114: Delivering Powerful Feedback for Powerful Results with Alan Willett

By February 3, 2017Podcasts

 

Alan Willett discusses optimal approaches to giving feedback and other means of making powerful improvements in your team.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What makes some employees “unleadable” and how to lead them
  2. Why people are afraid to give feedback–and how to overcome it
  3. How a two minute conversation can transform everything

About Alan

Alan Willett is of the rare species who is an expert international consultant, speaker, and author. He has worked with companies ranging from 1 person to some of the giants such as Microsoft and NASA. Alan says that his passion is helping people and organizations transform their friction points into profit points.

What is a friction point? It is the space where the business needs meet the implementation reality — in that space there is always heat generated! Alan is the expert who transforms that heat to innovation and  results for the business and the people.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Alan Willett Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Alan, thanks so much for joining us here on How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Alan Willett
It’s awesome to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so intrigued, first of all, a little bit about your back story. So in your childhood, you grew up on a dairy farm, and you mentioned that your dad did some things very well which made it a rock star dairy farm that left a mark on you. Can you give us that story?

Alan Willett
Oh, sure. Well, I’ll tell you a story because you absolutely asked for one. One of my favorites is really, I was sitting in the house with dad on a rare sunny Sunday afternoon in the summer, and everything in the fields were done, and we had a farmer come into us and go, “Fritz, how is it going? Do you got all your hay in?” And dad goes, “Yup.”
“Has all your equipment fixed up?”
“Yup.”
And the farmer just shook of his head, this other farmer, he goes, “Boy, Fritz, you are one lucky farmer.” And my dad goes, “Yup, I am one lucky farmer.”
After the guy left my dad goes, “Hmm, I think he kind of sort of missed that all the nights we were up getting the hay in while the sun was shining, all the work we did to keep the equipment running, all these other things that we did all the time so we can have this rare Sunday afternoon off.”
Luck really comes from a lot of due diligence, and I learned a lot from my dad about that. That one story just says a lot to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is good. That is good. And so I guess I’m also curious how these other dairy farms were struggling, you know, yours were prospering. Were there a couple kind of brilliant managerial tips and tricks you picked up as well?

Alan Willett
Sure. Well, first, it really is that due diligence. I’ve got to tell you, flash forward for a minute, I’ve helped a lot of projects be successful, and there were other projects struggling around and my account managers come up and say, “Boy, Alan, you are sure lucky to have those successful projects.” So let’s compare projects like that in the farming.
So, for example, well, my dad did a lot of preventive maintenance. We didn’t wait for things to break. He had everything on a schedule to make sure that things were kept oiled, greased, etcetera because equipment, when you have a plow break down or a tractor break down, is going to set you back for weeks possibly, and that’s impossible to take care of. So he really made sure that we did preventive maintenance.
We had the important parts on hand in case we’re going to need them. Look ahead, manage the risks. The cow management, for example, on the dairy farm is really important to keep your cows healthy. So one of the things other farmers didn’t do around us is like keep their feet trimmed all the time because that’s expensive. We always made sure we had people come to trim the cows’ feet, all the time, to make sure they were healthy. Little things like that. Just little details to really make sure that everything was going to be fine as we went along. It’s the preventive stuff that really, really made the distinction between our farms and other farms.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you, that is fun and real and I can see how that really does leave an impact. And it’s cool, just tales of a father’s impact on sons. It reminds me of my dad, always taking me to the library where I got hooked on books, you know, written by people now I’m interviewing so that’s pretty cool. But now let’s talk about your book, it’s called Leading the Unleadable, which is a compelling title. And so what do you mean by unleadable?

Alan Willett
Okay. Unleadable. One, it’s a catchy title, like you said. Two, a lot of times managers are going to face people that are problematic, situations that are problematic. It’s often where somebody has a very positive attribute that’s crossed the red line and is really having a negative impact to the project, to the group, to the organization. Oftentimes these managers look at the people and say, “They’re unleadable.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that is succinct. Okay. And so then –

Alan Willett
Oh, I can go farther if you need.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ve got a number of names for maybe categories of unleadable folks. Now when you call them cynics or divas, can you unpack a little bit about those terms and what you mean by them?

Alan Willett
Oh, absolutely. Let’s look at the gifts they bring first and then we’ll talk about what happens when they cross a red line. For example, with mavericks. I bet you’re a maverick, Pete. Pete Maverick, hmm. Sorry about that. But mavericks are people that really look at the status quo and say, “It can be better.” They’re going to push boundaries. They’re going to really look for innovations, improvements, they’re always pushing the edges of the envelope. I love people like that on my team. Do you know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Alan Willett
But let’s look at when a maverick crosses a red line. A maverick crosses a red line, and I’ve seen this too often, where they come into a job, an organization, and they disdain all the status quo, all the hard work where somebody worked hard to get to the place they are. They don’t look at the history. They don’t respect the history. They don’t recognize why some things might be the way they are, and they start to be very disruptive to morale.
They may actually start breaking things because they don’t understand the context. And they’re disrupting the group, and I’ve seen people start to leave the organization because the maverick is so disruptive, ball in the China shop kind of thing. They’ve crossed the red line. So the key question on the maverick is, “What do you do?” Let’s look at the cynic, too, before we go on.

Cynics are actually, you need them. Have you ever been with people that are just wildly optimistic, they have great ideas and always are pushing the boundaries for a new innovation, a new idea?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Alan Willett
And this wild optimism is good but it needs some reality checks. And the reality checks is something a cynic can really bring. I worked with a lot of high-tech organizations and they have, oh, a lot of cynics. You know, they have an ample supply. Because engineers, especially, are always looking at the flaws and things and how to fix them, so cynics is a good thing.
They look at the flaws and things and they’re going to say, “Okay, here’s what’s wrong with this idea. Here’s a risk with this idea.” And if they’re good they’re going to talk about how to make it better. But here’s where a cynic crosses a red line, when all they do is basically be doom and gloom about an idea.
I was in a meeting once where somebody started to bring up some really interesting ideas, innovative ideas, and the cynic in the room started to just say, “Well, that’ll never work because management will do this or that.” Then he made some really sharp comments that made everybody laughed. Made another sharp comment because he got that which sort of put down the person that brought up the idea, and no more ideas came up in that meeting.
And that person really started to thrive on this, really, his sharp wit and ability to pick apart anything quickly. Cynicism started to spread through the organization squashing everything. Something had to be done. So those are a couple examples. If you need more I’ve got a hundred but –

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, I appreciate that. And what I like is you said that the word optimism is like there is optimism inside these names. I guess cynic doesn’t sound like a good thing. Like I wouldn’t want to be called as a cynic. But you really highlighted how there’s kind of two edges or sides to each, and I think that kind of puts me in a more favorable mindset, which is it seems you’re going for here, is that it’s not so much that this person just sucks and is terrible but rather they have a certain way of being that has benefits and risks, and it’s kind of my job to work with that optimally.

Alan Willett
That’s correct. Really, I work with so many people around the world and I had a lot of times when managers are just struggling with so many on their team. I haven’t met a person yet who has meant ill intent to that manager or to the team even though they were being highly disruptive and a negative force. They really need that feedback to bring them around.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. So not a one had ill intent like they’re like, “I would’ve burned this place to the ground because I’ve got a grudge.”

Alan Willett
That’s correct. Okay, I’ve got to say I have met, I truly actually have met, once or twice, a person that I thought was actually evil.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Alan Willett
It was never in a work environment.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no. Okay, that’s another intriguing story.

Alan Willett
That’s another intriguing story. We’re not going to go there today, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So now, I’d love to hear then, so what do we do? So we’ve got – we see that there are some benefits and some challenges associated with different kinds of folks who some may call unleadable, but you beg to differ. So what’s the approach or the formula? Is it sort of customized for the different types or there are a couple of universal principles as well?

Alan Willett
Yes and yes.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alan Willett
There is absolutely some universal principles, and I highlight those in Leaders in Action: How to Get Powerful Feedback That Makes a Positive Difference, this is Chapter 5. The principle, really, behind it is a couple of things.
One is you really do want to give a powerful feedback that leads to a positive difference. I’ve had a lot of people that did one or two things wrong. One is to stay quiet and just try to let things get better by itself. That doesn’t work. I mean, sometimes it does. And that’s a dangerous thing because you might start to count on that.
The other thing you do, by the way, is give feedback in a really negative way that makes not a positive difference but actually makes things worse. So I say there’s a high bar for feedback. That you give it. Positive difference. The person says, “Thank you.” And that it really has as long-term lasting impact. So I really have a high bar.

Pete Mockaitis
So you said your high bar is like feedback gets the Alan Willett thumbs up if it kind of checks each of those boxes.

Alan Willett
That’s correct. And that’s a hard thing to do but most people don’t have that in mind, and I say, “If you start to track and measure the way you give feedback and the impact it has, it comes back to you realizing it’s not the other person that’s responsible but you’re responsible for your process for delivering it. And I have a process that I suggest in the book. Like the cynic, by the way. Let’s talk about that one for a minute.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Alan Willett
So that person really was being a very negative impact to the group. The manager that was the facilitator, owner of these meetings came to me and said, “You know, this is horrible. Cynicism is running rampant through the organization.” And I basically said, “Yup. Whose fault is that?” He looked at me, “What do you mean?”
“Is it the cynic’s fault or is it yours?”
“Ah.”
So, by the way, this is an example of giving feedback. I ask questions and I said to the manager, basically, this, “Without judgment, very concisely, what you need to think about is who’s responsible for these meetings, and is there ways to not allow the cynicism to happen, and does a person know they’re being that disruptive. Please think about that and get back to me.”
Very short, very concise, non-judgmental, although it did point a direction.
So what I worked with that manager on was to, first, to basically think about all the reasons they’re angry about this and why that was a problem. And I said, “Sit down and write. Think about this. Why are you angry and if you can look at why you’re angry? You’re angry because it’s really frustrating a lot of other people, people are feeling put down, it’s squashing ideas, you’re dreading going into your own meetings, other people are dreading going to the meetings to make progress, it’s starting to spread to other groups. You know, there’s a lot of things.”
And he realized he was really angry about this and feeling very judgmental, “Why is this person out to get me?” So I said, “Okay, put your anger aside now and really put together some really concise feedback so you can talk to the person.” So the manager did that, set up an hour to talk to the person. And my guideline to the manager was, to everybody, whenever they give feedback make it short. Try to have it be two minutes or less. I like to do it in less than a minute. But I’ll give people two minutes when they’re getting started with this.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Alan Willett
And so he basically sat down with the person and he said, “Hey, dude,” I won’t give a name, you know, “This is what’s happening. In meetings you bring up risks in a way that makes people laugh but it actually is killing innovation. It’s starting to be a very negative impact to the group. I want to know if you see what’s happening and if you have ideas how to actually help get your ideas out there and help other ideas be better. Do you see the negative impact that’s occurring?”
And then you just wait. And you wait as long as it takes for the person to talk. And eventually, in this case, the person talked and said, “Yeah, okay. I see what you’re saying. When I do this, it does,” he said, “it feels good because people laugh, etcetera, but I see now that when I think about it that the ideas stop coming. And I don’t mean for that to happen.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Alan Willett
So there’s a couple of things that happened, by the way, with this whole interaction. One is I really helped the manager see that he was responsible for making sure that people were contributing. And we also worked on ways for the space for the negative thinking to come into place and a place for positive thinking to come into place. There are structural things we could do as well. So there are a lot of details behind that. But the first thing is to really give feedback that the person can hear and think about and make adjustments based on it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then the content of that feedback is short, under two minutes and mentioning the behavior and the implications of the behavior, and then asking, “Do you see that?” and asking if they have any ideas to adjust.

Alan Willett
That’s correct.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds easier than we fear, I dare to say. Is that your experience working with clients?

Alan Willett
Absolutely. Really, what I have found, let’s look at the situation normal. This sounds so simple, so obvious but there’s a couple of problems. People are often afraid to give this feedback. It feels confrontational, etcetera. I’ve done this with lots of different groups, and basically I say, “What’s the fear of giving feedback?” And people have come up with about 30 different unique reasons why it’s hard.
I simplified it in the book. I think I gave like 10 or 12 reasons why it’s hard to give feedback. So people are really afraid to give feedback because of experiences. That’s one, people do have fear. They need to remove that.
Number two is when people usually give feedback they end up talking and talking and talking, and their emotions come out, their anger comes out, their frustrations come out, and they start to spill onto all these other different things that the person might have done wrong in the past.
So instead of the short two-minute feedback, it’s a half an hour, and the other person has to start to defend and argue and leaves angry, disappointed and ready to do harm. So, contrast that to the two-minute, non-judgmental, “I just really want to know what’s going on with you and what’s happening for you?”
Let me give you another example. One person was really, was in on the team and was not doing what they had committed to. They were really being horrible at their job. So I talked to the leader. I said, “Leader, basically has this been a problem before?” And they said, “No, this is new, but it’s horrible.” And he listed all the reasons she was angry.
And I said, “You need to talk to the person.” So basically she got rid of her anger, she came in and said, “You know, Pete,” or Joe in this case. “Joe, you are not doing your past work like you have in the past. It’s being a very big disappointment to me and the team. We’re likely to miss our commitments. I’m really confused what’s going on with you.” Simple, sweet and she just waited. She ended up waiting for three whole minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Alan Willett
That’s fine, by the way. And he finally just said, “I’ve been trying to keep this private but I’ve been going through a very bad divorce, and it’s really impacting me everywhere. I owe you and the whole team an apology.” And he said, “I’ll fix it.” So the meeting that she scheduled for an hour was about 10 minutes long.
The person got up and left and went to the team and apologized and told them what was going on. They rallied around him. They helped him. And his work went back to being spectacular almost instantaneously by the end of the week.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Alan, you just got a slam dunk story. I’m sure you share that frequently with your clients. It’s so money. Thank you. So, I guess, I’m curious then, oh, please continue. You had more to say.

Alan Willett
Oh, no, it’s really you don’t know what’s going on with people. As a leader you don’t know what’s going on with people. Oftentimes they really don’t know the impact their behavior is having. You really got to approach it with a loving, non-judgmental approach. You’d be surprised what you learn just by stating it and listening.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, so I am wondering then, so if the feedback occurs in, you know, two minutes or less, and you’re scheduling an hour, what do the follow-up conversations sound like? It seems like there’s a lot of minutes we haven’t accounted for yet.

Alan Willett
Okay. The reason I have an hour is I want everybody to feel relaxed, like there’s time to process this. So after you give feedback and after you find out what’s going on, oftentimes it is really short. But sometimes there’s more work to be done.
You’ll notice in the book there’s two chapters. One is about giving powerful feedback that makes a powerful difference. Sometimes it’s sufficient but sometimes you need to build a bridge to a successful improvement. Sometimes you really need much more help than that.
Here, I’ll give you a simple example. A long time ago we used to do donuts where I used to work a long time ago. And I had a favorite donut, and I decided I wasn’t going to have donuts anymore. I was trying to get in much better running shape, etcetera. But I kept it a secret so people would bring in donuts and they’d say, “I got your favorite donut, Alan,” which, by the way, was a plain donut that was a day old, a little bit crispy. Loved those. They bring me my favorite donut.
And you know what? I’d eat them. Because, one, it was my favorite donut. Two, it really felt bad for somebody to do something special for me and to bring that. So let’s transform this. We’ve had a manager with working with a lower-level manager who is being, “Oh, my gosh, this guy was just running meetings but in such a negative way that he was doing damage to everybody else.”
But what happened was he has some key buttons that if people push them he would go into this anger mode. So he was trying to fix this all by himself but he knew he want them to change it. So he had a history with the organization of a couple of years. People were used to this. Here’s the amazing thing that happened. He was trying to do it, trying to keep everything calm and together, and he was doing it in secret. So it confused people so they would start pushing on those buttons until he exploded. They brought him his favorite donut.
So the feedback that person had to be much longer. They gave the feedback, the person talked about his problems, and then they talked about how to build a bridge for successful improvement which involved being public about what he wanted to change. It involved getting other people to know that he really was trying to make that behavior better and that he would appreciate if people didn’t push those buttons.
And if they did push those buttons, or he started to go off the rails, that they develop like a hand sign or a word to say, “Hey, you’re off the rails. Bring it back together.” How to do a time out. So in that meeting there’s a lot more processing about, “How do we make the successful change?”

Pete Mockaitis
Now, you say push the buttons. Like that makes me think that they are deliberately want to see him blow up. What do you mean about push the buttons?

Alan Willett
Yes. No, here.

Pete Mockaitis
It sounds different than giving a donut. Giving a donut sounds like a nice thing, whereas push the button sounds like, “I’m out to get you a little bit.”

Alan Willett
Here. Virginia Satir said this a long time ago that, “People often choose a familiar over the comfortable.” Do you got that?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Alan Willett
The familiar over the comfortable. So basically it was very familiar for that manager to behave in a certain way. So when the familiarity he stopped he was behaving in a strange new way without any explanation, people longed to return to the familiar.

Pete Mockaitis
That is fascinating.

Alan Willett
It sounds odd.

Pete Mockaitis
“I loved it when that guy was screaming at us.”

Alan Willett
They didn’t. But really, I was observing these things, and the group looked stressed when he was doing these really strange and rational behaviors, and somebody would raise a hand and push a button, he would react to the normal way, you’d see the whole room relax.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that is fascinating. And I imagine you’ve seen these patterns elsewhere as well.

Alan Willett
Absolutely. There was great wisdom. People choose a familiar over the comfortable. So to change the familiar to the better often requires being much more public about it and building a support system for that new system of behaviors.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that does seem to be a bit a theme there, is the folks, the whole team rallies around and gets on board in the case of the divorce or so the anger situation. And so that’s interesting because I imagine most people fear that if I reveal or disclose this weakness or development opportunity, the challenge that I’m working on here, that folks are going to like tear into me, or they’re going to be like, “I told you so,” or all kinds of negative things that are happening. In your experience is that, in fact, folks come together and positive things unfold.

Alan Willett
Right. Look at the divorce, he wanted to keep it private, he didn’t want to have to share his misery, etcetera. People were happy to help him. The manager, he felt very uncomfortable doing this. Because managers often feel like they need to be completely competent, you know, super people, and to share a weakness was a really big vulnerability for him. He was shocked about how graceful people were and how they started to share what things they were struggling with and asked for his help as well. It really has a system of compassion once people can go past their vulnerabilities.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. So now I’d love to – I’m good and on board but I’ve always been a feedback lover, so. In some ways it’s patiently acquired. So let’s dig into maybe those who are less on board. You’ve cataloged these fears. Can you give us maybe a couple of the most common fears and the antidote to them when it comes to, “I don’t know if I could do that, that feels a little spooky”? Or, “Alan, you haven’t met Jane.” Or, you know, “You don’t even know what you’re dealing with over here.”

Alan Willett
Yes, definitely. One is just simply a fear of conflict. That’s an easy one. Do I need to say more about that?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think a lot of people have it, so, yeah, if you have solutions let’s hear them.

Alan Willett
Oh, well, just one, the fear of conflict, which is, “The person is going to argue with me,” or, “The person won’t like me or anything like that. It’s really hard to do that.” And like I said, without the right approach to feedback you might end having a conflict and a fight. What I really encourage in my feedback is to really make it fact-based, use “I” language and what the clear evidence is. And that removes the fight so many times and just lays it out for a mutual discussion about how to get back to the good of the group, “How do we make the organization better?”
Another fear is, “They’ll come back to bite me later. This person will use whatever this is against me.” And, again, most times people find this fear to be irrelevant. By the way, the book Leading the Unleadable, let’s talk about leading them leadable upwards for a second. Do you know what I mean? Managing, leading your leader?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Alan Willett
So there’s a whole host of fears there that, “If I raised this problem that it’s going to reflect badly on me or some teammate be harmed by it,” things like that. And, again, those are valid fears if you do it wrong. What people have to realize is that managers really do want to know this, but if you raise a feedback in a way that makes them think you are arguing with them, or disagreeing with a goal, it’s not going to work.
So similar to the feedback I gave to the people that work for me, I focus on the goals and say, “This is where we’re discrepant from the goals.” When I give feedback to people that are above me in an organization, I encourage people is to focus first, again, on the goals, “I understand the goals are these. Yes. And this seems discrepant to me, o hallowed leader.”
That, for example, this is one that I helped somebody do, “Leader, you say you don’t want any surprises, yet it seems to me that every time somebody brings up something up in a meeting that you think is a surprise you stand up, you start to yell. It seems to me like you’re really causing people to be afraid to give you any news at all. What do you think about that?”
So, again, very concise feedback to the leader above them but it was non-judgmental, it starts with a goal and comes back, “Is that what you want to happen?” And in that case, the manager really started to see what the person was talking about and adjusted his behavior to thank people when bad news was brought to him.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. You know, and I’d like to hear as well when you say, “What do you think about that?” And they say, “Well, Alan, I think you’re full of crap. You are so off base with this.” Like the worst case scenario unfolds. I know your book has some scripts. Do you have one for that?

Alan Willett
Oh, absolutely. Basically what I really encourage people is, especially when they’re giving feedback upwards, is to use risk language. For example, in this story where the manager wants no surprises, I would say, “You know, that could be true but I think there’s a risk. Do you see there’s a risk or do you think there’s no risk at all?”
And, you know, really, some people would say, well, like you said, “You haven’t met John.”
“John? You know what, I have met John.” And I haven’t met anybody that says there’s absolutely no risk. They say, “Okay, yeah, there could be a risk there. Do you think it’s low, medium or high?”
“I think it’s low.”
“Okay, it’s low. But if it’s low what’s the impact if it’s true?”
“Oh, that could be pretty severe.”
“Okay. So what I encourage you to do is just watch this and see if the risk is low and my feedback is invalid. Or if it’s accurate, and there’s some adjustment is needed. And I’m happy to help watch with you to see if I’m wrong about that.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s good. That’s good. And so because risk, that’s very clever. You sort of re-frame it from it’s no longer an absolute binary true-false. It’s like, “Can you get me a 20% probability that there might be something to this?” And then you can get that.

Alan Willett
Absolutely. And I think risk-taking is really important. And let me be really clear about a distinction. If you have somebody working for you and they committed to do X by point Y, and they’re working on Z, and it looks like Z is not going to be done until Y+20, it’s an issue. There’s no risk there, then you’d have to be clear about that. When I talk about a behavior thing and a possible outcome it’s more of a risk.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So there’s a contrast, you’re saying, a distinction between behavior and outcomes versus just clear-cut accountability for delivering a certain thing by a certain time.

Alan Willett
That’s correct. And I’m encouraging the feedback to really reflect what you know and what you don’t know.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. [pause] Yes, say a little bit more about that. Reflect what you know and what you don’t know. So you’re kind of coming in there with some humility that you don’t have all the facts and you’re making that known. How does that sound?

Alan Willett
That’s correct. Well, for example, “Pete, you promised me to send me the frequently asked questions by Thursday, and I don’t have them yet.” Well, actually, you did, Pete, by the way. But if, “And I don’t have them yet. And, Pete, by the way, it seems to me there’s a pattern to this, and I would really like to know what’s going on for you. Okay, again, Pete, you’ve been a flawless with this.
But that’s an example feedback where here’s a fact, here’s my impression, “I haven’t really tracked all the data, and I would like your feedback. What’s happening? Why is this one off? Is there a pattern or is there not? I think there’s a risk here that we can work out together.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So it’s like just distinct just laying out these are facts, this happened and then this happened, and question mark. What’s the story behind there?

Alan Willett
That’s correct.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, great. So, you tell me, Alan, is there anything else you want to make sure that we cover off before we talk about some of your favorite things here?

Alan Willett
Sure. I would like to note this. There’s a couple of major areas we didn’t talk about, and I want to just point them out. One area is when I talk a lot to managers they always say, “Alan, I think we should just fire them.” And I’m like, “Okay.” There’s actually a chapter in the book allocated to that which is called Decision Time: Remove or Improve.
I want to be clear, it’s not every time that you can turn a person around. Your obligation as a leader, the one you must never waver from, is to the group, the group, the group. And you have to make an evaluation at whether or not you can turn the situation around with a disruptive individual quick enough to not do harm to the group.
There’s a lot of factors there in that book. That chapter highlights what the factors you have to look at are, how to evaluate them, and what actions you can take. Because it’s not an on/off switch. It’s not fire or fix. It’s really more like dimmer switch. There’s a whole range of things from doing nothing to helping fix, to changing them to a different group, or changing the position slightly, to firing. There’s a whole range of actions and I really encourage people to take a look at that and think about that as they engage in this.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Alan Willett
The second thing I just want to highlight is we neglected the second half of the book which is the prevention measures. There’s a number of things that people could do to prevent people problems in the first place. What I find is that leaders go through an evolution where they are always in the reactive mode to project problems, people problems, et cetera.
And what I really encourage is they move from reaction to pro-action, to proactivity. Really, how to set clear missions, how to set expectations of excellence and how to set those expectations of excellence on a daily basis.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Well, now, if you could tell us a favorite quote, something that you find inspiring.

Alan Willett
I forget the exact words of this but I really love Robert Heinlein quote which is, “People should be able to lead an army, climb a mountain, swim a sea, change a diaper, cook a meal,” etcetera, etcetera, a whole list of things, and then say, “Specialization is for insects.” And I really embrace that quote in so many ways. I think we humans are learning machines, and we always want to be engaged in something that’s pushing our edges, pushing our envelope, giving us more ideas and more ways to improve as a human.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or a piece of research?

Alan Willett
Oh, well, you know, I have to say I really have enjoyed Oliver Sacks’ writing, such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Because in the Oliver Sacks writing he really talks about that a lot of times we’re trying to take people that are living outside the norm and push them into this very specific way of being. And oftentimes it has done more harm to the person than good. And so I really enjoyed reading Oliver Sacks because he makes me think differently.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And any other favorite books that you would highlight?

Alan Willett
Oh, I love books. But I’ll say, you know, one of the things I really like doing is looking for leadership themes, and how leaders behave in works of fiction. So I really have a couple of authors that are sort of at the opposite ends. Orson Scott Card, for example, with Ender’s Game which is in science fiction. And really in Ender in Exile is my favorite for this. Really talks about how good leaders behave and how bad leaders behave. And there’s a lot of truth in that. So I really enjoyed that one.
And I also enjoyed John Varley who’s at the other end of the spectrum, another science fiction writer. I specially love his Rolling Thunder series, about teenagers that go to Mars. And there’s a heck of a lot about leadership in that one as well, as well as really good science and a really good story.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite tool, whether it’s a product, or service, or app, or thought framework you find yourself using often?

Alan Willett
Oh, my gosh. I’m enjoying Trello right now. Trello is very nice for a visual management, it has a lot of nice integrations. I really like the simplicity on the top and the ability to see things and move things around easily, and the ability to go deep and add lots of comments notes. Keeps me well-organized.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite habit, or a personal practice that helps you be more awesome at your job?

Alan Willett
Ah, reality management.

Pete Mockaitis
What does that mean exactly?

Alan Willett
A-ha. One of the things I’ve really learned in life is that you have about three steps to enlightenment. One is the ability to see reality, which is an ongoing task all by itself to really look hard and cold and be able to see what’s going on. Number two is if you see reality, it’s not that easy to accept it. But to really accept it, to accept that it’s true whether it’s a hard thing or a good thing. And number three is once you accept it, to deal with it. So I’m a big believer in reality management and has helped me throughout my career.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite nugget from you in terms of an Alan original that gets people nodding their heads and re-tweeting and really kind of connecting and resonating with what you’ve said?

Alan Willett
Sure. It sounds very small and concise, but I often end my talks with a very simple statement – go forth. Do good in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And what you say is the best way to get in touch with you if folks want to learn more or see what you’re doing?

Alan Willett
You can go to my website at leadtheunleadable.com. All my contact information is there, and I’d love to talk to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And do you have a final parting call-to-action or a challenge for those seeking to be more awesome at their jobs?

Alan Willett
Go forth. Do good in the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Alan, thanks so much for this, and good luck with the book and your consulting and all you’re up to.

Alan Willett
Thank you very much, Pete. It was awesome to be here.

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The Gold Nugget

The Gold Nugget

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