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Episode 538: How to Size People Up and Predict Behavior to Build Better Relationships with Robin Dreeke

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Robin Dreeke says: "It's not how you make people feel about you. It's how you make them feel about themselves."

Former FBI agent Robin Dreeke shares how sizing people up can help you build trusting, strong relationships at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The overlooked activities that build healthy work relationships
  2. The six fundamental principles of trust
  3. The code of trust that builds relationships

About Robin:

Robin Dreeke is a best-selling author, professional speaker, trainer, facilitator and retired FBI Special Agent and Chief of the Counterintelligence Behavioral Analysis Program. He is the founder of People Formula, an organization that offers Advanced Rapport Building Training and Consultation. Robin has taken his life’s work of recruiting spies and broken down the art of leadership, communication, and relationship into FIVE Steps to TRUST and Six Signs of who you can TRUST.

Since 2010, Robin has been working with large corporations as well small companies in every aspect of their business. He graduated from the US Naval Academy and served in the US Marine Corps. Robin lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

About Robin Dreeke

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Robin Dreeke Interview Transcript

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

Robin Dreeke
Thanks for having me. What could be a better podcast than that? That’s awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Yeah, I like it. It’s just clear. Like, “Okay, I know what we’re getting here.”

Robin Dreeke
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you, boy, I’m sure you have a lot of stories. So, maybe, could you kick us off, to get things rolling, with an exciting story coming from your time as the chief of counterintelligence behavioral analysis at the FBI? Feel free to omit any classified details but, yeah, what can you share with us?

Robin Dreeke
I think it’s probably easier just to say, in broad spectrum, what my job actually was, and I can go into different stories but they’re all roughly the same. My job was to recruit spies.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Robin Dreeke
And I always called it the toughest sales job on the face of the planet because, in a nutshell, I’m selling a product, and my product was US patriotism. And so that, these days, can be a tough challenge as it is anyway. Anyway, my client, and all my clients, were foreign intelligence officer that worked for other countries to get our intelligence on behalf of their countries, and so that’s my client. So, the first challenge in my life was I’m selling a product of American patriotism to people that generally do not want to buy that product.

Pete Mockaitis
From their perspective, they might call it treason, if you will.

Robin Dreeke
Absolutely, it would be. See, I always call it just buying a product. I like to soften it. And then the second challenge is, so who are these intelligence officers? Ninety-nine percent of the time, intelligence officers are foreign diplomats under diplomatic cover at establishments across the country. Most of them are at the embassies in Washington, D.C. or the consulates of the mission to the United Nations in New York, or any of the consulates around the country, so they’re diplomats.

And so, as diplomats, they’re actually, they have rights and privileges that no one can mess with them, especially, by law and treaty, it was illegal for me to initiate contact with them. So, the first challenge is I’m selling a product that they probably don’t want to buy. Second challenge is it’s illegal for me to actually approach them and try to sell the product. So, that was the great challenge especially if you have a type A personality, you know, a hard charger like myself where you think you have to convince people of things, you’re going to really fail majestically at this.

And so, it really comes down to selling the toughest product, and really selling any product in the world, it’s the simplest thing, all you have to do is figure out the priorities of the other individual, of the things that they need, the resources that they’re looking for. And if I offer resources in terms of those priorities, they’re willing to buy them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that is intriguing. And, wow, boy, there’s so much to go on there.

Robin Dreeke
Anything you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Were there particular angles or offers you made that seemed to work frequently?

Robin Dreeke
So, I would say the most common priorities, because I always talk in terms of priorities of others, because here’s a truth of life, human beings are exceptionally predictable, and they’re predictable because all human beings are always going to act in their own best interests, which is safety, security, and prosperity for themselves and their families. My job, and the job of anyone, is just to figure out what they see from their perspective as success and prosperity, and then you see if you have resources in terms of that. That’s all we do when you work in sales. You’re trying to understand the priorities of someone else and offer them resources whether it’s goods, commodities, or services in terms of those priorities and see if you can come to an agreement.

So, the same thing with selling my product. I’d say, by and large, the most predominant thing that foreign spies were looking for was safety, security, and prosperity for their children. You know, it might’ve been a dying wish of a father or a grandfather that their grandchildren wouldn’t grow up under the regime that they grew up under, that it was not a safe place to live, that it was biased or unfair. Whatever it was, that was a priority for theirs, was that their children would not grow up in that kind of environment.

And so, that’s something that I have resources that I can offer in terms of those things if they wanted to immigrate here or to some other country. And now my priorities, where I wanted to understand what their goals, objectives, and the things that they’re trying to take from our country, and so that’s where you come to an agreement, or not, that, “Hey, you have priorities and resources, I have priorities and resources, can we have an accommodation?” That’s pretty simple.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. Well, now, I want to spend most of our time talking about sizing people up. You’ve done a lot of thinking, writing, and research on this topic. And maybe, first, I want to just address, is that even a fair and appropriate thing for a human being to do, to size someone up? Isn’t that like judge-y, you’re judging them, and that should be not done? Or what do you mean by that term and how would you distinguish it?

Robin Dreeke
Yeah, it’s a catchy term because it catches your eye, but the first thing you find out when you dive into this book, or anything else I’ve written or done, is that it has absolutely nothing to do with judging.
And part of that is, as human beings, we’re also genetically, and biologically, and socially coded to want to belong to meaningful groups and organizations and to be valued by those same organizations. And so, I always tell the story about years ago when I was in the Marine Corps, I was a horrible…I am not a natural-born leader. I am a natural-born narcissist, you know, it’s that type A personality. I thought being successful in life was, “How do I make myself look good and get ahead?”

And I remember the first time I was ranked against the other second lieutenants of my first squadron I was in, I was ranked last. I believed everyone’s born with at least one gift. At least, at that time of my life, I was at least born with enough humility to say, “All right, I’m doing something wrong.” And I went to my major and asked him, I said, “What am I doing wrong?” And he says, “You just need to be a better leader.”

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, thanks.”

Robin Dreeke
“That’s easy. All right.” I said, “Great. How do I do that?” And he goes, “Well, just make it about everyone else but yourself. Be selfless.” And I’m like, “And I wasn’t doing that? All right. Specifically, how do I do that?” And he couldn’t tell me because he was a natural-born leader, he’s just being who he was. And so, all these years I’ve tried to figure this out, and I have. So, how do you make a conversation about everyone else but yourself? How do you demonstrate value and affiliation to others? It’s simple. If you build into your language one of these four things in everything you say and everything you write, the entire conversation becomes about them and they’re genetically and biologically being rewarded chemically in the brain for it.

Pete Mockaitis
Bring it on.

Robin Dreeke
Yeah, you seek the thoughts and opinions of others. Because we only see the thoughts and opinions of others that we value and we want to affiliate with. Second, you talk in terms of their priorities. And we’ve already been talking about the importance of priorities. You talk in terms of their priorities, of what’s important to them, because if you’re not talking in terms of their priorities, they’re being polite at best. They’re not paying attention.

Third, you validate them non-judgmentally. And validation just means that you’re seeking to understand them at a deeper level, and not necessarily agreeing with them but seeking to understand them without judging them. And, fourth, if appropriate, you empower them with choices. Again, you only give people choices if you value them and you want to affiliate with them.

So, when you build one of those four things into everything you say, write, and do, the other person’s brain is chemically rewarded for engaging with you because you’re demonstrating that value and affiliation. So, that’s where it all started, is that very granular look at it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is helpful. And I love your vantage point where you’re coming at it from in terms of, “No, really, how do you do that?” So, you had to break it down and to arrive in that. So, I think that is really connecting, resonating, making sense in terms of, “Yes, I do like it when people do that. And when I do those things with others, they respond well.” Let’s hear about the third one – validating non-judgmentally. What are some of the best ways you go about doing that?

Robin Dreeke
So, the best ways about doing that is you ask them challenging questions. Like, not challenge like challenging, but what kind of challenges they’re having in their lives, discover their priorities. Try to get deeper about understanding how they think the way they think, the experiences they’ve had, the background they have, how they grew up, I mean, if they’re at liberty to share all these things with you. But seeking to understand how the other person seeks to build affiliations with you and others, and how they see the world through their particular optic.

It’s basically building a curiosity into yourself about others. Because when you build that curiosity in, instead of judging, ask yourself why. Why did they think the way they think? Why do they believe the things they believe? Why do they perform the way they perform? Without taking a side on it, just seek to understand it. Because when you have congruence between the word you’re saying and the emotion you have, that makes it genuine and sincere. So, it’s building in that curiosity because that’s what validation ultimately needs in order for it to be effective.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. So, that’s how that’s done. And then I’d love to get your view. So, the subtitle of your book “Sizing People Up” is “A Veteran FBI Agent’s User Manual for Behavior Prediction.”

Robin Dreeke
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
So, boy, there’s so much there associated with behavior prediction. Could you maybe kick us off there by talking about what’s perhaps the most counterintuitive thing about behavior prediction that you’ve discovered in your years of work?

Robin Dreeke
So, when we look at the title “Sizing People Up,” hey, it’s about to be judge-y. No, the whole purpose is so I can reasonably predict what you’re going to do in every situation so that I don’t get emotionally hijacked, and I don’t have negative thoughts, feelings, or emotions towards you because I had an expectation that was unreasonable based on what you’re reasonably going to do.

Because, again, it’s about building trust and building relationships, because without relationships, you’re not going anywhere. There’s not one person in this world that achieves anything without at least one other person being part of that team or being that inspiration or coming up with that idea and helps you move forward. So, this is all about building healthy relationships.

And so, from there, I think probably not the aha moment in this. But what happened was, when I started really focusing on others and trying to build trust by making sure my behavior was aligned with was good for building trust, I started realizing that, “Wow, I’m focusing on this other person and I’m starting to be able to predict what they’re going to do because I’m so focused on what their needs, wants, dreams and aspirations, priorities are, I know that they’re always going to take actions in terms of those things, which makes them start to become very predictable in what they do.”

And we’ve all heard this too. We’ve all heard the expression, I believe, there was a definition of crazy, doing the same thing, expecting different results. Well, when you reverse it, when you see someone else doing the same things two, three or four times, you can reasonably expect they’re probably going to do it five or six times the same way.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Robin Dreeke
So, that’s part of this whole equation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Intriguing. Well, so then that adds up in terms of in immersing yourself and understanding their perspectives, needs, wants, priorities, values, you in turn are able to predict kind of where things are going. So, then can you share with us, how do you come to gain that understanding? What are the kinds of things you’re watching for, listening for, asking in order to develop that profile?

Robin Dreeke
Sure. So, I came up with these six signs that a lot of human beings, we’re all intuitively doing this, but when you can place a label and meaning on it, it actually allows you to do it quicker and more accurately and more cognitively without subjective observation. And so, I call that new car effect. By placing on labels on anything, you start recognizing it quicker. So, the same thing when you buy a new car. All of a sudden, as soon as you buy that car, you start recognizing that same make and model going down the road or in a parking lot without even trying to because it has a meaning and value to you.

And so, the first one, the first sign for the six signs for this, the first sign is a sign of vesting. In other words, are the use and language and behaviors that demonstrates that they’re actually as much vested in your success as they are on their own? Because if they’re demonstrating that, well, that’s pretty predictable that, “All right, I can probably reasonably predict that they’re going to continue to do that.”

The second sign is longevity. Are they using language and behaviors that’s demonstrating that they actually are seeing the relationship as long term versus short term? The third one is reliability. Are they demonstrating both competence and diligence in the task at hand or what they’re assigned to do? Competence is do they have the skills appropriate for what it is they’re doing? And diligence, do they have the energy and tenacity to follow through on it?

Actions, sign four. And we’ve already talked about this, actions, these past patterns of key behaviors. Have you observed them multiple times doing something a certain way so you can reasonably predict they’re probably going to continue to do it that way if not better? Five is language. Are they using language that’s demonstrating that they’re valuing you as much as yourself? And so, this is where we reverse it. I said before, when you include one of those four things in everything you say and do by seeking thoughts and opinions, talking in terms of their priorities, validating without judging them, and giving them choices, are they likewise doing that to you or are they using that language when talking and discussing with you?

And the sixth sign is stability, emotional stability. During times of stress and discontent and whatever comes along, do they have the ability to maintain emotional stability and thoughtfulness, or do they over-emotionally react to things? Now, each one of these six things, you don’t have to have all six to predict behavior. But what you do is you’re pretty much trying to key in on, because everyone has got strengths and everyone has things that are working well for them, so you’re just kind of keying in.

And what you’re doing is you’re establishing a baseline of what you can reasonably expect in all these areas from people and see what the results are. And then, all of a sudden, and so you’re setting that expectation at a reasonable level. The analogy I love to use is, because this takes the place of that intuitive “I like someone so I can trust them,” because liking and trust and predictability are vastly different because just because you like someone doesn’t mean you can predict what they’re going to do or trust them.

So, the analogy I use is flying. I’m a small pilot, I do angel flights. I volunteer for that stuff, and I have a great friend. I have a great friend that I trust with my life because he’s a great guy but he’s not a pilot. And because I trust him, it’s not like I can throw him the keys of the plane and say, “All right, I trust you to fly this plane.” No, because you don’t have competence in that area or reliability, so they’d kill us. So, I like making this very predictable behavior so you can reasonably manage expectations of others. So, again, you don’t set the bar too high so they don’t meet it and then you get angry or discontent toward them.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, essentially, when you say predictable, it’s sort of like reliability. I guess there’s some distinctions here. So, it’s predictable in the sense of I might not know, be able to predict the exact sentence out of their mouth, or the exact choice that they’re going to make amongst the sea of options they might not be even familiar with yet, but they can be predictably, I guess, relied upon if they have these things going on to follow through and not disappoint, or backstab, or betray, etc. Is that kind of where you’re going at?

Robin Dreeke
Absolutely. And in certain lanes as well because one thing I love to try to do is just because I can’t count on you or trust you/predict you in one area, I don’t want to hold that against them in another area I don’t allow one thing to ruin a relationship. Because I can’t trust you to fly a plane doesn’t mean I’m going to not like you or distrust you in all these other areas because you have displayed massive trustworthy and predictability in these other areas. So, I’ll definitely engage you in those lanes. So, this is just helping you manage your expectations in specific areas so that, again, the purpose of it is to maintain those good, healthy, strong professional relationships so that everyone can move forward together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. Well, so those are the indicators that I’m watching out for, and if I have those things then we’re likely to feel good that things are going to be followed through upon reliably in a predictable way, so that’s great. And so then, I’d like to get your take on when we’re trying to go about building that trust and rapport and relationship with folks, how do we make that happen?

Robin Dreeke
We do it the same way. First, we demonstrate it to them. So, I have my process called the code of trust which is my behaviors that I’m trying to do and exude to inspire them to want to align with me as well. So, the first step in that is you need to understand what their goals and priorities because that’s what makes this a leadership kind of thing because I always believe everyone is a leader. Because any time you have a goal and objective you’re trying to achieve, and you have a methodology in which to get there, which is about, “How do I get people to align with me and come along?” that’s leadership.

And so, the first one is to understand what it is you’re trying to achieve. And part two of that is, “How can I inspire someone to want to do that to be part of this?” So, step two of it is understand the priorities of others so that I’m making sure I understand what those priorities are, so I’m giving labels and meaning to mine, I’m giving labels and meaning to theirs, so their brain automatically starts aligning these things together.

Step three is understand their context, how they see their world through their particular optic. And when we’re understanding context, we’re discovering their demographic, their orientation, their thoughts, their beliefs, their gender, all these things. We’re understanding how they see the world through their point of view. And this is also where we’re starting to understand to build affiliations with others because we have commonalities in these different areas because, again, we’re trying to demonstrate value and demonstrate affiliation.

And then, step four, we want to make sure we’re using, that I’m using the language they’re looking for, that’s the same thing as the language in sign five of “Sizing People Up” and that is, “Am I seeking thoughts and opinions, talk in terms of their priorities, validating them, and giving them choices?” And, finally, I put this all together and I’m crafting, “How do I demonstrate to them that I see who they are, I see their priorities, and I want to be a resource for them.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Certainly. Well, that is a lot going on there. Could you perhaps tie it together for us in terms of a whole scenario and story with regard to, “All right. I was trying to pull this off with this person, and here’s what I observed and said, and how it unfolded”?

Robin Dreeke
Sure. So, right from the book, I remember when I was first a newer agent in New York, this was like right after 9/11 in New York City when I’m serving there. One of my potential confidential human sources, the people that are helping giving us information, he was brand-new to me, he’d been cooperating with the FBI for about 25 years, he had 16 guys like me before me come along, and he was really known as pretty cantankerous guy, kind of an alcoholic, but he had some great access and some great information.

And so, he had come to me and said, “Hey, I have someone that might be, that I think is going to be a good use for you in the FBI and for national security because associated, he’s a relative of a foreign leader in the Middle East.” And so, at this point, I had to quickly assess, “Does this guy…can I trust him? Because this is urgent information potentially and normally it takes time.” And vetting of information, over a period of time, and once you do this, but when you don’t have time, I had to really zero in. And, luckily, though I had a good mentor and a guide, and his name is Jessie, and we went through this process where we’re asking ourselves, “All right. What kind of language? Why is he doing this?”

And one of the things that he was actually doing was he had immediately taken a liking to me just because he liked teaching, mentoring, and guiding others, and so he actually literally started tying and using language of tying, wanted me to be successful because he enjoyed helping the United States. And so, the only way he knew he could help and serve the United States was if I was successful. So, he was actually using language by saying, “Hey, Robin, if we do this and we can solve this problem, we can hopefully identify some foreign actors that can help us, then you’re going to be successful because your success is my success.” So, that was the first thing he did was demonstrating that vesting sign.

And the second one that really struck me right away was the longevity because he was actually talking in terms of not what we’re going to accomplish just today or tomorrow. We actually, when you work in the world of counterintelligence, some of these operations take years and years and years. I mean, heck, the day I retired after 21 years, there was some operations I had started in the first couple of years of my career that are still going. And so, he used that language. He talked about things that would go on much longer than just when you hunt a bank robbery or something, and you solve the crime and you move on. He was talking in terms of how we can come up in lots of things over long periods of time.

And the other thing I thought was really good with him was he was emotionally stable. Every time a new situation would pop up, he immediately went into what I call science experiment mode. He immediately came up with cognitively thinking about, “All right. So, here’s where the situation is. What’s the cause and effect if we do this? What’s the cause and effect if we do this?” I mean, one way he demonstrated that to me is, I remember, every time, especially in this very scenario, we’re going to introduce me to this contact of his that was going to help us on a major problem, and we role-played it. He was big on role-playing things out because he was very cognitively thinking, “All right. If we say this, what’s going to be the reaction? He said this, what’s going to be his reaction.”

So, that’s where I first started to get exposed to, I mean, we’re doing this intuitively because he’s teaching and training as I’m teaching and training him, but when I took that step back years later, and looked at, “What were we actually doing? Why did I trust him?” Because he was demonstrating these signs.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s great. And so then, I’d love your view, if you think about sort of typical workplaces, maybe they have a little bit less life or death, or, you know, nation versus nation impacts, but what are some of the best simple actions you think people can take at work day in, day out that demonstrate these things well?

Robin Dreeke
Sure. I can give you some positives and negatives on this because I think we’ve all experienced this in workplaces. So, if you’re looking in the work environment, is your boss, how is he regarding you? When he or she is communicating with you, are they demonstrating that they’re vested in your success with the company? Are they actually giving you opportunities to learn, to grow, to take on new challenges, or are they keeping you shunned away? Are they not engaging you? Are they keeping you out of group meetings? Are they keeping you out of discussions because you’re not part of it? So, are they vested in you? That’s a great sign whether things are going sideways or they’re going well.

Longevity. Are they using language and they’re using behaviors and taking actions that demonstrate, and they see you here for the long haul? Are they putting you in those long-term training or managing programs? Are they putting you in for advanced placement things? Are they giving you opportunities to grow and expand because they see you here for the long haul?

Their actions. Are their actions towards you consistent or are they erratic? Again, go back to the language again. Are they engaging you and valuing you by seeking your thoughts and opinions, talking in terms of what’s important to you, and validating you without judging you, and then giving you choices along the way? So, those are just a few of them but it’s very easy to see these things in the workplace, and I think we all have.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. Well, so then I’d love to get your view in terms of you mentioned some of those behaviors that are not desirable. When folks are actually making an effort to do these kinds of things, do you see any sorts of mistakes or roadblocks are popping up that make it hard for folks?

Robin Dreeke
Hard for folks to…?

Pete Mockaitis
Hard for folks to invest and build these relationships and demonstrate these things for others.

Robin Dreeke
I think the underlying thing that undermines all of us in many situations is our own ego, vanity, and sense of superiority.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Robin Dreeke
Yeah, so I have these three core anchors I believe very firmly in, and that will enable us to accomplish anything that we’re seeking to do and achieve in life. Now, number one is I’m always asking myself before I open my mouth, or send an email off, is, “What I’m about to say or do going to help or hinder that healthy professional relationship?”

Number two, “Am I open, honest, and transparent with my communication because I can’t have that healthy relationship without open, honest, and transparency in communication?” And my third is, “I’m an available resource for the success and prosperity of others without expectation or reciprocity.” And so, that’s where that ego check comes in place, “Am I doing this for self-gain, at the cost of other people, or am I actually doing it to be a resource for others?” Because if I do that, and I have no expectation or reciprocity, that’s because we’re suspending our ego, we’re suspending our vanity, and we’re being a resource for others.

Now, when you do this, what’s the likelihood of reciprocity? Very high because, again, we’re genetically coded to want to reciprocate things given. But if you do it with the intent of that, then our own priorities start leaking out of our language. Remember, if we’re talking in terms of our priorities and they go and overlap with someone else’s, their mind shuts down.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. Well, tell me, Robin, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Robin Dreeke
No, I think that covers it pretty good. You know, healthy, strong, professional relationships are absolutely the key to everything. And this is exactly how you do it. And the purpose of “Sizing People Up,” which is really predicting people’s behavior, at the core, is, “How can I make sure that you’ll never let me down?”

Now, here’s a great thing. If you fall short of that bar I set because I took all the time to understand what I can reasonably predict you’re going to do, then something happened in their lives, something went sideways. And so, now you can be a resource again to discover what priorities shifted and, again, you’re managing their expectations and you’re being there for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Can you give us an example of that shift? Like, a life thing happened which caused a shift, and then you’re responding. How might that play out?

Robin Dreeke
Oh, probably the most common ones I’ve seen where you got colleagues at work and you know exactly what to expect they’re going to do in every day in every kind of situation. And, all of a sudden, their performance falls off and you’re like, “That’s weird.” And instead of getting angry at them, you figure something went wrong, or something is going on, whether it’s a sick child, someone in the family, kids are failing out of school, their own health, there’s something going on with their own health that they’re not sharing. So, it’s just understanding that, “All right. It’s not them. There’s an outside influence that is coming into and impact them.” And so, instead of getting angry at them, you automatically go into the mode of, “All right. What’s causing this?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s just sort of a beautiful way to live in terms of if something undesirable is coming forth from a colleague, to not just assume that they’re no good but that there’s something up and how can you help.

Robin Dreeke
It keeps life very common, very simple. There is no doubt. That’s why I love doing this because my frustrations that I had at work and things not going my way or people not doing the things the way I want them doing, when I started really living this and understand this and practice, then it’s all that evaporated. It just went away because you understand, you just understand people and why they do what they do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I liked it how you zeroed in on your frustrations evaporated away. And so, can we get another example perhaps of, all right, there’s some behavior transpiring, it’s frustrating you, how you took a step back and came to understand some things, and then how did frustrations disappear?

Robin Dreeke
Sure.Basically, I was trying to sell my product to someone that didn’t want to buy this product. I wasn’t even allowed to go talk to the individual as I couldn’t get my boss’s bosses to approve us doing this.

And so, in those situations where you’re trying to do something and get something done but you’re being roadblocked by an individual, what people generally do is they start pounding on that individual or pounding on that situation, and that’s where all that frustration, anger, and resentment starts building in, and I think we’ve all experienced this. Sometimes you get so frustrated that the last minute you say, “Screw it,” and you let go. “I’m done. I’m not doing this.”

[30:04]

And when you do that, all of a sudden you see the answer in a different area, “Oh, wow, it’s easy if I just went over here, here’s where the answer is. Here’s how I can do it.” And where did that come from? It came from another relationship, they moved you to the area or the thing you wanted to do. So, the thing I do now is as soon as I feel a roadblock someplace, I always give a little push, I call it. Let’s say if a door comes up in front of me, or the thing I’m trying to do, or the thing I’m trying to accomplish, and if a roadblock comes up in front of me and a door slams, I’d give a little push on the door with the way the direction I’m trying to go, but that door is closed.

The first thing I now do, instead of starting to beat my head against the door, I take a step back, I talk to the healthy people in my life, all the other relationships, and I say to them, I state to them my purpose, “Hey, folks, here’s where I’m trying to go, here’s what I’m trying to accomplish. Does anyone else have any ideas about how to get over there?” And that’s where the magic happens because, inevitably, someone else comes in with a great idea I never thought of in a million years, and you’re through that door, all because I wasn’t trying to beat it down by myself in a direction that wasn’t meant to be. You take that step back, you maintain good cognitive thought, and you think about the relationships you have, the strong healthy ones, to how to get through.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Robin Dreeke
The favorite quote is probably “The Man in the Arena” by Theodore Roosevelt but I’m going to keep it even simpler than a long one. So, years and years ago, when I was still in the Marine Corps, everyone in life gets these little profound things dripped on them without even realizing it. I worked for this colonel, and he once said to me, he said, “Captain, never tell me no, only tell me yes. But tell me what it’ll cost me.”

And what he was saying was very profound. He goes, “I don’t want to hear no. I just want to hear yes. But what I want is choices. Tell me the cause and effect, the cost benefit analysis of every choice you’re offering me.” And so, that is a great way I thought of framing, “How do you communicate with someone?” Don’t start with a negative. You start with a positive, “Yes, we can do this. If we do it this way, it’ll cost us this. if we do it this way, it’ll cost us this. If we do it this way, it’ll cost us this. Which way do you want to proceed?” And the great thing about this is if we only give people choices that we actually like as well also.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, lovely. Thank you. And how about a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Robin Dreeke
Probably the study that Harvard University did in the spring of 2012 where a lot of the scientific basis in neurology came where a lot of things I’m talking about. And that is what they did is they wired up people’s brains, and what they found is when they wired up their brains, and they found that people on average share their own thoughts and opinions and talk about themselves roughly 40% of every single day.

And when they’re sharing their own thoughts and opinions, basically testing the world around them for, “Do you accept me for what I am not judgmentally?” When they’re sharing their thoughts and opinions about themselves, dopamine was being released in their brain. Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, blood stream. In other words, pleasure centers in the brain are firing when we’re sharing our thoughts and opinions with others because we’re testing, “Do you accept me?”

So, now, if you can take your 40% and give it over to someone else so they can share their thoughts and opinions more, and then you add those four things we talked about, especially validating those thoughts and opinions, their brain is chemically rewarding them for the engagement with you because you are demonstrating to them their value, their affiliation, and it’s good for their survival.

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

Robin Dreeke
I’m a lover of history, and David McCullough is my favorite author. And so, I love every single book he put out, but the first one that got me hooked on him was “1776.”

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I’ve just read excerpts, I was like, “Oh, my God, this is thrilling.” Like, I kind of know how the story goes and yet I’m riveted. I should just hunker down and read the whole thing.

Robin Dreeke
And, also, the last book I read by him, I love to death. I’m going to actually read a couple more times, and that’s “The Wright Brothers.”

Pete Mockaitis
That keeps coming up, actually, on the show.

Robin Dreeke
Does it? Good. The story of powered aviation. It’s riveting. What amazing human beings. All the people I’ve read about, just amazing human beings overcoming odds.

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

Robin Dreeke
All the books around me of all the great people, I try to emulate. My tool is my mouth and sometimes it really gets in my way.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Robin Dreeke
Oh, probably going to CrossFit. I’m getting older and trying to keep everything healthy, that’s it. Also, because it’s a very nice social group I hang out with there.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, they repeat and quote it back to you often?

Robin Dreeke
Probably it’s not how you make people feel about you. It’s how you make them feel about themselves.

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

Robin Dreeke
To my website, it’s probably the hub of where to go and start from, and that’s www.PeopleFormula.com. Lots of videos on there of me doing keynote speeches, other great podcasts like yours, and lots of videos on YouTube, and I also have a free online course on there. Others will be coming out. Don’t worry, I won’t try to upsell people too much. And you can also have links to all my books on there as well.

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

Robin Dreeke
If you want to start down the path of really making these stronger connections, identify three people personally, and three people professionally in your life that is tied to the things you do as you’re trying to achieve. And with each one of these people, make sure you identify at least one strength in each of them, and start identifying top three priorities of each one of these individuals.

Because when you start identifying strengths and you’re seeking to understand what their priorities are, your brain is going to naturally start aligning how you can be a resource for them. And when you start doing those things, they’re going to start noticing, “Wow, this person is actually here for my success and prosperity,” and it’s going to start changing your life.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Robin, thank you for taking the time, and keep up the great work you’re doing what you’re doing.

Robin Dreeke
Hey, thanks, Pete. I can’t thank you enough as well. Thanks for sharing.

537: How to Develop and Multiply Leaders with John C. Maxwell

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John C. Maxwell says: "Any leader's greatest return is to develop other leaders."

John C. Maxwell shares powerful wisdom on how to develop and transform budding leaders.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three simple questions that encourage growth
  2. Why training programs don’t work–and what does
  3. What the most beloved leaders do differently

About John:

John C. Maxwell is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker who has sold more than 31 million books in fifty languages. He has been identified as the #1 leader in business by the American Management Association and the most influential leadership expert in the world by Business Insider and Inc. magazine. He is the founder of The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team, EQUIP, and the John Maxwell Leadership Foundation, organizations that have trained millions of leaders from every country of the world. A recipient of the Horatio Alger Award, as well as the Mother Teresa Prize for Global Peace and Leadership from the Luminary Leadership Network, Dr. Maxwell speaks each year to Fortune 500 companies, presidents of nations, and many of the world’s top business leaders. He lives in South Florida.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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John C. Maxwell Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
John, thanks so much for coming back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

John C. Maxwell
Hey, it’s great to be with you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be chatting again. And, first, I’m curious, did you end up getting some corkscrews made associated with the wedding gift?

John C. Maxwell
I knew you were going to ask me that question. And, Pete, I flunked.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s okay.

John C. Maxwell
I loved the idea. I tell you what, I loved the idea. In fact, I told a couple of my team members, “I’m going to do this,” put it aside, and then just kind of forgot about it. Then you sent me, I don’t know, maybe a couple of months ago, an email and it jogged my mind, I thought, “Oh, I didn’t do that.” I sound like a procrastinator. I’m really not. But then I kind of forgot what we had on it. I knew it was from the wedding feast at Cana, and I forgot, “Well, now, what did he put on that?” I’m probably going to really ask you, could you get me one of those and I’ll pay you for it?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. You don’t have to pay me for it. Thank you. I will and I’m happy to. And you did not flunk. I imagine that you had a lot of high-priority stuff beyond getting knickknacks engraved.

And so, you have written a bundle of leadership books, and you’re not done yet. You got another one here The Leader’s Greatest Return. Tells us, sort of what’s the big idea here and what made you think, “There’s something that I have not yet said that needs to be recorded”?

John C. Maxwell
Well, this is, I think, a kind of an amusing story, Pete. As you know, 25 years ago, I wrote the book Developing the Leader Within You. And that book is what really put me on the leadership track as far as people looking at me and saying, “This guy can teach me something about leadership.” It was the first leadership book that basically could’ve came out that says you can develop yourself.

Well, I followed that book up the next year with the book called Developing the Leaders Around You. Well, at the 25th anniversary at my publisher, Harper Collins, said, “John, could you do a kind of a revised edition of that?” And I said, “Well, yeah, I’d be glad to.” So, I went back and looked at Developing the Leaders Around You and I had written it 25 years earlier and, boy, Pete, I was so discouraged, to be honest with you. It wasn’t any good side.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a good sign if you look at your prior work and they’re kind of disgusting.

John C. Maxwell
The space of 25 years, you know what I’m saying, is kind of like, “Oh, there’s so little I knew back then, and I’ve learned so much more.” So, I started revising the book, and on chapter one, I didn’t take anything out of the first book to revise, so I wrote a new chapter. Then I went to chapter two and I think I took one story and a quote, and that’s it. The third chapter, nothing at all.

By the fourth chapter, I realized, “I’m not revising a book. I’m writing a new book,” because I’ve just learned so much more about, “How do you develop leaders and people around you to get on your leadership teams? And how do you really multiply yourself by this process?”

So, I called Harper Collins and I said, “Hey, let’s just do a new book,” and so we did. And I love the title The Leader’s Greatest Return. The reason I love that title is because I do believe that any leader’s greatest return is to develop other leaders. Because if you just have followers on your team, that’s good, and that adds, but if you really want to multiply, if you really want to compound, Pete, you’ve really got to develop leaders who can go out and then develop other people also. Leaders build the organization and grow it. And so, it is the leader’s greatest return.

And so, that’s how the book got written. It was supposed to be a revised edition, but my first edition didn’t make the cut for revision so I just wrote a new one.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is fun, and the story of how the book came to be itself has some leadership lessons there in terms of the humility and the growing. And then I think, in many ways, that kind of puts you in a great maybe feedback-receptive mindset as a whole in terms of it just as it’s possible to look at something you’ve done yourself in the past and say, “Hmm, this could be a lot better.” So, too, is it possible to receive feedback from an outside source in the present and say, “Yes, indeed, it could be a lot better,” and you may well agree… your future self, I guess, looking back.

John C. Maxwell
Right. You know, Pete, you’re exactly right. It is a leadership lesson itself in the fact that, as I look back on my past, I tell people, “If you can look back even five years and be really thoroughly satisfied with what you accomplished or what you did, you just probably are not growing like you could or should be,” because, for me, the pages on a book never change.

Pete Mockaitis
And with that learning and growing, I’d love it if maybe you could highlight perhaps a lesson or two that you’ve done close to a 180 on in terms of, “You know, I said this, and I think maybe almost the opposite is closer to true.”

John C. Maxwell
Oh, sure. Well, it happens all the time. I was being interviewed recently, and somebody asked me what the greatest change in my leadership was, and I’ve gone through a lot of changes. Again, because if you’re growing, you’re just always changing. And so, as I said, as I thought about it for a moment, I thought, “Well, you know, I think the greatest change I’ve had in my life is that as a young leader, I was very directional, kind of top-down, and I always knew where I wanted to go, and I always had clarity and vision. So, I’d say, ‘Okay, here’s where we’re going to go. Let’s get on the team,’ and I’d rally the troops. And over the years, I realized that I was kind of leading by assumption. I was kind of assuming that everybody else kind of wanted to go where I was going and be on the team, which was not true at all.”

And so, I began to slowly be less directional and start to ask more questions. And, until today, it’s a total change. Whereas, I used to just kind of sit down and say, “Okay, here’s what we’re doing and here’s where we’re going, and let’s shake hands and let’s get going on it.” And, now, I just ask questions continually. I lead by asking questions. In fact, I wrote a book, I don’t know, that maybe six or seven years ago, called Good Leaders Ask Great Questions. And, really, that was the catalyst for helping me and helping others know that, really, I lead now by sitting down with my team and finding out where they are.

In fact, the statement I say, “You have to find them before you can lead them.” For years I just led them or I wanted them to find me and then get on the team. And so, yeah, it’s a total change. But that’s what happens when you grow. Every day I learn something new that I didn’t know, but almost every day I’ve got to unlearn something that I embraced that just doesn’t work anymore. Maybe they didn’t even work when I raised it but I didn’t know any better. And then I re-learn.

And then one other quick thought of that, Pete, every person needs to have a sense of teachability and learn not only from life but to learn from others and let them speak into your heart, and not only have an open-door policy but have an open-ear policy. And through teachability and humility comes an awareness. And awareness is huge in a person’s life. I need to constantly be aware of what I do well, what I don’t do well, what I need to change.

A couple of weeks ago, I was playing golf with Ed Bastian, who’s the CEO of Delta, and so we’re having nice long leadership lunch afterward. And, Ed, here’s this incredible CEO of a major company, and very successful, had a long-term relationship with him, but Ed said, “You know, I’m always asking my people three things, ‘What do I need to stop doing? What do I need to keep doing? And what do I need to start doing?’” And he said, “Those three simple questions just allow me as a leader to be aware and hear from others who really do know more and sometimes just help me with my blind spots.” And I thought, “That’s just simple. Anybody can do that. What do I need to stop doing, start doing, and keep doing?” And I thought, “I just love that.”

But I think leaders, the great leaders, are continually growing and they’re continually growing because they want people to speak in their life and they have an acute awareness of what they don’t yet know and have a great hunker to learn and to get better, that’s for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so I’m right with you there. I think that totally adds up and those are some handy simple questions. So, let’s talk about multiplying leaders and how that is done. Maybe could you kick us off by sharing a cool story of an organization that has done this supremely well, like you’ve gotten to witness a transformation there?

John C. Maxwell
Well, I think that there are some companies that really have done this very well, Pete, and I think Chick-fil-A comes to mind right at the top. And the reason I think they’ve done it well is because they have a leadership culture. And I think developing leaders begins with an attitude and an environment that is conducive for leaders to grow, to learn, to practice leadership.

Now, the way that people are developed as leaders is they have to practice leadership, so there has to be a time in your organization or your life where you not only teach people how to lead but you give them an opportunity to lead, and you empower them, and you let them kind of run with the ball. So, I think Chick-fil-A just has such a leadership culture. They’re constantly pushing their people to grow, to learn, to take on more responsibility, to have leadership experiences in their life.

You know, it’s very interesting, one of my nonprofit organizations EQUIP, we really work hard on helping countries to be transformed through values. And we come in by the invitation of the president of the countries. We do it in little roundtables of about six to eight people.

So, we’re also doing it in schools, and we have about a million and a half kids in junior high there that are going through these values lessons in their curriculum. It’s not before school or after school, it’s right in their regular curriculum. So, one of the great things that’s happened out of this, teaching leaders how to lead and creating a leadership environment culture, is that we have the kids do the facilitating of the roundtables not the teachers.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

John C. Maxwell
So, it’s very peer-led. It’s very peer-led. So, I’m sitting with five of my schoolmates and this lesson is mine. So, I facilitate it and help them go through the material that’s written there and ask the questions. And then next week, Susan does that. And every week, we go around the table and every student gets a chance to lead.

Well, what are we doing? We’re letting them practice leadership. And one of the side benefits I know that’s going to happen to all these countries that we’re doing these leadership teaching in a curriculum schools is that they’re going to find leaders. The leaders are going to find themselves. Kids in junior high are going to, all of a sudden, have a conscious awareness that, “I like facilitating. I like helping people and leading them through a lesson.”

And so, any time an environment lets people practice leadership, they are then creating leaders. And I think that’s a very important lesson because I think a lot of times, we give assignments out but we keep the leadership reins. And I think that’s not wise. I think this book The Leader’s Greatest Return is all about, “How do you empower people? How do you release them? How do you embrace them even in their mistakes as they learn to lead until they really do understand what it is to lead?” It’s not a theory in their life, it’s a practice.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so I totally buy that. That makes sense to me. And so then, I’d love to get your view then in terms of is it sort of just everybody all the time that we want to be engaging in leadership activities or are there some particular means by which you try to identify a sub-segment of folks that you want to invest more greatly into?

John C. Maxwell
Yeah, I have a chapter in the book called the basics that says Invite People to the Leadership Table which is the culture where leadership is discussed and you hear other leaders talk about leadership things and issues. And what I think on this, Pete, is that it’s very essential to let everybody have a shot. And it begins by giving them more empowerment than what they would normally have.

So, you take a receptionist, for example. I would sit with him or with her, and I would just sit and say, “Look, greeting people, coordinating appointments, etc., all this stuff is the key to this job. But I also want you to know that you probably have within yourself some leadership potential. And what that means is that you’re going to be able sometimes to go beyond what a request is and be aware of perhaps a need beyond what’s out there in that lobby. And it might come to the fact that you have to make some decisions.”

And what you do, as I found, that you teach a person how to do their job well, and then you start opening and broadening the parameters, such as, “Okay, now that you’ve been out there as a receptionist for a couple of months, let’s talk about the things that aren’t working and the frustrations.” And what I find is when they talk about that, almost always it’s their inability to maybe make a decision that they have to go wait on somebody else to make, or rely on someone else to make, or just some common sense thing that they could’ve or should’ve done.

And so, it’s out of what’s not working that you begin to get the playing ground for developing leaders. And so, when they say, “You know, this person that came for an appointment, they sat there for 30 minutes. And, obviously, there was a lateness to it.” “Okay, let’s talk about that. When somebody has to wait that long and we’re having a little bit of miss on our side, what can you do that would kind of make it better for that person during that time?” “Well, maybe I’ll go get them a cup of coffee,” solve this stuff. “And so, you do that. And I empower you. You go do that and it’s on the house.”

It’s that kind of leadership development of people that lets them practice leadership that lets them develop the leaders. Now, Pete, obviously there are some people that are just more gifted in this area than others. And so, what happens is this, if you let everybody practice leadership, you very quickly learn the ones who perhaps have the highest aptitude for it. And that crème rises to the top. And now you’re looking at somebody and you’re saying, “Okay, you’re a leader.”

Let me give you an example. One of the countries we’re working is in Guatemala, and so we did leadership training for the second largest bank in the country. They have about 10,000 employees and so we did these values roundtables for all the employees. The bank said, “All of our people will go through values roundtables.” So, I was recently down there, and the CEO asked me to speak to about 2,000 of their clients.

So, they bring in their business clients, and the CEO said, “Let me just share with you what’s happened since we’ve done these values roundtables.” He said, “Three things have happened. Number one, we developed a leadership culture.” And he said, “What’s happening is our employees facilitate the roundtable.” And he said, “One time we had to go looking for leaders. Now, they’re popping up all the time.” He said, “We don’t look for any leaders now. In fact, we have an excess of leaders because we’re seeing people that we didn’t even know have leadership ability, and they’re facilitating these roundtables really good, and it’s working.”

And they said, “Because in the values we talk about integrity, honesty, and hard work has become part of the values system of our bank, and so our bottom line is better.” And he said, “The third thing is they’re taking these values home to their families that they’re learning at work. And it’s changing their families.” And I thought how beautiful. But, again, leaders were beginning to arise on their own because they were given an opportunity to practice leadership. And that’s really essential in developing leaders. You just don’t develop a leadership culture without giving people that kind of empowerment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, there’s so much in there that I really dig. It’s funny, when you talk about that story with the receptionist being empowered to get coffee and it’s on the house, like it can seem like a small thing. But I remember my first normal paycheck job in high school was working at Kmart in the pantry, they called me Pantry Pete, and I was so excited in the training videos when they talked about how, as Kmart employees, we’ve got the power to please. And so, if we were out of the 24 pack of Pepsi, I could give them two 12-packs at the sort of sale price. And I just thought that was so cool is that I had some leeway to do something to make someone’s life better, and they would be surprised and smile. It felt awesome. It was like my favorite thing to do when I was working at Kmart.

John C. Maxwell
That’s a great example right there. And it’s from there that you began. Leaders, they’ll surface themselves, really, but they don’t surface themselves if they don’t have an arena to practice that leadership.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you talk about these roundtables, I mean, we don’t need to go into every detail associated with how these are conducted. But I’d love it if you could give us just a bit of a rundown in terms of so we’ve got some values, we got some discussion questions, and different people are facilitating. What are some of the other kind of key things that are happening here that leaders might try to integrate in an organization?

John C. Maxwell
Well, it’s very exciting. It’s very exciting, Pete, because in my EQUIP organization, for a 19-year period, we just trained leaders around the world. And after 19 years, we had trained 6 million people, And when that was complete, sat there and said, “Well, let’s have a party and celebrate,” which we did. That’s a pretty big accomplishment.

And then I looked at them and I said, “We’re really not done yet. We taught these leaders how to lead but these trained leaders, there’s another level of helping them become transformational.” And transformational leaders bring positive change into people’s lives. It’s more than how to lead. There’s a positive transformation that happens in people’s lives and that comes through learning and living out good values. And so I said, “Let’s develop a transformational culture by teaching values, and let’s do it in small groups because, again, that’s where it happens where you can have interaction, where you can hear other people’s story. It’s highly experiential which is very contagious.”

And so, we developed a transformation, we call them transformation tables, a curriculum for adults. And we go into a country and we go to the top leaders, we go to what we call the eight streams of influence, which is government, education, media, arts, sports, health, religion, and business, and we get permission from the top of those areas in a country to do these roundtables, and we call it the waterfall effect. If the top buys into it, it just flows all the way down through the company or the country.

And so, that’s what we do, and our goal, as Malcolm Gladwell talks about The Tipping Point, so our goal is to get 10% of the people in a country in these transformation tables. And it’s just phenomenal what’s happened. We have, I think, what is it, 1.3 million now in roundtables, and it keeps just multiplying and growing. But when people learn good values and then they begin to live them, what happens is they become more valuable to themselves, they become more valuable to their family and to their community, and there begins to be what we call a values lift in that community and in that culture.

And so, that’s what we’re going for. And, again, it’s all about developing leaders and helping them to do more than how to lead, but to be people whose lives have been changed, which begins to create a contagiousness that other people want to have that also. So, that’s kind of what we do, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, a values lift sounds like a great thing that I’d love to see all around me. So, could you maybe give us an example then of, “All right, so here’s what it might look, sound, feel like. Here’s a value and here’s some discussion questions, and here’s how that can really come to life for folks”?

John C. Maxwell
Well, for example, in Guatemala, that was the country we started first, and went to Paraguay, Costa Rica, and then we have two more countries we’ll launched into this year. But in these transformation tables, because the government is involved in also, so there was a table that the attorney general was involved in, so we’re talking about values and honesty and integrity are part of it.

And she, during the roundtable, felt that there was a lot of corruption and dishonesty in the government, so she went to one table, then she facilitated the second table. And while she was doing that, she said, “Why am I facilitating this table when I’m, as an attorney general, not doing something about the government?” So, make a long story short, she began to prosecute people in government that were corrupt and tried them in front of the Supreme Court. And, 18 months later, over 300 of them were in prison.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

John C. Maxwell
Including the president. It’s the only time a Latin American country has overthrown a leader because of corruption. And she has began to make a major change in the country. That’s a big example. A little example, a mother of a son who was in prison went to the training of the values table. And so, she went to the warden and asked if she could do that with her son and a few of the inmates. He said yes, so she started that transformation table with them.

There are 16 values that they go through over a period of time and it just changed the seven or eight inmates. And they were sharing with their other inmates about what they were doing. And to make a long story short, in two years, all the inmates in the prison plus the guards were in these transformation tables. It had come from a very kind of rowdy prison to kind of the model prison in the country because of what had happened.

And so, again, it’s a values lift. And, again, it’s creating a leadership culture which The Leader’s Greatest Return is that what’s it all about, “How do you and I create a leadership culture to raise up other leaders so that we can have a compounding return on the things that we’re trying to accomplish?”

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your take on so within these transformation tables and these values discussions, it seems noteworthy just how fruitful this is, and that things are really taking root. And I guess I’m thinking about Michael Scott and the TV Show The Office and how they had an ethics seminar. And I guess that’s just comedy but I think it’s quite common that these kinds of messages can go in one ear, out the other. What do you think makes it stick in terms of folks are really adopting it and doing some things differently in their lives?

John C. Maxwell
Well, what makes it stick is when it’s more than a training program.
It’s that sharing around a table that is experiential that brings life change.

And nothing happens in a company, Pete, unless the leaders are involved in the roundtable too, that’s why we say, “You have to be in. The presidents of these countries are in these transformation tables.” They’re all there, Pete, because nothing is worst than being in a company, and so my level where we’re having some training on leadership or whatever it is, and all the executives aren’t there. It’s kind of like, “Okay, it’s not that important or else they’d be in the meeting also.”

And so, you have to have what I call a connecting identifying factor to make it stick, and that’s why the tables do such a better job than a lecture. That’s why I devoted a whole chapter in The Leader’s Greatest Return on the leadership table. What’s it like to have people sit around the table and be able to get into leadership discussion and hear leaders ask questions, and hear leadership thought? This all is what allows people to be and to develop themselves as a leader.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And so, that sounds perfect. It’s the connecting identifying factor. And so, when folks are sharing experiences over time, how big are these tables?

John C. Maxwell
Oh, six to eight.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, six to eight people. So, I guess a way I’m thinking about it there is like, “Okay, well, in your first session, maybe only one person is bought in and does something, and then they share it. And then, by the next session, folks go, ‘Huh, that’s kind of cool. Something happened there. All right. Maybe this is worth paying a little more attention to.’” And then you get this really get the juices flowing over time.

John C. Maxwell
Yeah, the buy-in is in the process. So, they sit around the table, their arms are folded the first time, say, “What are we doing here?” And then when people begin to share and ask questions, it begins to get them involved. I mean, there are six or eight. You can’t hide. If you’re in a lecture hall, you can hide. You can’t hide and so pretty soon it comes to you, and you kind of got to do something about it. And then when you begin to see people having improvement in their life, it begins to be contagious.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you mentioned a concept, I think, is important, I want to make sure we give a few minutes to. So, you distinguished between influence and control. Can you tell us what is that distinction and why is it important?

John C. Maxwell
Well, I think, first of all, I teach that leadership is influence and nothing more, really, nothing less.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I quoted you in an interview once. Someone made me define leadership. I was in college and I was doing it for the campus record department had some sort of leadership team-building roles, like, “I want that.” They said, “How would you define leadership?” I was like, “You know what, I’ll take John C. Maxwell’s.” And they’re like, “All right.” I got the job.

John C. Maxwell
Well, it’s such a simple little definition, but it’s so right on. Leadership is influence. And the difference is influence is, if I have influence with you, it can either be controlling or it can be voluntary. If it’s controlling, it’s kind of like I’m the boss, I have a leadership position, and to be honest with you, Pete, you don’t have any choice. You have to follow me. You follow me whether I can lead well or not. I mean, everybody listening to this podcast knows what it’s like to have a bad boss. I mean, we all go back and say, “Oh, that was a nightmare.” Well, why was it a nightmare? Because you had somebody in a leadership position that you had to follow that couldn’t lead but they had control.

And so, you never know if you can lead if people have to follow. I mean, it’s like prison where the warden gets up and says, “You know, there are a thousand people here that came to see me.” Well, they didn’t have any choice. In fact, they’d like to break out if they could. So, control is where I have no choice. The influence I’m talking about here is where I don’t follow you because I have to, but I follow you because I want to. And why do I want to? Because you’re a good leader, because you care for me, because you’re trustworthy, because you’re competent, and so, yeah, I want to be on your team because if I’m on your team, life is going to get a little bit better.

So, when I think of influence, in fact, sometimes I’m with companies and they’re saying, “I’ve got three or four really key executives, and I’m thinking about another leadership position and advancing one of the three.” And they’ll ask me, they’ll say, “What do you suggest as far as which of the three I pick?” And I say, “Why don’t you give all three of them a volunteer project? Have all three of them go do something in their community that’s pure volunteer and let them be in charge and just see how good they are with volunteers. Because if they can lead people who don’t have to follow them, you have a good leader.” And that’s influence. That’s not control at all. That’s not relying on titles or positions to get what I want.
I mean, how many times have we heard the boss say, “Yeah, you do it because I said so.” “Okay. Well, here we go. That’s a great reason to do something.” And so, the influence that we talk about in leadership and the influence we talk about in The Leader’s Greatest Return is influence based upon your ability to connect with people and make things better for them not because you have a title or a position which is control.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that is a nice distinction. And then, generally speaking, how do you recommend we go about being more influential in our colleagues’ lives?

John C. Maxwell
Well, because I teach that leadership is influence, people, many times will say, “Well, how do I…?” because, in fact, it is true and it is. The question is, “How do I increase my influence? Because the more influence I increase, the better I am at that, the more people I can lead.” And what I always say is very simple, there’s a very simple path to increasing influence, and that is, intentionally, every day, adding value to people. And I encourage people to have this kind of a lifestyle that every morning, for example, in my life, every morning, and I ask myself one simple question, “Okay, how can I add value to people today? And who am I going to see?”

I sat down early this morning and I went through the fact that I was going to be on a podcast with you, Pete, and outside of the question of the wine cork, outside of that, the question I wanted to ask myself is, “How can I add value to Pete?” because you’ve got a great podcast, you help an amazing amount of people, and you have a wonderful, wonderful work going on. Well, I just want to add value to you. So, that’s very intentional. What do I say? How do I add value to you?

Every morning, I just look at the people I’m going to meet and the schedule I’m going to have and what can I do to help people. In the evening, I ask myself the same question, “Who did I add value to today? How did I do that? And how can I do more of it?” And it’s being intentional in adding value to people that increases your influence. You show me any person in any person’s life that adds positive value in a continual basis for someone, and I promise you 100% that that person has great influence with that individual. Why? Because that person intentionally makes life better for them, and they become very endeared to you, and you want to be around them. So, that’s how you increase influence.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to get your view in terms of how can you add value. Now, in many ways, there are thousands of different answers and ways that one can do that during the course of a day with the people that you’re interacting with. Are there a few things that you noticed that people can do just about all the time and they often don’t? So, how about a start?

John C. Maxwell
Well, I think it starts, Pete, it starts with valuing people. That’s the baseline. So, when I start talking about increasing influence by adding value to people, I don’t talk to them about, first of all, how to add value to people. I just ask them a very simple question, “Do you value people?” Because if you value people, now you’ll begin to have a leaning bet to adding value to them. If you don’t value people, you won’t add value to them. I mean, if you kind of value yourself and devalue other people, no one’s ever added value to somebody that they don’t value. It makes no sense at all.

So, we start with, “Do you value people?” And if the answer is yes there, then we help them become very intentional, and we teach them every day, first of all, think of ways to add value to people. Look at your calendar. First of all, think of, “Who do I have the chance to add value to?” I know I’d get a chance to add value to today, they’re on my schedule. So, think about ways to add value to people. Then when you’re with them, look for ways to add value to people. And then every day, those two things, every day, add value to people, make sure you do some tangible actions to where you can look and say, “You know, I made that day better for someone else. And then what I do is I encourage others to add value to people.” And it’s just to continue adding value cycle but foundational.

It’s foundational in leadership. It’s very foundational. I tell leaders all the time, “When you stop loving people, you stop leading them. Good Lord, you’re a disaster. You’re going to hurt a lot of people because everything rises and falls on leadership. And leaders that don’t value people can cause a lot of harm.” And so, it’s just very essential for that to be the core. If you truly value people, then you’re going to learn how to increase your influence by doing these things I just gave you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and it’s interesting to think about that mindset. I think some might say, “Oh, my gosh, that sounds exhausting and I’m already overwhelmed with my own stuff.” But then, I think in practice, when I’ve been on a good hot streak of living that, it’s actually much less stressful and more uplifting energy-giving joy-fueling to live that way.

John C. Maxwell
Oh, of course. And it’s a simple relationship, of course, but it just works like this. I mean, I can teach relationships in one minute. It’s not complicated and it’s very simple. I’m either a plus in people’s lives or I’m a minus. It’s just that fact. I’m, every day, either adding value to people which puts me on the plus side, or every day I’m wanting people to add value to me, and I’m sucking energy and air from them. And if I’m constantly consumed about myself and making sure, “Hey, Pete, well, we’re going to be together, I hope you do something really good for me today. And, my gosh, you know,” and it’s all about me, almost always I’m subtracting value from people. And it’s a fact that I think most people who even are a minus and subtract value from people, I think most of them are even unaware or they’re just not aware of it, that they are more concerned about what they reap than what they sow.

Was it Robert Louis Stevenson who said, “I consider my day a success by the seeds that I’ve sown not by the harvest I reap.” That’s an added value statement. And, basically, he was saying, “Every day I just intentionally sow seeds.” Because, you see, what he knew was very true, and that is the harvest is automatic. But sowing seeds is not so you got to be intentional on the frontend to get the fruit on the backend. And many people, they get up every day, and they ask a simple question, “I wonder if something good is going to happen to me today. I wonder if somebody will be nice to me.” And it’s all about people adding value to them.

If I am wanting people to add value to me more than I’m wanting to add value to people, I become a minus in relationships. And if I want to add value to people more than have people add value to me, I become a plus. It’s that simple and you just have to be that intentional.

Pete Mockaitis
John, this is great stuff. I think we’re in our last couple of minutes. Tell me, anything else you want to mention before we hear about maybe one or two of your new favorite things?

John C. Maxwell
Well, in the book The Leader’s Greatest Return the reason I’m very excited about the book is there are a lot of leadership books out there but there are very, very, very few books on how to develop other leaders, and there’s a reason for that. Most people don’t do it, 95% of all leaders don’t develop other leaders. They just have followers. And the reason that they have followers instead of leaders is it’s not easy to develop leaders.

Leaders have a mind of their own, they’re already in the game, and they don’t just fall in line. And I wrote the book because the greatest return any person is going to have as a leader is not having a lot of followers, because every time I develop another leader, it just begins to multiply and compound. And so, I wrote a book, simple, practical, applicable, that a person can pick up, and they say, “Okay, leading leaders, developing leaders, isn’t the easiest thing I’m going to do but it’s the most worthwhile thing I can do.”

My good friend Art Williams who started Primerica, has a great statement. He told people when they would join his company, he said, “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy but I am telling you it’s going to be worthwhile.” And this is what I wrote in The Leader’s Greatest Return. It’s not easy but it’s going to be worthwhile and it’s going to give you a huge return. I know that because for 50 years I’ve developed leaders, and the compounding I’m having in my life now is ridiculously off the chart, but it’s because I’ve consciously developed other people to lead and influence others.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. John, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all of your leadership development adventures, you know, nation to nation and group to group.

John C. Maxwell
Thank you, friend. I so value you and what you do for so many people. Pete, you’re a plus in people’s lives. Your podcast adds value to so many, millions of people, and so it’s always a pleasure to be with you and to, hopefully, add value to you and to your listeners. And thank you again for your help with my wine cork situation. But just thank you and blessings. And, hopefully, in the future, we’ll be able to do it some more.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Yes, you too.

536: How to Listen and Be Heard with Julian Treasure

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Julian Treasure says: "It's a great, great gift to give somebody... 100% of your attention."

Julian Treasure shares tactics and techniques that greatly improve how you communicate.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A crucial question for more powerful listening and speaking
  2. The two biggest roadblocks to effective communication
  3. How to make your voice more engaging

About Julian:

Julian is a sound and communication expert. He travels the world training people to listen better and create healthier sound. He is author of the books How to be Heard and Sound Business.

Julian’s five TED talks have been watched more than 80 million times. His latest, “How to speak so that people want to listen,” is in the top 10 TED talks of all time. Julian is regularly featured in the world’s media, including TIME MagazineThe TimesThe Economist and the BBC.

Julian is also founder of The Sound Agency. The audio-branding company asks and answers the question “How does your brand sound?”

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Julian Treasure Interview Transcript

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

Julian Treasure
Great to be back, Pete. Thanks for having me again.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m delighted to be having you again. And you say you’ve learned a lot in just the gap of time between when we last spoke about a year or two here. So, can you maybe tell us for starters, what’s one of the most fascinating discoveries you’ve made in the realm of sound and communications and the new insights?

Julian Treasure
Well, the biggest thing going on at the moment is through my company, The Sound Agency. We’ve launched a new product which is aimed at improving wellbeing and productivity in open-plan offices. That is a variety of space which blights the lives of millions of people all over the world. Yeah, noise is the biggest problem in open-plan. It’s kind of okay for collaboration, although research is now emerging showing that even for that there are challenges. We tend to send more emails in open-plan offices, even people who are really close to us because people don’t like being overheard. There’s no privacy, I guess you would say.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. That makes sense.

Julian Treasure
So, that idea of sort of freeform easy collaboration across the desk may be a myth. Even so, when you come to other kinds of working, concentration particularly, where you’re trying to do solo working, it’s a nightmare, isn’t it? I mean, everybody knows that. It’s so hard to think when there’s somebody behind you talking about their great night-out or whatever it may be. We’re programmed to decode language. We have no earlids. So, unless you’re going to put headphones on, and we can talk about that as well as a strategy, then you’re really stuffed.

We have bandwidth for about 1.6 human conversations, so somebody talking behind you is taking up one of your 1.6 which reduces your ability to listen to the voice in your head that you need to be listening to when you’re trying to work, or write, or do numbers, or whatever it may be. And that is absolutely disruptive for output. And the research shows we can be as little as one-third as productive in that kind of environment as we would be in a quiet space.

So, it is a really big problem. And we’ve developed a product called Moodsonic. It is biophilic, that may be a new word for some people. That means it’s based on nature sound, sounds that we’ve evolved to over 200,000 years, you know, wind, water, birds, those lovely sounds which, again, research is starting to show are actually really good for us. Bird song has been now used therapeutically to help people recover from stroke and various other ailments. Wind and water, similarly, the research is starting to show that natural sound, like this is absolutely good for us.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s really cool. So, folks just listen to it with headphones and then they are sort of inoculated from a lot of the downsides of the open-office plans?

Julian Treasure
Well, no, actually this is broadcast through loudspeakers in the space.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding? Huh.

Julian Treasure
Yeah, so it replaces a lot of offices where there’s a problem with privacy. They will put in some good masking sound which is a pretty nasty noise. It’s a mechanical noise. Filtered white, pink, or brown noise which is designed to masks speech. But I’ve always had a suspicion that’s not very good for people. It’s artificial, it doesn’t sound very nice. It’s kind of like “krrrr” all day going through loudspeakers, so you cease to notice it after a while but that doesn’t mean it’s not having an effect. And the research is starting to show again that this actually increases cortisol levels, it creates stress hormones in people which makes you tired, a bit antsy, and it’s not good for you in the long run.

So, we’re replacing that kind of artificial noise with biophilic generative sound, that is to say it’s created by a computer based on algorithms, probabilities. It flows organically just like the sound would if you’re in a forest.

So, we developed this product based on scientific research and it’s designed to be beautiful and effective and good for people. So, it’s going to be a very exciting 2020, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is cool sound is your thing, and here’s a big sound problem and you’re going after it, so that makes a lot of sense and that’s really cool. And I want to listen to some of these.

Julian Treasure
Yeah, it’s beautiful.

And then I’ve launched my course. I spent most of last year putting everything I know about speaking and listening skills all the way from the very basics up to advanced public speaking skills into an online course. And the main reason for that is I had a pulmonary embolism two years ago.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, dear.

Julian Treasure
Yeah, it came from a DVT. I mean, I was flying a lot. And anybody out there who does a lot of flying, please do take this seriously. I thought I was fit and healthy, and I was blasé about flying, and it’s all fine, but what happened to me was a DVT. Suddenly my ankle swelled up, became really painful, then my knee. And then a week or two later, a crippling pain in my back. And that’s what it was, it was a PE,
And so, I’ve really been looking to reduce the amount of travel I do as well as being on blood thinners now for the rest of my life. I’m fit and healthy again but I really would rather not be flying around the world the way I was. So, it kind of changed my focus. The work is so important. I mean, never have we needed listening more than we do now in the world. And so many people are frustrated that they can’t get their message across or they want to become good in public speakers. I really want to get the work out there. The TED Talks are being seen by, I think, a hundred million people now, which is amazing, but they’re very short. And this course is seven and a half hours long, so it’s a different order, it might confuse altogether.

And so, I’ve put that together and we launched that. And I’m hoping that that’s going to help get the work out to people all over the world, indeed, who I never would meet or be able to talk to in person and who can benefit from this for the rest of their lives. So, those are the big things, really, that have happened since we last spoke. Not much.

Pete Mockaitis
No, certainly. Well, yeah, that’s plenty and I’m so glad that you’re healthy and well and with us and continue to enrich the world with this good stuff. Well, why don’t we start with listening, shall we? You say that we’re losing our listening. What’s that about?

Julian Treasure
Well, technology is a big part of that. Attention spans are getting shorter. There is that ridiculous number going around saying that human beings now have got less attention span than a goldfish, and that’s nonsense. It was a complete misread of some original research which then got propagated and became an open myth.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, why don’t we set that straight. So, what is the attention span? How do we measure it? What’s the number? And is it declining?

Julian Treasure
It’s a piece of string, you know.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Julian Treasure
I mean, how do you measure that? That’s part of why the original study was nonsense. I mean, it’s impossible to create an average attention span for human beings. What do you mean? I mean, what are you paying attention to? Is it one word, one thing, one concept? If I have another thought, does that mean my attention span is gone? It’s very hard to define. But I think simply heuristically, most people would agree that our attention is becoming spread thin now.

Facebook’s whole business model is about grabbing attention. Your attention is their product. I mean, that’s what they’re selling to advertisers. And that’s just one medium, one channel, that’s trying to get your attention all the time. And they’re using, I mean, I don’t know if they’re creating this or it’s us creating this, but FOMO, you know, the fear of losing out is a huge thing. So, we all have to check in every so often, “Oh, somebody might have tagged me. Somebody might have tweeted about me. Somebody might have responded to something I’ve done.” This is incessant checking in need, and that takes us away from being present.

When you are going to listen to somebody, Scott Peck said, “You cannot truly listen to another human being and do anything else at the same time.” And yet most of the time, we’re doing four things at once. And, particularly, I know younger people are getting really almost addicted to multi-stream input. If you’re just watching a film, that’s boring. You need to be commenting about it on a blog or some sort of a website, as well as doing something else, talking to a friend and so on and so forth.

So, this multi-stream frost-cut world that we’re in where we get very addicted to intensity, it means that a good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation is about as outmoded as sitting down and listening to a whole album. Very few people do that now. It’s track copying. It’s one track. A whole track. I don’t listen to whole tracks, you know.

So, this fast-switching attention seeking stimulation, I think, is a big part of why we don’t listen to much. And the other element in it, I guess, is simply that noise is around us a lot in urban situations and we get deadened, we get numbed, our listening simply becomes less sensitive. We get used to discounting sound. Most of it is nasty, so why would you want to listen to it? And that becomes a habit because listening is a skill. It’s a skill that we can develop, and it’s a very important skill for living effectively, and for being happy, and also for being well. I mean, it’s part of being well, is listening to the sound around you and taking responsibility for what you consume through your ears.

There’s an awful lot of people who are doing themselves an awful lot of damage by consuming unpleasant noise or loud sound, damaging their hearing, creating stress reactions. I can give you one example of that, and not all of this is intentional, by the way. The average noise level in German classrooms these days is around 65 decibels according to studies in Germany, and that’s not surprising because of group work. This is where all the kids are chattering at once, working in small groups. Teachers have to shout to get to over 65 decibels. So, not only did one British teacher have a successful suit for losing her voice entirely in that kind of situation, but also the research shows that 65 decibels is the level at which your risk of a heart attack is significantly elevated if you’re chronically exposed.

Now, teachers are chronically exposed. They work every day in that situation so it’s very likely that teachers are shortening their lives by working in that situation day after day, and yet we don’t pay attention to it. It’s not ear-damaging, 65 decibels, but it’s definitely bad for your health. And that’s happening all over the place. Traffic noise is blighting the lives of millions of people across the world. You can’t sleep at night. And sleep deprivation is a terrible thing long term. But, unfortunately, there are no votes in noise. You don’t see a politician standing up and saying, “Vote for me. I’ll make it quieter.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Julian Treasure
It just doesn’t happen.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so, that is a nice thorough response there in terms of what’s going on behind losing our listening. And when you’re talking about multi-stream input, boy, I can’t resist but sharing my favorite tweet of all time, and I think you’ll get the joke. It goes like this, “Holding my child and just so present in this moment.” Get it? She’s tweeting about holding her child and being present in the moment.

Julian Treasure
It’s like people who’s on holiday, and you say, “How’s your holiday?” And they say, “I’ll let you know when I see the photographs.” It’s that whole thing, isn’t it? Living life vicariously, having to have the commentary going the whole time. Yes, I do understand. I really wasn’t laughing because it’s sad. You know, that’s a sad thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, indeed. It is if you zoom in, like, hmm, if that is indeed kind of a habitual life experience for that tweeter, then, yes, that would…

Julian Treasure
Yes, it might’ve been ironic, of course. You never know.

Pete Mockaitis
It could be. Okay. so that’s the problem, so losing our listening because of a number of reasons and sources. And so, you’ve got a number of exercises you recommend to help improve conscious listening. Can you share a couple of those that are the most helpful for folks?

Julian Treasure
Definitely will. Just before I do, can I speak for a moment about the circular relationship between speaking and listening because that’s really important?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Julian Treasure
I think it’s quite interesting. My TED Talk on speaking has been seen by about six times as many people as my TED Talk on listening, and that says something about our priorities. We’re much keener to be heard than to listen, in general. And so, it’s really important that people understand if you want to be heard, it is crucial to be a good listener. It’s much, much easier to speak to somebody you understand and to speak to somebody that you’ve got some sort of rapport with than to be missing the mark completely because you’re misinterpreting the person, you don’t care, you don’t know, who are they. You’re likely to miss the target entirely.

There’s this circular relationship. The way I speak affects the way you listen. The way you listen affects the way I speak. And the way I speak affects the way you speak. And the way I listen affects the way you listen. So, it’s dynamic. It’s going all the time between two people talking, or one person talking to a group, or one person on the stage talking to hundreds. It doesn’t matter. There’s this circle going all the time.

And that’s why, really, it’s the central thesis of the book and the course, that in order to be a great powerful speaker, if you want to be effective, if you want to build a team, if you want to inspire, motivate, lead, any of those things, or even just have a happy family life, and be heard in life, you need to be listening as well. You can’t do it if you’re not listening. And listening is a skill. So, that was a preamble.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. For the six times as many people who are interested in being heard, here’s your why if you listen.

Julian Treasure
Exactly, yeah. “I don’t care about listening, I want to speak for people to listen to me.” Well, they will if you listen to them. I mean, there’s a question that I suggested, it’s a really cool question in the book and in the course. The question, “What’s the listening I’m speaking into?” That is such an important question because listening changes from person to person. It changes over time as well for one person. Our listening change. It changes after lunch, you’re a bit sleepy. Or changes if you’ve just had brilliant news, or if you’ve just had terrible news. Emotions affect.

All of the filters we developed through life – values, attitudes, beliefs, intentions, expectations, assumptions about what people think of us, the language we speak, the culture we’re born into, all these things affect our listening. That means every human being’s listening is unique so it is really important not to assume “Everybody listens like I do,” which is a very common mistake, and to ask the question, “What’s the listening I’m speaking into?” That is a great exercise if you want to become a powerful speaker, and if you want to develop relationships with people, and work on your listening. It makes listening fascinating because you’re listening to the listening.

You’re observing the person that you’re speaking to with your eyes, with every sense that you’ve got, and you simply have to ask the question, “What’s the listening…?” and I promise everybody listening to this, by getting into the habit of asking that question, you will naturally generate the sensitivity. It doesn’t require a course or a degree or anything like that. It’s natural.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say “What’s the listening…?” you’ve got a number of categories.

Julian Treasure
Well, yes, there are many ways to listen and simple things. If you’re talking to somebody who’s very slow, then you can slow down. Now, to some degree, people with empathy will do that naturally, but there’s an awful lot of people who have never generated much empathy and who will rattle away at their own natural pace regardless of the person they’re speaking to, whether they’re faster, slower, whether they have a particular listening style. They’re particularly warm and emotive. They want it all. They’re somebody who just wants to top, “Give me the summary. I’m not interested in all that stuff.” Or somebody who wants the facts and figures, there are variations. That one is called think, feel, know, three classes of people.

There are lots of ways of cutting people out like that, dividing people into groups. The important thing is to look at the person in front of you and to understand them, and listen to the listening. Ask yourself the question because naturally you’ll start to adapt to your style. So, if it’s a slow person, you can simply slow down a little bit and be a little bit calmer. Or if it’s a really fast person, you can start to speed up, and you can become more energetic and so forth. That is fundamental. So, that’s one exercise I do recommend to everybody. It’ll improve your speaking and your listening skills.

Silence, a few minutes of silence every day, that’s a really good thing to do. Silence is the baseline and it’s quite rare in urban situations now that we get any silence at all. I’d be happy to define silence this absence of human noise. You know, a bird song, running water, wind in leaves, those are pretty acceptable departures from absolute silence. It’s rare that we will get absolute silence anyway. And if you can’t get it, anything approximating to it, just a quiet room, that’ll be fine even if there’s a little background hum of some kind. Just sitting with yourself, recalibrating your ears, because silence is the baseline. Silence is the base for all sound. It’s what makes sound meaningful after all. It’s the gaps between the words that make speech meaningful.

And the same thing for music, of course. With no gaps it’s simply cacophony. So, silence is very important. And if you can reestablish your relationship with silence, it will make your listening more acute. And, also, every time you encounter it, it kind of recalibrates your ears like a saw bell in a mill, it resets you and it allows you to listen again afresh. Any recording engineer will tell you about they have to stop every hour or so, going somewhere quiet because otherwise they’d go deaf really to the mix. They can’t hear it anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I’ve heard that from my audio engineers.

Julian Treasure
Yeah, indeed.

Pete Mockaitis
I work them hard.

Julian Treasure
Yes, not so much with human voice. You can go on longer. But if it’s serious music, then you really do need those gaps. Another great exercise, is RASA. And apart from being the Sanskrit word for juice, that stands for receive, appreciate, summarize, ask.

So, receive is actually facing the person and looking at them. It’s amazing how much partial listening we do in the world. “I am listening to you.” “No, you’re typing away on a mobile. You’re doing a text. That’s not listening, that’s doing a text.” So, doing nothing else, it’s a great, great gift to give somebody, to give them a hundred percent of your attention, just lay everything else down, and stop and try.

Honestly, I recommend anybody listening to this, after you’ve heard this podcast, go and try this at home. When you get home, actually listen to the people in your family or to the first people you come across, your friends, whoever it is, and you’ll probably find their reaction will be something like, “What are you doing?” because they’re not used to it at all. They’re used to you being half out of the room, or doing something else, or tapping away on something, and they’re getting the scrag end of your attention, as we would say in the UK.

So, it’s a wonderful gift. I reckon there are billions of people on this planet who’ve never been properly listened to in that way. So, that’s receive. Face them, lean forward, eyes on them, doing nothing else. Appreciate is the little noises and gestures that we make to show that we’re with them in the conversation. So, it’s hmm, ahh, really, huh, which you’re not doing at the moment because we’re on a kind of radio style conversation, and it’s a bit disconcerting.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I was just tweeting. Sorry, Julian.

Julian Treasure
As you do. Yes, I’m watching football here at the same time. So, radio has got its own rules, and podcasting has got its own rules for this, but in a normal conversation, you’d be doing that, I’d be doing that, and if you’re face to face, gestures too, little raised eyebrows, smiles, nods, bobs of the head, that kind of thing that we’re mirroring gestures, we do that naturally if we’re really engaged.

The S is summarize and that is very, very important to the word so. I would like to form a society for the preservation of the word so, which is becoming entirely abused, I’m sad to say. I’ll say to people, “What’s your name?” “So, I’m John.” “I’m sorry, you’re John because I just asked you?” So has a logical flow. This, so, that. It’s the same as then, or thus, or therefore. And, in conversations, it’s a really, really powerful word. I’ve even seen people walk onto the TED stage and start to talk with the word so. So what? Hang on. There’s no point of reference here.

It’s becoming debased by being deployed in that way, I think, but it’s really powerful. So allows you to close doors in the corridor of your conversation. “So, what I’ve understood you to say is this, is that correct?” “Yup.” “Okay. Now we move onto that.” Or if you’re in a meeting, “So, what we’ve all agreed now is this. Let’s move onto topic two.” If you haven’t got a so person in a meeting, it can be a very, very long meeting indeed, going around in circles. What is it they say about meetings? Meetings are places where you take minutes and waste hours. We all know that one.

And then the A is ask. Ask questions all the way through, at the beginning, at the end. Open-ended questions are good – why, what, where, when, how, who – because they preclude the answer yes or no, and they get more information. Questions show you’re interested and they allow you also to make the conversation interesting for you because you can start to help direct it in the directions you find most stimulating. “So, that’s really interesting. Tell me more about this,” is a way of moving the conversation into the areas you find most interesting, profitable, useful, fascinating, stimulating, whatever it may be. So, that’s RASA. Very useful exercise in conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, so, I said so. Oh, you got me on hyper alert here.

Julian Treasure
No, that’s good because there was a natural flow there. Therefore, thus, that’s correct.

Pete Mockaitis
I see, as opposed to indiscriminately thrown anywhere and being your vocal pause crutch.

Julian Treasure
Yes, absolutely.
It is very, very important. It’s a little word but it’s a very important little word. I talk about words to avoid in speaking.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s grab a few of those, yeah.

Julian Treasure
Yeah, okay. We can have fun with that. I was just going to say one of those is like bindweed because the moment you start using it, it will crop up all over the place.

The word just. Now, as an adjective, that’s terrific. You know, “He’s a just man.” “Just mean and fair,” and so forth, that’s a lovely word. But as an adverb, or a modifier, particularly as a minimizer, it’s a pernicious little word that will creep in all over the place, “He’s just a child.” “Well, okay, that’s somewhat patronizing.” But it’s when we use it to minimize our own, “I’ll just have one.” Does anybody ever just had one and regretted it?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got a lot of emails that are just following up.

Julian Treasure
Yes, just following up. It’s an excuse and I did this on stage a lot. So, I come on and I say, “I’d just like to start with some housekeeping announcements,” and then I go back and redo the thing and come on and say, “I’d like to start with some housekeeping announcements.” Now, which one of those is most powerful? The second one.

Pete Mockaitis
Definitely, yeah.

Julian Treasure
Because the first one, the just, is saying, “Sorry, do you mind if I…?” It’s an apology. It’s a kind of weaselly apology, minimizing the effect. So, when you send an email saying, “Just following up,” it’s a kind of apology, “Sorry, to bother you. I’m just following up only. That’s all I’m doing. Just a little tiny thing.” And I think that word is one to be aware of. I’m not saying never use it but I am saying you might have a little alarm bell ringing when you use it, and say, “Would it be more powerful to delete?” I nearly said just to delete that. So, that’s where it starts to get in.

The other word that I really recommend banning altogether from vocabulary is the word should. I cannot think of a single profitable use of that word. If we use it to other people, it’s judgmental, “You should really lose some weight.” Ouch. Or if we’re using it on ourselves, it’s self-recriminatory and it’s kind of wallowing in guilt, “I should’ve done that. I should’ve been. I should’ve…” there’s no good outcome from that particular word.

“I will,” that’s a different thing. “I’ve learned a lesson,” “I did this,” “I will, in future, do that.” Should? I can’t see the use of it personally so I banned it from my vocabulary quite a long time ago and I’ve been happier since, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, thank you. So, those are some things not to say. And I also want to get your view in terms of you’ve got the listening part down in a rapid summary format. What are your top pieces of wisdom that you think folks really need to absorb when it comes to speaking such that they’re heard after they’ve done their listening?

Julian Treasure
There is content and there is delivery, and they’re both important. Actually, for the book, I interviewed Chris Anderson, the head of TED, and asked him that question, “Which is the most important, Chris?” And he said, “Well, they’re both important but, if forced to choose, I would go for content because I will sit and stay with somebody who’s delivering earth-shattering content in a pretty boring way. However, if somebody is delivering rapid nonsense brilliantly, it’s just irritating, isn’t it?”

Pete Mockaitis
Agreed, yeah.

Julian Treasure
So, content is very important. If you want to be heard, then getting your content right is crucial. And that, again, comes back, if you ask me, to asking the question “What’s the listening…?” It’s the question I ask myself before I’ll do any talk to a group of people or even thousands of people, “What’s the listening I’ll be speaking into? Are they going to want facts and figures? Are they going to want to hear about all aspects of sound, speaking, listening? Or is it a particular aspect which is going to touch their lives? What are their problems? What are the things I can give them which will give them value in their lives?”

Asking yourself those questions is really important so that you start to automatically, you start to have a sensitivity for what, of all the things you could talk about, which ones is going to be valuable to that person. And that’s another part of the secret here, isn’t it? It’s not about you, it’s about them. Any speaker who goes on stage and it’s all about me, that’s not nowhere too well.

There are two particular addictions, I think, we have as a society now which get in the way of designing good content. And those are looking good, we all like to look good, but if it becomes what you’re about, that really doesn’t fly very well in any conversation and particularly not on stage. And the other one is if there’s one thing we like more than looking good is being right. Now if you get into being right, that makes you very hard to listen to, I think. It’s like a hole in the bucket. And the easiest way to be right, of course, is to make somebody else wrong. Hence, we have this kind of addiction to outrage going with the media. We have polarization in politics. We have the politics of shouting. It’s not the politics of listening, is it?

Insults, it’s demonization, it’s caricaturing, and that is a slippery slope. That’s a long slippery slope down to some pretty unpleasant stuff because listening is the doorway to understanding, and if we don’t understand, if we’re not interested in understanding people, or listening to people we disagree with, then civil society kind of breaks down.

I gave a TEDx Talk in Houses of Parliament and again in Athens, the cradle of democracy, arguing that listening actually is the sound of democracy because without it, democracy will not work. We have to have civilized disagreement. And it’s impossible to have that if you’re in the business of, “If you disagree, I’m going to shout you down,” or even worse, go down that slippery slope, “If I disagree with you, I’ll kill you,” which is what ISIS is all about and so forth.

So, I think it’s very important to consider the other person in conversation, and that really will help to shape what we’re saying. The content will be much more accurate. I think it was Barack Obama who said, “I like to listen to people especially when I disagree with them.” And listening is a very good way of refining your content as well dynamically, I’m talking about. So, you might start a conversation with an agenda, with some things you believe are going to be valuable and interesting to talk about, having thought about the person you’re speaking to, and then it’ll get reformatted as the dynamic conversation takes place.

Well, if you’re not listening to them, they won’t listen much to you. Whereas, if you listen carefully to ask them questions, people love talking about themselves. For anybody who’s listening to this who says, “Nobody ever listens to me,” try listening to them, become a great listener, ask them questions, little questions, “Really? Tell me more,” that is a gold dust phrase, “Tell me more about that.” Because it draws people out, it shows you’re interested in them, it creates a kind of dynamic of interests which will then reflect back and they’ll start asking you questions and you can speak. So, that’s the way it goes.

Listening and speaking always in this dance. Of course, content is only part of the story because there’s also how you say it. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, indeed.

Julian Treasure
And it is unfortunate for some people that they have challenges to overcome with their voice. I mean, we’re all born with this amazing instrument, the human voice, which can do anything from Tibetan undertone chanting to Pavarotti to you name it. It is an incredible instrument. Most people, in my experience, are only exploring a small fraction of the capability and power of their voice.

So, if you really want to be heard, my strongest advice to you is go get a coach. We don’t get taught how to speak in schools. Even less do we get taught how to listen, by the way. We get taught how to read and write. Speaking and listening? We’re expected to pick those up along the way somehow and yet they’re both really important skills.

So, there’s the vocal toolbox that I went through in, I think, it was 12 minutes in the TED Talk on speaking. And the vocal toolbox is something that most people don’t even know they have. You can rummage around in there and you can play with things like pitch, pace, prosody or prosody. I prefer the prosody pronunciation, but each to their own. Silence, gaps, volume level, we even get really loud, talk, you can whisper to make a point.

So, the dynamics of conversation are really, really important. One of the most significant things is varying. So, if you have a voice that does this, every time you speak you have this cadence, pretty soon you’re going to get people going to sleep because they’ve heard everything that you said, said in the same way over and over again. You know, it’s like a hypnotic thing. You put people into a sort of trance by repetitive cadences, so it’s very important to vary your pace, your tone and pitch, not so much your timber probably, although you can do that too. Use silence, leave gaps. I mean, on stage, I won’t do it now because this is, again, a podcast/radio, and if you leave dead air, people get very disconcerted and they start fumbling to, “Have I lost a signal?”

But on stage, I demonstrate this. I can go quiet for the longest time. I’m talking about 30, 45 seconds. That’s a long time on stage. And everybody just sits there. The big fear most people have about public speaking is drying up. Well, you can take a long time to think. You do not have to fill in conversation, or in a presentation, or a talk, you don’t have to fill every second with babble, with uhms and ahhs. It makes it absolutely difficult to understand if you’re always on. You need the light and shade, the valleys, to create the mountains, and that’s a big part of delivering interesting content.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And so, I put a good bit of effort into having some variance on my pace, on my pitch, and on my volume. Can we hear a little bit about the other three tools here, the register, the timber, and the prosody and how we might think about that?

Julian Treasure
Absolutely. Well, register, there are four registers actually of the human voice, and two of them are very rarely used, and I wouldn’t recommend people using them. There’s one I can’t do at all which is called whistle register. It’s very, very, very high up. It’s like an ultra-soprano so I won’t even try that. The next one down is falsetto register, and that will be familiar to anybody who likes Monty Python or anybody who likes a great deal of pop music.

Pete Mockaitis
Hee, hee.

Julian Treasure
So, Monty Python stuff. Yes, exactly. Monty Pythons stars are, “He’s a very naughty boy,” these men, ludicrously pretending to be women by moving into falsetto like this. It’s not the most powerful way to speak. It can be very good for singing and all the way from the ‘50s to the ‘60s, you think of Frankie Valli, the ‘70s, the Bee Gees, more currently with Coldplay, all sorts of bands sing a great deal in falsetto. It’s very acceptable as a powerful singing style but if I walk on stage, “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Lovely to be here,” it’s a little bit soft, ineffectual, and deferential, and also comical so I wouldn’t recommend speaking there very much.

The next one down is the one we use most of the time, it’s the modal register. And that ranges all the way from your nose right down to your chest. Now, of course, your voice comes from your vocal cords, which are in your throat, but you can resonate in different places by focusing on that. So, for example, if I go up into my nose here, you can hear the difference. And if I’m in my throat, this is a throat voice, which is a little bit light and what most people do most of the time. And then if I move down into my chest voice, you can immediately hear the base coming because I’m resonating with my whole chest. That’s a really big space.

Now, you can practice moving your voice around by placing your hand on your chest or your throat or your nose, and trying to feel the vibration. I do recommend working on the chest voice because deeper, generally, means more significant in terms of voices. We vote for politicians with deeper voices, other things being equal. Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister, had vocal coaching to lower her voice by a couple of tones because she felt that the higher female voice is being taken less seriously in the House of Commons.

So, it’s a pretty good idea if you want to be taken seriously to be speaking down here instead of speaking up here. It’s a simple thing and it can be practiced by anybody. Put your hand on your sternum, that bone in your chest, and practice resonating so you can start to feel the vibrations with your fingers, and that’s a really good way of moving your voice down there.

The final register is vocal fry and, unfortunately, it’s become pretty common. Vocal fry sounds like this. It’s a very lazy way of speaking, “I’m really excited about this.” I don’t think so. It’s, unfortunately, a very common habit now among younger people. Started, I think, largely probably in the Valley in the West Coast, Los Angeles style speaking. It’s kind of cool to be like, “Yeah. Well, hi, how are you?’ It sounds kind of lazy, cool, insouciant, but also disengaged, pretty ugly. It’s not very good for your voice. And if you want to speak powerfully, I do advise get out of there as quickly as possible, back into the modal register, get that chest voice going.

It’s a shame to hear people speaking like this because your voice is so powerful and so amazing. It can do so many things. So, that’s a little piece on registers and quite useful to be conscious of these, and to start taking control instead of letting it just be what you have habitually done your whole life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

Julian Treasure
Then prosody, or prosody, well, that’s the singsong speech. That’s the way we vary our tone and our pace in order to be understood. So, it’s completely different to speak in this, well, quite lively, passionate way as opposed to speaking entirely on one note and at one pace without any prosody at all. I don’t think anybody would find this very interesting for very long. That’s robotic, isn’t it? It’s boring. The word monotonous comes from mono tone, one tone, speaking in one note. So, we want to avoid that.

Now, some people have very restricted prosody. Unfortunately, it’s the way they’ve learned to speak or it’s something natural. Again, you can work on that and there are exercises in the book and in the course, particularly, they’re exercises which helps you boost the range. I mean, that’s what they do. It’s like doing anything in a gym. You work in a gym to build muscle. You might not need it all the time but you give yourself more range. And it’s the same thing with prosody. You can do exercises to increase your range and become more able to express yourself in a fascinating way. You may not want to exaggerate it, you might not want to go completely like this, nevertheless, it’s good to have the range because you can then be conscious about how you deploy it.

And, again, there’s culture here. Some cultures, you know, Italians really like this. You know, again, Latin countries tend to be more expressive. Scandinavian countries tend to be a little bit more like this, “Yes, we’re wildly excited about this.” And you just have to know. I remember a gig in Finland years ago and there was like (soft clapping sounds) and I thought, “I bombed. What happened?” And I went down for coffee, and people coming up to me and saying, “That was the best talk we have heard for many years.” So, it’s just the way they are there, and you have to adapt. Again, it’s part of, “What’s the listening I’m speaking into?” To adapt to the listening of the people you’re talking to. You don’t get a lot of whooping and hollering in Finland, that’s for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And timber?

Julian Treasure
Well, timber is the feel of a voice. It’s tasting the voice just like you would taste a hot chocolate. And the words to describe voices that we tend to like are similar actually to the words you would use to describe a hot chocolate – rich, dark, warm, sweet, smooth, those kinds of words. If that’s not you, don’t panic because timber can be adjusted a great deal. If you have a little squeaky voice or something like that, go and see a coach.

And people always ask me, “How do I do that?” Well, simply search on the internet for vocal coach, voice coach, drama coach, singing coach, any of those and you’ll get to a group of people, phone some of them up, choose two or three that you get on well with on the phone, and explain what you want and see if they can help you, and then have a tryout session, and then you’ll find one that you really click with, and you can do a program of work with over a series of months. And they will transform what you’re able to do. They’ll give you the power to project the understanding of breath and how to use it effectively, how to use your diaphragm effectively.

Posture, which is a huge part of the problem for a lot of people who are kind of slumped over, or stretching, or compressing their vocal cords. I’m sitting at a desk, speaking into a microphone. If I sit like most people do when they’re having conversations, leaning forward like this, you can hear the effect on my voice because I’m stretching my vocal cords, and it’s not going to be me at my best. I can’t get into my chest voice freely. On the other hand, if I put my head right back into my shoulders, I’m compressing my vocal cords and it sounds like this.

So, having your vocal cords vertical and having good posture is a very important part of speaking powerfully, freeing your voice to do its best, and of looking like you are confident. Again, if you’re doing, you know, the Amy Cuddy TED Talk about power poses, anything that makes you bigger boost your testosterone, makes you look bigger, if you’re one of those people whose whole gesture template is about making yourself smaller, gesture is where you’re crouched, you’re hunched, or folded, or whatever it may be, again that’s going to affect the way people receive you because they can see that you don’t feel confident. So, there are things to practice here. A vocal coach or a drama coach can certainly help with any of those.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Julian, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Julian Treasure
Well, I think we’ve covered quite a lot there, haven’t we? I come back all the time to that key question “What’s the listening…?” because listening is the center of everything. I really do think never have we needed listening in the world more than we do right now.

Interrupting has become an absolute epidemic. It’s very, very rare to hear anybody speak in a media program for more than 20 seconds without being interrupted. And that’s not just there, by the way. I came across a horrifying stat the other day. In your country, in America, do you know the average length of time that you or I get to speak when we go and see our doctor, before we get interrupted, this is our opening, “Doc, so what’s wrong with me, doctor, is?” How long do you think they’d give us?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I don’t know. Maybe 15 seconds.

Julian Treasure
Yeah. Well, you’re not far off. Actually, it’s 18 seconds is the average. Average 18 seconds. So, some are shorter than that. How you can get an idea of what’s wrong with somebody in 9 seconds, or 7 seconds, I have no idea. Barely being able to say my name in that time. So, I think it is pandemic this interrupting impatience. We need patience to listen. And there are four Cs I talk about in the book and the course for good listening, which is consciousness, that is to say being aware you’re doing something. It’s not like hearing. Hearing is a natural capability. Listening is a skill. Your practicing skill.

The second C is compassion. It is really important to be compassionate, to seek to understand the other person. If that’s where you’re coming from, you can listen really, really well. The third C is commitment, because you have to stop doing other things in order to listen well, and that does take commitment. I would always recommend, again, if you want to be heard, it’s worth making a little contract in the conversation as in, “Do you have 5 minutes because I’d really like to speak to you?” And if they say yes, you have that contract for 5 minutes.

If you pile in and you haven’t asked their permission, you may well be pushing more toward uphill here, working into the wind. It could be they’ve got other things going on you don’t know about, and you’re rudely interrupting whatever they’re doing. And the final C, which is possibly the most important one, is curious. Curiosity. Ferocious curiosity to learn, so, “I might learn something here. Where are they coming from? I think that is absolute rubbish. But how on earth is it they thought that? Why did they have that point of view?” That kind of dialogue in your head makes you a much better listener.

So, the four Cs of good listening, and I do encourage everybody to pay attention to their listening.

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

Julian Treasure
The first is my favorite quote of all time probably about listening, which is from Ernest Hemingway who said, “I like to listen. I’d learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” And he’s absolutely right. The other quote I’ll give you relates to organizations because I imagine quite a lot of people listening to this, given the nature of the podcast, are working in organizations or even running organizations.
The Organizational Listening Project was done in 2016 and it reviewed a whole range of different organizations, and it found, and here is the quote, “Most organizations listen sporadically at best, often poorly, and sometimes not at all.” So, the problem is individual and the problem is organizational as well. We need to address it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And can you share a favorite book?

Julian Treasure
The Universal Sense by a guy I know quite well, Seth Horowitz, who’s an expert in many different forms of sound. And it is a fascinating book. Very easy to read about why hearing is so universal, why it is that there are virtually no vertebrates on this planet without ears. So, plenty without eyes but hearing is such a universal sense.

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

Julian Treasure
Well, there are lots of levels for anybody who’s kind of found what I’m talking about here interesting. The book, of course, is available at all the usual places, it’s called How to Be Heard. You can go to my website JulianTreasure.com. And if you pop your email address in there, then we will send you five listening exercises, two of which I’ve talked about in this podcast, little videos by me, absolutely free, which are good exercises for improving your conscious listening skills. And if you want to access the course, that’s at www.SpeakListenBe.com and it’s currently on, I think, with a big discount, so it’s worth going there and checking that out if you’re serious about speaking powerfully
And then if you’re interested in Moodsonic, The Sound Agency’s website is www.TheSoundAgency.com and there’s a separate website for Moodsonic at Moodsonic.com. So, there’s plenty of resources there. Look forward to anybody who comes by. I’d love to hear from you.

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

Julian Treasure
Yes, listen. It is really as simple as that. Ask yourself that question, “What’s the listening I’m speaking into?” So, I would actually just refine it. Listen to the listening. Get into that habit and I really believe you’ll find it transforms your communication at work. If you start to listen to the listening, asking yourself that question, “What’s the listening I’m speaking into?”

Pete Mockaitis
Julian, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and all the ways that you hear and are heard.

Julian Treasure
Well, thank you so much. It’s really good to be back. So, thank you, Pete, and I hope everybody got something out of that.

535: How to Conquer Doubt and Pursue New Career Opportunities with Nicolle Merrill

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Nicolle Merrill says: "We are swimming in opportunities to learn new skills."

Nicolle Merrill shares practical tips for changing careers–and beating the doubt that comes with it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why it’s OK to not have it figured out
  2. Powerful, clarifying questions for charting a new career path
  3. Smart alternatives to a second degree

About Nicolle:

Four-time career-changer Nicolle Merrill excels in professional reinvention. A liberal arts graduate, she has written for Four Seasons and National Geographic private jet tours, taught digital communication skills to global executives, and sold adventure travel programs in New Zealand. As the former Associate Director of the Career Development Office At Yale School of Management, she coached hundreds of MBA students and professionals through all phases of their career transitions. Nicolle currently freelances as a conversation designer and analyst at an artificial intelligence startup. Her human-centered approach to career change, combined with a relentless curiosity about emerging career trends, has led to speaking engagements across the US, as well as in Canada and Ireland.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Nicolle Merrill Interview Transcript

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

Nicole Merrill
Well, hey, thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to have you here and I want to dig into so much good stuff about punching doubt in the face. That’s a good title.

Nicole Merrill
Oh, thanks. It was actually harder to name my book than it was to name my child, so I’m always glad to hear that.

Pete Mockaitis
But, first, I want to hear about you and pinball. I understand you’re a pinball enthusiast, and that hasn’t come up much before. So, what’s the story here?

Nicole Merrill
Well, I grew up with my dad really taking the lead on that. He loves pinball and didn’t think much of it as kind of growing up that it was this weird thing that we were always trying to find pinball whatever arcade we went into or later, as I got older, at bars. And then come to find out not everyone is into pinball as I am it turns out, but I love the excitement of pinball. I grew up in Vegas and maybe it’s the flashing lights and noise, maybe that’s kind of the overlap there.

And it’s really funny too. I’m actually a huge extrovert so I love people and I love meeting people and being in social circles. And if I go to a bar and I see a pinball machine, I am just drawn in and cut off from everybody else.

Pete Mockaitis
I see.

Nicole Merrill
So, my love for pinball is real.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, is there an all-time favorite pinball machine or what makes a pinball machine great versus fine?

Nicole Merrill
Yeah, that’s a great question. I would say Mars Attacks is my favorite one because I think I just like the way that the machine reacts. And I tend to pick machines that have good multi-ball experiences. I like to get multi-ball, it’s kind of my personal quest on every machine. Some people want to get high scores. I want to get multi-ball.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood.

Nicole Merrill
I’m really into it.

Pete Mockaitis
Somehow there’s a segue between multi-ball and career changing, multi-careers. It’s lost on me but we’re just going to run with it. And so, you’ve done a whole lot of work with career development at the Yale School of Management. And I’d love to hear, so that’s a really cool position being able to interact with many, many folks of top business talent, hundreds of MBAs. So, could you tell us, what are some themes and stories that you’re hearing from them over and over again about their career doubts and desires and how they’re navigating it?

Nicole Merrill
Sure. I should just clarify, that was actually…I had a career change into that role, so I’m a four-time career changer actually since moved on from being a career coach. I’m in a different role now. But what was really interesting about that role was that I was working with people from all over the world, so it wasn’t necessarily just Americans. I was working with people from South America, from Europe, from Asia. And it’s really interesting to be able to work across cultures because a lot of times you start to notice some of the differences between cultures and how we approach things. But what’s even more exciting is figuring out ways that we’re very, very much the same.

And one of the things that I was discovering in that role as a coach is that a lot of people across cultures have similar doubts when it comes to their ability to make change happen, right? MBA is a professional degree. It is a degree where over 70% of people are going to be a career changer, so they’ve already decided, “Hey, I want something different,” right? But even though decided that, they still kind of weren’t sure. I’ve met MBAs who would come in to their program, committing to two years and have no idea what they wanted to do. And on the flipside, I have people that came in knowing for sure exactly what they want to do, and then they go through the interview process for it, let’s say consulting, and come to find out that’s not at all what they wanted to do.

And so, it was really interesting to work with students and, also, I work with alumni, to hear kind of their doubt about what they were investing in. They’d already made the decision to choose this program and to make a change, but they weren’t quite sure. And I thought that was really interesting because you would think if you chose a program, most people think, “Oh, you know what you’re going to do,” when, in fact, an MBA is actually two years for you to figure out what you want to do next. And I qualify that with next because most of us were taught that we would pick that one thing and that’s what we’re going to do for the rest of our lives, but we’re no longer in that world of work. Our careers are not going to be lifetime careers, we’re going to make multiple changes.

And so, when you’re going to get an MBA as a career change path, it’s one of many, it’s often assumed that people know what they want to do, but, in fact, I learned a lot of people didn’t know what they want to do but this was the path to figure it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, they didn’t know what they wanted to do, and they’re on a path to figuring it out. And so, I want to hear about doubt in particular, so you’ve got a book titled Punch Doubt in the Face. Let’s hear about some of that emotional stuff when people are changing careers and they’re feeling the doubt. Like, what are the sorts of insecurities, or self-talk, or things that you hear in terms of how that’s showing up?

Nicolle Merrill
Sure. Well, I think, starting off, career changers, and for most of us, like I said, we’ve been taught to kind of just pick this one thing, and you’re just going to do it for the rest of your life, and that’s what our parents did, but that’s not reality anymore. And, honestly, I’d argue, it’s not really the reality for some of our parents too, depending on how you grew up.

And so, the first thing that people go through when they’re thinking of changing careers is kind of this feeling of loneliness, like, “Oh, my God, I’ve failed.” They feel like they didn’t make it work, or they’re feeling like nobody else could possibly understand this because we’re bombarded by messages of success and everybody else doing it right. And I think we’re also in a culture that doesn’t share when we’re failing in a career. And I qualify that we’re not failing. You’re not failing when you’re not doing it right. It’s okay to change jobs.

And I think this doubt comes from that feeling that we should figure it out, we should be able to make it work, and so when it comes to change, people feel like they can’t quite do it. And on top of it, it’s not like we teach people how to change careers. I don’t have an MBA but when I go out to working, when I was at Yale and part of an MBA program that teaches people how to change careers, I was shocked by what they taught people. I had changed careers multiple times and nobody taught me how to do it. I kind of had to figure it out, right? Go against the grain almost.

And so, a lot of people have doubt about changing career because they haven’t really been taught how to do it. The other piece is that if you’ve been a career changer before or talked to career changers, a lot of times when you tell people you want to make a change, they want to know, “Well, what specifically will you do?” They want answers right away because it can make people feel uncomfortable when you don’t have an answer, right?

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’m telling you that I want to make a career change, and then you ask me what do I want to do.

Nicolle Merrill
What do you want to do?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’re saying, I, the career changer, am uncomfortable, or my conversational partner is uncomfortable, or both of us are uncomfortable.

Nicolle Merrill
Well, probably, at this point, it’ll be both of us. But a lot of times when a career changer says, “Oh, I want to make a change,” one or two things happens. The conversational partner will be like, “Oh, great. Well, what do you want to do?” It puts a lot of pressure on that career changer to have an answer, and a lot of career changers don’t actually have an answer in the beginning. They have an inkling. They have a feeling, like, “This is not right. This is not working for me.” And there’s a variety of reasons we could go into as to why it’s not working. But when they first start talking about it, and I actually had this conversation with a friend a couple of days ago who said her partner was like, “Well, just go do it. Just go do it.” And she’s like, “I mean, the problem isn’t that I can’t go do it. The problem is I don’t know what it is.”

And so, career changers really need to make space for themselves, to really hold space for ambiguity, and that space that says, “I know I want to make a change, I just don’t know what it is yet.” And they commit to kind of figuring that out. And I think doubt really starts to creep in when people say, “Well, what do you want to do?” And if you don’t have an answer, that can cause you to be like, “Oh, my God, I can’t do this. I don’t know what I want to do.” And then we start going inside of that negative feeling of being really stuck without a path forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I want to dig into sort of each of the stages here from, “I’m sensing a change may be necessary,” to, “I’m figuring out what that thing is,” to, “I’m landing the job.” So, maybe to tee up that arch, could you perhaps share with us a cool story associated with someone who made an awesome change and how that unfolded for them?

Nicolle Merrill
Sure. Well, there’s been a couple of them. I’ll just tell you a story from my own only because I’m a four-time career changer. I recently went from being a career coach to I now work as a conversation designer for an AI startup, so I work for an artificial intelligence startup. And what that means is I spend a lot of my time using qualitative analysis skills to improve the product. And it’s an emerging job, and it’s a job that there’s no clear path for.

And I knew I wanted to go into artificial intelligence because I’m relentlessly curious about new technology, and I spent the better part of a year after I left career coaching to start to understand some of these AI products in the market. I was reading about them, I started reading industry trends, I started listening to podcasts, and then I started writing about them, I started writing about what I was reading in the news about artificial intelligence in the workplace. I started to narrow down my interests because when we talk about artificial intelligence that’s like a huge topic, right?

And I started to narrow it down into something that was a little more tangible, something that aligned with my background, and that was in HR, so looking at how does HR use artificial intelligence in the workplace. And so, again, I started diving into these products, writing about them, I started taking online courses to learn about artificial intelligence, not necessarily as an engineer but from the business perspective. And then, finally made the jump into a startup because I saw a job that was written for what I could do. It wasn’t necessarily written exactly for my background but I knew I could do it based on all the studying and the writing I’d done and my previous skillset. And so, I applied and I got the job, and I have now shifted into a new path.

And that is almost textbook for how someone should go about making a career change. It starts with your curiosity. It starts with specifically, “What are you curious about?”

Pete Mockaitis
What I’m curious right now, Nicolle, I’ve got some curiosity associated with what a conversational designer is. So, just so we can get closure on that point before we dig into your wisdom elsewhere, what does that mean?

Nicolle Merrill
Sure. So, conversation designer is someone who works on a chatbot, so the chatbot is to improve it. I tell people I make it sound more human, so I look for where the mistakes are at and report those mistakes back to the AI team. I also write scripts to make it sound better for different contexts. And then I review the conversations to ensure that the user experience is a positive one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Nicolle Merrill
So, it’s a hybrid job. It’s a mix-up of writing, user experience, and just having a technical understanding of how natural language processing works. So, again, I’m not an engineer but I know how to work with engineers in order to make recommendations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. that’s cool. Well, so let’s go through the arch then. So, when someone is in the midst of being in a career, not quite sure if they’re feeling it, they think it might be time for a change, what do we do now?

Nicolle Merrill
What do we do now? Well, one, like I said, make space, so claim that space and get comfortable with it, right? Get comfortable with the idea that you’re going to make a change, because depending on people’s level of risk, that could be a big deal, or it could just be like, “Yeah, I’m going to change things up. No big deal.” That’s going to be very personal depending on who the person is.

Then I want you to take time to figure out what you’re interested in because a lot of times when people are going into a career change, they’re doing it from a place of either being stuck, they might feel unmotivated. I’ve talked to people who were in toxic work environments and that can have a real detrimental effect on your confidence level. And so, really taking the space to reflect on the things that you’re interested in professionally. You can do some personal interests but, really, what excites you about work?

Self-reflection is pretty critical in this stage, and carving out space to do that self-reflection. And you’ll notice that’s a theme. I talk a lot about carving out space and that’s because we’re all very busy people, right? We’re managing a lot of different projects and people and our personal lives, and so taking out time for ourselves to step back and say, “Okay, wait a minute. What do I want in my job?” And there’s a series of reflection questions in the book, but really looking it through the lens of, “Who do I want to work with? What type of work do I like to do? How do I want my manager to treat me?” These are all things that you can reflect on without actually knowing what it is you want to go do, right?

So, really taking a step back and making that space for yourself to self-reflect. Then start looking at, “Okay, what are the opportunities?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if I may, while we’re making space and self-reflecting, you listed a couple questions. What have you found to be some of the surprise super winning questions that tend to surprisingly surface insight frequently?

Nicolle Merrill
Sure. I think one of my favorite ones is, “What kind of work would you like to do?” So, a lot of times we tend to think of our work as job titles, like, “I want to be a travel writer,” or, “I want to be a firefighter.” No, think about the work. What does the work look like? What does it feel like? And that gets into things like, “Do you want to be in front of a computer all day?” versus, “Would you like to be building trails out in the wilderness?”

I think getting in depth about how you’d like to work. And then also thinking about what would you like the company to be like. I think this is another powerful one because we tend to think of, again, our job titles. But I know so many people that are trying to get out of toxic work environments, and that can be a big catalyst for changing careers and changing jobs, but also changing careers. And we start to talk about, “Well, how would you like to be treated by a company? What would it look like? What are the values that you’re looking for in a place of work?”

And that leads to other questions, like, “How would you like your coworkers to be?” And for some people, they might say, “I don’t really care about my coworkers,” and that’s okay because that’s for you if that’s your preference of work, that’s fine. But we need to at least dig into it and figure out what it is, because most people are just like, “I need to find a job,” and we’re not thinking about the environment in which that job takes place. And, as you know, as we all know, culture has a huge effect on our workplace and our daily jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
I really like the point you brought up about the coworkers there. It’s like you might not care and maybe the main thing you want from your coworkers is for them to leave you alone so you can have long stretches of creative time, or problem-solving time, or whatever. Or maybe the main thing you want from your coworkers is lots of fun collaborative back-and-forth stuff. Or maybe you want your coworkers to give you tons of feedback and tell you all the things that you’re doing that can be improved upon, and maybe you don’t because that’s really stressful and anxiety-provoking for you.

Nicolle Merrill
Yeah, even that, all those things that you just said though, those were great examples because within that you’re getting insights. So, maybe you do want a bunch of coworkers because you want to be able to collaborate, and there it is right there, collaboration, that’s one of your values. You want to be able to collaborate with people, so you want to make sure that a job that you’re going into, that you’re going to be able to have that, right? And chances are you might actually be good at that so that’s something that’s a skill that you can work on in your job. Or maybe you like the deep work and so you realize that you need to have a job where you’re going to be able to, I find this, I work with engineers, so that deep work piece is really valuable there. They need to block out three to four hours to code.

And so, again, within this reflection, even by thinking about what your coworkers are like, you discover things about yourself and how you like to work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, there we go. We’ve done some reflection, and then you said next up is opportunities.

Nicolle Merrill
Yes. So, this is where it starts to get interesting. One of the things that always surprises me is that we tend to look at our opportunities as only in the context of what’s in front of us. I was having a conversation with one of my friends who’s a firefighter, and she had said to me, “You know, what’s interesting about firefighting is that there’s a lot of customer service involved.” And I went, “Wait. What?” And she’s like, “Yeah.” She goes, “You have to go. You show up to a scene. Obviously, you’re triaging but you’re trying to understand what is happening. You’re trying to help the person who called you.” And she’s like, “A lot of it is frontline customer service.” And I had never thought about firefighting in that way.

And it really was an aha moment for me because a lot of us, we tend to make assumptions about jobs whether because we’re familiar with them or maybe it’s the hot job of the moment but without knowing what those jobs actually are. Another great example, I met tons of MBAs that wanted to do product management. Hot job, right? Consistently high-paying job, usually over six figures, very in-demand job. And then I’d ask them, I’d say, “Well, what about product management interests you or where do you think you do well in that role?” And they’d say, “Oh, I don’t know.” And I was like, “Well, okay, we got to get to know what these jobs are.”

And I think, as a career changer, going back to kind of that pressure to figure it out, you have to give yourself space to be able to figure out what these jobs are, so really diving into the opportunities. And there’s two really key ways to do that. I call this exploring the field of possibilities. One is simply reading job descriptions. This is a tool someone gave me years ago, like ten years ago, and I thought they were crazy, I was like, “Why would I spend my time reading job descriptions, they’re boring?” But come to find out they’re like mini-stories. They’re a company telling you a story about themselves, and some of them tell really bad stories, badly-written job descriptions, and some of them tell you really good ones.

And instead of looking at job descriptions as, “Can I do this or not?” most people talk themselves out of it, we should be looking at it as, “Does this interest me? Is this the type of work that interest me?” It’s a very different mindset from reading job descriptions looking for a job. And that’s where you start getting into like, “Oh, this is a job I’ve never heard of before. This is a type of work that I didn’t even know existed,” conversation design being one of them that I’m currently in. So, that’s one of the ways to do it. And I’m not talking like spending hours. I’m talking like build 10 minutes into your day to read some job descriptions based on keywords that you’re interested in.

So, let’s say you’re interested in pinball, right? I don’t know what jobs they would be because I haven’t looked but I would put pinball into a job search engine and see what comes up.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Nicolle, it’s hilarious that you mentioned job searching in pinball because that’s actually come up before on this show, Episode 167, with Nick Campbell. What are the odds?

Nicolle Merrill
Wow. Okay. I feel so connected now.

Pete Mockaitis
But, please, continue. Pinball exploring.

Nicolle Merrill
Right. So, you could go into any job search engine and just put in pinball. Or maybe you’re a writer and you want to get into pinball writing, put those keywords in there, and then read the job descriptions. What are they asking for? The key point of this is to not talk yourself out of it. You can’t be going, “Well, I’m not qualified. I’m not qualified.” Of course, you’re not qualified, right? You’re at the beginning of a career change, and one of the parts of a career change is once you figured it out you have to then go get the skills that qualify you. That’s a whole different stuff. But, right now, you’re just looking at what are the possibilities. And so, start making a list and familiarize yourself. That’s one way to do it.

The second way to do it, and this is actually my preferred way to do it, I want you to do both, but it’s through conversations. There’s an exercise in my book, my book has a ton of exercises in it, it’s called 50 Conversations, and in it, I assign you the task of interviewing 50 people about their jobs. And in the past, we’ve heard a lot about informational interviewing. This is that but dialed back. It’s more of an exploratory conversation, just to learn what people do.

I have a really good example of this. I used to be a travel writer for a private jet travel company, it was a job I fell into. And it was a really interesting job and I enjoyed it. I didn’t get to travel much despite the title. And at the time, I was interviewing someone from the staff, and that person told me that his job was a travel scout. I was like, “What’s a travel scout?” This guy’s job was to travel to different locations around the world and scout them out for our tour company. So, we were in luxury travel, he would travel to luxury locations, stay in their hotels, try out their activities, write a report, and send it back to the product team. And I went, “Oh, my gosh, that’s a job that exists?”

And it was like just this aha moment of like there are so many jobs out there that we don’t know exists and so you have to go out and investigate the opportunities. You can’t just sit there and say, “Well, I don’t know what fits me,” and then just stay with it. You have to discover and seek out different types of jobs. Because when you start talking to people and ask them what they do but, more importantly, how they got into it, it starts to become so much more interesting. And then you can start mapping yourself to some of those paths. You can start opening up possibilities and seeing yourself in those paths. And then, sometimes, someone might give you an answer, and you’re like, “That’s definitely not what I want to do,” and that’s just as valuable.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you’re having these 50 conversations, again, I’m curious about what are some of the top questions that really surface a good view of what those jobs look, sound, feel like in practice?

Nicolle Merrill
Yeah. So, a lot of times people don’t want to engage in these conversations because it’s the, “Well, what do you do?” and that feels so superficial. And a lot of times people don’t add follow-up questions to that. So, it’s the ability to add a follow-up question, and say, for example, in your case, you did it really well. You were like, “Well, what is a conversation designer?” I have a lot of people who I’ll say, “Oh, I’m a conversation designer,” and they’re like, “Oh, cool.” I was like, “Okay, right.”

Pete Mockaitis
“You don’t really think it’s cool or you would’ve asked more.”

Nicolle Merrill
Yeah, right. I mean, we all do that, right? And I’m not faulting anyone for that because conversation is tough. But, really, if you want to get to the bottom of it, it’s the ability to ask good follow-up questions, and say, “Well, that’s really interesting. Tell me…” if you don’t know what it is, “…what does that look like in your everyday job?” “How did you get into that?” is an even better question for career changers because that’s where the path starts to unravel.

I have found people say things like, “You know what, I just fell into it.” Or, “You know what, I went back to school, and went to a bootcamp, and then that taught me these skills, and I was able to combine it with what I did before and get a job.” There are so many different paths into careers nowadays, and that’s what I love about our new world of work. It’s not like our parents’ generation where you were like stuck on kind of just one path and you had to go get an MBA or a law degree to change, right? Those are professional degree programs that were designed for career changers. We have so many more paths and so when you start to ask people, “How did you get into that work?” you start to see those paths, and you start to see what you can and cannot do. If someone says, “Well, I went back to school for four years to be a doctor,” that might not be your path, right? Or maybe it is.

I interviewed someone, I have a podcast for career changers, and I interviewed someone who went back to school to be a chiropractor and that took four years, and that’s after they’ve been in the workforce for a long time. And so, this is a very personal decision, and that’s why I think being able to talk to people about why they made their change, what their path was like to get there, and really ask those meaty follow-up questions not only is it valuable for you in the beginning but it’s also impactful. It gives you connection and it gives you motivation. Because going back to the beginning where I talked about some career changers and their doubt, they feel alone. And so, being able to talk to people, it can be so motivational to hear how they did it. And that’s where I think the value is in conversations.

And as I write in the book, I was like you might think I’m crazy for saying 50 conversations, and that you can’t do that, but I’ve met people when I was a coach before who did a hundred conversations. And the insights from them were just incredible, and you can see their eyes light up, and they talk about where they were before they had those conversations versus where they were after they had those conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then let’s say you’ve had those conversations, and then you found an opportunity that sounds super cool, and you would want that job to become yours. What do you do next?

Nicolle Merrill
Okay. So, then it’s a process of figuring out, okay, where are we at in terms of qualifications. For most career changers, and again there’s variety so I’m generalizing here, but if you’re looking to make a big change, and let’s say you’re going into a new industry or a new role, it’s time to assess your skills. And this is really diving into what your skills, what you’re good at, what maybe you’re not so good at, and then knowing what the skills are for that next job on the new career path, right?

So, it’s really looking at both your skillset, the skillset required to get the next job, and then analyzing your skills gap. What skills are you missing? So, for example, I talk to a lot of career changers that are looking to get into tech. We look at, “Okay, is this going to be a tech position where you want to become a software engineer or a user experience designer? Or is this something where maybe you’re not working on the technical product, you want to be tech adjacent? Maybe you want to go into digital marketing, and you just need to learn some basics on digital marketing.” It’s really trying to figure out where your skillset is at and what skills you need in order to get the job, because that’s going to be the driver for how you choose a learning experience. And the learning experience is the program that’s going to give you the skills you need to make your career transition.

Pete Mockaitis
And program can take many different flavors.

Nicolle Merrill
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Whether it’s a particular educational credential degree or volunteering. Can you maybe show us some of the other angles and formats that can take?

Nicolle Merrill
Definitely. I think this is what gets me so excited because I dedicate a huge part of the book to it is walking through these examples because, again, people tend to think of kind of that old-school mindset, “Well, I got to go back to school for four years,” or, “I’ve got to get a master’s degree.” Those are possibilities but there’s also all these other ones. We’ve got online programs. And not only do we have online programs, we have short-term programs which are what I call the skill-building programs.

So, maybe you’re just going, let’s say it is digital marketing, and you need to know the basics. You could take a three-month course for $450 and, boom, you’ve got a learning community, you’ve got skills that you’re learning, and a portfolio that you’re coming out with. That’s a three-month program intensive. Or you could do something like Coursera. Coursera is a huge learning platform, or Udemy, or Udacity. Some of them have longer-term online programs, some you can take for free, some are a nominal investment. You learn on your time. You might get a credential out of them. Those are also paths.

And then you’ve got the wide world of bootcamps which can be on campus or online depending on, again, you want to get comfortable with understanding your learning style because, for some people, online is ideal, they’re like, “Yes, I can do it whenever I want,” and others are like, “No, I need that immersive on-campus, I need people around,” that kind of dictates what learning experience you choose. But those are also options as well. And those bootcamps really run a range from a year-long program to a three- to six-month stint. It really depends on your program. That’s an option for career changers as well. I think most bootcamps are made for career changers. They’re made for people that want to level up oftentimes in their digital skills or in their data fluency skills.

And then you have the entire world of DIY learning through YouTube and podcasts and newsletters. If you’re looking to get into an industry and you don’t know where to start, being able to watch videos from that industry, subscribe to industry newsletters, listen to podcasts, my God, the amount of podcasts, as you probably know, on subjects that you can just dive into and immerse yourself in these worlds. You don’t have to go back to school for that, right?

So, these are all your options for learning. And if that sounds overwhelming, that’s fair. It is overwhelming. We are swimming in opportunities to learn new skills, to learn new ways of work in new industries. And your goal as a career changer is to really sort through all of that and figure out what’s going to be the best learning experience that’s going to, A, get you where you want to be, your career goal, but, B, also work for your learning style.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, when we talk about learning, there are some very particular skills that you need to acquire for a given role that you’ve zeroed in on. I’d also love to get your take on what are some of the top skills that here, now, in the year 2020, every professional just really needs to be okay with or excellent at to stay nimble, agile, and adaptable – these are synonyms – able to capitalize on many opportunities?

Nicolle Merrill
Yeah, that’s a great question, and you hit it right on the head there, to stay agile because that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re heading into the age of agile worker, the people that collect skills and apply them in different contexts, right? It’s no longer kind of that siloed, “I do this one thing.” And so, there’s four skills that I’ll say consistently, I call them the power skills. It’s communication, digital fluency, data fluency, and creativity, and these are all very big buckets.

When I talk about communication, it’s this ability to meet audiences where they’re at. It’s an ability to write for diverse audiences on different channels. I use this example a lot. If you’ve ever had a manager, let’s say you have 500-word email that nobody read, that’s a really good example of someone that doesn’t know how to communicate. It’s the ability to synthesize your ideas and present them to people who are maybe outside of your department or team. The ability to speak publicly about your ideas. Persuade others to get on board. That becomes more relevant as you move up into leadership and so on. And, again, I talk about these skills. You don’t have to have them all right now. But they’re a set of skills that are going to allow you to work across both functions and careers as you move forward in your career.

Pete Mockaitis
And the digital fluency and data fluency, can you give us some of the sub-categories within those?

Nicolle Merrill
Absolutely. So, there’s been a big push obviously to learn to code and, depending on your age, you may have been involved in learning to code, you may not have. I certainly advocate for learning the basics of code and picking a language and just learning the basic syntax and how you think through it and the logic. But if that’s not as accessible to you right now, because I know some people are like, “You know what, that just doesn’t have a use case in my job.” That’s fine. At least learn what the languages are and how they’re applied in the context of projects.

So, for example, online, Harvard offers an intro to computer science, wherein across, I think, all nine weeks they go through all the programming languages. And it’s really insightful because it shows you just all the different use cases that programming languages are applied in the context of your organization. And for people, as we look at the future of work, our work is becoming interdisciplinary. It’s no longer siloed. In fact, Harvard Business Review just had a big article in September on “Cross-Silo Leadership,” and about how leaders need to ensure that their employees are working on projects that cross functions across teams so they can build up collaboration skills, problem-solving skills, and so on.

And so, if you think about you, I’m speaking not in a leadership term right now but you as the employee, your ability to work with engineers to understand how software works in your organization. I talk a lot about automation tools in my book to understand how automation tools are being implemented in your place of work, that’s critical. And I know there have been people in organizations that I have obviously come across in my work that have said things like, “Oh, technology,” and they kind of like make a face, like, “I don’t want to deal with it.” And that’s funny, but in the course of your career, you need to lean into the technology and understand it. You don’t have to know how to code it, but you need to understand how it works and understand how it affects your work and the organization as a whole. So that’s briefly on digital fluency.

Data fluency, very brief. Understanding how data is used in the context of your organization. Managers being able to make decisions based on data, like quantitative data. Being able to understand where data comes from in your organization and how it’s being used to make decisions about your job. How are you measuring things? Are you collecting data from users? What is the data and so on? That’s kind of a broader topic that always gets a lot of questions. I don’t want to dwell on it too much, but just to summarize, the role of data in the workplace cannot be overestimated right now. I think we all have heard that from our personalized lives. We hear a lot about data that’s being collected about us. The same thing is happening in the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, those are the skills, and go forth and learn them. Well, now, let’s hit the final step here. You know what you want, you’ve got the skills to get it, and then you are kind of actually job hunting, resumes, cover letters, networking, interviews. Can we hear some of your top tips here?

Nicolle Merrill
Sure. One thing I’ll note too on this job-searching piece, this is where a lot of the doubts starts to come in because you’re like, “Oh, I don’t have the experience. I don’t have the experience.” And this is where you really want to lean on the fact that you’ve already done the hard work. You’ve done the work to learn new skills, figure it out, so this is just completing the process, and I say that because the job search is pretty terrible. It can be really terrible especially to career changers because our doubts start to creep in. So, I want to acknowledge that that happens.

The second thing I want to talk about is the job searching itself is changing. There are new tools that are being used that use artificial intelligence and automation that are shifting how we search for jobs. So, now we’re seeing tools that come into the hiring process, that I was just learning about one the other day that is taking social data and scraping it and making predictions about you as a new hire.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, geez.

Nicolle Merrill
And that’s all really ethically a problem. I actually write about it in the book. But this demonstrates just kind of the experiments that are happening right now with AI in regards to hiring. We see it with HireVue, they are a company that does video interviews where you interview with a video, and an algorithm analyzes your 25,000-data points to see if you are fit for the job. Now, this isn’t going to be all jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
Based on the video interview.

Nicolle Merrill
Exactly. So, you’re essentially just interviewing with a video, like with your camera, with pre-written questions, you give your answer, and then an algorithm will evaluate you. The Wall Street Journal, wrote about this a couple of months back. And, again, I highlight these to really show these are some of the extremes but they are being used. And so, the world of work, as I talk about the future of work, it’s already here, these same tools with automation and AI are starting to affect your job search. So, yes, a resume is important. It will always, for the near future, be very important, so will cover letters. But that’s where your networking really comes in. It’s the ability to build relationships with people inside of organizations.

All that work, if you do the 50 conversations exercise, the other benefit of doing that is that you get comfortable having conversations with strangers. You build your conversational skills. You get comfortable asking strangers for advice, and you get comfortable talking about yourself. And, really, networking is that exchange of information, right, “Tell me about your organization. Tell me about your work. And then, also, let me tell you about me.” And it’s not something huge. Just a brief sentence. It’s your story. Who are you? What are you interested in? Why did you make this change? And what motivates you? Having that story.

And so, all of these pieces fit together but they’re all even more important now because of automation in the hiring process, because mostly bigger companies right now, not so much smaller businesses, but mostly bigger companies and corporations are using new technology that changes the nature of the job search so your resume might not be enough.

And so, I would encourage any career changer to get comfortable building a one-pager website that defines you how you want to be defined. If you’ve ever had a resume and thought, “This is not who I am,” a website is a chance to kind of show off a little more of you and really frame your career background and your story the way you want. And the other thing that it does is it shows employers, A, communication skills, B, it shows you can write for the web, and it’s a beautiful thing to add into your email signature when you’re conversing with people. Say, “Hey, take a look at my website.”

And I was just on Wix the free platform, the other day for my sister who was curious about how to build a website for herself. And they have some great portfolios on there specifically for job seekers, and it’s free.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you.

Nicolle Merrill
So, that would be my advice.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, tell me, Nicolle, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Nicolle Merrill
I just want to say to all the career changers out there, I always hear from people on the other side who are super thrilled that they did it, and I want to say that if you’re thinking about doing it, it’s completely worth it. Go for it. Don’t let doubt stand in the way. You have a ton of resources out there to help you, so start taking the baby steps right now.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now, Nicolle, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Nicolle Merrill
It was actually when I wrote my book, And I spent a lot of time on Twitter, and I saw this quote by Ava DuVernay, and someone had asked, “Any tips to stop thinking your writing is terrible?” going back to this kind of doubt. And she says, “Just know that everyone’s writing is terrible. Until it’s not. No one’s stuff is right immediately. You gotta work it. Refine it. Shape it. Spend time with it. It’s a relationship. Between you and what comes from you. Not easy. Gonna be terrible before it’s not. And that’s okay.”

And what I love about that is that it mirrors so much of what it’s like to learn to do something, right? this ability to really sit with kind of that discomfort and know that, “Oh, it’s not quite right. I’m learning. I’ve got to figure it out,” and stay with it and build. That’s what I took from that quote. And it’s so relevant both for writers and also for those that are changing careers and having to learn something new.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Nicolle Merrill
Oh, yeah, I want to do just a book because it’s all of her research, it’s called Reclaiming Conversation by Dr. Sherry Turkle. And it’s about ethnographic studies on how digital communications is reshaping our conversational skills. And she does it by family, by individual, and in the workplace. So, it’s all of her research together in a book, and it’s probably one of the most impactful books that I have read to this day on communication skills.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you share with us one sort of mind-blowing discovery about how, indeed, digital stuff is reshaping our brains?

Nicolle Merrill
One of the things that she had shared was just the mere presence of a phone on the table, even face down, disrupts the ability to get into deeper conversation. And, again, this wasn’t a book that shames for using phones by any means. It was like, “Let’s talk about what’s actually happening in our conversation.” And one of the things that she points out in that book is that conversation is a skill. And because we spend in our time in digital environments, Slack, email, texts, social, all of those phases, we’re losing the ability to have open-ended conversations with each other.
And it resonated because one of the top things I heard as a career coach was, “But what should I say? What should I say?” And hearing that from her kind of gave me validation to say, “Okay, this isn’t just me that experiences this. We’re all kind of experiencing this.” And it was incredibly impactful. And now I work very hard on practicing my conversation skills and having those kinds of ambiguous open-ended conversations to make sure I can build relationships and engage with people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And can you share a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Nicolle Merrill
Things that I use to be awesome at my job? Is it funny if I say LinkedIn?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, LinkedIn is fantastic. And how about a favorite habit?

Nicolle Merrill
Oh, a favorite habit? Oh, I love walking. I walk. I walk because I need to get away from the screen and it’s so hard to do that, but walking is probably my absolute favorite thing to do. The clarity you get being outside, and I live in the rainy Pacific Northwest. I do rain walks, so, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, you hear them quote it back to you frequently?

Nicolle Merrill
I will say, “Say yes to the conversation” would be the top one.

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

Nicolle Merrill
I would point them to either on Twitter. I’m @pdxnicolle, or you can reach me through my blog which is FutureSkills.blog.

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

Nicolle Merrill
Yes, engage in conversations. I would challenge you to have 50 conversations with people even if you’re not looking for a new job. Transform it into something you’re curious about.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Nicolle, this has been a ton of fun. I wish you lots of luck and enjoy designing conversations and all you’re up to.

Nicolle Merrill
Thank you so much. I appreciate it. This has been a lot of fun.

534: Moving from Top Performer to Excellent Leader with Ryan Hawk

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Ryan Hawk says: "Make sure your people feel the love."

Ryan Hawk shares how to transition from individual contributor to team leader.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why top performers often struggle as new managers
  2. What most managers fail to prepare for
  3. Powerful ways to build your team’s trust

About Ryan:

Ryan Hawk is a keynote speaker, author, advisor, and the host of The Learning Leader Show, a podcast with millions of listeners in more than 150 countries.  He is the author of Welcome To Management: How To Grow From Top Performer To Excellent Leader (McGraw-Hill, January 28, 2020).

A lifelong student of leadership, he rose to roles as a professional quarterback and VP of Sales at a multibillion-dollar company. Currently, as head of Brixey & Meyer’s leadership advisory practice, Ryan speaks regularly at Fortune 500 companies, works with teams and players in the NFL, NBA, and NCAA, and facilitates “Leadership Circles” that offers structured guidance and collaborative feedback to new and experienced leaders.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Ryan Hawk Interview Transcript

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

Ryan Hawk
Thanks so much for having me, Pete. Excited to be here with you, man.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to be chatting. And I want to hear, first of all, so you’ve got a cool sales career, doing great there. And, also, I’ve noticed on your podcast, you’ve had some impressive guests, some of whom kind of blew me off.

Ryan Hawk
Blew you off? Who blew you off?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I don’t want to name names but I might’ve gotten to it a little bit late, like, “Oh, you got a cool book coming out in two weeks.” It’s like, “Okay. Well, you should’ve talked to the publicist a month ago.” I think that might be part of it but I want to give you some credit. I think you’ve probably got some secret sauce over there. So, can you give us some pro tips, off the bat? I think you’ve got something to say about persistence and persuasion that is manifested in your sales career success as well as booking awesome guests on your podcast.

Ryan Hawk
Well, thank you. I think given that my first job after college, when I got done playing football, was on inside, so I was a telephonic sales professional where I was making 60, 70, 80 calls a day, a lot of the time people saying no, huge amounts of rejections, so you had to get creative. What I learned how to do was writing cold emails, which then I used that skill when reaching out to podcast guests.

This was especially hard at the beginning when I didn’t even have any type of platform or audience, so there was no reason for anybody to say yes. And so, just kind of this short formula that I would say I used with cold outreach, and this could work, I think, potentially, in other areas when it comes to selling is I like to name, in specifics, why I look up to that person, or why they impress me, or what I like about them, or the value that they’ve added to my life. So, there’s one quick kind of form of flattery but it has to be very specific and it needs to be honest.

Then I like to try to find some form of uncommon commonality, a way to connect us, me and that person. Then I will share some credibility, again, much harder at the beginning, much easier now, credibility of the show, perhaps some of the statistic that they may care about, about whom they’d be listening so it adds some of that from an influence perspective. They see the social proof. And then I will directly ask in bold for them to be on my show.

I also give them an out, “If now is not the right time. No worries. We can do it another time. Just let me know.” And so, I don’t end it with a hard close, do the opposite of that, in fact. And some guests, I will do that for three and a half years. And Jim Collins was one of those people, and I had multiple phone calls with his team, I sent countless emails, and, eventually, we got it to work.

Seth Godin, he’s kind of notorious for this, where if you ask him early on, he’ll say, “Come back to me after you have 50, 75 episodes where you’ve been doing it for a year.” He gave me that response when I asked him initially. And I emailed him exactly six months to the day at the exact minute of the email that he sent me because that’s what he asked, and said, “Seth, it’s been six months exactly. I now have, whatever, 58 shows, this many listeners in this many countries and Forbes wrote a story and blah, blah, blah. Are you ready?” He said, “I’m a man of my word. Of course.”

And so, there’s a variety and a lot of stories about, I think, just consistently not getting upset or frustrated when somebody blows you off or they say no, and just keep going. Just stay at it. Not being annoying but also never quitting when it comes to somebody saying no or ignoring you. I always believe, always, that no simply means not yet. And so, if you say no or you ignore me, that just means it just hasn’t happened yet. It’s going to, but it just hasn’t happened yet. I take that approach to, really, everything when it comes to sales as well as getting podcast guests.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it. You know, I had a feeling that there was something to it, so that persistence. What do you think is roughly the appropriate cadence for follow-up?

Ryan Hawk
You mean like if they ignored you and when to email again?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Ryan Hawk
Yeah, I’ll usually put a little thing in my calendar for a month, so it’s not really quick and I’m trying not to be annoying. Maybe they forgot it, maybe they never even saw it, maybe they just quickly deleted it, whatever it may be. But I’ll keep to it and try to tweak it or change it. I know how this goes because I get these notes from publicists now, as you probably do as well, and they’re promoting their clients to come on your show, and they send one, and sometimes they’ll send them every single day, and that, for me, that’s not a good process for me to want to work with you long term. That publicist may be ruining their shot, not only for that client but all of their clients. So, you’d have to be careful and understand that delicate balance between being persistent and being annoying.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you maybe give us an example or two when it comes to an uncommon commonality and a sincere bit of flattery?

Ryan Hawk
Sure. So, one of my favorite writers is Adam Grant. He wrote Give and Take, he wrote Originals, he’s really smart. Adam Grant went to graduate school at the University of Michigan. I played a football game against the University of Michigan at their stadium while Adam was in school.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Ryan Hawk
So, I told him specifically why Give and Take how it had changed my life, it changed my view on the world that givers are going to be successful. So, I gave various specifics on what I learned about being a giver from his first book Give and Take. Then I told him, “You may have been in the stands and watched me score a touchdown in the south end zone at The Big House of the University of Michigan.” Then I said, “And here’s my podcast. I’d like for you to come on my show,” and then gave some of the social proof there, and he said yes. And so, that is one of the examples I do use. Now, that’s one of the better ones. I’m not going to lie, I don’t have that good of one for all of them.

Pete Mockaitis
You can’t play football everywhere.

Ryan Hawk
Yeah, but that is one. But I still had to dig, and do some work, and understand the timing, and look into it, right? So, my point is it does take some research, it takes some work, it takes some thought to, one, say specifically why that person’s work has impacted you, and then try to find something you have in common. It’s not always that tight or that good, but you could probably find something if you look hard enough.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Well, thank you, Ryan. I’ve been curious about this for a while, and I think that’s helpful because many of us, we’ve got to do some cold outreach from time to time, we’ve got to persuade even though it’s not our…that’s like an appetizer, if you will, to the main dish.

Ryan Hawk
I wrote an article about this. I’m happy to send you the links so that you could look at it if you want.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, thank you. I’d appreciate that.

Ryan Hawk
Yup, okay. Go ahead.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s like an appetizer to the main entree of this conversation, which is about getting started in management. So, I’ve got so much to dig into here. So, maybe why don’t you open us up by sharing a compelling story that really conveys how this concept is important and overlooked when you’re making that leap from top performer to excellent leader?

Ryan Hawk
Well, the interesting aspect about this, so I come from my first job, again, was a telephonic sales professional making 60, 70 calls a day. And as I learned how to do that well and performed at high levels, like a lot of sales organizations, there are stack rankings. And what they do when they get an opening, typically, is they look at the stack rankings, and the top three or four people get the opportunity to interview for the management job.

Now, I understand why this happens, I get it. I’ve done this as a leader. However, really, the thought that just taking the top performer and saying, “Well, you’re going to be the manager,” it doesn’t really make any sense. In fact, in sports, if you take the very best of the best players, almost none of them make good coaches. The best coaches are like the backup quarterback, the backup point guard, the catcher in baseball. These are the people who have to use more of their intelligence than just pure sheer athleticism or sheer talent in the business world.

So, that’s one of the first issues, is that we don’t always choose the right people. But, in my case, I got lucky. I was one of the top performers and so they did give me an opportunity, and I was able to lean on some of my experience as a leader in the sports world. I played quarterback in college and a little bit after college, and so I leaned and used some of that to share why I would be a good leader. But then I get into the job, and I was not prepared really for any aspect of being a manager within corporate America. I haven’t been trained on anything. I wasn’t ready for any of it.

And the very first week in the job, Pete, I’m 27, I’m in this nice, big, cozy office, an expensive chair, Herman Miller, right? I’m looking out this beautiful window which I never had before because I was in a cubicle, and I turned around after gazing out my window, and there’s a 43-year old woman, who is now one of my direct reports, looking at me, she’s crying, she slowly walks in my office, she shuts the door, she’s kind of quivering in a way, and says, “Ryan, my husband cheated on me. He wants a divorce.” And record scratch, right, and I said in my head, “Why in the world are you telling me this? What are you doing?”

And in that moment, I realized I had no idea what it actually meant to be a manager in a business. As an individual contributor, I didn’t have to deal with any of that type of stuff, like real life, the psychology of people, emotional intelligence, all those parts of the job, I was ill-prepared to have those types of conversations. I thought I could go in and coach about, like, “Okay, here’s how I was able to perform at a high level.” But, at best, that’s what I could do, is maybe lead like a training session on one particular topic. But the whole scope of the job, I just wasn’t ready.  And so, that’s why I focus on this specific time in someone’s life because I realized that this is something I needed when I was making that leap and I didn’t have it.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, now we got to know how the story resolves. You can’t do that to us, Ryan. So, what did you say and what happened with the woman?

Ryan Hawk
Well, I would love to say that I handled it great. What I ended up doing was just trying to be a compassionate listener, which that is, I think, a basic human skill that you develop. As a quarterback in college, it is part of the job having one-on-one conversations with each of your teammates to develop trust, to show how much you care, right? As a quarterback, you have ten other people that are playing alongside you. You need those guys to be ready to go. You need them to believe in you. You need them to want to play hard alongside you.

And so, I did use some of that and was able to, I think, be a decent listener, not really offer much advice because, who am I, this young guy who doesn’t know anything, and she’s lived…I’m in grade school when she’s starting her career essentially. I don’t know anything, and so I tried to listen. I remember I called my dad immediately after that conversation where I kind of fumbled around, listened, but didn’t do a whole lot, and I said, “Why would this happen? Who would do this?” And he said, “Dude, welcome to management. Like, that is part of the gig. That is, in fact, a big part of the job. And, unfortunately, if you decide to keep doing this long enough, you’ll have this exact conversation multiple times throughout your career and it’s very sad.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, the divorce one? Yeah, that is sad.

Ryan Hawk
Yes. “It’s sad, it’s not fun, but it’s life, and that’s part of the deal. So, learn from this and let’s talk about it.” And so, the first one I probably did not handle very well, and he was right, it did happen more than once again in that role, and it was crushing. And I mean, just soul-crushing each time like real life happened to people. But, as a leader, that’s part of the deal, that you raise your hand to be responsible to serve and help other people, and that’s part of the job is to help people in those moments that are toughest for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, okay. So, I’m totally convinced that, yes, that’s part of the job and, often, your individual contributor skills aren’t going to get you there in terms of being there for people and providing what they need to really flourish in their roles. So, tell us, you’ve done a lot of research here in the realm of performers becoming excellent leaders, have you made any particularly surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive discoveries about how professionals can do that well?

Ryan Hawk
I think, first, there’s kind of a few steps, and all of these I did not do well initially, but did better after getting help from other people, and that’s actually part of the first step. When you’re making this transition, it is vital to create your own personal board of advisors, your own small group of people that have been there before, that you really trust, that are going to give you honest real feedback that you can go to and ask questions. They’re not going to judge you, they’re not going to think less of you, they’re going to be there to help you. So, creating your own little personal board of advisors is critical, I think, to be awesome at your job, especially awesome at this job where you don’t really fully know what you’re getting yourself into. So, think about that part of the job first is creating that for yourself.

Second, my dad also told me early on, and he’s still living a life of excellence and, certainly, led in corporate America for 30 plus years, and said, “Think about who is going to be on your team, who will you hire, who will you fire, and get very clear on that. Because if you get that part right, you’ll become rich and famous within this industry. If you get that part wrong, you will be poor and unemployed. Do not mess around with this. Understand and get it right.”

And so, I think, first, was I did a little project where I tried to deconstruct and understand what excellence actually was on my team and across the business, doing my own research on, “Okay, I see these people are the highest performers. Now, let’s understand why. What are their behaviors? What’s their makeup? What are the qualities that those people have? What are they like? What are their personalities like?”

I did my best to compile a bunch of my own personal research so that I can understand, “Okay, I’m looking for these specific qualities. We need somebody who knows how to handle adversity. We need some aggression. We want someone who’s thoughtful. We want a good interviewer.” Really listed out the important qualities and then developed questions to ask in the interview process to help uncover if our candidates possessed the qualities that we wanted.

And that I did not get immediately but after making some hiring mistakes and after not really having a strategy or a plan, really what happened when I got promoted is another manager just forwarded me this list of 25 questions. Now, they were just interview questions. They didn’t really make any sense. They were just decent interview questions to ask but I didn’t really know why I was asking them, or what I was looking for, or what I was trying to do. So, over time, when I got some good feedback and advice, I started having more of a strategy on the who of my team, and understanding how to find it. And I would say that was a critical turning point for me to start building an excellent-caliber team was when I got more clarity on that.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m so intrigued there now. I’m certain there will be different behaviors, traits, makeups, for individuals who can excel in different kinds of roles so there’s going to be some natural diversity there. But I’m thinking there’s also going to be some universals in terms of, “This is good stuff for a professional no matter what the industry, what the functions.” What the function? So, I would love to get your take on what are some of those universals you identified and how do you go about hiring people who’ve got that going on?

Ryan Hawk
Yeah, so a great question. I love it. I think there certainly are some universals of people. It’s funny, I was speaking with a friend of ours. My wife and I went on a double date with close friends, and we’re asking about how they met, and we told our story how we met. And Ashley, the wife of one of my good friends, she said, “Well, I made a list of non-negotiables. Meaning he had to have these few things.” I was like, “Oh, that’s interesting that you made that list.”

And so, I think that’s like kind of what we need to do as leaders is make our little list of, I don’t know if that has to be non-negotiables, but I would want them to have some qualities that we care about, we really like. And so, for me, a few of the areas that I really try that I want to be surrounded by are people that are intellectually curious. So, people who realize that they certainly don’t have it even close to figure it out, they’re trying to grow, learn, right? These people typically are well-read. They’re interesting people. Because they’re so curious, they’re willing to chase something down and go after it. I like those types of people.

My dad taught me the power of optimism. He’s the most optimistic guy I ever met. In fact, my wife and him are probably tied for first place there. I was so attracted to that growing up that I ended up marrying somebody who had that same outlook on life. I think that’s very useful and helpful to be around. That also creates great energy in the building or in the space. A good sense of optimism, believing that things will go well, I think is helpful.

I like, also, people who are the combination of confident yet humble at the same time, and understanding how to balance between those two, where they believe in themselves, they’re going to be able to aggressively pursue what they’re going after, but they’re also not always using the word “I.” They don’t think they have it all figured out. They know they need the help of other people. And humble people typically are more coachable. And I think being coachable is helpful.

And that’s why it’s funny. I ended up hiring a number of people who had military backgrounds as well as people who have played on teams, sports teams, because they’ve been coached and they know how to work in an environment when they need to collaborate with others. So, those are a few.

One bonus that I would say that I look for and I test that I love but it’s not always a mandatory is being a great writer. I think someone who can clearly put their thoughts on paper eloquently, straightforward, I think, is a huge plus, and it’s a skill we all should work on developing. So, I usually would ask people to send me sample proposals, or emails that they’ve written, or even blogposts if they publish. I ask to see that because that can be a huge plus if people had developed those skills.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that is a nice lineup there and some good ways to check for that. So, let’s say beyond the realm of hiring, let’s say you have entered management and welcomed to it, what would you say is the number one or two or three things that people just fail to prepare for? It’s like, “Oops, surprise.” So, you got one when you heard some personal issues, we got a divorce on the horizon. What are some other things that folks fail to prepare for and what should we do instead?

Ryan Hawk
So, the word “meeting” gets a bad rap because we’ve all sat through horrible meetings, right? And what happens when you’re a manager is you probably just follow the meeting structure of the person you work for. And so, if that person runs bad meetings, now you then go on to run bad meetings. That’s unfortunate. And as the leader of a team, you now are solely responsible for the success or failure of your meetings.

Meetings are imperative. Meetings are important. It’s where communication takes place. And that’s exactly what I did though when I became a manager. I literally took the agenda, the same agenda was used for every meeting, which is another conversation, another issue, but the same agenda was used for every meeting, and I just copied it, and just did that, and just kind of went through the motions of what the Monday morning meeting look like, and I started to become the manager who had bad meetings. And it’s critical. I just had a conversation with the great Patrick Lencioni about this who wrote The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and a bunch of other good books, The Advantage. And this is a big part of our conversation because that’s where the bulk of in-person dialogue happens, and it’s critical that you get it right.

And so, I think you just need to be very thoughtful about your intentions, the purpose of the meeting, what you’re working to get out of it, making sure you send each person the necessary documents leading up to the meeting to make sure they’re prepared to be productive in the meeting, not after the meeting, but in the meeting that happens. And then, afterwards, you, as the leader, writing your discussion summary of what was learned, and then who is responsible for specific actions, and what will be taken, and when they’ll get finished by. All of that is a big part that, as a leader, I didn’t do any of it when I was getting started. I had to learn the hard way by being yet another manager who ran bad meetings till he eventually learned a better way. And that took some time and, certainly, mistakes. And, again, that’s why the book is written, is to help people not make the same mistakes that I did.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Excellent. And so, we’ll avoid doing those things and get real clear on the meetings and the agendas and what we need to cover to be excellent. Well, so, let’s say, in particular, like I think that scenario you mentioned in terms of when you are managing someone who is older and more experienced than you, how do you navigate that?

Ryan Hawk
I think it’s really hard. Part of earning respect though, I think the ways that I try to earn respect is to show people, regardless of my age or their age, that I’m going to be deliberate about working on my skill development on a daily basis so they know that I’m the type of person who’s going to try to improve. I, also, will want to lean on them and ask them about, perhaps, if they have more life reps than me, they have more experience than me, then let’s tap into some of that. Let’s see where we can, we all as a team can benefit from that.

So, I’ve had people who are as old as my grandparents working for me. They obviously have some experience that we would be fools not to listen to. And I think, as a leader, to be secure in yourself enough to say, “Hey, we’d like you to take the lead on this specific meeting or this specific training session. I want to tap into some of your knowledge and wisdom that you’ve gleaned over the years.” Don’t make them feel any type of being left out just because you’re so much younger. So, I really like to lean on people who have more experience than me, figuring out where their kind of zone of genius is, and then let’s empower them to share that with the team so they have a sense of ownership within our group as opposed to maybe a weird or odd sense that they’re reporting to somebody who’s half their age.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I dig that. And then when it comes to just sort of the regular communication and delegation, sort of day in, day out, taking care of responsibilities, activities, tasks, any pro tips on what to do versus not do in your new management role?

Ryan Hawk
Well, it is natural, especially if you’re a top performer, in my world working in sales, it is very natural to say, “Do it exactly like me.” In fact, I got bad advice from someone who had not gotten promoted yet, he said, “You just need to try to hire 15 people that are exactly like you.” Literally, I was told this. And I was like, “Yeah, good point. Because if I had 15 me, they would just all crush the number and we’re good to go.” And it was such a mistake obviously. I didn’t really take the advice, but I did listen and think peculiarly for a second, “Hmm, is that the right move?” Obviously, it’s not. Diversity of thought is extremely valuable. There’s an immense amount of science to back all that up.

But thinking though that everybody should act just like you since you were successful is a big mistake. Everybody has their own style, their own personality, their own way. Your job is to coach and help unleash their power within them. Some of them don’t even fully realize what that is and so it’s on you to ask really great questions to learn about each of your people as individuals, to understand what they care about, to understand why they’re there. I had this exercise called a getting-to-know-you document. I give them this get-to-know-you document. I had about 25 questions. Again, I have a post on this, I can give it to you.

Twenty-five questions for me to get to know them as a person, what they’re about, what they like, what they don’t, working styles, kind of a user manual type. There’s a section of that for it so I understand how to best work with them. We both fill that out. We then have a long-form conversation about that so I really get to know them best. And then, at their specific areas where they really excel or it’s a strength, maybe they’re a person that we can delegate some sort of work to based on what we’ve learned.

But you’ve got to do the hard work upfront to deeply learn and care about each person as an individual because, as you know, nobody will care how much you know or what you know until they care that you really care about them as a person. And so, that’s the job of the leader to take the lead on making that happen from the very beginning with, again, a number of different exercises. But getting to know them is certainly one that I’ve implemented, and this seems to have worked pretty well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly linked to those questions, could you give us a teaser, a question or two, that often seems to result in some handy insight?

Ryan Hawk
So, I’ll share some basic ones and maybe some sneaky ones here. So, I will ask them the name of their spouse and kids if they’re married and have kids, and their address. And here’s why. If you happen to have somebody who is a top performer and you really want to make them feel the love, an advice my dad gave me, “Make sure your people feel the love,” and they’re doing really well, and, let’s say, they’re also helping other people. Like, their actions are, they’re really good. They’re people that you want to make sure that they feel the love. I would send a handwritten note to their spouse and kids, along with it I would usually send some cookies, and on the get-to-know-you document, I’m finding out not only the interests of that person but the interests of their family.

And so, in one case, I remember, it was a specific video game that the kids had wanted, and so I bought the video game, cookies, wrote a handwritten note to this gentleman’s wife and their kids, saying, “Your dad, John, is absolutely crushing it. He’s also helping others while at work, helping them be successful in addition to him being successful. I’m so grateful that he’s on our team. Because of him, we are much better off. You should be so proud of your dad. In fact, why don’t you eat some cookies and play this video game, and say thank you to your dad for working so hard.”

And one of the things I found is when you love on the people who your people love, right, so kids and spouses of them, there may be no better gift. I’m a dad, I want my kids to think I’m cool or that I work hard so there may be no better gift, and it shows that you’re thoughtful. So, those questions were put on that initial get-to-know-you document so I understood and knew his kid’s name, I didn’t have to ask for, I didn’t have to ask him for his address, so it was a complete shock and surprise when these things show up, they’re personalized, sent to the right address, and they actually make sense. They’re not just a fruit basket. They’re specific for that person. It can go a long way.

And I developed real relationships with these people that worked on my teams, and some of them I haven’t worked with in more than five years and we’re still friends to this day because we both took an interest in developing a real relationship and caring about one another. And that then created the environment where people wanted to come to work, and excel, and perform at excellent levels consistently because they knew that their leader cared about them.

Pete Mockaitis
That is an excellent story and I’m all about it. Thank you. You make reference to, also, having an operating framework. What do you mean by that and why should we have one and how do we make one?

Ryan Hawk
So, over the course of these 350 interviews on my podcast The Learning Leader show, I noticed that people kept using the word framework or standard operating procedures for themselves for how they behave, for their actions, for how they made choices, and I started thinking. I remember I was talking to Ryan Caldbeck, a CEO on Silicon Valley, and he was talking a lot about these frameworks, and I was a little bit embarrassed because I don’t even understand what he’s talking about, I don’t have a framework for how I behave or how I make decisions. So, right after that conversation, I wrote down, “What are the optimal ways for me to create a great day? What are the ways for me to think about how I make decisions, how I act, how I behave?” And so, that’s why I created my framework, and I encourage others too. And mine are simply four parts. This would equate to a really good day for me. Four parts.

The first part of that is that I have an intake engine. I’m going to be a consumer of knowledge, of information, so I’m going to read, I’m going to have long-form conversations on my podcast, watch TED Talks, listen to podcasts myself, right? Intake engine, I’m going to take in information to learn. Second, I’m going to experiment with what I’ve learned. You can’t just be a learner. You have to be a doer. You’ve got to put it into practice. So, second, I’m going to experiment with what I’ve learned.

Third, I’m going to take a step back, reflect, and analyze what I’ve learned and what I’ve experimented with, what works, what doesn’t, what I’m going to go keep doing, and what I’m going to stop doing. So, I’m regularly adding to what I do on a daily basis. And then, fourth, and really important, I found the best mechanism for learning is teaching.

And so, when I go out and teach what I believe to others, or what I’ve learned to others, whether it be in the form of  a keynote speech, writing a book, running leadership circles, whatever it is that I do, as I’m preparing for that time on stage, or that time with somebody else to help them, I’m going to get very clear on what I know, on what I think, on what I believe, and that process of preparing for the big moment is when so much learning happens.

And so, when you regularly put yourself in the position to be a teacher, you’ll learn as a byproduct of teaching. And that’s why you find so many really intelligent professors because they constantly have to get ready to stand up in front of a group of students and teach, and so you’re going to learn so much. So, for me, that is my framework, the four parts of it, that had been meaningful. And when I really distilled it and thought about it, it’s been extremely helpful as I’ve progressed in this world of leadership to try to help other people, is to have my own sort of framework.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. Tell me, Ryan, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Ryan Hawk
Man, hey, I’ll take it wherever you want. I feel like I’m just trying to answer. You ask great questions so keep firing away.

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Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. Well, let’s hear about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Ryan Hawk
My dad told me when I was young, he goes, “If you choose to do anything of significance in your life,” and this was relating to sports, for my brother and I at the time, “If you choose to do anything of significance, people are going to start talking and writing about you. Never get too high or too low based on what they say. If you don’t want people to talk about you or write about you, then don’t do anything.”

And I thought that was a really meaningful quote to us, especially in our formative years when my brother AJ and I were having some success in the football field, that it was a good reminder that, “Don’t think you’re too great just because you’ve had a good game and they put you on the front page of the paper.” And, subsequently, it’s not as bad as you think when you’ve played poorly or you’ve done something not as well. Stay composed. Have some moxie. And that has helped me in the business world as well because things are not always going to go well, and it’s how you choose to respond in those moments that can be very impactful, and so I remember that from my dad, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Ryan Hawk
I think one of the people I’m fascinated by is David Goggins.

Ryan Hawk
He wrote a book called Can’t Hurt Me. And I’m going to have David on in the future so I’ve been doing a lot of research on him. But he talks about the power of physical activity and how that is so helpful mentally. And I’m a big believer in this, I’m a big workout guy too, so maybe I’m choosing this out of selfish reasons. But he believes in developing and building mental calluses and those mental calluses can be built up through hard physical exertion, like pushing your body further than you think it could go, and he cites a lot of science to back all this up. But, really, it’s not necessarily about just being a workout theme. It’s about regularly putting yourself in challenging positions to understand the level that you can get to mentally to be able to push through difficult moments.

And I think the use of doing that through exercise, for me, is very attractive, and I’ve implemented that. And I think, for leaders, you may be saying, “Well, do I really need to go workout?” You certainly don’t have to do it that way, but I believe it is a great mechanism to understand how far to push yourself through challenging moments.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Ryan Hawk
It’s like asking your favorite kid. I’m going to go with The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. I live in Dayton, Ohio, the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop right down the street here in Dayton, Ohio. I think that book is beautifully written and the story is incredibly inspiring. And if you haven’t read it, you just heard about the Wright Brothers in school, there are so much to learn about those guys, including just how so many others were supported more than them, both in moral support and financially, both in the States and abroad, and yet these guys were willing to put in the work day after day consistently to build the first ever flying machine. It’s a really inspiring story, and I read it and re-read it regularly.

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

Ryan Hawk
Actually, this may be weird but I’m almost always in preparation mode for a podcast guest, and a lot of the podcast guests have written books. And so, I would say one of the biggest tools for me that I’m always in is the Kindle app on my iPad. I’m regularly using it to highlight, and then I take notes. I also then transfer my notes usually into some form of a Google Doc so I have that everywhere I go. And then I always print it out and handwrite my notes leading up to a podcast episode because there’s something to me about the handwritten form that it really ingrains the information in my mind. So, those are a few tools that help me, I think, do my job well.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Ryan Hawk
Every morning when I wake up, I have a wife and we’re raising five daughters, and so it is a chaotic household a lot, so I have to create space where I could be by myself and, usually, that is very early in the morning. So, my favorite habit is waking up before everyone in my home does, and I love to stretch. I stretch my body, and then try to stretch my mind through reading and then writing early in the morning. And then I push myself pretty hard in the gym every morning before I come home and have breakfast with my family. So, that, I would say, is a habit and a routine that I’ve gotten into over the past few years that’s been very helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget you share that in your talks, etc., that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you and retweet it often?

Ryan Hawk
We’ve talked about some of them already, but I would say just remember the importance of your “who” and ask yourself who is your who. And there’s really three groupings of the people in your life that you should think about surrounding yourself with. Who are those people who are ahead of you, people who have done what you want to do? These are the mentors you look up to, maybe some bosses. Some of them are virtual mentors because you’ve just seen them online, you love what they do, and you follow them. So, who’s in front of you?

Who’s beside you? Who are those people you can walk along this challenging path? You can help one another out, you’re rooting for each other’s success. You’re not judging each other. You can share difficult moments and help one another. And then who are those people that you are helping? Who’s behind you? Who are you mentoring? Who looks up to you? Who’s asking for your advice? And how are you pouring into them to help them get better? I think it’s very critical to remember who is your who. And if it’s not clearly defined, take out a piece of paper and a pen, write that down, and then rate those relationships.

Level five relationships, at least on this grading scale, are those people who you have regularly-scheduled meetings on the calendar, and you schedule the next meeting while the current meeting is taking place so you know what’s going to happen. That’s a level five. Level one is someone that you’d like to talk to but maybe haven’t yet, and everything else is in between. But rate those relationships and be very intentional about making sure your who is clear and it makes sense for you and what you want to do.

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

Ryan Hawk
LearningLeader.com. Everything is there, website, you could get my book, you can listen to podcasts. And if you happen to be listening on your phone, and it’s easier, just text the word “learners” to 44222.

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

Ryan Hawk
Read books, man. Read books. I remember, when I read Good to Great by Jim Collins and the impact it had in my life, because not only did it change my viewpoint on what it meant to lead in business, it made me a more curious person, and it also made me want to read other books. So, reading begets reading. I just think I’ve never met somebody who’s well-read who’s not very interesting. And it’s that type of person we want to be. I like surrounding myself with really interesting thoughtful people. And, again, I’ve never met somebody who’s constantly reading book who isn’t the type of person who I want to spend time around, who isn’t very interesting. So, that would be my piece, is to read books.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Ryan, this has been a lot fun. I wish you lots of luck in all of your adventures, and keep it up.

Ryan Hawk
Thank you so much, Pete. Man, love being on your show with you.