our difference. So please get in touch with us.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Our special guest on today's show is Dr. Laura Gallaher. She is a keynote speaker, a leadership coach and Organizational Psychologist, is also the CEO at GALLAHER EDGE. Laura, welcome to the leadership hacker podcast.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Thank you so much for having me, Steve.

    Steve Rush: So, I'm really keen to find out how you ended up leading GALLAHER EDGE and what happened beforehand. So just give us a bit of a potted history of your kind of early career and some of the passions that led you to do what you do?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Absolutely, I started looking at psychology in college and thought I would go the route of being a therapist, something kind of, you know, traditional psychology starter type. And then I realized how interested I was in social psychology. What happens when we get groups of people together? And what are the ways that we form impressions and how does that affect the way we treat each other? And then I realized there's this whole field called Industrial Organizational Psychology, where we can look at those kinds of dynamics in the context of the workplace. So, I came from Phoenix, Arizona over to Orlando, Florida, and I studied Organizational Psychology for another five or six years after undergrad and got the chance to work for NASA. So, I was working for NASA while I was finishing up my PhD. And after about seven years there, I started this business GALLAHER EDGE on the side of the NASA job. And after about 10 months of that, I was like, you know what? Let me try this full time. And after about six months of that, I was like, Ooh, I don't know about this. And I went back to a nine to five role with Disney and 10 months later, I was like, you know what, I'm going to try this again. And so ever since 2015, I have been running GALLAHER EDGE as my full-time role.

    Steve Rush: Excellent, and it was really interesting from the notes I made when we spoke first, you joined NASA at a real kind of pivotal moment in their history, and it was not long after the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy back in 2003. And you were called in to help transform and enhance the culture at the space center in Kennedy Space Center. What was it you noticed about what was happening at NASA at the time and what did you learn from that time?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, so it was a really somber way to get things started my in my career, you know, and I obviously believed in the importance of psychology and organizational psychology, but to have the chance to come in and work for NASA. When they did the investigation about the accident, the investigation board report said that NASA's culture was as much to blame for the accident is the actual piece of foam that struck the orbiter during the launch.

    Steve Rush: Wow.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: So, yeah, it was a pretty strong indictment of the culture and what I find so incredibly remarkable about this. And you know, I worked very closely with my now business partner, Dr. Phillip Meade. He had been out at the Space Center. He was working there for many years before the accident occurred. Was that just months before the accident happened, NASA was rated the number one place in the Federal Government by its employees. So, when they surveyed all of the employees and every agency of the Federal Government about their workplace and how engaged they were and how motivated they were and how much they had job satisfaction, NASA was number one. So, I don't know about you use Steve, but when I hear like, oh, culture was to blame for this tragedy, I'm like, Ooh, man, that must've been a, what a mess, you know.

    Steve Rush: That’s right, not aligned is it?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: It must've been just awful, people not getting along, like overbearing managers. Like this must be a terrible place to work and that wasn't the case. And so, what evolved in the work? I mean, I learned so much in my time there was understanding that there's a difference between having a quote, good culture and a quote, effective culture. So, it's really important to be able to say, what is it that we're actually wanting to achieve and accomplish in terms of results and how we truly designed the culture in a way that we will get those results versus just, hey, do people like working here?

    Steve Rush: That's a really interesting dichotomy, isn't it?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: As you're saying it, I'm trying to kind of frame it almost as in so much as good cultures don't necessarily give you great performance. So, what was the gap if you like between the two?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Of course, as you can imagine, you know, culture. So, we described cultures as emergent property. It's based on the interactions of the common behaviors and beliefs with the employees and organizations are complex adaptive systems. So, I definitely won't have time during our conversation today to get into all of the details about it, right. And the reason I qualify it so much is because I think it's really easy for anybody to be outside of a situation and look in and go, how could they be so stupid? So, some of what I want to describe an point out, it's easy for somebody to fall into altruism and go, oh, well, I would never do that, right? Or that would never happen here. And when you do that, that's a deep form of defensiveness that stops us from learning from the mistakes of other people.

    Steve Rush: It does, yeah.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: So, my invitation to everybody listening is, you know, see how you can actually take some lessons away from some of what I can share about NASA history and find out when might that also be true for me, right. Rather than going like, man, how did they miss that or whatever. So, there's really three levels that I can talk about when I explain what was happening in NASA culture, leading up to the accident. This is based on our inside out model. We have self at the core, everything comes back to self, and then we have team as the middle layer. And then we have the organizational level at the broadest layer. So, these like three concentric circles. So, at the organizational layer, one of the biggest challenges is they had the program manager for shuttle in charge of everything from safety and technical concerns, but also programmatic concerns like budget and schedule.

    So, when it comes down to it, you're looking to one person to try to effectively balance all of those things at the same time, that's just an organizational design flaw. You don't have people sitting around the table with an equal level of leadership, voicing their opinions when it comes to, well, what does technical say? What does safety say? Okay, what does the program say? It was all falling on one person. And so, they were essentially unknowingly creating a virtually impossible situation for this person to actually make good decisions, right? So, a big piece of what we looked at was how can we design the organization differently so that we're not asking people to fight against the system and ask an engineer who's two or three or four or five levels down from the program manager and say, yeah, stand up in a meeting and say, hey, I don't have a lot of data, but I'm really worried about the shuttle. Even though y'all have made a bunch of decisions in the past to say that we don't need to worry about this during flight, like, wow, like that's really challenging. So, at the org level, work design matters a ton, you really want to pay attention to how the design of the organization affects the culture.

    Steve Rush: My experience, having worked in lots of different organizations is often they try to fit org design to fit the team and the individual into the organization and not the other way around.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, we work with our clients and organizational design, it's so funny because I'm a psychologist and more so human centric. And when we go into that process, we're like, okay, we really want you to not think about people. Like don't think about human beings. Don't think about who you have right now. We really want you to think about the organization as a system, the organization as a machine. And we want to design it optimally to get the results you want to get and not design it around the specific humans, right. Because then you kind of end up like duct taping things together. Like, oh, well this person, I don't know if we have right now a right person to play a chief revenue officer role. So, let's not do that. Let's just go ahead and, you know, keep this kind of biz-dev over here and this kind of sales here, or like, oh, you know what? I don't know if these two people really get along very well. So even though it makes sense for them to be in the same department, let's just break those up. They're doing the best they can, and sometimes they make very flawed decisions for org design because they're trying to base it around those specific people.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I can see that.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, so that was the org design, one of the biggest org design pieces. And that was one of the biggest initiatives that I supported when I first started my work there. At the team level, there were some things happening with communication. So, one of the findings that just, it actually got a lot of attention at the time was the phone strike. And so, for anybody who doesn't know, just briefly during the final launch of Columbia, a piece of foam fell off of the external tank, which is the large orange structure on the shuttle system.

    And it struck the orbiter, which is the part that looks like the plane. And they didn't know exactly where it hit. They could see that it hit, they could see it and make contact. They could estimate the general size of the foam, but they just weren't sure. And foam had been hitting the orbiter. Unfortunately, it happened numerous times before and it had never been dangerous. It was always something that they had to deal with when they check the orbiter back and processed it to get ready for the next flight. They would need to change out some of the tiles for the heat shield, you know, so they previously made a decision like, hey, when foam strikes happen, we don't have to worry about it in flight. It's something that we'll deal with during processing. So, this was something that they thought they decide and the foam strike, and because they didn't know exactly where it hit.

    And it looked quite large. It was some conversation, but it was like a third sub bullet, on a PowerPoint slide or something like that. And, you know, a presentation to the decision makers. And so that was one of the things that got a lot of attention was, hey, like what's happening with our team communication here and are we over-relying on trying to make things really brief and succinct and not giving things enough airtime to really understand what it is that we're deciding. So that's one of the things that I really invite leaders to do is, we're all so busy, right? And we all feel so stretched for time. And it's so tempting to just want to push through decisions really quickly and not give them enough airtime. But, in some cases, unfortunately in this case potentially catastrophic.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, sometimes you just got to go slow to go fast, haven’t you?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Absolutely, I slow down to speed up is one of our favorite mantras. We're always inviting our clients to do it. And do you know what? We work on it too. It’s something that we feel is vital, so I can understand the difficulty. And the other piece that I want to share, it just always stood out the most to me as a psychologist, was that the self-level. So, at the self-level, when it comes to culture, there were numerous people, numerous little groups, little teams, actually around NASA that were looking deeply into this issue of the foam hitting the orbiter, and they were really concerned. They were really concerned, but they didn't have a lot of data. And NASA is very data-driven. And so, like I was starting to allude to earlier, it's really difficult. It was difficult to NASA culture at the time to say, hey, I know we've made a decision in the past.

    That foam is not something to worry about in flight, but let's just pretend that's not true. And also, I don't have any data to actually tell me that this is going to be a catastrophe, but it might be. So can we talk about it and spend some more money to get some imagery so we can just determine better. That was a request that actually was made, but it was being made in all of these indirect ways, all these indirect channels and because of the interrupt, personal fear to like really stand up and say, you know, hey, I'm actually terrified about this. And I don't have data to back me up. Every time the request to get more imagery, was shut down. It wasn't well understood. And at a certain point, people stopped fighting for it because they just didn't know.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, and as a result, a catastrophic event happened, it could have been prevented. Had somebody been a bit more forthright or had communicated more effectively?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, I mean, there’s probably numerous conversations, right? That could have gone differently.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: And one of the additional challenges is, if they did in fact get the imagery and discover, oh no, this is quite a large hole that the foam has created in the orbiters wing. They actually didn't know what they would do about it. There was no clear path or plan to fix that problem. And so, part of what we believe is that, if I don't think that I know how to solve a problem, or if I don't think that there's anything that I can do about it, then subconsciously I might actually convince myself that it's not really a problem. And then not even allow myself to be fully aware of it. And that's a big part of what we think was happening when it came to the decision making of the shuttle program manager at the time, just, you know what, it's not an issue. There's nothing we can do about it, so it's not an issue. There's actually a quote in the Columbia accident, investigation board, almost exactly to that effect.

    Steve Rush: That’s really fascinating. We could spend loads more time on that, I'm sure. But culturally, that kind of three layers that inside out model you just described, all played out here, you can still have a good culture, but that's where performance problems can happen.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, it's, you know, there are so many things that unfortunately ended up working against the intention. Like one of the key things that was also happening for the agency was there was a lot of pressure, mean the shuttle program at this point was over 20 years old, it was constantly considered to be on the chopping block in terms of budget. Maybe they were afraid the program could be canceled. Everything that they were doing to build a space station would potentially be canceled. They had huge schedule pressure to get the international space station finished by a certain date. So, this whole like save the program mentality, led people to subconsciously make much more risky decisions than they would have otherwise. And we equate it to, you know, if there's a large beam, just going 50 feet off of, you know, the Sears Tower and I put a hundred-dollar bill at the end, are you going to walk out and get it? Most people would say, no, I'm going to pass. But if I put your child out at the end of that beam, are you going to go and get your child?

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it changes the dynamic somewhat, doesn’t it? Yeah.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Absolutely, so when it's like save the program, saves the baby. Because that's how the program, the shuttle program felt for a lot of people, they would subconsciously start making riskier and riskier decisions to save the program. So riskier decisions to try to maintain schedule, riskier decisions to say, oh, we don't have to worry about that right now because we need to keep moving forward. And so those were a lot of the things that we helped leaders pay attention to and take a look into.

    Steve Rush: Some great lessons too.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Absolutely.

    Steve Rush: So, you were then hired by Walt Disney to help with their brand. And this is another interesting dynamic in so much as that when people think of Walt Disney they think of this high energy, positive culture. Tell us a little bit about what your experience was like with Walt Disney and then how that might have changed their perspectives around what culture meant for them?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: When, I was working for Disney. I was really excited about what they were focusing on because the big culture change, they were wanting to bring was around changing how I did performance management. And if you think about performance management in any organization, if you ask people like, hey, how do you like it your performance management process and system? It tends to just get met with groans, right? Leaders start to look at those conversations as like performance rating, justification conversations, employees tend to feel, you know, demoralized and frustrated and judged. They feel like they ended up trying to defend their own performance. Like almost nobody likes them. And the worst part is they don't actually tend to improve performance, which is the whole point. They're supposed to help improve performance. And so, what I loved about what they were doing was they wanted to get away from this whole idea of, you know, judging the people and saying, here's your rating, right?

    We're going to grade you now to say, no, we want to train leaders how to coach. It's a totally different part of the brain. It's a different way to show up, it requires growth mindset, right? And not just for oneself, but a belief that this person I'm talking to can and absolutely will grow. And we're in it together kind of thing. And so, I thought that was a really exciting project that they were doing and huge because it changes so much of what people are comfortable with. This idea of like, it's so much, we just kind of give people a grade and then move forward. And so, I was working with them primarily on that project. And it was actually still an ongoing project when I made the decision to leave and focus full-time with GALLAHER EDGE.

    Steve Rush: It's a massive mindset shift though, isn't it?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yes.

    Steve Rush: Moving away from self-justification of here's what I've done versus here's how I'm helping the future evolve, which is what that coaching culture will create, right?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, part of what I took from that, and I have continued to build on with the clients I work with now is a paradigm chapter, I mention model chapter around, what does it mean to look at your employee’s performance? Stop thinking about your employee's performance as a result of, you know, your employee's competence, right? It's their performance is actually a result of their performance and your performance and the relationship the two of you have together. And when you start to think about your employee's performance in that way, then it really makes it feel in these conversations like this is you and me on the same side, working toward a solution together versus that you versus me thing that happens with those performance justification conversations, right? Of the more traditional style.

    Steve Rush: Exactly, and the other really strange notion I've found is that you actually can't manage performance when it's done, it's done. When you have achieved a result, it's done, it's locked in time and history from that point onwards and therefore spending time over analyzing that is almost counter-intuitive, isn’t it?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, it can take people backwards. You may remember where this came from Steve. I can't remember the attribution, but feed forward instead of feedback.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it’s something I deployed all the time,

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Love it. It's such a powerful concept and it starts to become like we use this communication framework. It's an acronym, Fric. It's FRIC. And so, you know, useful, especially when you think about this whole paradigm is shifting performance management away from rating and judging and more into just regular coaching conversations. We want it to be regular. We want it to be timely. We want it to happen in the moment. And so sometimes that it's hard. People are like, Ooh, these are hard conversations. So go ahead and start with the fear of the feeling. Get that out of the way, acknowledge if there is any emotion that you're noticing within yourself as your parts of the conversation, just lead with vulnerability. The R is for request, what do you want? And this is an example of feed forward.

    So, I'm not harping on somebody for something that like you've said, Steve is done. It's in the past, it's over, it cannot be managed, but I can make a request of what I would like from you in the future. And it's not a demand, it's a request. And then the, I is for inquiry, which is essentially, you know, what can I do to make it easier for you to honor my request? And this is recognizing that whole co-creation idea, this recognizes like, hey, whatever's happening with us, whatever's happening with the performance. We're both creating it. We're both contributing to it. And I think I see something that I'd like from you, that's my request. What do you see within me? What would you like for me? How can I also participate and move together with you towards a solution? And then you want to get to at least one commitment, maybe two. And sometimes it's more, sometimes people have some communication debt and they don't really talk openly for a while. And so, they actually want to go back and forth to make multiple requests. And what they're doing is they're designing how they want to work together. And it's very, very effective at getting people past some of these conversations that they normally avoid, whether it comes to improving performance or improving team dynamics or anything like that.

    Steve Rush: I love the simplicity of that little model and you can actually help just frame the conversation as well if you use that simple process as well. And one of the other things I also noticed that kind of is aligned to that almost is the principle. When people talk about performance, I get people to talk about the performer rather than performance, because the performer drags their performance, between better and different.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yes, very true. Yeah, I keep the focus on the person.

    Steve Rush: Love it. What are the things that you're working on with GALLAHER EDGE and blending that psychology and industrial psychology together?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, so this is really fun. So, I mentioned Dr. Phillip Meade is my business partner and he and I worked at a closely at NASA following the Space Shuttle Columbia accident. So, we've worked together now for, I guess, about maybe 15, 16 years, something like that. And so, he's got this industrial engineering background and I've got this industrial organizational psychology background. And so, when we bring that together, it's been for me at least, it's been really cool because I get to stay really focused on the psychological elements. I get to stay deep within the human issues that are going on because humans within ourselves, we are these complex adaptive systems, right. But then at the organizational level, there's this whole macro, you know, systems, theory, systems thinking, and how can we really make sure that we're fully designing everything, so we use metaphors of like, you know, designing a car, like, what are the design requirements of a vehicle?

    Are you trying to create like a dump truck that can carry heavy loads? Are you trying to design a race car that can turn really quickly around a corner? Like there's no good or bad, but let's just be really intentional. So, he's brought so much of that macro, like organizational level thinking and allowing me to stay really focused on the human side. And we've built this model that really connects all of that, where we focus on these cultural traits, these things that emerge, you know, maturity, diversity, community, and unity, but we tie it deep into human motivation, like fundamental human motivation. We cause that there are four key drivers within us. And this gets you away from carrots and sticks, right? This is just human staff. We are all driven for growth, for belonging, for connection and for identity. And so, you know, these are like the missing links. We talk about linking the human beings together in a way that we can tap into these drivers, these fundamental motivations, and then what we get are these emergent traits. And so that's been a really exciting process. We've writing a book about that and tying in all the work that we did with NASA's culture, following the accident, what we've learned and how we've continued to apply that throughout working with different clients throughout different industries over the years.

    Steve Rush: It'd be great to get you and Phillip back on a later show when the books out and really get into some of that together.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: That will be fantastic.

    Steve Rush: So, from the last time we met, which is you present as a really confident, successful individual, who's got a huge track record of success and cultural shifting and changing behind you, but it hasn't always been that way for you. And I remember from the last time we met; you had this real problem with imposter syndrome for some time until you had this aha moment. And I wonder if he might be able to tell us a little bit about that.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah absolutely. Gosh, imposter syndrome. Well, I mean the first time, the first time that I really felt imposter syndrome was certainly when I began my work with NASA, I was actually 24 years old when I was hired. And I was asked to consult directly with the senior executive service director of engineering, which was this new organization that was being formed, right. As we were reorganizing the space center. I’m like, okay. Now what is it you're going to be able to share with him that he's going to look at me as this 24-year-old kid and go, okay, great, thanks so much.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: So, I really struggled with that when I very first started and I noticed that in this technique, this took me many years to figure out. That it really came down to a lack of genuine self-acceptance, right. Which means being fully okay with myself. Exactly

    as I was in the moment, all my flaws, all my imperfections, all the things I didn't know, and also being okay with my talents and my strengths. So, in the beginning, the imposter syndrome hit me super hard and it would result in a lot of like, I would end up being rigid sometimes, right. So instead of being more flexible and co-creating with the people that I was working with, I was really just wanting to be right. And what that meant is I was focusing too much of my energy on trying to prove that I was right, rather than focusing on getting it right. And, you know, working with them and where I really saw that affect my performance was actually with my peers. So, the crazy irony about my early career, you know, I was brought in to NASA to really help them focus on psychological safety.

    How can we help leaders create psychological safety so that people are no longer afraid to say, hey, I don't have any data, but I'm really afraid about this. Can we please have an open conversation or whatever it is, raise a dissenting opinion, champion a dissenting opinion. And so that's what I was working on with my internal customers and that was working out reasonably well. But I went through this experience. It was a five-day workshop called the Human Element just a couple of years into my career. Threw out that week, I got all kinds of feedback just as we were going through. And it was a lot of stuff that felt really weird at the time. But the short version is, I found out that I was actually engaging in a lot of the same exact behaviors with my team, that I was asking the leaders in my personal organizations to not do. So, I wasn't creating psychological safety within my team.

    I was shutting people down without realizing it. And that realization like shook me to my core. I mean, I didn't even realize up to that point that I had low self-acceptance or lower self-acceptance. I mean, it's not dichotomous obviously, but it really made me take a much deeper look at things. And so, it took me still a couple more years to really figure it out and recognize that, you know, being competent isn't about knowing stuff. That's a very, you know, like grade school kind of mentality that children are taught, you know, learn this stuff, memorize it, take a test and then it's right or wrong. It's very binary, very black and white, but competence isn't knowing stuff. Competence is the ability to learn, grow, adapt, figure things out.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: And I can do that with other people and I don't have to be right. And so, I understood my own defense mechanisms to a much greater degree. And once I got there, I realized that this idea of imposter syndrome, Steve, it's actually very like arrogant and judgmental because if I have imposter syndrome, part of what I'm saying is, oh my gosh, these people around me are so stupid. I have fooled all of them into thinking that I actually know what I'm doing.

    And I was like, whoa, like I thought imposter syndrome was kind of this like internally, like, oh, you know, I'm just, I'm insecure. And yes, it is. And insecurity leads us to not only judge ourselves, but judge other people. And so, it just started to completely shift my whole lens as I looked at what this meant. It's like, you know what, do I know everything? Not even close, right. The more I learned, the more I realized, I don't know, but my value isn't just in knowing stuff. My value is in being able to work with other people and continue to learn and grow and adapt and even whatever it is that I think, I know, I don't know anything, like were all wrong all the time. And so, if we can just shift the lens and get away from binary thinking, I think a lot of imposter syndrome will start to fall away from people.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, and by asking more questions and learning more things, not only do we get richer, but we actually create more aha moments in other people as well.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Absolutely, yeah. Asking questions and really listening are two of the most powerful and sometimes underutilized behaviors and skills.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, so I if our listeners are listening to us talk about imposter syndrome and they have a perception that that could be them. What would be your counsel to them to maybe go about dealing with that?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: So anytime we can develop a practice of self-acceptance, it's going to significantly reduce this feeling of imposter syndrome. And so, I define self-acceptance as being fully okay with yourself. Exactly as you are right now, that includes your flaws and imperfections as well as your talents and strengths. So, I'll give you a couple really tangible things that listeners can do to develop a practice of self-acceptance. And it's a practice you can think about it, like something you want to do on a daily basis, brushing your teeth, for example, or, you know, moving your body, some kind of physical exercise. It's not a light switch you just get to flip on and off. Okay, I've accepted myself. It's a practice, it's a rewiring of your brain. So, one way to practice higher self-acceptance is, we call it taking credit. Another way to frame it is like, what am I proud of myself for?

    So, let's say for example, I want to start running. And I'm like, I'm going to run three miles and I get all my gear on and I go out there and I run and maybe I'm like not quite a mile in, and I'm starting to cram and I can hardly breathe and my legs are on fire. And I'm like, oh my gosh, I don't think I can do this. And so, I might have this raging imposter syndrome in the moment and I'm like, oh my God, like, I want to be a runner. Who am I kidding? I can't possibly be a runner. So, taking credit would be, instead of focusing on the gap of, oh my gosh, I wanted to run three miles. I only ran one. What is wrong with me? So, embarrassing. Like I’m an idiot, why did I think I could do that? Right. All that really negative self-talk the inner critic. Taking credit is saying, you know what? I am proud of myself for getting out there and running a mile because that was a mile more than I ran yesterday, or I'm proud of myself for getting out there and giving it a shot because that was a kind of a tough step for me. And I want to allow myself to feel good about that as an incremental step. So, taking credit or being proud of yourself for things that represent courage, represent progress, doing that regularly will actually accelerate your whole journey of growth and make it much easier for you to get over this whole idea of like, oh my gosh, I'm a phony and they're all going to figure me out.

    Steve Rush: I love that.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: So that's one tip. And then I'll give one more tip too, which is around forgiving yourself. So, we're really trying to quiet the inner critic with a lot of these and like give more volume to the champion voice. So, forgiving yourself, it's so easy for us to fall into a pattern of beating ourselves up. Most people actually, at some point in their lives, they believed that they have to beat themselves up or they won't learn, grow, improve. They think that they need that really mean voice in order to actually get their button gear. And until you can truly experiment with quieting that voice and leaning just in the champion voice, you'll never learn that there are so many other things that still motivate you to move forward because it's something that we're just fundamentally wired to do is grow as humans. So, find the things that you want to forgive yourself for and forgive yourself as quickly as you can, even if it doesn't feel totally real, like let's say that I miss a meeting with a client, you know, something happened with my schedule or just, I don't know, I dropped the ball and I missed a meeting with a client.

    I could beat myself up. I could get all mired down in all of the ways that you know, oh my gosh, who are thinking, I'm kidding. Trying to, run this business, trying to be a consultant. I can't even show up to a meeting on time. That's my inner critic, right? And she can be really brutal or I can say, okay, you know what? You actually did have a lot going on. And you know, that you would never intentionally miss a meeting. So, let's make sure that we learned from this and, you know, whatever it was that caused me to miss the meeting, I'm going to make sure that I always have a reminder set for myself. So that doesn't happen again. And it's okay. And so, it's this combination of having self-compassion while also recognizing that, you know, I'm not living up to my current standard. And so, when you can bring in that balance of holding a boundary for yourself while also having self-compassion, when you fail to meet it, that's you forgiving yourself. And these are practices that when you do them every day, your self-acceptance will get higher and higher and higher. And not only will you end up defeating these imposter syndrome moments, but you'll just be able to work so much better with other people. You'll be able to laugh at yourself. You'll be more attentive to other people, and you'll be able to emphasize more easily. You're going to basically have a deeper trust in your underlying ability to cope with whatever the world throws at you, because it's always going to throw things at you.

    Steve Rush: Exactly, right. And what you've just described is almost a rewiring of that neurological pathways that we've created those previously bad habits.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yes.

    Steve Rush: With replacing them with positive rituals and positive behaviors. And I love the fact that you call it self-acceptance practice because exactly that's what it is. You'll continually have the practice at it until it becomes second nature, right?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yes, absolutely. It's a practice and it gets really metta to Steve because if I find myself falling away from my self-acceptance practice, I can actually practice self-acceptance around that.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, your right.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yeah, so, you know what, I have actually been really hard on myself lately and I haven't been using some of these tools and that's okay. It's a lot of wiring I'm working against and I am committed to bringing in that practice back.

    Steve Rush: Excellent, brilliant. Okay, so this part show, we close out on three things, and the first thing we're going to close out on is to tap into the leadership aspects of your work in your career. And I'll ask you to narrow down some of those things that you've been working on, but to call that, perhaps your top three leadership hacks or your top tips or ideas, what would the top three be?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Top three, okay. The first one we've alluded to a little bit when we talked about slow down to speed up, so, pause. The power of pause, you know, I think that when leaders are really struggling, it's usually because things are moving so fast and in the moment their energy is not leaving enough space, for other people to truly be who they are and sort of this angsty energy can spread throughout. And it ends up stifling conversation and decreasing the effectiveness of decision making. So, taking more moments of pause in conversation, I think significantly improves the quality of those conversations. And that's another practice that leaders can bring into their daily lives. I invite my clients to do like an eight second pause between every meeting, between sending an email, literally just eight seconds of breath in and out, and then onto the next task. And it just sort of brings a calmer energy to the whole thing, which I believe is much needed.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it’s almost a little bit of a reboot, isn’t it?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yes, oh, I love that framing of it. Yeah, that's really good. Another one is listening, listening, listening, listening, and I know that Steve, you do a lot of working in change and I'm sure you've heard this too. I work with so many leaders who, when they're wanting to bring about a change and they're feeling resistance, either passive or active, but the people just aren't, they're not doing it. They're not stepping in line. They tend to focus on, I guess I have to tell them again, I guess I have to tell them differently. I guess I have to tell them louder, right. And what I want them to do instead is, like you were saying, ask questions and listen, listen, they may not even know themselves.

    Why they're resisting the change or whatever it is that you're asking them to do. They may not be self-aware enough, but when you can ask those questions and really hold space and truly listen, not only to what they're saying, but listen for how they're feeling. Listened to the things they're not actually saying out loud, you will increase their self-awareness as well as your own. And then you're going to actually know, oh, okay, this is the true problem for us to solve here so that we can get back on the same page. So, listening, very powerful. And then the third one I would say is openness, which another way you can talk about that is vulnerability, I think.

    I think this is becoming something that leaders are understanding more and more, but too many leaders I think still believe that they're supposed to know, or they're supposed to be able to figure things out. And their lack of vulnerability in conversation leads them to actually show up with more rigidity, which again, stifles communication, it can shut down conversation and it can harm trust actually. So, when leaders can go first with vulnerability, go first with being open about what they're really thinking and feeling, being open about you know, what they'd liked. We use that Fric acronym again, here to invite leaders to be more open, then others tend to also be more open. And that's where we get more information flowing back and forth. Trust increases, collaboration increases and performance, super

    Steve Rush: Super lessons. Thank you. Next part of the show we call it Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something in your work or your life hasn't worked out. Could even screwed up, but as a result of the experience you've learned from it, and it's now serving you well, what would your Hack to Attack be?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Hmm, well, I think, you know, the biggest one for me for sure, was what I had described earlier with, you know, my experience finding out that I was actually stifling the people that I worked with without even realizing it. But I'll go a little bit deeper into that whole recovery process because once I became more self-aware and I realized that I was not actually creating psychological safety within my team, my immediate go-to response was to try to imitate other people who seemed like they were doing it well. And it seemed, you know, I think I was still like mid-twenties at that point. So, I was like, oh, this is great, you know, I can just watch behavior and I can model that behavior. I even had like acting experience as a kid. I was like, oh, I can totally nailed this.

    I can behave like this. I can act this way. And I came to learn, unfortunately in the first several months of trying this approach, that trying to only shift my behavior only shift how I was showing up on the outside without actually believing anything differently about the world, or really just sort of being in a lot of inner turmoil. I was actually still hurting trust. So, people were noticing that I was showing up differently, so totally know how to be around me because they could feel that I wasn't being myself. And so, you know, I think the Hack to Attack would be to don't think that you can just focus on shifting behavior and think that all the rest will follow, really see what the belief is underneath. How can you rewire your brain? That's driving the behavior. So, the behavior changes is a more natural, more emergent reality. So, focus on what is it that I believe about myself and the people around me, because that's, what's driving my behavior. How can I shift those beliefs around? Because you know that at least some of those beliefs are wrong, right? So much of what we believe is wrong. So, if I can shift my beliefs and allow the behavior change to follow, that's going to be a much more genuine way to approach growth.

    Steve Rush: And ironically, you know, from a psychology perspective, you know, this more than most being an organizational psychologist, we have as human beings in innate BS monitor through our neuro transmitters.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yes.

    Steve Rush: Whereas we listing and smelling it and sussing this out straight away that it's not congruent. And then straight away we can recognize that it doesn't feel right.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Absolutely. Even if we're not totally sure what it is, we're like that conversation did not feel good.

    Steve Rush: Exactly, exactly. And the last thing we're going to do is ask you to do a bit of time travel bump into Laura at 21. And you now get to give us some advice, what would it be?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Oh, I would want her to recognize as early as possible that she does have very strong perfectionist tendencies and that this drive with perfectionist tendencies is actually working against her. So, I would want her to lean into being messy and recognize that, you know, you go forward even five or six years in your life and nobody gives a crap about your grades. So, like there were so many things that I was so focused on that just didn't matter. And of course, you know, getting good grades in college helped me get into grad school and that's great, but I literally will tell students now, especially those who are in grad school and like, you know what, just learn, focus on learning. I'm like, I don't know if I would've listened to this advice myself, but I was so focused on the evaluative component of it. And any advice that I could have given to Laura at 21 to encourage her to instead focus on the journey and focus on the learning and growth that's occurring rather than this sort of, how do I look to other people?

    Steve Rush: Fantastic advice, really good stuff. So, we're going to have to find some way of working together, you and I, because we've got lots of parallels and lots of commonalities in terms of the work that we do.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: I would love that.

    Steve Rush: We have to do that.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Yes.

    Steve Rush: But outside of today, our listeners are probably wanting to learn how they can get to know a bit more about you, GALLAHER EDGE, when the book comes out, how can they find him? Where's the best place for us to send them?

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Best place to find me is at gallaheredge.com. I know a lot of people think it's Gallagher, because that's way more common, but it's actually GALLAHER. So, gallaheredge.com and there you can you can email me and you can see our phone number there, or you can just see the different ways that we work with people.

    Steve Rush: We will make also, they're in our show notes so that people can go straight away from listening to this and connect with you.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Thank you.

    Steve Rush: Laura, I love talking with you. It's been a few months since we met last and every time, I do speak with you, I get this real sense of desire for more learning. You spark things in me. So that's been great and I hope our listeners have got that out of our show today. And I just want to say thank you for coming on and being part of our community and wish you every success with the book launch. And we'll have to get you back on the show in the future.

    Dr. Laura Gallaher: Thank you so much, Steve.

    Steve Rush: Thank you, Laura.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

  • Matt Somers is a super coach who helps senior leaders to become better coaches; he wrote the amazing book, Coaching At Work. You can learn bucket loads from Matt in this show including:

    Why leader coaches get confused between leadership and expertiseThe importance of focusing on the right type of goalHow to coach in a way of being as a leader/ line managerWhat the “Peak” coaching model is and how to use it

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Matt below:

    Matt on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattsomers/

    Matt’s Website: https://www.mattsomers.com

    Matt on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MattSomers

    Full Transcript Below


    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    Our special guest on today's show is Matt Somers. Matt is a management consultant specializing in providing coaching skills for managers and leaders. He's got over 20 years’ experience as developing leaders as coaches. But before we get a chance to speak with Matt, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: There's a coaching theme in today's show. So, for those of you that have been regular listeners, you may have heard me talk about the notion of having helpful conversations. There are purists out there who condemn coaches for giving advice, tips, and ideas, and straying off the line of pulling the information and helping their coaches self-discover. Well, the lines are often blurred between coaching, teaching, mentoring, and counseling. And the reason for this is that many people receiving coaching or coachees are they're often referred to have challenges, situations, and goals that are not very linear in fact, need a blended approach.

    And that's why I invite you today to reframe coaching into having a helpful conversation that way we don't beat ourselves up for not sticking to the script. You'll hear Matt talk today about the coaching leadership style, which embraces the helpful conversation philosophy. A coaching leadership style is an approach that creates the culture of high-performance. The characteristics of this coach is collaboration, empowerment, fulfillment, and collaboration is the most important these characteristics. And this is often contrasted against the command-and-control approach, which we all know stifles potential. Coaching leadership incorporates, coaching mindsets, and behaviors, synthesizing them to create a highest potential and the highest performing type of leadership. And it does it by unlocking and enabling potential. So, the next time one of your team or a client asks you for coaching, take the opportunity to consider your approach, but don't get hung up over the conversation.

    Just make sure it's a helpful one. I just want to take this time to say thank you to our listeners. Who've been sending us information and ideas that appear in The Leadership Hacker News week on week. So, if you also have a topic or an idea that you'd like us to cover, please just continue sending them in and get in touch with us through our various social media sites. So that's been The Leadership Hacker News, let's get into the show.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Matt Somers is a super coach who helped senior leaders to become better coaches and have more powering and sometimes difficult conversations. Matt is also the author of Coaching At Work. Matt, welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

    Matt Somers: Thanks for having me on. Steve, great to be here.

    Steve Rush: So, tell us a little bit about Matt?

    Matt Somers: Tell you a little bit about Matt? The place to start probably is, I'm a failed banker. So, I came out of education and started working in banking here in the UK and found that I wasn't very good at that Steve. I would lend people money; they had a habit of not giving it back. These days, they probably qualify you for a knighthood, you know, but back in the early 1980s, when I started my career, that wasn't much. So, I guess somebody somewhere thought, well, we need to do something else with this guy. And I found myself in the world of personnel and training and so on, you know, and found that that was a very comfortable place for me to be. I really enjoyed this idea of thinking more about the people who work this side of the counter, rather than the public, the customers, the other side.

    So, began really a lifelong interest in the idea of developing people to the point where later on in my time in banking, I found myself on a coaching course and learning about coaching. This would have been the early nineties where the idea of coaching and business was still pretty new. To me, it came along as an absolute revelation. And I remember thinking, well, if I'd been managed this way? Life would have been a lot easier, you know, and I'd have probably gone a lot further.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Matt Somers: And then when I took my exit from banking and set up by myself the obvious specialism that was suggesting itself to me, I suppose, was to get into the idea of the leader as coach and courses and programs and so on with that in mind.

    Steve Rush: Awesome, and you've dedicated your whole career really, since then in helping other people and helping leaders think of themselves more like coaches.

    Matt Somers: I have, yes. I mean, I've done other things. And I suppose though that one of the things that I discovered was that there was little else that seemed to be as useful to the leaders that I was working with. Then getting their head around the notion of coaching for performance, getting results from their staff, making that transition from being somebody who got results for him or herself through their own endeavors. Through to getting results via other people, which I think is one of the trickiest career transitions to make Steve, isn't It? It's very obvious in say something like sales, where typically we take the best performing sales person at that point in time and give them the role of sales manager and then wonder why they struggle a bit, but the skill sets almost diametrically opposed. They're very different discipline.

    Steve Rush: So, if somebody said to you Matt, what is a leader as a coach, and how does that differ? Just give us your spin on that.

    Matt Somers: Well, this is really interesting to me because I'm going to say, I'm not sure it does in important ways. So, I have this idea that leaders or coaches, whether they like it or not. And the Genesis of that idea, as I said in the previous answer, alongside one in my coaching courses would do other sorts of leadership development type activity. And I would often get the groups I was working with to produce lists, and I would have them list the qualities of an effective leader. And then on other programs would have them list the qualities of an effective coach. And what I began to find more and more was the two lists were very, very similar to the point of being identical. For example, qualities that were often cited on both lists would be trustworthiness. It would be able to keep focus. It would be being a good listener. I mean, boy, that came up time and time again. So, I realized that certainly viewed through the lens of what is it that our people want, then the roles of leader and coach are synonymous in my experience. Now, you know, other people have fought me over this and that's fine because I understand that there are, you know, if the two Venn diagrams overlap at that point, then there's clearly sort of other things that both roles do separately. But in terms of the leader as coach, you know, I found that the level of skills and attributes and qualities, they're so similar.

    Steve Rush: So, I'd love to kick this around a little bit more.

    Matt Somers: Okay.

    Steve Rush: The whole principle of I’m a leader and leader by the way, as you know, I've been bleating on about for years, it doesn't have to be a hierarchical thing. It's somebody who assumes that role and provides that support, council, encouragement. It doesn't have to be a job role, but let's just assume for this conversation, we're talking about leadership in terms of hierarchy and management levels.

    Matt Somers: Okay.

    Steve Rush: What's your experience that as people gain that hierarchical levels, so they become more senior in their roles. Do you observe them coaching more or less?

    Matt Somers: That's a great question, Isn't it? I think I observed them coaching less.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, that's my observation too. And I just wondered what your thoughts were as to why that would be?

    Matt Somers: Well, I think firstly, that is because of a confusion between leadership and expertise. My observation would be that leaders often feel that they assert or they feel they have to assert their leadership through their expertise. They've got to be the guy with the answers. If people come to them with a problem, leadership requires them to solve that problem, you know, to seen this before, to have encountered this issue before and know what to do about it. And I think, well, my goodness me, if that wasn't the case before February 20, it certainly isn't the case now, post COVID. I find that a lot of work I'm doing is with leaders who say, look man, you know, my experience, my expertise is kind of redundant now. We're coming back, to this so-called new normal and the rules of the game have changed. How do I help my own people when I don't any longer have the answers? You know? So, I think one of the reasons why leaders coach less is a false expectation that they shouldn't have to somehow if that makes sense.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it does. And I think the other notion is, as a senior leader, who is also maybe managing senior leaders, there might be an assumed level of capability and expertise that requires them to coach less we're in my experience actually, is that that's a great opportunity to really unlock that knowledge, skills and capability to coach more.

    Matt Somers: I'd agree with you. I think it's this idea of leadership by osmosis. You know, somehow, you're supposed to be imbued with all of these skills and abilities overnight, because somebody now put the word leader on your business card, on the description. I have a friend of mine, quite a well-known speaker called Andy Hanselman. And he has a lovely turn of phrase when he says, leadership's the job you get by being good at something else. Which goes back to this idea of, you know, the best performing sales person, turn them into leaders, wonder why they struggle. Because in many ways, you know, leadership is a learned skill, isn’t it? there's certainly skills and attributes that that can be developed even if one is a sort of natural leader to begin with. So, it's fair to expect that people are going to need to go through that learning journey and get a chance to practice their leadership skills, get a chance to develop them and to be able to acknowledge when they're struggling with the leadership requirement.

    Steve Rush: That's right, yeah. And I guess also many leaders are also line managers and there is maybe a subtle difference with coaching as a line manager. We have skin in the game, having absolutely no vested interest. And I wondered what your thoughts and observations were about that as a notion?

    Matt Somers: I agree with that. I think if I recall the days when I would have groups assembled in front of me, we we'd be running coaching programs and this would often come up in discussion and I would find myself saying, I think people like me, external coaches in some ways have an easier job than does the internal coach, because we don't have those other requirements to manage at the same time. So, if I'm a line manager coaching a group of people. Well, I've also probably got to manage their workflow, you know, I've got sickness absence to deal with. I've got all sorts of other things going on at the same time, including by the way that I might have to be maybe the disciplinarian sometimes with some of those same folks, you know, having to have some difficult conversations and have people wake up and smell the beans.

    I think that, you know, coaching alongside other management responsibilities can be a tricky combination, but it can certainly be done. Because I think where the coaching approach is sort of inherently part of the managers or the leadership styles. So, it's coaching as part and parcel of who I am and how I conduct myself rather than coaching as a task that I pick up and put down like a performance appraisal or something else. Then I think the beauty of coaching is, it enables you to have that sort of default way of dealing with people that you can move in and out of then, you know, and perhaps toughen things up if that's even the right expression if you need to.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, so what I think I heard you say, was coaching as a way of being rather than something that you periodically do?

    Matt Somers: Definitely, yeah, definitely. I think that's where the prize is. And again, when I'm working with leaders who wants to learn about coaching, I think one of the barriers that they'll start the training with is, where the hell am I going to find time for this? You know, if I'm not busy enough already, and now this guy's going to have me wanting to do all these coaching conversations. Well, the way that I address that is to say that all of those occasions in which you could do some great coaching aren’t happening anyway, you're just maybe not seeing them as a coaching opportunity, but I think really as a line manager or a leader, and I'm going to make the distinction and say to me that somebody who has to get results through others, at least in part, you know, so my assumption is that somebody got the typical sort of six or eight people that reporting into them. Were really at any time, one of those people calls you up and has a conversation about something that they're struggling with or something that's already going quite well. They getting bored now and want to take it to the next level. Those are coaching opportunities; the day is full of them. And so, in some ways, you know, if we abandon this idea, that coaching has to be some formal timetable set up and instead it's part and parcel of natural day-to-day activity. Well, then you don't need to find additional time to do a new task.

    Steve Rush: That's right, yeah. Great stuff. I remember from when the last time you and I met. Goals have been something that's forefront of your mind, that's part of your kind of coaching philosophy. I just wanted to explore the fact that in the changing world that we're in now, how easy is it to help people keep focused on their goals when the world around them is changing so readily?

    Matt Somers: Yeah, well it depends what you mean by goals, I think first and foremost.

    Steve Rush: That’s really a good place to start, right?

    Matt Somers: Yeah, well, because when we think about say that the smart model. The goal ought to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound, or variations thereof, those what I think of I've come to appreciate as performance goals, you know, so run a hundred meters in under 10 seconds, or put a thousand people through health and safety training in a given year. We need only to think about the start of 2020 when the pandemic hit. So, you realize how vulnerable those sorts of goals are to changing circumstances. So perhaps the way to deal with that is to recognize that there are other sort of elements or other parts of goals If you like, now I'm going to say this was popularized most recently by Simon Sinek. You know, the idea is start with the why.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Matt Somers: So, the why or the end goal or the dream goal using my same two examples would be, I want to win the Olympic gold, or we want to eliminate accidents, so if we keep our eye on the long term, the ultimate goal, then we can adjust the performance goals underneath that without quite so much disruption and the way to do that. There were various ways, people have vision boards or storytelling is very popular now to describe that sort of high-level goal. And then the ones that cascade from that we can be much more nimble with, you know, they sort of survive ever changing circumstances.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, and I guess also underneath those performance goals, there are things that you have every single day that you have high levels of control over that make those performance goals become more of a reality, right?

    Matt Somers: Well, I call those processes, yes. So again, if we follow those couple of examples. The dream is to win Olympic gold, and then the performance goal might be on one occasion, run a hundred meters in under 10 seconds, but there need to be supporting processes of course, wouldn't they? Training regimen and diet, all of that, same with the health and safety requirements, you know, you're going to need six sheets and control and check mechanisms and all sorts of processes. And when I'm coaching people, one of the things I find is often very useful is to make sure that those three things line up. The end goal or the dream, the performance goals, and the processes are all synchronized if you see what I mean.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, totally. And I guess without that focus on those processes and performance, the end goal, isn't going to happen anyway. Because you have absolutely no control over it, right?

    Matt Somers: Of course, yeah. And I think the other thing that happens and it often makes people in a work situation, very frustrated is, maybe the end goal has changed or has inside of them, you know, what they consider to be important, but they're still pursuing the same old processes. You know, their work life therefore becomes very sort of boring and frustrating and tedious because their end point has changed, their other goals and processes haven't sort of caught up and it can happen the other way round as well. This is very common; I think in coaching. That people are very focused on the sort of the end point, the big picture, the vision. But haven't really thought through, down to a detailed level. What does this require me to do sort of day in day out or week in, week out in order to move slowly, gradually, but definitely towards that? So, you need all three, you know, we need the inspiration and the mechanism and the goal as well. You know, that sort of determines what that looks like, the specification,

    Steve Rush: I wonder if it's because those folks who are very successful during the pandemic perhaps had that focus around what was in their control versus those who felt out of control at that time?

    Matt Somers: Yeah, I think so. And I think that other people may be found that during the pandemic, certainly at the start, I mean, the stuff that I follow online was full of people who had escape, what do you call it? The mouse is wheel, you know, they were like a rat that had been lifted out of the maze and then stopped sort of running around, banging their head against a walls. And it actually, maybe for the first time in their career, really been able to stop and sit down and think and wonder about what they really wanted from life and what was it all about? And I think we're still seeing that shake out now. And I think it'll carry on for some time to come before we, as a society have moved fully through that process.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, I agree Matt.

    Matt Somers: Very interesting times. Very interesting times to be working in fields like yours, and mine Steve.

    Steve Rush: Definitely, yeah. And the great news is, with a little bit of focus, little bit of clarity of some of the things that people can have high levels of controlling, it sets the motivation and momentum off, doesn't it?

    Matt Somers: It does, yeah.

    Steve Rush: And you wrote the very successful book Coaching At Work and within that you created the peak coaching model and I'd love to kick around the concept of what the peak coaching model is and how we could use it?

    Matt Somers: Okay, sure. Well, the first thing I want to say is that model it's very much a synthesis of the work of two main influences on me. Now, one would be, listeners might have heard of these guys. One would be Tim Gallway, most famous for The Inner Game of Tennis, but also a series of inner game books.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Matt Somers: And then the late Sir John Whitmore here in the UK.

    Steve Rush: Great guy. I had the pleasure working with them about 15 years ago.

    Matt Somers: Oh, well, okay. So, you know, he was a great guy. We miss him terribly and he and Tim did a lot of work together, of course, so they influenced each other, but I want to say that I've always felt my book did a poor job of acknowledging them and the source of my ideas. So, I'm always very happy to sort of reinforce that a lot of what I talk about in my stuff, you know, very, very much builds on and take some of those ideas and resynthesize them. And my model that I wrote about in my book, I guess, would be take a while to explain, but I thought it might be nice just to pass on a couple of sorts of essences from that people can start to play with.

    Steve Rush: Awesome, let’s do it.

    Matt Somers: Straightaway, hack. So, taken from the work of Tim Gallway is something that became known as the coaching equation and that you would set out as saying that a person's performance is equal to their potential minus the interference, right? So, if you can imagine that sort of express deserve formula, you've got a big P equals little P minus I. So seen in that way, if we want to improve performance. And you know, that itself comes under a number of guises, but it might be, you know, sales improvement or quality, or who knows how we would judge performance, but to improve that we can do one of two things. We can either add to potential, and that's what a lot of Orthodox training and development is all about, isn't it? It's giving people more stuff to lean into. More skills, more experiences, or we can look at reducing or eliminating interference.

    And this to me is one of the ways in which coaching is different from other training and development methods. And I think that we do the latter of those less often. And there is low-hanging fruit by paying attention to that. One of the things that I encourage coaching leaders, coaching managers to do is, to speak what is interfering. You know, there might be external interference that could be to do with policy, position, procedures, culture, the way the organization runs more often though. It's what we might think of as internal interference that the individual who's trying to do, their best stuff is experiencing in the moment. So that is probably some sort of expression of fear or self-doubt. Imposter syndrome is very popular at the moment. People talking quite a lot about that, you know, the way in which mentally we get in our own way. So, there's a first hack, you know, rather than put all of our attention on raising potential, pay some attention to reducing interference. And I think you'll find that you know, there's some immediate headway to be made on that.

    Steve Rush: Great, I love that. I really love it.

    Matt Somers: And now the other hack. My model sort of goes on to build on that because performance, doing something that we're good at. Doing that well, I think is a key source of this idea of intrinsic motivation. Now, again, that in itself is a big topic, but intrinsic motivation to me means, you know, something that's motivating inherently in the work itself, rather than being introduced externally from outside, pay and another rewards. Performance, doing something well is a source of intrinsic motivation. But so too is learning and enjoyment. So, learning again, let me clarify.

    I don't mean necessarily going off on courses and qualifications, but finding the work interesting, you know, being able to be curious about things and get answers to questions and enjoyment. Okay, again, not necessarily something introduced from outside socializing or something like that, but just finding the work inherently enjoyable. But I think the mistake that we often make is to see those things as separate and almost competing activities.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Matt Somers: Almost as if we could say, well, we can be performing, we can be learning, or we can be enjoying, but again, there's a quick win there. If we start seeing those things as part and part of the same experience, if we can start creating an environment for people in which they can perform, learn and enjoy at the same time, the potential for that to effect results is mammoth. You know, there's some real headway to be made there.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, sure is, definitely. So, we've tapped into a couple of coaching hacks. Now it's time for us to spin around a little bit and think about your leadership experience and all of the great leaders you work with and for, and the teams that you've led, what would be your top three leadership hacks Matt?

    Matt Somers: Well, I, again, I mean, many of them, I suppose, are going to resonate with the coaching approach, but maybe that's because I have this idea that they're almost one in the same thing, but I guess it comes down to three, three hacks. Ask, listen, and observe. So, to go through them one by one. Ask, if we think of, maybe we've got somebody working the telephone and they're editor in a customer service role or a sales role or something like that, they're working with customers. What I don't mean is the typical sort of high level, how did that call go? That's not what I mean, by asking more questions, it might be something like thinking about the call you've just had, at what point in that call, did you know you were going to have a successful outcome? And depending on what the answer is, we might delve into that more deeply.

    Well, was it something to do with the customer's tone or was it the word that they used? You know, when I ask a question that's really going to require the person that I'm leading or coaching to notice what's happening to them. You know, it's a subtly different sort of question. I think good leaders are able to be incisive. They're able to cause their people to pause for thoughts and learn from their own experience, so, asking more. Listening, that comes up always, doesn't it?

    Steve Rush: It does, yeah.

    Matt Somers: If we're trying to develop a leader's ability. And I think that of the countless times I've asked people to think about improving their listening, or what do they notice in those that do that? Well, three things are key. One is, use of silence. I think pausing, just being quiet as a leader, you know, enabling your people to speak. Find the words to describe their own thoughts without being hurried along, is massively important. Removing distractions, and I don't just mean, you know, get stuff out of the way behind when you're on a Zoom call. I think, I mean, probably remove internal distractions more. Worrying about the call that you've just had, or the calls that's going to come, to try to really give the person who's speaking in that present moment your fully on divided attention, difficult thought that is, again is key. And then the third listening tip would be to summarize using their own words. You know, there's something very engaging about hearing people saying, so if I've understood you correctly, what you seem to be saying is, and playing back their words, you've done that a couple of times on this call today, you know, it's really helpful in enabling people to think well.

    Steve Rush: Hmm, yeah.

    Matt Somers: And then observe, I mean more difficult these days, I guess if we're not doing quite as much face-to-face interaction as we once did. But it's really a question of, is the body dancing in tune with the words that the person you're using? And if it's not, if there's a dissonance there, it's perhaps being able to challenge that in a sensitive way by saying, okay, you know, you're telling me you're full of enthusiasm for this latest change initiative, but that's not what I'm seeing in the way that you're sitting. Is this something that we can talk about some more? So, those would be the three hacks to ask, to listen, to observe.

    Steve Rush: That's great. I love that last one as well. And I think it's probably one that we still don't tap into enough and it’s that intuitive response when we see somebody in something that’s in-congruent, as a coach and as a leader, as a coach. Our job is just a voice that, isn't it?

    Matt Somers: Yeah, I think so. I often say perhaps the big trick is just to do it from a place of curiosity. So, Steve, I'm noticing that what you're saying is X, Y, Z. But what I see is A, B, C, you know, it could be me, but could we just talk about this for a moment or two? So, it's almost providing that gentle opening for the person who's answering the question so, well, actually, now that you say that, yeah, here's what I'm feeling. And as a leader, that might be a difficult thing to have to hear, but I've always found that it's much better to get it out in the open, then this thing just kind of going on under the surface.

    Steve Rush: Definitely, so, and of course it could also be a bias from the coach themselves. And therefore, again, just by using your words of curiosity, by being curious about it, at least it gets it out. And therefore, we get to know whether it's true or not, don’t we?

    Matt Somers: Yeah, what harm in the coach saying, well, this could be my bias, but, you know, because it's the spirit of exploration. I mean, to go back to Tim Gallwey I mentioned earlier on, he has this lovely turn of phrase, and he says that. Coaching is a conversation in which two people are learning. And yes, that's absolutely been my experience as well. This is not about the coach, you know, kind of doing something to somebody. It's two people meeting as equals, exploring a situation. And I invariably find out lots about the way that the world works and the way that people operate in it when I'm poaching people from the wonderful answers that they give me, you know, the fantastic thinking that they're able to do.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, great stuff. So next part of our show, we call Hack to Attack Matt.

    Matt Somers: Okay.

    Steve Rush: So, this is where something in your life or work hasn't worked out, but as a result of the experience, it's now serving you well, what would be your Hack to Attack?

    Matt Somers: Okay, my Hack to Attack. So, this goes back to my early career which I mentioned at the top was in high street banking. And when I was on the counter, we used to call it in the UK, working on the tilt, you know, but you were facing the public exchanging money and so on. We had a leader, she was called the first cashier, I think, in a space that would be the head of teller or something like that. And she would often close down, you know, busy time, but she would close her tilt down and start doing other things. And this sort of really annoyed both the staff and the customers alike. And one day when I guess, was feeling particularly miffed about this. I got some correction fluid and I added a little S at the front of her sign that she would turn around, which would normally say tilt closed, you know, and she would put it in a glass screen and let the world know that her tilt was closed.

    So, I added this S which means it’s still closed, you know, now this raised a laugh and I suppose, made everybody sort of have a chuckled and feel a bit better for a while. But what I realized looking back on that was, I absolutely undermined that lady’s leadership by doing that, you know, and I'm pretty embarrassed about it now, if I'm honest, because what I realized really the Hack to Attack is, that if you want to be a better leader, well start with being a better follower, you know, if I was in any way, feeling that she wasn't asserting the greatest of leadership, well, then why not help, you know, instead of make her job even harder. So, I got a nice ego stroke out of it, you know, cause obviously the clown for an afternoon. But it wasn't great looking back on that, certainly not to be recommended.

    Steve Rush: That great awareness though. Having gone through that experience and recognizing that you actually can really help leaders by giving them some feed forward, can't you?

    Matt Somers: You can, sometimes again, it comes up in the sort of training I do. Matt, can I coach my boss? And I'll say, yeah, absolutely. And please do, because I'm sure they need all the help they can get. I mean, you might not sit them down and say, right boss, I'm going to coach him for the next two hours, you know? So, we're going to turn the lighting down and sit in soft furnishings, but the idea of coaching enabling other people to work with greater awareness and learn from their own experiences, you know, is not connected in any way to a hierarchy. It can flow in all kinds of directions.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it can. So, the last thing we're going to do is give you an opportunity to go and do some time travel, bump into Matt at 21. And you're able to look him in the eye and give them some advice. What would it be?

    Matt Somers: Well, I heard this question come up on some of the other podcasts I listened to before this. So, I did do some thinking about this in advance. And then the first thing I wrote down on my notes here actually is, I would say to him, don't have that next Budweiser. It really doesn't end well, but that's a conversation for another day. Two things really, seriously to my 21-year-old self or anyone at that stage in their career, two things. One is, take more risks. You got less to lose and you have a lot longer to recover, you know? So, I wish I'd gotten involved in trying to set up my own business or do something entrepreneurial a lot earlier than I did because by the time I was working in that way, you know, I was married, I had a child and mortgage, all of those things, don't make it impossible, but it's certainly not easier.

    So, take more risks and have more fun. I always say to people you've only got 10 years to be in your twenties. It's a short time, it flies by. You may still be in your twenties.

    Steve Rush: As you well know I’m not.

    Matt Somers: I think probably took myself a little bit too seriously back then. It was all about the career, you know, and sort of moving up the greasy pole and I already had a mortgage on a home. I don't know, I could have waited. I could have spent more time perhaps drinking Budweiser and doing other fun things, you know? So, take more risks, have more fun, is what I would say to 21-year-old me.

    Steve Rush: And they echo very similar conversations I have with my 21-year-old daughter. And I've got two boys in their early twenties as well. And you know, it's that kind of seize the moment. And I love the notion of you've got a longer time to recover because I don't think you realize that a young age, do you?

    Matt Somers: No, you don't. I think, I've got to cut it all sort of squared away. And again, you know, there's the COVID lesson isn't there. Lesson they had, so much disruption in the last 15, 18 months that I think, yeah, some of those other concerns can wait, they can be working a lot longer in their lives than you and I are Steve. There's plenty of time.

    Steve Rush: Exactly right. So, what's the focus of your work right now, Matt?

    Matt Somers: So, I found a sweet spot. A sweet spot between executive coaching that sort of one-to-one relationship and the coaching skills training. So, in other words, I'm doing a lot of coaching skills training, still helping leaders adopt a coaching style of leadership or to build that into their style. But I'm tending to do that now on a one-to-one basis rather than a one to many, a typically, which is great. I think for two reasons, there's one. Going back to one of our earlier conversations, for more senior leaders who perhaps don't want to sort of launder these ideas in a group setting, they can find that very helpful. The other great advantage, of course, everything can be done real time on their own business, you know, rather than sort of fictional case studies or things that they might have encountered on a program. So, that's proven to be quite popular and working quite well.

    Steve Rush: Great stuff. So, if our folks wanted to find out a little bit more about the work you're doing and maybe get copy of Coaching at Work, where's the best place for us to send them.

    Matt Somers: Oh, okay. Well probably the best place would be my website, which is wwwmattsomers, M, A, double TT, S O M E R S.com. But equally and preferably actually I like it when people reach out on LinkedIn. So, I'm on LinkedIn forward slash Matt Summers. And I prefer that because that tends to mean we can get a dialogue going, you know, and have a discussion about things. So, find me on LinkedIn. That would be lovely

    Steve Rush: And they won't need to find you because we'll make sure in the show notes of this show, they can click on those links that will be embedded in there for you.

    Matt Somers: Oh, that will be great Steve, thank you.

    Steve Rush: Matt, I've loved talking coaching with you. Thanks ever so much for taking time out, to be on the show and really appreciate you being with us.

    Matt Somers: Yeah, that's my pleasure Steve. Been really fascinating and thank you again for having me on.

    Steve Rush: You're welcome. Thanks Matt.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there, @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

  • Cody Lowry is the President of the Automotive and Retail Division of the Intermark Group. He's also the author of Schmooze, What They Should Teach at Harvard Business School. Listen to Cody share:

    How he went from blue blood wealth to rags, moving 32 times before he was 11.How he intuitively used his schmooze to get on in life and work.Why paying compliments is more powerful than paying a gratuity.How to avoid the “What If Syndrome.”

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Cody below:

    Cody on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cody-lowry-63a339a/

    Cody’s Website: https://mrschmooze.com

    Cody on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/misterschmooze/

    Full Transcript Below


    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    Today's guest is Cody Lowry. He's the President of the Automotive and Retail Division of the Intermark Group. He's also the author of Schmooze, but before we get a chance to speak with Cody, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    In today's news, we explore the concept behind hybrid working, or as it's often referred to, flexible working. Since the onset of the pandemic, a myriad of corporations have overhauled the way they operate. Now with the possibility of return to office on the horizon, only two thirds of workers are wanting to remain working from home, according to a recent survey by Gallup, their research has found that organizations need to develop a long-term hybrid work strategy that meets the needs of both employees and businesses. In determining these approaches, leaders should keep one concept at the top of their priority list, and that's flexibility. So remote working is no longer an added benefit, but a requirement for happy and productive people.

    So, here's some tips and ideas to help you think about your hybrid strategy. First things first, people come first. Support and organizations don't make assumptions about the way they think their employers currently work and want to in the future, you need to know exactly how your people want to work so that you can plan and putting the necessary steps in place, by gaining better insights and asking the right questions of your team, you can adapt and think about getting the best out of them so that you benefit as an organization. Create a number of different spaces and when I mean spaces, not physical spaces, but workspaces. Of course, some permanent desk spaces will still be needed, but your organization might want to start thinking about hot desks, video conferences, called pods or remote collaboration spaces that will help you get the best out of people working differently at different times, and from different locations.

    Create a truly inclusive workplace. There are obviously huge benefits of embracing the world of hybrid working, but it's also important to avoid that any inclusivity issues may arise when you kind of move to this model, there are concerns by some that it actually might lead to a creation of a two-tier workforce. Those who are constantly present in the office and those who designed to work more remotely, and as leaders, we need to make sure that people understand that whether they're in the office or not, their work is equally valued, you also need to be thoughtful around how and when meetings are held so that everybody feels included.

    Health, safety, and wellbeing are at the absolute heart of this activity. It doesn't matter whether your people are working from home or in an office. As a leader, you have a duty of care over your team. For those in an office, it's important to ensure that all the necessary steps are taken to create a COVID safe environment or those working from home need to be informed of the ways in which to protect their physical and mental health. And remember mental health is just as important as physical health, especially at the moment. And there's lots that we can do to make sure that we keep our physical and mental health employees at the front of our conversations.

    So, in summary, let's think about what needs to happen. We need to be thoughtful about the people, their environments, the choices that they make, and tapping into technology that helps us do that the best, whether we're in an office or whether we're working remotely. What's most important is, without your people being motivated, focused, and engaged, it doesn't really matter where they are. That's been The Leadership Hacker News, if you have any insights, information, please get in touch with us.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Cody Lowry is a special guest on today's show. He's an entrepreneur, he's the President of the Automotive and Retail Division at the Intermark Group. He's also a speaker and author of the book Schmooze. Join me in welcoming Mr. Schmooze himself, Cody, welcome to the show.

    Cody Lowry: Well, thank you so much, Steve. I am delighted to be with you today and your folks out there, don't know how popular you are, but Steve and I actually had a conversation nine years ago and I finally got an opportunity to be on his show. So, I'm tickled to death to be here.

    Steve Rush: Schmooze and accent already, and we've only just got started, huh?

    Cody Lowry: There you go. There you go.

    Steve Rush: So, Cody, you have an amazing backstory and I will be really interested for the listeners to get a sense of kind of where you came from and how you've arrived to do what you do?

    Cody Lowry: Yeah, Steve, I really got a different story. We always hear about the rags to riches, while I'm actually a riches to rags kid. I was born into a family of wealth and blue blood, and by the time I was five, it was all gone. We lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and with a seven-year period in a seven-mile radius we moved 32 times. So, it was you know, the lights were turned off. St. Vincent De Paul was my favorite Saint because he used to be there Christmas day. But, you know, just backtracking a little bit. There's a high school in Detroit named after my grandfather, there was a book written. He was the first President of Wayne State University. My mother was, actually, I call her the debutante mom because she made her debutante and went to a finishing school in Washington and, you know, had all the trappings of, you know, just a great life and a good life to come.

    She met my father, they were both camp counselors, swimming coaches at camp Chicopee in Northern Michigan. And he came from a pretty well to do family, but for whatever reason, they got married, had four beautiful children. And I was one of them. And they came to Florida and ran through whatever money they had. My dad became an alcoholic. My mom was an alcoholic. It was kind of a Helter Skelter childhood, was screaming and hollering and, you know, no food, the lights being changed and then moving 32 times. We actually lived in two places twice.

    Steve Rush: That's incredible.

    Cody Lowry: I can remember coming home with my little brother from school and we didn't live there anymore. So yeah, I had kind of a different childhood at age 11. I started selling papers and you're from across the pond there. So, you know who the Artful Dodger is.

    Steve Rush: Sure do.

    Cody Lowry: And at times I felt like the Artful Dodger, you know, my mom and my other siblings have been very successful. And I credit my mom. I can remember her after, you know, a few martinis looking across and say, you know, we may not have anything now, but you guys, you kids have blue blood in your veins and you can do whatever you want and blah, blah, blah. So, she instilled a confidence in us, I don't think otherwise would have had. And one of them was, you know, you got to get out there and make it happen. And, so at age 11, I started selling papers for the Miami News. Now I've got to ask you a question, Steve.

    Steve Rush: Go for it.

    Cody Lowry: And I want you to be real honest with me here. Would you buy a paper if I told you where you got your shoes, what state you were born in and how many birthdays you've had?

    Steve Rush: Pretty neat, yeah, I would think.

    Cody Lowry: Of course, you would, for a nickel. You got your shoes on your feet. You were born in the state of infancy, and you've only had one birthday the day you were born.

    Steve Rush: Nice.

    Cody Lowry: So, when you look at you know, where I came from and then I was raised with the doctors' kids and the lawyers' kids, because my mother made us believe that, you know, we were as good as anyone. And so, with that said, we always worked. And I think selling papers actually gave me a pretty good foundation for my life in general.

    Steve Rush: It's really interesting that 32 moves in such a short period of time is just a huge amount of disruption, isn't it? For a young person, young family,

    Cody Lowry: Christmas day, we moved.

    Steve Rush: Wow.

    Cody Lowry: And then my my mom is screaming at my father about you know, what about the Christmas tree? What about the Christmas tree? And the next thing, you know, Steve, he runs in the house, grabs the Christmas tree, lights, Tencel, and throws it on the back of a pickup truck. And with some expletives said, get in the truck and we're leaving. He did leave by the way my mother raised the four of us. And yeah, I can't tell you how much she really means to me. And, I think my siblings would pair at that comment.

    Steve Rush: Sure, I did some research a few years back, actually around resilience and what are the foundations and what could cause resilience and ingenuity and irony is, those people who are brought up in a service background who move a lot consistently in childhood have greater and deeper resilience.

    Cody Lowry: Really?

    Steve Rush: Because they're used to having to adapt. And I wonder if some of those foundations that you've got in your adult career and being successful around that resilience and that grit and determination come from that learning to adapt in those 32 moves?

    Cody Lowry: I would guess it did, you know, not everybody is obviously wired the same. And I can tell you that, I mean, I love people. I engage people at restaurants, the waiter, by the time that food is delivered. I know everything about that person and, you know, where they're from? What their dad did? And I just find that terribly interesting. And there's so many people in this world that we're never going to have an opportunity to meet. And I kind of regret that, and so, you know, I think when you're young and you're going through all those kinds of things, you learn how to make friends easily, or, you know, I say easily, you learn how to make friends. And with that, you know, you ask a lot of questions and I always ask a lot of question. I ask a lot of questions today.

    Steve Rush: Now you were affectionately known as the king of Schmooze. For people who have not heard of schmooze or not familiar with that, how would you describe what schmooze is?

    Cody Lowry: Well schmooze actually comes from the Yiddish word, which means to chat ideally, or to chat in a friendly persuasive manner, especially to gain favor in business or connections. And what I have done Steve is, I've redefined the word schmooze. And for me schmooze is a lot of things. The publisher put up 25, you know, different attributes for schmooze. And it's about building relationships. It's about a winning smile. It's about, you know, looking out after the little guy. It's about being contrarian and it's about, you know, having a heart and you know, it's about appreciating and there's 25 of them. I could list them, but it would you know, take a while here.

    Steve Rush: Sure, now you recognized at an early age that, we would call it, in the side of the pond, gift of the gab or the schmooze was the key foundation for you to be successful. What was it when you realized you were onto something around using this as a positive to help you become successful?

    Cody Lowry: So, I guess I learned, you know, the school was difficult for me because you know, moving around like that. And didn’t, you know, live up to my own expectations. And so when I finally realized that, you know what? I got something here, I actually transferred from one high school to another high school. And it was transferred in my senior year. And I wasn't there, you know, probably six weeks and they were doing the superlative, you know, for the seniors. And somehow, I made it to my senior year, I don't know how. And they nominated me for the most talented, how did I get nominated? You know, I'm not even in the school two months and people are nominating me. Well, you know, that turned out to be a pretty pivotal year for me, Steve, because I was, you know, I was master of ceremonies of this, master of ceremonies of that. I got really heavy into, you know, theater and speech productions. And I think that's when I really found myself. And, you know, it obviously helped me once I got into college,

    Steve Rush: You managed to use schmooze in a number of different situations. And there are a couple you call out in the books. I'd love to explore them with you.

    Cody Lowry: Absolutely.

    Steve Rush: One was, how do you set up the meeting with the President in just one week from nowhere?

    Cody Lowry: Yeah, that was really something. At the time I was general sales manager for a large Chevrolet store and Jimmy Carter was coming into town. And he was running in for President and we were having a management meeting with the dealer and the General Manager, and what have you. And I just started thinking about him coming into town. I thought, oh my gosh, wouldn't that be a great PR move? If we could somehow set up a meeting with the President of the United States. Now I got to tell you, I had an angle. And my angle was, is that our dealer, Anthony Abraham. He was a very conservative guy, but he really thought that Jimmy Carter was taking a lot of heat at the time. He ran an article in the Fort Lauderdale news.

    I’m sorry, the Miami Herald, The Tampa Tribune and The St Petersburg Times. And it was called A Summer of Discontent by Walter Annenberg, another, a very conservative guy. And the thrust of the article, Steve, was that, you know, no matter how much you dislike the President or whatever issues you have, he's the only President we have, and we've got to support him and coming from two very conservative guys, you know, that was, you know, quite a tribute to put those full-page ads in those newspapers. So, I did have an angle and I said, the President coming in next week. Why don't we set up a meeting and see if we can't get a little PR out of it? And the dealer laughed and the general manager who was always watching his back thought I wanted his job, you know, he kind of ridiculed me somewhat, but they said, well, go see what you can do. And I did, the office I called was Jody Powell. You may remember Jody Powell, but he was the President right-hand guy. And he threw me to one guy, and then they threw me to another office and this office. And finally, I got ahold of the scheduling office and you know, my persistence was, you know, on full charge. And I was really wanting to make this thing happen. And the guy let me know really quickly. He said, Mr. Lowry, do you realize how many people want to set up a meeting with the President of United States? And I immediately shot back Steve. I said, well, that's probably true, but you could count on one hand, how many men just spent $20,000 in three of Florida's largest newspapers in a state that's going to be critical to the President in the upcoming election.

    Steve Rush: Wow, yeah

    Cody Lowry: And then he started “hoobadda habbada hubbadda wheeer!” you know, who am I talking to here? You know, and next thing, you know, I get a meeting with Kesha Grant and let her know what's going on. And we have a meeting with the President of the United States and that, by the way, you can Google that. Cody Lowry, President Carter or Tommy Abraham, and it shows, you know, the President's schedule back then, and today. They've got every little minute, you know, logged in, what he did? Who he talked to? And so, yeah, so we set up a meeting with the President of the United States and that did not hinder my progress with Abraham Chevrolet, I did very well after that.

    Steve Rush: Awesome. And also, there's a couple of whacking, great leadership lessons there isn't there? That whole kind of persistence and resilience and never let up is a really big one for me. But you know, the other is the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

    Cody Lowry: Absolutely.

    Steve Rush: And you know, if you're really passionate about something and you want people to know that you're passionate, if you stop squeaking, you're not going to get the oil.

    Cody Lowry: Well, that's absolutely true. Yeah, I agree with that.

    Steve Rush: So, the other one I was really fascinated by, is you ended up carrying the Olympic torch for the Olympic games, and that again was because of your schmooze. Tell us how that came up?

    Cody Lowry: Well, you know, in the book I talk about mentoring and the importance of mentoring. I can remember when I was in college driving a Corvair, unsafe at any speed that used more oil than gasoline. And I was, you know, robbing Peter to pay Paul as they say. And you know, I was a big brother, and that's not in the book, but for those out, in other parts of the world. Big brother and big sisters, where you take on an individual, a young child who's comes from a, you know, a really difficult situation and, you know, you mentor to them. And so, carrying the torch was just that. As you pointed out in the beginning of the show, I'm in advertising.

    And at the time we represented all the Chevrolet dealers in the Tampa Bay area. And one of the gentlemen that was in charge of Chevrolet at the time was Kurt Ritter and just a wonderful guy. He lives in Bel Air California now. And he is, I think, chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, but at the time he was moving up the ladder with a Chevrolet and he had moved out of the Tampa Bay area, went to Detroit. He was head marketing manager for Chevrolet motor division. And I get a call one day, and while we were close, we weren't, you know, I mean, we talked, you know, maybe every six months if saw each other at a meeting, but his son was living in in Tampa and struggling at the time. He graduated, just graduated from college and was having a real difficult time getting a job.

    And, and Kurt called me and asked if I could spend some time with him, and I said absolutely. So, we did kind of like, you know, Tuesdays with Morrie's right. It was Tuesdays with Kurt’s son, and he was, you know, flipping hamburgers at Friday, that's a hamburger joint. And would he just couldn't get his footing in the segment he want to get into, and that was a film, and what have you. And so, I remember after about six weeks, he called me up. He says, can I come in and talk to you? And I said, sure. He was excited. And I kind of thought maybe he had a job. And he said, I got a job.

    And I said, really, where is that? And he goes, he says, well, it's with Campbell Ewald. And all of a sudden, a red light went off. Campbell Ewald was a national agency for Chevrolet. And I know how he got that job, and that's not the job he wanted. And after he was done telling me about, you know, being a junior account executive, and I just looked across the table from where we were, and I said, you know what? You don't want to take that. I said, that's not what you want to do. Your dad can pick up the phone today, tomorrow, a year from now and get you that same position. I said, you're passionate about the film industry. You're passionate about, you know, what you went to school for. I said, stick with it. And don't, you know, he took my advice and a week later he got his dream job out of Miami.

    Well, now I start becoming very close to the family. I'm invited to weddings and, you know, when he's in Florida, you know, we go to the football games together. And I think the mentoring is what really makes it happen in life and being able to give something back. Then the next thing I know out of the clear blue, he calls me up and said, Cody, he said, how would you like to carry the torch in the Olympics? He had reached that level at Chevrolet motor division, where he could pick a couple of people. And I must tell you, he had relationships with agencies that were huge, right, the dwarf mine.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Cody Lowry: He knew all the big Chevrolet dealers in the country. He called me and asked me, and I credit it with the mentoring.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it's fascinating, isn't it? And it just goes to show that if you're not open to opportunity, because you've been directed or you've been following a path that you don't believe to be true or purposeful. You miss out on that natural occurring opportunity, right?

    Cody Lowry: Absolutely.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, so when was it you thought, right. There's definitely something in this schmooze, so I'm going to write a book about it. How did that come about?

    Cody Lowry: So, you know, I knew I wanted to write a book because some, you know, obviously crazy things have happened to me. If you'll indulge me here, you know, getting a baseball signed by The Pope, getting a super bowl ring from an NFL hall of fame coach, auditioning for Saturday Night Live within a 48-hour notice. And, you know, I just felt like I was wired a little bit differently. And you know, I was living this journey, this eclectic journey that I'm still living. And some really wonderful things have happened to me as a result of, you know, reaching out and being there for other people, and my personality, I don't know if your pre notes show it, but I was actually born with a lampshade on my head. So, you know, the humorous aspect of my personality didn't hurt. And I just decided that I was going to write a book, and that was 2017. And, you know, I'm still working full time. And so, you know, I did it at night and put together what I thought was a really good life story, not a biography for sure. But you know, life lessons from somebody who's walked the walk.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Cody Lowry: So many times, I'm in a situation where I see a speaker, great in front of an audience, or I'll read a book and so much of it. And I say this respectfully is, regurgitated, internet stuff. And then I hear the same thing this guy said, and this person says this. And, you know, every story in the book that I have, I mean, it's me, it's real life. It's, you know, it's really, you know, it's from somebody who's walked the walk.

    Steve Rush: Did she walk the walk or did you schmooze the schmooze?

    Cody Lowry: I think I probably did a little bit of both; you know, I was schmoozing and when I didn’t know what the word meant.

    Steve Rush: Exactly, yeah. So, in the book, you call these out as schmooze essentials. So, what are they and how as a leader might I use them?

    Cody Lowry: So, yeah, the last chapter is schmooze essential. And it's a collection of things that I wanted to leave people with that are just real important and you know, paying a compliment. There's actually 10, so I won't go over all 10, but paying a compliment. You know, you go into a restaurant, somebody gives you a great service and you throw down your money. And I know in some countries that's not required or not the custom, but in the United States, you know, we leave a gratuity. And one thing that I have learned over the years, it's much more important than a gratuity is to pay a compliment. You know, John, that was maybe the best service I've ever had. And I mean, they light up like a Christmas tree.

    I mean, it's amazing. So, you know, paying a compliment. It's about laughing at yourself and, you know, some of us take ourselves way too seriously, and I've been with some movers and shakers who are, you know, they wouldn't put a smile on their face if they had to, but, you know, it's about actually not taking yourself too seriously. I'll tell you a real quick story, if I may. I'm charging and I come home, I've got three little kids and I said, little kids, they're ten, nine and eight. And my wife and I had just bought this brand-new suede couch, green suede couch. And, you know, I really felt like I had arrived, Steve, you know, to have this couch. And so, I walk in and I look at the couch and there's a big stain on the couch, and I almost can't believe it. What happened? Well, immediately I called the three children. Cody, Chelsea, Kit, get up here right now and up they come, you know, and I look at that couch, the stain, and I said, I want to know who did it? I want to know now, and I want to know the truth. And young Cody looks up at me. He said, dad, you can't handle the truth, from the movie, you know? He disarmed me and I started laughing. How stupid? Why am I getting so upset about a stain? And so, you know, it is about laughing at yourself. It's about making sure that you understand that, you know, not just, Coca-Cola not just Nike, you have a brand. Who are you? What slags do you waive? If a hundred people had to say something about you, what would they say? And think for young people starting out in business, I think it's so important that you establish who you are and build your brand.

    And so, you know, that's in there, it's about appreciating what we have, you know I told my kids when they were growing up, you know, bemoan the fact that maybe they didn't have the latest and the greatest this or that, because I didn't believe in giving it to them. You know, you have it better than 99.9% of all the people that have ever lived on the face of this earth. And you know, I think that actually connected with them, you know, in the book, I've got all kinds of things. In the last chapter, there are 10 different things.

    Steve Rush: I resonate with that. I had very similar conversation with my youngest son just this weekend actually.

    Cody Lowry: What happened?

    Steve Rush: Well, it was a case of just not recognizing the value of what he had versus the value of what he didn't have.

    Cody Lowry: I gotcha.

    Steve Rush: And sometimes it's just about helping people who have been, and I class myself to be very fortunate in having the spoils of a successful career behind me. And he's been born into a life that I wasn't born into with lots of spoils and lots of other things that I would have never had at his age. And just sometimes helping to reframe how fortunate they are. Isn't all about either material things. It's about the surroundings and the environment they're in too, right?

    Cody Lowry: So true. So true. You know, one of the things in the last chapter is, I tell people to be a pushover, you know, I'm an easy mark for these people on the street. And I mean, I never say, no, I feel guilty if I look down and, you know, I'm in my car and I don't have some change or some whatever to give them, but I've done my homework. And most of these people they're hungry, 85% of these people are hungry. So yeah, there are some people that are trying to put you together. And in the book, I talk about being a pushover and I actually talk about a story when our whole family went to a West Virginia and the airport was closed down.

    And I went downtown with my kids and my bride and we were going to get some food and it was a cold night and the kids were probably right around that, you know, 7, 8, 9 ages. And all of a sudden somebody grabs me on my shoulder and I turned around and, you know, I see this guy with all his hair going on and, you know, kind of, you got some money or something like that. And I said, no, I don't. And, you know, I kind of shoot him away, I thought, and then, you know, about a minute later, there he is again. And now I get in his face, because I'm really upset. I'm very protective of my kids and I don't want this guy, you know, endangering my family. And I react like, I guess any father would. So, you know, I got in his face, tell him to get out.

    I was going to call the police, so on and so forth. I got to the restaurant and my son Cody remembers this. And I said to my wife, I said, you know, I didn't really treat that guy too well and who knows what's going on in his life. And so, I gave her my watch. I gave her all of about, you know, 50 bucks that I had. And I said, I'm going to go find him and see what's going on. So, I left the restaurant, I walked up this alley and down the street and there he was, he was sitting on a park bench with his significant other, and they had a blanket around them. And I came up to him from the side there. So, he didn't really no I was coming and I said, Hey.

    And he looked at me, he almost jumps, you know? And I said, no, no, no. I just want to tell you, I apologize for the way I acted. And I said, are you guys hungry? And they both looked at me and they said, yeah. I said, well, come on. Let's go. And so, I was actually thinking about taking them to the Mexican restaurant and there was a McDonald's across the street, not too far from where we were. And he said, well, how about McDonald's? And I said, sure. So, we went into McDonald's and, you know, his girlfriend was first and she looked back at me and I said, go, whatever you want, just get it, you know? So, she got two big Macs, she got an apple pie, she got the big fry, whatever it was.

    And I thought she was ordering for both of them. And then he got up there. He said, I'll take the same. But, you know, my kids learned a big lesson, as I said, Cody still remembers that day. And all of my kids have followed me as it relates to being, you know, maybe considered overly generous to these people. But you know, when you look at what's been the stowed on me and my family and, you know, everything, even talking to Steve here, you know, it's you know, I've got a lot to be thankful for, you know, I know that everybody does,

    Steve Rush: It's a great lesson as well, isn't it? So, the one thing that struck me in the book as well, that you call out was called the what if syndrome.

    Cody Lowry: Oh, the what if syndrome? Yeah. Everybody is always, you know, what if this happens? What if that happens? And it's about, you know, when I talk about stepping out of your schmooze zone and I tell people that I'm not going to, you know, I'm not going to jump off the Skyway Bridge or the San Francisco Bay bridge or bungee jump. But, you know, in life I have looked at things, I've looked at challenges and, you know, I've always gone for it. And I think a lot of people are held back by, you know, their peers and people that, you know, their bosses and what have you. And they have this fear of people. Well, I've never really had that fear. So, if I thought maybe, I could do something, you know, I just went out and did it.

    In the book I talk about, you know, running a marathon, somebody bet me a hundred dollars that, you know, I couldn't run a marathon. And I said, well, yeah, I could run a marathon and they laughed. And, you know, I'm really in great shape today, Steve. But back then I was a little sloppy, right. And I remember Steve Chapman, he was President of the DuPont Registry and he was running the Marine Corps marathon. And I said, well, I could probably do that. Maybe I'll do that with you. And he started laughing because it was the funniest thing I've ever heard. And I got to tell you in high school, I think the most I ever did from an exercise standpoint, I think I had to run a mile to actually get my diploma.

    So anyway, I took him up on it. And it's a great story, it's a fun story. But I got to tell you, when I started off the first the first week trying to, you know, kind of get into this thing, I thought, boy, I had really made a big mistake. I couldn't get a quarter of a mile before I was gasping for air. I was going around this Lake Hollingsworth, was three and a half miles. And I went, dear God, I can't even get around this lake. And but, before all was done, I had run around that lake eight times. And I did, I competed in the Marine Corps marathon. And so, I would say my advice is just, you know, go with what your gut tells you. And don't listen to some naysayers out there. And you know, we've got a lot of great people, have accomplished a lot of things in this world by taking that advice for sure.

    Steve Rush: Definitely, so. I'm going to ask you to step out of the schmooze zone now, Because I'm going to turn the lens a little into your world of leadership. So, you've been a successful leader of a number of different businesses. So, I want to really tap into that leadership mind of yours now. First place, I'm going to go Cody, is to ask you what your top three leadership hacks would be?

    Cody Lowry: So, you know, a big part of the book and a part of my background in business. And then, you know, my whole life has been building relationships, building relationships that last, you know, Steve and my business, if you have an account for two or three years, you know, you can be very, very thankful. We have accounts on the book that have been there for 30 years, plus 30 years. And I always tell people it's about the secret sauce. You say the three things, number one, build the relationship. And I think a lot of people get this wrong. They say, oh, it's going to take me years to build a relationship. You build the relationship within the first 60 seconds that you meet somebody.

    Steve Rush: Sure.

    Cody Lowry: And I'm well aware of that. If I go into a meeting, I know more about that guy than probably the people that work for him. So, it's building the relationships and then it's earning their trust, okay. That's the foundation of every relationship. It's the foundation of every business relationship, earning their trust and being there for them. And then number three, endeavoring to never let them down. And you know, I've got clients, I'm their blankie. I mean, they call me on the weekends, you know, Sunday, you know, and a lot of times it's not even related to you know, the business necessarily it's, you know, something that's happening in their life. And if I have been with them for 20 to 30 years, I'm also their friend, right?

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Cody Lowry: So yeah, so building the relationship, getting them to trust you and then never letting them down.

    Steve Rush: Awesome tips and ideas. Thank you, appreciate you sharing that. The next part of the show we've called Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something screwed up. Hasn't worked out well at all, but as a result of the experience, you now use it as a positive in your life and work. So, what would be your Hack to Attack Cody?

    Cody Lowry: Yeah, my Hack to Attack. I mean, you know, one of the quotes that's in the book and it's a Japanese proverb and it says fall down seven times, get up eight. And I can tell you I've done that, you know, many, many times in my life and no one is you know, everybody's got adversity in their life. And so, when I get people that kind of get carried away with it, I remind them of this deal that you know, you have to get up and you have to keep charging and early in business. I was, you know, I got taken by a guy that was, you know, I thought he was my mentor, right. And he was the big shot in the Tampa Bay area as far as advertising, I'm not going to mention his name, but he brought me on, he wanted me to work for him and that didn't work.

    So, he made me kind of a quasi-partner, if you will. And we became partners. And after about six months I realized that he had been going to the accountant and taking money out of the company to buy a home in St. Croix and this, that, and the other. Well to make kind of a long story short. When I finally realized that this guy needed to be out of my life, I had the accounting people came in and they said, well, Cody, you're in the hole about a half a million dollars. I almost couldn't believe it, right? Half a million dollars, me? Little Cody Lowery, you know, paper boy. I'm in debt, half a million. So, the attorneys got together and they decided the best thing for me to do would be to just file bankruptcy, you know, in our country, you can file bankruptcy.

    You can actually start the next day in another job. And they said, this is our only way out, your only way out. And I looked across the table at you know, three people that went to pretty good law schools. That's not what I'm going to do. And I said, I'm going to go to the suppliers. I'm going to talk to them. I'm going to tell them exactly what happened. The reason it got so big, we were dealing with TV stations and, you know, TV time, and it's very expensive, but I went to maybe six TV stations where the bulk of that was, and I met with the General Manager or President of the TV station. And I told him exactly what happened. And I said, I can't pay you today, but I will pay you over time. I believe I'm going to be successful. And you know what, there wasn't one that said no, and every one of them got their money, so, yeah.

    Steve Rush: It's a lovely story. Many people would have taken the easy route out and, you know, file for bankruptcy, but that just shows a kind of character that sits behind the man. So, congratulations for you.

    Cody Lowry: Thank you. Thank you.

    Steve Rush: The last thing we want to do today, Cody is give you a chance to do some time travel. So, you now have the opportunity to go back in time, bump into Cody at 21 and give him some words of wisdom, some advice, what would it?

    Cody Lowry: I would say, and not to rehash what we've already talked about, but if you have a dream, if you have a goal, don't put it on hold, find a way to, you know, go after that dream or that goal. And I would say, you know, get rid of the naysayers in your life. And, you know, when I was starting out at age 21, Steve, I mean, I got to tell you, I was a little naive and I don't think being naive is really so bad because you go down avenues that maybe other people would know or can't, what are you crazy? You know, and so I think part of my advice would be, you know, it's okay to be naive, you know, just, just real quick. Auditioning for Saturday Night Live within a 48-hour period, I was doing standup comedy and I went to New York.

    I had, you know, enough money to last, maybe a week. And, you know, I did catch a rising star and the improv and what have you. And I decided just you know; I've got two days left. I know what I'll do. I'll audition for Saturday Night Live. Oh, really? How are you going to pull that one off? Well, I was naive, you know, and it worked for me. And, you know, two days later there, I was for Saturday Night Live doing my Jimmy Carter. My name is Jimmy Carter, I always tell the truth. If I could tell lie, I grow another tooth. It's okay to be naïve, and you know, so that would be my advice.

    Steve Rush: Awesome, So Cody I've loved schmoozing with you, but for our listeners who might want to continue the conversation beyond our show today, where's the best place for us to send them when we are done.

    Cody Lowry: mrschmooze.com, that's mrschmooze.com. My book Schmooze, what they should teach at Harvard Business School. It's obviously available on Barnes & Noble and Amazon. There is also an audio book out there, which is I hear pretty good. And so yeah, the website's good and wherever books are sold.

    Steve Rush: Awesome, we'll make sure those are all in our show notes as well, so that people can literally stop listening to us and start listening to some more of you. So, Cody, thank you so much. I know you're incredibly busy and it's a real privilege and an honor for us to have you on our show. And thanks for being part of The Leadership Hacker Community.

    Cody Lowry: It was an honor speaking to you, truly it was.

    Steve Rush: Thank you, Cody.

    Cody Lowry: Thank you.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the leadership hacker.

  • Once upon a time… Ever wanted to speak in public as if you were on a TED Talk? Andrea Sampson is former strategist and consultant, she has spent over 25 years working in marketing and advertising, presenting and developing strategies for fortune 100 companies. Andrea is now a TED speaker coach and the founder and CEO of Talk Boutique. In this show you can learn about:

    The emotional connection in story is the same as when we buyHow to put your brand ideas into the worldThe key components to design your story spineWhy aligning your vision to your core purpose – is your story!

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Andrea below:

    Andrea on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/acsampson/

    Talk Boutique Website: https://talkboutique.com

    Andrea on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LightningRod29

    Talk Boutique Twitter: https://twitter.com/TalkBoutiqueInc

    Talk Boutique on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/talk.boutique

    Full Transcript Below

    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you.

    Today's special guest is Andrea Sampson. She's an executive speaker coach, communication expert and business strategist. But before we get a chance to speak with Andrea, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: In today's news we explore why storytelling is so important in business. Humans always told stories and they're a vital part of our daily communication, but stories have meaning beyond entertainment value. In fact, storytelling is a strong business skill and when it implemented effectively, it can really boost business in a number of ways, such as improving customer loyalty, creating strong marketing strategy and increasing profit as well. Storytelling conveys purpose and businesses with purpose are noticed and win loads of customers more readily. So, it's not enough to just have a product or a service that can solve a problem, your company needs to stand out. The most successful companies have deep and thoughtful stories behind them that stir a sense of a larger purpose and meaning to what they do such as Google or Apple, who had not just businesses. Their brands made by visionaries who wanted and want to transform the world.

    If your business has a vision, the audiences can really believe in and buy into them more likely to be successful. People want to buy into companies that they believe care, empathetic companies. And that was highlighted in a global empathy index where businesses near the top of the list were among the most profitable and fastest growing businesses in the world. The top 10 companies also generated 50% more income and increased in value more than twice of the other companies in the bottom 10. And it was shown that storytelling was at the heart of this. And storytelling shows your company can be empathetic and is more likely to lead to your company's success. So, experts say, just watch Steve jobs on YouTube when he introduced the iPhone and told the story about why they were doing what they were doing back in 2007. Stories, emotionally connect people and create loyalty and the best stories of evoke emotional reactions, and people generally relate and connect with those stories that they believe in and believe in the company and what it stands for.

    When people listen to a story, they feel what the protagonist of the story is feeling. So good way of using a story to connect with the audiences, to tell the story about the journey you've been on or the mistakes you and your company have made, or a failure that wasn't going well for you. So, people can understand the reality of the journey and people will relate to this as we've all experienced mistakes and failures, and the more the audience relates to you and understand what went into creating your brand and your organization. The more likely they'll listen to you. And remember humans typically make emotional, not rational decisions. So being able to evoke an emotional reaction through a story is a powerful tool. So, transfer your vision into a captivating story and clearly communicating it, using a sincere and open approach and remember stories, give audience purpose and a motive to take action.

    An example of this was when Wharton Business School found that when participants in an experiment were asked to collect donations in a call center, those who told the donors how the money would improve the lives of others earned, were able to collect more than double than the other group who were merely just collecting cash. The sense of purpose led to the first group earning so much more because of the stories that were able to tell that invoked that response. So, in conclusion today it's difficult to find a successful brand that doesn't have a good story. Stories provide meaning, they create context, they evoke a sense of purpose. Most humans are more receptive to stories than compared to facts and data. So, stories help us to relate, empathize and to remember, and this is why businesses are increasingly recognizing the importance of storytelling and the leadership lesson here is, as leaders the more stories we can tell to create an emotional connection with our teams, the more likely we're going to get buy-in to the journey we're taking them on. That's been leadership, if you have any insights, information, or ideas, please get in touch.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Joining me on the show today is former strategist and consultant Andrea Sampson. She spent over 25 years working in marketing and advertising, presenting and developing strategies for fortune 100 companies. Andrea is now the founder and CEO of Talk Boutique. Welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast Andrea.

    Andrea Sampson: Thank you, Steve. Wonderful to be here.

    Steve Rush: I'm really looking forward to getting into the story about how Talk Boutique came about and the work that you do now with TED speakers. But before we get there, perhaps you can give our guests a little bit of a summary of your backstory?

    Andrea Sampson: Sure, so as you said, you know, I spent almost 25 years working in marketing and advertising, and most of it was working on the agency side. I worked for some of the largest agency networks in the world, and I worked on some of the largest brands in the world. My role within the agency world was a planner, and what that means is I was basically a strategist. So, I worked on understanding the basics of why humans make the decisions they do. We would do a lot of research, a lot of understanding at the human behavioral level. And then we would come up with, me and my team would come up with the underpinnings of many of the advertising campaigns that you see in market which would go of course, to the creative teams who would do the actual advertising, but we would do the strategy underneath it.

    Steve Rush: Oh, interesting. So, where there a number of key behaviors or you could identify that caused people to make decisions?

    Andrea Sampson: Well, you know, I mean, the reality is, is that we buy, we make decisions based on emotions rather than needs. And I think, you know, this is not news to anyone. But we forget it all the time. We think that when we tell people the features of a product or the features of a solution that people will say, well, yes, I need that, absolutely. And people do listen to those, but the reality is we buy what we want. It's a want versus a need always, which means that you need to appeal to the heart before you appealed to the brain. And that was, you know, 100% of the time that is true. So how can we get into the hearts of consumers in such a way that we help them to make the decision that is right for them, but was also in line with what we wanted them to do.

    So, it was always that sort of dance, I guess, a little bit, but what I found, you know, what was so interesting for me was that, you know, with spending all of the time in advertising and I got to a point, you know, after about 25 years where I started to realize that some of the early goals that I had as I came into the world of communications and advertising, I wasn't going to be able to hit. And those goals were really personal and deeply held. And I'm not sure that even coming into that world, I fully understood them because they were really based on making a difference in the world because ultimately Steve, I'm an idealist and, you know, I wanted to change the world and I saw this medium of advertising with its mass reach and thought, wow, now there's a way that if I can influence at a very core level, I can help do good in the world.

    And I tried and I really tried. And the reality is, is that while there are many brands out there who do good in the world, they're few and far between, and at the end of the day, I really wanted to do good at a very core level, not trying to get consumers to do something else. And so, I knew that, you know, as the idealist in a capitalist world, I had to start thinking a little differently about my future. And at this point I was, you know, approaching my 50th birthday and I started thinking, you know, well, I've got hopefully another 30, 40 years on the planet. What am I going to do with that time? And how can I start to address this, underlying need, goal that I had. And I had the very good fortune to be volun hired.

    And what I mean by that is, I volunteered, but I had to go through a hiring process to work with the team at TEDxToronto. And I was hired as a speakers coach. I didn't know what a speakers coach was to be quite honest, never heard of it, but I was presenting three to five times a day and, you know, in my regular day, because that's what I did all day, every day I present it. And so, I thought, well, with a little bit of training, I'm sure I can do this. Well, that first year that I worked with TEDxToronto, I worked with you know, a geneticist who was working on the worldwide human genome project. I worked with an architect who was connecting the internet of things to our daily tasks, to our walls, to our alarm clocks, to our windows. I worked with a food specialist who was looking at the way in which we were going to move forward with our food. And I worked with one of the foremost experts in the world on body language, I was hooked.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Andrea Sampson: And what I saw was, I came to them thinking, okay, well, I can teach them, you know, probably how to present. But what I learned pretty quickly about myself was all this training I'd been doing for 25 years in advertising as a strategist where I was getting to that core consumer insight. The reason why we do the things we do was the absolute perfect training to take a TED speaker and be able to shape their idea because ultimately an idea at its core is an insight. And so, what I did in that first year was I became aware of this skill I didn't even know I had, which was taking insights and building stories around them.

    Steve Rush: It’s kind of ironic because that's exactly what great marketing is, isn't it? It's about building those stories, creating the emotional connection with the audience so that they listen and pay attention to the advertisement you are creating, which I suspect is the parallel right to a TED speaker?

    Andrea Sampson: Well, that’s exactly it. And I think when we're doing it as an advertisement, you know, we're not as uniquely aware of what we're actually doing because it's contextual, right? Like in advertising, you're doing it because you've got a product, a brand that you're putting out there with the consumer. So, you're putting the brand at the center, you're getting an idea that you can sort of, you know, build that, you know, take the brand idea and put it out there in the world. But we don't really think of it in the same way we think of a TED Talk, which you know, is often termed education. Sorry, how do they term it? Oh God, I can never think of it, it's the combination of entertainment and education. So however, you put those two edutainments, that's what it is.

    Steve Rush: Edutainment? That’s cool, yeah.

    Andrea Sampson: Edutainment, so we never really think of an ad as we would think of a TED Talk because a TED Talk doesn't actually want us to change our buying behavior or the things we're doing. It's often inspiring us to look at the world differently. So, it's just contextual, like it was really making the leap that said, well, everything I've been doing in advertising is exactly what it was to create a good TED Talk. But now instead of trying to sell a brand, what we're doing is we're selling an idea and that idea has the ability to impact the world.

    Steve Rush: And do you notice any parallels in reverse where marketeers and now using the same principles of storytelling in their advertisements and their campaigns?

    Andrea Sampson: Well, you know, here's the thing. As I've become, you know, really an expert in this world of not only storytelling, but building talks that create impact and create change. I now look at all the work that I did in advertising and wish I had known then what I know now, and I'm seeing that many marketers are beginning to embrace the idea of very purposeful storytelling. You know, storytelling in the ad world was always a means to an end, but we didn't really pay as close attention to how to build out that story. Now, there are so many different story arcs out there. When you've only got 15 or 30 seconds to do an ad, which is, you know, your typical ad length.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Andrea Sampson: It's hard to use one of these very long story arcs. I mean, most of the story arc is actually, you know, are meant for screenplays or books. Whereas, you know, in a 30 second ad, you just don't have time to build that arc, but you would. And you know, what we would often do is take pieces of it. But what I've learned in doing TED Talks and now working with very seasoned professional presenters is that it's really about building a story in five steps. And we developed, so my company Talk Boutique has developed a process that we call the story spine, which really allows for a speaker to take about, you know, anywhere from 30 seconds to three to four minutes at the beginning of their talk and set up the premise of a story that will hold the idea.

    Steve Rush: Really interesting.

    Andrea Sampson: Yeah, the spine is so important because what it does is it forces us as humans first of all, to think about the things that create good storytelling, because it starts off with what we call the environment. So, if you think of an environment, the environment is your sense of place. Now, most of us, when we're at a cocktail party or meeting up with a friend and we started telling a story, what do we do? We rushed through the environment, first of all, and we rush right into the purpose of the story. But if you take a moment and you step back and you say, okay, let me just set this up for you. So, I was walking in the woods the other day. Now it was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, you know, it was warm, but not hot. You could feel that the day was going to get really hot. But we weren't there yet. And the moisture in the air was activating the pine needles. So, I could smell as I was walking, that musky scent of pine, and it was just a beautiful morning and it was peaceful. Now you're all on that walk with me, aren’t you?

    Steve Rush: Totally, I’m right there.

    Andrea Sampson: Right, now when you do that, what's happening is everybody is leaning in, but what's really happening is their brain has just gone to the place when they were last in the woods or a meaningful moment when they were in the words. That smell, the sounds of the birds, that the feeling of this sun dappled through the trees, everybody. Now, if I were to stop the story right there and ask a question around how everybody felt, the likelihood is, I've got everybody at the same place in that moment, which is in a peaceful place, in a memory that is enjoyable. And from there, it's almost like I'm a mind reader now, because now I'm controlling how they are feeling and what they're thinking.

    Steve Rush: Very powerful, isn’t it?

    Andrea Sampson: It’s incredibly powerful. That's the power of environment. So, once we have the environment, the next thing that we want to do is say, who's there with you? Who are the characters? Now, you know, characters, aren't just me and my friend. You can do that, but the thing is, you've robbed the audience of getting to know who you are and who your friend is. So, what you want is just a little bit of a backstory. So, there's me, you know, this was about five years ago. So, I was in a, you know, maybe an emotional place. This was just at the breakup of my marriage; I'm making this up. And my friend who was a dear friend who was supporting me through this very emotional time, her name was Shawna and Shawna was a lovely human. She's still a dear friend of mine, but she's one of those people whose incredibly compassionate and helps people through really difficult times. So here we were on this early morning walk, going through the woods and, you know, we can hear the birds chirping, and I'm at that point in the separation where we are, you know, separating stuff. And so, it's a difficult moment, and Shawna is helping me to see, you know, that I can let go of things that I thought were really important, but the reality is, they weren't. Now, again, I just want to stress here. I'm fully making this up.

    Steve Rush: Hey, listen, you may be making this up, but I'm still ironically with you because of the compelling use of language.

    Andrea Sampson: Right, and so listen to that, the language I'm using every piece of language is using rhetoric, really, right. I'm using a combination of metaphor. I'm using emotional words, words that have meanings that go deeper than just the core idea of that word. I'm also using in some cases repetition. So, I'm using metaphor all the way through it. So, what we've gotten through now is the environment, the characters, and we've gotten to the issue or opportunity. That's the third part of the story spine and this is where most people jump into a story because this is the real reason, I could've just started it off.

    Steve Rush: That’s true, yeah.

    Andrea Sampson: I could have started off going, you know, the other day I was walking in the woods and Shawna was helping me figure out what I was going to give to my ex, right? Because that is really the story, except you can see I've built it out, right? And so, then what you want, the fourth part of the story spine is what we call the raising of the stakes. This is the difference between a good story and a great story because the raising of the stakes is that tension moment. It's the end to them, and so, you know, as Shawna and I were talking about the things that I was going to keep and what I was going to let go of, we came to that blanket. You know the one, the blanket that my family had given us, but it was also the blanket where we had our first date. And it was the blanket that had followed us all the way through our relationship. And there was a part of me that really wanted that blanket, but there was a part of me that actually didn't ever want to see that blanket again. And I was distraught in that moment. How could I let go of the blanket? Now I think if you're following me, what you know is that blanket is really a metaphor for the relationship.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, it is. But it's ironic, because it’s still is also a physical thing.

    Andrea Sampson: Yes.

    Steve Rush: It's a metaphor, but actually we all kind of have something that we relate to in our day jobs and our lives that are similar metaphors of physical things, but carry loads of emotion with them.

    Andrea Sampson: Right, and so, as I'm going through this story, you know, anyone who's listening to this, you know, they may or may not have lived a similar story, but they have lived, everybody, because, you know, here's the thing about stories. Stories are all Mehta stories, as humans, we all live the same stories. The details are different, and so everybody has walked in the woods or has watched, you know, a movie or seen an image of walking in the woods. So, there's some experience of it. Everybody has a good friend who helps them through things. Now, you know, you may not have as good a friend or maybe your friend is better, but you have the experience of it. The human condition is that we all go through relationships and sometimes they work and sometimes they don't and heartbreak is common. And then the idea of having something that represents that, you can see, it's a Mehta story, right?

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Andrea Sampson: So, everybody, as I'm going through this story, everybody is having the same experience because they're living their own experience and my experience at the same time. And that's what makes it so powerful. So, when you take the time to build it, when you take the time to use emotions through it, what you're doing is, you're building a connection with anyone who's listening to that. Now we've gone through the four elements of the stories. By the fifth element is just the OCA. It's the way in which you tie it together. And so, in this case, it could be that in that walk in the woods, you know, Shawna helped me to understand that the blanket was in fact, a metaphor for my relationship. And as much as it was something that I was having a hard time letting go of, it was time for me to let go of it because I was letting go of that whole part of my life.

    And that blanket was in a part of my life that was no longer going to be in my life. So, it was time for me to let that go. And by the end of that walk, I had not only let go of the blanket, but I had let go of the relationship, I was ready to move on. So, there's the story spine in action. Now, when you're using a story like that. So, one of the things that we teach, because the story spine is one element. But the other thing that I did when I started working with TED speakers is, I started to understand that a TED Talk has a very robust underlying structure and that underlying structure gets eliminated in the talk itself, but in the building of a TED Talk or of any presentation, quite frankly, that structure is essential.

    And one of the things that I did was I developed something that I call the talk canvas narrative framework, and it's a framework that helps speakers and anyone from, you know, boardroom presentations to investment pitches, to TED Talks, develop their underlying structure so that they can literally obliterate it with story.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Andrea Sampson: But it's such an interesting thing, because again, if I go back to, and this is a very long answer to your question, which was the, you know, the commonalities to what marketers do, this was where I really wished I'd had this structure because one of the things that I found was when I was in the agency world and we'd be building, let's just say a pitch to a new client, and we would spend, you know, countless hours, you know, stressful hours developing a presentation.

    And the question always was, is it understandable? And have we missed anything? And what the talk canvas does is, in my new details, shows you all of the things that you need to address in order for your presentation to land, to be compelling, and to have all the information that the listener needs in order to be able to take in what you want them to take in. And so, it begins with the story spine, so it starts there, and then we move into what we call a core purpose.

    Steve Rush: Great, so I wondered though, if you think about the notion of pitch presentation and speech, is there a huge difference and how you construct those or do they follow a similar path, but just the vernacular changes?

    Andrea Sampson: So, there are differences for sure.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Andrea Sampson: You know a stage presentation, as an example, you have much more latitude to use less visuals and more storytelling. And, you know, that's why TED Talks are so incredibly powerful, right? So, what they've done is, they take an idea, they wrap it in story, and then they tell us this amazing story, which then gets unfolded throughout the course of, you know, 10 to 18 minutes. When you're doing a presentation in front of a boardroom, as an example, there's a bigger expectation that you're going to get to the actual, you know, sort of core meaning or the core thing quicker. You can weave story all the way through and you should, but what you're doing is it's a bit more of a dance between the functional, here's what I want you to know and the emotional here's, how I want you to feel.

    And so, Nancy Duarte, who's a TED Speaker and also an amazing thinker, developed what she called the shape of a presentation. And it really is a toggling between the functional and the emotional. And so, this is what we do in a presentation. We're using more visuals, because often we need those visuals to keep the audience, the boardroom audience with us. But what we're doing is we're moving between the visuals and the story and the visuals in the story. And then when you get into a pitch, which is a very different thing. Now, pitches you know, if we're talking about investor pitches, there's a lot of things that are really required, that the pitch, you know, that the investors know because they're putting up money. But what's similar is story and ideas still live in there. And what you're doing, the things you're telling them are a little different, but you're still using the commonality of story and idea. And that is true across a stage presentation, a boardroom presentation and a pitch. That's the commonality, some of the ways in which you do it are different.

    Steve Rush: Hmm, that's super. And the irony here is that we've learned through story from generations after generations, after generations for thousands of years. But it seemed that certainly through my early part of my career, kind of in the nineties and in the two thousand, we seem to lose that. And only really in the recent years, I've seen story re-emerge has been quite a powerful medium of communication. What do you think the reason was for that?

    Andrea Sampson: You know, it's interesting. I've thought about this a lot and you know, in the fifties. First of all, humans are hardwired to respond to story. And if we go all the way back into, you know, sort of the stone age, you'll see that the story has been our medium of communication.

    Steve Rush: You can see it written on the walls of caves.

    Andrea Sampson: Exactly.

    Steve Rush: And that's how they used to tell their stories, right?

    Andrea Sampson: And when you look at those cave drawings, what are they about? They're about the emotion of what was going on, right? There was the victory of the hunt, there was this sadness of the death. Like you could see it in these beautiful drawings on caves, but what happened for us is humans started to become more industrialized and really, you know, we've had about 150 years of industrialization with the advent of the industrial revolution.

    And with that, what happened is, we became much more efficient. We were focused on efficiency. The belief has been, stories are not efficient, now that's not true. In fact, stories are incredibly efficient, but the belief was, I just want the facts man, nothing but the facts. And so, as we became more industrialized, our stories became about facts and we got narrower and narrower and narrower on facts. What's happening now, and it's so interesting because we're at the dawn of the fourth industrial revolution. And this is the first industrial revolution where humans are not being industrialized. And so, and what I mean by that is in every other industrial revolution, humans became the labor force, right? Well, now what's happening is we're being released from the labor force. We're being allowed to go back to what it is we do best, which is to feel, to emote, to tell stories, to create and being in our creative place.

    And it's a challenging time because we don't actually know how to do this anymore. We don't know how to be creators without that end goal. Like I'm going to sit on the line and I'm going to put this widget in this hole. And at the end of the line out will come a car or a thing. Well, now there's robots doing that. We're not really very good at doing the same thing over and over and over again. That's actually not what humans are designed for. And so, as we are coming back into what we are designed for, which is to be creators, to be creative. We're bringing back this medium of storytelling. My own supposition is, that this is the first, you know, process of training our brains to go back into the creative beings we actually are.

    Steve Rush: It's great supposition, and one I have listened to you articulate it so well, can wholeheartedly concur with, because the whole principle of management is made up too Management only happened because of the industrial revolution, but we wanted to get some control and some measures and some guidance, which is also the reason why we lost some of that great core leadership experiences along the way as well.

    Andrea Sampson: You know, I'm listening to Yuval Harari great books Sapiens right now. And I love, you know, there's a part in it where he talks about storytelling and he talks about us humans, that's actually everything about our lives, our story. And he goes all the way back to the beginning of the corporation and his supposition is that the corporation is really just a story that we've all bought into

    Steve Rush: That's ironic, isn't it? Gosh, your right.

    Andrea Sampson: It's true, right?

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Andrea Sampson: It's so true, so we don't see it that way, right? Because it's like, well, no, a corporation is a corporation. It's a legal entity. No, actually it's what we've done is we've taken a story and we turned it into a legal entity.

    Steve Rush: My head's starting to go into crazy spins now thinking of different things, but it's, great that we're having this conversation because it's all really relevant to the role that we play when we're communicating with others, isn't it?

    Andrea Sampson: Oh, absolutely. It's so important that we start to use our storytelling skills again. Because you know, the more that we do this, this is where, you know, as I go back to my own journey into the world of speaker coaching, I started to understand that when I live in a place of emotion, that is where I'm creating the deepest, most meaningful relationships. Whether those relationships be with, you know, people who are in my family or with my clients, because when we're starting with story, we're immediately starting with heart and it's such a different place from business, you know, having been in the corporate world for 25 years, you know, I got to tell you, there was not a lot of room for anything that, you know, smelled of heart-centered ness and that's not the case anymore.

    Steve Rush: No, you're right. And one of the things I remember from the conversation that you and I had some months back, you were telling me that, you know, subject matter experts don't promote themselves very well. Is that a reason for them being dragged into the detail versus being thoughtful about their self-promotion?

    Andrea Sampson: Yeah, I mean it's interesting, you know, subject matter experts and that's one of the things I, love, love, love, love working with deep subject matter experts. These are people, you know, and just to kind of frame that for the listeners, you know, these are people who are often in the back rooms and you know, they work in science and technology and academia, you know, they're really, really good at doing the work that they do. And many of them are working on things that are literally changing our world, but they're so busy doing that work. And they know often the importance of the work they're doing in the context in which they're working, but they don't look up and they don't tell the rest of us about this work that they're doing. They don't self-promote because it doesn't even occur to them to self-promote.

    But here's the thing. When we don't understand what's actually happening in our world when these deep subject matter experts who are doing work in the world, that literally is changing our world. And we don't understand that we are at the effect of media, which also doesn't know that and who's choosing what we do know. And so, it's a real challenge for us to sort through what is real and what is not. So, these deep subject matter experts need to be heard. And we need to encourage them to come forward. And again, I come back to TED as a platform, also Singularity University, which is one of the partnerships that I've had through Talk Boutique. These are places where these deep subject matter experts are finally getting some airtime, but of course the challenges because they tend to be in these very complex places. What do they talk about? They talk about the facts. They tell us the process; they bring us into the world that is so complex and so abstract that most of us don't really understand it. And so that's not helpful either. And really this is where storytelling really shines.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, absolutely spot on. So, from a story perspective, you must have had the opportunity to work with some really fascinating storytellers and some really fascinating people. Has there been a moment in your career as a coach or even just as a listener to stories where you've gone wow! that is the most compelling story I've ever heard?

    Andrea Sampson: What immediately comes to my mind. So many years ago, I was working with a TED Speaker. He is a cosmologist, which is in the study of astrophysics, study of the universe, cosmology is the study of the actual universe. So not the stars, not the planet, it's not even the galaxies, the entire universe. So first of all, you kind of just go like, wow, I can't even contextualize that. I mean, as most of the subject matter experts that I work with incredibly smart, and this is sort of the story I hear all the time, oh, I'm not creative, right? So, here's an individual who says to me I want to talk about the origins of the universe, but I'm not creative. I don't really know how to do that. And as I spoke with him and started to understand more about him, it turns out that he also played in a band and he's does some visual art, of course not creative though, right? This is often what I hear from scientists.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, exactly.

    Andrea Sampson: But what was also really interesting about him, didn't know this, this was sort of fun fact, the driest place on earth is the south pole, which also happens to be the coldest place on earth. Now, why is that even a part of the story? Well, the reason is, is that as a cosmologist studying the entire universe, you need to have really powerful telescopes. Well, in order for a telescope to see the universe, you need to be able to have absolute absence of water because water obscures our ability to see in distance. So, in order to see the universe, you have to go to the driest place on earth, which is the south pole. And so, this individual lived for almost a year in the coldest place on earth. And so interesting story, first of all, like what is it like to live in the south pole?

    And then there's the story of the universe. Well, working with this individual, what we were able to do was to build a story that literally wove together the origins of the universe and his own experience of spending a year, isolated in minus 100-degree weather in a station with about 30 other people, as they literally begin to degrade because it happens every year with them. There's only about two or three months of the year where they can actually get in and out of the south pole, planes can't actually get in, it's too cold. And so, they can't land, the steel would snap. So, listening to this story, it was phenomenal. It was literally poetic and this is a scientist. He literally wove these two stories together. So that comes to mind and it's one of those, great for me, moments of working with a speaker where I saw the academic side ma married beautifully with the art of storytelling.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, that's great. Great story to refer onto it as well.

    Andrea Sampson: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: So as a CEO and a leader in your own, right, I'm now going to ask some questions of you in terms of getting inside of your leadership brain.

    Andrea Sampson: Sure.

    Steve Rush: And thinking about how we can share some great tips and ideas with our listeners. So, the first place I'd like to go, Andrea is to ask you what your top three leadership hacks would be?

    Andrea Sampson: So, number one is, as a leader, you are not alone. So, make sure you have a good network. It can be very lonely at the top. People say that all the time, but if you think of leadership as a solitary sport, not only is it going to be lonely, you're not going to be very good at it. So, the reality is all good leaders have a great network of people who are advisors, who are supporters and who help them. So, make sure you've got your team in place. Number two, take care of yourself. You know, you as the leader of anything, you are the one who's making all of these decisions. So how have you taken care of your brain today? You know, look at the self-care that will help you be able to show up at your best. You know, are you meditating? Are you finding ways to work through whatever blocks you have? You know, what is your routine? Are you exercising? What's your food intake like? These are things that people don't like to talk about because it's like, oh, you know, we've lived for so long in a world that said, you know, just sacrifice everything and do it all. And that is the worst advice that you can get as a leader, make sure you are taking care of yourself. And then number three, make sure that you have very clearly articulated and identified what your vision is and that vision isn't just for your business.

    It's also for your life. So, you need to have a vision that aligns with what your core purpose is as a business person, but as a human as well, because only then will you be able to continue to move forward with consistency. If your core purpose is out of alignment with who you are or what you believe, you will very quickly come to a point where you can no longer do it. You will run out of steam. So always asking yourself, do I have passion for this? Am I committed to it? Do I wake up in the morning knowing that I am moving forward on something that I deeply, deeply believe in? And if you can say yes to those things every day, you're going to jump out of bed and be excited for the work you're doing

    Steve Rush: Really powerful stuff. That last one, particularly also, I bet makes your storytelling much easier as well, right?

    Andrea Sampson: Yeah, absolutely.

    Steve Rush: If it's intrinsically connected to something that's overly emotional for you, then it's going to be so much easier to convey emotional stories.

    Andrea Sampson: Yeah, absolutely, yep.

    Steve Rush: So, the next part of the show we call Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where something hasn't worked out particularly well, and it could be that it was quite catastrophic, but as a result, you now have created some core foundations or something that's working really well for you in your life and work. What would be your Hack to Attack?

    Andrea Sampson: So, you know, this past year, you know, we're recording this, you know, at a time where hopefully we're coming out of a global pandemic and this has been an incredibly difficult time, not just for me, but for everyone.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Andrea Sampson: And you know, if I look back to a year ago where we were, I'm in Canada and, you know, in June of 2020, we were just coming out of lockdown and you know, wondering how the world was going to recover. Well, here we are in June of 2021, and also just getting out of lockdown and wondering how the world is going to recover, but we're in a very different place. Emotionally a year ago, I was really in a place of, I'm not quite sure how we're going to move forward. You see what had happened for me was I had made the choice to take over the company solo.

    I bought out my business partner just prior to the pandemic and suddenly the world fell down around us. And I didn't know whether or not I was going to be able to make a go of it with Talk Boutique because, you know, the reality was we were an event-based business. We work with speakers and every event was canceled. And so, a year later I look at that and go, oh, thank God, because you know, sometimes things need to die in order for them to live. And what I mean by that is when you're in a partnership, what we had created together was important, but it wasn't my vision. And I needed the deconstruction to happen. And I'm not sure that if we had continued, the business had continued as busy as it was in the pre pandemic time, but I would have had the time to really stop and think about my own vision and purpose. And so, this past year of retooling and re-imagining the business, I've had the time to do that. And so, I look forward now with so much hope and so much gratitude for what happened a year ago. And so, I can see now that what I'm creating is much more in tune and aligned with my own purpose and vision about shifting the social narrative, you know, working with thought leaders, working with those who are doing good in the world and helping them to get their stories out in the world so that we can all see the good that's happening in the world and contribute to that, become part of that. And a year ago, I'm not sure I would have been so clear on that. So, you know, that is for me, it's sometimes the breakdown is really a breakthrough.

    Steve Rush: Wow, that's really powerful words. I love the whole principle of how you framed that about breakdown to breakthrough. So, thank you for sharing, that's really powerful.

    Andrea Sampson: You're welcome.

    Steve Rush: The last thing we want to do is get a chance to do some time travel with you. So, our guest have the opportunity to bump into their former selves at 21. So, what would your advice to Andrea be if you could bump into her at 21.

    Andrea Sampson: So, Andrea at 21 was driven and passionate and fearless. And, you know, if I were to go back and give her some advice it would be to keep going, first of all but also to slow down, don't worry that everything has to happen right now. You know, that was who I was. I was this, you know, young person who wanted to make my mark in the world. And I would tell Andrea at 21, that life is long and there is plenty of time and you don't have to get it right the first time. In fact, you're not going to get it right the first time. And sometimes the not getting it right, is the whole reason why we do things, because it helps us to learn. Failure is such an important part, you know, I grew up in a family where we were very much driven to perfectionism. And so, if I couldn't get it right, I moved onto the next thing instead of sticking with the thing and getting it right. And now, you know, many years later, I've learned that when you focus on something and when you take the risk to do it, and when you take the risk to fail, you are going to learn so much more than if you just abandoned it because it didn't work out right away.

    Steve Rush: Yeah

    Andrea Sampson: So that's a big one.

    Steve Rush: It is, that's huge. So, Andrea, what's happening with Talk Boutique? Tell us about the journey you're on now and maybe how our folks can learn a little bit more about the work you're doing.

    Andrea Sampson: Sure, so Talk Boutique now, I mean, we are both a speakers bureau and we represent deep subject matter experts who are doing the work in the world that I've described earlier, and we are speaker coaches. I have a team of coaches who work with me, who have all been trained in my methodology. And what we do is we work with thought leaders. We work with corporate leaders and we work with teams and we help them to become storytellers in every presentation or talk that they give. We train them through one-on-one coaching and through programs that we aim at the, you know, the core of any organization, we bring the TED-style into the corporate world, and this is a really powerful program. We also have an open enrollment program that we call The Thought Leader Academy for anyone who wants to work with us on a one-on-one basis, but they might not quite be able to make the commitment to come in through a corporate program or to work with our coaches one-on-one.

    And that is a digital offering that includes group coaching. And so, The Thought Leader Academy, we do a couple of intakes a year. Our next one will be coming up in the fall, but we are doing some work right now around getting the story spine out there in a bigger way and doing some small trainings. So, if you're interested in working with us, you can go to our website at talkboutique.com, or you can email me directly at andreatalkboutique.com, either work. We love working with individuals and with teams. So always happy to help out in whatever way we can.

    Steve Rush: We'll make sure our listeners can hook up with you as well by putting your links for your website and email addresses and stuff in our show totes too.

    Andrea Sampson: Fantastic Steve, thank you so much.

    Steve Rush: You're very welcome, Andrea. I'm super glad that we have you on the show, the whole story spine, and learning a little bit about how you are making connections through storytelling is a really inspirational one. So, thank you for sharing and thank you for being part of the community on The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

    Andrea Sampson: Oh, Steve, thank you. It has been my absolute pleasure. Thank you for asking such amazing questions and for adding so much to today's call. It has been amazing.

    Steve Rush: Thank you. My pleasure.

    Andrea Sampson: All right, take care.


    Steve Rush: I genuinely want to say heartfelt thanks for taking time out of your day to listen in too. We do this in the service of helping others, and spreading the word of leadership. Without you listening in, there would be no show. So please subscribe now if you have not done so already. Share this podcast with your communities, network, and help us develop a community and a tribe of leadership hackers.

    Finally, if you would like me to work with your senior team, your leadership community, keynote an event, or you would like to sponsor an episode. Please connect with us, by our social media. And you can do that by following and liking our pages on Twitter and Facebook our handler there @leadershiphacker. Instagram you can find us there @the_leadership_hacker and at YouTube, we are just Leadership Hacker, so that is me signing off. I am Steve Rush and I have been the Leadership Hacker.

  • Raimonda Jankunaite is the founder of the Women in Business Club. She's a visibility expert, mentor, coach, and international speaker. In today’s show you can learn about:

    How Raimonda regained her voice after not being able to speak for 2 yearsHow she’s inspiring collaboration and communities working togetherHaving an innovative mind and being open to having those different conversations is keyWhy as a leader you’ll never conquer anything alone

    Join our Tribe at https://leadership-hacker.com

    Music: " Upbeat Party " by Scott Holmes courtesy of the Free Music Archive FMA

    Transcript: Thanks to Jermaine Pinto at JRP Transcribing for being our Partner. Contact Jermaine via LinkedIn or via his site JRP Transcribing Services

    Find out more about Raimonda below:

    Raimonda on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/raimondajan/

    The Women in Business Club Website: https://womeninbusiness.club/raimonda-jankunaite/

    Raimonda on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RaimondaJan

    Raimonda on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/raimondajankunaite/

    Full Transcript Below


    Steve Rush: Some call me Steve, dad, husband or friend. Others might call me boss, coach or mentor. Today you can call me The Leadership Hacker.

    Thanks for listening in. I really appreciate it. My job as the leadership hacker is to hack into the minds, experiences, habits and learning of great leaders, C-Suite executives, authors and development experts so that I can assist you developing your understanding and awareness of leadership. I am Steve Rush and I am your host today. I am the author of Leadership Cake. I am a transformation consultant and leadership coach. I cannot wait to start sharing all things leadership with you

    The special guest on today's show is Raimonda Jankunaite. She's a founder at Women in Business Club. She's a visibility expert, mentor and coach, as well as being an international speaker. but before we get a chance to speak with Raimonda, it's The Leadership Hacker News.

    The Leadership Hacker News

    Steve Rush: In the news today, we explore why women make the best bosses, according to science. Regard, of far we'd like to believe gender equality in the workplace has come. There's still a big gap between male and female leaders in the professional world. While it's not a huge shock that women are somewhat underrepresented in leadership positions. What is surprising though is the fact that females may be actually better suited to lead in almost every area. And that's according to findings from the BI Norwegian Business School. In their research, Professor Oyvind L. Martinsen and Professor Lars Glaso survey 2,900 managers with special focus on personality types.

    And the results were clear. Women scored higher than men in four of the five major leadership centric categories. Business must always seek to attract customers and clients to increase productivity and profits. And our results show that women naturally rank higher in general than men on the ability to innovate and lead with clarity and impact explains Martinsen. While some people believe that men inherently make better leaders, probably because of the picture that they had imposed on them as a youngster. This research suggests that women are actually better and more methodical at management, gold setting, openness, sociability, and supportiveness, as well as being innovative. There was one area in which men scored higher than women though, and that was on emotional stability and ability to withstand job-related stress and pressure. The results suggest that women are more sensitive to the effects of high pressure and high emotional situations.

    The survey suggests that female leaders may falter through their stronger tendency to worry or the lower emotional stability explains Glaso. He goes on to say, this does not negate the fact that they are decidedly more suited to management positions than their male counterparts. If decision makers ignore this truth, they could effectively being pairing less qualified leaders and impairing productivity he said. And my take on this is the fact that the very same qualities that make women sensitive to pressure, namely their sociability and supportiveness are some of the very qualities that make them effective leaders. Obviously, it's really important here to consider the individual and to consider the differences because their differences can make a difference. So, anyone regardless of gender or indeed age, sexuality, ethnicity, and any of the elements of diversity, equity and inclusion, they can all be competent bosses. So, the leadership lesson here is the next time you're hiring for a management position. You just might want to give their resumes a harder look and particularly harder from female candidates because as they say the science doesn't lie. That's been The Leadership Hacker News. If you have any news, insights or stories, please get in touch.

    Start of Podcast

    Steve Rush: Joining me on the show today is Raimonda Jankunaite. She is a serial entrepreneur, a mentor, business coach and international speaker. She is the founder of The Women in Business Club and international community and events club to help women become more visible go-to experts, Raimonda, welcome to The Leadership Hacker Podcast.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Thank you so much Steve, so great to be here today and meet your incredible audience.

    Steve Rush: I think they'll be looking forward to listening to your story as well. And for those that haven't had the chance to find out about your work, maybe you can give us a little bit of a backstory as to how you've ended up here?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Yeah, absolutely. Well, great to be here on today's show, as Steve just mentioned, I am motivational speaker, serial entrepreneur and visibility experts. I support women in business, and this is where my journey really began as entrepreneur more than 10 years ago. I had a dream and a vision of becoming a serial entrepreneur at a time, I was just 20 years old, completing my business degree in London in the UK, and really looking for that next opportunity in my life. And whilst my peers were going off to find work placements and jobs and experience, for me it was about realizing my own dream and my potential. And I remember starting to travel the world and read magazines like success magazine, listening to podcasts and inspirational people. And I had this vision of having my own business. So that started, that seed was planted 10 years ago.

    And ever since I've been not only going through my own entrepreneurial journey and learning the lessons along the way, but also helping others and learning a lot about visibility, social media, personal branding, how to actually become your own personal brand. And since five years ago, I have built a platform for other women to come on board and do it together rather than unintentionally. I think as I was going through my own entrepreneurial journey, I found out through networking and events. I wasn't necessarily able to find a community for me. So, I started at five years ago as a way to share those experiences with other female entrepreneurs and people who go through seeing, you know, personal development. Because I see your own business as, your biggest personal development journey. So yeah, now I support other people, entrepreneurs in becoming entrepreneurs and business owners.

    Steve Rush: Awesome, so where was it that you found that passion for helping other women in business?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: I think having been through that journey myself of 10 years of personal development. That passion really came through connecting with other people, especially women and seeing the incredible things that they do, the stories that they have. So, the way Women in Business started was through one event where I was helping and supporting five other businesses to start up, which in more of a crowdfunding sense. So, we hosted our first event and the incredible women that came to this event, more than a hundred and just hearing their stories and how they are impacted by other stories into either starting your own business or doing things differently or just believing that you can. And after this first event, women just naturally started to gravitate and find us and ask for more events to have that platform where we can share incredible conversations and stories and be inspired.

    Steve Rush: What do you think the reason is that women have migrated to the club, The Women in Business Club, is that the community, the sense of kind of supporting each other and what does it you think they get from that sense of community?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: There are many women based immense groups, and I think there is a general movement as women realizing that empowerment, we can empower ourselves, but when we empower each other and we come together to support each other in business and have that safe space where we can share our stories or struggles and learn from others, it becomes a really powerful catalyst for your projection of life, your achievements and your goals, because now you see other people doing it. So, for at Women in Business, I think people are attracted to me to the energy that we have and the values and the platform that we've built. A lot of people when they come to Women in Business, they see it’s a diverse group, they see its global group. So, it doesn't matter where in the world you are, you might be working in your bedroom, but you feel like I can relate with these women, even if they're online and making these friends virtually, it's so powerful because one day you get to meet them. And that's the exciting part that we The Women in Business Club, also hosts in-person events. And that's, I guess, a differentiating point.

    Steve Rush: And you've also over the last few years created the women thrive summit. Tell us a little bit about that?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Over the years, I think events generally has been such a passion for me, just seeing people in person, it's been amazing. So last year we were setting out for a global expansion because our community has grown from London to our second biggest city being New York and LA. Now we have a big community of entrepreneurs in IB and through the in-person events. There has been number of speakers who invited us to be part of or creative events in the same parish or internationally. And one of the speakers flew to London from Atlanta. So, we usually have people flying in from the States and Europe and this lady, Michelle and Jolie. She suggested that we do an event in Atlanta. I said, fantastic, let's do it. At that stage, honestly, hands to my heart. I knew one person which was Michelle, well previous speaker in Atlanta, professionally. And year later, I said, okay, we need to do our first event.

    So why don't we choose Atlanta as a main city? Because after doing a lot of researching, you know, where is the good place to start geographically? And what's going on in Atlanta in terms of a lot of women, entrepreneurial groups and events happening already. So, we decided to host our first 2020 international events in Atlanta. And I booked a venue for 250 people and we were three weeks away from the event. People already booked their flights, their tickets to be there. And of course, the pandemic hit and we got the news. So, we actually won't be able to fly and we had to do something. And this was end of February, just beginning of March and our event was two, three weeks away. So, we had to do a really quick pivot and announced to everybody that this wasn't going forward. And everybody had the same feeling of, oh no, we were hoping this was going to happen.

    So, what now? And as a leader, as someone who initiated this event, I had to really face that situation and make a decision. What are we going to do? Because we have nearly 200 people booked in person and virtually as well. We we're planning on stream it, so we decided to pivot that into women thrive summit because during the beginning of the pandemic, people felt lost. People felt like we need leadership and this moment in time could really crumble us. So, we need to hold onto something. We need to have vision and inspiration and knowing this is going to work out. So that is when we launched our women thrive summit. And we reached, I think 3000 people. We had 34 speakers, five days fully live event. And I've spoken to many event organizers and they said Raimonda, you are the craziest person to do that. So, we did it.

    Steve Rush: And you've had a really successful women thrive summit as well too, haven't you?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: This year? Yes. So, since the events are not back on, all of our in-person events had to close and cancel for last year and this year we did again, because we just simply don't have an option. And March was really special one. It's International Women Day and also, you know, a global event to celebrate, women's month. So, we tend to do events around March and this year we couldn't. So, we decided to do again, women thrive summit, which become its own platform because one of my passions is to actually give women who have never shared their voice or their story on stage to give them the platform. And this is where it was really exciting that through every single event, almost 50% of our speakers are first time speakers, and this year we hosted 42. So, last year was 34 this, year 42 speakers. And this year we've done 10 days event because it was just too big, we expanded so much.

    Steve Rush: That's an amazing story, isn't it? When you think about where you were at the start of the pandemic and now having a global platform where 42 women can really express themselves to a global audience, that's just amazing.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Yeah, I think this is one of the most fulfilling aspects of what I do.

    Steve Rush: Giving women their voice is kind of ironic because I remember the last time that we met, you told me a story that was really quite empowering in so much as, as a professional speaker now, not so long ago, you had a period in your personal life where you lost your voice and couldn't speak. Tell us a little bit about that experience and how you managed to recover from that?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Well, this is part of my life or a moment in my life, which I haven't really, truly explored yet. And suddenly when in the last two or three months, I've joined a community called Hungry to Speak by Les Brown. And he is, if you don't know who Les Brown is, he's you know, world renowned, motivational speaker, he's been speaking on stage for more than 40 years and transforming lives, changing lives and saving lives through his events and speaking. And when I joined his group, he asked me a question of why do you want to be a speaker? And having been naturally, not necessarily naturally a speaker my whole life. I've simply created a platform and I was drawn to do the work that I do almost unintentionally. So, I had to learn to use my voice over the last five years. I remember doing lives and being completely scared or delaying an event by half an hour to get up on that stage because I knew I would have to share my story.

    And it was difficult, when every time you share a story for the first time, it's really, really personal. So, when I joined Les Brown group, he asked me, why do you want to speak? And yes, I know the work that I do truly inspires me. Truly makes an impact and it makes me happy, and it's a work that I feel it's worthwhile pursuing. But when I was asked that question of why I realized the moment in my life, when I was 23, 24 years old and going through a personal relationship and trauma through that relationship, that led me to losing my confidence, myself, my self-identity, my self-worth. And with that also my voice for two years, I couldn't speak, I couldn't use my voice. I would look in a mirror and say to myself, you need to speak, I don't know who this person is in front of me. So having lost that identity and gone through self-healing and coming out on the other side to start to build a platform for other people. And I always say, I'm your biggest cheerleader. I want to spotlight every woman doing incredible things and their stories, but a lot of that time is building a platform to spotlight others was a distraction for me to look into why am I wanting to speak and going through that journey, so yeah.

    Steve Rush: And was that a psychological reaction to you losing your voice or was that a medical reaction?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: It was more psychological going through the trauma.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Right, so I think that was the biggest impact. I could speak, but I chose not to, and I couldn't,

    Steve Rush: And when was that moment for you when you realized that there were some options for you to be able to speak, but more importantly in you speaking that was a bigger audience for you to leverage?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: I had no idea of what parables was. I was just desperately trying to rebuild myself after that and do what it is that I love to do. And entrepreneurship was one non-negotiable. I wasn't going to settle for a job or wasn't going to settle for a career because I knew my career was entrepreneurship. And with building our business and being an entrepreneur, it comes with certain demands of you to show up you, to have that leadership quality, for you to have your voice. It's necessary, and when it's necessary, you have to do what it takes to get through it because as crazy as it sounds

    Steve Rush: Okay, and what's the core focus of the work that you and The Women in Business Club have right now?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: I think for us is about making an impact. If it really comes down to making a positive social impact and empowering women, because through that, through the power of community collaborations, coming together, sharing information and having a place where we can celebrate each other is truly the goal to impact lives and change minds with what we do.

    Steve Rush: That brilliant, and it's fair to say that diversity, equity and inclusion has got a much bigger audience, and certainly it's much more receptive around most boards and organizations today. But from your perspective, what do you think the reason is that there's still so much work to do in this space?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: I think world is changing, generally. World is definitely changing and I have younger generation, which is my niece and my stepdaughter. And we have these conversations, a lot about diversity inclusion by the world events that's happening. So, we starting this conversation at home and my stepdaughter talks a lot about LGBTQ Community. And I think world is divided, world at large is still very much divided. We find things to fight and how war is about whether it's from religion perspective to color, to you know, your rights as a human. And there is a huge uprise going on right now in Lithuania about political aspect of LGBTQ Community and changing the laws. So ultimately the older perspectives are still around and they're still there and they're still impact that negative impact. That's still happening on individual basis on individual, in individual lives and the community at large in terms of how people see things.

    So, I think there's a lot of work to be done. And only by actually taking the steps and showing unity, talking about positives things, there are a lot of people I meet that say, I don't even want to go on social media because amount of conversations is happening around politics, about negativity, about things that I don't want to hear. And I don't have that because I filter my community, people that I surround myself with and all we talk is about positivity. And recently we hosted the Women Thrive Summit, and a lot of that was focused on diversity inclusion, LGBTQ, and just generally celebrating those aspects of life. And since I started connecting with so many more people on my LinkedIn, LinkedIn, all of a sudden become the place that I want to go, because I know every time, I go on there, I see positive things. So, as much as it is on the grand scale, it's still an issue and a lot of work to be done. It's also possible on a personal level, to change your perspective and surround yourself with new sources of information.

    Steve Rush: It's ever evolving too, isn't it?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Yeah.

    Steve Rush: So, the fact is that it's easy to have a perception that organizations are changing and the business world is responding to diversity. And again, whether that be from gender inclusion, race, background, ethnicity, sexuality, et cetera, that's kind of irrelevant. But actually, when you then drill in, there are still pockets of communities and emerging countries. And when you think of the world that we work and live in today, it's a global landscape. It's still very accessible, so when you get into those smaller communities, I suspect is where it becomes even more relevant for the work you do, right?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, the few things that I don't tolerate, or it doesn't really even happen within my own community where anyone has been mean to each other or discriminate in any way. And there has been a few comments recently came about from the summit or someone told me that I feel like I don't fit in, or I'd feel like there was a clique. And this is one thing that I try to always avoid having these clique. Because if everyone only shares one perspective and one way of doing things and you don't embrace the voice of the community and people around you, then truly you're not creating open environment for everyone to grow and learn and be different and actually be celebrated for their differences.

    Steve Rush: And that's the key thing, isn't it? Celebrating those differences. Because for me, the more you do celebrate difference, the more difference creates innovation, energy, growth.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Yeah, absolutely. There's a little secret I actually haven't shared with anybody.

    Steve Rush: You're going to share it with us now?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Yes.

    Steve Rush: Go for it.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: So back in 2006, I started a company called Innovation & Simple Ideas. This was my personal passion of creating innovative ideas, solutions to solve the world problems. One of my first businesses was in sustainability and changing the way we consume plastic and drinking water. And this was an innovating machine that I created, but that didn't work how the way I wanted to. So, I started a business called Innovation Simple Ideas for the intention of developing new ideas, technology, innovations, and talents. This was my business, which now evolved into becoming The Woman in Business. I changed the original name to that becoming a Woman in Business. And although I had an idea to develop innovations. Now we develop people, to have innovative ideas and be empowered.

    Steve Rush: And more scale and more powerful as a result, I suspect.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Yes, certainly. I think we learned a lot.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, so looking ahead to, let's say the next few years, what do you see as being the biggest challenge for women that are in the business community today?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: I think the biggest challenge is conquering ourselves. That is always the biggest challenge for ourselves as individuals wanting to achieve great things. Of course, I don't underestimate challenges personal and otherwise that surrounds us in the world right now. But if you truly want to achieve something, I think having that innovative mind and being open to having those different conversations and exploring your mind. So, a lot of the times, the reason why we don't actually achieve something in life, or we don't fulfill our potential because we have a fear within ourselves, what would happen if I truly reach for my dreams? What would happen if I truly aimed for that big goal that I have? But when we conquer ourselves and this is what I said earlier about running your own business, it's the biggest personal development journey you ever take. And the most conquering that you will have to do. Everything else is just strategy, techniques, tools, information, and putting it all together.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: It's to you that always stops you from going where you want to be.

    Steve Rush: Some of those unconscious biases that are holding people back, right?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Yeah, in many aspects of our lives.

    Steve Rush: So not only are you an entrepreneur, businesswoman, you've also turned your hand to writing and your first book is out shortly. Tell us a little bit about how that came about and what was the driver behind it?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Yeah, it's still surreal being an author, but this has happened again through the very same journey of discovering my reason of why, why I wanted to share my voice. And for the first time coming out with this personal story of losing my voice and just the overwhelming response from so many, of course women, because this is my main audience that I speak to and deliver my messages to. So, women came forward and said, I have experienced that myself. And since sharing that story and other women coming out and me having those conversations and empowering them and just seeing how quickly they can change when they feel like I am not alone on this, you know, this personal journey. So since sharing that story two weeks later, or actually the very next week, one of my past Women Thrive Summit speakers. Who's also a published author and she has a publishing house and she created collaborative books. And this is one of the collaborative books that just happened right there. She reached out to me, she said, I still have two more spots if you know, anyone who would like to share their story. And this was me on a story that I have never shared before. So, I thought that was a great occasion for me to actually tell my story of what truly happened. So, I'm very excited and the name of it is Younger Self Letters. So, the publisher, Adriana Monique Alvarez, I'm very excited about this.

    Steve Rush: Brilliant.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Thank you.

    Steve Rush: So, you should be too, it's a great credit to you as well. So, what's next for you in terms of focus of work.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: I love to travel the world if the world opens.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, wouldn't that be nice?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: I would love to, we have made so many friends globally that honestly, that's the one thing that I cannot wait to go and meet all of my friends across the pond in the states, in Europe and just have some fantastic events.

    Steve Rush: And with that connection, my experience tells me also that sometimes the events follow the conversations for the motivation, you know, those natural occurring opportunities to collaborate this pop-up, don’t they?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Absolutely, we just don't know where, you know, what we do could really take us in life.

    Steve Rush: Hmm, I agree. Being open to opportunity and coincidence is the big key, isn't it?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Life happens. Life evolves. It's not always just coincidence. I believe you have a path.

    Steve Rush: So, who are the women in your life that have inspired you?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: I actually have been asked this question recently by a few people. And there's one person that always comes to the top of my list, which is definitely my mother. And I have come from a woman, I wouldn't say dominated, but a lot of women in our family. So definitely have a lot of that feminine energy and also seeing how strong my family roots, the women in my community, in my family have been really strong and determined and you know, willing to do whatever it takes. So, I think having that drive is certainly from my family, but in many other, you know, we quite often write about other women. And to be honest, you don't have be a celebrity or someone known in a public eye to inspire people. I am inspired by the women's stores that are here every day by the people that I have and share a stage for Hungry to Speak family with the Les Brown, you know, and we plan on doing some events and I just feel so privileged when we create events and we collaborate with people to have that opportunity like yourself before you get people onto podcasts to hear their real and raw stories before they actually get up on stage.

    Steve Rush: Yeah.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: That’s what really inspiring.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, awesome stuff. So, I'm going to flip the conversation a little bit now, and this is my chance to hack into your mind and ask some really deep and challenging questions around your leadership experience. So, if you think about your career to date, and we distilled that down to your top three tips, tools, or ideas, what would be your top three leadership hacks?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: As, if you haven't grilled me enough, Steve [Laughing], and that was always fun to have these conversations. And I truly appreciate, and honor your incredible questions today. I think first of all, is the confidence to have within yourself. Because without confidence, of course, you can kind of borrow confidence when you surround yourself with incredible people, but that mindset has to start within you. And there's a lot of mindset shift that needs to happen within ourselves. Two, I think having a clear vision and a goal and idea of what you want to have in this life, because a lot of the times we can follow a path that are going to that direction for far too long and not changing the gear can lead us blind to all the other opportunities and possibilities that we can have.

    Right, so having some kind of sense of direction of what you truly want and not following the herd or how it's been done, so going against the grain. And three, I think surrounding yourself with people because no leader, no man on a mission, no person who ever wants to conquer anything have done it solely by themselves, right? We always have that support network, whether it's family, whether it's friends, whether it's your mentors, coaches, communities, groups, where do you belong? What is your community? And if you don't feel like you belong anywhere, have the courage to create your own. Because this is where you're going to make impact.

    Steve Rush: I love that last bit, by the way. So, we often have this perception that we have to find communities, whereas in your case, what you've done is create communities. And that's actually really quite empowering and alluring as well, isn't it?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Any leader can do that, any entrepreneur and you know, whether they're big or small. This is you; this is yours.

    Steve Rush: Yeah, going against the grain. There's something else heard you say. And of course, the one thing that I observe in having interviewed dozens and dozens of entrepreneurs is that restlessness to go against the norms is where they find themselves.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Yeah, and do whatever it takes. And it takes you personally on very interesting destinations.

    Steve Rush: Exactly, so next thing we want to talk about is what we call Hack to Attack. So, this is typically where you've had an experience in the past that might not work out very well at all. In fact, it could have been quite a steep learning experience, but as a result of it, you now use it as a positive in your life and your work. So, Raimonda, what would be your Hack to Attack?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Suh a rich question and so many different stories, and you see in life, things doesn't always work out. And this is my general, I guess, insight into having tried many, the business that I have today, it happened by chance. I didn't plan for it, but there has been many intentional businesses and ventures and ideas that I have tried to pursue over the last more than 10 years. And there was a reason why they didn't work out like having my first business. And I face the adversity of being a 21-year-old girl building a business, which was more technical than you can imagine, building vending machines and systems and purification systems and brand and huge projects. And that business not working out, led me to another path in my career when I was working in crowdfunding. And that didn't work out, just as we were about to launch and having invested maybe 10, 15, 20,000 and 30,000 thousand of my own personal time. That not working out and then Women in Business happening. So, I remember when we were launching the crowdfunding platform that I've spent two and a half years building, actually the launch part of the launch event was called The Women in Business, which was our first official event. And that becoming and the crowdfunding platform becoming basically obsolete. So, every part of your journey, when things don't work out, there are doors that will open. And for me, that was Women in Business, which wasn't completely unplanned. It was just following my passion. So, I'm just so blessed to be here and have this community.

    Steve Rush: And I wonder if that's just down to your entrepreneurial spirit of not looking at the adversity, but looking for the opportunity.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Yeah, I guess. You got to know how to turn any bad situation into a positive.

    Steve Rush: Right.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: And when you have that perspective, you'll find a way and that's generally, you've got to find a way, in a life of business.

    Steve Rush: The very last question I'm going to ask you today is if you could go back and meet Raimonda when she was 21, and you could give her some words of wisdoms and counseling and coaching, mentoring, what would your advice to her be then?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Actually, when I was 21, one of my mottoes was to believe, achieve and inspire. And as far as I can remember, I have been a creator of motivational and inspirational content. I just didn't know where it was leading, but all those skills that you, as a 20-year-old accumulate, as a result of pursuing something will become so worthwhile. And this is something that you're going to lean on a lot. So, every part of something not working out, the mistakes, the lessons, the bad decisions, the bad investments that you have made, it's just a stepping stones to you knowing better. So, make those mistakes, don't be afraid. Go out there and conquer your dreams and believe, one in yourself, achieve what you set out to achieve, to show the world and then inspire others, right? Because once you have achieved your goals and dreams, which I have done over 10 years, when I was 21 or 25 years old, my mom would say, when are you going to get a job? Are you still doing this thing? It's been five years, get yourself a real job. And I was like, no mama, I'm unemployable. So, I have had to achieve my goals and dreams to show, not only my friends and family, but the world to say it was worthwhile. It's 10 years in the making, but it was worthwhile.

    Steve Rush: It's funny how people's perceptions of what other people do, where it doesn't have, you know, routine and you go to a location and a desk and you clock in and clock out. People still have a perception that you don't have a job. Yeah, I have a job, it's just a little bit different from others.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Yeah, I always laugh when people ask me, oh, what do you do?

    Steve Rush: Depends.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: I always laugh, because I know, you know, it could be a long conversation to explain how it works. So, I just say I host events and motivational speaking, things like that

    Steve Rush: So, for folks listening to us talk today, Raimonda, and for them to want to learn a little bit more about The Women in Business Club and indeed the work you do, where's the best place for us to send them?

    Raimonda Jankunaite: I think a website journey has a lot of most up-to-date information about our events, things that we do and the work that we carry out. So, womeninbusiness.club would probably be the best place to go check it out. We've got lots of blogs and some amazing resources, so definitely go and help yourself out.

    Steve Rush: Yourself out, quite active on social media as well, aren't you? Through Instagram I know, and LinkedIn and Twitter. So, we'll make sure that we scoop your social media handles and put them in our show notes as well.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Thank you, Women in Business, you usually find me one of the social media platforms hanging out.

    Steve Rush: Awesome. So, thank you ever so much for joining us today. I love speaking to you. You got a real calming, yet energetic approach to life. And I know that for the women who work with you, they get huge amounts of value and working with you and in growing their visibility. So, thank you for sharing that in our podcasts today and thank you for being part of The Leadership Hacker Community.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: Thank you so much. I celebrate you Steve of what you have achieved with your podcast is the phenomenal. When I have heard about your community, I was just so honored to wait more than six months to do this Steve with you, so this is special moment.

    Steve Rush: I know, thank you Raimonda and thanks for joining.

    Raimonda Jankunaite: I appreciate you. Look forward to hearing from everybody. Thank you so much.


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