464: How to Prevent Management Messes with FranklinCovey’s Scott Jeffrey Miller

By July 15, 2019Podcasts



Scott Jeffrey Miller says: "Great leaders are great listeners."

Scott Jeffrey Miller shares powerful stories and principles for becoming the most effective leader you can be.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why making time for one-on-ones is truly worth it
  2. Three foundational principles for listening well
  3. How to flourish as a leader by practicing the Law of Harvest

About Scott 

Scott J. Miller is Executive Vice President of Business Development and Chief Marketing Officer for FranklinCovey. Scott has been with the company for 20 years, and previously served as Vice President of Business Development and Marketing. His role as EVP and Chief Marketing Officer caps 12 years on the front line, working with thousands of client facilitators across many markets and countries.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Scott Jeffrey Miller Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Scott, thanks for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Pete, my pleasure. Thanks for the invite.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I think we’re going to have a ton of fun. And I want to start at the beginning with your first leadership experience and the tale of having a bit of a management mess.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah, I didn’t say I wanted to. It’s the start of the book, right? As I, like most leaders, was promoted to be a leader without really any training. I was a fairly competent individual producer, the top salesperson at the time and, unfortunately, that’s usually the criteria for someone being promoted into a leadership position, is you were doing your individual contributor job well so you must be of leadership caliber which, of course, is absurd. So, I share, in this story, lots of horrifying scenarios, but do you want me to walk you through the first one?

Pete Mockaitis
I would. I’d love it. The more horrifying the better, please.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Well, that’s my specialty, Pete. So, let’s see, I was a couple of years into my role here at FranklinCovey as a salesperson selling leadership solutions to universities, colleges, school districts, and I got promoted to be over the team, like the team the day before me were my peers and friends. That’s never a comfortable position.

And I decided that I wanted my legacy to make sure that all of my colleagues, my new sales team, had an adequate understanding of our new solution, so I arranged and got the budget and organized the conference room to have a two-day professional development training, and really enculturate the new sales team—my new sales team—into our newest solution. Hired a consultant, first day show up, everybody comes in 15-20 minutes later. I was incent. I mean, after all, we are a productivity, time management company at heart so I was lit.

Pete Mockaitis
Putting first things first, let’s see, I’m sure there’s some habits and principles.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
I’m sure we violated a lot of things. Well, they were just putting their first things first, not me. So, they kind of strolled in 15-20 minutes late and I was incent, I was productive, I was vigilant, I was probably pretty suffocating. So, anyway, we started the program, and then I was just really irritated all day long. So, that night I decide, “The next morning I’m going to show them there’s a new sheriff in town, quite frankly.”

So, I go, in my genius, in my leadership, finest moment genius, I go to the supermarket and I buy like 15 copies of the Salt Lake Tribune. The next morning, sure enough, everybody comes in 10-15 minutes late, and I am just like, “I will not be disrespected,” right, that’s my mentality. I walk around the room before the program starts and I throw down on the table in front of everybody the classified job ads from the Tribune and I say, with great flair, “If you want a job from 9:00 to 5:00, Dillard’s is hiring.” And then I gave them a highlighter to highlight the roles they want, which I thought it was inspiring and, “You should want to work here.” And, of course, it was idiotic and it was insulting and emasculating. And the horror story is that it took me a couple of days to understand that what I had done was just so immature and to the opposite of what a principled mature leader would do.

And the good news is, as I mentioned in the book, a decade later, I get married, literally a decade later, almost to a T, every one of those people who either quit on the spot, threatened to quit, threatened to sue me, threatened to have me fired, whatever it was, they’re all at my wedding, we’re laughing at the horror of it all. And so, the story ends well but it was just one of those examples of what I thought in my mind was a fine leadership example was just idiocy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. It’s so funny, I don’t know why that tale just brings up a scene from, well, I guess, the famous Alec Baldwin scene from “Glenngarry Glen Ross.” I guess you skipped some of the profanity and the demeaning insults but it’s dramatic in terms of, “Oh, I’m not messing around here. I’m laying down the law.” Well, Scott, if I could just give you an opportunity to have a do-over and rewind time, how would you have approached that situation today? You know, if folks are late, you feel disrespected, what do you do?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah, I think I would, well, I know what I would do. I’d sit down on the table in front of them and say, “Hey, guys, ladies, gents, so glad we’re all here. We’ve got a great two days ahead of us. I noticed that we’ve got a couple of things we want to tighten up. One is I noticed that this morning perhaps the start time wasn’t clear. I really want to make sure we establish a culture of respect and discipline, and you know how much we all like to be punctual, it’s kind of what our brand is. We want to model for our clients and for each other, that we live our content, right?”

“I mean, we are a time management consulting company, so I’m going to ask that everybody be really diligent on respecting the start and end times. So, if you’ll respect the start times, I’ll respect the end times. And if we need to start later and go later, I’m fine with that, but let’s just set down some ground. rules. And if we think that we should be a little more free on some things and tighter on others, I’m open to that.”

And I would’ve absolutely had it be a conversation, not dictatorial, I would’ve not made it as big a deal, at the same time, I would’ve said, “This is kind of important to me, because I think how we treat each other is how we treat out clients, how we treat the consultant today, as everyone are consultants to be treated by our clients.” So, I would’ve had a very comfortable dialogue, no theatrics, no grand gestures, no purchasing of classified ads. I would’ve gotten my point across just as well, if not better, with no theatrics.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Okay. Well, while we’re here, I’m just going to follow up one more time. Let’s say, next day you got two stragglers, what’s the game plan?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
I would probably call them out maybe not in public. It would depend upon now the rapport that I had with the team. At the time, I didn’t have rapport. I was their peer literally the day before and now I’m sort of like the swagger. So, I think it depends on the scenario. I might have called them aside. I might have texted them and say, “Hey, I know you’re late this morning. I’m guessing something came up. Do me a favor, if you’re going to be late in the future, just give me a heads up so I might have held the program for you.”

I think, now, I would suspend judgment more and not jump to a wrong conclusion. I would assume good intent. I would assume they weren’t trying to flagrantly violate my new stature, right? So, I think as I have matured, I’m less suspicious. I’m more gracious and forgiving and give people a chance to rise to the occasion versus expect them to violate some petty rule that might be important in the moment but isn’t valuable long term to the culture of the team. At the end of the day, who cares if you start five minutes late in the grand scheme of a career, right? I think I just have matured and I’ve identified what’s really important and what’s kind of petty urgent.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I imagine you’ve made a number of discoveries in terms of what makes effective leadership in your own career and being surrounded by the folks at FranklinCovey and putting together your book “Management Mess to Leadership Success.” So, could you maybe share, is there a particular insight or discovery that has been most transformational for you personally?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah, it’s very clear to me. So, I’ve been in the firm for 23 years, and you would expect as an officer of the firm now, I’d be a great leader, right? And nobody is a complete mess and no one is a complete success. Leadership of people I don’t think came naturally to me. I think I’ve gotten much better over the decades but I was a star individual performer and I had to realize that the skills that make you a great dental hygienist or digital designer or salesperson rarely don’t translate over into leadership of people. So, there has to be a major paradigm shift.

You can’t be the star anymore. It isn’t all about you. It isn’t you hogging the spotlight. And so, I had to make a fundamental paradigm shift around what was important to me—and did I have the humility, did I have the confidence to let other people shine, and even sometimes shine past me, get promoted over me, earn more money than me? It takes a very secure, confident, humble person to lead people. And I think, for me, the biggest lesson on how to get there was, Pete, the value of relationships.

When Dr. Covey was alive, he passed seven years ago, our co-founder, he was constantly reminding me about the difference between having an efficiency mindset and an effectiveness mindset. And it’s something I have struggled with my entire life as it relates to relationships with people. And that is I’m a very efficient person. I like to talk fast, think fast. I mow the lawn fast. I rake the lawn fast. I’m at Home Depot at 5:00 o’clock on a Saturday morning before the staff even opens the doors to buy the flowers to plant them by 6:30. I like to get things done.

And that served me very well in life. I have no apologies for being an efficient human being. But when it comes to relationships with people, one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Covey is this concept of, “With people, slow is fast, and fast is slow.” So, what works well with me planting pansies and begonias in the garden does not work well leading people. I have to move into an effectiveness mindset.

It’s fine to be efficient with systems and even some meetings and even some conversations, but the vast majority of leadership is about building culture, respecting people, and that cannot be rushed. And I have to consciously slow down, check in, get off of my own timeline and my own agenda, and not try to “check people off my list.”

It is a challenge for me. It’s not natural. And when I rise to the occasion of slowing down, the result is always better. I start at kind of a mess and have to consciously think of success when it comes to relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I resonate with that and I do like efficiency and blazing speeds whenever possible. It just feels really good. And then it feels like there’s like a huge list of everything that desires or demands your attention. So, let’s dig into that. That is one of your challenges in the book, is making time for relationships. So, let’s dig into that, how slow is fast, and fast is slow when it comes to relationships, and here’s some stories and practices to bring that to life.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Well, first, I think it’s a mindset also, right? It’s, “Do you really see yourself as a leader of people versus a leader of strategies, a leader of budget, a leader of outcomes?” I think it’s just to check in to say, “Do I really care about the team that I lead, the division I lead?” The fact of the matter is, Pete, most of us recognize, in our careers, we tend to spend more time at work with our colleagues than we do awake with our family and friends.

And when that is the case for most of us, we want to slow down and really develop quality relationships with people because, as all the stats show, people don’t quit their jobs. They quit their boss, according to Gallup, and they quit their culture. And the leader’s number one job is to, in my opinion, retain and recruit quality talent above everything else, even above setting vision, strategies, systems, stakeholders, return to investors. Your job is to recruit or retain talent and it all comes down to, “Do you have a high-stress culture? Are you respected? Are you trusted?”

You may not always be liked as a leader. In fact, you probably rarely will be liked. But if you build rapport with your people, you make it safe for them to admit their messes, you admit your own messes, to really understand that your number one job is to connect with people and make them want to come to work, make them not want to accept the recruiter call which, by the way, they’re getting every day. If you don’t think your people are getting poached, you’re in a cave. It’s a war on talent right now.

And if people like their leader, they think you have their back, that you establish what I would call a pre-forgiveness environment. It was taught to me by one of my leaders, which is, “You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to screw up, so let’s just pre-forgive you. It doesn’t give you the right to now go out and just be a train wreck but you’re going to make some mistakes. No one wants to live in fear.” And I think, at the end of the day, have you connected and slowed down with your people?

I read once a great leadership tactic. And it was when someone comes into your     office, if you’re wearing glasses, take them off, put them on the table. If you’ve got a phone, turn it over and put it down. If you’ve got a laptop, close the laptop, and just like, almost artificially, overly check in to the person. Those subtle things are noticed and people will remember them.

It sounds kind of technique-y and it is, but I think it becomes a habit and a practice, and people feel that. People quit their bosses or people stay with their leaders because they feel inspired and validated and trusted and empowered. And those aren’t cultural buzzwords. Those are real things that people can taste and feel.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I dig what you’re saying here. That’s all ringing true and resonating. So, I want to hear a little bit, if folks are in a place, let’s talk about slow being fast with people. If there’s some leaders, more so junior leaders in terms of our listeners, it’s about 50/50 in terms of those who have direct reports and those who don’t, and those who unofficially are influencing without authority, project managing stuff, so that’s kind of the ballgame. We got some executives but more so early leaders in the listener crowd.

So, if folks are feeling kind of overwhelmed by all the things on their plate, all the goals and to-do list items that are there, and they’re worried that they “don’t have time” to a one-on-one with everybody, for example, how would you counter-argue that?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Well, they’re probably right. They probably don’t have time but they also want to have a team because your team will disengage with you. This concept that you talk about, which is this idea of challenge 20, hold regular one-on-ones. It’s really a chance to engage with your team. Again, if you believe that your number one job as a leader, not your only job, but your top job is to recruit and retain top talent, and that may not be a yes for you. You may not psychologically, philosophically believe that. I have come to absolutely believe that.

The CEO, the CFO, the chief marketing officer, right, even her job or his job is to recruit and retain talent because people are proud of their brand. So, I would set expectations carefully. Don’t go announce you’re going to have, all of a sudden, one-on-one every week with all 14 direct reports. You’re setting yourself up for failure. Calibrate expectations, talk about the value, understand the value of sitting down with your people, door closed, phone off, laptop down, glasses off, and using it as a chance to gauge engagement.

In fact, we say that one-on-one should be organized by the other team member. It’s their meeting, not your meeting. This is their chance to talk 70% of the time. You talk 30%. They ask questions, you clear the path. You listen about things going on in their life. Pete, everybody has got a mess in their life, everyone has got a bill that they can’t pay, everyone has got a challenge in their marriage or their relationship with their partner, everyone has got a kid that’s just causing them a nightmare, everyone has got a sick parent. Everyone has got something going on that is weighing on them, that’s distracting them, that’s weighing them down.

And the more they can trust appropriately in their leader to care, sometimes people just need a leader to listen and understand, “You know what, my teenage son has got a challenge, and I might be coming in late. I promise you I’ll make it up, maybe not in the short term.” You’d be surprised. Leaders are really forgiving, generally speaking, and they understand and they know, they’re not guessing what’s going on.

So, I don’t think you can afford not to take time with your people when there is this, especially with your star performers, when they are being recruited and poached like never likely in history. I’m shocked at the number of recruiters that are chasing me on LinkedIn. If my CEO knew it, he’d have me at lunch every day, or maybe he does know it, he doesn’t want me to stay. But that’s a good head’s up. If you fundamentally believe your job is to retain talent, you’ll do this.

Let me share one more point, I’m sorry I’m going long. My favorite leadership book every written is called “Multipliers.” It’s by Liz Wiseman. I can’t evangelize it enough. It’s a game-changing book. I think it’s arguably better than some of the books that we’ve written at FranklinCovey. Liz Wiseman was the former, basically, VP of Learning at Oracle for 20 years. She left, she’d become a friend of mine, and she talks about how multiplying leaders don’t have to be the genius in the room.

They choose to be the genius maker. They don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. They have the humility and the confidence not to always have the answer, always solve the problem, always trample over someone, that they really can create an environment where people can talk and share ideas, and share ideas that are half-baked or quarter-baked. You don’t have to choose your words super carefully.

That’s a leader that creates an environment where people feel safe to take risks and express their ideas. And I think that’s a great way to build relationships. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. You just have to be smart enough to hire the smartest people in the room.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. So, I dig that and I’ve heard that recommendation before so it’s nice to have some extra oomph behind that book. So, I guess, tell me, if folks are having trouble making the time, where should we get it? How do we get the time?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah. Well, it kind of comes down to your own prioritization. I’d argue that no one is busier than me and I don’t wear that as a badge of honor, and I have got to deliberately choose to say no to other things. That’s really a chief leadership competency, right, is this discernment, “What are you going to say yes to? What are you going to say no to? Where does it come on your sort of value chain? Are you making high-value decisions on how to allocate your time?”

And, again, if you fundamentally believe that people are your most important asset, that your culture is your ultimate competitive advantage, which by the way I evangelize unabashedly, that culture is every organization’s only competitive advantage. It can’t be duplicated. Everything else can be stolen, copied, replicated, and good enough, but they can’t steal or replicate your culture. So, how you find the time is in your own mind. What are you going to say no to that has less return than the 30 minutes with Pete this afternoon?
I’ll tell you, the worst one-on-one, Pete, is not the one that the leader talks the whole time or hijacks the agenda. The worst one-on-one is the one you cancel because as soon as you cancel the first one, now you’ve given permission to cancel the second one as a slippery slope, and now you look like a fraud. So, that’s why I’d say don’t overcommit.

If you’re going to have one-on-ones, announce to your team, “Hey, I think a great idea would be for us to have one-on-ones. I know, I get it, it’s another meeting. No one wants more meetings. Don’t think of it as a meeting. Think of it as a conversation, a chance for you to check in with me. You can ask me questions. Are there some things that I can use my political clout to clear the path on? Are there some systems that you think maybe I’m overly-invested in and it’s time to challenge them? It’s a chance for me to understand what are you struggling with? What are you loving? What’s on the horizon for you? You can ask me questions around the company, the strategy, ‘Are we being sold? Are we being bought?’ I can’t tell you but you get the point.”

And say, “You know what, let’s try, for the one-on-one, 30 minutes once a month. If we find that, after the first couple of months, I’m able to keep them, you’re able to keep them, great. Maybe we’ll go more frequently,” but set expectations low.

I had a client once that, when they heard me give a speech, it was a publisher, he came up to me and said, “Oh, my gosh, it was the most genius thing, Scott. You so inspired me. I have 14 direct reports. I’m going to go announce…” “No, no, no, no, don’t announce anything. Do not announce anything because you’re going to set yourself up for major disappointment and you’re going to kill your brand. Sit down with your assistant and think out methodically. Can you really do 14 of them?” Because we get into this habit where we overcommit ourselves. The first one goes great, the second one goes really well, the third one goes pretty good, the fourth one is taxing, and then they’re like, “Oh, crap. This is just like killing my day, right?” So, ease into it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. All right. Well, we talked about some high-value stuff. You’ve laid out 30 different challenges in your book. Which one or two would you say is just exceptionally high return for the investment of time, energy, attention you put into it?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
You know, when I wrote this book, which by the way now is a number one Amazon new release bestseller for three weeks in a row. I’m super proud of that because I think the world was ready for a different kind of leadership book, one a little more relatable, raw, and messy, so to speak, because leadership is messy.

We started out with 30, well, about 130 challenges, put them all up on the wall with sticky notes, that we thought leaders face. Of course, that’s a suicide mission, right, a book with 130 challenges. So, we narrowed it down to 30, and we organized them in kind of three tranches, Pete. The first eight are around kind of leading yourself. The next dozen or so are around leading others. And the third about dozen around getting results.

The one I think that is probably the most counterintuitive is challenge three, and that’s listen first. The reason I think it’s so counterintuitive is because by the time you become a leader, you had been well-trained on communicating. You’re always in convincing mode, persuading mode, you probably have a big vocabulary. You’ve mastered your message. You’re good at setting vision, convincing people. You’ve mastered the stage, and the microphone, on and on and on.

How many have had days and days of presentation training, lots of them, PowerPoint, keynotes? How many leaders has had legitimate training on listening? I’m in the business. I mean, I had probably four or five collective hours and 30 years on listening. It’s not called TED Listen, it’s called TED Talks, right? We’re constantly reinforced about the power of communicating. But I think great leaders are great listeners. It is a communication competency.

And I think we undermine ourselves because we’re always so used to solving problems, peeling the onion, asking great questions, and these things actually aren’t great leadership tools. There’s a place for that or there’s a place to get to the bottom of something fast and furious so you can solve it in an emergency or in a crisis. But, generally speaking, asking great questions is not showing empathy because your questions are usually based on your own paradigm, your own narrative, your own agenda, your own timeline, your own curiosity, your own need to know. And people will tell you what they need you to know.

So, I would really argue and advocate for people to be much more mindful of when was the last time that you listened to someone to truly understand as opposed to just reply, fix, solve, and move on. And I could go for a half an hour about listening. It is a total mess for me because I’m well-trained at public speaking, I host two podcasts, I host a radio program. Like you, I speak for a living, right? And I don’t like to listen because people talk too slow. I like to listen fast. I like to speak fast. I like to interrupt. I like to get to the bottom.

Ask my wife, my wife does not need me to solve her problem. She needs me to listen, validate her, and understand. My wife is very smart and very competent. She rarely wants me to solve her problem. So, I would just remind leaders to be uber, hyper aware of your listening skills, your propensity to interrupt, and can you psychologically bring the mental discipline in your next conversation to move off, well, how was it when you had that challenge.

What was it like when you faced that situation? And just constantly remind yourself, check back in, check back in, check back in. Listen. It doesn’t mean you can’t ask some questions. But the more you listen, the more the person will appreciate you and feel like you care about them. So, that was a long example.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I dig it. Now, when you say check back in, you’re just talking about…

Scott Jeffrey Miller

Pete Mockaitis
…inside your own head.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re off in your own land.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Of course, you are.

Pete Mockaitis
And bringing it right back.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
That’s right. You’re thinking about your own experience with that same scenario or, “I’d never let that happen,” or, “Here’s how I would solve it.” You have to show enormous intellectual discipline to fight the battle of distraction, to fight the battle of, “Would you just stop talking and I’ll solve your problem for you,” right? But most people don’t want you to solve their problem. They just want to feel heard. They want to feel loved. They just want to feel listened to. And it may sound kind of touchy feely, but that’s part of leadership. It’s just sometimes validating people’s frustrations.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you said you could talk for half an hour about listening, but I’d love to go another five minutes. So, we talked about, you said, somewhat technique-y, but closing the laptop, or putting the phone aside, taking off the glasses, repeatedly checking back in and reorienting your attention away from your own internal dialogue back to them. What are some of the other kind of foundational principles and favorite practices when it comes to listening well?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah, I think I shared three things. One of them I’m going to repeat. One is you have to fundamentally believe that you care about what this person is going through or believes. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. It doesn’t mean you have to even like them for that matter. Just fundamentally, “Is what I’m trying to do right now to help them by just listening?”

Second, resist the temptation to ask questions because most of our questions are probing questions, evaluating questions, interpreting questions. Most of our questions are built so that we can get better context from our own paradigm, mindset, frame of reference, belief window, whatever you want to call it. Most of those questions are really selfish. They satisfy your need to know.

Here’s a good example. When someone says, “Tina’s husband died.” Honestly, most time, our first question is, “How?” Who cares how? Does it matter if he died by an overdose or hit by a car? It doesn’t matter. What matters is Tina is probably in pain. And so, that’s a little bit macabre, I know, but it’s an example that I use in the book, right? If you’ve read that chapter, you know I used an example about someone whose dog died, and how we ask all these questions to kind of satisfy our own curiosity.

So, I would really challenge people, “Is your expert machine gun-style questioning technique…?” which is mine, I think I used an example of like a kangaroo boxing with their feet when I’m at a dinner party, right? Question, question, question, question, question. I didn’t give the person enough time to answer the question. I’m onto the next question. And so, lower your questions.

Here’s the third. I think if people are all like me, we all have a propensity to interrupt because, according to the famous linguistic professor, Dr. Deborah Tannen from Georgetown University, all of us have some preconceived sense of how long the other person should be talking. Pete might think Scott should talk for 48 seconds and stop. Scott might think Pete should talk for 28 seconds. We all have this sort of built-in idea of how long the other person should be talking, so we start to move off of listening and want to interject and move it onto our timeline. But it’s selfish. It’s self-serving.

So, the next time you’re tempted to interrupt, which will be today, I want everybody to be mindful, close your lips. Gently, let your top lip touch your bottom lip, not so it’s visible, just close your lips gently. Because if your lips are closed, you cannot form a word and, therefore, you can’t interrupt. And count to seven, count to ten, and the odds are that during that time when you choose not to interrupt, the other person will either finish talking, land their point, or maybe even share something especially vulnerable, or the crux of the story, or divulge their fear.

And it’s in that time when you’re not interrupting that you might actually learn something especially important, that when it’s time for you to interject, you’ll have a more fuller picture of how you could help them. It’s actually a great exercise that I strongly advise everybody. Check in mentally, try to stay off the natural distractions to move off of your task list, “What’s for dinner? Are you on time for they gym? Do you have enough groceries?” whatever it is. Check back in mentally, you may have to do it four or five times during a conversation, and really resist the urge to interrupt.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I love it when you talked about closing your lips. That’s huge because…

Scott Jeffrey Miller
It’s idiotic, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, it’s sort of like it even changes your entire posture because a lot of times your mental state follows your physiology and your body posture and such. Are you raring to get after it and go for a sprint, or are you kind of chilling and laid back and relaxing, reclining? And, likewise, is your body poised to chime in or is your body poised to take it in? And then the difference, it can be a small as a millimeter or two, but is there a gap between your lips or are your lips, in fact, touching each other and closed? I love it. That is good.

Well, you got so much good stuff here, Scott. I like what you had to say about Wildly Important Goals. Can you share with us what are they, how do we identify them and get us all moving toward them?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Sure. So, in full disclosure, this is not my original content. In fact, all of these 30 challenges come from Franklin Covey’s leadership intellectual property. This idea was really popularized by Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great.” He coined this term, he called them BHAG, Big Hairy Audacious Goals. And Jim is a good friend of our CEO. In fact, I’m going to see Jim next week in Boulder for a meeting. And he really inspired us in our bestselling book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” which is the number one book in the world when it comes to strategy execution.

And in our book, at FranklinCovey, we created a version of Jim’s BHAG, we called them WIGs, Wildly Important Goals. It’s quite simple but profound. We all have goals. But have you, as a leader, taken the time and the discipline to elevate what is truly more important than anything else? Meaning, like nothing can come at the expense of this getting done.

In fact, the same concept can apply in your personal life, in that as a leader, you have several roles. One of them, beyond obviously retaining and recruiting talent, setting culture, modeling trustworthiness, is communicating clarity around what is most important. And your job is to help to identify with your team, “What is going to provide disproportionate return to our shareholders, to our customers, to our profit, to our mission?”

Your job is to say, “Yes.” Your job is to say, “No.” Your job is to elevate things that have to happen. We call those the Wildly Important Goal. And everything cannot be a Wildly Important Goal. While you’re doing that, you have to make sure that your people understand that this is more important than anything else, but that you’ve taken the time, Pete, to communicate to them what is their role in achieving this goal, what types of behaviors. Literally, what do you need to see differently from them tomorrow to help achieve this goal because, likely, if it’s a Wildly Important Goal, you haven’t accomplished it yet. And everyone is going to need to learn something new or do something different tomorrow to achieve this new goal.

So, as a leader, don’t be afraid to sit down with Pete and say, “Pete, let’s talk about this. We’re going to move our customer retention from 18% to 19% in the next two months. Here’s what I think your contribution needs to be to this. Let’s look, like, what kind of training, what kind of support, what are you going to need to do differently so that you can contribute new and better behaviors to this? And, by the way, while you’re at it, don’t just tell everybody else what they need to do differently. Offer up what you’re going to do differently. And say, ‘You know what, team, I’m going to ask you all to stretch beyond your skillset, and I want you to know I’m going to lead the parade. I’m going to leave the comfort of my office and go out and meet with 10 clients in the next 14 days and really understand what do they need from us or whatever the solution is, right?’”

You lead out and show people that you’re willing to move outside your comfort zone. And then I think, beyond all of that, the goal has to be attainable. You have to structure it in a way that people understand, “Are they winning?” And goals should be structured, at least from our pedagogy, if you will, in a from X to Y by when format. “We will move customer retention from 18% to 19% by May 31, 2020” from X to Y by when.

And once people are very clear on that, “What is the goal? What is the measurement? What is my role in it? What is their role in it?” you’ve got to celebrate it. You’ve got to have it on the scoreboard, it could be hokey, it can be with cotton balls, it can be pompoms. I don’t care. The hokier the better. The less digital the better. People should look at it in a heartbeat and know, “Are we winning or are we losing? How are we at tracking towards goals?” These are kind of simple concepts.

As Dr. Covey used to say, “Common knowledge isn’t common practice.” He would always talk about The 7 Habits, “To know but not to do is not to know.” It sounds religious, maybe it is, I don’t know or care. But I think it’s a great methodology around setting Wildly Important Goals is more than being a visionary.

Let me share one final thought. I think there’s a type of leader, it’s often the high-endurance athlete, it’s often the uber successful leader who is a workaholic who’s relentless. And if they win, they lose. I’m going to say it again. If they win, they lose. Meaning, if they accomplished the goal, they’ve lost because the goal was set too low. And I think that is a cancer inside some organizations. As a leader, you should be setting stretched goals that require extraordinary effort that are aspirational, but they have to be accomplishable.

And when your team accomplishes them, you have got to invest and spend time acknowledging them, thanking them, rewarding, and celebrating. Set off the confetti, right? Spray the champagne bottle. Go bat, you know what, crazy. Don’t just say, “Great,” and then get back to the grind. People need to feel like you value accomplishing the goal as much as you did setting it and striving towards it.

I’m actually pretty passionate about that because I think too often leaders set goals that are too waffy and they crush the confidence of the team. People want to win. And if they can’t win working for you, they’ll go win working for somewhere else, someone else. Sorry, that was a diatribe.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I dug it all. And I want to get your take for those who are aspiring for leadership positions but don’t have them yet, and they want to be like you, promoted into a management role. How do you get that signaling, that conveying, earning that trust, that confidence, such that people think, “Yes, you are the one who should be a manager now”?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Can I take four minutes?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
First, ask yourself why, right? Why is it you want to move into being a leader of people? I think, like I’ve said before, people are too often lured into being the team leader for the wrong reasons. Lead or be led, right? “Either take the job or Pete, down the hall, is going to be my leader tomorrow. And that’s horrifying thought, right, I don’t want Pete being my leader so I’m going to step up the plate, right?”

I get it. I get it. But wrong motivation. Do you get your validation from seeing other people succeed? I think, too often, it’s the only way to get a career promotion is to move up into leadership. And I think it’s a system’s misalignment issue. I’m not here to tackle the OD industry but I think people should really question, “Why do I want to do this?”

Here’s the next thing. I think people try to harvest their careers too soon. That’s a broad statement. I said the word people. There’s an amazing video that Franklin Covey has in our “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” two-day work session. It’s an interview we did 25 years ago with this sort of unsophisticated but very smart potato farmer from Iowa, sorry, from Idaho. And the name of the video is called “The Law of the Harvest.”

And in this sort of 8-minute video, this potato farmer says something that changed my life, it changed my career. He said, “There comes a time when we plant potatoes that we have to rotate the crop, right? Some years we actually plant a money-losing crop, like alfalfa or whatever it is, and we lose money on it. But it replenishes the soil so desperately and so vitally that allows us to grow bigger potatoes the next year.”

And I think the metaphor is so wise for our careers. I think, too often, including in this younger generation—which I have enormous respect for, I mean, they’re going to be my boss in the next five years. I better shape up and not insult them, and I won’t—is that too often, I think we try to harvest as oppose to plant.

In my career, I have found that patience has rewarded me. Fertilize, water, weed, rake, hoe, fertilize some more. Don’t try to harvest too soon. I think, in most organizations, leaders will call you when you’re ready. Nobody wants to suppress people. We know you’ll quit. No one wants to suffocate people. We know you’ll quit. No great leader, no mediocre leader, is going to pass over you when the timing is right. If they do, you’re working for the wrong organization.

But I think the question you ask is, “How do you know?” We’ve all been in the role where we’ve had to kind of fake our way until we make it. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I’m certainly a product of that. But I think you should surround yourself with wiser people than you. I’ve always practiced this concept, Pete, I call friending up. While my colleagues were playing beer pong at the lake house on the weekends, I was with the boss at his or her family’s house, picking their brains. I’ve always surrounded myself with people who are older, smarter, wiser, richer, better educated, better travelled, been down the same path. And that always kind of led me into a leadership role probably a little sooner than I should’ve been, but it certainly had me on the right track.

So, I would say practice the Law of the Harvest. Don’t try to harvest too soon, and surround yourself with leaders that are willing to mentor and coach you, and have been down the same path you’ve been in, have made the mistakes that you could avoid if you’re willing to listen and pay attention.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Thank you, Scott.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Probably not where you thought I was taking that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no. I can dig it. I can dig it. And we’re going to have a quick moment for some of your favorite things. Can you give us a favorite quote?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
My favorite quote, no surprises, from Dr. Stephen R. Covey, he said, “You can’t talk your way out of a problem you behaved yourself into. You can only behave yourself out of that problem.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Oh, my gosh, I love electric screwdrivers.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
You know what, I really get into the habit of apologizing without excuses. I’ve learned that the excuse-free apology is the only apology. So, I’ve gotten to the habit of simply saying, “I’m wrong. I apologize. I own it.” No excuses around it. No defending myself. No trying to make myself look better. Just owning it and apologizing with no attachments.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yes, so the book site is ManagementMess.com. you can find me there. You can follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, you name it. I’m kind of hard to miss these days, but ManagementMess.com is the best place to learn about the book, and my future book is coming out, and how to bring me into an organization.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Stop gossiping. The biggest cancer in organizations is leaders that talk about people behind their backs. Dr. Covey called it being loyal to the absent. Only speak about people as if they were standing right next to you, looking at you in the eye. Because when you are loyal to those who are absent, you build confidence and trust to those who are present.

There’s a person in our company who I have enormous respect for. And this person gossips and trashes everybody. And whenever I’m hearing her, I think, “Man, what do you say about me? That must be really brutal.” Because, of course, she talks about me. How can she not? Why would she spare me from that? Stop talking about people behind their back. Only talk about them as if they were standing right in front of you, looking at you in the eye. You will transform your brand, your reputation, and the culture of your organization. You can start small just on your team.

Pete Mockaitis
Scott, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks so much. And keep on the good work.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Hey, Pete, I’m honored. Thank you, sir. Glad to be part of your podcast series. Thanks for the interview.

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