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492: Making Meetings Work with J. Elise Keith

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J. Elise Keith says: "Every meeting is an opportunity. Seize it."

J. Elise Keith shares what makes meetings succeed vs. fail.

 

 

You’ll Learn:

  1. Signs of an ineffective meeting
  2. How the best organizations approach meetings
  3. When and how to opt out of a meeting

About J. Elise

Elise Keith is the co-founder of online meeting management platform Lucid Meetings. Known as the ‘Meeting Maven,’ Elise offers unprecedented expertise that inspires audiences, proving that meetings shouldn’t be fewer or shorter—but better and more effective. She is the author of Where the Action Is: The Meetings That Make or Break Your Organization, which contains eye-opening strategies companies can use to structure beneficial meetings, create a healthy workplace culture, and propel overall team momentum.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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J. Elise Keith Interview Transcript

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

J. Elise Keith
I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, I’m excited to dig into this. And I want to get your take, you know, often the first question I ask is an icebreaker of sorts, and you’ve seen a lot of icebreakers, I imagine, in your day. Could you share maybe an all-time favorite or least favorite icebreaker and story that goes with it?

J. Elise Keith
Okay. So, I have two for this one. The kind of icebreaker you should use really depends on the kind of meeting you’re having and what’s going on in your culture. So, there’s all kinds of really good icebreakers that are also really different. But one I like to use when I do, like, say, workshop where I’ve got a group and maybe they know each other or maybe they don’t, but you’ve got to get them loosened up a bit, is, “What was your favorite band or artist in high school?”

Pete Mockaitis
That is fun.

J. Elise Keith
It is fun because you get a chance to get a sense of people’s culture and sort of their inner id when you find…I did this with a group of librarians recently, and to hear the number of them that were, you know, deep hardcore punk funs than old-school hillbilly rock was kind of enlightening.

Pete Mockaitis
That is fun. Well, and what was yours?

J. Elise Keith
You know, I was a big Midnight Oil fan in high school which I grew out of, but at the time it seemed appropriately edgy and world-saving and different enough to be special, yeah. How about you?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, it’s funny, I didn’t own a lot of CDs, because that’s what we had at the time, but I do remember I think that Blink 182 Dude Ranch was the album I played again and again. And I also went to a number of punk rock shows myself. I remember the band 15 with Jeff Ott was something in vogue with my people and myself. And then, yeah.

J. Elise Keith
See? I mean, like all of a sudden, you know, I like Midnight Oil. My first album was Pour Some Sugar On Me, Def Leppard.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you. Well, I think we’re going to have some extra fun here talking about meetings and so meetings are often such a huge pain point for professionals. So, I’d love it if we could maybe you could start us off by orienting us to kind of the state of meetings today. Like, any hard numbers you have in terms of how much time professional spend in meetings, what proportion of those meetings are effective, how do you even define effective. Kind of where do we stand today?

J. Elise Keith
Yadda, yadda, stats, stats, right? So, in terms of the overall situation with meetings, our most recent and best research shows that there are somewhere north of 65 million meetings per day in the US alone. And a lot of us are not working just in the US, it’s an international economy now so that’s millions and millions and millions of meetings every single day.

Now, it’s a huge number so that’s not necessarily relevant to each of us personally, which brings you to the second question, right, like, “How much time are individuals spending in meetings?” And that’s kind of all over the map depending on where you are in the organization and what0 kind of organization you’re in. It can be somewhere as low as like, say, half an hour or less for some people.

But when you get farther up the chain, when you get into middle management, or C-suite, or VP suites in collaborative organizations, that’s going to be typically somewhere between 60% and 80% of their day they’re going to spend in meetings. It’s a ton of time. It’s a ton of money that we invest in these.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, because every one of those hours has dollars associated with it. All right. So, that’s kind of the time load. And how often are the meetings working? How do we even define working from a numerical perspective?

J. Elise Keith
That’s a really good question, right, because a lot of times the way that, there’s a fair amount of research into whether meetings are effective. And often the way that research is done is people would throw out a survey, lets a Survey Monkey surveys, which are like, “Think of your last five meetings and estimate which percentage of them were effective.” And there you get a number where people who say, “Half of them were effective.”

But when you dig into that research a little bit deeper, you do some actual investigation with the companies and people, talking about the specific meetings they’ve attended, “So, how was your last meeting? Would you rather have that been a giant series of email?” that kind of thing, what you find is that the equation flips. And it turns that folks, by and large, think meetings work a lot better than the alternatives.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s good to know. That’s good news.

J. Elise Keith
The thing about effectiveness is that what is that word even mean, right? And that’s where you get into sort of the more interesting tactics and tools because for a meeting to be effective, you have to be asking yourself, “Well, what is it effective at? Can you use that effectively to do?” And in that case, you’ve got to look at both, “Are the people in the room enjoying it? Do they feel it’s a good use of time? And then, is it producing results for your business?” So, those are the two angles on effectiveness that you can pull together, and then you can start to see, “Okay, now, regardless of what the big stats say, what’s happening in my world here?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. And so then, I’d love to get your take then, so what do some of the best in class versus worst in class organizations look like with regard to meeting performance on these dimensions?

J. Elise Keith
So, it’s often easier to start with the worst because that’s probably where a lot of people are. Meeting performance isn’t something that most organizations have taken seriously. And so, what they do is they wing it. Essentially, you leave it to each and every manager and project manager and leader and whatnot to figure out how to meet as they think best for what they’re trying to do.

And that kind of approach sort of assumes that, “You know, everybody’s been in a lot of meetings. They ought to know what they’re doing. Let’s get them in a room. Off they go.” So, that’s what most people are doing and it’s deeply, sadly ineffective most of the time.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And in what ways?

J. Elise Keith
Well, it turns out that meetings are different than conversations, right? And meetings are a skilled activity that you can learn how to run and then design to achieve specific goals. So, there really isn’t any such thing as a generic good meeting. There are really good sales calls, there are really good interviews, there are really good ways to keep a project moving, and each one of those is a different kind of meeting that should be designed to achieve that goal.

So, in the best organizations they do that. They get training for everybody and they design systems. So, they take their meetings and they stop them being habits and they turn them into systems that are designed to achieve the goals that they support.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, now you lay out 16 types of meetings that work and you’ve mentioned a couple there. I guess I’m curious to hear what types of meetings don’t work?

J. Elise Keith
So, the types of meetings that don’t work are the ones that are basically, you know, kitchen soup. Do you ever do that? Do you ever do like a kitchen-sink soup or a casserole where you’ve got a pot and you just kind of throw everything that you own in there before it goes bad, and that’s the soup you’ve got? Which sometimes works great but most of the time it doesn’t.

So, that’s what a lot of folks are doing with their meetings, “I’ve got a time block on Tuesday. We always meet on Tuesday. My whole team shows up and we decide, ‘Hey, what is it we have to talk about today?’”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, there it goes. So, it’s kind of like I’m hearing some telltale signs there. One, it’s recurring and, two, there’s not a plan in advance and, three, there’s multiple people as opposed to like the one-on-one. So, there are some ingredients, I guess, that may have a higher risk perhaps of not working out optimally in the course of having that meeting. So, everything is just sort of like, “All right. Here we all are now. So…” as opposed to a proactive, thoughtful, upfront design of, “What are we hoping to achieve?” and kind of planning from there.

J. Elise Keith
Yeah. So, it’s really about clarity of purpose, right, and what you’re trying to accomplish in the room. And if you walk into the room and you’re not entirely sure what you’re trying to accomplish or why everybody needs to be there, so you’ve invited all of the people because you’re not entirely sure who should be in and who should be out, then you’re likely to waste your time.

And, certainly, even if you do know what you need to accomplish, there are some things that just psychologically we’re not designed to do at the same time. So, let’s take, can we do a couple of examples?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes.

J. Elise Keith
So, the project status update. It’s a meeting most people loathe, right, but it’s designed to make sure that everybody working on the project knows what’s happening, gets an update about anything that’s changed that they need to know about, and has a chance to raise any concerns, like, “Hey, here’s a red flag. We need to work on this.”

But the underlying psychological thing going on there is you’ve all agreed to do something together and you’re going to make sure that you continue to trust each other and execute on that so that you can keep the work going. You’re doing momentum and energy and trust, right?

In a meeting like that, when we have already made promises in the past and we’re showing up to recommit to those promises and show that we’re good for them, it’s not a great moment to say, do something like, “You know what, let’s just go crazy and think of some wild ideas about what we might do now,” right? Or, “Hey, here’s a great problem. Why don’t we explore all of the different kinds of creative out-of-the-box thinking on how we might tackle this problem?”

The whole point of the project status meeting is to say, “Yes, we’ve defined a box and we’re in that box and we’re moving this box down the road.” When you ask people to step out of the box, right in the middle of that, you’re having them break from one mode of interaction to a completely different mode and you get the worst possible ideas ever because everything people raise is safe, right? And you don’t want safe when you’re doing brainstorming. You don’t want safe when you’re doing problem-solving. You want innovative, you want effective, so you got to break those conversations into distinct conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Certainly. So, you’ve got a clear purpose and a design, and that’s what you’re running with, and you’re not kind of mixing and matching in there. Understood. And so, I’m curious, with the project status update meeting, let’s talk with that example, so people often don’t like it. And so, what are some of the other things that they’re going wrong? Sometimes folks are sort of wildly go off script and enter a different phase. And what are some of the things that are going that also can go awry or indicative of, “Hey, this project status meeting is great”?

J. Elise Keith
So, what you’re looking for in terms of signifiers of great are energy, right? You’re looking for energy, you’re looking for some amount of dynamic, and in the case of a status meeting, which is probably one of the worst meetings to be using as our example, but in the case of that meeting, that energy and that dynamic might come from just keeping it really crisp and short and being very, very respectful of everybody’s time.

But in every case, one of the things that keeps these meetings from being particularly successful is that whoever is in charge of that meeting is probably frantic, they’re probably running from one thing to another with very little time to prepare, and they walk into the room believing that it’s their job to make that a fabulous experience, or an effective experience, or an efficient experience, or whatever it is that they believe for everyone else, and they do all the talking, and they set the agenda. And then they basically demand reports from everyone else. Well, that’s deadly.

It’s like you’ve shown up to the soccer match and you’ve got a sense of what it means to win the game so you get your team together and then you run the ball up and down and tell them what you’re doing. You don’t have anybody else participating, you don’t have everybody else bringing something to the field and helping you get that goal together. So, the best meetings are ones where everybody has got a job to do in that room, and they’re team sports. It’s not the leader’s show.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s a good thing to talk about right there. So, if there are folks in the meeting who say nothing, does that suggest that perhaps they ought not to be in the meeting?

J. Elise Keith
It either suggests that they shouldn’t be in the room because meetings are not a spectator sport, right? Or, they need some training, they need some education. So, they need education and the person in charge needs education because if you have people who are in that room who should be contributing and they are not, that’s broken. We don’t hire and have people work on our team so that they can absorb oxygen in the space. They’re there to contribute their perspectives and their ideas and the information they have that we don’t that helps us collectively get to a better result.

Pete Mockaitis
And would your view then be if they are just sort of receiving information that we should use a different format to convey the information?

J. Elise Keith
Absolutely. Absolutely. Now, sometimes that’s not practical, right? Like, sometimes you just can’t count on everybody to have done their homework in advance, so there are practices that companies put in place to help with that. Like, there are ways to get around that that are respectful of the fact that people don’t necessarily have time to proactively prepare. And yet you still don’t want to lead to them like they were in kindergarten because that’s disengaging and a little insulting, frankly.

So, one of the really famous ones is Amazon, in their corporate headquarters. They begin all of their meetings with 10 minutes of silent reading where whatever it is that they’re going to discuss, “Is it a proposal or the financial reports, or whatever it is?” it’s distributed in paper and everybody at the table has 10 minutes to read it through right there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. You know, I really like that maybe because, you’re right, as opposed to people just trying to fake it and not look dumb and sort of say expansive things, it’s like, “No, just do this right now.”

J. Elise Keith
Let’s just do it, yeah. And it’s also kind of a wonderful way to acknowledge that, like, you need people to come prepared but you don’t control their calendar outside of that meeting, right? So, that prep work is part of the work of the meeting, why not just build that time into the meeting itself?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And especially if it’s 10 minutes, because that’s something that can be handy in the sense of you’ve maybe looked a lot of those bits and pieces over time, and, “Oh, here it is collected,” and you’re kind of up-to-speed or on the same page and we’re moving. I’ve actually had a couple of guests before, they’ll ask me, “So, tell me about your audience.” And I’m thinking, “Okay, this means you didn’t read all the things I sent you.”

J. Elise Keith
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And I was like, “Well, hey, how about this? Let me send you this link and we can just sort of read that quietly for a moment and I’m going to go sort of get a glass of water, and we’ll reconnect?” So, I try to do that as respectfully as possible.

J. Elise Keith
But it’s maddening, right, because you only have so much time.

J. Elise Keith
So, you asked me earlier about both an icebreaker and then about meeting research, right? Like, the stats behind meetings. But when you dig into meetings and you see that what’s going on there is you’re bringing together a complex group of people to talk about work, which, in and of itself, is probably pretty complex too. So, it’s this really dynamic system of things going on, all kinds of things that can go wrong.

So, one of the reasons the icebreaker is such a great tool and why Amazon’s 10 minutes of silent reading is also a great tool is that the first tip to every successful meeting is to help people transition into the room because we’re all – and this is coming out of like the neuroscience and the social psychology research. We’re all dealing with up to like six different levels of distraction in our brain when we walk into that room.

So, our first job is to clear all of that and there’s a technique called clearing that explicitly does that, but you can do it a whole bunch of different ways, and get everybody focused on whatever is going on in that room and not the email they need to still write, or the fact that their kids might call, or their hungry stomachs, or any of those other things. How do you get people into the room? That is the absolute first tip to any successful meeting. And silent reading is one way to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love it. So, what are some of the other alternatives and clearing approaches?

J. Elise Keith
Yeah, so clearing approach, and actually several companies use this, is it’s explicit, it is you walk in and everybody takes a moment to say, “Hey, today I’m dealing with this, I’m feeling this way, but I’m ready to put that aside and I’m in.” And everybody else says, “Welcome.”

Pete Mockaitis
In other words, “I’m in.”

J. Elise Keith
Yeah, I’m in. And so, you go around the room and everybody says, “This is what’s going on for me but I’m ready and I’m in.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I imagine that could go quickly or not so quickly. Are there some guidelines there?

J. Elise Keith
You know, that’s really up to the team and the culture. So, in some teams they go real fast and they keep it fast and many people pass, right, because their values are about efficiency. In other teams, their values are about community. And this is another tip with meetings. Your meetings are absolutely the best place to design in the values you want to see your culture support and engage, right?

So, at lululemon, they do the clearing, and then they follow the clearing by the vibrations. And that practice is where they go around and they say, “Hey, is there anything you’re hearing that you think we should know about?” And a vibration might be like a rumor that’s going around the office, or something somebody saw in the news, or the weather, or it could be any of these things, whether just like, “Hey, we think the group ought to know about this.” And what they do in their teams is sometimes what comes up in clearing or in the vibrations is a big deal, and that’s what they talk about. And they take the rest of their agenda and they move it to another day.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And that is really handy because I think a lot of times there’s great information that just never has an opportunity to surface, and it’s like, “Oh, someone else launched a competitive yoga pant on Kickstarter that everyone is raving about.” It’s like, “Oh, I had no idea.”

J. Elise Keith
Right. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s so cool and we have a moment for you to share that with us because that could change all kinds of things and maybe we wouldn’t have noticed this for another five months until maybe it’s a lot later for us to respond effectively.”

J. Elise Keith
Yeah. Well, it’s a huge deal. Like, I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the research that Amy Edmondson has done into psychological safety. It’s this bit where we feel like we’re in a group that cares enough about us that it’s safe to take risks. We can tell them things that may or may not fit the dominant narrative, right?

And one of the things that she points out when she explains this to people is that, you know, half of the time, people are afraid to speak out not because they have evidence that something bad would happen, right? There are people who are afraid to speak out in environments where “nobody ever gets fired,” right? So, nothing bad would happen to them, but just nobody does it, they’re not really sure.

So, one of the really important things we can do in our meetings is ask, just make time and space to ask the questions about what people are seeing and what ideas they have so that they know that those are welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, so I’m digging this. So, we said, hey, once you’re actually in the meeting, first step, transition into the room, could be some silent reading, could be some clearing, asking about the vibrations, what’s going on.
J. Elise Keith
Could be an icebreaker, all the things, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a second step?

J. Elise Keith
So, then you need to connect with the goals and the purpose of the meeting, So, purpose is a verb, “We’re here to do this, to make a decision, to have a podcast interview,” whatever our purpose is. And then, at the end, “We’re about to achieve this.” So, those are your desired outcomes, “We’re going to have a decision, a list of next steps, and extra pizza,” whatever those outcomes are.

So, you kind of affirm that upfront and then confirm what your plan is for getting from, “Okay, we’ve gathered for this reason, for this purpose. We’re trying to get out with those outcomes. Here’s the plan for getting between point A to point B.” And most times people express that as an agenda. You don’t necessarily need an agenda but you do need a plan.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And you’re saying earlier that it’s best to perhaps not be the sole person who has that all figured out.

J. Elise Keith
Right. So, as the person in charge, there are multiple roles that you can bring to bear in a meeting. There’s the titular head of whatever that piece of work is, the leader, but you can have other people facilitate. And a facilitator’s job is to design that process part and then be the guardians of that process. You can have people assigned to take notes, you can have people assigned to be the vibes watchers, or the norms enforcers where they’re keeping track of everybody else, all kinds of different ways in which you can get other people involved in making that successful.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s handy. And then what’s the third step?

J. Elise Keith
So, then the final thing you have to do for any meeting to be effective is you have to wrap it up, and that’s five minutes, maybe more, maybe less. At the end of every meeting where you stop and explicitly say, “Okay, let’s make sure we actually know what we did here, what decisions did we make, and what are our actions that we’re going to take away,” Like, who, what, when. “Specifically, this is going to be done by this date by this person.”

And, ideally, you want to do those in writing where everybody can be looking at them and committing that that is, in fact, what they thought the decision was because, way too often, people walk out the room all thinking they made the same decision but five minutes later you’re in another meeting, you’ve completely forgotten, it gets fuzzy. So, you want that in writing and you want to confirm it before you leave.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we’re talking about some form of like projection is present, or we’re visually looking at this wrap-up piece.

J. Elise Keith
Absolutely, yeah. And there are a bunch of ways to do that, there’s a lot of different software platforms you can use that are about taking collaborative notes on meetings in real time. You can do it on a whiteboard. There are a lot of different ways you can do it but you want people to be able to explicitly see that. And by having it be written, not only are you making it easier to get the notes out afterwards, which is a bonus, you’re engaging multiple parts of the brain, right?

We process information differently when we read it versus when we hear it versus when we speak it. So, you put all these things together and, from a geeky perspective, you’re encoding these promises deeper into your team, and that’s critical. And then, the last, last thing I think you should always do before you leave any meeting is to say thank you. Take a moment and express some appreciation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so, just say it like with their time for investing themselves, for thinking, for contributing, for not blowing it off. I guess there’s a lot of things in there.

J. Elise Keith
For something fabulous someone did. You can have people thank each other, “I really appreciate Sandy because she brought up that point and I wouldn’t have known about that Kickstarter yoga pants. She has saved our bacon,” right? The appreciation not only show people that you care and respect their time. It’s also a fabulous way to help everybody learn what the group values by being very explicit about what you’re acknowledging.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so in between the second step of connecting with purpose and the third step of the wrap-up, are there some particular practices that ensure that the actual conversations we’re having are effective, that they’re bringing us to where we want to go during the course of the meeting?

J. Elise Keith
Absolutely. There absolutely are. And the challenge is that they’re different depending on the type of meeting you’re in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Gotcha.

J. Elise Keith
Yeah, which is why when you get into an organization that’s got really, really high meeting performance maturity. Basically, in our research, when we look out across the board, we found a number of practices that organizations establish as they’re putting their system in place from very basic, “We don’t have a system,” to, “We have this system that’s really locked and solid and really helping us drive our business forward.”

And one of those, as you get in there, is that as we’re talking about this, right, there’s the purpose and the outcomes and the different types of meetings and special ways you have to run each one. Well, that’s an awful lot of stuff to learn and have to try and apply in around the rest of what you’re doing. So, what these organizations do is they have standardized ways they do each of the different types of meetings that matter to their business that people are expected to learn, and then iterate and adopt and work with, but they’re not starting from scratch.

So, when you go to Amazon, you don’t just get to just guess how you’re going to start your meeting, right? They have their 10-minute thing. And when you go to an organization that’s practicing open-book management, you don’t guess how you’re going to run your weekly leadership meeting, “It works like this,” and you review the books. So, they have codified practices that shortcut the learning for all of those different things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you maybe give us an example of a meeting type and some practices that are overlooked but make all the difference in the world when you’re having that meeting type?

J. Elise Keith
I think there are a whole series of meetings, we call that the cadence meetings. They’re the meetings about keeping momentum going on a project or keeping the team together where they can build trust, right? And a lot of the practices that are key in those meetings has to do with who speaks, who’s setting the tone, and how rapidly, how frequently you’re doing it.

So, let’s take a look at one-on-ones for example. So, the traditional approach in many companies is that managers know they better have one-on-ones so they schedule them once a month, maybe once every 90 days, something, because they know they have to, and they have the employees come in, and they say, “Okay, let’s look at your  30-, 60-, 90-day goals,” and the employee sort of reports on what they’re doing and they all check the boxes and off they go.

Well, Cisco just did a big study with 15,000 teams on how to run effective one-on-ones. And what they found was very, very specific and it was this. First of all, you’ve got to flip it. So, the manager doesn’t go in and ask the employee to report to them. Instead, the employee says, “Hey, here are my priorities and here’s where I need your help.” So, the employee is driving the agenda, and they used those two questions, that’s the way they start it.

And the second key thing they found is that it has to be at least every week because, otherwise, they’re talking about work that isn’t related to what they’re actually doing on a detailed basis. And the idea that the manager could possibly care about what you’re working on when they only check in on how they can help every 90 days, nobody buys it. So, once a week, employee-driven, and engagement on those teams goes up pretty dramatically.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. So, that’s striking. So, that’s what Cisco does, and then one-on-ones every week with every direct report, that could really add up.

J. Elise Keith
Well, so that’s where they’re looking at team sizes. So, one of the questions people get asked all the time is, “How big can your team be?” And the boundary of the size of a team that you can lead is your capacity for those touchpoints, like, “How many people can you dedicate time to showing them that you care and helping them out every week?” That’s the number of people that you can lead.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. Well, so I guess I’d love to hear then, you talked about norms at one point. What are some of the norms that tend to be helpful across all meeting types?

J. Elise Keith
I think it’s really awesome when a company or an organization finds norms that are meaningful to them and their values, right? So, in some organizations that’s going to be things like every voice is heard, everyone speaks before you speak twice because diversity inclusion and voice is really important to them.

In other organizations, it’s going to be things like, “We start and end on time and the agenda sent out two days in advance,” because efficiency is really their thing. In some groups, something like Chatham House Rules, or Vegas Rules matters a lot, right? Like, what happens in the room stays in the room. My favorite that applies to all meeting types and that I think applies in every organization is a norm around having every meeting be optional.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so nice.

J. Elise Keith
Well, if you think about it, they already are, right? You’re a grownup, you don’t have to go to any meeting. But when you make it explicit, you’re saying that opting out of meetings won’t have “Hey, you’re fired” consequences.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I actually want to talk about opting out of meetings. I think that it’s a common occurrence that folks, when they are inviting people to a meeting, they don’t want to be rude, and so they want to include folks, and so there’s a miscommunication that happens often. So, someone invites someone to a meeting, and the recipient thinks, “Oh, they expect me there so I’m going to show up,” and then they think, “Why did I even come here?” So, do you have any preferred scripts or verbiage or master ways to diplomatically decline the meeting?

J. Elise Keith
Well, first of all, you need to know that you deserve to have your time respected. So, it is both respectful for you and for the people doing the inviting to speak up when you think that you can’t contribute well to that room because every person sitting in a meeting that isn’t contributing is dragging down the energy and the potential for everyone else there. So, you are doing a service if you opt out of a meeting that you shouldn’t be in.

And the way that we approach that is we just say, “Hey, I actually am working on some other things that day. I don’t have much to contribute here. I’d be happy to send in any information you need in advance and will look forward to seeing the notes afterwards.” And you just opt out.

Pete Mockaitis
There you have it. I’d also want to get your take on what are some of the best means of accomplishing some meeting goals that are not meetings?

J. Elise Keith
Oh. Well, let’s take brainstorming. Brainstorming is something that we often pull a lot of people into a room for, and we say, “Hey, we’re going to come up with a whole bunch of new ideas for next week’s marketing campaign,” or whatever it’s going to be, tends not to be the most effective way to do it. That’s something that is really well-handled asynchronously, which means you post up the question and you ask everybody to contribute their ideas in advance.

And there are a lot of technologies you can use to do that. And, frankly, you can also have a box in the office where people throw in sticky notes. So, brainstorming, getting that first blush of original ideas out, much better handled outside of the meeting most of the time than it is in. Same thing for anything where they’re digesting large pieces of information, so reading reports, coming up with strategies.

One of the tactics we recommend and that we use ourselves quite a lot is we’ll have a meeting to make sure we all understand a problem. We’ll get together and we’ll say, “Okay. Well, what’s going on here? And what are our options?” and start to get our heads around it. And then we’ll schedule a follow-up meeting within a week to talk about what to do about it so that that time in between where we’re processing it has some bake time.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Well, Elise, I’m curious, are there any sort of final thoughts you have with regard to meetings or overlooked master strategies or tactics that could make a world of difference?

J. Elise Keith
You know, I think the real key is to understand that every meeting that you walk into is an opportunity. That’s the place where your culture becomes real, where the team understands what everyone cares about, and the value that you can bring. It’s the place where you get an opportunity to provide and show care for the people around you, and where you get to be a part of making the decisions that make your business or your organization really successful.

So, once you shift to that mindset and you look at meetings as the opportunity that they are, then you can start to be in a place where you can learn about the different types and the skills that make it so that you can take advantage of that opportunity.

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

J. Elise Keith
So, I have two. I’m not a huge fan of favorites and to key to just one thing because there are so many wonderful things out there. But there are a couple that I put together that work for me, and one is, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” which is from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day.” I love that.

Like, what is your plan for your one wild and precious life? And then when I look at it from a business perspective and from a personal performance perspective, I pair it with another quote, which is, “Discipline is simply remembering what you really want.”

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

J. Elise Keith
My favorite book, holy moly. How about “Time and the Art of Living” by Robert Grudin?

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a favorite tool?

J. Elise Keith
You know, time blocking and scratch paper.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

J. Elise Keith
A favorite habit, hmm. You know, listening to audiobooks while cooking large batches of food.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known, people quote it back to you and re-tweet it often?

J. Elise Keith
The one that gets re-tweeted the most, beyond the basic stats and things, is that, “You can’t have a meeting of the minds if the minds aren’t in the meeting.”

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

J. Elise Keith
They can visit us on my company’s website which is LucidMeetings.com and on my personal website which is JEliseKeith.com depending on what you’re looking for.

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

J. Elise Keith
You know, we’ve kind of covered it but my challenge to you is this. Every meeting is an opportunity. Seize it. Your challenge is to shed any negative beliefs you’ve got about your meetings and step into those opportunities.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Elise, thank you for this meeting, and I wish you all the best with all you’re doing in meetings.

J. Elise Keith
Hey, thank you so much.

491: How to Have Powerful Conversations that Improve Performance with Jonathan Raymond

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Jonathan Raymond says: "We're too nice to each other. We're not having honest conversations."

Refound CEO Jonathan Raymond teaches how to communicate feedback that gets results.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What makes traditional feedback ineffective
  2. How to have more effective conversations using the 5 stages of the Accountability Dial
  3. How to articulate feedback to your team, your peers, and your seniors

About Jonathan

After twenty years of not being able to decide whether he was a business executive or a personal growth teacher, Jonathan stopped trying to figure it out. He’s the author of Good Authority — How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For, and the Founder & CEO at Refound, a people training company that teaches people how to have human conversations at work. Refound specializes in working with people leaders at high-growth organizations and is proud to be a trusted learning partner to Fortune 100 organizations like Panasonic and McKesson, cutting edge tech firms like Niantic and Box and small businesses that are going places. He’s madly in love with his wife, tries not to spoil his daughters, and will never give up on the New York Knicks. Jonathan is an experienced CEO and people manager and has thrown his heart, mind, and soul into more than a few culture change projects. He lives in Encinitas, California and is an avid, albeit mediocre, surfer.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Jonathan Raymond Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Jonathan, welcome back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Jonathan Raymond
Thanks, Pete. It’s great to be back.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear, have you learned anything extraordinarily useful and maybe new that changed the way you were thinking from two years ago?

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, I hope the answer to that is yes. We’ve learned a ton, really, as an organization.
I think that one of the ways that we work with organizations and try to advise them is, you know, a lot of people will say, like, “Well, we want more communication.” But if you actually talk to people inside an organization, which we do through our engagements, they say, “Well, you know, it’s not so much that I want more communication. There’s plenty of communication.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Plentiful.

Jonathan Raymond
“What I want is for them to think a little harder.” They meaning the organization or the leaders or whoever. “I want them to think a little more about which ones matter to me and why, and invest a little bit more time in context and why, why this particular piece of communication.” There’s a bunch of stuff that you’re telling me about that, it’s not that I don’t care but I have so many things that I’m trying to digest at the same time, I’d rather you didn’t. If you could just invest a little bit more time in thinking into which pieces of communication need a little bit more context and a little bit more of the why, those organizations are succeeding in terms of having more effective communication.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, when it comes to communication effectiveness, I wanted to chat with you in some real depth about feedback. We touched upon it last time, which was, boy, way back, more than about a couple of years there. And so, I wanted to talk about feedback in particular for this chat and maybe to start us off with in what ways does feedback often sort of just not work in teams and organizations? Sort of what’s the problem that you bump into most often?

Jonathan Raymond
Yes. Well, let’s start by thinking about for anyone who’s married or in a serious relationship. When you try to give feedback to your partner or spouse, how does it go? Usually not well, right? If you have kids and you try to give your kids feedback, including but not limited to teenagers, how does it go? Generally, not well, right? Why? Like, why does feedback not generally go well?

One is because we’ve got a lot of pent-up emotions, typically. We sometimes have more power than the other person, not always. We are often missing context around why they did what they did when they did it. There are so many possible ways that things could go wrong. We have our own bias, we have our own judgments, we have a lot of our own projection and how we feel about ourselves, so it’s a mess. So, when we enter into a thing called a feedback conversation, the likelihood of success is very low given all of those factors.

And so, we have to start thinking beyond feedback. Because that setup, whether it’s in the workplace or in our families—it doesn’t work. We know that it doesn’t work. People get defensive, it’s awkward, we feel uncomfortable, we talk past one another, so we need another way to think about solving the problem of what is the problem that feedback is intending to solve. There’s a real problem there that we’re sort of taking this tool called feedback and saying, “Oh, that’s going to solve it.” And then we found our position is like, “Hmm, not so much. It’s not going to work for that for a lot of different reasons. There’s another way.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I suppose most often, the problem I’m trying to solve with feedback is, “I would like for you to do this thing differently and better as I perceive better.” And so, if feedback is not the mechanism, what is?

Jonathan Raymond
So, for us, the everyday conversations take a different tone. So, exactly as you said, right, “What is the purpose of feedback?” Well, I want someone to behave differently. Now, we could also say we also want to give them feedback around things that they do well. And we’ll get into kind of the different feedback spaces or the different feedback relationships that we all have.

But if we think about approaching that conversation, not by making a statement about something but by asking a question, or making an observation, but doing it from a place of acknowledging our subjectivity, and saying, “Hey, I noticed this,” or, “It seems to me that X,” or, “When I was sitting in the meeting, one of the things that struck me was…”

But we’re approaching those conversations with a spirit of curiosity, with a spirit of dialogue, like, “I don’t have all the information. I don’t know everything about why you did what you did when you did it. I just noticed something and I’m going to bring it up because, as your colleague or as your manager or as your subordinate—whatever the case may be—I see that as part of my role to when I see things that are either problematic or potentially problematic, part of my role as a leader in this organization and in standing for my own values is to say something.”

But the way we go about it changes the whole game. And if we approach it from a place of assumption and conclusion and prescriptive, like, “This is what happened, and this is what you need to do differently.” Well, now we’re doing feedback and we’ll get the results that you would imagine. But if we approach it from a place of, “Hey, I have a question about this. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It seemed like this but I could be…” And so, it’s having that open hand relative to those everyday conversations.

So, in one way you could say, “Oh, that’s another way to do feedback,” and that’s fine, you could call it that. But for us it’s really different. When we train and teach these tools, people feel like, “Oh, so I don’t really have to give feedback in the way that I understood it. All I have to do is talk with people. All I have to do is show up as a human being, find a way to surface what I’m feeling, thinking, sensing, and then we can have a conversation, and that’s right.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m intrigued. So, we start with the curiosity and a statement of, “Hey, I noticed this…” And then maybe how’s the rest of the conversation go or maybe could you do a roleplay or an example?

Jonathan Raymond
Yes, so what we did is we created a tool called the Accountability Dial. And what we found—and this came from my own painful experiences as a people leader—is that I found myself having the same conversations over and over again, whether I was in a management role or when I was more junior, and I would flag something or name something, and I would find myself repeating those conversations.

And so, what we did is we created an architecture, we said, “Hey, what if there’s actually five parts to that conversation?” We called them the mention, the invitation, the conversation, the boundary, and the limit. And if we think about locating ourselves, “Well, where am I in this conversation? Is it the first time that I’m bringing this up? Well, I’m at the mention stage.” “Hey, Jennifer, I was in this standup this morning and you seemed frustrated by where the conversation was going. I’d love to hear more about that if I’m reading that right.” So, that’s the mention, right?

So, I don’t know why Jennifer, maybe there’s a really good reason, maybe there might be 27 things that could be happening, maybe I’m misinterpreting the situation. But my mention is just my first attempt to get in dialogue with Jennifer about that. So, that’s the mention.

Now, let’s say a couple of days goes by, maybe a week goes by, and I’m still sensing she’s frustrated in that meeting, I notice that in some email back and forth, something is not clicking. So, if I was Jennifer’s manager or if I was her peer and I cared about her as another human being, I wouldn’t let it go. I would come back to her and I would say, “Hey, I mentioned something in the hall last week. I’ve noticed a couple of other things. It seems to be something bigger and I care. I want to know. Maybe there’s something, maybe there’s some way that I can help.”

So, that’s the invitation stage, the second step of going into a little bit more deeper dialogue. And every single one of these steps, all five of them, are ways to express care in human ways to say, “Look, there’s something going on, or at least I think there is, and if there’s something that I’m doing, I want to be able to change it. And if there’s something that we need to work out together, well, let’s do that.”

And so, we go through those stages. That’s how we move through the Accountability Dial where we don’t try to tackle the whole thing in one bite. It doesn’t work that way. We’re not geared to be able to solve important things as human beings that touch on all these interpersonal and intrapersonal issues. We can’t solve those in a 30-second conversation so we’re going to come back to it a couple of times over a period of days or weeks or whatever it is.

Pete Mockaitis
And for that second bit there, the invitation, what exactly are we inviting them to?

Jonathan Raymond
So, we’re inviting them to reflect, to say, “Hey, look, it looked like it was maybe a one-off thing but now I’m seeing maybe it isn’t a one-off thing. Maybe there’s a pattern that’s emerging. And it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it doesn’t mean you failed, it doesn’t mean I’m judging you. It just means, hey, I’m here. I’m human, you’re human. There are probably things that you see about me that maybe are patterns. But, in this instance, here’s something that I’m seeing. And if I’m your manager,” and, again, this is a philosophical point of view.

In our work, we say, “Hey, if you’re the manager or the people leader, it’s your responsibility to approach that person, if not in real time, in near time to say, ‘Hey, look, there’s something that seems to be happening here. I’m inviting you to take a reflection on this, to think about, hey, is there something that you’re not saying, or is there a conversation you need to have with someone else, or is there a step that you need to do that you haven’t done?’” Whatever it is, but not from a place of judgment or shaming, but just offering somebody from that coaching mindset, a reflection from the outside.

Because what’s really hard for us as humans is we don’t see when we’re doing that often. Most of us, our powers of self-reflection, especially with the pace of work, are limited. So we want, you know, if you’re hungry for growth you need people around you who are going to say, “Hey, look. Hey, Jonathan, here’s something that I’m noticing. Maybe it’s worth thinking about.” That’s the invitation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s an example we’re running with. So, Jennifer, the first time with the mention, she seemed frustrated by something. And then so how does the conversation unfold during the invitation phase? You say, “It appears that this has happened a couple more times. This might be a pattern. So, I invite you to think about it or…”

Jonathan Raymond
Well, so it depends in the context, right? So, if I’m Jennifer’s manager, that’s going to feel a certain way, if I’m a peer I might approach that conversation a little differently. It depends on how you know the person and what the nature of that relationship is. But the invitation stage, it’s not so much, it’s not a directive. The invitation is more sort of describing the stage. Like, imagine you had like a black light that you could put on the floor of an office, and you could see all of the, what we call, feedback conversations.
Mostly what you would see is a lot of like started but never re-engaged conversations. So, people bring up something, they flag something, they name something, they highlight something, but they never come back around to that person and say, “Hey, remember that conversation we had the other day? There’s something else that I’m noticing that I think might be connected to it.”

And then the whole point of using the Accountability Dial in everyday conversations is you’re engaging your curiosity, right? “Hey, I don’t know. It’s not my job to know the answer, but here’s what I’m seeing,” and building those relationships of trust with a colleague. So, that’s the invitation. And then we move to the next stage, into the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then some time goes by again, and you notice some other things. And then what happens?

Jonathan Raymond
So, the conversation stage of the Accountability Dial is when we try to help somebody, again, whether it’s a colleague, or a direct report, or somebody more senior, shift their awareness from intentions to impacts. So, most of the time, 99% of the time, when something happens in an office that isn’t great, or a factory floor, you know, we do a lot of work in manufacturing and other contexts like that, it’s not intentional. The person is not intentionally trying to create work for other people, or make life more difficult, or they’re not intentionally doing something to harm others or the team or the customer. And yet, behavior has impact.

And the conversation stage of the Accountability Dial is to help somebody shift their awareness, “Hey, so I get that that’s not what you intended. I get that. I understand that. But I’d love to actually have a conversation about what the impact to de-personalize it. It’s not, well, you’re bad a person.” People are likely to get very defensive especially if you’re their manager or any other context like that too. I know many of your listeners are not in a people management role.

But the context of that conversation is, “Let’s step back and let’s talk about, well, if you’re finding yourself frustrated,” if we take Jennifer’s example, “Jennifer, if you’re finding yourself frustrated with the team and maybe the pace of projects, or there’s too many changes, or whatever it is, how might that be impacting your working relationships? How might that be impacting our customers or vendors or stakeholders? How might that be impacting the overall experience that we’re having as a team? How might it be impacting your own development? Like, is there some career goal or something that you’re working on that’s staying in the state of frustration is keeping you from reaching as fast as you may want?”

So, questions like that to help people go like, “Oh, wow, I hadn’t thought about it in that way.” That’s how you know you’re in the conversation stage to help people, again, de-escalate. Like, the whole goal here is we’re trying to have human conversations, things happen, it’s not about jumping on somebody when they make a mistake, or creating a culture of fear is the opposite of what we want to create, but to be in conversation with that person, but to help them see.

Just like if you had a financial advisor, or a relationship coach, or in any domain of life, the reason why you hired that person is you’re trying to have a different outcome, right? So, you wouldn’t go to your relationship coach and say, “Well, I didn’t intend that,” and expect that to be the end of the conversation. “Of course, you didn’t intend that but that’s what happened, so let’s talk about why. Let’s talk about what the impact was and then let’s work our way backwards.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, you’re asking all those questions, “How might that impact…?” So, I’m imagining you have your view of how it’s impacting things. But is your recommendation to keep it more of you are more of a question-asker as opposed to a describer of what’s up or you do both?

Jonathan Raymond
Yes. So, your orientation, in our overall philosophy, we say, “More Yoda, less Superman,” or, “More Yoda, less superhero.” So, your job is you’re trying to help somebody grow. You can’t actually force them to grow, right? You can’t make them change their behavior. So, the orientation, the best orientation to take as a coach is to ask questions.

And it doesn’t mean, just as you said, you may have a theory. Your theory may be bang on. You might have a really good theory as to what’s happening for them. But if you give it to them, they’re far less likely to feel ownership of that thing that they’re changing and they’re far less likely to succeed in their goal. But if you ask questions and you encourage them to think about things differently, that’s what a good coach does, right? That’s the difference between a coach and a consultant, right?

A consultant gets in there and does it for you, doesn’t force you to ask those difficult questions, those self-reflective questions. A coach, or the hallmark of a coach, is someone who’s willing, who takes a different tact, and says, “Look, this isn’t my thing to change, it’s your thing to change. And the best way that I know to support you is to let you do it and let you struggle a little bit, and have some, maybe, ‘Oh, wow, I never really thought about how it impacted our customers.’ Okay, that’s fine. Maybe think about that for a little bit and let’s get back together at the end of the day.”

You don’t have to solve everything in the moment. We become so inured to this, like, solutions, solutions, solutions, solutions. We don’t even know that we’re doing it. When we do inventory discovery, the depth to which we have adopted it, actually a really problematic level of firefighting and going through our inbox and knocking off inconsequential activity in place of strategic, in-depth full and creative thinking, a lot of that comes from how we role-model that. Do we role-model taking a moment to reflect? Or do we role-model like, “Okay, conversation solved. Let’s go. Action. Go, go, go”? That’s what leads to burnout and overwhelm and all of those things that take culture sideways.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess I’m wondering here, if you’re asking, “How might that impact these things?” and they’re drawing a blank, and you know very well, “Yeah, I see the impact that that had on some things,” and they’re not picking it up, how do you play that game?

Jonathan Raymond
So, you can be and should be transparent. You can say, “Look, I have some theories about how it might be but I think it’s more helpful if you arrive at that on your own.” So, I would be transparent, that’s how I do it. And if they’re struggling, then you can give a hint, you say, like, “Well, one thing I noticed was in this interaction between David and Suzanne, I noticed this.” So, that would be an example. So, give them an example, a specific example of where you see that behavior having an impact.

And then you will almost always get, like, “Oh, I see what you’re saying. I never thought about it in that way before. Yeah, I could see three other things.” So, you’ve got to prime the pump a little bit oftentimes, especially if it’s really on the nose. If it’s something that somebody, it’s so second nature to them to do, you might have to give them an example, and then they’re much more likely to open up.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. And so then, we engage in that conversation. And what happens next?

Jonathan Raymond
So, here we’re going to go, we’re going to diverge a little bit into different types of conversations. So, if I’m a more junior person relative to somebody that I work for, let’s say, and I’m having an accountability conversation. I’ve used the mention, I brought up something that I think is problematic that I’d like to see change. Nothing happened.

I went to the invitation stage, I said, “Hey, I think this is a pattern and it seems to be problematic to me.” Nothing happened. We had the conversation, maybe in a one-on-one, and hopefully I work in a culture where I can talk with my manager in a more open way. I know that that’s not always the case. It’s changing these days, not fast enough, but let’s assume that there’s some amount of that. But I have the conversation, we talk about the impact, and I get an acknowledgment from my boss, and they say, “Yeah, you’re right. I can see that is having an impact. I’ll get better at that.” Let’s say that’s the generic response.

Now, what do you do? So, it’s really different if you’re the manager and this person is more junior than you. You have more authority. You have more structure. You have the ability to put a boundary around the situation to say, “Hey, look, this is what needs to change by when, and here’s what it looks like.” And so, that’s what the boundary looks like if you’re in the manager position, or in the more senior position, you have more power.

If you’re in the more junior position, you have less power, the boundary might look different. It might be, “Well, okay, here’s where I’m at. I’ve had the conversation with this person. I’m not really sure where to go next. But maybe I’m not going to step up for volunteering on the next project that this person has, or maybe there’s some other step that I need to take.” Perhaps even going to an extreme position, and this is a very real position for many people, which is, “Look, if this keeps going, I don’t think I can keep working for this person, or I don’t think I can keep working on this team.”

And the reality is that’s the nature of how most people are already feeling. So the boundary is about getting in reality of where things actually are. And when we interview people all the time, thousands and thousands of people managers and frontline employees, and we ask them, like, “Well, how would you feel about setting a boundary for yourself of what do you need to take care of yourself here? And when does this need to change by? And what does change look like?”

Most people will say, like, “It’s got to change like this week,” or, “It’s got to change in the next month.” Like, I understand why they’re struggling with this but people are incredibly frustrated. And I think one of the things that we have to do is we have to take the mystery out of this idea of like employee engagement or employee disengagement. That’s what it looks like. If you’re spending your energy and life units worrying about what the organization is doing and, “Why my manager is behaving this way?” you’re already disengaged on some level, reasonably so, from the mission and the values of that organization because it’s not real to you.

And so, that boundary stage, or that fourth stage, mention, invitation, conversation, boundary, looks really different depending upon how much power you have in the conversation. And then the third version of that is if you’re working with a peer, you have the same amount of authority as they do, well, what does that looks like? So, the first three steps are the same, mention, invitation, conversation, and then at the boundary, we’ve had whether it’s a senior exec or a junior manager, actually make new agreements, “Hey, we have to make a change because this is what’s happening in your group over here, and these are our needs. This is what we need from you.”

And so, that boundary stage is critical. And when I talk with CEOs, every single CEO I’ve ever worked with, at some point in our first conversation, they’ll say something to the effect of, “Well, accountability is one of our core values.” They don’t always use the word exactly accountability but they’ll say, “Accountability is one of our core values.” And I say, “Great. That’s wonderful. Talk to me about that. How does that work in your organization?” And they’ll say, “Well, what does that mean? What do you mean how does it work?” “Well, talk to me about a situation where someone wasn’t accountable and what the consequences were.” And they say, “Well, what do you mean consequences?” To which I reply, “Well, what do you mean accountability?”

And then we can have an interesting conversation. And this is what we see over and over again in organizations from Fortune 100 companies that we work with to tiny little startups that you’ve never heard of. This is what organizations are struggling with right now. We’re too nice to each other. We’re not having honest conversations. We’re way too over-indexed on wanting to be liked and wanting to be nice and we’ve forgotten the value of having people who are courageous in positions of leadership, in positions of management, who say, “Look, that’s not the way we do it here. We need to do better.”

And we’ve lost that in large measure. We’ve lost that foundational accountability. We could talk about the historical narrative of why, but that’s a lot of the phase that we’re in right now, is we went from too much command and control, we said, “We don’t like that.” And then we went to not enough command, not enough direction, and now we’re finding our way as a business culture, we need a hierarchy, we need managers, we need leaders, we need people who have more experience to direct activity. How do we do that in the lightest way possible so we don’t undermine autonomy and creativity and we’re as transparent as we can be? And that’s the moment that I think we’re in right now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. So, if you are the junior person, with regard to the boundary, do you recommend that you sort of share that boundary with the manager, or that’s just sort of internal, it’s like, “Okay, this is what I’ve decided that this behavior will need to change within a month or I’m going to be pursuing new opportunities”? Or, what’s your thought? Is it more something you articulate or more something that’s internal?

Jonathan Raymond
So, the first thing you have to know, you may already know, like, “Is there a fear of retribution?” because that could be very real. It is very real in some cases. But, if possible, I would recommend articulating it. And so, here’s what it sounds like. If I’m setting a boundary with someone more senior, I’m saying, “Look, I really appreciate that we have this conversation. It’s impacting my results and I don’t know what else I can do.” Right? So, that’s my boundary. It’s like, “I’m working within the constraints that I see in front of me and I believe that that’s where I’m at, and I can’t move what I can’t move. I don’t have the authority to change that. I need you to change that. But, in the interim, here’s where I’m at.”

And so, to be able to articulate the impact, again, so we’re pointing the conversation stage forward, so that impact is still there. “And here’s how it’s impacting our results. And I’m doing the best I can. If there’s something that you think that I’m missing, please tell me. I’m happy to hear that. I’m happy to consider that but that’s where I’m at.” That’s the boundary as articulated to somebody more senior.

And, again, you have to know who you’re dealing with. I would say most of the time, and with most of our engagements with most managers, people are willing to hear that conversation as long as it’s not coming in the form of an attack. It’s like, “You’re screwing up and you’re making life bad for me.” And you frame that conversation as, “Look, here’s how it looks to me, is I can’t move this project any faster because these things happen so I’m going to continue to do it based on the constraints that I have.” So, that’s a form of how you would articulate that to somebody more senior.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think sometimes your boundary and the implication is that you’re just not enjoying the experience of work under the circumstances and you would rather be elsewhere.

Jonathan Raymond
Right. And I think that’s, at least in North America, we’re at effectively 0% unemployment, right? So, if you’re talented and you’re resourceful, you can go get another job and employers understand that. So, we do a lot of work in tech. The average tenure in tech is 1.8 years, right? It’s not very long. So, people are moving around a lot. It’s longer in other industries, but people are moving around a lot. People are looking for different experience of work.

And so, from our perspective, it’s like we’re just being reality around that and then make a plan. So, if you know, now there may be opportunities in that organization to move. You may have, hopefully you do have, other outlets for where to go, “Hey, I’ve been trying to have this conversation, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I’m frustrated. I really love this company, this organization, but this isn’t working for me.” If you’re any at all talented or a skilled person, you’re going to find a receptive ear in that other person. So, don’t feel like, my last piece of advice there is, don’t feel like you’re on an island there.

Oftentimes, people will leave an organization prematurely and then they won’t take that other step of like, “Go talk to somebody. What’s the worst that could happen is your feelings fall on deaf ears. Okay, well, you’re already there so no harm done in having that conversation.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then there’s the final step, the limit.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, the final step is the limit, and a lot of people think, “Well, the limit means I quit,” or the limits means you’re fired. It doesn’t mean that. If people read the book Good Authority they’ll get the nuance there is if you think about good leaders, just take a moment, for anyone who’s listening to this, take a moment to reflect on effective coaches, mentors, parents, teachers, people in your life who were there in a moment in your life where something big changed for you, something important, not a minor thing, a major thing.

And if you think back to those situations, in some of those moments, one of the tools that they used was a limit. They said, “This goes no further. I can’t support you behaving in this way even one more time.” And it was in that moment where we went, “Whoa, I have to change. I have to do something different. This person, who I respect, who I value, who I love, who I know, even though I don’t like the way they said it, I know that they care about me. They’re putting up a stop sign and they’re saying no further with this behavior.”

And that is a key feature of how we grow as human beings. And so, the limit is doing that in the workplace. If we want to say, “Hey, we want to bring humanity to the workplace,” we have to bring all of it, and so that includes having a limit which doesn’t mean, “You’re fired.” It means, “Hey, we’ve been having this conversation — mention, invitation, conversation, boundary — I can’t support this behavior any longer.” Now, does that mean you’re fired? No, it means, “I want you to take some time to think about this, and maybe there’s a gear you haven’t found. Maybe, for whatever reason, it didn’t quite click for you until this moment. That’s all fine but I need you to tell me where we go from here.”

That’s the limit from the perspective of a manager and it’s an incredibly effective cultural tool. I’ve seen this happen over and over again where leaders, especially when someone is on the verge of maybe leaving an organization, and maybe for an okay reason, not because there’s animosity, but it’s just time to move on. And by having a boundary and by having a limit, you give the opportunity for that person to really own their exit. How often does that happen where a company can celebrate, or a team can celebrate when somebody leaves and it feels like a great moment instead of a lousy moment where everyone is like, “What happened?” and it creates all these gossip and politics?

If you use accountability conversations in the right way then that person will go, “You know what, actually this isn’t the right place for me anymore and I’m sort of approaching this from so much frustration, but there’s actually nothing wrong here. I need a role where I can do this other thing that I really love and I can’t do that here.” Okay, that’s all right. That doesn’t require any personal animosity. We can shake hands on that, and both from the individual and from the organizational perspective.

There are so many good things that can happen as a result instead of, you know, one of the things I say to managers all the time is, “Remember, when you’re managing somebody, especially if you’re in the process of thinking that they shouldn’t be on your team anymore, you got to worry about that person. But don’t worry all about that person. Worry about the rest of your team. How are they interpreting what’s happening? How are they perceiving how you’re handling this situation? How are they perceiving how this person is being treated and whatever their opinions may be?” People are watching so it’s your opportunity to live and live your values as a leader in how you treat people that may be exiting for a good reason or otherwise.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so now this is a great framework and I’d love to hear it just sort of play out maybe one, or two, or three examples, one from the manager, one from a peer, and one from the report to the manager, and so three different scenarios. I’m really putting you on the spot, Jonathan. Let’s kind of rock and roll kind of through the five steps in three different scenarios.

Jonathan Raymond
Which one do you want to do first?

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s do the peer-to-peer first.

Jonathan Raymond
Okay. So, let’s say I’m on the marketing team. I’m a junior manager on the marketing team, and I work a lot with operations because a lot of the stuff we do touches on operations. And my peer in the operations department basically says no to everything. Everything I want to do he says no to. So, my mention, let’s call him Dave. So, my mention to Dave is the first time that I see that ideally, I’m going to say, “Hey, so I know this request came through from somebody in our team and it got denied. Can you tell me a little bit more about what happened there? I want to understand.” So, there’s a mention. I’m not saying, “You have to change,” I’m not saying, “Push it.” I’m asking a question, right?

And then maybe I agree with his assessment, or I understand it even if I don’t like it, whatever it is, or I let it go. So, that’s my mention, I’m at the first stage where I’m saying, I’m flagging to some degree, “Hey, there’s a something here where we’re trying to accomplish something and your group said, ‘You can’t do that.’ I want to know a little bit more about that.”

So, then maybe that goes by and then I’m getting from my team, they come to me, they say, “Hey, Jonathan, we’ve pushed through like eight requests to do things in the last week, and like six of them were denied. And we don’t know why. We’re really frustrated. All those ops people, they’re a bunch of whatever.” “Slow down, okay? Let me go talk to Dave and see what’s happening.” So, I’m going to go back to Dave and I’m going to say, “Hey, Dave, so something is happening here. My team put through eight requests and six of them got denied, and I’m not sure what happened there, but there’s some frustration that’s emerging on my team.” So, I’m going to the next level. I’m not going to the CEO and saying, “Dave is a jerk.” I’m going to say, “Hey, let’s have a conversation.”

Now, I may or may not get a good answer from Dave, and I’m going to form my follow-ups based on that. I might even go right to the conversation, he might be like, “Oh, well, I didn’t think those were that big a deal so that’s why we denied them.” “Oh, wait a second. Well, do you have five minutes because I want to talk with you a little bit more?” I’m going to go into the conversation, “So, it’s impacting my team in a bunch of different ways. I don’t know if you’ve seen or folks have come to you with that.” So, we’re going to engage in a conversation shifting. I know he’s not trying to make life miserable for my team, but he’s making life miserable for my team! So we’re going to talk about impacts.

Again, we have the same level of authority in the organization so there’s that. Now, when we get to the boundary, Dave, maybe he tells me what I want to hear in that moment or it turns that he did, and that keeps happening and, basically, they keep behaving the same way and nothing ever changes. Now, I’m going to go back to Dave and say, “Dave, hey, look, we’ve got a problem here. So, we had a bunch of conversations about this, and I have to do something else here because, as I said to you, it’s impacting our goals, it’s impacting our speed and our ability to do things. If you and I can’t come to a resolution here, I’m stuck and obviously I’m going to have to go someplace else with that. I don’t want to do that but can we talk about this?” And we’re going to go deeper, right?

And that conversation might be a little uncomfortable but that’s where we’re going to go because, again, Dave doesn’t control whether I can afford my mortgage next month. He’s a peer in the organization and so we should be able to have healthy conflict. In a healthy organization you’re going to have healthy conflict just like in a healthy relationship, right? And so, that’s going to go through and then if nothing changes there, I say, “Hey, here’s what I need. I need you to go back and take a look at those eight requests and really come back to me. And say, hey, do those really need to be denied, and if so, why? And really help me to understand was it something the way we did it or however.”

And then I’m onto my limit stage where I might have to do something else. I might have to say to Dave, rather than me going to, let’s say we have the same manager, or we have a manager in common. I might say, “Look, I don’t want to go to that person by myself. I don’t want to do that but you and I need some help here. Let’s go talk to Jennifer and see if she can help us with a resolution. So, let’s go together rather than I said, you said, and that kind of thing. How’s that sound?” But I’m not going to let that conversation go. So, that’s what the Accountability Dial looks like, an example of what it looks like in a peer-to-peer situation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s good. I understand it and that’s helpful seeing that play out. And it seems like the timeframes here could be short or long, you know.

Jonathan Raymond
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
This might happen over the course of a year or a week.

Jonathan Raymond
Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s really the art of it is like, how important is it? Is it something that needs to be resolved today? Rarely, right? Sometimes, but rarely. Is it something that needs to be resolved in the next week? Hmm, sometimes. Is it something that needs to be resolved in the next 30 days? Almost always. And if you look at most cultures, you have a whole bunch of things that really need to get resolved in the next 30 days that never are, and they go on month after month after month, year after year, and we still haven’t dealt with that and we cycle through people, we cycle through systems, and we cycle through documents and culture initiatives because we’ve skipped over the human conversations to change the very nature of work, the things we work on together day to day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I want to get, let’s do another scenario, and let’s say I am managing somebody remotely and I have a request that I think is simple and that I’d like to see carried on, which is sort of that each day to get sort of a daily email that reveals, “Hey, this is what I worked on, and these are some questions I have for you, and this is what I plan to be working on tomorrow.” So, that’s something that I think is a good practice and I’d sure like to see that but I’m not seeing that. I say, “Day after day after day and maybe I brought it up.” How would you, using this model, kind of roll this out?

Jonathan Raymond
So, I’ll take a step back for a second because you said something that I want to push on a little bit. Is it something that you would like to see or something that you need to see?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I suppose it’s theoretically possible for work to happen without this.

Jonathan Raymond
But you’ve hired this person, right, or you’re managing them. In order to do your job, you need this, right?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. There are certainly numerous negative implications of not having this.

Jonathan Raymond
So, part of it is what is the expectation? So, when this person came on your team, maybe the conversation was then. If not, maybe the conversation is now, and maybe that’s your mention, right? So, your mention is, “Hey, you know what,” there’s two possible mentions, right? “You know what, I don’t think that I was completely clear with you about what one of my expectations. And one of my expectations in the role, for anybody, irrespective of whether it was you or anyone else in the role, was that I would get this daily email. And the reason why it’s important to me is X, Y, and Z,” right?

“So, there might be a piece of context missing because without that I can’t do X, Y, and Z. Does that make sense? Can you understand why I’m asking you for that? Rather than you need to do this because I need it. To some people it might sound really overly process-y…”

Pete Mockaitis
Controlling or dominating. Okay.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, but it’s a really necessary part for people to understand the why. And, again, when we talk with folks, this is over and over again, “I don’t understand the why. I don’t understand.” And from the perspective of the manager it’s often much more clear to us, “Well, of course, I need that,” but not from their perspective because we don’t understand all the other things that they’re trying to deal with. So, if I put myself in that person’s shoes, I’m going to be like, “Oh, my God, an email at the end of every day. That takes me this and I have to do these other things, and I don’t think Pete understands how busy I am,” and all that kind of stuff.

So, it’s an opportunity for you to get into conversation with them about it. So, we’ll put that to the side. But so let’s assume that the context is there, so let’s say it’s day three of their employment. The first two days, they did the email and the third they didn’t, right? So, ideally, I would say to that person, “Hey, I didn’t get the daily email. What’s up?” And not in a mean way, but it’s like, “Hey, I’m right there. Like, I look at that every single day.”

So, I want to let them know the reality which is that, “I look at that every single day so it’s not a process for the sake of process. Every time you send me that email, I open it, I read it, I digest it, and I notice when it isn’t there.” “Oh, I’m really sorry. I got really busy today. Like, can I send it to you when I get home.” “Sure.” “Can I send it to you in the morning?” Now, you might say, “No, I actually need it right now,” or you might say, as you probably would, you’ll say, “That’s fine. Can you send me the wrap-up so I have it for first thing in the morning? That’s fine,” and this, and whatever.

So, let’s say he did that. And then over the next couple of days you’re seeing, “Wait a second. This is like some days I get it, some days I don’t.” So, clearly the mention didn’t have the intended impact which was a full resolution of this thing, right? So, now you’re going to go to invitation. You’re going to bring it back up. Now, again, we said just before, it could be really the timeline or the timescale of the whole five steps could be really short or it could be really long.

So, in this case, if it’s a core business process and it’s not happening, it’s going to happen really fast, “Hey, so we had this conversation and I thought we were on the same page. Something must’ve got crossed there, but two out of the last five days I haven’t gotten it, for example, I’m getting concerned.” So, it’s your opportunity to say, “Look, I am concerned. I’m concerned that we’re not aligned in terms of this particular thing that’s really important to me.”

And leaving space for them to explain or not to make an excuse but you want to understand why is this thing that, from your perspective, seems basic, but it’s clearly not basic from their perspective. You want to understand why. If, for no other reason, then that person, let’s say that person says, “Pete, you’re a jerk. I’m out of here. I never want to work for such a terrible boss ever again,” you want to know what it is about that tool that maybe you can improve for the next person. Maybe there’s a grain of truth in their otherwise victim mentality that you’re like, “Oh, you know what, they didn’t handle that professionally. But for the next person, I’m going to make it six steps instead of eight because that’ll make it a little bit easier for them to do on a daily basis,” whatever the case may be.

So, are we tracking so far?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. So, you say, “I’m concerned,” and then you sort of let them sort of respond without sort of any follow-up questions just to see if they respond?

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah. And so, if they say, like, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s fine. You don’t need that.” “Okay, now I‘m really concerned,” right? Or if they step back and they go, “Whoa!” If there’s an acknowledgment that you have to work with the person in front of you, the human being in front of you. And different people are going to respond really differently in that moment. And that’s how you find out what your people are made of, not that they never make a mistake. It’s what do they do when they make a mistake? How do they recover? What’s their level of resilience? What’s the level of dialogue? Are they willing to be vulnerable with you? That’s the team that you want. You want a group of people that’ll do that with you and that you can do that with them.

So, all of the cycle is happening in leading the high-performance team. So, that’s your invitation. Now, let’s say you have a one-on-one with that person later this week. You might sit down with them and say, “Hey, look, we’ve had this kind of hallway conversations, we’re not in the same building together so we had them via Zoom or via Slack, or whatever it is. I actually want to drill a little deeper here. It’s really important but I know in the hallway we can kind of lose sight of it. This has a really big impact, like when this doesn’t happen, it has a really big impact. And I understand that that might be harder for you to see from your perspective because you’re not the one asking for it. But can you imagine or let’s play this out for a little bit.”

“Like, from your vantage point, how might this have an impact on me or our team or our organization if we don’t have these daily reports?” I promise you they have never thought of that question, they haven’t thought of the answers to that question. So, that’s the conversation stage, you’re helping them shift. They didn’t intend those outcomes, right? They didn’t intend to make you late on the report that you need that information to, that wasn’t their intention. They were just busy. They were overwhelmed. We’re all overwhelmed, or most of us are.

And so, the conversation is your opportunity to help them go deeper, to take ownership and say, “Wait a second. Oh, I didn’t realize how big of an impact that was.” Now, you could say, “Oh, well, they should’ve gotten that from the initial moment.” Yeah, maybe, but that’s not the world we live in. I was working with an IT director recently, and he said, “Well.” We were talking, and one of his colleagues brought up an example, and he said like, “Well, that would be unacceptable to me.” And his colleague called him out, and said, “Come on, man, really? You’re going to fire a person if they didn’t do that?” “Well, no, not really. I can’t really do that,” right?

There’s a whole bunch of reasons why you can’t. Like, you can’t hold that line for really good reasons, we have controls in place in organizations so you can’t just snap off at a person. There has to be an opportunity for, if you went to your HR leader’s office and said, “Hey, they didn’t fill out that report two days in a row. I want to fire them.” They would say, “Get out of my office, Pete. Don’t want your lawsuit. Go have another conversation with them.” So, how are you going to do that? It’s helping them shift from intention over to impact.

And then, you’re seeing the pattern here, so then you have that conversation, and in that conversation, right, you might start foreshadowing what about, “Hey, what’s your plan? How are you going to make sure that you get that report done at the end of the day? Not what’s my plan for how you’re going to get that done. What’s your plan for how you’re going to get that done because I can’t have you do my plan, that won’t work, right?” So, now we’re going to the boundary step, “What is the…”

People will often say, it’s like, “Okay, Pete, I hear you. I get it. I promise it won’t happen again.” “Not good enough. What is the plan? What are the action steps? What do you need to give up in order to make sure that that stays the priority that we need it to be?” Then you’re in the boundary stage of the Accountability Dial. And then if that doesn’t work, so let’s say, I’ll ask you a question that I often ask of managers. So, if I say to you, Pete, “This person is going to be on your team, this remote employee, they’re going to be on your team, and they’re going to be not sending you the daily report 40% to 60% of the time, and they’re going to be doing that for the next 10 years. How’s that sound?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s not going to work. I mean, we can conceivably have an alternative to email, but there must be some sort of a daily communication that occurs, yeah.

Jonathan Raymond
Okay. So, how about if we went on for five years, are you good with that?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Jonathan Raymond
How about one year?

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Jonathan Raymond
How about 90 days?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if there’s some really extenuating circumstances maybe.

Jonathan Raymond
Okay. So, every single time I run that question, it’s at 90 days where it starts to get a little bit like, “Well, maybe, depends.” But somewhere in there, between zero and 90 days, that’s the boundary, right? The only difference is internally to you, you have that boundary. They don’t know that that’s your boundary.

So, the process, the boundary step is getting in reality with them, and say, “Look, maybe there are some extenuating circumstances that make it so that 75 days is a reasonable time when probably not given the scenario we’re working on. It sounds like something that needs to be cured much sooner than that.” But if you think about the boundary phase as like, “Hey, this is something that we’ve talked about. We both acknowledged that it needs to change. What’s a frame within which it needs to change?”

It’s very, very rare where the right answer is going to be more than 90 days. And almost always it’s going to be in the next 30, and we’re going to need very specific milestones where we know that progress is happening. That’s the boundary phase.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we’re having that conversation, we’re establishing and getting to some sort of agreement, like, “Yes, this is what I shall do within this timeframe there.” And so, I guess, that almost sounds like a Performance Improvement Plan. I guess we’re not using that kind of terminology and structure but it’s similar.

Jonathan Raymond
So, there’s an overlap in the way that we approach it. In a lot of the organizations, one of the things that we’ve learned is that what HR wants, which we were hoping would be the case, is that they want the manager to have these types of conversations outside of the Performance Improvement Plan because the Performance Improvement Plan is not a joke, it’s there for a reason but those reasons are legal in compliance. It doesn’t actually improve performance. If you ask any HR leader who’s been around for more than one year, “How many times in your career has a Performance Improvement Plan actually turned somebody around?” And they’ll give you like one example. It never works. Almost never.

So, it is, in this context, when we’re talking about something that needs to change, it definitely is about performance and about improving performance. But the idea is we’re doing that in a humane way, we’re having a conversation, it’s not a writeup, we’re not bringing in HR. Once you bring in HR, once you go outside of that relationship, that bond between you and your employee, mostly only bad things happen. So, it’s, “Hey, this is something that needs to change. Let’s you and I figure this out, right? Like, I know it’s uncomfortable, I don’t like having this conversation, you don’t like having this conversation, but this has got to change. This has got to be our agreement for what needs to change.” So, that’s the boundary phase.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And so then, the limit?

Jonathan Raymond
And then at the limit, let’s say you make that and the person says, “Look, I’m going to, over the next 10 days, I’m not going to miss one, right? Every single day for the next 10 days, that’s our first milestone, I’m going to hit every single day. And then at the end of that 10 days, we’re going to like shake hands, and then we’re going to do the next 30 in a row, and we’re going to build up my reps, so to speak, where I’m not going to miss a day.”

And let’s say you’re good with that, and you say, “Okay, that’s fine. Okay, well, what are the consequences, what are the implications if you don’t send me that in the next 10 days, not what do I think the consequences should be, what do you think the consequences should be?” “Oh, hmm. Well, Pete, that’s a really good question. I think in the next 10 days if I miss one, then I shouldn’t be able to go to this conference that I was really excited about that you said that I could go to. Or I’m not going to be eligible to take on this other part of the work until this part of my…” whatever the thing is, right?

So, let them author the boundary if that’s possible. And if they can’t come up with a boundary, what I found is that most of the time when you ask people to come up with their own boundaries and consequences, they’re tougher on themselves than you will be on them. Not always but oftentimes. And so, that would be a boundary and then there are some clear agreements, “What needs to change by when? What does change look like? What happens if it doesn’t work?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, that’s the boundary.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah. And so, then the limit is, let’s say, it doesn’t happen. They just don’t do it. Let’s say starting on day one they don’t do it, like, “Okay, I’m going to go right to that limit.” Say, like, “Hey, we tried this. I appreciate your earnestness. We made this agreement. You said you were going to do it, there was no constraint that prevented you from being able to do it. I don’t know what else to do now. I feel like I’ve done everything that I can as your manager. I’ve given all of the thoughtfulness and coaching and everything that I could think of but I don’t know what else to do here. So, I feel like I’m out of options.” That’s the spirit of that moment.

Now, in that case, you have to decide, “How important is that task relative to the role? Are there enough other things that that person is doing that outweigh where you would be willing to change that tool for this person? I doubt it but anything is possible in that scenario. But that’s what the limit would be. And what you will find is that here’s the, I don’t know if we will call it ironic, but what will happen if you use the mention, the invitation, the conversation, and the boundary, is that somebody who doesn’t want that level of accountability in their life, they’re going to leave. They’re going to say, “Pete, you know, I’ve been thinking about this and I think you need somebody who’s more detail-oriented than I am or whatever. And I don’t want to let you…” Whatever it is, right?

Okay, fine. That’s good. That’s a good outcome. In a healthy organization people leave and they move on and we shake hands and we say, “Hey, you were right for the role for this period of time. The role has changed, or you want different things, that’s okay. Let’s shake hands.” I love that concept of the tour that I think Netflix pioneered, you know, that tour of duty, “Hey, go on a tour with me. And then when that tour is over, let’s decide should we go on another tour together.” This idea that you’re an employee for life, it’s a fiction. If it was ever true, it’s definitely not true now. It’s a fiction. Let’s be in reality with one another. I’m there for as long as it’s valuable to me as an employee and that my skills are valuable to you as an employer.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you, Jonathan. Anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jonathan Raymond
I will just say that for wherever you are in an organization, whether you’re a first-time employee in the workforce or a senior leader, the thing that you want—to feel seen, to feel heard, to feel valued—get that. Don’t settle for less. You deserve that. As a human being, as a sovereign human being, you deserve to have a world of work that is additive to your life and not subtractive where you go home and you feel dread or feel like you’re being exploited or taken advantage of. And I can tell you because a lot of them are our clients. There are amazing organizations out there that would love to have you so don’t settle for less.

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

Jonathan Raymond
My favorite quote is from Albert Einstein, he says, “I don’t have any special talents but I’m passionately curious.”

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

Jonathan Raymond
I love the Harvard relationship study or I think some people call the Harvard happiness study that they did a couple of years ago. There’s a great TED Talk about it. And, basically, what they found was that your satisfaction in relationships is the best predictor of longevity and long-term health outcomes. So, they said, “If you look at someone when they’re 50, you’re much more likely to know how long they’re going to live based on their level of satisfaction in their relationships than their cholesterol.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Jonathan Raymond
I’m still working on it, but I read the first couple hundred pages of Sapiens some years ago. So, it’s still my favorite book because I haven’t finished it. I hope that doesn’t change at the end. But I love Yuval Harari, a wonderful philosopher and I love what he has to say.

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

Jonathan Raymond
I have to say I’m happy to be off the guests list for Superhuman which is a very hyped email interface that goes over Gmail and it makes it really easy to go really fast. So, the hype is earned in my view. Superhuman is a really neat tool.

Pete Mockaitis
I use it. I love it. And I’m not ashamed that I pay $29 a month for email that could be free.

Jonathan Raymond
Yeah, it’s worth it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Jonathan Raymond
My favorite habit is walking often with my dog and listening to an episode of Revisionist History. I’m a big Malcolm Gladwell fan.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you’re known for, something you say that gets re-quoted, re-tweeted?

Jonathan Raymond
A lot of people re-tweet, “You don’t get to grow and look good at the same time.”

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

Jonathan Raymond
You can go to Refound.com and then if you click the Resources tab, there is some quizzes and some downloadable tools. And then, of course, you can pick up the book on Amazon, “Good Authority,” Kindle, print, audio, the whole thing.

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

Jonathan Raymond
Have one conversation, ask one question that you’ve been thinking about asking, you’ve been thinking about approaching this person and asking them a question or making an observation. Commit to doing that in the next 24 hours.

Pete Mockaitis
Jonathan, this has been a delight. Thank you and good luck with all your great conversations.

Jonathan Raymond
Thank you so much. I really enjoyed the conversation.

490: Uncovering Your Why and Bringing it to Work with Justin Jones-Fosu

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Justin Jones-Fosu explains how to lead a more enriching work life by aligning your now with your why.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to get into your “achieve more” zone
  2. 12 questions for uncovering your why
  3. How to turn any job into meaningful work

About Justin

Justin is on a mission to help professionals and workplaces to Work like they mean it!  He is a meaningful work speaker and social entrepreneur who speaks 60-70 times per year to companies, organizations and associations in the US and internationally.  His latest book Your WHY Matters NOW: How Some Achieve More and Others Don’t challenges the reader to merge their purpose and productivity to get more out of work and life.

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you Sponsors!

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Justin Jones-Fosu Interview Transcript

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
It’s great to be here, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Justin, my mental picture of you comes from maybe the day after I met you in which you were dancing around in a blue boxing robe. Can you explain this situation to our listeners?

Justin Jones-Fosu
What happens with Pete and Justin stays with Pete and Justin except on this podcast. But, no, so when I first started speaking, one of the things for me, I was doing a presentation about fighting for your life. And so, a great way to illustrate that was with I had a boxing robe that was created for me, a genuine one, from like the boxing people themselves, and had like TBA, which stood for Think, Believe, Act, and had the boxing gloves.

And so, like that was my little thing where I’d come in to the Rocky music, and it was a really cool experience. So, that’s probably what happened. I ended up speaking at that organization and somebody stole it, I have no idea where it went, but I never replaced it. So, that’s my boxing robe story.

Pete Mockaitis
That was not cool. And you know what, that’s going to be on eBay somewhere, you’re going to bump into like, “What the heck, guys?”

Justin Jones-Fosu
Right. If I ever get famous, like that’s what’s going to happen, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so lately you’ve been doing a lot of work and research and speaking associated with the idea of meaningful work and how that comes about. And you have an interesting perspective when it comes to your why and your now. Can you sort of unpack this idea for us?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, probably about, I don’t know how long now, about eight years ago I started digging into kind of your why and purpose, and I’ve been studying purpose for a while, something that was very meaningful for me. And as I’ve started travelling around, I was doing some speaking, and I started hearing these rumblings of kind of the why and purpose and I started meeting people who knew their why but weren’t doing anything about it.

And so, I was like, “All right.” I initially went into… because all my focus back in the day was all about action in terms of, “How do you actualize leadership?” I do action-based leadership. And it shifted because I started asking the questions of people who knew their why but weren’t doing anything about it. And then I realized there was a whole another group of people. And there’s a whole group of people, there were what I call now people. And the now people, these were kind of people who were doing a lot of good stuff just in the wrong places, and they were connected to their whys.

And so, that for me became the kind of the contribution to the conversation is that I want to help people to achieve more, right? And so, people achieve when they know their why because they’re able to kind of move forward. People are also able to achieve when they’re engaged in now and they’re super productive but maybe in the wrong places. But the true sweet spot of what I call the achieve more zone is where people connect their why and their now. And those things, together, when they’re operating in congruency, that allows people to achieve more.

And if anyone is like me, I’ve gone through my phases of what I call purpose and productivity seesaw, where I get into my zone of purpose, “Oh, I’ve got to be purposeful. I have to do things that mean something to me,” and I become a little less productive because it’s all about purposeful and meaning. And then I jump to the other side, “I need to be productive and I need to get things done now.” And then I start losing purpose and the things that were meaningful.

I was like, “What if we didn’t have to go through that seesaw? What if we could actually bridge the two together to achieve more?” And that’s where the why and the now came together.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you maybe tell us some stories, some examples, paint a picture of an articulation of a why, and sort of, “We got the why without the now.” And then, “We got the now without the why.” Sort of what does that look and feel like in practice?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, many times I hear of so many, even my audiences, the people that engage in terms of like why. So, some people with the why and without the now can be two different ways, so I created a whole quadrant around it but I’ll talk about one of the, say, the wanderers, right? And so, in my WHY matters quadrant, one of the things, if you have a little why little now, the wanderers are the kind of people that they don’t know their why, they’re not practicing, they’re not passionate about it, they’re not giving it their all. If I had to give them a TV show, I’ll call them The Walking Dead.

But the next group of people, the thinkers, these are the kind of people that they know their why. These are the kind of people that they read the books on purpose, they read the books on why. And I’ll give you a great example, I was that person who was super purpose-oriented, I was reading books on it, even wrote a book that dealt with purpose and values. But as I was dealing with that, I wasn’t productive, like I wasn’t getting a lot of things done, I wasn’t accomplishing as much as I could. I felt super content but I wasn’t progressing forward.

And so, that was a time in my life where I was like super focused on purpose and I thought about my career, and I was super reflective. And so, those are the type of people that they get in to reflection mode, and the quadrant is the thinkers, right? So, these are people that they’re just thinking, they’re thinking, they’re thinking, but for whatever reason, whether the fear of success, fear of failure, or they’re simply just following the herd of society that they just get stuck just thinking about their why but it doesn’t translate to create action, to accomplishing more, to being productive, to doing productive behaviors, or what I call being on 10, which we can talk about later. And so, that’s the why people.

Then the other group of people, which I’ve also been as well, are those who have a high now but a low why. And in my quadrant, those are misplaced. And the misplaced are the kind of people that, like I mentioned, they’re doing a lot of great stuff just in the wrong places. And so, for me, I had those moments where I would read books, like Getting Things Done, and Eat That Frog, and a whole bunch of productivity books, and I was just being super productive but I wasn’t checking it according to my why. I wasn’t making sure that I was doing things on purpose.

So, I’ll give you a great example. So, I used to be a radio show host, right? And part of the radio show host, just three years, Listen up with Justin Jones-Fosu, we had a real great time, an FM radio station, MPR affiliate. And as I was doing the radio show for three years, I found myself in a misplaced quadrant because I was doing it and people were like, “This is awesome. You’re killing it, Justin. You’re reaching thousands of people in the Baltimore area and surrounding,” but it wasn’t connected to my why. I was doing it because it was a good thing to do and it felt like the right thing to do, like the right progression and be productive. I have a radio show host where thousands of people listen to you every week but it wasn’t according to my why.

And when I really sat down and thought through, “Why was I doing what I was doing? What was the purpose behind it? What was the intent?” I realized that the radio show wasn’t the right conduit for me, that I was actually productive but zapping me of aspects of purpose and meaning for me. And so, I decided to give up the radio show after three years, and everybody was like, “Why? Why would you do that?” But it’s because I wanted to have greater why alignment, and so I ended up pursuing and diving into things in terms of speaking and writing that were much more in line with my why but I was also able to get more time and be super productive to what really mattered to me.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, and what do you call it, I guess in your ideal quadrant where you got it both going on?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yes, the pursuer quadrant. And it’s those who understand clarity, connection, and consistency which are the components of the why and having a strong why. And those people who are engaged and on 10 behaviors which when people are maximizing kind of the effort, their intensity, how hard they go. And so, if I had to summarize why, the definition of why, it’s simply purpose, what motivates you, what drives you, the intent behind what you do. And the now is passion. When we talk about passion, we’re talking about not what you do but how you do it, the effort, the intensity with what you give and it’s a concept that I call being on 10.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s interesting here because I can see where you’re going. So, we got the thinkers who are doing a fine job of doing that internal reflection and zooming in on, “Well, what am I all about? What’s behind this? What are my values? What really lights me up? What doesn’t light me up?” And so, they’re having some good time where they’re articulating some of that stuff but in the process, they’re not making stuff happen so they aren’t generating a bunch of to-do’s slayed behind them in their wake.

And so, at the same time though, you can go in the other direction, in which you’re not doing any of that reflection, you’re rocking and rolling in terms of just dominating hundreds of emails and all these things.

Justin Jones-Fosu
Zero box.

Pete Mockaitis
But what is it really doing for you in terms of connecting? So, I hear what you’re saying that it can only be possible to have one and not the other. So, let’s talk a bit about arriving at a good articulation of your why. And we talked about this a couple of times in the show. So, you mentioned clarity, connection and consistency. How do we get at that clarity? And maybe, for starters, you can articulate for us your why and maybe some whys of other folks that you’ve interacted with that just inspired the crap out of you.

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yes. So, my why is to inspire people, to achieve actionable results by challenging the boundaries of what they believe are possible. And it took me a long time to really begin to articulate and get to that why because, for me, I looked back at my life, and so I did kind of a reflection in terms of, “What has been the core messaging throughout my life? What’s been part of that journey of my life?”

And my story is one where I had a lot of obstacles, extensive homelessness, we were poor initially in terms of financially but rich in spirit, had hand-me-downs at Salvation Army. I mean, all the stuff and had to really kind of overcome the boundaries that were there, single mom with two rambunctious boys. I mean, a lot of things, grew up in the hood initially. So, a lot of things that were boundaries for me and I realized that my own life was one of challenging the boundaries of what I believed were possible.

But that also translates into kind of what I do, what I call my intentional hobby, where my intentional hobby is I like trekking and climbing mountains and I like challenging the boundaries. I remember one story where me and my buddy, Marlon Barton, we do a thing called the birthday challenge. And so, we went skiing for the first time and failed. I’ve never been skiing before. A great place to go skiing for the first time. And I remember we were climbing, snowshoeing on this mountain, and literally sometimes all we could do is take 20 steps and stop for like three minutes because we were at a high altitude but we continued to climb.

And so, for me, that became my why. And so, that’s just symbolic of the nature, for me, is I’m always challenging the boundaries of what I believe are possible for being, coming from single home, from being poor financially, to being a black male in society, a lot of different things. And so, just challenging those boundaries has become a component of my journey with others.

And so, it’s not something that I have to think about doing, I just do it, right? And sometimes I have to control myself in doing it because I can come off so hard, like, “Hey, are you challenging your boundaries?” And people are like, “Justin, I just said hi, right?” And so, for me, that became, and as I reflected, that became crystal clear for my why. So, to start off, that’s my why and that’s kind of how I came about it. And it took me really about a month to really kind of think through and process and reflect, and I asked myself several different questions in order to get there, to get to that why.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And it’s very helpful. And could you share some other folks you know and their whys articulated?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Absolutely. So, other people I’ve met, I met this young lady actually about a month ago, and she talked about, you know, we went through, because she was struggling with how does she identified her why. And we started kind of going through life and questions, and I have this thing called the 12 uncovering questions that help people to kind of think through their why and develop their why statement, and we started going through some of these questions. And we came to her why, dealt with both helping fixing things but also centered around technology.

And so, she started thinking through like, “What does this look like for me in my everyday life?” And so, we started talking about like, “How do you interact with your friends?” “I always have to fix it. I always have to be a fixer.” And so, part of her why statement became, in terms of fixing things, but it also looked at how does technology help people in their lives to fix things. And so she does like A/V and IT stuff and so she’s always thinking through of connecting people to technology in ways that can help them fix some of the aspects and challenges in their lives. And so, that’s her why statement.

Other people have developed why statements because, again, this is not what you do but kind of the overall umbrella of how you do something or kind of the lens in what you look through things. So, I met another gentleman, and one of the things around his why just dealt with helping people to develop a greater sense of grit because he had to work his butt off and ended up going to the military.

And one really amazing person that I encountered, Summer Owens, and she has a great story in terms of she was a teen mom and ended up going to The University of Memphis, and her story of all that she encountered. And, actually, the way she became a teen mom that was with a sexual assault, and her why is built on what’s called so-what in terms of her resilience. And so, she became Miss University of Memphis and is now even like the national president of The University of Memphis Alumni, and just really doing a great job. And her why centers around so-what in resilience. So, “So, what you went through that? How are you going to continue to go up?”

So, she helps people to become so-what in their lives. And so, like those are people’s whys, and everybody gets to their whys differently. But, for me, in the book, some people had struggled with their why. I created these 12 questions just to help people to start thinking and processing how they approach their why.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and I would definitely want to hit those in just a moment. But, first, you mentioned that it’s not even about what you’re doing in a moment, but bringing that lens and that perspective to whatever you’re doing. So, can you share how once you have that why, how you bring it to a job that might not have anything to do with technology or whatever the case may be, but it infuses it with something magical?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, one of the things that I found as I was really kind of discovering why is like some people, I feel, have stated their whys as what they do, right? And so, “My why is to help people to being a trainer.” And I’m saying, “Well, no, not necessarily. Your why could be helping people but it may not be as a trainer because that should be the thing that you do in all aspects of your life. And if you’re helping people, you’re engaging with your friends, you’re helping them to solve their problems and bring solutions.”

And so, for me, part of my why just permeated through not just what I did but like all the aspects of what I do should be my why. And so, with my family, I’m challenging the boundaries of what they believe are possible and so we’re doing things that we’ve never done. So, at work, you may have nothing to do, like this person who loves fixing things and love that kind of infusion with technology, she was able to find a job which is great in terms of ways that integrate with what she did, but she still would be helping to fix things as part of her why in her job.

And so, it could’ve been aspects of problems and bringing solutions to those problems. So, whatever those things are, it’s very important that we don’t finetune because we may change what we do but why we do it is something that really is consistent. And so, I’m very fortunate, I love speaking, and so people bring me in and speak all the good stuff. But even with my friends, I’m challenging the boundaries of what they believe are possible.

So, like when everybody has a birthday whether on LinkedIn and even some Facebook, I sometimes send what I call the birthday challenge. This is what I do every year, which is one thing that you’ve never done that you’ve always wanted to do or that you haven’t done in a long time, and that’s to challenge you to stay in what I call the learning-based mindset.

And so, it’s one of the things I just naturally do. It has nothing to do with my job or my work, but it just permeates through all that I do. And so, some people that’s helping to fix things, for other people it’s developing greater sense of resilience, for some people it’s helping to connect people to deeper sense of family, or belonging in a family, or could be within the context of corporate America, or it could be at home, whatever those things are, it permeates that. Even if you changed job titles, why you do something, the meaning, the intent, the purpose behind it stays the same.

And so, that’s where I come to the why, not just what you do, really, it’s not what you do, but the umbrella, the lens in which you do almost all aspects of your life. Even at the gym, I’m challenging boundaries of what I believe are possible. Sometimes that’s not whys because I think I can do more than I can do but I’m still challenging those boundaries, and that’s why my birthday challenge this year is actually competing in a men’s physique competition. Don’t judge me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. These photos, bust.

Justin Jones-Fosu
I’d take my shirt off, like, “No.” My wife is going to kill me. But all aspects of my life are centered around challenging the boundaries of what I believe are possible and achieving actionable results in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I had a buddy who participated in a men’s physique contest, I don’t know if he wants me to say his name or not, but it was impressive, like, wow, check that out.

Justin Jones-Fosu
I hope mine will be too.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny. I was at a wedding and he was missing the wedding because he had already signed up for this thing. And so, I kept kind of asking him for the updates, like, “Yeah, so how did it go?” And then I had the distinct privilege of being able to show the first photos of him in the men’s physique contest to his girlfriend, I mean, that was at the wedding. And I was like, “Oh, it’s so good when you have something. Well, so, hey, this actually kind of connects to my purpose, I guess.”

Justin Jones-Fosu
It’s good.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve chewed on this in terms of this is my purpose just for like work or more broadly, and you gave me some good stuff to chew on, and I think it’s not just work, but I don’t know if it’s yet all-encompassing, some are work in progress but it’s to discover, develop, and disseminate knowledge that transforms the experience of being alive.

Justin Jones-Fosu
That’s powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And it really does genuinely light me up, like when I have conversations with you, like I’m discovering stuff, like, “Ooh, that’s really cool. You know, it’s like I’m developing it. Okay, we’re working this episode, we’re making it sharp, we’re polishing it, we’re cutting some parts, we’re trying to get some good teasers, and we’re distributing it, like, ‘Hey, many thousands of folks are checking out the episode and they say good things.’” And so, that’s a thrill and then it also shows up in other sort of trainings and speaking and coaching and whatnot that I’m doing as well as even just conversation with folks about a product. it’s like, “Oh, hey, I got this Bluetooth meat thermometer. It’s amazing, you know. It’s pouring my life with all the low-fat chicken breast so I’m ready for a physique contest, Justin.

Justin Jones-Fosu
See? We’ll be competing together it sounds like. And How to be Awesome at Your Physique will be your next podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you have to be really extreme, but even in that moment, I was so delighted to be able to, I guess, disseminate the knowledge, “Hey, there’s a photo of your man on his bodybuilding contest thing.” You know, it was a thrill for me and it transformed her experience of being alive because she was like, “Oh, my gosh.”

Justin Jones-Fosu
See? And your why is permeating all aspects. There was no podcast for that, there was no speaking engagement for that. It was just you being you.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. I dig it. So, I feel like I’m getting pretty close of finetuning it and so very cool. Let’s hear about these uncovering questions. Do tell. What do they uncover and how do we do them?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, I’ll go through the 12, there’s some that mean more than others in how people interpret it and so some may seem redundant but they’re really trying to piece together, it’s almost like when you put your fingerprint, when you do the fingerprint scan, that it’s like, okay, you still put your fingerprint down but it gets at it a different way.

And so, these 12 questions are, the first is, “Why are you here?” And for some people they’re like, “Why am I here?” Like, existentially, “Whoa!” Second is, “What major life experiences have you faced both positive and negative?” Third is, “What interested you growing up?” Fourth, “What gets you out of bed in the morning?” Fifth, “What interests and intrigues you in life?” Sixth, “What do you wish was better in the world?”

Seven, “Have you ever had a moment when you felt like you came alive? What were you doing and why did that make you feel amazing?” Eight, “What impact do you have on others/society? What impact do you want to have on others/society?” Nine, “When have you felt inspired, hopeful, full of learning and growing?” Ten, “What excites you?” Eleven, “What do you believe about the world? What do you think the world should be like?” And twelve, “How are others better after time with you or by what you do?”

And so, asking these questions and, yeah, I’ve sometimes done workshops with these and we’ve kind of gone through aspects of the book and, man, to see people really diving in and engaging childhood, and engaging the journey of their lives, and asking questions, like, “What’s been a consistent theme over the course of my life, from childhood to adolescent to adulthood, that really helps me identifying, have a clearer why of like purpose and what I provide and bring to society, and really the impact and the legacy that I want to leave, an imprint on this world?” And people wrestle with that.

And so, this is one of the things I tell people often, especially my perfectionist people, like, “I need to write the perfect statement,” and I’m like, “It’s not about getting the perfect statement. It’s about taking that true genuine time to reflect. And then I also, like I did something, or I encourage people to do the same thing, I sent it to my three top family members and friends, and I was like, “Hey, this is what I’m really identifying with my why and my why statement. And, externally, do you think it reflects me?” And some people are like, “Justin, I’ve never even heard you say that phrase, right? Like, that came out of nowhere. So, I don’t think that’s true or remains to who you were.” I felt like I was just trying too had to come up with something that sounded really cool.

But, really, identifying like what meant something to me and people talked about challenging them, I’m always challenging. I talk about boundaries. I talk about how you challenge those boundaries and what’s possible. So, like these key themes and phrases came from my childhood and adolescence and adulthood and from me. And when people start asking themselves those questions and start reflecting, it’s not that they’ll get their immediate why statement there, but it’s them now being open to hearing and experience and not for themselves but also their closer friends and family members, what this really looks like and how they can live it out.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really dig what you’re saying here. And we also interviewed David Mead on the podcast who worked with Simon Sinek with Find Your Why and that book. And there are some nice overlaps, but he was all about, “Hey, have a partner and have them kind of carefully observe as you share sort of life stories with them, and they can kind of identify some themes from those.” And I thought, “Well that’s a good approach, yes.”

But what I love about your questions is we can get started right away in terms of right now, don’t have to find a partner, you don’t need training, facilitation, or have any interest in this, and so you can really get the wheels turning immediately which is cool. And, yeah, I kind of want to just be alone and think about this right now. Go away, Justin.

Justin Jones-Fosu
Right. I’m sorry. I’ll leave you alone. And that’s what a lot of people like to do. I mean, I figure from a great perspective, just having time to reflect, and I love that method in terms of having a partner to observe. But just sometimes you having time to reflect and just to sit back and engage and to think is really emotional for some people.

Some people in my workshops and trainings have been like many tears because people go through some really painful experiences. One of the things I talk about, both positive and negative, and I went through experiences of abuse and abandonment and a lot of different things that I had to really kind of wrestle with. And so, there’s actually a part in the book where I tell people, like, “Hey, if you need a moment, put the book down and come back to it when you’re okay. And if it really gets serious for you, please seek help and get counseling to process some of these things,” because some people actually dredge up things that’s challenging for them, and they’ve put away in a nice box what’s been a part of their story.

And so, I think it’s helpful for people to take that time, like you just said, and like, “Justin, get away,” and just to reflect, and then maybe bring on a partner and/or have three to five friends or family members to look at and engage in your stories and what you shared.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, let’s say we have even a rough nascent preliminary draft sense of the why before a perfect articulation or a decent articulation. So, with that in mind, how do we, sort of day-to-day, enjoy kind of more passion of your job based upon having this?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah, so there’s a couple of different ways to approach that, right? And so, when you know your why, I mean, it allows you to better engage. One of the things is there’s a lot of work going around meaning, right? So, I talk a lot about meaning as part of the one of the definitions of why that’s meaningful. And so, I challenge the notion of meaning and so I’m like really developing this movement around helping people to work meaningfully, not to have meaningful work but work meaningfully because, often, I found that we’ve created almost this meaningful workspace where it’s external focus on meaning, it’s like the external loci.

Stephen Covey talks about internal locus of control, and we got deeper into that. But, this internal loci, it’s not about finding meaning in your work, it’s about bringing meaning to your work. It’s not about doing work that you love, it’s about loving the work that you do because one is external, one is internal. And there’s actually some really cool research that shows there’s a group of hospital cleaners, and one of the things that they found was that there’s two different groups of hospital cleaners. There’s one group of hospital cleaners that came to the hospital, they cleaned the hospital, and they left the hospital. It makes sense because they were hospital cleaners, right?

But there’s another group of hospital cleaners that they engaged with the nurses to find out when is the best time to actually come into the room, they would talk with visitors and family members, say, “Hello, is there anything I could get for you?” They saw themselves as extensions of the mission of the hospital. Now, these groups were both doing the exact same work, but one brought meaning with them while other were potentially finding meaning in their work.

And so, I think when you talk about passion and engaging at work, it first starts with us showing up and choosing each and every day to bring our meaning with us. No matter what you identify as your why statement, even if you don’t have a why statement yet, it’s that we can show up and bring that meaning, and there’s ways to do that, right?

So, a lot of our research stems in job crafting, and there’s really three ways that you can have job crafting or crafted jobs that’s meaningful for you. It’s identifying task crafting, relational crafting, and mental crafting. And so, what task crafting is simply adding a component of your job that is meaningful for you. So, for some people, what they do is repetitive, it’s not sexy, they’re like, “Oh, I want to do something else.” But that task crafting is saying, “Well, I love helping people. So, could I potentially be one of the leads for volunteering? Could I start a volunteering? Could we do something as relates to a breast cancer awareness or do one of the walks?” Whatever that could be that they may start that or be a part of the lead. And so, that small aspect of task crafting shifts how they bring themselves to work.

The second, around relational crafting, is simply enjoying friends or the people that are there so the relationships access thing. In my presentation, I talk about Cool Hand Luke, , right? If you’ve ever seen that movie, it’s one of my favorite movies of Paul Newman, and one of the things he says, the statement, “What we have here is a failure to communicate,” right? It came from that movie. And one of the things with the relational crafting is he created these games with the people he was with.

And so, they were doing like mundane things, they’re supposed to be in prison, but they had so much fun doing it with each other, right? And so, they created this relational component, and so developing strong sense of belonging and relationships, whether that’s going happy hour, whether that’s engaging and going out to lunch with one person a week, whatever that thing may be, that you come to work, and even if your work is not sexy, you don’t really find it really awesome, that you can still be awesome at your job by the relationships that you create.

But the third aspect is the mental crafting and it’s all about how do you see the work that you do. And so some of the things in my research, and I was looking at people who do repetitive jobs, and also one of the articles like “Meaningful Work in Meaningless Places” and so it talked about like even a janitor that saw themselves in an educational institution, and that janitor saw themselves helping people to learn more effectively and learn better because they created an environment where people could bring their best selves to learn.

And they ask themselves, “If I did not clean, if I didn’t do what I did today, what would this place be and how would people respond? And would they be their best selves in their learning?” And so, like that’s a great example of how do we bring what we do. And so, that’s just some of the research that dives into how can you bring that passion, how do you bring that meaning, and it’s not simply just waiting for meaning to fall on your lap.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you. And I’m thinking now with regard to the task component, so the folks who were cleaning the hospital sort of just did little extra touches with regard to checking with the nurses, like, “When is the best time to do this cleaning?”

So, you’re doing a task that you’re not feeling, and you could just sort of invent whatever it may be. And so, what are some of the little tweaks, kind of like the hospital cleaner asking about what times they could clean that would be best for the patient, might help give a boost to the meaning when we’re doing some task crafting?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, there are so many different opportunities or examples of task crafting that are there. So, one I mentioned before was just in terms of changing or adding a little component of something that’s meaningful for you. So, for some people, like we mentioned, is helping people. So, it could mean getting involved and engaged with community service aspect. For some people, they love creating presentations so they may volunteer to do the presentations or even just create them in PowerPoint, or Keynote, or Prezi if you still use it. But it’s like they ask how they can best engage in the things that are meaningful for them. So, that’s another example.

For some other people, I’ll give you my example. For me, when I was working for a financial service company, I wasn’t happy in my job. So, really, a lot of this movement came from me. I wasn’t being awesome at my job nor was I happy at my job. And I started asking for little different things, and so they allowed me to be a part of the learning management system in what we called My Learning. And I was able to also engage, I was really passionate about diversity equity inclusion, and so they included me as part of their implementing new diversity strategies within the company. So, my manager allowed me to be a part of that team, and it impacted my overall work.

And what’s beautiful about that, and a book called The Progress Principle, one of the things that they found when they interviewed 12,000 workers is that when people felt like they were making progress, even if it was incremental, towards something that was meaningful to them that they felt better, healthier and happier about what they called the IWL, or inner work life.

And so, like all of those components is like we all can find, we just have to stop, press pause, reflect, and ask, “What are some of the tasks that are meaningful for me?” And that’s why I love what Google used to do, they moved away from that according to recent conversations, but they used to have like this 20% rule where they challenged and encouraged people to work on tasks or things 20% of the time that were meaningful to them, that they love.

So, some of the things that we experience and have now came from that 20%, right? And so, people would do that and they would come away with great things, some things failed and worked, but those were ways that I saw companies help to implement aspects of task crafting. So, as individuals, we have to ask and press pause and reflect and ask, “What makes me smile at work? Like, what are some of the things I really just enjoy doing? Is it the interactions I have with people?”

I met a lady at the Charlotte Airport, she would sing all the time, right? She’d sell like the candy and the mints which I eat a lot of, the mints not the candy, and, remember, I’ve been working out. But she would sing all the time, and I loved it, right? So, she created this little way to bring a different component of her tasks and she loved singing, and she applied that.

So, in all the different walks of life, I think there’s opportunities for us to identify the task that make us smile, some things that we really enjoy, and find out, one, “Can we get involved in that that exists already at our job or commuting or doing other things online and/or create it?” So, maybe there’s not a social committee. Hopefully you don’t do it like The Office did, but maybe there’s opportunity for you to coordinate happy hours if you really like bringing people together, or to get people involved and create a bowling night, or whatever that thing may be, I think there’s opportunities to craft that in our tasks.

So, there’s an opposite of that, I want to help people be mindful of, that sometimes, one, people have to get buy-in from their leadership and management. Two, add that to their work, and I’ve seen in some of the research that people have gone to the opposite side, and they’ve spent too much time on the thing that they’re crafting and not enough time on their job, and so it doesn’t allow their management leadership to support some of their task crafting. So, that’s some of the risks of task crafting is that you have to get, one, buy-in but then, two, you have to make sure that it doesn’t negatively impact your job where you’re spending too much time on what you enjoy. But just occasionally implementing some of those components into your everyday work.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah. So, I think the other component of just the now, is the companion to the why, right? So, yes, it’s great in terms of bringing meaning with you, but how do you bring that meaning, right? What does it mean to be what I call on 10, right? Now, to kind of illustrate the on 10, at least through air, it’s almost like this. Have you ever been to a place where people have been dancing? And, Pete, you know this too well, right? It’s like they’re using two different types of dances, aren’t they, Pete, right?

There’s like one type of dancer that’s like cool, comic-like, like boom, boom, boom, hey. “They’re not going to see me sweat, right?” And they have this other type of dancer, like, “Woo, woo, woo, brr,” right? And the first type of dancer there’s so concerned, they’re consumed about people watching them that they either remix it, they make it slower, like, “They’re not going to see me sweat, yeah, right?” But this other type of dancer that they came with like three undershirts because they’re going to sweat on every single one. Like, they came ready to get everything they had on the dancefloor of their lives. And I’ve seen you dance, Pete, that is you.

I mean, they came ready. And that’s the question mark for us in real life, is like, “Which type of dancer are we?” Not in real life because we all need to know that. But are we the dancer number one who they’re so concerned about people watching them, looking at them, that they don’t give their all, they don’t give what their 10 is? Or are they dancer number two where they’re willing even if people put them on IG or people put them on Snap or LinkedIn, Live, or whatever that may be, that they’re willing to give everything that they have.

I often find it’s people have to answer that question for themselves, “Are they on 10? Are they maximizing? Like, what are their on-10 behaviors? What are the things that they do that communicates their excellence, their best, right?” Now, one of the challenges I find with people that engage or don’t engage with fully being on 10 is that they suffer from what I call on-10 comparisons where one of the things that they consistently compare themselves to other people. So, it’s almost like somebody else doing a podcast that would compare themselves to how awesome your podcast is, and they wouldn’t give their best because they’re like, “I’ll never measure up to Pete.”

But you only have two different capacities. What they’re able to and what you’re able to do is different and there may be different parts of their lives, and so like, “How do you look at just your own reflection, do your own reflection, and identify your own self, for what is my best?

And so, while having your why and bringing meaning is super important, also how important your now is is amazing. So, even for the listeners, I simply ask you, if you had to rate yourself on a scale from one to 10, with one being the lowest and 10 being the highest, how passionately are you currently living your why, right, whether that’s professionally and/or personally? What does that look like? What would you rate yourself?

And even a deeper question sometimes is, “How would the people around you rate you?” If we went and did an informal 360 at your office, or even if you’re telecommuting and different things like that, it’s the people that you support or work with or other team members, how would they rate you? And then, on the other side, because all my conversations are not just professional but also personal, like what would family members say?

And so, those are ways that we can ask, “What are our on-10 behaviors? How would I currently rate myself? And what does it look like for me to truly be on 10 to fully engage?” And so, in the book and other places, I talk about just ways to challenge our cruise control, but also what I call the principle of the frog, step, seed, and smile which are ways to be on 10 to have a high now and to engage in the true now.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
One of my favorite quotes is “Anything can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit.” It’s unknown. I guess that’s probably intentional, all right, as a quote, like, “Yeah, let me put my credit for the quote.” That’s one of the most powerful quotes that I love as a social entrepreneur. One of the things that matters to me is the impact that we’re having on people. And it’s something that’s super powerful.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
Woo, I love some of the research around the herd theory. And the herd theory simply, it looked at a group of creatures, and what it notices is that when this group of creatures saw impending danger was coming that they all begin going the exact same way. And I sometimes illustrate that in our presentations where I like have people get up and have them walk around the room. And normally about 80% to 90% of time, people go the same way.

And you see that play out and there’s some studies, I don’t know the official name but I’m going to call them unofficially the elevator studies. You can probably find it on YouTube where they did a study where people would get on elevators and like everybody would be faced the wrong way in the elevator. And they would study what the person who got on the elevator would do, right?

Often you would see this person would turn around and face the back of the elevator like these other people, and that’s just another example of the herd theory and why that’s important to me.

But what I love about the herd theory and what that communicates is often, experientially, we just simply follow the herd, we follow the path of least resistance. We do what everybody else does at our company. We do all the same things and we sometimes don’t ask, “What does this mean to me?”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Justin Jones-Fosu
My favorite book still is Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute. Amazing power book that helps you to better reflect and to see, “Am I projecting negativity on others based upon me not taking responsibility for my own life?” And so, that book, when I did my MBA, that transformed the way I look at life. And so, yeah, that’s one of my favorite books.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Situational Leadership II by Ken Blanchard. A great tool. It focuses on the different components on how do you, one, serve and lead others? But then also, two, where can you ask for help?

I found people that just go to their leadership without using those terminology and being able to say, “Hey, like on this specific task or this role, I need some help, I need some support. I need to know if I’m going in the right direction. I need to know if I’m failing or falling short of this.” And it’s just been a helpful way for people to, one, communicate where they are on a task or a role, but, two, to get support and direction in that same process.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Ooh, a really good habit is what I call #extravagantappreciation. I’ve been on a mission lately and part of my research in terms of how we can be more productive is how do we show extravagant appreciation on other people. It actually falls into my principle the frog, step, seed and smile. It’s what I call #imoa or an intentional moment of appreciation where we go out of our way to celebrate people around us. And I think in this beautiful world of technology, we got to go back to old school, Pete, like back to handwritten thank you notes.

And so, one of the things that I’ve been really developing a strong habit of is, twofold, I’m writing handwritten thank you notes to people and so people can do that right in their office. I challenge people to do at least two, one professionally, and one personally. And let them know the impact that they’ve had on you at work and/or the person at home.

So, my bigger habit is I encourage everyone who stays at hotels. Often, we don’t appreciate and value as much people who are housekeeping or janitors, custodial staff members. Like, I try my best to go out of my way to show them extravagant appreciation.

And, Pete, you would not imagine the smiles that come out of people’s faces. So, that’s one thing that I do, and I encourage everyone who stays at hotel, please leave a tip for your housekeeper, but not just leave a tip but, you know those little pads of paper and a pen? Write them a handwritten thank you note on your last day of your stay and let them know how grateful you are that they’re doing an amazing work. And just don’t leave the note, please leave a tip as well. But that’s one of the habits I think I’m valuing the most because it’s one that’s inspiring other people.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences and they re-tweet it a lot?

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yeah, one of the things that I talk about in challenging the herd and identifying and embracing our uniqueness that this is a quote I share, it’s, “Don’t be just like anyone. Be better for everyone by being the only you.” Again, it’s, “Don’t be just like anyone. Be better for everyone by being the only you.” And that’s one of the most recorded, re-tweeted, and even in an organization, they made a big banner, I had no idea, somebody showed it to me. They put a big banner and put that in the hallway just to speak to unique-ability.

And the last, I know you just asked for one, but I have to an overachiever, I’m sorry about that, sometimes I underachieve there, is, “There are people who would love to have our bad days.” And so, it’s just a perspective, a challenge of kind of when we engage our day could be super easy to focus on things that are negative and all the things that are going wrong, but sometimes in that process and think through, like, “Man, there’s somebody who would love to switch box with me right now. Oh, I hate this situation. I hate my job. I hate my manager.” Whatever. I have a job that I can hate, right? I have a job that I can not like my manager, and other people would love to be in that position.

I know it seems at times trivial that it doesn’t mean to make people’s challenges small, but it is about, “How do we change and reflect in a unique and different way?” And so, identifying that there are people who would love to have my bad days is one of those things that helps me and in my work and in my personal life to have just a changed of perspective.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
They can go right to the website JustinInspires.com where they can find information about Your WHY Matters NOW: How Some Achieve More and Others Don’t. Or, if they want to do the old-fashioned way, they can give me a call at 704-750-5574, but JustinInspires.com is plenty. You can see the videos and see my crazy high energy. I don’t use the boxing robe anymore but I still do dance in the presentations, and so, yeah, that’s where they can get in touch with me.

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

Justin Jones-Fosu
Yes. My challenge is stop asking if the glass is half empty or half full and let’s fill the stupid glass back up, right?

And so, like that’s the thing, it’s, “How do we take action? What is one thing that we can do to move forward?” Like, even from this podcast or all the podcasts you listen with Pete, is what one thing can you take away from this that you can apply and to fill the glass back up? Now, this is not a call to go to your nearest bar, if you’re over 21, and tell your bartender, “Fill the glass up. Fill the glass up,” right?
But this is a clarion call to fill our own glasses up with continuous learning, continuous growing, listening to podcasts like this one right now that will help you to grow and develop professionally but also you get some nuggets to grow personally as well.

So, don’t ask if the glass is half empty or half full, take action and fill the glass back up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Justin, this has been a treat. Thank you and keep on inspiring.

Justin Jones-Fosu
Thank you so much, Pete.

489: The Mindset of the Most Effective Leaders with Bob Anderson

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Bob Anderson says: "'How am I getting in my own way?' is a constant conversation or area of reflection."

Bob Anderson discusses the ways you’re inhibiting your leadership potential—and how to remedy them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The surprising source of highly-accurate feedback
  2. The two leadership operating systems
  3. Powerful questions for unlocking your leadership potential

About Bob

Robert J. Anderson has been a pace setter in the field of Leadership Development for over 30 years. He is the Founder, Chairman and Chief Development Officer of The Leadership Circle and

the Full Circle Group, and the co-author of Scaling Leadership andMastering Leadership. Bob created The Leadership Circle Profile, a 360° assessment used by organizations worldwide to measure the effectiveness of their leaders (individually and collectively), chart a pathway for their development, and assess their progress as they develop.

The MEECO Leadership Institute awarded him the International Thought Leader of Distinction in 2018.

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Bob Anderson Interview Transcript

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

Bob Anderson
My pleasure.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I would love to hear, first of all, I understand that you went ahead and got your pilot’s license. What is the backstory here?

Bob Anderson
Well, the backstory was I was trying to figure out how to be a consultant on the road and be home at a sooner time, so those are two competing commitments, right, success in both arenas. So, I decided to learn to fly a little airplane, and I bought a Beechcraft Bonanza, and got an instrument rating, and I could fly in most weather. And it allowed me to get to places and get home sooner. So, leave later and get home sooner.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you actually fly your own plane to like speaking engagements and such.

Bob Anderson
I don’t anymore. I did for a good number of years but I’ve given it up. It’s like I get busy, I don’t have as much time to really stay current.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I was actually thinking about doing this but I think, “Oh, Pete, that’s probably not actually going to save you real time once you get into whatever.” But your experience was, yes, you saved lots of time because you’re flying your own plane.

Bob Anderson
There were times that I was home for dinner that I wouldn’t have been otherwise, and there were times when I was not due to weather. So, I finally said, “You know, I’m not sure this is working as well as I thought.” You need a lot of airplane to be able to get there in difficult weather.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood.

Bob Anderson
So, yeah, we could take 40 minutes on that.

Pete Mockaitis
The ins and outs of aircraft. That’s a skill. For listeners who are considering getting a pilot’s license and their own airplane for your travels we’re going to get to the bottom of it.

Bob Anderson
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But we’re not, that is for another show. You might get some invitations. So, I want to hear, you’ve done some impressive research into leadership, and so I want to dig into it. So, your team, I understand, has surveyed over a million leaders around the world. Can you tell us a bit about that research and maybe the most striking discovery you gained from that?

Bob Anderson
Well, I created a leadership assessment 360 years ago, and it goes much broader and deeper than most 360s, and we’d get into some of that. But we’ve probably given feedback to 150,000-160,000 leaders around the world with the leaders that report to them providing feedback so that gives us the database of 1.5 million and growing to do research with and one of the nicest research databases in the world probably on leadership. And so, we can research that nine ways from Sunday.

Bob Anderson
One of the things that struck us, which was why we wrote. We did this research project on all the written comments.

So, we asked the raters, the people providing feedback, to write in what’s this person’s greatest strengths, or assets, and what are their liabilities and so on. And the data blew us away with the precision with which leaders see the people that they work with and how poignantly they can describe it and how directly those written comments match to the quantitative feedback.

So, if you write in, “Bob is an arrogant SOB,” you’re going to see that a high score on arrogance, right? So, the match, we saw just a kind of surprising match, our statisticians were actually stunned by it, between things people said in writing and then how the quantitative came out.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know. Maybe I’m not capturing why that’s impressive. Wouldn’t we expect that to be the case?

Bob Anderson
I think what we saw in that was that, as a leader, you’re in a feedback-rich environment. We used to think you had to go set that up, “Let’s go create a feedback-rich environment so leaders can really grow,” which is critical. Feedback is the breakfast of champions, right? And so, we realized that you’re breathing it and you swim in it. It’s all around you. It’s the air you breathe.

There’s feedback-rich environment all around you. The question is, “Do you actually tap it? Do you harness it? Do you listen? Do you go out and seek it?” Most don’t. It’s an acquired taste and most would prefer not to go there because it can be strong medicine to really, “Yeah, that’s how you’re showing up as a leader.” And people see you in action and they see you with real accuracy.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, I guess that’s sort of the takeaway there is that folks who just sort of pipe up with their feedback if you ask them and they’re willing to give it to you, then you can probably feel pretty good that that’s accurate as opposed to kind of off-base or you won’t get it unless we have sort of a scoring system to get it.

Bob Anderson
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m hearing you. That’s great news, I suppose, is that if you want feedback you can get it or at least they know it whether or not they care to share it with you, and you care to listen, I guess, over the challenges. Okay, so you say you’ve got kind of full-blown framework and a kind of architecture there when it comes to defining leadership. And so, you talk a lot about high creative versus high reactive. Can you unpack a little bit of that idea?

Bob Anderson
Yeah, the basic principle, one of them, that underlies our work is that there’s an inner game and an outer game, and you’re playing both all the time. Outer game of your knowledge, your experience, your competency skills, you bring that to every meeting you’re in as a leader, and you’re honing that game all the time. And it’s really an important game and if you don’t play it well, you’d wash out, so you’re working that all the time.

Also, what’s running that game is your inner game, your operating system, if you will. So, the level of maturity in that operating system drives the ways you show up in your outer game and what you have access to in terms of behaviors and capabilities in a moment, and what you may not have access to. And that drives effectiveness in highly-charged complex situations which leaders find themselves all the time.

So, a reactive leader, their inner game typically is authored by others. About 75% of adults will have an inner operating system that’s authored by others. Meaning I tend to be pursuing my objectives in a, what Larry Wilson called the “play not to lose” game, “I’m trying to move forward and not lose faith.” So, what I’m not aware of is that the fear that’s running me and the assumptions underneath that.

So, I talk about the leader who’s overly-cautious and deferential, the inner game that they’re playing is, “You define me, and I’m defined by how much you like me and the kind of harmony in our relationship.” So, not to be accepted is not to be. I lose myself if you don’t see me as a good, likable, somebody who’s a team player and so on.”

Somebody else might have a similar equation but opposite. So, I might define myself as results. My results, my power to drive result is me. That makes me valuable. And so, I’m always running the show. There are times when that’s really helpful and there are times when you need to back off, let others learn, grow, take responsibility, delegate, and so on. But the more your sense of worth and security and safety is tied up in “The results always have to be so perfect and stellar all the time,” the less latitude you have to really allow people to learn and grow with you.

Both of these impacts your ability to scale your leadership which is what the book was about. So, if I’m running every meeting, there are limits to scale. If I’m not able to address the difficult issues and move them forward, my leadership has built-in limits and scale. So, that’s a reactive operating system. It’s outside-in, the expectations of others, long past and in my current environment, are driving me in ways I’m not as much aware of as I need to be. So, their, these beliefs and assumptions have me, they’re running me.

When you shift to the creative, that turns around. You start to notice them, “Oh, I always make up that it’s too risky for me to put my voice in the room with higherups, or speak truth to power, or let go, not take over the meeting. Let the group find their own way. Or not have to impress people with my ideas in every encounter. I can give more space now.” And that’s huge.

When you can start to see your old operating system as just that, “It’s a set of assumptions I grew up with but it’s not necessarily how I want to show up in the moment,” then you have choice. And then what happens is you start to ask the question, “Well, how do I want to show up? Or what do I really want here? What am I really after in this moment, or in my life, or as a leader?”

And you start to, what’s now driving you is that question, “What matters most? What matters most in terms of my life’s purpose and vision? What matters most in terms of the organization that I believe in and I’m trying to create? What matters most in terms of this meeting or what we’re trying to accomplish and get done in this meeting?” That full spectrum is what’s in focus now. And it isn’t that you don’t have the fears, they’re there, but you are now in a different relationship with them. They’re just there, “Okay, I’m nervous. I’m scared. I don’t know how this is going to work out. I’m not sure I know what I’m doing here,” and you go forward anyway.

And you go forward with more presence, more clarity, more authenticity, more flexibility in your behaviors so you can listen or advocate your position as opposed to, “I’m always advocating my position,” or, “I’m always listening.” You have that kind of flexibility to move back and forth, when to push, when not to push. When to take on a difficult issue, when to say, “Hmm, better not right now.” And so, you get much more fluidity with the full bandwidth of what it takes to be effective in complex situations that leaders are in.

In the reactive structure, you have limited bandwidth. You default to your reactive pattern or strategy under pressure, and that has built-in limits. So, that’s what we mean by a creative leader versus a reactive leader.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s intriguing. I can certainly see how, yes, I would certainly prefer to be a creative leader as opposed to a reactive leader. But you’ve gone ahead and got some real research that proves that high-creative leaders are way, way more effective. Can you speak to that?

Bob Anderson
Yeah. Well, we have unearthed, they’re assessment measures, both, right, so all the different variations we talked about, of reactive and the inverse of that, or the corollary to that, in the creative. So, it’s got like 29 to 30 dimensions on it of leadership, and some are reactive, some are creative. So, we have a pretty rich database of, “If you’re more of a reactive in your leadership, here’s what it looks like. If you’re more creative in your leadership, here’s what kind of competence and capability you get access to.”

And then we correlate that with measures of business performance in one case and/or leadership effectiveness measures which are people perceiving you as either effective or ineffective, how effective do they perceive you. And the correlation on creative leadership to perceived effectiveness as a leader by the people that lead is like 0.93. You know, 1.0 is a perfect correlation so 0.93 is about as high as you’d get in this kind of research.

In other words, if you show up as a creative leader, people will see you as an effective leader. And in the inverse of that is true on reactive, and it’s a pretty good strong inverse correlation to effectiveness. And business performance data follows that. So, we have that too, both in terms of what we see with anecdotally or with case studies but also in the research where we can research.

We did a study while ordering Mastering Leadership where after the death of one of our clients who was the president of the association for their industry, the industry took on an entire industry-wide study, a financial industry study, on the relationship between business performance and the culture, whether it be more creative or reactive leadership culture in the organization. And they found pretty stunning, like five times more performance from organizations that were more creative than the ones that were more reactive. The year-over-year performance was about five-fold different.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, these are striking results and so I’m intrigued. So, we talked about sort of the inner game in terms of what it’s like when you’re experiencing and in the grips of being reactive versus you’ve got some more flexibility to be creative. But can you maybe paint a bit of a picture for what are some of the behaviors and activities and approaches of a high-reactive leader in action versus a high-creative leader in action?

Bob Anderson
Yeah, so I’ll tell you one of my own. I can pick and choose here because I’ve got the whole bandwidth, most of us do. We did our 360 on ourselves as a firm and we gave feedback to each other.

And I got a really high score on arrogance and a pretty low score on cooperation or collaboration, which impacts other dimensions but that was the primary pattern in the data and a check. In fact, I didn’t see it coming and you have different breakout groups. And so, Bill, my co-author, and we’re cofounders in this merger, I put Bill in the bus as a category so I could see his scores because if we don’t give boss anonymity then everybody else gets in but not the boss, so Bill sees his scores and he scored me 4.5 out of 5 on a 5-point scale, 4.5 out of 5. Now, I’m the statistician so I know that that’s five standard deviation units above the mean, right?
So, I call him over, and my first move is to talk him out of his scores, he really didn’t mean this. And I said, “Bill, you gave me a 4.5 out of 5 on arrogance.” And he goes, “Yeah.” And I said, “Well, that’s five standard deviation units above the mean. You must see me as one of the most arrogant people in the world.” And he goes, “Uh-huh.” And I was like, “Oh,” I wasn’t laughing then. That was hard. He wasn’t willing to back down and say, “Well, that wasn’t really that.” And I got a lot of feedback from the team, and I made a commitment, I said, “Well, two things. One, I’m choosing to collaborate or more. And I want to know when I’m showing up arrogant, so I want your feedback, real time, when I show up in ways that shut down the conversation.”

Well, a couple of years later, I’m in with Bill on an issue and we’re going back and forth. And I’m right, and I know I’m right, and he’s wrong, and it’s not okay that he’s wrong. And I’m writing these emails he’s not responding. I’m writing a long history of why I’m right on this and not getting a response, and I can tell he’s probably pretty upset in his silence and so I’m pretty scared about that because you got two founders that are having a pretty important and significant conflict.

And at some point, I realized that my energy on this was all reactive, and you ask for behavior, so it’s like, “Look, let me tell you where you’re off here. Here’s what you don’t get,” in that kind of tone and energy of interaction, both verbally and in writing. And Bill, to his credit, just didn’t respond to that. So, I went out one day and I was working it, I said, “Okay, what’s this got to do with me?”

And somewhere on a walk, I saw for the first time, I don’t know how insights happen when they happen, but this one was huge, just hit me like a ton of bricks, “Oh, my God. I’m defined by my ideas. My ideas are me. These books are me. Huh, that’s not true. I’m good with ideas but I am not my ideas.” So, when you disagree with me or when there’s real conflict about the core of some of these IP, our IP, well, I’m threatened now pretty fundamentally because I am my ideas. My ideas and my capability around ideas is me.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you’re reacting, I mean, can you sort of unpack a little bit what does that sound like inside your brain? Certainly, your ideas are kind of under scrutiny or under attack. What is your brain saying?

Bob Anderson
Well, if I listen to the silent story in my brain, on the surface it’s going, “You’re wrong and it’s not okay that you’re wrong. Look, who are you to challenge me? You don’t really get it.” There’s that story and I’m in blame, “This issue is your doing.” And so, that’s the way I’m showing up, that’s the weather I’m bringing to the conversation.

The inner conversation is something like, “It’s not okay for me not to be seen as the smartest guy around or the most wise. I need to be seen as wise, more wise than you. But not too much wiser than you because then you’ll reject me or you’ll feel, think of me as arrogant.” So, I’m playing this inner game that I wasn’t aware of. I want to be smarter and wiser than you but I don’t want you to see it. I want you to admire me as brilliant but not be put off by it so I need to modulate, and I’m in it all the time. And then I get threatened when I’m not see that way. “That’s not okay. Okay, now I’m at risk. I’m losing my identity in ways I didn’t ever realize was right there.” And this goes on in every meeting.

Every one of us has these layers in us where we stake claim to our identity. In one of three camps, it’s either in relationship, “I’m okay if you like and accept me, and I’m seen as loyal and supportive,” or results, “I’m perfect and perfect at getting results, or my results and my success is me, my ambition to move up and status, and this career that I built is me. And so, anything that threatens that edifice is not okay and I need to swing into gear, take it over, attack that, push it away, let you know why you’re wrong.”

so, relationships, results, ideas, your intellect. So, head, heart, and will are the three core energies. It’s like electron, proton, and neutron, there’s a three-core energy, and we define ourselves, “I’m really good at this and this makes me valuable.” And you’ll see it. You’ve got two kids below two, right? You’ll see it. They’re different, they come in with different, I think, souls and soul energy. And they will take their unique gift and strength and say, “This is me and I am one child and all heart.”

The teddy bear, loving, caring, and their natural orientation is to be pleasing and that’s a beautiful thing. And it’s a limitation if you start to identify that, “I’m not okay. I have to be seen this way and I’m not okay if I’m not.” So, risking relationship becomes a problem. And I’ve got another son that’s the other side. It’s about drive to make things happy, and that’s a beautiful thing. And, at some point, when I get into more complex leadership roles, that ambitious drive controlling tendency can be an issue.

And so, it isn’t that reactive is wrong, it’s actually a strength that I’m running through a less mature operating system. It’s like I’m trying to run my gifts and strengths through DOS.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember DOS.

Bob Anderson
Yeah, some of our listeners may not, but it’s not complex enough for what we’re into, and that’s the issue. There’s nothing wrong with us, 75% of adults are living in this operating system which is like what we’re socialized into. And then, with the volatile, complex, ambiguous, fast-paced, disrupted leadership environment that we plant ourselves in, that operating system, it just gets outmatched. And we have to be able to manage it.

And as soon as we start to see, “Oh, I’m not my ideas,” well, then, they can listen to you and I can notice when I’m getting defensive, “Oh, here I am again. Okay, let me just keep listening. Tell me more about that. Oh, okay. Well, now, here’s where I disagree with that,” and it’s a whole different energy. And so, this is the shift, so I got down with that awareness with Bill, and I started to laugh because I went, “All this time I’ve been thinking about Bill is the arrogant jerk and I’m the one who’s the arrogant jerk. What’s with that?” Funny.

So, I was laughing about it at this point and I go back home, I get on my computer, and I write in three sentences, “Bill, I’ve been wrong. And, furthermore, I’ve been wrong in the partnership for a while for years, and I’m ready to talk.” That was the email. Very different than, “Let me prove to you why I’m right.” And he said, “I feel your heart, brother. Let’s talk.” We had an extraordinary conversation at breakfast the morning before we did some work with a client. And I just, later on, “Here’s how I’ve been showing up, here’s what I’ve learned, here’s what my commitment is to do differently.”

Our relationship changed the whole dynamic in the firm, so I don’t think it’s any coincidence that since then we’ve been like on a pretty good 30%, 40%, 50%-year growth trajectory. And my relationship with Bill is so much more creative and synergistic. We’re in a company that’s like our job, our competitive advantage is IP, and the quality of our ability to frame that up with leaders.

And so, to take that and 10X it in terms of the synergy that’s in the conversation is a big deal for the company, and so it changed everything. And what’s really interesting is it changed Bill. So, when I got clear on my stuff, there was no intention that Bill would change. Like, that’s the power of this more creative authentic leader, it’s like, “Oh, I’m the one that needs to really get clear and change.” And then you’ll respond in kind or not, but I’m not making a demand on Bill to show up different.

And the field of our new interaction shows up differently and more effectively, and he’s learned a ton from it, and it’s changed him. And he’ll say that very candidly. So, when we do our work as a leader, all things change when we do. And so, one of the things we saw in our research and wrote up in Scaling Leadership is that the kind of the first principle leading an organizational transformation is take it on person as the leader. Step in transparently and vulnerably with the radical, kind of we call it radical humanity, and I have the most to learn here.

Yeah, if it’s going to change it’s up to me. The fact that there’s a level of function or dysfunction in the organization, the culture, is a shadow of me, directly connected to me. So, what do I need to learn here in order for this organization to go the next level? And when leaders step in and lead from that place, everybody is invited to raise their game. And a side of a conversation that now has grace in it, “Oh, you too?”

So, we’re working with a senior team, I won’t mention the company name, a senior team of a large company in the United States. The CEO is working an issue, a conflict with the person that he brought in to help transform the organization, so he’s there to lead the transformation, from like a professional change agent perspective. And they weren’t connecting and there’s real disconnect in their relationship, plus the whole organizational change effort was being interrupted by all this.

And at some point, he said, “Here’s what happens to me when you come at me with that attitude.” It was a kind of attitude, “You’re not enough. You’re not doing enough. You don’t get it.” And the attitude that this change agent was coming at him with, and he said, “I’m back with my dad.” Now, this is a family-owned business so dad was founder. “I’m back with my dad as a kid, and I didn’t mow the yard perfectly enough, there’s one leaf left in the yard that I missed. So, when you come at me with that, I go small, and then I get angry. It’s not okay.”

And so, now you’ve got a CEO very directly talking about his own reactive condition and where it comes from and how it’s playing out in the senior team. And everybody knew it was playing out in the senior team because they watched these two go at it, and then they have their role in it. They stand by, they take sides, they run from it. The whole team is part of that. Everybody is a part of it. But unless you start to really get to depth with it, you’re not going to break through on it.

So, that was a moment where a leader really stepped in, and said, “Okay, I’m going to show up here. But what’s really going for me in this conflict,” and it broke open. It broke the whole conversation open in a beautiful way for them to kind of really work this.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that is powerful and cool. And so, I guess, to pull this off requires some soul-searching, some acquiring feedback. I guess, in some ways, it’s great because now we know what we’re looking for in terms of, “Where do you get reactive? Where do you get defensive? Where do you feel like a small child?” Any pro tips for how we find that and mitigate it once we do?

Bob Anderson
So, that’s one of the reasons I created the 360 was I was at a much deeper level when it gets at this inner game as well as the outer game in the same assessment because I saw this so often with leaders who were championing a significant change effort which they really believed in. And when you meet them, you go, “Wow, this is really extraordinary. What a vision they have not only for the organization but the whole industry.”

And then I would watch them show up in their old pattern of leadership in ways that completely discounted them, discounted their change effort, and people one layer below them go, “Oh, you’re not really serious. And I’ll get on board when they start walking their talk.” And so, any good, well-orchestrated, “Let’s get some feedback in the system. How am I really showing up as a leader? What kind of weather am I bringing? How do I create possibilities and open up the space? How do I shut it down? How do I get in my own way? What are the strengths that I have that I want to keep really deploying or I want to leverage further?” That’s the really rich conversation.

And there are many ways to get it. But getting yourself and your senior team at whatever level of leader you are listening to this, you and the people around you, and the people that report to you or around you, “How do we get in this conversation where we’re learning together how to be more effective both individually and then how we show up together collectively to lead the organization we’re responsible for?”

Pete Mockaitis
And then inside your head, how do you proceed with kind of reprogramming or myth-busting the “I am my ideas,” or, “I am my results”? That’s there, I mean, it’s been a while that. We’ve got to move beyond.

Bob Anderson
Yeah. Well, this is where most of us lack literacy. We’re not ignorant. We lack a literacy. So, at some point, we had to learn math or arithmetic not because we were stupid. There’s a literacy to it that one and one is two, and so on. And then higher mathematics, and algebra or whatever, geometry, and so on. There’s literacy in the pathways of one’s own transformation and how to be self-transforming.

And I’ve talked about two of the key practice. Well, actually, I talked about three of them. So, one is the ability or to listen to your inner game, to this self-talk. So, when you ask me the question, “Well, what were you saying to yourself?” that’s the question and getting good at that, “Okay, so if this meeting doesn’t go well, then we could fall short on results, right. If we fell short on results, then what’s at risk for me? Well, I’m going to get a lousy review from my boss. Great. So, if I get a lousy review, what’s at risk for me?”

So if you learn to track your fear. So, I was working with a mid-level leader that really high-scores on autocratic leadership. And we’re talking about, I said, “You know what that is or what that looks like?” He goes, “Oh, yeah, I pounce. I’m in a meeting, I just take it over.” I said, “Well, why do you take it over?” “Because it’s not going well.” And I said, “So, were you willing to look at that?” He said, “Sure.” So, I said, “Well, just before you pounce, how do you feel? What kind of feelings are going on in your body? Can you describe fear, anger, this kind of upsurge of energy and it’s starts from its gut then to its chest and throat?” “I just feel like [heaves].”

And I said, “Good. So, what’s at risk for you if you don’t pounce?” And he went through, we just walked right down through some form of, “I’m not okay. My results define me.” That’s a practice, and getting good at it, and getting the ability to take perspective on your programming is a literacy. And most of us haven’t learned it.

So, when I drop in, I was practicing that literacy. It doesn’t mean that I always get to the bottom of it by any stretch or that I’ve seen all of my reactivity, or I’m at 60 years old and I’ve gotten, “Jeez, I’m defined by my ideas that’s been running me my whole life. I didn’t realize it.” So, that’s one practice, and it’s a breakthrough practice. It’s breakthrough. It’s like you see the illusion. Underneath fear and the behaviors that it’s running, underneath it is an illusion, “I’m not my ideas. Other people don’t define me. I’m not my results. One failure is not the whole game. If people don’t like me, that’s their issue.”

So, when you can start to manage that conditioning that we all have, you can’t not have it, the question is, “Does it have you or do you have it?” So, when we have it, we’re managing it. And then, the second literacy is the practice of getting clear about, “What is it I’m really after? What do I want most deeply?” I had an experience early in my life of this. I was working for our family business, I grew up in a family business, it was grain business, and I was running the feed manufacturing plant.

So, I’m out in the receiving bay and unloading railroad cars at 2:00 o’clock in the morning, and I’m exhausted and I’m getting finished unloading this railroad car full of wheat. And I get inside and I’m sweeping up the last little bit in this upper bottom car. And I sit down in this hopper and I just catch my breath. I got my dust mask on. And, out loud, un-reflected, unrehearsed came, “I’m not becoming who I am.”

And I’m, “Who said that?” It was authoritative. It just came out of my mouth, “I’m not becoming who I am.” And that began, for me, a process of, “Okay, what was that? What do I really want my life to be about?” And I started what I called my must journal, “What must I be about with my life in order to live the life I came here to live and not somebody else’s? What are my musts? Not my bucket lists, goals, objectives, things that would be cool. But, fundamentally, what do I need to be about?”

And I wrote down things that I didn’t have a clue on. We’re making dog food and I’m going, “I want to help people grow and develop emotionally, psychologically, spiritually.” I’m like, “I’m going to vet the farm on that? What is that?” But I knew it was true because of my experience and my life, there’d been this tension between my dad the engineer and all of my love of technical stuff and building things.

Another must was, “I must have technical challenge in my life.”
And I didn’t know how I was going to help people grow and develop personally, spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and have technical challenge in my life.

Well, I have both now because I have a business that’s about as high-tech as you get with IT and statistics and surveys, and it’s a pretty technical challenging, rigorously-challenging business, and it’s all about helping people bring forth their highest and best. And I didn’t have a clue. I’m making dog food. So, this principle is a constant focus at one level or a meta level, “What am I here for?” And then it’s like, “Okay, what’s the life I want to create? Or what’s the business or career that I want to create that expresses that?” And then it comes down to vision after vision after vision.

So, I’m going to create a 360 assessment. I didn’t have it that this was going to be global. I mean, it’s grown into quite a global standard. It’s a world-standard assessment. I didn’t have that. I was just passionate about the work, and I needed an assessment that went deeper. So, I couldn’t find one out there so I went and I made it up.

So, all of that is the pursuit, a vision that’s pulling us forward. And, “How am I getting in my own way?” is a constant conversation or area of reflection.

And if you can do both of those, then you show up more authentically in your conversations, more clean, less reactive, more open, vulnerable, willing to listen, not always having to be right, and so on. And then you’re much more effective. So, those three, “What do I want? How do I get in my own way in getting good at tracking that to my inner game? And how do I show up then in ways that are more direct, authentic, straight, and an expression, an embodiment or an expression of the organization and the culture I’m trying to leave in my wake as a leader?” Those are three that I think are really important. And if you practice that, you will boot up a more creative operating system that defines the creative operating system.

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

Bob Anderson
Albert Schweitzer is one of them, “I don’t know what your destiny will be but this much I do know. Only those among you who have sought and bound how to serve will truly be happy.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a favorite book?

Bob Anderson
I’m reading physics for lay people. I’m not a physicist but I think there’s a physics to all this that we’re talking about, a physics to consciousness, and a physics of leadership. And so, I’m fascinated by what they’re discovering at the very edge of physics.

Bob Anderson
You tip your toe into physics and it will bust your paradise. And we need them busted because we’re at a time in human history where we must break through with higher-order solutions. And Einstein said, “The solutions to our current problems can’t be found from the consciousness that created them. It can only be found from the next higher-order of consciousness.”

And that gets often quoted. But I’m starting to really understand it now from the perspective that I think he was talking about, about how you can access stuff like relativity theory, how you can access higher-order knowledge and information, and he talked about that.

And so, I think we don’t have mental models that are at all adequate to who we are as human beings. Our mental models are limiting our creative capacities, our ability to create breakthroughs and ideas, and bring in the kind of new forms of government, new forms of technology, new forms of organization and culture that we need both in organizations and globally to really thrive. So, I’m interested in what physics has to teach us as it can break us out of our limited paradigms of what it means to be a conscious person and how to really create breakthroughs.

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

Bob Anderson
To TheLeadershipCircle.com. The Leadership Circle is our organization. Go there, you’ll see all kinds of stuff that we can talk about.

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

Bob Anderson
Be a learner not a knower. We have so much to learn. And if I can get out of my own way and be a learner and be vulnerable enough to not know, ask for help, ask for feedback, that’s the best place to lead from. Most of us don’t want to go there. We’ve got to always put forward a kind of front of, “I’ve got it all together.” And the best leaders drop that and lead from a place of, “Man, we’ve got a lot to learn here. Me, too. Let’s get started.”

Pete Mockaitis
Bob, thank you so much for sharing the good stuff. This has been fun. I wish you lots of luck in scaling your leadership in your organization and your impact and all the good stuff you’re doing.

Bob Anderson
It was really fun. Enjoyed the conversation. I hope your listeners find it valuable. I enjoyed myself. So, thank you. You did a great job of drawing this forth.

488: Finding The Productivity System That Works for You with Asian Efficiency’s Thanh Pham

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 Thanh Pham from Asian Efficiency shares his expert tips and favorite resources for optimal productivity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biggest productivity myth
  2. How to be more productive while doing less
  3. A simple productivity tip to exponentially improve your focus

About Thanh

Thanh is the Founder and Managing Director of Asian Efficiency. He is considered one of the top thought leaders in the productivity industry and he has been featured in Fast CompanyInc.com,ForbesHuffington Post, and The Globe & Mail. On a day-to-day basis, he is responsible for executing the company’s mission and helping people become more Asian Efficient.

When he’s not sharing his newest productivity wisdom, he likes to drink lots of green tea, eat eggs benedict at hotels, make video blogs, and read non-fiction books.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Thanh Pham Interview Transcript

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

Thanh Pham
Thank you, Pete, for having me. I’m excited to be here today.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s always fun to chat with a podcaster that I’ve listened to numerous times. So, it’s sort of like, “Hey, you sound just like you.” And I’m surprised each time somehow.

Thanh Pham
Well, thank you for listening to my productivity show and I’m excited to kind of share what I know about productivity and help people become more productive here today.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, I want to dig a touch into your backstory for a moment and then talk a lot about productivity. So, I understand that you never graduated high school. And I’m curious, is there sort of a productivity transformation story at the root of this or is it just like, “Yeah, I don’t like high school”?

Thanh Pham
It is a combination of both. So, I read this book called Rich Dad Poor Dad, which I’m sure a lot of people have heard of, and I was 13 at the time. So, I read this book and it really changed my life in the sense that it gave me this whole new perspective on what I need to do with my life. And I came from a first-generation immigrant family, and my whole belief was, “Hey, you need to go to school, get trained up, and then get a traditional job.” And I was like, “Okay, let’s do that.”

And then I read this book and I had a completely 180-look on life, and I started my first business when I was 14. So, I remember my mom had to sign off on some paperwork because obviously she had to be liable for anything that would go wrong, me being underage. So, I started a web design agency at that time and I taught myself how to program, how to build websites, and became really successful. I started hiring my high school friends, and they started working with me.

And so, the way the education system works in the Netherlands, where I grew up, if you don’t pass the last year of your high school, you basically don’t graduate and you’d have to do the last year all over again. So, I didn’t pass the test because I didn’t study. I was overly-confident because my business was flourishing, and so I didn’t study and failed the test, and that’s why I ended up dropping out of high school, and just continued to focus on my business.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so you were being productive in other domains as oppose to, “My life was a mess until I discovered these strategies.”

Thanh Pham
Exactly, yeah. So, I’ve always loved learning, I still love learning, whether it is reading on the side or I go to workshops and seminars. So, the learning aspect has actually never stopped, this is a lifelong thing for me but the formal education side of things just stopped when I was 18.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, understood. Thanks for sharing. And, well, you certainly landed on your feet in terms of making things happen in a big way. Your brand is rocking and with Asian Efficiency you’ve got the Productivity Show podcast. And it’s fun, at the beginning of your show, you ask about your guests’ or co-host’s top three productivity resources. I ask about a lot of favorite things at the end of the show, so we’ll do that too. But I’d love to treat you in kind, you’ve seen a lot of resources and mentioned a lot. If you had to pick three for sort of the Lifetime Achievement Awards for you, what would they be?

Thanh Pham
Ooh, that’s a tough question. I’ve seen so many recommendations, part of my job is always testing new things, reading new books, and trying all sorts of stuff, so if I had to just boil it down to three recommendations and three resources, I would say one book I would recommend is called 30 Lessons for Living. So, the basic premise of the book is the author interviewed people who were about to die, and he asked them, “What’s one life lesson you would like to pass on to the next generation?” And this got compiled into 30 lessons.

And so, it gives you kind of an insight of what you really should be doing with your life based on the experiences of people way ahead of you. This is a great book. It really changed my life so I highly recommend that. Another one is a pair of headphones by Bose called the Bose QC35. If you’ve ever flown a plane, you’ve probably seen these headphones.

Everybody tends to wear them nowadays for good reason because it’s the best noise-cancellation headphones on the market, in my opinion. And if you’re somebody who has trouble focusing, if you put on these headphones and play some productivity music, you’ll just be able to focus instantly and tune out all the noise. So, that’s something I personally use every day, also when I’m traveling.

And then the third one is an app called TextExpander. So, TextExpander, as you just said, it is one of my favorite apps. If you use Mac, Windows, it doesn’t matter, it’s also available on iOS, it basically allows you to type things really quickly and have templates that you can use with just a few keystrokes. So, think of it as like keyboard shortcuts on steroids. And once you’ve seen a demo of it, you’ll just go, “Okay, why have I not used this earlier? This is going to change everything for me.”

Pete Mockaitis
I sent you an email today using TextExpander.

Thanh Pham
I have a suspicion.

Pete Mockaitis
I used customized elements.

Thanh Pham
Yeah, we have to send the same scripts and emails out to people, and why type the same thing when you can just type in three or four keystrokes and get the same thing out there?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, cool. Well, that was fun so I wanted to see how that felt, you know, being in your shoes, hitting some three resources at the beginning. So, thank you for those. And I’m also wearing some Bose QuietComfort Noise-Cancelling Headphones right now as we speak. Sometimes I will put earplugs in first, then put on the noise-cancelling headphones, and then play a favorite white noise such as perhaps the engine idling-noise from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I got that from my guest Rahaf Harfoush. But you mentioned productivity tunes, or music, or sounds. What were those that you’re listening to?

Thanh Pham
So, there’s lots of ways to go about this. There’s stuff like Brain.fm that you can use, which is kind of like a service that you can subscribe to and get music from. FocusAtWill is another one that I personally use too. But then if you have, for example, Spotify or Apple Music, you can listen to a lot of albums that don’t have any lyrics because if you start listening to music that have lyrics, it’s really easy to get distracted.

But if you have music that doesn’t have lyrics whatsoever, for example, soundtracks of movies are some of my favorite music to listen to and to work to. For example, The Social Network, the movie that was based on Facebook is one of my favorite soundtracks ever, not because, necessarily, I like the movie so much, which I thought was entertaining, but the soundtrack is just so good and so mellow. Once I put it on, I kind of get into this flow state immediately just because it’s so well-orchestrated. So, soundtrack is a great resource for productivity music, in my opinion.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. My buddy, Brad, likes listening to cinematic soundtracks because he says it feels like when you’re doing work at your laptop, you’re leading an army into battle.

Thanh Pham
That’s really what it feels like, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fun. Well, cool. Well, we got really deep into the tactical tidbits. I want to zoom out a little bit. So, your website and brand is called Asian Efficiency, which is fun. What’s the story behind that name?

Thanh Pham
Now, obviously I can say that because…

Pete Mockaitis
I was going to say I don’t know.

Thanh Pham
…I am Asian and I look Asian so I can kind of play the part. And having lived in the Western countries, there’s this positive stereotype about Asian people that they tend to be really productive. So, I remember a few years ago when me and my friends, we were vacationing in Florida, and we were committed to working during the daytime and then have dinner at night and just have a good time going out.

And then the next morning after a night out with our friends, I was up early. I was up early doing some work, being really focused, getting stuff done. And by the time it was noon, I was done with everything that I needed to do. And then my friends would come down and they would see me relaxing, doing absolutely nothing, just reading a book, and having a relaxing time, and they go, “Thanh, what is going on? Are you already done?” And I was like, “Yup, I’m already done. I did everything I needed to do. I’m just going to relax for the rest of the day.” And they go, “Wow! How did you do that? That is Asian efficiency right there.” And I said, “Oh, that’s a great catch name. I should register that domain name.”

And so, I registered the domain name and didn’t really think of it at that time of doing anything with it. It wasn’t until a few years later when I started just blogging about productivity and time management and efficiency that I said, “Hey, maybe I should just start blogging about this once a week and share some of the things that I’ve learned over the years with my friends and family.” And that just accidentally turned into a business one year later.

So, it really started off as a passion thing because I just wanted to share with my friends and family what I’ve learned from reading books about productivity and some of the workshops I’ve been to, and just putting it in one place. It was just something I was really passionate about at that time and I never thought it would be a business that it is today. So, it’s just super fortunate that I’m able to do something that I’m really passionate about.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that’s cool. I think the first time I caught the name, I was like, “Is this about the Toyota LEAN manufacturing system?” I was like, “Oh, no, no, it’s about personal productivity. Okay, yeah, I’m with you.”

Thanh Pham
Yeah, that’s another thing I get quite often too. So, if somebody says that they’re already into productivity, because that’s usually one step further, and then I usually have the inclination just to start geeking out with that person right away because I’m very into that sort of thing as well, especially if you run a business or manage a big team, you’re always looking for interesting philosophies and different ways of doing things, whether it’s with your own self or with people that you work with. And so, there’s so many ways to be productive as a person and be productive as a team. And I love just geeking out about that sort of stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I want to talk about the geeking out dimension first, if I could. So, I think I’ve seen this go a couple ways when it comes to talking about productivity efficiency stuff. You can get lost in sort of this realm of, “Hey, I’m just rearranging my file folders and trying out a new app,” and just kind of like you’re not actually achieving anything. You’re just sort of reshuffling your stuff around in different ways.

And I’ve also seen implementing certain systems and approaches and tools in which you just see sort of like lifechanging benefits. So, could you maybe make the case, if you could, for what are the kinds of gains or benefits we can achieve by implementing some of these efficiency productivity stuff or is it all just a way for nerds to play with new toys?

Thanh Pham
There’s definitely a case for all sorts of situations. And based on the last eight years of me teaching this through the blog, through the coaching programs and other programs that we have, I’ve noticed that there’s a couple things that people can get out of this. One is you tend to create more structure and routine in your life that might be missing. So, a lot of people oftentimes come to us because life is chaotic, there’s a lot of stuff going on, they can’t keep up. And having some sort of structure or routine in place allows people to be more creative, allows people to get more stuff done, and actually achieve the goals that they set out for themselves. So, there’s one big part of that.

Another big part is just having the freedom to choose how you want to spend your time. Oftentimes when we are bombarded with so many things to do or to-do lists, it’s like from here to Tokyo, it’s just endlessly long, and anytime you finish something off in your to-do list, something new pops up on there, and it kind of feels like a battle that you can’t really win.

And so, once we kind of get that under control, then we give ourselves the option to really choose how we want to spend our time. Do we want to do more things on our to-do list or do we want to spend more time doing things like spending time with our family, or starting new business on the side, or just having the option to choose how you want to spend your time and what you want to do with that? And most people would pick one of those two options I would say.

And then there’s this third camp, usually, of people that just love to nerd out, they just love to play with new toys and feel like they’re making progress in their life, and trying new different things. That’s definitely how I    started with everything. But I also had to learn that, you know, at some point there are diminishing returns. There’s only so many task managers that I can try to find the perfect one, or there’s only so many settings that I can change, or there’s so many workflows that I should use before I really start to just spend more time “being or trying to be productive” versus actually getting results, getting stuff done that needs to be done, and then having the time “luxury” to choose how I want to spend my time going forward.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s well-said in terms of those benefits there in terms of we take a life in chaos and then by bringing some calm to it, you enhance your creativity, ability to focus and do the things, and boost your odds of success. And you also experience some freedom as oppose to enslavement to the urgent next thing that comes up. So, those sound like some cool benefits. Do you have any sense for, I don’t know, the magnitude, or quantifiable results, or a cool case study in terms of a life transformed that can really sort of paint a picture for what’s at stake here?

Thanh Pham
Yeah, so a recent example was a client that I worked with. Her name is Lisa and she is an executive at a Fortune 100 company. And so, her role was to report to 23 different executives and helping them make better decisions around payroll. That’s literally her job, is just enforcing certain guidelines, making sure that the executives get the right information that they need to make sound decisions around payroll in this huge company.

And so, on a day-to-day basis, she’s in her email client all day long because she felt like she had to respond to every single email that came in within five minutes. And when you’re reporting to 23 different executives and you have email open all day long, as you can probably imagine, you spend a lot of time doing research, replying to emails, multitasking, doing all these different things, and oftentimes getting lost in the shuffle.

And so, I said to Lisa, “Okay, you spend about seven to eight hours a day in your email inbox. Where do you find the time to actually do stuff?” And she said, “Well, I don’t so I have to take work home with me. I’m staying longer at the office. I don’t have any time for my husband, I don’t have any time to cook, I don’t have any time for myself to practice yoga or to do any form of reading. I basically get up really early, show up for work, stay really late, don’t see my kids and husband that much, and take home work with me, and then stay up late to get stuff done.”

And I said, “Well, do you want to live like this for the rest of your life?” And I’m guessing you probably already know the answer. And she said, “No, of course not. That’s why I came to you.” I said, “Okay, let’s change your approach to how we do things here. So, instead of trying to multitask and trying to do all these different things for all these 23 executives that you have to report to, what if we just do one task at a time and just one executive at a time? So, instead of trying to appease five executives at once with their email requests and the things that you have to do for them, let’s just focus on one executive at a time on certain days and just put some structure in place so you can focus doing just one thing at a time.”

And even though she was doing the exact same work, just changing the practice of, “Hey, I’m just going to focus on this one executive, doing one task at a time, making sure that gets done, gets completely finished, sends it out. And then once that is ‘done’ then I can move onto the next executive.” By just changing that approach and then closing her email clients, because that was the biggest troublemaker in this whole process, is if you have email open all day long, it’s kind of like a to-do list that other people can write on.

And so, it makes it really easy for your to-do list to become endless and then sometimes for certain people very difficult to enforce certain boundaries. And so, she had to close her email client, just focus on one task at a time, one executive at a time, and just changing that approach allowed her to go from eight hours a day in her email inbox to just 45 minutes a day in her email inbox.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Thanh Pham
Such a simple change but it made a huge difference in her life.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! So, it’s just sort of like, “Okay, I’m going to check what’s in that email inbox and then I’m going to grab the stuff associated with what I have determined, like this project, this executive, and then go for it.” Well, that’s so striking. And I’m wondering, is the savings here due to just the notion that you’re just continuously interrupted and, thusly, it takes you way longer to get any given thing done because you sort of move your attention from that thing to the next email?

Thanh Pham
Yes, multitasking is I think the biggest myth in productivity because people think that multitasking is a good trait to have, it’s a good thing, that you’re more productive this way but tons of research studies have shown it’s actually the opposite. And when you think about it, anytime you get distracted or anytime you do multiple things at the same time, your brain is actually only able to focus on one thing at a time, and it’s literally designed that way.

So, when you’re, for example, checking email and talking to somebody on the phone, you can’t really do both things. And then imagine having an audiobook playing in the background, and trying to learn, and then having like a Google spreadsheet on another monitor, so if you do those four things at once, there’s just no way you can focus doing all these great and perfectly.

And people who multitask tend to also be slower because anytime you switch focus, we kind of have to just go on this on ramp. We have to kind of like warm up a little bit, kind of think about, “Okay, what was I thinking again? What did I need to do next?” Like, if you talk to your friend on the phone and then write an email at the same time, as soon as you hang up on the phone and you have to continue writing that email, you have to kind of imagine what you were thinking of, what you were doing, what you wanted to say, what you wanted to write next.

And imagine doing that a hundred times a day. So, those two, three minutes can lead to lots of hours of wasted time. And so, if you can just focus on just doing one thing at a time and avoid being distracted and interrupted this way, all these little time ramps of, “Okay, what was I doing? What did I need to do next?” can save you a lot of time over time.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s interesting, I think sometimes we fall for the myth of multitasking just because of what it’s doing in your brain chemistry. I think Chris Bailey, who we had on the show a couple of times, was talking about how when you switch tasks, there’s a little bit of – is it dopamine or a neurochemical reward of some sort – because like, “Oh, this is new.” And because it feels a little stimulating, it’s almost as though, “Therefore, I am crushing it.” But you’re really not.

Thanh Pham
Exactly. It feels “productive” but when you think about productivity, I mean, there are several definitions that people have. But I think one of the most useful ones is to think about, “Is this getting me closer to my goal? And if it’s not, then I should say no to that or I should just not pay attention to that right now and continue to stay focused on something that actually helps me get things done to accomplish my goal.”

So, if you’re at your job, and you’re part of a team and maybe you have a team goal, getting really clear on what that goal is and making sure that whatever you’re doing every single day is in alignment with that allows you to be really productive. And then it’s not really a matter of, “Okay, did I get five tasks done, or 10 tasks, or 15, or even just one?” If you get the most important things done that are in alignment with what you’re trying to accomplish, whether it’s your personal goal or team goal, then you’re really productive, right?

So, for example, if you want to write a book and publish a book, and your to-do list says you need to write a chapter, you need to review your finances, and you need to book a trip to Las Vegas. Now, all these things could be really important, and they seem really fun things to do for some people, but there’s only one task on that list that’s really the most important one, and that is writing because that is in alignment with your goal which is writing and publishing a book.

And so, once you get really clear about what you’re trying to accomplish, then it’s really easy to find the things that are on your to-do list that are in alignment with what you’re trying to do. And so, when people have trouble setting priorities or trying to figure out what to do first, it’s oftentimes a symptom of just not really having clarity about what they’re actually trying to accomplish.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so now I’m intrigued then. In that example you gave, we had sort of very different items, and I guess depending on your goals of all that might align to certain goals, depending on what’s happening in Las Vegas, and so I guess I don’t know if any human being can answer this for another one but I’m going to go for it. So, if you got, let’s say, I’m writing now sort of my 10 grand life goals. So, if I got these, then naturally certain tasks will bring me closer to certain goals and others to other goals. So, how does one know which one is most important? I suppose it’s a deeply personal process of introspection and values, etc. But how do you tackle this one?

Thanh Pham
I think we also have to look at timelines. So, for example, if you have a goal for getting in shape or being at a certain weight, you can achieve that maybe in 90 days or you can achieve that in 10 years, right? And the strategy is going to change based on what your timeline looks like because if you want to be at a certain weight within the next seven days, your strategy is going to be significantly different than somebody who has to achieve that same goal, let’s say, five years from now, right?

And so, what I think is really important for people to know is to understand where you are right now and what the timeline is for you to accomplish this goal. So, if you have to publish a book, as an example, if you have to do this in 90 days versus one year, your strategy is going to be different. Because if you have to do this in 90 days, then you probably want to change your schedule around, you probably want to limit the things that you do, you might have to sacrifice certain things in order to accomplish this goal. Whereas, if you say to yourself, “You know what, I have five years to do this,” maybe you can get away with writing for 30 minutes a day and just making sure that you do that consistently for the next five years in order for you to accomplish your goal.

And so, I think it’s important for people to realize, “Okay, once I know what my goal is, what is the timeline for this as well?” because that allows us to determine which strategy we should use and how that fits into our day to day.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. So, you talk to a lot of different people and sort of putting all this together and your learnings. I’d love to hear, over the years, has there been anything particularly surprising and fascinating that you discovered about the most efficient productive people around?

Thanh Pham
Ooh, well, everybody is productive in their own way. I think if there’s one big takeaway I’ve learned over the years is that even though I have my own way of doing things, and I’m very stubborn in certain ways, I’ve also seen people who are completely opposite of me and achieve extraordinary things as well. And we oftentimes disagree on how we would do something and approach to do something.

So, for example, I have a friend, he has no sense of structure whatsoever in his life. He doesn’t use a calendar, he doesn’t use a task manager, all he has is just a really strong vision and a high desire to achieve something. And so, when he sets his goal to be X, Y, and Z, he will just really visualize what he’s going to do, and just make sure that he’s spending enough time and energy on this goal to get it done, and there’s no sense of like structure or theme, whatever. It’s just, “This is my goal. I’m going to go for it and I will figure out along the way as we go for it.”

And I’m like the completely opposite person. If I set a goal, and this is something I want to achieve, I like to create a plan, I like to figure out ways to get there, I like to know what kind of resources I have, I want to know what my timeline is, and I’m kind of like mapping out this whole “plan.” And once I have this plan, then I will start executing it.

And some people are in between. They like to act fast but also have a plan and mix stuff up as they go. And I’ve just learned over the years that there’s really no one way to be productive. And I think the sooner we can realize that there’s no one perfect way, that everybody is unique in their own way, the faster we can actually focus on, “Okay, let’s just do what I’m good at and make sure I spend most of my time doing that, and everything else can just go to the wayside or has a lower priority for the things that need to be done.”

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that there is no one best way. It seems like a generally agreeable assertion but I’m going to push you on that a little bit. So, I’m wondering, there are folks, I had David Allen again on recently, and so there are folks who would say, “Those who are not doing Getting Things Done, GTD, or externalizing all of their commitments outside their brain into a trusted system don’t even realize they have a low-level of anxiety that’s robbing them of some of the joy they could be having in life.” Is your take that they’re mistaken and some people can be rocking the polar opposite of Getting Things Done and be operating at their maximum effectiveness just fine?

Thanh Pham
Yeah, that’s an interesting question. And when I think about all the different people that, for example, I worked with as clients, people that I have in my company as employees, and how I need to motivate them and get the best out of them, just like when you have multiple kids, you have to treat everybody differently and see how they operate best and what you can do to get the best out of them.

And so, some people have to, for example, be handheld to get to the destination, some people you just have to give them a really vision and tell them, “Hey, this is what needs to be done, and let’s make sure we do this and get it done.” And some people need a plan, they kind of need a roadmap. And so, everybody is very different in that sense.

And while there are certain strategies that I think universally are good practices, like David Allen’s idea of getting everything out of your head, some people, even if they do that, they still wouldn’t stick to something like that because it’s just not how they think and operate. So, while I do think it’s a good practice, if that is something that you generally just don’t like to stick to because it’s not how you like to do things, then it’s kind of hard to actually get the results that you want because, ultimately, you want to follow something and do something that you know you can do consistently over time.

Because I think the key to productivity is, yes, there’s five million ways to get to Rome, but pick the route that works best for you. And just like if you ever take any personality test, you will see that there’s so many different variations and outcomes. And I have this strong suspicion that certain personality types work better with certain productivity workflows and productivity systems.

So, for example, if you’re somebody who’s really creative, a very strong visionary, you really don’t like lists. And so, a productivity system like GTD probably doesn’t really work well for you. Even though there are some elements of productivity systems like GTD that could be useful, but generally GTD is very list-based, whereas that doesn’t really work for people who really consider themselves like visionaries.

But then people like me who love making lists, who love making plans, they love lists, and a system like GTD then is really suitable for them. And so, fortunately, we all have options and there’s different productivity systems out there, and so once you kind of know what the rundown is of what every system is and what they offer, you can then make a really informed decision on what’s going to work best for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Very nicely-said. So, then let’s talk about you. What is your system? And I imagine we can have the multi-hour version of this, but just sort of what is being captured where and how do you go about sort of processing and reviewing your stuff?

Thanh Pham
So, my system has evolved over the years and it’s kind of a hodgepodge of different philosophies and different ideas. I’ve taken ideas from like GTD, from Agile results, from Scrum, from The 12 Week Year, and these are all things that I think are great systems, but I’ve kind of like created my own. And I think this is the destination that everybody will get to at some point. I think it’s a great starting point to follow something like GTD or The 12 Week Year. And then, over time, make it yourself, and that’s kind of what I’ve done.

And so, my system is very heavily-based on OmniFocus. OmniFocus is my favorite tool when it comes to managing tasks and projects. So, anytime I have an idea, or anytime I want to capture something, or remember, or I just want to store somewhere, it goes into my OmniFocus inbox whether I’m on my phone, on my computer, it goes on there first and foremost.

And then, I’m a big calendar user myself, so as someone who uses Mac and iOS for the most part, I’m a big fan of BusyCal. That is my favorite productivity tool.

Pete Mockaitis
How do we spell BusyCal and why is it better than the default iCal? I’m asking for a friend.

Thanh Pham
So, BusyCal is B-U-S-Y-C-A-L.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it makes sense. All right.

Thanh Pham
And I think it’s the power version of the typical calendar app that comes with Mac OS. One of my favorite features on there is you can actually change the number of days in your week view as an example. So, for most calendar apps, a week view looks like six or seven days ahead, but you can actually change that in BusyCal to be, let’s say, three days or even 10 days if you like, so you can kind of see ahead of time or based on what your preferences are. And it comes with a lot of power user features as well and it also integrates with your contact manager app called BusyContacts.

And so, I use this a lot for networking, stay in touch with people, and then I can actually see, based on certain contacts that I have and people that I’m meeting, what we did because it integrates with my calendar. So, if I’m talking to Billy, for example, tomorrow, I can just pull up his contact record and then see, “Oh, based on our calendar events, we had lunch two weeks ago, we had a phone call in this particular day, we did a podcast together on that day.”

Pete Mockaitis
So, like an auto-pull, like your texting and call history too?

Thanh Pham
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Whoa!

Thanh Pham
Yup. So, that’s one of the many reasons I like BusyCal. And if you integrate it with BusyContacts, then I think it’s a great combination, a one-two punch to have. So, that’s kind of like my bread and butter when it comes to just the foundation of the tools and the systems that are there. And when it comes to just syncing everything, I use the Google Sync service for that. So, Google Calendar is kind of like the backbone, but then I use BusyCal as the app on top of that to kind of like manage my calendar on top of that.

And then my other secret weapon, which I’m happy to admit, is my executive assistant. I don’t know how I would be able to run my business, live my life, if she wasn’t there. So, if that’s something that you’re in a position to have as well, I would highly recommend getting an executive assistant.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, your executive assistant, did you sort of hire that person directly or through an agency or service?

Thanh Pham
I hired her through an agency called GreatAssistant.com. So, they specialize in finding high-level executive assistants based in North America based on your personality type and how you work. So, what’s really cool about their service is that you actually have to take this personality test, and then based on the results, they can find somebody who matches your personality type.

So, if you’re, for example, really high-energy or a strong visionary, you need somebody who’s super organized, they can find the right kind of match based on what your personality type is like. So, I really like their service, and I’m not affiliated with them whatsoever, but that’s the one I use.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, does your assistant do some of your email?

Thanh Pham
Yes, she handles my email on a day-to-day basis now. This is something I used to do myself for about 45 minutes or 30 minutes a day, but now I got it down to roughly 5 to 7 minutes a day, thanks to her help. So, definitely a big timesaver as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Hey, while we’re at it, what are some of the other top tasks you recommend having an assistant tackle for you?

Thanh Pham
Ooh, so we have a weekly meeting for 30 minutes, and so she handles all of my travel. So, she books every single travel, whether it’s personal or business, so that’s a really big task. Another thing is she orders my groceries and food every single week. So, I actually have no idea, every single week, what I’m eating. She orders it for me, and it’s kind of a Christmas surprise every single week of what I’m getting and what I’ll be eating.

She books like routine errands that I have to run. So, for example, going to get a haircut, going to get a massage, going to a float tank, going to a fitness center, workouts with my personal trainer. She coordinates all that sort of stuff every single week for me so that I don’t have to do it, and I just literally look at my calendar and see, “Okay, I need to be at the gym today at this time. Tomorrow I need to be there at that time.” What else? Doctor appointments, or anything else that you have to do, or run errands around town, she handles all of that.

So, when I have my weekly meeting with her, I’ll just say, “Hey, I want to do this, I want to do that,” and oftentimes she’ll bring it up too, and say, “Hey, Thanh, it seems like you haven’t had a haircut in 12 days. Yeah, it’s probably time so I booked something already for you. You should go to the barber shop tomorrow at 4:00 o’clock.” I’m like, “Okay, yeah. Thank you for running my life that makes my life so much easier.”

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Fascinating sort of imagining that world. Tell me about a float tank. I’m just going to key in on that one, also known as sensory-deprivation chambers. Do you find those valuable?

Thanh Pham
I find them really valuable. I got into them maybe three years ago and I started going just once a month. And I remember the first time I went I didn’t really get much out of it. I was just laying there floating in water and not really knowing what to expect, and I kind of had a neutral experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, experience is one can have on this earth, I guess.

Thanh Pham
Right, because when you talk to people, some people go, “Oh, man, it’s amazing and it’s so powerful.” And I was really skeptical because I was already meditating every day for 10 minutes, and I thought, “Well, I’m already meditating for 10 minutes every day, how much better can it really be understanding diminishing returns?”

So, I go in, I have a neutral experience, I’m thinking, “Oh, maybe it’s not worth it.” But I just know so many people that I respect in my personal life and online that just rave about it. So, I continued to stick with it, and I said, “Okay, let’s just commit to doing three total and just then make a decision on whether this is actually useful or not.”

And then I went the second time, and then I kind of like zoned out for 90 minutes. And I just started to notice in the next two to three weeks that anytime there was something stressful in my life, instead of just responding to it right away, I can really just pause and reflect and think before I responded to something. And as if I saw that moment, I realized, “Wow, I’ve never had that until I started floating.” And that’s when I realized how powerful that was.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Thank you. That’s handy. Okay, so we get your system, that’s cool. Boy, there’s so much good stuff to say. So, it sounds like when we had Kevin Kruse on the show, and he mentioned that the most successful people operate from calendars as oppose to to-do lists, it sounds like your assistant is establishing your calendar. But how do you think about that world because you’ve also got OmniFocus and a huge list? So, how do we reconcile this?

Thanh Pham
I think you can marry both. I don’t think it’s one way or the other. If you just operate from your calendar, I think you’re really focused in just managing your time and that is, I think, a dangerous place to be because if somebody is dictating your schedule, it can feel like you can never have time to do the things you need to do.

Whereas if you only focus on tasks and your to-do list, then you can put a lot of things to the wayside and start sacrificing your personal health as an example because I’ve been in a situation before where I just want to work, I just want to focus on my business, and do all these different things for my career, and then I will just not worry about getting a haircut, or going to the gym, or spending time with friends and family. And I was just too much focused on just, “Okay, I need to finish this, I need to do that.” And it starts to come at a certain cost.

And so, I think you can actually combine both. In my system, that’s basically how that works. And the way I approach it on a day-to-day basis is if I can get three tasks done that are really important, I have a really productive day. And it doesn’t matter if it takes one hour, or it can take three hours, or even eight hours, if I can get three really important tasks done, then I had a real productive day. And, usually, I try to build my schedule around that philosophy.

So, the way I, for example, structure my day is I try to get all of my tasks done before noon because that’s when I have the most control in my day, it’s the most quiet, I can kind of dictate my schedule for the most part in the morning so I can really focus, do deep work, and try to get the three things done. And then from there, if I need to have meetings, or calls, or run errands, my schedule kind of then builds around that.

So, my executive assistant, for example, knows that she should never arrange a phone call with somebody between 8:00 a.m. and noon because that’s usually when I try to do deep work and be ultra-focused.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Fair enough. So, that was one of my next questions is how do you have great focus and limit distractions? And part of it sounds like you’re sort of theming or batching different sections of the day, so that’s a cool approach. Anything else?

Thanh Pham
I think a lot of productivity advice out there addresses the symptom but they don’t really address the root cause of this. And this is something I’ve seen a lot of last few years when I started working with clients. And people are always amazed when I tell people, when I first start an engagement with them, that, “One of the first things we’re going to do is have you sleep more.” And people go, “Thanh, I want to be more productive. I actually want to get more things done. I need to get more things done. I’m behind on work. Sleeping is probably the last thing I need right now.”

And I always get this look, and I say, “Trust me. We’re going to get you to sleep more and it’s going to result into more energy, more focus, you’re going to get stuff done faster, and you’re going to have this super human feeling of, ‘Okay, I can do anything that is coming onto my plate.’” And when people start to sleep more, and actually not sacrifice their sleep anymore, you start to feel good, you start to have more energy, you start to have better focus.

Instead of focusing for 5 to 10 minutes at a time, you can now focus for 30 minutes, for 45 minutes, or even 60 minutes. And imagine what you can do in 60 minutes of just intense focus versus 6 minutes here, 5 minutes there, 10 minutes here, 15 minutes here, 3 minutes there. When you have uninterrupted time to focus, and you have the energy to focus as well, you can accomplish amazing things. And it really starts with a really good night of sleep.

And so, I recommend to everybody to have an evening routine and making sure that you sleep more than you’re currently sleeping. So, I always recommend that you probably want to add another hour or an hour and a half of sleep, which usually also means that you have to go to bed a little earlier too, oftentimes by an hour or an hour and a half.

And the best way to do that is by introducing, not a morning routine, but an evening routine, which is kind of the opposite of a morning routine, right? A morning routine, or a morning ritual as I like to call, is kind of getting you ready for the day and making sure you feel confident, you’re feeling energized and focused, and you’ve lots of clarity. The evening routine, or evening ritual as I like to say, is the opposite. It kind of allows you to wind down and get ready for a really good night of sleep.

And so, one of the things I always recommend people do is that they journal at the end of the day because it allows you to clear your thoughts. And the worst feeling in the world is when you go to bed and you’re having all these lingering thoughts in your head, “Oh, did I schedule this call with this person? Oh, I need to do that tomorrow. I want to make sure that I paid my credit card bill.” And when you have all these lingering thoughts in your head, it’s just so difficult to sleep and fall asleep, which is kind of the bedrock for productivity. So, one of the things that I think is just so underrated is addressing the root cause which, for most people, is just not enough sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. The root cause of distraction or the inability to resist distraction is you haven’t slept enough.

Thanh Pham
Yes. For a lot of people, and this sounds so counterintuitive, and I always get that reaction. But if you have more energy, it’s so much easier to kind of like address distractions if they come your way because now you have the energy to focus. And you don’t feel like you have to distract yourself from something that maybe looks a little bit more exciting because you can now focus on something that’s actually in front of you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, I’m a huge believer in sleep as well. So, other than just making the time and following the basic sleep hygiene practices associated with winding down and dark and quiet and cool temperature, anything else you recommend to just the make the most of your sleep time?

Thanh Pham
If you want to take it up a notch, I would say it’s a safe practice to have magnesium as a supplement to add to your day-to-day supplement list if you have that. Magnesium is a natural relaxer for our body. It’s a natural compound mineral that we have in our foods that we can ingest. So, there’s a calm supplement out there that people really like.

I recently started using, myself, upgraded formulas which has a more effective dose of magnesium that you can intake. And if you just take like 5 mg of that before you go to bed, you’ll just sleep so much more soundly. So, that’s an easy way to do that. The other thing is no electronics, or no phone, no iPad, no TV about an hour, an hour and a half before you go to sleep.

The other thing I would recommend is blue-blocking glasses. You’ve probably seen them. If you have a friend who’s a biohacker, you’ve probably seen them. They sometimes look kind of funny and weird because they have orange tints. But if you just wear them at home for your own comfort, they’re really helpful. I oftentimes go to movies at night wearing them, and by the time I come home, I’m not wired at all. I feel really relaxed and then I can just go to bed right away. So, those are three things I would recommend.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Thank you. I also want to get your quick take on email. Your one tip you shared previously was don’t be in your email client all day, it’ll distract you and sub-optimize your time. Any other thoughts on how do we manage that effectively?

Thanh Pham
One of my favorite tips for email is the two-minute rule. So, it’s kind of borrowed from the idea of GTD. When you have a task in front of you, you have to decide within two minutes what you’re going to do with that. And same thing with email. I find that if you applied the two-minute rule to every email that you process, you’ll go through email a lot quicker.

So, the basic question is, “Okay, can I address this in two minutes or less?” If the answer is yes, just reply to the email right away and deal with it. If not, it takes more than two minutes, then add it to your to-do list. And from there you can go through your inbox very quickly. And then also, because you’re building your to-do list based on your email that way, now you can prioritize which email or which tasks you want to address based on whatever priorities you have set for yourself and what your goals are.

Because if you start using email as your to-do list, it’s so easy to get lost, it’s so easy to get distracted, and that’s why I always tell people, like, “Hey, move that stuff over from your email inbox to a to-do list, and then close your email client because from there you can then prioritize what you need to do.”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, Thanh, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Thanh Pham
Oh, when it comes to email, there’s a couple of tools that I always recommend. One of the best things you can also do is learn keyboard shortcuts. So, for example, if you use Gmail, one of my favorite keyboard shortcuts is E, which is archiving. Another one, a really simple one is C which is composing an email. Then we have another one R, which is replying to an email. If you just learn these three keyboard shortcuts, you’ll just be able to navigate so much quicker through your inbox as well. If you use Outlook, learn the keyboard shortcuts for Outlook. And you just need to know two or three, and you’ll see how fast you can go through your inbox.

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

Thanh Pham
Ooh, I have a lot of favorite quotes. I tend to write a lot of them in my journal, but the one that has been most recent for me is, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” That’s, I believe, an African proverb. Especially when it comes to teamwork, I think this is really important because oftentimes, as individuals, yes, we can do things ourselves and do stuff, but if we actually want to accomplish big things in life, we often want to do that with other people, whether it’s your significant other, whether it’s a coworker, or within a team. Whenever you try to do things together, one plus one just becomes three in my experience. And so, that’s one quote that has really stood out to me recently.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your audience; they sort of quote it back to you often?

Thanh Pham
I always tell people, “Do the hardest things first in the morning.” So, whenever you start your day, we call that eating your frog. It comes from the idea of whenever you eat a live frog in the morning, you can go on with the rest of your day knowing that that’s probably the worst thing that happened that day, right? So, it’s a Brian Tracy thing, and I want to give full credit to him for not only writing the book titled Eat Your Frog, or, Eat That Frog. But it’s just the idea of just, “Hey, if you have so many things to do, just do the hardest thing first thing in the morning because once you get that out of the way, you have a sense of confidence, you have this momentum on your side, and everything else on your to-do list is really not that scary. It’s actually relatively easy to do.”

So, most of us, when we start implementing this, we just get the sense of like, “Oh, man, I can do anything now.” And this is something that people just keep repeating back to me because I always talk about this strategy, and it’s just a way of living, and I love that you mentioned that as well for yourself because it’s just so effective.

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

Thanh Pham
Just go to AsianEfficiency.com, this is the blog. You can subscribe to our newsletter there. And we also have a podcast called The Productivity Show, so just find us in iTunes. And we have a weekly episode coming up where we just share productivity tips.

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

Thanh Pham
Just continue to listen to Pete and his guests. I think this is amazing podcast. And if you want more productivity tips, then you’ll know where to find us as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Thanh, thank you. This has been a lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck in all the ways you’re rocking Asian Efficiency.

Thanh Pham
Thank you so much, Pete.