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348: How to Achieve Anything through Curiosity with Diana Kander

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Diana Kander unpacks the importance of curiosity and the role it plays in the success of individuals and companies.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why uncovering blind spots is such a rapid path to progress
  2. Four key questions to expand your curiosity
  3. The importance of failure metrics

About Diana

Diana Kander is a sought-after keynote speaker who has trained many executives and Fortune 1000 companies to be more innovative and to inspire employees to think more like entrepreneurs. She’s the author of the New York Times Bestseller All In Startup, a novel outlining lessons for launching a successful business. The book has been used in over 70 colleges to teach innovation and entrepreneurship. She’s also the author of The Curiosity Muscle. Diana lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her high school sweetheart and husband, Jason, and their awesome son, True.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Diana Kander Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Diana, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Diana Kander
I’m pretty excited to be here. Any chance to become more awesome is a great thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Agreed, agreed. I understand you’re doing some work in becoming awesome at doing a handstand. What’s the backstory here?

Diana Kander
That’s right. Actually the backstory is writing the book that we’re going to talk about today. But I learned that there’s a simple process to allow yourself to do pretty much anything you can set your mind to. And once I accomplished one task of doing a plank, where you’re on your tippy toes and your elbows, as part of writing the book I did a plank for 11 and a half minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding!

Diana Kander
It was a crazy thing for me. I couldn’t do more than a minute and a half before I started. And so then, once you accomplish one impossible feat, I was like, “What else can I do? What’s the next most difficult thing I can think of?” And for me, that was doing a handstand, so my 2018 goal has been to do… I’m a very uncoordinated person; I’d fall in just from sitting before. I have trouble just walking. So for me, being able to find inner strength and center like that was just a very exciting opportunity. So that’s what I’m doing in 2018.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s fascinating. Why don’t we start right there? What is the process by which you can learn to do anything?

Diana Kander
So, I learned in writing my second book that if you want better results, you just have to ask better questions. And the way that most people approach a task or a goal is, they’re going to try their best and hope for the best. And that is not how you get exceptional results, that’s not how you get to a 10-minute plank. That’s never going to happen if you just decide that you’re going to practice planking every day. Even if you have the habit down, you’re not implementing the right practice. And so, what are the questions that you can ask in order to implement the right questions?

And what’s funny is, I didn’t write a personal development book; I wrote a book on how big corporations can stay in business once they’re successful. But all the lessons that apply to large organizations – trying to become more curious and understand their customers and reach their own large goals – they’re just as applicable for individuals trying to reach crazy goals like doing a 10-minute plank, or a press handstand, which is what I’m trying to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Okay, so if you want better results, ask better questions. And so, the book is called The Curiosity Muscle, just to orient everybody. And so, let’s continue this thread for a bit. So, what would be some examples of lame questions and what are great questions, and how are you upgrading the questions you’re asking in the instance of the plank or the handstand?

Diana Kander
Sure. So, like I said, most people start out, they’re going to do their best and hope for the best. And the very first and most important question you can ask is, “What are my blind spots? What do I not know about what I’m doing that I should be doing?” And for my planks, it was going to people who are professional plankers and have done world-breaking planks, which do you know what the world record for planking is?

Pete Mockaitis
I sure don’t. What is it?

Diana Kander
It’s 8 hours and 10 minutes. Just crazy, right? It makes 10 minutes sound like nothing. So, what are those people doing that I’m not doing? And what I learned from understanding the routine and their practice was that there are certain muscle groups involved in holding a plank that I didn’t know had anything to do with it. So your glutes are very involved in holding a plank. It actually is super important, but that didn’t make any sense to me. Your shoulders are a very important muscle group.

And so, in addition to practicing planks, I started working out these specific muscle groups, and it doubled my time without even really doing anything different. And then understanding other blind spots that I had, like things that I didn’t know about when I was trying to hold a plank, of what these people were doing that I didn’t even know about – that was a very important question. So, that’s question number one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so, “What do I not know that I should know?”

Diana Kander
Yeah, most people think of their blind spots as their weakness, like, “Oh, I know I should be doing this, but … work. I know I’m not good at this.” But that’s not what a blind spot is. A blind spot is something that you think you’re already doing well, that you’re actually doing terribly. And all of us have blind spots in our professional practice; it’s just that we don’t have the guts to get the feedback to find out those things that we’re doing that are actually sabotaging our professional growth.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And it’s interesting – you mentioned guts, and that’s what it takes to get that. But in another way, it sounds like it’d be more fun to learn some things that you had no idea, than it is to just beat yourself up about not doing the things you know you should be doing.

Diana Kander
Well, the thing about blind spots is finding out about them. It’s super fun when you’re planking and like, “Oh, that’s interesting”, but when it comes to your professional skills and what you’re doing that is frustrating your customers, it is not fun. It actually is quite painful and embarrassing, because you’re going to people and you’re saying, “What is it that I’m doing in my business that is unsatisfactory, that actually I thought I was doing well but isn’t good enough?” Or, “What is it that’s frustrating you about whatever it is that I’m doing?” And hearing those responses can be quite crippling.

In fact, as I was writing the book, one example of trying to understand your blind spots is, I sent out a copy of the book to some close friends who I could trust to be honest with me. And the email I wrote to them was, “There will be a time when this book is published and I need you to give me positive feedback on it. But this is not that time. Your gift of friendship to me right now would be to tell me all the parts that don’t make sense, that are confusing, that you don’t like these characters, you don’t like the storyline, you don’t understand the point I was making. And tell me all of those things.”

And then I went around town just collecting one insult after another. And I had this one really great friend who wrote me this email that while I was reading it, I subconsciously started getting into the fetal position, because it hurt so bad, the feedback that I was getting. But every single one of those feedback sessions made the book a much, much better product in what it is today.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Alright, maybe we should get oriented to the big picture here, and we’ll pursue some more of these practices. They’re just so fascinating, they get me hooked in. So, what’s the main point behind The Curiosity Muscle?

Diana Kander
Sure. The main point is that our success sabotages our future growth. We get very comfortable when things start working, we feel like we’re getting control of something, and we know what we’re doing so now we just need to become more efficient at it. And once we let that success kind of go into our ego and grow our ego, we stop being curious. Success is the main thing that kills curiosity.

And once you lose curiosity, you lose that relationship with your customers and you start losing relevance, because now even though you’re still innovating and you’re growing, you’re not doing it in the right direction, you’re not creating value for your customers. You’re still doing things, you’re creating output in a very efficient way, but it’s not what they want, because you’re no longer curious about what they want. Because you’ve been so successful, you think you know what they want better than they do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, if we’re no longer curious but we’re still doing things, what’s fueling our doing instead of curiosity? So I guess curiosity was getting us there before – you’re fascinated, “What do they need? What do they want? How could I be of great service to them? How could I crush it for them?” And now what’s fueling the next stuff?

Diana Kander
Think about getting to the peak of a mountain top. And what’s fueling you at the top of the mountain top is the fear of falling down, the need to keep achieving and to keep growing. For a lot of organizations they become focused on quarterly results, or just growth for the sake of growth, and those are the kinds of things that sabotage real curiosity and customers.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, that makes sense. It’s sort of like, you’ve got something to lose at that point. When you’re at the top of the mountain you could lose your life, or if you’re a huge business you could get sued for millions of dollars. So let’s put in all kinds and processes and rules and requirements to mitigate risk and what not. Or you could have your stock price plummet because you didn’t hit your quarterly earnings guidance. So, you’ve got all these fears that are fueling you, instead of the curiosity.

Diana Kander
Sure. Every dollar you make is a reason not to changing anything. So, as long as you keep making money, you’re like, “Let’s just keep this gravy train going.” And that’s where the danger is – you’re not constantly looking to disrupt yourself or the next thing that customers want, and their wants and needs are constantly evolving. And they’re going to evolve away from you and you won’t recognize it because you don’t have that kind of relationship that you once did.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, understood. So then, what’s the antidote? How do we keep curiosity alive and flowing, and getting the good questions going?

Diana Kander
Sure. So, think about curiosity – the best definition I’ve ever heard of it is “the space between what you currently know and what you want to know”. So, when you first start running a business, that space is rather large, but then once you become successful, there’s nothing there. You just walk around all day being like, “I know everything I need to know. I’m pretty awesome.” And the secret to becoming curious is to increase that space between those two things – between what you know and what it is that you want to know.

And so, my co-author Andy Fromm and I came up with these four questions that you need to master in order to increase the size of that space. So, the questions are: “What are your blind spots, as they relate to your business and the things that you’re creating?”, “Are you spending your time on the right things?”, “What can you experiment?” I know you’ve been very careful deciding what you’re going to spend your time on, but how do you know if you were wrong in that decision? And number four is, “How can you engage others to help you get to your goals?” Because a lot of people, once they become really successful really concentrate decision-making power at the very, very top and they stop engaging their employees, their customers in helping them solve big problems or come up with new ideas.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. The third one you said you’re experimenting and you’re also assessing whether or not you’re right. Can you expand on that a little bit?

Diana Kander
Sure. So, almost every company has a process to decide whether they’re going to take on a new initiative. They have some kind of a meeting, they have some kind of a business case that they write up. And then what happens once they approve the project is, they never revisit it again. Unless it’s a horrible failure that just explodes, nobody’s ever going to stop it. It could be a mediocre project that’s just siphoning resources away from the company, but there’s never a process to revisit approved projects six months after they’ve started or a year after they’ve started, to figure out if you were right in making that initial decision. We just assume that everything we decide is going to work out.

And as you know, the vast majority of the things we decide to do are not the right things. So what’s the process that you can implement in your business and in your personal life to decide, “This thing I decided to do was actually not the right thing, even though I was acting on the best information that I had at the time.” So, there are two questions that we introduce as part of this, which are, “How will I know if I’m wrong?” and, “When will I know?”

So, just to give you a super silly example – there are all kinds of things you can try to do to improve your plank time. In fact, if you Googled it, there are over 3.5 million results on Google of what you can do. So let’s say you choose very carefully which of the things you’re going to try. You can’t try them all, but you pick the first one you’re going to try. How do you know if that’s the right thing to do, and when will you know if it’s not the right thing to do?

So for me, I like to create as many objective metrics in the things that I try, so for me I said I’m going to give it two weeks every time I implement a new process, and if my time doesn’t go up by 30 seconds over a two-week period, then I’m going to try the next thing. But in most businesses, they never implement those kinds of stop caps. They have success metrics; they say, “These are all the things that we’re going to accomplish”, and it usually takes years to accomplish the success methods, but they never think about failure metrics, which are much shorter in time span. You will know much sooner if something’s not going to work than if it is going to work.

So what are those failure metrics and are you assessing them for the projects that you’re selecting to choose to spend your time and your resources on? And the most successful companies, the ones that never peak – they have really great process to kill things that just aren’t working.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really dig that. And you reminded me of some lean startup stuff, with regard to the experiments and what you’re seeing there, as well as I’m just fascinated by Nielsen’s consumer product research process, associated with, “We’re just going to benchmark the survey responses about your potential brand of pasta sauce against the hundreds of other brands of pasta sauce that we’ve studied before, to assess if it’s good enough to be unlikely to fail.” It just fascinates me that that exists and it’s done in the world. So, can you share with us some of the best examples or quick ways to get an early failure assessment on something you’re trying?

Diana Kander
Sure. Well, I can give you some examples of my favorite company that is really, really good at this kind of an assessment, is Amazon. And whenever people talk about Amazon, they talk about all of the incredible things that they’ve invented. And now they’re doing one-day delivery, which is just unbelievable. They’re just constantly coming up with ways to wow you, and that’s part of what’s fueling its growth.

But what nobody ever talks about are so many projects that they’ve lost lots and lots of money on, and things that never worked out. Like the Fire Phone, which was the phone that they introduced, which was supposed to be the phone to end all phones. They lost $175 million on it and a few months after it came out, they couldn’t sell them for $0.99 at most. That’s crazy. And one nobody really talks about is Amazon Destinations, which was their travel booking website that they created and shut down six months later. They put a lot of resources into making it the place where you book your travel, and then within six months knew that it wasn’t going to work.

Nobody ever talks about Amazon Local, which was their hub for local deals. It was like a Groupon that they started in 2011, and then shut down three years later. Nobody ever talks about Amazon Wallet, which was a way for you to put all of your credit cards into one place, that they shut down six months after launching it. They had Amazon Local, which was a way for you – not a square or a PayPal triangle, but a rectangle that you could use to accept payments. They had Amazon Music Importer, which was a way for you to house all of your music online, and Amazon Test Drive, which was a way for you to try all of these games before you actually committed to buying them. I can keep going on and on and on.

Pete Mockaitis
And they don’t have the Statistically Improbable Phrases anymore on the books.

Diana Kander
What do you mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that used to be one of the ways you could kind of check out what’s unique or fresh, or the content, as a means of searching for and identifying book content called the Statistically Improbable Phrases, or SIPs. And I was a dork for the data; thought that was the coolest thing, as a means of seeing books that are similar to other books, based upon their overlap there. But I guess most people don’t care about that level of stuff, and so they’ve killed it.

Diana Kander
Well, I think I’m probably happy that that doesn’t exist anymore, for my own books. Nobody talks about all of these things that they had and then shut down. And what they think is that Jeff Bezos is some kind of genius who comes up with these big ideas, and that everything that he says works out. But he’s not a genius; he’s a human being just like all of us, and a lot of his ideas and the ideas of the people working at the company don’t work out. What they have that most companies don’t have is a process to kill projects when they’re not working. And most organizations – over 80% of public organizations – have no process to revisit projects on a regular basis, after they approve a business case.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. It seems like for the most part it’s just like a new executive comes it and it’s like, “Alright, we’re evaluating everything. Oh, all these things should no longer be happening”, as opposed to a regular, ongoing basis.

Diana Kander
But they shouldn’t have been happening for years and years. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. That’s cool. So, could you give us maybe a window into what such a process might look like, in terms of, “At X months ahead of trying out this thing, we’re going to look at Y metric and it needs to be at least Z value”, or how does that unfold in real life?

Diana Kander
Sure. I’ll give you one of my favorite examples, which was this company that was an online mortgage lender and they had this marketing program where they were going to be a very large, successful mortgage lender. And their process was, people express interest in a loan, then they send them paperwork, then those people send paperwork back, and it opens a file. And so on and so forth, until they get a house and sign all their paperwork.

So, the marketing department was like, “You know what we should do? We’re going to send everybody who expresses interest in a loan a nice gift in order to move them down the funnel. We want them to send paperwork back to us, so let’s do something nice for them.” And so what they sent them was this really nice, delicious, beautiful cupcake. It was a $25 cupcake, all said and done – very delicious, in a glass jar, it had sprinkles with the company logo on it. Genius, right? And the initial results of sending out all of these cupcakes were people taking photos with them, posting them on social media, they were like, “This is the coolest company ever.”

And so the marketing department, all the evidence they were getting back was, “This feels like it’s going really, really well.” And for most organizations what we measure is, how does it feel? We’re going to spend this much money on marketing efforts; do we feel like it’s working? How many impressions did we get? That’s what they’re testing. But that’s not really how you create value in an organization.

And so, it came time around bonus time, and the marketing team went to the data department and was like, “Can you help us quantify just how much money we’re making for the organization? We think that more people are sending in their paperwork but we’re not quite sure.” So the data team says, “Tell me the names of the people who got the cupcake and the people who didn’t get the cupcakes, so we can compare.” And they were like, “That doesn’t make any sense. This is such a genius idea. We sent out 100,000 cupcakes.” So if you’re doing the math, it’s a lot of cupcakes.

And the data team is like, “We’re going to have to send out a couple of thousand more because we can’t tell you whether the experiment was successful or not.” And again, this is something that almost every company does, in that they create programs that is impossible to measure whether it’s working or not, because everybody gets it so it’s just based on how it feels. So, the data team sends out a couple of thousand – some people get them, some people don’t – and they start comparing the results.

And what they learn is, the people who get the cupcakes actually send in their paperwork in much higher numbers, which is fantastic. But the data folks kept watching what happened to those people, and the ones that got the cupcakes sent in their paperwork in much higher numbers, but actually closed their loans in lower numbers. And in total, there was actually no difference in their total closes between whether they got a cupcake or not.

So, people who got a cupcake – they felt bad that they got this really, really nice, expensive, delicious thing, so they were going to do something. And that something was send in the paperwork, even though they weren’t planning on taking out a loan. And it wasn’t just the money that the company spent on the cupcakes, but every time somebody sent in a file, a case was opened, somebody manually entered all that information in. Then this loan officer was assigned, and that loan officer was researching the neighborhood, the school district, all that stuff. So, this company was spending millions of dollars on a project that felt really, really good, but it was actually siphoning resources away from the company.

And so, this is a perfect example of how you should also be measuring failure metrics. So, we’re going to implement this new initiative, it’s going to help our customer. Great. How would we know if It’s not working, and when would we know? So, those are two important questions that you would add to any business case process, and then revisit every time. If you have those meetings on a quarterly basis or a monthly basis, you just revisit projects that you’ve approved before and look at the failure metrics to see how they’re going.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that. So, we talked about the questions, we talked about process, we talked about thinking about it differently and ensuring that you’re ongoingly revisiting stuff and seeing if it needs to get killed. So, I’d love to revisit the point associated with just being able to stomach it, what’s coming back. Do you have an pro tips on how you develop that resilience or thick skin, or whatever you’d call it, so that you can go there?

Diana Kander
So, there’s nothing I can say that’s going to make it hurt any worse. I literally teach on this stuff and write on it, and it still hurts me a lot. I still like getting compliments every time I speak, but I know that I’m not going to get any better if I don’t hear the “do betters” or the blind spots. So, I try to think about that kind of feedback like weightlifting. So, if you go to the gym and you pick up a set of one-pound weights, and you do all of your exercises with those one-pound weights, you’re going to feel really good, like zero strain, zero sweat. Right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Diana Kander
You’re not going to feel anything and you’re not going to get any stronger. If you want to get stronger, what you need to do is pick up weights that hurt your body to pick up, eventually. So, I try to think about that kind of feedback and those kinds of blind spots that I’m learning about as things that actually make me stronger.

So, even though they still hurt, I might … like, “She’s getting stronger”, some kind of a comic book character. In your brain, that’s how you improve. The worst thing that somebody could tell you is, “You’re doing fine”, because that is not a way for you to improve or change anything. The biggest kindness that somebody can offer is to say, “There’s something that you are not aware of that’s sabotaging everything that you’re doing.”

So, I’m a professional speaker; I speak on innovation and curiosity. And I had a good friend who’s a standup comedian, and I wanted to add some jokes to my routine. I thought it would be really funny. So I had her watch my speech and I thought she’d help me come up with some stuff. And she was writing the whole time, and when I get done, she puts her pen down and she was like, “Hey, you’re really bad at breathing.” And I was like, “What?” She was like, “Yeah, you are horrible at it.” And I was like, “I don’t know, I’ve been breathing for a pretty long period of time and I feel like I’m doing it okay.”

And she’s like, “Do you ever lose your voice after giving a speech?” And I said, “Almost every time, but I think that’s a professional speaker thing.” She’s like, “No, it’s not. It’s a thing for people who don’t know how to breathe.” She goes, “Do you ever get lightheaded when you’re on stage?” And I said, “Yeah, when I’m giving a talk for an hour, I think I’m going to pass out up there.” She’s like, “See, you don’t know how to breathe.” I was like, “Wow.” To me that was a huge blind spot, something I never knew about.

And I said, “Okay, let’s keep talking about this, but can you give me some jokes? What else did you write down?” And she’s like, “Is that how you walk on to a stage? Because you walk very apologetic.” I was like, “How do you walk apologetic? That seems really weird.” And she goes, “What’s that weird thing you do with your eyes when you’re talking? I couldn’t even hear what you were saying; your eyes were freaking me out so much.”

So, I walked into the room thinking that I wanted some jokes. Just like all of us in our lives we’re like, “Here’s what I think I need to improve.” And there was this whole other category of very serious faults that I had in my presentation style, in my delivery style that were actually sabotaging my professional speaking career. And it was learning about those blind spots that made me 10 times better than any jokes that I could have introduced into the talk. And that’s the power of getting really curious to elevate your game to a whole new level.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s awesome. And I want to get your take on how you frame and prime the people you’re asking these questions of. You mentioned with your email and how, “Being a friend to me is really telling me what’s wrong with this book and how it’s troubling or it doesn’t make sense in certain places.” So, that was a handy way you did it there. Do you have some other perspectives on when folks are asking for feedback, how could they ask for it in a way so as to actually get it?

Diana Kander
Sure. I think this is a super important question. Actually I wrote a whole article on why people lie to you whenever you ask them questions. And they’re lying because they’re good people are they’re trying to be nice. Most people don’t actually want the answers. Most of us, whenever we give a presentation, we walk out of the presentation and we turn to the person with us and we say, “How was that?” That’s the generic thing that people say.

And then all of us lie when somebody says that to us. And we know that we lie when somebody asks us, but we still ask that question because we want them to lie to us. It’s just a terrible circular thing that happens, but we want to hear that we did amazing, because we need that for our ego, and people know that. So they will lie to you unless you create a safe place for them to be honest.

And you really have to tell people several times that this is what you want. What you want is critical feedback. And even sometimes when you say it, they won’t believe you. So, number one – you need to create a safe place; you need to show them that you’re very serious. So, rather than saying, “How did I do? Really, be honest.” Don’t say that; instead you say, “Hey, I’m really trying to improve and grow how much I’m charging. I would love for you to give me three things I could do better.”

And then they’re like, “You know, it was awesome. I really enjoyed myself.” I’m like, “No, really. I really appreciate you saying that; that means a lot. But I’d love for you to dig deep. I promise it won’t hurt my feelings, I promise I’m just trying to learn how to be better. Any three things that you can think of, of how I could have done better, the things that didn’t really quite add up.” So you’ve really got to go a couple of rounds with them, number one.

Number two – you need to make sure you’re asking the right people. So, I wouldn’t play this game with my mom, because she would be like, “I hate your outfit”, which is zero helpful to me. You need to ask professional speakers; you need to ask people who have created value in the area in which you’re trying to create value. So, either your customers in your business, or other people who have reached the peak of wherever it is that you’re trying to go – those are the people whose advice you want.

And then number three – you want to make them feel like putting themselves at risk and being honest with you is worth it, that you’re actually going to act on their advice. So, when people give me advice, then I come back to them and say, “Hey, you gave me excellent advice and then I changed this as a result”, so that when I come back to them for more advice, they know that I mean it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. That’s great, yes. So think about it not as sort of a “one and done”, but rather, “Oh, cool!” They feel helpful and like they got to make a positive impact, and they appreciate it because it’s like you’ve showed them some honor, or it’s like a compliment. It’s like, “Oh, you seriously listen to me and take what I say seriously. Cool.” It gets them totally primed to do it awesomely even better the next time.

Diana Kander
It’s just like any mentoring relationship in your life. You need to make them understand that you value the advice and you’re going to act on it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, tell me – anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Diana Kander
I think curiosity is the secret to accomplishing anything. What I learned during the process – I kept being like, “What else can I apply this process to? Yeah, it works for planks, and keeping companies in business. What else can I do with it?” And I found that you can do three things with it.

Number one – you can use these four questions to significantly improve your relationship with your customers, or any kind of relationship. Actually it works for spouses as well. Any relationship you want to improve, you can use these four questions. Number two – if there’s a persistent problem in your business that you’re trying to solve, this is a really good way to look at it in a different way. Or number three – if there’s a big, hairy, audacious goal that you’re trying to reach, these four questions are going to help you think about it in a completely different approach. So, those are really … cases that I found so far, of using these questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something that you find inspiring?

Diana Kander
Yeah. So, one of my favorite quotes actually has to do with curiosity. And it’s by Mark Twain: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” For so many of us, we walk around very comfortable, thinking that we know all these things to be true about our business and our customers, when we’re just walking around – I think about blind spots – like having food in your teeth. You walk around very confidently with food in your teeth until you get to a mirror.

And if you haven’t been surprised and in a little bit of pain from feedback that you’ve gotten from customers or employees or your boss within the last 12 months, then I can guarantee that you have blind spots in whatever it is that you professionally do. So that’s kind of my gut check – if somebody hasn’t told me something painful and surprising, then there are blind spots that are stopping me from growing to the next level.

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

Diana Kander
I like all those studies that show that you’re the average of the five people you hang out with the most, and how that works for your GPA and your income level, and a lot of things in your life, that they can measure in objective ways that it actually isn’t just your personality or your achievement level. All of these things that are true about the people that you choose to surround yourself with.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Diana Kander
The book that I have been recommending for so long is Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. I just saw it at the bookstore, and it’s been reworked and remastered and it’s got an extra 200 pages that I haven’t seen. But the reason I love that book so much is because it’s about creating real relationships with professional contacts. As opposed to thinking business is a networking or a tool, really creating real, meaningful relationships. And that book just always spoke to me and has been a secret to so many of the relationships that I’ve been able to continue for so long.

Pete Mockaitis
Are you a conference commando?

Diana Kander
What does that mean?

Pete Mockaitis
That was one of the chapter titles.

Diana Kander
Oh, like how to do it, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
He was just talking about this hardcore stuff, like, “Volunteer for the conference, then you get a list of all the attendees in advance, then you research all the attendees, then you invite a select segment of them.”

Diana Kander
I don’t even bring business cards, so I’m obviously not a conference commando. But I do look through the list and if there any people that I really want to get to know on a deep level, then I’ll find the people that I want to meet, figure out who we have in common, reach out and say, “Would you like to get a cup of coffee?” So yes, I’m definitely still using stuff from that book, but again, it’s not about how to meet as many people as possible, but how to really create deep relationships with the people that you do meet.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Diana Kander
My favorite tool. My iPhone

Pete Mockaitis
Is there an app that you love and you think is underrated, because it’s crazy useful?

Diana Kander
Headspace. I know it’s not an underrated app, but it’s an incredibly powerful tool for me personally. If I’m having a crazy day, I just take 10 minutes and it works like magic.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Diana Kander
Well, besides collecting feedback? My favorite habit is to tell people that I’m doing awesome or fantastic, which I am. That’s how I feel, but people seem really, really surprised by it. It always takes people back, like, “Oh, I haven’t met anybody who is doing awesome or fantastic today.” And it’s just a funny interaction that I get to have a couple of times a day.

Pete Mockaitis
That is fun, as opposed to “Busy” or, “Fine, thanks.”

Diana Kander
I feel fantastic, so that’s what I say. And people frequently are like, “Oh, well, nice to talk to you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. And how about a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect, resonate, gets retweeted, etcetera?

Diana Kander
“If you never settle, then you will never peak”, which is kind of the thesis behind this book and what I’ve been working on. But if you never settle for being good enough at what it is that you’re doing, you’re going to continue growing. If you’re constantly curious of how to get to the next level, there’s never going to be a time in your life when you peak and get on a downward slope.

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

Diana Kander
I have a website – DianaKander.com, where you can read a lot of my articles, see videos of my talks, and get bite-size nuggets of all kinds of this information.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Diana Kander
I would love for them to choose one big, hairy, audacious goal, and it doesn’t have to be at work. What I found in doing the plank challenge and handstand challenge is, if I am curious in my personal life and doing something physical, then I will be more open in my professional life. And if I put myself in a beginner mindset, not like, “I know what I’m doing”, where I’m trying to learn at one of these tasks, then I will be much more open in my professional life, and curious and creative. And so, I try to constantly have a thing in my life where I’m totally out of my element and I’m trying to learn as much as possible, because I find that it affects all of my work in a very positive way.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Diana, this has been so much fun. Thank you for bringing the goods and a multitude of Amazon examples – that was intriguing. And please, keep doing what you’re doing, and I wish you tons of luck with The Curiosity Muscle and your speaking and all you’re up to!

Diana Kander
Thank you so much, Pete. It was awesome to chat with you.

 

347: The Power of Truly Living Your Values Daily with Drew Dudley

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Drew Dudley redefines leadership and shows what it really means to live your values.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The gross way we make decisions when we don’t have clear values
  2. How to make leadership a practice, instead of a hobby
  3. Approaches to discovering your own deep wisdom with “the edge of the bed advice” technique

About Drew

Drew Dudley is the Founder & Chief Catalyst of Day One Leadership, and has spent the last 15 years helping individuals and organizations increase their leadership capacity.

Recognized as one of the most dynamic keynote speakers in the world, Drew has spoken to over 250,000 people on 5 continents, been featured on The Huffington Post, Radio America, Forbes.com, and TED.com, where his TED talk has been voted “one of the 15 most inspirational TED talks of all time”. Time, Business Insider and INC. magazines have all included his talk on their lists of “speeches that will make you a better leader”.

Drew’s clients have included some of the world’s most dynamic companies and organizations, including McDonald’s, Proctor & Gamble, JP Morgan Chase, Hyatt Hotels, the United Way and over 75 colleges and universities.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Drew Dudley Interview Transcript

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

Drew Dudley
Oh, I’m thrilled. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, thank you. I think we’re going to have a ton of fun here. One fun thing I want to know about you right away is all about your stuffed penguin collection.

Drew Dudley
The stuffed penguin collection. The stuffed penguin collection emerged, believe it or not, because I’m afraid of dogs.

I was dating a girl and almost every silly story starts with that. I was dating a girl who really wanted a dog. I was attacked when I was a kid by a big Siberian Husky. While I’ve gotten better with dogs, back then I was – if there was one the size of a hot dog, I crossed the street to avoid it. This was a bit of a nonstarter for me.

We were out one night on a date and we saw March of the Penguins. She leaned over to me and said, “If you buy me a penguin, I will never bother you for a dog again.” I thought, “Done.” This is a way out. Believe it or not you cannot purchase penguins as pets anywhere. I tried. I tried. I said, look, I’ll just poke holes in the front of my freezer. We’re good to go.

I was in Wal-Mart lamenting the fact that I was going to have to back to battling against this impending Great Dane that she wanted and sure enough I saw a giant stuffed penguin sitting in a box. I thought to myself, she did not specify the penguin had to be a live one. I brought it home. Every now and then as a boyfriend you knock one out of the park and she loved this penguin.

Unfortunately, what happened is – I don’t know if anyone out there has pets, but sometimes your pet becomes the communication tool between you and your partner, like “Tell daddy he’s staying far too long at work.” “Well, tell mom that if I don’t stay at work, we don’t get to-“ etcetera.

Well, one of my friends witnessed this exchange. In order to mock me for the fact that I was apparently whipped by a stuffed penguin, he began giving me penguin gifts and got all my friends on board. What I realized is that you can do one of two things when your friends are picking on you. You can either fight back, which just makes it all the more rewarding or you can lean into it.

Sure enough, I leaned into it and it became my thing. I’ve got 50 or 60 stuffed penguins and penguin cuff links. Because what happens is once you make a deal of it, every gift from every client, from every friend, anybody who sees a penguin-related thing in a store, that’s it. My penguin collection was my way of avoiding having to get a dog. I was trying to find a loophole and it turned into a monster.

Pete Mockaitis
That is wild. I would imagine if everybody just gives you penguins, because that’s what they know about you, you’ve probably got some duplicate penguins over the course of your collection years. Is this true?

Drew Dudley
Just a few actually. Somehow they got to be the big thing about three years ago. Everybody had a penguin in the front hall. Yeah, I’ve got – but what’s cool is people make little shirts for them. I’ve got one from the University of Notre Dame. I’ve got another one from the Sanitation Workers of New Jersey T-shirt. We break them up a little bit. I’ve got – I think they’ve got a little football league going on.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m just curious, if you move, are you going to take all of them with you and will you store them? This is quite a commitment that you have taken on your shoulders here.

Drew Dudley
I’m not going to lie, there’s about 48 of them that are just stuck in a storage unit somewhere. I move around a lot because I figure I can, so why not experience the world. Ultimately, after I moved out of my place that I had sort of been in for a few years, we just pack them away because now I live – I’ve got a bunch of 500 square foot little places scattered about North America where I base out of.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m just imagining the episode of was it Storage Wars or whatever that reality TV program is where they claim abandoned storage lockers.

Drew Dudley
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, “What the heck is this?”

Drew Dudley
I actually am storing a bunch of them in the actual storage facility where they shoot that show. Yeah, I kid you not. If somehow I disappear in the Bermuda Triangle, dammit, somebody’s going to open it up and find a whole bunch of stuffed penguins and all of the workout materials that I’ve stuck in my storage unit because –

Pete Mockaitis
You’re not using those either.

Drew Dudley
That little ab roller that everybody buys, “Hey, that’s a good idea,” yeah, that’s what they’ll find.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. Now I want to hear a little bit about your other role, other than penguin custodian, you are … the title. I like it. You have fun with the title. I do the same. You’re the founder and chief catalyst of Day One Leadership. What does that mean exactly?

Drew Dudley
I guess my job ultimately is to be accountable for how well the company makes three things happen. One, help people figure out the specific leadership behaviors that are right for them to feel like leaders and act like leaders. Two, to help people make those behaviors a non-negotiable part of every single day of their lives. Then three, convince people that doing those two first things makes them a leader.

My title when it comes to the company makes it sound like I’m in charge I think, but effectively all it means is that I’m ultimately accountable for the company’s success in making those three things possible for as many people as possible.

I started to realize this when it comes to titles. The day-to-day operations, the strategy, marketing, sales, everything that a company or organization does, those are all just logistics in service of, in our case, those three things. Whatever your job is, it’s not the tasks that you have to do, it’s how those tasks relate to the bigger mission of the organization.

Here’s the thing, if you don’t know what the bigger mission of the organization is or you hate it, quit because you’re in the wrong place. That’s it. That’s my role is to make those three things happen: help people figure out what the best leadership behaviors for those are, make them a nonnegotiable part of their life, and then convince them that doing that is in fact leadership.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, you’re clear on what you’re about, which is cool. Let’s dig into some of these dimensions one by one. You sort of capture a number of these ideas in your book, This Is Day One. What would you say is sort of the main idea or thesis behind this one?

Drew Dudley
The key thing I’m trying to get – and this is everything that I do in terms of my speaking and the book, here’s the main idea. There’s a form of leadership to which we all can and should aspire. It’s defined by a commitment to acting on your core leadership values every single day because when you do that, you close the gap between the person you want to be and how you’re actually behaving.

My argument is that actively and consciously working to close that gap is what defines a leader, nothing else. Whether or not you are trying to close the gap between the person you want to be and how you are actually behaving on a day-to-day basis.

Because I don’t know the secret to happiness, but I have found that the secret to unhappiness is when a gap forms between who you want to be and how you’re acting and you become aware of that gap.

For me it happened because a seven-year-old called me out on it. About ten years ago I had this horrible time at work, like a real toxic environment. I decided I wanted to take a train ride all the way across Canada and not talk to anybody, just stick my nose in a bunch of books, all those books you were supposed to have read and just not talk to anybody.

I started out in this empty car at the back of the train and was super happy with my nose in this book. This little girl was running up and down this train, back and forth, back and forth. Then she plopped down next to me and said, “What are you reading?” I said, “It’s just a book for work.”

I remember she looked at me and said, “You get to read books for work? My dad has to go to an office,” which is one of those cool moments that remind you of how awesome your job is. I said, “Yeah, yeah, I get to read books for work.”

She said, “Well, what’s the story?” I said, “This book doesn’t really have a story,” because it was some academic research thing. She said, “Well, don’t all books have stories?” I said, “No, some just have knowledge.” She says, “Well, aren’t stories knowledge?” I was really thrown off by that because the last thing I want to do is send this kid away thinking that stories aren’t knowledge.

I said, “Actually a really smart friend of mine said once that ‘The story is the basic unit of human understanding,’” As soon as it came out of my mouth, all I could think was, “Dude, she is seven,” but this girl was amazing. She just looks at me and says, “I think your friend is very, very smart.” I said wow, this girl is incredible.

I said, “Why are you running up and down the train?” She says, “My parents say I have this very big spirit. They say my spirit is way too big for every room that I’m in. A train’s just a big long hallway, right? Anytime I’m in a place where it’s not big enough for my spirit, and no hallway is big enough for my spirit if rooms aren’t, I run to remind myself that I’m free anytime that I want to be.”

I said to her – because there was something – she didn’t do it to be pretentious. She didn’t do it to try to sound impressive. When you work at a university, like I did, all anyone is trying to do is sound pretentious and impressive. It was just the way she said it, “I’m always free if I want to be.”

She said – I said, “I think I’m like that too. I think the problem is I’m not spending time in places where it’s big enough for my spirit.” She hops down off this chair and looks at me and says, “Drew, I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t think anyone whose spirit is too big for a hallway would ever read a book without a good story,” and then disappears.

It was weird because I had always seen myself as someone who gathered stories, who gathered insights, who shared them with other people. This is a fundamental part of who I am. This seven-year-old pointed out that I’d gotten on a train, gotten a single sleeper car, hadn’t wanted to talk to a single person. There was a gap between who I wanted to be and how I conceived of myself and how I was actually behaving.

It changed so much about how I treated that trip and made me so much more aware of where real leadership lies and the really big struggle in our lives is becoming aware of where that gap is between we want to be and how we’re behaving and doing something about it.

In the book – I know that was a long answer to that question – but it’s really about how I try to address things in the book is here are the stories of these extraordinary leaders that I’ve picked up along the way. They don’t all look like we’ve been taught leaders look like. There’s a seven-year-old and there’s a cab driver. Each one of them has sort of given me a little bit of an insight. The idea of This Is Day One is based on this.

We all wake up every single morning and we have done absolutely nothing to deserve the title of leader that day. Nothing. Whether we’re a CEO or we’re the person who just got hired in an entry level job, when you wake up in the morning, you have done nothing to deserve the title.

Ultimately that came from one of the first times I ever went to a meeting about my alcohol addiction. A guy said – he was talking afterwards – he said, “I’ve got 36 years in.” A guy next to me was also at his first meeting, he said, “Wow, 36 years.” The older guy looks at him and says, “Son, I have just as much time in today as you do.” There was something that really resonated with me at that.

When it comes to leadership, we all get up at the exact same place. That – a lot of Day One comes from that experience recovering from addiction, is that if you don’t want to have a drink for the rest of your life, choose not to have a drink today. Then treat every day as if it’s the first day of your recovery because every day one has an inherent commitment, humility, forgiveness.

If you screw up, you just recommit. You don’t throw away everything you had before. If you’ve got 25 years in of being sober or rising up through the ranks and running an organization, yeah, you’ve done all that stuff to get here, but when you wake up in the morning, you haven’t done a damn thing.

That’s what the book is about is saying, “This is day one and if you want to be a leader, you want to close that gap between who you want to be and how you’re behaving, you start today with nothing on the score card. You’ve got to earn it again.”

Long answer because I love to tell stories, but that’s really what the book talks about, how to close that gap, how to give a step-by-step guide of exactly how to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s what I found interesting is that these are big questions and heavy and tricky and can take some – a lifetime to figure out, but you have laid out a bit of process or ‘process’ as Canadians say. I love it.

Drew Dudley
Do we say it different?

Pete Mockaitis
You do. It’s a long O instead of a short O. I actually like it better that way.

Drew Dudley
I didn’t realize we did that. I know that we throw U’s in words you don’t. Apparently, we say ‘about’ although I don’t know what that crap’s about. I did not realize we said ‘process’ different ….

Pete Mockaitis
Most Canadians I do hear it. One time I was even chatting with some folks and I made reference to a process and I pronounced it with a long o and they said “Pete, are you Canadian?” I said, “No, I just like the way Canadians say ‘process.’”

Drew Dudley
You know how you can spot a Canadian right now?

Pete Mockaitis
Do tell.

Drew Dudley
We don’t have our head down on our desk banging it slowly as the chaos descends around us.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Noted, thank you. What I want to discuss is you have a process or a ‘process’ associated with getting to the bottom of some of these questions in a step-by-step rigorous way. I’d love to hear what would you say are the first steps to zeroing in on these values and associated leadership behavior?

Drew Dudley
Well, I think the first thing is to actually identify what your core leadership values are. Most people haven’t.

One of the things that sort of drives me as a person is this theory is that when you don’t know what to do in a situation, ask yourself what would the person who I want to be do in this situation and then do that.

But what I found is that because we all went through an education system that asked us what you want to do when you grow up and taught us that you should focus on the things on which you’re going to be tested, well, we never got tested on what our values were. We never got tested on who we want to be.

We never got tested on what criteria are you going to use to make big decisions, so most of us, especially high performers, actually never had time. We never sat down and thought about what are the values that want to drive us.

What I talk about in the book is how to actually figure out what those core values are. That’s where it starts because values are criteria for decision making. What real leaders do is they identify their values and they define them because then you use them as criteria for decision making.

Every single time that you face a challenge, you face a decision, you pivot to your values and you say which one of these options is most consistent with my list of values. The challenge is that often that option sucks. It doesn’t allow you to look good, avoid punishments, keep the money, stay in the job, but it’s always the decision that you are proudest you made five years from now.

The first step that leaders need to do for their day one is say “These are the values that are nonnegotiable for me. Here’s what they mean,” and then make sure, that’s what the book talks about, the process of actually living them every single day.

Because if you don’t do that, if you don’t use your values as criteria for decision making, the question that I love to challenge people with is “what criteria have you been using to make decisions every day for your whole life so far?” What I realize is for most of us, the number one criteria we use to make decisions is “what will avoid the most consequences right now?” That is not how leaders make decisions. That’s why that’s where you start.

I talk about how in the book, but mostly it comes down to self-reflection, not on what you think, which is how most people think about self-reflection, we get into our head, but self-reflection on how you have behaved because your values are indicated by how you behave, not by how you talk.

In the book I talk about how to use a reflective exercise that looks not at “Oh, what are my values? Let me think about it,” but it looks directly at “What have I done in my life?” because that’s a better source for figuring out what your values are.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so intriguing that notion in terms of in the absence of clear values that is the default, what will avoid the most unpleasant consequences for me right now. It’s really not at all inspiring.

Drew Dudley
No.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like in terms of just selfishness and shortsightedness. But at the same time a lot of times that answer is an okay one in terms of “Well, not lying about how I just screwed up would avoid the most consequences because if I lied about it then I’d really be up a creek.”

In a way I think that’s – that shorthand default gets you to some decent decisions somewhat often, but it sure doesn’t make your chest rise in pride as to the person that you’re being.

I’m intrigued then. Let’s hear it. First, when you say values, I’d love to get your take on – there’s many you can choose from. Perhaps an infinite amount in terms of ways you could articulate it. I’d love for you to first give a few examples of “here are four different values and what they mean.”

Drew Dudley
Sure. In the book, I actually focus on six. The idea is that each individual, you have to identify your own and then there’s a process to embed them into your life. But in order to demonstrate the process, I say here are six, like here on day one when you put the book down, this is what you could actually do right away. They are impact, courage, growth, empowerment, class, and self-respect. Those six values.

Impact is a commitment to creating moments that cause people to feel as if they are better off for having interacted with you.

Courage is a commitment to taking action when there is the possibility of loss, which gets educated out of us as we grow older.

We go through the education system that teaches us you’re going to get evaluated not on how good you are right now, but on how few mistakes you made along the way because every time you make one along the way, we take points away. Even if at the end you’re the most talented, hey, if you lost the most points, it doesn’t reflect.

Yeah, we talk about growth, which is a commitment to increasing the capacity to add value. Leaders add value to other people’s lives. That’s ultimately your goal. Now, in the process, you add value to your own. Any time you get better at the ability to add value, you are embodying the value of growth. That means any time that you’re a catalyst for learning, you effectively have helped people grow.

One of the big ways that you can help people grow is to change how you ask questions or sorry change how you – that’s one of the big talents, sorry, is to learn how to effectively ask questions.

Leaders, I think we get confused and a lot of people walk away from the idea of leadership because they think they don’t have all the answers. One thing I really want to tell people is that leaders do not have more answers necessarily than other people, but they do ask tremendous questions. They’re better at that and they ask a particular kind of question.

The best leaders I know – and if you’re listening, think about trying to get better at this – asking questions, where the person being asked learns more than the person doing the asking. Usually we think, “Okay, if I’m asking questions it’s because I want to gather information,” but what leaders do is they ask these powerful questions that help people understand things about themselves they didn’t know.

I give a bunch of examples in the book, but the one I really like is “Why do you matter?” That’s a deep ask question, but most of the people I ask, 95% of them, cannot give me an answer to that question or they’re making one up on the spot. Ultimately, the reason I ask it isn’t to get an answer necessarily, but to make people realize they don’t have one. No one’s ever asked them before and your kids don’t have one either.

If they’re under the age of five, go ahead, ask your kids that question, they will give you an amazing answer. But once we send them to school, they stop believing that why they matter is up to them and it’s supposed to be evaluated by somebody else. Because all of us spent 20 of the most formative years in our lives in that system, we don’t unlearn that lesson. We spend the rest of our lives waiting for someone else to evaluate how much we matter.

Ultimately becoming a great leader I think is finding out a way to ask those questions where the person who’s being asked learns more than you do.

Empowerment is a commitment to helping other people reach their goals. It’s a commitment to acting as a catalyst for the success of others. Ultimately what that means is unlearning this competitive process that we also learn through school, this idea that we’re – there’s a finite amount out there. We live in this economy of scarcity and if you don’t get the job, if you don’t get the money, somebody else will. Ultimately, you have to outperform other people.

What that makes us do is that we stop seeing empowering other people as a fundamentally good thing in our lives and what we do is we think helping other people, what we’re doing is we’re holding ourselves back, particularly in the job world.

One of the things when I get invited to have the opportunity to speak to business schools, because business students are a special breed—ultimately they’re being taught this idea of compete, compete, compete, be the top, have the best resume, that’s what’s going to help you.

One of the things I tell – if you want to be great at your job and if you’re in one of these positions where you actually create a culture at a job, a manager or an executive, don’t try to outperform other people because if you can outperform 90% of the people on the planet, great, or in your organization, great. You’ll make six figures.

But if you can become the type of person where everyone who works with you outperforms everyone who doesn’t work with you, then you’re indispensable. If you want to be great at your job, be indispensable. Don’t necessarily be someone who’s at the top. Be indispensable.

When you create a career where every day you could identify something you did to make someone else move closer to a goal, what you’re doing is you’re creating a career where when other people get promoted, you get promoted too because people remember who made them better at their job.

Class is a commitment to treating people in situations better that they deserve to be treated.

Self-respect is a commitment to recognizing you cannot add value to other people’s lives until you’ve added enough value to your own. When you are empty, you have nothing to give.

That is the six that I use as examples within the book. Each one comes with an accompanying question to make sure that you can give yourself evidence you’ve lived it. But the idea of the day one process is you get to figure out your values and you can figure out what they mean and then you can convert into your own things that drive you every single day.

That really is the key to what the book, my work, and my company is trying to do is give people this direct guideline every day of how to live like the person they want to be through their work, not necessarily on top of it. You can answer all these questions and live these values through the work that you do every single day.

If you don’t know what the values are, you don’t know how to define them, the last like 40 pages of the books is basically a list of 40 of the most common values I’ve been given over the years and sample definitions for them along with the questions you can use if these are the ones that are important to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then this is intriguing. Maybe no need to offer all 40 definitions, but of those 40 could you share a few more because I have a feeling as folks listen, some folks will be like “Yes,” like by hearing a little bit of a laundry list, some of them will naturally have more of a resonance than others. I think that could be valuable if you could maybe rattle off a few more.

Drew Dudley
Yeah, sure. Adventure, a commitment to seeking out new or exciting experiences. Accountability is a commitment to acknowledging responsibility for the outcomes of your actions. Perseverance, a commitment to overcoming obstacles and enduring discomfort. Rationality is the commitment to making decisions based on logic and reason.

Mastery, a commitment to seeking continuous improvement. Mindfulness, a commitment to being conscious aware and engaged in any given moment.

You’ll notice that they all start with a commitment to. We use a lot of these words – integrity is a big one, integrity or honesty or compassion. We throw these words around and we use them to evaluate our behavior and to judge other people, but we honestly very rarely identify what those words actually mean.

What I often will tell people is to envision a hypothetical where someone follows you around for 30 days out of your life and at the end of those 30 days, and you weren’t aware of this, I asked that person what are the three values that this person puts out into the world every day. What are the three values this person uses whenever they have to make a difficult decision? What would they be? It’s always integrity, honesty, generosity, kindness.

But if you ask people, “All right, finish this sentence, ‘Integrity is a commitment to…what?’” We have been using these words to judge ourselves and our organization and other people and we have never actually identified what they mean.

The problem is if you haven’t identified what one of your values means, turn it into a finish line so that you can actually recognize when you cross it, you can’t make it a target, you can’t strategize on how to get there, and most of the moments where you actually live up to it will be completely ignored and uncelebrated.

In order to actually live our values – yeah, because look, it’s the celebrations in our lives that drive us forward, that give us momentum. Setting goals is planning celebrations. When we don’t identify what our values actually are, we deny ourselves the opportunity to celebrate the moments when we are the person that we want to be. Some days, that’s the only thing that we get to celebrate. Some days the world blows up in our face.

That’s why I think it’s really important that what guides your behavior every day is a commitment to making sure that you can give yourself evidence at the end of the day that if you claim to be someone of integrity, honesty, empowerment, in my case, growth, courage, empowerment, at the end of the day you have to be able to give a specific example of when you were that.

Because when I ask you, “Okay, you’re someone of integrity. Give me three examples of integrity this week.” “Well, hold on. It depends on how you define it.” “No, it depends on how you define it.” But ultimately if you can only give me two or three examples of you living your values in a given week, then leadership isn’t a practice, it’s a hobby.

Really what I want to talk to people about is moving leadership from a hobby to a practice because I have six questions that drive my behavior every single day. With a laptop and a phone I can answer those six questions tied to my values in less time than it takes me to empty my email inbox. But for most of my life I prioritized emptying my email inbox ahead of being the man I want to be every day.

What I found is that most people, even very successful people, that is what they’re doing with their lives. They’re sticking what they have to do every day ahead of who they want to be. The two don’t have to be separate, but you can make sure that you’re being the person you want to be as you finish the things that you have to do every day.

Because when you don’t, eventually you don’t get to answer the question why do I matter because you don’t have any evidence. And if you do, but if you don’t give yourself evidence, that impacts how you feel about yourself and how you treat others.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I dig it. I think it’s so true. I remember one of my happiest thoughts – I think Einstein has a happiest thought – but I recall I was right in front of my childhood home. I was 18 years old, going to graduate high school pretty soon. I was just sort of chilling in my car, a 1989 Chevrolet Celebrity.

I was licking some ice cream and just thinking, “Why do I feel so amazing right now?” Then I was like, “And why at other times do I feel really just yucky even though the circumstances around me are somewhat similar in terms of family and friends and school and whatever.”

Then I sort of came up with the same kind of conclusion, kind of like, “Oh, your baseline level of satisfaction with life and yourself is determined by the extent to which you are living in accordance with your values.” I thought I was really a brilliant guy for figuring that out, but then I realized that no, that’s very well kind of established in sort of the human condition and philosophers throughout the millennium.

But it was cool to arrive at and say, “No, yes, this is true. I buy it and I can kind of see how in the last few weeks I’d been on sort of a hot streak. Hey, how about I do that more deliberately rather than just get lucky.”

I’m right with you. It is powerful and well worth prioritizing. I like how you’ve put it there in terms of getting systematic about making it a practice and say, “Well, did I do that this – today and this week?” I want to kind of rewind a little bit to the starting line in terms of what is the step-by-step process by which you reflect upon your experiences and come out with your true values on the other side?

Drew Dudley
Well, I think it’s one of those questions I gave an example of a little bit earlier, a little earlier. One of those questions that people learn something when you ask them, for me, it’s the edge of the bed advice. The edge of the bed advice happened on that train trip. It came out of when I started speaking to people after that young girl, her name was Alison, sort of made me realize that I wasn’t living the life I wanted.

The edge of the bed advice says this – I started to ask people on the train. I learned a lot.

If it was the last night your son or daughter was living in your house and you’re walking by their room, and they call you in and you sit on the edge of the bed and they say, “Mom, dad, what do I need to know? What do I need to know to be happy and healthy and successful in this world? What insights have most contributed to your happiness? Give me 30 of them. Bring them back tomorrow when you wake up.”

See, because what happens is if you ask people for one piece of advice, they think it has to be some sort of Dalai Lama-esque, Confucius says, massive insight. You give people 30 and they actually start to realize, “Man, I know a lot and I never thought about that phrase, the things that have most contributed to my happiness.”

What it does is you start to reflect as you go through these 30, “What do I know to be true about,” fill in that blank. What do I know to be true about love? What do I know to be true about business? What do I know to be true about happiness/sadness/friendship?

When you think about that, ‘what do I know to be true,’ and you start to write down these 30 pieces of edge of the bed advice, what they do is they emerge from your wisdom.

Now your wisdom comes from experience. Wisdom – you can’t just sit and come up with wisdom. You earn wisdom through what you do, what you’re successful at, what you fail at, what makes you happy/sad, other people happy and sad.

As you write down these 30 pieces of advice, what you’re ultimately doing is reflecting on what you have done and writing down what you learned from it, which means those 30 pieces of advice are born from your lived experience, not from some idealized version of what you think sounds good about your life. This is actually what you did.

Now, the next step, I actually can’t give away, not because I want people to run out and buy the book, because if you know what the next step is, it influences how you create the list, if that makes some sense. Because you need to do step one first in order to – and not know what the next step is because otherwise it starts to – you don’t get an honest assessment of what your values are.

The reason I say it is that you need to surface your values is what my work has taught me. You can’t just ask someone. You actually have to put them through a reflective process on their experiences that help them surface it.

I don’t want that to be a cop out. It’s one of the challenges of trying to give practical advice through podcasts or on the radio is that you can’t actually surface your values if you know step two when you do step one. But that’s where you start.

Honestly, my friends, if you’re listening, just do that assignment. Do it for yourself. Sit down over the next two weeks and think that question, ‘what do I know to be true about.’ If you have kids, give it to them.

If you are a manager, get the people in your office to do it. Bring them in or take them and then put together a list of your favorites, take the names off of them, hand it out anonymously because what you’re doing is you’re saying to people “This is the brilliance of the people who surround you,” because if you come up with 30, there will be at least 3 on your list that you are proud of, that you say, “Man, I want to Tweet that because that’s really smart.”

Do that assignment. That starts to get you thinking about what has made you happiest, what has made you wisest. You can start to pull from there. But in terms of actually identifying the values, it’s step two. But that’s where you start. Your values come from what you’ve done, not from what you say.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s intriguing. Wheels are spinning. I guess turning has a more positive connotation, so they’re turning as opposed to spinning.

But that’s – so you say, ‘What do I know to be true about,” and so you had a few things there in terms of love, happiness, so is it just kind of any big piece of life, like money, business, fitness, relationships, friendship. Is it kind of like how you think about how you fill in the blank there is just sort of the big buckets of stuff?

Drew Dudley
Yeah, really it comes down to the idea that some people get stuck. They’re like, “I don’t even know where to begin,” so you can sit back and just reflect on your wisdom. Some people can come up with 30 like that.

What I discovered however, is that people really sometimes need a little bit of “Okay, well, where do I start?” Ultimately that really helps is you sort of write down a list of things that are obviously a challenge that someone’s going to face: love, family, friendship, work. What do I know to be true about failure or stress or fear? Ultimately that little phrase, that can really get you thinking about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Neither borrower nor a lender be.

Drew Dudley
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m just thinking about all of the – that whole speech. Is it Polonius and Laertes? He really goes on. But I guess that’s helpful for those Shakespearean folk. Well, cool. That’s awesome. Drew-

Drew Dudley
You know what’s funny my friend?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear it.

Drew Dudley
You mention that, one of my – because I put together my list there. One of them is number – what was it? Number 14, I would have told my kids there are more Rosaline’s out there than Juliet’s.

There are more people – there are more things that you think you desperately want and you can’t live without them and then all of the sudden, you realize that you didn’t really want them, that there was something else out there for you. That’s something wise to keep in mind when you lose something you thought you really wanted is that that was probably a Rosaline, not a Juliet.

The next piece of advice is that both Romeo and Juliet end up dead at the end of that story. Love does not conquer all, but love has an incredible winning percentage. Love is LeBron James and you should adjust your expectations accordingly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fun. Drew tell me, lots of good stuff here, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Drew Dudley
Mostly folks, if we can start to recognize that we get educated out of leadership by using these big giants as our examples, for those of you out there who are parents, you can start to shift this. We can start to widen the definition of leadership.

Most of the leadership on the planet is coming from people who don’t see themselves as leaders because we were taught to think of leaders as these giants. That divided or that put a wedge between our identity and what leadership actually was.

When you start to talk about leaders to your kids, to your coworkers, let’s start to realize that all of our biggest leadership heroes should be people that you know personally because you get to see how they make decisions every single day.

When we look at famous people, when we look at the RFKs and the Martin Luther King’s, I’m not trying to diminish that. What I am saying, however, is that we only see the outcomes of their decisions, we don’t see how they made them. Most of the leadership heroes you know should be people that you’ve seen how they make decisions.

I do not argue that everyone should be a CEO or everyone has the capacity to be a senior manager, but there is a form of leadership to which we all can and should aspire. We’re ignoring people who consistently behave in ways that make their lives and the lives of people around them better.

If we can recognize these moments of compassion and generosity and kindness and we recognize them as leadership, what we’re doing is we’re doing a better job recognizing the leadership that’s being ignored. Leadership recognized is leadership created.

That’s one thing that I want to say is that we’re teaching kids to not see themselves as leaders because they’re not yet in charge. I think we can start to change that if we start to give different examples of what leaders actually are.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that a lot. There’s one more thing I’ve got to get before we hear your favorite things that is you talk about those moments of kindness or compassion and whatnot and how often following your values sucks in terms of – it’s unpleasant or uncomfortable in terms of the consequences.

Do you have any pro tips for when you’re in the thick of it and either you just don’t feel like it or it’s like, “Oh, this is going to hurt,” any pro tips for following through and being consistent with those values when you sure don’t want to?

Drew Dudley
One, imagine yourself explaining the decision to a group of people you respect five years from now. Imagine that every single decision you make in your life, five years from that day you have to stand up and in front of a group of people that you love and respect, you have to explain the decision that you made.

That – when you do that a lot of the noise surrounding our decision falls away. When you don’t know what to do, what would the person I want to be do, and then do that.

Second, you’ve got to practice. You have to practice. Yeah, that’s part of what the book is about is how do you create this habit of making decisions based on your values. That’s really, really important is that you have to do it regularly because what it does is it makes you so aware of the fact that you are capable of handling the consequences.

So much of how you handle those extra tough days are determined by the behaviors that you engage in on the days that aren’t tough. We need to prove to ourselves that we have courage and resilience. I can make tough decisions not because I am a better person than other people, but because I made it a habit to make decisions consistent with my values, which meant a lot of times bad crap happened.

But what you become aware of is that you can make it through bad crap. Only when you become confident in your ability to do that are you more willing to take those chances.

Your brain’s job is to keep you from harm. When you can prove to your brain that you can get over those consequences, it will be more likely to say, “Okay, then let’s do it.” But if you don’t practice and if you don’t get used to it, then you’re always going to shy away from the consequences because you haven’t yet proven to yourself that you can handle them.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Thank you. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Drew Dudley
I shouldn’t tell so many stories, I know. Here’s a quick one from the book though about the word favorite.

Two World War II veterans told me you should never use the word favorite, best or greatest because it diminishes everything else in your life that isn’t the best. They said draw what they call the great line and all you ask yourself, it’s not where does that rank in terms of all the things in my life, best meal, favorite quote, greatest sunset, just say to yourself, that’s above the great line.

Because there’s an unlimited amount of things that can go above the great line. There is only one greatest. He said to me “Drew, greatest is the enemy of great because when we focus on the greatest, we diminish all the great.”

I will probably give you more than one answer for these favorites. I’ll try to limit it to two. When it comes to my favorite – you asked for quote, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hm.

Drew Dudley
Two. The last thing my girlfriend ever wrote to me was “I want to build a better life for myself and a better self for my life.” She passed away just a couple of days later. That – it’s so odd when the greatest summation of what you try to teach in the world is summarized by somebody else. “I want to build a better life for myself and a better self for my life.”

The other one is one that she and I shared. I actually have – well, I actually have hers tattooed on my arm and I have this one tattooed on my leg. It’s from Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome, thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Drew Dudley
That’s going to be Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner work in the book The Leadership Challenge, specifically around personal value clarity because what they found was – they identified five exemplary practices of leaders. I highly recommend the book. But what they really showed is that individuals who are clear on their personal values have higher levels of commitment, pride, and happiness at work.

That’s much more co-related than clarity on organizational values. If you want to be happy at work, proud of the job that you do and a better overall work experience, get personal value clarity in. The book The Leadership Challenge talks about how those things are linked.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. While we’re at it, how about a favorite book?

Drew Dudley
Oh gosh, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. Also Silos, Politics and Turf Wars. Good to Great is the best business book of all time.

Hey, there’s one I’ll recommend to everybody, which is Why We Sleep: The Power of Sleep and Dreams. You will get eight hours of sleep a night when you read that book. The number one resource that will make us better that we’re ignoring is sleep. We all know it, but when you read this book, you realize you’re not going to deny it anymore. It’s scary for individuals who get four hours of sleep a night.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny, when I tell people “Oh what do you do?” “I have a company called How to Be Awesome at Your Job and a podcast.” “Oh yeah, so what’s your top tip?” “It’s like well, it’s hard to condense over 300 interviews into a top tip for you, but since you’ve asked, it’s sleep.” Yeah, I’m right with you there. How about a favorite tool?

Drew Dudley
Tool? What do you mean by tool?

Pete Mockaitis
Like you’re a tool Drew.

Drew Dudley
Well that’s got to be like – I love a hammer, a good quality hammer. Actually those little multi-tools or did you mean favorite tool to use for success in life.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, something that helps you be awesome at your job.

Drew Dudley
Exercise. The endorphins – your body is the greatest tool. I used to be 300 pounds. I lost 100 pounds. I had a good job and liked what I did before that, but I am 1,000 times better when I realize that the greatest tool you were ever given is your body.

Look, do not hate your body, but do not lie to yourself when it’s unhealthy. I lied to myself for a lot of years that my body was unhealthy. The greatest tool that I have is my body. It’s one that we all have. Exercise is a profoundly good tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks?

Drew Dudley
Two things. When you don’t know what to do in a situation, ask yourself what would the person I want to be do and do that.

Three words—these saved my career—elevate don’t escalate. When you’re getting trolled, when you get an email that pisses you off, three words, elevate don’t escalate. Leaders elevate situations. They never escalate them. Elevate means trying to succeed and escalate means trying to win.

Those three words over and over again, elevate don’t escalate, elevate don’t escalate, I repeat them on a loop and it’s gotten me out of some trouble because we’re the only creatures on the planet with a gap between stimulus and response. Your career and your relationships and your life is in large part determined by how you use the gift of that gap.

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

Drew Dudley
DrewDudley.com. D-R-E-W-D-U-D-L-E-Y.com. You will notice that all of the words on that webpage have u’s in them though. Humor has a u ladies and gentleman. Come on, stop I don’t know why you Americans are so exclusionary sometimes. Embrace the u. Embrace the u.

Pete Mockaitis
Colour me embracing. I couldn’t resist.

Drew Dudley
That’s not really cool there, eh? Don’t be doing that.

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

Drew Dudley
I do, number one, by the end of today make sure you have an answer to this question. What have I done today to recognize someone else’s leadership? That question you answer for 30 days, you journal how you answer it. Your job’s going to get better. Your relationships will get better. Your career will get better and your life with get better. Leadership recognized is leadership created.

One of the best things we can do to make our lives better and our jobs better is to start to recognize all those moments of kindness and compassion, that person at the coffee shop who knows your name and smiles at you every day, the custodian at your workplace that keeps the place spotless every single night, the receptionist, who thinks she’s just a receptionist, all of those people make your life, your job, better.

Take a moment and recognize that as leadership because we continually do the things that make us feel good. When somebody tells you that when you do this it’s having an impact, you’re going to do it more often. Be the catalyst for making that happen. What have you done today to recognize someone else’s leadership?

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Drew, this has been a ton of fun. I wish you all the best of luck with Day One Leadership and all you’re up to.

Drew Dudley
Oh, my friend, thank you so much. It’s been a blast.

346: Seizing Career Opportunities with AstroLabs’ Muhammed Mekki

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Muhammed Mekki lays out how to optimize your career opportunities.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why NOT to over-plan your career
  2. How to identify and capitalize on each career opportunity
  3. The nobility of management

About Muhammed

Muhammed is a Founding Partner at AstroLabs, a startup hub and training academy for tech entrepreneurs in the Middle East. AstroLabs Dubai is a specialized coworking space that hosts high potential digital technology companies, assisting founders to establish their startups and providing them with a platform to scale globally. AstroLabs Academy delivers a variety of practical training courses on topics related to digital business.

Prior to AstroLabs, Muhammed co-founded Dubai-based Namshi, now one of the largest ecommerce companies in the MENA region. He built and led the operations teams and helped raise venture capital funding to fuel the company’s growth. Muhammed is a former McKinsey & Company strategy consultant with clients across the GCC.

Muhammed received an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. He was selected for a full academic scholarship as a Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Fellow based on professional achievements as well as a demonstrated commitment to the development of the Arab World. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School and a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania as a member of the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Muhammed Mekki Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Muhammed, thanks so much for joining up here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Muhammed Mekki
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so fun. We’re doing this in person, which happens very rarely, but it’s awesome to have you here.

Muhammed Mekki
It’s great to be here and see where it all happens.

Pete Mockaitis
The magic enclosed porch in Chicago. It’s really fun because, so we’ve known each other for a good long time. I think you’ve known me longer than almost every other guest, maybe Kate Roche is in the running as I also knew her in high school. But if I can put you on the spot a bit, can you share a fun Muhammed/Pete memory or anecdote.

Muhammed Mekki
Yes, so many. I guess we’ve been through quite a bit. You’re right, since high school I’ve had the pleasure of knowing you. Pete’s the kind of guy, when he puts his mind to something, he just makes it happen. That’s one of the things that I really admire about Pete.

Let me think back actually one that’s not too far away. It’s a road trip that we took together down to Olney, Illinois. We packed our car and took a four and a half hour trip/drive down to southern Illinois in pursuit of a business that we were trying to get off the ground together in tutoring. We found a first potential customer. We were excited.

We got in the car, drove all the way down for a meeting basically, to sit down with that school and figure things out, and then drove all the way back all in one day. We spent over, I think it was about nine hours in the car that day.

During that time we had a lot of fun. We were joking about things. But in the end it was about both of our passion for getting that company off the ground and trying to make things happen. In the end we weren’t really able to.

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Muhammed Mekki
We learned a lot from the experience I think. Both of us have started different ventures and tried things ourselves and this is one that we can chalk up in the category of experiences that we learned a lot from, where we just didn’t – we didn’t understand our target market enough. We didn’t understand how the product that we were building connected to the consumer.

But I’ll always remember that trip and our passion to kind of go out there and find a customer and get the thing going and what that took and rolling up our sleeves to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
That was fun. I was thinking, man, I remember telling people, “Yeah, I think we’re going to sort of eliminate the Tutor Trail,” it was called, “business after all.” And they said, “Oh, why is that?” I said, “Well, we didn’t get any revenue.”

Muhammed Mekki
Yes, exactly. Oops.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Oh, you mean profits?” Like, “No, I mean revenue.”

Muhammed Mekki
No. But we tried really hard. We even drove all the way down to the other side of the state to try to find a paying customer, but in the end it was a sign I guess. Yeah. We were smart enough at least at that point to just heed that sign and move on.

Pete Mockaitis
One of my favorite moments from that trip actually was when you were driving. It was getting kind of toasty and you wanted to take off your jacket. I don’t know if you remember this. It cracked me up. I still think about this sometimes.

You’re like, “Okay, could you hold the steering wheel?” I was like, “Okay,” so I’m in the passenger seat kind of reaching over for the steering wheel. I’m kind of uncomfortable. It’s sort of 65-ish miles per hour and a little bit of curviness. I was like, “I don’t really feel like I’ve got the best angle or control here,” and so I’m sweating a little and I think you perceived that. After you finished removing your jacket, you just said to me, “Continue.”

Muhammed Mekki
This was before the days of driverless cars. Yeah, I was on that-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s right. It’s going to be dated in five years.

Muhammed Mekki
Indeed. Indeed.

Pete Mockaitis
They were driving themselves, huh? I think one of the first things that drew me to you was that when we were in high school and I was kind of a weird kid who read business books and all of that stuff.

Then when I encountered you, I was like whoa, here’s a guy who’s putting some proactive thought into his life, his career, his goals right up front. You were like the only person who I think I knew who was doing that as much as I was. I was like, I like him and I’m just going to clamp on to him.

Maybe you could give us some perspective in terms of how do you think about just general goal setting or life and career planning because it seems like it’s worked out for you in terms of your path here?

Muhammed Mekki
I think one of the things that I’ve learned over time from my own personal experience has been trying actually not to over plan. I see that coming up with people that I talk to all the time like try to lay out a five-, six-step path and trying to follow that path.

For me at least, I’ve always tried to optimize for the next step. If I think back on all of the steps that I’ve taken, never have I been able to see two steps ahead. Always the next step had just a core affect on what would happen in the step that followed.

Let me give you some examples. When I – for instance, in thinking about where I wanted to go to college and what I wanted to study, I had a feeling that something called business and international business, specifically, was something that really was interesting to me. This was before the day I even knew what consulting was or what being an entrepreneur really was, back in the days of high school.

But I just decided to take that leap and just went and tried to find what’s the best international business program that I can find and just put all my effort toward applying for that and trying to get into the program. While there, I was able to figure out a lot of things that kind of led to me setting the next step, setting the next goal.

In fact, it wasn’t even jumping into the job market. I ended up learning about something called the Fulbright, which is a research fellowship that I had no idea existed at the time that I did the step prior, but once I learned about that, I thought wow, it’s a great opportunity to spend a year off of the career track and actually just doing research in another country and expanding my skillsets in ways that I never thought about.

I suddenly made that into my passion, my next goal. In that kind of a way I found that even in a career standpoint, now if you fast forward, in making some of the steps that I did, I would have never imagined for instance, jumping out to the – I jumped out to the Middle East. I started consulting there. I never thought that that would then lead to me going into an entrepreneurial venture.

But one step always led to the other in ways that I could have never predicted is my point. Trying to think too much about two steps ahead, has never been useful for me. It’s always, if I just channel that energy into the next step and just really try to put everything, my presence, and all that I have into the next step, then the next door will open.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a pretty cool reframe there or distinction. If you’re thinking just about the very next step, what are kind of the criteria or rules of thumb or values you’re using to kind of evaluate a given opportunity and say, “Yup, that is good stuff?”

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, I think that’s changed over time. I used to be optimizing for what’s the most outside perceived highest-

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ve done that well. It’s your impressive looking resume bio.

Muhammed Mekki
Well, that used to be an obsession, so I’m trying to figure out what’s the – how can I place myself in a position to be successful and try to get the right stamps, if you will, on the resume. That does have its benefits in terms of opening up some doors and maybe even in retrospect, most importantly, just giving myself confidence to just eventually step out.

But eventually, okay, so you go to a great school and then you get a great first job and then you get these accolades and you do all this stuff and you get promoted and you do all the right things, but then what? There comes a point at which there’s no next most impressive step to take unless you’re just going up a corporate ladder specifically within the same company going up one step after the other, after the other.

In our day and age a lot of people are shifting around to different jobs, different paths, all these types of things. At a certain point you’re like well, should I – when do I jump, when do I actually say, “I’m just going to try to think about what will make me happy and what I’d like to just do given all this stuff from before.”

Yeah, there was phase one, which yes, I was definitely unabashedly chasing after a lot of those stamps, if you will, which gave me the cushion and the background and the experience. Then phase two I would say started from when I cofounded an ecommerce company, was when I jumped off of a very stable and reputable job as a consultant at McKinsey. It was a fantastic job actually. I was enjoying it.

But at a certain point I decided, you know what, I’m going to go ahead and jump off and just take a big risk and try to start something.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a really cool perspective there in terms of stopping to think okay, so rather than perusing the next cool big prestigious thing, at some point you’re going to run out of it. It’s like, “I guess I’m going to run for Senate. Is that what I should do next? I guess that would be about-“ You sort of say it’s cool in terms of being pro-active, like, “Well, now is the time I’m going to choose to prioritize this.”

I think I even experienced that in college a bit in terms of I was always trying to do the impressive thing and then once I got my job offer, early on in senior year for a great job at Bain, I was like “Okay, well, now I’ve got this time here. I guess I’ll just do what I want to do.” I wrote a book just because I wanted to write a book. That was really fun.

Muhammed Mekki
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool to think about when to jump. We had an author who wrote that book called When to Jump.

Muhammed Mekki
When to Jump. Yeah, I mean it’s not even just about going off and doing an entrepreneurial adventure or whatever the case might be, but it’s jumping off of the tried and trodden path of just going from one step to the next step to the next step. Say okay, I’m going to take a left turn and it’s going to be a risk, but let’s see what happens.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Well, if we could just stop for a moment at the stamps collection phase. I’m curious to hear, you’ve done a fine job with your stamp collecting. We talk about Penn Huntsman, Stanford, McKinsey, Fulbright. That is all the things a VC or a hiring manager might like to see in a compact little presentation.

Any pro tips when it comes to the applications or the interviews or how you manage to nail those again and again?

Muhammed Mekki
I think that for a lot of different prestigious programs or schools, they’re blessed with actually having way more applicants that actually qualify than they have space for. The challenge always is that even if you are qualified for a particular program or for entry into an opportunity, differentiating yourself and distinguishing yourself from the rest of the applicant pool is the challenge.

I think the aspect of these applications that I spent a lot of time on and almost obsessed about was actually the essays and the story behind why I wanted to do something. It comes back to your first question about kind of taking the step – how to decide on what is the next step.

Once I had decided, for instance, that I really wanted to after university go and do some research as a Fulbright fellow, I spent a lot of time in introspection actually and thinking about why is that and how will I apply it. I channeled a lot of that into the application and into the process. I think the challenge is differentiating yourself from the pool based on your personal story.

Similarly, when I was applying for an MBA, there are a lot of very well qualified consultants that apply to go to the top MBA programs. You risk being just put into the pool of, “Oh, another consultant that’s applying to go to a top MBA program.”

I tried to choose my stories based on one, my own personal experience and background of what can I bring to the table given my background that’s a bit different from everybody else. Kind of thinking about what distinguishes you outside of work.

For me, I have my cultural and religious background that kind of played a role as well in how I think about and how I interact with the world. I wasn’t shy in bringing that kind of stuff up in the application saying, “Yes, I am a Muslim and I have these – this is how it informs who I am. This is how I can make the class actually a richer class,” and bringing in examples of that.

Whereas some people might shy away from some of these types of topics, I feel like why not bring them to the table and show what makes you a full person that’s going to really distinguish you from just the pool of everybody else that’s there. I think that’s probably if I were to extract one learning from these different applications, that’s what I’ve tried to make happen throughout.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool, but it’s funny. I’m looking at the study Quran that you recommend that I get and it is ample with its notations. This is maybe sort of random, but I remember you had an award for reciting or having memorized is it the whole Quran or large portions of it?

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, that was something that I did when I was actually out in – on the Fulbright. It was again, something I would have never predicted would have happened, but while I was out there I found a classical teacher. I was able to explore this other side and learn things that I hadn’t expected I would do when I first went out there.

But I just – if you keep yourself open to what you might – who you might intersect with. That was an example where I started something. I’m like, “I’m going to take this all the way to the conclusion,” and actually try to get basically a – what’s equivalent to kind of a diploma or certification actually the recitation. It became something really important to me. I did take that on.

Pete Mockaitis
How does one – those are huge chunks-

Muhammed Mekki
It’s not memorization. It’s actually recitation of the – yeah, yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so it’s sort of like pronouncing it perfectly.

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, exactly, exactly. Much easier, much easier.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well now I’m clear there. Thank you.

Muhammed Mekki
No worries.

Pete Mockaitis
I have so much I want to hear from you in terms of generally, it seems that you kind of think and operate a little bit differently than others, in the best possible way. Not that you’re a freak or a weirdo.

I think that a couple of things that come to mind there is at one point I recall you were at a workplace and you earned a triple bump, not a single or double bump as one might get at the end of year or a review cycle, but a triple bump, which happens I guess maybe never or super rarely there. How is that done?

Muhammed Mekki
It was actually the context was that – it was early on in my career. I decided to just really just pour myself into this job and try to find – what was a slower start basically in the first projects that I was doing, I ended up finding an opportunity where I’d be working on a really small team.

The exposure – it was a combination, as a lot of things are in life, between luck and being prepared and rolling up your sleeves. The luck element of this experience was actually getting assigned to a project where I did have a chance to shine in front of a senior client.

I think as a very junior member kind of out of under grad, you don’t usually get the opportunity to be the client-facing person on the ground, but just because our team was – it was smaller than perhaps it should have been, and there was just too much work to get done, and I had built up some rapport and trust with the partner. He just sent me off. It was kind of scary, but also exciting.

I was like “Oh wow, I’m the one who’s representing this firm in front of the client in a couple of the different locations or the offices.” Once I had that – I think that’s the luck element. You have that sort of window or that opportunity.

Then it’s like “Okay, well, if I hit this one out of the park and I really show that I’m able to do much more, this is my chance.”

I think this one experience was actually what led to – it was probably the most important factor in that review cycle when we’re looking back at how I perform is actually the fact that the feedback from the client being that “Wow, Muhammed was somebody that I felt like I could – that was really adding a lot of value and was representing the firm.”

I got a lot of good feedback from the client side, so that made the partners happy. We were able to actually make a demonstrative positive impact on their business.

These things I think when you see those openings, that’s – a lot of times you’re just in a job and you’re just kind of doing the day-to-day, but every once in a while you get that chance. When that chance comes, you’ve just got to have your eagle eyes open and just read to just jump on it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. I love that – see here we go talking about you thinking differently. I hope you’d find some gold here of perusing this line of inquiry.

Yeah, when it comes to the opportunity because you might view that opportunity in a completely different mindset in terms of “Oh my gosh, I’m already overworked. There’s no way I can take on this extra thing. I’m exhausted,” or it’s like, “Oh crap, I’m in over my head. I’m just going to try to not screw anything up, so what are the key things that could go very badly. I’m just going to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

As opposed to “How can I just super knock it out of the park?” and identifying that opportunity when it emerges. This … is I remember I guess it was – again, hey, I’ve known you since high school, so high school memories are coming back.

Muhammed Mekki
That was a long time ago.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember I was in National Honor Society. We did very little in National Honor Society because we were being honored. We were at a meeting. They said, “Okay, so, oh yeah, a clothing drive is a great service idea. Yeah.” There was a little bit of agreement behind that, like, “Yeah, yeah, that should be the thing we should do.”

Muhammed Mekki
Somebody should do that. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Then the advisor asked, “Okay, so who would like to head up the clothing drive?” I thought, well, I’m just a sophomore or junior. I don’t know. It seemed like it should be something a senior does, but I was like a sophomore or maybe a junior. There was a pause for a couple seconds and then no one raised their hand.

I thought that was really funny because what I heard her say was, “Who wants to be the National Honor Society president next year?”

Muhammed Mekki
Exactly. It’s like-

Pete Mockaitis
We do just about nothing, so if this is the one thing we do and you do it-

Muhammed Mekki
That’s basically-

Pete Mockaitis
Then we say who should lead us, it should be that person.

Muhammed Mekki
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Again, I guess I was in some of that prestige stamp collecting phase myself in high school and in college a bit. But yeah, I think that’s cool. It’s like how do you view that in terms of “Oh, that seems like a burden and exhausting,” versus “Oh, this is my window to really make some things happen.”

Muhammed Mekki
And I think the point that you brought up about risk limiting is also an important one. It’s not just the burden, it’s also like “Oh wow, I’m – things could go wrong. What if I just do the – cover the basics, I’ll be okay.” Versus going in there, what I tried to do consciously in this example, I was like, “Let’s just go and just try to just go with this. Let’s see what we can do here.”

Going in and having senior meetings with people and sitting down and really trying to uncover, we’re trying to figure out in this particular project how to really optimize a loan process, how to make it much more efficient and how to remove a lot of the problems out of the process. It involved a lot of interviewing and figuring out what people are currently doing and really doing some research into best practices.

But I took all of that on and just said I’m going to talk to everybody and really kind of uncovered a lot. Then just went into a cave and just kind of wrote a lot of that stuff out, did a lot of research, came back, presented, got the blessing of the partner, and then went to some senior people on the client side and gave them my recommendations. They liked them and they were interested and they started implementing them.

Even that was an example of just saying, you got that chance, so just go for – go all in. What’s the worst case scenario what’s going to happen? Something might go wrong. You’re a junior anyway, whatever. It’s not going to be the end of the world. I think that’s the end of the story is that it will be a learning experience. It’s fine. It’s not a big deal. But the upside is potentially really big because you’re proving yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. That’s good. Well, hey, let’s keep going in terms of you thinking differently and digging into some of your early career moments.

You were at another workplace and you spotted some inappropriate behavior, kind of just really meanness on the part of a somewhat senior leader. Tell us a little bit about what was going on and trying to preserve as much confidentiality and integrity as possible. Kind of what was going on and how were people reacting? How did you react a little bit differently?

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, it’s surprising sometimes you find yourself in an environment that purports to be a really positive one and of high caliber and you still have these bad apples that are inside. They’ve somehow survived and even thrived within this environment. You just don’t know how that happened.

For me it was stark because I started on day one on this team that had just been assembled and it was like from the very beginning I felt something was off of this manager and the team dynamic. Something was a bit off. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was, but it didn’t take very long.

It was within that same day, hours later, you had a manager basically hurling personal insults, kind of telling this more junior member of the team that they’re just – they’re not worth as much as he is, this is why they pay him less. Things that you just – really horrible things to say, especially to a junior person. It wasn’t done in a jest or joking kind of way. This was kind of like I’m trying to get you.

It was – I remember the feeling – I remember feeling awful that I didn’t immediately stand up to this person as it happened. But then I was playing back excuses in my – oh, I just started that day and it kind of took me by surprise and blah, blah, blah. I would hope that now if that happened and I was around I would just take that person to task immediately, but I was a bit junior and it was a bit just jarring and sort of surprising.

I kind of just was – I just sort of took that in. I thought about it and decided after seeing more behavior from him in a similar way, I think none of it was directed directly at me, but I saw it happening. I decided somebody’s got to say something, so I just said, okay, I’m just going to go in and report this guy to HR, to the senior manager.

I started with a trusted senior manager within the company, telling him the story, being like, “Listen, this is what’s happening and I don’t feel comfortable working in that environment, so I’d either like to get off of this project or to figure what can we do basically.”

He opened up the door then to an inquiry that ended up happening, HR-led. It turned out the really sad thing about it was that – and this was just a lesson to learn – is that this person – they interviewed a bunch of people he had managed over the last couple of years and the stories came out at that stage where he was just repeatedly doing this over – and abusing basically his people on his team.

Nobody had stood up to him. Nobody had said anything. He had just kind of continued. That’s how people like that just kind of continue along. But I think the conclusion was a very – actually it ended on a positive note. I think I gained a lot of respect for this company because based on these findings, even though this was a very strategic project with a – and one that he was leading.

Pete Mockaitis
Plenty of dollars.

Muhammed Mekki
Exactly. That they pulled him off the project. He was basically reprimanded. They reconfigured the team very soon thereafter. I think it also shows that even a junior member of the team can have that kind of an impact and somebody’s got to stand up.

That was kind of a scary moment for me because it was just like – even though I hadn’t done anything wrong or anything, but it’s just always difficult to be the person kind of the whistleblower if you will to kind of stand up and say, “This shouldn’t be happening here. This is against our values. This is not the kind of place that I want to be working in.”

Pete Mockaitis
You see it on the news all the time, these scandals, whether it’s molestation or harassment or verbal abuse. It can persist for many, many victims and many years. It does take some courage to go there.

I think it’s awesome that you did do that and a cool reminder that the first step doesn’t necessarily need to be crazy, “I’m going to get on CNN and I’m going to shout to the mountain tops,” like, “This seems pretty off to me. I’m going to see if there’s a leader that I trust. I’m going to run it by him and we’re going to see how that goes.”

Muhammed Mekki
That’s exactly it. I didn’t know what to do, so I said let’s start there and then test that out and then when it really – thankfully, for that person it really resonated and said “Okay, we need to do something.” That support from a senior manager I think makes all the difference in the world. Had he shut it down, I think it would have been really hard for me to go and escalate. It reinforced the fact that this off. This is not the way things should be.

Pete Mockaitis
Think a little bit now in terms of how things should be. You’ve learned some lessons and now you’re co-owning a business and managing folks and being all grown up. What are some of the best practices that you’re seeing and implementing when you get to run things your way?

Muhammed Mekki
It’s interesting because I come from a family – my parents are both physicians. We have a lot of doctors in the family. There’s a lot of – maybe that immigrant generation coming in with high degrees and have a passion for doing good also, really wanting to – you can’t argue with a doctor healing people. That’s just good.

Sometimes when you look at – you look at somebody who’s in management or somebody’s who’s in business. It’s like, okay, this guy’s – person’s out to kind of make more money or it’s – it doesn’t seem like-

Pete Mockaitis
Cash is king. Greed is good.

Muhammed Mekki
Exactly. It’s not the most noble of callings on the surface when you look at it. I think this is something that I’ve thought about. What I found over time is that actually management can be quite a noble calling. It depends a lot about how the perspective that you bring to the table.

This is particularly for those who are embarking on the path of managing your first employee or starting on a small team or later on when you have a bunch of people that report into you, to think about just the impact that you can have as a manager on that person, not just their career, but their life.

It really puts a different perspective on the table because the small things that you do to develop and to help push and develop your team really can have a huge impact.

I was managing a team in a previous role and then seeing some of the team members actually go off and get amazing opportunities in other jobs and really upgrading and going –

We pulled in somebody from a completely different industry who took a leap of faith and jumped into tech and ecommerce. Then she ended up kind of continuing along that path and jumping into a couple of other companies that are well-regarded and continuing to improve her position and getting a lot more opportunities.

You kind of think like wow, that interview and convincing her to kind of actually jump off from the hospitality industry into sort of the tech and ecommerce industry actually did have a big impact on her life in the end because that ended up changing the way – changing her path.

That’s a responsibility for sure, but also it’s exciting because then it opened up a lot more doors and hopefully the skills and lessons learned from the experience being on the team. It will be something to be able to take with you for the rest of your life. That’s something I – that’s the element of management that is I think something which makes it a really important and meaningful path.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. I’m curious then – that’s a great reframe in terms of its – your responsibility is big in terms of where you kind of end up leading people in the lives that they get to have as well as sort of the day in/day out sort of skills development, and coaching, and growing that can either happen or not happen based upon your willingness to invest time and candor into your relationship.

Any other kind of things that you swear by in terms of effective teaming or productivity or making it happen?

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, that was big picture stuff. Then if we get down into the more smaller details, I think a few things that we at AstroLabs now, the company that I’m currently managing, are quite passionate about.

I think one is always closing the loop. We’re always – whether – if you’ve opened up something with somebody or somebody’s expecting something from you to make sure that you’re getting back to that person as quickly and as kind of comprehensively as possible. It makes a big difference.

I think whether that’s within your own team or with outside partners or people that you’re dealing with, I think that’s something that distinguishes our organization.

We on a very tactical path, we’re big proponents of inbox zero, zero inbox basically, which is to make sure that you’re on top of everything that’s coming into your email, into your inbox. Once you’ve cleared something out, once you’ve dealt with it, you’re archiving it, you’re getting it out of your inbox.

The things that are in your inbox, and now even in Gmail there’s a new snooze feature, which used to be something that was a plugin called Boomerang. But you could just say “I don’t need to deal with this right now. I’m going to get back to it in another couple weeks or in another week or so.”

You can have it leave your inbox and have it come back in after a week just to make sure you’re not letting things fall off of your radar. We – that’s one of the things that we’re quite – we value a lot within the context of our company.

At the same time we’re against face time and just being there for the sake of being there and doing things – but I think there is an importance to actually making sure that you’re following through on your commitments and you’re closing the loop with people and you’re on top and not letting things just fall through the cracks and being proactive. These are some of the ways in which we achieve that.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. It’s funny. We’ve had some guests who say, “Don’t look at your email first thing in the morning. You’re being reactive. Are you really productive if you just answered all of your emails? Is that what it’s about?” How do you kind of balance the perspective associated with, “Oh, you’ve got to have that deep work, that quiet focused time, the maker time,” versus crushing every email.

Muhammed Mekki
It’s a really good point. I think you can get into this trap of just letting other people put a bunch of stuff on your to-do list if you’re just reactive and that’s all you do.

I think closing the loop only applies, in my perspective, on things that you’ve started or where there is already a relationship. I’m not saying that any message that comes into your inbox you have to reply to or deal with. You get inbound that you just decide I never asked for this. This person reached out to me out of nowhere. I’m just going to archive it.

That was a change for me because I’m so – I need to deal with everything. It’s like, well no, actually I don’t need to deal with this because I don’t have time and this person’s taking my time. But if it’s something where I’ve opened up that thread or there is an expectation of getting back, I sure make sure – I do make sure that I do that.

What balances it out is making sure that there is a weekly and maybe longer term sort of goals for juicy things to achieve and actually blocking off some time on a calendar to say “I’m going to go dive deep into drafting X, Y, or Z,” or “I’m going to make sure that I’m getting the brain time in order to structure this project that I want to do” versus just being on the email and just replying to everything in lightning speed.

I think it – yes, there is a balance. I’m just passionate about making sure that you are – that things don’t fall through the cracks as my – that’s a pet peeve of mine, if you will.

But the way we balance it out is saying, “Okay, as a team what is everybody planning to achieve besides the day-to-day stuff?” Everybody knows, okay, you’ve got to do your day-to-day job, but what are the bigger, juicier things that as a team we want to achieve this week. When we set those – we have those discussions. From there we can see if there’s ways that the team can collaborate and work together on some of the points.

Then we can keep each other honest, like “Okay, which of these bigger projects have we gotten done? If we haven’t, why? If we have, what else can we do?” That’s a good mechanism that we use internally to make sure that we’re not just running through the hamster wheel of answering emails.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. As we discuss this, it reminded me that I owe you an email about the lead generation thing we talked about, so I’m ashamed.

Muhammed Mekki
It’s good brainstorming and working together. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me anything else you want to make sure to mention or highlight before we shift gears into talk about some of your favorite things?

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, I think the – I’d say that one of the things that I try to do – took the opportunity in a transition point, which was business school, was to really shift things up a bit. In my case I wanted to jump into the tech sector and I wanted to jump to a new geography.

I decided that I couldn’t do both at one time so that was one thing that I thought about. I was like well, I tried but I couldn’t really figure out this new sector that I never worked in and all this and in a new geography.

I went ahead and just decided to – that actually going to business school is a great chance to do – to change something big and it’s a good post or sign post. I went ahead and jumped out to Dubai, to the Middle East, and continued doing the kind of work that I was doing in the past.

That wasn’t as big of a change, but I had my eye open to the new sector that I was hoping to get into and eventually was able to make that jump.

Didn’t know exactly how it was going to happen, so, again, going back to the earlier point about not over planning. I did have an idea of where I wanted to go, but I let that opportunity kind of emerge as I had kind of – as I was settling in as I was understanding the landscape. Then the chance to be able to get some funding and actually start a company happened in a way that I couldn’t have predicted.

I think that’s one of the other learnings that I’ve had is just taking that risk and jumping out, whether it’s an international assignment within company or a chance just to experience something different. Earlier on in the career, it’s a lot easier to do. You kind of just jump on those opportunities would be a piece of advice is just whatever sounds a little bit crazy, a little bit different, just try it.

It will just – a) it will give you those stories that we talked about it in the past. We go back to the applications and being able to distinguish yourself. If you’re just in the same job, doing the same thing, kind of going up, it’s harder to distinguish yourself. You’re going to have to dig deeper.

But if you really had a – even a short term experience that’s a bit different, but you kind of took a leap, took a risk, it’s something that you can anchor a really cool story about and really distinguish yourself when you’re trying to get to the next step or the step after that.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Muhammed Mekki
The one that I use often is “You don’t get what you don’t ask for.” I think it’s something that I’ve learned that it doesn’t hurt to ask in any context. It just doesn’t hurt to ask. Nobody’s going to give you something unless you’re going to ask for it.

If – whether it’s in a professional environment and you’re thinking about taking on more responsibility or you want to do something a bit different or you want to stretch yourself, yes, an excellent manager will say – will see the potential and place you perfectly, but a lot of times you’re not going to get that chance without asking for it.

Or even in a much more mundane situation. If you’re travelling somewhere and you’re trying to get an extra perk or you’re trying to – you just – nobody’s going to give you something unless you actually make that request.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome, thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Muhammed Mekki
I think Clay Christensen from Harvard Business School did – there was a study – it’s like an article on how will you measure your life basically. It kind of comes back to the point that we talked about earlier about management being a higher calling.

You’re not going to measure your life based on how many widgets you sell. “I’m going to sell 5% more widgets, then I’ve got 15% week-on-week growth” or “I was able to get this project approved by senior management.”

These are not the things that you’re going to remember or that will make an impact on your life long term, but making an impact on people and the people around you, your team, and all these types, … and they’re more meaningful. He delves into that. I believe it even turned into a book. But that’s an interesting one to kind of take a look at.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. How about a favorite book?

Muhammed Mekki
In this theme, in this spirit, I think, there’s a book called Rework. It’s a little bit more entrepreneurial sort of focused, but it does have lessons across the board on just how to be efficient and productive in a work environment. They kind of challenge some of the traditional assumptions about what is an effective work environment.

It’s done by founders of 37signals, which is a distributed tech company that everybody was working at a different environment, wherever they wanted to work from, that they bootstrapped, they didn’t take funding. It was kind of a unique context and had some really interesting juicy insights to take you there.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. How about a favorite tool?

Muhammed Mekki
Probably LinkedIn. I find myself using LinkedIn a lot. I think it’s – as I’ve used social media less and less, I think the utility of and the power of that tool in a business context has been quite powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Muhammed Mekki
I don’t know if it’s a habit, but it’s something that my wife and I have been talking more purposefully about. Being out in Dubai, I think making a habit out of – it’s not easy with two little kids now – but spending some quality time out in – out here in the US or making sure that we are staying connected with our friends and our family and everything.

I think – we just spent a couple weeks out actually in the Bay Area, where I went to school and have a lot of classmates and everything. Keeping in touch in a face-to-face kind of a way, beyond the emails, beyond this, but actually just meeting up, seeing the kids and keeping those relationships.

Even though we’re a 16-hour plane ride away from San Francisco and it does take an extra effort, I think it’s something that’s well worth it and it’s something that is important to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Speaking of kids, Jonathan has probably woken up since we’ve been speaking.

Muhammed Mekki
I can’t wait.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me, is there a particular nugget that you find that you share it often and people kind of quote it back to you, like, “Oh yeah, Muhammed says this.”

Muhammed Mekki
I don’t know if I’ve reached this kind of level of – but I think probably the joke internally at AstroLabs is definitely – even this – the quote that I mentioned is “You don’t get what you don’t ask for,” is sometimes “You don’t get,” dot, dot, dot. You kind of – that’s probably the one that I would bring up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Muhammed Mekki
They can reach out on LinkedIn actually. I’d be happy to connect. Just drop me a little note and connect.

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

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, I think if we just tie together a few of the things we were talking about. Keep your eye open for these opportunities to outperform and to do something fantastic. That’s kind of like your lucky opening. Just jump on it and outperform and go above and beyond.

Look for chances to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack. That might mean taking an international assignment or jumping on – doing something a bit different with your career that’s outside – taking that left turn as opposed to everybody else going up a ladder.

Think about chances to be able to do that, which will position you really well whether you’re trying to apply for something or you’re looking for your next opportunity. You have something a little bit different and deeper to be able to talk about and to show that you’re willing to take a risk and willing to do something new and different.

Then yeah, I would love to connect and challenge people to come on over to Dubai and see what’s happening in the tech sector. We’ve got lots of companies now that are from all over the world actually setting up their presence in Dubai and scaling up there to emerging markets around the region. Happy to connect with your listeners who might be passing through and are interested in technology and in the region.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. That’s a fun – I would just encourage folks to take Muhammed up on that. He’s a gracious host, sliced watermelon and more, often-

Muhammed Mekki
Watermelon is key. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Muhammed, I’m glad we finally got to do this. It’s been a blast.

Muhammed Mekki
Thanks for having me. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Keep on rocking.

Muhammed Mekki
This was great.

345: The Simple Solution to Disengagement with Dr. Bob Nelson

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Dr. Bob Nelson reveals the drivers behind disengagement–and what to do about them.

 

You’ll Learn:

  1. Just how critical recognition is
  2. Key reasons managers don’t give more encouragement
  3. Five ways to reward employees at low or no cost

About Bob

Dr. Bob Nelson is a leading advocate for employee recognition and engagement worldwide and the only person who has done a PhD dissertation related to the topic. He has consulted for 80 percent of the Fortune 500 as well as presented on six continents.  He has sold 5 million books, including 1001 Ways to Reward Employees of which 1001 Ways to ENGAGE Employees is his latest. Dr. Bob has been featured extensively in the national and international media including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CBS 60 Minutes, MSNBC, ABC, PBS and NPR about how best to motivate today’s employees.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dr. Bob Nelson Interview Transcript

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

Dr. Bob Nelson
Pete, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into this chat in many ways, maybe 1,001 ways or reasons why I’m excited. First, not to be too self-serving, but I’m so curious, you have quite a sentence in your bio: 80% of the Fortune 500 has been one of your consulting clients. Wow. What’s the secret behind this?

Dr. Bob Nelson
Yeah. Have good services, good outreach and keep at it. I’ve been doing this 25 years. Along the way people see what you’re up to and they say, “We need help with that,” or “We want your message to go to all our leaders,” or some version of that.

It’s a lot of fun. I really love it, to be able to help someone, a company that maybe can’t see the forest for the trees and they’re in the middle of it and they’re being hammered by different vendors and they’re not sure – they lose their focus and I can help them get their bearings and go through the sea of choices and end up with really what they’re after.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Not to turn this into a marketing podcast, but tell me about the consistent outreach part.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Oh, I think anyone knows that you have to keep at it for – regardless of how successful your business or your book or whatever you’re doing. I’m constantly promoting. Every time you speak, you’re promoting. Every time you’re consulting, you’re promoting. If you lose sight of that, then you’re going to hit a dry spot.

You hear about people, they’ve got a big consulting project for AT&T for three years and then that runs out and they’ve got no business. You’ve got to be constantly putting out lines. I believe that.

Another thing I believe that as a small business owner, I’ve got kind of a cottage industry in employee motivation and engagement, but within that there’s different strategies that you have to – you can’t just do one thing. You’ve got to be doing different things. I’m not sure – any given year I’ll do five or six major strategies. I’m not sure which ones will hit better, but two or three of them will and it will be – it will keep me busy and provide adequate funding.

I’m a believer in you’ve got to be promoting and you’ve got to be trying different things. You’ve got to be innovating because the market changes, tools change, technology changes. Now we have a whole new generation coming up, so they may not know the things that could help that – from people before them, from research that’s come before them. There’s a lot of – it doesn’t stay static. That’s makes it go a little bit exciting.

Pete Mockaitis
That is exciting. What I appreciate about that, and thanks for going there, is for our listeners who are not small business owners or marketing professionals, I was kind of inspired by what you said there in terms of you try five or six things a year, two or three of them hit. In other words, the minority or less than 50% by a slight margin. That’s just sort of encouraging in terms of trying stuff. Even super rock stars might miss more often than they hit.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Yeah. You talk to anyone that’s had success and there’s a certain element of luck in there, but as Mark Twain said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

I think that for any artist, for a record producer, a song producer, a book producer, you take your bestselling product – or for any company, if any – I was just talking with Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40. They’ve got a fantastic product. It’s a 500 million dollar company. They’re in 300 countries.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s all of them just about. That is more than is represented in the UN I believe. Impressive.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re right on that, but there’s – that was a – but they’re all over the globe. They – talking to them, they’re not resting on their laurels. They constantly, “What are we going to do new this year? What are we going to do-“ They’re using their tax refund to do more on social media.

It’s just you’re constantly refocusing. You’re constantly trying to maximize because we all have limited time, limited resources, limited marketing budgets, so what’s the best position. Because no matter what you do, you’ve got to be doing a little bit of experimenting all the time to test the waters for the next idea.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool. Thank you. Now I want to dig in a little bit. Your company is Nelson Motivation. You’ve got a book called 1,001 Ways to Engage Employees.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a lot of ways.

Dr. Bob Nelson
It is.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s kind of the main idea behind the book?

Dr. Bob Nelson
The main idea of 1,001 Ways to Engage Employees is the fact that we’re in a time where we need people engaged more than ever before, yet it’s at an all-time low. Since the field has come around in the last 20 years, essentially started by Gallup and their longitudinal research came up with what was called the Q12, 12, a dozen key variables that differentiate high performing companies from their average competitors.

Wow, great idea. They’re excellent at measuring engagement. This is the state of the field now that we have a good bead on it. We don’t have enough of it. We need more of it. It’s currently costing our country, our economy 420 billion dollars a year. Wow, bring it on. Although they’re good at measuring, they’re not so good at impacting it, at creating greater engagement.

I kind of looked at that and said, well, I don’t know much, but I know if 20 years into it we have the same number of engaged employees as 20 years ago, the same number of disengaged and actively disengaged employees, give or take one percent, then whatever we’re trying to do isn’t doing it.

I’m trying to bring a practical hands-on approach saying stop measuring and start doing it. Start focusing on the behaviors that gets you the results. This book is about-

Pete Mockaitis
…. Sorry, go ahead.

Dr. Bob Nelson
This book is about doing that. I took the research-based top ten variables, factors, if you will, that most impact employee engagement and systematically with each one of them I show the reader what it looks like through examples and practices currently being done by successful companies.

It’s just a book of practical positive wisdom that can help move the needle for your organization, whether you manage one person, a group, or have responsibility for the whole organization, you can start heading in the right direction where you can get better and better to have a more highly engaged workforce.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to dig into first the data piece for a moment. I – we talked about engagement a few times on the show. I’ve received more than 100 pitches from PR folk pointing to the crisis of low engagement.

Dr. Bob Nelson
There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
And how so-and-so would be a great person to talk to. You made it in though. You passed the gauntlet. But what you point out, which is kind of interesting from a historical context perspective, is you say, “Hold up now. Gallup’s been tracking this thing for 20 years and it’s been just about the same for all 20 years.”

Dr. Bob Nelson
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
So this is not a new crisis that we are thinking about. It’s just sort of like the state of work for two decades.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Yeah. Well, it’s a little bit the emperor’s not wearing clothes. It’s sort of like, if you want to measure it again this year and compare it to last year and look at each other and say, “Well, it really hasn’t changed that much,” and flip the page and look at the next variable, then do it for the next ten years.

But if you really want to change what’s going on in your organization, where you start to impact the behaviors of your leaders that impact how employees feel about working there, you’ll start getting different results, a different buzz, a different excitement that will be contagious.

Let’s go down that path and do that. Do that for a year or two and then measure. You won’t need to measure. You’re be able to feel the difference of what’s happening.

My book is intent on trying to make that connection. Less talk, less measurement, more here’s what is working now for people trying to make it happen. Here’s the results they got. You can probably do this one too. Give it a try. Not every idea in the book is going to work for you, but if that one doesn’t, flip the page, here’s another one.

The book just came out and I just saw someone yesterday, a head of HR for a large high-tech Fortune 500 company. She just got the book. It was like five days ago. I saw her copy. It had dozens of Post-Its, and tabs, and paper clipped, and folded ears. I’m going, “Yes.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Yes. She’s in it. That’s – I write books that are meant to be used.

You can – I have managers that say, “Hey, I took your book I passed it around to my workgroup. I had people initial ideas they like in the margin. It doesn’t mean I have to do any of them, but if I want to do something to thank them, to engage them, to tap into their ideas – wow, here’s something that they checked themselves. I can make the connection a little bit easier.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, that is handy. Kind of outsource a little bit of that decision making. Get that flowing.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Well, the best management is what you do with people, not what you do to them. I’m trying to share the techniques that you can be doing, not as a force people, not to surprise or trick them to working harder, but to say, “Hey, how would it feel around here if we – who feels we need to have more recognition?” If everyone says, “Oh no, we’re fine,” then forget about it, but I haven’t seen that happen yet.

Actually, if you’ve got any credibility with them, someone’s going to raise their hand and say, “Well, boss, I’ve just had it up to here with you telling me how good I am.” That’s not going to happen.

You’re going to find out about, “You’re quick to find mistakes. You’re kind of, truth be known, a little bit of a micromanager. You actually – through your behaviors you show that you don’t trust us. That’s why you get us very defensive trying to minimize our commitment, so we’re not the person that you find fault with.”

We’re spending more time KYA and protecting ourselves and emails to show that wasn’t our decision and stuff like that instead of tapping into improving processes and serving the clients and ideas for saving money.

It’s all around us. Which way – where do you want people focused? Well, if you want to lead the charge, you’ve got to start getting in front of them and catching them doing things right that are in line with the goals of your group, and the organization. That will naturally bring out more of that behavior.

The greatest management principle in the world is you get what you reward, what you thank someone for, what you inspect, what you acknowledge, what you incentivize-

Pete Mockaitis
Measure.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Which is the best way of telling them on the front end what you’ll do for them on the back end if you get the results you wanted. You do any form of that, you’re going to get more of that behavior. Not just from that person, but from other people that saw you do it or heard about it.

As you systematically send the message, “This is the type of thing that gets noticed around here. This is the type of thing that we’re talking about. The excitement about how Tony achieved the goals that we were after or the core value so important our company’s success.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s a great lay of the land there. I’m curious in your example there, you sort of spoke from the vantage point of sort of an individual employee sort of sharing with manager, “Hey, here’s actually what’s up and what’s going awry.”

I’d love to get your take to speak to that person first. If we’re talking about an individual contributor, who’s feeling disengaged at work right now, what do you think that one individual should do when they find themselves surrounded by a vibe that is not so engaging?

Dr. Bob Nelson
Yes. Well, that’s a great question. It’s very on point because the forward for my book is done by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, who’s the – considered the number one coach in the world. What he wrote about was who owns engagement.

It was fantastic because the way we have it – and again, going back to Gallup, if you ask people, “Are you getting enough recognition? Do you – are we giving you the skills you need? Do you have adequate authority? Are we doing the right things?” It’s very, very easy to say, “Mm, yeah, not really. Why don’t you work on that?”

You do some things. You come back. “Eh, it’s a little better, but work on it more. I’d like more money too.” They’re off the hook. Engagement needs to be owned by every employee.

If you’re not getting the recognition you feel you deserve, bring that up to your boss. Have a discussion in your group. Bring an idea for how we can start sharing praises to start our staff meeting.

I worked with ESPN and they had a manager that said, “Whenever we start a staff meeting we always start the same way. We start with listing, as a group, five things that are going well. Usually it’s pretty easy, but sometimes it’s not. We’re kind of struggling on some stuff. We still don’t skip that step until we name five things as a group because that’s our touchstone. That’s our homeroom that allows us to take on the next challenge.”

Or I worked last fall with NASA Johnson Space Systems in Houston, which is ranked the number one best place to work in federal government, by the way. Didn’t surprise me in the least because you could feel it walking into the place. You could see it on the walls, how people talked to each other. You could feel a culture that’s positive and people are engaged.

One of the things that they do that I loved is that whenever they have a manger meeting, here’s 20 managers and they always save, as is their custom, 10 minutes at the end of the meeting to go around the room and ask everyone to share something they’ve done to recognize someone on their team since we last have been together. Wow, ten minutes. They said you could just feel the energy and pride of the group rise.

They said they noticed something else that their leaders will take notes on each other’s ideas. “That’s a great one, Tony. I’m going to try that.” They’re constantly becoming better and better. They’re becoming – they’re a self-learning organization on the concepts that made them great to begin with. I love it. I love it.

There’s so many organizations that are kind of stuck in the mud and the problem is somewhere else’s and not theirs and everyone is pointing fingers at each other. It’s more of a blame game. You’ve got to get out of that – you’ve got to get out of that hole and start looking at the power of positive consequences and how to systematically bring them to bear in whatever you’re trying to achieve.

I’m talking a lot about what actually turns out to be, from the research, the number one variable that most impacts engaged employees: recognition. 56% of what causes engagement comes from people feeling valued, praised, thanked from their manager, from those they work with, from upper management, privately, publically, in writing, in emails, whatever.

It’s a constant. It’s a constant. It’s not something once at the end of the year at the Christmas party. It’s not, “Hey, I’ll praise you when I start seeing something worthy of it. Just assume that you’re doing a good job unless you do otherwise because I’m going to be all over you when you make a mistake.” That’s the natural tendency by management.

In fact, I worked with Ken Blanchard, who wrote The One-Minute Manager, for ten years. He used to say the leading style of management in America is – he called it ‘leave alone, zap.” We leave people. We don’t give them great direction or tools or support, but we let them have it when they make a mistake. We zap them and then we keep going back. We hardly ever use the tools that most drive, most pull the performance and those are the positive consequences, which are all around us every day.

I like opening people’s eyes to that. In my original 1,001 Ways book, 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees, I just had this epiphany that said this is the most proven principle of management. It’s easy to do the best forms of it. They have no cost.

I actually did my doctoral dissertation on a simple question: why don’t managers do this? I did a three-year study to try to … common sense notion, but common sense isn’t often common practice. As Voltaire said in the 17th century, so is the case today that the things that sound like common sense –

A lot of times I’ll talk to a group and I’ll say “The things I’m going to share with you, I know you can do. I’m not here to see – I already know that. That’s a given. I’m here to say, ‘Will you do them? How will you hold yourself accountable as an individual, as a member of the team, as an organization to this standard?’”

Now I worked with Disney organization for 15 years. To work there, they had a standard for leadership. They didn’t care how you were managed where you came from, what you bring with you in your own suitcase. “Yeah, yeah, that’s nice. Here’s how we manage here. If you want to be a manger, you’ve got to do these things.” Then they hire for it. They train for it. Then they evaluate leaders for it.

If someone doesn’t do it, they’ll call them out and say, “Hey, maybe you thought we were kidding about this or we’re just going through the motions, but we’re serious. You need to do these things. You need to be a visionary. You need to be supportive. You need to be a cheerleader. You need to be a career developer. Your job as a leader is to help other people be successful.”

Peter Drucker, my professor, defined the role of management as getting the work done through others, not doing – being a super worker and doing it yourself, not running yourself ragged, not chewing people out until they do it right, but getting the work done through them, which means helping them, which means showing them, which means encouraging them, counseling them, whatever it takes.

If we’re really stuck and we’re up against it, I’m going to take off my jacket and roll up my sleeves and dig in with you. We’re in this together. It’s wherever people are at, showing them what it looks like to get in the game.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. There’s so much I want to dig into there.

Dr. Bob Nelson
I know, you can ask me one question, I’ll talk for an hour.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Let’s-

Dr. Bob Nelson
I’ll try to keep it short.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to talk about – so recognition is the biggie.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Yes. ….

Pete Mockaitis
You spent three years studying why don’t managers do it. I want to hit that on from two angles. One, in fact why don’t managers do it? And two, again, if you are that individual contributor and you’re not getting it, how can you have that conversation? What’s sort of like the best practice or script or means of asking for it well so you don’t seem like, “Oh my gosh, what a whiney, needy, whatever person,” so to avoid that kind of reaction.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Okay. Well the 20-second survey on my three-year study is why managers don’t do it. Number one, they weren’t sure how to do it well. Number two they really didn’t believe it was that important as the research indicates. Number three, they didn’t feel they had time. Who has time to do things they don’t believe are important to begin with?

They didn’t feel anyone did it for them, so when they start getting it, they’ll start giving it. They’re afraid of leaving people out. They didn’t feel the organization supported it. The list kind of goes on, a whole list of really excuses where, “It’s not my job; it’s HR’s job or the CEO’s job or corporate’s, any of them but me.” That’s – there’s a lot of people, that can’t. No.

For those leaders that use recognition, there’s just one thing going on and that is to a person, the common denominator, they internalize the importance of doing recognition. They felt that as a leader of a group that they’re in charge of the motivational environment for the people that work for them, not the CEO, not HR, not corporate, but them. It’s their baby. They believe that they have to impact that.

Their beliefs they started – our behaviors follow our beliefs. Their beliefs are not “This is a waste of time. I’ve got better things to do.” They go, “This is the most important thing I need to do.” To be a leader, you are a person that is inspiring others. Everything else is mechanical. Anyone can do that. Not everyone could be a leader.

They believe that to the point where it impacted their behavior. They actively looked for opportunities to recognize people when they did a good job. Not just be nice, but contingent. When they did a good job, displayed the proper behavior, the core values, got the results, finished the project, whatever it is.

They’re constantly in their day scanning for that, when they’re reading, when they’re talking to people, when they’re in meetings, when they’re in the hallway.

Then when they hear or see something about a good job that was done, they act on that thought. They don’t make a mental note, “Oh Jerry did it again. He’s one of my best people.” They actually say something to Jerry or bring it up at the meeting or jot him a note or an email. They do something to connect back with the person that did the performance.

There you go. That’s the long and short of it. They try to do that every day. Not every person every day, but every day someone. That becomes part of their behavior – they’re behavioral repertoire, I like to say, of how they manage. They’re constantly on the lookout and acting to make the connection.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. I like that notion that hey, every day there’s going to be some act of recognition. Your other book 1,501 Ways to Reward Employees, you’ve got many in mind. Can you share what have you found to be some of the most powerful and simple means of doing that, such as maybe the biggest bang for your buck recognition practices?

Dr. Bob Nelson
Sure, yes. Well, let me tell you and you’re going to love this because the most powerful forms of recognition and engagement for that matter, tend to be the things that have little or no cost.

When someone says, “We don’t have the money to motivate people here,” they’re assuming we’ve got to pay them more, we’ve got to throw a big party. Last year it was a buffet, so this year it’s got to be sit-down. They’re chasing this dream. Whatever they’re doing, they’re spending more and more money. Years of service awards. They’ll start doing stuff around people’s birthdays.

It’s like, no, that’s not where it’s at at all. Where it’s at is behavior. You’ve got to show people that they’re important to you through your actions and the things you say and do.

Number one on the list is a simple thank you, a simple praise. Be a leader that is quick to catch someone doing something right and to call them out for it in a positive way, one-on-one in front of others even when they’re not around, knowing that word will get back to them, etcetera.

Jot a note, send an email, text them on their cell phone, do a company announcement, call their mother and tell them what a great job their kid’s doing and thanks for bringing them up right. I know managers that have done that.

Let me tell you, there’s a lot of stuff like that “Oh, that sounds silly.” It’s not silly to the mother that got that call. The next conversation she had with her son or daughter, it wasn’t silly to him either. It made their month. It’s like, wow, what a cool thing to do. It’s not hard to tap into it. That whole recognition is a starting point.

Of course you can spend money. If you’re doing something, you can do something more. You can – a simple gift. I work with a company called Snappy Gifts that has just wonderful, unique products all under 20 bucks. You can’t get one and not be delighted by it because it’s just fun and it’s a celebration. On up to point programs and gift cards. A lot of companies do trips for top salespeople. That type of stuff.

There’s no lack of places where you can spend the money, but again, there isn’t – I haven’t found the correlation between the amount of money that is spent and the amount of motivation and engagement that’s going on.

My advice is to start the foundation be the behaviors that are most critical and then you can layer on other stuff as someone really goes above and beyond. That’s number one.

The other things that are truly engaging, again, all no cost, ask people for their ideas and opinions. If they’ve got a good one, give them permission to pursue it. It’s called autonomy. Give them the resources to make it. See if you can help them do it. See if anyone else wants to help them do it.

Having two-way communication is a big one, talked about in the book extensively. If you’re making a decision, involve the people that work for you in that decision, especially those that are going to be impacted by it.

Again, feels like common sense, but a lot of managers, “Oh, I’m the person in charge. I’m the decision maker here.” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Even say that, “You’ve got to make the final decision. That’s your responsibility. But you know what would be a better decision, if you get impact from your team. That’s why you wanted to ask”

In that simple action of doing it, you’re showing trust and respect. You’re being open. Wow, that’s the type of person everyone wants to work for, that is walking the talk of treating them as a partner on the team, not as a replaceable body.

If someone makes a mistake, already said the natural tendency is for people to jump all over them, embarrass them in front of their peers, prove that you’re the smartest person in the room. Bravo, bravo. They’re getting their resume ready because they can’t take it anymore.

But try this instead. The next time someone makes a mistake, take a breath, take a step back and say, “I don’t think I would have done the same thing, but what did you learn from that? That could be the best training we had for you all year. I’m glad you made that mistake.” Wow.

That manager through his actions is saying there’s something more important going on than something that happened in the last ten minutes or the last day. We have a long-term relationship. You’re important to me. I’m important to you and I hope that’s going to be true for years to come. I’m not going to dump all over you here because you did something wrong. I make mistakes too. Everyone does.

In fact, if you’re not making enough mistakes, you’re not pushing the fold enough. You’re not – it’s a little bit too safe. You’ve got to stretch. You’ve got to try things new. You’ve got to experiment. You’ve got to do something you’ve never done before.

Sometimes that idea can come from the newest person on the team, the person that isn’t biased by all the policies we have and how we’ve been doing it for years and “I’m just wondering, why don’t we try this?” Well, you take that person, new person, any person and you say, “Well, Sally, let me tell you why we don’t do that. We tried it two years ago. It didn’t work. It won’t work now.” “Oh, okay, I’m sorry. Sorry for – it won’t happen again.”

Pete Mockaitis
Don’t you worry. I won’t speak after sharing the ideas.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Right. We’re done. Now she’s going to check her brains at the door. How about saying, “Well Sally, that’s an interesting idea. Why don’t you check into that and see what you come up with?” What did that cost you?

Now because who’s got more energy for an idea than the person who came up with it to begin with. Now Sally may come at it differently than the last person that tried it two years ago. She might do an internet search. She might check with a dozen friends at other companies, “How do you guys handle this?” Who knows what she’s going to do? But she might come back and from her energy and her research do something that does work.

I was working with Johnsonville Food, the maker of great brats up in Wisconsin. They’re CEO, Ralph Stayer, told me that he had his admin once say, “Mr. Stayer” this was back a few years ago. She said, “We have such a great products. I’ve always wondered why we don’t market those more online.”

He said, his inclination to say, “Well, Betty, that’s why upper management is paid the big money. We make those decisions,” but he didn’t say that. He caught himself and said, “Betty, check into that. See what you come up with.”

Fast-forward 18 months later, now Betty, formerly an admin, is now running a new division on online sales, one and a half million dollar product line and growing much larger since then because she had the wherewithal and the support to make it happen.

Every company has that possibility. Every employee, I go so far as to say, every employee’s got a 50,000 dollar idea if you can find a way to get it out. It’s not by shutting them down. It’s not by saying, “Well, that’s not – that’s only a 10 dollar idea. We’re looking for the 50,000 dollar idea.”

Well to get that one or the five million dollar idea, you’ve got to develop a process, which means you’ve got to look for any ideas and acknowledge people for submitting those even if it’s not one we’re going to do or can do. But “I like the way you think. I’m looking for more from you.” Game on because they’re going to come up with them.

Let’s help them. Let’s help everyone on this. Someone in accounting, do a bag lunch next Tuesday, talk about cost-benefit analysis. Whoever wants to learn more about sizing up their ideas, come to the cafeteria. We’re doing a brown bag lunch. Give them the support and tools along the way.

I worked at a company in Connecticut, Boardroom Inc. They have five of the six largest newsletters in the country. They do these large books, hardcover books. They do a thing called ‘I power,’ where they ask every employee, every employee, to turn in two ideas every week.

Well, I talked to …. “Could you do that with your employees, your team, your …?” “Well, of course you can.” “How about next week? Can you do it again?” “Yeah, maybe.” “How about the week after that?” Well, how many ideas can someone have?

This company’s been doing this for 17 years. They ask every employee to turn in two new ideas every week about how can we be better, how can we improve process, how we can save money, how we can delight the customer, how we can get new business. It’s all around us every day. Allow people to grab on and run with it. That’s just one example.

I was there. They got a recent idea they got from the one guy, a shipping clerk, hourly paid employee, one of his two ideas one week was that he said, “Next time, this book we got, this big book that we ship, next time we get it printed by the printer, if we can trim the page size,” he calculated a 16th of an inch, “you’ll fall under the next postal rate. I think we’ll save some money in shipping.”

The CEO said well they looked at. He’s right. They cut up a book and he’s right. They made that one simple change, in the first year alone they saved a half million dollars in shipping costs because of that idea. Their chairman-

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. The 13 ounce threshold, I know it well. It makes a world of difference.

Dr. Bob Nelson
There you go. There you go. The CEO, Marty Edelston, he told me, he said, “Bob, I’ve worked in direct mail for 27 years. I didn’t even know there was a fourth-class postal rate.” But to the kid that’s looking at the chart day in and day out, he knew it. If we could tap into what he sees and what ideas he has, that’s the power.

Doing that simple thing. These are simple concepts, but doing it well. They had a couple false starts and they kept at it. They were able to increase their revenues fivefold in three years just by tapping into the power of ideas from their own employees. There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Thank you. Tell me, Bob, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Dr. Bob Nelson
Lay it on me.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite quote?

Dr. Bob Nelson
Favorite quote. One of my favorite – I’ve got a lot of favorite quotes. One of them is from Bill Hewlett, cofounder of Hewlett Packer, he said “Men and women want to do a good job, a creative job and if they provided the right environment, they will do so.”

I love that quote because just in one sentence it says where we’ve come from, where we are, where we’re headed today. For the longest time managing in our country was basically telling people what to do. My way or the highway. I’m the person in charge. You take orders; I give them. We don’t need any creative thinking here. We don’t need your – that doesn’t work today.

Today we need everyone in the game because things are changing, environments are changing, competition is changing. Your competitors now might be from Thailand or from a different state. You’ve got to be on the game, which means everyone on it. That’s a keeper.

I want to go back to the other question. I think you’ve asked me twice and I haven’t answered. That is what can an individual employee do if these things – if they’re in a place where these things aren’t happening. My advice on that is to bring it up to your immediate manager and to make the case for it. Even if it’s like recognition that might sound like “I want my own horn tooted.”

I’ve had people tell me that they’ve talked to their boss said, “We’re doing a lot. I love working here. I love working for you. I’d be able to do it better and do more for you if you could tell me when I especially did something well because then I’ll know what to do more of and then – yeah, I could do that boss,” and start doing that. Sure enough, her performance rose accordingly.

It’s – tell them we’re in it together. You can be the employee that shares this with your boss or with the team. Say “I heard this interview, I read this book. It sounded like something that could resonate with us. Could we try some of these things?”

That’s how you get in the game and have the – all work – that same … in Ralph Stayer. He had a quote. He said basically all we’ve got is conversations. Let’s start to impact those conversations. Let’s start having different conversations and not ones where we’re complaining and griping about management and politicking.

Let’s talk about things that are working, and things that we’re excited to be a part of, and what’s in store for us for the future, and how much fun we’re going to have getting there. That all becomes very contagious.

If you’re working in a place where it’s very cynical and it’s negative and everyone’s kind of dragging into work and waiting for Friday and fortunately the commute isn’t too bad, you can shake it up. Anyone can shake it up. I’ve worked with companies that one person, not the CEO, grabbing hold, was able to change a culture.

True story. I was speaking in Seattle to 800 people. Five weeks later I was back and I look at the crowd I go – this woman in the first row I go, “You look really familiar.” She goes, “Yeah, yeah. I heard you speak five weeks ago. I wanted to come back and tell you what happened.” I was like, “Well, what happened?” She goes, “Well-“ she described what she did and it was fun because I said, “Well, what did you-“

She said, “I started using the stuff you talked about. I started doing more recognition with my group.” Oh, she said, “I left with seven pages of notes and one intention. I said I’m not going back and asking permission. I’m going back and doing this.” That’s what she did. She did it in her workgroup.

I go, “Well, like what? What did you do?” She said, “Well, we’re in downtown Seattle. We did a picnic up on the roof. That was kind of fun to celebrate something. We did a barter for meeting space for the company on the next block that had a limo company that didn’t have any meeting space. We let them use our meeting space and they gave us free limo rides that we give people for different things.”

Just on and on and on. Just went for it. As a result, she said a noticeable difference in her group: energized, fun, excited, to the point where other managers are saying, “Hey, what are you doing over there. You people are-“ “Well, hey, come to the next meeting. We’re not trying to hide anything. We’re making stuff happen.”

Literally, this one leader made it happen first in her group and then in her facility and then the company tapped into it. She helped to make it happen across the country to all their facilities. 18 months later, from the first time she heard me speak, they entered the list of best places to work in America, number 23, Perkins Coie, a law firm. It was really through the efforts of one person.

People say, “Well you can change a culture. It takes eight years. It’s got to start at the top,” and this and that. Well, it can do that, but you can also have – one person can change a culture, one determined, focused person.

I have examples – I use examples in my books where that’s done from the bottom, from the middle, from – there’s a lot of ways to get there. That’s kind of the fun of it too. You can create your own journey to being excellent.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Dr. Bob Nelson
I’ve been very influenced by, well, some people I’ve mentioned. Marshall Goldsmith wrote What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There. Brilliant book. Ken Blanchard, The One-Minute Manager. Peter Drucker, Concept of the Corporation. He’s – and on and on.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Dr. Bob Nelson
I’ve got a website. That’s probably a good place to start. www.DrBobNelson.com. Go figure, right? That’s DrBobNelson.com.

You can find out – I’ve got a lot of resources and articles posted for free. I’ve got all my books there at discounted prices. I’ve got information about all of my presentations, consulting, etcetera, etcetera, and my contact information, so you can call me, you can send me an email. I try to help everyone that comes my way, if it’s just answering a question or if it’s doing something further.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Thank you. Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Dr. Bob Nelson
Yeah, I would say, again, as an employee if you want to be awesome, start – do some things different. Start asking your boss what you can do to help them. I probably have managed 30 – 35 employees in my career. I only remember one doing that. It was a breath of fresh air to say –

And something else she was good at too because I would come in and I would be all excited about stuff I’d need to have done and “Katie, can you do this?” She would listen and she goes, “Bob, I’d be delighted to do that. Let me show you what I’m working on now. You let me know which you prefer to have me do.” Then she would – I kind of, “Hm, okay.” Then she’d show me. Every time I’d say, “Oh, keep doing what you’re doing. This can wait until tomorrow or next week,” because she was on it.

That was – basically I’m making the point that whoever your manager is, they’re trainable. You can be the person that trains them. If it’s not working for you, start trying to do something different, starting with talking to that person and give them some input for how they can help you be more effective. More times than not, I think you’ll see a positive response to that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Well, Dr. Bob, thank you so much for taking this time and sharing the goods.

Dr. Bob Nelson
It goes so quick, doesn’t it?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I hope that there’s lot of engagement and rewarding going on for you and your employees and clients and everybody.

Dr. Bob Nelson
Yeah, well anytime you want me back, I’d be glad to continue the conversation in all its different forms.

344: Confidence-Forming Habits with Jordan Harbinger

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Jordan Harbinger shares mindsets and practices to boost your confidence and your results with people.

 

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret strengths of introverts
  2. Why to ask for what you don’t deserve
  3. How a post-it note can transform  your non-verbal communication skills

About Jordan

Jordan Harbinger has always had an affinity for Social Influence, Interpersonal Dynamics and Social Engineering, helping private companies test the security of their communications systems and working with law enforcement agencies before he was even old enough to drive.

Jordan has spent several years abroad in Europe and the developing world, including South America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and speaks several languages. He has also worked for various governments and NGOs overseas, traveled through war-zones and been kidnapped -twice. He’ll tell you; the only reason he’s still alive and kicking is because of his ability to talk his way into (and out of), just about any type of situation.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jordan Harbinger Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jordan, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Jordan Harbinger
Thanks for having me on, man. I appreciate the opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I am excited to chat because you’ve been an inspiration for me in podcasting. You kind of got me going on the three times a week as a matter of fact, so that – we have you to blame for that.

Jordan Harbinger
Right, so if you can’t keep up with this podcast, it’s largely my fault for also making it impossible to keep up with my podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, one fun thing that I learned about you from your IMDB profile actually – someone’s a big deal – is that you were at one time an FBI informant. What’s the scoop here?

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, when I was actually essentially a kid, when I was younger, I had figured out how to – do you remember green boxes on the side of the road that were like, “Hey, what’s that thing? I guess it’s a phone thing.” Do you remember those things?

Pete Mockaitis
Kind of, but what is it?

Jordan Harbinger
Kind of. Yeah. Not exactly a tourist attraction. I figured how to open those. When I opened them I saw all these screws in there with wired pairs. I went, “Oh, what are these?”

I remember stopping on my bike once when I saw one of the lineman – the telephone company guys, not the football guys – opening that thing up. I said, “What are these?” He goes, “Oh, every house in the neighborhood, all the phone wires, they run right into this box, so each of these pairs is someone’s phone.”

I said, “Oh, and that little orange handset you’re using you can listen to the call.” He goes, “Well, I don’t do that, but I can use it to test the line if someone’s on the line when I put it on there I get this little red light. I don’t hear anything.” I said, “Oh, okay.”

I decided that I was just going to get one of those and open that thing up with the – because you needed a special wrench, as if that’s hard to find. I would get that and open those up and I started listening to conversations and I started to get really interested in people and really interested in the phone system because I could learn more about people through the phone system.

I learned how to clone, which is sort of like hack in a general sense, I learned how to deal with that with cellphones, analog cell phones. That was obviously really quite interesting for me. I started to clone these cellphones. The FBI was like, “Hey, this is actually a crime. You should probably not do that.” But I started to tell them how certain technical things were done and they were interested in that.

Then one day, I worked for a security company and that security company was intern contracted by a really wealthy Detroit area billionaire. I went into work one day at the security company and I was like – we were talking about dating or something like that because my boss was like, “Hey, how are the ladies treating you?” That kind of thing. I was 16 years old.

I said, “Oh, I’m actually meeting women on the internet.” He’s like, “What?” because this is 1995 or 1996. It’s like what are you talking about. I would tell him how I would chat with essentially girls at that age on America Online. He’s like, “Oh, this is so fascinating.” He would ask me about it every time I’d go to work.

Eventually I started working with the – with him on talking with the FBI about the technology stuff, but then one time we started talking about the dating on America Online or the chatting on instant messenger, which we used at the time.

I started saying – it’s funny because I had this really sort of ambiguous unisex sounding username. Some people on there thought I was a guy and some people on there thought I was a girl. I always had to say like, “Oh yeah, I’m a 16-year-old guy live in Troy, Michigan,” whenever I was talking to people.

Pete Mockaitis
ASL.

Jordan Harbinger
ASL, right? Age, sex, location. I eventually started to see people hitting me up. I was like, “Oh hey, I’m a guy. You don’t want to be sending me a picture of a rose or something,” and they’re like, “Oh, okay, sorry.”

Then some people were really creepy about it. I was like, there’s all these guys on there that are like 40 that are totally okay with me being a 16-year-old boy. What a bunch of weirdos. I told my boss about this and he goes, “Yeah, that’s not okay, man. Those are sexual predators. We need to report these people to the police.” I said, “Well, all right.”

We called the police; they had no idea what to do with it. We contacted the FBI, who I had already sort of been talking about with the tech stuff and they were like, “Yeah, we don’t really how to handle this. We have a cybercrime division in Washington, D.C., but no individual office,” again, this is the ‘90s, “has anything to do with computer crime because it’s so advanced.”

Computer crime back then was bank wires probably and really advanced Matthew Broderick dialing into the Pentagon-type of crime, not somebody chatting on America Online. There was no crime to be had there. There was no financial transactions. PayPal didn’t exist. You couldn’t bank online, etcetera.

I started talking about this and they said, “Look, show me what you’re dealing with,” because they thought, “Oh yeah, some pervert’s trying to get you to send a picture with your shirt off or whatever. Who cares?” I sent them transcripts of these emails and other things in chat rooms, because remember back in the day you had whole rooms of people talking.

Some of it was just really, really, really not cool, like really gross and graphic. It’s like who are these people? This is a 14-year-old girl. Look here where she says to another user how old she is and where she lives. Then this is where this guy says he’s 45 and works at Radio Shack.

I started to send those things in by fax, of course, to the FBI and they went, “Oh, wait a minute. This is like really – there’s really – this is really bad.” Because there were guys saying like, “Yeah, I’ll come over to your parent’s house when they’re not there and take pictures of you. You’ll be a model,” like that kind of stuff.

They started saying, “Look, we can’t ask you to do anything, but the more of this we get, the better our case is going to be against some of these users when we go to a judge for a warrant and try to sort of look at this person’s email and all that stuff.”

I started just going into chat rooms and I even made different screen names and I would get into chats with these people and stuff like and I would fax all the transcripts to the FBI. We caught a bunch of pedophiles.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger
We caught a ton. Yeah, we caught a bunch. I was in Michigan, so what we would do – essentially the crime itself online was multi-state, which brought it to the FBI jurisdiction, but what we ended up doing was Toledo, Ohio was pretty close to the southern border of Michigan, so the ruse at that point was “Oh, I’m going on vacation with my family to Toledo. We’re going to be at the Holiday Inn and this place.”

Then the guy would drive from Michigan to Toledo and the FBI, the local PD would be there and they’d be like, “Well, you just traveled across state lines to engage in inappropriate conduct with the minor, so now you’re ours. You’re not Toledo PD. You’re not Detroit PD or whatever suburb PD. You’re FBI and we have all the chats.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger
It was just like boom.

Pete Mockaitis
And Chris Hanson says, “Why don’t you take a seat over there.”

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, that’s exactly what it was. When I first saw that show, I went, “Oh yeah, they’ve been doing this for a long time.” This is not a new operation. In fact, as far as I know, we were one of the first people ever to do this because if I had to talk to Washington, D.C. FBI just to tell them how pedophiles run America Online in ’96, I don’t think there was a whole lot of activity in that area at that time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, if you’re like the lead expert as a 16-year-old from Michigan.

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, as a 16-year-old boy with a dial-up modem is the lead expert on AOL sex crimes I guess you would call it, then there’s not a whole lot of expertise in the area. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jordan, you are full of interesting stories. You share a number of them along with guests on The Jordan Harbinger Show. Tell me, what’s your show kind of fundamentally all about?

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, what I do on The Jordan Harbinger Show, what we do as a team, is we interview amazing brilliant people, in my opinion, and we study their thoughts, their actions, their habits, and then we have them teach their ways to the audience.

For example, I had – I just earlier today interviewed the former head of the CIA and NSA, General Hayden. I said, “Look, how are you making these tough decisions? How are you balancing people’s freedom with the fact that you have to defend us against terrible people?” Or I’ll talk to Larry King and I’ll say “Tell us about conversational skills. You’ve had 60,000 interviews. You must have picked up a couple of tips along the way.”

I’ll have them teach those skills to the listening audience. Then every episode has worksheets. It’s really practical. It’s not just like, “Wow, gee, that was so inspiring. Thanks for coming on.” It’s like, “No, here’s five things you can now do to become better at conversations, networking, body language, persuasion, influence, etcetera.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Clearly we have much synergy between our shows, so it’s so good to have you here. I’ve learned a lot from you, particularly in the realms of confidence, likeability, relationships, communications, like that universe.

Now you’re going to be, if you will, the Larry King is to interviewing and Jordan Harbinger is to likeability/confidence stuff. Let’s go there. What’s sort of your secret sauce or your flavor behind – it seems like, if I may, following you for a while, it’s like you’re kind of a dork. I say that in the nicest way.

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah. No, you don’t have to – not kind of. I mean it’s well established, my friend.

Pete Mockaitis
And yet you’re also super freaking cool at the same time. You’ve got a real good vibe going, which serves you well as an interviewer and broadcaster, but I’m sure many other circumstances. What’s going on in your head in terms of where your seeming abundance kind of confidence and self-assuredness is coming from?

Jordan Harbinger
Where does my confidence come from?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger
Well, yeah, it’s definitely not something that I just woke up one day and I was like I’m good at this. I certainly – it’s funny, people who’ve known me my whole life, they go, “It’s so funny that you ended up being a talk show host interviewer. It’s just comedy.”

Because when I was a kid I was an only child, so imagine I spent a lot of time watching TV sitcoms, first of all, which actually is where I learned a lot of my cheese ball sense of humor because people who know me for a long time will be like, “Oh yeah, I remember you watching The Fresh Prince for seven years straight and just talking and being funny in that way.” I sort of have a humor evolution from Perfect Strangers all the way on up to Seinfeld or Friends.

Pete Mockaitis
The highest echelon of evolution.

Jordan Harbinger
The highest echelon of culture, naturally. But the reason that happened was because I could either sit there and watch baseball with my dad, who like – he’s a smart guy, but he’s an engineer, so his communication is primarily grunting and then getting frustrated when you don’t understand exactly what he means. Then my mom, who loves reading. I’m an only child, so I’m just sitting there like, oh my gosh, I’ve got to – I’m not doing a whole lot of talking.

Then when I was in school, I just found that either things were so boring that I would get in trouble, and then I had like the typical middle school, I wouldn’t call it social anxiety any more than a normal kid has, but instead of me being – acting up and trying to be one of the in-crowd, I just kind of was like, I’m just not going to talk. If I’m invisible, then nobody will bother me. You know that kind of thing?

I did that for years. That persisted even through a little bit of high school. Then in college I studied really hard. I wasn’t concerned with partying and stuff because I thought you get one shot at this. Then I went to law school, not exactly known for its outgoing super social well-adjusted people, especially at that level where I was studying. Then I worked on Wall Street.

The fact that I was able to then leave that and develop a talk show host and interviewer skillset was really a large pivot. But it wasn’t as big of a jump as I think a lot of introverts think. Because when we’re introverted and as we know from new science now, things like Susan Cain and her book and her work, introverts are actually better at forming relationships and generally having conversations with people that are meaningful.

Because – I say we because technically I’m still an introvert. I don’t think that’s something you really shake. We think more about what we’re going to say before we say it. We think about other people’s feelings, what repercussions is this going to have, how’s it going to make the other person feel, how is this going – what conversation should this be like, whatever do I want to put into this conversation to make it worthwhile.

That’s the type of thing that introverts think of, which is why we seem quiet and reserved. We are indeed, but also we’re not just talking because well, if I talk a lot, people will think I’m cool. We don’t have that.

If we talk enough, we go “Oh, I just want to go home and not do anything,” whereas an extrovert says, “Oh, I’ve been working all day, I just want to go out and have drinks and chitchat.” It’s like we don’t rest that way, introverts.

The pivot seems strong, but really it’s just a use of a skillset that I had for a long time. I was always the guy that people would ask for advice. I was always the people – I was always the guy people would say, “I trust you to keep this secret for me. My parents are getting divorced.” I’m like, “We’re in third grade. Why are you telling me this?” That was kind of thing that I always had.

I think it was me putting people at ease because I wasn’t necessarily fronting all the time. I wasn’t trying to be cool. I was just me because I didn’t have the skills to be anybody else or even try to fake it. That I think is why I ended up in this particular niche doing this particular gig.

But I do think that all of us, especially if we think, “Oh, well I’m working at this company and I’m never going to be this outgoing or this person or this type of person that’s going to be a manager, an outgoing leader.” I think we should take a second look at that because a lot of times the things that we think about us are a disadvantage, are often symptoms of an advantage that we have that maybe we haven’t explored yet, similar to the introvert thing.

“Oh, I’m too quiet. I could never be a radio talk show host interviewer.” Well, that’s not really true. All of the characteristics that make you quiet, you think before you talk, that’s actually really beneficial to somebody who wants to have a meaningful conversation in any format, whether you’re a writer or you’re speaking on a microphone.

The shyness, yes, you’ll have to get over eventually. But shyness and being introspective and quiet are actually totally different things.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I love that good stuff there. I’m actually a certified Myers Briggs practitioner. I train people on this all the time.

There’s a lot of aha moments in terms of we sort of assume or project onto the other person, “Oh, if I’m extrovert and I’m quiet, it means I’m bored. I’m disengaged. I don’t care, whatever. Therefore, that person is thinking, feeling the same thing.” It’s like au contraire.

[15:00]

As you very nicely articulated, the introvert is kind of operating on all of these maybe deeper levels of consideration about what would be the implication if I say that and the repercussions to the other person, how are they thinking and feeling about that. That’s very well said.

I want to dig into a little bit of that repercussion piece when it comes to thinking about maybe if folks are overly cautious or worried about offending or being rejected or rubbing people the wrong way if they speak up about something, what’s your take on how to overcome those sorts of fears and anxieties?

Jordan Harbinger
Sure. I think for a lot of people this is a slow – I won’t say it never goes away. I will say that it’s slow to go away. It’s not like one day you’re working on this and you finally feel like “Ah, this is gone now.” It’s more like you stop noticing it, if that distinction makes sense.

The way that this works will be something like rejection therapy for example, where you go – some of the drills that I give clients from The Jordan Harbinger Show or for Advanced Human Dynamics, which is our training arm, are things like I’ll point them to the negotiation episodes that we did where most people are using that to get a raise in their salary or they’re using those types of skills to get something else for work or business.

But I’ll also say, “Look, the next time you go to Starbucks ask for a discount.” People will go, “Oh God, I can’t do that. It’s awkward. It’s weird.” So what though? You’re in an airport. You’re in an airport; you’re never going to see that barista again. It’s not the one that’s a block away that you go to every day, where you might actually face consequences. Ask for the discount and the worst they can say is no.

You have to work up courage, of course, to do this kind of thing, but as you do that and you experience positive results, which most people do –

You’d be surprised how many places, by the way, have some sort of discount button that automatically knocks 10% off the price because, “Oh, you’re in the office building above us. 10% off.” “Oh, the manager is standing next to me and that’s totally fine because she’s seen you before. 10% off.” That happens all the – “Oh, you brought your own cup. 10% off.” That kind of thing, always, cafes, restaurants, that happens all the time.

As we experience positive results, we start to say “Well, wait a minute, if I got that by asking, what else can I get by asking?” We used to have all of these different sorts of drills to lead up to that. I won’t spend too much time on that because I don’t want to take up the whole show with it, but a lot of what these do is they build small pieces of situational confidence that then lead to greater confidence in other areas.

If you are able to ask for what you want or a benefit when you actually don’t deserve one, like you do not deserve a discount on that coffee. You don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
But I’m so adorable, Jordan.

Jordan Harbinger
But I’m like, if you ask for that and you get it, then you start to think, “Well, wait a minute. There’s a whole world of possibility that doesn’t make me an entitled jerk for exploring.” Once you start to do that, then you can build on to bigger and bigger things.

When you frame things in the way of negotiation, like, most people do deserve to get paid more than they actually are. Or I should say they’re bringing more value than they’re actually paid. I think in many ways you get paid what you negotiate in certain corporate structures, not necessarily what your value is.

Once you start to realize that you think, “Well, wait a minute. There’s somebody else-“ because chances are, think about this right now. You’re working in a corporation if that’s what you’re doing. I know a lot of your audience is doing that. There’s probably somebody at your same level that’s making more than you and you have no idea.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Jordan Harbinger
The reason you have no idea is because HR cut them a deal with they negotiated with that person and part of it was “I will not tell anyone else what I’m making.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. And that is illegal in some countries. Fun fact.

Jordan Harbinger
I didn’t know that. Really?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it is. You cannot do that in certain countries for the very reason that it is a disservice to workers or employees or wage earners, but business owners and HR folks in the US will – it’s to their advantage. There’s an awesome Adam Ruins Everything, if you’ve ever seen that show,-

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
-episode about this. I was like, “Right on Adam. You preach it.” Yeah, it’s a little bit kind of taboo I guess in the US to discuss those things, but it’s generally to the employees benefit when they do. Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger
Interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m vibing. I’m vibing with what you’re saying there. I’m also vibing with that statement there: ask for what you don’t deserve. I’m thinking I don’t do that very often.

Jordan Harbinger
No.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m wondering if it’s because my sense of justness or rightness or fairness or is being compromised. Set me straight, Jordan, why and how is it cool to ask for what you don’t deserve?

Jordan Harbinger
It’s social pressure, right? The reason we don’t do it. We have some unwritten rules that say look – I’m not saying walk into Wal-Mart and then walk out with a lawn chair and be like, “Can I have this for free?” They’re going to be like, “No,” and then you’re going to apply pressure and turn the screws.

We’re not doing this thing where we’re going to a local mom and pop restaurant, eating a full meal and saying, “I’m going to pay you half of what you asked for for this.” You’re just giving people grief at that point.

But when you’re talking about, “Hey, can I have a discount on this coffee?” Nobody sat down and went “Look, this is the morally acceptable price for us to charge for this cup of coffee.” They went, “People are willing to pay five dollars for this mochaccino. Charge these morons five dollars for that mochaccino,” if that’s a real thing.

If you ask for a discount, Starbucks is still profiting handsomely off of you. They want you to come back. They might do this all the time. There’s a reason they give away free stuff all the time. There’s a reason they have all these rewards programs. They incentivize that way. You’re not stealing from them by asking because you’re giving them a choice. They’re fully allowed to say no.

It’s not when they say no, you walk up to the shelf with all the ceramic mugs on it and knock it over. You’re not doing that. You’re just walking up to the counter and saying “Can I have a discount on that?” Sometimes they just go, “Sure.” Or you say, “Can I have a discount on that? I’ve had a really long day and I would love to just have one thing go right,” and they go, “Yeah, sure. My pleasure.”

Pete Mockaitis
It is their pleasure.

Jordan Harbinger
It is.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re giving them an opportunity to delight you and that’s worth something.

Jordan Harbinger
It is.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re doing them a favor by asking for that. That’s my reframe. I’m rolling with it.

Jordan Harbinger
And frankly it’s often worth about 15 cents, so it really doesn’t matter that much, but it’s nice to have anyway. The reason we ask for what we don’t necessarily deserve in those instances, not because, great, I’m saving a quarter on a cup of coffee. The reason we do that is because imagine how much easier it then becomes to ask for something that you do deserve.

“I know I’m underpaid by five grand a year. Oh, but I don’t want to make my manager’s manager angry. I know that times are tight right now.” No, this is a negotiation. You deserve more than what you’re getting. Other people at other offices are getting paid more for doing the same amount of work and they have better benefits. You should be leveraging that.

By asking for small little things, and again, coffee is not necessarily going to lead to a bigger raise for you, but it can over time compound and you will find not only are you enjoying some benefits of that, but you gain a sense of control over things, namely your environment, that you may not have otherwise had.

Then it starts to lead to the idea that, “Well, wait a minute. If I can negotiate a discount on the cup of coffee that I don’t deserve, then maybe I can negotiate the 5,000 dollar raise that would be a qualitative lifestyle difference for me that I actually do deserve that other people are getting that I’m not because I’m nice, too nice.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I’m digging it. I’m digging it. Time is already flying here. But Jordan I’ve got to get from you a couple, if I may, pro tips in terms of being likeable or charismatic or kind of winning people over-ness, if that’s a word. What are some of the top foundational principles or tips that you share in that realm?

Jordan Harbinger
Sure. I used to be one of those like, “Well, look people in the eye. Have a firm handshake and positive-“ and I still do the positive, upright, confident body language thing. In fact, I’ll give you guys a – why don’t I give you a body language drill. This is always a nice easy one that people can learn in an audio only format.

I would say some of the major benefits come from developing relationships and networks that really help other people because you can have the greatest nonverbal communication of anybody in the whole world, but if I’ve thrown you three – four show guests or I’ve introduced you to somebody who you ended up marrying or got you a job, you’re just going to like me a little bit more than the guy who has a firm handshake and good eye contract. At least, I hope so.

The body language and nonverbal stuff does have its place though. I think for a lot of folks, especially I used to think this way as well, we often think, “Huh, well my first impression happens when I open my mouth, so I’ve got to have cool, fun, entertaining things to say.” This really actually is not true.

We know that we form our first impressions nonverbally before the other person even has the opportunity to open their mouth.

If you don’t believe me, next time you go to the mall and you’re walking down the street, listen to the little voice in your head – not the one that says walk faster, it’s cold outside – but the one that says, “That person is small. That person is tall. Oh, that person is kind of scary. Should I cross the street? No, I’m just being weird. They’re fine. Oh wow, this person is attractive. I wonder-“

That voice, you’re making judgments about people constantly. We’re evolved to do that. It’s something that keeps us safe and has kept us safe for millennia. We do this. It’s not bad. It does not mean you’re a judgmental jerk. We do this.

Now what this means for us is that our first impression is already made well before someone walks up and says, “Hey, can I borrow a quarter for the payphone? I’ve got to catch the bus.” Whatever. That is not the first impression. That’s the second impression generally speaking.

This happens just as well in corporate environments, at a mixer or something like this. We generally form that first impression within milliseconds. As soon as someone becomes a blip on our radar, we form some judgments of them based on their nonverbal communication.

What we want to do is make sure that our first impression, nonverbal first impression, is upright, positive, confident, friendly, open, all these nice positive adjectives that we can throw out there.

The way that we do that is essentially, unless you’re driving right now, you can follow along with me, stand up straight, chin up, chest up, shoulders back. You don’t have to exaggerate this. This is not like superman pose or anything. It’s just sort of upright, positive, confident, friendly. Put a smile on your face.

We want to do this every time we walk through a doorway because that’s generally when people notice us is when we walk through a doorway. Of course, the problem with that is we walk through doorways all day, so you’re going to walk through a doorway five seconds from now, forget to do this and then everything goes to heck.

Grab a stack of Post-It notes, maybe those little ones that have absolutely no use other than what I’m about to tell you because they’re too small. If you don’t have those, go grab a pack of that from the office supply room or go to the drugstore and grab it. Stick them up at eye level on the doorway. You don’t even have to write anything on it.

What this is going to do is it’s called a pattern interrupt in psychology slash hypnosis speak. What that is is you look at your doorway, you don’t see anything because you walk through it all day. But you look at your doorway, you see a hot pink Post-It note at eye level on the doorframe and you go, “What is that? Oh right, the doorway drill that Jordan was talking about.”

You walk through that doorway and you straighten up. You reset your body to that open, upright, positive, confident body language. You do this in your own home. You do this in your office. You do this when you go out to the break room, the conference room. I don’t think anybody’s going to be too suspicious of a Post-It note on a doorframe in an office.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re not going to snag it away on you.

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah. If they do, you just replace it because they keep on refilling that office supply container, don’t they? Or you put a little note there and you write on it ‘Do not remove’ and it will be there for like five years and people will go, “What is that thing?”

Pete Mockaitis
What the heck is this thing?

Jordan Harbinger
I don’t know. Don’t touch it though. It says ‘Do not remove thanks, MGMT,’ so the management obviously put it up there.

When you do that you start to reset your nonverbals. What this does is it trains you to reset throughout the day that open, upright, positive, confident body language. Within three to six weeks, you’re not going to need the Post-Its anymore. You’re going to have that nonverbal communication going all the time.

What this does, this is great, because then the next time you go to a meeting, a mixer, a conference or Starbucks, whatever it is, you have your body language and nonverbal communication set the right way.

When people form those first impressions of you based on that nonverbal communication, they start to treat you differently. When people start to treat us differently, we actually start to behave differently and there’s a lot of science, which I probably don’t need to go into that proves this. I don’t think that anybody would even argue with that anyway.

When we start to be treated differently and we start to behave differently, then essentially the core of who we are begins to change for the better. We start to behave as if we are indeed entitled to smiles and that coffee discount and-

Pete Mockaitis
You’re worth smiles, Jordan.

Jordan Harbinger
You’re worth smiles. You’re worth smiles. You’re worth people turning around and looking at us and actually being pleasantly surprised that somebody friendly walked in. You’re worth it.

That trains us to behave differently, which is a higher level of social status than we’re typically accustomed to. That’s powerful. It’s kind of like getting taller.

If I can commission a study, I would want to compare the social status equated with being tall or wealthy with the social status equated with high-value charismatic social behavior because there is science to this effect, not using the doorway drill of course, that shows that people who are outgoing, friendly, positive and confident, do enjoy higher levels of income, larger networks, more career satisfaction.

The idea that you can get that from Post-It notes is pretty powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
I was just going to say and it all starts with a hot pink tiny Post-It note.

Jordan Harbinger
That’s right. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. I love it because we had BJ Fogg on the show talking about tiny habits and that’s a potent tiny habit.

Jordan Harbinger
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
It takes mere seconds to do. We have a clear trigger. It has highly leveraged results flowing on the back end. That is a slam dunk. Thank you.

Jordan Harbinger
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me Jordan, any really top things you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things?

Jordan Harbinger
I’ve actually – I love these little drills for networking and relationship development. I think relationships are the most important lever in business and me having had to restart my business in The Jordan Harbinger Show within the last six months, again, after doing my other show for 11 years and bringing this new show, The Jordan Harbinger Show, to 3.8 million downloads a month and already in the top 100, the relationships are what did it.

People go, “Well, you’re really good at what you do.” Thanks a lot, but really it’s the network. I want to just underline/highlight/emphasize the fact that relationship development is one of the most crucial skills that anyone can build. At the end of the show maybe we can plug some of the drills and exercises that I’ve developed similar to the doorway drill that will help with that and people can go and grab those.

But I want to highlight that because I think people put networking off until later. They’re like, “Oh well, I got a new boss right now and I’ve got to bust my tail for this. Then I’ll worry about networking,” or “I don’t need a new job right now. I’m really satisfied where I am, so I don’t really need to network inside my industry or outside it. I want to spend that time doing other things.”

I understand those arguments but they are erroneous because the problem is you cannot make up for lost time. When it comes to building relationships, you have to dig the well before you’re thirsty because at the time you eventually need that network, you are far too late. That’s a tough lesson to learn in real time.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. Now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jordan Harbinger
Oh sure. Something that I find inspiring. I use to really love “Fortune favors the bold.” It sounds great in Latin. But that sort of sounds a little bit bro these days, so I’m going to share that quote with the caveat that what that really means … our earlier conversation is that people who ask for things that they want or they think they deserve are the ones that get them.

Seldom do things sort of flutter down and land in our lap. That’s usually the right place, the right time, a whole lot of luck. I really do like the idea that fortune favors the bold.

I think that Abraham Lincoln even had something like – or this is one of those internet quotes, where it’s totally not Abraham Lincoln, but it’s credited as him slash Mark Twain. But I think he said something like, “Good things come to those who wait, but it’s only what’s left over by those who hustle.”

Pete Mockaitis
Got you.

Jordan Harbinger
I love that one as well. It’s very similar.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Jordan Harbinger
Favorite book. Gosh, I read so much. But I really love Extreme Ownership, which of course is written by Jocko Willink, who’s a Navy SEAL. It’s full of these kinds of cool battle stores from Ramadi and Iraq. But really what extreme ownership is about is figuring out what part you’ve played and pretty much any failure or any problem.

If your team fails and your boss totally misled everyone and half the team quit and it was just you and one other person and that person got the black plague and had to stay home for two months and you’re the one that did all the work, you still look at what part you played and what you could do differently later.

Because externalizing blame or faults or anything is always, even if it’s 100% valid, like, “Look, we failed because I had to do this alone with no help.” “Okay, that’s the main reason why you failed. The other reason is, well you decided that it was going to be impossible six months ago, so you kind of resigned yourself to failure.” “Well, yeah, but it was never going to work.” That doesn’t matter.

Extreme ownership means look all the way at every facet, all the way up and down the food chain and figure out what you could have done differently because if you don’t do that, then basically you didn’t learn anything other than woe is me.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. How about a favorite habit?

Jordan Harbinger
Favorite habit. Every day I wake up, and this is also in my networking drills that I’ll share later in the show, every day I wake up and I usually have an alarm for around 10 AM. I don’t wake up at 10 AM, FYI, I wake up around 5:30, but I have the alarm set for around 9 to 10 AM depending on what time zone I’m in.

I scroll all the way down to the bottom of my text messages and I text the five people – those are the texts where it’s like two years old, where it’s like, “Hey, where are we meeting for lunch?” and you’re at some conference in Washington, D.C. Those are people you haven’t spoken to since that lunch.

I’ll text them and I’ll say, “Hey, it’s been a long time. I hope this is still your number. This is Jordan Harbinger. I just wanted to check in. What are you working on lately? Where can I be of service? Would love to touch base with you,” something along those lines. You make sure you sign your name, so that you avoid new phone, who dis.

You also say no response necessary if you’re really busy. That actually increases your response rate by about 30% from about 40-something to 70-something. The reason is because then – when people build urgency because they’re trying to sell something it’s usually like, “Contact me right away,” so of course when you get a text like that you’re thinking, “Wait, I haven’t talked with Pete for like two years. Is it Herbalife or is it Scientology? What is this going to be?”

Pete Mockaitis
It’s ….

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, right. But if someone says, “Hey, look, I know you might be really busy so no urgency. You don’t have to get back to me if you don’t have time.” People are like, oh well, clearly this isn’t somebody trying to be like “Once in a lifetime urgent opportunity.” It’s like, “Hey, look, get back to me if you want.” People usually go, “All right, this is a social thing,” so they’ll do it.

I do this pretty much every day. Some people don’t reply and other people do. You end up with the craziest opportunities. You’ll reengage a couple of people, nothing will happen.

But then once a week, twice a week someone will say, “Hey, Jordan, it’s funny you texted me because I’m about to walk into a meeting where we’re going to decide on our speakers for this year’s annual corporate retreat. Do you speak? Would you be down to do that? It’s in Hawaii. It’s not a bad deal. The fee is really low, but we’ll pay you to go out there.” You go, “Sure, yeah, I’d love to do that.”

Let me tell you, I’ve gotten some crazy opportunities as a result, including literally trips to Hawaii to go speak at corporate retreats because that person just happened to get that text the morning before the meeting. I guarantee you they were not thinking of me as a candidate for that before they walked in the door and before that text came in.

It’s a number’s game. It costs you nothing. Half the time you’re at an airport gate, at Starbucks, taking a break, lounging, waiting for your coffee machine to finish pouring something. We’re talking minutes per day.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that take, especially the non-urgent piece. It reminds me of the one time I sent a low importance email and I got a ton of replies. It’s like “What exactly is this low importance message? I’m very intrigued.”

Jordan Harbinger
That’s funny.

Pete Mockaitis
So good. Jordan, tell me do you have a final challenge or call to action or if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them to?

Jordan Harbinger
Yeah, a lot of the drills that I’m talking about, so the texting, reengagement stuff, the doorway drill that I mentioned, I’ve got dozens of these and I give them away for free at AdvancedHumanDynamics.com/LevelOne, AdvancedHumanDynamics.com/LevelOne or if you just go to The Jordan Harbinger Show on any podcast app, you can hear me talk with brilliant people.

But level one will teach you a lot of this amazing stuff. It will change your life. It’s all free, just to be super clear. It’s not something I’m selling.

These are the habits I wish I had like 15 years ago because I started doing them about 10 years ago and I just think the amount that I got, the benefit I got from doing this for so long has been so enormous that any day that I didn’t do this, it’s kind of like dang.

I highly encourage people to do this now because it doesn’t matter where you are in your career, whether you’re new or this is something you’ve been doing for a while. There’s a lot here. I teach the same stuff to military, intelligence agencies, corporations and I’m giving a lot of it away there at AdvancedHumanDynamics.com/LevelOne.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Jordan, thank you for that and taking the time. This has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you and The Jordan Harbinger Show all the luck in the world.

Jordan Harbinger
Thanks Pete, I appreciate it.